If you’re looking at an NIV, the footnote at the beginning of this psalm tells you that it’s an acrostic poem. That means each verse begins with successive letters of the Hebrew alphabet. So, if it were following the English alphabet, the first word of the first verse would begin with A; and the first word of the second verse would begin with B and so on until you got to the last verse which would begin with Z. Of, course, the psalm was written in Hebrew; and so it’s using the Hebrew alphabet and not the English alphabet. No one really knows why some psalms are arranged this way, but it’s possible that it was a way to help memorisation.
Like many of the psalms we’ve already encountered, Psalm 25 is a lament. The psalmist is crying to the Lord because of the trouble he’s in and he’s seeking the Lord’s help. Normally there’s a very clear structure to each of the psalms and you can divide it up fairly easily. For instance, Psalm 24 which we studied last week can be divided easily into three parts. It’s more difficulty with Psalm 25, because various topics and themes are repeated throughout the psalm. One commentator, though, notes that in verses 1 to 7 the psalmist addresses the Lord directly. So, in verse 1, he says:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
Then, in verses 8 to 15, the psalmist describes the Lord. So, in verse 8, he says:
Good and upright is the Lord.
In other words, let me tell you what the Lord is like. The one exception in this section is verse 11, where once again the psalmist speaks directly to the Lord:
For the sake of your name, O Lord,
forgive my iniquity, though it is great.
And then, verses 16 to 22 are once again addressed to the Lord. So, in verse 16, the psalmist says to the Lord:
Turn to me and be gracious to me.
So, it’s possible that the psalm should be divided into those three parts: verses 1 to 7; verses 8 to 15; and verses 16 to 22. And so, let’s look at those parts in turn.
Verses 1 to 7
The psalm opens with the psalmist addressing the Lord and saying to him:
To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
In other words, he’s turning to the Lord in prayer. And the reason he’s turning to the Lord in prayer is given in verse 2: he’s turning to the Lord in prayer, because he trusts in the Lord his God and he’s relying on him for help. And in particular, he’s relying on the Lord to keep him from being put to shame. Why might he be put to shame? Well, he’ll be put to shame if his enemies triumph over him, because then his enemies will mock him and they will boast over him and they’ll ridicule him for ever trusting in the Lord. However, the psalmist is confident. He says that no one who hopes in the Lord will ever be put to shame. Those who are treacherous — the wicked who do not believe — they will be put to shame. But the Lord’s people, who hope in him, will never be put to shame.
The word ‘hope’ implies that the help the psalmist desires has not yet arrived. He’s still waiting for it. We don’t hope for what we already have, but we hope for something that we don’t have. For instance, the Christian hope is the resurrection of our bodies and everlasting life in the new heavens and earth. Well, our bodies are not raised yet. We’re still waiting for that. We’re still hoping for that. And so, when the psalmist refers to putting his hope in the Lord, he’s implying that the Lord’s help has not yet arrived. He’s confident that it will come, but it hasn’t arrived yet. He’s still faced with treacherous enemies who are against him. But he’s confident that the Lord will come to help him.
And while he waits for it, he asks the Lord in verses 4 and 5 to show the psalmist his ways and to teach the psalmist his paths and to guide him in his truth. Well, God has made known his ways and his paths in his word. In the Bible, he has made clear the way we should go and the kind of life we should live. In his word, we have his laws to guide us in the way of the Lord. He says to us in his word: This is the way you should go. This is the life you should lead. Don’t go that way, because that’s the wrong way to live. But go this way, because this is the right way to live.
And then, he asks the Lord to remember one thing and not to remember another thing. He asks the Lord to remember his mercy and love. In other words, remember to show me mercy and love by pardoning me. And then he asks the Lord not to remember the sins of his youth or his rebellious ways. While in the past the psalmist went astray from following the ways of the Lord, he now asks for forgiveness from God and for God’s help to walk in his ways.
So, in these verses he asks the Lord to instruct him and to forgive him. Instruct me in your ways so that I will walk in them. And pardon me for those times when I have gone astray.
Verses 8 to 15
That emphasis on instruction and forgiveness continues in the next section which is verses 8 to 15 But the psalmist also refers in these verses to God’s covenant with his people.
First, then, he refers to the Lord’s instruction. Because the Lord is good and upright, he therefore instructs sinners in his ways. Furthermore, according to verse 9, he guides the humble in his ways and teaches them his way. Notice, of course, that those who are guided by the Lord are the humble. On Sundays, in the first prayer, I often ask the Lord to enable us to receive his word with faith and with humility. You see, we need to be humble, because those who are proud are unteachable and they will learn nothing from the Lord; but those who are humble are teachable are they are able to learn from him.
Then he refers to the covenant in verse 10. The covenant here is the covenant he made through Moses with the people of Israel. At Mount Sinai, they promised to do all that the Lord commanded. And so, one of the demands of the covenant was for the people to keep God’s laws and commandments. However, another demand of the covenant was for the people to offer the right sacrifices in order to receive God’s forgiveness and to be cleansed from their guilt. And so, in verse 11, the psalmist once again asks the Lord for forgiveness. Though his iniquity is great, he asks the Lord to forgive him for his name’s sake. In other words, for the sake of God’s reputation — as a God who is merciful and gracious and slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love — will you forgive my sins?
And the rest of this section highlights the blessings of the covenant: because not only will the Lord instruct the one who fears or worships him, but he will cause that person to prosper and to inherit the Promised Land. That is, the one who walks in the ways of the Lord will receive all the blessings of the covenant. He cannot deserve or earn the blessings, of course, but receives them as God’s free and gracious reward. And look: the Lord will confide in that person, which means the Lord will treat that person like a close companion.
And then, according to verse 15, the psalmist’s eyes are on the Lord. In other words, he’s looking to the Lord to release his feet from the snare his enemies have set for him. So, once again, we’re reminded that the psalmist is faced with treacherous enemies who are against him. They have set some kind of snare to trap him. But the psalmist is looking to the Lord and trusting in him to help him.
Verses 16 to 22
In the final section, the psalmist once again addresses the Lord. He pleads with the Lord to turn to him and to be gracious to him, because he’s lonely and he’s afflicted. The troubles of his heart have multiplied and he pleads with the Lord to free him from anguish. He asks the Lord to look upon his afflictions. In other words, look upon me with mercy and rescue me from my afflictions. And he asks the Lord to take away his sins. So, perhaps the afflictions he’s suffering are because of his sins; and the Lord has sent these afflictions to humble him. But now, now that he’s been humbled and convicted of his sins, he’s turning to the Lord for forgiveness and he’s asking the Lord to deliver him from his enemies.
His enemies have increased and they hate him. And so he cries to the Lord who is his refuge; and he asks the Lord to guard him and to rescue him so that he will not be put to shame. He mentions integrity and uprightness in verse 21. Some commentators think he’s referring to God’s integrity and uprightness. Others says he’s referring to his own integrity and uprightness. In any case, he once again testifies to his hope in the Lord. He’s hoping that the Lord will come to his aid. And he’s hoping too that the Lord will come and will redeem Israel. In other words, he’s hoping God will come to deliver God’s people from all their troubles. So, while the focus throughout has been on his own afflictions, he ends up thinking about God’s people and how they too need deliverance from God.
As I’ve tried to show before, all of these psalms testify in one way or another to the Lord Jesus. David, who wrote the psalms, wrote as a prophet and he foretold the suffering of the Lord as well as his victory. And much of what we read here in this psalm matches what the Lord Jesus underwent, because the gospels make clear how the troubles of the Lord’s heart multiplied in the Garden of Gethsemane as he anticipated the suffering of the cross; and he was overcome by anguish as he thought about having to take and drink the cup of God’s wrath. And in the Garden, he was lonely, because his disciples did not watch and pray with him, but they fell asleep. And when the soldiers came to arrest him, his disciples fled and left him alone.
His enemies increased and they hated him fiercely, because the Pharisees and the teachers of the law did not stop until he was taken away and crucified. And the Romans treated him cruelly when they nailed him to the cross and left him to die. And even on the cross, his enemies gathered around him and mocked him.
And on the cross, he lifted up his soul to God his Father and he trusted in God to help him. And God his Father was faithful to him and he guarded his life and rescued him from death, because even though he died and was buried, his Father raised him from the grave on the third day; and gave him resurrection life.
Much of what we read in this psalm matches what we know the Lord Jesus underwent. David was once again writing as a prophet, foretelling the suffering of our Saviour. The only thing that does not match is when the psalmist confesses his sins: the sins of his youth and his rebellious ways. It does not match, because the Lord Jesus was without sin. He never once sinned in all his life, but was obedient to his Father in heaven always. Throughout his life on earth, he walked according to God’s ways and he did not stray from God’s paths. He walked according to the truth of God’s word all the days of his life.
But, while he was sinless, he was prepared to identify himself with sinners and to take the blame for what we have done wrong. Though he was without sin, he was pierced for our transgressions. Though he was without sin, he was crushed for our iniquities. Though he was without sin, he took the blame for what we have done wrong and he endured the punishment we deserve. He was without sin, but he took the place of sinners and suffered in their place. And because he suffered and died for our sins, God promises to remember our sins, your sins, no more.
And so, because Christ died in the place of sinners, the final verse of the psalm is possible. God is now able to redeem Israel. When it says ‘Israel’, it’s referring to all of God’s people throughout the world. And so, God is now able to redeem his people. That means he’s able to deliver them from their sin and misery; and he’s able to give them everlasting life in his presence. God is able to do that for his people throughout the world, because of Christ who suffered for our sins once and for all in order to bring us to God.