There are two ways we receive natural revelation.
The first way is appreciation for what God has made.
Illustration: There is something about getting off a ski lift in the Rockies or the Swiss Alps, turning around and experiencing the breathtaking view from what seems to be the top of the world, or walking along the beach alone early in the morning as the sun is coming up over the ocean, or scuba diving in the Caribbean with thousands of multi-colored fish swimming around you ... that causes us to say, “There’s got to be more than me -- a designer of all this variety, a designer of all this beauty, a designer of life. When we notice things like that and pause to think about them, we are experiencing natural revelation.
Application: The question we need to ask ourselves is this: "Have I received any revelation today?" You can receive and experience natural revelation first hand. Notice it said, "there is no speech nor are there words." It is all non-verbal communication. It is visual. What we need to do is to stop and smell the roses.
The second way we receive natural revelation is through studying what God has made. This is the human observation of natural events. Scientists do this. Psychologists do this. Rush Limbaugh does it. Average people do this. All of them are capable of making true statements to describe a phenomenon. They also make mistakes.
Illustration: If an unbeliever is at a soccer game for six year olds and he sees the coach yelling at some child, and he says “that coach shouldn’t do that.” He has just made a value judgment. Is his value judgment true? Yes. Is it biblical? Yes. Did he get it from the Bible? No.
Application: What we must do is integrate our observations and the observations of others with Scripture. When a scientist announces a discovery or hypothesis, we must check it against Scripture. Just this week I heard that an anthropologist uncovered the missing link which proves that we evolved from African apes. I don’t believe him because Scripture says God created man.
When a psychologist makes a statement about human behavior, we don’t automatically accept it because he is a psychologist. In fact, many Christians would be likely to discount it automatically because he is a psychologist. I’ve been reading a book lately that bashes several popular Christian psychologists. The authors of the book are of the opinion that if a psychologist added 2+2 he would be incapable of ever coming up with the answer “4.” But that is not fair. Psychologists can discover truth. Not because of their system of psychology, but because they spend years observing people and discussing their problems. They are bound to begin recognizing certain patterns of behavior, styles of relating, etc. What we must do is check what the psychologist says against Scripture.
Spurgeon says, "We have a Bible which is large enough to be a perfect library, and which is also so compact that we can carry it about with us wherever we go." He is right. And I guarantee that you could find the same answer in Scripture that a Christian psychologist like James Dobson or Larry Crabb might give (assuming they are giving correct answers). But the Scriptures speak in condensed language. They do not speak exhaustively on everything.
For example: When God says in Jeremiah 2:13, “My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” That is a condensed, word picture of what is really going on. It is true. But does it describes me? Have I forsaken God? Larry Crabb has written that broken cisterns can be a person’s style of relating that he has developed to try to make life work. It might be manipulating people, or anger, or illegitimate relationships, or any number of things. If a Christian psychologist writes a book that describes all the “broken cisterns” that he has observed over the course of several years of counseling, it can be very helpful to recognizing sinful patterns in my own life. He has discovered truth. And I can benefit from his research.
“All truth is God’s truth” is a statement we have to understand. If something is true, it is true. We must check it against the special revelation of God to see if it is. That brings us to the next part of the Psalm.
God reveals himself through his word. The psalmist gives six descriptions of the word of God. He mentions the law, the testimony of the Lord, the precepts, commandments, fear of the lord and the judgments of the lord.
When he says “the law of the Lord” he may be referring just to the Mosaic law, which to the Jew was the central part of Scripture, or this could refer to all of Scripture. It is probably the latter. The Word of God is perfect because it is directed toward the well-being of man. It gives us comfort and encouragement. The law was not given to keep us from having fun. It was given for our own good. Sometimes, we don’t act like we believe that. But God loves people and what He has told us in His word is what is best for us. Satan on the other hand hates people. He wants to destroy them.
Making wise the simple means it gives man a solid foundation and stability so that he is not easily led astray.
The precepts and the commandments refer to the precision and authority with which God addresses us. (Kidner)
They revive and refresh us, encourage us, etc. And just like nothing is hidden from the sun in God’s natural revelation, God’s Word enlightens us and reveals evil.
Ryrie says this is reverential trust in his footnotes. Kidner says it is the human response to God’s word. But Ross says it is a synonym for the law. (BKCOT) Keil and Delitsch say it is “the revealed way in which God is to be feared” - i.e. it is the religion of Yahweh. That is similar to what Ross says. I tend to agree with Ross because all the other items mentioned are about the law of the Lord. David is listing the attributes of the word of God. Isaiah 40:8 says, “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever.” I don’t know if we can say that about subjective and fickle human emotions. And I think the response to the law starts in verse 10.1
God is fair. We often think that life is not fair. There is much injustice in the world, but it is a comfort to know that God is fair and will work it all out in the end.
In verse 10 we see that the Scriptures are very valuable to David. Why is it, if David spent six verses talking about natural revelation and two verses talking about special revelation, that his response focuses on the special revelation? I think that is because natural revelation is designed to bring you to the recognition of the need for special revelation. Special revelation is more important. It is where our focus should be. We should look at the rest of the world through the lens of Scripture. If I can piggy-back on my previous illustration: It is ok to read someone like Larry Crabb sometimes, but don’t major on him. Major on the Scriptures.
David recognizes that God’s word is good for him. It is more desirable than gold because gold does not satisfy. You always think you need a little more. But through Scripture we can know God and have relationship with Him and that does satisfy.
In verse 11 David says, "by them (the precepts and commandments) is Thy servant warned."
No guilty conscience. When your conscience is bothering you, there is no place to hide and you are miserable. But if you have done right, then you can be at peace no matter what the circumstances.
Illustration: I read in one of Spurgeon's sermons of a martyr who was about to be burned at the stake. The sheriff who was to execute him expressed sorrow that he should persevere in his opinions, and compel him to set fire to the pile. The martyr answered, "Do not trouble yourself, for I am not troubling myself. Come and lay your hand upon my heart, and see if it does not beat quietly." His request was complied with, and he was found to be quite calm. "Now," said he, "lay your hand on your own heart and see if you are not more troubled than I am; and instead of pitying me, pity yourself."
I am also reminded of Stephen when he was being stoned. He knew he was right. He knew he was obeying God, and he was able to face death quietly.
Spurgeon says, "it is the most healthful exercise to your spirit." Obeying the law means you love God and love people. The law is not designed just to be a list of rules. That is what many make it out to be. That is what the Pharisees turned it into, and that is why Jesus told parables about Good Samaritans, unforgiving servants, etc. When you love God and love people you have healthy relationships.
John 7:17 says that we can't know the teaching of God if we aren't committed to doing his will. Christ challenged the Pharisees for not obeying the law and then condemning His teaching. Learning the Word is not an academic exercise. It is a matter of the heart.
Jesus mentions rewards nine times in the sermon on the mount. The parables of the talents and minas show that there will be rewards in heaven for faithful service. Paul talks about eternal rewards in 1Co 3 and Col 3.
Summary: The Word keeps us and we keep the Word.
I think David is asking God to reveal those things about him that he does not recognize as sinful. I think that because his next request is for cleansing from presumptuous sins.
Spurgeon thought secret sins referred to those sins David committed in private that no one else saw. Spurgeon’s category seems fairly presumptuous to me. Spurgeon preached a sermon against secret sins in which he gave four characteristics which I will summarize:
The illustration he gave was of a person who said, “I’m just going to get drunk on Friday night at home where nobody can see me...” The problem is: God will see. You will feel guilty. and you may start drinking too much on other nights of the week.
This is the attitude that I am above the laws of God. They don’t apply to me. I don’t care what the Bible says. Nothing bad will happen to me. We may not say it out loud, but our actions say it loudly. I think Spurgeon’s secret sins fit better into this category.
In the law there was provision for sins committed in ignorance, but not for willful sins. There was no sacrifice available. One could repent - like David did in Ps. 51 and plead for God’s mercy, but you couldn’t commit a sin on purpose, then go down and offer a sacrifice and have a clean slate. Therefore, David wanted God to restrain him from committing such sins.
It is interesting that this is exactly what the Catholic church was doing in Martin Luther’s day. They were selling indulgences (forgiveness papers) so that a person could go sin (on purpose) and then cash in his coupon and be forgiven. That was what started the Protestant reformation.
David’s response should be my response. When he takes in the beauty of creation and understands the message of the special revelation, he is humbled and wants to:
Let the words of my mouth they echo vss 7-9 special revelation
and the meditation of my heart - that focuses on the natural revelation
be acceptable in Thy sight
My rock (something relating to natural revelation)
and my redeemer (something we can only have through special revelation)
See the consistency of thought throughout this poem. What a summary statement.
Message statement: Moved by the observation that the heavens, under the domination influence of the sun, declare the splendor of God's handiwork, the psalmist (by comparison) describes the dominating influence of the efficacious law of Yahweh which enlightens him, and then prays for complete cleansing so that his life will be acceptable before Yahweh.2
God speaks to us on the left side of the diagram through his world and his word. We have called this natural revelation and special revelation.
We speak to God on the right side of the diagram. Our prayer is a response to His word, His special revelation. Our praise is a response to his world, His natural revelation. Of course we can also praise him for things we learned about Him from Hs word, but most of the praise in the Psalms is about God's work in creation.
Christ is central to this whole process. He is the Final revelation. He is our intercessor. We go to God through Him. We pray in Jesus' name. John 1: says that the light came into the world and was the light of men.... Jesus was the creator and has enlightened every man through creation (natural revelation) and he came in person (special revelation).
When Satan wants to attack this process and keep us from worshipping God, where does he start? Does he come into the church and have demons disrupt the service? Not usually. That would more than likely motivate Christians to stand strong against him. He is more subtle than that. Instead, he works on destroying the left side of the circle.
How has Satan attacked natural revelation? special revelation? Christ? God?
Satan knows that if he can cut off the left side of the diagram, he makes the right side ineffective because we have nothing to respond to. Proverbs 28:9 says, “When one will not listen to the law, even one's prayers are an abomination.” If I'm not listening to the left side, my prayer is an abomination to Him. If we aren’t taking in the Word, we won’t even pray except when we want something. Our prayer is to be a dialogue, not a monologue of requests. So, if we aren't taking it in, there is static on the line. That is the connection between the Word and prayer.
What is the connection between the world and praise?
Romans1:18-21 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and wickedness of those who by their wickedness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. (NRSV)
Romans 1:18f shows us the connection and what happened. They weren't thankful. Why? They took God out of his position and they had no one to left to honor or praise.
That is why Satan has been so subtle by working on the left side of the diagram. He has given men a theory to hold to that is very popular and gives them a way to deny God's existence and their ultimate responsibility to Him.
If we take away the left side of the diagram but continue with the right side, if we continue with the prayer and praise, we end up with religion. All we have is ritual and manufactured worship. If there is no revelation, then all you have is religion. Man trying to reach God by his own method.
Illustration of religion:
If you take away the left side of the diagram, you end up inventing your own praise and praying however you think best. How do you know that God listens? If you're not following God's plan and praying in response to the word of God, then that is like saying you don't care what God says, but you still want Him to listen to what you say. God is not just a tape recorder in which you record your prayers.
1 I like Kidner’s comments though, Law and testimony are the comprehensive terms for God’s revelation. Precepts and commandments indicate the precision and authority with which He addresses us, while fear, or reverence, emphasizes the human response fostered by His word. Ordinances, or judgments are the judicial decision he has recorded about various human situations. Psalms, p. 99.