Theme: Four Responses
In this week’s lessons, we see the results that trusting in the Lord brings.
Scripture: Psalm 125:1-5
As we ended yesterday’s study, we noted that the psalmist sees two dangers, which, in turn, have led him to four responses: a promise, a prayer, a warning, and a blessing.
1. A promise (v. 3). The promise is that the wicked will not rule over the people of God forever but that there will be a deliverance from God eventually. Isn’t that a good thing to know? That our problems now will not last forever and that there will be deliverance in time? Knowing the outcome is a great help for staying on the right path now.
This promise can be taken in several ways. If the psalm is from the days of Nehemiah, it would be a prophecy of the deliverance of Israel from foreign domination. For most of us it can be a promise that the problems we face will not last, that God has not forgotten us and that he will soon intervene to help us in our personal lives, in our relationships with other people, in our work, or whatever it may be. In the largest scheme of things it is a reminder of Christ’s return, when the wicked will be judged, their works destroyed, and the people of God be established in the heavenly city of God which will endure forever.
2. A prayer (v. 4). In the meantime, those who are trying to serve God live in this world and need help. So the psalmist has a prayer for them, a prayer for God to be gracious to them here, where they need it: “Do good, O LORD, to those who are good, to those who are upright in heart.”
It is important to notice the difference between the writer’s prediction of God’s sure judgment on the wicked and his petition for blessing on the righteous. He does not need to ask that the wicked will be judged because their judgment is certain, sometimes sooner than either we or they expect! The great church father Athanasius said of Julian the Apostate, the last great persecutor of the church, when he heard that he had died, “That little cloud has quickly passed away.”1 The wicked are devoted to destruction.
By contrast with his prediction of judgment on the wicked, the psalmist asks for God’s blessing on the righteous, because none actually are righteous and any goodness they have or receive must be due to God’s goodness to them. None of the righteous have any claim on God. God owes us nothing. At the same time, there is no end to the good things God has prepared for those who have been made righteous by the work of Christ, and it is proper for us to pray for an abundance of good things, as the psalmist does. We have a good God, and we can ask him to be good to us and to others who know and love him too. The Apostle Paul expressed this boldly when he wrote, “We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).
3. A warning (v. 5). But there is a warning here too, and it is for those who suppose themselves to be righteous because they are living among God’s people but are not actually his. It is a warning against presumption, for those “who turn to crooked ways.” The writer warns that if we do that, we are not really among the regenerate and that “the LORD will banish [us] with the evildoers.” Remember, mere formal membership with the people of God counts for nothing. We must actually be trusting and obeying God. We must belong to Jesus Christ.
4. A blessing (v. 5). The last sentence of the psalm is a blessing, a great shalom: “Peace be upon Israel.” It is a blessing Paul seems to echo in Galatians 6:16, where he refers to Christians as the “Israel of God.” This is an accurate use of the Old Testament, for this is the way “Israel” is used in the psalm, not of ethnic Israel but of God’s true people. And peace? We remember that Jerusalem means “peace” (shalom). Thus, we are told, we shall not only be like Salem but shall have salem, too.
1See Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 3b, Psalms 120-150 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 63. See also Herbert Lockyer, Sr., Psalms: A Devotional Commentary (Grand Rapids: Kregel, 1993), p. 643.
What is God’s promise that enables us to stand up to the evil of this age?
For whom does the psalmist pray? Why does he not pray for judgment on the wicked?
What is the warning against presumption?
How is “Israel” used in the final blessing?
Prayer: Praise God as the psalmist did for an abundance of good things.
Review: Review the psalmist’s use of the concepts of promise, prayer, warning, and blessing. How does each encourage you to obedience?
Key Point: Mere formal membership with the people of God counts for nothing. We must actually be trusting and obeying God. We must belong to Jesus Christ.