Thoughts On Psalm 31

This Sunday we will be reading Psalm 31. From various commentators:

The theme permeating the entire psalm is trust and the fulfillment of that trust. The psalmist, lamenting his distress, comes to God in prayer, but even as he prays, his spirit sours upward toward trust in God. That his trust was fulfilled and properly placed becomes evident in the concluding praise and thanksgiving. –Peter Craigie & Marvin Tate

An unusual feature of this psalm is that it makes the journey twice over from anguish to assurance: first in 1-8 and again in 9-24. –Derek Kidner

The psalm has been called a model of prayer that is confident of being heard. This confidence informs the prayer from start to finish; to pray this psalm is to be led into and instructed in this confidence. But the confidence of the prayer is not in any respect a virtue of the one who prays. It is, rather, a possibility that is based on the character of the one to whom the prayer is made. The psalm speaks to the Lord as the ‘el ’emet [God of faithfulness] (v. 5), the God who can be relied on and believed in because he is true to himself and continues always to be what he has shown himself to be.– James L. Mays

God owns his saints when others are ashamed to acknowledge them; he never refuses to know his friends (v. 7b). He thinks not the worse of them for their rags and tatters. He does not misjudge them and cast them off when their faces are lean with sickness, or their hearts heavy with despondency. –Charles Spurgeon

The deepening demoralization of the victim, from gloom to hopelessness (12) and terror (13), shows how murderous is the impact of hatred, especially when it takes the form of rejection. –Derek Kidner

In verse 14, I and thee are emphatic, as David wrests the initiative from his enemies and deliberately turns in a new direction. –Derek Kidner

“My times are in your hand” (v. 15) means: my destiny (the occasions when things happen that determine my life) is in the hand of God. — James L. Mays

As a provident man will regulate his liberality toward all men in such a manner as not to defraud his children or family, nor impoverish his own house by spending his substance prodigally on others; so God, in like manner, in exercising his beneficence to aliens from his family, knows how to reserve for his own children that which belongs to them (v. 19), as it were by hereditary right; that is to say, because of their adoption. –John Calvin

Christian courage (v. 24) may thus be described. It is the undaunted audacity of a sanctified heart in adventuring upon difficulties and undergoing hardships for a good cause upon the call of God. The genus, the common nature of it is an undaunted audacity. –Simeon Ash

The words that Jesus quotes [at Luke 23:46] from Psalm 31 do not express the alarm, distress, and lament that are also present in the psalm, but rather focus on the element of confidence and trust in God. Jesus’ death, accompanied by the words of the psalmist, “Father, into your hand I commend my spirit,” is portrayed as a proactive event, as a gesture of confidence. Since Luke places the passion narrative in Luke 22:37 into the horizon of Isa. 53 [with a quotation from Isa. 53:12], the voluntary nature of Jesus’ death is thus emphasized by the quotation of Ps. 31:5: as the vicarious death of the Suffering Servant in Isa. 53 was compared with the lamb that goes to the altar to be killed as sacrificial victim, so Jesus went to his death voluntarily. –David Pao & Eckhard Schnabel

Why not stop for a moment now and read the psalm itself?

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Thoughts on Psalm 28

This Sunday we will be reading Psalm 28. From various commentators:

The thorn at the breast of the nightingale was said by the old naturalists to make it sing: David’s griefs made him eloquent in holy psalmody. The main pleading of this psalm is that the suppliant may not be confounded with the workers of iniquity for whom he expresses the utmost abhorrence; it may suit any slandered saint who, being misunderstood by men, and treated by them as an unworthy character, is anxious to stand aright before the bar of God. — Charles H. Spurgeon

Dear reader, in the time of your trouble, do not roam. Fix your heart as the psalmist did, and say, “Unto thee will I cry.” Oh, how happy is that man, who feels and knows that when trouble comes, he cannot be bewildered and confused by the stroke, no matter how heavy it may be. His is no vague theory of the general sympathy of God for man; his is a knowledge of God, as a personal and feeling God; he says with the psalmist, “Unto thee will I cry.” — Philip Bennett Power

The petition to be helped (verses 3-5) combines a plea not to be dealt with as one of the wicked with a request that the Lord give the wicked what their conduct deserves.– James L. Mays

David, being free from every evil passion, and likewise endued with the spirit of discretion and judgment, pleads here (verses 4-5) not so much for his own cause as the cause of God. And by this prayer, he further reminds both himself and the faithful, that although the wicked may give themselves loose reigns in the commission of every species of vice with impunity for a time, they must at length stand before the judgment-seat of God. –John Calvin

The first half of the psalm prayed for deliverance and for judgment; the second half gives thanks for both. If the poet wrote the psalm at one sitting, then at this point (verse 6) the certainty of being answered dawns upon him. — Keil & Delitzsch

Faith substantiates things not yet seen; it alters the tenses, and puts the future into the present tense as here (verses 6-7). — John Trapp

The pictures of God’s saving power, both active (strength…shepherd) and defensive (shield…refuge), come in profusion now (verses 6-9), enriching the praise; but the solitary metaphor in verse 1, “my rock,” perhaps outbids them all, as the urgent cry of faith under trial. — Derek Kidner

Oh, sweet consolation! If a man have a burden on him, yet if he have strength (verse 7) added to him, if the burden be doubled, yet if his strength be tripled, the burden will not be heavier, but lighter than it was before to his natural strength; so if our afflictions be heavy, and we cry out, “Oh, we cannot bear them!” yet if we cannot bear them with our own strength, why may we not bear them with the strength of Jesus Christ? — Isaac Ambrose

David now (verse 8) builds on the fact that he is more than a private citizen. As the Lord’s anointed (a term which grew into the word Messiah) he stood for his people, and God’s grace must be meant for them as well. –Derek Kidner

The psalm holds the individual, the anointed, and the people of the Lord together in that inseparable unity which belongs to the purpose of God. — James L. Mays

The Lord Jesus may be seen here (verses 8-9) pleading as the representative of his people. — Charles H. Spurgeon

The metaphor of the flock, an everyday feature of Jewish life, pervades the Old Testament. God himself was known as Israel’s Shepherd (verse 9), and his people are the sheep of his pasture. In John 10:1-21 Jesus sees himself as embodying the characteristics and expectations attached to this salvation-historical biblical figure as the Good Shepherd par excellence. — Andreas J. Köstenberger

Why not stop for a moment now and read the psalm itself?

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The Structure of Genesis 2:5 – 3:24

The simplest pattern of Hebrew poetry is parallelism. We can diagram two parallel lines as follows:

AB
AB

Inverted parallelism provides variation. It looks like this:

AB
BA

More complex versions of the inverted pattern appear often in the Bible. Genesis 2:5 – 3:24 provides a good example. This lengthy passage consists of seven scenes arranged as three concentric circles around a center point.

A. (2:5-17) Humankind placed in the Garden of Eden.

B. (2:18-25) Harmonious relationship between man, woman, and animals.

C. (3:1-5) Dialogue between serpent and woman about eating from the tree.

X. (3:6-7) Adam and Eve eat from the forbidden tree.

C′. (3:8-13) Dialogue between God, Adam, and Eve about eating from the tree.

B′. (3:14-21) God’s curse yields conflict between man, woman, and the serpent.

A′. (3:22-24) Humankind expelled from the Garden of Eden

 

Parallels between A and A′ include: in this passage the only… (a) references to the Tree of Life; (b) occurrences of the name “Eden;” (c) references to the east; (d) occurrences of the Hebrew word for “guard/keep.”

Parallels between B and B′ include: (a) Adam names woman/Eve; (b) In Section B, humans are naked and unashamed, while in Section B′, naked and ashamed, they return to the next-best scenario when God provides clothing for them.

Parallels between C and C′ include: These are the only dialogues in the entire passage; there are three subunits to both scenes: 3:1-5 contains three questions or statements by the serpent and woman about the tree; 3:9-13 contains three questions (with responses) from God about eating from the tree.

 

Meaning
This structure highlights the contrast between the blessedness of the garden as originally envisioned, and the cursedness of expelled humanity. Verses 6-7 belong at the literary center because they present the critical sin that condemned humanity for all ages. This eating from the tree is also central spatially, the only event in this passage that necessarily takes place in the exact middle of the Garden of Eden.

 

Another Set of Rings!
A. (3:9-11) Accusing The Man

B. (3:12) Accusing The Woman

C. (3:13) Accusing The Snake

C′ (3:14-15) Punishing the Snake

B′ (3:16) Punishing the Woman

A′ (3:17-19) Punishing the Man

 

Meaning II
Here the ring structure draws attention to the conclusion of the central C and C′. This is the ray of hope in this sad passage, the Bible’s first reference to God’s Messiah, who will overcome Satan and the Curse:

He shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel.

 

Hallelujah! Praise be to God!

 

Sources: Jerome T. Walsh, “Genesis 2:4b-3:24: A Synchronic Approach,” Journal of Biblical Literature 96/2 (1977) pp. 161-77; Y. T. Radday, “Chiasmus in Hebrew Biblical Narrative,” in J. W. Welch (ed.), Chiasmus in Antiquity (1981) pp. 98-99; Gordon Wenham, Genesis 1-15, Word Biblical Commentary (1987) pp. 50-51; Sidney Griedanus, Preaching Christ from Genesis (2007) pp. 62-63, 81.

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Colossians 1:6-10 Translated In Such A Way As To Highlight Paul’s Allusion to Genesis 1:28

In the same way, the gospel is being fruitful and multiplying throughout the whole world, just as it has been doing among you since the day you heard it and understood the grace of God in truth. You learned it from Epaphras, our beloved fellow servant who is a faithful minister of Christ on your behalf. He told us of your love in the Spirit. On account of this, since the day we heard it, we have not stopped praying for you and asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will with complete spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, pleasing him in every way, in every good work being fruitful, and multiplying in the knowledge of God.

The Holy Seventh Day, In Its Old Testament and New Testament Manifestations

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done (Genesis 2:2-3 NIV).

The Preliminary Seventh Day Of the Old Covenant

The Sabbath was inaugurated for the people of Israel to be celebrated as a weekly sign of the covenant. As a sign of the covenant, it was to last as long as that covenant. God instituted the Sabbath for his people as a constant, regular source of blessing for both spiritual and physical renewal; it was to express social concern and compassion. The Sabbath was a reminder that God was in control of man’s time. Trained by the regular recurrence of this gracious gift, Israel was able to stand before the Creator in freedom, responsibility, trust, and gratitude; she worshipped Him, the Lord of the Sabbath, and looked forward with joy and anticipation to the coming of the final Rest (Harold H. P. Dressler in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Wipf & Stock, 1999) pp. 34-35).

The Final Seventh Day Inaugurated With The Coming of Christ

The True Sabbath, which has come with Christ, is not a literal physical rest, but is the salvation that God has provided. Believers in Christ can now live in God’s Sabbath that has already dawned (A. T. Lincoln, in From Sabbath to Lord’s Day (Wipf & Stock, 1999) p. 215).

Entering God’s rest requires obedience that springs from faith, just as it did for Israel. It does no good to simply hear the gospel message; one must act on it by faithfully following Jesus. If He is the source of rest, indeed the Rest-Giver, that rest only comes through faith in Him (Rich Robinson, Christ in the Sabbath, p. 130).

Question: What is God’s will for you in the fourth commandment? Answer: That every day of my life I rest from my evil ways, let the Lord work in me through his Spirit, and so begin already in this life the eternal Sabbath (The Heidleberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 38, the answer’s second part).

The Final Seventh Day Consummated In The New Heavens and New Earth

Behind the offer made to the wilderness generation of Numbers 14, and the implied offer of Psalm 95, the author of Hebrews recognizes that there is a promise of entry into God’s own resting place that will occur at the end of the ages. Joshua did not lead his generation into this rest, for it would take place only when Jesus returns. When believers from every generation enter God’s resting place and receive the promised eternal inheritance, they will participate in God’s Sabbath celebration around his throne and rest from all their labors as God rested from his works at creation (Peter T. O’Brien, The Letter to the Hebrews, p. 178).

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The Plurality of God

And God said, Let Us make man in Our image, after Our likeness… (Genesis 1:26).

Why doesn’t the text read, “Let me make man in my image….”?

G. J. Wenham lists six possible meanings of the divine plural in Genesis 1:26. According to his preferred view: God is speaking to his angelic court (1 Kings 22:19ff and Job 38:7b are sometimes used as parallels to defend this view). Under this interpretation, however, man would be made in the image of both God and the angels (“in our image” in Gen 1:26) — which does not square with the rest of Scripture.

Wenham also commends the possibility that we are witnessing God’s deliberation or self-exhortation. This fits well with the climactic swell of the chapter toward the sixth day. Immediately prior to creating the apex of his universe, God pauses, reflects, and converses with himself about bringing human beings into existence.

Christians have long held that this passage presents an early expression of the plurality of God, later revealed as the tri-unity of God. This no doubt is correct. But it does not explain why this manner of speaking is used so infrequently. For example, why doesn’t Genesis 1:29 read, “We have given you every plant yielding seed….”?

The key is to recognize the importance this passage places upon humanity in its entirety. The plurality of God will be reflected not only in the human individual, but especially in human community. Hence the move from singular (“…make man”) to plural (“Let them have dominion”). God summons humankind, as an entire race, to subdue the earth. No individual could do that alone. Notice the singular-to-plural move in verse 27 as well: “he created him… male and female, he created them.” The spectrum of what it means to be like God is found not in male or female alone, but in both together.

On the one hand, humankind is a single entity. All human persons stand in solidarity before God. But on the other hand, humankind is a community, male and female. And none is the full image of God alone. (W. Brueggemann).

The divine first person plural is found at only two other points in Genesis — both within accounts of judgment. And both allude to mankind’s intended state as presented in Genesis 1:26-28. After disobediently cutting themselves off from God, mankind has become like God, but not with the sort of likeness described in Genesis 1:26, 27.

Then the Lord God said, Behold, the man has become like one of Us in knowing good and evil… (Genesis 3:22).

Then at the Tower of Babel, mankind refuses to be fully plural; they are unwilling to multiply and spread out across the face of the earth as God had commanded in Genesis 1:28.

And the Lord said…, Come, let Us go down and confuse their language… (Genesis 11:7).

Given both human disobedience and American individualism, all of this is well worth our pondering. And it sheds light, does it not, on what Jesus meant when he said:

By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).

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Christ’s Extraordinary Love

Jesus Christ, in his humanness, hesitated on his way to the cross:

My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow. –Matthew 26:38

Father, everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. –Mark 14:36

Now my soul is troubled. –John 12:27

What overcame this hesitance? The answer is love. Theologian David Wells captures that love so well in his recent book. Here is Wells describing Christ’s love as displayed, not just on the way to the cross, but in the entirety of his incarnation:

Christ had all of the essential characteristics and defining attributes of God. He had the very “godness” of God (Phil. 2:6; cf. John 1:1). He was “the radiance of the glory of God” (Heb 1:3), the total reality of who God is (Col. 1:15; cf. John 10:30). It was he who set aside all of this glory in order to carry out a very costly act of service. That he would strip away his bright glory to become not only incarnate but someone of little account, unrecognized for who he was, disparaged, rejected, and laughed at by those in power, a person of no status though he was the very center of the universe and its Creator, is an expression of humility so deep that words are inadequate to grasp it. Yet this is only a part of the picture.

We also see that Christ did not clutch onto his place in heaven (Phil. 2:6) but joined with the Father in the plan to redeem lost sinners. He joyfully set aside his status and “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7). He who had been in the “form of God” took on what might be seen as its antithesis, “the form of a servant” (Phil. 2:7). This, though, is an optical illusion. God, in his essential nature and as an outcome of his love, was also by nature a servant. So Christ obscured his divine attributes, putting them into abeyance, and took on the life of an inconsequential servant. He entered our life with all of its quarrels and discord, its arrogance and deceit, all of its godlessness, its self-serving spiritualities and misleading religions. He was met, not with the worship which was his due, but by great “hostilities against himself” (Heb. 12:3). He was also met by the full force of the lying, leering, murderous evil in Satan. You know “the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul says as he reflects back on all of this, that “though he was rich, . . . he became poor, so that you by his poverty might become rich” (2 Cor: 8:9).

Are we to suppose that in the far mists of eternity, when our calling and redemption were only in the mind of God, Christ was unaware of what this would entail? Was he caught by surprise after he became incarnate? Do we ever hear him reproaching the Father for not having told him what this mission of redemption would cost? Of course not! The point about Christ’s love is that he knew. He knew from the very start. But such is this love, this self-giving, self-sacrificing, self-abasing love that he freely and joyfully gave of himself to do what had to be done, knowing all that was entailed. Indeed, there is no other motive sufficient to account for what he did than this extraordinary love, For only this kind of love would pay the cost which this kind of mission required. He saw that his own self-giving reached a greater end by becoming incarnate than by not doing so. He willingly chose not to enjoy the worship of the angels in a place of utter holiness for an uninterrupted eternity for the gain that redemption would bring.

David Wells, God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World. Wheaton: Crossway, 2014. Pp. 93-94.

And he went out, bearing his own cross. –John 19:17

 

Originally posted, April 17, 2014.

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Prayer and Fasting

Tomorrow is our annual day of prayer and fasting. Here at the beginning of a new year in the history of our congregation, we ask God for the continuing privilege of being a local expression of the body of Christ: “May we, Father, in this new year be guided by you and filled with your Spirit such that we will be fully pleasing to you in our corporate worship, in our love for one another, and in our making Christ known to those around us.”

Prayer
Here’s Paul A. Miller (A Praying Life, 2009) about how child-like faith (Mark 10:14-15) prays:

Jesus wants us to be without pretense when we come to him in prayer. The only way to come to God is by taking off any spiritual mask. The real you has to meet the real God. He is a person. Instead of being frozen by your self-preoccupation, talk with God about your worries. Tell him where you are weary. If you don’t begin with where you are, then where you are will sneak in the back door. Your mind will wander to where you are weary. We are often so busy and overwhelmed that when we slow down to pray, we don’t know where our hearts are. We don’t know what troubles us. So, oddly enough, we might have to worry before we pray. Then our prayers will make sense. They will be about our real lives. Your heart could be, and often is, askew. That’s okay. You have to begin with what is real. Jesus didn’t come for the righteous. He came for sinners. All of us qualify. The very things we try to get rid of — our weariness, our distractedness, our messiness — are what gets us in the front door! That’s how the gospel works. That’s how prayer works. In bringing your real self to Jesus, you give him the opportunity to work on the real you, and you will slowly change. The kingdom will come. You’ll end up less selfish.

Fasting
Here’s Donald S. Whitney (Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, 1991) about how fasting strengthens prayer:

There’s something about fasting that sharpens the edge of our intercessions and gives passion to our supplications. So it has frequently been used by the people of God when there is a special urgency about the concerns they lift before the Father. When Ezra was about to lead a group of exiles back to Jerusalem, he proclaimed a fast in order for the people to seek the Lord earnestly for safe passage (Ezra 8:23). They were to face many dangers without military protection during their nine-hundred mile journey. This was no ordinary matter to be brought to God in prayer. The Bible does not teach that fasting is  kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying. God is always pleased to hear the prayers of his people. But he is also pleased when we choose to strengthen our prayers in a way he has ordained.

So tomorrow, with joy, let us thank God for past blessings and seek his initiatives through us for the future.

Originally posted on January 15, 2013.

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Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting and Psalm 127:1

Most years, on the occasion of our Annual Day of Prayer and Fasting, I find myself thinking about Psalm 127:1: “Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain; unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.”

Apply the verse to our context, and you get something like this: Unless the LORD builds Trinity Fellowship, we serve in our church in vain. But, in fact, will the Lord build up Trinity Fellowship? Yes, he is a God who promises to give good gifts to those who ask. And so we implore the Lord that he would cause growth throughout the congregation, and that he would guide our church in this new year. May he deepen our faith, fill our worship with his Spirit and his truth, energize our mutual love, and make our witness compelling. Then our labors, as acts of cooperation with God, will not prove to be futile. When I speak of our labors, I’m thinking of all the various activities and relationships throughout the congregation, carried out by all of us, in accord with the energies and gifts he gives us.

Read on, and various commentators will aid your contemplation of Psalm 127:1.

Work and family were the two constitutive dimensions of ordinary life in Israel. Life was set in the social unit of the family and supported by work. But both involved a mysterious uncertainty: work and family were human endeavors, but human action was not ultimately determinative in them. Work did not always come to fruition; marriage did not always produce children. The psalm is grounded in fundamental trust in the providence of God as the decisive factor in all of human life. —James Luther Mays, 1994.

The poet proves that everything depends upon the blessing of God. His examples are taken from the God-ordained life of the family and of the state. These are things which depend upon the blessing of God, without natural preliminary conditions being able to guarantee them, well-devised arrangements to ensure them, unwearied labors to obtain them by force, or impatient care and murmuring to get them by defiance. —Franz Delitzsch, 1867 (translated by Francis Bolton).

Unless the good hand of God be upon us we cannot prosperously build a place of worship for his name. –Adam Clarke, early nineteenth century.

The two human activities of verse 1 are samples of a great area of life: its enterprises and its conflicts, the work of creating and of conserving. For each of them this verse sees only two possibilities: either it will be the Lord’s doing or it will be pointless; there is no third option. –Derek Kidner, 1973.

He is far from thinking that human care and labor, which are employed in the building of houses and keeping of cities, are to be regarded as useless. These are more especially useful and effective when the Lord himself is the builder and keeper. The Holy Spirit is not the patron of lazy and inert men. –Wolfgang Musculus, sixteenth century.

Theologically the psalm anticipates a Pauline emphasis upon “good works” within a context of faith over against mere “works” (Eph. 2:9-10). Labor is to be a matter of collaboration with God (1 Cor. 15:10, 58). Under the new covenant there is an even closer intertwining of the believer’s fortunes with his Lord, as Jesus reaffirmed, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). –Leslie C. Allen, 1983.

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The Structure of Luke 2:22-40

A. (2:22-24): Joseph and Mary go to Jerusalem in order to obey the Law of the Lord.

B. (2:25-27): Simeon, a devout man who was “waiting for the consolation of Israel” (v. 25). He comes “into the temple” (v. 27) at the time when the baby Jesus arrives.

C. (2:28-32): Simeon’s First Speech: A joyful prayer.

X. (2:33): And his father and mother were marveling….

C′. (2:34-35): Simeon’s Second Speech: A sober warning.

B′. (2:36-38): Anna, a devout woman who never departs “from the temple” (v. 37). She sees the baby Jesus and speaks of him to others who are “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (v. 38).

A′. (2:39-40): Having obeyed the Law of the Lord, Joseph and Mary leave Jerusalem.