Psalm 35 Vindicate Me in Your Righteousness

Vindication and Righteousness

Contend, O Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.

Take up shield and buckler; arise and come to my aid.

Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me.

Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” (vv 1 – 3)

New Testament Christians (those whose main reading is done in the NT) encounter a violent plea such as this from the psalmist much differently than those who spend equal time in both testaments. The psalmist—and the psalter—calls for violent retribution on a divine scale from Yahweh against those who would persecute him. Again, our modern ears trouble us. Is it right to call down fire and destruction on our enemies in the light of Christ’s instruction to love our enemies and to offer the other cheek to insults?

Perhaps we read the psalm too literally as an imprecatory piece. In the same way that we may use a journal or even our prayer life to ‘vent’ and release our personal frustration at whatever our current situation might be. The cry for justice softens a bit to seek vindication in the verses that follow.

May those who seek my life be disgraced and put to shame; may those who plot my ruin be turned back in dismay.

May they be like chaff before the wind, with the angel of the Lord driving them away; may their path be dark and slippery, with the angel of the Lord pursuing them. (vv 4-6)

So maybe Yahweh, you don’t destroy them with the Javelin but just chase them away and shame them for their false accusations. David claims innocence to the charges that his enemies are bringing against him. He has done nothing to deserve the troubles that have come his way and asks that Yahweh resolve this. He promises praise in return,

may ruin overtake them by surprise—may the net they hid entangle them, may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.

…then my soul will rejoice in the Lord and delight in his salvation.

My whole being will exclaim, “Who is like you, O Lord? You rescue the poor from those too strong for them, the poor and needy from those who rob them.” (vv 8-10)

The danger of schadenfreude leaps to mind. Shall I praise the Lord for the misfortune of others? They have fallen into their own trap after all. This is a psalm to consider carefully. It may not be one of our favorites because it raise such an uncomfortable quandary for us but those moments and hours of discomfort ultimately strengthen our bond with God. Take the psalm to Him in prayer and allow the Spirit to search your heart to discover both the right and wrong reasons that exist there.

Photo by Richard the Lyin’ Hearted

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Psalm 31 – How Great is Your Goodness

31 We often peer into the Bible from a safe distance, having the benefit of seeing the whole story unfold before us. In the case of the life of David, we are familiar with his rise and eventual fall. The distance can separate us from his experience in such a way that we read of his trials but say ‘he but not me.’ The achingly robust faith that he expresses in the prayer of Psalm 31 is not so easily evaded though. We question our own faith and trust in the goodness of the Lord when our lives become a spiral of unending travail and alienation, especially at the hands of others. “Where are you?” we cry out. Forsaken may even creep into our vocabulary, a slow burning doubt that our Lord truly does have us in hand. In the remaining ember of light, we encounter the core of David’s psalm. Continue reading “Psalm 31 – How Great is Your Goodness”

Psalm 28 The Lord is the Strength of His People

The Lord is the strength of His people, a fortress of salvation for anointed one.

Save your people and bless your inheritance; be their shepherd and carry them forever. (vv 8-9)

Read this psalm backwards. By doing so you will discover a contrasting pattern to our human priorities. The psalmist praises the great glory of God, linking Him to shepherd of Psalm 23 and intercedes on behalf of God’s people similar to the cry in Psalm 25.

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.

The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and I am helped.

My heart leaps for joy and I will give thanks to him in song. (vv 6-7)

The Lord is so good to His people, to those who trust Him. We are moved to ask, what have we to fear then? Is there a hint of doubt in the opening verses of this prayer? When we read from the beginning, the pleas of David mirror our own concerns that God might not hear us, that he might have turned away.

To you I call, O Lord my Rock; do not turn a deaf ear to me.

For if you remain silent, I will be like those who have gone down to the pit.

Hear my cry for mercy as I call to you for help, as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place. (vv 1-2)

The plea is subtle but important. As David voices his wish to be heard by God, he does not doubt but rather, praises Him by saying that the absence of His voice alone is like being dragged to the pit. To say that we are nothing without the immediacy of God’s presence and His all encompassing holiness is praise of a better quality than some of the prom songs that we lift up to him on Sundays. Our foremost act of worship is to recognize hell as being His absence. Though there may have a time in our lives when we sought to escape Him, to know His closeness and then discover it gone is the worst imaginable fate.

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Psalm 27 ~ Wait for the Lord, Be Strong and Take Heart

imageIn the 27th Psalm we have one of the most eloquent expressions of the central ideal of biblical faith – trust in the Lord. David exhorts us to come to the same conclusion that he has; despite current challenges and threats, the Lord can be trusted in full. Two stanzas of his expression of trust open the psalm.

The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear?

The lord is the stronghold of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?

When evil men advance against me to devour my flesh, when my enemies and my foes attack me, they will stumble and fall.

Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear; though war break out against me, even then I will be confident. (vv 1-3)

Danger is all about and the psalmist has every reason to fear but he will not allow himself to do so. Fear will not overwhelm his confidence in the protective wing of the Lord nor will it challenge his confidence. Do we practice the same steadfast confidence in our current world? We are bombarded constantly with bad news and dire predictions of calamity. Without faith in the preservation of the Lord that he has exhibited throughout history, men and women succumb easily to the short view, seeing their imminent destruction and possibly their final breath. Knowing that life in this plane is not all that there is, the Christian looks forward.

With such confidence, why does the psalmist pray for deliverance in the second half of the psalm? Confidence does not preclude our petition of God. The Bible teaches us the propriety of being in prayerful communion with God and to take all things to him. Asking for a deliverance and His preservation should not indicate a lack of confidence but rather, a knowledge that the Lord craves our presence with him in prayer. The concluding verses of the psalm summarize for us.

I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.

Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord. (vv 13-14)

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Psalm 25 ~ To You O Lord, I Life Up My Soul

Must God be reminded of his character and the covenant mercies that derive from it? In the prayer framework of psalm 25, David approaches the throne in prayer by voicing the grace that is God’s alone to give.

To you O Lord, I lift up my soul; in you I trust, O my God.

Do not let me be put to shame, nor let my enemies triumph over me.

No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame, but they will be put to shame who are treacherous without excuse. (vv 1-3)

It’s not so much that God needs to be reminded of who He is or what He is like. Rather, the penitent prayer is suffusing himself with the confidence that comes from rehearsing the promises of God’s goodness in times of trouble.  Here, David puts his trust in God to deal with an enemy that he did nothing to provoke. He trusts that the goodness inherent in God and the promise to shepherd His people will be the hedge of protection that surrounds David and his people.

His approach changes in the verses that follow. Continuing to recite the goodness of Yahweh, David also recognizes and seeks grace for the flaws within himself. The deep contrast is a valuable reminder to us as we enter our prayer closets.

Remember, O Lord, you great mercy and love, for they are from old.

Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways; according to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord.

Good and upright is the Lord; therefore he instructs siners in his ways.

He guides the humble in what is right and teaches them his way. (vv 6-9)

Covenant promises are a two-way bond and they require that we not only recognize the goodness and grace that God will exhibit but also, that we recognize and catalog the flaws and corruption within ourselves. We must be penitent before the King.

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Psalm 24 ~ Who is this King of Glory?

image Who is this King of Glory?

The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.

Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of Glory may come in.

Who is He, this King of glory?

The Lord Almighty – he is the King of Glory. (vv 7-10)

 

Modern readers will find this short psalm following the stunning promises of the 23rd psalm and as the page turns, it is easy to get swept up in the shouts of acclamation for the Lord. We shall not diminish the praise of this psalm as we place it in its proper context as a processional liturgy. Historically, this psalm is associated with the entry of God into Zion, either at the time David returns the Ark to Jerusalem or at a later commemoration of the event. Our free church environment has largely cast aside liturgy but it serves an important purpose in leading and aligning the hearts and actions of God’s people.

As the King of Glory enters the Temple, we want to follow his train up the steps but the liturgy stops us. Who may ascend this hill of the Lord it asks. We pause to reflect on our own condition.

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?

Who may stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to idol or swear by what is false. (vv 3 – 4)

The liturgical pace halts our thoughts to consider our condition before the altar. We seek the blessing and vindication promised in verse 5 but we must never take it for granted. Let our prayer today be two examine our heart and hands for the bits of the world that might have crept in or on and need to be cleansed before approaching the throne.

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Psalm 23 ~ Goodness and Love Will Follow Me

image The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.

He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters, he restores my soul.

He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me, your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

The 23rd psalm is one of the most beloved and well known entries in the Psalter. Though many individual verses have become a part of our praise music vocabulary, many people know this psalm by heart in its entirety. There is an appealing promise in these verses that is painted with vibrant and pleasing verbiage that brings an image of the Good Shepherd (John 10:11) cradling and protecting his lambs. He alone will look out for our every need (though not necessarily our every desire.)

imageIn an age of image we have stored in our minds a catalog of green pastures and quiet waters so these words immediately paint with swathes of verdant, lush tropical greens or the deep  emerald of a grassy countryside. Quiet waters soothe with their deep blues turning to black as the depth increases and pops and gurgles silence us as we strain to catch the song of the water as it moves by. We miss out on the depth of this verse unless we meditate on unforgiving landscape in which the psalmist sees the work of the shepherd.

image The desert of the Middle East is far from the viridescence that our mind shows us as the words are processed in our minds. A dry, khaki, hardened land required extraordinary efforts from the shepherd. Food for the sheep might require movement, the search for water a knowledge of the terrain and the ability to bargain with those who guarded its source. The ewe and ram on their own may stand little chance of survival; dependence on the shepherd is not optional.

imageSuddenly, the imagery changes to one who walks in the shadow of death. The deep and arid Wadi Qelt might be bright at midday but every other hour of the day fills it with ponderous shadows that might hide evil around each bend or rock. Walking alone in this valley, the walls rising high above, the only escape route would be forward or backward and yet the psalmist voices no fear as the Lord walks alongside him.

image Verses 4 and 5 form the core for us in our modern day as they did for Yahweh’s people. Our valley of shadows might be more urban but it holds the same dangers and fears. We will not fear these things though as our Shepherd walks beside us and comforts us. In verse five are presented with the image of the table and the cup, overflowing with good and yet, look carefully at the placement of this table. It is in the midst of our enemies. It is not removed from, guarded from, above, below, or in any way away from our enemies. We will sit with the Shepherd in the presence of our enemies.

You see the Psalmist does not envision an escape from the travails of this world to an eventual dwelling with the Lord in his temple. It is not a psalm of escape. Instead, it is an expression of supreme confidence in the Lord and the knowledge of His intimate presence even as we face trouble and danger in this world. All is for the greater glory of God. Though our pain might be temporary, in the economy of the Good Shepherd it is necessary in the greater picture of His-story. We are blessed in playing our role.

The promise of the 23rd psalm is simple: by following the Good Shepherd we will walk in goodness and love throughout all of our days. It does not mean we will escape the trials and troubles of this world but following the Shepherd will always lead us to better days. No wonder it remains a favorite.

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Psalm 19 ~ The Heavens Declare

Like many places on earth, Denver is geographically blessed to enjoy one of the gifts that God has provided in the sunrise and sunset. To the east, the Great Plains of the United States unroll in mile after mile of broad, flat country. To look to the east in the morning is to see the straight line of the distant horizon and the Sun gradually rising a slice at a time. On cloudy mornings we are treated to a magnificent show as the sky lights up from black to violet to a blazing pink and orange in the briefest of moments. The the immediate west rise the 14,000 foot peaks of the Rocky Mountains. The sun disappears in the evening much quicker behind these imposing monuments but again, if the clouds are present, we are treated to another visual feast as the filtered sunlight plays off the bottoms of the thunderheads. To the beauty of the sunrise, the course of the sun, the careful ordering of the stars and the phases of the moon the psalmist expresses his praise.

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge. (vv 1-2)

There is no divinity in the skies or the celestial objects and yet, they speak. They speak not in themselves but in our souls. Our appreciation for the beauty before us comes from a divine source. Without that presence, the prismatic effects that we look at would be nothing more than atmospheric coincidence and the refraction of light. With the Spirit, we see God and the immense complexity in the interplay between weather, astronomy, the incredible human eye and the emotions of the heart that reacts to the visual message it receives.

The same beauty if found in the Law of the Lord. The Law is often misunderstood as a constraint to freedom. Instead, as we understand God and his provision of the Law, it is actually the definition of true freedom. The Law provides the boundaries which our broken hearts are tempted to test. It is meant to increase our enjoyment of life, not diminish it.

The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.

They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb. (vv 9b-10)

In the glory of the heavens we begin to see our purpose, to glorify God as they do.

Psalm 18 Pt 3 ~ The Lord is My Rock

The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock!

Exalted be God my Savior!

He is the God who avenges me, who subdues nations under me, who saves me from my enemies.

You exalted me above my foes; from violent men you rescued me.

Therefore I will praise you among the nations, O Lord; I will sing praises to your name. (vv 46-49)

This psalm of praise ends as it began, with the psalmist proclaiming the greatness of God and the firmness of the foundation which He provides to those whom He loves. In the mid section of the psalm, we read David comparing his righteousness to that of his enemies and and anointing this right relationship with Yahweh as the true source of his victories. This last section turns back to God and offers praise for who He is,

As for God, his way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless.

He is a shield for all who take refuge in him.

For who is God besides the Lord?

And who is The Rock except our God? (vv 30-31)

Humility is discovered in that moment when we discover who we are not. It may come when we fail at some task that we thought we had mastered. That clarity may arrive also when we discover that we are not God and that all we have or do comes from Him. At that moment, these words of praise become our words. Sing them to Him this morning.

Psalm 18 Pt 2 ~ The Lord is My Rock

The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness; according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.

For I have kept the ways of the Lord; I have not done evil by turning from my God. (vv 20 – 21)

Reading the psalmists words in the second segment of Psalm 18 often leads us in a couple of different directions. First, we ask if David is boasting, proclaiming a righteousness that we find incredible. Is his blessing truly the direct result of his works or behaviors? If we were to pull these verses out of context it could certainly be understood that way but we don’t read that way. We read these statements in contrast to the wickedness of David’s enemies. He has devoted himself to the worship and the service of the Lord and is simply saying that any peace and prosperity that he enjoys is the result of this faithful service.

The second thing that jumps out at modern followers of Christ is the idea of possessing any righteousness of our own. You see, we enjoy a righteousness far in excess of what was available to David, we have the perfect imputed righteousness of our Savior.  We are no longer under the law, laboring for a perfection that cannot be attained by mortal man and always at risk of our personal Bathsheba. Our righteousness is fixed in the final work of the Lord on the cross. We too can claim the joy and benefit of the righteousness we have received.

You, O Lord, keep my lamp burning; my God turns my darkness into light.

With your help I can advance against a troop; with my God I can scale a wall. (vv 28-29)