Don’t Make Me Better, Make Me New

Psalm 51 is the prayer of David after the utter and complete wickedness of his heart was revealed to him regarding his actions towards Bathsheba and Uriah. David put himself in the wrong place at the wrong time not fulfilling his duty as king, coveted another man’s wife, committed adultery with that woman, found out she was pregnant, pulled Uriah out of the battle in attempt to get him to sleep with Bathsheba so the baby wouldn’t appear to be David’s, and when that didn’t work David sent Uriah back into the most contested part of the battle, telling the rest of the army to pull away from Uriah so he would be killed.

David thought he got away with it.

However, when David knew his sin was found out, he cried out to God, confessing everything he had done. It’s in David’s cry to God that we read what I think is the critical statement of the entire psalm. Verse 10 says, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

This word create is a special word. In the entire Old Testament, God is the only one that is ever the subject of the Hebrew word for create. God is the only one that creates. So, this is the same word used in Genesis 1:1 when it says, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”

David knows that he doesn’t just need to have a few things patched up, a few cracks in his life to be repaired. David knows that being a better version of his current self is not good enough. David is not asking God to make a bad man a good man.

No, David is calling on God to perform an act of creation inside of him. David is crying out to God to be completely recreated from the very center of who he is. “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” David is asking God for a complete new heart that is clean so that every thought, every desire, every motivation, and every want is entirely and utterly different than they were before. “Renew a right spirit within me.” David is asking God to make him new again. Don’t make me better, make me new. Instead of asking God to make a bad man good, David is asking God to make a dead man live!

This is what Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold the new has come.” We become a new creation in Christ, and in Christ alone. The old dies, and the new comes. “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.”

Paul says it another way in Romans 12:1-2, “I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”

“Do not be conformed to this world.” David knew he couldn’t go on as he was. And, neither can we go on doing anything and everything the way the world around us does it. Instead, Paul says “be transformed.” That’s the Greek word we get the word metamorphosis from. It’s to be completely changed. Do you know what happens to a caterpillar when it goes inside its cocoon to become a butterfly? The caterpillar is completely dissolved. Nothing of it is left. And, do you know that it is this same Greek word used of Jesus when he was “transfigured” in front of Peter, James, and John?

How do we “be transformed?” “By the renewal of our mind.” Every thought, desire, motivation, and intention of our thoughts has to be completely and totally changed. Only then can we know what the will of God is, what is good, what is acceptable, what is perfect.

But, note how Paul makes his appeal to the church in Rome. “By the mercies of God.” How does David start his prayer in Psalm 51? “Have mercy on me, O God.” It all begins with God’s mercy. We must recognize that and cry out for it so that He can recreate us, make us new, transform from us, so that He can make dead men live.

There is much more that could be said in the connection of Psalm 51 and Romans 12:1-2, which are two excellent passages of scripture to meditate on together.

Are You Offering Yourself or Things?

Psalm 69:30-33 – “I will praise the name of God with a song; I will magnify him with thanksgiving. This will please the Lord more than an ox or a bull with horns and hoofs. When the humble see it they will be glad; you who seek God, let your hearts revive. For the Lord hears the needy and does not despise his own people who are prisoners.”

The cultures of the ancient near east, including Israel, were centered around a sacrificial system to please their god (the God in Israel’s case). Since the Israelite culture was based on sacrifice, God in effect said, “if you are going to sacrifice, then do it this way.” In this way, God was trying to teach them what He really wanted.

But, scripture is replete with statements that God does not desire sacrifice. The verse quoted above is just one instance. God is more pleased with praise and thanksgiving than an ox or bull, that is a sacrifice. Instead of sacrifices, God wants us in our entirety. Psalm 51:17 says, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” When our spirit and heart is broken, which is the sacrifice God wants, then we will give praise and thanksgiving.

God wants us to love and know Him, not give Him sacrifices. Hosea 6:6 says, “For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings.”

Instead of a broken spirit and contrite heart, what sacrifice are we offering today? What is that thing we are doing for God, but without truly giving ourselves to him?

Psalm 33 – Who is the word of the Lord?

Psalm 33 says that the righteous, or God’s people, should shout for joy in the Lord. They praise Him, give thanks to Him, and sing to Him. Why?

First, because the “word of the Lord” is upright, faithful, righteous, and just. All of these are aspects of God’s steadfast love, which fills the earth.

Second, because the “word of the Lord” made the heavens and their hosts and gathers the water of the sea (think of the second day of creation and the Red Sea).

Consider that phrase the “word of the Lord.” What is it? Or, rather who is it?

John 1:1-3 – “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.”

When you read the “word of the Lord” in the Old Testament your mind should instantly turn to Jesus. Jesus is the word of the Lord. Jesus is God’s word. God’s word is a person. The Bible is not God’s word. The Bible calls itself the scriptures, and Jesus, God’s word, says that the scriptures bear witness, or give a testimony, of Him. The scriptures point to Him, the giver of Life, but in the scriptures themselves there is not life. Rather, life, eternal life, is found in the true and living word, Jesus Christ. Jesus says this himself in John 5. The distinction between the scriptures and the Word of the Lord is an important one and can be seen all throughout the Bible.

As we just read in John 1, the Word, this word of the Lord, is God. So, the psalmist writes that all the earth should fear and stand in awe of Him.

So, Psalm 33:10-12 says, “The Lord brings the counsel of the nations to nothing; he frustrates the plans of the peoples. The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the plans of his heart to all generations. Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people whom he has chosen as his heritage!”

In the first sentence, God is speaking of all the nations of the earth, whether we think of that as people groups or nations like we have today. But, in the last sentence, when the psalmist writes “blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord” he’s not speaking of a nation with borders as we think of nations today. He’s speaking of the “nation” of people that are believers in Christ, members of His body, citizens of His kingdom. Remember from yesterday what Peter wrote in his first epistle – we, God’s people, are sojourners and strangers in the earth, moving about from nation to nation, kingdom to people. 1 Peter 2:10 says, “once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people,” which echoes Psalm 102:18 that says, “let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people not yet born will praise the Lord.”

God looks down from heaven on this people. His eye beholds this people that fear Him. What does He see? Psalm 33:16-17 says that God sees a people where “the king is not saved by his great army; a warrior is not delivered by his great strength. The war horse is a false hope of salvation, and by its great might it cannot rescue.” God’s nation, God’s people, does not trust in war, military power, or the carnal weapons of this world. Rather there hope is in the steadfast love of the word of the Lord, Jesus, because He delivers them and keeps them alive.

In light of all this, it seems clear that Christians have no desire for or need of war. War comes from the lust of your flesh. Fighting that way makes you a friend of the world, which is enmity with God. See James 4.

The Mind: No Longer Oppressed

Psalm 105:12-15 – “When they were few in number, of little account, and sojourners in it, wandering from nation to nation, from one kingdom to another people, he allowed no one to oppress them; he rebuked kings on their account, saying, ‘Touch not my anointed ones, do my prophets no harm.’”

This is a remembering of what God did for Israel when he lead them out of Egypt. But, it still speaks to us today. We are in the world, not of it. We have been transferred from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light. As citizens of the kingdom of heaven, we are now strangers and sojourners in the earth, wandering from nation to nation, from kingdom to people.

God did not allow Israel to be physically oppressed on their journey to the promised land. While we see Christians persecuted and oppressed today, God has said, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” The oppression that God no longer allows on his people is the oppression of the mind, the soul, the spirit.

Paul and Peter were both literal prisoners in this world, but they remained free from oppression for they took every thought captive that was not of Christ. God no longer allowed anything to oppress their mind any more for in their weakness he would be their strength to overcome the world and the lusts of it. In 1 Peter 2:11, Peter writes, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.”

So, let us fix our minds on Christ. Let us have a single eye focused on Jesus. Let us behold Him, Jesus Christ the Lord, in all his glory. He will be our strong tower, our hiding place, our place of refuge as we sojourn among the nations giving glory to his name.

Jesus…Connecting Chronicles and Psalms

An interesting collection of readings this morning – 1 Chronicles 16 followed by Psalms 1, 2, 15, 22, 23, 24, 47, and 68.

In 1 Chronicles 16, the ark is brought into the tent that David made for it. David appoints Levites before the ark to invoke, thank, and praise the Lord. Then a song of thanksgiving was sung to the Lord. The song is all about praising and thanking God for his work, miracles and judgments in all the earth. “Declare his glory among the nations,” says the song. “He is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols.” It makes me think of Jesus taking his place on the throne as He is praised by His people, declaring His glory everywhere on the earth. He alone is Lord of heaven and earth.

What stood out to me this morning was how the collection of psalms ties in with 1 Chronicles 16, giving a richer picture of the Jesus taking his throne.

Psalm 1 says that the one who delights in the law of his Lord and meditates on it day and night, which is like saying the one who delights in and continually thinks about the entire teaching of Jesus, is blessed. That one is like a tree planted by a river. That one is continually fed by the life of Jesus.

Psalm 2 asks why the nations and peoples rage and plot a vain thing. The kings, men that rule on the earth, set themselves against this Lord, Jesus. The rulers, the heavenly powers and principalities, take counsel together against this Lord, Jesus. Together the nations, peoples, kings, and rulers plot to dethrone this Lord, Jesus. But God laughs. He tells the kings to be wise and the rulers to be warned so that they will serve the Lord with fear.

Psalm 15 asks who will dwell on the Lord’s holy hill. Who can dwell in his kingdom? The answer – the one who walks blameslessly, does what is right and speaks truth in his heart. In other words, the one who loves and does no violence, evil, or wickedness and the one who believes and speaks not the lie but the truth. This is because lies and murder are marks of Satan’s kingdom (John 8). But the kingdom of this Lord, Jesus, is marked by love and truth.

Psalm 22 tells of how this Lord took his throne. Written 1,000 years or so before Christ’s crucifixion, the psalm beautifully prophesies Christ’s crucifixion before that form of death was even known. Near the end, the psalm says, “All the ends of the earth shall remember and turn to the Lord, and all the families of the nations shall worship before you. For kingship belongs to the Lord and he rules over the nations.” The kings of earth the and the rulers of heaven have been dethroned. Jesus is the real king of heaven and earth.

Psalm 23 declares how this Lord will provide for his people, even in the face of death.

Psalm 24 starts, “The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein.” It all belongs to this Lord, Jesus, that has ascended to his throne. Again, the one who shall enter the kingdom is the one who has clean hands (loves and does no violence) and a pure heart (believes the truth and not the lie).

Psalm 47 says of this Lord, Jesus, he “is to be feared, a great king over all the earth…for God is the king of all the earth…God reigns over the nations.” Jesus is Lord and God. So praise him!

Psalm 68 speaks of the power, provision, deliverance, and salvation of this Lord, Jesus. “O kingdoms of the earth, sing to God; sing praises to the Lord.”

The true king of all the heavens and all the earth, Jesus, has taken his place on his throne. His kingdom is here. We are to praise and worship him alone.

No longer are we to worship the kings of the earth and their nations or the rulers (powers and principalities) of heaven and their dominions. No longer do we worship flags and anthems. You only have to look at the reactions to a certain man’s recent actions to see that flags and anthems are most definitely objects of worship in the nations of the earth.

We worship Jesus!

Nevertheless…God’s Love Endures

Psalm 106:44-45 – “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress, when he heard their cry. For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.”

Nevertheless. That’s a key word and turning point in this Psalm. Nevertheless what?

Well…the psalmist says Israel sinned…a lot.

  • They didn’t consider God’s wondrous works when they were in Egypt.
  • They didn’t remember the abundance of God’s steadfast love.
  • They rebelled at the Red Sea.
  • They forgot God’s works.
  • They did not wait for God’s counsel.
  • They had a wanton craving (that is they wanted something really, really bad) and put God to the test to give it to them.
  • They were jealous of God’s leaders.
  • They made a golden calf and worshiped it, exchanging the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.
  • They forgot God.
  • They despised the land God was giving them.
  • They murmured (gossiped, slandered, etc.) and did not obey God’s voice.
  • They yoked themselves to false gods.
  • They provoked and angered God.
  • They didn’t obey God’s command but did what all the other nations did.
  • They served idols.
  • They sacrificed their sons and daughters.

That’s quite a list. But, sprinkled in through all of the sins of Israel, the psalmist tells how God was saving them, protecting them delivering them.

Then we read, “Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress…”

God stayed with Israel through all of that. His love is steadfast. God’s love is longsuffering. Remember God is love.

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 – “Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

I’m sure we can all find ourselves a number of times in the list of Israel’s sins above. But, when we, like Israel continually go astray, God keeps loving us. He bears our sins and burdens, He believes good for us. He hopes for our salvation. He endures hardship for us. His love never ends. As the psalmist says in verse 1, “Oh give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever!”

After the nevertheless of God, when we see how good God is, how abundantly steadfast God’s love is, then we can say with the psalmist in verse 47, “Save us, O Lord our God, and gather us from among the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name and glory in your praise.”

12 Tribes: What’s in a Name?

A number of times in the Old Testament, the 12 tribes are listed together. However, when you account for the adoption of the sons of Joseph, there are actually 13 tribes. In a way, splitting the tribe of Joseph into two accounts for the tribe of Levi being given to the Lord. This keeps the number of tribes to receive the inheritance in the promised land at 12. But, it also means that various lists of 12 tribes contain a different set of 12 tribes.

When Jacob’s wives give birth to his sons and when Joseph has his sons, the Bible records a sentence that someone said at the birth of the child and the sentence contains the meaning of the name.

It’s interesting to look at the event taking place, the order the 12 tribes are listed (it’s almost always different), and the sentences spoken at the birth of the sons or the meaning of their names.

In 1 Chronicles 11 and 12, all Israel is being gathered together to David at Hebron. They take Jebus, the stronghold of Zion (or Jerusalem) from the Jebusites and it becomes the city of David. We then read about David’s trusted advisors and mighty men of war.

Towards the end of chapter 12, there is a list of the 12 tribes. The list is interesting because all 13 tribes are mentioned. However, Rueben and Gad are lumped together as one. I think we can reasonably conclude this because the number of men that came to David from each tribe is given, except that the number of men from Rueben and Gad is one number.

The order of the tribes is Judah, Simeon, Levi, Benjamin, Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, Zebulun, Naphtali, Dan, Asher, Rueben/Gad.

Remember the situation. All Israel has gathered together to David, their king. Could we think of this as Israel being gathered to God? If we remember that God is often pictured as a husband to Israel, then the order of the tribes might say something like this:

“I will praise the Lord. The Lord has heard that I am hated. But, my husband will be attached to me. I will not fear. God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction and made me forget all of my hardship. God has given me wages and endowed me with a good endowment. With mighty wrestlings I have wrestled and prevailed. God has judged me. Happy am I because the Lord has looked upon my affliction and good fortune has come.”

So, is this situation not similar or analogous to Jesus gathering together all those who believe into his bride? When we come to the Lord, doesn’t this sound like something we could say?

A Psalm for a People Yet to Be Created

In its title, Psalm 102 says it is a prayer of one afflicted when he is faint and pours out his complaint before the Lord. Many psalms have this voice of the one afflicted, the one in terrible grief, the one being crushed under great persecution from his enemies, the one whose body is suffering great sickness. But, after the psalmist cries out in anguish, in almost every case he turns his eyes to the Lord and begins to declare his trust in Him.

Crying out in pain then declaring trust in the Lord is a recurring theme throughout the Bible. Think of Job when he says that though God slay him yet will he trust or hope in God. Or, Jesus in the garden, sweating drops of blood as he prays, asking if there is a way that he can avoid the cup, but saying not my will be but yours be done Father.

In Psalm 102, we read the plaintive cry of a man who sees his life is short and his end of days is near. But, in verses 12-13, he writes, “But you, O Lord, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion [the city of God’s people].” The psalmist goes on to write the Lord builds up Zion and appears in his glory there.

But, I love what the psalmist writes in verse 18, “Let this be recorded for a generation to come, so that a people yet to be created may praise the Lord.” He knows that what he and the others of his day are enduring is not just for them but for a people yet to be created.

This word create is the same as in Genesis 1 when it says that in the beginning God created the heavens and earth. Throughout the entire Bible the only subject of the Hebrew word for create (bara) is God. God is the only one that creates. And, God recorded the words of this psalmist for a people that he had not created yet. Created not in physical sense, for typically the Bible does not use the word create in a physical sense. But, a people yet to be created for a specific purpose and function, which is what God gives when he creates.

Now, that people has been created. It is made up of all believers in Jesus. Basically, the Jews believed there were two races – Jews and Gentiles. But, the early Christians saw themselves as a new race. Indeed they called themselves the third race, or the new man. They saw themselves as a new people. This is why we read in Galatians that there is neither Jew nor Gentile in Christ.

Back to the psalm. Why was this people created? To praise God! What were they to praise God for? It’s in verses 19-22:

“…that he looked down from his holy height; to hear the groans of the prisoners, to set free those who were doomed to die, that they may declare in Zion the name of the Lord, and in Jerusalem his praise, when peoples gather together, and kingdoms, to worship the Lord.”

Let us be that people, giving praise and thanks to the Lord in all things.

Do You Hear the Voice of the Lamb?

Psalm 81 starts with a call to praise God. The call is to praise God on our feast day. One of the feast days in Israel was the Passover, which is alluded to after the introductory call to praise God.

“…when he went out over the land of Egypt.”

Here is the reference to the Passover. And, it was on this day that God made a statute, a rule, a decree.

“I hear a language I had not known.”

The psalmist hears a voice he has not known. Like any well-written piece of literature, the Scriptures speak with more than one voice (why would we expect something less from God’s book?). This paper by Brad Jersak notes four voices. The first three are the voice of the accuser, the voice of the victim, and the voice of the law. These were the voices that psalmist was used to hearing. But, now he hears a voice he had not known before – the voice of the Lamb. When we read Scripture, we must discern which voice is speaking.

“I relieved your shoulder of the burden; your hands were freed from the basket. In distress you called, and I delivered you; I answered you in the secret place of thunder; I tested you at the waters of Meribah.”

The old voices were demanding, each in their own way. The old voices constantly required something from the psalmist. But, this new voice, the voice of the Lamb, relieves and frees. The Lamb comes in the place of darkness and the time of distress and removes the burden of working to please God. This voice does not demand but loves.

“Hear, O my people, while I admonish you! O Israel, if you would but listen to me!”

To admonish is literally to put in the mind or to train by word. If we would just listen to this new voice, the voice of the Lamb, it is trying to correct our thinking on who He is and what He longs for from us. This new voice is calling us to repent, to change the way we think about God, sin, and righteousness.

“There shall be no strange god among you; you shall not bow down to a foreign god.”

Here is the statute, rule, and decree the psalmist spoke of earlier. We shouldn’t listen to any other voice but the voice of the Lamb.

“I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt. Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”

The God who brought us out of Egypt, out of the world and its ways, the God of the Passover, that’s our God. He longs to feed us. He longs for us to feast on Him, but we must open our mouth wide to receive what He wants to give us.

“But my people did not listen to my voice…so I gave them over to their stubborn hearts.”

We reject the voice of the Lamb. We won’t listen to it. So, God gives us to the other voices until we see the folly of their counsel.

“Oh, that my people would listen to me…I would soon subdue their enemies.”

God is calling us to turn from these other voices. He is calling us to listen to the voice of the Lamb. If we turn, then He will silence these other voices and their demands upon us.

“He would feed you with the finest of wheat, and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”

If you hear the voice of the Lord, of the Deliverer, the Lamb, then you will be fed the finest bread, your mind will be filled with the finest truth, and you will get honey from the rock, sweetness from Christ. You will feast with the Lord and He will satisfy you.

Draw Near to God to Hear Words of Peace

Psalm 85:8-9 –“Let me hear what God the Lord will speak, for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints; but let them not turn back to folly. Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him, that glory may dwell in our land.”

The psalmist starts by acknowledging that God has restored his people, forgiven their iniquity, covered their sin, and withdrew his wrath from them. But, it appears that his people once again find themselves in trouble and facing God’s wrath once again. The psalmist asks God to put away his indignation. Will God be angry with his people forever. Is it God’s wrath? Or, is it those living by the sword dying by the sword? Is it our own evil coming back upon us?

This is where we get the quote above. When God’s people draw near to him, they hear the words of peace that he speaks. He speaks these words of peace to his people, to his saints. The world doesn’t hear these words of peace. Are you hearing God speaking peace (not just the absence of war, but safety, security, and provision for all) or are you hearing God speak vengeance, vindictiveness, and retribution?

I’ve been meditating on the repentant turning away from lies and murder, the things that mark Satan’s kingdom. And, here the psalmist says that God’s people cannot return to their folly. God’s people cannot return to their old, empty ways of lying and violence, evil, wickedness, and murder. His salvation is near to those who fear him. His salvation is near brings to mind Jesus’ statement that the kingdom of heaven is at hand, the kingdom of God is near. Instead of lies and murder, his kingdom is marked by truth and love, peace, joy, and righteousness. When God’s people enter into this, glory dwells in the land.