Psalm 73 Study Questions 1 and 2

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 73 (see notes)

Psalm 73 is a Psalm of Asaph (50, 73-83). This may have been a joint venture between Asaph and David (see 2 Chronicles 29:30, in which Hezekiah commanded the Levites to sing “the words of David and of Asaph the seer”), or Asaph himself. Asaph was the leader of a family or guild of singers that served in the temple. It’s quite instructive, given the arc of the story in Psalm 73, to know this: Asaph and David both had power and position within the civil and ecclesiastical Jewish world. And in Psalm 73 we hear the lamentation of a man who witnesses the sin of corruption in high places.

Question 1. Verses 4-12. What was the “all this” the psalmist saw that almost overthrew him?

4For they have no pangs until death; their bodies are fat and sleek.
5They are not in trouble as others are; they are not stricken like the rest of mankind.
6Therefore pride is their necklace; violence covers them as a garment.
7Their eyes swell out through fatness; their hearts overflow with follies.
8They scoff and speak with malice; loftily they threaten oppression.
9They set their mouths against the heavens, and their tongue struts through the earth.
10Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them.
11And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
12Behold, these are the wicked; always at ease, they increase in riches.

The psalmist despaired of the prosperity of the wicked. He complains about their comfortable lives that they enjoy despite their arrogance and wickedness. It is true that men without conscience can seemingly “get ahead” more easily by cheating, whether in their personal or professional lives. A good contemporary example is FIFA (International Federation of Association Football) president Sepp Blatter. He was recently reelected to a fifth term as president, despite a career wracked with scandalous activity: widespread bribery to win votes during elections, and the solicitation of bribes from soccer officials in return for favorable decisions on the location of their immense soccer tourney the World Cup. He was arrogant, fat and sleek and only now is God bringing him down through His divine justice minister (the civil magistrate.) In the U.S. This arrogance is typically (but not exclusively) exemplified by rich CEOs or politicians such as the Clintons and former House Speaker Denny Hastert. The list of crimes is impressive: powerful men promising oppression, setting their mouths against the heavens, or the government stealing from the people. It’s notable that Asaph says that they have no pangs “until death,” perhaps a bit of foreshadowing. At death, the eternal pangs of the wicked are so unbearable as to be unimaginable.

Question 2. What spiritual condition resulted? (The psalmist describes it in verses 2, 16, and 21.)

Verse 2: The psalmist talks about his feet nearly stumbling, his steps nearly slipping. This implies that he was on a walk with God (which can be inferred because this is a) a worship song and b) from verse 11.) Because of the “all this,” his walk with God was severely impacted. We can’t ignore the injustice that we see around us. If we are with God, we will have some expectation that the world will seem right to us. I think that Asaph recognized that this was a normal expectation. This is what the psalmist labored under, and we ought to recognize that we will want everything to be “right” if we’re Christian. Moreover, because of the nature of modern communications, the actions of the corrupt rich and powerful are more easily seen.

Verse 16: The work associated with trying to understand this dichotomy is described as “wearisome” and never contradicted in the psalm. In other words, the psalmist never returns to this work of understanding to complete it. Once he calls it wearisome, he’s done with it. When we consider that Jesus described obedience to His law a light thing, taking on tasks the Bible describes as wearisome begins to seem like a waste of time. In other words, not worth doing. How do we apply this? Stop trying to make sense of a fallen world. It’s fallen! The Preacher also had this reaction.

Verse 21: The psalmist 1) became embittered. We know this is a sin (Eph 4:31, Heb 12:15) and the psalmist unabashedly confesses it. How much healthier would our walks be if we just admitted to our sin like this, even if only to God? Bitterness is a devastatingly painful and nasty emotion. God wants us to be free from it. This bitterness 2) pricked his heart. He couldn’t experience bitterness and then simply go on his way. It burrowed into his soul and this affected his walk with God. Bitterness is such a strong emotion that it touches everything.

I think that the proper summation of this part of the study is that envy leads to bitterness, which is powerful, and will spill over into other parts of your life. It can’t be contained.

Using Praying the Psalms Group Study Product
All Bible quotes ESV

Some Thoughts on Gnosticism

I think that creeping Gnosticism (unintentionally) infects some Christian thinking today. This is a danger. I keep wanting to use this word in my posts, as opposition to Gnosticism is important to me. However, properly defining the term has to come first. Here are four approaches.

1. definition:

Google Gnosticism

2. definition:

Dictionary Gnosticism

3. Dr. Benjamin Wiker, a Roman Catholic ethicist, provides good overviews of both the 2nd century and modern forms of Gnosticism in this article. While the article carries on at length concerning the modern form (and is worth reading), his definition of the ancient form is succinct:

The heresy of Gnosticism had its origin in paganism but burst into full flower in its disruption of early Christianity. At its heart is a hatred of the material world, in particular, the human body. Gnostics rejected the material world as the evil creation of an inferior Demiurge, the world-making deity that the Gnostic heretics identified with Creator God revealed in the Old Testament. Against the orthodox understanding of the goodness of all creation, they believed that the material world was irredeemable, and therefore that human redemption meant salvation of the immaterial soul — the divine spark—from its imprisonment. (emphasis mine)

4. The Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry (CARM) has a page. Not much difference here:

Gnosticism taught that salvation is achieved through special knowledge (gnosis). This knowledge usually dealt with the individual’s relationship to the transcendent Being.

You can see the opportunity for abuse here: certain individuals possessing special knowledge can abuse anyone’s interest in receiving this knowledge. In contrast, the gospel is free.

Gnosticism is protean. It appears here as an obsession in the difference between body and soul; over there as a fixation on the distinction between the visible and invisible church. These are the two main problems with it in the church today.

Adam did not have a soul breathed into his body by God; he had life breathed into him, and then became a living soul. His personhood was not some laminate of a body and a soul; he was a person and therefore had both. When Christians die, and their bodies decay in the earth while their souls fly to heaven, this is a temporary state, and not glorious. The glorified, permanent state happens when body and soul are reunited after the resurrection.

Likewise, while the distinction between the visible and invisible church is real, it only exists because of human limitations. God knows His bride. He is not double-minded on the one He loves and died for. We must make this distinction because we do not know God’s eternal decrees before they are made manifest at the last day. Unfortunately, an over-reliance on this distinction usually elevates the invisible over the visible, as if the former were more real, and the latter more suspect (see the Gnosticism inherent in that?) As men, we ought to be more humble and realize that the visible/invisible distinction is about our limitations, not any actual division.

Psalm 126 Study

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 126 (see notes)

This is a Song of Ascents (Psalms 120-134). There are many explanations for this subtitle but there does not seem to be any consensus. One explanation is that these psalms were sung by the Levites as they ascended the fifteen steps from the Holy Temple courtyard to the inner section of the courtyard. Other ideas Read more

Is the United States Christian?

There are many Christians in the United States, so the knee-jerk obvious answer to  this question is “yes.” However, I did not by the modifier “Christian” refer to the percentage of the people claiming to be Christian in our country. I refer to something different. See Connecticut’s Fundamental Orders, agreed to in 1639. They specifically refer to Jesus Christ and the Gospel; it’s a small example, but it shows that the leaders of that community were willing use the Bible as their rule of faith and life. The modifier in this case means, “Is the civil government self-consciously acting as a ministry of Jesus Christ?” Note: I did not write, “Is the civil government self-consciously acting as a ministry of God?” A Christian who affirms the divinity of Christ would not sense a difference; but there is a difference to the non-believer.

In every endeavor the people involved in it must refer to a source of law; a court of final appeal. This place, person or thing is the lawgiver and should really be viewed as the god of that endeavor. Even atheists have a god, a court of final appeal (man’s reason). What is the court of final appeal, the lawgiver, the god of the U.S. Constitution? Why, the People! we_the_people More to the point, it is the People’s will to which the U.S. Constitution appeals as its god. This is an idol, pure and simple.

Seriously, do the following exercise: click through here, press Ctl-F (which opens up a search window in your browser), and search for Jesus in the U.S. Constitution. You won’t find Him there.

While more could be written about this (such as: how to interpret the will of the People), the problem with a nation using an idol as its court of final appeal is that you can’t really depend on it to: 1) provide good laws, and, even if it could, 2) remain in this state of virtue. The interpreted “People” is a fallible and changeable construct.

That is why Christians ought to view American society, and especially the American state, as non-Christian.

Psalm 106 Study – Part II

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 106 (see notes)

Question 4. Verses 16-18. What is the third kind of sin the Psalmist remembers and confesses? What examples of this have you seen in yourself and others?

16When men in the camp were jealous of Moses and Aaron, the holy one of the Lord,
17the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan, and covered the company of Abiram.
18Fire also broke out in their company; the flame burned up the wicked.

The third kind of sin the Psalmist remembers is the sin of envy. The rebellion of Korah, Read more

Psalm 106 Study (Part I)

Sycamore Presbyterian Church Friday Men’s Bible Study Psalm 106 (see notes)

Question 1. Verses 4-6 How does the Psalmist relate his own personal sins to the sins and prospects of his people? How is this instructive for us?

4Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people;
help me when you save them,
5that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation, that I may glory with your inheritance.
6Both we and our fathers have sinned; we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.

The Psalmist wants to be included in the rolls of God’s people. When God saves them he wants to be saved; when God gives them prosperity, gladness, glory and an inheritance, Read more

Institutes – Prefatory Address Question 2

Prefatory Address Question 2: What do we learn about the situation of the Protestant cause in France from Calvin’s Prefatory Address to King Francis I, the Author’s Preface of his Psalms commentary, and his reply to Sadoleto?

After Calvin’s conversion to (what later became known as) Protestantism in 1533, he was implicated in the Affair of the Placards of 1534, in which posters criticizing the Roman Church (RC) view of the Eucharist were found in certain French cities; one such placard was posted to the bedchamber door of King Francis I, who became alarmed. In response, Read more

Institutes – Prefatory Address Question 1

Prefatory Address Question 1: How does Calvin’s aim in writing the Institutes differ from the reason or aim in many serious works on theology today?

Calvin himself listed the reasons he wrote the Institutes. One was to provide a basic understanding of the way of salvation, or in other words an understanding of the whole Bible and what it teaches us about God, man and the church. His aim was to structure the Institutes along the lines of the Apostle’s Creed, so that the first book would be about God the Father, the second about Christ as Redeemer (which includes his section on man), the third about the Holy Spirit (who applies Christ to His elect), and the last about the church. Calvin thought that if he wrote Bible commentaries, he would have to spend a lot of time explaining basics to his reader; to keep these brief, he chose to provide his readers with the Institutes. Read more

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