Tuesday: Remembering

By James Boice

Theme: The Beginning of the Psalmist’s Shift

In this week’s lessons we are reminded that when we are discouraged and God seems distant, we are to remember who God is, what he has done in the past, and what he promises to do in the future. 

Scripture: Psalm 77:1-20

In the second stanza (vv. 3-6) Asaph tells the reader a bit more about his depressed state of mind, explaining in verses 5 and 6 that what troubled him most in his musings was the memory of former days when he was happy enough in God to sing songs in the night. The important word in this stanza is “remember,” which also reappears in stanza four. Here he is remembering his former happiness. In stanza four he remembers the mighty deeds of God (v. 11), which is a significant shift of his focus.

This is a case where we need to try hard to appreciate the spirit and tone of the verses, if we are to understand what is going on. The first verse says, “I remembered you, O God.” So it seems on the surface that Asaph is thinking about God, which would be good. However, as the verses go on to show, what he is really thinking about is himself, and what he is thinking is that God has been hard with him and has not been as close as he was formerly. In other words, he is feeling sorry for himself—with reason perhaps, but still it is about himself that he is thinking. His case is not as extreme as that of the Pharisee in Jesus’ parable, for Asaph is a believer and the Pharisee was not. But still, the Pharisee’s prayer was much like this. He began with “God…” But, as Jesus said, he was really praying “about himself.” So the Pharisee continued, “I thank you that I am not like other men–robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector” (Luke 18:11).

The best we can say about the second stanza of Asaph’s prayer is that his focus is beginning to shift, albeit slightly. But there is still an awful lot of “I” (five occurrences) and “my” (five occurrences). In this respect the prayer sounds like many of our prayers or prayers we are used to hearing.

Study Questions:

  1. What is Asaph really thinking about?
  2. Why is the tone and spirit of these verses important?
  3. How can you tell that the focus of Asaph’s prayer is beginning to shift?

Application: If you are depressed now, determine why, and list examples of God’s faithfulness to you in the past. Pray for perseverance as you await his will to become clearer.

 


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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: Remembering

By James Boice

Theme: When God Seems Far Away

In this week’s lessons we are reminded that when we are discouraged and God seems distant, we are to remember who God is, what he has done in the past, and what he promises to do in the future.

Scripture: Psalm 77:1-20

One thing you have to say about Asaph: he tells it like it is. He is respectful, but if he is unhappy or puzzled about what God is doing in the lives of his people (or not doing), he says so. And he describes his own state of mind, too—his doubts and struggles, his questions and his inability to find satisfying answers to life’s great problems.

In Psalm 77 this honest poet of Israel, whoever he may have been, is remembering the past. His memories are troubling. He has a long historical memory, and he remembers how graciously God used to deal with his people, and with himself as well. He remembers how God cared for him, how he fulfilled his promises and showed his mercy. He even remembers how he used to sing about God during the long hours of the night. Now there hasn’t been any mercy for a long time, at least as far as he can see. God seems to have rejected both him and his people, and the rejection is so complete that it looks as if it is going to go on forever. When he compares his life in the present with the past, his memories of the past drag him down, depress him and keep him from being comforted.

Have you ever gone through a time like that? You probably have. Most of us have. If so, you will find Asaph’s psalm helpful. The reason is that as he thinks about the past, the focus of his remembering shifts from himself and what he experienced and now fails to experience, and onto God, and he begins to move upward to trust and quiet confidence again.1

The obvious division of the psalm is into two parts (vv. 1-9 and 10-20), the first part expressing the psalmist’s depression, the second part his journey upward again. But each of these parts may be subdivided, perhaps into three stanzas apiece. The “selahs” give meaningful breaks, which would suggest a good four-part outline; this is the division followed by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in his Treasury of David. However, we can also follow the stanzas of the New International Version, which I will do in this study.

As we go through the psalm, one thing we want to pay special attention to is the pronouns. In the NIV translation, in the first six verses of the psalm there are eighteen occurrences of the first person singular pronoun (“I” or “me”), and six references to God by name, title and pronoun. In the last eight verses (vv. 13-20), there are twenty-one mentions of God and no personal references at all. (There is one first person plural possessive, “our,” in verse 13.) The transition from the poet’s thoughts about himself to God comes in the middle section (vv. 7-12).

Verses 1 and 2 are a first expression of the psalmist’s plight. God does not seem to be working in his life or in the life of the nation, which would not be so depressing if God had never worked. But he had. The poet remembers it; it is what he will describe in the next stanza. But now all he seems to be able to do is cry out in the night with outstretched hands to God, and his hands are always empty. H. C. Leupold asks the psalmist’s question: “Why does God let things go on as long and as tragically as they do without giving any tokens of his interest and concern?”2

This is a portion of the psalms that appealed strongly to Charles Haddon Spurgeon, who identified with Asaph’s physical and spiritual anguish closely. Spurgeon’s studies of the psalms were produced between 1865 and 1885, and during those twenty years he experienced much ill health, which continued to deteriorate until his death in 1892. He had neuralgia and gout, which left him with swollen, red painful limbs, so that he frequently could not walk or even write. He had debilitating headaches, and with these physical ills came frightful bouts of depression, leading almost to despair. In his later years he was forced to leave London for the sunnier, drier weather in southern France during the months of November, December and January. In fact, he was in France at the Mediterranean village of Mentone when he died.

This gives us some appreciation for what he was talking about when he wrote on Psalm 77. Spurgeon said, “Some of us know what it is, both physically and spiritually, to be compelled to use these words; no respite has been afforded us by the silence of the night, our bed has been a rack to us, our body has been in torment, and our spirit in anguish.” Again, “Alas, my God, the writer of this exposition well knows what thy servant Asaph meant, for his soul is familiar with the way of grief. Deep glens and lonely caves of soul depressions, my spirit knows full well your awful glooms!”3

Have you ever felt like that? Again I say, you probably have. And some who will hear or read these words have felt such pains intensely.

Before moving on to stanza two, we should notice that this stanza is preoccupied with “I.” It occurs five times, and the pronouns “me” or “my” occur twice more. This is all right. If we hurt, there is nothing wrong with expressing it and telling the Lord what we feel. However, we must not stop there, rehearsing our disappointments endlessly. We need to move on, as the psalmist does.

1Walter C. Kaiser writes, “Before verse 10 the psalmist had been too subjective and had looked only within himself in attempting to determine the mystery of God’s dealings. The psalmist was thinking solely in light of his own experiences. Accordingly he experienced deep despondency. But when the psalmist’s meditation (hagh) focused on the works of God, then he remembered that great deliverance of God experienced in the Exodus, which was a pledge of every other deliverance experienced by individuals or nations. Thus the text of the psalm emphasizes that it is a matter of great concern how one meditates and on what he fixes his heart and mind. Some meditation can be harmful, but biblically approved meditations strengthen” (Walter C. Kaiser, Jr., “What Is Biblical Meditation?” in John D. Woodbridge, editor, Renewing Your Mind in a Secular World (Chicago: Moody, 1985), pp. 42, 43.

2H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 554.

3Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), pp. 312, 313.

Study Questions:

  1. Describe some of the psalmist’s memories. What is bothering him now? Why is the contrast between the psalmist’s plight and his past depressing him?
  2. List the two parts of the psalm.

Reflection: How can you learn from Asaph’s attitude and approach to God? Think of a time when you felt as Asaph did. What was the outcome? How can you move from despair to trust?

Application: Sometimes Christians can be depressed. Reach out to any Christian brother or sister who is struggling and encourage him or her.

For Further Study: Is there someone you know who is going through a particularly hard time right now, and who could really be encouraged and comforted by James Boice’s clear and practical teaching on the Psalms? Order your copy of the three-volume paperback set and receive 25% off the regular price. 


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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.

Friday: The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning

By James Boice

Theme: How to Respond to God

In this week’s lessons, God is displayed as the righteous Judge who demonstrates his wrath toward sinners, but mercy toward his chosen people.

Scripture: Psalm 76:1-12

There are always people who are angry at God’s judgments, even at the thought of them. They want to tell God that he is unjust to judge, that he cannot act that way. But that is a futile response. God will do as he will do. If we are wise, we will pursue another line entirely. What should that be? In the final stanza of the psalm (vv. 11, 12), the writer makes two suggestions.

1. “Make vows to the LORD your God and fulfill them” (v. 11). This is a word to Israel, who alone can claim that God is her God. The point is that because God delivered Israel from the Assyrian invasion, therefore the people owe him their allegiance. In other words, the thought is precisely what we find at the start of the Ten Commandments: “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me” (Exod. 20:2, 3). Because God has saved, redeemed and now delivered his people, they are to worship and serve him only.

Is there any less of a demand upon us who have been saved from sin by the death of Jesus Christ? Hardly! If anything, the obligation is even greater. If you have been saved by Jesus, you must both follow and obey him. Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me” (Luke 9:23). He also said, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say” (Luke 6:46)?

2. “Let all the neighboring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared” (v. 11). This is a word to those whose God is not God but who are answerable to him anyway. It is the equivalent of the way Psalm 2 ends. For after describing the arrogant rebellion of the nations of the world and echoing the profound scorn God has for such foolish and inadequate rattling of swords, God turns to the arrogant, saying, “Therefore, you kings, be wise; be warned, you rulers of the earth. Serve the LORD with fear and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry and you be destroyed in your way” (vv. 10-12).

That applies to you, if you have not yet bowed in faith and obedience before the Lord Jesus Christ. The psalmist says that God “breaks the spirit of rulers,” and he will break you too if you resist him. It would be better if you would submit to him now. Then you will find mercy and be able to join with those who sing praise to God in Zion.

Study Questions:

  1. How should you react to God’s judgments?
  2. What obligations have you taken on upon being saved?

Reflection: How do you approach God?


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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: The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning

By James Boice

Theme: Wrath and Mercy Mingled

In this week’s lessons, God is displayed as the righteous Judge who demonstrates his wrath toward sinners, but mercy toward his chosen people.

Scripture: Psalm 76:1-12

It is a natural practice of the psalmists to reflect on the meaning of some great historical event, projecting it onto an even larger screen. That is what happens here in a string of theological comments woven in with the historical descriptions. These deal with the nature and inevitability of God’s judgments generally and may even point, as I suggested earlier, to the great final judgment of the last days. Derek Kidner calls this a vision of “the end-time” in which “God is foreseen striking the final blow against evil everywhere, as Judge.”1 Whatever the case, verses 7-10 provide us with a helpful theology of God’s judgment.

1. God alone is to be feared (v. 7). People have all sorts of fears—fear of failure, fear of lacking life’s necessities, fear of ridicule, fear of sickness, ultimately fear of death and dying. What this verse tells us is that these are ultimately insignificant when measured against a right and proper fear of God’s judgment: “You alone are to be feared.”

Yet sinners ignore God and dismiss all serious thought of his judgment. Why should this be? Possibly because we really do fear judgment and thus bury thoughts of what is too horrible even to contemplate. The book of Revelation describes the fear of people at the final judgment, saying, “They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand’” (Rev. 6:16, 17)?

2. Every mouth will be silenced by God’s judgment (v. 8). One of the most objectionable characteristics of people who do wrong is that they never seem to admit it and then shut up. On the contrary, they are always making excuses for their wrong behavior, trying to get in the last word of self-serving, self-justifying explanation, if they can. There will be no final words from sinners at the last judgment. That is why Paul writes in Romans, “Whatever the laws says, it says to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be silenced and the whole world held accountable to God” (3:19). The psalmist captures the same thought when he says that faced with God’s judgment “the land feared and was quiet.”

3. God mingles wrath with mercy for the afflicted (v. 9). Display of God’s wrath is only one part of what the final judgment is about, however. The other side of wrath is mercy, and mercy will be shown by God to the meek and afflicted of the earth. In the historical judgment that is the occasion for this psalm. It was mercy to Israel. In the judgment of the last days it will be mercy to those who have trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord. We saw this theme in the previous psalm, noting that it is also found in Hannah’s song, recorded in 1 Samuel 2:1-10, and in Mary’s great Magnificat, recorded in Luke 1:46-55. Mary’s well-known words say, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever” (vv. 52-55).

4. God is glorified even in his wrath (v. 10). The last important reflection on God’s judgments, looking forward to the final judgment, is that God is glorified and is to be praised even in the outpourings of his wrath: “Surely your wrath against men brings you praise” (v. 10).

This is the answer to why God elects some people to salvation in Jesus Christ while passing by others who are reserved for judgment, as the Apostle Paul explains in Romans 9. God’s desire is that he might be known and glorified in all his attributes. Therefore, he displays his mercy in saving those he does save, and he displays his power, justice and wrath in judging those he passes by. Pharaoh is an example, “For the Scripture says to Pharaoh: ‘I raised you up for this very purpose, that I might display my power in you and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth.’ Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden” (Rom. 9:17, 18).

1Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1975), p. 275.

Study Questions:

  1. Why will every mouth be silenced at God’s judgment?
  2. Describe what will be demonstrated along with God’s wrath.
  3. Who will be shown mercy? How will mercy be shown in the last days?
  4. How is God glorified through his wrath?

Application: In your personal devotions and prayer, remember to praise the Lord for his grace and mercy shown to you in your salvation. Look for opportunities to share the gospel with someone who right now appears to be under the wrath of God.

For Further Study: The wisdom of God is seen partly in how he exercises both wrath and mercy. To see how the Apostle Paul describes God’s wisdom, download and listen for free to James Boice’s message, “The Profound Wisdom of God.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.) 

 


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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.

Wednesday: The Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning

By James Boice

Theme: God Will Judge

In this week’s lessons, God is displayed as the righteous Judge who demonstrates his wrath toward sinners, but mercy toward his chosen people.

Scripture: Psalm 76:1-12

In spite of the way I have handled this first stanza, using it to ask who God is and where knowledge of the true God may be found, we must not think that the subject matter of this psalm is theoretical. This is not a matter for polite debate with little or no consequences attached. According to this psalm, this true God is a righteous Judge whose wrath is constantly hanging over those who are enemies both of himself and of his people.

This is the theme of the psalm, and it is suggested even in the opening stanza, though this is not apparent in the English translation. The word translated “tent” in verse 2 is actually “lair.” (It also occurs in Psalm 10:9, where it is rendered “cover.”) Similarly, “dwelling” is used in Psalm 104:22 of a “den” of lions. This means that the picture of God in stanza one is of a lion crouching on Mt. Zion, ready to pounce. In other words, he is to be reckoned with, to be feared. This led two commentators on Psalm 76 to title it “Lion of Judah” and “The Mighty God of Judgment.”

Stanza two, which is the main body of Psalm 76, runs from verse 4 to verse 10. It has two themes which overlap each other to some degree: first, a description of a great victory in which a powerful enemy of Israel was defeated; and second, a reflection on that victory suggesting quite possibly the final judgment.

The first theme of this main body of the psalm is the defeat of some great enemy of the Jews, a defeat so complete that no one of the enemy was able even to raise a hand against them. The text says, “Valiant men lie plundered, they sleep their last sleep; not one of the warriors can lift his hands. At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both horse and chariot lie still.”

What great defeat of Israel’s enemy was this? The Hebrew title of the poem fails to tell us, and the body of the psalm is not detailed enough to fix the occasion of this defeat with certainty. However, of the events we know about, the one that suits it best is the destruction of the invading armies of Sennacherib by the angel of the Lord, as described in 2 Kings 18, 19 and Isaiah 36, 37.

In the year 701 B.C. Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, invaded Judah and encircled Jerusalem. Hezekiah was Judah’s king. Sennacherib sent a message to him, reminding him of all the cities and nations he had subdued. They all had their gods, but their gods had not saved them, he said. Gozan, Haran, Rezeph, and the people of Eden—all fell before him. Why should the Jews expect their God to deliver them? Why not surrender now? Hezekiah went into the temple and spread this communication before the Lord. “It is true,” he said. “The Assyrian kings have laid waste these nations and their lands. They have thrown their gods into the fire and destroyed them, for they were not gods but only wood and stone, fashioned by men’s hands. Now, O LORD our God, deliver us from his hand, so that all kingdoms on earth may know that you alone, O LORD, are God” (2 Kings 19:17-19; Isa. 37:18-20).

This was a believing prayer, and God answered Hezekiah. He sent the prophet Isaiah with an announcement that the mighty army of Sennacherib would be overthrown and the king would return to Assyria as he had come. That night, we are told, “The angel of the LORD went out and put to death a hundred and eighty-five thousand men in the Assyrian camp. When the people got up the next morning—there were all the dead bodies! So Sennacherib king of Assyria broke camp and withdrew. He returned to Nineveh and stayed there” (2 Kings 19:35, 36; Isa. 37:36, 37).

As I said earlier, nothing in Psalm 76 proves that it is the defeat of the army of Sennacherib that is referred to. However, the words fit the account well, and this is the most likely reference. The translators of the Septuagint (LXX) thought this is what was being referred to, because they added as a title to Psalm 76 the words, “concerning the Assyrian,” who is Sennacherib.

So, for that matter, did George Gordon, more commonly known as Lord Byron. He wrote one of his best-known poems on the defeat of the Assyrian armies, part of which draws on the description in Psalm 76. Byron wrote:

For the Angel of Death spread his wings on the blast,

And breathed in the face of the foe as he pass’d;

And the eyes of the sleepers wax’d deadly and chill;

And their hearts but once heaved, and for ever grew still.

And there lay the steed with his nostril all wide,

But through it there roll’d not the breath of his pride;

And the foam of his gasping lay white on the turf,

As cold as the spray of the rock-beating surf.

And there lay the rider distorted and pale,

With the dew on his brow, and the rust on his mail.

And the tents were all silent, the banners alone,

The lances unlifted, the trumpets unblown.

Study Questions:

  1. What are the consequences of ignoring God?
  2. Give other meanings of the word “tent.”
  3. Describe the picture given of God.
  4. Name the two themes of verses 4-10.
  5. Which enemy of Israel may the psalm be describing? What defeat is described?

Reflection: Reflect on a defeat you have faced. How has God answered your prayers?


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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 Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning

By James Boice

Theme: Knowing the True God

In this week’s lessons, God is displayed as the righteous Judge who demonstrates his wrath toward sinners, but mercy toward his chosen people.

Scripture: Psalm 76:1-12

The opening stanza of this psalm (vv. 1-3) sounds to most people today like the narrowest possible provincialism: that God is known only in Israel. However, those who believe the Bible will know, first, that it is true—that is where God was known—and second, that this is merely the same kind of exclusiveness we also demonstrate when we declare that God has revealed himself uniquely in Jesus Christ.

1. In Judah God is known. Until relatively recent times, when atheistic nations such as those of the former Communist bloc declared that there is no God, all people everywhere acknowledged God’s existence. Of course, they did not all acknowledge the true God. They had different ideas about what he was like, and they worshiped him by a variety of names. So the questions were, Which of these various ideas of God is the right one, if any? And how can we be sure?

Clearly there is no way to answer those questions by mere human means. Human beings do not have a perspective from which they can observe God and describe what he is like. We are doomed to ignorance—unless God chooses to reveal himself. But that is exactly what he has done, according to Judaism and Christianity. God has revealed himself to Israel; that is what the Old Testament is about. And God has revealed himself in Jesus Christ. So at the time of the writing of this psalm, that is, before Jesus was born, it was not only strictly true but also necessary to say that God was known “in Judah” exclusively. This means that in those days, if you wanted to know who God is and what he is like, you had to turn to the Jews and to the Old Testament. The true God was the One who had revealed himself to Abraham and the other patriarchs, in a special and much fuller way at Mount Sinai, and through the prophets.

Jesus was expressing these same sober truths when he told the Samaritan woman, “You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22).

2. In Jesus God is known. But God has also revealed himself in Jesus Christ in a way that now fulfills the Old Testament revelation and amplifies upon it. There is no one else who does this. No one but Jesus can say, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30), and, “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14:9).

So we preach Jesus! When the Apostle Paul was waiting for Silas and Timothy to join him in Athens he was struck by the city’s idolatry and began to reason with the wise men of the city about the gospel. A group of Epicureans and Stoics heard him and brought him to a formal meeting of the Areopagus where he had a chance to speak to the many assembled philosophers. Paul said, “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you are worshiping as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22, 23). Paul then began to tell them about the Bible’s God, who had created all things, including themselves, and he ended with God’s revelation of himself in Jesus Christ.

It is the same today. We see people with their many diverse ideas of who God is, and we say to them, “What you are worshiping in ignorance we proclaim to you.” We point them to Jesus Christ. This God is the starting point of all wisdom, for “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding” (Prov. 9:10).

Study Questions:

  1. How has God revealed himself?
  2. How was God known before Jesus’ birth? After?
  3. In our day, there is a great deal of spirituality. How do people’s views of spirituality and religion differ from biblical revelation?

Reflection: We think of “narrow” as a pejorative term, but why must we think of God’s revelation as being narrow?

 


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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 Fear of the Lord Is the Beginning

By James Boice

Theme: When God Decides to Act

In this week’s lessons, God is displayed as the righteous Judge who demonstrates his wrath toward sinners, but mercy toward his chosen people.

Scripture: Psalm 76:1-12

It is not always possible to find a reason for the psalms being placed where they are in the Psalter, but in this case Psalm 76 follows the former psalm nicely. In fact, there are links between Psalms 74, 75 and 76. Psalm 74 looks on the violence and injustice that are in the world and asks the Lord to intervene. In Psalm 75 God speaks to say that in “the appointed time” he will act both to strike down the arrogant and to lift up the meek and afflicted. Psalm 76, the one we are to study now, celebrates a dramatic incident in which God did exactly that, utterly destroying Israel’s enemies. In all three psalms God is viewed as the Judge before whom everyone must one day stand and with whom all must eventually come to terms.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon wrote of this connection: “Faith in the 75th Psalm sung of victories to come, and here it sings of triumphs achieved. The present Psalm is a most jubilant war song, a paean to the King of kings, the hymn of a theocratic nation to its divine ruler.”1

Like many of the fighting psalms, this too was a favorite of Christians during past periods of religious warfare. The embattled Huguenots sang it as they marched into battle at Coligny. The Covenanters sang it at Drumclog in 1679 when they defeated the government troops of “Bloody Claverhouse,” who came on them suddenly during one of their surreptitious meetings. Psalm 76 was sung in thanksgiving services marking the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588. The Pilgrims also loved this psalm, and it was from verse 2 that they derived the name of one of the very first settlements in the new world: Salem, Massachusetts. It was because verse 2 says of God, “His tent is in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.'”2

1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 302.

2For these various military and other uses of the psalm, see Rowland E. Prothero, The Psalms in Human Life (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1904), pp. 168, 193, 276; and Herbert Lockyer, A Devotional Commentary: Psalms (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), pp. 252, 254.

Study Questions:

  1. Describe the links between Psalms 74-76.
  2. What does the use of Psalm 76 by Christians in the past indicate about it?

For Further Study: The psalms are filled with rich teaching on the character of God. If you would like to have James Boice’s clear and careful three-volume set on the entire Psalter, order yours for 25% off the regular price.


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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: Our God Reigns

By James Boice

Theme: The Cup of God’s Wrath

In this week’s lessons, we are reminded that God is sovereign over all things, and he will execute justice and judgment in his own time.

Scripture: Psalm 75:1-10

God’s assurance of the righteous and his warnings to the wicked would seem to be sufficient in themselves. But preachers always seem to like to have the last word, even with God, and Psalm 75 is an example. God has spoken (in vv. 2-5). But now the preacher or priest adds his observations and applications to God’s teaching (vv. 6-8).

He applies God’s word in two ways, pointing out that whether a person is lifted up or brought down, exalted or abased, is up to God, and assuring the wicked that God means what he says when he declares that he will judge everyone uprightly and at the appointed time. The first point seems to have to do mostly with the righteous, for it is a way of telling them to stop looking to the world for their advancement. People defer to those in power and thereby sometimes get caught in the wrong ways of doing things, because they want the advancement they think these prominent people can confer. The preacher tells us that advancement of this type is not worth it; it is not true honor. The only approval or advancement that will ever matter is what comes from God, for “it is God who judges” (v. 7). Therefore, stop looking to other human beings. Learn to look to and live for God alone.

The second point is for those who do evil, and it is a powerful poetic reminder that in due time the wrath of God will be poured out like powerful foaming wine from God’s cup and that the wicked will be made to drink it down even to the dregs. As the psalmist writes, “In the hand of the LORD is a cup full of foaming wine mixed with spices; he pours it out, and all the wicked of the earth drink it down to its very dregs” (v. 8).

This is not the only place in the Bible where the image of the cup of the wrath of God occurs. It is found in Isaiah 51:17; Jeremiah 25:15-38; 49:12; 51:7; and even in the last book of the Bible, Revelation 18:6. We know it best for its use in “The Battle Hymn of the Republic,” which says of God, “He is pouring out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.”

Spurgeon remarks on this verse, “The retribution is terrible, it is blood for blood, foaming vengeance for foaming malice. [If] the very color of divine wrath is terrible, what must the taste be?”1

It is not hard to think of examples of the outpouring of the wrath of God against those who have excelled in doing evil. Murdoch Campbell is a Scotsman who has published a book of meditations on the Psalms in one of which he calls attention to the lifting up and the bringing down of Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, Herod and, more recently, Adolf Hitler. Campbell writes:

Pharaoh reacted to God’s command to let his people go by saying, “Who is God that I should obey him?” Nebuchadnezzar endeavored to set his throne and kingdom above him whose throne and kingdom are for ever and ever. Herod listened to the adulations of his degenerate admirers: “It is the voice of a god and not of a man.” Coming nearer to our own time, we have read of how Adolf Hitler gazed at a picture of himself riding proudly on a white horse, a picture which bore the blasphemous title: “In the Beginning was the Word.” Then in a voice that deliberately mocked Christ, the eternal King, he exclaimed, “I am providence.”

But Pharaoh and his hosts are swept to destruction; Nebuchadnezzar becomes a companion of “the beasts of the field”; Herod is devoured by worms; and Hitler becomes a suicide. “Those that walk in pride God is able to abase.” “He shall cut off the spirit of princes; he is terrible to the kings of the earth.” “All the horns of the wicked will I cut off.”2

1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, p. 295.

2Murdoch Campbell, From Grace to Glory: Meditations on the Book of Psalms (Edinburgh and Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1970), pp. 123, 124.

Study Questions:

  1. What can happen when you seek the approval of others? How do you stop from doing this?
  2. What is in God’s cup and who will be made to drink it? Look up the passages given that mention the cup of God’s wrath, and note what each says about it.

Reflection: Have you ever found yourself giving in to human authority when you shouldn’t? What were your motivations? How should you have handled the situation differently?

Application: When the circumstances are such that you have to choose, do you tend to seek approval from man or God? Why?

 


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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.

Friday: Our God Reigns

By James Boice

Theme: The Psalmist’s Testimony and Ours

In this week’s lessons, we are reminded that God is sovereign over all things, and he will execute justice and judgment in his own time.

Scripture: Psalm 75:1-10

The very last verses of Psalm 75 contain a testimony agreeing with all the psalm has been teaching (vv. 9, 10). I take them to be the testimony of the individual, indicated by the pronoun “I” occurring twice in verse 9 and a third time in verse 10. By reciting them, you or I or anyone else can add his or her testimony to these truths.

Generally speaking, scholars have explained the last verse of the psalm in either of two ways: 1) as an additional oracle from God which is added on to the psalm, somewhat like a musical reprise;1 or, 2) more commonly, as a promise by the worshiper that he will do what he can to check the influence of the wicked and help the righteous.2 Either is possible. But I see this verse rather as the substance of the testimony the individual worshiper will be giving; that is, God will do as he says. If we were conveying this idea by printing it according to English style, it would be by a colon after the previous statement and with quotation marks around verse 10. Thus we would have: “As for me, I will declare this forever (I will sing praise to the God of Jacob): ‘I will cut off the horns of all the wicked, but the horns of the righteous will be lifted up.’”

That is exactly what you and I are called to do, of course. If we have become followers of the Lord Jesus Christ and know him to be the true “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Rev. 19:16), we will want to make this known. We declare him as the rightful king who alone will execute right judgment.

But we say something else as well. Judgment is coming. Jesus is the Judge. We warn people of that coming judgment. There are foretastes of judgment even now, for evil usually does not triumph but is rather brought low. As we read yesterday, Pharaoh drowns, Nebuchadnezzar is humbled, Herod writhes in agony, and Hitler kills himself in his bunker. But we also declare that being forced to drink the cup of the wrath of the God who reigns over all things is not necessary since Jesus has drunk that cup to the bottom for all who will believe on him as their Savior. Jesus drank the cup of God’s wrath (as he asks in John 18:11, “Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me?”) so that you and I might drink from the cup of salvation.

An unidentified later psalmist had it right when he declared, “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the LORD” (Ps. 116:13).

1For example, Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), p. 259.

2See H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 547; J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 2, p. 38; Alexander Maclaren, The Psalms, vol. 2 (New York: A. C. Armstrong and Son, 1893), p. 365; and Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, p. 295.

Study Questions:

  1. How have scholars understood verse 10?
  2. How does Dr. Boice understand it?

Application: How can you apply verse 10?

Prayer: Pray for opportunities to wisely and compassionately warn others of the judgment that is coming, and what they need to do in response to Christ’s return.

For Further Study: That God is sovereign over all things, including judgment, also means that he is sovereign in the salvation of his people. Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Sovereign Grace.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)


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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.

Wednesday: Our God Reigns

By James Boice

Theme: Words to the Righteous and the Wicked

In this week’s lessons, we are reminded that God is sovereign over all things, and he will execute justice and judgment in his own time.

Scripture: Psalm 75:1-10

It is not entirely clear from the Hebrew text how much of the following is spoken by God or at what point the writer breaks in to give his own personal comment or reflection of God’s words. The New International Version makes as good a judgment as any when it puts verses 2-5 together as being spoken in one way or another by God. But they fall into two parts. In the first two verses (vv. 2, 3) God speaks to assure the righteous. These words concern the nature of God’s judgments. In the next two verses (vv. 4, 5) God addresses the wicked to warn them about their evil actions.

1. Assurance to the upright. There is nothing in this psalm to betray turmoil, doubt or worry on the part of the psalmist, as there is in Psalm 73. I pointed that out earlier. But even those who are truly resting in God must sometimes wonder why God does not judge evil in a more timely manner or even whether in this life justice is really done.

The important thing is that it is God who chooses “the appointed time” of his judgments, not other people. If judgment were left in our hands, we would probably let it flash out against anything that displeases us whenever we see it. But God lets evil go unchecked sometimes for a rather long time, knowing that he has appointed a proper time when it will be brought down. In his Treasury of David Charles Haddon Spurgeon has a comment on the previous psalm where God’s anger is described as smoldering (Psalm 74:1), saying, “It is a terrible thing when the anger of God smokes, but it is an infinite mercy that it does not break into a devouring flame.”1 That is a blessed truth, of course. But it is equally true that the judgment of God will in time break into flame against evil.

It is not wrong to ask at this point why God’s judgments are delayed. This is a question the Bible answers clearly. There are two reasons for the delay of God’s judgments. The first is so those who are sinning might have an opportunity to repent of their sin and be saved. Paul wrote of this in Romans, saying, “Do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the rich of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance” (2:4)? If you have not yet come to Christ, you should not squander the time you have been given. You should turn from your sin and believe on Jesus now.

The second reason for the delay of God’s judgments is so evil might have time to work itself out or come to full fruition. This is harder to understand, but it is a clear teaching of Scripture, the best example being that of the Amorites, who lived in Canaan before the conquest by the Jewish armies under Joshua. Speaking to Abraham, God explained that the conquest with its corresponding judgment would take place in the fourth generation after Abraham and not sooner because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16). Their case would be like that of Pharaoh to whom God said, “I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you my power and that my name might be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exod. 9:16; see Rom. 9:17).

2. Warning to the arrogant. The last two verses of stanza two are a warning to the arrogant, precisely so they might repent, the point about the delay in God’s judgments made earlier. Here the arrogant are warned against boasting (“Boast no more”), while the wicked are warned not to lift up their horns against heaven or speak with outstretched necks. The horn is a well-used biblical metaphor for strength (see Deut. 33:17; 1 Sam. 2:1, 10). So lifting up one’s horn against heaven is the equivalent of shaking one’s fist in God’s face. The picture of an angry person stretching out his or her neck belligerently is self-explanatory.

1Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1966), p. 273.

Study Questions:

  1. Who is God addressing in verses 2-3, as well as in verses 3-4? What message does he have for each?
  2. How does God assure the upright?
  3. When does God punish the wicked?
  4. Contrast God’s timing with our timing.
  5. Give two possible reasons for God’s delay in meting out judgment.

Reflection: Do you have times of doubt? Is there a particular injustice that troubles you? How do you need to handle it by turning it over to the Lord for him to do what is right?

Prayer: Pray for patience when you confront evil. And pray for evildoers to seek repentance so that they can receive forgiveness.


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.