Week 6

1. A Call to War
Psalm 35

The language of this Psalm reflects the battlefield. David is calling on God to pick up his weapons and fight against his, David’s, enemies. He wants them destroyed. We are not told when in David’s life this Psalm was written or who in particular were his enemies, it is probably during his long feud with King Saul, but there were many times it would apply just as well. David’s battles were physical, though they usually had a spiritual cause, his enemies were flesh and blood and fought with real weapons. He projects the imagery of warfare onto God and asks him to support him in the fight.

You and I may not have physical enemies like David, we may experience some of the attacks he did though. We may have been lied about, falsely accused, there may be people campaigning behind your back, spreading gossip and trying to destroy your reputation. In some places Christians do face very real physical attacks as well, they are executed, tortured and imprisoned, but for the most part that doesn’t happen in the western world. However, we are all involved in a battle, the apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6 that our battle is not against flesh and blood but against principalities and powers in the heavenly places. It may not be physical but it is real.

David sensibly calls on God to fight for him. He wants him to contend or strive with his opponents, to arm himself and enter the battle. He asks God to pick up his shield and buckler, these are different types of shield, a small one probably worn on the forearm in close combat and the other, the buckler a large rectangular shield to take shelter behind. The battle would be fought in close but there would also be arrows and spears thrown from a distance, these shields provided safety. David also wanted God to pick up a spear and javelin, these were offensive weapons, the spear to thrust at an opponent often mounted on a horse, while the javelin would be thrown. Then he needed the assurance of God announcing that he was the source of David’s salvation.

David wanted to see his enemies run, with the angel of the Lord chasing them. He wanted to see them fall into the net that they had prepared for David. He wanted to see them perish. Then, he says, he will rejoice and tell everyone what a great victory God has won. Is that our attitude to our spiritual enemies? Those who crouch like a lion seeking to devour the unwary, who lay traps before our feet hoping we would fall into them. God’s word to us is that we should resist the devil and he will flee from us. We are to dress for battle with sword drawn and shield held aloft, to stand firm knowing that the battle is not ours, but God’s and he is our salvation.

How desperate are we to enlist God’s help? Do we even recognize that many of the trials we face have a spiritual origin and must be fought with spiritual weapons? We may read the words of David and get surprised at how angry and bloodthirsty he seems, but is this what it takes for us to stand against our enemy? It appears that many of us take the devil and his schemes too lightly, we do not think that we really are in a battle. It is easier to appreciate a fight that is visible and physical, when we can see our enemy and strike blows against a real target. It seems much less real when it is a battle hidden from view. The battle is real though, it is a fight for your soul, your peace and your hope. It is a long unrelenting campaign to rob you of your joy and make you doubt your salvation. The devil wants to destroy you and will use the weapons at his disposal. But like David, we call upon our God to fight for us, to assure us that he is our salvation and we are confident that he who sits above all rule, power and authority in the heavenly places will lift high the victory banner over your life and mine. What better reason to praise him?

  1. Are you able to see your spiritual battle as a real war?
  2. Do you really believe that the devil is waging war against you?
  3. How confident are you of victory in your battle?
2. Steadfast love
Psalm 36

Steadfast love is mentioned three times in this fairly short Psalm. It is a translation of a fairly complex Hebrew word that can also appear as mercy, kindness, loving-kindness, love or unfailing love, so the Bible you use may express it differently. The word is used in verses 5, 7 and 10.

It is a term that describes the character of God and the way he relates to each one of us in mercy and everlasting love. In this Psalm David first of all try to describe it, then he speaks about how valuable it is and prays that God will always continue in it. He does this by contrasting the character of God with those who have rejected him.

Verses 1-4 describe the godless person, they have no fear of God and their deepest desire is do things their way, to break God’s laws and act as if he does not exist. The apostle Paul refers to verse 1 in chapter 3:18 of his letter to the Romans. These people have an inflated opinion of themselves , always seek their own benefit and are happy to twist every situation to their own advantage. They will do whatever it takes to satisfy their own desires, nothing is evil, nothing is out of bounds. Tradition, moral views and the opinion of others will all be bent when it suits them.

Against this bleak picture David presents a God who is steadfast, his character never changes, he remains faithful, always. God’s love is not only steadfast but extends beyond the limits of human experience. He is righteous and because he is he must remain true to his nature and always be just and true. God is not fickle, that is a word that is not used as much now as it once was but it means to constantly change one’s mind, to be erratic or to change opinions without good reason. God is not like that, he is eternal, he never changes.

To experience this love is worth more than anything we can imagine, it is precious, more precious than gold. God’s love provides refuge from any storm, but is not as if we live in a cave hiding away. His refuge is in his house were there is feasting and laughter, were there is no darkness ubut there is  joy. In Ephesians 1: 18 the apostle Paul prays that we might know what the riches of the glory of the inheritance  we will receive as the children of God. In him we have abundant life.

Paul’s request of God in verses 10-13 is a bit unnecessary. Having spoken of God’s steadfast unfailing love he knows that God will never stop acting according to his character. He cannot act in any way that isn’t righteous, he cannot refuse his steadfast love to those who seek it. But David recognizes a danger. When we know that God loves us unconditionally and is always ready to extend mercy it is easy to take it for granted. We may become arrogant and David prays that he won’t fall into that temptation. The Message Bible puts it this way: “You didn’t think, did you, that just by pointing your finger at others you would distract God from seeing all your misdoings and from coming down on you hard? Or did you think that because he’s such a nice God, he’d let you off the hook? Better think this one through from the beginning. God is kind, but he’s not soft. In kindness he takes us firmly by the hand and leads us into a radical life-change.” (Romans 2:3,4). God will extend his steadfast love to you because he is a God of mercy, but because he is righteous he demands that by faith we accept his offer of salvation through his son. As we receive his love we begin a new life – an abundant life, full of hope and confidence in a God who never changes.

  1. How much should our lives contrast with those of the godless?
  2. What does God’s steadfast love mean to you?
  3. Are you ever tempted to take God’s love for granted?


3. Trust him, he will act
Psalm 37

This is a psalm full of encouragement, especially to those who are troubled when they see ungodly people succeed in life while they seem to struggle. The psalm is a little unusual because it reads more like the Proverbs or even the book of Ecclesiastes than most other Psalms but it contains promises that have been important for many believers.

The Psalm contrasts the future of two groups of people, those who will live in the land, and those who will be cut off from it. For David and his audience, the land was their inheritance, a promise by God to his people. It was a physical place that was occupied by Israel in the days of Joshua and was to remain their inheritance, those that were not of Israel were cut off from it. Because of Israel’s disobedience and rejection of God there had been constant conflict between them and other nations and they had never experienced the promised land as was intended. Others had benefited from what the people of Israel believed should have been theirs. They had succeeded while the Jews had struggled, to them it wasn’t fair, what was the point of being God’s people if there was no benefit in it for them?

David uses this Psalm to explain that while it may seem the ungodly were doing better than the godly, this would not last. The success they enjoyed was temporary and they needn’t worry, God would bring justice. The ungodly would lose everything they had, and the righteous people of God would be blessed beyond measure. In verse 4 David gives the assurance that if his hearers were to delight in the lord, he would give them the desires of their heart. Sometimes there is an assumption that if we commit fully to God, we will miss out on all the things we enjoy in life. The opposite is true. If we take time to know God and spend time with him, he will give to us what we want the most. It may be that our desires change, and we no longer seek what we once did, but he promises to fulfill our hearts desire. David goes on to say that if we commit to him and trust him, then he will act. If we choose to act independently of him, then there is no guarantee and we will need to accept the consequences of our decisions, which may not always be to our benefit.

Many of us are not good at waiting, I am certainly not! But we are to be still and wait patiently, even though we see others do well, we should not be concerned about them. Their time will come when they will be cut off, while the righteous, those who waited will inherit the land and all of its goodness. Jesus quoted verse 11 in the Beatitudes when he said blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth, David adds they will delight in abundant peace. It is better to have a little and know God’s blessing than to have wealth and possessions and never be able to find satisfaction in them. Trust in wealth is foolishness, it doesn’t last and has no eternal value. God promises a heritage to those who trust him and ensures that the steps of a good person are established by the Lord, when he delights in God’s way. Even though he or she will stumble and fall, God never let’s go of their hand and will protect them from fatal harm. (Vs 23,24).

It may seem unfair that ungodly people are prosperous and  succeed in life without any interest in God. Especially while Christians struggle financially or in other ways. But God measures success differently. There is an inheritance prepared for those who trust him, there is righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit now and the guarantee of God’s presence always. Meanwhile the ungodly will be cut off and the things they have given their life to will be lost forever.

  1. Do you think it is fair when you see ungodly people enjoying the things you would like but can’t have?
  2. What does it mean to delight in the Lord?
  3. What are you like at waiting?
4. Out of suffering
Psalm 38

This is not an encouraging Psalm, it is full of anguish, sorrow and cries of desperation. David calls out to God for relief from his suffering which he claims is the result of his own sins and failures. It is not clear when the Psalm was written although the title says it was intended to be used publicly as a memorial. There are so many episodes in David’s life when he failed to live up to the standard expected of him, sins that he committed that caused pain to himself and to many others that it is impossible to state for certain what event brough him the state he was in.

David clearly believes that the anguish he was in was directly caused by God. He says that he was being punished by an angry God and he pleads with him to stop. David goes on to identify his emotional and physical pain, he was in deep depression, and he was suffering spiritually too. David may have been using colourful expressions to describe how he felt, he speaks of festering wounds, having no health in his bones and being bent over as he spent every day in mourning. This is how he felt, he may have used exaggerated language but he was not being deceptive.

David always described his emotional and spiritual state in graphic language, he didn’t hold back. He spoke of God sinking arrows into him, pressing his hand heavily upon him, filling his loins with burning and giving him heart palpitations! He goes on. His friends and family have deserted him, his enemies were glad and doubled their efforts against him and he had no response to make. It was as if he was struck deaf and dumb and he was ready to die, he just couldn’t cope anymore. And God had done this to him!

The cause of all of this misery, said David, was his sin, he doesn’t tell us what it was but it was significant. The offence had caused God to turn his back on him, and the guilt he experienced had driven him into a deep and dark pit. But even in the midst of this outpouring of grief David insists that his desire was for God (verse 9) and God knew the pain he was experiencing. His hope remained in God (verse 15) and he was certain that God would answer him. David’s prayer was that God would not forsake him, would draw near to him and would quickly save him from his pit. (verse 21-22).

It would be wrong to conclude from this that sickness , mentally or physically is always the result of sin, or that simply by confessing it that we would be healed. It is equally wrong to conclude that physical and mental sickness is never the result of sin and that confessing it will not bring healing. James encourages those who are sick to confess their sin and ask the elders of the church to pray for healing; Paul writes that some in the church had become weak and sick, and some had even died because of their sin (1 Corinthians 11:30) and there are other examples. Whether our sins have led to physical and mental illness of the type David speaks, or we have lost our peace and sense of joy, or experience spiritual dryness and unanswered prayers, there is a consequence which requires confession to God and forgiveness from him.

God may use sickness or some other thing to redirect our hearts to him. The writer of Hebrews tells us that God disciplines those he loves not as punishment, but to restore them into a right relationship with him, to rediscover their spiritual vitality and their joy. If you are experiencing any symptoms that may be the result of unconfessed sin, there is an obvious solution. Confess to him and accept his forgiveness, if you need to put something right then do it and he will restore you to the joy of your salvation. There is no need to go digging into your past to find something you may have done, if God wants you to know, he will reveal it to you. And once he forgives the sin, he promises he will never bring it back to mind again. (Micah 7:19, Hebrews 10:17)

  1. Have you ever felt spiritually worn out and dry and wondered why?
  2. Do you think that something in your past has caused god to be angry so that he won’t listen to you?
  3. Are you certain that you have confessed any sins that are nagging you, and if you have then you have been forgiven?
5. Watch your tongue
Psalm 39

The bible has a lot to say about the power of the tongue. James in particular devotes almost of all of chapter 3 of his letter to being careful about our words. This need is probably more necessary now than ever before. With the proliferation of communication tools such as emails, internet technology, social media, mobile phones, message services and print media, the opportunity to offend or to be misunderstood is enormous! James says that if anyone doesn’t stumble in what they say, then they are perfect, able to control the whole body as a well. Not many have gained that level of perfection. The writer of Ecclesiastes offers advice not to be “hasty in word or impulsive in thought to bring up a matter in the presence of God. For God is in heaven and you are on the earth, therefore let your words be few…the voice of a fool comes through many words” (Eccles 5:2,3).

David wanted to say things, to defend himself but he was afraid that if he spoke, he would sin, he would say things he shouldn’t and so he decided to say nothing. It is often true that once we begin to speak, especially if we are defending ourselves, it is difficult to know when or how to stop. The quote: “It is better to be silent and be thought a fool, than to speak and remove all doubt.” Is often attributed to Abraham Lincoln amongst others but is possibly a paraphrase of Proverbs 17:28 ‘Even a fool who keeps silent is considered wise; when he closes his lips, he is deemed intelligent’. In David’s case he was les concerned about being thought a fool than he was being misunderstood, so he stayed silent.

Unfortunately for David staying silent didn’t work, he got more upset and became angry and so he spoke out of anger, fire burned within him. We need to know when to speak and when to be silent. It is not essential to have the last word in every conversation, to win every argument, but there are times when it is. Holding things in is not always the wise option, but seeking confrontation almost never is. We need to guard our tongues and ask for wisdom about when to speak and when to be silent. Words spoken in heat, or anger seldom bring resolution or peace.

David was especially concerned that his complaints to God would be misunderstood, that he would be accused of blaming God. He emphasizes that while God had disciplined him it was because of David’s own disobedience, God was acting according to his righteous nature and out of mercy was correcting David. His hope remained in God and his prayer was that God would recognize his repentance and ease the discipline. As he reflected on his own life, he compared it as similar to a few handbreadths in length. A handbreadth was about 4 inches or 100mm and was one of the smallest units of measure, in other words it was insignificant. Not only David but all of mankind were just like a shadow, insubstantial and fleeting. All the effort that was invested in accumulating wealth would come to nothing, what would happen to it once they were gone? Life would go on and only memories would remain. David recognized that he was a stranger in his own land, a guest or a temporary resident, his home was with God. He had different values, different expectations and different loyalties; only those who shared his faith and commitment would understand, words would not convince them only a life lived in hope.

  1. How hard is it to know when to speak and when to be silent?
  2. Have you ever felt that if you didn’t say something you would explode?
  3. Do feel like you are a stranger here? Should you?
6. Out of the quicksand
Psalm 40

This Psalm begins with thanks and acknowledgement that God had rescued David, and ends with a further request for deliverance, David describes his experience as like being at the bottom of a pit with his feet sinking into the clay that clung to him and threatened to draw him down. God had pulled him out and placed him on a solid rock, giving him secure footing. The relief David would feel with solid ground beneath him, knowing that he had escaped the horror of sinking into the mud is obvious and his response was predictable. A new song came to his lips, a song of praise – he couldn’t help but sing. Those that had seen David struggle were astounded by God’s deliverance of him and they in turn put their trust in God.

God had responded to David’s humility; he had not arrogantly assumed that he could escape the mess he was in in by his own efforts. He acknowledged his weakness, confessed his sin and called on God’s mercy, and he had been delivered. Now David couldn’t wait to tell everybody what God had done for him, it was more than could be imagined.

Giving sacrifices was an essential part of maintaining the relationship between the people of Israel and God, but now David says a remarkable thing, God did not require nor delight in the offerings that were brought! There are four elements that David identifies. There were sacrifices, which didn’t involve animals and could have been grain, wine, money or a range of other items. Then there those that did involve animals and therefore the spilling of blood. These may have been as a sin offering or an act of consecration. The sin offering was to pay the price of sin to obtain forgiveness while the burnt offering was an act of total consecration and no part of this offering was able to be eaten. All of the rules around these offerings are laid out in the law, the book of Leviticus and now God was saying he didn’t need them.

In Isaiah’s s prophecy God states, “Your sacrifices mean nothing to me. I am sick of your offerings of rams and choice cattle; I don’t like the blood of bulls or lambs or goats.” And Amos says: “I, the Lord, hate and despise your religious celebrations and your times of worship. I won’t accept your offerings or animal sacrifices—not even your very best.” David knew that God was not interested in offerings that were made from an insincere heart. God required obedience and commitment and David was able to say that God knew his heart and that his delight was to do God’s will. This was the sacrifice God wanted, a contrite and fully committed heart.

David had not been quiet about his dependence on God or how God had delivered him. He didn’t hide his faith, he told everyone. He was confident that just as God had rescued him, he would do so again. Even as he was writing these words he was aware that he was not completely safe, there were dangers lurking and he needed to be on guard against them. More than that he needed to know God would continue to protect and deliver him and so he concludes his song of praise with a fresh request that God would come and quickly deliver him. Like David we will be thankful for his protection and deliverance, but there are always fresh dangers and challenges and we need constantly to call upon God and depend on him daily for his help and strength.

  1. Have you ever felt like you are in sinking sand threatened with being overwhelmed?
  2. When God draws you out, do you remember to praise him and tell others?
  3. When we bring our gifts and offerings to God, do you think God is delighted by them?

7. Will not be beaten

Psalm 41

King David was a complex character whose life was full of contradictions. One minute he was on top of the world, praising God and singing new songs and the next he was down in the dumps, complaining about his woes. In this Psalm he begins by pronouncing a blessing on those who considered the poor, which would include himself, and the next he laments his own suffering and betrayal by friends.

The poor David speaks of were not just those who were short of money, but who were also powerless and weak and unable to change their circumstances. A blessing was due to those who considered them. He does not mean acts of charity but to actively work to alleviate their need. To reflect on how to bring change and then to be part of that change. The blessing this person would receive meant they would be delivered from trouble, would be protected from their enemies, kept from sickness and restored to full health. David saw himself as this man and that these blessings should be his. But as he continues the Psalm it is clear that this was not his experience.

While David did many things that alleviated the needs of the of the poor and the oppressed and the needy were drawn to him, the sin he was most noted for, the affair with Bathsheba, was described by Nathan the prophet as an offence against the poor and powerless. The contradiction is evident, publicly reaching out to relieve and befriend the poor but also using his own power and position to take from them. You can read the story in 2 Samuel 12.

David recognizes his sin and perhaps his hypocrisy and now he is on his own sick bed crying for God to be merciful and heal him. He describes those who come to visit him offering kind words but all the time secretly pleased at his sickness and hoping for him to die. Even his closest friend, the man he trusted the most had turned his back on him and conspired against him. Charles Spurgeon said that the theme of this Psalm was Judas Iscariot and Jesus quoted verse 9 when he spoke about his betrayal by Judas. Judas was also the disciple that was entrusted with the bag that held money collected for the poor and he stole from it. David did not know about Judas and he certainly would not have had him in mind when he wrote these words, but of course they were written under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit who did know of the events that would later take place. David though was betrayed by his son Absalom and a trusted friend and advisor, Ahithophel and was likely speaking from his own experience

Even while David turned from side to side on his own sick bed, he knew that God delighted in him and that he would not be beaten, to borrow words from the apostle, in all of these things he would be more than a conqueror. God would lift him up because despite his ups and downs and his contradictions he remained faithful. He never let go of his desire to serve God and worship him. David new that he would never be excluded from God’s presence. I suspect that you and I have similar contradictions to David, we also have ups and downs. We probably also share his frustrations in reading about his promised blessings but not experiencing them. But like David we remain confident that God will be true to his word and lift us up. Like David we can sing, “we will not be beaten”.

The promised blessing remains, those who consider the poor, powerless, broken and hurting will be delivered from trouble, delivered from their enemies and one day will be taken to a place where there is neither sickness, nor sorrow. Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel, from everlasting to everlasting!

  1. How do you ‘consider’ the poor?
  2. Do you sometimes think that your life is a contradiction?
  3. Can you sing with confidence that you will not be beaten?