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)    

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.

2. About Blessing

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 2. About Blessing

Psa 1:1-3 (ESV) Blessed is the man who(se) ….  delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.

Blessing: There is a difference between blessing and blessed. The first is an action, the second is a state. We see blessing first of all in the life of Esau when he blesses Jacob, thinking he is Esau (Gen 27:27-29), a prophetic declaration that cannot be repeated because it was inspired and has its origin in heaven. Jacob later learned this as we see when he blessed Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:13-20) with a prophetic declaration that put the younger before the older. So blessing is an act of prophecy, declaring the good that heaven decrees.

Blessed: But then there is ‘blessed’ which is a state of being, a life with the goodness of God being worked out in it. For the Old Testament people of God the Law decreed a number of ‘blessings’ for obedience to God: “All these blessings will come on you and accompany you if you obey the Lord your God” (Deut 28:2) – sorts of blessing – in city & in country (v.3), fruit of womb including livestock (v.4), cooking (v.5), coming and going (v.6), victory over enemies (v.7), on your work (v.8).  In the New Testament, in the Sermon on the Mount we see Jesus declaring in the kingdom of God who will be blessed: Blessed are the poor in spirit …” (Mt 5:3) those who mourn (v.4), the meek (v.5), those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (v.6), merciful (v.7), pure in heart (v.8), peacemakers (v.9), when persecuted because of righteousness (v.10) and then he declares with each one how they will be blessed: “for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Mt 5:3) …they will be comforted (v.4)…they will inherit the earth (v.5) …. they will be filled (v.6)…they will be shown mercy (v.7)…they will see God (v.8)…they will be called children of God (v.9)….for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (v.10).

It is God! So we have all these ways that the child of God can be blessed but here is the thing, all of these things are because God has acted on our behalf. That is seen particularly in the Deuteronomy verses where it is seen as specific acts of God for good for God’s people. In the New Testament, the blessings come from being the children of God, saved by the work of Jesus on the Cross (as becomes clear later in the book).  Because I think we take these things so much for granted, we need to repeat what this is all about: in the Old Testament it is a state of being that is good because God is doing something to make it good. In the New Testament, for the church, it is God doing good within the individual by the presence of His Holy Spirt to turn apparent weakness into spiritual strength, it is God changing us.

Again, I believe this is something many fail to comprehend, that this is God working for us, God doing things for us, God changing things for us. The simplest illustration of this comes in the simple words in the story of Joseph in the Old Testament: “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant.” (Gen 39:2-4) and later, “while Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there.” (Gen 39:20-22). It is probable this ‘favour’ came in the form of wisdom and insight received by Joseph from the Lord, and also the Lord speaking to first Joseph’s slave master and then his prison warder. But in each case we see specific good coming because of God acting.

Relationship: By why all these long preliminaries for considering the opening verses of Psalm 1? It is because we are so often tempted to think in mechanical terms: “If I do this, then that will happen.” However, it doesn’t work like that in the kingdom of heaven, it is all about relationship with God. The people of Israel fell into this way of thinking again and again: “As long as I perform the things the Law says, it doesn’t matter what else I do.” ”For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways…. and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? ….Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.” (Isa 58:2,3) i.e. they were appearing very spiritual but at the same time being very unrighteous. Spirituality does not cancel out unrighteousness.

Thus we should never take these opening words of Psa 1 as ‘magic’, for they are to spring out of love for God, not be used to earn the love of God. There is a danger for those of us who can say we love the word of God that we elevate it almost superstitiously while not attending to all other areas of our lives. I have watched others (and I am sure I have been the same in the past), leaders who are great men with great knowledge of the word and yet certain character flaws were very obvious. It should not be so.

Outworkings: So as long as we put these verses in the context of them being expressions of our genuine love for God, we may indeed expect the things these verses say. We may indeed expect our lives to be, “like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither.” Our delight in His word and our meditating upon it, will be a resource that continually feeds us, enables us to grow and, at the appropriate times, bring forth fruit, while at the same time enabling us to remain bright and strong – not withering. I suspect our times of stress, strain, over-weariness, exhaustion etc. come when we do not pause up, spend time with Him, or slowly meditate and feed on His word, so our resources are being run down and not replenished. We all do it sometime!

It is all about relationship, the divine will of God for us and our response to Him. As we live out our Christian lives seeking Him, seeking His word and therefore His will revealed through it, and then live it, then we may expect that ultimate truth to be fulfilled: “In all that he does, he prospers.”  Contrary to the prosperity false teacher, prospering does not always mean financially. It can mean that but actually it is bigger than just money (as good as that may be!). To prosper means to flourish, to grow, to thrive. I love those verses at the end of Psalm 92: “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) The word of God will help us be these sort of people, but it is the life of the Lord flowing in us that enables us to be like this.  As we delight in Him and in His word, so His life will flow in us, always to release the testimony above, and often to extend into our physical wellbeing as well. So, yes, let’s delight in His word as we delight in Him, and let’s let it have effect in our lives in all the ways we have considered earlier in this study.

27. Psalms

Meditations of Old Testament Highlights: 27.  Psalms

Psa 37:3,4    Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Arriving at Psalms we find a quandary. How do you choose a verse from 150 so varied psalms? Do we study David’s anguish that is found in so many of the psalms? Do we take the basic statements about studying the word as in Psalm 1 or Psalm 119? Do we catch the Messianic theme such as in Psalm 2 or Psalm 22? Do we study the sovereignty of God in such an amazing psalm as Psalm 139 or the simple assurance of security in psalm 121, or of course the wonder of the relationship that comes through in the famous Psalm 23? So many psalms that teach so many things! Where will we go?

Well, I’ve chosen Psalm 37 because it has within it a principle of guidance that I have found is applicable to so many people in need of direction. Even within the last week a Christian lady asked my wife and I, do you think I should sell my house and buy the one in a street nearer my church?  Psalm 37 is packed with helpful teaching.

In a day of news bulletins, worry, anxiety and stress, this psalm starts off with basic wisdom: Do not fret because of evil men or be envious of those who do wrong; for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.” (v.1,2) You will note the initial verses come as couplets, principles linked together. Put another way we might summarise these two as ‘Don’t let the antics of the world around you get to you. They will get their comeuppance in due season!

Then comes the double package of the two verses we’ve chosen for today, two verses that go together but also two verses each with two parts. “Trust in the LORD and do good.”  (v.3a) What a great starting point. Yes, I know our salvation is far more complex than this but if you are looking for the most compact approach to life you can find, this is it. Start by simply “trusting the Lord”. When you trust someone you have confidence in them and maybe even rely on them. If I had lots of money and was advised to use a particular financial advisor because, “you can have complete confidence in him and I know this from years of working with him” you know you can trust this person to know all about everything to do with money and, even more, you can have confidence in their integrity, that they will always have your best interests at heart. Now if those are the sort of things that go with a financial advisor, how much more true will they be in respect of God? We can put our life entirely in His hands with the utmost confidence that He will be there for us, guarding us, guiding us, protecting us and providing for us.

But that is only the first part of that first half of the verse; there is also, “and do good”. That sounds so obvious but it comes from our knowledge of the Lord, that He is good, He is just, and He loves us and desires the best for us. We experience all of that as we imitate Him and that is summarized by ‘do good’. Put those two halves together and you have the ingredients for ‘the good life’.

Now when we make this the basis of our life then the second part naturally follows: “dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.” (v.3b) If God is there for you, then you can just get on with life (‘in the land’ – where you live) and know that whatever you do (‘safe pasture’ for the agricultural community was key) in daily living, daily work etc. will have a security dimension to it that is found nowhere else – because He is all those things we noted previously.

Now when you move into verse 4 we find exactly the same (and see it like that) but put in a different way. It is an example of Jewish writing parallelism. Verse 3 says, “Trust in the Lord,” and now verse 4 says, “Delight yourself in the LORD.” Now that does add an additional facet to the meaning.  ‘Delight’ implies enjoy, and perhaps, put first in all things. If I delight in my grandchildren, say, I take pleasure in them and they become a focus of my thinking. If I delight in them it also implies I will interact with them; there is something of experiential relationship here. It is putting God first, trusting Him, relying upon Him, enjoying Him – all of these things are part of this delighting in Him.

I would suggest this is a concept certainly foreign to the unbeliever but actually it is often foreign to believers as well, simply because they have not taken time to spend with Him and in His word, to find out about Him. The more you find out about Him the more you are able to ‘delight in Him’.

Now verse 3 concluded, if we may summarise it, with, “and He’ll make your life safe and secure and blessed.” Now verse 4 has, “and he will give you the desires of your heart,” which I believe has a double-edged meaning.  Is this, “and He will give you a big mansion, fame and fortune”? I don’t think so. That may be part of His package for you but only He knows what is the best package for you and it may not be that! As I have meditated on this over the years, I believe the double-edged or two-sided meaning of this is a) He will put desires upon your hearts and then  b) give you those desires.

You see as we delight in Him, we delight in His ways, we delight in the things He thinks are good and we want those things as well. He changes our hearts the more and more we delight in Him, and that changed heart conforms more with what He sees is the very best for us. He longs to give us the very best for us, but only He truly knows what that very best is. It may include financial blessing but that may NOT be the best for you. This is where the so-called ‘prosperity teachers’ so often go wrong. ‘Prosperity’ is more to do with well-being and that may include financial success or it may not. The Lord does want us to be at peace with our accounting and our giving but having lots of money may or may not be part of God’s package for you.

When we trust in the Lord and we delight in the Lord, then we are first and foremost concerned with what HE wants for our lives because He longs to express His love to us by bringing blessing to our lives, which may involve changing them, changing their direction, changing their motivation, finding yearnings to be a blessing to Him and to His world in specific ways that will be unique to us. When I find someone who IS delighting in the Lord, to help when they ask for guidance, I ask, what is the Lord putting on your heart?  Put aside resource limitations (I don’t have enough money or enough brain power), if we could wave a magic wand over your life, what would you like to be doing that would make you feel fulfilled and a blessing to God and His world? When we ask it like that, it often opens up a realization of things we had deep down but didn’t dare utter, that turn out to be the desires HE is giving. Isn’t that great! Enjoy Him, enjoy the things He puts on your heart and then enjoy them as He brings them into being with your cooperation. Hallelujah!

4. A Weeping King

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 4 :  A Weeping King  – Psa 6

Psa 6:6   I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.

Bear in mind what we have said previously about this warrior but who is described as a man after God’s own heart. It is only by holding both those aspects before us that we can understand David and his psalms. I always remember David’s response when Joab and his brother Abishai murdered Abner and David declared, “And today, though I am the anointed king, I am weak, and these sons of Zeruiah are too strong for me.” (2 Sam 3:39) David was a strong warrior but again and again he indicated he was not harsh and did not look for death.  David is an emotional man and his psalms are packed with emotions. Catch a sense of them as we work through this psalm.

Verses 1 to 4 are clearly prayer addressed to the Lord and that may also include verses 5 to 7 but it is unclear. Verses 8 to 10 are clearly spoken outwards.

David’s prayer is essentially for the Lord to lift off from him what he is feeling and what he is going through for he feels it could be the Lord’s doing, rebuking and disciplining him: “O LORD, do not rebuke me in your anger or discipline me in your wrath.” (v.1)  He doesn’t give any indication why this might be happening to him but whatever it is, he pleads for the Lord not to be against him

He opens up a little of what he is going through: “Be merciful to me, LORD, for I am faint; O LORD, heal me, for my bones are in agony.” (v.2) He appears to be in physical agony, he appears to have some form of illness that is bringing him down. How many of us have felt similarly?  His whole being feels it: “My soul is in anguish. How long, O LORD, how long?” (v.3) When you feel ill there is no escaping it, it impinges on your whole being. Is this why Jesus healed so many people, that he knew the prison that they were in?

David continues to cry out: “Turn, O LORD, and deliver me; save me because of your unfailing love.” (v.4) When he says, “Turn, O Lord,” he echoes what so many of us feel when we are going through something similar, that the Lord is facing away from us, paying no attention to our plight, and we want to cry out, Lord, I’m over here, can you not see what is happening? He knows that God has the power to deliver him from this sickness. How many of us have been there? I know the Lord has the power to heal because Jesus healed so many, so why will he not heal me? But in the midst of it we are sure He still loves us.

He adds some logic to his plea to the Lord: “No one remembers you when he is dead. Who praises you from the grave?” (v.5) There are shades of Job about this. What is the point of me dying? How can I praise you if I am dead? Come and heal me!  Like Job, the depths of his anguish start to come out: “I am worn out from groaning; all night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears.” (v.6)  When you are in pain and suffering with illness it doesn’t stop at night and you cannot help groaning from time to time; it is just the body’s way of trying handle it.

But there is a feeling now coming out here of something more. When we are physically ill, we are also made weak emotionally. Depression is so easily linked with physical illness. Vulnerability is particularly prevalent when you are feeling physically down and this tough warrior weeps throughout the night. He weeps and weeps and weeps. What could cause such a depth of anguish? Well partly, no doubt, it is what we have been saying already – he is physically weak and that leaves him emotionally drained. But that is only part of it; see what follows. “My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes.” (v.7) Ah! There is the second thing – people! We don’t know who or what, for he doesn’t say, but in his emotional weakness he is in no state to withstand the negatives that come from other people. Whoever or whatever, he feels utterly down because of them.

But then at the end of this psalm we find this same thing we find in so many of David’s psalms. There is no keeping him down. Even in the midst of anguish, tears and crying out to the Lord, something in him rises up: “Away from me, all you who do evil, for the LORD has heard my weeping.” (v.8)  Get lost!  James wrote, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” (Jas 4:7) Resist the devil, tell him where to go, and he will flee. Powerful words, but there has to be something in us that will reach out to God, grab a sense of His word for us so that faith rises, and then we stand and defy the enemies of the Lord.

David has come to a place of assurance: “The LORD has heard my cry for mercy; the LORD accepts my prayer.” (v.9) He suddenly has this inner assurance yet again. It seems he goes through this process again and again in his life: struggles come, he cries to the Lord in weakness, and then assurance breaks through. This assurance develops into confidence: “All my enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace.” (v.10) It’s sorted!  The Lord has heard and so the Lord WILL deal with them; I’ve got nothing more to worry about! Hallelujah!

2. Difficult Times

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 2 :  Difficult Times  – Psa 4

Psa 4:1   Answer me when I call to you, O my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer.

The heading over this psalm simply attributes it to David, but gives it no historical context.  The clues to the causes or reasons why David wrote particular psalms, often comes at the beginning. The plea at the beginning, Answer me when I call to you,” (v.1a) supposes that prayer isn’t just one-way. David expects God to respond. It may not be in words, but in God’s activity. Note how he speaks of the Lord: “O my righteous God.” This is God who always does rightly. David is sure that this is what God is like and many modern day Christians would do well to take this on board: God only does what is right or, to put it slightly differently, whenever God acts, He will be acting in a right way in the face of the way He has designed this world. David prays with expectations of God, that God who acts rightly in every situation will do what is right for him.

Then he gives us the reason for this psalm: “Give me relief from my distress.” Something or someone is causing David distress or upset and he wants it to end. For this reason, he asks the Lord a second time, “be merciful to me and hear my prayer.” He wants God to hear his prayer and, by implication, respond to it. But he realises he has no personal grounds on which to twist God’s arm. All he can do is plead for mercy. Mercy is a favourable response that is not warranted or earned, but just given, for no other reason than the person wants to grant it.

David turns from his prayer – a one verse prayer! – and looks outward to those who cause him stress: “How long, O men, will you turn my glory into shame?” (v.2a) His glory? His role in life as assigned by God – to be king over Israel.  Somehow they were thwarting his purposes in God! He says something that sheds further light on that: “How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?”  Ah! Perhaps his glory is the glory of Israel as a nation under God. These people who are causing him distress have departed from the truth and are following idols and as such they shame Israel and they shame David.

David then seeks to reassure himself: “Know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself,” (v.3a) and the implication is that he knows he is godly and therefore God has time for him and so, “the LORD will hear when I call to him.” (v.3b) Note the logic: God listens to the godly, I am godly, therefore God will listen to me.

But then it is as if he speaks to a wider audience, not merely the unbelievers. He talks to those who may read this psalm, ordinary believers and who may question the thought of being godly:  David says the Lord has time for the godly. Am I godly? He thinks of things that may cause doubt in the average person and may make them follow a godless course:  “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent. Offer right sacrifices and trust in the LORD.” (v.4,5) In other words life being what it is, it is a fruitful place for anger to spring up and that can lead on to, or even be a source of, godlessness. When we get angry we get self-centred and leave God out of the equation. The apostle Paul was to write, possibly with this psalm in mind, “In your anger do not sin: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry.” (Eph 4:26 ) i.e. if you do get angry, don’t hang on to it!  The psalmist was saying, if you think you have sinned with your anger, do what you know the law requires and offer a sacrifice for sin and then trust the Lord for His forgiveness. That is the godly approach. We all get it wrong from time to time, but the important thing is how we handle it!

In the face of this negative influence within his country, from those who were unbelievers and turning to idols, David foresees some people’s responses: “Many are asking, “Who can show us any good?” (v.6a). There were clearly divided loyalties in the land, some being faithful to the Lord and some not, and the feeling was obviously, “Why are we in this mess?  Where is God? What about the idols, can they help?” Thus he turns back to the Lord with a further cry: “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.”  (v.6b) i.e. Lord, please come and make yourself be known, be the answer to all the doubters (implied).

Then in the concluding part of the psalm we find a sense of assurance that so often comes to the believer once they have cried out to the Lord. It is almost as if this is part of God’s answer, this reassurance that comes in and through prayer: “You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound.” (v.7) How incredible! One minute he is crying out to the Lord in his sense of need to be relieved of his distress, and the next minute he is talking about being filled with joy, yet this is exactly what happens when the believer cries to the Lord and then receives this assurance. It is a complete confidence that is expressed as joy.

The result of this now, is that David can say, “I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” (v.8) With this joy bubbling in him, the anxieties of ungodly people being in his land are washed away and he is left with this sense of complete security. The Lord is in command and He will deal with them (implied) and so David can go to sleep and leave them for the Lord to sort out and thus the Lord will bring him into a place of complete security.

1. A Life of Strife

Meditations in David’s Psalms : 1 :  A Life of Strife – Psa 3

Psa 3:1,2   O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”

The heading over this psalm declares, “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom.” So much of David’s life was taken up with strife and battle. As a shepherd boy he fought lions and bears, as a soldier for Saul he fought Goliath and then went on to be a great army commander. As king he went on to subdue enemy states around him. Yet when the Lord disciplined him for his sins, he finds himself on the receiving end of the challenge from his son, Absalom, and has to flee Jerusalem (see 2 Sam 15-17).

It appears to be in this context that David writes this psalm. There are two interesting things to note before we get into it. First, that David took time so often to write down what he was feeling in poetic form, presumably to be sung, for he was a musician at heart (e.g. 1 Sam 18:10)

At this point David is aware of those around him who are against him: “O LORD, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me!” (v.1) It’s not just one person (Absalom) but he is aware of many people who have banded together with him against David. So often when we find someone against us, they are not alone for others gather to them to pull down the children of God. It is not uncommon.

David has a reputation for being a man of God but now the negative voices are raised against him. Thus far he has received the blessing of God but now it is the discipline of God. What was taking place was to fulfil the word of the Lord after David sinned with Bathsheba: “”This is what the LORD says: `Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity upon you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will lie 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)

So now the negatives rise against him: “Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.” (v.2)  They saw what was happening and assumed that this was the end of David, but the Lord is not going to destroy him, just chastise him, for the Lord loves him and he is still the man who was described as “a man after God’s own heart” (see 1 Sam 13:14, Acts 13:22).

David has to cast off and reject these negative words and so declares what he knows through his experience of the Lord: “But you are a shield around me, O LORD; you bestow glory on me and lift up my head.” (v.3) He has known the Lord’s protection, he has known the Lord lift him up from being a humble shepherd boy to a great king, and he has known the Lord exalt him before others. That is what he relies upon now. If you have known the Lord for any length of time, think back to what you know He has done for you and rejoice in that, so that that becomes a stay in the face of anything you may be battling with at the moment.

What is the answer in such situations? “To the LORD I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill.” (v.4) Note the foundation stones of David’s praying. He prays to the “I AM” (Lord in capital letters in your text). He knows to whom he calls, the One who is Lord over all things, the Eternal One, the God of Moses, the One who has had dealings for centuries with this people. He cries aloud. He is not afraid to be public and extravagant with the Lord, for the Lord looks for those who will be wholehearted in all their dealings with Him: “you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul.” (Deut 4:29) and “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.” (Deut 6:5). But he also knows that the Lord is a God who answers. Not for David a God of silence. God talks to His child.

In the midst of such times of struggle and strife, anxiety can be the name of the game, and so David’s testimony is outstanding: “I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.” (v.5) In other words the Lord gives him peace in his sleep, despite what is happening. With this peace David can proclaim, “I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side.” (v.6) If the Lord grants us peace, really it doesn’t matter the scale of the problems facing me; all that matters is that He is in charge and He will oversee me in this and He will bring a good outcome, so it doesn’t matter if it is a thousand or ten thousand!

With that established in his thinking, he approaches the Lord boldly, confident in his relationship with Him: “Arise, O LORD! Deliver me, O my God! Strike all my enemies on the jaw; break the teeth of the wicked.” (v.7) In such a situation there is only one thing to ask for – deliverance! And when that is deliverance from an enemy the only way that can happen is if the enemy is brought down and defeated. Jaw? Teeth? Perhaps he likens his enemies to the bear or lion he defeated in the long distant past (1 Sam 17:36,37) who came ravenously to devour him with its teeth. To smash its teeth renders it harmless. This is David’s colourful way of saying, ‘Lord, render this enemy harmless.” Maybe within this there is a reticence in David to say, ‘Destroy them, Lord’, because he is talking about his son here. Yes, he is the enemy leading others against him, but his later behaviour when Absalom is eventually killed, indicates this is something David didn’t want to happen. Thus his cry to the Lord is, render him harmless, but don’t kill him!

To conclude he makes a testimony and requests a blessing: “From the LORD comes deliverance. May your blessing be on your people.” (v.8)   In his heart he knows this will not end in his death and so, to the end, he desires God’s blessing on His chosen people. That blessing is a decree of God, and whatever has happened in the past and whatever is going on now, still David’s desire is that God will bless this people. Excellent!

27. Chastised?

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.27

Psa 80:12 Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes?

In the psalms especially we find some amazing truths about spiritual life. The psalms are full of human experience and experience that touches on God. We take it for granted but the psalms are all cries to God, prayers if you like. Some of them appear more like straight declarations and others like pleas from the heart, but they all speak of the human experience with God. Some of them are powerful praise while others seem almost whimpers of the down trodden. Perhaps because they get referred to so much or read so much in church services, we take them for granted but they each say something significant about the human condition and the human experience of God.

As we come to the end of this short series, it is something to observe, this matter of prayer that arises in the human heart in the face of conflict. Especially, in the light of this particular series of meditations, it is important to note that these prayers are not merely declarations of love, but many of them are cries from the heart that involve questions. The Hebrew psalmists are not afraid to ask questions of God. Perhaps it is a measure of the depth of their anguish that they are past caring, or perhaps it is a case that they have come into such a depth of relationship with the Lord that they know they can ask things of him. It would be many centuries later that a church leader by the name of James would write,If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5), but that is what the psalmists are so often doing.

What seems even more incredible is that the psalmists are not afraid to ask these questions of God, even in the face of God’s apparent anger and judgment. We’ve recently been looking at psalms written during the Exile where many thought God had given Israel up. In this psalm today there is a sense that God has acted powerfully against His people. You might think that the psalmist would be too scared to speak to God on such issues, that he might think he would become a focus of God’s anger, a target for his judgment, but there is no such reticence apparent in these psalms.

In this psalm the psalmist acknowledges that God’s anger burns against his people (v.4) and the Lord has made them a source of mockery for their enemies (v.6). He speaks of Israel as a vine (v.8) that God brought out of Egypt and planted in this land. It grew and spread (v.11) and indeed, by what follows, Israel is pictured not merely as a vine but a walled vineyard, well established. Walls speak of protection, stability and security. But then we find,Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? Boars from the forest ravage it and the creatures of the field feed on it.” (v.12,13). The question here for God is, why have you taken away our protection, our stability and our security so that we have become prey of all and sundry? But it is worse than that; it isn’t merely the removal of security and protection, it is the destruction that has been wrought as a result: Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.” (v.16)

Three times in this psalm the psalmist cries,Restore us, O LORD God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (v.3,7,19) and yet no acknowledgement of sin or reason for God’s judgment is given. The nearest thing to a clue why this has happened is found in verse 18 when, after the Lord’s restoring work is done, he adds, Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.” with the implication that they had turned away from God and needed reviving. Perhaps the fact of the psalm is evidence of contrition but otherwise there are no such signs in this psalm. It is simply a plea to God to come and restore the fortunes of Israel. It is an acknowledgement that only the Lord can do this, otherwise they would have done it themselves and this psalm would have not been needed. They are in a state where they acknowledge God’s anger (v.4) and acknowledge that He has brought them to tears (v.5) and made them a mockery (v.6). He has broken down their security (v.12) and brought great destruction to them (v.16).

Yet the Lord is still the “Shepherd of Israel” (v.1) and therefore the plea is to bring a redeemer: Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.” (v.17). This is a somewhat enigmatic verse, unclear as to whom he refers. Is it the Lord’s anointed on the earth, the king in the line of David, or is it the one who sits at the Lord’s right hand, the one who will one day come to earth to be the Saviour of the world? Whoever it is, there is an acknowledgement of need for one to come and save them. In this respect this is a psalm of pure reliance upon the Lord.

The question here,Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes, seems almost rhetorical. It seems it is not so much asking for a deep answer, as simply part of a plea for God to come and restore. Sometimes it seems it is better not to worry about answers to questions but instead look and call for the presence of God to come and do the transforming work that only He can do. Sometimes we just have to trust that part of the restoring will involve putting right whatever caused the downfall. Sometimes the childlike call to God is just that, childlike! Children aren’t so much concerned with the details as the need to be restored to daddy. Knowing Him and knowing a closeness to Him is surely the greatest thing we can ask for. Let’s not be afraid to ask Him for wisdom about the questions that arise in our minds in the face of difficulties, but let’s ensure our greatest desire is not self-centred comfort, but to know Him and to be able, with His help, to do His will at all times.

God who watches over us

God in the Psalms No.1

Psa 1:6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.

In this very first psalm we are introduced to a very basic concept in respect of the Lord: the Lord sees the affairs of men. The reality is that God IS there and He DOES see all that is going on in the affairs of the earth. Now if that is all it was, we might be able to be complacent, thinking that God is ‘out there’ but powerless to do or affect anything we’re involved in, but this verse doesn’t allow us that complacency.

The verse says first that God watches over some people but that other people will perish. In other words the implication is that God DOES something when He looks and sees. The clear implication is that the latter group of people will perish because GOD destroys them! Now because one group is being contrasted with the other, then when it says “God watches over” the clear meaning must be that He sees AND ACTS in such a way as to preserve them. So one group He preserves and the other group He destroys.

It is somewhat important therefore that we understand who these two groups are, for it suggests that we can either feel secure in the knowledge that God will look after us or, if we are in the other group, we should fear because the warning is that He will destroy us!

So, let’s look at group one, first of all. This group is simply referred to as the righteous‘. This description occurs many times in the Bible. Put in its simplest form, we might refer to those who are living in ‘right-ness’, whose lives are declared right because they are living in the way God has designed them to live. Abraham was declared righteous when he simply believed God (Gen 15:6 / Gal 3:6). Righteous is therefore a term used to describe those who respond well to God, those who live in relationship to God.

By comparison the wicked are those who ignore or reject God and live as they want and live lives quite contrary to the way the Lord designed them to be. When they ‘do wrong’ it is because it is contrary to God’s desire. ‘Wrong’ is that which is contrary to God’s goodness.

Now notice the use of the phrase ‘the way ofwhich is used of both groups. An individual doesn’t just do one or two good things in respect of God, or one or two bad things in respect of God. We LIVE in these ways. The righteous is the man or woman who has come into relationship with God and that means in every area of their life. The wicked have every area of their life ruled by ‘self’ and every area is tainted by wrong. Thus when the psalmist refers to ‘the way of he is meaning the whole of the life of that individual.

So it is that the Lord guards the life of the person who has turned to Him and put their life under His rule. So also, it is that the Lord deals with that person who is daring to live in God’s world contrary to God’s design for them, ignoring or rejecting Him and, even more, living in disharmony with others, causing harm to others. That is why the Lord will deal with them, because, left to their own devices, they will harm God’s world. In His wisdom, the Lord may allow them leeway, space in which to repent (2 Pet 3:9), but if repentance does not come, their end is decreed. They perish!

Thus this simple verse in this first psalm reveals to us a God who distinguishes between right and wrong and who comes down and responds to people according to the way they have chosen to go. The challenge is, which way have we chosen?