Rags or Robes

Woe unto them that are wise in thier own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! - Isaiah 5:21

Woe unto them that are wise in their own eyes, and prudent in their own sight! - Isaiah 5:21

    I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word. – Psalm 119:158

Bold statements are common in Psalm 119. You have to pay attention and understand the grounds of those statements. They seem to come dangerously close to self-righteous boasting.

Verse 158 describes how the Psalmist is grieved over transgressors. As I pondered over this verse, I thought of how easily this could be self-righteous contempt. We are likely accustomed to pious despising being described as grief over sinners. So, what makes the Psalmist’s grief here righteous and not contemptuous?

Self-righteous contempt is usually manifested in one of two ways:

  1. Those despised are simply ignored. They are so low, so beneath the pious that no notice is taken of them. No mental energy is expended on them. It is as if they are invisible.
  2. The other way is they are considered and looked upon with contempt. It may be masked as pity or grief, but they are actively despised.

We know the first is not the case because he says, “I beheld the transgressors.” The Psalmist is taking notice and considering them. The result of his consideration is grief, so we must find out if the second case is true here.

The key to understanding the difference is their center. But first we must consider some scriptural examples of self-righteous contempt to discern the difference. Luke provides us several examples in his Gospel.

Self-Righteous Contempt in the Scriptures
Jesus actually told a parable to address this contempt specifically.

And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. – Luke 18:9

This verse highlights the center I mentioned previously. Their despising of others centers around their self-righteousness: “Trusted in themselves that they were righteous.” The contempt comes from them viewing themselves as righteous and others as not as righteous as they. A few examples from Luke will illustrate and clarify.

  1. The Pharisee Simon invited Jesus to dinner at his house. Simon did not believe Jesus, but he wanted the chance to see and talk with Him more closely. During the dinner a woman known as a sinner came in and stood behind Jesus. That she was known as a sinner means that she had been a prostitute, an adulteress, or an otherwise openly loose woman. She was held in contempt by most in society.She had brought a box of ointment with here. She stood behind Jesus crying and she began to wash His feet with her tears. She wiped His feet off with her own hair and then anointed them with the expensive ointment.

    Simon watched all this with interest and manifested the second type of contempt.

    Now when the Pharisee which had bidden him saw it, he spake within himself, saying, This man, if he were a prophet, would have know who and what manner of woman this is that toucheth him: for she is a sinner. – Luke 7:39

    In that moment, Simon is despising this woman. He is also despising Jesus for letting her touch Him. This actually reveals the depth of his self-righteousness and contempt. The woman was washing Jesus’ feet, which was an act of humble service. The one washing was humbling herself before the one being washed. This is why Peter objected so strenuously to Jesus washing his feet (John 13:6-8). Simon thought of himself so highly and this woman so lowly compared to him, he did not think her even good enough to humbly wash his feet.

  2. The Pharisees despised Jesus for often receiving sinners and eating with them.

    And the Pharisees and scribes murmured, saying, This man receiveth sinners, and eateth with them. – Luke 15:2

    They despised those Jesus ate with. They would never lower themselves to eat with ones so obviously beneath them. Again, they projected their contempt onto Jesus for doing what they would not dare to do.

  3. Jesus told a parable about an elder and younger brother. In it, the elder brother manifested the second type of contempt.

    But as soon as this thy son was come, which hath devoured thy living with harlots, thou has killed for him the fatted calf. – Luke 15:30

    The elder despised the younger because he was not as righteous as the elder brother. He resented any honor being shown the younger brother because he was not as worthy of it as the elder brother was in his own mind.

  4. In the parable in Luke 18, the Pharisee manifests the self-righteous contempt mentioned in verse 9.

    The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. – Luke 18:11

    He despised the publican who was not as good as he was.

  5. Zacchaeus was one who had become rich through dishonesty, extortion, and theft. He was a tax collector—a chief of tax collectors. He was known and despised and Jesus went into his house.

    And when they saw it, they all murmured, saying, That he was gone to be guest with a man that is a sinner. – Luke 19:7

    They despised Zacchaeus and would never have gone to his house. Therefore, they despised Jesus for going to his house.

The Center
Now we come back to the center and the difference between righteous grief and self-righteous contempt. In the examples from Luke, we saw that self-righteousness was central to the manifest contempt. A high esteem of one’s own righteousness and a comparison of others to it where they fail to measure up, is at the center of contempt.

On the other hand, the center of righteous grief is very different. Central to this grief is the honor and glory of God. The grief expressed by the Psalmist is not with respect to himself and where the transgressors are in relation to him. His grief revolves around the dishonoring of God.

Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law. – Psalm 119:53

Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law. – Psalm 119:136

I beheld the transgressors, and was grieved; because they kept not thy word. – Psalm 119:158

This sort of grief reveals a holy zeal and jealousy of God’s glorious honor. No doubt his grief over his own sin is much the same as it is over the sins of others. Whether we manifest grief or contempt reveals our attitude about righteousness and sin. It reveals whether we want to be clothed in rags or robes.

    But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags – Isaiah 64:6
    And one of the elders answered, saying unto me, What are these which are arrayed in white robes? and whence came they? And I said unto him, Sir, thou knowest. And he said to me, These are they which came out of great tribulation, and have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. – Revelation 7:13-14

Psalm 97:12

“Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous;
and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness.”

~ Psalm 97:12

God’s holiness is commended to our remembrance. It is not the doctrine of God’s holiness that we are to remember, but His real holiness. His actual holiness causes the righteous to rejoice and give thanks. They rejoice and are thankful for His holiness. God’s holiness is set forth throughout this Psalm. Let us come aside and remember His holiness.

HIS HOLINESS IS SUPREME, for “The LORD reigneth” (Psalm 97:1). None can ascend above God or be comparable to Him. None can even reckon the extent of His dominion—it encompasses all things seen and unseen. Even man’s imagination cannot place a figment above God for all the pagan worshipers are confounded by His holiness (Psalm 97:7). How can they figure it? How can they fashion it? How can they make a likeness of it? Though they boast, they utterly fail—“For thou, LORD, art high above all the earth: thou art exalted far above all gods” (Psalm 96:9).

Even the idols must bow to Him, “worship him, all ye gods” (Psalm 97:7). Idolaters make no progress against His holiness; it is even as Paul told Timothy of those who “resist the truth: men of corrupt minds, reprobate concerning the faith.” They fight against God, “But they shall proceed no further: for their folly shall be manifest unto all men” (2 Timotthy 3:8-9).

HIS HOLINESS IS TERRIBLE, for “Clouds and darkness are round about him” (Psalm 97:2). His holiness abides in righteousness and judgment. In these, God delights. His righteousness means He is faithful. Of what He has purposed, not one tittle shall fail.

In holiness, He dwells in judgment—pleading the cause of the oppressed, the fatherless, and the widow. He hears the cry of their righteous blood and vindicates them. If God calls you a worm, rejoice—it means He is taking up your cause. For thus He spoke to Jacob, “Fear not, thou worm Jacob, and ye men of Israel; I will help thee, saith the LORD, and thy redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” (Isaiah 41:14). He did not speak to Jacob thus to grind him into the dust, rather to lift him out of the dust. In the Scripture, we find ourselves as weak, full of sores, a frame of dust, a flower of the field, a vanishing vapor, etc. In all this, we are weak and helpless, but He will take us up, plead our cause, and vindicate us with His holy judgment.

HIS HOLINESS IS NOT PASSIVE, for “A fire goeth before him, and burneth up his enemies round about” (Psalm 97:3). Neither is His holiness contained or subdued. His holiness is then victorious consuming His enemies. What have we then to fear? The earth trembles at His light (Psalm 97:4); “The hills melted like wax at the presence of the LORD, at the presence of the Lord of the whole earth” (Psalm 97:5). Who shall oppose any that are on the Lord’s side?

HIS HOLINESS IS NOT HIDDEN. Even the heavens cannot remain silent or indifferent, “The heavens declare his righteousness, and all the people see his glory” (Psalm 97:6). The fool says there is no God. The wicked refuse to acknowledge Him and look blindly in the light of the noon sun. However, are not the works of His holiness entered into the eyes and ears of His people? “Zion heard, and was glad; and the daughters of Judah rejoiced because of thy judgments, O LORD” (Psalm 97:8). Do you not hear the chorus of birds singing praise to their maker? Do you not see the glory of the sun spreading its light to illuminate the creation of the Holy God before our eyes? Does not the corn and wheat stand in the field waving an offering to the one who is righteous, faithful to send the sun, wind, and rain upon the earth so that it responds by bearing forth its fruits?

. “He preserveth the souls of his saints; he delivereth them out of the hand of the wicked. Light is sown for the righteous, and gladness for the upright in heart” (Psalm 97:10-11). What a ground and anchor is the Lord’s holiness! Those who love Him love His holiness and therefore, “hate evil” (Psalm 97:10).

Why then are we troubled? Why then are we downcast? Why then do we presume to be trodden under foot? His holiness is the rejoicing of our heart and the very knife cutting the taut sack, which bursts open with gratitude. His holiness is an impeccable light and there we have fellowship with Him.

What a shame that any of His people should need reminded to remember His holiness and give thanks. May our hearts and minds soar upward in the quiet gray of the morning when we render thanks unto Him for the day He has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in the light of the day that declares His righteousness unto us. “Rejoice in the LORD, ye righteous; and give thanks at the remembrance of his holiness” (Psalm 97:12).

Psalm 34:14

“Depart from evil, and do good;
seek peace, and pursue it.”

~ Psalms 34:14

Throughout the whole of the 34th Psalm are set out numerous reasons to heed the words of verse 14. Perhaps, in summation we could look to verses 15 and 16. Benefits are reaped by the doers of good: “The eyes of the LORD are upon the righteous, and his ears are open unto their cry.” Similarly, “The face of the LORD is against them that do evil, to cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.” Let us now briefly consider the four simple statements of our text.

First, we are instructed to “Depart from evil.” We are not to do evil; rather we must depart from it. We must flee from its presence and appearance. We must have nothing to do with it. Solomon warned his son to depart from sinners, “My son, walk not thou in the way with them; refrain thy foot from their path: For their feet run to evil, and make haste to shed blood” (Proverbs 1:15-16). It was not only that he was not to take part in their evil deeds, but also that he was to refrain from going in the path with them, for to evil was where their path was leading. He likewise instructed him to avoid the strange woman. “Remove thy way far from her, and come not nigh the door of her house” (Proverbs 5:8).

Secondly, we must “do good.” Lot, living in the city of Sodom, had an arduous task just to “depart from evil.” If he were successful in that much, he must have felt accomplished. Likewise, much energy is consumed today by the righteous to avoid evil. However, departing from evil is only one-fourth of our duty in this passage. We must also “do good.” We must be proactive in the doing of good. We must study the good, seek it out, and do it. We must set ourselves in the very way of good and continue to walk therein. “Thus saith the LORD, Stand ye in the ways, and see, and ask for the old paths, where is the good way, and walk therein, and ye shall find rest for your souls” (Jeremiah 6:16).

Thirdly, our responsibility is to “seek peace.” We rejoice when we are at peace. We rest when we are at peace and are refreshed. Although, we are not merely to enjoy peace when it comes, but we are to “seek” it out. Precious few today expend their energies in seeking peace. Jesus taught, “Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God” (Matthew 5:9). We are happy to have peace when it comes by the concessions of others, but we do not want to give an inch for the same. This attitude denies both the spirit and the letter of our text and ignores our plain responsibility, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men” (Romans 12:18). How many have truly gone to that extremity before conceding it is not possible?

Fourthly, we have another word concerning peace; we are to “pursue it.” Most of us would be glad if we happened to come into peace. Our text is much stronger, instructing us to “pursue” peace. The hunter pursues his prey, and the hungry hunter does so even more. We must hunger after peace and pursue it relentlessly as Paul who said, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offence toward God, and toward men” (Acts 24:16). Finally, this peace cannot be achieved by ungodly compromise, for at the beginning we are told to “Depart from evil.”

To the modern mind, our text must seem radical indeed. Frankly, if we have any hope of following these precepts, we must be able to make decisive value judgments. We must be able to know what evil is and be able to distinguish it from the good. This is a mark of maturity and wisdom, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14).

Society today rejects this wisdom, wanting rather the moral ambiguity of “objectivity.” Such objectivity is illusive, and in fact, is neither possible nor desirable. God’s people cannot mill about in the fog of obscurantism. There is no such lack of clarity in God’s Word. He says, “Woe unto them that call evil good, and good evil; that put darkness for light, and light for darkness; that put bitter for sweet, and sweet for bitter!” (Isaiah 5:20). Solomon wrote, “He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD” (Proverbs 17:15). To confuse good and evil is a serious evil in itself. We must be able to discern good and evil, and “Abhor that which is evil; cleave to that which is good” (Romans 12:9).

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