Psalms 73 - 89 (Book Three)
Growing in Christ
"He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures." Luke 24:45
Book Three is concerned with the problem of inequity in the world: The wicked seem to enjoy prosperity while the righteous suffer. Psalm 73 also prepares readers to contemplate the collapse of David’s dynasty, which forms the context through the end of Book Three (Ps 89).
Book Three is made up of 1.) psalms by Asaph that focus on the restoration of God’s people and the judgment of his enemies (Ps 73–83); and 2.) psalms by the “Sons of Korah” (Ps 84–89) (NLT).
The apparent reversal of what is right: Though Asaph's stereotype of the ease of the wicked (v.4-5) has exceptions, there are enough powerful wicked persons living without apparent immediate consequence to make the question deeply troublesome. The problem is aggravated by the trouble which comes to the righteous in which efforts to remain pure of heart and hand seem unrewarded (v.13-14).
How to respond? There are ramifications to discouragement and doubt, as powerful as to hope and faith. The psalmist recognizes the effect of this both on his own heart and on those around him (v.15). He chooses to go to the temple (v.17) to wrestle through the dilemma privately, seeking the presence of the Lord for reflection and insight.
Turning to the Lord brings solution to both struggles: The Lord turns short-sight to long-sight with the perspective of eternity (v.17-20). The wicked will perish. The ease of the wicked is short-lived and inconsequential. At the same time the blessing of the presence of the Lord is continual (v.23), permanent (v.24), fulfilling (v.25), restorative (v.26), good (v.28) close, safe and immeasurably satisfying. Compared with the Lord, the temporary pride of the wicked pales into oblivion.
God's people suffer unjustly, as do animals and creation itself. Yet I will draw near to the Lord and rejoice in Him, drawing the deepest of satisfaction drinking in of His presence and goodness.
My Prayer: Father, thank you that You are good and You are just and Your perfect plan and outcome will be seen in fullness with the deepest of satisfaction for Your children. Thank you that we have such riches in You already now and the best is yet to come.
Remembering Our Identity: Despite her unfaithfulness for centuries, the psalmist reminds God of Israel's identity as the sheep of His pasture (v.1), His flock purchased and redeemed from Egypt for His eternal inheritance (v.2). "Remember who we are," is the cry!
See what has happened to us: The psalmist takes God's "footsteps" (v.3) on a tour as Babylonians set up their own banners in His sanctuary (v.4), smash its artwork (v.6) and roar in victory (v.4) over Israel's God - before burning His temple to the ground (v.7).
What now? After 400 years the temple built by Solomon has been destroyed (586BC). A powerless remnant is left. Ezekiel has been taken to Babylon, Jeremiah to Egypt; there is no prophet who knows what will happen (v.9).
The God who is Able: Yet the psalmist knows God is able and calls on Him to act; the God who divided the sea, crushed the army of Egypt (Leviathan, v.14), gave water in the desert (v.15). The psalmist asks essentially, "Though we have been foolish to spurn You (v.18), remember Your covenant with us (v.20) and do not let us, defenseless as a turtledove (v.19) continue in this dark place (v.20). For Your own honor, rise up against Your adversaries (v.23)."
Personal Application: Though God's people may forget God when times are good, we are prone to remember (and sometimes blame) Him when the consequences of our choices have come home to us. Never will I be angry with God, rather I will cling to Him who alone is righteous in a world of darkness.
My Prayer: Father, Jesus suffered for evil not His own, in order to redeem us. We suffer rather, all too often, for evil which is our own. Lord, help me run, in all suffering, to You alone. You can heal, forgive and make whole.
Good News: God is Judge! Many think the idea of judgment is to be feared. It is, but only by the wicked. The wicked seem to assume God doesn't exist or is too weak to judge. They are in error on both counts.
God lifts up one and puts down another (v.7): Destiny is in God's hand. He, not us, will choose the time of judgment (v.2); His choice of time is part of His sovereignty. Justice comes neither from east, west or south (v.6) but from God alone. The north, from where the Assyrians came, is not even mentioned, as the Assyrians would bring grief and destruction (Isa 36-37).
There is no place for arrogance: The 'horn' (strength) of the wicked will be cut off and that of the righteous lifted up (v.10). This the "great reversal" of which Jesus also speaks, who will judge rightly on the Day of the Lord as His Father directs.
Personal Application: I will not be intimidated by those who are angry at the mention of righteousness, justice or the limits of their self-proclaimed freedom from moral standards. I will rejoice in the Lord, my hope.
My Prayer: Father, how thankful I am that justice will come at the time of your choosing and that your judgment will be true, bringing about the renewal of all things. Thank you Father for all your compassionate warnings and for the way of salvation given freely in the cross of Christ Jesus our Lord.
Judgment saves the humble: the psalm celebrates a victory (v.5-6), probably that over the Assyrians (2 Kings 18:13-19:37). God overcomes the wrath and cruelty of man (v.10) to bring salvation to the humble (v.9). Therefore He is to be feared by the kings of the earth (v.12) and praised by the humble (v.9).
Universal victory: "God’s victory over Zion’s enemies foreshadows His worldwide victory over all His enemies" (NLT). Facing every evil we look to the Lord for judgment against evil, universally at Christ's return or as we are saved from evil at death as we enter eternity. We are therefore ever hopeful of justice despite the evil of men, ever humble before the Lord, ever desirous of dwelling with Him in Salem (peace).
Personal application: I will not fear at the approach of evil but trust the Lord, grateful for grace as He judges and grateful for His universal judgement cleansing the earth of evil.
"You caused judgment to be heard from heaven; the earth feared and was still when God rose to judgment to save all the humble of the earth. (v.8-9)
My Prayer: Father, how great is your name (v.1), how resplendent your majesty (v.4) as you bring victory to your people as you judge the earth. Lord, restrain those who do evil, destroy their weapons, bring justice and peace.
Seeking the Lord when deeply troubled: The psalmist is so troubled he cannot speak (v.4). The question of whether the Lord has rejected or forgotten him (v.7-9) preoccupies him day and night (v.2).
Confidence: though the psalmist has no answers, he is confident that his voice rises to the Lord and that the Lord hears him (v.1). How does he come to this place? He makes two decisions.
Looking back: The psalmist chooses to widen his perspective by bringing to mind what God has done in the past (v.11-15); His ways (v.13), His strength, His deeds. These are not whims but expressions of God's unchanging character.
Looking corporately: The psalmist also shifts focus from his personal situation to the wider corporate experience of God's people (v.14ff). God wider love and concern surely includes the psalmist's personal pain also. Therefore the confidence of v. 1.
We need each other for the perspective we lack individually. Each of us have testimonies of God's goodness to share, bringing encouragement to all. Scripture also helps us remember the history of God's dealing with His weak and willful people, bringing encouragement in difficult times and circumstances.
Personal Application: I will look up to the Lord, back in history to His redemptive ways, and to the testimony of others to His works. Each are sources of encouragement when my own circumstances are difficult. "He will hear me! (v.1)"
My Prayer: Father, thank you that, even in the painful circumstances of my extremities, You deepen me in You, in confidence that You hear, in my certainty that there is nowhere and no one else to go to, even if I have to wait. Even in waiting You have purpose.
Message to the Next Generation: Asaph's summary of this message is fourfold: put your confidence in God, do not forget the works of God, keep His commandments, do not be like those in the past who did not set their heart to be faithful to God (v.7-8).
"Tell the generation to come of the praises of the Lord, His strength and the wondrous works He has done." (v.4)
Responsibility of Parents: The prime responsibility of parents is to introduce their children to the Lord (v.4). We must make wise decisions to prepare our children for the future. All can be lost in one generation. For this reason this must be our first priority. The psalm shows the cost of not doing so.
Responsibility of Good Government: Leadership is not morally neutral but takes it's model from King David (v.70ff) who led his people as a shepherd and guided them in righteousness. Good government's prime goal must not be to give people what they want in order to be reelected but to give people what they need for righteousness and the common good.
God's Initiative: To set His people on the right course, God make three necessary choices: Judah (to replace Ephraim), Zion as His city and David as His King (v.68-72).
Personal Application: I will read the Bible and pray with our children and grandchildren every meal. I will take or encourage them in weekly Christian community and worship. I will do a workshop with each of our children on how to disciple their children to the Lord Jesus and train them to disciple their children and train them to do the same with their children.
My Prayer: Lord, show me how to train our adult children how to disciple their children. Father, prepare their hearts and mine for this vital conversation. Give me wisdom and persistence for the first priority on which everything hangs, now, for future generations and for eternity.
Agony at the horror of judgment: Asaph, now in exile, groans (v.11) over the unspeakable Babylonian cruelty he has witnessed in Jerusalem (v.1-7). He does not deny Judah's deserved punishment. Rather he asks for atonement for their sins (v.9) and for those of their forefathers (v.8).
Prayer for justice against Babylon: Though accepting God's justice against Judah, Asaph also asks God's justice against the ruthless power of Babylon (v.6-7).
Prayer for salvation: Asaph's plea for salvation (v.8-10) is based on God's compassion (character), the depths of Israel's misery (v8b,c), his prayer for atonement (v.9), and appeal to the honor of God's name among the nations (v.9-10). The salvation for which Asaph pleads is one of peace for many generations in which God tends his people and his people follow, as sheep their shepherd, with thanksgiving forever (v.13).
Personal Application: Human nature is such that our desire for mercy is far greater when judgment (consequences) have begun than when God's warning first comes to our awareness. For this reason it is better to leave concern about God's judgment of others (the nations, individuals, systems) to God's timing and to focus rather on my own love and obedience seeking to please the Father's heart.
Therefore I will listen for God's warnings and respond promptly, avoiding the consequences of carelessness and deliberate disobedience. I will pray for those under the rule of evil nations.
My Prayer: Father, help me to see the
consequences You warn of clearly now, so as not to have to experience them
An appeal to God: Psalm 80 may have been written before Psalm 79 in that Asaph, in Jerusalem to the south, looks at the judgment on the northern tribes and pleads with God to intervene that Judah might be saved from a similar fate.
Yet judgement: Despite Asaph's appeal, judgment did come on Judah. Babylon invaded and took Judah into exile. An appeal then does not always turn away judgement because the appeal may only have come from a few and not broadly from the people or be a precursor to lasting repentance.
Appealing rightly: Asaph's cry is yet a model for us; he pleads with the Lord: "shine forth (v.1), stir up your power, come to save us (v.2), restore us (v.3, 19), take care of this vine (v.14), let your hand be upon us (v.17), revive us (v.18), cause your face to shine on us and we will be saved" (v.19).
Personal Application: Let us cry likewise for our nation and may the nation hear and add its heart to our cry and turn it's heart to the Lord. I too will call out for mercy on our nation, knowing that unless the nation cries out with me it may not be enough. I will call others to join me in repenting for our nation, including those who acknowledge not the Lord.
My Prayer: Father, when you bring righteous judgement, may those who receive it accept it and turn yet to acknowledge You rightly to be among those who join the throngs and bow the knee in worship of You our creator, redeemer and restorer of all things. You are the righteous judge and the giver of mercy to those who ask in time.
Joy of Praise: The new moon (v.3) is fresh reminder to praise the Lord joyfully for his deliverance from Egypt (v.5) and from our sin.
One God Only: Only Yahweh has called and delivered Israel (v.6-7), only Yahweh is God to be worshipped, heard (v.8) and obeyed. God is always good in His intent towards us: "I would feed you with the finest of the wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you." (v.16).
Outcomes of our response: if God's people do not listen and obey (v.11), He will leave us to the needless consequences of our stubbornness of heart (v.12). If we pretend to obey while our hearts are far from Him, our loss will be eternal. If we walk in His ways (v.13) He will restrain our enemies (v.14) and satisfy us with good things (v.16).
God respects the choices we make even if they are bad for us. God is patient, speaking His invitation to faithful covenant continually, always eager for our positive response. But His patience is not infinite.
Personal Response: I will be like a small bird and "open my mouth wide" that He may fill it (v.10) with truth and good things. With this attitude I will open the Word daily to receive good into my being.
My Prayer: Father, take any remaining tendency towards stubbornness out of my heart. Make me soft, eager, yearning for You alone.
Elohim: Some are surprised God would use the term "Elohim" (plural for gods) to refer to human "rulers" on earth (v.1, NASV). Yet God both holds rulers and judges in high esteem (v.6) and to high accountability in their responsibility (v.3-4). If rulers and judges fail to judge rightly, if they favor the wicked over the weak and fatherless, the afflicted and destitute, they will be themselves judged and die in ignominy (v.7a).
God is high above them all (v.6) and will judge the world rightly and possess all the nations (v.8). Though those in authority seem to rule with immunity, this is only apparent. In fact, God holds them, and us, to account. Ultimately God will judge the earth and all in it by His perfect standard of righteousness. The nations, and all in them, are His rightful possession to rule.
Personal Response: I will be in the corner of all the oppressed; not only the unborn but also the born; not only women and children but all the enslaved, not only physically but also economic, not only economic but sexual, not only black but also indigenous, not only those without fathers but those with fathers.
v.2-4: How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Vindicate the weak and fatherless; do justice to the afflicted and destitute. Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them out of the hand of the wicked.
My Prayer: Father, you are great and greatly to be praised. Without you establishing standards of righteousness all the world would be enslaved to the unjust and powerful. Lord, make me unsatisfied with any symbolic or superficial application of your call for justice. In Jesus name, Amen
God's Enemies: God's enemies almost entirely surrounded Israel in the days of Josaphat (2 Ch 20:1, 2) and have at times likewise surrounded the church with the same destructive intent (v.4). God's enemies roar (v.2) and mock him (v.12) suggesting the Good Shepherd cannot protect his sheep. Those who do are not only our enemies, but God's (v.2).
Matthew Henry summarizes, "Wicked men wish that there might be no religion among mankind. They would gladly see all its restraints shaken off, and all that preach, profess, or practice it, cut off."
Our Position in the World: Those who delight in the Lord have always been a minority and often been rejected by the majority. This should not surprise us or shake our love or our mission of declaring the Most High as Savior of all the earth (v.18).
Our Hope and Rest in the Lord: The psalmist, and God's people under pressure today, may wonder why God appears silent in face of the threat (v.1). Yet the Lord invites us to trust him, even in our extremity. The Lord will sustain us through the storm into his eternal pastures of safety and plenty (v.12).
Penultimate and Ultimate: The psalmist prays for protection from and removal of God's enemies (v.9-18) in his lifetime, desiring ultimately that they too will seek the Lord (v.16) and know him who alone is Most High over all the earth (v.18).
Personal Response: I will be at peace in the Lord while the world roars and conspires against His treasured ones (v.3). I will continue to seek the salvation of those who rebel against God and invite them to know and love him.
My Prayer: Father, you are my peace, my shalom, my protection and my hope. It is not my circumstances but my God who is determinative in my extremity.
Anticipating God's presence in God's house: A joyful pilgrim sings of his passion for God's house (v.1-4) as he journeys to Zion (v.5-8) where he is blessed to look on the Lord with praise (v.9-12). In my journey through life I yearn for the Lord's presence (v.2) and call blessed those who are now with him (v.4), both fellow-worshipers on earth and those who have already entered into the more immediate presence of the Lord. Even before we arrive, the "highway to Zion" passes through our heart with the promise of God's presence always with us (v.5).
The Lord's presence gives strength (v.5,7) and comfort even in Baca (place of weeping, v.6) bringing us into safe harbour in his presence (v.7). So wonderful is the glory and grace (v. 11) of the presence of God that even a glimpse from the threshold is worthy of eternal praise.
My pilgrimage is to one place: Zion, the presence of the Lord in the house of God who is my sun and shield, the only one who gives me, by the merits of Christ, of his grace and glory. Verse 10: "A day in your courts are better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather stand at the threshold of the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness."
Personal Response: I will set my eyes on the Lord and memorize the ascriptions of praise raised in heaven and recorded in the Revelation of John.
My Prayer: My glorious God and Father, how I praise you in the beauty of holiness. Though the world refuse you the glory due your name I delight to praise and worship you forever. Father, draw me into the courts of heaven by your grace and mercy through the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf on the cross.
God's character: is revealed in history (v.1-3), giving us a firm foundation for confidence in the Lord in the present. God has shown us favor, he has restored His people from captivity (v.1), covered and forgiven our sin (v.2) and turned away from anger, though deserved (v.3). Praise the Lord!
Appealing to God's character: We can ask for restoration (v.4) knowing the God who gives life is the God who revives our life, physically and spiritually (v.5). In Him we rejoice! So we appeal to his loyal love, asking for freedom and salvation (v.7).
The Wonderous Gifts of Salvation: The Lord speaks peace (v.8) and salvation (v.9) to His godly ones, revealed in the glory of His presence. Lovingkindness, truth, righteousness and peace are Inextricably bound, the four walls of His Kingdom (v.10), coming down from heaven and rising from the earth (v.11). All this is from the Lord who prospers us (v.12) and shows us the way of righteousness (v.13).
The character of the Lord gives confidence in hard times. The terms of salvation may seem general to some but there is great freedom within these four walls, far greater than the "freedom" of sin which is utter bondage and the path (v.13) of greater glories to come. "Lovingkindness and truth have met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other. Truth springs from the earth and righteousness looks down from heaven (v.10-11)."
Personal Response: I will live in daily hope in every circumstance because of the character and promises of the Lord. In all circumstances I will look for refreshment from the Lord (v.4,6) and will live within the four walls of His salvation: lovingkindness, truth, righteousness and peace (v.10)
My Prayer: Father, blessed be your name forever. Thank you for your lovingkindness, truth, righteousness and peace. My praises will flow from my heart for all times! Let not my feet slip from your path!
Reasons for Confidence: David's petitions are urgent and many, comprising almost the entire psalm. Striking are David's reasons for confidence, each prefaced by "for" (v.1,2,3,4,5,7,10,13):
The first reasons expressed relate to himself: "I am afflicted (v.1), a godly man (v.2), I cry out all day (v.3), I lift up my soul" (v.4), the latter reasons relate to the nature of God: "for You are good...(v.5), will answer me (v.7), are great and alone are God (v.10), your lovingkindness delivers my soul from Sheol (v.13).
My Identity: I am a man of undivided heart, seeking the Lord and walking in His ways and in His truth. Psa 86:11 Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.
Personal Application: I am delivered from Sheol (v.13) and my heart is now in heaven with Him who is seated at the right hand of the Father. I will cast my eyes upward with joy at every harassment of the defeated enemy.
My Prayer: Father, sound alarm bells in my spirit any and every time my heart threatens to divide between Your ways, Your glory, Your truth - and the ways and deception of the world and its prince.
Our foundation is sure: because our foundation is God Himself (v.1). This secure foundation in the Living God is symbolized by the mountain on which is built the City of Zion.
The City of God: draws children even from Israel's former enemies (v.4). God's enemies will come to know Him and their children will say "I was born (again) in Zion, I am now a citizen."
Our springs of Joy: To be a citizen of Zion in the presence of God is our highest joy. God himself is the source of this living water, His own Holy Spirit.
All (v.7): should we look for joy elsewhere we will be disappointed. All true joy comes from the majestic person of God. If I, satisfied in Him, look away, seeking instead joy in material goods or carnal pleasures, I will loose the joy which can come from no source but life in God alone.
Personal Application: I will return quickly to the source of my salvation - the springs of eternal life and joy in the Lord alone - the very minute I become aware that I have departed. I will do so by saying to the Lord: "All my springs of joy on in You!"
My Prayer: Father, thank you that you have given all that is needed for salvation, godliness and joy in Christ Jesus my Lord! Thank you for the true eternal Living Water which is Your Holy Spirit. Forgive me for lingering on the edge of barren cisterns, looking again at the dry cracked ground. All my hope, all my springs of joy are in You!
In process, please return.