God’s “shalls” always come true. Rev. Brian Habig preaches a message entitled “God for God’s Sake” on Psalm 63 in chapel at RTS Jackson.
I want to direct your attention to God’s Word, Psalm 63, and we’ll look at this as a whole. I do want to say before we dive into God’s Word, thank you to RTS, thank you to Dr. Duncan, thank you to all the powers that be that were kind enough to invite me to play a part in this week.
Thank you, Dr. Wingard, for praying for my family. I do have two sons and a daughter, and my sons, Henry and John; they’re 14 and 11. They love survival shows. There’s just a lot of survival shows on TV right now, and they’re all about them. There’s one that they’re into right now. I’ve only seen a couple of episodes, you may have seen it, it’s on a National Geographic channel, and it’s about this guy named Mick Dodge. Have you seen this show? Apparently he just unplugged from society about 25 years ago and just lives in the Pacific Northwest, somewhere in Washington State, in the woods. He lives off the land and lives in the land.
It’s interesting because on the one hand, it’s entertaining, and I don’t know how much of it’s really true and how much of it is TV, but it is a picture of when you are that immersed in the outdoors, not with GORE-TEX this and North Face that, but you’re just sort of out there, you have to get incredibly realistic. You have to become incredibly pragmatic. Whatever your ideals are, you have to be extremely realistic about things like warmth and shelter and food and water or it just doesn’t work. There’s nothing like the wilderness to make you pragmatic.
This is a psalm by David, and he is in the wilderness. This is not in the text, this is in that ascription at the beginning, and sometimes preachers aren’t quite sure what to do with those: is this canon? Is it not canon? But the note there is that David writes this in the wilderness, and commentators seem to agree that there are two big wilderness phases in King David’s life. One is when he’s on the on the run from King Saul earlier. But then later in his kingdom, when his son Absalom stages what we would call a coup, and he and his supporters run for their lives, and they’re in the wilderness, and most commentators agree that that seems to be the context for this psalm.
I want you to think about a man who came into his monarchy practical. You can’t be a shepherd and live off the land and not be practical. You can’t lead people and be a husband and a father without becoming practical. As a very practical man, I want you to hear what comes out of his heart as he’s out in the wilderness, and don’t think California redwood wilderness, think Judean, harsh, bitter cold at night, blistering hot in the day wilderness. Psalm 63:
O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.
My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy. My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth; they shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the King shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.
Amen. Let’s pray together:
Our Father and our God, we pray now that the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing and acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. And we pray this in Jesus’s name, Amen.
I’m hearing more about sabbaticals than I think I ever have. And not just in church settings, not just for pastors and not just for academic settings, even in the business community, people are talking more about sabbaticals. You know what a sabbatical is. It’s just an extended break where people put down their work—there may be a hopefully very active component of it—but they put down their normal work to be refreshed and to rest. I actually got to have one two years ago, and I am now constantly conspiring to have another one. Ligon can give a hearty, “Amen,” probably after his.
But before I went on my sabbatical in 2012, I heard a story about a sabbatical and it frightened me. A guy in Greenville told me about an acquaintance of his. This acquaintance was in the ministry and had really had a hard push. His leaders gave him permission to have a sabbatical. I believe it was about three months long. So he went on this sabbatical, put his work down, and he told this acquaintance of mine that the night before he returned to work, he broke down weeping because he realized he was just as tired as when he started. I thought, “That’s a cautionary tale” and very illuminating because he had put his work down for an extended season—not just a week, not just a month—and at the end of it, he felt exhausted.
Now, here’s the strange thing: that stands in contrast to this psalm, because in this psalm, the circumstances are not restful. David’s work has been ramped up. He now has to be king and keep his wits about him, not on his throne, not with his normal resources, but on the run under harsh circumstances. But the language of the psalm is fullness and rest and peace.
Now, how does he have that? And I think this is a timely question, because I’m thinking about your context of seminary. I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re here this morning and with your background, it may be that when you were in high school, if you were a Christian in high school or when you were in college, maybe you just sat there and thought, “Man, I’m not into marketing. I don’t want to be in marketing class. If I could do what I really wanted to, I would love to really study the Bible in depth.” Or you may have been in college thinking, “I could care less about differential equations or whatever, heat transfer. I wish I could take classes about Greek and learn what these words mean. I wish I could do in-depth study about the Old Testament and the New Testament.” And in God’s providence now you’re here.
Maybe back then when you thought about what would it be like to be in this context, you might have thought, “Boy, I can just picture being so refreshed and just daily learning things that are amazing, just feeling full.” And now that you’re here, it may be that you feel exhausted and it may be that you’re almost looking back on that time going, “I almost think that I felt closer to God then than I do now, and I’m immersed in studying the Bible and studying church history and studying theology, and I think more than ever I feel frazzled, and I feel strangely discouraged. I’m thinking about bills more than I ever have and they worry me more than they ever have.”
And I want to be careful here. I don’t want to say, “David was in his wilderness. What’s your wilderness?” I don’t want to be allegorical about it, but just to say that your circumstances may be ones where from afar you thought, “That’s going to be restful. That’s going to be energizing.” And now you’re in those circumstances, and you’re tired and you’re frazzled. And so here’s what I will look at in this psalm. First off, according to David writing out of his experience, what does he need? What does David think David needs? Second, how does he get it? And then third, what does he await? What does he need? How does he get it? And what does he await?
David Needs God in the Wilderness Above Everything Else
First off, what does he need? Not to belabor this too much, but again, understand, David is pragmatic. He lived in the wilderness. He lived off the land. He did that when he was a boy. He knows how to be practical. He’s a leader. He has a family. He’s a father. He’s a husband. And think about this: when he wanted to build the temple, what did God tell him? “That’s a good desire, but you don’t get to do that. I’ll let your son do that. Why can’t you do it? Because your hands are covered with blood.” He was, to be Braveheart-ish about it, he was the warrior poet.
When your hands are covered with blood, and you’ve lived in combat, and you’ve led men, you’re practical and you know what you need. And the words he’s using are needy words. He’s talking in terms terms of “earnestly this” and “seek” and “thirst” and “faint.” So what would you expect him to be asking for? What would you expect him to say? Well, probably, “Lord, we need a water supply. Lord, we need a river or a brook. Lord, we need deliverance from my son. Lord. I need to be reinstated and protected.”
He probably did pray those things and it would be right and good for him to pray those things. But what is he asking for here? I want to reread the first part with a different emphasis. Look back at verse one. “Oh God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” What he needs and what he wants is God, and he uses the language of wanting and needing from the context: thirst, hunger in the wilderness.
It would be like—I don’t say this flippantly because some of you may struggle with depression—but it would be like a believer who struggles with depression, praying, “O Lord, what I long for is you to smile at me.” When you would think, “If someone’s depressed, wouldn’t they want to pray, ‘Lord, I want you to give me my smile back.’” But what if somebody in the throes of depression were praying, “God, what I long for is for you to smile at me.” That’s how he’s talking. That’s what he needs.
David Gets What He Needs by Thinking about Public and Private Worship
Well, how does he get it? And you can tell he’s thinking—here he is in the wilderness—he’s thinking about what was my life like there (Jerusalem, stability, normalcy)? And what is my life like here? And what he thinks about is what we would call public worship and private worship.
Look in verse 2: What’s the main thing I need? I need you, Lord. Verse 2: “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands.”
Now look at verse 2 because to me this is intriguing. He says, “I, the king, have looked on you in the sanctuary, in the Tabernacle, and beheld your power and your glory and your steadfast love.” But he could not go in to the Holy of Holies. Even the king couldn’t go into the Holy of Holies. The high priest could only go in one day. So when he says, “I see your power and your glory.” How would he see that? He couldn’t go in and see the Ark of the Covenant behind the veil. What could an Israelite see at the Tabernacle? What could any Israelites see?
Now, there is one thing you could see no matter who you were. The thing that was staring at you at God’s tent, the temple was not even built yet, at the entrance is what? The altar of burnt offering. The altar of burnt offering was three cubits high, it’s about four and a half feet tall. And if people then were shorter than they are now, that means that that sacrifice on top would be right at about eye level, and it’s just burning 24/7.
There’s a lot that we know that David didn’t know. But from that, what could he know? What could he know after he committed adultery with Bathsheba, and he looked at that altar of burnt offering, is that it was broadcasting at least two things all the time. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness for sins. And to be particular about it, “David, when you knew better, without the shedding of blood, there is no remission of sins. And what was the other thing it was broadcasting? “David, it won’t be your blood. It’ll be another’s blood.”
And David said, “When I look at your Tabernacle, for whatever else I see or I’m involved in, when I see that, I see your power and your glory in that and your steadfast love.” Do you know this Hebrew word, chesed? Dr. Ralph Davis that used to teach here, he said it’s not just love, it’s fierce love, committed love. It’s not just kindness, it’s dedicated kindness. That’s chesed. I see that when I see your Tabernacle.
But here’s the thing: he can’t go there right now. His son’s trying to kill him, and he’s living in the wilderness. He can’t go do that. So what does he do? And here’s what we might call private worship. Verse 5: “My soul [think about a hungry, thirsty man] will be satisfied as with fat and rich food.” And that landed differently then than it does now. We hear fat and rich and it sounds like a warning. Positive and desirable in his day. “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food.” How he must have wanted that in the wilderness. “And my mouth will praise you with joyful lips, when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on even the watches of the night; for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.”
I can’t go to the Tabernacle, and I’m on my bed, and don’t think bed like bed. Think at best bedroll, and maybe a blanket in a cave. But on my bed I do this thing that I’m able to do because you know, the king was supposed to have his own copy of the Torah, meditate on it and read it and learn it and internalize it. He certainly did some, and so he had that in him. He thought about the Lord—can’t get to the tabernacle—but he thought about the Lord on his bed at night. And he said, “It’s like the richest of food.”
It’s funny to tell this with my in-laws here, but my brother-in-law, Trey, he’s a really great guy. He loves food, and he’s quite a cook. We were at my in-laws’ house and we were eating a meat dish, and it was not one that Trey prepared. It was one that that my father-in-law prepared. It was just incredibly good. We got through with it, and we just wiped our plates out. Trey looked up at me, he was sitting right across from me. He used a phrase, I’ve never heard anyone say this. He said, “I’m meat drunk.” I knew exactly what he was talking about. This is a certain category of food inebriation.
Give yourself to him body and soul. Hang on to him and be hung on to by him.You may have experienced a fried chicken buzz, but that’s different because you can have a fried chicken buzz and still drive and operate heavy machinery, but not if you’re meat drunk. All you want to do is just smile at people. You really don’t want to talk anymore. You just want to smile and go find somewhere and lie down and just fade into oblivion. That’s the language of “My son’s trying to kill me. Everything is confusing. I don’t know how this is going to turn out. I don’t know how long these food supplies are going to last. I don’t know what’s in this cave. And I’m just so delighted with who God is. It makes me very happy. I have great joy. I feel very loved lying on the ground.
Talking about how he was able to think about the Torah. Look in verse 8. This is such a beautiful little detail of this psalm. He says, “My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me.” I’m in the presence of real scholars, so I don’t want to overreach, but there’s this beautiful Hebrew verb that shows up at the end of Genesis 2 when Moses writes, “For this reason, a man will leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife.” King James: “cleave to his wife.” It shows up early on in the Pentateuch, and you get to the end of the Pentateuch in Deuternomy, when Moses is given these great recaps about “What have we been through?” and “What does God want for us?” “You’re about to go into the Promised Land—I can’t go; you’re going—what must you remember?” And there’ll be these recaps where he’ll say, “The Lord wants you to do what at the end of the day? To love him.” And several times in Deuteronomy, he’ll say, “and to hold fast to him.” And it’s the same Hebrew verb: cleave to him. Give yourself to him body and soul. Hang on to him and be hung on to by him.
And that’s the Hebrew verb in verse 8 that’s translated “clings.” It’s the echo of what David had internalized; he’s lying there and he doesn’t just say, “I need to cling to you.” He says, “As a sinner, as a man who sometimes obeyed and sometimes disobeyed,” he said, “I do cling to you, and your right hand’s underneath me.”
David Awaits a Savior Who Would Perfectly Fulfill His Psalm
So what does he await? Because we would do ourselves a disservice if we don’t read the last few verses. I won’t spend much time on this, but look at how the psalm ends, verse 9: “But those who seek to destroy my life shall go down into the depths of the earth.” All this is future tense. “They shall be given over to the power of the sword; they shall be a portion for jackals. But the king shall rejoice in God; all who swear by him shall exult, for the mouths of liars will be stopped.”
“David, when will that happen?” “I don’t know. I know that it shall.” Charles Spurgeon said, “I love God’s “shalls” because a man tells you he shall do something and he may or may not do it. But God’s Word says, “Shall,” and it shall be.” That looks like verse 9–11. Now, what do we do with this? Because again, you may be here saying, “I like that. I like what you’re saying, but I just I don’t hook into it much. I’m tired right now. I’ve never learned more about the Bible or theology, and I’ve never felt more disengaged.”
I don’t know, that may be you. But for all David knew, there are things that we know that he didn’t know. There are things that we know that he couldn’t know. Here’s something he could not know: no one would perfectly live out Psalm 63 until about a thousand years later. And the man who did grew up singing this in the synagogue, learned it, memorized it. But the man who perfectly embodied Psalm 63, he’s talking to his disciples one day, and he’s talking about God. He says, “No one comes through the Father but through me.” Dr. Wingard quoted that in his prayer. One of his followers named Philip says, “Show us the Father.” You remember what Jesus said to Philip? “Have I been with you all this time, and you don’t know me, Philip? He who has seen me has seen the Father” (John 14).
And earlier, this same man, when he wanted to express: “What is it to follow me and believe in me? What is that?” Of all the weird—if I may say that—of all the weird metaphors to use, he looked at a big group of people early in his ministry and he said, “You’ve come out to hear me teach. You’ve come out to watch me do miracles. That’s great. But if you do not eat my flesh and drink my blood, you have no part with me. My flesh is real food. My blood is real drink. I want you to consume me with your soul.” And just to be Protestant about this, he said that a long time before he instituted the Lord’s Supper. St. Augustine said he who believes eats and drinks.
Christians Should Seek God for God’s Sake in Difficult Times
What does that mean for you? Well, here’s my exhortation. I don’t want you to give up on doing this. It’s good for a school, the school training for ministry, whether that’s M.Div. or counseling or whatever, to do this, to believe in Jesus together and to not neglect gathering with his people on the Lord’s day and believing in Jesus together and watch each other believe in Jesus together.
God’s “shalls” always come true.But I want to say this too: you may even go through a season, this might be for a couple with newborns or it might be if you do go through a season of depression, where that’s very difficult for you to do, or this is difficult for you right now. And I want to put in the appeal to you to be with the Lord in secret. But not primarily for your grades and not primarily for your marriage and not primarily for your work and not primarily even for all the things that I want God to do in this world. But to be with God in secret, to cling to him, and eat his flesh and drink his blood in secret.
I’ve never gotten to say this to Ligon, but I got a free book at a Twin Lakes Fellowship. I don’t know if you felt like you were wasting your time when you gave out this book, but one guy benefited from it. It was one of these little Puritan paperbacks called The Secret Key to Heaven by a Puritan named Thomas Brooks. I want you to hear what he says about what is it to spend time with God in secret, to have God for God’s sake, not God for my family’s sake, not God for improvement’s sake, not even God for my changing character’s sake and my growth in holiness’s sake. God for God’s sake.
A husband imparts his mind most freely and fully to his wife when she is alone; and so does Christ to the believing soul. Oh the secret kisses, the secret embraces, the secret visits, the secret whispers, the secret cheerings, the secret discoveries that God gives to his people when alone, when in a hole, when under the stairs, when in a dungeon . . . . It was a most sweet and divine saying of Bernard [of Clairvaux. He’s quoting a medieval figure], “O saints, do you not know that your husband Christ is bashful and will not be familiar in company? Withdraw yourself therefore by prayer and meditation into your closet or the fields, and there you shall have Christ’s embraces.” [. . .] Christ loves to embrace his spouse, not so much in the open street, as in a closet; and certainly the gracious soul never has sweeter views of glory than when it is most out of the view of the world.
And if that is you this morning: you’re tired and maybe even anxious. “Well, if I’m surrounded by support and Bible learning and church community, and I really haven’t started my ministry yet, and everyone’s warning me about the cost of ministry and the drain of ministry, and I’m not even in that yet, and I feel this tired, am I going to be OK?” Here’s my appeal to you. Love Jesus and feed on Jesus together, but love the one who perfectly lived out Psalm 63 alone, and eat his flesh and drink his blood.
I just finished a biography of John Stott. He said, “If I could give one piece of advice, it is that you are determine to meet with Christ every day in secret.” I know the bills are frightening, and I know the school work is hard. And I know if you’re a young couple, this may be draining to your fairly new marriage. But what if you sought first his kingdom and his righteousness, just sought him for the sake of having him, and then watched how all those things would be added to you. When will he do that? We don’t know. But God’s “shalls” always come true. Amen. Let’s pray together.