Too Much For A Thousand Pens To Write
The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;
he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;
for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
These stunning verses are taken from a psalm that many consider the greatest of all the psalms. The English preacher Charles Spurgeon said of this psalm: “There is too much in the Psalm for a thousand pens to write, it is one of those all-comprehending Scriptures which is a Bible in itself.” (The Treasury of David) This psalm is a prayer by David that contains not one request, but rather is David praising God. Although this psalm begins with David praising God for what He has done for him personally, David shifts to the first person plural (“us”, “our”), calling on all of God’s people to remember God’s gracious ways.
In today’s passage there is an almost word for word quotation of God’s self-declaration to Moses (Exodus 34:6) when asked, “Now show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). After Israel made the golden calf and after Israel’s repeated grumbling against the Lord (Exodus 33), God nevertheless reminds Moses of His gracious and forgiving ways. In this section of the psalm David’s praise hovers around the idea of God’s forgiveness.
God’s boundless forgiveness is rooted in His being “compassionate”. The Hebrew word for “compassionate”, rachum, comes from the word for “womb”. It refers to a mother’s “womb-love” for her child. Thus, God’s compassion is likened to the love a mother feels for the child of her womb. Over and over the Scriptures praise God for His tender womb-love for His children.
God’s tender compassion is demonstrated in His being “gracious”, and by not holding our sins against us. God does not pay us back as we deserve. He is “slow to anger” and “abounding in love” when we fall. David reflects on how he can no more measure God’s love than he can measure the height of the heavens above the earth!
David knows that God’s forgiveness is as complete as “east” is from “west”. Think of that! Bible commentators frequently point out that if someone travels north he will eventually go south, or if someone travels south he will eventually go north. But if someone travels west he will never reach east, and if he travels east he will never reach west. As east and west will never meet, so God and our sins will never meet. As far as the east is from the west He removes our sins from us.
From immeasurable distances to the intimacies of family, David seeks to express God’s tender love. With a remarkable juxtaposition of images and gender, David even likens a mother’s “womb-love”, or compassion, to a father’s “womb-love”, or “compassion”. Only a mother and a father’s love could in any way compare to God’s tender love for us. With parental favoritism and preference towards His children, God is mindful of our limitations: “he remembers that we are dust.” He is gentle with our frailties.
Perhaps Spurgeon was right. There is too much in today’s psalm for a thousand pens to write!
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