“It is possible for us to read the Scriptures in an utterly profitless manner. If you only read the Scriptures mechanically because you believe it is right and good to do so, or because you have been told to do so, you will probably derive little benefit. You may have an immediate sense of self-satisfaction and self-righteousness because you have read your portion for the day; but that is not to read the Scriptures. Every bit of intelligence we possess is needed as we read the Scriptures; all our faculties and propensities must be employed. Even that is not enough; we must pray for the illumination and inspiration of the Holy Spirit.” —D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, The Unsearchable Riches of Christ, (Baker Book House, 1988) p. 266
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.
“I therefore decided to give attention to the holy scriptures and to find out what they were like. And this is what met me: something neither open to the proud nor laid bare to mere children; a text lowly to the beginner but, on further reading, of mountainous difficulty and enveloped in mysteries. I was not in any state to be able to enter into that, or to bow my head to climb its steps. What I am now saying did not then enter my mind when I gave my attention to the scripture. It seemed to me unworthy in comparison with the dignity of Cicero. My inflated conceit shunned the Bible’s restraint, and my gaze never penetrated to its inwardness. Yet the Bible was composed m such a way that as beginners mature, its meaning grows with them. I disdained to be a little beginner. Puffed up with pride, I considered myself a mature adult.” —Augustine, Confessions
[T]he Scriptures, when properly searched into and compared do clearly and in every part testify of Christ, that he is the end of the Law, the sum of the Prophets, the completion of the promises, the scope of the types and ceremonies, and the great object of the whole Old-Testament dispensation. —John Newton, Works
Perhaps the most masterful thing C.S. Lewis does in his Narnia series is to create a longing in you for Aslan the lion. Aslan is the central figure in the books, yet, notice how sparse his appearances are. You turn each page hoping it to be the one in which he comes into the story, and yet, you know that he is on every page. Every story is his story.
And so it is with our Lord. Mistakingly we can think that theophanies were as thick as June-mosquitoes following heavy May-showers in Oklahoma. They were not. They were more rare than horny toads. The first chapters of Exodus give us a clearer picture. God gives the brave midwives families in chapter one, then He hears the cries of His people in chapter two, but these are things we only know because of the narrator. Israel was ignorant of these things as the events themselves unfolded. But, because of the subtle narration, because of the genealogy, because we’ve read the promises in Genesis, because we’ve recalled the covenant, we see that God has been on every page.
It was God who brought His people down to Egypt according to His word. There they were afflicted as He told Abraham. There God multiplied them and made them into a great nation as He promised Jacob. God’s covenant faithfulness hasn’t failed. Even so, longings have been stirred. Israel, by her bondage cried out for the manifest covenant love of her God. We, by the Spirit’s Lewis-surpassing craft, long for God to manifest Himself. We’ve seen glimpses, and they are glorious, but we hunger for more. So we come to chapter three. We turn the page. There He is! The Holy and Humble one, the great I AM come down to bring His people up. The transcendent God has come down in immanent covenant graciousness to redeem a people out of bondage to a land flowing with milk and honey. Our hearts leap, for this story isn’t limited to one book of the Bible. This is the story of the Bible. This is our story: the holy transcendent God come down in immanent covenant grace to save a people to Himself. May our expectation grow with every turn of a page.
If you put these things before the brothers, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, being trained in the words of the faith and of the good doctrine that you have followed. —1 Timothy 4:6 (ESV)
Gospel ministers are waiters who eat what they serve. They don’t work at one restaurant and then leave to eat at another. The word used to describe the minister of God’s Word here is the same word translated “deacon,” in 3:8. It originally referenced one who waited tables. Here the good table waiter puts “these things before the brothers.” What are these things? They are “words of faith and of the good doctrine” that they follow. The good servant serves the brothers these things, having feasted on them himself.
The gospel pastor is like one of those TV chefs who must be full by the time they finish cooking because the preparation was filled with “mmm’s” and “that’s so gooood.” What was a recipe meant to serve six is whittled down to four by their “taste testing.” When the plate arrives they apologize that the portions aren’t full—they couldn’t resist themselves. What would be disgusting in any restaurant is what is only acceptable in God’s house, the feast must come to you once eaten. In the preaching of God’s Word the truth comes to you the same way that the worm comes from mommy bird to baby bird.
Unfortunately too many ministers spend too much time concerned with their presentation instead of their digestion. They are obsessed with their flare, not God’s fare. They want people to leave praising them, not the chef. They forget people come to a fine restaurant ultimately to enjoy a fine meal, not fine service. The service should maximize the enjoyment of the meal, not seek to substitute for the lack thereof. Many do long for the saints to enjoy the feast, but fail to see that the brothers will most do so if they themselves have first relished all the courses themselves.
Faithful elders are fat on the Word and fit in godliness. They are men who you can see eat well by their living. They are connoisseurs, lover’s of God’s menu who eschew spiritual junk food. They whet you appetite by their very delight in the Bread of Life and thus movingly declare, “taste and see for the Lord is good.”
A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us. And no man lives in a more woeful condition than those who really believe not themselves what they persuade others to believe continually. The want of this experience of the power of gospel truth on their own souls is that which gives us so many lifeless, sapless orations, quaint in words and dead as to power, instead of preaching the gospel in the demonstration of the Spirit. —John Owen
It [the Bible] always speaks of the highest and holiest things, of eternal and invisible matters, in a human way. Like Christ, it does not consider anything human alien to itself. But for that reason it is a book for humanity and lasts till the end of time. It is old without ever becoming obsolete. It always remains young and fresh; it is the word of life. The word of God endures forever. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics
A true concept of revelation can be derived only from revelation itself. If no revelation ever took place, all reflection on the concept is futile. If, however, revelation is a fact, it and it alone—must furnish us the concept and indicate to us the criterion we have to apply in our study of religions and revelations. —Herman Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics
Eschatologically I am an amillennialist and partial preterist. Is that clear enough? My point exactly. To understand, you have to know the language behind the language. Have you ever had a foreign exchange student give you a puzzled look when you say that something is cool? They know what cool means, but they don’t know what cool means. They don’t know the language behind the language.
This is why I feel many go awry when looking at Biblical prophecy. They read backwards from the 21st century instead of forwards from the 1st century. They listen with Left Behind ears more than Old Testament ears. Apocalyptic literature is drenched and dripping with imagery and metaphors from the ocean of the Old Testament. I’m afraid that we are reading the New Testament with the wrong code key.
Jasper Fforde has written a series of books about a British literary detective set in a futuristic 1980’s time period. Someone has made a means to enter your favorite books. A villain now posses this technology and is capturing beloved characters. If the character is captured from a first edition, he disappears from all subsequent editions. The books are fun, anyone can understand them, but they are much more enjoyable if you have read the books mentioned.
I don’t so much want to labor to convince you of my eschatological position (eschatology is the study of last things), as of my hermeneutic (hermeneutics is the science/art of interpreting texts) that brought me to that position. The first rule of hermeneutics is that Scripture interprets Scripture. This means that the best way to read your Bible, is to read your Bible—again, and again, and again, and again. When you do this, you are much more likely to hear phrases like, “the abomination of desolation (cf. Daniel 11:31),” and “the sun will be darkened (cf. Isaiah 13:9-10),” and “coming on the clouds, (Daniel 7:13-14),” the way the Bible intends you to. Superior to any longing for you to agree with my position, is that it be said of both of us what C.H. Spurgeon said of John Bunyan:
Oh, that you and I might get into the very heart of the Word of God, and get that Word into ourselves! As I have seen the silkworm eat into the leaf, and consume it, so ought we to do with the Word of the Lord—not crawl over its surface, but eat right into it till we have taken it into our inmost parts. It is idle merely to let the eye glance over the words, or to recollect the poetical expressions, or the historic facts; but it is blessed to eat into the very soul of the Bible until, at last, you come to talk in Scriptural language, and your very style is fashioned upon Scripture models, and, what is better still, your spirit is flavored with the words of the Lord.
I would quote John Bunyan as an instance of what I mean. Read anything of his, and you will see that it is almost like the reading the Bible itself. He had read it till his very soul was saturated with Scripture; and, though his writings are charmingly full of poetry, yet he cannot give us his Pilgrim’s Progress—that sweetest of all prose poems — without continually making us feel and say, ‘Why, this man is a living Bible!’ Prick him anywhere—his blood is Bibline, the very essence of the Bible flows from him. He cannot speak without quoting a text, for his very soul is full of the Word of God. I commend his example to you, beloved.
There are some lines in a good book, and some books altogether that are dynamite. They explode in your mind, rattle your souls, reverberate in your thoughts, and devastate your lives. After the initial blast you know something wonderful has happened but you have to wait months, even years for the dust to settle to realize the glorious destruction.
Has God’s Holy Word rattled your heart with more than nuclear force? Has His eternal Word, that Word above all earthly powers, Jesus Christ, gloriously blasted everything new? If so, eternity will come, the dust will then have settled, and the effects will eternally rapture our hearts to Him in love.