Gospel Logic in Psalm 42-43

Gospel Logic Replaces Personal Sorrow with Heavenly Promises.  

Nowhere is this method of mental and emotional exchange more evident than in Psalm 42-43. Following the train of thought begun with the gospel logic of Abraham and Moses, today we will turn from descriptive prose to two enumerated lists to unpack the plight experienced by the sons of Korah, as well as the promises that these descendents of Levite looked to in order to find hope.

Six Causes for Spiritual Depression

In his exposition on Psalm 42, James M. Boice designates six causes of spiritual depression.  This is not an exhaustive list in these Psalms or in life, but they are real and prevalent among Christians striving for godliness.  According to Boice, the Psalmist is in the depth of despair as a result of . . .

  1. Forced absence from the temple of God, where God was worshiped (42:1-2).
  2. The taunts of unbelievers (42:3, 10).
  3. Memories of better days (42:4).
  4. The overwhelming trials of life (42:7).
  5. Failure of God to act quickly on our behalf (42:9).
  6. Attacks from ungodly, deceitful, and wicked persons (43:1).
Add to this list any personal maladies, physical pains, relational strife, and just the stuff of life, and you will find that the concoction in Psalm 42-43 is enough to plunge anyone into the depths of despair.  Yet, Psalm 42-43 is not just an example of how a Christian complains.  It is an example of how a hurting Christian hopes!  Like Abraham and Moses, he reasons from the gospel an exchanges deadly thoughts for thoughts of life and light.

Four Spirit-Powered Acts of Faith

Godly living depends entirely on the grace of God to reach us and sustain us.  Unless God takes the first step, we would remain spiritual dead and buried by the avalanche of our own despair.  However, for those who have received the light of life and the power of the Holy Spirit who “causes us to walk in God’s statutes,” there is an invitation and indeed an expectation that children of God who have the spirit of adoption prompting them to pray would take ahold of God’s and draw near to the father by faith in order to find grace (cf. 2 Cor 4:6; Ezek 36:26-27; Rom 8:16-17; James 4:8; Heb 4:14-16).

This is exactly what we find in Psalm 42-43.  For sake of space and time, we will only focus on Psalm 42:5-11.

  1. Gospel Logic speaks to your soul; it does not listen (v. 5). The Psalms beckon us to talk to ourselves.  Often when we see people talking to themselves, we can think that they are a little crazy.  However, Psalms like this one and others (cf. Ps 103) teach us that the crazy ones are those who simply listening to the nagging, complaining, angry voices that ricochet in their heart.  God’s word gives us soothing, healing, liberating truths that free us from sin and enable us to run to Christ.  Like the Gerasene demoniac, when we listen to God’s words we will find a peace that we previously did not know (Mark 4).  Therefore, continue to give ear to God’s word.  Learn how to preach the promises–not the law–to yourself!  Talk to others who have learned the art of speaking the gospel to themselves, and then go do likewise.
  2. Gospel Logic inquires of the heart, but is not ensnared by the heart (v. 6). Gospel logic does not tell you “to fake it until you make it.”  Rather, it calls us to assess the condition of my heart, but not to be mastered by my heart and the polluted feelings that emit from it.  God has given us feelings as a thermometer for the spiritual condition of our inner self.  But notice, while the heart takes the temperature of our spiritual condition, it should not set the temperature.  God’s word and the Holy Spirit should.  Our heart is desperately sick and incapable of giving me a good reading on how I am doing.  Paul said in 1 Corinthians 4:4 that even if “I am not aware of anything against myself, . . .  I am not thereby acquitted.”  Likewise, John insinuates that at times his heart condemns him, but that God is greater than his heart (1 Jn 3:19-20).  Do you see what Paul, John, and the Korahites are saying? Inquire of your heart, but do not become ensnared by it.  Look to God’s gospel, and live your life in its liberating light.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set you free!” (Gal 5:1; cf. John 8:32).
  3. Gospel Logic dwells on God’s whereabouts, not yours (v. 6-10).  Too often, we let external circumstances determine our demeanor, our decisions, and the level of our despair.  Psalm 42-43 does the opposite.  In a land far from God’s dwelling place, it remembers the goodness of the Lord in the dwelling of his temple, and it hopes again that a day of return is coming.  While the devil and his minions taunt us, our hope is not found in our conditions, but in our Christ.  And as Romans 8:32 promises, there is nothing that God will not give to those for whom Christ died.  Take heart. Look to back to the cross. Look ahead to the new creation.  Stop looking around to judge your feelings.  Look up (Ps 121)! Look ahead. Those who endure with Christ, will be received in Christ!
  4. Gospel Logic repeats the promises of God until truth conquers fear (v. 11). We are always tempted to quit.  We read God’s word for a day or maybe two and we can expect immediate change.  However, it doesn’t usually work that way.  God’s word often works in slower, more imperceptible ways.  It works the way a healthy diet cleanses the blood and strengthens the heart.  It renews the mind over time, rarely does the onset of Bible reading function like a blood transfusion or a heart transplant.  Thus, keep reading!  Keep memorizing!  Keep listening to sermons!  Don’t give up.  God never abandons his word and he never abandons those who seek him in the regular reading of his word.

Let these encouragements press you back to the Bible, and from the Bible back to the Lord.  Too many times I encounter “good Christians” whose lives are in shambles because they are wallowing in the mire, instead of lifting their Bibles and trusting the words God has given them.  They know the key, but they fail to apply it to the lockers of their heart.  Yet, I believe if they would only take up God’s word and read they would find the solace and strength that they so desire.

Friend, let us plunge ourselves into the living water of God’s word and find how satisfying his word truly is.  As Psalm 119:25 urges, “My soul clings to dust; give me life according to your word!”

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

Moses’ Gospel Logic

Yesterday, we saw how Abraham wrestled with God’s word in order to believe his promise (Gen 15:6) and to sacrifice his son (Gen 22:1ff).  We called such thinking that gave precedence to God’s revelation over our reasonable (or unreasonable) feelings “Gospel Logic.”  Today, we turn to Exodus 32 to see how Moses engaged in the same kind of thinking.

A Sinful People in Need of Something…

1 Corinthians 10 points to Exodus 32 as a universal example of what not to do. Poised to receive God’s order of service for true worship, Israel gets impatient (Exod 32). They hire Aaron to make new gods, and on one of the forty days that Moses in on the Mount of Sinai, the people of Israel sin against God and break the covenant that had just been ratified in Exodus 24.

On the mountain, Moses receives word from the Lord, “And the LORD said to Moses, “Go down, for your people, whom you brought up out of the land of Egypt, have corrupted themselves. They have turned aside quickly out of the way that I commanded them. They have made for themselves a golden calf and have worshiped it and sacrificed to it and said, ‘These are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt!'” (Exod 32:7-8).

What is Moses to do?

On the way down the mountainside, he hears the drunken sound of pagan worship in the camp (32:18-20).  He gets to the base camp, and he smashes the tablets.  The covenant is broken.  In the scenes that follow, Moses inquires of Aaron (32:22-24) and commissions the sons of Levi to slaughter their own family members in order to avert the wrath of God (32:25-29).  The day is done.  The people are undone.  Night falls.

Exodus 32:30 records a new day.  The day of judgment has passed, but the threat of the plague remains (v. 35).  What will Moses do?  Surely he was thinking the same thing.  The covenant people of Israel have broken their wedding vows, and something must be done.  Not a passive man, Moses sets off to inquire of God telling the people, “You have sinned a great sin.  And I will go up to the Lord, . . . ” (32:30).

What would he do?  What would he say?  The rest of verse tells us, “perhaps I can make atonement for your sins.”

Atonement.  This is what the people needed.  But how would he accomplish this.  The plans for the tabernacle were destroyed.  The sin was so great, and God’s holiness was so much greater what would he do?  How would he plead his case?  Such questions lead us to see how Moses reckoned the matter, and in his offer, we will see how gospel logic at work.

Moses Gospel Logic: From Sinai to Eden and Back Again

To understand fully how Moses might have arrived at his self-sacrificing offer, we need to consider the antecedent theology that Moses would have had, and that he would have drawn upon to plead his case and make his offer.

Atonement, and the need for blood sacrifice, was common throughout the ancient near east.  Accordingly, Israel as they worshiped around the golden altar made sacrifices.  While they needed divine instruction for true sacrifices, they did not need information on how to sacrifice.  While they did not have the book of Exodus, they had ample knowledge of the sacrifices offered In Egypt.

But where did these come from?  From God, where else?  Pagan sacrifices are echoes of the first sacrifice, the one God made in the Garden.  Indeed, sacrifice in general terms was imprinted on human civilization from the Garden of Eden forward. Remember: When Adam and Eve sinned they needed a covering, and so God killed an animal an clothed them.  The seed of substitution was sown in this act, and it was passed from God to Adam to Abel.

(For a biblical exposition of these patriarchal and pagan sacrifices, see William Symington, On the Atonement and Intercession of Jesus Christ [1834], pp. 66-92; likewise, for a helpful explanation of the way pagan worship corresponds to the original pattern passed down from Adam and Noah, see Jeffrey Niehaus, Ancient Near Eastern Themes in Biblical Theology)

As the biblical testimony goes, not all offerings were of equal value.  In Genesis 4, Abel’s offering was based on his faith (Heb 11), but what was his faith in?  Surely, it based on the revelation conveyed to Cain and Abel’s parents, modeled in Genesis 3, that said bloodshed was needed. By contrast, Cain’s offering was faithless, because he refused to believe the need for shed blood.  Instead of substitutionary offering, he brought fruit from the field.  His offering was not according to God’s word, it did not substitute life for life, and thus it was not acceptable to the Lord.

If Moses was indeed retracing the history of God’s atonement and means of provision, he would have next thought of Abraham and Isaac.  In what would become Genesis 22, YHWH commands Abraham to offer his son. This is far more than an animal sacrifice, something Abraham (and Moses) had done plenty of times.  Now, God was upping the ante.  He was testing Abraham (22:1), and he was setting in redemptive history a portrait of a substitution—a divinely provided lamb in place of Abraham’s seed (people of faith).

Like Abel, Abraham had to make this offering in faith–faith in God’s word.  As we saw yesterday, this is exactly what God’s friend did.  Thus, he believed that God could raise his son from the dead.  If indeed Moses was pondering all that God had revealed to him in the law on Sinai, and all that God had done in Israel’s history, it is little wonder that Moses concluded that perhaps his own substitution might become the means by which Israel would be saved.

Putting this gospel logic in dramatic prose, James M. Boyce imagines what the night might have been like,

The night passed, and the morning came when Moses was to reascend the mountain.  He had been thinking.  Sometime during the night a way that might possibly divert the wrath of God against the people had come to him.  He remembered the sacrifices of the Hebrew patriarchs and the newly instituted sacrifice of the Passover.  Certainly God had shown by such sacrifices that he was prepared to accept an innocent substitute in place of the just death of the sinner.  His wrath could sometimes fall on the substitute.  Perhaps God would accept… When morning came, Moses ascended the mountain with great determination. Reaching the top, he began to speak to God (Quoted in Philip Graham Ryken, Exodus, 1013).

Concluding Thoughts

Like Abraham, Moses practiced Gospel Logic.  He reflected on the character of God, God’s revealed word, the sin of the people, and like Abraham who reckoned that God could raise the dead, Moses conjectured, maybe, just maybe God might take me in place of my people.  So Moses, with boldness and selfless love for God’s sinful people laid himself on the altar: “No if you would on forgive their sin.  But if not”–and here is where the offer comes–“please me from the book You have written” (Exod 32:32).

In the end, his offer is not accepted (32:33-34), but not because the idea is wrong, but because the substitute is blemished.  Even though Moses was not complicit in the crime, he was a son of Adam and by nature incapable of atoning for the sins of the people.  Relatively speaking, he was innocent, but time would reveal that in his own heart lay a dark distrust for God and a willingness to strike the rock when God said speak (Num 20:10-13).

Moses was not the perfect substitute.  Yet, his intercession foreshadows the one whose self-sacrifice would be accepted.  Moses receives God’s word to continue to lead the people which implies that the story will continue, the hope of the true Messiah remains. This is good news for Moses, Israel, and us.  And Moses example of wrestling with the Lord like Abraham and Jacob should remind us to press into the truths of God’s word and to find solace in the darkest nights.

When God’s wrath was ready to consume Israel, Moses Gospel Logic reckoned that “perhaps” he could intercede.  We must reckon in the same fashion, not that we can intercede for others (although see Paul in Romans 9).  No, we must reckon with greater  confidence that because in Jesus Christ there is no “perhaps,” all that we ask in his name will be accomplished.  This is God’s promise to us in John 14:13-14, and it is based on the inexhaustible merits of Christ.  In his priestly service, Jesus was gladly received by the Father, and as the Father’s beloved Son, all that he does and asks, is answered.  This is our good news.

May such knowledge of our great high priest comfort us today, and beckon us not to lose heart for tomorrow.

Soli Deo Gloria, dss