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A RIGHTEOUS GOD

April 17, 2016, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Keng Wan Ling (Psalm 58:1-11) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Psalms
Preached at a Bilingual (Mandarin-English, Sunday) service

Tags: Miktam

Listen to sermon recording with the play button or download with the download link. 您可点播或下载讲道录音。
About Keng Wan Ling: Deacon Keng was theologically trained in TTC, and currently serves as the worship ministry chairperson.
Bible passage (ESV) of the sermon can be found at the bottom of the page.

Title: A Righteous God
Date: 17 April 2016
Preacher: 耿婉玲姐妹

A David Psalm (The Message Translation)
1-2 Is this any way to run a country?
Is there an honest politician in the house?
Behind the scenes you brew cauldrons of evil,
behind closed doors you make deals with demons.
3-5 The wicked crawl from the wrong side of the cradle;
their first words out of the womb are lies.
Poison, lethal rattlesnake poison,
drips from their forked tongues—
Deaf to threats, deaf to charm,
decades of wax built up in their ears.
6-9 God, smash their teeth to bits,
leave them toothless tigers.
Let their lives be buckets of water spilled,
all that’s left, a damp stain in the sand.
Let them be trampled grass
worn smooth by the traffic.
Let them dissolve into snail slime,
be a miscarried fetus that never sees sunlight.
Before what they cook up is half-done, God,
throw it out with the garbage!
10-11 The righteous will call up their friends
when they see the wicked get their reward,
Serve up their blood in goblets
as they toast one another,
Everyone cheering, “It’s worth it to play by the rules!
God’s handing out trophies and tending the earth!”

A David Psalm (NIV)
1 Do you rulers indeed speak justly?
Do you judge people with equity?
2 No, in your heart you devise injustice,
and your hands mete out violence on the earth.
3 Even from birth the wicked go astray;
from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies.
4 Their venom is like the venom of a snake,
like that of a cobra that has stopped its ears,
5 that will not heed the tune of the charmer,
however skillful the enchanter may be.
6 Break the teeth in their mouths, O God;
LORD, tear out the fangs of those lions!
7 Let them vanish like water that flows away;
when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short.
8 May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along,
like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.
9 Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns—
whether they be green or dry—the wicked will be swept away.
10 The righteous will be glad when they are avenged,
when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked.
11 Then people will say,
“Surely the righteous still are rewarded;
surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

So this is David.
David is the man after God’s own heart, musician and King-to-be, the shepherd boy who played the harp to soothe the disturbed King Saul. But here, he sounds pretty angry. The words that he uses and the imagery is so strong, so vindictive, so graphic, that we can’t help but cringe. “Smash their teeth to bits”! “Let them be like grass that’s trampled!” “ Let them be like snail slime, like a miscarried fetus that never sees daylight!”

This is a type of psalms we’re not so used to; Psalms means “ Book of praises” or “book of hymns”, and we associate praises and hymns with gentle songs of thanksgiving praise. In fact, the Psalms exemplify all the ways we as humans can express our heart to God, in all seasons of life- our joys, hopes, fears, doubt, tragedies, triumphs and defeats. Anger is certainly a very real part of our human experience.

We can identify with being angry- when in this last week have you been angry? One reason we’re angry is because we’re hurt or in pain, but another may be because we have a rule that gets broken, or an expectation that isn’t met. So if someone SHOULD be nice or respectful to us, but isn’t, we get upset (that’s your rule). And if your child SHOULD obey you without questioning, we get angry (that’s your expectation). Chances are you felt angry because you weren’t being treated right.

David is angry- he is in pain, and he wasn’t being treated right- all because of Saul.

Saul used force of arms and raised the militia to seize him, driving him to hiding in caves. Some believe that even before that, Saul pursued David using law, alleging that David was a traitor; the great council and the elders, in order to curry favour with Saul, passed the bill that said David was guilty and thus an “outlawed wolf”- this meant someone that any man might kill and no man can protect.

In this Psalm, David (in his role as prophet) turns around and convicts his judges. He scolds the council for not doing right, not judging properly. They used their power for injury and oppression, they did it deliberately and carefully, and - it gets worse- they did it under the pretext of it being right by law. The government is corrupt, because their nature is corrupt. They liars, they’re malicious by nature (from birth!) and it seems nothing will work against them, neither threats or reasoning or kindness. They're like snakes that have stoppered their ears and refuse to hear the snake charmer, refuse to heed the call. They will not hear :(

David isn’t just scolding for his own sake- he’s praying not just because they are HIS enemies, but because they are enemies of God’s church and God’s people. In this, Psalms 58 is an example of an imprecatory psalms- psalms that invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon enemies.

So David says- break their teeth (don’t let them do any more harm!), let their evil plans all go to waste (like an arrow shot that just falls at their feet, like water that soaks into the ground harmlessly, like a fetus that never sees the light of the day). And let it all be done speedily, before they even know what is happening!

WHO is going to do all this? Why, God of course. Our God always is just and does what is morally correct. In this, we say that God is righteous. The Old Testament meaning of the word for “just” is “straight”, and God’s righteousness is an expression of His holiness.

Very few of us will be in the same position as David, targeted by a powerful king to be driven into hiding, and falsely judged and a hunted man. Yes, we do face situations that make us angry; but my focus today isn't on the wrongs done to us. David prayed for the people of God, the ones that God loved- do we do the same? How aware are we of what goes on beyond our own little world, and church, or even our country? And do we care? :(

David is angry because he longs for justice. David prays that God will bring about God’s justice. He is essentially praying, “Your kingdom come, your will be done . . .” (Matt 6:28).

Are we angry on behalf of those that God loves? Are we praying for God’s justice to be brought about? For His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as in heaven? God desires justice. He wants the orphan, the widow, and the sojourner (foreigner, outcast, immigrant) to be treated fairly and with kindness (Lev 19:34; Exod 22:21; Deut 10:19). That’s easy to forget or ignore when the suffering and injustice isn’t on our very doorsteps. #firstworldproblems consume us.

Just open your eyes, a casual browse through the news or Facebook will show you things.
When we read reports of the refugee situation and thousands fleeing their homeland, what is our response?

What about when we hear about...
● The actions of the ISIS and their violence, the senseless killings and all the bloodshed?
● The abduction of Nigerian schoolgirls from the school, taken away to be child brides for extremist fighters?
● The persecution of our Christian brethren in Middle East? [1]
● The plight of the Egyptian Christians? [2]
In an article i read, an Iraqi catholic leader interviewed sadly says-
“We sometimes wonder, if they kill us all, what would be the reaction of Christians in the West? Would they do something then?” In other words- do something!! Doesn't anyone care???!!
This question is heart-wrenching because I fear the answer. God cares. Do we care? We, God’s sons and daughters on earth, through whom He works, whom He has chosen to be partners in ministry? :(

[I'm excluding discussions of humanitarian work, activist effects, although those are excellent, highly commendable. Because our actions are an expression of our heart, and that's where I'm focussing on right now.]

I'm suggesting that David in this psalm models for us a response for when things in the world go wrong, when those in power are systemically and deceitfully evil. When the innocent suffer pitifully from the effects of those who are power-hungry and greedy and just plain evil.

When I read any of those reports I mentioned, I simply cannot imagine how they can carry on living, day after day. Syrian refugees, risking their lives in winter on a rickety boat with their children. Driven by? Hope! Hope for a better life, for a better future.
And here, David prays - and scolds, and curses!- with hope and conviction. Because His hope is in God, the righteous one. And he KNOWS this God is righteous, because that's crucial in Israel’s understanding of God. Indeed..

⇒ God, the rigorous, will make things right for Israel.

In the context of His relationship with the nation of Israel, God’s righteousness can be seen in how He revealed Himself to Israel, and fulfilling His covenantal promises to them. He judged Israel’s enemies (see Exo 9:27 and Ps 96:13).

In the OT, the righteousness of God and the justice of God are not secondary matters; they are a guiding principle for the people of God. When the Old Testament prophets summarise what the OT teaches about man’s conduct, it was that men should practice righteousness or justice:

(Amos 5:21-24). “I hate, I reject your festival, Nor do I delight in your solemn assemblies. 22 Even though you offer up to Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them; And I will not even look at the peace offerings of your fatlings. 23 Take away from Me the noise of your songs; I will not even listen to the sound of your harps. 24 But let justice roll down like waters And righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”

(Micah 6:6-8). 6 With what shall I come to the LORD And bow myself before the God on high? Shall I come to Him with burnt offerings, With yearling calves? 7 Does the LORD take delight in thousands of rams, In ten thousand rivers of oil? Shall I present my firstborn for my rebellious acts, The fruit of my body for the sin of my soul? 8 He has told you, O man, what is good; And what does the LORD require of you But to do justice, to love kindness, And to walk humbly with your God?

God is not interested in a legalistic keeping of the Law,we don't “make” ourselves righteous by so doing. God is interested in men
● seeking to know the heart of God and
● pleasing Him by doing that in which He delights and that which He does.
And what is the heart of God? What does He delight in? How does He wish you to take part in what He is doing?

In Genesis, God in his righteousness destroyed the towns of Sodom and Gomorrah, but He involved Abraham in it.
(Genesis 18:17-19) 17 And the LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, 18 since Abraham will surely become a great and mighty nation, and in him all the nations of the earth will be blessed? 19 For I have chosen him, in order that he may command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; in order that the LORD may bring upon Abraham what He has spoken about him”
And Abraham acted. He interceded on behalf of the righteous in these cities. And not 20, not 10 but 4 (if Lot’s wife is included) were saved. And the wicked enemies of God, perished.

A word of caution here, before we zealously and self-righteously pray in line with the psalm of vengeance. Let's not deceive yourself, and be fully aware that we ourselves are sinners, just as prone to wickedness and sinning against God.
(This sermon does not address the issue of how much we can or should take action against evil-doers. We know that David refused to strike Saul even though he later had the chance, because he said that Saul was God's anointed. But that was a fairly special situation - how can we stand by if we can do something? In the Holocaust, we hear of godly people smuggling and protecting the Jews.)
One commentator goes as far as to say we are enemies of God too and thus cannot pray this Psalm- only the truly innocent can; only Christ can pray this (Bonhoeffer).

But I think that goes too far. I choose to believe that, we like, Abraham, are called to do justice and righteousness, and part of that is to pray what we know to be God’s will. I do agree, however, that it is not for us to make judgement against the enemy on God’s behalf. We should remember who’s really in charge. God is the one who controls everything, and we need to submit, even if it tries our patience.

Back to David!
David seems confident in the destruction of these sinners, God’s enemies. He’s so sure God will do what He needs, to- then he says gleefully- (v 10)- God’s people will be glad! We’ll dip our feet in the bloody of the wicked! And we will triumphantly say- see there IS a God who judges!

I’d like to conclude by talking about how this psalm is special to David.
It’s among those few called Miktam Psalms (Ps 56-61). The root of Miktam is to stamp metal, so like an engraving or sculpture. Hence in the Septuagint, it is translated as an inscription on a column. One literal interpretation perhaps David inscribed these psalms on the rocks and caves that he often hid in.

But a more important aspect is that these prayers, these psalms, made in dark times, when we look back at it, becomes a memory engraved in our heart. So when David looks back on it,he remembers God’s love in delivering him from such a dire place.

Through these trials, David's character was refined, making him precious to God, and shaping the future ruler of Israel. (This is the other meaning of miktam-“hidden”, as in hidden treasure or a gem.) for we know that- David later reigned all over Israel, doing what was right and just for his people (2 samuel 8:15). It was in the heat and pressure of life as an outlaw in the caves and deserts of Judah, that David learnt to love God's justice.

For now, David waits. And prays. And just tries to survive.
For us, on behalf of God’s people, and the weak, for those just trying to survive, we pray for God to do what's right.

The song we sang just now says, “...for all who wait, for all who hunger, for all who prayed, for all who wander…” What is the hope for them? For the refugees? For our persecuted Christian brethens?

The Light of the World (Lauren Daigle) V2
The drought breaks with the tears of a mother
A baby's cry is the sound of love
Come†down, come down Emmanuel
He is the song for the suffering
He is Messiah
The Prince of Peace†has come
He has come, Emmanuel

The world waits for a miracle
The heart longs for a little bit of hope
O come, O come, Emmanuel.
Christ has come, the kingdom of God is here, but not fully realized. When that happens, and justice is done, then indeed the righteous will rejoice!

[1]http://www.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/27/dying-for-christianity-millions-at-risk-amid-rise-in-persecution-across-the-globe

[2]http://www.cruxnow.com/faith/2015/12/13/around-the-world-religious-persecution-is-christian-persecution/

http://ftc.co/resource-library/blog-entries/4-reasons-to-preach-imprecatory-psalms
https://faculty.gordon.edu/hu/bi/ted_hildebrandt/otesources/19-psalms/text/articles/laney-imprecatory-bsac.pdf

https://jsr.shanti.virginia.edu/back-issues/vol-12-no-1-november-2013-music-the-psalms-and-scriptural-reasoning/the-psalms-of-vengeance-dietrich-bonhoeffers-theological-interpretation-of-the-psalms/

http://brackenhurstbaptist.co.za/a-prayer-for-justice/

Psalm 58 (Listen)

To the choirmaster: according to Do Not Destroy. A Miktam of David.

58:1   Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?
    Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
  No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
    your hands deal out violence on earth.
  The wicked are estranged from the womb;
    they go astray from birth, speaking lies.
  They have venom like the venom of a serpent,
    like the deaf adder that stops its ear,
  so that it does not hear the voice of charmers
    or of the cunning enchanter.
  O God, break the teeth in their mouths;
    tear out the fangs of the young lions, O LORD!
  Let them vanish like water that runs away;
    when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted.
  Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime,
    like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.
  Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
    whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!
10   The righteous will rejoice when he sees the vengeance;
    he will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.
11   Mankind will say, “Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
    surely there is a God who judges on earth.”

(ESV)