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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.

The Discipline of the Lord (Psalm 6)

The ancient Christians classed Psalm 6 as the first of the seven penitential psalms, for good reason.  In it, the psalmist calls upon God to turn away from His burning anger and to look upon him with favor.  Whatever may be causing such distress in the psalm itself is somewhat beside the point.  Physical sickness, the attack of enemies, fear of the final judgment, fear in the midst of disaster, all of them in the end boil down to the same basic cry:  “Lord, do not rebuke me in your anger!”

Psalm 6 opens with a clear petition:  “Lord, do not rebuke me in Your anger, and do not chastise me in Your wrath.  Favor me, Lord, for I am frail.  Heal me, Lord, for my bones are terrified.  And my soul is exceedingly terrified.  But you, Lord, how long?”  It is most likely that the psalmist is being assaulted by enemies, judging by the end of the psalm.  But this is a cry of a soul suffering under God’s wrath, not merely suffering at the hands of men.  It is the Lord who rebukes and chastises David.  The terror in his bones emphasizes the depth of this fear:  it is not merely a formality or psychological, but a deep and abiding fear of the wrath of God.  How long is this going to go on, Lord?  It seems like God is distant and turned away from him in anger.

Note, however, that David does not ask God to stop rebuking or chastising him.  Rather, “do not rebuke me in Your anger,” that is, in wrath visited upon sin.  The Lord rebukes His elect, but for a different reason.  “It is for discipline that you have to endure.  God is treating you as sons.  For what son is there whom his father does not discipline” (Hebrews 12:7)?  Through such discipline, the Lord teaches.  “I gave you cleanness of teeth in all your cities, and lack of bread in all your places, yet you did not return to me, declares the Lord” (Amos 4:6).  Therefore, we should not flee away from suffering as if it was repulsive and necessarily bad, and this includes the experience of God’s discipline.  A God who only gives us positive experiences, or negative ones that quickly give way to positive ones, is not the God of Scripture.  Through the experience of God’s discipline, the Lord teaches us to rely upon Him above all things.

“Return, Lord, rescue my soul.  Save me on account of your steadfast love.”  David has no recourse before the Lord except His steadfast love.  If God were to turn away from His elect, His honor and glory would perish.  But the Lord is steadfast, even in the midst of intense trial.  He turns away His face from His sons to show them that He will not forsake them.  “For his anger is but for a moment, and his favor is for a lifetime.  Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes with the morning” (Psalm 30:5).

“For in death there is not remembrance of You.  In Sheol, who will praise you?”  This cannot mean that the dead are insensible or nonexistent, for the souls cried out from under the altar, just as the blood of Abel cried out from the ground (Genesis 4:10; Revelation 6:9-11).  Rather, “remembrance” may also be translated as “mention.”  Remembering the Lord is not simply recollection, but calling to mind before the whole congregation what the Lord has done.  God does not, after all, simply think about Noah when He remembered him and those with him in the ark, but sent the winds to push away the waters of the flood!  If remembrance implies action, then those who are dead are no longer able to do what only the living can do:  praise God by recounting His glorious deeds out loud.

“I am weary with my sighing.  I cause my bed to swim the whole night.  With my tears I flood my couch.  My eye has become dark with grief.  It grows old from all my attackers.”  David emphasizes the intensity of his contrition.  Not only do his tears flow without ceasing in grief over his sin, but he also “grows old” under the strain.  I think this should be understood in the same way we use expressions like “this will give me gray hairs.”  David’s contrition and the desire to see God’s face again is more than he wants to bear.  It drives him back to the Lord and causes him to call upon Him without ceasing.

But at this point, there is a remarkable shift.  Something has occurred.  “Go away from me, all you doers of wickedness, for the Lord has heard the voice of my weeping.  The Lord hears my pleading.  The Lord accepts my prayer.”  His enemies can no longer trouble him, because he knows that the Lord has heard his cries.  It may be that his weeping has turned to trust, recalling the steadfast love of the Lord.  It may also be that he has heard the voice of another, just as Hannah heard the voice of Eli, causing her to rejoice that she had been heard (1 Samuel 1:15-18).  Whether internal or external, the psalmist leaves behind his weeping and knows that the Lord remains with him, even in the midst of distress.

“Ashamed and exceedingly terrified are all my enemies.  They will turn back and be put to shame quickly.”  It is rather remarkable here that everything has turned around.  The Lord has turned from facing away from David to facing toward him.  His enemies turn away from facing him and now face away in terror.  David’s terror has passed, and his enemies are terrified before the Lord.  While the reversal did not happen in an instant or the course of a few minutes, the Lord turns everything around.  Even the last sentence shows this with wordplay that cannot be translated into English.  The words for “turn back” and “be put to shame” share the same basic letters in Hebrew, but the order flips around here.  Even the words themselves emphasize this great reversal!

Christians should therefore pray this psalm in the midst of all their troubles.  “For the Lord will not cast off forever, but, though he cause grief, he will have compassion according to the abundance of his steadfast love; for he does not afflict from his heart or grieve the children of men” (Lamentations 3:31-33).  Though we suffer justly for our sin, the fire of God’s discipline purifies rather than consumes, and through it we will offer up sacrifices of prayer and praise in righteousness (Malachi 3:3).

Our Avenging Shield (Psalm 3)

The martial character of many of the Psalms should not give us pause.  Paul, after all, encourages Timothy to “wage the good warfare” as a soldier of Christ (1 Timothy 1:18).  Wearing the whole armor of God, Christians stand firm and unbending against the devil seeking their destruction (Ephesians 6:10-20; 1 Peter 5:8-9).  The Lord, after all, is the Lord of hosts, that is to say, the Lord of armies who guides and protects His people.

Psalm 3 is the first psalm to bear an inscription.  These titles appear originally in the text and frequently provide some information about the circumstances surrounding the psalm.  In this case, the most likely reference is to 2 Samuel 15:13-17.  David, upon learning about the conspiracy of his own son Absalom, flees Jerusalem.  Certainly, some of Absalom’s faction reviled David as fleeing in terror.  David, however, trusts firmly in the Lord even in the face of imminent danger, which in this case is amplified coming from his own family.

David begins by alluding to this danger.  “O Lord, how many are my enemies!  Many stand up against me.  Many say to my soul, ‘There is no salvation for him in God.’”  David’s enemies taunt him, saying that God is unable to deliver him from their hands.  God will not be able to save you now!  David, on the other hand, does not minimize the danger, as if trusting in the Lord meant that it wasn’t real.  Rather, even in the midst of a very real danger to his own body, he continues to seek the Lord.  Even if we must suffer, God himself will “restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish” us with an eternal glory (1 Peter 5:10).

The term selah, which appears here for the first time in the Psalter, is a matter of debate.  It may be a musical direction, related to the idea of “lifting up,” which might mean to lift up the voice in pitch.  Nevertheless, I will pass over it for the time being.

“But you, Lord, are a shield surrounding me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”  The Lord surrounds His own like a shield wall, protecting against attack from every direction.  Elisha comforted his servant by reminding him that “those who are with us are more than those who are with them” for the Lord surrounded them with horses and chariots of fire (2 Kings 6:16-17).  Further, God lifts up the head of David, bowed down with the troubles and dangers of life.  “For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38-39).

“I called [with] my voice to the Lord, and He answered me from His holy hill.”  God hears the cries of His people.  No prayer of the faithful goes unheard.  Further, the “holy hill” is Zion, the site of the temple.  God dwells in the midst of His people, and the temple served as the place of His dwelling for a time.  Now, as the Lord dwells within us, His temple (1 Corinthians 3:16), we have an even greater assurance, because the Spirit Himself prays within us (Romans 8:26).

“I lay down and slept.  I woke up, for the Lord supported me.  I will not be afraid of a multitude of people encircling, who set themselves against me.”  So confident is David of the Lord as His salvation that anxiety does not consume him.  He is able to sleep even though men are seeking his life.  Anxiety accomplishes nothing (Matthew 6:34).  It is the sign of a doubting heart.  Even if ten thousand foes surrounded David, what could they do?  “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.  Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

“Get up, Lord!  Save me, my God, for you strike all my enemies on the check.  The teeth of the wicked you break.  Salvation [belongs] to the Lord!  Your blessing on your people.”  The imagery of striking hard enough to break teeth loose is not disjointed here.  When the Lord protects His people, it is not merely a passive act.  “Vengeance is mine, and recompense” (Deuteronomy 32:35; see also 1 Thessalonians 4:6).  Many of the promises of God include the destruction of His enemies, because then those who assaulted His Church will receive their just reward (Psalm 110:1; Hebrews 10:13-14).  The point, therefore, is that deliverance or salvation comes from God alone.  Revenge is forbidden, because our own hand accomplishes nothing.  God alone will save us at the proper time.  “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).

Let us pray this Psalm confidently, therefore, knowing that the Lord protects us in the midst of all dangers.  The Christian rests safely in His hands, and the Lord will set all things right.

The King of Zion (Psalm 2)

The sovereignty and lordship of God forms the backbone of the entire Psalter.  In the midst of the troubles and uncertainties of life, the Lord reigns as king.  When the righteous seek after God and pray to Him knowing that He will hear, the Lord reigns as king.  No matter the circumstances, the Lord remains firmly in control of all things.  Psalm 2, therefore, may be considered as a second introduction to the whole book, because it powerfully introduces this recurring and important theme.

This Psalm may be divided into four sections with three verses each.  In such a division, the Psalm moves in a clear thought pattern:  (1) the nations conspire against the Lord and His anointed king; (2) the Lord establishes this king nevertheless; (3) this king reigns victorious over his enemies; and (4) the nations should repent and submit to the king.  This pattern also gravitates toward the middle, where the focus is on the coronation.  The Lord establishes the reign of this king, and he reigns triumphant for this reason.

In the first section, therefore, the Psalmist describes the conspiracy of the nations.  They are “restless,” a word used only here in the Old Testament, and the peoples “plot in vain.”  As noted in the study on Psalm 1, this word translated as “plot” means something like “muttering.”  The righteous man in Psalm 1 mutters the Word as he focuses on it.  The wicked here mutter among themselves as they seek to cast off this king from ruling over them.  Yet they are not merely muttering against the Lord’s anointed king, but also against the Lord Himself.  As Moses told the Israelites who complained:  “Your grumbling is not against us but against the Lord” (Exodus 16:8).  To grumble against those whom the Lord establishes is to also grumble against the Lord who established them in the first place.

However, the Lord responds to their muttering with laughter.  This is not the laughter of happiness, but the laughter of derision.  The Lord laughs at the wicked who conspire against Him because they imagine that they can actually fight against what the Lord establishes.  In His burning anger, the Lord will make the conspirators flee in a panic.  They will not be able to accomplish what they desire, because what the Lord causes to happen will happen without question.  The Lord sets His king, more literally “pours out,” likely in an act of consecration.  Zion, the holy hill of the temple, also shows that this consecration is not merely a worldly event.  The Lord establishes this king in the very place of His presence, for Zion is holy because the Lord is there.

Out of all of the sections of this Psalm, the third section most clearly reveals the identity of this king.  The Lord says to this king, “You are My son, this day I have fathered you.”  Few other Psalms are quoted as often as this one in the New Testament.  It is cited directly in Acts 13:33, Hebrews 1:5, and 5:5, all in reference to Christ.  The Gospel writers also allude to it at key moments within the earthly ministry of Christ, notably His Baptism (Matthew 3:17; Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22) and His Transfiguration (Matthew 17:5; Mark 9:7; Luke 9:35).  Jesus reigns as king in Zion even in the midst of His enemies, all of whom will finally be placed under His feet.  His judgment against them means the destruction of those who oppose Him, shattering them like a pot.  Every knee will bow at the name of Jesus (Philippians 2:10-11), whether to their shame or to their joy.  Establishing the kingdom of God is as much about extending who belongs to that kingdom as rendering justice on those who do not.

Additionally, the promise of the nations as inheritance and the “ends of the earth” as property show that this is not an ordinary king.  Even apart from the clear testimony of the New Testament, this passage alone shows that a greater than Solomon is here.  Solomon’s kingdom had definite, if expansive, borders (1 Kings 4:21).  He ruled over the earthly kingdom in its greatest extent, but even he could not claim to rule over all the nations.  This is not hyperbole, either.  Christ reigns and will reign over all the nations of the earth, because He is the King of Kings without peer or rival.

The final section of the Psalm exhorts the same nations to submit to the king.  Kings and judges of the earth, the heads of the nations, should gain insight.  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and the knowledge of the Holy One is insight” (Proverbs 9:10).  Serving this king means walking in the way of the Lord.  Yet this service and joy comes with fear and trembling, because the fear of the Lord means fearing Him who can cast both body and soul into hell (Matthew 10:28).  Christ will return as judge, and the coming wrath means that the wicked will perish.  But Christ is also our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.  Those who fear Him as their King fear no man because Jesus is their Savior.

Christians can pray this Psalm confidently as a testimony to the kingship of God.  Even when the enemies of God seek to overwhelm, they are not able to overturn anything which the Lord does.  Further, just as this Psalm centers on the coronation of the king, so also the coronation of Christ, so prominent a theme in the New Testament, comforts us.  His reign as king means not only that He is in control, but also that there will be justice for 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 146: “Praise the Lord, O My Soul”

The 146th psalm is a psalm of praise. This much is evident from the opening verses: “Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord, O my soul! I will praise the Lord as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.” But what are we here praising the Lord for? The final verse explains by way of an exclamation: “The Lord will reign forever, your God, O Zion, to all generations. Praise the Lord!”  The eternal reign of the Lord is the cause of praise and exaltation in Zion.

The middle part of the psalm then contrasts the reign of the Lord and His kingdom with all earthly princes and kingdoms.  Verses 3 and 4 are an elaboration of the kingdoms of men. Here is the reason why princes and the sons of men are not to be the object of trust and hope: they cannot save. It is helpful to recall the breadth of the biblical term “salvation.” Of course it is used for final salvation, but the word can also be used of temporal rescue. The psalms are full of prayers for deliverance from enemies temporal and eternal, physical and spiritual. So also here. Princes cannot be trusted because there is no salvation in them. Salvation, rescue, deliverance, always belongs to the Lord, even when He uses princes to accomplish it.

The verses are over almost as quickly as they begin, which is exactly the point. The plans of the sons of men perish with their breath. This is reminiscent of the book of Ecclesiastes with its continual reference to the vanity of things, and this vanity could also be translated “breath.” The plans of princes disappear like the vapor of breath in the winter air. The psalm does not contrast this fleeting breath of man with the Spirit-breath, the ruach of the Lord which goes out from him but never departs from him. While the breath of princes departs and fades away along with their plans, the Spirit of the Lord is eternal and accomplishes his plans.

The certainty of the Lord’s plans finds expression in verses 5 and 6. Over and against the emptiness of princes, the help of the God of Jacob is true blessedness, and hope in Him is never in vain. That the psalm invokes “the God of Jacob” here is not without significance. Jacob was helped by the Lord in his various trials and tribulations even as he wandered far and wide without the aid of any princes. The history of Jacob’s deliverance is only hinted at, though. What is explicit is the power and authority of the Lord as evidenced by His act of creation. This mighty act establishes the Lord as the Almighty one who is not limited as to what he can accomplish, since all that is exists at His will.

Then follows a list. While the verses about the princes of man are quickly over, this list of the kingdom of God goes on at length. Ten items describe what the Lord uses his power and authority to accomplish. In this list, we have a prophetic description of the work of Christ and His eschatological kingdom. As such, it is helpful as a prescription for what to look for in the New Testament and what to pray for and hope for in our day and in the age to come. Now we have these things by faith, but the day is coming when we will possess them by sight.

One final note on the use of this psalm. It is a critical psalm to have on our lips and in our hearts because of the growing trend of looking to politics as the be-all and end-all of human existence. While the hopes and dreams of many rise and fall with their chosen politician’s successes and failures, this psalm directs Christians to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It offers a helpful and hopeful correction for Christians who are dual citizens of the kingdom of heaven and earth. While the kingdoms of man are certainly critiqued and put in their subordinate place, it is mainly the remembrance of the kingdom of God and of Christ that is here praised and extolled. This is joy for all those who belong to spiritual Zion.

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.