Who are we?

In this blog, there will be a variety of material: thoughts on Bible books, book reviews, historical characters, aspects of Scottish church history and other things.

Sunday, 31 August 2014

Present at the cross (Psalm 22:6-15)

In these verses, the Saviour speaks to the Father about the activity of the Jews at the cross. In this psalm (vv. 12-13), the Jews are depicted as bulls of Bashan (a bull was a ceremonially clean animal) whereas the Gentile soldiers, in the next section, are depicted as dogs (unclean animals according to the ceremonial law). Both are attacking the Saviour, although they use different methods.

The Jews are depicted as using mockery and scornful laughter, and this description in the psalm fits with the details recorded in the Gospels (Matt. 27:39-44). ‘The priests, elders, scribes, Pharisees, rulers and captains bellowed round the cross like wild cattle, fed in the fat and solitary pastures of Bashan, full of strength and fury; they stamped and foamed around the innocent One, and longed to gore him to death with their cruelties’ (Spurgeon). In verse 8, they use Jesus’ own words as part of their mockery. In itself, this depiction in the psalm, written so long before the event took place, is a reminder of the amazing accuracy of biblical prophecy.

The psalm informs us of the Saviour’s response as he endured these taunts. In his weakness on the cross (so graphically described in verse 6), he recalls another time when he was weak, which was when he was born (vv. 9 and 10). At his birth, he needed God to take care of him; at his death he also needed divine help. The Saviour here is using effective arguments in his prayer, and in this he is an example to us. The ‘Child now fighting the great battle of his life, uses the mercy of his nativity as an argument with God’ (Spurgeon). We should use credible arguments when presenting our personal needs to God. Jesus appealed to God’s faithfulness and mercy.

Now on the cross he is alone. He longs for a sense of the presence of God (v. 11) but all he sees is hostile enemies surrounding him. His physical strength has gone, he is in great pain, and he is racked by incredible thirst. But he knows why he is there. It is his silent Father who has brought him to the dust of death (v. 15).

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Focussing on God (Psalm 22:3-5)

In these verses, the Saviour worships the Father. He refers to the holiness of God, the gracious presence of God (he dwells among the praises of his people), and the faithfulness of God (he delivered those who trusted in him). This is a reminder that Jesus’ actions on the cross were an act of worship, that he dedicated himself to God to endure the cross.

As Jesus was enduring the distress he went through on the cross he focussed on God, on the God whose presence he could not sense at that time. Jesus did not only affirm that the Father was his God (’My God, My God), he also thought about him even although he was not aware of spiritual comfort. This was faith at its greatest expression.

The idea behind the term ‘holy’ is absolute perfection. Therefore Jesus was saying that the Father is perfect in his character and actions. He said this as he was experiencing the hostility of sinful humans and from the kingdom of darkness. From that perspective it is not surprising that he said the Father was holy. Yet we have to add into the pain and grief of the cross the most amazing ingredient of all – the wrath of the Father that was poured out on Christ as he bore divine judgment because of our sins. As Jesus experienced the awfulness of this divine wrath he affirmed that the Father is perfect.

These same words also reveal the Saviour’s identification with his people – he says ‘our fathers’. The feature of their outlook that he stresses is their faith (three time he uses the term ‘trusted’). Where did the Saviour obtain this knowledge of God’s dealings with his people in the past? He acquired the information from the details he read in the Old Testament scriptures. On the cross his mind recollected that God had shown himself faithful to his dependant people. The Saviour, in this way, was experiencing comfort as he underwent the abandonment of God. He is our example in this. When we go through difficult circumstances, remember the way that God has dealt with others, particularly the believers mentioned in the Bible.

Friday, 29 August 2014

Forsaken! (Psalm 22:1-2)

The psalm begins with a question to God: ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ It is the same question that Jesus asked on the cross, the fourth of his seven recorded sayings.

The Saviour used the personal pronoun ‘my’ in addressing God. His usage points to at least two important details. One is that the Saviour’s faith was exercised when he was on the cross. His experience on it had to be endured, not as a Stoic with a stiff upper lip, but with a warm and loving and persistent faith in God. No matter how dark his environment became, the faith of Jesus shone brightly.

The other detail concerns the hope that Jesus had. It was not based on God’s power in general but on the special relationship he had enjoyed with his Father. Jesus was experiencing a previously unknown and totally indescribable encounter with the judgement of God. The Saviour was without a sense of the gracious presence of God. Yet even here, he is our example because in his darkness he turned his face to the Light he could not see and affirmed that he was dedicated to his God.

In verses 1b-2, the Saviour says that he has been praying about the abandonment mentioned in verse 1. It had so occupied his thoughts that he prayed about it day and night. We know from the Gospels that Jesus had been praying about his ordeal, and we see the intensity of his prayers in the garden of Gethsemane as his body and soul shook at the prospect ahead of him. That intensity is seen in the term ‘roaring’ that is used in verse 1 to describe his prayers. The Book of Hebrews say that in Gethsemane he prayed with strong crying and tears (Heb. 5:7).

The fact that the Saviour prayed so strongly is a challenge to how we pray about matters that concern us. Jesus knew that he would accomplish our salvation by taking our place and enduring God’s wrath against our sins. He was also aware of the many predictions in the Old Testament about the glory that would be given to the suffering Messiah once his distress was over. But he did not use his inner knowledge or his understanding of God’s promises as reasons for not praying earnestly about his awful situation. He wrestled in prayer over and over again.

Although he was in a terrible situation, he repeats in verse 2 his confidence in God that he expressed in verse 1. To the God who was silent to his prayers, he cried, ‘My God.’ This is an illustration of the triumph of faith, of the greatest display of faith in God that has ever been witnessed. When there was not even the faintest glimmer that God was for him, he affirmed repeatedly that he still trusted in him.

As we listen to the Saviour’s cry and remind ourselves that he was experiencing this abandonment because of our sins, should it not make us thankful that God laid our help on One that was mighty. Every Christian can and should say, ‘He was abandoned so that I would not be abandoned.’ At the same time it should make us hate the sins that brought about the distress he bore.

Thursday, 28 August 2014

The Hind of the Morning (Psalm 22)

This is a well-known messianic psalm that is divided into two parts; verses 1-21 describe the sufferings of the Messiah and verses 22-31 detail his subsequent glory. While some messianic psalms are based on events in the life of the authors, it is obvious that no Old Testament figure experienced either the depths of the suffering or the height of the glory that is portrayed in the psalm.

Each section of the psalm begins with a verse that is quoted in the New Testament as being the words of Jesus. Verse 1 was said by him when he was on the cross and verse 21 is used in Hebrews 2:12 to express the intention of Jesus after he had ascended to heaven.

The obvious difference between the account of Christ on the cross that is found in Psalm 22 and the reports of the sufferings of Jesus that are found in the Gospels is the personal nature of the words of the psalm. In the psalm we read the attitudes and feelings of the Saviour whereas in the Gospels we read a narration of what Jesus said or did on the cross. Of course, in the Gospels we do see the feelings of the Saviour, but they are stated in more depth in Psalm 22. Spurgeon likens the first half of the psalm to a photograph of Christ’s sad hours on the cross.

The title of the psalm is ‘The Hind of the Morning’ and when we read the psalm we can see the significance of the title. The enemies of Jesus are likened to wild animals (bulls, lion, dogs) attacking a graceful, gentle deer.

Some take the reference to the ‘morning’ to indicate that his enemies began attacking Jesus as early as they could (Herod, after the visit of the wise men, was the first of many hunters who sought to kill him). That is true, although I suspect the reference to the ‘morning’ points to something else. Normally when a deer was surrounded by such fierce animals, its demise was certain. With Jesus it was different. Although he would go through a dark experience, it would not result in night but in day, indeed an eternal day. The Hind went into the darkness in order to ensure that there would be a Morning. We will consider other verses of the psalm in the next few readings.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

The exaltation of Jesus (Psalm 21)

The psalm is in two parts. Verses 1-6 celebrate a victory by the King and verses 7-13 express confidence that further success will come. It is likely that the psalm was composed in response to a victory enjoyed by David, although there are statements, such as the King’s prayer for endless life in verse 4, which cannot be said to have been experienced by David as a king. The psalm is a prophecy of the enthronement and the reign of the Messiah.

The psalm opens by describing the Messiah’s joy at experiencing the Lord’s power and salvation. Verse 2 shows that he received this deliverance in response to his prayers, and we can read such requests in his prayer recorded in John 17 when he asked the Father to give to him the glory he had known before he came into the world. Verse 4 indicates that this deliverance was in fact his resurrection from the dead, which was the commencement of a chain of triumphant events that included the reception of the ‘blessings of goodness’ (v. 3). This phrase covers all the expressions of divine favour that had been promised to Jesus once he completed the work of atonement.

Verse 5 says that Jesus has been highly exalted (see Philippians 2:9-11). In verse 6, there is a wonderful description of the ongoing fellowship between the Father and the Son in heaven – it is marked by great joy as they contemplate one another.

Verses 7-13 describe the progress that the kingdom of Jesus will make in overcoming those who rebel against him. His throne is unshakable (v. 7), continually protected by divine power. Verses 8 to 12 are a description of one aspect of Christ’s reign, which is to identify and punish those who persist in evil. The reality is this: each one of us is either going to be rescued by the hand of Jesus or punished by the hand of Jesus.

Verse 13 is an expression of praise to God for his great display of power expressed in Christ’s resurrection. We can take part in that song if we trust in him.

Tuesday, 26 August 2014

Praying for our rulers (Psalm 20)

In the main in this psalm, the words are spoken by a plural group (the first person plural is used in verses 1–5 and verses 7–8), with verse 6 being spoken by an individual. Originally it seems that the congregation sang verses 1–5, which is made up of various intercessions on behalf of their king, David. In response to these prayers, one of the priests replied, using the words of verse 6 to assure the people that the Lord was with the king. On hearing these words of assurance, the people then sang verses 7–9 which contain an expression of confidence and a repeated prayer for the prosperity of the king’s cause (the psalm was likely used when the king was leading his army into battle).

As we read verses 1–5, it is clear that Israel was facing a time of crisis (verse 1 mentions the day of trouble). The king is a devout person who responds to the crisis by offering sacrifices (v. 3) and prayers (v. 5). These religious activities are not merely ceremonial responses – they are expressions of the king’s heart. He knows that unless God helps them they will face a difficult future. In this psalm, we have a picture of a righteous ruler.

It is not sufficient for a leader to be intelligent, to possess communication skills suitable for our media age, to offer suggestions to improve our lot as a nation. What is needed are leaders who also have the wisdom to know their need of God’s help, who have developed communication with God, who publicly affirm their need of prayer, and who include a return to righteous living in their policy of improving the standard of living in our society. We should pray that God would give such rulers to us.

What about the people? In verses 7 and 8 they indicate where their confidence lay. It was not in military strength. This is an important word for us. We are still one of the most powerful nations in the world, both in the economic and military senses. Sadly, many of our fellow-citizens are depending on these to protect us from our determined enemies. We, in the church, know different. Our only means of successful protection is God. But this protection is not given automatically. We have to pray continually that God will deliver us, which is what the people described in verse 8 did. They were given assurance of victory in verse 6, and they based thei

Monday, 25 August 2014

Listening to God (Psalm 19)

Psalm 19 concerns divine revelation. The author considers two ways by which God makes himself known: in the creation and in the Scriptures. In verses 1-6, the psalmist describes how God is revealed in the created order (this is called general revelation because it is displayed to every person); in verses 7-11, he considers how God is revealed in the Scriptures (this is called special revelation because it is only revealed to some); then in verses 12-14, the psalmist prays that he would benefit from God revealing himself to him.

General revelation is comprehensive (it includes the heavens as well as the earth), consistent (it occurs every day and every night) and clear (everybody can understand it even although they speak different languages and cannot understand one another). The creation continually says that God is pre-existent (he existed before he made the universe), wise (he designed the universe) and powerful (he maintained it in existence). It also tells us that God is good (he provides what his creatures need).

Nevertheless, creation also says that something is wrong because not everything that takes place is good. There are earthquakes, famines and other disasters, and all of creation is marked by death. General revelation is silent as to the cause of these problems and does not hint whether or not the Creator intends to solve them. In order to know these details, we need special revelation.

The various nouns that the psalmist uses for this special revelation – law, statutes, commands – indicate that it contains precepts to be obeyed, which informs us that God is a sovereign King. One of the terms used for special revelation is the ‘fear of the Lord’ (v. 9), which stresses that it is to be approached with reverence, with the same respect that we would give to the King himself.

Each noun is also accompanied by an adjective such as clean, righteous, and perfect, and they state its moral quality. After all, it is possible for a ruler to have unrighteous or irrelevant laws, but not God. There is not one unrighteous law or one unnecessary command in the Bible.

Each of the six descriptions of special revelation has a statement summarising its effect: it revives, gives wisdom, gives joy, gives illumination, is eternal and righteous. Because of these features, the Bible is both beyond price in value and sweet to a believer’s soul. A Christian learns more about God and receives more from God in the Bible than he could learn about him or receive from him in the creation. Climbing a hill to see the view is good for your health, but the resultant vista does not teach us more about God than is revealed in the Bible. For example, the greatest display of divine power is not the upholding of the universe in existence; rather the greatest display of divine power is the resurrection of Christ.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Gratitude for deliverance (Psalm 18)

This psalm is a psalm of thanksgiving in which the psalmist praises the Lord for deliverance from danger. It is almost a duplication of 2 Samuel 22, which is interesting in that it is the only psalm that is quoted in this way in another book of the Bible. Its location in 2 Samuel suggests that it was written towards the close of David’s life and may be read therefore as his expression of gratitude to God for preserving him throughout his life, including his youth as a shepherd, his long period of exile under Saul, and his years as king over Israel.

The psalm opens with David’s affirmation of love to the God who had been his strength throughout his life. He describes God’s protective activities under several metaphors drawn from David’s military experiences. When he says that the Lord was his rock, he is referring to a large, high rock. This kind of rock gave great protection from enemies because they could not scale its steep walls. It is a good picture of the security each believer has in Christ – they are seated in the heavenly places, far above their enemies. This does not mean that the enemies will not attack us, but it does mean that they will not destroy us.

Verses 4-6 highlight the effectiveness of prayer even in dark situations. David wants his readers and fellow worshippers to appreciate the response of God to the prayers of his people, and verses 7-17 describe it. The Lord was angry with David’s enemies (7-8) and he used the whole of creation to attack them (12-15). But he gently delivered David from his place of danger (16-17) and set him in a place of prosperity (18-19). This cycle was repeated many times in David’s life.

In verses 20-29 David gives a reason for his deliverance, which was his innocence. This does not mean that David was sinless, for we know that there were dark moments of sin in his life. What it does point to is a general principle in the Bible, which is that God usually blesses his people when they try to live in his paths and chastises them when they do not. David’s explanation reminds us of the necessity of sanctification and of progressing in the life of holiness if we want to know God’s approval.

Verses 30 to 45 are almost a repetition of what David has said in verses 4 to 19. There is one difference between the accounts: verses 4 to 19 describe the deliverances from God’s point of view whereas verses 30 to 45 details them from David’s experience. This twofold viewing of events is the best way to survey the incidents in our own lives.

Praise to God is the theme of verses 46 to 50 and it is fitting that believers should close a review of their lives by extolling him. Verse 49 is quoted by Paul in Romans 15:9 as a prediction of Jesus leading the praise of Gentile believers. This quotation points to Psalm 18 being a description of the experiences of Jesus as well as of David.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Arguing with God (Psalm 17)

This psalm by David is a prayer for divine help against powerful enemies (vv. 9-12). In his prayer he uses various arguments as to why God should hear his prayer. The first is found in verses 1 to 4, and it is an interesting one because it is not one that we would normally use. In these verses David uses his innocence as a plea for being heard. David is not claiming to be sinless when he uses this plea, rather he is saying that he is not guilty of the wrongs with which his enemies have charged him (vv. 9 and 10). Therefore he is coming to God and asking for his blamelessness to be made clear to his opponents. Yet he also realises that he needs God’s help in order to remain blameless, which is why he asks God to uphold him in verse 5.

The obvious deduction from verses 1 to 5 is that sinfulness can prevent our prayers being answered by God. Sinfulness can show itself in a wide variety of ways such as (1) failing to do an important duty, (2) persisting in maintaining an unforgiving spirit to a person who has offended us, (3) and persevering in disobeying a commandment of God. The psalmist says in Psalm 66:18 that the Lord will not hear us if we regard fondly sin within our hearts. Jesus also said that we would not know ongoing forgiveness from God if we failed to forgive a fellow believer (Mark 11:25-26). We should do as David did in verse 3 – ask God to test our hearts.

A second argument that David uses in order to have his request answered is his relationship to God. In verse 8 he says that he is as weak as an eyeball, which is in constant need of protection. He then changes the imagery and likens himself to a young bird being protected from danger by the wings of its mother. Both these pictures point to the gentle and permanent protection that God gives to each of his people.

David closes the psalm by mentioning a third argument to use in prayer – his future enjoyment of God. The psalmist knows that he lives for the next world, an outlook vastly different from those who only live for this world (vv. 14-15). He knows that he will yet see God. Quite what he understood by this desire is unclear. Yet we know that the Bible as a whole indicates that in heaven we will see God as he continually is revealed in the person of Christ. This eternal contemplation of Christ will be transforming and soul satisfying.

We can use these three arguments as we pray to the same God.

Friday, 22 August 2014

Facing death like a King (Psalm 16:8-11)

Psalm 16:8-11 describes both the psalmist’s outlook as he faced death and the Saviour’s attitude towards his own death. Applying them to the psalmist enables us to see that the Old Testament believers had a strong hope of heaven even if they did not have the fuller understanding of believers who live in the New Testament era. They knew that their Lord would be with them as they faced the last enemy. In this they are a model as to how we should look at death and anticipate the heavenly life to come.

We know that the verses apply to Jesus because Peter says so in his sermon on the Day of Pentecost. They describe the Saviour’s resurrection, and it is important for us to think often of that event. Spurgeon summarised it well when he wrote: ‘Christ’s resurrection is the cause, the earnest, the guarantee and the emblem of the rising of all his people.’

In verse 9 Jesus reveals the source of his joy, which was the presence of his Father described in verse 8.

In verses 10 and 11, Jesus addresses the Father. This type of divine interaction occurs frequently in the Old Testament and we should be on the lookout for it. Another example is Psalm 40:8-9. Verse 10 is a reference to the place of the dead where the bodies of humans see corruption. The Saviour, although he died, did not undergo any deterioration in his body.

Verse 11 contains a beautiful description of the journey of Jesus from the grave to heaven: he calls it ‘the path of life’. It began with his resurrection which revealed he possessed life; it continued with his ascension to the place of life (heaven) where he was enthroned in order to bestow on sinners spiritual life; it will yet involve resurrecting them from the dead in the fullness of resurrection life when they will be physically equipped to inhabit the new heavens and new earth in which death in any form will never enter.

John Trapp said of verse 11: ‘Here is as much said as can be, but words are too weak to utter it. For quality there is in heaven joy and pleasures; for quantity, a fulness, a torrent whereat they drink without let or loathing; for constancy, it is at God's right hand, who is stronger than all, neither can any take us out of his hand; it is a constant happiness without intermission: and for perpetuity it is for evermore. Heaven's joys are without measure, mixture, or end.’

Thursday, 21 August 2014

Praying like the King (Psalm 16:1-7)

Psalm 16 is quoted by Peter on the Day of Pentecost when he says that verses 9–11 were fulfilled when Jesus arose from the dead. Therefore, it is appropriate to read the psalm as Messianic and apply its verses to the Saviour. Having said that, it is also important to recognise that the psalm originally described David’s description of his own life, which means that we can interpret the psalm as expressing the desires of a godly person.

Verse 1 is a prayer for preservation from danger and it is straightforward to see how it would be a suitable prayer both for Jesus and for David. Verse 2 is a statement of commitment by which the speaker affirms that God is his Lord. Spurgeon comments regarding this declaration: ‘in his inmost heart the Lord Jesus bowed himself to do service to his heavenly Father, and before the throne of Jehovah his soul vowed allegiance to the Lord for our sakes. We are like him when our soul, truly and constantly in the presence of the heart-searching God, declares her full consent to the rule and government of the infinite Jehovah, saying, “Thou art my Lord.”’ Does the clause ‘my goodness extends not to you’ describe Jesus? Spurgeon suggests it points to the humility of Jesus.

In verse 3, the Saviour says that his people are his delight, and he is our example in estimating the worth of believers. Verse 4, on the other hand, describes Jesus’ estimation of those who are not his people and of how he detests their failure to worship the true God (‘names’ here probably refers to the titles of the false gods). So in verse 5, he repeats that his soul feeds on God (portion, when linked with cup in this verse, probably means bread). This portion Jesus regards as a wonderful and beautiful inheritance. Perhaps there is an allusion here to the manner in which Jesus participated in private and public worship, praising God for what he had done for his people.

Verse 7 indicates that Jesus, in his humanity, enjoyed being taught by the Father. As he said in John 8:28: ‘When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things.’ The place from which he was instructed about his role was the Old Testament. ‘My reins also instruct me in the night seasons’ points to his inner concern to understand more. His determination to be instructed by God led him to spend nights meditating upon what he learned about himself in the Old Testament. In this, he is our role model. Meditation is the way to digest heavenly food. When we do so, we will have a similar outlook of praise and thankfulness as Jesus had.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

The man of God (Psalm 15)

Psalm 15 is similar to Psalm 24, which may indicate that they were composed originally to celebrate the same event. Psalm 24 was written when the ark of God, symbolising his presence, was taken into the city of Jerusalem during the reign of David. The psalm also has a richer significance because the entrance of the ark was a picture of the entry of Jesus as the ascended Lord into the heavenly Jerusalem.

In Psalm 15, David asks an important question: ‘Lord, who shall abide in your tabernacle? who shall dwell in your holy hill?’ The question is important because humans are sinful and, in themselves, unable to dwell in God’s presence. So when we read the list of qualifications for entry in verses 2–5, we conclude that only a perfect person can live in God’s presence.

The reality is that only one human had these qualifications, and because he possessed them he is able to live in the presence of God. Verse 2–5 are a character profile of Jesus Christ, the only perfect man who has ever lived. Therefore, we can go through the various statements in the psalm and think of incidents in the life of Jesus that fits these descriptions.

One day, after the resurrection in the future, this list of qualifications will also describe the people of God because they then will be fully conformed to the likeness of Christ. The list details their righteous behaviour, their truthful hearts, their pure speech, their love to God’s people, and their consistent lifestyle (of course, there will not be the opportunity for usury in the eternal state). The point is that the redeemed will then be totally perfect and so will be able to dwell permanently in God’s presence.

Of course, the same is true of all the Lord’s people who have already gone to heaven. They have been made perfect in holiness as far as their spirits are concerned. But what about believers who are yet on earth? They are still sinful, although converted. Yet they can also dwell in the presence of the Lord (Ps. 91:1) because (a) they have been given the perfect righteousness of Christ as their title to heaven, (b) they have been cleansed daily from their sins by the blood of Christ when they confess their faults to God, and (c) the law of God has been written on their hearts so that they now delight to obey it.

The more Christlike we are, the greater will be our enjoyment of the presence of God.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Don't be a fool (Psalm 14)

Psalm 14:1 is the biblical definition of an atheist, ‘The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”’ Such a conclusion is not a sign of wisdom but of folly. In biblical usage, fool and folly do not describe an uninformed person but an individual who does not respond appropriately to clear information. God has clearly revealed himself in creation and in the Bible. Wisdom is the ability to use this knowledge correctly and results in an honourable lifestyle. Folly is the inability to use this knowledge appropriately and results in sinful practices, as the psalmist describes in the remainder of verse 1: ‘They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good.’

Verses 2 and 3 depict God considering the thoughts and ways of people, assessing their priorities. Instead of seeking God they engage in wrongdoing. Such behaviour does not mark only a few; from the Lord’s perspective, which includes his knowledge of the human heart, it marks every person who does not belong to his people. Yet their blatant rebellion puzzles the psalmist because it suggests they have no knowledge of God. The Lord is so real to him that he finds it difficult to understand how others cannot see him.

Yet the evidence is there that they do not seek God. They oppose his people and do not pray to him (vv. 4-5). The psalmist had a particular occasion in mind because he recalls that the Lord came to rescue and defend his people. On that occasion, the enemies of God became very afraid because they realised that in attacking God’s people they had been opposing God, and now he had come in judgement on his foes.

In particular, these people had treated the counsel of the poor [God’s people] with contempt (v.6). That counsel could been the wisdom to trust in God or it may have been advising the wicked to take the Lord as their refuge.

This psalm describes our society today: a refusal to acknowledge God, a determination to rid our nation of his demands, and contempt for his people and the gospel. But modern Britons cannot stop God assessing their hearts, being present with his people, and coming with judgement. When that judgement falls, they will wish they had heeded the counsel of God’s people.

Verse 7 is David’s prayer that the Lord would restore his church. It should be our prayer too because when that happens, true joy and gladness will mark our society.

Monday, 18 August 2014

By oneself with God (Psalm 13)

Psalm 13 was composed by David when he was going through a period of distressing soul trouble. He was experiencing a time of spiritual darkness and he brings his situation again to the Lord. His words indicate that there are times when the Lord does not immediately answer the earnest prayer of his people. Such delays are difficult to cope with, but we should remind ourselves that they are designed by God to test our commitment to him. The fact that David persisted in coming to a silent God was clear testimony that he was in a state of grace.

David seems to be alone, without any human help. There was no-one with whom he could take counsel, and he was left to his own considerations of his troubles (v. 2). His experience was one of great sorrow, not primarily due to the activities of his enemies but to the reality that God was hiding his face from David. When a believer faces trouble, he or she usually has a sense of God’s favour and this knowledge strengthens him or her to continue in the life of faith. When God hides his face, it is a different story.

This sense of the loss of God’s gracious approval was not unique to David nor is it an infrequent experience for God’s people. Job experienced it in a very marked way, as did others of the psalmists. When such experiences come to us, it is important that we respond correctly.

First, we must remember that such dark experiences do not always mean that we are guilty of unconfessed sin. It is true that if we don’t confess our sins, God will hide his face from us. Therefore, when we sense the absence of God we should search our hearts to see if there is unconfessed sin. If we discover that there is none, then we should realise that God is testing us.

Second, we should speak to God about the matter, which is what David did. He told the Lord about the sorrow and pain he was enduring and mentioned his fear that his enemies would prevail. Daily, David put his sad case into the hands of God despite the fact that he could not sense God’s gracious presence.

Third, we should resolve to trust in the Lord (v. 5). David focussed on the attribute of God that was most suitable to his need (God’s mercy). This helped him have the assurance that he would yet experience God’s deliverance. He also recalled previous occasions when God had helped him. Memory is one of the greatest helps to faith in dark times. If we are in darkness, we should take the torch of memory and let it shine into our hearts.

Sunday, 17 August 2014

In the minority (Psalm 12)

Psalm 12 was written by David during a period when faithful followers of God were decreasing in influence and in number. As he considered this situation he realised that one of the consequences was the decline of truthfulness whether at a personal level regarding speech with one’s neighbour or at an official level when the false words of those in power resulted in the persecution of God’s people (the poor and the needy in verse 5 does not refer to those in financial poverty but to those who have realised that they are totally dependant on God). The situation at the time David wrote the psalm is very similar to our situation today.

In verse 4, David records one of the first demands for freedom of speech. Sadly, the freedom that such people wanted was to say what suited them in particular situations, where they could use various features of wrong speech such as lies (vanity), flattery and boastful claims. They imagined they were free of all authority (v. 4), forgetting that God will judge them.

Of course, David knew he could turn away from all forms of false speech and listen to what the God of truth had revealed about his people, his purposes and his promises. He has promised to protect them in an evil generation (vv. 5, 7). They can depend on his promises because he has the power to accomplish what he says. His Word will never be destroyed (v. 6).

David also mentions the Lord’s assessment of the boasts of unfaithful people: their words are nothing but puff (v. 5), empty wind. They do not have the power to accomplish what they boast they can do. This is how we should regard the various boasts currently finding favour today regarding removing God’s demands from our society. Negative changes do not occur because wicked people have more power than God, but they happen because he allows these changes as a means of judging a society. And when he chooses to reverse these trends, he can do so very quickly and those opposed to him will not be able to stop him.

David mentions one manner of speech that pleases God in times when sinful speech is predominant. This one manner is described in verse 5: ‘the sighing of the needy.’ There is more power in a believer’s sigh than in all the strategies of the wicked because the Lord responds to the sigh and helps him. Better to be a sigher than a liar.

Saturday, 16 August 2014

Resolve (Psalm 11)

Although this psalm was written by David, it is not clear when he composed it. He refers to a time when he was being pursued by enemies, which means it could have been written during the years he was hunted by Saul or during the time when his son Absalom rebelled against him.

The first verse of the psalm is David’s affirmation that he believes God can protect him. It is an answer to the advice of his friends found in verses 2 and 3. They suggest that the righteous should flee when the attacks of the enemy become too strong. But the psalmist realises that when the foundations are being destroyed, the last thing to do is flee from the battle. Instead he is going to stay at his post, trust in the Lord and live a righteous life. William Gurnall once commented that ‘sinning times have ever been the saints’ praying times’. The darker things become, the more determined each Christian should be to overcome them by dependence on God, holy living and determined prayer.

In verse 4 the psalmist points out that the Lord is still in charge, that he is aware of what each person is doing. Verse 5 is a reminder that the Lord arranges providence in two ways: the first way is designed to test the commitment of his people and the second way is part of the process of punishment on the wicked, a process that will eventually climax in complete judgement. Often these two ways occur simultaneously; on one hand a situation is a test of his people’s loyalty, on the other hand the same situation results in the overthrow of the wicked. Usually, the wicked imagine they are progressing, but they are not. The supreme example of this simultaneous occurrence is the death of the Saviour: it was a test of his disciples’ faith, and it was an act of judgement on Christ’s enemies even although they thought they had managed to get rid of him.

In verse 7, David reminds himself of God’s attributes and activities, which is what each of God’s people should do, particularly in times when the foundations are being destroyed. The basic thought seems to be David’s awareness of divine approval of his determination to live a righteous life in a corrupt society. This consciousness of divine approval gave David spiritual strength to remain resolute whatever the situation.

Friday, 15 August 2014

Prayer and humility (Psalm 10)

In this psalm, the author meditates on a common anxiety that troubles God’s people – the concern arising from the disdain that the wicked have for God and his ways.

The contempt of the wicked is revealed in several characteristics that mark their outlook: opposition to God’s people (the term ‘poor’ in the Old Testament is often a synonym for humble believers, as can be seen by Jesus’ use of the term to describe his people in Luke 6:20), practical atheism that never thinks about God, prosperity in life which leads them to imagine that they don’t need God, boastful words against God’s people, and contempt for God’s judgements (vv. 1-11). Although the psalm was written 4,000 years ago, its description of sinful humans is an accurate presentation of contemporary people – which is a reminder that human sinfulness does not change as far as the heart is concerned.

The psalmist, however, knows what to do. First, he asks God to intervene (vv. 12-18). Prayer should always be our first response when facing a difficult situation. This prayer was made despite the psalmist’s inability to understand God’s apparent refusal to do something about the situation. Sometimes providence can give guidance as to what we should pray for, at other times it does not. Yet the confusion that affects us in times of God’s apparent inactivity should not prevent us from continually asking God to intervene – because he will respond eventually to the prayers of his people. The church in Scotland has been praying to God now for several generations that he would come in a great revival. So far, he has not given signs of answering this prayer. But he may answer it the next time you pray, which is why we should continue in prayer and not lose heart.

Second, the psalmist reminds himself that he has to maintain a humble attitude (v. 17). Humility here is marked by the expectancy that God will one day judge those who oppose his cause, and is willing to leave the timing of the judgement in God’s schedule. It is not always a sign of faith to demand that God respond immediately to our most urgent requests for him to act (sometimes it can indicate presumption). Clearly, only the humble have God’s ear. Andrew Gray, a preacher in Glasgow in the seventeenth century, once said, ‘He that sits nearest the dust, sits nearest heaven.’

Thursday, 14 August 2014

Celebrating victory (Psalm 9)

In this psalm, David is celebrating another God-given victory over his enemies. The psalm is in two parts: verses 1-12 contains praise for past rescue; verses 13-20 is a prayer for future help. The past deliverance was a reason for anticipating future aid because God does not change his commitment to his people.

In David’s case, the land had been invaded by foreign armies but God had enabled him to defeat them (vv. 3-6), an example of God’s ruling righteously in providence (7-8). Through it all, David and his people had discovered God to be a secure refuge (vv. 9-10), and having experienced victory they wanted to praise him (vv. 11-12). Big as their enemies were, they discovered that God was bigger. Christians are under attack from spiritual enemies (the world, the flesh and the devil), but if we commit ourselves to the Lord he will deliver us each time they attack us. Sometimes the deliverance takes longer than we would like, yet when it does come we discover that it came at exactly the right time, and that the victory reveals again that God is far greater in wisdom, power and love than we imagined him to be. So when the Lord does deliver us, we should praise him privately and publicly.

In the remainder of the psalm, David prays for ongoing protection for Israel because he realised that other enemies would come and attack them. He can pray confidently because he knew that the Lord would also defeat them and bring them to nothing. Similarly we know that our spiritual enemies will often renew their attacks upon us, but we are to remain confident in the Lord, knowing that he will continue to fight on our behalf. And one day, these enemies will attack for the final time because the Lord will yet give to all his people complete victory in heaven.

Wednesday, 13 August 2014

The last Adam (Psalm 8)

This psalm was written by David as he thought about the dignity that God had given to the human race. Yet it is more than a reflection on humans in general because in Hebrews 2:6-9 the writer applies the psalm to the exalted Christ.

In verses 1-4, David is thinking about God’s ability to create a marvellous universe. Everything in it, whether on the earth or in the sky, points to the greatness of God. His power and wisdom are so obvious that even young children can see how great he is, and their praise is used by him to quieten those who oppose him.

As he looks at the heavens, David is reminded that they are under God’s control, with each star and planet fulfilling the function God gave to it. He uses a beautiful picture of the Creator – his fingers gently embroidered the heavenly bodies into their locations. Yet David also realises that humans are very small in comparison to the vast universe. At the same time he knows that God is concerned about humans and provides for them. Why does he do this? David gives the answer in verses 5 to 8.

The reason why God cares for humans is found in Genesis 1. David reminds himself of the place Adam was given by God. Adam was created to be a king, ruling on behalf of God over the animals, birds and fish. The only creatures that were above Adam at that time were the angels.

We know that Adam rebelled against God and as a result he lost his kingdom. Yet that does not mean that man has lost for ever this place of dignity. To find how man has recovered his position of prominence we need to turn to Hebrews 2. There the writer states in verse 8 that we do not yet see all things under the authority of man (the word yet is very important). Nevertheless whom we do see is Jesus, and we see him crowned with glory and honour. So he has become King.

Jesus is not only King of the earth, which was the extent of Adam’s domain. Instead Jesus is Ruler of all things, and even the angels, who were not under Adam’s rule, are under the authority of Christ.

Since Jesus is exalted, why do we not yet see all things restored under the authority of man? The answer is that Jesus the King is waiting until all his brothers, his fellow-rulers, are brought to glory. When they are all ready for their inheritance, then the universe will be under the authority of Jesus and his redeemed people.

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Prayer that is heard (Psalm 7)

The heading of the psalm indicates that David wrote it after an incident involving a Benjamite called Cush (this incident is not referred to elsewhere in the Old Testament, although many other occasions of trouble caused by Benjamites are). Cush has made false accusations against David. David’s response was to bring the matter to the Lord, which is the most appropriate response to any difficulty. The fact that David wrote out his response could point to the usefulness of this method as a means of clearing one’s thinking at such times because we can often be confused when unjustly attacked.

In verses 1 and 2, David finds security in his covenant relationship with the Lord, whom he addresses as my God. It is important to be conscious of this personal bond with God when strong opponents come against us (the opponent who is most likely to use slander against us is the devil, although false accusations can also be made by other people). In verses 3 to 5, David affirms his innocence of the accusations levelled against him. He admits that if he is guilty then he deserves punishment. Since he is innocent, however, he is confident that the Lord, who loves justice, will hear his plea.

Verses 6 to 9 are David’s call to God to rise in judgement. We may ask why David did not ask the Lord to be merciful to Cush. The answer is that David is functioning as the king and not merely as a private individual. It was necessary that the people of Israel would know that their king was innocent of the charges (v.7). The existence of such unjust accusations causes him to pray for the removal of all kinds of wickedness and the establishment of justice.

In verses 10-16, David contrasts God’s treatment of the righteous and the wicked. The righteous are safe, whereas the wicked face his judgement. He mentions a solemn reality, that God is angry with the wicked every day (v. 11). If the wicked person refuses to repent, then he will face an onslaught from God (which David likens to an attack by a skilful and lethal soldier), from which he cannot escape.

Verses 14 to 16 give two perspectives on a sin. First, David likens the process of a sin to a birth – we don’t know what will be the product of a sin but it will be ugly (v. 14). Second, sin is like a trap ready to destroy us (15-16). These two features mark every sin that we commit, which is why it is essential that we ask God for mercy.

Verse 17 indicates that the Lord heard David’s plea and delivered him. His response was to praise his Deliverer.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Persist in Prayer (Psalm 6)

This is the first penitential psalm in the Psalter. The best-known penitential psalm is probably Psalm 51. Although it has been classified as such a psalm, it is not clear from the psalm that David is repenting of particular sins. Instead the background of the psalm seems to be an occasion when enemies had risen against him and he was in danger of being overthrown as king. Some commentators link the psalm to the rebellion of Absalom.

If verses 1-7, which deal with the sorrows of David, describe the initial stages of Absalom's rebellion, then we can see how David could regard that providence as indicating God was angry with him (v. 1). David was in danger of losing the throne, and if he did so it would be an act of divine judgment. But the same could be said of any adverse providence at an early stage. Many a Christian has had experiences when the word spoken to God was 'Why?'

The stress of the situation had affected David physically (v. 2) and emotionally (v. 3). He had prayed earnestly for divine help (v. 4), particularly as he thought death was a real possibility (vv. 4-5). So far, God had not answered and, as we know, times of trouble accompanied by a silent God are very difficult experiences. We can cope with troubles better if we sense God's presence, but if we are afraid that he is against us, then our whole person (body and soul) can be adversely affected. Many Christians have experienced such dark nights of the soul and find it very hard to obtain spiritual comfort. Instead copious tears flow. Of course, it is important to note that David still realised that any deliverance for him would be an act of divine mercy.

A changed picture is evident in verses 8-10. God has heard David's weeping, which is a reminder never to despise tears. Spurgeon says about them: 'Let us learn to think of tears as liquid prayers, and of weeping as a constant dropping of importunate intercession which will wear its way right surely into the very heart of mercy.' As he prayed, David sensed that God had heard him and was going to deliver him from his enemies. Sometimes God gives such assurance of answered prayer that the very trouble which previously terrified us is now seen as no longer a threat.

The obvious lesson from the psalm is that persistence in prayer in times of trouble eventually brings deliverance.

Sunday, 10 August 2014

Prayer in the morning (Psalm 5)

This psalm is called a morning psalm because of verse 3 which states the psalmist’s resolve to pray early in the day. The thrust of the psalm is that David is determined to participate in the public worship of God at the tabernacle (v.7) and he needs strength from the Lord because of the many enemies that were against him. (It seems that the psalm was written during the period when David was falling out of favour with King Saul, but before he fled from the palace to hide in the wilderness.) Therefore the psalm contains guidance for us as to how we should approach public worship.

The first thing that David does is remind himself that the Lord listens intently to the prayers of his people. The image David uses in verse 1 is of a parent bending his/her ear to the cry of a child. In a similar manner, the heavenly Father bends his ear in love to hear what his child has to say.

Then David reminds himself of aspects of his relationship to God – the Lord is his King and his God. To call him King is to say that we are delighted to be his subjects; to call him God is to say that we are delighted to be his worshippers. These two features always go together. We cannot serve him truly without a sense of his greatness; we cannot worship him truly without an attitude of glad submission to his rule. Because the Lord listens as a parent to a child and because he responds to those who worship him devotedly, David is confident that his prayer will be heard (v. 3).

In verses 4 to 10 David considers his enemies. He realises that they do not please God and that they need to be removed in order for God’s purposes of grace to be fulfilled. Sometimes we find such imprecations (prayers for the destructions of one’s enemies) difficult to understand. When we read such psalms, we should remember that David, because he was chosen to be the next king of Israel, had also to act as judge and implement God’s laws. David in making such requests is asking God to fulfil his own promise to remove the wicked from the land and extend his kingdom.

In verses 11 and 12, David turns to consider the righteous whom he will be joining in worshipping God later that day. He describes them as those who both trust in and love the Lord, a reminder that faith is a loving response to God. David’s desire is that God’s people will have a fresh experience of the joy of the Lord, rejoicing that is the outcome of realising that the Lord protects his people.

Like us, David in public worship looked forward to enjoying fellowship with God and his people, of engaging in prayer that his kingdom would advance, of experiencing once more the joy of the Lord. But the psalm also reminds us that there should be private preparation before we come to the public worship.

Saturday, 9 August 2014

About to retire... for the night (Psalm 4)

This psalm is called an evening psalm because the last verse indicates the author was about to retire for the night. Some commentators assume that there is a connection with the previous psalm, which was composed by David when he was fleeing from Absalom. They suggest that in verse 2 the psalmist is addressing the men who joined the futile rebellion led by Absalom.

In the first verse, the psalmist pleads with the Lord for help because he is under attack. Although he is the innocent party in the conflict, he is aware that he still needs mercy from God. Therefore he uses two arguments in his petition.

The first is an appeal to the Lord whom he calls ‘the God of my righteousness’. This could mean that God has given him righteousness in the sense that he has forgiven his sins. But I suspect he means that God’s righteousness is the standard that David used in administering justice as the king of Israel, and he is asking God as the Sovereign to deal justly with the rebellious situation over which David has no control. David is willing to put the outcome into the hands of God.

The second argument that David uses is the fact that God has answered previous prayers that he offered. He believes that his Lord will be consistent, that he will treat his servant’s current prayers in a similar manner to former prayers.

In verses 2 to 5, David addresses those who were causing the trouble. Verses 2 and 3 detail the futility of fighting against the one whom the Lord has chosen as his king. In such a situation they are not fighting against a mere man, but against a man whose prayers are heard by God. This is a useful way for us to reason when we are being misrepresented or attacked. We should see the opposition for what it is, mere men engaged in a vain action. Instead of looking at them, we should think about our relationship with God and rejoice that we have access to his ear.

Verses 4 and 5 are David’s call to these men to stop sinning against the Lord and instead to offer appropriate sacrifices. This advice reveals David’s heart of mercy because he wanted his opponents to be forgiven and to resume worshipping at the tabernacle. There they could offer sin offerings as signs of repentance and trust in the Lord. Similarly we should want our opponents to be penitent, to experience forgiveness, and to worship the Lord instead of opposing his servants.

In verse 6, David repeats to the Lord the idle threats of his enemies. He asks the Lord to prove them wrong by giving to him the spiritual blessings of joy and peace. These blessings of satisfaction and security only come from God and cannot be taken from his people, no matter the strength of opposition they face. They can be ours just as much as they were David’s, and they come to us through prayers that express our confidence in God.

Friday, 8 August 2014

When in Trouble (Psalm 3)

The heading of this psalm says that David wrote it when he had to flee because of the rebellion led by his son Absalom. This response of David is a reminder to us, and a model for us, concerning what to do in situations of family trouble. Of course, in Absalom’s case, his sin against his father was magnified because he was also rebelling against the Lord’s chosen king.

In verses 1 and 2, David brings to God the sad facts that former friends had joined the rebellion and his subjects assumed that God had rejected him (2 Sam. 15:12). Such people wrongly judged David’s situation by the number of enemies he had; instead they should have considered on whose side was God. David knew that the Lord would not abandon him, no matter how many turned against him. One of the responses we are liable to have in times of trouble is to focus on the trouble, and if we do so, then the trouble will grow bigger and bigger. Instead, we should focus on God, which was what David did.

In verse 3 David details in prayer three ways in which God was related to him. David could have selected many other ways, but he chose three that were relevant to his situation. He was under attack, so he needed God’s protection; he was rejected and scorned by many, so he needed God’s provision of future glory; he was being humiliated, so he needed God to exalt him again. Spurgeon describes this threefold divine relationship as ‘defence for the defenceless, glory for the despised, and joy for the comfortless.’

David had this confidence because he had committed the situation to the Lord (v. 4). Verse 4 details his past prayer, probably on the previous evening. Because he had handed his cares over to God, David had enjoyed a restful sleep while his enemies planned his overthrow (v. 5). Again Spurgeon comments: ‘We need not fear a frowning world while we rejoice in a prayer-hearing God.’

When David awoke, he saw that he was surrounded by a large number of enemies (v.6); (twenty thousand of the rebel army were slain later that day). But he did not depend on the previous day’s prayer for a new day’s situation. So he prayed to God to deliver him (v.7a). God gave him a complete victory, far above what he had asked or imagined.

This provision by God reminded David of two things. First, true salvation, including deliverances in providence, can only be given by God. Second, when God answers the prayers of one of his people, it is a sign of favour to all of his people. David became a living example to the godly in Israel of what God was able to do for any who asked for his help. This is one reason why we should tell the church what God has done for us.

Thursday, 7 August 2014

The King is Coming (Psalm 2)

In the book of Psalms there are several types of Messianic psalm. For example, there are psalms that are applied to Jesus in the New Testament, such as Psalm 22. Another type are those psalms, such as Psalm 72, which are not quoted in the New Testament with reference to Jesus, but which clearly describe aspects of his life and work. Psalm 2 belongs to the first group because Peter quotes it in Acts 4:25-30 and Paul in Acts 13:33. Incidentally, Peter says that David wrote Psalm 2, although the Book of Psalms does not say so in the heading to Psalm 2, which is an example of new revelation being given to the New Testament apostles.

In verses 1 to 3, the psalmist describes the conspiracy against Jesus that involved both Gentile and Jewish rulers. Because they refused to acknowledge Jesus as the Messiah (God’s anointed), their opposition to him was also a sign that they would not submit to God’s authority. The psalmist comments that their united opposition to God was futile.

Verses 4 to 6 describe the response of God the Father. He treats with contempt the attack by the rulers on the Messiah. The attempt to destroy Jesus by crucifying him and burying his body was actually a stage on the road that would take him to his throne. The Father announces the enthronement of Jesus in verse 6, which did not occur in the earthly Jerusalem but in heaven. This divine announcement is a statement of judgement on the rebellious rulers because the newly enthroned king will work to overthrow their kingdoms, which he has done through his control of providence. Eventually he will overcome all rulers that oppose his rule.

The Messiah speaks in verses 7 to 9, revealing his true identity as the divine Son of God. The idea behind the word translated ‘declare’ contains the idea of celebration as well as of announcement. Paul quotes in Acts 13:33 the words of Psalm 2:7 (‘You are my Son; this day have I begotten you’) and says that they were fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection.

The rest of the words in this section of the psalm refer to the Father’s promise to his exalted Son that he would receive, upon his asking, all the nations as his inheritance. This reception describes the way Jesus conquers sinners from all the nations through the preaching of the gospel. At the end of history, a large crowd, the number of which no person can count, will have been gathered from all the nations to live with Jesus in heaven. Verse 9 is a reference to the Day of Judgement when those who persist in rebelling against Jesus will be judged and punished.

Who speaks in verses 10 to 12? At one level, it is the psalmist. But given that the Father has spoken in verses 4 to 6 and the Son has spoken in verses 7 to 9, it may well be that the Holy Spirit is speaking directly to these rebellious rulers in verses 10 to 12 (of course, the Spirit is also speaking in the sense that he inspired the psalmist to compose the psalm). Mercy is offered to rebels against King Jesus and they are given the opportunity to serve him. If they refuse, all their strength will not prevent their destruction. Mercy is received by trusting in Jesus, and all who do so receive blessings from God.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Blessed Man (Psalm 1)

The first psalm describes a contrast between the godly person and the ungodly person. It opens with an exclamation of the blessednesses of the godly. The word translated ‘blessed’ is plural, pointing to both the number of blessings each godly person has received and to the intensification of each particular blessing in his life as he journeys through this world.

The psalmist first states the road on which the godly person will not travel. Three descriptions are given of this road, with each increasing in depths of sinfulness: to begin with, there is walking in the counsel of the wicked, which leads to standing in the way of sinners, which leads to the sad state of sitting with the scoffers. Many a person, when starting on the path of sin, did not intend to end up a scoffer. But the path of sin is deceitful, and the advice of the ungodly is opposed to the wisdom of God.

In contrast, the godly man listens to and obeys the word of God. He does not read it in a hasty manner, nor does he read a section and immediately forget about it. Instead he meditates over what he has read or heard. The image of meditation here is not one of sitting in a relaxing chair, contemplating in a passive manner some object of interest. Instead, it means to speak to ourselves about what interests us.

The psalmist illustrates the consequences of what both the godly and ungodly listen to and reflect on. The ungodly are guided by the advice and opinions of other sinners, and the outcome is that they are like chaff blown about by the wind. Chaff is a worthless item, with no weight. Their lack of stability is seen first in their inability to cope with the storms that come their way in life, but it will be seen in a far more dramatic manner on the Day of Judgement when the final storm of God’s anger will be revealed and the shallowness, as well as the sinfulness, of their lives will be displayed, and judged. In the end they will perish.

In contrast, the godly man is like a tree that does not move in either the storms of life or in the storm of the Day of Judgement. He has become a strong, weighty person because he has nourished his soul on the word of God (the streams that nourish the tree depict the Bible nourishing believers). Although he may live in uncongenial surroundings, he will flourish because he has perpetual access to the life-giving streams of Scripture. Like the well-watered tree which is fruitful and covered in green leaves, even if it is surrounded by a desert, so the godly man who meditates on the Bible is spiritually healthy at all times.

This biblical lifestyle gives pleasure to the Lord. When the psalmist says that the way of the godly man is known to the Lord, he does not mean that God merely knows about it in an intellectual manner. Rather he also means that the Lord knows about it in an experiential way, that he has drawn near and tasted the sweet flavour of the godly man’s fruits.

Tuesday, 5 August 2014

Bad end for a bad king (1Samuel 31)

From one point of view, there is something challenging about Saul as he engages in this battle. He knows that he will be defeated, yet he participates in the battle. Moreover, he is an old man, coming close to eighty years of age, and still prepared to fight for his cause. Yet his reign had not been a good one, and neither was his own departure from this life. There is no hint that he received any spiritual benefit from Samuel's message from the other world on the previous evening and therefore Saul died an impenitent man. He was more afraid of falling into the hands of the Philistines than he was about falling into the hands of God. It did not enter Saul's outlook to pray as he saw defeat drawing near. Instead he chose to commit suicide. 

It was a discouraging day for Israel. The king they had asked for four decades previously had shown himself incapable of providing what they had wanted. Not even the good contributions of Jonathan had prevented the calamity. Now the Israelites had been defeated comprehensively and the people has become very discouraged, even abandoning their cities to the Philistines. The future looked very bleak. But was it? Readers of the book know that the future actually was bright because now the way was open for David to begin a new stage in the history of God's people.

This chapter has many lessons for us, but here are two. First, it tells us that sometimes God delays fulfilling his judgements - almost forty years had passed since Saul had forfeited his right to the throne. The fact that the demise did not come immediately did not mean that it had been cancelled. Second, the chapter reminds us that while the leadership around Saul were bereft of a suitable successor, God had been preparing his man for leadership and David was now ready to take a more public role. 

Monday, 4 August 2014

David recovers his spiritual bearings (1 Samuel 30)

Sometimes it takes a crisis to bring a believer to his spiritual senses. One came into David’s life when he returned from the camp of the Philistines and discovered that the Amalekites had destroyed Ziglag and captured the families of David and his men. Although his men shared a similar devastation as David, he found himself alone in the crowd. They blamed him for the situation and there was only one person to whom he could turn, God.

David’s spiritual recovery is described in a beautiful way – he ‘strengthened himself in the Lord his God’. How much strength was available to him? Divine strength. Did David deserve to receive it? No, he did not. Did David receive it? Yes, he did. This divine strength was given to David because God is gracious and did not deal with David as his sins deserved.

Why was the restored David given divine strength? No doubt, many answers could be given. One obvious one is that he received strength in order to engage in the Lord’s service, which he began to do immediately. The first thing he did was seek the Lord’s will as to whether or not he should pursue the Amalekites. We might have thought that David would not need to consult God about such a matter, given that the Amalekites had taken prisoner the wives and children of David and his men. Yet a spiritually healthy believer will pray to God about every action, especially the important ones, and even if he can guess correctly the answer. Having received a clear answer from God, David immediately set out. Prompt obedience to God’s revealed will is always a good sign as to a person’s spiritual health.

God gave to David a comprehensive victory over the Amalekites and he took back all that he and his men had lost. It was clear that he had recovered this aspect of his leadership. But another test of his leadership quickly arose with regard to the way he should deal with the two hundred of his men who had not been able to participate in the battle because of exhaustion. Some of his fighters did not think that the non-participators should get a share of the spoil, even although the two hundred had looked after the baggage. The fighters assumed that the two hundred had been inactive during the pursuit and the battle, but maybe they had been praying for victory! David did not believe as a leader that selfishness should be displayed when God had given such a great recovery. The obvious application for us is how do we regard weak believers.

David did something else that showed his spiritual recovery was firmly in place. In sending part of the spoil to Judah and to the tribes like the Kenites who were connected to them, David was reaffirming his identity. For eighteen months his identity had been obscured while he was hiding among the Philistines. Now he was making clear whom he wanted to identify with, and he did this even while the Philistines were very strong. Again the application for us is obvious. How clear do we make our identity with God’s people during a time when his opponents seem powerful?