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Saturday, February 23, 2013

Meditation: Psalm 77

Elyse Fitzpatrick wrote a book entitled Counsel from the Cross.  If you don't have it, you need to buy's the best $10 you'll ever spend.

In this book, Fitzpatrick argues that our singular need in counseling ourselves and others is the gospel.  The fact that Jesus took on flesh, lived on earth, died as our substitute, was buried in a grave, and rose again has immediate implications in every area of life, and the author does a great job of walking the reader through reasons behind that argument.

Christ.  The Word.  The Gospel.  They are synonyms and our understanding of their interrelated nature will always lead us to worship if we understand them correctly.  Understanding the gospel leads me to the Word which leads me to Christ.  Understanding my need for the Word will always draw me closer to Christ and give me a fuller understanding of the applications of the gospel to my life.  It's an unbreakable circle.  Paul even says multiple times in his epistles that what people believe about Jesus is the benchmark for their salvation (1 Cor. 16:22).

However, if you're passionate about taking the whole counsel of Scripture (and I'm right there with you...) you might get nervous about that thought.  Because it follows that the Old Testament saints didn't have the gospel as we know it.  They, like you and I, were saved by grace through faith, yet were under the Mosaic covenant.  So when I read my Bible, how can I meditate on the gospel when I'm reading from Genesis to Malachi?  I need this Word of God, and if it supposedly points me to Christ I should be able to find the gospel all over it.

In other words, the gospel itself IS the whole counsel of Scripture.  It is not oversimplification or concept isolationism to recognize the gem of the cross as the climax of Scripture which everything previous to it anticipates and everything after it remembers.  It just takes some understanding of Judaism to help us read our Old Testament well.

GIVEN: Jews look to the Exodus from Egypt as the pivotal event in their history.

God's power is shown in the plagues as He systematically humiliates the gods of the Egyptians. The Passover also marked the beginning of a feast that would remind the people that the blood of a spotless lamb was required to be shed for their deliverance from the wrath of God.  This is not the first time a blood sacrifice  is used as the symbol of substitutionary (symbolic) atonement (Cain&Abel, Abraham...), but it is the first time that it is instituted as a national observance.  Already, in the killing of the lamb, the picture of Christ is present.  Then, God splits the Red Sea and leaves dry ground for the former slaves to walk on.  As soon as they are safely across, the walls of water crash down on Pharaoh's army, and they slaves are literally free.  This event is a picture of the gospel for us in that God goes to desperate measures to rescue His people from slavery by fulfilling His promise and making a blood sacrifice, just like He did in the incarnation and the crucifixion.  So when the Old Testament refers to the Exodus, we can sub in what we know about the gospel and use the Exodus as a frame of reference for our gospel-centered self-talk.  

Now finally, to the point.  Psalm 77.
There are four parts to the Psalm.
1. The dire situation.
2. The questions that rise from looking at the situation.
3. The decision to meditate on truth.
4. The execution of the plan.

In part one, the Psalmist explains his personal situation mostly from the standpoint of how he is affected emotionally and spiritually.  He doesn't mention exactly what it is that causes the distress, but we know that he can't sleep and he's "overwhelmed" by the trouble.  He's so desperate for God to do something, and he cries out to God in his trouble.

In part two, he gets very honest with how he sees things.  Based solely on his circumstances, he has legitimate cause to doubt God's steadfastness, favor, mercy, promise (think Abraham...), grace, and tender mercies.  (He specifically mentions each of those in verses 7-9)

In part three, he submits.  "And I said, 'This is my anguish...'"  He chooses to set aside the things he cannot understand that do not apparently align with what He knows about God, and instead he chooses to meditate on what he does know.  "'This is my anguish; But I will remember the years of the right hand of the Most High.'  I will remember the works of the LORD; Surely I will remember Your wonders of old."
He even admits that "Your way, O God is in the sanctuary."  Which is like saying, "Your ways can only be understood from the perspective of the sanctuary where I am submissive and You are Sovereign."
For the next several verses He gives a few general statements of things for which to praise God.  And then spends 16-20 on the one act of the parting of the Red Sea.
NOW, remember that the Exodus is a picture of the gospel for us.
In painting the vivid picture of how the Red Sea looked and felt during this final, dramatic act of sealing Israel's freedom, the writer is evoking for the Jewish reader the entire picture of the Exodus and so, for us, the gospel.  It is also interesting to note that the description of the waters being dark and trembling are foreshadowing in many ways the picture of the weather at the hour of the Crucifixion. (Matthew 27:45)
So in his pre-advent way, the Psalmist is actually meditating on the gospel, just as we are to do!  Incredible.

What can we conclude from Psalm 77?

I will face uncertainties.
Those struggles alone will cause me to doubt.  The questions are normal, but they do arise from focusing on the struggle rather than on God.
I don't have to focus on the struggles, I can meditate on Truth.
The Truth I am to meditate on is the gospel!    

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