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Psalm 43 begins with the writer asking God to “vindicate” him. Verse one uses a legal metaphor common in the prophets to picture the writer and his enemy before God as his judge. About 40% of the occurrences of the word שפט have God as the judge, nine times the verb is used as a noun to describe God as the “judge.” Sometimes God is called on to judge between two people who are at odds. The phrase “defend my case” is also the language of a lawsuit. The verb ריב and the related noun are both used in the context of someone taking someone to court to sue them. The psalmist is picturing himself going to the city gates of his town and standing before the elder of the town, a king’s magistrate. In order to get real justice, perhaps he has to go to the king himself and plead his case.

The psalmist is calling on God to “do justice” in this case. In a human court, the goal is to hear the evidence on both sides of that case and let the judge decide who is “right” and who is “wrong.” If God is the judge, the Psalmist can be assured of justice because God is ultimately just in his nature.

GavelLike most modern translations, the ESV has “vindicate” here. In English, “vindicate” has the connotation of clearing someone from suspicion, or to prove that they are in the right. In this court context, the writer is asking God to judge the case and declare that he is in the right, and the enemy is “in the wrong.”

Just as in a human court, the psalmist offers evidence against his enemy. First, his enemy is “an ungodly nation.” The noun is simply nation (גּוֹי), although in the context most translations render the word as referring to non-Jewish, pagans or heathens. In the next Psalm, for example, the word is used for the nations the Lord drove out of the land (44:2).

Second, they are not faithful . One of the cornerstone virtues in the Hebrew Bible is faithfulness(חָסִיד). The word does not mean “full of faith,” as if it is a synonym for “a believer.” The idea of faithfulness in the Hebrew Bible is an action, one “does faithfulness.” The word is frequently used to describe those who abuse the poor and needy, to be “unfaithful” to the covenant (Mic 7:2).

Third, they are unjust. The noun מִרְמָה has the connotation of being a fraud, a trickster. The writer’s adversary tries use some sort of subterfuge to get his way. The word describes Jacob stealing his brother’s blessing (Gen 27:35) and the actions of Simeon and Levi when they made a false covenant with the king of Schechem (Gen 34:13). Micah 6:11 uses the word to describe dishonest weights, which look like the real thing but intend to steal from the unaware. The word is among the many things listed in Psalm 24 which qualifies someone for going up to the Holy Hill of God to worship (someone who does not swear deceitfully).

Last, they are oppressing the writer (v. 2). The noun לַחַץ does not appear frequently in the Hebrew Bible, but it does appear in each of Psalms 42-44 (and only in this series of Psalms in the Psalter). Exod 3:9 and Deut 26:7 use the noun to describe the oppression Israel faced when they were in Egypt. The verbal form of the root is used in a number of other passages which describe foreign oppression Judg 2:18, 4:3, 6:9, 10:12; Isa 19:20(, oppression which is sometimes a punishment for covenant unfaithfulness )Amos 6:14,

This description of an enemy is applicable during the life of David, either when he was running from Saul or later from Absalom. But it is also generic enough that this Psalm would be a great comfort for someone living outside the land during the Exile – when has Israel not been oppressed by a faithless enemy?

This psalm is a promise that God does in fact judge fairly, he will vindicate his people and render justice.

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The writer describes his oppression as being desperate with thirst, longing for water. The opening line is a vivid metaphor for thirst, the writer’s soul thirsts after God “as a deer pants for water.” The verb is rare, only used here and in Joel 1:20, where it refers to animals panting for water after a fire has destroyed all water. But do not think of a dog panting, that is how the animal cools itself.

Deer Drinking

The verb has the sense of craving. When someone “craves” a food, they psychologically have to have whatever it is. The animal is dying for water in the midst of a drought. In this case, the animal is nearly dead and it is desperate for water. The verb in the second verse is usually associated with literal thirst, such as Israel in the wilderness (Exod 17:3). The craving for water here is to meet a basic need or the animal / psalmist will die.

But rather than being refreshed by God, the writer drinks his tears day and night (v. 3) The song does not describe why the writer is crying out, only that his tears on constant. The irony is that he has water to drink, but it is undrinkable tears.

Because of his desperation, his adversaries taught him, asking where his God is now? This is a common theme in the Psalms, the enemy of the songwriter mocks the writer because he has faith in God in spite of his suffering. There is a hint of the common view that God will reward the righteous and punish the sinner. This is not always the case, frequently in the Psalms the reverse is true, the wicked prosper  If the song writer is suffering, it is possible that his enemies are using that as proof that God is punishing him.

En GediAs with other Psalms of Korah, the writer remembers leading worship in the house of God. The writer is the leader of a procession, going into the Temple. At the very least he is a worship leader (as the sons of Korah were), although there could be a hint of David’s life since he did lead a festive crowd into Jerusalem when the ark was first brought to Jerusalem. If the song writer intends himself to stand for all of Israel, perhaps he is looking back to that kind of joy under David, in contrast to the “present” time of the exile. The “festival” could refer to Tabernacles, which is a feast associated with great joy, recalling Israel’s time in the wilderness, or even Passover, recalling the time of God’s salvation of Israel from their slavery in Egypt.

When the Psalmist Remembers the Lord, He Is Overwhelmed by Water (42:6-7). Is this water a positive or negative metaphor? It is possible that verses 6-7 refer to additional suffering. Being caught in raging water is often used as a metaphor for extreme suffering, and these lines are often taken as a reference to the underworld, as if the writer finds himself swept away by primordial chaos into the caverns of Sheol.

On the other hand, the writer began by describing his great need for water, and in these verses he recalls the supplies of water in the Land of Israel. At the moment of his greatest need, God overwhelms him with water!

The writer remembers his God by mentioning three specific locations:

The Land of Jordan. This is a reference to the Jordan River, the main river for most of the land, especially from the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. While the river is quite dry today because most of the tributaries are dammed, in the ancient world the river flowed freely. Recall that Joshua was not able to cross the river at flood stage.

Mount Hermon. This mountain in the far north of the Land of Israel is nearly 10000 feet (in Lebanon and Syria today). But the reference here is likely not to the mountain itself, but to the foothills. The Hebrew word used here חֶרְמוֹנִים, the plural of Hermon, referring to the whole range of mountains )like “The Rockies”(. There are three sources for the Jordan which flow south into Galilee, eventually feeding the Jordan River. At Dan and Banias in Israel today there is a constant flow of water fed by snows on Mount Hermon. The area is extremely fertile and jungle-like.

Mount Mizar is an unknown location, although it is often identified with. The Hebrew word מִצְעָר means small, or “a few,” so it might refer to foothill near Hermon and the sources of the Jordan.

Ten DanBut the writer does not simply take a drink to satisfy his thirst, he is overwhelmed by water! When the Lord responds, it is as if he is standing in a roaring waterfall. The word is rare, only used here an in 2 Sam 5:8 (where the meaning is disputed). The Hebrew צִנּוֹר refers to gushing, flooding water, a fast flowing stream, etc. The “deep” is a word which usually refers to the deep sea, the abyss (תְּהוֹם). “Deep calling to Deep” gives the impression of a constant thunderous flow of water. The parallel line is a similar image, waves and breakers sweep over the writer. The first word is used literally for waves in Jon 2:4, and as a metaphor for disaster in Ps 88:8, 2 Sam 22:5, and for God’s strength in Ps 93:4, the second word is far more common and is frequently used to describe restless power.

God’s grace is often overwhelming; at the moment the writer felt he was about to die of thirst, he is overwhelmed with more water than he can imagine!

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as....)]

In a previous post I argued that Psalm 23 should be read as a corporate song expressing the hope Israel has in their God as a Good Shepherd.  The song is laced with messianic hope for a future true Shepherd who will lead them out of the “valley of the shadow of death” to the House of the Lord, where they will live forever.  As I stated previously, the two metaphors (God as shepherd and God as host) are common metaphors expressing messianic hope in the Hebrew Bible and they are often paired (Ezekiel 34 and Isa 40-55, for example).

The presence of the Shepherd is a comfort to the flock.  Unlike Psalm 22, the worshiper feels the presence of God in a very real way and he is comforted by this.   While it is true that “to comfort does not mean to sympathise but to encourage,” (HALOT, 689, citing Elliger), the word has a very tender and compassionate undertone. It is often associated with comforting someone after the death of a loved one.  The word is used in Gen 37:35 to describe the effort of the family to comfort Jacob after Joseph appears to have been killed (cf. Jer 16:17).

The word appears in several Messianic contexts.  In Isa 61:2 the activities of the “anointed one” includes comforting those who mourn. This is the text Jesus read in Nazareth at the beginning of this ministry, directly applying it to himself as the Messiah, the good Shepherd who will comfort the one who mourns.  In Isa 66:13, when Jerusalem is restored, she will be comforted by the Lord as a mother comforts her child.

There are a number of texts which describe God as tenderly comforting Israel (Isa 1:21; Ps 71:21 86:17 119:82; God comforts his people Isa 49:13, 52:9, 66:13, God comforts Zion, Isa 51:3; Zech 1:17; Isa 51:12 Jer 31:13, Lam 2:13; Ps 119:76, with hesed).  Perhaps most significant for the argument I am making here is Jer 31:13 which describes the future time when God makes a New Covenant with his people.  “Then shall the young women rejoice in the dance, and the young men and the old shall be merry. I will turn their mourning into joy; I will comfort them, and give them gladness for sorrow.”  The future age will be characterized by a reversal of Israel’s mourning (Lam 2:13).  Instead she will rejoice as the Lord tenderly comforts her.

Verse five has three metaphors which are usually found in the context of the Messiah elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.

Preparing a Table – Messianic Banquet.  This is a banquet eaten in the presence of the enemy.  This may be a result of a treaty (the enemy is invited to eat with the King who conquered them), or more likely the table is spread on the field of battle and the enemy is destroyed. To “spread a table” implies a sumptuous meal. While the word table can refer to any meal, it is used for a king’s banquet (Judg 1:7 1Sam 20:29, 34, 2Sam 9:7,10, 11, 13; 19:29 1Kings  2:7, 5:7 10:5 / 2 Chron 9:4; Dan 11:27; Neh 5:17), this does not have to be a table, but rugs spread out on the ground for a king to eat a banquet, as Isa 21:5.   The term is used of an eschatological banquet in Isa 65:11, the Lord sets a table for Fortune, and in Ps 78:19 it refers to God setting a table in the wilderness, in Prov 9:2 Lady Wisdom has prepared a table.)

Anointing with Oil – Messiah.  This is not the word typically used for anointed which becomes the title Messiah. The verb דשן in the piel has the connotation of refreshment or enrichment.  But since the object is the psalmist’s head, and oil is used to “refresh his head,” anointing with oil seems to be the meaning.  It is used in another messianic text, Psalm 45:7. The cognate noun is used to describe foods at the eschatological banquet, they are “fatty” (Isa 55:2, Jer 31:4, cf. Ps 36:9, 63:6, 65:12 for rich, abundant foods).  This word is also a connection between the end of Psalm 22 and Psalm 23.  Ps 22:30 may use a rare form of this verb meaning “grow fat.”

Overflowing Cup – The banquet described is abundant, the worshiper’s cup )goblet( of wine is never empty, it overflows.  The word is rare in the Hebrew Bible, but in cognate languages the verb has the idea of satisfaction of appetite and even drunkenness, but also irrigation, springs, a good water supply.

The psalm began with an affirmation of faith in the gracious provision of the Lord even in the midst of suffering, but it ends with a future hope that the Lord’s people will dwell in his presence forever.

Despite the fact that we tend to personalize Psalm 23, read in the context of the Hebrew Bible, it is likely that God as Shepherd implies Israel as sheep.  As the nation passes through the valley of the shadow of death, they need not be afraid since the Lord defends them and will comfort them when they suffer.

Psalm 23 is probably one of the most well-know texts in the entire Bible, one that provides comfort to those who have lost loved ones. It is often personalized – the Lord is my Shepherd, I will not want.  But that is not the original intent of the Psalm.  I want to argue in this short introduction to Psalm 23 that the nation of Israel as a whole is in view and that Psalm 23 is eschatological.  What follows is an application of my dissertation topic to Psalm 23.

The Psalm is associated with David, the original shepherd-king (verse 1).  As is well known, the phrase “of David” does not necessarily mean that David wrote the psalm, but in the case of Psalm 23 there is a certain attraction to the image of David watching his sheep, thinking about his relationship with God, and creating this song comparing that relationship to a Shepherd watching over his flock.

There may be more to this Psalm than a shepherd-king’s piety.  The song may very well have been created by David after he has become king.  Throughout his life he has certainly experienced the providential care of God, and he has certainly “walked through the valley of the shadow of death” many times in his rise to the throne.  The final two verses describe victory of enemies and an anointing with oil, perhaps alluding to the fact that David has been anointed officially as king, he has established peace in the Land, and his kingdom is prosperous (his cup overflows).  He looks forward to dwelling in the Lord’s house forever, perhaps an anticipation of building the Temple.

More likely, the psalm was written in order to express a hope in the future restoration of Israel, possibly during the exile.  The Psalm combines  two classic images of the future in the Hebrew Bible, a Good Shepherd and an eschatological banquet.  Just as David was a pious shepherd-king, the coming messiah will be the ultimate Good Shepherd who will host a victory banquet which inaugurates a new age of peace and prosperity for all Israel in the Land of the Promise.

In the Hebrew Bible the image of God as Shepherd is common (Isa 40, Jer 23, Ezek 34, Ps 80) as well as in the Ancient Near East (King Hammurabi, ANET, 164b; Shamash, ANET, 388). The nation of Israel is God’s flock, the king is to be a “good shepherd” and care for the flock on behalf of the owner.  The psalm could have in mind the experience of Israel in the wilderness, where God led them, provided for them, and brought them to the land of Promise. (A.A. Anderson, Psalms, 1:196–97; Craigie, Psalms 1–50 , 206-7, Willem A. VanGemeren disagrees, EBC, 7:215.)  Ezekiel 34 points out that the shepherds of Israel (the kings) have been terrible and the sheep (the people) are not taken care of properly.  The prophet therefore looks forward to a time when God will send a true and good shepherd who will care for the people properly.

The metaphor of the Lord as a host of a great banquet is also found elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible.  Isaiah 25:6-8 is the key passage for an eschatological banquet, but there are others.  Isaiah 40-55 describes the Lord leading Israel out of exile and providing for them a banquet in the wilderness as the people come out of Babylon and return once again to the land of the promise. This banquet celebrates God’s victory over his enemies and the restoration of the kingdom to Israel.  In fact,Ezekiel 34 combines the shepherd image with provision of food in a way similar to Psalm 23.

The combination of these two images (shepherd, host) is clearly messianic.  The Psalm looks forward to the time when the Lord will provide a Good Shepherd to rule over the people, but also to a king who will preside over a great victory banquet.  Jesus himself uses both the image of the Good Shepherd and the image of a banquet-host often in the gospels.  The Parable of the Good Shepherd in Luke 15, “my sheep hear my voice,” and other statements make it clear that Jesus presents himself to Israel as the expected Messiah.  Jesus’ table fellowship is often seen as an anticipation of the messianic banquet.  While there is no one text in the gospels which allude to Psalm 23, the traditions found in the psalm resonate with the teaching of the historical Jesus.

Psalm 23 therefore represents a blending of two messianic images, a shepherd and a banquet-host.  The canonical context is important – Psalm 22 concluded with an anticipation of an eschatological banquet at which the afflicted will eat and be satisfied, the prosperous will also eat and worship, but they will “bow down to the dust.”

Does this mean that reading the Psalm as God’s personal protection of individuals is wrong?  This may be a case where personal application is valid, even if it ignores the original meaning of the Psalm.

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as....)]

Like many psalms, the writer describes his oppressor, although it is impossible to relate this to an event in David’s life with any certainty.  It is possible Psalm 4 was intended to be read along side of Psalm 3, which does make reference to Absalom’s rebellion, but this is not necessary.  In fact, there is enough ambiguity in the text to apply it to any number of scenarios in the Hebrew Bible.

They seek to turn the Psalmist’s glory into shame.  The noun honor (ESV, Heb. כָּבוֹד) can refer to personal glory, distinction, or even reputation. In the context of David’s life, this could refer to the time when he was king.  At that time he was honored and had a growing reputation, but many were jealous of his success and sought to attack him.  On the other hand, the noun could be taken as a title for God, he is “My Glory.” The opponents may be attacking the Psalmist’s God.  If the opponent is outside of Israel, then the opponent may be claiming that he is not worthy of worship. If the opponent is from within Israel, then perhaps the attack is aimed at the worship of God in the Temple at Jerusalem.  There are a number of times in the Hebrew Bible when exclusive worship fo the Lord at the Temple was attacked (from the northern kingdom under Ahab and Jezebel, or later under the Judean kings Ahaz and Manasseh).

If “my Glory” refers to God himself, then the point of this line is that the opponent is saying that the God of Israel is not worthy of worship, he is in fact a shameful God.  This could be the words of a foreign nation, or even from the Northern kingdom, saying that worship in the Temple is not acceptable, it is in fact a shameful thing.

They love vain words. The adjective “vain” (רִיק) refers to something that is empty or void.  This can be an action which cannot hope to succeed (the nations plot in vain against the Lord’s anointed, Ps 2:1), and frequently it refers to work which is “in vain” (Isa 49:4; Jer 51:58; Hab 2:13).  The noun “words” does not appear in the Hebrew Bible, hence the NIV’s “they love delusions.”  This is particularly evocative translation for me, since it seems to me that there are many people who are committed to an illusion of life rather than to life as it really is. But this illusion is in vain, it cannot come to any benefit at all since it is empty to begin with.

They seek after lies.  Just as the oppressors seek an illusion rather than reality, they seek lies rather than truth.  The noun here (כָּזָב) is not the usual word for a lie, this is a deception, something which tries to look like the truth but is in fact false. It is very easy to create a self-deception, it is also very easy to believe the lies you tell yourself – the opponents in this Psalm create a reality which suits them!

Just as in Psalm 4, There is a sad tendency in contemporary culture to dismiss someone who even believes in God as some sort of sub-intellectual who holds on to a fairy-tale belief in the face of real-world scientific fact.  To believe in God is to be “shameful,” to be an evangelical Christian is to be the same as people who believe a flat Earth.

This attack is (unfortunately) creates a spiritual inferiority complex.  People say something like, “I believe in God, but not like those people.” Or people reject the name Christian, preferring to be called a “spiritual person” instead.   The real problem is that there are too many Christians who are shameful (Fred Phelps, and many others).  They are the ones who manage to get into the media, or make YouTube videos, or get caught in some incredible hypocrisy.

There are too many of “those people” who turn “our Glory” into a shameful thing.

There is nothing in the psalm header which indicates the context of the psalm, but the editors of the whole Psalter may have intended it to be read along side of Psalm 3, a response to the rebellion of Absalom.  While this is possible, there is nothing here which requires that reading.  In fact, the opponent in the Psalm may not be specific enemies of David, b ut people who subject David (and Israel) to scorn because of their faith in God.

Craig Broyles pointed out several observations which can be made about these scoffers (Psalms, 52).  First, they speak lies in order to shame David (vs. 2). Second, the opponent may be wealthy, since their new wine and grain abound (vs. 7).  Broyles also points out that these Hebrew phrase “sons of men” (vs. 2, “people” in the ESV) is used for the wealthy in other Psalms (49:2, 62:9).  Third, the opponents may have worshiped other gods (vs 6), the reference to new wine and grain is reminiscent of Baal worship in Hosea 2:8, 7:14.

While Broyles does not make any connection to a specific period in Israel’s history, from the time of David to the eighth century prophets there was a struggle between those who were completely devoted to the God of Israel and those who blended that worship with Baal.  By the time of Elijah, for example, the northern kingdom of Israel worshiped Baal openly.  It may very well be that Psalm 4 reflects the fact that Baal worshipers in the Northern kingdom were in many ways more successful and prosperous than those who worshiped God in the Temple in Jerusalem.

Verse 2 may be the key.  The ESV reads “how long will people turn my glory into shame.”  It is possible that this “glory” is not David’s reputation, but rather an allusion to God as David’s glory.  Perhaps citizens of the Northern kingdom of Israel pointed out that since they were prosperous and Judah was not, God must be honoring them for their syncretic form of worship rather than the worship done in the Temple. After all, God is a just God and would not reward the nation if it was not deserved!  From the perspective of history we know that the worship in the Temple the form God required, although even there the state of the heart of the worshiper was far more important than the outward method of sacrifice.  To possess material wealth is not necessarily a sign of God’s blessing, to be in poverty is not necessarily a sign of God’s curse. In fact, it turns out that material, physical blessing cannot really be used to judge whether God is moving or not.

This point is a very applicable to the modern church.  Some people will point to a large, wealthy church as think that God is surely blessing them, while the small church which struggles to keep the lights on is doing something wrong.  In both cases, God may be honored, or God may be ignored. To use the material wealth of a church or ministry to gauge the health of a church is misguided.  One only needs to look at examples of wealthy “Christian” organization which are led my men who are ungodly and immoral, or theologically suspect.  For a ministry to “get rich” it is often expedient to ignore good doctrine and biblical morals in favor slogans and divisive issues.

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as....)  I am speaking at Northern Grace Youth Camp the next week, back in two weeks with another Psalm.]

When I addressed Psalm 1, I suggested that Psalm 1 and 2 form an introduction to the book of Psalms.  Since Psalm 1 begins with a beatitude and Psalm 2 ends with another, there is a hint that the two Psalms were meant to be read together.  Psalm 3 is the first psalm with a heading identifying a circumstance in David’s life as the occasion for the Psalm.  Perhaps most important is the fact that these two psalms present two themes which re-occur frequently throughout the psalter, wisdom and eschatology.  Psalm 1 contrasted the blessed man, who is fruitful and successful in what he does, and the wicked man, who is fruitless and ultimately useless in all he does. Psalm 2 contrasts two kingdoms, God’s kingdom, ruled by his anointed one, and the kingdom of men, who chaff against God’s kingdom. The blessed one takes refuge in God’s kingdom (2:12).

What is the point of introducing the Psalter with Wisdom and Eschatology?  Most people have a sense that the Psalms are intended for worship.  This is certainly true, but worship in Israel (in contrast to modern America) is not simply setting a “mood” or generating a “spiritual feeling.” Worship in the Psalms always looks back to what God has done and looks forward to what God will do in the future.  The Worshiper therefore stands between these two events and must live on the foundation of the past and the hope of the future.

Since the Psalms were collected some time after the fall of the Israel and Judah, a worshiper using the Psalms looked back to the promises of God to establish his anointed one in Zion, but forward to an ultimate Anointed One who will rule from Zion.  Living between the fall of Jerusalem and the future re-establishment of a kingdom to Israel, the worshiper ought to live a life of wisdom, in harmony with God’s created order.  This is why so many psalms look back to the Exodus.  Just as God has (in the past) rescued his people from Egypt and brought then to the land of their inheritance, he will (in the future) rescue True Israel out of the nations are return them to the Land once again.

For the Church, we live between the death of Jesus and his future return.  Jesus’ death on the cross finally dealt with the problem of sin, providing the basis of salvation in the present age.  While we can be right with God, we are not yet “in the heavens.”  We are adopted into God’s family, but we are not yet with him in glory.  Therefore we look forward to the return of Jesus in the future.  Like Israel, we live between two “salvation events,” the crucifixion and the consummation of the ages.

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as....)  We are off next Sunday for Independence Day and I am speaking at West Coast Grace Youth Camp the next week. ]

The mind of the blessed person is on the Law of the Lord (Psalm 1:2).  The Torah is the focus of the righteous person’s attention.  The noun torah (תּוֹרָה) is repeated twice and it is plural in both cases.  This may indicate that the writer has in  mind more than just the five books of the Law, or simply the covenant found in Deuteronomy.  But the word basically means “instruction” and is used for the Law or the whole Hebrew Bible.  Psalm 19 and 119 both use torah to describe the God’s revelation of himself.  When God reveals himself, we must respond in some way (respect and obedience, or sinful scoffing).

First, the blessed person delights in the Law of the Lord.  The verb “delight”  (חֵפֶץ) refers to a strong desire. Sometimes it is used to describe “precious stones” because they are the type of thing people pursue, they are of extreme value. For example, the Lord does not delight in sacrifice, but in obedience (1 Sam 15:22), in Prov 2:15, 8:11 wisdom is described as more precious that jewels, nothing which can be desired is better than her.

For the righteous, the Law of the Lord is the object of his greatest desire. People tend to take delight in special objects, think about how people will take a precious item and display it on a shelf for everyone to see. Some people decorate their office with special items which they take delight in, photographs of family, special awards, souvenirs from special

I find this delight missing in contemporary culture.  People do not usually get excited about a sermon, even one based on Scripture.  It seems to be the price we pay to have a “worship experience.”  People do not really “delight in the Word of the Lord,” but seem to tolerate it, or read it as a duty.

Second, the blessed person meditates on the Law of the Lord.  The verb translated “meditate” (הגה) comes from a root which means to “growl” or “to mutter.”  In this context, it means to read the Law in a low voice while meditating.  I will admit that meditating is something I have never fully understood, primarily because of the way it comes across in the media – a swami meditating and chanting a mantra, etc.  It seems somewhat mindless to me, the goal is emptying the mind of rational thought.  I am not really interested in that, and I am not sure that is what this text indicates since this word describes an audible, verbal action.

The point of “muttering” the Law of the Lord is reading it out loud, perhaps in a low, respectful voice, but nevertheless out loud. We hear things when we read aloud that we do not hear when we read silently.  This is therefore not a mindless chanting of the Scripture, it is a pronouncement of what the Scripture says!  Psalm 35:28 and 37:30 both use this same word to describe a worshiper verbalizing the righteousness of the Lord as a part of worship.

I would suggest that this activity is rational, the purpose is to read and hear the scripture, to immerse oneself in Scripture, so that it becomes the way a person thinks.  Everyone knows that the Scripture says “Do no steal.” If you are in a store and do not have enough money to pay for something, you probably do not wonder whether it is God’s will to steal.  You know this because you have absorbed that concept from the Bible.  The more you absorb, the more your thinking changes so that you may not even notice that you are applying Scripture constantly.

These activities are constant: day and night.  This does not mean a ten minute devotion with breakfast and another ten minutes before bed (although that is a good start!) The blessed person is so immersed in Scripture that it is in his thoughts all of the time.

[The audio for this week’s evening service is available at Sermon.net, as is a PDF file of the notes for the service. You should be able to download the audio directly with this link, if you prefer (right-click, save link as....)]

2 Samuel 23:1   Now these are the last words of David: The oracle of David, the son of Jesse, the oracle of the man who was raised on high, the anointed of the God of Jacob, the sweet psalmist of Israel…

This song is described as an oracle, usually associated with a prophet.  But it also a wisdom psalm.  The song is quite similar to Proverbs 30, the Sayings of King Lemuel.  In that case, the words are described as advice given to him by his mother prior to becoming king. The content of both songs is similar, being advice from an older, wiser person on how to be a successful king.

The heading for this song describes David with three titles:

The man whom the Lord raised on high.  The verb is passive, God is the subject.  As we have seen frequently in this series, David always attributes his rise from a young shepherd to the king of Israel to the power and guidance of God.  To be “raised on high” was a major theme of the previous Psalm in 2 Sam 22.   David was a the lowest point imaginable and the Lord lifted hum out of the pit and raised him to a high, level, and safe ground.

The anointed one of God.  This is a theologically packed title, one which will develop into the idea of messiah. By the time of the New Testament, Messiah is the title of the coming deliverer who will restore David’s kingdom to Israel.  At this point in history, however, to be the “anointed of God” is to be specially chosen by God for a particular task, in David’s case, to be the ruler of a united Israel. While a literal anointing with oil is part of the coronation of a king, it is possible that David also has in mind the presence of the Holy Spirit in his life.  When David was anointed as king in 1 Sam 16 he in fact received the Holy Spirit and was from that time on guided and led by God’s Spirit.

The “Sweet Psalmist of Israel.”  The ESV does a good job with the noun נָעִים (na’im)which has the connotation of pleasant or delightful. Frequently this is in the context of music which praises God (Ps 81:3, 135:3, 147:1) or wisdom (Prov 22:18, 23:8, 24:4).  The NIV (1984) has “singer of songs,” the TNIV has “the hero of Israel’s songs,” although I cannot understand why they chose “hero” for this noun.  The cognate verb can mean “be friendly with” or even “good to the taste” and the cognate adjective is usually translated “sweetness” or “charm” (נַעַם, but this form does not appear in the Hebrew Bible).

But this is not music alone, he is the sweet singer (זָמִיר) of Israel.  David is described as the one who created songs for the nation’s worship.  This may have been intentional since one factor in creating a national spirit is to use music.  There are certain songs, even styles of songs which are a part of a nation’s psyche.  John Philip Sousa strikes a patriotic chord for most Americans.  Think of the National Anthem scene in Casablanca.  Music can create nationalism.  David uses music strengthen Israel’s national story, although it is his version of that story!

Just as music has the power to unite a people, so too it instructs.  Human minds are wired to remember lyrics set to pleasant melodies.  (How many songs can you recall compared to scripture?  My guess is most people my age know more lyrics to Margaritaville than scripture.)  David created a body of music which not only supported a developing nationalism, but also a particular view of God.  He is different than the gods of the Canaanites.

2 Sam 22:30 is a particularly vivid image: “For by you I can run against a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.” This verse might be the Hebrew Bible’s version of “I can do all things through Christ,” since David expresses the idea that the for the one who is rescued and vindicated by God and walking in the light which God provides (verse 29), he can do remarkable things indeed!

To “run against a troop” means that in the strength of the Lord David is able to stand up to an entire army himself. This is not far from his own experience with Goliath, and in 2 Sam 23:8-39 there are several stories of David’s soldiers who did in fact stand up to a large enemy force by themselves, super-human feats which can only be credited to the power of God. In 23:11, for example, Shammah defends a field against the Philistines single-handed.  In 23:18, Abishai slays 300 Philistines with his spear.

Likewise, to “leap over a wall” is a feat of incredible strength which goes beyond a human’s ability.

The Gates of Arad

This is not a fence or wall between two properties, this is a major city wall, perhaps 20 feet tall and heavily guarded. David entered Jerusalem through the water system, narrow and dark caves.  But in the Lord he is able to hurdle the defenses of the enemy as if they are nothing at all.  This photograph shows the reconstructed walls of Arad, a citadel in a hill in the southern part of Judah’s territory.  I show it as an example of the kind of wall David is referring to in this Psalm.  He is not leaping a short fence or jumping something which is humanly possible.  To leap over the wall of the enemy’s city is impossible physically — only by the power of God can David do “all things.”

There are other military metaphors in this section which describe David as an excellent warrior because the Lord rescued him.  For example, he runs like a deer (34), he breaks bows of bronze (35), he “consumed” his enemies (39), he grinds his enemies to dust (43).  All of these images ought to be take together to show that David is the ultimate victor.  He was a man drowning in the chaotic waters of the Sea, about to be dragged down to Sheol itself, yet the Lord rescued him, put him in a safe place, and made him to be his king forever (50-51).

David’s whole life is an example of this transformation from a young boy to warrior, from enemy of the state to King of Israel.  Looking back over the years, undoubtedly David saw his life as proof that the Lord was at work – David himself could not take credit for anything he did!

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Phillip J. Long

Phillip J. Long

I am a college professor who enjoys reading, listening to music and drinking fine coffee. Often at the same time.

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