Psalm 27:8 – Conquering Your Heart
by Jonathan Tsai -
Passage: Psalm 27:8
The writer of Psalm 27 is David, otherwise known as King David, or the “man after God’s own heart.” God’s accolade for David (1 Samuel 13:14, Acts 13:22) is certainly more than enough to put the spotlight on David and direct our attention to the details of David’s worship life. God is essentially saying of David, “He is the model worshiper of Me; be like him.”
Psalm 27:8, I believe, is the one verse in all of Scripture that most concisely describes and depicts the proper relationship between man and God–of submission and obedience and worship and reverence of a holy God who is perfectly good and righteous and most worthy to be praised (Exodus 34:6-7; Psalm 145:3).
God deserves and demands a response from His people. That God is both deserving and demanding of a reverent response should be obvious, but to attempt to offer an explanation for this which needs no explanation, it is sufficient to point out that God is the Creator and we are His creatures. In His demanding, God does not always make requests of man in a communicable way. When a man is in the presence of the king, the king does not need to move his lips to speak for himself and command the subject to bow–it is implied, and the very presence of the king imposes glory before which one must display respect. In this way, God demands of His people to worship Him without demanding (c.f. Philippians 2:9-11).
God deserves and demands a response from His people that is immediate. In Psalm 27:8, the phrase, “When You said,” does not appear in the original Hebrew–there is simply the imperative which God speaks, “Seek My face.” When the NASB translators insert that phrase to improve the readability of the passage, “When You said...” it points both to a specific time in the past when this was done, and also a general behavior and attitude toward God. It can be expected of believers that at specific times–“when God said to us last week,” “when God said to us yesterday,” “when God says to me today,” “when God will say to me tomorrow,” or at any time–“whenever God says to me” to “seek My face,” we do so.
When comparing the ESV and NASB translations of this passage, the next phrase is rendered in different tenses–NASB renders it, “My heart said to you,” while ESV renders it, “My heart says to you.” This further supports that what is important is that there is a timely response to God’s call to “seek [His] face,” and to be ready at any moment.
When examining David’s response, we find that it is not first a response of the heart, but rather a submission of the mind and the will. David conquers his heart to the point of submission and subjugation to his will–David conquers and commands his own heart to worship God. Though David is the most prominent, he is not the only worshiper of God who worships God with such resoluteness; Habakkuk says, “Though the fig tree should not blossom /And there be no fruit on the vines, / Though the yield of the olive should fail / And the fields produce no food, / Though the flock should be cut off from the fold / And there be no cattle in the stalls, / Yet I will exult in the LORD, / I will rejoice in the God of my salvation” (Habakkuk 3:17-18). In great suffering, Job said, “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, / And naked I shall return there. / The LORD gave and the LORD has taken away. / Blessed be the name of the LORD” (Job 1:21). Even when they were hurting, these saints praised God with beautiful songs and poetry.
David’s acts of worship to God throughout the Scriptures and his character and determination in being devoted and faithful to God is admirable. We may or may not know the condition of David’s heart at any point in time–which may be sad, joyful, glad, mournful, or rejoicing–but we know that David is firm and resolute in his will and desire to praise and worship God. David’s knowledge of God and his knowledge of the oughtness of worshiping God work together to fully convince himself of the truth that God is good and God is worthy of his worship–therefore, David conquers his own heart to the point of subjugating his heart, the center of his feelings, longings, and affections, to his mind, the center of his thoughts, discernment, and will.
When does God call us to “Seek [His] face?” The answer is all the time. Many passages in Scripture implicitly and explicitly command us to seek Him.
Here are a few samplings of those passages, just from the book of Psalms:
“The heavens are telling of the glory of God; And their expanse is declaring the work of His hands. / Day to day pours forth speech, And night to night reveals knowledge” (Psalm 19:1-2). When even the heavens tell of the glory of God and testify of His handiwork in creation, how much more ought man, who is created in God’s image, worship Him?
Psalm 148 is a call to praise Him and worship Him–it calls upon every creature and every created thing of His to praise and worship Him; it calls upon every element of nature, every animal, and men of every age and position in society and from all places to give God the glory that is due Him–“Let them praise the name of the LORD, / For His name alone is exalted; / His glory is above earth and heaven” (Psalm 148:13).
Psalm 100 is a call to worship–it calls upon those who have a relationship with God, who know Him as their Shepherd, who belong to Him, to come before Him with joyful gladness and singing.
The tragedy of when we do not draw near to God is seen in Psalm 32:9–
Do not be as the horse or as the mule which have no understanding,
Whose trappings include bit and bridle to hold them in check,
Otherwise they will not come near to you.
In the Old Testament, Israel was often called “stiff-necked” because that was an illustration pointing to how an animal or beast of burden was stubborn to the point that even when you pulled and tugged on the rope tied to its neck, it would not follow you; instead, the animal would resist, and pull in the opposite direction. Surely, man has greater understanding than a horse and a mule, a mere animal! Yet, we prove to be no greater if we do not “come near to [God]” upon our own volition. A man who has no fear of God and does not know who He is has no understanding (Proverbs 9:10). God will not take a drill and bore a hole behind our jaws and put a bit there, in order to attach reins and a bridle to force us and control us–but rest assured, that those who belong to Him, who are loved by Him, will be disciplined by Him when they do not come close to Him–“My son, do not reject the discipline of the LORD / Or loathe His reproof, / For whom the LORD loves He reproves, / Even as a father corrects the son in whom he delights” (Proverbs 3:11-12).
Knowing that every knee will bow before Him (Philippians 2:10-11), whether willingly or unwillingly, and knowing David’s heart toward God, and knowing the tendency of the human heart to behave as stubborn animals, the question to ask myself is: “What does my heart look like, and where do I want it to be?”