September 20, 2009

Psalm 12: The Promise of God

1 Help, LORD, for the godly man ceases!
For the faithful disappear from among the sons of men.
2 They speak idly everyone with his neighbor;
With flattering lips and a double heart they speak.
3 May the LORD cut off all flattering lips,
And the tongue that speaks proud things,
4 Who have said,
“With our tongue we will prevail;
Our lips are our own;
Who is lord over us?”
5 “For the oppression of the poor, for the sighing of the needy,
Now I will arise,” says the LORD;
“I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.”
6 The words of the LORD are pure words,
Like silver tried in a furnace of earth,
Purified seven times.
7 You shall keep them, O LORD,
You shall preserve them from this generation forever.
8 The wicked prowl on every side,
When vileness is exalted among the sons of men.
In Psalm 12, David struggles with the attitudes and actions of people of God—not just anybody, but the people who called themselves God’s people.

The time is about approximately 1000 B.C. We all know the story of David—how God chose him when he was a shepherd boy to become king over Israel, how he defeated Goliath, how he showed so many human faults, and how he seemed to be tormented a lot of his life by enemies, even his own son. We know of his victories and his faults, and we see David as he struggles between his ambition and lusts and his desire to serve God. Yet he still is called a man after God’s own heart.

God made room for our own struggles between self-centeredness and God-centeredness by providing the Messiah to suffer the punishment otherwise due us. His grace is seen in the Old Testament, too, as He cares for His prophets, protects His people, and forgives their sins.

In Psalm 12, David laments the sin of Israel. He is not talking about individual sins of people who know better but slip up sometimes; he is talking of a whole country, a whole society of people God had chosen for His own who had turned their backs on their Lord. He is writing about a society which largely is characterized by wickedness, greed, lies, oppression of the poor, and given to its lusts.

Yet Israel was strong militarily and had the respect of the nations around it. Israel had become but one of many people in world history who, as it gained strength and stature among the other nations, saw its moral and spiritual values declining.

David looked to God when people let him down (1)

He opens this psalm with a plea for help or rescue. The word means help, salvation, or deliver me. Its root word is “Hosanna” in Hebrew—salvation, savior, rescue. Another Hebrew term related to this root word is “Messiah,” the deliverer and savior.

David looked for God to be the redeemer because people had let him down. He looked around and felt like he was all alone. He is in despair and declares that there are no more godly people and there are no faithful people left in the land. By and large, the people have turned away from God; they no longer worship Him, they no longer obey Him; they are no longer faithful.

Verse 1 reminds me of Elijah in 1 Kings 19. Elijah lived and ministered in Israel just a couple of generations after David’s rule. Elijah, after a tremendous victory over the prophets of Ba’al, fled from Jezebel. Jezebel, the daughter of the king of Phoenicia, married Israel’s King Ahab. Ahab and Jezebel allowed temples of Ba’al to be built in Israel, and the pagan religion received support from the king and queen. Ahab allowed the worship of a foreign god within the palace, building a temple for Ba’al and allowing Jezebel to bring a large entourage of priests and prophets of Ba’al and Asherah into the country. The queen uses her control over Ahab to lead the Hebrews into idolatry and sexual immorality, and the king subjects them to tyranny.

After Jezebel orders the prophets of Yahweh slaughtered, the prophet Elijah challenges 450 prophets of Ba’al to a test (1 Kings 18), exposes their god as powerless, has them slaughtered (1 Kings 18:40), and incurs Jezebel's furious enmity. After running from Jezebel for 40 days, Elijah arrives at a distant cave, where the Lord confronts him:

9 And there he went into a cave, and spent the night in that place; and behold, the word of the LORD came to him, and He said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
10 So he said, “I have been very zealous for the LORD God of hosts; for the children of Israel have forsaken Your covenant, torn down Your altars, and killed Your prophets with the sword. I alone am left; and they seek to take my life.”—1 Kings 19:9-10.
David felt somewhat the same way. In despair, he laments that there are no godly people left; that all the faithful people of God have disappeared.

Description of a faithless people (2-5)

David begins this Psalm with a description of those who have failed around him, those who have allowed wickedness to overwhelm them emotionally. The ending of the psalm shows us the contrast between the uncommitted and sinful people compared to their faithful God, who is committed to the deliverance of His people.

David is distressed with the wickedness of the people around him. To David, it seems that everyone has become faithless, and it distresses him. In verse 2, he starts listing their characteristics: “They speak idly everyone with his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” David is describing deception—people lie to the people around them, and a prominent part of the deception was false praise or flattery. (The word means smooth or smooth sounding—false praise or approval that softens someone else’s resolve.)

Many successful salespeople know the power of flattery to get the customer to make a purchase. In Israel, the people would lie perhaps to gain a financial advantage or to gain in some other way. They lied in the marketplace with false claims and false weights and measures. They lied in court and bribed judges to judge in their favor. David was so distressed and discouraged about the widespread deception among his people, that he felt like he was the only faithful person left.

Have you ever been so frustrated with some other Christian that you felt like that?

In verses 3 and 4, we find not only did people have flattering lips, but also they were boastful. They set their own standards of behavior. They, not God, were number one. They were proud of their wealth, proud of Israel’s military strength and position among the nations around it, proud of their homes and land . . . proud and boastful. Their value system became centered on their needs and their wants, and achieving those, rather than serving their Lord, became their standard of success and happiness.

Verse 4 does a good job of summing up their attitude: “With our tongue we will prevail; our lips are our own; who is lord over us?” The way that question is asked, the expected answer is “no one is lord over us.” From the opening of the psalm, we know that David was fed up with all this. He was angry and mournful that God’s people had turned away from their Lord. And as verse 4 demonstrates, they had not only turned away, but had forsaken their Lord with the attitude that “We can say what we want and nobody can do anything about it!”

Verse 5 adds another charge to the list: oppression of the poor. Israel even in this early time (1000 B.C.) consisted of the haves and the have nots. There was a very small middle class—either you and your family were rich, well-clothed, and well-fed, or you were existing day to day on starvation wages as a day laborer. The attitude of the wealthy in ancient Israel became the same as the pagan cultures around it-—he poor exist to serve the rich. The poor were often cheated out of wages Many lived a nomadic existence around the cities and the countryside, being unable to afford housing, or got temporary shelter with the animals in the stables of the rich landowners for whom they worked day to day After the harvest, they picked the fields clean of any grain left behind, because there was little opportunity for employment after the harvest season.

The poor often begged and were scorned by the wealthy as a lower class of existence. And in the last part of verse 5, God promises to rescue them: “I will arise; I will set him in the safety for which he yearns.” Once again we run into a word related to that ancient Hebrew root word, “Hosanna”—the promise to bring safety—salvation, rescue, redemption—to the oppressed poor among His people.

The promises of God are sure (6-7)

David tells us the word of the Lord (to redeem the poor, v. 5) are pure, meaning truthful and sure to come true. Like silver, cleansed of all impurities in the refiner’s fire—cleansed a number of times to remove every last bit of impurity. The Lord’s perfect words are in marked contrast to the words of the arrogant, boastful, deceptive people in Israel. David testifies to God’s dependability in verse 7—if God says He will redeem the poor, then He will do it and care for them both now and in the future.

Wickedness prevails when mankind sets the moral standards (8)

David ends the psalm with a proverb: “The wicked prowl on every side when vileness is exalted among the sons of men.” Among those who do not know God, the prevailing standards are determined by mankind rather than from a devotion to the standards of God. Paul in the book of Romans draws a distinction between the “natural man” and the people of God. The natural man—who is in rebellion against God—sets his own standards of morals and behavior.

And as we can see around us, when mankind sets the standards, vileness is usually exalted. People cheat, lie, and steal. And as we have seen in recent months, that can be on a colossal scale—with a small group of people in New York City swindling more than $50 billion while leading seemingly respectable lives.

It’s not just in the world, but it happens among Christians. From my days as real estate broker, I could tell you that several of the Christians I dealt with served the world’s standards of greed and dishonest gain rather than the standards of their faith.

I think David’s observation here confirms what we see around us. In western culture the default standard of success involves money, position, and power; whereas in the kingdom of God, Jesus set the only real standard of success: in Matthew 22:11, Jesus tells the disciples: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant,” and in Mark 9:35, Jesus says, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.”

Psalm 12 does a good job of describing not only the culture in which David lived, but also our own culture, which has turned from its beginnings, when the freedom to worship motivated the earliest settlers to arrive on our shores, to a condition in which riches and status are usually the primary ways our culture measures a person.

Psalm 8: Crowned with Glory and Honor

1 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth,
Who have set Your glory above the heavens!

2 Out of the mouth of babes and nursing infants
You have ordained strength,
Because of Your enemies,
That You may silence the enemy and the avenger.

3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.

6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

9 O LORD, our Lord,
How excellent is Your name in all the earth!

When he was young David kept sheep. He was with his sheep on the hills at night, and the sheep were safe with him. No doubt at night David must have contemplated the enormity of God’s creation: the moon and the stars in the sky. God made them all, and looking at the stars and moon and all creation, David knew that God is strong and powerful.

But in this psalm David also acknowledges that God had enemies. These enemies fought God. They also hurt the people of God, and David felt very small when he looked at what God had made. Contemplating the creation around him and above him, David felt that he was not that important; he felt very small compared to the earth and the heavens. But David also knew that God would make His people strong.

There are many Psalms that have the praise and worship of God as their central theme. The one for us today is Psalm 8.

God is worthy of our praise. We read in Revelation 4:11: “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honor and power; for you created all things, and by Your will they exist and were created.”

Notice that Psalm 8 is bracketed at either ends by the same assertion “O LORD, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.” David is asserting that our God is awesome, amazing, wonderful, beautiful, and awe inspiring. When David says “how majestic is your name in all the earth” we need to understand that for David to speak of God’s majestic name this means that David personally knows and experiences God, a relationship between him and God exist.

Why does David proclaim the majesty of our God? The center part of Psalm 8 makes it clear why David wrote that God is so wonderful, amazing, majestic, and excellent and therefore praiseworthy.

God’s Majesty Above His Creation (1)

In Psalm 8, David praises the greatness of God. We know from the context of the rest of the psalm that he is referring to God’s majesty as evidenced by His creation.

“O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth” David proclaims. Why? “You have set your glory above the heavens”—as glorious and majestic as the created heavens are, how much more majestic is God, who created them.

David uses the term “Yahweh,” which means “the existing one,” that is, the only existing God, when he says “O Lord.” “Yahweh” in Hebrew has no vowels and no one knows how the name for God should be pronounced. In fact, the name of God is still a mystery. In the Jewish tradition, the fact that it cannot be accurately pronounced is considered a gesture of respect, that mere man should not even pronounce the name of God. We get the pronunciation of “Yahweh” because the tradition was to combine the unpronounceable name with the vowels from another reference for God, “Adonai,” my lord or master. The reason for this was that by using the vowels from another word, one could refer to God in speech without actually speaking His name, which would be disrespectful.

David uses this term “Adonai” in his second reference to God: “our Lord.” So the opening of the psalm literally reads “O God, our Lord” or “O God, our Master.”

God’s Strength in Dealing with His Enemies (2)

Verse 2 seems out of place, as David goes from talking about the majesty of God to this reference in verse 2 to children’s praises and God silencing His enemies. But verse 2 does describe something of the majesty and power of God: “Out of the mouths of babes and nursing infants You have ordained strength.” This verse may also be translated “You have perfected praise” or “You have established praise.”

One evidence of God’s majesty is His strength. He is able to silence the enemy 100 percent of the time. God is more powerful than all those who oppose Him and more powerful His chief enemy, Satan, who seeks to take us from God for himself. And verse 2 also is a prophecy fulfilled in Matthew 21:14-17:

14The blind and the lame came to him at the temple, and he healed them. 15But when the chief priests and the teachers of the law saw the wonderful things he did and the children shouting in the temple area, "Hosanna to the Son of David," they were indignant. 16"Do you hear what these children are saying?" they asked him. "Yes," replied Jesus, "have you never read, 'From the lips of children and infants you have ordained praise'"? 17And he left them and went out of the city to Bethany, where he spent the night.

God’s Majesty Is Seen in His Creation (3)

David speaks in verse 3 of the majesty of God as seen in His created heavens. We can only be more in awe today, knowing so much more about the vastness of God’s creation. When we look up at the night sky, we know there is far more out there than anyone can see or really comprehend. In our galaxy alone, there are more than a billion stars, and we are just an average-sized galaxy among billions of galaxies!

There is an inconceivable number of stars and planets. They are traveling at speeds beyond our ability to understand and are at distances from us that are barely imaginable . . . and all of it is a tribute to the majesty of God the Creator and Sustainer.

David elaborates on this point in the opening verses of Psalm 19:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.

2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they display knowledge.

3 There is no speech or language where their voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens he has pitched a tent for the sun, 5 which is like a bridegroom coming forth from his pavilion, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.

The beauty and the complexity of the created order ought to lead us into the praise and worship of God.

God’s Care for His People (4)

In verse 4, David’s point is that despite the vastness of creation and the seeming insignificance of people, God still takes care of His people: “What is man that you are mindful of him…?” David uses the word that means “mortal man” or an “individual” or single person. “…And the son of man that You visit (care for) him?” David uses another term for “man” in this phrase that means “mankind,” a people or a nation of people. His point is that God takes care of His people, who seem so small and insignificant compared to the vastness of His creation.

God's Love for His People (5)

Despite the vastness of His creation and the seeming insignificance of mankind, God created us only a little lower than the angels. “A little lower” refers to our inherent abilities; unlike the angels, we cannot appear and disappear at will; we are different in that we lack the powers God has given to His angels.

The Bible never defines what an angel actually looks like or list angels’ powers and abilities. It does tell us, however, what their functions are, as we see in Psalm 103:20–21:

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels, you mighty ones who do his bidding, who obey his word. 21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts, you his servants who do his will.

So we know that angels “do His word,” are His ministers (servants), heed His voice, and do His pleasure. Because of His love for His people, God sends His angels to minister to us, guide us, and protect us. Hebrews 1:14 calls angels “ministering spirits sent forth to minister for those who will inherit salvation.” Psalm 91:11 further defines angels’ purpose: “For He shall give His angels charge over you, to keep you in all your ways.” From Psalm 91 we get the idea of the “guardian angel.” Jesus furthers this idea in Matthew 18:10: “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you, that their angels in heaven continually behold the face of My Father who is in heaven.”

God Delegated Authority to Mankind to Exercise Dominion Over His Creation (6-8)

As a people who bear God’s image, whom God loves and cares for, and to whom God has given dominion over the earth, we have an incredible responsibility. God has entrusted to our hands an amazing task, along with some pretty amazing abilities as human beings. As God exercises careful and holy dominion over the whole universe, we who bear his image and who inhabit this earth are to emulate Him, within the scope of our abilities, in the way He exercises His dominion.

Dominion means management or stewardship; the responsibility to lead and care for. Taking care of this world is our job as humans. Because of sin human beings have not been perfect at this task. Many would say we have been failures in the assignment of managing the earth and its resources. Perfect dominion over the earth will exist only when Christ returns to rule. Meanwhile, in our exercise of dominion over this earth we must turn to Christ and his wisdom and strength. In Jesus alone can we fulfill the incredible creation mandate that God has given to us.

God’s Majesty (9)

Once again, David turns to his expression of God’s majesty (verse 9): 9 “O LORD, our Lord, How excellent is Your name in all the earth!”

David opens and closes with this expression of God’s majesty. And in between his opening and closing, he explains what he means by “How majestic is Your name”:

1) He is above His creation

2) He deals with His enemies with strength

3) His majesty is seen in His creation

4) He takes care of His people

5) He demonstrates His love for His people in that He created us a little lower than the angels and has crowned us with glory and honor

6) And He has given us the responsibility of managing the earth, a part of His creation.

Finally, whenever anyone disparages us for taking God’s word literally, remember Psalm 8:6-8:

6 You have made him to have dominion over the works of Your hands;
You have put all things under his feet,
7 All sheep and oxen—
Even the beasts of the field,
8 The birds of the air,
And the fish of the sea
That pass through the paths of the seas.

In the mid-19th century, Matthew Maury, an American scientist, was intrigued by the last part of verse 8: “And the fish of the sea that pass through the paths of the seas.” Maury was appointed the superintendent of the United States Naval Obseratory in 1842. He believed in Scripture literally and wanted to find these “paths of the seas” in order to help ships’ captains in their navigation. In the course of his duties, he uncovered an enormous collection of thousands of old ships' logs and charts in storage in trunks dating back to the start of the Revolutionary War.

Maury pored over these documents to collect information on winds, calms, and currents for all seas in all seasons. In 1847 and 1848, Maury published wind and current charts of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian oceans. He was the first to identify and chart the ocean currents, including the Gulf Stream. He was convinced that these are the “paths of the seas” he read about in Psalm 8. His publication, Pilot Charts of the United States Navy, is still in use.

August 2, 2009

Psalm 23: The Lord Is My Shepherd

1 The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.
3 He restores my soul; He leads me in the paths of righteousness
For His name’s sake.
4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil;
For You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me All the days of my life;
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord

No one knows just when David wrote Psalm 23. There is a tradition he wrote it after his own son, Absalom, rebelled against him. David fled to the wilderness and Absalom hunted for him until Absalom was killed.

Another tradition holds that David wrote the psalm toward the end of his life, as he reminisced about all he had been through and how God had led him and protected him.

Psalm 23 is perhaps the most familiar passage in the Bible. Orthodox Jews sing it every Sabboth at the start of the evening meal. It is a metaphor about the character and characteristics of God.

David gives us his picture of God in verse 1: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” For the Christian, there are two options. One is that if the Lord is my shepherd, then I shall not want. (“Shall not want” means I am not covetous or unsatisfied.) The second option is that if I as a Christian am covetous, then something or someone other than the Lord is shepherding me. If the Lord is my shepherd, I am satisfied with His provision: materially, spiritually, and in my relationships.

To understand the psalm a little better, we need to understand sheep and shepherds.

Sheep require more attention than any other livestock. They just can’t take care of themselves. Unless the shepherd makes them move on, sheep will actually ruin a pasture, eating every blade of grass, until finally a fertile pasture is nothing but barren soil. Sheep are very stubborn and easily frightened. An entire flock can be stampeded by a rabbit or a squirrel. Sheep have little means of defense. They’re timid and feeble. Their only defense is to run if no shepherd is there to protect them. And when the run or wander off, the can’t find their way back. A dog, horse, cat, or a bird can find its way home, but when a sheep gets lost, it will stay lost until someone finds it and brings it back.

The metaphor of the shepherd and sheep tells us that we are like that. On our own, we lack the wisdom and strength that a relationship with God gives us. As Isaiah said of the people of Judah, “We are all like sheep who have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way.” Once we admit the need a shepherd we discover the truth of what David is saying. We shall not be unsatisfied.

In v. 2, David tells us what a shepherd does: “He makes me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters.” If a sheep is hungry or afraid, it will not bed down for the night. And sheep are scared easily. They can’t swim and are afraid of a rushing stream or river. So in order to satisfy their thirst, the shepherd needs to find a quiet pool for them to drink out of.

The metaphor is pretty clear. Our Lord is like a shepherd to us. He meets all of our needs. We turn to Him and we are satisfied. Our soul is restored. As Jesus tells us in John 6:35: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”

Our Lord also gives us direction in life: “He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (verse 3). The term “paths” means a well-traveled or well-worn trail. Interestingly, sheep do not follow the trail without a shepherd to guide them. They wander away no matter how obvious the path is in front of them.

And, as verse 4 points out, the Good Shepherd provides protection and comfort in the face of adversity: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me; Your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” Verse 4 is picturesque. The shepherd leads the sheep back home at evening. As they go across the meadow or through the brush, long shadows lie across the trail. The sheep, because they are so timid and defenseless, are frightened by the shadows. But they trust the shepherd, and therefore they follow him. They will fear no evil, because the shepherd is with them. As the writer of Hebrews reminds us in Hebrews 13:5-6: “For He Himself has said, ‘I will never leave you nor forsake you.’ So we may boldly say, ‘The Lord is my Helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’”

And then David writes, “Your rod and staff comfort me” (verse 4). The rod is a club which was used to drive off wild animals. It was never used on the sheep but was a heavy instrument used to protect the sheep from marauding predators. The staff was a slender pole with a little crook on the end. It was used to aid the sheep. The crook could be hooked around the leg of a sheep to pull it from harm. Or it could be used as an instrument to direct, and occasionally to discipline the sheep, with gentle taps on the side of the body.

Understanding how the shepherd tends his sheep helps us me to understand the character of God and His relationship to me.

In verse 5, David changes the metaphor from the good shepherd to the gracious host: “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.” Hospitality was very important in David’s culture. At the end of the day, the traveler would stop at a house for the night, if he was near a farm or village. Hospitality was expected of the host, and the traveler was provided food, wine, and a warm place to sleep.

David pictures the Lord as the perfect host, with plenty of food and drink to offer.
It is interesting that David actually experienced this kind of hospitality in the presence of his enemies. When David was driven into the wilderness by Absalom’s rebellion he found himself out in the desert, hungry and weary, his army in disarray. In 2 Samuel 27-29, we read that three men who were not even Israelites brought beds, wash basins, and food to David and his men as they made camp. The passage says they “brought beds and basins, earthen vessels and wheat, barley, and flour, parched grain and beans, lentils, and parched seeds, honey and curds, sheep and cheese of the heard, for David and the people who were with him to eat.” Perhaps David is remembering this hospitality and care, even when his enemies were nearby, as he wrote this psalm.

Verse 6 tells us: “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

God is good and merciful in His relationship to us. In fact, the term “follow” literally means to pursue. David is reminding us that our relationship with God is not a one-way street. God takes an active role in our relationship with Him. He pursues us in His goodness and his mercy.

Because of His goodness, He meets our needs and leads us down the righteous path.

Because of His mercy, he forgives our faults.

July 12, 2009

Psalm 19: God's Revelation

To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
2 Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
4 Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun,
5 Which is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber,
And rejoices like a strong man to run its race.
6 Its rising is from one end of heaven,
And its circuit to the other end;
And there is nothing hidden from its heat.
7 The law of the LORD is perfect, converting the soul;
The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;
8 The statutes of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart;
The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;
9 The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;
The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
Yea, than much fine gold;
Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.
11 Moreover by them Your servant is warned,
And in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can understand his errors?
Cleanse me from secret faults.
13 Keep back Your servant also from presumptuous sins;
Let them not have dominion over me.
Then I shall be blameless,
And I shall be innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
Psalm 19 briefly describes how God reveals Himself to the world and to His people. It teaches us about God’s revelation through his word to us, both the written word and the guidance of His Holy Spirit. The psalm describes God’s revelation to us as law, testimony, His statutes and commandments, and his judgments. It speaks not only of God’s glory but also His grace.

All nature reveals God’s glory to mankind (1-6)

God’s wisdom, power and glory are seen in his creation:

1 The heavens declare the glory of God;
And the firmament shows His handiwork.
2 Day unto day utters speech,
And night unto night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech nor language
Where their voice is not heard.
4 Their line has gone out through all the earth,
And their words to the end of the world.
In them He has set a tabernacle for the sun.
Modern science deals with “natural laws” and does not acknowledge the creative acts of God. But when we look at the marvels of heaven and earth and see the beauty of creation, we are getting a peek at the glory of God. Here’s how the psalmist puts it in Psalm 6:3-5:

3 When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers,
The moon and the stars, which You have ordained,
4 What is man that You are mindful of him,
And the son of man that You visit him?
5 For You have made him a little lower than the angels,
And You have crowned him with glory and honor.
Jesus affirms the handiwork of his Father in the lilies and the birds in Matthew 6:26-29:

26 “Look at the birds of the air, for they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 Which of you by worrying can add one cubit to his stature? 28 So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these.”
Night and day the creation of God speaks to us (verse 2). Not with literal words, but in the majesty of creation. And this witness is to everyone, “to the end of the world” (verse 4); that is, to everyone in the world. The majesty of the universe around us speaks a universal message to everyone that God exists and is our creator and sustainer.

By observing his wisdom and power in creation, we hear the voice of God. The psalmist testifies to what modern man has forgotten: the majesty and complexity of the universe gives witness that there is a creator. David approaches this point from another direction in Psalm 53: “The fool has said in his heart, “There is no god.”

The natural world around us tells the human heart daily of God’s creation and His continuing care for mankind. Each day begins with the sun’s light and ends with the starry night sky—the perfect balance of day and night to sustain life. The spinning of the globe at a perfect rate means it’s not too hot and not too cold to sustain life.

The vastness of the universe testifies to God’s infinite creative power. And as Jesus pointed out in Matthew 6, His infinite power is in the details, too—the birds of the air and the lilies of the field.

The Lord tells us through Paul that enough is revealed about God in His creation to make all mankind accountable to acknowledge Him (Romans 1:18-20):

18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, 19 because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them. 20 For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.
“By the things that are made” in this passage refers to the fact that the creation delivers a clear, unmistakable message about God’s person, as verse 1 of Psalm 19 points out: “The heavens declare the glory of God; And the firmament shows His handiwork.” People can see God in His creation. Referring to “His eternal power,” in the Romans passage, Paul is telling us that the Creator, who made all that we see around us and constantly sustains it, must possess awesome power. People can reason that God is immensely powerful as they observe His handiwork.

He speaks through His word to declare His grace (7-11)

The law of the Lord is perfect, converting (restoring) the soul. “Law” might better be translated “teaching” or “instruction.” David is not referring to the law of Moses but to the direction the Lord would have us go, His teaching or instruction to us.

The testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple. “Testimony” refers to His revelation to us, through both creation and His word; that is, Scripture and the witness of His Holy Spirit indwelling us.

The statutes of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. David likely refers to the law of Moses here, the written precepts and expectations God communicated to His people through the law. The psalmist writes in Psalm 119:128: “All Your precepts (statutes) concerning all things I consider to be right; I hate every false way.” And in Psalm 119:160, we find “The entirety of Your word is truth, And every one of Your righteous judgments endures forever.”

The commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes. The word of God is seen here as His orders to us, not to bind us or limit us, but to enlighten us. God’s word plays a crucial role in our restoration to the kingdom of God.

In 1 Peter 2:9, the Lord tells us:

9 But you are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people, that you may proclaim the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvelous light.
The “enlightenment” of the child of God referred to in Psalm 19 is the deliverance of him or her from darkness to light in the salvation experience.

And what is that light? Paul tells us it is the kingdom of God in Colossians 1:13:

13 He has delivered us from the power of darkness and conveyed us into the kingdom of the Son of His love.
The fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever. Reverence and profound respect for God makes a person clean. Those who have reverence and respect for the Lord are His people, cleansed from sin.

The judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. God’s judgments, or His judicial decisions, are given to us in His word. He judges sin and unrighteousness in those who reject Him and judges acceptance and eternal life with Him for those who are saved. Since His judgments are true and righteous, they are to be desired more than gold.

His guidance, His word, and His judgments are to true and righteous that they are beyond the value of gold or any other thing we may value. They are so true and righteous that they should taste sweeter to us than honey, the sweetest substance people knew back then.

And what are the purposes of the judgments of God? To warn His people about the way they should live and to reward His people who keep them.
His word, His precepts, and His judgments make us whole and give us communion with Him.

He hears our prayer to cleanse us from all sin (12-14)

We do not understand our sinfulness and must just turn to God for forgiveness. We cannot cure ourselves of sin; we must look to our Savior for that to be accomplished.

David refers to unintentional sins (errors, faults) as well as obvious sins (presumptuous sins or willful sins). “Let them not have dominion over me,” he writes, demonstrating that he wants more than anything to be blameless in God’s sight . . . to serve God and not his own unrighteousness.

Note that David does not claim to be sinless. He claims to be blameless, which we can define from this verse as sin not having dominion over us: serving God and not serving sin.

So verse 13 gives us insight into God’s grace. David acknowledges that he sins in verse 12, referring to his errors and secret faults from which he prays for cleansing. He is innocent and blameless, then, through the grace of God, who cleanses him and declares him innocent and blameless.

David closes the psalm with a plea that God will find his words and his thoughts acceptable. (verse 14)

14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be acceptable in Your sight,
O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer.
The term “acceptable” is associated with pleasing God with sacrifices at the temple in Jerusalem. A sacrifice offered with a pure heart and in the proper manner was deemed acceptable to God. David is referring to his words and his thoughts as similar sacrifices—dedicated to God—and he asks God that his words and thoughts would be acceptable to Him.

Psalm 1: The Way of the Righteous

1 Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
4 The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
The Psalm begins with the phrase, “Blessed is the man” or “Happy is the man.” We all want happiness. But some look for it in all the wrong places and in all the wrong things.

Some look for it in jobs, money, new homes and cars, sex, alcohol, and drugs. These things are all temporary. The psalmist is writing about lasting happiness in spite of circumstances. How is it that some people who are in the worst of life’s circumstances still claim to be blessed, happy, and joyful?

In this passage the Psalmist describes the person God blesses or the happy person. But he also describes the person God judges. First lets look at the person God blesses.

The Person God Blesses (1-3)

1 Blessed is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
3 He shall be like a tree
Planted by the rivers of water,
That brings forth its fruit in its season,
Whose leaf also shall not wither;
And whatever he does shall prosper.
The psalmist says that a person is blessed if he does not do one kind of thing but instead does another. The person who wants to be blessed must not walk down the road of those who rebel against God, have no fear of God, and consider themselves above God’s law.

Instead, a person who wants to be blessed must live wisely in his relationship with God, delighting and meditating on God’s Word. He or she is a person who is separated from the world. Being separated from the values of the world, we do not take counsel from it about morals and other spiritual matters. We must not live our lives like the rest of the world.

The Hebrew word for wicked means to be loose or unstable and is associated with two ideas in verse 1. First, it has the idea of being loose morally or in one’s values. Second, it conveys the idea of being loose from God, or existing without God: without Him as an anchor or guide; one controlled by his or her own feelings, emotions, desires; one who is self-centered rather than God-centered. As people devoted to God, we are to avoid following them because they are not devoted to God.

The Bible has a lot to say on how we should walk.

Psalm 143:8: “....teach me the way in which I should walk; for to You I lift my soul.”

Psalm 86:11: “Teach me your way, O Lord; I will walk in Your truth.”

Paul advises the Ephesians (4:1-2): “…walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love…” …exactly the opposite of the way the wicked conduct themselves.

Paul also tells the Galatians (5:16): “Walk in the Spirit, and you shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh.”

A person who is separated from the world will not stand in the way of sinners. “Sin” in Hebrew originated as an archery term and meant “to fall short or miss the mark.” We are all sinners. We have all missed the mark. This is why Christ had to die for our sins so we might have His righteousness. The word “sinners” here refers to those who have deliberately chosen a way of life contrary to the will of God. The psalmist is telling us simply not to be like these people and their ideas of right and wrong.

How should we stand?

Psalm 33:8: “stand in awe of Him.”

1 Corinthians 16:13: stand firm in the faith

Philippians 1:27: stand together with one mind and spirit

A person who is separated from the world will not sit in the seat of the scornful. The word means to dwell, remain, or abide, and “scornful” (mockers) means to ridicule. It refers to one who is actively engaged in mocking or ridiculing the idea of God and His standards for us. One can be scornful either by what he or she says or simply by his or her way of life.

How do people mock God? By blatant ridicule or rejection and by ignoring His existence and His principles

And how does the Christian avoid the counsel of the wicked, the path of sinners, and the seat of the scornful? By delighting in the law of the Lord, by meditating on it day and night (verse 2). Note this is not something the Christian feels he or she has to do, but something he or she loves to do.

He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water (3) “Like a tree” is a metaphor, a picture to teach us. The Christian who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked, do what sinners do and believe what sinners believe, and identify with mockers or the scornful is like a tree, with deep roots, a sturdy trunk, and able to withstand the storms.

Not only is the Christian like a tree, but he or she is like a tree planted beside the river, where there is a constant supply of water for optimum growing conditions. The Hebrew word means transplanted, taken out of a wild environment and placed or planted where the conditions are ideal to grow and mature. in this case, in the very best place to grow and mature. The tree “brings forth its fruit,” is a tree “whose leaf does not wither,” and, switching from the metaphor, “whatever he does shall prosper.”

The Person God Judges (4-5)

4 The ungodly are not so,
But are like the chaff which the wind drives away.
5 Therefore the ungodly shall not stand in the judgment,
Nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous.
The wicked are like chaff, compared to the godly who are solid, planted by the water to grow and mature. This metaphor refers to threshing grain. Farmers would beat the stalks to separate the grain from the stalks (the chaff) and then repeatedly toss the resulting grain-chaff mixture into the air, where the wind would blow away the chaff. Chaff is worthless, and the practice was to burn the chaff once it was separated from the grain.

This pictures the futile and empty life of the godless, as well as their future judgement.

In Matthew 3:12, John the Baptist was speaking about Jesus, the one who would come after him to baptize not with water, but with the Holy Spirit. He uses the same metaphor as the psalmist in describing the Messiah: “His winnowing fork is in His hand and He will clear His threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

The world says the things of God are foolishness—1 Corinthians 1:18: “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it the power of God.” Unbelievers will face God’s judgment but will not be able to pass its test. They will face His judgment on their merits alone, while we can rely on Christ’s atonement for our sin. They will not be part of the judgment of Christ to determine the rewards for the saints.

Two Ways (6)

6 For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
But the way of the ungodly shall perish.
This is the destiny of these two groups of people.

Proverbs 14:12: “There is a way that seems right to man, but in the end it leads to death.” That is the way of the wicked. The way of the righteous is the way of the Lord Jesus Christ, who described Himself as “the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).

God does not show favorites. He blesses some and judges others on the basis of the way in which they have chosen to walk…the way of the wicked or the way of the righteous. Psalm 1 tells us that the way of blessing is the way of righteousness, which involves the avoidance of worldly wisdom and worldly actions, and entails the pursuit of intimacy with God through His word and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

March 1, 2009

Obadiah: The Judgment of Edom

1 The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom (We have heard a report from the LORD, And a messenger has been sent among the nations, saying, "Arise, and let us rise up against her for battle"): 2 " Behold, I will make you small among the nations; You shall be greatly despised.

3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, You who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Whose habitation is high; You who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to the ground?' 4 Though you ascend as high as the eagle, And though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down," says the LORD.

5 " If thieves had come to you, If robbers by night-Oh, how you will be cut off!-Would they not have stolen till they had enough? If grape-gatherers had come to you, Would they not have left some gleanings? 6 " Oh, how Esau shall be searched out! How his hidden treasures shall be sought after! 7 All the men in your confederacy Shall force you to the border; The men at peace with you Shall deceive you and prevail against you. Those who eat your bread shall lay a trap for you. No one is aware of it. 8 " Will I not in that day," says the LORD, "Even destroy the wise men from Edom, And understanding from the mountains of Esau? 9 Then your mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, To the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau May be cut off by slaughter.

10 " For violence against your brother Jacob, Shame shall cover you, And you shall be cut off forever. 11 In the day that you stood on the other side-In the day that strangers carried captive his forces, When foreigners entered his gates And cast lots for Jerusalem-Even you were as one of them. 12 "But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother In the day of his captivity; Nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah In the day of their destruction; Nor should you have spoken proudly In the day of distress. 13 You should not have entered the gate of My people In the day of their calamity. Indeed, you should not have gazed on their affliction In the day of their calamity, Nor laid hands on their substance In the day of their calamity. 14 You should not have stood at the crossroads To cut off those among them who escaped; Nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained In the day of distress.

15 " For the day of the LORD upon all the nations is near; As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head. 16 For as you drank on My holy mountain, So shall all the nations drink continually; Yes, they shall drink, and swallow, And they shall be as though they had never been.

17 " But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, And there shall be holiness; The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. 18 The house of Jacob shall be a fire, And the house of Joseph a flame; But the house of Esau shall be stubble; They shall kindle them and devour them, And no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau," For the LORD has spoken.

19 The South shall possess the mountains of Esau, And the Lowland shall possess Philistia. They shall possess the fields of Ephraim And the fields of Samaria. Benjamin shall possess Gilead. 20 And the captives of this host of the children of Israel Shall possess the land of the Canaanites As far as Zarephath. The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad Shall possess the cities of the South. 21 Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion To judge the mountains of Esau, And the kingdom shall be the LORD's.

The book of Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament and has a narrow focus: God's judgment against Edom because of its opposition to the people of Jacob (i.e., Israel).

Jacob and Esau, were the twin sons of Isaac, son of Abraham, and Rebekah. Esau the firstborn and thus the eldest son and entitled to what was called the birthright-to inherit the land of his father Isaac. But in Genesis 25, we read that Esau, hungry and weary after a long day of hunting, asked Jacob to share the bread and lentil stew Jacob had prepared, and Jacob agreed, on the condition that Esau would transfer the birthright to him. So Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a meal of bread and lentil stew. The lentil stew was known as "red stew"-"edom" in Hebrew-and Esau became known as Edom.

The people of Edom were descendants of Esau. They settled in the land south of the Dead Sea, as far south as the Gulf of Aqaba. The region came to be called Edom and was perhaps 100 miles north to south and 40-50 miles east to west. The region is mountainous, and Edom built its cities high in the mountains and even carved dwellings into the cliffs for protection against invasion (see verses 3 and 4, above).

Travelers going from Egypt and North Africa went into Palestine via the route known as the King's Highway. It was the only caravan route between the two regions, and it ran through Edom. Edom opposed Israel, who were the descendants of Jacob, from the outset of the brothers' difficulties. In the exodus from Egypt, the Edomites refused to let the Israelites pass through:

Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. "Thus says your brother Israel: 'You know all the hardship that has befallen us, how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians afflicted us and our fathers. When we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent the Angel and brought us up out of Egypt; now here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your border. Please let us pass through your country. We will not pass through fields or vineyards, nor will we drink water from wells; we will go along the King's Highway; we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory." Then Edom said to him, "You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword." So the children of Israel said to him, "We will go by the Highway, and if I or my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it; let me only pass through on foot, nothing more." Then he said, "You shall not pass through." So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him. (Numbers 20:14-21).

They also opposed King Saul, were subdued by David and Solomon, and over several centuries fought against Israel. Edom celebrated when the Babylonians conquered Judah and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., but the Babylonians conquered Edom shortly afterward. Some Edomites then settled in southern Palestine, but they were never regarded as a nation after the Babylonians forced them out of their land. They assimilated into the people of Israel and became known as the Idumean Jews. The best-known Idumean is Herod, the king who had the young male children murdered in an effort to kill Jesus because it was reported to Herod that He had been born king of the Jews. By 100 A.D., Edom, or the Idumeans, as a people group were lost to history, fulfilling the prophecy of Obadiah 18 ("And no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau, For the LORD has spoken").

We don't know anything about Obadiah other than his name and his short prophecy. His name means "servant of Yahweh." There are about 20 people in the Old Testament. named Obadiah. Jewish tradition identifies him as Obadiah, the servant of King Ahab, who hid 100 prophets of Israel from Ahab's wife, Jezebel (see 1 Kings 18:3-4). But he could have been any of a half dozen men of that name, or none of the men named Obadiah elsewhere in the Old Testament.

Likewise, the date of the writing of Obadiah is not known for sure. Bible historians date is approximately around 848-841 B.C. The text (verse 11) refers to an invasion and defeat of Jerusalem (vv. 10-14), which is most likely the invasion by the Arabians, Philistines, and Edomites, in the 840s B.C. In addition, the style of Hebrew language in Obadiah is what we might call "early Hebrew" used in that era.

The message of Obadiah

The subject of the book of Obadiah is the fall of Edom, because of its pride (verse 3) and the Edomites' cruelty against Israel, their brothers (verse 10). In addition, starting in verse 17, Obadiah prophesies the deliverance, restoration, and exaltation of Israel. From the text, the prophecy has jumped ahead to the last days, the restoration of Israel and the millennial kingdom. Just as God raised up judges to deliver His people Israel (Nehemiah 9:27 calls them "saviors" or "deliverers"), so He will establish leaders to help rule and administer in the millennial kingdom, which is what the Bible refers to as the "kingdom of the Lord."

Brief outline of Obadiah

The coming judgment of Edom (1-9): The decree has been made to the nations (1) that the Lord will bring down (destroy) Edom, which is deceived by its pride (2-4). Nothing will be left-everything will be taken (5-6). Edom will be betrayed by its allies (7). Neither wisdom (8) nor might (9) will save Edom. (The term "Teman" in verse 9 refers to a region in northern Edom.)

The reasons for judgment of Edom (10-16): for violence against the Israelites, Edom's brothers (10) and for failing to save the Israelites taken captive by their conquerors and for taking part in dividing the spoils of Jerusalem (11). Obadiah seems to draw a distinction here-the Edomites and Israelites were brothers, but Edom was the ally to the foreigners who conquered Jerusalem. The Edomites seem to have an accountability not just because they opposed Israel, but also because the Edomites and the Israelites were related (Jacob and Esau were brothers). For rejoicing about Israel's defeat, taunting the defeated Israelites ("speaking proudly"), and aiding in the capture of the Israelites who were trying to escape (12-14)
4), Edom, too, will be destroyed, just as they helped defeat Israel (15-16).

Restoration and deliverance (17-21): Obadiah looks now to the restoration after the Messiah returns to rule. Deliverance and holiness will be found in Mt. Zion (Jerusalem), not Edom (17). Israel will consume Edom (18). Israel will possess the land of Edom (19-20) (and by the time of Jesus, Edom had been part of Israel for two centuries). The Lord will ultimately rule Edom as part of His kingdom (21).

Fulfillment of Obadiah's prophecy

Short-term fulfillment: Edom was conquered by Babylonians in 600-580 B.C., by the Nabataeans (from the east) approx. 400 B.C.; and by Israel under Judas Maccabeus approx. 200 B.C. After that, the remnant of Edom-the Idumeans as they were now called-adopted the Jewish law and began to assimilate into Israel.

The ultimate fulfillment: Obadiah did not personally know the whole prophetic picture, but verses 17-21 are most widely interpreted as a prophecy of the millennial kingdom on earth that is yet to come. Like most prophets, Obadiah mixes the short-term and the long-term-the restoration of Israel, the coming "day of the Lord" (verse 15-"day of the Lord" is an end-times reference), and eventual world rule by the Lord Himself from Jerusalem. The Lord will establish His millennial kingdom, a theocracy in which He will rule His people directly on earth.