Monday, January 03, 2022

Anonymous Asks (178)

“Which of the psalms stands out the most to you?”

If you were stranded on a desert island and could take only one book of the Bible with you, which book would it be? Forest Antemesaris says he would take the Psalms, and many Christians would agree with him. The Psalms, he says, are “the songbook of Israel, a chronicle of praise from our spiritual ancestors, an emotional catharsis, the New Testament’s Old Testament foundation, and the scriptural bedrock of spiritual formation”. He goes on to say the Psalms are central to both testaments, and foundational to praise, the biblical language of prayer, and the love of God’s word.

All this is true.

Other People’s Mail

But the apparent universality of the psalms can be a tricky thing. When we begin to look at them carefully, we will realize that not everything we find there applies to us. Much in the Psalms falls into the category of “other people’s mail”. This is because the Psalms were written by men in an Old Covenant relationship with God, and written mostly for the benefit of others enjoying that same relationship. Christians can certainly learn much from their prayers and thoughts, but some of the things the various psalmists say do not fit into a Christian frame of reference.

For example, while we can learn much about sincere repentance from David in Psalm 51, we cannot cry as he did, “Cast me not away from your presence, and take not your Holy Spirit from me.” It would be wholly inappropriate for a Christian. The Holy Spirit is with us forever. “He dwells with you and will be in you,” promised the Lord Jesus. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. The Spirit does not come and go from the believer when he sins, but indwells him permanently. David’s relationship with God was not the same as yours and mine. So when we come to Psalm 51, we must pick and choose which verses we can and cannot appropriate for ourselves.

Plagues and Imprecations

Likewise, the wonderful promises of Psalm 91 are not there to be appropriated by Christians and applied willy-nilly to our own current experiences. The words “no plague shall come near your tent” were not written about COVID-19, and believers who rely on them during our present situation may find their faith shaken at some point. Psalm 91 is about the experience of the faithful remnant of Israel when that nation is under the direct judgment of God, and it reassures those who put their trust in God of his protection. He does not judge the righteous with the wicked, and Psalm 91 is yet another confirmation of that.

Then there is the issue of the imprecatory psalms, of which Psalm 109 might be the most obvious example. Can a Christian really say of his own enemy, “May his days be few; may another take his office! May his children be fatherless and his wife a widow!” Of course not. The Christian is plainly instructed, “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them.” These words were written for the faithful of another era in a different context. They were appropriate in their day but not in ours.

So then, misapplying the language of the psalmists to our own experiences can lead to erroneous theology, false hopes and bad practice. We are wise to look carefully at what we are reading before we decide what we can learn from it.

My Favorite Psalm

All that kept in mind, today’s question is not about psalms that don’t speak to us personally, it’s about psalms that do. Psalm 23 (“the Lord is my shepherd”) has been a source of comfort to millions of believers over the centuries. It’s about as universally applicable as anything to be found in the Psalter. I love it and rely on it as much as anyone, but if I have to pick an absolute favorite psalm, I’m going to go with Psalm 2:

“Why do the nations rage and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed, saying,
‘Let us burst their bonds apart and cast away their cords from us.’

He who sits in the heavens laughs; the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury,
saying, ‘As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.’

I will tell of the decree: The Lord said to me,
‘You are my Son; today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel.’

Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.”

You can never have a psalm with too much Christ in it. Witness Lee summarizes the psalmist’s message here: “Christ is the center of God’s economy, the center of God’s administration.”

Psalm 2 and the Christian

We know Psalm 2 is important for Christians: sixty percent of it is quoted in the New Testament. The early disciples quoted its first few lines in prayer, applying them to their own persecutors. In a synagogue in Pisidian Antioch, the apostle Paul applied verse 7 to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. In Hebrews, the same verse is used to prove Christ’s superiority to angels, and later to confirm his appointment as high priest after the order of Melchizedek, both points of deep theological and personal significance. Finally, in the book of Revelation, we find the language of Psalm 2 used repeatedly to describe the believer’s reward, to reaffirm the identity of its subject, and to describe the glorious second advent of the Lord Jesus when he comes to reign over the earth.

When the Lord Jesus taught his disciples to pray that the Father’s will be done in earth as it is in heaven, this is what we are praying for: the realization of Psalm 2. Every Christian ought to have the glorification of Christ in this world as his personal objective every day of his life.

Keep reading Psalm 2, and you will never forget it.

No comments :

Post a Comment