Pleading With God

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Asaph, in Psalm 74, is grieving the fallen city of Jerusalem and its temple, the place where God meets with His people. He calls out to God to hear, answer, and move to reestablish His fallen but covenanted people. Through this prayer, Asaph teaches us a model of pleading with God: a) it is direct; b) it is passionate; c) it is honest; d) it is respectful; and, e) it is wise. As Charles Haddon Spurgeon said of this psalm, “We have here before us a model of pleading, a very rapture of prayer. It is humble, but very bold, eager, fervant, and effectual. The heart of God is always moved by such entreaties. By its very nature, this is truly a psalm of faith in God.

We plead with pain. 74:1, 2

This psalm is a “Maskil” which may mean it is a “skillful psalm” or “efficacious psalm.” No one is for sure what the term means, but it is a psalm that is instructive in the sense that it is teaching, or at minimum, implying wisdom for those who are singing or reading it.

Asaph first asks the question of God, “How long will You be angry with your people, O God?” He feels the sting of rejection from the Lord. God’s anger toward His people is felt deeply because of the sin of the people. Asaph is wondering if it will last forever. The anger felt is “smoking” or “raging” against God’s people, the “sheep of His pasture.” Asaph desires to see an end, the finality, of this anger toward God’s people. And this plea is painful as he reminds God of who His people are: they are purchased by God, they are redeemed by God, they have dwelt with God in His holy temple.

We pleaed with honesty. 74:3-8

Asaph, as if taking God by his right hand, begins to describe the ruins of the temple. The enemies of God have come and destroyed the temple, the place where God meets with His people. In the midst of this meeting place, God’s adversaries have broken into the sanctuary and replaced the banners of God with their own wicked banners. They have hacked away at the carved work and torn to pieces everything in their wake stealing the gold and silver that overlaid the wooden fixtures. These enemies of God have gone so far as to even burn the entire sanctuary to the ground. Asaph is showing God how they have destroyed every place that was used for worshiping Him–even destroying the City of God, Jerusalem.

Asaph points out that it is God who has allowed His enemies to come and destroy the temple and the city. How can there be public worship of God if there are no remaining places for worship in the land? Asaph, pained by what he sees, addresses God honestly with what he is thinking and how he is feeling.

We plead to know how long affliction will last. 74:9-11

This is the lowest point in the psalm. Asaph reiterates that the banners of God are removed. There are no prophets in the land to speak and teach the people. God’s people are at His mercy wondering how long this affliction will last. The enemy continues to bring contempt against the very name of God. They mock His name verbally. They take God’s name in vain. They spurn and despise God’s name. At this low point, Asaph admits that he believes that God has withdrawn His hand from His people. He feels as if God has turned back from them and is no longer there for His people. He then asks God to destroy His enemies. When the enemies of God come against His people, they are coming against God! Asaph speaks of the wanton destruction of the temple; Israel’s enemies are mocking God by doing what they have done. They are enemies not only of God’s people, but of God.

We plead knowing our unchanging God. 74:12-17

Asaph now turns his attention to how great God truly is. He is not one with which to be trifled. He is not one which is to be mocked. God is not one which is to be reviled, despised, held against with contempt. Earlier in the psalm Asaph asked God to remember His people. Now Asaph is remembering God! He remembers God’s works of deliverance, a reference to the exodus from the bondage of Egypt. God divided the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross over on dry land. And the sea monsters were broken, even Leviathan was crushed. These sea monsters, some scholars believe, may have been crocodile types of animals in the waters. Leviathan was supposedly crushed by Baal in the Canaanite religious legends. But Asaph says it is the God of Israel that has crushed Leviathan and fed his flesh to the wild beasts. Other scholars beleive this is representative of Egypt who’s symbol was that of a crocodile. At any rate, God defeated the armies of Egypt because they were enemies of His people, therefore, enemies of Him.

God also caused the torrents of water to rage and dried up streams. He caused the waters to to swallow up the enemy in the Red Sea and then He caused it to dry out so His people could cross over into the His land on dry ground. Asaph remembers the sovereignty of God as having control over all that occurs on the earth. He is sovereign over all created things. He has made both the day and the night. God has established the boundaries of the earth. He has made the seasons to occur year after year for the sustaining of life. Asaph remembers all that God has done and how He is unchanging in His very nature and character.

We plead by calling on the character of God. 74:18-23

The psalmist now turns his attention to the covenant that God has made with His people. he calls on the Lord to remember how His enemy has spurned His name. Asaph asks that God not forget the life of His afflicted one. Then, in verse twenty, He asks the Lord to consider the covenant that He made with His people. It is a unilateral covenant. God, as you recall above, has purchased His people, redeemed His people, and has dwelt with His people. He made a covenant with His people stating that they are His and that He is there God (cf. Genesis 12:1-3). It is a covenant that God made and is one-sided. This is what God has chosen to do with Israel. By invoking this covenant, Asaph is saying to God that He cannot go against His very nature of being unchanging, but rather that He must keep His covenant. By keeping His covenant with His people, God will raise His people to a place of honor and in praise of His holy name.

Asaph calls on the Lord to plead His own cause. Show that the covenant that He has made with His people still stands. Show His enemies who His people are and who their God is. He should act because it is fitting that His enemies be rebuked and the poor and needy praise His name. God should act because it is His cause and not a mere man’s that is in jeopardy. It is God’s purposes that are being opposed by Israel’s enemies, therefore, by His enemies.

How then shall we plead our case to God?

We do what Asaph did! We make a list of why God should answer our prayer and plead those reasons. We need to repeat that God has secured us in Himself and by Himself. We have been made secure by the shedding of blood by His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, the Second Person of the Trinity. We are secured in the promise that He has made to those who have believed that Jesus Christ died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised again according to the Scriptures (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:3, 4). We state our case to God and we plead with Him to answer. Either He will answer, or we will find that our prayers and our pleading is not a good one and that we will pray for something better–namely for His will to be done.

May the Lamb who was slain receive the reward of His suffering.

The Proper Perspective

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Asaph, one of the musicians in King David’s court, writes a beautiful psalm–Psalm 73. It is a wonderful psalm. It is a psalm that brings its reader into his realm. His thoughts are deep and they are telling. They tell us how we, too, can fall into the same trap that Asaph almost fell into. He points out two thoughts that I think are very relevant for each of us today. First, he lets us know that sometimes we look upon the wrong people. Second, he tells us how we ought to fix ourselves upon our Savior.

We sometimes look upon the wrong people. 73:1-14

Asaph first acknowledges who God is. His character is that of goodness. Everything that God is and does is good. There is never a time when He is not good and Asaph knows this to be true. God is good to those who are pure in heart. Who are the pure in heart? They are the ones who are free from being in a state of sin and guilt. The reason for this freedom is because of the goodness of God who has shown His grace, His mercy, and His willingness to save His people. Those who are pure in heart are not pure based on what they have done, but it is purely based on the One who is good, and that is God alone.

Even though Asaph knows this goodness of God, he admits to almost falling into temptation. He says that he did not allow himself to stumble but came close to it–he caught himself before he fell. His self-control was waning because he began to lose sight of the goodness of God that he knew. What was the temptation? To look and admire those who were boasting and prideful in themselves and the wealth they enjoyed. Jealousy began to swell inside of him and he asks God this question: “Why should the people who oppose God be better off than those who trust Him?” It is an age-old question that many have asked. Sometimes this question is asked this way: “Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?”

As Asaph looks on these arrogant ones, his thoughts digress to the point that the believes they do not even feel pain when they die as others do. They do not struggle like mortals who are suffering and being afflicted all day long. And what seems even more disconcerting to Asaph is the attitude of these boasters–the wicked. He thinks they should at least–to some degree–show a smidgen of gratitude and a dash of humility for all the blessings they have. But this is not the case. Rather than boasting in God who has blessed them, they boast in themselves using words that destroy, being violent and malicious, and even brandishing their pride as though their pride was a chain around their necks. Instead of being grateful, they turn their wicked words against heaven, meaning they turn their wickedness toward God asking of Him, “Does God even know what we are doing?” And in the ease of their wealth, these boasters pay no attention to God who has given them the ability to create, expand, and build wealth.

Asaph is conflicted. He’s conflicted within his soul because of the propserity of the wicked and the adversity of the righteous. He gives way to his melancholy cry of despair. He is at the lowest point of his thoughts. While the wicked drink all day from a full cup that never appears to run out, Asaph feels as if he is plagued and afflicted all day long. He would be satisfied if he had been able to see the people of God doing as well as the wicked, but to no avail. His eyes were turned toward the wicked, the boasters, the arrogant, those who waged war against God.

We need to fix ourselves on our Savior. 73:15-28

He quickly changes his tune. Asaph overcomes his doubts by considering the very destiny that these boasters will inherit. It is not wealth they inherit, but rather it is misery. Asaph acknowledges his former thoughts and concludes how they and his words, had his own people heard him speaking in this way, would have damaged them and would have pulled them away from God. He realizes the pain it could have caused his people so he is now pained with his own thoughts of wanting to be like the wicked. And this pain is intensified as he considers their end. He comes into the sanctuary and right away he realizes the end of the wicked is the judgment of God against them. God will set them in dangerous places where they will stumble and fall, and they will come to a place of ruin and suddently be destroyed. The judgment bringing them to waste will come in a moment and destroy them, bringing sudden terror to them. When God finally sets things right, the wicked will be like fantasies, like dreams, counterfeits of reality. This is the negative aspect of the solution to Asaph’s temptation: he understands the destiny and judgment of the wicked and wants no part in it.

He now becomes convicted of his own glorious destiny. He confesses his perspective had been dulled by his own bitterness. It pierced his spirit deeply and grieved him. It was as if stinging pains had infiltrated his soul and he was pained by the sourness of his thoughts. He admits he became senseless toward God and did not realize just how his feelings were affecting his thoughts. He feels stupid for looking upon the wrong people and feels as if he becomes animal like by wanting what they have instead of remembering the goodness of God.

Asaph now recognizes his true position before God. He is always with the Lord because the Lord has a firm hold of his right hand. He will never be let go even in the midst of the struggles he faces with feelings and false thinking. God brings Asaph with Him and leads him in the right way. He leads him all the way into glory and good favor with Him. He convicts Asaph of the temptation and almost allowing himself to fall into sin. God loves His people and shows them His goodness so they do not rely upon themselves but upon Him. Asaph acknowledges that God is his only possession in heaven and earth. There is none like Him and he desires no other. He knows that his strength comes from God who cares deeply for him even when he is weak.

He then closes this psalm with chilling words. As a reminder to his readers, Asaph speaks of those who are far from God. What will happen to them? They will perish. These are the wicked–the boasters, the arrogant–who betray or desert anything having to do with God. These wicked will cease to exist as we know them and will be silenced. As they continue to prostitute themselves through idolatry of the wealth they have, the violence with which they have clothed themselves, with the pride hanging around their necks, God will surely come upon them in fierce, quick judgment.

But Asaph’s confession, confidence, and reassurance is that God is keeping him secure. Nearness to God always helps believers maintain a balanced perspective on material things and even on the wicked. The nearness of God is good because God is good in perfection without limitation. Asaph has made the Lord his refuge, his shelter from the dangers of becoming a boasting, arrogant, wicked person. As his shelter, he turns to others and speaks of God’s wonderous works: His work of creation; His work of giving life; and, His work of redemption.

What does God’s work of redemption look like today? It works in the same way that it always has. His good work of salvation comes through the Person and Work of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. He died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised again according to the Scriptures. All who turn to Jesus Christ, seeking the forgiveness of sins, who believe in their heart that God raised Him from the dead, and who confess with their mouths that Jesus is Lord, shall be saved! This is what the Bible teaches us. This salvation is the good work of God. This salvation is the shelter form danger for all who believe. This salvation is the nearness of God in every believer’s life.

Asaph knew that looking upon the wrong people would bring him down to ruin, but when he fixed himself upon his Savior, he ended up having the proper perspective.

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Our Judge: O Give Thanks!

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See the God Who Judges All – Psalm 50:1-6

Psalm 50, a psalm written by Asaph, a choir director and music composer in King David’s day, speaks of who God is as Judge. He gives us six very distinguished attributes of this Judge. First, God is the Almighty One. This exordium of names for God: Elohim, El, YHWH or Yehovah, speaks of who God is. Elohim means “Almighty” and is the same word used in Genesis 1:1. El means “revered One” and He is the only One for whom we should show absolute reverence. YHWH or Yehovah means “Being” and His being is sure and true. This points to the One who is perfect and just to be Judge of all.

Second, God is the beauty of Zion. God is the glorious One who is the bright spot from whence the brighteness of the Divine manifestation spreads forth like the rising sun. Wherever God is, beauty resides. He is the most aesthetically pleasing beauty there is or ever will be. Yes, we see beauty in nature, in people, in crreation, but no beauty like the One who is the Creator of all of these.

Third, God is a consuming fire. God’s glory goes before Him. Fire and storm are harbingers of the Lawgiver of Sinai who now appears as Judge. As His glory goes before Him, fire threatens to consume the evildoers and the storm threatens to drive them away like chaff. His glory shows the consuming power He holds within Himself.

Fourth, God is above all as Sovereign. God summons all people from everywhere, both the good and the evil, the righteous and the unrighteous, and all of the heavenly hosts to come and witness His judgment. He is going to judge His people along with those who do not belong to Him.

Fifth, God gathers His covenant people to Himself. God has made a covenant with His people and they have honored Him by keeping the covenant through the sacrificial laws of the Old Testament. However, He must punish, and first by words in order to warn them against the punishment by deeds. They are gathered before Him–the accused, His godly ones–to answer this Divine tribunal. They are named as His “godly ones.” And He is going to express to them His reproof and His testimony against them.

Sixth, God’s righteousness is exalted by the heavens. Now, while the accused are gethered  to Him, the poet hears the heavens solmenly acknowledge the righteousness of God the Judge. They cry out the praises of their Maker while reiterating the difference between man and God. God is righteous and man suffers with unrighteousness in their hearts. Therefore, God is now sitting in judgment, the heavens declaring that He is the Righteous One who is Judge. Nothing further is now wanting to the completeness of the judgment scene; the action now begins.

See Who God Judges – Psalm 50:7-21

God judges His people first. God is the One who speaks and testifies against His own people. He commands His people to listen to Him speak, and when God speaks, He commands, Hear! In other words, He says, You better pay attention! He has this right to call His people to listen to Him and to stand face to face with them. He has given them all things as Elohim, God Almighty! He is God of His people and there is no other.

But God does not judge them for their sacrifices. They are following through with their duty to continually offer burnt sacrifices thereby making atonement for their sin. They continually, without intermission, give sacrifices. God, however, does not have need of animals. He is never hungry like man is hungry. He has no carnal desires as we do. Rather, what God desires is for His people to see Him and to worship Him with their whole heart! What He desires is not mere animal sacrifices, but a sacrifice of thankfulness. The burnt offerings are an outward expression of what the inward expression of thankfulness should be. His people are merely going through the motions and this is the indictment that God is making against His people.

God desires for His people to call out to Him in their time of trouble. They are going through the motions, and therefore, He says that He is willing to rescue them if they repent of their sinfulness. And when we call out to Him, He does rescue! We in turn then glorify Him and bring thankfulness to Him for His rescuing.

God judges the wicked. God does not just look to the sinfulness of His own people, but He also knows the hearts of the wicked. He has summoned all peoples–righteous and unrighteous–so now the wicked are also in His courtroom. They have no desire for discipline or instruction. They are religious perhaps, but nothing concerns them when it comes to a right relationship with God. Rather then live immorally and thievery is a part of their lives. They use words to cut and frame deceit. They delight in adultery and speaking gossip and immoral things about and to others. They even go against their own families by bringing reproach to them. And why is this? Because they first cast behind them the word of God, thereby casting God away from themselves. They are far away from Him. They may be religious, but their piety means nothing as even with His own people. The difference is that the wicked are evildoers and they are not God’s people–His godly ones, His faithful ones. They are sinners who are far away from God.

Yet, these evildoers believe that God is just like them. They project on God what they believe He is like. They believe He is like them and therefore dismiss their sin as if God delights in them and in their deeds. They never give mind to the reality that He is nothing like them. They are unrighteous, He is righteous. They think they are sovereign over their own lives while God is Sovereign over all. They delight when others join them in their sin while He takes no delight in fools to sin against Him. And in thinking that God is like them, this allows them to do under the cloak of their dead knowledge whatever they believe. For just as a man is in himself, such is his conception also of his God. But God does not nor will He ever encourage this foolishness, this idea. God will set before the eyes of the evildoers, who practically and also in theory deny the Divine holiness, the real state of his heart and life, so that he shall be terrified at the indictment just handed to them by Almighty God.

See How God Judges According to Thankfulness – Psalm 50:22, 23

The wicked will not be delivered from the judgment of God. Those who forget God rely upon outward works. They forget God and sink into licentiousness. They are warned of the final execution of the sentence which they deserve. They think their works will earn them points with Holy God, but it does not. However, their works are as dead as their faith. James 2:17, 22, 24, 26 says, Even so faith, if it has no works, is dead, being by itself…You see that faith was working with his works, and as a result of the works, faith was perfected…You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone…For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead. This means that the dead knowledge that produces dead works comes from a dead faith. This is the way of the evildoer. Conversely, living knowledge of the godly ones, God’s people, produce good works that come from a righteous faith by the grace of God.

The righteous will be delivered and will be shown salvation. God delights in our thanksgiving. He loves when we give honor to Him. His desire is for His people to live their lives in righteousness. And when we live for His honor and for His glory, then He give the full reality of His salvation to us and to all who believe! He delights in Himself and delights in us delighting in Him. He expects our hearts, not just our actions. Our actions–our outward expressions–come from hearts of thankfulness–the inward expression. This is God’s delight, this is God’s desire.

Have you called out to God to rescue you from your sin? Have you called out to Him to take you from the troubles of your sin? When you call out to Him, believing that Jesus Christ died according to the Scriptures, was buried, and was raised again accorind to the Scriptures, then the Bible tells us that He shall certainly save us.

What you godly ones: Have you given thanks to God for the salvation He has given you? He has given us His salvation which is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1:16). We have believe, therefore, from our hearts, let us give thanks continually for all that He has done, what He is doing, and what He intends to do.

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