Sunday, July 20, 2014

Psalm 31

Psalm 31
A psalm of trust in the face of accusation

"To the Chief Musician. A Psalm of David. In You, O LORD, I put my trust; let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness.  Bow down Your ear to me, deliver me speedily; be my rock of refuge, a fortress of defence to save me." (verses 1-2)

     Written to the Chief Musician of the Levitical temple choir, this psalm was intended to be used for temple worship. Like songs written today, some are meant for personal edification, while others are designed for church worship. The latter are usually easy to sing while the former can be delightful to listen to, but improbable to imitate. Perhaps this song was, as such, a simpler melody as can be sung and appreciated by many.
     David is the declared author, and it has been suggested that this psalm may have been written during His son Absalom's rebellion.  Forced to flee Jerusalem, and rejected by many of his own countrymen and even his own advisors, David is forced into a place of absolute trust in the LORD.
      David says, "let me never be ashamed; deliver me in Your righteousness."  David has placed his hope for salvation solely in the LORD.   He was not his "last resort," to be called upon only after money, men, and might had failed him, but rather his first and only resort. Appealing to God's inherent righteousness, David places the entire weight of his deliverance upon the LORD, through whom he expects to be delivered. David is essentially asking God to guard His own Name, as much as David's, in working out David's salvation.
     In his cries for deliverance and protection, David asks the LORD to be his "rock of refuge" and "fortress of defence."  Zion, the great fortress city conquered by David at the beginning of his reign, is fixed upon a great rock mountain. It had been his refuge and defence in times of war and danger. Now, as he is driven from it in great fear, he turns to the LORD to be his "Zion".

"For You are my rock and my fortress; therefore, for Your name's sake, lead me and guide me.  Pull me out of the net which they have secretly laid for me, for You are my strength.  Into Your hand I commit my spirit; You have redeemed me, O LORD God of truth."  (verses 3-5)

     Growing more confident in the LORD even as he pens the words, David now declares emphatically that God is his rock and his fortress.  He asks for guidance and deliverance from his enemies, citing God's own reputation as being at stake, since David has so boldly and publicly put all his trust in Him. His enemies have plotted against his life, and David passionately petitions the LORD to rescue him from their evil designs.
     Again noting that God is His strength,  David places himself in the loving care of his God. The famous quote, as spoken by our Saviour Jesus Christ upon the cross, "Into Your hands I commit my spirit," is first written here by a fearful, but faith-filled David. Not a surrendering of his soul unto death, David speaks these words rather as a surrendering of his life into God's keeping.  He believes that God will let him live, and as such declares boldly, "You have redeemed me!" in the past tense. The God of truth will save him from even this.

"I have hated those who regard useless idols; but I trust in the LORD.  I will be glad and rejoice in Your mercy, for You have considered my trouble; You have known my soul in adversities,  and have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a wide place."  (verses 6-8)

     The keyword here is "useless." David has a real need and he needs a real God. All the idols worshiped by the nations of the world could not help him; they were useless, vain, profitless, futile.  Instead, David has placed his trust, his whole expectation, upon the LORD.  Citing how the LORD had delivered him in the past, David declares his intention to rest his hope fully upon God alone.
     By contrast, he hates those who forsake the LORD to instead worship false gods.  As Christians, are we to hate those who worship vanity? Of course not. Why then does David?  We must remember the context: David is not a Christian. He was a Jew under the Old Covenant law, which states that idolatry is an abomination to the LORD, inasmuch as treason is an abomination to an earthly king. Faithful citizens would "hate," or treat as an athema such a person who would act falsely to his own countryman and king.
     We, as believers, were once idolaters and have found redemption and deliverance from our sins in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  No longer bound to false worship, we agree with David that it is useless.  However, we still dwell in sinful bodies and must yet regularly check ourselves to see if we have accidentally defaulted to our old way of living.
     Is there anything you have placed your hope in to bring you satisfaction or security? Money? Health?  Family? All these will fail you. Only our LORD Jesus Christ can satisfy and in Him is all security. "Let your conduct be without covetousness; be content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, 'I will never leave you nor forsake you.'" (Hebrews 13:5)   Turn from these vain idols to trust in the living God in all areas of your life; He will never let you down.
     David speaks of his feet being "set" in a "wide place."  The implication of this common ancient saying is that of having a safe and easy road to travel on.  A wide road allows for speed even with obstacles present, as there is sufficient room to simply avoid them, and it is safer, as you can see what is coming up ahead and around you. David sees his path made "wide" by the presence and purpose of the LORD. God will help him navigate through every road block and enemy along his life's course and this gives David great comfort and peace in facing the future.

"Have mercy on me, O LORD, for I am in trouble; my eye wastes away with grief, yes, my soul and my body!  For my life is spent with grief, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my iniquity, and my bones waste away.  I am a reproach among all my enemies, but especially among my neighbours, and am repulsive to my acquaintances; those who see me outside flee from me.  I am forgotten like a dead man, out of mind; I am like a broken vessel.  For I hear the slander of many; fear is on every side; while they take counsel together against me, they scheme to take away my life."  (verses 9-13)

      Have you ever been falsely accused?  If you have, then you can sympathize with David at this moment in his life.  There are few things more troubling than being accused wrongly.  Those who already have something against you, your enemies, rejoice at this new "information" that allows them to further slander you, and those who know you, but not well enough to know it to be false, may believe the lies and turn against you.  It is a terrible place to be in. I have been there, several times. Painful. There is an instinct to defend yourself, and yet a fear that to do so will only worsen the situation. Yet to be silent is to allow the false accusation or gossip to run its full course unchecked, like a disease on a rampage.
     The worst part is when those who are friends, but who have heard the slander, avoid you, either because they are not sure who to believe and want to stay out of it, or because they actually suspect you of guilt. That is like a guttural punch. Ouch. Takes the breath out of you.
     And have you ever heard people speaking negatively about you, unaware that you are listening?  The fear that can overtake your body is paralizing; the pain agonizing. There have been times that I have not even been able to weep for the fear of what men are thinking of me, and then when the tears finally come, have been unable to stop them. Character assassination is a horrible experience to go through.
     David understood this kind of agony of soul. He was often slandered and maligned. He spent a good part of his life running for his life! The simple fact is, that those who are called into the Lord's service, especially into positions of leadership, are like giant targets for arrows of accusation, both true and false. No one is perfect, and there are times that people fall into sin, but for every sin, there are ten accusations of sin, nine ungrounded and completely false.
      David here admits he sinned; yet, what was being said about him was not true. That is often what makes slander so painful; there is always some truth in it. David is being battered both from within and from without. His own heart condemns him alongside the hurtful accusations of those who are against him. A hard thing for anyone to do is to humbly acknowledge their sin, while not taking the lies and condemnation upon themselves as well.  David takes them both to the LORD.

"But as for me, I trust in You, O LORD; I say, 'You are my God.'  My times are in Your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies, and from those who persecute me.  Make Your face shine upon Your servant; save me for Your mercies' sake.  Do not let me be ashamed, O LORD, for I have called upon You; let the wicked be ashamed; let them be silent in the grave.  Let the lying lips be put to silence, which speak insolent things proudly and contemptuously against the righteous."  (verses 14-17)

     David declares his trust in God in the midst of this nightmare. He says, "You are my God." Period. Sometimes that recognition is all we need to stand. God... He is my God. He is in charge. David knows that God alone determines the number of his days, and reminds himself of that. He is not in man's hands, but God's.
     He prays again for deliverance from his enemies and persecutors, those who have made it their "calling" to destroy David.  Have you ever visited a website that is devoted to one thing: the slander of some person or organization? Is it not disturbing when there is so much hate in a person that they devote their lives to spreading hate? It is worse when that person is a believer, and truly believes that they have the "ministry" of slander. Of course they would call it "discernment" or "prophesy", believing themselves to be like watchmen on the wall warning others about bad people and bad ministries, but in truth, there is no spiritual gift of accuser. In fact, that is one of satan's titles: the "accuser of the brethren."  
     Is it not possible that these "discerning" Christians have actually become mouthpieces of our true enemy, slandering other members of the body of Christ? "But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another!" (Galatians 5:15)  Let us be careful that our tongues are not used for slander, but rather the building up of one another in love and humility.
     "Let no corrupt word proceed out of your mouth, but what is good for necessary edification, that it may impart grace to the hearers."  (Ephesians 4:29)
     David mentions that the lies spoken by his enemies are proud, insolent, and contemptuous.  I find this description interesting because it is so well spoken, so fitting. Those who are inclined towards gossip and slander of other Christians and ministries, so speak out of their own pride. As Paul wrote to the haughty Corinthians, "For who makes you differ from another? And what do you have that you did not receive? Now if you did indeed receive it, why do you boast as if you had not received it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7)
    Any knowledge we may posses, any wisdom, correct doctrine, or understanding has been given to us as a gift from God. If we have not stumbled in a particular sin or error, is it because we are inherently better than another, or is this too, a gift of God's grace?  Once while looking upon a condemned criminal, the English martyr John Bradford exclaimed, "There but for the grace of God, goeth John Bradford!" Indeed, but for the grace of God, we are all condemned sinners and as such, what place have we in judging one another? Oh, that the mercy of God would so penetrate our hearts that we would seek to show mercy at every turn out of the mercy that has been so greatly lavished upon us!
     "For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment." (James 2:13)

"Oh, how great is Your goodness, which You have laid up for those who fear You, which You have prepared for those who trust in You in the presence of the sons of men!  You shall hide them in the secret place of Your presence from the plots of man; You shall keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues."  (verses 19-20)

     You have heard the old saying, "Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me." It is not true. Words can be the most painful and powerful weapons ever wielded. It was words that brought the world into existence, words that brought the first man and woman into sin, words by which satan sought to tempt Jesus Christ in the wilderness, and words that in turn defeated that old tempter. Spoken by God, angels, devils, and man, words are no small thing.
     Thus David here speaks of "hiding" in the presence of the LORD from words spoken in malice against him. We may never be subject to a council of people seeking our death, but we may yet experience the terrible effects of maligning words and slanderous accusations.   Like David, our natural desire is to flee from such painful arrows, but where can we go?
     There is a place of peace. It is quiet place, secure, safe, and invisible. It is the pavilion of God's presence. It is the still and beautiful courtyard of that fortress upon that rock of refuge that David spoke of. It is God Himself. When surrounded by lying lips, judgment, and defamation, there is only one place of sanity and rest: in the LORD. He is the castle of our defence. We can be face to face with hateful or condemning accusations and maintain peace and calm in our spirit if we but hide ourselves in the presence of our great God, who envelopes us in His love.
     Far from a high and lofty concept, this is a practical reality. If you find yourself in such an unsavoury circumstance, even by your own fault, know that you can claim this verse as your help in that moment. Hide in His presence. He will shelter you from the turmoil of soul that rages in the words of the other person.  He will help you see clearly what is truth and what is a lie, and give you wisdom how to respond.

"Blessed be the LORD, for He has shown me His marvelous kindness in a strong city!  For I said in my haste, 'I am cut off from before Your eyes'; nevertheless You heard the voice of my supplications when I cried out to You."  (verses 21-22)

     Written likely after the fact, David concludes this powerful psalm with worship. Although he thought at first that God may have abandoned him, he was soon proven wrong, as God indeed heard his prayer and delivered him. If this was indeed written around the time of Absalom's rebellion, this portion gains some significance.
     David was not a perfect king, and in his one great failing, the sin with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, David's lineage was cursed with strife.  "The sword shall not depart from your house," was God's sentence of judgment on David.  As the years passed, and strife did indeed plague his multi-wife household, David no doubt grew in regret for his sins, although long forgiven.
     He further added to his own infamy with the national census, forbidden in scripture, and the consequential plague that took the lives of over 70,000 Israelites.  David was not always a popular king, and in his latter days lost the hearts of many of his subjects to his charismatic and handsome young son, Absalom. When Absalom took the throne, David fled for his life.  He even refused to punish those who, on his way out of town, threw stones and shouted curses at him, citing this as perhaps the Lord's discipline upon him.
     He reasoned that if God was done with him as king, due to his many faults over the years, he would not resist His will. Even while crying out for deliverance, he yet was ready to accept it if God did not answer him this time. Clearly his concern was unnecessary, for God did answer him and did restore the throne to him.
     The strong city is Zion, which has been restored to him, but it is also figurative of that rock fortress that David hid himself in during his time of great fear. God is our rock of defence and our pavilion of peace. He is our Zion.

"Oh, love the LORD, all you His saints! For the LORD preserves the faithful, and fully repays the proud person.  Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD."  (verse 23)

 David ends his psalm with a call to the multitudes in the temple to love God for His deliverance and justice.  Absalom, well loved by David as father loves a son, was yet a man of pride and insolence. Those who followed him were no less proud. David, by contrast, was always humble before God. Even though he had been anointed by God to be king, he would not lift a hand against the previous king Saul, whom he called "God's anointed", believing such right belonged to God alone.  David would not steal a throne; he would wait for God to give it to him. Yet his own son did not fear to touch God's anointed, his own father, and lifted up his hand against him to kill him and take his throne. God fully repayed him and those who followed him in his folly.
     David was restored to his throne in the mountain fortress of Jerusalem, and lived to write this psalm.
     He concludes with an exhortation to take heart when faced with like difficulty because God will come through for you, just as surely as He did for David:

"Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart, all you who hope in the LORD." Amen.

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