The Prayer of a Righteous Man, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: A Model Prayer

In this week’s lessons we look at Psalm 17, and learn how this prayer of David can serve as a model both for our own prayers and for how we examine our own holiness.

Scripture: Psalm 17:1-15

Commentators on psalms frequently distinguish between various types of psalms, which they call genres. A typical classification might be: hymns, laments, thanksgiving psalms, psalms of remembrance, psalms of confidence, wisdom psalms, and kingship psalms.1

Hymn psalms usually begin with a call to worship and continue by giving reasons why God should be praised and then praising him. Laments express the writer’s distress at some problem or calamity and ask God to help. Sometimes they also contain a confession of sin. They usually move to expressions of confidence that God has heard the prayer and will answer it. Thanksgiving psalms thank God for some blessing, often his response to a prior complaint. Psalms of remembrance and confidence are just what they sound like.

A wisdom psalm usually compares two contrasting ways of life, one to be followed and the other to be shunned. The chief example is Psalm 1, which begins: “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.” Kingship psalms focus on the Jewish monarchy, not infrequently looking beyond it to the reign of God’s promised Messiah. Psalm 2 is a good example.

What kind of a psalm is Psalm 17? Fit into the categories I have listed, it is more of a lament than anything else. The psalmist is in danger and is crying to God for protection and deliverance. But mostly Psalm 17 is just a prayer. In fact, it is the first psalm explicitly called this (the title reading “A prayer of David”).

As we begin to study Psalm 17, I want to suggest that it is a model prayer. It is urgent, perceptive and moving. But, most of all, it models prayer by the way the psalmist uses arguments in making his appeal to God. He does not merely ask for what he wants or needs. He argues his case, explaining to God why God should answer. This is something preachers in an earlier day used to urge on members of their congregations. C. H. Spurgeon is an example. They recommended arguments, not because God needs to be persuaded to help his children—which he does not—

but because arguments force us carefully to think through what we are asking for and to sharpen our requests. Spurgeon said of David, “David would not have been a man after God’s own heart if he had not been a man of prayer. He was a master in the sacred art of supplication.”2

Study Questions:

  1. What are some different types of psalms, and what are some themes that characterize them?
  2. How should Psalm 17 be understood, and why?

For Further Study: James Boice’s studies on the Psalms are available as a three-volume paperback set. You can order your copy from the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and receive 25% off the regular price.

1For a simple modern treatment of these types see Tremper Longman III, How to Read the Psalms (Downers Grove, IL and Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity, 1988), pp. 19-36.
2C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1a, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 215.


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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.

The Prayer of a Righteous Man, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: The Psalmist’s Innocence

In this week’s lessons we look at Psalm 17, and learn how this prayer of David can serve as a model both for our own prayers and for how we examine our own holiness.

Scripture: Psalm 17:1-15

Since Psalm 17 is for God’s protection and deliverance, it contains urgent appeals to God to hear the psalmist’s prayer. We find these in verses 1 (“hear,” “listen” and “give ear”) and 6 (“give ear to me and hear my prayer”), and we could rightly add David’s appeals to God to act quickly and decisively: “Show the wonders of your great love…” (v. 7); “keep me as the apple of your eye” (v. 8); “hide me in the shadow of your wings” (v. 8); and “rescue me from the wicked by your sword” (v. 13).

But what is most striking about this psalm is that from the very first line David protests his innocence, arguing that God should hear his prayer and should answer it because his plea is right and his life above reproach. This is his first argument. It is in verses 1-5.

David does not make this argument in timorous language. In fact, his claims to innocence are so forceful that we, who live in a more introspective and self-conscious age, are easily troubled by them. Consider what he says. In the first line he claims that the plea he is about to make is “righteous.” Do we dare to say that when we approach the holy God? In the same verse David argues that his prayer “does not rise from deceitful lips.” In the next verse he calls for vindication, because God sees him and therefore sees “what is right.” The second stanza is even more extreme: “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night, though you test me, you will find nothing; I have resolved that my mouth will not sin. As for the deeds of men—by the word of your lips I have kept myself from the ways of the violent. My steps have held to your paths; my feet have not slipped.”

This is a claim to innocence both in word and deed, positively and negatively. Some of these words remind us of the first psalm. So David seems to be saying that he is the “righteous” man of Psalm 1. He has not walked “in the counsel of the wicked” or stood “in the way of sinners” or seated himself “in the seat of mockers.” His delight is in God’s law.

We say, “How can any mere human being claim such innocence?” We have been taught to pray, “Forgive us our sins” (Luke 11:4) and to say, even in our triumphs, “We are at best unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10).

One important answer to our question is to see that David is not claiming a perfect innocence in these lines, only innocence of the wrongs of which he has been charged. He wants “vindication” (v. 2). We discussed this distinction earlier in a study of Psalm 7. Still, I do not want to dismiss this matter quite that easily. This is because in Psalm 17 we are seeing how David uses arguments in prayer, and one of these arguments, an important argument, is that the life of the praying person is above reproach. In other words, this is the positive side of the warning found in Isaiah 59:12: “Surely the arm of the LORD is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear.” Open and unconfessed sin is a great prayer barrier. An upright life is a strong basis for appeals.

Study Questions:

  1. What is David’s first argument for why God should hear his prayer? In what sense does David claim this in his prayer to God?
  2. What are some barriers to prayer? How do they disrupt our communion with God?

Reflection: What are some ways we try to seek vindication on our own? Contrast these with what we learn from this psalm.


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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.

The Prayer of a Righteous Man, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: The Need for Self-Examination

In this week’s lessons we look at Psalm 17, and learn how this prayer of David can serve as a model both for our own prayers and for how we examine our own holiness.

Scripture: Psalm 17:1-15

As far as a claim to innocence is concerned, consider God’s evaluation of Job. Job was certainly not sinless. But when God called Satan’s attention to his servant, his words were, “Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one on earth like him; he is blameless and upright, a man who fears God and shuns evil” (Job 1:8). At the very end of the book God says that he will accept Job’s prayer, because Job had not spoken folly as his comforters had (Job 42:8).

This is the sense in which David is claiming innocence, and it is what we are also to possess as a foundation for our requests. In fact, one of the most important exercises of prayer is self-examination to determine whether we are approaching God rightly and whether our prayers are righteous prayers or not. It is along these lines that Paul told the Corinthians to “examine” themselves before participating in the Lord’s Supper (1 Cor. l 1:28).

Here are some areas in which we should conduct a self-examination:

  1. Are we being disobedient? This is what Isaiah 59 is talking about when it says that God will not hear us if we cherish sin in our hearts. Are you doing something that you know is wrong? Are you defying God’s moral law? Are you neglecting the Lord’s day? Have you been stealing? Committing sexual sins? Lying? Coveting something that is not yours? If you have been doing these things (or others that you know are wrong), should you be surprised if your prayers seem powerless and perfunctory? You need to change what you are doing. You need to renounce the sin. Remember how Jesus asked, “Why do you call me, “Lord, Lord,” and do not do what I say?” (Luke 6:46).
  1. Are we being selfish? It is right to pray for our own needs, of course. David is doing it in this psalm, praying for God’s protection and deliverance. But our prayers for ourselves often go beyond what is fitting and right and become mere selfishness. One correction for this is to pray for others’ needs before our own.
  1. Are we neglecting some important duty? Sins of neglect are real sins, as are sins of commission. Remember the collect for “Morning Prayer” from The Book of Common Prayer, which says, “We have left undone those things we ought to have done, and we have done those things which we ought not to have done, and there is no health in us.” If you are neglecting some duty, make it right. Above all, if there is someone you should be caring for but are not, attend to that responsibility. Paul told Timothy, “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his immediate family, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim. 5:8). Why should God listen to such a person’s prayers?
  1. Is there a wrong we should first make right? Maybe your sin is a sin of commission. Jesus had words for this. He said, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift” (Matt. 5:23, 24). You cannot claim that yours is a “righteous plea” if you have wronged another person.
  1. Are our priorities in order? David speaks of his priorities in verses 3-5, arguing that he has determined not to sin with words or walk in the ways of violent men, but rather to hold steadfastly to the path God has given him to walk. If we have our priorities in order, these will also be our determinations, and we will be able to claim an upright life as the first argument for God to answer our petition.

Study Questions:

  1. From the lesson, what questions can we ask ourselves to help us examine our own lives? Are there any other questions you can think of?
  2. David speaks of his priorities in verses 3-5. How can you apply them to your own situation?

Application: Review each of these questions for self-examination. In light of them, is there anything you need to do differently in your Christian life?


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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.

The Prayer of a Righteous Man, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Love of God

In this week’s lessons we look at Psalm 17, and learn how this prayer of David can serve as a model both for our own prayers and for how we examine our own holiness.

Scripture: Psalm 17:1-15

The second of David’s arguments for why God should hear and answer his prayer is expressed in verses 6-9. It concerns the character of God, in these verses particularly his covenant-keeping love. These verses plead: “…give ear to me and hear my prayer. Show the wonder of your great love, you who save by your right hand those who take refuge in you from their foes. Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings…”

Verse 7, which appeals to the covenant-keeping love of God, stands at the very center of the psalm and is the heart of David’s appeal. It is more powerful in Hebrew than in English, for the word translated “love” is actually hesed, which refers to the covenant, as I have indicated. It is not just a general benevolence, the kind God shows to the just and to the unjust alike. This is the love by which he enters into a favorable relationship with his people, promising to be their God and the God of their children forever. The New International Version translates the word rather weakly as “great love.” Other versions translate it “lovingkindness,” “steadfast love” or “true love.” It is the love by which God entered into a relationship with Abraham and his descendants, Isaac and Jacob. It is the covenant-keeping love revealed to Moses, David and other Old Testament believers.

The second thing that is not evident at first glance but which we need to see is that these verses echo two of the “Songs of Moses” from the Pentateuch. The first is the victory song of Exodus 15. Again, this is more evident in Hebrew than in English, but even in English there are obvious parallels. Three terms stand out: 1) “show the wonder” (Psalm 17:7) and “working wonders” (Exod. 33:11); 2) “your great love” (Psalm 17:7) and “your unfailing love” (Exod. 33:13); 3) “by your right hand” (Psalm 17:7) and “your right hand” (Exod. 33:12). The translations vary somewhat, but in the Hebrew each pair of words is the same. In the same way, there are echoes in Psalm 17 of “Song of Moses” recorded in Deuteronomy 32. Here is where the phrase “apple of your eye” and the idea of God hiding the psalmist “under the shadow of [his] wings” (Psalm 17:8) comes from (cf. Deut. 33:10, 11).

Each of these songs celebrates God’s faithfulness to his covenant, which he demonstrated by delivering his people from their many enemies. Therefore, when David echoes their language in his psalm, he is appealing to what God has already revealed himself to be like. God has kept covenant in the past. He is unchanging. Therefore, he can be expected to do the same for David in his parallel and equally dangerous circumstances. It is no accident that this is also the most confident section of the psalm. For we find David saying, “I call on you, O God, for you will answer me” (v. 6).

God’s covenant-keeping love is a marvelous thing. How marvelous? Spurgeon suggested that it is “marvelous in its antiquity, its distinguishing character, its faithfulness, its immutability, and above all, marvelous in the wonders which it works.”3 It is this same covenant-keeping love that has reached out to us and saved us through the wonder-working death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Study Questions:

  1. What is David’s second argument for why God should hear his prayer? Explain what David is referring to.
  2. What other Scripture passages does David echo in verses 7 and 8? Why does David do this?

Reflection: How is God’s covenantal love seen in the Old Testament? How is it seen in the New Testament? What is the significance of this attribute of God for your daily life?

3C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. la, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 218.


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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.

A Prophecy of the Resurrection, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: Our Portion in Life and Death

In this week’s lessons we learn from one text how the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus’ resurrection.

Scripture: Psalm 16:1-11

Yesterday we concluded with the observation that this psalm can be divided into four parts, and that is was written by David, perhaps when he was fleeing for his life from King Saul.

1. The psalmist’s relationship to God (vv. 1, 2). The opening verses begin with a statement of the psalmist’s relationship to God, and the essence of that relationship is in the names for God he uses. The first word is el, translated simply “God” in verse l. El is the most common name for God. But the unique quality of this name is that it delineates God as “the strong (or mighty) one.” It is appropriately chosen in verse l, for it is in God as the mighty one that the psalmist takes refuge.

The second name is Jehovah, translated “LORD” in the first part of verse 2. This is the personal name of the great God of Israel. It was revealed to Moses at the burning bush. Moses had asked, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you’” (Exod. 3:13, 14). Since this name is the covenant name for God in relationship to his chosen people, it is appropriate that it is in this verse, where the name is mentioned, rather than in verse 1, that David confesses, “Apart from you I have no good thing.”

The third name for God is adonai, translated “Lord” in the second part of verse 1. Adonai can be used of an earthly lord as well as of God. so when the psalmist says, as he does, “I said to the LORD [Jehovah], ‘You are my Lord [adonai]’” he is saying that the God of Israel is his master. That is, God is not only the strong, powerful God in which he is able to take refuge but also the one who is able to order his life and direct what he should do—and does do it. We have an equivalent of this in our common New Testament way of speaking when we say that Jesus is our Lord and Savior. “Savior” corresponds to el. It is as the strong one that Jesus saves us. “Lord” is the equivalent of adonai. It means that Jesus is also Master of our lives.

ls Jesus your Lord and Savior, your Master? If he is, you should be able to say, as David does, “Apart from you have no good thing.”

This means that God is the source of all good. James says, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17). It means that if we do not have God himself, even the best things of life will be valueless to us. Jesus asked, “What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). It means that, having come to know God as our refuge, redeemer and Lord, nothing hereafter can ever mean as much to us as God does.

  1. The immediate result of the psalmist’s relationship to God (vv. 3, 4). Since God is the one by whom the psalmist measures all else, it follows that the immediate result of his relationship to God is its bearing on his relationships to others. This has two sides. On the one hand, the psalmist is drawn to the righteous, whom he calls “the saints who are in the land.” He says, “They are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.” On the other hand, he is turned away from the wicked. He says of them, “The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods. I will not pour out their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.”

This is a very practical matter, for it is a way by which we can measure our relationships to the Lord. Do you love other Christians? Do you find it good and rewarding to be with them? Do you seek their company? This is a very simple test. Those who love the Lord will love the company of those who also love him. Those who find their “good” in God will also find good in those who likewise seek him. On the other hand, do you find it uncomfortable to be with those who sin openly? Are you troubled by their values, shocked by their desires, repulsed by their blasphemies? Are you at ease among them? If, like Peter, you have no difficulty warming your hands at the fire of those who are hostile to your Master, it is probably because you are far from him. You had best get back to him before you deny him as Peter did.

Study Questions:

  1. List and explain the three names of God used in this chapter.
  2. How does our relationship to God affect our relationship to others?

Application: What specific blessings come from fellowshipping with other Christians?


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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.

A Prophecy of the Resurrection, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Psalmist’s Present Blessings and Future Hope

In this week’s lessons we learn from one text how the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus’ resurrection.

Scripture: Psalm 16:1-11

3. The psalmist’s present blessings (vv. 5-8). The third part of the psalm describes the psalmist’s present blessings. There are four of them.

First, David says of, “LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup.” The word “portion” can have two meanings. It can refer to one’s portion in the land, that is, one’s estate or inheritance. Or it can refer to one’s daily portion of food, a ration. Since it is linked to the word “cup” in this verse and since the idea of an inheritance in the land occurs in the verse after this, in verse 6, the “portion” in verse 5 is probably the singer’s daily ration of food or, by extension, other necessities. It is what we ask for in the Lord’s Prayer when we recite, “Give us this day our daily bread.” It means that we are looking to God for our provisions.

Second, “you have made my lot secure.” One’s lot can be one’s portion in life or one’s land. But

again, since the idea of a land inheritance occurs in the next verse, this one probably is

speaking of the psalmist’s general lot or circumstances. The point is his security in them. With the Lord defending him, he is not going to be uprooted or cast out.

Third, he says, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; surely I have a delightful inheritance.” Isn’t it interesting that the psalmist is content with what God has meted out to him, especially since so many people are discontent today? Discontent is one of the most striking characteristics of our time. It is particularly a mark of the so-called “Baby Boomer” or “Yuppie” generation. One child of the 1950s wrote, “Baby boomers are not very content. Because our expectations are so much higher than our reality, we tend to be discontent, restless and bored.”3 There is no cure for this deep restlessness except in God.

Fourth, the LORD “counsels” David. He needed counsel; his official decisions affected thousands of his subjects. He needed counsel he could trust, and so do we! Our decisions may not affect as many people as David’s did, but they affect the one person who matters most to us, namely ourselves, and they generally also affect others, sometimes many, who depend on us. God provides such counsel if we will ask him. The Bible says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Having reviewed these blessings, David reaffirms the commitment to God with which he began and upon which his felicity rests: “I have set the LORD always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken (v. 6).

4. The psalmist’s future hope (vv. 9-11). The first part of the psalm has been a strong statement of how the psalmist has committed his entire life to God and the difference this has made for him. But nothing said thus far is as remarkable as what follows. Having spoken of the present blessings that result from his relationship to God, the writer now turns to the future and expresses his confidence in what God will do for him in death and even beyond death. It is where the verse that prophecies the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ comes in.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the first present blessing described by David? What does “portion” mean?
  2. What does David probably have in mind when he speaks of his “lot” in the second present blessing?
  3. Recall the third present blessing. What principle is taught?
  4. What is the fourth present blessing that David gives? Why do we need it, and how do we obtain it?

Reflection: Dr. Boice commented on people’s deep restlessness, and that there is no cure for it except what God gives. What evidence of this restlessness do you observe in people around you, or from news stories about well-known people?

3Mike Bellah, Baby Boom Believers: Why We Think We Need It All and How to Survive When We Don’t Get It (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1988), p. 49.

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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.

A Prophecy of the Resurrection, Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: Faith Is the Victory

In this week’s lessons we learn from one text how the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus’ resurrection.

Scripture: Psalm 16:1-11

Did David consciously prophecy the Lord’s resurrection? He may have, but it is not necessary to think so. To be sure, Peter termed him a prophet in Acts 2. But later in his first letter, Peter wrote that the prophets “searched intently and with the greatest care, trying to find out the time and circumstances to which the Spirit of Christ in them was pointing when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the glories that would follow” (1 Peter 1:10, 11). This means that David did not necessarily understand that he was writing of Jesus’ resurrection when he composed verse 10.

Yet if he was not writing of Christ, the verse is in some ways even more remarkable. In that case, David was writing of his own hope, expecting that God would not abandon him to the grave and would preserve him. He did not have the resurrection of Jesus before him as a sample of what he had in mind or proof of what God can and will do, as we who live on this side of the resurrection do.

How did David get to this point? There is only one answer. It was by the logic of faith. He reasoned that if God had blessed him and kept him in this life, then God, who does not change, would undoubtedly keep him and bless him in the life to come. One commentator has written,

The boldness of it all almost leaves the reader breathless. How can a man see all men dying and note that all the children of men before him have died without exception and still say: God cannot let that happen to me! It appears like sheer being carried away into rhapsody of bold assertions. But still, in the last analysis, must not faith draw the conclusion that, if you hold to God, God will take care of you perfectly.4

I have said that David achieved this great pinnacle of trusting God in death through the logic of faith. But the victory itself was achieved by Jesus about whom David perhaps only unintentionally prophesied. It was Jesus’ victory that won salvation for us all.

Reuben A. Torrey, a Bible teacher of an earlier generation, tells the story of four men who were climbing the most difficult face of the Matterhorn. There was a guide, a tourist, a second guide and a second tourist, all roped together. As they went over a particularly difficult place the lower tourist lost his footing and went over the side. The sudden pull of the rope carried the lower guide with him, and he carried the other tourist along also. Three men were now dangling over the cliff. But the guide who was in the lead, feeling the first pull upon the rope, drove his ax into the ice, braced himself and held fast. The first tourist then regained his footing, the second guide regained his, and the lower tourist followed. Then they went on in safety.

So it is in this life. As the human race ascended the lofty cliffs of life, the first Adam lost his footing and tumbled headlong over the abyss. He pulled the next man after him, and the next and the next, until the whole human race hung in deadly peril. But the second Adam, the Lord Jesus Christ, kept his footing. He stood fast. Thus all who are united to him by a living faith are secure and can regain the path.5

Study Questions:

  1. What is David’s future blessing?
  2. Whatever knowledge David had concerning the coming of Christ, how did he arrive at it? What did he need, just as we do?

For Further Study: To learn more about what Jesus’ resurrection means for Christians, download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “Speaking Sense about the Resurrection.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

 

4H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker), p. 152.
5Reuben A. Torrey, The Bible and Its Christ (New York: Revell, 1904-1906), pp. 107-108.


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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.

A Prophecy of the Resurrection, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: Jesus’ Resurrection

In this week’s lessons we learn from one text how the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus’ resurrection.

Scripture: Psalm 16:1-11

The reason why this psalm is such a clear prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection is the startling claim found in the second half of verse 10. The first part is impressive but not startling. It is an expression of faith that God will not abandon the psalmist to the grave. That could have been spoken by anyone of the Old Testament saints. It represents a high expression of faith, of course. The only thing that quite matches it is Job’s declaration: “I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I and not another” (19:25-27). So although David’s statement is strong and unusual, it is not an impossible statement for any of the Old Testament saints to have uttered, as I said. Any one of them could have spoken of God preserving them beyond the grave.

But that is not the case with the second part of this verse, and it is this that makes it a remarkable prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection. That part says “nor will you let your Holy one see decay.” When we die our bodies do decay, even if we are waiting for the resurrection. David’s body decayed. But the body of Jesus did not decay. God preserved Christ’s body from corruption while it was lying in the tomb and then breathed life back into it on Easter morning. And that is why the verse cannot apply to David or to any other mere human being—even though the rest of the psalm can—and why it is a prophecy of Jesus’ resurrection.

When Peter referred to the text at Pentecost, he said, “Brothers, I can tell you confidently that the patriarch David died and was buried, and his tomb is here to this day. But he was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay” (Acts 2:29-31).

Paul’s use of the text was even clearer. He said, “For when David had served God’s purpose in his own generation, he fell asleep; he was buried with his fathers and his body decayed. But the one whom God raised from the dead did not see decay” (Acts 13:36, 37).

This great prophecy grew out of the life and faith of King David. There have been attempts to see Psalm 16 as a total prophecy of Jesus. That is, each verse has been taken as referring to something specific in his life. In the case of one commentator, each verse has been referred to Jesus’ thoughts and experiences during the hours he spent praying in Gethsemane.2 This is far-fetched and unnecessary. Since the psalm seems to have been written by David—the heading says so—most of it should be understood as referring to his faith and desires rather than to Jesus.

  1. C. Leupold suggests that the best setting of the psalm is those years in the life of David when he was forced to flee from King Saul. He calls the psalm: “Jehovah—the Psalmist’s Portion in Life and His Deliverer in Death.” It has four parts.

Study Questions:

  1. Why is the first part of verse 10 said to be impressive but not startling? What other passage from the Old Testament is similar, and why?
  2. How can Psalm 16 be seen as a messianic psalm? Why is the second part of verse 10 startling?
  3. From the lesson, should Psalm 16 be seen as a total prophecy about Jesus? Why or why not?

2“Christ in Gethsemane” by James Frame. It is referred to by Charles Haddon Spurgeon in The Treasury of David, vol. 1a, Psalms 1-26 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 198.


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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.

A Prophecy of the Resurrection, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: The Old Testament and Jesus’ Resurrection

In this week’s lessons we learn from one text how the Old Testament points ahead to Jesus’ resurrection.

Scripture: Psalm 16:1-11

On the first Lord’s day, following hard upon the resurrection of Jesus Christ, two people were walking to their home town of Emmaus from Jerusalem. They were disciples of Jesus, and the name of one of them was Cleopas (Luke 24:18). They were despondent because of the death of their Master. They had heard reports of an empty tomb and of angels who had told some of the women that Jesus was “risen, as he said.” But they did not doubt that Jesus was really dead and that their dream of a Messiah who should reign upon the throne of his father David, the dream that had inspired them for the three long years of Christ’s ministry, was over. While they were making their way along their homeward path Jesus appeared to them, although they did not recognize him. “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” he asked.

They replied by an offhand reference to the “things” that had taken place in Jerusalem.

“What things?” Jesus asked.

“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they answered. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him, but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel…”

Jesus chided them for their slowness to believe all that the prophets had spoken. “Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” he asked them. Then we are told, “And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself” (see Luke 24:13-27). That is one sermon I wish I could have heard. It was the Lord’s own sermon on the resurrection. It was a sermon in which he expounded the Old Testament texts that had bearing on his prophesied triumph over the grave on that first Easter morning.

What texts do you suppose Jesus spoke of? We cannot know the full answer to that question, of course, though we have strong indications of some of the texts due to the way they were later used by the early disciples in their preaching.1 But one text we can be very certain of is Psalm 16:11. This is because Peter used a section of this psalm to preach the resurrection in his great sermon on Pentecost (Acts 2:25-28; citing Psalm 16:8-11), and because Paul likewise used a shorter portion of it in his sermon to the Jews in the synagogue of Antioch early in his ministry (Acts 13:35-37; citing Psalm 16:10). Psalm 16:10 says, “You will not abandon me to the grave,

nor will you let your Holy one see decay.”

If ever there was an Old Testament prophecy of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is this statement. It makes Psalm 16 the third specifically messianic psalm in the Psalter, after the second and eighth.

Study Questions:

  1. Why were the Emmaus disciples despondent on their way back from Jerusalem?
  2. How did Jesus both console and instruct these disciples? What is its significance for us today?

For Further Study: James Boice’s three-volume set on the Psalms is available in paperback, and is a wonderful resource for personal, family, and group studies. Order your copy and receive 25% off the regular price.

1Psalm 110:1, the Old Testament verse most quoted in the New Testament, must have been one of them. So also were Psalm 118:22, cited in Acts 4:11; Psalm 2:1, 2, quoted in Acts 4:25, 26 and 13:33; Isaiah 53, which Philip expounded to the Ethiopian in Acts 8; and many others. The first chapter of Hebrews alone refers to seven Old Testament texts, and there are four more in chapter 2. To these specific texts the great themes and images of the Old Testament could also be added.

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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.

A Man after God’s Heart, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: How We Treat and Regard Others

In this week’s lessons we look at the six characteristics David gives to describe someone of whom God approves.

Scripture: Psalm 15:1-5

3. His conduct. The third couplet is almost also a parallel to the second, for there is much in common between speaking the truth and not slandering another in couplet two, and doing a neighbor no wrong and casting no slur on him in couplet three. But there is a difference too, and the difference seems to be that in this parallelism the idea moves beyond mere words to actions. This is clear in the first half: “Who does his neighbor no wrong.” It is probably also what is meant in part two, for although casting a slur usually suggests verbal abuse to us, a slur can also be cast—perhaps more often is cast—by how we actually treat another person.

The question is: Do you treat other people with respect, especially those who have a less important position in life than you do? Or do you snub them? Do you talk down to them? Are you mean? These verses tell us that all such things displease God and are a barrier to fellowship with him.

4. His values. The fourth couplet, like the third, is also dealing with our responses to other people. But here the idea is not so much how we treat them but how we regard them. It has to do with values. I would express it by asking, who are your models? Who do you look up to? Whose actions and character do you find offensive?

Here is one of the saddest things about today’s younger generation. A few years ago a government commission in Canada studied the characteristics of today’s young people, and one of the things they discovered is that the youth of today have no heroes. This is hard for most older people to appreciate, for we did and do have heroes. There are people we have looked up to and have tried to be like. But the youth of today generally have no heroes, no models. Without heroes they tend just to drift along.

But there is one thing worse than having no models, and that is having the wrong ones. And I suspect that, in spite of the Canadian study, many young people are actually drifting in this direction now. They admire the rock singer who has an abominable lifestyle but is nevertheless rich and famous. They admire the crack dealer who prances around infancy clothes and sports gold jewelry. And the upright people? People who work hard for a living? Fathers who provide for their families? Mothers who are faithful in caring for and raising their children? People who sacrifice for others? The young couldn’t care less about such people, and many older people don’t think much of them either. One social critic says, “We have reached a point where people would rather be envied than admired.”

Not so the righteous! We are told in the psalm that those God approves “despise a vile man but honor those who fear the Lord.”

Study Questions:

  1. How is the third couplet different from the second?
  2. What does the fourth couplet seem to be dealing with?

Reflection: What characteristics mark the current heroes and role models of the culture today? How is that impacting society? What traits should Christians admire and seek to practice?

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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.