Category Archives: Psalm Mondays

Every Monday, I’ll post my thoughts on a Psalm.

Psalm 9: His Name is Jesus

And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you. (v.10)

We have had and will face difficult days when trusting God seems impossible. But this verse reminds us of a very important truth – all who know the name of the Lord will put their trust in him. The converse is true: all who put their trust in the Lord know his name. Therefore, it is of first importance that we know the name of the Lord. If we do not rightly know his name, we cannot put our trust in him.

What then is this name to which the psalmist refers? The second half of the verse provides us with a foundation for the answer. He is a God who does not forsake those who seek him. When the psalmist cried out to him, God remembered him in his affliction and delivered him from his enemies.

But God knows that left to ourselves, we are unable to draw near to him or to seek him. Our hearts are too corrupt for that. And so in love he draws near to us first. The reason why he doesn’t forsake those who seek him is because their very seeking is a sign that they are being sought by a God who will redeem them at great cost to himself, namely the death of his Son.

So with the coming of Jesus, we have irrefutable evidence of this very truth. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life. (Rom 5: 10). To think that God did not wait for us to cry out to him but drew near to us while we were enemies and died for us demonstrates the depth of his love for us.

Ponder that for a moment. If you have even the slightest desire for God, it means that his heart is already set on you. He did not do so for anything good in you, but out of his own free will. You deserved his wrath, but he gave you his love. We have a God who loves us and gives himself for us in spite of our unloveliness. His name is Jesus.

All who know his name put their trust in him. Will you join their number?

Psalm 8: Small, but not insignificant

O Lord, our Lord,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.

Physically speaking, there is nothing above the heavens. The heavens are the limit. To say that God has set his glory above the heavens is the closest we can come to describing the transcendence of God’s majesty, and even then our best words fall short. God’s glory is a weight that needs to be both seen and felt.

It can be seen when we look at the heavens, the moon and the stars. The universe we live in is vast. At last count, our observable universe is a sphere with a radius of 46 billion light years. There are more than 100 billion observable galaxies, containing an estimated 3×1023 stars. When you consider that the size of our Sun, which is very much bigger than our planet, is lower than the average star size, that last number becomes pretty unimaginable. In short we were made to feel small, so that we might have an inkling of the weight of God’s majesty.

But it does not naturally follow that we are insignificant. This surprise is echoed by the Psalmist –  “what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (v.4)” Though we are small in comparison to the majesty of the universe, and the greater majesty of the Creator of the universe,  our Creator is mindful of us. He is not merely mindful in the way we would be mindful of unnecessarily offending a stranger with our actions, but he is mindful of us as a father is mindful of the well-being of his children. It is a strange wonder that man enjoys a privileged position in God’s universe. We are “crowned with glory and honour (v.5)” and “given dominion over the works of his hands (v.6)”.

This was God’s design for man from the beginning. Yet the first Adam failed to live up to his privilege and calling. He rebelled against God, rejecting the glory that was his to have, and lost all claims to the mindfulness of God. All of us are descended from him and so we have all similarly fallen short of God’s glory. But God’s designs are not thwarted. From the midst of sin and failure, greater glory and greater good would emerge. Jesus Christ came as the second Adam to do what the first Adam could not, namely live up to the privilege and calling of man to give glory to God. Not only that, his death would also bring many sons to glory. By virtue of his God-glorifying life and death, Jesus alone deserves the crown of glory and honour (Heb 2: 9-10).

But don’t miss the good news. The death of Jesus was designed to bring many sons to glory. We have all fallen short of God’s glory, and only deserve his wrath. Yet in love, he has made a way for glory to be restored to us. The way is Jesus, and he has promised us the gift of himself and all the blessings he has secured for us if we would gladly receive him. If you’re skeptical about the deal here, here’s another thought for you to ponder. Our trust in people rises and fall with the moral quality of their character. Now is there any one whose character is more trustworthy than Jesus?

Psalm 7: The Righteousness of God in the Suicide of Evil

God is a righteous judge,
and a God who feels indignation every day. (v.11)

Righteousness is an unfamiliar term to modern ears. When it is used, it is often accompanied with sarcastic overtones to disparagingly describe a person with a ‘holier-than-thou’ attitude. This sort of baggage means that the word is often lost in translation. Yet Scripture resounds with the truth of the righteousness of God. As such, if we are to know God truly, it is necessary for us to recover a biblical understanding of the righteousness of God.

What does it mean for God to be righteous? The righteousness of God is an elusively difficult attribute to define. There is an element of judging in strict accordance with a moral standard. There is an element of God’s covenant faithfulness to his people, in which he remains true to his promises. But it seems to me that Piper hits the nail on the head with his definition: his absolute faithfulness always to act for his own name’s sake and for the preservation and display of his glory.

Yes, there is a judgment in strict accordance with a moral standard. But the moral standard does not stand apart from God, as if God is bound to external standards. The moral standard by which God judges the world is the standard of his glory. The indignation he feels every day is when his glory is not honoured as it ought to be, and people willingly exchange his glory for lesser things. God’s righteousness demands justice be served, yet he also makes a covenant with his people, promising an unbroken relationship with them. How can God be faithful to his covenant and to the honour of his name? The tension is clearly resolved in Romans 3:21-26. In and through Jesus, God’s glory is upheld and his people are brought back into relationship with him

But we are not in Romans 3 yet. Coming back to Psalm 7, God is called the righteous judge. Part of what it means for him to be a judge is seen in verse 12. “If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword.” The psalmist understands that repentance is the means by which the punishment of God is averted. How can repentance feasibly cover the debt of life we owe to God? Already, there is an anticipation of the day that God sends his Son to die for the sins of the world.

For those who do not repent, God will prepare his deadly weapons (v.13). What are these deadly weapons? Interestingly, the psalmist points out that God has designed the world in such a way that evil always commits suicide. The wicked man always falls into the pit he has dug for others, and his mischief and violence always rebound on his own head. This does not convey the totality of eternal punishment, yet God in his wisdom has deemed it fitting to display the folly of evil by its inability to accomplish its own ends. The great irony of wickedness is that all acts of evil, while evil in themselves, always resolve into some greater good. Evil ultimately defeats itself.

The wisdom of God and the foolishness of evil are seen most brilliantly in the cross of Christ. There, Jesus “was delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, to be crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men.(Acts 2:23)” The greatest act of evil history will ever witness was committed that day. The most precious being in the universe, namely the Son of God, would suffer the ignominy of death. Yet this happened according to the plan of God, for he had planned to display his righteousness at the cross. Satan sought to deal a deathly blow to the incarnate glory of God, but in doing so committed suicide. For only through death could Jesus destroy the one who holds the power of death, and so ransom a people for himself who will sing his praises throughout all eternity:

I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness,
and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High. (v.17)

Psalm 6: Infallible Heavenly Logic

There are three things of note in Psalm 6.

First, life is full of grief and trouble. David is languishing, his bones are troubled and his soul is also greatly troubled. He is weary with moaning, he floods his bed with tears and he drenches his couch with his weeping. In fact, he is so full of grief that his eyes are wasting away from the constant weeping.

Is this an exaggeration on David’s part? I do not think so. Those who are well acquainted with grief and trouble know the ache it brings to the heart, soul and body.

Second, God is sovereign over trouble. At one level, David’s grief is linked to his foes (v.7). Yet David does not open his psalm by placing the blame on them. Instead, he places the blame on himself and attributes responsibility to God. From verse 1, it is clear that David believes that God has every reason to be angry at him, and every right to rebuke and discipline him. David’s enemies are merely instruments in the hand of an angry God.

This is a view of God many seldom take, with the protest that God is fundamentally a God of love. But in reducing God’s love to mere sentimentality, many neglect the biblical fact that God’s most defining attribute in the Bible is his holiness. The saints and angels do not cry “Lovely, lovely, lovely” but “Holy, holy, holy”. Consequently, we go through life thinking that we deserve only blessing from God, and curse him when trouble comes.

It is ultimately at the cross where the holiness and love of God meets. There the wrath of God is poured out on Jesus instead of us, so that we can be reconciled back to God. For all who are in Christ, there is no longer any wrath and fury left for us. We have a Heavenly Father who loves us, yet in his love he will exercise any necessary discipline for our good. Nevertheless it remains a sobering and humbling exercise to remind ourselves that we were once children of wrath, deserving only punishment, and all that we have and all that we are now solely and completely rests on the grace of God in Jesus. Consequently, we go through life with gratitude and wide-eyed wonder at the undeserved blessings we receive.

Third, God is more glorified when he is praised for his love than when his glory is vindicated by the dispensation of justice. More concisely, God receives more glory through redeeming us, not through punishing us. In this sense, while holiness is the fundamental attribute of God, God delights to exercise his holiness in love rather than in justice. David knows this, grounding his appeal to God for deliverance in these words – “save me for the sake of your steadfast love. For in death there is no remembrance of you; in Sheol who will give you praise?” (v.4-5)

And so God answers his prayers (v.8-10). This is something we would do well to remember. Though it is God who permits grief and trouble to afflict us in this life, these are providentially designed to call us to turn to him for deliverance, so that we might praise the One to whom we owe every breath and blessing. This infallible chain of heavenly logic is a sure and certain foundation for peace amidst trouble.

Psalm 5: You Will Have Enemies

We’re only 5 Psalms in and a pattern is already starting to emerge.

Solzhenitsyn wrote that “the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being.” So far, the Psalms we have read have only served to confirm this very insight. There is the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. Every man must choose between the two ways. We can scoff and reject or kiss the Son. Every man must choose what he does with the Son. In doing so, we make ourselves out as a people belonging to God or as enemies of God. Humanity is divided by where they stand in relation to God.

It is easy to think very little of this division. We all have non-Christian friends or relatives who are not opposed to our faith, and can be rather supportive to a good degree. This is a blessing we should thank God for – that those who are enemies of God are not our enemies. Yet there are undoubtedly many Christians across the world, today and in ages past, who are virulently and violently persecuted for their faith. They show us with certainty that there are those among the enemies of God who will also be our enemies.

There are three things to note from this Psalm.

First, God’s people will always have enemies. But let our enemies be our enemies because they are God’s enemies. Don’t make others out as enemies of God simply because they are our enemies. David describes his enemies (v.8) as those who have rebelled against God (v.10).

Second, it is a fearful thing to be an enemy of God. He hates all evildoers (v.5), he destroys those who speak lies (v.6), he will cast out rebels because of the abundance of their transgressions (v.10).

Third, the dividing line can be crossed. David was far from sinless. The story of Bathsheba is a tragic account of how sinful the human heart is. But he was spared from destruction. How can an evil man enter the presence of God (v.4)? He may do so through the abundance of God’s steadfast love (v.7). In the wake of recent books challenging the reality of hell and God’s wrath,  it must be noted that this is not a sentimental, ‘grandfatherly’ love. It is a holy and righteous love that will not sweep sins under the rug and pretend they never existed. All our sins will be accounted for, and God’s justice will finally run its course.

The question is who that wrath falls upon. It can fall upon us, or it can fall upon Jesus, “whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness at the present time, because in his divine forebearance he had passed over former sins (Romans 3:25).”  David was allowed to enter the house of God because in faith he looked forward to the day when Jesus would finally pay for his sins. Today, we can enter into the presence of God as we look back and believe that Jesus paid for our sins in full on the cross.

Therefore,

let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them ever sing for joy,
and spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may exult in you.
For you bless the righteous, O Lord;
you cover him with favor as with a shield. (v.11-12)

Psalm 4: The Ground of Praying Boldly

When it comes to prayer, I have to admit that I find it hard to ask with confidence. I don’t mean that I lack confidence in prayer. I know full well that I can boldly approach the Father because of what Jesus has done for me. But I can’t quite wrap my head around Jesus’ words in John 14:14: “If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.”

Really? Anything? Yes, Jesus did qualify his statement with the phrase “in my name”, meaning that we should only ask for things that will bring honour and glory to his name, but even with this qualification, there remain numerous things we can ask for in his name. Yet, I always feel the need to qualify my prayers: “Please do this and this, if it’s in accordance with your will.

But Paul the apostle doesn’t pray like this. For example, in Romans 1:9, we find him “asking that somehow by God’s will I may now at last succeed in coming to you.” The will of God is not preceded by an if. Paul is asking that God will order things in such a way that he can come to the Romans. I confess I do not pray with the same degree of boldness.

What lies behind my lack of boldness? Why do I find it difficult to say with David, “the Lord hears when I call to him.” (v.3) I think at some root level, I do not fully trust in the goodness of God. David knows otherwise. He knows that God is merciful, and hears us in spite of the imperfection of our prayers. So when he was in distress, he prayed boldly for relief. He doesn’t hedge his prayers with “let me suffer more if that is your will.”

Yet there was one who prayed such a prayer: “Father, remove this cup from me. Yet not my will but your will be done.” And the Father’s will was that Jesus would drink the cup of his wrath till it was empty. Because Jesus was obedient until death,  he secured for us an infinite bounty of goodness. Our bold prayers for our good are bought with the blood of Jesus. God will not turn a deaf ear to such valuable prayers. This brings a new dimension to the last few lines of the Psalm:

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O Lord!” (v.6)

Having seen Jesus, there can no longer be any doubt about God’s goodness to us. The request that the Lord lift up the light of his face upon his people has been answered in full. It is none other than Jesus Christ himself (see 2 Corinthians 4:6). He not only shows us some good; more than that, nothing but goodness comes to us from his hand. Even the evils and sufferings we face are but a momentary affliction working for us an eternal weight of glory and goodness.

Do we perceive the goodness of God towards us? More often than not, we dwell bitterly on the things that God denies us for our good, thinking that we know better what we need. But we are not as wise as God, nor do we love ourselves as much as God loves us. Left to our own devices, we would soon destroy ourselves. But thanks to the goodness of God, we can say with the Psalmist:

You have filled my heart with greater joy
than when their grain and new wine abound.
I will lie down and sleep in peace,
for you alone, O LORD,
make me dwell in safety.

This is the ground of praying boldly. Because of Jesus, God is working all things for our good. In him we can find an inexhaustible supply of goodness dedicated to our joy and peace. That God would show such goodness to undeserving sinners like us is unthinkable but undeniably true. O the depth of the love of God!

Psalm 3: Salvation belongs to the Lord

The story of David’s son Absalom is a rather messy one. His story begins in 2 Samuel 13, with the tragic rape of his sister Tamar by his half-brother Amnon. Amnon went unpunished, while Tamar was forced to live with her shame. And so hatred burnt within the heart of Absalom. Hatred blossomed into murder and upon completion of the foul deed, Absalom fled the country.

David loved Absalom, and eventually brought him back to Jerusalem, with a single condition: Absalom was to never enter the presence of David. For two years, Absalom lived in Jerusalem without laying eyes on David. But Absalom longed to see his father, and forced his way into David’s presence. Despite his disobedience, David welcomed Absalom with a kiss.

Yet Absalom conspired against his father, stealing the hearts of the men of Israel as to usurp his father’s throne. David, receiving word that the conspiracy was coming to fruition, fled Jerusalem. Psalm 3 was borne out of the treachery of Absalom and Israel and David’s desperate flight to safety.

The story of Absalom raises many questions. Why did David not punish Amnon? Was Absalom’s response justified? What drove him to conspire against his father? Who was at fault for the breakdown in their relationship? And let us not forget the words of Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:10-11: “Now therefore the sword shall never depart from your house, because you have despised me and have taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your wife.’ Thus says the Lord, ‘Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house…”

The consequences of sin are far-reaching and deadly. The words of Nathan would have haunted David as he fled. God himself had decreed that evil would fall upon David out of his own house. And so it came to pass. But David did not curse God for the evil that had fallen upon him. Instead he acknowledged God as his salvation – as his shield, his glory and the lifter of his head. Even as his enemies pursued him intently, God would shield him from harm. Even as the people shamed David for the loss of his throne, God would be his glory. And even as David felt dejected and downhearted over his son’s betrayal, God would lift up his head.

Living on our side of the cross and resurrection, we see that this is but a glimpse of the full salvation of God that came through Jesus Christ. Jesus is our shield, our glory, the lifter of our heads and more. He has disarmed our enemies at the cross. He has made us more than conquerors through him, subjecting our enemies to our good. He has given us the right to become children of God. He has promised that we will share in his glory. He shall glorify us on that final day. He has lifted from us the weight of our condemnation. He has set us free from the deadly slavery of sin. He is the joy of our souls.

David rightly recognised that salvation belongs to the Lord (v.8a). This is an eternal truth. Because it belongs to him, he is free to give it to whoever he desires to give it to. And he desires to give it to those who genuinely ask for it. Jesus will never turn away any who come to him for salvation.