A Little Verse About a Big God
Introduction: Picture this scene – it is about an hour after OU has just demolished Texas. A sports bar in Dallas is packed with furious Longhorns fans, cursing everything Okie as they down their beers. Then, into the bar walks Bob Stoops. He’s wearing a Sooners coaching jacket, an OU National Championship cap, and carrying the game ball. All eyes turn to him, burning holes through him with gazes of raw hatred. The only sound in the room is the scraping of chair legs on the floor as the burly drunks start to stand up. How do you think Coach Stoops would be feeling right about then?
- As we’ll see, this is very similar to David’s situation when he wrote this Psalm. The inscription will tell us quite a bit about what was going on when David wrote this. (The inscription is the little note written before the actual text by ancient Jewish scribes to give instructions about the tune, the instruments, the occasion, and so forth.)
• “To the Chief Musician . . .” David was sending this to the song leader at the tabernacle, to be sung publicly to God.
• “upon Jonath-elem-rechokim . . .” This was the tune that these lyrics were to be sung to. The tune would evoke the feeling of the song. It’s like if I were to send you a poem and say, “Sing this to the tune of ‘I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry’.” We would know that it was what kind of song?
- the name Jonath-elem-rechokim means “The Silent Dove in Distant Lands.”
• So, what does that mean? We read the end of the inscription, “when the Philistines took him in Gath”.
- David was the dove. He didn’t fight the Philistines—didn’t become a guerilla fighter on the run in enemy country; he was silent before them, helpless in a distant land.
1 Sam. 21:10-15
• David’s response in this Psalm is truly wondrous – something to be remembered, to be cherished. The inscription calls this a “Michtam of David”. Your Bible may have a note translating it, “a golden Psalm”.
- Michtam is a technical term for a specific kind of Psalm (16, 56-60). Easton’s Bible Dictionary states:
“The root of the word means to stamp or grave, and hence it is regarded as denoting a composition so precious as to be worthy to be engraven on a durable tablet for preservation; or, as others render, ‘a psalm precious as stamped gold’.”
- so, we understand that the Psalm we are going to study was not written in a cold, academic, classroom environment. This was written when David was in deadly peril! This is not just someone’s theory about life—this is his heart!
* In 1644 Francis Rous translated the Psalms into English poetic meter. For the next six years two groups of scholars scrutinized the work, and in 1650 the Scottish Psalter was released. I want to read you Psalm 56 from the Scottish Psalter:
Show mercy, Lord, to me, for man
would swallow me outright;
He me oppresseth, while he doth
against me daily fight.
2 They daily would me swallow up
that hate me spitefully;
For they be many that do fight
against me, O most High.
3 When I'm afraid I'll trust in thee:
4 In God I'll praise his word;
I will not fear what flesh can do,
my trust is in the Lord.
5 Each day they wrest my words; their thoughts
'gainst me are all for ill.
6 They meet, they lurk, they mark my steps,
waiting my soul to kill.
7 But shall they by iniquity
escape thy judgments so?
O God, with indignation down
do thou the people throw.
8 My wand'rings all what they have been
thou know'st, their number took;
Into thy bottle put my tears:
are they not in thy book?
9 My foes shall, when I cry, turn back;
I know't, God is for me.
10 In God his word I'll praise; his word
in God shall praised be.
11 In God I trust; I will not fear
what man can do to me.
12 Thy vows upon me are, O God:
I'll render praise to thee.
13 Wilt thou not, who from death me saved,
my feet from falls keep free,
To walk before God in the light
of those that living be?
* I want to make some really simple observations about this Psalm, particularly verse 3, “What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” Tonight’s outline will follow the form of a logical argument – we’ll make four propositions, then draw an important conclusion from them.
1. Fear is real. (“What time I am afraid”)
- Eastern religions, the New Age Movement, Christian Science, and the Word-Faith wackos, would have you believe that fear is only an illusion. In contrast, the Bible doesn’t present a fantasy world. We see that things such as evil, sin, sickness, and death are real; and are frightening.
- Consider what David was facing in this Psalm
(vs. 1-2, 5-6)
- Aren’t you glad that the Bible isn’t a mythical book? It doesn’t present its heroes as larger than life. They stumbled. They were weak. And they feared. Matt. 14:26, 2 Cor. 1:8, Ps. 55:4-5
- C. H. Spurgeon wrote:
“David was no braggart, he does not claim never to be afraid, and he was no brutish Stoic free from fear because of the lack of tenderness. David’s intelligence deprived him of the stupid heedlessness of ignorance, he saw the imminence of his peril, and was afraid.”
- It didn’t matter that David was a husband, a father, a great warrior, a godly man – they hated him.
- Did you notice v.5? “Every day they wrest my words . . .” How many fears do we have about what people are saying about us, and how they are twisting our words!
2. Christianity offers the only relief from fear. (“I will trust in Thee.”)
- Hinduism and Buddhism say that fear is an illusion – that it is caused by a misunderstanding of reality. Where is the comfort there?
- Islam teaches that we are wrong to fear, and that we should trust God; but in order to win the favor of Allah, we have to do works. The Qu’ran says:
“Those who believe and live a righteous life, and observe the Salat [prayers], and give their obligatory charity, they receive the recompense from their Lord, they will have nothing to fear, nor will they grieve.” (2:277)
- Where is their trust, really? In themselves! In their ability to please their god!
- Only Christianity presents a real relief for fear!
3. The cure is substituting Truth for emotion.
- David felt a very real emotion – fear. But rather than living with that emotion, he made a choice. He trusted.
- Trust is the Hebrew word ba-tach’ which means, “to trust in, to have confidence, to be bold, to be secure”.
- In whom did David trust? In God. But Who is God?
- There is no such thing as blind faith for a Christian. The two words are contradictory. Faith is not an emotional leap into the dark.
- Easton’s Bible Dictionary says this:
“Faith is in general the persuasion of the mind that a certain statement is true. Its primary idea is trust. A thing is true, and therefore worthy of trust. It admits of many degrees up to full assurance of faith, in accordance with the evidence on which it rests. Faith is the result of teaching.”
2 Thess. 2:13, Rom. 10:14-17
- Many Christians suffer from persistent fear because they don’t really know the God in whom they must trust!
- So, where can we learn the Truth that relieves our fear?
4. That Truth is in the Word of God. (vs. 4, 10-11)
Ps. 119:130, Rom. 1:16-17
- We have only one source for propositional truth about God today – the Bible.
5. THEREFORE we must know the Word of God to be relieved from fear.
• We read the Bible, in It we learn of a God who is all-powerful, all-wise, and all-loving. Our Father is sovereign over all, has our best in mind, and moves heaven and earth for us.
- We learn of His promises.
- We learn of His properties.
- We learn of His past performance.
- Spurgeon wrote, “. . .to be reliant upon God when occasions for alarm are abundant and pressing, is the conquering faith of God’s elect.”
- So, what does the Bible say about our fears?
Num. 23:19, Ps. 46:1-3; 118:6, Isa. 12:2
Puritan writer William Gurnall wrote:
“But if man’s wrath find thee on God’s way, and his fury take fire at thy holiness, thou needest not fear though thy life be the prey he hunts for. Flesh can only wound flesh; he may kill thee, but not hurt thee. Why shouldest thou fear to be stripped of that which thou hast resigned already to Christ? It is the first lesson you learn, if a Christian, to deny thyself, take up thy cross, and follow thy Master; so that the enemy comes too late; thou hast no life to lose, because thou hast given it already to Christ; nor can man take away that without God’s leave; all thou hast is insured; and though God hath not promised thee immunity from suffering in this kind, yet he hath undertaken to bear the loss, yea, to pay thee a hundredfold, and thou shalt not stay for it till another world. Again, thou oughtest not to fear flesh.”
* By the way, did the God in whom David trusted come through for him? 1 Sam. 22:1
* What are you fearing?
· A bad report from a doctor?
· A rebellious child?
· A dangerous world?
· God’s love, in the face of your sins?
· Am I really saved?
- The solution to all of these is found in the precious Word of God, which gives us a clear portrait of a God in whom we can trust.
* Isaac Watts put Psalm 56 into English poetry, and here is how he translated verse 3:
“In God most holy, just, and true,
I have reposed my trust;
Nor will I fear what flesh can do,
The offspring of the dust.”