Posts

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.

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.

Loehe on Preparation for the Holy Office

What makes a good pastor? For Wilhelm Loehe, the beginning was all. You’ll hear discussions about classical education, the focus of parish life, and the need for humility in this first episode in our series on Loehe’s “The Pastor.”

You can purchase a copy of “The Pastor” here.

You can also purchase a copy of “Seed Grains of Prayer,” another translated work of Loehe mentioned in the podcast, here.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. Adam Koontz
Episode: 47

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic.
Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
Send us a message: [email protected]
Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

Thanksgiving Day: 1 Timothy 2:1-4

After initial greetings to Timothy, warnings against false teachers, a summary of the Gospel, and admonitions to remain faithful, Paul writes “first of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people…” (1 Tim. 2:1).  These directions are not for Timothy alone, but for the congregations and ministers under his care (1 Tim. 3:14; 1 Tim. 4:13).  Paul desires these sorts of prayers “in every place” (1 Tim. 2:8).

“Supplications” and “prayer” are paired together throughout the New Testament (Eph. 6:18; Phil 4:6; 1 Tim. 5:5; Heb. 5:7).  They are the most general terms for addressing God.  In Ephesians 6:18 and Philippians 4:6, prayer and supplication are tied to the idea that we ought not to be anxious.  Our Heavenly Father promises to hear our prayers and give us what we need (Matt. 7:7-11).  Worry accomplishes nothing (Matt. 6:25-34).

“Intercessions” are prayers to God on behalf of others.  Our Lord Jesus intercedes for us before the Father (Rom. 8:37; Heb. 7:25).  As priests, all Christians are to follow Christ in praying for “all men” with all manner of prayers (1 Peter 2:5-9).

It is only proper that in addition to requesting things from God, we also return thanks to him for his blessings.

These various prayers are to be made for “kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceable and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim. 2:2).  The ruler is “God’s servant for your good” who “carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.” (Rom. 13:4).  Our God is a God of law and order.  He puts food on our table through a variety of means, not the least of which is through the rule of law and a well ordered society.  Rulers—even bad rulers, even rulers we might not like—do the Lord’s work and bring us great blessings.

Secular power, the use of force, and worldly laws are servants to peace. But peace is not an end in itself.  A peaceful and quiet life is not to be squandered on indulgence.  Rather, the pilgrimage of the Christian this side of heaven is to be “godly and dignified in every way.” (1 Tim. 2:3).  The freedom of the Christian is not the illusory “freedom” of the anarchist or the libertine.  Rather, the Christian is liberated from the dead-end of selfish indulgence in order to pursue that which is pure, lovely, commendable, excellent, and worthy of praise (Phil. 4:8).  We who believe in God are to “devote ourselves to good works” which are “profitable for people.” (Titus 3:8).

Peace and good order on this earth serve yet an even greater purpose—and eternal purpose.  Through worldly rulers, God maintain peace so that we may lead a quiet life—so that we can hear the Gospel.  “This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” (1 Tim 2:3).  Just as women are to “learn quietly with all submissiveness” (1 Tim. 2:11) so the church, the Bride of Christ, humbly submits to Jesus, listening to his teaching at his feet.

On Thanksgiving Day, we remember God’s blessings, which are too many to count.  Let us strive to be content with—and even more, thankful for—our allotment in life, for “godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into the world, and we cannot take anything out of the world.  But if we have food and clothing, with these we will be content.” (1 Tim. 6:6-7).  We should continue in various types of prayer to Our Father in Heaven.  Most especially, we should remember our Mediator, “who gave himself as a ransom for all” (I Tim. 2:6), and let our gratitude overflow in thanksgiving for God’s grace.

The Practice of Prayer


Just as breathing is necessary for life, prayer is essential to a living and active faith. How do the logistics of prayer— time, posture, and words—aid or detract from a prayer life? What is presumed when we pray? How can a pastor especially pray for his congregation? Join us as we discuss piety and its cultivation in the habit of prayer.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 31

Join our Facebook group Word Fitly Posting to discuss this episode or any other topic.
Follow us on Twitter: @wordfitly
Send us a message: [email protected]
Subscribe to the podcast: RSS Feed, iTunes, Spotify, or your favorite podcasting app.

God Our Treasure Hears Us (Psalm 4)

David, harassed by enemies around him, sets aside the warlike imagery of the previous psalm.  In Psalm 4, the distress of the godly flies away, because the Lord hears the prayers of His people.  God is not far from His own.

For the first time, David seems to give specific instructions regarding the psalm’s use.  The word often translated “choirmaster” can also mean “to supervise” or “inspect,” as it does in Ezra 3:8-9, 2 Chronicles 2:2, and 2 Chronicles 34:12.  It is used in 1 Chronicles 15:21 in connection with the temple music.  Therefore, the common understanding is a musical supervisor, i.e. a director.  However, this is not certain, and the ancient translations of the Septuagint and the Vulgate rendered it as “to the end,” though probably by taking it as a different word altogether.  Regardless, the inscription is clearly meant to give some sort of direction, especially since it is coupled with “stringed instruments.”

“Answer me in my calling, God of my righteousness.  In my narrowness you have made me wide.  Show favor to me and listen to my prayer.”  David thus begins the psalm by crying out to God in the midst of trouble.  It is not a cry of despair, because the godly man who cries out entrusts himself to God.   The silent man regards God as not being able or willing to help, and therefore his nonexistent prayers show the state of his heart.  Even a prayer of anger still recognizes that all things come from God.  David recognizes this.  God has taken him out of a tight spot and widened him, gave him room of relief.

“Sons of men, how long [will] my glory [be turned] to an insult?  Will you love vanity?  Will you seek falsehood?  Know that the Lord treats the godly specially for Himself.  The Lord hears in my calling to him.”  David’s persecutors seem to mock his godliness.  As they will go on to say later in the psalm, they insult the goodness of the Lord, and consequently also call into question the glory or honor of David.   Against these lies, David rebukes his accusers for their pursuit of vanity and falsehood.  God has in fact answered David’s prayers.  He has an unmistakable proof before him, not in subjective emotions, but a concrete example.  Such an example shows these lies for what they are, and thus persisting in them is folly.

“Tremble and do not sin.  Speak in your hearts on your beds and be silent.  Sacrifice a sacrifice of righteousness and trust in the Lord.”  David continues his speech to his detractors by calling them to repentance.  A living fear of the Lord would cause us to tremble before Him, for no one living is righteous in His sight!  Like the tax collector who humbled himself and called upon God in a way only audible to himself (Luke 18:13), repentance does not seek attention.  Where else would one be more alone than in one’s bed in the dark watches of the night (Matthew 6:6)?  Then one will offer a righteous sacrifice, the sacrifice of a broken spirit (Psalm 51:17).

“Many who say, ‘Who will show us some good?  Lift up over us the light of your face, Lord.’”  However, it seems that David’s rebuke has not been taken to heart.  His detractors continue to mock him and God alike.  The sense of the verse is likely negative.  Show us your face, Lord!  Then we will believe in you.  Then we will turn to you.  But not until then.  “He saved others; he cannot save himself.  He is the King of Israel; let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him” (Matthew 27:42).

“You give [more] joy in my heart than when their grain and their must increase.  In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for You alone, Lord, cause me to lie down in safety.”  Yet it ultimately does not matter.  Even if the riches of the wicked increase, the godly have a still greater treasure.  The coming of the harvest is an occasion for joy, certainly.  The labor of a year has come to its fruition.  Must, the juice of unfermented wine, contains the promises of still greater joys to come.  Yet all of these are nothing in comparison to the peace which surpasses understanding.  David’s detractors will not find peace when they go to rest.  The anxiety and cares of this world often take their peace from them, for these things which they have, whose will they be (Luke 12:20)?  “It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil, for He gives to His beloved sleep” (Psalm 127:2).

Christians can pray this Psalm confidently, knowing that the Lord hears and answers prayer.  Even when others mock them and utter all kinds of evils against them, the Lord shows forth His favor in His own Son.  Christ is proof that the Lord answers the prayers of His people.  Answer evil with good.  “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).  Even if those detractors still pursue vanity, the Lord remains the certain and sure reward of His people.

Muttering in the Word (Psalm 1)

The Psalms are the prayerbook of the Church, meant to instruct, comfort, and build up in every situation.  Stretching from the days of David until Israel’s exile, they glorify and praise God, the heavenly King.  The first Psalm forms a fitting header, not only for the first book of the Psalms (1-42), but also for the Psalter as a whole.  It has no inscription, but its position in the whole book suggests that it may have been written close to the time when the Psalter as we have it was put together.  Since I personally think that this happened near the days of Ezra and Nehemiah, Psalm 1 fits with Ezra’s emphasis on the renewal of the Law (Ezra 7, for example).

Psalm 1 opens with a common division found in the books of wisdom: the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness (Proverbs, written largely by Solomon, frequently calls these ways wisdom and foolishness, as in Proverbs 1:7).  Thus, the psalm reflects on the differences between these two ways, comparing one against the other in a way that leaves no middle ground.  One is either in the way of the righteous or in the way of sinners.

The righteous man does not go in the way of wickedness, described first by the psalm writer in a series of verbs:  “walk,” “stand,” and “sit.”  To “walk in the counsel” of the wicked suggests listening to their foolish words and to base one’s actions around them.  It may also have the sense of beginning to listen to their words, since the movement of these three verbs slows to a stop.  “Standing in the way of sinners” would therefore mean leaving the way of righteousness, followed closely by “sitting in the seat of scoffers,” implying that the transition is complete.  Instead of passing by, this man has taken a seat among the chatterers, the scoffers and mockers, and is now fully within their assembly.

But this is what the righteous man does not do!  He is happy or blessed (related to the name Asher in Genesis 30:12-13), because his delight, his treasure is in the Law of the Lord.  Torah, which is often translated as Law, is not an imposing structure hanging over us, the way the idea of law is frequently presented.  Rather, it is closely related to a word either translated as “to throw or to shoot” (1 Samuel 20:36, for example).  Like an arrow, then, the Law has a direction or trajectory.  It is a description of the way of righteousness as a whole.  Delighting in the Law, then, is not rejoicing about a set of rules, but a joy in the way which leads to life rather than death.  The commandments of the Law are part of this way, studied by all who delight in them.

This study of the Law shows itself in meditation, or rather, reading aloud.  The verb translated here as “meditates” in many translations means something like muttering, the kind of voice someone uses when they read aloud to themselves.  Since the same word is translated as “to plot” in Psalm 2:1, it also has the idea of quiet talking, the way the conspirators there would mutter and talk among themselves.  For the righteous man, however, this muttering day and night reflects a constant reading aloud of the words of the living God.  He is not thinking about them in an abstract way, but has the very words of God on his lips constantly.  To meditate on the Law means to be in the Scriptures.

When he is in the Scriptures like this, he is like a tree planted by streams or canals of water.  The tree thrives and prospers, not because it is a tree, but because it is by the water.  Being away from this water means withering and drying up.  He also bears fruit at the proper time, suggesting growth and maturity.  His fruit, his good works, created and sustained by the Word, come according to the will and the timing of God (Ephesians 2:10).

His success is a direct contrast to the image of the wicked rather than a worldly success.  The wicked man is like chaff, separated from the wheat and fit only to be burned or blown away.  It is impermanent and quickly forgotten.  Even if the wicked seems to prosper in this life, his end will come to nothing.  The one rooted in the waters of Scripture, however, endures, because the Word of the Lord endures forever.

The psalmist closes with an important warning.  Those who walk the way of wickedness will perish, because the judgment of the Lord is coming which will sweep them away.  They will not be able to endure the day of His coming and will be separated from the congregation.  Woe to those who scoff at the way of the Lord!  Yet the righteous find comfort, because the Lord knows them.  They are in His hand, and no one can take them out of it (John 10:28-29).

Psalm 1, therefore, is a fitting prayer for a Christian for two reasons.  It emphasizes, on the one hand, the delight of remaining in Christ and His Word.  Jesus endures as the one who gives us living waters.  Whoever hears the Word of God and keeps it will never see death!  It also emphasizes, on the other hand, the importance of guarding against evil and the way of death.  “Set a guard, O Lord, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies” (Psalm 141:3-4)! Thus, the Lord sets us in the way of life, and the Lord brings us to Himself, strengthening us through His holy Word.

Psalm 2, “Why do the nations rage?”

Psalm 2 is clearly a royal psalm. The prideful plotting of men, who seek their own kingdom and rule, is a pathetic joke to the Lord. He laughs at the machinations of the sinful heart that suppose that they can be free from Him. Over against such vanity, the Lord proclaims his kingdom, which is unshakable, boundless, and eternal.

The foundation for this psalm is the Lord’s covenant with David and his offspring as recorded in 2 Samuel 7:1-17. A quick review of this foundational passage helps to see the organic development of Biblical revelation. What is promised in 2 Samuel is now proclaimed in the psalm. The majority of the psalm gives attention to the promise about rest from enemies (2 Samuel 7:10-11). While 2 Samuel 7 focuses on the Messianic king, Psalm 2 draws out the implications for all people. The call to submit to this king, to serve him with fear and rejoice with trembling is the appropriate response to the great promises about David’s son. His authority is to be recognized by all. This authority and victory all stems from the father-son relation between the Lord and his anointed one. It is this promise from 2 Samuel, adumbrated in the psalm that shows the ultimate identity of the King and why the Lord back his kingdom against all others.

Noting all of this, the question arises as to how such a psalm could have been prayed before the resurrection of Jesus. It’d be one thing if the Old Testament saints could’ve pointed to Zion and said, “Look there, the Lord’s anointed one sits on the throne, who could possibly oppose him? His power is obvious, let us serve him with fear and rejoice with trembling.” The reality was that if one did look to Zion they would not see a powerful king, but a weak, usually unfaithful son of David. The psalm and the reality didn’t match up.

That conflict between the promise of the Lord in 2 Samuel, proclaimed anew in the psalm, and what was seen on the throne of David shows the importance of faith. Does one trust what their eyes see? A weak king in Judah, on the brink of destruction by the Assyrians, the Egyptians, the Babylonians, the Greeks, or the Romans. Or does one trust the covenant of Jehovah? “As for me I have set my king on Zion, my holy hill.”

The psalm speaks proleptically, as though the promises of the Lord have already been fulfilled. This can only really be prayed by those who trust him who sits in the heavens, who has sworn to David and his seed that he will give him the nations as an inheritance. Before the coming of Christ praying such a psalm would’ve set faith in the Davidic covenant over against the experience. The psalm would’ve emboldened and sustained faith through the furnace of Babylonian captivity, the Hellenization program of Antiochus IV, and the tyranny of Rome.

Even now, with the first advent of Christ behind us, with the resurrection and ascension accomplished, with the son of David, who is at the same time the only begotten Son of God identified as Jesus of Nazareth, the psalm’s claims call for faith. Pilate and Herod sought to burst his bonds apart, to overthrow Christ’s claim that in Him the kingdom of God had come by crucifying and burying him.  Their autonomy seemed to be secure. But the Lord laughed from heaven at their attempts to silence his Son. No heavy rock nor seal on the tomb, no armed guard, no bribe of the Jews or their conspiracy with Rome, no threats, imprisonments, or killing of the apostles can destroy Jesus Christ and the coming of His kingdom.  And yet this is not known to the naked eye.  “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and the violent take it by force.” (Matthew 11:12) Christ’s victory and coming kingdom are known only to faith.

With this in view each one who prays and hears the psalm is called to hail the universal King and serve him, finding him to be a refuge. But those who oppose Him will find that He is no weakling, rather His wrath is quickly kindled. At his return these two things: refuge and wrath will be seen by all. And then every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father.

By praying this psalm with faith in its promises, we are made bold against the ruler of this world, our hope is made certain, and we rejoice to sing, “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Ghost, as it was in the beginning is now and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.” Through the use of this psalm the kingdom of Jesus Christ is magnified in our hearts and minds.  Faith is kindled as the power and authority of the Lord and his Christ put down any thoughts of rebellious hearts.  Why should we rage and plot?  Instead we serve and rejoice.

Biblical Piety, Part 5: Fasting

Part 4.2 of this series.

“Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).  With these words, Jesus rebuked Satan who had come to tempt Him in the midst of His fasting.  Few words could describe more clearly the purpose of this neglected part of Biblical piety.  Fasting is, therefore, an expression of dependence upon God and a striving after those things which will never pass away.  “’Food is meant for the stomach and the stomach for food’—and God will destroy both one and the other” (1 Corinthians 6:13).  “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you” (Matthew 6:33).

That fasting is a neglected practice is a real problem, because Jesus commands it in no less uncertain terms than prayer:  “And when you fast” (Matthew 6:16), not “if you fast.”  Jesus condemns the misuse of fasting, turning it into a public spectacle as a means of attracting approval rather than focusing on the things of God.  Fasting therefore most often belongs to the category of secret piety:  “But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you” (Matthew 6:17-18).

Fasting, like any other part of Biblical piety, is easily abused.  King Darius fasted out of anxiety (Daniel 6:18).  Fasting can be merely external, bowing the head and spreading sackcloth and ashes (Isaiah 58:5).  Men may boast of their fasting as if it meant something before God (Luke 18:11-12).  But “in the day of your fast, you seek your own pleasure” if that is the case (Isaiah 58:3).  The acceptable fast of the Lord builds up and does not puff up.  It advances holiness and piety and does not seek its own glory.

Fasting and prayer go together, because fasting is not an end in itself.  Fasting for the sake of fasting makes it merely external.  But the reasons for fasting in the Bible are many.  Very frequently, fasting is a sign of repentance, an intense form of sorrow over sin (Judges 20:26; 1 Samuel 7:6; 1 Kings 21:27-29; Ezra 9:5; Nehemiah 9:1-2; Jeremiah 36:6-9; Daniel 9:3; Joel 2:12-16; Jonah 3:5).  Men may fast also as a part of mourning over death (1 Samuel 31:13; 2 Samuel 1:12; 1 Chronicles 10:12) or at distressing news (Nehemiah 1:4; Esther 4:3-16; Daniel 10:2-3).  Fasting may also be a part of intercession, imploring God’s mercy (2 Samuel 12:16-23).  In such cases, the motivation for fasting is humility before God, especially since we are deserving of His wrath.  “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).

But fasting may also be undertaken for “positive” reasons.  Ezra fasts and prays as a part of asking for God’s protection on the journey to Jerusalem (Ezra 8:21-23).  It therefore emphasizes that coming and going, as with all things, are in the Lord’s hands.  Anna fasts as a part of worship (Luke 2:37).  Fasting is therefore not an extraordinary practice.  Finally, fasting precedes important decisions within the Church (Acts 13:2-3; 14:23).  God’s will should be sought in all things, and fasting emphasizes this need for the guidance of the Holy Spirit.  It should also be noted that fasting is not always a part of secret piety, since the kings sometimes called upon all people to fast together (2 Chronicles 20:3).  While fasting is most often individual, the whole body of Christ may fast together as a part of public prayer.

Biblically speaking, fasting is a total restraint from eating and drinking.  Abstaining from things other than food is not, strictly speaking, fasting.  Paul, for example, commends a temporary abstention from sex within the bounds of marriage for the purpose of prayer, but this is not fasting (1 Corinthians 7:5).  This sort of abstaining may be necessary as a form of self-control, but fasting in the Bible does not seem to be divided into degrees.  “Partial fasts,” or refraining only from a certain type of food or drink, seems to be more akin to abstaining.  Too often, “giving up” something, especially in the liturgical season of Lent, is done because it is “bad for me anyway.”  While sweets may indeed be an idol, Biblical fasting is not a matter of health (Psalm 109:24-25).  Christ did not stop eating only donuts while wandering forty days in the wilderness.

As for when one should fast, this is a matter of Christian liberty.  There is a benefit to regularly scheduling a fast, such as on a particular day, provided it does not become an occasion for stumbling.  Allowing fasting to happen “whenever,” like prayer, will probably mean never doing it at all.  One must make allowances for those who are unable to fast for a variety of reasons (such as health problems or the young), but inconvenience is not a reason to avoid doing it.  The length of fasting is also a matter of liberty, though extremely short duration are more prone to abuse.  Fasts of supernatural lengths are obviously not a goal, but they should be as long as needed for whatever reason they are undertaken.

But above all, fasting and prayer go together.  When you fast, pray to your Father who sees in secret.  Fasting does not intensify prayer, as if God will really listen to the one who prays and fasts.  That is Gentile thinking.  Rather, fasting reminds us of the one thing needed, so that we may be able to say with our Lord Jesus Christ:  “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work” (John 4:34).

How Can a Young Man Keep His Way Pure?

“How can a young man keep his way pure?” The answer given is 8-fold.

First, there is the statement about guarding one’s way according to God’s Word. The psalm evokes the imagery of a soldier who is vigilant about protecting what is valuable. It encourages the one who prays to see himself as a sentry standing ready to sound the alarm when the enemy approaches. Here is the crucial presupposition: the enemy will come. “Your enemy the devil prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour.” To spot the enemy the sentry must be equipped with vision shaped by God’s Word. It is by seeing according to the Word that danger is detected. The Law of God serves as a kind of home alarm system. Of course the key difference is that you cannot simply set the alarm and go to sleep but must be alert and active in the use of the Word.

Second, the one who prays the psalm asks not to wander from the Lord’s commandments. Here the image of Christian life as a journey down a definitive path comes to the forefront. The commandments of God serve as the road signs that mark the way in which we should be walking. The commandments are boundary markers and to cross them is to transgress and find oneself in the danger of the wild. But to walk in them is the pure way.

Third, this psalm declares that God’s Word has been stored up in the heart. The one who prays this psalm is encouraged here to view himself as a treasury of God’s Word. Depositing God’s living and active Word in the treasury of the heart prevents a person from sinning. Jesus’ words come to mind: “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.”

Fourth, the psalm prays that the blessed Lord would teach His statutes. The one who prays this psalm recognizes this fundamental reality of the Christian life: we are students our whole life through. Disciples are learners. The content of the life long lesson is the Lord’s statutes. No matter our age we are to grow in our understanding of these statutes. The deeper the lesson is learned the more the student is conformed to his teacher.

Fifth, the psalm speaks of the activity of declaring the Lord’s just decrees. While inward reflection on God’s commandments is good, the further action of verbalizing His rules is put forward as a part of keeping one’s way pure. What is taken in with the ears and stored up in the heart must also come out on the lips. By doing so the Christian builds the wall that the enemy must overcome to deceive him ever higher.

Sixth, the psalm speaks of delighting in God’s testimonies. This is compared over against riches, a common way of speaking in the psalms, “better than gold, yea much fine gold.” Here we find a furthering of what was said in the fifth place. What is stored up, learned, and declared is not only a set of rules, but is a delight that surpasses even the best earthly good.

Seventh, the psalm adds meditation on God’s precepts which is paralleled with fixing one’s eyes on God’s way. Here we see the pre-meditative necessity. A Christian cannot expect to randomly and haphazardly keep his way pure. There are too many temptations, both from without and from within, that will spring up. “Sin is crouching at your door, its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” So, here, in prayer, we learn to have a game plan. To ponder God’s precepts and ways and make plans accordingly. To use a sports analogy, quarterbacks are nowadays praised for their ability to call an audible at the line of scrimmage. But this ability is not innate. Rather it is developed through extensive game planning, studying of the defense’s formations, and thorough knowledge of the team’s own playbook.

Lastly, in the eighth place, this section of the psalm wraps all things together by resounding the note of delight and promising to never forget. Since delight has already been mentioned, it is the memory that is new. Amnesia of God’s Law would undo everything that preceded it. Storing God’s Word in the memory means that it can be recalled at all times and in all places, as the situation demands. The importance of memory and reminders should not be overlooked.  Memorization of Scripture is not something beneficial for children only, but for all ages.

One final note. Psalms 119 and 19 are two psalms which use a rich variety of terms to refer to God’s law. While it might be tempting to equate them as mere synonyms, and an overlap between the terms is certainly true, it is much more beneficial to crack open those most important of all tools for Biblical study, the dictionary and concordance. There one can find new ways to delight in the diversity of God’s Word.