Wednesday: A Sober “Song of Moses”

By James Boice

Theme: The Brevity of Life

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

In contrast with the stability and eternity of God, Moses directs our attention next to the weakness of man and to the brevity of his earthly life (vv. 3-6). In the dry, arid climate of the near east a night rain will often cause a carpet of green grass to spring up in the morning on the otherwise brown hills. But the blazing daytime sun will frequently also scorch it out by nightfall. Moses is saying that our lives are like that.

The Apostle Peter picks up on verse 4 in 2 Peter 3:8, writing, “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.” His point is that God is not slow in bringing about the return of Jesus Christ and the final judgment, but delays his judgment to give people time to repent of sin and come to faith. Moses’ point is not that time passes quickly for God, but rather that it passes quickly for us. Even if we should live a thousand years, as Methuselah almost did (see Gen. 5:27), it is still only as “a day that has gone by” or “a watch in the night.”

Later in the psalm Moses will speak of “the length of our days” being “seventy years—or eighty, if we have the strength” (v. 10). I have noticed when I have been visiting very elderly people on their birthday that there are usually two things of which they seem proud: first, that they have lived as long as they have, and second, that so many people have remembered their birthdays by sending them cards. That is all very fine, of course. I am proud for them, and pleased too. But we must remember that however long we live, death comes in the end and that what we accomplish will eventually be forgotten by everyone. Only God does not forget. Only what we do for him will remain as an everlasting accomplishment.

Study Questions:

  1. What does Moses contrast with the stability and eternity of God?
  2. How do Peter and Moses view time? How does the Lord measure time?

Application: In light of verses 3-6, what in your life needs to change? What do you need to do more of, or better?


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.

Tuesday: A Sober “Song of Moses”

By James Boice

Theme: Our Only Sure Foundation

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

Yesterday we looked at the first circumstance arising from Numbers 20, that of the death of Miriam. Today we continue with two others.

2. Moses’ sin in striking the rock. The next section of Numbers 20 (vv. 2-13) tells of Moses’ sin in striking the rock. We can sympathize with Moses, even to the point of thinking that God’s judgment was unfair. Moses was almost one hundred twenty years old at this time. For thirty-eight years he had looked forward to the conquest of Canaan, which could have taken place four decades earlier. He had been patient all this time, but at last his patience broke. No wonder! We are not surprised that he denounced the complainers among the people as being no different than their forefathers. We would have done the same. True, but this was still a sad failure on Moses’ part, and God took it seriously. God always takes sin seriously. With God no sin is unimportant.

3. The death of Aaron. The third incident is the death of Aaron (Num. 20:22-29). This was a transitional moment marked by a month of formal mourning on the people’s part. Aaron’s death must also have been a terrible loss for Moses, for he had worked with Aaron for forty years and Aaron was the last of his father’s family.

We come now to Psalm 90 itself, a psalm that, like Numbers 20, is a reflection on human mortality and the brevity of life, plus quiet confidence in God who is the steadfast hope of the righteous. This psalm is probably the greatest passage in the Bible contrasting the grandeur of God with man’s frailty.

Few people on earth, perhaps none, have had as strong a sense of the greatness and eternal grandeur of God as did Moses, for Moses knew God intimately and conversed with him “face to face” (Num. 12:8). It is not surprising then that he should begin with a reflection on God’s being a sure eternal refuge for his people: “Lord, you have been our dwelling place throughout all generations. Before the mountains were born or you brought forth the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (vv. 1, 2).

Moses was aware, probably more than most of us, that life is uncertain at best. There is no permanence to be found in it. Nevertheless, he was also profoundly aware of God’s existence, and he knew that God is the one foundation for everything. Therefore, the person who is anchored in him is eternally secure. Moreover, the one who trusts God has a secure “dwelling place” in him. The Hebrew word for “dwelling place” may also be translated “refuge,” which is how it appears in Deuteronomy 33:27, one of the other “songs of Moses.” It is one of several allusions to Moses’ other writings, which may be evidence of his authorship of the psalm.1

Here we have no fixed home, but like Moses, Abraham and the other Old Testament patriarchs, we look “forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God” (Heb. 11:10). Do you look forward to such a dwelling? Or are you putting your hope and all your earthly efforts into perishable things which will soon pass away? Paul said, “We fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Cor. 4:18).

1For example, verse 3 contains an obvious allusion to Genesis 3:19, and “the work of our hands” occurs seven times in Deuteronomy.

Study Questions:

  1. Explain the significance of Moses’ striking the rock.
  2. Give a brief description of Moses’ view of life.

Reflection: Do you ever trivialize some sin as being unimportant? How should you view it?

Application: Do you put earthly efforts into perishable things? What do you need to do to reorient your priorities properly?

Key Point: God always takes sin seriously. With God no sin is unimportant.

 


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: A Sober “Song of Moses”

By James Boice

Theme: A Serious and Personal Psalm

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

Psalm 90 is the only psalm in the Psalter that is attributed to Moses, but it is not the only piece of poetry Moses wrote.1 There are two other “songs of Moses” in the Bible. One of them was the hymn the Jews sang after their deliverance from Egypt and the drowning of Pharaoh and his army in the Red Sea (Exod. 15:1-18). The other was the song Moses recited to the people before his ascension of Mount Nebo, where he died (Deut. 32:1-43). The first song is pure praise, a joyful celebration. The second is a reminder of Israel’s past rebellion against God and of God’s resulting judgments. Psalm 90, the song we are to study now, is the most sober and also the most personal of these poetic compositions.

If the psalm really is by Moses, as I believe (though this is doubted by many scholars), the historical setting is probably best understood by the incidents recorded in Numbers 20: 1) the death of Miriam, Moses’ sister; 2) the sin of Moses in striking the rock in the wilderness, which kept him from entering the promised land; and 3) the death of Aaron, Moses’ brother.

These sad events are reflected throughout the psalm. Yet Psalm 90 does not have a defeated or bitter tone, only the recognition that man is frail and sinful and that he needs the eternal God as his only possible hope and home. H. C. Leupold wrote of Psalm 90, “There does not appear to be any trace of bitterness or of undue pessimism. Just plain, realistic thinking marks these words.”2

Psalm 90 has given us one of our best-loved hymns, “Our God, Our Help in Ages Past,” by Isaac Watts, a hymn frequently sung at the closing of the year and even at funerals. The first verse is this:

Our God, our help in ages past,

Our hope for years to come,

Our shelter from the stormy blast,

And our eternal home.

Like Moses, Watts recognized that our lives are insubstantial and fleeting. After a short duration we fly away “forgotten as a dream.” But he also knew that believers have an eternal home in God.

If Numbers 20 is the background for this psalm, as I suggested, we can find important light shed on the psalm from that chapter. Miriam and Aaron have died. Soon Moses will die. In the meantime, Moses’ sin has kept him from entering the land of promise. The themes of the psalm suggest that it is probably an inspired reflection on the three circumstances mentioned above, the first of which we will look at today.

1. The death of Miriam. The death of Miriam is reported briefly in one verse and with just six words in English (Num. 20:1). This must have been a terrible loss for Moses. Miriam was the leading female character at the time of the Exodus, and although she was not perfect—she led Aaron in the unwarranted rebellion against Moses’ unique authority recorded in Numbers 12—she must have been close to Moses and was one of the few (with Aaron) with whom he could reminisce about their former life in Egypt. By this point Moses, Aaron, Miriam, Caleb and Joshua were the only survivors of the generation that had come out of Egypt, had met with the Lord at Sinai and had been turned back before being able to enter Canaan. Miriam’s death was a reminder of God’s judgment on that generation, that none should enter Canaan, and a sad anticipation of the deaths of Aaron and Moses, which were soon to come.

Death is inescapable; we should know that. God has declared, “Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment” (Heb. 9:27). Because death is inescapable it is important that we prepare for it.

1Psalm 90 is the oldest psalm in the Psalter. It is also one of only three psalms in this fourth book of psalms assigned to specific authors (Psalm 90 to Moses, Psalms 101 and 103 to David). It is a characteristic of this fourth book that most of the psalms are anonymous.

2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 645.

Study Questions:

  1. Who wrote the psalm and how does it compare with other poetry he wrote?
  2. What historical events are reflected throughout the psalm?
  3. Why might Miriam’s death have been particularly sad for Moses?

Reflection: What does Moses’ example teach you about how to respond to God in the midst of difficult circumstances, such as the death of a loved one?

Key Point: Because death is inescapable it is important that we prepare for it.

For Further Study: This psalm impresses upon us the truth that life is short, and that one day we will stand before God and give an account of what we have done with our lives. James Boice’s careful and applied study of all 150 psalms is available in a three-volume paperback set.  Order yours and receive 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: Our Covenant-Keeping God, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: Our Only Comfort in Life and in Death

In this week’s lessons we learn that although at times it can seem as if there is a gap between God’s promises and reality, God is unchanging in his faithfulness.

Scripture: Psalm 89:38-52

Today we continue our discussion of six ways in which God does not change, as outlined in J. I. Packer’s book, Knowing God.

4. God’s ways do not change. As Packer writes

He continues to act towards sinful men in the way that he does in the Bible story. Still he shows his freedom and lordship by discriminating between sinners, causing some to hear the gospel while others do not hear it, and moving some of those who hear it to repentance while leaving others in their unbelief….Still he blesses those on whom he sets his love in a way that humbles them, so that all the glory may be his alone. Still he hates the sins of his people, and uses all kinds of inward and outward pains and griefs to wean their hearts from compromise and disobedience….Man’s ways, we know, are pathetically inconstant but not God’s.1

5. God’s purposes do not change. The ups and downs of history do not frustrate God or cause him to alter what he has determined beforehand to do. Has he planned to bring many sons and daughters into glory through faith in Jesus? Then he will do it. Has he purposed to bless Israel nationally? Then it will come to pass. What God does he has planned in eternity, and what he has planned in eternity will be carried out in time.

6. God’s Son does not change. Most blessed of all for Christians is that the Lord Jesus Christ does not change. Thus it remains true that “he is able to save completely those who come to God through him” (Heb. 7:25). When the great protector Oliver Cromwell was dying, he was overcome with spiritual darkness and depression, and in his despair he asked his chaplain, “Tell me, is it possible to fall from grace?”

“No,” said his minister. “It is not possible.”

“Then I am safe,” said Cromwell, “for I know that I was once in grace. I am the poorest wretch that ever lived, but I know that God has loved me.”

Do you remember this Heidelberg Catechism question: “What is thy only comfort in life and in death?” Answer: “That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; yea, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto him.”

There is one last point. In the Targums, the Jewish rabbis interpreted verse 51 as a reproach to God because of his delay in sending the Messiah: “He delays so long in coming that they say he will never come.”2 I am not at all sure this is what the psalmist had in mind. For him “your anointed one” probably meant the reigning or last reigning Davidic king. But whether Ethan had the Messiah in view or not, it is certainly the Messiah who is the fulfillment of the covenant with David and for whom we also look.

Do you remember the cry of the saints in Revelation, which I referred to previously: “How long, Sovereign Lord” (Rev. 6:10)? That question hangs in the air throughout Revelation. It is there at the end. But at the end we also have the answer of Jesus, who says, “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:12, 13; see vv. 7, 20). To this we reply, “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus” (v. 20). The editor who closed out this third book of the Psalter had a like faith when he followed Ethan’s cry with the faith-filled ascription: “Praise be to the LORD forever! Amen and Amen” (Ps. 89:52).

1J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), pp. 70, 71.

2J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 2, p. 155. Original edition 1878, 1879.

Study Questions:

  1. List some examples of God’s unchanging ways and purposes.
  2. How do we know we will not fall from grace?

Reflection:  Reread and think about the answer given in the Heidelberg Catechism to its first question. Does any of its wording strike you as especially thoughtful or encouraging?

Prayer: Praise God for his faithfulness, starting by thanking him for the works we see in the Bible, and then for his actions in history. Conclude by praising him for his faithfulness demonstrated in your life, both spiritually and materially.

 


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: Our Covenant-Keeping God, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: The God Who Changes Not

In this week’s lessons we learn that although at times it can seem as if there is a gap between God’s promises and reality, God is unchanging in his faithfulness.

Scripture: Psalm 89:38-52

I cannot end this treatment of God’s faithfulness and the way in which God seemed to have broken his covenant by allowing the throne of David to be overthrown without calling attention to Paul’s handling of the same problem in Romans 9-11. Paul’s concern is not identical; he knew that the kingdom of David has been established forever in the reign of Jesus Christ. He is concerned with salvation of Israel instead. Nevertheless, the covenant is the matter in question, and he introduces it explicitly when he combines the coming of Jesus with the Jews’ salvation, quoting from Isaiah: “The deliverer will come from Zion; he will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is my covenant with them when I take away their sins” (Rom. 11:26, 27; from Isaiah 59:20, 21; 27:9). Paul’s argument in Romans is that in time “all Israel will be saved” (Rom. 11:26), precisely because God made a covenant with them and God is faithful to his promises.

We also are party to a covenant, if we have believed on Jesus Christ. The Jews are to be brought to faith in the last days. But we stand in a like covenant today, and the attributes of God that formed the earlier covenant are for our encouragement. When we talk about God’s irrevocable covenant we are speaking about God’s immutability. Immutability means that God does not change, and because he does not change he can be counted on. In what ways does God not change? In his popular book, Knowing God, English theologian J. I. Packer lists six areas, three of which we will take up today.1

1. God’s life does not change. Created things have a beginning and an end, but God does not. God does not grow old or mature or weaken or grow stronger. God cannot change for the better, because he is already perfect, and he certainly cannot change for the worse.

2. God’s character does not change. One of the most repeated passages in the Bible is Exodus 34:6, 7, in which God reveals himself to Moses, saying, “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation.”

That is what God was like in the days of the Jewish Exodus, and that is what he is like today. Sickness, old age or adverse circumstances can destroy our good traits, but nothing like this ever happens to God. He can be counted on to be as kind, gracious, forgiving and holy as he always was.

3. God’s truth does not change. This means that the truths of the Bible do not change. What we read in the pages of Holy Scripture is as right and true today as ever.

1J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1973), pp. 68-72.

Study Questions:

  1. Compare and contrast David’s situation in Psalm 89 with Paul’s concern in Romans 9-11.
  2. What does immutability mean? What does it teach us about God and his dealings with us?
  3. What can be learned from studying this psalm and other passages about the covenant?
  4. Review the first three areas in which God does not change. How does each one address and challenge ideas popular in contemporary secular culture concerning things such as origins, behavior, and truth?

Application: Pray for opportunities to share with others how God does not change, and what that means for those who need to repent of their sin and trust in Christ.

Key Point: He can be counted on to be as kind, gracious, forgiving and holy as he always was.

For Further Study: To learn more about the covenant God who always keeps his promises, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “God of the Covenant.” (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.

Wednesday: Our Covenant-Keeping God, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: “How Long, O LORD?”

In this week’s lessons we learn that although at times it can seem as if there is a gap between God’s promises and reality, God is unchanging in his faithfulness.

Scripture: Psalm 89:38-52

In case we have any question about the tone in which the psalmist is making the statements in verses 39-45, we find ourselves pointed in the right direction in the eighth and final stanza (vv. 46–51). Here we have his appeal, focused on the question: “How long, O LORD” (v. 46)? It is a common question of the saints, arising out of what seems to be a breaking of the covenant. In Revelation the saints ask God, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood” (Rev. 6:10)? Believers ask this when they feel abandoned and when God does not seem to act. But the cry is not unbelief. On the contrary, it is the cry of faith, for it is to God, and it is looking for an answer.

In other words, in the final analysis the saints know that the problem they are dealing with is not God’s faithlessness, but rather his timing or delays, or their own limited and mistaken impressions. So what Marvin Tate says, based on the earlier verses, is not quite the case. Tate says, “Yahweh is charged with having broken his covenant-obligations to David by his rejection of the Davidic kingship and by giving victory to the foes of the king.”1 It is true that the language reads this way, for the psalmist is not afraid to describe the king and the people’s circumstances to God, as he sees them. Yet when all is said and done, he knows that God is faithful to his covenant, he will not break his promises, and the problem becomes one merely of timing. That is, when are you going to show that you are faithful?

There is something here that is more than a mere asking of the question “How long?” however. For this is not a passive man who is writing. He is not interested in a theoretical answer, as if he would be satisfied if God were to say, “I will act to restore the fallen throne of David in ten years’ time (or a hundred years’ time).” Or “I will rebuild the city in the days of Nehemiah.” No. The psalmist wants God to act now, while he is still alive. Therefore, the last stanza of the psalm is an appeal to God to act in the psalmist’s lifetime.

There are two appeals, each containing three verses.

1. The shortness of human life (vv. 46-48). The psalmist knows that God’s timing is his own. He can take a thousand years to work out his promises to David, if he wants to. But the writer is only a human being, and human beings don’t live long. Human life is “fleeting” (v. 47), and the writer of the psalm cannot keep himself from the grave long enough to see and enjoy God’s blessing, if God does not hurry (v. 48). That is true for us too. We may not be here long enough to see everything God has in mind for his people, but if we are going to see anything, it has to be now.

2. The dishonoring of God by his enemies (vv. 49-51). This is the same argument Moses used when God was threatening to destroy the people in the wilderness after they had rejected him by making the golden calf: “Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’” (Exod. 32:12)? In these verses the writer seems to combine mockery against God, mockery of the king, and mockery directed at himself: “Remember, Lord, how your servant has been mocked, how I bear in my heart the taunts of all the nations, the taunts with which your enemies have mocked, O LORD, with which they have mocked every step of your anointed one (vv. 50, 51).”

If we are praying selfishly, our pleas have little force with God. But we are on firm ground when we can say, as Paul did in Romans, “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me” (Rom. 15:3; Ps. 69:9).

1Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), p. 427.

Study Questions:

  1. How did the saints call out to God in Revelation 6:10? Why is it, like Psalm 89:46, not a mark of unbelief?
  2. List and explain the meaning of the two appeals seen in verses 46-51.

Reflection: How does the psalmist’s honesty help you in your prayers for God to act in a certain way? Pray that your prayers and questions will be rooted in firm ground rather than shallow selfishness.

 


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.

Tuesday: Our Covenant-Keeping God, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: God Does All Things Well

In this week’s lessons we learn that although at times it can seem as if there is a gap between God’s promises and reality, God is unchanging in his faithfulness.

Scripture: Psalm 89:38-52

What is most striking about the phrasing of the psalmist’s list of accusations is that God is held to be responsible. Notice the pronoun “you,” meaning God. It is the subject of nearly every sentence in this section (eleven times in the New International Version). The only sentences that do not have God as their subject are in verse 41:

But you have rejected, you have spurned, you have been very angry with your

anointed one.

You have renounced the covenant with your servant and have defiled his crown in the

dust.

You have broken through all his walls and reduced his strongholds to ruins.

All who pass by have plundered him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors.

You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.

You have turned back the edge of his sword and have not supported him in battle.

You have put an end to his splendor and cast his throne to the ground.

You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with a mantle of

shame (vv. 38-45, emphasis added).

No wonder the psalmist adds a selah at this point. This is a situation that ought to give us pause. For this is not just a random or meaningless event. It is something that has been caused by God. And that is the real problem; the problem is that God has caused it.

A problem? Yes, for us, but not for God. If God is not behind the disaster, then the tragedy of the king’s defeat and overthrow, as well as any other disaster in life, really is a random and therefore meaningless event. Therefore, by definition there is not and never can be a solution. Likewise, to bring it home to us, whatever tragedies come into your life have no meaning and no solution. If there is no God, sickness, death, the loss of friends, jobs, reputation or anything else just happens. And the good things have no meaning either! All you can do is go with the flow, take it as it comes, and die knowing that no matter what you have accomplished in life it means nothing.

On the other hand, if God is behind what happens, then we may not understand what God is doing, since He is infinitely above us. His ways are not our ways nor are his thoughts our thoughts. Nevertheless, we can know that there is a purpose somewhere and that a solution to the problem will be found, if not in this life, then in the next.

Some will consider this to be hiding one’s head in the sand, failing to face up to reality. But the choice is not between an unfounded optimism and a bold facing of reality. It is between faith and despair. The psalmist is no Pollyanna. He faces reality, but he faces it with God.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the real problem for the psalmist? Why is this also the solution?
  2. How does knowing God controls even disaster give things a purpose?
  3. Some may consider the psalmist’s approach to reality as hiding his head in the sand. Why is this not the case?

Application: Think about the tragedies you have faced (or are facing) and actively look for the good. Ask God to change the way you face such circumstances, not falling into despair, but abounding in faith and trust in what God is doing in them.

Key Point: The psalmist faces reality, but he faces it 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: Our Covenant-Keeping God, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: When God’s Faithfulness Seems Hidden

In this week’s lessons we learn that although at times it can seem as if there is a gap between God’s promises and reality, God is unchanging in his faithfulness.

Scripture: Psalm 89:38-52

Psalm 89 has the distinction of being one of the greatest passages in the Bible dealing with the faithfulness of God. But it does it in two ways. The first half praises God for his faithfulness exuberantly and without any qualifications. It particularly praises him for his faithfulness in keeping his covenant with King David (2 Sam. 7). The latter half expresses the gap between the promise and reality. It is as if we should sing our great hymn dealing with God’s faithfulness, beginning,

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father,

There is no shadow of turning with thee…

but then add in our own final stanza that goes,

Where is thy faithfulness, O God my Father?

There is no faith in your dealings with me.

We would be wrong to believe this, of course, and so is the psalmist. But it is a mark of the poet’s stark honesty that he freely tells God what he thinks he sees.

Psalm 89 has eight stanzas, but this stanza, the seventh (vv. 38-45), contains the first hint we have had of the disaster that lies behind the psalm’s composition. We do not know precisely what it was, but it must have involved the breakup, collapse or possibility of collapse of the Davidic dynasty, for that is the only thing that would give meaning to the author’s complaint about the breaking of the covenant with David: “You have renounced the covenant with your servant” (v. 39).

There are a number of situations we know about that could explain the psalmist’s words. The one closest to the time of David was the breakup of the united monarchy of David and Solomon into the two kingdoms of Judah and Israel in the reign of Reheboam.1 The strength of this view is that it fits an early dating of the psalm. It would even make it possible for Psalm 89 to have been written by the Ethan who was appointed to the role of temple musician by David. He could have lived through the latter part of David’s reign, the entire reign of Solomon, and have written the psalm in the early days of Reheboam, though as an old man.

At the other extreme, some writers believe that verses 38-45 more aptly describe the end of the monarchy in the deportation and death of Jehoiachin (Jeconiah), the last of the descendants of David actually to sit upon his throne. Verses 40 and 41 seem to reflect this later situation, for they describe the breaking up of the city’s walls and reduction of the king’s stronghold to ruins. If they do not describe this, they must be understood figuratively. The deportation of Jehoiachin at the age of eighteen after a reign of only three months may also be reflected in verse 45. Writer H. C. Leupold thinks “the days of Josiah or even of Zedekiah just before the fall of Jerusalem” fit the situation better.2

The truth of the matter is that we do not know exactly what terrible circumstances lie behind this psalm. But it does not matter. Whatever they were, they seemed sufficiently grim to the psalmist to make him question God’s faithfulness in regard to his keeping of the covenant. How could God be faithful when the king’s crown has been “defiled… in the dust” (v. 39), the walls have been “broken through” (v. 40), the city “plundered” (v. 41), the enemies of the king “exalted” (v. 42), the edge of the king’s sword “turned back” in battle (v. 43) and his royal “splendor” terminated (v. 44). How indeed? And not only that, “You have cut short the days of his youth” (v. 45). The meaning is not that the king died young, but that he was made to grow old before his time, as we would say.

1See, for instance, Franz Delitzsch, Biblical Commentary on the Psalms, trans. Francis Bolton (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, n.d.), vol. 3, pp. 33, 34.

2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 632.

Study Questions:

  1. In what two ways does Psalm 89 deal with the faithfulness of God? What language did the psalmist use to show he was questioning God’s faithfulness?
  2. Review what situations could help explain the psalmist’s words. Why don’t the exact circumstances matter?
  3. What is the meaning of verse 45, which says, “You have cut short the days of his youth”?

Reflection: How honest are you with God? Have you faced circumstances so grim that you doubted God’s faithfulness? How did the Lord work in your life?

For Further Study: Not only do the Psalms recount God’s attributes, but they also describe people’s struggles, when they feel as if God is no longer faithful or as if he is absent during these times of great despair and difficulty. These studies can remind you of who God is, and that he promises to work for the good of those who know and belong to him. Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume paperback set and take 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: Our Covenant-Keeping God, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: God’s Faithfulness Seen in Discipline

This week’s lessons teach us about God’s faithfulness, promised in his Word and demonstrated in our own experience of his covenant love.

Scripture: Psalm 89:1-37

Verses 19-29 are essentially a commentary on 2 Samuel 7. This stanza highlights six critical features of God’s covenant with David, three of which we looked at yesterday, and the remaining three of which we take up today.

4. God’s granting David victory over his enemies (v. 23). Not only did God protect David from his enemies, but he also promised him victory over them. In a similar way, Paul said of those who benefit from God’s covenant of salvation today, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:56, 57).

5. God’s exalting David to prominence among the kings of the nations (vv. 24-27). These verses elaborate David’s prominence as a king among the world’s rulers. But the greatest thing they tell about David’s prominence is that he was given a special relationship to God. For his part, David would call out, “You are my Father, my God, the Rock my Savior” (v. 26). For his part, God would appoint David his “firstborn” (v. 27). Our great claim to prominence is that we have been made sons and daughters of God, “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ” (Rom. 8:17).

6. God’s extending the blessing to David’s sons (vv. 28, 29). The final and critical part of God’s covenant with David is that he promised to extend the blessings of the covenant to David’s descendants forever. This was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, as we know. For he alone will rule forever on David’s throne.

The final stanza of this first half of the psalm (vv. 30-37) is also a commentary on the covenant established in 2 Samuel 7, particularly the part dealing with David’s human descendants and what should be expected if they should drift into sin. The answer is that they will be disciplined, as a father disciplines his son (vv. 30-32). This is repeated for us in Hebrews 12:4-11, particularly verse 6: “The Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son” (quoting Prov. 3:11, 12). What about the covenant in that case? The covenant will remain intact (vv. 33–37), for it is an eternal covenant and thus will never be broken.

Yet the faithfulness of God is in the discipline too. In one of his writings, the great Bible teacher Harry Ironside tells of something that happened to him early in his ministry. He had been preaching in Fresno, California, and the day came when he was entirely out of money. That evening, hungry, he settled himself under a tree for the night. He thought of Philippians 4:19, “My God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus.” He complained. Why doesn’t God do it, then? Why isn’t he faithful to his promise?

As he prayed that night, God brought to his mind things about which he had grown careless and renewed him spiritually. And later God did provide for his needs. Old friends appeared to provide housing. The meetings went well. The people even took up a collection, which helped him get home.

But here is the interesting thing. As he left Fresno, Ironside stopped by the post office where he found a letter from his father. In it his father had written, “God spoke to me through Philippians 4:19 today. He has promised to supply all our needs. Some day he may see I need a starving, and if he does, he will supply that.” Ironside saw then that God had been putting him through a time of deprivation for discipline, to bring him closer to himself.1

Arthur Pink wrote, “Unfaithfulness is one of the most outstanding sins of these evil days. In the business world, a man’s word is, with rare exceptions, no longer his bond. In the social world, marital infidelity abounds on every hand…In the ecclesiastical realm, thousands who have solemnly covenanted to preach the truth have no scruples about attacking and denying it….How refreshing, then, and how blessed, to lift our eyes above this scene of ruin, and behold One who is faithful, faithful in all things, at all times.”2

1H. A. Ironside, Random Reminiscences from Fifty Years of Ministry (Neptune, NJ: Loizeaux Brothers, 1939), pp. 73-85.

2Arthur W. Pink, Gleanings in the Godhead (Chicago: Moody, 1975), p. 47.

Study Questions:

  1. What two promises did God make to David in regard to his enemies?
  2. What is the final and critical part of the covenant with David?
  3. Why does God allow his servants to experience deprivation?

Reflection: How has God disciplined you? What do you think he wants to achieve through it?

For Further Study: In the Psalms we not only see how we are to respond to God, but we also learn much about who God is and how he shows his character toward us. Order your three-volume copy of James Boice’s sermons in the Psalms, and receive 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.

Thursday: Our Covenant-Keeping God, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: Responding to God’s Attributes

This week’s lessons teach us about God’s faithfulness, promised in his Word and demonstrated in our own experience of his covenant love.

Scripture: Psalm 89:1-37

Having moved from heaven to earth and from nature to the specific event of the Jewish Exodus from Egypt, the writer now turns to the faithfulness of God to his people generally (vv. 14-18). At this point he brings in many other attributes of God which his people have experienced and for which they praise him. These attributes are added to faithfulness as basic to God’s character and as a foundation for faith in his faithfulness. God has the power to be faithful, but does he want to be? Is God willing? These attributes assure us that the answer is “Yes.”

The first new attribute of God is righteousness. Righteousness is the underlying principle of justice, which is mentioned next, for without righteousness there can be no justice. Justice, the next term, is giving to everyone what is due to him or her, acquittal for those who are innocent, condemnation for those who are guilty. Justice is the application of righteousness. Love has already been mentioned in verses 1 and 2, where, as in verse 14, it is linked to faithfulness. The Hebrew word hesed actually means steadfast, faithful or covenant love. Faithfulness is the attribute of God we have been looking at all along. It means that he can be counted on to do what he has promised to do. The final three attributes are introduced as possessions of God’s people: glory, strength and favor (that is, “grace”). But these are the people’s only because they are first of all God’s. He alone is glorious, strong and gracious; it is because he is that we, his people, experience these graces ourselves.

What is the proper response of people who have come to know and partake of the blessings of such a great God? It is to praise God and rejoice in him. This is what verses 15 and 16 say: “Blessed are those who have learned to acclaim you…They rejoice in your name all day long.”

In verses 19-29, the fifth stanza, the covenant introduced initially in verse 3 begins to be discussed explicitly, for these verses are essentially a commentary on 2 Samuel 7. Or to look at it in terms of the psalm, they are a commentary on the summation of the covenant that appeared as verses 3 and 4 of the introduction. Verses 19-29 contain explicit references to the historical passage. They highlight six critical features of God’s covenant with David. We will look at the first three features today.

1. God’s choice of David to be king(vv. 19, 20). God’s covenants are established according to his own good pleasure and not on the basis of anything in the people who benefit by them. In this case, we are reminded that God chose David as king when he was just a young man without any claim on the throne or pretensions to kingship. The story of his choice by God and his anointing by Samuel is told in 1 Samuel 16:1-13. We remember that God chose us for salvation when there was no good in us. He saved us only according to his own good pleasure.

2. God’s strengthening of David for his work as king (v. 21). God does not abandon to their own strength or devices those upon whom he has set his love. In David’s case the covenant meant that God would equip him and strengthen him for his work as king. In the same way, God will also equip us for whatever work he has for us to do. Jesus said, “Apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5). But Paul added the other side of the truth when he wrote to the Philippians, “I can do everything through him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13).

3. God’s protecting David from his enemies (v. 22). David had many enemies, but God promised to protect him from them. And he did! So also does God protect us. Jesus told Peter, “Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:31, 32).

1H. C. Leupold lists some of the parallels: “If one would in a more detailed fashion note how this whole section is built on 2 Sam. 7, the following passages may be compared. Regarding v. 22 see 2 Sam. 7:10b. Regarding v. 25, 2 Sam. 8:3 and 13 may be compared—the only reference outside chapter 7. Regarding v. 26, 2 Sam. 7:14a. Regarding v. 30 see 14b; and regarding v. 33, 15a and 16” (H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969], p. 638). There are also references to other Scriptures. For example, verse 25 seems to echo Exodus 23:31, and verses 26 and 27 pick up on Psalm 2:7-9.

Study Questions:

  1. List and define the attributes of God the psalmist mentions in verses 14-18.
  2. How does God’s selection of David parallel his selection of us?

Application: In what way and for what purpose has God strengthened you?

 


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.