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Psalms Series One

Judgment & Mercy

Psalm 50, 51

Most of us, at one time or another, have wanted justice. "If I could just afford to take that guy to court, ..." So we see often in the Psalms the cry for the righteous judge to return. In today's Psalm, however, we see the other side of that: Here Comes the Judge!

{50:1} A psalm of Asaph. The Mighty One, God, the LORD, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to the place where it sets. {2} From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth. {3} Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages. {4} He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that he may judge his people: {5} "Gather to me my consecrated ones, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice." {6} And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for God himself is judge. Selah ‑‑ Psalms 50:1‑6 (NIV)

This opening is full of portent and full of symbolism. It portrays the events of the great judgment of God. In it we see such events as

- the new heaven and new earth, the old passing away (v4)

- the gathering of the saints (v5)

God is portrayed as Judge. Two of his names are used here:

- El (or Elohim), the mighty and majestic

- Yahweh, the deliverer, the one who led Israel from Egypt.

Two symbols of his judgment are used.

- Fire, which represents the purifying aspect of judgment

- Wind (tempest) which shows that God will judge whom He will (John 3:8)

And what, then, is the Lord's complaint? We know from 1 Peter 4:17 that judgment begins with us, and here is His complaint against us:

{7} "Hear, O my people, and I will speak, O Israel, and I will testify against you: I am God, your God. {8} I do not rebuke you for your sacrifices or your burnt offerings, which are ever before me. {9} I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, {10} for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills. {11} I know every bird in the mountains, and the creatures of the field are mine. {12} If I were hungry I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and all that is in it. {13} Do I eat the flesh of bulls or drink the blood of goats? ‑‑ Psalms 50:7‑13 (NIV)

You see the point? It is not that our worship ceremonies are evil; rather, it is that we think them the really important part of our service to Him. So what does He really want?

{14} Sacrifice thank offerings to God, fulfill your vows to the Most High, {15} and call upon me in the day of trouble; I will deliver you, and you will honor me." ‑‑ Psalms 50:14‑15 (NIV)

Here you see His requirements. He asks for three things:

- Thankfulness (not just lip service)

- Obedience

- Prayer (indeed, "calling" on Him!)

It is worth pondering: is the reason we are so weak as the church today that we do not do these things? Perhaps we should heed the warning given the church at Laodicea:

{14} "To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. {15} I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! {16} So, because you are lukewarm‑‑neither hot nor cold‑‑I am about to spit you out of my mouth. {17} You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. {18} I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. {19} Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. {20} Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. {21} To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. {22} He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches."

‑‑ Revelation 3:14‑22 (NIV)

If He says this to the "righteous", what will He say to the wicked? He begins with an interesting point:

{16} But to the wicked, God says: "What right have you to recite my laws or take my covenant on your lips? {17} You hate my instruction and cast my words behind you. {18} When you see a thief, you join with him; you throw in your lot with adulterers. {19} You use your mouth for evil and harness your tongue to deceit. {20} You speak continually against your brother and slander your own mother's son. ‑‑ Psalms 50:16‑20 (NIV)

Doesn't it irritate you when you hear of some obvious criminal who gets off scot free from serious punishment by using a loophole in the law? Such loopholes exist because man is imperfect, and our judgment is imperfect. There will be no such loopholes on that day, for the wicked have no standing in God's court. Only those who have an Advocate may plead their case!

Note the sins for which the wicked are rebuked. They are three

- they hate discipline (God, get this monkey off my back)

- they join evil people

- they practice ("harness the tongue") slander and deceit.

This list is a very good test of just how sincere a Christian you are.

Repentance

If our story were to end there, it would be unbalanced; for who can stand before the Lord in his own merit? In the very next Psalm we see the answer: mercy. This Psalm is the one written by David on the event of his adultery with Bathsheba (II Samuel 12:1-15). It begins, as a Christian's plea should begin, with a cry for mercy:

{51:1} For the director of music. A psalm of David. When the prophet Nathan came to him after David had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. {2} Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. ‑‑ Psalms 51:1‑2 (NIV)

David cries for mercy. On what basis? God's unfailing love. In what spirit? God's great compassion. By what method? Purification.

He begins by acknowledging his sin:

{3} For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. {4} Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge. ‑‑ Psalms 51:3‑4 (NIV)

Note that David says he has sinned against God alone. At first the point seems absurd; Uriah might consider that he was sinned against, for example. But the matter has some validity to it. Consider that in our society we have two kinds of legal cases. Civil cases are those where one party sues another, usually for failure to do something promised. But criminal cases are those where the state pursues the individual. When you commit murder, the papers read "The State of California vs. ..." In our own way, we realize that certain offenses are too important to be left to individual justice.

There is another sense in which this is true. In the case of Uriah the Hittite vs. David Jesseson, both parties might be more or less at fault. But to commit murder is to offend not only against the victim (and his family) but also against the One who said murder is wrong. It is an offense against His very character.

David now gives us one of those beautiful bits of echoing poetry which will show us the steps of repentance:

{5} Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. {6} Surely you desire truth in the inner parts ; you teach me wisdom in the inmost place. {7} Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. {8} Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. {9} Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. {10} Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. {11} Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. {12} Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. ‑‑ Psalms 51:5‑12 (NIV)

Consider it a refrain- like a pair of choruses answering each other

Man: acknowledgment of sin

God: purging

Man: rejoicing in restoration

God: blotting out the sin

Man: a new heart, a new beginning

God: assurance of His presence

Man: the joy of certain salvation

God: giving a willing, sustaining Spirit

The result of this? Service:

{13} Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners will turn back to you. ‑‑ Psalms 51:13 (NIV)

Saved to serve, as the old motto goes. David then describes the life of the restored saint:

{14} Save me from bloodguilt, O God, the God who saves me, and my tongue will sing of your righteousness. {15} O Lord, open my lips, and my mouth will declare your praise. {16} You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. {17} The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. {18} In your good pleasure make Zion prosper; build up the walls of Jerusalem. {19} Then there will be righteous sacrifices, whole burnt offerings to delight you; then bulls will be offered on your altar. ‑‑ Psalms 51:14‑19 (NIV)

David shows three more things:

Praise, again - and not legalism.

Humility

AND THEN - sacrifice.

Worship is the result of the sanctified life - not the cause of it. Thomas a Kempis put it this way:

Why do You demand of a guilty and wretched sinner that he repent and humble himself for his offenses? It is because in true penitence and humbleness of heart is born the hope of pardon; the troubled conscience is reconciled; lost grace restored; man is spared the anger of God; while God and the penitent soul greet each other in a holy embrace. Humble sorrow for sin is an acceptable sacrifice to You, Lord, and is more fragrant in Your sight than clouds of incense. This is the precious ointment which You once allowed to be poured on Your sacred feet; for You have never despised a contrite and humble heart.

Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up.

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