Through the Bible in a Year: Psalm 21-25

This Week’s Reading Schedule

Monday, April 23: Ruth 1-4 (whole book)
Tuesday, April 24: Psalm 21-25
Wednesday, April 25: Proverbs 1-4
Thursday, April 26: Proverbs 5-7
Friday, April 27: Proverbs 8-10

Next week we will read Galatians, James, and Romans, which is a lot for one week, but the following week we will go back over Romans chapter by chapter, comparing James and Galatians (and the Gospels).

The overall year’s plan is here.

Psalm 21

I don’t think this psalm needs any clarification. We can use the encouragement of psalms like this, lest we forget the Lord’s favor to us.

Psalms are songs. They are meant to be sung over and over, reminding us of what God has done for us. All of us grow weak without exhortation and fellowship (Heb. 3:12-14; Heb. 10:24-25). It is not just our children who need to hear the deeds of the Lord recounted! (Deut. 6).

Psalm 22:1-24

This is a Messianic psalm, one that prophesies about Christ. It was instrumental in my conversion.

I had read once (in a book called How We Got Our Bible and Why We Believe It Is God’s Word) that one of the strongest arguments for the divine inspiration of the Bible was fulfilled prophecy, especially concerning Jesus. One particular prophecy stood out to me in this psalm.

As a teenager, a Catholic priest had told me that the Nazis had actually crucified people and done "scientific" studies on how they died. They discovered that a crucified person died of suffocation after their arms and chest muscles cramped so badly that they could no longer take a breath. That is why the Romans would break the legs of the victim if they needed him to die faster. By pushing up with his legs, the victim could take pressure off his arms. Breaking their legs prevented this and reduced the time it took to die from up to three days down to one.

They pierced my hands and my feet.
I can count all my bones.
They look, they stare at me;
They divide my garments among them,
And for my clothing they cast lots. (v. 16-18)

There was no crucifixion in King David’s day. Why would he talk about his hands and feet being pierced, and being able to count all his bones? A crucified person would be able to count all his bones in the agony of dangling from his arms, but how would David know that? A crucified person’s hands and feet would be pierced, but that never happened to David!

Somehow, when I read that passage 30 years ago, I was sure that the priest’s sermon, the book—which I had ran across in a library—and this passage from Psalms were all purposely dropped in my path by Almighty God. When several other similar messages dropped in my path over a couple months, it was not long until I gave my life to Jesus Christ.

Not all of this Psalm is necessarily pure prophecy. I don’t believe Jesus ever prayed, "Oh my God, I cry by day, and you do not answer" (v. 2).

I picture it this way, though I have no authority for this except my own experience with God and God’s people: King David, being a prophet and a psalmist, was moved by the Spirit to feel himself in the place of Jesus so many centuries in the future. Filled with the feelings that Jesus experienced from Gethsemane to the cross, he wrote words to express those feelings, and we find them in Psalm 22.

Even verse 22 is quoted in Hebrews as spoken from Christ. In Hebrews 2:11-12 it is cited as proof that Jesus is willing to call us brothers (see also Rom. 8:29).

Psalm 22:25-31

This is a deep passage of triumph, explaining in somewhat figurative terms what Jesus accomplished by his death. Verse 29 even prophesies Jesus’ descent into Hades to preach to "the dead" (4:6) and "the spirits in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19).

Verse 31 mentions "a people who will be born." Jesus does not only make a new creation out of us individually (2 Cor. 5:17), but he is creating a new people (Heb. 12:22-24), a family for God (1 Tim. 3:15). Old tribal and national affiliations die, and we become a new nation with a citizenship from heaven (Php. 3:20; Gal. 3:27-29; Rom. 2:28-29).

The whole tenor of these seven verses also describes how Jesus’ death caused the kingdom of God to reach to the ends of the earth.

This is more important than we usually realize. Two thousand years have passed, and we are used to the idea that the Gospel goes to the end of the earth, but it was not always so. Before the new covenant, the Word of God was limited to Israel and those influenced by Israel, assuming that Israel was living holy enough to influence anyone for good. For the rest of us, "You were without Christ, being foreigners from the state of Israel and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world" (Eph. 2:12).

One of the greatest attributes of the New Covenant is what Paul says next, and what is described at the end of Psalm 22: "But now in Christ Jesus you who used to be far away are made near by the blood of Christ" (Eph. 2:13).

Psalm 23

Is there any psalm more well-known than Psalm 23, the Shepherd’s Psalm? It is one of the most comforting passages in the Bible, but it also calls us to a faith that many of us don’t have. When we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, do we really not fear? Do we believe that goodness and mercy will follow us all our days? Do we believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd? Do we believe that God sent his Son out of love to deliver us from our sins, or do we believe that he is full of anger, needing his wrath appeased on a daily basis by the blood of Jesus?

God is our loving Father, and he leads us on paths of righteousness for his own Name’s sake. He loves, and he wants good for us, and that is why he sent Jesus to die.

If we are to be like David, then we will need to believe, like David, that God is for us, that he is abundant to pardon, and that he will shepherd us through all our trials.

Psalm 24

This psalm, like Psalm 15, discusses who may enter the holy hill of the Lord. It is not just an old covenant thought that only the righteous will be able enter God’s kingdom. Jesus says, "Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven" (Matt. 7:21). The apostle Paul says, "Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived" (1 Cor. 6:9). The apostle Peter writes:

Be diligent to make your calling and election sure because if you do these things you will never stumble. In this way an entrance shall be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. (2 Pet. 1:10-11)

We also see that there is a difference between striving on our own and obtaining the grace of God. According to verse 5 and 6, God will bestow righteousness upon those who seek him. They are not already righteous, despite "clean hands and a pure heart," but they must receive vindication from the God of vindication.

Next week we will start on Romans, Galatians, and James and discuss the tension between faith and works that has been a source of division between denominations and between individual Christians. I wanted to touch on it here to help prepare our thinking for next week. Let me add this statement, which I believe to be true, from a fifth-century Christian who lived an ascetic life, but argued that salvation is not by works:

Some without fulfilling the commandments think that they possess true faith. Others fulfil the commandments and then expect the kingdom as a reward due to them. Both are mistaken. (Mark the Ascetic, On Those Who Think They Are Made Righteous by Works 18)

Psalm 25

Having gotten on the subject of the tension between faith and works, what an excellent psalm this is!

The Lord is both kind and fair;
that is why he teaches sinners the right way to live.
May he show the humble what is right!
May he teach the humble his way!
The Lord always proves faithful and reliable
to those who follow the demands of his covenant.
For the sake of your reputation, O Lord,
forgive my sin, because it is great.
The Lord shows his faithful followers
the way they should live.
They experience his favor;
their descendants inherit the land.
The Lord’s loyal followers receive his guidance,
and he reveals his covenantal demands to them. (Ps. 25:8-14, New English Translation)

The tension is so well-illustrated here. The Lord shows his faithful followers the way they should live; they don’t have to find it on their own. They experience his favor.

All of this applies to David, who can say, "Forgive my sin because it is great." Yet, despite that great sin, David points out that the Lord is faithful and reliable to those who follow the demands of his covenant, not to those who forsake it.

Whenever I bring this topic up, I am usually asked, "Where’s the line? When have I sinned too much? How will I be judged? What is enough righteousness to pass the test?"

We cannot object to being judged, nor to being frightened by the fact that we will be judged. Not only do the Scriptures tell us we will be judged, but they command a certain amount of fear because of it (1 Pet. 1:17; 2 Cor. 5:10-11).

Perhaps the most helpful verse, though is Galatians 6:7, "God is not mocked." There are those crying out for mercy, striving to find the grace of God, and they will find God abundant to pardon, doing everything for those persons that we read about in Psalm 25. And then there are those who in their laziness are not "diligent to make their calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1:10), and they will find that they do not reap the rewards of this psalm nor the mercy of God.

Let’s finish with another quote from Psalm 25, reaffirming that we can trust in the mercy of God when we pursue him:

Turn toward me and have mercy on me,
for I am alone and oppressed!
Deliver me from my distress;
rescue me from my suffering!
See my pain and suffering!
Forgive all my sins! (v. 16-18)

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