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The Way of Righteousness (Psalm 15)

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

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

A Psalm of David.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amos and the Justice of God


Amos, a shepherd called to speak against Israel even in the height of her power, speaks very vividly about the justice of God. What did injustice in Israel look like in Amos’ day? How does that compare to modern concerns about “social justice”? What does Amos teach us about the church’s and the individual Christian’s role in pursuing God’s justice? What do these prophecies of judgment teach us about the cross and the Last Day? Join us as we discuss Amos and how his message calls for us to prepare for the Day of the Lord.

Hosts: Rev. Willie Grills and Rev. Zelwyn Heide
Regular Guest: Rev. David Appold
Episode: 26

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The Law in 1 Corinthians 10

Among the many causes of the divisions at Corinth, one of the most prominent questions dealt with meat offered to idols. Paul clearly says that the meat itself is not the issue. “We know,” he says, “that ‘an idol has no real existence,’ and that ‘there is no God but one'” (1 Corinthians 8:4). The primary issue is how those who recognize this truth deal with those who are still struggling. Knowledge which causes one to look down on his brother is not knowledge at all, but merely what appears to be knowledge. Knowing God rightly walks in the way of love, forsaking even what is lawful in order to build up the knowledge of another. Food does not commend us to God any more than not partaking in that food. “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor” (1 Corinthians 10:24).

It is within this context that Paul addresses the wider question of idolatry in 1 Corinthians 10. Meat sacrificed to idols is nothing in itself, but that does not give free license. Even the conscience of an unbeliever comes into view. Partaking of meat sacrificed to idols, especially when those who offer it are explicit about this, carries with it the potential of destroying another. “But if someone says to you, ‘This has been offered in sacrifice,’ then do not eat it, for the sake of the one who informed you, and for the sake of conscience” (1 Corinthians 10:28). Participating with the unbeliever means participating in the table of demons, not the meat all by itself, but some were not able to make such a distinction in their minds because of their former experience.

It is for this reason that Paul uses the example of the Israelites wandering in the wilderness. They lacked nothing in terms of the gifts of God. Were they not delivered from Egypt, baptized into Moses in the Red Sea, eating the bread of angels (Psalm 78:25)? Did Christ not sustain them in the great and terrifying wilderness where there was no water (Deuteronomy 8:15)? What did they lack which the Lord had not given them (Deuteronomy 8:4)? Yet they too indulged in their false knowledge which puffs up rather than builds up, and God destroyed them in the wilderness. “Shall we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than He” (1 Corinthians 10:22)?

All of this, therefore, helps clarify one of the purposes of the Law. The Holy Spirit does not record the judgments of the Lord as a way of merely informing us. The Old Testament is not a history lesson that gives us bits of trivia to remember. “Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). Their judgment has become our lesson. The Law of God builds up and instructs the Christian, even in the examples of God’s wrath. You who would tear down rather than build up, look to your fathers. Will you be any different than they?

But it is also worth noting that such instruction is not merely negative. The fear of the Lord is not fear of punishment, but the fear of a son toward his father. Using the Law as an example in this way is not using a rod, but a guide, for “these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did” (1 Corinthians 10:6). The examples of God’s judgment, held before us in the Scriptures and in the present age, build us up in holiness, because they call us away from the works of darkness. More than this, they are occasions for joy, because as David says, “The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance; he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked. Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous; surely there is a God who judges on earth'” (Psalm 58:10-11). “Moreover, by [the rules of the Lord] is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward” (Psalm 19:11).

Reformation Comes From God

“Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come” (1 Corinthians 10:11). As we remember the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, let us, as we should in all things, consult the living voice of the Holy Spirit. For there have been many reformations in the history of the Church, and it has pleased God to instruct us through the example of men like King Josiah.

Josiah found a church deeply corrupted. Altars to false gods, pillars set up in worship, false priests, everything that God had forbidden were multiplied throughout the land, even in the temple. The Book of the Covenant had been neglected to the point of being forgotten. Josiah knew that these things were making Judah fall further into depravity. Josiah knew what had to be done.

With a mighty hand, Josiah tore down the altars. With a burning wrath, Josiah burned the Asherah-poles. With an unsparing eye, Josiah defiled the high places that had stood for hundreds of years, even from the days of Solomon. With an unwavering zeal, Josiah killed all of the priests to these false gods. With an unbroken piety, Josiah restored the Passover, celebrating it in a way that even David had not done. In all these things, there had been no king like Josiah. Nothing short of a complete and violent reformation would be sufficient. “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:2-3).

“Still the Lord did not turn from the burning of His great wrath, by which His anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked Him. And the Lord said, ‘I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel, and I will cast off this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there’” (2 Kings 23:26-27). But why? Was the reformation not complete? Didn’t he purify the worship of the temple? Didn’t he use lawful and legitimate means? Didn’t he condemn those who needed to be condemned and confess that which needed to be confessed? Why, then, does God send Judah away into exile in the days of Josiah’s sons?

Josiah had done what was right and good and holy. The Lord praised Josiah for his zeal, and the punishment was delayed past his days (2 Chronicles 34:28). Yet it was not the Lord’s will that this reformation should endure. “Apart from Me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). Josiah had done what needed to be done, but Manasseh his grandfather brought the inescapable judgment. A perfect reformation means nothing if we still walk in sin.

This, then, is our instruction as we remember our own Reformation. The Reformation has not persisted except by the will of God. There have been other reformers whose work made only a small impact. Their work was not in vain nor was it useless. God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. God will never abandon His Church, and 7,000 have not yet bowed the knee to Baal, but Israel also had to be sent away into exile. Only by His will do we have the blessings which we enjoy, and not from ourselves.

And will we call ourselves the sons of the Reformation while walking in darkness? Will we boast in a purified liturgy while neglecting the weightier matters of the law? Will we believe, teach, and confess the orthodox faith while setting our minds on the things of man? Will we reject and condemn all of the heresies which fight against this faith while we have not love? “Woe to those who lie on beds of ivory and stretch themselves out on their couches, and eat lambs from the flock and calves from the midst of the stall, who sing idle songs to the sound of the harp and like David invent for themselves instruments of music, who drink wine in bowls and anoint themselves with the finest oils, but are not grieved over the ruin of Joseph” (Amos 6:4-6)!

My brothers, these things ought not to be so. I, too, give thanks for the many blessings which the Lord has shown to His Church through the Reformation. But if we want to walk in the footsteps of men like Martin Luther, let us also imitate their faith. Luther himself expressed a desire on more than one occasion that nearly all of his works should perish in a fire. I do not think that he was exaggerating. He did not want his writings to become the very thing he fought against. Luther is frequently depicted pointing to the Word of God; may we do the same!

Let us give thanks to God that this Reformation has endured according to His holy will. Let us give thanks to God for men like Luther and the other reformers, for God produced a mighty work through their labors. Let us also give thanks to God for the good confession which they made and which we now also make our own. But let us remember to imitate their faith and piety, exalting the Word of God above all else, no matter what the cost.

Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity: Proverbs 25:6-14

Unlike the two previous readings from Proverbs, the Old Testament reading for the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity comes from the main section of the book and not from the introduction. As I have said in previous studies, Proverbs resists easy outlining. The beginning of this chapter from Proverbs 25 proves this: “These also are proverbs of Solomon which the men of Hezekiah king of Judah copied.” In other words, Proverbs is a collection of sayings, and their compilers seem to have put them into one book for the sake of having them all together.

That being said, there are sometimes correlations between the smaller subsections of the chapters. Proverbs 25 is a good example of this, since it seems that Proverbs 25:1-14 can be subdivided into three smaller parts. I have included Proverbs 25:1-5 in this consideration, because verses 6 and 7 are part of the first section and form its concluding thought.

The first subsection focuses on the righteousness of kings and is further divided into four points. God conceals, but kings search out. The righteous king therefore seeks out that which God has concealed, and wisdom consists in pursuing the things of God. Even so, as the heavens above and the earth beneath are beyond our ability to know fully, so also the heart of kings. David on several occasions is compared to the “angel of God,” who is full of discernment (2 Samuel 14:17), wisdom (2 Samuel 14:20), judgment (2 Samuel 19:27), and blameless (1 Samuel 29:9). Since the king is in this way similar to God, there is a close comparison between them, which is much of the point of this section.

Moving to the next point, silver free of dross is the same as a king free of the wicked in his presence. Solomon referenced this idea earlier in Proverbs 16:12-13. Wise kings, in this way, pursue righteousness and have no part in the way of wickedness (Psalm 2:10-12). As the Lord cannot abide wickedness in His presence, so also the righteous king.

Finally, Solomon closes this subsection with the only major point of contact with the Gospel reading of Luke 14:1-11. Setting yourself forward in the presence of the king is self-exaltation. Such a man will be set lower in disgrace. It is better to be told “Come up here,” for “let another praise you, and not your own mouth” (Proverbs 27:2). But the key here is the close connection between the king and God. As such presumption before a king is shameful, how much more before God? The exalted will be humbled, and the humble will be exalted. The righteous king, therefore, is in the place of the righteous God, not as a replacement, but as God, so the king.

The second subsection focuses on the second great Commandment of “love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:34-40). Specifically, it is an exposition of “you shall not bear false witness.” A man who seeks to rush to be vindicated in court or elsewhere may very likely be operating with partial information. Better to be fully informed before doing what is right, or even better, to rebuke in private (Matthew 18:15-20).

The third subsection—from which the name of this site comes—praises wisdom. A word fitly spoken, that is, a wise word, is like gold framed in silver. The commandments of the Lord are more valuable “than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and the drippings of the honeycomb” (Psalm 19:10).

This fit word, however, is especially the word of a sent messenger. If the rich man in torment imagined a great comfort in even a drop of water (Luke 16:24), how much greater will an actual comfort of the Word be (Isaiah 40:1-2)! A wise and faithful messenger, however, conforms in holiness to the Lord and His Word and has “no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15). “The one who hears you hears me,” but this promise is for those who abide in His Word (Luke 10:16). “If you utter what is precious and not what is worthless, you shall be as my mouth” (Jeremiah 15:19). But the faithless messenger are “waterless clouds, swept along by winds” (Jude 12). Such will be recognized “by their fruits” (Matthew 7:15-20), “for when dreams increase and words grow many, there is vanity; but God is the one you must fear” (Ecclesiastes 5:7).