Covenant Protestant Reformed Church
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June 2010  •  Volume XIII, Issue 2


Psalm 3 on Uncommon Grace

Psalm 3 is the first psalm that comes with a title: "A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son." This places this psalm firmly in the days of Absalom’s wicked rebellion against David, his father, King of Israel (II Samuel 15f.).

In the opening verses of Psalm 3, David exclaims in amazement that "many" (1, 2) had turned against him and that they have "increased" (1). The narrative in II Samuel also lays great emphasis on the huge scale of the rebellion against Israel’s rightful king (II Sam. 15:6, 10-13; 16:15; 17:11; 18:6-7; 19:8-10). David’s own flesh and blood, Absalom, led the coup and most of the nation had gone over to him. Ahithophel, David’s friend and chief counsellor, defected (15:12, 31) and there was Shimei, Saul’s relative, to curse David, whom he called a bloodthirsty son of Belial, and throw stones at him and his men (16:5-14). These are the "many" who have "increased" who "trouble" David and "rise up against" him (Ps. 3:1). "Many there be [not just among the surrounding pagan nations but in Israel, which professes to be the people of God, the only true church!] which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God" (2).

Notice what David does not do. He does not give way to despair and blame God. Indeed, David understood that Absalom’s rebellion was divine chastisement for his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of Uriah the Hittite (II Sam. 12:9-12). Instead of responding in unbelief and rage, David turns to Jehovah, the God of all comfort. He is the psalmist’s "shield" to protect him and "the lifter up of [his] head" to encourage him (Ps. 3:3). Indeed, David calls the Lord "my glory" (3) for "the sweet psalmist of Israel" (II Sam. 23:1) glories in God, even in these most trying of circumstances!

After confessing his love of Jehovah (Ps. 3:3), King David prays and is sure of an answer: "I cried unto the Lord with my voice, and he heard me out of his holy hill" (4). David has been forced to leave Jerusalem, fleeing before Absalom’s advancing forces (II Sam. 15:13ff.), but he still has access by faith in the coming Messiah to God’s "holy hill" (Ps. 3:4) in heaven to which Israel’s lofty, earthly capital pointed.

With the rich consolation of Jehovah’s covenant friendship (3) and the assurance of answered prayer (4), despite the threat of assassination or attack, David was able to do three (ordinarily mundane) things in peace and safety: lie down, sleep and awake (5). How was this, David? Israel’s king tells us: "for the Lord sustained me" (5).

Rising next morning, many miles from his palace bed, David is physically and spiritually strengthened. Out of the holy fear of Almighty God, he is able to confess over against Absalom’s rebellious hordes: "I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people, that have set themselves against me round about" (6).

As David stirs himself from sleep, he beseeches God, as it were, to do the same: "Arise, O Lord" (7)! Show that Thou art awake and fully engaged in the deliverance of Thy beloved servant! "Save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly" (7)!

But what has all this to do with Jehovah’s almighty, uncommon grace? We are coming to that now. Notice the psalmist’s concluding summary: "Salvation belongeth unto the Lord: thy blessing is upon thy people" (8). God’s blessing is upon His people, not the pagan Gentiles nor the unbelieving in Israel!

Notice David’s reasoning. Salvation is God’s sovereign prerogative (8a) and God’s salvation of David involves His destroying of David’s "ungodly" "enemies" in Israel who had rebelled against him (7). Thus David adds, "thy blessing is upon thy people" (8b).

Absalom was not one of God’s people. Aside from his cold-blooded murder of his half-brother Amnon (II Sam. 13:19-29), he had rebelled against his father, the king, and seized the throne. This was not only an egregious breaking of the fifth commandment; it was a frontal assault on the man after God’s own heart (I Sam. 13:14) who ruled over the Old Testament form of the kingdom of God and typified the coming Messiah, David’s son and Lord. As far as he was able, Absalom attacked the future Christ and His kingdom!

Ahithophel did not truly belong to the people of God either. His base treachery against his friend, David, is famous (cf. Ps. 41:9; 55:12-14), as is his wicked suicide when this proud man hanged himself because he could not bear it that for once "his counsel was not followed" (II Sam. 17:23). Ahithophel is the Old Testament equivalent of Judas, "the son of perdition" (John 17:12), who betrayed Christ (his professed friend), hanged himself and went "to his own place," hell (Acts 1:25).

As the apostle explains, "they are not all Israel, which are of Israel" (Rom. 9:6). Some in ethnic Israel were carnal seed or "children of the flesh;" while others were the spiritual seed or "the children of the promise" (8).

In His love and mercy, God sovereignly bestows His "salvation" and "blessing" upon His true, spiritual people (Ps. 3:8), whereas the "ungodly" in Israel are destroyed (7). Though Absalom and his rebels possessed the (physical) throne of David, the (earthly) city of Jerusalem and the ark of the covenant in its tent, and though (outwardly) they were members in the visible church (Israel) as those circumcised and instructed in God’s law, none of these good things were blessings to them. God’s "blessing is upon [His] people" (8), His true spiritual people who are "Israelite[s] indeed" (John 1:47) and "are of a clean heart" (Ps. 73:1). This is God’s sovereign, omnipotent, saving, uncommon grace in Jesus Christ which shields, and lifts up the heads of, the elect (Ps. 3:3) and punches the cheek bone and smashes the teeth of the "ungodly" reprobate (7).

Philip the evangelist once asked the Ethiopian eunuch, "Understandest thou what thou readest?" (Acts 8:30). Likewise, we ought to know the meaning of the inspired Psalms which exhort us, "Sing ye praises with understanding" (Ps. 47:7). The current News on Psalm 3 and last month’s News on Psalms 1 and 2 enable us to do just that, as we extol our covenant God for His matchless and efficacious uncommon grace through the crucified and risen Christ.   Rev. Stewart

Christ’s Weeping Over Jerusalem (1)

And when he was come near, he beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another; because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation (Luke 19:41-44).

A reader asks, "How do some people try to use this text to say that God weeps over the destruction of the reprobate?"

A similar passage is found in Matthew 23:37: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!" The biblical key to the right interpretation of this text is to note—as did Augustine—the distinction it makes between "Jerusalem" (whose religious leaders were the unbelieving Pharisees) and Jerusalem’s "children" (the true, spiritual, elect Jews) whom Jesus desired to, and did, save. For more on this, see "Christ’s Will to Gather Jerusalem’s Children" (CR News X:3-5).

Both texts are wrongly cited as proof for the notion that the gospel is a gracious expression of God’s love for all men and of His desire to save all men, including the reprobate. It is so adamantly promoted by its proponents that anyone who disagrees is the object of some nasty name-calling: "Hyper-Calvinists! Unable to do evangelism!"

The argument that finds a gracious and well-meant gospel offer in these texts is this: If Jesus was sorrowful at the impending judgment of Jerusalem, which would leave Jerusalem lying in heaps of rubble, His sorrow must have been born in His desire to save the inhabitants—and His failure to do so. He was stymied in His desires and failed to accomplish His purpose in spite of His best efforts. Thus some, claiming to be Calvinists and claiming, therefore, that God always accomplishes His purpose, have no other recourse available to them than to conclude that a sovereign God failed to save those whom He loves and desires to save. No appeal to "apparent contradiction" or "higher logic in God than in us" can escape the conclusion that our Lord was bitterly disappointed that His best efforts to save Jerusalem were stymied by Jerusalem’s unbelief.

It has also been argued that Christ according to His divine nature willed and desired the salvation of the elect only but that according to His human nature He desired the salvation of all men. This interpretation was offered in a rather well-known church case in Australia. But the one who taught this view was rightly charged with Nestorianism, that is, the error, condemned already by the church at the Council of Ephesus in 431, that our Lord had two persons. When this heresy of Nestorianism is applied to the gracious and well-meant gospel offer, the result is confusion. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who is personally the Second Person of the Trinity, and who is (to use the words of the Nicene Creed) "true God of true God," was fully sovereign in all that He did, especially in His salvation of the elect for whom He died. But that same Lord Jesus Christ was also a human person who earnestly desired the salvation of all men and in love and mercy for all sought their salvation. Our one Lord Jesus Christ living in a state of constant contradiction! How can that be?

But Scripture does not teach such "paradoxes" and "apparent contradictions," and those who claim that it does do so only because they have an axe to grind: they want to spread abroad the notion that God loves all men and would save them all if He could.

The reason for our Lord’s sorrow is relatively easy. Jerusalem was the capital of Israel. Israel was the one people that God had chosen to be His own possession and to whom He had given special gifts (cf. Rom. 9:4-5). Furthermore, Jerusalem was filled with pictures of Christ Himself: the throne of David and Solomon, the temple, the many sacrifices that were made daily in the temple, the feasts celebrated in the holy city and Mount Zion itself, beautiful for situation and the joy of the whole earth (Ps. 48:2). All these pictures had served a very good purpose throughout the entire old dispensation.

That these beautiful pictures of Christ were marred badly by the wicked scribes and Pharisees was the reason for Christ’s sorrow. Is not this understandable? Would you not be grieved if some wicked person took your best photograph and spoiled it so terribly that you looked like a monster? Would you not be very sorrowful if someone painted a beard on a photograph of your mother?

Christ was like us in all things, sin excepted. He was also a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief, who could weep over the death of his beloved Lazarus—even though He knew He was going to raise Lazarus from the grave.

The pictures were hopelessly ruined, with no chance of proper restoration. Our Lord could see Jerusalem in all its splendour as it pointed to Himself. He was saddened by what was about to happen to it.

But He was also angry. When He saw the temple, a picture of His own blessed body, made a den of thieves, He was infuriated. In His anger, He drove out the buyers and sellers and the animals that were sold within its precincts (John 2:13-22).

It certainly is not strange that Christ, Himself true God of true God, was grieved at the sin that made Jerusalem the ugly spectacle that it had become. God certainly was grieved with Israel when they constantly rebelled against Him in the wilderness (Heb. 3:10, 17; Ps. 95:10). Surely, there is no one who would dare to say that God delights in the sin of man, much less His own people. Surely, no one would hold to the position that God is filled with joy when the church corrupts His truth and makes a caricature of His sovereignty. The very idea is blasphemous.

But to conclude from God’s anger with sinners and His abhorrence of sin that He desires to save all men is a monstrous corruption of simple logic. The truth of Scripture is that God loves His elect with a love revealed in the cross of Christ and God so greatly abhors the sinner that He punishes the sinner with eternity in hell.  Prof. Hanko

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