Theme: In God Alone
In this week’s lessons the psalmist teaches us that true faith in God gives us confidence in the power of his Word.
Scripture: Psalm 62:1-12
The first stanza (vv. 1-4) introduces us to the three interacting agents in the psalm: God, the psalmist and the psalmist’s enemies. His enemies are trying to throw him down, as I indicated, but David is trusting God who is his “rock,” his “salvation” and his “fortress” (v. 2). The critical point is that David is trusting in God only or in God alone.
It is hard to see this in the English text, because the Hebrew is almost untranslatable, but in the Hebrew text the word “only” or “alone” occurs five times in the first eight verses (in vv. 1, 2, 4, 5, 6), and also once more (in v. 9). The Hebrew word is ak, and the reason its use in the psalm is almost untranslatable is that no one English word seems to be an adequate translation in all of the six occurrences. Moreover, in the Hebrew text the word occurs at the beginning of each of the six verses for emphasis, and that too does not lend itself to any easy translation in English. “Alone” is probably the best word for us to use, which is what the New International Version does in four of the six occurrences: “My soul finds rest in God alone” (v. 1); “He alone is my rock” (v. 2); “Find rest, O my soul, in God alone” (v.5); and “He alone is my rock” (v. 6). But in verse 4 the translators thought they needed to use the word “fully” (“They fully intend to topple him”), and in verse 9 they use the pale word “but” (“Lowborn men are but a breath”).
Marvin Tate makes a stab at a more reflective rendering by using the word “yes.” His lines go:
Yes, my soul waits calmly for God…
Yes, he is my rock where I am secure…
Yes, despite being a person of high status…
Yes, calmly wait for God, O my soul…
Yes, he is my rock where I am secure…
Yes, ordinary people are only a breath…1
Tate’s effort captures something of the poem’s style, but it misses the psalmist’s emphasis upon God being his only object of faith and trust, which is the most important thing after all.
So I repeat what I have been saying: The most important thing about Psalm 62 is that the psalmist is making God his only object of trust. He is not trusting something other than God, nor is he not trusting God and something else, or God and someone else. His trust is in God only, and that is why he is so confident. Alexander Maclaren, one of the best of all commentators and preachers on the psalms, captures this when he says, “That one word, [‘only’] is the record of conflict and the trophy of the psalmist’s victory.”2
It seems to me that this is something Christians in our day especially need to learn. As I see it, our problem is not that we do not trust God, at least in some sense. We have to do that to be Christians. To become a Christian you have to trust God in the matter of salvation at least. It is rather that we do not trust God only, meaning that we always want to add in something else to trust as well.
I think this is what was disturbing John MacArthur when he wrote the book Our Sufficiency in Christ.3 Quite a few people did not like that book, because it was a critique of the way many of today’s Christians depend on mystical experiences, pragmatic solutions to problems, and psychology rather than fully trusting Christ for guidance, help and wholeness. The critics wanted to argue for a proper use of these experiences, methodologies and tools. They had their point, of course, because there is a legitimate place for experience, pragmatism and professional counseling help, just as there is a legitimate place for doctors even though God is the ultimate source of bodily healing. Nevertheless, when I read the book I felt myself siding more with John MacArthur than his critics. For I am a pastor too, as he is, and I too find that Christians in our day are far more inclined to trust the world’s tools and mechanisms than to trust Jesus Christ wholly. For many of today’s believers, Jesus really is not sufficient for all things, regardless of what they may profess publicly.
Not long ago I was interviewed by a staff writer from Christianity Today about the impact of culture on the ministry, and I explained that television has turned our age into an entertainment-oriented culture and that preachers therefore increasingly try to be entertainers. I explained how many churches have almost eliminated prayer from their services, substituted brainless music for the great theological hymns, and reduced the content of most sermons to a series of need-defining comments, trivial “teaching” lines and funny anecdotes. The person interviewing me did not necessarily disagree, but he wondered what I would say to the argument that you have to begin where people are and that if people want entertainment, you have to provide it in order to have them listen.
I answered in two ways. I said that the simplest response, a simplistic answer but one that nevertheless has some truth in it, is that of course that is true. You do have to begin where people are. Moreover, I said, anyone who is any good at communicating does that, even those who are determined to teach the Word of God. People have to be trained to listen. And like any other subject, you have to master the ABCs of biblical content and theology before you can go on to higher and more complicated matters.
But, I said, there is also another answer, and in my opinion it is here that the real problem lies. The real problem is a crisis of faith, lack of belief in God and the power of the Word of God which he has given. The real reason preachers do not teach the Bible and resort to other devices such as “lite” theology and funny stories is that they do not trust God. They do not believe that God actually works through his Word to convert unbelievers and strengthen and form character in Christians. I think John MacArthur is aware of this and is dismayed by the current drift of evangelical Christianity too, which is why he wrote Our Sufficiency in Christ.
But doesn’t it work? Doesn’t “felt need” preaching and entertainment fill churches. Well, yes, when it is well done it often does fill churches. If you give people what they want, they will come for it. But this is not the same thing as serving Jesus faithfully as an under shepherd or doing kingdom work. Moreover, it is a betrayal of God. For, as one of the older Bible teachers said, “They trust not God at all who trust not him alone.”4
Do you know what it is like to pretend to trust God but not to trust him only? It is like having one foot on a solid foundation and another on an object that is unstable and is moving away from the foundation. When I was a teenager my family had a cottage on a lake in New York state, and my grandmother, who was a very heavy woman, came to visit us in the summer months. On one of these visits my father took her out in a motorboat we had purchased, and after the ride he returned to the dock and began to help my grandmother up out of the boat. Unfortunately, he had not tied the boat to the dock. So as soon as she had one foot on the dock her weight began to push the boat away from it, and with one foot on the dock and the other on the boat, and with no way to stop the boat from drifting, there was nothing to be done but to watch her slowly sink down between the dock and boat and splash into the water.
That is what will happen to you if you try to trust God and something else. You will find that you are actually not trusting God at all and that you will fall down doing it. David did not make that mistake. He had learned that if he was to trust God at all, he had to trust him only, and when he did, he found that God was indeed his “rock,” his “salvation” and his “fortress.” Fixed on that rock, David knew that he would “never be shaken,” as he
says in verse 2.
1Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20, Psalms 51-100 (Dallas: Word, 1990), p. 117.
2Alexander Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture, vol. 3, The Psalms, Isaiah 1-48 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1959), part 2, p. 67.
3John MacArthur, Jr., Our Sufficiency in Christ (Dallas: Word, 1991).
4The words are by John Trapp and are quoted by Charles Haddon Spurgeon, The Treasury of David, vol. 2a, Psalms 58-87 (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1968), p. 55.
How does David characterize God in verse 2?
What is the critical part of David’s trust?
What is the most important thing about Psalm 62?
What is the real problem we face today in teaching the Word?
Reflection: What have you tended to add to your trust in God? What happens if you try to trust God and something else?