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April 2012  •  Volume XIII, Issue 24


God’s Good Spirit (1)

Psalm 143—penned by David, as the heading says—is a persecution psalm. Three times it refers to David’s enemy (3) or enemies (9, 12). We are not told who they were: Saul and his men or David’s rebellious son Absalom and his forces? The persecution was severe and it was getting David down: "For the enemy hath persecuted my soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have been long dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed within me; my heart within me is desolate" (3-4).

Psalm 143 is not only a persecution psalm; it is also a penitential psalm. There are traditionally reckoned to be seven penitential psalms, all dealing with repentance or confession of sin (Ps. 6; 32; 38; 51; 102; 130; 143). In Psalm 143, the last of the penitential psalms, verse 2 is key in this regard: "And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified." David knows this about himself and his nature, life and ways: "There is no way I, in myself, could withstand God’s perfectly holy and righteous scrutiny!" Psalm 143:2 is true also of all fallen sons and daughters of Adam, including us, for "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be justified in his sight" (Rom. 3:20).

There is a connection between Psalm 143 as a persecution psalm and as a penitential psalm. David confesses his guilt (2), "for" the enemy is afflicting him (3). David recognizes that one reason for the enemies’ persecution of him is that God is chastening him for his sin. If David’s enemies see something wrong with him, how much more will not God? Therefore, he prays, "And enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall no man living be justified" (2).

As a persecution psalm and a penitential psalm, it will come as no surprise that Psalm 143 is also a very personal psalm. Throughout this psalm, David speaks repeatedly of "I," "me" and "my." In Psalm 143, he does not refer to himself as part of a group ("we," "us" or "our"). Seven times David speaks of his "soul" (3, 6, 8, 11, 12) or "spirit" (4, 7), with "soul" or "spirit" always being preceded by the pronoun "my." "My life" (3),  "my heart" (4) and "my hands" (6) are other phrases David uses.

In the midst of this persecution psalm, this penitential psalm, this very personal psalm, we read of God’s blessed Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity (10). There is something very instructive and comforting here for us in all our struggles and trials. There is something very precious for us to learn here about the Comforter whom the Lord Jesus sent to be with us and to be His abiding presence in us.

"Thy spirit is good," Psalm 143:10 affirms. This does not refer to David’s spirit; he does not say "my" spirit is good. The Psalmist speaks of God’s Spirit, the Spirit who peculiarly belongs to God. God’s Spirit is divine and not a creature.

In stating that God’s Spirit is "good," David declares that the Holy Spirit is good absolutely (cf. Matt. 19:17). Like the other two persons in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit is the implication of all God’s glorious ethical perfections, for He is infinite and unchangeable in His truth, faithfulness, love, holiness, mercy and righteousness. "What dost thou believe concerning the Holy Ghost?" asks our Heidelberg Catechism. Its answer begins, "First, that he is true and co-eternal God with the Father and the Son ..." (Q. & A. 53). The Holy Spirit, states Belgic Confession 11, is "of one and the same essence, majesty, and glory with the Father and the Son."

To the Holy Spirit are assigned various perfections and works in, or in connection with, the Psalms. In Psalm 139:7, David ascribes to the Spirit the divine attribute or perfection of omnipresence. Psalm 104:30 confesses the Spirit’s work regarding this created world, for the Spirit renews the vegetation and animals in providence through the seasons, just as it was the Spirit who perfected the creation in the beginning of the world (Gen. 1:2). The Holy Spirit inspired all of the Scriptures, including the Psalms, for David, "the sweet psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the Lord spake by me, and his word was in my tongue" (II Sam. 23:1-2). The Spirit also works our salvation, as David teaches in the greatest penitential psalm: "Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit" (Ps. 51:12). The Spirit, given generously to the penitent saint, brings joy, the joy of God’s salvation.

What aspect of the blessed Spirit and His work is in view here in Psalm 143 and especially in verse 10? It is not His omnipresence (Ps. 139:7) or His providential work of renewing the vegetation and animals (Ps. 104:30) or His inspiring Scripture (II Sam. 23:1-2), though, our text is, of course, inspired.  Like Psalm 51:12, Psalm 143:10 deals with our salvation, salvation as it is applied to the child of God in answer to his prayers and confession of sin. This ought not surprise us because Psalms 51 and 143 are both penitential psalms penned by David. The New Testament believer can understand and appropriate this since the Holy Spirit "is also given me, to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and all his benefits, that he may comfort me and abide with me for ever" (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 53). The Spirit comforts us, Psalm 143:10 declares, by His teaching and leading us. This we shall consider next time, DV.   Rev. Stewart


The Work of the Holy Spirit, a delightful and instructive book of 185 pages by Profs. Herman Hanko and David Engelsma on the Third Person of the Trinity, is available for just £5.50 from the CPRC Bookstore.

God’s Attempt to Kill Moses

Question: "Why did God seek to kill Moses? I heard this question on so-called Christian TV, but the answers they gave in reply were unconvincing."

The passage to which the questioner refers is found in Exodus 4:24-26: "And it came to pass by the way in the inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of her son, and cast it at this feet, and said, Surely a bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the circumcision."

The passage is indeed a strange Word of God. I know of nothing similar to it in the whole of Scripture. Yet it is extremely important and calls our attention to God’s covenant promises in a striking and unforgettable way.

The history, briefly, is this. Moses had grown up in Pharaoh’s household, but by faith he cast his lot with the children of Israel, who were slaves of Pharaoh (Heb. 11:24-26). Moses had thought that the time had come to deliver Israel from bondage, and so killed an Egyptian (Acts 7:23-25). But, although Moses thought the time had come for Israel’s deliverance, the time was Moses’ choice, not God’s choice. And so Moses was forced to flee Egypt and find a place where he would be safe.

He found this place in the Sinai peninsula in the home of Jethro. There he stayed for forty years tending Jethro’s sheep. During this period, he married Zipporah, Jethro’s daughter, and they had a son (Ex. 2:16-22). But now the time had come that God would save His people. So He sent Moses to Egypt to deliver Israel.

It was on his way back to Egypt that the event described in the text took place. Exodus 4 states emphatically that God sought to kill Moses (24) but we are not told of the particular means He was to employ. Certain it is that the Lord did not slay Moses, for, through Zipporah’s intervention (25-26), "he [i.e., God] let him [i.e., Moses] go" (26).

We must remember too that, though God sought to kill Moses, He did not fail in His purpose, nor was Moses’ death averted just before Moses was killed. God knew all the circumstances of the entire event and did not intend to kill Moses. That is not the point. But from Moses’ and Zipporah’s point of view, Moses was on the verge of being killed by God. And they both looked at what was happening from that perspective.

God reveals Himself to His people sometimes in similar ways. God revealed His purpose to destroy Sodom to Abraham by a discussion with the two angels who were with Him concerning the wisdom of telling Abraham what He was about to do (Gen. 18:17-19). God knew He would tell Abraham these things about the destruction of Sodom, but chose to reveal it in this way, for by this means a great truth was made known.

The same was true of Jesus’ conversation with the travellers on the road to Emmaus. Christ seemed intent on continuing on His way when the three men arrived at the destination of the two travellers with whom Jesus talked. These two men seemed to talk Christ out of His original plan. But, of course, the Lord knew exactly what He intended to do (Luke 24:28-29).

So we must ask the question: Why did the Lord try to kill Moses? What lesson did He want to teach Moses and Zipporah? The answer is in the text itself. Jehovah’s apparent intention to kill Moses was forgotten when Zipporah circumcised Gershom, their son (Ex. 4:25-26). It all had to do with the circumcision of their son.

God had given Abraham the sign of circumcision when God established His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:7-14). Notice in this passage that Jehovah told Abraham that any of his descendants who did not circumcise their sons had broken God’s covenant and had to be cut off from Israel (14).

Moses knew God’s command to Abraham, but had nevertheless failed to observe it. One gets the impression from Zipporah’s anger in casting the foreskin at Moses feet and saying to him (twice in the text), "A bloody husband thou art to me," that she had opposed it. Maybe, when Moses brought up the subject of Gershom’s circumcision, Zipporah objected. It was, perhaps, in her eyes, an unnecessary and mutilating act on her baby. Moses had not insisted. So Moses had broken God’s covenant!

Two very important truths are emphasized here. The first is that circumcision was the God-given sign and seal of the covenant because it pointed to the fact that Jehovah would establish His covenant and save His people in the line of generations. The second truth is that Abraham and all succeeding generations are saved and brought into God’s covenant only by the shedding of blood. Abraham’s seed was, centrally, Christ (Gal. 3:16). Only through Christ’s blood, that made perfect satisfaction for all the sins of God’s people, could Jehovah’s covenant be realized and salvation come.

To refuse to perform the rite of circumcision was to cast doubt on the coming of Christ and the efficacy of the cross. That is, it was a repudiation of salvation through the shedding of the blood of Jesus as the washing away of sins.

I do not know whether Zipporah’s refusal to have her son circumcised was due to the fact that she was born outside the line of the covenant. Though her father was certainly a priest and the worship of God was preserved in his family, she, if we may be charitable, did not understand the truth of God’s covenant. But Moses knew these things and he should have insisted. Moses broke God’s covenant and was worthy of death. How could one who had broken God’s covenant be the leader to deliver Jehovah’s covenant people from the bondage of Egypt? Moses was responsible to perform his covenantal obligation before he could be a proper instrument in God’s hand to lead His covenant people to Canaan.

Baptism has taken the place of circumcision (Col. 2:11-13; Belgic Confession 34). Baptism is the New Testament sign and seal of God’s covenant, for it is the sign and seal of the great truth that God’s covenant is established with believers and their seed through the washing away of sin in the blood of Christ. It is a breaking of God’s covenant to refuse to baptize our children and it is a denial of the great truth that God saves His people in the lines of generations through the blood of Christ.

Let us not take God’s anger at Moses lightly. Let us not take the importance of baptizing our children lightly. And let us not deny that baptism is a sacrament that takes the place of circumcision, now that Christ has come. Prof. Hanko

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