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Let My People Go

Our Lord stretches out His hand to strike Egypt with His wonders. Come with us as we study Moses, Pharaoh, and God’s deliverance of His people from Egypt.  Learn about Egyptian religion in conflict with the one true faith. Hear of the historic miracles and signs the Lord God performs. We discuss why the Passover happened, why it matters, and how it is fulfilled.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide

Episode: 57

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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.

The Libertines Will Fall (Psalm 10)

One of the most difficult problems which any believer must face is the problem of evil, and specifically of evil men.  Functional atheism, to live as if there was no God, is not limited to those who are professed atheists.  What can a Christian do when evil men pursue the righteous?  How should a Christian respond to those who live without restraint?

As mentioned in the previous study, Psalms 9 and 10 may have been originally one psalm.  However, they each have their own tone which makes it appropriate to separate them.  Whereas Psalm 9 mostly praises God and gives thanks for His mighty works in the face of evil, Psalm 10 is more of a cry of the oppressed for deliverance.  Additionally, the acrostic pattern (see the previous study) is still present and begins more or less where Psalm 9 left off, but it is harder to see in this psalm.  Therefore, it is probably best to treat them as two separate psalms, perhaps composed at the same time.

Why, LORD, do you stand far off?  Why do you close [your eyes] in times of distress?

In arrogance, the wicked burn after the poor.  Let them be seized in the plots which they have devised.

David opens this psalm with a clear cry of distress to the Lord.  There are certainly times in any believer’s life when God seems to be distant.  This is, of course, only an expression.  If God were truly far off, David would not pray.  That he prays to the Lord in his distress is a sign of faith, because he knows that God will answer.  Yet God seems to have shut His eyes to trouble.  Why is this happening to me?

The word translated here as “burn” can also mean to pursue, but it carries with it the idea of a fire.  Like a wildfire burning across the land, the fire of the wicked pursues the godly.  Nebuchadnezzar attempts to burn the three young men in the exceptionally hot furnace (Daniel 3).  One can also think of the many martyrs burned in more recent centuries at the stake as another example of this.  Yet David calls on God to turn their evil back on their heads.  Give me justice, O Lord!

For the wicked praises on account of the desires of his soul, and blesses the robber, spurns the LORD.

The wicked according to the height of his nose does not seek [him].  “There is no God” [are] all his schemes.

Here the acrostic pattern breaks down until verse 12, but I will treat these verses mostly in pairs as I have been doing.  David begins a lengthy description of the wicked man until that point.  The evil man feels no shame for his actions.  He even boasts in his wickedness as if it was good!  More than this, he also gives his approval to those who also reject the Lord (Psalm 50:18; Romans 1:32).

The colorful expression “according to the height of his nose” is an indicator of pride, since we too speak of someone turning up their nose at someone else.  In Hebrew, the nose is also frequently used for anger, since an angry man tends to huff through his nose.  But here it is a sign of pride, since he lives as if there is no God.  In his mind, God will not call him to account for his wickedness, either because he imagines that it is godly, that God will not judge, or that God does not exist.  Whatever his thoughts, the outcome is the same.

His ways prosper in every time.  Your judgments are on the height from before him [i.e. not in front of him].  All his enemies, he snorts at them.

He says in his heart, I will not be staggered.  From generation to generation [I will] not [be] in evil.

The greatest difficulty for the believer, and an idea that is encountered frequently in the psalms, is the apparently prosperity of the wicked.  Why do those who hate God seem to prosper when the righteous suffer?  Why does the thief become a millionaire when the godly man can barely make ends meet?  David will address this question later in the psalm.

As before, the evil man imagines that God’s judgments are either nonexistent or far off.  They are on the height, out of his sight.  He “snorts” at his enemies, because it is a sign of contempt.  One can imagine huffing contemptuously at something or someone we don’t like.  In Malachi 1:13, the priests snort in a similar fashion at the sacrifices God had ordained for them.  The contempt arises from an imagined security.  Things seem secure for him, so there is no reason to fear.  “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry” (Luke 12:19).

With a curse his mouth is filled and tricks and oppression.  Under his tongue trouble and disaster.

He sits in ambush in the settlements.  In secret places he kills the blameless.  His eyes lie in wait for the [helpless].

It would be one thing for a wicked man to live as if there was no God.  Yet, just as Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the sons of the flesh do the same to the sons of the promise (Galatians 4:29).  This should not surprise us; if they hated Christ, they will also hate us (John 15:18).  This is still, however, a difficult cross to bear.  The evil which comes forth from the mouth of the wicked bubbles out of his heart (Matthew 15:18-19).  These things are “under his tongue” because he delights in them, like a delightful food which we keep in our mouth to enjoy it longer.

He hides in secret places to assault the righteous.  He is not in the wilderness, where it is unlikely he will meet anyone.  Rather, he sits in secret near the towns where he can ply his evil trade, like a robber hiding in an alley.  His eyes are “hidden” either because he cannot be seen, or because he is squinting, like someone aiming to throw who squints in order to see better.  The word translated “helpless” occurs twice in the Old Testament and only in this psalm, and it is a little uncertain what it exactly means, but this seems the most likely from the context.

He lies in ambush in secret places like a lion in his thicket.  He lies in ambush to snatch the poor.  He snatches the poor in his drawing in his net.

And he crouches, is bowed down, and the host of the weak ones falls into his claws/mighty ones.

He says in his heart, God has forgotten.  He has hidden his face.  He will never see it.

These three verses compare the wicked man to a lion on the prowl.  Like a lion hiding in the grass, crouching down in the way that cats do when they are prepared to pounce, so the evil man seeks after the righteous.  The word translated as “claws” is more literally “the mighty ones,” like a band of warriors or an army.  Here, in the imagery of a lion, they refer to the “band” of his “mighty ones,” that is, his claws.  David then closes this description of a wicked man with a repetition of the main problem: his functional atheism.  God, he thinks, will never see what he is doing.

Arise, LORD.  God, lift up your hand.  Do not forget the poor ones.

Why does the wicked spurn God?  He says in his heart, He will not seek.

You see, for you look upon trouble and grief to put it in your hand.  With you the [helpless] leaves himself.  [To] the fatherless you have been a helper.

These three verses form two parts of the acrostic pattern, since verse 14 is one part all by itself.  They deal with more or less the same plea.  The wicked pursue the righteous, so now it is time for the Lord to act.  Do not forget, O Lord, your righteous saints who suffer in this life!  Even the martyrs cry out for the Lord to remember His people in their trouble (Revelation 6:9-11).  However, the righteous would not cry to God if they did not think that He could do anything.  He takes our troubles into His hand, because He will act and be our helper in distress.

Break the arm of the wicked and evil one.  Seek his offense/injustice [until] you do not find.

The LORD is king forever and ever.  The nations perish from his land.

As with every imprecatory psalm, the call to destroy the wicked or bring their plans to nothing is not self-serving.  Vengeance belongs to God and God alone.  Rather, the call for justice is a plea of the righteous to a king who will bring it.  Unlike every earthly king, who will eventually die like any other man, the Lord reigns as king forever.  His justice is also eternal as a result.  It is not a paltry justice, shot through with uncertainty and coming to an end.  It is a firm justice and a sign of God’s steadfast love for His people.  Their troubles will end and they will know the justice of the Lord in that day when He acts.

The desire of the poor you hear, LORD.  You will make their heart firm.  Your ear will listen attentively

to judge the fatherless and oppressed.  The mortal man from the earth will not add again to trembling [i.e. will no longer cause fear].

This, then, is the answer to the original problem.  The libertine and the wicked should not alarm us.  Functional atheism will meet its end when God judges the earth.  On that day, they will know that there is a God who judges (Psalm 58:11).  The righteous need not fear, because the Lord promises to hear them when they pray to Him (John 14:13-14).  Even if we suffer now, that suffering will come to an end.  The Lord will deliver His people and give them justice.

The Lord Will Triumph (Psalm 9)

How can a Christian find comfort in times of trouble? When the world seeks to marginalize those who belong to Jesus, where can the Christian turn? Psalm 9 answers these questions in no uncertain terms: The Lord who has delivered His people endures forever.

The Psalm itself presents a couple of unique characteristics. First, though it is impossible to see this in translation, Psalm 9 is the first of a handful of Psalms which has an acrostic structure. Acrostic poems start each line by following a pattern, sometimes spelling out words. In the Psalms, this is always the alphabet, beginning with the first letter down to the last letter. In this case, Psalm 9 begins every other verse with the next letter of the alphabet (though it sometimes misses a letter or two). This is important, because it forms the basic structure of the thought patterns in the Psalm as well.

The other unique thing about this Psalm is that it may have originally been connected with Psalm 10 in one. In Hebrew, they are two separate psalms, and I will treat them as two, but there are good reasons for considering them as one. First, the acrostic pattern continues into Psalm 10. Second, the use of Selah at the end of Psalm 9 is highly unusual, since that word appears everywhere else somewhere in the middle of a psalm. Third, Psalm 10 has no title, which is unusual in the first book of the Psalms, which range from Psalm 1 to Psalm 41. Indeed, the Septuagint, the Greek Old Testament, combines them into one, which explains why the numbering for many Psalms in Greek is different (and also for Roman Catholic Bibles based on the Latin Vulgate, which does the same thing).

To the choirmaster. According to Muth Labben. A Psalm of David.

“Muth Labben” can be rendered as “Death of a Son,” which has led some to speculate that it could refer to an event. However, it is most likely the name of a song.

I will praise the LORD with all my heart. I will make known all your miracles.

I will rejoice and I will exult in you. I will praise your name, Most High.

The main concern of the psalm is presented at the very end. Before David brings that petition, however, he begins with declaring why he can bring it at all. Even though the nations seem to threaten Israel, the Lord has proven Himself to be faithful in the past. While it is impossible for us to remember all the mercies of God, since they are infinite (Job 5:8-9), recalling as many as possible will lead to joy (Lamentations 3:22-24).

In the turning back of my enemies, they will stumble and they will be destroyed before your face.

For you have established my judgment and my claim. You sat down on the throne, judging righteousness.

Remembering the mercies of the Lord in general means remembering them in particular. In the past, the Lord destroyed the enemies of Israel. This is a cause for rejoicing, because it teaches us that God has not forgotten us (Isaiah 49:14-18), that God will bring justice (Luke 18:7), and that our righteousness is not in vain (Psalm 58:10-11). It is indeed good news, because the reign of Christ will be over His enemies, who will be crushed under His feet (1 Corinthians 15:24-26). If death, for example, is not destroyed, where is our victory?

You rebuked the nations. You destroyed the wicked. Their name you wiped out forever and ever.

The enemy came to an end in enduring ruins. The cities you pulled up. The memory of them has perished.

The name and the memory of the wicked has perished and will perish in the earth. This may seem odd to us, because we may assume that mentioning their name even in writing perpetuates their memory. Do we not have the ruins of those ancient civilizations and on occasion some of their writings? Yet their name has perished from the earth, because their generations no longer continue. If a man died in Israel, his brother was to take his wife, so “that his name may not be blotted out of Israel” (Deuteronomy 25:6). Ruined cities and archaeological scraps do not perpetuate a name. There are no longer any children to bear their name. The wicked will come to an end, because their generations will cease when the Lord judges the earth, but the righteous will go on forever.

And the LORD sits forever. He has firmly established His throne for judgment.

And He will judge the world in righteousness. He will judge the peoples in uprightness.

While the wicked perish and the world knows them no more, the Lord sits enthroned as king forever. Heaven and earth will pass away, but the word of the Lord will never pass away (Matthew 24:35). From everlasting to everlasting, He is God (Psalm 90:2). God’s enemies will be defeated. God will judge the world and bring justice to His elect.

And the LORD is a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge for times of distress.

And the knowers of your name trust in you, for you do not abandon your seekers, LORD.

Having declared that the wicked will perish and that God will remain, David makes a natural application to his situation. Those who trust in the Lord will find a sure refuge in Him. In the midst of all of life’s troubles, especially when the enemies of God seem to be ready to destroy us, God will not leave us or forsake us. The name of Jesus is our salvation (Acts 4:12). The works of God in the past teach us that He will not abandon us, even when it meant delivering his faithless people only for the sake of His good name (Isaiah 48:9-11; Ezekiel 20).

Sing to the LORD who dwells in Zion. Make known among the peoples his deeds.

For he who seeks bloods remembers them. He does not forget the cry of the wretched ones.

The Lord declared to Noah that He would seek vengeance for the shedding of blood (Genesis 9:5-6). “Vengeance is mine, and recompense” declares the Lord (Deuteronomy 32:35). Those who are oppressed by evil in this life will find a certain deliverance in the Lord, whether that comes now or in the life to come. It will come to an end.

Show favor, LORD. Look on our affliction from those who hate us, our lifter from the gates of death.

So that I may recount all your praises/praiseworthy deeds. In the gates of the house of Zion I rejoice in your salvation.

Having laid the groundwork for his petition, David now calls on God to look upon his situation. God has delivered from evil in the past, so therefore God will also deliver from evil in the future. Like so many of the psalms, David promises to give thanks to God as a result. God’s action leads to man’s reaction, so to speak, when the elect will tell others about what God has done. To be in the “gates of the house of Zion” is to be in God’s house, declaring to the congregation all the mighty works of God. Thus, while praising God is important for our own faith, it is equally important for building up the faith of others. This is not merely a personal favor or an individual deliverance that David has in mind.

The nations have sunk in the pit they made. In the net which they hid their foot has been caught.

The LORD makes himself known. He has made judgment. In the work of his hand the wicked is trapped. Higgaion. Selah.

The Lord rules over all things and shows His power by using the very evil planned against His people for the destruction of the wicked. Haman was hung on the gallows built for Mordecai (Esther 7:10). The dogs licked up the blood of Ahab in the place where Naboth had been slain (1 Kings 21:19). The wicked lay their own trap, and the Lord brings justice to His people in that way. Higgaion is an uncertain term, but it is related to the word translated “meditate” in other places. This is the muttering or reading in a low voice that Psalm 1 connects to a godly man, and the muttering or plotting in Psalm 2 of the wicked. I am of the opinion that its use here, connected with Selah, is a call for us to especially meditate on these two lines. “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me” (Psalm 118:6)?

The wicked will return to Sheol, all the nations who forget God.

For not forever shall the needy be forgotten. The hope of the afflicted shall not perish forever.

Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning (Psalm 30:5). The wicked will come to an end, and their name will perish from the earth. The afflicted saints of the Lord may suffer for a time, but they will persist in the Lord. Even if evil seems overwhelming, it will crumble into nothing.

Get up, LORD. Do not let man defy/be strong. Let the nations be judged before your face.

Set fear on them, LORD. Let the nations know they are men. Selah.

This psalm closes with another call to God. Do not let the nations imagine themselves to be strong, when in fact they are mortal. The word for “man” in these two verses carries the extra suggestion of mortality. They are but “mortal men.” Though they imagine themselves to be strong, they will perish. “Man in his pomp yet without understanding is like the beasts that perish” (Psalm 49:20). The word translated here as “fear” is unique and a little uncertain. Most translators translate it as “fear,” which would then mean something like “bring them to realize their weakness, Lord, for they are but men.” The Septuagint, however, rendered this word as “law-giver.” The Vulgate, Luther in his German Bible, and even some English translations, also translated it this way. The sense in that case would be something like “teach them to fear you, Lord, so that they recognize their weakness.” I think “fear” is the most likely, since it fits well with the rest of the psalm. God certainly sets fear and dread upon the enemies of Israel, because He fights for His people (Deuteronomy 2:25).

Christians certainly have no fewer enemies than Israel did. Jesus reminds us that if they hate us, they hated Him first (John 15:18). This psalm is a wonderful prayer in the midst of that turmoil, because it reminds us to remember all the mercies of God. If God has preserved you until now in so many ways, He will not forget you in the new day of trouble. Let the enemies of the world rage against us. God remains our fortress forever.