Our reading begins to day with the most famous of the Psalms: Psalm 23. It is a Psalm about God’s provision for and protection of His people in this life. David’s declaration that YHWH is his shepherd and that therefore he will not want (23:1) is more than an expression of trust in God to guide and protect him and to supply his need. In the ancient world, kings were likened to shepherds (in some ancient cultures, they even took the title of “shepherd”). David is acknowledging God not just as a benevolent guide, but a benevolent monarch. God is King over all – the highest of all kings! That He is the Shepherd and we are His sheep means that He is the King and we are His subjects. And this is what makes Him so amazing! He is the King of kings, and yet He loves His people enough to guide them and to provide for their every need like a shepherd does his sheep!
In verse 2, David uses shepherding language to describe God’s goodness. God makes David lie down in green pastures. David is like a sheep who lives in the midst of abundant provision. God leads him beside still waters. Sheep are afraid of rushing water and will even run scared from it. To get sheep to drink their necessary water, they need to be led to still waters where they are provided for and feel secure. This is what the King does for His people.
Then David parallels these shepherding metaphors with the spiritual reality of God’s provision. God restores and refreshes the soul (or life) of His people through His provision (v. 3). He leads us into righteousness where we can feel secure. And He does this for His name’s sake. God is glorified when we follow Him into righteousness and accept what He provides. So David will not fear, he will not run scared from the troubles of the world. Even though he walks in, literally in the Hebrew: “the valley of deep darkness” (that is, the world), David will not fear because God is with Him (v. 4). The care and chastening of God make David feel secure in the world.
Verse 5 now invokes imagery of eating at the King’s table. David’s enemies – again, the world – they see that God provides for him. The King of the universe provides abundantly, and anoints His people with oil, a reference to being qualified to enter into His presence like the anointed High Priest. David’s conclusion is that since God is with him, he is provided for and is protected. He parallels goodness and “mercy” (bad translation, the word here is hesed – steadfast love, i.e. salvation) being his for his lifetime here on earth with living in God’s presence for his lifetime (the “forever” is literally “for length of days” – v. 6).
Psalm 24 is a Psalm about God’s salvation. It describes heaven and earth meeting. David begins by declaring that everything that is belongs to God (24:1). The Apostle Paul quotes this verse to explain why food offered to idols is really no different from any other food (1 Cor 10:26). Everything belongs to God, because God created everything (v. 2).
In verses 3-6, David is describing those who will dwell with God in the New Heavens and the New Earth. The “hill of YHWH” (v. 3) is the dwelling place of God. David is describing those who will dwell with God forever. Standing in His holy place is standing in His presence, like when the priests entered the Holy Place in the Tabernacle. So the “holy place” on the “hill of the Lord” refers to entering into His presence – His dwelling place – like Moses did on Mt. Horeb (Ex 3:1-5 – note it is called “the mountain of God”) or Mt. Sinai (which is also called “the mountain of God” in Ex 24:13). The “hill” of Psalm 24:3 is the same word as “mountain” in both of those passages.
In verse 4, David describes those who will ascend to be with God in eternity. It is those who have clean hands, representing righteous actions, and a pure heart, representing righteous intentions. This is paralleled with the honest soul (internal) and honest lips (outworking of the internal). This is who will receive righteousness from the God of his salvation (v. 5). This is faith alone in Christ alone (Gal 3:15), and the outworking of that salvation (Eph 2:8-10). Then David tells us who is justified by faith and destined for eternity in God’s presence: those who seek Him and His presence in this life (v. 6).
In verses 7-10 sing of God’s victory. Note that now, instead of God’s people seeking Him and going to where He is (ascending up to Him in verse 3), now our victorious God comes to us. The refrain of “Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors” (v. 7, 9), speaks of gatekeepers opening the city gates to their King Who has returned from victory in battle. Their heads are lifted because their King has won for them. And Who is this victorious King? YHWH, glorious, mighty, and victorious in battle (v. 8), YHWH of hosts (v. 10)! This is Christ’s triumphant return in glory!
Psalm 78 is a Psalm that encourages obedience to God based on all He has already done for His people. It begins in the wisdom style, calling for those who can hear to take heed (78:1). The Psalmist is passing on ancient knowledge and wisdom that has stood the test of time (vv. 2-3) that should be passed on to future generations (vv. 4-6). This wisdom is knowing what God has done for His people. The proper response to gaining this wisdom is placing your hope in God and obeying Him (v. 7), unlike those who were unwise and lacked faith and broke the covenant (vv. 8-10) because they forgot all He had done (v. 11).
The Psalmist then sets forth the history of redemption centered around what God has done, and the failure of Israel to respond. He recounts this history in verses 12-41. In verse 42, the Psalmist again reminds us that this is all because they forgot what God has done. Then he repeats the history in verses 43-64. It is striking when we read the history this way – as a list of all God did and all of Israel’s failures – because we see God’s patience and grace and His salvation for undeserving people, and their neglect of His commands. We have to wonder, are we different from them?
After recounting the history for the second time, the Psalmist tells us what happened next. The Lord “awoke” from sleep, that is, He acted on behalf of His people (v. 65). He defeated His enemies (v. 66). And who are these enemies? According to verse 67, it is Israel. Remember, “Israel”, “Jacob”, “Joseph”, and “Ephraim” were all used in the Old Testament to refer to the nation of Israel, because the birthright passed from Jacob (Israel) to the sons of Joseph (Ephraim and Manasseh) in Genesis 48:16. As we have also seen, Ephraim became the most powerful tribe of the Northern Kingdom. So in verse 67, God has declared Israel His enemies.
Then, in verse 68, we are told that God chose the tribe of Judah. Judah received the promise from Jacob (Gen 49:8-12). We also know that the tribe of Judah grew so large that it became its own nation during the divided kingdom. And note that Mount Zion (which He loves) is chosen along with Judah, which is why God had the Temple built there for His presence to dwell (v. 69). He did this through David who He made king (shepherd) over Israel (v .71), and he led them righteously (v. 72).
Now, we can stop here and just assume that the Psalmist simply continued the history of Israel and is speaking of the dividing of the kingdom and God’s choosing Judah over Israel, and then choosing David to lead them and to ensure the Temple was built.* But there is more going on here. Ephraim got the birthright – the physical inheritance. Judah got the promise – the spiritual inheritance. This is not just recording the history of a nation, this is the history of redemption. God rejected Israel and chose Judah – He rejected any ideas of a physical right to be included in the covenant, because inclusion was always spiritual, and always by faith in the Lion of the Tribe of Judah, the Greater Son of David, the True and Living Temple: Jesus Christ (see Gal 3:7-29). No one has ever been part of God’s redemption apart from faith! And God has chosen His people – His church! – which He loves, and has made us the Temple in which He dwells.
May we never forget what our God has done!!
*These are the themes of 1 Chronicles, remember. The history focuses on Judah, and David, and the Temple worship of God’s people. David did not build the Temple, but the Chronicler makes it clear that David did the work and Solomon got the credit.