God’s Awesome Deeds, Psalm 66

2016Awesome. How often we hear or use that adjective! Too often it refers to something a little less than awesome: a piece of pizza, a great basketball shot, a friend’s kind action, or catching a flight connection. These things can be delicious, amazing, touching, or stress-relieving. But are they truly awesome?

Something awesome inspires awe, and awe is feeling of fear, wonder, and reverence. The best use of awesome is for God and His works, as in Psalm 66, which the ESV titles: How Awesome Are Your Deeds.

The psalm begins with four verses of lively praise:

Shout for joy to God, all the earth;
    sing the glory of his name;
    give to him glorious praise!
Say to God, “How awesome are your deeds!
    So great is your power that your enemies come cringing to you.
All the earth worships you
    and sings praises to you;
    they sing praises to your name” (Psalm 66:1-4, ESV).

The psalmist calls the entire earth to shout for joy to God, giving him glorious praise. He even provides a specific piece of dialogue as a pattern of declaring the awesomeness of God’s deeds to him.

Following the first four verses, the word “Selah” appears. Commentators differ in their interpretation of this little word, which shows up three times in this psalm and many times in others. Some people believe it is simply a musical notation, indicating a pause or break in the delivery. Others agree it may be a musical notation, but may also indicate the reader should pause and meditate on what has just been read. And some people think it may additionally indicate the idea of lifting up praise. Whatever its original intent, seeing it reminds modern readers to pause and meditate as well as to lift their hearts in praise.

The next section of Psalm 66 invites the reader to “come and see” God’s awesome deeds:

Come and see what God has done:
    he is awesome in his deeds toward the children of man.
He turned the sea into dry land;
    they passed through the river on foot.
There did we rejoice in him,
    who rules by his might forever,
whose eyes keep watch on the nations—
    let not the rebellious exalt themselves (verses 5-7, ESV).

These verses recall the awe-inspiring event when God caused the waters of the Red Sea to part so his people could walk across on dry land, escaping from Pharaoh’s pursuing army. You can read the narrative account of the event in Exodus 14, but you can read the poetic song as the people rejoiced in Exodus 15. God watches the nations and will not let the rebellious exalt forever. Just as he destroyed the Egyptian army at the beginning of Israel’s journey, he destroyed the rebellious nations in Canaan when Israel entered the Promised Land. He even reminded the people of his earlier deliverance by providing a dry path through the Jordan River in an awesome echo (Joshua 3).

God leads his people through trials to places of abundance:

Bless our God, O peoples;
    let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept our soul among the living
    and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
    you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
    you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
you let men ride over our heads;
    we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance (verses 8-12, ESV).

How often has your foot seemed ready to slip, but God kept you among the living? Has God tested you like silver in the refiner’s fire? Have you felt caught in a net of addiction? Or crushed under a burden of grief? Have men rode over you, pressing your head into the dirt? Do you feel as if you’ve been burned? Or nearly drowned? God has been in control of even these trials and has led you through them into a place of abundance. Perhaps you don’t see that abundance yet, but you will some day.

On this Monday following the Lord’s Day, this psalm reminds us of God’s call to formal worship.

I will come into your house with burnt offerings;
    I will perform my vows to you,
that which my lips uttered
    and my mouth promised when I was in trouble.
I will offer to you burnt offerings of fattened animals,
    with the smoke of the sacrifice of rams;
I will make an offering of bulls and goats (verses 13-15, ESV).

When we’re in distress, we often promise to serve God better if he’ll only get us out of this mess. Don’t neglect to follow through on those promises. God delivers us from trouble we see and countless disasters we don’t even recognize. Whether we see his deliverance or not, he calls us to formal worship every week. All the Old Testament sacrifices pointed forward to the one-time definitive sacrifice of Christ. We no longer need to offer animals, but we do need to offer our hearts.

And, like the psalmist, we need to proclaim God’s awesome deeds to others.

Come and hear, all you who fear God,
    and I will tell what he has done for my soul.
I cried to him with my mouth,
    and high praise was on my tongue.
If I had cherished iniquity in my heart,
    the Lord would not have listened.
But truly God has listened;
    he has attended to the voice of my prayer (verses 16-19, ESV).

God listens to the cry of humble, repentant believers. He hears our prayers and delivers us in ways that are truly awesome. We can proclaim the words of verse 20:

Blessed be God,
    because he has not rejected my prayer
    or removed his steadfast love from me!

God alone deserves all our praise. His holiness and majesty generate awe. Wonder of wonders, Almighty God hears and answers our prayers. He loves us and will never stop loving us! Awesome.

 

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Already delivered, Psalm 54

cotton ball cloudsIn today’s culture of death, when evil men persecute Christians and sin remains deeply woven into society’s fabric, consider David’s pleas and praise in Psalm 54.

As he so often does, David begins the psalm by begging God to hear his prayer:

O God, save me by your name,
    and vindicate me by your might.
O God, hear my prayer;
    give ear to the words of my mouth (Psalm 54:1-2, ESV)

He then states the reason he cries to God.

For strangers have risen against me;
    ruthless men seek my life;
    they do not set God before themselves (verse 3, ESV).

Christians today all over the world and in our own country are beset by ruthless men and strangers who rise up against them. These enemies have no regard for the God who made them and created all things. They do not look to God or follow his commands.

But believers acknowledge their dependence on the Lord and his sustaining power.

Behold, God is my helper;
    the Lord is the upholder of my life.
He will return the evil to my enemies;
    in your faithfulness put an end to them (verses 4-5, ESV).

Christians realize they can do nothing without God equipping them. He upholds us physically through each breath and heartbeat, emotionally through each trauma and grief, and spiritually through each perplexity and doubt.

And he does not allow evil to triumph ultimately. He will put an end to the enemies of Christians, who are also his enemies.

When we see this happen, we can praise God. We may praise him as individuals, but we encourage other believers when we share accounts of God’s deliverance. And our appropriate response is a thankful spirit in corporate worship.

With a freewill offering I will sacrifice to you;
    I will give thanks to your name, O Lord, for it is good.
For he has delivered me from every trouble,
    and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies (verses 6-7, ESV).

David frequently reviewed the many ways God had delivered him in the past. He wrote these words long before his final cold and weak days, while he still fought and sang with youthful vigor. In fact, he wrote this while fleeing for his life from Saul. Despite the present danger, David considered that God had already delivered him from every trouble.

The Psalms often convey God’s deliverance as if it’s already accomplished. How would it change your outlook if you ended each prayer by confessing God’s resolution of your problem?

We may not always see the resolution to every problem or persecution in this life, but from God’s infinite perspective it’s already a done deal. Praise his name!

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.

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!