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Psalm 56 July 28, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 56.

Summary: In this passage, David prays that God would deliver him from the Philistines, who continuously seek to effect his demise. Indeed, they even attempt to manipulate his words to that end, increasing his sorrow.

Yet he is confident in God; he praises Him, knowing that He will protect him from those who are ultimately subject to Him.

He concludes by declaring that because God has answered his prayer, he will fulfill the vows that he made during his predicament; moreover, he will present offerings to Him with a spirit of thankfulness.

Thoughts: David’s declaration of his confidence in God in verses 3 and 4 also appears in verses 10 and 11. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

This and the former verse are evidently the chorus of the psalm. We cannot be too careful of our faith, or see too sedulously that it is grounded on the Lord alone…Faith has banished fear. He views his foes in their most forcible character, calling them not flesh, but man, yet he dreads them not; though the whole race were his enemies he would not be afraid now that his trust is stayed on God.

These verses caused me to ponder questions such as: what was David’s understanding of life after death? Did he have any conception of being able to spend eternity with God in heaven? Did he have any notion of the immortality of his soul? When he proclaims his trust in God in these verses, was he declaring that God would not allow him to suffer an early death? Was he utterly convinced that he would not perish in the prime of his life? I should also note that these questions could be asked of any Old Testament figure – not just David.

In verses 12 and 13, David declares that God preserves his life. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

Walking at liberty, in holy service, in sacred communion, in constant progress in holiness, enjoying the smile of heaven – this I seek after. Here is the loftiest reach of a good person’s ambition: to dwell with God, to walk in righteousness before him, to rejoice in his presence, and in the light and glory which it yields.

I was struck by the phrase, “constant progress in holiness,” as it reminds me of a small group meeting several years ago at my former church. One of the attendees, who happened to be a seeker, raised the following (apt) question: how do we, as believers, know that we are actually growing closer to God? I suppose that the notion of “closeness” is not readily quantifiable; one idea is that as one grows closer to God, their faith increases. This can be expressed by taking more risks that are intended to glorify God. Given this conjecture, how can we step outside of our comfort zone at any point in our walk with Him? What are the benefits – and challenges – of taking steps in that regard?

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Psalm 55 July 27, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 55.

Summary: In this passage, David is deeply perturbed, since:

  • his enemies plan to effect his demise
  • their malicious thoughts and deeds have marred Jerusalem
  • a close friend has betrayed him by covertly joining their ranks.

Thus, he desires to flee from Jerusalem to an outpost.

Yet he resolves to call on God, asking Him to:

  • thwart the plans of his enemies
  • destroy them.

Indeed, he is confident that God will answer his prayer, as his enemies fail to acknowledge His authority.

He concludes by exhorting the people of God to emulate him by calling on God when they are deeply perturbed, since they acknowledge His authority.

Thoughts: During my stroll through the Psalms, I had only skimmed the title notes for each passage. For this passage, though, I was struck by the phrase, “For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A maskil of David.” This caused me to ponder questions such as:

  • Who was “the director of music” when David composed this psalm?
  • The instruction “With stringed instruments” is vague to a modern-day reader; did David intend that only certain stringed instruments accompany this psalm?
  • Would the director of music – and the ensemble under his direction – have known which notes to play on their instruments?
  • What was their conception of dynamics, meter, pitch, and tempo?
  • What is the precise meaning of the word “maskil”?

In verse 15, David prays that his enemies would suffer an untimely demise. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Not thus would Jesus pray, but the rough soldier David so poured out the anguish of his spirit, under treachery and malice altogether unprovoked. The soldier desires the overthrow of his foes; for this very end he fights; David was waging a just, defensive war against men utterly regardless of truth and justice. Read the words as a warrior’s imprecation.

This verse caused me to ponder the following conjecture: God is not necessarily pleased by every word in the Scriptures. Since I find the concept of eternal punishment to be rather unpleasant, I refuse to pray that God would slay those who clearly oppose Him and His kingdom (I believe that they could not be saved after their passing). Even in the face of long odds, I pray that God would, in His timing, compel them to repent of their sins, allowing them to experience the joy of eternal life. Indeed, I wonder if David revisited this psalm in his declining years and regretted his imprecation in this verse.

In this passage, David is appalled by the disloyalty of a close friend. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 20:

The psalmist cannot forget the traitor’s conduct, and returns again to consider it…He smites those to whom he had given the hand of friendship, he breaks the bonds of alliance, he is perfidious to those who dwell at ease because of his friendly professions…The most solemn league he has profaned; he is regardless of oaths and promises.

One of the sidebar notes for this passage in my NIV Study Bible mentions that this psalm may have been written during the rebellion of Absalom; moreover, the close friend who is referenced here may have been Ahithophel. Thus, I anticipate meeting David in the next life and probing him on this point. What was the nature of his relationship with Ahithophel before Absalom rebelled against him? What were his thoughts and feelings when he learned that his trusted counselor had abandoned him, casting his lot with his favored son? How did he respond to the news that Ahithophel had committed suicide? Did he employ any counselors after Ahithophel’s death, and if so, did he harbor any doubts concerning their loyalty to him?

Psalm 54 July 19, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 54.

Summary: In this passage, David prays that God would deliver him from Saul and the Ziphites – who are attempting to slay him.

He then asserts his confidence in God, declaring that He will answer his prayer; moreover, He will enable him to defeat Saul and the Ziphites. Thus, he will praise Him.

Thoughts: Here, David declares that God will rescue him from his current predicament. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verses 6 and 7:

So certain is he of deliverance that he offers a vow by anticipation…Up to that time deliverance had come, and for that danger also he felt that rescue was near.

When I strolled through this passage, I noted the ostensibly abrupt transition between verses 5 and 6. Thus, I am curious: was this psalm written in one setting? If so, had God spoken to David in an audible voice, assuring him that He would deliver him in His timing? If this psalm was not written in one setting, what was the length of the delay between the composition of verses 5 and 6? I anticipate meeting David in the next life and delving into his writing process; did his approach vary from psalm to psalm?

Psalm 53 July 14, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 53.

Summary: See my summary of Psalm 14.

Thoughts: This passage is notably similar to Psalm 14. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point; here is an excerpt from his commentary on verse 3:

The whole mass of humanity, all of it, is gone back. In Psalm 14 it was said to turn aside, which was bad enough, but here it is described as running in a diametrically opposite direction.

Also, here is an excerpt from his commentary on verse 5:

David sees the end of the ungodly, and the ultimate triumph of the spiritual. The rebellious march in fury against the gracious, but suddenly they are seized with a causeless panic. In this, Psalm 53 differs much from Psalm 14. It expresses a higher state of realization in the poet; he emphasizes the truth by stronger expressions.

I anticipate meeting David in the next life and delving into the context of these two psalms. Would he concur with Spurgeon’s commentary regarding the distinction between these passages? Did he compose both psalms – or did an unknown writer edit Psalm 14, yielding Psalm 53? Who were those who had abandoned David as he battled his adversaries? How did God deliver His people from “those who attacked [them]?” How did He fill His enemies with panic when “there was nothing to dread?”

Psalm 52 July 13, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 52.

Summary: In this passage, David excoriates Doeg the Edomite, asserting that:

  • he is a prevaricator
  • his words promote wickedness
  • he places his confidence in his wealth
  • God will respond by punishing him
  • the righteous will rejoice at his comeuppance.

He then draws a sharp contrast between himself and Doeg, asserting that:

  • he places his confidence in God
  • God will respond by rewarding him
  • he will praise Him among His people.

Thoughts: Here, David asserts that God will punish Doeg the Edomite. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

Doeg had small matter for boasting in having procured the slaughter of a band of defenseless priests…The tyrant’s fury cannot dry up the stream of divine mercy. The Lord will outlive Doeg and right the wrongs which he has done.

Given my understanding of the story of Doeg, I was baffled by some of the quotes in this passage, including “you who practice deceit”, “you love…falsehood rather than speaking the truth”, and “the man who…trusted in his great wealth.” I assume that 1 Samuel – and this passage – do not constitute the complete record of the notable deeds of Doeg. Perhaps we should note, for now, that Doeg did not use his words to glorify God. While he did tell the truth concerning David’s visit to Ahimelech, he failed to grasp the connection between 1) David’s safety and 2) God’s desires for His people. Since his words essentially worked against God’s desires for His people, one could assert that he promoted “deceit” and “falsehood.”

Psalm 51 July 7, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 51.

Summary: In this passage, David beseeches God to show mercy to him, as he has committed adultery with Bathsheba and attempted to conceal that sin by murdering her husband, Uriah the Hittite.

He asserts that he has acted based on his inherent sinfulness – heightening the contrast between his sinfulness and God’s righteousness.

He then prays that God would:

  • cleanse him of his sins – not counting them against him
  • restore him to a right relationship with Him
  • incline his soul towards Him.

He then asserts that he will respond by praising Him – and exhorting other sinners to do likewise. Moreover, he will praise him based on an acute awareness of his inherent sinfulness.

He concludes by praying for the people of Israel – especially that they would praise Him based on an acute awareness of their inherent sinfulness.

Thoughts: I enjoyed reading the following note that Spurgeon included in the preface to his commentary:

In commenting upon some of [the Psalms], I have been overwhelmed with awe, and said with Jacob, “How dreadful is this place, it is none other than the house of God.” Especially was this the case with Psalm 51; I postponed expounding it week after week, feeling more and more my inability for the work. Often I sat down to it, and rose up again without having penned a line. It is a bush burning with fire yet not consumed, and out of it a voice seemed to cry to me, “Draw not nigh hither, put off thy shoes from off thy feet.” The psalm is very human, its cries and sobs are of one born of woman; but it is freighted with an inspiration all divine, as if the great Father were putting words into his child’s mouth. Such a psalm may be wept over, absorbed into the soul, and exhaled again in devotion; but, commented on – ah! where is he who having attempted it can do other than blush at his defeat?

Notwithstanding the last sentence, I approached Spurgeon’s commentary on this psalm with great anticipation in light of this note. Thus, I was displeased with the edited – and abridged, I assume – version that appeared in my Crossway Classic Commentary; my conjecture is that the original version was relatively lengthy and included a great deal of soul-searching. In light of this disappointment, I anticipate meeting Spurgeon in the next life and probing him on this point. Were his thoughts and feelings on this psalm influenced by any personal failings, e.g. temptations to commit adultery and/or murder? How long did it take for him to complete his commentary on this psalm? How did he eventually find the wisdom – and strength – to write it? How would he have responded to the abridged version that was produced by Alister McGrath and J.I. Packer?

In verses 18 and 19, David prays that God would bless Jerusalem – and the people of Israel. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 18:

Zion was David’s favorite spot, whereon he had hoped to erect a temple. He felt he had hindered the project honoring the Lord there as he desired, but he prayed God still to let the place of his ark be glorious, and to establish his worship and his worshiping people…He had done mischief by his sin, and has as it were polluted down her walls; he therefore implores the Lord to undo the evil and establish his church.

These two verses form an interesting conclusion to this famous psalm, and they call us to ponder the (potential) broader impact of our sinfulness. Can our personal failings lead others away from God? Can our ostensibly private sins hamper our public efforts to honor God? Can God respond to our sins by rejecting our acts of service – and not blessing those whom we desire to bless? While we should recoil at the fact that our personal failings damage our relationship with God, we should also consider how our wrong choices may hurt others. Perhaps such ruminations will spur us to be more circumspect in our private lives.

Psalm 50 July 5, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 50.

Summary: In this passage, God addresses all nations through Asaph, summoning them to a divine tribunal.

He initially addresses His people, asserting that they have erred by assuming that He is satisfied by their adherence to the ceremonial aspect of the Mosaic law. He exhorts them to shift their focus from external acts to internal acts; if their hearts are not inclined towards Him, then He will not deliver them from their enemies.

He then addresses His enemies, asserting that they have erred by assuming that He has overlooked their sins. He rebukes them for breaking His commandments; if they adhere to His commandments (and if their hearts are inclined towards Him), then He will deliver them from their enemies.

Thoughts: I was unfamiliar with Asaph before I strolled through this passage; a quick Google search indicates that he was a gifted singer and poet. I anticipate meeting him in the next life and probing him on the context of this psalm. Did God enable him to discern the hypocrisy of those who offered sacrifices – while harboring evil thoughts in their hearts? What were his thoughts and emotions when He became cognizant of their insincerity? Did he gain a deeper appreciation for God – and His holiness – while composing these verses? How did he avoid the trap of dwelling on external acts? How did God nurture his soul?

In verses 7-15, God asserts that He does not actually depend on the sacrifices of His people. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

How could they imagine that the Most High God, possessor of heaven and earth, had need of beasts, when all the countless hordes that find shelter in a thousand forests and wildernesses belong to him…Not only the wild beasts, but the tamer creatures are all his own.

This passage spurred me to consider a (somewhat) tangential point: God does not depend on our spiritual sacrifices to advance His kingdom. If I refused to honor Him with my thoughts, words, or deeds, He would simply work through another believer to fulfill the responsibilities that He had initially assigned to me. I mulled over the following analogy: while a parent can rapidly complete a simple task, they allow their child to complete it. When the child performs that task, their parent rejoices – and conveys their joy to the child. How does God rejoice in our feeble efforts to honor Him? How does He convey His joy to us in those moments?

In verses 16-23, God condemns those who merely claim to adhere to His regulations. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 16:

You violate openly my moral law, and yet are great sticklers for my ceremonial commands! Do you dare to teach my law to others, and profane it yourselves? Even if you claim to be sons of Levi, what of that? Your wickedness disqualifies you. It should silence you, and would if my people were as spiritual as I would have them, for they would refuse to hear you, and to pay you the portion of temporal things which is due to my true servants.

Initially, I responded to these verses by condemning the “wicked.” I thought, “were they completely unaware of Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18? Didn’t they regularly recite those commandments? What explains their hypocrisy?” I then considered the fact that as modern-day believers, we, too, are aware of those commandments. They may even appear in our personal list of memory verses. Why, then, do we fail to obey them on a daily basis? Clearly we are not inherently better than the “wicked” who are addressed in this passage; thus, we are in desperate need of His grace to consistently:

  • reflect on these commandments
  • strive to obey them – even when obedience is painful.