Friday, July 1, 2016

Psalm 7: God the Righteous Judge

1.    Intro: Shigaion – a type of dirge which suggests that this is a deeply emotional song, concerning Cush the Benjamite. Some reflection here is in order. Do we sing to the Lord with our hearts, or do we just coldly follow the lyrics of the songs we are singing from our hymn books while our minds are wandering somewhere else? Do we sing like David, emotionally, involving our whole being, offering to God a sacrifice of praise through our lips (Heb 13:15). This verse reminds us of the involvement of our whole being in our interaction with God, not just intellect, not just feelings, but the will and bodily posture as well. Feelings are often demonized as dangerous and therefore should be avoided in Christianity. But when we examine Scripture front to back, how often do we find feelings involved in the history of redemption from the beginning to the end? Did Jeremiah involve his feelings when he wrote Lamentations? Did Jesus merely use his intellect when he wept for Lazarus (John 11:33, 35)? Do Psalms involve feelings at all? We see emotions involved even in Revelation as we read about the praise of the inhabitants of heaven. So the problem is not feelings per-se but the right feelings, how feelings should be governed, namely by God’s Holy Word just like everything else. And Psalms provide us some guidelines what right feelings governed by divine influence look like.

2.    Plea out of fear (v.2-3 BHS). In contrast with Psalm 3 whose background is similar where David flees from Absalom, instead of  describing the urgent situation, this Psalm opens with his commitment to take refuge in the Lord (chasah can be translated as “trust” but “take refuge” is more appropriate in my view. Batach is a more common word translated as trust). But trusting is certainly implied in chasah. The Lord is his shelter from danger. If the problem in Ps 3 is the quantity and the quality of the approaching enemies, this verse speaks of the speed, their nearness, the fast-approaching and the resolution of assault – save me from all who pursue me and deliver me. This situation perhaps reminds us of the fast-approaching Egyptian chariots when Israel was stuck by the Red Sea until God’s deliverance came. Save and deliver are parallel, the latter is emphatic. The next verse gives us an idea of the kind of enemy David is facing, like a lion who is about to tear his soul. Unless the Lord comes to rescue, the enemiy will tear (tharaf) and rend (paraq) David to pieces. Here, a singular enemy is described (from the use of 3-rd person masculine singular verbs) unlike the previous verse (the pursuers are plural). This single enemy is most likely Cush and his army is described in the previous verse. This imagery of lion reminds us of 1 Pet 5:8 that speaks of the devil as a prowling lion seeking to devour his prey. Peter warns us to be vigilant of his presence and resist him. God’s enemies seek to ruin his people both physically and spiritually which is probably behind the use of graphic words tear and rend, total demolition. But the power and resolution of this lion, however intimidating it is, is no match compared to the power and resolution of the Lion of the tribe of Judah to deliver his people. And indeed he has done it at the cross where the superior Lion Jesus Christ decisively defeated the inferior lion (the devil). He has won the war. He has accomplished the mission. He has rescued his people. Nonetheless there are remaining spiritual battles to be fought by the church (Eph6:12). Hence Peter reminds Christians to remain vigilant and Paul still highlights the necessity to mortify our flesh (Rom 8:13, 13:14). The battles are still raging until the Parousia. There is a parallel reality in the spiritual world to what we see in the physical world, namely the battles between good and evil. Scripture assures the preservation of God’s people that they would go through them victoriously by virtue of their union with their exalted and triumphant Savior.

3.    Self-justification / imprecatory (v. 4-6 BHS).
·         The next section of the Psalm contains David’s self-examination, soul-searching to determine whether this adversity that he is going through is a result of his sin.  The examination goes from general to specific. The general consist of if David has done any “avel” – if there is any avel in his hand. In the previous Psalm David describes his enemies as poaley – aven, doers of iniquity, aven referring to morally corrupt acts. What about avel? How is it different from aven? It seems that aven tends to be measured in terms of relationship with our fellowmen and women as well as God while avel is in terms of a standard. But ultimately the two are related. If we violate God’s standard, we end up damaging our relationship with him or others e.g., idolatry, stealing considering the two halves of the commandments regulate our relationships with God and others. But what David has in mind here is God’s law. This is a sobering soul-searching exercise. I know we Christians are justified by grace through faith in Christ. There is no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus. Does this mean that self-examination is not necessary? I don’t think so. Puritans are excellent in this discipline, which is one reason I love studying their literature. As navel-gazing as they may be, self-examination remains a useful exercise in my view although we shouldn’t overdo it. We should be humbled by the remaining corruption in our hearts and look to Christ to sanctify us in a greater way by the power of his Spirit. This humiliation is key to prevent boasting in ourselves. After all, everything we have is received from above (John 3:27), I mean absolutely everything without exception. On top of this we still sin every day. What better grounds of humiliation of our soul do we have than these? Isa 66:2 the attitude that is pleasing to the Lord is the one that is humble and contrite in spirit, namely repentant spirit that results in humility before the Lord and man. So I still think it is good to reflect periodically how our relationship with the Lord is which includes our relationship with others as we’ll see in the next verse.
·         Then in verse 5 David goes into the details. He reveals further that his concern is his relationship with his friends and enemies. First, he asks whether he has rendered (gamal) – responded to his friends with evil. The word used here is sholemiy (my peaceful one), another word which I think is more common is rea (e.g., Prov 17:17, Job 31:9). Perhaps David isn’t necessarily thinking of his close friends, but those who are not hostile to him. They may not be close, but they have a peaceful relationship with him. Even with those who intend him harm, who keep watching him for an opportunity to strike at him (tsoreriy), both sholem and tsorer are in singular. For this later person, his enemy, David asks if he has done the same, render his enemies, acting evil against them without a cause (gamal applies to both sholemiy and tsoreriy). So David has many enemies, the Philistines and other nations surrounding Israel. But tsoreriy covers personal enemy as well. What he has in mind is a tangible act that intends his enemy harm. His imprecatory prayers are his desperate plea to God to rescue him, namely in response to the enemy provocation. Therefore, David anticipates a no-answer to this self-examination because his point is, he hasn’t done all this, rendering evil to his friend and foe without a cause. The consequence if it turns out that he has sinned in this regard is severe. He calls essentially a curse upon himself. He prays a self-imprecatory prayer: let him (the enemy) pursue and succeed (yaseg – overtake) to ruin him thoroughly (ramas – trample and shaken – lay): trample his life to the ground and lay his glory to the dust. David is serious about his relationship with others. We are often told that we should not worry about what people think about us. It is true if we have done nothing wrong. But does it mean that we should be careless in our conducts, our conversation not realizing that what we do and say, including our neglect to do and say what is necessary cause damage in our relationship with others? Again, this calls for a balanced attitude. There is a danger of excess-self-centeredness, but there is a danger of excessive focus on the external. I think both behaviors can be traced to self-centeredness. The first extreme is clear, but the second may be due to desire for a praise of man. How do we deal with this then? Scripture teaches us the principle of love (1 Cor 13, also Phil 2:3-4). It is necessary to be responsible to ourselves, to take care of ourselves, but Scripture tells us that our conduct to others is to be governed by the principle of love, what we think is best for the other person. This may require us to sacrifice, to give our time, resources, compassion, kindness, counsel. David is serious about relationship from the way he asks God to do to him if he fails in this area. So to reinforce my point above, it is healthy to run a periodic check how we are doing with others. Have we ignored those around us in dire need of help, how do we do with those who disagree with us, that we had quarrels with?

4.    First imprecatory – The Lord as divine warrior (v. 7-10 BHS)
·         It appears to me that this section has an ABC-AB section where A is an imprecation calling God to judge David’s enemies (my enemies – v7, 10a), God is described as a Judge (C – v.9) and B is calling on God to show his glory (return on high – lemarom shuvah) to his people (v.8) and establish the righteous (10b). The first imprecatory has 2 parallel sections with two similar words for arise, a more common one qum and a less common one ur (be alert). David’s enemies are angry (tsoreray) – he asks God to rise up in anger to confront the anger of his enemies with the confidence that God has ordained (tzavah) judgment upon them ensuring their defeat in this battle. Veadat leumim tesovevekha – and the congregation of the peoples, let her surround you  and on her return (impv) on high (lemarom). This is the imagery of a corporate worship where the Lord descends to be among his people from heaven, but I think a more immediate meaning is warfare. The Lord descends, manifests himself, his power to defend his people considering the context of this Psalm, to judge the wicked and to vindicate the righteous. Hence verse 9: the Lord judges the peoples. Not people singular but peoples (amim – plural of am) which suggests that the word doesn’t refer to just Israel but all nations. Then David turns applies this proposition to himself by calling God to judge him, after all he is a member of all peoples, humanity at large. David calls God to examine him according to his integrity (ke-tumiy – according to my integrity). The root tom here means blamelessness. David doesn’t argue that he is free of sin, but he is genuinely committed to the Lord . There is no question that we all still sin even as Christians. The question is about our commitment. Do we let ourselves continue in habitual disobedience? Is our lifestyle characterized by devotion to the Lord despite the sins we still commit. Do we strive to repent of them and fight them with all our might?
·         David returns to imprecation in verse 10. The object is the evil of the wicked (ra reshaim). Let the evil of the wicked be put to an end (gamar – cease to exist). There is no doubt that yigmar is jussive in this case because of the nah following it, which means David is pleading to God, let the evil of the wicked come to an end please. So who is this evil of the wicked? Does it refer to Cush specifically? Possibly, but I think there is a larger group referring to those who blatantly commit public evil that causes public harm. Think of terrorists, gang members, drug smugglers, and pimps. David uses a harsh word to express what God should do with this group of people – let them cease to exist to prevent further damage to society. Again here the concern is not personal but public. It is proper to pray for the cessation of evil through the thwarting of the schemes of the perpetrators, such as for them to be arrested, brought to justice or even killed. On the contrary, David calls on God to establish the righteous (kun). Again tekonen is jussive in this case (may you establish) considering the previous imperfect yigmar is also jussive. What does David mean when he asks God to establish the righteous? To establish here means to defend, to secure and sustain that they may be examples of those who are devoted to the Lord, role models for others to follow their godliness. Another reason is so that the righteous may speak of God in truth, to declare not just the truth of general revelation, but also special revelation, who God is and what he does according to what he says in his Word, to give them “the Gospel” so to speak that others also may be brought under his lordship.
·         The last phrase in verse 10 says ubochen libot ukelayot Elohim tsadiq. Bochen is a participle referring to Elohim tsadiq – righteous God. Since God is the standard of truth and fallacy, he is the standard all things should be evaluated against. Hence David addresses him as the one who tests hearts and minds. ESV translates libot (from lev – heart) and keliyot (from keliyah – kidney, inner being) as minds and hearts, but literally heart and kidney. This means that God knows each one of us thoroughly and intimately (cf. Heb4:13 – nothing in creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is laid bare and uncovered before the eyes of him to whom we must give an account). This is a solemn proposition. God knows every secret hidden pocket of our hearts where we store our hidden longings, desires, aspirations that no one knows and sometimes even we ourselves don’t know that they even exist. The God who meticulously formed us in our mother’s womb certainly knows all these things. This is both comforting and frightening. It is comforting because we can confide in God. When we don’t feel comfortable sharing certain things, we can bring them up before God our heavenly Father. He listens and takes our prayers; our concerns, longings, aspirations as we have discussed in the previous Psalm. Let this be also a motivation before God to tell him these things, lay them before him (Ps 38:9). On the other hand this reality of an exhaustive thorough comprehensive and intimate knowledge of God of ourselves, bodily and spiritually can be frightening. All our wicked schemes, sinful desires, ungodly thoughts are also fully exposed to God. There is no escape. We can run but we can’t hide. Our running will not avail either. It will not prevent God from finding us out (cf. Jonah, Ps 139:1-12). The best option is to bring them up before the Lord and repent of them and immediately stop whatever we are doing according to those thoughts, desires and schemes that are not pleasing to him.

5.    Who God is and divine threatening (v. 11-14 BHS)
·         My shield is upon God –  Shield is God’s attribute David often incorporates in Psalms (e.g., 3:3, 18:2, 28:7, 119:114) that gives us an imagery that God is the one who defends us. What does this mean? First, he sustains us when we are struggling or suffering. He either supplies what we need (Phil4:19) or grants us strength to endure in Christ Jesus (2 Cor 12:8-10). Either way, he is ever present and this presence is what ultimately gives us comfort that we are not alone and assurance that we will by his grace survive the storms of life and arrive at the harbor of rest (Ps 107:30).
·         Second, which I think is a subset of the first one, is the Lord defends us from our enemies. He prevents them from inflicting an ultimate harm upon us. The means he accomplish this is the propitious work of Christ whose blood is the means by which the saints conquer the accusation of Satan, who accuses them day and night (Rev 12:11, cf. Zech 3:1). By virtue of Christ’s penal substitutionary atonement, the enemy’s accusation is voided since God the Father has executed his judgment upon sin and brought it down upon Christ on the cross. May we be reminded of this often that God defends us. We are not alone in our battles and we are assured of deliverance from the enemy’s ultimate scheme to bring ruin upon God’s people by virtue of the work of Christ. The outcome of God defending us is our salvation – my shield is upon God – who saves the upright in heart (v.11). The saints are still in the midst of battles against the enemies but their salvation has been secured on the cross. Their victory is assured by virtue of their union with the captain of their salvation.
·         The next verse 12 seems to return to the theme of God being a judge through the use of a different verb shafath (cf. din v.9). In my view the meaning of both words is the same in this context, namely to determine or decide what is right or wrong that implies a punishment or reward to follow (DBLH). The reason is what follows where David adds that God is the One who feels indignant all day. Never assume that God is indifferent with human rebellion expressed every day and every moment. He takes notes of it all and sooner or later he will execute his justice to settle all accounts. Whatever his decision is, it is righteous (cf. Ps 145:17), hence the qualifier tzadiq. There is no possibility of God making a mistaken decision due to moral defect or ignorance. His moral perfection, omniscience and omnipotence ensure the impeccability of divine government of the world. This truth gives us peace and assurance but also makes us tremble before him. How can a mortal man be righteous before God (Job 25:4), a question that expects a negative answer, namely he cannot and he can never be because of the Fall. It is true that we as Christians have been forgiven in Christ Jesus. Our sins are washed away by his holy and precious blood and we are righteous in God’s sight by virtue of Christ’s imputed righteousness. However, this shouldn’t prevent us from pondering the gravity of our sins that put Christ on the cross, as well as the remaining corruption that is in us. This exercise is conducive to enable us to live a life of humility. Owen’s words may sound too extreme, but I love the frame of mind he desires Christians to live in, namely in a constant frame of mourning and self-abasement (Select Works, p.116-117). Owen understands the Gospel well that Christ bore our sins in his body on the cross (1 Pet 2:24) but I believe what he said is necessary to gain a deeper understanding of the gravity of our sins in order to facilitate our humble walk with the Lord in full reliance on him all the days of our lives. May the Lord help us.
·         Verses 13-14 are a continuation of divine threat that begins with the assertion that God is a righteous judge and he is indignant with sin all day. Then David continues with what God is going to do, namely he prepares judgment that he’s going to execute sooner or later. God’s patience is implied from the conditional clause “if he (a sinner) doesn’t repent-ESV” literally “if he doesn’t turn.” So God is not looking  for a mere acknowledgement that one has sinned although this is a first step. There is a need for sorrow of the sins that one commits and there is an outward display of this sorrow, namely not merely cessation of prior sinful actions but also turning to God in obedience. All of these need to come together. They need to be present in a genuine repentance. One may acknowledge of his sin and continues sinning or one may stop sinning while deep inside he still cherishes his sins and he doesn’t continue with it for some reason such as for fear of punishment instead of a genuine sorrow as a result of offending God. The warning “if he doesn’t turn” is followed by a divine threat: he will sharpen his sword and lit: he goes out and “will get his bow ready” (ESV: readied). In other words, he is ready to inflict judgment sooner or later. The sooner the better because it gives sinners time to repent. One does not want to wait until it is too late to repent where God’s judgment is final. The final judgment is the worst nightmare to those without Christ. The next verse 14 heightens the sense of God’s impending judgment by saying that he prepares (the same word kun is used except here it is in Hiphil and Polel in the previous verse – both meanings are similar in my view) his vessels of death (keliy mavet). God uses devices to deliver a deadly blow to sinners. God is always ready to inflict vengeance upon sin. The last phrase of verse 14 says he made his arrows the burning ones, ready to be shot at anytime. There is barely any talk of God’s using his vessels of death to judge sinners these days. But even as Christians we ought to be reminded of the kind of devastating punishment, the fatal and irreversible nature of it and its finality – there is no turning back that we have been delivered from in Christ Jesus. May we remind this reality to those who are without Christ, speaking to them this truth in love that they too may be rescued by this impending judgment. And use this imagery in this Psalm to add a sense of urgency to our message that all ought to run to Christ without delay in faith and repentance according what the Gospel tells us.

6.    What the wicked does and the effects of his actions (v. 15-17 BHS). David moves on with the description of the kind of individuals the divine threatening in the previous two verses is reserved to, Behold, he conceives evil (aven), is pregnant with mischief (amal – trouble) and gives birth to lie. The words chabal and harah mean the same thing. The sinner’s mind is full of evil thoughts, devising evil acts. This may sound too extreme but Rom 14:23 tells us that everything that is not done out of faith is sin. So those without Christ never do anything with the right motive to honor the God of Scripture who reveals himself in Christ Jesus. One may come up with the best motive but this intention and act are still evil in God’s sight since they are not conceived and executed out of a desire and faith to honor him. Only Christians can do this since their nature has been changed by the regenerative work of the Spirit (Ezek 36:26-27). Why does verse 15 say that sinners beget lie, namely their actions reflect deception? Because not only their motive is false, namely anything but to honor God, but their actions also reflect a false goal, a false object of what their actions aim, namely anything other than the glory of God (1 Cor 10:31). Verses 16-17 speak of a theme repeated a few times in Psalms, namely the schemes of the wicked will backfire. The harm that they intend, even plans that don’t seem to harm anyone would in the end be frustrated and bring ruin upon themselves (cf. Ps 33:10b, 35:8b, 37:15). Here in verses 16-17 it appears that the wicked does intend harm by looking at verse 16 that says “he digs a pit” that someone may fall into it. But he himself is the one who suffers the damage he aims towards others as verse 17 makes clear: his trouble (amal – cf. verse 15, the harm he intends others) yashuv will turn to his head – and his violence (chamaso) will descend (yered) on his skull. So what do we learn from this? Implicitly David encourages believers not to be discouraged nor intimidated by those who desire to inflict ruin upon God’s people – visibly or invisibly (cf. Ps 37). There are those who may not appear to have evil intention to us but their actions that we may not know, done behind our backs prove otherwise. Then there are those who make it clear their intention to undo us. In both cases David assures us they will not succeed in causing us the ultimate harm. God in his sovereign divine wisdom not only has prepared his “vessels of death” to inflict judgment upon such people, but these vessels of death may include their own schemes that they conceive in their futile minds against the Church, God’s people and his Christ (cf. Ps 2:1-2).

7.    Praise and vindication to God (v. 18 BHS)

·          I will praise God according to his righteousness (cf. Ps 145:17) and let me sing (I will sing)to the name of the Lord on-high. It is common to praise God for saving us, for his goodness to us, providing us all our needs, sustaining us in difficult times, his gracious presence to support us. Indeed this is a major theme in Psalms (e.g., Ps 107, 118). But how often do we praise him for his righteousness, that he does all things well without any slightest flaw and all his judgments are right. Even when he disciplines us, an unpleasant experience according to Heb 12:11, something that we can relate, or when the Lord takes some comfort away from us (cf. Job 1:21), do we praise him for his righteousness, that it is the right thing for him to do what he does, whatever it is? How do we know that this is the case? The answer is we have to connect God’s righteousness to his other attributes, the perfection of his moral purity, his comprehensive and exhaustive knowledge, his flawless wisdom are his attributes related to his righteousness, and this is how we know that God never makes mistakes, he does the right things right at all times despite the external appearance. For example we may ask the question why he ordained tsunamis that wipe out hundreds of thousands of people, why he ordained terrorism, diseases, wars, divorces, unemployments or other personal events that hurt us deeply. We may not know all the answer, but at least we know the answer partially. This much we know, that God does everything with his glory in mind, this is his first priority (for a rigorous exegetical study on this subject, see John Piper’s “Justification of God”) and secondarily, he has nothing but the best interest of his people in every single one of his providence (I recommend Thomas Watson’s “All Things for God” for a deeper treatment on this subject as he expounds on Rom 8:28). And these two are not in conflict but in agreement with one another. I argue that God is at least equally magnified or even more magnified in the praise of his righteousness than when he is praised for his goodness. Why? It is easy to praise God when we receive blessings from him. I don’t question the sincerity of the praise of God’s people in this case but let us ask the question whether we praise him because of his gifts or because of who he is. Do we end up praising the gift or the Giver? Of course when we praise God for giving us Jesus Christ, the Gift is the same as the Giver, namely God himself (remember Don Moen’s song? Give thanks to the Holy One …Give thanks…because he’s given Jesus Christ his Son?)  But what about other gifts? Material gifts, spouse and children, good education and job, good church, comfortable home, quality car? It is hard to tell from the outside. May we reflect on what the object of our praise is and why. Is it because God brings great benefit to us? But when we praise God when we don’t receive anything from him or when we go through a hard time and we know that ultimately it is God’s design that we are in some trying circumstance, there is less doubt that we praise God for who he is and this is indeed an evidence of grace. Even in the difficult situation that we are in, even in our struggles in this world, we know that we deserve a lot worse, infinitely worse, and that God still does the right thing in giving us a hard-time, perhaps to discipline us, to draw us closer to himself, to wean us from the world? There is this nobility of a godly soul in display I should say when we do this and as we reflect on Job 1:21: The Lord gives, the Lord takes away, blessed be the name of the Lord. And note what the next verse says, “In all this Job did not sin or charge God with wrong.” In other words, in his worship, Job acknowledges that God does the right thing in the confiscation of his possessions even those who are most dear to him. And Job still praises God despite the tremendous pain that he has to sustain as a result of what God does. This is praising God according to his righteousness.
·         The following phrase in this last verse is a call to praise God for who he is in general. David just said he will praise God because he is righteous. Here he says he will sing, (one way to praise God) to the name of God Most High. The name of God is associated with his attributes. Here again David calls us to think of God as bigger than someone who provides us benefits and provisions although the name of God includes those names that have to do with his gracious dealing to us (e.g., Rock, Light, Shield, Shepherd, Glory). It is not wrong to praise God for being gracious to us. But do we praise him for his righteousness, that he is a righteous Judge, a consuming fire, some other attributes that transcend his dealings with us as well? Praising God by considering his name, his attributes helps to articulate more the content of our praise, so we don’t simply say “Thank you God for this day” every time that suggests lack of thoughtfulness and sloth in our thinking of who God is. David encourages us to think biblically in our praise and not be lazy by repeating the same phrases over and over again, although this is not necessarily wrong. But it is an edifying exercise to expand our thoughts about who God is in our worship and in all our interactions with him and the way to accomplish this is to consider his “name.”
·         So what is Psalm 7 all about? What is its major theme? What’s the message David wants to convey here? It appears that this is another episode of David being pursued by one of his enemies who in this case is someone by the name of Cush. A major theme of this Psalm is God as a righteous Judge. The Psalm begins with David crying out for deliverance followed by a self-examination. He judges himself by the same standard as that by which he judges his enemies, namely God’s standard. David affirms his commitment to the Lord and contrasts it with those who rebel against him, those who do not repent. Along with an imprecation upon such people, there is a solemn reminder that God will not overlook sin and he has his instruments of death ready at anytime to strike unrepentant sinners in the just exercise of their punishments. In all this, God does the right thing and therefore, is to be praised for his righteousness, particularly in the upholding of his justice.

No comments: