Psalm Eighteen (Part One)

Psalm 18:1-3

For the director of music. Of David the servant of the Lord. He sang to the Lord the words of this song when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies and from the hand of Saul. He said: I love you, Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. I called to the Lord, who is worthy of praise, and I have been saved from my enemies (NIV).

The Psalms tell the story of God’s reign in song. They show God at work through his anointed king, usually David, and great David’s greater son, the Anointed One (Messiah). At times, we hear of David’s struggles, sin, sorrows, and repentance. At others, we are called to join in the celebration of God’s victories, which involve the salvation and deliverance of his people from their enemies.

In Psalm Eighteen, David celebrates how God had delivered him from the hand of all his enemies (title of the psalm). At a quick glance we might assume that this referred to the end of his life, but nearly the same words are said when he became king over all Israel, following years of struggle with his father-in-law, Saul, and other rebels against God’s choice of David as his king (2 Samuel 7:1). David is about thirty-seven at the time he wrote this. He had ruled over Judah for seven and a half years, but finally, the Lord had set him up as king over all Israel. A study of 2 Samuel 7 will show that the Lord made a covenant with David, that the Messiah would come from him. Then end of this psalm is definitely Messianic, as we will see.  David’s great task became restoring the worship of the living God in Israel. To do this, he wrote many songs for public worship. Notice how the title informs us that this psalm was for the director of music. Since the Lord had brought David through many troubles to the throne, David rejoiced about God doing the same thing for Israel through the Anointed One. He glorified God, calling himself only the servant of the Lord.

Observe that David sang to the Lord the words of this song. The heart of a person set free has a song. The believer sings to the Lord. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear, and they will trust in the Lord (Psalm 40:3 CSB). Thanksgiving for mercy and grace received causes those set free from sin and death to worship. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God (Colossians 3:16 ESV).

David wanted his people to share his joy, and to prepare them to trust the Lord throughout difficult times that would certainly come. The key to all this is his love for the Lord (18:1). David was a man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14; Acts 13:22). He set his inner person on seeking the glory of the Lord. He wanted everyone to rejoice in God’s overflowing goodness, and so he gave himself to compose songs for worship for his own soul and for others to sing with him.

Are our hearts filled with songs for the Lord? Are we thankful for how he has delivered and continues to deliver us? If our songs are absent or faint, we ought to examine ourselves to find the cause of our spiritual disorder. The life of faith is meant to be a walk of thanksgiving and joy! David sought to rekindle this in his people. May our souls be filled with refreshing experiences of God’s goodness to us!

Grace and peace, David

Because You Did Not Believe

20131221_192030Luke 1:18-25

We must remember what the Holy Spirit already said of Zechariah the priest. He was right with God and a fully committed follower of the Lord (Luke 1:6). He was a righteous man, but he was not a perfect man. Righteous people still struggle with sin in all its ugliness. Sadly, Christians have a skewed view of sin, assuming that believers commit rather petty sins. This conveniently forgets that all sins are against the Holy God. One sin we struggle against is unbelief. It was about to lead Zechariah into difficulty.

And Zechariah said to the angel, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years.” And the angel answered him, “I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I was sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news (Luke 1:18-19 ESV).

Zechariah gave a reasonable, from his point of view, response to the angel’s good news. In many Bible studies over many years, I have heard professed Christians respond to the truth of God’s word like Zechariah did. Though the message was supernatural, which requires submissive faith, they reacted to it with natural, human-centered reasoning. Zechariah did not consider the power of God. He could only think about what he and his wife could do. When God’s word is clear, we must trust God and do what the word tells us. It might not make sense, we might raise several scenarios that indicate improbability, but we must rely on God’s ability, faithfulness, and love. Gabriel quickly pointed out what Zechariah ignored. He was sent from the presence of God in heaven to tell him good news. Why was Zechariah doubting and arguing against good news? Sadly, followers of Christ too often argue against God’s good news for them, exchanging faith in God for their supposed wisdom.

“And behold, you will be silent and unable to speak until the day that these things take place, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time.” And the people were waiting for Zechariah, and they were wondering at his delay in the temple. And when he came out, he was unable to speak to them, and they realized that he had seen a vision in the temple. And he kept making signs to them and remained mute. And when his time of service was ended, he went to his home (Luke 1:20-23 ESV).

Zechariah received discipline from the Lord. The reason was his unbelief. God used him to teach all of us the importance of faith in God’s word. The discipline corresponded to his sin. He failed to believe God’s message, so the Lord took away his ability to speak for a time. We should realize that the Lord requires us to take his word very seriously. Though we might struggle to understand it, we are not free to debate it. God’s word is the starting point for how we look at this world and our lives. For this reason, Zechariah had to ponder the supremacy of God’s word for the full length of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

After these days his wife Elizabeth conceived, and for five months she kept herself hidden, saying, “Thus the Lord has done for me in the days when he looked on me, to take away my reproach among people” (Luke 1:24-25 ESV).

Elizabeth’s response was better. She believed and thanked the Lord for his mercy to her. Children are a gift from God, and we should highly treasure them. This Christmas, if you have children at your family gathering, reflect on the blessing of God to your family. Pay attention to them. Play with them. Rejoice with them. Laugh with them. Though Zechariah doubted the Lord’s promise, his doubts could not hinder their fulfillment. Praise God for this truth!

Grace and peace, David

The Believer’s Happiness a Reason for Praise (Part Two)

img_4412Psalm 146:1-10

In this psalm, we read of praise to the true and the living God. The Lord’s praise ought always to be on our lips, but sometimes we might feel lethargic or even depressed. The psalmist knew this and spoke to his own soul to stir himself to praise. Next, the spiritually invigorated psalmist gave a warning, a warning against an empty hope. Do not trust in nobles, in man, who cannot save. When his breath leaves him, he returns to the ground; on that day his plans die (146:3-4 HCSB).

He warned against making a fatally wrong investment (146:3). A person’s faculty of trust or confidence is like the money of the soul. Be sure you make a wise and sound investment. People are prone to trust in human power, because we rely on our physical senses. Yet the Bible gives such confidence a bad rating (Jeremiah 17:5-6), and points us to a better place (Psalm 118:8-9). He explained the reason that human power is such a bad risk. It cannot save. Yes, even though the godless person sneers, every humans great need is to be saved or rescued.

The psalmist elucidated the reason for this warning (146:4). Humans are a bad risk, for we are victims of mortality. “His breath goes from his body, and his body goes to the grave. His spirit goes one way, and his body another. High as he stood, the want of a little air brings him down to the ground, and lays him under it.” [Spurgeon] Humans are a bad risk, because our plans do not outlast us. For long years a philosopher is hailed as the greatest thinker of the age. But then he dies. After he is dead, a new intellect appears who ridicules all the ideas of the former great one, who can no longer defend his views. Soon the dead philosopher is only remembered to be dismissed as incorrect. Therefore, who would put his money in a bank that was sure to fail? Who would invest in a company that soon was to go bankrupt? Yet many do this everyday. What a valuable asset we have: life given and sustained by God! Yet how easily we throw it away on the world that passes away. O my friends, especially my young friends, do not act so foolishly!

Eager to ensure the happiness of his readers and the honor of his God, the psalmist points us in the right direction. He gave reasons for the blessedness of the believers (146:5-10) Verse five is his thesis, the point he wants to convey and the truth for which he praises God. How happy is the man who has the living God as his help and hope! This is the last of the 25 or 26 times that this “blessed” formula occurs in the Psalms.

People whose help and hope is the Lord are blessed because…

  • The Lord is the Creator (146:6). The God who could create all things out of nothing is surely able to save and to uphold those who put their confidence in him. This is a sound investment, one with unlimited resources. The God who designed the universe surely understands how it operates. Therefore, we do not need to fear the as-yet-unseen. Investment counselors my make “educated” guesses about the economy of 2017, but no one really knows what will happen.
  • The Lord is the Controller (146:7-9). To continue our analogy, here is a company with a perfect performance record. The Christian has good and substantial reasons for trusting the Lord. First is God’s benevolence (146:7a-b). The Lord does what is good for his creatures (cf. Psalm 145:15-16). “For all grow hungry, man and beast, and it is God who satisfies their hunger, not the independent operations of the law of nature.” [Leupold] God is also able to reverse circumstances (146:7c-8b). God is able to help those in the greatest, most desperate need. The Lord “consoles the bereaved, cheers the defeated, solaces the despondent, comforts the despairing. Let those who are bowed to the ground appeal to him, and he will speedily up raise them.” [Spurgeon] These abilities are clearly seen in the Lord Jesus Christ (Luke 7:22; cf. Isaiah 35:5; 61:1). And God’s rule is righteous (146:8c-9). God loves those who do right. This should inspire confidence in God’s people as we live in a world where so many do wrong. He cares for those in poverty, and he opposes the wicked (Proverbs 19:21).
  • The Lord is eternal (146:10; cf. Exodus 15:18; Revelation 11:15). Here is a business that will never close or go bankrupt. Your spiritual money is safe here. In spite of all the bitter malice of the powers of evil, God’s kingdom endures forever. “There will always be a Zion; Zion will always have Jehovah for her King; for her he will always prove himself to be reigning in great power.” [Spurgeon] “They who have such an everlasting kingdom awaiting them in the end can afford to bear trials patiently, not yielding to despair on the way.” [Fausett]

All who have the Lord God as their help and hope listen! We have a great joy, a wonderful privilege, and a delightful responsibility. Let us join together to praise the Lord from the depths of our hearts. Our God is worthy of all our praise! To you without hope, there is good news in the Lord Jesus Christ. You may have his salvation today. He offers himself to you today. Do not refuse him. How happy you would be if Christ saved you today. This then would be your best Thanksgiving weekend ever! You will be surprised by the joy he gives, an inexpressible and glorious joy. Trust the Lord Jesus today!

Grace and peace, David

Praise in a Broken World

IMG_3174Psalm 9:1-2

I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
(ESV)

Psalms nine and ten are companion pieces, telling two sides of what God does in his world to bring about the ultimate victory of his plan in Jesus the Messiah. (In fact, some versions, following the ancient Septuagint, combine them into one Psalm.) Both sides are just as real, and we need to hear both to be spiritually balanced. David, who experienced suffering and triumph, was used by God to write these psalms and to teach us to sing about both sides of reality. The Lord Jesus walked this same path (Philippians 2: 6-11). Today, we’ll listen to how Psalm Nine opens.

Before David talks about God’s rule in the world, he presents four active attitudes that we express in our relationship with the Lord of all. That might sound a bit redundant, but we must realize our responsibility to God. To follow the Lord requires us to follow him with praise and worship. In a broken world this will not simply happen. Many times we will feel far from desiring to praise our God and Father. The brokenness around us, which we can see every day, will seem too horrible. But hope (confident anticipation in God’s promises) will enable us to see more than the immediate situation we and others we love are in. Then we can act and praise.

  • Thankfulness heads the four active attitudes. When we do not thank the Lord for the many blessings he continually gives, it is a sign that our part of our relationship with God is faltering. One of the core issues of those in rebellion against God is a lack of thankfulness to the Creator (Romans 1:21, 25). Those who delight in God and his mercies willingly thank him for who he is and what he does for his people. Thanksgiving should be more than an item from a list about how to pray. It ought to flow from our hearts, the core of who we are.
  • Testimony follows thankfulness. When we appreciate God’s blessings from our hearts, we will want others to know. We will tell or recount them to others. “Wonderful deeds” translates a Hebrew word that is frequently used for the redemptive miracles that the Lord did for his people. For the people of God before Christ came, they would recount all God to make a people, including the events of the exodus and the giving of the Promised Land. For new covenant people, we can recount not only Christ’s miracles but the four core events of the good news: Christ’s crucifixion, resurrection, ascension, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. All four transform us, and so we should tell others about them.
  • Next is joy in the Lord. While it is easy to rejoice in circumstances, David sings about being glad because of the Lord himself. This is part of any healthy relationship. If you are in a friendship, you do not merely rejoice in the benefits of that friendship, but also in your friend. You enjoy being with your friend simply because he or she is your friend. If your joy is only in the pleasant circumstances God sends you, what will you do when your situation is suffering? Since David’s joy was in the Lord himself, he could exult in the Lord at all times.
  • Finally, David encourages artistic expression in praise. Specifically, he tells the Lord that he will sing praise to God’s name (a frequent way of speaking of God personally). Some people have been given beautiful voices, which are nice for the rest of us to listen to. And we ought to try to sing our best. But the point is to sing to the Lord. This is becoming a lost art in many churches, where people are entertained by a “praise team”. Surely, there is no problem with having people with skill lead others in singing, but today many are silent while a few up front sing. But the Lord desires to hear your voice joining in the overflowing joy of all he is and has done in our Lord and Savior.

Praise does not make the ugliness of a broken world disappear. It does not lessen suffering. But it is a very important part of our relationship with the Lord of all. May we all praise the Lord!

Grace and peace, David

Surprised by God’s Blessing

IMG_2550Ruth 2:17-23

The Lord our God gives generously. This is not what most people expect God to do. They suspect that he is rather stingy, though receiving daily provisions from him. God has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy (Acts 14:17). Even faithful believers can fail to bank on God’s goodness when times are tough, the pantry is bare, and available jobs always seem to go to someone else. The book of Ruth reminds us that God provides and teaches how he works out his plan in Christ by many acts of kindness to and through his people.

The first surprise came when Ruth found out how much she earned for the day (2:17-19). After gleaning, Ruth still had hard work to do, because she had to separate the barley grain from the stalk. She would have had to beat the stalks with a curved stick or wooden hammer, which separated the husks from the kernels, and then gather the kernels together. This would be tedious, time-consuming work. When finished, she probably gathered the kernels together on her shawl, and then carried them home on her back. Ruth was probably exhausted at this point. She discovered that she had gathered about five gallons of grain. This would be enough to feed them for a couple weeks. In their reckoning, this would be about two week’s wages. So Ruth did quite well that day.

Naomi was pleasantly surprised about what Ruth brought home. Ruth gave Naomi her leftover roasted grain from lunch. She knew how much Naomi would enjoy it. This shows Ruth’s generous and loyal nature. When Naomi took all this in, she realized that Ruth had to have received help to achieve all this. For this reason, Naomi had many questions to ask in her excitement. She also prayed for a blessing on her benefactor. Notice how praying for God to bless someone was part of her life now, since she saw a token of God’s goodness to her. Prayer should be as natural to us as breathing. It should be part of our conversation at appropriate times. Ruth revealed her benefactor’s name. Notice how she said his name last, which is also the word order in the Hebrew text. You can see how she let the suspense build, as one woman might do in talking to another. Though the narrator has let us in on some of the significance of Boaz (2:1), Ruth did not yet know this information. Up to this point, Boaz had simply been a kind man to her. When was the last time that you were pleasantly surprised by God’s blessings to you? Do you notice how much the Lord gives you constantly?

Naomi celebrated kindness received (2:20-23). She began to worship. In an instant, Naomi understood that the Lord had not abandoned her! Everything was not as hopeless as she had thought. God was not attacking her, but was helping her through some tough circumstances.

Naomi again prayed for God’s blessing on Boaz. He was not present for her to thank him, which she ought to do, but she did what she could at that moment. God only expects us to do what we can in our situation. Praying for God’s blessing on someone is the best thanks we can give. Do we have this on our minds, so that when such situations arise, words of blessing come from us? This is an area of life in which we must become more properly spiritual.

Naomi realized that she had received kindness. Grammatically, this can refer to either the Lord or Boaz, but I think it is better to refer it to the Lord, since it is difficult to understand how Boaz could have been such a source of kindness to Naomi over the years. (Notice that she says, “He has not stopped showing his kindness….”) So then, Naomi knew that God was still involved in her life and continued to show her kindness, which is steadfast, loyal love, kindness and mercy rolled into one.

Naomi explained the significance of Boaz to Ruth. We must remember that Ruth was from Moab, and there would be much about life under the law covenant that she did not understand. Naomi assured Ruth that Boaz was the close relative and kinsman-redeemer of both of them. The kinsman-redeemer had various duties in the clan:

  • He was responsible for the repurchase of property once owned by clan members but sold from economic necessity (Leviticus 25:25-30; cf. Jeremiah 32:1-15).
  • If financially able, he also redeemed relatives whose poverty had forced them to sell themselves into slavery (Leviticus 25:47-55). It is on this point that the rest of the book of Ruth
  • He had the duty to avenge the killing of a relative by tracking down and executing the killer (Numbers 35:12, 19-27; Deuteronomy 19:6, 12: Joshua 20:2-3, 5, 9).
  • He received the money paid to the clan as restitution committed against a deceased clan member (Numbers 5:8).

Ruth and Naomi were able to celebrate what had happened.

The women agreed that Ruth should only work in Boaz’ fields. Besides obvious reasons, why would Naomi urge Ruth to stay in a place where God was blessing her? She would do this, because she had left the place of God’s blessing ten years before, and she doesn’t want Ruth to repeat her mistake!

Ruth was able to glean until the completion of the barley and wheat harvests. The point is that God continually provided for them. It was not just one good day, but many good days had come!

Rejoice in what the Lord gives you. In Ruth’s case she had to work very hard throughout the entire harvest to get food for them. And at the end of the harvest period, she was still living with her mother-in-law and waiting for a marriage proposal. The Lord blessed her, but her life was not “perfect”—whatever we assume that means. If we choose to be very honest, all of us have to admit that there are some items on our wish list that we want to receive immediately. But don’t allow what you lack to hinder your gratitude for what the Lord has already provided. Thank God continually for present blessings, while you wait for what he will do in his time.

Grace and peace, David