A Prayer for Tight Spots (Psalm 4)

We’re spending some time this summer going through some of the early psalms. Today we come to Psalm 4, and I’m going to call this one a psalm for tight spots. The reason why is because of what David says in the first verse of this psalm: “Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” The middle phrase in this verse, “You have given me relief when I was in distress,” could literally be translated, “In a tight corner, you have made room for me.” We don’t know what situation David was facing when he wrote this psalm, but we do know that he was in a tight spot. In fact, it’s almost better that we don’t know what situation David was facing. In a way it doesn’t matter. This is a psalm for any of us who are finding ourselves in a tight spot of some kind.

You know what a tight spot is. I’ve driven through some tight spots recently. Have you ever driven through a narrow space, watching your side-view mirrors so that you don’t lose them? You know what it’s like to be in a tight spot. Maybe you’ve been stuck at some point in your life. You thought you could wedge your body through a space that turned out to be a little too small. Well, then, you’ve also been in a tight spot. I picture someone walking through a narrow rock formation that’s hardly big enough to squeeze through. There’s no room to maneuver or turn. There’s nowhere to go. I hate the feeling of being constricted and squeezed. But that’s exactly the situation that David faces as he writes this psalm.

Some of you know exactly what David is talking about. It could be that right now you’re in a tight spot in your life. I don’t know what that tight spot is, but you feel hemmed in and trapped. You don’t have a lot of options for getting out. You feel constricted, restricted, closed in, with nowhere to turn. You love the picture of being given room to move, as David says in this psalm.

So the question is: what do we do when we find ourselves in a tight spot? What do we do when we’re hemmed in with nowhere to turn and nowhere to go? David teaches us how to respond in this psalm. How do we respond when we’re in a tight spot? With confidence, honesty, and peace, he says. Let’s look at each one.

First, when you’re in a tight spot, respond with confidence to God.

Confidence is almost too tame a word to describe verse 1. You could call it gutsy confidence. You can call it audaciousness or boldness. Whatever you call it, David is incredibly bold in addressing God as he faces his tight spot. Read what he says:

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness!
You have given me relief when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!
(Psalm 4:1)

What I find amazing about this verse is how David approaches God. He comes with a bold confidence in God. He’s bold in approaching God. He basically says, “Listen up! Hear me!” He demands an active response from God. He does not come as someone who is unsure of God. He comes with a bold expectation that God will hear and respond.

There are two concepts here. One is the expectation that God is willing to hear David’s prayers. David has no doubt that even when he’s in this tight spot that God can and should turn his ear and listen. Bill Hybels, a pastor near Chicago, talks about his father who was a very busy man. He traveled all over the world. To get through to him, you had to go through his staff first. But he had a private number that rang the phone right on his desk without having to go through any intermediary. Only a few select people, including his children, had that number. He still remembers the number to this day: 345-5366. No matter how busy he was, they could call him any time on that direct line.

Hybels says, “No one's voice sounds sweeter to God than your voice. ‘Hello, Father.’ There's nothing going on in the cosmos that would keep him from directing his full attention to your conversation or your request.” David got that. David had an bold expectation that God would hear him. He had the audacity to say, “Listen up, God!” and to expect that God would actually listen.

But there’s more. There’s also a confidence that God would not only listen but answer. He approaches the God who has made space for him in tight spots before and prays, “Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!” You know that there’s a type of listening that seems sympathetic but is anything but. If you tell me your problems this morning, I can nod and say “uh huh” as you speak. You might walk away thinking that I’m a great listener. That’s important, but I really haven’t helped you. David is approaching God. He definitely expects God to be a good listener, but he’s looking for more. He expects God to answer his prayer, to come through again and help him out of this tight spot. David has a bold confidence in God, that God would listen and that God would answer his prayer.

Tim Keller tells the story of Alexander the Great, who supposedly had a leading general whose daughter was getting married. Alexander the Great said that he'd be happy to contribute to the wedding. He said that he knew it would be expensive, so just ask for something. The general wrote out out a request for an enormous sum, a ridiculous sum. When Alexander's treasurer saw it, he brought it to Alexander and said, "I'm sure you're going to be cutting this man's head off now for what he's done. The audacity of asking for something like this! Who does he think you are?" Alexander said, "Give it to him. By such an outlandish request, he shows that he believes that I am both rich and generous." He was flattered by it.

God desires prayer that is bold, even shameless, in coming to him. When you read the prayers of the Bible, they're bold. They argue with God. Jesus talked about it as asking, seeking, and knocking. N.T. Wright says:

[Jesus] is encouraging a kind of holy boldness, a sharp knocking on the door, an insistent asking, a search that refuses to give up. That's what our prayer should be like. This isn't just a routine or formal praying, going through the motions as a daily or weekly task. There is a battle going on, a fight with the powers of darkness, and those who have glimpsed the light are called to struggle in prayer...

That’s the first thing we see in this psalm. Are you in a tight spot? The way to respond is first to come to God with a bold confidence and expectation that he will hear you and answer your prayer. Don’t come passively. Come boldly and expect God to hear you.

But that’s not all:

Second, respond with honesty to those who are in error.

So here’s the thing that I’ve discovered: most tight spots have to do with people. David begins by talking to God, but in this psalm he also turns his attention to the people who seem to be causing him grief. So he says in verses 2-5:

O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame?
How long will you love vain words and seek after lies? Selah
But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself;
the LORD hears when I call to him.
Be angry, and do not sin;
ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah
Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the LORD.

This is kind of unusual. Many of us are used to psalms in which the psalmist speaks to God. You may not have realized that sometimes the psalmist speaks to others besides God in the psalms as well. By the way, the songs we sing in our corporate worship should do the same. It’s entirely appropriate to sing to God, but there’s also a time in which we should sing to each other. Paul called this “addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing and making melody to the Lord with your heart” (Ephesians 5:19). There’s a place for singing to God; there’s also a big place for addressing each other in the songs we sing, and in the psalms.

So what people does David address? In verse 2 he says “O men.” The word that David used seems to refer to those of elevated social rank. So whatever situation David is facing, he’s not just talking to ordinary Joe. He’s talking to people who are in positions of influence and power.

And what does he say? Three things. First, he tells them off in verse 2. “O men, how long shall my honor be turned into shame? How long will you love vain words and seek after lies?” “How long?” implies that David is running out of patience. They’re dragging his name and reputation through the mud, and David has had enough. But then he indicts them. He doesn’t just focus on the damage they’re doing to his name and reputation. He charges them with loving vain words and seeking after lies. They’re delusional. They love what is empty and worthless. They don’t just engage in worthless activity; they actually hate it. There is a time to look at someone and to tell them that what they’re doing is harmful and empty. David has no problem doing this in this psalm.

Second, he reminds them that God responds to the faithful. Remember that David’s name is being dragged through the mud. His honor has been turned to shame. It probably looks like everyone has abandoned him. But David reminds his enemies that God has not turned his back. He says, “But know that the LORD has set apart the godly for himself; the LORD hears when I call to him.” You may have heard about a couple driving down the street in Vancouver. They look to the side of the road and see a couple of hitchhikers. The guy is dressed like Bono of U2. They pull over, and sure enough it is Bono and his assistant. Turns out, he and his assistant had gone out for a walk when it started to rain, just before they happened upon them. Bono and his assistant sat in the back with the couple’s dog. Bono isn’t accustomed to sticking out his thumb at the side of the road, but no matter where he is he’s still Bono. Nothing’s changed even if he’s stuck on the side of the road.

Contrast this with a story from a couple of hundred years ago. Thomas Jefferson went to a Baltimore hotel to ask for accommodation. He was in working clothes and splattered with mud. The proprietor looked him over and said, “We have no room for you, sir.” Jefferson left. A friend soon came in and told the proprietor that he had just turned away Thomas Jefferson, the Vice President of the United States and a signer of the Declaration of Independence. He thought he was dealing with a dirty farmer. But just because someone thought he was a dirty farmer didn’t change who he really was. “The weapon against slander is to remember how God regards you, to hold on to what he has said about you...Those who despise us may regard us as a step above scum but that does not alter the fact that we are covenant ones whom Yahweh has set apart for himself” (Dale Ralph Davis).

So David says to them, in essence, that he might not look like much to them. He may look like a hitchhiker on the side of the road, or like a dirty farmer. But God knows who he is. He is God’s. God has set him apart for himself. God hears his prayer.

But finally, David calls for repentance from his enemies. Verse 4 says, “Be angry, and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the LORD.” It’s actually hard to translate the first part of verse 4. “Be angry” is actually “Tremble with fear.” I know this is hard to believe, but one time I got in trouble in school and was sent down to the principle’s office. I don’t remember trembling with fear in the school playground, but as I got closer to the principle’s office I became a little more concerned. Here David hauls them into God’s office and says that they should tremble with fear and stop sinning. They’re in an untenable position rebelling against God. He tells them to ponder their situation on their bed, to get right with God, and to offer right sacrifices to God, and to trust him.

So David does three things here as he speaks to his enemies. He indicts them. He reminds them (and himself) that God hasn’t abandoned him; God knows him no matter what they think. And he calls them to realize they’re in deep weeds, and to get right with God.

Canadian humor writer Phil Callaway recently accepted the challenge to live for a year without telling a lie or fudging the truth. He chronicles his journey in his new book called To Be Perfectly Honest: One Man's Year of Almost Living Truthfully Could Change Your Life. No Lie.. He says:

I've always avoided confrontation. I golfed with a man for years whose marriage was falling apart and I didn't once summon the nerve to say, "Hey, what's happening?" Some of us are terrified of offending others, but I don't know one single leader who can't point to someone who offended them with the truth about themselves. It can be transforming.

In his Focus on the Family magazine article entitled "The Problem with Nice Guys," Paul Coughlin insists Christians must avoid passive and aggressive extremes, opting instead for assertiveness. He offers the following example from pop culture to illustrate what Christian assertiveness looks like: “Three major personality types are found among the judges of the popular reality TV show American Idol. Passive Paula Abdul is gracious but not always truthful. Aggressive Simon Cowell is truthful but rarely gracious. Assertive Randy Jackson is often truthful and gracious. Be like Randy.”

When you’re in a tight spot, there may come a time for you to be honest with the people in your life who are problems. One of the best things we can do sometimes is to go to others and call them on their behavior; remind them of who we are in God; and call them to repentance. That’s what David does in this psalm. He’s in a tight spot, so he responds in confidence to a God who hears him, but then he also responds in honesty to the people around him.

Finally, when you’re in a tight spot, having spoken to God and others, find your peace in God.

David’s already reminded us of who he is in God. He finishes this psalm by contrasting two ways of relating to God. Read verses 6 to 8 with me:

There are many who say, “Who will show us some good?
Lift up the light of your face upon us, O LORD!”
You have put more joy in my heart
than they have when their grain and wine abound.
In peace I will both lie down and sleep;
for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.

There are two ways of relating to God. The first way is dependent on circumstances. People say, “Who will show us some good?” There’s maybe a bit of crass pragmatism here. “What’s in it for me?” This way of relating to God is highly circumstantial. When things are good, then God is good. When things are bad, then things aren’t so good with God. This type of relationship depends on good times, when “grain and wine abound.” We’ve all been here, haven’t we?

But there’s a different way of relating to God. This way of relating to God doesn’t depend on circumstances. David says “You have put more joy in my heart than when they have their grain and wine abound.” He then says he’s able to go to bed at night and sleep well despite all the problems. Why? The end of verse 8 explains why: “for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.” David ultimately finds his safety in God. This is enough for him. He has a deep peace despite the circumstances. Ravi Zacharias said, “Faith is confidence in the person of Jesus Christ and in his power, so that even when his power does not serve my end, my confidence in him remains because of who he is.”

One of the most moving examples of this for me is the story of Nicholas Ridley. He was a British clergyman caught in controversy in England in the 1550s. The was scheduled to be burned at the stake in Oxford for his faith. The night before his execution his brother offered to stay with him in his last hours. But Ridley refused. He said he was going to bed, and that he was going to sleep as soundly that night as he ever did in his life. That’s exactly what David says in verse 8: “In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O LORD, make me dwell in safety.”

Three applications for us this morning.

One: please realize who you are in Jesus Christ. If you are a follower of Jesus Christ, then you can have the same confidence that David enjoyed no matter what circumstances you face. You can know that God has set you apart for himself; that God hears you when you call him. This will enable you to know for sure who God is even in the middle of horrible circumstances. You may want to even post some of this psalm where you can see it this week to remind you of who you are in Christ; to know that you’ve been purchased by his blood; that he has set you apart and that he cares about you. If you don’t know God through Jesus Christ, then I encourage you to pursue this. Make this a priority in your life. God invites you to come into a relationship with him. He’s sent his Son to provide the way for this to be possible. Pursue God as he pursues you. I’d love to talk to you about this if you’re interested.

Second: God may be calling some of you to a new level of honesty. It may be that you need to speak to some people in your life as David did in this psalm. Tell them the truth about what they’re doing and how this relates to God. You need to work through how to do this. I’m not saying to get all preachy. You can figure it out. But some of us are too scared to really speak honestly to others. David shows us that we can, and sometimes we should.

Finally, this morning, come to God boldly with whatever you’re facing. He wants to hear from you. And take confidence from the fact that he does, and then sleep well tonight knowing that God makes you dwell in safety no matter what’s going on around you.

How do we respond when we’re in a tight spot? With confidence in God, honesty to others, and then peace.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

A Prayer When Facing Enemies (Psalm 3)

This morning I want you to take a moment and to think of the darkest moment you’ve ever experienced in your life. This isn’t something that I ask you to do lightly. For some of us it’s very painful to even think about. Some examples:

  • a period of depression
  • the end of a relationship with someone - a spouse, a parent, a close friend
  • the loss of a job
  • a financial crisis
  • the death of someone close to you
  • a betrayal
  • the news that someone close to you is going through a crisis of their own - a divorce, a depression, or a significant health crisis

Now let me ask you: how many songs did you have to sing during this period of crisis? I’ve noticed that there are some songs that you can sing in some periods of crisis. I actually have some songs in my iTunes library that are perfect for almost any kind of mood. There are good breakup songs, good angry songs, good sad songs. There are hymns that bring us comfort. Sometimes there is a song that we can sing that can be a big help to us when we’re going through a crisis.

But sometimes there aren’t songs that can do justice to the depth and severity of a crisis. This is especially true in church. If you flip through our hymnbook, or go online to read the lyrics to many of the songs we sing, you will find songs on almost any topic, but you won’t find many that give voice to hearts that are in severe pain. This is a problem, because we need songs that we can sing when we’re in crisis. We need songs and words that give voice to our pain, especially in the darkest moments of our lives.

That’s where the Psalms come in. We have all kinds of psalms in the Bible. We have psalms of praise and thanksgiving that point to who God is and the wonderful things that he’s done. But that isn’t all of life. “Life is not all cool breezes and beautiful birds” (George Guthrie). So there are other kinds of psalms, including the psalm we’re looking at this morning. It’s a psalm of lament. David Howard, a professor of Old Testament, says:

Laments are the psalms where David or the other psalmists are pouring out their hearts to God, being honest about the fact that life, at time, stinks! The psalmist has just experienced some trouble, sickness, or the persecution of enemies. He may have some people who hate him. I think the church is greatly impoverished because we don’t mine the lament psalms for truths that are there and the way they can open up new avenues of approaching God in times of great stress and sadness in our lives.

So let’s look at this psalm of lament, because you’re going to need it. You may not need it today, but you’re going to need it soon enough. I want to set up this psalm for you before we look at exactly what David says in this psalm as he goes through a very difficult period in his life.

So here’s a little bit about this psalm. I’ve mentioned that Psalm 1 and 2 are kind of gateway psalms. They set up the rest of the collection of psalms for us. Psalm 1 asks us to examine our lives to make sure that we’re part of the congregation of the righteous. Psalm 2 gives us a macro view of what’s going on in the world, and what God is doing about it. Now we get past the gateway and right into the psalms, and notice what happens. I love what Dale Ralph Davis has written:

You first go through the double doors of the Psalter - Psalms 1 tells you to settle your commitment and Psalm 2 to get a clear view of the kingdom. Then what? You walk into trouble (Psalm 3).

That tells you something, doesn’t it? It doesn’t take very long in the psalms or in life before we find ourselves neck-deep in trouble. That’s the nature of the world, and the psalms are very honest about it.

If you look at the top of the psalm, you find that this is one of 14 psalms that are directly linked to an event in David’s life. It says: “A psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.” A little bit of background: 2 Samuel 15 and 16 tells of the time when David’s own son rose up against him and stole his father’s throne. Absalom became immensely more popular than David, and David had to flee for his life. David’s trusted counselor turned against him. He was brutally mocked and everything was taken away from him. It’s hard to picture a worse moment in David’s life. Not only did he lose everything, but his own son betrayed him. 2 Samuel 15:12 says, “And the conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing.”

This is why this is important to us. This psalm gives us a model for how we can pray to God when we are going through the darkest moments of our lives. In this psalm, David is going to give voice to his desperate situation. Then he’s going to show us two things that we can turn to to help us in our darkest moments.

David shows us how to give voice to our suffering.

In verses 1 to 2, David describes his situation honestly to God. He doesn’t pretend that things are okay. There’s no need to pretend with God, by the way. God isn’t dishonored by our honest admission that things aren’t okay. Sometimes Christians have the crazy idea that we have to pretend with God. The psalms teach us the importance of being brutally honest with God about the situation we’re facing. They teach us that it’s okay to come before God and to be honest about our struggles.

Listen to what David writes:

O LORD, how many are my foes!
Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
there is no salvation for him in God. Selah

So here’s the brutal situation David faces: an abundance of enemies who are rising up against him. Not only does he have a bunch of enemies, but they say that God has no interest in saving him. Remember that this is God’s anointed king. They are saying that God has turned his back on David. You can see why they said this. It sure looked like it. God had anointed David as king, but now it looked as if God had turned his back on David, and the enemies against him were accumulating. They’re moving in for the kill, and they believe that God has abandoned him.

We need to see what David does here. For all intents it looks like God has abandoned David. But David turns directly to the God who supposedly has abandoned him. He doesn’t gloss over his troubles. He pours out his heart to God. “Prayer is the way we slog our way through troubles” (Dale Ralph Davis).

Here is one of the most important lessons from the Psalms. Philip Yancey writes of a Catholic sister who counsels troubled women. They’re displaced homemakers, abused wives, women returning from college after years away. They’re going through anger and hurt. Some spiritual counselors tell them, “Bear it up; keep smiling; suffering makes you strong.” But not the psalms. The Psalms teach them how to express the rage that some try to repress.

They do not rationalize anger away or give abstract advice about pain; rather, they express emotions vividly and loudly, directing their feelings primarily about God. The 150 psalms present a mosaic of spiritual therapy in the process. Doubt, paranoia, giddiness, meanness, delight, hatred, joy, praise, vengefulness, betrayal - you find it all in the Psalms. Such stewing of emotions, which I once saw as hopeless disarray, I now see as a sign of health. From Psalms I have learned that I can rightfully bring to God whatever I feel about him. I need not paper over my own failures and try to clean up my own rottenness; far better to bring those weaknesses to God, who alone has the power to heal. (The Bible Jesus Read)

David shows us in this psalm, as he does in many others, how to give voice to our suffering. He honestly describes in verses 1 to 2 that he has a growing number of enemies, and that it looks to almost everyone that God has turned his back. David teaches us that we can be honest with God about the troubles that we’re facing.

But then David shows us that there are two things about God that we can rely on even in the middle of our suffering.

The first thing about God we need to know in the middle of suffering is that God has not abandoned us.

Do you remember the way that David’s enemies saw things? “There is no salvation for him in God,” they said in verse 2. Well, David knows otherwise. David knew better than to think that God had abandoned him. He says in verses 3-6:

But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Here David demonstrates something that we need to do if we’re going to survive our problems. The person who put it best is Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones in his book Spiritual Depression: Its Causes and Cure:

Have you realized that most of your unhappiness in life is due to the fact that you are listening to yourself instead of talking to yourself? Take those thoughts that come to you the moment you wake up in the morning. You have not originated them but they are talking to you, they bring back the problems of yesterday, etc. Somebody is talking. Who is talking to you? Your self is talking to you…The main art in the matter of spiritual living is to know how to handle yourself. You have to take yourself in hand, you have to address yourself, preach to yourself, question yourself…You must go on to remind yourself of God, Who God is, and what God is and what God has done, and what God has pledged Himself to do. Then having done that, end on this great note: defy yourself, and defy other people, and defy the devil and the whole world..That is the essence of the treatment in a nutshell.

That’s exactly what David does. We have emotions, thoughts, and behaviors. We don’t have direct control over our emotions, but we do have control over our thoughts and behaviors. What David does here is to honestly acknowledge his emotions, but then to begin to work on what he knows to be true. He reminds himself of God. Specifically, he reminds himself about four things about God and his character.

God protects. David says, “But you, O LORD, are a shield about me.” A shield is a defensive weapon. If you have a shield, you’re able to deflect the attacks of the enemy. Soldiers would hold a small round shield, big enough to provide protection but small enough to allow movement. But David goes even further. He says that the LORD is a shield about him, not just in front of him, but all around him. David says that God is his complete protection. When we’re under attack, we can remind ourselves that God is our protection. He is our shield.

God is enough. David says that God is his “glory”. What does it mean that God is his glory? David was king. Kings had a glory that nobody else had. They had public dignity, recognition, honor. But now David was on the run, and he had lost his glory. Actually, David says, he hadn’t. He had temporarily lost almost everything, but he never lost his glory, because God, David says, is his glory. We all get meaning from something in life. You can lose your career. You can lose popularity and acclaim. If you get glory from anything other than God, you can and will lose your glory. David says that God is his glory. He’s lost the glory of his kingdom to Absalom, but he has all the glory that he needs in God himself.

God restores. David says that God is the “lifter of his head”. You don’t need this one explained. You know what it means to hang your head. In war, those who were conquered would lay on the ground while the conquerers put a foot on their necks. David says that God has lifted his head again. God has a way of restoring his people even in the middle of impossible situations.

Finally, God is accessible. God answers from his holy hill. David had fled Jerusalem. He’d left the site of the tabernacle. He couldn’t go there to pray and to ask God for help. But David says that his prayers get to God’s holy hill just fine even though he can’t be there. God hears prayers even when we’re nowhere near church. God is accessible no matter where we are.

This is a picture of God that can help us in the middle of life’s difficulties. God protects. God is enough even when we lose everything. God restores. And God is accessible. He’s present to help no matter where we are or what we’re going through.

What’s significant is what happened to David as he remembered all of this. Read verses 5 and 6 again.

I lay down and slept;
I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
who have set themselves against me all around.

Nothing had changed in this situation. Absalom was still out to get him. He was still surrounded by enemies. They still thought they had him beat. David was still in the middle of a huge mess. But in the middle of that mess David said, “I know my God.” We can experience the same thing. We can continue in the middle of our mess and still look at thousands of our enemies and sleep well at night because we know who God is, and that he is in control. David reminds us that God has not abandoned us in the middle of the mess, and that makes all the difference.

There’s one more thing:

The second thing about God we need to know in the middle of suffering is that God will set things right.

Do you know the problem when enemies rise up against us? It often looks like they’re getting away with it. As David wrote this psalm, Absalom was still increasing in popularity. It still looked bad for David. If you asked David for his plan for how we was going to get his kingdom back, he didn’t have a plan. It often looks like this. Someone steals from us; we don’t have a hope of getting that money back. Someone slanders us; they will probably never apologize. Someone betrays us; they often seem to get away with it.

But David sees past the immediate. Look at what he says in verses 7 and 8:

Arise, O LORD!
Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
your blessing be on your people! Selah

This sounds harsh at first. But it’s so important that we need to pay careful attention to this. Do you know what happens when there’s no justice, when nobody puts a stop to evil? People take things into their own hands. Vigilante justice. The only way that this is prevented is if we know that there is justice, and that evil will be stopped, and those perpetrating the evil will be held accountable.

Here David says that he knows he doesn’t have to take things into his own hand. Why? Because he knows that God will look after it. David knows that God will take care of all of David’s enemies. Because of this, David is free from having to take matters into his own hands. He leaves the vengeance to God.

One website says this about those who wrong you:

1. Get mad....then get even. It's justice, plain and simple.

2. Revenge is healthy. Don't listen to those mealymouths who tell you otherwise. You're teaching people to behave better. At the same time you're getting icky poisonous feelings out of your system once and for all. What could be healthier?

4. Revenge is excellent self-therapy. It's far cheaper than a therapist and much healthier than pigging out on a box of donuts.

6. Always aim your revenge where it hurts the most. Go right for the jugular.

7. Let your creativity blossom. Don't go for cliches like slashing tires. Yawn. Be original. Enjoy yourself. Give your mark an experience they'll never ever forget.

9. If you have to do something you're not proud of, be sure to cover your tracks well.

David wouldn’t approve of this list, and the Bible doesn’t either. Paul writes in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’” Do you see that? The reason we don’t have to get revenge is because God will repay. As someone’s said it, “A soft view on hell makes hard people.” When Bonhoeffer was imprisoned by the Nazis, and shortly before he was hung, someone asked him how it was possible to feel love for such evil people. Bonhoeffer replied, “It is only when God’s wrath and vengeance are hanging as grim realities over the heads of one’s enemies that something of what it means to love and forgive them can touch our hearts.”

Let’s review. We need songs that give voice to our troubles. The psalms help us learn that we can be honest with God even in the middle of our difficulties. This is so important. We need to learn the lessons of these psalms.

This morning you’re invited to come to God just as you are, and to lay out what you’re going through before him. God can handle your honesty. But also gave the courage to preach to yourself. Remind yourself of who God is. Most of all, remind yourself of who you are in Christ. You have a Savior who died to save you, to make you right with God. Remind you that if you have trusted in Christ, you’ve been adopted. You are now God’s own child. You never have to worry about God abandoning you. He has said that he will never leave you and forsake you.

Then see that God is a God who judges. You don’t have to judge your enemies, because God will do a better job of judging evil then we ever could. But look to the cross and see that this is where perfect justice and mercy meet, where God repays evil, but where forgiveness is extended to all those who want it.

When facing crisis, turn to God who has your back and who saves you from your enemies. Let’s pray.


Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.

The World That’s Been Promised to the King (Psalm 2)

I don’t know how you got to church today. Some of you drove. Some of you took transit. Some of you walked. I bet nobody arrived here today the way that Ian Morgan Cron arrived to church one day when he was a child. A friend had given his family an old rusty car that could comfortably hold two people. One day they piled seven people into the car on the way to church. As they were driving up a steep hill, hoping they could make it all the way to the top, tragedy struck.

...The seven of us were a nanosecond away from cheering when there was a loud thump, followed by my father yelling...My father’s seat had fallen through the rusted bottom of the car. It was dragging along the pavement, shooting sparks up into the wells of the backseat, threatening to light our socks on fire. My father’s rear end was inches from the ground. The collapse of the seat had shot his legs upward, so that his kneecaps now nearly touched his face, and he was holding down his black bowler lest it be damaged. He looked like a fat kid shoved butt first into a wastepaper basket.

“Pull over, Anne! Pull over!” he demanded...

“Jack, hold on,” she said to my father...

At the bottom of the hill, my mother careened right. An eighth of a mile later, we lurched up in front of the church, more or less in one piece...The seven of us, sweaty and shaken, slowly began peeling ourselves out of the smoking vehicle. It took my brothers several attempts to pull my father out of the car as bemused parishioners gawked and snickered. (Jesus, My Father, The CIA, and Me)

Nobody arrived to church quite that way, but it sometimes feels like it. Sometimes it feels like we barely make it here, and when we do, our dignity is more or less gone. That’s one of the reasons we’re looking at the Psalms this summer. Psalms teach us how we can have faith in the middle of the mess of life.

Today we come to Psalm 2, the second gateway psalm. If you were here a couple of weeks ago you’ll remember that I said that Psalm 1 is a gateway psalm. There are two checkpoints, so to speak, at the beginning of the psalms.

Psalm 1 deals with the most urgent personal matter: you must know that you’re part of the congregation of the righteous. You need to know where you’re going and what you’re doing. Before you go any further, you need to get this settled. It’s the only way that you’re going to flourish and live well, Psalm 1 says. Psalm 1 takes the camera lens and zooms into your life and asks you to take a close look.

Now we get to Psalm 2. Psalm 2 says that you need to get a big view of things. If you’re to have faith in this messy world, then you need to know where history is going. You must see the whole show; you must understand what God is doing. Psalm 2 zooms back out and gives us a wide-angle view of what’s going on in the world.

We need both psalms. To live well and faithfully, we need to settle the matter of our relationship with God. We need to come to faith in Jesus Christ. But then we also need to see the big picture of what God is doing. I love how Alasdair MacIntyre put it: “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’” Psalm 2 helps us see the big story so we can make sense of our places in that bigger story. It’s an important psalm; it’s the psalm that’s quoted most often in the New Testament.

So here’s what this psalm is going to do. It’s going to give us a macro view of the world, and it’s going to answer four questions:

  • What’s wrong with the world?
  • How does God respond?
  • Whom does he send?
  • What should we do?

First question: What’s wrong with this world?

Psalm 2:1-3 says:

Why do the nations rage
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers take counsel together,
against the LORD and against his Anointed, saying,
“Let us burst their bonds apart
and cast away their cords from us.”

As we speak, rebels are advancing their front lines as they get closer to Tripoli, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's stronghold. A multinational force is assisting with airstrikes and a naval blockade. They’ve created a no-fly zone so that Gaddafi can’t attack the rebel forces. Gaddafi has vowed to "die a martyr" if necessary in his fight against rebels and external forces. You could say that the whole world has risen up against Gaddafi. A State Department official has said, “The guy is getting increasingly lonely, increasingly isolated. His days are numbered. We are confident that his days are numbered.” It’s a war zone, with the whole world rebelling against the reign of this despot.

Psalm 2 presents us with this kind of picture. The whole world is united in rebellion, except not against a despot like Gaddafi, but against God. The psalmist knew that God had promised to bless the world through Israel. Their God, Yahweh, was not some tribal god, but God of all the earth, and God’s purposes for Israel and Israel’s king were global. There’s only one problem. Not everyone was excited about this plan. Psalm 2 pictures a gathering of the world’s most powerful leaders. They’ve decided they’ve had enough. They’re taking their stand (v.2) which is a phrase that means they’re preparing for battle. They want nothing to do with Yahweh or the nation of Israel. They are in open rebellion against God and his people. To rebel against God’s king is to rebel against God himself.

So this presents a very real problem. This psalm pulls back the curtain and shows us a world that’s in open rebellion against God. You just have to look around to see that this is a very accurate description of what’s going on today, thousands of years after this psalm was written. Things haven’t changed. It’s true at a micro level, and it’s also true at a macro level. Ever since Genesis 3 we’ve been chafing at God’s rule over this world and doing everything we can to live as if we’re in charge.

In fact, some contemporary philosophers have admitted that this is at least part of the reason why they’re not so excited about God. Thomas Nagel, an atheist who authored a popular introduction to philosophy titled What Does It All Mean? wrote: "I want atheism to be true ... It isn't just that I don't believe in God, and, naturally, hope that I'm right about my belief. It's that I hope there is no God! I don't want there to be a God; I don't want the universe to be like that." The 20th-century ethics philosopher Mortimer Adler (who was baptized quietly at age 81) confessed to rejecting religious commitment for most of his life because it "would require a radical change in my way of life, a basic alteration in the direction of my day-to-day choices as well as in the ultimate objectives to be sought or hoped for.” You could repeat this over and over. This world is set in opposition to God’s rule. We want nothing to do with God. We would much rather be in charge ourselves.

By the way, this is one reason why sin is so serious. We sometimes think, “What’s the big deal about one little sin?” The reason sin is so serious is because it’s not just a sin - a lie or a thought. Every sin is an act of treason against God. It’s shaking our fist at God and saying, “I choose to rebel against you and your rule. I will do it my way, thanks.” John MacArthur puts it this way: Every sin is “an act of treason against the Sovereign lawgiver and judge of the universe.”

This helps us understand what’s wrong with us and with the world. What’s wrong with us? We have treasonous hearts. We are natural-born rebels against God and his rule, every one of us. What’s wrong with this world? We live in a world in which the nations rage and the people plot against God. We live in the middle of a war zone.

That’s what’s wrong with the world. The world is in open rebellion against God and his rule. It’s also what’s wrong with us. We are rebels ourselves. So here’s the second question.

Second question: How does God respond?

In verses 4-5 we see God’s response to this open rebellion against him:

He who sits in the heavens laughs;
the Lord holds them in derision.
Then he will speak to them in his wrath,
and terrify them in his fury...

So how does God respond to this situation? What is God doing about this problem of the world rebelling against him? If you want to get personal, what is he doing about us? We’re rebels too, so what’s God doing?

Verse 4 gives us God’s response: God laughs.

You get the picture? God is not fazed! The mighty politicians, the dictators in their military fatigues, the terrorists with their bomb loads strapped to their backs - God is unimpressed. If you have imbibed a western sentimental view of God as the great soupy softie in the sky, then you will not understand this picture of verse 4. In fact, it will likely ‘offend’ you. But the psalm implies that nations may strut out their nuclear bombs - it only convulses the Almighty in laughter! To think that a few swaggering sovereigns could destroy God’s kingdom with such trifles! After you hear the kings in verse 3, you need to see this picture of the laughing God in verse 4, in order to get re-focused on the truth. (David Ralph Davis)

By the way, this gives me tremendous comfort. God is not wringing his hands in heaven trying to figure out what to do. He’s not sweating it out on the other side of the cosmic chessboard trying to avoid a checkmate. He’s firmly in control. He laughs at our attempts to rebel against him. He is not fazed by this world’s rebellion against him. He is very much in control.

But then there is a second response, in verses 5 and 6. God speaks against them in wrath; he terrifies them in his fury. This is a far scarier picture. I read an interview this past week with pastor and author Francis Chan. He just came out with a book called Erasing Hell: What God Said about Eternity, and the Things We Made Up. He’s studied Scripture to really see what it says about God’s judgment. He said this about what Jesus taught about judgment:

As I reread the Gospel passages, Jesus' words are much harsher than I remember. There's a tone in some of the things that he said that are really difficult to stomach, and he says things in a way that I would not have.

Because we in America read certain passages over and over to the neglect of others, we start to believe that Jesus had a friendly tone all the time. And that there isn't any wrath or anger or judgment. When you read it all like you are reading it for the first time, you walk away going, "Wow, he was pretty hardcore."

Here's what I had to repent of: I had felt the need to soften a lot of Jesus' statements, because in my arrogance I think, "Okay Jesus, I'm not going to say that like that. Trust me, people will like you more and be more willing to accept you if I say it like this." Obviously I've never said that to God. But that's the attitude I've taken, and it made me sick. Who in the heck do I think I am? To think that I can make God more palatable or attractive if I try and change the tone in which he says some things. I know people say, "Well it's just cultural this or that." That's garbage. People back then had a much deeper reverence for God than we do. Especially the religious community. Yet it's to those people whom he speaks so harshly.

What in the world would he say to us today? I don't think it'd be a softer message. I had to come before God and say, "Lord I feel sick." And I confessed to Mark [Beuving, who edited the book] and Preston [Sprinkle, the coauthor] as we were working on the book, "I confess to you guys, I confess to the church, I know I have backed away from certain things because of my arrogance. I thought I could attract more people to Jesus by hiding certain things about him." I had to confess my arrogance.

Let’s avoid this mistake - one that I’ve made as well. Let’s let God speak for himself. Psalm 2:5 says, “Then he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury...” We do not want to be on the receiving end of God’s wrath and fury. The Bible has plenty to say about this topic right from the beginning. To rebel against God is to incite his wrath and fury.

This creates a big problem for us as well, by the way. When Paul wrote to the Romans, he spent the first three chapters establishing one point: every single person, regardless of religious background (Jew or Gentile), is under the judgement of God. We are all rebels. Both Jews and Greeks, he writes, are under sin, and therefore under judgment. This is a serious problem because God will “he will speak to them in his wrath, and terrify them in his fury.”

But there’s more. We’ve seen what’s wrong with the world: it’s in rebellion against God. We’ve seen God’s response: God laughs, and he is angry.

Third question: Whom does he send?

Look at verses 6-9. Verse 6 is God speaking:

“As for me, I have set my King
on Zion, my holy hill.”

Verses 7 to 9 the King speaks at his coronation:

I will tell of the decree:

The LORD said to me, “You are my Son;
today I have begotten you.
Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,
and the ends of the earth your possession.
You shall break them with a rod of iron
and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.”

Now, you need to understand that this psalm could have ended in verse 5 with God’s wrath and fury. That would be a pretty depressing way to end the psalm. In fact, that’s the way that things ended up with the angels who rebelled against God. God laughed at their rebellion and judged them. End of story. That’s how it could have ended with us as well.

But God responds to the world’s rebellion against him by installing a King. Verse 6 speaks of the Davidic kingdom, one that will rule from Zion. Verses 7 to 9 describe this King’s reign in three ways:

  • It’s legitimate - The King is God’s own Son. In 2 Samuel 7:14, God promised to raise up David’s offspring, and he told David, “I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son.” A king has legitimacy because of the bloodlines. Here this psalm says that the promised King will have every right to rule because he is God’s own Son.
  • It’s worldwide - Verse 8 says, “Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage, and the ends of the earth your possession.” Zion then was a puny 11 acres of real estate on the southern edge of Jerusalem. 11 acres isn’t very big. Zion was a “tiny, banana-shaped hill in a provincial backwater called Judah” (Dale Ralph Davis). But God says that the King who reigns in Zion will rule over the whole world. It will be an international, worldwide kingdom.
  • It’s forceful - Verse 9 says, “You shall break them with a rod of iron and dash them in pieces like a potter's vessel.” This rule, God says, will be a forceful one. Because this Kingdom is present in a world that’s in open rebellion against God, this rule must be a powerful one.

God responds to this rebellion with laughter and wrath. But he also responds by appointing a King with worldwide sway and overwhelming force. That is what is happening in this world. It is what God is doing in this world.

Who is this King? On one level, it’s those descendants of David who sat on the royal throne in Jerusalem. But their kingdom ended long ago. The nations of Israel and Judah were conquered and exiled. If you go to Jerusalem today, you will not find a descendent of David sitting on the throne.

I mentioned earlier on that Psalm 2 is the psalm that is quoted most often in the New Testament. There’s a reason. This psalm points to a greater King. In Mark 1:11, God said to Jesus at the start of his ministry, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” In Hebrews 1:5 we read that this psalm ultimately applies to Jesus. In Acts 4, as the early Christians faced persecution, they quoted this psalm as a description of the rebellion against God in the context of a King with worldwide sway and overwhelming force.

Jesus is the King to whom this psalm ultimately points. This is the big picture of the world: it is in open rebellion against God. God is responding with laughter and anger. But he also responds by sending his Son Jesus as King of the world, one who rules the entire world with overwhelming force. His is a Kingdom that will never end. The world -this rebellious world - has been promised to a King.

One last question: What should we do?

Verses 10 to 12 say:

Now therefore, O kings, be wise;
be warned, O rulers of the earth.
Serve the LORD with fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
Kiss the Son,
lest he be angry, and you perish in the way,
for his wrath is quickly kindled.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

It’s so important to see the ending to this psalm. God has given us a bird’s-eye view of history this morning. This is the history of the world in 12 verses. But it’s not meant to be just a history lesson. This psalm ends with an invitation. The psalmist ends by speaking to the kings and rulers described in verse 2. They’re given an opportunity for mercy. He calls on them to recognize reality and to be wise, to come to their senses. They’re invited to kiss the Son. Kissing is a sign of homage. They’re invited to become servants and to submit to the reign of this king, to totally and completely submit to him.

The choice is clear for rebels. Verse 12 couldn’t make it any clearer. Submit to him. Pay homage to him. If you do, it says at the end of verse 12, you’ll be blessed as you take refuge in him. I love how verses 11 puts it: rejoice with trembling. There’s a sense of joy in submitting to the King, but it’s a joy tempered with a holy fear of God. That’s the first choice. Or: refuse to submit. Continue as a rebel. If you do, his wrath will be kindled. You will face the wrath and fury we read about in verse 5. We’ll be broken with the rod of iron and be dashed in pieces, as verse 9 says. Those are the only two options.

That’s the message of this psalm. The totality of this world can be summed up in a sentence: The whole world has been promised to the Messiah. Live accordingly.

How do we live accordingly?

Two things.

One: You need to take the invitation of this psalm very seriously. The message is one of warning: you are a rebel, and Jesus, the King, will deal with rebels. But there’s an invitation to submit to Jesus. The invitation is one that stands. Jesus in mercy offers forgiveness and mercy to all who want to find refuge in him. There’s a warning and an invitation in this psalm. Take the invitation while the King still offers his mercy. Jesus is the King who dies to extend mercy to rebels; receive mercy while he still offers it freely.

Two: We live in the middle of rebel activity. When you live in the middle of rebels, you begin to think that things are looking pretty bad for the other side. We need to see from this psalm that God is very much in control. I think this psalm was written, at least in part, to let God’s people know that God is in control. All is well with this world. We can go to sleep at night knowing that this world has been promised to the King, and he is in control.

I told you how Ian Morgan Cron arrived at church with his father. Sometimes it seems we arrive here in pretty much the same condition: crammed in way too tight, falling, so to speak, through the bottom of the car. That’s life. But we come this morning to Psalm 2 this morning, and it tells us that this rebel world has been promised to the King, so live accordingly. Submit to the King, and rest well knowing that his reign is sure. Let’s pray.

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Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash is a graduate of the University of Waterloo, Heritage Theological Seminary, and Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. He’s married to Charlene, and has two children, Christina and Josiah. Darryl is currently planting Liberty Grace Church in Liberty Village, Toronto. He previously served as pastor of Richview Baptist Church and Park Lawn Baptist Church, both in west Toronto.