Archive for the ‘Comfort in the Psalms’ Category


The Heavens declare, the King Reflects…

May 30, 2011

Psalm 19 is a masterful text within the Psalter, arguably peerless in its scope and impact.  C.S. Lewis describes it as, “the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”[1]  This Davidic psalm exists as a humble meditation on the part of its author and a powerful instruction directed to its reader.  We must remember that it was written by a king whose sole preoccupation was the governing of his people.  This was by no means an easy task, ask any politician or governor or judge, if you are responsible for enforcing laws, and maintaining peace and freedom, your burden is great. For Israel’s kings the guidelines for governance were specifically laid out in Deuteronomy 17:18-20:

18 When he sits on the throne as king, he must copy these laws on a scroll for himself in the presence of the Levitical priests.  19 He must always keep this copy of the law with him and read it daily as long as he lives. That way he will learn to fear the Lord his God by obeying all the terms of this law.  20 This regular reading will prevent him from becoming proud and acting as if he is above his fellow citizens. It will also prevent him from turning away from these commands in the smallest way. This will ensure that he and his descendants will reign for many generations in Israel.”

From the very first day as king and ruler, David had to begin focusing on the word of God and the Law contained within it.  He would copy it, carry it with him, read it daily and rely on it to avoid slipping into prideful arrogance and wrongful ruling.

David rightly saw that God’s law, His order of love and justice, was not just written with pen and ink, but with stars, clouds, the expansive heavens above, and nature below.  All of creation testifies to God’s grace through revelation of a purpose behind the spoken words.  And within this psalm the purpose of God is laid out in mirror image to the rest of scripture.

Within fourteen verses there exists an encapsulation of the entire narrative of the Bible.  Beginning with creation, (vss. 1-4a) God’s ‘handiwork’ the work of His hands, the heavens molded majestically reflecting His glory.  Expanses of sky and echoes on earth, testify that the creator reigns.  Then the psalm progresses to how God reigns over His creation, from one end to the other, missing nothing and seeing everything (vss. 4b-6); He then gives His law to restore, enlighten and endure (vss. 7-11); which exposes our need, prompting our confession (vss.12-13); and concludes where all scripture does on the Lord, our redeemer (vs.14).  (It is easy to see Christ in this psalm, the Rock of ages, the redeemer of all who call upon Him.)

The sun/Son which shines on all creation exposes all that is hidden, including our own secluded faults; ultimately our ability to tell right from wrong lies in our willingness to walk in its/His light.  An illuminating law revealed in nature, sealed in ink, and written on our hearts.

[1] (Reflections on the Psalms, p. 56)


The Whole Series…

August 20, 2010

Engulfed by God: A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms

Below are links to all 8 parts of the series.

Part 1: A Christian’s comfort in the Psalms

Part 2: Acknowledging Evil in the Psalms

Part 3: Malicious Melodies, Evil in the Psalms

Part 4: The Wicked, Not Very Musical

Part 5: Walking in the Light, The Context of Evil

Part 6: The Promise to Come, The End of Evil in Psalm 2

Part 7: The Dwelling

Part 8: Engulfed by God


Engulfed by God…

August 18, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Part 8

The psalmists were confronted with evil and suffering everyday; likewise are we.  Having been blessed with the revelation of their God and His covenantal promises they approached suffering with candid understanding and appropriate sorrow.  That understanding was born from acknowledging evil’s existence, placing it within the context of a world created by their faithful God, and resting on a hope that one day evil and suffering would end with the inauguration of a kingdom of peace which would have no end.  We have had disclosed to us the fulfillment of these promises in the revelation of Jesus Christ; His life, death, and resurrection.

Suffering takes on a new light when seen in the shadow of the cross. Patrick J. Miller in his book Interpreting the Psalms describes it this way:

“The resurrection is God’s response to the cry of the sufferer, the vindication of life over death, the demonstration of God’s presence in suffering and power over it.  It is not an end to suffering, the continuing existence of which plagues and perturbs us.  It does tell us that God is at cross-purposes with suffering, fully present in it, and at work to overcome it.  The resurrecting work of God is more difficult to see.  It did not begin in Jesus Christ nor end there.  But its final victory is clarified and sealed in him.”[1]

Comfort comes from the Psalms not in poetry but truth through poetry.  We see that there is never a time when we are out of God’s presence.  Laments are softened in that while God is perceived as absent the psalmist acknowledges, “your steadfast love endures forever.”

When we are in deep, calling amidst the deep, deafened by the roar of His waterfalls we know that, “by day the Lord commands his steadfast love and at night his song is with” us.[2] When tears are our food day and night and we are besieged by wave after wave of hardship; we recognize that the waves and breakers under which we strive are in fact His waves and His breakers engulfing us for His purpose, that we may hope in Him our God and our Salvation.

Click here for a Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Part 7

[1] Miller, Interpreting, 110.

[2] Psalm 42:7


The Promise to Come…

August 16, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Part 6


The paradigmatic struggle between good and evil in Psalm 1 is immediately continued and expanded in Psalm 2.  Psalm 1 provides a definition of the wicked; Psalm 2 prophecy’s their demise; this correlation is not incidental.[1] Whereas Psalm 1 serves as a preface underlining the sections of the Psalter concerning the Law; Psalm 2 likewise serves as a theological foundation for the psalms to follow, informing every lament and praise.  While God views the plots of the wicked as laughable, He has wrath in mind for the plotters.

In Psalm 2 we begin to see evidences of the way in which God will go about “breaking” these raging nations.  God will install His King on Zion’s Hill; this King will be His begotten son; God will give the raging nations into his hand; and the Son-King will “break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potters vessel.”[2] The utter futility of those who plot against the One “who sits in the heavens…” is an anchor of the psalmist’s comfort.[3] “God is committed to destroying all that is evil and establishing his kingdom of righteousness and truth.”[4]

This theme of victorious, eternal, God-ordained kingship is continued at the conclusion of Book Three of the Psalter in Psalm 89.  David is seen as the progenitor of an anointed king to come.  God established His covenant with David in 2 Samuel 7; and arguably His promise focused less on David than it did on David’s offspring.  Speaking to David, through the prophet Nathan, God said, “When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up our offspring after you.”[5] God then defines who this raised one will be: he will be from David’s line (7:12), God will establish his kingdom, (as opposed to earthly installment) (13), He will be like a father to the king and the king like a son to God (14), the stripes of the sons of men shall fall upon him (14)[6], this kingdom shall last forever (13, 16).  The legitimacy of these promises is amplified in Psalm 89.

Five times throughout the Psalm God provides assurance that the King he will raise from David’s line shall be established, kept and shall endure forever.  Despite the fact that this promise had yet to be realized by the time Psalm 89 was penned, God pledged that “I will not violate my covenant or alter the word that went forth from my lips…” and “ by my holiness; I will not lie to David.”[7] This promise is nestled in a Psalm saturated with proclamations of God’s love.[8] It soon becomes clear that the inauguration of God’s coming kingdom will bear witness to not only His judgment of the wicked, but to the consummation of His steadfast love for His people.  The two goals will finish at one end and God shall vanquish evil through an act of love.  That love and judgment would soon be given a name, a face and an act in one Christ, Jesus.

The realization and implication of God’s plan of salvation, through an eternal son-king seen in the Psalms are interpreted, both in word and deed, by Jesus in the New Testament.  We will next turn our attention to Christ’s use of the Psalter and the violent act of love which muted evil’s rage and established God’s eternal Kingdom.


[1] “One Jewish tradition treated Pss. 1 and 2 as one psalm, and this reflects a number of points of connection between the two”  John Goldingay. Psalms: Vol.1 Psalms 1-41. (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2006.) 94.  See his further treatment on pg.95. Also see Miller, Interpretation 87-88.

[2] Psalm 2:6-9

[3] Psalm 2:4; An early testimony of this Psalm’s power to comfort is seen in its invocation by the Apostles in Acts 4:25.  “For the Apostles… in their first trial or affliction they seize upon it, pray it and in this way both console and fortify themselves against all the power of their enemies.”  Martin Luther. Luther’s Works: Selections from the Psalms. (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia Publishing, 1955.) 5.

[4]  Peter Hicks. The Message of Evil and Suffering. (Downers Grove, IL: IVP, 2006.) 50.

[5] 2 Samuel 7:12.

[6] One can not help but see prefigured here the suffering servant later described in Psalm 22:16 whose hands and feet are pierced and Isa 53:5 who bore the stripes of others, and through that brought healing.  Through great pain and suffering God’s plan unfolds and His hand is made visible.

[7] Psalm 89:34-35

[8] This Psalm’s over arching theme seems to be “loving-kindness and faithfulness, each of which occurs seven times (vv. 1, 2, 5, 8, 14, 24, 28, 33, 49).” Kirkpatrick, Psalms. 531.


Walking in the Light: The Context of Evil within the Psalms…

August 6, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Pt 5.


In the previous posts we have examined how the Israelites acknowledged evil and described the purveyors of evil in the Psalms.  Now we will look at the context in which evil was placed, and what role the contextualization of evil played in providing comfort for a people often oppressed by its effects.

The children of God throughout the Psalms navigate the deep darkness before them with the light of their salvation — their God –Yahweh.  His word and promise to them are literally described as a light unto their feet and a lamp unto their path.[1] They have an individual God of promise whose presence sustains them and banishes their fears through every valley, even those valleys whose very shadow bodes death.

As we have seen the Israelites were prolific in acknowledging evil’s presence.  But while evil is continually present, they fear it not, for Yahweh is with them.  If evil and those who practice evil are on one side and God and Israel are on the other, then Israel is right to find comfort in God’s presence.  For God is seen as the one in complete control, and whose character and Holiness consume all those who act wickedly.  Yahweh’s character in relation to evil is explicitly described in two key passages both of which we will now examine.

Psalm 5:4-6 provides a telling glimpse into God’s perception of evil:

4. For you are not a God who delights in wickedness;

evil may not dwell within you.

5. The boastful shall not stand before your eyes;

you hate all evildoers.

6. You destroy those who speak lies;

the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful man.

The activity of God, who hates the wicked, is recalled frequently in the Psalter.  And His actions toward His people speaks volumes as to His dominion over evil and evildoers.  These unique people of Jacob[2] are often under a God-anointed king; they have been chosen, delivered, saved and stand in the promise of the coming King to whom all the nations shall bow.[3] God offers protection; He is their refuge and their rock.  All of these conditions exist because of God’s mercy and faithfulness and are in no way due to the perception of “righteousness” in Israel.

In Psalm 103:8-9, the psalmist describes God’s character by recalling the epiphany experienced by Moses in Exodus 34.  He states: “The Lord is merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. (Hesed)[4] He will not always chide, nor will he keep his anger forever.”  This is the God of the faithful promise who, though often rejected by His own, is steadfast in His love because of His promise.  Evil seen in light of this promise begins to pale by comparison.  The contrast could not be any clearer; while evil and the wicked are compared to chaff to be blown about in the wind; God’s love and those who have sought refuge in Him are promised to endure forever.  Once evil has been placed in its right context, the psalmists begin to look toward evil’s end during the reign of the promised anointed king, the messiah.

It is important to note that “there is no attempt in scripture to whitewash the anguish of God’s people when they undergo suffering.”[5] Indeed these naked acknowledgements of evil and the wicked in the Psalms, within the context of a sovereign loving God, have served to gird and inform the suffering people of God throughout time.  This context was never more apparent than when the promise met the present in the person of Christ.  In Jesus, the prophetic psalms were made flesh and dwelt among God’s people in a manner unparalleled in human history.

Found within the Psalms is a promised end to evil, an end occurring at a time of God’s choosing.  This promise, made sure by His steadfast love, provides comfort throughout Psalter from its inception to its inclusion within the canon.

In the next post of this series we will look at how the Psalms predict evil’s fall; and how the fulfillment of the Psalms, by Jesus, conveys certain promise and provides enduring comfort.

Click here for part 4 of the series, A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms

[1] Psalm 119:105

[2] The use of Jacob denotes God’s chosen nation of Israel.  Jacob is mentioned 34 times in the Psalms; almost all such references refer to God’s covenant with Abraham, which was continued through Isaac and on to Jacob. Who, while he was not the first-born received, by the foreknowledge and plan of God, the birthright and promise to carry the seed of the covenant.

[3] Psalm 77-78 are helpful here. 78:5 God establishes Jacob, 78:70 chooses David as King.  Psalm 2 and 22 both speak to the coming King who will receive the praise of all the nations.

[4]Hesed  is a multifaceted word with an expansive definition.  It occurs 147 times within the psalms and it can mean “loyalty, faithfulness, kindness, love and mercy” (Clines 126) Psalm 48 is illustrative of the relationship the people of Israel had to the idea of Hesed.  They would meditate on it in the temple and reflect on what God had done to establish them in that place. Hesed “describes God’s fundamental character.  As the experience of the exodus and deliverance revealed God’s fundamental character; so the present experience in Jerusalem puts the worshippers in touch with God’s Historical (past) and enduring (future) essence.” J. Clinton McCann. A Theological Introduction to the Book of Psalms. (Nashville, TN. Abingdon Press. 1993) 149.  Psalm 136 might as well be known as the hesed psalm as the psalmist systematically recalls God’s faithful action toward Israel over time, ending every recollection with “His steadfast Love endures forever.” Whenever God seemed absent in the psalms the Psalmist would call the people to remember that they served a God who acted faithfully in the past and based on that past action, His love was viewed as Steadfast in the face of whatever sin the people committed.  God would love them through any circumstance to accomplish His purpose in their midst for His Glory.

[5] D.A. Carson. How Long O Lord? Reflections on Suffering and Evil. (Grand Rapids, MI. Baker Book House. 1990) 73.


The Wicked, Not very Musical…

July 21, 2010



The common foes for the righteous in the Psalter are the wicked.  “When evil enters peoples hearts it leads not only to wicked deeds but also to disastrous consequences for the people themselves.”[1] It is the certainty of these consequences that God, via the psalmist, warns His children against.  The word most commonly translated in the psalms as wicked or ungodly is “Ra’sha.”  In its verbal form it means to “act wickedly, be guilty, or accounted guilty.”  As an adjective it is used to describe “the wicked, guilty, wrongdoer and guilty one.”[2] It occurs 82 times in 80 distinct verses in 42 psalms.[3] Four of those occurrences are found in Psalm 1 and a further twelve are concentrated in Psalm 37; for this reason both merit brief examination.

It is significant that the psalm chosen to act as a prelude and introduction to the entire Psalter should deal so specifically with the wicked and their role in opposition to God and His people.  The themes seen earlier in Psalm 34 are pertinent here as well.[4] By its nature Psalm 1 is prescriptive in regards to behavior and illustrative of the eternal benefits of acting righteously.  Psalm 1 is in large part definitive as to who the wicked are; and could be read like an entry in a dictionary.  The wicked: counsel in a manner contrary to God’s design to the detriment of the blessed man (vs.1); they prosper only briefly and then they are blown away like chaff (vs.4); they will suffer judgment and fail to withstand its verdict (vs.5); and they will ultimately perish by following their own self destructive way (vs.6).  If Psalm 1 defines the wicked, then Psalm 37 displays the grand drama in which they scheme to subdue God’s children at every turn.

The word “Ra’sha” is used 12 times within Psalm 37.[5] Played out in its verses is the ongoing struggle incurred by the righteous as the wicked continually plot against them.  A certain symmetry is seen between the descriptive methods of promise, prescription, prophecy and acknowledgement.  In sequence the methods are arranged in the following way:

-Prophecy the demise of the wicked (vs.10);

-Acknowledgement of the plots of the wicked (vs. 12,14);

-Prescription for righteous (vs.16)/prophecy of destruction (vs.17);

-Prophecy of destruction (vs.20)/acknowledgement of wicked nature (vs.21);

-Prophecy (vs.28);

-Acknowledgement (vs.32);

-Prescription for righteous (vs.34)/acknowledgement (vs.35);

-Prophecy (vs.38);

-Promise (vs.40)

This back and forth is emblematic of the struggle seen throughout the Psalms.  At the heels of the saints the wicked persistently nip.  In the face of certain prophesied destruction and judgment, the wicked deny God and act as fools for they lack understanding and knowledge.[6]

Evil as described by “RA” and the wicked denoted by “Ra’sha” appear in 139 distinct verses within the Psalter and are addressed in 82 separate psalms.  In other words, 52% of the psalms of the Old Testament mention or address in some context evil and those who act according to an evil mind.  Due to the poetic structure and the frequent use of parallelism in the psalms, evil and the wicked are never addressed in a vacuum.  Acknowledging evil’s presence in the world is merely one step toward finding comfort in the face of evil’s effects of suffering, separation and death.  The psalmists use context to frame comfort, and evil is always seen in a context of a faithful sovereign God who is mighty to save.  How that contextualization occurs and provides comfort shall be our focus in the next post.

Click here for Part 3 of a Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms…

[1] Ibid. 91.

[2] Clines, 432.

[3] These calculations are based on my own personal count.

[4] Ps. 1:1 equals prescription; 1:4 acknowledgement; 1:5 prophecy “the wicked will not stand in judgment”; 1:6 promise of deliverance.

[5] Psalm 37 is an acrostic psalm and ‘Ra’sha is found 12 times within its verses.  The ESV translates it exclusively as “ the wicked” in the following verses: 10, 12, 14, 16, 17, 20, 21, 28, 32, 34, 35, 38, and 40.

[6] Psalm 14:1-7


Malicious Melodies, ‘Evil’ in the Psalms…

July 21, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms pt. 3


“The reader of the psalms of the Old Testament is quickly struck by the fact that most of the Psalms deal with some sort of trouble or adversity; the psalmist experiences of enmity, oppression and wickedness.”[1] This oppression, evil, and adversity is often expressed with the word “RA.”  The Hebrew word “RA” is used primarily as an adjective and has a variety of meanings within the Psalter.  Commonly it is translated as “bad, evil, displeasing…(ethically) evil… and distressing.”  When used as a noun in both masculine and feminine forms it refers to: “evil one, wicked one, one who is evil…evil i.e. greedy, evil i.e. harmful, severe, grievous.”[2] “RA”s prolific presence is seen throughout the Psalms; it occurs 64 times in 45 separate psalms.  Put another way, 30% of the 150 psalms address evil (via RA) explicitly.  There are 5 occurrences in Psalm 34 alone, a fact which makes this psalm significant and its use of “RA” merits our attention.

Psalm 34 is an acrostic psalm of praise and deliverance.[3] The psalmist extols the Lord for His goodness, and trumpets the virtue of seeking after God and His benefits of protection and mercy.  This psalm also puts forth several common methods for addressing the progression of evil (RA).  There is: a prescription for the children of God to avoid evil, a promise of God’s judgment, an acknowledgement that evil persists, and finally a prophecy of evils coming condemnation.[4] These methods of prescription, promise, acknowledgement and prophecy are common within the structure of many psalms especially in their treatment of evil.

Evil, when manifested within individuals “produces an evil disposition, an attitude of inclination, and it is this that leads them to wicked behavior.”[5] These individuals are termed the “ungodly or wicked” (Ra’sha) by the psalmists and it is this word we will examine in the next post in the series.

Read Part 2 of A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms here…

[1] Patrick D. Miller. Interpreting the Psalms. (Philadelphia, PA. Fortress Press, 1986.) 48.

[2] David J.A. Clines ed. The Concise Dictionary of Classical Hebrew. (Sheffield, UK. Sheffield Phoenix press. 2009) 424. Entry on “RA”.  Its verbal root “RA’A” translates as “to be bad…do evil” and is seen used as a noun in Ps. 22:17 as Evildoer. 427.  “RA’A” occurs 15 times within the Psalter in 12 chapters.

[3] A.F. Kirkpatrick. The Book of Psalms. (Cambridge, UK. Cambridge Univ. Press. 1951) 169-170.

[4] Psalm 34:13-14 prescription; 34:16 promise; 34:19 acknowledgement; and 34:21 Prophecy of evil’s ultimate slaying and condemnation.

[5] Alexander Ryrie. Deliver Us from Evil: reading the psalms as poetry. (London, UK. Darton, Longman and Todd ltd. 2004) 91.