No Greater Place: Devotional Thoughts from Psalm 84

Psalm 84 holds a special place in the heart of many. Christians have come to worship and commented with the words of Psalm 84:10: “For a day in thy courts is better than a thousand. I had rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God, than to dwell in the tents of wickedness” (KJV).

Charles Spurgeon introduced his thoughts on the psalm in this way: “If the twenty-third be the most popular, the one-hundred- and-third the most joyful, the one-hundred-and-nineteenth the most deeply experimental, the fifty-first the most plaintive, this is one of the most sweet of the Psalms of peace” (from The Treasury of David).

What about this psalm is so sweet and gives such peace?

On the one hand, it is an encouraging pilgrimage psalm—a psalm to be recited and even sung while traveling “the highways to Zion” (Ps 84:5), that is, making a pilgrimage from one’s home to the temple in Jerusalem, God’s “dwelling place,” “the courts of the LORD,” and “the house of my God” (Ps 84:1, 2, 10). And yet, though God’s presence is manifest in His temple, the psalmist’s true joy is ultimately found in “the living God” (Ps 84:2). The temple, its courts, and dwelling therein were not joyful ends in themselves. They were a central place to Israel’s worship, and God was the center of their worship.

On the other hand, it is also a psalm of trust. Knowing that those at the temple were “blessed” to be where God’s formal worship regularly took place (Ps 84:4), and knowing that even those on the journey to the temple were “blessed” by God’s strength to go there (Ps 84:5), the psalmist, whether at the temple in heart or person, was “blessed” because he was “one who trusts in” God, receiving every good things from Him (Ps 84:11–12).

While we may feel far removed from Israel and having a mandated central location for worship, there are some similarities between them and us today. Psalm 84 is just as alive to us as it was for them so long ago.

Consider the church’s weekly gathering on the day of the Lord. A local church meets together at a regular time and place each week. If our affection is properly for the Lord, we will long and even faint with desire to join His people in worshiping Him. We find strength day by day to sustain us between these gatherings to worship Him. At the end of the day, it is not the place or time of gathering that somehow gives us nostalgic joy. Our joy is found in worshiping the living God, something we can do in spirit anywhere and anytime.

Beyond this, we, too, are pilgrims but seeking a greater temple. We travel this spiritually arid world, making what springs we can, seeking the New Jerusalem, complete with its own special presence of God—it houses the throne of the Father and the Lamb. Like the psalmist who was strengthened by having the highways of Zion in his heart, so also we know the way to the New Jerusalem—through Jesus Christ who prepares this place for us. May we abide in Him, and may He abide in us, every step we take until we reach this heavenly glory.

If, Then, But, Therefore: How Psalm 124 Instructs Us for Thanksgiving  

Psalm 124 is a psalm of corporate thanksgiving, a psalm that instructs us how to thank God together. This psalm also instructs us as to one of the ways for how to thank God as well.1

The psalm was written after having escaped some enemies, perhaps in battle, and assuming the superscription’s accuracy, David was its author.

The headlines below capture the “how” of how David came to bless the Lord, and the explanations under them guide the applications to follow.

If…then….

For two verses, David supposes with an “if” what would have happened “if it had not been the LORD who was on our side…when people rose up against us” (Psalm 124:1–2).

In the next three verses, “then” introduces the potential results of not having the Lord on one’s side. David pictures his enemies as creatures so large and quick that they “would have swallowed us up alive” (Psalm 124:3). They would also be “the flood,” “the torrent,” and “the waters” that “would have swept us away” and “gone over us” (Psalm 124:4–5). Both pictures give the certainty of swift defeat.

But…

While David does not use the conjunction “but,” the contrast to the “if” situation is implied. If God did not help him, defeat would have come. But, David could say “Blessed be the LORD” in Psalm 124:6 because God was his help, which David notes in closing his psalm—“Our help is in the name of the Lord, who made heaven and earth” (Psalm 124:8).

Therefore…

Since the Lord delivered him, David therefore praised the Lord—“Blessed be the Lord” (Psalm 124:6). He and his men were “not given us as prey to their teeth” (Psalm 124:6), and they “escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers” (Psalm 124:7).

How Psalm 124 Instructs Us to Thank God Today

While Christians are not guaranteed freedom from bodily harm in persecution, salvation in Christ does guarantee overcoming Satan and his kingdom. We are delivered from the power of the evil one, and God shall one day crush Satan’s head under our feet as well (Romans 16:20).

Sometimes we can become our own enemies through sin as well, becoming snared by pride (cf. 1 Timothy 3:7), riches (cf. 1 Timothy 6:9), spiritual blindness (cf. 2 Timothy 2:26), idols (cf. Psalm 106:36), or whatever the sin may be. In such an instance, if we are truly the children of God, the Father will discipline us back to Himself (Hebrews 12:5–6), and Christ will protect us from perpetual sin (1 John 5:18).

In either situation, whether we battle sin within or foes from without (cf. 1 Peter 2:11–12), we can be thankful that God delivers us.

From Psalm 124, we might say…If the Father had not sent His Son for our salvation, then we would have certainly been punished forever. But, for those who believe, that is not the case. Therefore, blessed be the Lord!

  1. All quotes are from the ESV. Also, a helpful and devotional source along these lines is James Montgomery Boice, Psalms 107–150: An Expositional Commentary (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2005), 1095–1101. []

The Lord as Shepherd: Our Greatest Delight

Psalm 23 has been precious to the saints throughout the ages. It gives comfort in the midst of death, and it strengthens our delight and trust in the Lord because He is our Shepherd.

Its author is David who knew the Lord as Jacob did, “the God who has been my shepherd all my life long to this day” (Genesis 48:15 ESV). As king of the nation, David knew Him as the “Shepherd of Israel” (Psalm 80:1 ESV). And, David, too, was a shepherd—first of sheep and then of Israel. God “took him from the sheepfolds…to shepherd Jacob his people” (Psalm 78:70–72 ESV). David was uniquely qualified to write Psalm 23.

In looking at the first four verses of this psalm, we see that… 

Our greatest delight is to know the Lord as shepherd (Psalm 23:1–4).

We can summarize how the Lord ministers to us as our Shepherd in four ways:

First, the Lord gives (Psalm 23:1).

David’s statement “I shall not want” stems from having the Lord as his Shepherd—He gives to us Himself as our Shepherd, which meets our greatest desires.

But how exactly does He shepherd us? Psalm 23:2–4 lists in detail how the Lord ministers as Shepherd.

Second, the Lord guides (Psalm 23:2).

The Lord guides us to be at peace, pictured by the guidance of a sheep to “green pastures” and “still waters,” places where sheep can safely eat, drink, and rest. Through His Word and the gospel, the Lord guides us to be at peace, if nothing else, with Him through Christ who died for us (Romans 5:10). If this is so, we will experience this peace in full when He brings us into His glorious kingdom (cf. Romans 16:20). 

Third, the Lord governs (Psalm 23:3).

Using the word “governs,” we capture the idea of the Lord watching over and bringing back a wayward sheep. The word “restore” (šwb) implies these thoughts.

This word can be used to describe physical restoration, whether strength (Lamentations 1:11, 19) or life itself (1 Kings 17:21, 22). Spiritually speaking, the soul can be restored by a comforter (Lamentations 1:16) or faithful messenger (Proverbs 25:3). As David uses the word here, the imagery of the shepherd restoring the sheep indicates that the Lord brings His wayward children back to Himself and makes them spiritually whole.

Isaiah used this word when he foretold that the Christ would restore Israel to the Lord (Isaiah 49:5 ESV). Christ likewise does so for us today: “For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls” (1 Peter 2:25 ESV).

The reason for restoring His sheep is “for His name’s sake.” The Lord will not allow His reputation as Shepherd to be shamed by a sheep’s wayward walk. He gathers us away from evil ways to lead us unto “paths of righteousness” so that others think highly of Him as a Shepherd. 

Fourth, the Lord guards (Psalm 23:4).

In perhaps the most memorable portion of this psalm, David speaks of when he would “walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” Death is so close to the sheep that it overshadows the sheep. This “shadow of death” (ṣalmāwet) is not just literal darkness but indeed speaks of death. It is elsewhere paralleled to “the gates of deep death” (Job 38:17) and the death-giving desert, “a land of drought” (Jeremiah 2:6).

Despite walking in death’s valley, “evil” brings no “fear” to David because the Lord is present with him (“you are with me”)—notice how David moves from speaking about to speaking to his Shepherd. An Ancient Near Eastern shepherd led by going ahead. Here the Lord walks beside the sheep in this valley. Only He is present, it seems.

Furthermore, the valley’s evil brings no fear because “comfort comes from the Lord’s “rod and staff,” tools of defense against enemies (cf. 1 Samuel17:35) or for controlling the sheep through such a perilous walk. 

Summarizing the Lord’s shepherding ministries up to this point, we saw that our greatest delight is to know the Lord as shepherd because He gives Himself to us, guides us in following Him, governs us back to Him when we go astray, and guards us as death is near (Psalm 23:1–4).

Coming to the last two verses of our psalm, we see that…

Our greatest dwelling is in the house of the Lord (Psalm 23:5–6).

At this point, David breaks from the imagery of the Lord as his shepherd to speak of what it is to dwell in the house of the Lord. We could summarize these verses with two statements:

First, the Lord gives His people a grand entrance (Psalm 23:5).

We see this entrance into the house in how the Lord prizes His people.

The Lord Himself is the table-master who delights to “prepare a table” for his guests. The psalm thus moves from a personal metaphor of sheep and shepherd to something even more intimate—companions at the table who eat together.

The Lord even goes so far as to “anoint my head with oil” and make sure the guest’s “cup overflows.” Anointing a guest with oil was an act of celebration (cf. Psalm 104:15) or welcoming someone into the home (cf. Luke 7:44, 46). An overflowing cup showed an abundance lavished upon the guest. This picture shows us that the Lord lavishes His love upon us as His children who make up the household of God.

Once in the house, we see also that the Lord protects His people. This table, anointing, and overflowing cup are “in the presence of my enemies.” Whereas David once spoke of walking through the valley of the shadow of death, now he has moved to sitting at the Lord’s table because the enemies have been conquered or have been held at bay so that feasting can take place. Either way, the picture is one of protection—He keeps us in His house, and once there, there is no one that can harm us.

Second, the Lord gives His people a grand eternity (Psalm 23:6).

The psalm moves from (1) being led by the shepherd (Psalm 23:3) to (2) walking with the shepherd (Psalm 23:4) to (3) eating with the Lord (Psalm 23:5) and finally, to (4) dwelling with the Lord forever. The intimate setting for a meal in Psalm 23:5 anticipates constant fellowship in Psalm 23:6.

In this final scene, we see this grand eternity in how the Lord pursues His people. They are not the one’s to chase “goodness and mercy,” but these blessings rather “follow” them. This takes place, yes, “all the days of my life,” but it is something true for the one who will “dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”

Besides this promise, a note of comfort closes the psalm with one last use of šwb. Earlier translated “restores” in Psalm 23:3, the semantic range of šwb allows for “dwell” in Psalm 23:6. While “dwelling” is the primary thought, having Psalm 23:3 in mind, David may have meant to recall that wandering sheep, if truly God’s sheep, will be shepherded back into the fold and with such grace that such a one will one day never wander again. Just as the Lord pursues His residents with blessing, so also He preserves them in bringing them to heaven.

Summarizing our look at Psalm 23:5–6, we saw that the Lord meets our every desire to want nothing else (cf. Psalm 23:1) because He does more than minister to us in the present—He will faithfully love us for all our days in heaven and graciously ensures that we will be there.

Conclusion

Whether we are facing the best of times (Psalm 23:1–2, 5–6), looking death in the face (Psalm 23:4), or walking away from the Lord (Psalm 23:4) – if we are God’s sheep, we will see (Psalm 23:1) or be faithfully and firmly shown (Psalm 23:3) that our greatest delight in this life and the one to come is only found in Him. May we delight in our Shepherd all the days of our life and for eternity.1

  1. For many points made above, see Derek Kidner, Psalms 1–72 (TOTC: Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), 127–30. []

Who Are the Gods in Psalm 82?

2016-11-02-dore_gustave_-_paradiso_canto_31Psalm 82:1 states, “God has taken his place in the divine council,” a line parallel in thought to the next: “in the midst of the gods he holds judgment” (ESV). The divine council is made up of the gods. These gods are charged with injustice and partiality (Ps 82:2–4) and lacking the knowledge and understanding necessary to their roles (82:5). God thus condemns these gods for their sins, addressing them directly: “I said, ‘You are gods, sons of the Most High, all of you; nevertheless, like men you shall die, and fall like any prince’” (Ps 82:6–7 ESV). The psalmist ends with a plea for God to restore justice, something these gods could not do (Ps 82:8).

Who are these gods?

One suggestion is that the gods are human rulers based on the use of elohim in other passages (cf. Exod 21:6; 22:8–9, 28; Deut 1:17), but it is questionable as to whether or not these passages refer to gods as human rulers or (more likely) God Himself, only implying the role of these rulers.

Another suggestion is that these gods are angels, being that these “sons of the Most High” (Ps 82:6) are the same as angels identified elsewhere as  “the sons of God” (Job 1:6; 2:1; cf also Job 38:7; Exod 15:11; Ps 8:6; 29:1; 89:6–7).

Throwing a sound view of Scripture out the window is the view that Israel saw her God ruling among the pantheon of gods, just as the nations around them. The reality of God and these gods in this view is not necessary, since Israel’s religion is simply one to be compared to many of like, human origin.

What seems to be the best understanding is that these gods are the people of Israel who were accountable to administer justice according to God’s Word. Both God and gods are translations of the same Hebrew term elohim, a word that is technically in the plural. In the Hebrew, a plural noun can sometimes bring out the majesty of a singular referent, as is the case with God. Since elohim refers to both the Judge of sinners and the sinners being judged in this psalm, context obviously decides the translation of each instance of elohim. Within the psalm, these gods are responsible for judging the matters of men, do so poorly, and are thus condemned to death, the last of which indicates they are human.

Another indicator that these gods are human is Jesus’ argument against the Jews in John 10:34–36. Jesus was accused of making Himself out to be God by claiming He and the Father were one (John 10:33; cf. 10:30). In response, Jesus quoted part of Ps 82:6 (“I said, you are gods”) in order to remind His opponents that “he called them gods to whom the word of God came” (John 10:34–35). Being written by Asaph, one of David’s musicians (ca. 1000 BC), a reference to the coming of the Word of God would have referred to God’s giving of the Law to Israel on the mountain over 400 years earlier (cf. Exod 19–24). Jesus’ argument went from the lesser to greater and could be summarized like this: if God could call these erring Israelites gods, then all the more am I justified in calling myself the Son of God who was consecrated and sent by the Father (John 10:35–36).

Being more specific, these gods were not just humans but those who had the responsibility of administrating justice according to the Word of God on His behalf. It is no surprise that Asaph would call them elohim. Using this one term in multiple instances and moving back and forth between meanings poetically highlighted the importance of their responsibility to administer justice on God’s behalf.

An Overview of Psalms

2015.04.16 hebrew bibleA Focus on Psalms

57 psalms use the Hebrew word mizmôr, a word that describes a song sung with stringed accompaniment. The Greek equivalent is psalmos, which was chosen to describe the collection of the Psalms as a whole. The Hebrew title, however, would be tehillîm, “Book of Praises.”

The Psalms were written, collected, and structured over the period a millennium, roughly 1500 B.C. (i.e., the time of Moses) to 400 B.C. (i.e., the writing of Malachi, the last OT book to be written). As to structure, there are generally five divisions in the Psalms (1–41, 42–72, 73–89, 90–106, 107–150), thou

gh there are collections of the psalms within the whole Psalter (e.g., Asaphite psalms; 73–83) and though there are marks of having a previously arranged threefold division as well.

There are several different types of psalms. The psalmist may lament to God over his situation or the situation of the nation as whole (e.g., Pss 13, 137; 25 psalms). The psalmist may express his thanksgiving to God personally or on behalf of the nation as a whole (e.g., Pss 124, 138; 16 psalms). Some psalms simply praise God (e.g., Ps 8; 23 psalms, and others celebrate God’s kingship, whether Himself as king or the kingship of the one on David’s throne (e.g., Ps 110; 22 psalms). Finally, two psalms encourage Israel to renew herself according Mosaic Covenant (Pss 50, 81). Some psalms are not easily categorized or could fall into multiple categories.

Psalms within the Bible

The psalms reflect a theology informed by the Pentateuch and other books written before their composition. Many psalms speak of Israel’s king and would apply in time to Israel’s eternal king, Jesus (see e.g., Ps 2). The psalms are quoted scores of times in the NT and are the source of hundreds of allusions. The most oft-quoted is Psalm 110 (e.g., Acts 2:34–35; Heb 8:1).

Recommended Reading

For further study of the book as a whole, see the introduction for the book above in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures, edited by John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985). For a brief overview of the use of the above book in the Bible as a whole, see the entry for the book above in the New Dictionary of Biblical Theology, edited by T. Desmond Alexander and Brian S. Rosner (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2000).

Psalm 100: A Psalm of Thanksgiving

2015.11.22 - thanksgiving-backgroundPsalm 100
1 Make a joyful noise to the Lord,
all the earth!
Serve the Lord with gladness!
Come into his presence with singing!
Know that the Lord, he is God!
It is he who made us, and we are his;
we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
Enter his gates with thanksgiving,
and his courts with praise!
Give thanks to him; bless his name!
For the Lord is good;
his steadfast love endures forever,
and his faithfulness to all generations.

As seen above, Psalm 100 begins with several commands: make a joyful noise, serve with gladness, and come into His presence with singing (100:1–2). The psalm again commands the readers to enter His gates with thanksgiving and praise, giving thanks to Him and blessing His name (100:4).

After each section of commands, the psalm lists a number of facts about God that motivate us towards such praise, singing, and thanksgiving. Try to read this list slowly, pondering each item for all its worth, allowing the Spirit to prompt you to a greater thanksgiving to God for who He is and who He is to you.

  • God is God (100:3).
  • God made us (100:3).
  • We are God’s people (100:3).
  • We are sheep in God’s pasture (100:3).
  • God is good (100:4).
  • God’s promised love endures forever (100:4).
  • God’s faithfulness to us endures to all generations (100:4).

What an amazing God. May we often give thanks to Him!