The Psalms: Book 3
Psalm 73 The Strength Of My Heart And My Portion Forever.
God is good to the pure in heart, those who choose a path that leads to His presence and instruction (vv. 1-2, 17). However, the psalmist almost stumbled in getting to that place, when he saw the prosperity of the wicked and boastful (vv. 2-3). Some of these maintain their strength even to the grave (v. 4), never having suffered trouble (v. 5). For this reason they remained boastful and violent, confident in themselves, proud of their ways. “Their eyes bulge with abundance; they have more than heart could wish.” (v. 7)
Those who follow these kind of leaders see their “success” and conclude that God does not know (v. 11). This is why the psalmist calls them ungodly. God does know, and so do those who follow the path to His presence, and the understanding He gives (v. 17). But the psalmist could not avoid thinking that he has sanctified his heart and hands in vain (vv. 13-14). He remained silent so as not to discourage those also seeking after God (vv. 15-16). However, all became clear when he found himself in God’s presence and learned of the real end of the wicked (v. 17).
The prosperity and “success” of the wicked is in fact a slippery place to be. Their neglect of God and His ways will result in them being “utterly consumed with terrors.” (v. 19) When the psalmist was alone with his own thoughts he was “foolish and ignorant.” (v. 22) But when he finally rested in God’s presence, the Lord guided him with His counsel, with confidence that He would afterward receive him to glory (v. 24). It cannot be said often enough that the word of God, His counsel, is the first axiom of all thought and existence.
The psalmist does not place confidence in himself-this was the chief fault of the wicked. “Who have I in heaven but You?” This can mean two things. Who will stand up for him when he dies and is received into His glory? His answer is not himself, but rather it is the Lord. But it also concerns life on earth, for He who rules from heaven, rules over all. Therefore, there was also none upon earth that he desired more (v. 25). Whether in this life, or in that to come, “God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (v. 26)
Drawing near to God and receiving His counsel, made everything clear to the psalmist. The wicked who seem to suffer no loss in this life, will ultimately be found to have lived upon the slippery ground of self-deception, for God has left them in that state until that day when they will wake up to the terrors of judgment. These are those who have deserted the Lord for harlotry (v. 27). But those who draw near to God will put their trust in Him, and will declare His works. The wicked believe that God does not know, but those who draw near know and declare otherwise (v. 28).
Psalm 74 The Church Is God’s Covenant People.
The church is God’s purchased inheritance, the redeemed in the earth (vv. 1-2, 12). But His enemies are bent on its destruction (vv. 3-8). It is true that this psalm had immediate reference to the Babylonian captivity of 586. But as with that event so also today, the church suffers from her own neglect, a neglect which her enemies have seized upon to her destruction. There is no longer any prophetic word or accompanying signs-there seems to be no place for the canonical word (v.9 Cf. I Sam. 3:1; Lam. 2:9; Ezek. 7:26; Amos 8:11).
The psalmist laments the blasphemy of God’s name by His enemies, and the seeming abandonment of His people (vv. 10-11, 18). This is the God over all creation, from the creation of light and the sun, to the ruling of the seas, including that famous parting of the red sea, or the crossing of the Jordan (Cf. Ex. 14:21; Josh 3:13). He provides food to all men, and works His salvation in all the earth (vv. 12-17). But His people are His special possession, like a turtledove threatened by a beast (v. 19). They are the people of His covenant-this is what sets them apart.
This covenant relationship is the hope of the poor and needy. How foolish it is for God’s people to abandon the hope of the covenant. It is a sin to deny the covenant foundation of God’s church-it is the very basis of any special place at all. Those who deny it deny the only hope for the poor and needy in the earth (vv. 19-21). This is what the psalmist means when he asks God to ‘plead’ His ‘cause’-it is a call for the God of the covenant to act (vv. 22-23). The psalmist was pleading for God to make good on the commitment which He had made (Cf. Lev. 26:44-45; Jer. 31).
Psalm 75 Thanksgiving For God’s Judgment.
God’s character and presence can be seen in the works which He performs (v. 1). His timing may not be what we would like or expect-but He will judge the whole earth (v. 2-3). Those who carry on stubbornly in their boasting are warned (vv. 4-5 Cf. I Sam. 2:3). It is God alone who exalts and brings down (vv. 6-7 Cf. Ps. 147:6). Those who forget who the Judge is will drink the cup of judgment (v. 8 Cf. I Sam. 2:7; Ps. 50:6 , 101:8; Jer. 25:15-16; Rev. 14:10, 16:19). In the long run it is the righteous who will be exalted-the opposite of those who take pride in themselves alone, and the righteous will sing His praises forever (vv. 9-10 Cf. I Sam. 2:1; Ps. 89:17, 94:4, 148:14)!
Psalm 76 God Is Awesome!
God is known in a very special way among His people, the place where He chooses to dwell (vv. 1-3 Cf. Ps. 48:1-3, 68:35). He causes the mighty to fall (vv. 4-6). God Himself is to be feared. Judgment comes from His presence in heaven, but it is executed for the oppressed in the earth (vv. 7-9 Cf. Ex. 15:1-21, 19:9; Zech. 12:4). God is praised in both the destruction of the wicked, and in the deliverance of the oppressed (v. 10 Cf. Isaiah 10:12, 40:10-11; Nah. 1:7). Therefore, those who are delivered take their vows to Him-a very covenantal act. On the other hand, the arrogant rulers will be cut off-also a very covenantal act (vv. 11-12). “O God, You are more awesome than Your holy places. The God of Israel is He who gives strength and power to His people. Blessed be God!” (Ps. 68:35)
Psalm 77 Remember!
Ever lose sleep because your spirit was overwhelmed, and your soul refused to be comforted? Sometimes when one goes to God in trouble, there is more trouble still (vv. 1-3). Such is what happens to the saints when God seems to have abandoned His people (vv. 4-6). “Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? Has mercy ceased forever? Has His promises failed forevermore? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies?” (vv. 7-9) These are questions which come from an anguished heart (v. 10a).
So, what is the answer? The psalmist “will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” (v. 10b) He chooses to remember “the works of the LORD,” and His “wonders of old.” (v. 11) He will remember the acts in history of the LORD of the covenant, his work and deeds, His way in the sanctuary, and the strength He has given to the redeemed in the earth (vv. 12-15). He would remember, in particular, that might act of redeeming His covenant people from the oppression of a foreigner, doing so by moving heaven and earth to that end (vv. 16-20 Cf. Ex. 14:21).
Psalm 78 Shepherded With Integrity And Skill.
God, through the psalmist, calls His people to hear His law (v. 1). How contrary to the false teachers in the so-called churches today who call the people to abandon His law. It is no good for them to claim that they have Christ instead, for He is the one speaking here! “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old.” (v. 2 Cf. Mt. 13:34-35) This is a prophetic word which found fulfillment in the teaching ministry of Jesus! And His word still comes to many in parables, “that hearing they would not understand (Mk. 4:12). “He who has an ear to hear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.” (Rev. 2:7)
God gave a canon, a law of holy scripture that each generation was to pass on to the next (vv. 3-4 Cf. Ex. 12:26-28, 13:8, 14; Dt. 4:9, 6:7; Job 15:18; Is. 38:19; Joel 1:3). A law and a testimony was commanded to the fathers, which they were to make known to their children, and they in turn to their children (vv. 5-6). “That they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.” (v. 7). However, it was not enough to mouth the words, for their fathers did not practice what they preached (v. 8). This is what it means to not keep the covenant-refusing to walk the talk (v. 10). They were ignoring history (v. 11).
They should have remembered redemptive history, with thanksgiving (vv. 12-16). God did marvelous things in the sight of the fathers-He acted in the created order itself on their behalf. Nevertheless they tested Him and rebelled. But still He provided streams of water in the wilderness, along with bread and meat for their sustenance (vv. 17-20). So God’s anger was kindled against them (v. 21). “Because they did not believe in God, and did not trust in His salvation.” (v. 22). Then He gave them manna from heaven, angel’s food (vv. 23-25), and fouls of the air (vv. 26-31), but still they complained, and God was displeased.
Still the people did not believe. They had other explanations for why they hadn’t perished, so they wandered in futility and fear (vv. 32-33). Only when He punished them did they choose to remember that He was their rock and redeemer (vv. 34-35). Yet, it was all words, while their hearts were elsewhere. Thus they were unfaithful to the covenant (vv. 36-37). But still, the LORD had compassion on them (vv. 38-39). They limited “the Holy One,” they forgot about His power which He exercised in their deliverance (vv. 40-55). But, yet again, the next generation sinned with idolatry, and they suffered defeat and captivity (vv. 56-64).
Then, once again, the LORD delivered His people, and beat back His enemies. But this time He renewed His covenant with David-choosing Judah and Mount Zion. He would shepherd His people through David, even as He did through Moses and Aaron (Ps. 77:20). And in David we find the standard for the shepherding of God’s people. “So he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart, and guided them by the skillfulness of his hands.” Ps. 78:72 It has always been rare to find individuals, especially leaders, who combine integrity with skill. The bible uses ‘heart’ to describe the core of an individual, and David’s was following His Lord here.
Hypocrisy is having one’s heart or core going in one direction while the mouth and other actions go in another. Only God can change a person’s heart and bring harmony of character. It also strikes me that throughout history there have been many skillful shakers and movers, however, many lacked integrity. Many a double minded individual have been blessed with skill, but lack of integrity meant that their skill was wasted or misdirected. However, David’s greater Son has of course always had singleness of heart and skillfulness of hands. In the embracing of both we also become more like Him in all that He has gifted and called us to be and do.
Psalm 79 Atonement Has Been Provided.
The nations that did not know God, nor call upon His name, laid the temple and Jerusalem to waste, and slaughtered His people (vv. 1-7). Jeremiah testified to this as well-52:12-14. The psalmist pleads for mercy, that God would no longer remember their iniquities. What they needed was atonement from the God of their salvation, for the glory of His name (vv. 8-9). Like Jeremiah, it was a covenantal plea (14:7, 21). In the atonement and salvation of His people God would be glorified.
God’s glory would also be seen in the avenging of the blood of His servants, against those who mock the idea that He cares for them (v. 10). His power delivers those in prison and preserves those appointed to die (v. 11). A sevenfold judgment of perfection awaits those who make such plans-tables turned, they meet their own end (v. 12 Cf. Lev. 26:21; Pr. 6:31; Is. 30:26). “So we, Your people and sheep of Your pasture, will give You thanks forever; we will show forth Your praise to all generations.” (v. 13)
Psalm 80 Restoration From The Man At God’s Right Hand.
God is the Shepherd of the people of His flock (Cf. Pss. 23; 77:20; 78:52, 71-72; 79:13 ). He is the One who rules and speaks from the Council of the glory-presence, which dwells between the cherubim above the mercy seat (Ex. 25:20-22; I Sam. 4:4; II Sam. 6:2). He ever looks upon His flock in mercy, and from His glory He shines forth (v. 1 Cf. Ex. 33:9-11; Nu. 7:89; Ps. 99:1, 7). From His heavenly throne, through His strength alone, He saves His people (v. 2). Restoration and salvation comes from God, when He shines His face upon His people (vv. 3, 7 Cf. Nu. 6:24-26). This is the covenant making and covenant keeping “LORD God of hosts.” (vv. 7, 19) The angelic company do His bidding, and His saints on earth, as He rides upon the clouds to do battle with His people (v. 4 Cf. Dt. 33:2)). His judgments also bring tears to His people, and their enemies laugh and scoff (vv. 5-6).
Israel is also likened unto a vine which the LORD planted in the land promised in the covenant (Gen. 15:7), uprooting those who had no rightful claim (Ps. 44:2; Acts 7:45). At first, Israel prospered (vv. 8-11), but then she was broken down under the judgment of God (vv. 12-16 Cf. Is. 5:1-7; Jn. 15:1-2). So the psalmist prays that the LORD God of hosts would revive them through the man of His right hand (v. 17). Only then would they be able to call upon Hid name (v. 18). No matter what the secular historian might write, the psalmist knows that it is God who rules history (v. 12). This he does through Messiah, the Son of man at God’s right hand, ruling from His heavenly throne (Ps. 110; I Cor. 15:25; Heb. 1:3). “In His days the righteous shall flourish, and abundance of peace, until the moon is no more. He shall have dominion also from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.” (Ps. 72:7-8)
Psalm 81 Listen!
Contrary to those who claim to follow a regulative principle of worship which forbids musical accompaniment, the psalmist issues a call to worship, with instrumental accompaniment. There is also no indication of anything like a modern organ, though there seems to be many different instruments employed. So the true regulative principle includes singing and instruments-both done with as much skill as can be mustered-to God’s glory (vv. 1-4), even in a foreign land, among a people with a foreign tongue (v. 5 Cf. Ps. 114:1; Dt. 28:49; Jer. 5:15).
The feasts of the seventh month seems to be in view (vv. 3-4 Cf. Lev. 23:23ff.; Nu. 10:10). They looked back on their deliverance. When they groaned under Egyptian bondage, God delivered them because He “remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac, and with Jacob.” (vv. 6-7a Cf. Ex. 2:24) God spoke to them from the smoking mountain (v. 7b Cf. Ex. 19:19; 20:18), after He tested them at Meribah, a test Moses had failed, and through unbelief was barred from entering the promised land (v. 7c Cf. Ex. 17:1-7; Nu. 20:10-13). It was fittingly called a place of contention.
Moses did not believe that the spoken word was enough to bring water from the rock. Moses thought that more was required-his own work and efforts. His sin was his unbelief in the power of the word, and in not following what the LORD had specifically commanded. It reminds one of Eve, who said that God forbade even touching the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, when the command was only that they were not to eat of it (Gen. 3:2-3; 2:16-17). She believed Satan, who accused God of lying (Gen. 3:1, 4-5).
It is with this in mind that the LORD calls for His people to listen! “Hear, O My people, and I will admonish you! O Israel, if you will listen to me! There shall be no foreign god among you; nor shall you worship any foreign god.” (vv. 8-9) Their covenant LORD was the one who delivered them out of Egyptian bondage, and He would supply all their needs (v. 10). But because the people did not listen to the word, and did not want to dwell in God’s presence, they were given up by God to their own “counsels” (vv. 11-12).
Those who reject God’s word show that they are rejecting God-they don’t want God on His terms. It is sinful unbelief that rejects the sufficiency of scripture. Those who stubbornly reject the canon, are given over to the errors of their own counsels (vv. 11-12). If God’s people will listen to His word, then they will walk in His ways. They won’t walk in His ways by following their own counsels (v. 13). But if they do heed His word, and thus walk in His ways, then He would defeat their enemies (v. 14). This is as true today as it was when this psalm was written!
“The haters of the LORD would pretend submission to Him, but their fate would endure forever.” (v. 15) There have always been, and there always will be “pretenders,” those who claim submission to the LORD, but they refuse to listen and to obey His word. Those who do truly submit, will be blessed with abundance (v. 16 Cf. Dt. 32:14). He forbade them to have or worship any foreign god (v. 9 Cf. Ex. 20:3; 32:1, 15-18; Dt. 5:7; 32:12; Ps. 44:20-21; Acts 7:41-42; Rom. 1:24-26, 30). In rejecting His word they made themselves out to be gods-just like the garden, and the father of lies.
Psalm 82 God Judges The Judges.
When it comes to biblical studies it is always important to focus on the context when it comes to doing word studies. Often word studies are conducted in isolation from the context, and it ends up importing something into the text which does not belong-the same holds true for translators. Here, in this case, the choice of ‘gods’ was a poor one. Elohim does not always mean God or gods. It is a plural, so the fact that it is sometimes referring to God poses challenges for translation as well. One could argue that it speaks to the doctrine of the trinity, but without context, one would not want to construct a doctrine of the trinity on this word alone.
The context is clearly one of the idea of leaders and judges-the mighty ones. God judges the judges (v. 1). “God stands in the congregation.” God dwells in the midst of His people. He is not a far off and distant one. This comes as a warning to the judges, the elders of the congregation. The LORD God said to the judges, ‘Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man but for the LORD, who is with you in the judgment. Now therefore, let the fear of the LORD be upon you; take care and do it, for there is no iniquity with the LORD our God, no partiality, nor taking of bribes.” (II Chron. 19:6-7) The fact that they judged for God made them mighty indeed!
“How long will you judge unjustly, and show partiality to the wicked? (v. 2) This is what concerns God, expressed through the psalmist. They should take heed to the fact that God dwells in their midst-He sees, He knows, and He judges the judges. And when it says that God judges the judges, it does not necessarily mean that he can’t use the means of other judges to do so-this is how He normally works (Eccl. 5:8). God gave judges, in part, to uphold justice, and to defend the needy and defenceless from the hands of the wicked (vv. 3-4 Cf. Dt. 24:17). Representative government by judges or elders chosen by the people, is the pattern which God established for His people, in church and state.
These judges were to be “wise, understanding, and knowledgeable men.” (Dt. 1:13). They were to “judge righteously between a man and his brother or the stranger who is with him.” (v. 16) There was to be one standard for a brother and the stranger-it wasn’t just for the people of Israel. There was to be no partiality of a brother over a stranger, and no partiality with respect to one’s standing-small and great were to be treated equally, “for the judgment is God’s.” (v. 17). They were to judge according to what God had commanded (v. 18). However, this was also a warning to the people, when they judge righteously, their judgment is God’s judgment!
The people needed righteous judges. Moses showed that one man cannot handle the work load, and the people needed leadership. Without godly leadership the people would not know or understand the way they should go. Without godly leadership the people have no solid basis on which to stand-they are as unstable as their judges (v. 5 Cf. Ps. 11:3). And if the leadership does not judge righteously, the needy will be oppressed by the wicked (Cf. Pr. 18:5). Beware of leadership that stands alone-they will either burn out, or they don’t want to be judged by their peers! Beware of leadership that has not been chosen by the people! Beware of leadership that does not judge according to God’s word!
So God says, through the psalmist, “You are judges, and all of you are children of the Most High.” (v. 6) In other words, the judges and the people are equally God’s children. The judges need to take heed how they treat their brothers and sisters, and the stranger also (v. 8b). Not only this, but the judges were men, just like the people, who would die like all men do. So we see, that the word ‘elohim’ in this context, actually refers to mere men-just the opposite of what one might think if the word were taken on its own, or if one were to import a different context! “Arise, O God, judge the earth; For You shall inherit all nations.” (v. 8)
This understanding and interpretation is also borne out by the reference Jesus made to this psalm in John 10:34. Jesus was asking His hearers to make a judgment about Himself according to the scriptures. The scriptures pointed to Him. God called them judges, to whom the word of God came. If those men were to judge according to the scriptures, then all the more should Jesus’ hearers-for as He said, the word cannot be broken. The fact that the reference in John is one that is focused on His deity, puts an interesting twist on the use of this passage, and probably what helps explain the translator’s use of the word ‘gods’. But the thought simply does not fit.
There is but one God only, and there is another interpretation, translation, and explanation that makes sense with the immediate context, the one in which Jesus spoke, and the theology of the bible as a whole. Jesus would never have said that all men were gods, just as it cannot be said of any word from God in the Old Testament. However, He could not claim to be the promised Messiah, God Himself, if He could not prove it from the scriptures, authenticated by His works (vv. 31-39 Cf. Is. 11:4). This was His point-He challenged them to search the scriptures to see that Messiah was to be God Himself, and He fulfilled that (Cf. Jn. 5:39).
Psalm 83 The Covenant LORD Defeats All Godless Confederacies.
Have you ever thought that there are things you don’t want God to do? I know I don’t want God to crush me because of my guilt and shame. I also agree with the psalmist that, there are times when I don’t want Him to be silent or still. There are times when we want Him to not just speak, but also act in other ways as well (vv. 1-2 Cf. Ps. 28:1; Jer. 11:19-20). He had enemies because God was His friend. They weren’t just his enemies, which it is possible for one to have, and possibly with warrant on our part. No, these were his enemies because He wanted to serve the Lord. And all who would follow Christ must count the cost of doing so. A Christian without enemies is not a biblical Christian.
God’s enemies have formed a confederacy (vv. 3-5). Christ did more to unite the enemies of God in His day then all the preceding centuries ever could. Never was the proverb more true-the enemy of my enemy is my friend. In the age of majority democracies it is easy to believe that the majority in agreement is always right. However, the history of Israel, and indeed, of the remnant within Israel would suggest otherwise. As far as nations were concerned, Israel was insignificant indeed, and the remnant was as a rump of a stump in that pitiful field. The history of Israel was also, in part, a case of her enemies uniting against her as their common foe (vv. 6-8).
But the One who ascended to the right hand of the Father in fulfillment of the messianic promises (Cf. Ps. 110, Dan. 7:14), will rule from His heavenly throne through His church (Mt. 28:18-20), until the last enemy, death, is vanquished (I Cor. 15:25-26). The lesser enemies of the nations will be converted or destroyed (Ps. 2:1-2; Is. 17:12-14). He will not return until this work is done! As Daniel made clear, He was given dominion over all when He came to the Ancient of days, not when He comes to the earth (Heb. 1:3)! The dispensationalists, historical premillenialists, and the amillenialists do not have a solid exegetical leg to stand on! All their thoughts are nothing more than the eschatology of pessimism and unbelief.
“Deal with them as with Midian.” Here God exacted vengeance on Midian, including Balaam, and later under Gideon, for their attempts to deceive the people of God (Nu. 25:18-18; 31:1-11; Judges 7:23-8:22). “Deal with them…as with Sisera.” Deborah, prophetess and judge, commanded Barak to destroy Sisera and his armies, and he did so with the help of Jael, Heber’s wife, who drove a spike through his skull! (Judges 4). “Deal with them… as with Jabin at the Brook Kishon, who perished at En-Dor, who became as refuse on the earth.” En-Dor is an example of the people paying the price for not defeating them completely under Joshua (17:10-13), for it was to the medium at En-Dor that Saul went for a “revelation.” (I Sam. 28:3ff.)
One can begin to see a common theme here, and one that has always been the common thread throughout the church’s history. Saul went to the medium at En-Dor because “the LORD did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim, or by the prophets.” (I Sam. 28:6, 15) So he went to a false unsanctioned non-canonical revealer. And lo and behold, she gave him a revelation! Saul bore false witness and took God’s name in vain by saying that the LORD would not punish her. Saul threw aside the clear commands of God’s law in the canon of holy scripture, because God would not give him a word when he wanted it, a word on his terms. He who has an ear to hear let him hear what the Spirit says!
Note what Samuel says to Saul on this occasion-he goes back to the canonical word already given (v. 17). Saul didn’t need to visit a medium to know God’s will here! But it reveals how he chose to conduct himself. It also shows why the psalmist wanted the nations defeated like unto En-Dor. The psalmist knows that victory will only come insofar as they follow the canonical law-word of the covenant. They must obey God’s word. Balaam was a hired false prophet, who was rebuked by a donkey-prophesying for God, because his master was too stupid and stubborn to do the right thing!
“Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb, yes, all their princes like Zeba and Zalmunna, who said, ‘Let us take for ourselves the pastures of God for a possession.’” (vv. 11-12) Oreb and Zeeb suffered defeat in Gideon’s battle with the Midianites (Jud. 7:25), as did Zeba and Zalmunna (Jud. 8:12-21). The latter ultimately killed by Gideon himself, and this as the kinsman-redeemer of his brothers (vv. 18-21 Cf. Dt. 19:1-3; Nu. 35; Josh. 20:1-9). To the law and to the testimony, is the psalmist’s plea. Follow the LORD’s commands and victory is assured. The church does not do the physical battles of the state-such as the civil part of this work of God. But the church does wield the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, and it is powerful for taking down strongholds.
So the psalmist wants God to act as their kinsman-redeemer, delivering His people from their shared enemies (vv. 13-15). But he, like us, still holds out hope that they will cease to be our enemies and become our friends, by acknowledging their shame, and seeking the name of the ‘LORD’, that is, the covenant making and covenant keeping LORD. Repent and believe, is our unified message. Acknowledge your shame and seek a covenant relationship with “the Most High over all the earth.” (v. 18). If they do not enter the covenant of grace, they will bare their shame themselves, and suffer everlasting defeat, “confounded and dismayed forever.” (v. 17)
Psalm 84 The Blessedness Of Dwelling In God’s Presence.
The psalmist considered the temple to be lovely, and says that his soul fainted for its courts, because of the living God who chose to dwell there. Soul and body longed for the living God. The LORD of hosts reigns from heaven, but there is comfort, hope, and a home where He choses to dwell (vv. 1-3 Cf. Pss. 27:4-5; 42:1-2; 46:4-5; 65:4). For this reason His house is a place of praise (v. 4). But God is not confined to buildings, He is also with the pilgrim along the way, those who travel through the Valley of Baca, the Valley of Weeping. They go from strength to strength, as the LORD of hosts supplies them with the water they need (Cf. Is. 40:31). They are traveling to Zion, because that is where the LORD of hosts has chosen to dwell (vv. 5-7).
The Christian joins the saints of old in this pilgrimage. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling that speaks better things than that of Abel.” (Heb. 12:25-27) He reigns from heaven, but He is also the Lord of history-the covenant LORD of Jacob-the one who answers prayer (v. 8). The word ‘anointed’ certainly applied to Israel’s king, but it also means ‘Messiah’, Israel’s greatest King of all (v. 9).
Every day in the presence of the LORD and of His anointed is a truly blessed day. The people of God wandered in the wilderness when they sinned. When they did not seek the LORD or desire His will, they wandered aimlessly. Even Moses could not enter the promised land, because He did not believe the word spoken to Him by the LORD (Nu. 20:11-12). Instead, the people of God are called to be pilgrims, those who travel with the goal and desire of God’s presence in the earth. It is astonishing that there are those who suggest that the wilderness motif is the pattern for the church-the truth is just the opposite. The new covenant church is warned that the wilderness wanderers were an example not to follow (Heb. 3:7-19).
Dwelling where God choses to dwell is better than dwelling “in the tents of wickedness.” (v. 10) A doorkeeper is one who stands at the threshold. Better the most insignificant place in God’s house than a life of sin. “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD will give grace and glory.” (v. 11a Cf. Is. 60:19-20; Mal. 4:2; Rev. 21:23) There is no glory without grace, but where there is grace there is glory (Cf. Jn. 1:16; II Cor. 3:18). There is the glory of God’s presence, and there is the glory He receives from the saints (Pr. 4:18). Grace is glorious! “No good thing will He withhold from those who walk uprightly.” (v. 11b Cf. Gen. 15:1; Ps. 34:8-10) “O LORD of hosts, blessed is the man who trusts in you.” (v. 12 Cf. Pss. 2:12; 40:4)
Psalm 85 Mercy And Truth, Righteousness And Peace.
This psalm begins with the covenant name, LORD. He has not forgotten His people. The LORD has shown His favour to the land, and in returning His people from captivity. This likely refers to the return from the Babylonian captivity in the 6th century BC (Cf. Ezra 1:11-2:1 Cf. Jer. 30:18; 31:23; Ez. 39:25; Hos. 6:11; Joel 3:1). The reason for the return is that the LORD had forgiven the iniquity of His people, and covered all their sin (v. 2). His anger and wrath was turned back (v. 3).
So the psalmist prays for the restoration of His people (v. 4). He appeals to the God of their salvation-that He would turn away from His wrath (v. 5). Only if He revives them will they be able to rejoice (v. 6). Salvation is a cause for rejoicing in any generation, and it is always based on mercy (v. 7). The psalmist’s hope was based on the word of the LORD God (v. 8a). If the people would turn their backs on their folly and fear the LORD, they would see His salvation and dwell in the land in peace (vv. 8b-9 Cf. Zech. 2:5; Ps. 84:11).
“Mercy and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed.” (v. 10 Cf. Ps. 72:3) We can be thankful that mercy and truth have met, for the fact is God is holy and we are not. Knowing the truth of who God is and who we are in our sinful condition, is a fearful and dreadful thing without mercy. We can also be thankful that righteousness and peace have kissed. Without the righteousness of the LORD there can be no peace.
All four things are interwoven here, and all belong to the LORD. The truth is what God has spoken (v. 8), itself an act of mercy. So also His peace to His people is based on His righteousness, a righteousness that “looks down from heaven.” (v. 11b, 13a Cf. Is. 32:17) It is not man’s righteousness (Cf. Is. 46:13). God’s truth can also be seen in His earthly creation (v. 11a Cf. Ps. 19:1-6). The LORD gives what is good, including blessings in the land. But it is His righteousness alone that becomes our pathway, not our own (v. 13).
Psalm 86 A Heart United To Serve The LORD God Alone.
David trusts in the LORD as He who, in mercy, forgives the poor and needy. There is abundant mercy to those whom the Lord has set apart as holy. The Lord saves those who trust in Him. He preserves those whom He sets apart to serve Him, and they rejoice in Him (vv. 1-5). The LORD answers prayer in the day of trouble-in every time of need (vv. 6-7 Cf. Heb. 4:16).
There is no other god like the LORD, and no works like His (vv. 8-10 Cf. Ex. 15:11; Dt. 6:4; II Sam. 7:22; Ps. 89:6; Is. 37:16; Jer. 10:6; Mk. 12:29; I Cor. 8:4). And couched in the middle of this affirmation is the obvious logical conclusion-all nations, whom He has made, will ultimately come and worship Him, for there is no other (v. 9 Cf. Ps. 2; Mt. 28:18-20). By His works He is known in all the earth.
“LORD God of Israel, who keep Your covenant of mercy with Your servants who walk before You with all their hearts. You have kept what You promised Your servant.” (I Kgs. 8:23-24a). Since the LORD God is one, he demands singleness of heart from His servants, a heart united in service to the LORD (v. 11). And we are united in our hearts to the Lord, through walking in His truth, which He teaches us.
“I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart, and I will glorify Your name forevermore.” (v. 12) David utters these words, because of God’s mercy, and deliverance thereby (v. 13). The glory of the Lord is to be the goal of His servants-for all eternity. God’s enemies were David’s enemies-the proud, the very opposite of those who know that they are poor and needy.
But the Lord God is “full of compassion, and gracious, longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth.” (v. 15). Sinful pride, pride that says one does not need God or accepts His truth, is the one thing which bares people from the compassion, grace, longsuffering, mercy, and truth of the Lord (Ex. 34:6). However, there is good reasons for the needy and poor to look to the LORD in prayer.
Psalm 87 Glorious!
“Glorious things of thee are spoken, Zion, city of our God.” (John Newton, 1779) The Christian testimony has always understood that this psalm applies to the church – the people of God across the various administrations of the one covenant of grace. The writer to the Hebrews could not have been more clearer. “But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to an innumerable company of angels, to the general assembly and church of the firstborn who are registered in heaven, to God the Judge of all, to the spirits of just men made perfect, to Jesus the Mediator of the new covenant.” (Heb. 12:22-24).
“His foundation is in the holy mountains.” Mountains, in the bible, refer to rule and reign. The holy mountains are those places which the Lord set apart to Himself. The temple, God’s house, was built upon Mount Zion, which towered above the city of Jerusalem. Therefore, when the biblical writers refer to any one of these, they are referring to the place where God chose for His glory to dwell, and it speaks to His reign in the earth (Dt. 12). Solomon did well enough with the physical temple (II Chron. 8:16), and those who came later had their moments (Is. 44:28; Ezra 3:6, 10-12; 5:15-16), but Jesus predicted its destruction (Mt. 23:1-2), which came to pass in 70 AD.
However, the foundation of the true temple of God is everlasting (Pr. 10:25). This psalm was no doubt in Paul’s mind when he wrote that Jesus Christ is the foundation (I Cor. 3:10-11), working as He did, through the apostles and prophets in the new covenant administration (Eph. 2:20; Zech. 8:9), of which even gentiles are full members (Eph. 2:19). This was also no doubt in the mind of Jesus when he declared that He was the Rock upon which the foundation of His house was laid (Lk. 6:46-48). This is He of whom Isaiah said would also be the cornerstone (28:16 Cf. Ps. 118:22; Mt. 21:22; Lk. 20:17; Acts 4:11; I Pet. 2:6-7).
Having laid the foundation, Christ will finish His work of building His house (Zech. 4:9; Lk. 14:28-30). Together with the saints of old, we are His house (Heb. 3:1-6). Zion had a special place, and still does in Christ’s kingdom. Christ’s kingdom extends over all, but His church occupies a central place. Glorious things of her are spoken (v. 3)! People from every nation shall be born in her (vv. 4-5a). “And the Most High Himself shall establish her.” (v. 5b) The Lord has a record, and the people of God have this as their sure foundation, that He knows who we are (II Tim. 2:19 Cf. Ex. 32:32; Ps. 69:28; 139:16; Is. 4:3; Rev. 21:24-27).
“Both the singers and players on instruments say, ‘All my springs are in you.’” (v. 7) Let us follow the ‘regulative principle of worship’ and do only what is commanded in scripture. And in doing so let us reject the teaching of that principle by some, that instruments are not commanded. Let us follow the principle set out in scripture, and not the traditions of men. How ironic that those who espouse a principle that excludes instruments in the public worship of God, should call the practice ‘the tradition of men’. It is their teaching practice which is the tradition of men, saying that the church is based on the synagogue, instead of the temple, as we see here.
“All my springs are in you.” God has chosen His people to be the instruments through which He will extend His reign in the earth (Mt. 28:18-20). How many believers pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven”, and then completely deny it with their theology and practice? But to those like the faithful Joshua and Caleb, the Lord will provide springs along the way. Those who are content to wander in the wilderness of sin, will not find the springs that are available to the faithful pilgrims working for God’s glory to be known in all the earth (Ps. 42:1-2). Provision and protection is provided for the remnant of the LORD (Is. 4:2-4).
Psalm 88 Crying To The LORD In The Land Of Forgetfulness.
The most hopeful thing about this psalm is the beginning. The psalmist looks to the covenant making and covenant keeping LORD, the God of his salvation (v. 1a). When one looks at the rest of the psalm, one can see why he makes his plea. The covenant relation is one involving salvation. The LORD hears the prayers of His people (vv. 1b-2, 9b, 13). The psalmist knew what we all know at some times in our lives-a soul full of troubles, and a life near the grave (v. 3). Forgotten by people and counted for dead, like those in the grave-seemingly forgotten even by God (vv. 4-6), “in the land of forgetfulness.” (v. 12b Cf. Ps. 28:1; 31:12)
For whatever reason, the psalmist believes that God’s wrath rests upon him, taking away all his acquaintances, as he is consumed with the tears of affliction (vv. 7-9a, 18 Cf. Ps. 42:7). He in fact imagines that death may await him, so in his prayers he asks if that would profit anything, since the dead cannot praise God for His works, lovingkindness, or faithfulness. For the third time time he repeats that he has offered his prayers to the LORD (vv. 1b-2, 9b, 13). Each time he prays, it is addressed to the covenant making and covenant keeping LORD. In his mind, his condition seems to go contrary to the covenant relationship.
The psalmist says that he has been in this condition from his youth, ready to die, and suffering the terrors of God’s fierce wrath (vv. 15-16). Feeling like his soul has been cast off “in the land of forgetfulness”, is what happens when the LORD hides His face. The people of God need the look of the LORD’s favourable countenance in place of His wrath. This psalm is a reminder that even the saints of the LORD can suffer from bouts of despondency, when it seems like we are stuck forever “in the land of forgetfulness”. We need to see the wonders of God’s lovingkindness, faithfulness, and righteousness.
The real sign of living “in the land of forgetfulness” was that his loved ones, friends, and acquaintances had seemingly abandoned him. One can think of Job here (19:13-20 Cf. Ps. 31:11-12; 38:11; Lam. 3:7). God works his wonders through the means of others He brings into our lives. When they abandon us we think that God has abandoned us. This shows how crucial it is to care for those in our circle of family, friends and acquaintances. By beginning this psalm with addressing the LORD as the God of his salvation, he is pleading for direct comfort (Ps. 27:9-10 Cf. Ps. 86:3-5). Sometimes this is the saints only recourse.
Psalm 89 The LORD Remembers His Covenant.
The psalmist remembers the last of the old testament administrations of the covenant of grace-the Davidic (Cf. II Sam. 7:4-17; I Chron. 17:1-15). Mercy and faithfulness are at the core, and the promise was of a seed whose throne would be built and established forever (vv. 1-4). Wonders in the heavens, the place of His habitation, and His faithfulness in the assembly, are equally causes for praise, and there is no one with whom He may be compared (vv. 5-6). In the assembly of the saints He is feared (v. 7), and there is no one mighty like “the LORD God of hosts.” (v. 8a)
Faithfulness surrounds the LORD of the covenant (v. 8b). He rules in the whole of creation (vv. 9-10). He created all things, therefore also all things are His (vv. 11-12), and He rules over all (v. 13). Righteousness and justice are the foundation of His rule, and truth with mercy go before Him (v. 14). God’s rule is based on justice and righteousness, it is not arbitrary or capricious. Mercy and truth come together, and through these the LORD looks upon His people. Mercy without truth would have no meaning, and truth without mercy would spell the end of His people.
It is the countenance of God’s mercy and truth that becomes the blessing on His people and cause of a joyful sound (v. 15). The saints are lifted up by the LORD’s righteousness, not their own, therefore in His name we rejoice (v. 16). It is on the basis of grace, His unmerited favour, that His people are made strong and are exalted over their enemies (vv. 17-18a). Their king belonged to the LORD, and in a vision He promised to exalt Him among the people (vv. 18b-19 Cf. I Sam. 6; II Sam. 7). David was the first, and to him the promise of the covenant was made (vv. 20-21).
The LORD would ensure that his enemies would be defeated (vv. 22-23), but David would know the faithfulness and mercy of the LORD of the covenant, and in His name David would be exalted (v. 24). These promises would find ultimate fulfillment in the Messiah to come-the greater Son of David. David would be victorious over many nations, but the Messiah would reign over all (v. 25 Cf. Ps. 2). David was His son by grace, but the Messiah would be a Son by eternal generation as the second person of the Trinity (v. 26 Cf. II Sam. 7:14; Ps. 2:7; Acts 13:33; Heb. 1:5).
David was indeed the first of the kings, but by His resurrection, Christ became the firstborn of a new creation (Cf. Col. 1:15-18). David may indeed be described as the highest of the kings of the earth, but the Messiah would be higher still (v. 27 Cf. Ps. 72:11; Rev. 19:16). Mercy is at the heart of the covenant relation, and in His faithfulness the promise of a seed and throne to endure forever was sure (vv. 28-29; 36-37; Ps. 72:17; Lk. 1:33). But, the covenant with David, like all the other administrations of the covenant of grace, also had conditions. The Lord would punish any transgression of His law (vv. 30-32).
“Nevertheless My lovingkindness I will not utterly take from him, nor allow My faithfulness to fail. My covenant I will not break, nor alter the word that has gone out of My lips.” (vv. 33-34) These verses are very instructive for understanding the nature of the covenant relationship, not just through David, but through all the administrations of the covenant of grace. The covenant of grace is sure to God’s people, because it is grounded in His faithfulness, not in ours. But, it does have conditions, as He disciplines all whom He accepts as His children (vv. 30-32).
The LORD has sworn and He cannot lie, two points which the writer to the Hebrews went to great lengths to demonstrate (v. 35 Cf. 6:16-18). However, conditions were not met, and discipline had come (vv. 38ff. Cf. Lam. 5:16). One can also say, that Messiah, as the suffering servant, also bore the sins of His people (Cf. Is. 52:13-53). The wrath expressed here is a covenantal wrath (v. 39 Cf. Dt. 32:19), but it is on the basis of the covenant that the psalmist pleads for mercy (vv. 46—48). This is what is meant by the former lovingkindnesses which the Lord swore to David in truth (v. 49 Cf. v. 14, 33).
Remembrance of the covenant relation was their only hope of deliverance from the reproach of their enemies (vv. 50-51 Cf. II Sam. 7:15; Jer. 30:9; Ezek. 34:23). This was David’s testimony. “He will repay my enemies for their evil. Cut them off in Your truth.” (Ps. 54:5 Cf. Ps. 74:10, 18, 22) Moreover, the terms “cut off” refers to being subject to the curse of the covenant, signifying that some of David’s enemies may have come from within the covenant community. Such was the case with Jesus (Cf. Ps. 69:9, 19; Jn. 2:17). It is no wonder that the psalmist exclaims, “Blessed be the LORD forevermore! Amen and amen.” (v. 52)