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“we preach out of Bible delight in our hearts and for Bible delight in our hearers’ souls.” (Christopher Ash, Bible delight: Psalm 119 for the Bible teacher and Bible hearer, p. 9)

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The teaching that we are all “little gods”, based on Psalm 82:6 and John 10:34, has been around for quite a while and seems to be on the rise particularly in Kenyan universities so perhaps it’s worth making a couple of comments and links here.

The key verses are quite tricky in a number of respects but particularly for two reasons:

  1. Who are the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82?
  2. Why exactly is Jesus quoting the Psalm in John 10?

But what is abundantly clear is that these verses cannot possibly mean what many popular teachers today use them to mean – that Christians (those who are in Christ) are gods in the sense that we can speak things into existence, we can speak with the authority of the Creator to rebuke diseases, declare blessings, bind disasters, change reality.

Apart from the fact that this is patently bonkers (when is the last time you stilled a storm or created a galaxy?) and sounds very much like the original temptation in the garden (Genesis 3:5), a good look at the context shows that the overall tone and message of both Psalm 82 and John 10 is 1) condemnation of the ‘gods’ and 2) the exalting of the one true God.

  1. The ‘gods’ here are being judged not applauded. The emphasis is on their guilt and powerlessness not their greatness and strength. Precisely the opposite of the way the texts are used by Word of Faith preachers.
  2. The only one being exalted in both passages is the true God. In Psalm 82 He is the one who judges (v1) and who will judge (v8). In John 10 the one in the spotlight is Jesus Christ making a unique claim to be God from God, the Son who is one with the Father, a claim for which he is very close to being stoned for blasphemy.

But what about those initial two questions? What exactly is going on in Psalm 82 and John 10? Well I’m not sure but here are a few things I’ve found and gleaned from others (you’ll need a Bible open at this point).

  • The main choices for the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82 are a) bad judges; b) fallen angelic powers; c) all Israel under judgement. The first choice seems to fit well with the accusation (v2-4) and with the context in John’s gospel where ‘the Jews’, usually referring to the Pharisees and synagogue authorities (see John 9), are doing something very similar to the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 – not judging rightly. The second choice (dark heavenly powers) makes sense of the opening line about the gods being in the divine council and is the interpretation taken by John Piper. The third option (all Israel) notices that Psalm 82:6 goes on to say “sons of the most high” and notes that the language of God as the Father of Israel begins in the book of Exodus (cf.  John 8:41). So the judgement in Psalm 82 may be talking about the Wilderness generation who were destroyed. This is Don Carson’s understanding. Notice, none of these options for the ‘gods’ is ‘faithful Christians’.
  • More important than the ‘gods’ in Psalm 82 is the God mentioned at the beginning and end. I’m seeing a lot of connections with Psalm 2. You have a God who sits in heaven (Ps. 2:4; 82:1), you have wicked rulers (Ps. 2:1-3; 82:2-4), you have a judgement declared from heaven (Ps. 2:5-6; 82:6-7) and you have one who will judge and inherit the nations (Ps. 2:8-9; 82:8). So I’m increasingly thinking that maybe the God at the beginning of Psalm 82 is the Father, the Most High, and the God at the end of the Psalm is the Son. Which then gives a lot of bite to Jesus’ quotation in John 10 and fits with his claims there.
  • In John 10 Jesus seems to make some kind of linguistic connection between himself and the ‘gods’ of Psalm 82 – the simple point being that it is possible for Scripture to use elohim beyond just referring to the Most High God. But more importantly he contrasts himself with the ‘gods’ in that he is not merely one ‘to whom the Word came’, he is The Word who has come (John 10:35-36). – Jesus is making a how-much-more argument – a claim beyond being one of the ‘gods’, that he is the Son of God, one with the Father. And so the ‘gods’ continue to try to kill him for making such a unique claim to be God.

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This is an attempt to start to answer the comments of our friend Oral Roberts to a recent post based on 2 Corinthians 8:9. It was a lengthy comment raising lots of important issues so it’ll need a few posts to respond. And please – other brothers and sisters do come in on the debate and comment below.

I wonder why we glorify poverty and condemn prosperity. Are we living in the real world? How is God glorified when a family has not had a meal for a whole day? While the scripture says “I HAVE BEEN YOUNG AND NOW I AM OLD, YET I HAVE NOT SEEN THE RIGHTEOUS FORSAKEN NOR THEIR CHILDREN BEGGING BREAD”.

  1. There is certainly no reason to glorify poverty in itself. In fact one of the points of the argument I was making in relation to 2 Cor. 8:9 is that someone being materially poor is not in itself of any benefit to anyone; there is nothing intrinsically good or worthy or glorious about poverty that can save people. Ironically, it is the prosperity preachers who want to use this verse to argue that Jesus has come to make us materially rich who must imply that there is something glorious and powerful in (Jesus’) material poverty. I was arguing that the verse is probably not about physical riches or poverty but about the glory of the willingly-chosen, vicarious spiritual/relational poverty of the Cross and the undeserved riches of sonship.
  2. The call to live in the real world is a very helpful reminder though. How do we face the daily realities of grinding poverty and appalling abuse and vast inequality? And what does the gospel mean in the everyday concerns of life? Oral says a lot more on this further on in his comment so we’ll save commenting on this for another post.
  3. How is God glorified? The rhetorical question implies only one answer but – and this is a hard thing to say – we need to be careful before assuming we know what will or will not glorify God. This is a God who was glorified as he hung on a cross, battered, bleeding, naked and dying. His definition of glory may be a million miles from ours. It would be a good exercise to go through the letter of 1 Peter and see what brings glory to God.
  4. What about the quote from Psalm 37:25? Well there are a number of ways to respond to that:
    • For one thing it is, strictly speaking, an observation, not a promise: “I have seen…” It is anecdotal, experience, not a full survey of the world population through all time. Solomon, when he looks at the world, finds something very different (e.g. Eccl. 7:15; 8:14), so do the Sons of Korah (Psalm 44:9-26), so does Job (e.g. Job 21:7-21), so does the author of Hebrews (Heb. 11:35-38), the Apostle Paul is familiar with hunger (2 Cor. 6:5; 11:27; Phil. 4:12) and then you have the supreme exception Jesus The Righteous One crying out in forsakenness.
    • We also need to be careful to read all Scripture together, particularly when it comes to the three great poetic books of Psalms, Proverbs and Job. They speak with very different voices but we need to hear all of them and the conversations between them. Many of us were very struck recently as we went through the book of Job how Job’s ‘comforters’ throw at him stuff like “Consider now: Who being innocent, has ever perished? Where were the upright ever destroyed?” (Job 4:7). (Will Keynes, My Psalm Has Turned Into Weeping shows how Job’s friends allude to and (mis)quote the Psalms). One of the dangers is that if we throw around verses like Psalm 37:25, one day it could hit someone in a situation like Job, righteous and abandoned, children not just begging but dead, and on that day it would have the very opposite effect to comfort.
    • And another thing is to notice that Psalm 37 seems very tied into the Old Covenant. The ‘land’ is mentioned no less than 7 times. So it’s impossible to apply directly to us. The blessings and curses (v22) seem to be tied into Deut. 28. The Psalmist has never ‘seen’ the righteous forsaken because under the Old Covenant there were very visible evidences of God’s presence and favour – dwelling in the land, good harvests, large families, lending and never begging. In the new covenant blessedness seems to be defined not so much in terms of these tangibles but in terms of fellowship with Christ  in his suffering now and in his glories later (again see 1 Peter). The great comfort is indeed that, one with the Son, we will never be forsaken, even though it might often look like we are.

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; (2 Cor. 4:8-9)

…as unknown, and yet well known; as dying, and behold, we live; as punished, and yet not killed; as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Cor. 6:9-10)

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In previous posts (e.g. here) we’ve found that looking at the Psalms as Songs of Jesus is revolutionary in allowing us to capture their full grandeur and grace. But what then do we do with the Psalms which talk about the Psalmist’s many sins?

One way is to say, Jesus isn’t saying those bits – that was David speaking for himself and showing he was not the perfect Christ. But then that easily takes us back to the skim and pick selective strategy. Because the surprising thing is that it’s in some of the most clearly Messianic Psalms that the writer is also very clear about his sin.

Two examples: Psalm 40 and Psalm 69. Psalm 40:6-8 is cited by the author of Hebrews as speaking uniquely of Jesus (incarnation and crucifixion). Various verses of Psalm 69 are quoted by John, Romans and Acts and there are multiple NT allusions, particularly in the Gospel accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. So both seem to be clearly Psalms of Jesus. Furthermore there is no obvious change in the speaker through the Psalm – it is the Christ speaking throughout in the first person.

What if (hold on, don’t stone me yet) we say that Jesus is saying these things? Is talking about ‘his sins’ in some sense. What! How can Jesus be talking about ‘his sins’? Well I affirm the purity and faultless obedience of Christ as much as anyone but look at these Scriptures:

My beloved is mine and I am his (Song of Songs 2:14)

The LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all… and [he] was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:6, 12)

And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up (John 3:14)

For our sake he made him to be sin (2 Cor. 5:21)

Christ… becoming a curse for us (Gal. 3:13)

So yes, Jesus did no violence and there was no deceit in his mouth (Isa. 53:9) and yet he was counted as a transgressor (Isa. 53:12); he ‘knew no sin’ (2 Cor. 5:21) yet he was made sin (2 Cor. 5:21); he was made a curse, made the snake on the pole; in our marriage union with him, as we have become his, our sins have become his. Or as Luther puts it with breath-taking force:

For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin. . . . He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.”  No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God.  (Martin Luther, Works, 22:166-67 (ht Dane Ortlund))

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psalm 63

There are some Psalms that are classics of devotion to God. They seem to exemplify the emotion and experiential relationship we should have with the Father. But as we’ve noted, if they are only that then they are also crushing and condemning.

Now I want to look at Psalm 63 – another classic of devotion. But then I find Christopher Ash has written (here) what I wanted to say and said it far better than I could so here he is:

In May 1943, from his prison cell, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “I read the Psalms every day, as I have done for years; I know them and love them more than any other book.” I have been gripped for a few years now by the vision of getting the Psalms back into Christian use in evangelical circles. It seems to me that they will help us learn to pray; and they will reshape our disordered affections in God’s ways, avoiding both an arid intellectualism (when we are so frightened of charismatic error that we fight shy of the language of affections and emotions) and an uncontrolled emotionalism (in which emotions run riot in disordered subjectivism).

How difficult it is to pray the Psalms

I take it the Psalms are in scripture in order that we should learn to pray them – and pray them all. That, at least, has been the mainstream Christian understanding since the very earliest centuries. But when we try to pray them, we hit all sorts of problems. We read protestations of innocence we know we cannot make without pharisaical hypocrisy; we hear descriptions of appalling suffering that are way beyond what we experience; we see descriptions of hostility too intense even for metaphorical believability about those who don’t like us; and, perhaps most difficult, we can’t see how we are supposed to pray for God to punish our enemies without lapsing into vengeful thoughts.

The ‘skim and pick’ strategy

So what we usually do is to skim over the bits that don’t fit with our experience, and focus in on the bits that do. “Ah,” I say, “There’s a verse I can identify with; I’ll put that on my calendar.” But even as I do that, there’s a little voice telling me it won’t do; for either I pray the Psalms or I don’t. If I pick and choose, I am just using the Psalms for ideas that chime with my pre-existing ideas about how to pray; and that approach lacks integrity.

The Big Idea: the songs of Jesus

Here’s the big idea I’ve found helpful: think what it would have meant for Jesus of Nazareth to pray a Psalm in his earthly life, in synagogue Sabbath by Sabbath. Very many of the Psalms come into sharp focus when we think of Jesus praying them. It’s not a case of ‘one size fits all’; some Psalms are about the Messiah rather than by the Messiah; others are corporate, as the people of the Messiah sing together; in yet others we hear the voice of the Messiah speaking to us. But many of the Psalms – and especially Psalms ‘of David’ – make the deepest, sharpest, and fullest sense when we think of the Messiah praying them to his heavenly Father. David is a prophet (Acts 2:30) and so he spoke and prayed by the Spirit of Christ (1 Peter 1:10-12); what he prayed expressed his own experience, and yet pointed beyond this; it was the echo of a prayer yet to be prayed, by one who would pray it in its fullness.

Augustine has this lovely idea that Jesus is the cantor, or choir-leader, leading the people of Christ in the singing of a Psalm. The Psalms are his songs before they become our songs, and they become our songs only as we are men and women in union with Christ. We sing them in him, led by him our Representative Head.

There’s lots of theology surrounding this, and plenty of evidence, especially from the ways in which the New Testament writers appropriate the Psalms in Christ. But let me illustrate the difference this makes from one psalm I’ve preached recently:

Example: Psalm 63

In Psalm 63 we read of David’s deep desire for God (v1), David’s passionate delight in God (vv2-4), David’s enduring joy in God that continues through the darkest night (vv5-8) and David’s confidence that his enemies will be destroyed (vv9,10). If I try to make that my prayer (to draw the line of application direct from David to me), I end up saying things like, “David desired God, and I ought to try to desire God more than I do; David delighted deeply in God, and I really ought to desire God more than I do; David had joy in God even in the dark nights, and it would be good if I could learn to do the same…” and so on. Which leaves me deeply discouraged, for it is exhortation with no gospel, and I can’t do it.

But the Psalm makes perfect sense when I read it of Jesus’ desire for the Father, Jesus’ delight in the Father, Jesus’ joy in the Father even in the darkness of a sinful world, and Jesus’ confidence in final vindication. It is his song before it can become mine, and it can be mine only in him. And then it is gospel. I thank God that there is one who desired God, delighted in God, rejoiced in God, was confident in God’s vindication.

Verse 11 is the key. For in verse 11 we meet three responses. First, “the king rejoices in God”; this is the song of the king. Second, “all who swear by God will glory in him”; this is where we come in, the king’s people sharing his desire, his delight, his joy, and his confidence, by his Spirit. And third, “the mouths of liars will be silenced”, those who will not be part of the king’s people.

As I look for opportunities to preach more and more Psalms, I am finding again and again that praying them as the people of God in union with Christ transforms them from a crushing exhortation (try to pray like the psalmist) into a liberating gospel (thank God for the one who prays like this, and who is our Representative Head).

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Preached from Psalm 121 last Sunday. Seems relevant today.

Do we really believe that the Lord is our keeper?
That he doesn’t slumber or sleep?
That he will keep you from all evil?

Because there’s a problem here.

Why are God’s children not always protected?

Full sermon notes here (in English na kidogo Kiswahili).

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In a number of Psalms there are multiple voices. Often they’re taken as one believer talking to another believer. But I’m starting to wonder whether sometimes there is more to it than that.

I’ve just been looking at Psalm 91 and Psalm 121. Both Psalms about divine protection. Lots of shared language and ideas. And a similar structure too in terms of the voices.

Psalm 91

  • Verse 1 – A voice talks in the third person about ‘he’ who takes refuge in the Most High
  • Verse 2 – A voice talks in the first person, looking to the LORD for refuge.
  • Verses 3-13 – A voice talks in the second person of how the LORD, the Most High, will be a refuge to ‘you’ (this speaker is also, himself taking refuge in this LORD – v9)
  • Verses 14-16 – A voice talks in the first person about how he will be a refuge to ‘him’

There are at least two speakers. Everyone agrees that v14-16 must be the LORD himself coming in and confirming that he will indeed deliver/protect/rescue.

It could be that v1-13 is all the Psalmist speaking, first giving a general truth (v1) , then saying what his prayer is to his God (v2), then encouraging other believers (v3-13). But it is very striking that the “you” throughout v3-13 is singular. Just as v1 and v14-16 seem to be talking about a singular man. It could be a generalised ‘believer’ but it’s interesting what happens when Satan quotes this Psalm to Jesus a thousand years later in the wilderness. The strength of the devil’s attack rests on the fact that Jesus knows that this Psalm is about the Son of God. “If you are the Son of God, then Psalm 91:11-12 applies to you doesn’t it? So why don’t you just throw yourself down off the Temple and claim those promises?”

Jesus doesn’t debate the application to himself but he knows a) that you don’t have to ‘test’ a Father-Son relationship and b) this Psalm is going to be fulfilled through the Cross and resurrection – suffering and then glory.

So Psalm 91:3-13 is being spoken to Jesus by another voice – a comforter who encourages him that the LORD God, the Most High will protect him. Who is this? Who could be Jesus’ comforter? How about The Comforter – the Spirit. The one who speaks through the Psalmist (2 Sam. 23:2).

And who is the Most High LORD who is mentioned in v1, v9 and then speaks in v14-16? Surely that must be the Father. The one who is loved by the Son (v14).

So perhaps Psalm 91 works a bit like this:

  • Verse 1 – The Spirit tells us about the Son as the one who dwells in the Father – this verse in a sense functions as the title of the Psalm.
  • Verse 2 – The Son speaks of how he will cry out to the Father.
  • Verses 3-13 – The Spirit reassures the Son of the protection of the Father.
  • Verses 14-16 – The Father tells us about the Son.

Psalm 121

Similar but a bit simpler:

  • Verses 1-2 – A voice speaks in the first person, looking to the LORD for help.
  • Verses 3-8 – A voice speaks in the second person of how ‘the LORD is your keeper’

It could be one person turning from looking to the LORD to address us but most commentators hear two voices, a young faltering pilgrim and then another more experienced pilgrim encouraging him (the ‘you’ in v3-8 is consistently singular).

It certainly does look like two voices but to me the first voice doesn’t sound very young and inexperienced. He just sounds like the Psalmist often sounds, crying out to the LORD and simultaneously confident that the LORD will hear and act. The reference to the Creator of heavens and earth isn’t immature faith but consistent with Ps. 124:8 and 134:3.

The second voice is the comforter/encourager of the first voice. And maybe he gives us a clue to the first voice he is addressing in verse 4 – “Israel”. This, together with the similarity with Ps. 91 makes me think the first voice is the Son (cf. Ex. 4:22). So maybe, as in Ps. 91, the second voice is the Spirit.

What do you think?

Still thinking this stuff through. But if there is something like this going on I find it pretty amazing that we’re allowed to listen in as the Spirit encourages the Son of the Father’s care.

 

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