Having now finished our long study through Romans, summer is upon us! And just as we have spent many summers in the Psalms over the past years, we’ll do so again this year, looking at various Psalms for the next 9 weeks. Now, all of the Psalms are wonderful. All of them teach us much. All of them carry us along various melodies as they reveal the wonder of God. All of them together contain, express, and display all the anatomy of the soul. And all of these cries of the soul are ultimately answered in the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
It might be obvious but it’s worth saying, in the next 9 weeks we cannot cover all 150 Psalms, that would take quite a lot longer than 9 weeks. So, choices needed to be made. While we’ve set our focus on different Psalms in years past, whether it’s well-known Psalms, or a certain category of Psalms, this year we’d like to focus on Psalms that don’t jump out immediately and grab your attention. Many Psalms are like this as you read through them for various reasons. Some Psalms seem to merely repeat what other Psalms have said before. Other Psalms seem so specific that it’s hard to know how it exactly applies to us today. While other Psalms seem so general one can read them quickly and have trouble remembering what they said. I’m convinced these Psalms deserve our attention and our affection, yet sadly they’re far too neglected. So Church, welcome to another Psalm Summer. And to kick us off this year is Psalm 25.
Psalm 25 is a Psalm of David, and it’s an acrostic Psalm. Meaning, each verse begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet, just like many other Psalms do, perhaps most famously among them is Psalm 119. But unlike these other acrostic Psalms that follow the Hebrew alphabet, Psalm 25 doesn’t contain all the letters of the Hebrew alphabet, and a few of the letters are out of order. And we really don’t know why this is the way it is. This has led some to call Psalm 25 the ugly duckling among the Psalms. But Psalm 25 has also been given a rough time because, I think, many people just don’t know what to do with it. At various points among these 22 verses David shows himself to be confident, ashamed, guilty, joyful, humble, distressed, repentant, threatened, and needy. How can one man feel so many things in one Psalm? Well, the answer is easy and simple: David shows himself to be truly human in Psalm 25. Yes, he is King David, he’s the anointed of the Lord, and he’s the one God covenanted with for all eternity, but in these verses what we see is the heart and soul of one who truly walks with the Lord in the ebb and flow ordinary life.
Church, we feel all these things in life too. Confidence in the Lord, shame and guilt over personal sins, humility and joy in God’s forgiveness, distress and threat from enemies, as well as a dependence and neediness for God to intervene and save. Of course, we feel these things. And if we’re honest, we often feel these things simultaneously, or back to back to back, as David felt them in Psalm 25. So, I’ve titled this sermon ‘The A-Z of the Soul’ because that’s what we have here before us.
Now, because of its nature Psalm 25 does not easily divide into nice and neat sections. While David speaks of many realities here, there is one pattern to see here. There are three prayers present in this Psalm and each ends with a kind of reflection. So we’ll work through these three prayers to see the Psalm as a whole.
Prayer #1 (v1-10)
“Of David. To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me. Indeed, none who wait for You shall be put to shame; they shall be ashamed who are wantonly treacherous. Make me to know Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Lead me in Your truth and teach me, for You are the God of my salvation; for You I wait all the day long. Remember Your mercy, O LORD, and Your steadfast love, for they have been from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth or my transgressions; according to Your steadfast love remember me, for the sake of Your goodness, O LORD!”
In v1 David begins with the Lord. Calling out to and calling on the Lord, saying he’s lifting up his soul to Him. This image of the soul being lifted up to God shows us something of what prayer is. It’s an intentional movement of the soul heavenward to seek the God who occupies the throne in heaven. While we can lift up our souls to God for many reasons, why is David doing it here? v2 says it, it’s because enemies are all around him and seeking to shame him. The Psalm doesn’t give us much detail about when this occurred in David’s life. There are many possibilities as to when, for David often found himself pressed in on by enemies. Nonetheless, David trusts the Lord so where does he send his soul? He lifts it up to the Lord. And when he does so, it all seems to remind him, in v3, that he won’t be put to shame, no not at all. In fact, he says no one who waits for the Lord will be put to shame. We learn here that even though we often have to wait for God to come and intervene or show up in power, God will always take care of His people and settle all accounts in the end, such that none of His people will ultimately be found ashamed in anything. Who then will be shamed in the end? Our enemies. These enemies are first mentioned in v2, and they, v3 tells us, are acting needlessly treacherous. The lost in their sin, in other words, never act in a logical manner, or from a valid reason or a just cause. v3 shows it, the wicked attack the righteous with reckless abandon. Thus, while the righteous might be shamed in life and vindicated in the end, the wicked might prosper in life and be shamed in the end.
What does David do about this threat? Does he wait passively during this trial? Not at all. David’s uplifted prayerful soul makes a request in v4-5. He desires God to come and make known His ways, to teach His paths, to lead in His truth. Why? Because God is the God of David’s salvation and he is waiting for Him. Does David seem weak to you here? He’s in trial, enemies abound, seeking to shame him, and what does he do? He cries out for God to come and guide him like a little child pleading to his father for help and direction in life. Is David weak here? Yes he is! And as opposite as it might seem to us, this is a wonderful weakness. It’s honest, for he is weak. It’s fitting, for he needs help. And it’s humble, for only one who is low will look up for help.
We see more of his weakness in v6-7 as he speaks God’s past mercy to Him. David says God’s mercies and steadfast love toward him have been from of old. Which shows us, perhaps, how God’s mercies have carried God’s people throughout the ages. David speaks of these very mercies and love he now enjoys, how they’ve covered over the sins of his youth, and he’s pleading for God in mercy and love to cover them still, not for his own sake but for the sake of God’s great goodness. Note here in v6-7 how David speaks of remembering. It’s used three times in quick succession here. In v6 David asks God to remember His mercy and love. Then in v7 David asks God to not remember his many sins, but that God would remember him according to His steadfast love and goodness. Curious isn’t this? Have you ever asked God to not remember your sins, but remember you in His great mercy and grace? Perhaps in doing so, David is pleading with God to so work in him that he himself wouldn’t be gripped by past sins and would be led out on ahead of them in faith.
All is all David is weak here. Normally, we think weakness isn’t a virtue to be pursued but a vice to be avoided. Yet, what a weak man David is here! He doesn’t deny it. He knows it to be true. He must lift his soul heavenward, he must look up to God, for he is weak and God is strong, and only in God can David find strength. Strength to go on in life confidently in spite of past sins and present enemies that cry out against him and seek to shame him. Church, in our weaknesses, in light of our own past sins and present trials, may we imitate David here and be honest with ourselves. Not denying it but facing, admitting, and owning that we’re weak as well. And may we, in such weakness, be eager to ever enroll in the school of the Lord where He’ll teach us His ways, His paths, and His truth.
This is what David speaks of next as he reflects in v8-10, “Good and upright is the LORD; therefore He instructs sinners in the way. He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble His way. All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.”
Can you see here how many of David’s requests have been answered? David felt attacked, shamed, needy, and threatened by many enemies, yet he trusted the Lord, lifted his soul to Him, and waited on Him. Now we see David express the other side of these requests, seemingly, after God showed up to help him. Now he says the Lord is good and upright, that God has instructed him, led him, and taught him. From experiencing this David concludes in v10, “All the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness, for those who keep His covenant and His testimonies.”
Let all those who are weak be strengthened in this, that God delivers sinners like us from sin, and leads us out of sin to paths of love and faithfulness.
Prayer #2 (v11-15)
“For Your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”
While the first prayer of Psalm 25 is seven verses long, this second prayer of the Psalm is just one verse in length. Some find this peculiar, or that v11 is out of place, but I don’t think so. Prayer, regardless how long, or short, or how well structured, or how free and unstructured, is always well placed when it’s pouring out of one’s soul. The transition from v8-10 to v11, and then seeing where v12-15 go, feels like real prayer to me. It’s as if having prayed in v1-7 before, and then having reflected in v8-10 on the goodness of God, in v11 David once again thinks on the difference between this good God and himself, the great sinner. So, naturally, he confesses his sin.
But even in confessing his sin there is beauty to see here. David doesn’t argue the merits of his own goodness, that God should forgive him based on that, no. David appeals to God’s glory as the basis for his pardon. He knows his sin is great, but he also knows God is greater. And that it would show forth God’s power and glory to pardon and deal with the sick heart of a great sinner. So, David pleads, “For Your name’s sake, O LORD, pardon my guilt, for it is great.”
And as if immediately after praying v11, David feels the assurance and relief of forgiveness and bursts out with another reflection in v12-15, “Who is the man who fears the LORD? Him will He instruct in the way that he should choose. His soul shall abide in well-being, and his offspring shall inherit the land. The friendship of the LORD is for those who fear Him, and He makes known to them His covenant. My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for He will pluck my feet out of the net.”
v12 begins with what could be the question of our age. Where are those who fear the Lord? 7 billion people live on planet earth. 7 billion hearts that either already have or will grow up to be gripped by something or another. Money, sex, and power seem to be the reigning top three idols in our world. ‘Have those and you’ve got it all!’ Yet, amid the mass of people running after those things, Church, where are those who fear the Lord? Where are those running after the Lord? Where are they? Have they been swallowed up in the worldliness of our day, or are they contentedly, humbly, and boldly living a life that’s a disruptive witness for all else to see? Are they living a life in this world which makes it plain that the greatest treasure to be gained in life is beyond this life in Christ? Where are those who fear the Lord?
Some say the benefits of money, sex, and power are endless. But look, Church, at the privileges of those who fear God. They will be instructed by God (v12), it will be well with them and they will be at rest (v13), they will receive a great inheritance from God (v13), they will gain the friendship or literally the secret counsel of God (v14), and to them God will His covenant, or everlasting favor, known (v14). Simply put, those who fear God will lack no good thing in this life or the next. Why? Because those who fear God, have God, and those who have God have everything, and those who have everything lack nothing!
Do you know something of these privileges? Being taught by God? Being at rest in God? Enjoying the covenant or everlasting favor of God? Or are the benefits strangers to you? Or is the joy of fearing the Lord bizarre to you? These things weren’t distant to David. He knew them and lived in them because he knew and lived in the Lord. So naturally David, just as in v10, now speaks boldly in v15, “My eyes are ever toward the LORD, for He will pluck my feet out of the net.”
David has now prayed twice and reflected twice, but even though speaks boldly here in v15, it seems his troubles once again spring up before him, and so we come to…
Prayer #3 (v16-22)
“Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. The troubles of my heart are enlarged; bring me out of my distresses. Consider my affliction and my trouble, and forgive all my sins. Consider how many are my foes, and with what violent hatred they hate me. Oh, guard my soul, and deliver me! Let me not be put to shame, for I take refuge in You. May integrity and uprightness preserve me, for I wait for You. Redeem Israel, O God, out of all his troubles.”
This final prayer feels like David is wrapping up and summarizing what he’s poured out to God, many of the same themes pop up here in v16-22. David is not only greatly troubled from trials outside him, from these many enemies and foes, David is greatly troubled from trials inside him, from his own many sins. So he once again pleads with God, to save him from all of this, to be gracious to him, to bring him out, to guard him, and to deliver him.
David has truly been confident, ashamed, guilty, joyful, humble, distressed, repentant, threatened, and needy all in this one Psalm. He is weak here, yet he is strong, and speaks boldly both to the Lord and of the Lord.
As instructive and encouraging as it is to see David go through the A-Z of the soul here, let’s ask one more question.
Where is Jesus in Psalm 25? Where is the gospel here? Well, I wonder if you’ve felt it as we walked through it, but the answer to all the cries for help in this Psalm are found in the gospel of Jesus Christ. For He is the One sent from God to redeem God’s people out of all their troubles, as v22 speaks of. In other words, God answered all the prayer of Psalm 25 to be delivered from our troubles by sending His Son to be troubled for us.
v1-2 says, “To you, O LORD, I lift up my soul. O my God, in You I trust; let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.” Church, do you see that God answers this prayer for us by doing the opposite to His Son? When Jesus, suffering in our place, as our substitute, on the cross, lifted up His soul to the Father, the result was that He was put to an open shame, and His enemies did exult and boast over Him. The distresses, afflictions, and troubles of Jesus’ heart were enlarged as the Father’s wrath was poured out on Him…and yet through it, God was working v22 all along, He was redeeming His sin troubled people through His sinless Son.
Or as Paul would say later, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin for us, so that we would become the righteousness of God.
Let this prepare us to partake of the Lord’s Supper together now.
 Karl N. Jacobson, quoted in Roger E. Van Harn and Brent A. Strawn, Psalms for Preaching and Worship: A Lectionary Commentary (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Eerdmans, 2009), 109.
 Charles Spurgeon, Treasury of David, vol. 1, 392.
 Spurgeon, 395.