Posts Tagged ‘Psalms’

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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

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The Promise to Come…

August 16, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Part 6

THE END OF EVIL in PSALM 2

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.

CLICK HERE FOR PART 5 OF A CHRISTIAN’S COMFORT IN THE PSALMS


[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.

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

August 6, 2010

A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms Pt 5.

THE CONTEXT OF EVIL

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.

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Join in the the Everlasting Song…

July 24, 2010

PSALM 145

When we consider all that we speak about in our lives, we soon come to the realization that so little of what we say actually matters.  That is the words we profess, what we extol, what we encourage and obsess about soon passes into memory and we along with them.  There is one form of speech however, that never lacks potency and when spoken in sincerity lasts long after we’re gone, resonating through the generations and echoing to the heavens.  These are the praises offered up to our Maker, Redeemer and Lord.  Psalm 145 lifts up the virtues of such praise and emphasizes the generational importance of speaking of God.

Those who would be content to live out their lives in quiet testimony of observation and action, run the real risk of muting a necessary God-ordained form of communication.  Speech, both written and spoken, is indispensable in transmitting the axioms and remembrances of God to future generations.  The psalmist, in this case David, repeatedly focuses on action matched up with word.  Our chief aim is that we might extol (vs1), bless (vs2), and praise (vs3) by declaring (vs4), speaking (vs6) and calling (18), for the purposes of displaying God’s works to; one another (vs4), to the children of men (vs12), enduring for future generations (vs13).  The very pages in front of me on which this psalm is written stand as a not-so-silent testimony to the endurance of the written and spoken words “speaking of the might of [His] awesome deeds.”

From David’s generation to mine these words bear witness to the eternal everlasting kingdom and His steadfast love.  This psalm is both prophetic and proven to encourage.  It prophesied that His goodness will be proclaimed and it has.  It encourages in that very God who; upholds the fallen and raises the bowed (vs14), opens His hand and satisfies desire (vs16), and comes near to all who call (vs18) is the same God who lives on in His word and in our hearts.

As He has preserved this word to us He promises to preserve “all who love Him.”  That He grants us the privilege in participating in this preservation in writing, speaking and song, is a testament to the depth of His grace and love.  How can we not speak His praise, and what joy we face in knowing that we will bless His holy name forever and ever. (vs27)  By God’s grace may it be so.

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A Christian’s Comfort in the Psalms…

May 6, 2010

“How Long O Lord?”[1] This tragic plea is pregnant with many contradictions and truths.  Four words cried out in apparent abandonment by David; the context in which they were spoken has long since passed into irrelevance.  What remains is clear: the speaker believed in a Lord, one who reigned and had the power to respond to such a plea.  The speaker was also in apparent duress, to the point of death, where his heart was plagued all day long and his enemy was exalted over him.  Still he cries to a God of steadfast love (hesed), whose sure salvation is a matter for rejoicing.  The rub is this; if there is a God of Salvation, steadfast love and deliverance then why are those attributes absent from the psalmist’s life?  This is the quandary that attracts people of diverse backgrounds to the Psalter.

The Psalms are in part, an artistic historical effort to confront, lament and conquer evil through song.  The product of many authors, they express “the emotions, personal feelings, attitudes, gratitude, and interests…of the individual.”[2] The Psalms are “a rich treasure house of reflection on evil and what God does with it.”[3] Across generations, nations and religions whether Christian, Jewish, or secular when confronted with evil, “universally people have identified their lot with the psalmist.”[4] There is a truth within the poet’s lyric that draws all those seeking comfort.  Such comfort is often hidden however in the face of mounting evil and threat.  So from what and from where is comfort to be found?

The Psalms from the outset present a dichotomy which is key to finding true and lasting comfort in God.  Beginning with Psalm 1 we are told that there is good and that there is evil. There are those who walk in evil, they perish.  There are those who pursue both the good and God, they endure.  When evil appears to advance in the face of God’s covenant promises the psalmists lament and appeal to God’s steadfast love or hesed (the full nature of which we will address later on.)  When Evil is on the run and the psalmist’s enemies are put to an end, God is praised for displaying his steadfast love.  Encouragement throughout the psalms is found by recalling times when God prevailed against evil; and great hope is conveyed by claiming the promise that God will ultimately defeat this raging evil and claim eternal victory through His anointed King.

These promises explode on the evangelical mind in a way that far exceeds the poetic comfort sought and found by the secular world in these reassuring verses.  Each Psalm hammers away at the nonsensical problem of Evil that so plagues the child of God.  Why do the wicked seem to advance and the righteous suffer?  Will there be an end to this suffering?  In the darkest times of evil’s ascendency will God and His chosen prevail?   These questions pepper the minds of God’s children across the persecuted church.  We find it difficult to uncover the face of the Almighty in the problem of apparent injustice.  The Psalms, offered to us, chisel away at the slab of unanswered questions and slowly an image begins to emerge.  As the dust settles we see a hewn tree, a suffering shepherd and the dashed head of evil stamped out by a love which endures forever.  This is a Christian’s comfort in the Psalms.

(This post is an excerpt from another larger work… currently in progress)


[1] Psalm 13:1 in its entirety reads, “ How long O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?”

[2] Schultz, Samuel J. The Old Testament Speaks: A complete survey of Old Testament history and literature. (New York, NY Harper Collins, 2000) 286.

[3] Wright, N.T. Evil and the Justice of God. ( Downers Grove, IL IVP, 2006) 60.

[4] Schultz, 286.

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The True Sinners Prayer…

March 13, 2009

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Psalm 51

          

When reading these weighty psalms written by David, full of truth and wisdom concerning God and his power, it is so easy to forget that this pillar of our faith was all too human. 

        Psalm 51 serves as a wake up call.  A wake up call to David and the extent of his sin and need for God’s mercy.  A wake up call to us, that even the most profound and inspiring and gifted individuals are flawed and sinful like the rest of us.  What a gift we are given to see how a truly good man “after God’s own heart” approaches God in the waste and wake of sin.  I have been there many times.  And often for lack of any better or more original phrase call out to Almighty God, the God of my salvation, “have mercy on me.”  My mind like David often can not get past the thought of my sin, “it is ever before me” as it was David.  This psalm is a primer on sin and its consequences and on God and His power. 

Sin is ever-present, as are its effects (v3), and no matter who or whom we sin against all sin is against He who is without sin. (v4)  But this holy God is merciful (v1), and creates in us a pure heart and cleanses us (vv7-10) and restores us and delivers us (vv12,14).  He does these not because we work at it or because we strive to be good, but if our heart is truly broken and contrite.  I wonder if David thought back to Saul and how he was told that to obey is far better than sacrifice, it is the heart’s condition that concerns God.  If I had my way I would make this the “Sinners Prayer” for it was only when I came to realize that I had sin before me, a merciful God above me, and a broken heart within me that I came to the knowledge of a personal God who cleanses, delivers and restores my soul.  With this experience I too wanted to “sing aloud of His righteousness…” “and my mouth show forth His praise.”  That is the result of a true repentant, Sinners Prayer.

 

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What is Man?

March 13, 2009

 stars12

 

Psalm 8

 

This oft quoted passage is so instructive, but like most Psalms it moves beyond instruction to the point of awesome effect.  Most versions have phrases such as “the Glory of the Lord in Creation” (NKJV), or “How Majestic is your Name” (ESV) as a chapter heading.  I feel that these phrases seem to miss the mark somewhat.  If ever there was a Psalm that brings a comprehensive theology to bear, and has as its scope the whole of all creation, that is both introspective on the part of the author and challenging on the part of the reader then this Psalm is it.

 Two powerful theological truths thunder in my ears as I read this passage, and each is overwhelmingly relevant and humbling to me.  One, God is the cause of it all, He has His hand at the pen of all that is written in nature and on our hearts.  He has ordained strength (v2), ordained the moon and stars (v3), He has made man lower than the angels (v5), He has made man to have dominion and put all under his feet (v6).  God is in supreme control as ruler and maker of all and yet His glory is above all these created things. (v1)  What took Elihu 165 verses to say in the book of Job are posited here by David in nine, spoken in wisdom born out in brevity.  This declaration of God is inspiring and would be frightening in its breadth were it not for verse 4.  Which leads me to the second theological truth that is impressed on me.  In all that immensity and vast creation God is mindful of man and visits him.  David so rightly puts it in the form of a question, “What is man that you are mindful of him and the son of man that you visit him?”  A question is not a bold, sure statement.  It is a subtle query that elicits humility rather than pride.  David does not say, I am worthy of being mindful, or thank you for being mindful, he says “What is man..?”  As I have read this question over the past couple months, I can not help but be influenced daily by it.  When I look at the moon or the stars, or when I see creation splayed out before me, I can not help but to ask “What is man?”  What am I? not only that He is mindful of me but that HE VISITS ME.  David understood the power and privilege of the presence of God.  Long before the Savior was known to man in physical form, David saw, felt and tasted that God is good and that He comes to us in a way we can not understand apart from what we know as grace.  That we creatures created in His image have some place accorded to us by His grace, out of mercy and love inspires me to come before him in grateful confusion and say “What is man?”, “What am I?”