1Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away. I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
2My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.
3Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt His Name together!
4I sought the LORD, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears.
5Those who look to Him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.
6This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.
7The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear Him, and delivers them.
8Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him!
9Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints, for those who fear Him have no lack!
10The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.
11Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.
12What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good?
13Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.
14Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.
15The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and His ears toward their cry.
16The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth.
17When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.
18The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.
19Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all.
20He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.
21Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.
22The LORD redeems the life of His servants; none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned. (ESV)
Now when you read that Psalm with me, you will have noticed that God hears the cry of the righteous. Look at verse 17 of that Psalm: “When the righteous cry for help, the Lord hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.” verse 19: “many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers him out of them all.” Now as we read that and we rejoice in that we start thinking a little bit more deeply and we say, well the Lord delivers the righteous out of all his afflictions and his troubles and then we start taking inventory of our lives. We see that in fact, we do have afflictions. We do have troubles – we have hardships and they don’t seem to be getting any less and we start to wonder. Well, isn’t this what we’ve read in God’s word? Isn’t he supposed to be taking me out of these trials and delivering me from them as we read in verse 17 and 19 and all these afflictions? And then if you’re anything like me you start analysing some more and you start saying ‘well, maybe it’s because I’m not righteous – maybe because this is not true of me. I’m not righteous enough to experience God’s help in my afflictions and my deliverances.’ And so we go into a bit of a vicious circle or vicious spiral isn’t it? And we go down, down, down – much like poor old Joseph was thrown into the pit by his brothers. And if that wasn’t bad enough, then he was sold to the Ishmaelite Traders going down and then he went down to Egypt the scripture says, and then when he got in Egypt just as things were looking better, he was accused of raping his master’s wife and down he went into the dungeon. And that’s how we feel sometimes isn’t it? Because we can’t seem to square our experience with what God’s Word is saying – it doesn’t seem to be consistent.
And so this evening when I want us to talk about, or to ask and answer the question is “How Righteous must I be to Enjoy God’s Care and Deliverance?”
Otherwise, this Psalm is meaningless, isn’t it? A lot of Scriptures become at odds with our experience, which ought not to be the case. Our experienced should tie in with the Scriptures. And so, as we come to the Psalm, I hope that we will be able to unravel that question a little bit better and get some insight into it and God will help us as we deal with all these difficulties in our lives and these afflictions. Now, I want to answer that question in two ways: We’re going to look at it negatively and then positively.
- Negatively, what it is not
When we read about righteousness, we need to understand what kind of righteousness is the Psalmist talking about and is God’s spirit pointing us to in the passage like this and other passages as well.
a. It’s not a perfect righteousness
The whole context of this Psalm tells us that. David is very far from perfect and at this particular point in his life he is actually in trouble partly because of his own sin. Did you see the forward to the psalm of David when he changed his behaviour for Abimelech so that he drove him out and he went away? What was the background here? Well, of course, we know David had many enemies in his life and it was first of all the Philistines that he was fighting against. He destroyed that great Philistine Goliath and then once he was promoted and doing so well his own king became his enemy, king Saul. And Saul was after David, hounding him. There were a number of occasions where there was just a step between David and death. David’s faith was starting to grow weak, and he started to do what most of us do – start to analyse the situation and say “well according to the law of probabilities sooner or later Saul’s going to get me. I can’t go on against incredible odds and God still protecting me. Saul’s going to get me. Where can I flee for safety? I can’t go anywhere in Israel because he’ll find me and he’ll send soldiers as he’s done in numerous times. I will go to the enemy. I’ll go to the Philistines”. But there’s one problem. They knew he had slain Goliath, so he goes off to Achish. These are different names for the Philistine kings as we read in Samuel and in Psalms. The only way he can find a refuge is if he pretends he’s mad and you can go and read about that in 1 Samuel 21. So he plays the part as if he’s lost his mind and he finds refuge – a kind of refuge you could call it – in the land of the Philistines. So David acted in a moment of weakness and his faith grew very weak when he did that because he wasn’t thinking of God. He was thinking of the odds against him – like we so often do. And so he made his own way of escape – his own refuge. And off he went to the enemy – in fact this Psalm tells us in verse 14 ‘Turn away from evil and do good.’ verse 13 ‘keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit’. David was starting to speak deceit to the Philistines and trying to pretend to be something that he wasn’t and there were all sorts of issues. So it’s not talking about a perfect righteousness. This Psalm is not talking about one who’s perfectly righteous who can experience God’s deliverance and help.
b. It’s not Righteousness that is without fear
Sometimes we think that if we’re going to be righteous and loving God with all our heart, it’ll cast out all fear. No, you can see there’s fear in the psalm of David. Look at verse 4: ‘He delivered me from all my fears.’ He was gripped with fear. It’s not righteousness that is without fear.
c. It’s not Positional Righteousness, but Sanctification
David already was a justified man and Romans 4 points that out very clearly to us that David was justified by faith like we are in the coming Messiah. We look back to the Messiah that has come. So it wasn’t a positional righteousness that this Psalm is talking about where God declares somebody righteous on the basis of the righteousness of somebody else who has lived a righteous life and died vicariously in their place. No, rather this refers to what we would call sanctification. Once God has saved a person and transferred him from the kingdom of darkness into the Kingdom of Light they changed, but now He needs to work on them. And he does work on them and makes them holy – the process we call sanctification. That’s what this is referring to. But that still doesn’t help us answer our question: ‘How righteous must I be to enjoy the deliverance and the care of God?’ That leads me to my second point, what this righteousness is. We’ve looked at what it is not, but what is this righteousness?
- Positively, what it is
David gives us the elements of this righteousness that will hopefully encourage us in our day-to-day living.
a. There is Heartfelt Prayer
Look at verse 4: ‘I sought the Lord’, ‘I cry for help.’ (verse 17). This is not someone who’s just reading from a Book of Prayers. This is not someone who has learnt some sayings and he just uses them before he goes to sleep at night or when he gets up in the morning and he utters this string of sentences – this mantra which he considers to be prayer and off he goes. No, this is somebody who knows what heartfelt prayer is – a crying out to God. Look at verse 6, ‘this poor man cried’. The hymn writers put it so beautifully when it talks about the Saints. Isaac Watts says ‘give me the wings of faith that I may rise with wings above and see the Saints above.’ And then he says ‘they were mourners here below just as we are now; they poured out cries and tears and wrestled hard as we do know.’ That’s what he’s talking about those who know what it is to cry to God, to pour out their hearts to the Lord as the psalmist says in another Psalm, feeling deeply what they’re praying. Praying earnestly with God – expecting to hear from Him, presenting their petitions. As one commentator says ‘God expects to hear from you before you can expect to hear from Him’. I like that. He wants you to pray. He wants you to pour out your heart to Him. Those are the prayers that God delights to hear and to answer. This is the kind of prayer David was uttering in this Psalm and other Psalms as well. Think of Hannah in the Old Testament. In fact, she was pouring out her heart to God – not verbally but within her heart, but her lips were just moving and Eli thought she was drunk and so reproved her. But God heard and so we see throughout Scriptures – it’s the one who comes with a heart that is burdened and he pours out his heart to God.
b. Conviction of unworthiness, of sin and brokenness
Look at verse 18: ‘The Lord is near to the broken-hearted, and saves the crushed in spirit.’ You see I think David realized he was far from perfect. He had sinned in many ways. And so he comes to the Lord with a broken heart, acknowledging his sin, knowing that he has no hope in himself and he is sorry for his sin. This is how he comes to the Lord – he pours out his heart to God. Psalm 51 was also penned by David and he writes there: ‘The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit. A broken and a contrite heart, O God, You will not despise.’ And when you read the biographies of the past, you will find that they are in line with what Scripture says. You read these men and women of the past – godly people – and you’ll always find this: their humility and their poverty of spirit. Their consciousness of their unworthiness. David Brainerd is just one of many examples. He was a missionary to the Indians. How the Lord worked in his heart and he said ‘Just at night, I underwent such a dreadful conflict as I have a scarce ever felt. I saw myself vile and unworthy so that I was guilty and ashamed. That anybody should bestow any favour on me or show me any respect!’ And yet Jonathan Edwards spoke so glowingly of David Brainerd and his holiness, but here it is – as these men and these women who have gone before us – this cloud of witnesses as they get closer to God, they see their own unworthiness. And so ironically, paradoxically the righteous one is conscious of his unworthiness, isn’t it? And he pleads with the Lord and this is what David is doing in the psalm as well. We see it in many Psalms and in many parts of the Scriptures.
c. A Desire for God
A desire to experience more of God. Look at verse 8a – a verse that we know so well, you probably can recite it: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.’ You see the psalmist has this desire for God, and it’s a desire that is stronger than other desires. It’s a desire that he always comes back to. He wants to taste of God – he wants to experience more of God. He wants to see more of God. He wants to feel more of God. He wants God in the warp and woof of his life. He wants to see God’s glory as Moses prayed in Exodus 33 and 34. This is what the righteous man is like – he wants to see more of this great, holy, awesome and gracious God. He’s not content with just hearsay – he wants to experience it – he wants to know Him personally. Now as I speak to you this evening, I want to ask you that question. Do you have a desire for God? It’s good that you here tonight – that shows at least some desire. In fact, those who desire God want to be where the people of God are; they want to be worshipping God. They want to be praying to God. They want to be with other Christians as far as providence allows them or they can do to health reasons. Their desire is to be there and I think this is so important because having gone through this lockdown period, perhaps we have learnt bad habits, haven’t we? We’ve become so accustomed to becoming private Christians away from the people of God – away from the gathering of God’s people – away from getting together as a church and it’s just too comfortable and nice at home. We must resist that temptation, brethren! We need to desire God; we need to be as David says: “I long to be in the house of the Lord.” We must make every effort as we are able and well enough to be in the house of the Lord – it comes through meeting with God’s people. It comes through a desire and a hunger for His Word. – Read Psalm 119 and look at how many prayers there are. It’s a very interesting exercise Psalm 119 is full of prayer. We often think it’s a Psalm about God’s word and it is that, but it’s more than that. It’s about prayer to the Lord and it’s associated with His Word and we read these words in Psalm 119:103 ‘How sweet are Your Words to my taste.’ Here he is tasting again: ‘…sweeter than honey in my mouth.’ So the psalmist is desiring God and as he desires God, he’s led to the honey of God’s Word – He wants more of it. He wants to eat and he’s full of God’s Word and desires it. And that’s what the righteous desire is like it’s to be in God’s Word it’s to study it; to read it; to meditate on it. This is the righteous man. Psalm 1 ‘he meditates on Your law day and night.’ They’re those who think about Him. And as he reads, prays and worships, he starts to experience more of God and that stimulates even greater desire to know God, to walk with Him. And as he serves he experiences something of God – ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’.
d. Faith that takes refuge in God
Look at verse 8b ‘Blessed is the man who takes refuge in Him.’ But didn’t I say just now that David’s faith had grown weak. Yes it had, but there was still light there. There was still a glimmer – a flicker of faith. And as David thinks and he ponders and even ponders about his foolishness and what he has done, he goes back to God – his faith is revived. He trusts in him. He takes refuge in God and that’s what a righteous person does. He may fall, his faith may fail, but he gets up and he keeps looking to the Lord. He keeps trusting in the Lord. He keeps finding his refuge in the Lord. He keeps going. A Christian is not the one who doesn’t fall or who doesn’t fail. He falls and he fails often. A Christian is the one who gets up by the grace of God and he goes on and he keeps striving. You can read that throughout the Scriptures how many of the saints of God did fall and yet God is gracious and they get up and they go on it’s the perseverance of the Saints isn’t it, that we believe in. They will persevere, they will get up when they fall, and how many times haven’t we seen that? Think of Peter that great Apostle. He fell and yet, God was gracious to him. So it’s a faith even though it may be weak keeps persevering and keeps growing.
e. The Fear of the LORD
In a sense this sums up what we’ve been saying and maybe adds a bit to it. Look at verse 9: “O fear the LORD you his Saints for those who fear Him have no lack.” And then he goes on and he talks in verse 11: “Come O children listen to me. I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” Verse 13: “Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit.” David had learned this lesson the hard way. He’s saying this is what the fear of the Lord is. It turns us away from evil. It turns us away from the deception that I have fallen into; it turns us away from these things it turns us to the Lord; to truth and righteousness that focuses on following Him and desiring to do His will rather than my own and pleasing Him.
f. Experience of Affliction
Look at verse 19: “Many are the afflictions of the righteous.” Remember Job as he’s contemplating his life and feeling rather sorry for himself as we often do. And he thinks about it? And he says: “As the sparks fly upward, so is man born to trouble” – and that is true! We will have trouble, we will have affliction and even as I’m speaking now, you’re probably thinking of some of the afflictions that you’re experiencing and the difficulties you are going through and you don’t see much of a light at the end of the tunnel and maybe you wonder how I’m going to get through this. It could be your job situation; it could be a relationship issue; it could be a financial matter or whatever the case may be. You see these afflictions, but that it’s part of the Christian Life – that is part of the path that God is taking us through for good reasons and good purposes. He’s experienced these afflictions and that word affliction can be translated ‘hurt’ or ‘harm’ or ‘sorrow’ or ‘trouble’. It’s a broad word in terms of its meaning – many such and sometimes as David discovered he caused his own affliction due to his own foolishness, and we too sometimes find ourselves in that place. And God is chastising him too as He chastises us. Sometimes afflictions are like mosquitoes. You ever been out camping or being in a place in a hot summer’s night and trying to sleep? You don’t want sheets all over you and you’re trying to smack it and you miss it and it comes again or another one comes and you spend half the night trying to catch these mosquitoes – you can’t get rid of them! In a sense that’s what it’s like with all these afflictions. There’s is a whole swarm of them sometimes and they can sting and they can hurt, and the righteous experiences these things – for a time at least. Yet, all these afflictions do not crush us. Look at Verse 18: ‘The Lord is near to the broken-hearted and saves the crushed in spirit.’ Yes, you may feel down and you may feel crushed, but He gives grace to get up and to keep going to revive your spirit. Now all these things I’ve mentioned are work in progress, isn’t it? They work in progress. They’re not perfect – all of these elements of righteousness. They are things that God is working in us. This is not a perfect righteousness as I said earlier on – they are the things that God is working in us. And if these things are true of you – here’s the great comfort – then this Psalm is for you. If you are in this position, facing these issues then can be encouraged. If you have heartfelt prayer and realize your unworthiness and conviction of your sins and you have a desire for God and trust in Him however feeble it may be and a fear of Him and you’re experiencing affliction, then this Psalm is for you. By His Spirit God wrote it through David for your encouragement, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. That leads me to my third point. We’ve looked at what this righteousness is not, what it is and now:
The Blessings God Dispenses on the Righteous
Indeed, He does take them through their afflictions (verse 19). He saves them; He delivers them out of all their troubles (verse 17). Many are the afflictions but the Lord delivers him out of them all (verse 19). The Lord does deliver! He doesn’t often or always take them away, but He takes us through them. He takes us through the waters and we learn so much through them. Again, David is our great example isn’t he? He had many enemies in his life the Philistines – he needed to fight the Philistines. God did not just smite them like He did with the Assyrians in Isaiah’s time. David had to fight and he had to struggle with the Philistines – they were his enemies! Saul was a real enemy and he had to run for his life and he had to hide and he had to take all the precautions he could. His own men became his enemies at some stage when David was away from Israel. At one point when they came back and there’s been a raid and all their families had been taken and their wives, his men talked of stoning David or killing him, and we saw that David strengthened himself in the Lord. And then to crown it all, his own son rose up against him and tried to depose him of his kingship. So here we see David writing out of rich experience and saying the Lord does deliver – maybe not in the way we always want Him to deliver, but He takes us through them. We would much rather that the Lord just took the trouble away out of our lives and just took the cloud away and gave us sunshine. But no, the Lord is using all these things to sanctify us, to make us more righteous so that we may become like the Lord Jesus Christ. Isn’t that what He’s doing? Is that what He’s doing in your life as you face all these trials and your tribulations and your struggles? What is the goal? What is God aiming at? It’s Christlikeness, and we know that suffering produces endurance and endurance character. Isn’t that what we are taught so clearly in Romans and James? So God is using all these things and He will take you through them at His time and His place. And so, when we get to Psalms like this, we must not be filled with fear and trepidation and thinking well, you know, this is only for the super saints. I’m not a super saint. No, it’s for those who meet these qualifications that I’ve mentioned. It’s for the humble – for those, if you like, who belong to the Beatitudes that Jesus spoke so clearly in Matthew chapter 5. And notice how close God is. Verse 18 says: ‘the Lord is near.’ We must always believe that ‘the Lord is near to the broken-hearted’. He dwells with those who are humble and contrite in heart and when you are really In the heat of the affliction and you are feeling very alone, and you are feeling very overwhelmed, you must cling to this – you must hold fast do this: that He’s near – that the Lord is with you and that He’s going to take you through this difficult time. What do we find as we go through this? Look at verse 10 – as we experience these difficulties and we think sometimes life is so unfair and so hard what do we get as we go through this and we get to the other side. Well, ‘the Young lions suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing’. We must remember that. God gives us good things – even these afflictions and these struggles and these difficult things in our lives. They will produce good results. We must cling to that and we must hold on to that because that is our hope and so David how does he respond now? He’s writing the Psalm. He’s been through this experience and many others and all he can say at the end is: ‘I will bless the Lord at all times’ (verse 1): His praise shall continually be in my mouth’. And then he ends verse 22: ‘The Lord redeems the life of his servants. None of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.’
That’s our confidence, dear people of God. That’s our hope, and I want to encourage you to take these things and put them into your lives and work them through as we go through this week and the next and we don’t know what might happen or what the future holds, but we can be confident of this: You can bless the Lord because He withholds no good thing from those who fear Him. Maybe as I’ve been speaking to you tonight, you realize that maybe you’ve never experienced anything of the righteousness that I’ve talked about. There is no heartfelt prayer really in your life; there’s no real desire for God and no conviction of your unworthiness. Well then this is a call for you to come to Christ – to seek Him because He is gracious and merciful, so humble yourself before Him to start this Christian Life on the narrow road and to get off that broad road that leads to destruction and find Christ and forgiveness and joy and peace. May God help us as we seek to follow Him and trust in Him.