RPC Witness Articles

Songs of the Covenant

Boast in the Lord!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 117

Psalm Category: Public praises to God

Central Thought: Boast in the Lord!

Key words: praise; nations; lovingkindness & truth

The Pinnacle of Praise

Good things do, indeed, come in small packages.  And it is humbling to know that we will spill more ink in explanation than the Psalmist did in exultation.  Still, even small gifts must be opened and unpacked, so let us begin.

The theme of public praise continues in Psalm 117 as part of The Hallel (The Praise; Psalms 113-118).  The Old Covenant saints used these in their major festivals, including the Passover.  Therefore, Jesus sang the songs that spoke of Him (Lk.24:44) and He did so immediately prior to His final sufferings.  In Him, we sing with Him of His universal and eternal glory and goodness.  This Psalm is the most complete summary of the Psalter which itself is a summary of the Scriptures as a whole.  Therefore it urges, with both invitation and command, the praise of God (vs.1,2).  And it deals with three subjects: what is praise, who must praise and why we must praise the Lord.

What is Praise?

The Psalm begins and ends with exhortations to praise the Lord.  The word used is the very familiar “Hallelu-Jehovah” (v.1) and the short form, “Hallelu-Jah” v.(2).  But, what is praise?  An essential sense of it is proudly boasting.  Some boast in their weapons, but we boast in our Lord (Ps.20:7) and those who humble themselves by boasting in God, rejoice in this (Ps.34:2).  It is not enough to be not ashamed of the Gospel (Rom.1:16).  We must “brag on” the mighty works of our God infinitely more than the exploits of our favorite team.  We may rightly boast, “That’s my boy!” when our son does well.  We must surely boast, “That’s my Lord!” as we speak of His works and words.  Do you?  The parallel word is similarly challenging.  “Laud” (v.1) means joyfully congratulate.  When a friend does well, we rush to shake her hand and congratulate her.  When works like the Grand Canyon or the solar system open before our eyes, we rightly lift our voices and cry, “Well done, Lord!”

Who must Praise the Lord?

Everyone who considers the wonderful works of God must praise Him!  The Psalmist as a member of the covenant people does so and urges everyone around to join him in this (v.1).  Christ has accomplished this universal praise (Is.49:6) and the Spirit applies it (Acts 2), inspiring Paul to use this tiny Psalm in preaching it (Rom.15:11,9f).  “All nations” (v.1; “goyim”) refers to every individual who is not part of the Old Covenant people of God.  “All peoples” (v.1; Rev.7:9) emphasizes this by referring to any and every kind of group which is not part of Israel.  Therefore, everyone is urged, invited and commanded to praise the Lord because He alone is Lord of all (Rom.10:12).

Why must all Praise the Lord?

Distillation captures the essence of something and this Psalm does so by reaching to the core of God’s revelation of Himself.  “Lovingkindness and truth” are set as a pair in the Hebrew word order and bring us back to Exodus 34:6 (see Ps.115:1) where God showed Moses His glory.  “Lovingkindness” is a word filled to overflowing.  There is too much to carry in translating this word; when you pick up one sense, you inevitably drop another.  “Covenant faithfulness” is a good rendering but, if we permit ourselves a longer expression, “unconditional love in loyal commitment to do good” comes close.  The Gospel in a word! (Hebrew, not English!)  The climax of Romans 8:31-39 is a wonderful elaboration of this overwhelming goodness of God to those who trust Him.  It is a very hard heart that does not melt under such consuming love!

Who is the object of this wonderful love?  “Toward us” (v.2) could include nations and peoples (v.1) with the Psalmist or it could be calling the nations to praise the Lord for His goodness to Israel (Ps.126:1-3).  Either way the Gentiles, by means of praising the Lord, participate in these benefits, directly or indirectly (Rom.15:11; Eph.2:11f).

The word “great” (v.2) carries the sense of immense and effective.  Whatever your weakness, God’s lovingkindness is infinitely stronger.  Whatever your sin, the forgiveness of sin and giveness of righteousness in God’s lovingkindness is infinitely greater.  Whatever your sorrow, the joy of God’s lovingkindness in Christ is infinitely more effective.  The word “truth” (v.2) emphasizes that the Lord’s lovingkindness is absolute, unchangeable and eternal.  Therefore, it is also “everlasting” (v.2)

Boast in the Lord!

We must praise the Lord because He alone is infinitely, eternally and unchangeably able and willing to save us.  The glory of Christ and the outpouring of the Spirit are proofs of this (Acts 2; Rom.15:11).  Praise the Lord for His lovingkindness and truth and urge everyone around you to join you in this.  Boast in the Lord, and congratulate Him, for His mighty deeds in Christ! (1Cor.1:31)

 

Songs of the Covenant

The Glory of Christ!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 118

Psalm Category: Public praises to God

Central Thought: Christ leads us in His glory!

Key words: distress, salvation, corner stone

Introduction

This Psalm is the finale of the (Egyptian) Hallel which begins with Psalm 113.  This series of Psalms was sung at the major feasts including, especially, Passover.  Psalm 118 was the “hymn” that Jesus sang after his last supper and before going to His final sufferings and death (Mt.26:30; Mk.14:26).  This reminds us that “psalms”, “hymns” and “songs” are found in the titles of many of the Psalms and that is why it is most likely that Paul is referring to the biblical Psalms in Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16.  The Psalms are fulfilled in Christ (Lk.24:44; Acts 2:25f,34f) and so we sing them with their full meaning, significance and blessing!  The Psalms are even more appropriate for new covenant praise than for old!

This Psalm begins and ends with the classic expression of praise to God for His covenant faithfulness (1,29) and is public, corporate praise (2-4) as is the rest of the series.  There is even some suggestion of antiphony among the singers (2-4; 8,9; 10-12; 15,16; 19,20) as well as of a procession into Jerusalem (19f; see Jer.33:10,11).  The main body of the Psalm indicates the experience of an individual on behalf of the people (5-21) followed by corporate reflection on this by the people (22-28).  That experience can be summarized as humiliation, deliverance and exaltation in obedience to God and service to His people.  And so it is no surprise that this Psalm preaches Christ very clearly which will now be our focus.

The Glory of Christ

Christ was in distress (5f) and surrounded by enemies which He conquered completely (10f; Col.3:15).  He was disciplined severely for our sins (18; Is.53:5;1Pt.2:24a).  It was impossible that death would hold Him (17a,18; Acts 2:24) and, rather, He told, through His Spirit and witnesses, the works of the Lord in raising Him from the dead (17b; Acts 2:32f).  As it was His righteousness that necessitated His resurrection, so it was His righteousness that gave Him entrance into the gates of the city and tabernacle of God (19,20; Heb.9:11f).

Those who were responsible to build the city and temple had rejected Christ (22; Mt.21:42) but God made Him the chief corner stone upon which absolutely everything depends (22f; Eph.2:20).  Building on this stone is salvation (22f; 1Pt.2:6f); not building on this stone is destruction (22f; Mt.21:42,44).  The Lord Himself has done this and it is astonishingly wonderful (23; Rom.6:4).

There were many who led the people of God into salvation and blessing: Moses out of Egypt, Joshua into the promised land; David bringing the ark and returning from his brief exile and Zerubbabel and others leading the people back from their long exile.  But Jesus is the One who comes in the Name of the Lord (26; Mt.21:9) and leads us in His righteousness through the gates of the city and temple (19f) into the very presence of God in heaven where He leads us in giving thanks to God (27,28; Heb.10:19ff; 13:15) and in receiving the blessing of the light of His presence (27a; Num.6:24f).

The Glory of Christians

As we sing this Psalm of Christ in these ways, we also sing it in Him.  In Christ, we are distressed and surrounded by enemies (5,10f; Mt.10:16).  In Him, we suffer as a consequence of the sins of others (18a; 1Pt.2:24) so that Christ’s death may be proclaimed in us and others may see it and be saved in Him.  In Him, we die to our sins in order to live in His righteousness (17,18b; Rom.6:4,11) so that others would see Him in us and be saved.  In Him we are rejected and in Him we are exalted (22; 1Pt.2:4f; Rom.8:17).  All of this is the Lord’s doing and astonishingly wonderful for us (23; Eph.2:4,5).  In His shed blood our sins are forgiven and in His broken body our righteousness is given such that, in Him, we enter the very presence of God to worship Him and receive His blessing (19f,26f; Heb.9:11f; 10:19f).

The Glory of God

What can we say in response to such a great salvation?  Only one thing: “Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; For His lovingkindness is everlasting” (1,29; Rom.11:33f).

 

Songs of the Covenant

Love God and His Word, the Bible!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 119

Psalm Category: Individual meditations and praises.

Central Thought: The Bible is the book to be loved because its Author is loved.

Key words: love, delight; law, testimonies, precepts, statutes, commandments, judgments, word

Introduction

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible so we must take a thematic approach in order to meditate on the whole within this column.  The theme throughout is the Psalmist’s love for God and His word, the Bible.

The Bible is the Believer’s ABCs

There are a number of acrostic (alphabetic) passages in the Bible but Psalm 119 is the most extensive.  It consists of twenty-two sections of eight verses each.  Most English translations make this clear.  The first word of each verse in a section begins with the same letter and each section uses the twenty-two letters of the Hebrew alphabet consecutively.  Ask your Pastor to show you this in his Hebrew Bible.  Even just visually, it is impressive.  The Psalmist went to all this trouble to demonstrate that the Bible is basic.  It is basic to evangelism and discipleship (2Tm.3:14-17).  Just as learning your ABCs is basic to elementary education, learning the Bible is basic to elementary Christian faith and life (Heb.5:12f).

The Bible is the Believer’s Handbook of Wisdom

The Psalmist also uses parallelism.  The second line of each verse is a repetition, extension or contrast with the first line.  This kind of parallelism is characteristic of wisdom literature such as Proverbs.  It teaches us that, as wisdom, the Bible is worthy of long and deep meditation.  One hundred and seventy six verses teach us the same lesson!  Consequently, study the Scriptures with great patience and perseverance.  Ask God to open your mind to understand, believe and do His word (Ps.119:18,35).  Consider using the wonderful devotional commentary on Psalm 119 by Charles Bridges.

The Bible is the Believer’s Only Absolute Standard for Faith & Life

The Psalmist mainly uses eight synonyms to speak about the Scriptures.  The number eight may be significant as the doubling of the four points of the compass, emphasizing that the word of God is normative in every place and time.  Perhaps more likely or in addition, eight indicates perfection improved, seven plus one (Eccl.11:2; Mic.5:5).  The point is that the Scriptures are the only perfect standard for what the Christian is to believe and how the Christian is to behave.  These eight synonyms do not refer to distinct parts of the Scriptures so much as different perspectives from which the whole is to be understood, appreciated and loved.  You will also find most of these words in the second half of Psalm 19.  In fact, Psalm 119 may be a meditation on the second half of Psalm 19.  We will survey these words very briefly.

The most prevalent word is law (torah).  It refers to personal revelation from God that is to be believed, obeyed and loved (97).  The second word is testimonies.  This refers to God’s word as a witness for what is true and against what is false (24).  The next word is precepts, detailed instructions of wisdom for thorough care in one’s walk (4).  Statutes indicate that the word of God is permanent and therefore dependable (5).  Commandments reveal God’s right to command as our Creator, Provider and Redeemer (73).  Ordinances or Judgments refer to divine precedents, the application of law to particular cases for us to imitate (75).  Word is the most general term referring to any thing from God and, though usually translated “word”, promise indicates those things that God speaks (11).

All these terms indicate that the Scriptures are a real, objective reality.  But they are not, therefore, abstract or impersonal.  It is striking that each of the eight words is always identified as being the personal property of God, the effulgence of His Being.  This suggests the intimate covenant relationship of salvation which is confirmed by a parallel personal reference to the Psalmist.  One example is, “Oh that my ways may be established to keep Your statutes” (5; emphasis added).  Also, there is at least one instance of “love” connected to each of the eight words.  This is true also of “delight”.  Verse 47 has both: “I shall delight in Your commandments which I love” (emphasis added)!  These things exhort us to respond to God’s word in this way.

Conclusion

As we baptize our children, we promise to teach them “to love God and His word, the Bible” and to provide them “with a God-centered education”.  This Psalm trains us in both.  It rehearses us in the fundamental truth that the Bible is the ABCs of the believer’s faith and life; a God-centered education.  And it trains us in a rapturous delight in the word of our God and the voice of our Shepherd; to love God and His word, the Bible.  Psalm 119 is not the law of God; rather, it is a celebration of the personal revelation of God to His covenant people so that they would know Him, love Him, be conformed to Him, glorify Him and enjoy Him forever!  “Love God and His word, the Bible”; that is the point of Psalm 119.

 

Songs of the Covenant

Pray for Deliverance from Slander!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 120

Psalm Category: The Songs of Ascents

Central Thought: Words will ever hurt me.

Key words: lying, deceit; war

Introduction

Perhaps you have heard this saying: “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”  Some hurtful words are merely a slap in the face, but others are intended to destroy your reputation, your peace and even your life.  How can we deal with such deadly words?  By seeking God for deliverance from them.

A Song of Ascents

“A Song of Ascents” is the heading for each Psalm in the series of 120-134, not just in the Greek version as with other headings, but in the Hebrew also.  This heading probably refers to the people of God going up to Mt. Zion in Jerusalem for the three annual feasts (2Chr.8:13; Ps.24:3).  Each of these Psalms has this perspective more or less clearly.  Psalm 120 is a suitable starting place (far away) and Psalm 134 is a suitable conclusion (in the Temple).

Outline

Psalm 120 can be outlined in a few ways, each of which is helpful for our understanding and use.  First, the psalmist may be speaking about past experience (1) then giving the details of it (2-7).  Second, he may be relating past experience (1) then present trouble that he prays will have the same good outcome (2-7).  Third, he may be presenting his current trouble (1a), present assurance of deliverance (1b; Acts 10:31) and persevering prayer for that deliverance (2-7).

Prayer for Deliverance from Slander

The psalmist is being slandered (1-7).  Someone is bearing false witness against him (2,3) in order to destroy him (4,5,7) and he is seeking the Lord for deliverance from all this (2a).  He needs to be snatched suddenly from a raging fire (2; Amos 4:11).  The fire threatening to consume him is slander (2; 52:2-4).  This slander is not a careless, informal defamation but a public and official assault on his character and life.  This is evident in that the solemn oath formula “may God do so to me and more also” (1Kngs.2:23) is reflected in the words “what more shall be done to you” (3a).  This kind of legal, malicious slander led to the Lord’s crucifixion and Stephen’s stoning (Mt.26:60; Acts 6:13).

These are words that kill, words like sharp arrows and burning coals (4,7; 57:4; Job 41:21).  Yet they are also the means by which the Lord justly repays evildoers in kind and delivers those assaulted (2; 18:13,14; 57:6).  Under this oppression, the psalmist feels like he is in the midst of hostile nations instead of the people of God (5); with friends like these, who needs enemies!  Meshech was a warrior nation in the far north (5a, Ezk.32:26) and Kedar was the home of the hostile men of the east (5b, Is.21:16,17).  It is no wonder that he longs to ascend into the City of Peace, Jerusalem (6,7; Heb.7:2; see Ps.122:6-8; 125:5; 128:6).  We have an even greater privilege every time we enter into public worship (Heb.12:18-24) and so this Psalm is particularly meaningful for our praise in the New Covenant.

Pray for Deliverance from Slander!

We must seek peace (7; Rom.12:18) but also be prepared for war (2-7).  Especially in our day when truth and righteousness are rejected, our words will be misconstrued and our positions misrepresented in order to destroy us.  We must first watch our own speech, making sure that we do not slander others, including our political and cultural enemies (1Pt.2:1).  Next, we must live in such a way that those who slander us will be proved false (1Pt.2:12; 3:16).  When we are slandered, we should join the psalmist in this prayer and trust God to sustain us through the trial and deliver us out of it in His perfect wisdom and power (1Pt.5:10).  By the new and living way which Christ has prepared for us, we will surely be delivered and ascend into the peaceful presence of our Savior at last and forever (1,2; Heb.12:22,23; Rev.6:9).

 

Songs of the Covenant

Look Up!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 121

Psalm Category: The Songs of Ascents

Central Thought: The Lord is my keeper.

Key words: keep, shade

A Song of Ascents

Psalm 121 is second in the series of the Songs of Ascents (120-134).  This heading probably refers to God’s people going up to Mt. Zion in Jerusalem for the three annual feasts (2Chr.8:13; Ps.24:3).  These Psalms are therefore even more suitable for us when we go up to the heavenly Jerusalem in public worship (Heb.12:18-24).  Those who enjoy a long heritage of Psalm singing testify that it was customary to use this Psalm when traveling, especially to church events such as worship, camps and conferences.  Consider putting a Psalter in your glove compartment and singing this and other Psalms on your travels!

Personal Testimony (1,2)

The Psalmist is in the depths (71:20) or in the valley (23:4) and looks to the mountains for help (1).  He looks to the mountains because the One who made them is surely able to help him (1,2; 123:1; 125:1,2).  That this One is also His covenant Lord (2,4) means that He is willing to help (Ex.6:7).  See God’s works and know that He is able to help you; hear God’s word and know that He is willing to do so (Rom.1:20; 8:32).

Authoritative Encouragement (3-8)

Out of the Lord’s help to him (1,2), the Psalmist may be giving assurance to others that the Lord will help them as well (3-8).  But the theme of keeping is so strong (3,4,5,7,7,8) that it seems to echo the priestly blessing (Num.6:22-17) and so constitute an authoritative proclamation of God’s favor on the pilgrim (3-8) who is looking to God for this (1,2).  This pastoral blessing to the traveling sheep is presented in a series of pairs that give a sense of the comprehensive care of God.

Slumber & Sleep (3,4): The Lord will not let his foot slip as he travels (3; 91:12).  That He would get drowsy is abhorrent (3) and that He would actually sleep on duty is impossible (4).  Keeper & Shade (3-8, 5): The Lord will keep him (3,4,5,7,7,8) not just as he begins his trip, but throughout until he arrives safely (Josh.24:17; Phil.1:6).  He will give him protection (shade, 5) in all the most important ways (right hand, 5).  Sun & Moon (6; 91:5): the traveler will be shaded from sunstroke and he will not be moonstruck.  He will have the Lord for a cloud by day and a fire by night (Ex.13:21).  He will be protected from all dangers; seen and unseen, in the face and behind the back, true enemies and false friends.  The Lord may spare the traveler from these things or He may bring him through them but, in any case, he will arrive in the heavenly Jerusalem safe and sound at last (Phil.1:6; Rev.3:21).  All & soul (7): the Lord will ultimately deliver him from all evil (7,6; 91:10) in his whole person, body and spirit (7; 1Th.5:23; Gen.2:7).  Out & in (8a; 91:11): as the pilgrim goes out on the road each day and as he comes in from the road each night, the Lord will keep him (Num.27:17).  Now & forever (8b): all these things are true not just on this trip, but every day, in every place in every thing (Mt.28:20; Heb.13:5).

Look Up!

Look to God with confident expectation no matter what the road before you involves.  As you come to Him in Jesus and by the Spirit, hear His authoritative blessing, “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” (Mt.28:20) and know that “He Himself has said ‘I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you’” (Heb.13:5).  Know that as the Creator of the mountains He is able to help you and as your Covenant Lord He is eager to do so.  Be assured that, as He has saved you, He will keep and protect you always.  Look up to God alone for everything, always!

 

Songs of the Covenant

The Joy of Church!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 122

Psalm Category: The Songs of Ascents

Central Thought: I love to go to church!

Key words: the house of the Lord, Jerusalem, peace

A Song of Ascents

Psalm 122 is the third in the Songs of Ascents (120-134).  The series theme of ascending to the Temple in Jerusalem (Ex.23:14-17) is very prominent in this Psalm.  The Songs of Ascents are well suited to our praise as we ascend in the Spirit into God’s presence in public worship (Heb.12:22-24).  These Psalms are good choices for Elders as they call God’s people to worship.

Psalm 122

The Psalm is connected to David and there is nothing that precludes his authorship.  He is the one God used to conquer Jerusalem and make it His chosen dwelling place.  He is the one who rejoiced to bring the ark there and earnestly sought the good of the city by means of justice (2Sam.5,6,15; Ps.101).  The main point of this Psalm is joy in the house of the Lord in Jerusalem and, therefore, prayer and labor for its peace and prosperity.  For us, this means joy in the church (Heb.12:22) as the assembly of God’s people and, therefore, prayer and labor for her blessing.

Enjoy the Good of the Church! (1-5)

The prospect of public worship should be joyful (1; 42:4)!.  Going to church should bring much more joy to our hearts than a trip to the mall or the ball game, considering where we are going, who we will be with and what we’ll be doing (3,4; Heb.12:22-24).  The church gathers, not at its own will and whim, but at the command of God (4; Heb.10:25).  One of the reasons for joy is that the church provides stability to our lives and relationships (2) by vindicating righteousness and disciplining sin (5; see Mt.18:15-20).  The church is stable because it is built by God (3; 1Cor.12:18).  Each part functions for the good of the whole (3; Eph.4:16).  Each tribe has its own nature, gift and calling (4; Gen.49) and contributes accordingly for the good of the whole nation.  This is also true of individuals in a congregation, congregations in a presbytery and synod, and congregations in a city or town.  We should discern our gifts and needs as individuals, congregations and denominations and give and receive accordingly in the broader church (Eph.4:16).  We should not be ashamed of our gifts and needs nor contemptuous of the gifts and needs of others (1Cor.12:12-26).

Seek the Good of the Church! (6-9)

Because the church is so blessed by God and such a blessing to His people, we must pray and labor for her peace and prosperity (6-9).  When paired, peace refers to the absence of evil and prosperity refers to the presence of good.  We have this pair in the elements of the Lord’s Supper; peace in the forgiveness of sins (cup) and prosperity in the gift of righteousness (bread).  When peace is alone, it includes both aspects (Ps.125:5).  We have this combination in baptism; both the washing away of sin and the refreshing in righteousness in the one symbol of water.  All of this good is, of course, in Christ alone!  The Greek version of the Old Testament expands the idea of peace to “the things which make for peace” (6) which Jesus longed for (Lk.19:42) and Paul exhorted to (Rom.14:19,17); namely, faithfulness.

We pray particularly for those who love the church (6b); namely, those who are not merely nostalgic and sentimental but who seek and do good to her (9b; 1Jn.3:18; Eph.4:16).  We are to pray and do good to the church both to those citizens far away in geography or relationship (7a, walls) and those near as well (7b, palaces).  We are to pray and do good to those of our own tribe (8a, brothers) and those of other tribes (8a, friends).  That is, we are to pray and do good to the church in every place and in every manifestation.  We are to do this because the church is the house of the Lord our God (9; 1Tm.3:15).

Rejoice in the beauty and blessing of the visible, gathered church and do all God has gifted and called you to do to seek her good in word and deed, in prayer and labor, near and far! (Ps.122; Eph.4:16).

 

Songs of the Covenant

Just Wait Until…!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 123

Psalm Category: The Songs of Ascents

Central Thought: Waiting for God’s help.

Key words: contempt, eyes, grace, until

A Song of Ascents

Psalm 123 is the fourth in the Songs of Ascents (120-134).  The overall theme of the series is ascending to the Temple in Jerusalem for the annual feasts (Ex.23:14-17).  Therefore, the Songs of Ascent are well suited to our praise as we ascend in the Spirit into God’s presence in public worship (Heb.12:22-24).  Each of these Psalms is very fitting for use as a call to worship.

Introduction

An individual makes the initial statement (1) with the following words referring to all of God’s people (2-4).  We would do well to think in terms of the Lord Jesus speaking for Himself (1) and then interceding for all those who draw near to God through Him (2-4; Heb.7:25).  We sing the Psalms in Christ and with Christ.  The first two verses are a confession of faith (1,2) and the last two are a petition that flows out of that confidence (3,4).

Confession of Faith (1,2)

As in Psalm 121:1, the Psalmist ascends to God’s presence with his eyes (1a).  This requires eyes that are opened and illumined and hearts that are turned to God (Eph.1:18; Acts 26:18).  Pray for eyes to look!  What the Psalmist looks to is the One who rules over all things (1b; Eph.1:20-23) for only He is above all trouble and able to help.  We find a wonderful echo of these things as we pray, “Our Father, who art in heaven” (Mt.6:9).

“The eyes have it” is the point of verse 2.  As we are assured that everyone who asks, receives (Mt.7:7,8) here we are promised that everyone – men and women, individuals and groups – who looks to God will likewise have what they look for.  “The Lord our God” is faithful to provide for His covenanted servants who look to His hand.  The hand is the instrument by which gifts come (2Kngs.8:8; 2Tm.1:6).

The heart of this Psalm is a single word in the middle of it: “until” (2).  It is the one who perseveres to the end who is saved (Mt.10:22; 24:13) and it is the one who looks with enduring expectation who will receive.  We are to be like our faithful dogs who eagerly watch our hand holding a bone, drooling their confident expectation all over the floor until we give it to them.

Petition for Help (3,4)

The gift that is sought is the gift of deliverance from evil (3,4), another resonance with the Lord’s Prayer, “deliver us from evil” (Mt.6:13).  This is an urgent request and so repeated (3a).  It is urgent because the psalmist cannot endure one more assault from his enemies (greatly filled; 3b,4a).  He is treated as less than nothing (contempt, 3b,4c) and mocking insult is added to this injury (scoffing, 4b).  This is our prayer as well because we are greatly despised for our life in righteousness and witness to truth (see 1Pt.4:4; 2Pt.3:3).  Those who oppress us have no understanding of our sorrows because they have no trouble (ease, 4b; Ps.73:4,5) and, rather, are arrogant in all earthly good (pride, 4c; Ps.73:6-9).

Just Wait Until…!

“… your father comes home!” naturally completes the sentence for some of us and does not bring happy memories to mind.  And, where there is sin, this is a threatening prospect that ought to motivate repentance.  But there is another side to this that is hopeful; namely, we are beaten and oppressed by our enemies from whom we will be delivered when our father comes home.  And so we look to His faithful hand to give us His deliverance both in the present and, especially, in the end.  Look to Him and wait for Him with confident expectation until He is gracious to us (2; see Rom.8:19,23,25).

 

Songs of the Covenant

The Great Escape!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 124

Psalm Category: The Songs of Ascents

Central Thought: Deliverance from hopeless trouble.

Key words: engulfed, swept, torn; Lord; escaped

A Song of Ascents

Psalm 124 is the fifth in the Songs of Ascents (120-134).  The overall theme of the series is ascending to the Temple in Jerusalem for the annual feasts (Ex.23:14-17).  Therefore, the Songs of Ascents are well suited to our praise as we ascend by the Spirit into the very presence of God in public worship (Heb.12:22-24).  Public worship is the means of distinct blessing for the believer (Heb.10:25).  The reference to David in the title has no particular elaboration in the contents of the Psalm except that the Lord delivered Israel through David often and wonderfully as a picture of our salvation in Christ (Rom.1:3).

Introduction

It seems that Psalm 123 and 124 may constitute a pair.  123:1 is distinct from the rest of that Psalm and 124:8 is likewise set apart such that these two verses seem to function as bookends.  The flow of thought through the two Psalms supports the connection: confession (123:1,2), petition (123:4,5), answer (124:1-7) and praise (124:8).  In these paired Psalms, we are strongly encouraged to pray with confidence and to return thanks with awe.

Salvation (124:1,2; 6-8)

The people of God have enjoyed a great deliverance and the psalmist calls them to join him in praising God for it (1,6; see 129:1).  The futility of the adversary’s cause is immediately indicated by declaring that the ultimate object of assault is the Lord Himself (2; see Ps.2).  Just as any attack on a subject is an attack on the king, so our covenant Lord comes to our rescue when we are attacked.  His covenant love proves His willingness to help us (Lord; 1,2,6,8) and that He has made all things proves His ability to help (8; 121:2; 134:3).

From Great Trouble (124:1-7)

The psalmist spends most of his time giving us rich pictures of the deep distress that the Lord saved us from.  This teaches us to consider how much trouble we were in when the Lord helped us (Rom.5:8; Eph.2:1).  Only then will we adequately appreciate what God has done for us in Christ.

Our adversaries rise up against us like a tidal wave to wipe us out (2).  But God rises up against them and wipes them out (Ex.15:7).  However great your trouble is to destroy you, God is infinitely greater to save you!  Our enemies plan to destroy us without even needing to chew (3).  But though death swallows all things, the Lord swallows death (1Cor.15:54).  Men rage against us like a forest fire driven by a strong wind, but God blows them out like a mere birthday candle (3; Dt.32:22).  Adversity overwhelms us like a flood, but God draws us out to safety (4; 18:16).  Trouble threatens to sweep us away like a flash flood but the Lord sweeps away the trouble (4,5; 73:19).  The devil longs to tear us apart (6; 1Pt.5:8) but there is a greater lion in the jungle that has already crushed him (6; Rev.5:5).  Our adversary has ensnared us in devious traps, but the Lord crushes his devices and causes us to escape (7; Jn.8:36).

The Great Escape!

We have many troubles of various kinds and the Lord will deliver us from them all (Ps.34:4,17,19).  But all our troubles are rooted in the devices of Satan that ensnare us and threaten to destroy us in all the ways pictured in this Psalm.  These devices are temptation, sin and death and the Lord has indeed crushed these and set us free.  How did the Lord do this?  He crushed temptation with His obedience (Heb.4:15), He crushed sin with His death (Rom.6:7,10) and He crushed death with His resurrection (1Cor.15:54).  Therefore we, in Christ, are set free to resist temptation (1Cor.10:13), to put our sin to death (Col.3:5,9) and to put on Christ’s righteousness and life (Col.3:10,12).  If the Son sets you free, you will be truly free (7; Jn.8:36)!

Blessed be the Lord!

The Lord is indeed on our side to help us (1,2,8)!  The Lord is with us, who can succeed against us? (1,2; 56:4,11; Rom.8:31-39).  Therefore we will, now in part and ultimately in full, be delivered from all our enemies on every side into the peaceful presence of God.  Blessed be the Lord (6)!

 

Songs of the Covenant

Preserved to Persevere!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 125

Psalm Category: The Songs of Ascents

Central Thought: Hope in the midst of deadly trouble.

Key words: Lord, Israel; wicked, righteous; peace

A Song of Ascents

Psalm 125 is the sixth in the Songs of Ascents (120-134).  The overall theme of the series is ascending to the Temple in Jerusalem for the annual feasts (Ex.23:14-17).  Therefore, the Songs of Ascents are well suited to our praise as we ascend by the Spirit into the very presence of God in public worship (Heb.12:22-24).  Public worship is an act of faith and the ordinances of worship are the means to equipping faith for perseverance in faithfulness (Ps.125).

Introduction

The structure of this Psalm is similar to that of Psalm 123 in that there is a confession of faith (123:1,2; 125:1-3) that leads into prayer (123:3,4; 125:4,5).  This reminds us of The Lord’s Prayer (Mt.6:9a leading into 9b-13) and teaches us that saving faith is necessary for effective prayer (Jms.1:5-8).

Confession (1,2)

Saving faith has three components: cognizance, conviction and commitment or, in other words, knowledge, persuasion and action.  Our being persuaded by the Holy Spirit that what we hear in the Scriptures is true is emphasized in verse 1; those who trust in the Lord.  Believers, rooted through faith in God Himself, are as immovable as Mt. Zion and as surrounded by God’s power as Jerusalem is by a wall of mountains (1; Mt.7:24; 2Kngs.6:17f).  This is in stark contrast to those who put their faith in things that wobble and fail (Is.40:20; 1Tm.6:17).

Context (3)

This stability is critically important under the crushing pressures of wickedness in places of powerful influence such as churches, governments, media and culture (scepter of wickedness, 3).  Though this weight oppresses believers, intimidating them from doing good and provoking them to do evil, the Lord will not let evil prevail against His people (3; 1,2).  The Lord will not let the power of wickedness continue to frustrate His blessing promised to the righteous (lot, 3; see Ps.73:17f).  The Lord broke the scepter of wickedness in Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome, etc. and put the scepter of righteousness in the hand of His Son Jesus Christ (see Ps.2,110; Dan.2; Eph.1:18-23).  Believers may suffer for a time, but their sorrow will be turned into joy so that they do not give in to temptation (3; 30:11; 1Pt.5:10).

Call (4,5)

The psalmist is rooted through faith in God’s promises and faithfulness (1,2).  This stability exists in the context of apparent contradictions that are overwhelming (3).  Therefore he now prays that God would fulfill His promises to bless the righteous (4) and curse the wicked (5a), thus establishing peace (5b).  There are those who will submit themselves to the scepter of wickedness and thereby inherit the curse with the wicked (5a).  This warns us how powerful this scepter is and how difficult it is to persevere (Mt.24:12,13; 22,24).  Nevertheless, the point of this Psalm is that we must trust God to preserve us so that we will persevere to the end and be saved (1-5; Jn.10:28,29; Phil.1:6).

 

Songs of the Covenant

Pray for Revival!

A devotional meditation on Psalm 126

Psalm Category: The Songs of Ascents

Central Thought: The Lord will certainly send revival.

Key words: turning; sorrow, joy

A Song of Ascents

Psalm 126 is the sixth in the fifteen Songs of Ascents (120-134).  The overall theme of the series is ascending to the Temple in Jerusalem for the annual feasts (Ex.23:14-17).  Therefore, the Songs of Ascents are well suited to our praise as we ascend by the Spirit into the very presence of God in public worship (Heb.12:22-24).  The Songs of Ascent hint at this heavenly city as they often speak of Zion (1).  The assembly of God’s people in public worship reminds us that, while we are saved as individuals, we are not saved alone but rejoice with the many who are the objects of God’s saving grace.  Joy is the emotion that drives this Psalm and makes it a common favorite.  The tunes in our Psalter are very well suited to the text.

Introduction

Confession (1-3) motivates and empowers petition (4,5) in this Psalm as also in Psalms 123 and 125.  This teaches us to pray in the same manner (Mt.6:9-13).  Our economy is very unpredictable, but our God does not change (125:1).  Therefore, unlike our investments, this Psalm also teaches us that, with God, past performance (1-3) is a guarantee of future returns (4-6).  The “returns” in this Psalm are quite literal!  Two complementary ideas seemed to be involved in this petition: one, asking God to complete what He began (e.g., the building of the Temple) and, two, asking God to do what He did before (e.g., Exodus and Return from Exile; Jer.16:14; Ps.44:1&4).

Confession: Past Performance (1-3)

The Lord is the One who saves (1) therefore He is the One who is petitioned (4).  The Hebrews loved wordplays and there is a familiar one in this Psalm, namely “turn a turning”.  The Lord turned out His people to Egypt and then turned back His people to Canaan; likewise He turned out to the wilderness and turned back to Canaan; turned out to Babylon, turned back to Judah.  You turn your t-shirt inside out to take it off and then turn it inside out again to put it on.  Two insides out make an outside in!  God’s purpose is His fatherly discipline, whether corrective, instructive or beyond our discernment (Dt.30:3; Job 42:10).  The point of this Psalm is that the Lord’s accomplishes His purposes in turning out His people and restores His children to a place of blessing.

These turnings back were too good to be true (dreaming, 1; Acts 12:9) and so sudden and unexpected that God’s people burst into shouts of joy and peals of happy laughter (2,3; 5; Ex.15).  These turnings back were so extraordinary that the nations took notice (2; Josh.2:9) and the church simply confirmed their testimony (3).  This marvelous public display was in keeping with God’s purpose to show the world His salvation so that they also would know that He alone is God (Lev.26:45; Ezk.38:23; Is.49:6).

Petition: Future Returns (4-6)

Because the Lord has turned His people back to blessing many times, the Psalmist asks for this in his present circumstances (4,1; 80:3,7,19).  What he is asking for is streams in the desert (4; 107:35-38) and, thereby, to be turned from death to life and barrenness to fruitfulness (Ps.107).

The last two verses (5,6) assure us that God turning us back to joy from His turning us out to sorrow is necessary and inevitable.  He has appointed a time (102:13) to turn our sorrow into joy and our mourning into dancing (30:5,11).  “For the Lord will not reject forever, for if He causes grief, then He will have compassion according to His abundant lovingkindness.” (Lam.3:31,32).  He may appoint a turning to suffering for a time, but He also appoints a turning back to joy (1Pt.5:10).  If discipline is necessary, He will accomplish repentance by that means, but the point of this Psalm is that – even if we are turned out because of our sin – God in His faithfulness will work repentance in us and turn us back to His blessing because of His grace.  Just as surely as reaping follows sowing according to God’s promise (Gen.8:22), so surely does being turned back to joy follow being turned out to sorrow (Job 42:10).  Therefore, pray for revival!  Pray that God would turn you back to joy in your own soul, in your congregation, in your country, culture and world (4).

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