Psalm 7:8-17: He Has Readied His Bow (Psalm of the Day, 10/365)

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Psalm 7:8 The Lord judges the peoples; judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness and according to the integrity that is in me. Oh, let the evil of the wicked come to an end, and may you establish the righteous—you who test the minds and hearts, O righteous God! 10 My shield is with God, who saves the upright in heart. 11 God is a righteous judge, and a God who feels indignation every day. 12 If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; 13 he has prepared for him his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts. 14 Behold, the wicked man conceives evil and is pregnant with mischief and gives birth to lies. 15 He makes a pit, digging it out, and falls into the hole that he has made. 16 His mischief returns upon his own head, and on his own skull his violence descends. 17 I will give to the Lord the thanks due to his righteousness, and I will sing praise to the name of the Lord, the Most High.

Taken by itself, the psalmist’s statement in verse 8 could seem arrogant or presumptuous. However, it is the prayer of one whose righteousness is found by taking refuge in the righteousness of God (v.1), and ultimately the prayer of the true king, David’s greater Son, who indeed was fully righteous (Rom. 1:3-4). According to this psalm, to be righteous is not so much about right-doing as right-relating. That is, the righteous are not those always do righteous works (indeed they often fail!) but those who make the righteous Lord alone their refuge.

The emphasis thus falls here on the righteousness of the Lord who is a shield to the upright, that is, to those who look to him as their shield. The judge himself is the only shield from judgment. The righteousness of God also means that he is indignant against unrighteousness. Although he may stay his judgment, he will not let unrighteousness triumph. Even in his patience God prepares his weapons of wrath against unrighteousness. Those who spurn God’s patience in unrepentance only store up further wrath to be revealed in the day of judgment (Rom. 2:4-5). Indeed, the Lord’s patience is kindness meant to lead to repentance! God is kind even in his indignation, yet those who reject his kindness will find nothing other than that indignation. Ultimately, though, wickedness is self-defeating. The wicked fall into the very pit that they dig to ensnare others. Sin is folly, self-destructive, and suicidal. God need only turn the unrighteous over to the fruit of their deeds!

The judgment of God is mercy to his saints. The righteousness that is terror for the wicked is reason for thanks and praise for the righteous. As he concludes the psalm, the psalmist has not yet seen the deliverance of judgment, yet he can still confidently sing future songs of praise in the present moment of distress for the righteous God is faithful. If the psalmist had reason to praise even while in distress, have much more do we who have seen the Lord’s deliverance already take place in Christ through the judgment of the cross!

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The Evangelical Calvin: Vicarious Humanity Edition

Following my post on the doctrine of the vicarious humanity of Christ, I thought it opportune to offer another installment of ‘The Evangelical Calvin’, this time in relation to – you guessed it – the vicarious humanity of Christ. As in previous editions, I will simply quote Calvin himself and allow him to speak in his own ‘unaccomodated’ way. May you be as blessed by this as I was!

From Institutes of the Christian Religion, J. T. McNeill, ed., Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press. II.xii.1, 3; II.xvi.5, 11

Since our iniquities, like a cloud cast between us and him, had completely estranged us from the Kingdom of Heaven [cf. Isa. 59:2], no man, unless he belonged to God, could serve as the intermediary to restore peace. But who might reach to him? Any one of Adam’s children? No, like their father, all of them were terrified at the sight of God [Gen. 3:8]. One of the angels? They also had need of a head, through whose bond they might cleave firmly and undividedly to their God [cf. Eph. 1:22; Col. 2:10]. What then? The situation would surely have been hopeless had the very majesty of God not descended to us, since it was not in our power to ascend to him. Hence, it was necessary for the Son of God to become for us “Immanuel, that is, God with us” [Isa.calvin 7:14; Matt. 1:23], and in such a way that his divinity and our human nature might by mutual connection grow together. Otherwise the nearness would not have been near enough, nor the affinity sufficiently firm, for us to hope that God might dwell with us. So great was the disagreement between our uncleanness and God’s perfect purity! Even if man had remained free from all stain, his condition would have been too lowly for him to reach God without a Mediator. What, then, of man: plunged by his mortal ruin into death and hell, defiled with so many spots, befouled with his own corruption, and overwhelmed with every curse? In undertaking to describe the Mediator, Paul then, with good reason, distinctly reminds us that He is man: “One mediator between God and men, the man Jesus Christ” [1 Tim. 2:5]. He could have said “God”; or he could at least have omitted the word “man” just as he did the word “God.” But because the Spirit speaking through his mouth knew our weakness, at the right moment he used a most appropriate remedy to meet it: he set the Son of God familiarly among us as one of ourselves. Therefore, lest anyone be troubled about where to seek the Mediator, or by what path we must come to him, the Spirit calls him “man,” thus teaching us that he is near us, indeed touches us, since he is our flesh. Here he surely means the same thing that is explained elsewhere at greater length: “We have not a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sinning” [Heb. 4:15]…

Accordingly, our Lord came forth as true man and took the person and the name of Adam in order to take Adam’s place in obeying the Father, to present our flesh as the price of satisfaction to God’s righteous judgment, and, in the same flesh, to pay the penalty that we had deserved. In short, since neither as God alone could he feel death, nor as man alone could he overcome it, he coupled human nature with divine that to atone for sin he might submit the weakness of the one to death; and that, wrestling with death by the power of the other nature, he might win victory for us…[O]ur common nature with Christ is the pledge of our fellowship with the Son of God; and clothed with our flesh he vanquished death and sin together that the victory and triumph might be ours. He offered as a sacrifice the flesh he received from us, that he might wipe out our guilt by his act of expiation and appease the Father’s righteous wrath…

Now someone asks, How has Christ abolished sin, banished the separation between us and God, and acquired righteousness to render God favorable and kindly toward us? To this we can in general reply that he has achieved this for us by the whole course of his obedience. This is proved by Paul’s testimony: “As by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience we are made righteous” [Rom. 5:19 p.]. In another passage, to be sure, Paul extends the basis of the pardon that frees us from the curse of the law to the whole life of Christ: “But when the fullness of time came, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, subject to the law, to redeem those who were under the law” [Gal. 4:4–5]. Thus in his very baptism, also, he asserted that he fulfilled a part of righteousness in obediently carrying out his Father’s commandment [Matt. 3:15]. In short, from the time when he took on the form of a servant, he began to pay the price of liberation in order to redeem us.

Yet to define the way of salvation more exactly, Scripture ascribes this as peculiar and proper to Christ’s death…For this reason the so-called “Apostles’ Creed” passes at once in the best order from the birth of Christ to his death and resurrection, wherein the whole of perfect salvation consists. Yet the remainder of the obedience that he manifested in his life is not excluded. Paul embraces it all from beginning to end: “He emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, … and was obedient to the Father unto death, even death on a cross” [Phil. 2:7–8 p.]. And truly, even in death itself his willing obedience is the important thing because a sacrifice not offered voluntarily would not have furthered righteousness…Not, indeed, without a struggle; for he had taken upon himself our weaknesses, and in this way the obedience that he had shown to his Father had to be tested! And here was no common evidence of his incomparable love toward us: to wrestle with terrible fear, and amid those cruel torments to cast off all concern for himself that he might provide for us. And we must hold fast to this: that no proper sacrifice to God could have been offered unless Christ, disregarding his own feelings, subjected and yielded himself wholly to his Father’s will. On this point the apostle appropriately quotes this testimony from a psalm: “It is written of me in the Book of the Law [Heb. 10:7] … ‘that I am to do thy will, O God [Heb. 10:9]. I will it, and thy law is in the midst of my heart’ [Ps. 39:9, Vg.]. Then I said, ‘Lo, I come’ ” [Heb. 10:7]. But because trembling consciences find repose only in sacrifice and cleansing by which sins are expiated, we are duly directed thither; and for us the substance of life is set in the death of Christ.

In this sense Peter says: “Christ arose, having loosed the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held or conquered by them” [Acts 2:24 p.]. Peter does not simply name death, but expressly states that the Son of God had been laid hold of by the pangs of death that arose from God’s curse and wrath—the source of death. For what a small thing it would have been to have gone forward with nothing to fear and, as if in sport, to suffer death! But this was a true proof of his boundless mercy, that he did not shun death, however much he dreaded it. There is no doubt that the apostle means the same thing when he writes in The Letter to the Hebrews: Christ “was heard for his … fear” [Heb. 5:7 p.]. (Others render it “reverence” or “piety,”26 but how inappropriately is evident from the fact itself, as well as the form of speaking.) Christ, therefore, “praying with tears and loud cries, … is heard for his … fear” [Heb. 5:7 p.]; he does not pray to be spared death, but he prays not to be swallowed up by it as a sinner because he there bore our nature. And surely no more terrible abyss can be conceived than to feel yourself forsaken and estranged from God; and when you call upon him, not to be heard. It is as if God himself had plotted your ruin. We see that Christ was so cast down as to be compelled to cry out in deep anguish: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” [Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:46]. Now some would have it that he was expressing the opinion of others rather than his own feeling. This is not at all probable, for his words clearly were drawn forth from anguish deep within his heart…He had, therefore, to conquer that fear which by nature continually torments and oppresses all mortals. This he could do only by fighting it. Now it will soon be more apparent that his was no common sorrow or one engendered by a light cause. Therefore, by his wrestling hand to hand with the devil’s power, with the dread of death, with the pains of hell, he was victorious and triumphed over them, that in death we may not now fear those things which our Prince has swallowed up [cf. 1 Peter 3:22, Vg.].

Obadiah and God’s Restorative Justice

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From the prophecy of Obadiah:

God’s Judgment Day is near for all the godless nations. As you have done, it will be done to you. What you did will boomerang back and hit your own head. Just as you partied on my holy mountain, all the godless nations will drink God’s wrath. They’ll drink and drink and drink—they’ll drink themselves to death. But not so on Mount Zion—there’s respite there! a safe and holy place! The family of Jacob will take back their possessions from those who took them from them.

That’s when the family of Jacob will catch fire, the family of Joseph become fierce flame, while the family of Esau will be straw. Esau will go up in flames, nothing left of Esau but a pile of ashes.” God said it, and it is so…The remnant of the saved in Mount Zion will go into the mountains of Esau and rule justly and fairly, a rule that honors God’s kingdom.

By way of a Sunday meditation, I thought I would share a reflection written by Eugene Peterson on the prophet Obadiah in his paraphrase The Message:

It takes the entire Bible to read any part of the Bible. Even the brief walk-on appearance of Obadiah has its place. No one, whether in or out of the Bible, is without significance. It was Obadiah’s assignment to give voice to God’s word of judgment against Edom.

Back in the early stages of the biblical narrative, we are told the story of the twins Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25–36). They came out of the womb fighting. Jacob was ancestor to the people of Israel, Esau ancestor to the people of Edom. The two neighboring peoples, Israel mostly to the west of the Jordan River and Dead Sea and Edom to the southeast, never did get along. They had a long history of war and rivalry. When Israel was taken into exile—first the northern kingdom by the Assyrians in 721 b.c. and later the southern kingdom by the Babylonians in 586 b.c.—Edom stood across the fence and watched, glad to see her old relative get beat up.

At first reading, this brief but intense prophecy of Obadiah, targeted at Edom, is a broadside indictment of Edom’s cruel injustice to God’s chosen people. Edom is the villain and God’s covenant people the victim.

But the last line of the prophecy takes a giant step out of the centuries of hate and rivalry and invective. Israel, so often a victim of Edomite aggression through the centuries, is suddenly revealed to be saved from the injustices of the past and taking up a position of rule over their ancient enemies the Edomites. But instead of doing to others what had been done to them and continuing the cycle of violence that they had been caught in, they are presented as taking over the reins of government and administering God’s justice justly. They find themselves in a new context—God’s kingdom—and realize that they have a new vocation—to represent God’s rule. It is not much (one verse out of twenty-one!), but it is a glimmer (it is the final verse!).

On the Day of Judgment, dark retaliation and invective do not get the last word. Only the first rays of the light of justice appear here. But these rays will eventually add up to a kingdom of light, in which all nations will be judged justly from the eternal throne in heaven.[1]

There is much to appreciate in what Peterson observes here. “It takes the entire Bible to read any part of the Bible.” How true this is. While I would not dispute what many biblical interpretation textbooks and courses teach about the importance of interpreting Scripture in keeping with its immediate context, I would add that the same holds true for the entire canonical context of any particular biblical passage. We must read Scripture in light of the whole drama of its narrative, the full spectrum of its multifaceted teaching, and the ultimate goal and purpose of its existence – the being of God in revelation and reconciliation in Jesus Christ and by the Holy Spirit.

In doing so, Peterson highlights something that I wish many Christians, especially evangelicals and Reformed folk, would understand, namely, that God’s justice, judgment, and wrath are fundamentally restorative rather than punitive in nature. As we read Scripture in light of the person and work of Christ culminating in the cross and resurrection, we see that amidst the Bible’s stark predictions of wrath and judgment, the hope of a kingdom of light and life glimmers like a candle in the dark. Far from being set against this hope, God’s wrath and judgment are actually the means by which he promises to fulfill it. As I have said many times to people who struggle with the idea of a wrathful God, God’s love and wrath are not opposed to each other, but rather God’s wrath is a clear evidence of the intensity of his love. God’s wrath is the form that his love takes when it encounters that which attempts to deny or oppose it. It is God’s negation of that which negates his loving, benevolent, and salvific will. It is God’s refusal to loosen his grasp on those who try to escape from him. Or as Torrance said, “There is no wrath of God that is not first experienced as the love of God for you”.[2]

Indeed, our God, even as he revealed himself through prophets like Obadiah, is love.

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[1] Peterson, E.H., 2005. The Message: the Bible in contemporary language, Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress.

[2] Quoted by Habets and Grow, 2012. Evangelical Calvinism. Eugene: Pickwick, p.449.