Study of Psalm 124 (Part One)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.

What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives (124:1-5 NLT).

Psalm 124 is the fifth of the Songs of Ascent. They were composed for people going to Jerusalem for the three required feasts during the old covenant. As the heading indicates, David wrote this song. His love for the true and living God overflowed to help the worship of God’s covenant people. In our time, people have mainly lost their ability to sing. People will listen to others perform music, but they lack desire to sing. We have become passive in our emotional expressions. It should not surprise us to see people emotionally manipulated by those who produce music. David wrote to improve and enhance the worship of the Lord by his people.

His song has structure; it pushes its participants to move through the muck and mire of their experience to the Lord God. But it does not do this in a balanced way. This might upset the analytic or clinical mind that likes everything in neat orderly packages. But David writes about life, which is anything except neat and orderly, and he writes about God who reveals himself as greater than the wild messes of our lives.

The psalm can be outlined in this way:

  • Presence of the Lord during trials (124:1-5)
  • Protection by the Lord (124:6-7)
  • Praise to the Lord (124:8)

So then we see that David lets us linger in our problems for over half the psalm before he reminds us of how God has rescued us, which in turn he develops into a call to worship.

Let’s speak plainly. None of us want to slowly review our trials. We want them way behind us in the rear view mirror. After I recovered from a heart attack, I wanted to get on with my life as quickly as I could. I was very thankful for how God preserved my life, but once rescued, it was time for other things. Then I had to have bypass surgery a year later, followed by another time of recovery, and more desire to move on. A couple years later, I did move on, but not as I expected! My point is simply that we want to get out of painful and unpleasant situations and get on with whatever. David did not do that. He wanted the pilgrims on the path to remember where they had been and what the Lord had done for them.

Like many psalms, it is unclear what troubles David and Israel faced. Perhaps he pointed to the early years of his reign. He could truthfully says it was a time when people attacked us. Benjamin and the other ten tribes refused to bow to David’s God-given kingship, and a mini civil war lasted for about seven years. That was bad enough, but there were also problems from the Philistines, Israel’s archenemy for many years during the leadership of Samson, Samuel, and Saul. David inherited those enemies when he became king, and he had his own hand in stirring the pot, when he supposedly defected to the Philistines and then was kicked out by them when they went to fight Saul. When the Philistines heard that David was king over all Israel and not merely the tribe of Judah, they decided that they must strike hard against David and Israel (2 Samuel 5). It was a dangerous time for David and his people. He had to flee to his stronghold to get into a defensible position. (God expects us to use our common sense.) Then David rightly asked God what to do. (God expects us to pray. He wants us to welcome him into our problems.) And in two different ways, God gave David and Israel victory over their enemies.

So in this Song of Ascent, David reminded the worshipers of the crisis they had passed through. What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? By repetition, he helps Israel recall the dangers they had been in. During what dangers you’ve faced have you experienced that God was on your side? Remember the following great word. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31 NIV)

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 123 (Part Two)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt. We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant (Psalm 123:1-4 NLT).

People are never far from trouble. We thank the Lord God for every reason to rejoice and to celebrate. We ought to do both. However, even when we experience lawful pleasures (like the delight of a skillfully prepared meal or the beauty of a spectacular sunset), we may feel our happiness interrupted by a sad phone call, an unexpected repair bill, a difference of opinion with friends, or in our time, the ongoing reality of the pandemic and civil unrest.

With this in mind, we might be able to be sensitive to the angst of the old covenant people on their way to Jerusalem to keep the Lord’s appointed festivals. After the time of Solomon, there were few happy times. The histories of the northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah were marred by civil conflict, oppression from Assyria and Babylon, struggles with lesser nations, and religious decline. Godly people always consider departure from the true God and the accompanying moral evil to be serious trouble. So those on the journey to Jerusalem had reason to sing, “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

Afflicted people need mercy. When we seek mercy in this sense, we ask God to show compassion toward us in our misery and to rescue us from it. When we seek mercy in regard to our relationship with God, we ask God for forgiveness and restoration to fellowship with him. Probably both senses are in view in this song. As already noted, old covenant Israel was usually an oppressed people. The reason suffering came to them was because of their unfaithfulness to the law covenant (cf. Deuteronomy 28:15-68; etc.) So then, as the people journeyed to Jerusalem to celebrate before the Lord, their hearts would also be filled with sorrow for their sins and sorrows. Each time this song would be sung, it was an opportunity to cry out again for deliverance. “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

So then, this song is for believers in the true and living God, in the midst of their experience of trouble. When it is sung, it ought to be sung with a sensitivity to trouble. The Spirit of God wants us to see our misery and to cry out to God for its relief! Thus this song is far from a glib “Praise the Lord anyhow” view of our troubles. The Spirit teaches us that we can sing during affliction. We can join the art of music with our troubled emotions. Beauty can arise from the ashes of persistent sorrow, broken dreams, and that gnawing sense that things ought not to be as they are. We can sing, because “We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy.”

This is part of the walk of faith. We know that we need mercy, and we also know that we can look to the Lord God for such mercy. So, as the travelers made their way up to Jerusalem, they could walk in hope, hope in God. Do you walk in this hope?

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 123 (Part One)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

I lift my eyes to you, O God, enthroned in heaven. We keep looking to the Lord our God for his mercy, just as servants keep their eyes on their master, as a slave girl watches her mistress for the slightest signal. Have mercy on us, Lord, have mercy, for we have had our fill of contempt. We have had more than our fill of the scoffing of the proud and the contempt of the arrogant (Psalm 123:1-4 NLT).

Next in the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 120-134) is this short song. The human writer and the time of the writing of this song are unknown. Neither is important to understanding it. Like the others in this collection, it was composed for the worship of the Lord during the physical journey to Jerusalem, particularly at the required Festivals. Envision large groups of God’s old covenant people walking to the chosen city together. The very journey is celebratory and exciting. They move from the regular events of life to focus on the true and living God.

Like the previous psalm, it begins in the singular, but quickly moves to the plural. I lift my eyes to you… We keep looking…. Both singular and plural are important in the worship of the living God. Each believer must seek the Lord with his or her heart; all believers must join together in seeking God. One encourages the many; the many inspire the one. We can feel apathetic alone, and the zeal of others ignites a fire in us. A whole church might be listless, but the joy of one new worshiper can stir the existing ones to pursue God anew. While many of us have been able to gather digitally during the Covid-19 governmental restrictions against gatherings of many people, it has not been the same as meeting in person. We are glad for how we’ve been able to meet, but I wonder if some have begun to forsake the gathering of ourselves together (Hebrews 10:25). What will church gatherings look like in a couple months? You can be part of leading the way back to wholehearted worship.

The writer of Psalm 121 had to learn to lift up his eyes higher than the mountains to God. This lesson has been learned and the writer of this song lifts his eyes directly toward the Lord. In our day of religious confusion, many think it spiritually chic and sophisticated to lift up their eyes to nature, due to their pantheistic views. (By the way, what a deceptive term pantheism is, because if everything is god, then nothing is god. “God” or even “god” means a supreme being or deity of whatever conception.) Biblical teaching rightly directs us to the Lord God who is supreme over all people, forces, and things.

As the pilgrims journeyed toward Jerusalem and the temple, they sang of the one true God who reigns above the earth: O God, enthroned in heaven. The sovereignty of God is a major theme of the Bible. God tells us in the true story of his glory that he reigns, he rules, he is in charge of all things. This is a great comfort to the people of God, because this present world seems out of control. God reassures our troubled and confused hearts that he is still on the throne. The Spirit inspired the writer of this psalm to make that theme the first line of this song as they approached Jerusalem.

When we draw near to God, it is good that we remember that God is on the throne of the universe. We easily become overly familiar with the Holy One. We come to our Father, but he is in heaven. We might struggle to hold these two truths together. We need to view God as King while we also see him as Father. Our God who loves us is also holy and the absolute monarch. This provides us with much comfort and encouragement, when we acknowledge both in our lives. Together, these truth can transform our lives. Our Father-King is a reason to sing!

Before we leave verse one, we ought to notice our responsible action. I lift my eyes to you…. These words call us to refocus on the Lord (cf. Colossians 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:1-2). The purpose of the song is to rekindle adoration for the Lord in our worship. This cannot happen until we deliberately set our thoughts on him. O Lord God, use this song to refocus our hearts on you!

Grace and peace,
David

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

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

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