Friday, August 10, 2018
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms - 17
Scratching the Surface of the Psalms
“Nobody Likes Chest-Beaters”
Psalm 17 is tough to swallow.
Unlike Psalm 51 that we’ll get to in the second term of our President or first term of his successor, this psalm comes off rather holier-than-thou.
While most commentators can’t tag this psalm to a particular circumstance or moment in David’s life, it must have been written while he was riding high in the saddle; definitely before God confronted him through Nathan about his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband Uriah to enable their coupling.
Unlike many scholars who have painted this psalm as a confessional struggle with sin, my assessment is it’s not one of his finer moments pero an over-the-top auto-suggestion of self-righteousness, self-justification, and rationalizing judicial argument that David deserves the gracious attention of God.
The faithful yet-still-flawed-in-his-humanity-not-immune-to-original- sin-or-the-instinct-to-sin-no-matter-how-tight-with-God psalmist appears to be beating his chest like the fellah that drew Jesus’ disdain: “God, I thank You that I’m not like other people…I don’t dance. I don’t chew. I don’t go with girls who do.”
Listen to his pride-filled claims: “God, you have tested me. You have found nothing evil in me. I have avoided the sinful ways of others. I follow Your lead in everything. I’ve not slipped up. I’m a really good guy. I deserve Your respect and reward.”
A few analogous lines forwarded to me by Gerry Larson come to mind: “Here’s an ironic double standard…The judges who said we don’t need to stand up for the national anthem expect us to stand up when they enter the room. What do you suppose would happen if a judge came into the courtroom and everyone took a knee?”
David’s deluded sense of being thaaaaaaat much better than everybody else and warranting God’s favor must have made God want to gag: “So I call on You, God, and expect You to display the wonders of Your faithful love to me. I am the apple of Your eye. I know You will protect me from my enemies because I am so much better than them.”
Psalm 17 sounds like someone trying to convince God that he deserves credit for what he’s doing so well for the Kingdom and may not even need a Savior because he’s doing such a good job of saving himself.
Nobody likes chest-beaters who like to boast about how much more they’re doing for God than anybody else and how much better they are than anybody else and blah, blah, blah.
According to the Bible, God isn’t real fond of them either: “God lifts up the humble and brings down the proud.”
You know the kind.
They’re the ones who strut around churches as if nobody knows and loves and serves Jesus as much as they do.
They’re the politicians, pastors, professors, moms, dads, sons, daughters, and all the rest who are always telling us how much more they do than anybody else for Him and us and civilization.
They’re so much better than everybody else.
They’re so much more deserving of affirmation, applause, affection, accolades, and adulation.
I mean, really, they act as if God should be honored to have them on His team.
They’re so pure and perfect in every way; except, uh, for pride and pride is a deadly sin because it deludes us into thinking that we may not really need any help or grace or mercy because there’s nothing really to forgive because we’re never wrong and never need to confess and repent and praise God for salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.
Really, who needs God in Jesus as enabled by the Holy Spirit when you’re doing fine on your own?
I think of the elder who always came to my study at least once a week to tell me how great she is compared to, uh, everybody else.
She’d come in and rip on him and her and everybody while reminding me of all that she does for the church.
Well, one day, a bad and cranky day for me for some reason, I just interrupted, “You always tell me how awful everybody else is in the church; and I’ve been thinking that you probably tell people how awful I am and how great you are when you’re out of earshot.”
She turned redder than a Cornhusker’s jersey.
She said, “I guess you don’t think I should be an elder anymore.”
I said, “Not unless you stop judging people and start loving them. Besides, I know you. You’re like everybody else. You’ve got sins that are secret as well as this prideful one. You need Jesus to save you just as much as me and everybody else.”
Come to think of it, that’s the last conversation that we ever had.
Chest-beaters feel entitled and like to be enabled not humbled.
That’s why so many of them are causing anything but heaven around them while strutting down the path to…
Nobody likes chest-beaters.
God loves them and wants to save them; but it’s hard to save people who don’t think they need to be saved.
Carrie Fisher aka Princess Leia of Star Wars fame was right on: “There’s no room for demons when you’re self-possessed.”
For the most part, that’s how Psalm 17 comes across until the last verse: “But I will see Your face in righteousness…I will be satisfied with Your presence.”
Simply, when we’re praying and laboring and trying and wanting to be right with God, we see Him.
It’s like Jesus said in the beatitude, “Blessed are the pure in heart because they see God.”
It’s like Samuel explained the difference between Saul and David: “God wants a man after His own heart.”
It has nothing to do with being pure and perfect in every way.
It has everything to do with praying and laboring and trying and wanting to be right with God.
It has everything to do with praying and laboring and trying and wanting to be increasingly perfecting according to God’s enfleshed Word in Jesus and explained Word in Holy Scripture.
It has everything to do with knowing no one becomes so good that they don’t need salvation by grace through faith in Jesus.
When we’re like the David of Psalm 17:15 and not the preceding verses, we see God.
That’s when we feel and experience God.
When that happens, we’re like David and everyone else who has ever humbled themselves before God as sovereign Father, saving Son, and sustaining Holy Spirit: “I am satisfied in Your presence.”
Or as Augustine confessed for all of us, “You are great, O Lord, and greatly to be praised. Great is Your power and to Your wisdom, there is no limit…You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they rest in You.”
Nobody, including God, likes chest-beaters because they’re liars: “If we say we have no sin, we are lying and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us, cleanse us, and save us.”
Everybody, except for the children of darkness and their lord, likes the humble who know they need Jesus to save them as much and no more or less than anybody else.
The good news is God likes the humble who know and say and act like they need Him here and now and forever.
The last word comes from Jesus on that: “You will be judged by God in the same way you judge other people…The measure you give will be the measure that you get…The merciful receive mercy. The forgiving are forgiven.”
If so, so.
If not, not.
I guess it all comes down to this.
It’s better to be lifted up by Jesus than be knocked down and out of the saddle by…ourselves.
Blessings and Love!
Shatter the sound of silence!
Wake up! Look up! Stand up! Speak up! Act up for Jesus!
Salt! Shine! Leavenate!