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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.
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Psalm 45 June 16, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 45.

Summary: In this passage, the Sons of Korah present an epithalamium to the king of Israel, where they:

  • proclaim his virtues – which are manifestations of God’s grace
  • pray for his continued success on the battlefield
  • extol the beauty of his bride
  • exhort her to devote herself to him
  • proclaim the permanence of His kingdom.

Thoughts: This psalm was written to celebrate a royal wedding in Israel. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

This song has the King for its only subject, and for the King’s honor alone was it composed…The psalmist wrote of what he had personally tasted and handled concerning the King.

While I agree that the ultimate object of this psalm should be God Himself, I am fairly certain that its original object was the contemporary ruler of Israel. That elicited questions such as: who was the contemporary ruler of Israel? Who was his royal bride, and how he make her acquaintance? How did he “love righteousness and hate wickedness?” Did the psalmist have any conception of the Messiah when they penned these verses? If so, did they view Him as this psalm’s ultimate object? Was this psalm composed before Israel was divided into northern and southern kingdoms?

In verse 4, the psalmist exhorts his sovereign to fight for God. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

It is a most potent argument to urge with our Lord that the cause of the true, the humble, and the good calls for his advocacy. Truth will be ridiculed, meekness oppressed, and righteousness slain unless the God, the Man in whom these precious things are incarnated, rises for their vindication. Our earnest petition ought ever to be that Jesus lay his almighty arm to the work of grace lest the good cause languish and wickedness prevail.

This verse, along with the note in verse 2 that the monarch is “the most excellent of men…since God has blessed you forever” and the notes in verses 6 and 7 concerning justice and righteousness, respectively, imply that the monarch maintains his authority because his words and deeds conform to the standard that God has set for him. This is a valuable reminder that while the monarch has many virtues – as evidenced by this psalm – he relies on God to sustain and strengthen him. Moreover, if his words and deeds failed to conform to God’s standard, then the promises in verses 16 and 17 would be nullified. Perhaps we can apply this psalm to our modern context by adopting a more balanced view of our human leaders, since they also derive their authority from God.

Psalm 27 April 13, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 27.

Summary: In this passage, David asserts that he is not afraid of his enemies – because God will protect him. He longs to be in the presence of his Protector; he will thank Him with sacrifices and praise songs.

He then prays that God would always:

  • hear his prayers
  • enable him to live righteously – especially as his enemies assert that he is living wickedly.

He concludes by reaffirming his trust in God – and exhorting others to imitate him in that regard.

Thoughts: Verse 4 forms the basis of “One Thing I Ask”. A quick Google search reveals that this song was written by Andy Park. I hope to meet him at some point and learn how he composed those memorable lyrics. How did this passage inspire him at that time? Based on verse 5, it seems that David’s desire to dwell in God’s presence was at least partially motivated by his confidence that He would protect him from his enemies; did Park consider that motive while composing these lyrics? Did he consider weaving other sections of this passage into that song? On a related note, as modern-day believers, we should evaluate verse 4; do we only desire to dwell in God’s presence? Or do we desire the things of this world (and secretly hope that He will not return before our earthly desires are fulfilled)?

In verse 12, David prays that God would not allow his enemies to capture him. Spurgeon offers a thought on this point:

God be thanked that our foes cannot have their way with us, or Smithfield would soon be ablaze again.

My relatively weak understanding of English history compelled me to Google “Smithfield.” After some sleuthing, I found this page, where I learned that many Protestant martyrs were burned at the stake in Smithfield during the reign of Mary I. This sobering fact spurred me to give thanks for my relatively fortunate state, as I live in a First World country that allows for the free exercise of religion. I do not need to fear state-sponsored persecution; in contrast, believers in other nations are in danger of losing their jobs, homes, etc. Thus, I – and other fortunate believers – need to pray for the advancement of God’s kingdom to the point where He reigns over the entire world, succoring our brothers and sisters who are currently suffering for their faith.

Psalm 25 April 7, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 25.

Summary: In this passage, David places his confidence in God as he confronts his enemies. He calls on Him to disregard his past transgressions and instruct him in leading a righteous life.

He then praises Him for maintaining His covenant relationship with His people, instructing them in leading righteous lives and blessing them (and their posterity). In light of this fact, he calls on Him to deliver him from his enemies. In addition, he implores Him to deliver all Israel from their enemies.

Thoughts: In verse 3, David asserts that those who place their trust in God will never be ashamed of that decision. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on a tangential point:

Suffering enlarges the heart by creating the power to sympathize. If we pray eagerly for ourselves, we shall not long be able to forget our fellow-sufferers. We ought to be grateful for occasional griefs if they preserve us from chronic hardheartedness; for of all afflictions, an unkind heart is the worst. Prayer when it is of the Holy Spirit’s teaching is never selfish; the believer would have everyone in a similar state to partake of divine mercy with him.

Spurgeon’s thoughts resonate with me in light of recent trials. Lately, I have mulled over the experiences of others who endured similar struggles several years ago; how did God grant them the strength to live for Him on a daily basis? I have also been praying for others who are confronting similar difficulties, as my struggles allow me to empathize with them. Indeed, I pray that God would enable them to count their blessings on a daily basis – just as He has allowed me to see Him at work in myriad ways.

In verse 5, David proclaims the constancy of his hope in God. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

We cheerfully wait when we are certain that we shall not wait in vain. It is our duty and our privilege to wait upon the Lord in service, in worship, in expectancy, in trust all the days of our life. Our faith will be tried, and if it be of the true kind it will bear continued trial without yielding. We shall not grow weary of waiting upon God if we remember how long and how graciously he once waited for us.

Spurgeon’s claim that it is “our privilege to wait upon the Lord” is intriguing. Waiting upon God is often spiritually exhausting, and we are tempted to blame Him for being uncaring and refusing to hear our prayers (especially when we are confident that we are presenting legitimate requests to Him). Are we genuinely joyful when we wait upon Him? Do we believe that waiting upon Him is a blessing – as opposed to an exercise in futility? I sense that I need to meditate upon Spurgeon’s claim…

In verses 12 and 13, David asserts that “those who fear the Lord…will spend their days in prosperity.” I must admit that when I read these verses, I instinctively recoiled at the mention of “prosperity,” as the prosperity gospel has been panned by many believers. While I know that believers should interpret these verses as promises of spiritual – not necessarily material – prosperity for those who truly worship God, I wrestle with the fact that in the Old Testament, God did bestow material blessings on those who worshiped Him (here, I am ignoring His prophets, as many of them suffered throughout their ministries). Since believers in the Old Testament were the primary audience for these verses, did any of them hear this passage and ponder the concept of spiritual prosperity?

Psalm 24 April 6, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 24.

Summary: In this passage, David proclaims the sovereignty of God over the world – as He created it. He then declares that only those who live righteously can enter His presence; moreover, He will bless them. He concludes with an anthropomorphism, commanding the gates of Jerusalem to open for God – the victorious King who has defeated His enemies.

Thoughts: Verses 4 and 6 form the basis of “Give Us Clean Hands”. A quick Google search reveals that this song was written by Charlie Hall. I hope to meet him at some point and learn how he composed those memorable lyrics. How did this passage inspire him at that time? How does he interpret verse 4, given that in general, modern-day believers are not tempted to worship actual carved images? How does he interpret verse 6, especially the phrase “seek your face, God of Jacob”? Did he consider weaving other sections of this passage into that song? On a related note, as modern-day believers, we should evaluate verses 4 and 6; do these verses spur us to draw closer to God? How do we seek God’s face today?

Psalm 19 March 23, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 19.

Summary: In this passage, David praises God, as He has:

  • revealed Himself through the heavens and the celestial bodies (which He created)
  • promulgated inherently excellent laws that benefit their adherents.

He then asks God to:

  • forgive him of any offenses that he has committed
  • approve this psalm.

Thoughts: David leverages the literary device of anthropomorphism in verses 1-6, leaving the reader in awe of God and His power in the act of creation. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

He who would guess at divine sublimity should gaze upward into the starry vault; he who would imagine infinity must peer into the boundless expanse; he who desires to know divine fidelity must mark the regularity of the planetary motions; and he who would attain some conceptions of divine power, greatness, and majesty must estimate the forces of attraction, the magnitude of the fixed stars, and the brightness of the whole celestial train.

When I strolled through this passage, I was captivated by these six verses. Although I have a relatively shallow understanding of astronomy and physics, my limited knowledge still compels me to marvel at the omniscience and omnipotence of God. Indeed, I am overwhelmed by the fact that God created a multitude of celestial bodies and determined that their interactions should be governed by a set of fundamental principles that apply throughout the universe. Moreover, I am grateful that He has chosen to reveal at least some of these fundamental principles to us; what an amazing act of condescension on His part!

In verse 12, David prays that God would forgive him for the sins that he has committed unknowingly. Spurgeon offers a thought on this point:

He best knows himself who best knows the Word, but even such a person will be in a maze of wonder as to what he does not know, rather than on the mount of congratulation as to what he does know.

When I retire for the night, I confess the sins that I have committed during the day; after listing the sins that I have committed knowingly, I ask God to forgive me for the sins that I have committed unknowingly. As a flawed human being with unfortunate blind spots, I would not be surprised to learn that at least some of my ostensibly harmless words and deeds may have injured others. Thus, I pray that God would forgive me for those instances where I did not intend to injure others. As believers, we should pray that God would be sovereign over our blind spots.

Psalm 18 March 11, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 18.

Summary: In this passage, David recounts several instances where his enemies threatened him with death. At those times, he responded by calling on God to deliver him. God responded by completely routing his enemies – displaying His omnipotence in the process.

He then asserts that God routed his enemies because he was righteous in His eyes; in particular, he had consistently hewed to His laws and decrees. Indeed, He rewards those who hew to His laws and decrees – while punishing all others.

He reiterates the praiseworthy fact that God has enabled him to rout his enemies. He concludes by expressing his confidence that God will continue to enable him – and his descendants – to rout those who oppose Him.

Thoughts: In verses 7-15, God responds to David’s plea by displaying His omnipotence. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 8:

The whole passage is intended to depict God’s descent to the help of his child, attended by earthquake and tempest: at the majesty of his appearing the earth rocks, the clouds gather like smoke, and the lightning as flaming fire devours setting the world ablaze. What grandeur of description is here!

When I strolled through this psalm, I was completely overwhelmed by the imagery of these verses. They reminded me of the description of heaven as recorded by the apostle John in Revelation 4 and 5, where he struggled mightily to record the scope of his vision. Here, I wonder if David, like John, was overwhelmed by the presence of God; if so, did he struggle to depict His omnipotence in these verses? One thought is that if we are overwhelmed by the person and work of God, we should not be alarmed by any failure to express our feelings in such instances – as that is only human.

In verses 20-24, David affirms his righteousness before God. Spurgeon offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 20:

Viewing this psalm as prophetic of the Messiah, these strongly-expressed claims to righteousness are readily understood, for his garments were white as snow; but considered as the language of David they have perplexed many…Before God, the man after God’s own heart was a humble sinner, but before his slanderers he could with unblushing face speak of the cleanness of [his] hands and the righteousness of his life.

Spurgeon’s thoughts remind us to consider the context in each psalm where David affirms his righteousness before God. While we know that David was not sinless, we also know that he was not guilty of the charges that were leveled against him in this instance. When we evaluate our walk with God, we must consider the following question: could others bring legitimate charges against us? We should also query others on this point, as we are prone to overlook our weaknesses. If such charges exist, then we must ask Him for assistance in overcoming our faults. If such charges do not exist, then we must thank Him for His grace to us in that regard.

In verse 25, David asserts that God is pleased by our righteous words and deeds. Spurgeon offers an interesting thought on this point:

Note that even the merciful need mercy; no amount of generosity to the poor, or forgiveness to enemies, can set us beyond the need of mercy.

This is a valuable reminder for believers, as we may fall into the trap of assuming that our acts of service secure our righteous standing before God. Indeed, we may forget our inherent sinfulness when we focus on advancing the kingdom of God through our words and deeds. One thought is that as believers, we should regularly reflect on what God has done for us and how utterly dependent we are on Him for our salvation – especially in light of the fact that we fall short of His grace on a daily basis. On a related note, we must also strive to avoid falling into the trap of becoming numb to our sins…

Psalm 15 February 23, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 15.

Summary: In this passage, David poses the following question: who can enter the presence of God? The answer is: those whose words and deeds reflect their desire to seek the best interests of others.

Thoughts: Here, David asserts that righteousness is a salient feature of the presence of God. After strolling through this psalm, I pondered the following thought: believers often struggle to maintain their integrity. For example, assume that in a meeting at work, colleague A unfairly disparages colleague B who is not present; should you avoid defending colleague B at that time, especially if you are conflict-averse? Also, assume that you are preparing a presentation at work, and you discover that a bug in your simulation invalidates your main result; should you pretend that your main result is still valid? I must admit that I have fallen short in similar situations, and I need His grace to honor Him even when I must pay a steep price.

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).

Jesus Before Pilate October 21, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:11-26.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus stands before Pontius Pilate. The Jewish leaders then accuse Him of leading a rebellion against Rome – yet He does not respond to their charges, to Pilate’s amazement.

Now Pilate has a custom where he releases a criminal during Passover to show mercy to his subjects. In particular, he has a prisoner of note named Barabbas. He then asks the crowd before him – including the Jewish leaders – if he should release Barabbas or Jesus (their anointed).

The Jewish leaders persuade the rest of the crowd to demand that Pilate 1) release Barabbas and 2) crucify Jesus.

Pilate initially refuses to meet their demands, as 1) he has found Jesus to be righteous and 2) his wife has endured a nightmarish dream that has confirmed Jesus’ righteousness.

Yet the crowd persists in their demands to the point of starting a riot.

Eventually Pilate relents and frees himself from the guilt of Jesus’ execution. He releases Barabbas and has Jesus scourged in preparation for His crucifixion.

Thoughts: This passage sharpens the contrast between the righteousness of Jesus and the unrighteousness of all others. Here, Pilate reveals his unrighteousness. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Pilate appears to have been inwardly satisfied that our Lord had done nothing worthy of death…Left to the exercise of his own judgment, he would probably have dismissed the charges against our Lord, and let him go free…But Pilate was the governor of a jealous and turbulent nation; his great desire was to procure favor with them and please them: he cared little how much he sinned against God and conscience so long as he had human praise.

Again, lest we, as modern-day believers, assume that we are superior to Pilate, we should remember that if we had been in his position, we would also have attempted to free ourselves from the guilt of Jesus’ execution. Indeed, no modern-day believer would have had the fortitude to reject the crowd’s demand that He be crucified. We are reminded that although we would have condemned Him, He still graciously chose to save us from (eternal) condemnation. We must regularly meditate on this point through the peaks and valleys of our walk with Him.

We also see that the Jewish leaders stirred up the crowd before Pilate to clamor for Jesus’ crucifixion. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

They hated him because he told them the truth; they hated him because he witnessed that their actions were evil; they hated the light, because it made their own darkness visible. In a word, they hated Christ because he was righteous and they were wicked – because he was holy and they were unholy – because he testified against sin, and they were determined to keep their sins and not let them go.

This reminds me of the fact that I – and many others, I presume – struggle to accept criticism. Legitimate criticism can be painful, especially when the one who criticizes me does not soften their tone. When I am criticized, my mind instinctively rejects that criticism and judges the one who delivers it. Thus, I usually need to exercise significant self-control in order to 1) refrain from attacking the one who criticizes me and 2) assess the merits of their words (I see the value of thinking before speaking in these situations). Indeed, if criticism has merit, we must accept it, even if the one who delivers it does not even attempt to soften their tone, e.g. Jesus’ interactions with the Jewish leaders during the latter part of His ministry.