Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 115

    Psalms 115 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. We don't deserve praise! The LORD alone deserves all of the praise, because of his love and faithfulness.
  2. Why should the nations ask, "Where is your God?"
  3. Our God is in the heavens, doing as he chooses.
  4. The idols of the nations are made of silver and gold.
  5. They have a mouth and eyes, but they can't speak or see.
  6. Their ears can't hear, and their noses can't smell.
  7. Their hands have no feeling, their legs don't move, and they can't make a sound.
  8. Everyone who made the idols and all who trust them are just as helpless as those useless gods.
  9. People of Israel, you must trust the LORD to help and protect you.
  10. Family of Aaron the priest, you must trust the LORD to help and protect you.
  11. All of you worship the LORD, so you must trust him to help and protect you.
  12. The LORD will not forget to give us his blessing; he will bless all of Israel and the family of Aaron.
  13. All who worship the LORD, no matter who they are, will receive his blessing.
  14. I pray that the LORD will let your family and your descendants always grow strong.
  15. May the LORD who created the heavens and the earth give you his blessing.
  16. The LORD has kept the heavens for himself, but he has given the earth to us humans.
  17. The dead are silent and cannot praise the LORD,
  18. but we will praise him now and forevermore. Shout praises to the LORD!

This psalm is considered by some to be a continuation of the previous 114th Psalm, and that together they were written at some time of calamity in the life of Israel, such as the Babylonian captivity. Whatever the occasion, verse 2 mentions the taunts of other nations asking Israel, "Where is their (your) God?" On more than one occasion Israel was under siege by an enemy who taunted the people in this way, implying that they were much more powerful than Israel which obviously was because their god was stronger than that of Israel. This taunt in verse 2 came because Israel could not see her God while the other nations have objects or idols of some sort they worshiped and could see. The writer of the psalm is quick to address this taunt. "Our God," he says, "is in heaven and does whatever He pleases." This is a poke at the idols worshiped by the other nations that could only sit in one place. He goes on to point out the utter helplessness of these inanimate objects. Not only are the idols helpless, but so are those who make them and trust in them. Next, the writer appeals to Israel to trust in the Lord. He is the one who has been Israel's help in the past. It is He who will bless the nation. He blesses all who fear Him, regardless of their stature. The psalm closes with a plea for Israel to praise God while she can, for the dead cannot give praise for it is too late at that point.

Most people struggle to varying degrees as to whether there is a God or not, but it has always amazed me that anyone could even remotely believe that an object they made themselves is a god. Maybe this is because my concept of God has always been tied to creation and in so thinking, God is greater, by far, than what He has created. This includes us. But whether or not a god is connected with creation, it at least must be greater than we are to be able to do what we cannot. How could this ever be possible for an inanimate object? Well, that seems to be the argument of the writer in this psalm. The idols are helpless.

In my mind, the dilemma for the atheist is similar to that of the one who worships an object he has made and calls it god. The worshiper of the object (idol) has the impossible task of explaining in any believable way how his object is god instead of the God of the bible. So it is with the atheist. By rejecting the God of the bible he finds himself at a loss to explain our existence or the existence of anything in terms that are even as believable as believing in God.  Many such explanations I have heard or read give me the impression that the person's rejection of God is not for intellectual reasons, as they say it is, but simply because they don't want there to be a God. It is as if they will accept almost any explanation for how we exist except for God.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 114

    Psalm 114 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. God brought his people out of Egypt, that land with a strange language.
  2. He made Judah his holy place and ruled over Israel.
  3. When the sea looked at God, it ran away, and the Jordan River flowed upstream.
  4. The mountains and the hills skipped around like goats.
  5. Ask the sea why it ran away or ask the Jordan why it flowed upstream.
  6. Ask the mountains and the hills why they skipped like goats!
  7. Earth, you will tremble, when the Lord God of Jacob comes near,
  8. because he turns solid rock into flowing streams and pools of water.

This psalm goes with the 115th that follows and thus is considered a part of the song of praise that the Jews sang at the close of the Passover supper. And what other subject would it use than the exodus from Egypt? When Israel left Egypt, it says, God made her His sanctuary and dominion. In reference to Israel's Red Sea and Jordan crossings it says the sea fled and Jordan turned back. These also represent the beginning and conclusion of Israel's exodus experience. Verse 4 speaks of the mountains skipping like rams and the hills like lambs. A reference, it is thought, of the giving of the law at Mt. Sinai. God's glory was so overpowering in this event that it rocked the mountain. The question then is asked as to why the sea fled, the Jordan turned back and the mountains skipped? This question is answered in verse 7. It was God's presence that caused these reactions. Verse 8 ends the psalm with a reference to God's provision of water for the Israelites from a rock at Meribah.

These are but four of the many mighty acts that God performed on behalf of the Israelites during this period in her history. It is a time the Israelites should never forget, though it seems they did at several points in their history when the people turned to other gods. This formative time in Israel's relationship with God is not unlike the beginning of our own faith journey with God. Our own experiences may not involve such mighty works as these, but they are in their own way rather miraculous. They are times I can go back to in my memory and recall how I came to faith, received God's gift of salvation through Jesus Christ, and committed my life to His service. It is like a compass that serves as a point reference for me reminding me of my direction and guiding me "true north."

Friday, March 27, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 113

    Psalm 113 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! Everyone who serves him, come and praise his name.
  2. Let the name of the LORD be praised now and forever.
  3. From dawn until sunset the name of the LORD deserves to be praised.
  4. The LORD is far above all of the nations; he is more glorious than the heavens.
  5. No one can compare with the LORD our God. His throne is high above,
  6. and he looks down to see the heavens and the earth.
  7. God lifts the poor and needy from dust and ashes,
  8. and he lets them take part in ruling his people.
  9. When a wife has no children, he blesses her with some, and she is happy. Shout praises to the LORD!

Psalm 113 is another of the general praise psalms, starting with Hallelujah and ending with Hallelujah. It has two sections, both giving reasons to praise the Lord. In the first section the reasons given to praise the Lord relate to His greatness. He is exalted above all the nations, His glory is above the heavens, and there is none other like the Lord our God who humbles Himself to give attention to the heavens and the earth. This last statement sets the stage for the second section which gives reason to praise the Lord because He cares for those in need. He raises the poor from the dust and the needy from the garbage pile and seats them in places of plenty. He gives children to the childless woman. It would be my guess that these specific reasons spoke to a particular situation at the time the psalm was written. There are so many reasons that could be provided we might give different reasons were we writing it that spoke more directly to our concerns. All true of what the Lord does for us.

Which section draws us more to praise the Lord? Is it the first which speaks of who He is or the second which speaks of what He does? Are we drawn to God because of His greatness or because of what He can do for us? In other words, is it about you (me) or is it about God? I would say that for me it has moved over time. As I consciously began to give God praise from the heart rather than as a ritual you do when at church, it was more about me and what God had done for me. But gradually over time it has moved to become more about God and who He is. In the earlier years of my spiritual journey my desire for God was a lot about, "What have you done for me lately?" In my mind He was great when good things were happening, but I was questioning "Why me?" when bad things happened. Circumstances played a big role in my feelings of praise toward God. I am more able now to see Him as a great God worthy of praise regardless of circumstances. I know that He loves me and has consistently and wonderfully blessed my life over the years. And I also know that regardless of circumstances He will provide for me. So, regardless of circumstances I now know that He is worthy of my praise.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 112

    Psalm 112 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! The LORD blesses everyone who worships him and gladly obeys his teachings.
  2. Their descendants will have great power in the land, because the LORD blesses all who do right.
  3. They will get rich and prosper and will always be remembered for their fairness.
  4. They will be so kind and merciful and good, that they will be a light in the dark for others who do the right thing.
  5. Life will go well for those who freely lend and are honest in business.
  6. They won't ever be troubled, and the kind things they do will never be forgotten.
  7. Bad news won't bother them; they have decided to trust the LORD.
  8. They are dependable and not afraid, and they will live to see their enemies defeated.
  9. They will always be remembered and greatly praised, because they were kind and freely gave to the poor.
  10. When evil people see this, they angrily bite their tongues and disappear. They will never get what they really want.

The previous psalm, Psalm 111, concluded by saying that, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." This 112th Psalm picks up from there to tell more about the person who fears the Lord. Not only does he gain wisdom, he is happy, he delights in the Lord's commandments, his descendants will become powerful, and he will also attain wealth. Today this might be called "prosperity theology." I would not want to understand these benefits too directly. As the Believer's Bible Commentary states, "we are wise to transfer them from their earthly, material meaning to the spiritual counterpart." Certainly the point is made in this psalm that fear of the Lord will lead to a lifestyle that reaps blessings. And though such a person may not actually become wealthy, they will live a lifestyle of "honesty, diligence, and frugality" (BBC) that avoids excess.

Notice the psalm and these reflections are not only referring to the benefits one gains by fearing the Lord, they refer also to what a person becomes. Fear of the Lord is more than an attitude which, when embraced, brings reward. It is a way of life that reaps its own rewards. The character and benefits of the person who fears the Lord continue in verse 4 and following. The promise is not given that darkness will be avoided, but when darkness does come there is the promise that light will shine in it to show the way. Notice the character of the one who fears the Lord. They are gracious, compassionate, righteous, lend generously, conduct business fairly, and distributes freely to the poor. The result of such character is that one will "be exalted in honor."

Verse 7 adds another dimension. The one who fears the Lord also trusts in the Lord. And because of that trust they will not fear bad news because of the confidence they have in the Lord. But it is a very different story for the wicked (verse 10). They will see the benefits of those who fear the Lord and be angry. The wicked will "gnash his teeth in despair." Further, his desire will come to nothing. Though nothing is stated, there is an assumed contrast in the psalm. That assumption is that those who fear the Lord are righteous and those who do not are wicked.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 111

    Psalm 111 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! With all my heart I will thank the LORD when his people meet.
  2. The LORD has done many wonderful things! Everyone who is pleased with God's marvelous deeds will keep them in mind.
  3. Everything the LORD does is glorious and majestic, and his power to bring justice will never end.
  4. The LORD God is famous for his wonderful deeds, and he is kind and merciful.
  5. He gives food to his worshipers and always keeps his agreement with them.
  6. He has shown his mighty power to his people and has given them the lands of other nations.
  7. God is always honest and fair, and his laws can be trusted.
  8. They are true and right and will stand forever.
  9. God rescued his people, and he will never break his agreement with them. He is fearsome and holy.
  10. Respect and obey the LORD! This is the first step to wisdom and good sense. God will always be respected.

This is one of ten psalms that begin with "Hallelujah!" which is considered an indication of its intent to be used for public worship. Its poetic design is lost in English, but in Hebrew it is designed with two phrases per verse and each phrase beginning with a consecutive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Reason is given in the first four verses for the Hallelujah at the beginning. His works are great, all He does is splendid, His righteousness endures forever, and He is gracious and compassionate.

These are reason enough to give the Lord praise, but there is more. Verses 5-8 tell of the Lord's provision to those who follow Him. He has provided His people sustenance by giving them food. He has provided them hope by remembering His promises to them. He has provided His people a place and a name by giving them the inheritance of the nations. And He has provided them protection by establishing truth and justice.

To this point we are given reason to praise the Lord for His works in the past and the present. Now the psalmist looks to the future. We can praise the Lord because "He has sent redemption to His people. He has ordained His covenant forever." And then, in the last verse comes the psalmist's counsel to the people and to us. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom." None of the above are available to those who do not fear the Lord and follow Him. It is foolishness to think that any of this can be found from any other source. Particularly when one considers that the Lord is the creator who has made it all. It would seem that everything goes back to Genesis 1:1, "In the beginning." Accepting God as the creator is the foundation for everything relating to our worldview and to life itself. Dismiss that and we have dismissed reality and all that goes with it. This dismissal of God is really unwise. The fact that many intelligent and learned people discount God is strong indication that wisdom and intelligence are not synonymous.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 110

    Psalm 110 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by David.) The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at my right side, until I make your enemies into a footstool for you."
  2. The LORD will let your power reach out from Zion, and you will rule over your enemies.
  3. Your glorious power will be seen on the day you begin to rule. You will wear the sacred robes and shine like the morning sun in all of your strength.
  4. The LORD has made a promise that will never be broken: "You will be a priest forever, just like Melchizedek."
  5. My Lord is at your right side, and when he gets angry he will crush the other kings.
  6. He will judge the nations and crack their skulls, leaving piles of dead bodies all over the earth.
  7. He will drink from any stream that he chooses, while winning victory after victory.

Psalm 110 is much quoted in the New Testament, always with reference to the Messiah. According to this psalm, the Messiah is both priest and king. As priest, He will forever mediate on our behalf with the Father. As king, He will rule over all, even His enemies. "He will judge the nations" and "crush leaders over the entire world." I choose to be part of this kingdom of the Messiah. It is an eternal kingdom whereas all other kingdoms will be subject to His judgment. Why follow any other leader, all of whom will be crushed by this mighty ruler? I will follow the One who will rule over all. I will follow the one Who has access to the Father. This will require both faith and steadfastness because His reign is not presently evident except through eyes of faith. But one day it will be evident to all, and though all will bow down before Him at that time, only those who have followed His reign will rejoice and be glad, for they have followed the true king.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 109

    Psalm 109 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by David for the music leader.) I praise you, God! Don't keep silent.
  2. Destructive and deceitful lies are told about me,
  3. and hateful things are said for no reason.
  4. I had pity and prayed for my enemies, but their words to me were harsh and cruel.
  5. For being friendly and kind, they paid me back with meanness and hatred.
  6. My enemies said, "Find some worthless fools to accuse him of a crime.
  7. Try him and find him guilty! Consider his prayers a lie.
  8. Cut his life short and let someone else have his job.
  9. Make orphans of his children and a widow of his wife;
  10. make his children beg for food and live in the slums.
  11. "Let the people he owes take everything he owns. Give it all to strangers.
  12. Don't let anyone be kind to him or have pity on the children he leaves behind.
  13. Bring an end to his family, and from now on let him be a forgotten man.
  14. "Don't let the LORD forgive the sins of his parents and his ancestors.
  15. Don't let the LORD forget the sins of his family, or let anyone remember his family ever lived.
  16. He was so cruel to the poor, homeless, and discouraged that they died young.
  17. "He cursed others. Now place a curse on him! He never wished others well. Wish only trouble for him!
  18. He cursed others more often than he dressed himself. Let his curses strike him deep, just as water and olive oil soak through to our bones.
  19. Let his curses surround him, just like the clothes he wears each day."
  20. Those are the cruel things my enemies wish for me. Let it all happen to them!
  21. Be true to your name, LORD God! Show your great kindness and rescue me.
  22. I am poor and helpless, and I have lost all hope.
  23. I am fading away like an evening shadow; I am tossed aside like a crawling insect.
  24. I have gone without eating, until my knees are weak, and my body is bony.
  25. When my enemies see me, they say cruel things and shake their heads.
  26. Please help me, LORD God! Come and save me because of your love.
  27. Let others know that you alone have saved me.
  28. I don't care if they curse me, as long as you bless me. You will make my enemies fail when they attack, and you will make me glad to be your servant.
  29. You will cover them with shame, just as their bodies are covered with clothes.
  30. I will sing your praises and thank you, LORD, when your people meet.
  31. You help everyone in need, and you defend them when they are on trial.

Psalm 109 is referred to as an imprecatory psalm - a psalm which prays for harm or injury to come upon on. In a sense it seeks to put a curse upon a person who is acting wickedly toward the psalmist. The psalmist portrays himself as being wrongfully treated. The attacking person had spoken deceitfully against him without cause. In return for love, the psalmist had been accused. Therefore, the psalmist asked God to judge this person. Let him be found guilty and make his days few. Then the prayer against this attacker progresses toward vengeance against the person's family. The psalmist's prayer then asks that the attacker's actions would come back on himself. "He loved cursing - let it fall on him; he took no delight in blessing - let it be far from him." Finally, the psalmist describes his own weak condition and asks for God's deliverance.

We read this and find ourselves uncomfortable with it. How do we justify this prayer for vengeance. A variety of explanations are offered by commentators of which most I find to be rather unsatisfactory. The one that comes closest to my own sentiment is found in the Believer's Bible Commentary: "the imprecatory Psalms express a spirit that was proper for a Jew living under the law, but not proper for a Christian living under grace." Theologically this makes sense in trying to rectify the tone of this psalm, but getting down to a personal level, I must say I identify with the psalmist. There have been times over the years that my prayers have been little different. I was suffering from some individual's hateful actions and spirit and I would ask God to deal with them, and not necessarily from a heart of righteous indignation. There is no avoiding it, my motives were not pure. But when we have feelings toward someone that are bent on revenge how are we to deal with them? Should we not take them to the Lord? Certainly better to take them to Him than to act on them or to be spouting off our vengeful thoughts to others.

There is no indication in the psalm that the writer sought for God to take away impure thoughts toward this other person. The writer gives no indication he considered himself wrong to have such thoughts or to pray such a prayer. But in response to this psalm I am inclined to say where better to take such thoughts and feelings than to the Lord. Pray as the psalmist did if it helps to get it "off your chest." But then ask for God to help you with these thoughts and feelings and to give you a heart of forgiveness toward the one who has wronged you.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 108

    Psalm 108 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A song and a psalm by David.) Our God, I am faithful to you with all my heart, and you can trust me. I will sing and play music for you with all that I am.
  2. I will start playing my harps before the sun rises.
  3. I will praise you, LORD, for everyone to hear; I will sing hymns to you in every nation.
  4. Your love reaches higher than the heavens, and your loyalty extends beyond the clouds.
  5. Our God, may you be honored above the heavens; may your glory be seen everywhere on earth.
  6. Answer my prayers and use your powerful arm to give us victory. Then the people you love will be safe.
  7. Our God, from your holy place you made this promise: "I will gladly divide up the city of Shechem and give away Succoth Valley piece by piece.
  8. The lands of Gilead and Manasseh are mine. Ephraim is my war helmet, and Judah is my symbol of royal power.
  9. Moab is merely my washbasin, and Edom belongs to me. I shout with victory over the Philistines."
  10. Our God, who will bring me to the fortress or lead me to Edom?
  11. Have you rejected us? You don't lead our armies.
  12. Help us defeat our enemies! No one else can rescue us.
  13. You are the one who gives us victory and crushes our enemies.

This psalm brings together portions of two previous psalms. Verses 1-5 come from Psalm 57:7-11 and verses 6-13 from Psalm 60:5-12. Since this came from former psalms the specific references cannot be applied to the purpose for which this present psalm was applied. However, the sense of it seems to be that those who formed the psalm were under threat of an enemy feeling that God had rejected them and left their armies to fend for themselves. But on this occasion they were hopeful that God was about to bring deliverance to them which had awakened their hopes prompting them to give praise for God's former mercies to them and confidence that He would again demonstrate His faithful love by defeating their enemies.

The hope of deliverance had aroused enthusiastic praise and the claim that the psalmist would praise the Lord among his own people and among other nations. He recognized God's faithful love to be higher than the heavens and wished that God would be exalted above the heavens. Oh that our practice would match our songs in worship. How often do we sing great words of praise and expressions of our own faithfulness toward God only to contradict them within the week? How often did God deliver Israel from her enemy and the people give praise similar to this psalm only to turn back to their rebellious ways almost before the echos of the psalm had died away? We give great lip service while gathered with other believers but too often our lives bear evidence that either we speak lies or are oblivious to our own hypocrisy. The people claimed through this psalm their acknowledgment that without God's aid their armies were helpless. "Human help is worthless," they said. "With God we will perform valiantly." So why did they repeatedly turn to other gods and depend so extensively on alliances with ungodly nations?

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 107

    Psalm 107 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! He is good to us, and his love never fails.
  2. Everyone the LORD has rescued from trouble should praise him,
  3. everyone he has brought from the east and the west, the north and the south.
  4. Some of you were lost in the scorching desert, far from a town.
  5. You were hungry and thirsty and about to give up.
  6. You were in serious trouble, but you prayed to the LORD, and he rescued you.
  7. Right away he brought you to a town.
  8. You should praise the LORD for his love and for the wonderful things he does for all of us.
  9. To everyone who is thirsty, he gives something to drink; to everyone who is hungry, he gives good things to eat.
  10. Some of you were prisoners suffering in deepest darkness and bound by chains,
  11. because you had rebelled against God Most High and refused his advice.
  12. You were worn out from working like slaves, and no one came to help.
  13. You were in serious trouble, but you prayed to the LORD, and he rescued you.
  14. He brought you out of the deepest darkness and broke your chains.
  15. You should praise the LORD for his love and for the wonderful things he does for all of us.
  16. He breaks down bronze gates and shatters iron locks.
  17. Some of you had foolishly committed a lot of sins and were in terrible pain.
  18. The very thought of food was disgusting to you, and you were almost dead.
  19. You were in serious trouble, but you prayed to the LORD, and he rescued you.
  20. By the power of his own word, he healed you and saved you from destruction.
  21. You should praise the LORD for his love and for the wonderful things he does for all of us.
  22. You should celebrate by offering sacrifices and singing joyful songs to tell what he has done.
  23. Some of you made a living by sailing the mighty sea,
  24. and you saw the miracles the LORD performed there.
  25. At his command a storm arose, and waves covered the sea.
  26. You were tossed to the sky and to the ocean depths, until things looked so bad that you lost your courage.
  27. You staggered like drunkards and gave up all hope.
  28. You were in serious trouble, but you prayed to the LORD, and he rescued you.
  29. He made the storm stop and the sea be quiet.
  30. You were happy because of this, and he brought you to the port where you wanted to go.
  31. You should praise the LORD for his love and for the wonderful things he does for all of us.
  32. Honor the LORD when you and your leaders meet to worship.
  33. If you start doing wrong, the LORD will turn rivers into deserts,
  34. flowing streams into scorched land, and fruitful fields into beds of salt.
  35. But the LORD can also turn deserts into lakes and scorched land into flowing streams.
  36. If you are hungry, you can settle there and build a town.
  37. You can plant fields and vineyards that produce a good harvest.
  38. The LORD will bless you with many children and with herds of cattle.
  39. Sometimes you may be crushed by troubles and sorrows, until only a few of you are left to survive.
  40. But the LORD will take revenge on those who conquer you, and he will make them wander across desert sands.
  41. When you are suffering and in need, he will come to your rescue, and your families will grow as fast as a herd of sheep.
  42. You will see this because you obey the LORD, but everyone who is wicked will be silenced.
  43. Be wise! Remember this and think about the kindness of the LORD.

Whatever our circumstance, when we turn to the Lord He will deliver us. That is the theme of this 107th psalm, and is repeated throughout the psalm. The theme is introduced by giving thanks to the Lord for His faithful love which endures forever. Those who are redeemed of the Lord, as is repeatedly described throughout this psalm, should proclaim it. Examples given of God's deliverance are:

  • Some wandered lost in the wilderness. They were hungry and thirsty. They cried out to the Lord and He rescued them.
  • Others sat in the darkness and gloom of a prison because they rebelled against God. Then they cried out to the Lord and He saved them.
  • Fools suffered affliction because of their rebellious ways. They cried out to the Lord in their trouble and He saved them.
  • Others went to sea in ships. The Lord raised a tempest that stirred the waves of the sea. They reeled and staggered and all their skill was useless. Then they cried out to the Lord and He brought them our of their distress.

These examples of God's deliverance not only point out God's deliverance but that our own rebelliousness gets us into the circumstances requiring His deliverance. But the deliverance only comes when we turn to the Lord and ask for His help. It is interesting how people will blame God for their troubles or at least for allowing them but will not turn to Him for deliverance. Why, in their thinking, will they credit Him with powers to cause the trouble but not with powers to deliver them from it? Or why do they think He would cause their troubles in the first place? Why do they not consider that they may have caused their own trouble or that it may have some other cause? Stranger yet are those who claim there is no God but then blame Him for allowing suffering in the world.

The theology of this psalm is rather simple. Yes, God allows suffering in the world but it is a result of man's rebelliousness and sin. However, when man turns to God for help He gives it. There is nothing so great that His deliverance cannot overcome. That is about the extent of the theology of this psalm, and, in a nutshell, of all scripture. The question then becomes, why will man not turn to the Lord and seek His deliverance? The last verse of the psalm, verse 43, says, "Let whoever is wise pay attention to these things (referring to the examples of God's deliverance) and consider the Lord's acts of faithful love."

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 106

    Psalm 106 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. We will celebrate and praise you, LORD! You are good to us, and your love never fails.
  2. No one can praise you enough for all of the mighty things you have done.
  3. You bless those people who are honest and fair in everything they do.
  4. Remember me, LORD, when you show kindness by saving your people.
  5. Let me prosper with the rest of your chosen ones, as they celebrate with pride because they belong to you.
  6. We and our ancestors have sinned terribly.
  7. When they were in Egypt, they paid no attention to your marvelous deeds or your wonderful love. And they turned against you at the Red Sea.
  8. But you were true to your name, and you rescued them to prove how mighty you are.
  9. You said to the Red Sea, "Dry up!" Then you led your people across on land as dry as a desert.
  10. You saved all of them
  11. and drowned every one of their enemies.
  12. Then your people trusted you and sang your praises.
  13. But they soon forgot what you had done and rejected your advice.
  14. They became greedy for food and tested you there in the desert.
  15. So you gave them what they wanted, but later you destroyed them with a horrible disease.
  16. Everyone in camp was jealous of Moses and of Aaron, your chosen priest.
  17. Dathan and Abiram rebelled, and the earth opened up and swallowed them.
  18. Then fire broke out and destroyed all of their followers.
  19. At Horeb your people made and worshiped the statue
  20. of a bull, instead of you, their glorious God.
  21. You worked powerful miracles to save them from Egypt, but they forgot about you
  22. and the fearsome things you did at the Red Sea.
  23. You were angry and started to destroy them, but Moses, your chosen leader, begged you not to do it.
  24. They would not trust you, LORD, and they did not like the promised land.
  25. They would not obey you, and they grumbled in their tents.
  26. So you threatened them by saying, "I'll kill you out here in the desert!
  27. I'll scatter your children everywhere in the world."
  28. Your people became followers of a god named Baal Peor, and they ate sacrifices offered to the dead.
  29. They did such terrible things that you punished them with a deadly disease.
  30. But Phinehas helped them, and the sickness stopped.
  31. Now he will always be highly honored.
  32. At Meribah Spring they turned against you and made you furious.
  33. Then Moses got into trouble for speaking in anger.
  34. Our LORD, they disobeyed you by refusing to destroy the nations.
  35. Instead they were friendly with those foreigners and followed their customs.
  36. Then they fell into the trap of worshiping idols.
  37. They sacrificed their sons and their daughters to demons
  38. and to the gods of Canaan. Then they poured out the blood of these innocent children and made the land filthy.
  39. By doing such gruesome things, they also became filthy.
  40. Finally, LORD, you were angry and terribly disgusted with your people.
  41. So you put them in the power of nations that hated them.
  42. They were mistreated and abused by their enemies,
  43. but you saved them time after time. They were determined to rebel, and their sins caused their downfall.
  44. You answered their prayers when they were in trouble.
  45. You kept your agreement and were so merciful
  46. that their enemies had pity on them.
  47. Save us, LORD God! Bring us back from among the nations. Let us celebrate and shout in praise of your holy name.
  48. LORD God of Israel, you deserve to be praised forever and ever. Let everyone say, "Amen! Shout praises to the LORD!"

Both this psalm and the previous recount much of the same period of Israel's history, though Psalm 105 started with Abraham whereas this one starts with the Egyptian bondage. By piecing the two together more detail is provided regarding the history of this period. But the two psalms have different purposes. Psalm 105 recalls God's blessings and this one recalls Israel's rebellions and sin. My reflection on Psalm 105 pointed out the wisdom of recording a people's journey with God, referring to His blessings and and to the lessons learned. I believe the same is true of recording a people's journey of sin and rebellion and how God has exercised His mercy and restoration for the people. There is a sad note to this psalm, though, because it is evident from verse 47 that Israel has at this point not recovered from her latest punishment for her sin. The people are scattered to various nations and the writer prays that they might be gathered once again so they may, "give thanks to Your holy name and rejoice in Your praise." Whether or not this record of Israel's history of sin and rebellion was beneficial to them, I pray it might be beneficial to those who read it today, including myself. As I read it I wonder how a people could experience God's blessings in such marvelous ways and repeatedly return to their rebellion. But then I have to turn the reflection on myself and ask how I might be similar in my own actions. May this type of reflection benefit me by helping me be more inclined to focus on God's blessings when difficulty strikes and less inclined to turn away from Him as if He has not helped me in the past with such difficulties.

This psalm gives a good picture of God's dealings with His people. He is patient and merciful but His patience is not indulgent. There comes a limit at which point He punishes the sin of His people. But if we, His people, will repent of our sin His punishment also has a limit. He will restore us and return to blessing us. He desires more than anything to have a relationship with us. Not a relationship based on rules and regulations in which we are attempting to appease Him through our adherence to those rules, but a relationship based on love and a desire to serve and please because of that love.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 105

    Psalm 105 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Praise the LORD and pray in his name! Tell everyone what he has done.
  2. Sing praises to the LORD! Tell about his miracles.
  3. Celebrate and worship his holy name with all your heart.
  4. Trust the LORD and his mighty power.
  5. Remember his miracles and all his wonders and his fair decisions.
  6. You belong to the family of Abraham, his servant; you are his chosen ones, the descendants of Jacob.
  7. The LORD is our God, bringing justice everywhere on earth.
  8. He will never forget his agreement or his promises, not in thousands of years. *
  9. God made an eternal promise
  10. to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob,
  11. when he said, "I'll give you the land of Canaan."
  12. At the time there were only a few of us, and we were homeless.
  13. We wandered from nation to nation, from one country to another.
  14. God did not let anyone mistreat our people. Instead he protected us by punishing rulers
  15. and telling them, "Don't touch my chosen leaders or harm my prophets!"
  16. God kept crops from growing until food was scarce everywhere in the land.
  17. But he had already sent Joseph, sold as a slave into Egypt,
  18. with chains of iron around his legs and neck.
  19. Joseph remained a slave until his own words had come true, and the LORD had finished testing him.
  20. Then the king of Egypt set Joseph free
  21. and put him in charge of everything he owned.
  22. Joseph was in command of the officials, and he taught the leaders how to use wisdom.
  23. Jacob and his family came and settled in Egypt as foreigners.
  24. They were the LORD's people, so he let them grow stronger than their enemies.
  25. They served the LORD, and he made the Egyptians plan hateful things against them.
  26. God sent his servant Moses. He also chose and sent Aaron
  27. to his people in Egypt, and they worked miracles and wonders there.
  28. Moses and Aaron obeyed God, and he sent darkness to cover Egypt.
  29. God turned their rivers into streams of blood, and the fish all died.
  30. Frogs were everywhere, even in the royal palace.
  31. When God gave the command, flies and gnats swarmed all around.
  32. In place of rain, God sent hailstones and flashes of lightning.
  33. He destroyed their grapevines and their fig trees, and he made splinters of all the other trees.
  34. God gave the command, and more grasshoppers came than could be counted.
  35. They ate every green plant and all the crops that grew in the land of Egypt.
  36. Then God took the life of every first-born son.
  37. When God led Israel from Egypt, they took silver and gold, and no one was left behind.
  38. The Egyptians were afraid and gladly let them go.
  39. God hid them under a cloud and guided them by fire during the night.
  40. When they asked for food, he sent more birds than they could eat.
  41. God even split open a rock, and streams of water gushed into the desert.
  42. God never forgot his sacred promise to his servant Abraham.
  43. When the Lord rescued his chosen people from Egypt, they celebrated with songs.
  44. The Lord gave them the land and everything else the nations had worked for.
  45. He did this so that his people would obey all of his laws. Shout praises to the LORD!

The first 15 verses of this psalm are found verbatim in 1 Chronicles 16:7-22. David wrote the psalm found in 1 Chronicles on the occasion of the ark of the covenant being moved to Jerusalem. The psalm on that occasion was decreed by David to be used to give thanks to the Lord. Undoubtedly this 105th psalm is also intended for that purpose. It continues the theme established in those first 15 verses on through to Israel's arrival in it promised land of Canaan. So it remembers Israel's history in a nutshell from God's covenant with Abraham through the fulfillment of His promise to Abraham to make a great nation of his offspring in a land of their own. It is a good practice not only to give thanks to the Lord and praise Him, but to do so by remembering time and again what He has done for us throughout our lives. It occurs to me in reflecting on this psalm that a good exercise for me would be to write a short history of my journey with God that I can return to frequently and add to as the journey continues. In so doing, I believe I will be amazed at what God has done in my life, and I know I will benefit from remembering the lessons I have learned at various points along that journey.

Anyone even slightly familiar with the history of Israel will recognize the highlights mentioned in this psalm. When outlined in this manner they show a purpose to what may otherwise seem to be random events of history. That is another important reason to recall them as this psalm does. It helps to see God's hand in the events of our lives rather than having life pass by day after day and year after year and never noticing or acknowledging God's purpose in it all. By recounting in this manner otherwise insignificant events take on purpose as with Joseph being sold as a slave and taken to Egypt. This would seem a terrible tragedy without realizing that God had a purpose for it and following this purpose through to it fulfillment through Joseph's role in saving Egypt from a famine and bringing his family to Egypt so they might survive the famine and then flourish in that land while they became a people so numerous they were ready to form a fledgling nation.

The conclusion of this psalm reminds us of another reason to recall our journey with God. That is to remember not only the purpose God has for the events of our lives but also to remember the purpose He has for our lives. Verse 45 says, "All this happened so that they might keep His statutes and obey His laws." And if we look back to God's covenant with Abraham we see another part of that purpose which was that all nations would be blessed, which is a purpose that looks even beyond the time this psalm was written. So what is God's purpose for my life? I am reminded of it and it is brought into better focus as I recall my journey with Him as does this psalm for the people of Israel.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 104

    Psalm 104 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. I praise you, LORD God, with all my heart. You are glorious and majestic, dressed in royal robes
  2. and surrounded by light. You spread out the sky like a tent,
  3. and you built your home over the mighty ocean. The clouds are your chariot with the wind as its wings.
  4. The winds are your messengers, and flames of fire are your servants.
  5. You built foundations for the earth, and it will never be shaken.
  6. You covered the earth with the ocean that rose above the mountains.
  7. Then your voice thundered! And the water flowed
  8. down the mountains and through the valleys to the place you prepared.
  9. Now you have set boundaries, so that the water will never flood the earth again.
  10. You provide streams of water in the hills and valleys,
  11. so that the donkeys and other wild animals can satisfy their thirst.
  12. Birds build their nests nearby and sing in the trees.
  13. From your home above you send rain on the hills and water the earth.
  14. You let the earth produce grass for cattle, plants for our food,
  15. wine to cheer us up, olive oil for our skin, and grain for our health.
  16. Our LORD, your trees always have water, and so do the cedars you planted in Lebanon.
  17. Birds nest in those trees, and storks make their home in the fir trees.
  18. Wild goats find a home in the tall mountains, and small animals can hide between the rocks.
  19. You created the moon to tell us the seasons. The sun knows when to set,
  20. and you made the darkness, so the animals in the forest could come out at night.
  21. Lions roar as they hunt for the food you provide.
  22. But when morning comes, they return to their dens,
  23. then we go out to work until the end of day.
  24. Our LORD, by your wisdom you made so many things; the whole earth is covered with your living creatures.
  25. But what about the ocean so big and wide? It is alive with creatures, large and small.
  26. And there are the ships, as well as Leviathan, the monster you created to splash in the sea.
  27. All of these depend on you to provide them with food,
  28. and you feed each one with your own hand, until they are full.
  29. But when you turn away, they are terrified; when you end their life, they die and rot.
  30. You created all of them by your Spirit, and you give new life to the earth.
  31. Our LORD, we pray that your glory will last forever and that you will be pleased with what you have done.
  32. You look at the earth, and it trembles. You touch the mountains, and smoke goes up.
  33. As long as I live, I will sing and praise you, the LORD God.
  34. I hope my thoughts will please you, because you are the one who makes me glad.
  35. Destroy all wicked sinners from the earth once and for all. With all my heart I praise you, LORD! I praise you!

Psalm 104 begins as if it is picking up where Psalm 103 left off. The previous psalm in its concluding verses says that the Lord has established His throne in heaven and His kingdom rules over all. Then it ends with the words, "My soul, praise the Lord!" Now Psalm 104 begins with those very words - "My soul, praise the Lord!" From there it follows the creation order. We see the first day of creation in verses 2-5. There is the introduction of light and the spreading out of the sky. But it is stated so very poetically. Verses 6-9 describe ingredients of the second day of creation - the separation of land and water. And there is an interesting note in verse 6. It says, "You set a boundary they (the waters) cannot cross; they will never cover the earth again." Next is the third day of creation. Here the waters are provided their appointed channels, the sea in its confines and the rivers and streams in theirs. Then comes vegetation. The fourth day is described in verses 19-23 concerning the creation of day and night with the sun, moon and stars. With the fifth day of creation in verses 24-30, the psalm introduces the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, and concludes its parallel with the sequence of creation.

In the last verses are more praises to the Lord. May His glory endure forever, it says. Verse 32 attributes earthquakes and volcanoes to God, "He looks at the earth, and it trembles; He touches the mountains, and they pour out smoke." Certainly if He created it all He has no problem causing these phenomenons. If we accept that God is responsible for creation and is capable of causing earthquakes and volcanoes, our natural response is to give Him praise and wish to please Him as verses 33 and 34 describe. Verse 35 expresses the desire that mankind would reflect the goodness of creation. That sinners would vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. There is in this wish the desire that there be no one who does not recognize and give credit to God for creation. Romans 1, verses 18-20, make it clear that failure to recognize God as the creator is an act of suppressing the truth. The truth is self-evident in creation itself plus God has shown it to them. Therefore, those who do not credit God with creation do so without excuse. They know the truth but choose not to recognize it.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 103

    Psalm 103 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (By David.) With all my heart I praise the LORD, and with all that I am I praise his holy name!
  2. With all my heart I praise the LORD! I will never forget how kind he has been.
  3. The LORD forgives our sins, heals us when we are sick,
  4. and protects us from death. His kindness and love are a crown on our heads.
  5. Each day that we live, he provides for our needs and gives us the strength of a young eagle.
  6. For all who are mistreated, the LORD brings justice.
  7. He taught his Law to Moses and showed all Israel what he could do.
  8. The LORD is merciful! He is kind and patient, and his love never fails.
  9. The LORD won't always be angry and point out our sins;
  10. he doesn't punish us as our sins deserve.
  11. How great is God's love for all who worship him? Greater than the distance between heaven and earth!
  12. How far has the LORD taken our sins from us? Farther than the distance from east to west!
  13. Just as parents are kind to their children, the LORD is kind to all who worship him,
  14. because he knows we are made of dust.
  15. We humans are like grass or wild flowers that quickly bloom.
  16. But a scorching wind blows, and they quickly wither to be forever forgotten.
  17. The LORD is always kind to those who worship him, and he keeps his promises to their descendants
  18. who faithfully obey him.
  19. God has set up his kingdom in heaven, and he rules the whole creation.
  20. All of you mighty angels, who obey God's commands, come and praise your LORD!
  21. All of you thousands who serve and obey God, come and praise your LORD!
  22. All of God's creation and all that he rules, come and praise your LORD! With all my heart I praise the LORD!

A beautiful psalm of praise and one of the most-used in the book. The only occasion we can connect with it is the psalmist's overwhelming praise for his God. He is so moved he calls upon "all that is within me" to praise God's holy name. He also admonishes himself not to "forget all His benefits." I can recall a number of times in my life when I was filled with gratitude for something God had done for me and made a mental note not to forget what God had done and not to forget to go to Him in prayer at every point for He had been faithful to answer and I want to be faithful to depend upon Him. Let's remind ourselves of God's benefits to us:
  • He forgives all our sin. Let's acknowledge the truth of this while we may also harbor some doubt. We sometimes doubt that He forgives certain sins because of the degree of suffering they cause. But we will find no exceptions in scripture concerning his forgiveness of sin.
  • He heals all our diseases. We may doubt this one even more than the first, for we know that people are not always healed of disease even when we have prayed fervently for their healing. What do we do with this doubt? I don't know about you, but I accept the truth of this. I accept that God can and does heal all diseases. I recognize that He does not heal in every instance, but I must leave it to His sovereignty as to why He does in some instances and does not in others.
  • He redeems us and crowns us with His love and compassion. We have already touched on doubt. Now let's lay doubt aside and simply accept all of these statements by faith. In so doing we can accept a God into our lives who can meet our every need.
  • He satisfies us with goodness
  • He renews our youth. The one whose life is centered in God can keep a youthful spirit throughout life.
  • He provides justice for the oppressed.
  • He reveals His ways to us. Recognize, though, that we have to spend time with Him for Him to reveal them to us.
  • He does not keep accusing us of our sin or remain forever angry with us.
  • He does not deal with us as our sins deserve. It is popular in advertising these days to tell people that they deserve the special benefit of whatever is being advertised. But in reality we don't deserve any such benefit. What we really deserve we could not bear and we must be ever thankful to God that He withholds from us our just desserts.
  • His love is as great as the heavens are high. We must keep our minds focused on this one.
  • He knows and remembers man's frailty. For man is like the grass that is here one day and vanishes with the wind. God is considerate of this frailty.
  • His love is eternal for those who fear Him. Scripture teaches that God loves all people, but only for those who fear Him and keep His covenants is that love eternal.

In the last verses of the psalm, the writer invites all, including the angels, to join him in praising God.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 102

    Psalm 102 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A prayer for someone who hurts and needs to ask the LORD for help.) I pray to you, LORD! Please listen.
  2. Don't hide from me in my time of trouble. Pay attention to my prayer and quickly give an answer.
  3. My days disappear like smoke, and my bones are burning as though in a furnace.
  4. I am wasting away like grass, and my appetite is gone.
  5. My groaning never stops, and my bones can be seen through my skin.
  6. I am like a lonely owl in the desert
  7. or a restless sparrow alone on a roof.
  8. My enemies insult me all day, and they use my name for a curse word.
  9. Instead of food, I have ashes to eat and tears to drink,
  10. because you are furious and have thrown me aside.
  11. My life fades like a shadow at the end of day and withers like grass.
  12. Our LORD, you are King forever and will always be famous.
  13. You will show pity to Zion because the time has come.
  14. We, your servants, love each stone in the city, and we are sad to see them lying in the dirt.
  15. Our LORD, the nations will honor you, and all kings on earth will praise your glory.
  16. You will rebuild the city of Zion. Your glory will be seen,
  17. and the prayers of the homeless will be answered.
  18. Future generations must also praise the LORD, so write this for them:
  19. "From his holy temple, the LORD looked down at the earth.
  20. He listened to the groans of prisoners, and he rescued everyone who was doomed to die."
  21. All Jerusalem should praise you, our LORD,
  22. when people from every nation meet to worship you.
  23. I should still be strong, but you, LORD, have made an old person of me.
  24. You will live forever! Years mean nothing to you. Don't cut my life in half!
  25. In the beginning, LORD, you laid the earth's foundation and created the heavens.
  26. They will all disappear and wear out like clothes. You change them, as you would a coat, but you last forever.
  27. You are always the same. Years cannot change you.
  28. Every generation of those who serve you will live in your presence.

Psalm 102 is a great contrast to Psalm 101. In reading Psalm 101 the writer seems from the outstart to be almost bubbly in his enthusiastic praise. But in Psalm 102 the tone is immediately gloomy. In my reflections on Psalm 101 I said the beginning point when we go to God needs always to be praise "unless we are so burdened we must first unburden ourselves before we can get to the praise." That is exactly what is happening in this 102nd Psalm. The psalmist is in great affliction and needs to start by unburdening himself. But the praise does come later in the psalm. What is the affliction? We can't tell. Commentators vary in whether they think it refers to the afflictions of an individual or of Israel. Some believe it is the latter and was written while in Babylonian captivity. We don't have to know the setting to benefit from it. The lamentation portion (verses 1-11), however, seems very individual while the praise and hope portions take on more of a corporate tone.

In the beginning of the psalm, the lamentation portion, a very gloomy picture is painted. As is often the case for any of us when we are overwhelmed with difficulties, the psalmist feels abandoned by God and asks that God not hide His face from him. Though the description sounds much like a physical affliction, depression and grief could also cause one to feel as the psalmist describes. In verse 10 the psalmist sounds almost accusatory of God as if he is saying, "This is Your fault. Your indignation and wrath have caused this." If it were not for the praise that soon follows we might be left with that impression, but I think rather the psalmist recognizes the Lord has just cause for His "indignation and wrath." It is really the rebellion of the people that has brought this situation. In saying that I have just switched to the corporate focus of the psalm. The focus of the lament is personal suffering but in general the psalm is about Israel and not just the psalmist.

Despite the gloominess of the first part, the psalmist is not without hope, for the Lord is enthroned forever (v. 12), and "will arise and have compassion on Zion." When He does, the nations will fear the name of the Lord. The psalmist is confident that the Lord will "pay attention to the prayer of the destitute" and that Zion will be rebuilt. Why should the Lord do this? So they might "declare the name of the Lord in Zion and His praise in Jerusalem," and give witness of the Lord's deliverance to peoples and kingdoms assembled to serve the Lord.

As with a majority of the psalms, this one ends with praise, proclaiming God's eternal nature. It is not only praise to God, but it is hope for the psalmist and his people. Though the earth and the heavens will perish God will not. He remains the same and His years will never end. Because of this the people "will dwell securely."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 101

    Psalm 101 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by David.) I will sing to you, LORD! I will celebrate your kindness and your justice.
  2. Please help me learn to do the right thing, and I will be honest and fair in my own kingdom.
  3. I refuse to be corrupt or to take part in anything crooked,
  4. and I won't be dishonest or deceitful.
  5. Anyone who spreads gossip will be silenced, and no one who is conceited will be my friend.
  6. I will find trustworthy people to serve as my advisors, and only an honest person will serve as an official.
  7. No one who cheats or lies will have a position in my royal court.
  8. Each morning I will silence any lawbreakers I find in the countryside or in the city of the LORD.

Matthew Henry titles this the "Householder's Psalm." It was written by David and deals with how he desires to conduct his household and kingdom. The beginning point, however, is praise. This needs always to be the beginning point unless we are so burdened down with worry that we must first unburden ourselves before we can get to the praise. Following praise concerning God's faithful love and justice, David commits himself to "live with integrity of heart in my house." What does this involve? In particular, David determines not to look upon anything that is godless and to avoid the doing of transgressions. It also includes for David avoiding a devious heart and involvement in evil. These deal with his personal conduct. But for David living with integrity also involves the people and conduct he allows in his house. For instance, he will not tolerate those who slander their neighbor, have 'haughty' eyes or an arrogant heart. The 'haughty' eyes goes with the arrogant heart. Both refer to arrogant people. David will not put up with arrogance in his house.

Those are the things David will avoid or will not tolerate. On the positive side, he will favor those who are faithful and who have integrity. These are the people with whom he will surround himself and have serve him. We see why David was Israel's greatest king. He didn't put up with foolishness or tolerate fools. Regardless of how strong our resolve or even how strong our personality and influence, we cannot have people without integrity included in our inner circle without being affected by them. Sooner or later our own character will be pulled down by theirs or their character will reflect badly on us or their character will bring disaster to us or all of this will result by including people in our circle who are without integrity.

David concludes the psalm by reaffirming he commitment to not tolerate those who act deceitfully or dishonestly. He will daily clear such people from the "Lord's city."

Monday, March 9, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 100

    Psalm 100 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm of praise.) Shout praises to the LORD, everyone on this earth.
  2. Be joyful and sing as you come in to worship the LORD!
  3. You know the LORD is God! He created us, and we belong to him; we are his people, the sheep in his pasture.
  4. Be thankful and praise the LORD as you enter his temple.
  5. The LORD is good! His love and faithfulness will last forever.

This 100th psalm is a very familiar and much-sung psalm. Compared to the others in this group of psalms (95-100), this psalm has a more universal appeal. From the very first verse the appeal to praise the Lord goes out to "all the earth." In this call to praise all the earth is told to "shout triumphantly to the Lord," and to "come before Him with joyful songs." But the greatest praise and worship we can give God, in my opinion, is also mentioned in verse 2 - "serve the Lord with gladness." And, I believe there is biblical support for this opinion. A good example is Romans 12:1 - "Offer yourselves as a living sacrifice to God, dedicated to his service and pleasing to him. This is the true worship that you should offer." Verse 3 of this psalm gives good reason we should give ourselves to the Lord's service, "He made us, and we are His." But God does not force us to serve Him or even to give Him praise. He allows us to choose whom we will serve and to whom we will give our praise. That is because He is a God of love who desires authentic love in return.

Further reason for our praise and worship to the Lord are given in verse 5. He is good, His love is eternal, and His faithfulness is eternal. At first we accept these attributes on faith because reliable sources tell us it is so and because God puts within us a sense of Himself. But after over 50 years as a believer and a good number of those years spent in the Lord's service, I can attest to the truth of these attributes from first-hand experience.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 99

    Psalm 99 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Our LORD, you are King! You rule from your throne above the winged creatures, as people tremble and the earth shakes.
  2. You are praised in Zion, and you control all nations.
  3. Only you are God! And your power alone, so great and fearsome, is worthy of praise.
  4. You are our mighty King, a lover of fairness, who sees that justice is done everywhere in Israel.
  5. Our LORD and our God, we praise you and kneel down to worship you, the God of holiness!
  6. Moses and Aaron were two of your priests. Samuel was also one of those who prayed in your name, and you, our LORD, answered their prayers.
  7. You spoke to them from a thick cloud, and they obeyed your laws.
  8. Our LORD and our God, you answered their prayers and forgave their sins, but when they did wrong, you punished them.
  9. We praise you, LORD God, and we worship you at your sacred mountain. Only you are God!

Without preamble, psalm 99 moves right into praise - The Lord reigns! As people of God we have dual citizenship, our citizenship in God's kingdom being greater than that of any other kingdom or nation. That comforts me, for I trust God's reign to be just and to have a greater eye for and understanding of the good of the people, than I do the governance of my own countries' leaders. The knowledge that God reigns should cause the people to tremble and the earth to quake, says the psalm. For those who rebel against God's reign the trembling is from fear. For those who submit to His reign it is in respect and praise.

Our praise of God is centered around His holiness, His justice, and His righteousness. In worshiping God we join a host of greats who also worshiped Him. These include Moses, Aaron, and Samuel. They called to the Lord and He answered them. He forgave them and punished their misdeeds. When thinking of God's punishment, keep in mind that part of the focus of our praise to God is His justice. We do not fear His punishment because it will always be just. In reality, God's punishment of those who submit to His reign serves as discipline to make their lives better, and it serves to assure them that they are indeed His people. For God only disciplines those He calls His children.

In conclusion (verse 9), we are once again called to worship God "for the Lord our God is holy."

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 98

    Psalm 98 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Sing a new song to the LORD! He has worked miracles, and with his own powerful arm, he has won the victory.
  2. The LORD has shown the nations that he has the power to save and to bring justice.
  3. God has been faithful in his love for Israel, and his saving power is seen everywhere on earth.
  4. Tell everyone on this earth to sing happy songs in praise of the LORD.
  5. Make music for him on harps. Play beautiful melodies!
  6. Sound the trumpets and horns and celebrate with joyful songs for our LORD and King!
  7. Command the ocean to roar with all of its creatures, and the earth to shout with all of its people.
  8. Order the rivers to clap their hands, and all of the hills to sing together.
  9. Let them worship the LORD! He is coming to judge everyone on the earth, and he will be honest and fair.

This psalm is within a group of praise psalms (95-100) of a general nature to be used in worship. There is fairly common consent among commentaries that this is a prophetic psalm concerning the Messiah. These include Jewish writers as well. Some say that a psalm identified as a "new song," as is this one, is a psalm with prophetic reference to the Messiah. I will have to take their word for it since to me it is not so plain. I can see a couple of passages that might be construed as a reference to the gospel going to the gentiles. For instance, verse 2 says, "He has revealed His righteousness in the sight of the nations." Also, verse 3 says, "all the ends of the earth have seen our God's victory." Verse 6 refers to the "Lord, our King." This might be speaking of the Messiah since God is not normally given this reference. Finally, in verse 9 it says, "He is coming to judge the earth." I can see this might be a reference to the Messiah's second coming. My comments here are peppered with the word 'might,' making these rather tenuous statements in speaking of references to the Messiah. I am not comfortable with this tenuousness, so I prefer to read this psalm simply for its praise value and what it reveals concerning God.

So what does it reveal concerning God? It says that God is victorious and that He has made His victory and righteousness known to all nations - including all people. We are not told how He has made them known, but I believe we are to infer from this that all who choose to accept what has been revealed about God can know of His victory and righteousness. Neither are we told what victories the Lord has won, but verse 3 leads me to believe it has to do with remembering His "love and faithfulness to the house of Israel." Possibly it is victories won on her behalf. Certainly, God's intent in His covenant with Israel was that all the nations would know about Him through His relationship with Israel. So I am led to believe that it is through God's fulfillment of His covenant with Israel that the world is to know of His victory and righteousness. The result is that everyone is to celebrate, and not just all people, but nature as well.

The celebration of God's righteousness is not complete at this point, however. For at the conclusion of the psalm we see not only celebration for the demonstration of God's righteousness that has already occurred but also for what is to come. Often when reference is made to God's judgment at the end of time, it is with a note of fear. But in this case it is mentioned with a note of celebration. Why? Because God will judge in the end as He has done so throughout history - righteously and fairly.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 97

    Psalm 97 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. The LORD is King! Tell the earth to celebrate and all islands to shout.
  2. Dark clouds surround him, and his throne is supported by justice and fairness.
  3. Fire leaps from his throne, destroying his enemies,
  4. and his lightning is so bright that the earth sees it and trembles.
  5. Mountains melt away like wax in the presence of the LORD of all the earth.
  6. The heavens announce, "The LORD brings justice!" Everyone sees God's glory.
  7. Those who brag about the useless idols they worship are terribly ashamed, and all the false gods bow down to the LORD.
  8. When the people of Zion and of the towns of Judah hear that God brings justice, they will celebrate.
  9. The LORD rules the whole earth, and he is more glorious than all the false gods.
  10. Love the LORD and hate evil! God protects his loyal people and rescues them from violence.
  11. If you obey and do right, a light will show you the way and fill you with happiness.
  12. You are the LORD's people! So celebrate and praise the only God.

This psalm is said to fall within a group of psalms (95-100) that "seem to have been composed with reference to the same occasion, and may have been designed to be used together." (Albert Barnes) God is sovereign, says this psalm, which should cause the earth to rejoice. The foundation of His throne is laid in righteousness and justice. A lot is said about justice these days, but much of it refers to only a part of God's justice - justice for the downtrodden - and, in fact, seems intentionally to ignore and even to argue against much of the rest of His justice. But God's justice also includes judgment on those who are God's foes and who do evil. It is that part of God's justice referred to in this psalm. It is God's foes who do not rejoice because of God's sovereignty because for them fire goes before God and burns them up. "The heavens proclaim His righteousness." Evil cannot forever exist within God's reign. These are the topics of verses 1-6.

God confounds all idol images and gods, says verses 7-9. All other objects of man's worship will be put to shame and God exalted above them. Eventually everything and everyone will worship God, even the other supposed gods, because He is the Most High over all the earth. Verses 10-12 go on to tell us that those who love the Lord cannot also love evil. The two are incompatible. God's justice does not allow evil and those who love Him can only hate evil. It is those who are upright who will be glad in the Lord and who will praise His holy name.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 96

    Psalm 96 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Sing a new song to the LORD! Everyone on this earth, sing praises to the LORD,
  2. sing and praise his name. Day after day announce, "The LORD has saved us!"
  3. Tell every nation on earth, "The LORD is wonderful and does marvelous things!
  4. The LORD is great and deserves our greatest praise! He is the only God worthy of our worship.
  5. Other nations worship idols, but the LORD created the heavens.
  6. Give honor and praise to the LORD, whose power and beauty fill his holy temple."
  7. Tell everyone of every nation, "Praise the glorious power of the LORD.
  8. He is wonderful! Praise him and bring an offering into his temple.
  9. Everyone on earth, now tremble and worship the LORD, majestic and holy."
  10. Announce to the nations, "The LORD is King! The world stands firm, never to be shaken, and he will judge its people with fairness."
  11. Tell the heavens and the earth to be glad and celebrate! Command the ocean to roar with all of its creatures
  12. and the fields to rejoice with all of their crops. Then every tree in the forest will sing joyful songs
  13. to the LORD. He is coming to judge all people on earth with fairness and truth.

Psalm 96 follows closely the form of psalm 95, beginning with a general call to worship, followed with a description of the object of our worship, then a specific call to Israel to worship. Next a word about proclaiming the Lord to the heathen, and finally even the heavens and the earth are commanded to rejoice before the Lord. This psalm is an excerpt of one composed and sung by David when the ark of the Covenant was moved to Jerusalem from Obed-Edom (1Chronicles 16:7). For what are we to give praise to God? For His salvation, His glory, and for His wonderful works. We praise Him as the only God, for all the other so-called gods are only idols. But God made the heavens and everything else. Further, we are to praise Him for His splendor and majesty and His strength and beauty.

How are we to worship God? First we are to ascribe to Him glory and strength. In other words, to credit Him, not other sources, for what He has done. What an affront to God, who has created all that exists, to claim that His creation has other sources or no source at all. It just happened. In fact, God, Himself, doesn't exist. What foolishness! Further, we are to worship God by bringing offerings and entering His courts. Why offerings? Does He have to be paid off to avoid His wrath? Offerings acknowledge that God has given us everything we have and therefore in thankfulness we return a portion to Him. By hanging onto all we have we act as though what we have is ours and God has had no part in our having it. Our worship to God also involves entering His courts (verse 8). Though originally a reference to the temple courts, I see it not so much a reference to location as to coming into God's presence. Today it might be at a church or in our own private place where we spend time alone with God. Finally, worshiping God involves trembling before Him with an appropriate level of fear. Does this seem strange? Can you love and give praise to one you fear? I see this term, as used in reference to God, as a mixture of fear and respect. We cannot regard God's power without realizing He could easily destroy us, but we do not regard His power without also regarding His love, mercy, and justice. Because of these qualities He does not destroy us but instead blesses those who worship Him. This adds to our reasons to worship Him.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 95

    Psalm 95 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Sing joyful songs to the LORD! Praise the mighty rock where we are safe.
  2. Come to worship him with thankful hearts and songs of praise.
  3. The LORD is the greatest God, king over all other gods.
  4. He holds the deepest part of the earth in his hands, and the mountain peaks belong to him.
  5. The ocean is the Lord's because he made it, and with his own hands he formed the dry land.
  6. Bow down and worship the LORD our Creator!
  7. The LORD is our God, and we are his people, the sheep he takes care of in his own pasture. Listen to God's voice today!
  8. Don't be stubborn and rebel as your ancestors did at Meribah and Massah out in the desert.
  9. For forty years they tested God and saw the things he did.
  10. Then God got tired of them and said, "You never show good sense, and you don't understand what I want you to do."
  11. In his anger, God told them, "You people will never enter my place of rest."

Psalm 95 is a general psalm intended as an invitation to praise God in worship. It is commonly attributed to David, though the psalm itself does not say so. A strong affirmation of this common consent is provided in the book of Hebrews which also attributes it to David (4:7). In this invitation to praise we are told that the Lord is:

  • The rock of our salvation
  • A great God
  • A great King above all gods
  • All the earth is in His hand
  • The mountain peaks are His
  • The sea, which He made, is His
  • His hand formed the dry land

The invitation to worship is repeated in verse 6 and is accompanied with a reminder and then a caution. The reminder: He is our God and we are His people. This is stated pictorially describing God's people as the people of His pasture, the sheep under His care. The caution: "Do not harden your hearts as at Meribah." Meribah means strive and was the name given a place in the desert during the Exodus. The people became thirsty and complained that they wish they had never left Egypt. They had hardened their hearts and were testing the Lord. This after they had witnessed great and wonderful works by God to deliver them from slavery in Egypt and lead them toward freedom and a land of their own. Why would they complain over being thirsty when they had suffered much worse in Egypt and had seen God provide much greater things than water for their thirst? It is a mystery of human nature I suppose. Why will a person stay in an abusive relationship? Why do they have a greater fear of taking a step toward freedom from the abuse and the unknown nature of this freedom than they do of the familiar nature of their abusive relationship? As I say, it is a mystery. Particularly in the case of the Israelites when they had already seen God do great things to deliver them from Egypt.

God has limited patience with such "hardening" of our hearts, and I suspect the amount of His patience is based on what He has already done for us prior to the hardening of our hearts. If we choose to enjoy God's blessings but still refuse to worship Him and praise Him for what He has done, He will choose to withdraw His blessings and to allow us to wallow in an existence of our own making. In the case of Israel it was to wander in the desert for 40 years without ever seeing the land of promise.