Photo by Jill Wellington on

David shows us what it looks like to have a life that is fully centered on the Lord, and on the love, security and joy that we can find only in Him.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen.

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Psalms Part 4

PSALMS #4. PSALM 16:1-11

Once again, I want us to begin by letting this psalm engage us at the level of heart and soul. Stop, and pray, and ask the Lord to engage your spirit and emotions as you read this psalm. Now read it. I have formatted it below to try and show the poetic parallels.


1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
     2 I say to the LORD, “You are my Lord;
     I have no good apart from you.”

3 As for the saints in the land, 
     they are the excellent ones,
     in whom is all my delight.

4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
     their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
     or take their names on my lips.

5 The LORD is my chosen portion and my cup;
     you hold my lot.
     6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
     indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.

7 I bless the LORD 
     who gives me counsel;
     in the night also my heart instructs me.

8 I have set the LORD always before me;
     because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
     9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
     my flesh also dwells secure.

10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.

11 You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.

This psalm is a song of praise, and also a declaration of trust in the Lord. It is attributed to David, and the apostle Peter also confirms that David wrote it (more on that below). The very first line is “Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” I don’t think this means that David is in trouble when he writes this psalm – the rest of it, for the most part is joyful and peaceful. But it is a declaration of trust. David is announcing that his security is in God, not in any earthly thing. The remainder of the psalm makes this quite clear. He declares his full allegiance to God: “You alone are my Lord.”

David also says, “I have no good apart from you.” I don’t think David means that his life is so terrible that he has nothing good going on except God. Instead, what he means is that every good thing he has in life comes through the hands of God, and is a gift from God. Every good thing in his life has only one source: God. This reminds me of something written by James:

16 So don’t be misled, my dear brothers and sisters. 17 Whatever is good and perfect is a gift coming down to us from God our Father, who created all the lights in the heavens. He never changes or casts a shifting shadow.

(James 1:16-17, NLT)

Among the gifts to enjoy for those who love God are other people who also love God. That’s the point of verse three. David delights in those who, like him, have God as their greatest treasure. Verse four gives us a contrast: if we learn to love God himself as our greatest treasure, and we treasure others who do so, we find that we do not want to participate with those who are pursuing other things. We may be friends with such people, and even love them, but we do not go the way they are going, or pursue the things they pursue.

However, I don’t think we should miss the main point David is making: the greatest treasure is God himself, not his gifts. He demonstrates this again in verse five. Let’s start with the idea of “cup,” as David means it here. In the Bible, sometimes the word “cup” is used in a metaphysical way. In psalm 23, David says, in a way similar to here: “my cup overflows.” At other times, the prophets speak about the “cup of God’s wrath.” When James and John ask Jesus for a special position in the Kingdom of God, Jesus asks: “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” So, used as it is in psalm sixteen, the cup means: “the present and future that God has planned for me.” David is saying: I choose the cup that God offers me. I will drink in the life that he gives me, including all the blessings he chooses to give, and all the hardship that he allows. As it turned out, David’s life included both many hardships and many blessings. His life was very full, and almost never boring.

David also uses three key terms: portion, lot, and boundary lines. When the people of Israel came into the land of Canaan, God, through Moses, gave careful instructions about how the land was to be divided up between the tribes, and clans and families of Israel. Portions, lots, and boundary lines all refer to the dividing, and inheritance, of the land. In those days, in that part of the world, virtually all wealth came from land. Land allowed you to grow grain and pasture animals, so that you had enough to eat. It was security. It was sacred. Someone without land had nothing. Land-inheritance was a sacred right for Israelites; the land was given to them, and their families, in perpetuity, by God himself.

Now, David writes that he finds his inheritance beautiful. That could mean he is delighted with his ancestral lands. However, the way he puts it makes me think that he is saying something that would be shocking to those who first heard it. He says first: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.” I think he is saying, “rather than my ancestral land, I choose the Lord. I choose him even above my land. He is the inheritance I want, and He is beautiful. He is everything I want and need.”

This fits with the psalm as a whole. To understand how shocking this sentiment is, imagine someone who inherits a sizable amount of money from his or her parents. With diligent management, that money will provide a lifelong income for this person. But that person says: “Forget the money. All I want is the Lord. He is worth more to me than my inheritance. I choose Him as my inheritance.”

David goes on to bless the Lord for counsel. God directs him, and gives him wisdom. It seems to me that is a wisdom that comes through the head, and thinking. I find it interesting that he adds: “In the night also, my heart instructs me.” He had an instinctive awareness that God speaks to us through our hearts, as well as our heads. This is part of his joyful experience of following the Lord: the Lord speaks to his head, and to his heart.

Again in verse eight he declares that his faith gives him more security than land, or anything else on earth. He once more proclaims his delight in God’s presence with him. He has chosen God above all else, and this means that his greatest treasure cannot be taken from him. He rejoices in God with everything within himself.

The last three verses are very interesting. From David’s perspective, it looks like, because of his faith in God, he is not afraid to die. The writers of the New Testament saw this part of the psalm as a prophecy about Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus. In the book of Acts, after the Holy Spirit was poured on the apostles and the group of close disciples, the apostle Peter preached a sermon. He explained what was happening with the Holy Spirit being poured out on the believers, and then he spoke about the resurrection of Jesus. He quoted directly from this psalm, psalm sixteen, and after quoting it, he said:

29 “My friends, I must speak to you plainly about our famous ancestor King David. He died and was buried, and his grave is here with us to this very day. 30 He was a prophet, and he knew what God had promised him: God had made a vow that he would make one of David’s descendants a king, just as David was. 31 David saw what God was going to do in the future, and so he spoke about the resurrection of the Messiah when he said,
‘He was not abandoned in the world of the dead;
his body did not rot in the grave.’
32 God has raised this very Jesus from death, and we are all witnesses to this fact. 33 He has been raised to the right side of God, his Father, and has received from him the Holy Spirit, as he had promised. What you now see and hear is his gift that he has poured out on us.

(Acts 2:29-33, GNT)

So what does all this mean for us?

I think David is a model for us. He shows us the joy, comfort and security we have when we choose the Lord above all else. The best this world can offer us is only temporary joy, temporary pleasure, temporary security. But when our deepest treasure is God, we can be joyful and secure even when things are not great in our outward circumstances. He writes:

8 I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;

my flesh also dwells secure.

As it turned out for David, this was an extremely important lesson, one that he must have relied on again and again during the many occasions when his life was in danger, and he had nothing to his name. He writes that because the Lord is at his right hand, he shall not be shaken. Well, we know that his circumstances were shaken again and again. But he was not shaken, because everything he really wanted and needed he had in the Lord.

Something else is worth remembering here. David is saying that his entire life is centered around the Lord. As we think about this we should remember that David was not a priest, nor was he any kind of full time minister for his vocation. David felt this way about the Lord, and arranged his life around his relationship with the Lord, and he kept up that heartfelt attitude to the Lord in the midst of “ordinary life.” He didn’t retire to a monastery (those hadn’t yet been invented). We know that David loved to worship with others who loved the Lord, and he did so joyfully whenever he had the chance. But his life was spent mostly as a warrior, and a king (and also a short gig as a professional musician).

As I just mentioned, for a time he was a professional musician for King Saul. He also engaged in military maneuvers, and in battles. He spent many years actively running for his life from other military units. Later, he became a king, and he had to have meetings with advisors, and engage in formal ceremonies, and do a lot of administration. In short, he always had a “secular job.” He wasn’t just sitting around praying, and contemplating God. And yet, whatever he was doing (with the exception of one or two horrible sins) he did with an awareness of God’s presence, and a desire to be used by God. He was a full-time God lover in all that he did.

I think this is a very important point. Sometimes, we compartmentalize our faith. On Sundays, we get encouraged in faith, and we seriously think about the role of the Lord in our life. But it’s easy to forget the presence of God in the middle of a phone call with a superior who is blaming you to cover her own mistakes. It’s easy to forget that we can be secure in the Lord when we’ve just been laid off, or when someone we love tells us that they are angry with us. It’s also easy to forget our Lord when we are kicking back with our friends and some cold beverages.

But the kind of faith that we read about in the Bible is meant to be for every day, and every situation. We are followers of Jesus (who is the Lord) at all times: at work, with our families, and when we are relaxing, or with friends. David understood, and rejoiced, that faith is a way of life. We don’t merely “practice it” on Sunday mornings, or whenever we happen to remember. It is full time. David shows us that anyone, no matter what their circumstances can live a life that is centered on the Lord.

I also think it is really important to connect with David’s word: “Apart from you, I have no good thing.” This doesn’t mean that the only good in the world comes through Christians, or things created by Christians; that is not remotely what it says. But it does mean that every bit of true joy we’ve ever had was originated by God, and brought to us by God, whether we know it or not. Paul, preaching a sermon in the town of Lystra, said this:

We are here to announce the Good News, to turn you away from these worthless things to the living God, who made heaven, earth, sea, and all that is in them. 16 In the past he allowed all people to go their own way. 17 But he has always given evidence of his existence by the good things he does: he gives you rain from heaven and crops at the right times; he gives you food and fills your hearts with happiness.”

(Acts 14:15-17, GNT)

All good things come originally from God, and we can and should receive them as such. I receive a lot of music as goodness from God, even when I know the musicians don’t believe in Him. He exists, and he is kind to us, and sometimes uses us to bless others, whether we believe it or not. The same is true of many books I read. It is true in the company of the people we love, and in awe-inspiring encounters with nature. These moments of joy, happiness and goodness are hints of what life is like in the full presence of God. Right now, our sin prevents us from experiencing more, but we are promised the fullness of God’s joy in the New Creation. I think that is what David means when he writes:

in your presence there is fullness of joy;

at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalm 16:11, ESV)

I think it is good for us to learn to recognize the goodness of God in every moment of joy and happiness we experience. The more we do so, the more we will start to feel the way David feels, as expressed in this psalm. It is easier to love God, and choose him above all else, when we realize how wonderful he is, and how kind he has been to us. This is not something we can do just once. I think the key is to develop a habit of gratitude, and a habit of recognizing the hand of God in everything around us.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you right now!


Photo by Kat Smith on

Psalm six is a good example of a psalm of lament. There is a pattern here that shows us what a life of faith looks like when times are difficult. It begins with genuine honesty: “I’m struggling. This is rotten. I feel awful.” Then as David, we ask for help: “Deliver me Lord! Be gracious to me! save me!” And then finally, we trust that God does indeed hear our prayers, and will certainly take notice of them. We don’t minimize what we are feeling. But at the same time, we trust and acknowledge that God is more powerful than all things, including our struggles, and we entrust ourselves to him, resting in the faith that he loves us and will deliver us in his way and time. We are honest, but we also cling to God in faith, and that requires that we trust him even when we don’t yet see how he will make it right.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen.

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Psalms Part 3


I know that some of you prefer to read these messages, rather than listen to the audio version. I myself typically prefer to read something, rather than listen to it, if there is a choice. Also, I’m a writer, so I love it when people like to read.

Even so, every so often it seems to me that the Holy Spirit moves me in a special way when I’m preaching one of these messages, a way that doesn’t quite show up in the written version. This message is one of those times. So, I’m encouraging you to listen to the audio version. If you have time, I’d be thrilled if you read it first, and then listen, and then tell me what you think, because maybe my perception about this is wrong. In any case, I do encourage you to listen this time.

Let’s get a couple of “technical” details out of the way, before we jump into Psalm 6. Some Bibles have created titles for various psalms. For psalm six, the ESV has “O Lord Deliver My Life” written in bold type. This is not part of the text of the actual Bible – it is a title added by the publishing company. There is however, something written in Hebrew before the psalm begins:

“To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments; according to The Sheminith. A Psalm of David.”

These words are not really part of the psalm itself, but they are technically in the text of the Hebrew Bible. Clearly, as with many psalms, they were added by the time the book of psalms was gathered together. Just a reminder: “of David” could mean that David himself wrote the psalm. It could also mean that it was written “in the tradition of David’s psalms.” For simplicity’s sake, I’m just going to refer to the writer as David.

“The Sheminith,” means something like “the eighth,” or “to the eighth.” Some people speculate that it refers to an eight-stringed instrument. Others suggest it is a musical instruction having to do with scales/octaves (there are eight whole-steps in a musical octave). This shows us that at some point, psalm six was probably used musically, probably in worship.

One more little note that is helpful when we read the Old Testament in English. The name of God that God revealed to Moses is “YHWH” which we usually pronounce “Yahweh,” (there are actually no official vowels in Hebrew). The Hebrew people, however, would not say “Yahweh” for fear of taking God’s name in vain. So instead, when they saw “YHWH” in the text of the Bible, they would read it out loud as “Adonai,” which can mean “Lord.” As a result of this tradition, most English Bibles translate “YHWH” as “LORD.” So when you see “LORD” as in this psalm, the Hebrew word is actually “Yahweh.” Also, sometimes the name given to God in the Hebrew text is: “Adonai YHWH.” In those cases it is usually translated “the Lord God.” (Just for additional confusion, the term “Jehovah” is what you get when you combine the Hebrew letters in “YHWH” with the vowel sounds of the Hebrew word “Adonai.”) I say all this, however, so that you can see that David is using the personal name for God – Yahweh – as he prays. He is praying specifically to the God of Israel, and he calls him by his special, personal name.

I chose this psalm because it is a good representative of a type of psalm that we might call “a prayer for help” or “a lament.” There are many other psalms that are similar to this one in both language and structure. Also, this is one of the shorter ones of its type, so it’s easier to cover the whole thing in one sermon.

Before we “analyze” this psalm, take a moment to feel it first. This is one important thing about the psalms – they weren’t written primarily to “teach” but rather to engage us at the level of heart and soul. So, let it engage your heart and soul. Feel what the psalmist feels. Enter into his experience and relate it to your own life. If you want to, speak the words out loud yourself as a prayer, thinking about your own life as you do so. If you can’t relate personally, think about someone you know who might relate to this psalm. (If you’re really stumped you can think of me: I felt very much like the writer of this psalm several times while working on this message). Before you do that, pause for prayer, and ask the Lord to speak to you through this scripture today.

Now, ready? Read the psalm:

1O LORD, rebuke me not in your anger,
     nor discipline me in your wrath.

2 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am languishing;
heal me, O LORD, for my bones are troubled.

3 My soul also is greatly troubled.
 But you, O LORD—how long?

4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;
save me for the sake of your steadfast love.

5 For in death there is no remembrance of you;
in Sheol who will give you praise?

6 I am weary with my moaning;
          every night I flood my bed with tears;
          I drench my couch with my weeping.

          7 My eye wastes away because of grief;
          it grows weak because of all my foes.

8 Depart from me, all you workers of evil,
for the LORD has heard the sound of my weeping.

9 The LORD has heard my plea;
the LORD accepts my prayer.

10 All my enemies shall be ashamed and greatly troubled;
they shall turn back and be put to shame in a moment. 

I think this particular psalm was probably written by David himself, so I’ll call him “him,” or “David.” Obviously, David is experiencing some kind of pain and suffering, possibly physical. Certainly, he is also experiencing turmoil of the heart, because he says so pretty plainly.

In the ESV, it says, “Be gracious to me LORD, for I am languishing.” We don’t often use the word “languishing” any more, which is a shame, because it’s a great word. It means “slowly wasting away,” or “slowly falling apart.” David’s life is slowly coming apart. In short, he is suffering. Some people assume that the main problem is sickness, because he asks God to heal him, and he mentions his bones. But the Hebrew word for heal, like the English one, can mean physical healing, as well as emotional or spiritual restoration, or even cultural restoration (as in “Lord, heal our country.”)

We know that David was a man of faith, and even if it wasn’t David who wrote this, the words of the psalm itself express faith in God. So I think the first thing to engage with is this: The life of faith sometimes involves suffering, pain and inner turmoil. David was not somehow “out of faith,” when he wrote this. He addresses the psalm to God, and clearly believes that God alone is the source of all deliverance, help and salvation. Someone with no faith would not talk to God, certainly not the way David does here. Even so, he is miserable as he writes this, and he does not pretend otherwise.

This brings me to a second point: People of faith should be honest about where they are physically, emotionally and mentally. Frankly, a lot of Christians in America are terrible about this. In fact, some seem to believe that if you admit you are struggling, that amounts to a lack of faith. I’ve met many people who have really tough stuff going on in their lives, and they say things like: “Well, it’s not ideal, but I’m just believing things are going to turn around.”

They seem to think that if they admit that they are having a hard time, it somehow means that they are letting God down; they apparently believe it indicates a lack of faith, or weak faith, to say: “Life is really hard right now.” They think faith means always thinking positive thoughts, or always looking on the bright side.

However, I’d say it’s the other way around. If you can’t be honest with yourself, God and others, you probably don’t have much faith. You think God is so fragile, he can’t handle it if you are unhappy. Or maybe you believe that God will only come through for you if you show the right attitude, and it seems to me that means you have faith in your own actions more than in God. Maybe it’s a kind of faith in your own faith, if you know what I mean. You might be putting your trust in the fact that you are saying the right kinds of things, and maintaining the right kind of positive attitude. But that is not faith in God.

Even more troubling, some people believe they can control God by always sounding like they have faith (though they wouldn’t describe it as controlling God, that’s what they are trying to do). In other words, they think that if they never acknowledge the negative, it motivates God to “honor” their “faith.” Again, this is a sort of faith in your own actions and attitudes, more than faith in God.

The same people often claim things like: “we speak things into existence.” So they are afraid of saying something negative, because then maybe the negative thing will happen to them. This is superstitious garbage, but unfortunately it is taught by many prominent ministers who use those ideas to make themselves a lot of money from fearful people.

In contrast, right here in the psalm, we find David, the greatest King of Israel, the one who is known as a man after God’s own heart saying: “I’m falling apart. My soul is in turmoil. I’m soaking my sheets every night with my tears. I am so grieved, I can hardly see any more.” If David, the true man of God, wasn’t afraid to say such things, we shouldn’t be either. I think real faith requires that kind of honesty, and if we avoid it, it is because of fear, not faith.

Considering all the negative feelings that are expressed, Psalm Six might be called a kind of lament. Bible commentator Rolf Jacobson says this:

Lament is not the absence of faith or an expression of faith being tempted into despair. To lament is to speak precisely from the position of faith, from a position which recognizes that the Lord hears the cries of those who suffer and is not indifferent to them. To lament is to lay claim to God’s hesed with the faithful expectation that the Lord will vindicate the lowly.

(The New International Commentary, Old Testament: Book of Psalms, psalm 6. I will explain the term “hesed” shortly)

Now, having made that point, I stand by it. I have something else to say also, not to contradict what I’ve just written, but to explain it, and add to it. There are some folks who are not afraid to be honest when they are struggling. They own the fact that their hearts are sad and troubled. But some of those people forget what else is in this psalm. They end up making their own troubles the dominant thing, the main thing. They own their struggles but they forget the lesson here about trusting God. They say: “I am troubled. End of story.” They make everything about their struggles, rather than about God. But that’s not how David approaches his problems at all. He owns his struggle, but he also trusts God.

Where do we see David trusting God? In the very first line, David asks God for mercy and grace.  In verse four, he prays for deliverance. In verses 8-10, David expresses confidence that God has indeed heard his prayer, and will answer him in due time.

So that is the next piece I think we ought to pay attention to. We should not only be honest about our struggles, but we should also make our problems submit to our faith. What I mean is, we should say, “I’m struggling. This is rotten. I feel awful.” Then as David, we ask for help: “Deliver me Lord! Be gracious to me! save me!” And then finally, we should trust that God does indeed hear our prayers, and will certainly take notice of them: “The Lord accepts my plea, the Lord has heard my prayer (verse 8).” We don’t minimize what we are feeling. But at the same time, we trust and acknowledge that God is more powerful than all things, including our struggles, and we entrust ourselves to him, resting in the faith that he loves us and will deliver us in his way and time. We are honest, but we also cling to God in faith, and that requires that we trust him even when we don’t yet see how he will make it right.

I want to focus on verse four for a minute. This is the heart of David’s prayer:

4 Turn, O LORD, deliver my life;

save me for the sake of your steadfast love.

There are two key words in Hebrew here that are worth knowing for all Christians. The first is “turn,” which, in Hebrew, is sub (pronounced “shoob”). It means to turn around, to change course. In many contexts, it means “to repent.” David is asking the Lord to change the whole course of events, to turn everything around. Sub is a powerful word, and, as I say, it’s worth knowing for the future. The point here is that David is not asking for just a minor adjustment. He’s asking God to change the whole course of the future. In other words, David feels he is close to dying, and he wants God instead to save his life. It is important to realize that for David, whatever he’s struggling with is a very big deal, and he needs a major intervention from God.

The second word comes at the end of the verse. In the ESV it is translated “steadfast love.” The Hebrew word is hesed (pronounced heh-sed, except use a faint clearing-of-the-throat sound with the first ‘h’). In some ways, it is the agape of the Old Testament, but some of the shades of meaning are slightly different. I might define hesed as unconditional, everlasting love that expresses itself by acting on behalf of the one who is loved. God’s hesed is found in his covenant to care for his people faithfully.

When David asks God to save him, he gives this reason: “for the sake of your hesed.” It is connected to God’s covenant with his people. This is important. David is saying “help me because you have promised to be my God. Help me because you are loving by nature.” Not: “Help me because I’m showing my faith by being positive and minimizing negative words.” Not:“help me because I need it,” or “help me because I ask it,” and certainly not “because I deserve it.” Instead, it is: “help me, because that would be according to your own character and your own promise to your people.”

Many people, when they are struggling, try to make bargains with God. “God, if you just help me now, I’ll give up this, or I’ll do that.” That is never the way of faith. In reality, we have nothing to bargain with. God doesn’t need anything from us. When he wants us to give up something, or start doing something else, it is always for our own benefit, not his. Instead, our only hope, as David knows, is to give up on trying to offer God anything, and appeal to God’s own character, and to the love that he showed us in Jesus Christ. And when we cry for help, we know for certain that God does love us, and that he does have our best interests at heart. We know it because Jesus gave up his own life, and went through unimaginable suffering to save us. Though we may not understand what he is doing, we always have a solid basis to trust God’s love for us.

David ends his lament in faith. He trusts that the Lord has heard his prayer. He declares to his enemies that God is his God, and will indeed come through for him. I think this psalm encourages us to be honest, but also to have faith, as David did.

Let the Holy Spirit speak to you today.


Photo by Alexander Kovalev on

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen.

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Psalms Part 2


1 Blessed is the man
          who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
          nor stands in the way of sinners,
          nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

2 but his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water
          that yields its fruit in its season,
          and its leaf does not wither.
          In all that he does, he prospers.

4 The wicked are not so,
but are like chaff that the wind drives away.

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Last time we did an introduction to the book of psalms. We considered what it is, and how the book was formed, and who wrote it, and when. We also looked at the structure of Hebrew poetry. Without being too technical, the thing to look for in Hebrew poetry (and songwriting) is parallelism. The poets group thoughts in parallel to one another. Sometimes they are parallels that reiterate an idea. At other times, the parallels are set in contrast to one another. As best as I could, I tried to format psalm one (above) to show the parallels, and how they are grouped.

Psalm 1 is a “wisdom” psalm. It is a poem, or song that was made to help us vividly picture something wise that we should remember, and, especially, that we should put into action.

With that in mind, let’s dig in to the psalm.

It starts with this overall thought: Blessed is the one who does not find himself, or herself, in the company of those who reject God. Notice the poetic triple-parallel about these godless ones: walk, stand, sit. In other words, we are talking about all of life.

Notice also, if you use a good translation, the blessed one is, in fact, one person, where as the godless ones involve three groups of people. The implication is that to be blessed, to shape your life around God’s Word (which is here called “the law”), means that you might feel alone against the crowd. It’s easy to find people walking in the counsel of the wicked, or making their stand with sinners, or sitting and mocking those who are different from them. The one who meditates on God’s Word looks strange and alone in comparison. This reminds me a bit of what Jesus said:

13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. (Matthew 7:13-14, ESV)

Walking in the counsel of the wicked implies behavior. Those who shape their behavior based upon the advice of godless ones around them are not blessed. They are listening to people who refuse to listen to God, and acting accordingly. Standing implies declaring allegiance. Some people choose to stand with a sinful lifestyle, to persist in ignoring God’s revelation (the Bible) and to commit themselves to a way other than God’s way. Sitting gives us a picture of someone settled into a position. These are so settled that now not only do they behave according to the advice of those without God, not only do they take a stand with wickedness, but they openly mock, insult and deride those who do follow God.

In a way this seems to paint a picture of a process for someone who has turned away from God. It starts by listening to those who do not listen to God, taking their advice, behaving accordingly. It continues as a person commits more and more to godless ways, and identifies him/her self with those who reject God’s word. It ends up with the person openly insulting and mocking those who do follow God.

Let’s consider the opposite picture, the one who is blessed. The primary thing that sets this person apart is that he/she delights in the law of the Lord, and meditates on it constantly.

It is worth taking time to think about the word “law.” It is used quite frequently in the psalms, and it usually has the same meaning in most cases. But it is not exactly the meaning we typically think of for the word “law” in this day and age. When we hear “law” we usually think of rules and regulations. The law (we think) is something we must obey, or we will get in trouble with the authorities.

However, the Hebrew word is “torah,” and one primary meaning of that is “instruction.” Most particularly, the law/torah is the special, divine revelation given to the people of Israel by God himself through Moses. In other words, for the ancient Israelis, “the law” meant “the Bible.” So, for Christians today, if you read the word “law” in the psalms, it is usually appropriate to think “God’s Word,” or “the Bible.”

It is certainly true of psalm 1 that we should think of “the law” as “God’s Word.” So the thing that makes someone blessed and sets her apart from others, is God’s Word. The blessed person shapes her life around what God has revealed to human beings. She thinks about it throughout the day. She builds her life upon it. She is like a tree by a constant water source.

Here in Tennessee, a generic tree is not a particularly impressive picture. I can see literally hundreds of trees from the windows of my house, maybe thousands. But when we read this psalm, we should remember that to those in ancient Israel, a large tree was something unusual and impressive, and no tree would reach any kind of large size without a regular supply of water. Much of the climate of Israel was (and still is) quite dry. Some of it is outright desert, and other areas could maybe be called semi-arid. There is only one major river in the whole country, the Jordan, though there were (and are) various smaller streams. Some of the streams only flow when it rains. Even as far back as the time of Abraham, large trees were so rare in some areas that they were used as landmarks.

When they came to the land of Canaan, 6 Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. (Genesis 12:5-6, ESV)

A large tree would be an inviting sight, offering shade, shelter and sustenance to travelers.

So, the one who builds his life on God’s Word is like a great tree, alone in a dry, hot land. He can only thrive there because he is constantly tapped in to refreshing and life-giving water: the Word of God. Like a big tree in that part of the world, the one who builds on God’s Word is different from others, and obviously so, and because he is rooted in God’s word, he can become a source of comfort to those around him.

Such a person, planted and rooted in God’s word yields fruit in season. That means that God uses this person’s life to accomplish his purposes. She becomes a blessing to others. It is wise to pay attention to the little phrase: “in season,” also. In other words, there is a time for fruit to show up on the tree, and there is a time when fruit is being created through all sorts of internal processes, but cannot yet be seen. I think a lot of Christians put pressure on themselves if they do not see constantly some concrete way in which God is using them. But there are seasons when God works on us internally, and fruit is not yet visible externally. Fruits have seasons, and so does the Christian life.

 The one who builds his life on God’s word does not wither. The Israelis lived in a climate that sometimes included harsh, desert-like conditions. So too, the person of faith might have to live at times through very difficult things. The idea is not that such a person will have no difficulties, but rather, that the difficulties will not destroy him.

Finally, the one who builds on God’s Word prospers. This is another word that I think has changed over time in our culture. Mostly, we think prospering means getting rich, or, at the very least, that things are going well for us. But that is only one possible shade of meaning from the Hebrew word. It means to move forward purposefully, to prevail against hinderances. Honestly, I think a much better one-word translation into English would be “thrives.” The one who builds on God’s word thrives, whether things are going well, or not. For those who build on God’s word the momentum of their lives is moving in the right direction, through difficulty and through good times. God’s direction prevails in their lives. I think we need to be realistic about this, also. It doesn’t mean we always feel good, or feel like God’s will is prevailing in us at each moment. But looking back, we find that today, we are further along, closer to God’s will than we were a year ago, and five years ago. On any given individual day or moment we might go backwards or forward, but over time, the prevailing direction is toward God.

In verse four, we again contrast this to the wicked. Instead of like a giant, immovable tree, slowly growing, bearing fruit in season, thriving  spiritually, the wicked are like chaff that the wind drives away. Let me explain “chaff.” In the days that this was written, the Israelis, like all people at the time, were farmers. In Israel, they grew a lot of grain, like wheat and barley and oats. When the grain had been harvested, farmers would beat the heads of the plants (where the grain kernels are attached) to loosen it up, and knock the kernels of grain loose from the rest of the plant. Now they had a kind of dusty mess in which there were grain kernels, but also the inedible pieces, which were called “chaff.”  Then they would go to a windy hilltop, and throw it all up into the hard-blowing air. The kernels of grain were heavier than the chaff (the inedible parts of the plants), and they would fall back onto a cloth laid out for that purpose. But the chaff was as light as dried leaves and dust, and would be whipped away by the wind.

The picture is that the wicked amount to nothing. For all of their standing against God, for all of their mocking, they come to empty dust in the end, whipped off into the wind. There is meant to be a huge contrast between a mighty oak, rooted deep into the soil by an everlasting stream, and dust that blows away in the wind and is gone. There is almost no comparison. The wicked are no-account, meaningless, just dust that blows away to reveal the good grain that is kept.

The psalmist adds:

5Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,

nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;

The point here is that the wicked will not be able to endure God’s judgment. When God calls people to account, the wicked will come to nothing, their schemes will crumble to dust. They will not be found anywhere, and only the righteous will be left.

And then, the final parallel thoughts:

6for the LORD knows the way of the righteous,

but the way of the wicked will perish.

Although the ESV which I’ve just quoted, is most true to the literal Hebrew, other translations capture the sense of it a bit better. When it says the Lord “knows,” that word contains a wealth of meaning. In this context, it means that the Lord watches over the righteous, guiding, guarding and protecting them. It is a very comforting thought, a picture of God actively caring for, and looking out for, the righteous ones.

Now, for many years verses like this about “the righteous” in the Old Testament bothered me. I know myself, and I know there is a lot of unrighteousness within me, even still today. I used to wonder if I really would be in the congregation of the righteous, or if maybe I would be blown away with the wicked. But this is an example of where it is helpful to ask “Where is Jesus?” in this psalm. It is true, I am unrighteous within myself. But through Jesus Christ, God has declared me righteous. This is not because of anything I have done, but solely because of what Jesus has done.

21 But now God’s way of putting people right with himself has been revealed. It has nothing to do with law, even though the Law of Moses and the prophets gave their witness to it. 22 God puts people right through their faith in Jesus Christ. God does this to all who believe in Christ, because there is no difference at all: 23 everyone has sinned and is far away from God’s saving presence. 24 But by the free gift of God’s grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free. 25-26 God offered him, so that by his blood he should become the means by which people’s sins are forgiven through their faith in him. (Romans 3:21-26, GNT)
21 Christ was without sin, but for our sake God made him share our sin in order that in union with him we might share the righteousness of God. (2 Corinthians 5:21, GNT)

Through Jesus, and through him alone, I am called “righteous” by God. Through the Holy Spirit, as I trust him, God imparts the righteousness of Jesus to me. He brings me into spiritual union with Jesus. I don’t deserve it, but God offers me that righteousness even so. So, when I read any psalm, and I read “the righteous” I think first of all of Jesus, who is ultimately the only truly righteous human being to have lived, but I can also include myself in “the righteous” because of Jesus. I can’t claim my own righteousness, but I can, through faith, claim the righteousness of Jesus. And so because of Jesus, all the promises given to “the righteous” are also given to me. And they are given to anyone and everyone who puts all of their trust and hope in Jesus. Through Jesus, these wonderful promises are ours.

Through Jesus, we can be like a mighty tree in a dry land, secure in faith, watched over by our loving Lord.


Photo by Ravi Kant on

The psalms invite us into fellowship with Jesus in every conceivable frame of mind, state of heart, and situation in life.

To listen to the sermon, click the play button:

For some people, the player above may not work. If that happens to you, use the link below to either download, or open a player in a new page to listen.

To download, right click on the link (or do whatever you do on a Mac) and save it to your computer: Download Psalms Introduction


Today we will begin a new sermon series on the book of psalms. My goal is to have these sermons continuously available, so you might be reading this years after I wrote it. In my present time, however, I have just finished a sermon series on the book of 1 Peter. It took us 33 sermons to cover the five chapters in that book, or approximately 6.6 sermons per chapter. There are 150 chapters in the book of psalms. If we go at the same rate as we did for 1 Peter, it will take us 19 years to finish the psalms – and that’s if I never miss a single week!

Thankfully, I am planning to approach the psalms a little bit differently. In the first place, I will not preach a sermon on every single psalm. Secondly, there is a large difference between the genre of Psalms and the genre of 1 Peter. 1 Peter is an epistle, and it aims to teach us truth that applies to Jesus Christ in a straightforward, and theologically dense way, which means there is a great deal of meaning packed into every phrase and verse.

The book of Psalms is something else entirely. We will begin this time by considering what it is, and what that means for how we should read the psalms.

Let’s start with the name. “Psalm” is basically a Greek word that is a translation of a Hebrew word that means “song,” or “poem.” There are two other Hebrew words associated with the book of Psalms: one means “prayers,” and the other means, “praises.” The book of psalms, then, is a collection of songs and poems that have been used for many centuries by God’s people for prayer and praise. To reiterate: a psalm is a song or poem.

In a book like 1 Peter, each verse and chapter builds upon what was written before. If you read chapter three without reading chapter two, you will not fully understand what Peter intends to say. In the psalms, however, each “chapter” is actually a self-contained unit. This makes Psalms one of the only books in the Bible where it doesn’t really matter if you read it in order. You don’t need to read psalm 22 in order to understand psalm 23. You could flip to almost any chapter in the book of psalms and find it meaningful without reading the preceding chapters.

There are just a few exceptions to this. It appears that psalms 1-2 are meant to go with each other. It is likely that is also true of psalms 9-10 and also, perhaps, psalms 42-43. The reason for this is that although scholars can be confident about the content of the book of psalms, there has been some confusion, in just a few places, about how, exactly, it is to be divided into separate psalms.

Also, because we are talking about poetry, we won’t necessarily be analyzing each verse the way we do when we look at a letter, or the teaching of Jesus. In general, the best way to approach a psalm is to look at the entire thing, paying attention to the overall emotion and message. There are, however, a few psalms that are too long to do that with. In fact, the longest single chapter in the Bible is psalm 119. I guess we’ll see how it goes as we proceed, but the way we approach the psalms should be somewhat different from how we look at other parts of the Bible.

A quick word about how we talk about the book. The book overall is called “Psalms.” When we talk about a single chapter, however, we are speaking about a single psalm. So I might say “the book of Psalms.” But, about one single chapter I would say: “psalm 10 (no ‘s’).” Again, this is a reflection of the fact that normally, each chapter is its own, self contained poem or song (psalm).

Speaking of poems, at first glance, the psalms don’t appear to be very, well, poetic. This is because Hebrew poetry is a bit different than what we call poetry in English. In English, poetry often has rhyme. Even when it doesn’t, it still usually has meter – in other words, a poem conforms to certain rules about how many syllables should occur in each line of the poem. So there is a kind of obvious rhythm to most English poems. There is also a kind of English poetry called “free verse,” which has basically no rules.

Hebrew poetry – the poetry of the psalms – does not normally use rhyme, rhythm, or meter. Unlike “free verse,” however, It does have a typical form, and that is parallelism. In Hebrew poetry this means that ideas are set up “in parallel.” A parallel consists of the same idea that has already been written, but is now re-stated in a slightly different way. Just as in geometry, you can have a virtually unlimited number of parallel lines, so in Hebrew poetry, parallels might come in groups of two, or three, or even more. There is an almost infinite number of ways to combine parallels. They might be set up to repeat an idea, or to contrast other ideas, or to play off one another, or to highlight certain thoughts.

For an example of one kind of parallelism, look at Psalm 43:1

Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
deliver me! (ESV)

In the ESV, this is formatted to help us see the four parallel thoughts. The first line, “vindicate me and defend my cause” is parallel to the fourth line, “deliver me.” They are two different ways of expressing the desire of the writer, and he puts them in parallel. The second line: “Against an ungodly people” is in parallel with the third line “from the deceitful and unjust man.”

You can also see that these parallels are organized into a structure with an “outside” parallel (vindicate me/deliver me) containing an “inside parallel” (ungodly people/unjust man). To map it out in an overly simple way, the structure looks like this:

First thought: Help me O God!

Second thought: save me from ungodly people

Second thought in parallel: save me from ungodly people

First thought in parallel: Help me, O God!

But of course, the poet uses more interesting words and expressions to express these parallel thoughts. Besides being ingenious and beautiful, this particular poetic expression has a way of highlighting what is most important. God’s vindication or deliverance are the first and last thought; the ungodly people, though a problem, are contained within thoughts about God’s salvation. In other words, the main point is the writer is praying for God’s help. Though he is in trouble, his main focus is not on his problem, but on God’s help.

By the way, I didn’t spend a lot of time looking for a verse to help me demonstrate this. My Bible app was bookmarked to Psalm 43, and I just picked the very first verse to show us how Hebrew “parallel poetry” works. It’s all over the psalms, though it has many different types of configurations. We’ll consider those different configurations when we encounter them in the psalms that we study.

By the way, when it comes to the psalms, I think it pays to be picky about the Bible translation you use. Not all of them capture the beauty and poetry of the psalms equally well. For instance, I checked a few other English versions, and they did not really capture the inside/outside parallelism I just described for Psalm 43:1. To make sure, I double checked the Hebrew, and the ESV did indeed portray it as it was originally written. Other English translations changed the word order to make it easier to read, but then they lost the underlying structure of the poetry.

By the way, though I know just enough Greek to be dangerous, I am basically incompetent with Hebrew. However, I have been trained in how to use various tools designed for incompetents like me, and so I know how to find the information we need when it comes to that language.

Now, at this point, I know that some of you are thinking, “I’m sorry Tom, but I’m not going to spend hours analyzing ancient Hebrew poetry.” Don’t worry, you won’t have to. But I want you to start with the psalms by understanding that, in fact, they are made out of a very intricate, complex and beautiful poetry. In fact, it is no exaggeration to say that the psalms contain some of the world’s greatest literature of all time.

If you want to, you can spend time analyzing the parallels, but you don’t need to do that in order to appreciate the psalms. The biggest thing is to understand that the psalms are expressed in poetic, emotional language. Enter into the thoughts and feelings that are expressed here. Let them move you. If you find you are not being moved, try a different Bible translation.

 On the other hand, if, with any given psalm, you are having trouble understanding what the poet is trying to say, you might want to try to see the parallels he uses, and how he groups them. For that, you probably want a version like the ESV.

I say “he” about the poet, because in every instance where we know who wrote a given psalm, it was a man. However, there are many psalms for which we don’t know the author, and some of those could have been written by women.

So, for those we know about, who did write these psalms? A number of them say, in Hebrew “of David.” In some cases, it is almost certain that King David himself wrote them. He was definitely a poet and musician, and a couple of these same psalms also appear in 1-2 Samuel. In other cases, “of David” might mean something like “in the tradition of David.” The same is true for the psalms attributed to Asaph, or the Sons of Korah. It could mean that they were written by those actual people, or that they were written in the tradition and style of those people, or, more likely, sometimes the first, and in other cases, the second. One psalm says it is “Of Moses” but it isn’t clear whether Moses himself wrote it, or it is about Moses, or in the tradition of Moses.

Generally most of the psalms were probably written during a six hundred-year period, going from the time of David in 1000 B.C. until after the time the people of Judah returned from exile in Babylon, around 400’s B.C.. It is likely that many of the older psalms were well known and used in worship by the people of Israel for many centuries.

Some time after the return from exile, in the 400’s B.C., prophets and priests organized the psalms into the order that we now find them. They gathered them into five “books,” which were probably originally, five scrolls with the psalms divided up between them. Certainly, having them all together would have made for a large scroll that would be difficult to use, so it makes sense that they would  be divided up into smaller scrolls. Most Bibles indicate these book divisions somehow, usually just by a bold heading saying “Book II” and “Book III” and so on. Also, If you pay attention, you will notice that the last psalm at the end of each book contains a kind of blessing that uses words like: “Blessed be the Lord forever! Amen!” or something similar, and then some other phrases.

It appears that someone (probably a group of people) deliberately organized the psalms within the five scrolls into a certain order. The majority of psalms of lament, and cries for help, are within the first two and a half books. The majority of the psalms of praise and thanksgiving are found in the latter half of the collection.

There are several different types of psalms. Some of them are laments. A lament is an expression of pain and grief, or a cry for help and deliverance, or a cry for God to punish enemies. Others are psalms of praise, which I think is pretty straightforward. There are wisdom psalms, which are poems primarily written to teach us something. There are psalms that seem to be intended for specific worship occasions – some of which are, even today, typically used during the Jewish festivals of Passover, Pentecost, and Tabernacles (Sukkoth). And there are several psalms that seem to be focused on Israel’s king.

When I preached through Matthew a few years ago, during part of that time I happened to be re-reading the psalms for my daily devotional. I was deeply impressed to realize that Jesus quoted from the psalms constantly. Sometimes, he used direct quotes. Other times, he just used the language of the psalms to express something he was saying, without declaring it as a quote. Since Jesus clearly loved this book, and it was in his heart, it is well worth studying.

Therefore, the very first way we interpret the psalms is to remember that they reveal Jesus to us. Sometimes, they show us his character, what he is like. Sometimes, they remind us what he has suffered for us, and a few of them even prophesy about his sufferings, or prophesy other things about his life. In other places, the psalms show us the types of things Jesus does for us. Many of them can be used to praise Jesus. So, first and foremost, as you read the psalms, ask yourself: Where is Jesus in this psalm? You might be surprised and delighted as the Holy Spirit shows you.

The psalms are also a tool for prayer. Sometimes I simply read a psalm out loud, and with my heart I agree with the words, as a kind of prayer. There are other ways to use the psalms in prayer and worship, and we will talk about those more during this series as we engage with individual psalms.

Another helpful idea in interpreting the psalms is this: they reflect and direct our experiences of living in faith. Through the psalms we can engage with all of life: with suffering, with hope, with joy, with anger, with disappointment – virtually every human emotion can be found in this book. But it is not merely emotion on display. It is emotion, and life experience, combined with faith. There is despair in some of the psalms. But it shows what despair looks like in someone who still has faith. It invites us, when we despair, into fellowship with others who walked through similar experiences while maintaining their faith.

In fact, the psalms invite us into fellowship with Jesus in every conceivable frame of mind, state of heart, and situation in life.

If you are using these sermons in a house-church setting, here is your assignment for this week. In addition to reading this sermon, please pick one psalm (any psalm, although psalm 119 might be challenging) and read it. Come to church prepared to talk about your experience reading the psalm.