Monday, July 29, 2013

What Catholics, Calvinists, and Lutherans once had in common

On April 27th, 1541, the Diet of Regensburg began. This Diet (i.e. legislative assembly) was an attempt to restore unity between the divided churches,  generally recognized today as Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and Calvinists. The representatives at this Diet are particularly noteworthy, especially considering that they volunteered their efforts to publicly unify, to the best of their academic abilities, with the Roman Catholic Church. Philip Melanchthon represented the Lutherans, Cardinal Contarini and John Eck both represented the Roman Catholics, while Martin Bucer and John Calvin represented the more general "Reformed" crowd. 

From this meeting arose a fascinating letter which post-reformation theologians have aptly dubbed The Regensburg Book. This book was divided into 23 articles, all of which together expressed a unified confession among the parties represented. In other words, the language of the book was such that the Lutherans, Calvinists, and Roman Catholics were all generally represented as agreeing with each other on cardinal doctrines; but even more importantly, the specific doctrinal views of Melanchthon, Calvin, Bucer, and two reputable Roman Catholic authorities agreed, as Calvin said, on "the substance of the true doctrine" of the Christian faith.

This was quite an accomplishment among the heated debates of the Protestant Reformation, and in a letter to William Farel on May 11th, 1541, John Calvin expressed the joy which this agreement brought to everyone assembled. Calvin wrote:
The debate in controversy was more keen upon the doctrine of justification. At length a formula was drawn up, which, on receiving certain corrections, was accepted on both sides. You will be astonished, I am sure, that our opponents have yielded so much, when you read the extracted copy, as it stood when the last correction was made upon it, which you will find enclosed in this letter. Our friends have thus retained also the substance of the true doctrine, so that nothing can be comprehended within it which is not to be found in our writings. You will desire, I know, a more distinct explication and statement of the doctrine, and, in that respect, you shall find me in complete agreement with yourself. However, if you consider with what kind of men we have to agree upon this doctrine, you will acknowledge that much has been accomplished.1

Regarding the doctrine of justification which Calvin noted as being vital to their joint confession, a portion from that section, translated into English, has been provided by Dr. Peter Lillback, adjunct professor of historical theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. That section can be seen below; and as many calvinists who read this will probably notice, the lack of tension between law & gospel, and imputed & subordinate-inherent righteousness is striking. I suspect that the majority of American "Calvinists" or "Reformed" Christians today would not agree with this confession:
Therefore that living faith which apprehends mercy in Christ and believes the righteousness which is in Christ has been graciously imputed to him, and which simultaneously receives the promise of the Holy Spirit and love. So then, that faith is justifying faith which is efficacious by love....
Moreover, although he who is justified also receives and has through Christ inherent righteousness, as the Apostle says, you are washed, you are sanctified, you are justified, etc., wherefore the holy fathers used the word "to be justified" for receiving an inherent righteousness. Nevertheless, the believing mind does not rest upon this righteousness, but upon the righteousness of Christ alone given to us, without which there neither is nor can be any righteousness. And so we are justified by faith in Christ, or we are accounted righteous, that is, accepted through the merits of Himself, not on account of our worth or works. And we are called righteous because of inherent righteousness, because we do those things which are righteous, according to that passage in John: he who does righteousness is righteous.
And although the fear of God, repentance and humility, and other virtues must always increase in the regenerated, since renovation is imperfect and great infirmities cleave to them, nevertheless it ought to be taught, that those who truly repent may always be sure by a most certain faith, they are pleasing to God on account of Christ the Mediator, because Christ is the Propitiator, High Priest, and Advocate for us, Whom the Father gave to us, and all good things with Him....
Moreover, he who says we are justified by faith alone must at the same time teach the doctrine of repentance, of fear of God, of the judgment of God, of good works, in order that the whole sum of preaching might stand firm as Christ says, "...preaching repentance and remission of sins in My name," and that, lest this form of speaking be understood otherwise than it has been preached.2

Needless to say, Martin Luther, who was not present at this Diet, was not pleased with this joint confession, and so he spoke out against it. As a result of his scathing reaction, no further progress and unity was formed among the Reformed-Calvinists and the Roman Catholics.

1.  Peter Lillback, The Binding of God: Calvin's Role in the development of Covenantal Theology [Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic; 2001], pp. 190-191. Italics mine.
2.  Ibid. 

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Greg Bahnsen & John Locke's Political Philosophy

Toward the beginning of his lengthy lectures on British Empiricism, Dr. Greg Bahnsen expresses some crucial philosophical distinctions about political philosophy. Commenting on John Locke's political philosophy and its relevance for American Christians today, Bahnsen said:
What would have been abhorrent for Locke is taken for granted in our day, that the majority have the right to vote in a State that will tax people to redistribute their wealth. 
I’m just taking one example of many: Locke would have thought that as abhorrent. That he didn’t, you see, take account of that is because Lock could count on the general Christian or protestant morality of England in his day. It’s just -- nobody would ever think that the [democratic] State could be used as an indirect way of thievery. You know, the majority getting in so that they could put their hands into the pockets of all the citizens to take their money. But we have now moved into a day where we have to reexamine much of what Locke had to say because the kind of freedom that he granted to the State, and the kind of freedom he granted to citizens in forming their State, assumed something of which we no longer have.
Now I’m not saying we should not have that view of the State.
What I’m saying is, well, to take another example: If you try to take Locke’s view of the democratic State to Somalia today, hey, good luck! -- Because Somalia is a warlord society. It does not have a Christian ethic, a Christian worldview--I mean, even in the broadest perspective. And, I would argue that worldviews hang together. Locke’s was not a perfect one by any means, but the only reason his political theory is so good is because it operated within a general Christian worldview. And he could assume that in a general sense, in terms of the values of his fellow citizens. But when you don’t have that--when you have ethical anarchy--then having the State being run by the majority may not prove to be the State that brings welfare to the people.
So now I’m going to say something that is going to be rather controversial, and I want you to reflect on it:
My sympathies are Puritan. My sympathies are Presbyterian. They are so much so that I criticize Cromwell, the Puritan general, because he re-introduced basically another monarchy that tyrannized the people toward the end of the puritan revolution. So you know where my sympathies are.
However, in terms of political theory, I would have to say, I would rather have a King that enforces the Law of God, than a majority that kills babies. Now the reason I’m saying this is because I have a great respect for Locke and what he has bequeathed to us, but don’t ever think that the form and administration of the State is more important than the morality of the State.
And so, I don’t want a king because I know that men tend to absolutize their power and tyrannize others. I want a parliamentary or a congressional or a democratic form of government--like Lock would have said, I want separation of powers. I don’t want concentration of power. I really prefer that. But that is a subordinate preference. I would prefer a King who did the righteous thing to a Congress that will not do righteousness.1 

1.  Greg Bahnsen, History of Western Philosophy: Renaissance & Enlightenment [Lectures on British Empiricism]. Bahnsen's lectures on philosophy are available together at  
Individual lectures from his series on Renaissance & Enlightenment can be found here:

Wisdom prepares a feast

Commenting on Proverbs 9:1-6, Saint Ambrose of Milan teaches an interesting connection between the feast which "Wisdom" prepares in her house and the feast which the Church of Christ prepares in her house:
You wish to eat, you wish to drink. Come to the feast of Wisdom which invites all men by a great proclamation, saying: 'Come, eat my bread and drink my wine that I have mingled.' Do not fear that in the Feast of the Church you will lack either pleasant perfumes, or agreeable food, or varied drink, or fitting servants. There you will gather myrrh, that is to say, the burial of Christ, in such a way that, buried with Him by Baptism, you also will arise from the dead as He Himself is arisen. There you will eat the bread that strengthens the heart of man, you will drink the wine so that you may grow to the full stature of Christ.1

1.  Jean Danielou, S.J., The Bible and the Liturgy [Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press; reprint 2011] p. 158

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Accusations of Sabbath-Breaking: Matthew 12:1-8 (section D1)

Continuing where we left off in this series of Matthew gospel, we arrive at the central section of this narrative, which is connected by three pericopes: D1 (Matt. 12:1-8), D2 (vv. 9-14), and D3 (vv. 15-21). 

As noted in a previous post, chapters 11 & 12 are compiled as one connected narrative of events, and each pericope within chapters eleven and twelve are connected by Matthew in a way which is not found in the other synoptic gospels (cf. Luke chap. 5-7). Also, this central section at which we have finally arrived focuses heavily upon one theme: the theme of Sabbath-Rest. As we go through this central section in its entirety, it will become more and more apparent that Matthew has "sandwiched" these Sabbath controversies between the surrounding pericopes in order to give his readers the sense that these events transpire around the same general time: the time of the Sabbath; the time of rest for the people of Israel.

Beginning with the first part (D1), we find this brief sketch of events:
  At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry, and they began to pluck heads of grain and to eat. But when the Pharisees saw it, they said to him, "Behold! Your disciples are doing what is not lawful to do on the Sabbath!" 

  He said to them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the House of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?

  Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless? I tell you, something greater than the Temple is here. And if you had known what this means, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the guiltless ones. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

In order to appreciate the significance of these accusations by the Pharisees, it's important to ask and answer the question, "Was Jesus allowing his disciples to do something unlawful on the Sabbath?"

It is very clear from the text of God's Law that "work" was not allowed on the Sabbath. The Sabbath was a day of rest for God's covenant people. "Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is the Sabbath of Yahweh your God. In it you shall do no work..." (Ex. 20:9-10). Also, as it concerns the actions of Jesus' disciples, God's Law also allows the poor to glean from the edges of certain fields, including grain fields (Lev. 19:9-10; Deut. 23:24-25; 24:19-22). But the problem with which Jesus was confronted concerning both of these aspects of God's Law --Sabbath resting and grain gleaning-- was that the Law did not, per se, clarify whether gleaning was permitted on the Sabbath Day. That is to say, if you look at all of the laws pertaining to the Sabbath Day, there is no clear indication that gleaning heads of grain qualified as the "work" forbidden in the Sabbath Laws. The Law simply does not address those overlapping issues. But the Pharisees did have an interpretation of the Law that addressed those overlapping issues. In fact, according to the pharisaical laws of 1st century Judaism, all forms of "reaping" were forbidden on the Sabbath because "reaping" was considered work. And the action of plucking heads of grain, and then rubbing them together to get the kernels inside, was considered a form of "reaping," and therefore was unlawful to do in their eyes.

But Jesus' response is very telling. Jesus does not spend any time affirming or denying their pharisaical interpretation. Jesus' response assumes it was lawful for his disciples to be gleaning on the Sabbath, which means that Jesus' response is not so much concerned with proving that there are exceptions to God's rules as it is with proving that the Pharisees have misunderstood the Law and its Lawgiver entirely.

Jesus asks them, "Have you not read what David did when he was hungry, and those who were with him: how he entered the House of God and ate the bread of the Presence, which it was not lawful for him to eat nor for those who were with him, but only for the priests?" This is a reference from 1st Samuel 21:1-6, in which we learn that David did, in fact, eat the bread of the Presence, which was, according to the strict letter of the law, designated for "Aaron and his children" (Lev. 24:5-9). The reason why Aaron and his children could eat "holy food" was because they were ritually consecrated as 'holy' to the Lord for their service in God's House, but laymen were not considered 'holy' (Lev. 22:1-16) unless they became properly consecrated according to the law (e.g. As a nazarite, or for holy war, etc.). Ordinarily, laymen like David were just ceremonially 'clean,' like the rest of ordinary Israelites who avoided defiling themselves with ceremonial uncleanness. But if we look at 1st Sam. 21 carefully, it is obvious that David had been consecrated as 'holy,' similar to the consecration of a priest, and the Priest considered it lawful to give it to him because he was specially consecrated as holy. Notice how obvious this is from the story of 1st Sam. 21:1-6:
Then David came to Nob to Ahimelech the priest. And Ahimelech came to meet David trembling and said to him, “Why are you alone, and no one with you?”  And David said to Ahimelech the priest, “The king has charged me with a matter and said to me, ‘Let no one know anything of the matter about which I send you, and with which I have charged you.’ I have made an appointment with the young men for such and such a place.  Now then, what do you have on hand? Give me five loaves of bread, or whatever is here.”  And the priest answered David, “I have no common bread on hand, but there is holy bread—if the young men have kept themselves from women.”  And David answered the priest, “Truly women have been kept from us as always when I go on an expedition. The vessels of the young men are holy even when it is an ordinary journey. How much more today will their vessels be holy? So the priest gave him the holy bread, for there was no bread there but the bread of the Presence, which is removed from before the Lord, to be replaced by hot bread on the day it is taken away.
Notice carefully that David assures the priest that he and his men have abstained from ceremonial uncleanness and that their vessels are holy too, not merely ceremonially "clean." This infers that David and his men have been consecrated as holy too, because only servants of the Lord who were ceremonially consecrated as holy could partake of holy food (Lev. 22:1-16). Jesus knew the Law taught this. But did the Pharisees make this connection? 

But notice again, and just as carefully, that Jesus responds to the Pharisees with an assertion about it being unlawful for David to eat the holy bread. Well, which one was it? Was it lawful or unlawful for David to eat the holy bread? It is true that the letter of the Law only mentions in passing that Aaron and his children are to eat the bread, but was that law intended to exclude all other servants in God's House who became specially consecrated as holy too? 

In the next verse, we learn a clue about why Jesus said it was unlawful for David to eat the holy bread. In the next verse, Jesus asks another question:
Or have you not read in the Law how on the Sabbath the priests in the Temple profane the Sabbath and are guiltless?
Stop and think about this statement for a minute. Is it true that the priests of the Lord profane the Sabbath? According to Leviticus 24:5-9, which is the same place we learn that "Aaron and his children" are to eat the holy bread, we learn that the twelve loaves of bread were exchanged on the Sabbath Day. This means David entered the House of God and ate the holy bread on a Sabbath Day. But when you read 1st Samuel 21, did you conclude that the priest was profaning the Sabbath by working that day? My guess is that you assumed he did not profane the Sabbath that day, or any other Sabbath Day, because God ordered them to exchange the holy bread on the Sabbath Day. Even though God commanded His people to do no "work" on the Sabbath Day, the priests self-consciously affirm their duty to "work" on the Sabbath Day by exchanging the twelves holy loaves of bread every week. 

But which is it? Are the priests profaning the Sabbath or not? Are they "working" on the Sabbath or not? 

It turns out that what Jesus is doing is answering the Pharisees according to their own traditions of interpretation. The Pharisees attack Jesus for allowing his disciples to do what is "unlawful" on the Sabbath, according to their dubious traditions. Jesus responds with two equally dubious illustrations of law-keeping. And by responding in that way, Jesus arrives at the underlying problem with the Pharisees and their accusations of Sabbath-breaking: The Pharisees don't know the true Lawgiver

The Pharisees know that God requires "burnt offerings" and "sacrifices," and so they offered sacrifices according to the letter of the law; whereas the Lord desired loyal love (i.e. mercy), not sacrifice (Hosea 6:6). The Lord wanted them to know Him, rather than merely offer burnt offerings. But their love was like a morning cloud, and like the dew on the ground which goes away quickly once light shines on it (Hosea 6:4). Like Adam in God's Garden, they transgress God's covenant, and they deal faithlessly with God Himself (Hosea 6:7). They are evildoers tracked with blood (Hosea 6:8), banding together and lying in wait to commit villainy against God's people (Hosea 6:9). Their whoredom with Herod's idolatrous temple and their man-made traditions defiles them (Hosea 6:10). They do not know that something greater than Herod's Temple is before them. They do not accept his claim that "The Son of Man is Lord", let alone lord of the Sabbath. Therefore, when the Lord restores the fortunes of his people as promised on the day of Harvest (Hosea 6:11), the Pharisees will reap what they have sown. 

As we progress through Matthew's gospel, we learn that because they refuse to turn away from their man-made idols, and turn to the Lord (Hosea 6:1), they will, instead, seek an alternative course of action. In the very next pericope we learn that the Pharisees conspire to destroy Jesus from that Sabbath Day forward (Matt. 12:14). From that day forward, they will attempt to tear Jesus apart, strike him down, and bind him up (Hosea 6:1). But little do they know that in doing so, He will fulfill what Adam did not. He will fulfill the life which Israel did not. He will be the faithful son of God which both Adam and Israel failed to be. Little do they know that after two days he will revive, and on the third day he will rise up, that his people may live before him (Hosea 6:2).


Sunday, July 21, 2013

Miserable Comforters, Infinite Fullness

We can see in affliction that the world is not what it seems, not what it promises, and not what we expected and flattered ourselves with. Whatever a man makes his riches, whether friend, wealth, or earthly interests, they cannot deliver out of the hands of death and judgment (Prov. 11:4). The soul finds by experience the unsuitableness and dissatisfaction in all these things. There is no comparison between an invisible soul and visible comforts; an immortal soul and perishing contentments; a spiritual being and an earthly portion. The air we breathe will as soon fill a hungry belly as creature-comforts will satisfy the spirit. In the hour of trial the soul says, 'Miserable comforters you all are, you physicians of no value' (Mark 5:26). Ah, but there is infinite fullness in Jesus Christ. He is suited to all the needs of poor undone sinners. No king was anointed with such power; no prophet with such wisdom; no priest with such grace, for God gave him the Spirit without measure (John 3:34), and of his fullness we receive grace for grace. ...He infinitely transcends all the beauty and glory of the world. He is our King to govern; our Prophet to teach; our Priest to save. 
-- Thomas Case, Select Works, A Treatise of Afflictions 

Saturday, July 20, 2013

The Prayer of a Living Sacrifice: Psalm 119:169-176

There are two translations below. The first comes from an ESV Bible. The second is my own "wooden" translation of the same verses, organized according to its own literary structure (without verse numbers). Following that is my commentary on this portion of Psalm 119.

Psalm 119  (ESV)
169  Let my cry come before you, O Lord;
give me understanding according to your word!
170  Let my plea come before you;
deliver me according to your word.
171  My lips will pour forth praise,
for you teach me your statutes.
172  My tongue will sing of your word,
for all your commandments are right.
173  Let your hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
174  I long for your salvation, O Lord,
and your law is my delight.
175  Let my soul live and praise you,
and let your rules help me.
176  I have gone astray like a lost sheep; seek your servant,
          for I do not forget your commandments.

Psalm 119:169-176
A)  Let my cry draw near before your face, O Yahweh.
B)  According to your commanded-word, give me discernment!
A’)  Let my plea enter before your face.
B’)  According to your spoken-word, rescue me!

C)  My lips will burst forth a song of praise because you instruct me in your written-laws!
C’)  My tongue will shout jubilantly of your spoken-word because all your regulations are just!

D)  Let your hand be to my succor, because I have chosen your directions.
E)  I long for your deliverance, O Yahweh, and your Law is my delight!
D’)  Let my soul revive so that it can praise you, and let your judgments succor me.
E’)  I have wandered like a lost sheep; so search for your servant because I do not forget your commandments

The first line of the first verse (in the ESV) says, "Let my cry come before you," whereas the first line of the second verse says "Let my plea come before you." Clearly those two statements parallel each other. And at first glance, the only noticeable difference between the two is the word cry and the word plea. But the ESV translation is actually misleading. According to the more "wooden" translation above, what King David actually wrote in the first verse (and yes, I do believe King David wrote this Psalm) was "let my cry draw near...". In the second verse, David wrote something different. He wrote, "let my plea enter...". And so, the difference is not merely between crying and pleading (as the ESV suggests), but also between drawing near and entering.

At a second glance, you might be thinking that there still isn't much of a difference between drawing near and entering; but according to the culture in which King David was raised, such distinctions were profoundly important. The word for "drawing near" is קרב (qrb), and has a peculiar importance within the Law of God, particularly because it is frequently used throughout the book of Leviticus. Just to show a small sample of how frequent qrb is, below is another "wooden" translation, only this one shows the first few verses of Leviticus. Notice the frequency of the qrb root: 
Now he called to Moses. Yahweh spoke to him from the Tent-of-Congregation, saying: "Speak to the children of Israel and say to them: 'When anyone among you brings-near (qrb) a near-offering (qrb) for YHWH, from domestic animals, from the herd or from the flock you may bring-near (qrb) your near-offering (qrb). If an ascension-offering is his near-offering (qrb) from the herd, then a male, without blemish, let him bring-it-near (qrb) to the entrance of the Tent-of-Congregation, let him bring-it-near (qrb) as acceptance for him, before the presence of Yahweh.'"

According to God's Law, certain boundaries were set by God for worshiping-laymen such as David. David understood that once he entered the courtyard surrounding the Lord's house (the tabernacle), that would be as far as he could "draw near." If he desired to draw near further, and enter into the Lord's holy presence, he would die. And not by his own choice, of course, but because God's Law taught him so. God's Law taught him how polluted he was because of sin, how holy God was, and how pure one needed to be in order to enter the very presence of God. But the Lord, full of grace and mercy, placed Himself in a covenant with man and allowed an animal without blemish to represent everyone who desired to draw near. In order to draw near, that animal would have to die in his (or her) place and be carried by a priest before the altar. In doing so, that animal-representative would draw near before Yahweh. If David were offering an animal without blemish, that animal would die and draw near before the face of Yahweh in David's place. And so, when King David asked Yahweh for his cry to draw near before His face, David was using sacrificial terminology. David was, in essence, saying, "Let this cry of mine be received as a sacrifice, brought near before you according to your Law."

Similar but distinguishable terminology is also used in the second verse, when David describes the entrance, the בוֹא (b'wa), of his plea. Just as Moses alone entered (b'wa) the cloud of Yahweh at the top of Mount Sinai (Ex. 24:18) and the cloud of Yahweh covering the Tabernacle (Ex. 33:9), so the High Priest only entered (b'wa) the Most Holy Place of Yahweh in the Tabernacle (Lev. 16:17). David's plea, therefore, is distinguishable from his cry. David wants his cry, his wailing, to draw near as a sacrificial offering without blemish, and he wants his plea to actually enter the most holy presence of God. While acknowledging the holy boundaries of access to God, David embraces God as one to whom he can draw near and actually enter before. Through faith, David embraces the gracious character of God revealed in his Law.

But for what does David cry? And for what does David plea?

Again, we find another misleading translation in the ESV. The ESV doesn't distinguish what "word" David trusts in. In the second line of the first two verses, the ESV says "according to your word," with no distinction between either verse. But in Hebrew, the first verse says "according to your commanded-word" (דָבָר  dbr), whereas the second verse says "according to your spoken-word" (אמרה  imrh). The first "word," dbr, is very common. It's most familiar use is with the ten commandments, the ten commanded-words, the ten dbr's. The other word, imrh, refers to that which God has spoken, which is why it's often translated as God's "promise" throughout the Scriptures. Elsewhere in this Psalm, it is translated as "promise" (119:38, 41, 50, 58, 76, 82, 116, 123, 133, 140, 148, 154; ESV). I have only translated it as God's spoken-word to distinguish it from God's commanded-word.

And so, what David cries out to Yahweh for is understanding, or discernment, according to Yahweh's commanded-word.  And what he pleads for is deliverance, or rescuing, according to Yahweh's spoken, or promised, word. Two important principles for Christian living can be deduced from this: First, it teaches us not to presume upon God's deliverance in all circumstances, but to find assurance in those promises which God has spoken. And secondarily, it teaches us David's priorities in prayer. 

Let's look at both of these principles in more detail.

According to the first principle, we learn that David was not pleading for deliverance apart from something God had spoken to him--something God had promised him. Such a promise, in the context of David's life, is obviously that which was spoken in 1st Samuel 16, when God provided for Himself a king among the sons of Jesse, David by name. From that time on, David was the Lord's anointed, not Saul, and Saul treated David's anointing as a threat to his own throne. This means that within the historical setting behind the scenery of Psalm 119:169-176, David is pleading for the Lord to rescue him at a time when David felt his life and throne was in jeopardy. God had anointed him and filled him with His Holy Spirit, yet David was on the run from King Saul who was trying to kill him and keep him from ever ascending the throne of Israel. This time is generally understood to be around the events recorded in I Samuel 23. 

The second principle we learn involves David's priorities. Here we see a pattern of thought in David. If these historical circumstances are true, as I have argued them to be, notice carefully that David does not simply plea for God to rescue him. Nor does David plea for rescuing first. Ordinarily, when a Christian finds himself in extremely stressful and even dangerous circumstances (like David's), the first desire of the heart is for God to get us out of trouble. Ordinarily, we don't want any more stress, which means we don't want the headaches of learning to endure trials. We want out! We want deliverance from our troubles. We don't want to learn what to do next as we endure trials. But that was not David's first priority. David's first priority was to learn discernment according to God's commanded-word. David's first priority was to learn more about what he could do to please God through his trials. David's first priority was to understand what he ought to do (and not do) through in his present trial, as he awaited deliverance. David's other priority--his plea--was for deliverance, and that was a secondary priority because he trusted, by faith, in God's promise; which means he trusted God's faithfulness. He trusted in God's faithful character because he learned God's holy character from His Law. It was God's holy Law which gave him hope and taught him to fear God and His holy boundaries. It was the work of God's Holy Spirit that ennobled his heart to trust and obey faithfully, and maintain such holy priorities, even through such difficult trials. 

David's great confidence in the Lord is made clear in the central section of this Psalm (sections C and C'). David knows the day is coming when his own lips will burst forth with a song of praise. David looks forward to shouting jubilantly before all of Israel about God's spoken-word, i.e. God's promise to him. Yet notice carefully that David's confidence is grounded in God's written laws (section C). David knows that all of God's regulations for living are just (C'), and therefore he has nothing to fear. If God is for him, who would be so foolish as to be against him? Historically we know that King Saul was that foolish.

In sections D and D', David refers to God's "hand" and His "judgments" succoring him. This brings us back to David's first priority--David's cry. David is being hunted by Saul, but David knows that God has spoken to him, promising him the throne of Israel; and David cries for discernment according to God's commanded-word. David cries for such discernment because he doesn't want to displease the Lord and foolishly presume that God's hand would not be against him too, especially if he chose a path of lawlessness and sinful behavior (like Saul did) to get out of his troubles. David understood that God's covenant involves both blessings and curses--blessings of God's hand for faithful obedience and the curses of God's hand for disobedience. And here we learn that David sees God's hand of judgment as a good thing for him. It's a good thing for him because his first priority is to discern God's commanded-word and obey it. Why should David fear God's hand of judgment if he is doing those things which please God? David should have nothing to fear because he had chosen Yahweh's directions and his delight was in Yahweh's Law (sections D and E).

Finally, David closes with these words: "I have wandered like a lost sheep; so search for your servant..."

Many commentators suggest that David is confessing his private, and even ignorant, sins. That is to say, David is pouring out his heart and soul, confessing every possible sin imaginable, even secret sins which caused him to wander away from the faith. This, allegedly, is what he meant by wandering like a lost sheep. But is that really what's being taught here? Is David acknowledging that he has wandered, however slightly, from the faith? Such an interpretation would be odd and unnecessary. It would be odd because David's final words are "search for your servant because I do not forget your commandments." If David was confessing that he had wandered from the faith, however slight, that would seem to conflict with his confidence that he has not forgotten God's commandments. It also would conflict with the many other repeated statements about loving and keeping God's commandments. 

Instead, what I believe David is expressing is his vulnerability. David is describing a familiar scene to shepherds like himself. The scene is of a "lost" or "perishing" sheep in unfamiliar territory--a territory where enemies surround him and where he is not safe. Therefore David cries out, "I have search for your servant." This fits well within the historical setting described above. David is in distress and danger, on the run for his life from king Saul. Nevertheless, David trusts in God's promises concerning his kingdom. David finds comfort in the Lord's anointing. David draws near before the face of God in prayer, and because his pleading actually entered the Most Holy Place, the Lord sought his servant. That God of peace and Great Shepherd of the sheep made him complete in every good work to do his will, working in him what was well-pleasing in his sight. To Him belongs the glory for ever and ever. Amen.