Life Theology

Psalm 88: A Paraphrase

This Sunday I’m preaching from Psalm 88. Eugene Peterson’s The Message paraphrase of that chapter inspired me to take a deeper look and draw out some of the obscurities of this ancient Hebrew song. Here is my best Petersonian effort at my own paraphrase.

Psalm 88

O Yahweh, you are my savior;
   All day and night I’m praying to you.
Please listen to me;
   Don’t plug your ears!
My life is a wreck,
   And I’m standing in my grave.
I might as well be in hell;
   I am weak and helpless,
like one freed to play on a dead-man’s playground,
   like a rotting corpse in a trash pile,
like those you’ve forgotten,
   because you’ve cut them off like an orphaned child.
You’ve put me in a dungeon,
   in a black hole with no exit.
And it’s because you’re angry with me,
   You’re waterboarding me and I can’t breathe.
You’ve made my friends leave me;
   I make them want to vomit.
I’m like a prisoner in my own body;
   I’m blinded by my tears.
I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh;
   My hands are pleading with you to answer.
Do dead people marvel at your miracles?
   Do dead people sing your praises?
Is the sound of your never-ending love heard 6-feet under,
   or your faithfulness in the land of doom?
Can people see your works when it’s dark,
   or your perfections in the land of no memory?
But I’m not giving up praying, O Yahweh,
   Every morning I’m confronting you.
Yahweh—why are you pushing me away?
   Why are you hiding from me? Is this a game to you?
My life has been a wreck since I was a kid;
   I’m suffering from your beatings; I can’t stop them.
Your hot anger rips me to shreds like a tornado;
   You’re bomb blitzes are destroying me.
They are drowning me in a raging river all day long;
    I can’t look anywhere without seeing them.
And on top of all this you’ve made my lover and my friends run away from me;
    Darkness is now my only friend.

Psalm 145 and Jesus

Psalm 145 is a celebration of the greatness of God.  In verses 1-3, David proclaims that he will bless God and worship him and praise him. Even though David proclaims that God is great, he can only know it partially for “his greatness is unsearchable” (v. 3).  In verses 4-7, David says that generations to come will praise God for his being and works. David himself will meditate on this and declare God’s greatness.  In verses 8-9, David interjects to give us a picture of what God is like. He is merciful, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and is good to all.  In verses 10-13, David speaks of God’s everlasting kingdom, and that everything God does is for the glory of his kingdom. Verses 14-20 speak of God’s nearness to his people and those who call on him. Verse 21 ends the psalm with a vow to “praise the LORD” and a call for everyone to “bless his holy name forever and ever.”

Ultimately, God’s person and work (cf. v. 5) is most fully revealed in Jesus Christ.  He was God in the flesh and he faithfully performed the works of God (John 10:25, 32; Acts 2:22). God’s grace, mercy, love, and goodness is ultimately revealed in Christ, most specifically on the cross (Rom. 5:8-10).

Jesus is the one whom God sent to establish an everlasting kingdom, built not upon ethnicity, geography, and law, but upon Spirit, truth, and grace (Heb. 12:28).  Jesus is the one who ultimately brings verses 14-20 to God’s people: Without the cross, no one would be able to come to God; without the cross, no one would love God and all would be wicked and would be destroyed.  Jesus allows all men to come to him to bless God’s holy name, regardless of race, creed, socioeconomic status, gender, or age (John 10:16; Rom. 10:12; Gal. 5:6; Col. 3:11; Rev. 5:9).


Psalm 146 and Jesus

Notes from my morning worship in the Word

The Bible calls us to sing praises to “the LORD,” Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and nothing else. The Bible calls us to worship and trust him, and him alone. To trust in princes (v. 3) is wrong. “Princes” here literally means “nobles.” That is, do not trust in those with a lot of money, status, fame, etc. Do not trust them because they cannot give you salvation. Do not trust a noble because his breath (Hb. ruach: “spirit”) will leave his body, just like yours, and everything he planned up to that day dies with him.

Therefore, Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD his God (v. 5). Not help for material gain, but help in daily living–for every circumstance imaginable. It is better to trust in Yahweh than a noble man because God made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, who keeps faith forever (i.e. “stays faithful forever”).

Verses 8-9 catalogue the great things God does, giving him the glory and honor due his name, not a noble man or anyone else for that matter. With God there is complete justice, righteousness, love, compassion, and redemption. He cares for those who are weak and would not normally be cared for by a noble–the blind, bowed down, sojourners, widow, and orphan. Yet at the same time, he equally loves the righteous (his own people). And he brings the wicked to ruin.

Because of who God is and what he does, he will reign forever and therefore all generations should Praise the LORD (v. 10).

The ESVSB comments that the Lord’s reign makes him a sure hope for God’s suffering people. We know that God is with his suffering people because Jesus is not only Immanuel, he is also the Suffering Servant who not only suffered for us on the cross, but also suffered with us. He did this so that he might be able to say that he has gone before us and knows what we go through, because what he endured was infinitely worse than our trial or tribulation (Heb. 4:15-16; 12:3-4). When we find ourselves in the thick of a trial, we will be able to say Hallelu-yah! Praise the LORD! because we know that God is present with us, and that he has not left us. When this happens our perspective changes. Because the Father sent his curse on his Son on the cross, and turned his back on him, we are assured that God will never turn his back on us.

Thankfully, Christ did not stay separated from the Father. He rose from the dead, and was thus vindicated by God and is not seated at the right hand of the Father (Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 12:2). All those who believe in Christ are perfectly accepted by God on the basis of who Christ is and what he has done, and they will reign with Christ forever. That is a better position to have and a better promise to hold on to than to trust in a so-called “noble” for help in time of trouble.


Trust in God, Get to Sleep

It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives to his beloved sleep. (Psalm 127:2)

We must always live in faith that God is the one working in and through us (Phil. 2:13). He is the one who makes things tick. We are not ultimate. He is ultimate. We still must build and stay awake and work hard and plan and prepare. But we must not do it anxiously.  We must learn to rest in the LORD, and trust his sovereign work in our lives, for “our God is in the heavens, he does whatever he pleases” (Ps. 115:3).

Even though we must work hard, Psalm 127:2 is a reminder that anxious toiling (i.e. trying to get everything done–and more–because “it won’t get done otherwise”) can be fatal.  It can keep us from getting proper rest and retreat.  A hard day’s work is good, but a good night sleep is better.  God wants to give his people rest so that they might work hard tomorrow, but a day of anxious toiling might not only prevent someone from crawling into bed, worrying about your work might keep someone up at night thinking, “Did I do enough today?”

This way of thinking is rooted in the sovereignty of God.  If God is sovereign to you (as he should be!), you will work hard in faith, and rest knowing that the results lie in God’s hand. If God is semi-sovereign or not at all, you will work hard, and you will either refuse rest or not get it because you’ll constantly wonder what you can do better or differently next time.

Life Theology

Gospel-Centered Devotions

Series Index

1. Every Text a Road to Christ
2. Setting Up a Devotional Time
3. The Gospel in All of Life
4. How Not to Read the Bible
5. Hear the Music, Don’t Learn the Steps
6. Jesus: God’s Word Made Flesh
7. Getting to Christ in the Old Testament
8. Christ and Him Crucified
9. Faith and Repentance
10. Post Script: ‘Gospel-Centered’ Is Not Just a Fad

Introduction to a 10 part series. View series intro and index.

Do you ever sit down to have a “devotional time” with God and wonder, “What the heck do I do?”  Ever flipped through Bible pages to see where you land and pray it’s not Leviticus? After reading a chapter of Luke have you gone to watch TV because you are bored? This is more the rule in American Christianity, than the exception.

A couple weeks ago I posted a journal entry from my morning worship in the word, and I will post more. My aim in making some of these journal’s public is to teach two main things: 1) to show how I orient every passage around the gospel, and 2) to show how to take notes (aka “journaling”) while working through a passage of Scripture.

When having a “quiet time” or “devo time” or “time in the word” (or whatever you want to call it), it is important to remember that quickly reading a chapter in the Bible, writing out a prayer, and being done in 10 minutes is not enough. That might sound legalistic, but I’m willing to bet you would not say it’s legalistic for me to tell you to eat three meals a day.  “Do not labor for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son fo Man will give to you” (Jn. 6:27). You make time for hundreds of other trivial things each day and week. So don’t tell me you don’t have time.

While reading any passage of Scripture, the primary thing to look for is not ‘what does God want me to do?’. When you read your Bible, you must look for where it exposes our fallen nature and how it orients life around the gospel (i.e. the person and work of Jesus Christ).

Bryan Chappell, president of Covenant Seminary, has written a book called Christ-Centered Preaching that is helpful even for the layperson who wants to spend daily, gospel-drenched time in God’s word. Chappell writes that in every text Christ is like an acorn or an oak tree. He expounds: “You do not explain what an acorn is, even if you say many true things about it (e.g., it is brown, has a cap, is found on the ground, is gathered by squirrels), if you do not in some way relate it to an oak tree.  In a similar sense, [you] cannot properly explain a seed of biblical revelation, even if [you] say many true things about it, unless [you] relate it to the redeeming work of God that all Scripture ultimately purposes to disclose.”

In some passages, Christ is so small (like an acorn) that you have to do a lot digging to see the gospel. In others, Christ is completely apparent (like an oak tree) and deep digging is not necessary. In between those two extremes are varying levels of how “big” or “small” Jesus and his gospel appear in any given biblical text.

There are a lot of things I want to get to/through on this blog, but a detailed series on Christ-Centered devotional times is more pressing than others. Too many Christians spend their time in the Bible looking for a rule to follow or an encouraging verse to “get them through the day.” If that’s how you read the Bible, you won’t last a week.

I will flesh out my thoughts and ideas over the next several months. Perhaps these posts will be helpful to you, and if you are already studying the Bible this way, then pass this along to a friend. Who knows whether God might use this to give someone a passion for his word!