I would like to begin our message this morning with a kvetch (complaint). Why do I have to lock every door of my house and car? Why must I give a sizeable chunk of my income to a company just in case my car is stolen or my house burns down or someone decides to sue me because they tripped on the sidewalk? Why does my credit card have to have 16 numbers on the front and three more on the back, and why do I have to have a PIN number, and why do I have to sign my name on the back of checks, and why do I get asked for my ID when I go to buy something?
Why is it that at any given time either the roof or the washing machine is leaking? And why at that same time does the drain seem not to work? And why is it that every faucet ever made eventually start dripping when you shut the water off?
Why does the toast fall off my plate and land on the table with the dry side down, but always falls to the floor with the jam side down (right after the dog has walked by and shed a little)? Why does the phone ring, without fail, just as I am heading out the door? And why do I only get a penny for my thoughts, but have to put my two cents in? I’m losing on every transaction!
These, of course, are silly little laments. But as we witnessed this week, the world is full of destruction, some natural and some man-made, bringing with it pain and despair and sorrow over loss of life. How do we make sense of it all, and can we make a difference?
How many times have you heard the expression “In a perfect world…”? It’s one of the ways we acknowledge the inevitability of troubles and trials, injustice and sorrow in this broken world. That figure of speech reveals (if unconsciously) that we can envision a better world. So then it is legitimate to hope for a better world-to-come. But for now, it is painfully apparent that this present world is fractured and weighed down by sin. So how do we cope in a broken and sin-filled world? Let me rephrase that: Is merely coping the best we can hope for in a broken and sin-filled world? Is it possible to have joy and to thrive in this world? If so, how? How is it that some people seem to have genuine peace and an outlook of optimism despite all the insanity? What is their secret?
The Tehillim, the Psalms, especially those penned by David, seem to express so well our lament in the face of life’s difficulties and sorrows, and the occasional dismay of betrayal by those close to us, and the vicious attacks of those who hate us for no good reason. But these same Psalms offer us answers and point the way for us to achieve true shalom in an unpredictable and sometimes painful world. This morning I invite you to turn to Psalm 27, David’s affirmation of trust amidst troubles, and take encouragement from God’s Word.
First let me share a few details about this psalm. Psalm 27 is part of the first of the five major sections of the Psalms. Many of the psalms in this first section are laments. Psalm 27 has some of that element, but it is also a song that expresses confidence in Adonai. Some scholars, seeing in the first six verses a theme of trust and in the last eight verses a personal lament, suggest that this may have originally been two entirely separate writings which were later brought together by editors. A little later this morning I will explain why I don’t believe that’s the case, and hope to show why this is a single, very thoughtful, very structured song.
Verse 1 A Psalm of David.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread?
How many of you have read the book by George Orwell entitled 1984? In this book, which was actually a denunciation of totalitarian government and a warning against what we today call ‘political correctness’ – the lack of freedom to speak our minds without being criminalized. In this novel, Orwell describes a scary place which is oddly named The Ministry of Love. This is where political dissidents, or even those suspected of non-conformity to the government would be taken. And in the inner recesses of the Ministry of Love there was a particularly dreadful place – called ‘Room 101’. Room 101 held a different terror for each person who was brought in. Because the Party (the government) spied on all its subjects, they knew what each person’s worst fear was. But it highlights the fact that each human being has particular things they fear.
Fear is a powerful emotion, and it comes to us in a variety of ways. There are some kinds of fear that are good and appropriate and can keep us from physical or spiritual harm. You should be afraid of some things, like becoming addicted to drugs or contracting a deadly sexually transmitted disease! You’d be dysfunctional if you weren’t afraid of such things. I can appreciate that some people’s hobbies require them to overcome fear – but there’s no way I’ll ever take up skydiving. It is normal to fear some things.
There is a healthy kind of fear in our relationship to the God of the Universe. Not a terrifying kind of fear that would send us running (like the cowardly lion in The Wizard of Oz), but instead a deep, abiding reverence for who He is and the knowledge that He created the universe and that one day we will appear before Him and give account for our lives. And if you are in a right relationship with God; if you have proper reverence for Him, you will never need to fear other people. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defense of my life; whom shall I dread? Men may seek our lives, but they cannot touch our souls. And the only One who actually does have the power to destroy your soul has no intention of doing so. He loves you!
Now let me qualify that. When I say that the Lord loves you, I am not affirming universalism – the idea that everyone will eventually be saved. I refer exclusively to those who are committed followers of Yeshua, Jesus the Messiah. If you have not yet transferred your loyalty to Yeshua and publicly declared your faith in Him, then this promise doesn’t apply to you. God is the light and salvation of those only who are in a contractual relationship with Him, otherwise known as the New Covenant. I say this for the benefit of anyone here who has not yet made that commitment, whether young or old. Every single human being must surrender to Yeshua. Having parents who believe doesn’t cut it. Having children or other relatives who believe doesn’t cut it. If you haven’t formally committed to following Him, then I want to urge you to speak with me or with Rabbi Loren or Dave Goldstein after the service, or if you are visiting, I urge you to speak with the pastor of your church.
God is the light and salvation of those only who are in a contractual relationship with Him, otherwise known as the New Covenant.
David, who was called the sweet psalmist of Israel, wrote out of his own personal experience. As a na’ar, a young lad, he shepherded the flocks of his father Jesse, and had to fight off predatory animals. He had faced the bear and the lion, and through the help of God had emerged victorious. While still young, he faced off against the 9’6” Philistine champion Goliath. To win the hand of King Saul’s daughter he put 1,000 Philistines to death. As a man he became a seasoned warrior. But he was not without enemies – kings of foreign lands, and even his father-in-law, Saul! Many believe that this psalm was written while David was hiding from Saul, and having also to contend with various foreign powers. But God did not allow David to fall into the hands of any of his enemies. He continues:
When evildoers came upon me to devour my flesh, my adversaries and my enemies, they stumbled and fell. Though a host encamp against me, my heart will not fear; though war arise against me, in spite of this I shall be confident.
In a fallen world, it should not surprise us that evildoers abound, and seek to harm the people of God. You may never actually be surrounded by an enemy army, but even if you are, the One who fights on your behalf is greater than all the assembled armies the world could possibly muster.
David’s good friend Jonathan understood this perfectly when he said to his personal armor-bearer “Nothing can hinder the Lord from saving, whether by many or by few”. A few minutes later the two of them took on and defeated an entire garrison of Philistine soldiers.
The Prophet Elijah understood this perfectly when he took on the 850 false prophets of Ba’al and Asherah and God answered him with fire from Heaven.
Elisha understood this perfectly when the army of Syria surrounded him. He prayed that God would open his servant’s eyes, and suddenly Gehazi saw the enormous angelic army poised on the mountainside – far mightier and more numerous than the army of Syria.
This should not be taken as an iron-clad promise that no harm will ever befall you. Good and godly men and women have been persecuted, tortured and martyred across the ages. Rather, this is a meditation on the confidence we can have, knowing that God has good and eternal purposes for us.
One thing I have asked from the Lord, that I shall seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord and to meditate in His temple.
David isn’t pleading with God to rescue him. And he isn’t asking for riches or honor; only that he might always enjoy intimate friendship with God; that he might spend as much time as possible in the presence of the Lord. The thing David is asking for is so simple, yet so profound. Remember, too, that David was not a Levite; he would never be permitted to enter the holy place. Yet we read elsewhere in Scripture that the desire of his heart was to build a temple for Adonai. Imagine that – he wanted to build for God a place, much of which would be off-limits to him!
This verse reminds me of Anna, the prophetess who was in the Temple at the time Miriam and Yosef brought Yeshua to consecrate Him. Luke tells us she had been a widow for many years, and all that time devoted herself to fasting, praying and serving. She was privileged to see God’s Messiah first-hand and to tell everyone about Him! How important is it to you to gather with the people of God and worship Him and to meditate on His goodness?
For in the day of trouble He will conceal me in His tabernacle; in the secret place of His tent He will hide me; He will lift me up on a rock. And now my head will be lifted up above my enemies around me, and I will offer in His tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing, yes, I will sing praises to the Lord. Hear, O Lord, when I cry with my voice, and be gracious to me and answer me.
God did conceal David. Saul couldn’t capture him, despite employing all his resources. David and his men enjoyed protection and provision at the Tabernacle, from Ahimelech the priest. He was protected in the wilderness of En Gedi. He was vindicated when Saul realized that David had had the opportunity to kill him but had spared him. Despite the many months of wandering and being on the run for his life, David was confident that he would again have opportunity to worship God at the Tabernacle. He asks God to hear his plea – a simple desire to be free to worship Him once again.
There’s a Hebrew word that describes being delivered from danger and being brought to a place of safety, as on a high rock. That word is yashah, from which we get Yeshua‘Adonai saves’ – Jesus’ Hebrew name. If you had been delivered from calamity wouldn’t you also want to shout for joy in His house, worship Him and sing praise songs to Him? Of course you would! But some people are foolish – thinking to wait until they’re at the end of their rope to seek Him. If you’re serious about God, the time is now. The day is today.
When You said, “Seek My face,” my heart said to You, “Your face, O Lord, I shall seek.”
If someone were to ask, “What is the secret to a good life?” this would be my answer! The secret to thriving in an otherwise unstable, unpredictable, hostile world isn’t by seeking stability or comfort or riches, or security. Seek Him! Seek God Himself! Psalm 34:4 says I sought the Lord, and He answered me and delivered me from all my fears!
Verse 8 isn’t only one of the two middle verses of Psalm 27. It is the heart of the message. In the ancient world, before printing presses and before Borders bookstores, people had to be much more attentive listeners. They knew instinctively when they were at the center of a passage of Scripture or of a message, and they knew that the lesson to be learned was there – in the middle. And here in Psalm 27, as though purposely tucked away in the middle – waiting to be found by those who are diligent and observant, we find this verse. This is the precious nugget we’re supposed to take away from this: God is saying to you, “Seek My face, seek My presence!” So let your heart respond obediently: “Your face, Your presence, O Lord, I shall seek!”
How do you do it? How do you seek the presence of Adonai? The truth is, we know what to do. We just need to do it. For most of us, the key is actually when to seek His presence. We know how: by quieting our hearts, putting aside distractions, opening His word and reading, praying and listening. But too often we just let the day happen to us. We need to seek Him early in the morning, when it is quiet. We need to seek Him late at night, when it is quiet; when the phone (hopefully) isn’t ringing.
Just as we bring Him the first of our earnings, doesn’t it make sense that we consecrate to Him the first of our time? And it isn’t only the right thing to do, but the beneficial thing. Seeking God Himself, His presence, is like the master key – it opens every door. It is the foundation for enjoying shalom in a world so lacking shalom.
Do not hide Your face from me, do not turn Your servant away in anger; You have been my help; do not abandon me nor forsake me, O God of my salvation! For my father and my mother have forsaken me, but the Lord will take me up.
This is both a lament and a declaration of trust. Most of us enjoy good relationships with our mothers and fathers, but some people really identify with verse 10. They know what it means to be forsaken by their parents. But here is one Father who will not leave you nor forsake you! David knows that even those closest to us may disappoint us or even abandon us. Remember – Messiah wasn’t betrayed by a stranger. He was betrayed by one of the people closest to him in the world. And in the hour of His death, Yeshua still affirmed His trust, saying with nearly His last breath, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit!” Those are powerful and capable hands! Can you say with David “Ezrat Hayyiti – You have been my help!”?
Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a level path because of my foes.
Just as David asked to know God more intimately, he also asks to be more familiar with God’s ways, and that God would help him to live a good, godly life. He knew that his enemies were looking for any excuse to disparage him. His prayer, in essence, was “Lord, guide and teach me Your ways, so they won’t have any excuse to malign me!”
If people at work and in your neighborhood know that you are a follower of Yeshua, I guarantee they are watching you. Some are watching hopefully, wondering if there really is a better way to live and if there really is a better world awaiting us. They are hoping for your success. And there are others watching you, hoping you’ll screw up royally, so they’ll have an excuse to not believe. For both their sakes, this needs to be our prayer: Teach me Your way, O Lord, and lead me in a level path.
Do not deliver me over to the desire of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and such as breathe out violence. I would have despaired unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
These verses parallel verses two and three. David declares that enemies have arisen, and brazenly lied through their teeth to bring him down. They also threatened physical harm. The world is filled with such people. And as true as it was for David, if we don’t have the Lord as our strength and help and shelter, we might very well be in despair too. In this one psalm David expresses both dismay at the viciousness of his enemies and yet complete trust in the God of Israel to be his deliverer yet again.
Here David declares confidence that he will not die at the hands of his enemies. But again I believe we can see in the life and the words of David a foreshadowing of Messiah Himself. In passages such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 16 we read about the Anointed One of God dying, yet not remaining in death’s grip, for He would rise from the dead and see the light of life. The goodness of the Lord will indeed prevail in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong and let your heart take courage; yes, wait for the Lord.
When will deliverance come? When will you be vindicated? When will those who seek your demise get their payback? In Yeshua’s time. And since we don’t know the particulars of what God has purposed for us, we need to trust in Him and wait. Redouble your determination to seek His face and find courage in His presence. Learn to trust. Don’t take matters into your own hands. Wait for the Lord. His people will be vindicated. His plans will be accomplished. Know it, and prove you know it by waiting patiently, even joyously.
I mentioned earlier that I take issue with those who suggest that Psalm 27 was not a unity, but patched together. Let me show you why I believe David is genuinely the author of this psalm and just how thoughtfully he composed it. There is clear structure, and it takes the form of chiasm. This word is derived from the Greek letter Chi, which looks like our X. Things move in parallels toward a center, and back out again.
Chiastic (X) Structure in Psalm 27
1 The Lord is my light and salvation… the defense of my life… no need to fear
2-3 Deliverance from enemies / evildoers … in spite of this I shall be confident
4 My request… dwell in His house… meditate on His beauty
5-7 The Lord will lift me up
8 You said “Seek My face”… I will seek Your face
9-10 The Lord will take me up
11 My request: teach me Your way… lead me in a level path
12-13 Deliverance from enemies / false witnesses… I believe I will live/see the Lord
14 Wait for the Lord… be strong… take courage… wait for the Lord
And what is at the heart of the psalm? The admonition to seek God’s face! He is inviting you to do so. And you will be supremely blessed if you comply. Seek His face first-thing! Let it be your priority to seek out the presence of the Lord at first light. The dividends are out of this world, as David, the sweet psalmist of Israel wrote elsewhere: You will make known to me the path of life; In Your presence is fullness of joy; In Your right hand there are pleasures forever.