You're the first, the last, my everything!
"LORD, you alone are my portion and my cup;
you make my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
surely I have a delightful inheritance."
I love the psalms! They help me in ways that are different to other books of the Bible. They are not there to help me remember doctrine - the psalms are not Wayne Grudem or John Calvin put to music! - but rather they show me how to engage with God, and open up a window into what a real relationship with God looks and feels like.
Take, for example, the verses quoted above from Psalm 16. The language of the psalm speaks of the land grant, the inheritance that God’s people in the Old Testament received when they entered the Promised Land. Imagine plots of green-field real estate marked off by boundary ropes. The faithful Israelite and his family crossing the Jordan river and entering the land, coming over the crest of a hill and looking down on the lush and fertile valley they’re about to inherit. They’ve been given a plot that runs from the little olive grove in the bend of the stream, past the fig tree and then up the hill to the gentle pastureland overlooking the meadow running alongside the cascading tributary. What a delightful inheritance! It is a truly beautiful place for a family to settle down.
Yet look again at vv. 5-6. The psalmist is not talking about a place, but a person.
David takes the language of the land grant and applies it to his relationship with God. The Lord is his lot, his chosen portion and cup, his inheritance - my waking, my sleeping, my first, my last, my everything! The point is that David’s true riches stem not from his inheritance in the Promised Land, but primarily from his relationship with God. His delight is in the giver, rather than in his gifts or benefits. It's a point that Augustine of Hippo picks up in his brilliant wedding ring illustration:
"Suppose, brethren, a man should make a ring for his betrothed, and she should love the ring more wholeheartedly than the betrothed who made it for her ... Certainly, let her love his gift: but, if she should say, "The ring is enough. I do not want to see his face again" what would we say of her? ... The pledge is given her by the betrothed just that, in his pledge, he himself may be loved. God, then has given you all these things. Love Him who made them."
Similarly Jonathan Edwards writes about how all religious affections should terminate on God himself, not his benefits. Not that the blessings we receive provoke no affection. Instead they must carry us beyond themselves to delight in the God who gives them. We are to adore the Saviour more than being saved, love God rather than simply being interested in what we can get out of him. After all, as Edwards remarks, even "a dog will love his master that is kind to him"! Reading Psalm 16, I am struck again by the challenge, warning and encouragement. Am I like a dog, loving my master just because of his benefits? Or am I like David, loving my God for who he is?
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