Stabbed in the Back – Psalm 41

The occasion for Psalm 41 is the aftermath of David’s sin with Bathsheba. God had told David “the sword shall never depart from your house…Behold, I will raise up evil against you out of your own house” (2 Samuel 12.10-11). A couple years after this prophecy is uttered, Absalom, David’s son, steals the hearts of the people (ch.15) & performs a coup to steal the throne from David. Sick & on the run, with the sword of his own house in his back, David pens this Psalm. The main idea of this Psalm is that God’s blessings are upon the man of integrity. What do you do when you’ve been stabbed in the back? Psalm 41 speaks a word from to God to the betrayed.

The Beatitude of the Social Worker (1-3)

1Blessed is the one who considers the poor!

Consider the Poor (1a): The bliss of God belongs to those who give attention to poor/weak and treat them proper. “Poor” here could be the impoverished, tho David saw himself as “poor & needy” (40.17). Could be the humiliated & weak. Not merely in thought (“bless their hearts”) but in action (cf. 1 Jn 3.18). Brethren, we’ve done some of this; let us seek to do this even more.

In the day of trouble the Lord delivers him;

2the Lord protects him and keeps him alive; he is called blessed in the land; you do not give him up to the will of his enemies.

3The Lord sustains him on his sickbed; in his illness you restore him to full health.

Count Your Blessings (1b-3): The common denominator of all these is peace.  1) Deliverance (1b): “Day of trouble” or “evil day” (cf. Ephesians 6.13, any day the evil one or evil ones come against you). 2) Protection (2a): Mortal life is kept by the immortal God. 3) Prosperity (2b): material & financial blessing in the land. 4) Sustenance (3a): YHWH is the God of health so when you’re sick He sees you thru it. 5) Restoration (3b): YWHW ensures you make a full recovery after illness.

YHWH’s deliverance in the evil day; His protection from foes and keeping you alive; how blessed you are in life; God seeing you thru sickness & bringing about full recovery – all of these blessings are related to how you treat the poor. You are blessed with these IF you consider the poor. Think about how much we pray for the sick among us; God answering those prayers is directly related to how we treat the poor. Your peace is related to how you treat the poor, the little guy. God cares for them; we should too.

The Plea of the Sick Warrior (4-9)

4As for me, I said, “O Lord, be gracious to me; heal me, for I have sinned against you!”

Heal Me (4): “Be gracious to me” is a common plea found throughout the Psalms (15 x’s in the Psalms; twice in this Psalm). We especially need God’s grace when we “have sinned against You.” Herein is why sin is most grievous: it is directed toward God. So David cries out for healing (lit. heal my soul), body & soul, the whole being because of sickness & sin.

5My enemies say of me in malice, “When will he die, and his name perish?”

6And when one comes to see me, he utters empty words, while his heart gathers iniquity; when he goes out, he tells it abroad.

7All who hate me whisper together about me; they imagine the worst for me.

8They say, “A deadly thing is poured out on him; he will not rise again from where he lies.”

9Even my close friend in whom I trusted, who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.

Help Me (5-9): Verse 5: Modern vernacular – “Drop dead!” This is akin to Ike Taylor in Tombstone saying “I hope you die” to Doc Holiday after losing to him in gambling. But also, may there be no memory of him in the pages of history. Wow!

Verse 6: Lies are crafted & spread abroad. “It is perfectly marvelous how spite spins webs out of no materials whatsoever” (Spurgeon).

Verse 7: Many commentators put the writing of this Psalm when David was running for his life from his son Absalom. One of his advisers, Ahithophel, seems to now hate David, advising Absalom to go kill David & he would lead the charge (2 Samuel 17).

Verse 8: “deadly thing” or “evil disease” (NKJV) seems to indicate David has fallen ill. Meanwhile, his enemies gloat over this.

Verse 9: For David, Ahithophel, his adviser, had betrayed him, stabbed him in the back. Further, when Ahithophel realizes his advice has not been taken by Absalom, he goes home & hangs himself (2 Samuel 17.23). Why did he betray David? Why such a violent response when his advice is rejected?

Ahithophel had a son named Eliam who was one of David’s mighty men (2 Samuel 23.34). That’s the same group Urijah ran with. He was married to Bathsheba whom David committed adultery with back in 2 Samuel 12. Want to take a guess who Bathsheba’s daddy was? 2 Samuel 11.3, Eliam, making her Ahithophel’s granddaughter. AND if David could do what he did to Urijah…what’s stopping him from doing this to my son? This was his chance to finally get David after years of his rage simmering. Bitterness, hatred, anger, revenge…this stuff ate him alive.

Help Me Again: While this certainly explains David’s situation, being a prophet he spoke of Christ. Indeed, the latter portion of verse 9 is quoted in John 13.18 by Jesus of Judas. Truly, you go through these verses & Christ is seen in each of them. Though He was sinless, He certainly needed the grace of God (v.4). His malicious enemies did want Him to die & His name to be forgotten (v.5). Their hearts were full of iniquity & they crafted lies to convict Him (v.6). The chief priests & Pharisees imagined the worst for Him, even death on a cross (v.7). They were so adamant about Him not rising from the grave they posted guards at His tomb (v.8). And it was Judas who betrayed Him, even one of His disciples (v.9).

The Prayer of a Sincere Worshiper (10-13)

10But you, O Lord, be gracious to me, and raise me up, that I may repay them!

11By this I know that you delight in me: my enemy will not shout in triumph over me.

Imprecation (10-11): “I may repay him.” For self-revenge? No, but the righteousness of God is at stake because these guys are seeking to hurt the Lord’s anointed, something even David did not dare do though he had opportunity. As his kingly duty required of him (cf. Romans 13.4), he would change their shouts of victory into cries of mourning or silence them permanently. But that would be the sign that God took pleasure in His servant. NT Update: Christ, 2 Thessalonians 1.8-10.

12But you have upheld me because of my integrity, and set me in your presence forever.

Integrity (12): David is confident that he has treated the poor, weak, emarginated right. In fact, although at one point he had a “lame” policy for his kingdom (2 Sam 5.8). However, when it came to Jonathan’s relative Mephibosheth, who was crippled, David allowed him to eat at his table. So David too longs to sit in the King’s presence forever.

13Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting! Amen and Amen.

Invocation (13): As this Psalm closes & as Book 1 of the Psalms closes, we have a final exclamation praising God.

Again, David’s deliverance was related to how he treated the poor/weak. This was his integrity. When you’re stabbed in the back, that may be all you have. Keep looking to God’s grace, His blessings during these hard times.

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When You’ve Blown It Again – Psalm 32

The haunting, terrible reality for all Christians is that we fall short of the glory of God far too often. Once is too often, by the way. We do slip up, trip up, & fall short or miss the mark. As Christians we strive to be like Jesus, but we sin. 1 John 1.8, “If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.” Notice that John includes himself. It is right to feel guilt over sin; in fact we ought to because when we don’t something is wrong. What do you do when you are in the throes of despair over sin? Psalm 32 offers light & hope in darkness & despair. God thoroughly forgives our iniquity, transgressions, & sins.

The superscription of this psalm calls it “a maskil.” A maskil could mean this is 1) a contemplative song [think about it, hmm…]; 2) a psalm imparting moral wisdom; 3) a well-written psalm (NET). Psalms 42, 44, 45, 52-55, 74, 78, 88, 89, & 102 are also maskil Psalms. “Of David” means this was written by David and this fact is confirmed by Paul (Romans 4.6-8).

God Deals With Our Sin (1-4)

Like the Sermon on the Mount this Psalm begins with a beatitude. This is the beatitude of the forgiven lawbreaker.

1Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.

2Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.

Sin Expiated [atoned for] (1-2): Three (3) words are used in the 1st two verse to describe sin: transgression, sin, iniquity. 1) Transgression: crossing a boundary, i.e. God’s law. 2) Sin: missing the mark, not doing what God has commanded or doing what God has commanded not be done. 3) Iniquity: internal defilement of the soul, moral distortion. All three of these God handles. With transgressions, He “forgives,” i.e. they are taken away like a burden. With sin, He “covers,” i.e. they are hidden from His sight. With iniquity, He does not “count” them, i.e. they never hit the record. But cleansing of all sin begins with genuine, real repentance, not pretended penitence (“no deceit”). Salvation from sin flows into a sincere heart before God.

3For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long.

4For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

Sin Experienced (3-4): Here is the soul crushing reality of sin. David “kept silent” about his sin. Why keep silent? Could have been out of pride (stubborn refusal to confess), neglect, despair (“How could God forgive me?”), guilt (don’t deserve? Exactly! That’s grace). But the longer he kept it in, his physical condition took a turn for the worse as he “wasted away” (weak, exhausted, aged). He groaned all day; so while he may have been silent over sin, he was groaning in sorrow. Verse 4: God’s hand is helpful when He reaches down to help us up, but it is heavy when it comes down upon us due to sin (cf. 38.2). If his finger can crush, what pressure must His hand bring? Further, the heat of divine justice has withered David, dried him up like a twig.  All of this shows us the awful experience of unconfesed sin.

God Hears Our Confession (5-7)

Confession brings joy!

5I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,” and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah

7You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah

Individual (5, 7): Verse 5: Here is true repentance in action. First, David takes ownership of his sin – “my sin…my transgressions…my iniquity.” Mine, all mine. My rebellion & self-will & perversion (cf. James 1.14-15). All this he “will confess” to God, that is, his intention & inclination is toward God. Notice: David can’t even get the words out and God already forgives! Like prodigal son (Lk 15). AND God not only forgives the sin, but “the iniquity of my sin” or “the guilt of my sin” (NIV). The very blackest part God blots out! God deals with the root of sin, the virus of moral depravity. He does not merely mow over the weed; he pulls it out at the root! God’s pardon is deep, thorough. Verse 7: It is no wonder David views God as his personal city of refuge, city to hide from the avenger of blood, preserved from death, with shouts & songs  because he is safe.

6Therefore let everyone who is godly offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found; surely in the rush of great waters, they shall not reach him.

Everyone (6): David says to God that everybody ought to do what I am doing. David wants everyone to experience the joy of salvation. This is the best deal around – total, full forgiveness of all sin & a new heart on top of it. This doesn’t make what we did right; it makes Him good.

God Instructs Our Hearts (8-11)

Some say this is David instructing others as he vowed to do (51.13). Others say this is God speaking & instructing us after reconciliation.

8I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.

9Be not like a horse or a mule, without understanding, which must be curbed with bit and bridle, or it will not stay near you.

God Guides the Godly (8-9): God guides us with spiritual & moral guidance. He reveals to us the way we should go thru His word. Further, He watches over us as we walk in His way. Verse 9: these beasts need a bit & are forced into service. Ours, tho, is a willing service. They are “without understanding,” but we are rational creatures rendering to our Maker what is rightfully His.

10Many are the sorrows of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds the one who trusts in the Lord.

God Guards the Godly (10): Sorrows are guilt, shame, anxiety (over relationship with God), fear/terror, anger, bitterness. “The wicked” are acquainted with these. “He who sows sin will reap sorrow in heavy sheaves” (Spurgeon). “Every wicked man is a miserable man” (Clarke). However, those whose faith is in YHWH are surrounded by His unfailing love. Morning & evening, in company & alone, in sickness & health, in life & in death – everywhere & always.

11Be glad in the Lord, and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart!

God Gladdens the Godly (11): Joy accompanies forgiveness. So holiness & joy are welded together.  Note that only “in the YHWH” can we experience joy for only YHWH can atone for & absolve us of sin thereby making us “righteous” & “upright in heart.”

I believe many Christians need this reminder of reassurance of remission of sin. Guilt is crippling & hinders us from fulfilling the purposes of God in our generation. But God has dealt with our sin & continues to deal with our sins. We are forgiven to the uttermost, and God calls us to live with & for Him.

Prayer: For the forgiveness of our sins, the blotting out of our transgressions, and the remission of our iniquity, even the iniquity of our sin, we praise thee, O Lord.

Let the King Come In – Psalm 24

Whatever happened to the Ark of the Covenant?

Hollywood has made a lot of money off of the Ark of the Covenant (Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Ark) and this single item has been the object of a lot of speculation. Where is it? What happened to it?

Special Study – A Brief History of the Ark of the Covenant

The Ark of the Covenant (AKA the ark of the Lord/God & the ark of the testimony) was the sacred portable chest which represented the presence of God. It was a rectangular box made of acacia wood and measured 2.5 X 1.5 X 1.5 cubits (or approx. 45 X 27 X 27 inches). It was overlaid with gold, had four gold rings (two on each side) through which two poles could be passed through to carry it, and was built by a man named Bezalel (see Exodus 25.10-22; 37.1-9).

God was very specific concerning its dimensions, how it was to be carried, and who could carry it. Levites were to cover it with the veil between the holy place & the Most Holy Place (Numbers 4.5) before they could carry it using the acacia wood poles. For 40 years they transported the Ark whenever the Israelites broke camp in the wilderness (Deuteronomy 10.8). Each time they departed and each time they rested, Moses sang a song or gave a brief benediction (Numbers 10.35-36).

The Ark contained a copy of the Ten Commandments written on stone, a jar of manna, and Aaron’s staff (Hebrews 9.4). The Ark served as the meeting place for the people of Israel where God would reveal His will for His people to His servants Moses (Exodus 25.22), Aaron (Leviticus 16.2), and Joshua (Joshua 7.6).

When Israel went in to conquer the Promised Land the Ark played significant roles. When the Israelites crossed the River Jordan, the priests who were carrying the Ark went in first to stop the waters from flowing so that all Israel passed through on dry ground (Joshua 3.13); it was as though YHWH Himself was passing through the river (v.11). At Jericho, seven priests blowing trumpets led the march around the city walls with the Ark following behind them and the rest of the army behind them (Joshua 6.8-9). When Israel renewed covenant at Mount Ebal & Mount Gerazim, there was the Ark between the two mounts in the midst of the Israel and surrounded by elders, officers, judges, and the priest who carried it (Joshua 8.33).

Following the conquest of the land the people set up the tent of meeting at Shiloh and this becomes the place where the Ark resides for some time (Judges 18.1). At some point during the time of the judges the Ark was moved to Bethel (Judges 20.24-27) before being moved back to Shiloh during the time of Samuel (1 Samuel 3.3) and remaining there until Israel went to war with the Philistines (1 Samuel 4). After suffering a loss in battle to the Philistines the Israelites concoct a superstitious idea that the Ark of God will save them rather than the God of the Ark (v.3). So the Ark is brought from Shiloh to Ebenezer where the Israelites were encamped and in the ensuing battle the Ark is captured by the Philistines (v.11). For seven months the Ark remains in Philistine hands but is quickly returned due to plagues among the people (1 Samuel 6). The two milk cows which pulled the cart upon which the Philstines had placed the Ark went straight to Beth-shemesh (v.12). The men of Beth-shemesh send messengers to Kiriath-Jearim to come get the Ark because 70 of the men have died because they looked upon the uncovered Ark (v.19-21). So the men of Kiriath-Jearim take the Ark to the house of Abinadab whose son Eleazar has charge of the Ark.

The Ark remains in his house for 20 years, except for a short field trip to Saul’s camp near Beth-aven (1 Samuel 14.18) though David says the people did not seek God during Saul’s days (1 Chronicles 13.3). After several decades (some say upwards to 70 years), David decides to move the Ark from the house of Abinadab at Kiriath-Jearim (AKA Baale-Judah, see 2 Samuel 6.2) to Jerusalem (about an 8 mile trek) where he has set up the tent of meeting (2 Samuel 6; 1 Chronicles 13). However, during the transportation of the Ark, Uzzah reaches out to steady the Ark and is struck dead. Angry & afraid, David reroutes the Ark to Obed-Edom’s house. He appears to be a Levite since he is a Gittite, that is, a resident of the Levitical town Gath Rimmon.

For three months the Ark remains in Obed-Edom’s house and his household is blessed because of this. When David learns of this he decides the time is right to move the Ark again. This time, though, they are going to do it right with only Levites carrying it as YHWH had specified (1 Chronicles 15.2, 15). Further, every six steps a sacrifice is offered (2 Samuel 6.13). All of Israel shows up and celebrates as the Ark of the Covenant of YHWH is brought into Jerusalem.

During the reign of Solomon is when the first temple is built. This glorious & splendid temple becomes the permanent dwelling of the Ark. A great ceremony is held when they bring the Ark into the new temple (1 Kings 8). At some point it was moved out of the temple and had to be returned during the reign of Josiah (2 Chronicles 35.3).

Now this special study concerning the Ark of the Covenant is important to the study of Psalm 24. Psalm 24 is about the glorious entrance of the King into the temple, i.e. God, symbolically represented by the Ark, entering His temple. What must it have been like to see the Ark enter the temple? Psalm 24 transports us there when the Ark would have entered the designated place, first the tabernacle and later the temple.

 

Bringing the Ark to the Gate (1-6)

1The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers.

Total Rule (1-2): God is sovereign over everything – world & people. The Bible tells us He created the world (Gen 1.4).

3Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.

Total Religion (3-4): 1) Question (3): For the Israelite, this would no doubt have conjured up Mt. Sinai – Ex 19.12-13, 23. Only Moses was allowed to ascend the mountain. 2) Quest (4): Asking the question leads to a quest, the quest for practical morality leading to holiness for the purpose of ascending the holy mountain of God. Four (4) aspects of practical morality: 1) Clean hands – pure actions. 2) Pure heart – pure motives. 3) Humble Soul – right relationship with God. 4) True Lips (right relationship with others.

5He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah

Total Reward (5-6): Blessing & righteousness from God. This is the reward for seeking the face of God (cf. 27.8; 105.4). Selah is the pause button in Psalms – time to meditate & contemplate the things just sung.

Enter the King of Glory (7-10)

The follow closing section of the Psalm was intended to be sung antiphonally with three different parts: the crowd as they drew near the temple, the voice within the temple, & the spokesman for the King. It breaks down as follows:

Approaching Crowd

7Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Voice Inside

8Who is this King of glory?

Spokesman for the King

The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle!

Approaching Crowd

9Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.

Voice Inside

10Who is this King of glory?

Everyone

The Lord of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah

In this moment of pause, this is an “ah-ha” moment! They would have done this when David brought the ark into the tabernacle and then again when Solomon completed the temple.

The Ark of the Covenant & the Christian

Disappearance & Tradition: It is uncertain when & how the Ark was lost; the Bible is silent on the matter. After the deportations under Nebuchadnezzar and the destruction of the temple in 586 BC nothing is known concerning what became of the Ark. In fact, it is not listed as the spoils of Nebuchadnezzar (2 Kings 25.13-17; Jeremiah 52.17-23) leading some to think it may have already been lost. Indeed, Jeremiah had prophesied of the day when the Ark would no longer be visited, remembered, or talked about (Jeremiah 3.16). They wouldn’t even miss it.

Various traditions exist about what happened to the Ark of the Covenant: some Jewish traditions say Jeremiah took the Ark & hid it, some even specifying he hid it in the mountain where Moses is buried; another source says Josiah hid the Ark under a rock “in its place,” that is, under the temple; one legend says an angel came and removed the Ark before the destruction of Jerusalem. But all traditions point to the exile as the time for the disappearance of the Ark.

The Ark of the Covenant was conspicuously absent from the 2nd & 3rd temples. In fact, Josephus explains that in the Most Holy Place “there was nothing at all…and not to be seen by any” (War of the Jews 5.219). They didn’t even rebuild it just as Jeremiah said. Ezekiel’s vision (40-48) does not include the Ark. According to the rabbinic writings, where the Ark would have been was a “stone of foundation” three fingers high. The last sighting of the Ark of the Covenant was by the apostle John in the Revelation (11.19), but given the symbolic nature of the prophecy, it is doubtful this was the literal Ark of the Covenant.

Why God Would Allow the Ark to be Lost? Partly, because He knows men will worship anything & everything except Him. If we had the Ark of the Covenant, people would worship the relic rather than the Righteous One. But also, God paves the way for something greater by allowing the Ark to be lost to history. No longer would He dwell above the mercy seat, above the Ark of the Covenant, between the cherubim, in the Most Holy Place, behind the veil, in the temple in Jerusalem. No, now His Spirit resides in Christians who are the temple of God (1 Cor 3.16-17; 6.19-20; 2 Cor 6.16). When we became a Christian, we let the King come in, opening the door of your heart at which Jesus stood and knocked – “be lifted up, you doors!” And He continues to reside within us each day as we confess “YHWH Almighty is the King of glory” & therefore the King of my life.

What is very interesting about this Psalm is that it was always sung on the 1st day of the week in Jewish worship [Psalm 48 the 2nd day; 82 the 3rd; 94 the 4th; 81 the 5th; 93 the 6th; 92 the 7th, i.e. the Sabbath]. Every Lord’s Day, tho we may not sing this Psalm, we unite with the spirit of this, renewing our devotion to our King & calling on Him to enter our lives & live in, with, & thru us. The Lord wishes to enter your life so that He might save you and change you.

Won’t you let the King come in?