Psalm 7:1 A shiggaion of David, which he sang to the LORD concerning Cush, a Benjamite.
“O LORD my God, I take refuge in you; save and deliver me from all who pursue me,
2 or they will tear me like a lion and rip me to pieces with no-one to rescue me.
3 O LORD my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands–
4 if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or without cause have robbed my foe–
5 then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust. Selah
6 Arise, O LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice.
7 Let the assembled peoples gather round you. Rule over them from on high;
8 let the LORD judge the peoples. Judge me, O LORD, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High.
9 O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure.
10 My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart.
11 God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day.
12 If he does not relent, he will sharpen his sword; he will bend and string his bow.
13 He has prepared his deadly weapons; he makes ready his flaming arrows.
14 He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment.
15 He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made.
16 The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head.
17 I will give thanks to the LORD because of his righteousness and will sing praise to the name of the LORD Most High.”
David prayed this prayer when he was being hounded by a man named Cush the Benjamite. We know nothing whatsoever about this fellow. Of course all the world knows so much about David, but all the information anyone has about this enemy of his is this, he was a man and his name was Cush of the tribe of Benjamin. Full stop. He made the vilest allegations about David, that the king had guilt on his hands (v.3), that David had done evil to some innocent man who’d been living at peace with David (v.4), and that the king was a downright thief (v.4). Why Cush said those things we don’t know. He was a trouble maker full of menace, and in this period in David’s life Cush and his supporters were relentless in their opposition to the king. They wouldn’t stop their attempts to destroy him, and if they could have laid their hands on him they’d have torn him into pieces – like a lion devouring its prey, ripping him apart (v.2) and David felt very much on his own. The Benjamite called Cush ruled the roost and the king said there’s “no one to rescue me” (v.2). David was under considerable pressure.
When do the pressures get so great that you decide to quit? A friend of mine was in a similar condition. He was meeting sustained, relentless opposition. There were very real threats made against him, the media knew about his troubles while he was giving 100% of his life for the future of the gospel. One night he was sitting down considering the situation and wondering had the time come when he’d have to quit. He came to the conclusion that three things would have to happen first. This is what he said:
i] “The first one would be my death. I may never get to write the letter of resignation, but I’m assuming that they’ll figure it out when I’m dead.”
ii] “The second would be the disqualification that stems from personal immorality. The scripture is very clear about that.
iii] “The third would be if I were forced to violate my conscience in order to hold on to my position, and that can happen. If someone had come and said, ‘Look, the only way we’re going to be able to continue this fight is to back off from the theological issues, and go soft on biblical convictions,’ then I couldn’t stay and carry on the fight.”
So my friend Al wrote down those three things on an index card, Death, Immorality and Integrity – and he still has that card. He said, “I would quit over any of those things, but concerning any other matters there’s no reason for me to quit.” Then he added this; “The one thing that emphatically does not belong on that list is failure. A fear of failure is the absolute worst reason to quit. Sometimes the most glorious ‘success’ for the glory of God seems in the eyes of the world to be something that ended in failure.”
I ask you, who eventually knew total failure at the time David prayed this prayer, when Cush was trying to destroy David? It was Cush of course. Think of it; the only reference in the entire Word of God to this man who caused such an outburst of anguished praying in David is his name and tribe in small type at the beginning of Psalm Seven. No one has any other idea of who this man was, and no one ever will. In the judgment of history he’s a forgotten man. Big in those days, standing up to the king; the leader of the opposition; things then seemed to be hanging in the balance, would he triumph over David or not? Well, he didn’t, and Cush has left nothing more to posterity than the four letters of his name. He is a yesterday man and we are aware that such opponents of the gospel lived in the history of the church persecuting God’s people at the Inquisition and so on, but we have no idea of their names.
What was the name of the Samaritan village whose people threw out the Lord Jesus? No one has any idea. Who were all those in Asia who turned against Paul? No one knows. What were the names of the Galatian Judaizers? Nobody knows. Who were the envoys of the pope who sought to destroy Martin Luther? I don’t know. Which pope sought to silence him for ever? His name slips me. Pope Cush! Who were the magistrates who put John Bunyan in prison? Who has ever heard of them? What were the names of the bishops who prevented Wesley and Whitefield preaching inside churches driving them into streets and graveyards and fields to preach? It was a Bishop Cush and his cohorts. Who were the opponents of Charles Haddon Spurgeon during the Downgrade Controversy? You have to research to find out who they were. Who ever reads the writings of the modernists who opposed Warfield and Machen? Nobody. They gather dust on the shelves of second hand book shops and will rarely be read again. Yesterday’s men! Cush lives on in the 21st century, in the lives of those who oppose today’s servants of the Lord, and they are destined for the oblivion of Cush, forgotten men
, and yet they had a moment on centre stage when they threatened God’s faithful servants. How did David survive? When we are tempted to quit what are the things to keep in mind?
- REMEMBER TO GO TO THE THRONE OF GRACE.
This is what David did. He did not panic, or despair. We know that David was a far from perfect man; perhaps nobody here has behaved as badly as David, but even if he had never done those wretched actions, and lived as blamelessly as Daniel, yet when David is set down in the presence of God David is a nonentity – like all of us. Yet, the wonder is that within the immensity of our universe, living on this speck of dust called planet Earth, David could cry to the infinite, omnipotent Creator, “Save and deliver me” (v.1) and be heard. It was so very personal. He believed that the living God would hear and do what he asked for. What were Cush and all his gang before such a God? David was trusting in God’s loving care. It was nothing to God to have to deal with a multitude or just one solitary rebel. David knew that nothing was too great for God’s power; nothing was too small for his pity.
The Bible is fascinated with origins, and in the last verse of Genesis chapter four we are told, “At that time men began to . . .” what? Build houses? Surely they did, but that is not how that verse ends. Plough fields and grow plants? No. Domesticate wild oxen? They did but that is not what the verse says. “At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord” (Gen. 4:26). Right at the beginning of human history they prayed. There were no missionaries, and there were no evangelists. They were a very simple people and yet without any American or British influence at all these people instinctively called on the name of Jehovah. They had a conscience, and they had problems, and they saw God’s glory in creation. They knew the sin of their father Adam and their own sins. They knew the promise that God would send the Seed of the woman who would bruise the head of the serpent, and so they prayed.
One of the key moments of my life as a teenage Christian was the first time I went to a boys’ prayer meeting and heard them humbly pray, one by one. I had never attended any gathering of boys like that before, and it was so enjoyable. It spoiled me for anything else. I was strengthened in my faith by those meetings. Before you are tempted to quit, I urge you to call on the name of the Lord. Do so simply; bring your anguish to him. You understand what I’m saying? Give it up! I’m saying, ‘Don’t give up, but give it up.’ In other words, tell God, “There’s no way out of this. This problem of ours is yours. We are giving it over to you. If we perish, we perish, but we’re not going to quit. We may lose our salary, and lose our home, and lose our reputation, but we are not going to quit.” And when we have reached that point God often has his ways of comforting and strengthening us, precious ways.
My friend Al and his wife were sitting in their room together thinking of the mounting opposition and what might happen but still resolved to give it all over to God. Then suddenly they saw a piece of paper being pushed under the door. When they picked it up they discovered a note from their five year old daughter Katie. It said, “I love you Mommy and Daddy” and underneath her name a circle with a smile in it. They were choked up. Al thought immediately, “God was not in the fire, and God was not in the wind. He was in the still small voice.” The little whisper of a five year old girl who sensed her parents were in pain and so wrote a note saying, “I love you,” was more than enough to make them ready to face the world. They had prayed, and given it all over to the Lord and God used a child as a vessel of mercy. So, don’t quit. Go to the throne of grace.
- REMEMBER THAT LIFE IS LONG.
Now I am warning you about those times when you’re under stress about the danger of thinking short-term. I can remember forty years ago when there were certain members of this church unhappy with the changes that were brought about in my first years here. We went very deliberately in a new direction and a few people protested. This is how they grumbled, “You will be here for a few years and then off you’ll go.” In other words, they thought I was stirring things up, creating problems and tensions, and then I’d disappear and leave them with the mess, but I wasn’t thinking short-term, I was thinking in terms of commitment to this congregation and community, and living with the consequences of my ministry, maybe for the rest of my life. I wasn’t thinking in terms of quick results and superficial change.
Human life isn’t lived immediately and all at once. Our God gives us on average more than 70 years on this earth, and during that period he gives us different seasons. Now we can’t rely on the fact that our life will be long, but we have to assume that it’s going to have its periods of stress and strain, its testing times, its winter chills as well as its spurts of life, growth and harvest. That must be so in a groaning world. We know we have to keep planting, watering, and sowing to the Spirit. We’re not promised immediate gratification; we don’t get instant solutions to our problems. Maybe we thought in terms of a five-year plan, and that, we said to ourselves, was going to be the ‘cut off point’ in our fight, but it wasn’t like that. It never is like that. It is a long life and I am not going to find a man called Cush or any other opponent who is going to keep on for the rest of his life trying to destroy me. See what David prays here, “O righteous God . . . bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure” (v.9). Their lives and their opposition are going to end; be patient; wait on God. We smile as we deliberately misquote what we say is the most comforting phrase in the Bible, “And it came to pass . . .” Our worst days will come to an end.
- REMEMBER THAT LIFE IS SHORT.
We will soon be dead. They’re going to put us in a box, and put the box in a hole, and they’re going to shovel dirt over us and then go off to a hotel and eat quiche, sausage rolls and salad. Life is long, yes, but life is short too. It is a vapour. “See it! . . . Did you see it? Ah, it’s gone . . . There was a vapour there, do you know?” We are quickly aging. We really are; we take longer to get up out of a chair; we walk more slowly and get breathless sooner, while those who are healthy and those who are unhealthy are all going to share a common fate, the box, the earth shoveled over us and the bunch of memories.
Now one consequence of the brevity of life is this, that no matter how long our life will last we’re not going to get the job done. Do you know that? Are you facing up to that? The Christian is the only person on the planet who can die with a job undone. We never finish our ministries. There’ll always be a lot remaining. Our lives are in process. We leave problems behind us. There are going to be sermons un-preached, big texts still locked to the page, unexegeted and unapplied to a congregation, books of the Bible inadequately dealt with or ignored. There will be Christians left un-counseled, man
y Aberystwyth sinners never spoken to about their souls, and there will be new enemies after Cush is long forgotten who will be wishing we’d shut up and go away and die. I am saying that we are the only people on the planet who feel all right about that. It’s because we’re not the ones who get to complete the job. Christ will do that. We don’t get to finished this thing – God will complete it. My vocation isn’t to get the job done. No. That’s not my calling. I live, I retire and I die with half-finished work. My task is to address the duties providence brings to my life each day, big and small. What about finishing off my enemies? God will do that too; it is his work, and so David prays, “Arise, O Lord, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice” (v.6). Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord of eternal justice.
- REMEMBER THAT WE SHALL LIVE FOR EVER.
We can stand on the promenade and look out into the Irish Sea. How far can anyone see? As far as the horizon, but for us Christians how far do we look? To eternity; that is our horizon. Everything here is done in the light of eternity. Our sufferings are seen in the light of the glory that shall be revealed in us. Our enemies and conflicts are set before eternity. There was a German philosopher named Feuerbach and he said that Christianity was a religion of wishful longing, and Christians had conjured up heaven to create meaning in life – that there will yet come the judgment of the wicked and there will be the vindication of the righteous after death. Feuerbach said that if you take eternity seriously then the present is unimportant. That was his claim. It is like John Lennon saying, “Imagine there’s no heaven; above us only sky.”
No, my friends, we do not think that the present is unimportant, rather we believe the very opposite of those imaginations. If you understand that you have been made in the image of God, and for God, and to be with God and to be like God then the present moment is crucial; it is elevated, and trials are dignified, and justice will be done. We are living in a moral universe, and our lives and actions and words count. God who is from eternity to eternity sovereignly rules here and now. You are not reading these words by chance. Nothing happens by chance and so this moment is important.
So think of those two grieving parents whose little daughter was abducted from her bed while they were on holiday in Portugal. Who took her and what happened and where is she now? There were those accusations made by Cush against David, that he had done evil to those who were at peace with him, and that he had been a thief, and there was guilt on his hands. Was this true? What does David do? He looks to the God of the future, the Lord of eternity. David is content to leave it all in God’s hands; “Let the Lord judge the peoples. Judge me, O Lord, according to my righteousness, according to my integrity, O Most High” (v.8). It was a very small matter to David that these accusations had been made about him. His own conscience was clear. There are in the original three ‘if’s’ in verses three and four; “O LORD my God, if I have done this and there is guilt on my hands – if I have done evil to him who is at peace with me or [if] without cause have robbed my foe – then let my enemy pursue and overtake me; let him trample my life to the ground and make me sleep in the dust” (vv.2-5). David had a conscious void of offence before man and God. How precious that is. He could sleep at night. He could call for God suitably to punish him if any of Cush’s accusations were proved to be true. David thought in terms of the throne of judgment and his giving account of the deeds he’d done. What could be hidden from the “righteous God who searches minds and hearts” (v.9)? So life has meaning. It has the meaning of the God who made us in his image, created our conscience and has written the things of his law in every heart and so has imposed his values on every word and deed.
Someone protests, “What is your God doing now? While Arab and Jew kill one another and lots of children get hurt? Why doesn’t God intervene? Why doesn’t he act? Is he helpless? David answers, “God is a righteous judge, a God who expresses his wrath every day” (v.11). God’s wrath is revealed from heaven against the unrighteous and ungodly actions of men and women. “Yes,” you protest, “but what is this God doing now to stop all the suffering in the world?” I will tell you. He is restraining the situation everywhere; he is putting brakes on the wildness of men. Most of the world is not Gaza city, or Zimbabwe, or Afghanistan. God is good to all men and he has made his people light and salt in the world. God is also waiting in his longsuffering for people to repent and seek his mercy, but while he waits he is sharpening his sword of justice, bending and stringing his bow of his righteous judgments (v.12). He is preparing for the day of judgment. He will vindicate David and he will judge Cush. Today people say, “Well . . . you don’t know who to believe?” They try to look smart and say, “Well . . . there’s no smoke without a fire. Maybe what Cush said was true . . .” But one thing we know, and that is that God knows everything, and he will make it all plain one day, what happened to a little girl on holiday with her parents in Portugal, and who abducted her. Living for ever means we can handle better the crises of time. It will not be perplexity and injustice for ever. It will be soon enough when all sinners, murderers and rapists and liars will be dealt with by God. David cries, “Arise, O LORD, in your anger; rise up against the rage of my enemies. Awake, my God; decree justice” (v.6). He cries, “Let the Lord judge the peoples” (v.8). He cries, “O righteous God, who searches minds and hearts, bring to an end the violence of the wicked and make the righteous secure” (v.9). Now sinners hear me! Turn in repentance and cry mightily to God that he will have mercy on you. He knows all about you. He searches minds and hearts. You can get away with nothing. He will bring to an end the violence of the wicked, and yet his grace abounds to the worst of sinners. So why not to you? Don’t use the fact that others have done wickedness and got away with it as an excuse for not believing in God. What are you doing about your guilt? Have you gone to God?
- REMEMBER THERE ARE DIVINE JUDGMENTS THAT TAKE PLACE NOW.
Very briefly. Do you see what happens to men like Cush the Benjamite? “He who is pregnant with evil and conceives trouble gives birth to disillusionment. He who digs a hole and scoops it out falls into the pit he has made. The trouble he causes recoils on himself; his violence comes down on his own head” (vv.14-16). We don’t know how, and we don’t know when but Cush became a disillusioned man. He fell into the pit that he himself had dug. The trouble he caused recoiled on himself. His violence came down on his own head. There was an old minister and he would speak on this matter very solemnly. He could give examples that he had witnessed of how had God acted, sometimes (though not always) putting to silence those lying tongues which were maligning the righteous. God has done this throughout history in a variety of ways, by the hand of death, by the finger of time, by solemn instances of his dis
pleasure, and by unexpected disclosures of his providence when God acted and demonstrated irrefutably where the truth lay. “Commit thy way unto the Lord; trust also in him and he shall bring it to pass; and he shall bring forth thy righteousness as the light, and thy judgment as the noonday.” Of course these verses are chiefly commenting on the final judgment that will come upon all those men who are now pregnant with trouble. We do not invariably see judgment coming on men in their lifetime, but this world will ever be part of a moral universe made by the Holy One and no one can avoid the judgment of God
- REMEMBER TO FILL YOUR MINDS WITH GOD.
What is this psalm about? It’s not about Cush is it? It’s about God. There are about twenty references to God in the psalm. He’s the God of grace who hears us pray and answers us. He is the righteous judge. He searches minds and hearts. He is the Sovereign Protector of his people. Hear David say, “My shield is God Most High, who saves the upright in heart” (v.10). David had a very effective fire shield, and no weapon of Cush could penetrate it. It is God’s glory to save all the upright in heart. That is the theme of Hebrews chapter 11 isn’t it? Ordinary men and women believed in the Lord and they lived by faith in him. So kingdoms were subdued, and enemies were destroyed, and promises were obtained and righteous living was achieved, all by faith. Some were fed to the lions and others were sawn in two, but Christians are the only people who can die knowing that though they get killed their lives are hid with Christ in God. Their shield is God Most High. A preacher was having a very difficult time, and his friend was trying to comfort him. “It’s OK,” he said quietly, “I know God.” That changes everything, and so what are little things like facing votes of confidence, and losing your salary, and bouts of depression, and men sending you to Coventry? I am saying with a glorious sight of the eternal God no one – not even you – remembers the troubles you once had from a man called Cush. Someone asks, “But how can I know God?” I will give you three ways;
i] You will know God by the Bible. The Scriptures are given by inspiration of God. They say to us exactly what God wants them to say, to the jot and tittle. You protest and say, “But you can’t believe in the God of the Old Testament.” I say that this psalm is Old Testament, and Psalm 23, sung in most weddings and funerals, is Old Testament. But you refer me to the massacres of the heathen nations, or the apparent contradictions between numbers given for the same events in the books of Kings and Chronicles. You are not the first person to notice these. I wonder why do you go to controversial and disputed parts of the Bible? Why don’t you consider the heart of the Bible, the life and teaching and death and resurrection of Jesus Christ? I am asking you to consider the core claims about who Jesus is and whether he rose from the dead. Settle that before you reject the Bible for its more controversial teachings.
Timothy Keller of New York says, “If you don’t trust the Bible enough to let it challenge and correct your thinking, how could you ever have a personal relationship with God? In any truly personal relationship, the other person has to be able to contradict you. For example, if a wife is not allowed to contradict her husband, they won’t have an intimate relationship. There were two unpleasant movies called The Stepford Wives. The husbands of the fictional town of Stepford, Connecticut, decide to have their wives turned into robots who would never cross the wills of their husbands. A Stepford wife was wonderfully compliant and beautiful, but no one would describe such a marriage as intimate or personal. The film and the book are some lustful fantasy made by weaklings. It is a story that seeks to demean women who reverence their husbands.
“Now, what happens if you eliminate anything from the Bible that offends your sensibility and crosses your will? If you pick and choose what you want to believe and reject the rest, how will you ever have a God who can contradict you? You won’t! You’ll have a Stepford God! A God, essentially, of your own making, and not a God with whom you can have a relationship and genuine interaction. Only if your God can say things that outrage you and make you struggle (as in a real friendship or marriage) will you know that you have gotten hold of a real God and not a figment of your imagination. So an authoritative Bible is not the enemy of a personal relationship with God. It is the precondition for it” (Timothy Keller, The Reason for God, Dutton, 2008, pp. 113&114).
You may know God by the Bible as you read it, but especially as you listen to a man who believes the Bible and preaches it all, week after week. There God will speak to you. You will know him as familiarly as David knew him when he wrote this psalm.
ii] You will know God in his house. There is a place where we can meet with him, where he presences himself amongst his people without fail. David says, “Let the assembled peoples gather around you” (v.6). I am talking about the church, the dwelling place of God. David had the temple to visit for sacrifice and forgiveness. We have the public means of grace every Lord’s Day, in the congregation of God’s children. We are prepared to suffer much, virtually anything, for six days if only we can make it to church on the first day of the week. Whether we are preacher or hearer, we can put up with just about anything if we can only make it to the Sunday service and the preaching of God’s Word. As long as we can get to the Lord’s Table of fellowship and then get home we are content, because in his house God has met with us, week after week; there he corrects us, and teaches us, and rebukes us, and directs us in a righteous path – all from the Bible. That’s why ministers study Greek and Hebrew. That’s why preachers choose a text from the Bible rather than from the Spectator. A minister who preaches faithfully is the Lord’s voice to us. This voice makes the promises of God come alive. This voice is not afraid to talk to us about our sins, but it always shows us his Son Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away our guilt, and freely offers us pardon and forgiveness. I’ve got to be there each Sunday to meet with God.
iii] You will know God in his people. God not only has a house he has a family, his children, and in each one of them he lives. There is a family likeness in each one of them. They are his dwelling place and once you are with them then you quickly forget what Cush is saying and planning, and you can meet with them anywhere and on any day of the week. You find yourself supported by the affection and the good works and prayers of the people who are indwelt by God. You get little encouragement from the world in following Christ, but how you get it from the people indwelt by God. Some Christian students have really got the idea. I once read of a young man who had leukemia. He became very sick—not only from the disease but also from the cure. The killer chemicals that doctors aimed at his cancer made him retch and throw up. What was to him even worse, the chemicals caused his hair to fall out in clumps. Being sick was bad enough, but the thought of returning to school bald filled him with horror and dread. But he did it
. He went to school on the day he was expected back. Walking timidly into his first class, he was astonished to see a whole group of his friends with their hair shaved down to their scalp! Their shaved heads told him they cared about him and wanted to share his burden. Those bald heads that day became reflectors of the glory of God. The family of God can be like that. It can show a beauty of holiness that makes you gasp. You know God in his word, in his house and in his people. So what is Cush and everyone like him even though for a time they can shoot terror into our hearts? David sets his heart on God and so this is his glorious conclusion; “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness, and will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High” (v.17).
18th January 2009 GEOFF THOMAS