Monday, December 20, 2010

Psalm 66 – Intercede, but cherish not sin in your heart

Preamble: Because of the continual interest on the subject of intercession, which I observed by the hits over time to my separate article, “Intercede for others, and you’ll be blessed too”, I am putting up this exposition which I have written, some time back.

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".

Psalm 66

For the director of music. A song. A psalm.

1 Shout with joy to God, all the earth! [This is a psalm to magnify the LORD, after experiencing God’s goodness in answering a man’s prayer.

All the earth (elsewhere, could include elements of nature), meaning all the men of the earth, should magnify God, said the psalmist. Why do we think the psalmist said that? Because we are His creation, without God’s intentional creation of us, there are no us. God is our maker, and that alone deserves our praise. Of course, there were and are more, the greatness of God, His righteous deeds, etc, etc. And so, the psalmist said to shout with joy to God.]
2 Sing the glory of his name;
make his praise glorious!
[Sing of the glory of His name; let our praises of Him be glorious. Sing with gusto.]
3 Say to God, "How awesome are your deeds!
So great is your power
that your enemies cringe before you.
[How awesome are God’s deeds! How great is His power! All His enemies cringe before Him.]
4 All the earth bows down to you;
they sing praise to you,
they sing praise to your name."
[Again the psalmist said all the earth worships Him; bows down to Him, sings praise unto Him, sings praise to His name.]
5 Come and see what God has done,
how awesome his works in man's behalf!
6 He turned the sea into dry land,
they passed through the waters on foot—
come, let us rejoice in him.
[The psalmist said to come and see what God has done; the psalmist exclaimed the awesomeness of His works in man’s behalf. Referring to parting of the Red Sea by God, the psalmist spoke of God turning the sea into dry land, for the people of God to pass through on foot. Come, said the psalmist, let us rejoice in Him.]
7 He rules forever by his power,
his eyes watch the nations—
let not the rebellious rise up against him.
[God rules forever by His power {whether or not, men acknowledge that}; His eyes watch all the nations. The psalmist warned that no people should think they could rise up in rebellion against God.]
8 Praise our God, O peoples,
let the sound of his praise be heard;
[O peoples, not just the Jews, the chosen people of God, but all peoples, are to praise God. Let the sound of such praise be heard all over.]
9 he has preserved our lives
and kept our feet from slipping.
[God has preserved their lives, and kept their feet from slipping.]
10 For you, O God, tested us;
you refined us like silver.
[Psalmist recognized that God was doing a testing and refining work in them, the Jews, like silver being refined.]
11 You brought us into prison
and laid burdens on our backs.
[In such testing and refining, God had allowed His people to enter into captivity {slavery in Egypt}, and suffered much.]
12 You let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and water,
but you brought us to a place of abundance.
[He had allowed men to ride over His people’s heads {enslaved them}; His people went through fire and water {great hardship and suffering, refining by}, yet still He did not abandon His people; God brought His people to a place of abundance {Promised Land}. The psalmist was saying that God would and had come through for His people.]
13 I will come to your temple with burnt offerings
and fulfill my vows to you-
14 vows my lips promised and my mouth spoke
when I was in trouble.
[Now, the psalmist indicated to us that he (and it should also be so, too, for others of God), had prayed, cried, and interceded before God, and God had heard his cries, acted for His people, and he (and it should also be so, too, for others of God) would go to His temple with offerings, and to fulfill all vows made to the LORD in those times of afflictions, in his cries unto the LORD.]
15 I will sacrifice fat animals to you
and an offering of rams;
I will offer bulls and goats.
[{In those days} The psalmist said he would sacrifice fat animals to Him, offering of rams, bulls, and goats. {In our days, our offering takes different forms, no more of animal sacrifices, but will surely include sacrifices of praise and worship, and other resources, like of our time and wealth even, for His use.}]
16 Come and listen, all you who fear God;
let me tell you what he has done for me.
[Is the psalmist turning personal here, personal in a way to refer to his particular affliction? I believe not; even in the rest of the psalm, he made no mention of any separate personal affliction.

But in verses 9-12 above, he spoke of a corporate affliction and the deliverance thereof. So, what was he trying to say by verse 16? I believe he was saying, in relation to the corporate affliction (of course, he was part of that corporate body, the people of God, the Jews then), how he took up the issue before the LORD, and how the LORD had dealt with him, in relation to his cries. In short, God had listened to his cries, and had answered his prayer {within his expectation}.

So, the psalmist was saying to come and listen, all who feared God, i.e. who held God in reverence awe; how it happened, what God had done in relation to his burden for the people of God.]
17 I cried out to him with my mouth;
his praise was on my tongue.
[The psalmist said he cried out to God with his mouth; he praised God with his tongue; now this was despite the psalmist’s affliction, as one in the corporate affliction {we are to praise God, even in our afflictions}]
18 If I had cherished sin in my heart,
the Lord would not have listened;
[The psalmist revealed here a little secret to having God to listen to our cries. It is not that God does not hear us; God always hear the cries of His people (Ex 3:7, Ps 116:1-2). Yet listening is more than just mere hearing. Now, in this verse 18, the “listen” or “hear” as in some other versions of the Bible, was translated from Shama (H8085); and when we look at the Lexicon for meanings under Shama, we find various shades of meanings, from “mere perceiving by ear” {weak Shama} to, “to listen to consent or grant request” {strong Shama}, and to the strongest word, “to obey” {strongest Shama}. I believe this NIV translation here is appropriate, using “listen” instead of “hear”

Listening carries the connotation of hearing with a posture to try to agree; it also speaks of attentiveness, whereas hearing is just a perceiving by ear. E.g. Did you hear the doorbell? We do not say did you listen the doorbell? We say when the wife speaks, the husband listens, and we do not say, when the wife speaks, the husband hears.

The psalmist said if he had cherished sin in his heart, or he had been unrighteous in his ways, the LORD would not have listened {strong Shama}. If we do not want God to just hear {weak Shama} us, but also to listen {strong Shama} to us, keep our heart pure, do not cherish sin in our heart, do not engage in unrighteousness. It is not a matter of meriting God’s favor; rather it is when we are in agreement with the righteousness of God, our situation would draw the hand of God to help. This is true for prayers for ourselves as well as for others.]
19 but God has surely listened
and heard my voice in prayer.
[And so, the psalmist, without cherishing sin in his heart, declared that God had surely listened and heard his voice in prayer {and had acted to give the result stated in verse 12, the people of God being brought to a place of abundance}.]
20 Praise be to God,
who has not rejected my prayer
or withheld his love from me!
[The psalmist, I believe, was not just exhorting others, but also his own very soul, to praise God, for God had not rejected his prayer or withheld His love from him.]

Points to learn:

Do you think that for a corporate affliction like that mentioned in verses 9-11, only the psalmist was praying; no others were praying for the nation? Obviously, not. There is something to learn here, both of what our minimal part should be, of corporate matters (matters of the body of Christ), and the attitude thereof: We are to be like the psalmist, pray, cry, and intercede for corporate matters affecting a body, especially we are associated with that particular body, in one way or another. Be in the right posture when we pray and intercede, as taught here in verses 17-20; particularly, do not cherish sin in our hearts, and that means that we are to live rightly (right living, or live righteously).

{Added 24/11/2010: I do not believe that just because this psalm or any other psalm, is of the Old Testament collection, it is not applicable to us because the psalmist was not born-again, and therefore, was not in like state as us, believers, who have been born-again.

The undeniable truth is that God said in His Word that He is the same, yesterday, today, and forevermore; and so, it cannot be that God objected to his children cherishing sins in their hearts in the Old Testament time, and now, under the New Testament time, it is fine if believers cherish sins in their hearts.

The psalmist clearly spoke about the onus being on us, and this remains unchanged, regardless of us, New Testament believers, having entered into salvation by grace. Well, I cannot accept the teaching by some overly grace teachers suggesting that regardless of our sins, our continual sins or our harboring or cherishing sins, when God sees us, He sees only His Son who is completely righteous, not us, and arguing from there, there was no need of asking God for forgiveness for our sins, and accordingly too, such sins or cherishing of sins do not hinder God’s listening to our prayer. If you are one subscribing to such skewed grace theology, I am sorry this does not appeal to you, but for those who are not, let me repeat, herein is an important secret to the posture of prayer and intercession – cherish not sin in your heart.}

Verse 20 is, from my experience, that which will give us immense assurance that we are not just objects, but beings, whom God cares to give ear to, and listened to, and to me, that is an expression of love, of God’s love for us, individually.

Anthony Chia - An enemy hears you not; a strange can hear you; but a lover listens. Today intercede, and experience God’s love for you.

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