Swim by Swimming (Psalm 30)

A Psalm of David. A Song at the dedication of the Temple.

I will extol you, O LORD, for you have drawn me up and have not let my foes rejoice over me. —Psalm 30.

Perhaps the most overlooked portion of Scripture is the headings to the psalms. Though they are in the manuscripts there is some debate among scholars as to whether or not they are part of the inspired text. Because the New Testament often recognizes the authors ascribed to the psalms by their headings, I believe it is clear that we should consider them as Holy Script.

That being so, the first thing to settle about this Psalm is that the heading isn’t multiple choice. This is both a psalm of David and a psalm written for the dedication of the temple. Further, it is a psalm written by David for the dedication of the temple. It wasn’t posthumously designated as such.

Some want to change “temple” to “house” or “palace.” These are legitimate translations but my beef is that they are too apologetic. Some scholars are thereby trying to get this psalm out of the dock instead of letting it testify. They’re fearful the witness may contradict himself. They’re afraid that the title, as it stands, is something like speaking of Honest Abe’s speech at the dedication of the Lincoln Memorial. Honestly? So they say that this psalm was perhaps written at the dedication of David’s palace or the tent-house that David had erected for the ark when he brought it to Jerusalem.

Let the heading testify! Is it any stretch of the intellect to think that the same David who prepared a hundred-thousand talents of gold for the building of the temple (1 Chronicles 22) could also prepare twelve verses for its dedication? This was something dear to David’s heart (2 Samuel 7), and poetry is the language of the heart, right?

Besides unapologetic zeal for the inerrancy of the text in every jot and tittle, this has significant implications for your Bible reading and comprehension. There are only a handful of headings in the Psalms that mention a historic setting and when they do I take it that that setting must be significant for meaning. For the specifics in relation to this psalm, check out the sermon linked below. Rather than tease out the details, I want to use the remainder of the post to work out a principle at work underneath all of this. Here it is:

The best way to read your Bible is to have read your Bible. 

Or, the best way to read your Bible is with a whole lot of Bible floating in you noggin.

Just like the best way to swim in the water is by being in the water, so the best way to read your Bible is by reading it. There are far too many Christians who just have their feet in the pool. They’re occasionally dipping into the Bible for some cool refreshment, but they don’t swim in it. Then, there are a few who analyze it from the concrete and run tests telling us whether or not the water is safe. Such are the sort who tell us that David couldn’t have written this psalm.

But if you swim in the Bible, then you can swim the Bible. Got it? Those who swim, can swim. Every time you read the Bible, you’re better equipped to read the Bible. This is because when you come back around to a particular passage, you’re reading it in light of the Bible itself. The stump-water of stagnant thinking is getting diluted by the influx of the fresh waters of the Word. When you remember that part of the Bible while reading this part of the Bible you’re going to read the Bible better than when you’re solely remembering something extra-biblical while reading the Bible.

When you come to this text with Ichabod, the ark being brought to Jerusalem, the Davidic covenant, David’s sin in taking the census, the threshing floor of Obed-Edom, and David’s preparations for building the temple all floating in your head rather than a bunch of textual-critical sewage, your going to read this Psalm having no problems with the fact that this is a psalm of David written for the dedication of the Temple.

Heavy on the Percussion (Psalm 29)

“The voice of the LORD is over the waters;
the God of glory thunders,
the LORD, over many waters.
The voice of the LORD is powerful;
the voice of the LORD is full of majesty.

The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars;
the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon.
He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf,
and Sirion like a young wild ox.

The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire.
The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness;
the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh.

The voice of the LORD makes the deer give birth
and strips the forests bare,
and in his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’ ” —Psalm 29:3–9

My only ambition here is to provide a flyover of this Psalm to prepare you to trek through it yourself. The psalm begins in the heavens (vv. 1–2) and ends on earth (vv. 10–11). In between, seemingly joining the two, is a storm. The storm begins over the waters (v. 3), moves over the mountain forest of Lebanon (vv. 5–6), and ends in the wilderness of Kadesh (v. 7). In this psalm we mover from heaven to earth by means of a storm that traverses sea, forest, and wilderness.

This psalm is full of majesty, glory and splendor. Spurgeon advised,

“Just as the eighth Psalm is to be read by moonlight, when the stars are bright, as the nineteenth needs the rays of the rising sun to bring out its beauty, so this can be best rehearsed beneath the black wing of tempest, by the glare of the lightning, or amid that dubious dusk which heralds the war of elements. The verses march to the tune of thunderbolts.”

This psalm thunders, not as one of those far off peals that rumbles in the distance, but like the deafening clap that reverberates in your chest such that you cannot but involuntarily jolt. Read it, and ascribe to Yahweh the glory and strength due His name. Worship Him in the splendor of His holiness.

Asking for Directions (Psalm 28)

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Because they do not regard the works of the LORD
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.

The LORD is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed. —Psalm 28:4, 8

In examining the 27th psalm one discovers that the steering wheel can be on the right side of the car. Though it may feel awkward, right isn’t wrong. The saint’s faith can drive from confidence to lament without the car being in reverse or turning around and going back over ground we though we’d gained.

But now, in the 28th Psalm, the wheel is back on the left. In the 27th Psalm we drive from confidence to lament then back to a brief conclusion of confidence.  Now, in the 28th, we drive from lament to confidence then back to a brief conclusion of lament. Overall, in the 27th we drive from confidence to lament; in the 28th, from lament to confidence.

Though we “feel” more comfortable driving this direction, we often don’t know how to get there. How does one get from lament to confidence? Often lament takes a hard right into despair or a sharp left into self-reliance. If we fail to reach the proper destination, the reason is as simple as our failure to use the map. This psalm is both a map and it points to the map. It both is the Word of God and it points to the Word of God.

There are two declarations of truth the psalm that serve as transition points: the first from petition to praise, the second from praise to petition. In the first (v. 5), David declares with confidence the destruction of the wicked; in the second (v. 8), he declares the salvation of God’s people and His anointed. How is it that David is confident of these things? Because God has spoken.

Both David’s lament and His laud are guided by the Word; the Word by which God gives faith. We often don’t make the transition from lament to laud because our conscience rightly testifies against us that we cannot. When our lament is an expression of “Your kingdom come!” laud will follow. I’m afraid our prayers are not concerned with God’s kingdom come, but our comfort and fun. When we cry out in prayer, it isn’t so much in longing  for God’s kingdom to come as sobbing that our kingdom has gone.

The answer to this is repentance, and that means humbly asking for directions. You don’t naturally know how to steer your prayers. Yes, you need the Spirit, but the Spirit speaks through the Word. You’re not a prophet. Pull over and talk to one. David is a good one to start with.

Smelling Roses in a Mine Field (Psalm 26)

Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.

O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells. —Psalm 26:1, 8

Modern worship choruses have picked up on “How lovely is your dwelling place,” but I don’t hear anyone singing “Vindicate me for I have walked in my integrity.” Our beef with this psalm is our beef with the psalter, and it goes all the way back to the beginning.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. —Psalm 1

The first thing to settle as you come to the psalms is that there are righteous men as well as wicked men. True, all righteous men once were wicked men. Those who are now trees were once chaff and the change has happened by the monergistic, merciful, and mighty act of regeneration. The saints are not self-righteous, nor are they yet perfect, but they are righteous. They not only have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, but are being continually conformed to Christ’s righteousness. There is light, and there is darkness.

This division, and the resulting war, goes all the way back to the promise of the gospel concerning the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent and the enmity between them; which was soon vividly manifest in wicked Cain murdering righteous Abel (Matthew 23:35). We open the Psalms expecting them to smell like a floral shop. Instead, they smell like a battlefield. The line has been drawn in the sand and you are either on one side or the other.

Too many professing Christians are trying to play Switzerland. We’re scared to offend God, but we still desire to trade with the world. There can be no neutrality. Do you want righteousness to win and wickedness to fail? If so, then here you may learn how to pray. If not, you’re smelling roses in the middle of a mine field and will soon find that your naiveté doesn’t neutralize the threat.

Smelling Roses in a Mine Field (Psalm 26)

Vindicate me, O LORD,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the LORD without wavering.
O LORD, I love the habitation of your house
and the place where your glory dwells. —Psalm 26:1, 8

Modern worship choruses have picked up on “how lovely is your dwelling place,” but I don’t hear anyone singing “Vindicate me for I have walked in my integrity.” Our beef with this psalm is our beef with the psalter, and it goes all the way back to the beginning.

Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers.

The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish. —Psalm 1

The first thing to settle as you come to the psalter is that there are righteous men as well as wicked men. True, all righteous men once were wicked men. Those who are now trees were once chaff and the change happened by the mighty hands of God’s redeeming grace. The saints are not self-righteous, nor are they yet perfect, but they are righteous. They not only have the righteousness of Christ imputed to them, but are being continually conformed to Christ’s righteousness. There is light, and there is darkness.

This division, and the resulting war, goes all the way back to the promise of the gospel concerning the seed of the woman and the seed of the serpent and the enmity between them, which was soon vividly manifest in wicked Cain murdering righteous Abel (Matthew 23:35). We open the Psalms expecting them to smell like a floral shop. Instead, they smell like a battlefield. The line has been drawn in the sand, and you are either on one side or the other.

Too many professing Christians are trying to play Switzerland. We’re scared to offend God, but we still desire to trade with the world. There can be no neutrality. Do you want righteousness to win and wickedness to fail? If so, then here you may learn how to pray. If not, you’re smelling roses in the middle of a mine field and will soon find that your naiveté doesn’t neutralize the threat.

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