Topic: “Psalms”

Then they spit in his faceā€¦

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

The combination of Matthew 26 and Psalm 36 is like a double punch to the gut—in the best way possible. Reading through Matthew 26, I was struck over and over again by the force of what is going on: Jesus, knowing exactly what was about to transpire, went willingly forward. Every step of the way, he knew what was coming next.

He knew that the religious authorities who should have seen him for who he was would plot to kill him. He knew, when a woman came and poured expensive ointment on him, that it was a preparation for his death. He knew when Judas went to the priests to sell Jesus’ life for a few pieces of silver. He knew exactly what the Passover had always been pointing to, and he knew what he meant—even if his disciples did not—when he spoke the words of institution of the Lord’s Supper. H knew that all his disciples would fall away, and the boldest and most devoted of them all would publicly deny him. He knew the enormity of the price he was about to pay, and in agonized prayer pleaded with the Father that if there were any other way, it be made available. He knew when Judas returned what his “friend” was about. He knew the hearts of the men who came out at night for fear of the crowds. He knew the hearts of the men who condemned him for “blasphemy” because he was indeed the Son of God, and they would not worship him.

They would not worship him. Instead, as verse 67 tells us, “they spit in his face and struck him. And some slapped him…” They spit in the face of the Messiah, struck very God of very God, slapped the final Passover lamb. Peter denied the one who came to save him.

This is us. This is you and me when left to our own devices, when trapped in our sins. We refuse to worship God. We spit in his face. We mock him. We deny him. Jesus knew this. He knew us. And, in loving obedience to the Father, and in love for us—when we were the worst of rebels, traitors, wicked fools in open revolt—he went knowingly, and willingly, to his death.

Psalm 36 opens with a picture of “the wicked”: the sort of person who “plots trouble while on his bed” and “sets himself in a way that is not good” and “does not reject evil” (v. 4). Then David turns and glories in Yahweh—his steadfast love, his faithfulness, his righteousness, his judgments, his sheltering, his abundance, his delights, his life, his light. The psalm is a perfect complement to Matthew 26: they both point to the wretched sinfulness of man and the glorious loving kindness of God.

I cried as I pondered these verses tonight (and I near tears again now): my God—against whom I sin over and over again, against whom we all had propped ourselves up as little dictators and tyrants over our own lives—the God who made all things and who is righteous and just and holy—my God died in my stead. I can stand before him now because he is righteous, and in his righteousness he counts my debt paid because Jesus Christ, the blameless Lamb of God took away the sins of the world. He knew then every wicked deed of my life, knew the weight he would bear for me, for you, for all of our hatred and racism and murder and adultery and gossip and gluttony and every last unkind word we speak to our spouses. And he went willingly to that cross, that the Father might be glorifed and that you and I might be saved.

Hallelujah. Hallelujah!

Doubt is Not a Christian Virtue

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Reading through the Psalms is often an exercise in being confronted with how poorly I handle (and how poorly our culture in the American church at large handles) the trials we face. In Psalm 31, David is obviously depressed and also facing substantial external trials. There is no whitewashing the truth here in some attempt to buck-up-and-be-cheerful, no hiding behind a fake smile and pretending everything is okay. This has every bit of gritty, authentic ache in it that the most emo/hipster/authenticity-pursuing-cultural-stereotype-du-jour could ever want. David’s life at this particular juncture was, in a word, bad—and he made no bones about it.

Yet David’s response differs from the one we (people in the church under the age of 30 or so) glorify—differs profoundly. We rightly note that believers struggle with doubt sometimes, and also rightly note that condemning people for such struggles is unhelpful, to say the least. On the other hand, we have wrongly enshrined doubt as a virtue, wrestling as one of the cardinal goods of the Christian faith. The person who does not struggle with doubts or constantly wrestle with some part of his faith or another we usually assume is simply inauthentic. Deep down, we know, he or she really is a doubter, too.

David, I think, would find this nonsensical at best. Again, this Psalm is not lacking in authenticity; his real anguish bleeds through the page even in an English translation of Hebrew words written three thousand years ago. Doubt, though, is nowhere to be found. More importantly (for David and other Psalmists express their doubts in other verses), David’s struggles are not themselves the point of the piece. Rather, David paints a vivid picture of his need but also offers pleas for God to move—pleas grounded on his confidence in Yahweh’s righteousness and steadfast love.

To be sure, there is a place for real wrestling and for grappling with the doubts that do often beset us. Likewise, we should not pretend that we are not struggling when we are; saccharine greetings from people who are actually aching are a blight on Christian community. The question is not whether we struggle, or even whether we admit our struggles. It is whether we glorify the doubt and the struggle, rather than recognize them as painful, necessary means to the end of deeper, truer faith. No one could accuse David of hiding his struggles, but no one could think that he thought doubting inherently virtuous. Quite the contrary: David’s faith is exemplary1 here.

In the past few years, there have been times when I have wrestled with God. There are areas in which I struggle to understand Scripture’s teaching and submit wisely to it. Yet these times of wrestling and struggling are not a cause for pride. They are a marker of the extent to which I still need to be sanctified, so that my mind and my emotions will be more thoroughly submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We must stop prizing doubt and start prizing faith in our risen Savior—not by pretending that we do not doubt, but by recognizing that doubts and struggles are valuable only insofar as they are used of the Spirit to move us back toward the Father.


  1. Exemplary not only in the sense of being the best of its kind, but model and worthy of emulation. 

The Great and Humble God

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

He Saw Yahweh

In Genesis 18, Abraham has just finished following God’s instructions about circumcision. At 100 years old, he circumcised himself, along with his 13-year-old son and all his servants and the other members of his household, to obey this God who had called him from his homeland to a place where he would always be a sojourner, looking forward with hope to the homeland God had promised but which he himself would not inherit. (There is real obedience for you: embrace circumcision so that someone else will get the reward God promises…)

Then, sitting in the shade one hot afternoon, Abraham looks and sees Yahweh,1 standing there as a man he recognizes. At that point, this 100-year-old man (who, granted, lived to be 160 and therefore was probably like a man in his mid to late 50s physically) got up and ran to prepare a feast for his God. There are many interesting things in this passage, but most notable to me tonight was the way Yahweh came to Abraham and interacted with him throughout the passage. That is: he came as a man2 and ate with Abraham and spoke with him. Of course, he spoke prophetically about impossibilities that he was going to bring about; this condescension was not his ceasing to be God but his taking on a form so that Abraham could know him.

So here we have at once two concrete realities that continue to shape the reader’s expectations for what God will do in the future: the promise of a miraculous son born to bring about his promise, and Yahweh himself coming as a man to relate to his people.

Over the Waters

Coming after a series of prayerful Psalms, the 29th is a complete change in tone. Each of the Psalms preceding it are prayers for deliverance from evildoers and from Yahweh’s judgment on one’s own wickedness. Here, though, we have David calling on the heavenly host to ascribe to Yahweh all the glory he is due, and a crescendo of declarations of the power of Yahweh’s voice. This God of glory3 is over all, his voice thundering and shaking even the greatest things on this earth. He is worthy for the heavenly host to ascribe him glory and strength, to be worshipped in the splendor of holiness. He is enthroned in his temple; he sits as king forever.

And this is the God who walked with Abraham, who let Abraham challenge him and his judgments. The Judge of all the earth, whose powerful and majestic voice can cause an earthquake or strip the forest bare, has become one of us.


  1. This passage highlights one more reason why I prefer simply to use God’s self-revealed name: early on, Abraham calls him “lord,” but not “Lord,” which is simply confusing if you’re not paying close attention. 
  2. Apparently pre-incarnate Christ, semi- or pseudo-incarnate, which is curious, but not the point of the passage. 
  3. This relatively innocuous phrase, right in the middle of verse 3, has been one of the most important in my life. Five years ago, reading through the Psalms much as I am right now, the phrase leapt out at me, because I had no idea what it meant to describe Yahweh as the “God of glory.” A month later, my whole theological framework had been turned on its head, from the anthropocentric view that unfortunately characterizes too much evangelical theology, to a radically God-centered view that accords with the Scriptural picture of a God who is working all things for his own sake, and not because of us at all—though how greatly we benefit! 

Uncontainable Song

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

Psalm 28 is not complex poetry, though it is beautiful. David opens with a plea for mercy, asking Yahweh not to destroy him alongside the wicked. He spends some time describing the wicked men he has in mind—men who do evil, who are hypocrites toward their neighbors, who do not regard Yahweh’s works as they should. Then he praises Yahweh for answering that plea. It is not the propositional content in and of itself that gives the psalm its particular value; these ideas are found throughout the Psalms, as well as throughout Scripture. Rather, it is the particular way David put them together, and the particular response for which the psalm calls.

Poetry is designed not merely to communicate content but to move the heart.1 The fear of judgment is heavy in the first section. The second sequence paints a vivid picture of the men David has in mind. I described them above, but the poetry works far better on its own terms:

Do not drag me off with the wicked,
with the workers of evil,
who speak peace with their neighbors
while evil is in their hearts.
Give to them according to their work
and according to the evil of their deeds;
give to them according to the work of their hands;
render them their due reward.
Because they do not regard the works of the Lord
or the work of his hands,
he will tear them down and build them up no more.

David wants nothing to do with these kinds of people, and he wants very much not to be like them. He wants God to judge them, and he yearns not to be judged himself. So when he comes to the second half of the Psalm, we should feel the change. “Do not drag me off with the wicked… he will tear them down and build them up no more. / Blessed be Yahweh!” The sharp transition, the sudden turn from the fearful expectation of judgment toward praising Yahweh, should catch our attention and make us demand an answer.

David supplies us the answer, of course, in beautiful phrases:

For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
in him my heart trusts, and I am helped;
my heart exults,
and with my song I give thanks to him.

The Lord is the strength of his people;
he is the saving refuge of his anointed.

The plea David offered to begin has been answered. Our plea with David has been answered. Yahweh saves. But the response is not simply an acknowledgement of a fact: This is true. David’s response is exulting and singing. Exultation is elation and jubilation. This salvation warrants more than mere recitation of facts or even some degree of happiness. It deserves the kind of excited joy that comes bursting out of the heart in uncontainable song.

Yahweh saves. Hallelujah. Hallelujah!


  1. One of the reasons lots of evangelicals struggle with the Psalms: Americans are, by and large, no longer people are who read much poetry. For most evangelicals, the Psalms are it, in fact. Combine this with our already-strong tendency to treat the Scriptures as a source of propositions, and it’s no wonder we struggle to appreciate the Psalms as poetry. 

Four books, five passages, one Messiah

I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.

And yes, I missed yesterday’s post. I did that on purpose, because I decided that celebrating my fourth anniversary with my wife was much more important than writing a 500-word blog post. Perhaps because I missed that one, or perhaps because I’m simply in a verbose mood tonight, you’re getting more than the usual 500 words in the main text, and a lot more if you count the footnotes.


One of the interesting things about tackling multiple sections of Scripture at the same time is seeing the ways they shine light on each other. If we affirm – as I do – that Scripture is inspired not only in its individual parts but as a whole book, as a canon, then putting the pieces together can make all of them make more sense.1 Today, for example, I was reading in Genesis 4, Psalms 9 and 10, Proverbs 20, and Matthew 5. One would not necessarily expect these five (counting each of the Psalms as a distinct reading2) disparate texts to particularly overlap in their content.

In a way, that expectation is not far wrong. Genesis 4 highlights Cain’s murder of Abel, his offspring’s worsening sin, and the birth of Seth and his son Enosh. The Psalms both focus on God’s righteousness and sovereign rule over the earth, though from different angles – in the first, David expresses thanksgiving for God’s judgment on evildoers; in the second, he offers a pained plea for God to judge wicked men who seem to get away with their sin. Proverbs, as is typical for The Proverbs of Solomon (chapters 10–24), is a mix without a particular focus. Matthew 5 contains the first part of Jesus’ teaching in the Sermon on the Mount, including the beatitudes, his declaration that he has not come to abolish but to fulfill the law,3 and his series of “You have heard it said… but I say…” statements.

Genesis 4 hammers home that sin escalates. It is a matter of mere sentences from the time God removes Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden to the time their first son murders their second son in a fit of jealousy. It is only a few more sentences before one of Cain’s descendants is boasting about how he will kill a man over trivial offenses. Things start bad and get worse in a hurry. The end of the chapter – and the end of the section that started in chapter 2 – gives a little hope, though: when Adam and Eve have Seth, Eve declares that God has given her an “offspring,” a seed: the very word God used to promise the one who would crush the serpent’s head, and the word that becomes a touchstone throughout the rest of Scripture to point to the coming Messiah. Then people began to call on the name of Yahweh.4

David was the anointed king of Israel. He was the first fulfillment of God’s promise to set the crown in the line of Judah, and that promise in turn was part of God’s Messianic promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. In both of these Psalms, though, his focus is on the righteous reign of Yahweh as the hope of the oppressed against the wicked. In both the prayer of thanksgiving (Psalm 9) and the imprecatory prayer (Psalm 10), David ultimately returns to Yahweh’s eternal reign as the hope of the righteous over and against the predations of the wicked. Yet, as the second psalm makes clear, Yahweh does not seem to be reigning at the moment.

The Proverbs of Solomon rarely dive directly into theology proper or what we might call “theological anthropology.” The focus is nearly always on enormously practical observations about life – the sorts of things that really are profitable to make us wise, but which do not directly tell us about the character of God or our relationship to him. They are, instead, focused on wisdom that God has given us to be able to live wisely in this world, broken as it is. In the middle of this set of Proverbs, however, are a pair of statements that caught my attention because they are more theologically elevated, as it were. Verse 9 reads, “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” and verse 12 reads, “The hearing ear and the seeing eye, Yahweh has made them both.” Between the two the author suddenly and sharply reminds the reader that God made all things, and that no one is capable of making himself righteous or pure in heart – and so all are accountable before God who is creator and judge.

Finally, in Matthew Jesus takes the high bar of the righteousness demanded by the Law and the Prophets, and modeled by the Pharisees, and sets it incredibly higher. The final of his “You have heard it said… but I say” sayings ends thus: “You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This is impossibly higher. The just and righteous God who made all things, who really is reigning and who does judge the wicked even if it does not always seem so, demands that we be perfect. But this same God promised a seed who would set things to right – a promise he was honoring and keeping, Matthew has made clear already, right down through Jesus.

When Jesus says he hasn’t come to abolish the Law or the Prophets but to fulfill them – when he continues by saying they won’t pass away until they are completely fulfilled – and then promptly makes it clear that no one is going to fulfill them but him, Proverbs 20:9 comes back to mind. “Who can say, ‘I have made my heart pure; I am clean from my sin’?” No one – but Jesus. He made all things; he fulfilled the law; his heart was pure and clean; he is the seed; he is the one on whom people call for salvation; he judges the wicked and was judged for our wickedness; he is the final Davidic king who reigns forever; he is the one who is perfect as our Father is perfect and who has given us his perfection.

Hallelujah.


  1. This is one reason I’d like to see pastors preach through longer sections of more parts of the Bible much more frequently. But more on that in a non-devotional post, some other day. This post is going to be long even as it is. 
  2. Worth note: the original text doesn’t have any heading between the two chapters, unlike many other breaks. As such, it is possible they should be viewed as connected, at least to some extent: the editor of the Psalms grouped and arranged them in a particular way for a reason. Again: more on that some other day. 
  3. Which is flatly shocking if you actually step back and read the book as a book, rather than importing your assumptions about what Jesus is doing, and especially if you read it in its canonical context. Here we are, plowing into the Messianic narrative Matthew provides as the first book out of the Old Testament, and with absolutely no reason in the book – and certainly no clear reason to expect it from the Old Testament – Jesus suddenly announces that he’s not here to abolish the Law or the Prophets. We’ve become so inured to the changes the New Covenant brought that we rarely stop and consider this at all. “Why in the world,” we should all be asking, “would anyone think – at this point, at least – that he was going to abolish the Law or the Prophets?” And then he promptly goes and even further ups the ante… but more on that back in the non-footnote text. 
  4. I use God’s self-revealed name because I do not see any warrant in Scripture to follow the Jewish custom of not speaking or writing it. When you see Lord in the Old Testament and it’s in small caps (as it is there if you have a decent, modern web browser), that’s “Yahweh.” 

Bless Yahweh!

The following paper was prepared for Dr. Steven McKinion’s Hermeneutics class, with the constraint that it be between 600 and 625 words.

Psalm 103

The meaning of the text

In Psalm 103, David spirals out from a poetic meditation on Yahweh’s self-revelation in Exodus 34 into reflection on man’s finitude and a call to worship. He opens and closes the psalm with the refrain, “Bless Yahweh,” directing the call to praise to his own soul, the angels, the mighty ones who do Yahweh’s word, Yahweh’s hosts, Yahweh’s ministers, and ultimately to “all his works in all places of his dominion”—that is, to everything, everywhere.

Yahweh is worthy of worship by all—by men, by angels, by all his works—in light of his character, his steadfast love, and his righteousness. Read on, intrepid explorer →