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God’s Son Has Been There, Done That: Psalm 17

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How constantly grateful I am to know as certainty that Jesus God’s Son–and through him, God Almighty–has been here and experienced everything we as humans experience, in person, himself. He knows all our trials and tribulations, our triumphs and joys.

I lived most of my life in that exact part of the US where the recent mass gun slaughter occurred in what was considered by all a “safe place.” The very next day, while grief and shock were still stabbing hearts, vicious and ferocious fires broke out. My heart and mind have been with dear friends and family in that area all this past week. In the gun slaying and fires we see both evil and love at work.

When people kill other people because of hatred based upon their appearance or beliefs of any kind, that is evil. “Judge not,” the Bible teaches, “so that you will not be judged (condemned.)” Humankind’s first sin was siding with God’s enemy. The second sin was brother killing brother. All humans are brother/sister one with another. We are not to kill our brothers and sisters because we do not like them or because we disagree with them.

God knows the evil in the human heart. He’s always known everything that lies in our collective hearts. Yet he chooses to love us anyway, laying his own life as incarnated human on the line. God knows firsthand the effects of evil. Apart from whether or not you believe in Christ as the Son of God, the facts of his life as recorded in the Book show him as a good and loving man, someone who went around doing only good for others. His enemies killed him mainly out of jealousy. It’s not about race. It’s about what lies in every human heart.

God also knows firsthand what it is to love others. He loved others in Jesus his Son, when he sent him to us in the first place. Jesus voluntarily lay his life down for all humanity. He died a painful death, the innocent for the undeserving.

In the gun slaying, we saw a police officer who lay his life down for strangers. In the recent fires, and in every fire, we see firemen and other public servants laying their own lives down for people they haven’t met; they do this because these are human beings. Firefighters sometimes die. They know the dangers before they go out, yet they go out anyway. A huge thank you to all of these. “John 15:13 “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends.” (NKJ) 

In this post, post-modern world we live in, it is time to get back to calling evil, evil. It is wrong to kill another human being out of jealousy or hatred for who they are or what they represent. Both vengeance and judgment belong to God alone.

In Psalm 17, the psalmist, whom I read as the prophetic voice of the incarnated God–by that I mean Jesus–this psalmist cries out to God for help from his enemies, who are extremely powerful and who have marked him for death. The fact of history is that Jesus did die. We might say, “He died anyway, even though he prayed for God’s help.” The other fact of history is that he rose from the dead. Notice Jesus’ faith in his resurrection in verse 15–

And I–in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (NIV)

One of the very best things about believing in Jesus as God’s anointed, his Son, is that his resurrection from death into life produces a resurrection from death into life for all who believe. Often we pray for a trial to go away or to not happen in the first place. Often it happens anyway–God alone knows why. Bottom line, there is a resurrection into life eternal. This life will end, and eternal life in Christ will last forever. God’s love has triumphed over all the evil this world and its people can possibly throw at us. Blessed are those who choose the side of love.

Psalm 17:1 A prayer of David. Hear, O LORD, my righteous plea; listen to my cry. Give ear to my prayer–it does not rise from deceitful lips.

2 May my vindication come from you; may your eyes see what is right.

3 Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin.

4 As for the deeds of men–by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent.

5 My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.

6 I call on you, O God, for you will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.

7 Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings

9 from the wicked who assail me, from my mortal enemies who surround me.

10 They close up their callous hearts, and their mouths speak with arrogance.

11 They have tracked me down, they now surround me, with eyes alert, to throw me to the ground.

12 They are like a lion hungry for prey, like a great lion crouching in cover.

13 Rise up, O LORD, confront them, bring them down; rescue me from the wicked by your sword.

14 O LORD, by your hand save me from such men, from men of this world whose reward is in this life. You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.

15 And I–in righteousness I shall see your face; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with seeing your likeness. (NIV, 1984)

 

 

 

Psalm 18: Original Paraphrase–Papa Roars and Rescues

Drama from the Past

* God the Son endangered, the ropes of death ensnared him, squeezed his breath away. A tsunami of destruction crashed upon his head. He couldn’t breathe. Hell’s net pulled him tighter, under. Death held its vise-like grip. There was no way for him to escape. In gasping anguish he cried out loud; he called to his Father for help.

“Papa! Help me! Save me! Death must not win forever!”

God in his holy temple heard his Son’s voice; the pleading cry of desperation reached the Father’s ear. Though his Son lay buried, three days in the grave, Almighty Papa roared and pierced the sky to save.

The earth reeled and rocked; foundations of mountains trembled. The royal Papa’s anger shook, an earth-quaking gush of love. Smoke rose from his nostrils; devouring fire consumed, glowing coals of flame no dragon ever produced.

God bowed the heavens descending, thick darkness under his feet. He rode a cherub and flew swiftly on wings of wind. Almighty Papa in darkness cloaked, a canopy surrounds him. Thick clouds dark with water cover his form from view. Bursting through this darkness, his brightness once concealed, with flashes of fire and brimstone, his golden light breaks through. He thunders in the heavens, blasting out his voice, hailstones and coals announcing–Papa on the move.

Scattering forth his arrows, flashing out his lightnings, God routed the enemy, death…(and here the Son breaks in…)

“The channels of the sea you exposed, the foundations of the world laid bare. You rebuked them, O Lord, my Father, when your nostrils blasted your breath.”

“Did you see all this, my people? Were you watching? Did you see? When he came from on high and took me and pulled me from the waves? He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated and surrounded. They were too mighty for me, confronting, that one single day. But he, the LORD my Papa came through. To this broad place he brought me. He heard my cry and rescued, because he delights in me.”

*This poem draws heavily from the English Standard Version of Psalm 18:4-19

 

 

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Life as Paradox: Psalm 13

Photo by James Discombe on Unsplash

 

Good and evil, life and death, pleasure and pain are a paradox as old as human history. Why are these opposites so intertwined, even in the fabric of existence itself? The Bible answers this question for those who will receive: God created good, while his enemy brought evil.

Psalm 13 reveals the heart cries of God’s Son incarnate [1], even as he falls victim to the inescapable paradox of humanity. It is a short psalm. Verses 1-4 present the bad and ugly of his seeming abandonment by God, while verses 5-6 present the equally real blessings of God’s faithful love.

1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David. How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
3 Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
4 lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
5 But I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
6 I will sing to the LORD, because he has dealt bountifully with me.
(Psalm 13, ESV)

The life, death, resurrection, ascension, and reign of Christ perfectly exemplify the human paradox. Psalm 13 prophetically expresses the complete humanity of Jesus Christ, God’s anointed, as he lives and dies through this paradox. God the Father could never know experientially what  Christ knew. It was necessary for him to send his Son in human flesh, living through the basic paradox all humans experience, so that he could perfectly represent them before God’s throne of grace. Jesus lived and died in suffering. He rose, ascended, and reigns in blessed triumph. What he did, all humanity can now do through him. Truly his sufferings lead us to life [2].

 

[1] These posts on Psalms presuppose that they are written about Christ and express his feelings and prayers during the time of his incarnation. For more information on this theme, consult this author’s Annotated Bibliography, https://onesmallvoice.net/2018/03/22/psalms-2-annotated-bibliography/. See also this author’s former series, Christ in the Psalms,  https://onesmallvoice.net/2018/01/19/psalms-contents-second-go-round/.

[2] Other psalms written in the same pattern as Psalm 13 include Psalms 43, 73, and 143. Each of these displays the human paradox of pain and blessing combined.

Psalm 52: Good vs Evil Defined

 

Have you ever been stabbed in the back? Betrayed? Ratted on? The psalmist in 52 just has. This is his response.

Typical to Psalms, there are two groups of people in this one: the good and the evil. Within the framework of Psalms, who is good and who is evil? In Psalms God judges according to the intent of the heart. God is good; someone who follows God and wants to please him is good. A good person wants good for other people; he or she does not initiate harm. A wicked person, by contrast, hates God and opposes him in all he speaks, thinks, and does. A wicked person in Psalms plots and carries out harm toward others, especially toward the followers of God. (Just as the bad guys do in your favorite adventure movie, right?)

This principle is so important I want to repeat it. In Psalms, people are not judged as good or wicked according to whether or not they commit certain sins, but according to their allegiance. Everyone who pledges allegiance to God is called good, and everyone who pledges allegiance against God is called wicked. Enemies of God, those who willfully oppose him and oppose his principles, are wicked. Friends of God are good. Psalms paints people black or white. Unfortunately for us, there are no gray zones with God. His vision is sharp and clear–not fuzzy like ours. God knows who his friends are and who his enemies are, just as a shepherd knows which sheep are his and which are not.

Psalms are real life. Just as in our own experience, some people in Psalms pretend to be on God’s side by pretending to be on the side of God’s friends. But they lie. In their hearts, they are false friends who speak falsely and lead others down a wrong path. Often the deceit of these people is found out; they are discovered, and their duplicity becomes apparent by their actions that seek to harm someone who is good. Psalm 55:12-14 gives an example of this kind of person. A good person in Psalms always tells the truth, even when that truth means confessing his own sin. Psalm 51:1-17 is an example of a good person confessing his sin to God. Remember, a good person is someone who wants to please God. Good people do not become wicked people by sinning, but by betraying God. To betray God is to fully and finally join the enemy’s team. God is always kind and gracious to forgive everyone who asks him with a true heart. By the standard of Psalms, a good person may sin perpetually, but he or she also always wants to do better and to please God. Wicked people never truly want to please God; they hate him.

So with that as background, what about Psalm 52?

Though not necessary, a bit of history may help to understand this psalm. The superscription of verse 1 reads, “To the choirmaster. A Maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”

David, the servant of Saul the King, was running for his life from Saul, who had gone mad and wanted to kill him. Doeg was Saul’s chief shepherd (1 Samuel 21:7). David most likely knew Doeg, since David was also a shepherd. Ahimelech was an innocent priest who was unaware of the full situation between David and Saul. When David in his flight from Saul asked for food and a weapon, Ahimelech provided these, because he believed David’s lie that he  was on a secret mission for the king. Doeg happened to see David at the priest’s tabernacle that day, and reported to Saul. Saul, not in his right mind, ordered his servants to kill Ahimelech and his whole household. When they refused, out of respect for the priesthood and knowing that Ahimelech had done no wrong, Saul ordered Doeg to do so. Doeg gladly slaughtered 85 innocent, unarmed priests, plus women, children, nursing infants, oxen, donkey, and sheep–all that lived in the nearby town of Nob, a city of priests. Patrick Reardon writes at length concerning Psalm 52 that Doeg was worse than Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Jesus Christ. (Reardon, 101-102)

If Psalms were a play and I was the director, I would have the sole character in this scene pacing back and forth in barely contained fury and anxiety in order to reflect the back and forth movement between the poles of good and evil in the psalm. The psalmist is clearly angry when he speaks these words,

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The steadfast love of God endures all the day. 2 Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. 3 You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah 4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. (Psalm 52:1-5 ESV)

Notice in verse 1 the contrast between the evil man and the good God, whose “steadfast love…endures all the day.” Then again, after the diatribe against the wicked, the psalmist switches back to consider the fate of the good people in verse 6 which continues, “The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying … ” Verse 7 takes us back to the fate of the wicked, as spoken by the righteous of verse 6, “See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” Then the psalmist considers his own situation in verse 8, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”

Finally, the psalmist quits his pacing back and forth and settles his vision fully on God, where it fixedly remains as he speaks the final verse directly to God, “I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.” (Psalm 52:9 ESV)

Prayer is like Psalm 52. In the spiritual battle of prayer, the human heart is torn between consideration of the painfully dangerous situation at hand and faith in the steadfast love of God that endures forever and works its goodness forever in perfect reflection of the eternal goodness of God. In prayer, our hearts and minds pace back and forth between the poles of the power of what is bad and the greater power of God, who is good. May we always, as the psalmist does, align our hearts fully and fixedly on the goodness of God, whose power and judgment win out in the end.

__________

Addendum

Psalm 52 is a highly passionate psalm, yet we don’t want to leave it without considering the technical aspect of how speech functions within its nine verses.

There is one actor throughout the psalm. Nevertheless, he speaks in more than one voice and variously addresses more than one audience.

  1. In verses 1-3, the sole actor speaks his words directly to the “mighty man.” He describes this evil man’s words, his tongue, and his heart. There is a pause at the end of this block, written as “Selah.”
  2. In verses 4-5 the same actor addresses the wicked man’s tongue, “4 You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. 5 But God will break you down forever; he will snatch and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living.” In verse 5, although the psalmist still appears to be addressing the tongue, it seems apparent that the tongue is a metaphor for the man as a whole. The technical words for this figure of speech are synechdoche (part for the whole) and personification (assigning personality to an object). A second Selah pause ends the address to the tongue.
  3. In verses 6-7, the addressee is not specified. The psalmist appears to be talking to the air, to himself, or perhaps to an invisible audience placed somewhere beyond the bounds of history and viewing its final outcomes, “The righteous shall see and fear, and shall laugh at him, saying…”
  4. In verse 7, the same actor quotes the words of the righteous, but again, the addressee to whom the righteous speak are not specified. The righteous do seem to be in a position of being able to know and see final outcomes.
  5. In verse 8, the psalmist appears to be speaking to himself, “But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.”
  6. Finally, in verse 9, the psalmist addresses God directly, using the second person, “you,” “I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly. (ESV)

Why is this important?

Today’s readers can appreciate the content and passion of Psalm 52 without thinking much about the dialogue within it. Noticing the changes in speech and addressees, however, prepares the reader to encounter other psalms in which such changes clarify meanings of content that may be more obscure. Examples of such psalms are Psalm 110 and Psalm 118.

 

 

 

Biblically Sanctioned Violence? Psalm 137

Photo by Felix Weinitschke on Unsplash

 

Well, folks, here it is.

Psalm 137:7 Remember, O LORD, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down,” they cried, “tear it down to its foundations!”

8 O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us–

9 he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks. (NIB)

Yuk! Did you read that? And it’s right there in the middle of the Bible.

People deal with seemingly sanctioned biblical violence in different ways. Here are just a few.

  1. Skim over and ignore.
  2. This was a very long time ago in a different culture. At that time, the cultural norm was different than today. Things are changed now.
  3. God is sovereign. He judges whom and how he pleases.
  4. They were given their chance to repent.
  5. They earned it.
  6. The psalmist doesn’t represent the heart of God here.

Can you spot the common thread in all of the above responses? There’s one thing they all have in common. Waiting…waiting…Ok time’s up. All the above responses are defensive. If you are reading this, then most likely you are the sort of person who would try to defend, gloss over, or somehow explain away the presence in Scripture of this offensively violent vengeance. It does offend us. There’s no getting around that response. Believers feel they must explain and defend God for including these words right in the middle of the Bible. How uncomfortable. What a great spot for critics and skeptics to attack Christians, and they do. Because, in fact, these words challenge us in our gut.

So here’s my take on this at this point in my life: We read it because it’s here.

When I was still young in the Lord, but growing, I worshiped with a small congregation. The format of the services included songs, Scripture reading, and communion. Each of these was congregationally led. Some used to call it Spirit led. That is, there was no preplanned program for the day. There were no predetermined songs, readings, or specified time for communion. Someone would lead out and others would join in or listen as appropriate.

I used to enjoy reading from Scripture at these services. Psalms were often read by myself and others. Over time, I noticed that whenever I selected a psalm to read, I tended to select only portions of psalms. Many if not most of the psalms have a sentence or two of judgment and/or punishment concerning the “wicked” in them. Because I felt that our Sunday worship services were meant to be joyful, I only read the happy verses in Psalms. Eventually, the burden became too great. My own censorship piled up to an enormous height, so large that I could no longer bear it. The result was that in my personal devotions, I began reading all of Scripture. I quit censoring. I quit cutting out large segments because I could not deal with them.

My discovery? That God is a God of judgment. And not just in the Old Testament. Not just in the “old days” before Christ came. It’s often quoted that Jesus talked about hell more than anyone else in all of Scripture. “There men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” That’s the phrase that kept gnawing at my heart so miserably before I converted to Christ. It dug into me and ate my insides out like a worm. I hated that phrase. As an unbeliever in great need, I used to open my Bible as a desperate, frightened beggar lost in life. I hoped I would find comfort, but instead I repeatedly found, “There men shall weep and gnash their teeth.” And I would slam my Bible shut.

Eventually, my need for help won out, and I turned to the God of the Old Testament, confessing my need and total ignorance of him. Interesting…he didn’t meet me with condemnation. He met me with love, a strong love that continues to this day.

So what do we as believers in Jesus do with Psalm 137:7-9 and similar statements sprinkled like salt throughout Psalms? We read them and admit that they are there and that God intends those words to be there and that he hasn’t changed his mind, because God never changes.

Several decades ago, I realized that the God of creation is the same God who loves me. What a privilege and blessing that is! Think by name of all the evil dictators in the whole world over all time. God could have been like one of those. But he isn’t. When I think of God, I see his Son hanging on a cross to save the world. “If you have seen me,” Jesus said, “you have seen the Father.” I believe that God is both a God of judgment and a God of love. Fortunately for us, the love won out. But what good does that love do you if you don’t know about it and haven’t received?

If you remove heat, you have cold. If you remove light, you have darkness. If you remove love, you have pain. If you remove mercy, you have judgment. So turn towards the heat, turn towards the light, turn towards love, and turn towards mercy. In short, turn towards God. He loves you.

 

Love Letter from the Cross: Psalm 42

Photo by Phil Botha on Unsplash

Psalm 42 is a remarkable love letter from the Son to the Father. The Son used to have an eternal existence in heaven face to face with his Father (John 1:1-3). But now, by his Father’s will, he has come to earth as a human being to open a pathway for humans back to the throne of God, their creator who loves them.

God the Son had many enemies on earth. The loudest of these were those who claimed for themselves the position of God’s favorites. They weren’t. They studied God’s books of law and interpreted them according to the standards of their own wicked hearts. They completely missed God’s love for his people. These self-styled favorites lorded it over others and condemned everyone who didn’t worship God exactly as they themselves did. They were blind to the fact that they worshiped themselves, not God, and what they really wanted was to be at the very top of the heap. Far from respecting them, even with outward deference, Jesus called out their hypocrisy. He loved his Father with a true and passionate heart, and he loved his Father’s people. He condemned the false religious favorites, and for this cause, they wanted to kill him. And finally, they did kill him.

Psalm 42 records the heart cries of the Son to his Father during the period when he was being tried and executed by the false religious leaders. His death was very painful, because in those days, the Romans, who performed the actual execution, nailed convicted criminals to a wooden cross and let them suffocate for as long as it took. These are the Son’s words of trust and love to his Father during this horrendous event. Other psalms record Jesus’ thoughts, most notably Psalm 22.

The plot line of Poem 42 runs like this, “Father God, I am all alone here. Where are you? You’ve been hiding yourself for a long while. They’re killing me, and everyone has noticed that you’re not here. This discourages my soul so much. But my soul’s response doesn’t make sense to me, because I know you will rescue me. I know that eventually I will pass through this situation and come to a place where I will be thanking and praising you again. So come on, Soul. Perk up and hope in God. He is my help and my God.”

Here is the poem:

NIB Psalm 42:1 For the director of music. A maskil of the Sons of Korah. As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?
3 My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
4 These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng.
5, 6 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon–from Mount Mizar.
7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.
8 By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song is with me–a prayer to the God of my life.
9 I say to God my Rock, “Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?”
10 My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?”
11 Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.
(Psalm 42:1-11 NIV, 1984)

Parallels with Other Scripture, Indicating that Psalm 42 Is a Prophetic Reference to Christ on the Cross

1.    Psalm 42:10 My bones suffer mortal agony… (NIV)

Psalm 22:14 I am poured out like water, and all my bones are out of joint… (NIV)

Psalm 22:17 All my bones are on display; (NIV)

2.    Psalm 42:10foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, “Where is your God?” (NIV)

Psalm 22:7 All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the LORD,” they say, “let the LORD rescue him. Let him deliver him, since he delights in him.” 
(NIV)

Matthew 27:42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the king of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” 44 In the same way the rebels who were crucified with him also heaped insults on him. (NIV)

3.    Psalm 42:7 Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me.

Jonah 2:2 He said: “… From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help, and you listened to my cry.
3 You hurled me into the depths, into the very heart of the seas, and the currents swirled about me; all your waves and breakers swept over me. (NIV)

Psalm 42:1 As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. 2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? (NIV) [Also, the entire psalm is a heart cry of a prayer to God]

Jonah 2:4 I said, ‘I have been banished from your sight; yet I will look again toward your holy temple.’ (NIV)

Jonah 2:7 “When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, LORD, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple. (NIV)

Matthew 12:40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. (NIV)

Final Words

I have been so very blessed to see the heart of the Son’s love for the Father in this psalm, and to see the heart of the Father’s love for his Son in so many other psalms. The love between Father and Son is extended to us, the recipients of the marvelous gift of redemption, a gift that cost the Son so much pain. If you can, ask God to help you soak in the deep richness of Psalm 42, this marvelous love letter from Christ to his God.

Psalm 89: History to the Foot of the Cross

Abstract

When as readers we consistently keep Christ in view and use the key of the gospel message which he himself provided to his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:25-27, 44-47), much of the Psalter prophetically accommodates the apostolic kerygma (gospel message). In Psalm 88, Christ the Messiah, in his form as a human being (Philippians 2:8), prophetically laments his condition as he approaches the grave and then descends into it. Psalm 89 gives us another view of Christ’s persecuted life during his incarnation, with the difference that it stops short of his Passion week. Before we hear the psalmist’s lament, however, the reader is given a brief review in broad, comprehensive strokes of the biblical history of creation and the Davidic Covenant. (Link to text of Psalm 89: Link)

Psalm 89 Is Like Readers’ Theater 

Dialogue is notably present in Psalm 89. Speech as a tool creates dramatic immediacy and truthfulness within the psalm. The quotations themselves unite Scripture into an organic whole, as one portion cites other portions. Speech causes the readers or listeners to recall the real history of Israel as God’s holy people.

One of the first tasks for the reader, then, is to recognize that speech occurs. The fancy word for this reading technique is prosopological exegesis (Matthew W. Bates, The Hermeneutics of the Apostolic Proclamation, 183f). Our task in Psalm 89 is made easier by the use within the text of quotation marks and identifying speech markers, such as, “I said, …” (v 2) and, “You have said, …” (v 3). Additionally, the text supplies a liberal use of second person speech labels, as commonly used in direct address: “you” (e.g., vv 8, 9, and 10) and “your” (e.g., vv 4, 14, 15). Finally, the use of first person singular in verses 1 and 50, intertwined with direct address (you) to God, provides a strong clue to the reader that dialogue is present. The reader can easily envision Psalm 89 being performed or read upon a dramatic stage, perhaps as a reader’s theater.

Where is the Speech and Who Are the Speakers?

The psalmist (the narrative speaker of the psalm, not the author) makes reference to himself as “I” in verse 1 and again in verse 50. As is usual in the Psalter, the first person psalmist does not identify himself. One of the first person speakers is God, as the entire context declares. Therefore, our task is to identify the voice represented by the other speaker, the first person psalmist. No universal agreement exists. If there were, there would be no need for me to write. Context, however, including the previously mentioned apostolic kerygma,  provides sufficient clues for the reader to confidently assume that the speaker is the Anointed One.

  1. God as the reported speaker in verses 3-4 states the Davidic Covenant as it applies to Messiah. Verses 19-37 expand the terms of that covenant (see 2 Samuel 7:1-17). Details of this expansion, as in the original, indicate that the covenant extends beyond David himself and refer to God’s chosen Messiah, or Anointed (see vv 25-37, especially verses 27, 29, and 36).
  2. The gospel message, or apostolic kerygma, proclaims Jesus of Nazareth to be Christ, God’s Messiah.
  3. Verses 50 and 51 (“Remember, O Lord, how your servants are mocked, and how I bear in my heart the insults of all the many nations, 5with which your enemies mock, O Lord, with which they mock the footsteps of your anointed,“) in context of the larger unit unite the first person speaker and the referenced Messiah. The calamities described in verses 38-51 have befallen the Anointed One with whom God made the covenant, and by the use of first person singular in verse 50, the psalmist claims those calamities as his own.

The Four Sections of the Psalm

Psalm 89 tells the interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contractions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord. (I am indebted to Patrick Reardon for his observation of the sections in Psalm 89. While he identifies three sections, I find it more convenient to locate and describe four. See Reardon, 175.)

The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many, if not most, believers do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.

Section 1 

Creation: Verses 2, 5-18. God created all things, and his power is supreme, even over Rahab (Job 9:3).  Righteousness and justice are the foundation of God’s throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)

Section 2

God’s Promise to Israel and Messiah: Verses 3-4, 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. Verses 15-18 provide the transition from the first section to the second. God’s people know and understand God’s nature as expressed in creation, and they are blessed because they walk in accordance with his nature.

In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.

Section 3

Enter Messiah. Enter Discord. Is Something Wrong? This Reality Doesn’t Match Up with the Promise. Description of the Discord: Verses 38-51

Verses 38-51 describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with the following statements:

38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
40 You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins.
41 All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
43 You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not made him stand in battle.
44 You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground.
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah

Section 4

Messiah’s Prayer of Appeal (vv 46-51)

As we read Messiah’s prayerful protest to God, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had this psalm in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)

Summary and Conclusion

Psalm 89 concludes, as many psalms do, with a final word of blessing for the Lord. Here the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that his people worship and adore him.

Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, as mentioned above, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?

 

 

 

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Psalm 89: Short Devotional

Psalm 89 tells an interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contradictions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord.

The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation of suffering do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many believers, if not most, do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.

In the first section concerning creation, verses 2 and 5-18, we see that God created all things, and his power is supreme. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)

The second section describes God’s promises to Israel through Messiah from verses 3-4 and 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. God’s people know and understand God’s nature and are blessed because they walk in it. In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.

Section three, verses 38-51, describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with statements such as:

38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
… … … … … 
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
… … … … …
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah

Using our reader’s hindsight and what we know of the gospel message about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we can recognize that the words of prophecy in Psalm 89 describe well Messiah’s actual life during his incarnation.

Section 4 records Messiah’s prayerful protest to God. As we read these words, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had Psalm 89 in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)

Finally, the last verse concludes the psalm with a word of blessing for the Lord. In this, the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that we worship and adore him.

Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?

 

 

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The Holy Spirit in the Reader

 

One of the functions of the Holy Spirit is to reveal Christ within the heart of every believer (See footnote). One of the ways he does this is through Scripture. When a believer in Christ prayerfully asks the Holy Spirit to open (explain, interpret, enlighten) a passage to the understanding of his heart, he will do so. In Jesus’ own words, “What father among you, if his son asks for a fish, will instead of a fish give him a serpent; 12 or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:11-13 ESV)

Photo by Josh Applegate

How does the Holy Spirit do this? Much in the same way as Jesus himself did when he walked with the two disciples on their way to Emmaus and later when he met with all the disciples in the upper room after his resurrection. He expounded the Scripture to them, giving them the key of himself as the all-pervasive subject of all of them.

Luke 24:27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (ESV)

Luke 24:44-49 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”  45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,  46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,  47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.  48 You are witnesses of these things.  49 And behold, I am sending the promise of my Father upon you. But stay in the city until you are clothed with power from on high.” (ESV)

Every believer in Christ—as one example, the woman at the well—has a story, or testimony, to tell about the living Lord Christ. So it is, that every believer in Christ is a witness to his resurrection. All believers in Christ are witnesses to his resurrection because they perceive him alive and well, living in their own heart. Therefore, because believers are his witnesses, Christ wants to prepare them in all ways to live well, to grow well, and to tell others about him—well! This preparation includes opening Scripture to their understanding, so that by its pure milk (1 Peter 2:2) and solid food (Hebrews 5:14) all believers may grow in maturity and become full partakers within the body of Christ, which is made up of other believers. The Holy Spirit alone can make this growth happen, and he alone is the one who opens Scripture in a living, personal way inside each believer’s heart and mind. Scripture becomes the food that feeds a Christian’s growth (Deuteronomy 8:3; Luke 4:4).

Additionally, God desires fellowship with people (1 Corinthians 1:9; 2 Corinthians 13:13; 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John 1:3). When God created humankind in his own image, he did so for the purpose of having fellowship with them. A major purpose of the cross of Christ is the restoration of fellowship, or communal friendship, between God and man.

Here are some biblical examples to illustrate friendship between God and humans.

1) In Genesis 3:8-9, we read of God walking in the garden home of the first two human beings, Adam and Eve, talking with them. When Adam and Eve chose to follow the serpent rather than God, they were expelled from the garden of fellowship with God, and their spirits died to God.

2) In Isaiah 41:8, God calls Abraham, “my friend.” Jesus says to his disciples in John 15:15, “I have called you friends.”

3) Jesus’ name Immanuel means, “God with us” (Matthew 1:23).

4) In John 4, when Jesus sat down and asked the woman at the well for a drink, he was asking for more than a bit of physical water. He was asking her for fellowship (think of having a cup of coffee and conversation with a friend in your favorite coffee shop.) And as a follow up to fellowship with just this woman, he spent two days in her town, meeting and talking with, eating and spending the night with her friends, the people of that Samaritan town.

5) Christ’s atoning death on the cross, resurrection, and ascension opened the gate into God’s very presence once more for every believer in Christ (Hebrews 4:16; 1 Corinthians 3:16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? 17 If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.)

One of the best places to experience the fellowship, friendship, favor, love, grace, and self-sacrifice of God is to spend time with him in Scripture, to “hang out” with him there. And one of the very best biblical places to do this is in Psalms, given that the Holy Spirit opens the eyes of your spiritual understanding to see the Lord Jesus Christ revealed in them in both the fullness of his humanity and in the fullness of his deity.

The psalms are the human prayers of Christ prophetically prayed to God his Father during his incarnation on earth. He prayed them thus prophetically through the Spirit-filled mouths of the psalmists and during his actual incarnation, as their words were very familiar to him—in fact they were his own words. The Father answers Christ’s prayers within the psalms as well. At times the reader becomes aware of back-and-forth dialogue between Father and Son (Psalms 3:4 and 2:7) and at other times the answer to the prayers forms part of a narrative (Psalm 18:3-6 and 18:7-19).

It is highly unlikely that anyone would hear the words of Jesus Christ in Psalms apart from the work of the Holy Spirit enlightening the eyes of their understanding.

Most people who love Psalms experience them as Scripture giving voice and words to their own personal heart cries as they face various seasons and situations in their lives. Going one step beyond that, the Holy Spirit coaxes us to hear, as well as our own heart cries, the heart cries of Jesus our Savior, who suffered and died in our place.

Experientially speaking, because of our amazement that God has taken our thoughts and printed them on the page of the Bible facing us—that he knows, understands, and loves us so much as to do that, and then to show us as we read that he has done so, and that he has the power to do all this—it is but a short step to realize that Jesus Christ was in all respects one of us, that these are also and primarily his heart cries, that he cried them first, before me. And because I know, feel, and experience my own pain, I also know, experience, and feel the pain of my Savior as a man. And I come to see and understand God’s amazing love for us in Christ. And then, Christ’s hope, his faithful endurance, his victories also become mine. And I grow in Christ’s faith and in God’s love both for Christ and for me.

It is an awesome thing to read Psalms this way, and it doesn’t happen without the Holy Spirit. We receive this by asking, asking God to open his word to us through his Holy Spirit. “Lord, show each believing heart who reads this and who desires to know—show them what you showed the two disciples on their walk to Emmaus. In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

__________
 Notes: 
 John 15:26 “But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me. (Joh 15:26 ESV)
Ephesians 1:17-18 17 that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, 18 having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, (Eph 1:17-18 ESV)
1 Corinthians 2:9-16 9 But, as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of man imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him”–10 these things God has revealed to us through the Spirit. For the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. 11 For who knows a person’s thoughts except the spirit of that person, which is in him? So also no one comprehends the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. 12 Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. 13 And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.
 Ephesians 3:14-19 14 For this reason I bow my knees before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth is named, 16 that according to the riches of his glory he may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith– that you, being rooted and grounded in love, 18 may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, 19 and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (Eph 3:14-19 ESV)

 

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Jesus Evangelizes a Sinful Woman: Reprint

I’ve come to feel that the “woman at the well” has received a bad rap. Truthfully, I envy her and would like to be more like her. I mean, she had one on one with Jesus out in the middle of the desert; he revealed to her point blank that he was Messiah; she received him into her heart without struggle; and she instantly went out and testified to all the men in her own town, bearing much, much fruit, even a hundred fold (John 4:30, 35, 39-42). She really exemplifies Romans 8:28—in the end, everything in her life worked together not only for her own good but for the good of many others, because she loved God and was called by him according to his purpose.

Sadly, at times, I feel more like a female Pharisee than the woman at the well—judgmental, argumentative, way off base— while the woman at the well was sincere in her joy, generous with her treasure, sharing her love for Messiah with everyone. Or, sometimes I feel like a female Nicodemus, of the Sanhedrin—an expert in the law, the “teacher of Israel,” who came to Jesus by night, sneakily, in fear of being spotted and condemned by one of his own crowd, outed. And he never quite got it. At least not in those moments when he had that awesome opportunity to interview Jesus one on one and speak to him without the jostling crowds competing for his attention.

Photo by Thea Hoyer on Unsplash

So often in sermons and teachings, I hear the woman at the well being brushed off as a sinner, as though that were her one defining characteristic (1, 2). What ever happened to Romans 3:23 and 3:10? And when she learns that Jesus is a prophet and asks him a prophet’s question, we hear from some of the pundits that she is using an evasive tactic to divert attention away from her sin. Excuse me? We’ve already passed that part. Jesus scored. Can’t a woman whose sin falls into the category of sexual also have an intellect and a genuine interest in the big questions of Samaritan life—this mountain, that mountain, what is truth? She did better than Pilate on that one—she recognized Jesus for who he is. Or, do many commentators, especially those of an older generation, scorn her, finally, because she is a woman, period? Jesus, after all, was a ground breaker.

Yet, this story is mainly about Jesus, rather than the woman. We see him as a passionate evangelist. He really cared about people, all people, even people whom church ushers place near the back. You see, that is prejudice. Jesus sat this woman in the front row, directly, never in the back. This spot was reserved for her from all eternity past. He loved her, capital agape. He loved everything about her. We are wholes, not conglomerates of fractions. When we love someone, we must love all of them, because that’s who we are. The arm is not separable from the toe. He loved her as she was, and he loved what he knew she would become in him. He loved that she responded to his love by loving him in return. And he loved her town and all the people in it. I truly don’t think I would have done as well as the woman at the well. She, like Jesus, was a passionate evangelist who loved people.

Think: Jesus revealed himself to this woman more fully, more directly, and more quickly than to possibly anyone else in the Gospel narratives. What is God trying to tell us in this portion of Scripture? I can think of a few things—

  1. Jesus Christ, Messiah, God’s precious Son who reveals the heart of God to humans and who always does what God tells him to do, loves women.
  2. Jesus Christ loves sinful women.
  3. Jesus Christ, very God of very God, reveals himself gladly and directly to sinful women.
  4. Jesus Christ can use a sinful woman who believes in him to greatly advance his kingdom.
  5. Jesus Christ has no favorites.

____________

1. “Consequently by all expectations, she is not a woman worthy of attention from the Son of God.  She is not a woman who is elevated. This is condescension.”
https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-20/messiah-the-living-water-part-1. MacArthur, John. Sermon: “Messiah: The Living Water, Part 1, John 4:1-15.” Grace to You, April 21, 2013. Accessed January 25, 2018.
“So when He speaks to this Samaritan woman, it is a shocking condescension. It is an unexpected condescension.”
https://www.gty.org/library/sermons-library/43-21/messiah-the-living-water-part-2. MacArthur, John. Sermon: “Messiah: The Living Water, Part 2, John 4:16-26.” Grace to You, April 28, 2013. Accessed January 25, 2018.
My comment on the above: It might be a “shocking condescension” for a person who judges by externals and sees himself as actually being quite above a person such as the woman at the well. But what if Jesus Christ, as revealed in his having become human, is in fact as humble in character as both his birth and death indicate he is? Was he posing when he chose poor, uneducated people to be his earthly parents? Was all that about being born in a stable and laid in a feed trough for animals a charade? I posit that Jesus humbled himself in “shocking condescension” by becoming human in the first place. From his great height next to God the Father, the difference between Nicodemus, the well-respected Jewish male rabbi, and the woman at the well does not even exist. To us who are proud in heart by nature, Jesus perhaps “shockingly condescended” to the woman, but more likely, for him, he did not view his sister that way at all.
2. Contra the above and in defense of the woman’s perceived immorality, see Reeder, Caryn. “In Focus: Revisiting the Woman at the Well.” Intervarsity, Graduate Women in the Academy and Professions, May 27, 2014. http://thewell.intervarsity.org/in-focus/revisiting-woman-well. Accessed January 25, 2018.

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