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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.

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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.

Seven Woes September 2, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 23.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus addresses His disciples and the crowd, noting that the Pharisees – and the scribes – have authority. Thus, if they read from the law of Moses, then they must be continuously obeyed. Yet they are hypocrites, as they pile on regulations that must be obeyed by all without caring for those whom they burden. Thus, they should not be continuously obeyed.

Indeed, the Pharisees – and the scribes – perform their religious works to be seen by others. For example, they:

  • wear large phylacteries
  • have large fringes on their garments
  • desire to sit by the host at banquets
  • desire to sit on the raised platform at the front of synagogues
  • desire to have their excellence acknowledged in the marketplace.

In contrast, His disciples should not desire to have their excellence acknowledged by others, since only He is excellent. Moreover, true excellence lies in serving others, as those who push themselves down will be pushed up, while those who push themselves up will be pushed down.

He then divinely judges the Pharisees – and the scribes – as hypocrites, as they:

  • keep people from entering the kingdom of God
  • convert Gentiles to their movement – who eventually surpass them in their hypocrisy
  • are liars and morons, as they fail to keep their vows and then assert that their vows actually had no meaning, as they were only declared in reference to the temple and/or the altar
  • tithe from their kitchen items while failing to honor God in truly important matters such as justice, mercy and faith
  • appear to be pious – yet plunder others, demonstrating their unrestrained desire for gain
  • appear to be righteous – yet are full of lawlessness
  • commemorate prophets and assert that they would not have sanctioned their lynching by their ancestors – yet plan to kill Him, the greatest prophet of all.

Thus, He damns them to hell, noting that He will send preachers to them. He knows that they will reject these preachers – thereby increasing their condemnation. By stoning them, allow the Romans to crucify others and persecuting the rest, they provide further evidence of their guilt. Indeed, they will be judged when the Romans invade Jerusalem in AD 70.

He then weeps over Jerusalem, as He wants its denizens to enter His kingdom – yet they reject His grace. Therefore, God has abandoned them – yet they will eventually acknowledge Him as their Messiah, thereby fulfilling a prophecy in Psalm 118:26.

Thoughts: In verses 23 and 24, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and the scribes for fixating on trivial matters – while neglecting critical issues – in their worship. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

They made great ado about tithing “mint” and other garden herbs, as if they could not be too strict in their obedience to God’s law…and yet at the same time they neglected great plain duties, such as justice, mercy and faithfulness; this again was a great sin.

One thought is that many believers derive pleasure from setting (quantifiable) targets and achieving them, e.g. “tell five strangers about Jesus at this outreach event.” Yet weightier issues are often difficult to quantify, causing believers to struggle with them. We ponder questions such as:

  • what does it actually mean to love God and to love one’s neighbor?
  • when our sinful nature resists our holy desire to actually obey these commands via concrete actions, how can God emerge victorious in that regard?
  • when we fail to perform “great plain duties,” how should we respond to our failures?

These are challenging questions, yet we must address them.

In verses 29-32, Jesus condemns the Pharisees and the scribes for their hypocrisy regarding their commemoration of the prophets of God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

A passage from the Berlenberger Bible on this subject is striking enough to reproduce here: “Ask in Moses’ time who were the good people; they will be Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but not Moses – he should be stoned. Ask in Samuel’s time who were the good people: they will be Moses and Joshua, but not Samuel. Ask in the times of Christ who they were: they will be all the former prophets, with Samuel, but not Christ and his apostles.”

This is an interesting point; a (potentially) related observation is that we may not react strongly to criticism if we sense that it is not directed at us. Moreover, if we perceive the accuracy of these rebukes, then we may think more highly of those who present them. Yet when we are criticized, our passions are inflamed, and we lash out at those who rebuke us. Indeed, we often find it difficult to maintain restraint in the face of criticism and evaluate it objectively – especially when those who rebuke us make no attempt to soften their words.

In verses 33-36, Jesus asserts that the Pharisees and the scribes are responsible for the deaths of the prophets of God. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

The blood of the early Christians shed by the Roman Emperors; the blood of the Vallenses and Albigenses, and the sufferers at the St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre; the blood of the martyrs who were burned at the Reformation, and of those put to death by the Inquisition – all, all will yet be accounted for.

As a believer in a First World country, I often forget that many of my fellow believers have paid the ultimate price for their beliefs. Thus, this passage is a sober reminder of the cost of our shared faith; it also reminds me of the importance of consistent prayer for believers who are being persecuted. I also anticipate meeting many martyrs in the next life and learning how God empowered them to hold fast to their faith – even to the point of death.

The Demand for a Sign May 20, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 16:1-4.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus returns to Jewish territory, where His enemies attempt to publicly discredit Him.

Jesus responds by asserting that while they are experts in physical matters, they are mere dilettantes in spiritual matters. Moreover, since they have abandoned God, He has abandoned them.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus reiterates the point that He made in Matthew 12:39. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

This repetition shows us that our Lord was in the habit of saying the same things over again. He did not content himself with saying a thing once, and then never repeat it. It is evident that it was his custom to bring forward certain truths again and again, and so impress them more deeply on the minds of his disciples.

When I work through an inductive Bible study, I highlight recurring words and phrases, as they usually facilitate my search for the central point of the passage at hand. Indeed, recurring words and phrases reveal points of emphasis for the original audience of a particular passage. Perhaps this principle can be applied in other settings. For example, do praise songs contain recurring words, phrases or themes? Does your pastor emphasize certain points in their sermons? I should note that while applying this principle enables us to comprehend what God is saying to us, we still need to put His words into practice – and that is where I continue to struggle.

The Parable of the Net April 27, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 13:47-52.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus tells a parable. He states that His kingdom can be represented by a large net that captures all life in front of it. A group of fishermen then:

  • place the captured fish in water-contained vessels
  • discard the other captured creatures.

Similarly, at His Second Coming, His angels will capture those who are not His subjects and discard them to hell.

He then asserts that His disciples are now equipped to teach others, as they grasp the unifying principles of the Old and New Testaments.

Thoughts: This passage inspired me to read about instances where fishermen caught more than they had bargained for, including:

I have actually never gone fishing, so I can only imagine the shock that these fishermen experienced when they inspected their respective catches. In any event, these accounts reinforce the main point of this passage. Just as a denizen of the deep cannot be consumed by a fisherman, so those who do not belong to Christ are useless to Him at His Second Coming. We must heed this warning and find our value in Him.