God over all the earth, Psalm 65

Western Iowa's Loess Hills (photo credit-Glenda Mathes)
Western Iowa’s Loess Hills (photo credit-Glenda Mathes)

How was your Sunday? Did you enjoy it as a “festive day of rest”? Festive rest may seem like an oxymoron, but that’s the wonderful way the Heidelberg Catechism describes Sunday in its comprehensive answer explaining God’s will for us in the fourth commandment (Lord’s Day 38, Q&A 103). My devotional A Month of Sundays: 31 Meditations on Resting in God explores this concept in depth, and I also discuss this in my student workbook Not My Own: Discovering God’s Comfort in the Heidelberg Catechism.

Monday morning is an appropriate time to evaluate how we spent the previous day. Did we run around doing errands or playing hard? Did we waste time watching TV or sleep the day away? Or did we rest from our regular responsibilities and activities to enjoy time with family or friends and gathering with other believers to worship the God who is Lord over all the earth?

Psalm 65 reminds us of our duty for corporate praise of the God who controls all creatures and all creation. David begins this song by proclaiming that God deserves our praise and worship:

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion,
    and to you shall vows be performed (Psalm 65:1, ESV).

The next verse affirms that God hears prayer. It also implies that individuals from all nations will come to belief.

O you who hear prayer,
    to you shall all flesh come (verse 2, ESV).

Although many people in our world deny the existence of God, one day every knee shall bow before the Lord (Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11, Philippians 2:10). Whether willingly with joy or reluctantly with anger or dispair—eventually—every person will recognize the reality of God.

Any time our sins weigh us down, we can turn to this verse as a reminder of God’s great salvation.

When iniquities prevail against me,
    you atone for our transgressions (verse 3, ESV).

We may feel overwhelmed by our sins or succumb to temptation, but we have confidence in the full and complete salvation of Christ.

Verse 4 shows how God has chosen his children from eternity for a purpose:

Blessed is the one you choose and bring near,
    to dwell in your courts!
We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house,
    the holiness of your temple!

The believer’s home is in the courts of the Lord. We rejoice in his blessings and corporately worship the holy God.

The next section of the psalm portrays the God of Salvation’s righteous and awesome answers to our prayers as he reigns over the whole earth.

By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness,
    O God of our salvation,
the hope of all the ends of the earth
    and of the farthest seas;
the one who by his strength established the mountains,
    being girded with might;
who stills the roaring of the seas,
    the roaring of their waves,
    the tumult of the peoples,
so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs.
You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy (verses 5-8, ESV).

The roaring of the seas in Scripture often represents the rebellion of nations who reject God’s authority. One day God will finally and definitively still that tumult. We tend to think in very limited terms of Christianity, but people who live in areas of the world far removed from us marvel at God’s signs. Next time you view a beautiful sunrise or drink in a vivid sunset, praise God for the way he makes them shout for joy.

The final section of this psalm paints an agrarian scene:

You visit the earth and water it;
    you greatly enrich it;
the river of God is full of water;
    you provide their grain,
    for so you have prepared it.
You water its furrows abundantly,
    settling its ridges,
softening it with showers,
    and blessing its growth.
You crown the year with your bounty;
    your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.
The pastures of the wilderness overflow,
    the hills gird themselves with joy,
the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
    the valleys deck themselves with grain,
    they shout and sing together for joy (verses 9-13).

As a Midwesterner, I readily envision these pastoral depictions of the seasons visiting the fields, woods, hills, and valleys. The series of images is almost like viewing a roomful of John Constable paintings, only the masterpieces in these verses are depicted by the ultimate Artist.

That Artist created the whole earth and continues to sustain every aspect of its functioning, from the rising sun to the falling rain to the ripening grain. He is Lord of all people, whether they know it now or not. One day even those who denied his existence will realize its reality. Then every person will appear before him and acknowledge him, joyfully or despairingly, as Lord of Lord, King of Kings, and God over all the earth.

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Complaint, Psalm 64

spotted leafIn the Literary Study Bible’s introduction to Psalm 64, editors Leland Ryken and Philip Graham Ryken call it the “prototypical” lament psalm, the “specimen in which the conventional elements stand out highlighted” with “vivid poetic texture and memorable imagery” (p. 815). An awareness of this psalm’s lament construction and literary techniques helps us derive more meaning from David’s “complaint” (verse 1). We should never examine the psalms as a purely literary exercise. All scripture is the very word of God and is profitable for our instruction and training in righteousness (2 Timothy 3:16). But while the psalms teach our minds, they also touch our hearts.

Like most laments, this psalm begins with a cry to God: Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint (Psalm 64:1a, ESV). We know that God hears and answers prayer, yet he wants us to call to him. This complaint doesn’t equate with our modern understanding of complaining. It doesn’t mean whining about everything, never being joyful or content. It’s expressing your problem to God and your recognition that you need his divine help.

David strongly expresses his need for deliverance: preserve my life from dread of the enemy. Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked, from the throng of evildoers (verses 1b-2, ESV).

The problems in David’s life are real and immediate. He expresses urgency as he begs God for help with imperative verbs: preserve, hide. His enemies fill him with dread, they plot secretly, and they are many (a throng!).

Like most laments, this psalm begins with a cry to God:

who whet their tongues like swords,
    who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
    shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
    they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, “Who can see them?”
   They search out injustice,
saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”
    For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep (verses 3-6, ESV).

These enemies are not obvious foes on a battlefield. They excel at manipulation and behind-the-scenes schemes. They stealthily attack innocent people without cause. Rather than simply slipping into sin or falling in with a bad crowd, these guys commit themselves to evil and conspire to trap others. They doubt anyone would catch on to their plans because they’re careful to cover their tracks. They pour their time and intelligence into searching out injustice, looking for ways to beat the system. They focus on criticizing and bringing down other people. They are verbally, emotionally–perhaps even physically and spiritually–abusive. The mind and heart of a person is very deep. No one knows the depth of depravity in some minds or the extent of evil in some hearts. Some people devote God’s good gift of mental acuity to scheme against others.

What a depressing description! Maybe David’s vivid picture of his enemies reminds you of someone you know. A verbal bully who rudely criticizes you in front of others, a manipulator who secretly persuades others that you’re not trustworthy or competent, a hypocritical person who acts friendly to many while refusing to smile or speak to you, or an intelligent and articulate person who manufactures narratives against you and God’s truth. These situations are enough to make a person feel hopeless. Within the context of the church community, they can make you want to leave, shaking the dust from your feet (Matthew 10:14).

Before you get too depressed, please read the next section of the psalm, which begins with these crucial words: “But God”!

But God shoots his arrow at them;
    they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
    all who see them will wag their heads (verses 7-8, ESV).

These people won’t get by with their schemes forever. Their tongues cut like swords? Their words wound like arrows? (See verse 3.) God shoots his arrows at them! He wounds them suddenly and brings them to ruin, using their own back-stabbing tongues to cut them down to size. People will see it and shake their heads.

But the purpose isn’t your personal vengeance, attractive as that might seem. God brings them down to show his divine power and generate our human praise (verses 9-10, ESV):

Then all mankind fears;
    they tell what God has brought about
    and ponder what he has done.

Let the righteous one rejoice in the Lord
    and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!

People who see God destroy the enemies of believers will revere the Lord and witness to his deliverance. They’ll meditate on his amazing works. Believers can rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him.

Ponder what God has done and rejoice! If you haven’t seem him bring down your enemies yet, trust that no enemy of God will ultimately succeed. Let your heart, brought low by the schemes and insults of others, exult in the Lord!

Thirsty soul, Psalm 63

DSCN2876Iowa may not have mountain vistas or white beaches, but in summer its lush green fields and rolling tree-covered hills are beautiful. The land between the mighty Mississippi and the churning Missouri, creased by river valleys and meandering streams, displays more summer beauty than I-80 drivers realize.

And it’s a far cry from the arid wilderness of Judah, where David hid many years and what he calls in Psalm 63 a “dry and weary land where there is no water.”

David longs for God so fervently, he compares it to the intense desire for water and refreshment experienced when traveling through a desert.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
    my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
    as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1, ESV).

I may live in a lush land between two rivers in the heart of America, but I identify with David’s longing. Even the greenest land seems barren when it feels as if God is far off.

But when we participate in corporate worship and hear the Word faithfully proclaimed, we see a brief glimpse of God’s glory and power.

So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
    beholding your power and glory (verse 2, ESV).

Our focus shifts from ourselves and our needs to God and his glory. We remember God’s unfailing love and we praise him for it.

Because your steadfast love is better than life,
    my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
    in your name I will lift up my hands (verses 3 & 4, ESV).

God’s love defies limits. It never ends, it never wavers, it never changes. He always loves us with an abundance and compassion beyond our ability to fathom.

Because concerns kept me awake between 2:00 and 6:00 AM, the next section of this psalm speaks directly to me this morning.

My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food,
    and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,
when I remember you upon my bed,
    and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
    and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
    your right hand upholds me (5-8, ESV).

I don’t always praise God with joyful lips or sing to him with joy. But if I remember what he’s done for me, how he’s guided every step of my life’s journey, and how he continues to shelter me under his protective wings, I ought to praise him. And praise leads to joy in the most downcast heart. In times of distress and discouragement, my soul can cling to God. His right hand holds me in his everlasting embrace.

The schemes of the devil and all his minions will come to nothing.

But those who seek to destroy my life
    shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword;
    they shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
    all who swear by him shall exult,
    for the mouths of liars will be stopped (9-11, ESV).

DSCN2853God will thwart the plans of deceivers, manipulators, and liars. They will perish on the points of their own sharp schemes. We may not see their specific demise, but God promises that evil will not triumph.

Christ and his people will exult and rejoice in our God, who satisfies our longings more than an oasis of fresh water in a parched land.

Silent soul, Psalm 62

DSCN0035What does it mean for the soul to wait for God in silence?

The Psalms surge with emotional expressions, communicating deep feelings of joy or despair. They provide a pattern for expressing universal human emotions to a God who hears and answers prayer. But Psalm 62 speaks of waiting for God in silence. Why does the psalmist speak about a silent soul, when he so often talks about pouring out his heart to God?

The first two verses of the psalm say:

For God alone my soul waits in silence;
    from him comes my salvation.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken (ESV).

The psalmist submissively puts his trust in the One and Only True God. He alone provides salvation and protection.

Charles Spurgeon, in his Treasury of David, points out how Psalm 62 emphasizes the only God and says about this first verse: “The presence of God alone could awe his heart into quietude, submission, rest, and acquiescence; but when that was felt, not a rebellious word or thought broke the peaceful silence.” And, “No eloquence in the world is half so full of meaning as the patient silence of a child of God.”

When my soul waits for the Lord in silence, I no longer murmur or grumble. Without complaint, I submit my stubborn and rebellious self-will to his loving and almighty divine will.

And why shouldn’t I? God alone is the source of salvation. He alone is my shelter and protector. Secure in him, I will not tremble.

Verses 3 & 4 depict the psalmist’s crisis:

How long will all of you attack a man
    to batter him,
    like a leaning wall, a tottering fence?
They only plan to thrust him down from his high position.
    They take pleasure in falsehood.
They bless with their mouths,
    but inwardly they curse. Selah (ESV)

David evidently wrote this psalm during a period when deceptive hypocrites sought his downfall. We all have times when we feel such attacks, either from specific people or general forces. But David reiterates his submissive trust in God alone:

For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence,
    for my hope is from him.
He only is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress; I shall not be shaken.
On God rests my salvation and my glory;
    my mighty rock, my refuge is God (verses 5-7, ESV).

These verses replicate the first two, adding references to hope and glory. Repetition emphasizes the Only God as our only hope.

David urges everyone to trust in God at all times (verse 8, ESV):

Trust in him at all times, O people;
    pour out your heart before him;
    God is a refuge for us. Selah

He assures us that a silent soul doesn’t mean a silent heart. We may still express our deepest feelings to the Lord, while we trust in him with a submissive spirit.

We must not trust in people or possessions:

Those of low estate are but a breath;
    those of high estate are a delusion;
in the balances they go up;
    they are together lighter than a breath.
Put no trust in extortion;
    set no vain hopes on robbery;
    if riches increase, set not your heart on them (verses 9 & 10).

Poor or rich, every individual lives only for a brief time with limited influence. A short human life is like a breath or delusion that quickly passes away. Extortion or robbery may bring temporary wealth, but riches–however gained–are a vain hope.

Once God has spoken;
    twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God,
    and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For you will render to a man
    according to his work (verses 11 & 12, ESV).

As the psalmist has repeated his words in the psalm, God has repeated his promise. He alone is the almighty and loving God. Salvation depends totally on him; we can do nothing to earn or secure it. Yet our work matters. God commands obedience, and those who love him will desire to obey him.

Don’t hesitate to pour out your heart before God. But examine the attitude of your soul. Are you grumbling and complaining about your lot in life? Or are you submitting your stubborn human will to his loving divine will?

High Rock, Psalm 61

Word pictures create images in our minds that make our reading come alive. Enlivened writing is more easily internalized and becomes more personal. And Psalm 61 pulses with images that increase our awareness of God as our protector.

The ESV title for the psalm is “Lead Me to the Rock” with a notation “To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. Of David.”

Like many psalms, it begins with an emotional petition seeking God’s help:

Hear my cry, O God,
    listen to my prayer;
from the end of the earth I call to you
    when my heart is faint.
Lead me to the rock
    that is higher than I,
for you have been my refuge,
    a strong tower against the enemy (Psalm 61:1-3, ESV).

The Bible doesn’t tell us about David traveling to a far country, known as the end of the earth, or about him experiencing heart failure, but we understand this is symbolic language. His cry implies his feelings of isolation and weakness. In his distress, he seeks protection and strength from the One who has repeatedly provided it in the past. He compares God to a high rock, an immovable physical feature upon which a soldier can stand above the heads of his enemies. He also uses the battle picture of God as a strong tower.

Having acknowledged God’s past help and his present provision, David places his hope for the future firmly in the Lord:

Let me dwell in your tent forever!
    Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! Selah
For you, O God, have heard my vows;
    you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name (verses 4 & 5, ESV).

We see more vivid images as David longs to live eternally in God’s tent and shelter under his wings.

David’s confidence in God is so sure because God has helped him in the past and has given him the good heritage enjoyed by all believers. David often speaks of God’s future deliverance as if it’s already accomplished, and he may be doing that when he says God has heard his vows. That seems likely when we consider the messianic character of the next verses (6 & 7, ESV):

Prolong the life of the king;
    may his years endure to all generations!
May he be enthroned forever before God;
    appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!

Obviously David is asking God to prolong his own life and reign, but it’s equally apparent that the reference extends far beyond a human ruler. No man will be enthroned forever before God, except the God-man Jesus Christ.

While David knew his reign foreshadowed that of the eternal king, he also expresses his personal and immediate need: for God’s steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him.

Confident that God does and will care for him, David promises his continual praise:

So will I ever sing praises to your name,
    as I perform my vows day after day (verse 8, ESV).

King David never saw King Jesus, but he speaks about him with the certainty that his salvation was sure. How much more can we, as believers who’ve read God’s complete revelation about Christ, daily proclaim his praise!

Defeated foes, Psalm 60

David wrote Psalm 60 after his army commander, Joab, had won a great military victory over the Edomites, but that triumph had not overshadowed recent struggles in Israel. When David became king, the nation suffered from internal divisions and external enemies. But David recognizes all Israel’s problems have ultimately come from God.

O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses;
    you have been angry; oh, restore us.
You have made the land to quake; you have torn it open;
    repair its breaches, for it totters.
You have made your people see hard things;
    you have given us wine to drink that made us stagger (Psalm 60:1-3, ESV).

David implies God’s anger is righteous and over the people’s sins. He acknowledges God as the One who is sovereign over Israel’s calamity and strife, and as the only One who can restore and stabilize the broken and tottering kingdom. David compares the people, reeling from recent trauma, to those who stagger from potent wine. And he views even this as coming from God’s sovereign hand.

In verses 4-8, the tone changes from that initial dirge to a celebration of deliverance:

You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
    that they may flee to it from the bow. Selah
That your beloved ones may be delivered,
    give salvation by your right hand and answer us!

God has spoken in his holiness:
    “With exultation I will divide up Shechem
    and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
Gilead is mine; Manasseh is mine;
    Ephraim is my helmet;
    Judah is my scepter.
Moab is my washbasin;
    upon Edom I cast my shoe;
    over Philistia I shout in triumph.”

God sets his banner of love over those who believe in him. He protects his people from physical and spiritual enemies, delivering them from many earthly struggles and from eternal condemnation.

David envisions God speaking directly to him, promising to restore all the holdouts within the kingdom, to rule forever through the tribe of Judah, and to thoroughly subdue all Israel’s enemies.

The final four verses turn into a prayer as David addresses God (9-12, ESV).

Who will bring me to the fortified city?
    Who will lead me to Edom?
Have you not rejected us, O God?
    You do not go forth, O God, with our armies.
Oh, grant us help against the foe,
    for vain is the salvation of man!
With God we shall do valiantly;
    it is he who will tread down our foes.

Again, David acknowledges God as the only source of security and victory. If God does not go with us, we can do nothing. Even if it seems that God has rejected us, even if he seems to allow our enemies to triumph, he will not allow his chosen ones to perish. Our salvation is secure in Jesus Christ. When we seek to do God’s will, we shall do valiantly–no matter how it appears to us or in the eyes of the world.

For it is God who treads down our foes. If we love God and serve him wholeheartedly, our enemies are his.

Who are your foes? Are they people who don’t see things exactly the same way you do? Are they people who have a different agenda from yours? Or are your enemies the forces that fight against Christ?

With God, you will do valiantly, because he is the One who does it all. He will conquer every foe opposed to him and his Word.

Howling dogs, Psalm 59

wolves circle
When one dog starts to howl, all the neighborhood dogs join in. If this happens late in the evening, roving coyotes may even begin howling.

Psalm 59 brings that eerie chorus to mind by repeating an identical refrain. Verses 6 & 7 in the ESV say:

Each evening they come back,
    howling like dogs
    and prowling about the city.
There they are, bellowing with their mouths
    with swords in their lips—
    for “Who,” they think, “will hear us?”

Verse 14 echoes 6, while verse 15 depicts the  insatiable appetite of these “dogs”:

Each evening they come back,
    howling like dogs
    and prowling about the city.
They wander about for food
    and growl if they do not get their fill (ESV).

The vivid canine simile represents  the psalmist’s circling enemies and their taunting chants. But the psalmist’s song drowns out his enemies’ howls and growls.

But I will sing of your strength;
    I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been to me a fortress
    and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my Strength, I will sing praises to you,
    for you, O God, are my fortress,
    the God who shows me steadfast love (Psalm 59:16 & 17, ESV).

In an earlier post, I spoke about how David wrote this psalm when he was trapped in his home, surrounded by men Saul had sent to kill him.

We may not have physical enemies prowling outside our homes, but we have spiritual enemies sneaking inside our minds. Ephesians 6:12 calls them the “cosmic powers over this present darkness” and “the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”

Christians easily fall into one of two errors about spiritual warfare. We can disregard its reality or we can regard it too much. We need to be aware of it without being preoccupied by it. And an awareness of spiritual warfare doesn’t preclude personal responsibility.

In other words, we can’t use “spiritual warfare” as an excuse for not recognizing negative or proud thoughts and trying to take them captive to Christ:

For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ, being ready to punish every disobedience, when your obedience is complete (2 Corinthians 10:4-6, ESV).
We shouldn’t dwell too much of the reality of spiritual enemies, but we must keep our focus on Christ. God promises:
Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world (1 John 4:4, ESV).
God is in control of even the howling and growling dogs in our lives. Keep your focus on Christ. Sing aloud of God’s steadfast love in the morning. Those are the best ways to drown out chants of any enemy and fill your mind with praise to God.

Psalm 58

On Mondays for the last several years, I’ve been trying to post a meditation on a psalm and today’s the day for Psalm 58. Interestingly, Bible Gateway’s “Book of Common Prayer” reading plan for today (March 17, 2014) includes Psalm 58.

Almost four years ago, I looked at Psalm 58 in a post titled “Broken Teeth & Torn Fangs” that talked about its vivid imagery and imprecatory language.  I noted how this psalm thrusts into overdrive Psalm 57’s image of wicked liars as lions.

We see this particularly in verse 6 (ESV):

O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
    tear out the fangs of the young lions, O Lord!

I noted that the editors of the Literary Study Bible use the term “satiric” four times in their brief introduction to Psalm 58 and avoid the use of the word “imprecatory” all together. Reading my original post nearly four years later, I’m still not sure warrior David viewed this as satire when he wrote it. If you want a somewhat graphic description of David’s forceful character when he became angry at Nabal, read the King James Version of 1 Samuel 25.

People tend to avoid talking about the imprecatory Psalms, perhaps because they don’t know what to say about them or are embarassed by their apparently vindictive words. But we know from 2 Timothy 3:16 that all scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting, and training in righteousness. And that includes imprecatory (or satiric, if you prefer) Psalms.

Psalm 58 pulses with vivid pictures of the wicked who “go astray from birth, speaking lies” (v. 3), comparing these liars to poisonous snakes:

They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
    like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
    or of the cunning enchanter (verses 4 & 5, ESV).

Lies are poison. Liars are like devious snakes who will not listen to charmers or enchanters. Intent on their malicious purpose, they will not listen to reason. They refuse to be controlled by anyone other than their own desires.

After David compares liars to young lions, asking God to break their teeth and tear out their fangs (see v. 6 above), he continues to pray for their destruction with disturbing descriptions (verses 7-9, ESV):

Let them vanish like water that runs away;
    when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
    like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
    whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

Because some of these phrases carry weighty emotional freight, these verse are difficult to read.  And they’re immediately followed by this graphic image:

The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
    he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked (verse 10, ESV).

How are we to understand such disturbing language and graphic imagery?

We must first realize that the vengeance depicted here is not our own, but God’s. He has executed it in his perfect and righteous judgment.

In Heart Aflame: Daily Readings from Calvin on the Psalms, John Calvin writes about verse 10: “It might appear at first sight that the feeling here attributed to the righteous is far from being consistent with the mercy which ought to characterise them; but we must remember that…there is nothing absurd is supposing that believers, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit, should rejoice in witnessing the execution of divine judgments. …when wilful obstinacy has at last brought round the hour of retribution, it is only natural that they should rejoice to see it inflicted, as proving the interest which God feels in their personal safety” (p. 142).

Christians who seek to show Christ’s compassion shouldn’t cringe when reading imprecatory Psalms. These Psalms are not calls for us to perform violence, but are assurances that God will certainly judge and completely destroy those who thwart the cause of his righteousness. Their destruction will witness to the entire world (verse 11, ESV):

Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
    surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

This verse implies that we don’t have to wait until the final Day of Judgment to see the wicked destroyed. We may wait that long to see some forms of justice, but God will also make his justice obvious while people still inhabit the earth.

While we might be tempted to cringe at or reject scriptures expressing imprecation, we can view them correctly when we remember Romans 12:19 (ESV):

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

We are not to seek vengeance. Rather we must rest in God and trust that he will see justice done. We can be thankful that God is a righteous judge who will not allow wickedness to triumph forever. He may destroy evil on this earth, and we can be sure that he will finally eradicate it forever.

And that’s reason to rejoice!

Revisiting Psalm 57

Because I’m pressed for time this month as I try to prepare several speaking presentations, I’m posting a link to a previous meditation on Psalm 57 rather than writing an entirely new one.

I wrote this post about “Lying Amid Lions” almost four years ago, but its scriptural truths are timeless.

In God We Trust, Psalm 56

DSCN3686Ever wonder where the phrase engraved on American coins comes from? Contrary to the prevailing national culture, money made in the United States still says: In God We Trust.

Regardless of how many Americans actually put their trust in God, he cares for those who do. And despite the failure of many to acknowledge him, he remains sovereign over all people and all nations.

In Psalm 56, David confesses his unequivocal trust in God. A notation in the ESV tells readers that David wrote this psalm when the Philistines seized him in Gath.

Bear in mind that the giant, Goliath, who died when David flung a stone that embedded in his brain, was from Gath. Imagine how Philistines from Gath felt about the man who killed their gigantic and previously unstoppable hero. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in David’s sandals.

And the Philistines weren’t David’s only enemies. He was constantly on the run from Saul, the king of Israel, whose place he was destined to take.

Feeling overwhelmed, David begs for God’s gracious mercy and confesses his trust in him(Psalm 56:1-4, ESV):

Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me;
    all day long an attacker oppresses me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
    for many attack me proudly.
When I am afraid,
    I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can flesh do to me?

Despite David’s acknowledgement of trust (head), he continues to feel beleaguered. These enemies never let up (verses 5-7, ESV):

All day long they injure my cause;
    all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk;
    they watch my steps,
    as they have waited for my life.
For their crime will they escape?
    In wrath cast down the peoples, O God!

Rather than exercise personal vengeance, David asks God to act. Then he again professes his trust in God, couching that confession within the context of a beautiful image of God’s intimate care (verses 8-11, ESV):

You have kept count of my tossings;
    put my tears in your bottle.
    Are they not in your book?
Then my enemies will turn back
    in the day when I call.
    This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
    in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I shall not be afraid.
    What can man do to me?

Each time I read this psalm, I’m floored by the picture of a personal God who tracks my night-time tossings and counts my heartfelt tears. Four years ago, I blogged about this image.  I’ve also written and spoken about it in other venues. Still, it never fails to smack between my blind eyes with renewed awareness of God’s deeply personal love.

David concludes this psalm with a vow to worship God and walk in his ways (verses 12-13, ESV):

I must perform my vows to you, O God;
    I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
    yes, my feet from falling,
that I may walk before God
    in the light of life.

DSCN3697Citizens of the eternal kingdom have been delivered from death for a purpose—to walk before God in the light of life.

May we each take the American national monetary motto to heart, showing by every action that we trust in God!