Monday, 21 July 2014

(203) July 22: Psalm 36-37 & Acts 23:1-11

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note the various reasons the believer can be comforted as they ponder the wicked.

To ponder:
Psalm 36 outlines the nature of the wicked that God provides refuge from. Contrasting the righteous in Psalm 34, they have “no fear of God” to their mind’s eye and so lack wisdom and goodness. Rather their “eyes” are set on their own flattery, thinking so well of themselves that they don’t see their own sin. And as with the righteous, their speech as well as their action needs consideration: Their words are “wicked and deceitful,” and they are so committed to evil that they plot it whilst lying in bed (36v1-4). If we see such traits in ourselves, we need to repent.
            In contemplating such people, David’s meditation turns to the excellencies of God, using metaphor after metaphor to stress the immensity of his love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice. These things are displayed in his preserving care for men and animals, and in the refuge he readily provides to all who seek it – whether considered high or low among men (36v5-9). The “shadow” of God’s “wings” refers to him being like the bird protecting her chicks (as Jesus, Mat 23v37). And consider what this means for those who seek him: The plentiful feast may refer to God’s daily provision in the promised land, the “river of delights” to his refreshing fountain of life-giving sustenance, and his light, probably his enabling of his people to understand and live by the light of his word. Although it had immediate reference, it is the language of Eden that is literally fulfilled in the new creation (Rev 21v22-22v5). However partial the refuge God may give now (as 34v19), it will be total then. Even though the wicked may seem to prosper, our trust in God is well placed.
            On the basis of God’s character then, David prays God would continue to love and act rightly for the upright, and keep the proud and wicked away from him. His declaration that the evil already lie fallen is probably a way of affirming how certain their end will be.
            Psalm 37 continues where Psalm 36 ends. It is realistic in accepting the wicked often prosper, commending patient faith that awaits their judgement and one’s own vindication as righteous. It therefore opens with a call not to worry about evil men or be envious of them, because they will soon die (37v1-2). Rather, the upright are urged to do four things (37v3-9): First, to “trust” God by doing good and taking delight in knowing him. This is the disposition of faith, and pictures the believer content to just enjoy life without anxiety over evil or temptation to it (1 Thess 4v11-12). The promise of God giving “the desires of your heart” isn’t necessarily a promise of receiving whatever is wanted, but is probably qualified by v3-6. Such desires for the believer are to live a godly life in all righteousness. Second, they are therefore to entrust their way to God, knowing he will enable people to see that they are doing what is right and just. Third, the upright are to “be still,” waiting patiently for justice when evil people succeed. Fourth, they are to keep from anger against these people, who plot against them (37v8-15). And they are able to do this by maintaining a correct perspective: God will one day cut off the wicked, causing their deeds to bring their own downfall (37v15). Indeed, knowing their day is coming he is able to “laugh” at them, rather than fret (37v13). By contrast, those who hope in him will “inherit the land” and enjoy “great peace” (37v9-11).
            There was a sense in which, if the law was administered rightly, the wicked would have got their comeuppance in Israel, enabling the righteous to thrive. The psalm may also speak of how God eventually acts providentially against the wicked and for the righteous. However, the final judgement is also alluded to, when “the meek” will “inherit the earth” (Matt 5v5).      David can therefore declare that it is better to be righteous and have little, than wealthy and wicked (37v16-17), as God knows the deeds of the righteous and so “upholds” them. 37v18-29 refer to God’s covenant blessings and curses (37v22, see Deut 28v4-6) in which he promised to give the righteous descendents (and so an enduring inheritance, 37v18, 28) and provision even amidst disaster or famine (37v19, 25). These promises are not given in the same sense to Christians today, many of whom do not experience such blessing. But, as with the covenant in general, they do pattern the eternal realities of the gospel. And so David’s call to turn from evil to good applies to all (37v27-28), as the LORD loves and so will protect the just and faithful. How they contrast the wicked is therefore to be considered (37v30-33), and they are to “wait for the LORD,” knowing they have a future whereas the wicked will be destroyed (37v34-38). Yet again, this is all because God delivers those who take refuge in him (37v39-40). 

Praying it home:                                                                                   
Praise God for his loving commitment to those who love him. Pray that you would maintain a right perspective about the future, and so not worry over the wicked or be envious of them.

Thinking further: The wicked and the righteous
Throughout Job and the Psalms (and often the prophets too) we have seen that all people can be split between these two categories. Although having met Christ, we are used to rightly stating that no-one is truly righteous, we need to understand that these categories are often used as generalizations, neither referring to people as entirely wicked or entirely righteous. In the most basic sense, the former are those who “do not fear God” and so do not love him or want to obey his word, whereas the latter are those who do. So “the righteous” are not nice people of whatever religion. They are true believers in the God of Israel who is now known through Christ. And so Paul, who knew himself to be far from perfect, could say he and his friends were “holy, righteous and blameless” (1 Thess 2v10) in the sense that their love and obedience of Christ was evident in being genuinely upright in this general sense.
             We should also understand that the fates of the wicked and righteous within Israel are often stated with respect to God’s covenant, in which he promised specific curses for wickedness and blessings for righteousness (Deut 27-30). This is why at times we struggle to see how certain assumptions we find in Old Testament literature apply to God’s people today in any immediate sense (as Ps 37v25). God’s covenant with Israel reflected the pattern of Eden in which wickedness met with hardship and ultimately death, whereas righteousness would have meant fruitfulness and long life. So its primary future referent is not people as they live in the world today, but the eternal death or life that will result from the final judgement. Having said that, the experience of Eden is also a paradigm for that of wider humanity in the present; and so we have seen that outside of Israel God did sometimes judge those who were particularly wicked with disaster (Gen 19) and enable those who were more righteous to thrive (Job 42v12-17). What is important is that we are not surprised when he doesn’t do this, but recognise that it was only in his covenant with Israel that he promised to do so during this life.

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