Week 8

1.    What is it all for?
Psalm 49


The writer of this Psalm raises an old and familiar question – he calls it a riddle. Why should I fear? he asks, but he is not addressing the usual issues like attacks from an enemy, famine or flood or even health issues.  He is asking about money and why it is that some have it and others don’t.


For the people of Israel wealth and prosperity were a sign of God’s blessing, it was a promise of the covenant. If you were poor did that mean you were not one of his chosen people? Had could the ungodly be wealthy and not the righteous – this does not seem right. It may have been that the lack of material wealth was the basis of mocking and criticism from those who had rejected God. How can you be God’s people if you suffer?


The psalmist deals with this in much the same way as the writer of Ecclesiastes who wrote: “Here is a tragedy I have observed under the sun, and it weighs heavily on humanity:[  God gives a man riches, wealth, and honor so that he lacks nothing of all he desires for himself, but God does not allow him to enjoy them. Instead, a stranger will enjoy them. This is futile and a sickening tragedy” (Ecclesiastes 6:1,2). Burt the Psalmist responds to this in a different way.


The pursuit of wealth has been the passion of men and women since the beginning and sadly it has been the cause of many disputes and much unhappiness. Throughout the pages of the bible we see relationships broken because of possessions, and this is repeated in secular history as well. Russian Author Leo Tolstoy was born into nobility and wealth and yet struggled with why some enjoyed it and others did not. In ‘War and Peace’ he wrote: “He had suddenly felt that wealth, and power, and life – all that people arrange and preserve with such care – all this, if it is worth anything, is only so because of the pleasure with which one can abandon it all.” Toward the end of his own life it was his plan to give away all he had and live a simple life, his wife Sonya didn’t share his views though and that never happened. But he understood that there had to be more to life, in ‘Confessions’ he wrote: ““Is there any meaning in my life that wouldn’t be destroyed by the death that inevitably awaits me?” 


The Psalmist addresses this same question. He points out that everybody faces the same end – he calls it Sheol, the dwelling of the dead. Whether you are rich or poor, death awaits. Even though the Egyptians would bury their dead with their wealth and riches, those things didn’t travel with them beyond the grave. It has been said that a hearse on its was to a graveyard doesn’t tow a trailer containing the possessions of the deceased. Ecclesiastes 5:15 puts it this way: “As he came from his mother’s womb, so he will go again, naked as he came; he will take nothing for his efforts that he can carry in his hands.”


But the psalm writer inserts a word missing from the thoughts of Ecclesiastes, it is in verse 14. It is the word ‘But”. He writes “But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.” All of us face death but God will buy back from death those that are his. The fate of those who have rejected him and all of their accomplishments is to perish. What is the meaning of your life – will it outlast your possessions? To what do you devote your time and talent, will it satisfy your soul?


1.    D. James Kennedy said that most people today are satisfied with where they are spiritually, not dissatisfied with where they are materially; it ought to be the other way around. What about you?

2.    Jesus said we are to be content with what we have on earth but to build up treasures in heaven, how do you do that?

3.    What are you giving your life to?

2. What does God really want?
Psalm 50


This Psalm starts with a summons from an Almighty God to the whole earth to come and stand before him. He is going to pronounce judgement, and while he summons the whole world, he is going to deal with his faithful ones. In the days of David and Solomon that was Israel, but now he has the same words to say to the church.


God sets himself as both judge and prosecutor. He calls on both the heavens and earth to witness the trial of his chosen people. He begins by stating that he is not concerned about the worship that is being offered, at least as far as all the external elements are concerned. All the sacrifices are as they should be and the burnt offering are there on time, but it was almost like the worshipers were doing God a favour. He points out that he doesn’t need another bull or goat, in fact everything in all creation belongs to him. He owns the cattle on a thousand hills, if he was hungry he could have one of those, these sacrifices were not for God’s sake, they were to be expressions of gratitude given for the sake of those who gave.


“I don’t need these things”, God says “nor do I want them, if it is all a show, a religious performance. I do want a sacrifice, but it is one of thanksgiving. I want you to do what you said you would. Keep your promises. Don’t think that by following religious rules you will succeed, call on me and I will deliver you”. In many ways the church of today mirrors the nation of Israel of David’s time. Much focus is given to what we call worship, the songs we sing, the ordinances, like baptism and communion we follow, even the elevation of the Bible, but are these done from a heart of thankfulness and dependence on him?

God takes issue with some specific sins, but he prefaces this by demanding to know by what right these religious men and women could talk about God’s commandments when they had deliberately ignored them. In saying they had cast his words behind them, he is making clear they knew what they said but decided to push them out of the way. In particular he identifies three of the Ten Commandments, those dealing with stealing, adultery, and lying and slandering one another. Not only were they guilty of doing these things but they sat by while others broke the commandments and said and did nothing. The apostle Paul says in Romans 2:1: ‘’ You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge another, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things.” He goes on to say: “you then, who teach another, don’t you teach yourself? You who preach, “You must not steal”—do you steal?  You who say, “You must not commit adultery”—do you commit adultery?” (verses 21, 22).


Peter the Apostle wrote that ‘’it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God’’ (1 Peter 4:17). The prophet Ezekiel records God saying to one of his angels: “Pass throughout the city of Jerusalem and put a mark on the foreheads of the men who sigh and groan over all the detestable practices committed in it” to the other angels he said: “Pass through the city after him and start killing; do not show pity or spare them! Slaughter the old men, the young men and women, as well as the older women and little children, but do not come near anyone who has the mark. Now begin at My sanctuary.” (Ezekiel 9).  Have we as a church turned a blind eye, even condoned what we know to be an offence to God. Do we allow it without comment in our own congregations? God says he will expose the church before the world and hold it to account. Those who have trusted in Christ will not face the final judgement, but God may well move the lampstand of his presence from those churches that do not listen to his voice, and change their behaviour accordingly!


  1. Is the church today too loose in its attitude to sin?
  2. When we worship are we concerned with the ritual than the attitude from which it is offered?
  3. How should the church act before the watching world?

3. Thorough Cleansing
Psalm 51


This is a psalm that demands to be read slowly and thoughtfully. It is not something to be skimmed or browsed over. David wrote these words after he was confronted by the prophet Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba. Nathan was a brave man, many prophets had been imprisoned and even killed for daring to disagree with a king, let alone challenge him about his moral failure and sin against God. David had sex with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah, a loyal friend and soldier. When he found she was pregnant he conspired to have Uriah murdered and his death covered up. He had shown no remorse for his sins or for dragging other people into his deceit. After some time, Nathan confronted him, a story which is recorded in 2 Samuel 11,12.


David had tried to live with his sin and its consequences for some time. He had lost his joy and the sense that God had his hand on him anymore. He felt God had turned away from him and his guilt consumed him. Once Nathan had confronted him, David confessed his sin. This Psalm is that confession. What David had tried to do in secret God made public, David’s sins were against God first of all, but also against his family, that of Bathsheba and her family and the people over whom he was king.


David understood that his sin was against God, nothing was hidden from him. Even though others were caught up in the web of deceit and the tragedy of the events surrounding Bathsheba, his primary offence was against God. He acknowledged that he had broken commandments, twisted the law for his own ends and come well short of the standard God expected of him. In the context of the time David did nothing unusual, a king could take any woman he wanted and if someone got in the way he could be disposed of, but God set a higher standard, and David knew it; he had failed as a man, as a husband, as father and as a king. He not only needed God’s forgiveness, but he wanted the record of his sins to be completely blotted out.


Religious observance, offering sacrifices, going to the Temple where not going to fix things, he needed to be thoroughly cleansed. Hyssop is a small minty bush that was used to apply the blood of the sacrifice to the door posts of the Passover, and to apply cleansing to the sick, such as lepers. David needed to be cleansed by God, only then would ne be clean. And the cleansing that God gives would make him whiter than pure snow. The Holy Spirit, had left his predecessor Saul, and David didn’t want this to be his experience. He wanted a clean heart, one that was responsive to the Holy Spirit, not hard and impenetrable. These things are promised to the person who comes to Christ in faith. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin and washes us completely clean, our old, hard and insensitive heart is taken away and replaced with a new one (Ezekiel 36:26). The things we have as God’s gift of grace are what David anxiously sought.


David wanted his joy restored, his guilt had taken that from him. Paul tells us in Romans that the Kingdom of God is about righteousness, joy and peace in the Holy Spirit, David knew that his joy was lost because he had offended God and grieved his Holy Spirit. Once they were regained he knew that not only would his life change but others would start listening to him again. He wanted to see people’s lives transformed, that would happen once he came humbly to God and recovered his joyful worship and walked in integrity.


  1. How much joy are you experiencing?
  2. David tried to cover up his sin and make it right by going to the temple (church), religious observance, like giving, Bible reading and prayer and other things. They were not enough. Why not?
  3. David said the key to having people listen to his message was experiencing the joy of his salvation, what does this mean to you and for the church?

4. Justice will be done
Psalm 52


One day when David was on the run from King Saul he took refuge at the Tabernacle in the City of Nob. He tricked the priest into believing he was on as secret mission from Saul, and the priest have him some consecrated bread and the sword that had been captured from Goliath. While this was happening there was the another man who was listening in, his name was Doeg and he was an Edomite. The Edomites had been at war with Israel for generations, so either Doeg or his family had been taken captive by the Israelites or he was a traitor. He was obviously a man of ability and had risen to the post of chief shepherd under King Saul.


Doeg saw an opportunity to gain favour with Saul, so he betrayed David’s whereabouts and Saul came looking him. He accused the Priest of treason for protecting David and ordered his men to kill him, they however refused to kill God’s chosen priests, so Doeg offered his services. Not only did he kill all of the priests “He also put to the sword Nob, the town of the priests, with its men and women, its children and infants, and its cattle, donkeys and sheep” (1 Samuel 22:19). A capable man who would stop at nothing to gain an advantage and power for himself.
This Psalm is addressed to Doeg or at least to him as representative of others who sought to put personal ambition above walking with God. He asks why Doeg would boast of his activities, why did he have no shame in lying and deceiving and harming others. The outcome of his behaviour would be his own personal failure and ultimate destruction. When Doeg was brought down, despite his conspiring, alliances and violent acts, the righteous would laugh at him. They would mock him and others like him who had put their trust in wealth and power and refused to make God their refuge.


David on the other hand had a different future. He would be like a green olive tree planted in the house of God. A green olive tree was symbol of health, vitality and economic prosperity. Just as Doeg is representative of all those who turn from God and trust in their own accomplishments and the acquisition of wealth and power, so David represents those who trust God and rely on him to deliver them. God’s steadfast love, or mercy was (and is) certain, it never fails and lasts forever. David knew this, he was not immune from setbacks or strife, he had enemies, of which Doeg was one, but he knew God would deliver him. He was David’s refuge, his help in times of trouble.


The only reasonable response is to thank God. David doesn’t look forward to what will happen, but to what has happened. He (God) has done it. The fate of Doeg had been sealed, the evil that he had committed would be dealt with, he would be brought to justice. David, though knew that he had to wait, and it was good to do that with those who are godly.


When we look around our world, we are often confronted by those we think should suffer the consequences of their actions. Whether these are cruel decisions of nation leaders that cause harm to the poor and oppressed, those that challenge God’s moral truth through political decision or others who exploit their workers by unfair business practices. We can be confident, God has done it, their future is sealed. Vengeance belongs to God, and he will deal with the unjust according to hos own righteousness. Meanwhile we have the promise of health, vitality and fruitfulness and it is good when with God’s people, we wait for his appearing.


  1. Do you think God should have dealt with Doeg differently?
  2. Have you been badly treated and find it difficult to suffer while you see the person who hurt you succeed?
  3. Is it difficult to wait, how would waiting ‘’with the saints’’ help?

No one does good
Psalm 53


This Psalm is almost identical to Psalm 14, but given its relevance to the times we live in, it well worth being reminded. David states the fool says in his heart that there is no God. This is not to suggest that all who say there is no God are intellectually challenged, or that those who are challenged in this way don’t believe in God. David is speaking about moral decisions that can only be justified if God does not exist.


A person who chooses to live as if there are no consequences to their actions, that they won’t be held to account by a higher authority are fools. They have chosen to act as if there is no God, that they can make any choices they wish without any moral responsibility and one day God will bring them to account. The beliefs held by these people gives rise to the idea that “might makes right’, if I have the power on my side, I have the right to behave however I like. I can trample on the needs of others, exploit people for my advantage and the only thing I have to fear Is being confronted by someone stronger than me.


When God is rejected there are no rules, as in the days of the Judges, everyone does what is right in their own eyes. Ultimately people become convinced that their right to happiness is more important than anything else. Certainly, the idea of a God with absolute authority to decide what is right or wrong has no place in their world. As God looks down from heaven this is what he sees. People everywhere doing what pleases them without concern for others or God. Paul tells us in Romans chapter one, that as people deliberately choose to reject God in favour of their own desires, he leaves them to it, and they descend further and further into corruption. As we look at our world and the changes to laws regarding marriage beginning and end of life issues, drug use, prostitution and even gender identity we see nations and people with no regard to the idea of God with moral authority.


The gap between the wealthy and poor is ever increasing, violence and abuse is rampant and trust in political and business leaders is at an all time low. David was concerned that in his world the people of Israel were threatened by the corrupt ungodly nations around about. They had rejected God and were not bound by his laws or commandments, he pleaded with God to come and deal with them. To bring salvation to his people and deal violently with their oppressors. Our enemy is no longer from outside the camp, it is within. Nations that have been blessed by God in the past have rejected him and sought their own interests, knowledge of God has decreased and corrupt behaviour has increased. It is our nations that need to be brought back to a true knowledge of God, we as the church need to be certain that we live according to God’s standard, that we accept his moral code.


God promises to restore the fortunes of his people. David’s people expected that in their life time and it would involve wealth, prosperity and authority to rule nations. We expect to see that when Jesus returns and we inherit the new heaven and new earth. There is no certainy that we will experience those things in our life time, indeed The Apostle Paul writes; “In fact, all those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. Evil people and impostors will become worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Timothy 3:12,13. But as Paul reminds us: “Our momentary light affliction is producing for us an absolutely incomparable eternal weight of glory. So we do not focus on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:17-18).


  1. Do you think the state of the world is getting better or worse?
  2. Is it easier to focus on long term gain or short term benefits?
  3. Do you really believe in  an eternal life after death?

6.The Stranger within
Psalm 54


The Ziphites lived near the city of Nob and were of the same people as David. During David’s feud with Saul he hid himself in the region of Ziph hoping to find safety. The Ziphites though betrayed David on two occasions and told Saul his whereabouts. David might have assumed that he would be protected by his own people, but he was mistaken and he had to flee from the area.

David calls on God for protection, he complains that people he thought he could trust, had acted like strangers and wanted to kill him. He believed it was because they had rejected God and had given their allegiance to Saul either for some advantage or out of fear. Saul travelled with an army of 3000 men and was ruthless toward those who opposed him. Ziph was not far from Nob, where Saul had ordered the murder of the Priests for helping David and they were probably aware of that event. It was also close to the home of Nabal who after a confrontation with David died, probably of a stroke or heart attack. David married Nabal’s wife, Abigail. They may have had relatives in Ziph and this might also have caused unrest amongst the Ziphites. Whatever the reason these men turned their back on David and supported Saul in finding him.


As was David’s custom he turned to God for deliverance and protection. He prayed that God would not only save him but would also vindicate him. He wanted it to be known that he had been betrayed and he was innocent. He also prayed that God would give to the Ziphites what they deserved, he wanted them destroyed. We would probably stop short of asking God to kill our enemies, although in a time of war that is likely. When what we call the Great War, or World War 1 was fought, perhaps the greatest tragedy is that both sides believed that God was fighting for them, and believers on both sides desperately prayed for the destruction of their enemy. Justice is best left to God who always acts out of his own righteousness and who alone knows the whole truth. A more recent tragedy surrounds debate over pandemic issues, there are a number of issues of contention and committed believers on all sides are convinced of the rightness of their position and sincerely pray for their side to win. Only God is omniscient, a word which means he knows all things, and ultimately he will act according to his perfect will.


David was going to give a freewill offering in gratefulness for God’s deliverance. He expected God to deliver him and for his enemies to be defeated. David was certain that he was in the right and God would vindicate him. There are many godly people who have similar views today, not all of them will be right. History reveals to us that God did deliver David, and he did ascend to the throne as God had determined. God knows the end from the beginning and he remains always in control of all evets. But just as Satan sought to divide the people of Israel in David’s day, he seeks to divide God’s people, the church, today. The attacks on David came from within his own camp, just as today division comes from within. Like David we need to rely on God for deliverance and vindication, not our own strength our own strength or conviction. As David learned, we too need to wait, cease striving and trust him to act justly.


  1. Have you ever felt betrayed by people you thought you could trust?
  2. How do you respond to those people?
  3. How do you act when you are divided from people and you are both convinced you are right?

7. Just fly away
Psalm 55


This is another Psalm in which David pours out his heart to God. He feels betrayed and let down, he is either expecting defeat in battle or an illness that might lead to death. The constant struggle has worn him down, he has had enough. He cries out that if he had wings he would just fly away, he would just wander off somewhere to be alone where there was no body and nothing to fight with.


The struggles of life can be so unrelenting that all you want to do is run away. Like Elijah to go and find a cave somewhere, wrap a cloak or blanket around you and withdraw from the world. Energy has gone, enthusiasm has been exhausted, you have just had it and you may want to just declare “that’s it, I’ve had enough, I’m out”. The struggles themselves may not be over big issues, they just never stop, like water dripping on a stone, they just wear you down.


David’s struggles were both unrelenting but sometimes over life and death issues. But the straw that broke his back was that he was betrayed and let down by one of his closest friends. David was a volatile, driven man and there were a number of people who were close who later deserted him, including his first wife. We don’t know who is being referred to in this psalm but there are a number to choose from, including his son Absalom, trusted advisor Ahithophel, or the captain of his army and nephew, Joab. David also treated his supporters badly, most notably Uriah a close friend and husband of Bathsheba who he had killed so that he could legitimately marry Bathsheba.


One of these close friends, one that had shared his joys and defeats, who had worshipped with him had now turned against him. David was left to fight against not just outside enemies but against someone who was once a friend and supporter. He was tired, worn down, exhausted and dispirited. Jesus too was betrayed by one of his closest companions, Judas sold him to his accusers; Peter denied that even knew who Jesus was and at the time of his crucifixion the disciples had run away. Just prior to his execution the Apostle Paul wrote to Timothy that out of all those that had travelled with him, and who he had taught and supported, only Luke was with him and, “At my first defense, no one came to my support, but everyone deserted me.” Often those who have a clear sense of purpose are single minded in how they pursue it are deserted by others when the road gets a bit hard or when they see themselves as a rival.


David’s response was to turn his attention to God. He was not ashamed to tell God how he felt, in fact he said that every morning and evening he would complain and moan to him. He knew God cared and would listen to him and would rescue him from his enemies. Peter quotes the words of this Psalm when he wrote in 1 Peter 5:7, ”Cast all your burdens on him , for he cares for you”. He writes this in the context of standing firm in the faith knowing that devil is like a lion seeking to devour you. David had enemies that he could see and that he knew, they were very real to him. We may have that sort of enemy as well, people who were once friends but have let us down, even turned against us, co-workers who pretend to like you but speak behind your back, others who are more straightforward but try to bring you down. Often though we don’t have a physical enemy, but the spiritual struggle is no less real and the battle is unrelenting. Like David we might just want to opt out, to run away and hide. But like David, don’t be ashamed of pouring out your complaint to God, he hears you and he cares for you.


  1. Have you felt deserted by friends you once had?
  2. Do you try to bluff God into thinking you have your life under control?
  3. Do you want to go and hide in a cave?