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.

Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Psalm 41 - Recovery

This psalm is the final one in the first book of the five that make up the 150 psalms, and since it comes at the close of Book 1, it closes with a doxology in which God is praised (1) because he is eternal and (2) because he has a relationship with Israel. A doxology is not a benediction; instead a doxology is a statement of praise to God and which highlights one or more of his attributes or his achievements. Many of his attributes and actions have been mentioned in Book 1, and therefore it is very appropriate to conclude it with a doxology.

In this psalm, David is praising God for delivering him from a time of physical illness and treachery. We can read about the illness in verse 4 and the treachery in verse 9. Writing after his experience, the psalmist can state his conclusion regarding how to prepare for such times. His answer may surprise us, but true preparation is to be mindful of the needy (v. 1). The psalmist is not suggesting that blessing is merited by obedience, but he is indicating that those who are merciful to others will receive mercy themselves when necessary. And Jesus repeated this principle in Matthew 5:7: ‘Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’

The ‘poor’ in verse 1 describes more than the financially or materially poor. It is a common biblical description of those who trust in God rather than in their own or others’ resources. In other words, David is indicating that practical expressions of brotherly love are a good way of preparing for adverse circumstances.

David describes what took place in two different locations. In verses 1-4, he relates what occurred in his bedroom when he was ill: God preserved him and restored him to health, with the outcome being that others then realised that God was with him and not with his enemies. The path of restoration included earnest prayer and confession of sin, which may suggest that David realised he had been sent the illness as a form of chastisement by God.

In verses 5-10, David describes what was said to him in his throne room and about him elsewhere by his opponents. Although they spoke nice words to him (v. 6), in their hearts they hoped that he would die from his illness. In other words, there was a conspiracy against him, perhaps connected to the rebellion of Absalom. One difficult aspect of this plot was that one of David’s closest friends joined the rebellion (v. 9), perhaps a reference to Ahithophel (2 Sam. 15:12) who sided with Absalom. No doubt, this betrayal was very sore for David.

David’s experience reminds us that troubles seldom come alone. So what did he do in his difficult circumstances? He prayed to God to raise him up and restore him to his throne (another reference that suggests the background to the psalm is the rebellion of Absalom). Along with his prayer for help, David expressed his determination to serve God in the role he was given as king (this explains his statement that he will punish his opponents – they were guilty of treason).

What mattered most to David was what God thought of him and intended to do for him. This is a reminder that, despite his sin, David was a God-focussed man. He wanted clear evidence that God delighted in him and this would be seen when he was restored (both spiritually and as king) and found himself once more near to God. We should be like David, desiring signs of God’s love for us despite our sinfulness and longing for nearness to him.

Jesus quoted verse 9 in John 13:18 when referring to the deceit and betrayal of Judas. In a higher sense that did David, Jesus will yet judge those who conspire against him. Again higher than did he did for David, God delighted in Jesus and upheld him because of his integrity and set him in his presence for ever (vv. 11-12).

Monday, 29 September 2014

Psalm 40 - Jesus sings

In Psalm 40:6-8, the Son of God, who is the speaker, states that he is about to become a man (these verses are a prophecy). The Son refers to a book or scroll in which certain matters are written about him. While we are not told exactly what the scroll signifies, there are two possibilities. One is that he is referring to the book of God’s eternal purposes in which the Father’s intentions for his Son were detailed (obviously, this would not be a reference to a literal book in heaven).

The other possible meaning of the scroll is that it refers to the Old Testament scriptures. As far as David himself had been concerned, when he became king of Israel he would have discovered God’s requirements in the books of the Old Testament that were then available, mainly in the Pentateuch (Genesis–Deuteronomy). By the time of the Incarnation, the Old Testament was complete and it is full of teaching about Jesus. He himself refers to this in Luke 24:44: ‘These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.’ There is no doubt that the Old Testament was a primary source of how Jesus understood his Messianic work.

The Son also addresses the Father as ‘my God’. Psalm 40 is not the only Messianic psalm that has this manner of speaking on the lips of the Son (Ps. 22:1, 10). Jesus after his resurrection addresses the Father as God in John 20:17 when he speaks to Mary Magdalene of his imminent ascension to heaven. It is evident in Psalm 40, from the connection that the Son makes with God’s will, that he is speaking to the Father as his servant, and this is one reason why he calls him ‘my God.’

The willing Son also describes his inner life when he says that God’s law is within his heart. The law of God was written on the human heart of Jesus and all that was needed for it to be displayed was the passing of time. This is what took place. Because he had a perfect heart, Jesus lived a perfect life.

The humanity of Jesus, the body that was prepared for him by the Father, should often be on our minds. From heaven he came to the womb of Mary and united himself with his human nature simultaneously to its creation by the Holy Spirit; when he was born, he emerged from the womb to live a perfect life as a child, a teenager and as an adult until he died on the cross and was buried; while his body was in the tomb for three days, his human spirit was in heaven; on the third day, his spirit and body were reunited in resurrection power; a few weeks later, he in his risen humanity ascended to heaven and was glorified and enthroned at God’s right hand. There he is at present, waiting for the next stages of his exaltation: his resurrecting of his people from death and his appearance as the Judge of all creatures. After that, his people will enjoy his endless fellowship as he interacts with them through the body that was prepared for him by his Father.

It is not surprising that the singing Son praised God as he anticipated and experienced the Incarnation. And we can imagine Jesus singing these verses or meditating upon them during the years he was on earth, as he thought about what was going to happen to the body that had been prepared for him by the Father. And now in heaven in his glorified body, he looks forward with joy to what he is yet to experience in the body that was prepared for him so long ago by his Father.

Because he was given a body, we too can look forward to transformation: ‘But our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body, by the power that enables him even to subject all things to himself’ (Phil. 3:20-21). ‘Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we will be like him, because we shall see him as he is’ (1 John 3:2).

Sunday, 28 September 2014

Psalm 40 and Jesus

Verses 6-8 are quoted in Hebrews 10 as applying to the incarnation of Jesus (when he became a man). The author of Hebrews 10 is clear that it is Jesus who is speaking in the psalm, which means that in these verses of Psalm 40 we are allowed to listen in to a divine conversation between the Father and the Son just as the Son was about to come into our world. Yet it is a conversation given in the form of a song. The Son is singing to the Father a song of gladness and joy.

The first item in the song is that the Father took no pleasure in all the sacrifices that were offered in the Jewish ritual because they could not deal permanently with the problem of sin. Although he had given instructions about them, the Father was looking forward to the time when they would be abolished. And that time had drawn near. So the Son sings to the Father about a development that pleased him.

The second detail is found in the line, ‘My ears you have opened.’ The psalmist may be referring to the practice in Israel when a slave wished to show his total devotion to his master by having him bore through his ear to the doorpost (Exod. 21:6). If this is the meaning, it points to the amazing willingness of Jesus to dedicate himself to fulfil the Father’s will. Taking the practice of performing the boring at the door, we could say that Jesus allowed his ear to be bored through by the Father at the doorstep of heaven as he was about to enter this world.

The author of Hebrews did not quote from the Hebrew Old Testament when translating this phrase. Instead he cited the Septuagint rendering (the Greek Old Testament) which reads, ‘a body you have prepared for me’. The translators of the Septuagint interpreted the Hebrew clause when they translated it. Yet their interpretation was made under the supervision of the Holy Spirit and they provided the full meaning of the Psalmist’s original phrase, and their rendering was used by the author of Hebrews, that the reference was to the incarnation of the Messiah.

The clause in Hebrews 10 indicates that it was the Father who decided what the humanity of Jesus would be like. This statement is not in conflict with what the angel said to Mary in Luke 1:35: ‘The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God.’ Rather it reveals that each person of the Trinity was involved in the Incarnation: the Father planned what the human nature of Jesus would be like, the Son assumed the human nature into permanent union with his divine person, and the Spirit formed the human nature in the womb of Mary. Of course, the Incarnation is a great mystery, but that is inevitable given that it was a divine activity.

Saturday, 27 September 2014

Psalm 40 and David

The author of Hebrews (10) quotes Psalm 40:6-8 and applies it to Jesus. Yet all of the psalm cannot refer to Jesus (for example, verse 12 contains a personal confession of sin, and Jesus had no sin to confess). So it is best to read the psalm by recognising that some verses apply to Jesus but the psalm as a whole applies to David. Interpreting it in this manner allows verse 12 to be a confession of sin by David and the call for divine intervention in verses 14 and 15 to be a prayer of a godly ruler who desires the progress of God’s kingdom in Israel. His prayer also requests the prosperity of the righteous: ‘But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation say continually, “Great is the Lord!” (v. 16).

How could the psalm as a whole apply to David? To help us understand how it can, we can consider its three divisions: verses 1-4, 5-10, 11-17. Verses 1-4, the first division, reveal that the psalmist had in the past experienced a dark and difficult time in which he had to exercise a great deal of patient prayer as he waited for the Lord to deliver him. David likens that ordeal to imprisonment in a pit floored by miry clay.

Yet David had been delivered in a wonderful manner, and this deliverance is described in the second section (vv. 5-10). The consequence of his deliverance was that he was given a prominent position as a teacher of the people of God. When was it that David could teach the people about the law of God? The answer is that this was one of the functions of the king (Deut. 17:18-20). David was unlike Saul who had imagined that sacrifice was more important than obedience (1 Sam. 15). Instead David delighted personally in the law of God and also sought to have his subjects obey it. So these verses are concerned with his role as king over God’s people, Israel.

The third section (verses 11-17) indicates that David has entered into another difficult period, and from this current situation of trouble he looks back to his previous deliverance. It was also a period in which many of the true people of God were disturbed, which indicates that the trouble was more than a personal crisis for David, such as what occurred after his sin with Bathsheba. Of course, David gives to us a most important insight to use when we are facing a difficult situation – in such a time of trouble we are to recall previous occasions of spiritual danger and comfort ourselves with knowing that the God who delivered us previously can deliver us again.

A possible outline for the psalm is this: (a) verses 1-4 relate to David’s time before he became king and when he was on the run from Saul; (b) verses 5-10 concern his rule as king and particularly his role in upholding the law of God; (c) verses 11-17 describe his feelings and prayers during the rebellion led by his son Absalom.

Friday, 26 September 2014

Psalm 39 - Profitable chatisement

David was undergoing an experience of divine chastisement (vv. 10-11). At the same time, he had to listen to various opinions expressed by sinful people, perhaps around him in his court. We are not told what they were suggesting, but their opinions were evidently contrary to God’s will. In verses 1-3, David recounts how he found it difficult to keep silent, yet his awareness of the Lord’s dealings with him personally caused him to remain quiet. Before he could speak to others, he needed to get his relationship with God restored. Otherwise if he spoke, his words could be an outburst, and sinful (as he says in verse 1).

Eventually he did speak, but instead of speaking to the humans in his presence, he found a place where he could speak to God. There he confesses his frailty and shortness of life, acknowledging that he is small in contrast to the almighty and eternal God (vv. 4-5). Whatever humans achieve, it does not bring certainty (v. 6).

David’s only hope is in the Lord, the very one he had sinned against (v. 7). Yet since he knows he can pray for pardon, he also knows he can pray for deliverance from the chastisement his sins had caused. It looks as if the chastisement was causing him embarrassment before others and he was afraid that the unspiritual (the fool) would treat him with contempt.

The psalmist confesses that divine chastisement is not pleasant; instead it is draining (v. 10) because, to some degree, the Lord has withdrawn a sense of his favour. Just as a moth, although a little creature, can destroy a whole fabric, so a little of God’s displeasure can remove all sense of spiritual comfort (v. 11), and no amount of human advice can make up for that loss.

In verses 12 and 13, David pleads with God to restore him. His plea is accompanied with tears, a reminder that a mere intellectual appreciation of one’s circumstances is not enough. God also looks for an emotional response, and he particularly delights in tears of penitence.

The chastisement has achieved its purpose in bringing David to a right assessment of himself – even though a king he is really a sojourner, spending time in this world before he heads away to his real home. Although he knows that God is always with him, he wants that divine presence to be experienced in joyful fellowship and not in divine correction.

Thursday, 25 September 2014

Psalm 38 - Cry of a distressed heart

This psalm of David was used when the memorial offering took place. This offering involved burning a portion of a sacrifice on the altar, with the ascending smoke symbolising the request of the offerer that the Lord would remember him. It is clear from the psalm that David sensed a distance existed between himself and God.

It is evident that the psalmist had gone through a period of divine chastisement. He felt as if he had undergone an onslaught by God (his arrows and hand in verse 2). The chastisement had come because of his sins. Now he realised that his wrong actions had been foolish. They had weakened him spiritually and he felt that he was isolated and alone (vv. 1-8).

Yet in his weakness, he turns to the one who has chastised him. The difference between chastisement and mere punishment is that chastisement is like a magnet which draws the chastened person to the Chastiser. Just as a child will run to a parent who has scolded him, so a true believer speaks eagerly and earnestly, sometimes desperately, to the God whose commands have been broken (v. 9).

In speaking to God, the psalmist relates in graphic language the effects of God’s chastisement (vv. 10-20). His physical strength has diminished, his emotional stamina has disappeared, his friends have abandoned him, his opponents increase their antagonism, and he has no ability to refute them. Yet he can turn to the Lord and ask for divine protection, even as he confesses his sin to God and endures the strong provocation of enemies.

The psalm closes with the author making urgent requests for divine help (vv. 20-21). As far as the words of the psalm itself are concerned, there is no statement to indicate that he was heard by God. This absence made it a suitable psalm for those who longed for God to notice them and come to their aid. No doubt, the psalmist was heard by God eventually, and so will all who persevere in praying to him.

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

Psalm 37 - Differences in life and destiny

David in this psalm encourages God’s people not to overact because of the apparent prosperity of sinful people – after all their success will not last for ever (vv. 1-2). Instead they are to live a different kind of life marked by trusting in God.

The psalmist gives four examples of the life of faith and attaches a specific blessing to each example. Faith is trust in God which works itself out in a good life that shares in God’s provision; faith is delight in God and is rewarded with sweet fellowship with him (believers get what they delight in); faith is placing oneself in God’s hand and leaving events to him; and faith is calmness in God’s presence, aware that he will work things out (vv. 3-7).

So God’s people are not to focus on the evil around them. If they do, they will become angry and upset, and these responses may lead to distrust in God. They must remind themselves that, however long the dominance of sinners may seem, it is limited and eventually will be gone. Despite the current ascendancy of sin, the actual outcome will be the eternal happiness of God’s people in his presence (vv. 8-11).

Therefore, instead of thinking about the sins of society, they should think about God. How does he estimate the power of the wicked? He laughs (their rebellion is contemptible when compared to his power), and eventually he will destroy them and their creations (vv. 12-17). In contrast, he takes care of his people and will ensure that they have an eternal inheritance (vv. 18-22). He leads them by the hand each step of the way and even ensures that their families will be a source of blessing (vv. 23-26). The wise response to these two different outcomes is to turn away from evil and do good because this is the only way to inherit God’s kingdom (vv. 27-29).

How will a person who turns away from evil be identified? By his wise and just speech, which comes from the fact that the law of the law is written on his heart, keeping him on the right path (vv. 30-31). Often he will receive divine help in difficult situations (vv. 32-33). Therefore he should have confidence that the God who helps him in the present will give him an eternal home (v. 34).

So David wants us to judge things by the eternal outcome. Temporary security is of no value in comparison to eternal exaltation. Instead, we should live a holy life and then enjoy the beautiful future that God will provide for his people. Even if they have to live for a short time in a dangerous situation, the Lord takes care of them (vv. 35-40).

It is obvious that the wicked don’t hold on to their dominance – every cemetery in the country testifies to the fact that eventually the lives of good and bad come to an end. What matters is what happens after this life is over. The righteous have a wonderful future, and it will be ours if we trust in Jesus. 

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

Psalm 36 - Value of contrasts

In this psalm, David contrasts the wicked (vv. 1-4) and God (vv. 5-9). The wicked person loves transgressions, does not fear God, imagines that his sins will not be discovered, speaks deceitfully, causes trouble and chooses sinful paths. Who would want such a person as a companion and friend?

In contrast, the Lord is marked by love and faithfulness wherever he is (the imagery of the heavens and clouds depict the furthest extent to which the psalmist could see). His standards are immoveable (like mountains, v. 6) and therefore all creatures benefit from his decisions. Fellowship with such a faithful God is precious because he gives secure, loving protection (in the shadow of his wings, the allusion is to how a mother hen protects her young), he supplies abundant, delightful, spiritual provision (feasting and drinking), and he provides assurance of a prosperous future (in his light, they will see light).

The outcome for the psalmist from contrasting the wicked and God is prayer. Intercession is a frequent consequence of meditation. Here David prays for God’s continued goodness to other believers (v. 10) and for personal and permanent deliverance from his powerful opponents (vv. 11-12). His only hope for communal and personal development is God.

This psalm is very relevant for today. Everywhere the wicked seem to prosper and often the righteous suffer. We should follow the psalmist’s example and turn our eyes away from the sinfulness of humans and concentrate on the abundant grace of God.

Monday, 22 September 2014

Psalm 35 - Prayer for deliverance

In this psalm, the Lord is asked by David to fight on his behalf against powerful and malicious opponents. The psalmist desires a comprehensive victory and he knows that only the Lord can provide it. A crucial aspect of David’s feelings was the reality that his troubles were undeserved (v. 7), indeed he had been very good previously to those who were now his enemies (vv. 12-14).

The main difficulty that the David had was the silence of the Lord throughout this prolonged trial. His complaint is twofold: first, God did not seem to be working in providence (vv. 17, 22, 23); second, he had not given any inner assurance to David that the onslaught against him would fail (v. 3). Yet although he was in such turmoil, David resolved to continue praying.

In his prayer, the psalmist uses several arguments with God: (1) he will yet receive praise from David for delivering him (vv. 9-10); (2) the congregation as a whole will praise the Lord when he delivers his servant (v. 27); and (3) the faithful loving-kindness of the Lord will once again be displayed when he rescues the psalmist (vv. 10, 24). We too can use similar arguments when praying earnestly to God.

Sometimes it is appropriate for God’s people to ask him to act like a warrior (v. 2). When he does, he will speedily and easily defeat the opponents. There are many reasons today for asking the Lord to act in such a manner. We may not have personal dilemmas at present, but the western church as a whole is under attack from various enemies and its communal weakness should cause us to pray desperately as the psalmist did here. Praying in desperation is not a sign of lack of faith; rather it reveals that our petitions are strong desires. Given the crisis, lack of desperation is evidence of spiritual blindness and an indifferent heart.

Sunday, 21 September 2014

Psalm 34 - Help from God

The heading of the psalm connects its composition to the occasion when David had to act like an insane person before a Philistine king (1 Samuel 21:10-15). His ruse was successful, yet David did not compliment himself for his strategy of escape; instead he gave praise to God for using this unusual method. Of course, David’s tactics here remind us that sometimes we must use our own thought processes in order to discover God’s way of rescuing us.

David had been very concerned about his predicament. If he remained with the Israelites, Saul would try again to kill him; but if he stayed with the Philistines they would kill him because of his fame as an Israelite warrior. Therefore he turned to God for help and experienced his rescue. Sometimes we think that situations are so difficult that not even God can solve them. Yet the fact is, no situation is too complex for the Lord to resolve. David therefore encourages other believers to rejoice with him in his deliverance (vv. 1-4).

What kind of person receives such help from God? The basic quality of life that marks a person to whom God listens is humility. Humility is more than thinking little of ourselves, it is also accompanied by great confidence in God. It is possible to assume that a poor self-image is the same as biblical humility. Yet often people with a poor self-image are totally pre-occupied with themselves and seldom give thought to the greatness of God or express confidence in his wisdom or power. Throughout this psalm David, while aware of his own poverty and weakness (v. 6), expresses his conviction that God can help those who trust in him. If it is protection that they need, the angels provide it (v. 7); if it is provision that they need, they will receive it (v.10).

In verses 11-22, David takes his experience and uses it to teach important lessons to others about the fear of God. ‘Children’ in verse 11 is not a reference to one’s age, but to their attitude (are we teachable) as disciples, wanting to know more about serving God.

David stresses the necessity of living a righteous life in order to know God’s blessings (vv. 12-14). This lifestyle involves our speech to and about others, our desire for peace with others, our prayers, our troubles, and our contrition and brokenness over our sins. When we live in this way, we can be sure that God’s eyes are always on us, God’s ears are always open to listen to us, God’s presence is always near us, God’s strength is always working for us, and God’s purposes will eventually deliver us.

According to Andrew Bonar, this psalm was often sung by the early church whenever the Lord’s Supper was celebrated. One helpful way of preparation for it would be to read this psalm beforehand, applying its themes to our own situations.

Saturday, 20 September 2014

Psalm 33 - Responding to love

This psalm is concerned with responding to the revealed love of the Lord. His love is eternal, a reminder that it had no beginning and will have no end. The required response to his love is exuberant praise. The exuberance is described in verses 1 to 3 where the psalmist urges loudness, both with the human voice and musical instruments. This was the Old Testament form of worship found at the temple. When the people are urged to sing a new song, the psalmist probably means to sing with new spiritual life; it is hard to imagine that the psalmist wanted a new song in a literal sense on each occasion of worship.

The basic reason for worship concerns the word and the work of the Lord (v. 4), and the psalmist proceeds to look at various ways in which the Lord’s word is heard and his work is seen. His attributes are displayed in what he says and does, and the psalmist mentions several of these attributes in verses 4 and 5. This is a reminder that God wants us to understand or discover who he is from his words and actions.

The first occasion of God’s speaking and doing that is mentioned is his creation of the universe at the beginning of time (vv. 6-9). His word was a word of power as his ability to create reveals. There was no contradiction between what he said and what he did. The particular aspect of creation that the psalmist mentions is God’s power to hold all the oceans and seas in their places. They have been there since he made them. Looking at the seas and oceans should remind believers of the greatness of God.

The second occasion of God’s speaking and doing is his working in providence, particularly with the various ways he counteracts the intentions of all peoples (vv. 10-12). One common element of all their diverse intentions is their rejection of the Lord’s revealed will. Therefore he has to over-rule all their different thoughts, which reveals his profound wisdom. In a marvellous way, he always works according to his eternal counsel, and his plan is always fulfilled, even in situations which are marked by great opposition to him. Given that the other nations were in such a state of rebellion, it was a great privilege for Israel to have been set apart by God to be his people.

A third aspect of his speaking and doing concerns his current response to what was happening among his people (vv. 13-20). The psalmist takes his awareness of God’s knowledge of each person’s thoughts as a reason for having confidence in him. Even although he was king, David did not depend on his army. It is possible that the psalm was written during a time of war, and the correct response was to look to God for protection (v. 20). The psalmist reasoned that since God knew his circumstances, he deduced that God would also use his power on his servant‘s behalf. Even if their current troubles resulted in famine (v. 19), they could still anticipate God’s help in a situation in which no other could help them.

The outcome will be joyful trust in the Lord, with the accompanying hope that the faithful God would continue to show his love to his people (vv. 21-22).

Friday, 19 September 2014

Psalm 32 - Listening to a teacher

This psalm is described as a maschil psalm, which indicates it was designed for giving instruction. As we read the psalm, we can see that David is concerned to teach users of the psalm about God’s way of restoration and how those who have been restored should behave.

It is possible that David wrote this psalm in connection to the same set of circumstances that led him to write Psalm 51. Both psalms are concerned about forgiveness, so there are obvious similarities between them. Yet that is not sufficient evidence to conclude that both psalms refer to the same time. So Psalm 32 may refer to another period in David’s life.

In verses 1 and 2 David describes spiritual happiness. He uses three different words to describe his wrongdoing and three different divine responses to what he had done. Sin is falling short of God’s standards, transgression is wilful disobedience of God’s law, and iniquity highlights the ugliness and horribleness of such actions. How can someone be happy when he is aware of such behaviour by himself? His happiness comes from understanding God’s threefold response. First, God pardons all sins committed by the individual, second he hides them from his sight by covering them with the blood of a sacrifice (the blood of Jesus), and third, he does not keep a record of such sins. The outcome of receiving such grace from God is spiritual honesty (no guile).

The path to spiritual happiness was a difficult one initially for David as he went through a very difficult time when he was chastised for his behaviour by God. The turmoil was prolonged because the psalmist refused to confess his sins to God. His admitting of this wrong response is proof that he is now spiritually honest. The inner turmoil was so strong that he suffered physically as well. Although it was an awful experience, one comfort to take from it concerns the faithfulness of God – he will not allow his disobedient people to continue in sin.

The way of escape is detailed in verse 5. Just as there were three words for his wrong behaviour in verse 2, so David uses three words to describe his correct response: acknowledged his sins, did not cover his iniquity, and confessed them. Of course, David did more than list his sins, he also confessed that he was guilty of offending God. The outcome was immediate pardon by God.

What happened to David is what will take place in all who follow his example (v. 6). Even if their situation is very perilous (he uses the illustration of possible drowning in a fierce flood), he will be safe.

Despite his great sins, David now has great assurance (v. 7). He knows that the God he had sinned against is now his protector. The Lord encircles him, and does so joyfully, revealing the delight he has in protecting David. Earlier the psalmist had known the sorrow of being outside the circle of God’s pleasure in his people; now that he is restored, he discovers that God rejoices to have him there and works for his safety against all his enemies.

In verses 8 and 9, David promises to be a good teacher (some regard these words as a divine promise of instruction, but the words are those of the psalmist). He will not be content with conveying information but will also look to see how his pupils are responding. The response he does not want to see is stubborn refusal to obey God.

David, in verse 10, contrasts the experiences of the wicked and the righteous. The wicked will have many sorrows whereas the Lord will surround his people with various features of his love. Therefore they can rejoice in the Lord (v. 11). Such a response is appropriate for those whose hearts have been changed by God.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

Psalm 31 - Specific prayer

In this psalm, David begins by praying for deliverance. He does not specify the particular danger, yet because it contains the possibility of shame, it probably involved an attempt to remove him from his throne. Verses 13 and 20 indicate that there was a plot taking place against him. Despite his difficult situation, the psalmist is confident that God will remain his place of safety (rock and fortress are images of security), therefore he can commit himself into God’s hands. In verses 7 and 8, he looks back to previous deliverances from God and uses them as sources of ongoing confidence in God regarding the current trouble.

Verses 9-13 spell out the distress that the psalmist feels. His anxiety affects him physically. He knows that all his troubles are not the faults of others alone because in verse 10 he mentions his own iniquity as a contributing factor. Yet the activities of his opponents are adding to the strain he feels. The strength of the opposition has caused his neighbours to abandon him, and they think that there is no hope for him.

Therefore in verses 14-18, he turns to the only one who can help him – the Lord. The psalmist affirms his relationship with his God and notes that he is in control ('My times are in your hands'), and since that is the case he can deliver his servant from the hands of his enemies. David wants more from God – he also wants to sense that God is for him (make his face shine on his servant) and to see that God will deliver him. He wants all his enemies to be removed completely (after all, they were fighting not just against David, but also against God’s kingdom).

In verses 19-20, David describes the kind of abundant deliverance he wants from God. He desires public awareness of it (his enemies were removed), and until that happens, he wants complete protection in God’s presence. Such requests could only be made of a God who is both great (capable of doing them) and gracious (willing to do them). It is good to remind ourselves of God’s greatness and grace when asking him for help. And verses 21 and 22 reveal that the Lord delivered him despite the difficult situation he found himself in (a besieged city may be a literal description or a figurative one) and the alarm he had experience.

Therefore, in verses 23 and 24, he turns to other believers and, out of his own experience, encourages them to love the Lord because he is always faithful to his people.

Verse 5 may have been quoted by Jesus on the cross when he placed his spirit into the hands of his Father. Perhaps he was thinking about this psalm when he was on the cross and we can see why he would have abhorred the shame connected to his crucifixion and also the intrigues of his enemies. His response was to trust in his heavenly Father, and so in this psalm we have both Jesus and David as examples to follow when in trouble.

Wednesday, 17 September 2014

Psalm 30 - Celebration

The heading of the psalm indicates that David wrote it for use at the dedication of the temple. David himself was forbidden by God from building the temple (this task was given to his Solomon), nevertheless he wrote a psalm to be sung whenever the task was finished. This tells us that he did not resent the Lord’s rejection of his desire to build a house for God. Instead he wrote a psalm that celebrates what the Lord had done for him.

In verses 1-3, David praises the Lord for his help. It is not clear which incident is in the background. The psalmist had undergone a physical illness that seemed to be fatal, and this prospect had cheered up his enemies. In his distress, he had called on the Lord and had recovered from his illness. Therefore, he calls on those assembled to worship God to praise him for delivering his servant (v. 4).

David reflects on his time of trouble and notes that it was relatively short in comparison to the years in which he had known God’s favour (v. 5). He admits that he had gone through a distressing experience, yet the Lord had restored to him the joy of salvation.

Why had the psalmist entered that difficult period? He gives the answer in verse 6 – he had become self-confident, a reminder that such an attitude can be found in the best of God’s people. God’s response was to withdraw a sense of security from David (v.7).

This action of fatherly chastisement led David to engage in earnest prayer for restoration (vv. 8-10). It looked even to David himself that he was going to die, so he prayed with a sense of desperation to the only one who could help him. We can see his desperation in the fact that all he could plead for was mercy.

God heard David’s prayer and delivered him completely from what he feared (vv. 11-12). Instead of sadness, there was gladness. In response, David determined to be grateful always for this divine act of deliverance.

The lesson of the psalm is that the response to divine restoration should be individual gratitude by the restored person and communal rejoicing by his friends.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

Psalm 29 - Lessons from a storm

In this psalm, David is reflecting on God’s power revealed in a thunderstorm that came from the Mediterranean towards Lebanon and then south towards Judah (the desert of Kadesh). The psalmist’s response is very different from that of the pagan world around him. Such would have read the storm as a sign of their god’s anger and would have perceived it as a sign that he was against them. In contrast, David observes many aspects of the storm, regards them as a revelation of the sovereignty of God, and uses them as reasons for worshipping the true God.

It is not clear whether David is addressing angelic beings or prominent human leaders in verse 1. Both options are possible translations. Calvin interpreted it as a reference to human leaders whom David is exhorting to observe God’s power in the storm. Thinking of God in this way would lead them to worship him in a holy manner. Or perhaps David is taunting foreign leaders who would be terrified because they would assume their false gods were wreaking indiscriminate damage for no reason. He is reminding them of the true God who deserves to be worshipped.

Throughout the psalm, David describes the storm as the voice of the Lord. His is a voice that all of creation obeys. No other being possesses such authority. Although such a storm can be frightening, it is also appropriate for us to ask when in one, ’What does this experience tell me about God’s power?’ At least, such an experience should cause us to confess that he alone is in charge.

In verse 11, David applies the effects of the storm in a spiritual manner. First, the Lord’s actions in the storm reveal the amount of divine power that is available for his people, whether in defending them or enabling them to overcome obstacles to their progress. Second, as the psalmist observes the calm after the storm, he is reminded of the peace that the Lord can give suddenly and effectively to his children.

Monday, 15 September 2014

Psalm 28 - Answered prayer

In this short psalm, David is concerned about several enemies. He knows that the only person who can rescue him is the Lord. It is possible that when he calls God his rock (v. 1) he means a rock or natural pillar several yards high on which he could stand far above the threats of his foes. An obvious parallel would be for us to realise that we are risen with Christ, and in that way we are safe.

One aspect of his concern is that God will allow the attackers to overcome David as an expression of chastisement (v. 3). Therefore he reminds God that he is looking towards the sanctuary in which the mercy-seat was located (v. 2). The only way of escape for a believer is through the grace won for him by Jesus, which was typified by the blood of a sacrifice that was sprinkled on the mercy-seat. David could not base his argument for deliverance on his own merits, and neither can we.

In verses 4 and 5 David commits his opponents into the hands of God. On this occasion, the psalmist asks God to act in justice. This is an Old Testament example of the New Testament teaching that we should not take revenge, but leave such matters in God’s hands.

The tone of the psalm changes in verses 6 to 9. Evidently David wrote these verses later than the previous ones because now he has experienced an answer to his earnest prayers. His heart is full of praise to the God who has had mercy on him (v. 6). He realises that God provides power and protection (v. 7), and therefore the only appropriate response is thankful praise.

Having experienced personal deliverance, David is led to consider that the Lord functions in the same way with all his people (v. 8). This leads him to intercede for them (v. 9). It is not a sign of spirituality to pray only for oneself; true personal prayer will inevitably lead to intercession for others. In particular, he wants them all to know the blessing of the Shepherd’s tender care.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Psalm 27:7-14 - Earnest prayer

In this section of the psalm David turns to prayer. In the previous verses he has described how God was his protection from his enemies and how the Lord would ensure that David had a place where he could hide from his foes. Thinking about such gracious provision led David to turn to God in prayer.

In verses 7 and 8 David reminds the Lord of his commandment that his people should draw near to him in prayer. The realisation that God wants us to pray to him is a powerful incentive to do so. God’s commandments are stimuli for drawing near to him. As he describes his method of prayer we can see that David is very earnest. His words are loud cries, a pointer to the fact that often how we say things is as important as what we say. Prayer is more than using correct language, yet there must also be appropriate physical expressions.

Verses 9 and 10 describe a difficult period in David’s life when perhaps even his parents disowned him. It is not clear if this did happen or if David merely means what would happen if they did reject their son. If they did disown him, it probably took place when he was on the run from Saul. David was concerned that such rejection would be followed by the Lord’s rejection of him. Yet he was still aware that he was God’s servant, that he had a special relationship with God through his mercy. From a logical point-of-view, David could not be cast off by God. Yet the psalmist prayed about the possibility because he was concerned about it.

In verses 11 and 12 David prays for divine guidance. He did not merely assume that the Lord was leading him; instead he also made specific a request that God would lead him on a level path. This request was based on suitable reasoning, that he was in danger from his enemies. The twofold use of specificity and reasoning is very appropriate when making requests of God.

Verses 13 and 14 express David’s confidence that the Lord would yet enable his servant to experience divine favour. Until then, it was David’s responsibility to wait upon the Lord. He was not to wait in a passive, indifferent manner, but in a patient, anticipating way. Spurgeon summarised such waiting: ‘Wait at his door with prayer; wait at his foot with humility; wait at his table with service; wait at his window with expectancy.’

Saturday, 13 September 2014

Psalm 27:1-6 - Prayer for protection

Psalm 27 divides into two sections. The first section, verses 1-6, describes the Psalmist’s awareness of what the Lord could for him as he went through a period of enemy attack; the second section, verses 7-14, contains prayer requests based on his knowledge of the Lord’s abilities. It is important for us to follow this order in our relationship with God. Often we look at our circumstances and pray about them without giving thought to what God can do. Instead we should look at the situation, think about God’s abilities, and then pray to him.

In verse 1, David mentions three ways in which the Lord has helped him (note the threefold use of the pronoun ‘my’). First, the Lord gives light to him. This divine provision involved understanding his spiritual need of God, appreciating the way of forgiveness instituted by God, and discerning the circumstances under the control of God. The Lord was his Saviour both in spiritual deliverance and providential protection. Although he realised that he was weak in himself, David also knew that he could be strong in the Lord in order to fight his battles (Eph. 6:10).

In verse 2, the Psalmist recalls past deliverances from his enemies. It is always a source of spiritual strength to think about what God has done for us individually or corporately in the past. Although he had many enemies, the Lord had overcome them. Therefore, in verse 3, David is confident that his God would do so again regarding the current enemies that were attacking him. Even although they were a large number (a host), in comparison with God they were insignificant.

Verse 4 details the priority in David’s life. Whenever this psalm was written, perhaps before he became king when he was on the run from Saul, he did not lose his desire to attend public worship. The presence of this desire is a sign that our troubles are not affecting us adversely in a spiritual sense. In this verse, David mentions two features of public worship: focusing on God’s beauty (his perfect character) and on God’s ability (pray to him).

In verse 5, David mentions the reality that while the Lord may not remove the trouble he does give protection from some of the effects of the trouble. The pavilion is probably a reference to the tabernacle where God dwelt in the holy of holies. Nobody could destroy David if he was hidden in God's presence. We can have greater security than a holy tent because we are in Christ. As Paul puts it, our lives are hidden with Christ in God.

Verse 6 is David’s resolve to give joyful thanks to God for his deliverance when he next attended the public worship of his people. We have the opportunity to do this every Sunday.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Psalm 26 - Search Me, O God

Psalm 26, written by David, is a very helpful one when engaging in self-examination. There are biblical passages that are more appropriate for particular spiritual disciplines than other passages. For example, Psalm 51 is suitable for the discipline of confession of sin and Psalm 107 is suitable for the discipline of thanksgiving. As we know, self-examination is concerned with marks of grace.

In verses 1 and 2 David asks the Lord to examine his heart. The psalmist is not implying that the Lord is ignorant of the condition of his heart. Rather he means that he wants the Lord to examine him in a manner that would convey to David the spirituality of his inner life. David mentions four marks of grace.

First, David is willing to be searched by God because he has discovered what kind of God he has (v. 3). Many times in his life David has experienced the kindness of God. This has happened in providence when his life was protected. It also happened in his spiritual experience when the Lord pardoned him, restored him, applied his promises to him. David did not forget these spiritual blessings, which is evidence that he was a child of God.

Second, when a believer is willing to be searched by God in this way, it is an indication that he is walking in the path of God’s commandments. David is aware that he is directing his life according to God’s Word, particularly with regard to meeting with other people (vv. 4-5). One’s choice of company is a clear evidence of the state of one’s heart.

A third mark of a true believer is given in verses 7 and 8. David loved to gather with God’s people in public worship. He wanted to join them in thanking God, he wanted to remind them of the great things that God had done. His affections were for the gathering of the saints because he knew it was the place where God was honoured. It is impossible for a person to honour God suitably in one’s life if he does not do it primarily in public worship. No amount of private worship can make up for this lack.

David gives a fourth mark in verses 9-12, the mark of prayer. He prays for preservation, protection and pardon. As long as God continues to give him these blessings he knows that he will continue in the spiritual path of honouring the Lord.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Psalm 25:15-22 - Confidence in God

The psalmist, although he is in trying circumstances, expresses great confidence in the Lord. He is aware that his many and cruel enemies (v. 19) have laid a net to catch him. Therefore he turns to the Lord for deliverance. This response is the best one to make whenever we face a difficult situation, although often we fail to make it our initial response and instead try other means of solving the state of affairs.

The trouble was taking its toll on the psalmist as can be seen from the various terms he uses to describe his feelings. He is despondent and miserable, and these negative sentiments are increasing as his troubles enlarge (vv. 16-17). The aspect that concerns him most is that the Lord seems to be inattentive to his needs and inactive as far as rescuing him is concerned. This kind of spiritual difficulty can occur many times in the Christian life, especially when outward providences are uncongenial.

It is in this kind of situation that faith shows itself to have a supernatural origin because it appeals to the God who seems to be absent and expresses confidence in the God who seems to be unwilling to help. Faith also has an element of constancy about it; the psalmist states that his eyes are ever toward the Lord (v. 15). This word picture illustrates that faith itself does not have to be always strong (a glance of the eye towards God is an expression of constancy, although its vision may be blurred by tears of regret or inability to see what God is doing. The direction of our looking is what matters as long as we are looking to God).

Faith in God is not only marked by confidence in God and constancy towards God; a third feature is carefulness about one’s own spiritual state. The psalmist is aware of the possibility that his own sins have brought this trouble on himself, therefore he prays for forgiveness (v. 18). Sometimes there is an element of divine chastisement when things go against us, even when the situation involves troubles caused by others.

A fourth feature of faith in God in times of distress is concern for one’s public witness (vv. 20-21). The psalmist prays that he will enjoy the benefits of living in integrity and uprightness. His concern is that adverse situations could give the impression that serving God does not result in receiving divine blessing. If his fears were realised, then he would be ashamed. His witness to the Lord would be affected. How could he testify that God is good if he does not deliver his servant out of this time of distress? How could he claim that God blesses the righteous if he did not bless the psalmist?

There is also a fifth feature of praying in a time of distress, which is a sense of corporate sensitivity. In verse 21, he prays that the Lord would redeem all of his people out of their distresses. The psalmist is aware that what is happening to him is not unique, that he is experiencing what all the Lord’s people go through from time to time. His experience has taught him the blessing of sensitivity with others and the necessity of supplication for others. This feature is the real evidence that our troubles are being blessed to us.

Wednesday, 10 September 2014

Psalm 25:6-14 - Signs of a good pupil in God's school

In this section of the psalm, David speaks about several ways in which the Lord relates to him. In verses 8, 9 and 12, he says that the Lord is his teacher; in verse 11, he looks to God for forgiveness; in verse 14, he describes the Lord as his friend, the one who shares divine secrets with him.

David points out that the character of the Lord, as a teacher, is always consistent with the instruction that he gives; his character is good and righteous, faithful and merciful. God delights in teaching the sinful about the ways of holiness, of how his grace can enable sinners to walk in them.

The psalmist mentions two qualities that should mark pupils in God’s school: humility (v. 9) and the fear of the Lord (vv. 12 and 14). These qualities are two sides of the same coin, as it were. A humble person has a low view of himself; humility is the opposite of pride, and it is impossible for a proud person, a self-centred person, to fear the Lord. To fear the Lord does not mean to be frightened of him in the sense that we suspect he is against us. Rather it means to worship him for his greatness. Everything about God is great, whether it is his power, his wisdom, his love, his grace, his mercy or his plans. He instructs us about these things and the effect is that we admire him and realise that, in comparison, we are nothing.

To have a humble attitude towards God does not mean that we have a low self-esteem. A proper estimation of ourselves can only be made when we compare ourselves with God, realise our need of him, and discover that he is delighted to help us. This means that a person who is self-sufficient does not have a proper awareness of himself. In fact, such a person is deluded about himself and the life he is living; he may imagine he is getting on well, but in reality he is on the path to destruction. He is not receiving instruction from God about the right way to live.

A person with a true sense of self-worth not only receives instruction from the Lord but also confesses his or her faults to the Lord. When this happens, the penitent person senses once again immediate and free pardon from God, and this gives to that person a great sense of acceptance with God and of value to God. Value is perceived by realising that every penitent believer becomes a close friend of God’s, so close that he reveals to the contrite person the secrets of his heavenly purpose.

Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Psalm 25:1-7 - Teach me your ways

This psalm, in the original language, is written in the form of an acrostic, with each of the verses beginning with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The psalm does not include all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet (two are omitted). It is likely that this feature was used in order to assist the memorisation of the psalm.

Other psalms also have this feature, with the best-known being Psalm 119; it has 22 sections, one for each of the letters of the Hebrew alphabet; each verse in each section begins with its particular letter. This is a reminder that God uses stylistic characteristics to enhance the beauty and rhythm of the various kinds of literature found in the Bible, particularly its poetic books.

In Psalm 25, David first asks God to teach him about the ways of God (vv. 1-7), then describes what it is like to have God as a teacher (vv. 8-15), and then makes an earnest prayer for divine intervention in his life (vv. 16-22).

In the first section, David is concerned that his enemies will gain a victory over him. The possibility is so great, and David is so concerned, that he prays all day about it. It is not a sign of lack of faith to continually bring a matter to God. In fact, we can judge how seriously we regard a matter by how long we are prepared to take it to God. Spending little time with God about a difficulty indicates that we don’t think God can do much about it.

David’s only place of refuge is the Lord. He does not depend on his own wisdom as he looks ahead; instead he asks God to teach and guide him. As he reflects on his situation, he realises that what he needs is mercy. Our need of divine compassion is not limited to the sins that we have committed; it also includes the potential dangers that lurk in the future.

Of course, David can plead his particular relationship with God. The Lord is his Saviour, the one who has delivered many others in the past (v. 6). David does not plead as his main argument his resolve or his dedication to God; instead he uses God’s dedication to him and boldly reminds the Lord of his covenant promise.

It is not clear why David refers to the sins of his youth. Maybe he recalls some rash acts or attitudes that he displayed in a situation instead of bringing the circumstances to God. In any case, he desired that the Lord would so forgive him as to forget about these sins. It can be a good practice to go over our lives often and ask for forgiveness of sins of long ago as well as the sins of recent days. When we do so, we experience a fresh sense of the Lord’s mercy.

Monday, 8 September 2014

Psalm 24 - The King has arrived

It is generally regarded that David wrote this psalm to celebrate the arrival of the ark of the covenant in Jerusalem. The ark had been with the Israelites since their travels through the desert from Egypt to the land of Canaan. Although several hundred years had passed since then, the Israelites had not provided a permanent location for the ark, so we can understand why it would be an occasion of great joyfulness when David was able to locate it on Mount Zion. The significance of the ark was that it was the sign that the holy God was dwelling among his people, despite their sinfulness. On the top of the ark was the mercy-seat, where Israel’s sins were atoned for by the blood of a sacrifice.

In verses 1 and 2, the psalmist celebrates the creation that God has made. Yet he is aware of a problem: there is no-one from this beautiful creation who is able to ascend the hill of the Lord. The only type of person that can do this is a sinless person (vv. 3-6). Should such a person be found, he would receive the blessing of the Lord. He would enter God’s presence in the manner described in verses 7 to 10.

We know the answer to the problem. Jesus, the perfect man, has lived a perfect life and has ascended into the hill of the Lord and has received blessings for us. Verses 7 to 10 are a wonderful picture of his arrival in heaven. As he entered in, he was greeted as the Victor in the greatest battle in history, the battle that he engaged in on the cross when he defeated the powers of darkness and delivered his people from the penalty of sin. He was acknowledged on his arrival as the King of glory, the Sovereign of heaven. He has this title because he is God as well as man.

Apparently, according to Jewish rabbis, this psalm was sung on the first day of the week, which in Old Testament times was the day after the Sabbath. It was on this day (Palm Sunday) that Jesus rode into Jerusalem, and some scholars suggest that he did so at the time the priests in the temple would have been singing the words in verses 9 and 10 about the King of glory entering through the ancient gates of the city. Whether that is the case, we cannot say. But the psalm was fulfilled in a far more wonderful manner when he entered into heaven and sat down on the throne of God. And having done so, he has opened for us a new and living way into God’s presence that no person can close.

Sunday, 7 September 2014

Psalm 23:6 - Goodness and mercy, and then heaven

David in this verse summarises both the Christian life in this world and the celestial life in the next world. Regarding this world, he says that goodness and mercy will follow him all the days of his life. Each person will have different types of days, some very pleasant and some very difficult. In each of them, there will be goodness and mercy provided by the Shepherd.

Goodness can be described as experiencing anticipations of heaven before one gets there. Heaven can be described in many ways and one is that it is permanently full of God’s goodness. As has often been said, grace is glory in the bud. So in this life, God’s sheep can experience foretastes of heaven, his goodness.

On the other hand, believers often have many regrets as they look back. Yet according to this verse, when they look back they can see that God’s mercy has covered all these failures and sins. Each of the sheep can repeat this truth at the moment, and they know that they will be able to say it at all stages in the future.

The picture of heaven as a house reminds us that those who will live there will all belong to the same family. It is interesting that Jesus, the Good Shepherd, used this illustration when he described heaven as his Father’s house (John 14:2), and no doubt the Lord is looking forward to all the rooms in his house becoming full. A house also reminds us that heaven will be home, and home is the place where a family finds all its needs met. David’s description should cause all of his fellow-sheep to look forward to what the heavenly Shepherd has in store for them.

Saturday, 6 September 2014

Psalm 23:4-5 - Divine help in dangerous places

In these verses, David pictures unpleasant experiences that Christians will encounter on their journey to heaven. He likens them to a sheep walking through a dark valley with deadly danger all around, whether from wild animals or landslides. The sight of the Shepherd’s rod and staff, with which he could strike any marauding beast, was a comfort to the sheep as they signalled complete protection. And there in the place of danger or trouble, the Shepherd also provides provision for his sheep. He does not provide in an indifferent manner, rather he gives to them what they need depending on how the journey has affected them. Some will be weak, others will be progressing well. Both kinds need his care, and both receive it from him. So what does he provide?

Primarily, his provision is himself because he is the bread of life and the water of life. Tasting of Jesus is what we need at all times, including difficult situations. We may need forgiveness for our sins, it is there in Christ. We may need reminders of our standing with God, it is there in Christ as our righteousness. We may need assurance of protection because we can see the footprints of our enemies and the noise of their attack, and we require confirmation that we are safe in Christ. It is this rich heavenly provision that enables the sheep to walk through the dangerous valleys of life.

Although the Shepherd provides the meal for his sheep, he also has to prepare the sheep for the meal. This he did by anointing it with oil. There were at least two reasons for this practice. First, the sheep would be tired after journeying through the heat of the day. Second, the sheep’s eyes were often affected by parasites which made it difficult for the sheep to see.

Anointing with oil is a common picture in the Bible of the anointing of the Holy Spirit. What we can see in this verse is the necessity of the Holy Spirit to refresh God’s people who are weary with their journey and whose spiritual vision has been affected by spiritual parasites or sins. Many things can make us weary and our eyes dim: failures in our lives, difficult providences, disappointments, divine chastisement, unanswered prayer. But the Shepherd, whose eyes are never of the sheep as they walk along the path from this world to heaven, is fully aware of what they need.

The experience of the sheep is that its cup runs over. The psalmist refers to his situation as one in which he receives so much from the heavenly Shepherd that he cannot contain what he receives. Grace overflows in his experience. Christ does not give niggardly. A believer in a location that suggests spiritual danger can also be a satisfied soul because of the abundant provision that the Shepherd gladly provides.

Friday, 5 September 2014

Psalm 23:2-3 - Refreshment from God

In the previous verse, David had stated that his Shepherd would always provide for his sheep. Now the psalmist proceeds to illustrate this divine provision, and in verses 2 and 3 he describes the provisions in pleasant experiences (in verses 4 and 5 he will describe God’s provision when in unpleasant situations). The imagery in verses 2 and 3 is one of rest and contentment, and this is not surprising given that the Shepherd is involved intimately with his sheep.

Yet it is obvious that David, before he experienced this restful state, had been in need of restoration. This need may not have been caused by personal sin; instead he may have become tired in a spiritual sense because of being away from the normal means of grace, an experience that David describes in many psalms. Whatever the reason for the need, the comfort is that the Lord knew how to deal with it, when to deal with it, and where to deal with it.

The locations of spiritual refreshment are well-known to us. Each of them is shared by all who trust in the Lord as the Shepherd of their soul. Refreshment is found in the Bible, in church gatherings, in times of fellowship, and in personal communion with the Lord. All of them are exactly suited to meet each of our spiritual needs. These blessings are like green pastures and still waters.

The basic one is the Bible because it must govern the others. Church activities, times of fellowship and personal communion must focus on what the Bible teaches, requires and promises. When we participate in them in such a manner we will find that each of them is a source of spiritual revitalisation.

It is important to remember that whenever we engage in such activities we will find ourselves very near to the Good Shepherd. They are the ways by which we will meet with him and experience his spiritual refreshment. He is never far away from the locations that he has provided for the rest and renewing of their souls.

Thursday, 4 September 2014

Psalm 23:1 - I shall not want

The psalmist makes a great deduction from the fact that the Lord is a shepherd – since God will always look after him, it means that he will never lack whatever he needs. This is a remarkable statement because the psalmist knew that life was full of unpredictable situations, and in many of them human help would not be possible.

Yet there are lucid reasons why the psalmist was correct in making this strong assertion. First, his statement shows that he recognised the faithfulness of God. The Lord had made a commitment to David to provide for his needs, and the psalmist was convinced that God would always provide. After all, faithfulness is always 100%. If a person makes a promise, and keeps it most of the time, he is not faithful. He is not as bad as a person who never keeps it, yet he too has failed to keep it. God never fails to keep any aspect of his commitment to his people.

Second, the psalmist realised that the future was in God’s hands. David had no idea what was ahead of him in life. His biography records many dangerous situations, and like us, if he had been told about them beforehand, he would have become desperate. It is better to know that God takes care of the future than to know what the future actually will be. The persistent attempts of people to discover the future, such as using silly horoscopes, is actually an expression of disbelief in God. It is sufficient to know that he knows the future.

Third, we should not interpret David’s words to mean that he would never face difficult situations and encounter many problems. Instead his words mean that, whatever his situation, the Lord had the appropriate grace to deal with it. There would be times in David’s life when he would need forgiveness and he was sure that God would give it because of his mercy; there would be times when David would need protection, and he was certain that God could provide it because of his power; there would be times when David would need guidance, and he was certain God would grant it because of his wisdom. We can extend that list endlessly.

In the psalm, David will describe some situations in which he would receive divine help. But he knew that God would provide for all the needs of those who trust in him, whatever their circumstances (Phil. 4:19).

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Psalm 23:1 - The Lord is my Shepherd

Although the psalm is known as the Shepherd Psalm, it is possible that there are three separate images used in it: the sheep and the heavenly Shepherd (vv. 1-2); the traveller and his heavenly Companion (vv. 3-4); the guest and his heavenly Host (vv. 5-6). Others divide the psalm in two halves: the first half describes the Lord in the third person and the second half uses the second person to address God. These suggestions are interesting, although it is the case that the first image, that of a sheep and its Shepherd, can be seen in the whole psalm.

While no-one knows when David wrote the psalm, it is clear he is using his own experience as a shepherd to depict the ways in which the Lord took care of him. Many assume that he wrote the psalm as a young shepherd boy, but it is far more likely that he wrote it as a mature believer who had experienced many times the Lord’s provision, protection and restoration.

It is impossible to decide which is the most important word in the first clause (The LORD is my shepherd). The name LORD (sometimes transliterated as Jehovah or Yahweh) that David uses of God highlights his endless existence, his covenant faithfulness, and his redeeming actions. It was the name by which he was known in Israel because of his unique relationship with them as his people.

David is aware of a personal relationship with this God and in the rest of the psalm he will mention some aspects of that bond. What is important to note is that this relationship existed. How was it brought about? The answer to that question is that it began when David trusted in the Lord, and continued as he believed God's promises and obeyed his commandments. David began this life of faith when he was a young person, probably in his early teenage years.

The concept of a shepherd reminds us that God ensured that David was taken care of. Throughout his life, David’s needs had been met by God many times. This is why David, at the moment he wrote the psalm, was able to use the present tense and say that the Lord is his shepherd. Of course, because the Lord is faithful to his own promises, David could use the present tense at any stage of his spiritual journey. This is what it means to be in a covenant relationship with the Lord – to experience day by day his shepherd care. Our response should always be one of gratitude to him for his ongoing supply of sufficient grace.

Tuesday, 2 September 2014

The Reward (Psalm 22:22-31)

The outlook of the Sufferer changes in the middle of verse 21. He declares that his prayers have been heard and he has been delivered from great and malicious enemies. The great distress is over and Calvary, which had been so dark for Jesus, now becomes the brightest place possible. He is only a few minutes away from death, yet in his mind he considers his future.

In verse 22 Jesus anticipates his activities once he has been resurrected from the grave and after he returns to heaven. He knows that he will have two pleasures: first, he will explain the Father’s character and purposes to his people; second, he will join with his people and lead the praise of the heavenly assembly. It is striking to note that the thoughts of Jesus were focused on the future work he would do for the ones whose penalty he had paid on the cross. (This verse is quoted in Hebrews 2 as applying to Jesus and his people.)

In verses 23 and 24 Jesus addresses his people and urges them to worship the Father because of the way he answered the prayers of Jesus on the cross. Although God had been silent to his Son, he did not despise what his Son was doing, and eventually, once the suffering was complete, he turned his face towards Jesus and conscious fellowship was restored.

In verse 25a Jesus speaks to the Father, stating that he will yet praise him in heaven. 25b seems to be spoken to himself, a personal resolve to praise God before his people. It was customary in Old Testament times for a believer, when in trouble, to make a vow in which he promised to praise God publicly if he would deliver the believer out of the trouble. In heaven the people of God are going to observe Jesus keeping his vow to praise God for the deliverance at Calvary.

Verses 26 to 30 detail various features of the triumph of the gospel once Christ has ascended. His kingdom will eventually include people from all the nations. It will also include people from different social levels (the fat in verse 29 are the wealthy). None of them will be self-sufficient (v. 29) and none of them will be disappointed with Jesus (v. 26). Although they will live in different periods of history, they will form one seed (v. 30). The way that his kingdom will grow is by word of mouth (v. 31) as the gospel is declared down the generations. His kingdom will never be destroyed.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Gentiles at the cross (Psalm 22:16-21)

In verses 16-18 of Psalm 22 the Saviour describes the activities of the Gentile soldiers as they crucified him. They are described as a pack of fierce dogs attacking a gentle hind. In their cruelty they pierced his hands and feet. This is a remarkable prediction, given that crucifixion was not known when David composed the psalm. It was a most painful form of death and was in addition to the laceration of his flesh, the result of being lashed by whips, that he describes in the words, ‘I can see all my bones.’

Yet the Saviour had other pain in addition to intense physical agony. Jesus also had emotional pain due to his holy sensitivity. He observed the mocking response of these soldiers as they stripped him of his clothes and hung him naked for all to see. Is it not amazing, then, that his response to their actions was to pray for them? ‘Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.’

Verse 18, detailing the gambling by the soldiers for his clothes, is another prediction that was fulfilled exactly. Although indifferent to the torment they were causing, before the day was out, they would confess that their suffering victim was the Son of God (Matt. 27:54).

In verse 19, the Saviour, conscious of his weakness, calls out for a sense of the presence of God. He sees a much stronger foe than the Jews or the Gentile soldiers approaching. This enemy is described as a dog (v. 20) because he is unclean and as a lion (v. 21) because he is powerful. The devil was active at Calvary, attempting to crush the crucified Christ in his soul. I suspect the devil’s main weapon was temptation to sin, and he assailed the soul of Christ with all kinds of temptations, attempting to cause confusion in his mind, with the aim of getting him to deny God. The Saviour’s response was to pray for divine strength.

It may be also that the psalm mentions another attacker that Jesus had to endure. In verse 20, he refers to a sword piercing his soul. The sword may be a picture of the probing nature of the devil’s assaults or it could refer to the sword of divine justice that Zechariah describes (Zech. 13:7).

We are accustomed to watching on TV weapons of war and assaults on people. Let’s take a seat at the foot of the cross and observe at close quarters the most important battle that was ever fought.