Psalm 28 as preached by Timothy O'Day.
Depending on the Merciful and Righteous God of Hope
Christ Fellowship Church
July 31, 2022
Songs are powerful. They get stuck in your mind and your heart. They are an expression of how you feel, but also a shaper of how you feel. They are an expression of what you believe, but also build up what you believe. A song is powerful when it expresses a disposition of your heart that you could not have communicated any other way. Songs also provide solidarity among people. As we sing together, we can look around and say, “You too? I feel the same way!” Songs express, form, solidify, and affirm our faith.
As you may know, the Psalms are songs. Some have even called them the songbook of the church. As we look at Psalm 28, we have a song that expresses our faith, forms our faith, solidifies our faith, and affirms our faith. What is it expressing, forming, solidifying, and affirming? Namely this: we must live in utter dependence on God.
The introduction and the form of this psalm show us that this is the case. Look at verses 1 and 2: David turns to the Lord and calls out. He pleads that the Lord would not be deaf to him but would hear and speak. If the Lord does not hear and speak, that is react to his call, then David is a dead man. That is what is meant by becoming like those who go down to the pit. The pit represents death. In verse 2 we see the same sentiment with different language. He calls for God to hear his pleas for mercy and lifts up his hands toward his sanctuary. Facing the sanctuary and lifting up his hands act as expressions of his sole dependence on God. He does not hedge his bets by turning to other deities. He turns solely to the Lord and reaches out to him with his arms.
Prayer itself is an expression of utter dependence on God. So many people do not pray because they do not think that God would help or could help. It makes sense that we will turn to the person that we believe can help us the most.
David, in some type of danger and trial, turns to depend utterly on the Lord. And we should ask, “why?” When we are afraid or when we are in trouble, we turn to something or someone. It should be the Lord. Why? We can explain that in three points.
We should have utter dependence on God because…
1. He is merciful
David’s plea to God is “give me mercy” (2). And what is mercy? It is forbearance toward someone under your power. David recognizes that the Lord is the one in ultimate power, so he is the one to whom he cries out. There is none greater or higher than God, so David makes his appeal to receive help from his hand. We cry out to the one we believe has power over us. This is a good litmus test for us. When you are in trouble, to whom do you turn? You turn to the one whom you believe to be in control. That may mean you sit down and think hard and make a plan, trusting yourself as the one who has ultimate control. This may mean you sit in a corner crying thinking that there is no one in control. Or it may mean you attempt to win the favor of someone else who you trust has power to influence your situation.
But no man is ever in ultimate control. God is the one who made all things and controls all things, so he is the one to whom we should look when we find ourselves in trouble. It is God to whom David turns when he is in trouble.
What kind of help is he looking for? We see that in verse 3: “do not drag me off with the wicked” (3).
He is asking that he would not be counted among the wicked. He is asking that God make a distinction between him and the wicked. Now, if your theological nose is working, you may want to object to this and quote Romans 3, “there is none righteous, no not one.” And “All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” But this is where we need to be more nuanced. David here is making an appeal to the justice of God. He is not claiming that he is sinless. He is saying that it would not become God’s justice if he is treated in the exact same way as those who completely disregard him. He is, in effect, pointing to God and not to himself as the basis of receiving mercy from God.
Going to God in prayer, then, and seeing him as the one on whom we should ultimately depend, rests on whether or not we see him as good and just. In other words, I can only honestly go to God in ultimate dependence when I see his goodness. You might recognize him as having all power, but if you do not trust him to be good then you will not waste your breath in prayer to him when you are in trouble.
You can certainly plead for mercy out of desperation; because you see no other way. That is known as the foxhole prayer. That is like a hostage held at gunpoint who does not want to die, pleading with the gunman to spare him from death. But that is not the kind of pleading that we are to do with God. This pleading of desperation isn’t rooted in the goodness of the gunman. It is rooted in the desperate desire to be spared.
When we plead with God for mercy, we should do so because we see that he is good. When you consider your troubles, the trials that you face, remember that God is not some cold, capricious being. If that is how you think of him then you do not see him rightly, you will not come to him.
Calling out for mercy requires that we see God as powerful and good.
2. He is the righteous judge
And because he is good, he will judge. That is jarring to middle class Americans. We often equate the goodness of God only with mercy and never with judgment, but notice that in Psalm 28 it is the justice of God that is the basis for the call for mercy and for the call for judgment. The call of verse 4 is to give to the wicked in accord with their work, according to the evil of their deeds. They should receive their due reward. We could go back to the book of Romans and see in 6:23 that the wages of sin is death—it is eternal death and separation from God that is the due payment for rebellion against him.
Now be careful to notice what David is not saying. He is not saying, “I and the wicked are living in the exact same way, but spare me and judge them!” No, he is actually pointing out that they are defined by their rejection of God just as he is defined by his dependence on God. God’s people are not defined by personal perfection but personal dependence on the God who is perfect.
The Definition of Wickedness
How are the wicked defined? They are defined by a certain kind of falseness (3b). They say one thing to their neighbor but have different intentions in their hearts. This is the pedophile who tells parents, “trust me,” while he plans to abuse their children. This is the lender who gives the loan knowing full well that it will bring more hardship than help to the borrower, yet he celebrates with them. This is the backbiter who only has kind words when speaking to your face, but will speak in terms of disgust in regard to your person in front of others.
At the root of all of this conduct, some which you may think to be small and others large, is this same reality: there is an absolute disregard for God. Look at verse 5, “Because they do not regard the works of the LORD or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.” The root of sin, which brings judgment, is a complete disregard for God and his purposes—who he is and what he is doing. Sin is rebellion against God and rebellion against God is not a tiny action; it is actually seeking to unmake what he is making; it is an attempt to de-god God and set yourself up as God and your works as authoritative.
Judgment, then, is God pulling off the mask you are putting on. It is showing you as you are and revealing what you have made yourself into.
Examples of Wickedness
Consider Pharaoh. When Moses and Aaron came to him and said, “Thus says the Lord, let my people go,” he responded, “Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice and let Israel go?” In short, Pharaoh exulted himself over and above the Lord. He wanted to de-god God. He wanted to use Israel as his slaves in order to establish his own agenda.
This is what living in rebellion is. This is what living in sin is: It is to disregard God and his ways in order to pursue your own agenda even when it is at the expense of others.
We learned in Psalm 1 that the blessed man, the truly happy man, the truly flourishing man, is the one who makes the Lord’s words his delight. He hears God and lives on them. God sets his agenda and he lives in total dependence on God. “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord and on his law he meditates day and night.” Such a man is compared to a tree that is planted by streams of water, yielding its fruit in its season, and having leaves that do not wither. The reason he is thriving is because he is connected to the source of life itself: God. As you depend on the Lord, life comes to you and pulses through you. As Jesus said, “Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing.”
Apart from God, you will produce nothing and become nothing. As it says in Psalm 1, the wicked are like chaff that the wind will drive away. In short, if you disregard God you will receive the judgment of becoming less and less real as you become more and more disconnected from the basis of reality: God himself. Judgment is worse than turning into nothingness; it is experiencing nothingness.
Nothing Left But a Grumble
C.S Lewis captures this idea in his book The Great Divorce. In that book he depicts a fictionalized intermediate state between death and judgment. It isn’t that he thinks that there would be this state, but he uses it to make a point about eternal life and eternal judgment. Those who die are like ghosts who experience pain even walking on the grass in paradise because paradise is more real than they are. They cannot even bend a blade of grass when they step on it because sin has drained them of realness and substance. In this state, the main character, being led around by an instructor, witnesses a ghost figure who is grumbling. His teacher tells him that the woman may now just be a grumble and no longer a grumbler—to which the main character asks, “But how can there be a grumble without a grumbler?”
The teacher responds, “The whole difficulty of understanding Hell is that the thing to be understood is so nearly Nothing. But ye’ll have had experiences…it begins with a grumbling mood, and yourself still distinct from it: perhaps criticizing it. And yourself, in a dark hour, may will that mood, embrace it. Ye can repent and come out of it again. But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticize the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine.”
And here I hope you are sobered by the dangers of sin. There will come a day when you are totally defined by your sin. We embrace sin like a man embraces alcohol, saying, “I can quit anytime.” The problem of the alcoholic, though, is that he doesn’t ever want to quit.
Sin is the unmaking of God’s good creation and it is our hoisting of our own personal agendas. Is it shocking, then, that we should be judged by being thrown away from God to experience lacking him for all eternity when we have used all of our power to stay away from him?
God is right to judge. And our sin deserves this eternal death, giving us over to what we are pursuing. We need to be changed and cleansed of our sin. What hope do we have in all of this? We should have great hope because of who God is, as we see in verses 6-9.
3. He delivers those who trust in him
Verse 6 turns to praise as David leads us to cry out, “Blessed be the LORD!” Why should we speak such praise? Because he hears our pleas for mercy (6b). While the Lord will judge those who disregard him and seek to unmake his good world, he will hear and act as a shield for those who depend on him (7a). The proper response of those who trust in God is a song of thanks that he is good, just, and merciful (7b).
There are two reasons we can give thanks to God when we depend on him and these reasons are laid out in verses 8-9.
First, we can give thanks to the Lord because he saves his people from their sin. He is the strength of his people and the saving refuge of his anointed. The anointed here is king David. He is the one that God chose to lead and represent his people. As it goes with the king, so it goes with his people. Since the Lord has promised to protect David (in the Davidic covenant in 2 Sam 7), he is also the strength of his people. But what does this have to do with us? Everything! Jesus is revealed as the true David. David was just a foreshadowing of the true King to come, who is Jesus. The meaning of the word Christ is “anointed one.” Jesus is the Son of God, who took on flesh and was anointed with the Spirit of God and came to save his people from their sins.
As we saw earlier, the wages of sin is death, but Jesus died on the cross as the sinless anointed one. It is because Jesus is sinless that he is able to pay the penalty we deserve for our sin. It is because Jesus is the Son of God, the eternal and infinite one, that he is able to pay our penalty of sin against the infinite God. It is because he is truly man that he is able to represent us as our King. And, as we read in 1 Corinthians 15 earlier, death was not the last word over Jesus. He was raised to new life in a glorified body. And, as I said, as it goes with the King so it goes with his people. If you come to Jesus, fully depending on him for salvation, you will be cleansed of your sin and given new life that will result in your own resurrection from the dead. Since this is real, how could we not praise him?
Second, we can give thanks to the Lord because he promises to sustain his people. The final plea of the Psalm is that God would bless his people and, acting as their shepherd, carry them forever. When you come to Christ, you are not only saved from sin, you are brought into the fold of God’s care. Coming to Christ does not mean life will be easy. In fact, faith in Christ often means new difficulties and hardships in a world that is defined by opposition to the Lord and his ways. We will find ourselves often like David crying out for God’s mercy and deliverance. The reason we can give thanks is because God will hear us and provide what we need. He will sustain and provide for you. But what does that mean? It means simply this:
When you are weak and feel like you cannot obey, when you call out to him he will give you the strength to obey.
When you fear your faith will fail, he will hold you fast.
When you are at a loss of what to do in the midst of a trial, you can ask God for wisdom on how you will endure and he will grant it.
And if and when you face death, you can hold his promise of the resurrection as sure. Death will not be the final verdict over you. You will be raised to new life.
And these promises are sure for all who look to Christ in faith—who utterly depend on the Lord.