Friday: When Righteousness and Peace Meet

By James Boice

Theme: The Harmony That Only God Can Bring

In this week’s lessons we find encouragement from the knowledge of God’s past faithfulness, and the hope of future blessings because of who he is.

Scripture: Psalm 85:1-13

The devil is the great disrupter. He has brought disharmony to the universe. But God brings harmony. In these verses four great attributes of God meet together—love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace—and then like conquering generals they march side by side to a victory that is the sure and certain hope of God’s people. The stanza suggests three harmonies.

1. The harmony in God. When we speak of mercy and truth as well as righteousness and peace being reconciled in God because of the work of Jesus Christ, we imply that somehow they are in conflict. But the qualities in God are never in conflict, and the psalm is certainly not speaking of a conflict. On the contrary, love and faithfulness, righteousness and peace are always at home in God, and it is from this divine harmony that all other harmonies come. We have peace only when we rest in him.

2. Harmony between heaven and earth. The second harmony is between God and man, which is what verse 11 suggests when it speaks of faithfulness springing from the earth and righteousness looking down from heaven. We may see this as God’s gift of righteousness from above and our response of faith reaching up to receive God’s righteousness and then issuing in faithfulness. But the picture is probably not as specific as this. The verse is better seen as pointing to a state in which God’s people live in faithful obedience to God and are blessed by him. When that happens, salvation has indeed come to a people and the glory of God dwells in their land.

3. A harmony in man. The third harmony is in man himself. For these qualities—love, faithfulness, righteousness and peace—are not among the incommunicable attributes of God, meaning that they are uniquely God’s and cannot be shared with man. They are communicable qualities. They can be shared and therefore can and must appear in those who are God’s people. Moreover, when they appear in us, we find that we are at peace not only with God, but also with ourselves and one another. In fact, we become peacemakers in an otherwise cruel, warring and disharmonious world.

Oliver Cromwell, the Lord Protector of England between the execution of Charles I and the reestablishment of the monarchy under Charles II, loved the psalms, and one of the psalms he loved was this one. On September 16, 1656, he was reading Psalm 85 in Whitehall, the day before the meeting of the second Parliament of the Protectorate. It was a Tuesday. On Wednesday Parliament was opened, and Cromwell addressed the members with a talk based in part on these verses: “Yesterday I did read a psalm, which truly may not unbecome both me to tell you of and you to observe. It is the 85th Psalm; it is very instructive and significant; and though I do but a little touch upon it, I desire your perusal and pleasure.” He then expounded on these verses as an expression of his vision and hope that by their faithfulness to God righteousness might reign in England and a better, finer, happier and more harmonious age might come.1 That was never perfectly achieved, of course. But it was in part and still is wherever the people of God turn from their folly and are revived by him.

1Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904), p. 259.

Study Questions:

  1. What four attributes of God are described in verses 10-13? How does the Bible define each one?
  2. Explain the three harmonies suggested in these verses.

Application: How is the Lord impressing upon you the need to demonstrate the four attributes mentioned today?

 


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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.

Thursday: When Righteousness and Peace Meet

By James Boice

Theme: Waiting for God’s Answer

In this week’s lessons we find encouragement from the knowledge of God’s past faithfulness, and the hope of future blessings because of who he is.

Scripture: Psalm 85:1-13

Having reminded himself of God’s past mercies and having prayed for a renewal of those mercies in his own day, what does the psalmist do next? He does what Habakkuk did in a nearly identical situation. He waits for God to answer (vv. 8, 9). The text says, “I will listen to what God the LORD will say.”

Habakkuk was a minor prophet who lived in a time when Israel was far from the Lord, and he asked God to send a revival, which is exactly what the author of Psalm 85 is doing. Unfortunately, God told Habakkuk that he was going to send judgment by allowing the Babylonians to invade Judah and carry the people into captivity instead. This raised tremendous anxiety and fear in Habakkuk, and he asked God a number of questions about it. He could not understand how God could use an ungodly nation to punish people who, though they were not very godly at this time, were nevertheless at least more godly than the Babylonians. Habakkuk asked his questions, then said, “I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint (Hab. 2:1).

When God answered, it was to say that in time the Babylonian nation would itself be judged and that, in the meantime, the righteous were to live by faith (Hab. 2:4). This is the great verse which, carried over into the book of Romans, was used by God in the conversion of Martin Luther and which thus became the theme verse of the Protestant Reformation.

It is never foolish to wait upon God, for God is not slow to answer. Our problem is that we are impatient and do not wait for him at all. In fact, it is often the case that we do not even lay our requests before him. We do not pray. While he had been waiting for God to answer, the psalmist found his mind turning expectantly to what God would do. He remembered that God had promised “peace” to his people. He reminded himself that the Lord’s “salvation is near those who fear him, that his glory may dwell in our land.” This leads him to look ahead in the last stanza (vv. 10-13) to that brighter promised day, and thus to encourage his spirit by what was surely coming, though it might be delayed. Looking ahead to this bright future is the fourth and last step by which the writer shows us how to rise out of our discouragements into a more faithful frame of mind.

Verse 10 is one of the great poetic sections of the psalms, and it has very naturally appealed to many persons. It is best known in the King James Version: “Mercy and truth are met together; righteousness and peace have kissed each other.”

This is generally understood as pointing to the work of Jesus Christin making atonement for our sins by which alone God is able both to satisfy the demands of his righteousness or justice and at the same time to show mercy to those who have fallen short of his just standards. This may be part of what is involved. But the picture painted by these verses is larger and more comprehensive than that. These verses are actually looking forward to an ideal state and time when the harmony that is in God will also pervade and dominate God’s creation. Derek Kidner says of this stanza, “The climax is one of the most satisfying descriptions of concord—spiritual, moral and material—to be found anywhere in Scripture.”1

1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 308.

Study Questions:

  1. What does it mean to wait for God?
  2. What did Habakkuk ask for? What did God deliver? What lesson did this provide for the people? How does this lesson apply to your life?
  3. To what did the psalmist look? How did that provide encouragement?

Reflection: Do you give God a chance to answer your prayers? What might be reasons why your prayers seem delayed?

Key Point: It is never foolish to wait upon God, for God is not slow to answer. Our problem is that we are impatient and do not wait for him at all.

For Further Study: We do not always understand the ways of the Lord. But we certainly know that we can trust him in all circumstances that concern us. Download and listen for free to two messages from James Boice, both from Romans 11: “The Amazing Ways of God” and “The Inscrutable God.” (Discounts 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.

Wednesday: When Righteousness and Peace Meet

By James Boice

Theme: Prayer for Restoration and Revival

In this week’s lessons we find encouragement from the knowledge of God’s past faithfulness, and the hope of future blessings because of who he is.

Scripture: Psalm 85:1-13

In yesterday’s reading we saw the need to reflect on past mercies. However, remembering the past does not always provide victory in the present. Therefore, in the second stanza of this gentle, perceptive psalm the writer moves to direct petition (vv. 4-7). That is, he moves to prayer. On the people’s behalf, he asks God to: 1) restore us again (v. 4); and 2) revive us again (v. 6).

1. Restore us again. There is some question as to how the Hebrew of this prayer should be translated, for the root word means “turn” and it can be thought of in at least three ways. First, it can refer to the people, which is what the New International Version suggests. That is, it can mean “turn us” or “turn us back,” with the idea of restoration. Second, it can refer to God in the sense that God is being asked to turn from his wrath, a repeat of what is said in verse 4. Third, it can refer to God with the sense that he is being asked to turn back to the people again, since he seems to have turned from them in his displeasure. That would mean that the idea gets repeated again almost exactly in the second half of the verse.

The best translation is probably what the NIV gives us, since the other two ideas are redundant and since the prayer “restore us again” is thereby matched by “revive us again” two verses later. It is what the people need. It is what we need whenever we seem to have lost the joy of our salvation. Fortunately God is the great restorer. He can restore what apart from him could never be made good.

We may think of the promise in the book of Joel in which God pledges himself to restore what the locusts have eaten. There had been a devastating locust invasion in Joel’s day, and Joel explained it as being God’s judgment for the people’s sins as well as a warning of a greater final judgment yet to come. Nevertheless, if the people will repent, says God, “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten—the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm—my great army that I sent among you. You will have plenty to eat, until you are full, and you will praise the name of the LORD your God, who has worked wonders for you” (Joel 2:25, 26).

Sin causes us to lose many blessings. These cannot be recovered; they are gone. But God can give new opportunities and new blessings. If you are one whose life has been ruined by the locusts of sin, making it a spiritual desert, you need to return to the one who can make your life fruitful again. If you will turn to God, he will return to you and restore what “the locusts have eaten.”

2. Revive us again. The second prayer is that God would revive the people. “Revive” means to resurrect or to make alive. It implies that the people were alive once, have died in a spiritual sense and now need to be given spiritual life again. This is what the church almost always needs, and it is how revivals come. We think of revivals as being a movement of God in the world so that unchurched unbelievers come to Christ. But revivals do not start in the world. They start in the church since it is the church that needs to live again.

Historically, revivals have followed three stages. First, under strong biblical preaching by people like Martin Luther, Jonathan Edwards, Gilbert Tennent or George Whitfield, the members of the church, who beforehand had thought they were Christians and that all was well with their souls, wake up to the fact that they are not Christians at all. In the American revivals under Edwards and his contemporary preachers, this was called the Great Awakening. Second, there is the revival itself, which means that those who had thought they were alive but were actually spiritually dead are revived. That is, they repent of their sin and become Christians. The third stage is when these church-going people who are now converted begin to live for Christ so openly and consistently, with noticeable changes of conduct, that the world outside takes notice and begins to press into the church to see what is happening. This is revival. We have had them in the past, but we have not had one in this country for many years.

We need to notice one more thing about this stanza, and that is the reference to God’s “unfailing love” in verse 7, used as an argument for the two prayers. The psalmist does not plead the people’s goodness or even their intentions to reform. On the contrary, he acknowledges the justice of God’s displeasure. Nevertheless God is unfailing in his love, and it is to this, that is, to the mercy of God, that the writer pleads. Never plead your merits before God. Plead mercy. It is mercy we need. We need it from first to last, and we need it every single day.

Study Questions:

  1. After reflecting on past mercies, what does the psalmist do?
  2. Give the best probable translation of the word “turn” as used here. Why is it the preferred translation?
  3. What does God promise if you turn from sin?
  4. Explain what “revival” means in this study. What is the implication when used here? Where does revival begin?

Reflection: In what way has God worked in your life as the great restorer?

Prayer: Ask God to repay the years the locusts of sin have eaten in your life.

Key Point: Sin causes us to lose many blessings. But God can give new opportunities and new blessings.

 


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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: When Righteousness and Peace Meet

By James Boice

Theme: Remembering God’s Mercy

In this week’s lessons we find encouragement from the knowledge of God’s past faithfulness, and the hope of future blessings because of who he is.

Scripture: Psalm 85:1-13

The place we have to start to overcome discouragement is by reflecting on the goodness of God toward us in past days (vv. 1-3). This is part of the problem, of course, because it is the unfavorable contrast between these past experiences of God’s mercies and the lack of them now that has caused us to become discouraged. Yet it is part of the solution too, since it is because God is good that we have hope of recovering what we’ve lost.

The first verse deals with the land and with the people’s reversal of fortune, which is why we think of this as applying to the period following the exile. But what is striking about this opening stanza is that it is not the restoration to the land that is dwelt on, but rather the forgiveness of sins and the removal of the wrath of God, which preceded it. As the psalmist says, “You forgave the iniquity of your people and covered all their sins. You set aside all your wrath and turned from your fierce anger.”

The greatest of all mercies that we can receive from God is forgiveness of sins, and it is from this foundation that all other covenanted mercies flow. Yet how little we value it! If God gives us good health, a happy and supportive family, a good job and praise from our employer and friends, we think we are blessed. If we lack any one of these things, we begin to suppose that God has somehow forgotten us or does not care. We do not think how blessed we are to have our sins forgiven and to be delivered from the judicial wrath of God through the atoning death of his Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Some of the strongest salvation language in Scripture is present in these verses. “Covered their sins” describes what is meant by “atonement.” “Set aside your wrath” is what is meant by the word “propitiation.”

If we would remember God’s mercy to us in the forgiveness of our sins, it might not be necessary for us to go any further along the four-step path suggested by this psalm. By taking this step alone we might find that we are already rising out of our discouragement and will soon be praising God again rather than complaining to him.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the first step to overcoming discouragement?
  2. What is meant by calling God “good”? How does reflecting on past mercies help the spiritually depressed person?
  3. Why is it wrong to conclude that God has forgotten us if we lack something such as good health, a successful job, or a happy family?

Reflection: How often is your attitude dependent on the good things God gives, rather than on your salvation?

Application: Review your own past experiences of God’s blessings as a means to trust him with your present discouragement and uncertainty about the future.


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: When Righteousness and Peace Meet

By James Boice

Theme: A Psalm for the Discouraged

In this week’s lessons we find encouragement from the knowledge of God’s past faithfulness, and the hope of future blessings because of who he is.

Scripture: Psalm 85:1-13

Have you ever been discouraged? Not just about life—perhaps because things have not gone very well for you recently, which is the case time and again for many of us—but about your spiritual life? Or perhaps I could be even more specific: Have you ever been discouraged because the life you are living now does not seem to be as real or as joyful as your life was after you first became a Christian? John Wesley knew times like this and wrote about them poetically, asking,

Where is the joy I knew

When first I saw the Lord?

It is a good question. In such times we long for the spiritual vitality and fruitfulness of earlier days. And if we are not too discouraged to pray about it, our prayer is often that God might revive us or restore us to what we once knew. Psalm 85 is precisely this kind of prayer.

There is nothing in the title to show what historical setting Psalm 85 might have come out of. It is introduced only as another of the songs of the “Sons of Korah,” which we encountered first at the opening of Book 2 of the Psalter (Psalms 42, 44-49) and are reencountering now (Psalms 84,85, 87, 88). But it is likely, to judge from the contrast between the opening verses, which speak of a recent restoration of the people, and the prayer in verses 4-7, which asks for a new restoration or revival, that the psalm is from the time shortly after the return of the Jews from their seventy-year-long captivity in Babylon.1

However, this may not be the right setting for this psalm. A number of key interpreters doubt it. But even if it is not, the condition of the exiles shortly after their return from Babylon is an illustration of the kind of discouragement out of which the psalm comes. The first Jews to return to Jerusalem did so in response to the decree of Cyrus, the king of Persia, in 538 B.C. The account is in Ezra 16. The foundations of the temple were laid immediately, and the temple itself was completed between 520 and 515 B.C. to judge from the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah.

Somewhere along the way the Jews also tried to rebuild the city’s walls. This was hard and the work was abandoned, probably after their enemies destroyed what little rebuilding work had been done and burned the city’s gates (Neh. 1:3). At first the people must have felt joy at being able to return to their homeland. They would have confessed with gratitude that God had indeed restored their fortunes, forgiven their sin and turned aside his wrath (Ps. 85:1-3). But when these first excellent beginnings broke down and the forward motion to rebuild the city and nation ceased, discouragement and even despair set in. According to the opening chapter of Nehemiah, the people acknowledged frankly that they were “in great trouble and disgrace.”

What do God’s people do in such circumstances? They pray and wait for God to answer. I repeat that I do not know whether this is the proper historical setting for Psalm 85. But I know that Psalm 85 is this kind of prayer. And I also know that if this is the true setting, God answered the prayer by sending Nehemiah to rebuild the walls, reconstitute the nation and lift the people to new levels of spirituality and rejoicing. It is what the book that bears his name is all about.

So let’s look at our psalm that way this week. Let’s look at it for the pointers or steps it gives by which a discouraged Christian—maybe you—can be lifted from spiritual depression to new levels of rejoicing. I suggest that there are four steps, clearly marked by the four stanzas of the New International Version translation.

1The strongest champions of this view are H. C. Leupold (Exposition of the Psalms [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969], pp. 609, 610) and J.J. Stewart Perowne (Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 [Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989], vol. 2, pp. 123, 124. Original edition 1878, 1879). Perowne says, “The most probable way of explaining this conflict of opposing feelings is by referring the psalm to the circumstances mentioned by Nehemiah (chap. 1-3).”

Study Questions:

  1. What is the likely setting for this psalm?
  2. How did the exiles feel upon returning to their homeland? Why? What happened to them?

Reflection: Take time to evaluate your feelings about your spiritual life. Are you discouraged? Joyful? Content? What have your prayers been like recently?

Application: What do you need to do if you are feeling discouraged? How can you use this period of your life to better minister to others?

For Further Study: Is there someone you would like to encourage this Christmas in their knowledge of God’s Word and in their Christian walk? Consider giving them James Boice’s three-volume paperback set on the Psalms, available from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals for 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: The Psalm of the Janitors

By James Boice

Theme: Living by Faith

In this week’s lessons we are reminded of the need to long after God, who delights in his people as they trust in him.

Scripture: Psalm 84:1-12

We can look at Psalm 84 in light of a three-part outline based on the three progressive blessings or beatitudes found in verses 4, 5, and 12. As we saw in yesterday’s study, the first is for those who live and work in the temple; and the second is for those who are on their way to it, for pilgrims. Today we look at the third, which is for those who cannot get to the temple but who place their faith in God.

3. Those who trust God (v. 12). The third blessing occurs at the end of the psalm and is for those who trust God: “O LORD Almighty, blessed is the man who trusts in you” (v. 12).

I suppose the greatest mistake we can make in looking at this psalm or any of the psalms that are like it (for example, Psalms 27, 42, 43) is to suppose that when the writers express their passionate longing for the house of God all they are thinking of is the building or possibly the festivals that occurred there. It is true that these ancient writers were thinking of the building and the festivals, and thus in a physical manner that is always just a bit foreign to us even in our most “down to earth” moods. We cannot associate the worship of God with our particular church structure, as they seem to have done. But we misunderstand these writers if we suppose that all they were thinking about was the building. Actually, their true delight was in God, which is why, in spite of the earlier open passionate pining for God’s house, the psalm ends with blessing for the person who simply trusts God. It is a way of saying that in the final analysis this is what truly matters and what life is about.

It is why the verse immediately before this does not speak about the temple, even though the writer says he would rather be a doorkeeper there than dwell in the tents of the wicked, just a verse before that. The verse is about God and his attributes. This is the only place in the Bible where God is explicitly called “a sun.” It is because he shines on us and is the brightness of our days. Moreover, he is a shield from our foes and the only possible source of favor and true honor. The last part of verse 11 (“no good thing does he withhold from those whose walk is blameless”) is a close equivalent of Romans 8:28 (“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him”).

So let us learn to seek God—in the company of his people, the church, and by looking toward heaven. I mention the church first, because God has promised to meet us there. Jesus said, “Where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them” (Matt. 18:20). If you want to learn about God and come to know God personally, start with church. It is why we meet together. But I also say heaven, because ultimately it is God himself we long for and in whom alone we will be satisfied, not the fellowship of God’s people, however rewarding that may be. Maclaren says, “If we want rest, let us clasp God as ours; if we desire a home warm, safe, sheltered from every wind that blows, and inaccessible to enemies, let us, like the swallows, nestle under the eaves of the Temple. Let us take God for our hope.”1

1Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48, p. 128.

Study Questions:

  1. Explain the longing for the house of God, and why we can make a mistake in understanding it.
  2. What images are used for God in verse 11? What do the images convey?

Reflection: In what ways do you need to grow in your longing for God and to trust in him?

For Further Study: As we think about the dwelling place of God, we know that it is God himself for whom we long, and in whom we trust. To help us reflect on God and his attributes, particularly his glory, download and listen for free to Bryan Chapell’s message, “God’s Glory Revealed.” (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: The Psalm of the Janitors

By James Boice

Theme: Blessings from God’s House

In this week’s lessons we are reminded of the need to long after God, who delights in his people as they trust in him.

Scripture: Psalm 84:1-12

There are a number of ways of outlining Psalm 84, or parts of it. It can be done by the selahs, which divide the psalm into three parts, or by the stanzas of the New International Version, which would give us six parts, or in other ways. I have avoided expounding the psalm by means of its outline, considering that a far better way to get into it is by dealing with its authorship and images, as I have done.

However, at this point there is a three-part outline that can move us forward. It is the three blessings or beatitudes found in verses 4, 5 and 12. They make a progression. The first is for those who live and work in the temple. The second is for those who are on their way to it, for pilgrims. The third, which we will look at in tomorrow’s study, is for those who cannot get to the temple but who place their faith in God.

1. Those who dwell in God’s house (v. 4). We should be prepared for this blessing now, since it is what the psalm has been about almost entirely up to this point. The psalmists were aware that “the Lord of heaven and earth does not live in temples built by hands,” as the Apostle Paul would later tell the Athenians (Acts 17:24). But there had been a special manifestation of God at the temple, when God descended in the form of the Shekinah glory to dwell within the Most Holy Place. And even though that visible glory at some point had departed or would depart, the ancient worshipers nevertheless felt the presence of God in the temple and even in Jerusalem, as nowhere else. It is why David wrote in Psalm 27: “One thing I ask of the LORD, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the LORD and to seek him in his temple” (v. 4). It is why the sons of Korah speak of yearning and even fainting for the courts of the Lord in Psalm 84.

Because God dwelled in Zion, the most favored of all human beings were those who lived there too, especially those who, like the priests, actually worked in the temple, whether making the sacrifices, conducting the music or attending to the inevitable custodial work. “Blessed are those who dwell in your house,” says the psalmist. “They are ever praising you.”

2. Those who are making their way to God’s house (v. 5). Not everyone was able to live in Jerusalem, of course. The majority of the people were scattered throughout the country in small villages or family farms. What about those people? The psalmist does not forget them and, in fact, has a blessing for them too (see v. 5). The remainder of this stanza (vv. 6, 7) describes the special blessings of the pilgrims who would be making their way up to Jerusalem for the feasts.

It is because of this stanza that so many of the commentators consider this a pilgrim psalm. It is not, as I have indicated. Nevertheless, there are blessings for these pilgrims. They are: 1) that they bless every area they pass through, even the Valley of Baca (“valley of weeping”), turning it into “a place of springs”; and 2) that they “go from strength to strength till each appears before God in Zion.”

What a wonderful picture of the Christian life! Those who have come to know God in Jesus Christ are not seeking an earthly temple. We are seeking a heavenly temple and a city that has heavenly foundations (Heb. 12:22-24). As we press forward to that goal we pass through many Valleys of Baca and many autumns with falling brown leaves and cold slashing rains. But we are not disheartened by these things. On the contrary, we rise above them and go on from strength to strength, strengthening one another along the way, and blessing all we meet. Do you know Christians like that? I know many. I have been encouraged and helped and blessed by scores of people like this. You and I need to be exactly that for other people.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the progression of this psalm?
  2. What was special about the temple? About those who live there?
  3. What are the blessings for the pilgrims?

Application: Who has been an encouragement to you in your Christian life? How can you express your appreciation for them? Whom do you know who needs your help, and what will you do for their spiritual growth?


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: The Psalm of the Janitors

By James Boice

Theme: Of Sparrows and Swallows

In this week’s lessons we are reminded of the need to long after God, who delights in his people as they trust in him.

Scripture: Psalm 84:1-12

There are probably some poetic overtones to the mention of the sparrows and swallows in this psalm, and they are not inappropriate to the writer’s message. This is only to say that the imagery supports the writer’s message, as it should.

1. Sparrows. In the Bible sparrows are a symbol for something that is almost worthless. In Jerusalem the boys that caught sparrows to get a little bit of spending money sold two for a farthing and five for two farthings (Matt. 10:29; Luke 12:6). A farthing (assarion) was the smallest and least valuable copper coin. Yet the sparrow found a home near God’s altar (Ps. 84:3). Will God not also provide a home for you who are worth much more than sparrows? When he was referring to a sparrow’s value Jesus said, “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father…So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Matt. 10:29, 31).

Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote about sparrows thoughtfully, comparing them to the people of God: “I look down some little street and see a humble chapel where a group of simple people worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness, despised and rejected of men, even as was their Lord, and I know that this is the rich reality of spiritual truth. Here are the sparrows who find their nest at the cross of Jesus Christ. Here is worthlessness that finds its worth because the Savior died.”1

2. Swallows. Just as the sparrow is a symbol of worthlessness, so is a swallow the Bible’s symbol of restlessness. It is a bird that is always in the air, winging its way from point to point from the earliest glimmer of dawn to after sunset. It wearies the watcher who is trying to keep it in view. But then the time comes for it to mate and raise young, and the swallow builds a nest and settles down upon it to rest peacefully. This is a picture of the soul apart from God and then in God, when at last it comes to rest in him. Alexander Maclaren said, “There is only one being in this world that does not fit the world that he is in, and that is man, chief and foremost of all. Other beings perfectly correspond to what we now call their ‘environment.’”2 He meant what Saint Augustine meant when he wrote in words much better known, “Our hearts are restless till they rest in thee.”3

Have you found rest in God, or are you still wandering and restless, as so many persons are? God offers you peace. Even the swallow found “a nest for herself where she may have her young—a place near your altar.”

1Donald Grey Barnhouse, God’s Remedy: Exposition of Bible Doctrines, Taking the Epistle to the Romans as a Point of Departure, Vol. 3, Romans 3:21-4:25 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1954), p. 239.

2Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, Vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), pp. 124, 125.

3Augustine, The Confessions, book 1, par. 1, in Basic Writings of Saint Augustine, ed. Whitney J. Oates (New York: Random House, 1948), Vol. 1, p. 3.

Study Questions:

  1. What are sparrows generally a symbol for in the Bible?
  2. How are sparrows viewed in Matthew 10:29-31? What does this teach about God’s concern for us?
  3. For what are swallows a symbol? What does this symbol convey about people?

Application: Ask the Lord to make those who do not know him restless until they come to a saving knowledge of him, and experience the rest that only he can give.

 


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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: The Psalm of the Janitors

By James Boice

Theme: Security in the Lord

In this week’s lessons we are reminded of the need to long after God, who delights in his people as they trust in him.

Scripture: Psalm 84:1-12

As I have read over the various commentaries on this psalm, I sense that the understanding of it that I shared yesterday eliminates a lot of the scholarly barnacles that surround it and opens it up to us in fresh ways.

For this is not a song of pilgrims making their way up to Jerusalem for one of the three annual feasts, as many commentators argue. There are other psalms that do that (Psalms 120-134). Nor is it an allegory in which the sparrows and swallows of verse 3 represent the psalmist, even less their “young” standing for his children, which others have suggested. It is not even a psalm of a person who has been separated from the temple, as David was on at least several occasions, though it would be appropriate for such a person. It is a psalm of people who were present in the temple, who served in God’s house, and who are expressing here how intensely their very souls yearned and even fainted for God. They are saying that their souls yearn for God’s house not because they are separated from it, but because that is where they are and want to be. It is why they are serving.

This throws light on the most beautiful language of the psalm also, the part having to do with the sparrows and the swallows. People have tried to read hidden meanings into this, but it is best taken as a simple observation, as H. C. Leupold suggests:

The statement is not to be thought of as being a kind of allegory in which the birds represent the writer or any worshiper. Nor do the “young” in this case symbolize the children of the writer. Nor is the term “altars” to be understood in absolute literalness as though the writer were trying to indicate that birds actually built their nests upon the altars which were in use every day.1

The poet simply saw birds at the temple, and his point is that as the birds make their home at the temple and were secure there with no fear of enemies, so may the people of God make their home in God and find their security in him.

1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), pp. 604, 605.

Study Questions:

  1. For what are the people yearning in Psalm 84? Why?
  2. How does the psalmist see the birds?

Reflection: Where do you find security in this world? Do you find it in your home, achievements, talents, or career? How can God provide you with security?

 


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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: The Psalm of the Janitors

By James Boice

Theme: Longing for God’s House

In this week’s lessons we are reminded of the need to long after God, who delights in his people as they trust in him.

Scripture: Psalm 84:1-12

All of the Psalter’s psalms are beautiful, profound and poignant, but some stand out above the rest, and Psalm 84 is one of them. For its high and uplifting sentiment, the simplicity and exquisite beauty of its images and its moving aspirations, it may be unequaled anywhere. Charles Haddon Spurgeon called Psalm 84 “one of the choicest of the collection.” He wrote, “If the twenty-third be the most popular, the one-hundred-and-third the most joyful, the one-hundred-and-nineteenth the most deeply experimental, the fifty-first the most plaintive, this is one of the most sweet of the Psalms of Peace.1

Psalm 84 is a psalm of longing, longing for God’s house, and it is by the “sons of Korah,” as the title indicates. This is very important, as we will see. Psalm 84 is one of four Korahite psalms found in Book 3 of the psalter (Psalms 84, 85, 87, 88). There are eight in Book 2 (Psalms 42-49).

Let me begin with a story. When Donald Grey Barnhouse, one of my predecessors as a pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, was in seminary, he knew a student who seemed unable to take anything spiritual seriously. I knew many like him in my day, but that was later. I attended seminary in the early 1960s, and this would have been much earlier in the century.

The student who was in seminary in Barnhouse’s time was present with him at a prayer meeting at which the leader asked each person to give a Bible verse that had been a special blessing. When his turn came this student said quite solemnly, “First Chronicles 26:18.” There was a pause while the others looked it up. Then, just as they were finding it, the young man blurted it out so rapidly that the words almost ran together: “At Parbar, westward, four at the causeway, and two at Parbar” (KJV). Everyone was a bit puzzled. Then the seminarian quipped, “If you believe in the inspiration of the Bible, find some inspiration in that verse.” Fortunately, he later dropped out of seminary and took a secular position.

Years went by, and from time to time Barnhouse remembered that remark. Then one day, when he was studying the Bible and came across 1 Chronicles 26:18, Barnhouse decided to find out what the verse meant. He looked at the context, first of all, and found that it was a record of the assigning of the sons of Levi to various places of service in the Lord’s house. Aaron was of this tribe, and his sons were divided into twenty-four groups to maintain the sacrifices at the altar (1 Chron. 24). The descendants of Aaron’s cousins Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun were divided into similar groups to conduct the music that was to be sung at God’s house, “accompanied by harps, lyres and cymbals” (1 Chron. 25:1). The next chapter, from which the student’s strange verse had been lifted, was a record of the assignments given to a third branch of Levi’s tribe, that of the sons of Kore (Korah, who were called Korahites.) These men were chosen to be “gatekeepers” or doorkeepers, janitors, if you like. It was humble work, but the Bible takes approving notice of it, saying, “They were very capable men…men with the strength to do the work” (1 Chron. 26:6, 8). The chapter then goes on to record where each should serve. Some were stationed to the north, others to the east, south and west. It is at this point that the verse concerning Parbar and the causeway occurs.

Parbar is merely the Hebrew word, of course. It is uncommon. So when the translators of the King James Bible came to render this into English, they had no way of determining what the word meant and so transliterated it, taking it as a place name. It turns out that Parbar was the name for the temple’s western colonnade, which is how the newer versions render it. For example, the New International Version says, “As for the court to the west, there were four at the road and two at the court itself.” What this chapter teaches is that God took pains to appoint specific men to be the gatekeepers or janitors of the temple and honored them for rendering that service.

Here is where Barnhouse’s story has bearing on the psalm. Those who were appointed gatekeepers were the sons of Korah, among others, and in time they wrote our beautiful eighty-fourth psalm as an expression of their joy in their work. Read it now in this light:

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints

for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you…. Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked (vv. 1-4, 10).

Years later Barnhouse wrote, “Many times I have thanked God for the cynical twist in the mind of that fellow who tossed a seemingly nonsensical verse into the midst of a prayer meeting. He meant it for confusion, but the Lord meant it to me for good. For I learned later, as I probed into the depths of the Word of God, that God is interested in the simplest tasks of the simplest men.”2

1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, Vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 432.

2Donald Grey Barnhouse, “The Christian and the Old Testament,” booklet 86 in the series of Broadcast Notes issued to supporters of the Bible Study Hour (Philadelphia: Bible Study Hour, 1959), p. 25. The entire story is on pp. 23-25.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the theme of Psalm 84?
  2. For what does the psalmist long?
  3. What is the message that Dr. Barnhouse gleaned from 1 Chronicles 26:18?

Observation: A seemingly unimportant verse can help us understand other passages.

Reflection: Do you feel that your work for the Lord is worthless? Thank God that he is concerned with your most earnest and humble work.

Key Point: God is interested in the simplest tasks of the simplest men.

For Further Study: The book of Psalms helps to deepen our prayer life, and to encourage us toward greater praise and thanks for all the Lord’s goodness toward us. James Boice’s three-volume collection of sermons on all the psalms is available for 25% off the regular price. This would make a great gift for Christmas, as well as an edifying study for your own devotions for the new year.


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.