Theme: The Foundation of God’s Character
In this week’s lessons, we see how our entire lives should be characterized by repentance.
Scripture: Psalm 143:1-12
In the final verses of the psalm, David returns to the problem of his enemies, asking God to silence or destroy them so that he might continue to live and serve God. This sounds like another of those imprecatory passages that bother contemporary people so much, but it is not quite that, for there is an order here. The important matters (in order of importance) are: 1) preserve my life; 2) bring me out of trouble; and 3) silence my enemies. Then, if this is what is required in order that David might live and continue to be God’s servant, “destroy all my foes” (v. 12).
These prayers are accompanied by three arguments urging God’s favorable response. First, “for your name’s sake.” This means, “for your honor.” God has promised to stand by his people and defend them. Therefore, says David, preserve my life in order that all may know you as the utterly trustworthy God you are. We are always on good ground when we are able to plead for God’s honor rather than our own. Second, “in your righteousness.” This means “justly and in accord with your very nature.” God is utter righteousness. Therefore, that right might prevail and evil be judged, deliver me, asks David, and overturn the malice of my foes. We are on solid ground when we can ask for God’s righteousness to prevail, but to do so we need to be pursuing righteousness ourselves. Third, “in your unfailing love.” In the final analysis, our hope is in the love of God, which is undeserved but which is the only true cause of the salvation and deliverance we need.
Then, in the very last line, echoing verse 2, David says, “I am your servant.” What an honor to be a servant of the Most High God! Yes, but a responsibility too. Sadly, we need to confess that even when we have done everything we are told to do, “we are [at best] unworthy servants” (Luke 17:10). So even at the end of the psalm we find ourselves repenting.
At the beginning of this week’s study, I mentioned the first of Martin Luther’s Ninety Five Theses, and I have used it as a unifying note. Let me wrap this up by going back to Luther. Among Luther’s sermons on the psalms are studies of the seven penitential psalms, one of them quite naturally on Psalm 143. I read Luther’s lecture in preparation for my own study, and I was startled to find that in interpreting the psalm Luther understood nearly every verse to refer to God’s grace through Jesus Christ in the gospel.
For example, “the enemy persecutes my soul” (v. 3). Luther notes here that the wicked always “persecute the pious, who live only in the faith and righteousness of God.” Again, “I remember the days of old” (v. 5). Luther saw this to be teaching that God “has never sustained anyone through his own works, abilities, knowledge or piety” but through the gospel. Again, “for thy name’s sake, O LORD, preserve my life” (v. 11). Luther wrote about this, “God’s name is honored when men declare that he gives life and righteousness by grace without merit.”1
As I read these notes it seemed to me that, however right his theology might be, Luther was reading into the text what was really not there, and I was about to put the book down when I came upon these final comments. Luther wrote, “Now someone might say to me: ‘Can’t you ever do anything but speak only about the righteousness, wisdom and strength of God rather than of man, always expounding Scripture from the standpoint of God’s righteousness and grace, always harping on the same string and singing the same old song?’” That caught my attention, because that was exactly what I had been thinking. Luther went on:
To this I answer: “Let each one look to himself. [But] as for me, I confess: Whenever I found less in the Scriptures than Christ, I was never satisfied; but whenever I found more than Christ, I never became poorer. Therefore it seems to me to be true that God the Holy Spirit does not know and does not want to know anything besides Jesus Christ…[For] Christ is God’s grace, mercy, righteousness, truth, wisdom, power, comfort, and salvation, given to us by God without any merit on our part.”
Then, in his final sentences, the great reformer talked about our sins and the need to “weep over them, and then with humble awe to long earnestly for grace and mercy.”2
This may not be strict academic exposition. But it is the gospel, and it is what Luther meant when he said rightly that our entire lives should be marked by repentance.
1Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, vol. 14, Selected Psalms III, ed. Jaroslav Pelikan and Daniel E. Poellot (Saint Louis, MO: Concordia, 1958), pp. 197, 199, 203.
2Ibid., pp. 204, 205.
What does the phrase “for your name’s sake” mean? Why did David use this?
Explain three arguments David uses to urge God’s favorable response.
Reflection: Are you sometimes tempted to base your hope in earthly things rather than in the things of God? What will you do differently in the light of that realization?
Prayer: Ask God for his strength and wisdom to live for him in every area of your life, and for the grace of daily repentance.
Key Point: We are always on good ground when we are able to plead for God’s honor rather than our own.