A Prayer of Moses, the man of God. Lord, you have been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever you had formed the earth and the world, from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
My foregoing remarks may have seemed a bit theologically technical, but it has not been without reason. Any practical benefit which may be derived from the rest of this Psalm can be meaningful only if it is grounded upon the theological framework we have labored to present. The structure of this Psalm tells us this. Verse 1 is a statement of a great privilege of the Church. Verse 2 gives the theological reason for this. Then verses 3-17 lay out all of the inferences and ramifications of this objective doctrinal statement. Scripture never gives pastoral theology in the absence of doctrinal theology.
You will recall that earlier I suggested that this Psalm was written when the people of God murmured in unbelief at the report of 10 of the 12 spies. You will also recall that earlier I spoke of Israel standing on the very brink of receiving the first in a series of promises - or rather fulfillments of promises - that would ultimately culminate in the Seed of Abraham in which all the nations of the earth would be blessed. And at the very moment when they could almost taste it, their faith faltered and in their unbelief they behaved as if God’s faithfulness to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and indeed, to themselves, was nonexistent and irrelevant. That, it seems to me, is the reason that this Psalm begins by looking back on God’s eternal decree of sovereign electing love for His people. That is why I endeavored to lay the theological framework.
If God’s people have been guilty of anything throughout the ages, it is the ingratitude of forgetfulness. This is the result of forgetting how great our sins and miseries are and how great God’s deliverance of us from our sins and miseries is! Israel failed to trust God’s faithfulness to them when it came time to cross into Canaan because they had forgotten how great their bondage in Egypt was and how great their deliverance was.
I know that we’re Westminster Standards people here, but I can’t resist pointing to the “Guilt, Grace, Gratitude” paradigm of Heidelberg Catechism Question 2, which, in reference to the comfort derived from knowing that I belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, asks, “How many things are necessary for thee to know, that thou, enjoying this comfort mayest live and die happily.” The answer is: “Three; the first, how great my sins and miseries are; the second, how I may be delivered from all my sins and miseries; the third, how I shall express my gratitude to God for such deliverance.” Whenever we lose sight of the magnitude of our guilt, we necessarily lose sight of the magnitude of God’s grace. If we lose sight of these two things, we will become ungrateful. This ingratitude expresses itself in either moral laxity or self-righteousness. But a constant view of our guilt and God’s grace breeds a constant gratitude. If God is eternal, and if His decreed love for us is eternal, then He loved us in full cognizance of our guilt. This does not lead to presumption, but to humility and grateful obedience.
But, as I said, we are forgetful. God in His goodness has always tried to alert us to this danger. Throughout the entire Old Testament administration of the Covenant of Grace every single sacrifice, every single feast, every single religious rite or ceremony was aimed at reminding God’s people of the unmerited favor they had received and the unmerited favor they were yet to receive via the promises that were to be fulfilled by the coming of the Christ. Every time that we partake of the sacraments, God is signifying and sealing to us His covenant promises. He reminds us that we have done nothing to deserve having our sins washed away by the precious blood of Christ. He reminds us that we have done nothing to deserve being engrafted into Christ. He reminds us that He has been our dwelling place throughout all generations and that before He created the world, He was from everlasting to everlasting the one and only true God.
From everything which we have said we can draw the following inferences:
1. Remember earlier that I pointed out the fact that this Psalm is a prayer? Here is what we learn from that fact: There is no approaching God in prayer, unless we lay hold on the offer of God’s kindness –unless we look upon God as gracious to us in Christ. That is why here, as elsewhere in Scripture, this prayer begins with a renewed expression of saving faith.
2. God’s people in every place and age, are one with God’s people in all ages preceding and following, and may lay claim to all the privileges of God’s people before them. In our Psalm we see the Church in Moses’ time joining itself with all God’s people in former times, for the benefit of the God’s people in future times.
3. God’s love towards us is eternal. As Romans 8:39 says, “Nothing can separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.” I wonder if you realize just how wonderful that truth really is. Because Paul says this immediately after he has assembled a list which he labels “everything in creation.” God is the only Being outside of Creation, and we know that He has loved in Christ from eternity past, and so we do not doubt His intentions towards us. Since God’s love for us is eternal, it was there before the world was there. It predates everything and anything in creation. Therefore, no created being, not even Satan himself, can get beyond or between God’s love and us. John Knox wrote, “When we understand that presently we believe in Christ Jesus, because we were ordained before the beginning of all times to believe in him; as in him we were elected to the society of eternal life; then is our faith assuredly grounded, and that because the gifts and vocation of God are without repentance, and he is faithful that hath called us. His infinite goodness, which moved him to love us in another then in ourselves, that is in Christ Jesus, according to his free benevolence, which he had purposed in him, is to us a tower of refuge, which Satan is never able to overthrow, nor the gates of hell shall never prevail against it.”
4. Someone once asked Augustine what God was doing before He created the world, to which Augustine is said to have replied that God was making hell for smart-alecks who asked such impudent questions. But here we see that before God created the world He had already willed to be the dwelling place of His people throughout all time and beyond.
5. Based upon these truths we see that our trials and sufferings, the painful process of sanctification, and the countless unanswered questions which arise in our minds as we observe the mysterious work of Providence, – all these things have eternal glory as their ultimate outcome. That is why this Psalm can start where it does – with a view of God’s eternal love for His people, and after bewailing the frailty of human life, which is merely the result of our iniquities and secret sins which are always in the light of God’s presence, the Psalm can end in a song of joy and eternal gladness satisfied with God’s unfailing love.
John Knox in his work on Predestination writes, “Except our comfort be grounded upon that foundation which never can be moved, it is not perfect.” In the verses we have looked at we have seen the greatest comfort a sin-weary soul can find: the love of God for His people, our dwelling place.