Why does it take us so long to ask for help?

In the biblical book of Judges, we get an accounting of the history of ancient Israel before the monarchy was established. During this period, there was no king, the people did whatever seemed right in their own eyes (often with disastrous moral consequences), and the nation as a whole descended along a downwardly-spiraling track of increasing despair and depravity.

In many ways, the history of Israel is similar to the personal history of an individual, struggling along life’s path, facing moral ups and downs, straying from the right path, making poor decisions, falling into addiction and reaping the consequences. How many of us can relate to those themes?

And yet in the book of Judges, another theme emerges, besides the theme of moral failure and degeneracy, and that is the theme of God’s rescue. In this book a pattern is established, wherein the people turn to idolatry and abandon God, God responds by allowing them to stray and “selling them” into the oppression of foreign nations, and then the people cry out (eventually) for help, at which time God raises up a deliverer to save them from their oppression and restore them to a right relationship with Himself.

What is incredible as we examine this cycle of apostasy-oppression-repentance-rescue, is how long it takes the people of Israel to cry out to God for help.

Look at Judges 4:1-3:

The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord after Ehud had died. So the Lord sold them to King Jabin of Canaan, who reigned in Hazor. The commander of his army was Sisera who lived in Harosheth of the Nations. Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, because Jabin had nine hundred iron chariots, and he harshly oppressed them twenty years.

Twenty years! That is apparently how long it took the Israelites to cry out to the Lord for rescue. In modern terms, 20 years is approximately one generation. And that is how long Jabin and Sisera oppressed the Israelites before they cried out to the Lord. They were so married to their idols, so rebellious in their hearts, that calling out to God was not merely the option of last resort, it did not apparently even occur to them as an option at all until they had endured two full decades of brutality.

Now the story continues, I would encourage you to read what happens next.  The Lord does indeed miraculously rescue His people, using, I might add, some very unexpected and even astonishing means to do so. But the stupendous nature of God’s rescue of Israel in Judges 4 only makes their long wait to call on Him all the more incredible. Why did it take them so long?

At this point, we may need to turn that same question around on ourselves. How many times, in the face of some trial or adversity–whether self-inflicted or outside of our control–do we view crying out to the Lord for help our option of last resort? Have we bought into the modern myth that “God helps those who help themselves?” To the extent that we have, we do ourselves a great disservice and we actually alienate ourselves from the God who calls Himself our helper and invites us to bring our burdens and labor to His Son, who will give us rest.

Israel’s sin had consequences and placed them under God’s wrath, but it also put them in a situation where they could call on God and experience His rescue. Our sin places us in very much the same situation.

Sin often leads to oppression and hardship in our lives (indeed whenever they do not lead to oppression and hardship, we should thank God for His incredible mercy!). God sent Jesus into the world to take on Himself the hardship–to the point of death–that our sin had earned us. He rose again and, having conquered our sin and God’s resulting wrath once and for all, He now offers real rest and true help to everyone who hears and believes.

We will not receive His help as long as we are relying on ourselves (or the “idols” in our lives which we trust instead of God–those go-to, functional saviors we turn to for comfort or help, or simply to numb the pain–which inevitably let us down). The Bible never says God helps those who help themselves, but rather that, “you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift—not from works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). Those verses fly in the face of our deeply-ingrained sense of self-sufficiency. It takes us so long to ask for help, because it is so hard to believe we can’t rescue ourselves. But believing that, and believing in the One who alone can rescue us, is the key to being rescued. It is just as true for you and me as it was for ancient Israel.

His rescue is a gift from Him alone, given to those who give up working to rescue themselves and trust Jesus; we cannot claim one scrap of glory for bringing it about. 

God’s deliverance will not mean you don’t have work to do; Israel did have a battle to fight as part of God’s rescue from Sisera. However, the good news is that God rescues everyone who calls on Jesus, and that rescue is unilateral. He defeats our sin and its consequences for us. Then the work that we do to root out sin in our lives is a result of the transformation He brings.

Are you going through hardship right now? It’s all around us, and indeed it is a pervasive part of life. If you aren’t going through it now, you can be sure that it will only be a matter of time until you are. It took Israel 20 years to ask for Help. How long will it take you?

Sermon Notes – Psalm 19

This Sunday I had the honor of preaching at Park Community Church, Edgebrook, on the 19th Psalm. In case you missed it or are curious to see what a pastor’s preaching notes might look like, here are the notes I used (very slightly edited–N. B. these are the notes I wrote before I preached and not a transcript of the actual sermon, which means what I actually preached may have been slightly (though not substantially) different than what you read here).

Further reading & watching recommendations can be found at the bottom.

*****

Psalm 19 – God has revealed Himself.

  1. INTRO
    1. Intro–scuba diving man and drowing man.*
    2. One day a diver was enjoying the aquatic world 20 feet below sea level. He noticed a guy at the same depth he was, but he had on no scuba gear whatsoever.
      This made the diver, who was proud of his skills, a little annoyed.

      The diver went below another 20 ft, but the guy joined him a few moments later. The diver, now downright aggravated, went down another 25 feet more, but soon , the same guy joined him.

      Alright, at this point the diver was straight-up confused, so he took out a waterproof chalkboard set, and wrote, “How on earth are you able to stay under this deep without equipment?”

      The guy took the board and chalk, erased what the diver had written, and wrote, “I’m DROWNING, YOU GOOBER!!!”

      See, that diver missed something the truth that was right in front of him.
      Today we’re going to talk about those times in life when it seems like God is silent. Like he’s not speaking. Like he’s nowhere to be found. And we’re going to see from our text this morning that, during those times, we have to realize that God has already

      1. You can miss something that is right in front of your face.
      2. You can even miss God.
      3. Although God is everywhere, it is possible to be out of sync with Him, and out of line for His declared will for your life.
      4. This Psalm is crucial because it teaches us what it takes for us to get back in line with God. And it turns out it’s nothign like what we would expect.
    3. Pray
    4. Read Psalm 19.
    5. The Big Idea this morning is this: God Has Revealed Himself
      1. We’re going to look at the ways in which God reveals Himself
      2. And we’re going to look at our proper response to that revelation.
  • Explain: in this Psalm, David describes reality in terms of three perspectives.
    1. These are
      1. The natural world
      2. The written Scriptures
      3. The human self.
    2. Two of these are in perfect harmony with one another. They declare the glory of God, and they reveal Who He is. He has spoken through these media, and He has done it clearly.
    3. One of these things is not like the other. The Self.
  1. God’s revelation
    1. God has revealed Himself in the world (especially the heavens and the skies), for my awareness
      1. The heavens are telling.” He is looking on the freshness fate morning, and all he sees is telling of God, bringing God before him. –Ellicott
    2. (2-3) The progression of the days reveal information
      1. Day to day “pours out speech” –is a blabbermouth! Think of walking through a forest during the day, and everything you discover there–it all SHOUTS unendingly–all the noise of the forest is incessantly repeating, “The glory of God!”
        • SLIDE: RAINFOREST LIFE
        • The idea is, that the successive days thus impart instruction, or convey lessons about God. The day does this by the returning light, and by the steady and sublime movement of the sun in the heavens, and by all the disclosures which are made by the light of the sun in his journeyings. –Barnes

      2. Night to night reveals knowledge. Nights are quieter. It’s harder to learn. And yet, have you ever walked outside on a clear night and looked up at the stars? They reveal knowledge about who God is. SLIDE: MILKY WAY

        • The heavens and the sky are like our instructors. They never stop lecturing. There is a certain glory in the day, and another one in the night, when the stars come out.

        • Picture two choirs, alternating their verses.

        • no wonder, Paul’s condemnation in Roman 1. we have evidence enough!

      3. The information is not in human language, but it is discernible.
        • “The communication of the sky is “eloquent, but mute; its voice is for the heart and emotion, not the ear.”
        • What is science, but the discovery and translation of what the world reveals about God into human language? QUOTE a SCIENTIST HERE.
      4. (4b-6) The sun displays God’s love
        1. (5a) God’s committed love shown in that the sun is like a bridegroom–triumphant and full of love for his beloved.
          • Tent – “chupah,” originally the bridal suite (chambers).
          • Eventually held over the couple during the vows (as in our wedding). represents the heavens, as well as the protection of the groom for his bride.
          • The sun even becomes a metaphor for Christ, the Bridegroom of the church. Mark 2:19 – Jesus calls himself the bridegroom
        2. (5b) God’s joyful love shown in that the sun is like an athlete who loves the joy of competition
        3. (6) God’s providing love shown in that the sun warms all the earth
          • Like Christ illuminating men (John 1)
        4. God has revealed Himself in His Word, for my good
          1. (7-9) Types of Scripture and their effect
            1. (7a) Law
              • Perfect
              • Revives the soul
                • Henry: The word translated law, may be rendered doctrine, and be understood as meaning all that teaches us true religion.
                • “Converts” the soul. Brings it to life.
                • “The one who does this things shall live by them.” was the mission statement of the Old Testament Law. LEv. 18:5; Romans 10:5
  1. (7b) Testimony
    • Sure
    • Makes wise the simple
      • Those who are ignorant of God, upon hearing the Gospel, become wise.
      • but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 1 Cor. 1:24.
  1. (8a) Precepts
    • Right
    • Rejoice the heart
  2. (8b) Commandment
    • Pure
    • Enlightening the eyes
      • Show us our sin. if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.”
        • (i) Romans 7:7
      • Things are starting to turn here.
  1. (9a) Fear (right religion described in Scripture)
    • Clean
    • Enduring forever
      • Right religion, when carried out, will cleanse a sinner. Yet… who completes this? This sets up David’s plea later.
      • PErfection!
      • God’s standard of true worship hasn’t changed. It will endure forever. So there’s no getting around it.
      • So even Jesus says God must be worshiped in Spirit and in truth. John 4:24.
  1. (9b) Rules
    • True
    • Righteous altogether
      • More properly, “judgments.” Benson – “declarations of his righteous will; and, as it were, his judicial sentence, by which he expects that men should govern themselves, and by which he will judge them at the last day….”
      • The Bible says that God, “has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness…” by what standard? The answer is in Acts 17:31, “by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” Jesus is the perfect standard, and it’s by Him we’ll be judged.
  1. (10-11) Desirability and usefulness of all of Scripture
    1. (10) Objective and subjective value
      • These are all more precious than gold
        • Gold=the most valuable commodity in the ancient world
      • These are more enjoyable than honey
        • honey=the sweetest substance imaginable in the ancient world.
  1. (11) Sanctions
    • They warn God’s servants against disobedience.
    • They promise reward to God’s servants for obedience.
      • The perspective changes. God becomes the One being addressed after this point.
      • They warn and they promise blessing. So now–the Psalmist pauses, and he examines himself. And it is as though he invites you to examine yourself as well. As you consider God’s righteous decrees, do you deserve blessing or curse?
    • My response

      1. I’m out of step with the God who has revealed Himself.
        1. I see myself sinking down.
        2. The more I see of God’s glorious standard, the more I realize the truth of Romans 3:23: “For all have sinned and fall short of the GLORY of GOD.
          1. Alexander MacLaren envisions, “going down into the abyss, a ladder with three rungs on it.”
        3. (12) Forgiveness for unknown sins
          1. “The contemplation of the ‘perfect law, enlightening the eyes,’ sends the Psalmist to his knees. He is appalled by his own shortcomings, and feels that, beside all those of which he is aware, there is a region, as yet unilluminated by that law, where evil things nestle and breed.”
        4. (13a) Protection from known sins
          1. Help me avoid them
            • MacLaren: “The Psalmist is like a man standing on the edge of some precipice, and peeping over the brink to the profound beneath, and feeling his head beginning to swim. He clutches at the strong, steady hand of his guide, knowing that unless he is restrained, over he will go. ‘Keep thou back Thy servant from presumptuous sins.'”
            • The Hebrew tradition maintained a division between unintentional sins and flagrant (“high-handed” in Numbers 15) sins. Flagrant sins could not be atoned for.
            • There was no sacrifice in the OT law for high handed sins. David in asking for forgiveness is asking for a greater sacrifice than anything the law has to offer.
          2. Keep me from becoming enslaved to them
            • Remember the words of the Lord Jesus, who himself has said, “Everyone who practices sin is a slave to sin.” John 8:34.
          3. I want to be in step with God the God who has revealed Himself.
            1. (13b) Desire to be blameless, innocent of great sin
              1. The third and bottom rung of the ladder: “the great transgression.” Falling away. David knows the progression of sin.
            2. (14a) Desire for acceptability to God
              1. Outward (words)
                • Mt. 12:37- For by your words will you be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.
              2. Inward (thoughts)
                • 5:22 – “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment….”
              3. BOOTSTRAPS! The lie we tell ourselves here is that, all this is going to take is learning some principles and starting to live by them.

              4. But we have to see what’s happening here.
                1. DAVID IS EXAMINING THE LAW AND WHAT’S HE REALIZING?
                2. HE’s realizing his own inadequacy.
                3. He’s realizing that there is no way for him to get himself in line with who God is and what God wants. He’s a sinner.
              5. David longs to trust in the God who reveals Himself.
                1. (14b) God is my rock of shelter
                2. (14b) God redeems me (buys me back)
                  1. Henry: “No prayer can be acceptable before God which is not offered in the strength of our Redeemer or Divine Kinsman, through Him who took our nature upon him, that he might redeem us unto God, and restore the long-lost inheritance.”

 

  1. There is only one way to realign your self with what God has revealed.
    1. That is to run to Christ Jesus
    2. The Rock of your shelter
    3. The redeemer who purchases you out of your slavery to sin.
  2. Conclusion
    1. God has revealed Himself, and we are accountable to know him.
    2. Because of our sin and rebellion, we are out of sync with God’s will
    3. The more we focus on God’s law, the more we realize how short we fall of His glorious standard.
      1. As a matter of fact, the Bible says in Romans 1 that the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the wickedness and ungodliness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
      2. Go on a little further in the book of Romans and we see that
        1. ALL KNOW GOD
        2. no one seeks God. No one is righteous, not even one.
      3. Our situation is hopeless, until we realize that Jesus Christ is the answer.
      4. Jesus is the perfect unification of the three perspectives.
        1. He is the creator of the natural world
          1. John 1:3 says that, “Through Him all things were made, and without him nothing was made that has been made.”
          2. Colossians 1:17 says, “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”
          3. Jesus is the one who imprinted the creation with the glory of God.
        2. He (Jesus) is the Word of God.
          1. He is the ultimate revelation from God (Hebrews 1:2)
          2. He is the one the Scriptures are about (Luke 24)
        3. He (Jesus) is the perfect representation of the human perspective
          1. He is the one man whose existence and experience are perfectly aligned with the will of God the Father. John 8:28 says “I do nothing on my own initiative, but I speak these things as the Father taught me.”
          2. He is the representative of all God’s people.
            • All people are either in Adam or in Christ Jesus.
            • For if by the one man’s trespass the many died, how much more have the grace of God and the gift overflowed to the many by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ. Romans 5:15
          3. As our representative,
            • He perfectly fulfilled the Law and the testimonies and the judgments of God–everything David is talking about in this Psalm.
            • He alone was qualified to serve as the atoning sacrifice to wipe away our sins
              • The greater sacrifice David was asking for.
            • God made Him, who knew no sin, to become sin on our behalf, in order that we might become the righteousness of God (1 Cor. 5:21)
          4. Jesus died, and was buried.
            • He DIED–He was completely cut off from the land of the living.
            • But He CAME BACK. He rose from teh grave So now we can cry out with Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57: “Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
          5. Jesus unites the physical world–the heavens–with the word of God, with the human self.
            1. When we want to hear from God–we Have to Go to HIM!
          6. So, if you’re waiting to hear from God, understand that He has spoken.
            1. He has revealed Himself in creation, which pours forth endless praise of His glory
            2. He has given His word
            3. And best of all, He has manifested His nature, character, love and grace in the person of Jesus Christ.
            4. The only way for us to have full communion with God–full mindfulness of the three perspectives in perfect harmony–is to focus on Christ. To live with Christ. To follow Christ.
  • Do you know JEsus Christ here this morning?
    1. Is He your ROCK and your REDEEMER?
    2. Do you turn to him when your life is out of whack?
    3. Has He forgiven you of your hidden faults and your presumptuous sins?
    4. Real understanding in life–hearing from GOd–comes when we fix our eyes on the things above, where our life is hidden with God in Christ Jesus.
  1. NEXT STEPS:
    1. Jesus is revealed in Scripture.
    2. I cannot stress this enough. You need to be in this book. [HOLD UP THE BIBLE]
    3. You not only don’t have to figure this life out on your own. You cannot do it.
    4. Get into the BIble and get into community of people who will help you understand it, whom you can lean on, to minister GOd’s grace to you.
    5. This is where we hear from God.
    6. This is where we learn of Jesus and how to follow Him more closely.
    7. May God’s word be the first–and last–place we go to hear from God. The God who has revealed Himself.

*****

Further reading & watching: 

A Commentary on Psalm 139

Here’s some commentary I recently drafted on the 139th Psalm. I’m sharing this, both to help me process through it, and in the hopes that it might be beneficial to someone down the line.

O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
    you discern my thoughts from afar.
There is Someone watching you–Someone you have never seen, but who has observed everything you’ve ever done.

David has been brought through trial and given the throne. God has searched him in all his trouble. “God, you have seen my highs and lows.” Doctrine: Divine Omniscience. God knows all. The idea is that God knows me as a miner knows the earth (Barnes). He has bored, he has dug deep, and he has uncovered what is within. “O Lord, you have mined me.” 

You search out my path and my lying down
    and are acquainted with all my ways.
He searches me out, when I am on the move; when I am still. God doesn’t get bored from observing me. He is well aware of all my activities.

Sitting down, rising up. All daily activity. My thoughts are known from far off–long before they arrive. Long after I forget them. My daily activity matters to God–not just the “spiritual” stuff. There is no division between the spiritual and the secular here. Jesus likewise knew what was in a man (John 2:24-25). God sifts my life and layes it out before HImself. 

Even before a word is on my tongue,
    behold, O Lord, you know it altogether.
He knows what I’ll speak before I do. This must make me pause. 
God is aware of every word. What we say matters to God. How many careless words do we utter? God knows them fully. God will never misunderstand you, either.

You hem me in, behind and before,
    and lay your hand upon me.
He is close to me. He envelops me. He is immanent. Doctrine: Immanence of God. God is also everywhere. Doctrine: Omnipresence. God surrounds us as closely and intentionally as an army besieging a city. God’s attributes are not abstract to David. God is all-knowing of me. God is all-present with me. My life matters to God.

6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me;
    it is high; I cannot attain it.
I can’t comprehend how You do this, Lord. How can you know what I will do? 
David pauses. God’s knowledge makes him sit back in awe and comment on it. 

Where shall I go from your Spirit?
    Or where shall I flee from your presence?
Here is the budding, incipient theology of the Holy Spirit. It will be fully realized in the New Testament. This is a comfort to the follower of Jesus. It is also a warning to those who want to live autonomously. God is with you, whether you believe it or not. We are as near to God as the soul is to the body (as one commentator has said). Spurgeon: “This makes it dreadful work to sin; for we offend the Almighty to His face, and commit acts of treason at the very food of His throne….” We cannot escape His view. “His mind is within our mind; himself within ourselves.” Imagine the patience of God, as we boldly declare our autonomy within His very presence!

 
If I ascend to heaven, you are there!
    If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
If I take the wings of the morning
    and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,
10 even there your hand shall lead me,
    and your right hand shall hold me.
The wings of the morning–to the east. The furthest reaches of the sea–to the western end of the Mediterranean. If I were to discover come uncharted planet. There are 1,500 hundred planets within 50 lightyears of earth. If I were to leave here, go out and explore an uncharted world–I would discover that God was already there, waiting for me. I cannot escape Your presence. Were I to travel to the depths of the ocean or to the furthest reaches of space. Even there you would hold me, guide me, would be with me. We value our autonomy. So the idea that God is everywhere–there is no escape from Him–is, at first, scary. But King David says this is comforting to him. This means that God is there to guide Him. Doctrine: Human Dependence on God. We are not autonomous; we need a Guide, and God has not left us without one. My life matters to God. Doctrine: Sovereignty of God. 

11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me,
    and the light about me be night,”
David is afraid. The darkness will bruise him (Hebrew word here for “cover” can mean bruise, injure). He’s afraid of the dark. We have bodies, and we see through our eyes. We need light. Not so God. 

12 even the darkness is not dark to you;
    the night is bright as the day,
    for darkness is as light with you.
God sees all and knows all. Doctrine: Divine Omniscience (God is all-knowing). I literally cannot hide from Him. God is a sure guide, because He can see in darkest night. Jesus is called the Light (John 1) for a good reason. In His light we have light. God sees clearly what is unclear to us. He is trustworthy. When He says to proceed, we can trust that. Because He can see what’s in front of us. Our lives matter to God enough for Him to guide us.

13 For you formed my inward parts;
    you knitted me together in my mother’s womb.
14 I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.[a]
Wonderful are your works;
    my soul knows it very well.
Made=set apart. The unborn child is not identical to the mother. He or she is a separate person. DNA is unique. Soul is unique. Person is unique. Life is unique. That life matters to God. No other creature is described in such terms. Doctrine: Human life is the greatest of God’s creations. Jesus became a human being. He validated every stage of human development. And all who come to Jesus in faith will receive new life. They will be “regenerated” and given life as it was meant to be lived, in restored relationship with their Creator. 

15 My frame was not hidden from you,
when I was being made in secret,
    intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
He must be able to see me–He was there with me in the womb. Doctrine: Personhood of the Unborn.  Your work, that is, crafting each human being, is astonishing. Even my insides–you made them. My “inward parts” include my soul, the seat of my emotions and will. That’s your handiwork. And you formed it along with my body. Doctrine: the unborn person has a soul, even while the body is developing. The soul is there while the body is being formed. That person in the womb is the same person as the person writing this psalm. You did not come from a fetus. You used to be a fetus. That was you. If you, as a fetus, had been killed, you would have died. That was you. And even then, you mattered to God. From conception onward.  What beautiful imagery: “the depths of the earth.” It is mysterious, dark, hidden. But revealed to God, who is there, working, creating new life in the secret place. 

16 Your eyes saw my unformed substance;
in your book were written, every one of them,
    the days that were formed for me,
    when as yet there was none of them.
He wrote about me. He composed my story. Every day has been planned. What amazing intimacy. What care! What love! What tenderness the Creator shows me. Commentators discuss how, in the Hebrew, the “fetus” is described in almost scientific terms here. Lest we view the unformed person as a “potential” life, David tells us that his or her entire story is already written. That life matters to God. My life has always mattered to God–since before conception!

17 How precious to me are your thoughts, O God!
    How vast is the sum of them!
David takes another praise break here. He just has to stop and glorify God for these miraculous truths. Think of a father, how frequently he thinks of his children. Thoughts on how to feed them, how to provide for them, to get them to sleep through the night. As they grow–thoughts of how to discipline them. To provide a quality education for them. To keep them safe. God’s thoughts are like that. Again, this is not an abstract concept. God’s thoughts are innumerable, but they are innumerable about me. My life matters to God.  

18 If I would count them, they are more than the sand.
    I awake, and I am still with you.
How could I possibly count all the blessings God has given me? I could study theology to learn more. God’s presence lasts longer than my studies about Him. My theologizing is temporary. Eventually I have to stop and get some rest. David seems to get lost in thought here. When I wake up in the morning, there is God! The Lord greets me every morning. He has kept me alive all night. Doctrine: the Dependence of Man upon God. One day, I will wake up and see Him face-to-face.

19 Oh that you would slay the wicked, O God!
    O men of blood, depart from me!
20 They speak against you with malicious intent;
    your enemies take your name in vain.[b]
21 Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord?
    And do I not loathe those who rise up against you?
22 I hate them with complete hatred;
    I count them my enemies.
There seems to be a sharp break here. But it flows from the previous verses. David’s devotion to God makes him love God; therefore he hates evil. I love my wife; I hate the thought of anyone hurting her. Wickedness, thirst for blood, deceitful religion, hatred of God, rebellion against Him–these are affronts to God and to His image in the people He has made. After seeing the loving care God invests in man, we see the doctrines of Human Dignity and the Goodness of God. These evildoers, whom David hates and distances himself from, reject both human dignity and God’s goodness. Hence David’s sharp reaction to them.

23 Search me, O God, and know my heart!
    Try me and know my thoughts![c]
David invites God to do what He has already been doing. But this is faith. It’s not just belief that God knows me. It is asking God to know me. It is commitment. David would go to the Father; Jesus says in John 14:6 that no one comes to the Father except through Him. So this must be messianic faith. It is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus, the God-Man, who knows His people intimately, and who, having searched them and having known their hearts, takes their sinful thoughts and hearts upon Himself, paying the penalty on their behalf and bestowing on them His own heart of righteousness. 

24 And  see if there be any grievous way in me,
    and lead me in the way everlasting![d]
Even his outburst of jealous love, David here submits to God for review. He offers his willing consent for the Divine Gardner to prune from him anything that is not pleasing to Him. He invokes the Good Shepherd to lead him to everlasting life. Because God is his Caretaker, David entrusts Him with everything. This is faith. Our desire is the same. And our Shepherd is truly everlasting–from before the creation of the world, to long after the story of this world is ended. We must seek everlasting life from Him; this is what He freely offers all who come to Him in faith. Because all lives are important to Him. This motivates me to glorify and love God–and to go pursue the flourishing and safety of the life of my neighbor, including (especially!) my unborn neighbor.  

 

Notes: a key theme here is that God is always present with His people. Hundreds of years later, when Jesus (the ultimate Son of David) was preparing to depart from earth and take His place on the heavenly throne, He told His disciples, “I am with you always” (Matthew 28:20). As good Jews, they would have already known the precious promise of the Old Covenant, presented here in Psalm 139, that God is always with His people. So when Jesus said, “I am with you always,”  He was taking the promise that God the Holy Spirit had spoken through David, and applying it to Himself. It was as if Jesus was saying, “You already know that God will always be with you. Behold, I am that God.”

Ten days later, at Pentecost, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit, who indwelt Jesus’ disciples and literally fulfilled the beautiful truths of Psalm 139. By His Holy Spirit, Jesus is present with His people, whom He purchased by His blood. He convicts them and leads them.

Along with David, Christ-followers may now cry to Jesus, “See if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” and absolutely believe, beyond the shadow of the doubt, that He will do exactly that. 

When we follow the way of the Lord to whom our lives matter so much, we imitate Him. When we imitate Him, we defend the lives and God-given dignity of those around us. Autonomy is unacceptable, but so is apathy, when lives that God is forming are being destroyed.

*****

ESV Footnotes:

  1. Psalm 139:14 Or for I am fearfully set apart
  2. Psalm 139:20 Hebrew lacks your name
  3. Psalm 139:23 Or cares
  4. Psalm 139:24 Or in the ancient way (compare Jeremiah 6:16)

English Standard Version (ESV)

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

 

Advanced Christianity

The (anonymous) author of the biblical Letter to the Hebrews spends 9 1/2 chapters laying down the basics of the Christian faith. He meticulously proves that Jesus Christ is better than everything else, and that He is the only rational ground for confidence in life regarding what truly matters.

Then, in chapter 10, having established the absolute supremacy and utter trustworthiness of Jesus Christ, the author decides it is time to move on from the basics. Note that he is not “moving away” from the Gospel. Rather, he is demonstrating some of the implications of the Gospel being true. In other words, it’s not, “You’ve got the Gospel, now let’s put that aside and get to the meaty stuff,” but rather: “You’ve got the Gospel, now let’s really dig in and see what your life will look like as you grow in that truth.”

So here are four components of “Advanced Christianity” according to Hebrews 10:19-35

  1. Draw near to God with a true heart and full assurance of your faith (verses 19-22).
  2. Hold fast the confession of your hope without wavering (verse 23).
  3. Be thinking about how to stir up one another toward love and good works, encouraging one another (verses 24-31).
  4. Do not throw away your confidence (32-35).

If the Lord wills it, and I’m still alive this Sunday, we’ll dig into this passage at Grace Pointe Plainfield and explain just why these four things are so important–and the terrifying consequences of ignoring God’s incredible rescue plan.