The sun provided the perfect counter-balance to the cold ocean waves washing the sand off my feet. From where I stood, there seemed to be an endless supply of water that stretched until meeting the blue sky in the distance.
To my left, kids with boogie boards were laughing while trying to catch waves. The air was a mixed fragrance of salt and sunscreen.
I watched my 15-month-old son giggle as he tried to jump over a wave again and again. With each wave, my son became braver and wanted to go deeper into the water. So I took his hand and went until the water was up to my knees and his chest. He continued to laugh as the waves pushed against his little body.
A HELPLESS STATE
His small stature and flimsy body were no match against the incoming waves. Each wave would have knocked him down apart from my grip. His desire to be independent would often lead him to try and pull his hand away from mine, but I knew he couldn’t withstand the waves on his own, so I wasn’t going to let go of him. What kept my son standing against the powerful waves was not his ability or desire to hold on to me, but my ability and determination to hold on to him.
I often feel as helpless as my son standing in those waves. Each day brings hard decisions that crash into me like the rising tide. Today’s problems and tomorrow’s worries weigh heavily on my mind. Am I doing a good job as a parent? Will I be able to afford a new vehicle when our minivan finally bites the dust?
Maybe your worries are similar, but the questions are different. How will I ever be able to pay for college? How can I deal with this issue in our church? How can I encourage my friend who’s suffering? The never-ending waves threaten to bury you in the sea and your ability to swim against them seems as hopeless as an ant tied to a cinder block being tossed off a pier.
The greatest antidote to the doubt caused by my own weakness is the reminder of who God is and the promises he has made. Reflecting on God’s unconditional promises reminds me that my Father loves me too much to abandon me (Deut. 31:8; Josh. 1:5; John 14:18-20; Heb. 13:5-6). Though I’m weak, he simply won’t let me go.
What God Promises vs. What Man Promises
In Psalm 132, the psalmist is reflecting on the unconditional promises of God. The psalm would later be recited by the Israelites as they displayed their confidence that the Lord would keep his promises, specifically the promise he made to their king, David.
The Psalm begins with a promise made by David. He “swore to the Lord” to make him a dwelling place (Ps. 132:2). When David made known his desires to build a temple for the Lord in 2 Samuel 7, the Lord tells David that one of his sons would do so, instead. David’s intentions are presumably good; Scripture after all refers to him as a “man after God’s own heart” (1 Sam. 13:14; cf. Acts 13:22). Even still, the limited ability of man is easy to see.
Because of our limits, we can have the best of intentions and the most committed resolve and still not be able to guarantee results. Proverbs 16:1 comes to mind: “The plans of the heart belong to man, but the answer of the tongue is from the Lord.” In David’s case, the Lord’s answer was no.
The fact that David didn’t build the temple was certainly not lost on the psalmist, nor the Israelites as they later recited this psalm while ascending the hill. In fact, the first verse is a prayer to remember David, and in verse 10 a prayer is made “for the sake of your servant David.” Why, then, does David play such a pivotal role in salvation history even though he didn’t build the temple? He didn’t accomplish what he intended, right?
It’s not because of David’s promise to God, but God’s promise to David. In 2 Samuel 7 the Lord tells David,
“And I will make for you a great name, like the name of the great ones of the earth. . . . When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever…And your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me.”
The Coming King
One of David’s son’s would build the temple. We know Solomon built a great temple to the Lord. However, this temple was a building made with hands that was eventually destroyed by the Babylonians. The Lord promises another one of David’s sons, many generations later, would build God a “house” that would never be destroyed (Ps. 132:13-14; 2 Sam. 7:13; 1 Pet. 2:2-5). This son of David would clothe the priests with salvation and make the saints shout for joy (Ps. 132:16). This king would reign forever (v. 11-12; 2 Sam. 7:13)!
These were unconditional promises given to David. While David was a good king, Scripture is clear he was also a sinner. Even David’s sons—referring to his subsequent generations—would not fulfill their obligations to “keep my covenant and my testimonies.” They would fail over and over as the phrase “he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord” seems to be on repeat in the book of Kings (2 Kings 13:11, 21:2, 23:37, 24:9).
However, in spite of the failures and shortcomings of man, God had determined that he was going to ensure this promise comes to pass. Centuries later, an angel would appear to a young woman announcing her pregnancy:
“And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end” (Luke 1:31-33).
David was limited in fulfilling his promise. God was not. Where men fall short, God still enables his promises to be kept.
GOLDEN ANSWERS TO SILVER PRAYERS
God’s promises are sure, and they are better than what we typically ask for. Ephesians tells us that God “is able to do far more abundantly than all that we ask or think” (3:20). This psalm gives us a picture of the Lord answering prayers in such a way. Charles Spurgeon calls this God’s “golden answer to a silver prayer.” Notice the parallels between the first and second half of the psalm:
- The requests in verses 1-6 to remember David is answered in verse 12.
- The desire for a place of worship in verse 7 is answered in verse 13.
- The prayer for the Lord’s resting place in verse 8 is answered in verse 14.
- The cries for the righteousness of the priests and joy for the people in verse 9 is affirmed in verses 15-16.
- The prayer to remember David and not turn away from the anointed one in verse 10 is resolutely answered in verses 17-18.
God’s answers are better than the requests given. The people pray for God to remember the Davidic kingship; God promises that it will be eternal. The people pray for a place to worship; God provides a spiritual worship that doesn’t depend on geographical location. The people pray for righteousness and joy; God promises salvation that causes the saints to shout for joy.
Seeing the certainty of God’s promise and his ability to guarantee follow-through on those promises should encourage us to continually trust the Lord. Even as the difficulties of life and the awareness of my own shortcomings pound against me like the relentless waves, I know that the Father is holding on to me and he has promised to never let me go. Thankfully, my hope in this life does not depend on my strength, but on his.
Because God delivers on his promises, the Son of David came as promised. Because God delivers on his promises, we know our sin has been atoned for and our relationship with Christ is secure. Because of the good news of the gospel, we can know we have been “clothed with salvation” and “shout for joy” (Ps. 132:9). Real, lasting joy out among the waves.
James Williams has served as an Associate Pastor at FBC Atlanta, TX since 2013. He is married to Jenny and they have three children and are actively involved in foster care. He is in the dissertation stage of a Ph.D. in Systematic Theology. You can follow James Twitter or his blog where he writes regularly.