Who not How (Psalm 24)

“The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof,
the world and those who dwell therein” (Psalm 24:1).

The God of Israel is the God of all, and His majesty exceeds His domain, for His domain is finite, but His glory infinite. And thus the question,

“Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?” (Psalm 24:3).

Does the answer of the psalmist distress you?

“He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully” (Psalm 23:4).

What of grace and justification by faith alone? Note that the question is not how, but who—same three letters, very different meanings. The grounds upon which the saints come before the Holy One ever remains Christ and Christ alone. But here we do not have an explanation of how we come before God, but of who comes before God.

The hill of Yahweh is Jerusalem and His holy place is the Tabernacle. God dwelt in the midst of His covenant people who He had redeemed by the blood of the lamb. Before bringing them into the promised land He brought them to Sinai to receive His law so that they might be holy as He is holy. The people of God are a holy people because the God of their salvation is a holy God. The saved are saints. We are not fit for His presence, but He is making us so.

Make no mistake about this, if you would see God, you must be holy. Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:3). Elsewhere we are instructed to “strive…for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord” (Hebrews 12:14). J.C. Ryle warns,

“Most men hope to go to heaven when they die; but few, it may be feared, take the trouble to consider whether they would enjoy heaven if they got there. Heaven is essentially a holy place; its inhabitants are all holy; its occupations are all holy. To be really happy in heaven it is clear and plain that we must be somewhat trained and made ready for heaven while we are on earth.”

He continues,

“The favorite idea of many, that dying men need nothing except absolution and forgiveness of sins to fit them for their great change, is a profound delusion. We need the work of the Holy Spirit as well as the work of Christ; we need renewal of the heart as well as the atoning blood; we need to be sanctified as well as to be justified. …What could an unsanctified man do in heaven, if by any chance he got there? Let that question be fairly looked in the face, and fairly answered. No man can possibly be happy in a place where he is not in his element, and where all around him is not congenial to his tastes, habits, and character. When an eagle is happy in an iron cage, when a sheep is happy in the water, when an owl is happy in the blaze of noonday sun, when a fish is happy on the dry land—then, and not till then, will I admit that the unsanctified man could be happy in heaven.”

God saves none but sinners, but every sinner saved is a saint being sanctified. Sinners who come with open hands, claiming no righteousness of their own, will find those hands cleansed by the God they come to in the blood of the Lamb who is their righteousness.

The Full Range of the Psalms (Psalm​ 22)

“O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!” —Psalm 21:1 (ESV)

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?” —Psalm 22:1 (ESV)

What a contrast between the opening of the 21st and 22nd psalms! In the 21st Psalm we see the king rejoicing in his salvation; a salvation that came in answer to his prayers for deliverance from his enemies. In the 22nd Psalm we step back in time to hear the king’s prayer for salvation as his enemies encircle him.

In David these two psalms very could have been written of two separate attacks and two separate prayers, but for the Son of David, David’s Lord, these two psalms speak of the same prayers, the same enemies, and the same salvation.

The 22nd is a most solemn psalm. Spurgeon comments, “This is above all others the Psalm of the Cross.” We should come to all of Scripture with the highest reverence, but do we not sense that especially here it is as though we should take off our shoes for we approach holy ground?

Upon hearing some songs, sublime in their sorrow, if one doesn’t cry, you might wonder if they are human. One is tempted to say, that if one can hear this song and shed no tear, you might wonder if they are Christ’s. Sure, just because your eyes are wet doesn’t mean your soul is cleansed. Tears themselves are no proof of regeneration, but surely the saints understand.

And yet, our tears of sorrow are turned to tears of joy as this cry of dereliction gives way to a swelling chorus of praise led by the delivered King (22:22–31). This song takes us as high as it begins low, and it cannot begin any lower. The 22nd Psalm ends preparing the choir of God to sing the 21st.

“The rejoicing of our risen Lord must, like his agony, be unutterable. If the mountains of his joy rise in proportion to the depth of the valleys of his grief, then his sacred bliss is high as the seventh heaven.” —C.H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David

Rejoicing in Our King’s Rejoicing (Psalm 21)

O LORD, in your strength the king rejoices, and in your salvation how greatly he exults!

…For you make him most blessed forever; you make him glad with the joy of your presence. —Psalm 21:1, 6

In this psalm, the people of God rejoice in their king’s rejoicing. The people are rejoicing, but they are not singing about their joy, and yet it is their joy. The salvation the king exults in is their salvation. His joy is their joy. When David is saved, the kingdom is saved.

As this is fulfilled in Christ, it speaks to the joy that was set before Christ, for which He endured the cross (Hebrews 12:2). This is not simply the eternal and infinite joy that the Son has always had in the Father. This is the joy which follows the Son’s salvation, meaning the deliverance from and destruction of His enemies (Psalm 21:8–13). This the the joy that falls on the incarnate Christ, our King, who acts as our covenant head. When He is “anointed… with the oil of gladness beyond [his] companions,” that oil covers His people who are in union with Him in the Spirit. His salvation is our salvation. His joy is our joy.

In John 17:13 Jesus prays that His joy might be filled in us (cf. John 15:11). Is there any joy like this? Spurgeon comments, “The rejoicing of our risen Lord must, like his agony, be unutterable. If the mountains of his joy rise in proportion to the depth of the valleys of his grief, then his sacred bliss is high as the seventh heaven.” Here we see the highest joy, the infinite God delighting in what is infinitely delightful. But again, we are not seeing the Triune God’s joy as it has always existed, but as it is in the redemption of man. This is no self-contained joy. This is a joy we are invited into.

Do You Do Well to Be Angry? (Jonah 4:1–11)

Jonah comes to a jarring end with pagans repenting and the prophet rebuked. A litany of three questions leaves us hanging in suspense.

“Do you do well to be angry?”

“Do you do well to be angry for the plant?”

“Should I not pity Nineveh…?”

Like Job, Jonah is brought into God’s court. Unfortunately, Jonah neither speaks nor keeps silent with the wisdom of Job. Unlike the book of Job, no pleasant resolution follows the court scene. Instead, we are left with Jonah to wrestle with these questions. If we don’t, I’m afraid we miss the message of this little book.

There is a sense in which you need to get angry to understand the message of Jonah. The central message of this book is found near the center, at the end of chapter two where Jonah exclaims, “Salvation is of the LORD!” How could we get mad at a message like that? Paul anticipates that we might.

“What shall we say then? Is there injustice on God’s part? By no means! For he says to Moses, ‘I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.’ So then it depends not on human will or exertion, but on God, who has mercy. For the Scripture says to Pharaoh, ‘For this very purpose I have raised you up, that I might show my power in you, and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills. You will say to me then, ‘Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?’ But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:14–24 ESV)

A good sign that you understand Romans 9, and Jonah also, is if they’ve ever made you angry. Do they give rise to an initial objection? That so many interpretations of Romans 9 don’t hit the mark is evident in that they make no one mad. Often, the best indicator that you’ve understood God’s salvation isn’t that you now rejoice in it, but that at some point it has made you furious. Have you never felt what Paul calls the “offense of the cross?”

Perhaps the reason you’re so comfortable with God’s grace is that it makes sense to you. You live in Jerusalem where God’s grace makes sense. You live among the pretty people. Of course God loves you so. Have you never stepped outside of your bubble of bliss to see the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners? Here is where the rub lies. He is sovereign. We are sinners. Yahweh is free to have mercy on whom He will.

Just how free do you believe God’s grace to be? When all is done, what separates you from your neighbor in hell? “I believed,” you reply. Yes, but why did you believe? Is the answer found in you or in God? Salvation is not of you. Not even a little. You do not make the difference. Salvation is of Yahweh. Every bit of it. Soli Deo Gloria. Glory to God alone.

Jonah ends with Jonah’s silence, and yet the book screams. We are brought to exclaim, “No! Jonah does not do well to be angry. He deserves to die. And yet, Yahweh, gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, allows him to live. In doing so,  He is free to have mercy on whom He will.”

If you read this book closely, I believe you’ll see that Jonah came to sing after the appointed plant, worm, and wind, just as he sang after the appointed fish. Chapter two is not a record of Jonah’s prayer, but an account of his praying. The narrator is no longer unfolding the events for us as they came, rather, Jonah’s poetic recollection of his praying is inserted. I don’t believe Jonah took time to pen poetry after being spewed out by the fish before heading to Nineveh. I believe Jonah 2:1–9 were written sometime after God’s final question was put to him. In this way, Jonah does answer God’s questions. He answers with a prayer of repentance and faith and praise exclaiming again, “Salvation belongs to Yahweh!”

Jonathan Edwards too was once troubled by the Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners. He wrote:

“From my childhood up, my mind had been full of objections against the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, in choosing whom he would to eternal life, and rejecting whom he pleased; leaving them eternally to perish, and be everlastingly tormented in hell. It used to appear like a horrible doctrine to me. But I remember the time very well, when I seemed to be convinced, and fully satisfied, as to this sovereignty of God, and his justice in thus eternally disposing of men, according to his sovereign pleasure. But I never could give an account how, or by what means, I was thus convinced, not in the least imagining at the time, nor a long time after, that there was any extraordinary influence of God’s Spirit in it; but only that now I saw further, and my reason apprehended the justice and reasonableness of it. However, my mind rested in it; and it put an end to all those cavils and objections. And there has been a wonderful alteration in my mind, with respect to the doctrine of God’s sovereignty, from that day to this; so that I scarce ever have found so much as the rising of an objection against it, in the most absolute sense, in God showing mercy to whom he will show mercy, and hardening whom he will. God’s absolute sovereignty and justice, with respect to salvation and damnation, is what my mind seems to rest assured of, as much as of any thing that I see with my eyes; at least it is so at times. But I have often, since that first conviction, had quite another kind of sense of God’s sovereignty that I had then. I have often since had not only a conviction, but a delightful conviction. The doctrine has very often appeared exceeding pleasant, bright, and sweet. Absolute sovereignty is what I love to ascribe to God. But my first conviction was not so.”

Like Jonah, the sweetness of Savior’s sovereign salvation of sinners may not be the saint’s first conviction, but it is sure to be their last. 

Salvation is of YHWH!

The Mercy of Second Times (Jonah 3:1–10)

“Then the word of the LORD came to Jonah the second time, saying…” (Jonah 3:1 ESV).

Jonah deserved no “second time.” God would have been just to have left him to the depths. Jonah deserved no “first time.” The commands of God come to us as honors high above our station.

Remember the disobedient man of God in 1 Kings 13. In obedience, he delivered a powerful word to Jereboam I. He was also instructed not to return by the way he came, but another prophet lied to him saying that an angel appeared to him and that the man was to eat at his house. Once the man of God was at his home, the word of God did come to the lying prophet informing him that the man of God was to die for his disobedience. A lion killed him on his way home. If we think this harsh, we don’t understand the God who is commanding us and the honors He extends.

How many employers would be so gracious? God is no employer. He is Lord. We are his slaves. When He commands, He calls us to immeasurable privileges. We spurn these blessings and disobey. And yet, following repentance and faith, He so often gives us a “second time.” How great the mercy of God, that it not only forgives us our sins, but extends to us again the privilege of obeying our Lord?

Big Fish? Big Deal. Big God! (Jonah 1:17–2:20)

“And the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.” —Jonah 1:17 (ESV)

If the big fish story of Jonah causes you to flop nervously like a fish out of water consider this, the big deal isn’t if you believe the latter part of 1:17, but the beginning. If God is sovereign, He may do as He pleases. The laws of nature do not stand over Him but under Him. They are because He is. C.S. Lewis observed, 

“If the laws of Nature are necessary truths, no miracle can break them: but then no miracle needs to break them. It is with them as with the laws of arithmetic. If I put six pennies into a drawer on Monday and six more on Tuesday, the laws decree that other things being equal—I shall find twelve pennies there on Wednesday. But if the drawer has been robbed I may in fact find only two. Something will have been broken (the lock of the drawer or the laws of England) but the laws of arithmetic will not have been broken. The new situation created by the thief will illustrate the laws of arithmetic just as well as the original situation. But if God comes to work miracles, He comes ‘like a thief in the night.’ ”

He goes on to say, 

“This perhaps helps to make a little clearer what the laws of Nature really are. We are in the habit of talking as if they caused events to happen; but they have never caused any event at all. The laws of motion do not set billiard balls moving: they analyze the motion after something else (say, a man with a cue, or a lurch of the liner, or, perhaps, supernatural power) has provided it.”

The laws of nature are simply us observing how God normally plays the game. We’re dealing with the one who didn’t merely make the billiard balls, nor simply with one who then masterfully sets them moving, but also with the Sovereign who holds them together by the word of His power and directs them where He will. Our eyes are so clouded that we fail to see that even the natural is supernatural. God is constantly turning water into wine. It is amazing that He normally does so with a plant, but we’ve grown sleepy like Jonah in the boat. We fail to be properly impressed by the creation which tells of His glory. What astonishes us about that vintage He served up at the wedding feast in Cana is that by doing so it was clear that God was among us. Men normally eat fish, and in this God is doing a million amazing things, but when a fish eats a man, we are awakened out of our slumber to realize we are dealing with God.

The subject of Jonah 1:17 isn’t the great fish, but the great God. Science may tell you that it is impossible for a fish to swallow a man and for that man to then live for three days inside that fish. This may be true. But we are not dealing simply with man or a fish here, and this is good news, because it is also impossible for man to save himself. But it is not impossible for God to save man, for “Salvation is of Yahweh!”

Whatever You Do, Don’t Run (Jonah 1:4–16)

 

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“But the LORD hurled a great wind upon the sea, and there was a mighty tempest on the sea, so that the ship threatened to break up.” —Jonah 1:5 (ESV)

 

When dealing with Yahweh, whatever you do, don’t run! Additionally, it’s helpful to know that you’re always dealing with Yahweh. Because God is omnipresent, when you run from Him you can’t but run into Him, and you’ll always find that the side of God you run into is worse for you than the side you are running from.

Do not flee the One who can hurl “great winds.” We think it incredible when a pitcher can hurl a one hundred plus mile-per-hour fastball, and it is, but we can get our fingers on that. The average person can begin to approach that in measure. God grips what we cannot, the wind, in quantities beyond our comprehension, and hurls it so that the sea foams.

Man needs a bulky blower with some power supply to send bits of dust and grass off his driveway. God needs nothing. He hurls the wind simply by wiling it and He can do so with laser precision.

Know this, God does not simply watch the storm and it is a euphemism to say that He allows  storms. He hurls the wind. The psalmist sings, “He commanded and raised the stormy wind, which lifted up the waves of the sea,” (Psalm 107:24 ESV). Yahweh is the hurler of great winds and the lifter of waves. Weather patterns are not randomized nor do they run according to some complex algorithm that God programmed into the laws of nature. God didn’t design an automated smart-earth. He operates everything manually.

God doesn’t pitch wild. He can throw full force, straight down the pipe, without tiring. He can smack a giant between the eyes with a stone and He can rock a ship with the wind. This storm smack the glove—a little ship headed for Tarshsish.

If you are so foolish as to flee God, and we all are, don’t think you’re getting away with it because you make it fifty miles. God might just want to demonstrate how far and hard He can throw. God throws comets through the cosmos. He can hit you. He can throw over any distance without losing velocity because every pitch is a short pitch. He can throw such that the wind gains velocity, for He is there carrying the storm along its trajectory at every point.

The scariest thing about running from God is how far He might let you run. Don’t presume He will hurl wind and lift waves to bring you into obedience. He might let you sail off the edge of the world and into hell below. You might be in Israel and not be of Israel. You may grow in the church but prove to be nothing more than a weed to be plucked and thrown into the fire. But if you are His, He will keep you by His sovereign power. Either way, it is best not to test Him. When dealing with Yahweh, whatever you do, don’t run.