January 5, 2020
Lord’s Day Worship
The sermon starts at 15:52 in the audio file.
Or, What Are You Laughing At?
Psalm 52 is very personal for me. It was my meditation many days during the months around when TEC started. It portrays a righteous response when much is lost, when deceivers are at play. It is a song the godly should learn to sing. It is a song that teaches the godly to laugh.
TEC is one week away from our ninth anniversary. Every new year as a church, which conveniently correlates with a new year on the calendar, we have spent some Sundays learning about the importance of liturgy, that liturgy is inescapable, and the purpose for choosing the parts and the order of our Lord’s Day morning service. Most of us have come from the “sing to prepare for the sermon, and don’t miss the truth told in the sermon because that is the most important thing” style of service. We still have a sermon, but the sermon is in service of the assembly’s worship, not the object of the audience’s worship.
Let’s talk about worship and liturgy again for some Sundays this month. It will be like learning to breath, or remembering why it’s important, or focusing on a long inhale/exhale.
I’ve chosen Psalm 52 to kick off our liturgical repast because it shows the tone we aim for as an assembly, and because the tone of our worship is a tone desperately needed by so many sad and sorry and downhearted Christians. Whether we are on the brink of World War 3 (ha! not ha), or on the brink of Christian churches losing tax exempt status, or on the brink of Christian businesses being ordered to bake cakes for lesbian weddings, or on the brink of the rapture, here is a song for lyrical battle.
Psalms gives us our options, and Psalm 1 introduces the two roads. There is the way of the wicked and the way of the righteous. The wicked have a lot of doubts and complaints and ostensible friends, but they don’t have a permanent place in the Lord’s congregation. They are the dried up bits of chaff stuck between your sandaled toes. The blessed man doesn’t listen to the scoffers and needle-stitch quotes from the MSNBC podcast to hang around the house, he delights in the law of the Lord until the fruit is so large it can’t wait to be picked.
Psalm 52 finds both characters in play again. The “mighty man” is the lover of evil and lies, the “righteous” (verse 6) is the “godly” (verse 9), the one who fears God (verse 6). With the heading of Psalm 52, we even know the names of the two types.
To the Choirmaster. A maskil of David, when Doeg, the Edomite, came and told Saul, “David has come to the house of Ahimelech.”
Not every psalm has such a close connection to a day in David’s life, and not every day in David’s journal turned into a psalm. Psalm 52 was written when David was a fugitive, on the run from his King, Saul. Doeg, and his tale of tattle-taling, can be read in 1 Samuel.
In 1 Samuel 21:1-9 David was on the run and came to the city of Nob and Ahimelech the priest. David had just left Jonathan, knowing that Saul purposed to put him to death. David told Ahimelech that he was on a special, secret mission for the king and that he needed some food and a weapon. Ahimelech gave David the bread of the Presence, holy bread for worship, and the sword of Goliath.
But “Doeg the Edomite, the chief of Saul’s herdsman” was there that day (1 Samuel 21:7). It’s in the middle of the story between David and Ahimelech, and we find out the reason for the foreshadowing in chapter 22.
Saul was fuming that David had escaped, and Doeg told Saul that he had seen David in Nob. So Saul called Ahimelech to account, who really did have plausible deniability. Saul didn’t care. Saul commanded the guard who stood with him to kill the priest, to kill all the priests, but the king’s men wouldn’t do it. Doeg did. “And Doeg the Edomite turned and struck down the priests, and he killed on that day eighty-five persons who wore the linen ephod” (1 Samuel 22:18).
One of Ahimelech’s sons, Abiathar, escaped to tell David, and David responded, “I have occasioned the death of all the persons of your father’s house” (1 Samuel 22:22).
So David had offended the king, lied to the priest, brought the death of over seven dozen priests and the destruction of a small city, was on the run for his life, and what is he doing? He’s laughing.
Even the way the question is asked sets up the mood of the song. Why do you boast of evil, O mighty man? The obvious answer would be, because he’s mighty. The word us used of strong warriors, even of those in Genesis 6:4 related to the Nephilim and the sons of God, as well as of the king’s bodyguard (1 Kings 1:8), and again of the “valiant men in mixing strong drink” (Isaiah 5:22). He’s bragging because he’s rich (verse 7), because his lies are working to prosper him and injure others. He wants to live outside of God, apart from Him, opposed to Him. This guy’s middle name is Gloat.
The second part of verse 1 is quite a contrast, and not apparently connected. The steadfast love of God endures all the day. That’s true, but grammatically it doesn’t fit; it’s a third person line in eleven lines of second person (you, your). Thematically it doesn’t fit here either. It certainly fits in a string of reasons to praise God, but it follows the first rhetorical question for sake of context. The song about the liar is from the believer’s perspective. It’s an early reminder that:
“God cannot become weary in helping his people.” (Calvin)
The mighty man does a lot of talking, which is how Doeg did his damage. Your tongue plots destruction, like a sharp razor, you worker of deceit. Words cut, especially the ones in fine print. Words conspire to cut. Words hide malevolence and manipulation and murder. You love evil more than good, and lying more than speaking what is right. Selah**. The Selah forces a pause, not just as a musical rest but for lyrical thought. The wicked isn’t ignorant, the wicked loves the darkness of fake news and perjury and propaganda. **You love all words that devour, O deceitful tongue. Destroying, deceiving, devouring, these are the agenda and the objects of affection for all the Doegs of the world.
But however mighty he might be, he is not as mighty as the Maker of heaven and earth. But God will break you down forever; he will snatch you and tear you from your tent; he will uproot you from the land of the living. Selah**. There are four terrors of tearing. God will tear down, tear up, tear away, tear out. That God will **break…down forever pictures a wrecking ball to the building’s walls. That God will tear from your tent is to make homeless. That He will uproot you from the land is the end of the line, the end of life. So Selah, think about that.
Verses 6 and 7 are the general response, with David’s personal take in verses 8-9. Verse 6 is the key to the song, and it’s not flat, it’s got three sharps.
The righteous shall see and fear; and shall laugh at him.
First, don’t shut your eyes, but see. Shutting your eyes won’t make it better or make it go away. The ostrich can run, but not with its head buried in the sand. See the lies and the liars, and see the endurance of God (verse 1) and the judgment of God (verse 5). Don’t miss a key moment putting your hands over your face.
Second, don’t worry, but fear, as in worship. This isn’t saying that the righteous see and then get scared or anxious at the destruction deceivers can do, but that the righteous have more reason to revere God in His ability to see through the bull.
The first two responses include a play on words: The righteous “see” (yirʾû) and “fear” (yîrāʾû)(VanGemeren).
Third, and maybe the most uncomfortable of the responses, don’t despair, but laugh. The Hebrew word is šaḥaq. It means to “laugh,” as when God who sits in the heavens laughs at His enemies in Psalm 2:4. It means to crack a joke, to mock, to ridicule. Rideo is the Latin verb for laughing (here ridebunt, and risus is the noun form, “laughter”), so something ridiculous is something laughable, to ridicule is to laugh at.
“See the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches and sought refuge in his own destruction!” This is how the righteous ridicule. This is godly mockery, that is, mockery by the godly. This is the what David wanted God’s people to sing. The mighty man is boasting that he doesn’t need others, certainly not God. It’s like duct taping a banana to a wall and calling yourself the second coming of Michelangelo. The more attention you get the less credible you are. Lies are as handy as leprosy; they are their own injury from the iniquity.
When do the righteous laugh? It is not after the judgment. I say that because David wrote this song before Doeg received his due. But more than the historical context of the writing, laughing at the judgment doesn’t prove anything. What faith is necessary for that? Anyone can laugh when it’s over. Can you laugh when you’re in the wilderness?
This is strikingly different than complaining. It is also nothing like feeling sorry for yourself for how cold the wilderness is (even though it is actually cold).
Remember where David is when he was laughing.
But I am like a green olive tree in the house of God. Olive trees could live for hundreds of years and provide food and oil. That’s great, except he wasn’t actually in the house of God. He was away from Jerusalem and the assembly of the righteous. What kind of help could he expect from others, especially now that Ahimelech had unknowingly aided him against Saul’s wishes, and died for it? But David considers himself to be alive and fruitful as if he were in God’s presence.
I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever. The one who ruled David’s days was not Saul, with a fickle and temporary love, but God who’s loyalty to His people is faithful and unending.
I will thank you forever, because you have done it. I will wait for your name, for it is good, in the presence of the godly.
The blessed man is like a tree planted by streams of water. The wicked are like chaff, the only gravity they have is when it rains, and even then the gravity is borrowed.
Laughing is learned in liturgy. Righteous ridicule is part of godly worship. Psalm 52 was meant for the choirmaster to teach and lead in song. This is the attitude to have “in the presence of the godly.”
What are you laughing at? Are you laughing with the wicked or at the wicked? Are you laughing at faith or by faith? What you laugh at reveals your loyalties.
When the righteous see, fear, and laugh, they are not sugar coating the problems. They are not laughing at evil, they are laughing that the evil think they can get away with it. They can’t, they won’t. Deceit helps the wicked prosper like wine helps the drunk sober up.
There are all sorts of applications for various situations. Laugh because it is bad, when it is hard to laugh, when it makes you look silly. Just conquer laughing. Let others look at you and say, “The devil thinks that will stop him?”
The godly laughs, and he learns how at church.
Teach your kids to make God their refuge. Then teach your kids how to see the man who would not make God his refuge, and laugh. Do not apologize for laughing, let your laughter be part of your apologetics. See, fear the LORD, and defend the faith one righteous LOL at a time.
If you abide in me, and my words abide in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples. As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Abide in my love. (John 15:7–9, ESV)