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Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

In a number of Psalms there are multiple voices. Often they’re taken as one believer talking to another believer. But I’m starting to wonder whether sometimes there is more to it than that.

I’ve just been looking at Psalm 91 and Psalm 121. Both Psalms about divine protection. Lots of shared language and ideas. And a similar structure too in terms of the voices.

Psalm 91

  • Verse 1 – A voice talks in the third person about ‘he’ who takes refuge in the Most High
  • Verse 2 – A voice talks in the first person, looking to the LORD for refuge.
  • Verses 3-13 – A voice talks in the second person of how the LORD, the Most High, will be a refuge to ‘you’ (this speaker is also, himself taking refuge in this LORD – v9)
  • Verses 14-16 – A voice talks in the first person about how he will be a refuge to ‘him’

There are at least two speakers. Everyone agrees that v14-16 must be the LORD himself coming in and confirming that he will indeed deliver/protect/rescue.

It could be that v1-13 is all the Psalmist speaking, first giving a general truth (v1) , then saying what his prayer is to his God (v2), then encouraging other believers (v3-13). But it is very striking that the “you” throughout v3-13 is singular. Just as v1 and v14-16 seem to be talking about a singular man. It could be a generalised ‘believer’ but it’s interesting what happens when Satan quotes this Psalm to Jesus a thousand years later in the wilderness. The strength of the devil’s attack rests on the fact that Jesus knows that this Psalm is about the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God, then Psalm 91:11-12 applies to you doesn’t it? So why don’t you just throw yourself down off the Temple and claim those promises?”

Jesus doesn’t debate the application to himself but he knows a) that you don’t have to ‘test’ a Father-Son relationship and b) this Psalm is going to be fulfilled through the Cross and resurrection – suffering and then glory.

So Psalm 91:3-13 is being spoken to Jesus by another voice – a comforter who encourages him that the LORD God, the Most High will protect him. Who is this? Who could be Jesus’ comforter? How about The Comforter – the Spirit. The one who speaks through the Psalmist (2 Sam. 23:2).

And who is the Most High LORD who is mentioned in v1, v9 and then speaks in v14-16? Surely that must be the Father. The one who is loved by the Son (v14).

So perhaps Psalm 91 works a bit like this:

  • Verse 1 – The Spirit tells us about the Son as the one who dwells in the Father – this verse in a sense functions as the title of the Psalm.
  • Verse 2 – The Son speaks of how he will cry out to the Father.
  • Verses 3-13 – The Spirit reassures the Son of the protection of the Father.
  • Verses 14-16 – The Father tells us about the Son.

Psalm 121

Similar but a bit simpler:

  • Verses 1-2 – A voice speaks in the first person, looking to the LORD for help.
  • Verses 3-8 – A voice speaks in the second person of how ‘the LORD is your keeper’

It could be one person turning from looking to the LORD to address us but most commentators hear two voices, a young faltering pilgrim and then another more experienced pilgrim encouraging him (the ‘you’ in v3-8 is consistently singular).

It certainly does look like two voices but to me the first voice doesn’t sound very young and inexperienced. He just sounds like the Psalmist often sounds, crying out to the LORD and simultaneously confident that the LORD will hear and act. The reference to the Creator of heavens and earth isn’t immature faith but consistent with Ps. 124:8 and 134:3.

The second voice is the comforter/encourager of the first voice. And maybe he gives us a clue to the first voice he is addressing in verse 4 – “Israel”. This, together with the similarity with Ps. 91 makes me think the first voice is the Son (cf. Ex. 4:22). So maybe, as in Ps. 91, the second voice is the Spirit.

What do you think?

Still thinking this stuff through. But if there is something like this going on I find it pretty amazing that we’re allowed to listen in as the Spirit encourages the Son of the Father’s care.

 

baptism

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Psalm 42-43

It’s probably a double Psalm (note the lack of title for Psalm 43 and repetition of the refrain (Ps. 42:5,11; 43:5)).

It’s often taken as a Psalm of spiritual depression but it’s also one of great spiritual intensity. This the perfect response to spiritual depression. A soul panting for God. Desperate for His presence. Reminding himself again and again to hope in the God who is his salvation, his life, his exceeding joy.

I’m sure this Psalm has been a great help to many in the darkness of depression. But I suspect for some it has been a discouragement. In my darkness I might well say, “My sadness is not the result of persecution for the sake of the Lord and being away from his presence. It’s got more to do with a personal despair and a general feeling of rubbishness and self-hatred and overwhelming tiredness. And to be honest I don’t feel that burning desire and thirst for God. I’m not continually talking good Bible truths to my soul and pouring out my heart to God. I just want to sleep and cry and be on my own. So I don’t think I can appropriate this Psalm.”

But what if this Psalm isn’t first about me? Like the next few Psalms it’s “To/for/of the choirmaster, a maskil [something to do with wisdom/teaching/revelation], to/for/of the Sons of Korah.” It seems likely the sons of Korah were the guys mentioned in 1 Chron. 6:33-38 who include Heman (cf. Ps. 88). Two important things come out of this context: 1) Heman and co. were singing prophets in the days of David (1 Chron. 25:1,4-6); 2) The “choirmaster” (or “establisher” or “shining/pre-eminent one”) mentioned in the Psalm superscription was either Heman, Chenaniah or quite possibly King David himself (1 Chron. 15:16; 25:7). So already we’re prepared for a Psalm of royalty and prophecy.

Then in the Psalm itself, we might ask ‘Who went with the throng and led them in procession to the house of God?” Surely it makes us think of David bringing the ark back into Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6 / 1 Chron. 15). (And perhaps, bearing in mind this is the first of the Exodus Psalms (Ps. 41-72), there might also be an allusion to Moses or even the Lord himself leading the throng out of Egypt (Ex. 13:21-22)). And who is the one with exceeding joy, praising God with a harp? (Ps. 43:4) Well it could be Heman and co. (1 Chron. 25:1) but The Harpist of Israel is David (1 Sam. 16). As a Psalm of David all the stuff about the oppression of the enemy (Ps. 42:3,9-10; 43:1-2) starts to make more sense.

But, once again, it is in Jesus, the Greater David, that the Psalm makes the most sense. It is, as many of the Psalms, a window into Jesus’ head as he hangs on the Cross – his soul cast down, the breakers and waves of judgment crashing over him (cf. Ps. 88:7,16-17; Jonah 2:3,5; Mark 10:38), crying out to God, “Why have you forgotten me?”, his bones in agony as his enemies taunt him.

And the amazing thing we learn from Psalm 42/43 is that even at that moment of Godforsaken agony Jesus maintained his perfect devotion to the Father. Not for a moment did he stop seeking Him, thirsting for Him, trusting in His love, looking forward to praising Him. Isn’t that amazing!!

Where am I in the Psalm? Well first and foremost I’m with the enemies.

Ashamed, I hear my mocking voice
Call out among the scoffers.
It was my sin that held Him there
Until it was accomplished;
His dying breath has brought me life
I know that it is finished.

First and foremost Jesus is my substitute. He maintained perfect devotion even in the depths of anguish and hell. When no other would ever have maintained it. When there was nothing but darkness above him. When the human race was pouring out the very opposite of devotion on him. It is first and foremost for me simply to receive that great exchange – His righteousness for my sin, His perfect devotion for my anti-devotion.

I will not always be panting for God, longing for him. But I am IN CHRIST. In the one who is perfectly devoted to the Father. So as the Father looks at me he loves me as much as Jesus and he sees reflected back the perfect devotion of the Son.

And as I start to get that. That objective truth. Then maybe. Maybe. My affections might start to catch up with reality. And I’ll start to long for the Father as the Son does.

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Perfect Devotion (1)

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There are some Psalms I read and I just think, that is how my relationship with God should be. That’s the thirst and desire and God-centredness and single-mindedness and joy that I need and want. A heart completely secure in and sold out to the Father. They’re very inspiring Psalms. But I also find them convicting and condemning. Because my relationship with God is only very rarely anything even approaching that and usually a thousand miles away from that sort of devotion.

But… what it I don’t jump straight into the Psalmist shoes? What if I don’t straight-line the Psalms to me but first look at them as Jesus Psalms? Three examples (first one below and a couple more to come):

Psalm 27

Deep down I do want to have that “one thing” focus on the Lord (v4) but I know that most of the time I don’t. I’m also not sure how I should personally apply all the stuff about enemies and false witnesses and whether I can be as confident as the Psalmist that I will triumph over them. And verse 13 seems a great promise to claim: “I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” but is it really true?

But what if I take seriously that this is a Psalm of David? Well he really was a man after God’s heart. And the stuff about enemies starts to make more sense. He really did have armies encamping against him. And he had a promise from God to trust in that he would eventually be recognised as king.

But the Psalm seems to go beyond David – he did sometimes fear (cf. v3) and the Temple was not built in his day (cf. v4). It is the Great Christ who fits this Psalm perfectly – he is the one with a perfect relationship with the Father, the one surrounded by enemies and false witnesses, the one whose family forsakes him (cf. Ps. 69:8). He dwelt, before eternity, in his Father’s presence, he was found in his Father’s house as a boy, he cleansed his Father’s house, he entered the heavenly tabernacle as priest-sacrifice, and he longs for the day we will be with him in the glory of the New Creation Temple.

The core of Psalm 27 is in many ways a Gethsemane prayer – “Father if it is possible, hide not your face from me, forsake me not”. It was not possible. Christ did drink the cup of God-forsakenness. But his confidence in verse 13 was proved right on Easter morning: “I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (cf. Job 19:25-27; Isaiah 53:11).

Where are we in Psalm 27? In verse 14. There the Psalmist turns to address us directly for the first time: “Wait for the Lord; be strong, let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord!” No longer are we condemned by the perfect devotion of Psalm 27. It is Christ who had the perfect relationship with God. My role is this Psalm is passive – to wait. The right response is simply to be en-Couraged – to see Christ, his perfection, his forsakenness, his triumph over his enemies and have my drooping heart strengthened.

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It’s been noticed for centuries that the five books of the Psalter correspond roughly to the five books of the Torah. Not that you want to push it too far but at least we should not be surprised when we find echoes of the Torah in the Psalms and sometimes we’ll find these echoes very helpful in understanding a Psalm and appreciating it’s richness and power.

So in book 1 (Psalms 1-41) we find…

  • Adam who listens to the counsel of wickedness and is driven away, like chaff or withered grass (Psalm 1, 35, 37, 39)
  • Second Adam who is righteous, delights in God’s word, is like the tree of life, flourishing in every way, not to be swept away (Psalm 1, 26)
  • True Adam with all things under his feet (Psalm 8)
  • Adam’s wicked race whose thoughts, as in the days of Noah, are only evil all the time (Psalm 10, 12, 14, 36)
  • Lot in Sodom (Psalm 11)
  • Abraham who rejoices in his beautiful inheritance and is certain of resurrection (Psalm 16)
  • The Second Adam who can read in creation his role as bridegroom and in Scripture of danger, reward, righteousness and life (Psalm 19)
  • Adam laid in the dust, lowered below the beasts (Psalm 22)
  • Creation, light, word (Psalm 8, 19, 24, 27, 29, 33)

An example: Psalm 3

It’s “a Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son”. It’s a Psalm of the Christ. Admittedly David’s troubles were in some ways the punishment for his own sin (2 Sam. 12:10-11) but in the Psalter, the great rebellion against David mainly seems to point forward to the great betrayal of Jesus (Psalm 41, 55; 69; John 13:18). And when you read 2 Sam. 15 itself there are loads of pointers forward to Jesus and Maundy Thursday.

Jesus was surrounded by “thousands of people” (Ps. 3:6) baying for his blood. Verse 2 is almost exactly what was hurled at Jesus as he hung on the Cross: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He trust in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires.”

Jesus did “cry aloud to the Lord” (Ps. 3:4), the great cry as he died and “the Lord answered from his holy hill” by shaking the earth, splitting rocks and ripping the Temple curtain from top to bottom.

Verse 5: Jesus “lay down and slept” (Good Friday) “and woke again” (Easter Sunday).

So it’s first and foremost a Jesus Psalm. But the Psalm also points backward to the first Adam. The theme of the Psalmist facing personal foes/enemies is very strong throughout Psalms but particularly in the first book (cf. esp. Ps. 4-9; 13, 17-18, 22-23, 27, 31, 35, 38, 40-41). It looks forward to the enemies of The Christ (Psalm 2:1-2; Acts 4:25-28) but it also reminds us of the first garden where the great enemy tempted the first Adam. The day when the Serpent basically said, “There’s no salvation for your soul in God. God doesn’t want the best for you. He doesn’t want to give you abundant life, he wants to inhibit you and restrict and restrain you, because, the truth is he’s frightened of you becoming like him. Real salvation and freedom and life for your soul will be found outside of God.”

Then at the end of Psalm 3 is an appeal to God, confident that he “strikes all my enemies on the cheek; breaks the teeth of the wicked” (v7). Why the cheek and teeth? Because again and again in the Psalms the Psalmist is attacked not so much with sticks and stones but by the mouth of his enemy. Mocking, plotting, deceiving words, gnashing of teeth (E.g. Ps. 5:9; 10:7; 22:13; 5:16; 35:21; 37:12). Interestingly, in Psalms 58 and 140 the speech of the enemies is likened to the mouth of a serpent. It was by the mouth of the Serpent that the first man was attacked, deceived and thrown down. It is by his mouth that Satan, the father of lies, continues to attack and accuse and deceive the children of Adam. But the good news is that one day the second Adam’s prayer (Ps. 3:7) will be answered and the mouth of the Serpent will be well and truly smashed.

On that day we will all say “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (v8a). On that day His “blessing” (v8b) will be on His people. Blessing – another great Genesis theme. The blessing of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:28); that the Serpent lured them from with his deceptive mouth; replaced with curse (Gen. 3:17); preached to Abraham (Gen. 12:3); through his offspring crying, dying, rising it has finally come.

Serpent crusher

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When we look at New Testament letters, for example, many of us are quite familiar with the idea of ‘travelling to Corinth’.

Travelling to Corinth

That is we recognise that 1 Corinthians, for example, was a real letter written by a real man to real people living in a real place with real problems and questions that are being addressed. It is not a collection of spiritual truths floating around. It is not first and foremost about me or written to me (even though it is ultimately for me). What I need, if I am to really hear the riches of, e.g. 1 Corinthians 13, is to read the passage in the context of the whole letter and put myself in the shoes of the Corinthian believers hearing it read the first time, hearing it speaking into their context of division and pride and unlove. That’s when I start to feel the cutting edge of the sword and it starts to cut me too.

Well so much for 1 Corinthians. But what about the Psalms? I think often the ‘travelling to Corinth’ thing goes out the window and we draw a straight line straight from the text to us.

Straightlining

It’s very tempting because the words of the Psalms resonate so strongly with us. I’m sure you’ve had that experience I’ve had when you read a Psalm and you think – that’s exactly how I feel. And the Psalms make great songs – unsurprisingly, as they are songs (note all the titles like “for the choirmaster on stringed instruments”). They express the depths of grief and the heights of praise so wonderfully. And I don’t want to take away from that for a moment. But I think they can be even more powerful when we remember who’s saying/singing them first – King David, the anointed one, the Christ, the Beloved One (the name David means ‘beloved’).

And they also make a lot more sense that way. You know that experience of reading through a Psalm, or hearing it preached, and it all makes for wonderful devotional stuff about trusting God alone and longing for him and remembering his promises and then suddenly, often near the end, you get all this stuff about slaying enemies or perhaps an appeal to the Psalmist’s perfect righteousness and innocence. At that point we either have to tone down the language and say, he didn’t really mean that, or we bring in David and say, well, this bit must point us to Christ – which makes for quite a satisfying devotion/sermon – we get lots of practical and devotional points about us with a final point about Jesus so we can tick the ‘got the gospel in’ and ‘proclaiming Jesus’ boxes – but it’s not that satisfying as a treatment of the whole Psalm. Why are some bits about me and then other bits (with no grammatical warning) turn out to be about Jesus?

Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler to just read the whole Psalm as firstly a Psalm of David (especially if it says it is – obviously some are by Asaph or someone else) and then a Psalm of The Christ (as the New Testament consistently reads the Psalms) and then a Psalm for those who are in Christ?

Travelling to David

I’ve been reading through the Psalms recently as songs of Jesus and it has been revolutionary for me – so exciting and refreshing – I recommend it. Here is one example to get us going:

Psalm 139

A wonderful Psalm on God’s omnipresence and the believer’s comfort in that truth.

But what do we do with v19-22 then? “Oh that you would slay the wicked… I hate them with complete hatred”.

How about if we take the whole Psalm as a song of David? “To the Choirmaster. A Psalm of David”.

Verse 16: “in your book”. What was the one book which David as the king was commanded to read? God’s Law (Deut. 17:19). In fact the king is the only one who is commanded to have a daily quiet time (for the rest of us it’s wise but not law). It was by reading the Law that David was to find his role and destiny.

But the Psalm fits Jesus Christ even better than David Christ:

  • Jesus is the one completely known and loved and enfolded by the Father; who delights in and marvels at that enfolding. Jesus’ thoughts and words are known by the Father because they are the Father’s thoughts and words (cf. John 3:34; 7:16; 17:14). Psalm 139 gives us an insight (amazingly) into Jesus’ experience of his oneness with the Father – his sense of joy and security in that unity and interpenetration.
  • Jesus is also enfolded by the Spirit (v7a) – he is the anointed one who has the Spirit without limit, the one on whom the Spirit rests – and he knows the Spirit as personal – the Spirit of the Father (cf. Matt. 10:20) – the presence he never outruns.
  • Jesus is the Second Adam. Whereas Adam was driven out of the presence of the Lord (and Jonah fled it), this man delights always in the presence of God and never rebels against his guiding hand (v7-10).
  • Jesus has gone to the extremities. He has ascended to heaven. He has descended to Sheol. He has been cast into the depths of the sea (like Jonah) and gone through the darkness. David didn’t go to those placed and we certainly haven’t but Jesus has and in all these places he remained completely one with the Father.
  • Jesus had a body made for him in his mother’s womb. Of course in one sense we all did but in Jesus’ case his body really was very fearfully and wonderfully made – both in its miraculously creation in a virgin’s womb and in the sinless perfection of his flesh.
  • Jesus really does know how wonderful the Lord’s works are (v14b). He was there at the creation of the world. He was there at the deliverance from Egypt. And he knows all the Father’s thoughts (v17). So he is both known and knows.
  • Jesus is the one who read’s God’s book (the Law) and finds written there every one of his days – his coming, his mission, his death, his resurrection, his victory (John 5:46; Luke 24:44-46).
  • Jesus is the one who ‘awakes’ after the Sheol, darkness and night (v18 cf. Ps. 13:3; 76:5; Job 14:11-12; Dan. 12:2).
  • Jesus is the one who will say, “Depart from me” to God’s enemies (v19 cf. Matt. 7:23; 25:41). Though he is the one who came to save sinners he is also the one who will come again to destroy the enemies of God (e.g. 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 19:15).
  • Jesus is the one who can ask God to examine him for any ‘grievous way in him’ (v23-24) and be found completely faultless.

Where are we in Psalm 139? Well first, naturally, we’re the wicked enemies of v19-22. The Psalms tell us repeatedly that there’s no-one righteous, we’re all sinners (Ps. 14; 53; 130; 143). We need to respond to the opening invitation of the Psalter – kiss the Son (Ps. 2:12). Then, once we are united with him (as in marriage cf. Ps. 45) we can claim Ps. 139 for ourselves in that we are in Christ. We have this wonder-ful oneness with the Father because we are in the beloved Son. We have gone through Sheol and ascended to heaven in Him. We are eternally secure, blameless and loved in the Son.

A few MP3 downloads:

  • Psalm 1 – Mike Reeves – brilliant stuff and an introduction to reading the whole Psalter

And a couple of examples of me trying to preach the Psalms:

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Ascension Day Psalm

Valley of Vision Resurrection

Still thinking of eternity…

I’ve just noticed it’s ascension day today – 40 days after Easter.

Psalm 110 is a great ascension Psalm. Matthew Henry calls it “pure gospel”.

My attempt at preaching it on Easter Day this year is here (21 min, 8MB).

  • Lord God
  • Gospel King
  • Forever Priest
  • Warrior Judge

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Whistler-Blackcomb by Jordan Manley

Sammy spoke to us about eternity from the book of Job at our last MTC.

Then early yesterday morning one of the pastors from our church passed on suddenly.

Here are some quotes and words from an eternal perspective…

I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories… But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning  Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

(Ro­bert M. Mc­Cheyne, died at the age of 29)

Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you. (Psalm 39:4-7)

…teach us who survive, in this and other like daily spectacles of mortality, to see how frail and uncertain our own condition is; and so to number our days, that we may seriously apply our hearts to that holy and heavenly wisdom, whilst we live here, which may in the end bring us to life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord. (From The Order for the Visitation of the Sick from the 1662 BCP – the whole order is so radically different to most modern Christianity it’s worth reading in full)

I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men. (Richard Baxter)

I stand vigilantly on the precipice of eternity speaking to people who this week could go over the edge whether they are ready to or not. I will be called to account for what I say there. (John Piper)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” (Revelation 14:13)

So truly our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ; and our door to enter into eternal life is gladly to die with Christ; that we may rise again from death, and dwell with him in everlasting life. (Order for the Visitation of the Sick)

…labour always to learn to die. Defy the world, deny the devil, and despite the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord… desire, with St Paul, to be dissolved and to be with Christ, with whom even in death there is life. (From the letter of Lady Jane Grey, 9-day Queen of England, to her sister Katherine, written in the back of her Greek New Testament the night before her execution)

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

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