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"He Shall Strengthen Your Heart" (Psalms 31-33) June 26-28

Psalm 31 is a lament arising from affliction, yet one in which David places full trust and confidence in God, realizing, "My times are in Your hand" (verses 14-15). David suffers from a wasting illness (verse 10) that makes him, as he says, "repulsive to my acquaintances; those who see me outside flee from me" (verse 11). David's enemies take advantage of his weakened state and "scheme to take away my life" (verse 13). Unless God intervenes, David reckons himself a dead man (verse 12).

Come what may, David throws himself into God's keeping, declaring, "Into Your hand I commit my spirit" (verse 5). Jesus would later use these as His final words before His dying breath (Luke 23:46). That being so, the rest of this psalm likely also foreshadows the Messiah's suffering of bodily agony, anguish, ridicule, enemy conspiracy and abandonment by friends. The disciple Stephen uttered these words too, as he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:59). All Christians should find Psalm 31 of tremendous help and encouragement when facing great difficulties.

The hating of idolaters in verse 6 of this inspired prayer should be understood in the sense of rejection of them and their ways and considering them as enemies of the "Lord God of truth" in verse 5. (Yet elsewhere in Scripture we learn that even they will ultimately receive the opportunity for redemption and salvation.) For Christians today, even if we are aware of no human enemies to speak of, we wrestle constantly with spiritual enemies who seek to destroy us (Ephesians 6:12).

Though the situation for David looks grim, he recalls that God has brought him safely through adversity in times past: "You have known my soul in adversities and have not shut me up into the hand of the enemy; You have set my feet in a wide place" (Psalm 31:7-8). The latter expression here speaks of freedom and ultimately of salvation-as the Hebrew word for salvation has the sense of having room to breathe.

Reflecting on God's prior faithfulness, David prays: "Make Your face shine upon Your servant" (verse 16). The expression here, like the prayer in Psalm 4:6 for God to lift up His countenance, is taken from the priestly blessing of Numbers 6:22-27: "The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you, and give you peace." This is a request for God to show favor-to "smile." As in Psalm 25:3, rather than shame and disgrace falling on him, a faithful servant of God, David asks that it go to the wicked (31:17-18)-and he knows that this is how things will work out in the end (verse 23).

The imagery of God laying up goodness prepared for those who trust in Him in the presence of the sons of men (verse 19) is similar to Psalm 23's picture of God preparing a table for His people in the midst of their enemies. And the metaphor of keeping His people secretly hidden in His pavilion away from threatening plots (31:20) recalls Psalm 27:5.

David concludes with strong encouragement for all of God's people (verses 23-24).

The superscription of Psalm 32 refers to it as a maskil. The Greek Septuagint translation takes this obscure word to mean "instruction," from the root s-k-l ("be wise" or "instruct"). Appearing in the superscription of 13 psalms, the term may designate a teaching song (compare verse 8). However, the NKJV translates the word as "Contemplation."

The Nelson Study Bible states in its introductory note on Psalm 32: "It is generally believed that this psalm-like Ps. 51-has its origin in David's response to God following his infamous affair with Bathsheba [and murder of Uriah] (2 Sam. 11)" This conclusion is based on the fact of David waiting for a long period before confessing the sin mentioned in the psalm-and the impression that his sin is public knowledge so that he is able to use it as an example.

David contrasts the joy of being forgiven with the misery of hiding a sin. "Happy" is the man who no longer deceives himself (verse 2). "Happy" is the man whose sin is taken away (verse 1). "Happy" is the man who is no longer guilty in God's eyes (verse 2).

It was not so while he tried to pretend that his sin hadn't happened. His "silence was a stubborn resistance to admitting guilt, a hope that in time the sin and its penalty would go away. The more David delayed his confession, the more he suffered. David realized it was not just his conscience or his feelings that were assaulting him, but the heavy hand of God (38:1, 6-8)" (note on 32:3-5).

When David did at last confess in repentance, God forgave him (verse 5).

David declares, "For this cause [i.e., the blessing of forgiveness] everyone who is godly shall pray to You in a time when You may be found" (verse 6). Repentance and forgiveness are the starting points of a relationship with God-or of restoring a relationship with Him. A flood of trouble follows sin (verses 6, 10). But the grief that comes from hiding a sin will not come near those who repent and take refuge in God (verses 6-7).

Verse 8 says, "I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will guide you with My eye"-the latter part of this in the NIV being rendered, "I will counsel you and watch over you." Clearly God is no longer being addressed. Indeed, some believe that God Himself is directly speaking here and in verse 9. The Nelson's Study Bible states: "The speaker changes. The Lord 'comes into the psalm' to instruct the people. He exhorts the people not to be like a horse that will not go where its rider wants it to go; it has to be disciplined because it is stubborn" (note on verses 8-9).

However, it could well be that David is still speaking. As The Zondervan NIV Study Bible says, "Some believe that the psalmist himself here turns to others to warn them against the ways into which he had fallen (see 51:13)" (note on 32:8-10). Psalm 51:13, cited here, speaks of what David would do following God's forgiveness: "Then I will teach transgressors your ways, and sinners shall be converted to You." See also 34:11. Either way, the instruction is of course from God, who inspired the psalm.

Psalm 33 is one of the few anonymous psalms in Book I of the Psalter. However, its placement here makes it likely one of David's (see 72:20). It is interesting to note that the last verse of Psalm 32 seems to lead right into the first verse of Psalm 33. Yet Psalm 33 is clearly independent, ending the section of psalms beginning with the alphabetic acrostic of Psalm 25. Though not itself an alphabetic acrostic like the psalm that follows it, Psalm 33 is arranged in 22 Hebrew verses-22 being the number of letters in the Hebrew alphabet. (Perhaps there was a thought of making this into an alphabetic acrostic.)

The psalmist states that God finds pleasure and beauty in the rejoicing of the righteous (verse 1). He encourages others to praise God with various instruments (verse 2) and to "sing to Him a new song" (verse 3). Note here that worshipful music is directed "to Him"-He is the audience. And the singing of a new song, besides implying finding new ways to praise God in music (especially as we constantly discover new things to praise Him for), probably also means always singing with renewed appreciation and love-always thinking anew about hymns we are singing and not just droning out stanzas by rote. Capable musicians are told to "play skillfully" (verse 3), as we must offer only our best to God. And our attitude in musical praise is to be expressed in joy (same verse).

Indeed, there is so much to be joyful for, as the psalm goes on to detail. God's Word is right and all His actions are done in truth, righteousness and justice, which He loves (verses 4-5). And despite the evil that Satan's present rule has wrought, "the earth is full of the goodness of the Lord" (verse 5)-"the goodness that manifests itself every time the sun rises, a bird sings, and a mother lovingly embraces her child. Out of His goodness, God holds together the earth and provides for the sustenance of all people. One day God's goodness will prevail over all evil (98:2)" (Nelson Study Bible, note on verses 4-5).

There is joy and praise to be found in God's awesome work of creation (verses 6-9) and the fact that His plans and purpose will never be thwarted (verses 10-11). The people of God are so wonderfully blessed (verse 12).

God is to be praised as Sovereign above all nations. He watches from heaven over everyone on earth and is aware of everything they do-understanding them better than they do themselves as He is the one who fashioned their hearts (verses 13-15). And in His watchfulness, He is lovingly attentive to "those who fear Him...who hope in His unfailing love" (verse 18, NIV). For them He is a shield, a deliverer, a helper, so that they may truly rejoice (verses 19-21).

The psalm closes in verse 22 by addressing God Himself, praying for and affirming hope in the blessings of God's covenant love.

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