PSALM 51 TALK:FORGIVENESS MATTERS (THE WONDERFUL GRACE OF GOD THAT FORGIVES, SAVES AND TRANSFORMS LIVES OF SINNERS)

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PSALM 51 TALK

FORGIVENESS MATTERS

(THE WONDERFUL GRACE OF GOD THAT FORGIVES, SAVES AND TRANSFORMS LIVES OF SINNERS)

 INTRODUCTION

This is the third and final Psalm Talk on the theme of “What matters” and carries the title forgiveness matters. This is the title I have given one of the most powerful Psalms in the bible that features the grace of God in forgiving a man who had just sinned big time. This man claimed to be a Godly King and yet he committed murder and adultery.

Does forgiveness matter?

In this mad revenge crazy world you might be tempted to say it does not matter or at least it is one of the last things people consider. I was blown away a few years ago when I heard an American folk singer named Eric Bibb sing these words,

Peace on earth – you know it begins in our hearts

You know it’s worth nothing less then our survival

Paradise – a state of mind

Make the choice leave war behind

Love is real – fear is just a dream

Love is all – nothing else is what it seems

Forgiveness is Gold

Eric is saying, I think, people today see love as the dream and fear and revenge as reality but what if it was the other way around, what if love and forgiveness is what ruled this world then we would have to say forgiveness is Gold – the most precious commodity we can ever have.

Many people today would say if I was the man who the king cheated on or if I was a member of the family of the man who was cheated on and then murdered by the adulterous king then the last thing I’d want is forgiveness for him. There is a well-known saying that says, “Revenge is sweet”.

Is revenge sweet?

Well just go to parts of the Middle East today where revenge, fear and hatred rule and see the almighty mess that has caused. Just enter the lives of people living a life of revenge and hatred in your own society and tell me if these people are finding life is sweet as they are eaten up with hatred and revenge.

The adulterous King who murdered the husband of the women he had an affair with is King David who wrote 72 of the 150 Psalms in the bible. Forgiveness mattered much to him and it led him to write this Psalm. David actually wrote seven Psalms that came out of his affair with Bathsheba and the fall out from it. We call these Psalms, “The Penitential Psalms” and they are Psalm 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. I think other Psalms have David’s experience of God’s forgiveness behind them as well like Psalm 40 (see Psalm Talk 40 for more details). All these Psalms touch on the great and powerful forgiveness David received from God once he turned back to God in repentance and faith.

The Hebrew heading says this about this Psalm,

“For the director of music. A Psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba”.

 The gory details of David’s affair and the prophet telling David God was aware of his sin is found in 2 Samuel 11 and 12 and I will have these two chapters at the back of my comments of this Psalm.

I will also be using the story of John Newton during this talk and will be referring to details of Newton’s life supplied by an article called, “Amazing Grace in John Newton – A Christian Witness lived and sung” by Rusty Wright. This is what is said at the start of this article,

“Rusty Write provides a compelling summary of the background of John Newton, composer of Amazing Grace. Newton’s life, even more than his famous song, is an amazing testimony to the saving grace offered to each of us by God through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Newton’s life is a Christian witness to the amazing grace of our loving God.”

 My brake down of this Psalm has the “forgiveness Matters” theme in mind:

  1. THE SINNERS CONFESSION MATTERS (1 – 6)
  1. THE SINNERS RESTORATION MATTERS (7 – 12)
  1. THE FORGIVEN SINNERS RESOLUTION MATTERS (13 – 15)
  1. THE FORGIVEN SINNERS WORSHIP MATTERS (16 – 19)

 

1.  THE SINNERS CONFESSION MATTERS (1 – 6)

 I would like to give a brief rundown of what led to David writing this Psalm. 1 Samuel 11 tells us that in the spring time when his army went to war with the Ammonites David stayed back in Jerusalem. One evening he saw from his roof top a beautiful women bathing in a near by building.

David broke the 10th Commandment when he coveted his neighbour’s wife and arranged to meet her and then broke the eighth commandment and committed adultery. The women’s name is Bathsheba and she soon learnt she was carrying a child to David. He then tried to cover up his sin by bringing the women’s husband home from the battlefront. Bathsheba’s husband, Uriah turned out to be a loyal soldier to King David and he refused to go to his home and sleep with his wife. This leads David to break the sixth commandment, murder as David realised the only way he could cover up his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba was to send Uriah back to the front lines to be put in a situation where he was killed.

It seems at first that David got away with adultery and murder as we soon learn that after a time of mourning Bathsheba comes to David’s palace and he marries her and a son is born. However at the end of 1 Samuel 11 we read these words in verse 27,

“But the thing David had done displeased the Lord”.

 God then sends the prophet Nathan to David and he tactfully tells David God knew what he had done and David would face dire consequences for his great sins. David’s reaction to Nathans words is recorded in 2 Samuel 12: 13,

“Then David said to Nathan, “I have sinned against the Lord.”

 We will later hear Nathans reply and what consequences David faced but for now lets look at what David said to God in his prayer of confession in verses 1 – 6.

We will look at two main things in this section:

  1. WHO DAVID PRAYS TO (vs. 1)
  1. WHAT DAVID PRAYS (vs. 1 – 6)

 

  1. WHO DAVID PRAYS TO (vs. 1)

 David is confessing his many sins to God and he calls this God a God of,

“Unfailing love”

 And

“Great compassion”

 Leupold quotes a commentator named Mclaren who writes,

“The psalm begins with at once grasping the character of God as the sole ground of hope”.

 Many people who suffer the kind of guilt David would have had become so depressed they would take their lives. Many other people in the Old Testament did just that once they realised they had failed God so badly and they felt they had no hope.

However David cries out to God who he believes is a great God of love. He has already spoken about this in many Psalms. In a Psalm 34, which we know, was written before this tells us in verse18,

“The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”.

 In many of David’s 72 known Psalms words like we find in Psalm 86 verse 5 come up,

“You are forgiving and good, O Lord, abounding in love to all who call to you”

 Where did David get this idea of God?

God being a loving and forgiving God does not come from David’s fertile imagination but springs from all that Israel knew about their God in his word and actions in the past. In Exodus 34: 4 – 7 we read this,

So Moses chiseled out two stone tablets like the first ones and went up Mount Sinai early in the morning, as the Lord had commanded him; and he carried the two stone tablets in his hands. Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”

Israel was saved out of Egypt and even chosen as a special nation of God because of God and his undeserved love for them as we read in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9,

The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments”.

David was simply a man who took the reveled word of God seriously and generally sought to live by it. He also proved God to be a God of loving-kindness on many occasions particularly when he was on the run from the evil king Saul. We saw this in the reference from Psalm 34 when David had gone to the Philistine town of Gath and had acted inappropriately before the King of Gath Abimelech yet God heard David’s cry for help and delivered him from both the hands of Abimelech and King Saul.

This same God of the Old Testament is the God we encounter in the New Testament where we see an even greater revelation of God’s love.

The famous verse John 3: 16 says,

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

God giving his Son to die on the cross brings to all who trust and believe in him for the forgiveness of their sins is something Paul states clearly in Ephesians 1: 7,

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”.

  1. WHAT DAVID PRAYS (vs. 1 – 6)

 David basically is praying two things in his prayer of confession:

  1. HE ASKS FOR MERCY (vs. 1)
  1. HE CONFESSES HIS SINS (2 – 6)

 

  1. HE ASKS FOR MERCY (vs. 1)

David’s first words of this Psalm is,

“Have mercy on me, O God”.

I have already pointed out that David saw God as a God of love and particularly mercy. In many of his Psalms David speaks of God’s mercy and love like, Psalm 25: 6,

“Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from old”.

Kidner points out that David’s claim for mercy is for,

“One who has no claim to the favor he begs for”.

David has seriously broken the laws of God, which he claimed he sought to live by, Psalm 40: 8,

“I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart”

This why David says in verse 4,

“Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight”.

However this is the Amazing Love of God even a woeful sinner like David can find mercy and love in the God of the bible who is as we read in Exodus 34: 6 and 7,

“The compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin”.

God has not changed and continues to offer his Amazing Grace to sinful men and women even today. The story of John Newton is an excellent example of God’s Amazing love, which inspired Newton to eventually write,

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me.

I once was lost, but now am found,

Was blind, but now I see.

Rusty Wright sets down a catalogue of sins Newton had committed before his conversion. He was a slave trader, had taken on what he called “Freethinking rationalist philosophy and renounced the Christian faith and had a foul mouth often blaspheming the name of God. Then one day after Newton had started to read a Christian book by Thomas A Kemp called, “On the imitation of Christ” he began to wonder, “What if these things were true”. I quote directly from Rusty Wrights article to tell you the next part of the story,

“That night, a violent storm flooded the ship with water. Fearing for his life, Newton surprised himself by saying, ‘The Lord have mercy on us!’ Spending long hours at the ship’s helm, he reflected on his life and rejection of God. At first, he thought his shortcomings to great to be forgiven. Then, he says, ‘I began to think of Jesus whom I had so often derided, of his life and death for sins not his own, but for those in their distress who should put their trust in him”.

The next day Newton awoke a new man and he began a new journey in life that ultimately led to him becoming a minister and a leading light in the fight against slavery and of course the composer of great Christian hymns like Amazing Grace.

Newton is only one of countless numbers of men and women who have discovered the life changing mercy and love of God. Even the great apostle Paul was one of them who before his encounter with the risen Lord was a murderer of Christians who he hated. It was the Amazing Love of God in Christ that transformed Paul’s life. Paul says this about himself in 1 Timothy 1: 15 – 16,

“Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life.

Did David receive the mercy and forgiveness of God?

Once David confessed his sins to God the prophet Nathan says this to David in 2 Samuel 12: 13b – 14,

“The Lord has taken away your sin. You are not gong to die. But because by doing this you have made the enemies of the Lord show utter contempt, the son born to you will die”.

  1. HE CONFESSES HIS SINS (2 – 6)

 David not only asks God for mercy he spells out in detail how he has sinned against God. David actually uses three expressions of his sins:

  1. My transgressions (vs. 1,3)
  2. My iniquity (vs. 2)
  3. My Sin (vs. 2,3,4 and 5)
  1. My Transgressions (vs. 1, 3)

David makes it clear that he has broken God’s law by using the word, “Transgressions”. He has transgressed or acted against the stated law of God in at least three of the ten commandments, 10, do not covet, 8, do not commit adultery and commandment 6, do not murder. David writes, verse 1,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions”.

David wants God blot out these misdemeanors as Gordon Churchyard explains blotting out as,

“Like putting black paint on a picture so that you cannot see it”.

He speaks again of his transgressions or law breaking in verse 3,

“For I know my transgressions and my sin is always before me”.

He says this because he speaks of being washed clean of his sins in the previous verse,

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

What David is asking for is like a convicted criminal coming before the judge and saying, “I wont you to wave the charges against me and make my criminal record clean even though I am guilty of the crime”.

We know that no judge would ever do this but the amazing thing is that the Gospel message presents that this is what God has done for us in Christ. He is the Holy Righteous judge who finds us all guilty of sin and gives us the maximum sentence for our sin, death and then in Christ his only son pays the maximum penalty for our sins so we can be made clean through the washing away or blotting out of our sins before him.

This is what Paul is speaking about in Romans 8: 1 – 4,

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit”.

  1. My iniquity (vs. 2)

What is iniquity?

The best answer I have found to this question is from a web blog page called Gotquestion.org by Michael Houdmenn who gives this answer,

“The Hebrew word used most often for “iniquity” means “guilt worthy of punishment.” Iniquity is sin at its worst. Iniquity is premeditated, continuing, and escalating. When we flirt with sin, we fall for the lie that we can control it.

But like a cute baby monkey can grow to be a wild, out-of-control primate, sin that seems small and harmless at first can take control before we know it”.

 David speaks of this in verse 2,

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

 David in the Bathsheba affair was trapped in a cycle of sin that commenced with his coveting another mans wife which led to adultery and finally to get out of that murder. One sin led to another sin and it all became iniquity, which as Houdmenn put it became guilt worthy of punishment.

David is saying in his confession to God he feels dirty and wants to be washed clean. Later he speaks of this washing away of the filth of sin in verse 7,

“Cleanse me with hyssop and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow”.

 Only God through Christ can remove the stain of deep-rooted sin that leads to guilt worthy of punishment. The prophet Isaiah picks up the idea of the washing away of our sins and being made whiter than snow in Isaiah 1: 18,

Come now, let us settle the matter,”
 says the Lord. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool”.

I understood what Isaiah is talking about a lot better from an experience I had while I was in Bible College many years ago. I joined some of my fellow students to help harvest some mulberries for old man. Once we had finished collecting all the fruit from the tree the old man told us to try and wash off the horrible black mulberry stain from our hands. We used lots of soap and water but the stain would not go. The old man came to our rescue and showed us how to do it. You simply get some of the unripe fruit and crush it up and the sap from this rubbed over the stains removes the horrible stain. He then referred to this verse in Isaiah 1: 18 and said Isaiah is speaking about the only way our sins can be washed away from our horrible sin stained lives and that is by the shed blood of Christ.

Hebrews 9: 22 says,

“In fact, the law requires that nearly everything be cleansed with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”.

 1 John 1: 7 says,

But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin”.

 So when David prays fro his iniquities to be washed away or cleansed he is looking forward to the Messiah who will do that for him and everyone before Christ and after Christ who puts their trust in his shed blood for them.

 As I said in my introduction the kind of guilt that David would have experienced when he realized that God knew how great he had sinned would cause many people to take their lives. David did not do this he confessed his sin and looked to God for forgiveness and cleansing.

  1. My Sin (vs. 2,3,4 and 5)

The last word David uses in his prayer of confession about his state before God is “sin”. The most well known definition of sin is missing the mark or not living up to the standard God has set for mankind. As Paul writes in Romans 3: 23,

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

However Coffman makes this insightful comment,

“There is a great deal more to “sin” than merely ‘missing the mark”. Sin is a lack of conformity to, or a transgression, especially if deliberate, of a law, precept or principle regarded as having divine authority”.

With this in mind lets read again verses 2, 3, and 4,

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned
 and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge”.

Note how David says that his sin was against God and that what he had done was evil in God’s sight. David hurt a lot of people by his sin; he ruined a marriage, killed a man and made an opportunity for the enemies of God and Israel to bring down their name and reputation. Yet note it was God David effected the most. As God said through the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 12: 7 – 9,

“‘I anointed you king over Israel, and I delivered you from the hand of Saul. I gave your master’s house to you, and your master’s wives into your arms. I gave you all Israel and Judah. And if all this had been too little, I would have given you even more. Why did you despise the word of the Lord by doing what is evil in his eyes? You struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and took his wife to be your own. You killed him with the sword of the Ammonites”.

David makes this remarkable statement about sin and the human heart in verse 5,

“Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me”.

 David makes clear in one simple statement what has become known as the doctrine of original sin. This is not the only place this idea is found in scripture. It first appears in Genesis 8: 21,

“The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood”.

 It is also mention in the book Job in Job 15: 14 and 25: 4 and in the New Testament the concept is broadened to teach that in our natural state every part of us is effected by sin sometimes called, “total depravity” as Paul teaches this in places like Ephesians 2: 1 and 2,

“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient”.

 David does not speak of this problem of being born in or with a tendency to sin as an excuse for his terrible sins of adultery and murder but as Leupold says,

“Not an excuse but a matter of fact”.

 It is as though the horror of having to face the stark reality of his sins has made him realize just how sinful he really is. He is not also saying that conception is sinful but rather even from this very early time of his existence he was a sinner.

The final verse in this first section verse 6 reads,

“Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place”.

 David is stating what he believes God wants from us truth or uprightness right down to our very core but as he has just said in verse 5 our very core is not upright but sinful. Maybe David is already starting to ask how he wants God to restore him, which is what we will look at in the next section. Here he wants God to deeply teach him wisdom that of course will lead to a more upright life.

The New Testament makes it clear what the answer to the problem of sin is and I leave you to ponder two New Testament references that express this answer. The first is Romans 6: 23,

“For the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”

 The second is two verses from 2 Corinthians 5: 17 and 18,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation:”

Does confession of our sins matter?

It certainly does as it leads to true repentance and the opportunity of trusting in what Christ has done for us when he died for our sins on the cross.

  1. THE SINNERS RESTORATION MATTERS (7 – 12)

 David now seems to move on in his confession to actually ask for things God will do with and for him if God will actually forgive and restore him. David makes it clear he will be a different person if he finds God’s forgiveness. It is right and good that we to should tell God in our prayers what we would like to do for him if it is his will for us. I know I have had many private prayer times myself where I have prayed like I am having a conversation with God where I am suggesting things to God in prayer and as I do I believe God leads my mind into new insight about the things I am praying about.

David asks for four things in his restoration if he is forgiven and restored to service for God. Theses four things are:

  1. Cleansing (vs’s 7 and 9)
  2. Joy (vs. 8)
  3. New heart (vs. 10)
  4. God’s ongoing presence and power (vs’s 11 and 12)
  1. Cleansing (vs’s 7 and 9)

David has already asked for cleansing in verse 2 where we read,

“Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”

I have already commented on verse 7 about being cleansed or cleaned so that we become whiter than snow which is a poetic way of saying I want to be really clean. The full verse 7 reads,

“Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow”.

The fact that David asks four times for some form of cleansing by using words like, “wash me”, “cleanse me”, “Cleanse me with hyssop” and “wash me and I will be whiter than snow”, shows that David felt really dirty morally and spiritually by the sins he had committed through the Bathsheba affair.

This is particularly clear from the use of the image of being cleansed by hyssop. Hyssop is spoken about in the Torah (first five books of the bible) as something used for ceremonial cleansing. A good example of this is Numbers 19: 18 were hyssop is used to make a person clean before God if they had come in contact with a dead body. Hyssop is made from an herb plant found in the Middle East that apparently has a strong mint smell. Hyssop is a kind of disinfectant to help purify a person contaminated by the stench of death. The point is David is not just ceremonially unclean but is now spiritually and morally unclean and he needs the kind of cleansing or disinfectant that only God can give.

As I said before when commenting on being made clean so that we are whiter now snow that God’s cleansing agent is the blood of Jesus Christ shed for us in his sacrifice on the cross. Listen to some more teaching from the book of Hebrews about how the shedding of Christ blood in his sacrifice for our sins is the only way we can be cleansed or forgiven by God. Hebrews 10: 11 – 14,

“Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy”.

The, “this priest” of course in this passage is Jesus Christ and his sacrifice for us makes us holy or clean without moral or spiritual impurity.

The last verse that speaks of cleansing is verse 9, reads,

“Hid your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity”

I have already commented on the concept of “blotting out” our iniquity when I commented on “blotting out my transgressions” in verse 1 and I referred to Churchyard’s concept of it is like he is asking for black paint to be painted over a picture so you cannot see it anymore. Listen to how Spurgeon explains this concept,

“My revolts, my excesses, are all recorded against me; but, Lord, erase the lines. Draw thy pen through the register”.

Paul has the concept of our sins being done away with in the second chapter of his letter to the Colossians where he writes in Col. 2: 13 – 15,

“When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross”.

Through what Christ did on the cross we are seen by God as clean before him by our many sins being done away with as they were nailed to the cross.

  1. Joy (vs. 8)

David felt great pain and sadness once his sins were out in the open before God. I believe even before Nathan revealed God knew of his many sins David was experiencing great inner pain and sadness. I spoke of this in my Psalm talk on Psalm 32 when I commented on verses 3 and 4 of that Psalm which I believe speak of how David felt within himself during the months leading up to his sins coming out in the open before God. Psalm 32 verses 3 and 4 read,

“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was sapped as in the heat of summer”.

So David was suffering internally great pain and sadness from his sins he sought to hide from God. Once David confessed his sins to God in 2 Samuel 12 he is told by Nathan he would not die and was forgiven by God but the child born to him and Bathsheba from his adulterous relationship would die. Then David spends a week in agonizing prayer for God to spare the child. This again shows that David even after learning of God’s forgiveness was not initially a happy man.

So in Psalm 51 David prays for joy and happiness to return to his life once God forgives him. We read of this in verse 8,

‘Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice”.

David prays for the joy of the Lord to return to his life for, as we saw from Psalm 32 verses 3 and 4 as a sinner not forgiven by God he was in pain and constantly groaning. This is the reality for many people around us who do not know the liberating power of the forgiveness of God. They are walking around in a state of constant pain and groaning. This is what leads many people today to drug taking and alcohol abuse. These people are trying to deaden the inward pain of sin and they can find no answer to this inward spiritual pain. The Gospel message is the medicine they need and this is what Paul says about knowing the justification of God through faith in Christ in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.

David speaks of his bones being crushed in both Psalm 32 and verse 8 of Psalm 51. I think this is a poetic description of how he felt when he was riddled with the inward pain of guilt caused by sin he had not confessed to God.

He asks God in verse 12,

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation”

 He had known so well and clearly the joy of knowing God in his life as his Lord and Savior in so many ways and on so many occasions. Again in Psalm 34, a Psalm David wrote long before the Bathsheba affair, he writes in verses 8 and 9,

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his saints for those who fear him lack nothing”.

Did David ever feel the joy of the Lord again after the Bathsheba affair?

The answer to this is certainly yes, but it did not come quickly for he did feel some form of ongoing inward pain from time to time because of consequences of his terrible sins of adultery and murder. Once David heard of the death of the child he had to Bathsheba after seven days of agonizing prayer we read these words in 2 Samuel 12: 20,

“Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the Lord and worshipped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food”.

 David returns to normal life but now he can worship God again and enjoy peace with God which is the foundation of all true joy as Paul says in Romans 15: 13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

  1. New heart (vs. 10)

In verse 10 David asks God to,

“Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me”.

What David is asking for God to do for him once he is forgiven introduces us to a great theme in both the old a New Testament. The Old Testament looked forward to a New Covenant that involved giving his people a new heart. The concept of the promise of the New Covenant in the Old Testament is clearly stated in Jeremiah 31: 31 – 34,

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel
 and with the people of Judah. It will not be like the covenant I made with their ancestors when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke my covenant, though I was a husband to them,” declares the Lord. “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the Lord. I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people.

No longer will they teach their neighbor, or say to one another, ‘Know the Lord,’ because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest,” declares the Lord. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

 Note how Jeremiah speaks of God putting his law in their hearts and writing it on their hearts. This is speaking about God giving us new hearts where his Holy Spirit will convict us of our sins as Jesus speaks of in John 16: 8 and guide us into all truth as Jesus goes on to say in John 16: 13.

David not only asks for a new pure heart that God will create in him but he asks for a new spirit within him. The prophet Ezekiel also looked forward to this for the restoration of the sinful nation of Israel that was about to be judged and sent into exile. He writes in Ezekiel 36: 24 – 28,

“‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land. I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God”.

 Note how Ezekiel links the promise of the new heart with the coming of God’s spirit to all his peoples hearts when he writes in verse 26,

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws”.

 All this is said to have actually been for filled through the New Covenant established by Jesus Christ and his sacrificial death for us and in the sending of the holy Spirit once he had risen and ascended into heaven. Hebrews chapters 8 – 10 present the message of how Jesus brought about this New Covenant and I recommend you read these chapters to see how the writer to the Hebrews sets this out. I will only quote two verses here that relate directly to David’s request for a new heart and spirit once God forgave him. Hebrews 9: 14 – 15 says,

“How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

Finally note how David says, “Create in me”, making it clear that God and God alone can make this possible and that this new heart and spirit he wants is an act of new creation by God in us. Paul speaks of this new creative act of God in our hearts in 2 Corinthians 5: 17,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come”.

  1. God’s ongoing presence and power (vs’s 11 and 12)

Closely linked to this is what he asks for in verses 11 and 12,

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

“Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

 Many commentators think that what lies behind David’s request of God here is what happened to David’s predecessor King Saul. In 1 Samuel 16: 1 we read,

“The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as King over Israel”.

Then in 1 Samuel 16: 14 we read,

“Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him”.

 This happened to Saul because he disobeyed the direct word of God about how he was to treat the evil enemies of God called the Amalekites. Like David he seems to have repented of his sin before Samuel but his repentance proves to be not genuine and he really shows that he was trusting in his own powers and abilities and not God through this incident and for the rest of his sad reign and life.

David saw and felt first hand what the departing of the Spirit of the Lord led to in Saul’s life and does not want this to happen to him, therefore he prays,

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

In the Old Testament the Holy Spirit comes into the lives of certain individuals to do certain things for God. It seems the Spirit of God comes and goes from people as we see in the life of Saul. The Holy Spirit comes into Saul’s life in 1 Samuel 10: 10,

“When they arrived at Gilbeah, a procession of prophets met him; the Spirit of God came upon him in power, and he joined in their prophesying”.

 We have also just seen in 1 Samuel 16: 14 that because of Saul’s deliberate disobedience the Spirit of God left him.

However in the New Testament the Holy Spirit comes to dwell in the lives all believers and does not leave them. This is seen throughout the teaching of Paul as we see in something like 1 Corinthians 6: 19 – 20,

“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price, therefore honour God with your body”.

 Pauls teaching on the importance of the Holy Spirit in the life of all believers is clear from a passage like Romans 8: 9 – 11,

“You, however, are not in the realm of the flesh but are in the realm of the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you. And if anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, they do not belong to Christ.

But if Christ is in you, then even though your body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you”.

As I pointed out in the previous section the major characteristic of the New Covenant is God working in us through the work of Christ a new heart and this is achieved through the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of all true believers. The prophet Joel for told of this coming of the Holy Spirit to all believers in Joel 2: 28,

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people, Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions”.

This very prophecy was for filled on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was first given to all believers and Peter explains to the crowd what has been happening to people when God’s Holy Spirit came upon them with theses words from Acts 2: 14 – 17,

“Then Peter stood up with the Eleven, raised his voice and addressed the crowd: “Fellow Jews and all of you who live in Jerusalem, let me explain this to you; listen carefully to what I say. These people are not drunk, as you suppose. It’s only nine in the morning! No, this is what the prophet Joel spoke:

“‘In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams”.

 However David is living during the time of the Old Testament and so his great sins put him in danger of being cast away from God’s presence and the Holy Spirit being taken from him so he prays,

“Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me”.

He also asks for God to restore the joy of his salvation and I commented on this in the section on “Joy”. However he goes on to ask,

“Grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me”.

 King Saul lacked this, he showed by his actions that he did not have a willing spirit and God did not sustain him. Saul eventually falls so far away from God he ends up consulting witch graft for guidance in 1 Samuel 28 with gigantic terrible consequences as soon after that Saul takes his own life when fighting the Philistines.

So David wants God to help him after he is forgiven to have a more willing and obedient spirit and then he knows God will sustain him.

Even though the Holy Spirit will not leave us Paul teaches that we must continue to live the way God wants us to or we will be in danger of what Paul calls, grieving the Holy Spirit. He teaches this in a passage like Ephesians 4: 29 – 32,

 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”.

JOHN NEWTON’S RESTORATION

Rusty Wright says this about what happened after John Newton’s dramatic conversion,

“After his dramatic experience at sea, Newton saw changes in his life. He attended church, read spiritual books, and spoke outwardly of his commitment. But his faith and behavior would take many twists on the road toward maturity”.

Wright sets down how he still operated slave ships for a while but he conducted church services on board and treated slaves with a lot of compassion. After three slave trading voyages he got sick with a mysterious illness, which Wright says temporarily, paralyzed him. This happened two days before he was to set sail for a fourth slave-trading voyage. The ship he was to captain was over run by slaves and the escaping slaves killed the replacement captain. Newton gave up slave trading and in the years to come became one of the strongest advocates for the abolishment of slave trading in England.

David like Newton would have taken a long time for his restoration but he prayed for God to help him to be restored from the terrible fall from grace he had experienced through the Bathsheba affair.

  1. THE FORGIVEN SINNERS RESOLUTION MATTERS (13 – 15)

 Does it matter if we don’t make promises to God to serve him once we have been forgiven?

I would say it does matter because when we promise to serve God once we have been saved or forgiven for a particular sin then we are showing God we really mean business. If we act on these resolutions we are doing what Paul says we should do in Philippians 2: 12, where he says,

“Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”

This does not mean that our salvation is obtained by our good work for Paul goes on to say in verse 13,

“For it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose”.

David then makes three big resolutions in verses 13 – 15 of Psalm 51.

These three resolutions are:

  1. Teach other sinners (vs. 13)
  2. Tell others of God’s salvation (vs. 14)
  3. Praise God for his salvation (vs. 15)
  1. Teach other sinners (vs. 13)

David resolves first to use his experience of God’s great saving love as an opportunity to teach other sinners so that they might have the opportunity to know this love and forgiveness for themselves. He writes,

“Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you”.

 Note how David does not plan to keep his wonderful experience of God’s grace to himself. He longs to have a ministry to great sinner like himself to help them turn back from their wicked ways and experience like him the Amazing Grace of God. Spurgeon makes the point that,

“Non instruct others so well as those who have been experimentally taught of God themselves”.

 For a few years ago I worked with unemployed people counselling and training them in the business of looking for work. One of my clients in those years was a man in his late forties who had worked as a truck driver but he had also been an alcoholic. He had been helped by a Christian’s to come to Christ and deal with his problems of drinking. He said to me I don’t wont to drive trucks anymore what else could I do. I said why don’t you use your unique insights into dealing with alcohol and its abuse to help others with the same problem you had. I looked up courses he could do and put him in touch with institutions that run them and he left my training to be trained as a Christian welfare worker specialising in helping alcoholics.

David resolved to use his experience of sin and God’s forgiveness to help others and Derek Kidner makes this interesting observation,

“The Psalm itself is the richest answer to the prayer, since it has shown generations of sinners the way home, long after they had thought themselves beyond recall”.

The story of John Newton echoes this verse as Wright sets down in his excellent article on Newton, he writes,

“Eventually, Newton sought to become an ordained minister, but opposing church leaders prevented this for six years. Intervention by the Earl of Dartmouth benefactor of Dartmouth College in the US. Helped launch Newton’s formal ministry. Newton was to significantly impact a young Member of Parliament who would rescue an oppressed people and a nation’s character”.

 That young Parliament minister was a man named William Wilberforce who led the fight for the abolition of slavery and many other significant social reforms in England at that time. Newton’s experience as a former slave trader and his powerful encouragement of Wilberforce was a major factor in the abolition of Slaveries success.

  1. Tell others of God’s salvation (vs. 14)

The next verse is a very similar point to the last one but makes very clear what David intends he will be doing and what his message he resolves he will teach, he writes in verse 14,

“Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness”.

 David seems to remind himself in his resolution of the terrible sins he has committed and the dire consequences of those sins when he calls them “bloodguilt”. Here he is thinking of the murder of Uriah which for anyone else would bring the death penalty particularly for a justice system built on Exodus 21: 23 – 25,

“But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise”.

Bloodguilt would mean blood for blood or life for life and David was guilty of Uriah’s shedding of blood and death. Today many victims of crime call for this Old Testament form of justice and therefore nothing but the death penalty is just in their minds for murder and very long prison sentences for other crimes. It is interesting to note that even in Old Testament times the eye for eye justice system was a merciful form of justice and we can see how justice without mercy can get out of hand when we consider that in 17th century England a person could be hung for stealing a loaf of bread. These days our justice system is founded more on the Gospel message of love and mercy and we practice a system of Justice with mercy. James 2: 12 – 13 sums up the New Testament teaching on this,

“Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment”.

 Some might ask did David show mercy to Uriah when he had him killed?

This reveals to us the power and wonder of God’s love and David goes on to say

“O God, the God who saves me”

This is the content of David’s message the fact that even though he deserved death God in his great love decided to save him. This is what the New Testament calls, The Gospel” which means good news and this term is used ninety times in the New Testament. We all deserve death as Paul points out in the famous Romans 6: 23 verse,

“For the wages of sin is death”,

 However because of God’s great love or mercy the rest of the verse says,

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

 Even way back in David’s time David experienced the wonderful grace of God. This then is the basis of his message, so he goes on to say,

“And my tongue will sing of your righteousness”.

 Note David speaks of singing, as he was a great singer and writer of songs, as we know from 72 song compositions that went into the 150 Psalms in the bible. We also have examples of David’s songs in the books of Samuel and Chronicles. David’s songs then have continued to achieve his previous resolution of teaching transgressors God’s ways.

John Newton also had the gift of composing songs and worked with another famous hymn writer William Cowper and in 1799 they published a book of hymns called, “Olney Hymns”. Olney was the little rural English village where John Newton first served as an Anglican Church minister and William Cowper was a poet who attended that church and became a great friend of Newton. The hymnbook contains 348 original hymns, with Cowper writing only 66 of them. Many of these hymns like “Amazing Grace” are still sung today but it was not unto1820 that the Church of England allowed hymns to be sung in church as only metrical Psalms were allowed to be used in worship before that. I cannot understand why even today some extreme protestant churches ban hymn singing when Paul says in Ephesians 5: 19,

“Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord”.

 These strict and hymn less churches are actually disobeying the word of God they believe they are upholding. Singing is not from the devil but is a gift of God that the devil has sought to use and promote evil through sinful men and women. However like David God wants us to sing of his love and righteousness as both an act of worship and testimony of his love to this fallen world.

Finally David tells us what his singing will be about,

“My tongue will sing your righteousness”.

 Leopold points out this about God’s righteousness,

“Whereas he had previously used the word “righteousness” to describe the quality of God that he desired to extol, he now refers to that two-sided attribute in God which motivates him both to punish the evildoer and also show favour to the penitent and to reward the doer of good”.

We as sinful fallen beings have no idea of God’s Righteousness and cannot really fully understand it as Isaiah points out in Isaiah 64: 6,

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away”.

 However David is determined to sing of God’s righteousness”, which has saved him from the death he deserves.

As Paul sums up the Gospel message in Romans 1: 17,

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

So not only should we sing of God’s righteousness in our hymns and spiritual songs but we should live by it as well.

  1. Praise God for his salvation (vs. 15)

David is not just determined to sing of God’s salvation and righteousness he wants to use his mouth as a vehicle of praise. He writes in verse 15,

“O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise”.

Spurgeon writes,

“How marvellously the Lord can open our lips, and what divine things can we poor simpletons pour forth under his inspiration”.

 Maybe David for a time had stopped the inspirational singing and song writing he had become famous for owing to his great sins. However now that he realises that God in his love and mercy has forgiven him his resolve is that God would open his mouth so that he can declare wonderful praise for God. There is no doubt that the painful yet eventually joyous experience of the Bathsheba affair became an inspiration for many of the Psalms or songs of David. They all feature the message of God’s love and righteousness and all contain great words of praise.

One of the final Psalms written by David that seem to be inspired by the Bathsheba affair is Psalm 130 and verses 6 and 7 are excellent examples of God opening David’s mouth in praise to God,

“My soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning. O Israel put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption.”

 We to as Christians should resolve that God open our lips so that with God’s help we to will declare God’s praise. Peter makes it clear that our role and function as the church or the chosen people of God is to declare the praises of God, 1 Peter 2: 9,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”.

 We will now see that this offering of a sacrifice of praise is the very essence of the kind of worship God desires from a forgiven sinner in the last section of this Psalm.

 

  1. THE FORGIVEN SINNERS WORSHIP MATTERS (16 – 19)

David concludes his inspirational confession of his great sins of adultery and murder with some words about worship. These words echo what we read in the previous Psalm written by Asaph, Psalm 50 verses 8 – 15 are similar words to what David writes here. David seeks to worship God not now as the great Godly King but as a broken and forgiven sinner. David speaks of two things in these final four verses,

  1. The nature of true acceptable worship (vs. s 16 – 17)
  1. The role of the whole nation / church in acceptable worship (18 – 19)
  1. The nature of true acceptable worship (vs’ s 16 – 17)

David has just spoken of opening his mouth to declare his praise and this makes him think of what he now realises is the kind of worship God really wants. He cannot enter into the presence of God with his head held high because he has sinned and failed God so badly so he writes in verses 16 and 17,

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God area a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God, you will not despise”.

 Maybe up to the Bathsheba affair David had gone to worship God in a different way. He like the many other worshippers around him followed the long held traditions of sacrificial worship, which we looked at in the last Psalm talk. I found this quote from Michael Wilcock very helpful for this Psalm and the last Psalm,

“Every Temple in the ancient world was a sacred slaughterhouse and reeked of blood”.

 He goes on to say,

“Old Testament people took for granted that the incessant sacrificing of animals was at the heart of their religion”.

 However David has really been shaken up by his terrible misdemeanours, he has sinned so badly no Old Testament sacrifice would cove this type of sin. You see there is no sacrifice in the law given to Moses for wilful sin.

So David gets a new insight into true worship, similar to what Asaph realised and declared in the previous Psalm, Psalm 50. Spurgeon puts this new insight really well with these words,

“His deep soul need made him look from the type to the antitype, from the external rite to the inward grace.”

 No amount of bulls, lambs, birds or anything else could atone for the great sins of David. What he needed came only from God and all he could offer is expressed so powerfully in verse 17,

The sacrifices of God area a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, God, you will not despise”.

 Kidner writes,

“In all this (sacrifices), God is looking for the heart that knows how little it deserves, how much it owes”.

 Once David heard through the prophet Nathan how God knew all about his great sins he became a broken man. A man who was now eaten up with guilt, who felt morally and spiritually dirty and who had shot to pieces his Godly reputation. Now in this broken state having confessed his many sins to God, having asked for God’s restoration and having made new God honouring resolutions he casts himself before his loving God and worships. His worship now is a matter of the heart, a heart broken heart open to God and in this sate of worship David declares,

“You will not despise”

 God actually loves people coming to him in true repentance and faith and God is close to those who come to him in true humility and love. David in a sense always knew this because in a Psalm he wrote when on the run from the evil king Saul many years before the Bathsheba affair he wrote, Psalm 34: 18,

“The Lord is close to the broken hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit”.

This Psalm was written after David’s narrow escape from Gath where he used a dubious tactic of acting like a mad man before the King of Gath named Abimelech.

What David declares here in Psalm 51 has tremendous implications for us as Christians. First of all Jesus calls us to come to him as we really are broken and weary with sin and it’s consequences in our lives, Matthew 11: 28 – 30,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Secondly the New Testament calls us to worship God with what the writer to the Hebrews calls, “reverence and awe”, Hebrews 12: 28 – 29,

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.”

 Finally Paul teaches that because of what God has done for us through Christ in saving us by his grace and mercy acceptable worship is a matter of giving ourselves to God for his service, Romans 12: 1,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”.

 We like David come to God as sinners saved only by God’s goodness and love made possible by his Son’s death on the cross. What ever form of worship service we choose it should reveal that we are people who have fully acknowledge our sinful state and have come to God in grateful thanks for his great love for us. Paul speaks to the Colossians about worship this way in Colossians 3: 16 – 17,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

 So the emphasis David struck in Psalm 51 and the emphasis the New Testament strikes is that God is to be glorified not us or anyone else. Note how Paul said in the previous reference that,

“Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

 Even though I grew up in a church that practices form and liturgy in its worship I do not see this as what defines true biblical worship. What defines it is things like does it promote and give insight into the God of the bible and what he has done for us in Christ. Is God the centre of our worship and in whatever worship pattern you follow is God glorified.

  1. The role of the whole nation / church in acceptable worship (18 – 19)

These final two verses have caused much controversy and discussion amongst many commentators and theologians because many believe David in his original Psalm could not have written them. Some see these verses as sounding like they belong to the post exile period because the Psalm turns from David confession to matters concerning the Nation and in verse 18 there is a reference to the building up of the walls of Jerusalem.

Coffman sums up the modern scholars criticism of David’s authorship and answers it well with the following quote,

“For no good reason whatever, some scholars have denied the Davidic authorship of this psalm declaring it to have been written in the days of Nehemiah, during the period of the “rebuilding” of the walls of Jerusalem. But this psalm says absolutely nothing about rebuilding Jerusalem’s walls. What God is petitioned here to do is to build, not rebuild walls; and the reference is to the actual building of the walls of Jerusalem, then under way, which task was accomplished by David. Josephus has this to say; ‘Now David made buildings around the lower city (of Jerusalem), then joined the citadel to it, and made it one body; and when he had encompassed all with walls, he appointed Joab to take care of them’”.

 I see these two final verses covering:

  1. God’s blessing on the whole nation / and his church (vs. 18)
  1. The Nation / church’s acceptable worship (vs. 19)

 

  1. God’s blessing on the whole nation / and his church (vs. 18)

 How then does verse 18 fit into the rest of the Psalm?

David knows that as the King his terrible sins must and did impact on the Nation so he turns the end of his prayer of confession of his sins to matters concerning the nation.

In verse 18 he prays directly for the nation,

“In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem”.

 We have already established that Zion is the spiritual name for the Nation of Israel. God dwells with people and this is represented by the Tabernacle in David’s time and the Temple from the time of Solomon which is situated on the Mountain or large hill in Jerusalem called Zion, as we read in Psalm 50: 2,

“From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth”.

 So David is praying despite my great sin may the Nation prosper and David pictures this prosperity in terms of the Physical walls that he is building to surround Jerusalem in which mount Zion is situated. Maybe David is picturing the effects of his sins being the destruction of the Nation represented by the pulling down of its newly established walls.

The fact that makes this verse confusing is that the walls of Jerusalem were eventually pulled down or destroyed owing to God’s judgment of the Nations sins some 400 years later. This would mean that David’s Psalm would have taken on new and insightful significance for a nation under God’s judgment for their many sins.

The New Testament application is simply that the Zion of God or the nation is now the church of God established by Christ. As the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 12: 22 and 23,

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect”.

 Jesus made this great claim built on Peters inspired statement in Matthew 16: 16 – 18,

“Simon Peter answered, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Jesus replied, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it”.

 Jesus promises here to establish and bless the church, the New Israel of God built upon Peter and his statement of who Jesus really is which became the basis of his first sermon on the day of Pentecost. The day of Pentecost is the real beginning of the church when the Holy Spirit is given to all who come to Christ to be part of it.

The role of the church in terms of Zion and the Temple is made clear by what Peter says about the church in 1 Peter 2: 4,

As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.

A few verses later he says this about what he believes the true Church now is, 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

  1. The Nation / church’s acceptable worship (vs. 19)

The final verse seems to be a contradiction to what David said in verse 16,

“You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings”.

 And verse 19 reads,

“Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar”.

 Leopold captures the essence of what this last verse is really saying in the context of this Psalm and the context of Old Testament formal worship based on a sacrificial system,

This last verse restores the balance between formal and spiritual worship. The psalmist’s hope is that both shall flourish better side by side from this time onward”.

 The key term in this verse is “righteous sacrifices”, and the question we must answer is what makes for righteous sacrifices”?

David had learnt that because of his great sins there is no acceptable sacrifice available for him so he must approach God in a new spiritual way, that of, verse 17,

“A broken and contrite heart”

 Maybe now he realizes that because we are by nature sinners as verse 5 suggests then all formal worship, namely sacrifices in the Temple are also to be given in the spirit of a broken and contrite heart”.

If the sacrifices are offered in this right spirit then they will be a delight to God and therefore acceptable worship.

We have seen in this Psalm and many others that the worship God is interested in and accepts is the worship that comes from the heart truly focused on who he is and what he has done for us. As Isaiah taught many years later in verses like Isaiah 29: 15,

“The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men”.

 We must get both our inward attitude and our outward actions right if we want to offer God acceptable worship. No matter what form of worship we practice we must remember what God said to Samuel when choosing David as the next king of Israel in 1 Samuel 16: 7,

“The Lord does not look at the things man looks at, Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”.

 Then in the previous chapter we read these damming words said by Samuel to Saul as he indicates why the Lord had rejected him as King, 1 Samuel 15: 22 – 23,

“But Samuel replied: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obeying the Lord? To obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed is better than the fat of rams. For rebellion is like the sin of divination, and arrogance like the evil of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, he has rejected you as king.”

Many churches today have rejected the word of God as the inspired word of God and therefore like King Saul God has rejected them. Worship then not founded and grounded in God’s word is not acceptable worship.

What then is acceptable worship for the New Israel of God his church?

Jesus answered this question to the women of Samaria in John 4 after the women threw the curly question of the time, namely who is practicing right worship, the Samaritans who worshipped on Mt Gerizim and the Jews who worshipped God in Jerusalem. Jesus answers the women’s question but adds to it his formula for acceptable worship in John 4: 21 – 24,

““Woman,” Jesus replied, “believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

So note how Jesus does not lay down the form that acceptable worship should take but speaks of two things:

  1. Spirit
  2. Truth
  1. Spirit

The Samaritan women like most people focus on the outward aspects of worship like place of worship and religious activities.

However Jesus wants us to focus on the inward activity of God’s Spirit in our lives. Jesus is saying that because God is Spirit the only way we can really relate to him is through our Spirits made alive by his Holy Spirit in our lives.

Once Jesus became the sacrifice for our sins once and for all time the sacrificial system of worship became obsolete and has been replaced by worship based on what God has done for us through Christ. The writer to the Hebrews has much to say about this and in Hebrews 10: 19 – 25 he brings his teaching on the new way of worship based on what God has done for us through Jesus Christ, he writes,

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.

Note how this new and living way involves coming to God with a sincere heart similar to David’s call for heart felt worship expressed as a “broken and contrite heart” in Psalm 51: 12. Note also that this still involves corporate worship as he speaks of not giving up meeting together.

So acceptable worship involves the spirit working in our hearts individually and in our meetings together corporately as Jesus indicates in Matthew 18: 20,

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.”

  1. Truth

Finally the second aspect of acceptable worship Jesus speaks about is truth. I found a really good short article on the Internet recently written by a U.S pastor named Dr Dave Reid who passed in 2012. His blog page is called “Growing Christian ministries and he has this to say about the role of the truth in acceptable worship,

“Acceptable worship unto God must be “in truth.” That is, it must be in accordance with what God has revealed to be truth. False worship is not only worship of false gods. It can actually be worship of the true God that is offered in ways that are out of line with the truth of God’s revealed Word. It doesn’t matter how sincere one is! If worship is not “in truth”, sincere worship is just as unacceptable as insincere worship”.

I was speaking with a non-Christian recently who said she “wished the church would move away from the bible because then it would stop believing myth and legends”. I responded and said it is only when the church moves away from the bible, the revealed word of God that it moves to myth and legends. Paul had this to say about this to Timothy in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 5,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction.

 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

As Dr Dave Reid points out that sincere worship can be unacceptable if it is not in accordance to “God’s revealed word”.

Jesus makes it clear that he is the ultimate revelation or truth of God in the Gospels. Take for instance two key verses from Johns Gospel, John 8: 31 – 32,

“To the Jews who had believed him, Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”

And,

John 14: 6,

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

So we come to God the Father through Jesus who is the truth, the way and the life. This means that acceptable worship is not just a matter of the spirit but also involves the word of God which the Spirit of God which always points us to Jesus, as Jesus says in John 16: 13 – 14,

“But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. He will glorify me because it is from me that he will receive what he will make known to you”.

CONCLUSION

This has been a long and involved talk as Psalm 51 is a very important and significant Psalm that raises so many key and important issues of faith and practice.

I started with a word about the importance and value of forgiveness and how only God’s forgiveness can help change a world bent on revenge and hatred.

We saw that David confessed to a God of great mercy and love who alone could forgive and restore him.

We saw how he resolved, once forgiven that he would serve God with joy and a new committed spirit or heart.

He resolved to teach others this great message of God’s life changing forgiveness and he realized he had a new insight into how he should approach God in worship with a broken and contrite heart.

Finally he prayed for the Nation, which is for us as Christians, the church, that it would prosper and worship God in an acceptable way, which we saw for us, is in Spirit and in truth.

May this life changing message David inspire us to realize that in this fallen revenge seeking world the answer is God’s forgiveness which in earthy terms is Gold.

I close as usual with a poem and a prayer.

HAVE MERCY (based on Psalm 51)

Have mercy on me Oh God

According to your great love

Blot out my sins that I have done

Reach down and lift me above.

 

Wash away my iniquity

Cleanse me from my sin

Turn me back to you Oh Lord

Transform me from within.

 

Chorus:

Have mercy, Have mercy

For all that I have done

I look to the Cross of Christ

Where forgiveness has been won.

 

Cleanse me now and make me clean

That I might be white as snow.

Take my sins far away from me

Yes heal and make me whole.

 

Create in me a brand new heart

Renew me from within

Bring back your joy within me Lord

Take away the stain of sin

Chorus:

 

I long to teach your love Oh Lord

To others just like me

That through the death of Jesus Christ

Forgiveness now is free.

 

 

Help me to use my tongue Oh Lord

To sing of your great love

That through your son’s sacrifice

They can rise above.

Chorus:

 

You do not want our worship Lord

You want our open hearts

Broken down before you Lord

For that’s where forgiveness starts.

 

So bless your church here on earth

Help us to serve you Lord

Inspired by the love you give

And guided by your word.

 

By: Jiim Wenman

PRAYER :

 Dear Father in heaven I confess my many sins I have committed against you but know that because of your great love for us shown in your Son’s sacrifice for our sins on the cross that I am forgiven. I come before your throne of grace with an open and broken heart seeking to worship you as my Lord and savour. Help me to teach others of your great love and show by the way I live that your forgiveness is real and is the only answer to this world’s problems and needs. This I pray in the powerful name of Jesus Christ my Lord and Savour, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

PSALM 50 TALK: WORSHIP MATTERS (GOD’S JUDGEMENT OF HIS PEOPLE FOR UNACCEPTABLE WORSHIP)

THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

PSALM 50 TALK

WORSHIP MATTERS

(GOD’S JUDGEMENT OF HIS PEOPLE FOR UNACCEPTABLE WORSHIP)

INTRODUCTION

Does worship matter?

According to my understanding of Psalm 50 it does matter to God. Throughout history men and women have gone to their deaths because of their belief in how a person should worship God. I am inspired by the story of Thomas Cranmer, probably the founder of the church I belong to, The Anglican Church. In the mid sixteen century he developed the original reformed prayer book and did most of the work on the 39 articles of faith, which the reformed Anglican Church is based on. Yet Thomas Cranmer like many of his fellow reforming ministers and bishops was burnt at the stake in 1556. I believe Cranmer was a very real person because under the threat of a horrible death for what he believed was the right way to approach God in worship and life he recanted his reformed beliefs several times. However Queen Mary 1, a fanatical catholic monarch hated Cranmer so much she ordered his execution anyway. This led Cranmer to make a brave anti catholic speech just before he was executed which proclaimed his error of recanting and he vowed that his right hand that signed the recanting documents would burn first.

It is disturbing to think that if I lived in Cranmer’s time I could have been burnt at the stake for the views I have on worship, the bible and the basis of the Christian faith. I’m not sure I would have the courage and conviction of men like Cranmer if I lived in their day.

Does worship matter today?

The answer is, generally no, as most Christians do not really bother with how corporate worship services are conducted today. I get the impression that so far as worship is concerned the rule is, “anything goes” or “anything is acceptable”. However this is not an attitude supported by the bible and particularly Psalm 50. We will now have a close look at this Psalm and what it had to say to the people of Israel and what it has to say to the Christian church today about what is and is not acceptable worship. We will also learn that unacceptable worship and those who practice it will one day fall under God’s judgment.

Psalm 50 is the first of twelve Psalms attributed to Asaph, one here in book 2 of Psalms and 11 in the third book of Psalms. I must agree with Leupold who writes this about Asaph,

“We could wish that we know more about the writer “Asaph”.

However what little we do know about him tells us that he was in a unique position to comment on worship practices of his day. Asaph or that name appears six times in the bible and I will make a brief observation on each of these six bible references:

1. Put in charge of music in David’s time – 1 Chronicles 6: 31, 32 and 39

2. Led worship in the Tabernacle before the ark of the Lord – 1 Chronicles 16: 1 – 4

3. Was given Psalm’s by David for worship before the Lord – 1 Chronicles 16: 7

4. Set aside by David to use music to prophecy Gods’ word – 1 Chronicles 25: 1

5. Called a seer or prophet like David in later years – 2 Chronicles 20: 14

6. His descendants were involved in music even after the exile – Ezra 2: 41

Richard Thompson gives an excellent summary of who Asaph probably was on a web post in 2005 and basically says he believes that the original Asaph lived through the later reign of David and most of the reign of Solomon and as a Temple leader of music saw both the glory days of David’s reign and the beginning of Israel’s decline under the leadership of King Solomon who turned his back on God through the divisive influence of his foreign wives and their idolatrous worship practices.

Asaph certainly wrote Psalms but as Rabbi Benjamin Segal points out, Asaph was,

“The Levitical eponymous founder of a group of psalm experts (probably singers and writers)”

I believe that the original Asaph wrote Psalm 50 probably during the reign of Solomon because of the obvious false worship practices that it reveals which started to appear in Israel at that time. He writes not like the writer of Psalm 49, a psalm which is like a piece of wisdom literature but more like a prophet like Isaiah (Isaiah 1: 11 – 5) and Amos (Amos 5: 21 – 26).

Why is this one Psalm of Asaph in book two while the other 11 are in book three?

I think this is because this Psalm fits well in between Psalm 49 and 51. Psalm 49 speaks of God’s condemnation on those who trust in riches and not God while Psalm 51 speaks of how God dose not want sacrifices but a broken and contrite heart. Psalm 49 and 50 present the coming judgement of God and briefly say there is a way of salvation provided by God himself while Psalm 51 presents this way of salvation more thoroughly through the love and undeserved mercy of God.

I have broken this Psalm into three parts:

  1. THE OBJECT OF TRUE WORSHIP (1 – 6)
  1. THE ESSENCE OF FALSE AND TRUE WORSHIP (7 – 15)
  1. THE OUTCOME OF FALSE AND TRUE WORSHIP (16 – 23)
  1. THE OBJECT OF TRUE WORSHIP (1 – 6)

Psalm 50 starts very much like Psalm 49 with a call to all the earth but the opening words of Psalm 50 bring to mind the first great time God revealed himself to the nation of Israel on another mountain, Mt Sinai in Exodus 19: 16 – 19,

On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled. Then Moses led the people out of the camp to meet with God, and they stood at the foot of the mountain. Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountaintrembled violently. As the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke and the voice of God answered him”.

In Psalm 50 the picture of God presented in Exodus is much the same but the mountain on which this vision of God appears is different. It is not Mount Sinai but Mount Zion, verse 2,

“From Zion, perfect in beauty God shines forth”.

Mount Zion features in many of the past 7 Son’s of Korah Psalm’s and we have learnt that Zion was God’s chosen place to symbolize his presence here on earth with his people as we read in Psalm 48: 2 and 3,

“It is beautiful in its loftiness, the joy of the whole earth. Like the utmost heights of Zaphon is Mount Zion the city of the Great King. God is in her citadels he has shown himself to be her fortress”.

The first six verses present an awesome God who should be the object of Israel’s worship. The first four verses present six aspects of the God we should worship:

  1. The mighty one (vs. 1)
  2. God (vs.1)
  3. The Lord of the covenant (vs.1)
  4. The God who speaks (vs. 1 and 4)
  5. A Devouring fire (vs. 3)
  6. The judge (vs. 4 and 6)
  1. The mighty one (vs. 1)  

Our English translations fail to pick up the obvious fact that three very different names of God start this Psalm and the first is “El” which means mighty one. A blog page called “Hebrew for Christians” says this,

“The word El comes from a root word meaning, might, strength and power”.

A classical use of El is found in Genesis 17:1 when God reveals himself yet again with Abraham,

“When Abram was ninety – nine years old, the Lord appeared to him and said, “I am God almighty; walk before me and be blameless”.

Jesus said at the start of his famous Lord’s prayer in Luke 11: 2,

“Father, hallowed be your name”

The living Bible translates “Hallowed” as “honoured for its holiness” and so when we pray and worship God we should realise that God is the all powerful mighty one and there is non other like him in heaven or on earth.

  1. God (vs.1)

The second Hebrew name for God in this opening verse is “Elohim”. Hebrew for Christians explains what “Elohim” means,

“The name Elohim is unique to Hebrew thinking, it occurs only in Hebrew and in no other Semetic language. The masculine plural ending does not mean “god’s” when referring to the true God of Israel, since the name is mainly used with a singular verb forms and with adjectives and pronouns in the singular (e.g. Gen. 1: 26). However, considering the Hashalush Hakadosh (Trinity) the form indeed allows for its plurality within the Godhead.”

As I said in my introduction to the second book of Psalms the Psalms in this book feature this general name for God, Elohim in a major way. Here Asaph focuses on the fact that the God we should be worshipping is the one and only true God of heaven and earth. This God is further understood by the others things he reveals about him in these opening verses. In the final chapter of the book of Revelation we read these words, Rev. 22: 12 – 13,

“Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”.

There is only one God and he alone must be the object and focus of our worship.

  1. The Lord of the covenant (vs.1)

The final name for God in this first verse of Psalm 50 is “Yahweh” or as our bibles translate it, “The Lord”. Yahweh is the covenant name for God given to Moses at the burning bush when Moses asked for God’s name. Again Hebrew for Christians points out that when this special covenant name for God was written down in the Hebrew scriptures it was considered so holy that only the four principle letters of the name were recorded namely, YHVH and this is sometimes called, The Tetragrammation or “Four Letters”. Listen to some of the things Hebrew for Christians says about this special name for God,

“YHVH is the source of all being and has being inherent in Himself (i.e. He is necessary being). Everything else is contingent being that derives existence from him.

The name YHVH also bespeaks the utter transcendence of God. In himself, God is beyond all “predications or attributes of language: He is the source and foundation of all possibilities of utterance and thus is beyond all definite descriptions”.

The first commandment of the Ten Commandments reads, Exodus 20: 1 – 2,

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” You shall have no other gods beforeme”.

You are to have no other God’s because there is no other God or God’s other than Yahweh the Lord. Jesus made it clear as recorded in the Gospel of John that he is Yahweh come in the flesh with his seven famous, “I am” statements and I think the “I am” in John 14: 6 sums up them all,

“I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me”.

This is why the object of our Christian worship must be Jesus alone and non other. He shows us the way to God and made us the way to God when he died on the cross for our sins and then rose from the dead and finally ascended to the right hand of the father in heaven.

  1. The God who speaks (vs. 1 and 4)

So we have seen so far who Asaph believes God is and this first verse goes on to present a very special and unique attribute of God,

“The Mighty One, God, the Lord speaks”

Yes the God of the bible is a God of revelation; he does not stay remote from us he speaks. This is another unique and distinctive aspect of the God of the old and New Testaments. God speaks through Israel and later through Jesus to the whole world as the second half of verse 1 declares,

“And summon the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets”.

This revelation of God goes out to all the earth from Zion as verse 2 declares,

“From Zion, perfect in beauty God shines forth”

Michael Wilcock calls Zion,

“The theological centre of the world”

Jesus makes this clear when speaking to the Samaritan women at the well when he says in John 4: 21 and 22,

“Believe me, women, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You Samaritan worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews”.

The first chapter of John’s Gospel makes it clear that God has not left us in the dark but he sent a revelation of himself in a form we can fully understand and relate to namely by becoming a man and speaking in person through him. This is clear from John 1: 14,

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the One and only, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

So many people today say they cannot believe in God because they cannot see him. In other words so far as God is concerned they are in the dark and this darkness says to them God does not exist.

However God has broken through this darkness to speak to us on many occasions and the whole bible is a witness to this great revelation of God. Jesus is presented in John’s gospel as the light that breaks into our darkness to reveal to us God, as we read in John 8: 12,

“When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world, Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life”.

The point of God being a God who speaks relates to how we should worship him is made clear by Jesus final words on the nature of true worship to the women of Samaria in John 4: 23 – 24,

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

Psalm 50 echo’s a dramatic and terrifying revelation of God, namely his appearance on Mount Sinai where he summoned the people of Israel after he saved them out of the land of Egypt. Now like this revelation of God at Sinai verse four speaks of a summoning of the whole world for a great judgment,

“He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people”.

This I believe looks forward to the great final judgment to come when Christ will return in his glory to bring about this great judgment. As we read in Matthew 25: 31 – 33,

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left”.

I will comment more on God as Judge soon but in the context of a God who speaks and reveals himself the final revelation of God to come will be when Jesus returns to judge this world once and for all and then there will be no more opportunities to respond to God’s witness of his saving grace in Christ.

This means our worship should feature the revelation of God through his word that tells those who have not yet responded to his saving message that great message. It should also remind those who have responded the importance of continuing to trust in God’s saving message or Gospel to be saved from this great judgment to come.

  1. A Devouring fire (vs. 3)

Verse three is a very similar presentation of God to that in Exodus 19 when God appeared to Israel on Mount Sinai, verse 3 says,

“Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him and around him a tempest rages”.

Asaph now looks forward to the coming of this great and powerful God and he looks back to how he appeared at Mount Sinai to describe what this new coming of God would be like. Leupold makes this comment about the picture verse 3 presents,

“A correct tradition had it, that when God appeared in days of old, the impression he made upon men was overwhelming and terrifying”.

The picture is of fire that devours and on Mount Sinai and Exodus 19: 18 reads,

“Mount Sinai was covered with smoke, because the Lord descended on it in fire. The smoke billowed up from it like smoke from a furnace, and the whole mountaintrembled violently”.

God had first appeared to Moses when he called him he appeared to him from a burning bush and the writer to the Hebrews says this in Hebrews 12: 28 – 29,

“Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire”.

So the writer to the Hebrews is saying be careful and revere the God who has given us so much because he is a God who is to be feared he is a consuming power. I like how C.S Lewis presents God or rather Christ in the character of Aslan in the book
“The Lion the witch and the Wardrobe. The character of the beaver says this to Lucy about Aslan,

“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “don’t you hear what Mrs. Beaver tells you? Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”

 To take the love of God through Christ to mean that God is weak and in affective is to miss the whole point. God is great and powerful and should be respected even feared but this great and fearful God is also a God of Love. This love did not come cheap as it cost God his Son on the cross who suffered and shed much blood for us.

Our worship then should reflect reverence for our God a God who is to be feared but a God who loves us.

  1. The judge (vs. 4 and 6)

The final aspect of God these first six verses of Psalm 50 present is that of God as a great Judge. We first pick this up in verse 4 that says,

“He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people”.

Why is God coming according to Asaph?

He is coming to judge and this is because a major attribute of God is his justice and holiness, which is described in the bible as God’s Righteousness. This is clear from the last verse of this first section, verse 6 which says,

“And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge”.

I remember a sermon I heard in my church recently where the preacher spoke of how the world constantly calls out for justice. People are never happy with the sentences convicted criminals are given they say “there is no justice in this world anymore”. However when they hear of a God who will judge the world with holy and pure justice they soon change their tune and speak of how they are not as bad as others. Maybe they are saying “I want God do rid this world of evil” but that does not mean “I want him to judge me”. The bible says we all have sinned and have fallen short of the glory of God.

Therefore to do away with all evil is to do away with all humanity.

I like how Bob Deffinbaugh put it in an article called “The Righteousness of God” he writes,

“God’s righteousness (or justice) is the natural expression of His holiness. If He is infinitely pure, then He must be opposed to all sin, and that opposition to sin must be demonstrated in His treatment of His creatures. When we read that God is righteous or just, we are being assured that His actions toward us are in perfect agreement with His holy nature”.

This is what led God to have to send his only Son, Jesus Christ into the world to pay the price for sin on the cross for us. We in fact as the prophet Isaiah put it in Isaiah 64: 6,

“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away”.

So righteousness has to be given to us as a gift as Paul puts it in Romans 5: 17,

For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ!”

The basis and object of all Christian worship then should be this great Good News message that he has saved us through Christ from the judgment we deserve that is surely coming.

Who then is Psalm 50 saying God is coming to Judge?

The answer to this question is both surprising and disturbing and it is found in verse 5,

“Gather to me my consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice”

And at the end of the previous verse,

“That he may judge his people”

Both the terms “consecrated ones” and “his people” are well-used terms for the Nation of Israel. Some commentators believe that the central theme of this Psalm is not “Worship” but “Judgment”. Coffman calls this Psalm,

“A prophetic glimpse of the eternal judgment”

And Gordon Churchyard calls it,

“Judgment begins at the house of God”

Judgment is certainly why God is coming in these opening verses but what is being judged?

The answer to this is what the rest of the Psalm is talking about namely the worship of God’s people. Because it is God’s people that are being judged Churchyards title echo’s an important New Testament verse about judgment namely, 1 Peter 4: 17,

 “For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God?”

This verse and the concept it presents might throw up in some people’s minds that Christians or the Christian Church being judged is a contradiction to the Gospel message that through what Christ did for us we escape the coming judgment. Paul also taught that their will be a judgment for Christians not to determine their eternal destiny of death or life but rather to give an account of what we have done in our lives with what God has given us as Paul writes in Romans 14: 12,

“So then, each of us will give an account of himself to God”.

Paul also speaks of rewards in heaven and being saved from eternal destruction but for some only just as a result of how they lived their Christian lives. This comes up in a passage like 1 Corinthians 3: 12 – 14,

“If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames”.

I always find this teaching of Paul a great challenge to my life and ministry for Christ and it has helped me to push on to more active service for him.

However there is another way of looking at what Psalm 50 verses 4 and 5 are speaking about and that is the fact that not everyone who calls themselves Christian or in Asaph time a child of Israel is in their hearts and lives a true believer. We will see from the rest of this Psalm that two great tests are applied to Israelite worshippers of Asaph time, one being what the real essence of the worshippers heart is when worshipping and whether the worshippers lives actually show they are truly worshipping God or not.

Jesus spoke about this in passages like Matthew 25: 31 – 46 that speaks of God’s judgment to come separating all people in sheep and goats,

 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

 

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.  For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Jesus had more opposition from the so-called religious people of his day than from anyone else. It was these people who refused to acknowledge that he came from God and it was the religious leaders who the devil used to send him to the cross.

Jesus also made it clear that not everyone who calls him Lord are truly following him like Matthew 7: 21 – 23,

 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’”

This is something that must happen for history tells us that in Old and New Testament times and in modern times so called believers in God have done terrible things in the name of their faith in God. This will not go un- punished and will find its day of reckoning when Christ returns and judges the world and his church.

 

  1. THE ESSENCE OF FALSE AND TRUE WORSHIP (7 – 15)

If Asaph was a leader of Temple music he had a front row seat to all who worshipped in the Temple in his day and he seems to have seen a lot of people coming to worship with wrong motives and lives. He saw obvious signs of hypocrisy. He now speaks like a prophet which we learnt in the introduction he was later known as.

“Hear, O my people, and I will speak. O Israel, and I will testify against you; I am God, your God”.

This was the common style of introduction of a prophet like Micah at the start of his prophecy against Israel in Micah 1: 2,

“Hear, you peoples, all of you, listen, earth and all who live in it, that the Sovereign Lord may bear witness against you, the Lord from his holy temple”.

 Note how Asaph uses the word, “testify”, Leopold points out that,

God is both the Judge and the prosecuting attorney”.

 He now spells out two things about what is the essence of false worship and then two things that are the essence of true worship.

1. THE ESSENCE OF FALSE WORSHIP (8 – 13)

The two things that are the essence of false worship are:

  1. God is not interested in acts of religion – Nominalism (8 – 11)
  1. God does not need our acts of worship – Complacency (12 – 13)
  1. God is not interested in acts of religion – Nominalism (8 – 11)

The first aspect of false worship is that God is not interested in what we might call religious observance. In Asaph day this showed itself in lots of sacrifices as verse 8 says,

“I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings which are ever before me”.

Wilcock paints a vivid picture of what Old Testament worship would have looked like when he writes,

“Every Temple in the ancient world was a sacred slaughterhouse and reeked of blood”.

He goes on to say,

“Old Testament people took for granted that the incessant sacrificing of animals was at the heart of their religion”.

However Asaph is saying that even though God is not rebuking them for these sacrifices they are not what lie at the heart of what he wants from those who worship him. He goes on to say in verse 9 – 11,

“I have no need of a bull from your stall or goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle of a thousand hills. I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine.

So mere acts of religion are not what God wants from his worshippers, as they achieve nothing. God gets nothing from our religious acts if they are simply going through the motions of religion and that’s all.

We could call the problem this first point is making, “nominalism”, which could be defined as people who hold to external aspects of a religion but in there daily lives and hearts deny the power of it and it seems to others that what they believe makes them no different than those who do not adhere to their religion.

This was even a problem in the early church and Paul warns Timothy to be alert to such people and tells him what to do if he encounters them in 2 Timothy 3:5,

 “Having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people”.

Like hypocrisy, nominalism appears in our lives one way or another even if we are committed Christians but we must fight against both of these problems to make sure they do not over take us and eventually define us. I read a very interesting short article on a web page blog called “Resisting the pull to Nominalism” by Brenton MacArthur Barnet on a web page called RBT (Relevant Bible Teaching) and Barnet spells out what to look out for in our lives if we want to resist the pull of nominalism,

“We can recognize nominalism in our lives if our walks our characterized by a mediocre faith, a subpar holiness, and a habitual indulgence in walking according to the flesh. Nominal Christians tend to let areas of sin go unconfused, they do not envision what God could do by faith, and they enjoy things that don’t make them confront the holiness of God. They do not want to hear about obedience, submission, surrender, the fear of God, and trembling before His Word. Such truths would make them feel uncomfortable. They don’t have an appetite for the preaching of the Word. They don’t grieve over sin, they are not burdened for evangelism, and they have no passion for being in the presence of God. Their desire to be in God’s Word is minimal, and they have little interest in prayer. The authority of God’s Word fails to permeate the whole of their lives”.

Some might think that this type of problem only exists in churches like the Anglican or Catholic churches that follow set forms of liturgies. However I have seen evidence of nominalism in non-conformist churches like Baptist, Methodist etc. No matter what church you belong to you will always follow some set form or pattern even if it’s not written down. So going through the motions type worship is equally found in churches with set liturgies and those who follow a less obvious format. The trap is we can go to church and just go through the motions of worship without our hearts and minds really being involved.

What is the answer to this problem?

Asaph will give us his answer in verses 14 and 15 but I also like Pauls answer to this problem once he had raised it with Timothy in the early part of 2 Timothy 3. His advise to Timothy is 2 Timothy 3: 14 – 17,

 

But as for you, continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of Godmay be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Note carefully the role that scripture or the bible plays in combating nominalism and any other false practice. This is another reason why the reading and preaching of the word of God is central to all true worship services.

  1. God does not need our acts of worship – Complacency (12 – 13)

This point follows closely the last one but adds another dimension that of the complacency of the false worshipper. Asaph being up the front of worship of his day witnessed worshippers, who acted like they were doing God a favor by their worship activities Asaph writes God says in verses 12 and 13,

“If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine and all that is in it. Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats?”

God is saying Wilcock puts it,

“I don’t need them (your sacrifices), they are mine anyway”.

So often you run across people in the church who act like God owes them something. Maybe they believe that because they have been a long time faithful church member God should bless them for all their years of worship. Maybe their attitude shows that they believe in salvation by works and not faith. Jesus faced constantly this type of attitude in the religious leaders of his day. Have a read of Matthew 23 which is a whole chapter devoted to Jesus condemnation of the hypocritical Religious leaders of his day. Listen to one part of that chapter that relates to this point of complacency and hypocrisy, Matthew 23: 23 – 24,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel”.

Let us all take the warning Asaph is giving that we should not have an attitude of complacency when we seek to worship God. I travelled through Europe a few years ago and saw the so-called magnificent church buildings there full of earthly treasures but empty of worshippers. It sickened me to think that the many years of nominalism, complacency and hypocrisy had led to a Christian church devoid of life and witness.

2. THE ESSENCE OF TRUE WORSHIP (14 – 15)

Asaph does not just condemn the false worship of his day but points us to the essence of what he believes is true worship. He establishes again two aspects:

  1. True worship involves thanking God for what he has done (vs. 14)
  1. True worship involves calling on God for his help (vs. 15)

 

1. True worship involves thanking God for what he has done (vs. 14)

After pointing out two aspects of false worship Asaph writes a kind of refrain that states what God wants from those who seek to worship him. I call this a refrain because the last verse, 22 uses the words, “Sacrifice thank offerings”. So in verse 14 we read,

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High”.

Spurgeon aptly captures what Asaph is saying here,

“No longer look at your sacrifices as in themselves gifts pleasing to me, but present them as the tributes of your gratitude, it is then that I will accept them”.

When we worship God thinking of what we are doing for God we are in danger of practicing false worship. The right attitude is we should think of what God has done for us and simply seek to thank him. This is the worship of a person who truly believes they are save by faith alone and not by their good works. We often here Ephesians 2: 8 and 9 quoted to say, rightfully that we are saved by the grace of God through faith alone but we should also read verse 10 that puts good works in there rightful place,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”.

The essence of acceptable worship of God is giving him thanks for what he has done for us in Christ. This then is not an act of a nominal hypocrite but the act of heart felt thanks of a person truly connected to the living God who saves.

Spurgeon again aptly explains what the words, fulfill your vows to the Most High” mean in these words,

“Let the sacrifice be really presented to the God who sees the heart, pay to him the love you promised, the service you covenanted to render, the loyalty of heart you have vowed to maintain”.

The writer to the Hebrews speaks of offering a sacrifice of praise in this way in Hebrews 13: 15,

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name”.

2. True worship involves calling on God for his help (vs. 15)

This next point flows naturally out of the previous one. If we have faith in God that leads to thanking God for what he has done for us then we should be people who continually call on God to help us. This is what verse 15 says,

“And call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me”.

When the chips are down, when we can turn to nobody else for help in this world, who do we turn to?

So often you read of people turning to God in dire situations, a saying that gained popularity after the First World War was,

“There are no atheists in the trenches”

I actually do not believe all men who faced the very real prospect of death in battle turned to God in desperate prayer for help but I do believe many would have. I was watching a TV show only last night about a famous near air crash where a flight attendant realizing the plane was going down said the only thing she could do was pray and she prayed very hard. However after the plain ended up safely landing she said she went over to the plain and thanked it for getting her down. The verse says,

“And honor me”

This woman might have turned to God in pray during the day or time of trouble but once she was helped through it her actions said she had more faith in the airplane than God. What she should have said once being saved would be something like, “I thank God for giving us such a good airplane and helping it to land safely when it looked like it was going to crash”.

Many people turn to God in times of difficulty but when the difficulty passes they go back to trusting in something else.

However this verse is a great comfort that when trouble comes God wants us to turn to him and his promise is,

“I will deliver you”

Jesus told us many times in the Gospels to turn to him in times of trouble as recorded in Matthew 11: 28 – 30,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

I believe that if we are honest we all can say we have had times in our lives when we have become complacent and nominal in our lives as Christians. I found the last ten years or so of my full time working life a time when I suffered from this problem. I can now look back and see that God used trouble and difficulty in my work life to force me out of my complacency and nominalism to trust in him.

My work problems came to a head six years ago when I quite my job and decided to rely on God for support and help. I quickly found part time work that was so much more satisfying and in my newfound extra time I started my extensive study of the book of Psalms. Then new and exciting ministry opportunities started to open up to me like short- term mission trips to Myanmar (Burma).

Asaph must have seen many worshippers coming to the Temple who poured out their hearts to God in their days of trouble and he realized that this was part of the essence of true worship not the outward forms of sacrifices and liturgical prayers.

This raw and simple faith in God that Asaph witnessed must have inspired him to understand the kind of worship God wants from us. This raw and simple God centered faith is what Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 1: 3 – 9,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.

In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls”.

I said before not all soldiers facing death in battle turn to God but those who do find that even though this life is not free of conflict and pain God can be relied upon to pull us through even to heaven itself.

  1. THE OUTCOME OF FALSE AND TRUE WORSHIP (16 – 23)

At the start of this Psalm 50 Asaph in verse 4 he wrote,

“He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people”.

In this last section Asaph sets down God’s judgment outcomes for false worship but in the last verse he sets down God’s outcome for true worship.

Lets now look at:

  1. THE OUTCOME FOR FALSE WORSHIP (16 – 22)

I see two aspects of this outcome for false worship and they will form my two headings for this section.

  1. Speaking Gods law but not acting on it results in God’s rebuke (16 – 20)
  1. Forgetting God and living for yourself results in God’s judgment (21 -22)
  1. Speaking God’s law but not acting on it results in God’s rebuke (16 – 20)

At the start of this study I referred to a great revelation or coming of God on mount Sinai in Exodus 19. This great revelation of God on the mountain led to God giving Israel through Moses the law and that law is summed up in the Ten Commandments. I sense even in the earlier part of this Psalm, which we have just looked at that the Ten Commandments lay at the back of Asaph mind as he wrote this Psalm.

Let me explain, the first two commandments deal with Israel’s attitude to God,

Commandment 1: “You shall have no other God’s before me”.

Commandment 2: “You shall not make for yourself an idol”

In the first section we saw that the false worship God condemned was characterized by acts of worship that from the worshippers heart was not focused on him. The worshippers focus was on simply going through the motions of worship without real faith in God and also the worshippers focus was on what they were doing for God not on thanking him for what he had done for them.

The danger in their false worship was they were not putting God first and in fact were worshipping themselves instead. Paul in the early chapters of Romans makes it clear what sin is and how we all have fallen to it. He quotes scripture in chapter 2: 10 – 12 to say this,

 

 As it is written: “There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

Now in this third section of his Psalm Asaph makes it even clearer he has the Ten Commandments in mind in God’s condemnation of his people’s false worship of him.

In verse 16 he actually sites the fact that he witnessed people coming to the temple and reciting these Ten Commandments or laws of God,

“But to the wicked, God says; ‘what right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips?”

The people mouthed the words of the law but speaking God’s law or even God’s word does not save us. In fact if we speak God’s law and fail to act upon it we are worse off than those who never even knew it in the first place. This is what Jesus had to say to the hypocritical religious leaders of his day in a passage like Matthew 15: 3 – 9,

“Jesus replied, “And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and mother’and ‘anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’ But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is ‘devoted to God,’ they are not to ‘honor their father or mother’ with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you:

“‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.They worship me in vain; their teachings are merely human rules.’”

 

So often through the history of the Christian Church we have seen how people mouthed the word of God but failed to act upon it creating a mass of false witness, which was inspired by the Devil himself. We have already seen how Paul warned Timothy of this in 2 Timothy chapters 3. Let me now give you a more detailed description of what Paul warned Timothy would come in these last days even in the church itself, 2 Timothy 3: 1 – 5,

 

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with such people”.

Many churches today, sadly reflect people Paul is speaking about here in 2 Timothy 3. Paul says we are to have nothing to do with such people. This means those who we join in ministry and worship with should be those who practice what they preach or live out the faith they proclaim.

Asaph now sets down with the Ten Commandments in mind how these false worshippers are not practicing what they say they believe.

These are the commandments they are breaking in the verses that follow:

Vs. 17 – Commandment 3 – Misuse of the Name of God

Vs. 18a – Commandment 8 – Stealing

Vs. 18b – Commandment 6 – Adultery

Vs. 19 and 20 – Commandment 9 – False testimony

Lets now take a closer look at each of these verses:

Vs. 17 – Commandment 3 – Misuse of the Name of God

So Asaph has stated that God says that many of the worshippers in the Temple were wicked because they recite God’s laws but as we will now see fail to live by them. The first outworking of this is how they really feel about God’s laws.

“You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you”

To take someone’s name in vain is to treat who he or she is and what he or she stands for with disrespect. If I use God’s name as a swear word I am saying by my actions I hate God and want to use my anger or insult as an opportunity to bring God’s name down like throwing the name of God in the cutter or sewer.

These false worshippers in the Temple who recited the laws of God yet hated them in their hearts showed this by casting God’s word behind them which is another way of saying they failed to live them out in their daily lives. Spurgeon writing at the end of the nineteenth century writes these words that could be aptly applied to many in the church today,

“It is an ill sign when a man dares not look a Scripture in the face, and an evidence of brazen impudence when he tries to make it mean something less condemnatory of his sins, and endeavors to prove it to be less sweeping in its demands”.

To cast God’s words behind us them can be seen in many guises. It is seen in the out and out hypocritical Christian to the subtle preaching of God’s word that really ignores what God is really saying and uses the bible as a bunch of proof texts to back up the false doctrine or ideas of the preacher. I have heard sermons in churches like this and they really distract from true worship taking place. Paul gives Timothy some very applicable advice here when he tells him in 2Timothy 4: 1 – 5,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

 Vs. 18a – Commandment 8 – Stealing

The first half of verse 18 is a direct reference to the eighth commandment, which of course speaks of stealing,

“When you see a thief, you join with him;”

This might not mean they are stealing themselves but some how joining in or condoning theft in its various forms. Spurgeon is again helpful here when he writes,

“Those who excuse others in trickery are guilty themselves; those who use others to do unjust actions for them are doubly so. If a man ever so religious, if his own actions do not rebuke dishonesty, he is an accomplice with thieves. If we can acquiesce in anything which is not upright, we are not upright ourselves, and our religion is a lie.”

I have often pondered the media in Australia who seek to bring down a political leader by what I call guilt by association. The newspaper speaks of a Politian hanging around with what they call “a well known racing identity” or straight out a known convicted criminal. This does not alarm me on face value as I hope our Politian’s associate with all people in society but if they are caught out condoning or worse being involved in some form of criminal activity then I am alarmed and disappointed.

Jesus was called to be a sinner because he was reported to hang out with sinners, as we see from a verse like Mark 2: 15 – 16,

“While Jesus was having dinner at Levi’s house, many tax collectors and sinners were eating with him and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. When the teachers of the law who were Pharisees saw him eating with the sinners and tax collectors, they asked his disciples: “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?”

Jesus might often been in the company of sinners but he never condoned or joined in their sinning. In the next verse Jesus gives the answer to the misguided and evil words of the Pharisees he says, verse 17,

“It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The fact is Jesus was always in the company of sinners as all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God but at least many of the known, socially, sinners of Jesus day where able to admit they were sinners and in fact ended up seeking God’s forgiveness for there sins once in the presence of the giver of forgiveness Jesus Christ.

Asaph knew that many of the worshippers in the Temple and those who lived throughout the land of Israel in his time where involved in activities that could be called theft either by direct or indirect illegal activities.

Later in Israel’s history many prophets pinpointed the same problem in their day in Israel. Listen to The prophet Amos who speaks of the less obvious practices of theft by people of his day in Amos 8: 4 – 7,

“Hear this, you who trample the needy and do away with the poor of the land,

Saying, “When will the New Moon be over that we may sell grain, and the Sabbath be ended that we may market wheat?”—
Skimping on the measure, boosting the price and cheating with dishonest scales, buying the poor with silver and the needy for a pair of sandals, selling even the sweepings with the wheat.

The Lord has sworn by himself, the Pride of Jacob: “I will never forget anything they have done”.

All that Amos identifies is forms of wealthy business people exploiting the poor and finding loop holds to squeeze bigger profits from the less fortunate of the society of his day.

Theft in whatever form it appears in is wrong and condoning or doing nothing about it is just as wrong and will be accounted for in the coming judgment of God.

Vs. 18b – Commandment 6 – Adultery

The second half of verse 18 pinpoints the sixth commandment, which says,

“You shall not commit adultery”

Verse 18b reads,

“You throw your lot with adulterers”

There is no doubt that adultery begins with the breaking of another commandment, namely number 10,

“You shall not covert”

The commandment speaks of another man’s wife and so adultery is having sexual relations with someone other than your wife. This commandment seems sometimes to be very much an old fashion idea. However men and women who have been caught out in adultery today still cause great pain and difficulty in the lives of their cheated partners. It seems the rule today is adultery is right if you can get away with it.

Note how the verse suggests that the guilty person might not have been actually committing adultery himself or herself but rather it reads,

“You throw your lot with adulterers”

If we condone adultery in others we are actually saying it is OK and this, in God’s sight is just as bad as committing adultery. Of course as Christians we must recognise that God can forgive any sin and adultery is simply just another form of sin in the lives of men and women. I say this because I have noticed that some Christians can bring themselves to believe that God can forgive certain types of sins but sins like adultery seem to them by their actions towards a repentant adulterer as unforgivable.

We must always remember that we are all fallen sinful people and but by the grace of God go I. Forgiving a repentant adulterer is not the same as throwing our lot in with adulterers.

In fact it is the opposite as it is recognising the serious nature of a sin and seeking to see the person who has committed it turning to Christ for forgiveness, repenting of it and seeking help to stop that dangerous behaviour.

As Paul advises in Ephesians 4: 32,

“Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”.

Vs. 19 and 20 – Commandment 9 – False testimony

Both verse 19 and 20 pick up the breaking of the ninth commandment which is,

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbour”

Verses 19 and 20 reads,

“You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother’s son”.

This picks up what I have called in other Psalm Talks, “Sins of the Tongue” and a much more involved treatment of this can be found in my Psalm talk on Psalm 39. Interestingly we read in verse 16 that these people Asaph is speaking against used their tongues in the Temple worship to “recite God’s laws” and “take God’s covenant on their lips” and now they are using those same tongues and lips to speak evil and deceit to others.

This reveals the insidious nature of sinful men and women and is exactly what James picks up in James 3: 9,

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness”.

The misuse of the tongue even infiltrates family life when people are caught up in wickedness and sin. We all have heard of families in conflict and how people who we love or should love say horrible hurtful things. It is not the people we don’t know who do the majority of murders in most cultures but often it is done by a fellow family member and this often comes from years of slanderous verbal abuse.

The nightly T.V news tells me over and over again that people in our world need to know the Good News of God’s forgiveness in Christ. Paul speaks of how the Gospel message is the answer to all our broken relationships in this dark world in Colossians 1: 13 – 14,

“For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins”.

  1. Forgetting God and living for yourself results in God’s judgment (21 – 22)

Asaph brings to a conclusion what he believed God was saying to those who were involved in false worship in verses 21 and 22 and starts this with these words in verse 21.

“These things you have done and I kept silent; you thought I was altogether like you But I rebuke you and accuse you to your face”.

Even in criminal activity today people think that because they are getting away with something they are safe. The people of Asaph day had a false sense of security. The life they lived seemed to be Ok; in there minds as God seemed to be have been silent about the double life they were living. In fact Leupold points out the verse is actually saying,

“Men suppose God’s silence means he is indifferent to the issues of right and wrong”

Even today people live there lives as though they are accountable to know one and when we as Christians suggest by the way we live or what we say about God that there is a God they are accountable to they find all kinds of ways of saying God is dead or doesn’t exist. To admit there is a God is to acknowledge there is someone higher than humanity to be accounted to.

Peter explained God appearing to be silent and not coming in judgment yet this way in 2 Peter 3: 9

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

Verse 21 also seems to suggest that these wicked people had reduced God down to being not much different than themselves, with the words,

You thought I was altogether like you”.

We see this idea even today both in the Church and outside it. People see God as not much different than they are. This is evident when people speak of how they think God should act or be like. Sometimes I get the impression that some people think God is no more than a heavenly Santa Clause and a God who is just there to help them out from time to time when they face problems in life.

But God is not like us as Numbers 23: 19 says,

“God is not human, that he should lie, not a human being, that he should change his mind. Does he speak and then not act? Does he promise and not fulfill?”

 In some ways we are like God as we are told in Genesis 1: 26 – 27,

Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them”.

 However even though there is something of God in us all the God of the bible is revealed over and over again as not being like us.

Besides the fact that God is spirit and we are body and spirit and God is eternal, all-powerful, holy etc. Paul tells us this in Romans 8: 6 – 8,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

God’s love is far greater than our love and that love led God to actually send his only son to become like us. He became both body and spirit by becoming a man so that he could rescue us from the sin that separates from God.

The final part of verse 21 simply says,

“But I rebuke you and accuse you to your face”.

Asaph was in his day a prophet who was God’s mouthpiece who could speak the rebuke of God in the very faces of these wicked people. Spurgeon suggests that this is a prediction of the coming judgment of God on all mankind and he writes,

“At last I will break silence and let them know my mind. And set them in order before my eyes. I will marshal your sins in battle array. I will make you see them. I will put them down item-by-item, classified and arranged. You shall know that if silent awhile, I was never blind or deaf, I will make you perceive what you have tried to deny. I will leave the seat of mercy for the throne of judgment”.

The earlier verses in 2 Peter 3 speak of this final judgment and the complacency of wicked men living as though there is no God and no Judgment coming in verses 3 – 7,

“Above all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. They will say, “Where is this ‘coming’ he promised? Ever since our ancestors died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately forget that long ago by God’s word the heavens came into being and the earth was formed out of water and by water. By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the Day of Judgment and destruction of the ungodly”.

Verse 22 contains God’s final declaration through Asaph of God’s Judgment on the wicked hypocrites of his day,

“Consider this, you who forget God, or I will tear you to pieces, with none to rescue”.

I believe the words,

“you who forget God”

Is speaking not just to the wicked hypocrites of Asaph day but everyone who does not put God first in their lives. To forget God is the basis of all sin and Paul speaks of this in another way in Romans 1: 18 – 23,

“The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them.

For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles”.

Paul is saying among other things, that to forget God is ignore God and replace him with something or someone else. Today most people replace God in their lives with themselves, they are number one and the entire universe, they think revolves around them.

What is the fate of those who forget God?

Verse 22 simply says,

“I will tear you to pieces, with no rescue”

This is a vivid poetic picture of the final judgment. It is a picture that says that if you fall into God’s hands, as an unforgiven sinner God will devour you. The writer to the Hebrew’s says in Hebrews 10: 31,

It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God”.

The book of Revelation speaks of the final judgment as being like thrown into a lake of fire where there is eternal punishment, Revelation 20: 11 – 15,

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire”.

Once that day comes there will be no more opportunity for rescue from that terrible fate of being found in the presence of the living Holy God a sinner with no where to go but into the fires of hell itself.

2. THE OUTCOME FOR TRUE WORSHIP (23)

Fortunately Asaph does not finish his Psalm on worship matters at verse 22, which is a terrifying picture of hopelessness.

He finishes his Psalm with a word of great hope but it is for only those who have choose to worship God in a way that is acceptable to him. The verse says,

“He who sacrifices thank offerings honours me, and he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God”.

Heere Asaph returns to a kind of refrain because the second section after the introduction finishes with similar words in verse 14,

“Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High”.

There were many sacrificial offerings an Old Testament Jew could make why does Asaph pinpoint the thank offering as the one that God accepts as true worship?

I suggested, when commenting on verse 14 that the thank offering should represent an attitude of not what I have done for God but what God has done for me.

Leopold says,

“When a man can thank and praise God he has learned the lesson as to what true worship is.”

Paul makes it clear in Romans 12: 1 what he believes is the essence of true worship. He uses the word, “therefore” to start this verse which means with all that I have said so far about how we are saved, renewed and given hope by the work of Christ for us then do this. The verse reads,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”.

Paul wants us to live a life of praise and thanks which he sees in the next verse as the opposite way of living that the world around us lives, Romans 12: 2,

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will”.

I said at the start of my comments of verse 23 that Asaph finished his Psalm on worship matters with a great word of hope. These words are found in the final words of the Psalm that read,

“And he prepares the way so that I may show him the salvation of God”

The writer to the Hebrews presents throughout his book that Jesus is our great High priest who has made a way back to God for us he says in Hebrews 6: 19 – 20,

We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”.

In chapter 12: 2 – 3 he calls us to,

“Fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

So Jesus has prepared our way of salvation for us through the cross. Derek Kidner concludes his words on this Psalm in his commentary with this,

“The giving – the salvation – is his (God’s) side; ours is to receive it with the delighted thanks and obedience it deserves”.

Asaph wants his people who he met in the worship of the Temple to worship God with thanks and obedience so that they can all know God’s salvation from his final judgment to come. We cannot save ourselves God has to do it for us through Christ.

This is a good summary of the main message of the whole bible and it is a message that God wants us to not only trust and believe in but take to the whole world.

I close as usual with a poem and a prayer.

WHEN CHRIST COMES AGAIN

 Mighty is our God the Lord

Who speaks and calls to all.

To be gathered before him

When he shines we fall.

Like a fire and raging storm

God comes in glorious form

To Judge all his people then

When Christ comes again.

 

Hear God as he speaks to you

Seek now to worship him.

He will not refuse your gifts

That you bring to him.

But he does not need a thing

He’s the Lord of everything.

He has the right to judge all men

When Christ comes again.

 

Come to God in humility

Yes worship him with praise.

Thank him for what he has done

Yes thank him all your days.

Call to God in times of need

He will help and lead.

Saving us from judgment then

When Christ comes again.

 

But the wicked God will judge

Who dare to speak his word.

Never trusting in the Lord

Their lives reveal they’ve erred.

They use their tongues to bring God down

So they can wear the crown.

God will judge these wicked men

When Christ comes again.

 

Come to God and trust in him

Yes Christ died for you.

Honor God with a life of praise

And God will carry you through.

Jesus went ahead of us

In his way we must trust.

Saving us from judgment then

When Christ comes again.

 

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

 Dear Father in heaven we know that everything we have comes from you and that we can do nothing to save ourselves. We hank you thank you for saving us from the punishment of sin through the sacrifice of your Son on the cross. Help us to show you that we love you by the way we live our lives to praise and honor you, which is the essence of true worship. In Jesus Name we pray Amen.