The Pastor's Brief

Feeding the Sheep from a Pastoral Perspective

"For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry." - 2 Timothy 4:3-5

 

Recommended Resources

Black and White Star in Circle

I am blessed to serve as the the pastor of Calvary Baptist. If you have any questions regarding my theology or various doctrinal positions, you can find your answers by visiting our website: www.calvaryburley.org

Black and White Star in Circle

Like many Christians, I have been blessed by the teaching and preaching of John MacArthur. He has preached his way through the entire New Testament, and all of that precious material can be found here: www.gty.org

Black and White Star in Circle

As far as I'm concerned, straight-line exposition was perfected by S. Lewis Johnson. Much of his preaching ministry can be accessed here: www.sljinstitute.net

 
 
  • Andy de Ganahl

“A Confident Word in a Chaotic World” Psalm 119:153-160 (ר)

153 Look upon my affliction and rescue me, For I do not forget Your law.

154 Plead my cause and redeem me; Revive me according to Your word.

155 Salvation is far from the wicked, For they do not seek Your statutes.

156 Great are Your mercies, O Lord; Revive me according to Your ordinances.

157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, Yet I do not turn aside from Your testimonies.

158 I behold the treacherous and loathe them, Because they do not keep Your word.

159 Consider how I love Your precepts; Revive me, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness.

160 The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.”

Upon first glance, this stanza is intense. There are eight requests, pleas, petitions for divine assistance in this stanza and five of them come in rapid succession within the first two verses. We should also note that one of these requests is repeated three times. Over and over again our psalmist asks God to revive him or to make him/enable him to live. The same request for life given three times certainly assumes urgency. Over and over again our psalmist is attempting to draw God’s attention to something (look upon my affliction…Behold how I love Your precepts) Flowing from the previous stanza (focused worship in the midst of real and present danger – vv. 145-152) this stanza reveals the fight to remain faithful in a hostile world. In doing so, we see our psalmist taking three steps to turn from chaos to confidence.

Chaotic Pleas for Rescue (vv. 153-154)

153 Look upon my affliction and rescue me, For I do not forget Your law.

154 Plead my cause and redeem me; Revive me according to Your word.

These two verses come at us rapidly. The psalmist sends up a barrage of five urgent pleas for God’s intervention. These come to the reader so rapidly and are uttered so quickly that our psalmist’s panic is almost palpable.

Look upon (literally see/look at – ראה) my affliction. He’s asking God to not just notice but do something about his affliction. There is nothing special about the verb to see (over 1300 uses in the OT), but there is always an implication of action. If God sees something, then there is an assumption that He will then do something. In Genesis 22:8, Abraham answers his son Isaac’s question regarding the lack of appropriate sacrifice to offer. Abraham’s response reflects the idea here, “God will provide for Himself the lamb for the burnt offering” or more literally “God will see to it” (same verb used – ראה). God will not simply visually observe; He will act. To plead for God to see his affliction is to ask God to act.

Next comes the plea for God to rescue him. This is a term that is often used in the context of armed conflict or warfare. It’s root (חלץ) means to withdraw or take out. What is a rescue mission if not physically withdrawing someone from a dangerous situation? Immediately after uttering this cry for rescue, after shooting up his flare for divine assistance, our psalmist gives the reason why God should act and rescue – because I do not forget Your law. He’s marking himself as one who belongs to God, one who is wearing the right uniform, so to speak. To forget (שכח) is almost never used to refer to a lapse in memory but is nearly always used to address willful and culpable neglect. The adversaries have most certainly forgotten God’s words (v. 139) and as a result are very far away from His instruction/Torah/law. Our psalmist is not one of them. He belongs to God and as His child he is desperate for rescue.

The panicked cries grow more intense in the next verse when the psalmist asks God to plead my cause or more literally fight my fight and redeem me. The psalmist is not only asking for an extraction, but for a champion to fight his battles and restore him. The theology of redemption is rich in the scriptures. The term גאל appears with some frequency in the OT and is always linked with the idea of restoration and reclamation. This is the term used in Lev. 25 to instruct Israel in the proper way in which to restore a relative who has fallen on hard times. This loving act of restoration is demonstrated in a beautiful way for us in the book of Ruth. The idea is filled with images of reclaiming and replacing all that was lost. These two pleas are for God to come and fight for him and reclaim him as belonging to Him.

The final request in this staccato of panicked pleas is a familiar one: Revive me according to Your word. As always, the request for revival is a request for lifeMake me live! This verse contains the familiar אִמְרָה (imrah – promise). This panicked look to God – asking Him to act, extract, fight, and restore – concludes with a plea for God to enable his very life with respect to His own promise. O Lord, You have promised life to those who serve and obey You. Save me and fight for me as You have promised!

In a world that is chaotic and seemingly aimed at the destruction of our psalmist, he responds with complete reliance, faith, and trust in his God to do what He promised to do. His prayers may come out in panic and urgency, but they are still accurate and perfectly within the revealed will of God.

Calmer Evaluations of Positions (vv. 155-158)

155 Salvation is far from the wicked, For they do not seek Your statutes.

156 Great are Your mercies, O Lord; Revive me according to Your ordinances.

157 Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, Yet I do not turn aside from Your testimonies.

158 I behold the treacherous and loathe them, Because they do not keep Your word.

There’s a sense of cooler heads here. There is only one explicit request or plea for God’s intervention in these verses, and even that is a repeated request for life (v. 156). We also notice that our psalmist no longer seems to be suffering from tunnel vision. His field of view opens up to survey the battlefield. Here he evaluates the position of the wicked in relation to God, himself in relation to God and the wicked, and finally the wicked’s position in relation to himself.

The Wicked in Relation to God (v. 155) – We’ve discussed the idea of salvation before (just last week), how the vast majority of uses in the OT refer to temporal circumstance. But we must remember that for the ancient Israelite there is a connection between salvation from temporal circumstance and the promise of God to eternally save His own. God responds to Israel’s obedience with blessing, protection, and deliverance (Deut. 28). Those who obey are those who believe (Deut. 29:4) and thus are those who will forever belong to Him. Salvation is far from the wicked. Does he mean temporal salvation or eternal salvation? The answer is: YES!

Note that it is not the wicked who are far from salvation. All they need do is repent and believe. But it is salvation, the divine grace of God in this life and the next, that is far from them. This is the same term as used in v. 150, that the wicked are far from God’s law/Torah/instruction. Why is this so? Because they do not seek after God’s statutes. To seek after God’s statutes, those permanent instructions that are written in stone and therefore rendered unalterable, is to seek after the One who wrote them. If you recall all the way back to the א stanza, in v. 2, our psalmist makes it very plain that those who are blessed are those who seek after HIM with all their heart.

As our psalmist surveys the battlefield he understands that the wicked, those who wish him ill and who are the cause of his affliction, are damned. Next his reflections turn to his own position.

The Psalmist in Relation to God and to the Wicked (vv. 156-157)These two verses are linked together by the word great or many found in both verses. The Hebrew רב can mean great (might, significant, or large) or many (a large/significant number). The latter is the sense in both cases.

The psalmist begins by declaring the many mercies of God. The term here is רחם and is rich with meaning. There is a sense of sympathy, apathy, compassion, concern, and genuine care wrapped up in this word. It reflects the gut-wrenching pain we feel in the pit of our stomach when a loved one is hurting. But it does not stop with a subjective feeling. The word indicates and assumes a tangible and objective demonstration of such compassion. A mother is filled with רחם when her child is hurt, so she washes and binds the child’s wounds, holds them close, strokes their hair, and wipes the tears away. Yhwh is רחם and as a result will not abandon His people, even though they have sinned against Him (Ex. 34:6).

Our psalmist knows that the mercies of Yhwh are many, and in light of that he once again pleads to be made alive according to Your judgments! God’s judgments are His decisions. Deal with me as You will. I know that Your mercies are many and I entrust myself to You.

God’s mercies are indeed many, but so too are the psalmist’s adversaries. They are those who pursue him. Our eye is once more drawn back to v. 150 and those who follow or pursue wickedness. It seems that the lewdness that they desire is somehow intended to include our psalmist. Yet no matter their number and no matter their intention, our psalmist remains resolute.

The term behind turn aside (נטה) literally means to stretch out. We’ve seen it several times already in this psalm, usually translated in a positive way like incline (vv. 36 & 112) but sometimes in a negative way as here (v. 51). The idea is what he is reaching out to and thus what he would be turning his back from. If he is reaching for God’s Word, then he is inclining himself in that direction (very good thing). If he does not reach from God’s Word, then he is not turning away from it. Under no circumstances will he turn aside from God’s Word.

The Wicked in Relation to the Psalmist (v. 158) – Three things must be understood about this verse. First, this verse begins with the same verbal root as v. 153 (ראה – to see). The psalmist called God to see and to act in v. 153 and now he declares what he sees and therefore what will motivate his action. Second, the treacherous must be understood as traitors, turncoats, Benedict Arnolds, apostates. The individuals mentioned here are those who pretend. They profess God with their lips and deny Him with their hands. Third, to loathe indicates a reaction of intense disgust. He sees the betrayal of these pretenders and it is appalling to him. Why? Because they do not keep/obey God’s promise (אִמְרָה/imrah again). He understands exactly who these people are and what they are doing and finds none of it appealing.

There is a clear distinction between children of light and children of darkness. Christ calls us to preach in season and out, to love our neighbors and enemies, to repay evil with good, but that does not mean that we find treachery valuable. It is repugnant and disgusting. As our psalmist finishes surveying the battlefield he sees very clearly where the lines are drawn and gains more confidence as he realizes whose side he is on.

Confident Requests for Rescue (vv. 159-160)

159 Consider how I love Your precepts; Revive me, O Lord, according to Your lovingkindness.

160 The sum of Your word is truth, and every one of Your righteous ordinances is everlasting.”

As believers, our confidence to walk out our front door and be salt and light has nothing whatsoever to do with who we are as individuals nor the circumstances we find ourselves in. Rather it has everything to do with who our God is and what our relationship to Him consists of.

Confidence in his Relationship (v. 159) – This verse ties so much of the stanza together. The first word is literally to see (ראה – vv. 153 & 158). The psalmist first calls God to notice and act on his behalf (v. 153), then declares what he notices and what motivates his actions (v. 158), and here calls God to notice and act again. What is different here is that God is not called to act according to our psalmist’s affliction, but in response to his faithfulness. Our psalmist is the picture of Jesus’ own words – If you love Me, you will keep My commandments (John 14:15). The third and final request to be made to live is found here as well. Not in relation to God’s Word but His covenant relationship.

We’ve spoken often of this wonderful and beautiful term, lovingkindness (חסד); the loyal love that God bestows on those who belong to Him. This is a love that God does not simply possess, but a perfection that defines who God is (Ex. 34:6). This request is uttered in confidence that God will most certainly revive him/make him live in full accordance with the loving relationship that they two enjoy. Notice how I love Your step by step instructions O Yhwh! So please give me life as is fitting one whom You bestow Your loyal covenant love!

Confidence in Revelation (v. 160) – Defining God’s Word in its broadest sense as truth reminds us of v. 152 which concluded the previous stanza. “Word” here reflects the Hebrew דבר (dibar/divar), the most general synonym for Scripture that indicates all that God has said. The summation of God’s Word in its totality is only truthful, but the very definition of what is truth. If the head is truth, then so too are the members. Every single one of God’s righteous (correct and accurate) decisions are and will be eternally truth.

Conclusion

When this wicked and perverse world rears its ugly head it becomes easy to panic. Even our psalmist lets out a stream of urgent pleas, but each of these pleas are fully dependent upon God and perfectly in line with His will. Even so, our psalmist does not remain in panic mode. He looks around him and sees the battle lines drawn in black and white, for Scripture never speaks in shades of gray. But he also sees that the battle is already won! It is at this point that he rests with confidence in his relationship with God and the surety of God’s revelation. Not because his circumstances have necessarily improved, but because he knows he belongs to the victor. The battle belongs to Yhwh. Soli Deo Gloria!

 

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