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06 December 2017

Psalm 17: Boldness Before God

Come Boldly Before the Throne of God

Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips.
-Psalm 17:1

This Psalm starts out with a plea for the Lord to "hear the RIGHT": right comes from the Hebrew tsehdek, meaning a national, moral, or legal right, also equity or, figuratively, prosperity. It's translated as "righteousness", "just", or "justice". The entry in Strong's is lengthy and a lot of it is pretty interesting. It comes in a masculine form (tesdeq), used 157 times throughout the Old Testament, and in a feminine form (tsedeqah), used 119 times and found mainly in poetic literature:

"The first usage of tsedeq is: 'Ye shall do no unrighteousness in judgement; thou shalt not respect the person of the poor, nor honor the person of the mighty; but in righteousness shalt thou judge thy neighbor' (Lev. 19:15); and of tsedaqah is '[Abram] believed in the Lord; and he counted it to him for righteousness' (Gen. 15:6). ... [there is a] two-fold significance: relational and legal. On the one hand, the relationships among people and of a man to his God can be described as tsedeq, supposing the parties are faithful to each other's expectations. It is a RELATIONAL WORD. ... On the other hand "righteousness" as an abstract or as the LEGAL STATUS of a relationship is also present in the Old Testament. ... The books of Psalms and of the prophets particularly use the sense of "righteousness" as a state... Tsedeq and tsedaqah are legal terms signifying justice in conformity with the legal corpus, the justice of the king as judge, and also the source of justice, God Himself. ... The verbs associated with "righteousness" indicate the practicality of this concept. One judges, deals, sacrifices, and speaks righteously; and one learns, teaches, and pursues after righteousness. Based upon a special relationship with God, the Old Testament saint asked God to deal righteously with him."

Affected as we all are by the Fall, it's a bold cry, "Hear the right, O Lord", which draws on the covenant relationship of both Israel in general, and of David as king in particular, as he is the author of this Psalm. Like the Old Testament saints, modern saints enjoy a covenant relationship with Deity, entered into in both the waters of baptism and also in the temples. It is the strength of the special relationship -the covenant relationship- that allows saints then and now to approach Deity with such boldness.

Hear the right, O Lord, attend unto my cry, give ear unto my prayer, that goeth not out of feigned lips. Let my sentence come forth from thy presence; let thine eyes behold the things that are equal.
-Psalm 17:1-2

Equal here, comes from a word that means rectitude or uprightness, adding to this sense of confidence before the Lord that this passage conveys.

Here I am.
I am unafraid of Thy judgement.
Pass sentence on me; you will see that I am upright.

Perhaps it was the David's bold cry Paul was thinking of when he admonished the Hebrews to labor to "enter in to [Christ's] rest" and then went on saying:

Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need. 
-Hebrews 4:16

I love this balance that you see in Paul's writings, between grace and works. It makes perfect sense: if you let these two principles get out of balance with each other, you go too far in either direction, then you actually destroy the need for a Savior: Too much reliance on works is pride. It's the mistaken idea that you can earn heaven. But of course all have fallen short of the glory of God, save Christ alone. None of the rest of us has any hope of ever being able to life the perfect, sinless life necessary to earn exaltation. To the extent that we rely on our works, that we try to earn heaven, we are saying, "I don't need a Savior; I can do this on my own." This hubris is doomed to failure.

On the other hand, if we let our pendulum swing to far to toward grace, and begin to deny the necessity of putting forth our fullest effort, we deny that our works matter. But if our works don't matter, then we are essentially saying that there is no functional difference between goodness and badness. And if there's no difference... there is no need for grace. Denying the necessity of works actually, ironically, destroys grace by making it irrelevant.

Grace and works are opposite principles that define each other: Christ commands us to do the works we've seen Him do -- works are an inescapable part of being Christian. BUT. While it is good and right to do good things, to keep commandments, and all that that entails, each right choice only serves for that instance -- they do not cover those times where we fall short, as we all inevitably do. Thus the absolute dependence on Christ's grace.

This duality between faith and works makes the David's confidence intriguing.

Here I am: search me. I have nothing to fear. 

There's actually several verses about this kind of thing. I collected some of them into a scripture chain:

1 John 4:18 -- Perfect love casts out fear
Moroni 8:16 -- Moroni is bold because he's not afraid
Acts 4:31 -- Boldness comes through the Holy Ghost
Hebrews 10:19 -- Repentance brings boldness
Alma 38:12 -- Boldness, but not overbearance
Hebrews 4:16 -- Approach God boldly through grace
Psalm 17:1-2 -- David is bold because of righteousness

Thinking about all this reminded me of the quote from the Lectures on Faith:

Let us here observe, that three things are necessary in order than any rational and intelligent being may exercise faith in God unto life and salvation. First, the idea that He actually exists. Secondly, a correct idea of His character, perfections, and attributes. Thirdly, an actual knowledge that the course of life which he is pursuing is according to His will. 

I think that third point is key: we need to know that we are living in compliance with God's will. This isn't something that's nice for those favored few; this is a thing that each one of God's children needs - hungers for. Interestingly, the scriptures in my scripture chain indicate that it comes down to the very first principles of the Gospel: faith, repentance, and the Holy Ghost.

David saw with an eye of faith, took confidence from repentance, and from the Holy Ghost.
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1 comment:

Anne Chovies said...

I think one of my favorite passages dealing with boldness before God is D&C 121:45 which includes: "Then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God". That passage lays out what is required to gain the confidence to be so bold as to approach God with a request. We are taught to accept what God sends our way but this verse tells us it's also okay to ask for specific blessings.


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