The Bulls of Bashan

Be not far from me, for trouble is near, and there is none to help. Many bulls encompass me; strong bulls of Bashan surround me; they open wide their mouths at me, like a ravening and roaring lion. – Psalm 22:11-13 (ESV)

Be not far off, for grief is near, and none to help is found; for bulls of Bashan in their strength now circle me around… –Psalm 22c, verse 1; The Book of Psalms for Singing

Psalm 22 is an explicitly Messianic Psalm, fulfilled ultimately in Christ. I could be way off (and I’m open to correction), but I also think that a secondary aspect of the Psalm is a cry for deliverance from temptation. Lately the bulls of Bashan have encircled me, and so often it seems as if there is none to help. But the psalmist later emotionally cries out to the Lord for deliverance. Being a Messianic Psalm, this deliverance is ultimately found in Christ.

One way of deliverance that God has provided is in the law. What? you may say. Doesn’t the law show us our sin and condemn us? Sure does. But John Calvin also rightly points out another use of the law, for the elect: the law through the Holy Spirit arouses believers to obedience, strengthens them, and “draws them back from the slippery path of transgression” (Institutes, 2.7.12). This particularly eloquent section of the Institutes might be my most favourite so far, as it helped to point me to God’s law to fend off the bulls of Bashan and arouse me from being an “idle and balky ass.” It might be best to just regurgitate Calvin’s thoughts here:

“The saints must press on; for, however eagerly they may in accordance with the Spirit strive toward God’s righteousness, the listless flesh always so burdens them that they do not proceed with due readiness. The law is to the flesh like a whip to an idle and balky ass, to arouse it to work. Even for a spiritual man not yet free of the weight of the flesh the law remains a constant sting that will not let him stand still. Doubtless David was referring to this use when he sang the praises of the law (see Psalm 19:7-8, 119, etc.)…Here the prophet proclaims the great usefulness of the law: the Lord instructs by their reading of it those whom he inwardly instills with a readiness to obey. He lays hold not only of the precepts, but the accompanying promise of grace, which alone sweetens what is bitter. For what would be less lovable than the law if, with importuning and threatening alone, it troubled souls through fear, and distressed them through fright? David especially shows that in the law he apprehended the Mediator, without whom there is no delight or sweetness.”

I also really appreciated Michael Horton’s article in the latest Modern Reformation on union with Christ v. imitation of Christ, and how these truths relate to justification and sanctification. He also mentions Calvin’s discussion on this use of the law. Really, really good stuff that shows Horton in fine pastoral form (different than his prophetic/critical form in Christless Christianity).


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