“Knowing Man & Knowing God”
Although the Bible was written long ago it is still totally relevant for today. This is not surprising because the Bible is the Word of God. Take the Psalms for example – they often express the very same feelings that we have. They speak of situations very similar to situations that we face. Many of the Psalms were written by David, the shepherd boy who became Israel’s famous king.
Psalm 36, which we are studying today was written by David. In it David talks about what he sees going on in society around him. He sees all the bad things happening. He sees violence, corruption, injustice, jealousy, & pride. David could be describing what we see happening around us today!
So then, as we study this Psalm, let us first of all consider:
1. The Sinfulness of Man (vrs 1-4)
David begins, “I have a message from God in my heart concerning the sinfulness of the wicked: There is no fear of God before their eyes.” (v.1) David sees wicked people living & acting as if there is no God – in their eyes there is no one to whom they need to give account. And today too, some people know very well that what they are doing is wrong but as long as nobody sees them they have no worries. They forget God sees them!
Back in 2008/9 there was a campaign in the UK, sponsored by the British Humanist Association & supported by atheist Richard Dawkins that paid for slogans on the sides of buses saying “There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.” This campaign may have got people thinking about God so actually it may not have been all that bad. However the wording of the slogan does show the mentality, the mind set, we find in modern men & women. When people have no fear of God, or when they act as if He doesn’t exist, then there is very little to hold them back from doing exactly what their sinful nature tells them to do.
David continues, “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” (v.2) The wicked don’t see God, they only see themselves. How true of us human beings! We only see things the way we want to see them. We defend ourselves but are quick to criticise or blame others. In our own eyes we are being reasonable & have a good attitude but we say that others, especially our boss, supervisor or spouse, are being unreasonable or have a bad attitude.
David says that the wicked person likes to “flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” As we said, they only see themselves & they love to flatter themselves. They are just like the self-righteous person in Jesus’ story who offered to help someone take a speck of dust out of their eye but who did not realise he himself had a huge log of wood in his own eye.
Instead of feeling bad about their sin or hating their sin, the wicked person tolerates sin & even excuses it. No wonder we find people using euphemisms, that is, nice-sounding words for some very evil things. A woman involved in prostitution is called a sex-worker. Committing adultery is called “having an affair.” Supporting abortion is called being “pro-choice”. Homosexual activities are referred to as being “gay.” Saying someone is a little “tipsy” actually means they are drunk. To be “economical with the truth” is actually “telling lies.” “Assisted suicide” or euthanasia is actually taking someone’s life.
David’s description of the wicked perfectly fits the 21st century – “In their own eyes they flatter themselves too much to detect or hate their sin.” (v.2)
We learn more about the wicked in v.3. David says, “The words of their mouths are wicked & deceitful; they fail to act wisely or to do good.” The wicked are often clever with words but their words are deceitful. They flatter & charm, but behind the nice-sounding words is a deceitful heart. They are following Satan, “the father of lies.”
The wicked person may say what is “politically correct” but they are not always wise or good. As David says, “…they fail to act wisely or to do good.” Of course, we know some non-believers are extremely smart, clever people & some are also very good living, kind people. However, the Bible tells us that “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” (Proverbs 9:10) It is possible to be very educated & cultured & socially responsible but still in God’s eyes to be neither wise nor good. God sees our hearts. He judges our motives. We may look very good on the outside but inside is a different story!
David’s description gets worse, for in v.4 we read, “Even on their beds they plot evil; they commit themselves to a sinful course & do not reject what is wrong.” The wicked deliberately choose to follow their evil desires. It all starts in the mind. We choose to disobey God, to go our own way, & we end up further & further away from God. Rather than rejecting evil & running away from evil, the wicked person chooses evil.
Now before you think I am pointing at the wicked as “those people over there” – let us remember the Bible says we are all sinners. This is what we are all like, by nature, even those who look good on the outside. The Bible says, “There is no one righteous, not even one.” (Romans 3:10) & “…all have sinned & fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) It sounds pretty depressing, doesn’t it.
Well, the good news of the Bible is that when we repent & turn away from our sinful ways, from our pride & self-righteousness, the Lord forgives us & accepts us. He gives us the power to turn away from sin & to overcome the old sinful nature. We no longer need to be slaves to our sinful nature.
Can you see the lie behind the atheist’s slogan on the bus? It is not by ignoring God or denying His existence that we can begin to enjoy life. It is exactly the opposite. It is only when we come into a living relationship with God through our Lord Jesus Christ that our guilt is taken away & life becomes truly meaningful & full of joy. It is only when we reject evil & embrace God’s way that we find true freedom.
This brings us to our second heading:
2. The Greatness of God (vrs 5 & 6)
David prays, “Your love, LORD, reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies. 6 Your righteousness is like the highest mountains, your justice like the great deep.” There is a powerful picture here as David uses graphic images taken from the natural world. He didn’t have a telescope, nor had he seen those incredible images taken by the Hobble Space craft, but when David looked up into the night sky, the vastness of space reminded him of God’s love. When he says God’s love reaches to the heavens he is saying God’s love is immeasurable. It is truly awesome. It is limitless.
And so is God’s faithfulness. God’s love & faithfulness is so different to our human love & faithfulness. So often our love has conditions attached. We love those who love us. We are nice to those who are nice to us. We help those we care about & even go out of our way for them. There is nothing wrong with this of course, but how about being kind & helpful & going out of our way for people who are not nice or kind or loving towards us? And how about being faithful? Faithfulness is a characteristic of true love.
My maternal grandfather had a close friend called Frank Bacon. I met Mr Bacon when he & my grandfather were both in their nineties in England. Mr Bacon had been a businessman in London. For over 40 years he faithfully & lovingly cared for his bed-ridden wife. He employed nurses to help him but he never once thought about putting his wife in an institution. He wanted to be with her & make sure she was cared for. That is love & that is faithfulness!
I love the marriage vows. The bridegroom says to the bride: “From this day forward; for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness & in health, to love, cherish, honour & protect you, till death us do part, according to God’s holy law; this is my solemn vow.” In a similar way, the bride makes her vows to the bridegroom. Sadly, not every husband keeps his marriage vows & not every wife keeps hers, but God always keeps His promises. His love & His faithfulness reach to the skies.
And His love reaches the worst of sinners. I watched a video of Nicky Gumbel interviewing a guy called Darrell Tunningley. Darrell started using drugs at the age of eleven. By sixteen he was selling drugs. Aged seventeen he took part in an armed robbery, was arrested & sentenced to 5 1/2 years in prison. While in prison, he did the Alpha Course. He prayed, ‘God if you’re real, prove it. Take away my drug addiction. Take away all the anger that’s inside me. If you do that for me I’ll live the rest of my life for you.’ When he woke up the next morning he picked up a cigarette as usual, but the thought of touching it made him feel physically sick. He threw it out of the cell window. He took the drugs he was hiding & threw them out of the window too. Then he stopped feeling sick. When Darrell looked in the mirror he didn’t recognise himself because he was smiling – not just smiling, but beaming. Since that day he hasn’t touched drugs. He hasn’t smoked. He hasn’t got drunk. He hasn’t been in a fight. He started running Alpha in the prison. Many fellow prisoners & prison officers came to Christ. Since leaving prison Darrell has been serving the Lord in a local church. Darrell’s life was totally changed because Jesus set him free from his addictions, his anger, & the sin that was destroying his life. Isn’t God’s love & faithfulness awesome!
I know many of you can also testify to the love & faithfulness of God in your life. You may not have been as messed up as Darrell was, but all the same, Jesus has poured His love into your life & He has changed you.
David says in v.6, “Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains, your justice like the great deep.” David uses two more powerful metaphors to describe God’s righteousness & His justice – the mighty mountains & the deep oceans. When Elizabeth & I visited the South island recently we were struck by the beauty & the majesty of the snow-capped mountains. Just think too of the mighty Himalayas that form the border between China & India. The mighty mountains seem so immovable, so solid, & so majestic. God’s righteousness is just like that. His righteousness is majestic. It towers over the tiny hills of our good deeds & over the valleys of our sinful ways. Unlike the changing, shifting values of human society, God’s righteousness stands firm & unshakable.
There is also a contrast between human justice & God’s justice. Human justice, unless it is based upon the principles of God’s Word, is very often shallow. God’s justice however is deep like the oceans. Human justice can be corrupted, judges can be bribed & they sometimes get things wrong. Just like the US Supreme Court’s recent decision regarding gay marriage. The fact 5 judges out of 9 thought they could re-define marriage does not change God’s definition of marriage. Those five Supreme Court judges made a wrong judgment. However God never makes wrong judgments. At the final Day of Judgment we will see that He judges totally fairly & justly. In Genesis 18:25 when Abraham was pleading with God to spare his nephew Lot & the city of Sodom, he said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” The answer to that question is of course, “Yes!”
We have looked at the sinfulness of man & the greatness of God. Now finally & briefly, let us think about:
3. The Blessings of Knowing God (vrs 7-12)
David had come to experience the goodness & the love of God. And I think there is an invitation here for all of us to come to know God too. David writes in v.7, “How priceless is your unfailing love, O God! People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” We do not deserve God’s love, nor can we earn it by good deeds or by being religious. God’s love is priceless. We cannot pay for it. But we can receive it as we receive a gift. And as we saw, God’s love reaches the worst sinner. His love never fails.
David says, “People take refuge in the shadow of your wings.” Whoever we are, whatever our background, the Lord invites us to come to Him for refuge. Jesus said to the crowds, “Come to me, all you who are weary & burdened, & I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) The Lord is our refuge & strength – in times of trouble, temptation, trial, sickness, uncertainty, or stress. Let us come to Him in our time of need.
When we come to Jesus, not only do we find forgiveness for our sins, safety in the storms of life, deliverance from the fear of death & judgment to come – more than all this – we find in Him an abundance of blessing. Vrs 8 & 9 say, “They feast in the abundance of your house; you give them drink from your river of delights. For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light.” God intends for us to enjoy an abundant life. The Spirit-filled life is a life of overflowing blessing & fruitfulness. These verses remind me of a beautiful old hymn: Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts. In modern English “Thee” & “Thou” simply means “you”. The hymn begins:
Jesus, Thou Joy of loving hearts
Thou Fount of Life, Thou Light of men,
From the best bliss that earth imparts,
We turn unfilled to Thee again
The 3rd verse goes:
We taste Thee, O Thou Living Bread
And long to feast upon Thee still;
We drink of Thee, the Fountainhead,
And thirst our souls from Thee to fill.
The things of this world (money, possessions, property, success, sex, fame, power) can never really satisfy the longings of the human heart. Only in Jesus, the Bread of Life is our hunger satisfied. Only in Jesus, the Living Water is our thirst quenched. The Lord alone is the fountain of life. He is the Light of the World. As He shines His truth into our hearts the darkness is chased away. “In His light,” says David, “we see light.” Life makes sense. Life has direction & purpose. These are some of the wonderful blessings of knowing the Lord Jesus as our personal Lord & Saviour.
David ends the Psalm by praying, “Continue your love to those who know you, your righteousness to the upright in heart. May the foot of the proud not come against me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.” (vrs 10 & 11) There may be times when you wonder if God has stopped loving you. Everything seems to be going wrong. God doesn’t seem to be answering your prayers. Well, do not despair. Do not give up. Even David felt overwhelmed at times. He felt under attack at times. He cries out for God to protect him. So David looks forward to when all evil will be defeated – “See how the evildoers lie fallen – thrown down, not able to rise!” (v.12) You & I can also look forward with such confidence.
We are all sinners. None of us deserves God’s mercy. But, as we have seen, our God is a God of love, faithfulness, righteousness & justice. He promises an abundant life to all who put their trust in Him. Have you put your trust in Him, dear friend? Are you feasting upon His abundance & are you trusting Him even when things are not easy or when you are facing trials or when you have special needs? Respond to God’s Word today. Trust Him. He says “Come!”