For the Love of God, Volume 2/November 11

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By D.A. Carson About Devotional Life
Chapter 315 of the book For the Love of God, Volume 2


2 Kings 24; Hebrews 6; Joel 3; Psalm 143

TRADITIONALLY, PSALM 143 IS classified as the last of seven penitential psalms, doubtless because verse 2 admits to universal guilt. Yet regardless of how important that truth is in the Bible as a whole, in this psalm only in the one verse does this theme surface. Most of the psalm is devoted to the troubles David is facing, occasioned by enemies (143:1-6), and David’s growing resolve as he focuses on following God’s way, regardless of what his enemies may do. Some observations:

(1) David’s initial appeal is to God’s faithfulness and righteousness (143:1). This is entirely appropriate, in exactly the same way that the goodness of a potentate or the integrity of a judge is welcomed by those trying to redress a wrong. The difficulty, of course, is that as we sinners appeal to the righteousness of God for vindication, it is easy to remember that we ourselves are horribly soiled compared with the clean glory of the unshielded holiness of the Almighty. Hence verse 2: David acknowledges that “no one living is righteous before you.” This is a tension not finally resolved until the cross (Rom. 3:21-26; cf. 1 John 1:9).

(2) If verses 3-4 wallow in the slough of despond, verses 5-6 find David beginning to climb out. On first reading the line “I remember the days of long ago,” a reader might think that David is succumbing to nostalgia, remembering “the good old days.” But he is not so foolish, as the rest of the verse shows: he commits himself instead to thinking of all the things that God has done—in other words, he meditates on all of God’s creative and chastening and redemptive acts in the past; he sets himself to meditate on the God of the Bible. Nor is this a merely intellectual exercise, like reviewing lists for an impending exam. David knows that this focus on what God has done is a God-given means of connecting with the living God himself, and that is what he wants: “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land” (143:6).

(3) Three times in verses 8-10 David prays for guidance. Each petition has a slightly different focus. “Show me the way I should go” (143:8) reflects David’s confusion, but also hints that there are unique and individual elements to the guidance he needs (as there are individual callings in the church, John 21:21-22). “Teach me to do your will” (143:10a) now focuses entirely on God’s agenda (“for you are my God”). Knowing and doing God’s will is the very stuff of guidance. “[M]ay your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (143:10b) is to admit that we may trip as well as rebel, stumble as well as stray—and always we need help.

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