Today [Psalm Thirty-Six]. Responding to Iniquity, Walking in Love. In this chapter David is facing betrayal of the most painful sort. His own father-in-law aids and abets Absolom to overthrow his rule. David laments the wickedness of the wicked while at the same time acknowledging the goodness and mercy of God. When we are assaulted and come against by a fearless and sacrilegious world we tend to turn hateful and hope for judgment of the offenders. David in spite of being wounded and cast down turned instead to the goodness and mercy of God which sustained him in the most difficult circumstances.
[Psa 36:1-12 KJV] 1 [[To the chief Musician, [A Psalm] of David the servant of the LORD.]] The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, [that there is] no fear of God before his eyes. 2 For he flattereth himself in his own eyes, until his iniquity be found to be hateful. 3 The words of his mouth [are] iniquity and deceit: he hath left off to be wise, [and] to do good. 4 He deviseth mischief upon his bed; he setteth himself in a way [that is] not good; he abhorreth not evil.
Commentators and scholars generally believe that this psalm was written (as several previous to this) during the time that Saul was persecuting David. There are also suggestions that the psalm is about Ahitophel, David’s father-in-law and Bathsheba’s father who counseled Absalom in the matter of his rebellion and successful overthrow of David. When Ahitophel counseled Absalom and then saw that the coup-de-tat was a failure and that David would be reinstated as king – he consequently committed suicide rather than face the shame of standing on the wrong side of history against David.
The transgressor (in this case Ahitophel) to David is a shocking case of the absense of the fear of God. What is the fear of God? Isaiah 11:2 tells us that the fear of God is a spirit, in fact one of the 7 spirits of God.
[Isa 11:2 KJV] 2 And the spirit of the LORD shall rest upon him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the LORD;
In teaching on this subject the apostle Paul likewise concludes that fear is not merely a human condition but likewise a spirit:
[2Ti 1:7 KJV] 7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.
To have no fear of God speaks of having no respect or reverential awe of the Creator. We live in a day when sarcasm and parody against the whole idea of God runs very deep in our society. Since the very inception of movies and television the stereotype of people of faith has been extremely negative and disparaging. Over time this irreverent tone has crept into the public psyche and become a secular virtue that even evidences itself in the culture of the church as we know it. In 2007 according to pollsters, hairdressers rated higher than ministers and clergy on a scale measuring trustworthiness among those questioned. After the 911 attacks, the Professional Trust Barometer (maintained by professional pollsters) cite that clergy trust plunged 8%. Over a 20 year period the trust quotient and prestige factor of those serving in leadership as pastors has hovered around 40% lagging behind firefighters and nurses who consistently rate 92-98%. Astoundingly in a 2015 Roy Morgan poll Lawyers (historically not seen as trustworthy) ranked higher in trust than ministers of religion.
David in his thinking in this psalm connects willingness to transgress with the disparagement of God and all things spiritual and or religious. Most Christian commenters on the subject of the falling trust quotient of clergy over the last few years lay the onus upon clergy to correct these perceptions. In other words the opinion of the people ranks higher in authority than the clergy themselves. The people mistrust therefore the clergy must change. David takes a completely opposite view suggesting that the lack of reverence toward the things of God is a measurement of the moral laxity and sinful tendencies of the population. As one of my mentors famously asked:
“Do we just the prophet by the rebellious spirit of the people or the people by the rebellious spirit of the prophet?”
The answer to that question is one of where does authority lay and what does God have to say about it? Paul in speaking of the last days described the atmosphere of the day in this manner:
[2Ti 3:1-5 KJV] 1 This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away.
What is to be our response? First of all to measure our own character. No one exists in a vacuum. We can each one of us fall prey to these vices. Many times those who harp on these issues the loudest are in fact culpable themselves – which becomes apparent if you watch their lives long enough. Then having held ourselves accountable how do we regard others who seem to fall in these categories? Paul says to turn away. The tendency in a seeker sensitive religious culture is engagement. If someone rejects the scripture or chooses an alternative lifestyle the popular suggestion is that we must defer and implore such societal elements with our hat in our hand. Paul on the other hand counsels strategic withdrawal. Once someone descends into the depths of pessimism and mockery in the things of God it is highly unlikely that dialogue and engagement will change their minds because there is a motive and lifestyle choices behind the attitude that is driving the skepticism of men against God and against matters of faith. As Jesus with the rich young ruler you have to love them – and let them go.
5 Thy mercy, O LORD, [is] in the heavens; [and] thy faithfulness [reacheth] unto the clouds. 6 Thy righteousness [is] like the great mountains; thy judgments [are] a great deep: O LORD, thou preservest man and beast. 7 How excellent [is] thy lovingkindness, O God! therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of thy wings. 8 They shall be abundantly satisfied with the fatness of thy house; and thou shalt make them drink of the river of thy pleasures.
Having pointed out the wickedness of the wicked you would think that David would launch into a diatribe of judgment and punishment. Instead he speaks of God’s kindness and mercy. Rom. 2:4 tells us that it is God’s goodness that leads to repentance. When we see offenders and those who mock God openly in the public square we tend to lobby in our sentiments for punishment and exposure of such people. We would do well to remember the words of Paul:
[Rom 2:4-6 KJV] 4 Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? 5 But after thy hardness and impenitent heart treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God; 6 Who will render to every man according to his deeds:
If we wish to see others get their just deserts then we are only setting ourselves up to be judged likewise. The person you denigrate today from the ivory tower of religious sentiment – you will have much in common with tomorrow. If they are to be judged for their deeds you likewise will be judged for your deeds. Better to extend mercy. Your experience of the mercy of God in your own life is measured and bestowed according to the degree you are willing to extend mercy to those around you. Repentance is indeed the greatest need in human society but it is God’s goodness and mercy that produces it not punitive and judgmental attitudes.
God is a good God. He rains upon the just and the unjust. He gives life and breath to the righteous and the wicked alike. He loves without partiality. Love is not just what He does it is who He is. Our portion is to be as Eph. 5:1 encourages – “followers of God as dear children…” God wants our heart toward the most obnoxious sinner to be the mirror of His own heart in sending His son to die for us while we also were yet unlovely. We must remember whence we came – as Paul who insisted that for all his commitment to Christ he was the chief of sinners and stood in no position to pontificate over others – rather to extend to them the love of God in the face of impending consequences for choices made in the lives of those who oppose God and thereby oppose themselves.
9 For with thee [is] the fountain of life: in thy light shall we see light. 10 O continue thy lovingkindness unto them that know thee; and thy righteousness to the upright in heart. 11 Let not the foot of pride come against me, and let not the hand of the wicked remove me. 12 There are the workers of iniquity fallen: they are cast down, and shall not be able to rise.
Jesus is the fountain of life. We are representatives of the lovingkindness and goodness of God. When the world looks at the church Jesus says that they will know we are His disciples first by our love one for another and for our love for the lost. Those who move in pride are all around us. Our hope is by the grace of God we will not respond in kind nor fall to their wicked devices by which they hope to shame and expose us as fraudulent in our faith. There will come a day that the wicked and the workers of iniquity will fall and not be able to rise. Let us be sure that we are there with oil and wine as the Samaritan to pour into their wounds rather than the vinegar and salt of religious judgment.
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