Study of Psalm 122 (Part Five)

We have seen that King David finishes this song of ascent to Jerusalem with a prayer for that earthly city, God’s city and his city during old covenant times. It was a city set apart to the Lord for his worship and the good of his people. Next, David provides two reasons for praying for the peace of Jerusalem.

First, the peace of Jerusalem would be for the benefit of his family and friends. This definitely puts the request in personal terms. Every normal person cares for their family. The bonds of blood relationship knit hearts together in love. Distance, work, and the cares of life might dull the closeness that we ought to feel. But the familial relationship remains. Think of how the Covid-19 crisis has brought families together, perhaps for some only out of necessity, but it has given families the opportunity to care for each other in ways that might not have happened for years. (Sadly for some, it has only been a reason to neglect their family more. Tragic!) By the way, if you feel badly over long neglect or think ill about someone in your family, do not beat each other up with accusations and guilt. Instead, please rejoice in this opportunity and thank God for bringing honey out of the lion’s mouth (cf. Judges 14:8-9). It is an opportunity for your family to forge deeper ties of love.

We also care for our friends. Hopefully, you have many friends. Friendship always carries with it the risks of disappointment, shared troubles, differences of opinions, and even betrayal. But friends realize that sharing love, joy, and peace with others is worth such risk. We want our friends to live in peace and to prosper. King David knew that the strength of Jerusalem would provide security for his friends. At this current hour, we pray for the Covid-19 pandemic to end and for a resurgence of the economy. Those blessings would be for the benefit of our families and friends. For David, the peace of Jerusalem was their need.

Second, the peace of Jerusalem would be for the benefit of the Lord’s house, the temple that would be built by Solomon. By faith, David saw the future of the worship. It would be centered on a beautiful temple. Having this vision, David worked hard and gave generously for its construction, though he would never see it. In order for the temple to come into existence and to continue as the place for worship, the peace of Jerusalem was necessary. Sadly, that magnificent house for God was only to last for four hundred years. The Chaldeans destroyed it at God’s will, because of Israel’s rebellion against the Lord and his law covenant. Prayer is part of our spiritual armor to protect us from temptation and sin (Ephesians 6:18).

We ought to pray for the peace of the new covenant temple, the church, Christ’s new assembly of believers. Wicked men and women hate God and his people. They scheme and work for the church’s downfall at this hour, or at least to cause it hardship, as we have seen in various places during this pandemic. When we communicate with God about the needs of his people, he acts for our good. Please pray for your local gathering of followers of Christ. Our safety is not found in our power and wisdom, but in the Lord’s. Jesus Christ himself is our peace (Ephesians 2:14).

Grace and peace
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Four)

Luke 4:16-30

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:18-21 NIV).

God’s good news is built on and formed from Jesus Christ. It proclaims his person, his word, and his work. These three taken together form God’s final authority for all people everywhere. They proclaim the glory of God, the way to life, and God’s way for us to live. We see all three elements in this passage from Isaiah the prophet that the Messiah read that day in Nazareth.

As he read what we call Isaiah 61:1-2a, no one in the synagogue could have expected the direct application of the text that Jesus was about to make to himself.

“The starting point, the fundamental thing, is that Christianity is about Jesus… Christianity is not a teaching—it is a person. It is not merely a moral outlook that is to be applied in the realm of politics. You start with a historical person… What you need is to know Him and to come into a relationship with Him. You do not start with His teaching—you start with Him” (Lloyd-Jones, Authentic Christianity, p.10). On that day in Nazareth’s synagogue, Jesus read from God’s word, and declared that he himself was the fulfillment of the prophetic word. A very bold claim! He announced that he had the Spirit of the Lord on him and that he was thus anointed to act for the blessing of God’s people. What would he accomplish on his mission? (It was a mission since he was sent. Christ’s whole earthly life was missional.) Let’s consider the first four parts of his mission.

  • Jesus the Messiah came to proclaim good news to the poor. Though Jesus did visit the rich and affluent, the bulk of his ministry was among the poor, common people. The very rich man (2 Corinthians 8:9) crossed the economic divide of mankind and served the poor. He told the poor that they could have incredible wealth, treasure in heaven, and that the Father in heaven cared for them and was able to provide for them. The person who truly understands their poverty will look to God for good news. I will look favorably on this kind of person: one who is humble, submissive in spirit, and trembles at my word (Isaiah 66:2b CSB). Christ’s good news is especially appreciated among those who openly confess their need of salvation. Do you know that you need Jesus to rescue you from the guilt, corruption, and consequences of sin? Romans 6:23.
  • Jesus the Messiah came to proclaim freedom for the prisoners. Under the oppressive government of Rome, it would be easy to think of the Messiah offering political freedom. But as the entire context of Jesus’ teaching makes clear, he announced spiritual freedom from sin (John 8:31-36). Sin is a tyrant that rules over people and ruins their lives. It is for freedom that Christ has set us free (Galatians 5:1a NIV).
  • Jesus the Messiah came to give recovery of sight for the blind. Our Lord healed the blind on several occasions. Each healing was a sign that he was the Messiah (Isaiah 35:5). As a sign it also pointed to the spiritual sight that people need. Read John 9.
  • Jesus the Messiah came to set the oppressed free. This comment is not part of the text of Isaiah 61; probably Jesus made an observation on the preceding items already mentioned to highlight the significance of his liberating work. A similar statement is found in what we call Isaiah 58:6, which is close to the passage he was reading. Rabbis would make comments like this, his hearers that day would not have objected to this insertion. Many preachers make occasional comments like this when they read a passage of Scripture. As I said, it draws the listeners’ attention to what the Servant of the Lord would accomplish, and Jesus was about to make that claim.

True Christianity is very much about the person, work, and work of Jesus Christ. He came to set people free spiritually and eternally. Do you have this liberty in Christ? It may be yours as a free gift today. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved (Acts 16:31).

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 122 (Part Four)

Pray for peace in Jerusalem. May all who love this city prosper. O Jerusalem, may there be peace within your walls and prosperity in your palaces. For the sake of my family and friends, I will say, “May you have peace.” For the sake of the house of the Lord our God, I will seek what is best for you, O Jerusalem (122:6-9 NLT).

We have observed that David wrote this song to rebuild old covenant worship. Through the act of singing this psalm, the old covenant people would learn various aspects of how to worship the Great I Am. In this stanza of the psalm, David encouraged prayer for the city that the people coming to the festival had arrived at. Joy is important in worship. So is admiration and wonder at the works of God, and also God’s provision for justice. But specific prayer was also essential, and it continues to be a basic ingredient of all Biblically formed worship.

This song artistically presents how to pray for a great manner. In this psalm King David urges the assembled worshipers to pray for the peace of Jerusalem (122:6 NLT 1996). (“For the peace” is the most usual rendering of the Hebrew into modern English.) We have already written about the importance of Jerusalem in old covenant worship. So then, it ought to be a chief matter of prayer. I have often heard this verse taken out of context, turning it into a matter that new covenant people should pray for. But as we have already seen, the current Jerusalem we are to concern ourselves about is the heavenly Jerusalem. The earthly Jerusalem was declared empty and desolate by Jesus (Matthew 23:38 NLT). Its only hope is in a deep repentance that confesses that Jesus is Lord (Matthew 28:39). However, during the old covenant age, David urges his people to pray for its peace, which means fullness of blessing. Some five hundred years later, when God had sent his people into captivity, he instructed them to pray for the prosperity of the city of Babylon to which he exiled them (Jeremiah 29:7). When their location changed during the exile, they had to pray for the city of their exile. When God used Cyrus to send his people back to Jerusalem, they could again seek its welfare. Nehemiah is a good example of this proper concern for the earthly Jerusalem, for he rebuilt its walls. Haggai also had an important ministry, because he urged that the temple of the Lord would be rebuilt.

David adds a prayer for his people. May all who love this city prosper. He rightly sensed that peace and prosperity of the city that God had chosen and the people that God had chosen were linked. When the proper old covenant worship of the Lord was guarded and maintained in Jerusalem, when the people went there for the required festivals, when the joy of the Lord was the strength of his people, great prosperity filled the people and the promised land. When they were not, all went into great decline. They needed to love the city that God had given them!

In this new covenant age, our hopes are set on the heavenly Jerusalem, the lasting city that God will send from heaven to the new earth. Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Revelation 21:1-4 NIV). The people of God will be there with God forever. Dear friends, we need to think about the new Jerusalem more often. We need to love that city, the fulfillment of God’s promises to live with his people. People like to think of the place they intend to go on a vacation trip. How much more should we think on the place where we will enjoy God and his glory forever!

In the words of Isaac Watts:
“Then let our songs abound,
And every tear be dry;
We’re marching through Immanuel’s ground
To fairer worlds on high.”

Grace and peace,
David

Jesus at Nazareth (Part Three)

Luke 4:16-30

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (4:18-21 NIV).

Attention was focused on Jesus in his hometown synagogue. He had found the Scripture to read, read it, and had properly given the scroll back to the attendant. Everyone waited to hear him. What would he say? Luke gives us one sentence of Christ’s words. But most probably his other remarks opened up the passage from Isaiah 61 that he had read. He would have explained how he himself was the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy. How can we make this assertion? We can make it by comparing Scripture with Scripture.

Listen to what the Lord Jesus said later in Luke’s Gospel. Then beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted for them the things concerning himself in all the Scriptures (Luke 24:27 CSB). Our Savior and Teacher viewed the Bible as a book about him. Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled” (Luke 24:44 ESV). You pore over the Scriptures because you think you have eternal life in them, and yet they testify about me (John 5:39 CSB). In the Scriptures, God tells us the story of his glory. He reveals who he is and what he does in the Word of God. So then, Jesus made a statement about himself and God, in his hometown synagogue. Obviously, this is a gigantic claim. If you or I said this, we would be blaspheming or insane. But Jesus was God and plainly spoke the truth about his identity.

His first word about himself is strangely the easiest to overlook. Jesus said, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me….” The church as a whole has not done much thinking about this truth, as Abraham Kuyper observed nearly 120 years ago. Since that time, the church as talked much about the Holy Spirit and the Christian. But there is not much discussion about the role of the Spirit in the person and work of Christ. Yet when Isaiah prophesied about the Messiah, he started with this truth (Isaiah 11:2; 42:1; 61:1). Here are some thoughts about the meaning of this:

  • The Holy Spirit acted in the conception of Jesus (Luke 1:26-38). Far beyond our comprehension, the Spirit acted to join the God the Son with true humanity from Mary to form Jesus Christ as one person with two natures (divine and human). In doing this, the Spirit of God kept Christ’s human nature free from the guilt and corruption of sin. For it was indeed fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, innocent, unstained, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens (Hebrews 7:26 ESV).
  • The Holy Spirit filled Jesus Christ. For he is sent by God. He speaks God’s words, for God gives him the Spirit without limit (John 3:34 NLT). God the Father poured out the Spirit on Jesus in his human nature. Jesus needed the Spirit as a man in order to live for the glory of God. The Spirit acted in Jesus fully to set him apart for God. This is seen, for example, in his growth from being a baby to a child to a man (Luke 2:40, 52). Though Jesus was separate from sin, he still needed to develop a godly way of life in the practical choices he made. As the writer of Hebrews says, Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered (Hebrews 5:8 NIV). The Spirit helped Jesus through this process.
  • The Holy Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism to indicate that he was the Son of God and to anoint him as the Messiah (our Prophet, Priest, and King). And the Holy Spirit descended on him in a physical appearance like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well-pleased” (Luke 3:22 CSB).
  • The Holy Spirit enabled Jesus as a man to do mighty works. But if it is by the Spirit of God that I cast out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you (Matthew 12:28 ESV). As Jesus read from Isaiah, he mentioned more of the signs and wonders he did by the Spirit of the Lord. We will consider this subject in more detail on our next post in this series.

As a practical point that others have pointed out, if Jesus Christ needed the Holy Spirit to live for God and to serve God, then how much more do we need the Spirit?

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 122 (Part Three)

Jerusalem is a well-built city; its seamless walls cannot be breached. All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—make their pilgrimage here. They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord, as the law requires of Israel. Here stand the thrones where judgment is given, the thrones of the dynasty of David (122:3-5 NLT).

In these verses of the psalm that King David wrote for the worship of old covenant Israel, we have seen that David encouraged the people to admire the city that God had given to them and to rejoice in the unity of the tribes of Israel in gathering to the place that the Lord had chosen. Place was very important in the physical worship of the law covenant.

When the tribes of Israel gathered to worship God in the appointed place, what did King David direct them to do? He urged them to give thanks to God. Giving thanks to God was an important part of old covenant worship. You can read the following examples from the Psalms (18:49; 26:7; 28:7; 50:14, 23; 75:1; 92:1; 97:12; 100:4; 106:1, 47). David was the great motivator of requiring thanksgiving to God in worship. David appointed some of the Levites to be ministers before the ark of the Lord, to celebrate the Lord God of Israel, and to give thanks and praise to him… On that day David decreed for the first time that thanks be given to the Lord by Asaph and his relatives: Give thanks to the Lord; call on his name; proclaim his deeds among the peoples (1 Chronicles 16:4, 7-8 CSB). New covenant people are also directed by the Holy Spirit to give thanks to God by precept and example (Romans 14:6; 1 Corinthians 1:4; 14:16-17; 15:57; 2 Corinthians 1:11; 4:15; 8:16; 9:11-12, 15; Ephesians 1:16; 5:4, 20; Philippians 1:3; 4:6; Colossians 1:3; 3:17; 4:2; 1 Thessalonians 1:2; 5:18; 1 Timothy 1:12; 2:1; 4:4; 2 Timothy 1:3). If you want to know what fills the worship of heaven, the answer is simple: thanksgiving (Revelation 4:9; 7:12; 11:17).

David also reminded the people the reason for their gathering together: as the law requires of Israel. The way of life for God’s people must always be in conformity with the instruction written in the Holy Scriptures. We must be a people that live by God’s Book. The Spirit of God uses his Word to transform and reshape how we think of God, how we look at the world, and how we make our choices.

Since they were a physical nation, David sang about the throne, his throne as God’s anointed king. In Jerusalem David dispensed justice, and the standard of that justice was the Torah. In it, God gave many laws to set forth justice among his people. David and his successors, his dynasty, was responsible to the Lord for maintaining justice in the nation. Today, we do not look to any mere human to achieve justice in the new covenant nation. We look to the Lord Jesus Christ, great David’s greater Son. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all (Ephesians 1:22-23 ESV). Lord Jesus, protect your people from oppressors. Bless us with the freedom that you purchased at the cross, and help us to live that others might know your righteousness.

Grace and peace
David

Study of Psalm 122 (Part Two)

Jerusalem is a well-built city; its seamless walls cannot be breached. All the tribes of Israel—the Lord’s people—make their pilgrimage here. They come to give thanks to the name of the Lord, as the law requires of Israel. Here stand the thrones where judgment is given, the thrones of the dynasty of David (122:3-5 NLT).

These words are part of a song for celebration in worship for old covenant believers, which new covenant believers may learn from. All Scripture is profitable and teaches us. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17 NIV). These words about old covenant worship can provide us with wisdom about the attitude or mind-set of worship, although our form is different from theirs. Therefore, first let us enter into their experience, as David directed as God’s prophet-king.

David teaches the people to admire the city that God have given to admire the city that God had given to his people. Old covenant worship very much involved a physical place: a chosen city where the temple would be built and the glory of God would fill the temple (Deuteronomy 12:8-14). In God’s purposes (Deuteronomy 7:22; Judges 2:20-23), he did not give Jerusalem to Israel at the time of the conquest of the land under Joshua. The Lord enabled David to conquer the city (2 Samuel 5:6-10) that the Jebusites had continued to hold for four hundred years! It was fitting that David should call his people to marvel at what God had done for them. David built up the city and made it stronger. It would not fall to an enemy for about five hundred year, and only then after Israel had turned from the Lord and true worship of him.

In this song, David develops the theme of unity. He sang about the unity of the physical city. God used David to make the necessary repairs and improvements and it was firmly bound together (122:3 ESV). It later withstood the attacks of the mighty Assyrian army, when most of the rest of the land had been conquered. From that idea, he went on to sing about the unity of the people. This happened after David had become king of all the tribes (2 Samuel 5:1-5). Then he was able to gather all the people to bring the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6). After they had a central place of unity and worship, David was able to restore the worship of the Lord in Israel. He made plans to build the temple, and he led the people to assemble to Jerusalem for the three required festivals.

Second, what can we learn from this as new covenant worshipers? We are to be a unified people. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all (Ephesians 4:3-6 NIV). Over many hundreds of years, Christians have separated into many groups of churches (called denominations, conventions, fellowships, associations, and networks). When churches work together for common spiritual goals, there is really no problem about joining together in such groups—as long as they do not become divisive. Even the New Testament recognized that there are various ways of serving God (1 Corinthians 12:5). But the Lord taught his people not to be divisive (Luke 9:49-50). Every believer is bound to each other in Christ. We might differ in our understanding of the Scriptures (though there is only one right view of every text). We might have different opinions about church form and government, the ordinances (baptism and the Lord’s Supper), prophetic schemes, etc. But if we are in Christ, we are truly one with another. For this reason, we must keep the unity of the Spirit.

This requires us to see what is most important: the Lord, the gospel, and the Word of God. We must reform our views according to the truth, though that reformation will cost us our traditions, heritage, and personal preferences. It demands humility and accepting others. It happens as we speak the truth in love. Brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, now is the time to reach out to other believers. Let us think more highly of what binds us together in the Lord than old ways that we were born into or gradually adopted as our own. Since we are spiritual children of Abraham, let us remember what our destiny is together. For he was looking forward to the city that has foundations, whose architect and builder is God (Hebrews 11:10 CSB).

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 122 (Part One)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.
I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” And now here we are, standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem (122:1-2 NLT).

Psalms 120-132 are called Songs of Ascent. The law covenant required all males in the covenant nation to assemble in Jerusalem three times a year. All your males are to appear three times a year before the Lord your God in the place he chooses: at the Festival of Unleavened Bread, the Festival of Weeks, and the Festival of Shelters. No one is to appear before the Lord empty-handed (Deuteronomy 16:16 CSB; cf. Exodus 23:14-17). As is clear from the Old Testament in several texts, the place God chose was Jerusalem. King David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, and there Solomon built the temple of the Lord. We learn from the heading to this psalm that David was its human author.

After many years of spiritual chaos during the reign of Saul, the Holy Spirit equipped David the prophet and king to restore the worship of the Lord in Israel. (There was not much worship according to the law covenant going on in Saul’s time. The Ark had been separated from the tabernacle for generations. Saul had killed many of the Lord’s priests, and the priests who were faithful to the Lord had been on the run with David for many years.) The second half of First Chronicles records various acts of David to bring about this restoration and indeed renovation of old covenant worship. (For example, he assigned the Levites to new duties, since they would no longer have to carry the tabernacle from place to place.) His greatest contribution to worship was the many songs that he composed for worship. At least two of his psalms are part of the Songs of Ascent. David wrote this one for people to sing as they entered Jerusalem on the three required times of assembly. So picture yourselves among the throng of worshipers. You have made a long journey, probably on foot, from your home to the holy (set apart to God) city. You join in this song with the others and are very happy because your trip has reached its destination.

David puts himself among the crowds that enter Jerusalem. This is what godly leaders ought to do. It has always amazed me how many leaders in churches do many other things during the service besides worship. Why didn’t they do some of those things a half hour earlier? Not so David. He entered Jerusalem fully engaged in worship. He was joyful because of the great privilege of standing inside the gates of Jerusalem. As an old covenant believer, he was glad that he was at the place of worship.

Read those words again: I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Notice how he models the joy of being part of a God-worshiping community where all encourage their neighbors to worship with them. During the law covenant, the place to be was at the temple in Jerusalem. In the new covenant, we seek no physical place, but we assemble as a spiritual temple (2 Corinthians 6:16; Ephesians 2:21; 1 Peter 2:2:4-5). One of the best things about the current Covid-19 crisis has been to get the church out of a physical building. Now I realize the many advantages of being able to meet together in person rather than digitally. However, people had so joined building with church that they lost what a church truly is. In the first place, I hear that when you come together as a church, there are divisions among you, and to some extent I believe it (1 Corinthians 11:18 NIV, my emphasis). A church comes together as people meet to share their new lives in Christ. In this century, we are able to do this the first time virtually; we can interact seeing faces and hearing voices without being in a physical building. May we learn this lesson! We can share new life in Christ apart from a building.

Can you sense the exhilaration all the pilgrims experienced as they sang together, “And now here we are, standing inside your gates, O Jerusalem”? They had reached the place that the living God had chosen for his old covenant people to meet. Observe how the first person singular at the start of the song has morphed into the first personal plural in these words. Here we are! The people have assembled to worship! We sing far too many songs in the singular instead of the plural. For example, we sing, “On Christ the solid rock I stand,” when we could just as easily sing, “On Christ the solid rock we stand!”

What is the new covenant reality compared to the old covenant shadow? It is easy to see in the letter to the Hebrews. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel (Hebrews 12:22-24 NIV). They gathered to worship in an earthly city. We gather in the Spirit to worship in the heavenly city. Many thousands of angels worship with us. We come as the church of the firstborn, the Lord Jesus Christ. We come directly to God and to the Mediator of the new covenant that is built on his sprinkled blood that always cries out, “Forgive them, forgive them, don’t let those ransomed sinners die!” That is a beautiful reality!

We spiritually stand in Christ inside the gates of the heavenly Jerusalem. Look around with the eyes of faith. Enjoy our eternal city. We look forward when our faith will become our full experience.

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 131 (Part Three)

Instead, I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child with its mother; my soul is like a weaned child. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, both now and forever (Psalm 131:2-3 CSB)

The life of faith is never an empty avoidance of evil. Many believers make their mistake at this point. To live by faith also requires positive activity on our part. We begin to act in faith in order to live in a different way. When confronted by pride and difficult matters, we must still or quiet our souls. “It is not without an inner struggle. The writer had to take himself in hand: he ‘stilled and quieted’ his soul” (Leupold).

  • We must learn to keep silent before the Lord. He does not need a counselor (Romans 11:33-34), and we should stop trying to tell him how to run the world. Sometimes this silence comes from prudence (Leviticus 10:3; Psalm 4:4); here it comes from trust (Psalm 62:5).
  • From the soul come desires. Therefore, we must silence those desires that want to know all mysteries in the place where they originate. They come from deep inside us. Whatever the situation outside, we must calm the inner person of the heart that demands to know things beyond its capabilities.
  • Notice that the Psalmist does not seek the end of his soul, but the submission of his soul. Our problem is not our “self” but the attitude that our “self” has.

The writer uses an illustration to reinforce the kind of silence he promotes. The picture may be shocking to some who think talking about a child nursing at the mother’s breast is scandalous. Clearly the Lord does not share that “hyper-Victorian” opinion! “To the weaned child his mother is his comfort though she has denied him comfort. It is a blessed mark of growth out of spiritual infancy when we can forego the joys which once appeared to be essential, and can find our solace in him who denies them to us: then we behave manfully and every childish complaint is hushed” (Spurgeon).

The mother must not be blamed in weaning the child. It is an essential part of the child’s growth. Yet if we watched a mother during the process as the child wants to nurse, we might think her cold or uncaring. She presents a cup of milk to the child, and the child throws it aside, demanding the breast. The mother refuses to give in, and the child cries out in hunger and frustration. Is she wrong? No at all! She would be blamed if she did not help her child mature.

David says that the growth process of silencing himself brings him to a better state. He is now able to be like a child weaned from its mother’s breasts. The mother is still there and the child rests content on her lap. The child has learned to trust its mother without nursing. In the same way, God would have us learn contentment. I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances (Philippians 4:11 NIV). Whatever pleases our Father in heaven to have us know should bring us calm contentment. Like a weaned child who still hungers, we can still hunger for other things. But God would have us rest content on his lap, quietly trusting him to provide us with our daily bread.

“When we think ourselves safely through the weaning, we sadly discover that the old appetites are rather wounded than slain, and we begin crying again for the breasts that we have given up. It is easy to begin shouting before we are out of the wood, and no doubt hundreds have sung this psalm long before they have understood it” (Spurgeon). “Godly experience has taught men that the soul will never desist from its unseemly worldly objectives until it has found its true rest and peace in God.” [Leupold]

Having taken proper self-control of his own soul by trusting God, David now turns to his brothers and sisters in Israel. We live in a time of excessive individualism, and so we have lost sight of our duty to help others. The second greatest commandment directs us to love others as we love ourselves. David obeys God when he turns to exhort others in Israel. When we are weaned from excessive self-confidence, then we will turn to consider the needs of others. Those who get wrapped up in matters beyond them, often lose sight of the true spiritual needs of others. Though the leader may have a quiet confidence in God’s sovereign ability, he must also encourage his followers to hope in the living God. Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption (Psalm 130:7 NIV).

Hope in the Lord is the positive expression of childlike trust. It is turning from pride and self-sufficiency to rest in the Lord alone. It is confidently expecting that the Lord will provide and answer, though we see no apparent solution to our difficulties.

Instead of concerning ourselves with great matters or things too wonderful for us, we ought to concern ourselves with putting our hope in the Lord. This is an activity that we ought to do. When we fail to act properly, we expose ourselves to temptation. To say this another way, we can get caught up in things that are beyond us, and so not concern ourselves in our first duty — our relationship with the living God, which is by faith.

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 131 (Part Two)

Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me (131:1 CSB).

We continue to examine the attitude of childlike trust set forth in this verse.

When David says that both heart and eyes are not proud or haughty, he is not saying that both the inner and outer man are humble. “Haughty eyes” is an idiom for a proud attitude (Psalm 18:27; Proverbs 6:17; 21:4; Isaiah 10:12), though certainly pride does show itself in the eyes (Isaiah 2:11; 5:15; Psalm 101:5). The way to change from pride to humility is to gain a better, richer acquaintance of the majesty of God and the Lord’s evaluation of our sinfulness. The Psalms have much to say on both topics. Read a psalm the way you would look at beautiful scenery. You would not take a brief glance and move on. You would allow your soul to “drink in” the view. You would want to share it with those you love. You would take photos of it, so that you could remember the view. On the other hand, no normal person likes to look long at ugliness and oppression and suffering. But there are times we must. Allow the Psalms to grip your heart in both directions, and humility will be the outcome the Holy Spirit produces.

I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me. The word for “get involved” (“exercise” in the KJV and “concern” NIV) is the word “walk”. This verb is “the verb most frequently employed to describe the act or process of living” (Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis). David is talking about his habitual way of life. Matters that are too difficult (Deuteronomy 17:8) or too amazing (Proverbs 30:18) for him to comprehend, he allows to be resolved by God.

We need to recognize that life is filled with complex situations. We are tempted to try to explain God’s providence, in order that we can rest. Religious people want to know why such a horrible event has occurred. A childlike trust demands that we stop trying and allow God to “tie up the loose ends”.

The text is not saying to avoid life’s challenges, but to submit one’s view of them to God’s revelation. An important verse is Deuteronomy 29:29. The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law (NIV). We must follow two guiding principles:

  • Strive to know all that God has revealed in the Scriptures. This requires time and work. It is more than quick “devotional” Bible reading. Racing through the Bible on a reading plan will not allow you to stop and ponder. But to make progress you must do this.
  • Stay away from demands to know what God has not revealed. This includes both theological issues and the interpretation of life’s events. Who can perfectly say “I know for certain that this is why that happened”? One event may be used by God to accomplish many purposes. Stop with what God says. If the Lord wanted us to know more about some people and events recorded in the Bible, he would have told us.

Our “theological boxes” must be as big as the infinite God, or he will break them apart every time we try to put him and his providence in the box we have carefully constructed. We must learn to say, “I don’t know, but I know God knows what he is doing” (cf. Romans 8:28-30).

Consider chess problems: “White to move and checkmate in 2 moves”. Many strange moves are the “key” to the problem. When the key move is made by White, no matter how Black replies, Black will be checkmated by White’s next move. We must calmly watch God make his “strange moves” that are the key to glorifying his name. He is the great Master of the world. Stand back and watch what grace and judgments he will bring forth through Covid-19.

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 131 (Part One)

Lord, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I do not get involved with things too great or too wondrous for me (131:1 CSB)

Psalm 131 is a short, little-known song of David. Some dispute that he wrote it (some dispute everything!), but there is nothing to indicate that he was not the author. In fact, what we know of David, the man after God’s heart, agrees well with this writing. Consider his attitude in 2 Samuel 6:20-22. He was very willing to humble himself before the Lord, even if others might despise him. “In general David is the model of the state of mind which the poet expresses here. He did not push himself forward, but suffered himself to be drawn forth out of seclusion. He did not take possession of the throne violently; but after Samuel has anointed him, he willingly and patiently traverses the long, thorny, circuitous way of deep abasement, until he receives from God’s hand that which God’s promise had assured to him. The persecution by Saul lasted about ten years, and his kingship in Hebron, at first only incipient, seven years and a half. He left it entirely to God to remove Saul and Ishbosheth. He let Shimei curse. He left Jerusalem before Absalom. Submission to God’s guidance, resignation to his dispensations, contentment with what was allotted to him, are the distinguishing traits of his noble character.” (Delitzsch)

The psalm is a song about childlike trust and humility before God. A practical use of it would be to teach this godly virtue (like there are songs for children about the fruit of the Spirit). The New Testament Scriptures teach this same attitude in passages like Matthew 18:3; James 4:6; 1 Peter 5:5. (Also read Lloyd-Jones’ sermon “The Approach to the Gospel” in Old Testament Evangelistic Sermons, pp. 33-43.)

What kind of trust does God expect his people to demonstrate in perplexing situations? Are you in a perplexing situation now? Are you becoming anxious or frustrated?

This psalm outlines easily:

  • The attitude of childlike trust (131:1)
  • The action of childlike trust (131:2)
  • The invitation to childlike trust (131:3)

The psalm begins with the stance we must take before the living God. David says that we must put off an attitude of being “big” enough to handle life on our own. We must not say that we are able to start from ourselves and understand or that we can unravel life’s mysteries. David immediately directs us to a different kind of approach to God, which, when you think on it, shows the true meaning of trusting God. It is to bow before God and say, “You speak, you explain, and I will listen.”

The text, then, deals with a common human attitude. We want to search, to investigate, and to analyze starting from ourselves. But to start that way is not to trust God, but it is to think ourselves capable of understanding life and the world apart from God. The way of faith is to bow before the Lord and say, “Lord, I need your help. I need you to teach me.” Most people are unwilling to so humble themselves before God.

Here is an amazing profession in prayer before the living God! “My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty….” We want to ask, “How can you say that, David?” Is not that statement itself some underhanded way of expressing pride? Cf. Luke 18:11-12.

  • We must remember that David is writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, who both knew David’s heart and wanted him to write this. We know from the Scriptures that David had to struggle with pride as the rest of us do. (Read 2 Samuel 24.) But that is not the point of the psalm. It is presenting the general attitude that trust must have, especially in relation to the mind.
  • Notice that David is speaking to God — “O LORD” — and not to people. So, he is not trying to exalt himself before people. It is the saint speaking to his God. But how can we make this kind of statement before the Holy and All-knowing God? We can do it only by the Spirit, as he searches and examines our hearts.

Too often, any of us can have a “know-it-all” attitude. We might despise this when we encounter it in others, but we can be blind to our own pride. Lord, help us learn from this psalm! How refreshing it would be to hear a whole congregation of believers singing this psalm from the core of their hearts!

Grace and peace,
David