This Psalm is one of confession of sin. One of the first petitions here informs us of one of the fundamental truths of our faith: all of us human beings possess a in nature. Every human being is born with such a nature so every human being is a sinner. Every sin that humans commit offends God. These days such teaching is quite unpopular. Many churches as well as our culture by way of the media preach a gospel of self-esteem, that every human being is essentially good and should know it and let everyone else know it too. They maintain God is not angry or sad about our behavior. He wants us to enjoy ourselves and have a good time. He wants us to be successful and prosperous.
Unfortunately, those who ignore the reality of the sin nature are not able to tell the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. In addition, they will never really be happy or content because they still have underlying guilt which will plague them no matter how much they tend to deny or numb it. Only when we admit that we are sinners can we be content, for then we can confess to the Lord. He is only too happy to grant forgiveness. He will then give us wisdom and strength to help us fight and overcome temptation. Our esteem or positive self-image comes not from thinking we are good and righteous, but in realizing that God loves us in spite of our sin. He loves us so much that He became man, took our sins on Himself and died in horrible agony for us. This gospel of God’s love is what, like the Psalmist, we must teach others.
God hates hypocrisy, especially under the guise of Christian piety, good deeds and sacrificial offerings. The Lord does not need those things we sacrifice and offer. He already has all that He needs for His existence. What He really desires is the proper attitude that should accompany what we offer and what we do for Him. He desires sincerity as well as heartfelt repentance, gratitude, and humility. Mere adherence to the letter of the law does not please Him. We cannot rely on rituals and good deeds in the hope that these will balance the scales and outweigh our wickedness and sin.
And yet we Christians all try to balance out those scales and hope that in the end the good will outweigh the bad enough so that God accepts us. Our attempts to do this are really hypocritical for at what we are doing is condoning sin in ourselves and in others while promoting ourselves as virtuous Christians. One of the ways which we Christians condone sin is by purchasing supermarket tabloids, or watching the various national talk shows or purchase the goods promoted by sponsors who finance these. They make money by promoting the lifestyles of the rich and famous which really are the lifestyles of the greedy and the sexually immoral. All the hype and admiration such celebrities receive ignores the fact that sin is quite destructive. Those who claim to revel in wickedness really suffer great pain, guilt and sadness because their lives are empty and meaningless. They try hard to suppress Christian opposition to their sinfulness in an attempt to feel comfortable and free from guilt. It never works.
Rather than admire such people and glorify what such people, we should feel sorrow and pity for them. We should also pray that the Lord would grant them wisdom and the grace to lead them to repentance and faith.
This Psalm is one that speaks perfectly to our current culture. Today celebrities are the ones children and many adults look up to and emulate. The western world values and pursues riches and fame. As the Psalmist so aptly points out to us, neither riches nor fame last. Successful people are admired and praised for things they have achieved in life thinking that this is what is important. But none of those things that we earn in life gets carried over to the next. The end of the rich and successful person is the grave. People may still admire Princess Diana or Mother Teresa, but what good does their praise do for either now? No matter where they are spending eternity, their past and present celebrity and fame do not affect their current status.
That may sound a bit scary to us, but as Jesus said, “What can a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:28) When I was a child I served as an altar boy in a Roman Catholic Church. I saw people use money to buy favor with God. On 2 or 3 occasions per year the church celebrated certain saint feast days on which people pinned money on the statue of a certain saint. I and everyone who looked in were greatly impressed by those men and women who pinned $100 bills on. Those who did so sought reward from God or admiration from people or freedom from guilt, but it was all hopeless vanity and hypocrisy to try to buy God with cash. Redemption, as I later discovered at age 24, was a free gift that Jesus had purchased on the cross. Only His blood can ransom a human soul.
After reading such a Psalm we ought to come to the realization that the rich and famous do not have it easy no matter what they claim or how many people praise them and grant them awards and favor. We are not to emulate any man or woman unless they follow Jesus. Neither are we to seek the praise or rewards nor are we to seek material riches. Those who do so worship a false deity, not the Lord God Almighty.
This Psalm is a tribute to a King on the occasion of his wedding. He is exalted and praised and so is his bride. She is arrayed in clothing made with gold fabric and adorned with gold ornaments. Yet we can easily see that the Psalm is also a Psalm of the Messiah. The King has a throne that is everlasting. This Psalm is fulfilled by Jesus who is the Messiah, the Savior, God incarnate. The bride then is spiritual Israel, the church who are the people He has chosen to be His own.
We note that the bride is called to forsake her family and her parents. The King, her husband, is her Lord now, the only one to whom she owes allegiance. She is to be totally devoted to him. In the same way we who are the bride of Christ are called also to forsake the world, to forsake even our families and devote ourselves totally to the Lord. We are not to cling to our old ways or our old sins; we are not to cling even to the ways or religious practices of our family. Every relationship we have must be rooted in and flow through our relationship with Jesus. That includes the marital relationship as well which is why the Lord speaks against interfaith marriages. The Lord is to be the center of the marriage. If one of the spouses does not worship the Lord, there will be division and disharmony for no one can serve 2 masters.
This Psalm is another Psalm of mourning and grief, but this is national in scope. The Psalmist recalls the glorious past victories which the Lord wrought for Israel over His enemies. He does not understand why Israel cannot enjoy such glory now. Defeat and loss have overtaken the nation from which there seems no respite. As far as he knows, there is no reason for it, for he has not sinned, nor does Israel seem to be guilty of any particular sin at this time. The fact that the hand of the Lord has allowed this seems to be a mystery.
This Psalm helps us take an honest look at our own nation, in my case, the United States of America. It helps us to reflect upon the calamities which have befallen us over the last several years. Today the nation is torn by dissension which seems to focus on two issues. One is the war on terrorism especially as it is being fought in Afghanistan. There seems no end in sight to the carnage so there is division over the efficacy of fighting such a war. Many even want to call an end to the war on terrorism, a war which will never end until the Lord returns.
The other major cause of dissension concerns the toleration and acceptance of immorality, particularly that of homosexuality. Such immoral lifestyles are now proclaimed as the norm by the media while the Christian view of aberrant lifestyles as sinful is being labeled as outmoded, “medieval” and racist. I see the tolerance of immorality as a national sin. This sin is the reason why God has allowed the nation to suffer reversals in war, terrorism and “natural” disasters. God is calling the nation to repentance. As we reflect on this, we must pray for sinners to come to repentance, especially those guilty of sexual immorality.
These 2 Psalms share the same theme. They are both Psalms of mourning, of feeling sad, of depression and despair. Apparently the Psalmist is in the midst of some deep trouble caused by harsh events and circumstances. At first we see that he feels like he is in a desert and is thirsty. He is in a spiritual drought thinking the Lord is far from him. Then he talks about deep calling to deep and the rush of a waterfall. These may seem to be positive images but they are not. Essentially the Psalmist feels overwhelmed by rushing waters like those of some great waterfall as Niagara, or of the raring waves of the sea. The raging tumultuous waves of trouble, the rushing torrents of God’s discipline have swept over him, tossed him chaotically, crushed and plunged him underneath. He yearns for the Lord who seems so far off.
We have all been there. The troubles of life pour over us and we feel swept away, out of control and lost. There seems no respite from them. Sometimes they are caused by the natural forces of the weather and the earth. Sometimes they are caused by our sins. Then we may be aware that we are being disciplined and shaped by God. Yet we still call out to Him wondering what is going on, why He does not answer our prayers, why He does not help us, and why He does not relieve our pain and despair. We think that the people in the world seem to prosper, to live without a care while we who worship the Lord are overcome by the floods of His discipline. But therein lies our hope: though we are tossed about we are still in the merciful hands of a loving Father who will not fail to come to save us. The people who do not know Him will fail to understand. Yet this suffering is designed to bring them to Him.
David expresses feelings with which we can all identify. He is pleading with the Lord for mercy in a time of a severe illness. He feels close to death. What makes his feelings more intense however is the knowledge that the illness is related to his own sin. We identify with this feeling because very often when we suffer sickness and/or pain that makes us feel deathly ill, even a common cold we think we are being punished for some sin we have committed. And sometimes we are, but not usually.
Sure we know sickness is the result of living in a fallen world, so all sickness technically can be attributed to sin. But, practically, sin quite often causes illness. Smoking can cause cancer. Alcoholism can lead to liver disease. Sexual immorality can lead to an STD or even AIDS. Gluttony can lead to obesity and heart disease. When we deliberately flout God’s laws, commonly called the laws of nature, we will inevitably reap the results.
In any case God uses and allows sickness as a means to draw the unbeliever to Him or to discipline the believer and get him/her back on the right track. Illness also helps us recall and be thankful for all the times He has blessed us. In addition God uses illness to help us grow in faith for as we all know, sickness draws us closer to Him to throw ourselves at His feet and, like David, feel comfort in pouring our hearts out to Him. We grow as we hope and believe that He will respond with mercy and kindness. And He does.
In his illness, David was abandoned by his friends and mocked by his enemies. We should be reminded that we are to be kind to the sick, the weak, the infirm and the handicapped. We should treat these people the same way that we want to be treated when ill, with patience and understanding.