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March 11, 2012
Psalm 147 Fear Him

The Text

11the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in his steadfast love! (Psalm 147:11 ESV)
3He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. (Psalm 147:3 ESV)

A Closer Look at the Text

Numbering of the Psalms. The first eleven verses of Psalm 147 are numbered as Psalm 146 in the Septuagint-based Biblical numbering system used by Orthodox and Roman Catholic traditions (and the remaining verses of Psalm 147 are designated as Psalm 147 in the Orthodox/Catholic traditions). In the Masoretic-Text based numbering system used in most Protestant translations, all twenty verses are designated Psalm 147. The numbering does not really matter: the numbering of the Psalms is somewhat arbitrary, and in both the Protestant tradition and the Catholic/Orthodox traditions the entire Psalter is present. It’s just the numbering that is different, not the Word of God in the original Hebrew.

Chiasm. The literary structure of the Psalm is chiastic, that is, the first half builds to a climactic center-point, and the second half follows on from that climactic center-point. As part of the center-point, the Psalm acknowledges at verse 11 that God takes pleasure in those who fear Him and in those who hope in His steadfast love.

What Motivates our Praise of God? Gratitude for grace, including answered, prayer are certainly two reasons that we praise God. Spurgeon calls praise of God a duty that is the ultimatum of our faith: “Excuse me that I continue to say to you, ‘Praise ye the Lord,’ for, often as I say it, you will not praise him too much; and we need to have our hearts stirred up to this duty of praising God, which is so much neglected. After all, it is the praise of God that is the ultimatum of our religion. Prayer does but sow; praise is the harvest. Praying is the end of preaching, and praising is the end of praying. May we bring to God much of the very essence of true religion, and that will be the inward praise of the heart!”

Fear. Why does God take pleasure in our fear? Because fear of the Lord is the beginning point for a proper posture toward an awesome and almighty God-the-Creator (Proverbs 1:7). It is fear that makes it possible for us set aside everything in life in order to learn about and appreciate the Gospel, and God’s love and hope (in a sense this is a “pedagogical” fear) (Psalm 25:11-15). Only fear prepares our heart to follow God, enables (relationship with God) and leads to hope (2 Corinthians 7:1). This requires a sincere sense of helplessness before God, something that the Bible calls “fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). It helps us understand that we are not in a position to “negotiate” with a holy and fearsome God; instead, we are left to trust entirely in Jesus Christ.

In other words, once we have a proper fear of the Lord, it becomes possible for us to read and listen properly to His Word (i.e. a pedagogical fear) and to be in friendship with Him (Psalm 25:11-15). As we do, we can grow in love and fellowship with Him … all the while retaining at least some ongoing (slightly fearful) sense of His holiness and greatness (2 Corinthians 7:1).

Being Brokenhearted. “Brokenhearted” as we use the term can have a fairly broad application. We usually use the term in reference to a loss of relationship, or of dreams, or of hope, or of promise. Sometimes we experience deep loss when we are victimized by crime, or by the devastation of a storm or flood or fire.

The two words that make up the term broken-hearted (shabar leb) are used in the Bible less casually than we tend to use the term, and more narrowly. In the Bible, being brokenhearted means that our heart, our soul, and our very being is smashed and crushed and demolished. It means that we are dust, that we are completely undone.

Psalm 69:16-20 uses the term “brokenhearted” in connection with being ashamed. Shame, as used in the Bible, has to do with seeking to hide from the eyes of God (just as Adam and Eve were ashamed of their sign tried to hide from God, Genesis 3:7-8). Brokenhearted includes a senses of spiritual, not just emotional, devastation. Biblical broken

Similarly, Psalm 51:17 speaks of a broken-and-contrite heart, that is, a heart that is properly sorrowful about offending God. This condition is the same as described at Isaiah 57:15 and Psalm 34:17-18, except that these two verses point more directly to the spiritual aspects. A broken heart includes a sense of spiritual need as well as emotional need. This holistic need can only addressed, assuaged and satisfied by the good news of the Gospel, as observed at Isaiah 61:1.

Gospel Apologetics

Philosophical naturalism is a particular form of atheism or agnosticism that denies that there is a spiritual reality outside of the material reality that can be accessed and verified through the scientific method. There is no spiritual dimension, no soul, no God, no miracles and no paranormal. When two people fall in love and declare that they are “soul mates,” this is nonsense to the philosophical naturalist. When someone suffers a serious loss in their life and uses terms like “spiritual crisis” or “crisis of faith,” again, nonsense. This type of language is seen by the naturalist as merely describing emotions, which they view as physiological only.  No eternal soul, no spirit, only physical chemistry and body fluids. That’s it.

Philosophical naturalism makes for interesting intellectual discussions, but it’s not what most people experience. We experience love and shame and loneliness and dread from the depths of our being. From our soul. And when we are truly brokenhearted, it’s not just an emotional swing. It’s spiritual. We know that … from the depths of our soul.

He heals the brokenhearted. He binds up their wounds. Psalm 147:3.

Part One of the Audio MP3 Discussion of this post is available here.
Part Two of the Audio
MP3 Discussion of this post is available here.

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