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Psalm 75 October 12, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 75.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph praises God, as He:

  • is sovereign over the world
  • rebukes the wicked for rejecting this fact.

Asaph then asserts that God will punish the wicked for rejecting His sovereignty; moreover, His punishment will afflict their minds. He concludes by drawing a sharp contrast between their fate and that of the righteous; in particular, he praises God for blessing the latter.

Thoughts: In verse 8, Asaph asserts that God will pour out His wrath on the wicked. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Their misdeeds, their blasphemies, their persecutions have strengthened the liquor as with potent drugs…The full cup must be drunk; the wicked cannot refuse the terrible draught, for God himself pours it out for them and into them. They could once defy him, but that hour is over, and the time to requite them is fully come…They must drink even the dregs of deep damnation.

Spurgeon’s note that “God himself pours it…into” the wicked reminded me of scenes in various action flicks where the chief villain compels the hero to imbibe an excessive amount of liquor – with devastating effects. In any event, the thought of God forcing the wicked to submit to His punishment is unsettling – yet it also compels me to meditate on His holiness and how His holiness prevents Him from leaving sins unpunished. Did any of the wicked read this psalm? If so, how did they respond to it? If it was written before the Babylonians destroyed the temple in Jerusalem, did the Israelites meditate on it after that cataclysmic event?

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Psalm 74 October 12, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 74.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph laments God’s (apparent) rejection of His people; thus, he beseeches Him to respond to their plight.

He then bemoans the fact that foreigners have:

  • defiled – and ravaged – the temple in Jerusalem
  • blasphemed God’s name.

Thus, he exhorts Him to uphold His name by punishing them.

He then proclaims his confidence in Him, as He displayed His power and glory when He created the heavens and the earth. He concludes by renewing his appeal for Him to exercise His justice.

Thoughts: In verses 4-7, Asaph laments the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem. Now I should note that I have not strolled through 1 Kings; thus, I only have a superficial understanding of the process that Solomon employed to construct that edifice. Yet I am aware that many skilled craftsmen employed a variety of precious materials in that endeavor – and the product of their ingenuity and toil was eradicated by the Babylonians in one fell swoop. I simply cannot fathom the pain that gripped the Israelites as they witnessed the destruction of the temple. Did they ponder their sinfulness – and the offenses of their forefathers – at that time?

In verse 11, Asaph essentially orders God to punish those who have defiled His temple in Jerusalem. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

A bold simile, but dying men must venture for their lives. When God seems to fold his arms we must not fold ours, but rather renew our intreaties that he would again put his hand to the work. Oh for more agony in prayer among professing Christians! Then should we see miracles of grace.

Lately I have been reading Daring to Draw Near by John White. In that classic text, White asserts that Christians should pray more boldly. He supports that assertion by noting that God has called us to partner with Him in achieving His kingdom plan; thus, we have an incentive to pray for it. I must admit, though, that my prayers tend to be rather conservative. Thus, I wonder: can I pray more boldly? When can I make specific demands of God? Can I pray more boldly without straying from His will?

In verses 13-17, Asaph praises God for His sublimity – as displayed in the creation of the universe. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 17:

Everything is ascribed to the divine agency by the use of the pronoun thou; not a word about natural laws, and original forces, but the Lord is seen as working all. It will be well when the Creator is seen at work amid his universe. The argument of our text is that he who bounds the sea can restrain his foes, and he who guards the borders of the dry land can protect his chosen.

One can view these verses as the basis for Asaph’s prayer that God would punish those who have defiled His temple; if God can create the universe, He can certainly punish those who attempt to besmirch His name. Yet I – and other modern-day believers – wrestle with this point. If God created the universe, why does He refrain from punishing the wicked? Clearly He does not lack the ability to punish them; why, then, does He appear to be absent while they commit various atrocities? Perhaps He calls us to ponder the following points: 1) His act of creation was also a supreme act of love, and 2) a loving God will not overlook evil.

Psalm 73 October 5, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 73.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph recounts a time when he envied the wicked, as they enjoyed a plethora of (temporal) blessings. Indeed, he struggled to reconcile the following facts:

  • the wicked sinned in both word and deed – oppressing the righteous and blaspheming God – yet they enjoyed the twin blessings of good health and wealth
  • he strove to honor God with his thoughts, words, and deeds – yet he suffered many hardships.

After wrestling with God regarding this conundrum, He enabled him to grasp the following truths:

  • the wicked are ephemeral
  • the righteous are eternal – thanks to God and His grace towards them.

Asaph responds by 1) lamenting his ignorance concerning these truths and 2) renewing his confidence in God. He concludes by asserting that he will convey these truths to others.

Thoughts: In verses 2-16, Asaph wrestles with the fact that the wicked enjoy a plethora of blessings. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 12:

No bad debts and bankruptcies weigh them down, but robbery and usury pile up their substance. The rich grower [sic] richer, the proud grow prouder. Lord, thy poor servants, who become yet poorer, and groan under their burdens, are made to wonder at thy mysterious ways.

Asaph’s thoughts resonate with me, as I am perturbed by the fact that this world is plagued by various evils, e.g. mass shootings, migrant children being confined to cages, etc. When I read the news and encounter these evils in the headlines, I gravitate toward the thoughts that Asaph entertained before God revealed His perspective to him. One thought is that as modern-day believers, we can be reassured by Asaph’s struggles; since He has given us the capacity to reason, we will naturally wrestle with Him, as we strive to reconcile our understanding of Him and His attributes with current events.

In the KJV, verses 10 and 11 are rendered as, “Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?” Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

I could not bring my mind to accept the rendering of many expositors by which this verse is referred to tried and perplexed saints. I am unable to conceive that such language could flow from their lips, even under the most depressing perplexities.

The NIV renders verse 10 as, “Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.” This translation would appear to resolve Spurgeon’s conundrum, as it indicates that the wicked have many followers. Yet the ESV renders verse 10 as “Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them” while the NASB renders verse 10 as “Therefore his people return to this place, And waters of abundance are drunk by them.” Thus, I am curious: which of these translations is in error? If the KJV, the ESV and the NASB are all correct, does “his” refer to God? I am eager to meet Asaph in the next life and probe him on this point.

In verse 17, Asaph notes that God worked through a divine encounter to shift his perspective on the prosperity of the wicked. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

His mind entered the eternity where God dwells as in a holy place; he left the things of sense for the things invisible, his heart gazed within the veil. Apparent disorder resolved itself into harmony…A wider view changed his judgment; he saw with his mind’s enlightened eye the future of the wicked, and his soul was in debate no longer as to the happiness of their condition.

This divine encounter must have been overwhelming, as it compelled Asaph to surrender himself to God – as expressed in verses 25 and 26. How did God speak to Asaph at that time? What were his thoughts and emotions as God revealed the fate of the wicked to him? As modern-day believers, how can God shape our perspective on the fate of those who strive to thwart His kingdom plan? How can we pray more earnestly to learn His assessment of current events? How can He enable us to draw closer to Him as we wrestle with the reality of evil in this world?

Psalm 28 April 14, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 28.

Summary: In this passage, David beseeches God to:

  • hear his prayer for deliverance – lest he perish
  • punish the wicked.

Indeed, he is confident that God will punish the wicked.

He then praises God – as He has heard his prayer for deliverance. He concludes by praying that God would always deliver His people.

Thoughts: In verse 3, David prays that God would not punish him along with the wicked. Spurgeon offers the following thought on this point:

They will be dragged off to hell like felons of old drawn on a hurdle to Tyburn.

My relatively weak understanding of English history compelled me to Google “Tyburn”; this link showed me that Tyburn was a noisome place. I am fascinated by Spurgeon’s quote (and his previous quote regarding Smithfield), as it compels me to understand the context of this commentary. While “Tyburn” may not impact a modern reader, it would have resonated among those who heard Spurgeon’s sermons on the Psalms. Each Crossway Classic commentary was written in a particular context; as a modern reader, I am spurred to understand that context – and gain a greater appreciation for each commentator in the process. Moreover, I pray that the knowledge that I acquire will spur me on to greater holiness.

Psalm 17 March 1, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 17.

Summary: In this passage, David implores God to:

  • vindicate him – as his words and deeds are righteous
  • protect him from his enemies – as they are plotting against him
  • punish his enemies.

He is confident that God will respond to his entreaty.

Thoughts: In verses 3-5, David affirms his righteousness in God’s eyes. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

Surely the psalmist means nothing hypocritical or wicked in the sense in which his slanderers accused him; for if the Lord should put the best of his people into the crucible, the dross would be a fearful sight.

When I strolled through this psalm, I was frustrated with David, as I am acutely aware of his flaws (e.g. Psalm 51). I dismissed his confidence that God would vindicate him after assessing his righteousness. Upon further reflection, I now believe that this passage may actually support the notion that not all sins are equally severe. In particular, some sins (e.g. improper thoughts) may be categorized as sins that are inherently human. Other sins (e.g. murder, rape) may be categorized as sins that are not committed by believers. This leads to the following questions:

  • What are the sins that we can realistically avoid?
  • What are the sins that constitute our “thorns in the flesh?”

When I read through verse 14 in my NIV 1984 Study Bible and compared it with the same verse in the NIV 2011 edition, I noticed an interesting discrepancy between them. In particular, the NIV 1984 version of this verse includes:

You still the hunger of those you cherish; their sons have plenty, and they store up wealth for their children.

In contrast, the NIV 2011 version of this verse includes:

May what you have stored up for the wicked fill their bellies; may their children gorge themselves on it, and may there be leftovers for their little ones.

Spurgeon offers the following germane thought:

Almost every word of this verse has furnished matter for discussion to scholars, for it is very obscure.

Thus, I hope to meet David in the next life and probe him on the intended meaning of this verse. Did his intentions conform to the NIV 1984 or NIV 2011 editions? Did his intentions actually conform to neither edition? Why is this verse difficult to translate?

Psalm 10 February 7, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 10.

Summary: In this passage, David begins by wrestling with God over His seeming aloofness. He then levels the charges of pride and cruelty against the wicked man, presenting evidence to support his claims. This spurs him to beseech God to render His judgment on the wicked man. He concludes by declaring his confidence in God as the One who:

  • judges the wicked man
  • delivers those whom the wicked man oppresses.

Thoughts: In verse 1, David struggles with God’s apparent absence in the midst of his trials. Spurgeon offers some insights on this point:

Should the parent comfort his child while he is correcting him? It is only felt affliction that can become blest affliction. If we were carried in the arms of God over every stream, where would be the trial, and where the experience, which trouble is meant to teach us?

I still struggle in this regard, as I constantly wrestle with God – and my inability to sense His presence – during my trials. Indeed, the concept of a trial as “pure joy” (as noted in James 1:2) fails to resonate with me. Instead, I find trials to be stressful and painful. Lately, though, I sense that God has been enabling me to make progress in this regard in two ways. First, I have begun to mull over the following idea: it is natural for believers (as humans) to worry. If David, a man of great faith, wrestled with God’s apparent absence in the midst of his trials, why should I expect to sense God’s presence throughout my trials? Second, I have begun to “count my blessings” on a daily basis – even in the midst of trials. I have found that this exercise has been somewhat helpful in terms of maintaining my fundamental trust in God; indeed, God may be using feelings of thankfulness as a means of sustaining me in the midst of my trials.

In this passage, the wicked man is confident that God will not judge him for his pride and cruelty. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 6:

The man thinks himself immutable, and omnipotent too, for he is never to be in adversity. But let us remember that this man’s house is built upon the sand, upon a foundation no more substantial than the rolling waves of the sea. Be humble, for you are mortal, and your lot is mutable.

As modern-day believers, we are keenly aware of oppression throughout the world. Oppressors constantly harm others, causing believers to infer that God will not punish them for their deeds. We wrestle with God, asking, “do you feel the pain of the oppressed? Why do you fail to punish their oppressors?” We believe that God is just, omniscient and omnipotent; thus, we fail to reconcile these truths with His apparent inaction regarding oppression. Moreover, we may even begin to doubt these truths. We know that He calls us to trust in His timing in this regard – yet the ubiquity of evil and suffering challenges our faith on a daily basis.

Psalm 9 January 30, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 9.

Summary: In this passage, David responds to God’s judgment of his enemies with praise and thanksgiving. He rejoices in God’s righteousness, as He has vindicated him; moreover, He will:

  • vindicate those who are being oppressed
  • judge those who oppress them.

Thoughts: Verse 16 includes the initial appearance of the word “Higgaion” in the Psalms. Spurgeon offers a note on this point:

In considering this terrible picture of the Lord’s overwhelming judgments of his enemies, we are called upon to ponder it with deep seriousness by the two untranslated words Higgaion and Selah.

While I had already encountered the word “Selah” in my stroll through Psalm 3, I was unfamiliar with the word “Higgaion”. A Google search led me to this site, which indicates that “Higgaion” may denote an instrumental interlude and/or the concept of meditation. Thus, it may be linked to “Selah” in that it may compel the reader to reflect on the verses that encompass it. I will attempt to treat each “Higgaion” with more care when I encounter it – and draw closer to God in the process.

In this passage, the psalmist asserts that God does not overlook the suffering of “the afflicted.” Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 12:

When an inquest is held concerning the blood of the oppressed, the martyred saints will have the first remembrance; he will avenge his own elect. Those saints who are living shall also be heard; they shall be exonerated from blame, and kept from destruction, even when the Lord’s most terrible work is going on. The humble cry of the poorest saints shall neither be drowned by the voice of thundering justice nor by the shrieks of the condemned.

It is evident that God does not overlook the suffering of believers. This raises the following question: does He overlook the suffering of nonbelievers? For example, consider:

  • the Rohingya Muslims, who may be experiencing ethnic cleansing at the hands of the Buddhist majority in Myanmar
  • the ongoing civil war in Yemen (a Muslim nation), which has fueled a massive humanitarian crisis.

These examples compel me to wrestle with questions such as: does God care for these suffering nonbelievers? If so, why does He allow their suffering to persist? Moreover, it seems that suffering nonbelievers who perish in this life will remain unsaved. I have great difficulty reconciling these examples with His care for suffering believers. Perhaps these examples highlight the truth and scope of God’s holiness – which I struggle to grasp (as a flawed human being with a finite mind).

Psalm 7 January 26, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 7.

Summary: In this passage, David begins by praying that God would deliver him from his pursuers. After asserting his righteousness, he asks God to vindicate him – and punish his (unrighteous) pursuers. He then proclaims the fate of the unrighteous before praising God and His righteousness.

Thoughts: I anticipate meeting David in the next life and plying him with questions concerning the context of this psalm. For example, who was Cush the Benjamite? Was Cush a follower of Saul? Why was Cush pursuing him? Did Cush plan to kill him (or merely capture him)? How did God deliver him from Cush? Did Cush die a violent death? On a related note, this appears to be the first somewhat mysterious introductory note in the Psalms. I wonder if I will encounter others during my stroll through this book…

In verse 6, David exhorts God to wake up and judge those who unjustly pursue him. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

This is a bolder utterance still, for it implies sleep as well as inactivity, and can only be applied to God in a very limited sense. He never slumbers, yet he often seems to do so; for the wicked prevail, and the saints are trodden in the dust. God’s silence is the patience of longsuffering, and if wearisome to the saints, they should bear it cheerfully in the hope that sinners may thereby be led to repentance.

Believers throughout the ages have wrestled with God, asking Him why He allows evil to reign in the world. Those of us who follow current events are acutely aware of oppression in various countries, and we ask God why He does not immediately punish those who oppress others. Indeed, we may even harbor doubts of either His ability or His willingness to punish oppressors. In such instances, we must hold fast to Him, renewing our faith in His righteousness and omnipotence. Perhaps we can be encouraged by testimonies of God’s work in the world through His people, as such accounts remind us that He is not idle.

Psalm 5 January 14, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 5.

Summary: In this passage, David lifts up a prayer to God – while drawing a sharp contrast between two parties.

The first party consists of those – including David – who are in a right relationship with God. God invites them into His presence; moreover, His favor is upon them. David prays that He would always show His favor to them.

The second party consists of those who are not in a right relationship with God. God banishes them from His presence, as He abhors their sinful deeds. David prays that they would be punished for their actions.

Thoughts: In verse 3, David states that he prays in the morning. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

This is the fittest time for conversation with God. An hour in the morning is worth two in the evening. Prayer should be the key of the day and the lock of the night.

I should note that in the morning, I read a passage from Scripture (usually with the aid of a commentary); I also pray, albeit briefly. Now I do pray for an extended period in the evening before I go to sleep, as I believe that it allows me to review the events of each day with God. On a related note, one of my friends from a previous church shared that he actually prays for an hour in the morning after he wakes up. Currently, I lack the discipline to wake up early and pray for an extended period in the morning, so I believe that I will adhere to my current approach for the time being.

In verse 9, David makes the following assertion concerning the wicked: “their throat is an open grave.” Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

A sepulchre is full of loathsomeness, pestilence and death, and an open sepulchre has all its evil gases issuing to spread death and destruction all around. So with the throat of the wicked, it would be a great mercy if it could always be closed. All the wickedness of their heart exhales.

As believers, we must wrestle with this question: how can we maintain meaningful relationships with nonbelievers – while still honoring God with our thoughts, words and deeds? If our non-believing friend expresses an opinion on a topic that is incompatible with our Christian worldview, should we debate them on that point? Is it ever appropriate to sacrifice a relationship with a nonbeliever to maintain our holiness? How can we recognize unholy influences and minimize their negative impact on our walk with God? These are challenging questions, but we must not shy away from them.

The Sheep and the Goats September 16, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 25:31-46.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus states that at His Second Coming, He will:

  • be joined by all of the holy angels
  • reign in Jerusalem
  • judge all of the people who are still alive
  • separate believers from unbelievers.

He will then invite believers – who are blessed by His Father – to live under His earthly rule. Indeed, He has chosen them from the foundation of the world, and they have demonstrated this fact by performing good deeds for fellow believers – thereby performing them for Him.

He will then banish unbelievers to hell, as they have not performed good deeds for believers – thereby failing to perform them for Him.

Thoughts: Here, Jesus blesses believers for the deeds that they have performed for Him. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

People’s deeds are the witnesses which will be brought forward, and above all their works of charity. The question will not merely be what we said, but what we did: not merely what we professed, but what we practiced. Our works unquestionably will not justify us: no one will be declared righteous by observing the law; but the truth of our faith will be tested by our lives.

Now in John MacArthur’s sermon on this passage, he asserts that Jesus specifically references good deeds that were performed for fellow believers; this assertion is supported by the phrase “brothers of mine” in verse 40. Thus, I am curious as to whether Ryle would concur with MacArthur’s viewpoint. Also, it is good to consider the following question: do good deeds performed for unbelievers constitute spiritual fruit? I would answer that question in the affirmative; that being said, this passage implies that if one is a genuine believer, then they will perform good deeds for other believers. Thus, we must aim to bless other believers in this life.

Jesus also condemns unbelievers for the deeds that they have not performed for Him. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Who can describe the misery of eternal punishment? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body; the eternal sting of an accusing conscience; the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devil and his angels; the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised; this is misery indeed.

These are stomach-churning points that we, as believers, do not ponder. Of course, the notion of unbelievers enduring “eternal punishment” is inherently sickening. I believe that this relates to our inability, as finite entities, to grasp the concept of infinity. How can suffering never end? How can God never show mercy to those who have rejected Him in this life? Does He ever think of those whom He has eternally condemned? Does He ever grieve their failure to accept His offer of salvation? While these are painful questions, we must not allow them to hinder our witness to the unbelievers in our orbit.