Even in books familiar to me like Romans I come across verses or phrases that stand out and seem new to me. I found this line from Romans 6:17 particularly beautiful, “obedient from the heart.” Paul gives great thanks to God that we, who were once slaves to sin are now obedient from the heart to the teachings of God. To be brought from bondage to sin, which brings death, to an obedience rooted in our hearts, in our love for God, is surely something for which to give thanks.
Psalm 57 begins with words that are always fitting in our approach to God, “Be merciful to me, O God…” as David then goes on to write of his need for God’s help and provision. This Psalm is described as one written when “David fled from Saul, in the cave,” which is certainly a time that would call for such a prayer.
We read about these events from 1 Samuel this week. David has been pursued by Saul, angered and jealous of David, and David’s life is in great peril. He hides with his men hoping Saul passes by along with his army so that they may live another day. But as fearful as David may be, he is also God’s anointed, and he knows God has a plan and purpose for him. David will be King. Having confidence in this fact is comfort for David and it gives him perspective. The darkness of the cave is perhaps seen as the shadow of God’s wing, under which he takes refuge. The armies of Saul are the storms of destruction David desires to move on. His hope rests in God who has a plan for him and “who fulfills his purpose for me” (Ps 57:1-2b).
Without such an understanding surely David would have done as he was encouraged to do by his men when Saul enters the cave to relieve himself. Saul was completely vulnerable and it appears as though God may just be delivering David’s enemy into his hands. This is how his men understand the situation. But David resists and as he approaches Saul he settles for a corner of his robe. He knows the plans God has for him and declares to Saul outside the cave that God may avenge David against Saul, but David himself will not raise his hand against the Lord’s anointed.
For God’s continued deliverance and guidance David gives praise to God, as he continues the psalm. Even though he is in the midst of lions and his enemies lay before him traps, he is kept safe by God and his heart is steadfast. Does he take pride in his good fortune? No, David knows from whom such blessings comes, and he calls for God to be exalted above heaven and over all the earth. As he ends David has a great description of how he will sing his thanks and praise. He says, “I will awake the dawn!” I don’t claim to be an especially poetic person, but it seems to me that he is describing the exuberance of his praise. He says he’ll sing out for God, calling the harp and lyre to awake, and nothing will come before this action and posture before God. In his desire to praise God his songs will rise up so early that they wake the sun from its rest, calling forth the day. His life is defined by his gratitude and praise of God, and all the nations will hear of it. When God’s mercy is set so clearly before our eyes, as it was for David, what can take priority over giving God the thanks he so fully deserves?
After reading a paragraph, a chapter, or a whole book, are you able to turn around and summarize what you’ve just read? It’s a great practice to jot down notes in the margins as you read, just as a simple exercise to make sure you’re actually processing the words that pass before your eyes. Then on the larger scale, we should ask ourselves the obvious questions after the completion of a book, “What did I just read?” Here is a short attempt at answering the question in a more roundabout way from the site Near Emmaus. He is attempting in just a couple paragraphs to describe the reason that Paul wrote Romans, and in so doing gives broad strokes of description about the whole book.
Here is just one line, but go to the site for more:
This epistle addresses the Adamic problem including Jews and Gentiles. Paul uses this problem to show the glory of the salvation found in those who have followed Abraham’s model of faith which is now encapsulated in those who call Christ “Lord”.
Give it a shot yourself after a chapter or section. See if you can very briefly boil down some of Paul’s arguments as you read. It’ll help you to better understand and retain these words of Scripture.