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Order Of Worship (Liturgy)Hymn 5:1-4
Hymn 22 (after the offering)
Readings: Revelation 19:11-21, Psalm 7
NOTE: the NKJV translation of Psalm 7:9 should be inserted in your liturgy sheet/bulletin:
9a Oh, let the wickedness of the wicked come to an end, but establish the just;
9b For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.
Beloved congregation of Christ,
They often had problems getting along. At least that’s the way it looks from Scripture. The tribe of Benjamin and David were several times at loggerheads. A lot of it seems to do with the animosity that Saul felt towards David. In 2 Samuel 16, we read about a man named Shimei who came from Bahurim. Shimei was from the same clan in Benjamin as Saul’s family. As David approached Bahurim, Shimei started throwing rocks at David and his entourage. He cursed David and called out, “Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel!” As they walked along the road, Shimei followed them on the hillside next to the road and continued to throw stones and dirt at God’s anointed. However, when Abishai asked the King for permission to just run over and cut off Shimei’s head for a moment, David refused to let him. He let Shimei go on cursing.
In Psalm 7 we find a similar situation, except perhaps even more desperate. In this Psalm David is being pursued by another man from Benjamin. Aside from what we can surmise from this Psalm, we don’t know much about Cush. All we know is that he was from the tribe of Benjamin and he was trying to kill David, God’s anointed king. Cush is behind the crisis facing David in this Psalm.
Even though this crisis lacks a lot of detail, we know enough to know that this is something outside of our normal range of experiences. Quite likely, we’ve never been pursued by someone intent on killing us. We can’t relate to what David was going through some 3000 years ago. So, how can we as New Testament Christians still read and sing this Psalm?
There are two things we need to do. First we need to think carefully about this Psalm in its original context. What was God revealing about himself to the first readers and singers of this Psalm? With that question, we right away take our starting point in the fact that this Psalm is not about David’s subjective opinions about God, but about God’s objective revelation of himself. Second, we also need to take seriously the words of Christ in passages like John 5:39-40. There Christ was speaking to the Jews and he said, “You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me.” When he said “Scriptures” he was referring to the Old Testament, including the book of Psalms. Christ says that the Psalms testify about him, including Psalm 7. We need to discover the manner in which Psalm 7 testifies about Christ – the one who is at the center of God’s revelation in Scripture.
We’re going to do all that today by focusing on several verses from the middle of this Psalm. I’ve chosen as the text, verses 9b-13. The beginning of the text choice may seem odd when you look at your NIV Bible. However, the NIV rearranges verse 9 so that what we call 9b is at the beginning and 9a is at the end. On the liturgy sheet you can see a more literal translation of this verse from the New King James Version and it’s this more literal translation that we’ll follow. Incidentally, that more literal translation can basically be found in all the other standard Bible translations including the NASB and ESV.
So, with that introduction behind us, let me lay out where we’re going with verses 9b-13. Our theme will be:
David expresses his confidence that God will respond to his crisis.
We’ll see that this involves:
- A confession of faith in God his Saviour (verses 9b-10)
- An anticipation of God being a just Judge (verses 11-13)
The Psalm begins with David addressing Yahweh his God. He says to Yahweh that he takes refuge in him. Then he asks God to deliver him from the enemy who wants him dead. Then in verses 3 to 5, David asserts his own innocence. He says that he’s done nothing to Cush to deserve this kind of treatment from him and if he has, then he says, let Cush have at me. Then I deserve it. But he knows that he’s innocent and that’s why he calls on Yahweh to rise up and meet the anger of Cush. He’s looking to God for justice. He says, let God judge between me and that man. Let God decide who is in the right and who is in the wrong. At the beginning of verse 9, he begs God to make the evil deeds of the wicked stop and to establish those who do what’s right.
And then we come to verse 9b. “For the righteous God tests the hearts and minds.” David says two things about God here. First of all, he says that God is righteous. That simply means that God will do what is right and just. God’s people never have to fear that God will be unfair.
Second, he says that the righteous God tests or examines hearts and minds. Literally, the Hebrew says hearts and kidneys – that’s simply a special way of referring to the internal side of man, to what lives inside a person. In 1 Samuel 16, Samuel came to Bethlehem to anoint a new king to replace Saul. God had sent him to Jesse and Samuel knew that he was to anoint one of Jesse’s sons. But he didn’t know which one. When Eliab approached, Samuel was convinced that he was the one. He was a good looking man and he was tall – as far as appearances go, he was a very suitable king. But Yahweh spoke to Samuel at that moment. He said, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”
There is a consistent picture in Scripture of God as the one who can do what is just and right because he can see what no one else can see. Earthly judges can only judge on the basis of external things, on the basis of things that can be observed. No earthly judge can look into the heart of a man and infallibly see what motivated him to do this or that. On the other hand, this heavenly Judge has x-ray vision, his gaze penetrates into the innermost parts of a person. For better or for worse, he knows what lives in the hearts of all of us.
Those truths gave David comfort in the middle of his crisis. David knew that the heavenly Judge would look at his heart and the heart of Cush and he would examine both of them. David knew that he’d done nothing wrong to Cush. So he had nothing to fear from God.
In this particular crisis, David wasn’t at all concerned that God was the all-knowing judge. In verse 10 he goes on to say the Most High God is his shield. In other words, this righteous Judge who knows the hearts of all men is on David’s side. He’s going to be protected from whatever Cush can throw at him, just like David’s men would have literally shielded him from the rocks and dirt that Shimei was throwing at him in 2 Samuel 16.
God is the one who is his shield and his salvation. The last part of verse 10 says that God saves the upright in heart. Notice again the emphasis here on the internal. God is a Saviour for those whose heart is straight, right, correct, upright and honest. The implication is that David is again asserting his innocence in this matter. He’s not saying that he’s sinless – we know enough about David from elsewhere in the Bible to know that’s not the case. But he is saying that he bears no guilt in this crisis. David is confident that he is the man for whom God will be a shield and Saviour. He’s expressing his confidence that God is on his side.
That leads us to ask the question: why? Why was God for David? It was only because of God’s gracious covenant promises to him. In 2 Samuel 7, God promised David that he would watch over and protect him and that his house would endure forever. The covenant with David is rooted in God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and even further back in his promise to our first parents Adam and Eve. God was for David because he promised to send salvation through the seed of the woman. In his grace, God was going to bring a Redeemer for David and for all of his people. In the covenant of grace, God promises to be on the side of his people. That’s what’s at the background of David’s confidence in this Psalm.
That confidence can also be ours because we too are members of this covenant of grace. God has promised to be our God and our Father. He has promised to be our shield. Those promises were fulfilled for David and for us in the coming of Jesus Christ. Since Christ has come, we know with even greater certainty and confidence that God will be for us. God sent his own Son to suffer and die! For us. As we face the crises of life, we can be comforted and assured by God’s Word here in Psalm 7. And even more by the way Paul works that out further in the New Testament in Romans 8:31-32, “What then shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Indeed, loved ones, in Jesus Christ God is for you, just as he was for David. Yes, he still searches minds and hearts. But when he does that today among those who believe, what does he find but his own work? He finds those with hearts of flesh, he finds new creations, he finds those who are in Christ and therefore upright in heart.
So today when we sing and read Psalm 7, we keep our eyes fixed on God and his covenant promises and on the fulfillment of those promises in Christ. This Psalm too testifies of God’s grace and mercy to his people.
I trust we have no problem believing that. The problems start when we come to the words of verses 11 to 13, at least for some of us. We find it relatively easy to love a God who is a shield – a shield is passive, it just sits there and absorbs all the force of whatever gets thrown at it. We have more of a problem with a God who is a warrior, a God who is active and who fights back at the wicked. That’s one of the images that this Psalm uses to describe God. We’ll look at that a bit more in a moment. But verse 11 begins with another image of God: God as a judge. This is not a new image in this Psalm. Verses 3-5 assume the notion of God as a judge. In verses 6 to 9, the image becomes explicit. David asks God to dispense justice and judge the peoples.
So, when verse 11 tells us that God is a righteous judge, we’ve been prepared to hear that. Yes, we know that God is a judge who will judge rightly and justly. But the next line has an intensity that shakes us up. Our NIV translation says that he is a “God who expresses his wrath every day.” When we read this verse, we need to keep in mind a basic feature of Hebrew poetry called parallelism. Many times in Hebrew poetry, when you have two lines, they parallel each other and often times the second line is simply expressing the thought of the first line in a slightly different way. Sometimes the second line is building on the first line. That’s what’s happening here in verse 11. God’s expressing his wrath is parallel to his being a righteous judge. Righteous judges can be expected to do exactly this sort of thing. This is even more obvious when we dig a little bit deeper into the words used in the second part of verse 11. The verb for “expressing wrath” has the sense of a legal judgment, actually a legal curse. There is a strong level of intensity here, but we’re still in the courtroom before the judge.
What this is meant to convey is that God is not a part-time judge. In some remote parts of Canada you’ll still find circuit judges. Especially in the Arctic, there are remote villages where a judge and his legal entourage will fly in and show up once per month. God is not like that sort of judge. God is always behind the bench and he is always dispensing his judgments. God doesn’t take coffee breaks and he doesn’t take holidays. This would have been a comfort for David because it meant that there was a precedent. It’s not like God had never dealt with people like Cush before – he has and on a regular basis. God regularly deals out justice to the wicked, he gives them what’s coming to them.
And so, if people like Cush don’t turn from their ways, if they don’t repent or relent, they have to know what’s coming. That’s what verses 12 and 13 lay out. If people like Cush don’t turn, then God is coming after them like a warrior. The judge will take off his robes and reveal his battle fatigues.
Note how this doesn’t fit with the prevailing views of what God is like in our broader culture. Many people today think that God is a sort of divine Santa Claus. He knows if you’ve been good or bad, but unless you’re really, really bad, everybody gets presents in the end. Or they believe that God is distant and uninvolved with the world. A book was published a couple of years ago that surveyed American young people about their religious views. The author discovered that most American young people are what he called moral therapeutic deists. They believe that God is mostly distant and uninvolved, unless you need moral direction or therapy. But this view has nothing to do with the God who reveals himself in Psalm 7. This God does get involved and he is certainly no Santa Claus figure. In Exodus 15 we find another song in which the Israelites sang, “The LORD is a warrior, the LORD is his name.”
The man who doesn’t repent should know that this God will be sharpening his sword – the sword is a well-known symbol of divine judgment and justice in the Bible. The sword was used for close combat. In close combat, you see the whites of the eyes of your enemy and you feel the intensity and adrenaline. God may come after the enemy in that fashion. But he may also use a different approach. David also portrays God as an archer who is bending his bow, stringing it, and getting it ready to send flaming arrows through the air. The bow and arrow was a terrifying weapon of war because arrows were silent, sudden and swift. You might not even see them coming. The fact that the arrows in this Psalm are flaming is meant to intensify the fear one should feel in contemplating this. You do not want to mess with this Divine Warrior. Judgment might come sooner or it might come later, but it will come.
Now the image of God as a divine warrior is taken over into the New Testament and fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ. For instance, in the first chapter of Revelation, John tells us that he saw Christ. In verse 16 he says that “out of his mouth came a double-edged sword.” John sees him as the rider on the white horse in Revelation 19. In verse 15, “Out of his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations.” And so we could go on. Christ is the one appointed by God to judge the living and the dead at the last day. And like in Psalm 7, this Judge will take off his robes and reveal his battle fatigues as well. Revelation 19:11, “With justice he judges and makes war.” He is the Prince of Peace, but he is also the divine warrior who will destroy his enemies.
Seeing Christ in these words of Psalm 7 helps us as we read and sing this Psalm today. But this Psalm also contains a warning for us as God’s people. Note again who the enemy was in this Psalm. He was not a Gentile. He wasn’t a Canaanite or a Philistine. Cush was an Israelite. He had been circumcised on the eighth day, he had received the sign and seal of God’s covenant. Yet he chose to align himself against God’s anointed King. He set himself against David and tried to kill him. In so doing, he was actually making war on God because David represented God. So, this wasn’t a personal vendetta, it was an unholy war against the holy God.
How does Psalm 7 reveal God’s response? God will be the Divine Warrior. The presence of a warrior can be either comforting or terrifying depending on whether or not the warrior is on your side. In this Psalm, David is confident that the divine warrior is on his side. He’s confident that he’s not with Cush, but rather dead set against him. And it happened more often in the Bible that God was the Divine Warrior going to battle against his own people. In Lamentations 2:5, we read that “The LORD is like an enemy; he has swallowed up Israel.” In the New Testament era, God fought against the unbelieving people of Israel with the sword of the Romans. Closer to home, when Ananias and Sapphira lied to the Holy Spirit, God struck them down dead. In Revelation 2:16, the Lord Jesus warned the church at Pergamum to repent of the error of the Nicolaitans, “Repent, therefore! Otherwise I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth.” In the same chapter, the Lord Jesus also warns the church at Thyatira because she tolerates the false teacher nicknamed Jezebel. Christ promised to be the Divine Warrior against that church unless she would repent. Using the language of Psalm 7 he says, “I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.”
Loved ones, when we see that Christ takes over that Divine Warrior image and the language of Psalm 7 and applies it to the church, we should learn from this. Be warned. In Matthew 6:24 the Lord Jesus said that we cannot serve two masters. You’re either for or against God’s anointed. Conversely, God is either for or against you. There is no neutral ground in how we relate to God. It’s either a relationship of friendship or of enmity.
But you say, “Who can do this? I know that I can’t serve two masters. But this is exactly what happens in my life all the time! I do try to serve two masters, sometimes even more. Do I need to fear the Divine Warrior?” Listen carefully. Verse 12 of Psalm 7 says it plainly, “if he does not relent” or better, “if he does not repent.” If you go on living in sin and you just don’t care, you need to fear, you must fear the Divine Warrior. His sword is sharpened for you and his arrows are on the string and they’re aimed in your direction. They may come at you in this life, maybe not. But they will for sure come at you after you take your last breath. However, when by God’s grace you repent of your sins, when you truly hate your sins and your wickedness and your rebellion against him, when you constantly and humbly ask God’s forgiveness – breathe a sigh of relief! -- you may know yourself to be safe with this Warrior defending you and protecting you. When you’re like David and embracing the promises God made to you his child, you can know that this Warrior and Judge is on your side and will always be for you.
This Psalm confronts us again with belief and unbelief and the results of both. And so when we sing this Psalm together in church, we’re reminding each other and teaching each other with God’s Word about these important truths. Remember: the singing of Psalms in public worship (and elsewhere) is not only a matter of singing praises to God. That’s an important aspect of our singing, to be sure, but it’s not the only aspect. Here again we can refer to Colossians 3:16. In Colossians 3, the singing of Psalms is connected with letting the word of Christ dwell in us richly as we teach and admonish one another with wisdom. Let’s keep that in mind as we sing Psalm 7 in a moment.
But now let’s pray:
O God Most High,
We have heard the tidings of you and your might. We have heard again how you are righteous God who searches minds and hearts. We confess you to be our Shield and we praise you for that. We thank you for being the God who saves. We also acknowledge you as the mighty Judge and divine Warrior. We know that you are just and righteous and we worship you as such. We adore you for being the one who will always do what is right. Father, we also know that some day you will send your Son to execute the final judgment, that he will come to tread the winepress of the fury of your wrath. When the Divine Warrior appears, we earnestly pray that we would all welcome his appearance. Help us to embrace the promises you’ve made to us. Give us more grace with your Spirit so that we would never be on the wrong side of Christ the Faithful and True. Help us as a church as well to remain faithful and true to you and your Word. Please give us hearts of wisdom and lead us in teaching and admonishing one another whether through the singing of Psalms or whatever other means you provide. We pray that you would help us in this so that your name receives more glory. We pray in the name of the Word of God, AMEN.
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service. Thank-you.
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