You Probably Think this Psalm is About You (Psalm 20)

We’re so vain.

God has written the hymnary of humanity and it has parts. Unfortunately, we don’t know how to sing parts anymore. But the problem is much worse than ignorance or a lack of musicality. Discontent to remain a member of the choir, we insist on a solo part.

Thus it is that we can’t read God’s music—the psalms. We think we’re speaking when we’re being spoken to. Likewise, we think we’re being spoken to when we are to be singing. We sing the wrong parts and we fail to sing the right ones. We sing the solo and fail to sing the choir’s chorus. When we read the psalms, we fail to make individual and communal distinctions and identifications. Who is the individual? Who is the group? When we do make distinctions, we invert them. To top it off, we’re so self-centered, we don’t even realize it—“of course this lyric must be about me.” We too easily identify with David as a king.

Read the 20th Psalm. Did you hear blessings being spoken to you or did you hear yourself blessing someone? In this psalm, the people pronounce blessings on David as He goes out to battle, knowing that Israel’s welfare is found in him. Save the solo part in verse 7, this is a song of the people for their king.

In Christ we have a King, not whom we bless, but who is blessed. He doesn’t need our blessing, this blessing is on Him. And so it is that we can be all the more confident exclaiming:

Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.
They collapse and fall,
but we rise and stand upright.

Make the Psalms all about you, and any “confidence” you sing with is a display of arrogance. Sing with humility, and you may belt this psalm out with true confidence. Your King is blessed. Your King is heard. His victory is established. Let us shout over His salvation!

A Refuge, as God (Psalm 18)

I love you, O Lord, my strength.
The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer,
my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge,
my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

David’s refuge is a loved refuge. An uncommon word is used for “love” here. Often translated “compassion” it carries the idea of a superior feeling pity towards and inferior. The psalm clearly indicates that David views God as God, as greater than himself. The idea then appears to be that David is deeply moved in love towards his God, such that although David clearly loves God because He is a stronghold, you know that God is indeed loved and not merely used.

God is not a fortress to be used as a means to enjoy something else. God is not a storm shelter. He is a refuge the way a wife takes refuge in her husband.

God is a refuge, but He is a refuge as God. He is not simply a refuge as a refuge. You cannot relate to God as a utilitarian thing but a relational person—a person who is the Lord of glory. You cannot flee to God to protect that which is most valuable to you. You must flee to Him as that which is most valuable.

God is not a refuge from the forces that threaten to interrupt your idolatry. God is a refuge for sinners, but not for sin. Repentant sinners find refuge in God from God. Flee to God to protect your sins and you run to your destruction. Again, God is not a vault for you to house your idols in. He is a refuge as God. There is an indestructible refuge for sinners, but there is no facility secure enough to house idols.

A Spiritual War with Human Meat Shields (Psalm 17)

There is an emphasis by some on spiritual warfare today, but most of it should be tossed into the looney bin. Many would have us flailing our spiritual fists wildly in the air praying against territorial demons and rebuking the evil spirits in hurricanes.

There is another contingency that thinks we’ll win by niceness. Love can be a potent weapon in war, but niceness is a limp-wristed way of handling a Scottish claymore that’ll result in hurting more friendlies than enemies. Love will make a man throw his body over razor wire so his platoon can escape enemy fire. Niceness will politely hold the wires apart for your allies while signaling the enemy, “We’re over here. Please come to our side.”

Then there are the Westboro militants. You get the impression that the only thing that keeps them from using Satan’s more gruesome weapons is the law of land. They say they’re building God’s kingdom, but they’re using the devil’s tools.

We are in a spiritual war that uses human meat shields. The meat shield shouldn’t keep one from using the imprecatory psalms. They enlisted for their own agenda. The psalms are not a dead language meant primarily for reflective reading and not for active singing.

How aware are we of this war? I think the pathetic nature of our strategies and tactics display that we don’t get it. While some are off playing Dungeons and Dragons in a virtual world, others think we’re in a Nerf gun fight with friends. There are real evils in this world, human and demonic. We must take refuge in God and we must call in heavenly artillery.

Jesus is a King and He is an opposed King. If you think Uncle Sam can draw a line down the middle of the back seat so that we kids play nice and get along, you’re as naive as a five year old. The agenda of the enemy isn’t to maintain space, but to advance space. Jesus said we’re sent out as sheep among wolves. We have all the tactical brilliance of thinking we are sheep among cows. Sure, they’re big and they may hurt us, but we can coexist, grazing peacefully in the same pastures.

Our fundamental confession is “Jesus is Lord.” All the pastures are His. That’s His grass. Repent and bow the knee to Christ as Lord. Persist in your hatred of Him and His bride, and know there is a judgment. 

Let us love our enemies, but let us also sing and lament all rebellion against our King, certain of His glorious judgment to bring us into the fullness of salvation and peace.

Reading the Characters in God Story (Psalm 15)

“ …in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the Lord…” —Psalm 15:4 (ESV)

Nowadays there is fresh emphasis on Jesus as a friend of sinners. This is a welcome reprieve from the kind of legalism and fundamentalism that withdrew into a “holy huddle” refusing even a brother who enjoyed a beer in moderation. But just as fundamentalism could go to one extreme, there are many sinner-friendly folk veering off the other shoulder.

There is a problem if your theology is reactionary. We shouldn’t determine truth by seeing the consequences of folly on the other side. Republicans who set their policies based upon Democrat stupidities are only prepping to be a different kind of ninny head. Trying to stay far away from the extreme left means veering towards the alt-right. We should not react, but be principled people who act upon the truth of God. If we’re only reacting, someone else is determining the agenda; we’re not driving, we’re being driven.

I’m afraid that when many say “Jesus was a friend of sinners,” they’re looking for a Biblical text to support their reaction, rather than having digested Biblical truth and then acting upon it. The evidence in support of this is that often only one thing is being said.

Our relationships to people should reflect God’s relationships people. God both hates sinners and graciously determines to save sinners. God’s wrath abides on man and yet he is long suffering and benevolent to humanity. You should both love your neighbor as yourself and despise the vile person. This isn’t easy. The Spirit must give wisdom based on Biblical principles.

If we start with how to relate to some extremes I think it’ll help make sense of the middle. We honor the apostle Paul, missionary Adoniram Judson, and orphanage founder George Muller. We despise Nero, Hitler, and Kim Jong-un. We do this knowing that Paul was once detestable and hoping that all whom we despise might be so transformed. In Genesis 14 Abraham receives a blessing from Melchizedek but refuses rights to the spoils from the King of Sodom. This is the kind of discretion that is called for in this world. In-between is where most people are and in-between is how we need to relate to most people.

Now, back to a general dichotomy. Douglas Wilson offers a helpful paradigm. We must learn to distinguish apostles of the world and refugees of the world. The Israelite spies treat Rahab differently than Phinehas deals with the Midianite woman. Elisha speaks to Naaman one way; Moses speaks to Pharaoh another. While Paul was preaching the gospel to Sergius Paulus he turned to Elymas the magician and called him a son of the devil, an enemy of all righteousness, and full of deceit and villainy. Likewise, we should speak one way to the woman broken after an abortion and another concerning Cecil Richards and Kermit Gosnell. When the forbidden woman of Proverbs tries to entice us, we flee, and when the prostitute wishes to fall prostrate at Jesus’ feet washing them with her tears, we welcome her.

This kind of wisdom comes from the Word. Marinate in Proverbs for some time and you’ll find yourself honoring the wise, faithful, diligent, righteous and just while despising the fool, liar, slothful, wicked, and evil. You will value an excellent wife over an alluring adulteress. Spurgeon said Bunyan’s blood was bibline. Prick him and he’d bleed Bible. This is why Bunyan could write honorable characters like Hopeful, Faithful, and Old Honest and despicable ones like Hypocrisy, Talkative, and Formalist.

If we soak in the Psalms, we’ll not only think and talk this way, we will sing this way. If you are fearful this will curb a gracious spirit, can you think of many figures more merciful and magnanimous than David? David forgave as big as he fought and fought as big as he forgave. Ingest the Bible and you’ll learn to read the characters of this world and you’ll read them hoping that God will rewrite them just as He has you.

Who’s the Fool? (Psalm 14)

“The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’ They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.” —Psalm 14:1 (ESV)

A renown Cambridge mathematician is placed beside a Cajun swamp boat operator; which is wiser? A smart answer would be to ask “Where are they?” What is the setting? What is the test? If it is an academic setting, I’d wager the Cambridge professor; if the bayou, the Cajun. If it is the supermarket, we don’t have enough information.

What the fool fails to take into consideration is his setting. The fool fails to recognize ultimate reality. Where are we? In God’s creation. The fool says there is no God. The fool goes wrong at the foundational level.

“Fool” then is not so much an intellectual category as a moral one. It doesn’t take in less than the mind, but more. The fool says this in his heart. The heart here embraces more than the emotions. Biblically the heart is the core of man involving his intellect, emotions, and volition. This means that to determine if someone is a fool, you cannot just ask if they believe in God. You must analyze their life. What a person really says with their heart will be betrayed by their hands.

Professing atheists may be rare, but practical atheist are not an endangered species. It matters not if one says there is a god. If a person knows his addiction is unhealthy but persists in it he is foolish. Those who profess a god but live as though he were not are more foolish than those who try to delude themselves that God is not.

Some may consistently live as though a god were, but not the God. False religion, however sincere, is folly. Fools will find themselves to have been studying for the wrong test under the wrong instructor. They have wasted time studying Klingon for a Latin exam. They study Buddah, but Jesus is the answer. Folly is living in reference to an imaginary god. Wisdom is living unto the true God.

Perhaps it might be the Cajun who is the wise man and the professor who is the fool. Such are often the ways of God (1 Corinthians 1:26–31). This is true even when it comes to math. The simpleton who uses basic addition and subtraction to steward his money well for the kingdom of God is better with numbers than the professor who uses differential calculus for his own glory.

Whining or Lamenting (Psalm 12)

“Save, O Lord, for the godly one is gone;
for the faithful have vanished from among the children of man.” —Psalm 12:1 (ESV)

Like a drowning man, David urgently pleads “Save!” The petition comes abruptly, almost rudely. There is no address. There is no explanation. Just an urgent plea. What could distress David so? There are two answers in our text: the vanishing of the godly and the words of the wicked. I want to focus on the first.

The godly have vanished. David hasn’t been Left Behind. There are not a lot of nicely folded clothes lying around after a mini-rapture rehearsal. Having done away with any dispensational theories, we might conclude David is being a bit dramatic; overreacting. This is nothing but hyperbole. We recall Elijah whining in the wilderness, “I’m the only one left.”

We’re prone to discount hyperbolic statements. Overstatements are overused. Was that cheese burger really awesome? Delicious maybe, but isn’t awesome too strong a word? If the burger is awesome, how are we going to describe the Aurora Borealis? Likewise, the media exaggerates everything—even the weather. However, hyperbole in the Scripture communicates truth. What is exaggerated in one sense is understated in another. Concerning lust, Jesus says that if our eye offends us, we are to tear it out. This isn’t meant to be taken literally. The left can lust just as well as the right. Still, sin is to be attacked with this kind of violence. Sin isn’t less than Jesus makes it out to be; it is this serious.

David wasn’t alone in this thought. Micah later exclaimed, “The godly has perished from the earth, and there is no one upright among mankind; they all lie in wait for blood, and each hunts the other with a net” (Micah 7:2). A couple of songs over David sings, “there is none who does good, not even one.” He would return to this meditation in Psalm 53. David isn’t having a temporary crisis of faith like Elijah; this is a sustained and repeated meditation. Paul will use David’s words as the capstone of his argument for the total depravity of man. Have you never beheld the total depravity of the totality of humanity?

Unlike Elijah’s lapse, David receives no rebuke when God answers him here. What gives? What makes the difference? No doubt, Elijah had David’s virtue, and David Elijah’s vice at times in their pilgrimage, but what is being brought to the fore in these instances that makes the difference? Elijah is selfishly whining, whereas David laments the situation itself. Elijah fails to see, where as David is seeing, though the same reality is in view.

The media often exaggerates, but though the news is filled with horrid events, they’re  far from communicating just how wicked and vile humanity is. If the news merely makes you sad, concerned for the future, or fearful for your grandchildren, then you’re probably in league with Elijah. You’re seeing the bad, but you’re not yet seeing just how bad things are. You’ve got the horizontal dimension of evil in view, but don’t perceive the vertical height or depth of it. But if you lament the wickedness of this world before God, if you sense something of the moxie of man’s arrogance against the heavens, then you can sing this song. A song, that once God speaks (v. 5), turns to praise and confidence (vv. 6–7).

The Threat in the Trenches (Psalm 11)

In the LORD I take refuge;
how can you say to my soul,
     “Flee like a bird to your mountain,
for behold, the wicked bend the bow;
     they have fitted their arrow to the string
     to shoot in the dark at the upright in heart;
if the foundations are destroyed,
     what can the righteous do?” (Psalm 11:1–3 ESV)

Often the enemy uses a big boom so that friendly fire becomes the greatest threat. The hazard posed by the wicked outside the walls isn’t as dangerous as the advice from those inside them. The fool in the trench is often more deadly than the distinguished sniper across the line.

When the secularists, evolutionists, humanists, and materialists ridicule the Bible, our dukes are up. When our friends give advice, our guard is down and our ears are open. Professing Christians tell us that inerrancy and inspiration are indefensible. They must be abandoned for higher ground. Likewise, marriage, gender, penal substitutionary atonement, and even truth itself are “advised” against for the sake of the faith and the perpetuity of the church. What faith is left to defend by the time we’ve retreated to their higher ground?

The church is a mighty ironclad. She has long been bombarded by pagan shells. Faithless cowards hear modern clangs and think them louder than the ancient arsenal. They panic telling us to jump ship, unaware of the shark infested waters we sail in.

David receives advice from those concerned about him and the kingdom. Dealing with the facts as presented their counsel seems reasonable and logical. The problem is that it fails to take in the fact—God. The counsel given in vv. 1–3 is as godless as the taunts of the wicked. In contrast, David exclaims.

The LORD is in his holy temple;
     the LORD’s throne is in heaven;
     his eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.

When we’re advised to abandon the Bible or it’s truths because of some new threat, nothing has changed. God still reigns. It is in the eternal, omnipotent, immutable God that we take refuge. “How can they say to us…?”