Theme: Remembering and Following
In this week’s lessons, we see how our entire lives should be characterized by repentance.
Scripture: Psalm 143:1-12
In the third stanza David puts himself under an important spiritual discipline: to remember God’s acts on his behalf and for other godly people in past days. He uses three verbs to describe what he does: “I remember,” “I meditate,” and I “consider.”
This stanza is a short statement of what in other psalms is often a long recital of God’s power in creating the world and of his miraculous acts on behalf of the Jewish people. Psalm 136 is an example. In that psalm the poet recalls God’s power in creating the heavens and the earth, the sun, the moon and the stars. He reflects on the exodus from Egypt and remembers how God brought Israel through the desert into her own land. Psalms 18, 68, 89, 104 and 105 are additional examples. Why does David do this? It is in order to work through his painful distress and fear of enemies. He remembers how God had been with him previously. He meditates on that deliverance. Then he considers or reasons from that past experience to the present. If God helped him in the past, why should God fail to help him in the present? He is the same God. Can he not count on him now?
H. C. Leupold explained what is going on in verses 5 and 6 like this: “The sacred Scriptures list a vast array of mighty works that God did, works of power and deeds of deliverance. Upon these the psalmist ‘meditated’ and ‘mused.’ That is an effective way of getting one’s bearings. God does not change.” Therefore, Leupold says, “his works reveal … what an attitude he has toward his people.”1
Notice verse 6: “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.” That is like the beginning of Psalms 42 and 63, the second of which is also by David. It is an important sentence, because it shows that David was not merely looking for what God could do for him in his trouble, though he clearly needed help. More than that, he is thirsting for God himself, which is far better. Do you thirst for God himself? Shouldn’t we all repent always for not thirsting after God as we should?
In the next section of the psalm David turns to God in direct appeal, and what he is asking God for chiefly is guidance. What should he do? He is in trouble. He is in danger. In what direction should he move?
Derek Kidner notes that in verses 8-10 David asks for guidance three times and that each instance has its own special nuance:
The way I should go (8b) gives slight prominence to the fact of individual destiny, i.e., that each of us is uniquely placed and called (cf. Jn. 21:21f.). Teach me to do thy will (10a) settles the priorities, making the goal not self-fulfillment but pleasing God and finishing his work. The words lead me (10b) speak with humility of one who knows his need of shepherding, not merely of having the right way pointed out to him.2
The progression I see is like this. First, “bring me word of your unfailing love”; David needs revelation. Second, “Show me the way I should go”; David needs direction. Third, “Teach me to do your will”; David needs motivation. In other words, it is not enough merely to know God’s will; what David knows is that it is also necessary that we do it. Many Christians talk about seeking God’s will— what job they should take, whom they should marry, what church they should join, and such things. They pray the prayer of verse 8: “Show me the way I should go.” But do they also pray the prayer of verse 10: “Teach me to do your will, for you are my God”?
Here is another area in which we need to repent: our sad, lackluster following after God. We want God to give us pointers, as long as we have the final word as to whether we will take God’s advice or not. But we do not ask for the ability actually to do what God commands.
1H. C. Leupold, Exposition of the Psalms (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1969), p. 965.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-V of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity, 1975), p. 476.
What does David do to bring himself through fear and darkness?
List three verbs David uses to describe spiritual discipline. How can you do the same?
Why is meditating on what Scripture teaches about God a good thing?
Reflection: God is the same today as he was centuries ago. How does this encourage you?
Key Point: David was not merely looking for what God could do for him in his trouble, though he clearly needed help. More than that, he is thirsting for God himself.
For Further Study: We are to follow God as a sheep follows its shepherd. Download for free and listen to James Boice’s message, “God My Shepherd.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)