Readings:Psalm 36:1-37:2 (text); John 7:37-39; 8:12
August 2 2015, Pasig Covenant Reformed Church * August 9, 2015, Big Springs Community Church
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Dear Congregation of Christ: As we scan the news these last several weeks, we as Christians might as well just throw our hands up in the air and say, “I give up. It’s no use to resist and oppose the wickedness of the world.” First, the Supreme Court forced the hands of all 50 states to legalize same-sex marriage. Second, we learned of Planned Parenthood’s trafficking of the tissues and organs of aborted babies. And this week, there is much more outrage over one hunted lion than millions of murdered unborn infants.
What must Christians do when it seems that the whole wicked world is against us? In Psalm 36, King David laments what he sees: the wicked seems to be successful in opposing and persecuting God’s people. But he praises God for his immeasurable “steadfast love” for his people. And this steadfast love protects them from the wicked.
So our theme today, then, is “How Precious is Your Steadfast Love, O God!” in three headings: first, Its Immeasurable Bounds;second, Its Abundant Provisions; and third, Its Power Against the Wicked.
Its Immeasurable Bounds
David opens the psalm with a condemnation of the wicked as having no fear of God in his thoughts, words and deeds. But he quickly turns his attention to praising the Lord for his steadfast love. What is God’s “steadfast love”? This is a very important word in the Old Testament, used 248 times. Among others, it means God’s love for his covenant people Israel, as in “the faithful God who keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations” (Deu 7:9); or when he promises them, “and I will make with you an everlasting covenant, my steadfast, sure love for David” (Isa 55:3; see also 1 Kgs 8:23; Neh 1:5; 9:32; Dan 9:4). It is also related to God’s saving love towards his people, as in Psalm 136:11 when he “brought Israel out from among [the Egyptians], for his steadfast love endures forever.” “Steadfast love” may also refer to brotherly love for one another, as the love between David and Jonathan (1 Sam 20:8). Since its full meaning cannot be conveyed in English, various other words have been used to translate it, such as lovingkindness, grace, mercy, unfailing love, faithful love, favor and goodness. For example, in the metrical version of Psalm 136, the refrain sung responsively is, “His grace abideth ever,” or “His mercy faileth never.”
David praises the Lord’s boundless steadfast love and saving love for his covenant people. In verses 5-6, he compares the Lord’s steadfast love to the expanse of his creation: the heavens, the clouds, the mountains, and the great oceans. In these two verses, the words synonymous to steadfast love are faithfulness, righteousness, and judgments. One of God’s attributes is that he is immense, and his character reflects it. His steadfast love is immeasurable as the heavens and the clouds; his righteousness is as unmovable as the highest mountains; and his judgments based on his Word are as deep as the deepest ocean.
Man’s love is insignificant compared with God’s, as he is but a speck in God’s immense creation. His love extends only to his family and friends. His righteousness can change in a moment, according to his feelings and situations. His judgments are as shallow and foolish as his finite mind and knowledge. No wonder David exclaims in Psalm 8:3-4, “When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?” There is an infinite canyon between us creatures and our Creator whose steadfast love is also boundless.
And the outcome of this boundless love of God is his provisions for all his creatures.
Its Abundant Provisions
In the last part of verse 6, David says, “man and beast you save, O Lord,” which serves as a segue to another part of this Psalm, a thanksgiving. For what does he thank God? Every Thanksgiving Day, we remember God’s abundant provisions as well as his “precious” steadfast love in saving us from sin. It is as precious as treasures of gold and silver, too good to let it slip by. As God sends sun and rain to both the righteous and the wicked, so he does provide for all mankind. David uses the picture of a bird nourishing and protecting its young, “The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings” (verse 7). This is made clearer when we read the story of Ruth the Moabite, whom Boaz praised for trusting in the God of Israel, “under whose wings you have come to take refuge!” (Ruth 2:12).
God’s steadfast love is as precious as food and drink for the nourishment of his covenant people, “They feast on the abundance of your house” (verse 8) evokes pictures of his people feasting on food offerings in the tabernacle or temple. Whenever God makes a covenant with his people, the covenant is confirmed with a feast of rich food and aged wine. David praises the Lord, “you give them drink from the river of your delights,” a picture of the river that flows out of the Garden of Eden to nourish the whole earth. In Psalm 46:4, “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High,” which is fulfilled in the heavenly city of Revelation 22:1, “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb.” This river is “the fountain of life” (verse 9).
In addition to rich food and refreshing drink, the Lord provides salvation and light for his people, “in your light do we see light” (verse 9). “Seeing light” means experiencing light, which also means having life. The light of the Lord gives life. Without the light of God, man dies, and he “will never again see light” (Psa 49:19). Isaiah says that the people who walked in deep darkness are like the dead who never see light (Isa 9:2).
The Lord abundantly provides, so the psalmist exclaims in awe and thanksgiving, “Oh, how abundant is your goodness, which you have stored up for those who fear you and worked for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of the children of mankind!” (Psa 31:19).
Do we praise God, give him our thanksgiving for his daily provisions, and most of all, for saving you from the darkness of sin and death? The wicked do not acknowledge God, therefore God does not provide them with the bread of life, living water, and the light of salvation.
Its Power Against the Wicked
The beginning of Psalm 36 is actually an indictment of the wicked, who has “no fear of God before his eyes.” In verses 2-4, he does nothing, speaks nothing, and thinks of nothing, except evil against others, especially God’s covenant people. This reminds us of the condition of humanity during Noah’s days, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually” (Gen 6:5).
So David is describing those who are evil to their core, not just those who once in a while are evil. This is the state of those who have no fear of God, who do not acknowledge God, who do not accept accountability before God. Therefore, as Psalm 111:10 says, he has no wisdom.
What traits do the wicked exhibit? First, because he has no godly wisdom but only foolishness, he believes that God cannot see and find out his wickedness. He is like those Israelites who, after hearing of God’s covenant laws, says in his heart, “I shall be safe, though I walk in the stubbornness of my heart” (Deu 29:19). The Apostle Paul says that there are some in the church who do “unfruitful works of darkness” that are so wicked that it is “shameful even to speak of the things that they do in secret.” But God does not sleep, so in the end, everything will be “exposed by the light” and “it becomes visible” (Eph 5:11-13). Do not be deceived: nothing is hidden from God, “no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account” (Heb 4:13).
Second, verse 3 says that his words are deceitful, to cause trouble for God’s people. David laments in Psalm 12:2, “Everyone utters lies to his neighbor; with flattering lips and a double heart they speak.” Paul uses a combination of texts from Psalms 5, 140 and 10 to point out the corruption of man’s speech, “Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive.” “The venom of asps is under their lips.” “Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness” (Rom 3:13-14).
Third, the wicked does not act wisely, and therefore does nothing good. Jeremiah indicts the foolishness and corruption of Israel, “For my people are foolish; they know me not; they are stupid children; they have no understanding. They are ‘wise’—in doing evil! But how to do good they know not” (Jer 4:22).
Fourth, he is so evil that he not only plots trouble against God’s people during the day, but even when he lies on his bed (verse 4). The prophet Micah condemns his own people for their evil schemes hatched during the night, “Woe to those who devise wickedness and work evil on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in the power of their hand” (Mic 2:1). The Preacher says of the wicked’s scheming at night, “For they cannot sleep unless they have done wrong; they are robbed of sleep unless they have made someone stumble” (Prv 4:16).
And this wickedness is what we see today all around us. For many decades now, many abort unborn babies in secret. They think that their families and friends would not find them out, denying that nothing is hidden from God. Abortion doctors, instead of protecting and hallowing human life, actually destroy it. Worse, thinking that no one sees, they traffic organs and tissues of unborn human bodies. And then, when they are exposed, the leaders of Planned Parenthood justify their wickedness, saying they have done nothing illegal. They are right, but the law itself is wicked, immoral and abominable by any standard, whether by a civil society or by Scriptures. They spend sleepless nights scheming how to justify their evil enterprise.
Furthermore, many people are so foolish as to be outraged by the killing of a lion in Africa, but have no interest or care about the millions of babies murdered–legally–over the last four decades. They cannot discern the difference between right and wrong.
The Philippines is now in the heat of a presidential election in less than a year. But many of the candidates are known for corruption and ignorance. It is extremely difficult for the people to pick from the current presidential aspirants, because many are known to be wicked politicians, celebrities and millionaire businessmen. Because their plans are only for shameful gain, their mouths are full of deceit and lies.
So in the last three verses, David prays for the Lord’s protection from these evildoers, “Oh, continue your steadfast love to those who know you, and your righteousness to the upright of heart!” (verse 10) He prays to be spared from the arrogant and the wicked (verse 11).
Finally, he proclaims his confidence in God’s steadfast love, “There the evildoers lie fallen; they are thrust down, unable to rise” (verse 12 ). He already sees the end and destruction of the wicked. Continuing in Psalm 37, he encourages God’s people not to be troubled and upset when they see the wicked prosper, “Fret not yourself because of evildoers; be not envious of wrongdoers! For they will soon fade like the grass and wither like the green herb” (verses 1-2). They may be rich, powerful, famous, or strong now, but all of these things will fade away. And like everyone else, they will also die. And what happens to the wicked when they die? All unrepentant abortionists, homosexuals, politicians, celebrities, murderers and persecutors of God’s people, as well as heretics and apostates, are sent to hell, forever and ever. Their prosperity is but a moment compared to the eternal torment that awaits them.
Justice and righteousness will be served by God. His wrathful vengeance will surely be poured out against the wicked. But his steadfast love will be poured upon his people forever.
Beloved brothers and sisters, the Apostle Paul says that all have sinned and fall short of God’s glory. He quotes David, “There is no fear of God before their eyes.” With unrighteousness and ungodliness, the wicked “not only do them but give approval to those who practice them.” The New Testament word closest to the Old Testament “steadfast love” is “grace,” which means “undeserved favor or merit.” Paul says that no sinner is saved except through God’s grace to those who have faith alone in Christ alone. No one is saved by good works.
Our Lord Jesus Christ is the River of Delights and Fountain of Life. He is the Bread of Life. He is the Light of the World. No one has eternal life except through him. No one has understanding except through his Light. Christ invites you to come “under his wings” to be saved from sin, nourished with his Word and Spirit, and protected from his enemies.
“Grace, mercy, and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ the Father’s Son, in truth and love” (2 John 1:3) May this be our prayer, today and forever.