Judgment, Discipline, Praise

Posted: February 23, 2012 in Psalms

Psalms 75-77, “Judgment, Discipline, Praise”

How do you regard God’s judgment?  If you’re like many of us, when God’s judgment applies to someone else, it’s a good thing – but when God’s discipline comes upon us, it’s not so good.   The psalmist Asaph (or at least someone in his position) was no different.  When the wrath of God fell upon the enemies of Israel, then Asaph would lift his voice in praise.  Yet when the holy discipline of God allowed Israel’s enemies to overrun them, it was terrible & left Asaph in a place of anguished prayer.

Of course the judgment of God ought to be an expected thing & totally unbiased.  Those who are in rebellion against God ought to expect God to act in SOME way, whether they have a relationship with God or not.  Those who have rejected God experience the fullness of His wrath, whereas for those who are in Christ, we still experience His discipline.  (We don’t experience the full wrath of God because Jesus has taken that upon Himself at the cross on our behalf.)

So how do we deal with these things as they arise?  Interestingly enough, in the same way: we praise God.  We can praise God when His righteous judgment is poured out upon the wicked & we can praise God in the midst of the discipline we experience, as we remember God’s goodness.  In the first case we praise God for His justice; in the second case we praise God for His covenant love.  Either way, God is to be praised.

 

Psalm 75 (NKJV) – God’s Promised Judgment
To the Chief Musician. Set to “Do Not Destroy.” a Psalm of Asaph. A Song.

  • Opening praise (vs. 1)

1 We give thanks to You, O God, we give thanks! For Your wondrous works declare that Your name is near.

  • Starts with immediate repetition on giving thanks to God.
  • Why is Asaph so emphatic about giving thanks?  Because God’s present actions (whatever they might have been at the time) demonstrated that God’s judgment was growing near.
  • God’s judgment IS drawing near (the signs are all around us!), and because of that and all of His wondrous works, we ought to give thanks.  Oh how Christians ought to be known as a thanks-giving people!  It’s no wonder our prayers so often begin and end with giving thanks to God, because His works are so wonderful.  Especially when we consider the cross & resurrection…
  • The judgment and law of God (vss. 2-5)

2 “When I choose the proper time, I will judge uprightly. 3 The earth and all its inhabitants are dissolved; I set up its pillars firmly. Selah

  • God’s judgment comes at the right time.  Not too soon, and definitely not too late.  Jesus 1st coming was in the fullness of time (Gal 4:4); His 2nd coming will be in the same way.
  • God’s judgment comes in the right way.  He promises to judge “uprightly” – far better than any judicial system on earth, God’s judgment will be absolutely perfect in every respect.
  • God’s judgment comes in fullness – no one is immune.  It will come to the whole “earth and all its inhabitants.”  God’s power and glory will be known among all humanity.

4 “I said to the boastful, ‘Do not deal boastfully,’ And to the wicked, ‘Do not lift up the horn. 5 Do not lift up your horn on high; Do not speak with a stiff neck.’ ”

  • Notice that the people being judged were without any excuse.  God had warned the people, yet they did not listen.
    • How exactly did God warn them?  The same way He’s warned people all over the world through the centuries: by the revelation of the word & revelation of the world.  For those who have access to the Scriptures, the Bible clearly teaches what God considers sin & rebellion.  For those who do not have the Scriptures, they still have the revelation of God through creation & their conscience. …  No excuse!
  • What was the problem here?  Pride.  Pride had gotten in the way of them hearing the word of God.
    • Pride always stops us from listening to God!
  • The sure judgment of God (vss. 6-9)

6 For exaltation comes neither from the east Nor from the west nor from the south. 7 But God is the Judge: He puts down one, And exalts another.

  • For all those that were prideful, Asaph tells them that men cannot exalt themselves.  True exaltation never comes from men.
  • Exaltation comes from God.  This makes sense if we stop to think about it.  Who can exalt someone to a higher position, other than someone who is already higher?  God is the highest!  He is supremely qualified to exalt men because He is above all men.  And He can exalt rightly, as opposed to all the scheming of men.
    • Mark 10:42–45, "(42) But Jesus called them to Himself and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. (43) Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you shall be your servant. (44) And whoever of you desires to be first shall be slave of all. (45) For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.”"
    • Humble yourself – let God exalt you.  James 4:10, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up."
  • Don’t miss the fact that “God is the Judge.”  This is not something God outsources – this is not something that belongs to the angels.  It’s certainly not something that belongs to the devil!  (Though some people seem to think that…)  GOD is the Judge.  This is a sobering thought, but it also ought to be a comforting thought.  Knowing that God is the Judge means that nothing is going to escape His sight – both what’s been done against us, and what we’ve done.  Either way, we can be sure God’s judgment is righteous.
    • God is our Judge, but God is also our Lawyer.  For those in Christ, the Bible tells us that Jesus is our Advocate! (1 Jn 2:1)

8 For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup, And the wine is red; It is fully mixed, and He pours it out; Surely its dregs shall all the wicked of the earth Drain and drink down.

  • For those that don’t drink freshly made wine, this may be a difficult picture to grasp.  The idea is of the cup of judgment of the Lord & every last bit of judgment will be given out.  The “dregs” are those things that are left over at the bottom of the glass/bottle – nothing will be left when God’s judgment is poured out.  Even the dregs will be consumed.  When God judges, it will be complete & inescapable.
  • When God judges, it will come on every man: “all the wicked of the earth…”  As the author of Hebrews writes, it is appointed to men once to die & then face the judgment (Heb 9:27).

9 But I will declare forever, I will sing praises to the God of Jacob.

  • This might seem like an odd verse in the midst of this psalm.  Asaph has written of the sure & complete judgment of God, and yet for this reason Asaph praises God?  Yes!  Absolutely we can praise God for His judgment!
  • God’s affirmation of His judgment (vs. 10)

10 “All the horns of the wicked I will also cut off, But the horns of the righteous shall be exalted.”

  • It had been written earlier by Asaph, but God affirms the same thing here: His judgment is certain – there’s no doubt that it’s coming in all of its fullness.
  • FYI – some translations do not have the quotations signifying God’s speech.  (Quotation marks are not in Hebrew.)  Yet there’s no doubt this is the Lord speaking & not a man.  The whole context has been that of God’s judgment, without any reference to the king of Israel in the role of a judge.  Vs. 7 makes it clear that God is the One who exalts the righteous, which is carried over here in vs. 10.  Thus, these are God’s words affirming His own coming judgment.
  • Bottom line?  There’s simply no escaping the judgment of God.  What great news this is to us as Christians!  Obviously in Christ, the judgment for our sin has already taken place – we are not appointed to wrath at all because Jesus bore the wrath of God for us.  Yet we can look forward to the Day of Judgment from the viewpoint of eschatology (the study of end times).  The end IS coming!  Jesus WILL return!  All of this is wrapped up in the certainty of God’s judgment.  Because we can affirm there is a Day of Judgment, we can affirm the 2nd coming of Christ – it’s all wrapped up together.  When we look forward to the Day of Judgment, it’s not borne out of some misguided desire to see people suffering; it’s from an honest jubilation at the thought of seeing our Lord Jesus Christ in all of His glory!  That’s a wonderful thing!

 

Psalm 76 (NKJV) – God’s Awesome Judgment
To the Chief Musician. On Stringed Instruments. A Psalm of Asaph. A Song.

  • God’s fame (vss. 1-3)

1 In Judah God is known; His name is great in Israel. 2 In Salem also is His tabernacle, And His dwelling place in Zion. 3 There He broke the arrows of the bow, The shield and sword of battle. Selah

  • We don’t know the context in which this was written (though scholars attempt to guess), but it seems to have been following a battle and massive victory by the Lord.  Perhaps this was after the miraculous victory over Sennecharib, though that would have placed it outside of the life of the original Asaph.  Whatever the event was, it was big enough to make God’s saving work famous all over Israel. 
    • He was known among His people
    • He was known in all His land
    • He was known specifically in His tabernacle – His dwelling place/the place of worship.
  • God’s judgment #1, His glorious rebuke (vss. 4-6)

4 You are more glorious and excellent Than the mountains of prey.

  • Amen! God IS more glorious & excellent!  More excellent than what?  Everything!
  • Specifically, God is better than the “mountains of prey” – perhaps a reference to the enemy lands & powers.  God is better and more glorious than anything this world has to offer and entice us with.

5 The stouthearted were plundered; They have sunk into their sleep; And none of the mighty men have found the use of their hands. 6 At Your rebuke, O God of Jacob, Both the chariot and horse were cast into a dead sleep.

  • Not only is God more glorious, He’s more powerful.  Asaph describes the total defeat of the enemy.  It didn’t matter what came against God, nothing was a match for Him.  Even the most powerful military might had nothing against God – He could cast them into death without effort.
  • No enemy is ever a match for God!  Not true for man – for man, there are three enemies more powerful than anything we can face.  Sin, because we are born into it.  Death, because it awaits every man.  Satan, because he is a spiritual power beyond us.  In ourselves, we have nothing against any of these things.  Surely we can outmatch certain people, find medicine for certain illnesses, and earn money to outmatch certain obstacles, but against the three great enemies of sin, death, and the devil, we have nothing.  Yet for God?  He infinitely outmatches them all!  At the cross Jesus defeated sin – in the resurrection Jesus defeated death & the devil – and He’ll continually prove His absolute victory into eternity and beyond!  At the rebuke of God, all these things are overthrown – there is no match for our mighty God!
  • God’s judgment #2, His glorious character (vss. 7-10)

7 You, Yourself, are to be feared; And who may stand in Your presence When once You are angry?

  • Notice the emphasis & certainty here.  God (GOD) is to be feared.  The emphasis is on His Person and the certainty is on what He is owed.  It’s not merely a directive or some advised counsel that men & women ought to fear God, as if it’s a good idea.  It’s something that simply ought to BE.  God is to be feared simply because He is GOD.
  • The follow up question has an obvious answer.  Who can stand when the Almighty Infinite God is roused in anger?  No one.  None can stand against Him & it would be utter foolishness to even attempt to do so.
  • The good news for every person that follows Jesus as their personal Lord & Savior is this: God is not angry with you!  Asaph is writing of the Mighty God who is unstoppable in His anger and righteous judgment – and God is worthy to be feared as the Unstoppable One.  Yet even though we rightly & reverently fear God for Who He is, we need not fear the anger of God on our sin.  That is what Jesus addressed in His sacrifice upon the cross.  He is our “propitiation”… …

8 You caused judgment to be heard from heaven; The earth feared and was still, 9 When God arose to judgment, To deliver all the oppressed of the earth. Selah

  • When God rises in judgment, all the earth will know.  It was true in Asaph’s situation as God moved on behalf of Israel.  Perhaps Asaph has a bit of exaggeration in that people living in China likely had no idea of what was going on in Jerusalem.  Yet without doubt (and without exaggeration), the creation itself did know.  Jesus’ earthly ministry made it plain that creation took notice of its Creator.  When Jesus commanded the storm to calm, it calmed.  When Jesus gave up His life upon the cross, creation shook with an earthquake & darkened in the sky.  When God the Creator moves, the creation takes notice – sadly the earth and rocks know better than the people made in the very image of God!
  • There’s also a prophetic aspect here in that Asaph writes of the God who arose “to deliver all the oppressed of the earth.”  Obviously this did not literally happen at any time during Israel’s history.  Even when God delivered every person within the walls of Jerusalem, there’s no way to claim that they were ALL the oppressed peoples all over the earth.  Instead, we look forward in time to two occasions: (1) the Cross, in which the provision is made for everyone oppressed by sin & death, (2) the 2nd coming in which Jesus brings His righteous judgment upon the earth in regards to every martyr and suffering person in the Great Tribulation.

10 Surely the wrath of man shall praise You; With the remainder of wrath You shall gird Yourself.

  • How can the wrath of man praise God?  In that the wrath of man pales in comparison with the wrath of God.  In the final judgment, the perfect holiness and righteousness of God will be known, and the faults of even the best judgments of man will be made plain when compared with the perfection of God.
  • Our response to God (vss. 11-12)

11 Make vows to the LORD your God, and pay them; Let all who are around Him bring presents to Him who ought to be feared.

  • How do we respond to this glorious God?  We know we ought to fear Him – but what does this look like?
    • Be faithful to God
    • Worship God

12 He shall cut off the spirit of princes; He is awesome to the kings of the earth.

  • God is worthy of that kind of fear, faithfulness, and worship!  He is an awesome God, more powerful than all princes – more glorious than any king of the earth.  He is the King of kings & will be worshipped for all eternity!

 

Psalm 77 (NKJV) – Remembering God’s Power
To the Chief Musician. To Jeduthun. A Psalm of Asaph.

  • Whereas Psalms 75-76 were glorious songs of praise with Asaph glorifying God for His righteous judgment, the tone changes a bit in Psalm 77.  Instead of other pagan nations experiencing the judgment of God, this time it is Israel who is in the midst of God’s discipline.  We don’t know the context – there were times in David’s life in which God plagued the people because of David’s sin – there were times they experienced military defeat.  And yet there were times beyond David that would describe this perfectly, such as the years of captivity.  Whatever was going on, Asaph (or whoever the author was) experienced spiritual depression as he looked at the discipline of God.
  • The psalmist’s anguish (vss. 1-3)

1 I cried out to God with my voice— To God with my voice; And He gave ear to me.

  • Notice the repetition here…it’s a bit of a poetic device, but serves to emphasize the anguish the psalmist feels from the very opening words.  He’s crying out to God with everything he’s got – the word for “cry” could also refer to shrieking or proclaiming, depending on the context.  This is an urgent cry to God.
  • The good news here is that God heard him!  God giving “ear” to Asaph is a reference to the freedom Asaph had to have an audience with Almighty God.  God was willing to hear out Asaph’s complaint.
    • God hears His people!
    • Through Christ, we can seek God at any time!

2 In the day of my trouble I sought the Lord; My hand was stretched out in the night without ceasing; My soul refused to be comforted.

  • The psalmist had an outward expression of anguish/seeking the Lord.  “My hand was stretched out.
  • The psalmist had an inward expression of anguish/seeking the Lord. “My soul refused to be comforted.
  • Have you ever found yourself in that same place?  Don’t you love the fact that the Bible is so honest about this sort of thing?  Sometimes we get the idea that the Biblical writers & people never had problems in their faith – they were superheros who set the bar/standard for the rest of us.  Not true!  For the most part, they were just like the rest of us!  Here’s a Biblical writer who is going through a crisis of faith.  Everything within him is anguished & he’s seeking the Lord intently.  Although he knows God hears him, his actions & attitudes indicate that this knowledge hadn’t worked its way down to his heart yet.  Everything about his prayer indicates that it’s as if God had NOT heard him, although Asaph knows that God has.  Asaph is experiencing a bit of a crisis in his faith.  Sometimes we can go through the same thing.  We don’t get an answer to our prayer, or what God allows to happen simply confuses us & we have no understanding…we cry out to God in prayer, but nothing seems to help.  What do you do?  Keep crying out. J  Like Asaph, we take full use of the invitation we have to come before God, and we keep coming to Him in faith.  We don’t shut down communication; we increase it and continue to seek the Lord.

3 I remembered God, and was troubled; I complained, and my spirit was overwhelmed. Selah

  • Asaph was overwhelmed & notice the reason why: “I remembered God, and was troubled.”  He was troubled because of his remembrance of God.  Usually, we would think the opposite!  Perhaps we’re troubled, and we remember God & then we’re put at ease.  Not so with Asaph…this is how bad it had gotten!  He goes on to describe what’s going on…
  • Thoughts of anguish and doubt (vss. 4-9)

4 You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak. 5 I have considered the days of old, The years of ancient times. 6 I call to remembrance my song in the night; I meditate within my heart, And my spirit makes diligent search. 7 Will the Lord cast off forever? And will He be favorable no more? 8 Has His mercy ceased forever? Has His promise failed forevermore? 9 Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has He in anger shut up His tender mercies? Selah

  • Apparently what’s going on is that Asaph and the rest of the people of Judah were suffering immensely.  (Perhaps the captivity?)  Things are so bad that the writer cannot even sleep or speak – he remembers the former days in which the people had experienced the blessings of God & what makes the psalmist so upset is that those days are no more.  In the “ancient days” the people had known God’s favor & mercy – and now those things seem so far away.  Asaph’s thoughts start running away with themselves.  He’s asking, “Is God’s discipline going to last forever?  Is God’s promise to be our covenant King gone & no good?  Has God forever changed?  Is this just the way it’s going to be from here on out?”
  • Obviously the answer to these questions is: no.  God certainly was not going to cast off the people forever.  Even when it came to the Babylonian captivity, Judah was just being sent away for 70 years.  God had not forsaken any of His covenant promises; in fact His discipline was an integral PART of those covenant promises!  If God hadn’t disciplined His people, THAT would have made God a liar; not the other way around.  In His righteousness, God allowed His people to be disciplined, but in His love & mercy God did not allow His discipline to last forever.  Yet Asaph didn’t understand any of this at the time.  Granted, if he had studied the prophets more carefully, surely he would have learned these things – but in his anguish & depression he understandably wasn’t doing a Bible study.  It felt as if God truly was abandoning His people & His promises.  No wonder Asaph was so upset!
  • Calming down by remembering God’s works (vss. 10-15)

10 And I said, “This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.” 11 I will remember the works of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old. 12 I will also meditate on all Your work, And talk of Your deeds.

  • How did Asaph handle his anguish that came about when he remembered God?  He remembered God again. Actually this makes perfect sense when we stop to think about it.  What sent Asaph into his depression was when he was focused upon the past blessings the people had with God that were no longer there.  He was focused upon the circumstances that surrounded their relationship with God, rather than the goodness of God Himself.  It was easy to get depressed about that because those things were no longer there – all due to Israel’s sin (whatever it may have been).  This time, Asaph remembered the goodness and actions of God not as something lost, but of something longed for.  It wasn’t a matter of simply looking back at the “good old days” in wistful memory, but of looking forward to the days of repentance and renewed relationship. 
  • Why look at the works of God?  Because how God worked in times past is a wonderful indication for how He’s going to work in times future.  God never changes.  Certainly the way He interacts with His people changes over time (He interacted differently with Adam than He does with us) – but the character and person of God never changes.  God is always true to His promises.  God is always merciful and gracious.  God is always holy and righteous.  God always responds to the sincere repentance of His people, etc.  Asaph knew that looking to the way God acted in the past is confirmation of the promises that God would fulfill in the future.
  • We can do exactly the same thing!  What’s the one event in the past upon which everything we know of God’s promises hinge?  The cross & resurrection!
  • As Asaph meditates upon the works of God, his thoughts completely change.  Whereas at first they ran away in his depression & anguish, now they erupt in praise to God.  See vs. 13…

13 Your way, O God, is in the sanctuary; Who is so great a God as our God? 14 You are the God who does wonders; You have declared Your strength among the peoples. 15 You have with Your arm redeemed Your people, The sons of Jacob and Joseph. Selah

  • God is great!
  • God is wondrous!
  • God is redeemer!
  • Example of God’s works: His provision in the wilderness (vss. 16-20)

16 The waters saw You, O God; The waters saw You, they were afraid; The depths also trembled. 17 The clouds poured out water; The skies sent out a sound; Your arrows also flashed about. 18 The voice of Your thunder was in the whirlwind; The lightnings lit up the world; The earth trembled and shook. 19 Your way was in the sea, Your path in the great waters, And Your footsteps were not known. 20 You led Your people like a flock By the hand of Moses and Aaron.

  • All of this is a case example of the ways God had worked in the past.  The seminal event of God’s redemptive work & fulfilled promises in Israel was the exodus from Egypt.  Long before Joseph & his brothers ever stepped foot in Israel with 70 people, God had promised Abraham that his descendants would go there & after 400 years come out again ().  God fulfilled His promise to the letter!  Not only did He bring the people out, He brought them out in an incredible fashion.  Asaph points to three examples:
    • The Red Sea
    • The giving of the 10 Commandments at Mt. Sinai
    • God’s guiding presence in the pillar of cloud & fire
  • Our God can be trusted!  We look back on His actions throughout history & we see His redemptive promise at every turn.  Adam & Eve sinned in the Garden, and not only did God clothe them with a sacrificed animal, God gave the promise of a future Savior.  God condemned the world to die by a global flood, but provided for the promises to remain true through Noah & his family.  God kept His promises through Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, the judges, the kings, and more – all the way to Jesus Christ!  Every prophecy about the coming Messiah Redeemer was met in its fullness in the Lord Jesus.  Jesus showed His greatness, His wondrous power, and His redemption when He went to the cross & rose again.  Can our God be trusted?  Absolutely!  When you deal with anguish about the “good old days” that are no more, turn your attention to the Risen Lord Jesus.  Our hope isn’t in the memory of what’s past, but in the one WHO is right here!

Conclusion:
Asaph praised God when God showed His mighty works & power over the enemy.  And even when the attention of God’s discipline turned to Israel, Asaph still praised God because of God’s mighty works (the works that had been shown, and that which was still promised for the future).  We can praise God for His mighty works!  We serve a mighty God…His power is immense – His justice is everlasting – His great mercies are never ending.  As we think upon THIS God, how could we not erupt in praise?  This is a God who is worthy of all the praise we can give.

Tonight, perhaps you’re just grateful the utter victory that Jesus has over the consequences of sin in your life.  Praise Him!  Perhaps you’re grateful for the victory that Jesus has over the enemy of our souls.  Praise Him!  Perhaps you’re grateful that even though you’re disciplined by God, that God loves you enough to discipline you & it won’t last forever.  Praise Him!  God’s mighty works show Him to be a God worthy of all our praise.

Maybe you’re not so much in that position of joy, but of anguish.  Like Asaph, you’ve been pouring out your heart to the Lord & you hadn’t yet received the comfort you longed for.  Tonight, place your eyes back upon the cross & empty tomb of Christ!  Remember what He’s done & what He’s promised.  We serve a great God who not only hears the anguished petitions you’ve prayed, but who intercedes for you on your behalf.  Take comfort in Him.

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