Wednesday: A Psalm for the Sabbath

By James Boice

Theme: Why Should We Praise God?

From this week’s lessons, we see the need for the righteous to praise God continually.

Scripture: Psalm 92:1-15

Dr. John Piper is the senior pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and he has written a book on the enjoyment of God which he calls Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist. Picking up on the first answer of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, which I have just cited in yesterday’s study, Piper urges Christians to glorify God by enjoying him, for that is what God wants and it is both our greatest duty and pleasure. Piper asks: “Does Christian hedonism put man’s pleasure above God’s glory? No. It puts man’s pleasure in God’s glory. Our quest is not merely joy. It is joy in God. And there is no way for a Christian to consciously manifest the infinite worth and beauty of God without delighting in him. It is better to say that we pursue our joy in God than to simply say that we pursue God. For one can pursue God in ways that do not honor him….The enjoyment of God and the glorification of God are one.”1

The psalmist would have understood that perfectly, even if we do not, for he reminds us wisely that “it is good to praise the LORD and make music to his name.” Do you understand that? Do you know how good it is? Here is another question based on these first verses of Psalm 92: What should we praise God for? The psalm suggests two things: 1) the steadfast love of God, for that is what the Hebrew word translated “love” in verse 2 (hesed) actually means; and 2) God’s faithfulness. There are other things for which we will also want to praise God, but those two alone are enough to keep us busy. It is God’s steadfast, covenant love that reaches out to us initially to redeem us from sin, and it is his faithfulness that keeps us in that love relationship. As Christians, we know both of these to the highest degree in Jesus Christ.

Here is still another question based on these first verses: How should we praise God? The psalm answers: joyfully (v. 4) and with instruments (v. 3). In fact, as far as instruments go, it specifies two of the instruments of that day: “the ten-stringed lyre” and “the harp.” I know that there is a tradition in the church that opposes the use of musical instruments in worship, but I do not see how it can stand in the light of these and other Bible passages. Spurgeon’s congregation used only unaccompanied hymns. So it is not surprising that he quotes some who were opposed to instruments.

He quotes John Calvin, who said, “From this it appears that the Papists, in employing instrumental music, cannot be said so much to imitate the practice of God’s ancient people, as to ape it in a senseless and absurd manner, exhibiting a silly delight in that worship of the Old Testament which was figurative, and terminated with the gospel.” Calvin believed that our spiritual worship of Christ today displaces musical instruments.

Spurgeon also quotes John Chrysostom: “Instrumental music was only permitted to the Jews, as sacrifice was, for the heaviness and grossness of their souls.” He quotes Andrew Fuller, who wrote, “Instrumental music… appears with increasing evidence to be utterly unsuited to the genius of the gospel dispensation.”2 Well, that may be their opinion. But for my part, I regard this as merely special pleading to uphold a personal dislike of instrumental music and a preference for unaccompanied singing. For what can possibly be wrong with making a loud noise to the Lord, as the ancients did, as long as we understand what we are doing and are truly praising God? Indeed, how can we fail to worship loudly and with instruments? We should worship God with every possible tool at our disposal.

1John Piper, Desiring God: Meditations of a Christian Hedonist (Portland: Multnomah, 1986), pp. 225, 226.

2See Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 123.

Study Questions:

  1. What difference does the emphasis to have joy in God make?
  2. Explain what Piper means by the statement, “The enjoyment of God and the glorification of God are one.”
  3. Name two things for which we should praise God. Why?
  4. Explain the argument against musical worship. What is your view, and what are your reasons for it?

Reflection:

  1. Do you enjoy God, or has your enjoyment decreased from an earlier time? What brought about the change? What steps will you take to increase your enjoyment of him?
  2. Have you experienced the beneficial effects of praise? How?

Application:

List examples of God’s love and faithfulness demonstrated to you. Praise God for the things on your list. Think of ways to incorporate the praise of God into all your days of the week.


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Tuesday: A Psalm for the Sabbath

By James Boice

Theme: The Goodness of Praise

From this week’s lessons, we see the need for the righteous to praise God continually.

Scripture: Psalm 92:1-15

It is not easy to outline Psalm 92. Some see it as following a chiastic pattern,1 keying on verse 8, which stands alone in the middle of the poem. The pattern would be A, B, C, D, C, B, A, in which the first and seventh stanzas have to do with praising God, the second and sixth with the works of God for which he is to be praised, and the third and fifth with the failure of “senseless” men to praise him. The New International Version has four stanzas, with verse 9 treated as an additional one-line center stanza. However, to judge by the subject matter, the three-part outline Kidner proposes is probably better: 1) Tireless Praise (vv. 1-4); 2) Heedless Arrogance (vv. 5-9); and 3) Endless Vitality (vv. 10-15). I am following that division, but am phrasing the divisions a little differently.

The first verse establishes the theme for the entire psalm, and it is that it is good to praise God. It is elaborated in verses 1-4, which begins: “It is good to praise the LORD and make music to your name, O Most High…”

Why is it good to praise God? There are various ways of answering this question. We might reply that it is good because God declares worship to be good, as he does in this very psalm. The words “it is good” remind us of God’s verdict on his creation found in the first chapter of Genesis (seven times in verses 4, 10, 12, 18, 21, 25, 31). Indeed, the psalm speaks of the created works of God (vv. 5, 6) and may even be reflecting on this first chapter of the Bible. Again, praising God is good because it is good for us. It “makes me [us] glad” (v. 4).

Spurgeon had an interesting way of putting this. He said that praise of God is good “ethically, for it is the Lord’s right,” “emotionally, for it is pleasant to the heart” and “practically, for it leads others to render the same homage.”2

Yet “good” is too weak in this context, for worshiping God is more beneficial than what we usually imply when we use the word “good.” Some writers call the praise of God “salutary” or “delightful.” Luther called it “precious.” He said, probably on more than one occasion, “Come, let us sing a psalm and drive away the devil.” Worshiping God is a glorious, splendid, delightful and most reasonable thing to do.

So let me ask, does the thought of praising God seem boring to you? At least if you are asked to do it more than a brief sixty minutes on Sunday morning? If it does, you should recall that it is for this we were created. The first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, “What is the chief end of man?” It answers: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.”

And the enjoyment of God is important also, for the two go together. In fact, our enjoyment of God is expressed in our praise of God, and when we praise God we do indeed enjoy him. If you do not find the worship of God on Sunday (or at any other time) to be enjoyable, it is not because you have come to know God and have found that he is boring. It is because you do not know him much at all. For the more you know him, the more enjoyable the praise of God will be.

1A chiasmus is a rhetorical device, characterized by a reversal in the order of words in two otherwise parallel phrases.

2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 116.

Study Questions:

  1. How do you outline Psalm 92?
  2. What is praise? Why is it good to praise God? Explain Spurgeon’s definition of praise as ethical, emotional, and practical.
  3. Why do some not find the praise of God enjoyable?

Reflection: Review the answer to the first question of the Westminster Shorter Catechism. How do you glorify and enjoy God in the various aspects of your life, such as in your worship, your relationships, your work, and in your recreation?

Key Point: The more you know him, the more enjoyable the praise of God will be.

 


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Monday: A Psalm for the Sabbath

By James Boice

Theme: Our Praise and Delight

From this week’s lessons, we see the need for the righteous to praise God continually.

Scripture: Psalm 92:1-15

In most Reformed circles and in some others there is an ongoing debate about the right way to observe Sunday. Some see it as an extension of the Jewish Sabbath and call for an end to all work, except what are called works of necessity, like providing emergency medicine and fighting fires. This is called the Puritan view. Others regard Sunday as a day for Christian worship but do not forbid other positive activities. This view is sometimes called the continental understanding of the Sabbath.

I side with the continental view on grounds of the activity associated with the first Lord’s Day as recorded in the gospels. But whatever the right answer to this ongoing debate may be, there can be little disagreement among Christians that Sunday is at least a day to worship God. The psalm we are to study now is the only one in the Psalter specifically designated “for the Sabbath,” and it tells us something that it is certainly good to do, that is, to “praise the LORD” and to do so throughout the day from morning until night. So I ask as we start: How do you approach a Sunday? Do you think of it as a day in which you have to go to church, but the duties of which you try to get over as soon as possible so you can spend the rest of the time with your family or get on to other more enjoyable things? Or do you think of it as a precious day given to you by God in which you can learn about him and so praise him? In other words, is Sunday a trial or a treat? Is it a delight or a deadly duty?

Derek Kidner says, “This Song for the Sabbath is proof enough, if such were needed, that the Old Testament Sabbath was a day not only for rest but for corporate worship (“a holy convocation,” Lev. 23:3), and intended to be a delight rather than a burden.”1 The rabbis made it into a burden, of course, but Jesus opposed their error, reminding them that “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:27). As such, Sunday should be a time for thanksgiving and joyful celebration.

This does not mean that we are not to praise God on other days of the week too, for of course we are. The Masoretes2 had an interesting way of asserting this, for they assigned a specific psalm to each day of the week, every one of which was written to help us praise God for different things. The specific assignments were:

On the first day, Sunday: Psalm 24

On the second day, Monday: Psalm 48

On the third day,Tuesday: Psalm 82

On the fourth day, Wednesday: Psalm 114

On the fifth day, Thursday: Psalm 81

On the sixth day, Friday: Psalm 93

On the seventh day, Saturday: Psalm 92

If we wanted to do it, we could follow the assignment for Sunday at least, for we have an excellent hymn based on Psalm 92. It is the hymn “How Good It Is to Thank the Lord” by Isaac Watts.

How good it is to thank the Lord,

And praise to you, Most High, accord,

To show your love with morning light.

And tell your faithfulness each night;

Yea, good it is your praise to sing,

And all our sweetest music bring.

Watts’ hymn stresses the goodness of praising God constantly.

1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 334.

2A Masorete is one of the writers or compilers of the Masorah, a collection of critical and explanatory notes on the Hebrew text of the Old Testament. The Masorah was compiled from around the 7th to the 10th centuries A.D.

Study Questions:

  1. What are two Reformed views of observing Sunday?
  2. What is the primary purpose of the Sabbath?
  3. What error did the rabbis make about the Sabbath?

Reflection: How do you approach a Sunday?

Application: Follow the Masoretes’ schedule of reading and meditating for one month. Note how it enhances your praise of the Lord.

For Further Study: To learn more about how the Sabbath functions throughout Scripture and the changes that come with the coming of Christ, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “History of the Sabbath.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Friday: Under the Shadow of God’s Wings

By James Boice

Theme: A Confirming Oracle

In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to trust fully in God, and what the blessings are for those who do.

Scripture: Psalm 91:1-16

The last three verses of this psalm contain a confirming oracle of God in which the controlling pronoun switches from “you,” which dominated in verses 3-13, back to “I,” as in verse 2. Only here the “I” is God himself. In these verses God adds his seal to what the psalmist has been saying. God promises three things to those who trust him.

1. Protection for the one who is in danger (v. 14). The psalm speaks throughout of the many dangers that threaten God’s people, but its central message is that God will rescue and protect those who trust him from all such dangers. Those who have trusted God know this and praise God for his help and protection constantly.

2. An answer for the one who is in trouble and prays to God about it (v. 15). One of the great blessings of following hard after God is knowing that when we call upon him he will hear and answer us. These verses say that God will deliver and honor such a person. They also say that God will be with the believer “in trouble,” which is a way of acknowledging that God does not always lift a Christian out of troubles. Sometimes it is his will that we endure them and profit from them. We are told in Romans that we acquire hope, develop character and learn perseverance from what we suffer (Rom. 5:3, 4). When we go through such circumstances, God goes through them with us. He sustains us in our sufferings.

3. Long life and salvation for the one who seeks God’s satisfaction (v. 16). Long life is a blessing frequently promised to the righteous in the Old Testament (Exod. 20:12; Deut. 30:20; Ps. 21:4; 23:6; Prov. 3:2, 16), but the promise is not necessarily for a prolongation of days but rather for what we would call a complete or full life. Here there is the added promise of a “salvation” in heaven, yet to come.

I close by noting that these verses also make a point that has been developed several times already, namely, that the promises are for those who trust in or love God. Therefore, they are blessings that some believers miss out on, simply because they are always fretting and do not trust God as they should. Here the psalmist quotes God as saying that the blessings are for those who love God and acknowledge his name (v. 14), call upon him (v. 15) and seek satisfaction in what he alone can provide.

Do you do that? Or are you still trying to find satisfaction in the world? Do you love the world more than you love Jesus? John R. W. Stott reminds us of Romans 8:28, observing, “God is the supreme object of the believer’s love as well as faith, and it is to those who love God that the assurance is given that in all things God works for their good.”1

1John Stott, Favorite Psalms (Chicago: Moody, 1988), p. 82.

Study Questions:

  1. Who is the “I” of the final three verses? What is significant about this identification?
  2. How will the believer be helped in trouble?
  3. What does the promise of long life mean?
  4. Why do not all believers enjoy the benefits of the three promises?

Application: Are you following hard after God and experiencing the blessings that come from that? Or is there something in your life that is competing with your supreme love for Jesus?

Prayer: Ask the Lord to cause your love for him to increase, and that your trust in him would grow.

For Further Study: Because Christians live in a fallen world, we also experience such things as trouble, pain, and despair. But we also know that our God goes before us, and promises to work for our good, even through the great difficulties he brings into our lives. Download and read for free the booklet by Donald Barnhouse and James Boice, “Anxiety and Depression.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

 


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Thursday: Under the Shadow of God’s Wings

By James Boice

Theme: The Believer’s Responsibility

In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to trust fully in God, and what the blessings are for those who do.

Scripture: Psalm 91:1-16

Much of what is found in the third stanza of this psalm (vv. 9-11) is like what we have seen already. It tells us that “no harm will befall” us, and that “no disaster will come near your tent” (v. 10). But there are a few new elements.

One of them, probably the chief idea because it comes first, is that there is a condition to the kind of protection the psalm has been promising and it is that the individual “make the Most High his dwelling” (v. 9). As I said earlier, this is more than merely believing in God or coming to God occasionally when danger threatens. It means resting in God continually or trusting him at all times. It means living all of life “in God,” as it were. Martin Luther had some good thoughts on this condition, writing that this refers to “one who really dwells and does not merely appear to dwell and does not just imagine that he dwells” in God.1

The second new element reinforces the first and, by means of its use in the New Testament, is an illustration of it. It is the reference to angels, the psalmist saying, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”

This is the verse the devil quoted as part of his temptation of Jesus Christ, recorded in Matthew 4:1-11 and Luke 4:1-13. It is the only verse of Scripture actually quoted by the devil, at least that we have a record of. But he misquoted it! He left out “in all your ways,” that is, in the ways marked out for us by God and not our own willful ways. For that was the very essence of the temptation; he wanted Jesus to go his own way rather than to trust God and be content with God’s way, even if it meant going to the cross. The devil wanted Jesus to tempt God by jumping off a pinnacle of the temple, trusting his Father to send angels to bear him up so he would not be dashed to pieces when he fell and thus impress the people. Jesus replied rightly, saying, “It is also written, ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’” (Matt. 4:7, quoting Deut. 6:16). Testing God by jumping off a pinnacle of the temple would not be going in the way God had given him to go. It would be the very opposite of trusting God; it would be “baiting” him or “putting him to the test.”

The Lord’s trust in the Father also resulted in Satan’s defeat, another part of the psalm the devil omitted (v. 13). The psalm tells us that if we go in God’s way, trusting him to uphold us, then we will “tread upon the lion and the cobra” and “trample the great lion and the serpent.” We can remember that the Bible elsewhere describes Satan as “a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8) and “that ancient serpent” (Rev. 12:9; 20:2) and that Jesus triumphed over him by trusting God. Likewise, in Christ the righteous will be victorious over Satan too.

Here is one more thought about this incident. When Jesus replied to Satan, he rejected the temptation to jump from the temple and trust the angels of God to keep him from being killed. But the angels were there anyway, though invisibly. For after Satan had completed his temptation we are told God’s “angels came and attended him” (Matt. 4:11). In other words, God was upholding Jesus even in the temptation.

1Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 2, First Lectures on the Psalms: Psalms 76-126, ed. Hilton C. Oswald (St. Louis: Concordia, 1976), p. 208.

Study Questions:

  1. What did Satan leave out of his recitation of Scripture? Why?
  2. How was Jesus victorious over Satan? How can we claim victory?

Reflection: What are the results of going God’s way and trusting him?


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Wednesday: Under the Shadow of God’s Wings

By James Boice

Theme: Two Appealing Images

In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to trust fully in God, and what the blessings are for those who do.

Scripture: Psalm 91:1-16

Yesterday, we noted how the Lord spared the nobleman Lord Craven from the plague in London, who stayed behind to demonstrate his faith. There is a similar story from the life of Charles Haddon Spurgeon. In the year 1854, when he had been in London only twelve months, the area of the city in which the young preacher lived was visited by Asiatic cholera. Many in Spurgeon’s congregation were affected, and there was hardly a family in which someone did not get sick—and many died. The young pastor spent most of every day visiting the sick, and there was hardly a day when he did not have to accompany some family to the graveyard.

Spurgeon became physically and emotionally exhausted and sick at heart. He was ready to sink under this heavy load of pastoral care. But as God would have it, one day he was returning home sadly from a funeral when he noticed a sign in a shoemaker’s shop in Dover Road. It was in the owner’s own handwriting and it bore these words: “Because thou hast made the LORD, which is my refuge, even the Most High, thy habitation, there shall no evil befall thee, neither shall any plague come nigh thy dwelling,” a quotation from Psalm 91, verses 9 and 10 (KJV).

Spurgeon was deeply and immediately encouraged. He wrote, “The effect upon my heart was immediate. Faith appropriated the passage as her own. I felt secure, refreshed, girt with immortality. I went on with my visitation of the dying in a calm and peaceful spirit; I felt no fear of evil, and I suffered no harm. The providence which moved the tradesman to put those verses in his window I gratefully acknowledge, and in the remembrance of its marvelous power I adore the Lord my God.”1

Verse 4 contains two appealing images of God’s protection: first, that of a mother bird, sheltering and protecting her young (“he will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge”), and second, that of a warrior’s armor (“his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart”). The exact meaning of the word “rampart” (NIV) is uncertain. The Hebrew word signifies something that is wrapped around a person for his or her protection; hence, it can mean either “buckler,” “armor” or, as in the NIV, a “rampart” or fortress. It may be that something of each of these ideas is in the Hebrew word.

As far as the first of these two images is concerned, we remember how Jesus appropriated it for himself, saying as he looked out over the city of Jerusalem on one occasion: “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37). Jesus would willingly have saved and sheltered Jerusalem and its inhabitants, but the people were not willing. They would not come to him. They would not “dwell” in the shelter of the Most High. They cried out for his crucifixion instead.

As far as the second image goes, we may recall God’s words to Abraham when he was returning from his attack on the kings who had raided Sodom and Gomorrah and carried off Abraham’s nephew Lot. Abraham had won the battle, recovering Lot, the women and possessions. But Abraham was in danger of retaliation by these kings. It was then that God spoke to him in a vision, saying, “Do not be afraid, Abram. I am your shield, your very great reward” (Gen. 15:1). That is what God will be to us, if we will trust him.

Here is an important question: What exactly is it that is said to be the believer’s “shield and rampart” (v. 4)? God, of course! But in what respect? The older King James Version said, “His truth will be your shield and buckler.” In my view, the New International Version is richer at this point, for the Hebrew word means more than mere truth. It has to do with God’s entire character, described as faithfulness. Still something is lost if we do not also realize that the Hebrew word for “faithfulness” is based on the word for “truth” and that what is involved here is God’s faithfulness to his promises, that is, to his word. In other words, it is when we believe God’s word and act upon it that we find him to be faithful to what he has promised and learn that he is in truth our shield from dangers and our rampart against enemies.

Verses 7 and 8 describe thousands falling on either side of those who trust God, noting, “You will only observe with your eyes and see the punishment of the wicked.” This interprets the death of the thousands as God’s punishment for sin and places the deliverance of God’s people in that context. In other words, it is not a promise that those who trust God will never die of disease or even in some military conflict, but that they will not suffer those or any other calamities as God’s judgment against them for their sin. Their sin has been atoned for by the blood of Jesus Christ.

1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 92.

Study Questions:

  1. How did verses 9 and 10 encourage Spurgeon as a young pastor?
  2. What two images are contained in verse 4? What do they communicate about God?
  3. What is promised in verses 7 and 8? What is not promised?

Reflection: When a Christian willingly puts himself in danger in order to help others, what does it reveal about that Christian’s understanding of who God is, and what it means to serve him?

Key Point: It is when we believe God’s word and act upon it that we find him to be faithful to what he has promised and learn that he is in truth our shield from dangers and our rampart against enemies.

 


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Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Tuesday: Under the Shadow of God’s Wings

By James Boice

Theme: Trusting God in All Circumstances

In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to trust fully in God, and what the blessings are for those who do.

Scripture: Psalm 91:1-16

As we noted in yesterday’s reading, the psalm’s promises are for you only if the God of the Bible is your God. And what promises they are! There are four metaphors for the security we can have in God. God will be our “shelter” and “shadow” (v. 1) and our “refuge” and “fortress” (v. 2). There are also four names for God, which give substance and strength to the metaphors. He is “the Most High,” “the Almighty” (v. 1), “the LORD” and “my God” (v. 2). When the psalmist identifies God as his God in the last expression, it is a way of saying that the shelter, shadow, refuge and fortress are for those who really do dwell in God and trust him. Spurgeon wrote, “The blessings here promised are not for all believers, but for those who live in close fellowship with God. Every child of God looks towards the inner sanctuary and the mercy-seat, yet all do not dwell in the most holy place; they run to it at times, and enjoy occasional approaches, but they do not habitually reside in the mysterious presence.”1

So here is a second application: Do you live in close fellowship with God? Do you rest in the shadow of the Almighty? Is he your place of habitual dwelling? The psalm is written to urge you to trust and cling to God in all circumstances.

Having stated his own personal faith in God, the psalmist now commends that faith to us, taking six verses to explain what God will do for the one who trusts him. The most striking feature of this section (and the one following) is the use of the singular “you” throughout, which is a way of saying that these truths are for each person individually. They are for you if you will truly trust or abide in God.

Verse 3 sets the tone for this section by saying that God will save the trusting soul from two kinds of dangers: first, the subtle snare of enemies, described as the trap a fowler used to catch birds, and second, death by disease or pestilence. This does not mean that those who trust God never die from infectious diseases or suffer from an enemy’s plot, of course. It means that those who trust God are habitually delivered from such dangers. What Christian cannot testify to many such deliverances? Indeed, our entire lives are filled with deliverances from many and manifold dangers, until God finally takes us to be with himself.

The words “deadly pestilence” (v. 3) and later “the pestilence that stalks in the darkness” and “the plague that destroys at midday” (v. 6) help us recall many instances of such protection.

Lord Craven was a nobleman who was a Christian, and who was living in London when plague ravaged the city in the fifteenth century. In order to escape the spreading pestilence Craven determined to leave the city for his country home, as many of his social standing did. He ordered his coach and baggage made ready. But as he was walking down one of the halls of his home about to enter his carriage he overheard one of his servants say to another, “I suppose by my Lord’s quitting London to avoid the plague that his God lives in the country and not in town.” It was a straightforward and apparently innocent remark. But it struck Lord Craven so deeply that he canceled his journey, saying, “My God lives everywhere and can preserve me in town as well as in the country. I will stay where I am.” So he stayed in London. He helped the plague victims, and he did not catch the disease himself.2

1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 88.

2The story is told by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110, p. 98.

Dictionary:

Metaphor: a figure of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable, in order to suggest a resemblance.

Study Questions:

  1. Describe the four metaphors in this portion of the psalm.
  2. What does God promise to do for those who trust him?

Reflection: Do you live in close fellowship with God? Do you rest in the shadow of the Almighty? Is he your place of habitual dwelling? 

Application: What does it mean to truly trust or abide in God? Look up other passages in Scripture to learn more about abiding. How does this help you understand the passage?

Prayer: Pray that you may live your life in close fellowship with God.


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Monday: Under the Shadow of God’s Wings

By James Boice

Theme: Dwelling in the Shelter of the Most High

In this week’s lessons, we learn what it means to trust fully in God, and what the blessings are for those who do.

Scripture: Psalm 91:1-16

All the psalms are from God and are wonderful in their several ways. But there are some that have commended themselves to God’s people as being especially rich and comforting, and to which they have repeatedly turned in times of sickness, loneliness and trouble. Psalm 91 is one of these special psalms. It has been committed to heart by thousands of people, and millions have turned to it with thankfulness in the midst of life’s calamities.

Psalm 91 may be compared with Psalm 46, which calls God “our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble” (Ps. 46:1). Martin Luther loved that psalm and turned to it often because he had so many troubles. Psalm 91 may also be compared with Psalm 90, which immediately precedes it. Both call God the “dwelling place” of his people, which is probably why they have been placed together in the Psalter. There are verbal similarities between the two psalms, which has led some commentators to conclude that Psalm 91, as well as Psalm 90, was written by Moses, though there are no other truly substantial reasons for thinking that. Besides, the psalms differ greatly in their tones. As H. C. Leupold says, “The latter [Psalm 90] is somber and stately; this is bright and simple. The one breathes deep insight; the other cheerful trust.”1

Charles Haddon Spurgeon was not overstating the case when he wrote, “In the whole collection there is not a more cheering psalm; its tone is elevated and sustained through-out, faith is at its best and speaks nobly.”2

Psalm 91 has given us two great hymns as well as some additional verses by well-known writers such as Edmund Spenser (“And Is There Care in Heaven”) and Horatius Bonar (“He Liveth Long Who Liveth Well”). The hymns we sing are “Under the Care of My God, the Almighty” from the Bible Songs Hymnal of 1927, and “The Man Who Once Has Found Abode” from the Reformed Presbyterian Book of Psalms of 1940.

One striking feature of Psalm 91 is that it consists of three clear movements marked by a change in pronouns. The first movement is marked by the pronoun “I” (vv. 1, 2). It expresses the psalmist’s personal faith in God. The second movement is marked by the pronoun “you” (vv. 3-13). It is a word from the psalmist to the reader or listener; that is, it is his word to us. The final stage is marked by the divine pronoun “I” (vv. 14-16). Here God speaks to the reader to declare what he will be and do for the one who loves him and calls upon him. In the New International Version the second of these two major movements is divided into separate stanzas (vv. 3-8 and 9-13). The first speaks of God’s protection from many kinds of dangers. The second expresses the condition for such protection by God and the results if the condition is met.

The first verse of the psalm is a thematic statement, expressing what the remainder of the psalm will be about: “He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.” However, as soon as the psalmist makes that statement he immediately breaks in to confess his own faith before commending it to us: “I will say of the LORD, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust’” (v. 2). This is the equivalent of the Apostle Thomas’s confession of faith after Jesus had appeared to him following the resurrection and Thomas fell at his feet, exclaiming, “My Lord and my God” (John 20:28)!

So here is a first point of application: Is Jesus Christ your Lord and God? Is the God of the Bible your refuge in times of trouble? The psalm’s promises are for you only if he is.

1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids; Baker, 1969), p. 650.

2Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David vol. 2b, Psalms 88-110 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 88.

Study Questions:

  1. What does Psalm 91 have in common with Psalm 46? With Psalm 90?
  2. What is meant by calling God our dwelling place?
  3. What are the three movements of the psalm?
  4. How does the NIV divide the psalm? Why?
  5. What does the psalm’s thematic statement tell us?

Reflection: Is Jesus Christ your Lord and God? Is the God of the Bible your refuge in times of trouble? How have you experienced God’s care in this way in the past?

For Further Study: If you or someone you know would enjoy reading James Boice’s published sermons on the Psalms, the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is offering the three-volume set at 25% off the regular price.

 


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Friday: A Sober “Song of Moses”

By James Boice

Theme: Three Petitions

This week’s psalm shows us how to look at our earthly life from the Bible’s point of view, with God as the center and focus of it.

Scripture: Psalm 90:1-17

Backing up to verse 12, we find three petitions in this closing section of the psalm.

1. “Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom” (v. 12). This is not a request that we might know that each day is from God and thus be able to check it off as we go along, subtracting it from our allotted “seventy years—or eighty,” as it were (v. 10). It is a prayer that God will help us to live holy lives, which is the path of true wisdom. How do we do that? How do we make each day count for God?

First, we do so by recognizing life’s brevity, which is what Moses has been chiefly writing about in this psalm. If Moses had been a lesser poet, he might have written, “Only one life! Twill soon be past. Only what’s done for Christ will last.”

Second, by living each day for God. One Bible student wrote wisely, “We cannot apply our hearts unto wisdom, as instructed by Moses, except we number every day as our possible last day.”1 We remember that in Jesus’ parable the fool wanted to build bigger and better barns to store his surplus crops, so he could settle down and take life easy. But Jesus said of him, “You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself” (Luke 12:20; see vv. 13-20)? Of all the mathematical disciplines this is the hardest: to number our days. We count everything else, but we do not seem able to use our days rightly and with wisdom.

2. “Satisfy us in the morning with your unfailing love, that we may sing for joy and be glad all our days” (v. 14). Alexander Maclaren said, “The only thing that will secure life-long gladness is a heart satisfied with the experience of God’s love.”2 This means that nothing will satisfy the human heart ultimately except God. So forget trying to fill your life with mere things. They will perish. Do not even put your hope in other people. They will die. Saint Augustine prayed, “You made us for yourself, and our hearts find no peace until they find rest in you.”3

3. “Establish the work of our hands for us—yes, establish the work of our hands”(v. 17). At last, with his weakness and sin before him, Moses appeals to the grace of God to make what he had been trying to do for God worthwhile. God needs nothing from us, being able from stones to raise up children to Abraham. But there is another side to this, and it is that if God has put us in this life to do something good for him, then it is important that we do it and do it well. William M. Taylor wrote, “So long as we are here…we are required by him for something. Let us therefore find out what that is, and do it; and while we do it, let us pray that God may establish it so that it may remain to bless posterity.”4

Moses did what God had called him to do, and God established his work. We see it in the ongoing history of Israel, of which he was so large a part—in the first five books of the Bible, which he wrote, and even in the psalm we have been studying.

There is one more thing. For centuries this sober song of Moses has been read at funeral services. It is easy to see why. It recognizes the shortness of life but also the truth that God is able to establish the work of our hands, making what we do for God count eternally.

Don’t you want God to do that? Don’t you want your life here and what you do here to have meaning? Don’t you want to be a blessing to others? I am sure you do. But I remind you that the only way that can happen is if God establishes your work. May he do that so that others who come after you will be blessed because of you, and so, when you die and appear before God the Father, you will hear him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness” (Matt. 25:21, 23)!

1Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), p. 312.

2Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 3 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1894), p. 12.

3Saint Augustine, Confessions, trans. R. S. Pine-Coffin (Baltimore: Penguin, 1961), p. 21.

4William M. Taylor, Moses the Law-Giver (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1961), p. 373.

Study Questions:

  1. What does it mean to “teach us to number our days aright”?
  2. Explain what the prayer means for God to “establish the work of our hands for us.”

Reflection: What are some ways in which God is calling you to live each day for him?

Application: How can you encourage someone else to carry out the work the Lord has given to them?

For Further Study: The only true and lasting way for your life to have meaning, and for you to be a blessing to other people, is to be a Christian. Download and read for free the booklet by the Puritan Isaac Ambrose, “Knowing I Was Born Again.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.

Thursday: A Sober “Song of Moses”

By James Boice

Theme: Sin’s Price

This week’s psalm shows us how to look at our earthly life from the Bible’s point of view, with God as the center and focus of it.

Scripture: Psalm 90:1-17

The third section of Psalm 90 (vv. 7-12) recognizes that man’s greatest problem is not just his frailty, that is, that he exists for only a short bit of time and is then no more. It is that he is also a sinner and is subject to the just wrath of God. In fact, it is sin that is the cause of his death and misery. Moses must have been thinking of the fall of Adam and Eve when he wrote this (remembering that he also wrote Genesis 3), as well as of his own sin in striking the rock and of God’s judgment which kept him from the promised land.

Verses 7, 8 and 11 comprise a profound set of statements. For not only has Moses set the weakness of man and the shortness of his life against the grandeur and eternity of God, but here he also traces man’s mortality to its roots, seeing death as a judgment for sin. We might think that he would contrast man’s sin with God’s holiness, just as he has contrasted man’s mortality with God’s eternity. But that is not what he is trying to do in these verses. He is trying to show that death is linked to sin and is caused by it. We die because Adam sinned (see Rom. 5:12-21), and because we sin ourselves. Are you aware that sin always leads to death? To the death of dreams, hopes, plans, relationships, our health and eventually even to that ultimate spiritual death which is a separation from God forever? If you are aware of this, you will not treat sin lightly, as many do. You will say with David, “Who can discern his errors? Forgive my hidden faults” (Ps. 19:12). You will pray, “Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me” (v. 13). You will strive to live an upright life before God.

The fourth section of Psalm 90 (vv. 13-17) is an appeal to God for an outpouring of his grace, that we may be satisfied with God himself and that our work might endure as something of lasting value even though we ourselves quickly pass away.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the root of man’s mortality? How should this awareness direct us?
  2. Of what is the fourth section of the psalm an appeal?

Reflection: Has sin ever lead to the death of a dream of yours? What did you do, or can do now, to find your satisfaction in God and receive his blessing? How is God calling you to live an upright life before him?

 


The Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals is member supported and operates only by your faithful support. Thank you.


Think and Act Biblically from James Boice is a devotional of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Think and Act Biblically and the mission of the Alliance.