Saturday, November 29, 2014

The Psalm and the Sacramental Scattering

Do not slay them, lest my people forget;
Scatter them by Your power,
And bring them down,
O Lord our shield.
For the sin of their mouth and the words of their lips,
Let them even be taken in their pride,
And for the cursing and lying which they speak.
Consume them in wrath, consume them,
That they may not be;
And let them know that God rules in Jacob
To the ends of the earth. Selah”
(Psalm 59:11-13, N.K.J.V.).

When we consider the frequency of the verb “forget” in the Old Testament, we learn a bit about it. After the Psalter itself, the verb שכח occurs most in Deuteronomy (covenant renewed after the passing of a faithless generation) and Jeremiah (old covenant broken, new covenant promised). Forgetting is a threat to members of the covenant – the Church. The Psalm prays that unbelievers be scattered and not immediately judged to counter covenant unfaithfulness (forgetting).

The presence of hostile unbelievers as they besiege the camp of believers is sacramental. I’m not saying it is a sacrament (there are only two, baptism and the Lord’s Supper), but that it is sacramental (acts similarly to a sacrament). What do I mean by this?

The Westminster Divines describe a sacrament as that which makes clear “a visible difference between those that belong unto the Church, and the rest of the world” (Westminster Confession of Faith, 27.1) and something to “distinguish them from those who are without” (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q. 162). Further, sacraments confer a “grace” which is “the work of the Spirit,” which contains a “word of institution” or “promise of benefit to worthy receivers” (W.C.F. 27.3). Christ gives a sacrament “to signify, seal, and exhibit unto those that are within the covenant of grace the benefits of His mediation, to strengthen and increase their faith” (W.L.C., Q. 162).

Christ is the lone Mediator between God and man (1 Timothy 2:5). He is also the eternal Heir to David’s throne (Luke 1:31,32,68-75; Revelation 22:16). The Psalms not only speak of Him (Luke 24:44), but as the inspired songs of the Spirit of Christ, they are the Son’s very prayers.

The Son, then, in Psalm 59, prays that the besiegers do not immediately find destruction, but are scattered. It is the Mediator-King’s prayer on behalf of God’s people. This scattering marks a difference between the Church and the world, since the work of Christ is not to scatter His people, but gather them (Matthew 24:31//Mark 13:27; John 11:52; 2 Thessalonians 2:1). The scattering of the besiegers also strengthens the faith of those in the new covenant, preventing their forgetfulness (Psalm 59:11).

The continual existence of the enemies of the Church (until the last Day) keeps the Church from lapsing into apathetic forgetfulness. For now, the serpent is kept from deceiving “the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for the war” (Revelation 20:8). In this Age, the Church is gathered and the nations remain scattered by the Psalm 59:11 prayer of the Mediator-King. He does not outright destroy them – otherwise we would be tempted to forget the covenant. The scattering of the enemies is our preservation.

The scattering of the enemies of the Church also serves the Gospel mission of this Age, for the Church is created in every generation out of these scattered enemies. “...when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son” (Romans 5:10). The Age will one day end. The continued existence of those who hate the Church is one way Christ preserves our faith (so that we do not forget our need for Him) and the means by which the Church is propagated (the Church grows through enemies converted). However, Christ (in Psalm 59:13) also prays for the coming Day of judgment.

Until that Day, we should regard the hatred of the world toward the Church as a gracious reminder of Christ’s sovereign defense and preservation of the Church (the Church outlasts every nation in history, no matter how mighty or determined to destroy the Church that nation is). We do not forget (hear the echoes of the “remembrance” from the Lord’s Supper, Luke 22:19//1 Corinthians 11:24,25) and therefore are held in the new covenant. The continued existence of those who hate us is Christ’s preserving grace to us.

“What if God, wanting to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much longsuffering the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had prepared beforehand for glory, even us whom He called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?” (Romans 9:22-24).

Rather than hand-wringing, give Him thanks and purpose to grow in faithfulness to Him and His mission (to see some from out of His enemies saved). Instead of scattering (a sign of judgment from the Mediator-King), let us gather in Him.

“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching” (Hebrews 10:23-25).

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