Saturday, 26 July 2014

(208) July 27: Psalm 49-51 & Acts 27:1-25

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

To discover:­
As you read note what the psalmist trusts God can do.

To ponder:
Psalm 49 is a psalm of wisdom. It begins calling all of whatever station in life to listen (49v1-4). The psalmist says he should not fear when “evil days come” in which deceivers who trust and boast in their wealth seek his harm (49v5-6). The reason is that no-one can ransom another’s life, and so everyone must die (49v7-1). And whereas the foolish who trust in themselves will perish, leaving their wealth to others, “the upright will rule over them in the morning” (49v10-14). The meaning of this is seen in what follows. The psalmist is confident that whereas no man can redeem and so save another from dying (49v7), God will redeem his life from the grave and take him to himself (49v15). It’s an explicit Old Testament reference to the afterlife, in which believers will reign over a new creation and over those who are excluded (Rev 2v26-27). And it looks to the cross of Christ through which redemption from death is achieved. So the wisdom of the psalm is not to be overawed (and one presumes envious) of the wealthy. If they are “without understanding” they will die like the beasts (49v20). It is therefore far better to be “upright” and so one who trusts in God not himself (49v13-14). This perspective enables the Christian to be generous with what he does have (Matt 6v19-24).
            In Psalm 50 God summons both the earth and the heavens to witness him confronting his people as their judge. It’s an awesome picture of God, the Mighty One, coming from Zion in resplendent glory, and surrounded by fire and storm as on Sinai (50v1-4). He then gathers his “consecrated ones” – ie. those set-apart for him. This refers to all Israel who were made his through the covenant that was ratified with a sacrifice at Sinai (50v5, see Ex 24v3-8). And we are reminded that what he is about to say is “righteous.” 50v6 may mean that the heavens reveal God’s righteousness because he uses them to give light and mark seasons to the benefit of humanity (see Gen 1v14-18).
            At this point testifies against his people, stressing he is there God (50v7). He declares that he doesn’t need their many sacrifices as he owns and knows ever creature, and doesn’t need to eat (50v8-13). This clarifies that sacrifices were not necessary in themselves, but only to highlight the need for atonement and draw out heartfelt faith. And so, having rebuked rote offerings, God stresses that what he wants is genuine thanks, obedience when vows are made, and faith that calls on him in times of trouble. Indeed, he promises that he will deliver his people in response to such prayers and they will honour him (50v14-15). God then rebukes the wicked as unfit to recite the laws of his covenant as they hate his instruction, joining in with sin, and slandering even their family members (50v16-20). God notes that he has so far kept silent but promises that he will one day rebuke them. In gracious patience, he therefore warns those who forget him to consider his words so that they are not torn to pieces, and urges them to honour him with thank-offerings so that he may show them salvation (50v21-23) – presumably by rescuing them from their impending punishment (50v22). For us, the psalm offers a stark warning to those who are religious rather than repentant, storing up wrath for the day of judgement (Rom 2v5).
            The sort of repentance needed is exemplified by Psalm 51. It is David’s famous confession after his sin with Bathsheba (see title). He begins, calling on God’s character, pleading with him to show mercy. In asking for him to “blot out” and “wash away” his transgression, his desire is that God would no longer see it as this would warrant his judgement (51v1-2). He acknowledges his constant awareness of his sin, and that this is sin against God and seen by God, so proving that God is right to judge. When we consider our sin, how could we ever question this truth? Indeed, David sees in himself a sinful disposition stemming from conception (51v3-5). This is what’s termed original sin – the inclination all humanity are born with as punishment for Adam’s disobedience (see Eph 2v1-3).
            What is striking, is that in this context David realises his need of what would only be fully experienced through Christ. First, anticipating God’s later promise of the law being written on the heart (Jer 31v33), David knows God’s desire is for truth within (51v6), which presumably includes obedience of it. He therefore prays not only for cleansing so that in terms of the record of his sins he is seen as “white as snow,” he also prays for a renewed heart that will continually and willingly obey (51v7-1). He also therefore anticipates the fulfilment of God’s promise to one day circumcise his people’s hearts so that they can obey him (Deut 30v1-6). It’s a striking proof that the believing Israelite could experience something of the new covenant work of the Holy Spirit (Rom 2v29, Heb 8v10). As king, however, David had already been given a special dispensation of God’s Spirit. So he also asked that he would not be rejected by God and therefore have the Holy Spirit taken from him (51v11) – something that cannot happen for the true Christian (Eph 1v13-14).
            In all this, David’s prayer is ultimately for joy in experiencing God save him from judgement (51v8, 12). And in response, he commits to teaching transgressors so they turn back too (51v13-15). Reflecting Psalm 50, he then affirms God doesn’t require sacrifices per se, but will never despise a broken and humble heart (51v16-17). This is what sacrifices should reflect. And so David ends praying that God would prosper Jerusalem as a place of true worship (51v18-19). The psalm is a model for our repentance, giving us confidence to ask for God’s mercy and renewal. It also affirms how receiving these things should move us to evangelism as worship.

Thinking further:
None today.

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