Sunday, 1 March 2015

Freedom from anguish

Psalm 25

We are looking today at Psalm 25. 

It is says that it is a Psalm of David and I’m going to take it that it is a Psalm of David. It was either written by him, authorised by him, commissioned by him or approved of by him. 

David is in anguish. 

There are the enemies. They are mentioned in v2 and v19 (the beginning and end of this psalm). They hate him, and they have, it seems, betrayed him (v3). 

To be hated is to have other people wish that you did not exist. 
I know people sometimes say, ‘I wish you were dead’, but to hate another person is more than that. It is to really wish them dead, to see them crushed into the dust. It is to live as if they do not exist, and if they do have the temerity to continue to exist, to mock them, ridicule them, treat them as if they are a joke and do not matter. 
That is why Jesus says that we will not be judged simply on whether we have murdered someone, but on whether we have hated someone. Because if we hate someone we have murdered them in our mind. 

And David is surrounded by his enemies: ‘See how my enemies have increased and how fiercely they hate me!’ (v19)

He is lonely, afflicted, overwhelmed by troubles and in distress:
‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart have multiplied .. Look upon my affliction and my distress.’ (v16ff)

David could have prayed Psalm 25 on several occasions. But I am going to suggest just one.

Psalm 34 is probably from about the same time as this psalm – there are some interesting parallels between the two psalms – and that was written after David had escaped from the ruler of Gath. [Note references in both psalms to 'the fear of the Lord', 'afflictions' and the emphasis on right living. They both follow the same acrostic structure, and both omit the same 2 Hebrew letters]. Possibly Psalm 25 was written when David was a captive of the ruler of Gath, and Psalm 34 when he escaped from him.

The situation was this. Saul was the king of Israel at the time, and David was one of his generals. He was completely loyal, and he was a highly successful general. He won many battles. The people began to compare his victories to King Saul’s victories. And Saul got jealous. So he turns against David and declares him an enemy of the state. He starts to hunt him down and David with a small band of supporters runs for his life. 

So poor David. He has been totally loyal to King, but the King wants him – and anybody who supports him - dead. He has had to flee, to abandon his family and his home. And the only option for him is to go to the neighbouring land of Gath, to become a political refugee. The problem was it was enemy territory. It was territory that he had attacked in the past when he had been Saul’s general. So for the ruler of Gath, a man called king Achish, it was Christmas, Easter and birthday all rolled up in one – he had, as his ‘guest’ or captive, the general who had caused him so much grief. And so, in order to survive, David pretended to be mad, as nutty as a fruitcake. And while they believed him, they laughed at him but they left him alone (1 Samuel 21.1-15).

Most of us do not have people out there who literally want us dead. Most of us do not need to feign insanity. And we do thank God that we are not in such a situation. 

But many of you will have your troubles and your anguish. We may have enemies who hate us. I trust that it is that way round and not the other. I remember talking with a 7 year old in Russia, little Dima, who told me that he didn’t want that person coming to his party because ‘he is my enemy’. But maybe we do find ourselves with enemies, falsely accused, betrayed by those we trusted. Or we are in anguish, simply in trouble, confused and out of our depth.

And it is significant to see what it is that David prays for in that situation. 

Note that in this Psalm he does not pray vengeance on his enemies. We do find that in other Psalms, and I guess it is better to take our desire for vengeance to God rather than to try to take vengeance ourselves. 

But here David prays

1. That he will not be shamed: ‘Let me not be put to shame’ (v2,20)

Saul wants him dead. But more than that. He wants him crushed, his reputation in tatters. And David is praying, ‘Please God, don’t let that happen’. It is the most human of the prayers that he prays. He does pray for God to release him from the snare and to preserve his life, but the worst thing that he can imagine is not his suffering or death, but his public humiliation before others. What he dreads is being captured and taken back to Gibeon (Saul’s city) and paraded naked through the streets, or being hung up to die on a tree.

We know how painful it is to be humiliated, shamed in front of others. We know how painful it is when others mock us or laugh at us, when they treat us as a joke or outcast, particularly when we are very vulnerable. And David prays the human prayer, ‘Let me not be put to shame’.

[There is, of course, another who also prayed to escape shame and agony. But he also prayed, 'Not my will but yours be done'. He was prepared to go through the shame, through the scandal of the cross, in order to bring many to God]

2. For guidance (v4f)

There is quite a bit of that here. 

David prays: “Show me your ways, teach me your paths, guide me in your truth and teach me.” (v4,5)  

David wants to know not only what is the right thing to do, the right decision to take, but also what is the right way to live.

For instance, while David is running for his life from Saul, on two occasions he has the opportunity to end his persecution – and even become king himself (he has been told by a prophet that one day he will be king) - by killing Saul. 
It is the obvious thing to do, the solution to all his problems. 

But it is not the right thing to do. 

On both occasions David says, “No, I will not take the life of Saul, because Saul is God’s anointed ruler of his people. And it is not for me to take the life of God’s anointed one”.

And we can speculate. If David had killed Saul, and then seized the throne, there would probably have been civil war. But because he did not kill Saul, instead when Saul does die, the people come to him and invite him to become king. And the foundation of his kingdom was peace and not violence. 

And later in this Psalm, he prays for integrity and uprightness (v21).

The reason that David is hungry to know God’s way, and the reason he is prepared to humble himself before God – and do what God wants - is because he is convinced 

- It is the path to well-being (prosperity) (v11)
- It is the road to securing your future (v11)
- It is the secret to friendship with God
“The friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him, and he makes his covenant known to them” (v14)

And that leads us to his third prayer

3. For God’s presence and protection (v16)

‘Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted’ (v16)

I would love to be able to say that whenever we are in trouble and turn seriously to God in prayer, he will sort out the trouble and make the path of life smooth for us. 

But that is not the case.

There are many faithful Christians who have been in trouble, who have prayed for rescue, and whose prayer seemed unanswered. 

If our faith is based on a belief that God will immediately rescue us when we are in trouble, it is a faith that will not last. It is not a faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. It is not a faith in the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is faith in a made up sugar candy father God. 

But if we look closer we will see that David seems to pray for something different. 

Yes, he does pray that he will not be shamed, and that God will protect him and rescue him. But what he really prays for is that he will know the presence of God. 

That is why he so bugged by his sinfulness. He knows that his sinfulness, his disobedience that  cuts him off from God. Three times, he asks for God’s forgiveness (vv7,11,18). And three times he throws himself on God’s mercy (v6), love and goodness (v7) and on God’s name (v11).

What he really wants is to know the friendship of God, about which he speaks in v14. 

David is in anguish. 
It may be that this psalm comes from when he is behaving like a lunatic in the court of King Achish of Gath. He may not. It doesn’t really matter. 
What does matter is that, in his anguish, in his trouble, he cries out to God. He asks God to deliver him, to guide him, but he also asks God to come to him. And even though, by the end of the Psalm there is no immediate answer, yet he holds on to the hope that God will answer him. 

‘No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame’ (v3)
Or as he simply says in v5 and 21, ‘My hope is in you’

You see, when we know that God is with us, the whole world can be against us, and it is OK. 
When we know that God is with us, our plans may crumble, our dreams may be shattered, we can be let down badly by people, but it is still OK
When we know that God is with us, we may suffer dreadfully, but it is still OK
We can be surrounded by enemies, be hated, be betrayed, but when we know that God is with us, we know that it is OK. 



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