There is a true theological balancing act that is able to handle two very different sentiments that are both found in Scripture. The first is the response of a humble servant of Christ—“So likewise ye, when ye shall have done all those things which are commanded you, say, We are unprofitable servants: we have done that which was our duty to do” (Luke 17:10). We are to say that we are unprofitable servants, and when we do that, we are doing no more than what we were told to say. But what does the Lord say to us? “His lord said unto him, Well done, thou good and faithful servant: thou hast been faithful over a few things, I will make thee ruler over many things: enter thou into the joy of thy lord” (Matt. 25:21). How do we reconcile the two? To paraphrase Spurgeon from a similar topic, we don’t need to reconcile them. Why reconcile friends?
“O God, my heart is fixed; I will sing and give praise, Even with my glory. Awake, psaltery and harp: I myself will awake early. I will praise thee, O Lord, among the people: And I will sing praises unto thee among the nations. For thy mercy is great above the heavens: And thy truth reacheth unto the clouds. Be thou exalted, O God, above the heavens: And thy glory above all the earth . . .”Psalm 108:1-13
Summary of the Text:
The one who would worship God rightly should be settled in his intention. O God, my heart is fixed (v. 1). He will sing and praise, and will do so with his glory, which is likely his tongue, his faculty of speech. He wakes up his instruments in order to give himself to the task; he wakes himself up early to do it (v. 2). He will praise God among the people, and sing praises among the nations (v. 3). God’s mercy is great above the heavens, and His truth stacks up to the clouds (v. 4). The exaltation that is rendered to God, therefore, ought to reach as high as His mercy and truth do (v. 5)—which is above the heavens, above the earth.
The psalmist refers to himself as God’s beloved, and asks God to save him with His right hand. Answer me, he says (v. 6). God is holy, and He speaks in His holiness (v. 7). Then David as king rejoices in what God has granted to him—Shechem and the valley of Succoth (v. 7). Gilead and Manasseh are now his (v. 8). Ephraim is the strength of his head (v. 8), and Judah is his lawgiver (v. 8). We then come to the odd image of a wash pot and a thrown shoe. I take it this way. Moab is the basin that some slave uses to wash David’s feet, and Edom is another slave that is stooping on the floor. David, having taken his shoe off for the washing, throws his shoe over the slave (v. 9). Philistia has been defeated also, and David triumphs (v. 9).
Who is going to bring about his conquest of the strong city in Edom (v. 10)? God, is it not you? You have cast us off before, but not now. Not this time. Will You not go out with our armies (v. 11)? God, give us help in our trouble, for the help of man is vain and empty (v. 12). We are God’s instruments, and we shall do valiantly. We shall do valiantly because we are not really the ones doing it. It is He that shall tread down our enemies (v. 13).
That Balance Within the Psalm:
“Give us help from trouble: For vain is the help of man. Through God we shall do valiantly: For he it is that shall tread down our enemies” (Ps. 108:12–13).
David is looking for tangible help in a physical battle. How can he take the strong city in Edom? And so he asks for the help of God in this trouble because, as he says, the help of man is vain (v. 12). Vain. Futile. Worthless. Inconsequential. The victory, when it comes, is through God. David says that it is through God because He, God, is the one who is going to tread down the enemy (v. 13). But with all this said, David does not sit down on a sofa to watch the battle from afar. He does not expect God to smite the adversary with lightning bolts from the open sky. “Through God we shall do valiantly.”
He does not sit down in a cushy spot in order to say, “Let’s see what God does.” He pulls his sword from the scabbard and says, “Let’s see what God does.”
So how do we relate the action of God to the actions of men?
God Over All:
God is always God, absolute and sovereign, and man is always man, finite and limited. We need not concern ourselves with God’s sovereignty over inanimate objects—that presents no difficulty at all. The challenge for us is when we are dealing with beings who have free agency. They are not puppets, and yet . . . God directs them perfectly as well.
Sentient creatures who make choices can be divided into two categories—rebels on the one hand and sons and daughters on the other. The rebels choose wickedly, but their choices are overridden by God such that they accomplish the opposite of what was intended. Remember Herod, Pontius Pilate, and all the Jews (Acts 4:27-28). And if the rulers of this age had known what the crucifixion would accomplish, they would not have engineered it (1 Cor. 2:8). They all had true freedom, but it was not freedom to win.
Sons and daughters lay down their arms, and surrender to Him. In the course of His kindness to them, He gives them everything. But what He gives, on the basis of our new justified status, He gives into us. And we then work it out.
Working In, Working Out:
“To whom God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory: Whom we preach, warning every man, and teaching every man in all wisdom; that we may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus: Whereunto I also labour, striving according to his working, which worketh in me mightily” (Col. 1:27–29).
“Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure” (Phil. 2:12–13).
Shall we, like David, do valiantly? Yes, we shall, but that valiant spirit has to be given to us first. Shall we be Christ-like as we overcome in His name? Yes, we shall. But first . . . the Christ must be given.