Saturday, February 28, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 94

    Psalm 94 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. LORD God, you punish the guilty. Show what you are like and punish them now.
  2. You judge the earth. Come and help us! Pay back those proud people for what they have done.
  3. How long will the wicked celebrate and be glad?
  4. All of those cruel people strut and boast,
  5. and they crush and wound your chosen nation, LORD.
  6. They murder widows, foreigners, and orphans.
  7. Then they say, "The LORD God of Jacob doesn't see or know."
  8. Can't you fools see? Won't you ever learn?
  9. God gave us ears and eyes! Can't he hear and see?
  10. God instructs the nations and gives knowledge to us all. Won't he also correct us?
  11. The LORD knows how useless our plans really are.
  12. Our LORD, you bless everyone that you instruct and teach by using your Law.
  13. You give them rest from their troubles, until a pit can be dug for the wicked.
  14. You won't turn your back on your chosen nation.
  15. Justice and fairness will go hand in hand, and all who do right will follow along.
  16. Who will stand up for me against those cruel people?
  17. If you had not helped me, LORD, I would soon have gone to the land of silence.
  18. When I felt my feet slipping, you came with your love and kept me steady.
  19. And when I was burdened with worries, you comforted me and made me feel secure.
  20. But you are opposed to dishonest lawmakers
  21. who gang up to murder innocent victims.
  22. You, LORD God, are my fortress, that mighty rock where I am safe.
  23. You will pay back my enemies, and you will wipe them out for the evil they did.

Psalm 94 is known as "A Psalm of David, for the fourth day of the week." (Albert Barnes) This understanding comes from the Septuagint rather than from the psalm directly. As with so many of the psalms, it is occasioned when the Israelites were under threat of an enemy and so the psalmist appeals to the "God of vengeance," that He will "repay the proud what they deserve." We are anxious for God's judgment when it is aimed at someone else. In this case, Israel was personally experiencing God's discipline due to its own sins. That is why they are threatened by their enemy. We learn this from verses 12-15 where it speaks of God's discipline of His people to teach them. Understanding this gives comfort because it puts the situation in perspective. God was disciplining them for their good. He had not abandoned them or forsaken them.

But God's instrument for Israel's discipline was wicked people who had no righteous purpose in what they were doing. They gloated because they thought they were superior to the mighty Israel. They boasted that "The God of Jacob doesn't pay attention" to the plight of His people. But the psalmist cautioned them. "Can the One who shaped the ear not hear?" And do we see a little humor in verse 11? "The Lord knows man's thoughts; they are meaningless." Why should a man be happy because of the Lord's discipline (verse 12)? Because it indicates He is a child of God. It will teach him and make him better as a result. It will help him stay on a path that leads to God's blessings. But it takes a mature child of God to understand this. Otherwise he only sees the discipline as unfair treatment. Thus when the discipline comes he asks the question, "Why me?" as if he doesn't deserve difficulties. The question we need to ask when difficulty comes is "What?" What do you have for me to learn, Lord?

The psalm concludes with words of encouragement for the children of God. Through a series of questions it makes the point that the Lord stands for His people against the wicked. He supports them when they am slipping. The Lord comforts His people when they am filled with cares, and He is their refuge and rock of protection. And so He is.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 93

    Psalm 93 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Our LORD, you are King! Majesty and power are your royal robes. You put the world in place, and it will never be moved.
  2. have always ruled, and you are eternal.
  3. ocean is roaring, LORD! The sea is pounding hard.
  4. mighty waves are majestic, but you are more majestic, and you rule over all.
  5. decisions are firm, and your temple will always be beautiful and holy.

Psalm 93 is said to be "a psalm that was made to be sung the day before the sabbath; and it was a custom with the Jews to sing it on the sixth day of the week" (John Gill). Its subject matter is the kingdom of God: "The Lord reigns! He is robed in majesty." The psalm's intent is to instill confidence in those who are a part of the kingdom of God. This kingdom is firmly established and cannot be shaken, and the king (God) has been established from the beginning and is eternal. The floods spoken of in verses 3 and 4 are symbolic of threats or assaults on the kingdom. But greater than the forces that assault the kingdom is the majesty of the Lord. An even greater assurance, I believe, is given in verse 5. "Your testimonies are completely reliable." God's word is reliable. If I cannot depend on it I cannot depend on his majesty and power against assault or anything else. For it is God's word that first tells me of His greatness. So when trouble comes I rely on it before I see His protection and care. Did not God speak creation into existence? Is not Christ the Word become flesh? In fact, John 1:1 tells us that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." God's word is eternal as He is eternal. It is reliable, a reality that gives me more confidence than any other.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 92

    Psalm 92 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm and a song for the Sabbath.) It is wonderful to be grateful and to sing your praises, LORD Most High!
  2. is wonderful each morning to tell about your love and at night to announce how faithful you are.
  3. enjoy praising your name to the music of harps,
  4. everything you do makes me happy, and I sing joyful songs.
  5. do great things, LORD. Your thoughts are too deep
  6. an ignorant fool to know or understand.
  7. the wicked sprout and spread like grass, they will be pulled up by their roots.
  8. you will rule over all of us forever,
  9. your hateful enemies will be scattered and then destroyed.
  10. have given me the strength of a wild ox, and you have chosen me to be your very own.
  11. eyes have seen, and my ears have heard the doom and destruction of my terrible enemies.
  12. people will prosper like palm trees, and they will grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.
  13. will take root in your house, LORD God, and they will do well.
  14. will be like trees that stay healthy and fruitful, even when they are old.
  15. they will say about you, "The LORD always does right! God is our mighty rock."

Psalm 92 identifies itself as a "song for the Sabbath day." The intent of the Sabbath, besides a day of rest, is to be a time to reflect on God and give praise to Him. This psalm says it is "good to praise the Lord." It is healthy for a person to recognize and to declare that it is not about me, but about God. I may talk about 'controlling my own destiny,' but in truth, I don't really have much control over my destiny. Only God has that control. So it is healthy to recognize the One who is in control. Though a bit blunt, verse 6 tells us that it is a fool who doesn't recognize God's hand in everything. He doesn't understand God's magnificent works or how profound His thoughts.

Though the wicked have no clue, it is good for the righteous to recognize that evildoers may seem to flourish but they will be eternally destroyed. The righteous, on the other hand, will thrive in God's courtyards. Even in old age they will bear fruit. The wicked will have misused their bodies and come to old age in poor health, but the righteous will still be fruitful. And in old age they will still be praising God who "is my rock."

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 91

    Psalm 91 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Live under the protection of God Most High and stay in the shadow of God All-Powerful.
  2. you will say to the LORD, "You are my fortress, my place of safety; you are my God, and I trust you."
  3. Lord will keep you safe from secret traps and deadly diseases.
  4. will spread his wings over you and keep you secure. His faithfulness is like a shield or a city wall.
  5. won't need to worry about dangers at night or arrows during the day.
  6. you won't fear diseases that strike in the dark or sudden disaster at noon.
  7. will not be harmed, though thousands fall all around you.
  8. with your own eyes you will see the punishment of the wicked.
  9. LORD Most High is your fortress. Run to him for safety,
  10. no terrible disasters will strike you or your home.
  11. will command his angels to protect you wherever you go.
  12. will carry you in their arms, and you won't hurt your feet on the stones.
  13. will overpower the strongest lions and the most deadly snakes.
  14. Lord says, "If you love me and truly know who I am, I will rescue you and keep you safe.
  15. you are in trouble, call out to me. I will answer and be there to protect and honor you.
  16. will live a long life and see my saving power."

The theme of psalm 91 is stated outright. It is about the protection that is ours when we live "in the shadow of the Almighty." It starts with a declaration on our part, along with the psalmist, to make God "My refuge and my fortress, my God, in whom I trust." Verses 3-13 then tell of the Lord's protection against the plague for those who trust in Him. Does it sound like an insurance policy? If a person is motivated to "dwell in the shadow of the Almighty" out of a desire to receive His protection, I would hope that in time that person would continue to serve the Lord out of a relationship of love. In reality, that is the only way it will work. We cannot serve the Lord for long under an arrangement of convenience if our heart is not in it for what is in our hearts will come out and void the arrangement. Only if we determine to place our trust in God from a heart truly committed to Him will it work and then we receive His blessings and protection, not as a reason for trusting Him, but as a side benefit.

According to the psalmist those whose trust is in the Lord will not be touched by the plague. They will see its affect as others are struck by it, but no harm will come to them. This is because the Lord will send His angels for protection. Some suppose the psalm was written by David at the time the Lord sent a plague because of his disobedience in numbering the people (2 Samuel 24).

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 90

    Psalm 90 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A prayer by Moses, the man of God.) Our Lord, in all generations you have been our home.
  2. have always been God-- long before the birth of the mountains, even before you created the earth and the world.
  3. your command we die and turn back to dust,
  4. a thousand years mean nothing to you! They are merely a day gone by or a few hours in the night.
  5. bring our lives to an end just like a dream. We are merely tender grass
  6. sprouts and grows in the morning, but dries up by evening.
  7. furious anger frightens and destroys us,
  8. you know all of our sins, even those we do in secret.
  9. anger is a burden each day we live, then life ends like a sigh.
  10. can expect seventy years, or maybe eighty, if we are healthy, but even our best years bring trouble and sorrow. Suddenly our time is up, and we disappear.
  11. one knows the full power of your furious anger, but it is as great as the fear that we owe to you.
  12. us to use wisely all the time we have.
  13. us, LORD! Don't wait! Pity your servants.
  14. morning comes, let your love satisfy all our needs. Then we can celebrate and be glad for what time we have left.
  15. us happy for as long as you caused us trouble and sorrow.
  16. wonderful things for us, your servants, and show your mighty power to our children.
  17. Lord and our God, treat us with kindness and let all go well for us. Please let all go well!

Psalm 90 begins the fourth part of the book of Psalms with one of the most remarkable psalms of the book - a prayer of Moses. The subject of this psalm is the brevity of human life and the everlasting nature of God. "Before the mountains were born," there was God. He has been on hand to give refuge to every generation. To God "a thousand years are like yesterday." To Him it is like the passing of only a few hours. Mankind, on the other hand, has a lifespan that in contrast can be compared to grass that grows in the morning and withers by evening.

In light of the brevity of life, man should make the most of the time he has. In so doing he should avoid sin which brings God's judgment on him along with its own natural repercussions. In Moses' mind may well have been the thought of sin's outcomes for Israel. Many were struck down as a direct result of their sin. On other occasions Israel experienced defeat at the hands of her enemies because of sin. Above all, though, Israel wound up wondering in the desert for 40 years because of her sin. A whole generation spent its remaining years in unfruitful wondering without even seeing the land of promise. This is not good use of the brief years of life that one has. As Moses described it in verse 9, "all our days ebb away under Your wrath; we end our years like a sign."

Here is Moses' prayer, "Teach us to number our days carefully so that we may develop wisdom in our hearts." With the developing of wisdom can come increasingly greater benefit in the life God has given us and the years numbered to us. Then we are able to "shout with joy and be glad all our days," and the favor of the Lord our God can be on us.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 89

    Psalm 89 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A special psalm by Ethan the Ezrahite.) Our LORD, I will sing of your love forever. Everyone yet to be born will hear me praise your faithfulness.
  2. will tell them, "God's love can always be trusted, and his faithfulness lasts as long as the heavens."
  3. said, "David, my servant, is my chosen one, and this is the agreement I made with him:
  4. , one of your descendants will always be king."
  5. LORD, let the heavens now praise your miracles, and let all of your angels praise your faithfulness.
  6. who live in the heavens can compare with you.
  7. are the most fearsome of all who live in heaven; all the others fear and greatly honor you.
  8. are LORD God All-Powerful! No one is as loving and faithful as you are.
  9. rule the roaring sea and calm its waves.
  10. crushed the monster Rahab, and with your powerful arm you scattered your enemies.
  11. heavens and the earth belong to you. And so does the world with all its people because you created them
  12. everything else. Mount Tabor and Mount Hermon gladly praise you.
  13. are strong and mighty!
  14. kingdom is ruled by justice and fairness with love and faithfulness leading the way.
  15. LORD, you bless those who join in the festival and walk in the brightness of your presence.
  16. are happy all day because of you, and your saving power brings honor to us.
  17. own glorious power makes us strong, and because of your kindness, our strength increases.
  18. LORD and our King, the Holy One of Israel, you are truly our shield.
  19. a vision, you once said to your faithful followers: "I have helped a mighty hero. I chose him from my people and made him famous.
  20. , my servant, is the one I chose to be king,
  21. I will always be there to help and strengthen him.
  22. No enemy will outsmart David, and he won't be defeated by any hateful people.
  23. will strike down and crush his troublesome enemies.
  24. will always be able to depend on my love, and I will make him strong with my own power.
  25. will let him rule the lands across the rivers and seas.
  26. will say to me, 'You are my Father and my God, as well as the mighty rock where I am safe.'
  27. I have chosen David as my first-born son, and he will be the ruler of all kings on earth.
  28. love for him will last, and my agreement with him will never be broken.
  29. One of David's descendants will always be king, and his family will rule until the sky disappears.
  30. some of his children should reject my Law and refuse my instructions.
  31. suppose they should disobey all of my teachings.
  32. I will correct and punish them because of their sins.
  33. I will always love David and faithfully keep all of my promises to him.
  34. I won't break my agreement or go back on my word.
  35. have sworn once and for all by my own holy name, and I won't lie to David.
  36. family will always rule. I will let his kingdom last as long as the sun
  37. moon appear in the sky."
  38. are now angry, God, and you have turned your back on your chosen king.
  39. broke off your agreement with your servant, the king, and you completely destroyed his kingdom.
  40. walls of his city have been broken through, and every fortress now lies in ruin.
  41. who pass by take what they want, and nations everywhere joke about the king.
  42. made his enemies powerful and let them celebrate.
  43. you forced him to retreat because you did not fight on his side.
  44. took his crown and threw his throne in the dirt.
  45. made an old man of him and put him to shame.
  46. much longer, LORD? Will you hide forever? How long will your anger keep burning like fire?
  47. , life is short! Why did you empty our lives of all meaning?
  48. one can escape the power of death and the grave.
  49. Lord, where is the love you have always shown and that you promised so faithfully to David?
  50. your servant, Lord! People make jokes about me, and I suffer many insults.
  51. am your chosen one, but your enemies chase and make fun of me.
  52. LORD, we praise you forever. Amen and amen.

Typically a psalm will begin with lament and prayer and end with joy and praise. This psalm reverses that order, beginning with praise and ending with complaint and petition. It lifts up wonderful praise of God's faithful love and greatness. It also speaks of God's "sworn oath" to David. It is an oath to establish David's offspring on the throne forever. Continuing, the psalm praises God as being greater than any other god and of ruling over the creation He has made. God's righteousness and justice are praised. Because He is righteous and just, it says, people are made happy and shout for joy. Then the psalm returns to God's covenant with David, pointing out that He promised to always be with David and not allow the enemy to afflict him. It also points out that God promised to establish David's line forever and even if David's sons were to forsake God's instructions He would call them to account and punish them but would not violate the covenant. This said, the psalm then accuses God of having spurned and rejected David and repudiated the covenant. As a result, David's crown has been dishonored and the fortified cities reduced to ruin. Now the hand of the foe is lifted high instead of David's hand. David has been covered with shame.

Following these accusations comes the petition. Lord, how long will You hide Yourself? "Where are the former acts of Your faithful love that You swore to David?" Remember the ridicule against Your servants. No where, though, do I see a hint of reference to the sins of David's sons or of Israel. Who really broke the covenant? Was it God as pointed out in the psalm, or was it David's sons? We know the answer to that though the psalmist chooses to overlook it. I read 'entitlement' into the psalm. It seems that the psalmist came to accept Israel's position of privilege with God as something to which they were entitled. Maybe I misread the psalm. It lifts up wonderful praise to God in the beginning, but I expect to see a note of repentance for the sins that brought Israel to this point of being destroyed by her enemies. Instead, God is singled out as the breaker of the covenant, and as one who has gone back on His word.

With this critique of the psalm I am brought up short to consider my own attitudes. When do I begin to think how faithful I am and how fortunate God is to have a follower such as me? When do I get to thinking of how deserving I am of God's blessings? And the flip side of this last thought is to consider how unjust God is if and when misfortune comes to His 'faithful servant.' These thoughts come in subtle ways, but I fear that they creep in, nonetheless.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 88

    Psalm 88 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song and a psalm by the people of Korah for the music leader. To the tune "Mahalath Leannoth." A special psalm by Heman the Ezrahite.) You keep me safe, LORD God. So when I pray at night,
  2. listen carefully to each of my concerns.
  3. am deeply troubled and close to death;
  4. am as good as dead and completely helpless.
  5. am no better off than those in the grave, those you have forgotten and no longer help.
  6. have put me in the deepest and darkest grave;
  7. anger rolls over me like ocean waves.
  8. have made my friends turn in horror from me. I am a prisoner who cannot escape,
  9. I am almost blind because of my sorrow. Each day I lift my hands in prayer to you, LORD.
  10. you work miracles for the dead? Do they stand up and praise you?
  11. your love and loyalty announced in the world of the dead?
  12. they know of your miracles or your saving power in the dark world below where all is forgotten?
  13. morning I pray to you, LORD.
  14. do you reject me? Why do you turn from me?
  15. since I was a child, I have been sick and close to death. You have terrified me and made me helpless.
  16. anger is like a flood! And I am shattered by your furious attacks
  17. strike each day and from every side.
  18. friends and neighbors have turned against me because of you, and now darkness is my only companion.

This is a rather despondent psalm. Unlike other psalms of a similar nature, it does not reveal any ray of hope. It begins with the words, "I cry out before You day and night," and concludes with "darkness is my only friend." The psalmist states in verse 15 that he has been "afflicted and near death" from his youth. I assume this to be physical affliction rather than emotional or spiritual. Some commentators suppose him to have leprosy and that he has been banished from society, as was the practice, and is near death at the writing of this psalm. Though we can't know if this is truly the case, it seems to fit the content of the psalm.

Though the psalmist expresses no hope and feels abandoned by God, he has, nevertheless, turned to God in this prayer. Is it merely to express his despair? No, I think it is more than that, for in verse 2 he expresses the wish that his prayer will reach God and that He will "listen to my cry," and in verse 13 he calls to God for help. Might verses 10-12 express a bit of sarcasm? He seems to be saying, "Are you waiting until I'm dead to work your wonders?" If this is what he is saying, then the questions he raises seem to have a note of sarcasm, "Do You work wonders for the dead? Do departed spirits rise up to praise You?"

Why is this psalm even included among the psalms of scripture? Of what value is it? I believe the psalmist had not given up on God even though his suffering was great and he had seen no apparent answer to his previous prayers for help. What he experienced is not unknown even among God's people. As Matthew Henry said, "Those who are in trouble of mind may sing this psalm feelingly; those that are not ought to sing it thankfully, blessing God that it is not their case." We have to ask ourselves why we worship God and follow Him. Is it only to gain His blessings? Are we 'fair weather friends' of God who worship Him when things are going well and turn away from Him when they are not? The question for us to consider might be, is God really the creator of all that is including myself? Did He really provide salvation for me through the death of His son, Jesus? And did His work in Jesus gain victory over death and Satan? If any of this is true, then God is worthy of our worship and faithfulness, not just when He has blessed us. It seems that many only find God believable and worth worshiping if He has done something great for them.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 87

    Psalm 87 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm and a song by the people of Korah.) Zion was built by the LORD on the holy mountain,
  2. and he loves that city more than any other place in all of Israel.
  3. Zion, you are the city of God, and wonderful things are told about you.
  4. Egypt, Babylonia, Philistia, Phoenicia, and Ethiopia are some of those nations that know you, and their people all say, "I was born in Zion."
  5. God Most High will strengthen the city of Zion. Then everyone will say, "We were born here too."
  6. The LORD will make a list of his people, and all who were born here will be included.
  7. All who sing or dance will say, "I too am from Zion."

Psalm 87 is difficult to understand. True, it praises Jerusalem as the city of God, but there seems to be more beneath the surface that is difficult to grasp. Jerusalem has nothing of which to boast other than as the City of God. It is where God chose to establish His people and His temple, and as Believer's Bible Commentary states, "it will be reckoned as the place where the nations experience spiritual rebirth, because the Most High Himself shall establish her in that place of universal sovereignty." The significance in all this, as I understand it, is of Jerusalem in pointing people to God. Its as if Jerusalem serves as God's earthly abode. God is not just "out there somewhere" but He is here among us residing in Jerusalem. The significance of counting Jerusalem as one's birthplace is in being birthed spiritually. Coming to know and worship the true God, the God of Israel. I have never been to Jerusalem, but it can be considered my spiritual birthplace in the sense that Christianity was born there as was the Christian church.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 86

    Psalm 86 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A prayer by David.) Please listen, LORD, and answer my prayer! I am poor and helpless.
  2. Protect me and save me because you are my God. I am your faithful servant, and I trust you.
  3. Be kind to me! I pray to you all day.
  4. Make my heart glad! I serve you, and my prayer is sincere.
  5. You willingly forgive, and your love is always there for those who pray to you.
  6. Please listen, LORD! Answer my prayer for help.
  7. When I am in trouble, I pray, knowing you will listen.
  8. No other gods are like you; only you work miracles.
  9. You created each nation, and they will all bow down to worship and honor you.
  10. You perform great wonders because you alone are God.
  11. Teach me to follow you, and I will obey your truth. Always keep me faithful.
  12. With all my heart I thank you. I praise you, LORD God.
  13. Your love for me is so great that you protected me from death and the grave.
  14. Proud and violent enemies, who don't care about you, have ganged up to attack and kill me.
  15. But you, the Lord God, are kind and merciful. You don't easily get angry, and your love can always be trusted.
  16. I serve you, LORD, and I am the child of one of your servants. Look on me with kindness. Make me strong and save me.
  17. Show that you approve of me! Then my hateful enemies will feel like fools, because you have helped and comforted me.

This prayer of David has been mixed in with the psalms of the sons of Korah. Most of David's psalms are in the first 70 in the book of psalms. This prayer is not identified with any particular occasion other than it is a time of inner turmoil for David. In the first part of the prayer David alternates between his petitions and the reasons why God should grant them. For instance, in verse 2 he asks God to protect his life. Why? Because he is faithful and because He is David's God. Next, he asks God to be gracious to him. Why? Because of his persistence - he calls on Him all day long. Then he asks God to bring him joy. Why? Because he has set his hope on God. God does not need to be told why He should answer our petitions to Him, but it is good for us to remind ourselves why we take them to God and why we can expect Him to grant them. Maybe these are truths for all of us to ponder concerning prayer. Listed separately they are:

  1. God looks with favor on our faithfulness;
  2. Because we have made God our God, we can expect that He will make us His children and be inclined to grant our petitions;
  3. Our persistence in prayer counts. Jesus also emphasizes persistence in prayer.
  4. Setting our hope on God will be honored by having that hope fulfilled. This is similar to making God our God.

Praise to God makes up much of the psalm. Though God is pleased to hear our praise, it is an exercise that we do well to include in our times of prayer for our own benefit also. As with giving God the reasons He should grant our petitions, it keeps us focused on God's greatness and His ability and willingness to answer our prayers. In other words, it bolsters our faith. In a secular society that seems to increasingly turn from God we need to be reminded frequently that one, there is no god like God (verse 8), and two, all nations, all people, will one day bow down before God and honor His name (verse 9). As pluralistic a society as we are, we need to frequently remind ourselves that there is one God and none of the various gods that people worship can hold a candle to Him. Secondly, there will come a time when all people will recognize this truth. Those of us who now worship God are blessed to have willingly chosen to do so and blessed to live out our lives in His guidance and care. To find out in the end that this God one has rejected all their lives and claimed didn't exist does indeed exist and holds my destiny in His hand is not an awakening I wish to have.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 85

    Psalm 85 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by the people of Korah for the music leader.) Our LORD, you have blessed your land and made all go well for Jacob's descendants.
  2. You have forgiven the sin and taken away the guilt of your people.
  3. Your fierce anger is no longer aimed at us.
  4. Our LORD and our God, you save us! Please bring us back home and don't be angry.
  5. Will you always be angry with us and our families?
  6. Won't you give us fresh life and let your people be glad because of you?
  7. Show us your love and save us!
  8. I will listen to you, LORD God, because you promise peace to those who are faithful and no longer foolish.
  9. You are ready to rescue everyone who worships you, so that you will live with us in all of your glory.
  10. Love and loyalty will come together; goodness and peace will unite.
  11. Loyalty will sprout from the ground; justice will look down from the sky above.
  12. Our LORD, you will bless us; our land will produce wonderful crops.
  13. Justice will march in front, making a path for you to follow.

It is generally thought this psalm was written following the Israel's return from Babylonian captivity. In the first two verses it tells us that God restored Jacob's prosperity and took away the people's guilt. They were being restored to their land but they were not yet restored in their relationship to their God. The Lord's fury had subsided but He was still displeased with them. The psalmist asks, "Will You be angry with us forever?" Is this because they had not yet repented of the sin that caused their captivity? Were they like the prisoner who has done his time and is returning to society only to return to his life of crime? The writer seems to have some concern about this and asks that God "not let them go back to foolish ways." The psalmist is seeking revival for his people. He knows that salvation is near them if they will only fear the Lord, and this psalm is a prayer to that end. If they will fear the Lord His glory will dwell in the land and righteousness and peace will embrace. The result - "the Lord will provide what is good, and our land will yield its crops."

I hear in this the desire of the psalmist for a return, not only to their land, but to the Lord and life lived in the abundance of His blessings. But where is the heart of the people? Is the writer's a lone voice? What have the people learned from their captivity? Are they ready to turn their hearts back to the Lord? Either we learn from discipline or we become embittered by it, depending on whether our hearts are open to learn or not. And why would we not be open to learn? To be open to learn we must first admit we are in need of learning. I believe we might say that pride is at the root of our unwillingness to learn from discipline. Pride keeps us from admitting when we have been wrong, admitting we lack something, or admitting we don't know something. But how freeing it is to turn loose of our pride, admit where we have been wrong, and renew our relationships. Then blessings abundant are available to us.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 84

    Psalm 84 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (For the music leader. A psalm for the people of Korah.) LORD God All-Powerful, your temple is so lovely!
  2. Deep in my heart I long for your temple, and with all that I am I sing joyful songs to you.
  3. LORD God All-Powerful, my King and my God, sparrows find a home near your altars; swallows build nests there to raise their young.
  4. You bless everyone who lives in your house, and they sing your praises.
  5. You bless all who depend on you for their strength and all who deeply desire to visit your temple.
  6. When they reach Dry Valley, springs start flowing, and the autumn rain fills it with pools of water.
  7. Your people grow stronger, and you, the God of gods, will be seen in Zion.
  8. LORD God All-Powerful, the God of Jacob, please answer my prayer!
  9. You are the shield that protects your people, and I am your chosen one. Won't you smile on me?
  10. One day in your temple is better than a thousand anywhere else. I would rather serve in your house, than live in the homes of the wicked.
  11. Our LORD and our God, you are like the sun and also like a shield. You treat us with kindness and with honor, never denying any good thing to those who live right.
  12. LORD God All-Powerful, you bless everyone who trusts you.

Though the specific time or occasion for the writing of psalm 84 is not evident it was obviously written at a time when the author was prohibited access to the temple. Very likely it was a time of exile for the writer and for Israel. The writer had learned the truth of the statement, "Absence Makes The Heart Grow Fonder," for it is true that we most recognize the significance of something when we lose it or no longer have access to it. And so the psalmist says, "I long and yearn for the courts of the Lord." He goes on to say, "How happy are those who reside in Your house, who praise You continually." There is the sense here that the happiness experienced in God's house worshiping Him is greater than any other happiness one can have. And this idea is further borne out in verse 10 when he says, "I would rather be at the door of the house of my God than to live in the tents of the wicked." Happiness is something everyone pursues in one way or another. But those who think to find it other than in the house of the Lord will find themselves in the tents of the wicked still falling short of the happiness they were pursuing. Verse 5 tells us the source of true happiness, "Happy are the people whose strength is in You." They go from strength to strength rather than from crises to crises which is often the plight of those who seek happiness elsewhere.

This is a great psalm on which to dwell for it reminds us of the source of true happiness. And as we dwell on this truth we need to keep in mind that happiness and fun are not necessarily synonymous. Fun seems to be a driving force for many but does it lead to happiness? In the absence of true, lasting happiness it may seem to. But a happiness that persists when all the fun is gone and even when times are hard, can only be found in the Lord. Make the comparison. Compare the one who definitely trusts in the Lord and the one who clearly does not. Whose happiness persists through all that life brings? It will be found true, as the psalmist concludes, "LORD of Hosts, happy is the person who trusts in You!"

Friday, February 13, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 83

    Psalm 83 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song and a psalm by Asaph.) Our God, don't just sit there, silently doing nothing!
  2. Your hateful enemies are turning against you and rebelling.
  3. They are sly, and they plot against those you treasure.
  4. They say, "Let's wipe out the nation of Israel and make sure that no one remembers its name!"
  5. All of them fully agree in their plans against you, and among them are
  6. Edom and the Ishmaelites; Moab and the Hagrites;
  7. Gebal, Ammon, and Amalek; Philistia and Phoenicia.
  8. Even Assyria has joined forces with Moab and Ammon.
  9. Our Lord, punish all of them as you punished Midian. Destroy them, as you destroyed Sisera and Jabin at Kishon Creek
  10. near Endor, and let their bodies rot.
  11. Treat their leaders as you did Oreb and Zeeb, Zebah and Zalmunna.
  12. All of them said, "We'll take God's valuable land!"
  13. Our God, scatter them around like dust in a whirlwind.
  14. Just as flames destroy forests on the mountains,
  15. pursue and terrify them with storms of your own.
  16. Make them blush with shame, until they turn and worship you, our LORD.
  17. Let them be forever ashamed and confused. Let them die in disgrace.
  18. Make them realize that you are the LORD Most High, the only ruler of earth!

The occasion for the writing of this psalm was the forming of a confederacy of nations to attack Israel saying, "Come, let us wipe them out as a nation so that Israel's name will no longer be remembered." The psalmist pleads with God not to be silent or idle, but to strike down these enemies. They are not just Israel's enemies, but God's enemies, says the psalmist. They hate God and act arrogantly, thinking they can wipe out God's people. It is equivalent to trying to wipe out God. The psalmist asks that God would deal with these enemies as He did with some earlier enemies such as the Midianites. He destroyed them and made them like tumbleweed and straw before the wind. With a passing note of evangelistic concern, he asks that God would "Cover their faces with shame so that they will seek Your name, LORD." In the end the psalmist wants the enemies to know that God alone is "the Most High over all the earth." As God's chosen people who God had cared for and protected, the psalmist could, with reasonable confidence, identify Israel's cause as God's cause. This was not always true for Israel, however, for there were times when Israel had been unfaithful to God and the enemy was at her doorstep by God's design. But on this occasion it seems appropriate that the psalmist could say these nations had formed an alliance against God.

If, indeed, we are God's people who have chosen Him as our God through faith in Jesus Christ, then we can also expect that God will protect us against the attacks of enemies. But before we blindly call on God to wipe out the enemy at our door we need to consider whether they are enemies we have made through our own ungodly actions or whether they are truly God's enemies who are attacking us because of our allegiance to God. In other words, before we call upon God to help us, do we first need to repent of our sins that brought on the situation we face. Let's not be too quick to always identify our cause as God's cause and our enemies as God's enemies. When under attack our first action needs to be one of humbly going before God to be sure we are in alignment with Him and His calling on our lives. Is this problem we face one that comes to us because we are faithfully doing what God has called us to do or because we have been pursuing our own plans and calling them God's? We need always to be realigning ourselves and our plans with what God has called us to do, and when under attack is a time when we should especially do so.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 82

Psalm 82 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by Asaph.) When all of the other gods have come together, the Lord God judges them and says:
  2. "How long will you keep judging unfairly and favoring evil people?
  3. Be fair to the poor and to orphans. Defend the helpless and everyone in need.
  4. Rescue the weak and homeless from the powerful hands of heartless people.
  5. "None of you know or understand a thing. You live in darkness, while the foundations of the earth tremble.
  6. "I, the Most High God, say that all of you are gods and also my own children.
  7. But you will die, just like everyone else, including powerful rulers."
  8. Do something, God! Judge the nations of the earth; they belong to you.

Psalm 82 is addressed to the judges and rulers of the earth. The scene opens with God Himself seated on the bench with the council gathered around Him made up of the rulers and judges of the earth. They are referred to in the psalm as gods, or the mighty ones. It is not a reference to divinity but merely to a position of power. In this scene, however, they are the ones being judged, and the charge against them? "How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? (verse 2) The instructions for judging justly are simple. "Uphold the rights of the oppressed and the destitute . . . save them from the hand of the wicked." This sums up the instructions, stating only justice for the poor and needy. Is not this another kind of partiality on behalf of the poor and needy? Not really. The point being that when the poor and needy are provided justice everyone will be provided justice. Those with means will always be able to get the justice they want. And we must keep in mind that this psalm refers specifically to justice at the hands of the wicked, and apparently the wicked have means. The courts are usually deciding cases of one person against another and those with means, whether wicked or not, tend to get partiality. In many societies they can get favorable judgments through bribery, a benefit not available to the poor and needy. Plus, those with means can afford the council of attorneys, another benefit not available to the poor. Then another issue pointed out in verse 5 is that often the poor and needy do not understand the systems of government and courts. They are completely at the mercy of the court. If a just judge does not uphold what is right they have no justice.

On this occasion, the magistrates gathered before the supreme judge, who is God Himself, are given only a warning. Though they are gods, that is, mighty ones, they are sons of the Most High. In other words, they are His sons and subject to His authority. As such, they are as vulnerable as anyone else to death and to falling from their position. The inference is that death and falling from authority will happen to them if they don't judge justly and quit showing partiality to the wicked.

I am not a judge but does this speak to me also about showing justice to the poor and needy? In all my dealings with people and in those settings in which I do have authority, how do I treat those who are helpless? If others are involved, do I show partiality to them rather than to the helpless? If I perceive there might be some benefit to me personally by favoring the one with means rather than the one without, do I show partiality to the one who can benefit me? And, am I willing to go to as great a lengths to help those who are helpless as I am anyone else? I don't believe I escape the instruction of this psalm. It is for me also.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 81

Psalm 81 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (By Asaph for the music leader.) Be happy and shout to God who makes us strong! Shout praises to the God of Jacob.
  2. Sing as you play tambourines and the lovely sounding stringed instruments.
  3. Sound the trumpets and start the New Moon Festival. We must also celebrate when the moon is full.
  4. This is the law in Israel, and it was given to us by the God of Jacob.
  5. The descendants of Joseph were told to obey it, when God led them out from the land of Egypt. In a language unknown to me, I heard someone say:
  6. "I lifted the burden from your shoulder and took the heavy basket from your hands.
  7. When you were in trouble, I rescued you, and from the thunderclouds, I answered your prayers. Later I tested you at Meribah Spring.
  8. "Listen, my people, while I, the Lord, correct you! Israel, if you would only pay attention to me!
  9. Don't worship foreign gods or bow down to gods you know nothing about.
  10. I am the LORD your God. I rescued you from Egypt. Just ask, and I will give you whatever you need.
  11. "But, my people, Israel, you refused to listen, and you would have nothing to do with me!
  12. So I let you be stubborn and keep on following your own advice.
  13. "My people, Israel, if only you would listen and do as I say!
  14. I, the LORD, would quickly defeat your enemies with my mighty power.
  15. Everyone who hates me would come crawling, and that would be the end of them.
  16. But I would feed you with the finest bread and with the best honey until you were full."

Psalm 81 is another of Asaph's psalms, but is very different from those of his preceding it. It's occasion does not arise from a time of trouble but from one of Israel's festivals. Some think it was the Passover celebration, others think it was the Festival of Trumpets. The psalm seems to have two purposes which many religious songs over the centuries have had: to praise God and to instruct the people. God instructed Israel to use the festivals to teach their children about Him. This could certainly be a design of this psalm. The first seven verses of the psalm recount Israel's instructions to "blow the horn during the new moon and during the full moon, on the day of our feast." It is a reminder of how God rescued Israel from slavery in Egypt. There is strict admonition in verses 8-10 not to bow down to any foreign gods, and in verses 11-12 the regret that Israel did not heed this admonition. Therefore, God "gave them over to their stubborn hearts to follow their own plans." The remaining verses tell how God would care for Israel if she would only follow His ways. He would subdue their enemies and cause them to prosper.

Why do we not follow God as He desires us to? Usually it is because we want to follow our own plans. We think we know what will make us happy. But as pointed out in this psalm, God knows that the road to destruction for His people is to allow them to follow their own plans. God knows what will make us happy better than do we, and He is more capable of bringing to pass those things that will ensure our happiness than are we. But we don't trust Him with our happiness. We have a better plan and God will let us pursue it. But unfortunately our plans will not get us what we desire. Instead of happiness, too often they bring us sorrow.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 80

Psalm 80 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by Asaph for the music leader. To the tune "Lilies of the Agreement.") Shepherd of Israel, you lead the descendants of Joseph, and you sit on your throne above the winged creatures. Listen to our prayer and let your light shine
  2. for the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, and Manasseh. Save us by your power.
  3. Our God, make us strong again! Smile on us and save us.
  4. LORD God All-Powerful, how much longer will the prayers of your people make you angry?
  5. You gave us tears for food, and you made us drink them by the bowlful.
  6. Because of you, our enemies who live nearby laugh and joke about us.
  7. But if you smile on us, we will be saved.
  8. We were like a grapevine you brought out of Egypt. You chased other nations away and planted us here.
  9. Then you cleared the ground, and we put our roots deep, spreading over the land.
  10. Shade from this vine covered the mountains. Its branches climbed the mighty cedars
  11. and stretched to the sea; its new growth reached to the river.
  12. Our Lord, why have you torn down the wall from around the vineyard? You let everyone who walks by pick the grapes.
  13. Now the vine is gobbled down by pigs from the forest and other wild animals.
  14. God All-Powerful, please do something! Look down from heaven and see what's happening to this vine.
  15. With your own hands you planted its roots, and you raised it as your very own.
  16. Enemies chopped the vine down and set it on fire. Now show your anger and destroy them.
  17. But help the one who sits at your right side, the one you raised to be your own.
  18. Then we will never turn away. Put new life into us, and we will worship you.
  19. LORD God All-Powerful, make us strong again! Smile on us and save us.

This psalm is in much the same vein as the previous psalm, written under the duress of being overpowered by a formidable foe. A couple of occasions are often referred to as the possible inspiration of this psalm. The Babylonian captivity and that of the Assyrians under Nebuchadnezzar in particular. But Israel had several times of duress in its history and it could have been any one of them. The recurring appeal of the psalmist is to "Restore us, God; look on us with favor, and we will be saved." As with its companion psalms it questions how long God will be angry with Israel, describing the grief she has already been through. And, as with other psalms, it recounts how God brought the people out of Egypt and planted them in the land. Now the psalmist asks why God has broken down Israel's walls "so that all who pass by pick its fruit?" Verse 17 is undoubtedly a reference to Christ, "Let Your hand be with the man at Your right hand, with the son of man . . ." If Israel should be revived by the Son of Man, says the psalmist, she will call on the name of the Lord and not turn away.

Is God worthy of our worship only if He delivers us from our calamities? Only if He blesses us? Israel had been abundantly blessed by God and over time it did not seem to serve as a motivation for her to be loyal to God. Time and time again God had delivered her from calamities and yet she always went back to her rebellious ways. So why, on this occasion, should God respond to a promise that Israel will not turn away from Him if He will only deliver her from this problem? Is our relationship with God one of bargaining for His pleasure? Speaking for myself, I hope not. God has blessed me over and over. He has cared for me and guided me and delivered me from multiple situations. If I were to fall into trouble and He would choose not to deliver me, He has blessed me sufficiently in the past to be worthy of my worship and praise, and of my faithfulness.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 79

Psalm 79 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Our God, foreign nations have taken your land, disgraced your temple, and left Jerusalem in ruins.
  2. They have fed the bodies of your servants to flesh-eating birds; your loyal people are food for savage animals.
  3. All Jerusalem is covered with their blood, and there is no one left to bury them.
  4. Every nation around us sneers and makes fun.
  5. Our LORD, will you keep on being angry? Will your angry feelings keep flaming up like fire?
  6. Get angry with those nations that don't know you and won't worship you!
  7. They have gobbled down Jacob's descendants and left the land in ruins.
  8. Don't make us pay for the sins of our ancestors. Have pity and come quickly! We are completely helpless.
  9. Our God, you keep us safe. Now help us! Rescue us. Forgive our sins and bring honor to yourself.
  10. Why should nations ask us, "Where is your God?" Let us and the other nations see you take revenge for your servants who died a violent death.
  11. Listen to the prisoners groan! Let your mighty power save all who are sentenced to die.
  12. Each of those nations sneered at you, our Lord. Now let others sneer at them, seven times as much.
  13. Then we, your people, will always thank you. We are like sheep with you as our shepherd, and all generations will hear us praise you.

This psalm is said to be a partner to psalm 74, and if that psalm was written on the occasion of Nebuchadnezzar's destruction of Jerusalem, psalm 79 would also have that occasion in mind. In psalm 74 the psalmist's question of God was WHY, "Why does Your anger burn against the sheep of Your pasture?" In this psalm the question is HOW LONG, "How long, Lord? Will You be angry forever?" The HOW LONG question is more to the point. The psalmist really knew that the Lord's anger was due to the sins of the nation, for in verse 8 of this psalm he asks God not to "hold past sins against us; let Your compassion come to us quickly." Maybe he thought their sins deserved more of a 'slap of the hands' punishment than what they experienced. Maybe he was shocked that God would even allow the devastation to go so far as the destruction of the temple. Whatever the thoughts of the psalmist, his general tone in this 79th psalm is concern for God's honor and the honor of His 'inheritance,' the Israelites. Israel had become a reproach to her neighbors and God's honor was in question. "Where is their God?" other nations were asking. Now the point of this question could concern the ability of God to protect His people or it could concern the reproach of Israel and why her God would not protect her.

Whichever the point, the psalmist's appeal to God is that His honor is at stake either way, whether the other nations mock Him or mock His inheritance, the nation of Israel. The psalmist says, "Pour out Your wrath on the nations that don't acknowledge You." In other words, we may have sinned but at least we acknowledge You. Why not turn Your wrath upon those who do not acknowledge you and don't call on Your name? History shows that God did indeed deal with these other nations, but at this point in time they were His instrument to deal with Israel's sin. They don't get any 'points' for it, however, for they didn't acknowledge God's hand in it at all. They thought their victory over Israel was their own accomplishment.

The psalmist promises that if God will bring vengeance upon Israel's tormentors, "Then we, Your people, the sheep of Your pasture, will thank You forever." I have the benefit of history to know that however well-intentioned this promise on the part of the psalmist, it didn't take long after God avenged Israel before they again went their own way and forgot God. But we are all prone to bargain with God when the chips are down. We are also prone to return to our usual ways when the chips are coming our way. It is very much like another tendency most of us have to ask God WHY when bad things are happening but not asking WHY when things are going good. It is as if we credit God for causing bad that happens to us but not for the good that comes our way.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 78

Psalm 78 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My friends, I beg you to listen as I teach.
  2. I will give instruction and explain the mystery of what happened long ago.
  3. These are things we learned from our ancestors,
  4. and we will tell them to the next generation. We won't keep secret the glorious deeds and the mighty miracles of the LORD.
  5. God gave his Law to Jacob's descendants, the people of Israel. And he told our ancestors to teach their children,
  6. so that each new generation would know his Law and tell it to the next.
  7. Then they would trust God and obey his teachings, without forgetting anything God had done.
  8. They would be different from their ancestors, who were stubborn, rebellious, and unfaithful to God.
  9. The warriors from Ephraim were armed with arrows, but they ran away when the battle began.
  10. They broke their agreement with God, and they turned their backs on his teaching.
  11. They forgot all he had done, even the mighty miracles
  12. he did for their ancestors near Zoan in Egypt.
  13. God made a path in the sea and piled up the water as he led them across.
  14. He guided them during the day with a cloud, and each night he led them with a flaming fire.
  15. God made water flow from rocks he split open in the desert, and his people drank freely, as though from a lake.
  16. He made streams gush out like rivers from rocks.
  17. But in the desert, the people of God Most High kept sinning and rebelling.
  18. They stubbornly tested God and demanded from him what they wanted to eat.
  19. They challenged God by saying, "Can God provide food out here in the desert?
  20. It's true God struck the rock and water gushed out like a river, but can he give his people bread and meat?"
  21. When the LORD heard this, he was angry and furious with Jacob's descendants, the people of Israel.
  22. They had refused to trust him, and they had doubted his saving power.
  23. But God gave a command to the clouds, and he opened the doors in the skies.
  24. From heaven he sent grain that they called manna.
  25. He gave them more than enough, and each one of them ate this special food.
  26. God's mighty power brought a strong wind from the southeast,
  27. and it brought birds that covered the ground, like sand on the beach.
  28. Then God made the birds fall in the camp of his people near their tents.
  29. God gave his people all they wanted, and each of them ate until they were full.
  30. But before they had swallowed the last bite,
  31. God became angry and killed the strongest and best from the families of Israel.
  32. But the rest kept on sinning and would not trust God's miracles.
  33. So he cut their lives short and made them terrified.
  34. After he killed some of them, the others turned to him with all their hearts.
  35. They remembered God Most High, the mighty rock that kept them safe.
  36. But they tried to flatter God, and they told him lies;
  37. they were unfaithful and broke their promises.
  38. Yet God was kind. He kept forgiving their sins and didn't destroy them. He often became angry, but never lost his temper.
  39. God remembered that they were made of flesh and were like a wind that blows once and then dies down.
  40. While they were in the desert, they often rebelled and made God sad.
  41. They kept testing him and caused terrible pain for the Holy One of Israel.
  42. They forgot about his power and how he had rescued them from their enemies.
  43. God showed them all kinds of wonderful miracles near Zoan in Egypt.
  44. He turned the rivers of Egypt into blood, and no one could drink from the streams.
  45. He sent swarms of flies to pester the Egyptians, and he sent frogs to cause them trouble.
  46. God let worms and grasshoppers eat their crops.
  47. He destroyed their grapevines and their fig trees with hail and floods.
  48. Then he killed their cattle with hail and their other animals with lightning.
  49. God was so angry and furious that he went into a rage and caused them great trouble by sending swarms of destroying angels.
  50. God gave in to his anger and slaughtered them in a terrible way.
  51. He killed the first-born son of each Egyptian family.
  52. Then God led his people out of Egypt and guided them in the desert like a flock of sheep.
  53. He led them safely along, and they were not afraid, but their enemies drowned in the sea.
  54. God brought his people to the sacred mountain that he had taken by his own power.
  55. He made nations run from the tribes of Israel, and he let the tribes take over their land.
  56. But the people tested God Most High, and they refused to obey his laws.
  57. They were as unfaithful as their ancestors, and they were as crooked as a twisted arrow.
  58. God demanded all their love, but they made him angry by worshiping idols.
  59. So God became furious and completely rejected the people of Israel.
  60. Then he deserted his home at Shiloh, where he lived here on earth.
  61. He let enemies capture the sacred chest and let them dishonor him.
  62. God took out his anger on his chosen ones and let them be killed by enemy swords.
  63. Fire destroyed the young men, and the young women were left with no one to marry.
  64. Priests died violent deaths, but their widows were not allowed to mourn.
  65. Finally the Lord woke up, and he shouted like a drunken soldier.
  66. God scattered his enemies and made them ashamed forever.
  67. Then the Lord decided not to make his home with Joseph's descendants in Ephraim.
  68. Instead he chose the tribe of Judah, and he chose Mount Zion, the place he loves.
  69. There he built his temple as lofty as the mountains and as solid as the earth that he had made to last forever.
  70. The Lord God chose David to be his servant and took him from tending sheep
  71. and from caring for lambs. Then God made him the leader of Israel, his own nation.
  72. David treated the people fairly and guided them with wisdom.

Psalm 78 seems more a historical narrative than a psalm. It is a demonstration of a powerful teaching tool used by the Hebrew people, telling and singing their history to their children. And it continues to provide teaching for us. Why should we not also learn from Israel's past. Asaph, the writer states his purpose in the first few verses - "I will declare wise sayings . . . things we have heard and known and that our fathers have passed down to us. We must not hide them from their children. . . . so that a future generation . . might know." This recounting of Israel's history, like most tellings of their history, is a contrast between God's goodness and mercy and Israel's unfaithfulness and rebellion. We read these accounts today and think, "How stupid. Why could they not remember what God had done for them and be thankful and faithful?" But are we really any different? How often has God done wonderful things for us and we didn't even recognize they came from God? Asaph portrays the tribe of Ephraim as the leader of Israel's rebellion against God which was why God rejected this tribe as the one to provide a king when Israel became established in the promised land. Instead that leader came from the tribe of Judah. Asaph gives the usual litany of Israel's experiences, how God brought them out of Egpyt, divided the waters of the sea for their crossing, provided food for them in their trek across the desert, and drove out other nations to give them their new land. Israel balked and complained and rebelled the whole way. Throughout this history Israel saw clear demonstrations of God's provision of blessings and His exercise of judgment. Yet time after time they soon turned away from God complaining about His provisions for them or following after other gods. Asaph brings home his lesson in the last few verses of the psalm. What God did with Ephraim He will do with Israel if she doesn't learn the lesson. God rejected the unfaithful Ephraim for the privilege of ascending the throne of Israel and accepted the faithful Judah. If Israel is unfaithful God will reject her and accept another who is faithful. Unfortunately Israel did not learn the lesson.

What about us? Will we learn the lesson?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 77

Psalm 77 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I pray to you, Lord God, and I beg you to listen.
  2. In days filled with trouble, I search for you. And at night I tirelessly lift my hands in prayer, refusing comfort.
  3. When I think of you, I feel restless and weak.
  4. Because of you, Lord God, I can't sleep. I am restless and can't even talk.
  5. I think of times gone by, of those years long ago.
  6. Each night my mind is flooded with questions:
  7. Have you rejected me forever? Won't you be kind again?
  8. Is this the end of your love and your promises?
  9. Have you forgotten how to have pity? Do you refuse to show mercy because of your anger?"
  10. Then I said, "God Most High, what hurts me most is that you no longer help us with your mighty arm."
  11. Our LORD, I will remember the things you have done, your miracles of long ago.
  12. I will think about each one of your mighty deeds.
  13. Everything you do is right, and no other god compares with you.
  14. You alone work miracles, and you have let nations see your mighty power.
  15. With your own arm you rescued your people, the descendants of Jacob and Joseph.
  16. The ocean looked at you, God, and it trembled deep down with fear.
  17. Water flowed from the clouds. Thunder was heard above as your arrows of lightning flashed about.
  18. Your thunder roared like chariot wheels. The world was made bright by lightning, and all the earth trembled.
  19. You walked through the water of the mighty sea, but your footprints were never seen.
  20. You guided your people like a flock of sheep, and you chose Moses and Aaron to be their leaders.

This psalm describes a time of great distress the author once experienced. Was it just a personal distress or a national distress that he felt personally? Was it maybe a time of one of Israel's captivities? We don't have these answers, but our understanding of the psalm is not affected by not knowing the circumstances. The psalm outlines a rather common pattern one goes through when distressed by some great difficulty. At first the psalmist cried out to God for His help. He was so troubled he could not sleep and refused to be comforted. But then he turned to bitterness, blaming God for his insomnia and thinking back to the 'good old days' which probably seemed much better in his present state than at the time. He meditates and he ponders and becomes filled with doubts, raising five questions. Has God rejected him forever? Has God's love ceased? Are His promises at an end? Has God forgotten to be gracious? And has God's anger cut off His compassion? Then he turned from his introspection and looked heavenward, determining to remember what the Lord had done in the past. As he remembered God's ancient wonders he was moved to proclaim, "Your way is holy. What god is great like God?" He remembered how God redeemed the Israelites and we are left with the impression, though not mentioned, that the psalmist came to the conclusion that God would also deliver him from his present distress.

Too often we get stuck in the first part, refusing to be comforted and focused on our great hurt. This turns us to bitterness, blaming God, and doubt upon doubt. And there we remain. Yes, others have found help from God, but no one has had trouble like ours and if He were truly a loving God He would not have allowed this to happen to us in the first place. Soon we gain a certain comfort from being the victim. But God has so much more for us and wants to do so much for us, but we have to come out of our self-pity and bitterness and look to God. We have to turn our focus to what He can and has done and off of our helplessness and distress. In so doing, we will indeed discover that He is the God who works wonders.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 76

Psalm 76 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. You, our God, are famous in Judah and honored in Israel.
  2. Your home is on Mount Zion in the city of peace.
  3. There you destroyed fiery arrows, shields, swords, and all the other weapons.
  4. You are more glorious than the eternal mountains.
  5. Brave warriors were robbed of what they had taken, and now they lie dead, unable to lift an arm.
  6. God of Jacob, when you roar, enemy chariots and horses drop dead in their tracks.
  7. Our God, you are fearsome, and no one can oppose you when you are angry.
  8. From heaven you announced your decisions as judge! And all who live on this earth were terrified and silent
  9. when you took over as judge, ready to rescue everyone in need.
  10. Even the most angry people will praise you when you are furious.
  11. Everyone, make your promises to the LORD your God and do what you promise. The LORD is fearsome, and all of his servants should bring him gifts.
  12. God destroys the courage of rulers and kings and makes cowards of them.

Another psalm of Asaph praising the God who is known in Judah, whose name is great in Israel, and whose tent is in Salem, and dwelling place in Zion. Salem and Zion are both references to Jerusalem, and the reference to Judah and Israel separately might suggest that this psalm was written after the split of the kingdom. Since the psalm praises God's miraculous deliverance at the hand of a formidable enemy and the earlier reference likely places it after the split of the kingdom, many identify the occasion as the invasion of Jerusalem by the Assyrians under Sennacherib. If that be true, the writer would not be the same Asaph who wrote in David's time. On this occasion God shattered the weapons of the enemy and stilled the warriors as well as the horse and chariot. And I like verse 10 which says that "even human wrath will praise You."

What does this mean? To me it means that on this occasion or any other like it, the wrath of man aimed at other humans, was at God's mercy. Thus, praise was turned to God who stopped the wrath of Judah's enemy. So why does God stop man's wrath on one occasion and not on another? Scripture helps to offer an explanation for this particular occasion, if indeed it was Sennacherib's invasion of Jerusalem. On that occasion Sennacherib was blaspheming God saying that no other god had stopped Assyria from overpowering other nations nor would the God of Judah stop them from overpowering Judah. But probably the main reason was that King Hezekiah of Judah asked God for His help and He gave it. Beyond this we can only speculate as to why God stops the wrath of one nation and not that of another. The WHY question is often asked of God as an accusation. It is asked assuming that God must abide by our understanding and standard of what is right and wrong, or what is just and unjust. But the Creator is the one who sets all standards. It behooves us to try to learn His standard and abide by it.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 75

Psalm 75 (Contemporary English Version)
  1. Our God, we thank you for being so near to us! Everyone celebrates your wonderful deeds.
  2. You have set a time to judge with fairness.
  3. The earth trembles, and its people shake; you alone keep its foundations firm.
  4. You tell every bragger, "Stop bragging!" And to the wicked you say, "Don't boast of your power!
  5. Stop bragging! Quit telling me how great you are."
  6. Our LORD and our God, victory doesn't come from the east or the west or from the desert.
  7. You are the one who judges. You can take away power and give it to others.
  8. You hold in your hand a cup filled with wine, strong and foaming. You will pour out some for every sinful person on this earth, and they will have to drink until it is gone.
  9. But I will always tell about you, the God of Jacob, and I will sing your praise.
  10. Our Lord, you will destroy the power of evil people, but you will give strength to those who are good.

The psalmist takes his stand to proclaim God's greatness forever. If we accept that God is the creator and is above all that He has made, and we also accept that he is a loving and merciful God and that His main purpose is to redeem man and reconcile him to Himself, then we will trust that He is a good and righteous judge. If we accept all this and trust Him, then, when things happen we don't understand or we read things in scripture that don't fit our sense of justice, we accept it as our lack of understanding rather than God's injustice. We trust that God is not only just but that He sets the standard for justice and our understanding is incomplete.

Psalm 75 is not clearly tied to a known historical event or occasion. It is said to be a psalm of Asaph, but some suppose that it is so agreeable to the circumstances of David coming to the throne after the death of Saul that they imagine it was either written by Asaph as David's poet-laureat, or that David wrote it himself. This involves more conjecture than I am comfortable with so I accept it as a psalm written to give praise and thanks to God for His wonderful works. And I interpret verses 2-5 as God's response promising to judge righteously and rebuke the proud. It then states that exaltation, or authority, doesn't come from anywhere on earth, "not from the east, the west, or the desert," but from God who is the judge.