Divine Justice and the Imprecatory Psalms

Posted by on Feb 24, 2015 in Featured, Psalms

Divine Justice and the Imprecatory Psalms

Old_Bibles-1As a divine person, only Jesus could experience the Father’s wrath to the last drop. The wrath of God is only known in its fullness by the Son of God. There was not “one square inch” of God’s wrath towards sin that went unexpressed at Golgotha. In those three hours, we witness God’s terrible wrath against the ungodly that have yet to kiss the Son (Ps. 2:12). This is the same wrath that Christ endured for the Saints; this is the same wrath that the ungodly will drink in unending drops.

But is it the case that these two revelations of God’s wrath – which are also one in the same – are the only revelation of wrath? The Bible speaks clearly: The wrath of God toward unrighteousness is expressed even in the present (Matt. 3:7; Luke 21:23; John 3:36; Ro. 1:18; 2:5; Eph. 2:3; 4:6; 1 Thess. 2:16).

Vengeance belongs to God and Christ alone (Ro. 12:9; Col. 3:8), and unrighteous anger does not produce the righteous life of God (James 1:19-21). Among sinful men, anger often threatens to overthrow reason and order. Fits of anger are strictly prohibited (Gal. 5:20), but anger itself is morally ambiguous and reflects – in some sense – the divine character.

Unlike the Homeric gods, the LORD is free from unworthy passions; unlike the gods of the Hellenistic philosophers, the LORD is “slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, forgiving iniquity and transgression, but he will by no means clear the guilty…” (Num. 14:18). While decrying the unworthy gods of Homer, the early Christians continued to attribute anger to God. Why? Because anger is not unworthy of God. Incorruptible anger demonstrates God’s judicial sentiment and concern for human salvation. If God cannot be angry, then He cannot be just, merciful, or good. By analogy, if man cannot be angry, then he cannot imitate God in Christ (Mark 3:5). When it is properly qualified, we can see that there is an anger that belongs to the righteous life that God desires. It is an anger that imperfectly imitates the anger of the impassible God.

With that background in place, we turn to the question, “Is it time now to pray the imprecatory psalms?” Yes. But, more importantly, when did we stop?

Christians join with the Psalmist (and with Christ) to pray all of the Psalms, regularly. Sinful anger is sinful. Righteous anger is righteous. The former is to be rejected; the latter is to be embraced. The book of Psalms forms the worship of Israel and of Christ. They are the inheritance of the Body of Christ. The Psalms take God’s people through the full range of Christ’s own righteous emotions. If the imprecatory Psalms are worthy of Christ, then how can His people refuse them?

Justice is not only for a future time. When temporal justice does appear – sincere though imperfect – we rejoice. God’s wrath remains on the ungodly. We know that His wrath is being stored up for a future time. And we know that His future wrath is revealed even in the present. The cry for justice is not at odds with the plea for the repentance and faith of the wicked. Repentance from sin and faith towards Christ does not remove the need for justice in our day, for justice is a cause worth taking up in prayer, not in general only, but also in particular.

There would seem to be places in Scripture that make a blanket prohibition against the cursing of our enemies, yet these cannot be pressed into service against the imprecatory psalms. Why? Because if we read the Bible like that, there are as many texts that would also seem to prohibit all anger (in an equally unqualified sense). On one hand, obedience to Romans 12:14 is among the marks of a true Christian, on the other, the Psalms belong to the worship of the Church. If the prohibition against cursing concerns the same subject as the imprecatory Psalms, then this creates the kind of problem that appeal to the particular and special situation of the Old Covenant Church simply cannot resolve. Some might even say this appeal leads to a schizophrenic spirituality for the faithful Israelite.

If Wynne’s hermeneutic is adequate for a Christian appropriation of the Psalms, then what other Psalms are now inappropriate for the people of God?

A quick glance at the Reformed tradition charts a better path.

Jonathan Edwards:

Miscellany 600. “It was not a thing allowed of under the old testament, nor approved of by the old testament saints, to hate personal enemies […] except it was as prophets speaking in the name of the Lord. So that there is no inconsistence between the religion of the old testament and new in this respect.” Edwards points to the example of the apostle Paul (2 Tim 4:14). Revenge and its desire are forbidden by the Law of Moses (Lev. 19:18). More than merely prohibiting revenge, the love command is implicit in that Law (Exod. 23:4-5).

Edwards continues, “We can’t think that those imprecations we find in the Psalms and prophets were out of their own hearts, for cursing is spoken of as a very dreadful sin in the Old Testament.”

Miscellany 640. Edwards made seven observations concerning David’s imprecatory prayers:

1) Unless David is speaking in the name of the Lord, “he is not to be understood as praying against any particular persons, that God would indeed execute vengeance on such and such men, or that he did not desire that they should repent.”

2) Imprecatory prayers are spoken by the innocent and blameless, against the bloodthirsty accursed.

3) David’s many enemies – insofar as they are his continuing enemies – are understood as “exceedingly hardened and very implacable.”

4) David prays against his enemies not as his enemies only but as God’s enemies (Ps. 21:8-13).

5) David prays not merely as a private person but as head of the church.

6) David’s prayers are not petty but are “necessary for his own deliverance and safety, and the safety of God’s people, and of religion itself, and for the vindication of his and their cause, and also of God’s own cause. When they were unjustly judged and vilified, condemned and persecuted, he prays that God would, in his providence, show himself to be of their side; and he also prays for it as a testimony of the love and tenderness of God to him, according to his gracious promises to his people. It would be very suitable for the persecuted people of God now in like manner to pray against their persecutors. So also may a king pray for the destruction of his enemies whose destruction he seeks in war.”

7) “Tis questionable whether David ever prayed against his enemies, but as a prophet speaking in the name of the Lord.”

As long as the wicked are permitted to afflict the saints, God’s justice is called into question. David’s prayer is made from a righteous frame against the incurably wicked. His strong words are not merely for the achievement of his personal and private ends. He trusts that God is a just judge, and he knows that the wicked will not prosper forever. Through affliction, he cries out that God would be faithful to the covenant promises. Imprecation did not only concern the particularities of the theocratic kingdom, but was also wrapped up in divine justice and God’s covenant faithfulness.

Calvin’s comments on Ps. 137:7 are revealing,

“We know that God intended in this way to comfort and support the minds of the people under a calamity so very distressing, as that Jacob’s election might have seemed to be rendered frustrate, should his descendants be treated with impunity in such a barbarous manner, by the posterity of Esau. The Psalmist prays, under the inspiration of the Spirit, that God would practically demonstrate the truth of this prediction […]. To pray for vengeance would have been unwarrantable, had not God promised it, and had the party against whom it was sought not been reprobate and incurable; for as to others, even our greatest enemies, we should wish their amendment and reformation.”

The Psalmist understands that vengeance belongs to the LORD. These Psalms are not justification for personal vengeance but for the furtherance of God’s redemptive plan. The saints – throughout history – long for divine vengeance, even while they weep for the impenitent.

Calvin’s comments on Ps. 58:10 offer much wisdom,

“There is nothing absurd in supposing that believers, under the influence and guidance of the Holy Ghost, should rejoice in witnessing the execution of divine judgments. That cruel satisfaction which too many feel when they see their enemies destroyed, is the result of the unholy passions of hatred, anger, or impatience, inducing an inordinate desire of revenge. So far as corruption is suffered to operate in this manner, there can be no right or acceptable exercise. On the other hand, when one is led by a holy zeal to sympathize with the justness of that vengeance which God may have inflicted, his joy will be as pure in beholding the retribution of the wicked, as his desire for their conversion and salvation was strong and unfeigned.”

We await the prophetic fulfillment to the imprecatory Psalms when Christ “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty (Rev. 19:11-16).” That is the eschatological hope that is expressed in biblical imprecations (Ps. 58:10-11). The saints will rejoice when God’s righteous justice is brought to bear on this world, when the wicked are destroyed and the righteous dwell in peace.

Christ has surely borne the fullness of God’s wrath. Our sincere prayers of imprecation are not perfect. Yet when they are formed by Word and Spirit, they are pleasing to God. The taking up of the language of these Psalms does not mean the putting away of forgiveness, mercy, and hope for conversion. When the Church takes up imprecation it does so trusting that God has promised to put things right. Lament and imprecation express zeal for – and trust in – divine justice. Imprecation is the natural cry of God’s people when God’s faithfulness appears delayed. Despite all appearance to the contrary, we believe that God will be faithful to His Word.

Eschatological impatience is the fruit of hope in God’s covenant faithfulness. Eschatological impatience is on display in both the Old and New Testaments (1 Cor. 16:22; Rev. 22:20).

God’s inscrutable, wrath-filled providence in history was not only for the Canaanites. God has promised to reveal His wrath against ungodliness. The particularized complaint of the saints against injustice recognizes that God is faithful to His Word and will act according to it. So, pray for the conversion of your enemies, and for the destruction of the incurably wicked, whoever they may be (only God knows). Lord come quickly, and for some, sooner rather than later.

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The Two Ways of Life

Posted by on Jun 17, 2014 in Psalms

The Two Ways of Life

Psalm 1 (Psalm 1:1-6) is a reflection on a common concept of life: the doctrine of the two ways.

Robert Frost used the concept in his poem The Road Not Taken, when he wrote:

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less travelled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Jesus also spoke of the two ways in Matthew 7:12-27, where he listed a series of contrasts between two gates and two roads, two trees and their fruit, two houses and two foundations.

Psalm 1 is the first full expression of this idea in the Bible, comparing and contrasting the way of the righteous to the way of the unrighteous. In comparing these two ways, the Psalmist calls the reader to choose the right path by trusting God and his Word. 

The Life of the Two Ways (vv.1-2)
The life of the righteous is a blessed life, or a life of happiness and true contentment. Why is this person so happy? Because he rejects worldly advice (counsel of the wicked), the ways of the world (stand in the way of sinners), and he does not scoff at God.

Happy is the man who does not pursue the way of the world.

Rather, he “delights in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (v.2). Instead of longing for the false pleasures and idols of worldly living, the righteous person longs for the truth of God’s Word, constantly reading it and speaking it to one’s self.

The ungodly love the way of sin and follow it. The godly love God and seek him in the Bible.

The Fruit of the Two Ways (vv.3-4)
Those who delight in God’s Word plant themselves—with deep roots—into a reservoir that will never run dry. Such a person is like a tree whose leaf never withers, which means he will never experience the damage caused by drought. He will always be prosperous, always living life to the fullest.

Those who trust in God and his Word are fully anchored and supplied. Nothing can harm them.
But the unrighteous produce something entirely different. They “are like chaff that the wind drives away” (v.4).

Chaff is the useless leftovers of the grain harvest, which would blow away during the harvesting process. The chaff would then be gathered and burned, so it would not blow back and mix with the valuable grain (Job 21:18; Psalm 35:5; Isaiah 17:13; 29:5).

When he was preparing the way for Jesus, John the Baptist compared the wicked to chaff, warning that they face God’s judgment (Matthew 3:12).

Life apart from God is worthless, empty and it ends with God’s judgment. Which is exactly the point of verses 5-6.

The Destiny of the Two Ways (vv.5-6)
The way of the unrighteous leads to judgment and destruction and removal from the presence of the godly forever. The way of the righteous leads to an intimate, personal relationship with God, who guards, guides and protects them. But the way of the wicked leads to places where God will not go and so this path ends with eternal separation from God.

Which Road Are You Travelling?
Everyone begins life as a sinner, scoffer and unrighteous before God. We all start on the road to destruction.

There is only one man who never walked in the counsel of the wicked or stood in the way of sinners or sat in the seat of scoffers. He is a perfect man, a sinless man and he is the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus Christ is the Savior of sinners like you and me and the Bible says that he is the righteousness of God (Rom. 3:22). That means when you place your trust in Christ—believing that he died for your sins and rose to life again—you are counted righteous before God (Romans 4:1-25).

Righteousness is not achieved by what we do or how we live. It is attained by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ Jesus alone.

Faith in Christ is the beginning of the journey on the narrow road. Genuine faith compels one to turn from the ways of the world and toward a longing for God and his ways.

Have you started that journey?

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The Insanity of Depravity

Posted by on Oct 16, 2013 in Psalms

The Insanity of Depravity

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Having a Christian worldview is critical if a person is to accurately assess the things around us. Only the right paradigm, once centered in biblical truth will result in the right perspective. Accordingly, only the vantage point revealed in Psalm 14 will correctly appraise the spiritual condition of the world in which we live.

Lamenting the moral depravity of the human race, this Psalm is a wisdom poem that reveals the utter foolishness of those who try to live apart from God. In turning aside from God, people show themselves to be fools. Their problem is rooted in the sinful nature of their heart. The heart of the human predicament is the corrupt nature of the human heart. Only God’s Word provides the right diagnosis for the deadly plague that has infected the human race. The problem is sin, the futile attempt to live as if there is no God. Psalm 14 assesses the sinful condition of man and longs for the salvation that only God can provide. Written by King David, it was addressed to the director of music as a song that acted as a dirge on depravity.

Psalm 14:1-6 states “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds, there is none who does good. The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one. Have they no knowledge, all the evildoers who eat up my people as they eat bread and do not call upon the LORD? There they are in great terror, for God is with the generation of the righteous. You would shame the plans of the poor, but the LORD is his refuge.”

David began his diagnosis of the problem of the human race by noting, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” The fool is a person who is morally perverse, not mentally deficient. The term is a synonym for the sinner and it describes everyone who has no place for God in their life. The fool’s problem is that his heart refuses the knowledge of God. In the original Hebrew, the text actually reads, “The fool says no God or no God for me.” Describing all mankind without God, David concluded that they were corrupt, meaning their human nature was rotten with sin with naturally results in their deeds being vile. Needless to say, their depraved character bore the rotten fruit of wicked conduct. What they did in conduct flowed out of who they were, specifically their character. There is no one who “does good” and as David concluded, all humanity apart from God desires to live sinfully by turning aside from God.

As the Lord surveyed mankind from above, He searched hearts to determine if there were any who spiritually understood or who had spiritual affections to seek His face. The sad reality is that all people have turned aside and are corrupt. Sin has devastated their total personality leaving their minds darkened, their emotions depraved, and their will deadened. Repeating his initial verdict in v.1 David asserts, “There is no one who does good.” The entire world is under the crushing weight of sin which leaves people incapable and unwilling to do good. The all-inclusive words “no one, any, any all, no one, not even one” clearly convey the sad universal reality of depravity.

David then turned to the outcome of such evildoers. He surmised and rightly so that they devoured God’s people as they would eat bread and failed to call on the Lord in saving faith or humble prayer. Surely God would cause such sinners to be overwhelmed with dread because they would judge them for persecuting the righteous. To oppose God’s people is to oppose God himself. Shifting from the third person to the second person, David increased his intense confrontation of the ungodly. Addressing them directly, David proclaimed “you evildoers frustrate the plans of the poor.” These evildoers might assail the poor who trust the Lord, but God would protect them because he was their refuge.

Psalm 14:7 declares “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the LORD restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

Expressing the heart cry of God’s oppressed people David cried out “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion.” David longed for God’s deliverance of His people from evildoers who attack the righteous. He longed for the time when the Lord would establish God’s kingdom upon the earth and restore the fortunes of His people. In anticipation of that final day, a day marked by divine conquest, God’s people could rejoice and be glad because he would ultimately establish His righteous rule from Zion.

Ultimately, this Psalm calls for a right understanding of God and man. The true spiritual state of the human race apart from divine grace is a condition of the heart plagued by the corruption of sin. If anyone is to be acceptable to God, he must confess the problem of personal guilt and acknowledge his sin.

Any presentation of the gospel must include a clear testimony about sin, the wages of which is death according to Romans 6:23. Psalm 14 lucidly reveals that God is in heaven, high and exalted looking down on all mankind observing every life. He sees every heart, thought, and deed. He assesses the sinful depravity of human nature. One day He will bring His judgment on all who do not call upon him. He is holy, righteous, and just. God alone can save the sinner from the just punishment of his sin through the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ. Salvation comes out of Zion, not out of man’s efforts to commend himself toward God. He alone is a refuge in the Day of Judgment. Let all people call upon Jesus Christ who is the Savior of His people.

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The Power and Love of God

Posted by on Feb 25, 2011 in Academic Work, Psalms

Synthesis and Outline of Psalm 62.

Summary: God’s people sing Psalm 62 to foster confidence in the care of God, especially as they are faced with people who use power and wealth to oppress them. The temptation in such a case is either to despair or else to seek security in power and wealth rather than in God. The simplest way to follow the thought in the psalm is to observe how the addresses shift: from a description of “my soul” and God (vv.1-2), to speaking directly to and about the attackers (vv.3-4), then back to “my soul” and God (vv.5-7), on to exhorting the whole of the worshiping congregation (vv.8-10) and finally back to a description of God’s trustworthiness (vv.11-12).

Outline:

I.   My Soul Waits for God’s alone (Psalm 62:1-2). The Psalmist opens Psalm 62 by stressing how “my soul” relies on God in silence.

A)    The Psalmist emphasizes that God is the only reliable hope (Psalm 62:1).

B)    The description the Psalmist gives of a trusting soul is there to set an example for the people of God that every believer should aspire to the quiet faith he describes (Psalm 62:1-2).

II. To the Attackers: We Know What You Want (Psalm 62:3-4).

A)    The Psalmist speaks against those who attack a man using lies and injustice (Psalm 62:3)

B)    The purpose of singing Psalm 62 is to remind the godly that the attacks they experience have only one plan, and only one pleasure so there is only one recourse for them to trust in God.

III.  O My Soul, Wait For God Alone (Psalm 62:5-7).

A)    The main difference between vv.1-2 is the descriptive “wait in silence” is now an imperative; wait in silence (Psalm 62:5).

B)    The Psalmist expresses his confidence in the reliability of God (Psalm 62:6-7).

III.  To the Faithful: Evil Men Are But a Breathe (Psalm 62:8-10).

A)    The Psalmist turns from addressing his soul (Psalm 62:5-7) to now addressing the whole congregation with whom he is singing the hymn (Psalm 62:8).

B)    The Psalmist urges the congregation to trust in and take refuge in God (Psalm 62:8).

C)    The Psalmist urges the people to earnest prayer (Psalm 62:8) and refusing to take any part in the methods of their attackers (Psalm 62:10).

IV. God’s Word is Certain (Psalm 62:11-12)

A)    The Psalmist stresses the power and character of God (Psalm 62:11-12)

B)    A persons work reveals whether his or her faith is real or counterfeit (Psalm 62:

Exposition of the Text

 

I.                   Historical Setting

Psalm 62 is in Book 2 of the Psalms. From the Davidic voice of Book 1, Book 2 introduces the first Korah collection, with a single Asaph psalm at Psalm 50. A further Davidic collection is found in Psalms 51-65 and 68-69, including the bulk of the “historical” superscriptions (51-62; 54; 56-57; 59-60; 63). Lament and distress dominate the content of these prayers, which now include a communal voice (Psalm 44; 67; 68). The lone psalm attributed to Solomon concludes Book 2 with the Psalm’s pinnacle of royal theology (72).

The heading of Psalm 62 is to the choirmaster according to Jeduthun, a psalm of David. The setting of the Psalm finds David surrounded by evil conspirators who wanted to dethrone him. The setting could be the treason he faced during Absalmon’s rebellion (2 Sam. 15-18) or it could have been Saul’s jealous rage.

Jeduthun was one of the leading musicians of the Jerusalem cultus, along with Asaph and Heman. All these names appear in the headings o psalms, and here in Psalm 62, where David also figures, the reason is more uncertain than usual.

II.                Literary Analysis

Psalm 62 seems to reflect a situation of trouble for the psalmist, but it does not follow the usual pattern of laments or pleas for deliverance. Instead it has more in common with the instructive discourses both to the wicked (Psalm 62:3-4) and the reader, for whom the psalmist is mostly intended as exhortation to faithful endurance.

David is in danger in Psalm 62 but in spite of the danger his trust in God is so strong that the psalm is wonderfully serene and confident. H.C. Leupold wrote, “There is scarcely another psalm that reveals such an absolute and undisturbed peace, in which confidence in God is so completely unshaken, and in which assurance is so strong that not even one single petition is voice throughout the psalm.[1] J.J. Steward Perowne observed, “Scarcely anywhere do we find faith in God more nobly asserted, more victoriously triumphant; the vanity of man, of human strength and riches, more clearly confessed; courage in the midst of peril more calm and more unshaken, than in this psalm.[2]

  1. III. My Soul Waits for God’s alone Psalm 62:1-2

Psalm 62:1. David begins Psalm 62 by reaffirming to his own soul who God is. The word soul (Hebrew nephesh) refers to one’s entire being, one’s whole inner self, encompassing the mind, emotion and will.[3] David’s entire inner person or his whole heart finds rest in God alone. This particular word for God (Hebrew elohiym) is in the plural form, indicating plentitude of power, majesty and dominion (Gen. 1:1, 3, 6). David vowed to trust in God, who was his salvation and who would deliver him from all harm. This word alone (Heb. Ak) is used with a fourfold, intentional repetition (vv. 1-2, 5-6) to underscore the exclusivity of David’s reliance on God. It is difficult to wait on God when danger lurks, yet David chose to do so. Refusing to take matters into his own hands, he waited on God to act.

The most important thing about Psalm 62 is that the psalmist is making God his only object of trust. He does not trust something other than God, nor is he trusting God and something else, or God and someone else. His trust is in God only, and that is why he is so confident. Alexander Maclaren one of the best commentators and preaches on the psalms captures this when he says, “That one word only is the record of conflict and the trophy of the psalmist’s victory.[4]

Psalm 62:2. The psalmist’s trust was well placed. He boasted that God alone was his rock. The thought of God as rock and fortress is a favorite with David, whose psalms are seldom free from some shadow of an enemy.[5] Although David’s world was quaking, his hour was dark, and his circumstances were difficult he was sustained by God, who was his rock-solid and immovable, David’s salvation and fortress (Heb. Misag, “high place,” “a refuge set high up”). Although he had reasons to fear, he wrote with confident resolve, I will never be shaken. In this time of mounting difficulty the psalmist’s faith rose still higher. He was safe in God’s care (Psalm 10:6; 37:24).

  1. IV. To the Attackers: We Know What You Want (Psalm 62:3-4).

Psalm 62:3. Addressing his assailants, David asked rhetorically, “How long will you assault a man?” The man to whom he referred was himself. He accused them of trying to throw him down like a leaning wall or tottering fence. These two metaphors show how he saw himself- in a weakened state, ready to fall.

Psalm 62:4. These conspirators intended to topple David from his lofty place. David was probably referring to an attempted coup to remove him from his royal throne. The people who plotted to do so were those around him who posed as his friends. With their mouths they were blessing David and praising him, but in their hearts they were cursing him and plotting evil plans against him. Their slanderous lies threatened to turn the tide of public opinion against him and undermine his leadership.

The question here turns to an assertion. The intent of the wicked is to bring ruin and destruction by insurrection (V.4a), by delighting in deception (v.4b), and by hypocritical speech (v.4c; 12:2; 28:3; 55:21). Facing this enmity the psalmist finds his strength in the Lord alone (vv.5-6).

  1. V. O My Soul, Wait For God Alone (Psalm 62:5-7)

Psalm 62:5-7. Reaffirming his confident trust in God (vv.1-2), David instructed his heart to find rest in God alone. By repeating the open refrain, he called upon himself to have faith in God, a reliance that was full of hope, a Hebrew word meaning an eager waiting upon God that looked forward to his intervention. His natural tendency would be to act impetuously, taking these matters into his own hands. David understood that God alone was his rock, salvation, and fortress, the one who could protect and defend him. God was his sole deliverance. God alone would uphold his honor.

The hope in the Lord (v.5) receives its proper focus because of the underlying faith in God, who can protect and defend His own (Psalm 18:2). Faith is the antidote to despair (Psalm 37:7). Silence in the presence of the Lord will speed God’s deliverance as Calvin observes, “Never, as if he had said, will he frustrate the patient waiting o his saints; doubtless my silence shall meet with its reward; I shall restrain myself, and not make that false haste which will only retard my deliverance” (2:423).

  1. VI. To the Faithful: Evil Men Are But a Breathe (Psalm 62:8-10)

Psalm 62:8. David invited others to share his confident faith in God: Trust (Heb. Batah, “o attach oneself to another object”) in him at all times, O people, even in the midst of difficult times. As a parallel synonym for trust David called out to the people, pour out their hearts to Him. This was a reference to earnest prayer, or the unburdening of oneself to God who alone is our refuge. True faith will express itself in fervent prayer to God. The emphatic confession of trust in the Lord (vv.5-7) transforms into an even bolder proclamation, calling on all the godly to put their trust in God. Mankind is unreliable whereas God is unfailing.

Psalm 62:9-10. David concludes by contrasting the weakness of man (vv.9-10) with the power of God (vv.11-12). David’s unwavering testimony was to trust God, not man. Lowborn men- meaning those of low rank and social standing- as well as the highborn- those born into privilege- are but a breath, meaning futile, empty and a lie, representing those who are not anchored to God’s holy trust. They are weighted on a balance, helpless to deliver themselves out of trouble. Mortal man must not trust in his own devices such as extortion, stolen goods or riches. All of those will fail.

With the Lord there is salvation and refuge (vv.6-8), whereas man is found wanting “on a balance” (v.9; Prov. 16:2; 21:2; 24:12). Man is but a breath, lacking in lasting perfections. Man’s riches and power are all too often the result of extortion, deception and theft (Isa. 30:12; Ezek. 22:29). Even when riches are gained legitimately, there is an inherent danger in self-reliance on them (Matthew 19:22; 1 Tim. 6:17).  Though man may increase in riches and thereby in power, the godly know that their hope lies in the Lord and not in man.[6] The positive “trust him” and the negative “do not trust in extortion” (v.10) undergird the psalmist’s contention that with the Lord is lasting salvation. Though the godly may have to wait with “hope” for his salvation, they are assured that the Lord provides a “refuge” (v.) to those who long for his salvation and who do not set their hearts on the riches of man.

  1. VII. God’s Word is Certain (Psalm 62:11-12)

In contrast to mortal men, God alone can be trusted. Only he is strong and loving. In other words, he is able to deliver his people who trust him, and he is willing to take into account their best interests and highest good. Unquestionably, God will reward each person who trusts Him, according to what he has done. The believer who trusts God will be rewarded by him. It is futile to initiate our own deliverance. We must wait patiently on God to act.

VI. Theological Significance

Psalm 62 begins with the awkward but impressive image of finding a place of stillness in relation to God. In this passage the Hebrew root describes a kind of motionless waiting- a sort of “holy inactivity” in anticipation of divine action and deliverance. The lack of movement- the stillness of the whole being indicates the psalmist’s trust and confidence. There are a variety of Hebrew words and phrases in the Old Testament that capture this holy inactivity.

First, keep still. In Exodus 14, the Israelites, having fled Egypt following the death of the firstborn, find themselves in a difficult spot. The pursuing army of Pharaoh has caught them up against the sea, with no way to escape. The Israelites, aware of the approaching Egyptians, mob Moses in a panic, expressing their fear in terms of wishing they had never left Egypt in the first place. Moses responds in words most often used to encourage troops just before an attack: “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the Lord will bring you today. The Lord will fight for you; you need only be still” (Exodus 14:13-14). The Israelites were encouraged not to fight but allow God to fight for them. Their inactivity was a sign of their trust and reliance on God, that he had to do what they could not hope to do alone.

Dr. Wilson points out that the verb used in Psalm 62:1 (dmm) expressed much of the same idea as hrs. Both have the idea of remaining still, not beginning activity although dmm may have a bit more emphasis on motionless.[7] Psalm 4:4, “In your anger do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent [dmm].” The point is not to get caught up in frantic activity that relies on human strength.

Secondly, be still. Silence is another way to demonstrate “holy inactivity.” Israel did not do silence well. Israel constantly voiced their complaints and laments to God and his human representatives. Their many words needed to be stilled in order to allow them to hear God speaking or to see him acting on their behalf.[8]

Stillness and quietness, reflect a strong them in Israel’s understanding of her relationship to Yahweh. When Yahweh comes, silence shows proper respect and attention in order to learn his will and purpose. Cessation of activity mirrors the Sabbath rest, which witnesses to Israel’s dependence on God rather than on human strength and endeavor. Frantic activity, whether in conflict with the enemy or in pursuit of wealth and personal security, does not acknowledge the strength and power of God as the place of refuge and ultimate security in the midst of trouble. Quiet repose in the face of attack is the ultimate evidence of trust in God and reliance on his strength.

When fear, worry, anxiety and panic come to a believer’s heart, he, or she must remember that God is strong and loving toward him, or her. These two divine attributes are the twin towers of every believer’s trust in God. Because God is strong, He is over all the events of history, even our own lives. Thus, He is able to deliver believers out of all their troubles. We may rest assured that nothing is impossible for God, who rules over all. Likewise, God is loving and merciful, a kind King who uses his omnipotence with infinite tenderness, coming to the aid of his people in their darkest hour. Believers can confidently call out to God for help, knowing that He loves them perfectly and will use his power wisely when they are attacked and endangered.

The last two verses of Psalm 62 are intended as a summary of what David has been learning, but they also go a step beyond it. David says that he has learned two lessons: that God is strong and that God is loving.

The opening lines (“one thing God has spoken, two things have I heard”) can be taken three ways. First, they can mean that God has spoken one thing twice. That is, God has repeated his lesson for emphasis. Second, they can mean that God has taught David two lessons, “one” and “two” being only a Semitic literary device. Third, they can mean that God spoke once but that David learned two things from it. David means that he has learned two great things about God as a result of God’s continuing self-revelation of himself.

First, God is strong; that is, he is sovereign in all the events of history, including the dangers that have threatened David. Second, God is loving or merciful, even in these apparently contradicting things. The word David uses is hesed, which refers to God’s faithful covenants with his people. It means that he is a covenant-keeping God.

Understanding God and the salvation he has provided in Jesus Christ ought to lead the believer to rejoicing in the Lord for these two great attributes of God. There would be no salvation if God lacked either of these attributes. If God had no power but lacked mercy, he would be able to save mankind but would have no inclination to do so. If God was merciful but lacked power, he might desire to save us, but he would not be able to do it. Fortunately, God is both all-powerful and compassionate. Therefore, he has reached out to save us and has been successful in doing so through Jesus Christ.

J.J. Steward Perowne reflects on these attributes in a slightly broader way, saying, “This is the only truly worthy representation of God. Power without love is brutality, and love without power is weakness. Power is the strong foundation of love, and love is the beauty and the crown of power.”[9] Calvin commenting on this said, “The Psalmist coupling two things together, his power and his clemency. They are the two wings wherewith we fly upwards to heaven; the two pillar s which we rest, and may defy the surges of temptation.”[10] The God who covers His children with the shadow of His wings, is the same God who rules the universe with His nod, holds in secret chains the devil and all the wicked. This is why we can rest in God alone. We can come to God for help, because he loves us and invites us to come to him. Once there, we can rest in perfect contentment, because we know that God is also able to protect us. Indeed, he is more than able. He is an impregnable fortress.

The psalms concern with silence has made it seem an appropriate text to encourage contemplative prayer[11], yet this is not the silence of contemplative piety but the silence after the storm, or rather, in the midst of storm. This Psalm teaches that if there is a way to live through the storm it is in light of some basic truths about God. The number of things to be learnt about God is very small and may reduced to just two. The central theme of the Old Testament understandings of relationship between God and humanity. In these two things are contained nearly all the Scriptures.[12] They are the two pillars on which we rest, and may defy the surges of temptation.[13]

V. Application

The kind of calm confidence believers seek is not found in the absence of attack. The narrator of the psalm acknowledges that outside the center of calm, all hell is still breaking loose. The winds still howl, the rain still blows horizontally. The trouble, whatever it might be, assumes impossible proportions beyond any hope. But simply to acknowledge to oneself and another that the trouble is real is to begin to rob the situation of its power to attack one.

Secondly, acknowledging one’s dependence on God. Giving up attempts to escape or avoid attack forces one to acknowledge just how dependent one is on God alone. Psalm 62:7, “My salvation and my honor depend on God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge.” Whenever one accepts the lack of power and control they have over any situation, calm begins to descend. To acknowledge one’s rightful place in the world- that one is not particularly unique and that they are powerless, out of control, needy, dependent- actually restores calm.

Finally pour out your hearts to God. This kind of confident stillness does carry a price tag. It involves vulnerability and transparency before God. The words of the Psalmist are “pour out your hearts to him” (Psalm 62:8). The verb “pour out” describes the completely pouring out of liquid with no reserve- nothing held back. That might be water on the desert sands;[14] a libation of oil or wine before Yahweh;[15] the lifeblood of a murder victim or sacrifice;[16] or metaphorically anger;[17] God’s spirit,[18] one’s mind[19] or the heart.[20] To enter the still point of confidence afforded by God’s power means opening ourselves completely to God: our need, our fears, our weakness, our sin. This kind of vulnerable honesty is characteristic of the psalmists as a whole and is the foundation of their trust in God.

Bibliography

Bonhoeffer, Dietrich, Mediation on the Word (Cambridge, MA; Crowley, 1986), 58-63.

Calvin, John, Psalm 36-92 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 431.

Lawson, Steve, Holman Old Testament Commentary Psalms 1-27 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2003), 312.

Leupolad, H.C, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), 458.

 

Kidner, Derek, Psalms 1-72 (Illnois: Intervarsity, 2008), 239.

Maclaren, Alexander, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol.3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), part 2, 67.

Perowne, J.J. Stewart, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. In 1 Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), 1:480.

VanGemeren, Willem A, The Expositors Bible Commentary with NIV Version: Psalms (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 424.

Wilson, Gerald, The NIV Application Commentary Psalms Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 882.


[1] H.C. Leupolad, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), 458.

 

[2] J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. In 1  Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), 1:480.

[3] Steve Lawson, Holman Old Testament Commentary Psalms 1-27 (Nashville: Broadman and Holman, 2003), 312.

[4] Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol.3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), part 2, 67.

[5] Derek Kidner, Psalms 1-72 (Illnois: Intervarsity, 2008), 239.

[6] Willem A. VanGemeren, The Expositors Bible Commentary with NIV Version: Psalms (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1991), 424.

[7] Gerald Wilson, The NIV Application Commentary Psalms Volume 1 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2002), 882.

[8] Eccl. 5:3, 7; Matthew 6:7.

[9] J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. In 1 Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), 1:484.

[10] John Calvin, Psalm 36-92 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 431.

[11] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Mediation on the Word (Cambridge, MA; Crowley, 1986), 58-63.

[12] Augustine, Psalms, 256.

[13] John Calvin, Psalm 36-92 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2009), 2:431.

[14] Ex. 4:; 1 Sam. 7:6; Psalm 22:14.

[15] Judg. 6:20; Isa. 57:6.

[16] Gen. 9:6; 37:22; Ex. 29:12; Lev. 4:7; 17:13.

[17] Isa. 42:55; Ezek. 9:8.

[18] Joel 2:28-29.

[19] Ps. 42:4.

[20] 1 Sam. 1:15; Lam. 2:19

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