Psalms 62-65

Psalms 62-65…Unmerited grace.

Studying the book of Romans before his conversion, Martin Luther felt unable to find peace with God: “My situation was that, although an impeccable monk, I stood before God as a sinner troubled in conscience, and I had no confidence that my merit would assuage Him.” At last he found the answer. “I grasped that the justice of God is that righteousness by which through grace and sheer mercy God justifies us through faith. Thereupon I felt myself to be reborn and to have gone through open doors into paradise. The whole of Scripture took on a new meaning, and whereas before the ‘justice of God’ had filled me with hate, now it became to me inexpressibly sweet in greater love.” In short, Luther had finally understood that God forgives! Salvation is not about “merit” but mercy. His feelings–of being reborn or of entering paradise–parallel the psalmist’s in today’s reading.

Psalm 65 frames this psalm of praise, particularly in verses 1-2. Verses 5–8 describe God’s awesome power over nature and nations, and verses 9–13 conclude with images of God’s blessing. These references to fertility and abundance give people more reasons to worship, even as creation itself joins in.

Verses 3–4 speak directly to what Luther described. What’s the human condition? We’re overwhelmed by sin, unable to help ourselves. We’ve been defeated. What’s the solution? “You forgave our transgressions” or “You made atonement for our transgressions.” As we’ve seen throughout the Old Testament, God’s forgiving love comes to the rescue.

Since forgiveness is part of God’s nature, when He forgives, we experience His presence and rejoice in it. The psalmist used a metaphor of living in the Lord’s house (cf. Ps. 23:6; 84:1–4). To be forgiven means to be loved, or in other words chosen. We who have been chosen by God join His family. He’s personally present in our lives, filling them with good things. To be “filled” means to be saturated, that is, fully satisfied.

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Psalms 61-81

Psalms 61-81…Church reformation.

The failure of Israel to hear the Word of God was rectified by God’s own Son. Jesus always heard and honored God’s Word. His Father delighted in Him for that reason: “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 17:5). Jesus perfectly listened and followed so that His people would have a complete and perfect salvation. The Father continues to call His people to listen, now directing them to the words of His Son: “listen to him” (Matt. 17:5). The salvation and health of the church depend on it continuing to listen to God’s Word.

Psalm 81 seems to reflect the time of exile, when God punished Israel with the loss of the temple, its king, and the land of promise. It also reminds us of an earlier time, when Israel doubted God and grumbled about Him. At Meribah, Israel tested the Lord, doubting that He was with His people, so the Lord tested Israel and found her wanting. Similarly, we can look at the history of the church and see many times and ways in which the church failed to listen to the Word of the Lord.

The time of the Reformation, of course, was one of the greatest times in which the church returned to the Word of God. The Reformation of the church occurred because Christians began again to study the Bible carefully. The Reformers studied Greek and Hebrew, provided the church with new translations of the Bible, used the new technology of the printing press to print Bibles, and prepared some of the finest commentaries and theologies in the history of the church.

Again in our time, the church must be called to listen to the Word of God. The churches of America too often seem interested in following other voices than the voice of God. For decades, some churches have taught that the Bible is not fully and truly the Word of God. Other churches formally recognize the Bible, but seem to have lost confidence that preaching and teaching the Bible is what will convert unbelievers and build the church. Many Christians today seem to practically ignore the Bible, and as a result, they are as worldly as their unbelieving neighbors.

God says to us today, as He said to Israel of old and says to every generation of His people: “O Israel, if you would but listen to me!” Let us pray that the Holy Spirit will open ears in our churches and throughout our land. And let us listen carefully and believingly. Such listening is what the church most needs today.