A Great Man’s Great Testimony, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: A Great Testimony

In this week’s lessons we see what the proper approach to our own sin needs to be, and what God does for us in response.

Scripture: Psalm 32:1-11

Yesterday we concluded by looking at the first word that describes God’s action toward our sin when we confess it, which is that he forgives it.

The second word that describes what God does with our sin is “covers.” It is a strong religious term taken from the imagery of the Day of Atonement. On the Day of Atonement the high priest of Israel took blood from an animal that had been sacrificed in the courtyard of the temple and carried it into the Most Holy Place where it was sprinkled on the Mercy Seat of the Ark of the Covenant. The Mercy Seat was the lid or “covering” of the ark, and the blood was sprinkled there because it thereby came between the presence of the holy God, symbolized as dwelling in the space between the wings of the cherubim above the ark, and the broken law of God that was contained in the ark itself. It thus covered the broken law, shielding the sinner from God’s judgment.

In Greek the word for Mercy Seat is rendered “propitiation,” which is the act of turning God’s wrath aside. In Hebrew the word is translated as “covering,” the term used by David in our psalm.

The third word for what God does with sin is negative; that is, it describes what God does not do. He “does not count” the sin against us. The word “count” is elsewhere translated “impute,” and it is a bookkeeping term, as “count” especially suggests. It is the word used by Paul in Romans to explain how God writes our sin into Christ’s ledger and punishes it in him while, at the same time, writing the righteousness of Christ into our ledger and counting us as justified because of his merit. It is why Paul quotes these particular verses rather than others in Romans 4:7, 8.

There is more of this psalm to come, but I have taken half of this study to deal with the first two verses because there is no greater blessedness than to know that our sin has been forgiven, covered over by the blood of Christ and no longer counted against us. Do you know that blessedness yourself? If so, testify to it. If not, come to Jesus where alone that forgiveness may be found. It does not matter what you may have done. David had committed murder to cover up adultery. You may have stolen money, cheated your friends or business partners, and lied about nearly everything. You may even have cursed God. It does not matter. God will forgive and restore you. The forgiveness of God is for all and for all sins, and the blessing that follows confession and forgiveness is the greatest of all joys.

The second stanza of this psalm (vv. 3-5) is a recollection of David’s experience of unconfessed sin and of the immediate result of confessing it. It is the heart of this very great man’s great testimony.

Verses 3 and 4 recount the effect of his sin on David. We do not need to spend much time on them except to say that they aptly describe the malaise of any believer who is trying to ignore his or her sin. David says that his very bones seemed to be wasting away and that his strength was drawn out of him as if he were exposed to the heat of the summer sun. The reason, of course, is that the Lord’s hand was upon him heavily in judgment, as it will be with anyone who tries to do as David did. When we sin we wish that God would ignore our transgression. But God cannot ignore sin and will not. He brings pressure upon us, often very acute pressure, until we acknowledge the sin, confess it and return to him.

Study Questions:

  1. What is the second word used to describe God’s action toward us? What important ideas are behind it?
  2. What is different about the third word of God’s response? Explain its meaning.

Application: How can you testify to others of the great work that God does for those who confess their sins and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ for their salvation? Pray for opportunities to do this.


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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 Great Man’s Great Testimony, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: What Sin Is and What God Does

In this week’s lessons we see what the proper approach to our own sin needs to be, and what God does for us in response.

Scripture: Psalm 32:1-11

1. Three words for sin. The first word for sin is “transgression” (Hebrew, peshah), which literally means “a going away” or “departure” or, in this case, “a rebellion” against God and his authority. This is what makes sin so dreadful, of course—that it is transgression, not only against other people, whom we hurt by our sin, but at its root also against God. It is why Psalm 51 contains the words “against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight” (v. 4). It is not that David had not sinned against others. He had. He had sinned against Uriah and also against the nation, which suffered for his sin. But in light of the enormity of his sin against God these other matters faded into the background. Alexander Maclaren captures the force of this word when he writes, “You do not understand the gravity of the most trivial wrong act when you think of it as a sin against the order of Nature, or against the law written on your heart, or as the breach of the constitution of your own nature, or as a crime against your fellows. You have not got to the bottom of the blackness until you see that it is a flat rebellion against God himself.”4

The second word for sin is hamah (translated “sin” in verse 1). It is a nearly exact equivalent of the similar sounding Greek word hamartia. Both mean “coming short” or “falling short of a mark.” In the ancient world the term was used in archery to describe a person who shoots at a target but whose arrow falls short and does not hit the target. In biblical usage, the target is God’s law, and the sin described by this word is a failure to measure up to it.

The third word for sin is “iniquity” (again in Hebrew, haon), which the New International Version also translates as “sin” (v. 2). It means “corrupt,” “twisted” or “crooked.” It rounds out the other terms in this way. The first describes sin in view of our relationship to God. It pictures us as being in rebellion against him. The second word describes sin in relation to the divine law. We fall short of it and are condemned by it. The third word describes sin in relation to ourselves. It is a corruption or twisting of right standards as well as of our own beings. That is, to the degree that we indulge in sin we become both twisted and twisting creatures.

2. Three words for what God does with sin. The three words for sin that I have just explained are matched in the opening stanza by a second set of three terms describing what God does with the sin of those who confess it to him. He forgives it, covers it over and refuses to count (or impute) it against the sinful person.

The first of these words is “forgiven,” and it literally means to have our sin “lifted off.” Before the sin is confessed we bear it like some great burden, but when we confess it to God it is lifted from our shoulders. John Bunyan captured this well in The Pilgrim’s Progress when he described Christian coming to the cross, at which point “his burden loosed from off his shoulders and fell from off his back and began to tumble, and so continued to do so, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in” and was seen no more.5 When we confess our sin God removes it “as far as the east is from the west” (Psa. 103:12) and no longer “remembers” it against us (Isa. 43:25).

My sin—O the bliss of this glorious thought!—
My sin, not in part, but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more.
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!

Study Questions:

  1. Give the meanings of the three Hebrew words for sin in this psalm.
  2. Read Psalm 51:4. What does David mean there?
  3. Define the first word the psalmist uses to describe what God does.

Reflection: How does knowing the different Hebrew words for sin help you to come to a better understanding of the seriousness of it?

4Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, part 1, Psalms 1-49 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), p.197. Maclaren has a full discussion of these terms on pp. 196-201.
5John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress (New York: E.P. Dutton, 1954), p. 39. Original edition 1678.


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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 Great Man’s Great Testimony, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: A Great Beatitude

In this week’s lessons we see what the proper approach to our own sin needs to be, and what God does for us in response.

Scripture: Psalm 32:1-11

Psalm 32 is the second of the so-called penitential psalms. The others are Psalms 6, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. But the psalm might better be called “a psalm of instruction” from the title word maskil, which means “the giving of instruction.”1 It is the first of twelve psalms that bear this title.2

Probably, the psalm should be interpreted in connection with Psalm 51, which is David’s

great psalm of repentance. David had sinned in committing adultery with Bathsheba and had then manipulated the plan of battle to have her husband Uriah, who was a soldier, killed. He had tried to ignore or hide the sin for some time. But when the prophet Nathan came to him to expose the transgression, David confessed it and was restored. Psalm 51 is the immediate expression of that confession and restoration. It breathes with the emotion of the moment. Psalm 32 seems to have been written later than Psalm 51, after some reflection, and may therefore, as Leupold suggests, be “the fulfillment of the vow contained in Psalm 51:13: ‘Then will I teach transgressors thy ways, and sinners shall be converted unto thee.’”3 That “teaching” may be the maskil.

The psalm certainly functions as instruction, since Paul quotes the first two verses in Romans 4 to add David’s testimony to his proof of justification by grace through faith alone. It is significant that of all David’s recorded words and the writings that bear his name, it is the first two verses of this psalm that Paul chooses as Old Testament support for the doctrine.

This was Saint Augustine’s favorite psalm. Augustine had it inscribed on the wall next to his bed before he died in order to meditate on it better. He liked it because, as he said: “intelligentia prima est ut te noris peccatorem (“the beginning of knowledge is to know oneself to be a sinner”).

The first stanza (vv. 1, 2) begins on a jubilant note, expressing the joy of the person whose sin has been forgiven. This is only the second time in the Psalter that a psalm has begun with the word “blessed” (literally, “blessednesses,” plural). The first was in Psalm 1. But the happiness of the man speaking here is greater even than that of the man in Psalm 1, for in Psalm 1 he is described as blessed who walks in God’s way, which none of us does, while in Psalm 32 the word is reserved for the person who has not walked in God’s way, has sinned, but has repented of his or her sin and now knows the joy of restoration.

These verses are another example of Hebrew poetic parallelism, for there are three side-by-side terms for sin and three corresponding terms for how God deals with sin. As in the best of parallel constructions, these are not mere synonyms but are words chosen to cover the entire spectrum of sin and the wide scope of God’s salvation from it.

Study Questions:

  1. What does the word maskil mean and why is it applied to Psalm 32?
  2. How is the idea of blessedness used in Psalm 1 versus here in Psalm 32?
  3. How is Hebrew parallelism seen in this psalm?

Application: Why does this psalm begin so joyfully? Purpose to do the same in your daily prayer.

1The significance of the term is uncertain, but this seems to be its meaning, particularly in the book of Daniel (cf. Ps. 11:33; 12:3, 10).
2Psalms 32, 42, 45, 52, 53, 54, 55, 74, 78, 88, 89, 142.
3H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 269.


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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.

Rock of Refuge, Part 5

By James Boice

Theme: The Application

In this week’s lessons, we learn from this psalm how to deal with difficulties that come into our lives, knowing that God is our mighty refuge in whom alone we can trust.

Scripture: Psalm 31:1-24

Yesterday we concluded by looking at the first two contrasts between God’s secret and manifest goodness. Today we begin by considering the last one.

3. The goodness which is experienced and at least partially seen in this life and the superlative goodness yet to be experienced in heaven. God’s goodness will certainly follow us all the days of our lives. But it will not stop there. It will follow us even into heaven, where it will be disclosed in a measure not even imaginable now.

Alexander Maclaren has a section on this contrast that is so eloquent it deserves to be quoted:

Here we see, sometimes, the messengers coming with the one cluster of grapes on the pole. There we shall live in the vineyard. Here we drink from the river as it flows; there we shall be at the fountain head. Here we are in the vestibule of the King’s house; there we shall be in the throne room, and each chamber as we pass through it will be richer and fairer than the one preceding…. When God begins to compare his adjectives he does not stop till he gets to the superlative degree. … Good begets better, and the better of earth ensures the best of heaven.

So out of our poor little experience here, we may gather grounds of confidence that will carry our thoughts peacefully even into the great darkness, and we may say, ‘What thou didst work is much, what thou hast laid up is more.’ And the contrast will continue for ever and ever; for all through that strange Eternity, that which is wrought will be less than that which is laid up, and we shall never get to the end of God, nor to the end of his goodness.3

Those who know God know that is true and so say a hearty “Amen.”

We have already applied what we have seen in the body of Psalm 31 in a variety of ways. But David has his own application which comes in the last two stanzas, each of two verses. They are a sort of coda to the psalm in which David turns to others (his earlier words have been directed to God) and advises them to praise and love God also.

The first two verses call for praise. They are much like verse 4 of the preceding psalm, in which David calls on others to praise God for his goodness since they, as well as he, have learned that “his anger lasts only a moment, but his favor… a lifetime.” These verses are not so explicit as those in Psalm 30 in basing the call for praise on an aspect of God’s character which these others should also have experienced. But that is probably because their experience here was one with David’s. What I mean is that David is praising God because he delivered him when he was in “a besieged city,” which is probably to be taken as a literal historical moment, and if that is the case, then his deliverance was the deliverance of his friends and followers also.4 They could praise God for exactly the same thing as King David.

The second short stanza and the last two verses call upon these same people to love God as well as praise him. It is significant that the psalm should end this way. For although love has not been mentioned before this, it is nevertheless true that love and trust go together. It is true in regard to human relations. It is true in our relationship to God too.

The very last lines encourage the saints of God to “be strong and take heart,” which is a way of saying “keep trusting.” The point is that we will do this only as long as we keep close to God and thus continue to grow in our love for him. H. C. Leupold puts it like this: “The practical application… amounts to this: Don’t ever lose faith in him,” adding wisely, “Faith will not be lost if love keeps burning.”5 You can never love God too much, and you can never trust God too much. But you will do both well whenever you reflect deeply on the degree to which he has loved you.

Study Questions:

  1. What is David’s practical application of this psalm?
  2. How do love and trust belong together?

Application: Is there a specific area in which you need to love and trust God more?

For Further Study: We know that God is our rock and refuge because of what he has revealed to us about himself in his Word. Download and listen for free to James Boice’s “A Place to Stand.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

3Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), pp. 184-185.
4If the background for this psalm is the time of David’s flight from Saul described in 1 Samuel 23, as some think, then the besieged city was Keilah, from which God delivered David by an oracle.
5H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1969), p. 263.


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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.

Rock of Refuge, Part 4

By James Boice

Theme: Praise to God for His Help

In this week’s lessons, we learn from this psalm how to deal with difficulties that come into our lives, knowing that God is our mighty refuge in whom alone we can trust.

Scripture: Psalm 31:1-24

In verses 19 and 20 we reach the crest of the wave again. But I want you to notice something interesting. Up to this point the psalm has followed a regular and therefore nearly a predictable pattern. It began with a prayer; that was the first section. It expressed personal trust in God, section two. Section three was the lament. Section four once again expressed trust in God, a section almost identical in tone and meaning to section two. With that pattern established, what should we expect in this last section? The answer is: the same thing we had in section one, a prayer.

But here is the interesting thing. Although section five is a prayer, it actually is an expression of praise to God. In other words, as a result of working through the content of the first four sections of the psalm, the last section is changed from a prayer in which God is asked to do something to a prayer in which he is praised for what he has done and will continue to do.

Have you ever experienced that in your times of prayer? You should. It is normal to begin with some great need and to express great requests but then come away from prayer with the assurance that God has heard and will help you, and so be praising him for it.

The theme of the last section of this main body of the psalm is God’s goodness. It has appealed to many preachers because of the distinction David makes between the goodness God has “stored up for those who fear him” and the goodness he has bestowed “in the sight of men.” The one is hidden. The other is manifest. The distinction suggests the following contrasts.

1.The goodness of God to us that other people see and the even greater goodness to us that they cannot see. When God blesses his people with happy and prosperous lives, stable families and the joy that comes from knowing that what we do has usefulness and meaning, other people can see this whether or not they acknowledge God to be the source.

Some years ago George Gallup of the Gallup Poll organization pointed out quite objectively that people who are “highly religiously motivated” are happier than other people, have fewer divorces, are less prejudiced and are more active in helping others in areas of social need. That is the goodness of God bestowed “in the sight of men.” But it is nothing compared to the goodness of God to us that others cannot see at all. They cannot see the comfort that God alone gives. They cannot see those moments of quiet rapture when the soul of the believer is conscious of the very presence of God and rejoices in it. They cannot see the goodness of God revealed in response to believing prayer.

2. The goodness of God that other people see because it has already been given and the goodness that is yet to be given which they will see later. In an objective way, others may consider us blessed now because of God’s goodness to us. But present experience of God’s goodness is only a sample of greater and more varied goodness yet to come. Therefore, in the future even we will look back on more abundant evidences of God’s goodness than we see now. That was David’s experience, for in the well-known Twenty-third Psalm he looked both backward and forward, saying, “You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (vv. 5, 6).

Study Questions:

  1. How does the prayer in section five differ from what we might expect?
  2. What is the theme of this section of the psalm?
  3. Explain the difference between God’s hidden and manifest goodness.

Application: What opportunities has the Lord given you to make his goodness known to those around you?


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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.

Rock of Refuge, Part 3

By James Boice

Theme: A Lament

In this week’s lessons, we learn from this psalm how to deal with difficulties that come into our lives, knowing that God is our mighty refuge in whom alone we can trust.

Scripture: Psalm 31:1-24

The emotional heart of the psalm is the lament found in verses 9-13, in which David tells the Lord of his present distress and danger. In studying an earlier psalm I pointed out that language expressing acute physical affliction sometimes refers to actual sickness and sometimes not. In Psalm 30 it did. There David was so sick he was on the point of dying. In Psalm 31 the problem does not seem to be illness but rather the danger created by his enemies. For that reason the language used to describe bodily affliction should be seen primarily as metaphorical or at least as being poetically exaggerated.

The best way to read the stanza is backwards. David starts with his personal distress and works outward to its cause, and we do better if we begin with the cause and work inward to the effect it had on David. The chief problem (v. 13) is that his enemies had surrounded him on all sides and were conspiring together to take his life. This was literally true during much of David’s reign. The kingdom was surrounded by hostile neighbors, just as the present nation of Israel is surrounded by hostile Arab neighbors. But David may also be thinking of plots within his kingdom by Jewish enemies or of the days he had to flee from King Saul.

Because of the enormity of this danger and of his own apparent weakness, David was scorned by his neighbors and was even deserted by his friends (vv. 11, 12). Many people have experienced this. As long as we are successful or influential or rich, everyone wants to know us and be considered our friend. But as soon as we lose these advantages, people desert us. This is the way of the world. We should not be surprised at it. We should only be thankful that God is quite different.

Finally, because of his precarious position and of being deserted by his friends, David was affected physically. His strength seemed to fail, his bones and eyes growing weak and his body was filled with grief. These words may be poetic exaggeration, as I said, but they describe real affliction. They describe the weakness, sorrow and grief of many.

Earlier in this study I said that the body of the psalm moves from the emotional crest of praying to God down into a trough of sorrow and then back upward to a crest of praise again. In the last section we were in the trough. In this section (vv. 14-18) we are starting up the other side.

To many people the most striking sentence in these verses is the first in verse 15, which says, “My times are in your hands.” What times are these? Well, all times. The times of our youth are in God’s hands, times when others make decisions for us. Some of those decisions are good decisions, some are bad. But God holds both the good and bad in his hands and works all things for the good of those who love him.

The times of our maturity are in God’s hands, that is, days in which we are (or should be) about our Father’s business. In such days we probably have successes, but we also have defeats. Even in spiritual work everything does not always go well. Does that mean that God has abandoned us? Not at all. The times of defeat as well as the times of victory are controlled by God.

Finally, the times of our old age are in God’s hand, days in which the strength of youth have faded away and the opportunities for starting new works are past. God cares for us also in old age, and he is able to bless those days as much as any others:

Even down to old age thy saints shall prove
Thine own inestimable, unchangeable love.
And when hoary heirs shall their temples adorn
Like lambs they shall to thy bosom be borne.

What this means in brief is that God is present in all the circumstances of your life. Nothing ever comes into your life to surprise him. Indeed, nothing can come into your life that has not first of all passed through the filter of his “good, pleasing and perfect will” (Rom. 12:2). “In all things God works for the good of those who love him,” Paul says (Rom. 8:28). Therefore, like Paul, we can also say, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11).

Study Questions:

  1. What seems to be the source of David’s affliction?
  2. What does Dr. Boice mean when he says that it is better to read the lament stanza (vv. 9-13) backwards?

Reflection: What does it mean to say, “My times are in your hands” (v. 15)? How is the Lord calling you to live in that way?


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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.

Rock of Refuge, Part 2

By James Boice

Theme: An Expression of Trust

In this week’s lessons, we learn from this psalm how to deal with difficulties that come into our lives, knowing that God is our mighty refuge in whom alone we can trust.

Scripture: Psalm 31:1-24

David says two things about God as his rock that have been described as illogical by some who know little of the life of faith. He says that God is his rock in verse 3 (“since you are my rock and my fortress”) and yet asks God to be his rock in verse 2 (“be my rock of refuge”). How, such critics ask, can God be and yet be asked to be a refuge all at the same time? How little such critics know!

Charles Haddon Spurgeon understood that David’s is a logic, not of words but of the heart, writing that it teaches us to ask God that we may “enjoy in experience what we grasp by faith.”1 We know that God is many things by faith, because the Bible tells us he is. But this is a very different thing from proving God to be those things in our experience. Do you believe that God is all powerful? Of course, you do. Then pray that he will prove himself strong in your weakness. Do you believe that God is wise? Of course! Then ask him to display his wisdom in the ordering of your life. In the same way, you can ask him to be to you loving and gracious and merciful and everything else the Bible says he is. “You are … then be …,” should be the prayer of every Christian.

Particularly in death. When David spoke the words we find in the first half of verse 5, he was asking God to save his life from enemies. But since Jesus’ use of it on the cross, saints everywhere have echoed him in asking God to receive their souls in death and so bear them safely to his presence. In other words, they have asked God to be to them in death what they have known him to be in life. One of the great commentators on this psalm, J. J. Stewart Perowne, points out that these were the last words of Saint Bernard, John Huss, Jerome of Prague, Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon and many others. He quotes Luther as saying, “Blessed are they who die not only for the Lord, as martyrs; not only in the Lord, as all believers; but likewise with the Lord, as breathing forth their lives in these words: ‘Into thy hands I commend my spirit.’”2

When John Huss was condemned to be burned at the stake, the bishop who conducted the ceremony ended with the chilling words: “And now we commit thy soul to the devil.” In great calmness Huss replied, “I commit my spirit into thy hands, Lord Jesus Christ; unto thee I commend my spirit, which thou has redeemed.”

The second section of the psalm expresses trust in God (vv. 6-8). This trust has been anticipated in part one, but it comes to a fuller expression here, David saying explicitly, “I trust in the LORD” (v. 6).

This trust is not something “off the wall,” as we say. It is not without reasons, since David gives his reasons in the various phrases of this section. He was in trouble, and the Lord did four things. First, God “knew the anguish of his soul.” That is, God took note of his trouble and identified with him in it. Second, God “saw his affliction.” This means more than that God merely took note of it. It means that God did something about it, that he came to David’s rescue. Third, God did not hand him “over to his enemy.” He protected him and kept him from the destruction the enemy wanted to bring upon him. Finally, God “set his feet in a spacious place.” In other words, God was faithful to deliver David from affliction. Since God did that in the past, David is determined to trust him now. The memory of past deliverance bears fruit in present confidence.

Study Questions:

  1. Why have verses 2 and 3 been criticized by some people? How is the criticism shown to be wrong by misunderstanding what the verses actually mean?
  2. What does David know about God that enabled him to trust?

Application: Perhaps you are experiencing great difficulty now, and can easily identify with David. What do you know about God, and your past experiencing of his grace and mercy, that is meant to help you to trust him more today?

1C. H. Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 1b, Psalms 27-57 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 58.
2J. J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1 (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1989), vol. 1, pp. 284, 285. Original edition 1878-1879.


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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.

Rock of Refuge, Part 1

By James Boice

Theme: Prayer for Help in Trouble

In this week’s lessons, we learn from this psalm how to deal with difficulties that come into our lives, knowing that God is our mighty refuge in whom alone we can trust.

Scripture: Psalm 31:1-24

Psalm 31 is longer than most of those immediately preceding it. Only Psalms 18 and 22 are longer. But Psalm 31 has this interesting distinction. As a psalm of trust growing out of an individual lament, “a magnificent psalm of confidence,” it has appealed to many biblical characters.

The phrase “terror on every side,” from verse 13, seems to have appealed to Jeremiah as a description of the dangers of his day, since he borrowed it no less than six times in his writings, sometimes picking up other echoes of the psalm along with it (Jer. 6:25; 20:3, 10; 46:5; 49:29; Lam. 2:22). In his prayer of repentance from inside the great fish, Jonah, the minor prophet, quoted the words “those who cling to worthless idols,” from verse 13 (Jonah 2:8). The author of Psalm 71, possibly David himself, quotes the opening verses of Psalm 31 as his opening. And, most striking of all, verse 5 of our psalm gave Jesus words for his last utterance from the cross: “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” (Luke 23:46).

In spite of the apparent popularity of this psalm, it is a hard psalm to outline. In fact, no two writers agree on an outline. Some divide the psalm into three parts, some into two. But even among those who agree on the number of parts, there is no agreement about where the divisions come, and most even disagree about the flow of thought within the sections. In this study I want to follow the stanza divisions of the New International Version and outline them as follows.

I see two main parts to the psalm: 1) the body of the psalm (vv. 1-20); and 2) a brief concluding application (vv. 21-24). The body of the psalm is in five parts: 1) a prayer for help in trouble (vv. 1-5); 2) an expression of trust in God (vv. 6-8); 3) a lament (vv. 9-13); 4) a further expression of trust (vv. 14-18); and 5) praise to God for his help in the trouble (vv. 19, 20). As we will see in our study, these five parts move from an emotional peak to an emotional valley and then back to an emotional peak again. It is as if David is riding a wave from a crest to a trough and then back to a crest in closing.

The first five verses of this psalm are a prayer for help in trouble. But they are a confident prayer since they, like the other sections of the psalm, express a very strong trust in God.

These verses have a theme. It is that God is the psalmist’s “rock of refuge.” The phrase itself occurs in verse 2, but the two nouns are also repeated separately. “Refuge” is found in verses 1 and 4. “Rock” is used again in verse 3. In addition, the nearly synonymous term “fortress” is used twice (in vv. 2 and 3). This was a popular metaphor with David, being found in Psalms 18, 19, 28, 61, 62 and 71, for example. It unquestionably comes from the years when he was fleeing from King Saul and so often found safety in the high rocks of the Judean wilderness. On the plain, David’s warrior band was no match for the numerically superior and better equipped troops of his enemy. But he was safe if he fled to the mountains. In the same way, David saw God as his true “rock of refuge” when his later enemies encircled him and set traps for his soul.

Study Questions:

  1. How else has this psalm been used by others in the Bible?
  2. How does Dr. Boice outline this psalm?
  3. What is the image in David’s mind when he calls God his rock and refuge?

For Further Study: The book of Psalms has been a source of comfort and strength for the church throughout the centuries, aiding us in our prayers and praise, and teaching us what it means to really know God and how to please him. Dr. Boice’s clear and practical treatment of this great section of the Bible is available in paperback. Order your copy of this three-volume set, and take 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.

A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts, Day 5

By James Boice

Theme: Personal Grief and Great Joy

From this week’s lessons we learn of God’s power and mercy to heal, and what we need to do in response.

Scripture: Psalm 30:1-12

The last set of uplifting contrasts is found in verses 11 and 12, but the wailing and sackcloth of those verses recall the time David has already described in verses 8-10. Wailing describes the words themselves, emphasizing the anguished tone of David’s utterance. Sackcloth describes the attitude in which his words were uttered, since sackcloth was the accepted attire of one who was demonstrating personal repentance from sin. These contrasts are: “wailing” versus “dancing” and “sackcloth” versus being “clothed with joy.”

There is one more important contrast, however. I wonder if you have seen it. It is in the very last verse, a contrast between “singing to God” (which means praising him openly) or “being silent.” It reminds us how silent many of us are in spite of having received many abundant blessings and deliverances from God.

Do you recall the hymn written by Charles Wesley in which we sing: “O for a thousand tongues to sing my great Redeemer’s praise”? It is a pious thought but a vain one. For what would be the advantage of possessing a thousand tongues to sing God’s praise when the one tongue we do have is so silent? Jesus told us, “Out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). So if we are not speaking God’s praise, it is because our hearts are not full of him. Instead they are filled with the things of this world, things that will perish with the world and pass away. What a sad exchange: the things of this world for the glories of the eternal God.

I counsel you to fill your hearts and minds with God. Think about him for what he is in himself and for what he has done. And then, when your heart is overflowing with his praise, speak about him to others, as David is doing in this psalm. You will find two things. First, you will find that God delights in such praise and that you will be drawn to him even more than you are now. Second, you will find that God uses your praise to attract others and win them to faith, as a result of which you will have even more cause for rejoicing.

Study Questions:

  1. What contrasts are seen in the last two verses, and what do they mean?
  2. Review all the contrasts we have seen in this psalm. What do they teach us about God and our response to him?

Reflection: Are your heart and mind filled with the knowledge of God and his ways? Or are other things being given an improper place that are hindering your prayer life and silencing your praise?

For Further Study: To learn more about how the Lord lifts us up, download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “The Lord Is My Lifter-Upper.” (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.

A Litany of Uplifting Contrasts, Day 4

By James Boice

Theme: The Psalmist’s Sin and His Repentance

From this week’s lessons we learn of God’s power and mercy to heal, and what we need to do in response.

Scripture: Psalm 30:1-12

Here is a rich set of contrasts: God’s “anger” versus God’s “favor”; “weeping” versus “rejoicing”; “night” versus “morning”; and “a moment” versus “a lifetime.” But here is a warning before we go on. It is true that for the people of God the sufferings of this life are minimized. And even if their miseries should be great here, for reasons known only to God, they are more than compensated for hereafter. This is not true for unbelievers. For them it is exactly the opposite. For those who go their own way now there may be many times of temporary rejoicing. The world has its pleasures. Even the very wicked may have an occasional moment of heaven here on earth. But their portion hereafter will be hell. Judgment will come, and it will be true to say that for them that the anger of the Lord will last, not only a lifetime but forever. The time to discover God’s favor through Jesus Christ is now, while it is still the day of God’s grace.

At first glance the psalm seems to take an unexpected turn at verse 6, for suddenly the writer is revealing a former sin of self-confidence or pride and is apparently linking it to his illness. He recalls the time God turned his face away from him because of that sin, how dismayed he was, and even the words he prayed as he sought mercy from the one he had offended: “What gain is there in my destruction, to my going down into the pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it proclaim your faithfulness? Hear, O LORD, and be merciful to me; O LORD, be my help.”

This not so surprising, however, when we remember the principle the psalmist has just explained. He has been speaking of the Lord’s anger lasting only for a moment and of his favor lasting a lifetime. The Lord’s anger presupposes the sin against which it is directed. So here David confesses that the sin that led to his sickness was that of saying, “I will never be shaken” (v. 6), forgetting that we are only secure when God upholds us. If there is a connection between Psalm 28 and the incident in which David sinned in numbering the people, as H. C. Leupold (and some others) have argued,5 the psalm is confessing that self-confidence is what lay behind the numbering. In other words, David had fallen into the trap of trusting in the numbers of his army rather than in the Lord. The contrasts here are: “feeling secure” versus being “dismayed” and enjoying God’s “favor” versus God “hiding his face.”

Self-confidence rather than God-confidence is a common failure among us, blessed as many of us have been with abundant wealth, enviable education and technical skills. As a people we think that we can get by on our hustle. As a church we think we can manage our affairs by secular skills and fund raising techniques without relying on God. As a nation we think we can survive on the strength of our military might and industrial production. What a shaking there will have to be! What calamities before we again humble ourselves under the hand of God and look to him to exalt us in his way and time!

Study Questions:

  1. In what ways do you see unbelievers experiencing temporary rejoicing, while also storing up eternal judgment?
  2. What turn does the psalm take in verse 6?

Application: In what areas of your life do you struggle with the temptation to exercise confidence in yourself instead of a righteous reliance upon the Lord?

5See footnote 3.


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.