April 2012 • Volume XIII, Issue 24
God’s Good Spirit (1)
Psalm 143—penned by David, as the heading says—is a
persecution psalm. Three times it refers to David’s
enemy (3) or enemies (9, 12). We are not told who they
were: Saul and his men or David’s rebellious son Absalom
and his forces? The persecution was severe and it was
getting David down: "For the enemy hath persecuted my
soul; he hath smitten my life down to the ground; he
hath made me to dwell in darkness, as those that have
been long dead. Therefore is my spirit overwhelmed
within me; my heart within me is desolate" (3-4).
Psalm 143 is not only a persecution psalm; it is also a
penitential psalm. There are traditionally
reckoned to be seven penitential psalms, all dealing
with repentance or confession of sin (Ps. 6; 32; 38; 51;
102; 130; 143). In Psalm 143, the last of the
penitential psalms, verse 2 is key in this regard: "And
enter not into judgment with thy servant: for in thy
sight shall no man living be justified." David knows
this about himself and his nature, life and ways: "There
is no way I, in myself, could withstand God’s perfectly
holy and righteous scrutiny!" Psalm 143:2 is true also
of all fallen sons and daughters of Adam, including us,
for "by the deeds of the law there shall no flesh be
justified in his sight" (Rom. 3:20).
There is a connection between Psalm 143 as a persecution
psalm and as a penitential psalm. David confesses his
guilt (2), "for" the enemy is afflicting him (3). David
recognizes that one reason for the enemies’ persecution
of him is that God is chastening him for his sin. If
David’s enemies see something wrong with him, how much
more will not God? Therefore, he prays, "And enter not
into judgment with thy servant: for in thy sight shall
no man living be justified" (2).
As a persecution psalm and a penitential psalm, it will
come as no surprise that Psalm 143 is also a very
personal psalm. Throughout this psalm, David speaks
repeatedly of "I," "me" and "my." In Psalm 143, he does
not refer to himself as part of a group ("we," "us" or
"our"). Seven times David speaks of his "soul" (3, 6, 8,
11, 12) or "spirit" (4, 7), with "soul" or "spirit"
always being preceded by the pronoun "my." "My life"
(3), "my heart" (4) and "my hands" (6) are other
phrases David uses.
In the midst of this persecution psalm, this penitential
psalm, this very personal psalm, we read of God’s
blessed Spirit, the Third Person of the Holy Trinity
(10). There is something very instructive and comforting
here for us in all our struggles and trials. There is
something very precious for us to learn here about the
Comforter whom the Lord Jesus sent to be with us and to
be His abiding presence in us.
"Thy spirit is good," Psalm 143:10 affirms. This does
not refer to David’s spirit; he does not say "my" spirit
is good. The Psalmist speaks of God’s Spirit, the
Spirit who peculiarly belongs to God. God’s Spirit is
divine and not a creature.
In stating that God’s Spirit is "good," David declares
that the Holy Spirit is good absolutely (cf. Matt.
19:17). Like the other two persons in the Trinity, the
Holy Spirit is the implication of all God’s glorious
ethical perfections, for He is infinite and unchangeable
in His truth, faithfulness, love, holiness, mercy and
righteousness. "What dost thou believe concerning the
Holy Ghost?" asks our Heidelberg Catechism. Its
answer begins, "First, that he is true and co-eternal
God with the Father and the Son ..." (Q. & A. 53). The
Holy Spirit, states Belgic Confession 11, is "of
one and the same essence, majesty, and glory with the
Father and the Son."
To the Holy Spirit are assigned various perfections and
works in, or in connection with, the Psalms. In Psalm
139:7, David ascribes to the Spirit the divine attribute
or perfection of omnipresence. Psalm 104:30 confesses
the Spirit’s work regarding this created world, for the
Spirit renews the vegetation and animals in providence
through the seasons, just as it was the Spirit who
perfected the creation in the beginning of the world
(Gen. 1:2). The Holy Spirit inspired all of the
Scriptures, including the Psalms, for David, "the sweet
psalmist of Israel, said, The Spirit of the Lord spake
by me, and his word was in my tongue" (II Sam. 23:1-2).
The Spirit also works our salvation, as David teaches in
the greatest penitential psalm: "Restore unto me the joy
of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit"
(Ps. 51:12). The Spirit, given generously to the
penitent saint, brings joy, the joy of God’s salvation.
What aspect of the blessed Spirit and His work is in
view here in Psalm 143 and especially in verse 10? It is
not His omnipresence (Ps. 139:7) or His providential
work of renewing the vegetation and animals (Ps. 104:30)
or His inspiring Scripture (II Sam. 23:1-2), though, our
text is, of course, inspired. Like Psalm 51:12, Psalm
143:10 deals with our salvation, salvation as it is
applied to the child of God in answer to his prayers and
confession of sin. This ought not surprise us because
Psalms 51 and 143 are both penitential psalms penned by
David. The New Testament believer can understand and
appropriate this since the Holy Spirit "is also given
me, to make me by a true faith, partaker of Christ and
all his benefits, that he may comfort me and abide with
me for ever" (Heidelberg Catechism, A. 53). The
Spirit comforts us, Psalm 143:10 declares, by His
teaching and leading us. This we shall consider next
time, DV. Rev. Stewart
Work of the Holy Spirit, a delightful and
instructive book of 185 pages by Profs. Herman Hanko and
David Engelsma on the Third Person of the Trinity, is
available for just £5.50 from the CPRC Bookstore.
God’s Attempt to Kill Moses
Question: "Why did God seek to kill Moses? I heard this
question on so-called Christian TV, but the answers they
gave in reply were unconvincing."
The passage to which the questioner refers is found in
Exodus 4:24-26: "And it came to pass by the way in the
inn, that the Lord met him, and sought to kill him. Then
Zipporah took a sharp stone and cut off the foreskin of
her son, and cast it at this feet, and said, Surely a
bloody husband art thou to me. So he let him go: then
she said, A bloody husband thou art, because of the
The passage is indeed a strange Word of God. I know of
nothing similar to it in the whole of Scripture. Yet it
is extremely important and calls our attention to God’s
covenant promises in a striking and unforgettable way.
The history, briefly, is this. Moses had grown up in
Pharaoh’s household, but by faith he cast his lot with
the children of Israel, who were slaves of Pharaoh (Heb.
11:24-26). Moses had thought that the time had come to
deliver Israel from bondage, and so killed an Egyptian
(Acts 7:23-25). But, although Moses thought the time had
come for Israel’s deliverance, the time was Moses’
choice, not God’s choice. And so Moses was forced to
flee Egypt and find a place where he would be safe.
He found this place in the Sinai peninsula in the home
of Jethro. There he stayed for forty years tending
Jethro’s sheep. During this period, he married Zipporah,
Jethro’s daughter, and they had a son (Ex. 2:16-22). But
now the time had come that God would save His people. So
He sent Moses to Egypt to deliver Israel.
It was on his way back to Egypt that the event described
in the text took place. Exodus 4 states emphatically
that God sought to kill Moses (24) but we are not told
of the particular means He was to employ. Certain it is
that the Lord did not slay Moses, for, through
Zipporah’s intervention (25-26), "he [i.e., God] let him
[i.e., Moses] go" (26).
We must remember too that, though God sought to kill
Moses, He did not fail in His purpose, nor was Moses’
death averted just before Moses was killed. God knew all
the circumstances of the entire event and did not intend
to kill Moses. That is not the point. But from Moses’
and Zipporah’s point of view, Moses was on the verge of
being killed by God. And they both looked at what was
happening from that perspective.
God reveals Himself to His people sometimes in similar
ways. God revealed His purpose to destroy Sodom to
Abraham by a discussion with the two angels who were
with Him concerning the wisdom of telling Abraham what
He was about to do (Gen. 18:17-19). God knew He would
tell Abraham these things about the destruction of
Sodom, but chose to reveal it in this way, for by this
means a great truth was made known.
The same was true of Jesus’ conversation with the
travellers on the road to Emmaus. Christ seemed intent
on continuing on His way when the three men arrived at
the destination of the two travellers with whom Jesus
talked. These two men seemed to talk Christ out of His
original plan. But, of course, the Lord knew exactly
what He intended to do (Luke 24:28-29).
So we must ask the question: Why did the Lord try to
kill Moses? What lesson did He want to teach Moses and
Zipporah? The answer is in the text itself. Jehovah’s
apparent intention to kill Moses was forgotten when
Zipporah circumcised Gershom, their son (Ex. 4:25-26).
It all had to do with the circumcision of their son.
God had given Abraham the sign of circumcision when God
established His covenant with Abraham (Gen. 17:7-14).
Notice in this passage that Jehovah told Abraham that
any of his descendants who did not circumcise their sons
had broken God’s covenant and had to be cut off from
Moses knew God’s command to Abraham, but had
nevertheless failed to observe it. One gets the
impression from Zipporah’s anger in casting the foreskin
at Moses feet and saying to him (twice in the text), "A
bloody husband thou art to me," that she had opposed it.
Maybe, when Moses brought up the subject of Gershom’s
circumcision, Zipporah objected. It was, perhaps, in her
eyes, an unnecessary and mutilating act on her baby.
Moses had not insisted. So Moses had broken God’s
Two very important truths are emphasized here. The first
is that circumcision was the God-given sign and seal of
the covenant because it pointed to the fact that Jehovah
would establish His covenant and save His people in the
line of generations. The second truth is that Abraham
and all succeeding generations are saved and brought
into God’s covenant only by the shedding of blood.
Abraham’s seed was, centrally, Christ (Gal. 3:16). Only
through Christ’s blood, that made perfect satisfaction
for all the sins of God’s people, could Jehovah’s
covenant be realized and salvation come.
To refuse to perform the rite of circumcision was to
cast doubt on the coming of Christ and the efficacy of
the cross. That is, it was a repudiation of salvation
through the shedding of the blood of Jesus as the
washing away of sins.
I do not know whether Zipporah’s refusal to have her son
circumcised was due to the fact that she was born
outside the line of the covenant. Though her father was
certainly a priest and the worship of God was preserved
in his family, she, if we may be charitable, did not
understand the truth of God’s covenant. But Moses knew
these things and he should have insisted. Moses broke
God’s covenant and was worthy of death. How could one
who had broken God’s covenant be the leader to deliver
Jehovah’s covenant people from the bondage of Egypt?
Moses was responsible to perform his covenantal
obligation before he could be a proper instrument in
God’s hand to lead His covenant people to Canaan.
Baptism has taken the place of circumcision (Col.
2:11-13; Belgic Confession 34). Baptism is the
New Testament sign and seal of God’s covenant, for it is
the sign and seal of the great truth that God’s covenant
is established with believers and their seed through the
washing away of sin in the blood of Christ. It is a
breaking of God’s covenant to refuse to baptize our
children and it is a denial of the great truth that God
saves His people in the lines of generations through the
blood of Christ.
Let us not take God’s anger at Moses lightly. Let us not
take the importance of baptizing our children lightly.
And let us not deny that baptism is a sacrament that
takes the place of circumcision, now that Christ has
come. Prof. Hanko
If you would like to receive the Covenant Reformed News
free by e-mail each month (and/or by post, if you are in the UK), please
contact Rev. Stewart and we will
gladly send it to you.