Book I: Psalms 1–41

PSALM 1

This psalm presents a picture of suffering that many human beings can identify with to varying degrees. But the most significant person to identify with the suffering described here was Jesus Christ. When Jesus was dying on the cross, He repeated the opening words of this psalm: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? (Mark 15:34).

David, of course, was describing his own experiences when he wrote this psalm; but, inspired by the Holy Spirit, he was also writing about his descendant Jesus, who would one day suffer in a similar way. Some of the circumstances that David describes here were also experienced by Jesus on the cross (verses 7–8,16,18). So as we study this psalm, we can hear David speaking to us on three levels: first, he speaks about his own suffering; second, he speaks about Jesus’ suffering; and third, he speaks about our suffering—the common suffering that all of us experience in one form or another. The entire range of human suffering is described in this psalm: dejection, despair, humiliation, hostility, pain and death. Jesus suffered all of these, for He was tempted in every way, just as we are (Hebrews 4:15).

Perhaps the hardest part of suffering is the sense of aloneness, of abandonment, that accompanies it. The sufferer feels forsaken by God—and also by former friends (verse 1). The sufferer cries out by day and by night; he is not silent (verse 2)—but God is. God remains silent because He is testing our faith. He wants us to keep crying out, to keep on telling Him how perplexed and distressed we are; and then, like a loving father, He will answer us at just the right time.59

3–5 In these verses, David says that God has always come to Israel’s aid in the past; He has been the praise of Israel (verse 3)—that is, the One whom Israel praises. Yet, in David’s present suffering, God has not come to his aid; as a result, David feels abandoned and worthless.

6–8 This is why David writes, I am a worm and not a man (verse 6). Of course, David was wrong in saying this; he was indeed a man, made in God’s image (Genesis 1:27). But when people are in distress, they often make exaggerated statements in expressing their feelings. David had reason to feel like a “worm”: he was being scorned and despised (verse 6); he was being mocked and insulted (verse 7)—even as Jesus was (Matthew 27:39). The mockers asked, in effect: “Why hasn’t the Lord rescued David? Perhaps David doesn’t deserve to be rescued!” (verse 8). People mocked Jesus in the same way (Matthew 27:43).

David’s experience of rejection by God and man was similar to the experience of Job. Job’s acquaintances were convinced he was suffering because he had displeased God in some way (see Job: Introduction). This accusation had added to Job’s suffering—as it also added to the suffering of David and Jesus.

9–11 Here David turns his eyes from the mockers to the Lord, who had brought him forth from the womb and had been his God all his life. David asks, in effect: How can God abandon His child now in his time of desperate need? Apart from the Lord, David says, there is no one to help (verse 11). There was no one to help Jesus either; everyone deserted him and fled (Mark 14:50).

12–18 Here David describes his suffering in figurative terms, but their meaning is clear. He says that God has laid him in the dust of death (verse 15); in other words, David recognizes that ultimately it is God who is the cause of his suffering, and who has brought him to the point of death. Evil men have pierced David’s hands and feet (verse 16)—just as Jesus’ hands and feet were pierced when He was nailed to the cross (John 20:24–28). David is so thin and dehydrated he can count all [his] bones (verse 17). Finally, his enemies take his clothing and cast lots for it (verse 18)—just as was done with the clothing of Jesus (Mark 15:24; John 19:23–24).

19–21 Then, after describing his suffering, David calls out to the Lord once more, asking to be rescued from those who are about to destroy him.60

22–24 Here the mood of the psalm suddenly changes. The Lord has responded to David’s prayer and has delivered him from his suffering. Now David says he will declare the Lord’s name to his brothers61—his fellow Israelites in the congregation of those who worship the Lord (verse 22).

25–28 But the praising of the Lord will not be limited to Israel; it will be carried out in the great assembly of believers.62 All the ends of the earth will . . . turn to the LORD, and all the families of the nations will bow down before him (verse 27). This was indeed a prophetic vision, which even today is being fulfilled. Here again, this psalm points forward to Christ; His Gospel has now gone out to the “ends of the earth,” and believers are being called forth from “all the families of the nations” (Genesis 12:3). Jesus, even now, is establishing His rule over the nations (verse 28), and one day every knee will bow before Him (Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9–11; Revelation 11:15).

29–31 All believers—whether they are rich or whether they are poor and about to die—will be part of the Lord’s kingdom (verse 29). Not only will His kingdom extend all over the earth but it will also extend to future generations (verse 30); young and old alike will worship Him and proclaim his righteousness (verse 31). What a picture of the church of Christ: rich and poor, young and old are included equally. In Christ’s church there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

It’s no wonder that Psalm 22 has been such a blessing to countless believers down through the centuries. In this psalm we move from defeat to victory, from death to life, from a cross to a crown. We begin with one forsaken Old Testament figure (David) and we end with the risen Christ, the Lord of lords and King of kings (Revelation 17:14), who calls us brothers (Hebrews 2:11–12) and invites us to reign with Him (Luke 22:28–30; Romans 8:17; 2 Timothy 2:11–12; 4:8; Revelation 3:21). Whenever we enter our time of suffering, let us reflect on David, on Christ—and on this psalm.

PSALM 23

1–3 Psalm 23—perhaps the most beloved of all psalms—is a song about God’s goodness toward His people. God is pictured first as a Shepherd (verses 1–4), and second as a King (verses 5–6). This psalm has given comfort and courage to millions of believers through the ages, and it is as fresh and relevant today as it was when David wrote it. Jesus was thinking of this and other psalms when He said of Himself, “I am the good shepherd” (John 10:11).

David starts out by saying: The Lord is my shepherd. God is not only the God of Israel; He is also the God of individuals. He is “my” God—and especially so when I am in need.

A shepherd cares for his sheep; he meets all their needs. He leads them into green pastures and along quiet waters—symbols of well-being and refreshment (verse 2). But when the shepherd is the Lord, He does much more: He restores our soul (verse 3); He revives life itself (see Psalm 19:7).

The Lord also guides us in paths of righteousness (verse 3). He guides us by His word and by His Spirit. He does this for his name’s sake; when we, His “sheep,” walk in righteousness, God’s name is honored.

4 But sometimes those “paths of righteousness” lead through dark valleys—even valleys where death awaits us. Sheep too are sometimes led through dangerous ravines where wild animals lurk; but the shepherd protects them with his rod and guides them with his staff. In the same way, the Lord protects us and goes before us; He never forsakes us—though at times we may think He has! (see Psalm 22:1).

Even when we must cross that final “valley of death,” we still do not need to fear; our Shepherd is with us, and He will lead us through that valley to the other side, where we will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (verse 6).

5–6 In these verses David pictures the Lord, not as a Shepherd, but as a gracious King inviting us to His banquet table (Luke 22:29–30). The King anoints our heads with oil—a common gesture of hospitality shown to honored guests in biblical times (Luke 7:46). Our cup overflows—that is, the cup the King offers us at His banquet, a cup of refreshment and blessing (see Psalm 16:5). In view of all this, we, together with the psalmist, can be assured that goodness and love will be with us all the days of our earthly life; and after that we shall dwell in the house of the Lord—in His heavenly presence—forever (see John 14:1–3; Revelation 21:1–4).

As we look back on this psalm, we see a God who provides everything we can possibly need: sustenance and refreshment (verse 2), restoration and righteousness (verse 3), protection and comfort (verse 4), honor and blessing (verse 5), goodness and love (verse 6)—and at the end, a heavenly home! Considering all this, perhaps we could rephrase verse 1 to read: The Lord is my shepherd, what more could I want?

PSALM 24

1–2 This psalm may have been written to commemorate the bringing of the ark63 of God to Jerusalem (see 2 Samuel 6:1–19). God the heavenly King had chosen Jerusalem to be His royal city on earth, and the arrival of the ark symbolized God’s arrival in Jerusalem to rule over His people.

In verses 1–2, David states that God owns the entire earth and everything in it; He established the dry land upon the waters—a poetic way of saying that God created both land and sea (Genesis 1:9–10). Therefore God has the right to choose Jerusalem to be the center of His kingdom on earth.

Since God is the Owner of everything on earth, it follows that we ourselves are not the true owners of anything. We say, “my land,” “my house,” “my rights,” “my life,” but they all belong to God. We belong to God. We are simply stewards and caretakers of God’s possessions, and we are expected to use them for His glory.

3–6 Here David gives the qualifications necessary for entering into fellowship with God-for ascending the hill of the LORD, the Lord’s sanctuary in Jerusalem (verse 3). David has given similar qualifications earlier (see Psalm 15:1–5 and comment). Here he adds that to have fellowship with God, clean hands (righteous actions) and a pure heart (righteous attitudes) are required (verse 4). Furthermore, one must not lift up his soul to an idol—must not worship an idol (see Exodus 20:3–6; 34:15–16; Deuteronomy 4:28 and comments). People with these characteristics make up the generation (the company) of those who seek fellowship with God (verse 6).

7–10 Now the Lord (symbolized by the ark) is about to enter Jerusalem; the call goes out to the city gates to open up and allow the King of glory to enter.64 He is coming to rule over His people and to receive their praises (Psalm 9:11).

A thousand years after this psalm was written, the King of glory—in the person of Israel’s MESSIAH—again entered Jerusalem (Mark 11:1–11), not to reign on a throne, but to be crucified on a cross. Today in Jerusalem there is no temple, no ark, no throne, no King of glory. But one day the King of glory, Jesus, will return to claim David’s throne and to establish His reign over all the earth.

PSALM 25

1–3 In this psalm, David offers a prayer to God for vindication (verses 1–3), for guidance (verses 4–5), for forgiveness (verses 6–7), and for deliverance (verses 16–22). In verses 8–15, David praises God for His covenant faithfulness.

In verses 1–3, David is being opposed by enemies who are seeking to put him to shame, so he cries out to God to vindicate him; he is confident God will do so.

4–5 David’s confidence in God, however, does not mean he has confidence in himself. He asks the Lord for instruction and guidance so that he may walk in His paths.

6–7 But one cannot walk in God’s paths if there is unconfessed sin in one’s life. David is aware of his past sins; he may also be concerned about sins committed unknowingly, perhaps sins of omission. So David first asks God to “remember” His mercy and love, and then he asks God not to remember his sins. Not to remember sin is to forgive sin. Part of God’s very nature is to show mercy, to listen to the plea of the repentant sinner (1 John 1:9). David can count on God’s mercy and love.

8–15 In these verses, David reflects on God’s goodness to those who keep the demands of his COVENANT65 (verse 10). God is faithful to instruct, guide, forgive, and prosper those who keep His commands; He is also faithful to punish those who do not (see Exodus 34:6–7).

The one who keeps the demands of God’s covenant is also one who fears Him (verse 12)—who submits to Him. The Lord confides in those who fear Him; He brings them into His confidence and reveals to them the requirements and blessings of His covenant66 (verse 14).

16–21 Here David prays for deliverance from affliction and from troubles of the heart (verses 16–18). David desires to maintain his integrity and uprightness because he knows that God will protect an upright man; in poetic terms, David sees his integrity and uprightness as his “protectors.”

22 After praying on his own behalf, David remembers to pray for the nation over which he is ruler. Not only David has troubles; Israel does too. So David asks God: Redeem (deliver) Israel. By including Israel in this last verse, David is, in a sense, inviting the Israelites to join him in praying through this whole psalm—and we today are invited to join in as well.

PSALM 26

1–3 In this psalm, David prays for vindication; that is, he asks the Lord to declare him innocent and to punish the deceitful and wicked men who are falsely accusing him. David’s conscience is clear; he has led a blameless life. David is not boasting here; he is not claiming that he has never sinned. But any known sin he has committed he has confessed; his heart’s desire has always been to serve and obey the Lord. In God’s sight, such a man is indeed “blameless” (see 1 Kings 9:4).

David’s conscience is so clear that he invites the Lord to test him, try him, examine him (verse 2). David is happy to have the Lord search his heart, because he doesn’t want any hidden sin to remain lurking there (see Psalm 19:12–14 and comment). We, too, should constantly open our hearts to the Lord’s examination. If we maintain a clear conscience, we will never be afraid to come into the Lord’s presence and be tested by Him.67

4–8 In these verses David tells the Lord why he believes he is blameless. He has avoided all association with evildoers, and he abhors their evil ways. He “washes his hands” in innocence (verse 6); this could refer to a ritual washing of one’s hands (Exodus 30:17–21), but more likely it is a figurative or symbolic way of declaring one’s innocence (Matthew 27:24).

In verses 7–8, David describes two positive things he has done to demonstrate his faithfulness to God: he has praised God in public, and he has maintained his love for God’s house (the temple in Jerusalem) where God’s glory dwells. God’s “glory,” signifying God’s actual presence, first appeared as a cloud in the tabernacle; later it appeared in the temple (see Exodus 40:34–35; 1 Kings 8:10–13).

9–12 Here David appeals to God not to let him die as the wicked die: Do not take away my soul (life) along with sinners (verse 9). Rather, David asks God to redeem (deliver) him. Then, in a final expression of confidence, David says his feet are on level ground (verse 12), a figurative way of saying he’s in less danger of falling (spiritually). With his feet firm, David intends to praise God in the great assembly of believers.

PSALM 27

1–3 In these opening verses, David affirms his confidence in God: The LORD is my light (verse 1)—my truth, my inspiration, my guide, my life (see John 1:4,9; 8:12); the Lord is also my salvation68my Savior (verse 9)—my Deliverer.

The Lord is also David’s stronghold, where he can find safety and refuge. When David’s enemies attack, he will not fix his eyes on them but on the Lord. It is the same with us: let us not look so much at our difficult circumstances but rather let us lift our eyes to the Lord who controls our circumstances—the Lord who is our salvation and our stronghold (see Romans 8:31–39).

4–6 Here David prays that he might dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of his life (verse 4). The Lord’s “house” (tabernacle, temple) was the Lord’s symbolic dwelling place on earth; therefore David wants to dwell symbolically in the temple—that is, he wants to live in spiritual fellowship with the Lord.69 He wants to gaze upon the beauty (glory and goodness) of the Lord.

David also knows that in the temple (in the Lord’s fellowship) he will be safe in times of trouble; the temple will be a spiritual stronghold for David, because the Lord is his stronghold70 (verse 1).

7–11 Here David’s mood changes. He has been expressing the utmost confidence in God, but now he begins to plead with God for protection from his enemies. It’s as if David was no longer so confident, so sure of himself. And that is the point: David’s confidence is not in himself but in God. In the life of every believer there is a mixture of confidence and dependency; one moment we proclaim our faith boldly and the next moment we cry out to God not to forsake us.71 God understands; He knows our weaknesses. He knows that in matters of faith we are often like children, alternating between courage and fear. We are like the father of the demon-possessed boy, who said to Jesus, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Many times throughout the psalms, we will encounter similar shifts in the psalmist’s mood. The psalmists were normal human beings like ourselves; that is why we can so easily relate to the experiences they have described.

12 Among the worst of David’s enemies were the false witnesses who rose up against him—the backbiters, the slanderers.72 Most of us will not experience physical or violent opposition in our lifetimes, but almost all of us will experience verbal opposition. This is even the case within our own churches; and it is our leaders who, like David, are most likely to be attacked. When it happens to us, we must not attack back but rather, like David, take the matter to God and let Him be our helper and defender.

13–14 David’s confidence returns at the end of the psalm: he is confident he will see the goodness (covenant protection and blessing) of the Lord in the land of the living (in this life). He then seeks to encourage others with the same confidence. Wait for the LORD; be strong and take heart (verse 14). At the right time and in the right way, the Lord will act on our behalf (Joshua 1:9; Mark 13:13; 1 Corinthians 16:13; Galatians 6:9).

PSALM 28

1–2 David, in distress, calls out to God. If God doesn’t help him, he will end up like the wicked who go down to the pit, the grave. Here the “pit” signifies death under God’s wrath; David isn’t afraid to die, but he doesn’t want to receive the punishment of the wicked.

As he pleads for God’s mercy, David lifts his hands toward the Most Holy Place (verse 2), the inner room of the tabernacle (or temple) where the ark was kept (see Exodus 26:31–35 and comment). This inner room represented God’s throne room; the ark represented God’s throne, the symbolic seat of God’s rule among His people (see Exodus 25:10–22 and comment).

3–5 Here David asks God to judge the wicked and to repay them for their evil deeds (2 Timothy 4:14). The “wicked” in Scripture are those whose hearts are hardened and unrepentant. It is appropriate to ask God to “repay” such people for their evil deeds.73

6–7 After crying out for mercy (verse 2) and asking God not to let him die with the wicked (verse 3), David now expresses confidence that the Lord will indeed deliver him. Once again, we see how David’s mood shifts back and forth between pleading and trusting (see Psalm 27:7–11 and comment).

8–9 As king, David must think not only about himself but also about the people over whom he rules as God’s anointed king. David is confident in God’s justice not only in relation to himself but also in relation to the Israelites, God’s people. David ends the psalm by praying for the people of Israel, who are God’s inheritance—God’s treasured possession (Exodus 19:5; Deuteronomy 4:20).

In verse 9, David prays that God will both save and bless Israel. God saves (delivers) His people from danger and from evil (Matthew 6:13), and He also blesses them day by day with covenant blessings (Leviticus 26:3–13). David’s prayer is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, who saves eternally the souls of believers and fills them with blessings both in this life and the next.

PSALM 29

1–2 In this psalm David praises the Lord as the King of creation, the Ruler over nature. The pagan Canaanites worshiped gods of nature, such as the sun and the storm; we worship a supreme God who created the sun and who controls the storm, a God who sits enthroned over the flood (verse 10)—over the water, over all creation (Genesis 1:2,6–10). David not only calls upon humans to praise the Lord, but he calls upon the mighty ones (angels) to praise Him as well.

3–11 For this psalm, David chooses the example of a thunderstorm to illustrate God’s glory. The thunderstorm rolls in over the mighty waters of the Mediterranean Sea (verse 3), and then moves onto the land (Lebanon) where it breaks in pieces the cedars of Lebanon, the strongest trees in the Middle East (verse 5). The storm is so powerful that it shakes the mountains and, in figurative terms, makes Lebanon (Mount Lebanon) skip like a calf and Sirion (Mount Hermon) skip like a young wild ox74 (verse 6).

Though the storm is frightening and destructive, the Lord strengthens His people and blesses them with peace (verse 11).

PSALM 30

1–5 Here David praises God for delivering him from some great trial, during which he nearly died. In this psalm he invites all the saints75 to join him in praising God’s holy name, that is, God Himself (verse 4). God may allow His saints to experience trials and testings, but at the right time He will show them His favor (verse 5).

6–7 In verse 6, David confesses that he had become proud and self-confident before his great trial began: he said, “I will never be shaken.” But then the Lord “shook” him! In this case the Lord hid His face from David and removed the protective blessings from around him (verse 7).

8–10 So David called out to the Lord. No longer did he feel secure and self-confident (verse 6); death was now drawing near. David asked God what He could possibly gain by letting David die: Will the dust (my decayed body) praise you? (verse 9). David had asked a similar question in an earlier psalm (see Psalm 6:4–5 and comment).

11–12 David ends the psalm as he began it: the Lord has delivered him. The Lord has removed his sackcloth of mourning and replaced it with “clothing” of joy (verse 11).

PSALM 31

1–5 David opens this psalm with a prayer for deliverance from a trap that has been set for him by his enemies (verse 4). He asks to be led and guided by God for the sake of [His] name (verse 3); God’s “name”—God’s honor—is at stake. If David, God’s servant, is put to shame, then God Himself will also be dishonored (see Psalm 23:3).

Even though David is in great distress, he places himself in God’s hands: Into your hands I commit my spirit—my life, my soul (verse 5). Jesus quoted verse 5 when He was dying on the cross (Luke 23:46). To place oneself in God’s hands even in the face of death is the highest form of trust; and Jesus expects His followers to demonstrate that same trust when they face suffering and death (Acts 7:59; 1 Peter 4:19).

6–8 Here David anticipates the Lord’s answer to his prayer and expresses his trust in Him. He also affirms that he “hates” those who worship idols (verse 6). David is not expressing a personal hatred here; rather, he hates to associate with idol worshipers. He hates them in the sense that God “hates” them; he hates their proud rejection of the one true God.76

9–13 Then David shifts his eyes from God and begins to think about his distress (verse 9). His situation is so bad that even his closest friends have abandoned him (verses 11–12)—something commonly experienced by those who appear to be abandoned by God (see Job 19:13–20). Again David mentions that one of the chief causes of his distress is the slander of many people—perhaps including his own “friends” (see Psalms 12:1–4; 27:12 and comments).

14–18 Here David looks back to God; he trusts in Him, and at the same time he calls out urgently for help. David says to God: My times are in your hands (verse 15); that is, David’s circumstances—all the events of his life—are in God’s hands. Indeed, David himself is in God’s hands. And yet, even though David is in God’s hands, he is still experiencing distress. God does not always deliver us out of earthly troubles; but He is always with us in our troubles. Being in God’s hands does not guarantee freedom from trouble; what it guarantees is that no one will pluck us out of His hands (see John 10:28–30).

19–24 As usual, David ends his psalm on a note of praise and confidence. In verse 21, David praises God for the love He showed to him when he was in a besieged city; the “besieged city” is a figure of speech describing David’s sense of being trapped and surrounded by enemies.

In verse 23, David reaffirms his confidence in God’s ultimate justice. The saints—the faithful—are preserved; the proud—the ungodly and wicked—are punished. Finally, in verse 24, David turns to his listeners (readers) and says: Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the LORD. Our hope is not in ourselves, it is not in our blessings, it is not in our faith; our hope is in God alone. He is the ground, the basis of our hope. We cannot know the exact outcome of our lives, but we can know it will be good (Romans 8:28; 15:13).

PSALM 32

1–2 In this psalm77 David testifies to the blessedness of having one’s sins forgiven. He uses three closely related terms to describe how God deals with our sins: sins forgiven—“carried away” (Leviticus 16:20–22); sins covered—“atoned for”78 (Leviticus 16:11–19); and sins the Lord does not count (verse 2)—does not count against us. In all three cases, our sins are removed, canceled, forgotten, and God once more considers us “righteous” and “justified” in His sight. He is no longer obligated to punish us.

How does one receive this “gift” of forgiveness?79 There are two things necessary: first, a spirit without deceit (verse 2); and second, a willingness to confess one’s sins (verse 5).

People in whose “spirit” (attitude, heart) there is no deceit are people of integrity. When such people come to God to confess a sin, God knows they are truly sorry for their sin and not merely sorry about its consequences.

3–5 Here David describes a time when he committed a sin but did not initially confess it; he kept silent (verse 3). The sin may have been his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Samuel Chapter 11), or it may have been some other sin. The fact is that this unconfessed sin ate away at David’s soul like a cancer; he was burdened with guilt and with an unclean conscience (see Psalm 26:1–3 and comment). But then David confessed his sin, and the Lord forgave him and removed his guilt (verse 5). Confessing his sin was like removing a cancer; his soul was restored to health.

Why is confession of sin so important to God? Because it reveals our heart; it demonstrates our humility and our willingness to be corrected. Just as we must confess that Jesus is Lord in order to be saved (Romans 10:9), so we must confess our sins in order to be forgiven. Jesus has already paid the price for our sins; we need only to confess them. To confess our sins is, in effect, to “judge” ourselves. If we judge ourselves, God won’t have to do it for us!80 (see 1 Corinthians 11:31).

We must beware of making a “cheap confession.” It’s easy to say to God, “I’ve sinned; please forgive me.” Confession with our lips must always be accompanied by REPENTANCE, a turning from our sin. Furthermore, our confession must be made with a broken and contrite heart (Psalm 51:17). Only then will our confession lead to forgiveness. Forgiveness is not cheap. It can’t be “bought” by offering sacrifices (good works, good words). For us, forgiveness comes only through the blood of Jesus. Yes, forgiveness is costly; it cost Jesus His life.

6–7 Here David urges the godly not to delay but to pray to God confessing their sins. Let them pray while [God] may be found (verse 6); if sin remains unconfessed too long, the soul becomes hardened and the Lord withdraws His presence. But with confession, the sinner once more comes under God’s protection; even mighty waters (powerful enemies or threatening circumstances) will not reach him. God will be a hiding place for the repentant sinner and He will surround him with people praising God for His acts of deliverance (verse 7).

8–10 There is an additional blessing that comes from confession: God Himself will instruct, teach and counsel us (verse 8); He will watch over us and keep us from going astray. A person who does not come to God with a humble and repentant spirit cannot be taught by God; he will not receive God’s guidance. Many people ask God for guidance but they receive no answer; they are separated from God because of unconfessed sin in their hearts (see Psalm 66:18). They are not truly seeking God’s plan for their lives; they are merely hoping God will approve the plans they have already made.

Such willful people cannot be led gently; they must be led by bit and bridle (verse 9). Much better to be led by understanding. If we truly desire God’s will, He will lead us by means of our minds, our understanding. As thinking humans, we need to understand what God is saying to us (Ephesians 5:17), and He communicates to us primarily through our minds.81

11 As David reflects on the blessings of God’s forgiveness, protection and guidance, his response is to praise God and be glad. Rejoice in the LORD (see Philippians 4:4; 1 Thessalonians 5:16). How can we not rejoice in God when we consider all His blessings! But these blessings are reserved for the righteous and upright in heart. That is why cleansing our hearts through the confession of sin is so important; it makes it possible for us to receive all the blessings of God (see 1 John 1:9).

PSALM 33

1–5 This psalm is a song of praise to God for His unfailing love (verses 5,18,22), which is manifested both in His creation of the earth (verses 6–11) and in His selection of Israel to be His covenant people (verses 12–19).

In verses 1–3, the psalmist calls the people to praise the Lord in song (Ephesians 5:19–20). He urges the people to sing a new song (verse 3), a song that reflects a new appreciation of God’s goodness—a fresh song praising God for fresh mercies.

Verses 4–5 give the reason why we should praise the Lord: He is faithful, righteous and just; above all, His unfailing love fills the earth. God is love (1 John 4:7–10,16).

6–11 Here the psalmist praises God the Creator. By His word God created the universe (verse 6); His “word” was the instrument of creation (see Genesis 1:3,6,9,14,24). God gathers the waters like a farmer stores up his oil and grain (verse 7). God not only made the universe but He also maintains it. No nation or people can oppose Him; He thwarts their plans and purposes 82 (verse10). Only God’s plans and purposes stand firm forever (verse 11). Therefore, let all the earth fear the LORD (verse 8).

12 Here the psalmist meditates on God’s election of one nation out of all the nations of the world. We have seen that no nation can stand against God’s sovereign will (verse 10); therefore, the nation that God has especially chosen as His own inheritance—His own possession (Exodus 19:5–6; 34:8–9; Deuteronomy 4:20)—is a blessed nation indeed. Its people are under God’s covenant protection; therefore, they do not need to fear the ungodly nations around them.

13–19 God watches all who live on earth (verse 14); they are His creation; He forms the hearts of all (verse 15). No one can be saved by human means alone: armies, warriors and horses cannot provide deliverance (verses 16–17). Only God can deliver from death and famine—from destruction of the soul and destruction of the body (verse 19). And God will deliver those who fear Him; His eyes are on them—His loving care protects them (verse 18). And God does this for His chosen people, His covenant people, because of His unfailing love for them.

20–22 In these final verses, the psalmist speaks on behalf of God’s covenant people, Israel—and by extension, on behalf of all those who place their trust in Israel’s Messiah, Jesus. These verses sum up the relationship between God and His covenant people. We the people hope, rejoice, trust—and, we must add, obey (verses 20–21); God, for His part, promises us His unfailing love (verse 22). God’s love embraces all His other blessings; if we rest in His love, we need nothing more. The greatest manifestation of God’s love was the giving of His own Son that we might not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16; 1 John 4:9).

PSALM 34

1–3 According to the title, David wrote Psalm 34 shortly after he escaped from the Philistine king, Abimelech,83 by pretending to be insane (see 1 Samuel 21:1015). The account of this event in 1 Samuel gives the impression that David escaped by his own cleverness; but here in Psalm 34, David clearly gives the credit for his escape to God, and he praises Him for it. David does not boast in himself but in the LORD (verse 2)—a teaching later repeated by Jeremiah and the Apostle Paul (Jeremiah 9:23–24; 1 Corinthians 1:31).

4–7 In these verses, David describes how he sought the LORD and received an answer: deliverance (verse 4). This poor man (David) called and was heard, and he was saved . . . out of all his troubles (verse 6). David’s experience is similar to that of any “poor” (needy) person who depends on God alone to deliver him.

David was delivered from all his fears (verse 4). Notice that David did not seek to get rid of his fears; he sought the Lord. It’s only by finding the Lord that we can be delivered from fear. The Lord does not promise that we won’t have fears and troubles in this life, but He does promise to deliver us from them—if we seek Him. Fears and troubles are often the very things that drive us to the Lord. Therefore we can give thanks for such troubles, because through them we find the Lord, our Deliverer.

In verse 7, David attributes his deliverance to the angel of the LORD, who encamps around (accompanies) all who fear Him. The angel David has in mind may represent the Lord Himself, or it may be a messenger or guardian angel whom the Lord has sent to watch over His people.84

8–10 David invites us to experience for ourselves what he has experienced of the Lord’s goodness. If we fear Him and seek Him, we shall lack no good thing (verse 10). These verses are equivalent to Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:33: “. . . seek first [God’s] kingdom . . . and all these things will be given to you as well.”

11–16 Here David has some teaching of his own to give—inspired by the Holy Spirit. He starts with teaching the fear of the LORD (verse 11), for it is the beginning of knowledge85 (Proverbs 1:7). Then he gives some general instruction about leading a righteous life: speak rightly, turn from evil, do good, and seek peace (see Matthew 5:9; James 3:18). Those who live this way can count on the Lord to punish those who do evil86 (verse 16). Here again we see the choices laid out for us: if we lead a life according to God’s word, we will live and see many good days (verse 12); if we do not, we shall die (see Deuteronomy 30:15–20 and comment).

17–22 In these verses, David describes the kindness of God toward the righteous and toward the brokenhearted (verses 17–19). Nowhere does David (or the Bible) promise that the righteous will be free of trouble. What David does teach is that God will be present with the righteous in their troubles, and that in due time He will deliver them from their troubles.87

PSALM 35

1–3 David wrote this psalm during a period of great difficulty. He had fallen into some kind of distress and, as a result, his enemies began to gloat (verse 26); they slandered him and mocked him (verses 15–16), and plotted his ruin (verse 4). So David turned to God, asking Him to fight against his enemies (verse 1). David is saying, in effect, that his enemies are God’s enemies because David is God’s servant (verse 27). In verse 3, he asks God: Say to my soul (my very self), “I am your salvation (your Deliverer).” David is appealing to God the divine Warrior,88 asking Him to come to his aid and vindicate him by defeating his enemies.

4–10 The rest of the psalm consists of three petitions directed to David’s warrior God; David concludes each petition with a vow to praise his God (verses 9–10,18,28).

In this first petition (verses 4–10), David asks that the angel of the LORD might drive away his enemies (see Psalm 34:7). Let David’s enemies be entangled with the same net they had laid for him (verse 8); in other words, let them suffer the same fate they had planned for David (see Deuteronomy 19:18–19). David is not showing personal malice here; he has no desire to take personal revenge on his enemies. He is leaving the matter in God’s hands. He is calling on God to judge the wicked and defend the innocent. Here David, as God’s servant, is praying according to God’s will; in asking God to vindicate him, David is essentially asking God to vindicate Himself.89

11–18 In the second petition, David reveals the particular wickedness of his attackers: he had previously shown them great friendship by fasting and mourning for them when they were ill (verses 1314); now they were repaying David evil for good (verse 12). Betraying the love and kindness of a friend is one of the worst forms of evil. Apparently God was “slow” to answer David this time; David says: O Lord, how long will you look on without acting? (verse 17). But in anticipation of the Lord’s deliverance, David vows to thank God publicly in the great assembly, the worshiping community of Israel (verse 18).

19–28 A third time, David describes the evil activities of his enemies and asks God to bring judgment upon them. They have falsely accused him—and without reason90 (verses 19–20). Their gloating and mocking are particularly galling. “Aha!” they say; “With our own eyes we have seen it—David’s downfall” (verse 21).

But David still has some friends, and when he is finally vindicated they will shout for joy and gladness (verse 27). And David himself will praise God all day long (verse 28).

PSALM 36

1–4 David has received an oracle concerning the wicked (verse 1). In Scripture, an oracle is usually a revelation from God; in this case, God has given David some insight into the character and behavior of wicked people. In these verses, David gives us a standard description of the wicked, the ungodly, who have no fear of God. They may believe God exists, but they don’t believe He matters. They are atheists in practice rather than in theory.

It’s easy to recognize wickedness—in others! But it’s not so easy to recognize it in ourselves. David says concerning the wicked person: . . . in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin (verse 2). This is true not only of the wicked but of believers as well. We too can “flatter” ourselves, thinking we are godly; but, in fact, we harbor undetected sin in our hearts (see Jeremiah 17:9). This is why it is so important for us to ask God, as David did: Search me, O God, and know my heart . . . See if there is any offensive way in me (Psalm 139:23–24).

5–9 Here David praises God for His love and faithfulness (verse 5) and for His righteousness and justice (verse 6). God’s blessings flow out like a river of delights (verse 8); the Apostle John used this image to describe the blessings flowing from the throne of God and Christ in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 22:1–2). And David says that the fountain of life is with God (verse 9); this is the living water that Jesus offers to all those who come to Him (John 4:10,13–14). David adds that God is the source of light, and in His light we ourselves see light—that is, we experience the divine light which gives us life in all its fullness. John wrote concerning Jesus: In him was life, and that life was the light of men (John 1:4). The source of both light and life is God—Father and Son.

10–12 In verse 10, David indicates that God’s love is extended to those who know Him, and that His righteousness benefits those who are upright in heart. Does this mean that God has no love for anyone else?

God displays two levels of love: first, He loves all of His creation in a general sense; He blesses both the righteous and the unrighteous with the general blessings of life, sun and rain (Matthew 5:44–45). But in addition, He extends a special love to His covenant people—that is, to all true believers—and this is the love that David is referring to in verse 10. As for God’s righteousness, it brings rewards to the upright but punishment to the wicked; they are thrown down, not able to rise (verse 12).

PSALM 37

1–6 In this psalm, David gives us instruction concerning the wicked and the righteous, and he tells us how the righteous should respond to the wicked people they encounter.

David begins by telling us not to fret because of evil men (verse 1). Many of us become upset when we see evil people prospering at the expense of their neighbors—especially if we are the neighbor! We experience the negative emotions of anger, resentment, envy and self-pity; to use David’s word, we fret. But these negative emotions are extremely harmful to us; they undermine our faith and lead us to sin—both in action and in attitude.

Instead of harboring these negative and sinful emotions, David says: Trust in the LORD and do good (verse 3). The Apostle Paul wrote: Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good (Romans 12:21). When we encounter evil, let us focus on the Lord and on doing His will, and He will give us the desires of [our] heart91 (verse 4). Jesus taught the same thing when He said, “. . . seek first [God’s] kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).

What should we do when we begin to “fret”? David tells us: Commit your way to the LORD (verse 5). This means: submit to His will. This is the hardest part of trusting God. The Apostle Peter wrote: Humble yourselves . . . under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety (your fretfulness) on him because he cares for you (1 Peter 5:6–7).

7–11 Part of committing our way to the Lord is being still before Him and waiting patiently for Him (verse 7). It’s easy to say, “Be ‘still’ before the Lord—‘rest’ in Him”—until something comes up in our lives that upsets us. But our “resting” in the Lord does not depend on our external circumstances; it depends on our inward relationship with God. This is one reason it is so important to maintain a close relationship with God: when turmoil comes into our lives, we can immediately find rest in Him.

The opposite of being “still” is to fret, and David tells us: do not fret; fretting leads only to evil (verse 8). Fretting (worrying) arises from our determination to have our own way; instead of submitting to God’s will, we insist on doing our will. Fretting and worrying also arise from a lack of faith, and whatever does not come from faith is sin (Romans 14:23). For a Christian, then, fretting and worrying always lead to sin. The moment we are tempted to fret or worry, we must cast ourselves on the Lord and wait patiently for Him (verse 7).

Apart from the sin involved, there is another reason we should not fret: there is no need to! This is especially so when our fretting has been caused by evil men; such men will not prosper forever, but will soon be cut off, destroyed (verses 9–10). However, those who hope in the LORD will inherit (possess) the land—the “promised land” of Canaan (verse 9). In David’s mind, the “land” meant Canaan. But when David’s descendant Jesus came, He taught that those who hope in the Lord—the meek (verse 11)—will inherit not just Canaan but the whole earth92 (Matthew 5:5). Along with “inheriting the land,” God’s people will enjoy great peace (verse 11). Here the word “peace” stands for all the blessings of God: fullness, security, prosperity, contentment and, above all, fellowship with Him. In view of all this, why should we fret? (see Matthew 6:25–34).

12–17 Here David further describes the fate of the wicked. The Lord laughs at them (see Psalm 2:4), for He knows their day of judgment is coming (verse 13). Considering the eventual fate of the wicked, it’s much better to have little with godliness than to have wealth without godliness (verse 16); on the day of judgment, our wealth will do us no good (see Luke 12:16–21).

18–22 The inheritance of the blameless (the righteous) will endure forever, that is, from generation to generation (verse 18). The Lord blesses the righteous and curses the wicked (verse 22), just as Moses said (Leviticus Chapter 26).

23–26 The Lord makes a righteous person’s steps firm (verse 23); that doesn’t mean, however, that a righteous person will never stumble (verse 24). We do stumble, we are tempted, we worry and fret; but the hand of God upholds us and we do not fall93 (verse 24).

In verse 25, David says: I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. It is true that in this life the righteous are never completely forsaken and their children should never need to beg for bread. But it is also true that the righteous may go through long periods of severe hardship, deprivation, adversity, suffering. However, though their earthly trials may be severe, their heavenly reward will far outweigh their trials94 (see Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16–17).

27–33 In order to enjoy the blessings promised to the righteous, one must live a righteous life. Turn from evil and do good (verse 27). God’s covenant promises to us as individuals are conditional; if we obey God’s commands, we will receive what is promised (see Exodus 19:5–6; Psalm 16:58 and comments). God has promised us the land forever—that is, a full and blessed life for ourselves and for our children after us (verses 27,29). David may also be suggesting here that the righteous will live “forever”—even after death (see Psalms 6:4–5; 16:9–11 and comments).

34–40 In this final section, David repeats many of his earlier thoughts. It is the Lord who grants salvation95 (deliverance) to the righteous (verse 39); the Lord delivers them because they take refuge in him (verse 40).

As we reflect on this beautiful psalm and on the blessings of the righteous described here, let us remember that these blessings foreshadow the even greater blessings offered to us through faith in Christ. The nation of Israel is a forerunner of Christ’s universal Church; the land of Canaan is a forerunner (a type) of our heavenly home, the New Jerusalem; the salvation of which David speaks (verse 39) is a foretaste of our eternal life with God in heaven (Revelation 21:1–4). The blessings promised to the righteous in the Old Testament are great indeed, but they are not to be compared with the eternal blessing we have received through faith in Jesus Christ.

PSALM 38

1–8 David wrote this psalm during a period of intense suffering brought on by some sin he had committed. His suffering was both psychological and physical; sin can certainly result in both forms of suffering. Although not all suffering is the result of individual sin, David recognized that in this case sin was indeed the cause of his suffering (verse 3). And he recognized that God was disciplining him; to David, God appeared to be angry with him, and this perceived anger added to his distress96 (verse 1).

Notice that David turned to God in his distress. Our natural reaction when we sin is to run from God-which is impossible anyway! But even though we are aware that God is disciplining us we must turn to Him, just as a child turns to a parent for love and reassurance after being punished. Only God’s favor can remove His disfavor, and to receive His favor we must turn to Him.

Verses 1–8 remind us of the consequences of sin—especially unconfessed sin. In David’s case, his bones (his body) had no soundness; there was no health—neither mental nor physical—anywhere in his body (verses 3,7). David groaned in anguish of heart (verse 8). Through such suffering, God was trying to get David’s attention. Likewise we also, whenever we experience sickness or suffering, should look to God and ask Him what He is trying to say to us. Every illness, every distress in our lives should be an occasion for self-examination. Sin may not be the cause of our suffering (see Job: Introduction), but we should certainly look for it; more often than not we will find it.

9–12 David’s suffering was not only affecting his own person, but it was also affecting the people around him. His friends and neighbors were avoiding him (see Psalm 31:11–12), and his enemies were taking advantage of his distress to slander and attack him (see Psalm 35:15,22–25).

13–16 Because of his sin and its consequences, David had no answer to give to either his friends or his enemies; he remained like a man who couldn’t hear or speak. But he was counting on the Lord to answer them: I wait (in hope) for you, O LORD (verse 15).

17–22 Here David openly confesses his iniquity (verse 18); this is the first and crucial step to receiving God’s favor and forgiveness.97 But though he has sinned against God, he has not sinned against those who are attacking him; they hate him without reason98 (verse 19). In verse 20, David says they have even slandered him for doing good (see Psalm 35:12,19). Wicked people are infuriated by the good deeds of the righteous, because good deeds highlight their wickedness. David ends with an urgent plea to God for help (verses 2122), for he knows he is about to fall and cannot hold on much longer (verse 17).

PSALM 39

1–3 The background of this psalm99 is similar to that of Psalm 38: because of sin, David is being afflicted, though here we are not told the nature of the affliction. According to verses 10–11, David recognizes that the Lord is rebuking and disciplining him for some sin he has committed (see Psalm 38:1–8 and comment).

David had decided not to speak out—especially in the presence of the wicked (verse 1)—for fear he might say something that would discredit God. However, he can no longer remain silent; his anger and frustration are boiling up within him (verse 3). So he decides to speak—but only to God in prayer.

4–6 David’s affliction has revealed to him not only his sinfulness but also the shortness of his life on earth. He asks God how much longer he has to live (verse 4). He acknowledges that even in the best circumstances man’s life is but a breath (verse 5). In verse 6, David describes the futility of life: man is a phantom—here today, gone tomorrow (see James 4:13–15). He heaps up wealth, but in the end someone else gets it (Luke 12:13–21).

7–11 “But now,” says David to the Lord, “I know that apart from you there is no meaning to life. My hope is in you” (verse 7). David’s affliction has brought him, not to despair, but to a renewed hope in God. “Save me from all my transgressions, from the guilt of my sins,” David asks God (verse 8); hoping in God, David asks to be forgiven. He knows it is God who has caused his affliction: “. . . you are the one who has done this” (verse 9). But still he asks God to remove His scourge from him, because he is overcome (verse 10).

12–13 As in Psalm 38:21–22, David ends this psalm by crying out for God’s help. In verse 12, he calls himself an alien and a stranger on the earth (see Leviticus 25:23; Hebrews 11:13; 1 Peter 2:11). Once more David asks God to stop disciplining him: “Look away from me,” David says (verse 13). David again wants to rejoice in God’s fellowship before he departs this earth.

PSALM 40

(Psalm 70:1–5)

1–5 This psalm is a prayer for help in time of distress. As with the previous two psalms, David acknowledges that the cause of his distress is sin (verse 12). In these first five verses, David praises God for His past mercies; in verses 6–10, David testifies to his own faithfulness to God. God’s mercy and David’s faithfulness then constitute the basis of his appeal for help in verses 11–17.

6–8 These are the most important verses in this psalm. Here David says that God did not desire ritual sacrifices and offerings; what He desired was obedience (see 1 Samuel 15:22). David further says that God did not require burnt offerings and sin offerings100 (verse 6). How are we to understand these statements when we know that according to Leviticus God certainly “did require” such offerings? (see Hebrews 10:8).

David, inspired by the Holy Spirit, is here looking ahead to a time when these sacrifices would no longer be required. In God’s plan, Israel’s sacrificial system was only a temporary expedient for dealing with the people’s sin; it was never meant to be a permanent solution for sin.101 Rather, the sacrifices and offerings were meant to represent the offerings of one’s own body to God (Romans 12:1). That was what God desired above all. And David knew that; that’s why in verse 7 he says to God: “Here I am, I have come.” Here David is offering himself to God to do His will; God’s law is in David’s heart (verse 8). For David—and for us—God’s law is not a collection of external rules; it is a living way that directs our lives and guides our steps. God’s law is something we must take into our hearts and live by102 (see Jeremiah 31:31–34; Hebrews 8:8–12 and comment).

9–10 Here David says that in addition to offering himself to God (verses 7–8), he also praises God in the presence of other people (see Psalm 9:1–2 and comment).

11–12 Now David is ready to offer his prayer for help (verses 11–17). Here we learn about his troubles and his sins. He is so overwhelmed by the consequences of his sins that he has lost perspective: I cannot see . . . my heart fails (verse 12).

13–17 So David cries out for help. First, in verses 14–15, he asks the Lord to deal with his enemies (see Psalm 35:22–28). Then he thinks of his people, the faithful believers who seek the Lord: may they rejoice and be glad (verse 16). But so distressed is David that his final plea is for himself: O my God, do not delay (verse 17).

PSALM 41

1–3 This final psalm of Book I deals with an illness of David resulting from some sin (verses 4,8). David starts his prayer by expressing confidence that because he has had regard for the weak (verse 1), God will therefore preserve his life and restore him from his bed of illness (verses 2–3). Having regard for the weak and caring for the poor and needy are important obligations of every godly person, and God rewards those who fulfill their obligations of mercy (see Matthew 5:7).

4–9 In these verses, David asks for mercy for himself (verse 4) and then goes on to complain about his enemies, who are taking advantage of him while he is sick. Whenever one of these enemies comes to see David, he pretends to be a friend—he speaks falsely (verse 6)—but in fact he is only gathering information with which to slander David103 (Psalm 35:11–12,15–16). Even a close friend of David, a trusted associate who once ate at his table, has lifted up his heel against David (verse 9)—that is, he has betrayed David, just as Judas betrayed Christ (John 13:18).

10–13 In verse 10, David asks God: . . . raise me up, that I may repay my enemies (verse 10). Here David is not seeking personal revenge on his enemies; that is specifically forbidden in Scripture (Deuteronomy 32:35; Romans 12:19). But David, as king of Israel, had a duty to punish wrongdoers and to purge their evil from the land. David is more concerned about God’s honor than he is about his own. Because he is God’s anointed king, those who speak against him also speak against God.

In verses 11–12, David anticipates God’s deliverance and blessing (see Psalm 23:56). Because of his integrity (see Psalm 7:8), David is assured that God will set him in His presence forever (verse 12); that is, God will not reject David but will establish his throne “forever” (2 Samuel 7:15–16)—that is, from generation to generation until the coming of Jesus Christ, whose kingdom will never end (Luke 1:30–33).

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