Book 3: Psalm 73 of 89 – In His Sanctuary

Psalm 73

73 Truly God is good to Israel,
to those who are pure in heart.
But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled,
    my steps had nearly slipped.
For I was envious of the arrogant
    when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

For they have no pangs until death;
    their bodies are fat and sleek.
They are not in trouble as others are;
    they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
Therefore pride is their necklace;
    violence covers them as a garment.
Their eyes swell out through fatness;
    their hearts overflow with follies.
They scoff and speak with malice;
    loftily they threaten oppression.
They set their mouths against the heavens,
    and their tongue struts through the earth.
10 Therefore his people turn back to them,
    and find no fault in them.[a]
11 And they say, “How can God know?
    Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12 Behold, these are the wicked;
    always at ease, they increase in riches.
13 All in vain have I kept my heart clean
    and washed my hands in innocence.
14 For all the day long I have been stricken
    and rebuked every morning.
15 If I had said, “I will speak thus,”
    I would have betrayed the generation of your children.

16 But when I thought how to understand this,
    it seemed to me a wearisome task,
17 until I went into the sanctuary of God;
    then I discerned their end.

18 Truly you set them in slippery places;
    you make them fall to ruin.
19 How they are destroyed in a moment,
    swept away utterly by terrors!
20 Like a dream when one awakes,
    O Lord, when you rouse yourself, you despise them as phantoms.
21 When my soul was embittered,
    when I was pricked in heart,
22 I was brutish and ignorant;
    I was like a beast toward you.

23 Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
    you hold my right hand.
24 You guide me with your counsel,
    and afterward you will receive me to glory.
25 Whom have I in heaven but you?
    And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
26 My flesh and my heart may fail,
    but God is the strength[b] of my heart and my portion forever.

27 For behold, those who are far from you shall perish;
you put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to you.
28 But for me it is good to be near God;
I have made the Lord God my refuge,
that I may tell of all your works.

 

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

These are not words which can be uttered overnight.  That is because the world around us is filled with lies that it can sustain itself outside of God.  After all, to justify its own existence, the world must continually preach the falsehood that it can build a city, a Tower of Babel, that can rival the heights of His throne (v.9).  To do that, it must present itself as beautiful; as desirable; as filled with abundance (vv.4, 7); as free from trouble (v.5); as growing in riches (v.12).

That is what the enemy does.  He tries to lure the world by attractive gems.  He is not so crude that he will just present these temptations in their naked form; he will present them as if they are goals, rewards, that we must work towards.  The religion of the world is that hard work will results in just deserts; and once we obtain them, we wear these achievements proudly, and arrogantly, as a badge of merit.  We exclude God’s intentions for our lives in these worldly pursuits.

Yet, the veil of the enemy’s lies can be torn in half, once we go before God Himself. Once we step into His sanctuary (v.17), and by the Spirit discern their end, we realize that the world has but covered itself in a skin of leaves, like Adam and Eve after the fall.  These achievements, these growing riches, the sleek fat bodies which they possess, are all emblematic of the skin of pathetic leaves to cover their own naked shame.  What is more, is that Godis the one who arranged it so; that these apparent blessings of the world are, in fact, the curse by which they are doomed to hell.  As Spurgeon eloquently put it:

Verse 17. Until I went into the sanctuary of God. His mind entered the eternity where God dwells as in a holy place, he left the things of sense for the things invisible, his heart gazed within the veil, he stood where the thrice holy God stands. Thus he shifted his point of view, and apparent disorder resolved itself into harmony. The motions of the planets appear most discordant from this world which is itself a planet; they appear as “progressive, retrograde, and standing still; “but could we fix our observatory in the sun, which is the centre of the system, we should perceive all the planets moving in perfect circle around the head of the great solar family. Then understood I their end. He had seen too little to be able to judge; a wider view changed his judgment; he saw with his mind’s enlightened eye the future of the wicked, and his soul was in debate no longer as to the happiness of their condition. No envy gnaws now at his heart, but a holy horror both of their impending doom, and of their present guilt, fills his soul. He recoils from being dealt with in the same manner as the proud sinners, whom just now he regarded with admiration.

Verse 18. The Psalmist’s sorrow had culminated, not in the fact that the ungodly prospered, but that God had arranged it so: had it happened by mere chance, he would have wondered, but could not have complained; but how the arranger of all things could so dispense his temporal favours, was the vexatious question. Here, to meet the case, he sees that the divine hand purposely placed these men in prosperous and eminent circumstances, not with the intent to bless them but the very reverse.Surely thou didst set them in slippery places. Their position was dangerous, and, therefore, God did not set his friends there but his foes alone. He chose, in infinite love, a rougher but safer standing for his own beloved. Thou castedst them down into destruction. The same hand which led them up to their Tarpeian rock, hurled them down from it. They were but elevated by judicial arrangement for the fuller execution of their doom. Eternal punishment will be all the more terrible in contrast with the former prosperity of those who are ripening for it. Taken as a whole, the case of the ungodly is horrible throughout; and their worldly joy instead of diminishing the horror, actually renders the effect the more awful, even as the vivid lightning amid the storm does not brighten but intensify the thick darkness which lowers around. The ascent to the fatal gallows of Haman was an essential ingredient in the terror of the sentence—”hang him thereon.” If the wicked had not been raised so high they could not have fallen so low.

Imagine an empty man, like Asaph, who admits openly that he has stumbled (v2); that he envies the prosperity of the wicked (v3); who feels that he has vainly kept his heart clean and washed his hands in innocence (v13); who is weary (v.16), then even more reason that he would want to fill up his cistern with the riches of the world.

Imagine then, the mind-blowing truth of the situation once Asaph has received the wisdom and insight of the Holy Spirit: that these blessings are designed by God to be a slippery path.  That God has given these people over to their sins; and the result is the apparent blessing; the result is like Haman, preparing his own gallows, as if for Mordecai, but only to find out that the gallows are for himself.  Like the enemy who thought that he is climbing a mountain to heights above God, who is actually struck down as quickly as lightning strikes the earth (Luke 10:18).

And so, the people of this world have committed two evils: they have forsaken God, the fountain of living water; and they have dug cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that cannot hold water (Jeremiah 2:12-13).  With eyes that see and ears that hear (Proverbs 20:12; Isaiah 6:10), as we go before God in His sanctuary, we begin to see with insight and discernment (vv.16-17) the end of the people of the world.  Those who reject and refuse God are set by Himin slippery places (v.18); Godis the one who makes them fall to ruin. In a moment, they are destroyed.

Can we adopt the same response as the psalmist?  Can we say to God, “Whom have I in heaven but you?  And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.  My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength/rock of my heart and my portion forever”?  By remaining in God’s sanctuary, by being close to Him, by being in His presence, we see that our true end is to be received by Him to glory (v 24).  But those who are far away from Him shall perish, and God(not the enemy) is the one who puts an end to everyone who is unfaithful to Him (v.27).  The psalmist clarifies that the enemy can do nothing of his own accord; it is only through God’s permission that anything is done (c.f. Job 1:7).

How fitting it is for the third book of the Psalms to open with this chapter.  Indeed, the religion of the world, the works and rewards which people clothe themselves with, are exactly what God is guarding against in the book of Leviticus (i.e. being, in parallel, the third book of Moses in the Pentateuch).  Imagine the Pharisees, working hard to comply with every single law, and adorning their pride in their own abilities, like necklaces around their necks.

God would respond in very much the same way as He does with the people of the world: those who view the law as the means of their salvation are set by Him in slippery places, and they will fall to ruin.  It is those who recognize their own weaknesses, like Asaph, who go before God for wisdom.  It takes a humbled person, an envious person, a person who delights not in his own abilities and treasures, to step into God’s sanctuary, only to be clothed by God with beautiful animal skin instead of the pathetic leaves and scraps of this world.  Just like the Levites who carefully, but confidently, approaches God in the book of Leviticus; so also let us – the priests of the era after the Spirit was given to all – approach the throne of grace with similar confidence:

16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” – Hebrews 4:16

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Book 3: Psalm 73 of 89 – In His Sanctuary

BOOK 2: PSALM 59 OF 72 – Wronged but Righteous

We live in a world where the good Samaritans have been uprooted by the sniggering Pharisees.  How often does one hear that they’ve been wronged; that they are innocent, and their persecutors did not receive their just deserts; that they have worked hard, accumulated tears, sweat, and blood, but receive an imbalance of appreciation or reward.

Whilst 1 Samuel 19-20 shows us the narrative of Saul’s persecution of David, Psalm 59 helps us peer into David’s heart.  For there, we find the turmoil of the king-in-the-making, of the man after God’s own heart.  What we expect is a man who exudes continual confidence; whose gravitas precedes before him; who destroyed Goliath with his wit and not his brawn.  Instead, we find a man incredibly insecure; a man who pines for justice as he has been unjustly dealt with; a man who is not confident to take matters into his own hand, but rather to leave it in His.

Saul has left himself open to a harmful spirit from the Lord.  If not for Jonathan’s reminders, he would have pursued his passions to destroy David.  David describes him, and his men, as dogs howling and prowling about the city, bellowing with their mouths, lying in wait for David’s life, to stir up strife against him.  The enemies whom David faced are born of the same deceiver whom Jesus destroyed; and the enemies we face today are constantly deceived by the spirits of this world, than by the Holy Spirit Who breathes life through us.

That is why David can proclaim that the Lord is his Strength; that God is his fortress; that He will let David look in triumph on his enemies.  How can a howling, growling dog, a prowling lion, a hungry beast who wanders about for food, even scar the high towers of God’s temple?  We triumph because He is much larger than we perceive Him to be; and yet our sights are often on the dogs and lions than the unshakeable and unbreakable Rock we stand on.

David prays that his enemies are consumed by their own wrath; and indeed, that is what God allows, for those who do not stand under the cross; they are, as John said, already condemned: John 3:16-18.

 

Do we not need to restore our perspectives to this, daily?  Are not our eyes and our sight so easily manipulated by the circumstances that surround us?  This psalm is a firm reminder that, even a faithful shepherd like David is easily discouraged, describing to Jonathan that he is but one step away from death: 1 Samuel 20:3.  Yet, turning around, David realises that he need not fear death at all, because Jesus has conquered death.  David can now find strength – even strength in the face of death – that he can sing in the day of his distress.

These are not easy words for David to preach.  He was not a man who merely philosophised the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, and that he should somehow force himself to appreciate that God is his refuge.  No – he is a man who, like Jacob, wrestled with Jesus to be blessed.  David, too, is struggling here with the LORD; and by the end of this psalm, he is blessed and remembers that this Strength and towering fortress is built on the foundation of God’s steadfast love.

That is why Jesus’ work on the cross is so important; not just a generic concept of the emotion and passion that we call ‘love’ today.  Jesus’ work on the cross is a combination of His painful sacrifice, in the face of howling, growling, hungry dogs and lions; and His overcoming of these enemies is what allowed men like David; and men like us, to even have a basis to proclaim victory in the face of death; victory in the face of being wronged.

It is in the cross that we find comfort from the Lord who experienced the same discomfort; it is in the cross that we find true justice, from the Lord who had been unjustly treated; it is in the cross that we find true value, from the Lord who gives us our value.  When we set our sights on the cross, and not on the prowling lions, that we begin to realise that the balance of this world is corrupt.  That the scales are uneven.  But the cross evens the scales; the cross restores the corrupt balance.

 

 

BOOK 2: PSALM 59 OF 72 – Wronged but Righteous

Book 2: Psalm 58 of 72 – Victors and Losers

Modern Christianity is occasionally guilty of half truths, much like the politically correct arena of the contemporary world.  We either preach a gospel of unconditional love, and neglect the gospel of hell; or we preach the judgment of the lakes of fire and neglect to point out that it is Jesus, our gracious Saviour, who is himself the Judge on the last day.

The world tells us that either we are all eternally ‘condemned’ to a life of no higher meaning, that we are but dust and ash of the earth and we will return to the earth as such; or that we are valued ‘as we are’ and that no one should be condemned because that is a basic human right.

What Psalm 58 teaches us, however, is that David saw the world differently.  In God’s economy, in His kingdom, there are victors and losers; the gospel requires that there are only two camps of people – those who are with Him, and those who are without.

David opens the chapter by pointing out the falsehood and lies of the ‘gods’ – that such gods are incapable of judging the children of man uprightly, because they are filled with violence.  He then moves on to the wicked who are estranged from the womb, from birth, as liars, spouting out venom like the Satan.  They are incapable of hearing He who can charm, and sing the right tune that provides them with a central bearing.  Indeed, His sheep hears His voice, and the wicked by contrast are deafened: John 10:27.

Psalm 58 is directed to the choirmaster according to ‘Do Not Destroy’.  It is unclear what this means exactly – yet it would appear the content of Psalm 58 contradicts this direction.  David pleads to God to break the teeth of the enemies, to tear out their fangs, to let them vanish, and to undo the damage that the wicked could cause by their flaming arrows.  They are to be swept away, and not to see the light of day like a stillborn child.  This is graphic imagery that David employs to show us that on the last day of Judgment, Jesus too will destroy the wicked in like manner.

The chapter ends contrary to the judgment of the violent gods in the opening; instead, their judgment is replaced by David’s God who judges on the earth, who rewards the righteous.

One may read this chapter and consider how this is reconciled with the loving God; how a loving God can ‘bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked‘.  Yet, it is because God is loving, that his ‘violence’ is firmly directed towards the unjust; firmly directed towards those who have been led astray and lead other astray.  It is in loving judgment that sin, and the sinners without the covering of Christ’s blood, is swept away.  His immense, epic intolerance of the wicked only demonstrates to His immense, epic love for His children.

This may be why the psalm should be sung according do not destroy.  David did not say that the Lord delights in destroying the wicked; on the contrary, He is simply describing that life under the ‘gods’ muddies the waters of His love with compromise.  Life under the ‘gods’ shows no distinction of right and wrong; of blessing and curse; of light and darkness.

However, His love transforms us.  The righteous can enjoy life intimate from the womb; speaking truth; that our lips and tongues are like honey to our neighbours’ hearts; and that we hear His voice because we are His.  Our closeness to Him, like a lamp on the hill, only condemns the wicked even more, like the shadow that darkens proportionate to the brightness of the light.  It is only when we are righteous, that we identify sin for what it is, and that (like the Lord) we demand it be destroyed with those aligned to it without remorse, as David sings.

Not all are victors, though we are all born losers.  The gods of this world deal out violence, making us believe in lies so that we are equally condemned by the illusion that it is all meaningless, and what is left is but atheistic/agnostic humanism.  No – David is singing that there is One who is victorious, and by standing in His victory, we are shielded from the damage and loss that comes from a life estranged from the Father.

Book 2: Psalm 58 of 72 – Victors and Losers

Book 2: Psalm 57 of 72 – His love and my praise

Today, we often say “praise the Lord” when He does amazing work in our lives.  When He gives us favour at work.  When we are blessed with the gift of children.  When we are provided for materially.

Yet, how often do we still praise Him when we are in the midst of difficult circumstances?  When there is a re-structuring in my firm and that I am re-directed to a team that I have no expertise in?  When my supervisor is potentially demonised?  When my financial obligations outweigh my income?  When there is severe illness in the family?

We often look to Job as the forebear, as it were, of the generations of Christians who have suffered and yet looked to the Redeemer: Job 19:25.

Whom we do not often associate with such praise in the midst of suffering is a man like David.  Whilst in the 1st few chapters of the book of Job we learn some facts about the faithfulness of the eponymous hero, the reader is not familiar with him as we are with David, whose generational, familial, military background are laid out in the course of various books in the Old Testament.  Clearly, Job teaches us a lesson on God’s sovereignty in the midst of unjust suffering.  It is a parable for us that even in the most extreme forms of suffering, God’s answer is in the sacrificial lamb: Job 42.

David, on the other hand, teaches us our interaction with the politics of the world as a man who grew from a mere shepherd boy to become a king setting a new precedent (since he likely drew limited inspiration from Saul’s leadership when he took over the reins to lead Israel) of what it means to shepherd a uniquely, unparalleled, theocratic kingdom.

It is within such context that we approach this psalm, which David wrote when he was still but a soldier, fleeing and hiding in a cave from Saul’s wrath: 1 Samuel 21, 24.

David starts not with self-justification, but with humility: “Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge.”  Indeed, our source of refuge is in God, because our security lies not in our education, not in our accumulated life experiences, not in our accolades.  Those are measures of how the world values us.  God, however, values us simply as His beloved children.  David thus yearsn, “I cry out to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me.”  Yes – let your will be done, not mine; let your purpose be done, not mine.  Yet this purpose is one that is for me; it is one in which I have the privilege in partaking.

Shortly before the pensive Selah, we are told that God will send from heaven to save David; he will put to shame him who tramples on David.  It is then clarified that God will send out  “his steadfast love and his faithfulness“.  How exactly is this played out?  We see this in 1 Samuel 24:

12 May the Lord judge between me and you, may the Lord avenge me against you, but my hand shall not be against you. 13 As the proverb of the ancients says, ‘Out of the wicked comes wickedness.’ But my hand shall not be against you. 14 After whom has the king of Israel come out? After whom do you pursue? After a dead dog! After a flea! 15 May the Lord therefore be judge and give sentence between me and you, and see to it and plead my cause and deliver me from your hand.”

16 As soon as David had finished speaking these words to Saul, Saul said, “Is this your voice, my son David?” And Saul lifted up his voice and wept. 17 He said to David, “You are more righteous than I, for you have repaid me good, whereas I have repaid you evil. 18 And you have declared this day how you have dealt well with me, in that you did not kill me when the Lord put me into your hands. 19 For if a man finds his enemy, will he let him go away safe? So may the Lord reward you with good for what you have done to me this day. 20 And now, behold, I know that you shall surely be king, and that the kingdom of Israel shall be established in your hand.

This is a turning point for David.  He could have very well set a wicked example of murdering the Lord’s anointed.  He could have uprooted the person whom the Lord, and Samuel, had appointed as the 1st king of Israel.  Instead, David exercised mercy; he repaid wickedness with love.  Why?  This could only be due to the revelation that David received in the cave, in hiding, in the storm.  Instead of justifying himself, instead of finding his comfort in his friends, in his band of brothers, he found comfort in knowing that the Lord sent help in the form of steadfast love and faithfulness.  David therefore approached Saul in the confidence that the Lord is the just judge who would deliver David from Saul’s hand.

The story of David’s mercy is told in generations to come.  David’s rise to kingship was not due to Saul’s own demise.  That was happening concurrently.  The Lord has already been preparing David’s heart to take the role of the anointed king, and this is one of the crucial moments beautifully juxtaposing the persecuted shepherd who exemplifies the meaning of mercy, against the wrathful king who exemplifies the meaning of self-justified vengeance and Pharisaic achievement.

That this happens in a cave is almost, itself, a commentary that this is the spiritual battle which we face in the dark of our hearts.  Do we walk the path of Saul in pursuing every end  and strategy to achieve political and economic might?  Or do we allow God to balance the scales of justice because we trust that He will deliver us from “the midst of lions, fiery beasts, children of man whose teeth are spears and arrows, whose tongues are sharp swords“, as David goes on to describe in this chapter?  David’s goal was not even to exalt himself; he merely set his eyes on Him who provides our refuge; yet, in doing so, we learn from 1 Samuel 24 that he exudes the qualities of a king that Saul does not have.

Much like the story of Joseph and his brothers, Haman and Mordecai, so also the enemies’ plan to dig a pit in David’s way would only end with the pit being the enemies’ ultimate destination.  Satan’s attempts to lure us into death is itself converted into an opportunity for the Lord to save us through death into re-born life.  That is the Selah that David invites us to ponder.  That is the extent of God’s faithful love, that He can transform even the darkest circumstances into the source of our everlasting joy.

As Spurgeon comments on the whole chapter:

Mystically this hymn may be construed of Christ, who was in the days of his flesh assaulted by the tyranny both of spiritual and temporal enemies. His temporal enemies, Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and people of Israel, furiously raged and took counsel together against him. The chief priests and princes were, saith Hierome, like lions, and the people like the whelps of lions, all of them in a readiness to devour his soul. The rulers laid a net for his feetin their captious interrogatories, asking (Mt 22:17), “Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?” and (Joh 8:5) whether the woman taken in the very act of adultery should be stoned to death or no. The people were “set on fire, “when as they raged against him, and their teeth and tongues were spears and swords in crying, “Crucify him, crucify him.” His spiritual enemies also sought to swallow him up; his soul was among lions all the days of his life, at the hour of his death especially. The devil in tempting and troubling him, had laid a snare for his feet;and death, in digging a pit for him, had thought to devour him. As David was in death, so Christ the Son of David was in the grave. John Boys, 1571-1625.

 

The Lord’s faithfulness and love in the first half of the chapter are then the cause of David’s gleeful response in the latter half.  “I will sing“, “I will awake the dawn“, “I will give thanks to you“, “I will sing praise to you” – why?  “For your steadfast love is great to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds.

David’s preparation for the throne does not require academic excellence, military might, or political savvy.  His preparation was simple.  He turned to God’s steadfast love.  He knew that such love had the power to transform his circumstances.  It was not a distant, impersonal love which would only lift one’s emotions; it was a real, tangible, force personified and exemplified in the work of Christ on the cross.  It is that grace and mercy which drove David to take the high road, and which grew him into a person that he never imagined he would become.  This was his spiritual marker, his milestone, and arguably one of his most important moments in consolidating his kingship.  Oftentimes we face similar dark circumstances, and write them off in hopes that the Lord would give us favour in better times; yet it is in these dark circumstances that we need to find refuge in Him to consolidate His purpose in our lives.

Book 2: Psalm 57 of 72 – His love and my praise

Nehemiah 10-13: Remember me – the Ancient Reformers

Chapter 10

The covenant briefly described in chapter 9 was sealed by the people listed in this chapter (cf v.20-27, and chapter 3) in v.1-28.  More importantly, these people are described as those “who have knowledge and understanding” – a refrain of what was stated in Nehemiah 8:12.  But for such clear understanding, they would not be able to observe and do all the commandments of the LORD (v.29) and enter into a curse and an oath to walk in God’s law.

Note how the law is seen as a curse (c.f. 1 Kings 19:2, Jeremiah 34:18) and an oath, a conveyance of the people’s serious intention to simultaneously to be faithful to the LORD but also understand that such law works to only reveal our sins and is a curse unto us, holding us captive (Romans 7; 1 Corinthians 15:56; Galatians 3:23-24).  As Paul states, righteousness is not by the law, for the law did not give life as long as we did not look on Christ (Galatians 3:21).  So the Israelite mentality is not simply that of justifying their walks with God by their own righteousness, but recognising what the purpose of the law is – to point us to Christ the fulfiller. 

Of the law, the following are described, indicating the foci of Ezra and Nehemiah’s day:

  • v.30 – Problems of inter-faith marriage – bringing us back to the precepts of Ezra (Ezra 9-10);
  • v.31 – Crops of seventh year (Leviticus 25:2-7)
  • v.32 – Third part of shekel is a new law (c.f. Exodus 30:11-16).  Service of the house of God.
  • v.33 – Offerings /showbread – Leviticus 24:5-9
  • v.34 – Wood offering (no specific law on this tax, but implied) – Leviticus 6:12-13
  • v.35 – Agricultural offerings re: temple personnel supply (Exodus 23:19, 34:26, Num 18:12-13, Deut 26:1-11).
  • v.36 – Firstborn of sons (Exodus 13:13, 34:20) (redeemed), herds / flocks (Num 18:15-18) and Deut 15:19-23
  • v.37 – First of our dough (Num 15:20-21, Deut 18:4)
  • v.38-39 – Tithes (Num 18:21-24), laity participates in a celebration of the tithe at the sanctuary in Deut 14:22-27, and for Levites as well (Num 18:25-32)

Notably, most of the commandments are in relation to spiritual adultery through inter-marriage, the lack of offerings and the relinquishing of the Levitical practices.  These laws are also noticeably free-will related, indicating that the heaviness of the law has weighed on the hearts of the Israelites to the point where worship and praise has long been forgotten.  It should be a delight then that their rebuilding of the walls of Jerusalem shall be coupled not with a re-statement of the entirety of the law, but with acts of worship and praise out of the pure joy that the LORD has been faithful to the Israelites unceasingly.  His cords of love could never be broken even by the Israelites’ and our constant rebellion.

Chapter 11

Just as a tenth was given to Melchizedek the King of Peace (Genesis 14:20; Hebrews 7:2-4; c.f. Numbers 28-29), so a tenth of the people were given to the City of Peace.  The opening verses of this chapter touch on the Temple servants who were part of the classes of Levites (Ezra 2:40-43) descendants of Solomon’s servants (Ezra 2:55-58), blessing this free-will offering of the people who lives apart from their towns to be in this city (v.2 – “willingly offered“).

The immediate description of Judah, Benjamin and the Levites which followed (v.4-19) harkens us back to the fact that these were the only three tribes of the Southern Kingdom of Israel (1 Kings 12:21-23, the Levites having no specific land as inheritance) – now composing the majority of the restored community of the entire nation.  As noted in v.20 – the rest of Israel, and of the priests and the Levites, were in all the towns of Judah, every one in his “inheritance” (the ancestral property – Ezra 2:59-63). However, the temple servants lived symbolically on Ophel (v.21), which is the source of water at the Gihon Spring near the Water Gate (Nehemiah 3:26, Ezra 2:43-54).

The places in particular mentioned in v.25-35 are a repeat of the same places of inheritance mentioned in Joshua 15:20-63 and Ezra 2:26-33.  The Levites are now therefore seen more officially as the third tribe in this restored community (v.36), originally to have settlementsthroughoutthe land (Joshua 21).

The fact that the majority of Israel now consists of these Southern tribes and the priesthood is almost a sifting of the wheat from the chaff; a refinement of the spiritual from the nominal (Romans 9-11), that the Root of Jesse and Son of Judah shall be the Incarnate One.  Even the consolidation of the priesthood as an official tribe, and the giving of a 10th of all people to live in Jerusalem sees a type of reformation which is becoming more and more like the Church which the Lord had always envisioned – a Church which is not merely a division of land and spoils, but where the Elect are to live in Jerusalem.  Where the priesthood is at the forefront of this reformation.  Where the entire nation has the law written on their hearts and guarded by the walls of Jerusalem.

Levites effectively a third tribe in the restored community (v.36), originally having settlements throughout the land (Joshua 21).

Chapter 12

This chapter again reinforces the focus on the priesthood and the Levites, relating to the high priesthood from the time of Zerubbabel to Nehemiah.  Zerubbabel was the first leader and Jeshua the high priest who returned with him (which was a century before Nehemiah – see Ezra 2:2a). It would appear in the following verses (v.8-26) that Ezra and Nehemiah lived in the days of Joiakim, the son of Jeshua (c.f. v.13).  The days of Eliashib, Joiakim’s son, until Johanan (Eliashib’s son) was also described at v.22-23.  It is described at v.24 that the divisions were commanded by David (at 2 Chronicles 8:14), for praise and to give thanks – emphasising again the free-will nature at the heart of these Levitical traditions.  This is brought to the fore in v.27-30 by the cymbals, harps and lyres used in thankgivings and with singing by the Levites when the wall of Jerusalem was dedicated with gladness (Ezra 3:10-13).  Thus, the gates themselves were purified, a new start to Jerusalem (v.30; c.f. Exodus 19:10-15).

This free-will worship is emphasised even more in the remainder of this chapter, by way of two choirs (v.31-37, v.38-43 respectively) and the men appointed over the storerooms, contributions, firstfruits, and tithes (v.44-47).  The southern choir is led by Ezra (v.36) to the Dung Gate in the furthest south before moving north through the Fountain Gate to the Water Gate in the east (v.37).

The northern choir is joined by Nehemiah whilst it is led by Jezrahiah (a Levite) to the Gate of Guard (v.39) passing by all the gates from Gate of Ephraim onwards to the Sheep Gate (v.39).  The choirs, jointly offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy (v.43) – the women and children also rejoiced – such is the beauty of the unified Church of no divisions (Galatians 3:28), led by the priesthood to sing such songs of glory!

This glorious worship shapes the ministry of those appointed over the material wealth of the nation apportioning such wealth to the priests and the Levites (v.44-47).  “They performed the service of their God and the service of purification, as did the singers and the gatekeepers, according to the command of David and his son Solomon” (v.45) – though the treasure that we seek is to see the LORD face to face in such free-will rejoicing, we are also given treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20) which such apportionment symbolises.

Chapter 13

In spite of such awesome worship, Israel is still Israel – just as the Church is still filled with sinners to the boot.  It is notable that this book of ancient Reformation should end not on a sweet note of victory, but on a note that until the first coming of the Christ, and until the renewal of New Creation at His second coming, such changes are but external and the sin in us festering in our adamic flesh.  Note the following:

  • the removal of those of foreign descent (v.1-3) which is the first act of cleansing presumably on the basis that the Ammonites / Moabites’ spiritual history could lead the Israelites astray;
  • the corruption of Eliashib in favouring his relative Tobiah and setting for him a large chamber in the house of the LORD where the material wealth for the Levites and the Temple had been kept (v.4-9), desecrating the holiness of the Temple
  • the failure of the proper apportionment of wealth to the Levites (v.10-14), replacing the officials with reliable men who distributed to their brothers (v.13)
  • the profanity of the Sabbath by working and doing business with the Tyrians and lodging all kinds of wares outside Jerusalem around the Sabbath date (v.15-22; c.f. Jeremiah 17:19-27; Amos 8:4-6
  • the intermarriage of Jews to women of Ashdod, Ammon and Moab and the failure to speak in the language of Judah, immediately breaching what Nehemiah had done at Nehemiah 10:30 (c.f. Ezra 9-10; Deuteronomy 7:1-5), quoting the widespread knowledge of the sins of Solomon (v.23-29; c.f. 1 Kings 11), desecrating the spiritual purity of the priesthood

Thus Nehemiah cleansed Israel from everything foreign, and he established the duties of the priests and the Levites, each in his work (v.30) – as a summary of his entire work in this book.  The wood offering thus acts as a fitting bookend to this book (c.f. Nehemiah 10:34, Leviticus 6:12-13) – a reminder that it is the wood-offering which points us to Christ the One who was offered on the Tree, the wood.  All of Nehemiah’s reforms mean nothing if Christ is removed from the picture.

Yet – at the end of all this – Nehemiah pleads a prayer that the LORD remember Him for good (a repeated refrain throughout this book – 1:8, 5:19, 6:14, 13:14, 13:22, 13:30; c.f. Psalm 7, 17).  As Nehemiah and Ezra were both the reformers and typological mediators of Christ, their faithfulness are but shadows of the faithfulness of Christ.  It is Christ’s faithfulness which is remembered by the Father and truly eternal in the sense that Nehemiah and Ezra sought to achieve in the ancient Reformation.  May the Christ reform our hearts so thoroughly and guard us with His Spirit!

Nehemiah 10-13: Remember me – the Ancient Reformers

2 Chronicles 22-24: Preserving the house of David

Chapter 22

The wicked mother Athaliah is the instigator of the potential destruction of the promise and hope of Israel in her attempt to destroy all the royal family of the house of Judah.  This begins with her son Ahaziah, in her marriage with Jehoram – and unfortunately Ahaziah walked in the ways of the house of Ahab (v.3), in the counsel of those in this wicked house (v.4-5).  Rather than instilling the fear of the LORD, the knowledge of the gospel, into the hearts of the neighbouring nations, he would rather join in alliance with Ahab’s son Jehoram to make war against Syria.  It is therefore righteous and in God’s ordinance that Jehu son of Nimshi should destroy the house of Ahab and Ahaziah alongside with it (v.9).  However, this is not the same as destroying the royal house of David, which was Athaliah’s intent (v.10), for Ahaziah had a son Joash (who was not yet able to rule v.9, v.11).

It is in God’s providence that Joash is protected from the murderous intent of Athaliah and that the lamp in the house of David is not extinguished – and this is done by the hand of Ahaziah’s sister Jehoshabeath (oath of Jehovah), wife of a priest Jehoiada (knowledge of the LORD), again the preservation of the house of David initiated not by mere man, nor by mere king, but by the ordained priesthood.  Joash was therefore hidden in the house of God whilst Athaliah the whore reigned free, just as Christ was hidden in the house of God – known to those faithful to Him – awaiting the day when He would glorify the Father and display the Triune glory in fullness on the cross and destroy the whore once and for all (Revelation 17).

Chapter 23

Just like the scene of the wise men Matthew 2, Jehoiada with Azariah (whom Jehovah helps) (son of Jeroham (cherished)), Ishmael (whom God hears) (son of Jehohanan (whom God gave)), Azariah (son of Obed (serving)), Maaseiah (work of the LORD) (son of Adaiah (adorned by Jehovah)) and Elishaphat (whom God judges) (son of Zichri (memorable)) together gathered the Levites from all the cities of Judah and came to Jerusalem to announce the coming of the true king.  These are clearly men who looked forward to the Promised Seed and saw in Joash the need to overthrow Athaliah’s mad rule, Joash being the only hope and lineage from whom the Promised Seed shall come.  This is indeed a literal keeping/guarding of the law and covenant until the day of Christ’s first coming (c.f. Genesis 2:15 original Hebrew interpretation), as we see the synonymous nature of protecting Joash as if protecting the LORD Himself (v.6)!  These were men who understood what the Sabbath truly meant – an act of worship and not a secular piece of work to further one’s own kingdom (c.f. Luke 6:1-5); thus they fulfilled the true meaning of the Sabbath not by taking “rest”, but by achieving the promised rest in protecting the king of the house of David.

It is therefore a beautiful comparison in v.11-15, the imagery of the anointed, protected and elected king Joash from the line of David (with much song and dance!) contrasted to Athaliah’s madness and eventual death (v.13-15).  Therefore Jehoiada, from the protection of the king in his early youth, to the king’s anointing was very much the picture of the John the Baptist was to Christ, making the way straight for the king’s headship over the kingdom.  His covenant between himself and all the people and the king that they should be the LORD’s people (v.16) is a restoration of the status quo set down in David’s and Solomon’s day.  Like the period of Asa, Israel once again went through a reformation of its identity (v.17-18), reminded time and time again the importance of the house of David and the lineage of priests in presenting a multimedia presentation of the true King to come.  They should all know that the peace achieved after Athaliah’s death (v.21) was but a short one, a mere taste of the everlasting peace only achievable by the destroyer of the serpent’s head.

Chapter 24

However, it was foreboding that all the work and the covenant was kept by Jehoiada – but not Joash.  Joash was only a type of the foretold King, but bore hardly any quality similar to that of Christ.  Only during the days of Jehoiada that he worked to restore the house of the LORD and re-introduced the tax initiated by Moses in the wilderness (Exodus 30:12-14) as a reminder of the people’s need to focus on the House of the LORD (which was the tabernacle, the sanctuary, in Moses’ time) which defines the entire nation.  So the national dedication of the LORD’s offering was pleasing (v.8-14) and worked towards the proper reparation of the house of the LORD as well as utensils for serving in the house of the LORD (v.14), with burnt offerings offered in the days of Jehoiada’s leadership.  However, it is apparent that Joash’s heart was merely skin-deep in his love for Jesus; where Jehoiada focused not on the pomp and presentation of the House (possibly a reason why the Levites did not act quickly under Jehoiada’s leadership – v.5-6), he compensated in his spiritual influence over the kingdom that all would offer burnt offerings and provide wise advice to the king to prevent him defecting from his role as king in the house of David.  Yet, his death led to inevitable trouble (v.17) as the heart of the king was not grounded in the Word, nor the true meaning of the glorious physicality of the temple, and instead he was led astray by the princes of Judah to abandon the house of the LORD.

Joash’s eventual murder of Zechariah, the son of Jehoiada (forgetting the kindness of Jehoiada v.22 who had preserved Joash lest he be murdered by Athaliah) is a picture of the chosen nation Israel crucifying our LORD Jesus, solidifying the truth that Israel is not an elect nation due to its purity or virtue.  Rather, Israel was elected to display itself as a type of the sinner of the world, and Jesus the creator (with the Father and the Spirit) being crucified by the rebellious created.  Thus, the irony that Ahaziah and Jehoram’s invasion of Syria is brought back on its head as the Syrians return to destroy the princes of Judah and execution of Joash despite the Syrians having come with few men (v.24).  Although Jehoiada preserved Joash under the LORD’s direction, it was also His discretion to destroy Joash for not walking with Christ and for walking in the ways of his father Ahaziah and grandmother Athaliah.  However, his destruction now is the the vengeance of the LORD (at the hand of non-Israelites – the Syrians, Ammonites and Moabites c.f. v. 26 – a picture foretelling the Gentiles being led by the LORD instead of the Israelites themselves) and His justice truly served, as the house of David is still preserved in Amaziah (v.27).  The preservation of the house of David would not have been possible had Athaliah murdered Joash at the outset, yet it is in the LORD’s mercy that He should continue his steadfast love for David’s descendants, despite the Israelites’ continual relapses into rebellion.

 

2 Chronicles 22-24: Preserving the house of David

2 Chronicles 19-21: Victorious Worship

Chapter 19

Despite Jehoshaphat’s cry in chapter 18, his alliance with Ahab still needed to be accounted for – hence Hanani’s commentary on Jehoshaphat’s help of “the wicked” (v.2) and love for those who hate the LORD.  This is very much allows us to see what it means for us to “love our enemies” (Matthew 5:44) – which is to pray for those who persecute you.  It would appear that Jehoshaphat’s alliance did not include the heart to convert Ahab to following Christ; rather, Jehoshaphat’s oath to be with Ahab in 2 Chronicles 18:3 betrayed Jehoshaphat’s intentions.

Immediately thereafter, the narrator describes Jehoshaphat has appointing judges in the land of all the fortified cities of Judah (v.5), reminding them that they judge for the LORD and not for man.  It is clear that the narrator intends not to merely focus on Jehoshaphat’s unholy alliance with Ahab, but rather recall the good which is found in Jehoshaphat (v.3) in setting his heart to seek God, as proven in his appointment of righteous judges.  This is followed in v.8-11 by his appointment of certain Levites and priests and heads of families of Israel to give judgment for the LORD and to decide disputed cases – a further development of the justice under the banner of Jehoshaphat which should be done “in the fear of the LORD, in faithfulness, and with [their] whole heart…” (v.9; c.f. v.11).

Chapter 20

Again, in fulfilment of Solomon’s prayer in chapter 6, Jehoshaphat is right to set his face to seek the LORD (v.3) in the oncoming invasion from the neighbouring nations.  However, this is a far cry from the peace in the days of Asa when the law of the LORD pointed to the cross and instilled the fear of the LORD on even the neighbouring nations’ hearts.  Now, the Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites no longer have such fear, an indication of Jehoshaphat’s divided heart.  It is at this time that a national fast is declared (v.3) and thus he prayed:

O LORD, God of our fathers, are you not God in heaven?  You rule over all the kingdoms of the nations.  In your hand are power and might, so that none is able to withstand you.  Did you not, our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before your people Israel, and give it forever to the descendants of Abraham your friend?  And they have lived in it and have built for you in it a sanctuary for your name, saying, ‘If disaster comes upon us, the sword, judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before you – for your name is in this house – and cry out to you in our affliction, and you will hear and save.” (v.6-9)

Indeed, Jehoshaphat goes on to comment how these Ammonites, Moabites and people from Mount Seir were not attacked in the days of the exodus and yet they repay Israel with such aggression (v.10-11) – yet his hope does not lie in Israel’s brute strength (or lack of).  Rather, his hope lies in the name of the LORD – for that is the only reason why they stand before the house of the LORD, the sanctuary, the temple.  It is the same Name which the ancient Christians called upon (Genesis 4:26), the object of the Old Testament saints’ worship, which warrants the election of Abraham as God’s friend and Israel as the elected nation through which the promised Offspring shall come.  And this reminder comes through the mouth of the Levite Jahaziel (whom God watches over) by the filling of the Holy Spirit, that the Israelites shall not be afraid nor dismayed.  It is fitting that Jahaziel is described to have hailed from the lineage of Asaph, one of the leaders of David’s choir (1 Chronicles 6:39), bringing us again back to the LORD’s faithfulness to the house of David.

Further, the enemies shall go up by the ascent of Ziz (flower / branch) at the east of the wilderness of Jeruel (vision / founded by God) – and it is here that Israel need not even fight in this battle but merely to witness the salvation of the LORD on Judah and Jerusalem’s behalf.  Is this not the same fight which Christ fought on our behalf on the cross and we merely need to stand our grand and witness this miracle of salvation?  This is complemented by the beautiful image of Jehoshaphat the king, leading all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem to fall down before the LORD in worship, whilst the Levites, Kohathites and Korahites stood up to praise the LORD with a very loud voice – the combined silent obedience with uncontrolled praise.  We are, for the first time since 2 Chronicles 7:6 in the times of Solomon brought to remember the LORD’s steadfast love (v.21); to believe his prophets.

It is in their bowed head in worship, their psalms of victory and praise, that the men of Ammon, Moab and Mount Seir are defeated.  They are defeated whilst the Christians are praising; this is no “army” of God – this is but a priesthood, a family of worshippers who simply believe that salvation is gifted to them through the mouth of the LORD and His prophets (v.20-22).  Their initial fear evolves into unity as Christ-followers and people of the first Promise of the gospel in Genesis 3:15; which is juxtaposed against the initial false unity of the enemies which degraded into mass hysteria and mutual destruction (v.23). Is this not the picture of Old Testament worship – expecting Christ to be victorious on the cross?  Although Christ has not yet achieved such victory, their praise and hymns are sung as if this ancient promise is already fulfilled (Revelation 13:8); and similarly, although Christ has not yet returned to take us home, we are already citizens of heaven in a very Spirit-led manner?

It is quite a literal picture of the meek inheriting the treasures of the earth in three days (v.24-25), a reminder once again of the treasure of salvation we have received in the short course of three days from Christ’s death to resurrection, leading to the fourth day of blessing at the Valley of Beracah (blessing).  Yet, this blessing first came from the LORD and what they bless the LORD with is what the LORD had anyway – a picture of the perichoretic triune Christian community.  For the first time since the days of Asa (2 Chronicles 14), the fear of God returned on all the kingdoms of the neighbouring countries once more.  However, Jehoshaphat is again but a weak follower of Christ, with the narrator ending the description of his reign as having joined again with another wicked king of Israel (Ahaziah).

Chapter 21

Despite Jehoshaphat’s holy efforts as king of Israel, his son did not walk in his way but rather in the way of the wicked king Ahab (v.1-6).  Yet, the LORD’s steadfast love for Israel meant that the covenant He has made with David will not be destroyed because of traitors in the house of David (v.7) – the lamp of the Promised Seed shall not be extinguished even if Satan’s agents are hiding in the ancient church.  Yet, due to Jehoram’s satanic walk, men of Edom, Libnah, Philistines, and Arabians no longer feared the LORD and revolted from the rule of Judah (v.8-10; v.16-17).  Jehoram further led Judah and Jerusalem into whoredom, which evoked a disciplinary response from the LORD through the mouth of Elijah – that a plague shall strike Israel (v.14-15, 18-20) – Jehoram being one of the first kings of Judah to exceedingly stray from the covenant promise made to the Davidic household.  Despite this response, we are reminded once again of the opening verses (v.6-7) – “…the LORD was not willing to destroy the house of David, because of the covenant that he had made with David, and since he had promised to give a lamp to him and to his sons forever“.  Indeed, in spite of our lies and our deceit, our standing in Christ (Romans 3:4) – the lamp given to David’s lineage (Revelation 21:23) – secures us the salvation we do not deserve.

 

2 Chronicles 19-21: Victorious Worship