Category Archives: Psalms

The Heavens Announce God’s Righteousness

“The heavens announce His righteousness — for God, He is the judge! Selah!”

(Psalm 50:6)

As the courtroom scene develops, the heavens now find themselves in a double roll. Not only are they contending with the people of God as a witness to man’s wickedness, but now they stand as a kind of bailiff, announcing to the courtroom the presence of the divine Judge. You can almost envision the heavens announcing, “All Rise! The Righteous Lord Yahweh presiding!”

God is the judge over all mankind and he holds this position for many reasons. He is a creator, sovereign, and author of the Covenant. Yet, only one reason is uttered in this verse — He is righteous. In fact, not only is God righteous, but he is the very definition of righteousness. He is the standard by which righteousness can be measured. There is an old hymn that begins with the words, “Whatever my God ordains is right…,” and indeed, no truer statement could be uttered. 

And so, with witnesses and a bailiff, God begins his pronouncement, one that follows a simple, but all too familiar theme: God’s faithfulness in spite of man’s unfaithfulness. And, what ought to cause our knees to tremble, is the great truth that we (the church) are no less guilty of condemnation than was ancient Israel. Woe to we poor sinners.

As a note, “selah” is one of those phrases that many scholars debate as to its meaning. Most seem to argue that it is a liturgical term, but there is little consensus as to exactly what that term means or does. Some suggest it is a break in the words where instruments play, some suggest a kind of musical bridge begins there, others suggest that it is a kind of crescendo in the musical tune, and the speculations go on. What we do know is that it is part of the Biblical text and should recognize it as such. Further, it can be argued that it is some sort of a break in thought. In any case, as it is part of the Biblically inspired text preserved for us by the Holy Spirit, we ought to preserve such words in the text where they present themselves. Beyond that, we can let the folks with too much time on their hands speculate until the cows come home.

The Judgment Seat of Christ

“Harvest to me my godly ones; ones who cut a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

(Psalm 50:5)

One thing that many Christians misunderstand is the idea of judgment. And here, I am not speaking about the judgment of the ungodly under God’s wrath, but even of the believer. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:10 that we all must appear before the judgment seat of Christ. Does that imply that there are works expected as part of our salvation? No, absolutely not. When works are included in salvation then grace is no longer grace (Romans 11:6). Christ has paid the penalty of our sins, bought we who are God’s elect as his own and there is nothing that we can do to add or detract from that reality — we are clothed in Christ’s righteous, not some kind of blended material.

At the same time, we are accountable as to how we live and the words, “well done my good and faithful servant…enter into my joy” are words that every believer should desire to hear more so than any other words that our Savior could offer. And Scripture sets that idea before us when it speaks of the judgment seat of Christ. And so, in the context of this passage, with God calling the earth and heavens as witness as God testifies against them. Notice how, that when this verse is taken out of its context, it sounds like a wonderful thing; in its context, it is very much a fearful thing.

The idea of harvest is found throughout the scriptures and here as well. The Hebrew word which begins this verse speaks of how the farmer would go and harvest the sheaves of grain from the field and gather them into the barn. This is a task that we are called to enter into (Matthew 9:37-38). At the same time, it is a task that God also commissions his angels to work in the end times (Matthew 13:49-50).

What does the psalmist mean, then, by those who are “godly” or those who are “faithful”? The Hebrew word that is employed here is חָסִיד (hasiyd), which is derived from the Hebrew word חֶסֶד (hesed). The root word refers to keeping faithful to the covenant even when those with whom we are in covenant are unfaithful. It is often translated as mercy, grace, lovingkindness, or loyalty. And while we humans are the ones who fall short of the covenant, the 

חֶסֶד (hesed) of God is something that we are called to love (Micah 6:8). So, how are the godly defined? It is those who love and cherish the mercy of God in such a way that they are inclined to show mercy to others. 

Yet, חֶסֶד (hesed), in its Hebrew context, always has to do with the Covenant of God toward his people. God does not just bubble away and show mercy indiscriminately, but he does so in the context of his covenant — a covenant that is sealed with blood. In the Old Testament, this was the blood of animals that anticipated the blood of Christ to come. In the New Testament, the Covenant of Grace was fully ratified by the sacrificial blood of Christ being poured out — a once and for all time sacrifice (Hebrews 10:10) that is effectually applied to the elect of God.

So, who are the godly being harvested and brought before God’s judgment seat? It is believers. And that should cause all of us to take a pause and evaluate or re-evaluate or own lives. Is the way we are living the basis of the way we would like to see ourselves judged? Sobering, isn’t it?

The Testimony of Heaven and Earth

“He calls to the heavens from above and to the earth to contend with his people.”

(Psalm 50:4)

The structure of this passage is much like that of a court case. And though God is always true and none can contend against him, as he is just, he follows his own rules and guidelines. Indeed, for a capital sentence to be given, two or three witnesses must be presented (Deuteronomy 19:15; Matthew 18:16). And so, God furnishes witnesses as such. Here he calls to the heavens and to the earth — that which suffered in the place of Adam in Eden (Genesis 3:17), that which testifies to the glory of God (Psalm 19:1), that which still yearns for its own redemption (Romans 8:22) — and he demands that they take a stand to witness not only the faithlessness of the people of God to the covenant but also of God’s faithfulness to the covenant as well.

The remarkable thing about this is not so much that God is calling his people to task, they deserve it, but it is that he is calling his people to task again and again. How remarkably patient our God is with we who are his people! How gracious he is in every way. How merciful. God’s aim for us is a life of repentance and faithfulness; how rarely we live in such a way. Perhaps this is one more reminder indeed, to repent and walk faithfully before him lest the heavens and earth testify against us as well.

Our God is a Consuming Fire

“Our God comes; he is not deaf! Fire devours that which is before him. All around him there is a mighty whirlwind.”

(Psalm 50:3)

What you read here are words of power and might — words that are designed to instill awe in us and to inspire us to worship. How often worship is self-centered and based on what God has done for the individual; here, while the individual is in sight, it primarily revolves around the person of our God. And no, this mighty God is not deaf. He hears our prayers and he hears our praises.

Some translations will render this second phrase, “He is not silent,” presumably connecting this with the second clause and not so much with the first. Yet, this psalm is centered around the fact that God hears our prayers and praises and responds accordingly. How much more appropriate then, it is that we have translated it as we find here — no, our God is not deaf, and thus our prayers and praises are important to Him. Indeed, the prayer of a righteous man has great power (James 5:16). Why does it have such power? It is because God hears those prayers.

What follows is a statement about the might of God that would be demonstrated in person years later with the prophet Elijah. There, upon the Mountain, Elijah had the privilege of an encounter with God — yet God was not in the fire or the wind, but in the “still small voice.” Nevertheless, God surrounds himself with works of power as was witnessed by Elijah — fire is before him and the whirlwind is around him. Did not God appear in the whirlwind to Job (Job 38:1)? Is he not also an all-consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29)? Indeed, the psalmist is celebrating the great truth that our God is mighty and not timid and there is none who can stand in his way. He is a great God, worthy of our praise. Who can stand before a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 9:3; Isaiah 33:14)? No, not one.

Perfect in Beauty

“From Zion, from that which is made perfect in beauty, God shines forth.”

(Psalm 50:2)

The majority of translations render this a little more idiomatically, “From Zion, the perfection of beauty…” and such is a perfectly legitimate way to render the phrase מִכְלַל־יֹפִי (miklal-yopiy). Clearly the psalmist is praising God and celebrating the place of worship that God had ordained (in this case, the Tabernacle as it was placed on Zion in anticipation of a Temple being built. King David had commissioned Asaph, along with others, to prepare for the Temple worship in the days of his son, Solomon. 

At the same time, we must ask, what made the Tabernacle beautiful? And, we can ask by extension, what would make the Temple a beautiful building? Certainly both were works of remarkable art and craftsmanship. They were wonders of their day and era. But, was it the artwork that is really to be commended? Could we be missing something by simply viewing the Tabernacle and Temple as beautiful places — like we might view the Parthenon or the Pyramids in Egypt. 

The answer to this question is bound to the reason that I opted to translate this passage more literally. The two Hebrew root-words that are brought together in the phrase in question are כלל and יפה. The verbal form of the first refers to that which is made perfect and thus the noun (as it is being used here) has to do with the perfect presentation of something. The second noun that is found in this construction refers to beauty as a whole. To preserve the idea of “being made” in this phrase, I have rendered it as “which is made perfect in beauty.”

But, why is it important to bring out the nature of “that being made perfect” in this passage? The answer lies in the question we have been asking — what made the Tabernacle and Temple perfect and beautiful? The answer is that it is the presence of God which does so. If God’s presence is not there, no matter the craftsmanship, its beauty is not perfect — it cannot be! And thus, God’s presence is what makes Zion to be “perfect in beauty” and worthy of being a place of worship. And indeed, in context, that is what the latter half of this verse communicates: God shines forth!

And so, why is the rebuilt Temple of Nehemiah never described in such terms? Why is the modified Temple of Herod never described in these terms? It is because God’s presence never manifested itself in those places — the Son was the greater Temple to come and is yet the great Temple of God (so why do so many people want to rebuild the old one?!?). And we, as the body of Christ, indwelled by the Holy Spirit, are the new Temple — perfect in beauty when we gather together as one to worship. But remember, we are not perfect in beauty because we are any way beautiful in and of ourselves. We are beautiful because God dwells in us and shines forth from us as we commit our worship and our lives to Him. 

God’s Preaching

“A Psalm of Asaph. 

God, the Great God, Yahweh! He commands and proclaims to the earth from the rising sun unto its setting.”

(Psalm 50:1)

What an amazing beginning to this psalm. Literally it reads: אֵל אֱלֹהִים יהוח (El, Elohim, Yahweh) — three names of God, each getting more specific as it leads to the Covenant name of our almighty God. Only one other time in the Scriptures does such a phrase arise, and in that case, it is found in the context of an oath that the Tribe of Reuben makes to demonstrate the sincerity of their worship of God (Joshua 22:22) after having set up an altar of witness in the eastern territories, something seen as a form of idol worship. And so, in this way Asaph, who was one of the Levitical singers that was placed over the worship in the Tabernacle by David (see 1 Chronicles 6:31-32,39), begins his psalm of praise and glory to the Lord. 

What is it that he speaks of God doing? God is preaching. He is proclaiming to the earth his majesty and glory from the rising until the setting of the sun. And so, here, we are reminded by Asaph, as the author of Hebrews again reminds us, that as long as it is day, we are to sing praises to God that we might not become hardened by the deceitfulness of sin (Hebrews 3:13). Indeed, sin says to us that it will satisfy, yet it cannot deliver on its promise. Satisfaction can only be found in Jesus Christ who is Lord and master of all.

The idea of God preaching is one that looks both backwards and forwards. God essentially preaches creation into being in the beginning and he preaches a sermon on the greatness of his name to Moses on Mount Sinai. And, as we move through the Scriptures, we find God declaring the glories of his name to us that we might not only worship him but also so that we might declare that truth to others. Indeed, we are not always faithful at that task, nevertheless, it is our responsibility to do so and Asaph gives us an inspired model for doing just that.

The Fountainhead

“And the singers, like the dancers — all my fountainheads are in you!”

(Psalm 87:7)

There are a great many different views on these final words of this psalm. Many of our English translations present the last phrase as what it is that the singers and dancers are singing. While that could very much be so, that would be an inference that is being made for they must insert the word, “say,” into the text when it it not absolutely needed, as these words may simply be the Psalmist’s final words — perhaps it is his personal “selah” at the end of the psalm.

Some commentators suggest that “singers” belongs to the previous verse, but that would be odd given the presence of the selah at the end of that section. Many of our English Bibles create a kind of play on words with their English translation that is not present in the Hebrew, as they translate the final words as “all my springs are in you.” Given that dancers twirl and spring, this rendering implies a form of jumping dance not unlike what we see in David as he leads the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem (2 Samuel 6:16). Yet, in Hebrew, the word here has to do with headwaters of a well or of a spring, so while in English a play on words might seem to be at work, that kind of play on words was clearly not intended by the author.

So, what is in view? The singers and dancers, in context, seem to be a reference to the worshippers coming in to Zion, lifting their praises to God because they have been included in the great and eternal city of Jerusalem above. Such is implied with the repetition of those who were “born there” — reflecting a sense of belonging. This is strengthened by the ancient Greek translation of this passage, found in the LXX, which translates the Hebrew NÎyVoAm (ma’yan — “spring” or “fountainhead”) as katoiki/a (katoikia), meaning “dwelling place.” Thus, when the ancient Jews were seeking to communicate the sense of this verse to the Greeks, they emphasized the notion of dwelling in the city of Zion.

Yet, we would be remiss if we did not speak of the significance of the notion of fountainheads of water in the Christian life. Jesus presents himself as the source of living water (John 4:10) and later he says that if we believe in Jesus, out of us will flow living water as well (John 7:38), presenting a picture of the water flowing out of Jesus and into the life of believers and then out from us. In each case, it is Jesus who is the true fountainhead of living water. Indeed, even in Revelation, we see John borrowing from the imagery of Psalm 23 and presenting Christ, the Lamb of God, who shepherds his people and leads us to springs of living water (Revelation 7:17). Given the Messianic nature of this psalm, that it is Jesus and Jesus alone, who leads us into the Jerusalem above — true Zion — we should indeed see these words as that of the psalmist speaking for all true believers — “my fountainhead (of living water) is in you, oh Jesus!”

“You will say, in that day, ‘I will praise you, Yahweh, for you were angry with me, but your anger turned away and you repeatedly comforted me.’ Behold! God is my salvation, whom I trust. I will not fear. For my refuge and my strength are in the Lord Yahweh; He is my salvation. You draw water with joy from the fountainheads of the salvation. You will say, in that day, ‘Praise Yahweh! Call on his name! Make his deeds known to all the people — proclaim that his name is exalted! Praise Yahweh, for he has done illustriously — make this known in all the earth. Rejoice and cry out loud, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.’”

(Isaiah 12)

A Written Record of His People

“Yahweh makes a record in writing of his people;

‘This one was born there.’ Selah!”

(Psalm 87:6)

Yahweh makes a record in writing of his people. Indeed. Such is language that anticipates what we know better as the Lamb’s Book of Life (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8;17:8; 20:12,15; 21:27). Yet, do not think of this book as something that is entirely a New Testament concept, for we find this language not only in this psalm, but in places like Psalm 56:8 and Daniel 12:1. In fact, an argument can be made that this language extends back as far as Genesis 5:1, where it speaks of the book of the Generations of Adam — a book that follows the line of God’s promise from Adam to Noah and his sons. No other children of Adam and his descendants are mentioned, just those who preserve the line that will eventually lead to the Messiah…a line of faithful fathers.

Here lies the heart of the practice behind churches establishing “rolls” or membership lists. Yes, they are practical and useful for things like accountability, church discipline, and knowing who might be given the privilege of voting on a church decision, but practical does not always mean that there is a Biblical basis for something, and if a church is going to establish a precedent like this, like taking vows of membership, then one must ground that in the Bible, not pragmatism (of course, that concept opens a whole new can of worms for many churches!).

Thus, we look back and see that God lists names in his book…names of those who he will redeem across the course of time (remember, this book was written before the foundation of the earth — Revelation 13:8; 17:8). Further, you see the people of Israel constantly making lists of names every time God renews his covenant with them. While names listed on a set of human rolls are not synonymous with the names God lists on his rolls of the elect, the human rolls are meant to anticipate and reflect the divine rolls. Thus, before someone enters into church membership, we expect them to make a credible profession of faith in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. If the profession is not made, the person’s name has no business being on the rolls. Further, when someone, by the manner of their lifestyle, demonstrates that their profession is not genuine, their names are removed from the rolls as a part of church discipline, thus handing them over to Satan (to use the language of the Apostle Paul).

There is a trend today to move away from formal church membership. People like being able to preserve their anonymity and they don’t like binding commitments or accountability. Further, many pastors do not like giving the folks in their churches a vote in matters is significance — many pastors seeing themselves as the president of CEO of an organization and not as the shepherd of a church (and there is a world of difference). Paul speaks of the church appointing leadership by the raising of their hand (Titus 1:5); that is voting. But who votes? If you do not have a formal membership process where confessing Christians covenant with the other believers in the local body around them, how do you preserve the vote as one made by believers? Plus, how does one justify walking away from the Biblical precedent that we find throughout the Old Testament? God indeed makes a written record of his people; we ought to do the same in our churches.

Established in Zion

“They will be made to remember me: 

Rahab and Babel to know me;

Behold, Philistia and Tyre along with Cush.

‘This one was born there.’

And of Zion, it was said of him, 

This man was born in her.

The Most High himself will establish her.”

(Psalm 87:4-5)

As are many of the Psalms, this psalm is deeply evangelistic, anticipating the going out of the Gospel that is formally commissioned by Christ, though is found throughout the Old Testament as well. Even as far back as God’s covenant with Abraham there is a promise that all of the nations will find their blessing in him and in his seed (Genesis 12:2-3). Here we see much the same spirit, the psalmist looks out to the nations surrounding Israel and essentially says of them, though people from the nations will have a birthplace in Cush and Philistia, etc… they will be made to identify with Zion, the eternal city of God — a physical birth in the nations, but a spiritual rebirth by God, building his church.

Notice how these verses begin as well. The psalmist writes: “they will be made to remember me.” This is the Hiphil form of the verb rkz (zakar — “to remember” or “to speak of”). The Hiphil form makes it causative, thus we find God bringing about this remembering, this thinking of the things of God himself. How often we flirt with the idea that we choose God when the testimony of Scripture is consistently that He chooses us…and we do not deserve that choosing. Yet, I wonder whether we who are chosen make enough of God’s name…remembering Him and remembering His expectations for our life.

The last words of these verses are also of the utmost importance to us. Who establishes Zion and her people? God — the Most High himself. Were it any other, then one’s citizenship in the heavenly Zion would be untenable on a good day. Sin is such that it pervades the totality of our being and all of our actions. What a lot that we are, for we can only ever act righteously if God himself (through his Spirit) is directing our actions! Woe to us if we are apart from Christ! Yet, praise be to God that he does direct our actions and that he does hold us securely in his hand so that none may fall out! And in light of that great assurance, the Spirit testifies with our spirits that we are Sons (and Daughters) of God. How can we ever show our gratefulness adequately!

Friends, our problem is not that we are not grateful. Our problem (I believe) is twofold. First, we often do not meditate deeply enough on the horrific nature of our sins and thus do not appreciate grace as greatly as we ought. Second, we get so busy with the cares of this world that we neglect the care of our eternal souls and do not express our gratefulness as we ought. Sadly, many Christians are more like Cain, offering leftovers as our sacrifice to God, rather than being like Abel, offering the best. And thus, sin crouches at our door as well, seeking to take dominion over us. Let that not happen and let our song of joy be that we are established (eternally) in Zion.

Zion City of Our God

“Of the Sons of Korah; a Psalm — A Song.

On the Holy Mountain is its foundation.

Yahweh loves his city of Zion,

Better than all the abodes of Jacob.

Glorious things are spoken of you,

City of our God! Selah!

(Psalm 87:1-3)

I must confess, when I read this psalm of the Sons of Korah, I cannot help but hear the old John Newton hymn. While Newton is best known for “Amazing Grace,” he wrote numerous other ones to teach Biblical truths to his congregation, this being one of them. Here is a song that sings of the glories of Zion, the city that God established, the city of David.

Yet, let us not be misled by the various Zionist groups whose focus would be upon the earthly city of Jerusalem. The author of Hebrews points out to us that the Zion that we approach is not a physical city that can be touched with human hands, but it is a heavenly Jerusalem into which we enter by faith. It is the Zion in which all believers are “enrolled in heaven” and God, who is the righteous judge has made all his righteous elect perfect through the work of Jesus Christ (see Hebrews 12:18-25). This is the same language used by the Apostle Paul when he speaks of the contrast between the Jerusalem below and the Jerusalem above (Galatians 4:21-31). The Zion below serves as a “type” that foreshadows the greater Zion whose gates are opened wide to believers through the work of Jesus Christ. And we say, ‘Amen and Amen!’

There is some debate over the origin of the word, “Zion,” or perhaps, better transliterated as “Tsiyon.” Gesenius likely gives the best explanation, arguing that it comes from the Syriac and Arabic that refer to a stronghold or a castle — to a fortified position of safety. Given that the city was originally a Canaanite city, we can certainly surmise the process by which the name would have come to use. Hitchcock argued that it’s origin is tied to the word for a monument, suggesting the city to be a monument of God’s kingship to the world, yet the kind of monument to which tsiyon most commonly refers is that of a gravestone. Indeed, there is some truth to that in our post-70AD experience, but it does not seem to fit the context of its many uses prior to 70 AD that are found in the Bible.

And thus, we follow Gesenius in meaning and we follow (most importantly!) Christ into the fortified city of the heavenly Zion; a place of holiness, set apart by God for his purposes and not for the purposes of man. Thus, it is a glorious thing of which we speak for it is the city of our God. Yet, one more thing, in the Christian era, it is anticipated by the church. Our anticipation is imperfect at best, indeed, but nonetheless, the church is the holy place to which we flee to seek to worship our mighty and glorious God!

Glorious things of thee are spoken,

Zion, city of our God!

He, whose Word cannot be broken,

Formed thee for His own abode;

On the Rock of Ages founded,

Who can shake thy sure repose?

With salvation’s walls surrounded,

Thou mayst smile at all thy foes.

-John Newton

Praise Forever

“Under your fathers will be your sons; you will male them princes in all the earth. I will cause your name to be remembered in all the generations forever. Therefore their people will praise you forever and ever.”

(Psalm 45:17-18 {verses 16-17 in English})

Psalm 117 calls the nations to praise God because God has been faithful to his own people (a contrast to the faithlessness of idols!). Here we see a similar notion. Here the bride has made herself ready, is presented to the Son — who is the King of all Kings — and there is promise and blessing that there will be many who will follow in the line of the Lord, seated alongside the king ruling over creation. Indeed, our Messiah is the firstborn amongst many. And the world will remember God’s goodness to his own forever.

Yet, as we close this wedding song…this song of praise that anticipates the wedding of the Lamb. Let us also not forget the goodness of God towards us in the here and now. Let us not forget that we too are called to rule beside Christ as princes in the Father’s house, as we take dominion of this world through the proclamation of the Gospel. Let us not forget to sing praise to our God for His goodness and praise Him forever.

The Wedding Feast of the Lamb

“All glorious is the daughter of the King within, her robes with gold filigree. In colorfully embroidered robes she is led to the king with her virgin companions after her — coming to you. They are brought with jubilation and rejoicing as they enter the palace of the King.”

(Psalm 45:14-16 {verses 13-15 in English})

This language of the bride being presented to the king anticipates language that we will once again see in the Bible at the consummation of all things…

“And I heard the voice of a great crowd of people which had the voice of many waters and the voice of mighty thunder, saying, ‘Hallelujah! For the Lord our God reigns! The Almighty! Let us rejoice and let us be glad and let us give glory to Him! For the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has prepared herself. And it was given to her to dress herself in clothes of radiant pure linen — for the linen is the righteous works of the saints.”

(Revelation 19:6-8)

So here again we see a picture of eternal things foreshadowed by glorious earthly events. Even in modern times, there is little that is more captivating than a royal wedding when it comes to the pomp and circumstance. The sound of songs; the sound of cheers; the gathering of thousands to catch a glimpse of the Prince or the Princess as she is paraded through the streets to the church for the ceremony. Even in our modern age of cellular data and sound bytes, the royal weddings transport us back to a different age and gives us a reminder that perhaps life isn’t so different after all. And, from a Christian perspective, it gives us a hope of better days to come.

One of my professors used to say, “the reason I love the New Testament is that it reminds me so much of the Old Testament.” This is one of those spots where the connection between the pre-cross and post-cross ages could not be clearer. Everything in the New Testament finds itself grounded in the Old and everything in the Old anticipates the New. And all of it revolves around Christ to his glory!

As we read this psalm, though, I want it to remind us of that which is to come. It is easy to get caught up in the events and busyness of this life and think that this life is all that there is. Such could not be further from the truth. This life is merely a pale shadow of another life to come. The glories of this life — the glorious wedding of the King of Kings — give us but the smallest foretaste of the glories of God’s presence to come for the Christian. The terrors of this life are a reminder and just the smallest foretaste of the terrors to come in Hell for those who do not flee to Christ. Which will you face?

The Glory of Christ and the glory of Man

“Hear, daughter, and see for yourself; incline your ear. Forget your people and the house of your father. The king will desire your beauty. Because he is your Lord, worship him. The daughter of Tyre will offer gifts before you; the wealthy people will appease you.”

(Psalm 45:11-13 {verses 10-12 in English})

The language of these verses sounds a little like some of the language in the Song of Solomon, reflecting, too, the beauty and grandeur of Solomon’s kingdom. Of course, at the hight of its glory, Solomon’s kingdom was only a shadow of the splendor of the kingdom of Christ to come. So, as Jesus makes clear, he came with a sword, not to bring peace to the earth. Thus, we must never fall into the trap of loving our family more than we love the King of all Kings, lest we not be counted worthy of the name of Christ (Matthew 10:34-39).

So, pursue the King who is our Lord and worship Him, for he is worthy of your worship and of all praise. Leave everything behind for His glory and seek His ends and not your own. It is better and more glorious to pursue a life that is dedicated to Christ alone…but how often we choose the lesser and pursue the things of this earth.

Tyre is sometimes used in the Bible as an illustration of a people dedicated to the things of this world rather than the things of God. They were a wealthy trading people (2 Chronicles 2:14; Isaiah 23:9), but a people who, for much of Israel’s history, stood as enemies of God and facing eternal judgment (Amos 1:9), a place forever laid low and prevented from returning to its former glory (Ezekiel 26:14; 27:36). Such is the end of those who pursue the things of this world and not the things of God — for God (and his church) are not impressed by the wealth of men, for it pales before God.

The Fragrance of Christ

“Your garments are scented with myrrh and aloes and cinnamon; from palaces of ivory, stringed instruments continually rejoice you. The daughters of kings are amongst your nobles; your queen stands at your right hand in gold from Ophir.”

(Psalm 45:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English})

Here we have the King, the Messiah — we have Jesus, being portrayed in all of his glory before the great and final wedding feast of the Lamb presented in his glory. The smells are both smells of royalty and peace as well as being reminders of priestly incense for indeed, not only is Christ the glorious King and Great Prophet, but he is the High Priest as well. Everything about him is meant to be something that causes us to anticipate the glory of his presence.

One of the points of a fragrant incense is that not only does it give off a distinct smell, but the smell remains in the air long after the incense is removed from the room. Here we have even another aspect of the glory of our Savior. His presence changes everything about a situation and about a life. And long after that change has taken place, the glory of God remains on the life of the one who has been so touched. So it is with the church…the queen who is being made ready.

The question that remains with us is does the fragrance of the glory of God reside upon our lives? Does that glory remind us of His presence when we go through trials and does our work in this world remind a world that is drowning in its own filth that there is one of glory working in us and through his Church. If not, it ought.

Joy and Jubulation

“You love righteousness and hate wickedness, thus God — your God — anointed you with the oil of jubilation over your attendants.”

(Psalm 45:8 {verse 7 in English})

If there were any doubt as to whether this psalm were about the Messiah, this verse ought to put those doubts to rest, for the writer of Hebrews cites this passage and applies it to the Son of God (Hebrews 1:9). And indeed, Jesus Christ is the one who truly loves righteousness and hates wickedness, now and forever.

What is this language of the oil of jubilation (or gladness as many English translations render the word NØwcDc (sason)? Most commonly this term is used in the context of the worship of God’s people as a result of God’s redemptive work that culminates in the Messiah. As the prophet, Isaiah, writes:

“And the redeemed of Yahweh shall return and enter Zion with a cry of Jubilation and an everlasting display of joy upon their head. Jubilation and Jubilation will overtake them and grief and groaning will flee.”

(Isaiah 35:10)

The oil, of course, referring to the anointing of the High Priest and the King…rightly laid upon the head of the Messiah…whose very title means, “Anointed One.”

There is one more thing that we need to draw from this passage and that is the expectation of God that those who follow the Christ seek to imitate the Christ (1 Corinthians 11:1; Ephesians 5:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:6). Yet, do we do so? Do we take joy in loving righteousness? Do we recognize that we cannot love both righteousness and wickedness at the same time? To love the one, we must hate the other. Why is it that as Christians we pour out such affection upon sin? And, when it comes to living a life that is obedient to God’s word, we describe it as dull and restricting rather than as one marked by the oil of jubilation? The answer, of course, is sin — and sin is that which robs us of the joy of the wonderful salvation that our Lord has worked.

And thus, we turn back to scripture to set us upon a right path…a path that leads to joy and jubilation — a path that leads to honoring God. As is written in Jeremiah 15:16.

“Your words were found and I ate them and your words became to me joy and the display of joy to my heart, for your name is proclaimed over me, Yahweh, God of Armies.”

My God Reigns

“Your throne, God, is forever and ever; a scepter of righteousness is the scepter of your kingdom.”

(Psalm 45:7 {verse 6 in English})

Indeed, God rules forever and ever and his throne is eternal. As Isaiah writes:

How beautiful on the mountains are the feet who brings good news, making peace heard — good news, making salvation heard; saying to Zion, “Your God reigns.”

(Isaiah 52:7)

What is interesting, and what we may not expect, is that the most frequent use of the idea of an everlasting throne speaks of the Messianic throne of David. God promises that his throne will last forever (2 Samuel 7:16). This promise continues through Solomon (1 Kings 2:45) and is fulfilled in Christ Jesus (Isaiah 9:7).

And what marks the eternal throne of the Messiah is righteousness — the righteousness of Christ, which is the righteousness of God. As I am reflecting on this, I am inundated with the words of politicians as we prepare for this election. Yet, I must ask, are there any who will govern with righteousness? Are there any who seek justice as their primary motive for running for office? Are we going to the polls and voting with that question burning on our hearts? Sadly, I fear, that righteousness in American politics is something that has been trampled by personal agendas in American politics.

Thus, in the midst of the mud-slinging, may we look to the true and righteous King of Heaven for hope and stability during days of trouble. May we call upon him as a people, repenting of our sins and crying out to Him for deliverance. And may it truly be good news to us that the world would know that our God reigns.

Sharp Arrows of God

“Your arrows are sharp in the peoples; before you they fall in the heart of your enemies and their kings.”

(Psalm 45:6 {verse 5 in English})

The arrows of God’s anointed ones strike deadly blows upon those who stand against his almighty. Indeed, God scoffs at the kings of the earth and those who would stand against his anointed (Psalm 2). This language of the arrows of God is not uncommon to the words of Scripture…Deuteronomy 32:23,42; Habakkuk 3:11; Zechariah 9:14; Job 6:4; Psalm 7:14; 38:3;  and 77:18 are just a few examples of such usage.

What is fascinating to me is that with all of the military usage that we find in the Bible, people remain reluctant to use it, largely in favor of presenting a picture of a rather cuddly and pathetic God who hopes that we choose him. But why would we choose to follow a God who was mushy, weak, and allowed his people to do pretty much anything they wanted to do? Even apart from the gross distortion of the Bible and of the definition of love that such a view presents, such is not even a view that is appealing to the humanistic world around us. Leaders have the strength to lead their followers into and through difficult times and are strong enough to lead their followers to victory on the other side of whatever happens to be faced. Mush cannot penetrate the armor of death, but Jesus, our Messiah crushed death and destroyed its power. Why then do we not celebrate and rejoice in such language of our God’s might? How often it is that believers have been deceived by Satan into embracing that which is comfortable and not that which is True.

What is also fascinating to me is how many people do embrace such language of God’s might but then who fear men and what men may do. How often even Biblical Christians do not take a stand for Truth in the face of the world’s opposition out of fear. Will our God falter? Will our God not avenge? Will our God not bring wrath against his enemies? Even if our person is crushed, will our God fail? Surely we do not believe this. If not, then why do we so often act so timidly when it comes to the Gospel?

Weilding the Word in Victory

“In your majesty, mount your steed and charge with the word of truth, humility, and righteousness and your right hand instruct you in fearful things.”

(Psalm 45:5 {verse 4 in English})

The word picture that is being portrayed here is that of the Messiah riding victoriously into battle with his sword held high. This is the imagery that we will find again in John’s apocalypse, the book we know in English as “Revelation.” There we again see the Messiah riding out to destroy the wicked in judgement…one who is called “Faithful” and “True” and who has the name “King of kings and Lord of lords” upon his robe and thigh (Revelation 19:11-16).

And with what weapon does he charge into battle? He does so with the mighty of all weapons…his Word, which is truth, humility, and righteousness. The author of Hebrews reminds us that:

“The Word of God is living and effective and more sharp than any two-edged sword; it is able to penetrate until it divides the life from the spirit and the joints from the marrow, and it discerns the innate thoughts from the intents of the heart.”

(Hebrews 4:12)

In judgment, the wicked will find that they would prefer to face a literal sword, for the truth will cut them to the core. One cannot avoid the power of God’s word. You can ignore it, reject it, deny it, and rage against it, but in time all men will stand before it and no secrets will be able to be hid and all intentions will be revealed. As Jesus said, “Your word is truth” (John 17:17b).

A note should be made about the language of humility in this context. Certainly this is not an attribute of Christ that ought to surprise us, but it seems a bit out of place in this context. The word in question is the Hebrew term: hÎw◊nAo (‘anwah). This word is only used once in the Hebrew Old Testament, but scholars tend to connect the term with the word hÎwÎnSo (‘anawah — the consonants are the same, though the vowel pointing is somewhat different), meaning “humility” as is found in Proverbs 15:33. The most significant thing to remember is that humility is an attribute of God and of His Messiah and thus is part of the standard by which humans are measured and will be judged.

The final clause may also sound awkward to us. If the Messiah is God himself in the flesh, then how can it be said that he is learning? Yet, we should be reminded of Luke 2:52:

“And Jesus grew in wisdom and maturity and favor with God and man.”

Though Jesus is and always was fully God, he also had a fully human nature (apart from the sin nature we inherit from Adam). Thus, it can be said that Jesus grew in his humanity and human nature while remaining eternal and infinite in his divine nature.

Splendor and Majesty

“Put your sword upon your thigh, great warrior — in your splendor and in your majesty.”

(Psalm 45:4 {verse 3 in English})

The phrase, “the splendor and majesty” is a common one when referring to God. Thus, when David is bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, he presents the Sons of Asaph with the words of a hymn of thanksgiving to be sung — words that will form much of psalms 105, 96, and 106 (in that order)…verse 27 proclaiming:

“Splendor and majesty are before Him;

strength and joy are in his presence.”

Similarly, it is the language of Psalm 21:5; 96:6; 104:1; and 111:3. And, when God confronts Job, challenging him to try and rival the glory of the God of creation, God uses the same language:

“Clothe yourself with majesty and dignity;

put on splendor and majesty.”

(Job 40:10)

As we read the psalms, we attribute this language to God. If we use the psalms as guides for our prayer life (a practice I would commend to you), we attribute this language to God. If we use the psalms as a songbook for worship (something the Bible commands of us — Colossians 3:16), then we attribute this language to God. Yet, when we live out our daily life, do we really attribute this language to God? Do we really live like our God is filled with splendor and majesty? And do we recognize that these glorious attributes of God are spoken of in the same context of his sword of justice? He is God and has the right to demand our obedience, but do we obey?

And, if our actions do not follow our words, does that make our words hollow and lifeless? And what, then, does that hollowness say about our faith? Friends, take God’s attributes seriously and live like you really believe what it is that to which the Scriptures attest. Jesus said that if we love him we will obey his commandments (John 14:15) — that means living in a way that is consistent with the teachings of the Bible, not living on the basis of personal preference.

Magnificence

“You are more magnificent than the Sons of Adam; grace pours from your lips. Therefore, God has blessed you forever.”

(Psalm 45:3 {verse 2 in English})

Many English Bibles translate the first Hebrew word in this verse as “beautiful” or “fair,” though it should be noted that the NIV chooses the better term, “excellent,” here. In Hebrew, the word in question is hApÎy (yaphah), and literally means, “to adorn, to decorate, or to beautify.” Yet, we ought to pose the question as to what engenders a sense of beauty within us. Sadly, for many in our culture today, beauty is only measured by the lusts and is considered as fickle as the eye of the beholder.

But what really is at the heart of beauty? Is it truly in the eye of the beholder or is there something that transcends the surface and appearance? Is not the beauty of a person something that resides in the character of the individual? And is not the beauty of a sunset found in the magnificence of the event — something that moves and inspires us. And here, as we sing a song of praise to our Messiah — one whom men did not esteem (Isaiah 53:3) — he is one whose magnificence we sing.

And what of grace? It comes from His lips. It comes from His word. It comes from His work. It comes from His sacrifice. Therefore grace, true grace, comes from Christ Jesus alone and he speaks of it in his Word (by which we may know Him), thus, it pours like water from his lips. And as the royal Messiah — the speaker of grace and truth — God has blessed him forever. And if God has blessed him, ought we not also bless our mighty and magnificent redeemer? How sad it is that all too often we do not, taking for granted that which he has offered to us in grace. Let us repent of our carelessness and flee to Christ our Lord for refuge.

Poetry of a Moved Heart

“My heart is moved; with a good word I speak this work to the king — my tongue as a pen and a skillful scribe.”

(Psalm 45:2 {45:1 in English})

Recognizing that in Jewish thought, the heart deals with the seat of the personality and intellect and not the seat of the passions, we should see the beginning of this psalm as the Sons of Korah being caught up with what later writers would call the “creative muse,” and we should not attribute what follows as a flight of emotional fancy. The poem is filled with language that engages the passions (as do most great poems), but it is also detailed and structured carefully to communicate exactly what the poet — the psalmist — intends to write under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Too often, people today assume that great works of poetry flow out of a moment of spontaneous inspiration, when truthfully the words of the poet come about with the same care and precision as the woodworker or the sculptor brings about his art. Every word and phrase is skillfully prepared and then delivered by a tongue, which acts as a skillful scribe.

Isn’t it interesting how skewed our ideas about writing poetry have become? Everything has got to come easily to the craftsman today, yet we wonder at the same time why we are not producing the works of art that were once produced in ages past. We proclaim our art to be “new” in style, but I wonder, will the works we produce today survive the scrutiny of time or will the future generations describe our own as a creative dark ages…a time where creativity was lost or otherwise squandered on pointless pursuits.

Creativity, friends, is part of the image of God that we bear and thus, as we develop creativity to the glory of Christ, we are growing in our sanctification. And perhaps, as we indeed do so, our hearts (personalities) may indeed be moved so that we may speak a good word to the King.

He will Continually Lead Us

“For this is God — our God — forever and ever;

He will continually lead us until death.”

(Psalm 48:15 {verse 14 in English})

For indeed, this mighty and protective God is our God…and he will be our God forever and ever. We need not fear that he will leave or forsake us and we need not fear that he will give us over to the enemy forever. He is our God forever. And what does that look like in a practical way? He will lead us until we die. While indeed he will hold us even until eternity, it is while we are here on this earth that we need God’s shepherding hand so powerfully to lead and to guide us through this world that is so filled with trial and temptations. And indeed, God will be that leader to guide our steps. Jesus himself uses the language that he is the Good Shepherd.

Yet, as we close this psalm with this promise, let us ask ourselves, are we obedient in following the Master’s lead? Or, do we simply pay lip-service to our guide and go in the direction that our preferences would take us? All too often it is the latter and not the former. All too often, professing Christians don’t even know the Scriptures well enough to recognize the direction that God sets before them in life. All too often the Bible is twisted or at best, picked through, and used to justify our preferences rather than to subdue our wills. May, we indeed be faithful sheep following our Good Shepherd…and to do that we begin with knowing his Word.

The Last Generation

“Going around Zion, encircle her, 

counting her towers,

You will establish your heart — the ramparts through her palace.

You shall continually write this for the sake of the last generation.”

(Psalm 48:13-14 {verses 12-13 in English})

So the singing is continued (previous verse) and while singing those who are in Jerusalem are to encircle her in songs of praise to our God…filling the air with the sound of their worship. They are to count and number her towers and examine the ramparts (defensive walls built around the city), and establish their heart. Now this phrase (the establishment of the heart) may sound a little awkward to our western ears, but it is a figure of speech that implies that we are to pay close attention to something even to the extent of placing our affections on that something, whatever it may be.

Yet, why would the psalmist command that the people of God place the fortifications of Jerusalem on their heart? The answer seems to be two-fold. First, as we have discussed previously, the focus of this psalm is not so much on the physical, earthly Jerusalem, but on the eternal city of God — the New Jerusalem — that is being kept preserved in heaven until the return of our Lord (1 Peter 1:4-5). The Jerusalem here that is in the experience of the psalmist is but a shadow of what is to come…and with the coming of the New Jerusalem comes the new creation where God and man will once again dwell without separation. There is indeed a reason to set your heart on such things.

The next verse, though, also gives us a clue as to what the psalmist has in mind. He says to the people that not only are they to observe Jerusalem, they are to write down those observations for the sake of the “last generation.” Most of our Bibles seem to translate the term,   NOwr≈jAa (acharon) as “next” or “future,” implying that this writing is for those who will follow in the future. Yet, if this writing is simply for future generations through time, then we might expect that the term rOw;d (dor — “generation”) would be plural, not singular. Thus, we should recognize that NOwr≈jAa (acharon) can also refer to the last of something — “the last generation.” Yet, who will be the last generation for whom these people are writing? I would suggest that these writings are to benefit the last generation to see Jerusalem and the Temple standing proud — to remind the last generation what would be lost when the Babylonians were brought in by God to punish the people for their perpetual sin — to remind people of the glory they exchanged for the lusts of their flesh and for the pride of their hearts. Oh, how far we fall when we take our eyes off of God and rest them on ourselves.

We are long past the last generation to see the temple. Even those who rebuilt the Temple realized that the second-temple was a far cry from the glory of the first and from the promised restored glory. Jesus is the greater temple and the temple that Ezekiel anticipates is yet to come. All things revolve around Christ and the Temple and all of its former glory are meant solely to point toward our Lord and Master, Jesus Christ. It is his glory, not ours, of which we write.

Rejoice!

“Let Mount Zion rejoice!

Let the daughters of Judah shout in exultation!

Because of your judgments.”

(Psalm 48:12 {verse 11 in English})

What a contrast that we find here between the celebration of the daughters of Judah and the lamentation that Jesus speaks of in Luke 23:28 as he is being led up the hills of Golgatha. The language of the Daughters (whether Judah or Jerusalem) is figurative language that speaks of the women of the culture (who often bear the grief of the judgment on society as they lose their sons to war. Thus, they shout and sing in celebration in the promise of God’s protection from the wicked and while they should have shouted for joy in the Triumphal Entry of the Messiah into Jerusalem, on the day of his crucifixion he calls them to weep for the wrath of God will soon fall on this city (70 AD) for they executed their king.

For now, though, they are called to rejoice and shout in exultation and by extension, so are we. Yet, how often we do not. We get distracted by the minor struggles of life and miss the greater blessing and cause to praise of our mighty God. How easily we are duped by such things. How often we complain to God when we should be rejoicing before him. How often we worry instead of trusting his protection. Loved ones, our God on high has given us protection and covering; sing and celebrate the great gift he has afforded us at the cost of his Son’s blood.

Praise to the Ends of the Earth

“Like your name, O God,

So your song of praise goes to the ends of the earth;

Righteousness fills your right hand.”

(Psalm 48:11 {verse 10 in English})

There is no other name under heaven that a person may be saved apart from that of Jesus Christ the Lord. He is God and his name extends to the ends of all the earth. It is not just a name for those in particular localities, but the Gospel is for Jew and Gentile alike, slave and free, barbarian and civilized, male and female. Indeed, the name of God goes out to the ends of the earth through the Gospel of Jesus.

At the same time, there are still many places and people groups where the song of God’s praise is not known and has yet to be taken. It is a reminder to us that the work of evangelism is not yet complete. Even so, it is not just people group in far remote places that  are in need of the Gospel…it is groups of people within our own culture. Indeed, we need to support our missionaries to far away places, but how we need to evangelize our own communities, neighborhoods, and towns. How often we fall into the trap of thinking that missions work is just for those who go somewhere else and learn a new language to evangelize. Loved ones, it is work to which we have been called and it is work that is even within our backyard, lest we neglect training up our own families to call our God blessed. May indeed the name of Jesus extend to all the earth, but may we be the ones who take that name near and far to the praise of our almighty King.