This morning, Jim referenced Charles Spurgeon’s love of Psalm 91 because of how the Lord used it to comfort him during a cholera epidemic. In his book, The Treasury of David, Spurgeon writes of the incident:
Before expounding these verses [verses 9 and 10] I cannot refrain from recording a personal incident illustrating their power to soothe the heart, when they are applied by the Holy Spirit. In the year 1854, when I had scarcely been in London twelve months, the neighbourhood in which I laboured was visited by Asiatic cholera, and my congregation suffered from its inroads. Family after family summoned me to the bedside of the smitten, and almost every day I was called to visit the grave. I gave myself up with youthful ardour to the visitation of the sick, and was sent for from all corners of the district by persons of all ranks and religions. I became weary in body and sick at heart. My friends seemed falling one by one, and I felt or fancied that I was sickening like those around me. A little more work and weeping would have laid me low among the rest; I felt that my burden was heavier than I could bear, and I was ready to sink under it. As God would have it, I was returning mournfully home from a funeral, when my curiosity led me to read a paper which was wafered up in a shoemaker’s window in the Dover Road. It did not look like a trade announcement, nor was it, for it bore in a good bold handwriting these words:
Because thou hast made the Lord, which is my refuge, even the most High, thy habitation; there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling. The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm.
In his book, Prayer, Praise & Promises: A Daily Walk Through the Psalms, Warren Wiersbe writes a devotional for each day of the year from the Psalms. In his entry for December 27, Wiersbe writes the following based on Psalm 147:1-11 entitled “The God of Your Heart”:
The God of the galaxies is also the God of the brokenhearted. That’s what David tells us in verses 3 and 4: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name.”
The contrast we see in these two verses — between the heavens and the broken heart — ought to encourage us. God made the heavens. He spoke and it was done. His creation stood steadfast. The God who made the heavens is concerned about your broken heart. Others may not be concerned, but God is. He’s not so far away that He doesn’t know your heart is hurting. He’s not so great that He can’t stoop down to you when you are pained, weeping, and looking for help.
Yes, the God of the heavens is the God of your heart. The God who numbers and names the stars knows your needs. He knows all about you, and thus He is able to meet your every need. The God who controls the planets in their orbits is able to take the pieces of your broken heart and put them together again. He will heal your broken heart, provided you give Him all the pieces and yield to His tender love.
“Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite” (v 5). His love and understanding are limitless. His power is great. He can do what needs to be done.
The One who set the galaxies in motion is the same One who addresses your needs. There is no limit to God’s love, His understanding, or His power. Perhaps you have a broken heart today. Give Him the pieces and let Him heal your heart.
In verse 7b David gives his vow of praise — a distinctive of this type of Psalm. In distress he trusts God for release; in release he promises to praise God for his deliverance. He asks God to bring him out from his prison-like box in order that he might be able to give public acknowledgement to the name of God. Here we see again what many Psalms display: Praise is public and vocal and comes as a response to the person and actions of God. David longs for a day in which he will be able to praise God in the presence of the community. Prayer is the rootage, and praise is the flower. We pray for God’s aid; we praise Him for who He is and for what He does on our behalf.
Psalm 142 concludes on a lovely note of assurance that God has heard. He will deliver, and He will magnify His great name. David sings:
The righteous will encrown me,
For You will have done bountifully with me! (v.7 cd)
– And I Will Praise Him: A Guide to Worship in the Psalms, Ronald B. Allen
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the opening verse of Psalm 133:
How wonderful, how beautiful,
when brothers and sisters get along!
It can be easy to read that psalm and brush it aside thinking it would be easy for David’s army, a group of loyal, highly-skilled soldiers doing the Lord’s work, to get along.
In his book, Leap Over A Wall, Peterson paints a very different picture of this group that is both comforting and convicting. He writes,
Those who came to him are described as “every one who was in distress, and every one who was in debt, and every one who was discontented” (I Sam. 22:2). This is the sociological profile of David’s congregation: people whose lives were characterized by debt, distress, and discontent. It isn’t what we would call the cream of the crop of Israelite society. More like dregs from the barrel. Misfits, all, it appears. The people who couldn’t make it in regular society. Rejects. Losers. Dropouts.
These are the people David lived with for that decade of wilderness years. They foraged together, ate together, prayed together, fought together. There’s nothing explicit in the text about the spirituality of David’s company – nothing that says they became a community of faith and searched out the ways in which God worked his salvation in their lives – but the context demands it. We know that David prayed; I think it’s safe to assume that he taught his companions to pray, surviving in hostile surroundings and realizing that God was with them, working out his sovereign purposes in them. That motley collection of unloved and unlovable people – the distressed, the debtors, the discontented – achieved a remarkable and high-spirited camaraderie, a morale explicitly noted in the summarizing retrospective of David’s company written later in I Chronicles 12.
The large context in which this story is placed – God working his salvation out among those who need to be saved – not only permits but requires that we see David’s morally and socially ragtag band as an embryonic holy people of God. We must stretch our imaginations to the horizons of God’s sovereignty and see that David’s company, even though made up of the distressed, the debtors, and the discontented, was made by God – a people defined not by where they came from or what they did but by what God did in and for them. This seems to be the sort of people that God commonly uses to form companies of believers, disciples, worshipers. Not all scholars are agreed on this, but it’s probable that the word Hebrew wasn’t in the first place an ethnic designation but originally referred to a social class of despised drifters and outcasts who existed on the margins of the Middle Eastern cultures. And it was these men and women, not the cultural and political sophisticates of Egypt and Assyria, who were elected to from the “people of God” through whom God would reveal his saving purposes.
Psalms 120-134 are unified as a sub-collection of the Psalter by the common title “A song of ascents.” The background to this superscription has several interpretations. The Hebrew word translated “ascents” is related to the verb “to go up.” Since the Jerusalem temple is geographically situated on a hilltop in the south-central mountain region of Israel, going to Jerusalem involved an “ascent.” Ezra refers to his “journey” (NIV) from Babylon to Jerusalem using this word (Ezra 7:9; cf. 2:1), so one interpretation is that this term recalls the return of the captives from exile in Babylon.
Perhaps the most common view is that pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem for one of the three annual feasts sang these songs in anticipation of the festivities (Ex. 23-14-17; 34:18-24; Lev. 23:4-44; Deut. 16:1-7). The imagery of Psalm 126:5-6; 127:2; 128:2; 129:6-8; and 132:15 may allude to agricultural harvests.
The word translated “ascents” can also mean “steps” (used by Ezekiel to refer to the temple staircase, Ezek. 40:21, 31). Later Jewish tradition suggests that these fifteen songs were sung by Levites at the Feast of Tabernacles as they stood on each of the fifteen steps leading to the main court of the second temple. This latter interpretation does not exclude a possible earlier use of these songs during pilgrimages to the annual feasts.
Assuming that these psalms were used in conjunction with the great pilgrim feasts, they express a strong longing in anticipation of worship in Jerusalem.
–“Pilgrim Psalms” in Psalms: Zondervan Illustrated Bible
Backgrounds Commentary, John Hilber
In an interview that aired on June 25 on the Focus on the Family radio program, Focus on the Family president Jim Daly spoke with U2 lead singer Bono. During the interview, which you can listen to here, Daly and Bono spoke about the Psalms.
Daly: That Scripture in Psalms that talks about God being close to the brokenhearted and saving those crushed in spirit—does that mean something to you?
Bono: First of all, David’s a musician and so I’m gonna like him. He’s promised he’s gonna be king, correct? He goes up and he ends up to play harp for King Saul, who’s agitated, and music will still him. So, he meets Jonathan. They hang out together. It’s all going well. David must be thinking of the prophecy by Samuel — it’s all gonna work out. This is great.
Next thing, Saul tries to kill him, throws a spear at him. His life is turned upside down and he lives. He has to run for his life. And in that cave that he hid at on the edge of Israel is where he wrote the Psalms. We call that “The Blues” in music.
And what’s so powerful about the Psalms are, as well as they’re being Gospel and praise — songs of praise — they are also the Blues. It’s very important for Christians to be honest with God, which often, you know — God is much more interested in who you are than who you want to be.
In the service this morning, we talked about the importance of honestly identifying sin in our lives and hating the sin. But, God doesn’t leave us in that state. He extends his grace.
I John 1:8-9 reminds us:
If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
In his book, Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster writes about confession. What does it mean to “confess our sins?” To answer this question, Foster writes about the importance of a “good confession.” He says:
St. Alphonsus Liguori writes, “For a good confession three things are necessary: an examination of conscience, sorrow, and a determination to avoid sin.”
“An examination of conscience.” This is a time, as Douglas Steere writes, “where a soul comes under the gaze of God and where in His silent and loving Presence this soul is pierced to the quick and becomes conscious of the things that must be forgiven and put right before it can continue to love One whose care has been so constant.” We are inviting God to move upon the heart and show us areas that need his forgiving and healing touch.
In this experience of opening ourselves to the “gaze of God” we must be prepared to deal with definite sins. A generalized confession may save us from humiliation and shame, but it will not ignite inner healing. The people who came to Jesus came with obvious, specific sins, and they were forgiven for each one. It is far too easy to avoid our real guilt in a general confession. In our confession we bring concrete sins. By calling them concrete, however, I do not mean only outward sins. I mean definite sins, the sins of the heart — pride, avarice, anger, fear — as well as sins of the flesh — sloth, gluttony, adultery, murder. We may use the method described earlier. Perhaps we will be drawn to the method Luther used in which he sought to examine himself on the basis of the Ten Commandments. We may be led to another approach altogether.
In our desire to be specific we must not, however, run to the opposite danger of being unduly concerned to rout out every last detail in our lives. With profound common sense Francis de Sales counsels. “Do not feel worried if you do not remember all your little peccadilloes in confession, for as you often fall imperceptibly, so you are often raised up imperceptibly.”
“Sorrow” is necessary to a good confession. Sorrow as it relates to confession is not primarily an emotion, though emotion may be involved. It is an abhorrence at having committed the sin, a deep regret at having offended the heart of the Father. Sorrow is an issue of the will before it is an issue of the emotions. In face, being sorrowful in the emotions without a godly sorrow in the will destroys the confession.
Sorrow is a way of taking the confession seriously. It is the opposite of the priest, and undoubtedly the pentinent, ridiculed by Chaucer in The Canterbury Tales:
Full sweetly heard he confession,
And pleasant was his absolution.
“A determination to avoid sin” is the third essential for a good confession. In the Discipline of confession we ask God to give us a yearning for holy living, a hatred for unholy living. John Wesley once said: “Give me one hundred preachers who fear nothing but sin and desire nothing but God…such alone will shake the gates of hell and set up the kingdom of heaven on earth.” It is the will to be delivered from sin that we seek from God as we prepare to make confession. We must desire to be conquered and ruled by God, or if we do not desire it, to desire to desire it. Such a desire is a gracious gift from God. The seeking of this gift is one of the preliminaries for confessing to a brother or sister.
Does this all sound complicated? Do you fear you might miss one of the points and thus render everything ineffectual? It is usually much more complicated in the analysis than in the experience. Remember the heart of the Father; he is like a shepherd who will risk anything to find that one lost sheep. We do not have to make God willing to forgive. In fact, it is God who is working to make us willing to seek his forgiveness.
One further note on the preparation for confession; there must be a definite termination point in the self-examination process. Otherwise, we can easily fall into a permanent habit of self-condemnation. Confession begins in sorrow, but it ends in joy. There is celebration in the forgiveness of sins because it results in a genuinely changed life.
Celebration of Discipline, Richard Foster
Yhwh reigns. Therefore Pharaoh or Sennacherib or Nebuchadnezzar or Cyrus or Caesar or Constantine or the Pope or George III or Hitler or the current British prime minister or the current American president do not reign. Yhwh reigns. Therefore Saul or David or Solomon or Rehoboam or Jeroboam or Hezekiah or Manasseh or Josiah do not reign. Yhwh reigns. Therefore the people of Britain or American do not reign.
The fact that Yhwh reigns is a worrying fact for people who think they reign. It means, among other things, that ‘prayer is a subversive activity’ because ‘it involves a more or less open act of defiance against any claim of ultimacy by the current regime.’ But for people whom others pretend to reign over; the fact that Yhwh reigns is good news. It is noteworthy that the themes of joy/gladness and faithfulness are ‘unifying features’ of Psalm 97.
“Psalm 97 Yhwh Began to Reign: Earth Is to Rejoice,” Psalms Volume 3: Psalms 90-150, John Goldingay