If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Psalm 141. Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” or, “the evil one,” and David's prayer in this psalm anticipates and maybe even prefigures obedience to that command of Jesus to pray, “Lead us not into temptation.” Last week, when we were looking at Psalm 140, we said that Psalm 140 was a prayer for the Lord to “save me from evil men.” Now this psalm is too, but it adds another dimension to the prayer that we studied in Psalm 140. It adds a plea not simply for God to save us from evil men but for God to save us from evil me. That is, David realizes that the pressure that he is under from evil men tempts him to some things that are his own problems. The problems aren't the problems of the evil men, they’re his own problems, and so he prays both for deliverance from evil men in this psalm and also from deliverance from evil me. Derek Kidner sums it up perfectly when he says, “This psalm is a prayer against insincerity and compromise and a plea for survival under the savage attacks which such an attitude has invited.”
This psalm comes in three parts. Look at it. In verses 1 and 2 you have the first portion. Then in verses 3 to 6 the second portion. And then in verses 7 to 10 the third portion. We have here in verses 1 and 2, a prayer that God would hear him. In verses 3 to 6, a plea that God would keep him. And then in verses 7 to 10, a petition that God would preserve him. A prayer that God would hear him, a plea that God would keep him, and a petition that God would preserve him. Let's look to the Lord in prayer before we read His Word.
Heavenly Father, we come again tonight at the end of Your day, thankful that we are with Your people and under Your Word. We realize more and more the longer we go on in the Christian life how much we need Your Word and how much we need Your Spirit, not only to open our eyes to the glorious truths of the Word but to bring those truths home to our hearts in such a way that we say, “Amen, we agree with those truths and we long to live out Your Word.” Encourage us tonight as we study Your Word. By Your Word, reprove and rebuke and correct us and train us in righteousness, for Jesus sake. We pray it in His name, amen.
This is the Word of God in Psalm 141:
“A PSALM OF DAVID.
O LORD, I call upon You; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call on You! Let my prayer be counted as incense before You, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice!
Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to buy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!
Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds. When their judges are thrown over the cliff, then they shall hear my words, for they are pleasant. As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol.
But my eyes are toward You, O GOD, my Lord; in You I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless! Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me and from the snares of evildoers! Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely.”
Amen, and thus ends this reading of God's holy, inspired, and inerrant Word. May He write its eternal truth upon all our hearts.
Perhaps you can resonate with the situation that David is in. You are under some kind of unjust attack — someone is slandering you, someone is seeking to undermine you or harm you. What they are doing is clearly wrong, but in your heart and perhaps even in your words and actions, you feel yourself tempted to respond to the wrong that is being done to you in a wrong way. All sorts of motions in your heart that you know are not pure, are welling up in your just anger against their injustice. You suddenly find yourself indulging in things that are not just, in attitudes that are not pure, in responses that are not clean, in ways that you know are not pleasing to the Lord. There is a certain challenge, isn't there, to living in a fallen world. Even when you’re being done wrong, you can respond to that wrong wrongly. The psalmist recognizes that. He is being sorely tested here. His trial is significant. They’re not only saying bad things about him, they want to destroy him. That's what verse 7 is about. And I’ll try to explain that image in just a few moments. But the psalmist finds himself tempted in his heart and with his lips to respond in an ungodly way. And he doesn't want to do that.
Billy Graham once said, “Wealth can be taken away and you've lost nothing. Health can be taken away and you've lost something. Character can be taken away and you've lost everything.” The psalmist realizes that, that in this trial, the only thing at stake is not surviving the assaults of evil men; his own character is at stake, his integrity is at stake, his fidelity is at stake, and he's praying to the Lord not only to save him from evil men but to save him from evil me. I invite you into this psalm, then, and let's look at the three parts that I mentioned earlier.
A PRAYER THAT GOD WOULD HEAR HIM
First of all, this prayer for God to hear him. In verses 1 and 2, we encounter a prayer, an urgent prayer to be heard. It's interesting that David does not speak in this prayer presumptuously to God in his time of need. He actually urgently expresses his need to the Lord while explaining, even in his prayer, his understanding of the significance of prayer. Look at verses 1 and 2. “O LORD, I call upon You; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to You!” The first verse of this psalm clearly indicates the urgency of the situation. It's a spiritual 9-1-1 call. “Get here fast, Lord! Hasten to me! Come to me quickly!” And you pick up that urgency, not only from the language, “Hasten to me,” but from the repeated cry or call to the Lord, twice in one verse, and also from looking ahead to verse 7. Just let your eyes peek at verse 7. The picture of bones being scattered before the gates of Sheol or death is a picture of what his enemies want to do to him. So this is an urgent cry. David is very aware of his need. He is in a dangerous circumstance and so he calls out to God for help. He asks Him to come quickly.
But notice, immediately in verse 2, that David understands the significance of prayer. Even in his time of need, he's not treating God like a divine butler. “Lord, You’re my God. You’d better get here quick! It's Your job to come to my aid!” No, David understands the dynamic of prayer, that the Lord has even put him in this circumstance so that a transaction of great significance can happen between David's soul and the living God. And David spells that out for you in verse 2. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before You.” Now David shows that he understands precisely the imagery of incense in the tabernacle and temple worship here. That picture of incense is a picture of something that is lifted up to God that is pleasing to Him.
Now we get that imagery for prayer in the New Testament, don't we? Turn with me in your Bibles to the book of Revelation. We've been reading through the book of Revelation on Sunday mornings. Several weeks ago we read this passage in Revelation chapter 5 verse 8. When John sees the four living creatures bowing down and worshiping God and when he sees the twenty-four elders bowing down and worshiping the Lamb, he sees each one of them having a heart and golden bowls full of incense. And then he tells you exactly what the image of those golden bowls full of incense mean. What are they? What are the golden bowls full of incense? They are the prayers of the saints! But David had said that a thousand years before. “Lord, I lift up my prayers to You like incense. I know that it is pleasing to You, it's like an offering from the priests with incense in the tabernacle or temple for me to lift my soul up to You in time of need.”
And the same imagery, of course, you meet in the book of Hebrews. Turn back to Hebrews chapter 13, and in Hebrews 13, when he's speaking about God-pleasing sacrifices, the preacher says, “Through Him, then, let us continually offer up the sacrifice of praise to God, that is the fruit of lips that give thanks to His name.” So again, it's a recognition that prayer is a sacrifice of praise. David is showing his understanding of the imagery of prayer in the incense offerings of the Old Testament as depicting something that is pleasing to God. It's pleasing to God for David to come to Him in time of need. Why? Because it shows where David's ultimate source of help and hope is — not in this world, not in his wisdom, not in his plans, not in his strength, but in God. It's pleasing to God for us, in time of need, to come to Him immediately with our cries for help because it says to Him, “This, My child, understands that I alone am the true refuge.” David understands that.
But he not only understands that, he understands something about the evening offering. Look at what is said in the second half of the verse. “Let my prayer be counted as incense before You,” verse 2, and then look at the second half of the verse. “And the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice.” Now that's very interesting. He compares this evening prayer of his to the evening sacrifice. Now again, take your Bibles and turn back with me to Exodus chapter 29. In Exodus 29 verses 38 and following, the evening sacrifice is described. We’re told that two lambs, two one year old lambs, are offered each day — verse 39, Exodus chapter 29 — one lamb is offered in the morning; one lamb is offered in the evening or at twilight. This is the morning and the evening sacrifice. And David says, “This prayer that I'm lifting up to You is kind of like the evening sacrifice of the lamb.”
Now this is very significant, my friends. It's not only significant for our theology of the Lord's Day, this is one of the reasons that we believe the Lord's Day ought to be framed in prayer and praise and worship because of that very pattern of the morning and evening sacrifice. But remember, Daniel, Daniel clocked his time based on the evening sacrifice. If you turn with me in your Bibles to Daniel chapter 9 verse 21, Daniel tells you exactly when it was that the angel Gabriel came to visit him. In Daniel chapter 9 verse 21, in response to Daniel's prayer, “While I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in my extreme weariness” — when? “About the time of the evening offering.” Now friends, remember, Daniel has been in Babylon for six decades by this time. He hasn't seen an evening offering in more than sixty years. But when Gabriel comes to him, as far as Daniel is concerned, the time of day that he has come to him is the time of the evening sacrifices. This man has built even his chronological world around the morning and the evening sacrifice.
And David's doing something similar to that, isn't he, right here in Psalm 141 verse 2. He's saying, “This evening prayer that I'm lifting up to You, Lord, it's kind of like the evening sacrifice.” So that the rhythm of God's public worship is even dictating the rhythm of David's prayer life and he's associating with what he's doing with the evening sacrifice. And again, it's an indication that that prayer that he's lifting up, it's like a sacrifice. Just like Hebrews 13:5 speaks of our lifting up thanksgivings as a sacrifice of praise, David is lifting up this prayer. In other words, David understands the significance of the transaction that's going on between you and God when you pray. You’re lifting up your needs to Him; your coming to Him is an expression that He is the only one that can help you. A significant transaction is going on between your soul and Him. And you’re lifting up your evening prayers to Him — isn't it just a little faint picture of the greatest twilight sacrifice ever offered, the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ on the cross at Golgotha, which surely is the ultimate fulfillment of Exodus 29:38 and following? David's prayer to be heard, his prayer for God to hear him, tells you that he knows a lot about the significance of prayer. What a privilege we have for our souls to engage in communion with God, even in times of crisis. Especially in times of crisis, the Lord delights for us to cry out to Him, even if all we can get out of our throat is, “Lord, help me.”
A PLEA FOR GOD TO KEEP HIM
Secondly, look at verses 3 to 6. Now, David moves from this prayer for God to hear him, from this prayer to be heard, he moves from this to a plea to be kept, a plea for God to keep him. David realizes that his enemies’ threat is not the only danger that he faces in this trial. In fact, he emphatically prays to be spared from sin, from compromise, from insincerity, and hypocrisy. And specifically, he asks that the Lord would keep his lips clean and his heart clean. Look at what David says in this passage. “Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips!” So verse 3 focuses on sins of the tongue, of the mouth. You almost hear James speaking, don't you, in the little book of James. Watch out for that tongue; it's a world of fire. David recognizes that and he's praying for the Lord to help him there.
And then again in verse 4, now he moves to the heart. “Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — it is oil on my head; let my head not refuse it.” Each of these statements are about the tenderness of his conscious and the softness of his heart to God's rebuke and the carefulness of his heart about being enticed into sin. Again, as we said earlier, David is praying here, “Lord, lead me not into temptation. In this enormous trial, when evil men are trying to get me, don't let me speak the wrong way, don't let the wrong words start coming out of my mouth, and don't let my heart go into the wrong direction. Lead me not into temptation,” he's praying.
Kevin DeYoung, who is a young pastor, a young reformed pastor in Michigan, and he's wise beyond his years, has just written a book called, The Hole in our Holiness, and he's calling a younger generation to the pursuit of godliness in that book, recently said these words, and they convicted me. “If you aren't praying, ‘Lead us not into temptation’ today, then you either think too much of yourself or too little of sin.” “If you’re not praying, ‘Lead us not into temptation’ today, then you either think too much of yourself or too little of sin.” And David, as great as he was, did not think too much of himself here nor too little of sin, and so he offers up a very specific request that the Lord would keep him, would keep him from falling, would keep him from stumbling into temptation. And I want to look especially at those two parts — his lips and his heart.
First of all, David asks that the Lord would help him watch over his speech. In this time of evil men attacking him and even slandering him, his temptation was of course to turn around and just slander them right back and then he would lose his integrity. So the battle was not only to endure their slander and their plots, but to keep his integrity while he endured and survived their slander and their plots. It's very interesting, last Sunday we sang hymn number 602. Would you turn with me to it? It's a hymn that's not very familiar to us, but as I looked at it the week before and then as we sang it last Sunday, I realized these words are keepers and I'm going to be using these again in personal devotion. And verses 1 and 2, at the end of verse 1 or stanza 1 and then stanza 2, specially speak to this very issue. It's interesting that the Lutherans, and this is a Lutheran hymn that was translated by the Anglican, Catherine Winkworth in the 19th century, the Lutherans use this hymn in what they call the “Litany of the Slandered.” There's a litany, there's an order of service and prayers in the Lutheran church specially designed to comfort and help those who have been slandered. That's kind of a psalms thing to do because there are so many psalms like that. And this song is used in that “Litany of the Slandered.”
And isn't it interesting — this is a litany of prayers for people who have been slandered, but listen to what Johannes Hermann, through Catherine Winkworth, has you singing. You've been slandered so you’re in prayers in the worship of the church — look at the last words of the first stanza. What does he pray for? “A conscience free from blame and a soul unstained by sin.” And then look at stanza 2; it is unbelievably good. “Give me the strength to do with ready heart and willing whatever —“ I'm sorry, I'm talking about stanza 3. Stanza 3 — “Keep me from saying words that later need recalling. Guard me lest idle speech may from my lips be falling, but when within my place I must and ought to speak, then to my words give grace lest I offend the weak.” Now isn't that interesting? This is a person who's been slandered praying to God that the Lord would help him use his words carefully. And that's exactly what David does in Psalm 141 verse 3. He asks for the Lord to help him watch his speech. He's being spoken wrongly about — “Lord, help me to use my words carefully.”
Secondly, he asks the Lord to watch over his heart. You know, if the house of God needed doorkeepers, then surely the heart of men and women of God need a keeper and he asks the Lord to keep his heart. And specifically he asks for this. “Lord, do not let my heart incline to evil.” “Lord, when my heart starts going down the wrong path, don't let me go there.” “Don't let me busy myself with wicked deeds in the company of people who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies!” You know, sometimes we find ourselves in company where we know we don't belong and we try and pretend that we're one of them. And you know what? Sometimes you end up becoming what you’re pretending to be because you want to be accepted in that company, or at least you don't want to be discovered in that company. And the psalmist is praying right here, “Lord, don't let me go down that track. I don't want to end up there. I want to be with You; I want to be with Your people, so don't let me eat of their delicacies. It may look like they've got something to offer to me. Don't let me be tempted with those delicacies.”
And then he says, “Let a righteous man strike me — it is a kindness; let him rebuke me — It is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it.” Now he's asking for the Lord to guard his heart in this way. “Lord, keep me rebukeable, keep me correctable, keep me reproveable.” You know what? If we are not able to be reproved, rebuked, and corrected, that's a sign that there is no grace in us. And you know, as wicked as what David did was towards Uriah and Bathsheba, I think one of the signs that grace was real in him was that when Nathan rebuked him he received it. By God's grace, he received it. And David's praying right here, “Lord, keep my heart rebukeable, correctable.” Don't you hear the language of Proverbs where the proverb says that the wounds of a friend are not to be responded to like the words of an enemy because the words of a friend are meant to help us? And here's David saying the same thing. “Lord, keep me correctable, keep me rebukable, keep me reproveable.” All of this is a prayer that his heart would be kept from sin in the midst of this great trial.
A PETITION FOR PRESERVATION
And then third and finally, if you look in verses 7 to 10, he offers up a prayer, a petition for preservation. “God, preserve me.” David asks God to watch over and spare him in spite of his enemies’ plans. Now he urgently depicts their designs and then he indicates the location of this hope, his only hope, and he prays that his enemies will trap themselves. But he depicts their designs in verse 7. “As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol.” In the Old Testament and in the cultures that surrounded it, sometimes kings, as an act of domination and aggression against their enemies, would literally plow up the bones of their former enemies or their predecessors and scatter them as a defilement, as a judgment. And here's the picture. His enemies want to dig up his bones and scatter them at the gate of Sheol. That's what they want to do to him. So what does he pray? Look at verse 8. “My eyes are toward You, O GOD, my Lord; in You I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless!” He goes right to God again. Just like he started out in verse 1 — “Lord, with my enemies wanting to do this to me, I'm coming right to You; You’re my refuge. You’re my only hope.”
Then he prays, “Keep me from the trap they have laid for me” — verse 10. “Let the wicked fall into their own nets.” “Lord, let it bounce right back on them while I pass through safely.” So here, David indicates the location of his only hope, in the Lord. And his prayer that the sin of the wicked would rebound on them, and that by God's grace, he would be preserved and he would pass through safely. If you've ever been where David's been before, this is your prayer, “Lord, in this trial that's coming from others, don't let me think that the only danger is from them; there's danger within me. Keep me from the danger in me and keep me from the danger in evil men.” Let's pray.
Heavenly Father, we thank You for this Your Word, and we ask, O Lord, that You would bless it to our hearts and lives for Christ's sake. Amen.
Would you stand for God's benediction?
Peace be to the brethren, and love with faith, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ until the daybreak and the shadows flee away. Amen.