What we know of God in this life, though, is but a glimpse. The saints will learn of God forever, as there is no end to His Person and Character. God is an infinite Being and every aspect of His Person is infinite. His riches are “unsearchable” (Eph. 3:8). His love “passeth knowledge” (Eph. 3:19). His peace “passeth all understanding” (Phil. 4:7).
The most delightful and attractive aspect of God for the sinner, of course, is His mercy and compassion and tender nearness, and this is a major theme of the Psalms. God is the protector and help of His people. This theme begins in Psalm 3:2-3 -- “Many there be which say of my soul, There is no help for him in God. Selah. But thou, O LORD, art a shield for me; my glory, and the lifter up of mine head.”
Throughout the Psalms, as the saint is plunged into the afflictions that are a frequent part of this present life, he is reminded that God will not forsake him. This is true for the Jewish remnant as well as for the saints of all ages.
These promises teach us about God’s character: First, He is compassionate and willing to help. He is not untouched with the feeling of our infirmities. Second, He is able to help. He is the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, immortal God who is well able to keep all of His promises.
God is my shepherd (Psa. 23). This is one of the most famous and beloved passages of Scripture. It is often applied to all people, whereas it rightly applies only to the believer who has put his faith in God’s redemption in Christ. The Psalm describes the Lord’s most intimate watchcare over His people: feeding, leading, protecting, comforting, restoring their souls, preparing a table before them in the presence of their enemies. I have often been amazed in my Christian life at how the Lord restores our souls. Because of sin and affliction and spiritual warfare and the troubles of this life, the soul can become discouraged and downcast and filled with sin and self, but the Good Shepherd restores it. The Psalmist described the troubles of his soul in Psalm 119. His soul cleaved to the dust (Psa. 119:25) and melted for heaviness (Psa. 119:28) and was like a bottle in the smoke (Psa. 119:83), which refers to a leather bottle that was dried out and lifeless because the moisture had been removed by the hot smoke from the fire. The soul of the child of God can go through a myriad of troubles in this sin-cursed world, but the Lord is faithful to restore it. There have been times during my Christian life that I have felt as if my soul were spiritually dead and that it would not live again to serve God with blessing and joy, but it always does “live again” by God’s grace, because it is restored by the Good Shepherd as we abide in Christ (John 15:5). Tea plants have to be severely pruned at times, and after such pruning it appears that the plants are finished, yet the pruning is a necessary aspect in the process of producing the best quality tea leaves. Likewise, God is the husbandman who prunes every believer so that he will bring forth more fruit to Christ’s glory (John 15:1-2).
God is more faithful to help than my mother and father (Psa. 27:10). The love of a mother and father for their children is one of the greatest loves in this world, but it is nothing compared with God’s love. Unlike God’s love, the love of human parents is not perfect: it is often partial; it is limited by human frailty; it is corrupted by sin; it is affected by the cares and afflictions of life, as parents have their own problems; and it is eventually cut off by death. The truth expressed by the Psalmist applies to every earthly relationship. While it is true that “when my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up,” this is also true when my wife forsakes me or my husband forsakes me or my children forsake me or my best friends forsake me.
He knows the days of the upright (Psa. 37:18). This does not mean merely that God is aware of the saint’s situation. It means that He is intimately involved. He knows the situation intimately. He’s there. He’s aware. He cares. “David threw himself into those everlasting arms, into the arms of a God who is so big that billions of stars hang upon His words and innumerable angels rush to do His bidding, yet He can still find time to father and comfort a frail, mortal son of Adam’s ruined race” (John Phillips).
He upholds the saint with His hand (Psa. 37:24). What a beautiful picture of God’s care! He is so near that He is holding the saint in His hand. Imagine the God of the universe deigning to hold the fallen creatures that He has redeemed so that He might lead them and protect them! Jesus taught that the believer is doubly safe, being both in His hand and in the Father’s hand (John 10:27-30). This is indescribably safe!
“For the LORD loveth judgment, and forsaketh not his saints; they are preserved for ever: but the seed of the wicked shall be cut off” (Psa. 37:28). This is a most wonderful promise. Everyone has been forsaken in this world on some occasion or other, but the Lord will NOT forsake His saints. Even our dearest relations and closest friends, even our pastors and spiritual teachers, cannot be counted on to be with us at all times and to help us in all things, to bear our burdens, to care for us in every circumstance. They have their own lives and problems to deal with, and they are mere frail fallen creatures like ourselves. This is why the Bible says blessed is the man that trusts in the Lord, but cursed is the man that trusts in man (Jeremiah 17:5, 7). Those who trust in man will be disappointed. They will be offended and bitter, because their trust is in something other than the blessed God Himself. This is the essence of idolatry. When God is in the right place in a person’s life, everything falls into its proper place.
He thinks upon the saint to help and deliver him (Psa. 40:17). It is truly amazing that the God of the universe thinks upon lowly sinners, but He assures us that it is true. Are we not indeed “poor and needy”? Spiritually, we are bankrupt apart from the righteousness imputed to us because of Christ’s sacrifice. Physically, we are dependent upon God for our very breath (Psa. 104:29).
He is a very present help in time of trouble (Psa. 46:1). The Hebrew word “matsa,” which is translated “very present,” is often translated “to find out.” It is used in Genesis 2:20 when no help meet could be found for Adam. Though the entire creation was considered, no help meet could be found. The dove that was sent out by Noah “found [matsa] no rest.” The Lord said, “If I find [matsa] in Sodom fifty righteous...” (Gen. 18:26). The term speaks of a diligent search. Likewise, in time of trouble, the Lord is there with all of His compassionate Being, knowing everything about the situation, and not only knowing but helping.
He is our guide unto death (Psa. 48:14). Since death is a reality in this world because of sin, the promise that God is our guide unto death is most precious. He is with us as we walk through the valley of the shadow of death (Psa. 23:4). The thought of death, typically, is fearful and unsettling, and men do everything they can to avoid it, particularly those who do not know Christ. But for the believer, the process of death is only a shadow that momentarily hides the Sun, and shadows are only passing things. In contrast, for the unbeliever death is the entrance into “the blackness of darkness forever.” Further, shadows aren’t harmful. For the believer, death isn’t harmful because Jesus took the harm upon Himself on the cross. The basic meaning of death is separation. The first death is physical death, which is the separation of the spirit from the body (James 2:26). But the most fearful aspect of death is the second death, wherein the soul is eternally separated from the Creator God in the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15; 21:8). But the Son of God was forsaken of the Father in our place when he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” (Psa. 22:1). He was wounded for our transgressions and bruised for our iniquities, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). Those who trust Him will not be ashamed at the hour of death. The momentary shadow of death will turn into the glorious light of an eternity of “pleasures for evermore” with the Saviour (Psalm 16:11). Recently a 22-year-old single man named Sharan died who was a member of a church pastored by a friend. He collapsed during a Bible conference where I was preaching in April and had to be taken to the hospital, and within three weeks this fervent disciple of Christ was dead of leukemia. He suffered great physical discomfort and pain, yet he constantly testified that God was helping him. He said, “I don’t have any complaint against the Lord; God has given me joy.” Looking around at all of the unbelievers in the hospital who were suffering of various diseases, he said, “I’m the only one here who isn’t sick.” He meant, of course, that in his case the fatal disease was merely the door to eternal blessing.
“Thou tellest my wanderings: put thou my tears into thy bottle: are they not in thy book?” (Psa 56:8). God’s compassion and watchcare is tender and motherly. When the Psalmist says, “Thou tellest my wanderings,” he is not saying, merely, that God knows about them intellectually and counts them as a matter of fact; he is saying that God is intimately involved in every step of the saint’s life. In the context, David refers to his wanderings to escape Saul. When he wrote Psalm 56, David was in Gath among the Philistines, who also were his enemies. By the spirit of prophecy, David was expressing in this Psalm his confidence in God’s intimate watchcare through all of his wanderings and troubles. We think of the trials and wanderings of Abraham, of Joseph, of Moses, of the children of Israel in the wilderness, of Job, and of Paul. All of them could say, “God tellest my wanderings.” Likewise, God counts the wanderings and knows the tears of every saint. They are even recorded in His book!
He is a strong refuge (Psa. 71:7). The Psalmist often refers to God’s strength. He has a strong arm and a strong hand (Psa. 89:10, 13). He is strong and mighty in battle (Psa. 24:8). He is able to deliver from strong enemies (Psa. 18:17). Jesus said that He is greater than Solomon (Mat. 12:42), and He is greater than Samson, too! The Lord is the Samson of Samsons, the strong judge who delivers His people from their enemies. He is almighty in battle, almighty to save, almighty to protect. If someone is in danger and they call 911 for help, they hope that someone strong and capable will come to their aid and will come quickly. That doesn’t always happen because men are not almighty. Even the best trained, strongest, bravest, most well armed special forces units have been wiped out or have otherwise failed in their objectives. But the Lord is invincible.
He protects His own like a mother hen protects her chicks (Psa. 91:4). This is a wonderful metaphor. I have a photo of chicks hiding underneath the mother hen. There have been cases in which the hen died protecting her chicks. Of course, a chicken is a weak creature; her wings are not very strong and she is not very wise; but in the first two verses, the Psalmist has emphasized God’s capability as Protector. First, He is elyon, the most High. This is first used in Genesis 14:18-22, where the emphasis is on the fact that God rules over all and is the possessor of all things. Second, He is Shaddai, the Almighty. The Hebrew word shadday is from shadad, which means “to be burly, i.e. (figuratively) powerful (passively, impregnable)” (Strong). He is the Warrior of warriors, the invincible One. Third, He is Jehovah, the self-existent, eternal I Am, the faithful and all-dependable covenant-keeper. Fourth, He is elohiym, the powerful, trinitarian Creator. “Elohiym always occurs in a plural form accompanied by a singular verb, which would be bad grammar in connection with anyone but God. But God can say, ‘We is’ because He exists in three persons and yet is one God. The first occurrence of elohiym links it with creation. Elohim is God as creator. The thought is that of power” (John Phillips). Thus, to hide under the shadow of God’s “wings” is to hide in an impregnable place! God will not run from danger; He will not change His mind; He will not break His promises.
His mercy is as high as the heavens (Psa. 103:11). The Psalmist says God’s mercy is so great that it is like the height of the heavens. Even with modern equipment man has not been able to see the end of the heavens, but they have measured it out to 14 billion light years. Light travels at 670 million MPH. In a year it would travel 6 trillion miles. To travel to the end of the known universe would require 14 billion years if you had a space ship that could travel at the speed of light, and even when you got there you would not be at the end of the heavens. In other words, there is no end to the heavens as far as man is concerned, from an earthly perspective. It is so great that it is beyond comprehension, and that is how great God’s mercy is. There is no end to it. It is infinite. This is the measure of the greatness of Christ’s atonement!
His mercy is as far as east is from the west (Psa. 103:12). This is also an infinite measure. If you travel east across the globe you never come to a point where you are going west. East and west never meet (whereas north and south do meet at the poles). This is how great God’s mercy is. This is how completely He forgives our sins when we put our trust in Christ for once-for-all salvation and when we confess our sins for daily fellowship. Since Satan is the accuser of the brethren (Rev. 12:10), let’s send him on an errand to find our sin that is forgiven in Christ. Let him find the place where east and west meet, and when he does that he will find my forgiven sin.
He pities his children like a father (Psa. 103:13). God as a Father refers to God’s tender, personal interest in His creatures. God knows the “frame” of each of His children and He pities them. God is described in Jesus’ parable of the Prodigal Son as the Father who is anxiously waiting for the wayward one to return, rushing out to meet the repentant son when he is still a long distance away (Luke 15:20). Every good father pities his children. Racham, the Hebrew word translated pity, is elsewhere translated love and mercy. Even if the father is a man who doesn’t easily express his care verbally, he has tender emotions toward his children; he wants the very best for them; he desires to help them in every way possible; he is ready to forgive their offenses; he desires their love and yearns to be close to them. How much more does the Lord pity His adopted children (Mat. 7:11). The best father who has ever lived is but a dim image of God’s fatherhood.
He knows our frame (Psa. 103:14). The truth stated in this Psalm refers to more than to general knowledge, such as the fact that the Lord knows that we are fallen sinners. It means that He knows the exact “frame” or condition of every saint and takes that into consideration in His dealings with us. He knows that we are made of the dust of the ground and that we are fallen and that we will soon return to the dust (Gen. 2:7; 3:19). It is true of even the most passionate saint that “in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” and that we live in “the body of this death” (Rom. 7:18, 24). As a potter knows the character of each type of clay, the Lord knows just how to deal with each saint to conform him to the image of Christ. “He being the potter, they the clay, he knows what they are able to bear, and what not; that if he lays his hand too heavy, or strikes too hard, or repeats his strokes too often, they will fall in pieces: he knows the inward frame of their minds, the corruption of their nature, how prone they are to sin; and therefore does not expect perfect services from them” (John Gill). “He considereth that great and constant propension to evil which is naturally in all mankind, and that therefore if he should deal severely with us, he should immediately destroy us all. And He considers the weakness and mortality of our natures, and the frailty and misery of our condition” (Matthew Poole).
He does not slumber in His help (Psa. 121:1-3). It seems that some of the greatest trials of life occur at night. Who has not sat up in the dark hours, suffering personal afflictions, enduring doubts and fears, sorrowful and troubled and worried, waiting at a bedside or in hospital corridor or waiting for word from afar. In such times one’s closest friends might be asleep. The most compassionate nurse will grow weary. In fact, you yourself will grow weary and fall asleep, eventually, no matter how severe the trial or uncertain the situation, but God never slumbers.
He strengthens His saints in the day that they cry (Psa. 138:3). This is one of my favorite promises in Scripture, because it is a promise about something tangible that God will do TODAY. We know that answered prayer is often long in coming. This is why the Bible urges us to be patient and persistent in prayer. But in Psalm 138:3 we are told that God will strengthen us in the very day when we cry out for help. He might not remove the trouble, but He will give strength to endure it, and this is evidence of His compassionate watchcare. I cannot count the times that this promise has been fulfilled in my own life during the 40 years I have walked with the Lord, in every sort of trial.
His thoughts toward us are innumerable (Psa. 139:17-18). This entire Psalm is a revelation of God’s tender watchcare over and intimate involvement in the life of each of His saints. When God knows the thoughts of and searches the life of the redeemed, it is not to condemn but to bless. God’s omniscience and omnipresence are not to be feared but to be embraced, because His terrible holiness has been propitiated by Christ’s atonement. He has not given us the spirit of fear but the spirit of adoption (Rom. 8:15). When He shows me my sin by His Spirit, it is not to destroy me but to lead me to repentance so that I might be conformed to the image of Christ. It is in this context that He knows my downsitting and uprising (v. 2). He knows my thoughts (v. 2). One of the evidences of Jesus’ divinity was that He knew man’s thoughts (Luke 6:8). God compasses my path (v. 3). He is acquainted with all my ways (v. 3). He knows every word I speak (v. 4). He has beset me behind and before and laid his hand upon me (v. 5). In all places He leads me and upholds me with his hand (vv. 9-10). Angels are messengers and helpers, but the Lord does not leave the care of His people to anyone else. It is with His own hand that leads and holds. He fashioned me in my mother’s womb (vv. 13-16). The trillion parts of every cell and the interrelatedness of the 60 trillion cells in my body are His workmanship. The DNA of each cell, with its mind-boggling amount of information, is His workmanship. His thoughts toward me are innumerable as the sand (vv. 17-18). It is redemption that has removed the terror of the fact that God knows every detail of my life, including every sinful thought, attitude, and action. All of my iniquity has been laid upon Christ, and I have been given His righteousness in God’s eyes (2 Cor. 5:21). Therefore, I do not fear asking God to search me and show me my wicked ways so that I might confess them and remain in fellowship with Him and walk in His will (Psa. 139:23-24; 1 John 1:9). The more we understand God’s salvation and how completely His holy law has been propitiated (satisfied) by Christ’s blood, the more we can trust Him and draw near to Him rather than run away like Adam.
What these promises don’t mean:
These promises don’t mean that God takes away the saint’s troubles. God uses trouble to purify and increase our faith. It is necessary for spiritual growth. God doesn’t remove trouble; He is with us in the trouble and is in control of every situation.
These promises don’t mean that God ignores the saint’s sin. As a good Father God chastens His children when they sin and He uses whatever level of chastening is necessary to bring repentance. There is even a sin unto death if we do not repent, for “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth” (Heb. 12:6).
These promises also don’t mean that God acts as we think He should act in a given situation. It is wrong to think that since God loves me He won’t let this or that to happen to me. He cares for His people, but He is the one who decides how to demonstrate that care. When an individual becomes disappointed with God, it is usually because God failed to act according to his or her thinking, but God will not be boxed in by man’s thinking. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts” (Isaiah 55:8-9). Our part is to live by faith, to trust God to do the right thing whatever happens (Hebrews 11:6).
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