120 - Trust Only in God [b]
Trust Only in God
Matthew 21:1–10; Psalm 118:1–9
Matthew Lesson #120
May 22, 2016
“Father, we are so grateful that we have this opportunity in a free country to study Your Word, that we have fairly accurate translations of Your Word before us. We have our own copies; in many cases many copies. We have more available to us for our spiritual sustenance than we can ever imagine and more than any generation in the history of this Church Age.
Yet Father, so often we take this for granted, we do no utilize it, we do not spend our time studying it, and yet again and again the Scriptures talk about the fact that we’re to meditate upon Your Word day and night. We are to focus on Your Word, we’re to study it, we’re to learn it, we’re to read it.
Father yet we get so easily distracted by our own sins and we get easily distracted by the details of life. Father, we need to be challenged to focus our attention upon Your Word and make it a priority.
Father, as we study today we pray that we might be encouraged and strengthened in our day-to-day walk and that Your Word will become more clearly powerful for us and that we might come to understand how all of the pieces of Your Word clearly fit together; how the Old Testament is the foundation to understand the New Testament, and how the New Testament is the fulfillment of that which was laid down in the Old. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”
Open your Bibles with me to Psalm 118. Today we’ll probably just get down to verse 21. This is a 29-verse psalm. It takes some time to go through this. Starting in verse 22 is where we really see the verses that are quoted, that are cited in Matthew 21.
Matthew 21 begins the last week of our Lord in His non-resurrected humanity leading up to the Cross. It’s a very significant week, and there are many things that happen during that particular week.
So we’re taking our time to go through this. It may be several months. The chronology of the period is enough to make any bowl of spaghetti look like it’s one straight line. It is extremely difficult to put together all of the details of the chronology, and I don’t know any three people who agree. If you think you know it, you haven’t studied it enough. So we will take some time and go through some of that when we get there.
But what we see in Matthew 21 is a basic structure orienting on the presentation of Jesus as the King of Israel to the population that is in Jerusalem.
It is the beginning of the week of Pesach. It’s two or three days before Passover begins and because of that, there are enormous crowds that are beginning to arrive in Jerusalem, for it is one of three feast days that are mandated by the Torah, by the Law, for all Jewish males to come and be present at the temple in Jerusalem.
This is a crucial time. The Lord is presented as the King. And we see in verses 1–17 of Matthew 21 the formal presentation of the King. As we look at this we can break it down into some subsections.
In verses 1–7 we see how the Lord is preparing the circumstances for His presentation. He sends out the disciples to find the foal, the colt of a donkey, and this is prepared for Him to ride into Jerusalem.
In verses 8–11 we see the description of His entry into Jerusalem, and as He does so, the crowds sing from Psalm 118:24–26. They sing, “Hosanna to the Son of David. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!”
That is a quote from this psalm, and we need to understand why they are singing this. What is the significance of this?
As a result of their celebration, the crowds ask who this Jesus is, why are they celebrating. In verses 12–16 of Matthew 21, He begins to demonstrate His Messianic credentials by cleansing the temple, healing the blind and the lame. This sets off a negative reaction among the scribes and the chief priests.
Then in verses 17 through 22:46 the Lord begins to demonstrate His Messianic credentials. Here we have just a brief outline here on screen.
This confrontation between Jesus as the Messiah and the religious leaders then develops into a condemnation by Jesus of the religious leaders. They reject Him as the Messiah, and He then rejects the nation. This will culminate in a statement at the end of Matthew 23, where He says that He will be leaving, but He will not return until people say, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
As we look at this, we see that Psalm 118 is a crucial background text for understanding this entire period from the entry into Jerusalem to the last night when He celebrates the Seder, the Passover meal, with His disciples before He leaves to go out.
Let me point out the background on this:
Psalm 118:26 is quoted and sung by the crowds as they welcomed Jesus in His triumphal entry into Jerusalem. They sing that, and it’s quoted in Matthew 21:9 “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!”
Psalm 118 is again quoted by Jesus as He denounces the religious leaders in Matthew 21:42, and He says, “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes.”
Then He again quotes from Psalm 118 in Matthew 23:39. He quotes from Psalm 118:26, and this is when He announces that He will not return until they say, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” That is probably on Tuesday or Wednesday.
Then on probably, depending on whether you hold to a Friday crucifixion or Thursday crucifixion, the night before He goes to the Cross, as He celebrates the Lord’s Table or the Seder meal, and He reinstitutes it as the Lord’s Table. When they conclude the Lord’s Table, they will sing from Psalm 117 and 118. So they are singing, as I pointed out last time, “Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, to the horns of the altar.”
Then they walk out, and they go to Gethsemane where Jesus will be arrested, and then He’ll be taken and tried.
And then He will become the ultimate Passover sacrifice for our sins.
So these events and this psalm not only bracket the events of the last week, but it is quoted several times in between. This is significant.
Last time we did a basic introduction to Psalm 118 and why it’s important, because when you come to any passage in the New Testament that quotes Old Testament passages, we need to go back and understand why it is that this passage is being quoted.
Why is it that they are singing this? What is that significance, and why does Matthew think it’s important for us to know that?
In terms of a little review, I want to remind you of a couple of things we concluded last week.
- First of all, Psalm 118 is the last of a set of psalms that are referred to as the “Hallel Psalms.” Hallel is the Hebrew verb for praise.
Hallelu, that “U” at the end is a second-person-plural-ending indicating it’s a command: “Y’all praise.” Then when you add an object to that, and you’re saying “Praise God,” that’s Hallelujah. We don’t praise God, as I pointed out last time, by saying “Praise God.” We don’t praise God by saying “Hallelujah” because those are basically commands to praise God.
If you want to learn how to praise God, then you study the Hallel Psalms 113–118. You study other praise-thanksgiving psalms in the Scripture. What you learn is that the way to praise God is to describe what God has done for you, how God has delivered and provided for you, and you spell out the details and make it specific. You don’t just make these sort of generic statements.
Sadly, we live in a world today where we have become so superficial that we dumb-down the Scriptures and we dumb-down our worship, so it basically doesn’t become very significant or relevant.
- Second point is that in the original context, this is a psalm that would have been sung by a procession of people being led to worship by a political or religious leader as they ascended up to the Temple Mount.
It is written to celebrate God’s deliverance of Israel from a period of severe divine chastening, as the New King James translates it, or a time of severe divine discipline, which threatened the very existence of the nation.
Even though is doesn’t specify exactly what the situation is, there are only two or three times in the Old Testament where Israel’s very existence is at stake.
This probably relates to the fact that this is a post-exilic psalm and is referring to their deliverance from the exile and restoration to the land of Israel.
- The third thing that we saw was that this is a communal thanksgiving psalm. This is a song that is not sung by an individual about an individual deliverance by God, but the individual, as the leader of the nation, is talking about himself with the first-person-singular “I” or “me,” but is a representative of the nation. He is not talking about God’s work in his life as an individual, but God’s work in delivering the nation as a whole from the threat of death and total destruction.
It is a thanksgiving psalm, and there are five basic elements that you find in any thanksgiving psalm:
- The first is that there is a proclamation or a call to praise God or to give thanks to God. Some translations indeed will translate the opening line “Give thanks to the Lord” as “Give praise to the Lord” because in the view of some, “giving thanks to the Lord” is because thanks is a form of praise, that is how they translate it.
The 1986 version of the Tanakh, the Jewish translation of the Hebrew Scriptures translates it that way. Literally, the word is yadah which means to give thanks.
So it’s a thanksgiving psalm. That’s a class of declarative praise, in the first four verses call people to praise God.
- Then there’s an introductory summary. We find that in verses 5–7. This summarizes a little bit about the circumstances and situation out of which this praise will come.
- Then there’s a part of the deliverance, how God answered prayer, how God delivered the people. This description is found in verses 10–18.
- Then there’s often a vow of praise or a renewed vow of praise, and we find that in verses 19–28.
- Finally, there is often a form of praise or instruction that comes out of what the psalmist has learned from God’s deliverance.
It is always part of instruction. We often talk about the Law when we talk about the Old Testament. We talk about the first five books of Moses, often referred to as Torah. One of the meanings of Torah is, of course, Law. It describes the Law of Moses.
But another insignificant meaning to the word Torah is simply instruction. So you always have something related to instruction or application in these praise psalms. It’s not just about praising God, but there’s also statement of what the psalmist has learned in this circumstance and situation as God has provided deliverance.
These are the elements that we find in any thanksgiving psalm, and we find all of these elements in this particular psalm.
- A fourth thing we observe was that we don’t know who wrote it. We’re not absolutely certain as the circumstances we have to understand that from what is said within the text—and I’ll make that clear as we go through—we don’t know who wrote it, but it is obviously written by someone who is a political or religious leader of the Israelites.
Since it is after the exile, this could be Zerubbabel who is the political leader of Judah, and he the political heir of David. But he is not a king at that point.
They do not have a king when they return from the exile in Babylon. They only had an appointed governor. Yet it seems to be a political ruler that is representing the people and calling them to praise.
- Then a fifth thing we saw is that the occasion for this psalm is God’s deliverance of the people from a time of severe divine discipline.
If you look down in verse 18, it says that “the Lord has chastened me” in the NKJV, “disciplined me severely” in the NASB.
This is the circumstance. It’s a severe chastening. And only a few events in Israel’s history reflect a severe chastening that brought about an existential crisis.
We’ll begin by looking at the call to praise, the call to give thanks to God in Psalm 118 verses 1–4, which begins in verse 1, “Oh, give thanks to the Yahweh.”
Whenever we see that upper case “LORD,” we are reminded that this is a translation of the sacred tetragrammaton, the four letters that refer to the name of God in the Hebrew yhwh, usually pronounced Yahweh, mistranslated many centuries ago as Jehovah. The way it’s written in Hebrew, there are no vowels. So all you have is a yhwh.
The “Y” is often transliterated into English and “J”, so that’s where you get the “J”. The “W” is usually translated as a “V”. In fact, in Hebrew the “W” is often pronounced as a “V.” So that’s where you get the “J” and the “V,” the jhvh.
In the Hebrew text, Jews do not read the name of God. So whenever they see the name of God Yahweh, they either say HaShem, “the name,” or the vowel points that were put into the text later on are the vowels in Hebrew for the word Adonai; that was to remind them to read Adonai rather than to say Yahweh.
In the late Middle Ages a monk who was translating the text translated it wrongly or transliterated it wrongly as “Jehovah,” adding the vowels. The vowels come from one word, and the consonants come from another word.
Jehovah is not the name of God. It’s not even a biblical word. It was something that was just invented by mistake by a monk in the Middle Ages.
But the significance of this word is that it is always associated with God’s covenant promises to Israel, His covenant obligations to Israel; so when we read this in the background, there’s always a focus on God’s covenant faithfulness to Israel. And so the call to worship is to give thanks to the Lord.
We read as you look at these four verses, there’s a statement in the first stanza of each verse, followed by the same line. Each verse has as the second stanza “for His loving kindness is everlasting.”
These verses were probably sung antiphonally by the temple choir, so that one part would sing the first line, and then another part of the choir would sing the second line antiphonally.
We often see something similar to that in the hymns that we sing in our hymn book. If you can read music, it’s always good, you recognize the chorus of many of the hymns that we sing that there is an echo line or a descant in the chorus that’s sung by the men, and it’s really beautiful if the congregation understands the distinction between the women’s part and the men’s part.
We sing “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name,” a beautiful echo there between the male voices and the female voices, but you have to understand that’s why we have a choir to help lead that, so that men can key off of the men’s voices in the chorus and the women can key off of the women’s part in the chorus. There are a number of different hymns that are that way, and we need to work on that.
Sadly, or unfortunately, I think that in some of the hymns as they’ve been rewritten a little bit or re-edited a little bit, the parts have changed a little bit. For many of us who learn the more traditional break down, what happens is you see in a little more, it’s not contemporary, what’s happened is that in order to avoid copyright issues, somebody rewrites the descant a little bit, and now it’s a new edition, and they don’t have to deal with copyright issues.
So it’s better to be consistent, and I like a lot of the older vocalizations better anyway, so we need to work on that in getting that a little more consistent.
But our take away from this is that this psalm as a declarative praise psalm is a psalm that relates to giving thanks for God’s deliverance in a specific historical space-time situation. It’s not for just any general act of God or generic deliverance, but for something that happened specifically on behalf of the people.
So it’s looking back as a historical psalm. It’s looking back to this specific incident. But that specific incident has certain aspects to it that are used in the New Testament because they are a picture or a type of something that is going to happen in the future.
We see an example of this from Matthew 2 where Hosea 11:1 is quoted. In Hosea 11:1 we read, “When Israel was a child, I loved him”—God is the speaker—“I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.”
This is a verse that is referring to a specific historical event. If you look at the whole context of Hosea 11, it’s talking about a historical situation that occurred in 1446 BC when God delivered or rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. He called them out as His first-born son.
Matthew quotes that as a type—that it is a picture, or foreshadowing of something that would happen in the life of the Messiah. So he quotes that and says that this was “fulfilled which was spoken by the Lord through the prophet saying, ‘Out of Egypt I called My Son.’ ”
Hosea 11:1 isn’t a prophecy, but it’s a picture of something that will happen in the future and is applied to the life of Christ, so we have this same kind of thing here.
Psalm 118 is talking about a historical event, historical circumstance, but there are things about that that are then taken as a picture of something that will happen in terms of a future deliverance provided by the Messiah. So this is a psalm that is a Messianic psalm and has much significance for the life of the Messiah.
Some key things that we need to understand in this psalm as we go through it is that in Psalm 118:11–13, that helps with a historical understanding there that this is a time of discipline, a time of existential crisis in the life of Israel.
When we get down to verse 22, “the stone which the builder’s rejected,” this is quoted numerous times in the New Testament and is a reference ultimately supplied to the Lord Jesus Christ, a type of the Lord Jesus Christ.
We get to another verse, verse 24, a verse that sadly is taken out of context and I think is just abused a lot. It’s used in a contemporary chorus to refer to any day that’s a nice bright sunny day and has absolutely nothing to do with that. It refers in the context to a historical event that is a type of the future return of Christ to establish His Kingdom.
It’s interesting. When I’m in a crowd like I was when I was in Israel last week with a group of Christian leaders at this event at Yad Vashem, one day somebody jumped up and led the whole bus in “This is the Day That the Lord Has Made.” As I glanced around, I knew there were six pastors on the bus who were squared away biblically.
They didn’t open their mouths. Everybody else sang it, but I noticed that those who understand the text, don’t sing that song because it’s taken out of context, and it’s not applied correctly.
So just a little note there the next time you hear someone sing that, think about what it actually means in the text. We need to be textual people, not just jump on something because it sounds good and makes us feel good.
When we get down to the cry that comes, when we get to this next week, when they call upon the Lord to save in verse 25, “Oh Lord, do save, we beseech You.”
The Hebrew word there is hoshiah-na, which again is an imperative of request. Hoshiah-na comes over into the Greek as HOSANNA, and it is a cry for God to save and deliver the people. Of course, this is why it is sung when Jesus is entering into Jerusalem.
Psalm 118:1 introduces the call to worship, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever.”
This introduces the important idea that God is good. He is intrinsically good. This is related to His righteousness. Because God is the Creator God set over against all of creation, He is good in a way that nothing else is good.
He is absolute righteousness, and therefore, all that He does is righteous—even when He disciplines us individually, even when He disciplined Israel. He had the nation destroyed by the armies of the Babylonians. He had the temple destroyed. All of that was a result of His justice and His righteousness.
He is a good God, and He is faithful to His covenant. For in Leviticus 26 and in Deuteronomy 28, God spelled out the fact that if Israel rejected Him, if they went into idolatry, went into disobedience, that whenever they did that, God would take them through various stages or cycles of judgment and discipline.
The harshest of which, the fifth cycle of discipline, would mean that God would remove the people from the land—that because of their irresponsibility, because of their disobedience, because of their failure to obey Him, they would no longer have the right to the land that God had given them. God would bring them out of the nation and take them through a time of horrific chastening.
This occurred when Nebuchadnezzar invaded Israel—twice before in 605 and 597 BC. And then the third time in 586 BC, he destroyed the temple. Hundreds of thousands of Jews were slaughtered and killed, and their children, those who survived, were taken off as slaves to Babylon.
But after God brought them back, they recognized His faithfulness, His mercy. The word translated “mercy” here—before I jump ahead here—the word translated “mercy” means His faithful covenant, His faithful love for His people.
We see this echoed in other psalms.
In Psalm 106:1, “Praise the Lord”—which is hallelujah—“Oh, give thanks to the Lord”—the same that we have in Psalm 118:1—“for He is good.”
Why do we give thanks to God? Because He is good intrinsically—“For His mercy endures forever.”
Psalm 136:1 says, “Give thanks to Yahweh, for he is good! His mercy endures forever.”
The title changes in Psalm 136:2, “Give thanks to the God of gods!”
In Psalm 136:3, it changes to “Give thanks to the Lord of lords!”
In Psalm 136:26, it’s “Give thanks to the God of heaven!”
The focus in all of these is to give us a full view of the identity of the living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Why? Because His mercy, His chesed—this is the Hebrew word. It is often translated “loving kindness,” sometimes “mercy,” but the emphasis is on His loyal love.
He is loyal to His covenant with Israel, and He is going to fulfill that which He has promised: to bless them when they are obedient and to bring discipline or judgment on them when they are disobedient.
Sometimes when you reduce love or explain love in terms of faithfulness to a covenant, people think, “Well, that’s not really loving. You’re just being faithful to a contract.”
There are a number of people here who are married. When you get married, you stand before a pastor or a judge or a magistrate or perhaps someone else who’s authorized to conduct a marriage service, and what happens? You pledge to one another that you are going to fulfill the obligations of this covenant that you are entering into in terms of your love for one another and in terms of your marriage.
That is the foundation of your relationship from that point on—is that you’ve entered into a contract with your spouse, and you have pledged that on the basis of that contract, you are going to love one another and be true to one another for the remainder of your lives. That doesn’t sound real romantic, does it?
But that’s the essence of a successful marriage—being faithful to that contract to love one another in sickness, in health, in good times, in bad times, prosperity, adversity, or whatever the situation may be, because the love is not based on something that is ephemeral or something that changes, but it is based on something that is grounded in the eternal character of God: that is, a covenant.
That is the kind of love that God has for Israel. It is the same kind of love that is to characterize a marriage.
Now as he calls upon the nation to give thanks to the Lord, he then breaks this down into three different groups within Israel:
First of all, he talks about the whole nation, “Let Israel say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ ”
Then he narrows it to the priesthood, “Let the house of Aaron now say, ‘His mercy endures forever.’ ”
And then he narrows it even more to those who fear the Lord. Not all believers fear the Lord, but those who fear the Lord are those who are focused upon living a life that honors and glorifies God. So he narrows it down to those people.
This in the introduction: the call to worship to let each one, everyone in the nation and each subset, call upon the Lord because His loving kindness is everlasting.
The cause for the praise begins to be described in Psalm 118:5. In verse 5 he says, “I called on the Lord.” I put the name Yah, the shortened form of “God” in here, because the text doesn’t use the full form. It uses simply the shortened form.
What’s interesting is the way that this is stated in the Hebrew to show the emphasis. It doesn’t say, “I called on the Lord IN DISTRESS. It says “IN DISTRESS, I called on the Lord.” The emphasis is on the circumstances, the distress.
The idea of distress, as you see in the Hebrew words that I put before, the form in the text is the noun metzar, which is usually translated “distress, trouble, adversity.” But it’s from the verb tsarar which means to bind, to be narrow, to be in distress. It literally means “I’m in a narrow place.” “I’m in a tight place.”
We say that, “I’m in a fix.” “I’m in a tight place.” “Everything seems to be closing in around me.” That’s the idea here. It’s used metaphorically. I’m in a very tight place.
What he says is that “I cried out to the Lord and the Lord set me in a wide-open place.”
In other words, he removed all of the adversity, or He lightened the load so that I no longer had the load. The circumstances might not have changed, but it changed in terms of my response to that adversity because God was taking care of me.
So the idea is that we get in a position of pressure through either external adversity, and in their situation this was the external adversity caused by the invasion of a foreign army that was going to destroy the nation. They would destroy their livelihood, destroy their homes, destroy all of their hopes and dreams, whatever was going to happen in the rest of their life was not like anything they had anticipated. They were losing everything. That external adversity was then converted into the internal pressure of stress.
The other thing that happens is we can see external adversity, and when we respond to it out of fear and anxiety and worry, then we can convert our own internal sin into stress in the soul so that we are in distress and we are no longer characterizing the Christian life.
We’re no longer relaxed. We’re not trusting God. We’re not experiencing the joy that God has for us. There’s no stability, no happiness because we’ve converted the external pressure of adversity or the internal pressure of adversity into stress in our soul.
So this is what he is talking about. He called on the name of the Lord. That is the proper response whenever we face external or internal adversity.
The solution is that Yahweh, the Lord, answers us, and only God can set us in a broad place. The circumstances may not change, but we are able to respond to the circumstances with peace.
This is seen in the Lord Jesus Christ. The night before He went to the Cross, when He’s in the Garden of Gethsemane, He is under incredible pressure. Not externally, there was nothing happening around him externally.
But because He knew what was going to happen in the next 24 hours, because He knew that what He would face in terms of the physical torment and torture, because He knew that beyond that He would face incredible pain as the sin of humanity touched and impacted judicially the perfect Lamb of God, the One who was without sin, that He would experience all of that pain and heartache from sin, that He prayed to the Father, “Let this cup pass from Me.”
The Scripture says that He faced great sorrow and emotional distress. That’s not because at that point that He has yielded to the pressure, but that is talking about just the external pressure. But the way He responds is to take it to the Lord in prayer and to trust in Him.
Jesus Christ never lost His peace. He never lost His happiness. He was perfectly happy, perfectly at peace, even though He was facing incredible external (and mostly internal at that point) distress.
We see this illustrated in a couple of different incidences in the Old Testament.
In Genesis 32:7, we’re told that as Jacob is returning to the land—remember Jacob had cheated his brother out of his inheritance. He had defrauded his brother Esau. And then Esau was breathing threats. He threatened to take his life.
So Jacob, at the advice of his mother, left town and went to live and work for his Uncle Laban for at least 14 years.
Now he’s returning to the land of his parents, and he is fearful because he’s just learned from his advance scouts that Esau is coming to meet him, and he thinks that Esau is going to kill him, and he is scared to death. That’s what the text says, “Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed.” So this kind of pressure on our soul can come from our sin nature when we respond in fear.
There’s the external source. But there’s also an internal source of this kind of adversity. He is greatly afraid and distressed.
We also see this word used in the book of Judges to describe the situation in Israel as they’re threatened by external enemies.
In Judges 2:15, “Wherever they went out, the hand of the Lord was against them”—because of their disobedience, they weren’t having victory over the Canaanites—“the Lord was against them for calamity, as the Lord had said, and as the Lord had sworn to them”—that takes us back to the Mosaic Law and the promises of Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 28—“and they were greatly distressed.”
The external circumstances were putting pressure on their souls. They’re not responding in trust to God, and internally they are falling apart and fragmented.
Judges 10:9 talks about the same kind of situation. This is just prior to the judgeship of Jephthah. “The people of Ammon”—the Ammonites – “have crossed over the Jordan to fight against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim”—this is the Northern Kingdom—“so that Israel was severely distressed.”
God’s discipline on the nation is talked about as this great distress. Now that’s important because what that helps us to understand is the backdrop to understanding and interpreting Psalm 118 correctly. It is a time of severe divine discipline on the nation.
What we see in this is that adversity is those external circumstances or the outside pressure of negative circumstances or the internal pressure of sinful thoughts and emotions on the soul. Stress develops.
Think about a stress test. You take a metal, and you form something, and then you test it, you evaluate it through a stress test. You put external pressure on it. If there’s a weakness internally, then the more pressure that’s put, it will reveal whatever cracks, whatever impurities there might be in the metal.
So the outside pressure of circumstances and the inside pressure of our sinfulness and emotions can expose those faults and cracks as we’re relying on self or circumstances rather than God.
The only way to avoid converting external adversity and distress in the soul is by using the ten spiritual skills. I’ve talked about these many times.
- First thing we have to do is recover spiritually and confess sin.
- Then we have to walk by the Holy Spirit, Galatians 5:16.
- We have to trust in God. We’ll see that emphasized here in this passage.
- We have to be oriented to God’s grace—that He’s supplied everything we need in Christ Jesus.
- We have to be oriented to what the Word of God says. The Word of God describes how we are to face and handle difficult circumstances.
- Then as we grow and we mature, we develop a personal sense of our eternal destiny. We live in light of who we’re going to be in eternity and let that impact how we think and respond today.
- We develop a personal love for God.
- We develop an impersonal love for mankind. By impersonal love, what I mean is not that this is some kind of machine-type of love, but that we don’t have to have a personal relationship with a person to demonstrate the love of God towards them.
This is the kind of love we have towards people we don’t know: people who are driving like idiots on the freeway, people who park and take up three parking places in the parking lot when everything else is full—things like that where we treat these people that we don’t know, that we don’t have a personal relationship with, we treat them with kindness and generosity exhibiting the love of God. Especially the really hard cases, those are the customer service people we have to deal with. That’s impersonal love. We don’t know the person personally.
- Then there’s occupation with Christ. We focus on who Jesus Christ is, and He is the Author and Finisher of our faith, Hebrews 12:2.
- Then +H is personal happiness, the inner happiness that Christ has given us.
Those are the spiritual skills. I’ve got a long series I’ve taught and developed on those that you can listen to.
This is what the backdrop is. Divine judgment on a nation is certainly a source of external adversity.
If you haven’t recognized it yet, we’ve been going through divine judgment in this country since about five or ten years after WWII. It’s not going to come because of failures today. What we’re experiencing in terms of many of the failures today is divine judgment.
Read Romans 1 carefully. Homosexuality and lesbianism are divine judgments. They are not the cause of divine judgment. We are seriously under divine discipline.
Instead of letting that destroy your walk with the Lord, your peace, your happiness, your stability, especially this election year, then you need to learn to relax and trust in the Lord and just let these things go by because they’re just circumstances. For us as believers, circumstances are not our source of stability, our happiness, or our joy.
We see the incorrect response to divine discipline and the distress that God brings into our lives with judgment in King Ahaz.
2 Chronicles 28:22 says, “Now in the time of his distress”—that was divine discipline on the nation—“King Ahaz became increasingly unfaithful to the Lord.”
Sometimes divine discipline just causes people to bow the neck, and they become more stubborn in their disobedience and things get worse.
But the correct response is, for example, illustrated in David in 1Samuel 30:6, “Now David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him”—this is when he had been living in Ziklag with the Philistines—“the people spoke of stoning him because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and his daughters. But David strengthened himself in the Lord his God.”
That is the source. When we’re faced with external adversity, we strengthen ourselves with the Lord our God.
Another response is in the life of Manasseh. King Manasseh of Judah had a forty-year reign, and he was one of the most evil kings in the Southern Kingdom. But God brought judgment and discipline in his life, and he turned back to the Lord towards the end of his life.
We read in 2 Chronicles 33:12, “Now when he”—that is Manasseh—“was in affliction, he implored the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.”
This word for distress is often used for the divine discipline that God would bring upon Israel, especially the fifth cycle of discipline that came to them in 586 BC.
It’s described this way in four verses in Deuteronomy 28. Let me read these to you. This is what the people went through.
(Deuteronomy 28:52–55) “They shall besiege you at all your gates until your high and fortified walls, in which you trust”—see, they’re trusting in military skill and military technology, not in the Lord—“until your gates in which you trust will come down throughout all your land, and they shall besiege you and all your gates throughout all your land which the Lord your God has given you.”
“You shall eat the fruit of your own body”—cannibalism for your own children. This is what happened both in 586 BC, and it happened again in AD 70—“you shall eat the fruit of your own body, the flesh of your sons and your daughters whom the Lord your God has given you, in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you.”
“The sensitive and very refined man among you will be hostile toward his brother, toward the wife of his bosom, and toward the rest of his children whom he leaves behind, so that he will not give any of them the flesh of his children whom he will eat”—picture that a moment. He’s cooking and eating his own children, but he’s not going to give any to anybody else—“because he has nothing left in the siege and desperate straits in which your enemy shall distress you at all your gates.”
This is what they went through.
Jeremiah 10:18, “For thus says the Lord: ‘Behold, I will throw out oat this time the inhabitants of the land, and will distress them, that they may find it so.’ ”
The point I am making is that this word for “distress” is a word that indicates this is divine judgment. All of this is to show that the context of the praise is a time of incredible distress in the nation, a time of existential crisis.
It’s not about an individual because as we see in Psalm 118:10–12, he says, “All nations surrounded me.”
Four times he says this. “All nations surrounded me.” “Yes, they surrounded me.” “They surrounded me like bees.” in verse 12.
Think of the image there—of somebody being attacked by a hive of killer bees. That’s the picture.
But see, we don’t have a group of nations surrounding and attacking an individual. He is representing the nation as a whole. Tthere’s only one time when the nation Israel is surrounded by these nations and is destroyed, and that’s in 586 BC, as they go out under divine discipline and divine judgment.
We can understand for us by way of application that when we feel hemmed in and surrounded by adversity, the only thing that will give us sustenance and deliver us is when we turn to the Lord. This is what He says in these verses.
“All nations surrounded me, but in the name”—or by the name—“of the Lord I will destroy them.”
“By the name of the Lord:” “By the name” isn’t just saying the name of the Lord—it’s not some magical incantation. What he is saying is the character of the Lord. The name of something in the Scripture relates to its attributes, it’s character. It’s in the character, “It’s in the person of the Lord that I will destroy them.”
Now notice he says three times that he will destroy them.
Verse 10, “But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.”
Verse 11, “But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.”
Verse 12, “But in the name of the Lord I will destroy them.”
This is really interesting. We know from our study of the Old Testament that Israel had quite a background of military conquests as well as military defeats. Any people who are involved in a lot of military activity have a great vocabulary for military conquests and military defeat, military tactics and military strategy, but the word that we have here that is translated “destroy” in these verses is not a military word.
The word that is translated, “I will cut them off”—that’s the NASB, is closer to an accurate translation, but again, it’s not a military term.
In fact, the term that is used here is the term mul; it is the verb, and it means to circumcise. So what he says is, “All nations surrounded me, but I will circumcise them.”
Now there are a couple of situations in Israel’s history where there was a mass circumcision.
One occurred in Shechem with a couple of Jacob’s sons, with Levi and Simeon.
Another time Sampson went out and circumcised a bunch of Philistines. David did that also, but it wasn’t really a way of achieving military victory.
We have to understand what he means here. That he’s surrounded by this adversity, but the way that God delivers them is through circumcision. “I will circumcise them.” How is that accomplished?
Deuteronomy 30:6 shows us that circumcision was not only used to describe physical circumcision, but it’s also used to describe spiritual circumcision.
Deuteronomy 30:6, “And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your descendants.” It is a spiritual circumcision, and the idiom refers to bringing about a change of mind or a change of thinking.
This is exactly what happened historically, for when Israel was taken out under captivity, it was through the Babylonians. When the Babylonians were defeated by the Persians, the Persians had a change of mind.
Through Cyrus they decided to not only restore various conquered peoples to their historical homelands, but when Cyrus gave his decree for the Jews to return to their land, he not only paid for them to go home, he paid for the rebuilding of the temple and gave them money for the rebuilding of the city.
This is the idea of a change of mind. So what the writer is saying here is that God not only restored us to the land, but He provided everything that we would need in order to go back.
What we find in the verses in between, verses 6 through 9, we see the focal point.
“The Lord is on my side: I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
“The Lord is for me.” Literally in the Hebrew here is “the Lord to me,” that’s what it reads literally. And it means the Lord’s mine; the Lord’s on my side. If you plus one, and that’s the Lord, then you can conquer anything.
“The Lord on my side: I will not fear. What can man do to me?”
“The Lord is for me among those who help me; therefore, I shall see my desire on those who hate me.”
God is going to provide justice no matter what happens.
So the Lord here is called “the Helper, the Ezer.”
In Genesis 2, God said, “It’s not good for man to be alone. I will make a helper for him.”
Feminism says that demeans women. That makes women second-class citizens. That demeans women by reducing them to the role of an assistant and a helper for the husband.
The only problem with that is that aside from the wife, the only other individual in the Bible that is described as an ezer is God. So if the woman is demeaned by being called an ezer, then God would be demeaned by being called an ezer. But again and again in the Scripture, God is our Helper. He is the One who provides for us and strengthens us. He is the One who helps us.
That doesn’t demean women by calling them a helper or an assistant, it elevates them to an exceptional and specific and important role that should not ever be demeaned or ridiculed by placing them on the level of some sort of slave. This isn’t the word for slave. This is a word for a special divinely appointed assistant.
Verses 8 and 9, we have the focal point of the resolution.
“It’s better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man.”
Too often today in this political environment, people are disappointed because they think that the solution is in a political party or an individual. But Scripture says that we never put out trust in man. We find this here in Psalm 118. We don’t put our confidence in man. It’s not in the Republican Party. It’s not in the Democrat Party. It’s not in any specific individual. They will always fail us. The only hope is in God.
The word translated “trust” is a word that means to seek protection, to seek refuge. It’s better to find our refuge and our protection and security in the Lord than to put confidence in any prince, person, or political party.
This is echoed in Psalm 56:11, “In God I have put my trust; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”
This is the lesson that’s learned from the exile, is that Israel cannot put their trust in idols, they cannot put their trust in men, they cannot put their trust in princes. They will always fail.
The lesson is the only hope in times of difficulty, in times of distress is to trust in the Lord. The confidence that comes out of this psalm, where we’ll end this morning, is that our only hope is in the Lord. He is the One who will sustain us no matter what happens, because the psalmist that writes this was born in captivity. He was born in Babylon. The circumstances of their defeat, the circumstances of their captivity, the circumstances of losing everything, were not changed by God.
What he learned was that even in the midst of the horrors of the divine judgment—and trust me, things may get much, much worse in this country—that no matter how bad it might get, God’s going to sustain us.
God’s going to provide for us, and God is going to take care of us. It’s better to trust in Him and take refuge in Him than to trust in anything else.
“Father, we thank You for this opportunity to reflect upon how You provide for us and care for us, that You are faithful to us because of what You have promised in the Scripture. Your love for us is based upon what Christ did for us on the Cross, just as your love in the Old Testament toward Israel was on the basis on the covenant that You made with them through Moses.
Father, we know that we are to trust You and not to trust in the circumstances, the situations of our lives, not to trust in political parties or princes or promises, but we are to trust in You. That no matter what circumstances may be, no matter what adversity may come in our direction, we know that You will sustain us and You will provide for us.
Father, we pray that if there’s anyone here this morning who’s never trusted in Christ as Savior, who’s never come to understand that they are born a sinner under condemnation, that the only hope for salvation, the hope for eternal life is Jesus Christ because He paid the penalty for sin. The Scripture says the way that we secure salvation is not through our works, not through our efforts. It is through a trust in Jesus Christ. Faith alone, over 85 times in the Gospel of John, the sole and only condition for salvation is trust in Him. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ,” Paul said, “and you will be saved.”
Father, we pray that you will challenge anyone who’s never trusted in Christ with their need to do so, and we pray that for those of us who have trusted Christ, that we might not forget that trust is the modus operandi of the Christian life and that we must continue to trust in You, take refuge in You, not in our circumstances, not in political leaders, not in any human or creative factor, but only in You.
We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.”