A Royal Oath of Office; A Testimony for the Future (Psalms 101-102) November 15-19
As the Zondervan NIV Study Bible points out, Psalms 101-110 appear to form "a collection of ten psalms located between two other groups (...Ps 90-100; 111-119) and framed by two psalms that pertain to the king (the first, the king's vow to pattern his reign after God's righteous rule; the last, God's commitment to maintain the king—his anointed—and give him victories over all his enemies. This little psalter-within-the-Psalter is concentrically arranged. Inside the frame [of 101 and 110], Ps 102 and 109 are prayers of individuals in times of intense distress; [within these] Ps 103 and 108 praise the Lord for his 'great...love' that reaches to the heavens (103:11; 108:4); [within these] Ps 104 and 107 are complements, with 104 celebrating God's many wise and benevolent acts in creation and 107 celebrating God's 'wonderful deeds' (vv. 8, 15, 21, 24, 31) for people through his lordship over creation; and [finally within these] the remaining two are also complements, with Ps 105 reciting the history of Israel's redemption and 106 reciting the same history as a history of Israel's rebellion. This little psalter includes most of the forms and themes found in the rest of the psalter. Its outer frame is devoted to royal psalms and its center pair to recitals of Israel's history with God.... As a collection it bears a distinctly redemption-history stamp and evokes recollection of all the salient elements of the O[ld] T[estament] message" (note on Psalms 101-110).
Given this apparent collection, there is the obvious problem of the book division occurring within it at Psalm 107. Recall, however, from the Bible Reading Program's introduction to Psalms that the division between Books IV and V of the Psalter appears to be an artificial late change—seemingly made primarily to create a fivefold division of the Psalms to correspond with the five books of the Law, likely to have the temple songs follow along with the Scripture reading cycle. We will note more about this matter when we come to Psalm 107 in our reading.
Psalm 101 is a royal psalm of David composed in the form a commitment. As is the case with most psalms, it is not clear whether he originally intended this as a solely personal expression or planned from the beginning for it to be used by others. In any event, when included in the Psalter its words of commitment were certainly to be proclaimed by others—these being successor rulers (as only they had the power to administer justice in the fashion proclaimed in the psalm). Thus, the psalm could have become a sort of oath of office.
David is determined to "behave wisely in a perfect way" or, as the New International Version renders this, to "be careful to lead a blameless life" (verse 2). He begins by praising God, because God's mercy (or lovingkindness) and justice motivate David to rule Israel with the same gracious care and upright fairness.
God had made known His expectations for the kings of Israel (Deuteronomy 17:14-20). The king was to write his own copy of the law and study it "all the days of his life" so that he would properly fear God, administer God's laws and treat his subjects with respect. David vows that in his "house"—his royal office and administration—he will be scrupulous in matters of justice, love and mercy (Psalm 101:2b). By leading a "blameless" life, David meant that he would live with integrity and integrate his life with God's purpose. He was not implying that he would never sin (though he would of course strive not to).
The question "Oh, when will you come to me?" (verse 2) may refer to David's need for special help from God, or it may relate to the Ark of the Covenant. As one commentator explains regarding this verse: "Once David was established on the throne in Jerusalem, he had a consuming desire to bring the ark of God back to the sanctuary so that God's throne might be near his throne. His question in verse 2, 'When will you come to me?' reflects this desire. The ark had been in the house of Abinidab for many years (1 Sam. 6:1-7:2) and then in the house of Obed-Edom after David's aborted attempt to relocate it (2 Sam. 6:1-11)" (Wiersbe, Be Exultant, introductory note on Psalm 101). There was a great lesson in the latter episode. For God's law, which David as king was to read and write his own copy of, clearly states how the ark was to be transported. God does want to "come to" us—but only on His terms.
David states that his administration will be different from how other kings in the region ruled. He says he will set "nothing wicked" or "no vile thing" (NIV)—literally, no thing of Belial (this word connoting utter worthlessness and later used as a name for Satan)—before his eyes. He may be referring to an idol or an evil practice or person—with setting this thing or person before the eyes meaning looking to it or such a person for guidance or affording it or him a place of honor and privilege in his presence. This would not happen in David's reign.
By "the deeds of faithless men" (verse 3, NIV) or "the work of those who fall away" (NKJV), David may be referring to Saul's administration—that he will have no part with that kind of leadership. David had a consuming desire to clean things up when he took office. "When David became king, first in Hebron and then at Jerusalem, he inherited a divided land and a discouraged people whose spiritual life was at low ebb. Asaph described the situation in 78:56-72 and named David as God's answer to Israel's problems. Everything rises and falls with leadership, but many of King Saul's officers were fawning flattering 'toadies' who were unable to work with a man like David" (same note).
In support of David's desire for a righteous administration, he states that no one in his employ will lie, practice deceit, slander, or demonstrate a lack of respect for others—rather, going to the heart of good leadership, he will look for the faithful of the land to serve with him (verses 4-7). The Expositor's Bible Commentary states: "The king invites only people of integrity to 'dwell' with him and to serve in his presence as appointed courtiers. Only by surrounding himself with the best and most capable men who will advance the interest of God can the king rest assured that the kingdom of God is strengthened" (note on verse 6).
David closes the psalm with a vow that it would be part of his daily routine to rout evil and wickedness from the land, especially in Jerusalem—the standard would be set there in his capital city first (verse 8).
Of course, as a fallible human being, David did not always live up to his intentions. Consider that such a despicable person as his nephew Joab was high in David's administration for the length of its duration. The commitments of this psalm will be perfectly fulfilled during the administration of David's descendant Jesus Christ—which will include David himself, then resurrected and perfect, as well as all Christians who remain faithful to Christ, who will then serve as divine kings under Him.
Psalm 102 is a lamenting prayer by an unnamed individual in severe affliction and distress—apparently during a time of national distress: "The title...in accordance with vv. 1-11, 23-24...designates the prayer as that of an individual. But vv. 12-22, 28 clearly indicate national involvement in the calamity. It may be that the distress suffered by the individual, while its description suggests physical illness, is the result of his sharing in a national disaster such as the exile—a suggestion supported by references to the restoration of Zion" (Zondervan NIV Study Bible, note on Psalm 102 title). Indeed, beyond the lament, the psalm also looks forward with hope and faith to the restoration of God's people—in an ultimate sense at the establishment of His Kingdom—making this a fitting psalm for its placement in Book IV of the Psalter, which points to the time of the coming messianic reign.
The prayer opens with a plea that God would hear the psalmist's cry and quickly come to his aid (verses 1-2). In these two short verses he makes five requests for God's attention: hear me; let my cry come to you; don't hide from me; turn your ear to me; answer me quickly. The situation is simply awful. Life, its delights gone, is ebbing away. In his constant grief and despair the psalmist forgets about and doesn't feel like eating—leading to malnutrition and emaciation (verses 3-5, 9, 11). He feels forsaken, isolated, alone, vulnerable and unable to sleep—like some lonely bird eking out a tentative existence on its own (verses 6-7). His torment is magnified by the ranting reproach of enemies (verse 8)—perhaps referring to foreigners who have captured him and his countrymen. Where the NKJV says these enemies "swear an oath against me" (same verse), the NIV says that they "use my name as a curse." That is, "they say, 'May you become like that one (the one named) is'" (Zondervan, note on verse 8).
He sees his circumstance as God's judgment (verse 10). And, as already noted, it seems that this refers to calamity that God has brought on the whole nation—not just this representative individual.
But things are not left in despondency and hopelessness. For there is confidence in God's coming deliverance of His people. The ancient restoration of Jerusalem after the Babylonian exile is but a small foretaste of what is pictured here in this psalm. For the "set time" spoken of (verse 13) is the day yet future in which all nations and kings will fear God's name and His glory (verse 15)—when God in the person of Jesus Christ will actually "appear in His glory" (verse 16) and all nations and kingdoms will gather to serve Him (verse 22). The building up of Zion (verse 16) refers to the coming restoration of Israel in the Kingdom of God—as well as the building up of spiritual Zion, God's Church, to serve as the holy and perfect administration of that Kingdom. All God's people who have suffered during all ages will have their prayers fully answered in an ultimate sense (see verse 17).
This wonderful message, the psalmist declares, would be written down for a future generation—a people yet to be created (verse 18). Given the whole context, and the verse that follows, it appears that this coming generation would also face terrible trials just as the psalmist. But given this good news—the gospel of the Kingdom—they would be able to look forward with hope in the midst of suffering and declare God's praises (verse 18), just as in this psalm.
In verses 23-24, the psalmist remembers his immediate plight and pleas again with God to intervene and not cut his life off early—contrasting his brief existence with God's eternal life and perspective. Yet it is in God's eternal existence (verses 24-27) that there is hope for the future. For come what may, He and His purpose will endure. Because God continues, so would His people continue generation after generation (verse 28). This will allow the great restoration looked for in the psalm. And it will also bring, in God's set time, the perfect restoration of the psalmist himself and of all who have placed their hope and trust throughout the ages in the Eternal God.