BOOK 3: PSALM 76 OF 89 – HUMBLE YOURSELF OR BE HUMBLED

This Psalm is written to be accompanied with stringed instruments, and specifically described as a ‘song’.  In other parts of Scripture, stringed instruments are often used in the context of revival, of worship in new creation: Isaiah 38:20; Habakkuk 3:19.

In particular, there is something unique about this Psalm, different from those preceding it.  Whilst the previous Psalms speak of the persecuted seeking refuge, and the destruction of the wicked, this Psalm shares a different message altogether.

At vv 1-3, Asaph powerfully commences the Psalm by referring to the known God whose name is great in Israel, having established an abode and dwelling place in Salem and Zion.

It is interesting that Asaph refers to God’s dwelling place as Salem, since such reference is rarely used in Scripture and only in two other books: see Genesis 14:18; Hebrews 7.  Interestingly, it is King Melchizedek, one of the most mysterious figures of the Old Testament, who hails from Salem.  Otherwise it is a region without history in the Bible.

The meaning of the name for this mysterious region is “peace“.  Which is why it is telling that the capital of the promised land Israel, is Jerusalem, strictly meaning the city of peace.

Then there is the more commonly used new creation name of the promised land – Zion, frequently referred to as the city of David.

This sets the context of the Psalm.  Asaph is deliberately referring to a time when God’s victory is secured.  It is not going to be established in Salem, his dwelling place is not going to be in Zion, but it has been and is in Salem and in Zion.  It is the city of Jesus, the man who came to deliver the message of eternal peace and a renewed creation for the men and women of God to dwell in.

It is also in that place (v.3 refers to the action taking place ‘there‘ i.e. in Salem/Zion) that He broke the flashing arrows, shield, sword and weapons of war.  In new creation, the vocabulary of war is utterly removed.  The lion and lamb shall lie together: Isaiah 11:6.

As Spurgeon says:

“Without leaving his tranquil abode, he sent forth his word and snapped the arrows of his enemies before they could shoot them. The idea is sublime, and marks the ease, completeness, and rapidity of the divine action. The shield, and the sword, and the battle. Every weapon, offensive and defensive, the Lord dashed in pieces; death bearing bolts and life preserving armour were alike of no avail when the Breaker sent forth his word of power. In the spiritual conflicts of this and every age, the like will be seen; no weapon that is formed against the church shall prosper, and every tongue that rises against her in judgment, she shall condemn. Selah. It is meet that we should dwell on so soul stirring a theme, and give the Lord our grateful adoration,—hence a pause is inserted.”

The subsequent verses develop this theme further.  God’s glory and majesty (v4) is compared with the men of war who are stouthearted and rely on their hands and strength (v5).  One rebuke and the storms lay still (Mark 4:39; Luke 8:24); so also one rebuke the powerful rider and horse shall lay stunned (v6).

The warriors of this Psalm are almost described as synonymous as those who do not fear God.  V.7 makes that assumption – i.e. that God is to be feared, and yet there there those who try to stand before Him when they should be kneeling in humility.

If one rebuke can stun nature, what about when He utters judgment?  Asaph describes the earth as fearing and standing still.  Can we imagine what that looks like?  When we are riddled with natural disasters, hurricanes, typhoons, earthquakes, to name the least; the image of ‘Mother Nature’ humbling herself before God in judgment is but another way of telling us — if even powerful forces know when to take heed to God’s judgment, how much more ought we be humble?  For only the humble of the earth shall be saved (v.9).  If creation waits eagerly for the sons of God to be revealed (Romans 8:19-24), then ought we not humble ourselves and eagerly await for peace and revelation of those who are saved, to come after the Last Day?

Then comes the interesting verse – surely the wrath of man shall praise you.  Why would man’s sinful wrath turn into praise?  Only by God’s hand: Genesis 50:20; only He can turn a curse into a blessing, a weapon into worship.  Spurgeon says:

It shall not only be overcome but rendered subservient to thy glory. Man with his breath of threatening is but blowing the trumpet of the Lord’s eternal fame. Furious winds often drive vessels the more swiftly into port. The devil blows the fire and melts the iron, and then the Lord fashions it for his own purposes. Let men and devils rage as they may, they cannot do otherwise than subserve the divine purposes. The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain. Malice is tethered and cannot break its bounds. The fire which cannot be utilised shall be damped. Some read it “thou shalt gird, “as if the Lord girded on the wrath of man as a sword to be used for his own designs, and certainly men of the world are often a sword in the hand of God, to scourge others. The verse clearly teaches that even the most rampant evil is under the control of the Lord, and will in the end be overruled for his praise.

In the present age, we have simply forgotten about ‘fearing’ God.  The non-Christians are nauseous at the idea of a God who judges and destroys; the Christians are quick to clarify that we believe in a God who loves unconditionally.  Neither are correct.  God loves conditionally – the one condition being Jesus’ work on the cross, the ultimate act of self-humility.

Outside of that love, he does judge and destroy.  Inside that love, we are freed from our shackles and we are freed from the wars of this world.  Outside of that love, we are required to be warriors, equipping ourselves with the shield, the sword and weapons of this world in order to survive.  Inside of that love, we rid ourselves of those tools as we are equipped instead with the spiritual armour to fight spiritual battles (Ephesians 6) and advance His kingdom of peace, telling the story of Salem.  Outside of that love, we label ourselves as princes, princesses, kings and queens of our own kingdoms, and we give gifts to ourselves; inside of that love, we are labelled by Him as His co-heirs of the eternal kingdom and we freely give gifts to others – and bring gifts to Him (v.12).

Where exactly do we stand before Him?  Are we humbling ourselves, kneeling before the king, and through that we are exalted into a realm of peace today and inherit his kingdom (Matthew 5:5)?  Or are we clinging onto our sword, by which we shall be rebuked into servility or submission; or otherwise live a life that only leads to death (Matthew 26:52)?

 

 

 

BOOK 3: PSALM 76 OF 89 – HUMBLE YOURSELF OR BE HUMBLED

2 Chronicles 31-33: Humbled

Chapter 31

Hezekiah’s focus on the priesthood continues in chapter 31, as (like David in 1 Chronicles 16) he appointed the divisions of the priests and the Levites (v.2-10).  In the wake of the destruction of idolatry (v.1), the response is to replace such idolatry with passion for Jesus, giving thanks and praise (v.2) and giving the portion due to the priests and the Levites that they might give themselves to the Law of the LORD which points to Christ alone (v.3-4), such tithing through the Levites which have not been done for many generations of kings (v.7-8 – from the third month to the seventh month).  Such overflowing blessing which is beyond all that the Levites had needed (v.10)!  This prompted Hezekiah to command the Levites to prepare chambers in the house of the LORD (v.11) to house such contributions, tithes and dedicated things (v.12), a reminder that these are all the LORD’s to begin with – also a symbolic storing of the treasures in heaven (Matthew 6:20).

This very much defines the period in which Hezekiah led – doing what was good and right and faithful before the LORD (v.20).  Yet, Hezekiah was not the promised offspring, despite his temporary shortcomings described in chapter 32; he is not the Son spoken of in Psalm 2; like Solomon, they both shine brightly as types of Jesus, representing ages where heaven seemed to kiss earth.  Not yet, not yet.

Chapter 32

The arrogance of Sennacherib is almost a red herring given Hezekiah’s walk with Christ and devotion to the priesthood, as surety that the LORD’s steadfast love is manifested in His victory through Israel against all enemies and odds.  The waters of the Law of the LORD flows from and to Israel (Isaiah 2:2) and Hezekiah’s decision to stop the water of the springs outside the city (v.3) is a conscious act of pronouncing judgment on Sennacherib for failing to recognise the importance of Israel’s identity to Sennacherib’s salvation.  Indeed – for with Israel is the right arm of the LORD, whereas Sennacherib is but an arm of man.

Sennacherib’s blasphemy in v.9-15 is but a repeat of what Israel believes – indeed, that what the other nations believe in are but false idols.  Of course they are incapable to fend themselves against man’s mightiest threats (v.9-15) when their object of faith is dead and lacks the power to protect but only the power to deceive.  Hezekiah’s God is the true deliverer – the story of the exodus preached in Israel and surely in the surrounding nations.  Sennacherib’s ignorance of the Passover and this protected nation is already testimony to this eventual downfall – that this tribal nation’s survival has been and will continue to be entirely dependent on the LORD’s steadfast love to Israel through Jesus.  “How much less will your God deliver you out of my hand!” (v.15, c.f. v.17) is in itself a fabricated lie.

The Israelites’ first response could have been to justify themselves; to seek confidence in their military might.  Yet, Hezekiah and Isaiah’s response is exactly that required and expected of an Israelite – to pray because of such blasphemy and crying to heaven (v.20).  The irony of Sennacherib’s death is that his lie has turned on himself – that in the house of his god he was struck down rather than delivered.  One of LORD’s mere angels is sufficient to cut off all the mighty warriors and commanders and officers in the Assyrian camp (v.21), and not even the Angel of the LORD Jesus Christ Himself – let alone the angelic army which protects Israel (2 Kings 6:17)?  Once again, the king of Israel is honoured because of Israel sealing its identity as the LORD’s child, as initiated by Hezekiah and Isaiah’s joint plea (v.23) – just as Christ was exalted by the Father (Acts 5:31) and was challenged by the lies of men like Sennacherib (Matthew 27:40).  Even Hezekiah’s pride was merely mentioned as a passing stage in his life, his sin overshadowed by his humility (v.26) which blessed the nation, just as Christ’s humility on the cross provided the gifts of salvation and Holy Spirit to us.

Thus, the sign Hezekiah received (v.24), amongst the various signs he received in the destruction of Sennacherib, were the Babylonian princes’ and envoys’ subject of inquiry.  The “sign that had been done in the land” is the sacrament of God’s love towards Israel, manifested in the Shekinah glory in the House of the LORD.  Yet, God left Hezekiah to himself (v.30), in order to test him and to know all that was in Hezekiah’s heart – whether Jesus was written on his heart, or whether his own name was written on his heart.

Chapter 33

Yet, just as Hezekiah was described to have a life walking with Jesus, his son Manasseh shakes that stability in Israel by his evil leadership once again (v.2) – the mindless sheep of Israel following their sinful king even in rejecting the same LORD Whom Hezekiah lifted up.  Just like Ahaz (2 Chronicles 28) who had similarly sacrificed his offspring as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, a direct threat to the Offspring Who would have brought everlasting to Israel.  Instead, Ahaz and Manasseh choose to adopt the idolatrous practices and abominations of other nations to achieve such victory – Manasseh in particular rejecting the LORD despite receiving direct revelation from Him (v.10), leading him to be chained down like a slave, like an animal (Isaiah 37:29).  Yet, in fulfillment of Solomon’s plea in 2 Chronicles 6, that even a man like Manasseh, if he were to turn back to the LORD, he would be redeemed – v.12-13 is a fulfillment of this.  Manasseh humbled himself before the LORD, and God was moved – His steadfast love expressed in bringing Manasseh back to Jerusalem (v.13).  Only at this stage did Manasseh know that the LORD was God.  As a response in faith, he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the LORD (v.15-17), restoring the altar of the LORD and sacrificing peace and thanksgiving offering.  Judah is to return to serving the LORD, not to sway from the promise of the gospel which Manasseh newly received.

Yet, like how Manasseh has “undone” the work of Hezekiah, so also Amon is another faulty line in the lineage of David threatening the coming of the Son.  He did not humble himself before the LORD, and instead he incurred more and more guilt – bearing a death very similar to Sennacherib’s (chapter 32:21).  However, there was still some ray of light – that the people would reject those who killed Amon (v.25) – and his short reign is thus replaced by young Josiah.

 

2 Chronicles 31-33: Humbled

1 Samuel 14: Salt and Light of the World

In 1 Samuel 14 we begin to see the struggle within Israel – the struggle for Jonathan, or the struggle for Saul.  Jonathan is the one with true faith in Christ – it is by the Son that Jonathan and his armor-bearer succeeds – “Do all that is in your heart.  Do as you wish.  Behold, I am with you heart and soul” (v.7).  Is this not the phrase of the faithful Caleb alongside Joshua?  Can anyone in the OT succeed in anything except by this Christocentric faith (Hebrews 11)?  Do we not see two men who are victorious by faith, rather than by their own might or by mere vengeance (v.6, 24)?  Jonathan commands far more trust from the people who follow him with heart and soul; yet Saul commands legalistic obedience – the repeated response to his mandates being “do whatever seems good to you” (v.36, 40).  Saul, the one who cannot bring the Israelites out of the hidden tombs and crags, who is attempting to uphold the law which points to Christ (v.33-35) – but failing entirely.  Is it not against the purpose of the law if he does not lead the people in faith (Romans 3:31).  If his obedience was Christ-focused, he would have retrieved the ark (v.18 perhaps means the ephod as in the ESV footnote, rather than ‘ark’) to perform these sacrifices; if he knew which God he was meant to be worshipping, he would not deprive them of food (v.28-29) – like David who fed his men the bread of presence (Matthew 12:3-4).  Like Jonathan who proclaims that Saul is leading Israel to harm (v.29) and instead encourages his men to break the idolatrous and Godless, self-serving oath so that none would die and instead feed on the honey of new creation.  How can the Israelites be pulled out of the hidden crags and let alone remain in blindness (c.f. Matthew 6:22)?  Jonathan in contrast leads them to be the salt and light of the world that is not hidden (Matthew 5:13-15), full of wisdom and knowledge with livened souls in Spirit and in Christ.

It is this Christless Saul who keeps the Israelites blind and hidden;  he is the one who has never built an altar to the LORD before (v.35), and builds one on condition of military victory rather than praise or thanksgiving (c.f. Genesis 8:20; 12:7).  The “relationship” therefore is purely restricted to requests for victory (v.41) – whereas, the true victory was achieved by Jonathan as indicated by the LORD’s right hand (v.23).

And this omen, this seed of discord, was implanted as early as chapter 9 when Saul failed and did not persist to find his lost and hidden sheep.  Saul’s purpose is to protect his people, is to bring them out of the tombs and into a victorious chant; yet, it is by Jonathan that these things are achieved, that “…likewise, when all the men of Israel who had hidden themselves in the hill country of Ephraim heard that the Philistines were fleeing, they too followed hard after them in the battle” (v.22).  The false king did not yoke himself with the Israelites; he added to their weary and to their burden (c.f. Matthew 11:30), these faint Israelites (v.28, 31) who fed on the raw animals with blood flowing inside them – a result of their faintness, their hunger, their burden, caused solely by the disobedient captain Saul.  Like how he blames Samuel in chapter 13, so also he blames the men: “You have dealt treacherously”.  What an adamic retort to his selfish Pharisaic oath which caused such treason!    That Jonathan shall receive the same punishment as the John (the Baptist) of the gospels, to be bound by an oath made with the devil: an oath which will cause the death of innocent lives but for the pride and pleasure of the oath-maker (c.f. Matthew 14).  Though it is Saul’s right to put his son to death upon the breaking of the oath, so also it is the Father’s and the Son’s mutual right to place eternal divine punishment upon our spirit and flesh this very day: yet, by the Trinity’s good pleasure we have the Son propitiating the Father’s wrath by taking our place on the cross.  Such is the Christocentric mercy that Saul lacks: his merciless, faithless adherence to the law is repudiated by the men’s acceptance of Jonathan’s work of salvation.  ” “Shall Jonathan die, who has worked this great salvation in Israel? Far from it! As the LORD lives, there shall not one hair of his head fall to the ground, for he has worked with God this day.” So the people ransomed Jonathan, so that he did not die” (v.45).  So also our Christ is our ransom, but not on our account of righteousness – but on the account that Jonathan is truly living by faith and does not deserve death; but Saul is the war-like animal fitting to be part of the ravenous wolves of the Benjamin-tribe.  Did Saul not live by Jonathan’s understanding of Christ?  “Come, let us go over to the garrison of these uncircumcised. It may be that the LORD will work for us, for nothing can hinder the LORD from saving by many or by few.” (v.6)  And indeed did Jonathan and his armor-bearer, two mere men, partake in Christ’s work of salvation – indeed, did the mere baskets of bread and fish multiply to feed thousands and thousands; so also one small mustard seed becoming a great tree (Matthew 13:31-32) as an analogy to the humiliation of Christian men as a shadow of Christ’s pre-incarnate and incarnate, sinless humility.  This is the Trinitarian economy.  Yet, the numbering of Saul’s growing army, just like the numbering of David’s (1 Chronicles 21:1), is a pretext to the nation without Sabbath, a nation without rest, a warring nation growing in as much pomposity as ego to match the increasing faithlessness of the physical church of Israel, manifested in the tragic first king.

1 Samuel 14: Salt and Light of the World