A Psalm that is Repeated – Psalm 53

Psalm 53 is nearly identical to Psalm 14.

If God says something once it is important; it is His word after all. If He says it twice, we must give it special attention. But what if God says it thrice? This Psalm is quoted by Paul in Romans 3.10-12. “This demands out keenest concentration, contemplation, assimilation, and even memorization…we are to ‘read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest.’” (Boice). There is no vain repetition with God. Spurgeon suggests that David wrote the 14th when he was young and turned his attention to it later in life for a “revision” of sorts. What he found was that men were no better later in life as they were when he was younger. Yet God takes care of the faithful who live surrounded by sin & evil. How bad is it really in the world? According to Psalm 53, it is really, really bad. We might say it’s a bad, bad, bad, bad world.

“To the choirmaster: according to Mahalath. A Maskil of David.” 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).

The Fountain of Sin (1a)

1The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.”

“Fool”: this word is typically used to describe a moral deficient person, an impious individual. A fool is one who “finds pleasure in evil conduct” (Prov 10.23, NIV). Not intelligence but impiety is in view. This personal rebellion is what stimulated their “repentance” about God’s existence.

“Heart”: The moral corrupt person must first convince him/herself there is no God. So here is self-deception. So they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1.18).

“No God”: Ultimately, then, this is a choice to disbelieve in God. There may certainly be real challenges to their faith & attempts to make atheism appear reasonable or rational, but at the heart of atheism is personal rebellion.

The Filthiness of Sin (1b)

They are corrupt, doing abominable iniquity; there is none who does good.

“Corrupt”: Here is the deceptiveness of sin – it masquerades as something beautiful & desirable. Like how homosexual behavior is simple another alternative lifestyle or being for abortion is “pro-choice” (who would want to take away options?). Sin makes men altogether filthy.

“Vile”: or “have committed abominable injustice” (NASB). Is there really any greater injustice men can commit than to make sin seem attractive?

The Fact of Sin (2)

2God looks down from heaven on the children of man to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.

“God Looks Down from Heaven”: Holy God, perfect & sinless, sitting upon His majestic throne looks down upon the earth. What does He see? A planet full of sinful men & women. All our sinful hearts & lives are open before Him.

The Witness of God: Do any seek after Him? When Paul quotes this verse in Romans 3.11 the answer is “no one understands…seek for God.”

The Fault of Sin (3)

3They have all fallen away; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one.

“Fallen Away”: Is sin really that bad? YES! It is iniquity, unrighteousness, there is nothing good in it, it is evil. It is turning away from the right path, the path of life, to the path of death.

No One Does Good: Not only have we turned from God & corrupted ourselves, our interpersonal relationships are ruined because of sin. We do not do good to others.

The Folly of Sin (4)

4Have those who work evil no knowledge, who eat up my people as they eat bread, and do not call upon God?

“no knowledge…do not call upon God” is language indicative of those who never made time for God in their lives and their foolishness will ultimately find them out. Listen to the excuses people make when it comes to knowing God…

“I didn’t know you existed”: God has gone to great lengths to reveal Himself in the world & the Word – how will this sound to Him?

“I didn’t think you were important”: How insulting to God! What was more important? TV, fantasy football, Facebook, work?

“I didn’t have time for you”: Yet you had time for every other frivolous, meaningless thing; everything you believed was important, but wasn’t.

The Fruit of Sin (4b)

“…who eat up my people as they eat bread…”

Barbarity: these “eat up my people as they eat bread.” These devour the weak & the poor that they might become strong & rich. This is an apt description of the dog-eat-dog world that then was and still is.

Cruelty: when the deceitfulness of sin hardens men’s hearts we should expect to see even the family unit being destroyed. Just plain mean, acting  like junk yard dogs toward one another.

The Fear (and Shame) of Sin (5)

5There they are, in great terror, where there is no terror! For God scatters the bones of him who encamps against you; you put them to shame, for God has rejected them.

God their Enemy: Here is the main variation between this and Pslam 14. “great terror where there is no terror.” Their own consciences frighten them, their imaginations fill them with terror. There is a very real fear that cannot be erased: God is & God fights against them.

“God has rejected them”: They are right to fear because it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. “The wicked flees when no one pursues” because in reality God is hunting them!

The Faith of the Saints (6)

6Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad.

The Present Evil World: Sin abounds here & has made men barbaric & cruel. Our experience is one where sin wins: the righteous are vilified & destroyed. It’s as common as men eating bread. (Romans 3.10-20; 21-25)

Look Upward: First, our Savior has come & delivered us from the bonds of sin. We are no longer corrupt & vile because of Jesus. Second, we wait in anticipation for when Christ comes back to set to right all that is wrong:

This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed. To this end we always pray for you, that our God may make you worthy of his calling and may fulfill every resolve for good and every work of faith by his power, so that the name of our Lord Jesus may be glorified in you, and you in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5–12, ESV)

We are surrounded by sin & evil in this world. The world hates us but God has rejected them. When Jesus comes He will demonstrate that finally & fully. May we be found worthy when Jesus comes.

(Outline adapted from Matthew Henry)

The Marks of Mercy – Psalm 51

The superscription for this Psalm gives us the historical background: To the choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba” (Psalm 51:title, ESV). These events are recorded in 2 Samuel 11-12 when David lusted after & committed adultery with Bathsheba, covered up his sin by deceit & murder, and presumed he had committed the perfect crime with none the wiser. But God sent the prophet Nathan – “You are the man!” In contrition & repentance, David cried out to God in prayer which is recorded in this Psalm.  His spirit & heart is broken so he turns to the only One who can mend heart & soul. This Psalm shows how God is abundantly merciful on the penitent sinner. In the New Testament we read about God being “rich in mercy” (Ephesians 2.4). But how rich is He in mercy? Make no mistake, the riches of His mercy are on display in the Old Testament just as they are in the New. God demonstrates the riches of His mercy in David’s life in Psalm 51.

Note: Observe that David addresses his prayer to Elohim and not Yahweh, Jehovah. It is as if he feels absolutely unworthy of voicing the proper name of God and simply prostrates himself before the Make

1 Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.

David immediately appeals to God for mercy, even before he mentions his sin. He begs/pleads for mercy as a brokenhearted sinner. This mercy comes from the “steadfast love” or “loving-kindness” of God. What a fitting word: loving-kindness. Wrapped up in it we see the certainly the love of God (that wonderful, matchless love) and the kindness/tenderness of God. And certainly it is steadfast.

By this mercy, God, “blot out my transgressions.” The first prayer is for mercy; this second is for the removal entirely of his offences from the book of God. Think India ink with a fountain pen – when you commit sin, the India ink bites into the pages of your life, mar it. Only the divine ink can blot it out, completely cover over that sin. This is according to the abundance of God’s mercy. Are you concerned about the abundance of your sins? Be advised that God has an abundance of mercy for the penitent sinner.

2 Wash me thoroughly from my iniquity, and cleanse me from my sin! 

Not like a man washing his body but as a person would wash a fouled, dirty garment. The stains are not removable by human ability and work; only divine detergent, only the blood of the unblemished can wash thoroughly the offender. Wash me, the penitent sinner from my iniquity, that thing which pollutes me.

Hebrew parallelism is used to repeat the request: Cleanse me from my sin. Transgressions, iniquity, sin – in other words, cover every form of moral impurity, every offensive stain that is evil. And truly David’s sins are multiplied: adultery, fornication, lies, murder, self-deception.

3 For I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me.

David, once self-deceived and refusing to acknowledge that he had done any wrong, fully acknowledges his wrongs. But truly he knew them for he committed them. They have been told him and he has been found out. I assume there is embarrassment, shame, guilt…as well there should be. Knowledge of sin will produce

But not only has David acknowledged his sins, but they are ever before him. On every face, over ever scene, in every place David looks he cannot escape his sin. It weighs on him and it is impossible to forget as long it oppresses the soul of man. Only God can remove this weight of guilt.

4 Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you may be justified in your words and blameless in your judgment.

While there are other parties David has offended (Bathsheba, Uriah, Israel), there is none that is higher than God. Every sin is against God! And every sin is an open offense before God and all of heaven. Nothing escapes his sight and he recognizes the evil of sin.

Hence, the perfect God is found true and right in his words and judgments. The iniquity was indisputably committed; it is unquestionably foul and wrong; and God’s condemnation of that sin is just and without blame.

5 Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.

Not that any baby is born with sin; sin must be committed and a baby can no more commit sin than it could perform arithmetic. Rather, David, in the throes of contrition over his sin, overstates the case in his confession to God. There is no good thing in his life at this point and David’s whole life is painted the hue of sin.

6 Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart.

Mark 1 of mercy: Honesty with self over what you have done; truthfulness (6). The preceding 5 verses have been bringing us to this first mark. A person who receives divine mercy must first be honest about their state before a holy God. Honesty concerning your sin will enable you to recognize your sin and admit it plainly to God (that’s confession). And this recognition of sin will produce the contrition we see in this Psalm, the broken-heartedness over sin, the sorrow for his iniquity, and will lead to repentance.

David is saying he is an adulterer, he stole another man’s wife, he had that man killed, he lied about it, covered it up, he deceived people about it. What do we need to be honest about in our life? What’s your secret sin that your hiding from everyone else. You may fool the whole world, but the eyes of God are on you.

7 Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.

Mark 2 of mercy: Request for forgiveness (7-8). Hyssop is from the mint family of plants and was used for cleansing a person from defilement from touching a corpse or from leprosy. And surely David is defiled. So he asks to be purged (purified, removed) from his sin. Only with the complete removal of sin can David be clean/pure. Again the request to be washed (see v.2).

But if we are going to ask for forgiveness, be sure we also receive that forgiveness. God wants to hear the pleading of our hearts as we confess wrong. But don’t continue carrying around what God has forgiven. Have faith God has forgiven (and he has, 1 John 1.9) and move on to service (Heb 9.14). God can, will, and does forgive the penitent sinner.

Satan will whisper doubts in our ear; he’s been since the beginning. “Has God really forgiven you?” We need to confident and stand on the word of God – “Yes He has!” Don’t put a question mark where God has put a period.

8 Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice.

Request forgiveness and receive it. God wants to hear the pleading of our hearts as we confess wrong. But don’t continue carrying around what God has forgiven. Have faith God has forgiven (and he has, 1 John 1.9) and move on to service (Heb 9.14). God can, will, and does forgive the penitent sinner. Rejoice in His forgiveness!

9 Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities.

Mark 3 of mercy: Believe that God has forgotten as well as forgiven. And here is the difficulty for humans: that an omniscient God can forget sin. Nevertheless, Jeremiah 31.34b, Hebrews 8.12b. God can turn his face from our sins, blotting them out so as to never remember them. He no longer sees them. This harkens to the mercy seat (Exodus 25.17-22). The mercy seat was above the Ark of the Covenant and was the resting place of God. Every year on the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would enter the Most Holy Place and sprinkle blood on the mercy seat 7 times to make atonement for the people. The people drew near the mercy seat to receive mercy from the Lord.

10 Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.

Mark 4 of mercy: Allow God to work in you (v.10). See 2 Corinthians 5.17, God creates new motivation (heart) and desire (spirit). David is asking for restoration to the place he was before: a faithful and fruitful person. “Give me the fortitude to get on track and stay on track.”

11 Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.

Mark 5 of mercy: Believe in God’s presence (v.11). Does David have Saul in mind? Perhaps. But he has seen what it looks like to live without the presence of God and he does not want that. According to Ephesians 3.16-17, Christians have both the Spirit and Christ within them. Take heart that if you are forgiven, you are fit for His abiding presence.

12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and uphold me with a willing spirit.

Mark 6 of mercy: Restoration of joy (v.12). He’s back with a song in his heart and smile on his lips. Does not mean he has forgotten, but he has joy. Like Paul: he never forgot where he came from (chief of sinners) but he had joy (Philippians 4.4).

13 Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will return to you.

Mark 7 of mercy: Proclamation of salvation (v.13). Go tell someone about the God who saved you, what he has done. Was sin bad? Yes, but once on track, headed in the right direction, now we can benefit others.

In order to fully experience the mercy of God, it may be helpful to ask several pointed question to see if you are fully back.

Is the anger, hurt, & resentment still in force? Is the guilt, shame, & disappointment still overwhelming?

Are we in prayer as much as before or even more? It is not embarrassment but sweet conversation.

Can I thank God for the lessons learned & the character gained from this experience?

Can I talk about the hurt without recalling all the stuff that devastates? Can I do that without being hurt? Can I help others?

Do I accept full responsibility for my sins? Or am I still trying to blame someone or something else?

Do I still love myself or am I punishing myself?

Am I imposing some kind of consequence or penance for what I have done? By the way, that is legalism.

So long as anger, lack of prayer, blaming, self-imposed punishment remains, we hinder the full experience of God’s mercy.

We need to trust that Jesus has forgiven fully. God shows this kind of mercy to those who are merciful (see Matthew 5.8). That is the final question: it is not a question of what sort of life you are living; it is not a question of if you have interest in the kingdom of God. It is simply “are you showing mercy?” That is the test from the beatitude from Jesus. For if you do not show mercy, how can you expect God to show mercy to you? Since God has been so merciful to you, how could not show mercy to others? “Be merciful as your heavenly Father is merciful” (Luke 6.36). Receive His mercy.

Desiring God – Psalms 42-43

Book 2 of the Psalms begins with this desperate desire for God expressed by men who shouldn’t even be alive. Psalm 42 is the 1st of a dozen Psalms (42-49, 84-85, 87-88) written by the sons of Korah and is intended to be coupled with Psalm 43 (cf. 42.5, 11; 43.5 – same chorus). Their daddy (or distant relative) led a rebellion against Moses with 250 community leaders. See Numbers 26.9-11, their daddy & his band died, but the sons of Korah did not die. In fact, Korah was one of five major Levitical families (see Numbers 26.53; 1 Chronicles 6.31-33). The sons of Korah are a family of Levites David organized into a musical guild; they were a Levitical family of singers. In gratitude to God they devoted themselves to producing praise. God is the craving and desire of the depressed and despairing soul. How vital is knowing God to the saint? Psalms 42-43 reveal how vital God is to the soul.

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.

Desire for God (42.1-5)

 

1As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.

2My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?

Thirst (1-2): “My soul” speaks to the Psalmist’s inmost self, his deepest life, his essential being; this is what is most desperate for God. This desire for God is just as vital as the body’s need to drink. Is communion with God an urgent need of your soul, even as drink is vital to your body?

3My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

Tears (3): Tears are the bread of the brokenhearted & the drink of the despairing (cf. Psalm 80.5). Tears come because of the hatred of his enemies

4These things I remember, as I pour out my soul: how I would go with the throng and lead them in procession to the house of God with glad shouts and songs of praise, a multitude keeping festival.

Tabernacle/Temple (4): Although the temple may yet to be built, they certainly had the tabernacle as the house of God. Regardless, this verse communicates the Psalmists intense desire to be in God’s presence & seek His face. Essentially he says he was the 1st one through the doors when they were opened. He probably would have lingered as long as possible, being the last one out the door when the shouts & songs were over. What about us in the temple of the Lord today? Do we have this intense longing for God’s presence? Wild dogs couldn’t drag us away from being here!

5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation

Chorus (5, 11; 43.5): “Cast down” is the language of depression. “Why?” Persecution? Sure, v.3, 9-10; 43.1 all indicate this is the case. Deprived from word & worship of God? Absolutely, v.1-2 indicates this is probably the primary reason for a downcast disposition. Ever been here? Drowning in tears, with a heavy heart. Feelings of sadness like a prison you can’t break free from?

Depressed Over God (42.6-11)

6and my God. My soul is cast down within me; therefore I remember you from the land of Jordan and of Hermon, from Mount Mizar.

7Deep calls to deep at the roar of your waterfalls; all your breakers and your waves have gone over me.

8By day the Lord commands his steadfast love, and at night his song is with me, a prayer to the God of my life.

9I say to God, my rock: “Why have you forgotten me?

Abandoned by God (6-9a): This is how the Psalmist feels. Verse 6: “Jordan…Harmon…Mount Mizar” are all places east of the Jordan River & are a long way off from Jerusalem. It is as far as you can go and still catch just a glimpse of the Promised Land. “God, I feel far away from you” whether physically or figuratively. Verse 7: Billow upon billow like he is lost as sea with the waves crashing upon him. The Psalmist is overwhelmed by trials. Rarely is it just on trial, one problem; it is not single file trials, but a battalion of billows. Verse 8: I know He loves me & I sing songs of His steadfast love every day. Verse 9: God is not acting quickly enough; it feels like He has forgotten me.

Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”

10As with a deadly wound in my bones, my adversaries taunt me, while they say to me all the day long, “Where is your God?”

Attacked by His Enemies (9b-10): Builds from verse 3. “When you need Him your God is absent!” All day long they taunt. Non-stop.

11Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

Reasons People Get Depressed: Even the saints of God can struggle with depression. “Why?” Could be because of temperament, physical conditions (weather, environment), down reaction following great blessing, attacks from Satan, attacks from unbelievers, unbelief (in self or others), disappointment with life, personal failure, burden of growing old. In these Psalms there are several reasons also: 1) Absence from God’s presence (1-2); 2) Challenges from unbelievers (3, 10); 3) Remembering better times (4); 4) Overwhelming trials (7); 5) Impatience with God acting (9) – God is not acting quickly enough; 6) Attacks from ungodly people (43.1). These and other reasons are why people struggle with depression.

How to Overcome Depression: Not only does this Psalm give reasons for depression but it also gives us hope in overcoming it. 1) Long for God (1-2) – run to the living water just as a deer flees to the flowing streams. 2) Remember (4): Those happy memories are meant to help not hurt you. 3) Self-reflection (5, 11; 43.5): “Why do I feel this way?” Think about your thinking, identify the lies & replace those with truth. 4) Hope in God (5, 11; 43.5): He is a recourse for your soul. 5) God still loves you (8): We are reminded of His “steadfast love” upwards to 50 times in Scripture for a reason. 6) Wait for God’s defense (9; 43.1-2): We don’t like to wait, esp. when times are hard. We get impatient & want to fight our own battles. But it is God who justifies. 7) Worship (43.4): The soul is nourished by coming into His presence & seeking His face.

Defense from God (43.1-5)

1Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause against an ungodly people, from the deceitful and unjust man deliver me!

2For you are the God in whom I take refuge; why have you rejected me? Why do I go about mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?

Remember God’s Defense (1-2): Let God fight your battles.

3Send out your light and your truth; let them lead me; let them bring me to your holy hill and to your dwelling!

4Then I will go to the altar of God, to God my exceeding joy, and I will praise you with the lyre, O God, my God.

Rest in God’s Goodness (3-4): Come taste His goodness & worship Him.

5Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.

Revel in God’s Hope (5): “Why?” is asked over & over. It is the question which won’t go away. After each one – “Hope in God.” A stunning, surprising declaration. He is the answer which won’t go away. We are surprised by hope in God who saves & secures us. For us under the New Covenant we have the added promise of the peace of Christ (Phil 4.6-7).

We were dead in our trespasses & sins; we are not supposed to be alive & yet we live forevermore because of God. If by grace God has spared us a fate worse than death, wouldn’t we desire to be in His presence, thirsting for His living water?

At its heart this is a psalm for the depressed, those down in the dumps, those saints of God who are feeling blue. In gratitude, praise God for His mercy & grace.