Measuring Generosity

Jesus says in Luke 6:38: “Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.” This imagery of measurement describes the mercy of God toward us and consequently the mercy we are called to show to one another.

Good measure begins with an accurate measurement. The Scriptures frequently condemn false measures as a sign of ungodliness. Leviticus 19:35-36 declares that all measurements shall be just, because “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” To deal falsely with someone else even from the very beginning is a sign of lovelessness, and thus also a sign that one is not of God.

Pressed down, because a fair and just measure sometimes means pressing down to remove all gaps and spaces, like brown sugar being packed into a measuring cup. Shaken together describes the same motive, like shaking a bag to make the material settle into it. It is not a begrudging attitude, one that seeks to give only under compulsion, but striving to meet the need of the other person to the fullest. It is the same commandment as leaving the edge of the field for the poor (Leviticus 23:22) or taking a small amount of your neighbor’s crop into your own hand but not the bag (Deuteronomy 23:24-25). What you have been given comes from God, not your own hand or your own labor, and what has been given is meant to be given in service of your neighbor. Give then, not begrudgingly, for God loves a cheerful giver.

Running over, because God’s mercy is not limited. Instead of merely the amount needed, God gives far more than we can think or ask. Would you look with envy on your neighbor, forgetting the manifold blessings God has given to you even this single day? Does He not make His sun to rise on the just and on the evil? Christ Himself gave not a single drop of His blood, which alone would have been enough to cover the world’s sins, but a rich fountain which knows no end. After measuring out our neighbor’s needs, let us also pour on still more without compulsion or envy.

The measurement you use will be measured back to you. If you, like Israel, want to disobey the Lord’s commandments even in His blessings, will not your efforts breed worms and stink? Yet if we measure with an omer, will we not have our daily needs met? God’s blessings will rest on those who show mercy as He shows mercy to us. Let us lift each other up generously, measuring out our neighbor’s needs and adding still more besides.

Cain’s Folly

After being sent away from the presence of the Lord, Cain built a city and named it after his son Enoch in Genesis 4. This city should not be confused for our own understanding of a city: a relatively open place where many people live. Rather, the city of Enoch was likely more of a fortress, designed to protect Cain from those who sought his life in revenge for Abel. Cain also sought to stay put instead of wandering, somewhat contrary to the Lord’s judgment upon him. The fortress-city of Enoch was built in the land of Nod, that is, the land of wandering, away from the presence of the Lord.

Just as Genesis 5 will outline the line from Adam to Noah in ten generations, Genesis 4 outlines the line of Cain to the children of Lamech in seven. Lamech’s boast in Genesis 4:23-24 shows the fruit of that line in unbridled evil. Instead of heeding the Lord’s mercy toward Cain as an opportunity for repentance, Cain’s descendants have used it as a pretext for further wickedness. Shall we also presume on the Lord’s mercy?

At any rate, the sons of Lamech also discover and employ certain kinds of technology. Jubal invents a number of musical instruments, and Tubal-Cain begins to forge metals. Both of these technologies can and will be put to a godly use (such as the building of the tabernacle). Yet it is noteworthy that they find their origin in the cursed line of Cain. Having lost sight of heaven, they have instead set their sights on the world.

One could interpret this as a sign of God’s free mercies. Has He not, after all, used the pagans to produce much that is good in this world? Does He not make His sun to rise and send His rain on the just and on the unjust? I think it is equally likely, however, that this is a slight indictment. Cain built a wall for an evil purpose. Having lost his trust in the Lord through his sins, Cain resorts instead to a worldly solution and employs the technology of a wall to that end. What is a wall compared to the living God? Likewise, Jubal and Tubal-Cain undoubtedly employed these things for evil ends, all in the service of idolatry. Instead of relying on God, they have begun to rely on the works of their own hands.

As noted above, these inventions will be used for godly ends, per the Lord’s commands. Yet there is a substantial difference in employing technology when commanded to do so by God and doing so in the place of God. The former is heeding the voice of the Lord and following after Him in all that He says. The latter is trusting in the works of our hands to save us from perceived problems and ascribing to them, consciously or not, the aspects of divinity.

Created to Work

The Lord created man to labor, as seen in Genesis 2. There, prior to the fall into sin, Adam tended the garden in Eden. A future where man no longer has to work because his needs are perfectly met–the dream of technocrats, futurists, and communists of old–is not valid. Working is part of what it means to be human, and the Lord creates so that we also may improve and tend what He gives.

Technology existed also in the days of Adam, even if it is not explicitly mentioned. Moses notes that gold adorned the land of Havilah near Eden. Even if it is likely that this is meant to educate his contemporary audience, gold in any substantial quantity can only be obtained through the use of technology. Ezekiel 28:11-19, where the king of Tyre is compared to Adam, describes some of the beauty of Eden and the perfection of Adam in gold and precious stones.

Thus, because man needs technology to labor, and because man was created to labor (Isaiah 65 even describes the life to come as one in which men will labor and enjoy the fruits of that labor), the use of technology is a part of being a creation of God. The difficulty enters in only when that technology is employed for ungodly ends, as will be seen in future posts.

WFS began our discussion of technology and the Christian in this episode:
Technological Society and Its Future

The Cross and Human Wisdom

On Shrove Tuesday in 1552, Erasmus Sarcerius preached a sermon on Christ and our cross. His text was Luke 18:31-43, in which Jesus foretells his death and resurrection a third time and heals the blind beggar outside of Jericho. He parsed the text into seven articles — the sixth is below for your consideration. It is a critique of those arch-heretics, Reason and Human Wisdom, who deceive even the disciples, keeping them from understanding the clear words of Christ.

Reason and Human Wisdom are such successful heretics because they seem to deliver on their promises for a time. Seeking honor leads to honor. Seeking prosperity leads to prosperity. Trust in their promises pays off in ways so delightful to our flesh that we overlook the times they fail to deliver. It’s a classic case of confirmation bias.

The end of trust in Reason and Human Wisdom is despair in time of need, especially in our greatest need at the hour of death. At that point, their promises come to an end, and they have no help to give. Instead they can only lead you to conclude that you are a wretched, miserable creature with no hope. But that bit of truth emerging from their heresy is too little, and it arrives too late.

Such honesty about Reason and Human Wisdom makes enemies with the world. It is an annoyance and burden to the flesh, and it must compete with the clarion call to talk about something more relevant, something that matters right now. It is striking how similar the voice of Sarcerius’ world is to ours.

For the Christian, the cross of Christ is a source of eternal comfort because it means that our weakness and crosses are not meaningless. Far from it. By faith in the promises of Jesus secured by his suffering, death, and resurrection, our weakness and crosses are given ultimate significance. They are the path to glory – a glory that does not terminate at the grave. It is a glory that is not self-serving and vain. It is the glory of perfection, holiness, and love. It is the glory of Christ, lifted up on the cross, drawing all nations to himself.

The sixth article holds before us the ignorance of Christ’s disciples as an example. They didn’t understand their master’s talk of his suffering and his resurrection. Luke shows us: “They understood none of these things, and the saying was hidden from them, and they did not know what was said.”
 

In view of such ignorance, we rightly wonder that the disciples were with Christ for so long, went in and out with him for so long and yet did not understand this saying of Christ concerning his suffering and resurrection.

The source of the disciples’ ignorance

It comes from reason and human wisdom, which are heretics that persuaded the Jews to think that Jesus would be a worldly king and lord. Because they are now stuck in these thoughts, they have imagined him as a rich, powerful, and happy lord, who should rule and govern in this world with great honor, happiness, and prosperity. There was nothing more unimaginable to them than that the Christ should suffer and die. Because they couldn’t imagine it, they haven’t understood his sayings about the cross and resurrection.

What we learn from this sixth article

We learn that we cannot, by nature, direct or orient ourselves towards the teaching of the cross and the rescue from it. Therefore both the suffering of Christ and his rescue from it are not subject to reason and human wisdom. They can’t rightly judge and evaluate either the cross or the rescue.

Likewise we learn that the teaching of the cross is annoying and burdensome to our old Adam and our flesh, and that reasoning and fleshly men won’t be bothered with it.

Likewise we learn the source of our ignorance, in which we don’t understand the teaching of the cross nor the rescue from it. It comes namely from reason and human wisdom, which are heretics that teach hatred of the cross and despair of human power and help in times of great need.

Likewise we learn the source of our burden and annoyance at the cross. People would much rather have good days than evil ones. They’d rather live and remain in peace and prosperity than have cross and misery. On that account one finds at all times people who regard temporal peace more than eternal blessedness and eternal peace. That’s seen nowadays in our time when, for the sake of temporal prosperity, God’s word and the truth are abandoned, and they cry out with clear voice that one must give way to the time and present needs. Among them he is a wise man who can accommodate religion to the times.

Likewise we learn that, by nature, we don’t know the right way to attain honor in the kingdom of Heaven. It is found in the cross. This ignorance is also a fruit of reason and human wisdom, which teach that one climbs to honor through honor, to power through power, etc. And for such heretics there is nothing more impossible to believe than that in the kingdom of heaven the right way to attain honor is the cross and weakness.

Likewise we learn that the kingdom of heaven is to be distinguished from a temporal kingdom. In the kingdom of heaven, one is great and comes to honor through suffering and death. In the latter, through power and riches.


Erasmus Sarcerius, Eine predigte von Christi und unserem Creutze: Item wie man von Christo dem rechten artzte beiderley gesundheit an leib und seel erlangen sol, trans. David Buchs, (Leipzig: Jacobum Berwald, 1552),

Your Holy One Will Not See Corruption (Psalm 16)

The Psalms are the prayers of the body of Christ. While this is true of all of them, occasionally we have a clear and unambiguous testimony from the Holy Spirit. Peter and Paul both directly connect this Psalm to the passion of Christ. David’s own experience informs this psalm, to be sure, but only in a partial way, just as ours does. Yet Christ fulfills this psalm to the utmost. His own struggle with His enemies has become our own. His trust has become ours. His experience fills up and informs our own, because we are in Him.

Psalm 16 presents some difficulties, but may be divided into three sections: calling on God to deliver (verses 1-4), trust in God who provides (verses 5-8), and a blessing of God (verse 9-11). The exact issue prompting this psalm is not specified. However, since David refers to idolaters and the grave throughout the psalm, it is safe to say that he faces a peril from his enemies which threatens his life. Yet the primary focus of the psalm is not the danger, but the trust in God to deliver, so that even in the grave, God will not abandon His people.

A Miktam of David. Preserve me, God, for I take refuge in you.

You have said to the LORD, You are My Lord. My goodness is not apart from you.

The term “miktam” occurs here and in the titles of Psalms 56 through 60. Like so many of the other terms in the headings of the psalms, its exact meaning is uncertain. Some associate it with another word meaning “gold,” as in Job 28:19. If this is true, a miktam is a “golden psalm,” perhaps signifying its special importance. However, its usage also in Psalms 56-60 shows that we should be cautious of reading too much into such an interpretation. On the other hand, the Septuagint rendered miktam as “inscription,” suggesting that it is suited for use as an epigram. It is equally likely, however, that the term is either a tune name or a form of poetry.

David calls on the Lord to deliver him from trouble. While the first verse is thus straightforward, the next three are the most difficult to interpret in the psalm. The second verse begins “you have said” without specifying the subject. It seems most likely he is speaking to himself or to his soul, so that some translations insert “O my soul” to this verse. Others, following the Septuagint, modify the verb to “I have said,” which is more or less the same idea. God gives the soul, after all, and is its Lord (Ecclesiastes 12:7). All good that we have is also from God, so that apart from Him, we can do nothing (John 15:5).

To the holy ones who are in the land, they are the mighty ones. All my pleasure is in them.

Translations differ, sometimes widely, on this verses. The Septuagint and the Vulgate render it something like “To the saints who are in his land, he has made wonderful all my [or his] desires in them.” Some older translations like Luther and the King James render it differently: “But to the saints that are in the earth, and to the excellent, in whom is all my delight.” Many modern translations are similar to my own. Much of the difficulty comes from an unusual word order and several ellipses.

Following the translation I have given, David associates himself with the godly, especially against the ungodly. Identifying with the body of believers is another way of associating with God. If we group ourselves with the godly, then we are by extension grouping ourselves with the Lord to whom they belong. We are, after all, the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12). To leave off meeting together is to separate ourselves not only from other believers but also from God (Hebrews 10:25; 1 Corinthians 12:21).

They will multiply their pains. They have acquired another [god]. I will not pour out their libations of blood, and I will not lift up their names on my lips.

This verse can also be difficult, because the subject is not stated. However, since it seems to make little sense to interpret this in terms of the holy ones, David distances himself from the ungodly. Their way is a way of pain and sorrow, because they have sought another god. The verb translated here as “acquired” is identical to another verb meaning “to hasten” or “to run after.” However, as in Exodus 22:15, it can also refer to paying a bridal price. Idolators seek to betroth a false god to them, instead of the Lord who identifies Himself as the Husband of Israel (Hosea 2:16). “Hasten after,” however, carries the same idea, since they are pursuing another god.

Their libations or drink offerings may indeed be of blood, given the depravity of some Canaanite practices, but it is more likely that David means that their offerings are stained with sin (Isaiah 1:15). David also refuses to take up the names of their false gods on his lips. This is not literally avoiding naming them, since the prophets frequently give the names of false gods, but to avoid naming them in a way which shows them honor (Exodus 23:13; Joshua 23:7). There is, after all, no other name than Jesus by which we will be saved (Acts 4:12).

The LORD is the portion of my portion and my cup. You hold my lot.

The measuring lines have fallen for me in pleasant places. Indeed, a pleasing inheritance to me.

I will bless the LORD who advises me. Also, by night my kidneys discipline me.

I have set the LORD before me continually. Because [he is] at my right hand, I will not be made to stagger.

Having called on God to deliver, the psalm now confidently turns toward the fulfillment. There is no need to fear those who trouble us, because our inheritance is with God. Like the Levites, our inheritance is God Himself (Numbers 18:20). Indeed, the Lord is called the portion of Israel as a whole, because our hope and confidence is in Him (Jeremiah 10:16; Deuteronomy 32:9). He is our cup, because He is our salvation (Psalm 116:13). He holds our lot, because He has all things in His hand.

The imagery of “measuring lines” here hearkens back to the division of the land in passages like Joshua 17:5, where it is rendered as “portion.” The word itself means a rope or a cord, as in a surveyor staking out property. It is, however, a pleasant place, because the godly one delights in what God has given to him. It is not too small, as the portion of Joseph (Joshua 17:14-17), nor displeasing like the land of Cabul (1 Kings 9:12-13). What comes from God is pleasing, because it is meant for our good (Romans 8:28).

Kidneys in the Old Testament are regarded as the innermost part of man. This is why the word is frequently translated as “heart” in English, since we use the heart to denote the same idea. Since the heart shows the truth of the soul (as Jesus says in places like Matthew 15:34), it “disciplines” in a positive sense by calling to mind the words and promises of God. It is not necessarily a negative thing to be instructed or disciplined, as we often use the word. Rather, just as God counsels us through His Word, so He also calls forth in our memory those same words for our reflection.

Therefore, my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices. Indeed, my flesh dwells in security.

Glory here is a reference to the tongue, because we glorify God through praising Him with it. David also refers to his tongue in this way in Psalm 57:8, calling on it to awaken with God’s praises. Peter also, when he quotes this psalm in his sermon at Pentecost, renders it as “tongue,” following the Septuagint (Acts 2:26). His flesh or body dwells securely, not in a carnal way, but knowing that God cares also for the body (Matthew 6:25-34).

For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol. You will not give your pious one/faithful one to see the pit/corruption.

On the basis of this verse, both Peter and Paul refer to Psalm 16 in direct connection with Christ. The idea is straightforward. David expresses confidence in God, knowing that God will not abandon him even in the grave. He will not cast us off once we have passed into the pit or into corruption. Jesus Christ is the resurrection and the life (John 11:25-26).

Yet, as Peter says to the Jews at Pentecost, this cannot be fully true of David. David, after all, died, and his body fell into corruption (Acts 2:29). Yet Christ Himself fully fulfills this prophecy, because though He died, His body did not see corruption (Acts 2:31). Paul makes the same point to the Jews at Antioch in Pisidia (Acts 13:35-37). Thus, according to the testimony of the Spirit, Psalm 16 only indirectly speaks of David, but directly of Christ Himself.

The word rendered as “pious” or “faithful” can certainly be rendered as “holy,” but it also emphasizes the obedience of Christ. Jesus was obedient even to death on the cross, and thus God raised Him from the dead and exalted Him far above all things (Philippians 2:8-11).

You make known to me the path of life. Fullness of joy is before your face. At your right hand is delight everlasting.

David thus closes this prophecy with joy. In God and in God alone is a joy which knows no end. Because Christ lives, we also will live with Him to glorify Him forever. Christ is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. Christ is our highest joy. Christ is our everlasting rest and delight. We have no reason to fear anything in this world, because Christ reigns triumphant at the right hand of God, exalted above all earthly things.

The Way of Righteousness (Psalm 15)

Is Psalm 15 a password or a description? Jehoiada stationed gatekeepers to keep the unclean out of the temple (2 Chronicles 23:19), and it is tempting to regard a psalm about godliness as a bar before the door. To be in God’s presence is not something that should be taken lightly. The Lord said that “man shall not see me and live” (Exodus 33:20). Evil may not sojourn in His presence (Psalm 5:4). Yet this is not a list of qualifications. Rather, it is wrestling with the problem of hypocrisy in the church. Who belongs to God? Who are those who are on the Lord’s side? Seen in this light, the psalm is not the question of the lawyer seeking to justify himself (Luke 10:29), but comfort for those who are sons of the promise.

Psalm 15 is very short, but may be divided into three basic sections: the question (verse 1), the reply (verses 2-5a), and the promise (verse 5b). This question and answer format gives the whole a liturgical character, or perhaps catechetical. The purpose of catechesis is not self-justification, but to educate in the ways of wisdom. Indeed, the psalm presents ten points to consider, connecting it to the Ten Commandments. To know the Law of God and to walk in it is the way of wisdom and delight (Psalm 19).

A Psalm of David.

LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy mountain?

David, seeing hypocrites and evil men in control, perhaps in the days of his exile from Jerusalem (2 Samuel 15), addresses a question to the Lord. The tent, or the tabernacle, housed the ark of the covenant, making it the place of God’s presence. Even after the ark was brought from Shiloh, David placed it within a tent (2 Samuel 6:16-19). To be in God’s tent, then, is to stand before Him. God’s holy mountain, Mount Zion (Psalm 48:1-3), is God’s presence among His people. Since the mountain figures prominently in the last days (Isaiah 11:6-9), it is fitting to regard this as heaven. To dwell on God’s mountain is to be with Him in the life to come. Who is able to do this, Lord?

Sojourning is living as a resident alien in the land. Sojourners live among the people, but have no inheritance among them. They are there by privilege, not by right. So also we are in God’s presence by His gracious permission, not by right. Already David clarifies that this psalm is not a means to justify ourselves. We would not be in God’s presence at all, except by His grace.

Thus, it is true that no one can measure up to the fullness of God’s Law. As James 2:10 says, those who break the Law in one point have become guilty of the whole. Yet grace is not an excuse for laziness. God forgives in order to regenerate, so that the new man actually delights in the Law (Romans 7:22). The ten points which follow then not only show us the seriousness of being in God’s presence, but also the way of life and righteousness. Christ sets us free to walk in this way, because the Law is good and holy and righteous.

The one walking blamelessly and doing righteousness and speaking truth in his heart.

The first three points are all positive ones. Those who walk in the way of the Lord do things such as these. It is noteworthy in all of these that David describes righteousness in terms of love for the neighbor. A hypocrite is very eager to convince others that he loves God. The Pharisee who boasted of his righteousness before God pointed to his external attempts to keep the law (Luke 18:9-14). Yet the hypocrite reveals himself in his contempt for his neighbor. They are more interested in mint, dill, and cumin, than they are in justice, mercy, and faithfulness (Matthew 23:23).

Walking blamelessly should not be taken as an impossibility, either. Paul could rightly call himself blameless with regard to the Law (Philippians 3:6). Job is described as being blameless and upright, fearing God (Job 1:1). It is what we might call a relative blamelessness, having no reason to stand accused before men. Before God, of course, no one is without sin, but a man may certainly avoid gross outward sins in his daily life.

On a different note, though the question is originally addressed to God, David provides the answers to it. Having the mind of Christ means that we are able to discern what is good and true and right (1 Corinthians 2:16; Ephesians 5:3-14). These points are not based on public opinion or on sentimental feelings, something which our sinful hearts are prone to regard as convincing. Rather, they are based on the Word which reveals that mind of Christ, and in this Word we have an infallible guide.

He does not slander with his tongue. He does not do evil to his neighbor, and he does not lift up reviling on the one closest to him.

The next three points in this list are all negative. Walking the way of God involves both doing what is right while also not turning to the left or to the right. The word “slander” here is related to the word for foot. A wicked man not only cuts down his neighbor with his words, but he also goes around spreading his lies. Reviling, on the other hand, is an assault on the person himself, heaping up shame and disgrace, taunting them. To walk in the way of the Lord is to speak well of others, because a tongue used for evil sets us on fire for hell (James 3:5-6).

Despised in his eyes [is] the reprobate. and the one fearful of the LORD he honors. He swears to his hurt and does not change.

David now presents two more positive points for consideration. The first of these is regarding men as the Lord regards them, not as the world does. The reprobate, or those who are rejected by God, have no standing in the righteous man’s eyes. The one who fears the Lord is esteemed. This is exactly the opposite of what the world does, since the reprobate are often those who have a high standing in the world and the ones who fear the Lord are oppressed. A man can and should give honor to godless men in the world (1 Peter 2:17; Romans 13:7), yet this is done out of obedience to God.

On the other point of this verse, there have been differences in translating. Hebrew does not require its vowels to be printed in order to be read, only the consonants. This was also true of the Old Testament for many centuries, leading to some variation. The word translated here as “hurt,” when given another vowel sound, can be rendered as “neighbor,” which is how the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and even Luther understood it. The translation would be “who swears to his neighbor and does not change.” In this sense, it describes a man who stands by his word in all things. Swearing to his “hurt,” on the other hand, is still a description of honesty, but a much more intense one. The righteous man not only keeps his word, but he keeps it even when it hurts him to do so. Leviticus 5:4-6 describes what should be done when a man remembers a forgotten vow. It will cost him to make restitution for it, yet a righteous man will still do so, because he fears the Lord. Additionally, in times when fraud is revealed or some other sin, he makes it right even if the cost is great (2 Chronicles 25:5-13, even though Amaziah is an idolator).

His silver he does not give out in interest/usury and a bribe against the innocent he does not take. He who does these things, he shall not be made to stagger forever.

“Usury” in Hebrew is derived from the word meaning “to bite.” By requiring more money to be paid on a loan, a man would be biting his poorer neighbor. Usury always has the poor in mind, because while a rich man can afford to pay back more, a poor man already has nothing. Adding to the cost increases his burden rather than alleviating it. Deuteronomy 23:20 allows for requiring interest from a foreigner, but denies it to a brother. God would rather have us give without expecting anything in return than to be focused on the material cost or potential profit (Luke 14:14).

David thus closes the psalm with a promise. Those who walk in the ways of God shall not stumble or be made to stagger. We could not walk in the first place unless God had set us in the way, so this is not a promise to make us proud. Rather, it should comfort us, knowing that God knows His own and no one will snatch them out of his hand. The hypocrite may be in control of the world, but his reward has already come. The righteous may suffer now, but the night will give way to a joy which knows no end.

The Wise Fool (Psalm 14)

The Bible sets before us two different ways: the way of death and the way of life. Jesus describes them as the broad and the narrow way (Matthew 7:13-14). Solomon throughout Proverbs describes them as the way of folly and the way of wisdom. Yet how do we take comfort from this? There seems to be a danger of making it all abstract, something which makes little difference when dealing with the troubles of life. Yet Psalm 14 shows us that the righteous do in fact find comfort in the narrow way of the cross. The righteous do not serve God in vain.

This short psalm seems to have two sections within it: the problem posed by the wicked (verses 1-4) and the solution which comes from God (verses 5-7). Verse 7 may also be its own section, a thanksgiving to God as a result of verses 5-6, but I have attached them together.

To the choirmaster. Of David.

The fool says in his heart, There is no God. They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds. There is no one who does good.

The LORD looks down from the heavens on the sons of Adam, to see if there are any who have insight, who seek after God.

They have all turned aside together. They are corrupt. There is no one who does good. There is not even one.

Do they not know, all the committers of sin, devouring my people as they eat bread, not calling on the LORD?

The greatest temptation with this psalm is to make quick identifications within it. The “fool,” we are tempted to think, is always someone else. Because we often use the word fool to describe someone who is clownish or a buffoon, it is easy to place ourselves into the position of the afflicted. Yet a fool in the Biblical sense can be quite wise and well educated. The problem of the fool is that he makes a false assumption about reality. Nabal in 1 Samuel 25 (whose name is the Hebrew word for fool) assumes wrongly that David is a mere upstart and a rebel and refuses to help him. Therefore, the danger of the fool is not so much that he denies that God exists (though that is one of the problems). The problem is that he assumes, wrongly, that God will not act, whether because he thinks that God does not exist or because he thinks that God cannot see and judge. The greatest fool is not the atheist, but the man who professes to believe in God while living as if God did not exist.

Psalm 14 presents the fool in terms of his actions. Because he says that there is no God, his actions reflect his heart. The opposite of folly in the Biblical sense is not being intelligent. The opposite of folly is steadfast love. The fool’s actions show that he is faithless, that he is a covenant breaker. The wise man’s actions show that he is faithful, just as God is faithful. Yet just as the sons of the flesh persecute the sons of the promise (Galatians 4:29), the fool pursues the righteous and lives up to his name.

Paul uses this psalm to prove exactly this point in Romans 3. All men are fools, because before conversion they serve their own passions and do not glorify God. All are under sin, because no one is righteous in the sight of God. We cannot identify the fool with someone else, like the Pharisee did with the publican (Luke 18:11-12). In so doing, we become the fool, because we have turned away from the righteousness of God.

The Lord looking down to see if any are righteous finds a parallel in Genesis 11. As the Lord looked down on those building that tower, so He also looks down on us from on high to discern the ways of men. It is not as if His knowledge is limited. God knows all things. Yet this looking down emphasizes His judgment, like a judge sitting on a high bench. His expression of horror, fitted to our understanding, should emphasize the horrific character of sin. God seems almost astonished at man’s capacity for sin. Should we then regard it as nothing? The “corruption” of verse 3 is the picture of spoiled milk, curdled beyond use. All our righteousness is as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).

The most telling point here about the wickedness of man is how they eat up the righteous like bread. This should not be understood as greedily gobbling them, like a sadistic feast. Rather the imagery is rather mundane: they eat the righteous as if it were nothing more than going to their lunch hour. It describes how all their ways are so contrary to God that they regard it as nothing out of the ordinary. Joseph’s brothers, having cast him into a pit in order to kill him, then sit down as if at a picnic (Genesis 37:24-25). They drink iniquity like water (Job 15:16). Wickedness is their vocation, so to speak, and they engage in it as if going into work.

There they fear a fear [or fear greatly], for God is with the generation of the righteous.

You would shame the plans of the poor man, yet God is his refuge.

Oh that [or Who will give] salvation from Zion for Israel! When the LORD brings back the captivity of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

The duplication of “fear” in verse 5 intensifies it. The wicked will fear greatly, because God is with the righteous. Instead of eating up the righteous like bread, thinking that God will not do anything, God dwells with His people. Even a desire to shame the plans of the poor come to nothing, because He takes refuge in God. The “there” is either a point in time in the future, such as the Last Day, or a particular place where God will render judgment. Either way, it points to its certainty.

Thus, the two ways provide a real comfort in the midst of distress. Even if the way of destruction is broad and easy, it will come to an end. It is not a road that will go on forever. The oppression of the wicked may seem intense and overwhelming, but God will bring it to an end when He judges the world. The way of life may be narrow and hard, but it is a way that will give way to a joy which has no end.

This is why the psalm ends on a joyful note. The wish expressed here in verse 7 should not be understood as uncertain. It is the intense wish and hope of faith which clings to the certain promises God has made to His people. This is not the Babylonian captivity, but the general oppression which His people experience (Job 42:10; Amos 9:14; Hosea 6:11). The Lord will bring back the captivity of His people, because Christ has led captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8). Christ will set His people free from every oppression. Even if our deliverance is in the future, we may rest assured knowing that it will come as He has promised.

As an addendum, the Septuagint (and thus versions based on it) occasionally inserts more verse after verse 3, specifically the same verses which follow the quotation in Romans 3. This is widely regarded as a late addition, for several reasons. First, very few Hebrew manuscripts contain it, and even those that do come much later. Second, Psalm 53, which is very similar to Psalm 14, does not contain them. Third, not all versions of the Septuagint contain them. Finally, it was rejected as an insertion even as early as Jerome and Bede, though some theologians, Cassiodorus in particular, regard them as genuine (at least by custom more than textual evidence). Could Paul have been quoting from an extended version of Psalm 14? Maybe. However, it seems far more likely that he is putting together a wide variety of verses to form one continuous whole to prove his point.

A Prayer for Deliverance (Psalm 13)

The brevity of Psalm 13 should not lead us to think that it is unimportant. David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, presents us with a psalm that not only struggles with those moments when God seems silent, but gives us a beautiful model for prayer at the same time. David wrestles with those questions which beset all of us from time to time: why does God seem so far away in the midst of my troubles?

This psalm has three sections of two verses each, yet in these few lines David presents a remarkable transition. Psalm 13 opens with all the fury of a storm and closes with all the calm of a storm that is past.

To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David.

How long, LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?

How long will I take counsel in my soul, sorrow in my heart day by day? How long will my enemy be exalted over me?

It is not certain what prompted David to write this psalm, whether his troubles with Saul, Absalom, or some other event. Whatever the occasion, the result is the same. God seems to be far off when everything is going wrong. As with all psalms which cry out to God in the midst of trouble, however, Psalm 13 should not be interpreted as moping or having an inward, depressed focus. The soul which despairs of God’s mercy would not pray. It is only the Christian who knows that God will answer, even in the worst of circumstances, that can pray. Even if the tone seems desperate, it still cries to God confidently knowing He will hear.

Yet this confidence doesn’t mitigate the intense struggle. These questions are not seeking answers, but rather giving vent to the state of the soul. For that reason, the first question is the most intense. It is not the problems of life that cause such distress, but God’s seeming distance and forgetfulness. This seeming absence sparks terror, because God’s face seems to have looked away. Deuteronomy 31:17-18 describes this looking away as God’s wrath, while in Numbers 6:25, God looking on us with His face is a sign of His favor. However, for the Christian, it only seems as if God looks away, because God sometimes withdraws Himself from His people (Song of Solomon 3:1-4; Hebrews 12:3-17). In this, we see a picture of Christ’s own anguish on the cross. The difference, however, is that Christ’s abandonment was real, not perceived, yet He still cried out to the Father with the trusting words of Psalm 22.

Look at, answer me, LORD my God. Light up my eyes lest I sleep in death.

Lest my enemy says, “I have prevailed over him.” My oppressors rejoice when I am made to stagger.

The distress of the first section has given way to the firm confidence of prayer. Having given vent to his soul, David calls on the Lord to answer him. “My God,” though frequently abused as a term, is a beautiful expression of our election in God. God has made us His own, and we belong to Him personally, even when it seems like He has turned away. The terror of God’s seeming absence cannot overwhelm the truth that He is “the LORD my God.”

Eyes may be regarded as dark for a couple of reasons. The first is that death is actually looming, and the eyes are darkening as a forerunner of the grave (Proverbs 29:13; 1 Samuel 14:27; indirectly in Ecclesiastes 12:1-3). Lighting up the eyes, then, is a call to bring back from the threat of death. Death is a place of silence, and therefore David could not praise the deeds of the Lord before the congregation there (Psalm 6:5). The other reason is that death is metaphorical for the deep distress of his soul (Ezra 9:8). I think either could work here.

David moves the Lord to action through this prayer, because he bases it on firm promises which the Lord has made. God’s glory and honor are at stake in this moment. If the enemy can say, “I have prevailed over him,” then it would seem that God either has broken His promises or that He is unable to keep them, both of which are manifestly untrue! Why should Egypt say that He brought them out to kill them (Exodus 32:12)? Why should the nations say, “Where is their God” (Psalm 79:10)? Why should the enemies of God blaspheme Him by triumphing over His people (Deuteronomy 32:27)? “It is not for your sake,” says the Lord, “that I am about to act, but for the sake of My holy name” (Ezekiel 36:22).

But I in your steadfast love have trusted. My heart will rejoice in your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD who has shown himself to me.

All has now become calm, like Christ stilling the storm (Matthew 8:26). This trust is not based in emotions, though one may feel emotionally calm at the same time. Rather, this trust bases itself on God’s steadfast love. Nor should we understand steadfast love as an intense feeling either. This is God’s unwavering faithfulness, the love He shows to us and has promised to us. God cannot lie, therefore His steadfast love is unwavering. This is the ground of our confidence, because in His Son Jesus Christ, the Lord’s steadfast love for His people reveals itself. It is a peace and joy which comes in Christ and is like nothing else (John 14:27). Even if the troubles of life continue, they will not go on forever. We can put our trust in God’s promises, so that even when He seems far away, He has promised to hear us when we cry to Him.

Note also that while the wicked rejoice in the downfall of the righteous, the righteous rejoice in the salvation of the Lord. The wicked man trusts in what is ultimately fleeting and transitory, like putting his trust in his own destruction (Psalm 52:7). However, the godly man trusts in what is everlasting and sure, because the Lord will not forsake those who trust in Him. Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5).

As an addendum, the Septuagint interestingly adds the following phrase to verse 6:

[and I will sing to the name of the Lord Most High.]

Why it does this is not clear, though it is reflected in translations based on it and on translations based on the Latin Vulgate. The psalms frequently present ideas in pairs, and it may be that verse 6 is only “half” a verse. Perhaps the Septuagint took this from a unique variation in the texts it translated. Perhaps someone added this in order to fill in the “other half” of verse 6. Whatever the reason, the effect is the same: David praises the name of God for all that He has done in delivering him from trouble.

Hypocrisy Will Not Prevail (Psalm 12)

Sometimes the most difficult problem isn’t open acts of evil, but hypocrisy.  When it seems like all the world runs on deceptions and lies, even in the Church, where is a Christian to turn?  Where can we find certainty in a duplicitous world?  David addresses this very problem in Psalm 12.

This psalm has three main divisions in its thought progression.  The first section, verse 1-4, describes the problem and the occasion for the prayer.  The second, verse 5, is a direct response from the Lord.  The last, verses 6-8, describe the confidence which David experiences as a result of this revelation.

[To the choirmaster.]  According to [the eighth].  A Psalm of David.

Regarding the expression, “to the choirmaster,” see the study on Psalm 4.  “The eighth,” or the Sheminith, is also an uncertain term.  It could be a tune name, but the specific number may suggest a musical direction, such as an octave.  It occurs here and in Psalm 6.

Save, LORD, for the godly one has come to an end.  For the trustworthy one has diminished from the sons of Adam/men.

They speak worthless things, a man to his fellow.  A lip of smoothness, with heart and heart they speak.

May the LORD cut off all lips of smoothness, a tongue speaking boastful things,

those who say, “According to our tongue, we are strong.  Our lips [are] ours.  Who is lord to us?”

The issue facing David, and all Christians in every time, is that hypocrisy seems to prevail.  The godly seem to be few in number, while those who claim to be Christians despite not living like one grow in number.  One can carry this spirit too far, of course.  Elijah imagined himself to be utterly alone, yet God preserved 7000 in Israel (1 Kings 19).  The word translated “diminished” occurs only here in the Old Testament, but the Greek Old Testament renders it with a word meaning “to lessen.”  The godly, despite Elijah’s despair and perhaps ours, may be hidden, but they are still there.

However, hypocrisy is still a real problem.  A hypocrite speaks “worthless things,” things which are inherently empty, because they are only external.  Like painted tombs, they are outwardly beautiful, but they hide the inward reality (Matthew 23:27).  Their lips are smooth, because they attempt to smooth away all difficulties and present their lies as truth.  They also have two hearts, because they have a double reality.  They are double-minded, unstable in all their ways (James 1:8).  They have two different sets of weights, one accurate, the other not (Deuteronomy 25:13-14).  The Old Testament even describes faithful soldiers as not having a heart and a heart in 1 Chronicles 12:33, because to have a single heart is to be simple, straightforward, honest.  There is no deception when one presents the truth of their soul.

Hypocrites speak “boastful things,” or literally “great things,” because they claim far more power for themselves than they really have.  Their forked tongue is their power, for they use it to tear down the godly, whether directly or through deception.  They imagine that they have no lord, because they have deceived themselves.

For the oppression of the afflicted, for the sighing of the poor, I will get up, says the LORD.  I will put him in the salvation/safety he [sighs] for.

David is not giving himself a false hope here.  David hears the voice of the Lord in answer to his prayer.  The psalmist has become the prophet.  Asaph, another common writer of psalms, is referred to as a “seer” in 2 Chronicles 29:30, which 1 Samuel 9:9 clarifies as being an ancient word for prophet.  1 Chronicles 25:2 also says that Asaph and his sons prophesied under the direction of the king.  The psalms are not merely religious poetry.  They are the living Word of God, the voice of God speaking through His prophets to His people then and now.

That word He brings is a word of comfort.  He has seen the hypocrisy of the wicked and how they have oppressed the godly.  When Israel put away their double-minded ways, the Lord became impatient over the misery of Israel (Judges 10:16).  So it is also now.  God hears our groaning and remembers his promises (Exodus 2:23-25).  He will give us the salvation we long for.  The name Jesus, which means God saves (Matthew 1:21), is related to this, and for good reason.  Our Lord Jesus Christ is our salvation and our safety in every distress and trouble.  God’s salvation is not a generic one, but is to be found in His Son.

The word translated as “sighs” here is the same word as “snorts” in Psalm 10.  Yet this is not a sigh of contempt, but of longing.  The word itself at its root involves breath in one form or another.  Whereas the wicked huff at God, the righteous sigh for Him.  The one breaths in contempt, the other breathes in longing.

The words of the LORD [are] pure words, silver refined in a [crucible] in/on the ground, purified seven times.

You, LORD, will keep them.  You will protect him from this generation forever.

Round about, the wicked walk back and forth.  For [vileness] is exalted among the sons of Adam/man.

Having heard the Word of the Lord in answer to his prayer, David is now confident.  This confidence is not a false bravado, putting on the same painted face as the hypocrites.  Rather, this is the answer to his initial question.  When the world seems full of wickedness and hypocrisy, it is not to be trusted.  The Lord alone speaks words which are absolutely trustworthy in every time.  Friend or foe, man may lie, but God will never lie.

God’s Word is compared to refined silver.  The word translated as “crucible” occurs only here, but it seems clear enough from the context that a smelter of some kind is in mind.  Solomon ordered the casting of the bronze utensils of the temple near the Jordan River using the clay there (1 Kings 7:46).  In those days, and even in some parts of the world today, a furnace may be built of clay and fired even for casting metals.  It is possible that this crucible could be in the ground, but the point is the same.  The silver is melted, the slag is removed, and the process begins again.  A seven-fold purification would remove, even in the imprecise methods of ancient days, virtually all of the impurities.  God’s Word is like pure silver, which we still value above many things today.  How much more then the words of the living God?

God also will protect His saints from the assaults of the wicked.  The wicked walk back and forth, like an animal stalking prey.  “Vileness,” another unique word, is exalted.  The world loves its own, even the hypocrite.  Yet the righteous has no reason to be afraid.  The psalm is not ending on a dark note.  Frequently in the Bible, the main thought of a passage comes in the middle.  If you compare the last verse with the first of this psalm, you can see a similar idea at play.  The middle, and therefore the main point, is the prophecy of the Lord in verse 5.  God will arise and defend His Church, and both foe and traitor will receive the due reward of the evil when He comes to judge the earth.

The Fire of the Cross Refines (Psalm 11)

What should we do when evil threatens?  Should we flee from it, seeking refuge somewhere else?  Should we stay and face it head on?  What would the Lord have us do in that moment?  These are the questions David wrestles with in this psalm.  The psalm is divided into two main sections.  Verses 1-3 present the main question, and verses 4-7 answer it.

[To the choirmaster.]  Of David.  In the LORD I take refuge.  How can you say to my soul, Flee [to] your mountain [like] a bird?

For behold, the wicked bend the bow.  They notch their arrow on the string to shoot in darkness at the upright in heart.

If the foundations are destroyed, the righteous, what can he do?

The psalm opens with a conversation.  David, as happened frequently in his conflicts with Saul, is in danger.  Saul threatened to kill him over and over, so the question in David’s mind is what he should do when threatened with death.  This conversation has three possibilities.  First, David may be talking to himself, carrying on an internal monologue about his next course of action.  Second, some friends of David may be offering him advice, telling him to flee from Saul and seek refuge somewhere else.  Third, some enemies of David may be taunting him, and verse 2-3 would be David’s response to them.  Any of these options are valid, but I prefer the second and will continue in that vein.

David certainly used the mountains as a refuge from time to time (1 Samuel 23:24-29, for example).  This was not new advice or an unprecedented course of action.  Yet David on this occasion rejects this advice.  The question at hand is not whether fleeing from danger is acceptable.  The question is where one puts his trust.  Are you trusting in the mountains to save you, like the wicked foolishly do on the day of judgment (Revelation 6:15-17)?  Or is your trust in the Lord, who made heaven and earth?  David’s friends seem to be trusting in the hills rather than in God, so David reproves them.

To flee like a bird is to attempt to get away from a larger predator, like a smaller bird flying away from a larger.  The word translated “flee” can also be render as “flutter” or even “wander,” since it is the same word used to describe the punishment of Cain in Genesis 4.  Cain would “wander” because he feared being pursued, just as David’s friends  now fear.

The wicked seek to destroy David.  Here, the imagery of an archer provides a colorful illustration.  They bend the bow (literally “step on the bow,” since stringing a ancient recurve bow, like many today, involves using your legs to bend it), nock an arrow, and shoot at the upright.  This could either be “in darkness,” which would mean while being hidden, or it could even be “into darkness,” meaning that there is no place for the righteous to hide.

But this danger is not merely a personal one.  “Foundations” is a rare word, but it may be related as an idea to Ezekiel 30:4.  The foundations of the whole society are at risk, David’s friends say.  If David is dead, what will happen to Israel?  In such a case, what can the righteous do? 

The LORD [is] in his holy temple.  The LORD, in the heavens his throne.  His eyes behold, his eyelids test the sons of Adam/man.

The LORD tests the righteous, and the wicked and the lover of violence his soul hates.

Let him rain upon the wicked charcoals.  Fire and brimstone and a whirlwind the portion of their cup.

For the LORD [is] righteous.  Righteousness he loves.  The upright behold his face.

David answers their fears with a clear profession.  He will not flee to the mountains this time, because his salvation does not come from them.  He will not run away from danger, because the Lord reigns as king over all things.  God is in His holy temple (Habakkuk 2:20; Micah 1:2).  This is likely in two ways: in heaven as the King of all creation and in His Church as the faithful God, who keeps His promises forever.

 The word translated as “test” is instructive for understanding the second half of this psalm.  It is used to describe testing metals, like a goldsmith who would test the purity of the gold before him.  Such a test invariably involves fire, since the only way to prove metallic purity in those days is by melting it, a process called cupellation.  The Lord tests men to prove their worth (Job 23:10).

Such a test will only refine the righteous, since it is in the fire of adversity that the Lord chastises his children.  “He will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver, and they will bring offerings in righteousness to the Lord” (Malachi 3:3).  The discipline of the Lord shows our status as sons, for were we not disciplined by our earthly fathers for our good (Hebrews 12:3-11)?  David’s present distress is therefore not a cause for alarm, but a recognition that we must bear the crosses laid upon us.  To run away from the cross is cowardly.  To take it up, even at the cost of our life, is the way of Christ.  Just as He was glorified, so we too will be glorified with Him in His suffering.

Fire, however, is also destructive.  The fire of the Lord’s judgment will rain down upon the wicked (Amos 1-2).  Sodom and Gomorrah and the other cities of the valley were destroyed in a rain of fire (Genesis 19:23-29).  The “whirlwind” is a hot wind, a destructive wind like the storm which destroyed the ship carrying Paul (Acts 27:14).  The wicked will receive the full measure of their sins on the day when the Lord sends fire in judgment.  The “cup” is the cup of their judgment which they will have to drain down to the dregs (Psalm 75:8).

However, the Lord will not destroy the righteous, because He loves righteousness.  Those who walk in His ways shall see His face (1 John 3:2; Revelation 22:4).  Therefore, let us not put our trust in the things of the world.  Whether it is time to flee from danger or whether it is time to bear the cross, put your trust in the Lord.  He will sustain you.  He will never let the righteous fall (Psalm 55:22).