Friday, May 29, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 7

    Proverbs 07 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My son, pay close attention and don't forget what I tell you to do.
  2. Obey me, and you will live! Let my instructions be your greatest treasure.
  3. Keep them at your fingertips and write them in your mind.
  4. Let wisdom be your sister and make common sense your closest friend.
  5. They will protect you from the flattering words of someone else's wife.
  6. From the window of my house, I once happened to see
  7. some foolish young men.
  8. It was late in the evening, sometime after dark.
  9. One of these young men turned the corner and was walking by the house of an unfaithful wife.
  10. She was dressed fancy like a woman of the street with only one thing in mind.
  11. She was one of those women who are loud and restless and never stay at home,
  12. who walk street after street, waiting to trap a man.
  13. She grabbed him and kissed him, and with no sense of shame, she said:
  14. "I had to offer a sacrifice, and there is enough meat left over for a feast.
  15. So I came looking for you, and here you are!
  16. The sheets on my bed are bright-colored cloth from Egypt.
  17. And I have covered it with perfume made of myrrh, aloes, and cinnamon.
  18. "Let's go there and make love all night.
  19. My husband is traveling, and he's far away.
  20. He took a lot of money along, and he won't be back home before the middle of the month."
  21. And so, she tricked him with all of her sweet talk and her flattery.
  22. Right away he followed her like an ox on the way to be slaughtered, or like a fool on the way to be punished
  23. and killed with arrows. He was no more than a bird rushing into a trap, without knowing it would cost him his life.
  24. My son, pay close attention to what I have said.
  25. Don't even think about that kind of woman or let yourself be misled by someone like her.
  26. Such a woman has caused the downfall and destruction of a lot of men.
  27. Her house is a one-way street leading straight down to the world of the dead.

As in earlier chapters, Solomon appeals to his son to value wisdom, but there is a two-fold appeal here as he also appeals for him to value his teachings. The son should protect the teachings of his father as he does his own eye and to adopt wisdom as a "sister". By valuing both instruction and wisdom, the son has the benefit of both of his father's experience and of discernment for making wise judgments of his own. It is obvious as to how the son might acquire his father's instruction, but how does he acquire wisdom? I would accept Confucius' observation on wisdom, that it is acquired by three methods: By reflection, by imitation, and by experience.  This would mean that Solomon's appeal to his son was to not just value his instruction, but to reflect on it and determine for himself why the instruction was of value. It would also involve reflection on his own experiences determining what were good and bad choices and why. By so doing, the son would increasingly acquire wisdom for making sound judgments.

In this lesson to his son, Solomon teaches him about the danger of being lured by a "forbidden woman."  The account in verses 6-23 should be considered an example of how a young man might be snared by such a woman. We might wonder why Solomon mentions here only the seductiveness of a woman toward a young man. Don't men also attempt to seduce women? And the answer is "Yes, they do," but that is a different subject that falls more under the topic of the previous chapter regarding those who are constantly devising evil plots. Here Solomon is addressing the foolishness of an idle-minded young man who is confronted by a temptation and unsuspectingly drawn into that temptation. All the signs are there for him to recognize the situation for what it is, but as Solomon says, he is "lacking sense," and thus is drawn in by the woman rather than turning away from her.

Solomon wants his son to know that this is not just an innocent fling. It is dangerous. He says in verse 26, "For she has brought many down to death; her victims are countless." He is not just referring to the particular woman in his illustration, but to all those like her.  Those who do not value wisdom or the instruction of the father will immediately question how this situation could possibly lead to death rather than reflecting on the potential dangers of such a situation. It will be a good first step for the immature to simply obey the instruction of the father. But in time it will be better and a more mature step to reflect on and understand the wisdom of such choices.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 6

    Proverbs 06 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My child, suppose you agree to pay the debt of someone, who cannot repay a loan.
  2. Then you are trapped by your own words,
  3. and you are now in the power of someone else. Here is what you should do: Go and beg for permission to call off the agreement.
  4. Do this before you fall asleep or even get sleepy.
  5. Save yourself, just as a deer or a bird tries to escape from a hunter.
  6. You lazy people can learn by watching an anthill.
  7. Ants don't have leaders,
  8. but they store up food during harvest season.
  9. How long will you lie there doing nothing at all? When are you going to get up and stop sleeping?
  10. Sleep a little. Doze a little. Fold your hands and twiddle your thumbs.
  11. Suddenly, everything is gone, as though it had been taken by an armed robber.
  12. Worthless liars go around
  13. winking and giving signals to deceive others.
  14. They are always thinking up something cruel and evil, and they stir up trouble.
  15. But they will be struck by sudden disaster and left without a hope.
  16. There are six or seven kinds of people the LORD doesn't like:
  17. Those who are too proud or tell lies or murder,
  18. those who make evil plans or are quick to do wrong,
  19. those who tell lies in court or stir up trouble in a family.
  20. Obey the teaching of your parents--
  21. always keep it in mind and never forget it.
  22. Their teaching will guide you when you walk, protect you when you sleep, and talk to you when you are awake.
  23. The Law of the Lord is a lamp, and its teachings shine brightly. Correction and self-control will lead you through life.
  24. They will protect you from the flattering words of someone else's wife.
  25. Don't let yourself be attracted by the charm and lovely eyes of someone like that.
  26. If you carry burning coals, you burn your clothes;
  27. if you step on hot coals, you burn your feet.
  28. And if you go to bed with another man's wife, you pay the price.
  29. We don't put up with thieves, not even with one who steals for something to eat.
  30. And thieves who get caught must pay back seven times what was stolen and lose everything.
  31. But if you go to bed with another man's wife, you will destroy yourself by your own stupidity.
  32. You will be beaten and forever disgraced,
  33. because a jealous husband can be furious and merciless when he takes revenge.
  34. He won't let you pay him off, no matter what you offer.

This 6th chapter of Proverbs touches on multiple topics, beginning with entering into a surety with a neighbor. This is when a person cosigns to assure payment of a loan should the other person (the neighbor) fail to pay. Solomon does not mince words about such a practice. He says it is an entrapment, a snare, and if a person has put up security for his neighbor he should do whatever he can to be free of it. Don't waste any time about it either. Don't sleep another night before seeking to be free of the surety. Most of us would not cosign with anyone other than a family member, and Solomon does not speak to this. Helping a family member in this way may be an accepted or even expected practice in providing for one's family. I would consider it unwise also if it were beyond one's own immediate family. I might do it for an adult child of mine, but even that should be entered into with caution. Solomon is clear, however, that such practice beyond the family is unwise.

Should this not be considered loving one's neighbor as himself? The key here is in verse 3, "you have put yourself in your neighbor's power." The only one whose power we should allow ourselves to be placed in is God's. All others hinder us from being subject to God's purposes for our lives. Whether or not the neighbor has the resources to repay his loan, he can default leaving us holding the note. We have placed ourselves at his mercy. If we feel we must help our neighbor, we would do better to simply give him the money, or at least a portion of it, for whatever purchase is in question. If the neighbor does not have the resources for a particular purchase, though, the question that arises is whether it is a wise purchase in the first place. If not, our surety has both enabled him in an unwise purchase and entered ourselves into the unwise transaction.

Verses 6-11 address laziness. Solomon uses the ant as an example of being industrious. There are three primary points in these verses: First, as the ant, we need to be self-motivated, Second, also as the ant, we need to seek our provisions when it is possible, and third, laziness will inevitably lead to poverty. We should not draw the conclusion that all poverty is caused by laziness, but we can definitely conclude that all laziness will result in poverty unless a person has some source of income not dependent on their own efforts. Going back to the first point, unless we are self-motivated we will not be provided for. Depending on another to lead or tell us what to do will not provide for our needs. If we are not concerned enough for our own welfare to be motivated to provide for ourselves, no one else will be. Concerning the second point, there will always be times when our needs cannot be met due to circumstances. As with the ant, his needs for food cannot be met during the winter, therefore he makes provision during the summer. During a time of plenty we may be tempted to take our ease rather than provide for the future. But when the lean time comes when we cannot make provision, we will need what has been stored or saved for the "rainy day." Much of this type of behavior has been evident over the past year of national financial crises. Many spent all they had and more during the times of plenty and when the lien period came not only did they not have anything stored up for the lien period, they had already spent their funds for that period in advance by over-extending themselves financially. I see a relatedness of this issue to that in the first verses concerning entering into a surety.

What things are detestable to God? Solomon gives 7, though we would not want to claim these as a complete list of things God finds to be detestable. Rather than look at these "7 detestables" as we might the "10 Commandments" as 7 individual laws to keep, it might be more beneficial to look at the whole. Together the 7 detestables characterize the wicked person who is intent on stirring up trouble and constantly devising evil plots. Jesus told us that the law, or the 10 commandments, are summarized in two Great Commandments - love God with all your heart, and your neighbor as yourself. In fact, Jesus said these two summarize all of scripture. Therefore, I consider them not only as all-important to God, but as the interpretive filter through which to pass all scripture. When applied to these verses, this interpretive filter shows the wicked person characterized by Solomon to be in violation of both Great Commandments. Rather than having love for his neighbor, he is intent on causing him trouble, and though no mention is made of his concern for God, it is evident by his actions toward his neighbor that he has no love for God either. He is his own god. Such a person is on a course of self-destruction. He may cause trouble for a number of people along the way, but he will end up worse than any he has troubled.

In the final verses of Proverbs 6 (verses 20-35), Solomon encourages his son to walk according to God's commandments. "Bind them in your heart," he says, thus making them an integral part of your life. God's commandments are a guide that lights our pathway to life. What a contrasting perspective to that of so many people who consider God's commandments to be an obstacle to living life. I have never quite figured how getting drunk, staying up most of the night partying, and pushing life to its limits, is "really living," as many say. At the core of our being what does such a life give us? What does it give us in the quiet times of life when it is just ourselves and our mind has nothing to occupy itself? Does it make of us a person we can live with? Or is the party life really just a way to escape the life we really have?

In these last verses Solomon mentions some of the pitfalls that can be avoided by walking according to God's commandments. They are pitfalls the "party animal" walks straight into. He doesn't even know they are pitfalls but thinks them to be more of the so-called "good life," that turns out to be not so good.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 5

    Proverbs 05 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My son, if you listen closely to my wisdom and good sense,
  2. you will have sound judgment, and you will always know the right thing to say.
  3. The words of an immoral woman may be as sweet as honey and as smooth as olive oil.
  4. But all that you really get from being with her is bitter poison and pain.
  5. If you follow her, she will lead you down to the world of the dead.
  6. She has missed the path that leads to life and doesn't even know it.
  7. My son, listen to me and do everything I say.
  8. Stay away from a bad woman! Don't even go near the door of her house.
  9. You will lose your self-respect and end up in debt to some cruel person for the rest of your life.
  10. Strangers will get your money and everything else you have worked for.
  11. When it's all over, your body will waste away, as you groan
  12. and shout, "I hated advice and correction!
  13. I paid no attention to my teachers,
  14. and now I am disgraced in front of everyone."
  15. You should be faithful to your wife, just as you take water from your own well.
  16. And don't be like a stream from which just any woman may take a drink.
  17. Save yourself for your wife and don't have sex with other women.
  18. Be happy with the wife you married when you were young.
  19. She is beautiful and graceful, just like a deer; you should be attracted to her and stay deeply in love.
  20. Don't go crazy over a woman who is unfaithful to her own husband!
  21. The LORD sees everything, and he watches us closely.
  22. Sinners are trapped and caught by their own evil deeds.
  23. They get lost and die because of their foolishness and lack of self-control.

As mentioned with Proverbs 1, one must ask themselves if they really desire wisdom, particularly if it attempts to deter them from activities in which they would really prefer to participate, whether or not it is the wise thing to do. Proverbs 5 draws a rather clear picture of the path one chooses when they decide to seek sexual gratification outside of marriage. Solomon's argument against such a choice is not one of whether it is sinful or not, but instead he argues from a very practical standpoint. Pure and simple, it will lead to one's destruction. This destruction may be slow in coming, but it is sure to come. Let's look at some of his arguments.

Solomon doesn't mince words, but goes right to the heart of it from the first. Being drawn in by the prostitute, he says, will lead to death. She may be enticing and may promise a good time, but "she doesn't consider the path of life. She doesn't know that her ways are unstable."  Though she may be ignorant of where her activities lead, the reader of the Proverb needs not be ignorant. By giving in and being drawn in to the prostitute, "you will give up your vitality to others and your years to someone cruel; strangers will drain your resources, and your earnings will end up in a foreigner's house." A huge price to pay in exchange for a moment of so called "pleasure."  Of course, the unwise or foolish person will argue that Solomon is being prudish and that this will not be the outcome. How could having a little "fun" lead to all that?  But Solomon warns, "At the end of your life, you will lament when your physical body has been consumed."

Verse 15 and following offer the solution to such actions: "Drink water from your own cistern." What is he saying? He says it more clearly in verse 18, "take pleasure in the wife of your youth." Don't go drinking from someone else's cistern (seeking someone else's wife) or even from the public cistern (going to the prostitute). Take pleasure in your own wife.  Why is that not enough? It is at this point that Solomon goes to the sinful side of the argument, though the practical is still interwoven. "A man's ways are before the Lord's eyes." Nothing is hidden from the Lord. Now he uses the word "wicked" for those who participate in this illicit sex, and the word "sin" for their actions. Solomon says that the one who is enticed to drink from cisterns other than his own becomes entrapped by his iniquity, entangled in the ropes of his own sin, and lost because of his great stupidity.

Those who seek wisdom will heed such warnings. Those who do not heed these warnings will eventually learn the truth of them, but it will be too late. They will have already become entangled by their own sin, and lost by their own stupidity.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 4

    Proverbs 04 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My child, listen closely to my teachings and learn common sense.
  2. My advice is useful, so don't turn away.
  3. When I was still very young and my mother's favorite child, my father
  4. said to me: "If you follow my teachings and keep them in mind, you will live.
  5. Be wise and learn good sense; remember my teachings and do what I say.
  6. If you love Wisdom and don't reject her, she will watch over you.
  7. The best thing about Wisdom is Wisdom herself; good sense is more important than anything else.
  8. If you value Wisdom and hold tightly to her, great honors will be yours.
  9. It will be like wearing a glorious crown of beautiful flowers.
  10. My child, if you listen and obey my teachings, you will live a long time.
  11. I have shown you the way that makes sense; I have guided you along the right path.
  12. Your road won't be blocked, and you won't stumble when you run.
  13. Hold firmly to my teaching and never let go. It will mean life for you.
  14. Don't follow the bad example of cruel and evil people.
  15. Turn aside and keep going. Stay away from them.
  16. They can't sleep or rest until they do wrong or harm some innocent victim.
  17. Their food and drink are violence and cruelty.
  18. The lifestyle of good people is like sunlight at dawn that keeps getting brighter until broad daylight.
  19. The lifestyle of the wicked is like total darkness, and they will never know what makes them stumble.
  20. My child, listen carefully to everything I say.
  21. Don't forget a single word, but think about it all.
  22. Knowing these teachings will mean true life and good health for you.
  23. Carefully guard your thoughts because they are the source of true life.
  24. Never tell lies or be deceitful in what you say.
  25. Keep looking straight ahead, without turning aside.
  26. Know where you are headed, and you will stay on solid ground.
  27. Don't make a mistake by turning to the right or the left.

Solomon continues to appeal to his son to pursue wisdom, for wisdom is supreme. If embraced, wisdom will honor you. What Solomon is teaching to his son, he also learned from his father. Unfortunately, the tendency of youth in any generation is to pridefully think they will chart a course that will avoid the same mistakes of previous generations. It presumes a wisdom that has no founding except in the imagination. Along with this tendency is another that considers wisdom something that changes from generation to generation. What may have been good for a previous generation is now outmoded and irrelevant. But like the laws of nature, wisdom and truth do not change. If in some manner man were able to change one of these laws of nature, it would not bode well for the environment in which we live and might even upset the balance of the universe. So it is with wisdom. Ignore certain aspects of wisdom and it does not bode well for our lives. This is what Solomon is trying to tell his son. He tells him (verse 13) "Hold on to instruction; don't let go. Guard it, for it is your life."

Following the pattern of previous proverbs, Solomon turns to the pitfalls of ignoring wisdom.  As soon as he begins to do this he starts using the word wicked. For it seems the life lived apart from wisdom is a life of wickedness. We can fail to act wisely at all times and yet not be wicked. But that is not what Solomon speaks of. He refers to those who despise wisdom and choose instead to follow another path. Any other path chosen, instead of wisdom, is a path of wickedness. Leave wisdom out of the equation and wickedness is the result. The difference between the two paths (wisdom and wickedness) is like day and night as Solomon describes in verses 18 and 19. "The path of the righteous is like the light of dawn, shining brighter and brighter until midday.  But the way of the wicked is like the darkest gloom; they don't know what makes them stumble." The outcome for the one who does not choose the path of wisdom is to sink into darkness and ignorance, not even knowing why they stumble - why things are not going well for them. They cannot see the connection between their bad choices and their problems. They lose the ability to reason.

Solomon appeals to his son in verse 23 to "guard your heart above all else." Why? Because it is the source of life. The heart is considered the seat of the inner life where lies one's thoughts, motives, and desires. Solomon says guard this above all else. How does one do this? One way is to not expose one's self to inappropriate or unwise activity. The more one is exposed to such things the less they recognize the harmfulness and unwise nature of these activities. Some consider it prudish not to watch certain movies, for example. No, not prudish, but wise. It is a part of guarding the heart. One who is intent on following the path of wisdom and avoiding the path of wickedness and foolishness will take seriously such choices in favor of guarding the heart.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 3

    Proverbs 03 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My child, remember my teachings and instructions and obey them completely.
  2. They will help you live a long and prosperous life.
  3. Let love and loyalty always show like a necklace, and write them in your mind.
  4. God and people will like you and consider you a success.
  5. With all your heart you must trust the LORD and not your own judgment.
  6. Always let him lead you, and he will clear the road for you to follow.
  7. Don't ever think that you are wise enough, but respect the LORD and stay away from evil.
  8. This will make you healthy, and you will feel strong.
  9. Honor the LORD by giving him your money and the first part of all your crops.
  10. Then you will have more grain and grapes than you will ever need.
  11. My child, don't turn away or become bitter when the LORD corrects you.
  12. The LORD corrects everyone he loves, just as parents correct their favorite child.
  13. God blesses everyone who has wisdom and common sense.
  14. Wisdom is worth more than silver; it makes you much richer than gold.
  15. Wisdom is more valuable than precious jewels; nothing you want compares with her.
  16. In her right hand Wisdom holds a long life, and in her left hand are wealth and honor.
  17. Wisdom makes life pleasant and leads us safely along.
  18. Wisdom is a life-giving tree, the source of happiness for all who hold on to her.
  19. By his wisdom and knowledge the LORD created heaven and earth.
  20. By his understanding he let the ocean break loose and clouds release the rain.
  21. My child, use common sense and sound judgment! Always keep them in mind.
  22. They will help you to live a long and beautiful life.
  23. You will walk safely and never stumble;
  24. you will rest without a worry and sleep soundly.
  25. So don't be afraid of sudden disasters or storms that strike those who are evil.
  26. You can be sure that the LORD will protect you from harm.
  27. Do all you can for everyone who deserves your help.
  28. Don't tell your neighbor to come back tomorrow, if you can help today.
  29. Don't try to be mean to neighbors who trust you.
  30. Don't argue just to be arguing, when you haven't been hurt.
  31. Don't be jealous of cruel people or follow their example.
  32. The LORD doesn't like anyone who is dishonest, but he lets good people be his friends.
  33. He places a curse on the home of everyone who is evil, but he blesses the home of every good person.
  34. The LORD sneers at those who sneer at him, but he is kind to everyone who is humble.
  35. You will be praised if you are wise, but you will be disgraced if you are a stubborn fool.

This is one of the most referenced proverbs of the book. Thus far, a pattern in four parts begins to emerge in the individual proverbs.  The first is an appeal to seek wisdom. The second is to highlight the benefits of living by wisdom. The third teaches that wisdom comes from the Lord. And the fourth presents the folly of living apart from wisdom. This pattern is evident in this proverb starting with the appeal to seek wisdom. This theme is presented in the first 4 verses in the form of observing the teaching of our parents. An important part of this teaching brought out in these verses is loyalty and faithfulness. These traits will give a person favor and high regard with both God and man.

Verses 7-12 present the second part of the pattern, wisdom is from the Lord. Fear of the Lord is at the very heart of wisdom. We cannot fear or respect the Lord and seek His wisdom while considering ourselves also to be wise. Maybe it is not that we cannot, but at least we do not seek the wisdom of the Lord when we consider ourselves to be wise. Several reasons for this could be given, but a significant one is that when we consider ourselves to be wise we are following a different 'wisdom' than what we receive from the Lord. It does not direct us to, but away from the Lord. The Lord's wisdom gives healing to the body. It leads us to honor the Lord with our possessions which is a practice that will prosper us. In verses 9 & 10 are the principles of tithing - giving to the Lord the first part of our income. By practicing this principle we are assured to have all that we need. This practice of giving the Lord the first part (1/10 at least) of our income both recognizes that all things come from the Lord and demonstrates our trust that by returning a portion to Him of what He has given us He will bless us.

Verses 13-20 present us the benefits of wisdom. A central thought of this section is that the earth was founded by wisdom, suggesting that to live apart from this wisdom is to live out of sync with creation. Lifted up to us as a part of this wisdom is to maintain our competence and discretion. To do so will enable us to sleep well, not fearing sudden danger or ruin. Instead, the Lord will guide our ways and keep our foot from a snare.

Verses 27-35 present the fourth part of the pattern - the folly of living apart from wisdom. This is accomplished in this proverb by contrasting the life of the wicked and the upright. First of all, the upright do not withhold good from those in need if at all possible. Neither do they plan harm against their neighbor. Furthermore, they do not falsely accuse anyone nor envy the life of the violent man. The suggestion is that these are all practices of those who live apart from wisdom, referred to here as the wicked. It is the upright, not the wicked, to whom the Lord is a friend. His curse is on the household of the wicked, but His blessing on the home of the righteous.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 2

    Proverbs 02 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. My child, you must follow and treasure my teachings and my instructions.
  2. Keep in tune with wisdom and think what it means to have common sense.
  3. Beg as loud as you can for good common sense.
  4. Search for wisdom as you would search for silver or hidden treasure.
  5. Then you will understand what it means to respect and to know the LORD God.
  6. All wisdom comes from the LORD, and so do common sense and understanding.
  7. God gives helpful advice to everyone who obeys him and protects all of those who live as they should.
  8. God sees that justice is done, and he watches over everyone who is faithful to him.
  9. With wisdom you will learn what is right and honest and fair.
  10. Wisdom will control your mind, and you will be pleased with knowledge.
  11. Sound judgment and good sense will watch over you.
  12. Wisdom will protect you from evil schemes and from those liars
  13. who turned from doing good to live in the darkness.
  14. Most of all they enjoy being mean and deceitful.
  15. They are dishonest themselves, and all they do is crooked.
  16. Wisdom will protect you from the smooth talk of a sinful woman,
  17. who breaks her wedding vows and leaves the man she married when she was young.
  18. The road to her house leads down to the dark world of the dead.
  19. Visit her, and you will never find the road to life again.
  20. Follow the example of good people and live an honest life.
  21. If you are honest and innocent, you will keep your land;
  22. if you do wrong and can never be trusted, you will be rooted out.

Chapter 1 gave the beginning point for wisdom, which is a fear or respect for God. It described the outcome for those who forsake wisdom. In chapter 2 Solomon is addressing himself to those who are willing to be taught. In doing so, he comes at respect for God from the other direction. Whereas before he said that respect for God is the beginning point for wisdom, here he says that a pursuit of wisdom is the beginning point which will lead to a respect for God. They are tied up together. A person, therefore, who does not come at some point to a respect for God has not arrived at wisdom regardless of the amount of knowledge they may have attained.

Another contrast to chapter 1, is that rather than describing the outcome for those who forsake wisdom, chapter 2 gives a description of the outcome for those who pursue wisdom. The person who genuinely desires wisdom will, in pursuit of wisdom, come to a respect for God. In coming to God, that person will find wisdom. God is the source of wisdom. With it will come knowledge and understanding. It will bring with it an understanding of righteousness, justice, and integrity. There is an important point to be drawn from these verses (verses 6-9).  We tend to work from our understanding of justice and righteousness and expect God to operate out of that understanding. We are disappointed when He does not operate as we perceive He should, and some turn away from God. But these verses tell us it is the other way around. We don't start with our perspective, we start with God's perspective. Out of our pursuit of wisdom and understanding we learn from God what real justice, righteousness, and integrity are, then adjust our own understanding accordingly.

When we do this, we gain a new worldview and understanding of life. We gain with it discernment of things that are good and right. Therefore, "Discretion will watch over you, and understanding will guard you" (verse 11).  These will rescue us from the way and the people of evil. We will not be drawn in by those who would take us with them down the path of evil.  Instead, we will "follow the way of good people, and keep to the paths of the righteous" (verse 20).  The chapter concludes by again telling us the outcome for those who reject wisdom and pursue evil. They will be cut off from the land.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Reflections on Proverbs 1

    Proverbs 01 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. These are the proverbs of King Solomon of Israel, the son of David.
  2. Proverbs will teach you wisdom and self-control and how to understand sayings with deep meanings.
  3. You will learn what is right and honest and fair.
  4. From these, an ordinary person can learn to be smart, and young people can gain knowledge and good sense.
  5. If you are already wise, you will become even wiser. And if you are smart, you will learn to understand
  6. proverbs and sayings, as well as words of wisdom and all kinds of riddles.
  7. Respect and obey the LORD! This is the beginning of knowledge. Only a fool rejects wisdom and good advice.
  8. My child, obey the teachings of your parents,
  9. and wear their teachings as you would a lovely hat or a pretty necklace.
  10. Don't be tempted by sinners or listen
  11. when they say, "Come on! Let's gang up and kill somebody, just for the fun of it!
  12. They're well and healthy now, but we'll finish them off once and for all.
  13. We'll take their valuables and fill our homes with stolen goods.
  14. If you join our gang, you'll get your share."
  15. Don't follow anyone like that or do what they do.
  16. They are in a big hurry to commit some crime, perhaps even murder.
  17. They are like a bird that sees the bait, but ignores the trap.
  18. They gang up to murder someone, but they are the victims.
  19. The wealth you get from crime robs you of your life.
  20. Wisdom shouts in the streets wherever crowds gather.
  21. She shouts in the marketplaces and near the city gates as she says to the people,
  22. "How much longer will you enjoy being stupid fools? Won't you ever stop sneering and laughing at knowledge?
  23. Listen as I correct you and tell you what I think.
  24. You completely ignored me and refused to listen;
  25. you rejected my advice and paid no attention when I warned you.
  26. "So when you are struck by some terrible disaster,
  27. or when trouble and distress surround you like a whirlwind, I will laugh and make fun.
  28. You will ask for my help, but I won't listen; you will search, but you won't find me.
  29. No, you would not learn, and you refused to respect the LORD.
  30. You rejected my advice and paid no attention when I warned you.
  31. "Now you will eat the fruit of what you have done, until you are stuffed full with your own schemes.
  32. Sin and self-satisfaction bring destruction and death to stupid fools.
  33. But if you listen to me, you will be safe and secure without fear of disaster."

In starting this book of Proverbs, which is Solomon's book on wisdom, one must ask themselves how much they really desire wisdom? Sure, we want to be smart and intelligent, and, in particular to have "street smarts," but do we want to be wise? Wisdom is different from these things. Wisdom will direct us away from activities or behaviors or relationships with which we may want to be involved. What are our goals in life? Just to have fun? Is pleasure our main desire? Then we are sure to find wisdom to be rather boring and antiquated. But wisdom is like every good investment. We must be willing to go the distance. Over time, the pursuit of wisdom will provide much more pleasure and satisfaction in life than the pursuit of fun and pleasure. It is over time that we begin to realize the wastefulness and depravity in the pursuit of pleasure and the benefits of pursuing wisdom. The difficulty in waiting to get the results is that we have wasted years of our life that we cannot get back and the life of pleasure has left us with more regret than fulfillment. Therefore, we are wise to learn wisdom from those who have experienced more of life than have we. Solomon's writings help to provide us some of that wisdom.

Solomon begins with his purposes for writing this book. It is to know wisdom, to provide instruction in wise dealing, in righteousness, justice, and equity, etc. Then, in verse 7, he gives the starting point. It is a fear or respect for God. That is the beginning of knowledge. This respect for God gives us fertile soil for wisdom. It opens us to counsel from God, from our parents, and from others. Following this starting point, Solomon begins by giving counsel concerning those with whom we make friends. Don't be persuaded, he says, by those who would entice you into evil activities. The example he uses is being drawn into acquiring gain by force - by taking it from others. He says that the greed of gain will take away the life of those who are caught up in it.

Solomon urges the reader to hear the call of wisdom. What is the call of wisdom? "How long, foolish ones, will you love ignorance?" Those who pursue greed are described as foolish and their greedy ways as ignorance. Furthermore, the call of wisdom tells us to "turn to my discipline, then I will pour out my spirit on you and teach you my words." The concluding verses of the chapter, however, describe the outcome for those who do not heed the call of wisdom. Calamity and terror will strike them, and when it does, wisdom will no longer be available to them. It will not rescue them. And here is the strongest and clearest indictment on those who reject wisdom, "Because they hated knowledge, didn't choose to fear the LORD, were not interested in my counsel, and rejected all my correction, they will eat the fruit of their way and be glutted with their own schemes." What is the worse that can be said about pursuing wisdom?

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 150

    Psalms 150 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! Praise God in his temple. Praise him in heaven, his mighty fortress.
  2. Praise our God! His deeds are wonderful, too marvelous to describe.
  3. Praise God with trumpets and all kinds of harps.
  4. Praise him with tambourines and dancing, with stringed instruments and woodwinds.
  5. Praise God with cymbals, with clashing cymbals.
  6. Let every living creature praise the LORD. Shout praises to the LORD!

This 150th Psalm is an appropriate conclusion to the book of Psalms. Its only focus is on praising God and how to do that. As the Believer's Bible Commentary points out, it answers the questions: Where, What, How and Who? Where should praise be given? In His sanctuary and in His mighty heavens. In other words, everywhere. For what should we praise? For God's powerful acts and abundant greatness. How should we praise Him? With every instrument available to us (trumpet, harp, lyre, tambourine, flute, strings, and cymbals), and with animation as with dancing. Who should give praise? Everything that breathes.

This is a call for praise sent out to all creation. Mankind is the only part of God's creation among whom many choose not to praise their Creator. No, of course we have never heard a horse or cow or dog give God praise, but their existence gives praise, as does the existence of mankind. Mankind, however, is the only part of creation with the ability to vocalize praise and with this ability chooses, in many cases, not to do so. He is at the pinnacle of God's creation, given a choice of whether or not he will praise his creator, and with that choice many decline. But God has decreed that there will be a time when everyone will swear allegiance to Him, as stated in Isaiah 45:23, "By Myself I have sworn; Truth has gone from My mouth, a word that will not be revoked: Every knee will bow to Me, every tongue will swear allegiance." I choose to praise my Creator while I am able and while I can do so by choice.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 149

    Psalms 149 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! Sing him a new song of praise when his loyal people meet.
  2. People of Israel, rejoice because of your Creator. People of Zion, celebrate because of your King.
  3. Praise his name by dancing and playing music on harps and tambourines.
  4. The LORD is pleased with his people, and he gives victory to those who are humble.
  5. All of you faithful people, praise our glorious Lord! Celebrate and worship.
  6. Praise God with songs on your lips and a sword in your hand.
  7. Take revenge and punish the nations.
  8. Put chains of iron on their kings and rulers.
  9. Punish them as they deserve; this is the privilege of God's faithful people. Shout praises to the LORD!

The speculation concerning the setting for this psalm is rather scattered. The various thoughts include it being set at the time David established his kingdom, Or that it was at the re-establishment of Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. There are some who place it during the time of the Maccabees, and still others who think it looks into the future and the establishment of the kingdom of the Messiah. Whatever the setting or occasion, it speaks of singing a new song which suggests a new day has arrived in the life of the psalmist and his people. That could be any one of the occasions mentioned above. The question I must ask of myself is if my inclination is to give God praise when I celebrate a new day in my life? Supposing my life has taken on a new dimension, hope and expectation of greater things lifts my spirits. But do I give God credit or pat myself on the back for bringing to pass this new day through my own abilities? The psalmist credited God and encouraged all Israel to do the same for the new prosperity they enjoyed.

Does God take notice of our circumstances whether good or bad? A resounding 'Yes.' He takes notice and gets pleasure from it (verse 4). But if God should be credited with bringing about our good circumstances, it is unnecessary even to ask if He notices. Of course He notices. The assumption of the psalmist is that God is intimately involved in our lives bringing about the good and helping us through the bad. Verse 4 places a qualifier on this, though. It tells us God adorns the 'humble' with salvation, a reference to those who humble themselves before the Lord. These are those who recognize God's reign in their lives and submit themselves to His reign. They also recognize God's hand in every aspect of their lives and give Him praise for the good He brings to pass.

Another group is referenced in the last verses, however. They contrast those just described. They are the enemy of the humble and their God. The psalmist seeks judgment for this group. It is a judgment that has already been "decreed against them." Those who humble themselves before the Lord and give Him honor are incensed by those who snub Him and act as if there is no God. How can they be so cavalier toward their Maker who gives them all that they have? The honor of carrying out God's judgment on this group is reserved for "His godly people," says the psalmist. Whatever the setting for the first part of this psalm, this last part leads me to place it at the time of the Messiah's reign.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 148

    Psalms 148 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! Shout the LORD's praises in the highest heavens.
  2. All of you angels, and all who serve him above, come and offer praise.
  3. Sun and moon, and all of you bright stars, come and offer praise.
  4. Highest heavens, and the water above the highest heavens, come and offer praise.
  5. Let all things praise the name of the LORD, because they were created at his command.
  6. He made them to last forever, and nothing can change what he has done.
  7. All creatures on earth, you obey his commands, so come praise the LORD!
  8. Sea monsters and the deep sea, fire and hail, snow and frost, and every stormy wind, come praise the LORD!
  9. All mountains and hills, fruit trees and cedars,
  10. every wild and tame animal, all reptiles and birds, come praise the LORD!
  11. Every king and every ruler, all nations on earth,
  12. every man and every woman, young people and old, come praise the LORD!
  13. All creation, come praise the name of the LORD. Praise his name alone. The glory of God is greater than heaven and earth.
  14. Like a bull with mighty horns, the LORD protects his faithful nation Israel, because they belong to him. Shout praises to the LORD!

This psalm describes a universal choir lifting its voice in praise to the Lord. In its composition, this choir consists first of angels singing out their praise from the heavens. Then it moves to the heavenly bodies, the sun, moon, and stars, and the watery clouds. It is to the Lord, their creator, to whom they give praise. From the heavens above we go to the earth below, and the creatures of the sea are called on to give praise, followed by the elements, lightning, hail, etc., then the mountains with its trees, followed by all the creatures of the earth. Finally, we come to mankind.  The call goes first to the nobles and then to all people, old and young. The final verse draws all of this to a very fine point. Then the Israelites are given a special place in this choir, for from them flows a special blessing to all the world. This blessing being the horn - the Messiah - God has raised up for all people. He is the reason for the praise from this universal choir.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 147

    Psalms 147 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! Our God is kind, and it is right and good to sing praises to him.
  2. The LORD rebuilds Jerusalem and brings the people of Israel back home again.
  3. He renews our hopes and heals our bodies.
  4. He decided how many stars there would be in the sky and gave each one a name.
  5. Our LORD is great and powerful! He understands everything.
  6. The LORD helps the poor, but he smears the wicked in the dirt.
  7. Celebrate and sing! Play your harps for the LORD our God.
  8. He fills the sky with clouds and sends rain to the earth, so that the hills will be green with grass.
  9. He provides food for cattle and for the young ravens, when they cry out.
  10. The LORD doesn't care about the strength of horses or powerful armies.
  11. The LORD is pleased only with those who worship him and trust his love.
  12. Everyone in Jerusalem, come and praise the LORD your God!
  13. He makes your city gates strong and blesses your people by giving them children.
  14. God lets you live in peace, and he gives you the very best wheat.
  15. As soon as God speaks, the earth obeys.
  16. He covers the ground with snow like a blanket of wool, and he scatters frost like ashes on the ground.
  17. God sends down hailstones like chips of rocks. Who can stand the cold?
  18. At his command the ice melts, the wind blows, and streams begin to flow.
  19. God gave his laws and teachings to the descendants of Jacob, the nation of Israel.
  20. But he has not given his laws to any other nation. Shout praises to the LORD!

Was this psalm written after the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon or might it have been written by David at the first building of Jerusalem in his time? That is the debate of commentators though the question does not greatly concern me as I reflect on it's meaning for me. God's truths are not bound in time nor do they change from circumstance to circumstance. What truth and principles apply for either of those occasions apply also for me today.

So what are those truths and principles? Well, there are several in just the first three verses. We are told that to praise God is pleasant and lovely, or "right and good," as the CEV bible states it. Those who might be inclined to disagree likely have in mind some dead ritual they practiced in church at some point in their life that was referred to as praise to God. Praise is not a ritual or even a thing that must be done at church. It is something that takes place in one's heart between that person and their God, their maker. Whatever happens outwardly is an expression of that praise. It may take place in a church in the form of a song or clapping of hands or a multitude of other expressions, but that is not the praise, only the expression of the praise that exists within the heart. If the praise is not present in the heart the outward expression is mere dead ritual no matter what form it takes. It is the real thing, the praise that happens in the heart, to which the psalmist refers and says is pleasant and lovely. And so it is. Do we not find it touching when a child at any age gives homage or praise to their parents? So it is when a person gives homage or praise to their maker and God.

In those same three verses we are also given the truth that the Lord rebuilds. For the psalmist this truth applied to the rebuilding of Jerusalem. That was one application of God's rebuilding activity. For me or any other, the truth applies that God also rebuilds lives. In fact, that is what the rebuilding of Jerusalem represented - the rebuilding of lives. Within God's rebuilding activity comes the gathering of exiles, the healing of broken hearts, and the binding of wounds. Let's not be so literal with this that we fail to see its application to any situation in our own lives that needs rebuilding, healing, or binding up. However, as pointed out in reflections on the previous psalm, God's help to us comes as we turn to Him for that help. It is not automatic. In this psalm there is a connection between praise and this rebuilding activity of God. We must recognize that God exists and can help us even if we are not sure He will help us. Then, whether boldly or uncertainly, we must go to Him in prayer with our request for help.

There is much more in this psalm beyond these first three verses, but they mainly substantiate the truths found in these verses. For instance, the God who numbers the stars and whose understanding is infinite, who covers the sky with clouds and prepares rain for the earth, etc., is vastly capable of rebuilding our lives.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 146

    Psalms 146 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. Shout praises to the LORD! With all that I am, I will shout his praises.
  2. I will sing and praise the LORD God for as long as I live.
  3. You can't depend on anyone, not even a great leader.
  4. Once they die and are buried, that will be the end of all their plans.
  5. The LORD God of Jacob blesses everyone who trusts him and depends on him.
  6. God made heaven and earth; he created the sea and everything else. God always keeps his word.
  7. He gives justice to the poor and food to the hungry. The LORD sets prisoners free
  8. and heals blind eyes. He gives a helping hand to everyone who falls. The LORD loves good people
  9. and looks after strangers. He defends the rights of orphans and widows, but destroys the wicked.
  10. The LORD God of Zion will rule forever! Shout praises to the LORD!

This and the remaining psalms, all psalms of praise, are encapsulated with hallelujah's at the beginning and the end. The theme of this psalm is that only God is worthy of our trust. Not even the most powerful of men are worthy of our trust. What reasons are given for this claim? First, man is temporary. He lives and he dies and returns to the ground. Kings reign for a while, but God reigns forever. Therefore, He has powers that extend beyond life itself. In fact, God, who has made the heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them, remains faithful forever. Although the psalm does not draw the following conclusions, we can, because of these realities and realities we already know. Since kings are temporal, they can only address temporal needs. They are limited to only a few to whom they can give attention at a time, and when they do give attention to those few, it is given for only a brief period of time. What needs they address for those few are not eliminated, only temporarily eased. God's powers are extensive. His attention is given to everyone simultaneously and continuously. He gets at the root of our needs which lies within us. He has the power to transform us from within giving us real hope and a whole new lease on life. This is why the psalmist can say in verse 5, "Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God."

The psalmist goes beyond God's powers in giving reason for trusting in Him instead of man. Just because God has the power to help us does not necessarily mean He will. But the psalmist tells us in verses 7-9 that He also has the character to help us. He executes justice for the exploited, gives food to the hungry, frees the prisoners, opens the eyes of the blind, and raises up those who are oppressed. And the list goes on. What earthly king demonstrates such compassion? Those throughout history have demonstrated more inclination to exploit the downtrodden and imprison them rather than free them.

God is an equal opportunity savior, but He can only help those who turn to Him for help. We must acknowledge that He is and recognize our trust in Him and not ourselves or other people for what we need. That is what prayer is about. It demonstrates our dependence and trust on Him and seeks His help for what we need. However, the psalmist includes something of a caveat toward the end of the psalm. He says, "The Lord loves the righteous . . . but frustrates the ways of the wicked." As I said above, God is an equal opportunity savior, but not everyone turns to Him for His help. Many are not convinced He exists, others recognize His existence but don't think He is concerned enough with man to help him, and still others, such as the wicked, think they can grab for themselves what they need. Why do they need God?

There comes a time when our chosen paths clearly show the wisdom of our choices. Maybe it is soon and maybe late. But sooner or later our choices reveal their fruit. The psalmist says, "Happy is the one whose help is the God of Jacob."

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 145

    Psalms 145 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (By David for praise.) I will praise you, my God and King, and always honor your name.
  2. I will praise you each day and always honor your name.
  3. You are wonderful, LORD, and you deserve all praise, because you are much greater than anyone can understand.
  4. Each generation will announce to the next your wonderful and powerful deeds.
  5. I will keep thinking about your marvelous glory and your mighty miracles.
  6. Everyone will talk about your fearsome deeds, and I will tell all nations how great you are.
  7. They will celebrate and sing about your matchless mercy and your power to save.
  8. You are merciful, LORD! You are kind and patient and always loving.
  9. You are good to everyone, and you take care of all your creation.
  10. All creation will thank you, and your loyal people will praise you.
  11. They will tell about your marvelous kingdom and your power.
  12. Then everyone will know about the mighty things you do and your glorious kingdom.
  13. Your kingdom will never end, and you will rule forever. Our LORD, you keep your word and do everything you say.
  14. When someone stumbles or falls, you give a helping hand.
  15. Everyone depends on you, and when the time is right, you provide them with food.
  16. By your own hand you satisfy the desires of all who live.
  17. Our LORD, everything you do is kind and thoughtful,
  18. and you are near to everyone whose prayers are sincere.
  19. You satisfy the desires of all your worshipers, and you come to save them when they ask for help.
  20. You take care of everyone who loves you, but you destroy the wicked.
  21. I will praise you, LORD, and everyone will respect your holy name forever.

The previous group of psalms were prayers. This psalm begins the last group of the book which are all psalms of praise.  Many Jewish writers are very high on this 145th psalm and some have a saying that whoever will sing this psalm three times daily will with certainty be happy in the world to come.  I'm not so certain about the world to come, but in this world, such a practice would certainly help us be focused on God's greatness and goodness and His answer to prayer, providing assurance and confidence in contrast to whatever troubles we encounter. This is, no doubt, why many find the psalms to be their favorite of bible books to read.

David begins with his intent to give God praise and then says that he is not the only one who will give God praise. God is so great that not only will David give Him praise but generation upon generation will declare His works to the generation to follow. This is what they will say: They will tell of God's goodness and sing of His righteousness. They will proclaim that He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and good to everyone. Then David goes further in his claim of those who will praise God. Not just generation after generation, but "All You have made will praise You, Lord." (verse 10)  As stated here, it leaves no exception but that everyone will give praise to God. But it is stated differently in various translations. The Contemporary English Version says, " All creation will thank you." Others state it similarly. Stated in this way the understanding shifts somewhat to mean that God's works speak for themselves, giving praise in and of themselves. This would seem the more likely meaning, for it is plain that not every person gives praise to God. If this is, indeed, the meaning, the next two verses (verses 11 & 12) could then mean that God's works themselves speak of His glory and they inform all people of His mighty acts. If that is the meaning, it is in agreement with Romans 1:20, "From the creation of the world His invisible attributes, that is, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what He has made." In this passage, Paul goes on to say that God can be seen so clearly through His creation that any who do not recognize it are without excuse.

Verses 15-17 point out that all creation is dependent on God's provision of food and sustenance. Whether one wishes to recognize God or not, he is dependent on God for his life and the sustaining of that life. This simple truth is reason enough to recognize God for His greatness, but for those who will actually call out to Him in prayer, He will be near them and He will fulfill their desires and will save them when they cry for help. But those who turn away from God to wickedness will be destroyed. This is the message of verses 18-20. David concludes with a similar declaration to the one with which he began: "My mouth will declare the LORD's praise."

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 144

    Psalms 144 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (By David.) I praise you, LORD! You are my mighty rock, and you teach me how to fight my battles.
  2. You are my friend, and you are my fortress where I am safe. You are my shield, and you made me the ruler of our people.
  3. Why do we humans mean anything to you, our LORD? Why do you care about us?
  4. We disappear like a breath; we last no longer than a faint shadow.
  5. Open the heavens like a curtain and come down, LORD. Touch the mountains and make them send up smoke.
  6. Use your lightning as arrows to scatter my enemies and make them run away.
  7. Reach down from heaven and set me free. Save me from the mighty flood
  8. of those lying foreigners who can't tell the truth.
  9. In praise of you, our God, I will sing a new song, while playing my harp.
  10. By your power, kings win wars, and your servant David is saved from deadly swords.
  11. Won't you keep me safe from those lying foreigners who can't tell the truth?
  12. Let's pray that our young sons will grow like strong plants and that our daughters will be as lovely as columns in the corner of a palace.
  13. May our barns be filled with all kinds of crops. May our fields be covered with sheep by the thousands,
  14. and every cow have calves. Don't let our city be captured or any of us be taken away, and don't let cries of sorrow be heard in our streets.
  15. Our LORD and our God, you give these blessings to all who worship you.

If there are verses in this psalm that seem familiar, it may be either that you have read this psalm before or that you have read one or more of the psalms from which this one draws excerpts. Verse 3 is an example of one of these excerpts, "What is man, that You care for him, the son of man, that You think of him?" It seems likely that David wrote or compiled this psalm in the early years of his reign when his rule was threatened from several sides by enemy armies. He already had some successes under his belt for which he was giving credit to God. God was his stronghold and deliverer.

When you consider God's greatness you cannot help but wonder, as did David in verse 3, how God could care about man. In comparison to God's eternal nature, man is but a breath and his days like a passing shadow. What David asks of God in verses 5-8 is no great feat for God. "Part Your heavens," he says, "and come down. Touch the mountains, and they will smoke. Flash Your lightning and scatter the foe." A God with these capabilities would have no problem setting David free from the grasp of foreigners. As I raised the question in the previous psalm, to what purpose would God provide rescue? It would be for the fulfillment of God's purposes rather than of David's. To allow David to serve God rather than himself.

In verses 9-15 David gives praise to God. In celebration of God's deliverance he will sing a new song he has composed, accompanying it on a ten stringed-harp. He describes what God's deliverance from his enemies will make possible. It will allow their sons and daughters to grow freely like well-nurtured plants. Their storehouses will be filled and their flocks and cattle to increase and be well fed. And it will keep them from going into captivity. Therefore, "Happy are the people whose God is the Lord."

We cannot take for granted our prosperity and freedom. It is God who makes it all possible. Because we cannot explain why we are free and prosper and others are not we become tempted to credit our good fortune to chance. This would be the same mistake so many make in regard to creation. Because they have no explanation for it other than God, they credit it to chance. How is this an answer and God is not an answer?

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 143

    Psalms 143 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A psalm by David.) Listen, LORD, as I pray! You are faithful and honest and will answer my prayer.
  2. I am your servant. Don't try me in your court, because no one is innocent by your standards.
  3. My enemies are chasing me, crushing me in the ground. I am in total darkness, like someone long dead.
  4. I have given up all hope, and I feel numb all over.
  5. I remember to think about the many things you did in years gone by.
  6. Then I lift my hands in prayer, because my soul is a desert, thirsty for water from you.
  7. Please hurry, LORD, and answer my prayer. I feel hopeless. Don't turn away and leave me here to die.
  8. Each morning let me learn more about your love because I trust you. I come to you in prayer, asking for your guidance.
  9. Please rescue me from my enemies, LORD! I come to you for safety.
  10. You are my God. Show me what you want me to do, and let your gentle Spirit lead me in the right path.
  11. Be true to your name, LORD, and keep my life safe. Use your saving power to protect me from trouble.
  12. I am your servant. Show how much you love me by destroying my enemies.

Most seem in agreement that David wrote this psalm during the period of Absalom, his son's, rebellion against him.  On what basis does David seek God help? It is on the basis of God's mercy, not on the basis of David's worthiness. Another basis for David's plea comes toward the end of the psalm. It is good versus evil. David does not consider himself to be righteous but he is God's friend who seeks to do God's will. The wicked are God's foes who seek causes that are contrary to God's purposes and will. Thus David appeals to a sense of justice and to God's righteousness.

David seeks God's swift response to his need for his need is urgent. The enemy is "crushing me to the ground," he says. His spirit is weak and his heart is overcome. David recalls previous times when God has given deliverance and this seems to give him confidence to come to God for help. Deliverance from David's enemy and following God's will seem to be tied together in this psalm. As I reflect on it I suspect this connection is made often in scripture and I am just now recognizing it for the spiritual principle or truth that it is. We desire God's help and deliverance in a variety of life's situations, but why? Is it so we can be delivered to go about our own business or to go about God's business? Plus, God's will for us is the pathway to deliverance. David says, "Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God. May Your gracious Spirit lead me on level ground." Deliverance, that level ground, is found as we walk the path God has for us.

What do we imagine when we pray for God's help and deliverance from a difficulty? Do we imagine God simply making the difficulty go away or do we imagine Him revealing to us a solution that we can follow - must follow - to have deliverance? If it is the later, then the question becomes, "Are we willing to take the steps God reveals to us for deliverance? If we are not already committed to following God's will, such a situation will be the time to make that commitment. Commitment to God's will in our life is what is involved if we are to follow the steps God reveals to us for deliverance from our difficulties. The only instructions He will ever give us are those that fulfill His purposes and will. If we are not willing to follow them we will not be able to find the deliverance from many of life's difficulties.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Reflections on Psalm 142

    Psalms 142 (Contemporary English Version)

  1. (A special psalm and a prayer by David when he was in the cave.) I pray to you, LORD. I beg for mercy.
  2. I tell you all of my worries and my troubles,
  3. and whenever I feel low, you are there to guide me. A trap has been hidden along my pathway.
  4. Even if you look, you won't see anyone who cares enough to walk beside me. There is no place to hide, and no one who really cares.
  5. I pray to you, LORD! You are my place of safety, and you are my choice in the land of the living. Please answer my prayer. I am completely helpless.
  6. Help! They are chasing me, and they are too strong.
  7. Rescue me from this prison, so I can praise your name. And when your people notice your wonderful kindness to me, they will rush to my side.

This psalm is identified as a Maskil, or a psalm of instruction. In light of this the question becomes, "What is the instruction, and who is being instructed?" It is also said to be a prayer, so how do these two purposes come together? The most obvious answer to these questions is that the one being instructed is the Lord, who is being instructed concerning David's state of affairs, and it is brought to the Lord by means of a prayer. No doubt, "instructing" the Lord concerning his state of affairs was more for David's benefit than for the Lord's since the Lord was fully aware of his situation and knew of it before David did.

In this prayer, David was said to cry aloud to the Lord, to plead for His mercy, to pour out his complaint, and to reveal his trouble. We use prayer to petition God for His help asking that He would give us calm in the midst of a storm and that He would deliver us from the storm. Maybe we don't fully recognize how the prayer itself serves to bring that calm and assurance of God's help. That seems to be what David was doing. Much as we find comfort in spilling out our troubles to a friend, so it is when we take them in prayer to the Lord. It is not that He is not aware but that we find comfort in taking them to Him but that we find relief in getting our troubles "off our chest" and feeling that we are not alone. But prayer brings another aspect into play. It demonstrates our trust in the Lord rather than in ourselves or in others for the help we need. It gives the Lord "permission" to act on our behalf when He would not otherwise go against our will.

David was feeling very much alone. He had enemies setting traps for him and no friend to stand alongside him. "Look to the right," he says (verse 4). "No one stands up for me." I believe he is stating this as a complaint to the Lord, but also as a request that the Lord be that one who will stand with him. David cries out for the Lord's help, for he says the enemy is too strong for him. This raises a question. Do we, or should we, go to the Lord for help in situations we feel are not too strong for us - situations we feel fully capable of handling on our own? As for the question "do we" ask for the Lord's help in these situations, the answer is, "usually not."  But as for the question "should we" ask for His help, my response is a definite "yes."  There is more at play in life's situations than whether or not we are capable of handling something on our own. God has a purpose for our lives and for that purpose to be fulfilled we need His guidance for every step we take. The question is not whether we are capable, it is that we need God's guidance so that our solution in every circumstance is His solution. We might solve a problem ourselves, but is it the solution that will fulfill His purpose?