GOD’S GREAT MERCY Psalms 1–5“But I, by Your great mercy, will come into Your house; in reverence will I bow down toward Your holy temple” (Ps. 5:7).God’s great mercy is reserved for those who delight in the Law of the Lord and refuse to walk in the way of the wicked.
There are two moral paths, each with its own destination (Ps. 1). Resistance to the Messiah, God’s Son, is futile, for He is destined to rule earth (Ps. 2). David found peace when fleeing from his rebel son Absalom by remembering God (Pss. 3–4). David was confident that his merciful God would bless him even though he had to wait for his prayers to be answered (Ps. 5).
Understanding the Text
Psalm 1: “Two Moral Paths.”
There are only two moral paths a human being can take. This psalm graphically describes each. “Walk . . . stand . . . sit” Ps. 1:1. Conformity to worldly morality has three stages. Walking “in the counsel of the wicked” is listening to their views. Standing “in the way of sinners” is acting as the wicked do. Sitting “in the seat of mockers” is adopting their hardened, immoral attitudes. My wife and I have been shocked just this week to review some of the TV “comedy” shows that our nine-year-old Sarah wants to watch between 7 and 8 P.M. Their innuendos and often explicit statements clearly deny biblical morality, and we’ve had to declare such programs off-limits. The progression from walking, to standing, to sitting, reminds us that it’s dangerous to take even that first step away from godly moral thought. “He meditates” Ps. 1:2. Note again the importance of our thought life. If we fill our minds with and delight in God’s Law, we prosper morally and spiritually. Today we say of computers, “garbage in, garbage out.” Long ago God said this of the human mind. If you and I want to prosper spiritually we must guard our thoughts and our minds, and reject the “counsel of the wicked.” “The way of the wicked will perish” Ps. 1:6. In this life the ways of the wicked and godly exist side by side, competing for our allegiance. In the end, the two ways part-forever. We must choose one of the two, and help our children choose, for there is no third way. Psalm 2: “Messiah’s Rule.” The psalmist ridiculed those who resist the Lord and His Anointed One (2:1–6). The Anointed One speaks, announcing His commission from and relationship with God (vv. 7–9). The psalm concludes with a word of grace, calling for a submission which will bring blessing (vv. 10–12). Psalm 2 is frequently quoted in the New Testament (cf. Matt. 3:17; 17:5; Acts 4:25–28; 13:33; Heb. 1:5; 2 Peter 1:17; Rev. 19:15). “An iron scepter” Ps. 2:9. The rod of iron symbolizes complete authority. God’s Messiah, Jesus, will enforce God’s will despite human resistance. “Be wise; be warned” Ps. 2:10–12. Each human has the opportunity offered rulers in this psalm. We can freely choose to serve the Lord, and find blessing. Or we can resist to the end, and be destroyed when His wrath flares up. Jesus is Lord. Every human being must make a choice for Him—or against Him. Psalms 3–4: “Psalms in Flight.” Each of these psalms reflects the thoughts and feelings of David as he fled Jerusalem during Absalom’s rebellion (see 2 Sam. 15–18). The imagery is powerful as David reflected on his relationship with God, and found a peace which enabled him to sleep despite imminent danger. “God will not deliver him” Psalm 3:1–2. Many who rebelled against David seemed to feel that God had abandoned him. Second Samuel tells us that Shimei accused the fleeing king of being a “man of blood” (16:7). Very likely David himself, remembering his sin with Bathsheba and other earlier failings, wondered if God was with him when the rebellion broke out. Accusations are always hard to bear. When they are made by those who have been our friends, or by our own consciences, they are particularly painful. Add misfortune, when everything seems to be going wrong, and anyone might wonder if God were still with him or not. Such experiences cause stress, rob us of sleep, and frequently make us so anxious that we become ineffective. We each need what David found in his situation—a way to relieve the stress and restore inner peace. “You are” Ps. 3:3–4. What David did was to focus his thoughts on God, and to remember who God is. David had known God as a shield (“protector”), as his glory (“greatest value”), as one who lifted up his head (“source of strength”). Remembering who God had proven Himself to be in his life, David prayed to God with confidence. When we consider who God is, and all He has done for us, we too find the freedom to come to God in prayer. When we cry out to God, we lift the burden from our back and place it on His. Ancient warriors protected their bodies with shields made of layers of hardened skins, often studded with metal. David remembered how often God had shielded him from danger. Though David was fleeing for his life, the image of God as a shield (Ps. 3:3) brought inner peace and enabled the threatened king to rest. “I lie down and sleep” Ps. 3:5–8. David found peace through prayer. He shifted his burden to God and, sure that the Lord would sustain him, was able to rest. Prayer, addressed in confidence to a God whom we know loves us, is the secret of peace for you and me. This kind of prayer drains the tension from us. It frees us from fear even when thousands of enemies seem to surround us. “Know that the Lord has set apart the godly” Ps. 4:1–3. The selah at the end of Psalm 3 means “pause, before going on.” Here it seems to unite Psalms 3 and 4, leading most commentators to believe both psalms reflect on David’s flight from Absalom. David’s enemies misjudged both David and God. Despite his flaws, David was honest in his devotion to God. And God was devoted to David. When we have this kind of relationship with God we can share David’s confidence that “the Lord will hear when I call to Him.” “Who can show us any good?” Ps. 4:4–8. The defeatist looks at surrounding troubles, and despairs. David, however, looked up and found a source of joy in the knowledge that God’s face was turned toward him. The image of God’s face “shining on” a person means to look with favor; to look with the intent to do good. So David found his good and his joy in God, not in an earthly abundance of “grain and new wine.” How much wiser David’s course of seeking peace and joy in the Lord. Our fortunes on earth can change radically, as David’s flight from Jerusalem shows. But God is unchanging. If we find our joy in the Lord, that joy will be with us always.
I remember one summer when I was a child, how hard it was to wait for our summer vacation. The next day we were going up to Cedar Lake, to stay at Uncle Duane’s cabin. As I sat on the front porch, waiting, I was sure that tomorrow would never come, that we’d never get in the car, never pull into the driveway set back from the lake, and never run down to the shore. When we get older, waiting can be even more difficult. Usually the things we wait for are much more important. Waiting for a job. Waiting for a sickness to pass. Waiting for an answer to a life-changing question. This psalm of David reminds us that he was familiar with waiting too. He waited for Saul to die so he could become king. Even after that, he waited years to be acknowledged by all Israel. How did David handle waiting, and still remain confident and hopeful? This psalm tells—and shows—you and me how to wait with confidence and expectant hope. First, David expressed his emotions as well as his requests to God (vv. 1–3). He was persistent in “morning by morning” sharing his sighing and his needs. Second, David remembered the character of God (vv. 4–8). God does not take pleasure in evil, and destroys the wicked. But David, by God’s grace, was not numbered with the wicked. By God’s grace David was one who worshiped the Lord, and who followed God’s leading. Third, David expected God to act in accord with His character (vv. 9–12). The wicked will be declared guilty. But God will act to protect those who love Him. “Surely, O Lord, You bless the righteous” is an affirmation of faith. Even though he had to wait, David knew—because of who God is—that blessing would surely come. What a ground of expectation for us as we wait. We expect the best, because of who God is. God Himself and His character are the foundation of our hopes.
When waiting is most difficult, meditate on God’s character, and be reassured.