Psalm 16 & Delight

My Hebrew professor, Ron Allen, used to say, “Only a Philistine could fail to love the Psalms.” The Psalms are full of the ups and downs of life. They are full of praise to God, laments, complaints, cries for help, and bold declarations of confidence in God. The Psalms are prophetic, pointing us to the ultimate Blessed Man, the quintessential Righteous Man, David’s Greater Son, Jesus Christ. Among all the Psalms, one that stands out to me, one that I find myself quoting, is Psalm 16. It is prophetic, pointing towards the resurrection of Jesus, “For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see decay” (16:10). Peter quotes this text in Acts. The Psalm also extols the believer’s portion, which is God himself (16:5). David says that he continually puts the Lord before him, that must mean in his thoughts and affections, and because of that, he is never shaken (16:8). Right thoughts of God lead to stability in life. David also extols the joy there is in God’s presence with memorable, affecting words, “In your presence there is fullness of joy, at your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (16:11). This Psalm is rich. Derek Kidner rightly says, “The theme of having one’s affections centered on God give this psalm its unity and ardor.”

There is one part of this Psalm that caught my attention this morning, “As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones, in whom is all my delight” (16:3). David sees something in the saints, that is believers. The word he uses to describe them is interesting, as it is variously translated, “majestic ones,” “excellent ones,” “noble ones.” David is drawn to God’s people. He sees in them something desirable, he delights in them. Spurgeon, taking the Psalmist to be ultimately Jesus, says, “He who knows them best says of them, ‘in whom is all my delight.’ They count themselves to be less than nothing, and yet he makes much of them and sets his heart towards them.” What do God’s people have going for them? Why should they be our delight? The living God is their refuge, he is their good, he is their chosen portion, he is their counselor, their hope and their joy. Even the lowest of believers have this glorious God and all that he is. What David delights in, in God’s people, is God in them and God for them. It is God who beautifies his people, making them a delight.

What do we think of God’s people? Are they our delight? Or do we grumble against them for being “hypocrites,” (thus always indicting ourselves in such charges!). Do we take more pleasure in being around worldlings who serve the god of this age more than God’s holy ones? Worldlings are the very ones running after others gods (16:4). Do we admire the godless and the sinner because of their success and dismiss the children of God? Do we avoid God’s people? By the way, most of the time when we avoid God’s people, it is not really because we think we are better than them, although that is what we might say, but rather, it is because we are convicted by them. How we feel about other Christians is an indicator ultimately of what we think of God. There is no such thing as esteeming God and despising his people. They are his people, his children, he knows them, loves them and is sanctifying them. No worldling can make such claims! Certainly, some of God’s people are more mature than others, wiser than others, more pleasant than others, more sanctified than others, but they all have one thing in common, they all belong to the same God, redeemed by the same Savior.

So are the saints your delight? If not, why not? If not, then the Psalmist would simply say to you that you are looking at the wrong things in them and most likely, the wrong things in yourself. Set the Lord before you, let your heart be glad in him, rejoice in his work, most especially among his people and join this rag-tag bunch of struggling sinners who are the majestic ones in all the earth. When we see God’s beauty in them, we will delight in them as we should.

Clinging to God in Depression

Psalms 42-43 have long been recognized as one Psalm, perhaps divided for liturgical purposes. But these two Psalms have also long been recognized as coming from a depressed soul. He says his tears have been his food day and night (42;3a). He says his soul is in despair, disturbed within him (42:5, 11; 43:5). He questions himself as to why this is the case. Throughout the Psalm, he acknowledges that the depression is caused by external oppression (42:3b, 9b-10; 43:1-2). But the Psalmist is depressed for more reasons than his circumstances. There seems to be an inner sense of loss. He remembers happier times with God’s people, in God’s presence (42:4), but that seems to be no more. He still longs for God, but it is a longing that appears to be unfulfilled at this point. The sense of despair in these two Psalms is palpable and is certainly better felt than merely exegeted.

Nevertheless, there is something else in this Psalm. The Psalmist not only questions himself, he preaches to himself. Three times there is this inquiry, “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why have you become disturbed within me?” (42:5, 11; 43:5). The magnificent thing about this inquiry is that the Psalmist immediately responds to himself each time with, “Hope in God.” He preaches to his despair. He tells himself to put his confidence in God. He continues, “For I shall yet praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” This is nothing other than a declaration of faith. He doesn’t feel like praising God, in fact he is complaining. But he knows that the outcome of maintaining hope in God will be that God’s praise will once again be on his lips, it is only a matter of time.

One other observation should be made. The Psalmist identifies certain truths about God throughout, which reveal where his hope is. He is the living God (42:1a), He is the God who commands lovingkindness (8a), he is the God of my life (8c), He is the God of my strength (43:2a), He is the God of light and truth (43:3), He is the God of my exceeding joy (43:4b), He is God, my God (43:4c) and He is the help of my countenance and my God (42:11c; 43:5c). The Psalmist does not hide his depression or despair, nor even his own sense of disappointment with God (which is more perception than reality). But right in the middle of all of it, he clings to who God is and what He is like. It is this that stirs his soul to say, “Hope in God.” It is this that keeps his faith from being extinguished.

Christina Rossetti, in a hymn that we should sing more often, captures this beautifully.

“My faith burns low; my hope burns low;
Only my heart’s desire cries out in me
By the deep thunder of its want and woe,
Cries out to Thee.”

(None Other Lamb, None other Name)

When our faith and hope burn low, remember who your God is. Remember what He is like. Preach to yourself that hoping in Him is never in vain and that in His lovingkindness you will again praise Him.

God’s Compassion to Idolaters

I love the book of Deuteronomy. It is filled with so many exhortations to obedience and reminders of God’s goodness and promises. This morning I was struck by something that Moses said to the generation about to enter the land. The first generation had died off (Deut. 1:34-40; 2:16). The second generation, which had seen God’s mighty deeds (Deut. 1:30-31; 2:7) was now being urged to obey God and His Word. They were to “give heed to yourself and watch soul diligently” (Deut. 4:9). The motivation to such self-watch and obedience was that they had heard God on the mountain and had been rescued from the furnace of Egypt to be God’s own possession (Deut. 4:9-20). Moses racks up the privileges and the corresponding responsibilities. It is a good sermon! “So watch yourselves, that you do not forget the covenant of the LORD your God which He made with you” (Deut. 4:23).

But then there is a shift in the exhortation, Moses seems to begin prophesying. After the people had been in the land for a while they would act corruptly and make idols (Deut. 4:25). Moses then calls for creation itself to serve as covenant witnesses against Israel as He judges them with exile (Deut. 4:26). God’s judgment would include scattering the people and judging their idolatry with more idolatry (Deut. 4:27-28). God’s judgments are not to be trifled with, He often judges sin by giving us over to more sin, creating a forceful downward spiral.

The prophecy however does not end there. Moses then prophesies that “from there,” that is the place of exile and idolatry, they would seek Him (Deut. 4:29). It is worth noting that there is also a strong conditional emphasis, they could not just sit around and wait for God. “You will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul” (Deut. 4:29). Their repentance is then described. “When you are in distress and all these things have come upon you, in the latter days you will return to the LORD your God and listen to His voice” (Deut. 4:30). There is nothing in this passage which would encourage passivity. There is much to encourage earnest repentance in the form of seeking the LORD, returning to Him and hearing His voice. The promise is for those who in their distress, under the judgment of God for their idolatry, return to the LORD with all their heart. In their distress they realize that their only hope is to return to God on the path of hearing His voice (i.e., obeying His Word).

What can those who return expect? Earlier in the passage Moses said, “For the LORD your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (Deut. 4:24). But those who return will not be consumed by the fire of God’s holiness, rather they are urged to return, “For the LORD your God is a compassionate God; He will not fail you nor destroy you nor forget the covenant with your fathers which He swore to them” (Deut. 4:31). Frankly, this is remarkable. Those who had abandoned God, will find Him compassionate. Those who walked away from the covenant will not be destroyed because God remembers His covenant. The idolater, in his distress, is called to return because of God’s great compassion and covenant faithfulness.

The parallels to us are unmistakable. Have we not lived long under God’s blessings, gifts and provision? Do we not still feel “prone to wander, Lord I feel it, prone to leave the God I love”? Have we not made idols in rebellion and defiance against our kind and loving Savior? Perhaps it is worse than anyone knows. Perhaps God has disciplined your sin with more sin and you feel stuck and your heart hardened. Here is your hope, your only hope, the kindness of God leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4). Turn in your distress and you will find a God of compassion, not standing there with His arms crossed and a scowl, but standing there with arms wide open, ready to receive those who return to Him.

Why wait? Your sin will not only disappoint you, it will destroy you. Return today. He will not disappoint you. He will not destroy you. He will shower you with grace, wash you from your uncleanness and restore you.