Category: Devotional


The Contemplation of God

Part 2

One of the most valuable books in all of Scripture, in terms of the spiritual food it contains, is the book of Job. At the same time, one of the most neglected books in all of Scripture is the book of Job. This is one of those books that Christians simply do not read. They know the story, because they’ve heard it told, but they don’t sit down and open their Bible and study this book. It is long and repetitive and some think that once you know the ending, there’s little use in reading the details.

But this is a book in which a man’s soul is laid open for the reader; this is a book in which a faithful worshiper of God is made to endure the most painful trials we could imagine. This book is a rich analysis of what it means to know God and what it means to be known by Him.

Throughout this book, Job is asking questions and offering defenses and doing his best to understand what has come upon him. Job asks questions which can only be answered by God Himself. He faces that which has no explanation in his realm of experience, so an explanation must come from God.

The book begins with a description of Job, a man of considerable wealth and spiritual maturity. Job was a man greatly blessed by God in every significant aspect of his life. After this introduction, the writer describes an encounter between God and Satan as the devil complains about God’s protection of Job. Satan argues that Job is faithful only because he has been given so much. God allows Satan to test his theory by granting him access to Job.

Thereafter, Job suffered greatly. He was afflicted physically and witnessed the loss of his possessions and family. Much of the book records the thinking of Job’s friends as they attempt to explain what has happened to this man. They are convinced that Job is a great sinner and that God has punished him as a result. All Job needed to do, according to these men, was repent and confess his sins to God. But Job responds in the only way a righteous man can respond—he declares that he has no sin that is unconfessed. The explanation offered by his friends is misguided, but they maintain that Job is simply proud and not teachable.

Eventually, of course, God speaks to Job and Job quickly realizes how foolish some of his thinking has been. Nevertheless, throughout Job’s interaction with his friends, we find much insight and much that is beneficial when it comes to understanding ourselves in relation to God. One such passage comes after a speech by one of Job’s friends in which the friend once again chastises Job for his supposed pride and urges him to repent:

Job 23:1 Then Job replied, 2 “Even today my complaint is rebellion; His hand is heavy despite my groaning. 3 Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat! 4 I would present my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments. 5 I would learn the words which He would answer, and perceive what He would say to me. 6 Would He contend with me by the greatness of His power? No, surely He would pay attention to me. 7 There the upright would reason with Him; and I would be delivered forever from my Judge. 8 Behold, I go forward but He is not there, and backward, but I cannot perceive Him; 9 When He acts on the left, I cannot behold Him; He turns on the right, I cannot see Him.”

One of the themes to which Job returns often is that of desiring an audience with God. Job knows that the perspective of his friends is wrong—he has no sin that he has attempted to hide from God. His suffering is not a result of stubbornly refusing to repent. But he is left without an explanation for all that has come upon him. Therefore, he expresses his longing to sit down with God, as it were, and “make his case,” so to speak.

Job is, however, always reverent in the way he conveys his feelings. He never charges God with injustice, but cannot understand why he has been made to endure such trials. And the constant agitation of his friends with their certain opinions about Job’s spiritual condition makes this an unbearable situation. So, Job cries out and affirms his desire to talk to God.

The agony of Job can be heard in his plea: “Oh that I knew where I might find Him, that I might come to His seat!” (v. 3) From Job’s perspective, this is not an insulting thing to say. He is sure of his innocence in regard to what his friends are declaring, but later Job learns that this kind of statement is full of presumption and is very foolish indeed. God will chastise Job for thinking that he might appear before the Almighty and plead his case as if God were not aware of the suffering of His servant or as if God has somehow made a mistake in bringing upon Job this painful ordeal.

But right now, Job is simply a man trying to understand his circumstances, a man trying to make sense of that which makes no sense to him. And the explanation offered by his counselors is only making matters worse. “There must be another explanation,” Job thinks; “I am an innocent man and these things that have come upon me cannot be God’s punishment for my sin.”

Job is thinking purely in terms of his perspective on the matter, not in terms of God’s perspective—this perspective is revealed to him later. For now, as noted, Job is sure that he could demonstrate his innocence to God were he given the opportunity. Of course, when that opportunity comes later Job is dumbfounded, but now he is expressing his desire to know why all this has happened to him.

“I would present my case before Him,” Job states, “and fill my mouth with arguments.” (v. 4) Job is sure that this would lead to an understanding of his trials; he is sure that God would hear him and reason with him (v. 5). Job is sure that God would not just destroy him, but would listen to what he had to say (v. 6). Again, I’ll point out that Job is reasoning as a desperate man, a man who wants to maintain his innocence in the face of repeated charges of sin, but a man who is not yet ready simply to accept what God has ordained without having his questions answered—and this is the key to understanding the perspective of Job. In time, he will be satisfied with the knowledge that God has ordained his trials for purposes that Job need not understand. But now he is still wrestling with what has come upon him and in an honest and open fashion he expresses his dismay.

As he has said so many times before, Job knows that he is not guilty of living unfaithfully before the LORD (v. 7). And he implies here and elsewhere that God does not afflict the righteous for sin when they have no sin. The upright man can have confidence in that truth, Job indicates. But this still leaves him agonizing over his plight. This still leaves him suffering and having to listen to the misguided analyses of his friends. Job longs to speak to God because only God knows why all this has happened; but he cannot find Him and this only makes him feel more dejected (cf. vv. 8, 9).

This man is in anguish and when we know what he was enduring, we can easily understand why. He has entered the most painful period of this life, literally, emotionally and spiritually speaking. The only explanation he’s been offered has come from his friends and they are convinced that Job is in sin and is experiencing the judgment of God. But Job knows that such an explanation is wrong; but when he makes that point, he’s accused of being prideful and unwilling to submit to the LORD’s chastisement. It is no wonder that Job was in such a state of apprehension and sorrow.

What will comfort this man? What will enable him to continue? How can Job endure this circumstance of physical suffering, emotional distress and ridicule from his friends? There is only one answer—Job will be sustained, as this book demonstrates—by his knowledge of God.

This book opens with the statement that Job was “blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil” (1:1). This man knows something about God. He knows something about the nature of God. He doesn’t understand why all this has happened, but he is going to find a measure of relief and peace as he contemplates God:

23:10 But He knows the way I take; when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. 11 My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. 12 I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food. 13 But He is unique and who can turn Him? And what His soul desires, that He does. 14 For He performs what is appointed for me, and many such decrees are with Him. 15 Therefore, I would be dismayed at His presence; when I consider, I am terrified of Him. 16 It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me, 17 But I am not silenced by the darkness, nor deep gloom which covers me.”

Let your heart dwell on that first statement: “But He knows the way I take…” God was aware of Job’s circumstance; these things had not come upon him without God’s knowledge. Job was not caught up in some trick of fate. Job knew that the LORD God rules this creation and that He knows everything that transpires and, in particular, Job knew that God was informed concerning what this man was experiencing. This is where Job’s knowledge of God rescues him from utter despair; this is where Job stops and contemplates God and in his contemplation he realizes that the Almighty knows him and his ways. This causes Job to see his suffering in the proper light—“when He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”

What assurance! What comfort! Yes, Job was suffering—beyond anything he ever imagined; and yes, Job has lost every earthly possession—including his children. But there is relief even in such horrible situations and the relief is the knowledge that God knows where I am and God knows what is happening to me and God will bring me through this and when he does, “I shall come forth as gold.” God will take that which is impure and purify it; God will take that which is mixed and remove all but that which is precious.

How was Job able to have this perspective on his dreadful trials? Job had such a perspective because He knew God and here he meditates on what he knew about God. God is righteous and just; God ordains holy purposes; God does not take delight in afflicting His own; God loves His people; God watches them day and night; God is never far away; God is never taken by surprise. All these things are true and they all flood Job’s mind when he pauses and contemplates God. He had no way of knowing about the scene described when this book opened, no way of knowing that God had given Satan permission to vex Job in order to show that Job was, indeed, a man of faith and not a worshiper of the LORD only because he had an easy and prosperous life as Satan charged.

While not even realizing it, Job is glorifying God as he endures. While not even being aware of all the facts, Job is honoring God by refusing to accept the erroneous explanations of his friends but also, at the same time, expressing confidence in the LORD’s righteousness and goodness.

Job doesn’t have all the answers—in fact, at this point, he has no answers at all. But as he meditates on God, he is able to confess that whatever is happening to him will result in his refinement. Job was a man who followed the LORD and lived a life of obedience (v. 11). Job was a man who loved the commandments of God and treasured the words of God more than the food which kept him alive (v. 12). This is the confession of a man who knows God and understands that nothing in life is of greater value than knowing God and nothing in life is more necessary than knowing God.

This man accepts what has been appointed for him even though he is greatly perplexed (v. 13). He has no definitive explanation for what has happened to him, but he knows that God does what He pleases and His ways are not thwarted. It is, I’ll say again, meditation on these truths about God that brings Job some comfort and the ability to endure. Job confesses also that what is happening to him is what has been appointed (v. 14).

What, then, is the ultimate response, or what is the ultimate answer for Job? He must accept what God has ordained because it is right; he must rest in what God has ordered because it is good. He knows that God is so great and so magnificent that he would be “dismayed” in God’s presence (v. 15). Here he uses a word (bahal) that means “alarmed, greatly disturbed.” In spite of his expressed desires to speak to God, Job knows that God is not a man like him. He knows this is not a matter of a misunderstanding as if God has made a mistake.

“When I consider, I am terrified of Him,” Job adds. Job hasn’t lost his reverence for God. He is meditating on the nature of God at this moment and speaking truthfully. That word “consider” (biyn) means “to understand.” “When I understand, when I’m thinking rightly of God,” Job means, “I am terrified of Him.” Job means that when he stops and reflects on God’s nature and contemplates all he knows to be true about God, he is overwhelmed by God’s greatness and majesty and holiness and magnificence.

Who would he be to sit down and speak to God as a man might with another man? Who would he be to question the Almighty? This brief contemplation of God keeps Job’s thinking in check. He would not dare question God’s ways as if something unjust had been unleashed on him; he would not dare charge God with unrighteousness no matter what befell him. Job’s thinking and Job’s reaction to his ordeal were controlled by what he knew about God. Had Job not known God as he obviously did, he would have been destroyed—and that is the point of this story. Satan said that Job served God only because God had blessed Job with so much, but God knew that Job served Him because Job loved God and knew the character of God and was moved to a life of faithfulness by that knowledge.

Finally, Job says what we all know to be true because we know the whole story contained in this book: “It is God who has made my heart faint, and the Almighty who has dismayed me.” (v. 16) It is God who has appointed these days for Job; it is God who has ordained his suffering and pain. But he is sure of God’s purposes; he is sure of God’s goodness. A brief contemplation of the nature of God has brought Job a measure of confidence and peace that will aid him well in the face of this friends’ continuing accusations.

Job’s last words in this chapter indicate that he is revived to a degree (v. 17). He is ready to speak in praise of God. And this he does as the next chapter indicates. He has measured his woes in light of what he knew about the nature of God. He has put his suffering in perspective by turning his attention to the LORD. This did not immediately change his circumstances. His children didn’t rise from the dead; his flocks weren’t returned instantly; his physically suffering was not relieved. But Job’s heart was aligned rightly by this contemplation of God. What he knew about God allowed him to think rightly in this situation. And Job demonstrates that which is of such value to us—he demonstrates the act of interpreting our lives in light of our knowledge of God. Job had no explanation for what he was experiencing apart from what he knew about God. He looked to God and there found confidence as he passed through a time of darkness.

To be continued . . .

 

Advertisements

The Contemplation of God

Part 1

Protestants trace our theological and historical roots to the sixteenth century when the pure teaching of the Word of God was rediscovered, as it were, and expressed in a movement known as the Reformation. We stand today in the line of those who returned to the doctrines of the apostles; we stand today as descendants of those who rejected a system of theology that robbed God of His glory. We are Reformed Protestants, and we are thankful for the mercy God has manifested toward us by including us in this great theological legacy.

We cherish our system of theology, a system distinguished by many emphases, and a system in which one specific emphasis stands above the rest. In our Reformed system of theology, knowledge of God serves as the foundation upon which we rest; knowledge of God serves as the touchstone by which all other doctrines are kept true and pure. In no system ever devised has knowledge of God played such an essential role as is true in Reformed theology. When I speak of knowledge of God, I am referring to what God has revealed about Himself to us. In our tradition, that knowledge has been centrally significant in the formulations of our beliefs and practices.

John Calvin wrote: “ … it is certain that man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself unless he has first looked upon God’s face, and then descends from contemplating him to scrutinize himself.” (Institutes, vol. I, 37) This quote encapsulates one of the most important principles in our system of theology. That principle is that we know ourselves truly only in relation to our knowledge of God. Unless we know Him, we cannot really know ourselves; unless we know Him, we cannot really understand ourselves.

Knowledge of God is absolutely indispensable; knowledge of God—who He is and what He is like—must come before every other consideration. Knowledge of God moves us and directs us and corrects us and astonishes us and humbles us. Knowledge of God is a prerequisite for understanding anything about this world in which we live. Knowledge of God touches all aspects of our lives—in the church and at home and on the job. You must know God before you can understand why you exist. You must know God before you can understand your purpose. You must know God before you can understand anything about salvation.

If you really know God, you will not worship Him in a light-hearted or half-hearted manner. If you know God, you will not close your heart to those in need. If you know God, you will not be a lazy, unproductive person. If you know God, you will read His Word. If you know God, you will not entertain prideful thoughts about yourself. If you know God, you will not mistreat or gossip about those made in His image. If you know God, you will not harbor grudges or refuse to forgive. If you really know God, you will be quick to confess your sins in repentance. If you know God you will not tell lies or steal. If you know God, you will not spend His tithe money on other things. If you know God, you will not laugh at dirty jokes or watch risqué programs on television. If you know God, you will be struck by His majesty and overwhelmed by His mercy and tremble at the thought of His holiness. If you really know God, then your whole life will be affected and your whole life will demonstrate that you have looked upon God’s face and now, as Calvin said, scrutinize yourself in the light of His glory.

Do you get my point? Everything we think and say and do reflects our knowledge of God. As Reformed Christians, our legacy is one in which knowledge of God is predominant in the way we view everything else. But I regret to say that we live in a day when the knowledge of God, that knowledge that goes beyond a mere academic recitation of God’s attributes, is counted as unimportant. We live in a time when Christians assume it is enough to confess that there is a God and that He has done some good things for His people. We do not live in a time when Christians are distinguished by their knowledge of God; we do not live in a day when Christians manifest evidence that they have encountered the Triune God of the Bible; we do not live in a day when believers yearn to walk with God in intimate and peaceful fellowship.

How do I know this? I know this because our lives are loosely lived and our minds are polluted and we manifest, at best, a mild enthusiasm for the things of God. And I haven’t discovered these facts by meticulous and time-consuming investigation. All you have to do is look at the modern Church and all these characteristics are obvious. Those who know God manifest His holiness and goodness when they speak. Most Christians don’t really know God; we know about Him, but we don’t know Him. We don’t live and breathe God. We go to worship, but we don’t live lives of worship.

We concentrate on many matters in the Church today, but we don’t concentrate on knowing God. We teach our children many things these days and we want them to excel in many areas, but we don’t teach them to know God. What was once the defining characteristic of our system of theology and, consequently, of the lives of past generations, is not being preserved. We are in danger of reducing our faith to formulas of obedience or appearance or denominational affiliation and, consequently, losing the notion that a relationship with God is a relationship. In Christ Jesus, we are brought near to God and we walk with Him and we speak with Him and we wait for His guidance and we give thanks for His provisions and we trust our very souls to His care. We cry out to God when we are grieved and we raise hands of praise when we are blessed. We love Him because He first loved us; we serve Him because He rescued us from damnation. This is what it means to know God.

To be continued . . .

. . . in Him you have been made complete . . . (Col. 2:10)

This statement comes in the context of Paul’s encouragement to the Colossians regarding Christ’s triumph on the cross. In the role of our Savior, Jesus was crucified and, in that act, the justice of God was satisfied and the demands of the Law were met. Our sins were paid for, our souls were redeemed, and we no longer live under the condemnation of God.

The fact that Christ represented us, the apostle explains, means that we gain the benefits that He secured. Every charge pending against us was nullified and every need was met in Christ. His atonement was perfect; consequently, there is nothing lacking, nothing to be added, and nothing to be modified. The resurrection of Jesus Christ was the definitive declaration from God that the Son’s sacrifice was accepted and all those on whose behalf the sacrifice was made were eternally secure.

This is our position before God today—no guilt, no fear, no debt, no judgment. We are free in the purest and most magnificent sense of the word. We are free to live in peace, we are free to enjoy what we have been given, we are free to rejoice in God and express our gladness to Him. We are free to sing and praise and pray. We are free to set aside every concern we once had about winning God’s favor. We are free to be who we are in Christ and pay no attention to what others may want us to be. We are free to follow the Word and ignore man-made rules and regulations, and we are free to live in hope of that coming day when we will join our wonderful Savior in heaven.

All of this is what Christ has provided. This is what Paul meant when he wrote: “in Him you have been made complete.” We pay Christ a great honor when we live out our days as a free, sanctified, and confident people. If there is any area in your life in which you are in bondage to the dictates of man, you may cast off those shackles at this very moment in the name of your Savior. If there is any aspect of your life in which fear of condemnation is present, you may reclaim it right now in the name of your Deliverer.

The Gospel in Psalm 130

July 19, 2015

 

Introduction

Psa. 130:1 A Song of Ascents. Out of the depths I have cried to You, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice! Let Your ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with You, that You may be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul does wait, and in His word do I hope. 6 My soul waits for the Lord more than the watchmen for the morning; indeed, more than the watchmen for the morning. 7 O Israel, hope in the LORD; for with the LORD there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption. 8 And He will redeem Israel from all his iniquities.

Based on the text of this Psalm, it seems appropriate to begin with some questions. How many transgressions of all the principles and commandments and precepts that are found in Scripture did you violate last week? What would the list look like if all of your sins, up to this moment in time, had been recorded? How would you like to appear before God and see such a list displayed before Him?

The truth is, you don’t know how many times you’ve violated the holiness of God just since you opened your eyes this morning. Even if we attempted to record all of our sinful thoughts and words and actions for just a day, we would miss most of them. We don’t go through life thinking in terms of cataloging our sins—and for good reason. We don’t have to live like that. But that shouldn’t stop us from considering how often we violate God’s standard and that shouldn’t stop us from meditating, at times, on all the ways in which we sin against God. Such times of reflection can be most beneficial, as we are about to see as we turn our attention to Psa. 130.

This obviously is a prayer offered by a worshiper of God; it is a prayer expressing anguish, to a degree, and relief as the writer acknowledges certain facts about God. These facts, as they are recalled, provide him with a much needed encouragement and corrected perspective on whatever it was that drove him to describe himself as being in the “depths.”

I would note that the first truth that stands out is this writer’s apparent conviction that the LORD establishes the standard by which we are judged, the standard by which our lives are measured. This critical truth comes after the writer’s introductory remarks in which he expresses his distress and his desire that the LORD would hear his supplications. In v. 3, the writer asks a question that carries such momentous implications that I fear we will not be able to grasp them all. The writer of this Psalm asks: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” Before I talk about the most sobering aspects of this question, I want you to notice that the writer automatically assumes that it is the LORD’s place to decide what is and what is not an iniquity; he assumes that the LORD is the One who sets the standard to which all are held.

The writer does not suggest that if the LORD were to be the One with the authority or right to mark iniquities, we might find ourselves in trouble; he assumes that the LORD is the One whose nature is such that He determines that which constitutes acceptable thinking, speaking, and conduct. This fact, in itself, declares to us something vital concerning God’s nature—His nature is the standard of morality. Whatever God is, that is what it means to be morally upright; whatever contradicts what God is, that is what it means to be morally corrupt and fallen.

With this tremendously important assumption operating, the writer asks his question: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” If God, whose nature is the standard of judgment in this universe, were to “mark iniquities,” no one would survive, the writer asserts. Let me define two words at this point before we continue. First, the word translated “mark” (shamar) means “to keep” as it to preserve something for an indefinite period of time. Second, the word “iniquities” (avon) means “perversity, depravity, sin.” Now, look again at the question: “If You, LORD, should keep or preserve a record of sins or acts of perversity or thoughts of depravity, O Lord, who could stand?”

I already noted that the writer operates with the assumption that the LORD has the authority to determine the standard by which we are judged. Another assumption, which is obviously held by this writer, is that we are a people characterized by that which qualifies as iniquity. He doesn’t speak as though iniquity is a rare thing; he speaks as though everyone on this earth is characterized by enough iniquity to render them worthy of destruction were the LORD ever to decide to call them to account. This Psalm tells us that God sets the standard and it tells us that He is not like us; we are different from God because we are characterized by various elements that are contrary to His nature; therefore, we deserve judgment—that is a clear message from this writer.

We deserve judgment because we commit violation after violation of God’s standard, and yet we do not perish. Why is this? It is because the LORD is pleased not to mark our iniquities, and He is pleased not to keep a list of our sins current right up to this present moment in time is a running count of accusations against us. He is pleased not to call us to account for our transgressions. Now the writer has revealed a truth about God that should leave us astounded —we are creatures of depravity, but the LORD chooses not to hold our sins against us. He chooses not to mark our iniquities. If we could simply comprehend this one primary point, we would have an understanding of the gospel that would change us forever; we would understand the power of the gospel, the beauty of the gospel, and the comfort of the gospel. The LORD does not mark our iniquities because “there is forgiveness with [Him], that [He] may be feared.” (v. 4)

Forgiveness—that is the explanation. We are characterized by iniquities, but the LORD doesn’t hold on to those transgressions and He doesn’t bring them against us time after time because He forgives us. It’s not that we learn to do better and it’s not that God cares less about His holy character as time goes by and it’s not that our offenses are any less offensive the tenth time we commit them as opposed to the first time. The answer is forgiveness. God forgives us, which means, as the writer’s word structure indicates, that forgiveness is the very opposite of marking iniquities. Knowing that God forgives, the writer states, leads us to fear Him. He uses a Hebrew term (yare) that refers to the deep reverence we have when we stand in awe of something. This word is used extensively in the Old Testament to describe a proper attitude toward God. This fear is not that He will harm us, the fear is reverence, respect, standing in all of the magnificent God of the Bible. To meditate on the forgiveness of God leads to this worshipful attitude; it is an attitude of humility and thanksgiving.

The only way for you to understand the richness of your salvation is to first grasp the enormity of your sin. This is the idea here in our text. The enormity of our sin is revealed when the writer says, in essence, that if we had to answer for our conduct, we would perish; the richness of our salvation is revealed when he says that, instead of being called to account for our sins, God forgives us—which explains, by the way, what forgiveness is; it is relating to the offending party without regard for his sins. Here I must make something absolutely clear; what I want to make absolutely clear is how this kind of situation can exist. I want to make clear how it is that God forgives the guilty.

If anyone ever had a doubt regarding the presence of the gospel in the Old Testament, here is a prime example of how the Old Testament reveals the nature of redemption without speaking as directly about Christ as is the case after the incarnation. We know why the LORD doesn’t mark our iniquities; it is because He forgives us. But we also know that God’s holy nature makes it impossible for Him simply to overlook transgressions. The kind of statement found in this Psalm would have led any pious mind to thoughts about what was taught in the Levitical system, namely, that sins are forgiven on the basis of a substitutionary atonement. If there is forgiveness with God, as this writer says, it is because something has been done about our sins—and that “something” is that God has provided Another to bear the consequences of our iniquities.

As I said before, we do not escape answering for our transgressions because God forgets about them or because He knows that we are “doing our best.” We escape because our Savior takes our place. That is the underlying truth of this portion of Psa. 130. Here is a brief, but truthful reminder of what God had been promising for ages; and the writer of this Psalm relates in a simple fashion the reality of redemption.

This Psalm tells us that God determines the standard to which we are held, that He does not count our transgressions against us even though we violate His standard, and that in the place of destruction God provides forgiveness. Consequently, as the writer goes on to teach, God becomes the focus of his hope (cf. v. 5). Because he knows what the LORD has done, because He knows that the LORD forgives and restores, the writer found great comfort for his soul as he faced hardships. We’ll see in a moment the manner in which he describes this hope, but for now the important point is that the way in which God treats His people makes Him the object of their trust and hope.

This Psalm is a wonderful assertion of some of the primary truths of the gospel. Sinners who are condemned and deserving of destruction are forgiven by the very God against whom they have committed innumerable acts of transgression. Imagine the God who would operate in this manner! Imagine His love and His mercy and His patience.

Clearly, as we’ve seen in many of the other Psalms in this current series, this Psalm tells us that these were people who quickly and confidently turned to the LORD in times of distress. Routinely, these Psalms have given testimony to the fact that the worshipers sought guidance, comfort and confidence from the LORD in the many adverse circumstances they encountered. In this case, the writer describes himself as crying to the LORD “out of the depths.” (v. 1) Whenever this word (“depths”) is used in the Old Testament, it normally refers to the deepest parts of the ocean. Figuratively, therefore, it is used to express a state of great anguish and despair.

Although the writer doesn’t provide specific details concerning his situation, we do have some indication of what was bothering him. After expressing such anguish, he begins speaking of iniquities. It is possible, therefore, that the writer was deeply troubled by his transgressions or those of the nation. For some reason, sin and forgiveness were on his mind when he wrote this song. Rightly, as I noted, he turns to the LORD and pours out his distress in those few words found in vv. 1 and 2. This writer is in a position where only the LORD can help him and it is to the LORD that he directs his cry for assistance.

Those who, along with this writer, worshiped the LORD at this point in history knew the fundamental truth that God is the one to whom we turn in times of distress, especially if that distress is caused by the contemplation of our sin. Where else can we turn to find relief for our troubled soul when, upon the contemplation of our depravity, we find ourselves near despair? The very act of meditating on one’s fallen state quickly leads to the conclusion that there is no help to be found in self—self is the problem! We are sinners and when sinners think soberly on their condition, they certainly do not conclude that deliverance from condemnation and the torment of guilt is to be found in their own devices. It is to the LORD and to Him only that we turn in such moments and it is that perspective that is recorded in this Psalm.

This apparent deliberation on his condition led this writer to a sobering conclusion: “If you, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?” (v. 2) Realizing, even to a slight degree, how unfit he was to stand before the LORD, this writer confesses the truth that if the LORD were to require an accounting from him for his transgressions, he would be doomed. And, in fact, the way he states the question makes it obvious that he held this same opinion about all of his countrymen. If the LORD were to keep track of our sins, he says, and then require a reckoning from us, we would be lost. We could not possibly stand before the LORD were He to produce a list of our sins.

Imagine knowing that the LORD was, in fact, marking iniquities, was keeping a record and would demand an accounting. This would be enough to unravel any pious person, or any person who truly wanted to walk before Jehovah in faith. But just as such disturbing thoughts occurred to this writer, he adds that astounding statement in v. 4: “But there is forgiveness with You…”

These worshipers were not free of sin and they were not free of guilt before the LORD, but He was not relating to them based on their sin because with Jehovah there is forgiveness. With Him, there is a remedy for sin—because there is forgiveness with the LORD. What a change of perspectives! If the LORD should mark iniquities, these worshipers knew that they could not endure before Him, but the LORD did not keep a record of their sin in order to bring it against them. Instead, He offered them forgiveness; instead, the LORD, the holy One, the offended One, made a provision for their deliverance.

It’s no wonder that the writer goes on to express how he eagerly waited for the LORD (vv. 5 and 6). As he considered his sin and the fact that the LORD forgave him, he wanted nothing more than to be with the LORD who loved him so. The truth of God’s forgiveness was the hope to which this man held as he made his way through life. It was communion with God that brought this man joy and comfort.

The word translated “wait” (qavah) is interesting (cf. v. 5). It’s a term that refers to remaining or abiding in a specific state as you anticipate something beneficial. When the writer says that he waited for the LORD, he doesn’t mean he was expecting the LORD to show up at some point. He means that he was resting in the LORD. And from that perspective, he was anticipating a time of communion with God, perhaps through worship or perhaps through his departure from this life into the presence of God.

In this frame of mind, the writer could urge his fellow-worshipers to “hope in the LORD.” (v. 7) He could assure them that they served a God who is known for His lovingkindness. In Him, the writer declares, there is “abundant redemption.” He presents a picture of the LORD that is completely uplifting and perfectly suited for those who were on their way to worship Jehovah.

At some point, this writer was made aware of his transgressions or something caused him to pause and think about the fact that he was a sinner and his sins were committed against a God of purity and holiness. And as he was going through this thought process, he realized that he deserved destruction. But there he was—alive and well and able to worship the LORD. The contemplation of his sin led, of course, to the contemplation of God’s forgiveness of his sin. Those two realities—his sin and God’s forgiveness of his sin—overwhelmed him and he had to exclaim praise for the LORD.

If God marked your iniquities, if He kept a record of your sins and called you to account, would you be able to stand? If God took note of your transgressions and preserved a list of them, would you be able to appear before Him with confidence? You know the answer to those questions. Our problem is that we don’t face these kinds of questions often enough. We rarely consider the implications of such a question as: “If You, LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?”

Meditation on such questions leads inevitably to the conclusion that God forgives—otherwise, we wouldn’t be here and we wouldn’t have a life and we wouldn’t know the LORD. Meditation on what God has done for sinners is where God-honoring worship begins.

When the writer of this Psalm thought on such things, he was moved to fear the LORD. How about you? We don’t hear much talk about fearing the LORD these days. To fear the LORD means that you relate to Him as God, as a holy and righteous God. It means that we look to Him with thankful hearts realizing that He is the One who saves us and who watches over us. To fear the LORD is to stand in awe of Him.

These kinds of thoughts come much more easily when we keep before us the fact that God has forgiven us. It was that truth that caused the writer to find hope in spite of his sins. He knew that God had provided for his forgiveness. As I said before, the gospel is portrayed in Psa. 130. There is the undeniable teaching of atonement in this Psalm. There is recognition of sin and there is recognition of forgiveness—the two key elements in redemption.

Therefore, we cannot study this Psalm without being directed to Christ. There is no way to read this Psalm and even begin to have the slightest understanding of it without turning our eyes to Christ. It is impossible for us to think about our transgression and breathe a sigh of relief knowing that they have been forgiven without turning our minds to Christ. He is the explanation for sins forgiven. The Messiah is the explanation for this writer’s conclusion that, although he was a man of iniquity, there was forgiveness with the LORD. Amen.

No topic in the book of Proverbs more clearly illustrates the way of God and the way of fallen man, or the way of righteousness and the way of wickedness, better than the subject of the tongue. The Proverbs address the incredibly diverse effects that can be accomplished with our speech. The tongue can bring life or it can bring death. It can cheer or it can cause despair. It can guide or it can mislead. It can bless or it can curse. It can honor God or it can be the instrument of blasphemy. Due to the tongue’s potential for both good and evil, it receives some of Solomon’s most precise analysis.

You don’t have to live too many years before you learn first-hand about the potential for good and the potential for harm that resides in our tongues. Generally speaking, we are so very careless with our words. Some of our most bitter memories are not of being struck by another person, but of being spoken to or spoken of harshly by another person. Most of us can recall episodes when we felt crushed by the words of another, or when we felt the keenest sense of betrayal due to words spoken by another. Set against these experiences are those times when someone has spoken kindly to us or about us and that has brought us satisfaction. And we all have known the comfort that comes from words of encouragement and support during a time of trial.

Our words are the most effective weapon we possess for destruction and the most effective means we possess for building up. The difference between these two extremes is the words we choose to utter and the manner in which we choose to utter them.

When there are many words, transgression is unavoidable, but he who restrains his lips is wise. (Pro. 10:19)

This is a verse that serves as one of the foundational principles when it comes to understanding the Biblical doctrine of language, in general, and the use of the tongue, in particular. Solomon doesn’t say what we might expect him to say. He doesn’t say “when there are many bad or hurtful or hasty or negative words, transgression is unavoidable, he simply writes that when there are “many words,” transgression is unavoidable. This should tell us something about communication immediately; it should tell us that much talk tends to result in a negative outcome. Our words, when they are prolonged, tend to degenerate in character and that means that transgression is always a potential product.

Because of our fallen natures, if we speak a lot, we are going to sin. This is a simple formula that Solomon sets before us. Consequently, the second half of this verse makes complete sense: “but he who restrains his lips is wise.” If, because of our sin natures, much talk is likely to produce transgression, then the person who wants to please the LORD and not cause offense with words will be the person who governs the tongue. Much talk leads to sin, so less talk eliminates the opportunity for sin.

Let’s consider some of the vocabulary Solomon uses in this verse. First, there is the word “transgression” (pesha). What exactly does Solomon mean when he says that when there are many words, transgression is unavoidable? This term is a basic Hebrew word meaning “trespass” or “sin.” There’s no mystery here. Solomon says that many words lead to sin—that is, the violation of some aspect of God’s Word. In fact, you’ll notice, he says that sin is unavoidable when we speak many words. The phrase Solomon uses refers to something that cannot be stopped, something that must occur given a set of circumstances. In this case, sin is that which cannot be stopped or that which must occur when this circumstance—many words—is present.

Solomon sets before us the opposite of speaking many words: “but he who restrains his lips is wise.” Here, the word translated “restrains” (chasak), of course, is significant. This term means “to spare, to keep back, to withhold, to hinder, to hold in check.” This notion is clear enough. This word describes an act of self-discipline or self-control by which the words that are spoken are few and do not, therefore, lead to transgression.

Solomon teaches that the preferred alternative to the use of many words is the use of controlled speech. If speech is controlled, and we’re talking about quantity as well as quality, we are less likely to commit a sin with our tongue. Therefore, since avoiding anything that violates God’s will is a chief mark of a wise man, Solomon pronounces that man who governs his mouth as “wise.”

This is, once again, a foundational verse because it deals with words, in general, not just “bad” words or inflammatory words. This text warns us that if we talk too much, we are going to sin—and I would point out that Solomon says nothing about our motives or our sense of justification for speaking many words. He flatly warns us that if we talk a lot, we are going to sin and he says that this outcome is unavoidable. Only a fool will hear what Solomon says in this verse and think he is immune or think he can still talk much about people or circumstances without falling into sin. If we take this verse seriously, we should be people of measured speech; we should be people who are known for their reserve when it comes to talking.

In terms of a practical response to this teaching, I would say be aware of the tremendous power of language. We need to give attention to this aspect of how God has made us. We are made in such a way that words have deep and lasting impacts on us. We cannot control how others use words, but we can control how we use them. And in recognizing the power of the tongue, determine that you will use it in a God-honoring manner. Discipline yourself to speak responsibly and in a controlled fashion. Make it your goal to build up others by your words—not through false flattery, but through words that edify.

Self-image

When I use the term “self-image,” I’m referring to the manner in which we are to think of ourselves as the creatures of God, living in His world, subject to His Word. I’m not thinking of the popular notion of self-esteem. In the book of Proverbs, we find a number of verses that establish the perspective we are to hold as we walk before the LORD. And, as is to be expected, we also find a number of statements telling us what we are not to think about ourselves or how we are not to determine our significance in this world.

The perspective that is commended in the Proverbs reflects the facts that we are creatures and God is the Creator. This perspective is essential, Solomon teaches, to a well-ordered life. It won’t take us long to understand why Solomon held such an opinion; nor will it take us long to realize how easily the perspective of Proverbs is lost or obscured or ignored. Because we are fallen creatures, our tendency is to think more highly of ourselves than we should; our tendency is to have more confidence in ourselves than we should.

Our verse was chosen to illustrate the essence of what the Proverbs teach us about how we deceive ourselves regarding our place in this world and how we are to correct that self-deception.

All the ways of a man are clean in his own sight, but the LORD weighs the motives. (Pro. 16:2)

Here is an example of antithetical parallelism; and in this case, it is particularly significant because this verse presents two diametrically opposed approaches to life—one that is “natural,” we could say to fallen creatures, and then the one that is truthful. In terms of generalities, Solomon sums up the way fallen human beings think of themselves and their abilities to perceive and act rightly. In contrast to that perception, he sets the One who knows our hearts and that is the LORD.

Let’s consider the first phrase of this verse: “all the ways of a man are clean in his own sight…” What does this tell us about how we tend to think about ourselves? What does this tell us about how, without correction, we will view our abilities and actions? This phrase declares that to the uncorrected mind—and this is the way to think of what Solomon means here because he contrasts a man’s ways with what the LORD knows in truth—whatever it conceives is truth. Therefore, what the uncorrected mind, that is, the mind not trained in truth, not subdued to the Word of God, perceives becomes the basis for conduct.

A fallen man examines his world and assumes that his analysis is correct; he assumes that what he concludes about the nature of this world is correct. So, a fallen man further assumes that any actions or decisions based on his observations must be correct—a fallen man, in other words, simply acts in a manner consistent with his fallen nature. He analyzes, concludes, thinks, and acts based on the belief that he is capable of rightly understanding his environment.

This characteristic is directly traceable to the fall of Adam and Eve. Adam’s sin was disobedience to the will of God and at the heart of all disobedience is the belief, however obscured, that I know better than God. Adam, in his actions, declared that he knew better than God, that God’s assessment of his environment was not necessarily the only assessment that might have validity. Consequently, Adam acted on his own, apart from what God commanded. Adam did what he thought was right, not what his Creator had declared was right. And that is what Solomon encapsulates in this first phrase.

It’s a simple truth that we hold the opinions we hold and we take the actions we take because we believe we are correct. Otherwise, we would hold another opinion or act in a different manner. Every person holds opinions they believe are correct or they would believe something else. Every person behaves according to what they believe is right; otherwise, they would behave differently. This is not a difficult concept to grasp. Solomon, as I said, encapsulates the very heart of fallen man’s reasoning process—he assumes that his ways are clean.

Apart from God’s correction, we are left with only ourselves as the measure of all things. If we are not looking to the standard of God, we must look to our own standard—there are no other choices. Now our standard may be a compilation of opinions taken from different sources, but it is still a standard assembled apart from the Word of God. And we go through life applying this standard and viewing the world according to this standard; and we remain in that mode of thinking and behaving unless, at some point, we are regenerated. And even then, we must battle for the rest of our lives to subdue our opinions and our conclusions in light of the Word of God that has become the standard by which we are to measure all things.

There is a lot in this first phrase. It speaks not only of how we behave and think, but also why we behave and think as we do. Remember, that in such verses, when Solomon speaks of “a man” he is referring to a man who operates apart from the wisdom of God.

And that brings us to the second half of this verse: “but the LORD weighs the motives.” As I said, this is an absolute contrast in two perspectives—the perspective of fallen man and the perspective of fallen man’s Creator. That something might be wrong with “the ways of a man” is immediately indicated. Fallen man assumes, as I’ve emphasized, that his assessments are correct and he acts on them. But the LORD assesses the man himself and in that assessment, Solomon implies, fallen man is found wanting.

The word translated “weighs” (takan) conveys the idea of subjecting something to examination by which its true nature or worth is revealed. This implies that what a man thinks or what conclusions he holds are not necessarily correct. The LORD, as only He can do, examines that which is behind a man’s thoughts or actions—and that is the state of his heart. This is made clear when you consider the word translated “motives.” It is a word (ruwach) that refers to the mind or the heart; it refers to one’s disposition.

Therefore, while a fallen man may believe he sees correctly and is rightly interpreting his environment so that he has great confidence in himself and his decisions, the LORD is able to see the condition of his heart; and that is something that the man himself cannot do. As a result, if a man is to know the truth about himself and his environment, so that he can think rightly and behave rightly, he must look outside himself for guidance. With that guidance, that revelation that God supplies, a man can then begin to think and act in a truly proper manner.

In conclusion, then, as far as this verse is concerned, we must say that we are taught to be distrustful of the uncorrected perspective we all hold—uncorrected, that is, by the Word of God. It is His Word that reveals to us the truth about the world in which we live, and the truth about our relationship with Him and others. We are not to think of ourselves as understanding anything apart from the context of God’s revelation; we are to understand that if we seek to interpret our environment or discover our duties apart from the Word of our Creator, we are bound to stumble. Our fallen natures will lead us astray. There is no question about that fact.

Solomon teaches, therefore, that self-image begins with the admission that we cannot trust our perceptions; we must subject them to the Word of God. We are not independent creatures, we are dependent creatures. We are not trustworthy sources of interpretation, we are, on the contrary, most untrustworthy. We are creatures that must rely on our Creator for understanding.

Additional Verses

The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD. (16:1)

This verse says much the same thing. I include it here separately because it speaks even more directly to the nature of our dependence on the LORD. Solomon acknowledges that we make plans in our heart, which has already been emphasized. But then, instead of saying that those plans are subject to the LORD’s oversight, which we know is true from our study already, he says something more significant: “but the answer of the tongue is from the LORD.”

This speaks to the LORD’s sovereign orchestration of our lives. We make our plans, but ultimately God can overrule the words we speak—or, to better explain what Solomon means here—the expression we give to those plans. We are laboring under a false notion if we think that whatever we determine in our hearts will inevitably come to pass.

For the ways of a man are before the eyes of the LORD, and He watches all his paths. (5:21)

In terms of what we think about ourselves and this world in which we live, one false assumption fallen man makes is that he is accountable only when and how he chooses to be accountable. In human relationships, we make ourselves accountable and, when it no longer pleases us, we throw of that accountability (marriages, jobs, church participation, daily observance of civil law, etc.). Normally, we don’t live apart from several human relationships in which accountability is a factor. And we know that the Bible teaches that accountability is a necessary and beneficial element because we are sinners and sinners need to be held accountable at every level.

But suppose a man manages to extricate himself from every significant form of accountability. Is he then truly without accountability? Solomon says “no.” A man’s ways—his life, his actions, that which constitutes his particular existence—are “before the eyes of the LORD.” No person is ever free of scrutiny or accountability because, after all other restraints or restrictions are removed, a man still lives out his entire life before the eyes of the LORD. There is no changing this and there is no escaping this truth. We are creatures and we exist in the presence of our Creator. He knows all and sees all—whether it be concerning some far off place in the universe or the thought that just this moment passed through our minds. We are not, as I said before, independent creatures, we are dependent creatures.

Practical Responses

I’ll close with a couple of thoughts regarding how this study should affect us.

Once again, you’ll notice, that the Proverbs have spoken to us about our fallen condition. As with the last topic of self-control, we also have a particular tendency when it comes to self-image or how we think about ourselves and our place in this world. Our tendency is to overestimate our abilities and under estimate our need for the instruction of the Word. The wise person, therefore, will “force-feed” his spirit with the Word of God knowing that while the flesh may resist, this is an essential exercise.

We must always be measuring our opinions against the Word. I won’t even attempt to speculate how much trouble would be avoided in our lives if we simply developed a habit of submitting our views to the Word and did so by humbly offering our views to others while inviting response based on their understanding of the Scriptures. As it is, though, we hold tenaciously to our opinions and are offended when they are challenged even in the most innocent and well-intentioned manner. This is not the way of wisdom, it is the way of ignorance. As much as we would like to believe it, and as tempted as we are to act on the idea, we are not the measure of all things and we must discipline ourselves to become people who receive instruction—and we must do this because we recognize that, as fallen creatures, we need it.

 

Psalm 19:1 The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands.  2 Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge.  3 There is no speech, nor are there words; Their voice is not heard.

http://www.scoopwhoop.com/news/wow-nasa/

 

Some Thoughts on Thankfulness

Psalm 77

Introduction

One of the most difficult challenges we face is that of developing a genuinely thankful attitude. Because we are sinners, the concept of acknowledging a source outside ourselves, a source that is responsible for the things in life that we consider good and desirable, a source that gives but does not require repayment, can be most uncomfortable. To be thankful, we must first admit that we are the recipients of so much that we did not pursue and so much that we could not achieve on our own under any circumstances. The concept of giving thanks also requires us to admit our limitations, especially in light of the fact that we are spiritually crippled by sin.

I believe that developing a thankful attitude, one that endures throughout the year and one that seriously influences the way we think about ourselves and our nation and our relationship with God is of fundamental importance. Living without thankfulness in our hearts produces a false sense of security and a false apprehension of what we are able to do as human beings.

We are, by nature, selfish, self-centered people and we have to train ourselves to be grateful, not only to other human beings, but especially to our Creator. I also want to point out the Bible has a tremendous amount to say about this topic of thankfulness. Based upon this fact and the prominent place given to thankfulness in our development as Christ’s disciples, I believe it is safe to assume that God is pleased when His people behave contrary to their fallen natures and actually raise their eyes to heaven and praise Him for all that He has bestowed upon us.

You probably encounter very few genuinely thankful people when you leave your home during the week. Often, either directly or through the media, you encounter selfish people, people who want everything they have and more, people who think they deserve a better life than what they are experiencing. This is not really a surprising attitude when you remember that we are sinners; and one thing that sin does is make us complainers.

In Psa. 77, the writer provides us with steps which, if followed consistently, will gradually produce and sustain an atmosphere of thanksgiving in our hearts and homes. The historical setting for this Psalm is uncertain. Circumstances were such that the writer was emotionally overwhelmed. It could have been that the nation was experiencing a particularly difficult time or perhaps this Psalm only reflects a personal experience of the writer. Whatever the case, we can learn something about the state of the writer’s mind from the tone of this Psalm.

Psalm 77:1 My voice rises to God, and I will cry aloud; my voice rises to God, and He will hear me. 2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; in the night my hand was stretched out without weariness; my soul refused to be comforted. 3 When I remember God, then I am disturbed; when I sigh, then my spirit grows faint. 4 You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5 I have considered the days of old, the years of long ago. 6 I will remember my song in the night; I will meditate with my heart, and my spirit ponders: 7 Will the Lord reject forever? And will He never be favorable again? 8 Has His lovingkindness ceased forever? Has His promise come to an end forever? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious, or has He in anger withdrawn His compassion? 10 Then I said, “it is my grief, that the right hand of the Most High has changed.” 11 I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Your wonders of old. 12 I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds. 13 Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? 14 You are the god who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph. 16 The waters saw You, O God; the waters saw You, they were in anguish; the deeps also trembled. 17 The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth a sound; Your arrows flashed here and there. 18 The sound of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; the lightnings lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. 19 Your way was in the sea and Your paths in the mighty waters, and Your footprints may not be known. 20 You led Your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.

We can conclude that the writer passed through a time of desperation and doubt. He speaks of seeking the LORD throughout the night (v. 2). His soul was so troubled that he could not sleep and didn’t know what to say (v. 4). The writer thought much about the past—perhaps remembering better times or times when the LORD came to his aid (vv. 6-8). Whatever happened led this writer to wonder if God had forsaken him forever. Would he ever again experience God’s favor? Had God withdrawn His grace? (v. 9) In his intense grief, this man thought that perhaps “the right hand of the Most High has changed.” (v. 10)

For us to gain the most from this Psalm, we need to understand the state of the writer, which is indicated in the verses I just cited. I want to take time, therefore, to define three of the words that are used in these opening verses. This will give us insight regarding the anguish being experienced by this writer as he turns to the LORD for help.

In the second verse, Asaph, the author of this Psalm and one of the leading figures in the establishment and use of Psalmody in the worship of God, speaks of “the day of [his] trouble.” He uses a Hebrew word (tsarah) that refers to severe anguish and affliction. This is not a case of a writer having a “bad day.” This man was experiencing deep distress and his whole life was unsettled as a result.

In the third verse, Asaph states that thoughts of God “disturbed” him. Here he uses a word (hamah) that refers to a loud roar, a frightening clamor, or a threatening growl. At this point in his Psalm, Asaph could not even think about God without great unrest in his soul because his situation made it appear that God had gone away.

And finally, in verse four, we have another word that is also translated “troubled,” but it is not the same one used earlier. This time, the writer states that he was so troubled, that he was unable to speak. The Hebrew term in this case (paam) means “to be persistently beaten.” The picture is that of a man overwhelmed by an adversary who is being crushed under the attack.

With all that in mind, we can now ask an important question: How does one recover from such spiritual and emotional depression? This writer reveals a method of dealing with his circumstances that brought stability. He was able to replace his doubt and depression with thanksgiving. The formula contained in this Psalm can serve all of God’s people. We need not be in the condition experienced by this writer before we make use of his wisdom.

What, then, did this writer do that can be imitated by us? What steps did he take that can be repeated by us? The answers are given in vv. 11-15. Just after the writer tells us how distraught he was, he also tells us what he did to relieve his fear and regain his confidence so that he could respond to his situation as a thankful man instead of a fearful man.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we remember the deeds of God (v. 11)

The writer reached the point where he thought God had deserted him. From this pit of despair come these words: “I shall remember the deeds of the LORD; surely I will remember Thy wonders of old.” (v. 11) This writer could find no comfort in his present circumstances. He had considered various explanations, including the idea that the LORD had forsaken him. But, before he is lost in total despair, he does something that turns his situation around. He begins to think about what God had done for him and his people. He reflected on the past to gain comfort and confidence in the present. Therefore, instead of continuing to dwell on his present misery, he found solace in the past works of God.

This is where the turn-around begins. God’s deeds are spectacular; they are incredible. They reveal a God who rules, loves, and provides, not a God who terrorizes, hates, and withholds. To think that this God would actually care for us while we live out our few years on this earth is also an amazing notion. This is what the writer of this Psalm does. He thinks on these and other truths about God. From this point on, the tone of this Psalm changes dramatically. This passage becomes a hymn of praise and thanksgiving.

The lesson here is obvious. If you wish to maintain the proper attitude toward life and toward God, you must remember the past wondrous deeds of God. You must not forget what He has done for you and your family. You must not forget how He has cared for you and how He has comforted you and how He has given you purpose and understanding. If you wish to create a spirit of thanksgiving, take time to remember the ways in which God has expressed His love for you in the past. Make this a regular practice now and even throughout the year.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we meditate on the deeds of God (v. 12)

An important element is added in this second step. We tend to miss the point when the Old Testament Scriptures talk about something being “remembered.” We think that means to recall something to mind and then be off to the next thought or activity. But in the Hebrew mind, to remember something involved more. And this writer explains this concept clearly when he says that beyond merely remembering God’s past acts, he will contemplate them: “I will meditate on all Your work and muse on Your deeds.”

For the Hebrews, to remember something was to ponder it. The writer means that as he remembered God’s past acts, as he remembered things God had done before, he took the time to linger over them in his mind. This brought satisfaction to his troubled soul.

What is pictured here is a sincere and prolonged reflection. It’s the kind of thing we don’t do very often these days. We are too busy to linger over the promises of God and we are too busy to ponder what God did for us last year or five years ago or twenty years ago. We are not people who mediate on such things for any length of time. And, as a result, we are spiritually poorer than we need be. This man paused long enough to draw lessons from God’s past actions. This is something that takes time and dedication.

As this writer meditated on the past, he recalled that God had always shown Himself to be gracious and compassionate. He had never broken His promise. He had never forsaken His own. Based upon this knowledge, the writer was strengthened. His confidence was renewed. In spite of the trying circumstances he was facing, he was able to compose himself and control how his circumstances affected him rather than being at the mercy of that which he could not control.

  1. Thankfulness comes when we have the proper opinion of God (vv. 13-15)

This third step is actually a product of the first two. When you remember something and then ponder it, you obviously become more familiar with it and gain a more accurate perspective. The same is true with God:

13 “Your way, O God, is holy; what god is great like our God? 14 You are the God who works wonders; You have made known Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have by Your power redeemed Your people, the sons of Jacob and Joseph.

In this Psalm, the writer takes us to the expected result of having meditated on the acts of God in his past. This exercise naturally served to remind the troubled writer of God’s character. God’s character is revealed in His works for His people; this man, who was so distraught at one point, is rescued from that condition by thinking on God’s ways and, thereby, remembering who God really is and what God is really like.

We don’t want to miss this simple truth: God’s past actions reveal truths about His nature. You’ll notice that three chief attributes stand out in these verses. First, God’s past manner showed that His ways are holy (v. 13). The writer’s circumstances are immediately put into perspective when he remembers God’s holiness. God had not been overcome; this man’s plight was not beyond the perfect awareness and control of God. Regardless of how circumstances appeared, therefore, the writer was reminded that all of God’s actions are pure. He cannot be charged with unfairness.

Second, God’s past manner demonstrated that He is a God Who routinely works wonders (v. 14). If anything is going to give you comfort during a trial, it’s the knowledge that God is a God who works wonders. As he thought about past situations, this writer remembered that it is not an unusual thing for God to deliver His people from the most threatening of circumstances. He recalled times when the nation, or perhaps he personally, had been involved in a difficult situation. How did God respond on those occasions?

Third, God’s past ways reminded this writer that God is a God of salvation (v. 15). Imagine that you are surrounded by vicious enemies and imagine that, as far as anyone can tell, this is the end for you. And then you remember that the LORD is the God of salvation. Redemption characterizes all that God does. The restoration of His fallen creation is the aim of God’s activity in the lives of human beings. Even when God’s people suffer, there is redeeming value to it.

This man is fortified with this truth. He learned from the history of the nation and his personal experiences that God brings about trying circumstances in order to refine His people and produce greater glory for Himself in their lives. Whatever the writer was now facing could be viewed in the light of God’s master plan of restoration.

Having a proper opinion of God will always lead to thanksgiving. Those who desire to be characterized by thankfulness must spend time cultivating this proper opinion. In addition to His written word, nothing better educates us about the nature of God than His actions. Remembering them, meditating on them, and drawing lessons about God from them—this is the formula that produces a reverence for God and reverence is inevitably followed by thanksgiving.

Here, then, are three steps that will create an atmosphere of thanksgiving for you and your family. Remember what God has done in past days. Remind yourself of what God has done for you. When you call God’s past acts to mind, take the time to meditate on them. Talk about God’s care with others and help them extract lessons from those experiences.

When this pattern is followed, trials become our instructors and we come away from that testing more confident in God, with a greater understanding of His nature and with a more stable hope regarding the days ahead. And that, as this Psalm teaches us, will nurture a thankful spirit in our hearts throughout the year.

Thoughts for All Saints

Commentary by Jim Bordwine, ThD

Volume 3 Number 3

February 26, 2014

The Tyranny of the Minority

 

 

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil; Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness; Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter!

(Isaiah 5:20)

Have you noticed how many aspects of our lives these days are governed by a minority opinion or a minority preference or a minority demand? I am not referring to race relationships; I’m referring to the upheaval that can be traced directly to the willingness of our culture to capitulate to highly vocal, consistently pushy, and well-financed groups that represent minority perspectives on issues that are, from a Biblical standpoint, definitely moral in nature.

Take the institution of marriage, for example. Some in the moral minority, in terms of the traditional ethical context that has been one of the distinguishing features of our history, have insisted, not only on recognition under the law, but also that the institution of marriage be re-constructed in order to accommodate their sexual proclivities. And a related area in which the tyranny of the minority is being frighteningly effective is in the matter of what is being called “gender identity.”

Recently, I read a news article that began with these words: “A California high school student who believes he is a girl trapped in a boy’s body just made the girls’ softball team.” A new state law, which went into effect last month, declares that “a pupil [must] be permitted to participate in sex-segregated school programs and activities, including athletic teams and competitions, and use facilities consistent with his or her gender identity, irrespective of the gender listed on the pupil’s records.”

Consequently, a 17-year-old teenage boy, described as a “strapping senior,” is now a member of the girls’ softball team and is allowed to use bathrooms and locker rooms previously designated for females only. This is just one of many examples that could be cited. To put it bluntly, as a country, we are doomed if such forced acceptance of moral perversion continues unabated. And there really is no evidence to suggest that this movement can be stopped. Politicians, educators, and entertainers, generally speaking, fully support this transition and these kinds of laws are being considered and enacted around the country.

As the prophet Isaiah warned in the verse quoted above, there is no future for those who would disregard the definitions and boundaries established by our Creator. Ignoring His Word or pretending that His will is irrelevant guarantees only one thing and that is destruction, not freedom. This will not end well for any of us, believer or unbeliever.

Thoughts for All Saints

Commentary by Jim Bordwine, ThD

Volume 3 Number 2

February 14, 2014

In Praise of a Good Thing

He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.

(Proverbs 18:22)

Well over 30 years ago, I found a wife. Or, to be more precise, God brought a woman of extraordinary grace and beauty into my life and she has been a very good thing, to borrow Solomon’s wording. I cannot begin to describe adequately what this woman has been to me or how God has used her to enrich my life, further my sanctification, provide me with tender care during suffering, supply wisdom and correction when most needed, and display for me on a daily basis the character of Christ in her voice, her demeanor, her touch, her decisions, and her desires.

On this Valentine’s Day, therefore, I want to acknowledge in this public way the most wonderful gift I’ve ever received apart from God’s own Son and that is His daughter—prepared for me long before I knew Him. I was looking in the wrong place and with the wrong criteria in mind, but by His mercy I still found her. I was ignorant, arrogant, and rebellious, but by His mercy I still found her. I thought I knew it all when I really knew nothing, but by His mercy I still found Rebecca. Indeed, “he who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the LORD.”

I know I’m not the only one. Speak up, husbands. Honor your wives by giving thanks to God for His favor.