Where the Contrast Really Lies (Psalm 36)

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, 
     your faithfulness to the clouds. 
Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; 
     your judgments are like the great deep; 
     man and beast you save, O LORD.

Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, 
     and your righteousness to the upright of heart!

—Psalm 36:5–6, 10

The 36th psalm is one of stark contrast. The psalms are constantly doing presenting such contrasts, but normally we expect to see the righteous on one side and the wicked on the other. Here the contrast is greater because opposite the wicked we find not the righteous, but the Righteous One.

Now, knowing that is the case, what of God would you expect David to set in contrast to the wickedness of the wicked? His righteousness? Justice? Holiness? Instead David’s emphatic is the covenant love of Yahweh. I would argue that it is his exclusive focus. For example, I believe it is clear that the “righteousness” of God that is like the mighty mountains (v. 6) is made parallel to the steadfast love of Yahweh in verse 10.

This, the covenant love of God, is where the fundamental contrast lies. The saints know that the distinction between the righteous and the wicked is not one that we cause to come into being. The only reason we stand apart from sinners is because of the mighty and free grace and mercy of God to us in the new covenant of Jesus’s blood whereby we are made a new creation and given a new heart. Yahweh’s word to Israel through Joshua made this clear, “Long ago, your fathers lived beyond the Euphrates, Terah, the father of Abraham and of Nahor; and they served other gods. Then I took your father Abraham from beyond the River and led him through all the land of Canaan, and made his offspring many” (Joshua 24:2–3, emphasis mine). They served other gods. There was no contrast. And then there was. Why? Because God took their father Abraham.

Prior to these words through Joshua, Moses explained to them, “Moses reminded them, “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the LORD set his love on you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples, but it is because the LORD loves you and is keeping the oath that he swore to your fathers, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt” (Deuteronomy 7:6–8).

God loves them because He loves them, keeping covenant. The source of God’s covenant love flows from His own depths. It is not dependent on us. This is why it is inexhaustible and infinite and free. It extends to the heavens. It reaches to the clouds. It is like the mighty mountains and the great deeps. How precious is your covenant love, O God!

What Are We To Do with the Imprecatory Psalms? (Psalm 35)

For without cause they hid their net for me; 
     without cause they dug a pit for my life. 
Let destruction come upon him when he does not know it! 
And let the net that he hid ensnare him; 
     let him fall into it—to his destruction! 

Then my soul will rejoice in the LORD, 
     exulting in his salvation. 
All my bones shall say, 
     “O LORD, who is like you, 
      delivering the poor 
      from him who is too strong for him, 
      the poor and needy from him who robs him?”

—Psalm 35:7–10

What are we to do with the imprecatory psalms? I’m afraid the most common answer is to be embarrassed by them. Hide them in the closet. And should any nosey guest pry, pull them out, hold them up with disgust and ask “What is this?”, then respond with profuse apologies. Excuse them saying “Oh those! Those are Old Testament. We don’t use them anymore.”

I hope you find such embarrassment embarrassing. This may be what many do with the imprecatory psalms, but what should we do with them? Sing them! If that thought makes the modern church uncomfortable I’m certain the reason isn’t because she’s become so loving but because she’s become so soft. As odd as it may seem to some, what a soft church needs is more poetry; more of what James Adams calls the War Psalms of the Prince of Peace (highly recommended).

The problem is that we don’t know how to read poetry anymore. Luckily for us, Hebrew poetry doesn’t major on meter rhyme. God in His wisdom laid down a structure that translates well. It is the thought that rhymes. We call this thought rhyme structure parallelism. Translatable as this is, we still can’t read the stuff. Something more significant than a tire alignment is needed. The ignition timing is off. If you’re uneasy with the imprecatory psalms, your heart is off rhythm with the meter of heaven because your thoughts are inharmonious with the wisdom from above.

So how are we to read God’s poems? Less us. More Him. Poetry is meant to evoke strong emotion. Where we go wrong is that we make it more about expressing our emotion rather than that which is to evoke the emotions. The psalms are meant to train the affections. If there is a rub, your affections are off. You need training. Your heart must be timed. We read the psalms the same way we read modern worship lyrics off the screen. We never get past the warm up. “Do-Re-Me, me, me, me, me, me, me.” Our eyes are on our expression. Theology hasn’t given rise to doxology. We’ve become experience-expression junkies.

To read God’s poetry we must read it covenantally, and the chief covenant in view is the Davidic covenant. When you take up the psalms, think king and kingdom. The second psalm sets you up to understand all the imprecatory psalms.

Why do the nations rage 
and the peoples plot in vain? 
The kings of the earth set themselves, 
	and the rulers take counsel together, 
	against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying, 

“Let us burst their bonds apart 
	and cast away their cords from us.” 

He who sits in the heavens laughs; 
	the Lord holds them in derision. 
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, 
	and terrify them in his fury, saying, 

“As for me, I have set my King 
on Zion, my holy hill.” —Psalm 2:1–6

If we are embarrassed by the “war psalms of the Prince of Peace” the reason is that we are more concerned for our own name than we are zealous for the Name of our God and His King. The name of Christ is blasphemed, do you not long for this ultimately to be righted? 

When a serial rapist or a molester of children is justly sentenced, and just sentencing would mean the death penalty, would you say it is categorically wrong for the victims to rejoice?

When Nazi leaders involved in the Holocaust were charged guilty and sentenced to death by hanging, was it wrong for survivors to rejoice at justice?

Should the pro-choice movement be exposed for the lie that it is and humiliated, the Democratic party seen to be bowing before the god Molech, and the abortion of fetuses recognized as the murder of the innocent children made in the image of God so that abortionists are charged with multiple counts of first degree premeditated murder—saints, should this be so, and God that it would be, would it not be righteous and holy and good for the saints to rejoice at such a thing?

When God’s King was humble and man was proud, would it have been wrong to long for resurrection and vindication?

With God’s King risen from the grave and now seated in glory, is it wrong to rejoice at the thought of Him returning in majesty to inflict “vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” so that “they will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away form the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:5)?

Is it wrong for God to be God? Is it wrong for the saints to long for God to be God?

No! May all of our bones say, “O Yahweh, who is like you?” (Psalm 35:10).

Yes, we should long that every enemy might come to know the salvation of our Lord. Yes, pray that the persecutor may become a Paul. Pray that the abortionist may repent like Manasseh of his worship of Molech. Pray that when the justly executed criminal breathes his last, he, like the thief on the cross, awakes to paradise in the presence of Christ. But let none of this curb your desire for God to be fully God, to manifestly be all who He has revealed Himself to be—“Yahweh, Yahweh, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation” (Exodus 34:6–8). With all your bones say, “O Yahweh, who is like you?”

A Profession Not Worth a Button

“The doctrine of the Trinity! That is the substance, that is the ground and fundamental of all, for by this doctrine and this only the man is made a Christian and he that has not this doctrine, his profession is not worth a button.” —John Bunyan

Objection: “Everyone’s profession has worth.”

Argument #1: Self-Defeating

Without any qualifications being made, the objection is self-defeating. If Bunyan’s profession has worth, then you cannot speak against it. If you do speak against it, then not everyone’s profession has worth.

Argument #2: What Is Really Being Said

What such an objection is really saying though is that everyone else’s profession has worth. All other professions are true. The historic Christian profession claiming the exclusivity of Christ is not. 

Or, put another way, it is to say that all professions that do not claim to be exclusive have value. The problem is that Christianity is not the only exclusive religion. Judaism and Islam are also exclusivistic, as well as many expressions of Hinduism and Buddhism. This means the statement that “everyone’s profession has worth,” speaks contrary to the majority report of at least three of the world’s major religions. This cuts a huge chunk out of “everyone.” So what is really being said turns out to be not much of anything.

Argument #3: Pluralism is Exclusive

Again, making the claim that all professions have value, the religious pluralist not only stands contrary to historic Christianity, but against Judaism, Islam, and many expressions of Buddhism and Hinduism. Religious pluralism fails in its aim. Rather than welcoming in, it too excludes most other world religions and judges them for their exclusivity claims.

Argument #4: Both Statements Are Judgment Statements

An implication, and more often an outspoken accusation, is that in claiming the exclusivity Christ, Christians are being judgmental. But the objection itself is a judgmental statement. 

“You’re being judgmental!”

“Hmm…didn’t you just judge me?”

Again, the objection cuts off its own legs. Both Bunyan’s claim and the objection are judgment statements. The Christian is perfectly fine with others making judgment statements. The question is, which judgment is true? What standard is being used? This is a conversation I welcome. It is the one I’m trying to have.

Argument #5: Which Is Really More Arrogant?

An implication of the former implication is the charge of arrogance. “You’re being judgmental, ergo, you’re arrogant.” But consider that Christians make their profession in subjecting themselves to a standard outside themselves. Those who say all professions have value do so based on their own subjective thoughts and observations. The stance of a Christian is one of submission to an outside authority. The stance of a religious pluralist is to act like a god declaring truth, namely, the truth that all professions have value, save those that make exclusivity claims. Religious pluralism is judgmental, and it makes this judgment as a judge. It assumes a position of authority.

Argument #6: Argument, Truth, and Tolerance

G.K. Chesterton once said that we quarrel because we have forgotten how to argue. There was a time when two men who disagree could sit down at a table and argue, knowing that the other guy had their best interest in mind. This was because both of them came to the table believing that truth was something outside themselves. Because this was so, at best, the two men could admit that the other guy, in arguing for truth, was seeking what was best for the other and for humanity. This is true tolerance.

But today, many say all professions have worth. Truth is thought to be subjective. “If it makes you happy… If you believe it…” So if ever there is an argument, I’m no longer attacking ideas. I am attacking you. It is not that we are both going after truth. Instead, we are going after one another. Counterintuitively we must then say that all opinions have value. We must never object. This is the tyranny of pluralism. It silences all other voices. All debate and argument is ended. This is the intolerance of those who preach tolerance.

Argument #7: All Professions?

But, no one really believes that all professions have value.

Did Hitler’s professions concerning the Aryan race and the Jews have value?

Did Jim Jones’ profession have value?

Did the profession of the Jihadists who slammed jets into the Twin Towers have value?

Did the profession of worshippers of Molech who sacrificed their children have value?

Did the profession of Stalin’s communist Russia and Mao’s communist China have value?

Does the profession of your bank have value when they fail to register your last deposit?

Argument #8: Why?

“If they want to believe it, if it makes them happy, why speak against it?” 

When your child wants to put a toy in the light socket, why stop them? The answer is love. If the child says they believe that electricity won’t kill them because they’re Thor, the parent still insists. Lies harm.

To allow a soul to walk through this world believing a lie isn’t kind. If Christianity is true, to be indifferent to people’s profession isn’t kind. You may argue that Christianity’s claims are false. You can claim that all souls will go to heaven. But when you do so, you are making a truth claim. And then you must answer upon what standard you make such a claim? At this point we are in agreement. Not all professions are of equal value. True ones are. Which are true?

What one cannot say is that all professions have value, because that statement is self-refuting. Jesus said “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” As Lewis famously observed, “You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.”*

Of course you could argue that Jesus never said that. But should you do so, you’ve discounted many a profession as not being worth a button. You’ve made a truth claim. And upon what standard?


*Lewis, C. S. Mere Christianity. HarperOne, 2001.

The Doctor: Should I Stay or Should I Go Now?

“For particularly sensitive issues ML-J [Martyn-Lloyd-Jones] was usually sought out by the Graduates Fellowship of the IVF. At their London Reunion on October 4, 1947 he was given the subject, ‘The Position of Evangelicals in their Churches’, and asked to make reference to the whole question of secession. At the conclusion of this address and the discussion which followed, he listed these questions: 

Those who are contemplating withdrawal or secession should ask themselves continually:

  1. Am I absolutely certain that Christ’s honour is really involved, or that my basic Christian liberties are threatened?
  2. Am I going out because it is easier, and am I following the line of least resistance? 
  3. Am I going out because I am impatient? 
  4. Am I going out because I am an egotist and cannot endure being a ‘Brother of the common lot’ with its disadvantages as well as its spiritual advantages? 

Those who are staying in their Church should ask themselves:

  1. Am I staying in and not joining others who may be fighting the Lord’s battle because I am a coward?
  2. Am I staying in because I am trying to persuade myself that I am a man of peace and because peace seems to be worth any price? 
  3. Am I staying in because I am just a vacillator or at a very low spiritual ebb?
  4. Am I swayed by some self-interest or any monetary considerations?”

—Iain Murray, D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones: The Fight of Faith (Banner of Truth, 2004) p. 184

Praise Goes Out Hoping to Pull In (Psalm 34)

1I will bless the LORD at all times; 
     his praise shall continually be in my mouth. 
2 My soul makes its boast in the LORD; 
     let the humble hear and be glad. 
3 Oh, magnify the LORD with me, 
     and let us exalt his name together!

8 Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! 
     Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

—Psalm 34:1–3, 8

Praise is invitational. Praise is joy come into bloom ready to pollinate. Praise is unselfish joy. Praise is a shared joy that wants others to share in that joy. 

C.S. Lewis, in answering what he calls the “problem of praise” (that is the seeming problem of God being selfish in demanding our praise) gives several answers. The following one is highly pertinent to our meditation.

“The most obvious fact about praise—whether of God or anything—strangely escaped me. I thought of it in terms of compliment, approval, or the giving of honour. I had never noticed that all enjoyment spontaneously overflows into praise…I had not noticed either that just as men spontaneously praise whatever they value, so they spontaneously urge us to join them in praising it: “Isn’t she lovely? Wasn’t it glorious? Don’t you think that magnificent?” The Psalmists in telling everyone to praise God are doing what all men do when they speak of what they care about. My whole, more general, difficulty about the praise of God depended on my absurdly denying to us, as regards the supremely Valuable, what we delight to do, what we indeed can’t help doing, about everything else we value.”

Praise goes out hoping to bring others in and David wants to bring the saints all the way in. When David invites us to praise Yahweh with him, he doesn’t do so like a husband praising his wife asking “Isn’t she amazing?” There is a distance between a husband’s enjoyment of his wife and thus his praise of her and another’s enjoyment of her and praising her. David invites you to praise Yahweh with him the way one man will praise a slice of pizza. “This is the best. Have some!”

I almost hesitate to use this illustration because we have stepped down from something greater to something lesser to make the point. The greater joy, a wife, cannot be fully shared. The lesser one can. For the saints though, God is the greatest joy and fully shareable.

Do you leap at the invitation extended by David? If not, have you really tasted? Do you really fear? Have you cried out? Have you sought?

If you did answer “Yes!”, then isn’t it your longing not simply to join in praise with David but to extend his invitation to praise further? Don’t you not only long to praise, but long for others to praise God? Oh for a thousand tongues to sing! I cannot have a thousand tongues of my own, but I may be used by God to grow the choir. If praise is the consummation of joy, and my joy is God, my own voice is not enough. There must be more. The longing to praise is inseparable from the longing for others to praise.

The Doctor: Have You Been Made Nigh?

“I want to ask you a question. Have you been made nigh? I can tell you, very simply, how to know whether you have or not. If you are still talking about being good enough, you have not been made nigh. If you are still relying on yourself in any shape or form, you are still afar off. If you are still talking of not being good enough, you also have not been made nigh. Because as long as you keep on talking of not being good enough, what you really are saying is that you think you can make yourself good enough. But you never can. You will never be nearer than you are now. Never! If you lived a thousand years you would be no nearer. You will never be good enough to come into the presence of God. So if you are still saying: Ah, that is wonderful, but I am not good enough, I am a sinner, that means you are not made nigh. The one who is made nigh is one who says: I know that I am a sinner, I know the sins of the past, I know that I still have a sinful nature within me; but though I know that, I know that I am in the presence of God, because I am in Christ. I have listened to the voice of the blood of Christ and it has spoken to me of forgiveness, of reconciliation, ofexpiation, of God being satisfied, of God being ‘just and the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus’. The blood is sprinkled on my conscience. Let hell try to denounce me, that God accepts me; I am relying only, utterly, entirely, upon Jesus Christ and Him crucified. ‘His blood can make the foulest clean. His blood avails for me.’ In His merits alone I know that I have access to God and that God receives me, that I have been ‘made nigh by the blood of Christ.’” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11

Sin Has an Echo (Psalm 32)

1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, 
     whose sin is covered. 
2 Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, 
     and in whose spirit there is no deceit. 

3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away 
     through my groaning all day long. 
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; 
     my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah 

5 I acknowledged my sin to you, 
     and I did not cover my iniquity; 
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” 
     and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
—Psalm 32:1-5

While David keeps silent about his sin, his sin is loud. Sin has an echo and that echo reverberates louder the more you try to stifle it. David’s silence is an attempt at “deceit” (cf. v. 2). It is an attempt to “cover” (cf. v. 5). But our coverings of fig leaves don’t hide nuthin’.

When God’s children are silent, something is wrong. Silence is an attempt to muffle the echo of sin. John Goldingay comments, “Keeping quiet is not a mark of OT piety. OT piety makes noise, either in lament and prayer or in thanksgiving and praise. There is something suspicious about a person keeping quiet. It gives the impression that something is being concealed.” When the kids are silent, parents suspect. When God’s children are silent, God knows. Our silence doesn’t keep God in ignorance. It shouts to our own knowledge of our guilt.

Worse still, our silence is blasphemous. Our silence says we think God is a fool. We play mute thinking we’ve made God blind and deaf. We think ourselves more sly than God is wise. By silently denying our sin, we call God a liar. 1 John 1:10 – “If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” Silence on sin is sin doubled down. We dishonor God by our rebellion and then we blaspheme Him with our ridiculing silence.

The only way to silence the echo of our sin is to let it reverberate to heaven with confession. The only way to cover sin, is to uncover it. Try to cover your sin, and it will be exposed by judgment or chastisement. Expose it, and it will be covered by mercy and grace. When you stop trying to cover your own sin, God will cover it. He will cleanse you by the shed blood of Christ and cover you with the robe of His righteousness.

The Doctor: The Height of Sin

“The fatal mistake is to think of sin always in terms of acts and of actions rather than in terms of nature, and of disposition. The mistake is to think of it in terms of particular things instead of thinking of it, as we should, in terms of our relationship to God. Do you want to know what sin is? I will tell you. Sin is the exact opposite of the attitude and the life which conform to, ‘Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength.’ If you are not doing that you are a sinner. It does not matter how respectable you are; if you are not living entirely to the glory of God you are a sinner. And the more you imagine that you are perfect in and of yourself and apart from your relationship to God, the greater is your sin. That is why anyone who reads the New Testament objectively can see clearly that the Pharisees of our Lord’s time were greater sinners (if you can use such terms) than were the publicans and open sinners. Why? Because they were self-satisfied, because they were self-sufficient. The height of sin is not to feel any need of the grace of God. There is no greater sin than that. Infinitely worse than committing some sin of the flesh is to feel that you are independent of God, or that Christ need never have died on the cross of Calvary. There is no greater sin than that. That final self-sufficiency, and self-satisfaction, and self righteousness is the sin of sins; it is sin at its height, because it is a spiritual sin.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11

Argue God to God (Psalm 31)

"In you, O LORD, do I take refuge; 
     let me never be put to shame; 
     in your righteousness deliver me! 
Incline your ear to me; 
     rescue me speedily! 
Be a rock of refuge for me, 
     a strong fortress to save me! 
For you are my rock and my fortress; 
     and for your name’s sake you lead me and guide me..."

—Psalm 31:1–3

Before David prays “be a rock of refuge for me,” he confesses and declares “in you, O LORD, do I take refuge.” The prayers of the psalms, we may even say the prayers of the Bible, are full of confessions and declarations. Such declarations often verge on praise, and no doubt this one is an expression of praise, but on the face it, it is just a statement. A confession.

Such confessions and declarations in prayer are a way of thinking on God with God. This is how we should think on God—prayerfully. Say your prayers with confessions of truth, but also, say your confessions prayerfully. As John Owen put it this way:

“Meditate of [upon] God with God; that is, when we would undertake thoughts and meditations of God, his excellencies, his properties, his glory, his majesty, his love, his goodness, let it be done in a way of speaking unto God, in a deep humiliation and abasement of our souls before him. This will fix the mind, and draw it forth from one thing to another, to give glory unto God in a due manner, and affect the soul until it be brought into that holy admiration of God and delight in him which is acceptable unto him. My meaning is, that it be done in a way of prayer and praise,—speaking unto God.”

Because we don’t declare truth in our prayers, we petition lies in our prayers. Because we don’t confess truth, we pray lies. When you fill your prayers with more declarations and confessions of truth, you will petition your God better in those prayers. Such declarations have a way of pulling us out of our little kingdoms and reorienting our prayers around the kingdom of God.

What David first declares, he then pleas, and then he offers as the grounds for that plea what he has declared. “In you, O LORD, do I take refuge… Be a rock of refuge for me… for you are my rock and fortress” (Psalm 31:1, 2, 3; emphasis mine). Prayer is asking God to be for us what He has said He will be for us because He has said He will be that for us. In your prayers, argue God to God. I believe it was another Puritan author who said something like “God is fond of his own handwriting. Show it to Him.”

The Doctor: Ignorance of Our Impotence

“The trouble with all false evangelism is that it does not start with doctrine, it does not start by realising man’s condition. All fleshly, carnal, manmade evangelism is the result of inadequate understanding of what the apostle teaches us in the first ten verses of this second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians. If you and I but realised that every man who is yet a sinner is absolutely dominated by ‘the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience,” if we only understood that he is really a child of wrath and dead in trespasses and sins, we would realise that only one power can deal with such an individual, and that is the power of God, the power of the Holy Ghost. And so we would put our confidence, not in man-made organisations, but in the power of God, in the prayer that holds on to God and asks for revival and a descent of the Spirit. We would realise that nothing else can do it. We can change men superficially, we can win men to our side and to our party, we can persuade them to join a church, but we can never raise the spiritually dead; God alone can do that. The realisation of these truths would of necessity determine and control all our evangelism.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, God’s Way of Reconciliation, (Baker Book House, 1987) p. 11,