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Psalm 120 June 27, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 120.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist prays that God would protect them from those who speak sinfully.

They then assert that God will severely punish those who speak sinfully.

They conclude by bewailing their estate, as they are a dove among hawks.

Thoughts: In verses 5-7, the psalmist laments the fact that they are a dove among hawks. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 5:

He had some hope from the fact that he was only a sojourner in Meshech; but as years rolled on the time dragged heavily, and he feared that he might call himself a dweller in Kedar. The wandering tribes to whom he refers were constantly at war with one another; it was their habit to travel armed to the teeth; they were a kind of plundering gypsies, with their hand against every man and every man’s hand against them; and to these he compared the false-hearted ones who had assailed his character.

Even if we accept Spurgeon’s interpretation of “Meshech” and “Kedar,” I believe that this psalm contains some mysteries. In particular, who was the psalmist? Were the deceivers whom they decried in verse 2 identical to the hawkish neighbors whom they decried in verses 5-7? Did they compose this psalm in a single sitting? Why did they elect to conclude this psalm on a somewhat unpleasant note? Did God eventually deliver them from these deceivers and hawkish neighbors?

Psalm 98 February 1, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 98.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist exhorts the following entities to praise God:

  • His people – as He has displayed His righteousness by delivering them from dire circumstances
  • all nations – via a panoply of musical instruments
  • all of creation – as He is both just and righteous.

Thoughts: This psalm is similar to Psalm 96, which caused me to ponder questions such as:

  • Do these passages have the same author?
  • If so, who holds that distinction?
  • If not, who were their respective authors?
  • Which passage was composed first?
  • Was the latter passage inspired by its predecessor?
  • Why does this psalm have the title note, “A psalm”, while Psalm 96 lacks a title note?

Also, as modern-day believers, we need to consider how we praise God for His deeds. Do we still believe that He exercises His justice and righteousness in this world – or do we subconsciously believe that He is aloof from this world? How can we maintain our confidence in Him – and His attributes – when we are constantly reminded of the ruinous effects of sin?

Psalm 82 November 27, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 82.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph presents a scene where God stands in judgment over all human authorities; He:

  • rebukes them for abusing the power that He granted them
  • commands them to use their power to bless the disadvantaged
  • asserts their lack of wisdom
  • asserts their transience.

Asaph concludes by praying that God would exercise His authority over all human authorities.

Thoughts: In verse 5, God speaks through Asaph, asserting the foolishness of human authorities. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Being both ignorant and wicked they yet dare to pursue a path in which knowledge and righteousness are essential: they go on without hesitation, forgetful of the responsibilities in which they are involved, and the punishment which they are incurring.

Since I have not been given authority over others, I am curious as to how authority figures – especially professing Christians – exercise their powers. For example, this passage reminded me of President Bush’s assertion that God essentially commanded him to invade Iraq in 2003. Does God actually communicate with leaders who profess their faith in Him? If so, how does He speak with them? As for those leaders who either explicitly or implicitly reject Him, how does He exercise His authority via their wicked decisions? Do those who reject Him still experience pangs of conscience whenever they disobey Him? Are they conscious of His presence – or do they assert their independence from all authorities?

Psalm 79 November 9, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 79.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph laments the following facts:

  • the Babylonians have ravaged Jerusalem and destroyed the temple
  • the Babylonians have slain the denizens of Jerusalem – and their bodies have not been buried
  • Jerusalem is being mocked by her pagan neighbors.

Thus, he prays that God would:

  • punish the Babylonians for their wanton acts in Jerusalem
  • punish the pagan neighbors of Jerusalem for the above-mentioned mockery
  • be merciful to the remnant of His people.

He concludes by asserting that if God responds to His prayer in the affirmative, then His people will always praise Him.

Thoughts: I was struck by the sharp contrast between the tone of the conclusion of the previous passage and the tone of this passage. In the previous passage, Asaph was encouraged by the fact that God had installed David as the righteous king of Israel – thereby ensuring the prosperity of His people; now, though, he laments the wanton acts of the Babylonians. Thus, I am curious: did Asaph’s memories of the preceding passage affect him as he composed this passage? Did he ascribe the demise of Israel to weak (spiritual) leadership? Did he grasp the truth that no human ruler could truly empower the people of God to hew to His ordinances?

In verse 9, Asaph appeals to God on the basis of His name. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

No argument has such force as this. God’s glory was tarnished in the eyes of the heathen by the defeat of his people and the profanation of his temple; therefore, his distressed servants implore his aid, that his great name may no more be the scorn of blaspheming enemies…God’s name is a second time brought into the pleading. Believers will find it their wisdom to use very frequently this noble plea: it is the great gun of the battle, the mightiest weapon in the armory of prayer.

Spurgeon’s quote caused me to ponder the following related questions:

  • As believers, do we consider the honor of God’s name when we present our requests to Him?
  • Do we ponder His glory in our prayers?

Sometimes the answer to this last query is obvious. When the answer is unclear, though, then we need to rest in Him as He works out His response to our request in His timing. In any event, I agree with Spurgeon that we should ponder the honor of God’s name in our prayers, as that enables us to look beyond our own interests – thereby enriching our prayers. One helpful example in that regard is Daniel 9:1-19, where Daniel appeals to God for the restoration of Jerusalem – on the basis of His name.

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?

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.