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Commentary on the Book of Psalms

Psalms

1  2  3



Psalm 1

 
    1How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
         Nor stand in the path of sinners,
         Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
    2But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
         And in His law he meditates day and night.
     
This Psalm paints a beautiful picture of what it is to be righteous. Often times it appears in life that the wicked go unpunished and the righteous suffer unjustly. The reality is that for a time that may well be the case. In some cases, the injustice may not be meted out until the judgment of God. But the bottom line is that the righteous prevail before a holy and loving God and the wicked will pay. The wicked may prosper and gain physical and financial health and gain, for example, but they can never attain to the blessedness that is only due the righteous.
 
This Psalm tells us how we can be blessed, or simply put, happy. We are told three things not to do. They are all very parallel in nature, communicating a clear overarching truth of abstaining from worldly ways and not following after evil people. Yet each carries a distinct flavor. First, we must not come or go according to the advice, purpose, or counsel of the wicked. The word for “wicked” means “criminal,” one guilty against God. Bad company corrupts good morals (1 Corinthians 15:33) and a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough (Galatians 5:9). A man will become like his friends, so we must choose our companions carefully. Too often Christians follow the advice of secular experts rather than relying on the infallible, revealed Word of God. Why seek the advice of someone who stands guilty before God, condemned to hell, when we have the truth in the Word? We have a serious advantage in all areas of life because of the wisdom in Christ. Why be mentored by the unregenerate? Why raise our children according to secular psychological principles? Why utilize counseling from someone who doesn’t believe in the immaterial nature of man or the inherent problem of sin? Coming and going according to the counsel and advice of criminals against God is not going to bring happiness but confusion. A professional “criminal” counselor can make millions at building people’s self-esteem and helping them along a career path, but they cannot guide them according to the purposes of God.
 
The Scripture also tells us that the wicked set their mind upon their wicked acts even as they sleep. They are constantly plotting evil. Their purpose and intent is by definition and nature evil. They are owned and controlled by the evil one. Why would we want to join in their purpose? Why would we want to hold hands with the devil and partner in relationship, ministry, or any other union? What fellowship has Christ with Belial (2 Corinthians 6:15)? The answer is none.
 
The man seeking true happiness cannot stand in the way of sinners. To stand means to tarry and hold fast in one place. The “way” means “the course of life,” “a habit,” or “the moral character.” “Sinner” means simply a person who is sinful as a way of life. It is true that the wages of sin lead to death. This is true physically and spiritually, and any lingering or habitual sin destroys the capacity to experience life to the full and the joy of the Lord. Sin destroys happiness and enslaves a person to the evil one. The man who desires to be righteous in life must not tarry in sinful practices, thoughts, or ambitions. Sin cannot characterize his life. He must be moving toward reflecting his sainthood in attitude and action rather than mirroring the deeds of the sinners around him. It is not good enough to simply cut oneself off from the world. We are in the world, though not of it. We will fight temptation and struggle against the influence of sinful people. Yet somehow we must keep ourselves from being unstained and untarnished from the influence of the world (James 1:27). This will require us to make decisions of separation and abstinence in various areas as we seek what the Lord would have each of us do. Yet we must never become legalistic, forcing our standards upon someone else. Nor can we become a holy huddle, avoiding those in the world who desperately need the love of Christ. May that never be. We may be separate, but we are separate witnesses and ambassadors who minister to the unsaved around us as we live and move and work around them and among them.
 
The next one is especially interesting. We are told not to sit in the seat of scoffers. The meaning of both “sit” and “seat” carry the understanding of making company or assembling with the scoffers, those who boast, mock, scorn, and self-exalt. These are people who have chosen to do their own way and scorn the righteous for following after God’s ways. They are at the same time skeptics and self-proclaimed experts, especially proficient in self-indulgence and self-gratification. They gossip, criticize, and ridicule. They are all about themselves and seeking their own pleasure. We are told not to make our company with such people. We are to avoid assembling together with them. Many times Christians argue that they should go to bars or risqué dance clubs in an effort to evangelize. All situations are different, but we must be sensitive to the truth of this Scripture. Don’t set up camp among or make your company a corrupt, defiling group of people and environment. Christ’s example was to go to people on a neutral, undefiling turf and preach the truth to them. He never put himself in a compromising situation, so I don’t think that we need to either. The words sit and seat could also mean “make one’s dwelling.” In other words, like righteous Lot, some Christians choose to make their home in a perverted society or area similar to Sodom and Gomorrah. Interestingly, the NT informs us that Lot’s righteous heart was writhing and disturbed within him daily over the unrighteous acts around him. Yet he continued to dwell there and, when commanded to move, hesitated, his wife turning back and becoming a pillar of salt. There is an addicting nature to compromise.  It weakens judgment and discernment and the ability to see what God desires. Yet we must separate ourselves from such an environment. There would be nothing wrong in going to Sodom or Gomorrah and preaching the truth. Expect to be raped and executed, but such is the nature of missions work. I assert that if Lot had a testimony worth being proud of, he would have been killed. Thus is the nature of compromise: boldness to declare the truth and follow hard after God slowly erase.
 
Now we have a transition point signaled by the word “but.” The delight of the one seeking God and true happiness is the law of the Lord. In fact, he meditates in it day and night. The implication here is that his delight is not in the things of the wicked and in compromise. Rather, he delights in the Lord. This is the danger of keeping evil company and influence. Our hearts’ affections are influenced and our conscience is defiled. We begin to desire evil things rather than the law of God. We cannot remain neutral. And there is no way to be thinking upon God’s Word around the clock when we are preoccupied with sinful thoughts and plotting our next venture as close to the line as possible without crossing it. May we stay as far as away from it as we can. The wicked plot and meditate upon their next evil act, whereas the righteous meditates upon the Word of God. There is a lot of talk about meditating upon images and pictures as a means of drawing near to God in worship. God’s Word only commands us to think and reflect upon the Word of God. Nothing else will promote sanctification. All else will make us vulnerable to Satanic manipulation. We must think upon the entire body of instruction in the Word of God. We have much more revelation now than the Psalmist did at this point in time. We must be diligent and present ourselves as workmen who need not be ashamed, rightly dividing the Word of truth (2 Timothy 2:15).
 
3He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
         Which yields its fruit in its season
         And its leaf does not wither;
         And in whatever he does, he prospers.
 
Verse 3 is a beautiful illustration of the happy man. He is anchored in the body of truth of the Word of God. He is firm and strong as a tree is strong. His roots go deep to have endured the difficult changes in spiritual climate that would have assaulted his growth. Suffering and trials come, but he continues to bear fruit in season. Channels of water surround him so that he is sure to get the needed resources for his spiritual health and life. Christians who do not grow to maturity do not have such growth because they anchor themselves in lies and evil. A mature fruit bearing Christian, though attacked from every side, anchor himself upon the fruitful land of the Word of God. The initial seed which God directed clearly fell upon receptive ground. The man’s heart remains humble and seeking the Lord as evidenced by the growth to maturity. He yields fruit in due time laboring year round in the things of God. The righteous man is guaranteed to bear abundant fruit according 2 Peter 1:8. The fruit is evidenced in his internal conformity to Christ and in good works done in and through Christ to advance the kingdom. His leaf does not wither because he continues to draw from Christ’s resources which are unlimited. His physical health may deteriorate, his finances may be limited, but the inward man is renewed day by day (2 Corinthians 4:16). Spiritually, there is no aging, only maturing.
 
The final truth presented here about the righteous is that they prosper in all that they do. The word “prosper” literally means that they will accomplish what they set out to do and that they will succeed in their ambitions. This is not a promise of earthly wealth, but it is a promise that to those who delight in the Lord, He will give them the desires of their heart (Psalm 37:4). The key is that the prosperity that the righteous person seeks is ultimately and primarily spiritual. He wants to see the kingdom of heaven be reflected and advanced on the earth. He wants to see God exalted and his own life becoming like Christ. God promises in Romans 8:28 that He will cause all to work for the good of the righteous, and the next verse explains that our good is our sanctification. We must always view our ambitions through the filter of the Word of God so that we can ascertain the will of God. We can be assured always that the will of God is our sanctification. If we truly are sanctified, though we may be poor and weak, we are rich and strong. We prosper. We will bear fruit and not be ashamed at His coming. We have a judgment to look forward to.
 
    4The wicked are not so,
         But they are like chaff which the wind drives away.
    5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
         Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
    6For the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
         But the way of the wicked will perish.
 
The wicked on the other hand have no anchor. They are swept away by every wind of doctrine and philosophy. Their own desires lead them astray and to destruction, never to happiness. They are like a dried up bunch of twigs being blown about the desert. There is no water, there is no growth, and there is no fruit. Their own thoughts and actions condemn them, and Christ will issue the guilty verdict. They will be guilty in the day of judgment, and they will finally bow the knee to Christ, even if by force. They will not be able to partake in the joy of the company of the righteous forever. They will have no part in the kingdom and no inheritance with Christ. 
 
The righteous can be confident because he knows that God sees all. He is intimately acquainted with all of the ways of man, whether good or evil. He will reckon to each accordingly.  The righteous will be vindicated and the wicked will perish eternally. Justice will be meted out in eternity. We can be confident of this. When life is not fair, God is just. When partiality seems to rule, God is the impartial judge. Much of the Scripture is devoted to the them of the righteous being confused about why the wicked seem to prosper and get away with things. We need an eternal perspective, recognizing that the end of the story is yet to be written in eternity. We have only just begun. All will be weighed, and all accounts will be settled. We can rest easy, leaving all in the hands of the One who sees all.

 

 
Psalm 2
 
    1Why are the nations in an uproar
         And the peoples devising a vain thing?
    2The kings of the earth take their stand
         And the rulers take counsel together
         Against the LORD and against His Anointed, saying,
    3"Let us tear their fetters apart
         And cast away their cords from us!"

This Psalm pictures David with utmost confidence in the Lord who is his strength and victory. David knows that God has promised to bless Israel and give them dominion in the promised land if they are faithful to Him. David is confident at this point in Israel’s faithfulness and in his own faithfulness as king over Israel. Though Israel had been commanded to drive the nations out completely by killing all rather than by taking any captive, they had not done so. There were pagan peoples within the land who had become servants to the king. These nations are said to be plotting and conspiring as to how they can break their cords and bonds so that they can rebel against Israel and the king. David makes it clear that their plotting is in vain. The nations and their rulers stand together to conspire and take counsel together against Israel and David. Since Israel is God’s chosen nation and David is God’s anointed king, the nations ultimately are conspiring against God Himself by defying His ordained will and purposes.   
 
4He who sits in the heavens laughs,
         The Lord scoffs at them.
    5Then He will speak to them in His anger
         And terrify them in His fury, saying,
    6"But as for Me, I have installed My King
         Upon Zion, My holy mountain."

David here successfully is viewing his life and rule as from God’s perspective. He could have easily cowered and become afraid or given into anxiety and fears about these constant rumors about rebellion. But he places his confidence in God, who had promised him that he would set up David’s kingdom forever. There is no reason for David to suppose that his kingdom can be conquered. Thus he has the utmost confidence. Our confidence in trial is that God will never leave us or forsake us, and our hope in temptation is that God is faithful and will provide a way of escape (1 Corinthians 10:13). We must keep our eyes fixed upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Life is difficult, but God is good. That the Lord is our strength and his banner over us is love is our boast and our confidence. God sits in heaven above on His throne and laughs at any who continue to defy His will and purposes. He holds them in derision, despising them. Then God says that He will speak to them in His wrath and terrify them in His fury. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. God will show Himself strong to the nations so that they are rebuked. He will make it clear that Zion (Jerusalem) is His holy hill where His anointed reigns. The nations are powerless to do anything about it. Whether it be through plague, hail, military victory, or some other means, God had consistently shown Himself the defender of Israel. 
   
        7"I will surely tell of the decree of the LORD:
         He said to Me, 'You are My Son,
         Today I have begotten You.
    8'Ask of Me, and I will surely give the nations as Your inheritance,
         And the very ends of the earth as Your possession.
    9'You shall break them with a rod of iron,
         You shall shatter them like earthenware.'"

David here shares the promise that God had given him earlier in his reign in which God told Him that His descendants would sit on the throne of Israel forever. Clearly, we know that Israel goes into captivity, but the rule will continue forever through Christ, a descendant of David. This is why this Psalm also is prophetic of Christ, who is the only begotten Son of God. Yet He speaks of David as His son for it is God Himself who has given David the faith to fear Him and serve Him as his Father. God is willing to bless David even more than He has. God invites David to ask for a kingdom that goes to all the nations and to the ends of the earth. Yet we know that it is Christ who will rule the entire earth, so again this is prophetic. Christ will break the nations in pieces with a rod of iron (Revelation 19:15, 12:5, 2:27). When Christ returns, He will break the pride and the defiance of nations and the hardened, rebellious hearts of man. He will execute wrath and judgment, setting Himself up as victor. We will reign with Christ, for the promise in Revelation 2:27 is that those who overcome and keep His deeds until the end will have authority over the nations along with Christ. This is a beautiful promise that David likely did not fully grasp at the time. Yet we have insight into it through the New Testament.
 
The first century Jews expected Christ to break Rome at that time so that they could rule with Christ on earth then. Yet the reality is that Christ will return as the conqueror and victor, and believers who persevere will reign with Him. This will be an eternal reign, not a merely temporal one. We can see given that Christ’s power cannot be tampered with that blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord (Psalm 33:12). There need not be great fear for those who are faithful to the Almighty Ruler of heaven and earth. David does in a sense dash the nations to pieces as a victor in war in his time, but the prophecy truly is fulfilled when through His descendant Jesus Christ all the world is put under His rule.
 
     10Now therefore, O kings, show discernment;
         Take warning, O judges of the earth.
    11Worship the LORD with reverence
         And rejoice with trembling.
    12Do homage to the Son, that He not become angry, and you perish in the way,
         For His wrath may soon be kindled
         How blessed are all who take refuge in Him!
 
Therefore David warns that the kings of the nations be wise and be warned. They are told not to rebel and be foolish, for they can in no way stand before Israel’s God. Rather, they ought to submit and serve the Lord with fear. They ought to rejoice with trembling. Their bonds need not be the worst thing that ever happened to them. They can as servants of Israel become servants of God, the greatest calling and task of any human being. This is cause to rejoice. Though they were free prior to this, they were slaves of Satan. Now that they are servants of Israel, they had insight into how to worship the one true God. The challenge is whether they would humble themselves to do so rather than continue to plot rebellion in the name of foreign gods. They need to kiss the Son of God and make peace so that His wrath doesn’t come upon them quickly. God gives the nations and rulers time to repent, but it is limited. If they do not take advantage of it soon enough, they will perish in their rebellious ways. God’s wrath is quickly kindled. 
 
The conclusion then is that blessed are all those, Jew and Gentile, who take refuge in the Lord. God is not partial to a man or woman who fears Him. It is a blessing for a nation to serve God and provide shelter and refuge for other nations and peoples who do not understand freedom. May God use a nation under God to be a blessing and refuge to those who need to know God.
 
 
Psalm 3
 
    1O LORD, how my adversaries have increased!
         Many are rising up against me.
    2Many are saying of my soul,
         "There is no deliverance for him in God." Selah.
    3But You, O LORD, are a shield about me,
         My glory, and the One who lifts my head.
   
David’s sin had caught up with Him. He had taken a plurality of wives, he had not been a discerning father, and now His son Absalom had turned the hearts of the people against him. Absalom had forced David to flee out of the city. Yet in the morning David came to the Lord. David did a lot of things wrong and foolishly, but he continued to humble himself before the Lord and put his trust in Him. This the Lord honored. Some people get depressed, some have an outburst of anger, and some drown their sorrows in some other sin. David does no such thing. He brings his burden before God and casts his cares at His feet. He simply tells God what is going on. Of course God already knows, but the beauty of prayer is intimacy with God. We share our heart with Him and we seek to hear His heart. God draws near to us when we draw near to Him. This is His promise to us. 
 
David exclaims that life has gotten very difficult, for his adversaries have increased. Even his own son has rebelled against him. Much of those who were loyal to him are now following Absalom. His foes are many. Many people have lost confidence that David is still going to be preserved by God. They say to others and aloud that David will be destroyed this time. God will not deliver him any longer they say. David shares his circumstances with God and then immediately turns to God for strength, declaring what he knows to be true. He praises God for being a shield about Him. He doesn’t beg God to help him out and guard him. He rejoices that God is that already for him. God is his shield, his protection, his boast and glory, and the One who keeps him from despair and dismay. His head had been bowed low in hurt, and his kingdom had been mocked. Yet he believes God will give him exaltation as king once again. He will have reason to look men in the eye with confidence. When we are downcast, God lifts us up if we put our faith in Him. If David’s glory had been in himself or in his position as king, he would have been in real trouble. Yet his glory was in God Himself, so he could persevere under the worst of circumstances. When we humble ourselves under the mighty hand of God, He will exalt us in due time, lifting our heads. Whether our head is lifted toward the heaven or bowed low to the ground, we must always call to the Lord and glory in Him alone. There is no greater hope or protection that in the shield of God Himself. 
 
 4I was crying to the LORD with my voice,
         And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah.
    5I lay down and slept;
         I awoke, for the LORD sustains me.
    6I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people
         Who have set themselves against me round about.
 
David knew the essence of prayer. Prayer is not merely talking with God, though that may suffice in some situations. It by its very definition is a calling to God with a sense of burden and urgency. Here David cries out to God with his voice. It is a prayer that must be uttered aloud, for it is escaping from within him. It is so necessary and so urgent. God, as we ought to expect, answered him from His holy mountain. Though David’s kingdom had been shaken, God’s had not. Though David was no longer in the stronghold of Jerusalem, God was sitting atop His holy mountain. No one or anything could challenge His authority. This is where we want our answer to come from. We want to be assured always that God is in complete control. Indeed, He is. 
 
Then there is a brief pause. The burden had been lifted, the cry had been uttered, and the longings had been expressed. Now peace and rest invade David’s spirit. The next thing we read is that he lies down and sleeps. He was not assassinated in his sleep, nor did any other trouble befall him. He awoke safe and sound, for the Lord sustained him. David is so good at giving God credit where credit is due. He understands that the ability to breathe, to eat, to sleep, and to wake up are all gifts from God. God is sovereign over it all. The modern western church has distanced itself from this intimacy and dependency upon God, reducing things to science and naturalistic cause and effect. The reality is that God is sovereign over all naturalistic processes and supernatural interventions. Nothing happens apart from the hand of God. He is intimately involved with all of history, and He is intimately acquainted with all of our ways. 
 
It is interesting that this psalm is said to be a morning prayer of David. Yet after praying, he falls asleep. Perhaps he had been awake all night, and finally after giving his burden over to God, he was able to sleep for a bit before taking on the day. He resolves by faith that He will not be afraid of anything, even if tens of thousands march on him to overtake him and slay him. He resolves to not let fear shake him or make him restless during the night. Should Absalom choose to march upon him quickly while he is vulnerable and outnumbered, he will rest in God his shield. Fortunately God was his shield, using Hushai to overthrow the counsel of Ahithophel, which was to march upon David immediately. Thus God did indeed preserve the life of David. 
 
    7Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God!
         For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek;
         You have shattered the teeth of the wicked.
    8Salvation belongs to the LORD;
         Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.
 
He concludes confidently, which is the posture Christians should live in. Too often Christians live with persistent doubt about God, His goodness, and His plan. David surrenders his burdens to God, overcomes his fear by faith in God, and then boldly concludes assuming that God has answered his prayer. He asks God to move and save him. Then quickly he switches to the past tense, saying that God has conquered his enemies and shattered the teeth of the wicked. He could be remembering God’s faithfulness in past victories or he could be exalting God beforehand for victories he believes God will give by faith in the case of Absalom. I think it is the latter. 
 
Sometimes God gives us faith to thank Him ahead of time for what He is going to do, for how He is going to move, and for how He is going to deliver. We need such faith more often. God answers prayer, and He is consistent to keep His promises. 
 
Salvation alone is from God, not from chariots and horses or military shrewdness. God is sovereign over all of the affairs of men. May His blessing be upon His people. What a great prayer for a shepherd and leader of God’s people to pray. Though he is king and responsible for his people, he prays for God’s blessing on God’s people. He realizes that he is a mere steward of the gifts and callings of God. God doesn’t need him, but He for His purposes has chosen to use him. David simply puts his faith in God. For such a powerful, gifted, and skilled person, David has what many would call a simple faith. He relies totally on God. He prays all the time. He walks in victory by faith in God. His faith is simple. He just trusts God. We have much to learn from him.