Prayers and Praises
In the 28th Psalm we have God’s remnant people celebrating known deliverance. They had been in difficulty, in trial, and God had intervened and now they are praising Him for it and crying to Him that nothing might arise to hide His face, to make them insensible to His voice, that sin might not come in to mar their fellowship and communion with Him.
Notice the opening verse, “Unto thee will I cry, O Lord my rock: be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit.” What does the psalmist mean when he says, “Be not silent to me”? It is as though he said, “O God, do not let me be in a condition of soul where I cannot hear thy voice.” God is always speaking but sometimes we become deaf to His voice and so He seems to be silent to us. It is a solemn thing when a child of God can go on through this world day after day without ever hearing His voice. Have you heard it today? Has He spoken to you today?
We have a great movement sweeping parts of Great Britain, South America, India, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of the United States and Canada, sometimes called the Oxford Group Movement. It is rather strange that it should be called by that name because it began in America. A certain pastor launched it some years ago on the eastern coast. This movement particularly emphasizes the importance of divine guidance. Unfortunately it lays no stress whatever on the importance of a second birth. It has nothing to say apparently about redemption by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ but a great deal about life changing and about confession and about listening to the voice of God. These terms sound very good and they find answering assent in the hearts of many of God’s beloved people. We are told that if we want to know whether there is a living God or not we should sit down quietly in the morning and try to let our mind become an absolute blank and then listen and let God speak. Whatever He tells you, as you hear the inward voice, do that thing.
It is a very unsafe thing for anybody to act on a principle like that. You say, well, what do you mean when you talk about hearing the voice of God? God speaks to us through His Word. If you want to hear the voice of God, sit down over your Bible and say, “Blessed Lord, as I read Thy Word let me hear Thee speaking to me.” And if you know of anything in your life that is hindering fellowship with God, as the Spirit of God brings to your mind any unconfessed sin, any unjudged evil, you confess it, deal with that in the presence of God and remember, it is written, “If I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me” (Psalm 66:18). Now with everything put away as far as you know, turn to His Word and read it in dependence upon His Holy Spirit and if He does not speak, there is something wrong with you still.
David says, “Be not silent to me: lest, if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit.” He would never go down into the pit for he was saved from that but he says as it were, The thing that I dread is that if I am not in living touch with Thee, if I am not hearing Thy voice day by day, I know I will become just like the world around.” A Christian out of fellowship with God does not cease to be a Christian but he is not walking as a Christian should walk and so becomes “like them that go down into the pit.”
“Hear the voice of my supplications, when I cry unto thee, when I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.” And now we get a suggestion here of the difference between Old Testament worship and New Testament worship. The Old Testament saint knew nothing of what you and I through grace should know and understand. In all of the Old Testament dispensation God was hidden behind a heavy veil. He dwelt in the thick darkness and only the high priest could push that aside and enter once a year, bearing the blood of atonement. But now it is altogether different. The Old Testament saint said, “I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.” But what about the New Testament saint? Look at Hebrews 10:19-22 and see how different our position is, “Having therefore, brethren, boldness to enter into the holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way, which he hath consecrated for us, through the veil, that is to say, his flesh; and having an high priest over the house of God; let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water,” or with “the water of purification,” referring to the nineteenth chapter of the book of Numbers, undoubtedly. Look at the difference. The Old Testament saint was truly a child of God, truly forgiven but he knew nothing of immediate access into the holiest because the veil was not yet rent. The precious blood of Christ had not yet been shed and so these Psalms do not rise to the full height of New Testament worship. That is one reason why we need to be careful when we try to use them as vehicles of Christian praise, testimony, and adoration. The tone of worship never rises to New Testament heights until we enter into the holiest through the value of the precious blood of Jesus. The Old Testament saint says, “I lift up my hands toward thy holy oracle.” Suppose I were to try to sing that today. I will not do anything of the kind. The oracle was the holiest of all. I belong in the holiest of all. I enter, in all the infinite value of the precious atoning blood of Christ. On the other hand, a great many of the Psalms are beautiful expressions of praise and worship but they all reach just a certain height. You get the full height of Christian worship in Revelation where we read, “Unto him that loved us, and hath loosed us from our sins in his own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever” (Revelation 1:5-6). I wish I could write music. I would like to write an anthem on those words for that is what we are going to sing in Heaven.
The psalmist recognizes that he is in the midst of enemies, and every believer must see that, and so David prays that, he might not learn their ways—“Draw me not away with the wicked, and with the workers of iniquity, which speak peace to their neighbors, but mischief is in their hearts.” You never saw anybody like that, did you? You never saw a person like that in your mirror, did you? We can be so soft and sweet and nice, and all the time mischief is in the heart. David says, “I do not want to be like that.” And then judgment is called down upon them. We would not call down judgment because we are living in the dispensation of grace but this was in the dispensation of law.
In the latter part of the Psalm, David’s heart goes out in thanksgiving and praise for deliverance. “Blessed be the Lord, because He hath heard the voice of my supplications. The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped.” Can you say that? “The Lord is my strength and my shield?” My strength to enable me to do the things that ordinarily I could not do; my shield to protect me from my foes. My conflict is not now with flesh and blood but with wicked spirits in heavenly places, and I need such a shield as this. “Therefore my heart greatly rejoiceth; and with my son will I praise Him. The Lord is their strength, and He is the saving strength of His anointed.” That is, his Messiah. “Save they people, and bless thine inheritance: feed them also, and lift them up for ever.”
“In the 29th Psalm we have the majesty of God celebrated. God is looked at here as the sovereign ruler of the universe. He not only has control of the hearts of men but of nature. Everything is subject to Him. I do not know whether there is a finer poem in the Bible than this 29th Psalm. We do not always judge literature aright but to me this Psalm is one of the loveliest poems that I have ever seen. I wonder whether you have ever noticed what it really is. It starts with an ascription of praise to God and then goes on to a description of a great storm moving in from the Mediterranean Sea and up toward the mountains of Lebanon. David, standing on the porch of his palace and looking out and watching that storm as it rages, realizes that “Jehovah standeth o’er the waterfloods.” “Give unto the Lord, O ye mighty, give unto the Lord glory and strength. Give unto the Lord the glory due unto His name; worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.” Now you get something that New Testament saints may well enter into for we cannot get beyond this, “Worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness.”
As he is contemplating the glory of God, suddenly he hears the thunder roll and sees the lightning flash, and exclaims, “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters.” He is looking out toward the Mediterranean. “The voice of the Lord is upon the waters: the God of glory thundereth.” And now the rain begins to pour down. “The Lord is upon many waters.” And still the thunder rages. “The voice of the Lord is powerful; the voice of the Lord is full of majesty.” And now the storm moves on across the plain and up to the mountains of Lebanon and the great trees crash as the lightning strikes them. “The Voice of the Lord breaketh the cedars; yea, the Lord breaketh the cedars of Lebanon. He maketh them also to skip like a calf; Lebanon and Sirion like a young unicorn”—really, a wild ox. As the wind seems to be tearing those great trees and they are swaying back and forth David sees them just like a lot of animals that are driven before the wind. And then as he notes the lightning flashing he cries, “The voice of the Lord divideth the flames of fire.” And now the storm has moved on to the south and over to the wilderness of Judea and still he is watching as he cries, “The voice of the Lord shaketh the wilderness; the Lord shaketh the wilderness of Kadesh. The voice of the Lord maketh the hinds to calve, and discovereth the forests: and in His temple doth every one speak of His glory.” That might be rendered, “In His sanctuary everything expresses His glory.” That was true of the tabernacle and it was true of the temple, these lesser sanctuaries, for everything in them was divinely ordered and every board and every stone and every curtain and every bit of furniture spoke of His glory. As you study the tabernacle or the temple you find that it expresses Christ throughout for God’s glory is all summed up in Christ.
“The Lord sitteth upon the flood: yea, the Lord sitteth King for ever.” Now the storm is dying away and all nature is quiet again, and David says, “The Lord will give strength unto His people; the Lord will bless His people with peace.” What a contrast! The Psalm begins with the rolling thunder, the roaring winds, and the flash of lightning but now all is quiet. It is a wonderful picture of the soul that has gone through its exercises, its stress, its trouble but has learned that God is over all, that He is strong to save. And so the heart rests in Him and is at peace.
The next five Psalms of this special division 30 to 34, are Psalms of salvation. They all set before us, in their different ways, experimental salvation, the personal knowledge that comes to those who trust the Lord for His delivering grace. In Psalm 30, David is praising God for this salvation. Notice it says at the top, “A Psalm and Song at the dedication of the house of David.” This is suggestive, if it is correct, and it probably is, for those headings really belong in the Hebrew texts. It would indicate that when David built a house for himself to dwell in he had a dedication of the house and on that occasion he wrote this Psalm and it was sung. As he looked back over the years he remembered how wonderfully God had undertaken for him, he thought of what he once was, an unknown shepherd boy, and then of the great victories God had given him in the midst of persecution, the wonderful way the Lord had watched over him and preserved his life, and then had made him King in Israel and given him this restful home. In it all David sees evidence after evidence of God’s wonderful grace and compassion and so lifts his voice in adoration.
“I will extol thee, O Lord; for Thou hast lifted me up, and hast made my foes to rejoice over me.” We like to sing about that today—“He lifted me.” David was once down in the miry clay but God had raised him in grace. “O Lord my God, I cried unto Thee, and Thou has healed me. O Lord, Thou hast brought up my soul from the grave: Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit.” And his heart is so full he calls upon his brethren to join with him in thanksgiving, “Sing unto the Lord, O ye saints of His, and give thanks at the remembrance of His holiness.”
Then he thinks of those days when he was so troubled, when he was hunted like a partridge upon the mountain, when his enemies were seeking his life day and night, when he was driven out from the haunts of men and he had to live in dens and caves, when many a night he sobbed and wept as he thought of the enmity of King Saul and realized that those he loved had turned against him. Now it is all in the past and God has done such wonderful things and he says, “His anger endureth but a moment; in His favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Does it not remind you of that passage in the fourth chapter of the second epistle to the Corinthians where we read, “For all things are for your sakes, that the abundant grace might through the thanksgiving of many redound to the glory of God. For which cause we faint not; but though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day. For our light affliction, which is but for a moment, worketh for us a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory (Verses 15-17). What did David say? “His anger endureth but a moment; in His favor is life: weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” I wonder whether you are saying, “It seems it has been a long moment for me. I have had suffering and sorrow and disappointment and distress and I have prayed about it but do not seem to get any answer and it has gone on and one and on. Talk about a moment, I have had a life time of it.” Oh yes, but if you know the Lord Jesus Christ, when this life is over, then what? Then eternity with Him! It will seem like just a moment. My mother told me that when my dear father was dying he was suffering terribly and a friend of his leaned over him and said, “John, you are suffering terribly, aren’t you?”
“Oh,” he said, “I am suffering more than I thought it was possible for any one to and live but one sight of His blessed face will make up for it all.”
And so whatever we are called upon to endure here, whatever we are called upon to suffer here it is for only a moment, comparatively. “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.” Because the morning will be when Jesus returns. He says, “I am the bright and morning star” and His coming heralds the morning and then no more suffering, no more pain, no more sorrow.
Turning back to our Psalm we find that David reminds his own soul of his confidence in early days. He says, “In my prosperity I said, I shall never be moved.” Did you ever say that before the depression began? You were piling up a nice little sum, you had some stocks and bonds and a paying business and you said, “My, I have things in good shape, no danger now of not being well provided for in old age.” Then suddenly everything was swept away. But God was not swept away. God abides just the same and Jesus Christ is “the same yesterday and today and for ever.” David, like Job, had said in his prosperity, “I shall never be moved,” and then trouble came unexpectedly and from the most amazing source. The very last person in the world that he ever expected trouble to come from was King Saul and yet he turned to be his enemy, moved by that frightful passion, jealousy, one of the most detestable passions of human nature. But the Lord undertook and David now can say, “Lord by Thy favor Thou hast made my mountain to stand strong: Thou didst hide Thy face, and I was troubled.” There were times when he tried to pray but could not see and could not realize God’s presence. You have felt that way, have you not? Sometimes God does withdraw His face temporarily. Rutherford says,
“But flowers need night’s cool darkness,
The moonlight and the dew.
So Christ from one who loved Him,
His presence oft withdrew.”
The Lord knows that sometimes it is good for us to have these times of darkness, these times of difficulty. When He seems to us to be afar off He wants to teach us to trust in the dark as well as in the light. “I cried unto Thee, O Lord; and unto the Lord I made supplication.”
Now you get his prayer for he feels as though his enemy is going to destroy him. “What profit is there in my blood, when I go down to the pit? Shall the dust praise Thee?” Shall it declare Thy truth?” That is, my dead body, “shall it declare Thy truth? Hear, O Lord, and have mercy upon me: Lord, be Thou my helper.” This is the way he prayed but now listen to the way he praises, “Thou hast turned for me my mourning into dancing: Thou hast put off my sackcloth, and girded me with gladness; to the end that my glory may sing praise to Thee, and not be silent. O Lord my god, I will give thanks unto Thee for ever.” Do you notice what David calls his tongue? His “glory.” Did you ever notice what James calls it? Look at James 3:8. There is a rather remarkable contrast here. “The tongue can no man tame; it is an unruly evil.” Have you a tongue like that? That is the uncontrolled tongue but when God himself controls it, David can call it his “glory.” “To the end that my glory may sing praise to Thee.” As much as to say, I am so glad I have a tongue that I can use to glorify Thee. If we used the tongue for that purpose all the time how different it would be.
Then we shall look briefly at the 31st Psalm. There we have a picture that links with the experience of our Lord Jesus Christ as well as with the individual saint. It is a Psalm in which the believer is showing his trust and confidence in God, rejoicing in His mercy, praising Him for His goodness, yet looking back to the days of darkness and thanking God for deliverance.
“In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: deliver me in Thy righteousness.” The word translated “deliver” is exactly the same as the word for “save” so that this verse may be translated, “Save me in Thy righteousness.” That is the only way God will save anybody. I always call this Martin Luther’s verse. When he was a monk in the Augustinian monastery he was in great distress about his soul and he tried by all kinds of penances to make some sort of atonement for his own sins but he became more and more miserable and distressed. Then one day he was reading the Latin psalter and came upon this verse, “In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: save me in Thy righteousness,” and Luther stopped and looked at it and said, “What a strange verse. I can understand how God can damn me in His righteousness, how He can banish me from His presence in His righteousness for my sin deserves that; but if He saves me, surely He must save me in His mercy, not in His righteousness.” But there was the word, “Save me in Thy righteousness,” and Luther began mulling it over in his mind. He was led to turn to the epistle to the Romans and read, “I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Romans 1:16-17). Not the mercy of God, merely, not the grace of God, simply, but the righteousness of God. The Gospel shows how God can be righteous and yet justify ungodly sinners, and here, David, hundreds of years before the cross, looks on in faith to the coming of the Saviour and says, “In Thee, O Lord, do I put my trust; let me never be ashamed: save me in Thy righteousness. Bow down Thine ear to me; deliver me speedily: be Thou my strong rock, for an house of defense to save me.” And then faith leads him to say, “Thou art my rock and my fortress; therefore for Thy name’s sake lead me, and guide me” and he calls on God to pull him out of the net. In Jesus Christ when He hung upon the cross, “Into Thine hand I commit My spirit.” The Lord used these very words showing us that He applied at least a part of the Psalm to Himself, to His own experience as He hung there upon that cross bearing judgment due to sin.
Then look at verse 11 and again we can hear the Saviour speaking, “I was a reproach among all mine enemies, but especially among my neighbors, and a fear to mine acquaintance: they that did see me without fled from me. I am a broken vessel.” That is what Jesus is to the world, just as a dead man out of mind. If He ever lived, well, He is dead, gone the way of all flesh. One day there came into my book room in Oakland a gentleman whom I did not know at first. He asked for a Bible and when he told me the particular type of Bible he wanted I rather suspected that he was what we call a Christian Scientist. They generally use the Bible without these turn-over edges. I said, You want the binding that matches Mrs. Eddy’s ‘Science and Health,’ I presume.”
“Yes,” he said, “I am the first reader of the such and such a Christian Science Church in the city.”
“I said, “Do you love that Book?”
“Oh yes, we read this in all our services. I read a portion from this Book and the other reader reads a portion from Mrs. Eddy’s ‘Science and Health.’ The two agree very much.”
“I said, “What is the precious blood of Jesus to you?”
I never saw a man turn so angry over a simple question. He flared up, his face worked convulsively for a moment or two and then his fist came down on my desk, and he said, “The blood of Jesus! It is nothing more to me than the blood of any other dead Jew.”
That is just what the Word of God says, “Forgotten as a dead man out of mind.” Oh the blasphemy of it. I said, “Well, that is what you say about the blood. Do you know what God says of it? ‘The precious blood of Christ’.”
What do you say? Is it precious to you or is Christ to you “forgotten as a dead man out of mind?”
“Notice one or two verses in the latter part of this Psalm. You have often used the words of verse 15, “My times are in Thy hand.” Do you really mean that? Is it not precious to know that “my times are in Thy hand”?
“My times are in Thy hand;
Father, I wish them there;
A father’s hand can never cause
His child a needless tear.”
And so one can just trust everything to Him knowing that He will bring out all to His glory.
Then verse 19, “Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee; which Thou hast wrought for them that trust in Thee before the sons of men!” You may not see it now but it will all come out eventually. “Thou shalt hide them in the secret of Thy presence from the pride of man: Thou shalt keep them secretly in a pavilion from the strife of tongues.”