"On every page of the God-breathed writings are many thoughts that stretch out like long, clear arms of light across the darkness, discovering things otherwise hidden and illuminating wider areas than those of the immediate context. They are searchlights. From a multitude of these, I have selected one in each chapter of Scripture, for at least one central thought in every chapter should arrest the mind and affect the life," wrote G. Campbell Morgan, a wise, warm-hearted, careful Bible teacher who conducted a classic 3-year chapter-by-chapter study called Life Applications from Every Chapter of the Bible. Here are the fruits of that timeless study—summarized, illustrated, and amplified—on all 66 books of the Bible (posted one book at a time, cumulatively).
GENESIS, EXODUS, LEVITICUS, NUMBERS, DEUTERONOMY, JOSHUA, JUDGES, RUTH, 1 SAMUEL, 2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS, 1 CHRONICLES, 2 CHRONICLES, EZRA, NEHEMIAH, ESTHER, JOB
Psalm 1:1 "Blessed." That is the first note in this magnificent book of poems with great theological depth set to music. The Hebrew word is an exclamation, well translated, "How happy!" to describe the joy that comes from walking on a straight path as opposed to a crooked one. This moral value is built into that ancient word, thus indicating at once the lasting joy that every person wants for him or herself, and what God desires for him or her. One of the great wonders of the book of Psalms is the wide range of emotions on display, everything from exultant paeans of praise to despondent dirges. Throughout, the particular note of each psalm results from an intense desire for happiness or blessedness. When it is possessed, the psalms or songs are jubilant. When it is absent, they are mournful. Psalm 1 points at once to the moral source of that blessedness: "the Law of the Lord." The person who delights in that Law, meditating on it, conforming to its requirements, is joyful, stable, fruitful, and prosperous. This positive teaching is strengthened by the negative: "the wicked are not so." In their counsel, their way, their seat there is no permanence and therefore no true prosperity or real blessedness. The Law of the Lord is framed in infinite wisdom and inspired by perfect love. To rebel against it, therefore, is both foolish and wicked. Misery is the offspring of wickedness; happiness is the offspring of goodness. The Law of the Lord reveals to humankind the way of goodness, which is the only way to happiness.
Psalm 2:4 "He who sits in the heavens laughs." That is an arresting statement. Only three times in the Bible do we read of God laughing: here and in two other psalms—Psalm 37:13 and Psalm 59:8. In each case it is the laughter of derision, an expression of contempt for those who in foolish pride of heart oppose themselves to Him and His loving purposes for humankind. God laughs at kings and other rulers who oppose the King He has appointed to bring blessedness to His creation. He laughs at the wicked who plot against the just. He laughs at bloodthirsty men. This derisive laughter from the Almighty is the comfort of all who love righteousness, for it is the laughter of the might of holiness and the strength of love. God does not exult over the sufferings of sinful men and women, but He does hold in derision all the proud boasting and violence of those who seek to prevent His will for the blessing of humanity through the establishment of righteousness. This psalm at the time of its writing pointed forward to the time when God Himself would take on human flesh as the sinless Son of God to provide salvation from sin for those who trust Him. Psalm 2 is a glorious coronation hymn of the Son, part of which tells of God's utter contempt for those who band together to revolt against His government. His laughter is reinforced by His words of vexation and wrath against such folly, but the psalm ends with an appeal to His mercy. Rebellious rulers and judges who repent and yield themselves to God's authority will experience the blessedness of those who put their trust in the anointed Son.
Psalm 3:7 "Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God! For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek." The heading of this psalm tells us that King David wrote it when fleeing for his life from his rebellious son Absalom. Verse 5 leads us to believe he penned it in the morning. The fugitive king awoke to a sense of many enemies pursuing him and mocking his faith in God (verses 1-2). He also awoke to a strong sense of God's glory and presence (verses 3-4). That is what enabled him to sleep peacefully and awake with courage (verses 5-6). Then what? A great personal cry, but not without confidence of deliverance. That is the meaning of the highlighted verse. In the clear light of morning David's request, "save me," and affirmation in advance of the fact, "You have smitten all my enemies," came surely as David remembered how God helped him through many difficulties in the past. Perhaps he felt a sense of his own unworthiness from recognizing that the very rebellion of Absalom came partly from his own failure as a father. How often are we in the position to cry similarly to God? He delivers us from troubling circumstances, but the very fact of such deliverance brings home to us our own failings that perhaps brought us there in the first place. All we can do is conclude as David did: "Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing be on Your people!" (verse 8).
Psalm 4:8 "In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety." This psalm is the song of a soul keenly aware of difficulties in life and hostile enemies, but completely confident in God. It closes with the highlighted words, which express King David's determination to lie down and sleep, and the reason for his peace of mind in doing so. We are in danger of missing something of their beauty if we limit the word "alone" to the Lord, as though it meant that only the Lord could allow David to sleep safely. While that is true, the Hebrew word translated "alone" is in the masculine singular gender but the word used for "Lord" is without gender so "alone" probably refers to the sleeper, David, and could be translated "in seclusion." This is a glorious conception of sleep: the Lord gathers the trusting soul into a place of safety by taking him or her away from all the things and people who trouble and harass. The difficulties and dangers, the mocking foes and liars are all set apart, and the tried and tired child of God is pavilioned in His peace.
Psalm 5:3 "In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice.... I will order ... and watch." This psalm is a song for the beginning of a day beset with danger. King David was going forth to face foes who were treacherous and relentless. The highlighted words tell us how he prepared himself to deal with a difficult day. Notice his three-fold activity. First, the Lord would hear his voice. That is the activity of worship, in which praise and prayer mingle. Following that is order or how David arranged his plans for the day. Too often we plan and then pray. The true sequence is how David did it. (The words "my prayer" that follow "order" or "direct" are italicized in English Bibles to indicate that they are not in the Hebrew text, but suggested by the translator to help the English reader understand the verse—yet sometimes such suggestions are off.) Having worshiped and planned, David then eagerly watched throughout the day. The old rendering—"and will look up"—is off the mark because the thought is not of watching for divine guidance or action. It is rather of watching one's own actions that they are in harmony with the initial act of worship and the planning resulting from that act. The verses immediately following, 4-6, make that clear. Since we face no day that is not filled with danger, let us start each one with worship and orderly plans, and watch throughout the day that we live accordingly (Worship, Order, Watch—WOW). Days so begun and continued may be days of rejoicing and triumph, whatever the dangers and however many the foes.
Psalm 6:8-9 "The Lord has heard the voice of my weeping. The Lord has heard my supplication, the Lord receives my prayer." This is the first of 7 psalms described as Penitential Psalms. (The others are 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.) Its first 7 verses describe the cry of a soul in anguish. There was great physical suffering, but the deeper pain King David expresses here is his sense that God is absent from his consciousness, and that his sufferings were rebukes and discipline directly from God. The dread of death was upon David, accentuated by the fact that in his condition of mind then, there was no light in the region that lay beyond. In verses 8-9, however, we see a dramatic change in outlook, revealed in the words highlighted above: David became convinced that God heard and received his fervent prayers. We have no clue in the psalm how that conviction came about, but it came! An arresting fact about Psalm 6 is that it contains no confession of sin. It is simply a cry to God in agony, but David's very admission that his sufferings were divine chastenings is a tacit acknowledgement of guilt. This reveals all the more radiantly the readiness of God to pardon. When the divine discipline process leads a soul back to Him, His answer of love and healing is immediate.
Psalm 7:8 "Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and integrity." This petition must be interpreted in the light of the whole psalm. David tells us at the outset it concerns charges made against him by Cush, a Benjaminite, probably a partisan of King Saul and an enemy of David. Apparently the charges were that David plundered goods from his enemies and returned evil for good to his friends. The charges were false, and that is what the highlighted verse means. David's appeal for God to defend him and secure justice for him was based upon his innocence, reinforced by his clear conscience. It is a great thing to be able to stand before the judgment bar of God with a conscience void of offense. Such reflections bring comfort so long as we have nothing to fear, and therefore motivate us to allow nothing in our dealings with others to rob us of that sense of integrity under any circumstances. This is especially true of our relationships with those who view us as enemies, not so much on the ground of personal hostility, but because they are opposed to the Kingdom we represent. Happy and secure are we if we give the enemy no cause to blaspheme.
Psalm 8:4 "What is man that You take thought of him, and the son of man that You care for him?" This psalm opens as a contrast between the glory of the Lord in the heavens and the sweet, simple words of small children. It moves on to contrast the stately splendor of the moon and stars with the frailty of humankind. The fact of difference creates no wonder. What produces the awe in this psalm is the attitude of God toward the apparently small and trivial. God builds a tower of strength against His enemies in the words of little children, and He specially cares for men and women, whom He regards as the crown of His creation and establishes in dominion over His lesser creatures. What a revelation that is of the true glory and dignity of man! The New Testament, commenting on Psalm 8, observes realistically, "Now we do not yet see all things subjected to him. But we do see Him ... namely, Jesus, because of the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, so that by the grace of God He might taste death for everyone" (Hebrews 2:8-9). We do see the greatness of man as we see the interest of God in him, but we have never yet seen man realize his greatness. This vision of the glorified Christ, however, is an affirmation that man will at last realize his divine purpose.
Psalm 9:20 "Let the nations know themselves to be but men." This whole psalm is a mingling of praise and prayer. King David celebrates the righteousness of God's government over the nations, and prays for its continuance. His closing petition, highlighted above, is a great one. It emphasizes a healthy, humble awareness about the inherent weakness and frailty of human nature. Power belongs to God. The nations are always in danger of imagining that it is resident in themselves. To do that is to forget God, so David gives this warning: "the wicked will return to Sheol, even all the nations who forget God" (verse 17). All human history, the most modern as well as the most ancient, witnesses to the truth of that declaration. What prayer, then, can we pray of more vital national importance than that the nations know themselves to be but men? Such knowledge must drive them to dependence on God, and such dependence is the secret of national strength, prosperity, and permanence. When men humbly discover that they are but men, it is always the result of divine revelation, which reveals further God's purpose and care for them. In right relationship with those facts, nations move forward to the realization of their highest possibilities. These are the lessons that God, in His government of the world, is always seeking to teach individual men and women. In proportion as they are learned, humanity's problems will be solved, its wounds healed, and its prosperity secured.
Psalm 10:1 "Why do You stand afar off, O Lord?" How often men and women of faith have asked that question! The question operates from a false assumption, however, because God never stands far off. That fact the unnamed psalmist rediscovered in the course of his psalm. Its final verses celebrate the persistent government of God in all righteousness. The question arises when for the moment we fix our eyes upon circumstances. As the psalmist contemplated the conditions in the midst of which he was living, he saw might triumphing over right and the cruelty of evil men against the poor and needy. We have all lived in hours when, if we saw nothing but the conditions, we were tempted to make the same wrong assumption. The value of a psalm like this is it faithfully records that mood of the soul and shows the recovery of faith and confidence. It is logically impossible that God Almighty does not know or see, much less that He will not act when He knows the time is right. Realizing that brings the assurance there will come a full and final victory over all the forces of unrighteousness, when oppression, cruelty, and wrong will cease. Under the rule of God the day must come when, as the psalmist concludes, "man who is of the earth will no longer cause terror" (verse 18).
Psalm 11:3 "If the foundations are destroyed, what can the righteous do?" That is the final appeal of the person who lives by sight to the person who lives by faith. It sounds reasonable on the surface, but it is utterly wrong. It assumes the foundations of the righteous are destroyed, but are they? David, the author of this psalm, was obviously in great danger. His friends saw the danger and urged him to flee. His enemies were all around him and not giving him a fair chance. Their methods were subtle and treacherous. David's earthbound friends concluded that the foundations of the righteous were therefore destroyed. This whole psalm, representing heaven's perspective, is a protest against that misconception. David read the Scriptures and saw by faith God enthroned, watching, and acting. He had a clear view of the one foundation that can never be destroyed. Therefore there was no need for him to flee. Often that which boasts as reason is truly unreasonable. True reason takes all significant facts into account before it makes its calculation. To reckon with circumstances only and leave God out of account is to omit the principal factor in any and every situation. What folly to confuse scaffolding with foundations! To have faith in God is to realize that all circumstances are under His control. That is the secret of courage.
Psalm 12:6 "The words of the Lord are pure words; as silver tried in a furnace on the earth, refined seven times." This psalm is burdened with David's sense of the dark circumstances in which he found himself: dishonesty, deceit, and the power of evil. Its last verse, "the wicked strut about on every side when vileness is exalted" (verse 8), is a tragic reality most believers throughout history have witnessed. But at its core, this psalm is an affirmation of faith in God. That faith fastens upon what God has said, every word of which is pure. God is a God of truth. His words are a complete contrast to those who "speak falsehood" with "flattering lips" and a "double heart" (verse 2). The word picture David employs for the purity of God's Word is the strongest imaginable: silver purified 7 times has in it no trace of alloy. So are the words of God. That is always the sure resting place of those who know God. No matter how weak the godly may seem at times in comparison with the strength of the wicked, the Word of God has clearly declared the will and purpose of God to be the ultimate triumph of good over evil, of truth over falsehood, and of righteousness over every form of wickedness. The Word of the Lord is eternal truth; it abides forever. In it there is nothing of duplicity or deceit. It is never void: it must accomplish God's purposes at the perfect point in time. Here, then, is our place of quietness and confidence, whatever the appearances of the hour may be. The Word of the Lord can withstand all honest inquiries, but rather than it being tested by the wicked, it is they who will be tried by the Word.
Psalm 13:6 "I will sing to the Lord because He has dealt bountifully with me." That is how David ends this psalm. It contrasts starkly with how he begins it: "How long, O Lord? Will You forget me forever? How long will You hide Your face from me?" This is a song of progress from overwhelming despair to highest exultation. We see that progression in 3 stages of experience. In the first (verses 1-2), David's sorrow is painfully obvious: he is tempted to think God is idle and indifferent, unavailable to him personally while he struggles with a triumphant enemy. In the second (verses 3-4), David is deep in prayer characterized by complete honesty and daring urgency. In the third (verses 5-6), that prayer turns decisively to praise and singing. The only explanation for this complete change in tone is the fact of God's presence, which suddenly became real to David by faith and experience merged together. Let us observe what this song reveals about God's character. We see the Lord's tender and understanding patience as He listens to the complaining of His servant. We then see His power on display as He answers David's concerns with assurances to David's heart of His lovingkindness, salvation, and ongoing goodness to him personally. This whole psalm teaches us that the place to discuss our sorrows is in the Lord's presence, and that there we may be honest. With faith in God, who has proven Himself trustworthy, our sorrows will turn to song.
Psalm 14:1 "The fool says in his heart, 'There is no God.'" In that declaration, which is cause and which is effect? Does atheism result from foolishness or foolishness from atheism? It would be perfectly correct to say that each is cause and each is effect. The highlighted verse depicts a vicious circle: folly denies God and such a denial leads back to folly. The Hebrew word translated "fool" has a built-in moral component because it refers to wickedness rather than mere weakness of intellect. David, the author of this psalm, is most directly saying that immorality is the outcome of atheism. When, for whatever reason or by whatever method, a person says to him or herself that there is no God, he or she becomes a wicked person. That is because all wickedness results from denying God's claim on one's life. Such a denial comes from the heart, which is the realm of desire. When a man or woman desires to be rid of God—specifically His government and interference—and out of that desire formulates a denial of God, that process itself is immoral and what issues from it is bound to be immoral. No realm of personality needs more vigilant guarding than that of desire. Its power over the intellect and will is nothing short of amazing, for it is capable of completely clouding one's intelligence and capturing one's volition. It is possible for a man to yield himself so completely to desire, he is able to persuade himself that he really does believe what he wants to believe, and thus set his will free for evil choices. Think about all the people you know or read about who have done that. Nothing better advances good and all that is right than a well-grounded biblical belief in God.
Psalm 15:5 "He who does these things will never be moved." This psalm of David opens with a question to the Lord about who is worthy to be His guest in the place of His holy presence. It closes with the highlighted affirmation that he or she who fulfills the conditions outlined in between may not only be a guest of the Lord, but also will not be shaken through all the ages. The first condition is personal character in harmony with the character of God, which produces righteous deeds and truthful words. The second condition is right relationships with others in the broad spectrum of life as it is lived in honest, fair, considerate, and discerning attitudes and actions. These important considerations are fully developed in the New Testament. Through Christ the Messiah, the Son of David, our right of access to God and maintained fellowship with Him is created by grace and founded upon justification by faith, apart from any works of ours. Yet justification inevitably leads to sanctification. Grace is entirely holy. It demands holiness. Our comfort is that it does more: it makes holy. That creates our responsibility. To continue in sin is to frustrate the very purpose of God in grace. To do that is to be excluded from His holy presence. Those whom God has redeemed live like it, which brings the assurance that they "will never be moved."
Psalm 16:2 "I have no good besides You." This psalm, attributed to David, is a song of joyful confidence. It begins by acknowledging danger, but only as an occasion for a glad confession of assured deliverance by God. The psalm's primary value is that it is distinctly Messianic. Both the apostles Peter (Acts 2:22-32) and Paul (Acts 13:34-37) specifically quote Psalm 16 in reference to Christ as the Holy One who would not undergo decay (verse 10), clearly explaining its Messianic intention. It truly was impossible for death to hold Him. The highlighted verse reveals the source of David's holy confidence in God. Like Jesus, David knew no well-being apart from his sovereign Lord, and in a heartbeat would echo these defining statements by Christ: "My food is to do the will of Him who sent Me and to accomplish His work" (John 4:34) and "Whoever does the will of God...is My brother and sister and mother" (Mark 3:35). The degree to which we, through God's infinite grace, can truly say "I have no good besides You" is the degree to which we may be confident of deliverance by God from whatever apparent calamities overtake us. To those who trust Him the Lord will, as David concluded, "make known... the path of life" and lead into His presence, where there is "fullness of joy" and "pleasures forever" (verse 11).
Psalm 17:15 "As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake." These words have been constantly employed as referring to an experience beyond this present life, to the first sight that greets the righteous soul beyond death. There is certainly nothing wrong in such an application of them, but it is also certain from the context of this psalm that King David was speaking of daily living. This whole song is a contrast between two ways of living in this world: that of the godless and that of those who fear God and seek His ways. David's greatest desire was to be progressively conformed to the divine likeness. Is that not still the supreme passion of all who love the Lord? And this the more so, seeing that God has lifted His face upon us in the Person of His Son. The New Testament explains that the thrilling destiny of the believer "is to be conformed to the image of His Son" (Romans 8:32), "beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord Jesus, and being transformed into the same image from one level of glory to the next" (2 Corinthians 3:18). There is a future aspect to this, for "it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is" (1 John 3:2). Nevertheless, we miss out if we ignore the day-to-day reality of that great spiritual transformation. Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5:8)—not tomorrow and in heaven only, but now and all along the dusty and difficult highways of this world.
Psalm 18:25 "With the merciful You will show Yourself merciful." That is the first of 4 statements in this psalm, all of which reveal that God's attitude towards individual men and women reflects their attitude towards Him. The woman who is merciful will receive mercy from God. The man who is blameless and devoted to Him will find Him faithful to meet his every need. The woman who keeps herself pure will discover the purity of God. The man who is perverse—that is, who is at cross-purposes with God—will find God at cross-purposes with Him. No one escapes His notice. Everyone lives, moves, and has his or her being in God. In the hand of God every man's breath is, even that which is foul from drink or obscenity. In this psalm David celebrates his final deliverance from wicked King Saul by that divine hand. Both David and Saul form a remarkable illustrative commentary on the 4 statements listed above. While David had been merciful, blameless or devoted, and pure, Saul had been perverse and ever increasing in working against God's purposes. In God's dealings with all men and women, the balance of justice is perfectly maintained, both in His mercy and in His wrath.
Psalm 19:14 "O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer." This final description of God is in harmony with the facts David celebrates in this psalm. Its first part speaks of the glory of God as revealed in nature. The second part describes the grace of the Lord as expressed in His revelation of Himself in His Law. In the first we see God as the Almighty; in the second we see His provision for man's spiritual recovery and renewal. The first recognizes His essential deity; He is the Rock. The second reveals His attitude and activity of love for fallen men and women; He is the Redeemer. David realized the merging of these two facts in the One whom he worshiped. The Almighty One whose glories are on display day and night is the One full of grace. Therefore the glories of His power comfort the soul. Since the God of grace and compassion is Almighty, the trusting soul is full of courage. If our Rock were not our Redeemer, we would be without hope. If our Redeemer were not our Rock, we might be afraid. We must never forget these two aspects of God. Since we live amid wonders that talk to us day and night of God's almighty power, let us always remember that God also is full of gentleness and tender compassion. We live in the unveiling of that compassion in redemption, as proclaimed in the Holy Scriptures. Let us never forget that this redemption has in it all the strength and ability of the Almighty. That is why He is both the Rock and the Redeemer of His people.
Psalm 20:8 "They have bowed down and fallen, but we have risen and stood upright." This is the language of faith, not after the battle but before it. The whole psalm is basically a prayer for King David as he goes out to meet his enemies in conflict. We hear the voice of his people in the first 5 verses, praying for their king. In verse 6 we hear David's voice, affirming that God will hear and answer their prayer with victory. The people respond in verses 7-8 to their king's faith with faith of their own by describing the victory as if it already took place, and then close in prayer to God the King in verse 9. The secret of their confidence is in the contrast between those who depend upon material strength and those who rely on spiritual forces: "Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the Lord, our God" (verse 7). Such a conflict can come to only one end, and the men and women of faith see it clearly: "They have bowed down and fallen, but we have risen and stood upright." Such faith is rational confidence. When the true balance and proportion of what is at stake is evaluated, the reasonableness of the conviction is self evident. God in all goodness, purity, and power must triumph over material forces ranged on the side of evil, impurity, and malevolence. Such faith is rational not only in its intellectual apprehension, but also in its volitional surrender. Faith that pleases God has only one anxiety and that is to be found on His side. When that is so, it can know no fear.
Psalm 21:13 "Be exalted, O Lord, in Your strength; we will sing and praise Your power." By common consent this psalm is the companion to the preceding one; it is its sequel. There the people prayed for King David as he was about to go forth to battle, and affirmed their faith in the coming victory. Here they celebrate the victory won and offer their praises to the Lord. In this highlighted closing verse, two things are set in relation to each other: the exaltation of God in His strength and the joyful songs of His people. The strength of every godly man and woman is always found in the joy of the Lord, in ways of life that are pleasing to Him. It follows, therefore, that the songs of men that come out of pure joy are created by victories emerging from the strength of God. Test the songs of men by this standard. Songs have been written that celebrate unworthy and even blatantly evil things. They all fail in the ultimate quality of pure joy and perfect poetry, however finished their art may appear to be. Songs that celebrate the victories of the pure and peaceable strength of God are true poetry, even when their art is simple, for they give expression to the real and final joy of life. The strength of God advances what is best and beautiful in life. It is forever opposed to things that wither, blast, and produce ugliness.
|The Psalm of the Cross|
Psalm 22:22 "I will tell of Your name to my brethren; in the midst of the assembly I will praise You." Whatever may have been the personal experiences calling forth this psalm of lament, David was singing better than he knew. While giving utterance to actual experiences, he was voicing deep and profound matters that became fulfilled by the experiences of the prophesied Son of David, the Greater David to come. In the supreme hour of His redemptive suffering, our Lord quoted the opening cry of this great song of anguish. The highlighted verse gives us insight into the good that suffering led to. Through it, and only through it, could the name of God be declared and His praise made known to His people. Here is how that truth is declared in the New Testament: "Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God" (Hebrews 12:2). The Gospel is the good news of Christ the Messiah's victory over Satan, sin, and death on behalf of His people. Embracing it is the only way for a person's sin to be forgiven by a holy God, righteousness established, and all of God's loving purposes for humankind to be realized. Those of us who love Christ may take comfort in Psalm 22 that our righteous sufferings will also result in triumph. The measure in which it is given to us to have fellowship in His suffering through persecution is the measure in which we may rest assured of fellowship in His victory.
Psalm 23:1 "The Lord is my Shepherd." That is not only the first statement of this song but also its summary. When it is said, all is said. Anything else merely adds to the fullness of the great truth of God as Shepherd, appropriately written by the shepherd who became a king. David experienced what he wrote about from the shepherd's perspective as well as the sheep's. With a sense of wonder he immediately strikes a personal note: the Lord is my shepherd! This eternal King, ruling over all the universe, is also the direct, personal, immediate King of every individual soul. Those who humbly submit to His lordship discover that under His sway, there is no lack. Our peaceful days He creates. If we wander, we are not abandoned. In the darkest hours He still is with us. He upholds us and delivers us in conflict. He lovingly cares for us throughout our pilgrimage on earth, and receives us into His presence forever. Through Him we experience "what the will of God is: that which is good, acceptable, and perfect" (Romans 12:2). Psalm 23 comes off the page and into life through Him who truly said of Himself, "I am the Good Shepherd."
Psalm 24:1 "The earth is the Lord's, and all it contains." This is the fundamental note in the music of this song. King David affirms the sovereignty of God over all the earth. Everything is His by creative right. That fact leads to a moral question: Who may stand in God's holy presence? The answer David gives describes the character of the person who has experienced "righteousness from the God of his salvation" (verse 5). This person, by God's enabling grace, has a pure heart and does not lift up his soul to what is false or swear deceitfully. David then describes the King of glory Himself. His glory is of the moral excellencies already described. In these He is "strong and mighty...in battle" (verse 8), and at the perfect time will overthrow all His foes to establish forever His true and rightful rule over all. The holiness of the King is the secret of His strength in sovereignly ruling, and the principle of His might in the redemption of His people.
Psalm 25:3 "Indeed, none of those who wait for You will be ashamed." This is an affirmation of confidence—the first of many throughout this radiant psalm of David. He had many needs and told God all about them, but in an atmosphere of confident faith. Psalm 25 therefore alternates between personal prayer requests and affirmations about God. It is an excellent pattern for prayer in all circumstances of need, whether facing enemies, dealing with personal sins, or coping with anything in between. God invites His people into His presence to lay down their burdens before Him and believe that He will take care of them. How often, under the stress of difficulties, we think superficial thoughts about God and about ourselves that tempt us to despair. In such hours we do well to stop and meditate resolutely and persistently on our deepest convictions about God, and then say them out loud. Such an exercise will free us from the gloom that comes from introspection and dwelling on our circumstances. It will lead us out into the light and hope of God Himself as we remember what is true about Him.
Psalm 26:3 "Your lovingkindness is before my eyes." This psalm is a prayer for justice on the part of a person who is reassuringly conscious of his integrity and uprightness. We do not know the precise circumstances under which David wrote Psalm 26, but we have enough details here to tell it was a time characterized by unfaithfulness in following God's ways. Evildoers of all types were in plenty, and the judgments of God in punishment were abroad. David appealed to God's justice for deliverance in being swept up in those calamities. The highlighted verse shows us the basis of his appeal: he knew and pleaded the lovingkindness of God. The closing verse demonstrates that the answer came to him in his faith: "my foot stands on a level place; in the congregations I shall bless the Lord" (verse 12). There are hours when the wrong of evil men and women seem to threaten the safety of those who are endeavoring to walk before God and do His will as best they can. Those of us who love Him can in such times make our appeal to God for vindication and deliverance with complete assurance in the light of His lovingkindness. To retain our loyalty to Him under difficult circumstances created by the evil of godless people is to enable us to claim His protection on the ground of His unalterable lovingkindness. Prayer on those grounds will guard the heart against panic.
Psalm 27:11 "Lead me in a level path because of my foes." This is the song of a soul in great danger. David acknowledges his severe circumstances, but as mere details since his initial focus is on celebrating in language of great beauty the certainty of his triumph over them all in God. Then there is a sudden change. While not abandoning his confidence, David's consciousness of the danger becomes more acute and he is tempted to think that the face of God might be hidden. Under the stress created by that thought, he turns from praise to specific prayer requests. Among them is the highlighted plea to be led on a level path because of his foes. The Hebrew word translated "foes" speaks literally of watchers, conveying the picture of enemies lying in ambush to attack in a treacherous way. The straight path David asks for is one without hiding places for those foes. He is not asking for an easy path, but one in which he could clearly see and not be surprised by those who were set on his destruction. He ends with this wise counsel to himself and all who will listen: "Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord" (verse 14). To wait for the Lord is to find the straight path, however rough that path may prove to be.
Psalm 28:1 "To You, O Lord, I call; my Rock." Rock here is synonymous with Lord as a proper name for God. We have seen this word picture before in Psalms 18 and 19. Rock is the one object in nature that most suggests abiding strength and immutability. This conception of God gave David great confidence in the midst of grave perils, and inspired this closing prayer for his people: "Save Your people and bless Your inheritance; be their shepherd also, and carry them forever" (verse 9).
Psalm 29:9 "In His Temple all cry, 'Glory!'" This glorious psalm uses a powerful storm as a metaphor for life. Verses 3-9 describe the storm in detail, verses 1-2 order the mighty to give praise to God, and the last two verses give the reason for this call to praise: because the Lord reigns as King above the storm as a sign of His kingship over all the storms and upheavals of life. Reading verses 3-9 with an eye towards Middle Eastern geography, the storm gathered over the Mediterranean Sea and burst upon the land in the north, striking Lebanon in its fury. Then it swept southward, shaking the desert above Sinai. From beginning to end the noise of the storm is the voice of the Lord, and the storm's powerful effects reveal His might. At this point in the psalm, David shifts his descriptive focus of that power from outside to inside, for in God's Temple all cry, "Glory!" This is the triumph song of God's people as they consider the meaning of that furious storm. Its fury is not uncontrolled, for "the Lord sits enthroned over the flood ... as King forever" (verse 10). In this confidence we who love Him know He will give us strength to endure and be at peace in life's tumults. How much Psalm 29 has to say about the World Wars and other upheavals we have lived through in storm-tossed years! Let us therefore "ascribe to the Lord glory and strength ... the glory due His name" and "worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness" (verses 1-2).
Psalm 30:6 "I said in my prosperity, 'I will never be moved.'" This is a common blunder made even by men and women of faith in circumstances of ease and comfort. All is as we desire it to be. We have found a pleasant place to live, and work that is a delight to perform, all under divine guidance and provision. Here is where the peril lies: we are tempted to derive our joy from our circumstances rather than in God. Then comes the rough awakening. In the case of David in Psalm 30, it apparently came through a serious illness that led him to the gates of death. It may come to us like that or in other ways—the pleasant place has to be vacated or the work we delighted in is taken from us. All our plans based on our prosperity are shattered. Does anything solid and immovable remain? Yes, David in the next verse declares, "Lord, by Your favor You have made my mountain to stand strong" (verse 7). The mountain is the dwelling of God, which is never moved. In that place we may safely live when all our temporary dwelling places are taken from us. In abiding fellowship with God, kept in His will, we shall be delivered from the more disastrous perils of deflections from loyalty that destroy the soul. There is only one sure resting place of security, and that is found in the heart of God. To dwell there is to cease trusting in circumstances and to be delivered from depending on them.
Psalm 31:3 "For Your name's sake, lead me and guide me." This psalm has been well described as a mosaic of misery and mercy. David opens it with an affirmation of confidence and closes with a passionate exhortation to love the Lord. In between it is like he is on a roller coaster, going up and down between varied and multiplied afflictions. Throughout the ride he keeps up his confidence in God and pours out his soul before Him for help and deliverance. The highlighted verse emphasizes the holy ground of each appeal David makes. Everything he asks God to do is for the sake of God's name, which is like asking according to God's will for whatever is in accord with His holy nature. It is a plea that God will be true to the revelation He has made of Himself, in the Name by which He has made Himself known. Every name of God is suggestive, speaking of His greatness in might and majesty and mercy. Moses used the same appeal David uses here when he asked the Lord to spare His people when they sinned grievously and God threatened to wipe them out: Moses did not want enemies to think badly of God and His intentions for His people. The first thing Jesus taught His disciples about prayer was to ask that God's name be hallowed or honored. In praying for those disciples, Jesus said, "I have manifested Your name to the men whom You gave Me" (John 17:6). We do well in our praying to plea in God's name as long as we are sure that what we ask is consistent with who He is, that we submit willingly to Him, and that we recognize the great power in the name of Jesus.
Psalm 32:5 "I said, 'I will confess my transgressions to the Lord'; and You forgave the guilt of my sin." This is the second, and one of the greatest, of the 7 penitential psalms. (The others are 6, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143.) In it sin, sorrow, and ignorance overlap and threaten to overwhelm, but David sings as a ransomed soul rejoicing in the wonders of God's grace. Sin is dealt with, sorrow is comforted, ignorance is instructed. The decisive moment came when David stopped being silent about his sin to himself and others, and confessed it first to God and then to others. While he remained silent, he felt the hand of God heavy upon him, like his life inside and out was withering away. Once David confessed his unnamed sin to the Lord, he found the forgiving heart of God and his life was healed. Songs then replaced his sighs. He experienced the truth later expressed this way: "You are a God ready to forgive" (Nehemiah 9:17). Notice how the highlighted verse illustrates that truth. So ready is God to forgive that he forgave David before he actually confessed. The yielding of the stubborn will, the decision of the soul, is what God seeks. Jesus illustrated that in His parable of the prodigal son. The father's kisses were upon his returning son before any word of confession was uttered. It was while in the embrace of his father that he gave expression to the confession already determined in his will. Such is our God!
Psalm 33:4 "The Word of the Lord is right, and all His work is done in faithfulness." We are not told who wrote this psalm, but it may well be a continuation of David's previous psalm since the last verse of Psalm 32, "Be glad in the Lord...you righteous ones, and shout for joy" is how Psalm 33 begins: "Sing for joy in the Lord, O you righteous ones; praise is becoming to the upright." This psalm is one long praise song with the highlighted verse as its theme—the perfection of God in His Word and work—as seen in the just principles of His government (verse 5), His might and majesty in what He created (verses 6-9), His active overruling in national affairs (verses 10-11), and His special government over His own people (verses 12-22). God Himself says about His Word, "It shall not return to Me void, but it shall accomplish what I please, and it shall prosper in the thing for which I sent it" (Isaiah 55:11). Notice how that affirmation is connected to the Incarnation, for it was said to Mary about the wondrous births of Jesus and John the Baptist, "Nothing will be impossible to God" and "blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfillment of what had been spoken to her by the Lord" (Luke 1). God has given us His Word. Let us never forget that His work will be according to His Word. To rest in that assurance is to be perpetually inspired to praise God in a most becoming way.
Psalm 34:1 "I will bless the Lord at all times." It is impossible not to be surprised when contrasting those opening words—the triumphant theme throughout Psalm 34—with this description of when it was written: "a psalm of David when he feigned madness before Abimelech, who drove him away." The record of that shameful event is in 1 Samuel 21-22. There does seem to be incongruity between David feigning madness to save his life and this exalted outpouring of praise to God as the great deliverer. That has led some some scholars to assume that the description must not be accurate, but is such an assumption warranted? Is it not rather a picture of a man who found himself delivered not only from the foes he feared, but also from his fears? David tells us what happened: "I sought the Lord, and He answered me, and delivered me from all my fears" (verse 4). That includes being delivered from the fear that tempted David to commit the unworthy and undignified expedient of pretending to be insane to trick his enemies into dismissing him. After David left the court of King Achish (Abimelech, above, is a kingly title), he hid out in the cave of Adullam. For a time he was there alone, at least until his family and followers were able to join him. Imagine David in that quiet place, thinking and praying and finally recovering his sense of God's care, wisdom, might, and sufficiency. Then he starts to sing, beginning with his resolve to bless the Lord at all times. Such remembrance and rejoicing is a corrective, reminding us that our gladness in God will keep us from expedients that are unworthy of Him.
Psalm 35:3 "Say to my soul, 'I am your salvation.'" This psalm in its entirety is a passionate appeal for help in the midst of cruel and unjust persecution. Those who were hurting David not only had no just cause for doing so, but also were guilty of base ingratitude because of David's past kindnesses towards them. The highlighted verse tells us how David prayed for God to help him. It is a request for divine assurance, an inner renewing or strengthening of communion with the Lord. When the pressure of circumstances is such that we feel in danger of collapse, what we most need is reinforcement from within that is stronger than the pressure from without. How often the children of God are driven to cry out to Him like this! It is the reasonable cry of faith, and our heavenly Father answers—sometimes in an audible voice, sometimes as a light in darkness, sometimes in a great silence of the essence of strength that envelops the soul. Whatever the method, it is God reassuring and comforting His own of both immediate and ultimate salvation. In the strength of it, the soul stands up bravely against all outside pressure and at last is more than conqueror.
Psalm 36:10 "O continue Your lovingkindness to those who know You." There is one prayer in this psalm of David, and that is how it opens. It is the natural and restful conclusion to the stark contrast preceding it between the man who lives without the fear of God, and the God in whom the righteous man is trusting. David's description of the evil man is graphic. This person by some means has persuaded himself that God does not interfere in human affairs, so he has no fear of God, enthrones himself at the center of his being, and follows wicked ways in thoughts and deeds. God, by contrast, is set forth in His lovingkindness, righteousness, faithfulness, and all His goodness to humankind. David speaks of God's goodness to all His creatures in general (verses 5-6) and to His own people in a special manner (verses 7-9). By this he is encouraged to pray for all the saints (verse 10) and his own preservation (verse 11) from the certain downfall of the wicked (verse 12). To know God is to hate evil and worship Him, finding in His ways refuge, satisfaction, love, life, and light. In the ultimate words of Jesus, "This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent" (John 17:3). "The thief [the devil] comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly" (John 10:10).
Psalm 37:1 "Do not fret." This sharp and definite command is a fitting introduction to the whole psalm. The problem King David deals with here is the apparent prosperity of the wicked: an ancient and also modern cause of much distress. The ways and works of wickedness, then and now, are many and more often multiplying than diminishing. Psalm 37 challenges us to set all the appearances of the hour in the light of the truth about God and about time. God is governing all things in the interest of those who are walking in His ways of righteousness. Those who trust in Him, delight in Him, commit their way to Him, and rest in Him are always vindicated and delivered. The test is found in time, for all the apparent prosperity of the wicked is transient: it passes and perishes, as do the wicked themselves. The reward of those who know and obey the Lord is sure and permanent. Retribution and ultimate judgment are under divine control and timing, and there is no escape from either for the wicked. Therefore, there is no need to fret. David says again in verse 8, "Do not fret," adding this significant detail: "It leads only to evildoing." There is nothing more pernicious than the sense of irritation caused by narrow outlooks on life. The prevention and cure of such irritation is a true knowledge of God, and a calm and confident appeal to time. In its march, God and righteousness and the trusting soul are always vindicated.
Psalm 38:21-22 "O Lord...O my God...O Lord." This is the third of the 7 penitential psalms. (The others are 6, 32, 51, 102, 130, and 143.) These highlighted references to God in the last part of this psalm reveal its deepest value. David is crying out in bodily agony and mental anguish, which he recognizes as the result of his own (unspecified) sin. He realizes he brought this on himself, but casts himself on God in all the fullness of the knowledge he possesses. In the first term for God above and in the first part of this psalm (verses 1-8), David addresses the Lord by His personal and most gracious name, Yahweh, telling Him all about his personal sufferings, both bodily and mental. In the second term and second part, David mostly uses the term Adonai for Lord, which emphasizes God's sovereignty, when describing the lamentable attitudes of his friends and foes. In the third and final part of this psalm (verses 21-22), David uses both terms for the Lord God in a beautiful unveiling of the refuge and hope of the penitent soul. When that soul is us, we may expect help in our personal suffering from Yahweh, for He is full of grace. We may expect justice in regards to fellow men and women as well because Adonai is sovereign over all. Trouble never accomplishes its proper effect unless it leads us to God, and no one appreciates that truth more than the penitent soul.
Psalm 39:4 "Lord, make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am." That was not a prayer inspired by David's desire to know when his life would end. It rather is a request for an accurate apprehension that life quantitatively—in relation to mere numbers—is as nothing. Clearly that is the sense in verses 5-6, but in verse 7 a new note appears in this song: "And now, Lord, what do I wait for? My hope is in You." Here is a revelation of the quality of life, as opposed to mere quantity. This is life in which desire and expectation are centered in God. Such life is of an entirely different quality from that in which desire and expectation are centered in self, circumstances, or other people. Every day lived in hope centered in God is rich and full. Every such day is contributing something to all the days yet to come.
Psalm 40:3 "He has put a new song in my mouth." That is what God is always doing for those who can say with David, "I waited patiently for the Lord" (verse 1). We do not know the occasion for this song, but perhaps it was his coronation since he reflects on his long experience of suffering and living on the run from King Saul, who had failed in his life and kingship. We can see that David understood and learned from Saul's failure from verses 6-8, where he paraphrases what Samuel said to Saul: "What is more pleasing to the Lord: your burnt offerings and sacrifices or your obedience to His voice? Listen! Obedience is better than sacrifice" (1 Samuel 15:22). Notice how those verses in Psalm 40 are quoted in the New Testament: "When Christ came into the world, He said, 'Sacrifices and offerings You have not desired, but a body have you prepared for Me; in burnt offerings and sin offerings You have taken no pleasure.' Then I said, 'Behold, I have come to do your will, O God, as it is written of me in the scroll of the Book'" (Hebrews 10:5-7). David's words found their fulfillment in God's anointed King-Priest. The inspiration David received for his new song came from the suffering he patiently endured. That is true for God's other servants as well. We need to guard against the tendency to despair and complain in days of trial and darkness. Wait for God instead and patiently submit to His will. The result is always deliverance, and that brings a new song to our heart.
Psalm 41:13 "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen." The book of Psalms is divided into 5 sections or books. The first contains Psalms 1-41, the second Psalms 42-72, the third Psalms 73-89, the fourth Psalms 90-106, and the fifth Psalms 107-150. They each end with a definitive doxology or song of praise, the final verse including either "Amen" or "Praise the Lord!" The highlighted verse is how this first section ends. It mainly consists of psalms by David. The second section starts off with psalms written by other authors. More of David's psalms appear sprinkled throughout all the remaining sections. David wrote Psalm 41. Its closing doxology fits well with the theme of this psalm, which is that a believing hope of our preservation through grace to glory is enough to fill our hearts with joy and our mouths with everlasting praise, even in our greatest difficulties. The Hebrew word translated "everlasting" refers to a vanishing point, implying here that God is from the past that is beyond human knowledge, to the future that is equally so. This great truth is made more clear by these majestic words from the risen and ascended Christ: "I am the Alpha and the Omega...who is and who was and who is to come, the Almighty.... I am the first and the last, and the living One. I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades" (Revelation 1:8, 17-18). The eternity of our God and other things concerning Him unveiled in His Son are the best messages of our songs or psalms.
Psalm 42:2 "My soul thirsts for God, for the living God." This whole psalm is the song of a soul in trouble, but in the midst of the trouble, the singer is speaking to himself with determined hope. This unnamed psalmist is one of the "sons of Korah," a group of Temple music ministers. In the highlighted words we see the main reason for his sorrow and also his hope. Sorrow is always a sense of lack. The sorrow of bereavement is the sense of the loss of a loved one. The sorrow of sickness is the lack of health. The ultimate sorrow is a sense of the lack of God. A thirst for God is the most terrible thirst. Nothing can satisfy it but God Himself, but God is alive so there is hope. The chief value of this song is its revelation of God Himself. The singer had lost his sense of fellowship with God, but it is apparent he knew God, and in the midst of his anguish, believed God would deliver him. Apart from this knowledge, he would have had desire, but no hope. It was his knowledge of God that turned his desire into expectation, and so created hope. "Deep calls to deep at the sound of Your waterfalls; all Your breakers and Your waves have rolled over me" (verse 7): from the depths of his soul the psalmist called out, and God answered from His illimitable depths.
Psalm 43:3-4 "O send out Your light and Your truth.... Then I will go." Psalms 42 and 43 are obviously connected, especially because of this often-repeated refrain that appears in both: "Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him." There is, however, a distinction, which is why they are two separate psalms. The first reveals a need and a confidence. The second reveals the supply and how to appropriate it. Our highlighted verses describe the supply: the light and truth of God's Word, which we appropriate by going where it leads us. To the singer, that led to "the altar of God," whom he describes as "my joy and my delight." The altar was a place of Temple sacrifice, and is a symbol of Christ's once-for-all-time sacrifice. It points to the One who of Himself said, "I came forth from God" (John 16:28), "I am the Light" (John 8:12), and "I am the Truth" (John 14:6). The cry of humanity in sorrow, voiced in Psalms 42 and 43, God answered when He sent out Light and Truth in His Son, in whom we may find exceeding joy.
Psalm 44:17 "All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You." These words introduce us to the very core of this song. It is a prayer for divine deliverance from disaster and suffering not caused by the sins of those who are suffering. Other psalms are called penitential because they openly disclose the sins of the one who is praying; Psalm 44 is not one of them. The singer does not tell us precisely what happened when, but gives us enough details to discern that the people of God had been defeated in battle and were now being scorned by their enemies, even though the people had remained loyal to their Lord. The great thing this psalm reveals is that their loyalty was not wavering, even though they did not know why they were suffering. It is a song inspired by experiences that have been known to the people of God in all ages. Paul quoted verse 22 from this psalm when describing forces that assault the soul: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger, or sword? As it is written, 'For Your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.' No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us" (Romans 8:35-37). Psalm 44 reminds us that God's people will be called to endure suffering for which there is no explanation at the time. Such sufferings are part of the high and holy privilege of fellowship with God, who will reward our faithfulness beyond what we can imagine.
Psalm 45:1 "Things...concerning the King." The beauty of this psalm is universally recognized. It presents a royal wedding, but the King is its chief subject. Opinions differ regarding which King is in view. From the earliest times Psalm 45 has been considered Messianic by Jewish and Christian scholars. Let us consider the evidence of the psalm itself in the King it describes: His beauty and grace of character (verse 2); His equipment and noble purposes in conflict (verses 3-4); His power in battle (verse 5); His victory and consequent enthronement and glory (verses 6-8); the devotion, beauty, and companions of His Bride (verses 9-15); His royal seed reigning over all the earth (verse 16); and His complete triumph (verse 17). God has described His people as His Bride in the prophetic books, such as Jeremiah and Hosea, "but the mystery hidden for ages and generations" is "that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same Body, and partakers of the promise in Messiah Jesus through the Gospel," as Paul explains in the New Testament (Colossians 1:26; Ephesians 3:6). Nowhere do we find a nearer approach to the secret of the Church than in Psalm 45.
Psalm 46:1 "God is our refuge." This is the first of 3 psalms that are intimately related to each other. They all speak of God's relation to the Holy City and its inhabitants, and the consequent security of all His people. Psalm 46 features God as Refuge, Psalm 47 God as Ruler, and Psalm 48 God as Resource. Perhaps no other psalm has been more constantly used in times of great difficulty than Psalm 46. It evokes complete and daring courage based in rock-solid assurance of who God is in Himself and the security He provides for His people. The psalm opens dramatically with pictures of earthquakes and floods, the most severe convulsions of nature imaginable. Even those catastrophes cannot produce fear in the people of God because we see them tucked safely inside His city near a peaceful river that proceeds from His dwelling place. Outside we see nations raging against God in the midst of the upheaval, but then He commands the tumult to cease and we see Him ultimately victorious over all. This panoramic vision ends with God saying, "Cease striving and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth" (verse 10). That divine picture gives the godly heart steadiness and strength at all times. To lose that vision of God is to have nothing left to look upon but storm and tempest, wreck and ruin, and anger and brutality from the massed forces of evil. To retain it is still to see those things, but to see them all under God's control and compelled to serve His ultimate purposes.
Psalm 47:7 "God is the King of all the earth." That tremendous truth is the focus of this song. It picks up where God's message from the previous psalm left off. Psalm 47 opens with God being exalted with great joy among all the nations. The princes of the peoples are referred to as "the shields of the earth" who "belong to God" (verse 9). This is a subject for our most careful thought. There are times when we are in danger of interpreting the reign of God as wholly in the future. Our Lord has indeed taught us to pray "Your Kingdom come," but there is a sense now in which God is King of all the earth. He reigns in absolute sovereignty and power. Neither nation nor individual escapes from that sovereignty or from the compelling pressure of that power. But that fact does not satisfy the heart of God, and it ought not to satisfy us. He desires to reign by the consent of the governed. He would establish His authority upon the understanding of the peoples. Observe the appeal of these words: "Sing praises with understanding" (verse 7). One day "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9), but there is no time like now to begin learning.
Psalm 48:14 "This God is our God forever and ever." In Psalm 46 the singer rejoices in God as Refuge and celebrates His presence in the Holy City as the sure guarantee of her security. In Psalm 48 he dwells upon the beauty and security of that City, which is protected by the abiding presence of God. After exulting over a deliverance wrought in dire peril, the song dwells on the blessed resources a people so delivered have in their awesome God. The secret of the sufficiency of God's people, whatever calamities threaten them or whatever armies are formed against them, is that God's "right hand is full of righteousness" (verse 10). The right hand of God is the emblem of His power. He is able to secure to those whom He governs all things that are right and good. There can be no breakdown in His ability or anything unworthy in His rule. Therefore those who trust in Him find complete resources in Him. Notice the closing note of complete joy and satisfaction, rest and realization: "Such is God, our God forever and ever; He will guide us until death" (verse 11). That is perfect praise, for it passes far beyond realms of theory to tell of experience.
Psalm 49:8 "The redemption of his soul is costly, and he should cease trying forever!" These words constitute a parenthesis. The singer breaks in on a statement with this exclamatory declaration. It reveals the working of his mind. His interrupted statement, in verses 7 and 9, is that no wealth is sufficient to secure exemption from death. The parenthetical exclamation recognizes that the soul itself needs redemption, quite apart from the issue of bodily death. This leads on in the song to its great affirmation of faith: "But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol, for He will receive me" (verse 15). In spiritual apprehension this is a most wonderful psalm. The Hebrew singer sang better than he knew, for it is obvious that gleams of light regarding the full doctrine of redemption were breaking through on him. He was, moreover, conscious of the greatness of his theme, for he began this psalm by calling all people, of all classes, to listen.
Psalm 50:1 "God, the Lord, has spoken." This psalm of Asaph, a friend of King David, is highly dramatic. The first 6 verses describe the coming of God to judge His people. The Lord gives two speeches. His first (verses 7-15) condemns formalism and His second (verses 16-21) condemns hypocrisy. The highlighted opening verse of Psalm 50, highlighted above, has lost something of its force by translation. It literally employs 3 separate names for God: El, Elohim, and Yahweh. El stands for the might of God simply and absolutely. Elohim, the plural form, intensifies that idea and suggests the wisdom of God as well as His might. Yahweh is the title by which He always is revealed in His grace. This, then, is the God who speaks, and what He says has absolute authority. Notice how He concludes this psalm: "Now consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you in pieces, and there will be none to deliver. He who offers a sacrifice of thanksgiving honors Me; and to him who orders his way aright I shall show the salvation of God" (verses 22-23). Let us then take to heart what He says in this psalm about formalism, which is either going through religious motions without any heart for God or neglecting the forms altogether. Let us also beware of hypocrisy, which includes giving lip service to God's Word but violating it in practice.
Psalm 51:1 "Have mercy upon me, O God." This is the fourth of the penitential psalms (Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143), and of the 7 it is central and greatest in spiritual power. David tells us he wrote it "when Nathan the prophet came to him after he had gone in to Bathsheba" (verse 1) and then switches to first-person pronouns for the rest of the psalm as he addresses God directly. Psalm 51 is the cry of a soul who knows he has no hope except in the mercy of God because only God has the ability to deal with sin. In it David tells the truth about sin in 3 separate words: transgression, iniquity, and sin. Transgression recognizes sin as rebellion against God, bringing guilt. Iniquity reckons that sin is perversion, bringing pollution. The Hebrew word translated sin speaks of failure that brings ruin. The standard by which sin is most truly known is the soul's relation to God, for David here uttered this tremendous truth: "Against You, You only, I have sinned" (verse 4). Of course, David also sinned against Bathsheba, her husband, and his own family, but people can forgive one another; David needed infinitely more than human forgiveness. He asked God that his sin would be blotted out so he could be washed clean and made pure. He wanted complete deliverance from the pollution of sin. This great song, pulsating with the agony of a sin-stricken soul, helps us to understand the stupendous wonder of God's everlasting mercy. The atonement of the Messiah is God's answer to sin—past, present, and future.
Psalm 52:1 "Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The mercy of God endures all day long." We are told Psalm 52 was written "when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul, 'David has come to the house of Ahimelech'" (verse 1). That evil act led to the massacre of many innocent people (1 Samuel 21-22). In David's highlighted opening question and assertion, we have the key to this whole song. The first part describes the mighty man's evil deeds and downfall (verses 2-5); the second explains the security of the man who trusts in God (verses 6-9). "O mighty man" has sometimes been translated "You tyrant," which is an accurate description of the kind of man Doeg proved to be. Confident in his wealth, power, and connections, he vaunted his ability to act out his own malicious purposes against a good man. David sees the folly and futility of such boasting because he has a clear vision of the enduring goodness and mercy of God. That is the one all-sufficient answer to fear induced by evil men entrenched in material strength. Over against that strength of wickedness, the mercy of God is eternally operative, which has much more to it than mere pity. It is fierce and forceful, as verse 5 illustrates: "But God will break you down forever; He will snatch you up and tear you from your tent, uprooting you from the land of the living." Notice the contrast for the person who trusts in the Lord: David says in verse 8, "But as for me, I am like a green olive tree in the house of God."
Psalm 53:5 "There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror!" This psalm is almost identical with Psalm 14, but not quite. For some reason known only to David and his editorial helpers, they used Elohim (a general term) instead of Yahweh to refer to God here and in other psalms after this. Slight alterations show how a great song may be adapted to meet the need of some special application of its truth. The highlighted verse illustrates that, for it is much more emphatic than its counterpart in Psalm 14, which says that the wicked "are in great dread, for God is with the righteous generation." Psalm 53:5 adds the fact that those evil, godless men were terrified when there was no natural cause for fear. That led to a downward spiral according to the rest of the verse: God scattered the bones of those who encamped against His people; He "put them to shame" because He "rejected them." A few hundred years after David's time, that literally happened to 185,000 Assyrian soldiers and their king, Sennacherib (Isaiah 37:36-38). The fear of God is often thrust upon irreligious men and women suddenly and powerfully when they have no apparent cause for fear. It is a very destructive kind of fear with only one cure: turning humbly to God, since that kind of response to "the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding" (Proverbs 9:10). The fear of God is either an impelling motive, leading in the ways of life, or it becomes a compelling terror, bringing destruction.
Psalm 54:4 "God is my helper; the Lord is with those who uphold my life." The title of this psalm relates it to when David was being persecuted by King Saul, and the Ziphites betrayed David by revealing his hiding place to Saul. David shows strong faith throughout by appealing for God's help and then confidently affirming that such help will be forthcoming. The highlighted verse is arresting, and scholars often seem anxious to modify it to simply, "The Lord is the sustainer of my life." One expositor, for example, says that God is not merely "one upholder among many, but Chief Mover and Upholder of them all." While that is certainly true, the Hebrew text does literally speak of others who help with the sustaining process. David recognizes the help of human friends, but accounts for it by God, who as the sovereign Lord guides and commands them. It is likely he was thinking of the help he received from Jonathan near Ziph, which we are told about in 1 Samuel 23. Here, perhaps, is the secret of this song of faith. Through Jonathan, David was strengthened in God, and Psalm 54 recognizes God's sustaining hand in the action of his friend. God indeed acts through our friends.
Psalm 55:22 "Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will sustain you." Those cherished words, loved by God's people for millennia, are all the more remarkable when considering the situation David was in when he wrote them. Look at words he used to describe how he felt: terror, anguish, fearfulness, pressure, trembling, horror—those are not soft words. See what gave rise to those feelings: violence, strife, iniquity, mischief, wickedness, oppression, and deceit. At the heart of this song is one of the most moving passages in literature of poignant agony: "It is not an enemy who reproaches me, then I could bear it; nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me.... But it is you, a man my equal, my companion and my familiar friend, we who once had sweet fellowship together...in the house of God!" (verses 12-14). That was David's burden. Who can imagine this level of betrayal? Whatever our burden is, we can experience help like David did. To cast our burden upon the Lord is not be be rid of it, but to find the One who sustains the burden-bearer, and so the burden, in a fellowship of love and might. We have a striking example of how this works in another portion of Scripture: "The surpassing greatness of this power is obviously from God, not ourselves—we are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not despairing; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed...that the life of Jesus may be manifested in us" (2 Corinthians 4:7-10). Paul and his companions were sustained in their mighty struggles and so made strong enough to resist the pressure, which made them all the more effective for God's service. That is God's purposeful way of sustaining us as He bears our burdens.
Psalm 56:3-4 "When I am afraid, I will put my trust in You.... In God I have put my trust; I shall not be afraid." The title of this song tells us it was written by David "when the Philistines oppressed him in Gath," the home town of Goliath. It is a revelation of his experiences under those circumstances. David was keenly conscious of the malignant hatred of his foes, who were subjecting him to indignity and cruelty as they sought his destruction. It comforted him to realize that God was more keenly conscious of all that he was going through, even keeping track of David's tears in His bottle and recording them in His book (verse 8). David was naturally fearful for his safety in the midst of such enemies, yet his faith refused to be overcome. Psalm 56 is a song of the conflict between fear and faith, and ultimately the victory of faith. Notice the highlighted verses. When the fear kicked in, David made a choice: to trust God, an act of faith. It was also an act of the will, based on reason. The human heart is frail, and there are hours when the forces against us seem to highlight that sense of weakness and create fear. In such hours let us exercise our reasoning powers to the full, for that is the true activity of faith. "This I know," said David, "that God is for me" (verse 9).
Psalm 57:7 "My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises!" A stable, steadfast heart is the secret of songs. David wrote this song "when he fled from Saul in the cave" (verse 1). First Samuel 24 explains how David spared Saul's life in that cave, which moved Saul to tears and temporary repentance, but David wisely kept his distance. A couple chapters later, Saul is at it again and David must have wondered when this cat-and-mouse game would ever cease. Psalm 57 falls distinctly into two parts: David's seeking shelter in God in the midst of his trials (verses 1-4) and his song of triumph amid the shelter God provided (verses 5-11). Notice these contrasting details about that shelter: "My soul takes refuge in You; in the shadow of Your wings I take refuge" (verse 1), but "my soul is among lions; I must lie among those who breathe forth fire, even those whose teeth are like spears and arrows" (verse 4). Under God's protection David's heart is fixed and stable, despite those around him exerting all their strength to cause him harm. In that frame of heart and mind, God's people then and now sing the most beautiful songs of praise to the glory of God and the wonder of all who watch and think.
Psalm 58:11 "Surely there is a God who judges on earth!" King David's theme in this psalm is judgment, not merely as punishment, but in the broadest and truest sense of government. The first part (verses 1-5) vividly condemns those who govern wrongly, for their methods are wicked and violent, and they are deaf to the appeal for justice. The second (verses 6-9) is a passionate plea to God, the final Judge, to sweep away those false judges so they may no longer misgovern humankind. The third part of Psalm 58 (verses 10-11) is a confident affirmation that the Lord will answer that fervent, godly prayer in such a powerful way that "everyone will say, 'Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth!'" The sorrows of humanity multiply under false systems of government, whether autocratic or democratic. The only hope for individual men and women is to discover this truth of God's inevitable judgment, and humbly submit themselves to the Judge. How slow people are to admit and yield to God's truth, yet how persistently God moves to compel that conviction! He has thrown down many oppressors and weakened the strength of evil governors, but still people are quick to set up other false methods of government. Every method is false that fails to reckon with God. Those who love Him remain confident "that He rewards those who seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
Psalm 59:9 "O my Strength, I watch for You; You, O God, are my fortress." This is the refrain with which the first part of this psalm closes. The second part ends in a similar way: "O my strength, I will sing praises to You; for God is my stronghold, the God who shows me lovingkindness" (verse 17). In each case the central thought about God is His strength and the secure protection He provides for the soul in trouble and danger. In the first refrain David declares his determination, in view of those facts, to watch or pay close attention to God. In the second, in view of the same facts, he sings out of gratitude for God's love and care for him. David tells us at the beginning of this psalm that he wrote it when he first had to run for his life from King Saul and his bloodthirsty henchmen. Their evil character is carefully described in this song. While such men and women are at large and unrestrained, there is little earthly security for the godly. The character of God demands that agents of evil be severely judged and destroyed. In His retribution against them through the ages, we see His mercy and lovingkindness on display.
Psalm 60:4 "You have given a banner to those who fear You, that it may be displayed because of the truth." This is the central light of a great song, revealing King David's understanding of his nation's function. When the Amalekites attacked Israel in the wilderness, victory came to the people of God as Moses, supported by Aaron and Hur, prayed while Joshua went forth to battle. At its conclusion, Moses built an altar and called it "The Lord Is My Banner" (Exodus 17). This new nation came into existence to display the glory of the Lord before all nations. When Israel was victorious in warfare against forces of evil, that Banner was honored. When Israel was defeated, it was disgraced. Ironically, although we are told David wrote Psalm 60 after a series of great military victories (described in 2 Samuel 8 and 1 Chronicles 18), most of the psalm speaks of defeat and shame. David's armies obviously suffered many setbacks on their way to victory. We find no self-centered pride in this psalm. David's sorrow came from the disgrace to the Banner—the dishonor that came to the name of the Lord. His sense of priority accounts for his confident conclusion to this psalm: "Through God we shall do valiantly, and it is He who will tread down our adversaries" (verse 12). History shows that is exactly what happened. Responsibility for the truth of God and the honor of His holy name is the surest guarantee of victory. When the people of God are overcome by the enemies of God, the ultimate tragedy then and now is not that they are disgraced, but that what they stand for is disgraced. We are told that "the church of the living God" is "the pillar and support of the truth" (1 Timothy 3:15). When she fails, the truth suffers.
Psalm 61:2 "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I!" King David does not tell us when he wrote this psalm, but it appears he was away from the City and Temple of God, perhaps when he was forced to flee from his rebellious son Absalom. From a distance that seemed like "the end of the earth," he was feeling overwhelmed and uttered the highlighted cry, using one of his favorite word pictures for God. Rock represents strength and stability, and its height provides refuge and security. Notice that David contrasts that high Rock with himself. He was supremely conscious of his own insufficiency. From whatever unnamed perils or sorrows he was facing, he found neither help nor hiding place in his own wisdom or strength. Perhaps he was realizing he had been his own worst enemy, and that the foes he had chiefly to fear were resident within his own personality. Therefore David prayed for elevation above self in God. It is a great prayer, one we constantly need to pray. Only when we find refuge in the Rock that is higher than ourselves are we safe from enemies without or within. There is no such thing as self-sufficiency. Our sufficiency is always in God.
Psalm 62:1 "My soul waits in silence for God only." The emphatic word is only. Notice its repetition in this psalm: "He only is my Rock" (verse 2), "for God only" (verse 5), "He only is my Rock" (verse 6). Whatever the occasion of its writing, Psalm 62 is well placed after Psalm 61's central plea, "Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I." David uttered that cry from his growing awareness of his lack of sufficiency, but of God's sufficiency as the Rock of refuge. His opening cry in Psalm 62 is that the soul finds what it needs in none other than God, whom he continues to describe as rock-solid: "my Rock...my salvation...my high tower" (repeated twice in verse 2 and 7). He waits in silence again (verses 1 and 5), and at last declares the double truth he has learned about God: "that power belongs to God...and also lovingkindness" (verses 11-12). Because of those divine attributes, the trusting soul is safe both from opposing enemies and personal weaknesses and failure. The power of God is more than the strength of all the adversaries that have been or ever will be; the mercy of God is more than sufficient for meeting all the needs troubled souls experience. Because God only is our Rock, let us always be silent before Him in that we say nothing against what He does, but quietly expect what He will do.
Psalm 63:8 "My soul clings to You; Your right hand upholds me." Once more we have a song of the wilderness. The title declares that, and we feel the atmosphere of loneliness and abounding peril as we read. It builds until we read how David dealt with his situation in the highlighted verse, which describes a volitional activity and the deep sense of security that came from it. The activity of the will is "my soul clings to You," and that verb is intense—with a sense of strain and great but resolute effort. It is not easy to realize the nearness or presence of God, but there must be no giving up, no relaxing. Times come when nothing less will do than bringing all your powers to bear on the one activity of keeping close to God. That is what David did and notice what he sensed in his soul as a result: "Your right hand upholds me." Indeed, it is by the effort of that mighty hand that we are enabled to cling so tightly to God. This valuable text helps us realize the interaction between the soul's courage and confidence. If we relaxed the determined maintenance of our soul's connection to God, our sense of His right hand would be weakened. It is equally true that if His right hand did not uphold us, there could be no strength for such a tight grip. One thing is certain: the right hand of God will never fail His people. Let us then see to it that our clinging to Him never lessens.
Psalm 64:1 "Preserve my life from fear of the enemy." That is perhaps every soldier's greatest desire, and the mighty warrior David utters it here. Surely the fear of cowardice is the very inspiration of courage. David faced many causes for fear. The next 6 verses reveal the relentless fury and remorseless subtlety and cruelty of the foes surrounding him. Conscious of all that, he had one fear and that was being afraid of them. "But God" (verse 7) is the cure. To remember God is to see One who is mightier than all our enemies, and eager to act against them on behalf of His own. To fear to be afraid is to be driven to seek the help of God, who fights to preserve the trusting soul. In such seeking is the secret of courage and the assurance of victory.
Psalm 65:1 "Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion." King David evidently composed this song to be sung for a gathering in the Temple to thank God for richly blessing their harvest. It was a great time of praise, but this opening verse expands our thinking on what constitutes praise to God. A literal translation is, "Praise is silent to You." That does not mean there is no praise, but that the people's hearts are wanting words to express the great goodness of God, and are at first struck with a silent admiration of it. Soon enough it becomes gloriously vocal, but even then perhaps fails to express the fullness that compelled the silence. Before singing a great song of praise, the prophet Habakkuk said this: "The Lord is in His holy Temple. Let all the earth be silent before Him" (Habakkuk 2:20). Even in awesome joy of God's very presence one day, there will be "silence in heaven for about half an hour" (Revelation 8:1). There is tremendous value today in silence as part of public worship, whether in praise or prayer, when a few wisely chosen words lead to those great silences where the soul is alone with God. This is a high matter, but "the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not always know what to pray for, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words," and with our praises too deep for words, "He who searches hearts" (Romans 8:26-27) will help them be accepted.
|Last Word on Vows from Jesus|
Psalm 66:13 "I shall pay You my vows." This song of praise has two parts. The first is national (verses 1-12) and celebrates a divine deliverance while humbly recognizing that the trouble God's people went through refined them for their good. The second part of Psalm 66 is personal (verses 13-20), for the unidentified author of this psalm explains that in the time of distress, he made a vow to the Lord and was now fulfilling it in this day of celebration and prosperity. There is an important principle in his highlighted words. Men and women in hours of distress constantly make promises to God about what they will do if God delivers them from their problems. Such vows are voluntary and never necessary from the standpoint of God's Law: unlike prayer, they do not affect the action of God in the least. Once made, however, they were to be kept (Leviticus 27, Numbers 30). Jesus' Sermon on the Mount makes it clear that hypocritical people were making false vows to appear religious, but get out of what they promised to do with deceptive wording. We are to speak plainly and keep our promises. To fail to keep faith with God and others is to suffer deterioration of character.
Psalm 67:2 "That Your way may be known on the earth, Your salvation among all nations." This psalm begins with a passionate prayer for God's blessing on the Hebrew nation, but not just for its own sake, as we see in the highlighted verse that follows. The unknown writer of Psalm 67 understood that God's desire has always been to extend His salvation blessings to all nations. His closing affirmation is that God will indeed bless His own people that "all the ends of the earth may fear Him" (verse 7). The people of God exist for the sake of all the nations. Their prosperity comes from His aid, His deliverance, His salvation. The nations, seeing that prosperity, are taught the advantage of His rule. That rule, discovered and obeyed, always produces national health in the sense of wholeness, completeness, and full realization of possibility.
Psalm 68:30 "He has scattered the peoples who delight in war." David wrote this psalm of war—a favorite of soldiers for millennia—but did not tell us the precise historical battle. Psalm 68 celebrates the march of God with His people, against their foes and His, to assured and complete victory. The highlighted verse describe that victory in a remarkable way that soldiers especially do well to consider. Psalm 68 is about war from beginning to end, yet it is not a song that glorifies war. God is manifested as the God of battles, but His victory is that He scatters the people who delight in war. He does not delight in it; His purpose is to end it. Here is a true test of the relation of men of faith to war: if they delight in war, God will use war as an instrument to defeat that unholy passion. If they hate war, He will give victory in war to those who fight only when necessary.
Psalm 69:6 "May those who wait for You not be ashamed through me, O Lord God of hosts; may those who seek You not be dishonored through me, O God of Israel!" This psalm pulsates with pain, for David is crying to God for deliverance from the cruel enemies who are persecuting him. He also calls for revenge against them, using strong maledictions here and in other songs called imprecatory psalms that have offended many people through the centuries. In the highlighted words we discover the deepest note in his suffering and the reason for his maledictions. David's concern was not personal, but that others who have been loyal to God might be deflected from faith and dishonored because of what they saw of his sufferings. Thus his chief concern was for the honor of God. All the imprecatory psalms reveal a consuming passion for the vindication of God's righteousness, with victory over all who rebel against His government and insult His holiness. Nothing in the New Testament speaks against that passion. When Christ on the cross prayed that His murders be forgiven, note the explicit terms of His prayer: "Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing." Here we see David's Greater Son, like David himself, free from all personal vindictiveness. Jesus' teachings reveal no tolerance for those who do evil, knowing that it is evil.
Psalm 70:1 "O God, hasten to deliver me; O Lord, hasten to my help!" These words reveal David's mood when writing this brief song. He repeats them in the last verse, adding this: "Do not delay!" (verse 5). David was suffering, and what made it worse was how his enemies gloated over it, saying, "Aha, Aha!" (verse 3). He knew he could find help only in God, but he did not feel that God was acting with sufficient speed—like He was being leisurely when the need was pressing. Anyone who has suffered knows what that feels like. The book of Psalms has well been described as an anatomy of the soul. One of the values of a psalm like this is it clearly expresses a common human experience, even though it reveals a mistaken conception of God. The Lord never needs to be told to hurry. He never delays uselessly or carelessly, for He is perfect and His timing is therefore perfect. Nevertheless, He understands our cry. We may use any terms in our prayers if they are directed to Him, knowing He will understand, interpreting our faulty terms by His own perfect knowledge and giving His people His best answers to their deepest needs.
Psalm 71:18 "Even when I am old and gray, O God, do not forsake me, until I declare Your strength to this generation, Your power to all who are to come." The unnamed author of this song is probably an elderly man, or someone who was very mature and advanced in his thinking. He was in trouble when he wrote this psalm and asks God for help at its outset, but its dominant note is the triumph of faith. He looks back over his life and recognizes God's care from his youth through all the vicissitudes of life. The highlighted verse reveals the truest desire of the godly older man or woman: to minister to youth. Such a person has acquired personal proof of God's faithfulness through many years of experience, so has a valuable message for those facing life. The young see only the first half of life—a glorious half but needing the illumination of the whole. In addition, nothing keeps the heart young like standing by the young, sympathizing with their ambitions, encouraging their endeavors, and building up their courage by telling true stories of God's strength and loving provision. When a person turns old and gray, he or she will naturally be inclined to seek release and rest. To guard against that last temptation to selfishness, cultivate comradeship with the young. Out of that will come the higher desire for increased fellowship with God to be more of a blessing to Him and others. There is nothing more pitiful, or else more beautiful, than old age. It is pitiful when characterized by pessimism and complaints, which act like wet blankets on the hopes of youth. It is beautiful when its witness stimulates vision and inspires heroism.
Psalm 72:18-19 "Blessed be the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone works wonders. And blessed be His glorious name forever. May the whole earth be filled with His glory! Amen and Amen." The book of Psalms is divided into 5 books, and this psalm ends book 2 with the doxology or praise above. It is similar to the other doxologies, but each one is special and different. We are told Psalm 72 was written by or for King Solomon. Its theme is similar to the closing doxology, for it sets forth the glory of government through God's anointed king. Solomon's reign was magnificent, but what is described here is beyond that level of grandeur. God's people have continued to live under tyranny and oppression, but this last song celebrates the day when, under King Messiah, all who are oppressed will be set free and every form of tyranny broken.
Psalm 73:17 "Until I came into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end." Asaph, a fellow music minister with King David or a descendant of his with the same name, wrote this song about a turning point in his life. He begins by affirming the goodness of God to those who love Him, but quickly confesses how he once started to doubt that very fact when he noticed how wicked people around him seemed to prosper (verses 1-16). He concludes by describing the perfection of God's ways, confessing the folly of his breakdown in faith, and reaffirming his trust in the Lord as his refuge. The highlighted verse tells us about his change in outlook. By going into the sanctuary of God, Asaph retired from the confusion of circumstances and was blessed with excellent perception. What he needed and received was a long view of life. Looking at circumstances only, we see only what is near, which by definition is limited. To see the big picture, we need to look at things from God's perspective, which He has given us in His Word. All true houses or churches of God today represent it faithfully. What we learn there is that the latter end of the wicked is tragic unless they repent. In the Messiah we have access to the inner sanctuary, so to speak, of God's holy ways as revealed in His holy Word. To take advantage of that access is to be delivered from the folly of interpreting any day by its hours, or any age by itself. There, all is seen in the light of God's ultimate plans, which all harmonize with His perfect character.
Psalm 74:12 "Yet God is my King from of old, working salvation in the midst of the earth." Yet is sometimes a vital word. It is so here, introducing us to a new realm of facts. In the early part of the song, we have a graphic description of uttermost desolation. An Asaph living at the time of the Babylonian Exile tells how the sacred Temple had been desecrated by fire, the city of the king reduced to ruins, many of the people slain, and the nation became the scorn of her enemies. Things could hardly be worse to the eyes of sight, but then came the declaration of what the eyes of faith beheld. Asaph saw God as King, working out His plan of salvation on earth. This is the victory of faith, and a victory of the highest reason. In considering any situation, it is unreasonable to leave out any significant fact—and sheer folly to forget the greatest fact of all. Men and women of faith are never blind to the desolation; they see all the terrible facts, but they see more: they see God. The watch word for them is salvation, not desolation. In the remainder of Psalm 74, Asaph reveals two arguments for his faith: the witness of God's mighty workings in both history and nature.
Psalm 75:2-3 "When I select an appointed time, it is I who judge with equity. The earth and all who dwell in it melt; it is I who have firmly set its pillars." This is another psalm by Asaph and is striking in its joyful contrast to the previous psalm, yet it affirms its central message that in spite of all appearances, God is King and at work for salvation. Psalm 75 celebrates an unspecified event in which that kind of faith was vindicated. In the highlighted verse Asaph quotes God Himself revealing the time and method of His activity. That His time is "appointed" means He never acts too soon or too late. To believe that is to be patient. God's method is to "judge with equity." The pronoun "I" is emphatic: whatever others may do or think, God's judgment is perfectly just and right. An application of divine timing and activity is there are times of apparent or very real dissolution of human organization and order—they "melt"—but God establishes the true pillars of the earth. They cannot be broken down until He recreates a new heavens and new earth when evil is purged after the last of "all the wicked of the earth" drain the cup of God's judgment "down to the dregs" (verse 8). He "upholds all things by the Word of His power" (Hebrews 1:3). This conviction is the citadel of the soul.
Psalm 76:10 "The wrath of man shall praise You; with a remnant of wrath You will gird Yourself." Like the song before it, Psalm 76 is attributed to Asaph and celebrates another unspecified victory that God had won on behalf of His people. Asaph's chief joy is that through this victory, God has been made known and the greatness of His name proclaimed. The highlighted verse is a striking poetic image of God's overruling of evil. "The wrath of man" stands for all that is evil, everything from the fierce passion of revolt to cold, calculated rebellion. As the psalmists of old had seen so often the wrath of man working havoc in human affairs, so have we. But Asaph here watched closely and he saw God, overriding evil by His own presence and holding it within His own grasp, thus compelling it at last to work out His own purpose toward His own praise. When the limit He established was reached, God restrained the wrath of His enemies, wrapping it about Himself so to speak, to prevent it from going any further. The same truth applies today: God has always compelled the wrath of man to praise Him, and will continue to do so until He finally displays it as a trophy of His final victory—a sure sign at once of both His power and His mercy.
Psalm 77:10 "This is my anguish; but I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High." This verse cuts this psalm in two, changing its note from the minor to the major key. Asaph's saying, "This is my anguish" summarizes all he said in the first 9 verses about his suffering, which was so intense, he could not sleep and was tempted to think God might have forsaken him. But then he determined to remember divine history. A long stretch of years appeared before his mind, including years of great suffering, that started to make sense as a cohesive whole, for they were all under the right hand of God—an ancient symbol of deliberate action and authority. Then Asaph got specific, thinking about and listing what God had done for His people. That is how he found answers to questions he asked in his anguish. The Lord had not cast off His people or ceased to be favorable towards them. His mercy was not gone, nor had He forgotten how to be gracious. God's promises to His people will never fail. Those of us who love the Lord can rest assured that since all our years are under His right hand, all is well—even our sufferings.
Psalm 78:7 "That they may set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments." This is a psalm of honest yet glorious history. From verses 9-72 Asaph reviews the history of God's people, focusing on their persistent lack of loyalty to God, who nevertheless consistently displays His goodness to them through His parental discipline and deliverance. The first 8 verses declare it is the will of God that His Word and works be faithfully taught to the children of each succeeding generation. The highlighted verse tells us why and the effects such teaching is bound to produce. Hope has to do with the future and memory with the past. Both inspire obedience to God's Word because children will see the sense of trusting their future to God since the past reveals how faithful He is to those who choose to trust Him. History, written as it should be, will always show that all true prosperity comes from God, and that no person has any lasting hope apart from what is centered in Him. History written and taught like that will so affect hope and memory in youth that it promotes obedience to the God of history, which is truly His story.
Psalm 79:10 "Why should the nations say, 'Where is their God?'" The circumstances calling forth this song are practically identical with those of Psalm 74: enemies had invaded the land, the Temple was desecrated, the city in ruins, the people slain, and the nation was the scorn of its foes. Despite all the devastation, God was seen as King, working salvation. That declaration of faith is absent from Psalm 79, but is implied in the highlighted question. Asaph, the author of both psalms, saw God reigning and working salvation, but the conquering nations could not see that. Their only proof of God, they thought, was in the prosperity of His people. In the hour of their adversity, skeptics then and now say, "Where is their God?" The cry of this psalm is for deliverance from the enemies who are oppressing God's people, but its deepest reason is that God should be honored and vindicated. It is not easy to rise to that level. Selfishness tempts us in our desires and prayers. The degree to which it is consumed in a burning passion for the glory of God is the degree of our own strength of soul and ability to represent God.
Psalm 80:3 "O God, restore us and cause Your face to shine upon us, and we will be saved!" This plea, repeated 3 times by Asaph in this song, reveals the only hope of the godly after the devastation of the Babylonian Captivity. First, the people of God needed to turn back to Him, shaken by an act of God to true repentance, thereby being restored to Him. Then they needed to see His face shining on them again by a clear showing of His reconciled favor. That was the only way for the failing people to be saved. It was true then and it is true now. Asaph, like the prophet Isaiah before him and Jesus after, pictures God's people as a vine. "O God of hosts, turn again now, we beseech You," cries Asaph, "look down from heaven and see! Take care of this vine—even the shoot Your right hand has planted, the son whom You have raised up for Yourself" (verses 14-15). God answered that passionate prayer ultimately in His Son, who said, "I am the true vine, and My Father is the vinedresser. Every branch in Me that does not bear fruit, He takes away; and every branch that bears fruit, He prunes it so that it may bear more fruit.... My Father is glorified by this, that you bear much fruit, and so prove to be My disciples" (John 15:1-2, 8).
Psalm 81:12 "So I gave them over to the stubbornness of their heart." This psalm of Asaph opens on a note of joy at a great feast, yet merges into messages of warning. Those warnings reveal the heart of God, who sighs over His people with longing for their loyalty for their own sakes. In the highlighted verse He tells what He decided to do when they refused to listen to Him. It reveals a constant method of God with His disloyal and disobedient children. When they will not go His way, He lets them go their way. But that does not mean He abandons them: He permits them to learn by the bitter results of their own folly what He would have had them know by communion with Himself. How often men and women have stubbornly gone their own way only to find sorrow and anguish, yet those who are wise learn through those experiences the perfection of God's ways! He is gracious, but His choice for us is that we should listen to Him and so be saved, not merely through the bitterness of failure, but from it.
Psalm 82:8 "Arise, O God, judge the earth! For it is You who possesses all the nations." This brief but mighty poem by Asaph is about justice. It begins, "God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers" (verse 1). He is not happy with what He sees. Verses 2-7 are a protest against the maladministration of the rulers and a sentence pronounced upon them. The psalm concludes with the highlighted prayer for God to judge the earth He rightfully possesses. The opening verse literally says, "Elohim stands in the congregation of El; He judges among the elohim." It is an overwhelming picture of God's courtroom. Central to it is God Himself as Judge, and gathered around Him are rulers who function as His executive agents. Notice what He judges them for: judging unjustly, showing partiality to the wicked, not giving justice to the weak and needy, not maintaining their rights, and not rescuing them from the wicked. Their living and ruling by such moral and intellectual darkness topples them from their lofty position and brings about their ultimate doom. That is how God judges everyone in human authority. He is thoroughly committed to answering Asaph's prayer, for "having overlooked times of ignorance, God is now declaring that all people everywhere must repent because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through the Man He has appointed, having furnished proof to all by raising Him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31).
Psalm 83:1-2 "O God, do not remain quiet ... for behold, Your enemies make an uproar." This last psalm of Asaph shows how isolated he, King David, and their people felt amid a sea of enemies. Those foes were united by a common hatred of the people of God, which was a hatred of God Himself. That was true of Israel then and is true now. Asaph, hearing the ugly uproar of those antagonistic multitudes, called upon God to answer their noise with His voice. There are times when God utters His voice in answer to the raging of the nations, when He no longer holds His peace but "roars from Zion" (Amos 1:2, Joel 3:16) as the "Lion of the Tribe of Judah." The noise He makes, however, is not like theirs—no tumult, uproar, or ineffective shouting. The Scriptures tell of God speaking in fire and flame, tempest and storm, and even a still, small sound. Those are all effective forces that destroy and purify, that break down and cleanse. We who have heard and experienced the rage of God's enemies against His people will hear Him roar as He continues asserting Himself in human affairs to the end.
Psalm 84:10 "I would rather stand at the door of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness." But of course! It is easy to read that affirmation as though there were something heroic about the choice, some touch of sacrifice in the decision. There is nothing of the kind. The singer of this song was a man of profound common sense. He was simply choosing the highest and best. The tents of wickedness have nothing to offer the man who has any kind of place in the house of God, especially someone with the privileged position of a doorkeeper. We are told this is a psalm of the sons of Korah, who were Temple music ministers of the priestly Levitical tribe. The Levites had no land inheritance in Israel because they had special possessions in the service of the Lord. The writer of this song was very familiar with the Temple, and obviously watched it with loving eyes. He had also known the bitterness of absence from it. Restored to it after a long journey through difficult paths, he broke out into this great celebration of the glory of that house. The truest wealth, rest, and joy of life are found in serving God. Those who are faithful to Him know by experience that "the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord gives grace and glory; no good thing does He withhold from those who walk uprightly" (verse 11).
Psalm 85:3-4 "You turned away from Your burning anger. Turn us—restore us— O God of our salvation." So far as the will and work of God are concerned, He in grace has turned from His anger because He has forgiven iniquity and covered sin. But for us to appropriate that divine activity of grace, there must be a turning on our part. That is the nature of the highlighted prayer request. "I will hear what God the Lord will say," says one of the sons of Korah, "for He will speak peace to His people, to His godly ones; but let them not turn back to folly" (verse 8). This is what the Lord says specifically about the kind of peace He is talking about: "Righteousness and peace have kissed each other.... Righteousness will go before Him and will make His footsteps into a way" (verses 10, 13). That prophecy was fulfilled when the Messiah "suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in His steps" (1 Peter 2:21). "Having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have obtained our introduction by faith into this grace in which we stand" (Romans 5:1-2). That is the salvation God has worked out for His people.
Psalm 86:11 "Unite my heart to fear Your name." This psalm of David is peculiar in that it consists almost entirely of quotations from other psalms. It is unusually individualistic in that the personal pronouns I or me appear at least 30 times in 4 series of petitions interrupted by 3 distinct affirmations about God: first series of petitions (verses 1-4), first affirmation (verse 5); second petitions (verses 6-7), second affirmation (verses 8-10); third petitions (verses 11-14), third affirmation (verse 15); fourth petitions (verses 16-17). We have a glimpse here of David's soul in prayer seeking a personal connection with the great truths about God: His goodness, willingness to pardon, mercy toward those who humbly call on Him, supremacy and sovereignty over all nations, wondrous deeds, grace, patience, love, and truthfulness. The heart of this psalm is David's highlighted prayer about his own heart. David had great intellectual apprehension of theology, but knew that something more was needed: that all aspects of himself should be unified in devotion. We do well to take David's prayer to heart by setting aside other people and priorities, and coming reverently and regularly to God alone in prayer and the study of His Word that our whole personality is brought under His sway.
Psalm 87:7 "Singers and dancers alike say, 'All my springs are in You.'" This song by the sons of Korah celebrates the glorious future of Jerusalem, also known as Zion and the City of God. It looks forward to the ultimate establishment of the Kingdom of God on this earth. Zion, the metropolis of that kingdom, is characterized by righteousness, peace, and joy. It is the city of the King, who rules with perfect justice and righteousness. Its citizens will include those who were once enemies of the people and purposes of God, reflecting its nature as a city of peace. That inspires from-the-heart singing, dancing, and all other expressions of happiness, so it is preeminently a city of joy. That is why singers and dancers alike will say, "All my fountains are in You." Scripture elsewhere explains that this kind of life can begin now: "The Kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit. He who serves the Messiah this way is acceptable to God and approved by others. So pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another" (Romans 14:17-19). Both Jerusalem itself and a New Jerusalem figure prominently into God's plan for the future.
Psalm 88:13 "But I, O Lord, have cried out to You for help, and in the morning my prayer comes before You." This is the last of the psalms attributed to the sons of Korah, who are always an anonymous group—except for here. First Kings 4 tells us this particular son of Korah was so famous, his wisdom was ranked almost to the level of King Solomon's. His name is Heman the Ezrahite. Heman's one psalm has been described as the saddest song in the whole book of Psalms. It is gloomy but also touching. Heman sets forth his intense circumstances and sufferings with a vividness born of deep experience. Yet from beginning to end we see no trace of bitterness, no desire for revenge on enemies, no angry reflections against God. Instead, Heman's references to the Lord reveal a remarkable sense of His grace and goodness. God is addressed as the God of salvation, characterized by lovingkindness, faithfulness, righteousness, and great wonders. While Heman freely admits He does not understand what God is doing and asks his troubled questions, he nevertheless remains sure of God's grace and justice. The secret is his determination to keep himself in touch with God, crying out to Him and meeting Him in prayer at the start of each new day. He wants to make the most of his life this side of death so he does not fail to use the unique opportunities it presents to proclaim God's truth. We need to thank God for a psalm like this to help us when we suffer. Heman's example of following hard after God in the midst of a deep depression is more potent than any theoretical explanations.
Psalm 89:52 "Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen and Amen." This is the only psalm attributed to Ethan the Ezrahite, who was as renowned for wisdom as Heman, author of Psalm 88. The highlighted praise or doxology closing this long song also closes the third section of the book of Psalms. God's faithfulness and lovingkindness stand out as the key themes of Psalm 89, which has two main parts: celebrating the covenant God made with His people and lamenting the people's failure to realize the benefits of that covenant because of their faithlessness to God. In that second part Ethan prays earnestly for their stain of reproach to be removed, but never questions God's character. He quotes the Lord saying directly, "I have given help" (verse 19), rightly deriving great comfort from divine aid. The person who has come to know God as his or her helper will worship Him in perpetual praise even during dark days, remembering His covenant and being assured that whatever may be the experiences of the moment, in the long issue God will be vindicated.
Psalm 90:1 "Lord, You have been our dwelling place in all generations." This is the only psalm described as a "prayer of Moses, the man of God." Moses begins by celebrating the timelessness of God, saying memorably, "From everlasting to everlasting You are God.... A thousand years in Your sight are like yesterday when it passes by" (verses 2, 4). Those who are at home with the Lord by faith, like Moses, may contemplate the brevity and trouble of human life with peace and gain wisdom. Always the teacher, Moses utters 3 profound prayers here for us to emulate. The first is, "Teach us to number our days so we may present to You a heart of wisdom" (verse 12). The second is, "Satisfy us in the morning with Your lovingkindness so we may sing for joy and be glad all our days" (verse 14). The third is so important, Moses repeats it: "Confirm for us the work of our hands; yes, confirm the work of our hands" (verse 17). Our days are short because of sin and death, but they are meaningful. When all the dwelling places man builds for himself are destroyed over time, those who trust in God have a permanent home of strength, beauty, and satisfaction. In Him they triumph over all the things that otherwise would bring despair, and move on in conscious power to face the ages.
Psalm 91:1 "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will abide in the shadow of the Almighty." Whoever wrote this psalm seems to have been inspired by what Moses said in Psalm 90. There the personal pronouns are all plural and generic; here they are singular and individual. Psalm 91 celebrates the security and satisfaction of dwelling in God's shelter or Secret Place, reflecting what Moses said about God's being the dwelling place or home of those who trust in Him. This singer embraces that great idea, and goes on to speak of the innermost part of that dwelling as the Secret Place. He likens its complete security to the sheltering wings of a mother bird, which cast the shadow of the Almighty. God's people are not always immune from physical enemies and diseases, but they are always guarded from destructive spiritual forces as they dwell in the Secret Place of the Most High. Notice "the surpassing greatness" of God's power "toward us who believe" that He "brought about in the Messiah, when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places" or Secret Place. He "seated us with Him in the heavenly places...so that...He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us" (Ephesians 1:20, 2:6-7). In Him, our Redeemer and Lord, we may dwell indeed in the Secret Place of the Most High.
Psalm 92:1 "It is good to give thanks to the Lord." This psalm is uniquely introduced as "a psalm, a song for the Sabbath day." It is followed by 5 other psalms without a title, and then by Psalm 98, introduced simply as "a psalm." One more follows without any title. We do not know for sure, but it may be those 8 psalms were grouped together as particularly appropriate for weekly Sabbath praise and worship. They do all have the same theme, which is the Kingship of the Lord. Psalm 92 particularly celebrates the Lord's reigning "on high forever" (verse 8), and contrasts the temporary flourishing of the wicked with a beautiful picture of their opposite: "The righteous flourish like the palm tree and grow like a cedar in Lebanon. They are planted in the house of the Lord; the flourish in the courts of our God. They still bear fruit in old age; they are ever full of sap and green" (verses 12-14). Psalm 92 concludes by telling us what the righteous do: they "declare that the Lord is upright," saying, "He is my Rock, and there is no unrighteousness in Him" (verse 15). It ends as it begins in the highlighted verse with instructions for all who are wise enough to listen: it is truly good to thank the Lord and sing praises to His name, to declare His "steadfast love in the morning" and His "faithfulness by night" (verse 2). Being consistently grateful to God is one of the greatest virtues; ingratitude toward Him is one of the worst vices.
Psalm 93:1 "The Lord reigns." This brief but glorious song is a stirring example of thankful praise to our sovereign Lord. It pictures God reigning on His throne, robed in majesty and strength. The world, therefore, is safe: whatever upheavals it endures, it cannot be moved. God's rule is not based on the changing conditions of a passing hour. His throne and His very self are of all ages, from everlasting—which are concealed from mortal view. Even when floods rage furiously, their destructive waters never reach higher than His throne or submerge Him, for the Lord always reigns on high and through His Word. "Your decrees," concludes the psalmist, "are very trustworthy; holiness befits Your house, O Lord, forevermore" (verse 5). Holiness is being set apart for God from sin for true life and health in Him. Since the Lord reigns, "let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name" (Hebrews 13:15). Let us also enjoy receiving the holy instruction and benefits of His reign that so enrich our lives.
Psalm 94:11 "The Lord knows the thoughts of man, that they are a mere breath." This is a comforting thought to a singer praising the Lord even while squarely looking at conditions that seem to contradict the declaration that the Lord God reigns. People are being oppressed by tyrants who declare that God is not concerned with human affairs—that He neither sees nor cares. The psalmist knows the falseness of those declarations so he chooses to sing about his conviction that God does hear, see, and correct those whose foolish thoughts are like a mere breath of hot air. He knows that "the Lord will not forsake His people" (verse 14). That assurance was a matter of life and death to him, for he confesses, "If the Lord had not been my help, my soul would soon have lived in the land of silence. When I thought, 'My foot slips!' Your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul" (verses 17-19). In Psalm 94 we see the very things that assault faith and threaten to produce despair turned into praise and worship. How constantly believers in trouble through the ages have been strengthened to endure by this very exercise of praise! In catacombs, dungeons, and other places of uttermost desolation—when it seems to the 5 senses that the way of God is blocked, His rule overcome, and all evil things have the upper hand—songs like these arise, proclaiming Him King, mocking all vain and foolish thoughts, and declaring His ultimate victory.
Psalm 95:6 "Come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker." In this song praise merges into a warning at its end. The singer first illustrates God's greatness over nature, with the earth and the sea in the palm of His hand. In the highlighted verse he then explains the right way for all men and women to relate to God: we are to worship Him humbly because He is our Creator. We must kneel before the Lord with an attitude of complete submission and obeisance—that is what the title Lord clearly implies. When we do, we demonstrate that we truly understand who He is and who we are in relation. Psalm 95 concludes with a sobering historical reminder of people who did not understand that and suffered 40 humiliating years in the wilderness. Those who humble themselves before God by repentance have the right to come before Him with great gladness, but never without a sense of His majesty and the honor due to it. God crowns His beloved children with life and authority, but the greatest of these as representatives of God's people will "cast their crowns before the throne of God, saying, 'Worthy are You, our Lord and our God, to receive glory and honor and power; for You created all things, and because of Your will they existed, and were created'" (Revelation 4:10-11). Flippant and irreverent behavior or references to God dishonor the awful—literally awe full—majesty of the Lord. Before God we must perpetually bow down and kneel in humble reverence.
Psalm 96:13 "He is coming to judge the earth." This is a particularly jubilant psalm that starts off on the high note, "O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord all the earth!" and ascends ever higher with exultant joy that thrills through every line. By the end, even the trees are singing! What climax does it build to? The highlighted affirmation that God is coming to judge the earth. Psalm 96 concludes, "He will judge the world in righteousness, and the peoples in His faithfulness." Let this be pondered: while it is right to think of God's coming judgment with awe and trembling, for the heavens and earth it will be pure joy. We are told elsewhere that "creation waits eagerly for the revealing of the people of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself also will be set free from its slavery to corruption into the freedom of the glory of the people of God" (Romans 8:19-21). God's justice is inextricably connected with His glory, greatness, splendor, majesty, strength, and beauty—divine attributes celebrated in sequence throughout this psalm. Since God will judge according to righteousness and truth, He will root out forever all unrighteousness and falsehood. Let us continually be thankful to Him that the fierceness of His wrath is inspired by His love for His creation, both human and otherwise. The Lord of life will so order life that strength and beauty shall abound; weakness and ugliness shall be no more.
Psalm 97:2 "Clouds and thick darkness surround Him; righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne." Those highlighted words explain the beginning of this psalm: "The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice!" They acknowledge the mystery of which we are so often conscious, and at the same time declare the truths that help us endure. God's ways are often hidden from us. The mystery of His thoughts and methods are beyond our full apprehension. Clouds and thick darkness are the merciful means by which He guards us from the brilliance of His light that would otherwise harm us. Yet we can become perplexed and fearful until we realize that "righteousness and justice are the foundation of His throne." However deep the darkness, however thick and threatening the clouds that hide, for the moment, the method and meaning of God, we know whatever He does will always be right and just. That is the secret of His people's confidence, and the perpetual inspiration of their songs and ceaseless worship.
Psalm 98:1-2 "His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory for Him. The Lord has made known His salvation." This song opens and closes in almost the same words as Psalm 96. Here the central focus is on the salvation made known by the Lord to Israel, to all the nations, and even to ordinarily inanimate creation that becomes animate to celebrate this great revelation. Psalm 98 is a party psalm with people making music or just plain joyful noise, the seas roaring, the rivers clapping their hands, and the hills singing for joy before the Lord—one memorable image following another to make an indelible impression of worldwide delight! The highlighted verses explain what He has done to cause such a stir: "His right hand and His holy arm have gained the victory," meaning that salvation was His purpose. He desired it, He willed it, and He accomplished it. This Hebrew songwriter is celebrating a truth the full value of which he hardly recognized, but that is spelled out here: The Messiah, "being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but...being made in human likeness...He humbled Himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow...and every tongue will confess that Jesus the Messiah is Lord, to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:6-11; Isaiah 45:23). Psalm 98 is a preview of that exalted, joyful celebration.
Psalm 99:3, 5, 9 "Holy is He...Holy is He...the Lord our God is holy." Three times Psalm 99 declares God's holiness as a fitting close to the last in a series of 8 psalms that begins in Psalm 92 with the theme of praising the Lord as the exalted and reigning King. Holiness, in fact, is the only attribute of God repeated three times in a row, for the prophet Isaiah heard this angelic praise in a heavenly vision: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory!" (Isaiah 6:3). Here He is seen as "great in Zion...exalted over all the peoples" (verse 3). Through the history of His people the Lord has been faithful both in forgiveness and in vengeance because He is holy. The author mentions Moses, Aaron, Samuel as three examples of faithful men who called upon Him. He answered them and was "a forgiving God to them, but an avenger of their wrongdoings" (verse 8). Their experience testifies to us that God's holiness is cause for both worship and trembling. As another faithful man would write later, "Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God who is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Philippians 2:12-13). The holiness of God promotes diligence and confidence in His holy people.
Psalm 100:1 "Make a joyful shout to the Lord, all you lands!" This is the only song identified as "a psalm for Thanksgiving." It is still commonly sung today to a tune written ages ago called "Old Hundreth," and paraphrased by these simple words: "All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord with cheerful voice. Him serve with joy, His praise forth tell; come ye before Him and rejoice! The Lord ye know is God indeed; without our aid He did us make. We are His folk; He doth us feed, and for His sheep He doth us take. O enter then His gates with praise; approach with joy His courts unto. Praise, laud, and bless His name always, for it is seemly so to do. For why? The Lord our God is good; His mercy is forever sure. His truth at all times firmly stood, and shall from age to age endure." This psalm is jubilant with confidence for the whole earth. It is as if the gates of the Holy City are thrown wide open, and all peoples are called to serve the Lord, to know that He is God, to enter into a close relationship with Him. This is that future prophesied time when "the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9), but ever since Psalm 100 was first sung, God's people have exited their place of worship into the highways and byways of life with faces irradiated, calling others to know the Lord.
Psalm 101:1 "I will." Notice King David's steady commitment throughout this psalm: "I WILL be careful to live a blameless life.... I WILL lead a life of integrity in my own home. I WILL refuse to look at anything vile and vulgar. I hate all who deal crookedly; I WILL have nothing to do with them. I WILL reject perverse ideas and stay away from every evil. I WILL not tolerate people who slander their neighbors. I WILL not endure conceit and pride. I WILL search for faithful people to be my companions" (verses 2-6). Call them the 8 I Wills: 1. Being Blameless, 2. Living with Integrity, 3. Being Committed to Inner Purity, 4. Hating Crooked Dealings, 5. Being Repelled by Evil Ideas and Things, 6. Not Tolerating Slander, 7. Rejecting Pride and Conceit, 8. Cultivating Friendships with People Who Are Faithful to God and Man. Those things do not just happen; they are deliberate choices. King David decided to bring his own character into conformity with God's, and then sought to influence and govern others by the same standards. Persons and things unlike God he did not tolerate within his realm. Persons and things in accord with God's will he cultivated and preserved. This is the way of godly authority.
Psalm 102:12 "But You, O Lord, abide forever." This psalm, uniquely introduced as "A Prayer of the Afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord," is one of the 7 penitential psalms. (The others are 6, 32, 38, 51, 130, and 143.) It clearly divides into 3 sections—verses 1-11, verses 12-22, verses 23-28—but that second section is dramatically different from the other two. The first and third are filled with personal pronouns—I, my, me—and speak movingly of trouble, suffering, and sorrow. "My days," repeated 4 times, reveals a painful sense of limitation. In the second section all that is missing. It opens with the highlighted verse, which affirms the eternity of God, and then speaks of Zion, the nations, the kings of the earth, and the peoples. Notice how our unnamed psalmist concludes this song: "You are the same, and Your years will not come to an end. The children of Your servants will continue, and their descendants will be established before You" (verses 27-28). The light that banished his darkness is the truth of God's eternity. He is an example to us to see that all aspects of life are under God's control and therefore subject to wisdom and intentions far beyond the passing moment, but that take into account all the ages.
Psalm 103:1 "Bless the Lord, O my soul; and all that is within me bless His holy name!" This great psalm of perfect praise is one of the most familiar psalms. Here King David pours out his heart in gratitude to the Lord for His gracious ways with humankind, for who He is in Himself—especially His mercy, compassion, understanding, and faithfulness, and for the order and perfection of His ways on earth and in heaven. As he begins this song, notice in the highlighted verse that David first addresses himself. He realizes he has power over himself, that he is able to give or to withhold what is rightfully due to God. Those opening words teach us that worship is neither involuntary nor automatic. It calls for the coordination of all our powers. That truth should arrest us whenever we enter the place of worship. The sanctuary is not a place of relaxation. God's people should enter it with all the powers of their personality arrested, arranged, and dedicated. Another servant of God phrased that truth like this: "I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is: that which is good, acceptable, and perfect" (Romans 12:1-2). Focused bodies and minds render praise that is worthy and acceptable to the Lord Most High.
Psalm 104:31 "Let the Lord be glad in His works." This is perhaps the highest and boldest statement in this great psalm devoted to nature. So impressed with the wonder and beauty of God's creation, the anonymous writer takes the liberty of calling on God to enjoy His own works. It demonstrates his profound understanding of what God actually feels in viewing His own mighty and marvelous creations. The joy of the singer was the joy of God. Perhaps he was thinking of the book of Genesis, where God declared each stage of His creation good, but when "God saw everything that He had made—behold, it was very good!" (1:31). Psalm 104 may be read anywhere, for it has a way of transporting its reader from the littleness of trivial things and pollutions resulting from human sin to the vastness of nature in its essential purity. Perhaps the best conditions to read it are away from human habitation, either among the mountains with a vista of valleys and rivers, or observing the splendid solitude of the sea. Such surroundings interpret the psalm, and the psalm interprets them. All these things of beauty and order are seen as proceeding from God; and He is seen, moreover, as present among them in the majesty of His wisdom, glory, and power. As C.S. Lewis observed in his Reflections on the Psalms, "In the psalms, a certain kind of poetry seems to go along with a certain kind of theology."
Psalm 105:8 "He has remembered His covenant." This anonymous historical psalm has a close connection with the next, Psalm 106. The theme of Psalm 105 is God's faithfulness, while that of the other is the faithlessness of His people. Whatever the story of His people may be, God has never forgotten His covenant, and with God, to remember is to act. This song illustrates that fact by selections from the history of God's people, starting with Abraham and the covenant God made with him that would end up blessing all who place their faith in the one true God. That, as this psalm demonstrates, includes Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses. A review of history, personal or national, always becomes a revelation of the persistent faithfulness of God to His covenants with humankind.
Psalm 106:48 "Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting even to everlasting. And let all the people say, 'Amen.' Praise the Lord!" The book of Psalms is divided into 5 books, and this psalm ends book 4 (psalms 90-106) with the doxology or praise above. Something stands out about this doxology compared to those closing the other books, and that is the appeal for all the people to say amen. The Lord as King is the central theme of book 4, but throughout this collection we see time and again that the people did not always give a hearty amen to that truth. In fact, the subject of Psalm 106 is the failure of the people to respond rightly to God. Listen to some of its sentences of confession: "Our fathers...did not remember," "They soon forgot," "They forgot God their Savior." Those stand in sharp contrast to the theme of the previous psalm: "He has remembered His covenant forever" (Psalm 105:8). Thus at the close of book 4 we find this haunting memory of failure and an appeal for the people to respond appropriately. The amen God seeks is a hearty agreement of the will and the conduct that goes along with it. Adoration and approbation are futile—and mere admiration impertinent—unless they produce obedience.
Psalm 107:43 "Who is wise? Let him give heed to these things, and consider the kindnesses of the Lord." This song of rare beauty and great power ends with those words. It begins with these: "Oh give thanks to the Lord for He is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so!" The main body of Psalm 107 gives varied and vivid illustrations of God's goodness to wanderers who are hungry and thirsty faithfully led to where they are well provided for (verses 4-9), to prisoners and others in deep darkness led out and delivered from their distress (verses 10-16), to people caught up in gross sins near death but calling out to the Lord and being healed in body and soul (verses 17-22), to storm-tossed mariners who through earnest prayer are brought to the haven of their desire (verses 23-33), to those eking an existence in lands made harsh by the abuse of evil inhabitants He refreshes by bringing renewal to their environment (verses 34-38), and to those being oppressed He shames their oppressors and raises up the godly (verses 39-41). "The upright" see all that "and are glad, and all wickedness shuts its mouth" (verse 42). This is a wonderful psalm about the mercy of God for His own. Let us be wise and follow its example by crying to God with humility and sincerity in our distresses, and giving Him heartfelt thanks and praise for how He answers.
Psalm 108:13 "Through God we will do valiantly." This psalm is composed of two previous psalms of David, arranged freshly to meet a new challenge. Verses 1-5 are reflected in Psalm 57:7-11 and verses 5-13 in Psalm 60:5-12. Those first 5 verses are a song of praise that begins, "My heart is steadfast, O God!" (they follow a personal prayer for help in Psalm 57). The last 9 verses are a prayer for national deliverance from Edomite hostility (that follow a description of disaster already experienced in Psalm 60). So Psalm 108 is a praise and prayer ending with the confident assertion highlighted above. Observe the train of thought that leads there. David asks, "Who will bring me to the fortified city...to Edom?" (verse 10). He answers like this: "Deliverance by man is in vain. With God we shall do valiantly; it is He who will tread down our foes" (verses 12-13). David is saying that the people whose hearts are steadfast in God will themselves do the valiant deed, but they will do it through Him. That is always the way to victory. Soldiers of faith cannot of themselves take fortified cities, but they can take them when they are related to God in such a way that He acts through them.
Psalm 109:2 "Wicked and deceitful mouths are opened against me, speaking against me with lying tongues." Among all the psalms that have been described as imprecatory, this one by David has caused the greatest difficulty. Imprecatory psalms, by definition, call down curses upon implacable enemies acting in a cursed way, but verses 6-19 are particularly strong in extending those curses not only to the principal offenders, but also to their wives and children. Some people believe that is alien to how David acts elsewhere in Scripture, so they assert that the highlighted verse hints that verses 6-19 are David's quotation of what his enemies are saying about him since there is a change from the plural (they) in verses 1-5 to the singular (he, his, him) in 6-19. They believe the first 5 verses and the last 12 (verses 20-31) reveal David's spirit of humble committal of his case to the Lord. While David did trust God "to save him from those who condemn his soul to death" (verse 31), and is an example to us all to do the same, David also knew that "whoever sows injustice will reap calamity" (Proverbs 22:8). When Achan and Korah caused trouble for God's people, they brought down judgment on their families as well. The last recorded words of David are of his advising his son and successor Solomon to bring down judgment on individuals David previously showed mercy to because they later proved to be treacherous and therefore a threat to Solomon and the rest of the people. The imprecatory psalms remind us that sometimes wickedness reaches a pitch where the time of grace has passed and all that remains is judgment for all concerned. We do well to leave that final assessment to God.
Psalm 110:1 "A Psalm of David. The Lord says to my Lord: Sit at My right hand until..." Observe carefully the 3 persons appearing here: the Lord (the divine speaker), King David (recorder of the Lord's speech), and David's Lord (subject and object of the Lord's speech). What does the Lord God Almighty say to David's Lord? First, that there would be a time of waiting for the complete subjugation of His foes, and that during that time He would occupy the place of supreme authority by sitting at the right hand of the Lord—a fact that speaks of His divine identity, with more evidence to come (verse 1). Second, that He rules now in the midst of His enemies and His people willingly submit to Him in holiness (verses 2-3). Third, that in His reign He will serve as a priest forever after the order of Melchizedek, not Aaron (verse 4). Fourth, that in the future He Himself will judge the nations and shatter the power of all His enemies (verses 5-7), thus fulfilling the Lord's promise in verse 1. All this is Messianic in the fullest sense. Jesus referred to Psalm 110:1 when He asked, "'What do you think about the Messiah—whose Son is He?' They said to Him, 'The son of David.' He said to them, 'Then how does David in the Spirit call him "Lord," saying,"The Lord said to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand, until I put Your enemies under Your feet'"? If then David calls Him "Lord," how is He his Son?' And no one was able to answer Him a word, nor from that day did anyone dare to ask Him any more questions" (Matthew 22:44-46). The answer is that David's Lord of Psalm 110 is the Son of Psalm 2.
Psalm 111:1 "Praise the Lord!" This opening exclamation, a literal English translation of the Hebrew word Hallelujah, is used frequently in Psalms, especially from this point on. It happens to be the key to this psalm and ties it to the one following. Psalm 111 sets forth the excellencies of the Lord, while Psalm 112 describes the blessedness of the person who trusts in Him. Psalm 111's praise of the Lord is simple, but inclusive: He is great both in His works or deeds and in His work. One speaks of what He has already accomplished and the other of what He is doing now. Psalm 111 celebrates the Lord's honor and majesty, righteousness and faithfulness, graciousness and compassion, truth and justice, and provision of redemption and covenant blessings. It closes with words that lead into the next psalm: "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all those who practice it have a good understanding. His praise endures forever!" (verse 10). Notice the ethical element in worship. The only praise to God that is acceptable to Him is when a person's appreciation of His holy Person is so sincere and deep, it produces the desire and determination to walk in the light of His Word and be conformed to His likeness. When that person's life matches the language of his or her lips, then God is worthily praised.
Psalm 112:1 "Blessed is the man who fears the Lord, who greatly delights in His commandments." Psalm 112 begins as the previous psalm ended, and goes on to describe what that blessed man is like. First, he is a God-fearing man who loves God's Word (verse 1). That is fundamental. It affects his outlook, relationships, and actions. Second, he is a home-oriented man whose legacy is blessed (verses 2-3). His godly offspring will be mighty and his household has sufficient wealth and riches. Third, he is a helpful man who treats others well (verses 4-5, 9). He is a light to others who sit in darkness. He is gracious and full of compassion. Fourth, he is a strong man whose faith is stable and firm (verses 6-8). He is not one to panic when times are tough, and is convinced God will triumph. Fifth, he is a hated man whose enemies resent his honor (verses 9-10). That is supreme evidence of his goodness and their wickedness. Notice how this good man's virtues line up with God's attributes as described in Psalm 111: righteousness, faithfulness, graciousness, compassion, justice, and truthfulness. Those are the glories of the God he fears, and they are reproduced in him! If we truly fear God and therefore live like that, our lives will perpetually say Hallelujah to Him and the people we influence.
Psalm 113:9 "He makes the barren woman abide in the house as a joyful mother of children." This is the first of 6 psalms (113-118) constituting the Egyptian Hallel, praise songs originally written to be sung during the Passover feast to remind God's people of how He delivered them from bondage in Egypt. Psalms 113-114 were sung before the Passover meal, and the last 4 after it. This first psalm praises the Lord for His amazingly condescending grace. Poetry here utters a truth that prose might fear to speak: "The Lord is high above all nations; His glory is above the heavens. Who is like the Lord our God, who...humbles Himself to behold the things that are in heaven and...earth?" (verses 4-6). The seat of God is so high that to behold heavenly and earthly things, He has to humble Himself—that is, to stoop. The purpose of that stooping is revealed: "He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the ash heap, to make them sit with... the princes of His people" (verses 7-8). The concluding verse, highlighted above, makes it clear that among those lifted up is the barren woman longing for children. In fact, two women in Scripture are quoted using almost the exact same words about being lifted up when they became joyful mothers: Hannah the mother of Samuel (1 Samuel 2:5-8) and Mary the mother of Jesus (Luke 1:46-55). As Jesus the Messiah approached the ultimate depths of divine humiliation, He sang the Hallel psalms. We too should praise the Lord for His condescending grace that enables all who trust in Him to be raised to sit with royalty: "You know the grace of our Lord Jesus the Messiah, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, so that you through His poverty might become rich" (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Psalm 114:7 "Tremble, O earth, before the Lord, before the God of Jacob." In this Passover psalm, the Exodus is thought of in its completeness; not only escape from Egypt, but also entrance to the Promised Land. That was no small thing, as the highlighted verse tells us. "Tremble" is actually too mild of a word to do justice to the Hebrew term, which speaks of birth pangs or convulsions. To deliver His people, the Lord caused nature to convulse by making the Red Sea part, the Jordan River pile up in a heap, and the earth quake. Our songwriter asks poetically, "What ails you, O sea, that you flee? O Jordan, that you turn back? O mountains, that you skip like rams? O hills, like lambs?" (verses 5-6). He calls the earth to quiver with birth pangs before the Lord God of Jacob or Israel so that a nation might be born. Out of the strain, stress, and agony new life emerges. When the Messiah sang this psalm as He celebrated Passover with His disciples, He used the same word picture: "Truly, truly, I say to you, that you will weep and lament, but the world will rejoice; you will grieve, but your grief will be turned into joy. Whenever a woman is in labor she has pain, because her hour has come; but when she gives birth to the child, she no longer remembers the anguish because of the joy that a child has been born into the world. Therefore you too have grief now; but I will see you again, and your heart will rejoice, and no one will take your joy away from you" (John 16:20-22). Not without strain, convulsion, and agony can new life be born out of conditions of bondage and evil, but God Himself entered into those experiences "that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15).
Psalm 115:1 "Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Your name give glory because of Your grace and truth." This is a tremendous song of triumphant confidence in God because of who He is, especially compared with all false gods—which are mere mute idols (verses 1-8). That assures the psalmist that He will be mindful of His people by delivering them from their enemies and otherwise helping and blessing them (verses 2, 9-18). No one sang this song with more appreciation for its truth than did the Messiah when He celebrated His last Passover and instituted the Lord's Supper: "While they were eating, Jesus took some bread, and after a blessing, He broke it and gave it to His disciples and said, 'Take, eat; this is My body.' When He had taken a cup and given thanks, He gave it to them, saying, 'Drink from it, all of you; for this is My blood of the New Covenant, which is poured out for many for forgiveness of sins.... I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father's Kingdom. After singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives" (Matthew 26:26-30). From there He endured agony in the garden of Gethsemane, a mob arrest, a rapid series of 6 illegal, unjust trials (3 Jewish phases and 3 Roman phases), execution by crucifixion, and burial. As Isaiah prophesied, "His grave was assigned with wicked men, yet He was with a rich man in His death because He had done no violence, nor was there any deceit in His mouth. But the Lord was pleased to crush Him, putting Him to grief; if He would render Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, and the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand" (53:9-10). The Messiah rose from the dead and is now seated at the Lord's right hand, as spoken of in Psalm 110, where He blesses His people. For serving as "a guilt offering," a Passover lamb, His people continue to echo the first verse of Psalm 115: "Not to us, O Lord...but to Your name give glory because of Your grace and truth." In the same chapter where the Messiah is described as "the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29), we are told "grace and truth were realized through Jesus the Messiah" (verse 17).
Psalm 116:13 "I shall lift up the cup of salvation and call upon the name of the Lord." This psalm stands out from the other Hallel psalms in that it is very personal, a song of praise for deliverance from great and almost overwhelming griefs. It is the song of the delivered rather than that of the Deliverer. Grateful for being delivered from death, tears, and weakness, the singer asks, "What shall I render to the Lord for all His benefits toward me?" (verse 12). He answers with the highlighted verse. "The cup of salvation," in Passover terminology then and now, is the cup of blessing. Drinking it and calling upon the Lord's name are essentially a pledge of loyalty. When Jesus and His disciples sang this psalm, He had already passed around that cup at their Passover meal, declaring it to be a symbol of His blood that would soon be shed to inaugurate the New Covenant. The Messiah sang Psalm 116 as the One who, by entering into all the experiences of His people's desolation even though He Himself was sinless, was able to fill the cup with blessing for them. A few hours after singing, Jesus stopped in a garden called Gethsemane and said, "My soul is deeply grieved, to the point of death" (Matthew 26:38). He fell on His face and prayed, saying, "My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; yet not as I will, but as You will" (verse 39). He went away again a second time and prayed, saying, "My Father, if this cannot pass away unless I drink it, Your will be done" (verse 42). He from His divine nature always knew He had to drink it to the bitter end to pay for all the sins of all His people—past, present, and future, but His human nature naturally recoiled when it came to the point, so He handled His feelings effectively with prayer (a perfect model for us in handling ours). Having emptied that cup at the cross, declaring triumphantly, "It is finished!" (John 19:30), He filled it with joy, sweetness, and blessing for those of us who love Him. When we take that cup, let us never forget the cost at which He so filled it for us.
Psalm 117:1-2 "Praise the Lord, all nations; laud Him, all peoples! His grace is great toward us, and the truth of the Lord endures forever." That is the entire psalm, the shortest song in the collection, but there is none greater in grandeur in its expression of praise. Its note is universal. Notice what fills the heart of this singer: the grace and truth of the Lord, the same two attributes we saw on display in Psalm 115 that are eternally associated with God's work of redemption. Great strength and comfort come to individuals and nations who keep those two realities in balance and always close to mind and heart. If God stood for truth alone, there would be no hope for us because everyone who breathes has at times given into lies and falsehood. If the grace of God could act apart from truth, we equally would be without hope since truth is the ultimate health and strength of life, individually or socially. Imagine the joy of the Messiah as He sang this song while moving toward the uttermost in His sorrows, for it reminded Him of the permanent redemption He soon would provide for His people. He did so in full and perfect apprehension of the union of grace and truth in God, for in fellowship with Him He secured to humankind His grace, while establishing those who trust in Him in His truth. Truly we may offer to our God the sacrifice of praise for His everlasting grace and truth toward us who believe.
Psalm 118:27 "Bind the festival sacrifice with branch cords to the horns of the altar." This is the last of the psalms composing the Hallel, the final stanza in the lengthy hymn Jesus sang with His disciples before He moved out to the Mount of Olives. It is unparalleled in its spirit of jubilant thanksgiving for this main reason, repeated 4 times at the beginning and once more at the end: the Lord's "steadfast love endures forever." Psalm 118 tells of deliverance from bondage, peril, and calamity. "I shall not die but live and recount the deeds of the Lord," declares the grateful singer (verse 17). The scene then shifts to his triumphant entrance to the House of God (verses 19-21), citing the exact cries of Hosanna that the Messiah received Palm Sunday on His way to the Temple (verses 25-26). This is certainly the song of the redeemed in acknowledging God's marvelous and mysterious work of deliverance; it is equally the song of the Deliverer, the Stone rejected by the builders who became the Cornerstone—truths of verses 22-23, which are cited several times in the New Testament. The Temple imagery continues with the highlighted verse, which reveals the fundamental need for sacrifice to purchase redemption. The sacrificial lamb was at the heart of the Passover feast. Binding it with cords was obviously necessary, but why the reference to the horns of the altar? Perhaps it points to the idea of clinging to the altar for safety and sanctuary. Think about Jesus as He sang Psalm 118: He was bound to suffer and die a sacrificial death, but He was also in a place of sanctuary by being assured of His perfect victory. He was literally accomplishing the Exodus, the exact word Moses and Elijah used to describe the Messiah's deliverance of His people from the bondage of sin (Luke 9:27-36).
Psalm 119:1 "Blessed are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the Law of the Lord." This opening stanza of a most wonderful song strikes the keynote of its music and summarizes its main point. Life is a journey. Psalm 119 is all about going the right way on that journey, which is the way God tells to all in His Word. That way is the only way that leads to Him and therefore to blessedness in this life and the next. At 176 verses, this is the longest of all the psalms and also the longest chapter in the Bible. It joins Psalm 1 and Psalm 19 in celebrating God's Word. Psalm 119 is uniquely arranged as an acrostic into 22 sections with 8 lines each, beginning with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet to the last. All 8 lines of each section start with its corresponding letter. Using two of the most beloved verses from Psalm 119 as an example, verse 9 both asks and answers a very important question: "How can a young person keep his or her way pure? By keeping it according to Your Word." The first letter of that question begins with beth, the second letter of the Hebrew alphabet. In fact, the word alphabet comes from the first two Hebrew letters: aleph and beth. Verse 105 tells us what lights our way in life's journey: "Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path." That first word begins with nun, the 14th Hebrew letter, giving us a crucial word picture to live by. Although at times in life we want to see ahead with a floodlight, God's way is to reveal what we need when we need it as we walk faithfully ahead with the light He has given us in His Word. From beginning to end, Psalm 119 is for those who have personal knowledge of God and direct dealing with Him.
Psalm 120:1 "In my trouble I cried to the Lord, and He answered me." This is the first of 15 songs in a row, Psalms 120-134, that all begin with this description: A Song of Ascents. Since the previous psalm, 119, describes life as a journey, these new psalms are traveling songs about many of life's joys and sorrows. They all focus on the City of God as their destination, and Jewish pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem 3 times a year for the Mosaic feasts needed to ascend since Jerusalem is on the heights. Psalm 120 describes the distress of a faithful person living in a foreign land among deceitful, warlike people antagonistic towards him. That is the trouble he speaks to the Lord about in the highlighted opening verse, and the Lord blessed him with an answer. Subsequent psalms reveal the way and experience of deliverance. Such distress is in itself a sure sign of better citizenship. Contentment where deceit is routinely practiced and war exalted is base contentment indeed.
Psalm 121:1-2 "I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; from where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth." Some earlier translations of those verses are misleading, for they give the impression that help comes from the mountains or hills, but the text and its context clarify that help comes from the Lord Himself. In the previous psalm the singer is still absent from Zion and the Temple. He cries out to the Lord in his distress about his living situation, and receives a divine answer. Now from a distance on the road, he lifts up his eyes to the mountains upon which Zion was built and realizes his help does not come from those distant and longed-for mountains, but from the Maker of heaven and earth. While in some sense the Lord was dwelling in Zion, He was never confined there. The psalmist is comforted by God that He is near to the soul who trusts Him in difficult places. Notice what the rest of Psalm 121 declares: although the trusting soul is far from the Holy City, the Lord will not allow his foot to be moved. The Lord's vigilance never ceases; He does not slumber or sleep (verses 3-4). He watches over His people and protects them in all their comings and goings (verses 5-8). The City of God is to be remembered, desired, and delighted in, but our hope is in God, who makes the City strong, the Temple glorious, and the mountains beautiful. God is present in every place where His people are, watching over His own, as surely in the foreign land among enemies as in the City of His glory.
Psalm 122:1 "I was glad when they said to me, 'Let us go to the house of the Lord.'" This is the song of the singer no longer distanced from the City and Temple, but finally having arrived. Although Psalm 122 is ascribed to David, he writes from the perspective of a pilgrim expressing his first impressions. First he says how happy he is to go straightaway to the House of the Lord before doing or seeing anything else, and can hardly believe his feet are finally standing inside the city gates (verses 1-2). He marvels at how neatly compact Jerusalem is, yet ready to accommodate the 12 tribes of Israel 3 times a year for the prescribed feasts (verses 3-4), and always serving as the seat of government under the house of David (verse 5). He then prays for and speaks of the peace and prosperity of the City (verses 6-9). The Temple is its focal point, for it is the means of grace as a place of meeting between God and man. The City is the embodiment of the ideals of God for His people and the peace and prosperity that is their destiny. Never yet has Jerusalem reached that destiny, but this is one aspect to a life of faith: spiritually it experiences the high purposes of God even when actual conditions fall far short of those purposes. Moreover, it is by such high confidence that godly men and women move forward in obtaining actually and materially what they already apprehend spiritually.
Psalm 123:1 "To You I lift up my eyes, O You who are enthroned in the heavens!" When at a distance from the City, the psalmist spoke of lifting his eyes to "the Lord, who made heaven and earth" (Psalm 121:2). Now within the City, he looks up again to the Lord. The atmosphere of this psalm is very different from the ideal celebrated in the previous psalm, for instead of peace and prosperity, this particular singer and his people are experiencing turmoil and adversity. Nevertheless, because of their spiritual apprehension of the ideal, they were able to lift up their eyes to God expectantly and await deliverance by Him. Psalm 123 gives us a beautiful word picture to describe what that waiting looks like: servants and maidservants looking to the generous hands of their master and mistress. This suggests 3 things: Dependence, Submission, and Discipline. The hands of the worthy master and mistress provide all that their servants need, direct what service is needed when, and correct the servants of the household. In a similar way, we are to look for help from the Lord by depending on Him, obeying His Word, and responding humbly to His correction. Those who fulfill those conditions as they lift their eyes to Him will find all the help they need.
Psalm 124:8 "Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth." King David begins this psalm with a backward glance he repeats twice for emphasis: "If the Lord had not been on our side...the flood would have swept over us," meaning a torrent of enemies (verses 1-5). He praises God for letting him and his people escape from the snare that was set for them (verses 6-7). David concludes with the highlighted verse, affirming the awesome power of the name and Person of the Lord, who willingly helps His people. Those who truly wait on God with dependence, obedience, and trust have many occasions to sing a song like Psalm 124. To look back is to realize how constantly we faced circumstances that threatened to engulf and destroy us apart from the Lord's intervention and aid. Our life's story is a running narrative of His deliverances and our escapes from perilous positions. Sometimes we involve ourselves in entanglements through our own disobedience and cannot extricate ourselves when we recognize our folly, but then He comes to the rescue. "Our help is in the name of the Lord" and none other. Let us never fail to remember that and give Him the praise that is due Him.
Psalm 125:1-2 "Those who trust in the Lord are as Mount Zion, which cannot be moved but abides forever. As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people from this time forth and forever." Those two verses should never be separated because that would separate a firm declaration of confidence from the reason for it. To better appreciate the word picture here, we need to make ourselves familiar with the geography our psalmist is writing about. First, picture Mount Zion as the stronghold within Jerusalem. Then picture the City itself surrounded by hills and mountains that serve as natural fortifications. Those heights not only shelter the City from wind and storms, but also break the force of them. They make it very difficult for an enemy to gain access to the City. The author of Psalm 125 sees the people of God—those who truly trust in Him—as Mount Zion, immovable and abiding forever because they represent God Himself. "Those who trust in the Lord" is the key phrase, for the psalm ends with this warning: "Those who turn aside to their crooked ways the Lord will lead away with evildoers!" (verse 5). God will not allow the "scepter of wickedness" to "rest upon the land of the righteous" (verse 3). When the people of Israel failed in faith, the surrounding mountains failed to secure safety to Zion. It was overcome and trodden down. God is a defense only as long as we trust in Him. To turn aside from His Law and His grace is inevitably to know distress and desolation.
Psalm 126:4 "Restore our fortunes, O Lord, as the streams in the South." These words strike a sad note, even though the song begins with happy memories of restored fortunes. The restoration had been wonderful enough to appear incredible, but was so real that the people had been filled with laughter and singing, and the surrounding nations heard all about it (verses 1-3). Then comes the sad note admitting to some kind of imperfection in their condition. Based on its striking geographic image, it appears to be a cry for a more complete restoration. To the south of Jerusalem and Judah or Judea stretches a barren district so dry, all its streams cease during the summer. That, to the singer of Psalm 126, was an exact description of his people's condition. But in autumn, steady rains fill up the stony channels to make a river of life. That is what the psalmist prays for on behalf of his people. He ends his song triumphantly with a famous agricultural metaphor that has appeared in other songs through the ages: "Those who sow in tears will reap with songs of joy. He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him" (verses 5-6). How often, after God so decisively rescues His children, they fail to appropriate all His blessings and need to pray for a fuller restoration to Him! However arid the land, He can send the revivifying streams.
Psalm 127:1 "Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain." This is one of only two psalms (the other being Psalm 72) ascribed to King Solomon, one of the most industrious men who ever lived. Few have known more about house building than Solomon, and here up front he tells us what is most important: no house building is successful that leaves God out of account. Many have had lavish houses built for themselves only to see them crumble because God was forgotten. The same is true of cities and realms. There is no lasting safety for either except in the keeping of God. Solomon describes a prosperous city with its enemies kept outside its gates, the secret of its prosperity being homes well-built morally and spiritually with righteous families, characterized by children who do them proud instead of bringing shame (verses 2-5). Today a city may be well protected from enemies, but brought to ruin from within by children reared in households where God is ignored. Such moral decay rots a town or nation from the inside out. Solomon's opening verse highlighted here should be etched in granite over our own homes and cities, but only produces its desired effects as it becomes etched and applied in one's own heart.
Psalm 128:1 "How blessed is everyone who fears the Lord, who walks in His ways." The previous psalm speaks about home building in the City of God. This one focuses on the godly home builder. His defining characteristic, seen in the highlighted verse, is he fears and obeys God. He is truly blessed in that he will enjoy the fruits of his labor (verse 2), his wife and children will be fruitful (verses 3-4), his city will be blessed by his influence (verse 5), and his wholesome household and lifestyle will bless his longevity (verse 6). He contributes to the strength and beauty of his community by the kind of home life he has created and nurtured. Psalm 128 makes it clear that homemaking is not only a wife's duty. Let every man who loves his city and country love them in such a way that they become more like a City of God. To fear the Lord is to fear nothing else; to walk in His ways is to be delivered from ways that lead to the breakup of one's home and the destruction of one's city.
Psalm 129:5 "May all who hate Zion be put to shame and turned backward." This is the song of the nation personified, the cry of the true patriot as he seeks the confounding of all who hate Zion, a symbol then and now for God's people. Haters of God's people have afflicted them from the beginning (verses 1-3), but have not prevailed because "the Lord is righteous; He has cut the cords of the wicked" (verse 4). From the highlighted verse to the end (verses 5-8) is a passionate prayer for the Lord to continue defending His people by undermining their enemies. That is referring mainly to enemies from without, but we also know from Israel's history that troublemakers from within had been even more destructive because no enemy from outside ever triumphed over Israel until its people stopped fearing the Lord and obeying His Word. Sadly, it is possible to live among God's people—sometimes even seeming to be one of them—while actually hating them directly or indirectly. The prayer of Psalm 129 is for enemies like that to be put to shame and their plots turned backwards. That is not malice toward them but rather passionate love for God's Word and ways. The kind of toleration that condones evil is false and rotten to the core. At the heart of high and holy patriotism is a righteous or right anger against all that is opposed to the purpose and plan of God. To hate God's people is to hate God Himself. To tolerate those who do so is to be a partner in their evil and hatred.
Psalm 130:4 "There is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared." This is next to last of the penitential psalms. (The others are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 143.) Notice how honestly and humbly our unnamed singer begins: "Out of the depths I have cried to You, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. If You, Lord, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?" (verses 1-3). He clearly understood where he stood in relation to God, and his highlighted answer to his own question is striking. God's lovingkindness is so great, grasping it mentally and emotionally fills you with such a sense of His love that you become frightened—not of Him but of sin, which brings punishment. That is a wholesome fear that is also pure and sweet, reflecting a heart unwilling to do anything that would wound God. "Perfect love casts out fear" but it begets a new fear that is a holy, cleansing fear. While Psalm 130 is penitential in the truest sense of the word, the rest of it (verses 5-8) breathes a spirit of complete confidence in the lovingkindness of God.
Psalm 131:2 "Surely I have composed and quieted my soul; like a weaned child rests against his mother." This short psalm of David is very beautiful, reflecting a much-to-be desired state of mind. "O Lord," he begins, "my heart is not proud, nor my eyes haughty; nor do I involve myself in great matters, or in things too difficult for me" (verse 1). Then he gives us the tender word picture highlighted above. The thought is not of weakness or helplessness in any sense. Indeed, the weaned child is gaining strength, for he or she has learned to be independent of that which seemed indispensable, and indeed was so at one time. This child is now at rest with its mother, whereas once it found rest only in what it derived directly from its mother. At one time David found satisfaction in God's good gifts to him and surely looked upon them as indispensable. Now he has stilled all ambitions that arose from those gifts and looks solely to the Giver—to, in a limited sense, God as mother as well as father. He is still thankful for the gifts, but has grown to a new step in maturity, which we do well to imitate. In fact, David's conclusion to God's people is this: "Hope in the Lord from this time forth and forever" (verse 3).
Psalm 132:1 "Remember, O Lord, on David's behalf, all his affliction." To understand this opening cry, we need to consider the whole psalm. The first part speaks of the House of God (verses 2-12) and the second of the City of God (verses 13-18). David tells us what he promised to the Lord (verse 2) and what the Lord promised to him (verse 11). David swore to build a house for the Lord; the Lord swore to establish the throne of David in Zion. God's promise to establish a dynasty in Zion was made to the man who took the initiative in seeking to build a permanent dwelling for the Lord in the midst of the City. David's song dramatically falls into two parts: a prayer based on David's loyalty to God and an affirmation of confidence based on God's faithfulness to His people. What then was David's affliction with which he opens Psalm 132? The promise he made to the Lord to give himself no rest until he provided "a dwelling place for the Mighty One of Jacob" (verse 5). Here we have at once a revelation of the consuming zeal of David for the highest things in national life, and an indication of the kind of affliction that speaks directly to the heart of God. We are in a better position to ask God to fulfill His promises when our concern for His glory truly affects us to the core.
Psalm 133:1 "Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!" In this exceptionally brief but vivid psalm, David uses two similitudes or similes to illustrate an ideal social order where brethren dwell together in unity: "It is like the precious oil upon the head, coming down upon the beard, even Aaron's beard...upon the edge of his robes. It is like the dew of Hermon coming down upon the mountains of Zion; for there the Lord commanded the blessing—life forever." That first simile takes us at once to the House of God and the second to the City of God. The anointing oil, poured upon Aaron the High Priest, symbolized his separation from all evil; it was the oil of holiness. The second simile, dew, always symbolizes renewal, refreshment, and life maintained in its strength. Holiness and the fullness of life are the secrets to optimal social order. The forces that destroy, prevent, or postpone it are sin and lack of life. Both similes are interrelated: lack of life is because of sin, and life everlasting is because of holiness. Those who are able to dwell together in unity have been united by holiness and true spiritual life that comes only from God Himself.
Psalm 134:1 "Come, bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord." This brief psalm tells us these servants "stand by night in the House of the Lord." They are recorded as saying, "Lift up your hands to the holy place and bless the Lord! May the Lord bless you from Zion, He who made heaven and earth." Thus concludes the last of the Songs of Ascent, which have been going on since Psalm 120. Psalm 134 is, in a sense, a song of the night that falls into two parts: what the people say to those keeping vigil on their behalf and God's, and how the ministers call the people to honor God and then invoke His blessing on them as they walk in holiness. There is encouragement in the representational nature of ministry. No matter how small (or large) the gathering for worship, prayer, instruction, and fellowship, those who are there are representatives of multitudes detained by duty. If in each case, those who minister have a due sense of this representative aspect to their ministry, they are serving in the highest way to the glory of God and the well-being of others.
Psalm 135:18 "Those who make them will be like them, yes, everyone who trusts in them." Psalm 135 opens with a call to worship and then becomes an act of worship. Its chief focus is praising the Lord by contrasting Him with idols. He is set forth as manifestly great in Creation (verses 6-7) and in His vindication of His people (verses 8-14). Idols are futile, utter nothings, devoid of breath! Worse, those who make them become like them, and so do all who trust in them. We inevitably become like what we worship. The fundamental difference between true and false religion is that in the true, worship and service are rendered to the One who created us and is always greater than anything He creates. In false religion, service that amounts to worship rendered to what we have created, and therefore less than ourselves. To worship God is to become like Him, which is to rise toward the highest. To worship our own creations is to become like them; that is, to degenerate inevitably. This principle applies even when men make no idols of silver or gold. To put anything of our own creation—whether wealth, fame, or power—in the place of God is to begin a process of degradation, the end of which is destructive of everything high and worthwhile in life.
Psalm 136:1 "His lovingkindness endures forever." Psalm 136 begins and ends with a call to praise God with this highlighted refrain repeated all 26 verses. It is an encouraging song that highlights God's goodness in Himself and how His goodness extends to His people with His everlasting love and kindness. Its opening stanzas refer to the Lord with 3 great names by which He is known: Yahweh, the title of grace (verse 1); Elohim, the name of might (verse 2); and Adonai, the title of sovereignty (verse 3). The rest of the song is a thrilling string of illustrations of our good God at work in creation, redeeming His people from slavery, fighting for them, and providing for all their needs. Psalm 136 is a song that particularly calls out for the consecration of music to give its majestic subject adequate expression.
Psalm 137:4 "How can we sing the Lord's song in a foreign land?" This song is reminiscent of sad days that God's people will sometimes have. In this case the Jewish people were taken from Jerusalem in exile to Babylon as punishment from God for their ongoing disobedience to Him. They are feeling genuinely repentant as they hear their captors' taunting requests for them to sing them songs from their native land. In reply they hang their harps upon the nearby willow trees and sit in silence. Yet Psalm 137 makes it clear there was a song in their hearts that God Himself heard and allowed to be recorded here for our benefit. The people remembered His grace to them in Jerusalem, counting it as their chief joy in life. Such a song was necessarily touched with flame, crying for justice against nations that brought about their city's destruction with such severity. Great songs of the heart, finding no utterance for the ears of men, but expressing the deepest matters of faith and life, help cleanse the soul and generate forces that at last break the bonds of captivity and restore the people of God to His place for them. Let all tyrants know that if their victims are silent in their presence, their memory of the ideals that seem lost constitutes within them a secret force mightier than all the strength that attempts to crush them. Let the silent souls cherish that underlying song of devotion to the full realization of God's purposes. He, the God of their hope, hears that unspoken song, and will in His own time and way respond to it, executing judgment upon oppressors and setting the captives free.
Psalm 138:8 "The Lord will fulfill His purpose for me." This is the language of utmost confidence. The hope is of complete realization of personality in terms of its being and purpose. This hope is based not upon the determination or effort of the singer, but on the Lord. It is so unequivocal and so daring that we cannot help wondering how the psalmist could be so sure. Psalm 138 is attributed to David, at once familiar for both his excellencies and defects. In the deepest part of his being, the realm of desire, David was a man after God's own heart according to God's own testimony (1 Samuel 13:14). But how gravely and even grossly he failed! In spite of all that failure, David declares in this highlighted verse something similar that the Apostle Paul affirms of New Testament believers: "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus" (Philippians 1:6). Notice these facts about God in Psalm 138 that inspired David's confidence: He is a God of lovingkindness, truth, and great glory who has regard for the humble. Being who He is, He will inevitably perfect the person who depends on Him, no matter how feeble he or she may be at times. Here is the only place where the godly man or woman can be sure about him or herself. However dark the day and however great the failure, let their hearts remain loyal to God and even through the discipline of tears and suffering, God will perfect their lives.
Psalm 139:6 "Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is too high, I cannot attain to it." In its essential message and exquisite expression, Psalm 139 is perhaps the greatest song in literature. Notice how King David begins and ends it: "Oh Lord, You have searched me and known me. You know my sitting down and my rising up; You understand my thought from afar.... Search me, O God, and know my heart; try me and know my anxieties. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting." David is a person who had been brought to a consciousness of God's absolutely perfect and final knowledge of his life. He found such satisfaction in this tremendous discovery that after describing it in a song of rare poetic beauty, he could end only by praying for God to continue searching his life and leading him in God's everlasting way. The highlighted verse above is the humble response to the philosophical ideal Know Yourself. David realized he could not know himself fully, but that God knew him with complete finality. To realize that is to be driven to yield oneself to divine investigation to be set in the everlasting way. It is a great hour when the soul realizes its ignorance of itself in the light of divine knowledge. It is the hour when you realize that nothing is more precious than God's leading in your life from His Word.
Psalm 140:12 "I know that the Lord will maintain the cause of the afflicted and justice for the poor." This is a song of trouble, but in these words we find the note of confidence that made trouble the occasion of a song. The trouble was very real and of a kind that is always difficult to endure: the singer was being slandered by wicked people eager to add actual violence to their lying speech if given the opportunity. King David now sets that fact in the light of the greater fact of God's care for those who trust in Him. If sorrow is a certainty, so also is God's action. Sorrow and darkness come to all, but only those who know God and are sure of Him make sufferings the occasions of triumphant "songs in the night" (Job 35:10; Psalm 42:8). Men and women without God may write poetry in circumstances of desolation, but their poems are dirges, outpourings of pessimistic agony. Those who know Him reach the heights of poetic utterance; their songs are refreshing streams of optimistic assurance.
Psalm 141:4 "Do not incline my heart to any evil thing." In this song the circumstances are very much like those of the previous one. The singer is still surrounded by evil people, but his trouble is different. He has become afraid of himself. Apparently his enemies have changed their strategy: instead of using slander and violence, they are seeking to seduce this godly person from his loyalty to what is true and right. "Do not let me eat of their delicacies" (verse 4) implies they are endeavoring to show him the advantages he would enjoy if he would join them or at least not get in their way. It was this sense of peril to his own soul that inspired this psalm. David realized the force of the temptation and sought refuge in God, humbly realizing his own weakness. The peril revealed is a very subtle one. Direct hostility is never so great or as frequent a menace to the godly as is the suggestion that by compromise with evil people, ease may be found or even direct advantage. Men and women of faith fail far more often by so far lowering the standard as to have fellowship with evildoers than by the suffering that results from their slander and violent hostility. Psalm 141 reminds us that our only safety in such temptation is seeking divine strength in the realm of desire, asking God earnestly that we might not incline toward any evil thing. The heart protected by God is impregnable; no other power is equal to His perfect keeping.
Psalm 142:7 "The righteous will surround me, for You will deal bountifully with me." The distressing circumstances of this psalm are similar to the previous two, but in this psalm we are told it was composed when David "was in the cave." To flee King Saul's paranoia, David "took refuge in the cave of Adullam. When David’s brothers and his father’s whole family heard, they went down and joined him there. In addition, every man who was desperate, in debt, or discontented rallied around him, and he became their leader. About 400 men were with him" (1 Samuel 22:1-2). Notice how dejected David felt when he wrote this psalm: "My spirit was overwhelmed within me," "Refuge has failed me; no one cares for my soul," "I am brought very low." Look how he saw God meeting his needs when he felt overwhelmed: "You know my path," "You are my refuge," "Deliver me." Therefore Psalm 142 ends on the triumphant note highlighted above. In spite of all the opposition David faced, he realized that God would deal bountifully with him. Instead of being surrounded by foes, he was beginning to be surrounded by the righteous. Some of those men who were in debt and distress would become part of David's famed mighty men. It is a great thing in darkest hours to set over against the darkness, facts about God. To do so is to triumph even in sorrow.
Psalm 143:10 "Teach me to do Your will." This is the last of the 7 psalms described as penitential or having to do with repentance from sin. (The others are 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, and 130.) David begins by humbly admitting his own unrighteousness, realizing that if he is delivered from his distressing circumstances, it will be because of God's righteousness, not his own. He was dwelling "in darkness" (verse 3), remembering and thinking deeply, which led him to stretch out his arms to God with great longing. His song then became a prayer, packed with specific requests both urgent and moving. The one that is highlighted is perhaps the supreme prayer of the soul. Deliverance is of lasting value only if it delivers one to be able to do the will of God. This request to be taught to do God's will clarifies that the one and only way of life that is satisfactory is doing the will of God. We ought perpetually to declare it to ourselves, never allowing life, with its desires and concerns, to get beyond the boundaries of that will. We need to be taught to do that will, which is much more than being taught merely to know it. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present age, looking for the blessed hope and glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from every lawless deed and purify for Himself His own special people, zealous for good works" (Titus 2:11-14).
Psalm 144:15 "How blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!" This is the song of a godly king with application to a godly people. It is a composite song, containing stirring quotes from other psalms at first, but then the king declares, "I will sing a new song to You, O God" (verse 9). Its last part, highlighted above, reflects the true secret of national prosperity. In the presence of the stern and awful necessity for war, it is the Lord who teaches the hands and the fingers. It is He who gives victory to kings. As the result of victory coming from Him, kings and people are rescued from evil politicians, whose mouths speak lying vanities and whose deeds are false disappointments. Such deliverance results in material and spiritual prosperity, summed up by "Happy are the people whose God is the Lord." All Christians believe this to be true. How solemn, then, is the obligation that rests upon them to use their influence in the life of the nation to which they belong! The patriotism of the Christian is the love of country that seeks at all times and under all circumstances to bring the policies and activities of that country into agreement with the revealed will and way of God.
Psalm 145:13 "Your kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and Your dominion endures throughout all generations." In these words this hymn of praise reaches its fullest and richest expression. From beginning to end Psalm 145 praises God for His condescending grace in His dealings with humankind. We see the facts of human need in the background: the need for compassion and mercy; the failings, bent backs, and prayers of those in darkness; the persistence of the wicked. God will inevitably protect the righteous and judge the unrighteous because of His divine sovereignty. To give a literal rendering of the highlighted verse, "Your Kingdom is a Kingdom of all ages, and Your dominion is over all succeeding generations." That is a truth of fundamental and final importance. God never has been, is not, nor ever will be any other than King. Neither individuals nor nations can escape His government. They choose their experience of it: by yielding to it, they find it a blessing; by rebelling against it, they find it a blasting. In this truth God's people find their confidence for the world and the ages and generations to come. In certainty they can go forward with courage and with songs.
Psalm 146:1 "Praise the Lord...O my soul." This is how the last 5 psalms in this Book begin, a reminder of the main theme of the Psalms. Psalm 146 is the song of a soul who has found everything in the Lord. He has learned the futility of trusting in people, even those of high attainments, for their achievements and ambitions are not lasting. All the reasons for praise are found in what the Lord is in Himself, as revealed in His activities: Creation, Government, Providence, Restoration, Punishment, Sovereignty, and Continuity. The soul that has this view of God, conscious of living under His rule and being cared for by Him, will naturally praise Him. Worship flows out of a true knowledge of God. When those of us who love Him become dull or slow in our praise to the Lord, the reason is we have temporarily lost our clear vision of God, our keen consciousness of who and what He is. To know Him well is to praise Him heartily and faithfully.
Psalm 147:12 "Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem." Here is the central note of this song, but not in a way that you might expect. The previous psalm ended with the vision of the God of Zion reigning forever. This psalm begins with the Lord building up Jerusalem by gathering together the outcasts, healing the brokenhearted, and casting the wicked to the ground. It is reminiscent of the Songs of Ascent (Psalms 120-134), but with one important omission: no reference to the House of God, the Temple. This is a City of peace and prosperity with a social order created by the redeeming and restoring activity of God in which not wickedness nor material strength, but meekness, fear of the Lord and all spiritual forces are triumphant. All this Psalm 147 sets forth pictorially with fine poetic illustrations. It reflects well the last picture in the Bible of the City of God: "I did not see a Temple in the City because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its Temple" (Revelation 21:22). That Lamb is Jesus, described as the "Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" (John 1:29). The scope here is way beyond one earthly city such as Jerusalem or one ethnic group such as the Jewish people, but a great multitude of the redeemed in heaven "of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues ... crying out with a loud voice, saying, 'Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!'" (Revelation 7:9-10).
Psalm 148:1, 7 "Praise the Lord from the heavens ... from the earth." In this psalm the heavens as well as the earth are included and appealed to in praising God. The reason for praise in each case is clearly revealed. With regard to the heavens, the reason is the power and stability of the divine Word: "He commanded and they were created; He also established them forever and made a decree that shall not pass away" (verses 5-6). That is the secret of the order and beauty of constellations, angels, and the whole super-earthly realm. In their being they set forth the glory of the God from whom they came. With regard to the earth, the reason is the order and beauty resulting from nearness to Him (verse 14). We are told in the New Testament, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts"; in other words, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord and He will lift you up" (James 4:8-10). In Psalm 148 from first to last is no reference to the mercy, pity, or compassion of God, for there is no reference to evil in any form. But this is a song written by a sinning author in a sin-stricken world to set forth the glory of God's redeeming grace, through which—at last—God will realize His own original intention.
Psalm 149:1 "Praise the Lord ... in the congregation of the godly." The last psalm ended with the praise of His saints, described as "a people near to Him" (Psalm 148:14). This psalm begins in their good company. There is no reference in this psalm to the church of God but to Israel, "the children of Zion" (verse 2). They were, in the beginning of their national history against Pharaoh in Egypt, and will be yet again an instrument in the hand of God "to execute vengeance on the nations, and punishments on the people" (verse 7). In Psalm 148 praise was offered for the realization of the divine ideal; in Psalm 149 praise is offered for the process of that realization: Israel being used as a means of God's vengeance upon evil in the end times. The New Testament describes that process this way: it is when "the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). "He is coming with clouds, and every eye will see Him, even they who pierced Him" (Revelation 1:7), a fulfillment of this prophetic passage: "I will make Jerusalem a very heavy stone for all peoples; all who would heave it away will surely be cut in pieces, though all nations of the earth are gathered against it.... I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication. Then they will look on Me whom they pierced. They will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son.... In that day a fountain shall be opened ... for sin and uncleanness" (Zechariah 12-13). God in human flesh will right all wrongs on behalf of all those who trust in Him. Praise is due Him while we wait on His perfect timing.
Psalm 150:6 "Let everything that has breath praise the Lord." This is the fitting conclusion to the Book of Psalms. Psalm 150 has been well described as a full-toned call to universal praise, every instrument playing with joyful abandon. The place of praise is His sanctuary, His mighty expanse. The reason for the praise is God's mighty acts and excellent goodness. The specific instruments listed are 9 in number, the one qualification being "breath," a figurative description of spirit, which is how the soul connects with God. Jesus said, "An hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth" (John 4:23-24). In reading Psalm 1 we saw that its first word, "Blessed," is the first note in this magnificent book of poems with great theological depth set to music. The final word of Psalm 150 is literally "Hallelujah," or praise the Lord. Whatever blessedness, happiness, and prosperity we know truly comes from the government and grace of God. To that fact all the songs in this wonderful collection bear witness, whether the prevailing tone be major or minor, joyful or sad. Let us therefore always praise the Lord, for His thoughts for us are of good and not evil. His methods with us, whether gentle or severe, are the methods that lead us to blessedness.