23 February 2009

In the Hope of His Glory

One of the most beautiful passages of the Psalms found itself eloquently translated in the seventeenth century: “There is a river, the streams whereof shall make glad the city of God, the holy place of the tabernacles of the most High. God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved: God shall help her, and that right early” (Ps. 46:4–5, KJV).

The allusion here is simple; the charge, direct. The stream is probably Shiloah, which flowed from the Gihon spring into Jerusalem, God’s city. The stream and where it flowed encompassed two of the most important aspects of God’s covenant with Israel: the monarchy of David (see 1  Kings 1:33–34, 45) and the city of faith. Thus by affirming God’s salvation, the psalmist warns those who would not rest upon divine protection, opting instead for the empty confidence afforded by whatever defenses the world may offer. As is so often the case, tantalizing, ungodly alliances turn out to be more trouble than what they are worth.

On this account, consider the Lord’s prosecution of the northern kingdom of ancient Israel: “Because this people have refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently…behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the river, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory” (Isa. 8:6–7). Foolishly, the northern kingdom sought earthly salvation by making a pact with Assyria, being fearful of its army. Their defection from Judah and the Davidic monarchy was nothing less than a rejection of God’s chosen city and the way of faith. They forgot who they were.

In like manner, sometimes in the midst of biblical exhortation there is the tendency on our part to forget who (and whose) exactly we are. That is, we sometimes begin focusing too much on what we do as opposed to who we are. Alliances are forged based on the (often trivial) things we do. But what we do cannot make us who we are; rather, who we are springs forth into what we do. The elder John knew that those who left his church were not who they purported to be (see 1 John 2:19). Accordingly, the psalmist regarded the gentle streams of Shiloah inside the city — not the raging sea (46:3) — as that which made it glad.

So, unlike the northern kingdom, we must rely upon God despite the swelling tide, trusting in his promises confirmed by the crucified and risen Messiah, Jesus. Only then may we truly boast “in hope of the glory of God” (Rom. 5:2) and his salvation that is to come, and that right early.

This originally appeared in Tabletalk 28.12 (December 2004): 23}


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