13. Security

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 13. Security

Psa 3:5    I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me

Watched Over: I have struggled with this verse. As you are probably aware as you read these notes, often I find the paraphrase versions shed light on my ponderings, and I often like the way the Message version expresses it, but in this instance there is something crucial missing: “I stretch myself out. I sleep. Then I’m up again—rested, tall and steady,” i.e. there is no mention of the Lord! The Living Bible is better: “Then I lay down and slept in peace and woke up safely, for the Lord was watching over me.” That, I think, conveys more of the sense of what David is writing here.

But to backtrack, it’s an odd verse because you might think that the Message version is right in that that is how things are, surely, we get tired, we go to sleep and wake refreshed; that is what is called common grace, that is what happens to all of us. If only! Modern man seems to be more self-aware than his predecessors and sleep is one of those things you can read about in abundance. But the mere fact that so much is written about it, with changing ideas appearing from ‘experts’, suggests that sleep is not always as simple and straight forward as we just suggested.

The truth is that we can have difficulties with sleep. Yes, we can have trouble getting to sleep and we are told it may be an over-active mind, or eating or drinking too much too late, or we may be turning over worries of the day in our mind. I know of someone who has music or a story playing quietly in the background to help overcome the concerns of the day. When we do eventually get to sleep it can be just as bad and we may only have shallow sleep, sleep that is broken and comes to wakefulness from time to time, or that semi-wakefulness can be invaded by particular concerns that go round and round and just won’t stop. When that happens I now get up go downstairs, look at the stars, make a cup of decaffeinated tea, sit at my computer for half an hour and then invariably go back and sleep soundly. There is one school of thought that suggests that our ancestors tended to usually have two-periods sleep just like this.  The older you get, they say, the less sleep you need, and you certainly worry less about broken nights. In sleep, bad dreams can be an indication of worries (as well as eating wrong food before going to bed!). And so we could go on. The fact is that mind and body work together and, when we are not careful, conspire together to cause all these various problems.

But David is testifying to the Lord’s presence and provision. He has said He is like a shield who surrounds him, sheds His light on him and encourages him (v.3), that he can cry to the Lord and knows that the Lord will answer him (v.4). Yes, he may be on the run from Absalom, his throne has been taken, his rule may be ended, and he may never see Jerusalem again – and indeed his very life is under threat – but he has learned that although the Lord is disciplining him, He is still on his side and so he can further testify, “I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.” (v.6) He knows, as Job had come to learn, that the Lord may discipline him and even use Satan and his agents to come against him, but the instruction to the enemy is always summarised as, “Thus far and no further.” God has been there for him in the past, and although he has sinned and is under discipline, David has learned something we need to learn – God has not given up on him. God is still in the business of redeeming his life and He hasn’t finished with David.  Whatever your failure, as long as your heart is still pointed in God’s direction, He has not given up on you.

I like even more the ‘Easy-to-Read Bible version of verse 5: “I can lie down to rest and know that I will wake up, because the Lord covers and protects me.” That touches on something that is peculiar to David’s situation.  David has known by past experience that it is possible to creep into an enemy’s camp in the middle of the night with the possibility of assassinating the leader. (1 Sam 26:7) Not only is David secure in the knowledge that if a mass-army turns up, the Lord will still be there on his side, but that divine protection extends to keeping him secure from assassins.  Physical strength restored, mental peace assured, spiritual resources recharged, these are all part of the design and work of the Lord and now, as well, complete security.

Perhaps nowhere is this assurance conveyed more clearly in Psa 121 which starts, I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?” The mountains could be a source of threat, for surrounding Canaan were mountain tribes and peoples who would sometimes come down and invade. In the mountains so often Israel had the so-called ‘high-places’, places where images (idols) were set up and worshipped, false idols, false worship. These were the possibilities open to the psalmist as he wrote that psalm.

But he will not be put in a state of fear by such threats and he will not turn to false gods, for, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (v.2) Yahweh, the Eternal One, the Creator of all things, He is his source of security. “He will not let your foot slip.” (v.3a) i.e. he will make me secure so I can stand firm in the face of all threats. But there is something wonderful about the Lord – He is on the job twenty-four hours a day: “he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” (v.3b,4) and so he could say, “The Lord watches over you,” (v.5a) but God doesn’t watch inactively, He watches to protect.

So, continues the psalmist, it doesn’t matter what is going on around you because, “the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (v.5b,6) i.e. total protection. Indeed, “The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (v.7,8) The Lord watches over His children to keep them from harm. (This is not to say we can’t walk out from under His protection foolishly and suffer harm). Yes, persecution may come but whatever threats come, nothing can take you away from the Lord’s love (read Rom 8). In the midst of ‘whatever’, the Lord is there and His command to the world is “thus far and no further”. For David under God’s discipline that was the sense of security that he had and thus he can testify as he has. May we be able to do the same.

12. God’s Holy Mountain

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  12. God’s Holy Mountain

Psa 3:4    he answers me from his holy mountain.

God’s Presence: Again, how casually I have sped over these words with so little thought, and yet I suspect (is He telling me?) that here there are such profound truths to be mined as we meditate. Before we move on in this psalm, I believe there is something of significance that we have passed by without comment here in verse 4: “he answers me from his holy mountain”. What is that ‘holy mountain’?

Zion: Well, back in Psa 2 we read, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psa 2:6) Further back in 2 Sam 5:7 we read, “David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.” That is the first reference to ‘Zion’ and it clearly meant Jerusalem. It had long been known as Jerusalem, occupied by the Jebusites who Israel had failed to overthrow initially (Judg 1:21), and it had not been taken until David arrived in power, when he re-established it as his base and subsequently the capital of Israel. When the ark was brought there, and later in Solomon’s reign the temple built, and filled with God’s presence (1 Kings 8:10,11), it became known as the ‘holy city’: “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.” (Isa 52:1)

Jerusalem: Jerusalem is described as “set high in the hills of Judah” (New Bible Dictionary) and one Internet site describes Jerusalem as follows: “Jerusalem’s seven hills are Mount Scopus, Mount Olivet and the Mount of Corruption (all three are peaks in a mountain ridge that lies east of the old city), Mount Ophel, the original Mount Zion, the New Mount Zion and the hill on which the Antonia Fortress was built.” When a prophet or psalmist refers to the ‘mountain of the Lord’ or ‘his holy mountain’ it can either mean Jerusalem generally or the hill or mountain on which the Temple was eventually built.

As David writes pre-the Temple, it is more likely to mean Jerusalem at large, Jerusalem the whole city. The designation ‘mountain’ may refer to the fact that all of the ‘hills’ of the Jerusalem area are well over 2000 feet above sea level, or it may simply be creating spiritual significance of a place of ascent on which God resides. A study of ‘mountains’ in the Old Testament must take us first to Moriah: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen 22:2) Amazingly this was Jerusalem where Solomon eventually built the temple (2 Chron 3:1) equated today, it is said, with the vicinity of Calvary. What a symbolic picture. The second mountain that stands out is Sinai where God met with Israel during the Exodus (See Ex 19-). The imagery that goes with that encounter suggests inaccessibility except by divine permission. So often when people went there, the record says they went up to Jerusalem, that same picture of ascending to meet with God that Moses showed us. Thus Jerusalem becomes the place of encounter with the inaccessible God and the place of god’s offering of His own Son to save the world.

Tent of Meeting: God’s instructions to build a Tabernacle (Ex 25-27) appear to be His early means of bringing limited access to Himself by His people. It was also referred to as ‘the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21 etc.): Set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, on the first day of the first month. Place the ark of the covenant law in it and shield the ark with the curtain.” (Ex 40:2,3) and it continued in existence until Solomon replaced it with the Temple (see 1 Kings 8). However in the time of Eli and Samuel, after the debacle with the Philistines, the ark (and presumably the Tent) stayed at Kiriath Jearim (1 Sam 7:1,2) until twenty years later David took it to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6) where it was placed inside “the tent that David had pitched for it.” (1 Chron 16:1), but this was clearly different from the Tabernacle still pitched at Gibeon (1 Chron 16:39) The ‘tent’ was clearly simply the home or location for the ‘ark of the covenant’ that was seen to be the place where the presence of God resided on earth. As we noted above, both ark and tent of meeting (as this tent now clearly became) were taken to the temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8:1-4)

God’s Dwelling Place? The ark in the Tabernacle? The ark in the Temple? The ark disappeared in history, but the Temple remained until Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it during the Exile but until then the Temple (and the ark) had been the focus or ‘dwelling place’ of God on earth. Why is that so significant? Because it was there by God’s instructions, and it was a place of focus on God, a place where people could go to worship God (even though they could not encounter His presence hidden in the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies). So when David prays and get answers, they come from the God who has revealed Himself and positioned Himself in the midst of Israel.

And Today? The writer to the Hebrews conveys something quite amazing when he speaks to us: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire …. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb 12:18,22) For us, Mount Zion is not just a mountain but a city and it is in heaven. At the end of his amazing visions recorded in the book of Revelation, John records, “One of the seven angels…. said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev 21:9,10) In the final words that follow it is clear that this heavenly city comes down to the newly recreated earth and is accessible to all, and Father and Son are in the midst of it. The mountain where God had been inaccessible, the place where the Godhead dwells, has finally come to be in the midst of redeemed mankind. In heaven or on the new earth, the dwelling place of God is accessible to redeemed mankind, to the people of God.

A Poignant Psalm: For David it was the place towards which he uttered his prayers, which makes this psalm, headed by “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom”, so poignant. Until then he had focused on God in Jerusalem but now he was on the run out of and away from Jerusalem and so his focus became more ‘long distance’ if we may put it like that. Yet there is another significant truth: even though David may not have close access to the Tent in Jerusalem, the Lord is still there; He has not departed Jerusalem, it is still HIS city and therefore there is a sense when David utters these words, they come with an underlying assurance that he is still in God’s hands, this is all happening because God is working out His disciplinary will for David and He, the Lord, is still the same and will still be there in Jerusalem for David to call to, and will still be there should the Lord allow him to return. God IS there – for us in heaven and for us by His Spirit, incredibly, indwelling us – and so it doesn’t matter what the earthly circumstances appear to be showing, in respect of the Lord, nothing has changed! He is there and He is there for us and He is there available to us because He has made it so! Hallelujah!

11. Prayer of Testimony (2)

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  11. Prayer of Testimony (2)

Psa 3:4    I call out to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy mountain.

A Witness: Yesterday we looked at the first line of David’s testimony in verses 3 t0 6. I say ‘testimony’ because it is what David says he knows about his experience of God. I love the language of the apostle John: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched—this we proclaim concerning the Word of life.” (1 Jn 1:1) This is the language of testimony. You find the same sort of language with Luke as he explains why he is writing his Gospel: “Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word.  With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning I too decided to write an orderly account for you.” (Lk 1:1-3) This is the sort of stuff you hear in a courtroom.

We have already referred to David’s testimony to Saul about how the Lord had looked after him and provided for him when he was a teenage shepherd boy (1 Sam 17:34-37), and I suspect we so often take for granted the language of the psalms when the psalmist is comforting himself with what he knew of God. Do we do it I wonder? The early church did. Listen to this prayer: “Sovereign Lord,” they said, “you made the heavens and the earth and the sea, and everything in them. You spoke by the Holy Spirit through the mouth of your servant, our father David…” (Acts 4:24,25) i.e. they remind themselves who God is, Sovereign Lord of the Universe, the all-powerful Creator of all things, and yet One who intervened in the affairs of men and had spoken through His prophets, hence Psa 2 which they go on to quote.  Testifying to what we know, speaking out the truth we have found, this is surely a key aspect of the Christian life.

If you regularly read these writings, you may remember one of my favourite sets of verses from the Old Testament (perhaps because I am aging a bit!) is, The righteous will flourish like a palm tree, they will grow like a cedar of Lebanon; planted in the house of the Lord, they will flourish in the courts of our God. They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15) There it is again. The righteous, as they age, may feel limited but one thing that they can still do is testify to what they have learned, that God is as straight as can be, God brings security, and God is utterly good. They are not only the words of Scripture but they also become the words of our lips as we testify to the truths of life with God.

Prayer of Desperation: “I call out to the Lord.” Some versions have it, “I cried out loud to the Lord.”  How we take such words for granted when we skim through these psalms. Even the simple, ‘call out’ speaks of an urgency, a desperation. I would like to think that prayer is an element of our everyday life, a part of every facet of our experiences, but the truth is that so often we get so embroiled in the affairs of life that we don’t actually pray in every context, we wait until a crisis hits and then, oh boy, do we pray! History seems to intimate that even atheists in their desperation cry out to God in prayer in their times of desperation.  Is it because deep down – even though pride and ego for so many so much of the time subdue this – there is that thing that God has put there? Solomon expressed it, He has also set eternity in the human heart,” (Eccles 3:11) So, it is a natural thing to cry out to God in desperation for the truth is, He is there and sometimes He is the only one who can help us.

Answers?  and he answers me from his holy mountain.”  Wow! How do we take that for thoughtless granted? In Christian conversations we sometimes hear the language of ‘God answering prayer’. Of course He answers, but the trouble is so often we are not expecting an answer and so don’t hear it. Our ‘answers’ tend to be changes of circumstance and we are grateful for that, but our gratefulness verges on complacency that expects nothing else, and yet God is a communicating God – the whole Bible testifies to that truth – and I don’t know if you have ever noticed but one-way conversations are not good. If my wife is sharing something with me and my mind is elsewhere, she will pause and say those words that are probably heard in families across the globe, “Are you listening to me?” Why does she say that? She says it because she has taken my non-response as an indication that I am not with her!  So if we pour our all our troubles to the Lord, why don’t we expect Him to say anything back? Relationship, I would suggest, involves communication – two-way communication!

We’re going to hear this sort of language again and again in the psalms, for instance, the Lord hears when I call to him,” (David in Psa 4:3) or, Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait expectantly,” (David in Psa 5:3) and “The Lord has heard my cry for mercy; the Lord accepts my prayer,” (David in Psa 6:9), or “You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted; you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,” (Psa 10:17) and, “I call on you, my God, for you will answer me; turn your ear to me and hear my prayer,” (Psa 17:6) and, “In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help. From his temple he heard my voice; my cry came before him, into his ears,” (Psa 18:6), and so we could carry on. It is the language of expectation and hope. It is expectation in that he knows that when he prays, God ‘hears’ and that doesn’t mean God just sits back, it means He will respond and do something. It is ‘hope’ because in almost every case David is under pressure and is crying out of desperation and so he is putting his trust in a God who, he has learnt, not only hears but will come and deliver him; he has that assurance and that confident assurance is what we call hope.  Yet let me emphasise hope is seen in the context of trial and tribulation. David has learned the pathway through and out of such times – to cry out to God in prayer and then just wait for Him to move – and He will!  May we have that same confidence.

10. Prayer of Testimony

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   10. Prayer of Testimony (1)

Psa 3:3    But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Approach: In our introduction to Psalm 3 we suggested that verses 1 & 2 were David praying out his concern while he was on the run from Absalom, verses 3 to 6 are a prayer of testimony and then verses 7 and 8 a prayer of request. It is thus a psalm that shows us different aspects of prayer – acknowledgement, declaration, petition. I have a feeling that I have read all the psalms many times and yet have only a surface understanding of them and verse 3 that we are moving into is no exception. Some of it appears obvious but as I pause over it, I suspect it is not as obvious as I have usually thought. Let’s approach it slowly and carefully.

Contrast: Circumstances versus reality: The verse starts with a ‘But’. That always suggests a contrast with what has just gone before. In verses 1 and 2 David spoke of his foes and those who had risen against him, and the fact that many were saying that God will not save him. Such verses imply gloom and doom and leave a sense of concern, worry, anxiety, insecurity, threat; that is the cloud that hangs over him because of Absalom, those are the circumstances that bring the ‘down’ feeling. Isn’t that just how it can be so often, the circumstances look and feel bad and the temptation is to sink under them, but David shows us another way. He declares the truth that he has found through his experiences of the Lord. The reality is that God has been there for him. The classic illustration of that was when he testified to Saul in respect of Goliath, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sam 17:37) i.e. God is with me and for me, that I know, because that is how it has always been. Now there are four things to note in the verse in respect of his testimony.

Yahweh/Jehovah/The I AM: Note how he addresses God: LORD, with the capital letters denoting the name given to Moses (Ex 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The One upon whom David relies is the ‘I AM’ of Israel’s history, the God who revealed Himself as, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” (Ex 3:6) and subsequently the God of Moses, the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. This is the One he has experienced and knows, the Eternal One, the Mighty One who is there for His people. This is the starting place of his confidence which rises up to suppress all the negatives of verses 1 and 2.

A Shield: A shield is an instrument of protection against incoming missiles or other weapons. But David says God is a “shield around me”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a futuristic sci-fi where a town is covered with a barely visible ‘force field’ that protects it. It completely covers it and protects it and that is how David sees the Lord’s presence, so it doesn’t matter if there is an army against him, he is safe. Elisha understood this concept although he expressed it in a different way. Do you remember when he and his servant were staying in Dothan and an enemy army surrounded it and scared the life out of the servant out for an early morning walk on the walls of the town. He ran to Elisha who knew it was simply a matter of revelation and so prayed for his servant, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) There was the Lord’s shield for them, the angelic army of the Lord!

Glory: But he also refers to the Lord as, “my glory”. We see, “But you, Lord, are … my glory.” We know what the Lord’s glory is, for we see it at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16,17), and as Israel travelled through the desert and it lit up a cloud by day and appeared as fire by night. When the Tabernacle was constructed according to God’s instructions, the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 40:34). It was a bright light, so when David says you are ‘my glory’ he is saying, ‘You are the One who lights up my life with your splendour, revealing me for who I am, your chosen and anointed servant.’

Affirmation & Encouragement: There are perhaps a number of words that apply into what follows: “you, Lord, are …. the One who lifts my head high.”  All of the negatives of verses 1 and 2 weighed heavily on him, especially as he knew the ultimate cause of them, for they were God’s disciplinary judgment on him. I like how the Living Bible puts it: “You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”  Have you noticed how people with very low self-esteem, those who feel utter failures, walk with the heads bowed down, their eyes on the floor; it is a common thing. So why is David’s head lifted?

God with us: Emmanuel: First, because the Lord is with him and with God on your side, God beside you, and in our case, and with God indwelling you as Lord and Saviour, you are someone special with no reason to have a bowed head. Yes, the enemy is there, the circumstances are bad, and the outlook is bleak, but with the Lord there with you, for you, in you, all that doesn’t matter. The Isaiah prophecy about Immanuel – God with us (Isa 7:14) – and fulfilled in Jesus (Mt 1:23), says it all, God is with us, not far off, not off down the other end of the universe, no, He is here with us!

God the encourager: I said there are perhaps many words that describe what God does for us, to lift our heads, encourage, affirm, empathize and comfort, declare victorious, the list can go on. It isn’t just that God is with us, it is that He is with us to do things, to bless us, deliver us, lead us in victory, and all these things work to the same end, they lift our down-turned faces in the face of the negative circumstances and negative enemies.

And Us? Are we confronted by negative circumstances (in this Fallen World there are usually plenty of them!) or negative enemies?  What is the answer? Not to dwell on their presence but to realize the Presence of the Lord God Almighty and His Anointed One with us, and as we realize that presence, to receive from Him all the good things He wants to bring to us: grace, goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, endurance, affirmation, comfort, encouragement; they are all there in His outstretched hands to be received. As we pray, let’s remember who He is and who we are and rejoice in that wonder and put into perspective the negatives of the world. Amen? Amen!

9. Anguish on the Run

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   9. Anguish on the Run (Psalm 3)

Psa 3:1    Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!

Nature & Structure: Before we get into the details of this psalm let’s first observe the nature, structure and the cause of it. First of all, the nature of this psalm: it is a prayer. Again and again David speaks directly to God: “Lord” (v.1), ”you Lord”  (v.3), “Arise Lord” (v.7) and we see things being said directly to the Lord. Second, let’s suggest a structure. Although in your Bible it is probably laid out in four two-verse stanzas, I suggest that in fact it is divided as follows:

v.1,2   Prayer sharing concern.

v.3-6   Prayer of Testimony

v.7,8   Prayer of Request.

Cause: Third, consider the cause of this particular psalm. At the top of it we find, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.” The history behind this psalm, if we may put it briefly, is that king David had committed adultery with Bathsheba and had her husband killed (see 2 Sam 12), Nathan the prophet had confronted him with this and brought this terrible word of disciplinary judgment on him: “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’”  (2 Sam 12:11,12) The outworking of this is seen in 2 Sam 13-15 resulting in David having to flee Jerusalem because Absalom has taken control. In the course of this, David has acknowledged his guilt (2 Sam 12:13) and put himself in the Lord’s hands (2 Sam 15:25,26 & 16:11,12)

Prayer sharing concern: So we come to the first two verses of this psalm where David pours out before the Lord his anxiety: Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!  Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” (v.1,2) Now consider how remarkable this is. David is on the run because he is suffering the disciplinary judgment of God that had been prophetically declared by Nathan, and he knows it. Many would make excuses for their sin, justify themselves and when the discipline comes, sulk. Have you seen it in books, plays of films, the challenge to a failing son, “Take your punishment like a man!”  i.e. you know you deserve it, so face it, take it and don’t grumble or sulk!” The less mature Christian sulks by stopping reading their Bible, stopping praying, and maybe even stopping going to church. Not so David, the man after God’s own heart, even when he has sinned. He’s owned up to it, he’s facing it – and he’s praying!  He still talks to God about what he feels, even in the midst of discipline.

God’s Intent: The deception, that the enemy would like to dump on us in such situations of failure, is that one failure will mean that the sky will fall on you and that is the end. With God it is not!   You see it all over the Bible: God’s desire is that we come to repentance and are restored to Him. His desire is NOT our destruction but our restoration which is made possible through the work of Christ on the Cross. The apostle John, the apostle of love, understood this: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,” (1 Jn 1:9) and, “I write this to you so that you will not sin. But if anybody does sin, we have an advocate with the Father—Jesus Christ, the Righteous One. He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 Jn 2:1,2) Both those sets of verses are about bringing our restoration to God.

Reality of relationship: David, of course, doesn’t know about the coming of Christ and all that he will achieve for us, but he does know something of God and he knows that God is there to be called upon and that he can still do that. Hence he appeals to Him: “Lord……”, but he doesn’t yet ask anything of the Lord, for that will come later. His first act within this prayer is to pour out his anxiety. The apostle Paul taught, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” (Phil 4:6) In doing this David is acknowledging something of the reality of the discipline he is experiencing. It is painful! (Heb 12:11) But we are to remember it comes from a loving Father (Heb 12:6). But that doesn’t make it less painful!

It’s people! David is on the run from his son, Absalom, and those who have sided with him against David. It is a horrible feeling when people gang up against you, and David feels it: Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” It’s not just Absalom, it includes others of David’s people, people he perhaps had known for a long time. Joab, for example, had played a real part in brining Absalom back (2 Sam 14:1,2), Joab who had been commander in David’s army (2 Sam 8:16) even though he had proved himself to be an avenger (2 Sam 3:30) and had caused David anguish (see 2 Sam 3:28-34). There is a saying when we fail to deal with a wrong person or situation and allow them to continue for our own purposes: “Beware that they will not come back and bite you.” Yes, there had been a falling out between Absalom and Joab (2 Sam 14) and Joab had continued with David and yet it was going to be Joab who will eventually kill Absalom (2 Sam 18:14) to David’s even greater anguish (2 Sam 18:33). So there are not only the people on the other side who are against David, he has people with him who are also causes of angst. People tend to be the greatest cause of our anxieties, not just the circumstances.

Beware the Gloom Bringers: The trouble is that people lacking faith, whether against us or for us, can be real bringers of gloom. David has this: “Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” (v.2) Perhaps there were even people who knew of Nathan’s prophecy and so they applied it without grace. A word of disciplinary correction may come but that doesn’t mean that God has finished with His servant. Bear this in mind when leaders fall. Yes, there may be a period of disciplinary correction but that does not mean that that person is excluded from the future purposes of God. Perhaps they were people who didn’t know of the prophecy, but they just looked on what was happening and believed for the worst: this is the end of David, this is the end of his kingdom.  Such people reveal themselves as hard-hearted, lacking grace and mercy, lacking compassion. David may have got it wrong on a number of accounts in respect of his family, but he is still a man after God’s own heart, open to correction, and one who anguishes over the deaths and downfall of others. We have much to learn from him!

And So?  We can’t just leave it there can we. The lessons are clear and need highlighting. Even when we are be corrected after a failure, that is not the end of our relationship with the Lord. He constantly looks to restore us after we have repented. Still we can pour out before Him the things that concern us. His ears are still open to us. Hallelujah!

8. Don’t Mess with God

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  8. Don’t Mess with God (End of Psa 2)

Psa 2:10 Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.

Approach: Remember the structure of this psalm, as four sets of three verses in our Bible: v.1-3 The rebellion of the World, v.4-6 God’s sovereign response, v.7-9 His answer – His Son, and v.10-12 Warning to the World. So we come to the last stanza, the last three verses of this psalm.

Don’t Mess?  In the breakdown above I titled these three verses, ‘Warning to the World’ but in a sense that is a misnomer because all the verses from verse 4 onwards really come as both a challenge and a warning to the world. However, that is brought to a climax in these last three verses. They start with a ‘therefore’ which always indicates a continuation; this should be seen in the light of what has gone before. You saw God’s attitude – laughter and anger – you saw His declaration that He has put His own all-powerful king on the throne of Jerusalem, the Son to whom He has promised the world. In the light of all that, you foolish rebels need to think again.  The phrase, ‘Don’t mess with me’ is a modern one but it applies well here!

Be Warned: In the UK we have many speed cameras on our roads. They are housed in large yellow boxes about eight feet up at the side of the road. However, there are also signs before that saying ‘Speed Cameras’.  There is no reason to be caught by a speed camera, they are clear and obvious, and you have been warned. God doesn’t bring judgment without prior warning, and so yet again the call is, “be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth.”  Be wise, be sensible, take all this on board and respond accordingly! I go back yet again to one of my favourite verses of the Old Testament, “I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!” (Ezek 18:32) Again, the apostle Peter knew this: “The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:9) Don’t think God is powerless when He holds back from acting against sin and rebellion, it is just that He is being merciful and giving us further time to repent.

The Right Attitude: “Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling.” (v.11) A reverent respect for God (fear) and an honouring Him with humility and realisation of who it is you are dealing with (with trembling) but realise that it is a good thing that the Son rules (so celebrate it) because his rule is benign and for the benefit of all. Having said all that, don’t take the Son for granted: “Kiss his son, or he will be angry and your way will lead to your destruction, for his wrath can flare up in a moment.” (v.12a) Kissing the son is a reference to a means of honouring the person by kissing the hand of the ruler. Failure to get into this right attitude means nothing has changed and so the Son will express the same anger the Father does over stupid rebellion by those who should know better and, as we’ve said before, when he gets angry it is a right and natural response that indicates that action need to be taken against the sinner.

An Aside: The Judgment of God: I have written extensively elsewhere on “The Judgments of a Loving God” and so it might be helpful here to highlight the types of judgment we find in the Bible. First, and most common, there is disciplinary judgment which is always brought to bring change of attitude and change of behaviour, where the Lord sees that that will work with the people concerned. Second, there is terminal judgment, that I have subtitled judgment of the last resort for, as we saw above, God is loath to destroy but will do it if nothing else will work and this is the only thing that will save the surrounding people and the world.  Thus in verse 12a there is this warning that your ongoing rebellion could lead to your destruction, and the emphasis should be on that word ‘ongoing’. Where there is an ongoing refusal to repent and the rebellion is wilful and determined to continue, the only way to save or preserve the surrounding world will be the destruction of the rebel(s).

An Aside: Hasty wrath? “for his wrath can flare up in a moment”. Our problem here is that we imagine us or other people in this situation and our anger tends to be self-orientated and self-serving and hasty and often without thought. God’s anger developing into wrath is none of these things. In God’s case, as we’ve said before, it is natural, right and just, it is intense anger, in response to wilful, persistent and determined sin, to energises Him into action. Now when God sees this sort of sin, only He knows how embedded it is, if we may put it like that, only He knows if disciplinary judgment will bring repentance (as seen many times in Judges) or whether the individual is so set in their way that they will never relent and repent (as with Pharaoh in Exodus). As in the case of Pharaoh, it seems the Lord gives opportunity after opportunity to repent but there comes a time when it becomes so clear that repentance is never going to come, that His anger or wrath springs up, suddenly appears or flares up, however we may wish to put it, and His judgment swiftly follows.

We must emphasise that it comes only after there is this persistent refusal to heed the many warnings that God gives. The eventual destruction of Jerusalem and the Exile that followed it was the classic example of this in operation. Prophetic warnings had come from God again and again and again through both Jeremiah and Ezekiel over a number of decades and, no doubt, all along the people kept shrugging it off, because God didn’t appear to be doing anything. Eventually though, all of the warnings come to fruition and the many descriptions of what would happen came into being. For the onlookers, it appeared that the wrath of God ‘flared up’ suddenly to produce the judgment, but in reality it was something that had been on God’s radar for a long period of time. In that case, it might have been that He saw that Nebuchadnezzar was ripe to be used to bring the judgment and so, no doubt in line with pictures from Revelation, there was a voice from heaven that suddenly came with terrifying clarity, “Now!”

And Yet:Blessed are all who take refuge in him.” (v.12b) With all of these warnings, as always through Scripture, there comes the word of assurance, the word of grace and mercy – it doesn’t have to be like this! The case has been laid out against the folly of mankind; their rebellion has been made clear. The Lord’s anger against such folly is made clear and His answer is quite clear – He’s appointed His own Son to be the ruler who will preside over the world and bring the necessary judgments, especially of the last times. Counsel has been brought to heed these warnings and to change, and the ultimate warning of ultimate destruction in the face of obstinate refusal to repent has been made clear. In the face of all this, destruction of the sinner seems almost inevitable – and then suddenly there is this final reminder that is there throughout scripture, that God is a God of mercy who will receive all those who come running to Him in repentance, who come running to Him, yes, to find refuge from such a destruction. Now we who have the New Testament can see the means of that refuge from destruction that will be brought at the hand of the Son, the king, and it is the substitutionary death of that same Son who gave himself to provide a refuge from judgment for all who will come and receive it. How amazing! Hallelujah!

7. God’s King

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 7. God’s King

Psa 2:6,8 “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain…. I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession.

Approach: We noted previously the structure of this psalm, as four sets of three verses in our Bible: v.1-3 The rebellion of the World, v.4-6 God’s sovereign response, v.7-9 His answer – His Son, and v.10-12 Warning to the World. So we have been seeing God’s response to the foolish leaders of the world, a response that reveals Him both laughing and angry, a response that reveals Him declaring “I have installed my king”, in direct opposition to their petty kingships, a king who is His Son.

Cultural King?  Now when we come to the Gospels we find a number of references to Jesus being a king, for example, “Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?” (Mt 2:1,2) The ‘wise men’ clearly expected to find a king. Nathaniel, likewise, expected the Messiah to be a king: “Then Nathanael declared, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel.” (Jn 1:49) After the feeding of the five thousand, the crowd obviously had the same idea, “Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself,” (Jn 6:15) and on ‘Palm Sunday’ that is still evident: “They took palm branches and went out to meet him, shouting, “Hosanna!” “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”  “Blessed is the King of Israel!” (Jn 12:13). In his last hours after he was arrested, “they began to accuse him saying, “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be Christ, a king,” (Lk 23:2) and finally before Pilate, Meanwhile Jesus stood before the governor, and the governor asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied.” (Mt 27:11)

Other-worldly king: However, it is left to John to recount the fuller extent of that encounter: “Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?” ….. Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place.” “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” (Jn 18:33,36,37) Do you see this, Jesus says he is a king, but not of ‘this world’ and he has come to testify to the truth of that.

The King Prophesied: The truth is that Jesus was and is a king far greater than just a king over a single nation. Isaiah prophesied: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders….. Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:6,7) David, the psalmist, also had a prophetic element in many of his psalms and so we find, ““The LORD says to my Lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet. The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies.” (Psa 110:1,2) Into the New Testament the apostle Paul with great revelatory insight declared, “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:24,25).

Big Picture: So what is the truth about Jesus? He IS God’s king, the One chosen to rule over ALL things, but this king doesn’t impose himself and destroy human free will, but he does speak and act into his world to bring his way, the will of God, the kingdom of God, here on earth, in the midst of his enemies, yes all those conspiring nations, plotting peoples, uprising kings and rulers of this present psalm. Yes, he is working against their unrighteous thoughts, words, and deeds, (today largely through the Church but also through circumstances) until one day he will say, ‘Enough!’ and we will see the events of Revelation 19 being unfolded as he returns as a conquering king to subdue forcefully all this nonsense he has tolerated for so long.

Submissive Authority: One of the marvels of the Godhead is the way the Son always is submissive to the Father. All authority is the Father’s, delegated to the Son, expressed by the Spirit, and so when it comes to this time of winding up all things, the Father says to the Son, Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession,” (v.8) and if we are in any doubt about the outcome, He continues, “You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.” (v.9) What a graphic and dynamic way of saying they will not withstand you but will be utterly devastated and their folly totally ended!

Legitimate Fear: THAT is why the writer is able to say, “He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath,” (v.5) as He goes on to declare before these peoples, kings and rulers what IS happening. If only they could grasp an iota of this they would be humbled, but the folly of Sin blinds them and so most of them will not see it until after death.  This king IS ruling now, yes, subtly, quietly, behind the scenes so to speak, and for those with eyes to see, it is sometimes scary, but nothing like it will be for them when he returns in open power. This truth should scare the life out of such people and bring them on their knees to the Cross but, as we said, the blindness of Sin means they mostly don’t see it, but that will not stop the psalmist warning them and that we will see in the concluding last three verses in the next study.

6. God’s Son

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  6. God’s Son

Psa 2:7    He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.

Approach: We noted previously the structure of this psalm, as four sets of three verses in our Bible: v.1-3 The rebellion of the World, v.4-6 God’s sovereign response, v.7-9 His answer – His Son, and v.10-12 Warning to the World

We further noted this this Psalm is all about God. We said v.1-3 is about the rebellion against God, and yesterday we considered v.4-6 which are God’s attitude towards this rebellion. Now we start to consider v.7-9 which are God’s answer to this rebellion.

‘My King’: We might note in passing, as an addendum to the previous study, that when God says, “I have installed my king”, it is a case of Him saying, “You may think that you are rulers, but I – yes I, me the eternal, all-powerful Creator of all things – have set in place MY king, the One I have chosen, and you had better know that He is very different from you. This is a completely different ball game, so you’d better understand it!” This we will see more fully in the next study, but for the present there is another issue to be considered.

Decree: Moving into verse 7 we note a change of speaker, the son. He starts with this declaration: I will proclaim the Lord’s decree.” (v.7a) Now synonyms for ‘decree’ include pronouncement, declaration and ruling, so the son comes to the fore to declare God’s will, God’s intent, God’s activity. He brings us revelation, things we would not know unless told. He is explaining the heart of heaven. Now remember we finished the previous study with the awareness that God laughs at, scoffs at the folly of godless rulers (v.4) and, we were told, rebukes and terrifies them (v.5) by the declaration that followed, that He had installed His king in Zion (v.6). The significance of that we will shortly see but we’ll have to wait until the next study.

The Son: The present speaker now tells what has happened, but before we get into that we need to remove the idea or possible suggestion that this ‘king’, this ‘son‘, as we shall see, is the human writer of this psalm. The descriptions that follow of what God has done for this one goes far beyond anything that might apply to a human being, so we read, “He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.” (v.7b) Whoever this ‘son’ is (and yes, you can jump to the conclusion that it is Jesus Christ, the Son of God) there is first of all awareness of relationship. This ‘son’ is who he is because of his direct relationship with God (who we often refer to as ‘the Father’) But there is a mystifying ‘today’ in this verse which implies a beginning.

Struggles with the Son: Now history shows us that the church and theologians have struggled not only with the ‘incarnation’ (the becoming human of God) but with the very fact of the ‘Godhead’ comprising Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The Westminster Confession of Faith declares quite fully of Jesus, “The Son of God, the second Person in the Trinity, being very and eternal God, of one substance, and equal with the Father, did, when the fullness of time was come, take upon him man’s nature, with all the essential properties and common infirmities thereof; yet without sin: being conceived by the power of the Holy Ghost, in the womb of the Virgin Mary, of her substance. So that two whole, perfect, and distinct natures, the Godhead and the manhood, were inseparably joined together in one person, without conversion, composition, or confusion. Which person is very God and very man, yet one Christ, the only Mediator between God and man.”   Wow   Didn’t they do a good job!  Pretty meaty and takes some reading but it seeks to cover all the bases.

So ‘today’?  The Nicene Creed of AD 325 says, “We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father.”   The word ‘begotten’ simply means ‘out of’  and so the Son is saying to us that there was a time – yet out of time in eternity (and yes, that is beyond our understanding) when God, who is one, expressed Himself in such a way that there were two consciousnesses, that’s the only way I can describe it, and whenever ‘they’ express themselves it is in yet a third expression of the same consciousness. Let’s try it another way. Imagine an idea, a thought or, as I just said a consciousness, energy with personality as I’ve written previously. This idea, as with all ideas has a life of its own, but now (then) it has an idea and the second idea takes on a life of its own – Father and Son – but now two consciousnesses, energy with personality. Yes, OK, I give up trying to explain it, but at some point in His existence (which thwarts our understanding) He, God, expresses Himself and the Son also exists, He comes ‘out of’ (begotten) the now Father.

Resurrection Context: The apostle Paul uses part of this psalm in an interesting way: “What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second Psalm: “‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’” (Acts 13:32,33) It is a strange application of Psa 2 and of the various paraphrase version I think the Living gets the closest where it puts it, “Today I have honoured you as my Son,” which could be taken to mean, “By the fact that I have raised you (Jesus) from the dead, I have confirmed your sonship, MY Son, with me being your Father, and honoured you in this way before the watching world.” It is the Father’s way of confirming His Son’s divinity, through the resurrection.

The Son’s Role: So the Son is divine, which is why Jesus spoke about coming down from heaven where, by implication, he already existed. (see Jn 6:41-) When we see Jesus in the Gospels, the Son has a variety of roles. He comes as the Lamb of God (Jn 1:29), God’s means of salvation, he comes as the Word (Jn 1:1,14), God’s communication, he comes as the prophetic Son of Man (Mt 8:20, Dan 7:13,8:17) the Messiah from heaven, he comes as the son of David (Mt 12:22,23, Isa 16:5, Jer 23:5, Ezek 34:23,24) and he comes as the unique Son of God (Mt 3:17, 4:3, 8:28,29, 14:32,33, 16:16, 26:63,64, 27:39,40) All of these descriptions are true and highly significant, but now in these verses there is yet another role that should make these foolish kings quake, that of God’s King! To see this more fully, we need to stop here and pick up the subject afresh in the next study. Let’s finish with the announcement of heaven through the angel to Mary: ”You will be with child and give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever; his kingdom will never end.” (Lk 1:31-33)    

5. God’s Anger

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  5. God’s Anger

Psa 2:4,5    The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath

Approach: We noted previously the structure of this psalm, as four sets of three verses in our Bible:

v.1-3 The rebellion of the World

v.4-6 God’s sovereign response

v.7-9 His answer – His Son

v.10-12 Warning to the World

We further noted that this Psalm is all about God. In v.1-3 it is about the rebellion against God, v.4-6 are God’s attitude towards this rebellion, v.7-9 are God’s answer to this rebellion, and v.10-12 are about having a right attitude in respect of God.  Yesterday we considered the rebellion spoken about in v.1-3 so now let’s move on to see the first Part of God’s twofold Response.

Context: Before we get into these next three verses, it is important to remember that they are direct responses to what is going on in the first three verses, they are God’s specific responses to conspiring nations, people plotting (v.1), arrogant kings and rulers rising up specifically against God, banding together in their ungodly rebellion (v.2) and badly misrepresenting God (v.3), these are not responses to the ordinary God-seeking sinner. The context is important, and it is important that we understand also what is not in it.

Laughter: The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them.” (v.4) Psa 37:13 has, “the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming.” We laugh at a funny situation. Really and truly this is a funny situation. Here is Almighty God, the all-powerful creator of the universe, the One who has only got to utter four words such as “Let there be light,” (Gen 1:3) and instantly we see, “and there was light,” the One who can bring death to thousands in an instant, this is Almighty God who fills all of Creation and He is being taunted by silly little humans who have only been in existence for decades, who have probably only held power for years, like a bunch of powerless little children pretending to be something they are not.

Our Deception: How foolish we members of the human race so often are, because we allow ourselves to be deceived by four things: first, by God’s grace that holds back His hand so that He allows mankind to ruin amok, second, in our lives, years and decades seem so long and so we think we are getting away with our folly because time passes and God appears to be doing nothing and, third, our vision is so limited we cannot see the invisible hand of God moving behind the scenes, so to speak, working to bring change, bring correction, and end our folly, and fourth, we fail to remember that our lives are finite and one day they will end here on earth and then will come a time of accounting. No wonder heaven laughs at our antics.

Anger and wrath? He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath.” (v.5) Some versions insert the word, ‘then’, before this verse which would imply an order: first He laughs but then He allows His emotions to change to take in the fully reality of the stupidity of this scene, for it is truly stupid and it is only the blindness of Sin, that we allow to persist in our lives, that enables us to act in such stupid ways. Now our problem here is that we associate anger in the human context with emotion running out of control, but divine anger is an appropriate and just response to what is wrong, what runs contrary to the wonderful design of God as He originally made the world, what is the expression of sinful mankind. If we see injustice and are unmoved by it, that simply reveals our blindness to reality, our inability to see the world as it should be and as it now is and be moved by that.

A Complementary Example: I find that when I see examples of real goodness on TV, I am moved to tears. In a worship service we listened to the worship song, “I can only imagine” with the words, “I can only imagine what it will be like, when I walk by your side. I can only imagine what my eyes will see, when your face is before me, I can only imagine.”  As we sat with eyes closed just taking it in, I found myself with a picture of Jesus face, conveying utter goodness, and I found tears running again. It is natural, it is appropriate to have such responses.

Controlled Anger: And so God’s anger is the natural, appropriate and just response to evil, to wrong behaviour of silly, foolish despots who have lost all perspective (or perhaps have never had it) so they are moved to foolish words, foolish behaviour, behaviour that is not merely foolish but pure evil. In the face of the wonder of the perfect world that God created, this is terrible, this is awful, this is horrible and it should evoke within us anger, and the more we reflect on it a strong desire to cry out to God to do something (and of course He has and is), and linked in with all this is ‘wrath’. Wrath is not a word we usually come across, but it simply means extreme anger, very great anger, anger that evokes action. We can be angry, and it can be purely passive, it can remain emotion that goes nowhere, but then if it is godly anger it will lead somewhere, it will lead to action, but it probably has to build up such a head of steam before action can come that it needs to be called ‘wrath’.

God Speaks: Now there is something significant about godly anger that we should note here. It is not the anger itself which is frightening so much as what comes out of the anger. Because the Lord is angry with these foolish human beings who should know better, (and because He is God He sees the full extent of this folly which brings pain and injustice to His world, and that ‘full extent’ means He sees the ‘total’ extent of it, and it is that which builds this anger from mere emotion to full blown wrath that demands actions of Him) He does something: He speaks. It is as simple as that. “He rebukes them.” That involves speaking and in fact the verses ends with the word, ‘saying’ which leads on into the next verse, “I have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain.” (v.6) THAT is what terrifies them and to understand that we will need to move into the next study.

4. Rebellion

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 4. Rebellion (Psalm 2)

Psa 2:4,5    The One enthroned in heaven laughs; the Lord scoffs at them. He rebukes them in his anger and terrifies them in his wrath

Approach: There is speculation whether psalms 1 and 2 were originally one psalm, but we will simply accept what we have in our Bibles today, a separate and distinct psalm. Neither psalm has an attributed author and there is a mystery over the order of the psalms we have. The structure of this psalm is, however, quite clear, four sets of three verses in our Bible:

v.1-3 The rebellion of the World

v.4-6 God’s sovereign response

v.7-9 His answer – His Son

v.10-12 Warning to the World

About God! We saw in psalm 1 a distinction between the righteous and the wicked. In psalm 1 very little was said about the Lord Himself, merely, For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” (1:6) In this psalm it is completely different; it is all about God. In v.1-3 we see it is about the rebellion against God, v.4-6 are God’s attitude towards this rebellion, v.7-9 are God’s answer to this rebellion, and v.10-12 are about having a right attitude in respect of God.  If there is a link between Psalms 1 & 2, I would suggest that Psalm 1, as we said, makes the distinction between the righteous and the unrighteous (wicked) and Psalm 2 goes on to warn the unrighteous, perhaps if you like, to challenge the deception of the unrighteous, ‘I can get away with my wrong attitude about God’.  So let’s consider these four parts of this present psalm.

The World’s Rebellion: The ‘Fall’ is not some academic or theological nicety, it describes what has happened and why we are like we are. Eve chose, and Adam went along with her, to disregard God’s instruction and warning and instead listen to a contrary voice. They sinned or, to use my definition of Sin, they acted in a self-centred godless manner, resulting in an act of unrighteousness. Theologians argue whether ‘Sin’ is inherent or is simply all the unique bad choices we make. Is it within us, something we are predisposed towards because we have inherited it – and certainly the apostle Paul in Rom 7 seems to follow this thinking – or is Sin the consequence of making wrong choices, the act repeated many times throughout life. Whatever is the truth, we see it summed up in that one word: rebellion. Rebellion is refusal to listen to and refusal to follow the dictates of a superior. In our case it is refusal to listen and follow God. See the facets of it in these first three verses:

Wilful collusion: There is an agreeing among peoples, leaders and so on. See the words: Why do the nations conspire and the peoples plot in vain? The kings of the earth rise up and the rulers band together?” (v.1,2) Worldwide they conspire (collude), they plot (scheme), they rise up (stand in resistance) and band together (a joining of like minds). It is always seen in the form of opposition to God’s people, against Israel by the surrounding nations in the Old Testament period, and the many persecutions against the Church in the New Testament period. Indeed, when the believers pray after Peter and John have been arrested and then released, they specifically apply these verses to Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Jews of Jerusalem (Acts 4:25-27). Similarly watch the crusading atheists of the twenty-first century gathering together with their like-minds, lifting their voices as one against God and His anointed one.

Against God: But it isn’t something general, it is specifically against God and His representatives: “against the Lord and against his anointed.” (v.2b) No, it isn’t just against God, it is also against His kings, the kings of His people, His anointed ones of the Old Testament period, and of course, against Christ and his followers in the New Testament period. This isn’t opposition against an ideology, because they come and go in history, it is about a person and those associated with Him. Be quite clear, godlessness is rarely passive; it is usually spoken and active.

Its Outworking: As I have read history, ancient and modern, I am struck by the clear and obvious signs of Sin in human leaders; rarely is there a godly and righteous king or national leader in history. There are a few but not many. I have a book, a compendium of literature that summarizes the plot of great works of fiction (great in the eyes of the scholar who put it together) and again I am struck by the negative writing in so many, basing stories on the sinful acts within mankind. It is a depressing thing if we don’t realize it simply confirms what we read in these verses.

Deception: But it doesn’t end there for see the folly of their words: “saying, “Let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” (v.3) These rulers, these ‘peoples’, these ‘kings of the earth’ these leaders of people, whether at national government or local government levels, these people have a distorted view of God and of His intentions. All they can see are rules to be followed, laws to be kept, and fail to realise they are for the benefit of society and of the individual. Oh no, we know best, don’t tell us what to do! Again and again in the past, as I have pondered the writings of the crusading atheists, I am bemused at their lack of knowledge of the Bible and the focus of their criticisms. Their lack of knowledge is in respect of the Bible; they just don’t know it!  The focus of their criticisms is always the fringe of the Church, the weird and the wonderful, and never do they acknowledge the millions of very ordinary Christians who can testify to how their lives have changed for good, and the wonder of the love and goodness of God that they have experienced.

The ‘wicked’ of Psalm 1 don’t merely walk an ungodly and unrighteous path that leads them to a united place where they deride and mock believers and God, they purposefully reject God, purposefully oppose His representatives, Jesus and His people. They speak their distorted views and refuse to see the wonder of the reality. However, the wonder is for believers but for the unbelievers, these in open rebellion, these mockers, these purveyors of untruth, there is something else. I was going to title these studies of Psa 2, “Don’t Mess with God!”  There is a modern saying, seen sometimes in films, when the stronger has been persecuted by another, and eventually they turn and aggressively ask, “So, do you want a piece of me? Do you want a piece of me?” which means, ‘Do you want serious trouble?’  They people speak their words, do their things but fail to realise the tsunami of the wrath of heaven that awaits them. “Don’t mess with God!” That is what we’ll go on to see in the next study of this psalm 2.