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.

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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!

Betrayal, Psalm 55

snowy boy and girlWe trust friends and family members to protect us and promote our best interest. But sometimes the people we trust betray us.

The psalms pulse with prayers for deliverance from persecution. Usually this comes from “enemies” or “wicked” men. But Psalm 55 describes the trauma of betrayal.

Like many other psalms, it begins with a plea for mercy. But this extended request becomes a bit more specific than most:

Give ear to my prayer, O God,
    and hide not yourself from my plea for mercy!
Attend to me, and answer me;
    I am restless in my complaint and I moan,
because of the noise of the enemy,
    because of the oppression of the wicked.
For they drop trouble upon me,
    and in anger they bear a grudge against me (Psalm 55:1-3, ESV).

This enemy is noisy. The wicked are oppressive. They drop trouble like a crushing hammer blow. And they bear an angry grudge.

Verses 4-8 convey the vivid image of a dove flying away from terror to find refuge:

My heart is in anguish within me;
    the terrors of death have fallen upon me.
Fear and trembling come upon me,
    and horror overwhelms me.
And I say, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
    I would fly away and be at rest;
yes, I would wander far away;
    I would lodge in the wilderness; Selah
I would hurry to find a shelter
    from the raging wind and tempest.”

The trauma creates great anxiety within the psalmist’s soul. His description sounds like a full-blown panic attack. Anyone who’s had one knows how desperately you long to escape. The psalmist desperately desires to be free from both the raging anger of the attacker and the resulting personal tempest of terror.

This prayer takes a slightly imprecatory turn, asking God to act, and describing cultural sin that sounds very modern:

Destroy, O Lord, divide their tongues;
    for I see violence and strife in the city.
Day and night they go around it
    on its walls,
and iniquity and trouble are within it;
    ruin is in its midst;
oppression and fraud
    do not depart from its marketplace (9-11, ESV).

Imprecatory requests in the psalms never ask God to permit personal revenge. They always request divine action. And the object is never only personal enemies, but those who strive against the Lord. The above verses depict urban strife and violence around the clock, in the city and suburbs, in economics and commerce.

From the general context of diving petition and urban turmoil, the speaker switches gears to directly address the betrayer:

For it is not an enemy who taunts me—
    then I could bear it;
it is not an adversary who deals insolently with me—
    then I could hide from him.
But it is you, a man, my equal,
    my companion, my familiar friend.
We used to take sweet counsel together;
    within God’s house we walked in the throng.
Let death steal over them;
    let them go down to Sheol alive;
    for evil is in their dwelling place and in their heart (12-15, ESV).

The writer pounds nails into the betrayal coffin: “you, a man, my equal, my companion, my familiar friend” (verse 13). This was not a mere acquaintance; this was an intimate friend. A wise counselor who gave good advice. An apparent fellow believer who walked beside him at worship. What a horrific betrayal! No wonder the psalmist calls on God to bring an end to the evil.

What will the psalmist do in the meantime? Will he work behind the scenes to bring about their destruction? Will he seek vengeance? No. He’ll cry to God and trust in him.

But I call to God,
    and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
    I utter my complaint and moan,
    and he hears my voice.
He redeems my soul in safety
    from the battle that I wage,
    for many are arrayed against me.
God will give ear and humble them,
    he who is enthroned from of old, Selah
because they do not change
    and do not fear God (16-19, ESV).

Betrayal demands continual cries to the Lord. We must depend completely on him to sustain us through the trauma and make it right in the end. God will hear the pleas of the righteous and will humble the pride of the wicked.

But we can’t stop thinking about the deceit speech of the betrayer:

My companion stretched out his hand against his friends;
    he violated his covenant.
His speech was smooth as butter,
    yet war was in his heart;
his words were softer than oil,
    yet they were drawn swords (20-21, ESV).

This friend violated trust. His smooth-as-butter speech and his soft-as-oil words cloaked a naked sword.

What can we do in the face of such horrendous betrayal? Only this:

Cast your burden on the Lord,
    and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
    the righteous to be moved (22, ESV).

Such a burden is impossible to bear. You must cast it on the Lord. He will sustain you. He will never allow the righteous to slip from his grip or be shaken from his sure foundation.

The wicked, however, face an entirely different future:

But you, O God, will cast them down
    into the pit of destruction;
men of blood and treachery
    shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you (23, ESV).

God will cast them down into the pit of destruction. He will cut short the lives of men who shed blood and practice treachery. What are we to do?

Cry to the Lord, wait on his will, and trust completely in him.

Upheld life, Psalm 54

>Awaking the Dawn, Psalm 108What problems plague you on this Monday morning? If you live in the Midwest, it’s another bitterly cold and fiercely windy day. You can pretty much ignore it if you work inside. But nearly everyone has to drive to work in it and some people, like rural letter carriers and truck drivers, have to drive all day in it. Others, like utility workers and city mail carriers, have to be out in it. If you dread going back to work today, think about (and pray for) these poor folks or others who have more difficult jobs than you.

The key to facing life with a good attitude, however, doesn’t come from simply comparing yours to others who have it worse. Psalm 54 reveals the key to unlock the calm attitude door.

In Psalm 54, David expresses a plea and describes a problem. Then he confesses the Rescuer and commits to a response.

He begins, not by asking God to equip him to action, but by pleading for God to act:

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).

You think you’ve got problems? Look at David’s!

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

Scholars differ on interpretations regarding that little word “Selah,” but I think it’s safe to assume it means something like, “Pause and consider.” So let’s think about our problems. Each of us has their own personal struggles. You may face another bitter day of work in sub-zero temperatures. Or you may be headed for another day of working with difficult people who manipulate against you behind your back. You may be underpaid and under-appreciated. You may be bullied at school or work. You may be manipulated and abused, stuck in a situation that looks hopeless. You may wonder how you can cope with your physical or emotional pain today. Like David, you may even be persecuted by ruthless strangers who seek your life.

All of these problems are the result of sin, from the wickedness of those who reject God and his ways, to the physical ravages of disease, to life-threatening weather. Too many of our problems are beyond our control. Do you sing with Penny in The Rescuers“Who will rescue me?”

There’s only one answer to that question.

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 (4 & 5, ESV).

God is the Supreme Rescuer. He upholds your life and mine. We don’t have to scheme about getting even or dream of exacting revenge. God’s in control. He’s the One who will return evil to his enemies and yours. He is faithful and will put an end to them. You may not see it in your short lifetime, but God will make sure good triumphs in the end.

We may see how God overthrows the enemies in our lives, but even if we don’t see immediate results, we can trust God to make everything right one day. And we can trust him to uphold and sustain us while we suffer.

David’s problems were not resolved while he wrote this psalm. The ruthless men were still seeking his life. But he confessed God as his Rescuer and was convinced he would act (“He will return the evil” and “put an end to them”).

David responded with such faith in God’s future actions that it was as if he already saw the result.

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 (6 & 7, ESV).

Before he was even delivered from his enemies, David responded with a commitment to freely offer a sacrifice and thank God for his anticipated deliverance. He reminded himself of past rescues with assurance for future ones.

Whatever problems you face on this bitter morning, know that God is in control. If you believe in the finished work of Jesus, God upholds your life now and will certainly rescue you in the future. Trust him and thank him!

None Who Does Good, Psalm 53

>Established Mountains & Watered Earth - Psalm 65Most of us tend to think we’re pretty good people. After all, we’re not criminals or murderers. We’re far superior to evil leaders like Hitler or Hussein. Truth is, we’re all sinners.

The Bible teaches that every person who ever lived and who ever will live, with the exception of Jesus Christ, is a sinner. No baby is born totally innocent and no saint can achieve complete perfection. Psalm 53 is one of many texts clearly showing that we’re all sinners.

But there are two kinds of sinners, unsaved and saved, and Psalm 53 begins with a picture of the foolish person who does not believe in the existence of God.

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”
    They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity;
    there is none who does good (Psalm 53:1, ESV).

Unless the Holy Spirit regenerates our hearts, we are all lost sinners, following our sinful natural desires.

God looks down from heaven
    on the children of man
to see if there are any who understand,
    who seek after God.

They have all fallen away;
    together they have become corrupt;
there is none who does good,
    not even one (verses 2 & 3, ESV).

Verse four more clearly delineates the divide between those who do evil and those God calls his own people:

Have those who work evil no knowledge,
    who eat up my people as they eat bread,
    and do not call upon God?

In many places of the world today, workers of evil devour God’s people as quickly and commonly as they eat bread. But those who do not call upon God have no knowledge.

They may appear to be in control now, but they face fear and destruction.

There they are, in great terror,
    where there is no terror!
For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you;
    you put them to shame, for God has rejected them (5, ESV).

Such persecutors will succumb to anxiety and imagine terror where none exists. God will not allow them to triumph forever. Those who surround his people now will be definitively destroyed, because God has rejected them.

Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!
    When God restores the fortunes of his people,
    let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad (6, ESV).

David longed for the day of redemption, when the promised Redeemer would come. Just as Old Testament believers anticipated the Messiah’s birth, we long for Christ’s return. Let all God’s people rejoice and be glad in that great news! 

Olive tree, Psalm 52

Image from Wikimedia commons

Looking back on this past year, do you find it depressing to think about the tough times? Try focusing on how God got you through them.

David knew persecution. He was God’s anointed, the appointed successor to Saul. But he was continually on the run for his life.

One of the most tragic episodes during his years of flight is recorded in 1 Samuel 21 & 22, When Doeg, the Edomite, reported David’s location to Saul and killed 85 priests at Saul’s command. Saul also ordered the destruction of an entire city–men, women, children, and infants, as well as livestock were killed with the sword.

Knowing this background information increases our understanding of Psalm 52, written after Doeg’s report to Saul, and presumably after the deaths of the priests and people.

How can one make sense of such a tragedy? David begins by acknowledging that although the evil man may boast, God’s steadfast love still endures.

Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man?
    The steadfast love of God endures all the day.
Your tongue plots destruction,
    like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit.
You love evil more than good,
    and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah
You love all words that devour,
    O deceitful tongue (Psalm 52:1-4, ESV).

Evil people plot destruction and love deceit. Yet God will not permit evil to triumph in the end (5-7, ESV):

But God will break you down forever;
    he will snatch and tear you from your tent;
    he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah
The righteous shall see and fear,
    and shall laugh at him, saying,
“See the man who would not make
    God his refuge,
but trusted in the abundance of his riches
    and sought refuge in his own destruction!”

David excels at descriptive language. He follows these vivid depictions of the evil man and God’s judgment against him with a beautiful image.

But I am like a green olive tree
    in the house of God.
I trust in the steadfast love of God
    forever and ever.
I will thank you forever,
    because you have done it.
I will wait for your name, for it is good,
    in the presence of the godly (8-9, ESV).

The one who trusts God, even in what appears to be senseless destruction, is like a verdant olive tree. Believers firmly rooted in God’s love worship together. In the face of great adversity, they are able to live in thankful patience. They trust that God is good and he will manifest his love in his perfect time.

We’ve all had struggles during this past year, but God’s steadfast love sustains his children through every trial and tragedy. Trust him to be with you in the new year.

Clean heart, Psalm 51

clean heartKing David wrote the well-known penitential Psalm 51 after the prophet Nathan confronted him with his sins involving Bathsheba and her husband, Uriah (whose death in battle he’d arranged). You can read the sad sequence of self-centered actions in 2 Samuel 11. Nathan’s confrontation and the beginning of consequences are recorded in 2 Samuel 12.

God’s judgment included the death of the son born to David and Bathsheeba. I wrote about the child’s death in my book, Little One Lost: Living with Early Infant Loss, noting that while this particular loss was a consequence for sin most infant losses are not. We know from Job that suffering is not always a result of personal sin. I also wrote about David’s confidence in regaining fellowship with this little child someday in heaven (2 Samuel 12:22, 23).

Dr. R.C. Sproul makes the same points in an excellent lecture I found this morning. You can listen to the lecture on David’s great repentance and many others about David’s life here.

Psalm 51 demonstrates the genuine repentance in David’s heart, broken over his sin, in words that echo down through the centuries. Each winter’s first snowfall brings to mind the words of verse 7:

Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean;
    wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Those words are especially striking to me this morning, as I sit in a warm office on a bitterly cold morning after yesterday’s significant snowfall.

David begins the psalm by reminding himself of God’s mercy and steadfast love. He begs God to blot out his sins, confessing:

For I know my transgressions,
    and my sin is ever before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
    and done what is evil in your sight,
so that you may be justified in your words
    and blameless in your judgment (Psalm 51:3, 4, ESV).

This is not a story of David’s overpowering love, but of his overpowering lust. He realizes the extent of his sin and it weighs so heavily on his heart that he can think of nothing else. He confesses his primary offense was against God, but he definitely sinned against other people. He broke up a marriage by stealing a man’s wife and making sure that man was killed.

Bathsheba had little–if any–choice in the alliance. Yet she loses a husband and a son. Although the Bible focuses far more on David’s responsibility than her feelings, we know she grieved. Second Samuel 12:24 tells us that David comforted her.

All sin is primarily an offense against a holy God, but we must not ignore those who’ve been hurt by our actions. David comforted his grieving wife, and whenever possible we need to foster healing and restoration.

David has heard Nathan proclaim calamities that will come upon him as a result of his sin, and he acknowledges God’s justice. The truly repentant person is willing to face up to the consequences of personal sin.

Genuine repentance is more than a verbal declaration. David realizes that God sees the deepest recesses of his heart:

Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being,
    and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart (verse 6, ESV).

Only God can cleanse him and transform his heart:

Create in me a clean heart, O God,
    and renew a right spirit within me (verse 10, ESV).

David pleads with God to uphold him with His Spirit and restore to him the joy of salvation. But restoration carries responsibility.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
    and sinners will return to you.
Deliver me from bloodguiltiness, O God,
    O God of my salvation,
    and my tongue will sing aloud of your righteousness.
O Lord, open my lips,
    and my mouth will declare your praise (13-15, ESV).

The restored sinner cannot be silent. David promises to teach his people about God’s ways so other sinners may return to the Lord. He vows to sing and speak about God’s righteousness, to verbally share the good news of salvation and praise the Giver of it.

Repentance is more than remorse. Saying you’re sorry is not enough.

For you will not delight in sacrifice, or I would give it;
    you will not be pleased with a burnt offering.
The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
    a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise (16, 17, ESV).

God doesn’t want external religious practices that fail to reflect internal repentance. He desires a spirit broken over personal sin. He will not despise a contrite heart willing to face consequences and work toward restoration. These are the sacrifices that please God.

Thanksgiving sacrifice, Psalm 50

free Christian wallpaper from http://azdirectory.org/blog

Americans celebrated Thanksgiving last Thursday. Between sitting at a table bowed from the weight of turkey, cranberries, and pumpkin pie and sitting in front of a TV with a bloated belly, many Americans paused to consider the things for which they’re thankful.

Psalm 50 demonstrates that thanksgiving must be more than a few moments or even an entire day. It should be an attitude we offer continually as a sacrifice glorifying God.

The psalm begins by extolling God as the sovereign ruler who shines over all creation from perfection of beauty.

The Mighty One, God the Lord,
    speaks and summons the earth
    from the rising of the sun to its setting.
Out of Zion, the perfection of beauty,
    God shines forth (Psalm 50:1-2, ESV).

These verses show how God sustains all the earth, but they also recall the first day of creation. God spoke and there was light. Here we see the Creator and Sustainer calling all the earth, from east to west, to come before his light and listen to his word.

In the Bible, Zion often refers to the church. While it’s often impossible to see our fellow believers as “the perfection of beauty,” we will see the church as a spotless bride at Christ’s return.

The next verses sound apocalyptic, like many in the book of Revelation.

Our God comes; he does not keep silence;
    before him is a devouring fire,
    around him a mighty tempest.
He calls to the heavens above
    and to the earth, that he may judge his people:
“Gather to me my faithful ones,
    who made a covenant with me by sacrifice!”
The heavens declare his righteousness,
    for God himself is judge! Selah (3-6, ESV)

In our broken world, filled with pain and evil, it may sometimes seem as if God is silent. But he is not. He hears and answers our prayers now. Someday Christ will come in judgment and all people will hear his voice. He will gather to himself the faithful who lived in covenant with him.

The heavens above declare God’s righteousness. God calls all the stars by name (Psalm 147:4). The eyes of faith can see biblical truths in constellations, the waxing and waning of the moon, and the rising and setting of the sun.

God speaks most clearly in his written word. In Psalm 50, he speaks to believers (7-15, ESV):

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak;
    O Israel, I will testify against you.
    I am God, your God.
Not for your sacrifices do I rebuke you;
    your burnt offerings are continually before me.
I will not accept a bull from your house
    or goats from your folds.
For every beast of the forest is mine,
    the cattle on a thousand hills.
I know all the birds of the hills,
    and all that moves in the field is mine.

“If I were hungry, I would not tell you,
    for the world and its fullness are mine.
Do I eat the flesh of bulls
    or drink the blood of goats?
Offer to God a sacrifice of thanksgiving,
    and perform your vows to the Most High,
and call upon me in the day of trouble;
    I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.”

God does not delight in a merely external practice of religion. Everything in the world is his, why should we think we are doing a good thing when we tithe our money or donate food? It all belongs to God, and he doesn’t need any of the things we can give him.

Yet he wants us to offer a sacrifice to him, not of bulls or goats, but of thanksgiving and prayer. We are called to glorify him in everything we do.

God does not want hypocritical practices. He sees the inner motives of the heart, and he will not despise a heart that breaks over personal sin and repents from it (Psalm 51:17).

In the next part of Psalm 50, God vividly warns those who profess to be righteous but whose words and actions are wicked (16-22, ESV):

But to the wicked God says:
    “What right have you to recite my statutes
    or take my covenant on your lips?
For you hate discipline,
    and you cast my words behind you.
If you see a thief, you are pleased with him,
    and you keep company with adulterers.

“You give your mouth free rein for evil,
    and your tongue frames deceit.
You sit and speak against your brother;
    you slander your own mother’s son.
These things you have done, and I have been silent;
    you thought that I was one like yourself.
But now I rebuke you and lay the charge before you.

“Mark this, then, you who forget God,
    lest I tear you apart, and there be none to deliver!

These are people who recite the Apostles Creed or teach about God’s covenant, but they ignore God’s truth when it comes to biblical discipline, their business practices, or their social life. They resist God’s correction and ignore his directives. They rejoice to see thieves succeed and they support people who are unfaithful to their spouses. They freely use gifts of articulation for evil purposes and deceptive practices. They talk about members of their own family or church family, spreading rumors and creating discord.

Because they got away with these things, they thought they were living within God’s will. But now God rebukes them, laying a charge before them in a terrifying warning. Do not forget God!

Who has not fallen into these sins at some point? We need to remember that God sees and hears all. If we whisper gossip in a corner of church, we shouldn’t worry about other people overhearing us as much as we should be aware that God hears every word. He knows our thoughts and the desires hidden deeply in our hearts. So we all must take God’s warning seriously.

But he doesn’t end Psalm 50 on that warning note. He concludes with this promise (23, ESV):

The one who offers thanksgiving as his sacrifice glorifies me;
    to one who orders his way rightly
    I will show the salvation of God!”

We glorify God by offering a sacrifice of thanksgiving, not only one day a year, but also the other 364 days. God warns those who put on a pretense of righteousness while failing to apply his word to their lives. But he promises to show salvation to his people who love him and live for him in true righteousness.

Ransomed soul, Psalm 49

Picture from “God’s Wonders from the Psalms”
http://wonders.wallpaperdave.com/ps49-15v.jpg

Americans are among the most wealthy people on earth. They’re also the most indebted. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by financial concerns, this psalm’s for you.

It begins with a call for all earth’s inhabitants to listen to its wisdom:

Hear this, all peoples!
    Give ear, all inhabitants of the world,
both low and high,
    rich and poor together!
My mouth shall speak wisdom;
    the meditation of my heart shall be understanding.
I will incline my ear to a proverb;
    I will solve my riddle to the music of the lyre (1-4, ESV).

The psalmist calls all people of the earth, plebeian and patrician, wealthy and impoverished, to hear what he has to say. His mouth speaks wisdom and his heart understands when he meditates on God’s words. He will convey his knowledge in the form of this song.

God’s word is not a riddle that only the most wise or most educated can understand. Even a common person can understand the Bible and make sense of the world in the light of God’s word.

We all struggle with finding meaning in life from time to time. Financial adversity or other struggles cause fear and doubt. Birthdays, especially big-O birthdays, can make us wonder if our life or work has any meaning or lasting value. The answer to these riddles is in the wisdom of God’s word.

The psalmist goes on to ask why his troubles should make him afraid:

Why should I fear in times of trouble,
    when the iniquity of those who cheat me surrounds me,
those who trust in their wealth
    and boast of the abundance of their riches?
Truly no man can ransom another,
    or give to God the price of his life,
for the ransom of their life is costly
    and can never suffice,
that he should live on forever
    and never see the pit (5-9, ESV).

Why should any believer fear those who trust in their own wealth? No one can ransom another or pay God the price of a life. No human can redeem another from the pit, and no one lives forever.

For he sees that even the wise die;
    the fool and the stupid alike must perish
    and leave their wealth to others.
Their graves are their homes forever,
    their dwelling places to all generations,
    though they called lands by their own names.
Man in his pomp will not remain;
    he is like the beasts that perish (10-12, ESV).

The well educated mental genius will die just as surely as the ignorant mentally deficient person. Any material possessions anyone has accumulated will go to others. Even if a man becomes so influential that a nation bears his name, he will still die just as surely as a rabbit in the woods.

The unbelievers has no future, but the believer’s future is secure:

This is the path of those who have foolish confidence;
    yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah
Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol;
    death shall be their shepherd,
and the upright shall rule over them in the morning.
    Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.
But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol,
    for he will receive me. Selah (13-15, ESV)

The boastful are like sheep guided by the death shepherd. The upright will rule them in the morning. Unbelievers have no place to dwell. But God redeems believers from death. If you believe in Jesus, he ransoms and receives your soul. Pause and consider!

Be not afraid when a man becomes rich,
    when the glory of his house increases.
For when he dies he will carry nothing away;
    his glory will not go down after him.
For though, while he lives, he counts himself blessed
    —and though you get praise when you do well for yourself—
his soul will go to the generation of his fathers,
    who will never again see light.
Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish (16-20, ESV).

Don’t worry about the wealthy person who troubles you. Even if he becomes fabulously wealthy by writing trash or gains good farmland through deception, he’s not taking any of that with him when he dies. He may congratulate himself now on being blessed by God (and we all receive praise when we do well), but his eternal soul will not see the light of life. The person without biblical understanding perishes like an animal.

But those who believe in Christ live forever in his light. Our life has meaning now and for eternity. All that we do is part of God’s grand plan and he will work it for our good.

If you feel burdened by debt in any way, if you feel surrounded by those who cheat you or boast in their wealth, this psalm’s for you. Actually, if you’re experiencing any kind of trouble, this psalm’s for you. If you believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as the only way of salvation, you needn’t worry about the problems of this life or fear the future. In Christ, your soul is secure. He has already ransomed it. What a Savior!

God’s city, Psalm 48

Mt. Zion from Wikimedia Commons

The English Standard Version (ESV) titles Psalm 48: Zion, the City of Our God. You can read in 2 Samuel 5 the account of David’s conquest of Zion and the establishment of his kingdom in Jerusalem. During David’s reign, Zion came to mean the city of God.

In David’s day, worship of God centered in a physical city on a geographical mountain. Psalm 48 begins by extolling God and crafting a language landscape evoking majestic mountains and strong towers:

Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised
    in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation,
    is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north,
    the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God
    has made himself known as a fortress (Psalm 48:1-3, ESV).

The glimpse of God’s kingdom inspires believers to praise their great God, but those who gather together to attack the Lord see it and tremble.

For behold, the kings assembled;
    they came on together.
As soon as they saw it, they were astounded;
    they were in panic; they took to flight.
Trembling took hold of them there,
    anguish as of a woman in labor.
By the east wind you shattered
    the ships of Tarshish.
As we have heard, so have we seen
    in the city of the Lord of hosts,
in the city of our God,
    which God will establish forever. Selah (Psalm 48:4-8, ESV).

God’s enemies will be utterly confounded. They will panic and flee. God will shatter their ships. But his city stands firm forever. Pause to consider that (Selah).

As God’s people think on these things, they rejoice  (Psalm 48:9-11, ESV).

We have thought on your steadfast love, O God,
    in the midst of your temple.
As your name, O God,
    so your praise reaches to the ends of the earth.
Your right hand is filled with righteousness.
    Let Mount Zion be glad!
Let the daughters of Judah rejoice
    because of your judgments! 

Believers focus on God’s love as they worship him. God’s name is revered throughout the earth, and his praise reverberates around the world. God’s judgment against his enemies as well as his love toward his children display his righteousness. Let Christ’s church be glad! Let all God’s children rejoice!

Israelite believers could walk around the actual walls of Jerusalem, but modern Christians walk in the Lord.

Walk about Zion, go around her,
    number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
    go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
    that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
    He will guide us forever (Psalm 48:12-14, ESV).

God is our fortress. Christ’s kingdom fills the earth. God never fails and he will guide us forever. Think about it. Believe it. Tell your children that this is our God.