Today’s Scripture Lesson: Psalms 39, 44
Today, we continue our study of the Psalms. We will be looking closely at Psalms 39 and 44. These two Psalms are attributed to David (39) and the Sons of Korah (44). (If you don’t know Korah, you can learn his story in Numbers 16. It isn’t particularly flattering.)
As always, I ask you to read the passages on your own in their entirety.
Mirror, Mirror of the Psalms
Let’s face it, we live in a sinful world and, although varying in degree and frequency with spiritual maturity, we still sin. Sometimes it is blatant defiance, while other times it is something much more subtle, to which others may not even notice and just give us a free pass. Sometimes those sins are so subtle, as the perpetrators, even we are oblivious to the insidious path we travel.
I believe it is because of this subtle sin that God has given us the book of Psalms. Each Psalm is a mirror to hold up before our very soul. They reveal us, even though we “see through the mirror dimly.” I suppose our sinful, earthly minds would be crushed entirely if we viewed them in Ultra High Definition. With a submitted heart, they can flatten us as it is.
Let’s look at some Scripture:
4 “LORD, make me to know my end
And what is the extent of my days;
Let me know how transient I am.
5 “Behold, You have made my days as handbreadths,
And my lifetime as nothing in Your sight;
Surely every man at his best is a mere breath.
7 “And now, Lord, for what do I wait?
My hope is in You.
8 “Deliver me from all my transgressions;
Make me not the reproach of the foolish.
11 “With reproofs You chasten a man for iniquity;
You consume as a moth what is precious to him;
Surely every man is a mere breath.
12 “Hear my prayer, O LORD, and give ear to my cry;
Do not be silent at my tears;
For I am a stranger with You,
A sojourner like all my fathers.
6 For I will not trust in my bow,
Nor will my sword save me.
7 But You have saved us from our adversaries,
And You have put to shame those who hate us.
8 In God we have boasted all day long,
And we will give thanks to Your name forever.
14 You make us a byword among the nations,
A laughingstock among the peoples.
17 All this has come upon us, but we have not forgotten You,
And we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant.
18 Our heart has not turned back,
And our steps have not deviated from Your way
24 Why do You hide Your face
And forget our affliction and our oppression?
25 For our soul has sunk down into the dust;
Our body cleaves to the earth.
26 Rise up, be our help,
And redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.
Notice first, David’s Psalm is always regarding himself and his relationship with God. He speaks with the words “I” and “me.” In contrast, the Psalmist in Psalm 44 not only uses “I” and “me”, he also uses “us” and “we.” I point this out as I believe this reveals these Psalms to have application not only on the personal level but also for the church.
Let’s break Psalm 44 down.
Verses 6-8 point out:
- I don’t trust in myself.
- You (God) deserve the credit for our salvation.
- We’re going to boast in You (God).
- We’re a laughingstock.
Verses 17-18 bring us back to:
- God’s path
Verses 24-25 asks:
- Why? Why do You (God)…
- Hide Your face?
- Forget our affliction and oppression?
- because we sure can’t forget it
Verse 26 cries out:
- Rise up!
- Redeem us!
- Do this because of Your lovingkindness!
From one verse to another, a lot of these words just don’t seem to be in sync with one another when we view it through the lens of contractual obligation.
Isn’t God supposed to smooth things out for us when we trust in Him and when we give Him the glory? If you read this Psalm in its entirety, it even goes much deeper than just having the result of being a laughingstock. Verse 19 says, “Yet You have crushed us in a place of jackals and covered us with the shadow of death.” What’s up with that?
Not to leave you dangling, but let’s see if Psalm 39 can shed some light on this.
Verses 4-5, 7 show a humble servant:
- Show me how transient I am.
- My lifetime is nothing in Your sight, God.
- At my best, I’m a mere breath.
- My only hope is in You, God.
Not unlike verses 6-8 of Psalm 44.
In verses 8 David pleads:
- Deliver me!
- Don’t make me a reproach (laughingstock) of fools!
In verse 11 David reveals:
- God chastens (corrects) a man for iniquity (sin) by
- consuming whatever the man holds dear that keeps him from God.
- A man is just a mere breath.
We may be inclined to look at these two Psalms as having an air of self-pity on the part of the psalmists. David’s Psalm even reveals in verse 10, “because of the opposition of Your hand I am perishing.” Keep the faith. Looking through the lens of contract, these Psalms are heavy-handed and burdensome. But, through the lens of covenant, they’re beautiful. First, let’s see what this looks like in our lives when viewed contractually.
The Lens of Contract: Leveraging God Through Obligation
Unfortunately, one of the typical phases many Christians go through in their walk is that of self-pity. In this phase, the brother or sister points out what they’ve done for Christ, how they’ve sacrificed, and yet, they live in a less than desirable state of existence . . . “but that’s just the Christian life,” they may say. It appears very needy.
In stark contrast, there is another possible phase in where the brother or sister in Christ wants to “out-Christian” everybody else. (Yes, I just used Christian as a verb…. a proper verb no less and thus, it is capitalized. I think it’s going to be a thing.)
In other words, they want everyone to know they, or their church, Christian the right way.
In both of these cases, the believer has positioned himself/herself into a state of isolation. And they’ve done so because they believe in contractual obligation between themselves and God.
With contract, there is much fear and doubt because all contingencies must be met in order to reach the ultimate desired result, salvation. If I do ABC, God is supposed to take care of XYZ.
Understand, there is no unity in fear, doubt, or isolation. Therefore, I ask you, “how can the body be one with Christ if each individual acts out of contractual obligation?”
The Lens of Covenant: The Joy of Relationship
Holding these Psalms up to the lens of covenant reveals the true beauty of both Psalms.
Psalm 44 even states, “we have not forgotten You and we have not dealt falsely with Your covenant.” Covenant isn’t obligational, it is relational. Relationship is what we see in the 12th verse of Psalm 39, “For I am a stranger with You, a sojourner like all my fathers.” It is relationship which reveals the true beauty of verse 26 in Psalm 44, “Rise up, be our help, and redeem us for the sake of Your lovingkindness.”
The Psalmist doesn’t say redeem us because of all the things we’ve done for You, God. He says redeem us because You are good and kind. Redeem us because of who You are.
These two psalmists understand their relationship with the Father is not based in any way on their worthiness. They aren’t bemoaning the fact that they are strangers in a strange land where they may or may not fall into sin. In the midst of sorrow, they are rejoicing in His faithfulness and the kindness they experience through relationship with Him.
Isn’t it interesting that David, the man who said, “I will celebrate before the Lord. I’ll be even more undignified than this,” also said, “Make me not the reproach of the foolish”? As we discussed last time, we must see things in their context. When David said, “I’ll be even more undignified than this” he also continued “and will be humble in my own eyes, but with the maids of whom you have spoken, with them I will be distinguished.” (2 Sam 6:22) David’s state of humility was “before the Lord.” It wasn’t before men.
So, What’s the Play Call?
Study and pray.
Submit yourself to God’s Word, and not simply someone else’s rendering of God’s Word.
Invite the Holy Spirit into your study time and ask Him to teach you, guide you, and reveal Himself to be greater than anything He may reveal in you.
Go forth in the knowledge that He is consuming – out of love – all the things you have held as precious in place of Him.