32. Assurances

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 32 : Assurances  – Psa 27

Psa 27:1   The Lord is my light and my salvation—   whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life—  of whom shall I be afraid?

Sometimes when encouraging people to build self-esteem in themselves, we say, look in a mirror and speak the truth to yourself, the truth about yourself and your position in life. That’s rather what David seems to be doing here in this psalm. By the nature of what he says in it, he has in the back of his mind that he has enemies and they trouble him, but he is going to declare the truth about the Lord to counter those concerns.

Thus he starts with this assurance about the Lord: “The Lord is my light and my salvation.” (v.1a)  What does light do? It shows the way or it lights up your surroundings and lets you see and understand what is there. The Lord does this for David. But life is full of difficulties and David’s experience of the Lord says that God is for him and will be there to save him from those difficulties. With that in mind he can say, “whom shall I fear?” (v.1b) If God is for him he doesn’t have to be afraid of anyone. Do you want to stand in front of a mirror and say that to yourself? This sense of security that he has in the Lord makes him feel it’s like he’s inside a castle and protected by the Lord and so, indeed, why be afraid of anyone:  “The Lord is the stronghold of my life—  of whom shall I be afraid?” (v.1c)

This sense of security has very practical outworkings. If he is this secure in the Lord then when enemies come, they are the ones who are going to fall before the Lord: When the wicked advance against me to devour me, it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.” (v.2)  One thing follows another in this spiritual logic. If God is his light and salvation and stronghold, then it doesn’t matter who or how many come against him for it is the Lord they will encounter:  Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident.” (v.3)  We don’t know who David has in mind when he writes this; it could have been Saul or it could have been the Philistines or some other national army invading. Whoever it is – he is secure in the Lord! OK, so much for enemies and his security in the Lord; now it’s time to move on.

It’s like he turns his back on thoughts of the enemy and turns to face or consider the wonder of knowing the Lord’s presence: One thing I ask from the Lord,  this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord  all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord  and to seek him in his temple.” (v.4)  That’s the big issue in life – his relationship with the Lord, knowing the Lord, seeking the Lord in the Tabernacle (house of the Lord), seeking the Lord in heaven (in his temple [the Temple wasn’t yet built so this must refer to His home in heave]) It was actually being able to be close to the Lord that was at the heart of his security: For in the day of trouble  he will keep me safe in his dwelling; he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent  and set me high upon a rock.” (v.5) If he can be close to the Lord in the tabernacle, then he knows the Lord will protect it and him and so when the enemy comes he will be safe there.  Wherever we are in life, if we can know the presence of the Lord, there is safety for us, His people.

David has this picture in his mind, of his enemies coming like a hoard to overcome him, and of the potential of him going down before them, but he knows that while he stays close to the Lord, the Lord will be there for him and he will be lifted up and so will not fall before them and, in fact, he will be lifted above them and therefore, in that place of worship he will be able to praise and worship the Lord, regardless of who comes: Then my head will be exalted  above the enemies who surround me; at his sacred tent I will sacrifice with shouts of joy;  I will sing and make music to the Lord.” (v.6)

So having given himself this talk in the mirror, so to speak, he turns away and speaks directly in prayer to the Lord. This needs to be appropriated and it starts in prayer: Hear my voice when I call, Lord; be merciful to me and answer me.” (v.7) Sensing and knowing the Lord’s presence starts when we seek Him in prayer. Prayer does a lot of things and one of them is that it gives us a sense of the Lord being there. In his heart David knows what he has to do: My heart says of you, “Seek his face!” Your face, Lord, I will seek.” (v.8) That’s what he is doing in prayer, seeking the Lord’s face or, to put it another way, seeking to sense the Lord is there.

As he prays, he voices his worst nightmare: Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, God my Saviour.” (v.9) God not drawing near, God being angry with him  for some reason, God rejecting him or leaving him, these are the anguishes of insecurity that we can find within us. But David knows better than these fears: Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me.” (v.10) Even if his closest family might reject him (but they hadn’t) God would never do that. That was the confidence that he had in his relationship with the Lord.

In this confidence, he prays for guidance: Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight path because of my oppressors,” (v.11) but then expresses the practical outworking of that: Do not turn me over to the desire of my foes, for false witnesses rise up against me, spouting malicious accusations.” (v.12). This is what he needs, deliverance from enemies who tell lies about him and yet, even as he prays, that confidence, that we have seen so many times when he prays, breaks through:  I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.” (v.13) The confidence that he has in his spirit as he prays will be translated into a practical outworking so that his experiences in life will reveal the goodness of the Lord.

With all this in mind, it’s like he returns to the figurative mirror and speaks again to himself: Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (v.14) That’s it, that’s all he’s got to do, trust in the Lord, wait on Him, hold to the truth and just wait and God will do what God will do. Excellent!

31. Vindication Again

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 31 : Vindication Again  – Psa 26

Psa 26:1   Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life;

Back in psalm 17, as we have seen previously, David prayed, “May my vindication come from you.” (Psa 17:2) and quite often in these psalms of David there is this element if either trying to be right before God or of the Lord showing him to be right before his enemies. He starts out with an interesting statement, especially in the light of earlier psalms where he is particularly aware of his failures. We must assume therefore that this psalm was written early on in his life:  Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life; I have trusted in the Lord and have not faltered.” (v.1) Now this is interesting for it focuses on his attitude towards God rather than on his behaviour. In respect of his attitude towards God he is sure of himself: he has trusted in the Lord and held firm to that trust.

In fact he is willing to be checked out in this respect: Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.” (v.2,3)  He is  willing to come under full scrutiny – heart (will & emotions) and mind (intellect) – because he has always been conscious of God’s love and always sought to rely on the Lord’s constancy, His reliability, the fact that His love will never change. This is all about attitude and relationship and in that, he maintains he has been constant.

He moves on in his self-vindicating process to consider his behaviour, the outworking of his attitude. He starts,  I do not sit with the deceitful, nor do I associate with hypocrites.” (v.4) He knows that deception and hypocrisy are wrong and so he has shied away from such people, yet one wonders if, at this stage of his life, he yet doesn’t really know himself. How many of us can declare that we are completely free of hypocrisy?  But perhaps he means those who constantly live in delusion, refusing to face the Lord and the truth. When he speaks of evildoers and the wicked, he does not mean people who occasionally do evil or who are occasionally wicked, but those who have settled in that way of life:  I abhor the assembly of evildoers and refuse to sit with the wicked.” (v.5)

From the rejection of the godless people of the world, his mind takes him to times when he goes to worship, presumably in the Tabernacle (for the Temple was not yet built). There is the laver where hands were ceremonially washed but for him it was merely a procedure to be followed for he has sought to keep himself clean morally at all times and therefore he was free to worship and praise the Lord without any sense of guilt inhibiting him:  I wash my hands in innocence, and go about your altar, Lord,  proclaiming aloud your praise  and telling of all your wonderful deeds.” (v.6,7) Thus he is able to enjoy the experience of entering the Tabernacle to worship the Lord fearlessly: Lord, I love the house where you live, the place where your glory dwells.” (v.8)  For many, thoughts of being near to God bring a sense of fear and trepidation and they are reminded of guilt and shame, but that is not David’s experience at this time of his life (although it might have been later) and it should not be the experience of the children of God, us. May we be able to have clear consciences as David had.

For him, he knew that he did not deserve the judgement that falls on sinners, and on those who care little of respect for life or those who plan wickedness and care little for truth and justice:  Do not take away my soul along with sinners, my life with those who are bloodthirsty, in whose hands are wicked schemes, whose right hands are full of bribes.” (v.9,10)  There is perhaps almost a naïve honesty about David at this time of his life for he is able to declare and request, I lead a blameless life; deliver me and be merciful to me,” (v.11) and then to declare, My feet stand on level ground;  in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.” (v.12) There is a confidence in him that he is secure in the Lord (standing on level ground) and because of this he is sure his future is assured and that he will stand with the saints in the great congregation in heaven. Perhaps in the letters to the seven churches in the book of Revelation, when Jesus rebukes one church for having lost its first love, he is referring to such a simple and almost naïve time such as this witnessed here in David’s life at this time. Perhaps, rather than being sceptical about the quality of his life at this time, a quality that enables him to write in the way he does, we should instead yearn for the same quality for ourselves.

30. Relationship

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 30 : Relationship & Deliverance  – Psa 25:11-22

Psa 25:14   The Lord confides in those who fear him;  he makes his covenant known to them.

We now move on to the second of the two halves. Remember the first half had as its contents: trust, guidance & forgiveness. In this second part we move on to see relationship & deliverance. In some senses what David has said in the first part is all about his relationship with the Lord but now he goes on to make an appeal based on that relationship and then speaks about relationship with the Lord in a more general way.

Relationship: Already he has been indicating his awareness of his own inadequacies and need for forgiveness and now he seeks greater forgiveness or, if you like, he has a greater sense of his need for forgiveness: “For the sake of your name, Lord, forgive my iniquity, though it is great.” (v.11) Recognition of need for forgiveness is at the start of a relationship with the Lord. It is tied in with an awesome respect or ‘fear’ of the Lord:  Who, then, are those who fear the Lord?   He will instruct them in the ways they should choose.” (v.12) Those who have this awesome respect submit themselves to Him and are open for Him to direct their lives which will bring blessing to them: They will spend their days in prosperity, and their descendants will inherit the land.” (v.13) But having a right attitude towards God is the key issue, and out of that the Lord shares His heart with them: The Lord confides in those who fear him; he makes his covenant known to them.” (v.14)  So, to summarise his understanding of relationship, it must start with an awesome respect for the Lord and a recognition of our own need of His forgiveness. When we come to this place the Lord teaches us how to live according to His ways which are best, and in so doing will bless our lives, and we will understand and share in the relationship that He has made possible for such people.

Deliverance: In the final part of this psalm David moves on to consider the problems that face him and his need for deliverance from them which, he knows, can only come from the Lord: My eyes are ever on the Lord, for only he will release my feet from the snare.” (v.15) He obviously feels there are those who are out to trap him. But is more than that: Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted.” (v.16) He feels he is on his own and has been injured, obviously by those who are against him.

Thus he cries for deliverance: Relieve the troubles of my heart and free me from my anguish.” (v.17)  He has a troubled heart and a sense of anguish. Troubles do that to us and only the Lord can truly deal with those. As so often with Hebrew poetry, he repeats himself but in a slightly different form: Look on my affliction and my distress and take away all my sins.” (v.18). Previously he had spoken of a troubled heart and a sense of anguish and now he speaks of his affliction and distress. But he also adds something and it is clear that he links what is happening to his sin.  David understands something that many of us don’t realise that sin and difficulties are so often linked, with one flowing out of the other: “A man reaps what he sows.” (Gal 6:7)

But it is not only his sin he has to contend with, he also has physical enemies who are against him:  See how numerous are my enemies and how fiercely they hate me!” (v.19) As so often in David’s life, it was a life of strife, contending with those who would seek to bring him down. Thus he then prays.  Guard my life and rescue me; do not let me be put to shame.” (v.20a) As God’s anointed king, defeat and failure would mean shame and that includes shame on the name of the Lord, because of his relationship with the Lord and the fact that he trusted in the Lord to look after him: “for I take refuge in you.” (v.20b). If the Lord didn’t look after him in the face of conflict, that would bring a question mark on the name of the Lord and he didn’t want that ever to happen.

David knew that living in a right way would bring blessing and protection against evil because in that sort of life he could trust in the Lord to bless him: “May integrity and uprightness protect me, because my hope, Lord, is in you.”  (v.21). Thus he finally prays, “Deliver Israel, O God, from all their troubles!” (v.22)  Whatever he was asking for himself also included Israel and so if he asked for deliverance for himself he also wanted it for his people, Israel.

29. Trust etc.

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 29 : Trust, Guidance, Forgiveness  – Psa 25:1-10

Psa 25:1   In you, Lord my God,  I put my trust.

As this is quite a large psalm we will take it in two halves and the first half has as its contents those three aspects in our title: trust, guidance & forgiveness. We might suggest that they flow in a logical order. When we come to a place where we trust the Lord, we are then open to His guidance. As He brings guidance into our lives, we realise He knows all things and understands all things and has what we might call ‘standards’, and we soon realise that we have not been living up to those standards and are in need of His forgiveness. So let’s look at what David writes.

Trust: He starts out with this clear declaration: “In you, Lord my God,  I put my trust.” (v.1) I know we have commented on it in previous psalms but it is significant and therefore bears repeating. Notice the capital letters of ‘LORD’. This is the name, the I AM, revealed to Moses. It is The revealed name and it’s the name by which David acknowledges God, the God of their history. This is the One he has come to know over the years, the One in whom he now trusts. Now this ‘trust’ is a very practical thing: I trust in you; do not let me be put to shame,  nor let my enemies triumph over me.” (v.2) He trusts the Lord to keep him safe when there is a threat from his enemies.

This means that he can be at peace knowing that the Lord will be there for him in a very practical way. Being defeated by an enemy would mean both he, Israel and the Lord being put to shame. This is what drove him when Goliath was challenging the armies of Israel. He considered shame was being brought on Israel and on the name of the Lord because of what was happening and that provoked him into action. Whatever are the present circumstances, that is what he now fears.  But now, because of his knowledge of the Lord, he has a confidence:  No one who hopes in you  will ever be put to shame, but shame will come on those who are treacherous without cause.” (v.3) ‘Hoping in the Lord’ is no casual wanting something to come about but a strong assurance that God is there and acts on our behalf. When we have this strong assurance, then we can also know that God will turn up for us, but those who are violent and all out for themselves, they are the ones who will know shame.

Guidance: Having this strong assurance of the Lord being there for him, David has a further confidence, that he can ask the Lord  to bring him into a closer understand of the way the Lord works   Show me your ways, Lord,  teach me your paths.” (v.4) That’s almost exactly the same as Moses asked of the Lord (Ex 33:13). Show me the way you work please Lord, show me where you go, what you do;  I want to know because I want to learn to walk more closely with you (implied). This is a very practical request for guidance; this is no mere intellectual request. It is a request that will bring a radical change to his life. He continues, Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Saviour,  and my hope is in you all day long.” (v.5) David’s trust is in God who has been his saviour, that He knows best and His ways are the right ways, and so he, too, wants to walk in them. But even as he thinks on this, he realises that he falls short of God’s standards, which takes us on to the next section.

Forgiveness: He appeals to the Lord’s mercy and love: Remember, Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old.” (v.6) i.e. in His revelation to His people, the Lord has shown Himself to be a God of love and mercy so with this in mind, David feels secure enough to pray,  Do not remember the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways according to your love remember me, for you, Lord, are good.” (v.7) David is aware that he hasn’t always had this awareness of the Lord and so he needs God’s forgiveness for the times in his youth when he was less than what he should have been. He is also aware that he still has a propensity to be self-centred and self-seeking and ignoring the Lord. What a measure of self-awareness! But in his appeal he reveals a further awareness that many of us either do not realise or are not sure about – that God is good! And so he continues: Good and upright is the Lord.” (v.8a) This is a further confidence that he has, that whatever dealings the Lord has with him, they will be for his good and they will be good.

Because everything the Lord does is good, the ways He deals with different people will be good and appropriate and, thus, “therefore he instructs sinners in his ways.” (v.8b) Sinners, by definition, are not living according to the way God has designed them and therefore they need correcting, or teaching, bringing back to the right way. But then there are those who are not proud and self-centred: He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way.” (v.9) These people He will guide and show them the way He wants them to go. They are open to Him (unlike the proud) and so He can guide them into the ways of blessing (implied).

Again and again David reveals his confidence in the Lord. Here comes another time: All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful toward those who keep the demands of his covenant.” (v.10) Keeping the covenant expressed through the Law was the means of doing what God required and for those people, David knew by experience, that would mean blessing because the Lord was loving and faithful.

28. King of Glory

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 28 : The King of Glory  – Psa 24

Psa 24:10   Who is he, this King of glory?  The Lord Almighty— he is the King of glory.

The structure of this psalm is interesting. It starts with God as Creator (v.1,2) and then moves to consider who can approach the Lord (v.3-6) and then just who it is who is to be worshipped in Jerusalem in the tabernacle (v.7-10). At first sight it may seem difficult to understand David’s train of thought and we certainly don’t have many clues as to when and why he wrote it. So let’s just work our way through it and see what arises as we meditate upon it.

So we start with God of Creation. First comes a declaration that the world belongs to the Lord – all the earth and all the people on it: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it.” (v.1) As always David has a reason for the assertions he makes: for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters.” (v.2) i.e. the earth belongs to God because He made it. No one and nothing exists without the Lord, and therefore He has a claim on them.

Is it the thought that we all belong to the Lord that starts David thinking about how we may approach this Creator God?  Being an Israelite, David lives with the revelation that has come down to them through the centuries that has culminated in the belief that the “dwelling place” of the Lord was the tabernacle in Jerusalem. Of course the temple would not be built until after David died but for now the truth for them was that the Lord dwelt in the tabernacle or tent, erected in the centre of Jerusalem, but the question still arose, who could go up to that place, who could approach this Creator God that he has just been thinking about? Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?   Who may stand in his holy place?” (v.3) If God is so great who can approach Him?

If God created this world then surely He knows how we work best and surely He will expect us to live like that? There are certain things that stand out in the Law that had been passed on to Israel, things that the Lord surely expects of His people. These things are things we should think about and work on: The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not trust in an idol  or swear by a false god.” (v.4) Four requirements. First, ‘clean hands’. Dirty hands would be hands that have done wrong or unclean things, things that are not right in God’s sight. A ‘pure heart’. An impure heart is one that has become contaminated by things that are contrary to God’s design for us. A pure heart is a heart like God’s heart. The latter two things are two aspects of the same thing. They refer to people who have turned away from the truth, turned away from the one true God and who have turned to superstitions and man-made ideas of things to worship. Such a person who desires to approach and encounter the Creator-God must hold to that truth that He is Creator and requires His people to live according to His design and not turn from it, whether that is in respect of their behaviour, their heart direction, or their thoughts about God. When they do, They will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God their Saviour.” (v.5) David knows that relationship with the Lord means Him decreeing good for their lives and dealing with their sin, and therefore it is good to seek the Lord: Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek your face, God of Jacob.” (v.6)

So David moves from thinking about what is required to enter into a relationship with the Lord, to imagining the Lord coming to His place in the heart of Jerusalem, he imagines Him coming to Jerusalem. In poetic language he addresses the gates of Jerusalem:  Lift up your heads, you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors,that the King of glory may come in.” (v.7) and then, because they might know who he was talking about he asks on their behalf, so to speak, Who is this King of glory?” (v.8a) and answers, “The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.” (v.8b)

Note here that David has moved from thinking about God as Creator to God who comes down and fights on his behalf and on behalf of Israel, i.e. from the impersonal power, perhaps, who made the world, to a very personal God who comes and acts on our behalf.  He also now names Him with the name given to Moses, the “I AM”, the eternal one, yet the one who has revealed Himself to His people.

Thus again he addresses Jerusalem:   Lift up your heads, you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.” (v.9) and then asks the same question:  Who is he, this King of glory?” (v.10a) and gives the answer, “The Lord Almighty—  he is the King of glory.” (v.10b) i.e. the one he knows as the I AM, the one revealed to Moses, is not only the one who fights for Israel and triumphs on their behalf, He is able to do that because He is, in fact, the all-mighty One who created all things. It is the Creator of the world who he welcomes into Jerusalem.

Thus in this relatively short psalm we see David’s understanding of the revelation of God, that He is the Creator and owner of all things, He is the One who comes and fights on behalf of Israel, and He is also the One who has made Himself personal to them by coming and dwelling in their midst in Jerusalem. The one we worship is the Creator of all things but he has revealed Himself to us as One who will fight on our behalf but, even more, is One who draws very close to us. Hallelujah!

27. The Shepherd

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 27 : The Shepherd  – Psa 23

Psa 23:1   The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing

The danger with meditating on this psalm is that it is so well known that we might become complacent with it. The sense of it is that it is written by a shepherd about The Shepherd. David starts off, “The I AM is my shepherd.” The name of the Lord as revealed to Moses is the name he refers to. The great eternal God, the One who is and was and always will be, is his God. But more than this, this One acts like a shepherd to David and David is one of His sheep. David, as a shepherd, knows about sheep and he knows that the shepherd cares for and provides for his sheep. David knows that with the Lord as his shepherd he lacks nothing. The Lord is first of all his Provider.

But the provision he speaks of is not what we might have thought: “He makes me lie down in green pastures.” (v.2a) He provides David with gentle, quiet, refreshing rest. Note He’s not providing food in the usual sense but food for the soul – stillness, rest, freedom from activity; that’s what being made to lie in green pastures does for you.

But it’s even more than this, “he leads me beside quiet waters.” (v.2b). It is a second picture that suggests gentle, quiet, refreshing that is not merely of the body, for so David concludes,  he refreshes my soul.” (v.3) For Dave, the Lord’s provision, that is so important, is a provision that refreshes not his body but his soul. How important this is in this day of haste and stress. How so many need this refreshing of soul. They cannot do it on their own, they need to come under the Lord’s direction and let Him bring them into that place of quiet, that place where solitude brings a refreshing. How so many of us struggle and strive with life, strive to achieve some importance,  some stature, when all along the Lord wishes to restore us to what we were originally, His children untrammelled by the ways of the world and the stupidity of sin.  Instead of struggling to get our own way, instead of trying to make something of ourselves, if only we would put ourselves in the hands of the great shepherd He would bring us into a place of stillness and quiet and refreshing that life in the world has denied us, a place where He is able to lead us to become the people He has on His heart, more wonderful than anything we might consider for ourselves.

Movement through life is at the heart of this psalm. Yes, it started with the Lord bringing him to a standstill, to stillness, for that is where spiritual life begins, when we come to the  end of ourselves and place our reliance entirely upon Him. But then the Lord led him in quiet places and refreshed him. After we have come to the Lord that first time, we find life takes on a new feel. Striving and struggling have gone – He is in charge, He is now leading us and that is very refreshing.

But then we find that the way He is leading us, had a very right and good feel about it: “He guides me along the right paths.” (v.3a) Notice the repeat language: “He leads me… guides me…”  It is all about the Lord showing the way. No longer is it us in control of our lives. And why does He do it? There may be many reasons but they are summed up, as we now know, because He is love (1 Jn 4:8) and He wants the best for us, but that is all in conformity with who He is and therefore all He does is to conform to who He is and how He is known in His world and so it is, “for his name’s sake.” (v.3b)

He thinks on further to his ongoing walk with the Lord: Even though I walk through the darkest valley….” (v.4a). He thinks of some of the dark moments of life that he has experienced, seeing them as times of walking through a dark valley. They are scary BUT, “I will fear no evil.” (v.4b) What should be the human experience, isn’t. Why? “for you are with me.” (v.4c) In however long it is that he’s known the Lord, David has come to realise that security comes from knowing that the Lord is there with him.

This is a tremendous revelation for the new believer (and the old!) and it comes with a specific reason: “your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” (v.4d) Now without trying to go deep here, the rod and the staff were the shepherds tools of his trade. They were what he used to beat off attacks of wild animals, and what he used to both lean on, but also to reach out and guide the sheep and even, sometimes, to rescue them. Put most simply, David the sheep knew that his Shepherd had the means to protect him, guide him and rescue him – and that was both comforting and bought a great sense of security.

So there it was, his walk with the Lord. It started off with the Lord bringing him to a standstill, then leading him into a way of quietness and refreshing, guiding him in right ways and in such a way that he had total security. He now reflects on the wonder of this, starting from this place of security where he doesn’t have to worry about the dark times of life or of enemies. Indeed, he reflects, You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” (v.5a). What does that say? It says when enemies turn up, leave it to the Lord. Come and sit down with Him and enjoy His presence as you ‘eat’ together in great style.  Yes, battles may have to be fought but before that, just focus on the Lord and on enjoying Him and either leave it up to Him to sort out or let Him show you how He wants you to sort it out.

But it gets even better than that: “You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.”  (v.5b) i.e. the Lord blesses him and makes him look and feel good, and he’s left with a really good feeling and optimistic about the future: Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” (v.6) Is that the sense that you and I have as a result of our walk with the Lord? All I’m going to get in my life as I walk it with the Lord is goodness and love and a real sense that my future with the Lord is secure. Hallelujah!

26. It is Done!

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 26 : It is done!  – Psa 22:25-31

Psa 22:30    Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord.

In verse 22 David had declared, I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” The ‘congregation’ or the ‘great assembly’ is a reference either to the gathered people of Jerusalem or, perhaps, just a wider reference to the watching world – but specifically the Lord’s people:  “From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly; before those who fear you will I fulfill my vows.” (v.25) His vows appear to be those in verse 22, to testify to, and praise the Lord. In the face of extreme anguish he will nevertheless testify to the Lord’s goodness and the Lord’s wonder. He, David, may change in his feelings but the truth about the Lord never changes. Whatever we feel, that truth remains the same and He is worthy of both our testimony and our praises of Him.

But it’s not only the great and the glorious that the Lord cares for: “The poor will eat and be satisfied; they who seek the LORD will praise him– may your hearts live forever!” (v.26) David is always mindful of those of whom the Lord is mindful – the poor – but whether eating here is physical is questionable because the latter two parts of the verse which, in Hebrew parallelism will echo the first part, clearly refer to seeking the Lord and it being a spiritual eating. Put another way, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mt 5:6)  The truth so often is that we do not go seeking the Lord until we recognize our spiritual hunger and need but, says David, when we do, we will be satisfied.

But then his attention to those who will praise the Lord goes a lot further afield: “All the ends of the earth will remember and turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him.” (v.27) That is interesting for it suggests that they once knew but forgot the Lord, and of course that is what has happened in history. Our Western nations are a classic example of that.  But there is going to come a time when the activities of the Lord will be such that the eyes of all the world will be drawn to Him and when that happens they will bow before Him. Thus Paul was to write of Jesus, “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” (Phil 2:9-11) One day it will happen and David foresees that day.

Why will that happen? “For dominion belongs to the LORD and he rules over the nations.” (v.28) That is the truth even though the godless rulers of the world deny it, but one day it will become obvious. A day is coming when that will be so. David envisages what will take place: “All the rich of the earth will feast and worship; all who go down to the dust will kneel before him– those who cannot keep themselves alive.” (v.29) Remember the nature of Hebrew parallelism and therefore understand this: at the moment the rich of the world feast and worship their idols (riches, fame, etc.) but a time at the end will come when the Lord acts in judgment on the world (as is seen many times in the Bible) and at that moment these revelers will fall on their knees in the dust in their helplessness.

Now comes something important: “Posterity will serve him; future generations will be told about the Lord. They will proclaim his righteousness to a people yet unborn– for he has done it.” (v.30,31) In its simplest form: the truth of this will be relayed down through the generations. David already knows the truth of this and this truth will be conveyed right down to us in this present time.  When the Great Day comes, the world will not be able to say it wasn’t warned; the truth is there in the Bible to be clearly seen.

When Jesus was about to die on the Cross, we have already noted, he cried, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30) As he stared death in the face he knew that the work of carrying the sin of the world by a perfect sacrifice had been completed. Justice had been satisfied. Every generation could call on the Lord for salvation and receive it because the price had been paid for every sin. The work was finished; now all that remained was for it to be worked out in the life of every person who would turn to him and receive it, and that is still continuing today. On the Cross he knew it, and in his heart David sensed it. Hallelujah!

25. Triumph

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 25 : Triumph  – Psa 22:22-24

Psa 22:24    he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; 

If what we read in the latter part of this psalm was indeed the experience of Jesus, it must have occurred in a matter of seconds or at the most, it would appear, in his last couple of minutes. After the awful anguish of earlier in the psalm we come now to what can only be described as triumph, where all the anguish has been taken and turned to praise. We have noted a number of times that in David’s psalms, he starts out pouring out his heart in anguish over his circumstances but as he goes on, it appears that he senses the Lord’s presence and in that awareness a new assurance breaks through, even followed by a strong confidence. This is often the experience of those who commit their lives – and their problems especially – to the Lord.

Thus David is now able to declare,I will declare your name to my brothers; in the congregation I will praise you.” (v.22) Gone is any self-pity, gone is any sense of anguish or defeat. Instead it is replaced by determination, that he will testify to the Lord to his fellow people and with them, in the Lord’s presence, praise the Lord. How often we come across believers who, for one reason or another, have lost their way, becoming jaded or cynical and the last thing they feel like doing is testifying to the Lord’s goodness and praising Him in the midst of the Lord’s people. They need to pour their heart out to their Lord in honesty in the David manner, and surely there they will find a fresh sense of His presence and His love and goodness. The church may not have changed and still be in need of reformation and revival, but their experience of the Lord can be renewed.

Indeed David now calls on the people of God to make sure they have a right attitude towards the Lord – and he wouldn’t be able to call for this unless he himself had come into this very place: “You who fear the LORD, praise him! All you descendants of Jacob, honor him! Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!” (v.23) There are three calls in this verse. It is first for those who do fear the Lord to praise Him. We are not to have a subservient, downcast attitude to the Lord; it is to be a vibrant experience that turns the respect into outgoing praise. Second, it was a call to all of God’s people to honour Him. It is so easy just to go through religious ritual but that does not bring honour to the Lord, only a vibrant relationship with Him will. Praise, honour and now revere. Revere here goes beyond ‘fear’; it means acknowledge openly His greatness, bowing in worship, giving Him the glory that is owed to Him alone. All of these three calls are similar, about responding rightly to the Lord, but behind them is the requirement to face and acknowledge the truth about the Lord’s greatness and to let your relationship with Him and your experience of Him bring forth naturally that which should be there where there is that reality – praise (acknowledging the wonders of his greatness), honour (giving glory for that wonder) and reverence (worship to express that in more than just words, but a bowing down of the life before Him).

But as always, these things flow from what the Lord has done first. John was able to write, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.” (1 Jn 4:10) It is always because God has done something first; God always takes the initiative and because of that, we see it and experience it and our hearts are released in praise, honour and reverence. David declares what has happened: “For he has not despised or disdained the suffering of the afflicted one; he has not hidden his face from him but has listened to his cry for help.” (v.24) That was how David had seen himself  – despised and disdained by all around him as he anguished in pain, and so he had cried out to the Lord and the Lord had not simply stood back and watched, but had responded and drawn near.

Now for Jesus, hanging on the Cross, nothing appeared to change as far as the onlookers were concerned. All they saw was a man in total physical anguish whose life was rapidly ebbing away. They could see nothing else. Yet, as we noted in the previous meditation, two of his last words were words in complete control, words indicating an awareness of the Father. Sometimes we have to pass through the most terrible of circumstances in this fallen world and if we do, the best that can happen is that the sense of the presence of the Lord comes to us, we sense Him drawing near while we go through it. Even if death faces us, we have the confidence that what follows in eternity will be glorious for us.  The apostle Paul knew this reality: “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far.” (Phil 1:21-23)  That is an amazing testimony of faith. May we each be able to say the same in the face of life-threatening times.

24. Save me

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 24 : Save Me!  – Psa 22:19-21

Psa 22:19-21    come quickly …..Deliver my life …Rescue me….save me

Sometimes, getting so caught up with the wonder or the strength of Scripture we can miss the incredible nature of just what is being said. In the previous meditation we scrabbled to grasp something of the awfulness of what the psalmist was experiencing,  seeing it as the experience of Jesus on the Cross. But, we said, we struggled to contemplate what circumstances David was struggling with that could have caused him to write in the manner he did. Putting it very simply, he was in the pits, he was at the bottom of his resources, totally consumed, it seems, with the terrible things happening to him. Now in such circumstances it might be reasonable to expect such a person to give up, shut down and go silent, or at least moan! Job in the early stages was in such a desperate plight that he gave up and wished he was dead. It would not be surprising if David felt the same thing, but instead we find something very different.

This is so strange that we might miss this, for we do take scripture for granted sometimes. What we have here is what marks off David from so many other people. Others would give up at this point, but David has a relationship with God and even at the worst moments that comes through. In his total anguish he cries out for God’s help. Now I have laboured this point because on one hand it is so obvious but on the other, it is the thing so many people fail to do. If you cry to God, yes, you are probably so desperate that you will grasp at any straw, but actually it means that for that moment at least you believe there is someone there to whom you can appeal – and that someone, you feel in your desperation, might come through for you.

Thus he prays: But you, O LORD, be not far off; O my Strength, come quickly to help me.” (v.19)  In the midst of the battle it had seemed that God had left him, so intense was the burden on him, but now we have passed that stage. If this is Jesus, these would be the closing thoughts before death comes, and in that case what follows are words of triumph, but for the moment they are words that pass through the mind as he emerges out the other side of the battle. In the few words Jesus spoke we know he triumphed. Jesus’ last words recorded by Luke are: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit.” (Lk 23:46) They are controlled words, words of a son to his Father. John, who was standing nearby, heard Jesus say, “It is finished.” (Jn 19:30) Again, controlled words, words accepting that the task planned from before the foundation of the word has been completed. The Son has carried the sin of the world through death.

This is triumph, but before he reaches those words recorded in the Gospels, he comes out of the despair of the battle and almost like a drowning man reaches up a single hand for a rescuer, as he prays for the Father to see him through the last minutes so that he will not fail Him.

Yes, he is still aware of those around him: “Deliver my life from the sword, my precious life from the power of the dogs.” (v.20)  Their ultimate goal is to destroy him and as he gazes into the face of death, he knows that only God can deliver. He is aware of the value and wonder of life – ‘precious life’ and he knows it is a gift of God and whatever will follow has also to be a gift of God, so again he cries out from within, “Rescue me from the mouth of the lions; save me from the horns of the wild oxen.” (v.21) Lions and wild oxen – both animals on the rampage, out to kill. There is no doubting their intentions. For Jesus, hanging on the Cross, it is quite clear: they want him dead. It almost sounds too simple to say, but that was what it was all about, getting rid of this meddlesome preacher who dared challenge the man-orientated religion of that day. Kill him, destroy him, get rid of him. In their anger and jealousy rational, caring humanity is out the door! No one is going to turn round in the middle of the crucifixion and have second thoughts and say, “Hold on, this is a mistake, take him down, tend him, care for him, revive him.”  It is also true for David. Those around him are out to get him and that doesn’t leave any room for doubt – his death is the only thing on their agenda!

In the face of these certainties, the man after God’s own heart and the one who was the even more perfect expression of that, the Son, both cry to the Father in their desperate plight for Him to come. This is the ultimate sign of commitment to the Lord. A measure, if you like, of our maturity or commitment to the Lord, is how fast we turn to the Father for help when the going gets rough. Learn it, and respond quickly, but to do that we have to unlearn the idea that just perhaps I may be able to solve it myself, or maybe we, the human race, can do it. No, He can do it!

23. Devastated

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 23 : Devastated  – Psa 22:12-18

Psa 22:14    I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me.

And so the psalm swings back again to the harsh reality of what was facing David. Remember the order had been Pleading – negative (v.1,2), Trust in history – positive (v.3-5), Insulted – negative (v.6-8), Relationship from childhood – positive (v.9-11). Now the following verses fall clearly into the negative category.

We might first note characteristics of these particular verses that appear clearly expressed at the Cross. “All my bones are out of joint” (v.14). The very process of hanging on the cross meant severe strain was put on all the joints. “My tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth” (v.15). John records, Later, knowing that all was now completed, and so that the Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips.” (Jn 19:28,29) John saw that Jesus was specifically fulfilling prophetic scripture. “They have pierced my hands and my feet.” (v.16) Peter declared on the day of Pentecost, “you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross,” (Acts 2:23) which was probably done through his hands and feet. Then “They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.” (v.19) Matthew records, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.” (Mt 27:35) plus the footnote – “A few late manuscripts: lots that the word spoken by the prophet might be fulfilled: “They divided my  garments among themselves and cast lots for my clothing”

These things are very clear and obvious things, but then we may ask ourselves, do the contents of the other verses in this passage tell us things about Jesus experience on the Cross? Most of the time in the Gospels we are not shown the things going on in the background, the things pertaining to powers and principalities and to Satan. But is it clear from the Gospel accounts that Satan was lurking in the background (in the foreground at Jesus’ temptation). In this time of Jesus immense vulnerability, is it not reasonable to suppose that that when David refers to bulls and lions seeking to tear him to shreds that was also the very thing that Satan and his demonic followers were doing to Jesus when he hung on the Cross?

Prophetic Scriptures indicate that in accordance with the laws of sacrifice passed down from Moses, the lamb to be offered had to be spotless – and remain spotless. The battle on the cross would surely be to get Jesus to curse God and cease to be spotless. That the divine side of Jesus could not do that is probably true, but the human side of him that made up the Son of God in human form, could easily have done that. Thus the battle, as Jesus takes the sin of the world on himself, would be brought by the powers of darkness to rail against him and abuse and chide him until he snapped – but he never did.

The writer to the Hebrews was thus able to say, “we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are–yet was without sin.” (Heb 4:15) He never gave way, he never sinned. If what we have said about these verses is true they give a slight sense of something of the awful battle that was waged on the Cross, unseen by the watchers but experienced by Jesus. So let’s just note those verses in their awfulness, written by David but apply to Jesus on the Cross:

12Many bulls surround me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.

13Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against me.

16Dogs have surrounded me; a band of evil men has encircled me,

The consequence of the physical, emotional and spiritual effects on Jesus then follow: “I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint.” (v.14a) Emotional and spiritual and then physical. “My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within me. My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth; you lay me in the dust of death.” (v.14b,15) All of his natural resources are expended. “I can count all my bones; people stare and gloat over me.” Physical anguish and social rejection.  The other verses we have referred to already.

Now we come to the difficult part. With most of David’s writings it is relatively easy to speculate what must have been happening to him, but when we come to these verses it is impossible to envisage the awfulness of what he must have been going through. Enemies out to get him? Yes, certainly, but that doesn’t account for the vividness of the writing which speaks of such physical torment as well as the other forms of torment. This is what makes this writing remarkable and adds to our conclusion that here it is truly prophetic lifting David out of himself to feel something of the awfulness that the messiah, the Coming One would experience. In no other way can these words be understood. They are truly remarkable and if they are as we describe, they must surely leave us gasping in awe at the picture of the battle that took place as Jesus hung on the Cross. Incredible!