Faith During Persecution

Posted: December 29, 2011 in Psalms
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Psalms 52-55, “Faith During Persecution”
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Many times when people think of the Psalms, they think of the glorious songs of praise.  What we sometimes forget are the songs of wailing and despair.  Yet the Psalms are full of songs that speak to people to suffer deeply.  David suffered often – and he wasn’t afraid to be honest about it.  Sometimes his suffering was his own fault due to sin (as we saw last week in Ps 51); sometimes he suffered because of the sins of others.  (No different than us!)

In Psalms 52-55, David experiences political persecution, outright wickedness, and personal betrayal.  In all of the turmoil, there’s one thing that doesn’t change: the foundation of his faith – God.  When your world falls apart, what do you do?  Plant yourself on the solid foundation of Christ Jesus!

Psalm 52 (NKJV) – The Prideful Evildoer
To the Chief Musician. A Contemplation of David Told Saul, and Said to Him, “David Has Gone to the House of Ahimelech.”

  • The full background is found in 1 Samuel 21-22.  David had been on the run from Saul (after it was made clear that Saul desired to kill David in jealousy), and for refuge had gone to the town of Nob, where apparently the Tabernacle was located at the time.  He received help from Ahimelech the priest, who gave the loaves of showbread to David & his men to eat, and also armed him with the sword taken from Goliath.  David ended up running to Gath of the Philistines to attempt to find refuge.  (Not exactly the wisest of moves considering he was carrying the sword that belonged to the Philistine champion & David was well known for his military success against the Philistines!)  Apparently Doeg the Edomite (a Gentile) had witnessed the whole event & reported all of David’s moves back to King Saul.  Saul was infuriated with the priest & had Ahimelech & 85 other priests massacred that day.  It was out of all of these events that David wrote this psalm.
  • What would you say if you were hated, spied upon, and dozens of people died for the simple reason of your faithfulness to Christ?  It may sound surreal to our ears, but this is the case for believers all over the world who live in regions that are hostile to the gospel.  Government agents infiltrate the church & neighbors turn in neighbors in an attempt to stamp out the gospel in their country.  Is God still in control in those cases?  Absolutely!  God is still in control in every case.  Injustice may exist for a time, but it is not ignored by Almighty God.  He sees & He will act.
  • The man of evil (vss. 1-4)

1 Why do you boast in evil, O mighty man? The goodness of God endures continually.

  • The “mighty man” (or literally “hero”) is likely a reference to Doeg.  Doeg thought he was strong & politically powerful, but he was nothing compared to Almighty God.
  • The success of evil is strictly temporary.  There’s no doubt that sometimes evil people are successful in their schemes – but it never lasts.  Even if evil lasts 100 years (such as an evil government regime), it’s still temporary in comparison with eternity.  There’s no cause for an evil person to boast in his evil because he will still have to face God one day & be judged.

2 Your tongue devises destruction, Like a sharp razor, working deceitfully. 3 You love evil more than good, Lying rather than speaking righteousness. Selah 4 You love all devouring words, You deceitful tongue.

  • These words are especially appropriate to Doeg.  By his tongue (his speech), Doeg was the cause of 85 deaths.  In seeking to make himself look better than David, Doeg’s tongue cut a broad path of destruction.
  • Evil loves to cut & divide rather than love & heal.  You can tell a lot about a person simply by the results left behind by their speech.  Are people in a church divided after a certain person comes through – or are they brought together in Christ?  The original meaning of the word “heretic” refers to factious/divisive – thus Paul writes to Titus to reject a divisive person after 2 admonitions (Titus 3:10).  Our ministry within the body of Christ is to be one of reconciliation.  If our words bring hurt instead of healing, something’s wrong – at that point we need to be extremely careful to examine our motives to ensure we’re working FOR Christ & not against Him.
  • We’ve seen other times how our tongues can cause all sorts of trouble.  James describes it in picturesque language, that a tongue is like a small rudder that can turn a big ship, or a little spark that can start a whole forest fire (Jas 3).  We need to be very careful with our speech!  The children’s rhyme is wrong: words CAN hurt us.
  • Of course God is not ignorant of the lies & division of the evildoer.  See vs. 5…
  • The justice of God (vss. 5-7)

5 God shall likewise destroy you forever; He shall take you away, and pluck you out of your dwelling place, And uproot you from the land of the living. Selah

  • Note how thorough this judgment is.  God’s destruction will last “forever.”  The evil doer will be “plucked” away & “uprooted” from the living.  IOW, God will judge them permanently giving them the death sentence.
  • Harsh?  Not really.  On one hand, we think, “Oh, it’s just words – what’s the big deal?”  ‘Just words’ were the only excuse Saul needed to viciously have Doeg murder 85 priest.  ‘Just words’ had a huge impact!  The punishment certainly fits the crime.
  • Even today, mere words can have a huge impact on someone’s life.  Deceitful words about Christ can cause someone to put their faith in a lie (per the cults).  Abusive words from someone claiming to be a Christian can turn someone off to faith entirely.  And on the contrary, the right word at the right time can help someone see the Lord Jesus for who He is.  Simple words can have a profound effect on someone’s eternal life!

6 The righteous also shall see and fear, And shall laugh at him, saying, 7 “Here is the man who did not make God his strength, But trusted in the abundance of his riches, And strengthened himself in his wickedness.”

  • Not only will God judge the wicked (vs. 5), but God’s people will be witness to that judgment.  Instead of fearing the words of the evildoer, they will rightly fear the judgment of God & rejoice in His justice.
  • Interesting contrast in vs. 7.  The evil man does not make God his strength, but rather attempts to strengthen himself by his own devices & riches.  When God is not our strong Savior, God will be the overwhelming powerful Judge.  The evildoer may have boasted in his success on earth, but had zero strength in comparison with God.
  • Make God your strength!  Riches will fade, but God lasts forever.
  • The man of faith (vss. 8-9)

8 But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God; I trust in the mercy of God forever and ever. 9 I will praise You forever, Because You have done it; And in the presence of Your saints I will wait on Your name, for it is good.

  • Instead of the evildoer who found himself to be weak & overpowered, the man/woman who trusts God finds their strength in God.  How strong are they?  As a tree firmly rooted & planted. (Ps 1)
  • The man of God doesn’t trust in the “abundance of his riches,” but rather in the “mercy of God.”  Temporary riches cannot compare to the faithful covenantal love of God!
  • David will praise God personally, and he’ll praise God publically.  Going among the saints, David will wait upon God’s name (upon His character & work).  Both aspects are necessary!  Public praise without a personal faith is meaningless & hypocritical.  Personal praise without public/corporate worship misses much of the point.  We’re supposed to spur one another on to good works & the praise of God.
  • Notice why David will praise God forever.  Because the work is already done!  David had not yet witnessed a single thing, but already he could trust by faith that God’s justice would be accomplished.  It was as if the future justice was already past tense.  God is faithful to His promises because it’s simply who He is.  That’s His name – and it is good!

Psalm 53 (NKJV) – The Practical Atheist
To the Chief Musician. Set to “Mahalath.” A Contemplation of David.

  • Those of you who are familiar with the book of Psalms will note Ps 53 sounds strangely familiar.  In fact, with the exception of just a few lines, it’s virtually identical to Ps 14.  Perhaps David thought it just needed a 2nd verse.
  • The wickedness of man (vss. 1-3)

1 The fool has said in his heart,“There is no God.” They are corrupt, and have done abominable iniquity; There is none who does good. 2 God looks down from heaven upon the children of men, To see if there are any who understand, who seek God. 3 Every one of them has turned aside; They have together become corrupt; There is none who does good, No, not one.

  • It’s utterly foolish to ignore God!
  • What happens when men have no knowledge of God?  We act in our depravity.  Keep in mind that the lack of knowledge isn’t God’s fault (the heavens declare the glory of God, Ps 19:1 – God has been made manifest to His creation, Rom 1:18-19) – the fault is the sinful desire of mankind.  Mankind wants to relish in its sin, so man purposefully does not seek God.
  • Paul picks up on this same thought.  All have rejected God.  [Romans 3:10-20]
    • This is why we need a Savior!  We didn’t realize we needed saving, but even if we were aware of our own sin, we wouldn’t have wanted to be saved.  Like a drowning man that will push down his rescuer in his panic, we weren’t looking for a Savior, and we would have actively rejected Him if given the opportunity, but Jesus in His love & grace reached out to us & opened our eyes.  Once He showed us our need, we willingly responded – but left in our sin we willfully rejected Him.
  • Note vs. 2: man may not seek God, but God certainly seeks worshippers among men. [King Asa, 2 Chr 16:9]  It’s not that God does not give man the opportunity to be saved, it’s that man does not take it. We all rejected Him – thank God for His grace that reached beyond our sin!
  • Opposition against God (vss. 4-5)

4 Have the workers of iniquity no knowledge, Who eat up my people as they eat bread, And do not call upon God?

  • This is how people act without the fear of God.  Those who don’t believe that God exists will persecute the people of God without fear or worry.  There’s a reason that radical Muslims torture Christians the way they do in Sudan, or that Communist North Korean military police do what they do to underground church leaders: they have absolutely zero fear of God.  They have no fear now, but they ought to have plenty!  Jesus spoke truly when He said from the cross, “They don’t know what they’re doing.”  Sure, the Jewish leaders & Romans knew they were crucifying a man claiming to be the Son of God, but if they had actually believed Jesus IS the Son of God, they would have never have done it!  They would have trembled in fear & reacted as Isaiah did when he saw the Lord high & lifted up (Isa 6).
  • They may not fear now, but they will fear one day.  See vs. 5…

5 There they are in great fear Where no fear was, For God has scattered the bones of him who encamps against you; You have put them to shame, Because God has despised them.

  • God’s judgment will be severe & final.  In His great righteous wrath, He will destroy those who persecute His people.  God takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Eze 33:11), but He will act as if He utterly despise those who have despised His people.  His judgment will be utterly righteous & final.
  • As much as this speaks of the judgment of the unbelieving fool, it also perfectly describes the final judgment of Satan, Antichrist & the false prophet.  They have acted (and will act) without any fear of the righteous All-powerful God, but God’s judgment will be utterly devastating toward them.  Jesus will cast them into the lake of fire & they will be there day & night and their torment will never end.  Perhaps after 1000 millennia they will finally learn the fear of God!
  • God’s promised salvation (vs. 6)

6 Oh, that the salvation of Israel would come out of Zion! When God brings back the captivity of His people, Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad.

  • Trusted that God would send a Deliverer.  Trusted that God would bring restoration.  David looked forward in time to the promised Messiah who would come from his own bloodline.
  • Speaks of none other than Jesus Christ!
  • Rejoice in the Deliverer!

 

Psalm 54 (NKJV) – The Sneak Attack
To the Chief Musician. With Contemplation of David When the Ziphites Went and Said to Saul, “Is David Not Hiding with Us?”

  • Interesting progression from Ps 52.  That background came from 1 Sam 21-22; this background comes from 1 Sam 23.  David is still on the run from Saul.  After he left the city of Gath among the Philistines, he went all over the map eventually ending up in the wilderness areas of Judah, where the town of Ziph was located.  Apparently, Saul’s son Jonathan was able to stay in contact with David & affirmed his own loyalty to God’s anointed king, waiting to serve by David’s side.  Yet David’s own countrymen in Judah ended up betraying him to King Saul.  Granted, they may have thought they were doing the right thing (after all, Saul WAS the king & David was the fugitive), but seemingly they were more than willing to betray one of their own, even though God’s choice of David as king was fairly well known & David’s protection of Israel had been well-established.  God in His sovereignty ended up giving a diversion to Saul, allowing David to escape yet again.
  • It’s always striking that David had to run from the man that ought to have been his mentor & protector.  Saul was profoundly jealous of David, and even though David showed numerous times how much he loved and respected Saul, this love & respect was never returned.  (Ever been disappointed by other people?) Ultimately, David didn’t put his trust in man, but rather in the Lord & left the results to God.
  • Prayer for help (vss. 1-3)

1 Save me, O God, by Your name, And vindicate me by Your strength.

  • What does David need?  Salvation (deliverance).  Vindication (justice).
  • How would David receive it?  By the name & strength of God.  It would be God who would have to act in David’s defense & God alone.  David could have tried to manipulate the situation by himself – he could have tried to make the right political friends & attempt a military coup over Saul.  He would have even have had the public justification for doing so as God’s chosen servant.  Yet David never did it.  It wasn’t by David’s strength that he would be saved, it would have to be by the strength of the Lord.
    • How often do we try to manipulate our own situations?  Wait upon the Lord!
    • Beyond the physical, how often do people attempt to manipulate their eternal salvation?  If they can just say the right prayer, they’ll be saved.  If they can just give the right amount of money, they’ll be saved.  If they can just go through the right ritual with the right priest, ____, they’ll be saved.  No!  It’s by the name & strength of God that we are saved!  Only by the name of Jesus Christ!  Our hope is in no other.

2 Hear my prayer, O God; Give ear to the words of my mouth.

  • It’s not uncommon for David to pray that God would hear him.  But it’s important to remember why he would pray this way.  We sometimes tend to take our ability to pray for granted, which we ought not to do.  The only way that we have access & invitation to pray to God is through the blood of Christ!  Once we are in Christ, we can come boldly to the throne of grace – but until that point, we have absolutely no assurance of being heard by God.

3 For strangers have risen up against me, And oppressors have sought after my life; They have not set God before them. Selah

  • David was surrounded by the ungodly – sadly, those of his own tribe of Judah.  The Ziphites may have dwelt in the land of Judah, but apparently they had no fear of God.  Sadly the same thing is seen in churches all over America today.  People might dwell among the people of God – they may call themselves “Christian,” but many have no knowledge of Christ.  They have not set God before them.  It’s not the building we go into that makes us a child of God – it’s not the friends that we keep or the holidays we observe that make us a Christian – it’s all about whether or not we know Jesus Christ as Lord.  Is He God set before you?
  • Because he’s surrounded by the ungodly, David needs God’s help.  See vs. 4…
  • Faith that God answers (vss. 4-7)

4 Behold, God is my helper; The Lord is with those who uphold my life. 5 He will repay my enemies for their evil. Cut them off in Your truth.

  • Amen!  God is our help.  He’s our protector – He surrounds us…
  • God will bless those who bless His people, but God will also judge those who hurt His people.  His righteous truth will not be denied.  Our God is just & we can trust Him to act righteously.

6 I will freely sacrifice to You; I will praise Your name, O LORD, for it is good. 7 For He has delivered me out of all trouble; And my eye has seen its desire upon my enemies.

  • What is the right response to the help of God?  Praise!
  • Notice how much trouble God delivered David out of. “All.”  Not “some;” but “all.”  Question: did David ever have problems again?  No doubt.  He wasn’t even yet done with all the persecution of Saul, much less to speak of the future betrayal of his son Absalom & others.  So how could David write that God delivered him out of “all trouble?”  Because it’s the truth!  There may have been still trials for David to yet endure, but he was in the covenant love of God Almighty!  He knew that God would be his loving God for all of eternity.  Truly God had delivered him out of all trouble – even the troubles & trials that David had not yet faced.
    • Can you thank God for your deliverance in Jesus Christ?  He truly has delivered (past tense) you out of all trouble – and that’s a sure statement even if you are currently enduring trouble right now.  You have Jesus Christ.  You’ve been indwelt by the Holy Spirit.  You have a guarantee on eternal life with God.  You have total forgiveness of your sins.  You have grace that is all-sufficient.  You have no lack because God has given you all deliverance! 
    • Keep your eyes focused upon Jesus Christ & the eternity that He has delivered you unto.  The deliverance of God is truly an amazing all-encompassing thing!

Psalm 55 (NKJV) – The Painful Betrayal
To the Chief Musician. With Contemplation of David.

  • We don’t have the specific background with this psalm, but it certainly fits in with the other psalms in this series.  David laments his need for deliverance (again), but this time it’s personal.  He’s been betrayed by a beloved friend & it has cut him to his core.  What do you do when you are angry & have been betrayed?  That’s just as much a time to go to the Lord in prayer as any other.
  • David’s anguish (vss. 1-8)

1 Give ear to my prayer, O God, And do not hide Yourself from my supplication.

  • Had God hidden?  No, but it David’s pain it felt that way.  There are times in which we can feel far removed from God in our pain – but that’s the time to hold even more strongly to the promises of Jesus than ever!  He’s promised that He would be with us always, even to the end of the age (Mt 28:20) – take Him at His word & believe Him.

2 Attend to me, and hear me; I am restless in my complaint, and moan noisily, 3 Because of the voice of the enemy, Because of the oppression of the wicked; For they bring down trouble upon me, And in wrath they hate me.

  • We can just hear the anguish in David’s voice.  He felt as if God was hidden from him, but he still cried out to God.  When the enemy overwhelms us, that’s not the time to shut down & isolate ourselves; that’s the time to depend more upon the Lord than ever before.  Cry out to Him in your pain.  Even if you don’t feel as if you’ve got the “right” words to say, go to Him anyway.

4 My heart is severely pained within me, And the terrors of death have fallen upon me. 5 Fearfulness and trembling have come upon me, And horror has overwhelmed me.

  • Emotional anguish can feel like physical pain.  How bad was it for David?  He felt completely overwhelmed as if he was about to die.  Can emotional stress get that bad?  No doubt.
  • Christians can fall victim to emotional stress just like anyone else.  We are not immune from emotional trials and problems simply because we have faith in Christ.  What we DO have differently from the rest of the world is the resource to be able to handle that emotional pain: we have the wonderful counselor, Christ Jesus.

6 So I said, “Oh, that I had wings like a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. 7 Indeed, I would wander far off, And remain in the wilderness. Selah 8 I would hasten my escape From the windy storm and tempest.”

  • How bad was it/  David wanted to run away.  Like a bird migrating to a place of rest and safety, or even flying off to temporary refuge, David just needed to get out of there.
  • Don’t you love how honest the Scriptures are?  Here’s David – the mighty man of God, the warrior, the man who bravely stood up against the giant Goliath & marched into the homeland of the Philistines to bring back 200 foreskins as a dowry payment for his bride.  Yet even the mighty hero David had times where he wanted to run away and hide. 
    • Experiencing times of overwhelming problems, fear, and other emotions doesn’t make you a bad Christian; it just makes you human.  It doesn’t mean that you’re immature in your faith or somehow insufficient.  All it means is that our need for God is simply underscored.  David may have wanted to run away, but what he actually did was turn to the Lord in prayer & dependency.  We ought to do the same.
  • Imprecatory prayer (vss. 9-15)

9 Destroy, O Lord, and divide their tongues, For I have seen violence and strife in the city. 10 Day and night they go around it on its walls; Iniquity and trouble are also in the midst of it. 11 Destruction is in its midst; Oppression and deceit do not depart from its streets.

  • Whatever was the historical circumstance, there was constant trouble in the city, brought in by those who troubled David.  As with Doeg the Edomite, their tongues had brought in division & strife, so David prayed that God would divide their divisive tongues.  Reminiscent of how God confused the languages of the earth at the tower of Babel.  David similarly prays that God would confuse the plans of his enemy & bring their troubles to a halt.
  • Parenthesis to describe the problem (vss. 12-14)

12 For it is not an enemy who reproaches me; Then I could bear it. Nor is it one who hates me who has exalted himself against me; Then I could hide from him. 13 But it was you, a man my equal, My companion and my acquaintance.14 We took sweet counsel together, And walked to the house of God in the throng.

  • The problem?  Betrayal!  David had been persecuted by his king, spied upon by Gentiles, rejected by his own tribesmen (even though they didn’t have faith) – but the worst of it all was being betrayed by his own friend.
  • Few things hurt worse than betrayal.
  • Jesus knows what it’s like!  Judas Iscariot betrayed Jesus to the Pharisees for the price of a common slave.  This was a man who lived with Jesus, ate with Him, slept next to Him, listened to His teachings, personally witnessed the miracles, and more.  Jesus had personally invested in this man, just as He did the other disciples (all the while knowing what Judas would do).  Judas went so far as to betray Jesus with a sign of love & greeting: a kiss.  No doubt, the heart of Jesus was truly grieved by the betrayal.  Jesus knows what it’s like to be betrayed.

15 Let death seize them; Let them go down alive into hell, For wickedness is in their dwellings and among them.

  • Obviously David’s angry here – understandably so.  His prayer is a bit shocking, but it’s still honest.  But note: David may have prayed for their eternal destruction in hell, but he never attempted to personally see it through.  He prayed honestly, but left the results to God.  See vs. 16…
  • Declaration of faith (vss. 16-19)

16 As for me, I will call upon God, And the LORD shall save me. 17 Evening and morning and at noon I will pray, and cry aloud, And He shall hear my voice.

  • David was dedicated to the Lord!  Trusting in God’s deliverance.  Note the future tense: “the Lord SHALL save me…”  This is assured!
  • This is exactly what David was crying out for in prayer.  Morning, evening, noontime, it didn’t matter – he was going to pray constantly for the protection and salvation of God.  The betrayer had caused constant trouble in the city of Jerusalem, but David was praying constantly for God’s deliverance.
    • Keep in mind David isn’t describing rote prayer or trite repeated phrases; he’s crying aloud to God.  This is passionate heartfelt prayer.  The same type of prayer that is seen throughout the psalms is what David would be constantly offering up to the Lord.  Prayer wasn’t something to “get out of the way” with David – it was true communion and time with Almighty God.  Something to be sought after and treated as the privilege for what it is.

18 He has redeemed my soul in peace from the battle that was against me, For there were many against me. 19 God will hear, and afflict them, Even He who abides from of old. Selah Because they do not change, Therefore they do not fear God.

  • Past deliverance helped David have confidence for present faith in the King of kings.  David saw how God had redeemed his soul in peace (in contrast with all of the present emotional trials and pain) & because he trusts in the sovereignty of God (that He is enthroned in heaven), he knows God will hear & act appropriately.
  • Description of the betrayer (vss. 20-21)

20 He has put forth his hands against those who were at peace with him; He has broken his covenant. 21 The words of his mouth were smoother than butter, But war was in his heart; His words were softer than oil, Yet they were drawn swords.

  • Whoever this betrayer of David was, these were his lies.
  • Antichrist & the false prophet will do the same (Rev 13).  The lies will sound good to the world, but in the end, they will be deceptions unto their destruction.
  • Exhortation to the reader (vs. 22)

22 Cast your burden on the LORD, And He shall sustain you; He shall never permit the righteous to be moved.

  • God will save & sustain!  God will preserve & protect – He will serve as a foundation for the righteous on which we can be rooted & grounded.  The enemy may attempt to lie & deceive, but when we continually cast ourselves upon the Lord we can be sure of casting ourselves upon the truth.
  • Affirmation of trust/faith (vs. 23)

23 But You, O God, shall bring them down to the pit of destruction; Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; But I will trust in You.

  • God will judge!  Whether it be temporary justice when God allows the betrayers to be caught by their own devices, or eternal justice where they will be brought down into the pit…God will judge righteously.
  • And because He will, He is worthy of our trust!

Conclusion:
Things just seemed to get worse & worse for David!  Everyone turned against him.

  • Ps 52: David was betrayed by Doeg the Edomist.  Seemingly a pagan had far more favor with the king of Israel than God’s own servant.  Doeg delighted in his favor, but ultimately he had no reason to boast.
  • Ps 53: The practical atheists earned themselves a 2nd verse.  They lived in the land, but acted as if God never existed & devoured the people of God.  Yet there is no doubt about God’s coming judgment upon them.  God sees & God knows.
  • Ps 54: David was betrayed by the Ziphites.  These were his own tribesmen, and yet they sought favor with the king rather than with God.
  • Ps 55: David was betrayed by a close personal friend.  Who it was we don’t know (Absalom – Ahitophel?), yet it cut David to his core.  David was overwhelmed & bitterly angry.  To whom could he turn?  God.

At times, it seemed like the whole world was coming against him.  The Gentiles, the irreligious, the border people & even his own friends & allies.  Who was constant through it all?  The Lord.  There is a friend that sticks closer than a brother (Pro 18:24), the Lord Jesus Christ.  When we are in Christ, we can be sure He will never leave us nor forsake us.  We can be sure that we will always have an audience with God through His blood.  We can be sure that He will always judge righteously & that He is not blind to injustice.  We can be sure that He is our God & we are His people.  Without Christ, we have absolutely nothing, but with Christ we have everything!

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