Calvin’s “pastoral variation of the Institutes”

“…only two years lie between the appearance of the commentary on the Psalms (1557) and the publication of the last Latin edition of the Institutes (1559). Given certain passages which are duplicated nearly verbatim in both works, it is noticeable that Calvin worked on both books simultaneously. In light of the distinction in genre and reading audience as well as the correspondence in content, I would like to define the commentary on the Psalms as a pastoral variation of the Institutes. In his commentary in particular Calvin applies himself to the main themes of the Institutes and gives them form so that they are directly applicable to the practice of living in faith. This would also explain why Calvin sometimes brings issues into consideration during his exposition which neither appear in the text of the Psalm nor seem to directly relate to it, and meanwhile Calvin makes far fewer references to contemporary events and situations than others commentators from the era do. Hence discussions of such things as the Lord’s Supper and the Trinity do not occur at all, and the matter of election scarcely occurs.”

—Herman J. Selderhuis, Calvin’s Theology of the Psalms (Baker Academic 2007) pp. 283-284.

Psalm 4: The Who

In the evening when my wife and kids gather for dinner, I throw out theology-loaded questions to gauge where my children are at spiritually, and and to see where I can improve as a father. I chuckle at their cute little responses and we work through the answers together.

Our 7-year-old son can field questions like a reformed little league all-star, already thinking a bit like the man he was named after (Jonathan Edwards), already asking and working through questions (like: why is it not selfish for God to love Himself above all others?). But it’s the open theism tendencies of my closet arminian 3-year-old daughter that leave me concerned (not to mention the open-fisted carbohydrate hurling of my 18-month-old switch-pitching son that leaves me covered in gravy.)

So I continue to ask questions.

Last Wednesday night, the question that joined the chicken casserole out on the table was this: For Christians, what promises to deliver joy? We all know that we should be joyful, but why? How?

I rephrased the question a bit for my daughter: If God took away all our stuff, would we be happy? Could we be happy?

“No,” she said without pause.

So I asked the question again to see if a moment of reflection would help her formulate a more detailed answer.

“No,” she said.

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because we could not be happy because we have no things.” You needed to be there to hear the words for yourself to get the full cuteness factor.

I appreciate my daughter’s response for its honesty (and for the way she answers questions with multiple uses of the word because in each sentence). She was born with this materialism because her dad passed this tendency along to her, a dad who sometimes acts as though his happiness was tethered to the amount of stuff he possesses.

And I think each of us are born with this Asaph-complex, the tendency to gauge God’s favor towards us, and therefore define our personal joy, by material prosperity and circumstances (Psalm 73).

So can we be happy if God takes away all our stuff—or even worse?

In this Psalm, David was surrounded by trials and temptations and loss. David was cornered, he was hunted by his own son who usurped his throne, he was both the target of slander and defenseless to it, he was pierced with the hot lead of gossip fired from the barrel of loose tongues, he was humiliated publicly, he was surrounded by lies that further undermined his authority, and he was even brought down low by his friends, who became a cloud of doom further darkening his life.

This Psalm perplexes those of us in a western materialistic climate, because despite experiencing the loss of everything, David was filled with joy. He had joy because he had God.

Communion with God was David’s joy, a joy untouched by the slander, untouched by the loss, untouched by the outward gloom, a sweet fellowship enjoyed in reflection and prayer in the quiet peacefulness of night, those dark hours when the terror of anxiety often breaks into the silence with piercing screams to steal and destroy joy, moments now calmed for communion with God.

It was God who deposited this joy in David’s heart, a joy similar to the joy filling the heart during times of material abundance and prosperity, but a different joy altogether, a joy untethered from physical comforts, untethered from the approval of others, untethered from the plunge of Wall Street.

We, too, can find this joy if we find it in God, as we walk in God’s Word, as we know Him, as we love Him, as we delight in His goodness. And as we walk this path, joy, untouchable by circumstances, fills our hearts.

It is a good thing, and rightly do we enjoy, a bank account with money, a table with food, and several pair of clothes. These gifts each flow from God’s generosity towards each of us. But the possessions are small, temporary gifts compared to the fountain of joy He offers us.

To have God as our own, being united to Him through the death of His Son on the cross, is to possess the source of all joy, not merely enjoying temporary gifts, but to directly enjoy God, who is the source of our “infinite, self-sufficient, all-sufficient, essential, overflowing good” (Edwards).

This is the one secret to joy and happiness that you will not find printed in 40-point fluorescent green font on the cover of a magazine cover in the check-out line at the grocery store:

Get God, then seek Him all of your days, and discover with the Psalmist that the source of eternal joy is not in the what, it’s in the Who.


Quote from Works of Jonathan Edwards (Yale) 10:383.

Psalm 3: Smashing Faces, Lifting Heads

Absalom stole David’s throne and stole from David the hearts of Israel. And David hightailed out of Dodge.

Overnight, David was tossed from his throne and hunted in the wilderness. Now he is pressed against a dark cave, listening in the distance for the sound of approaching hunters, enduring the heart-stopping responses to the smallest sounds, listening for the crack of twigs, holding his breath.

David cried out to God.

I fear too often the god I cry out to is a god of my imagination, fitted with padded boxing gloves, a stick for a sword, and a cap gun to make a lot of noise. He becomes a god who cannot break a sweat, and could never break an enemy.

This is not our God.

Our God is the lifter of heads, holding up the downcast, the discouraged, the fearful, and the hunted. But He is also dressed for battle, at war against sin, and fully aware of every enemy crouching in the bushes waiting to rise.

God is also the smasher of faces.

And as violent as this sounds, it’s under the shield of this God that David finally rests, being hunted but no longer in danger, shielded from the blows of his enemy, released from fear, released from the adrenaline kick that kept him watchful and alert, free from the worry that raced his heart, released from tension, sustained in God, now slowly becoming limp, a powerless body mercifully given over to sleep.

Perhaps because we fail to balance both sides of our God, we lack confidence in Him as our shield. And we don’t sleep well. We respond to the blows of life as if there is no iron shield to protect us, as if we are abandoned in the cave by a God who is too busy, too unconcerned, or simply too incapable to help us.

The god who cannot break his enemies is a god who will not comfort the fear-filled.

Among a thousand worries we are safe in Him. And if this is our God we have no cause for fear. No longer do we need fear over the economy, worry over personal finances, and toss and turn all night in the sleepless tumult of tension, worry, hypotheticals, and the fear of the unknown.

This Psalm teaches me a simple lesson: God is both the One who lifts heads and breaks teeth. A powerful, sustaining, defending God like this can remove all fear. He is strong enough to spread a blanket of sleep over the foxhole of life.

Psalm 2: Return of the King

Christ, the Anointed Son, sits on a throne. His rule stretches to the corners of creation. Every trickle of authority in heaven and on earth is now under his rule. No one–no pharaoh, no king, no president, is outside his reign. The Sovereign authority of the Son encompasses all people—from every racial origin, from all the continents of the globe. All have been created to serve and worship and glorify Him, and to enjoy the rich blessings of an eternal kingdom.

The Anointed has cast his rope of authority over all men.

But man rages against God, thrusting knives at the ropes of authority—as if the chords were an ambush, like a net contracted around a trapped animal, hanging helplessly in the air for its hunter.

Man forms alliances to build strength against the Anointed.

The Lord in heaven laughs at man’s rage.

No less a rebel is the man who ignores God. He refuses to pursue God. The fool says in his heart that God is nothing, a phantom, an impotent and imagined delusion. God is to him an unnecessary distraction from the banquet of selfish desires (Ps. 10:4, 14:1-3, Rom. 3:11). The fool has become His enemy by intentional ignorance.

The Lord in heaven laughs at man’s delusions.

The kings of the world conspire together to murder the Anointed Son. False accusations, slander, violence, spit, lashes, nails–all reveal the hatred. Cold death descends with the darkness. But Christ’s murder breaks a pathway down into the ground that opens upward to enthroned exaltation. The throne is a reward for His death.

The Lord in heaven laughs at man’s wisdom.

The kings of the earth rage against the gospel, persecute believers, threaten violence, destroy families, kill, disband churches, imprison leaders, refuse the distribution of bibles, silence preachers.

The Lord laughs. The church grows. Convictions strengthen. The gospel spreads (Acts 4:19-31).

The Lord laughs because the Anointed is returning. Soon Christ will end the mutiny. He will step down from his throne with an iron scepter in his fist to shatter his enemies like glassware (Rev. 2:27). He will step back into this world to tread his enemies with the sole of His feet, thrusting down on his enemies the winepress of his wrath, crimson blood soaking the bottom of his white robe (Isa. 63:3).

This is the Jesus we never knew—or the Jesus many would like to forget. But this is the real Jesus, the anointed King who will return to fulfill thousands of years of expectations and anticipations of God’s people. He will fix every injustice, dry every tear, and remove the handcuffs of evil from his people and his world.

But before the Son returns with His scepter in his fist, He stretches out mercy in his hand. The Anointed bids sinners to come, to kiss the ring of His Lordship, to find refuge from the wrath.

The King’s heart throbs with love towards sinners. The Anointed takes no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather hopes that sinners turn and live.

Captured in Psalm 2 are life-shaping realities:

The only refuge from the wrath of the King is to find refuge in the King.

The day of wrath upon His enemies is also the day of deliverance for His people.

His return is meaningless for none.

Perhaps you kick violently against God’s authority, thrusting knives at the bonds of His authority. Perhaps you plug your ears, unwilling to pursue Him. Perhaps you find your heart somewhere in the middle. It matters little. The King’s return is imminent.

Kiss His hand. Bow under His rightful authority. Humbly and joyfully take up His yoke. And find in Him a place of refuge where sinners are given forgiveness in His blood, safety, justice, salvation, spiritual riches and eternal joy. Blessed are all who take refuge in Him.


Illustration by

Psalm 1

When I picture the Psalm 1 man, James Bond comes to mind. Trite, I know.

Bond fights evil wearing shades and a suit. He walks behind enemy lines like he walks the public streets of London. He strolls down the sidewalk, away from his ticking bomb that will soon detonate. Boom! The blast from down the street and over his shoulder swishes his suit coat mildly. Bond cups his hands to light a cigarette, and keeps walking.

The Psalm 1 man is cool, calm, and unaffected, but not because his heart is granite.

The Psalm 1 man slips on his shades and walks straight through fads, ignoring the pressures to conform, closing his ears to gossip. He keeps walking because his heart is soft. He is not self-confident. He is not boastful. He is not proud.

The Psalm 1 man does not think like the world, he does not behave like the world, he does not belong to the world. His heart has been softened to what is true and steadfast.

The Psalm 1 man does not walk confidently because he is sure of his own perceptions, wisdom, and confidence. He walks confidently because he trusts God’s Word to deliver wisdom, direction, and transcendent joy.

Over time the Word has germinated in the softened soil of his heart, stretching its roots deeper, and slowly growing upward into a magnificent, large, and fruitful tree.

The Psalm 1 man is both certain and soft, fearless and affected, firm and joy-filled. How happy, how blessed, is this man!

Interpreting the Psalms by Mark D. Futato

book announcement
Interpreting the Psalms: An Exegetical Handbook (Kregel: 2007)
by Mark D. Futato

“Futato takes his student by the hand through the complexities of Hebrew poetry, soars high to get a bird’s eye view of the book and its themes, returns to earth and deftly guides through the thorny patch of textual criticism, gives ‘Aha’ moments in explaining form criticism and how the Psalter’s categories refer to Christ, and ends with practical pointers on how to preach the book. Next time I teach the Book of Psalms this will be my text.”’

— Bruce Waltke, Professor of Old Testament, Reformed Theological Seminary

Notes: A background in Hebrew will help the reader grasp the details of this book. However, preachers with little or no Hebrew background will also benefit from most of the discussion. … The section comparing the old/new perspectives on Hebrew parallelism is especially helpful (see pp. 37-41). In the past, interpreters like C.S. Lewis have concluded that parallels in the Psalms were redundant. Futato argues these parallels display “the art of saying something similar in both cola but with a difference added in the second colon” (p. 38). With this new understanding of Hebrew parallelism the interpreter is less likely to “flatten the text” and will glean “a richer reading” from these parallels (p. 40). … The book also excels in explaining the overarching themes of the Psalter. It may have been better titled, An Exegetical and Theological Handbook. A very helpful new volume.