A psalm of true righteousness
"Hear me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; have mercy on me, and hear my prayer. How long, O you sons of men, will you turn my glory to shame? How long will you love worthlessness and seek falsehood? Selah." (verse 1-2)
David writes seemingly from an ache within his soul; God has delivered him in his distress, yet something still nags at his heart. In the midst of God's mercy and deliverance, there are yet still those who judge him, those who despise him. In spite of God's goodness to him, they look upon his life and see only sin, weakness, and failure. Who are these men? These are not the enemies of God's people, but rather are the very pride and joy of Israel. The strong. The noble. The prosperous. The wise. The righteous. These are those who would never have fallen into the plights David had, never would have made his mistakes, never would have committed his worst sins. Their glory is in their obedience to the Law of God and the accompanying blessings promised in the Scriptures. They look on David with contempt and judgement; how could they honor a king who is thus unworthy of honor? His glory was in God's mercy, but they saw this only as shame.
Thus shamed before their superior righteousness, David cries out to God in a broken lament: "O God of my righteousness!" Any illusions David may have previously cherished regarding his own goodness have been effectively dimantled by years of failure. Once counted a hero among his people, he is now even viewed by some as a villain. He is humble. True humility is simply an acceptance of reality. He did not think worse of himself than he was, nor better of himself, either. David knew who he was in truth: a man whose only hope was in God's mercy! David knew his righteousness was not to be found in himself or his actions or his sacrifices. David's righteouness was tied up solely in the nature and goodness of God Himself; David brazenly claimed God's righteousness for himself, trusting a merciful God to cover his sin. He looked forward in faith to the promised Redeemer who would forever make a way for man to be made righteous apart from the law. David trusted God to make a way to save him, unrighteous as he was in himself. This is the gospel of grace, and David grasped it a 1000 years before God Himself became a man, and made this way by which men would be counted righteous by faith alone, apart from works. Jesus, the Saviour of men, died the death of a condemned sinner and rose from the grave, that all who trust in Him would not be ashamed before God, but glorified with Him in His righteousness.
When I was in Bible College, I had several students approach me asking me to design tattoos for them, as I was known to be somewhat artsy. One of the designs I remember quite clearly, as the guy who requested it had elaborated thoroughly upon it's meaning to him personally. It was the Hebrew letters אֱלֹהִים צֶדֶק, or 'elohiym tsedeq, meaning "God of my righteousness". This guy had understood his own deep need for God's righteousness alone and wanted the world to know it. He wanted to be a trophy of God's grace; a public testimony of God's mercy. Although we may not all bear tattoos, this is true for each of us in Christ. As believers in Jesus, our righteousness is found in Christ alone. My glory, or sense of honour, is in God's mercy and grace to me, an undeserving sinner. Jesus is my glory, my righteousness. My glory and boast are in Him. My righteousness is as filthy rags. Those who would shame a testimony of grace as evidence of weakness, or proof of foolishness, are proud in heart. They glory in that which is considered great in the world: in human strength, earthly nobility, and worldly wisdom. These are the attributes of our movie heroes, and of men and women glorified in legend and lore. These are the traits of those we honour with statues, streets, and buildings named after them. We, as people, want to praise that which is admirable, and rightly so. Well, dear friend, I have none of these traits that the world, or even the church, admires! Not strong, not noble, not wise; I am just a sinner, saved by grace, in the loving mercy of a gracious God. My glory is my weakness, my foolishness, and my lack; for in my nothingness, He is EVERYTHING! Jesus alone deserves such honour.
I find my calling to ministry in this scripture passage penned by Paul, "Not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty, and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence. But of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God-and righteousness and sanctification and redemption- that, as it is written, 'He who glories, let him glory in the LORD.'" (I Corinthians 1:26-31)
It is falsehood, or as the King James Version puts it, "vanity", to derive our honour from our own upright character and lifestyle, for apart from Christ, all our righteousness is as filthy rags, worthless before the eyes of a holy God. Only His own righteousness is great enough to satisfy His purity, and it is freely available through humble trust in His sacrifice. Are you base enough for His grace?
"But know that the LORD has set apart for Himself him who is godly; the LORD will hear when I call to Him. Be angry, and do not sin. Meditate within your heart on your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and put your trust in the LORD." (verse 3-5)
Who is "godly"? Godliness is living in God awareness, and acting accordingly. David knew himself to be not only righteous by faith, but also to be godly by faith, through God's grace. He lived out Hebrews 11:6, "He who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him." David was confident that God would listen to his prayer, for he came to God in faith, believing in His character of goodness and grace. Hebrews 4:16 says, "Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need." In emotional agony over this shame placed upon him for trusting in God, he found anger stirred within his heart. The word used for anger is also translated "stand in awe" in the King James Version, and is the Hebrew verb ragaz. David was so moved with anger that it left him almost paralyzed. The Strong's Concordance definition is: to tremble, quake, rage, quiver, be agitated, be excited, be perturbed. Strong emotions. Why was David so angry? David knew himself to be a sinner, and apart from God's mercy to be exactly what his accusers said of him. However, in trusting in God's mercy, David's sin was covered by God's righteousness, never to be again uncovered. When we trust in Jesus Christ as our Saviour, our sins are cast as far as the east is from the west, never to be remembered by God anymore. Never seek to uncover what was covered by the blood of Jesus! We are never to look upon each other, as brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus, as who we once were. Christ paid our penalty in full, our old nature was crucified with Him on that tree, and our past washed clean. We are truly new people in Christ, and should not regard one another as if we were the same people we once were. "Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh...if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new." (2 Corinthians 5:16-17) David was forgiven, but those who were self-righteous sought to bring to remembrance David's past. This did not please God, and this angered David. David felt rage arise in his heart, but chose not to sin in it. He addresses himself in these verses. Think. Pray. Don't act. Don't defend yourself. Leave it in God's hands. He will be my defense, my glory. Psalm 5:11 says, "But let all those rejoice who put their trust in You; Let them ever shout for joy, because You defend them; Let those also who love Your name Be joyful in You."
The "sacrifices of righteousness" David defines for us himself, in Psalm 51, written after a period of great failure in his own life, "The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart- these, O God, you will not despise." (Psalm 51:17) David reminds himself of that which truly pleases God, and takes solace and strength in that truth. God is not seeking the blameless, but the broken. Like the pharisee and tax collector Jesus spoke of in Luke 18, it was the penitent sinner's prayer that was heard and received by God, as opposed to the proud description of personal holiness offered by the religious man. David is essentially saying, "Humble yourself before God and trust in His mercy. This is salvation. This is righteousness."
"There are many who say, 'Who will show us any good?' LORD, lift up the light of Your countenance upon us. You have put gladness in my heart, more than in the season that their grain and wine increased. I will both lie down in peace, and sleep; for You alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety." (verse 6-8)
Seasons of pain and hardship, like those that David's loyal followers may have endured, will cause some to become discouraged in either condemnation or unbelief. They mumble, "Is there anything worth even continuing on for? Will God never act on our behalf? Will it always be like this? Who will show us any good?" David, however, puts his trust in the LORD, as always. He cries out to God, in essence, "Oh bless us, God!", absolutely certain He will hear and answer them in His grace. Those who trust God and depend upon His goodness will have gladness in their hearts, for grace is gained by simple trust. "Lord, overwhelm with us with Your grace!" David, fully assured of the Lord's unmerited favour towards him, finds not only great gladness and joy in His grace, but also peace. Have you ever heard about the twin brothers of the New Testament? Paul begins most of his letters with the greeting, "Grace and peace." Have you ever noticed that peace always follows grace? That is because there is no peace apart from grace. There is only striving, fear, anxiety, depression, toil, stress, and work outside of God's grace. When you have grace, you can have peace. David could sleep peacefully, even after having such turmoil of heart, because when he poured out before God this trouble of his soul, he simply left it there in God's care. And David rested. David trusted God. No matter what crises you may endure, you can have this same peace. Take your fears, failures, pain, confusion, anger, and troubles to God, and in exchange, receive His grace. Jesus said to Paul, "My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness." (2 Corinthians 12:9). Trust Him and He will see you through.