Tuesday, January 24, 2017

UNDERSTANDING THE PSALMS AND THE OTHER POETIC BOOKS OF THE BIBLE





Do you find this verse troubling?

·       I have been young, and now am old, yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken or his children begging for bread. (Psalm 37:25; ESV)

I find it troubling. It sets me up for disappointment and disbelief. How? I know the trials I have experienced and have seen the many trials of my brethren. There have been times when we all go begging for help. Certainly, those Christians facing death and forced conversions at the hands of ISIS, Boko Haran, and a multitude of other Islamic terrorist groups are begging for help.

It comes down to this – can we really trust God and His promises? King David, the writer of this Psalm, also “went begging” from the rich but miserly Nabal (1 Samuel 25:1-8).

Even worse, the chosen of God have often lived lives of destitution:

·       They were stoned, they were sawn in two, they were killed with the sword. They went about in skins of sheep and goats, destitute, afflicted, mistreated— of whom the world was not worthy—wandering about in deserts and mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth. (Hebrews 11:37-38)

Where was God at these times? Where was He when His saints were experiencing martyrdom, which He Himself had ordained? How can we reconcile these painful hardships with His promises of deliverance and blessedness?

Interestingly, even in Psalm 37, we find both perspectives – the prosperity of the wicked and the poverty of the righteous:

·       Be still before the LORD and wait patiently for him; fret not yourself over the one who prospers in his way, over the man who carries out evil devices! Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! Fret not yourself; it tends only to evil. For the evildoers shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land. (Psalm 37:7-9)

But when shall we be delivered? When shall we “inherit the land?” When will his promises be fulfilled? As Hebrews teaches us, the martyrs were required to wait until His Kingdom comes. Meanwhile, He is holding our hand.

Even immediately before the troubling verse (25), David acknowledged that the righteous will fall:

·       The steps of a man are established by the LORD, when he delights in his way; though he fall, he shall not be cast headlong, for the LORD upholds his hand. (Psalm 37:23-24)

However, this is only temporary. Meanwhile, “the Lord upholds his hand.” Where sin abounds, so does grace much more so abound” (Romans 5:20).

Also, even when we fall, we “shall not be cast headlong” in destruction, as Paul had taught:

·       But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh. (2 Corinthians 4:7-11)

To truly know grace, we must also know the depths of our sin and condemnation. To truly know God’s deliverance, we must also know our helplessness and desperation.

How do we put all this together? How should we interpret the Psalms and the promises of God? We need to see the big picture and to understand the far-reaching plan of God.

The Psalmist had despaired of the promises of God:

·       Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches. All in vain have I kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence. (Psalm 73:12-13)

However, he was later shown the big picture, how the promises of God would eventually be fulfilled, and that made all the difference. He therefore confessed:

·       I was brutish and ignorant; I was like a beast toward you. Nevertheless, I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me to glory. Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (Psalm 73:22-26)

Indeed, our flesh will fail us, but we have something far better.

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