Mercy and Faithfulness, Full of Stars

This next psalm is one that clearly contrasts the wicked with the righteous, but it is not a psalm of imprecation. An imprecatory prayer is when we ask God to deal with the wicked in a particular way. This is more of an “oracle” about the nature of transgression and righteousness; it is teaching, not a request.

The transgression of the wicked saith within my heart, that there is no fear of God before their eyes . . .

(Ps. 36:1-12).

Psalm 36 divides readily into three sections. The first section is a description of the nature of the wicked man, as well as an outline of his downward spiral (vv. 1-4). The second section describes four attributes of God, in glorious language, and then moves on to describe the blessings of the righteous, those who live in fellowship with this God (vv. 5-9). And the third section (vv. 10-12) is a prayer for protection, along with a prediction that the wicked will fall.

First is the issue of functional atheism. All the problems that the wicked have proceed from the first problem, the root problem. He has no fear of God before his eyes (v. 1). He may say he believes in God, but he is a functional atheist. How does he get into this deplorable condition? The reason is given here, in the word for. Why does he not fear God? In the first place, he flatters himself, and he does this to the extent that he is unable to see his own iniquity (v. 2). It is too hateful for him to consider, not so hateful that he repents of it. He begins speaking words of iniquity and deceit, and then veers off the path of wisdom and goodness (v. 3). He becomes a disciple of evil, devising mischief on his bed instead of sleeping (v. 4). The righteous meditate on the law of God both day and night (Ps. 1:2), and they use their time in bed to think about the goodness of God (Ps. 63:6). The wicked man, by contrast, does the evil he does on purpose. He sets himself in a way that is not good, and he does not detest evil (v. 4). This is the same kind of downward progress that we see in the first chapter of Romans.

But how good is God? David then describes God for us, and he does so with some powerful metaphors. The attributes of God that are mentioned here are mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice. How are they described? God’s mercy is in the heavens (v. 5). How merciful is God to you? Well, how much sky is over your head? The same thing is said about His faithfulness to keep His promises recorded for us in Scripture. His faithfulness reaches up to the clouds (v. 5). His righteousness is like a vast mountain range, solid, immoveable, majestic, and serene (v. 6). And His justice is like the enormity of the ocean, the great deep (v. 6). In God, we live and move and have our being. Is God good to you? Picture yourself sailing out at sea. To starboard you can see a mountain range extending as far up the coast as you can make out. All you can see there is righteousness. To port is a vast expanse of thousands of miles, deeper than anything you can fashion an idea of — nothing but justice. Both of these together might terrify you, but over your head and in every direction, there is nothing but mercy and faithfulness, full of stars.

We want to grow up into a fat faith. God’s mercy (lovingkindness) is mentioned again, the second bookend (v. 7). His mercy is excellent, and this is why we can take refuge in Him. We come under the shadow of His wings. When we take refuge in Him, we quickly discover that we are not in some divine bomb shelter. This is more like Rivendell than it like an indestructible bunker.

What is it like there? What blessings do the godly receive? First, they are more than satisfied with the fatness of God’s house. The word for “abundantly satisfied” can be rendered as sated, or inebriated. And what are we satisfied with? God’s house is not a lo-fat kind of place. The fat is the Lord’s; it is offered to the Lord, and He returns it to us. “My souls shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness; and my mouth shall praise thee with joyful lips” (Ps. 63:5). The era of the new covenant is a time of overwhelming blessing. “And in this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wine on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined” (Is. 25:6).

Scripture presents to us a God who loves to be God with wild abandon. He overflows. He does not parcel out His blessings with tea spoons. God has a river, and it is a river of pleasures, a river of delights, and He makes us drink from it. The original here is referring to a river of Edens. At His right hand are pleasures forevermore (Ps. 16:11). In His presence is fullness of joy (Ps. 16:11). With God is the fountain of life (v. 9). In His light we are enabled to see light (v. 9). It is almost impossible to think that St. John wrote what he did without having this passage in mind. “In him was life; and the life was the light of men” (John 1:4).

O Lord, continue your mercy to those who know You (v. 10), and Your righteousness to those whose hearts are upright (v. 10). There is antipathy between the wicked (vv. 1-4) and those who are blessed in the way just described (vv. 5-9). The request made, the psalmist points with his finger across the battlefield — he sees bodies cast down, and they are not able to rise (v. 12).

But here is the rub: The psalm began with a description of the wicked who had no fear of God before his eyes. But which God does he not take into account? Why, this one, the one described here in this pslam. And when we realize this, we should see that many who have been called “godly” are also men who have never taken this kind of God into account either. The true God is prodigal with His blessings. He wastes all kinds of stuff. He just throws it around. The true God does not stint. He invites us to come to heaven, which is an everlasting torrent of pleasures and delights, cascading grace. Why do we come into His presence cringing? Afraid that He is only interested in taking things away? What is it to believe this slander? I am afraid that it is the font of all wickedness. It is functional atheism.

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