Living Life from the Heart – Program 1
|By: Dr. Michael Easley; ©2007|
|Today we’ll be looking at Psalm 5, which could be titled, “The Morning Prayer for Protection.”|
This message was recorded at the Billy Graham Training Center at The Cove in Asheville, North Carolina. Through the ministry of The Cove we’re training people in God’s Word to win others to Christ. It’s our goal to develop Christians who experience God through knowing Him better, knowing His Word, building godly relationships and helping others know Him. We trust that this message will strengthen your walk with God and help you experience Him right where you are.
Psalm 5. Open your Bibles. What I’d like to do in these four sessions is look at a couple of psalms you probably don’t know and some maybe you do, Psalm 5, Psalm 65, Psalm 110, and Sunday morning we’ll finish with Psalm 101, probably my favorite psalm in the psalter.
The Psalms are full of narrative, a story, of prose, of lyric, of what we would call a Hebrew rhyme in that they are structural, not necessarily rhyme like we would sing a song. Many of the songs we are metered, they’re cadenced, they have rhyme, they have structural repetitions. Hymns, of course, are full of these type of devices. Why? Because when you sing a song that rhymes or has a lilt to it or a cadence, you what? You remember it. You can hear a song on the radio, if you can understand the lyrics, and in a very short while you will have most of it committed to memory. The Hebrews, of course, learned the same way we do. Most of your psalms are broken into structures, 2, 3, 5 parts, all types of structural devices. I’ll show you just a few of them, but I hope to get you started.
I want to say thank you to The Cove. I don’t know who puts those notebooks together, but they’re extraordinary. It’s like a Bible College course right there in that book. So I hope well beyond this weekend you’ll take it home and use it in your devotions, in your studies and review some of these. Use some of the tools. They put Warren Weirsbe’s little commentaries in there and some helps, an extraordinary little handbook you have. I hope it won’t end up on a shelf.
These texts were the Hebrew hymnbook. We’ll talk tomorrow a little bit more about some of the labeling of your psalter, but I want to jump right into Psalm 5. You follow; I’ll read. I’ll be using the New American Standard this weekend. It is in the handbook if you don’t have that right copy of the Word of God. “For the choir director; for flute accompaniment. A Psalm of David. Give ear to my words, O Lord, consider my groaning. Heed the sound of my cry for help, my King and my God, for to You I pray. In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice; In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.”
All right, now this psalm I have called in your little outline here, “The Morning Prayer for Protection,” not really a great title, but it’s a wooden title and it reflects the psalm well. It breaks neatly into three parts. They’re on your outline. The cry for help; the second part you can, you can’t stand, but you will or can bow; and lastly the psalmist ask to be led in His righteousness. And I’ll repeat those so you don’t have to worry about trying to write these things down.
Now we know from historical books that a lot of the psalter was composed at David’s order. In 1 Chronicles 15:16, “David spoke to the chiefs of the Levites to appoint their relatives the singers, with instruments of music, harps, lyres, loud sounding cymbals to raise sounds of joy.” Cindy and I were driving from Knoxville today and we stumbled across a public radio interview. I don’t remember the physician’s name but he was a neuroscientist and he studied music and how it worked with people’s brains. And it was fascinating the number of people that have perfect pitch. How many of you have perfect pitch in this room? There’s got to be a few. Some of you have perfect pitch. And they don’t know why people have perfect pitch. But they said some people, they just know G. I wouldn’t know a G from a C or a Z, for that matter. But if I looked at a shirt and say it’s blue, I had to think about that. And they said the same type of neuron network going on in a person’s brain helps them identify songs. And it’s all math if you know anything about music. It’s all mathematical.
The psalmists that David appointed were, look at it, the relatives, the singers. Seems like there were some genetic predispositions to some of the Levites that they were musically adept. And so these writers, these were not prehistoric people who were making out strange percussions. These people were musicians and they were skilled and talented in extraordinary ways as they write the psalm. We might envision an ensemble. We might envision a group of vocalists. We might envision period piece instruments. Some of these we’re not sure what they are. Some of these the ethnomusicologists have a pretty good idea of what the Hebrew instruments were like. So if you look at this superscription here you see the word “flute,” or “wind instrument” in Psalm 5, we don’t know what it means. It’s just totally a haphazard guess by Hebrew scholar wannabe’s. Nobody knows what it means. The best we can determine is, it is some type of instrument. The Hebrew word is a little complicated.
Now some of you are well accustomed to hymns. Of course that’s the only Christian songs to sing, are hymns. And, if you know, there are two signatures at the top of a hymn in a hymn book. You sometimes read like Finlandia or Falkirk or some others. That may be, in my tiny little guesstimation here, more of what some of these superscriptions mean. Because the Hebrew did not depend upon memorization by rhyme, they depended upon structure. And it was the parallels, the repetitions, what we’ll talk about later, chiasms, devises that bring a point, all sorts of clever superintended pieces of poetry that helped the Hebrew mind learn.
My estimation is the pious Jew had most of the psalter committed to memory. Not because they were just brilliant; they had no television, no Internet, no Presidential debates, nothing to distract them, and the pious Jew would sing. And it is not unrealistic to think that many of these were not the top 40, but the top 150 tunes. And some of them may have been similar the way our hymnals are penned.
When we start with the psalter we need to remember that all the emotion of David or Asaph or whoever wrote them, all the emotion is on the sleeve. Some of these are individual laments, some of them corporate, meant for public worship. Some are very complicated to identify how they fit and what they mean. This particular psalm is going to talk about a number of themes. It’s going to talk about, on the one hand, the prayer that God should hear and listen to our cries, that evil people don’t harm us or come in and hurt us. And of course we live in a culture where we’re fearful of people and fearful. We live in fear as a people. The psalmist is going to talk about his desire to worship and he longs to worship. He’s going to pray for the wicked to be destroyed and he’s going to pray for protection.
Let’s look at the cry for help in verses 1-3, “Hear me.” Technically this prayer is, “God, be just.” Technically the author is saying, “You’re God, You’re sovereign. Why aren’t You acting in a just way?” Implication, there are injustices going on. If you look at verse 3, you’ll see twice the phrase, “in the morning.” We call this a morning psalm. I think it’s more than just he’s going to be disciplined and devoted each morning to get up and pray. I think he’s waking up with a preoccupation on his mind. He can’t not think about it. He awakes and it harasses him the moment he opens from his slumber. “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice. In the morning I will order my prayer to You and eagerly watch.” This is consuming him.
Now, let’s look at some of the parallels so you can start to see them. Some of you know this stuff backwards and forwards. Some of you perhaps have never seen some of these in your Bible and this’ll hopefully prod you on to your Bible study. Look at verse 1, “Give ear,” and there’s two strophes in verse 1: “Give ear to my words, O Lord;” the second strophe “Consider my groaning.” “Give ear” is parallel to the word what? “Consider.” He’s saying “Give ear to me.” Well, it’s almost the same thing, “Consider.” There’s a parallel theme. “Give ear to my words,” and the second strophe, “consider my groaning.” So the word “words” is parallel to the term “groaning.”
Look at verse 2, the first strophe, “Heed the sound of my cry;” the parallel continues, “Give ear.” “Consider” and “heed” are all parallel thoughts. The word “groaning,” “my cry” and “my words” are all parallel thoughts. So where we would expect a rhyme, “Blessed assurance, Jesus is mine, Oh, what a foretaste,…” and all the words that we remember, the structure and the repetitions and the parallels are how the Hebrews would remember things. The cry is underscored with a list of imperatives. These are terms that stick out in our verbal vocabulary. Hear the words.
Groaning is a very interesting word. It’s an inarticulate expression. Because I live with chronic back pain I moan and groan a lot. Cindy will often say to me in the morning, “You didn’t sleep well, did you?” “Well, how do you know?” “Well, every time you turn you groaned.” Well, that’s an inarticulate sound of pain; that I’m groaning. I don’t even know I’m doing it some of the time. Some of the times I do it just to get attention. But these are inarticulate words, and the psalmist, it’s the same for him as it would be for you and me. “They long;” the word has a hint of the word “burn.” Lord, I’m groaning to you. I’m consumed with this thing. And he’s addressing Him with these parallels.
Notice that in verses 1 and 3 he says “O Lord, my King and my God.” Now, the word “king” in Hebrew is melek, you know, Melchizedek which we’ll see in another psalm, Melchizedek. And Elohim is the second word. For the psalmist to say “my” in a first person pronoun is more than possession. This is a very unusual phrase. In fact, as the Old Testament develops, as a careful student you don’t talk about Yahweh as “my God”. You say the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of our fathers. You don’t say “my”. It’s too casual. It’s too familiar. But David is not being familiar or casual. He’s being intimate. He says my King; this is my God. Over against the culture’s gods and idolatrous natures and propensity for multiple gods, unlike those He’s my King and my God.
Whenever you read the word “king,” remember it is the king of Israel, David, writing this psalm. The king is saying, my King. And if this is used in a corporate worship setting, the king valiantly is putting the attention on not himself as king, but on my King. And he’s leading Israel to remember “I’m just a chosen servant of Yahweh. He’s my King and He’s my God.” It’s one thing to be intimate and personal in our approach, but I fear we’ve become too casual. Sometimes when I hear young people pray, especially men and women in their 20’s and 30’s, I almost wince. They’re just too chummy. Now, I understand a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I understand that He calls us His friends. I understand that we read some cry out “Abba” in our heart, dad or daddy. I understand that. But there’s a difference between respect and awe and a cavalier familiarity, isn’t there?
I have never met Billy Graham. I’ve corresponded with him. When I first came to Moody I asked him to come. I asked him to do a video. And his health was fading and we wrote a splendid note that I still have. But even though his name is Billy, it just seems too casual to call him Billy Graham, doesn’t it? There’s a respect there. There’s an honor there. You know, I imagine if I knew Billy very well, or if I knew the President very well, I might call them by their first name when I see them privately. But you don’t call the President George. You don’t call the President Bill. You don’t call the President Obama. You call him “President”. And that is an appropriate title for certain people. You call them and you honor them.
Now, the only reason I’m stressing this a little bit—and most of you are probably further down the road than I am with your walk with Christ—but there needs to be a holy approach to Christ. There needs to be a worshipful response. Even though He’s my King and my God, because I’ve trusted Christ and Christ alone, I’ve put my faith in Christ to do for me what I cannot do for myself, there’s nothing I can bring to my salvation. I’ve trusted by faith. I’ve believed in Him and it’s His work on Calvary that forgives me of my sin, that gives me a relationship with Him. I don’t deserve it. I don’t earn it. But I can live to say thank you to Him. But He’s not my pal. He’s my Savior. He’s my God. And I think we need to recast the humility toward the King of Israel.
When you and I pray to the Father through the Spirit, through Jesus Christ we are speaking to the very King of the universe. And I suspect, based on what I know of the Scripture, if we were to see Him it would pretty well undo us. I don’t think we’d give Him a high five and slap Him on the back. I don’t think we’d run and get a cup of coffee with Him. In fact, it’s very contrary in the Scripture when we see Him.
Well, this cry for help is a picture of a cadence. “Hear my cry, hear my prayer, hear my groanings, consider my words.” He asking God to listen to him. And then, this powerful intimate, but reverential, “my King and my God;” he’s asking God for His attention.
Now, we all have issues and problems. Some of us wake up in the morning; I do. I don’t know how many of you do, but there are seasons, if I wake up at 2:00 in the morning or 3:00 in the morning or 4:00 in the morning, I am up like a start. Any of you like that besides me? How many of you are like that? Some of you are like that. You need some more sugar. I can tell. You’re starting to fade. You need some more sugar. And when that hits you and you wake up, watch, see, wake up there. This is a morning song. When you wake up like that, all of a sudden the thoughts of the day consume you. If you’re like me you’ve got to get out of bed. And I used to sort of over-spiritualize that and say, you know, God wants me to get up and pray. I have come to the conclusion I’m a worrier. I’m anxious. And once my stomach gets going like that I’ve just got to get up.
And I think David was that way too. Whatever it was, whether the context of the psalm is Absalom or an enemy we do not know. But we do know that morning by morning it drove David to a place. Notice what he does with this. English translations differ greatly in verse 3, so I don’t know what text you’re using in front of you. I’ll show you a couple of them. NASB says, “I will order my prayer.” The King James, which is the same as the New King James says, “I will direct my prayer.” The NIV says, “I lay my requests before You.” ESV says, “I will prepare a sacrifice.” The New English translation, the NET Bible says, “I present my case before You.” And the New Century Bible says, “I will tell You what I need.” That’s really bad. I’m sorry. With all due respect, that’s terrible.
We get a sense with what the English translators are fumbling with. This is a complicated word. It’s a complicated translation to our English mind. Order, direct, lay my requests, prepare a sacrifice, present my case, tell You what I need. What are they trying to wrestle with? Well, let me try and give you a sense of this. The word means to order something like arranging a wood pile. For example, in Genesis 22 it’s used when Abraham orders the wood to offer his son Isaac as a sacrifice. In Numbers 23:4 it’s used of how you build the altar. You arrange it a certain way. In Psalm 23 and Isaiah 21 it’s used of preparing a table. He prepares a table before me. So there’s some order to this word. It’s also used in Job of the way a speech is prepared out of words.
On and on we can talk about the word usage. You know, the way you determine meaning in the Bible is how a word is used. You have to look at how it’s used. How many of you own a concordance, an exhaustive concordance? How many of you know how to use the exhaustive concordance? Yeah, a little difference there. An exhaustive concordance; I’ll give you a little primer here; all you have to do, let’s say you’re going to study the word “order.” If you use an NIV you have an NIV exhaustive concordance. If you use a New American Standard you have a New American Standard exhaustive concordance. It’s important the concordance match your translation. The Strong’s only comes in King James. It’s a good way to do it. You have to have the same text you study and the same concordance.
And you look up the word “order.” And the concordance will have it from the first time it occurs, let’s say Genesis 22:6, all the way through the Bible. There’s a little number on the side called the Strong’s number because Strong’s lost his mind putting numbers on all the words in the Bible. He died with a number on his grave. It just says a Hebrew number. No one knows what it means. These guys, before computers, studied the Greek and Hebrew texts and they found the root of every single word, an amazing task, and put it in that big book with the smallest print you’ve ever even seen.
And in that text what you’re doing is you’re seeing how did the author use the word? So the ones I gave you, sacrifice, arranging show bread, arranging an altar, preparing ones words, preparing a table, the way the word is used colors in the meaning. So we start to say, oh, I see what this field of meaning could apply to.
You’ve all heard the silly story about the word “trunk.” What can the word “trunk” mean? Give me some explanations of how the word “trunk” is used. Elephant’s trunk, a car trunk, storage, luggage, tree trunk, all right. Okay, now, if I say the peanut is in the trunk, have I narrowed the field of meaning? Not really, because a peanut could be in the trunk of a tree, the trunk of a car, the trunk of an elephant. If I say the zoo keeper is trying to get the peanut out of the trunk, have I narrowed the field of meaning? Probably more. Okay, this is the same challenge that a Bible student has. How the word is used gives the meaning. All that for free.
Now why am I belaboring this? Because if David is saying, “Morning by morning I’m going to order my prayer,” does that mean he’s going to offer a sacrifice? We have good examples of that. He’s established the Levitical priesthood, has set in place, and they’re supposed to what every morning? What are they offering? What kind of sacrifice? What kind of burnt? A lamb, one in the morning, one in the evening. If the sacrificial system was working properly the Levitical priests were to order and attend the wood, the water, and the sacrifice every single morning. If you look at Exodus 29:38-39 you’ll see how, every single morning.
Now here’s a question for you Bible students. Did David have the temple complex? No. Where are the sacrifices taking place in David’s day? In the tabernacle. Where’s the tabernacle? Where is the tabernacle in David’s reign? Mt. Moriah. It moves where God puts His name. Now when David builds the house what’s David’s place called? The city of David or the Holy City or Mt. Zion, all these are parallels. You have Mt. Gilboa. You have the Kidron brook. How many of you have been to Israel? You have to go to Israel before you die. This is like reading a two dimensional story. It will become holographic once you go to the Holy Land to the land of Israel. And you will see the Herodian walls, and you will see where the temple complex was and the tabernacle complex, before it’s built is right next to David’s house. You think he heard the commotion of the sacrifice, or perhaps the aroma of the sacrifice in the morning?
So if David is in his house, if he’s in the city—which is a timestamp problem, we just don’t know, but the way he talks about it—look at the psalm, “In the morning,” I will, “You will hear my voice; I will order my prayer to You.” And we’ll get some clues here in a minute. Let’s just for conversation sake, “His holy temple” down in verse 7, I believe it is, let’s say the tabernacle complex is beside him. And so morning by morning he’s involved watching this. I suspect in my sanctified imagination he could smell the smoke of the sacrifice.
Now this question is, the tabernacle is not called the temple in David’s time. Twice in your Old Testament, in 1 Samuel 1:9 and 1 Samuel 3:3, that’s the story of Hannah, and she goes where? To the temple. The temple ain’t built. So in Hannah’s day they were using the word synonymously for what becomes the official temple complex in Saul’s time when he builds. Remember David spends the last years of his life assembling this huge amount of material list so that Saul can build the tabernacle complex that he, David, couldn’t build. So he gives it to his son Solomon, so Solomon will be in position to build the temple complex that David was not allowed by God to build. But God said build yourself a house, which he did.
Let’s move on. Verse 3, you’ll see the phrase here where he says “eagerly watch.” Let me read the verse again. “In the morning, O Lord, You will hear my voice.” So David’s saying, You’re going to hear a prayer from me. You’re going to hear my voice of praise every morning. “And in the morning I will order,” and if you’ll look at the NASB, the words, “my prayer” are in italics, meaning the translators are leading you to a conclusion that’s not there in the Bible. Anytime you read an italic phrase in the New American Standard it’s a suppletion, meaning the New American Standard Lockman Foundation translators put that in there to smooth the reading. That’s another reason why I like the NASB; it’s a very wooden text, a little harder to read than some other Bibles, but you know those words are in the Hebrew text. “In the morning I will order to You and watch.” That’s what it literally says. It doesn’t have the “eagerly” part.
What’s David saying here? David’s saying here, every single morning this thing is so consuming to me—we’ll get a hint later on, it’s his enemies—that I’m waking up and I’m going to pray to You. And maybe’s he’s part of the sacrificial system, maybe he’s just saying I’m going to order my words to You and my prayer just like I formally order a sacrifice, like we put the wood together and we bring the lamb in and we cut the lamb and we bleed it at the base of the altar and we only burn the parts that were acceptable and we take the refuse away, because you approach God carefully and according to His law because He’s holy. It’s not just a random set of lists on how to prepare the sacrifice. You’re approaching the God of the universe. You do it the way I told you to do it for a reason, even if you don’t understand the reasons. David says I’m going to order, I’m going to come to You in a formal way of worship every morning with my prayer.
Now the phrase, “eagerly watch,” we get the word “eagerly” probably from the word “watch.” It’s an anticipation. We know there were watchmen on the wall. A watchman who falls asleep is not much help. A watchman who stays awake and is looking is a very difficult job. It’s okay in the first thing.
When I wake up in the morning I need two things. I need caffeine and oxygen. Usually in that order. And this is my oxygen [the Bible]. And I have to have the caffeine so that I can take a breath. And I get up, Cindy gets up, whoever gets up first, coffee gets going. I wash my face. I go sit down in my chair. I open up my Bible. Cindy does the same in her chair and those everyday rituals are not because we have to, but because we want to, not because we should, but because we get to. It wasn’t always that way. In my college years I did it because I was supposed to. I did it for three years because I was supposed to do it. And I did it seven out of seven, three out of seven, four out of seven, five out of seven. And then one day I woke up and said this isn’t something I do to check a box or read a page of a devotional. This is because I worship Christ. And in the morning I get to, and I’m glad He hasn’t told me caffeine is sinful yet because then we’d have a problem. Morning by morning I brew my offering before You.
But notice what he says, so I think eagerly is a good word. I’m pretty good at the Bible study part. I’m really crummy at the “eagerly watching” part, really crummy at it. F.B. Myers writes, “We miss many answers because we get tired of waiting on the dock for the returning ships.” I hate to wait. I’m the most impatient person in this room I am sure. Ask my wife. I won’t go to a restaurant if there’s more than like a one second wait. Go home and eat something leftover. I will not do it. There’s no food in the universe worth waiting an hour. I’m just bad that way.
The psalmist cries for help. The psalmist is asking God, I believe in the larger concept, You’re supposed to be just and You’re not just right now. And I’m consumed with this prayer request, we’d say. And every morning I get up and I’m ordering it, I’m putting it in front of you. If it was the sacrificial system we could see David worshiping, watching the Levitical priest carry out the sacrifice, and he’s begging God for help.
Number 1: the psalmist cries for help. Number 2, and it’s a little cumbersome of an outline, but I would suggest he’s saying, you can’t stand, but you can bow. When you come before Yahweh Elohim you can’t stand in front of Him, but you can bow. Watch verses 4 and following: “For You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness; no evil dwells with You. The boastful shall not stand before Your eyes; You hate all who do iniquity. You destroy those who speak falsehood; the Lord abhors the man of bloodshed and deceit. But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness I will enter Your house, at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence for You.”
Number 1: His cry for help: God be just. Number 2: He is going to bow. Again, I think the text gives us enough information, somebody is after him. The psalmist declares a core principle here. God’s character cannot abide with evil. What David is arguing here is you know, because of who You are, because You’re holy, and you demand a proper approach you can’t just come pell-mell in here with sin on your mind, on your conscious, on your hands. God’s character cannot abide evil.
Now one of the most interesting phenomenon in the last decade has been the cry for tolerance and the accusation of intolerance. We hear this all the time: Christians are intolerant people. And that gets us even more angry. We say, “We’re not intolerant, we just hate certain people.” And we have compartments of people we hate and loathe. And we don’t hate them, but that’s the way it looks to the outside world. This passage is going to teach you and me a little bit about our intolerance with tolerance. And part of it has to do with your condition and mine. As we come before Yahweh we are completely intolerant, in that He can’t deal with us. He cannot hoodwink sin. He can’t overlook it and say, “Oh, that’s a small sin. That’s an insignificant one. That’s a big one. That one we’re going to have to talk about.”
But this principle that He cannot abide evil. Now we’ve got a litany that David gives us. Look at it again, “no pleasure in wickedness, no evil dwells in You, the boastful will not stand.” Hard phrase, “You hate all who do iniquity.” Now we know God loves everyone, but the psalmist is saying something a little challenging here. “You destroy those who speak falsehood. You abhor a man of bloodshed and deceit.” Some religions, if you know the Ying Yang symbol? It’s a round symbol and it’s like a little paisley thing and part of it’s black and part of it’s white. And so the theology behind that is there is one force; there’s a good force and an evil force and they work together. Many religions syncretize evil and good as juxtaposed forces. Scripture says evil’s evil and Yahweh’s good. There’s no amalgamation of spiritual powers here in one big pond and you can use it for good or for bad. The Israel God, the Yahweh Elohim, the one true monotheistic God says, “No, there’s Me and there’s everybody else, and I’m holy and I’m righteous and man is in a sinful condition.”
Peter Craigie writes, “The ultimate destiny of destruction for a life lived in direct contradiction to those who are opposed to God.” In other words, we all come in the same situation. And David will associate himself with this in a moment. Look at it carefully. Look back at it: “You are not a God who takes pleasure in wickedness.” Can’t tolerate it. “No evil dwells in You.” There’s no compartment of you. You don’t draw on the dark side of the forest. And then he lists this litany. “The boastful won’t be there. Those who do iniquity, those who lie, those who commit bloodshed, those who are men of deceit You can’t tolerate those people.” The core difference of these two groups, of the evil and, we would say, those who are not so evil, is one word—arrogance. It has to do with the heart of the person who comes, because the evil is characterized by these kinds of terms. The righteous is characterized with a person who’s undone, with the person who knows he has no right before Yahweh Elohim. And again we have the king of Israel saying I can’t even approach You. Sure, we can easily compartmentalize those other people and be intolerant of the wicked and the evil, but verse 7 is the hinge.
Now, if you know the expression chiasm, the Greek letter chi looks like a stylistic “X.” And so you have an “A” and an “A” prime, a “B” and a “B” prime, a “C” and a “C” prime, and on and on and on. And then, let’s just say for conversation, “D.” So the structure’s “A, A, B, B, C, C, D.” A and A will be similar, B and B similar, C and C similar, D is unique. This is a chiastic psalm. Verse 7 is unique. Verse 7 is the center of the structure of the piece of music. So as the Hebrew brain would sing it and recite it and have it committed to memory, my understanding of the psalter and the structure is this is the middle of the psalm. And this is the verse that jumps off the page with the single most important word in your Old Testament, “lovingkindness” in the NASB.
“But as for me,” in contrast to the litany of evildoer, “but as for me,” by my righteousness I can approach You. By my good deeds. By the sacrifice I just performed in verses 1, 2 and 3. No, “by Your lovingkindness.” If you know your Bible David sounds downright Pauline. I can’t even come to You apart from You calling me to Yourself. I’m not justified unless You justify me. The same thing David is saying in verse 7. “But as for me, by Your abundant lovingkindness.” Paul will talk about grace in the New Testament. This is the precursor. “By Your abundant hessid I can come to Your house.” This is the contrast.
Now, if this is the tabernacle complex beside him, not the temple complex, we do have a little bit of a problem here. Why does David call about the holy temple where he will bow in reverence? And the best I can come up with, and some of you are better Bible students than me, I believe that as the psalm was used over time when David first wrote it they all understood it was the mobile tabernacle unit. But once it was built in Solomon’s day the word probably came a field of meaning. It doesn’t mean that mobile one that every time we, we’re supposed to set it up only where His name let us set it up. Now we have established this is the worship center of Israel and so we built it under Solomon’s name. So I think usage changed the way the word was understood. The same word, the word didn’t change in the Hebrew. It’s the same word but it came to mean the temple complex.
Let me give you a lesson on this. The difference between self-righteousness and righteousness is the acknowledgement of self. And again, I don’t know about you. You may be far better along at this than me, but the older I get my tolerant fuse gets shorter. When I see the name of Christ vilified it really makes me mad. When it seems to me that only Christians are fair game it makes me really mad. When they can wale on and say terrible things about Christians in our great country, it just makes me want to get an Uzi, just, you know, kill them in a Christian sort of way, you know. I’ll just say it. I know it’s wrong. I’m supposed to love them, for Christ’s sake, right. But I can’t be selfish. I can’t be self-righteous. I’m not any better.
I had a pastor/teacher back in Houston, Texas, named Bob Tolson. And Bob was the first man I ever heard teach the Bible. And Bob used to say a phrase all the time that there was no losers at the foot of the cross and no winners any place else. No losers at the foot of the cross and no winners any place else. I’m not any better than anybody; Calvary’s level ground. The most heinous, evil sinner that David perhaps had depicted over against the self-righteous Jew is just the same in God’s sight.
Now the term “lovingkindness” in verse 7 to me is the lynchpin of the whole psalm. Lovingkindness means two things. It means God loves to be loyal to His covenant and God loves to be loyal to His chosen people. God loves to be loyal to two things, His covenant and His chosen people. The word “loyalty” falls flat in the American brain. God is not loyal like a dog is loyal to his owner. That really isn’t loyalty. That’s stupidity. You can feed the dog, neglect the dog, beat the dog with a newspaper and it comes back and wags its tail. That’s not loyalty, that’s stupidity. So their brain is that big around; get over it. They love us and we love them, end of story. That’s not a good definition of loyalty.
Loyalty is an ethical character that says when I make a decision I’ll never change. When I chose these people I will never unchoose them. When I give you a promise called My covenant I will never change it. And God’s character is not an emotional gooey love. God’s character is I, as God, love to be loyal to My word. I love to be loyal to My people. So if you’re a believer in Jesus Christ He loves to be loyal to you. If you have trusted Him, if you have put your faith in Him and you read His promises and you go, “I don’t know if I can really trust that promise or not,” you can trust that promise, not because you read it differently, because the God who offered the promise is trustworthy. God loves to be loyal to two things. What are they? His chosen people and His covenant promises. See they’re “c” and “p” so you can remember them. God loves to be loyal to what? Chosen people and His covenant promises. God loves to be loyal to what? His chosen people and His covenant promises.
That’s what the word hessid means. And if you use the NASB, every time it occurs in your Old Testament they consistently translate it lovingkindness. It’s a cumbersome word. It’s a big word. I like it. It’s not love, it’s not mercy, it’s not kind, which most English translations gloss it. And this is one of the reasons, if you study, just use the NASB as a study. You don’t have to use it as your primary Bible if you’re in love with another translation. I get that. But every time it occurs in the NASB they faithfully render it hessid, lovingkindness. “By Your lovingkindness.” The psalmist has no virtue of his own.
What does he do? He bows down. Look at it. “I will enter Your house and at Your holy temple I will bow in reverence before You.” Bow down has a root word that means fear. You bow for lots of reasons, but the reason he bows is because he’s afraid, and not afraid in the sense of you know, looming judgment, but he’s afraid. Revelation 1:17, “The angel of the Lord appears to John,” and listen, it says, “when I saw him I fell at his feet like a dead man.” If you want to do an interesting study, look up all the times angels appear on the scene in the Bible and look at the man or woman’s response. Most of the time they’re what? They’re afraid. There’s no buddy, high five, chum stuff. They’re on their face. And that’s just an angel.
That’s why I think eternity is going to be eternity, because the first time you see Christ you’re going to throw yourself on the dirt. He’s going to pick you back up and says it’s okay, and you’re going to fall back over and He’s going to the next one. He’ll say get up, you fall down. That’s just going, it’s going to take eternity for Jesus to keep picking us up. When you see Him you’re going to fall down. I love the little, it’s only recorded in one of the gospels; I think it’s Matthew, when they come to arrest Jesus at Gethsemane and He says I am and they fall down. Love that scene. What a bunch of embarrassed soldiers. You fall down with your shield and your armor and your sword and your hilt and all of them tumbling over each other. How embarrassing! It’s like the Monty Python review, you know. This is the army of Rome. Jesus just knocks them over with a word.
You think when we see Him we’re going to be afraid? It’s an interesting word, and again, I think we sort of watered it down. Psalm 2:11 says, “Worship the Lord in reverence and rejoice with trembling.” Have you ever been in a situation where you’re so excited, but you’re terrified at the same time? I remember the first time Cindy and I met one of our presidents. We didn’t know we were going to meet him. We were sort of it was a bait and switch. We were told to come to a certain function down in Washington DC, which we lived near there for 11 years or so, and we didn’t know we were going to meet the president. And I’m glad we didn’t because it’s good not to know those things.
And we were in the Oval Office there with just a handful of people, and you know, I don’t know, you know, I don’t plan; what do you say to the president when you meet him the first time? Ah, hi! You know, my name’s Michael Easley. So what? He meets 86,000 people a day, you know, so what difference does it make? And as I reflected on that, he’s just a guy. Before he ran for office he was a nobody. And now he’s a somebody; now the whole world knows his face. When we see Christ it will take a redeemed man or women to be able to see Him. And it’s by His lovingkindness that we get to bow, not because we’re righteous in our self, not because we’re better than those other sinners, not because we’re better than those people that vilified Christ in Christianity.
Watch the temptation to look down on others rather than bowing down and worship. Watch the temptation. Maybe you are better than me at this. Evil cannot stand and worshippers can only bow. And maybe we have become too sophisticated and too chummy in our walk with Christ to realize we have a holy God. And the only reason we can relate to Him is because of His lovingkindness, which becomes a parallel for His grace and His mercy and His salvation in the New Testament.
Number 1 is a cry for help. God, why aren’t You being just? Number 2: when you look at the evil who do all these things bad, I know I can only come to You as a worshipper who’s been compelled by Your lovingkindness. So you see the movement of the psalm. At first, God be just. And now he’s saying, Lord, I understand that it’s only by Your lovingkindness I can worship You. And then the psalm turns where he asks, lead me into righteousness. So I suggest a progression as he prays this anxiety-driven prayer morning by morning, and he wants God to deal with the enemy. “God, be just because I’m the good guy and they’re the bad guys.” And as he starts articulating that in the prayer he realizes, “hey, I’m not any better than them. It’s only by Your lovingkindness I can even approach You. And when I approach You I’m on my face.”
So what’s the next prayer? “Help me be righteous. Help me walk in that righteousness.” And that’s precisely where he takes us in verses 8-12. “O Lord, lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes.” The reason I need You to lead me in righteousness is because these evil unjust forces are after me. And my natural response is to want to kill them, but You don’t want me to respond that way. That’s Your job. My job is to be led in Your righteousness. “Make Your way straight before me. There’s nothing reliable in what they say; their inward part is destruction. Their throat is an open grave; they flatter with their tongue. Hold them guilty, O God; by their own devices let them fall! In the multitude of their transgressions thrust them out, for they are rebellious against You. But,” here’s the contrast, “But let all who take refuge in You be glad, let them ever sing for joy; and may You shelter them, that those who love Your name may exult You. For it is You who blesses the righteous man, O Lord, surround him with favor as a shield.”
So thirdly he says, lead me in righteousness. This morning prayer, he’s not being asked to be led through a valley, to be led through trouble, to be led to victory. He’s saying lead me in Your righteousness because of my foes. David says a lot about his enemies here. The word “enemy” is a different word here in your text. It means a watcher. It’s the idea of one who’s lying in wait to trip me up. They’re watching me along the roadside. Look again at the litany, foes, nothing reliable. Their inward part is destruction. Their foe is an open grave. It’s a very grotesque metaphor for the stench of death. That’s what the word means. If you’ve been around someone who’s dying, the so-called death rattle. There is a stench of death coming out of the throat as a person dies perhaps over a long period of time. That’s exactly the image here. They, their voice is stinking death. That’s what he’s saying. It’s a very graphic picture. They flatter with their tongue. The same thing James says, hold them guilty. Deal with their sins.
Now you know the word “imprecation.” You know the word imprecation? Imprecation is when you pray for God to kill your enemy. Psalm 55 is an imprecatory psalm. God kill my enemy. So this part of the psalm becomes an imprecation. But notice he’s not saying, God, just destroy them outright. There is a process in this. If You lead me in Your righteousness I’m going to trust You to deal with the enemy. It’s a very fine balance in the psalms, and we’ve got to be careful when we try to apply imprecation. God, please kill all those people that hate us. Amen. In Jesus’ name. There was an old Monty Python skit where this Anglican priest says “Oh, Lord, please bless this Thy holy grenade to blow Thine enemies to bits, in Thy mercy.” And that’s sort of the way we think. We don’t say it, but that’s the way we think about it.
And after 9/11 we lived in the Washington DC area and we had one man die from the church and we had one burned about 60% of his body, Brian Birdwell, and we had probably, oh, 120 people working at the Pentagon that day. One of our good friends rescued about 12 people out of the fire before his Admiral stood him down. It impacted our church tremendously right inside the beltway there. And I remember the recoil of watching men and women who loved Christ desperately, who loved their country first. I love the military. I love the military. They are the finest people I’ve ever met because they love Christ and they serve without question, just extraordinary men and women.
And I remember the feelings of anger and vindication and revenge and yet, compassion and in all those different emotions. Maybe you didn’t respond that way, but it was difficult for me. And I decided to pray along the line, “Dear Lord, please help these enemies come to know You, but if they don’t stop them from harming Your people.” That’s as close to imprecation as I could get. I’d like to pray for God to just destroy them all, but I can’t because Calvary’s level ground. As hard as that is for me to swallow, Calvary is level ground. Once we go beyond that we’re self-righteous in our process.
Well, the psalm is not praying for the destruction, verse 10: “By their own devises let them fall!” In other words, let them be caught in their own traps. America is not a theocracy. As much as we love the country this is not a theocracy. A lot of good Christian people live here. A lot of phenomenal ministries happen because of Americans. No debate! But we’re not a theocracy so we live with a different rule in a different land at a different time. We’re more like the Israelites in Canaan than we are the Israelites in Israel. It’s hard to remember as much as we love our country. Peter Craigie writes, “Though evil persons are excluded from the presence of God because of their sin, it does not follow that the psalmist would admit by virtue that he is good. The psalmist’s entrance into the house of God is based only upon the abundance of Your lovingkindness.” Verse 10, in summary, “For they are rebellious against You.”
There’s a triplet here of verbs. We don’t have time to look at them. I’ll interest you to look at each one of them. Let me just point out three times, be glad, sing for joy, exult in You. The triplet is take joy in God; not this anxious-ridden morning prayer, but take joy in God and find joy in God because He is our shelter, He surrounds us.
Finally, in verse 12 we read that He loves those who love His name. “For it is You who blesses the righteous O Lord, You surround him with favor as a shield.” The picture is shields are a defensive tool. Some say crown. The word just means around. So the idea is you’re protecting him around. So the psalm begins with the prayer for justice. It ends for the acknowledgment of protection. It laments about the injustice of his enemy. It talks about the destruction of his enemy. And in the middle of it is the worshipers response, that because of His abundant lovingkindness that’s the only reason he can bow and worship.
A couple of things just to conclude my lessons. The prayer is to be led in righteousness. And as I was studying for this a few weeks ago I was greatly convicted. I don’t know that I’ve prayed to be led in righteousness. I pray for God to stop my back pain. I pray for my kids to know Christ. I pray for my oldest to find an extraordinary young man who loves Christ tremendously. I pray that my wife won’t have to shovel snow anymore with a husband with a bad back. I pray for people to know Christ. I pray for a lot of things. But do I pray to be righteous? Have you? Do you pray, God, lead me in Your righteousness? This is exactly what the psalmist is saying. A lot what it means; we’ll talk more tomorrow about the term “righteousness.”
Secondly, how good are you at waiting? How good are you at waiting? I don’t get better at this for some reason. I pray about this. I ask God to help me through this. And there are times I do a little better than others, but typically I’m pretty impatient as I’ve already shared. F.B. Myers, again, “We don’t like to wait on the dock for the ship.” It’s a hard corollary to think that the reason our prayers aren’t answered is because we’re so bad at waiting. But I suspect that may be some of it.
The reality of life on earth is going to frustrate the joy of the believer. That’s it. Life on this sod is going to frustrate us at times and it did the psalmist. Fear swells up. We wake up with anxiety. Maybe we go to bed with it. The morning comes and we immediately get to our knees which is a great thing, and we’re asking God for His help. We’re asking the sovereign King to protect us. Don’t let the enemy distract you. Worry less about the enemy and more about your intimacy. Worry less about the anxiety and worry more about the Almighty. Even when no answer comes we’re surrounded. That’s what the psalmist says. It is You who blesses the righteous. You surround him with favor as a shield. So what is it? It’s faith. So when my prayers aren’t answered I still believe. When I don’t find what I want I still trust and I learn to sit on the dock and wait.
Prayer: Our Father in heaven You are good and kind always. We are slow and hard to learn. For the men and women here that are doing it so well, bless them and encourage them as they help others. For those of us that need prodding of Your Spirit and help to be men and women who seek You in righteousness, who love You well, who follow You well, give us that energy. Give us that courage. Give me that patience as we wait on the dock for Your grace. In Christ’s name we pray, amen.