C. S. Lewis on Psalm 19

I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.  Most readers will remember its structure: six verses about Nature, five about the Law, and four of personal prayer.  The actual words supply no logical connection between the first and second movements.  In this way, its technique resembles that of the most modern poetry.  A modern poet would pass, with similar abruptness, from one theme to another and leave you to find out the connecting link for yourself.  But then, he would possibly be doing this quite deliberately.  He might have, though he chose to conceal, a perfectly clear and conscious link in his own mind which he could express to you in logical prose, if he wanted to.

I doubt if the ancient poet was like that.  I think he felt, effortlessly and without reflecting on it, so close a connection, indeed (for his imagination) such an identity between his first theme and his second, that he passed from one to the other without realizing that he had made any transition.  First, he thinks of the sky, how, day after day, the pageantry we see there shows us the splendor of its Creator.  Then, he thinks of the sun, the bridal joyousness of its rising, the unimaginable speed of its daily voyage from east to west.  Finally, of its heat: not, of course, the mild heats of our climate, but the cloudless, blinding, tyrannous rays hammering the hills, searching every cranny.  The key phrase on which the whole poem depends is “there is nothing hid from the heat thereof.”  It pierces everywhere with its strong, clean ardor.

From: Reflections on the Psalms by C. S. Lewis (New York: Harper One, 1958), pp. 73-74.

A Note on Meditation

Meditation in the Word well-worth self-denial and care on the part of the Christian.  I.  Without meditation, reading is a waste of time and an indignity offered to the Word.  II.  Meditation with prayer, but not prayer without meditation, will discover the sense of the Word when all other means fail, and it has this advantage: that the meaning sinks into the mind.  III.  Meditation extracts sweetness from the promises and nourishment from the whole truth.  IV.  Meditation makes a wise teacher and an efficient worker of one who has little natural skill or learning.  V.  Meditation subjects the soul to the sanctifying power of the Word.  VI.  Meditation is an invitation to the Holy Spirit to bless the soul, for He is closely associated with the truth and delights to see the truth honored. – J. F. (otherwise unidentified), commenting on Psalm 119.148 in Charles Spurgeon’s The Treasury of David.

Israel as Our Example

Israel herself serves as a compassionate expression of God’s desire to save us.  God used His discipline upon His nation-child to turn her, and all succeeding generations, from the eternal dangers of idolatry.  Through the inability of Israel’s idols or good works to save her from the consequences of sin, we learn that we must trust in the eternal salvation offered by the divine Child of her own progeny.  Ultimately, we know of the horror of sin and the necessity of grace because the consequences that Israel experienced in an illustrative way actually fell upon God’s Son.

From: Holiness by Grace: Delighting in the Joy That is Our Strength by Bryan Chapell (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 2001), p. 99.

For the Lord’s Day (495)

Out of the window she peered, the mother of Sisera wailed through the lattice: “Why is his chariot so long in coming?  Why tarry the hoof-beats of his chariots?”  Her wisest princesses answer – indeed, she answers herself: “Have they not found and divided the spoil – a womb or two for every man, spoil of dyed materials for Sisera, spoil of dyed materials embroidered, two pieces of dyed work embroidered for the neck as spoil?”
So may all your enemies perish, O Lord!  But your friends be like the sun as he rises in his might!  And the land had rest for forty years.  (Judges 5.28-31)

 

Matthew Henry (19)

We have, now, before us one of the choicest and most excellent parts of all the Old Testament – nay, so much is there in it of Christ and His gospel, as well as of God and His law, that it had been called “the abstract” or “summary of both Testaments.”  The history of Israel, which we were long upon, led us to camps and council-boards, and there entertained and instructed us in the knowledge of God.  The Book of Job brought us into the schools and treated us with profitable disputations concerning God and His providence.  But, this book brings us into the sanctuary, draws us off from converse with men – with the politicians, philosophers, or disputers of this world – and directs us into communion with God by solacing and reposing our souls in Him, lifting up and letting out our hearts towards Him.  Thus, may we be in the mount of God, and we understand not our interests if we say not, “It is good to be here.” – Matthew Henry (1662-1714), from the preface to his commentary on the Book of Psalms.

On Sojourning in This World

I am a sojourner on the earth; hide not Your commandments from me! (Psalm 119.19)

It is proper to inquire into the reason for his calling himself a sojourner and stranger in the world.  The great concern of the unholy and worldly is to spend their lives here easily and quietly, but those who know that they have their journeys to pursue, and have their inheritance reserved for them in heaven, are not engrossed nor entangled with these perishable things, but aspire after that place to which they are invited.  The meaning may be thus summed up: “Lord, since I must pass quickly through the earth, what will become of me if I am deprived of the doctrine of Your law?”  We learn from these words from what point we must commence our journeys if we would go on our way cheerfully to God.  Besides, God is said to conceal His commandments from those whose eyes He does not open because, not being endued with spiritual vision, in seeing they see not, so that what is before their eyes is hid from them. – John Calvin (1509-1564)

On Violence

A major concern of the pentateuchal narratives and laws is violence.  Cain murders his brother, Abel.  Lamech boasts that he will exact seventy-sevenfold vengeance on anyone who attacks him.  Violence committed by “all flesh” (i.e., both humans and animals) is twice said to provoke the flood (Genesis 6.11, 13).  Within the chosen line, Esau plans to murder Jacob, Joseph’s brothers propose to kill him, and Simeon and Levi massacre the Shechemites.  Violent crime and its punishment figure prominently in the laws.  It is not just murder that is regulated, but other violent disputes, as well (e.g., Exodus 21.12-36; Numbers 35.9-34; Deuteronomy 19-21).  Both laws and narratives demonstrate divine disapproval of violence.  God explains to Noah why He sent the flood: “I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence through them.  Behold, I will destroy them, with the earth” (Genesis 6.13).  In his farewell song, Jacob damns his sons, Simeon and Levi, for their actions at Shechem (Genesis 34): “Simeon and Levi are brothers.  Weapons of violence are their swords. . .Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce, and their wrath, for it is cruel!” (Genesis 49.5, 7).

The Psalter shares this rejection of violence.  The Hebrew term that most closely corresponds to English “violence” is hamas.  It occurs more often in the Psalter than in any other Old Testament book (fourteen of the sixty total occurrences).  The second time that the Psalter mentions violence, it declares, “The Lord. . .hates the wicked and the one who loves violence” (Psalm 11.5).  The violent are the oppressors of the poor and the weak (Psalm 35.11).  Violence is the fruit of an attitude of mind: “No, in your hearts you devise wrongs.  Your hands deal out violence on earth (Psalm 58.2; cf. 73.6).

From: Psalms as Torah: Reading Biblical Song Ethically by Gordon J. Wenham; Studies in Theological Interpretation series (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2012), pp. 110-111.

The Doctrine of Man in Dogmatics

The transition from theology to anthropology, that is, from the study of God to the study of man, is a natural one.  Man is not only the crown of creation, but also the object of God’s special care.  And God’s revelation in Scripture is a revelation that is not only given to man, but also a revelation in which man is vitally concerned.  It is not a revelation of God in the abstract, but a revelation of God in relation to His creatures and, particularly, in relation to man.  It is a record of God’s dealings with the human race and, especially, a revelation of the redemption which God has prepared for, and for which He seeks to prepare, man.  This accounts for the fact that man occupies a place of central importance in Scripture, and that the knowledge of man in relation to God is essential to its proper understanding.  The doctrine of man must follow immediately after the doctrine of God, since knowledge of it is presupposed in all the following loci of dogmatics.

We should not confuse the present subject of study with general anthropology (or, the science of mankind), which includes all those sciences which have man as the object of study.  These sciences concern themselves with the origin and history of mankind, with the physiological structure and the psychical characteristics of man in general and of the various races of mankind in particular, with their ethnological, linguistic, cultural, and religious development, and so on.  Theological anthropology is concerned only with what the Bible says respecting man and the relation in which he stands, and should stand, to God.  It recognizes Scripture, only, as its source, and reads the teachings of human experience in the light of God’s Word.

From: Systematic Theology by Louis Berkhof (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1938), p. 181 (slightly edited)

On God’s Perfect Peace

Like a river glorious, is God’s perfect peace/Over all victorious, in its bright increase/Perfect, yet it floweth, fuller every day/Perfect, yet it groweth, deeper all the way/Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest/Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest.

Every joy or trial falleth from above/Traced upon our dial by the Sun of Love/We may trust Him fully all for us to do/They who trust Him wholly find Him wholly true/Stayed upon Jehovah, hearts are fully blest/Finding, as He promised, perfect peace and rest. – Frances Ridley Havergal (1836-1879), 1876