Thursday, January 30, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 58

 Psalms 58(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A special psalm by David for the music leader. To the tune "Don't Destroy.") Do you mighty people talk only to oppose justice? Don't you ever judge fairly?
  2. You are always planning evil, and you are brutal.
  3. You have done wrong and lied from the day you were born.
  4. Your words spread poison like the bite of a cobra
  5. that refuses to listen to the snake charmer.
  6. My enemies are fierce as lions, LORD God! Shatter their teeth. Snatch out their fangs.
  7. Make them disappear like leaking water, and make their arrows miss.
  8. Let them dry up like snails or be like a child that dies before seeing the sun.
  9. Wipe them out quicker than a pot can be heated by setting thorns on fire.
  10. Good people will be glad when they see the wicked getting what they deserve, and they will wash their feet in their enemies' blood.
  11. Everyone will say, "It's true! Good people are rewarded. God does rule the earth with justice."

Psalm 58 is an outcry against unjust judges who "practice injustice" and "weigh out violence." (58:2) They are wicked people who went "astray from the womb." (58:3) This assertion seems to support the idea that we are born with an inclination toward sin. Though this does not suggest a child comes out of the womb already under the guilt of sin, sin will inevitably follow. Thus, wickedness is not a condition that is developed but one that is inborn. It is righteousness that must be developed, or more accurately inborn through a new birth of the spirit through Jesus Christ. But for these wicked judges against whom David speaks, righteousness never developed and "They have venom like the venom of a snake." (58:4)

After establishing their wicked condition, David prays for their ruin: "God, knock the teeth out of their mouths." (58:6) Then he predicts that they will "vanish like water that flows by," and that they will be "like a woman's miscarried child, they will not see the sun." (58:7, 8) The wicked are like a miscarried child whose eyes have never been opened. The promise of the life God intended for them has never been fulfilled.

With the destruction of the wicked judges the righteous will feel vindicated saying, "Yes, there is a reward for the righteous! There is a God who judges on earth!" (58:11)

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 57

 Psalms 57(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (For the music leader. To the tune "Don't Destroy." A special psalm by David when he was in the cave while running from Saul.) God Most High, have pity on me! Have mercy. I run to you for safety. In the shadow of your wings, I seek protection till danger dies down.
  2. I pray to you, my protector.
  3. You will send help from heaven and save me, but you will bring trouble on my attackers. You are faithful, and you can be trusted.
  4. I live among lions, who gobble down people! They have spears and arrows instead of teeth, and they have sharp swords instead of tongues.
  5. May you, my God, be honored above the heavens; may your glory be seen everywhere on earth.
  6. Enemies set traps for my feet and struck me down. They dug a pit in my path, but fell in it themselves.
  7. I am faithful to you, and you can trust me. I will sing and play music for you, my God.
  8. I feel wide awake! I will wake up my harp and wake up the sun.
  9. I will praise you, Lord, for everyone to hear, and I will sing hymns to you in every nation.
  10. Your love reaches higher than the heavens; your loyalty extends beyond the clouds.
  11. May you, my God, be honored above the heavens; may your glory be seen everywhere on earth.

The occasion of this psalm is again David's flight from Saul's pursuits to kill him. On this occasion David had taken refuge in a cave. While David's psalms were often written while he was still waiting for God's deliverance, it seems God's deliverance had already come when he wrote this one. Speaking metaphorically, David says his enemies had prepared a net for him and dug a pit, but they had fallen into the pit themselves. Deliverance had already come. In light of God's deliverance he would always "seek refuge in the shadow of (God's) wings until danger passes." (57:1) He called to God, for it was God who fulfills His purpose for him. What God began for David, God would complete. David had not been anointed king of Israel only to be killed at the hands of his enemies before he ever became king.

In the second half of the psalm, verses 7-11, we can hear David's elation at being delivered. In verse 7 he says, "My heart is confident, God, my heart is confident. I will sing; I will sing praises." This was not just a private worship he had in mind for he planned to praise the Lord "among the peoples" and even "among the nations." But he wanted God to be exalted not only among the nations, but even "above the heavens." He wanted God's glory to be "over the whole earth."

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 56

 Psalms 56(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (For the music leader. To the tune "A Silent Dove in the Distance." A special psalm by David when the Philistines captured him in Gath.) Have pity, God Most High! My enemies chase me all day.
  2. Many of them are pursuing and attacking me,
  3. but even when I am afraid, I keep on trusting you.
  4. I praise your promises! I trust you and am not afraid. No one can harm me.
  5. Enemies spend the whole day finding fault with me; all they think about is how to do me harm.
  6. They attack from ambush, watching my every step and hoping to kill me.
  7. They won't get away with these crimes, God, because when you get angry, you destroy people.
  8. You have kept record of my days of wandering. You have stored my tears in your bottle and counted each of them.
  9. When I pray, LORD God, my enemies will retreat, because I know for certain that you are with me.
  10. I praise your promises!
  11. I trust you and am not afraid. No one can harm me.
  12. I will keep my promises to you, my God, and bring you gifts.
  13. You protected me from death and kept me from stumbling, so that I would please you and follow the light that leads to life.

Life was overwhelming for David when this psalm was written. He was constantly on the run to escape king Saul's pursuit of him, and when he was forced to flee to Gath in Philistia, his intentions became suspect to the king of Gath when it became known who he was and that he had led king Saul's army. He had to act like he was crazy to avoid being imprisoned or worse.

Rather than being immobilized by fear David focused on God's help. David had known God's help many times before and so it was his practice that, "When I am afraid, I will trust in You." (56:3) It didn't seem fair that he should suffer innocently at the hands of his enemies and he asks, "Will they escape in spite of such sin? God, bring down the nations in wrath." (56:7)

But then he turns his full attention to God's care. God cared enough that He had "recorded my wanderings" and had "Put my tears in Your bottle." God had made record of his sorrows. He cared and He would relieve David's sorrow. David was confident that "God is for me." Therefore, he said, "in God I trust; I will not fear. What can man do to me?" (56:11) Man could do plenty to him, but only as God allowed it, and David was confident that God would put a stop to it. It would go only so far.

As if God had already acted on his behalf, David concluded with the words, "You delivered me from death, even my feet from stumbling, to walk before God in the light of life." (56:13)

Monday, January 27, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 55

 Psalms 55(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A special psalm by David for the music leader. Use with stringed instruments.) Listen, God, to my prayer! Don't reject my request.
  2. Please listen and help me. My thoughts are troubled, and I keep groaning
  3. because my loud enemies shout and attack. They treat me terribly and hold angry grudges.
  4. My heart is racing fast, and I am afraid of dying.
  5. I am trembling with fear, completely terrified.
  6. I wish I had wings like a dove, so I could fly far away and be at peace.
  7. I would go and live in some distant desert.
  8. I would quickly find shelter from howling winds and raging storms.
  9. Confuse my enemies, Lord! Upset their plans. Cruelty and violence are all I see in the city,
  10. and they are like guards on patrol day and night. The city is full of trouble, evil,
  11. and corruption. Troublemakers and liars freely roam the streets.
  12. My enemies are not the ones who sneer and make fun. I could put up with that or even hide from them.
  13. But it was my closest friend, the one I trusted most.
  14. We enjoyed being together, and we went with others to your house, our God.
  15. All who hate me are controlled by the power of evil. Sentence them to death and send them down alive to the world of the dead.
  16. I ask for your help, LORD God, and you will keep me safe.
  17. Morning, noon, and night you hear my concerns and my complaints.
  18. I am attacked from all sides, but you will rescue me unharmed by the battle.
  19. You have always ruled, and you will hear me. You will defeat my enemies because they won't turn and worship you.
  20. My friend turned against me and broke his promise.
  21. His words were smoother than butter, and softer than olive oil. But hatred filled his heart, and he was ready to attack with a sword.
  22. Our LORD, we belong to you. We tell you what worries us, and you won't let us fall.
  23. But what about those people who are cruel and brutal? You will throw them down into the deepest pit long before their time. I trust you, LORD!

This psalm of David calls upon God's help to deliver him from the betrayal of a close friend. The occasion is commonly thought to be when his son, Absalom, tried to take the throne from him and David's close advisor, Ahithophel, betrayed him by supporting Absalom. This is much more than the common betrayal of a friend who tells lies on you or reveals secrets that have been entrusted to them. With this betrayal David's life was threatened as were the lives of many others, and the livelihoods and quality of lives for many people were at stake.

David was horrified by the threat posed by this betrayal of friend and son. He wanted to escape it and take on wings like a dove and fly off to the desert. But, of course, that was not possible so he prayed that God would "confuse and confound their speech," that is, the speech of his enemies, so their efforts would fail. Furthermore, he prayed that God would cause "death (to) take them by surprise; let them go down to Sheol alive, because evil is in their homes and within them." (55:15) In praying this he was confident that "Though many are against me, He (God) will redeem me from my battle unharmed." (55:18)

In case we suspect David was praying for God's judgment on otherwise decent people who had simply chosen to betray him, he portrays in verses 19-21 the character of his enemy. He will not change from his treachery nor does he fear God as if he would turn from his treachery at God's leading. He was not striking out against those seeking violence but was instead acting violently against those who were at peace with him. He covered his intentions with smooth talk, "but war is in his heart" and his words were "drawn swords." (55:21)

In the last two verses we see David's heart. He will cast his burden on the Lord with confidence that He would support him. Though his enemies were "men of bloodshed and treachery," David said, "I will trust in You (God)."

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 54

 Psalms 54(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (For the music leader. Use with stringed instruments. A special psalm that David wrote when the people of Ziph went to Saul and said, "David is hiding here with us.") Save me, God, by your power and prove that I am right.
  2. Listen to my prayer and hear what I say.
  3. Cruel strangers have attacked and want me dead. Not one of them cares about you.
  4. You will help me, Lord God, and keep me from falling;
  5. you will punish my enemies for their evil deeds. Be my faithful friend and destroy them.
  6. I will bring a gift and offer a sacrifice to you, LORD. I will praise your name because you are good.
  7. You have rescued me from all of my troubles, and my own eyes have seen my enemies fall.

David, in this psalm, was being pursued by Saul and was betrayed by the Ziphites who reported his whereabouts to Saul. His life was in danger and he called out to God with an urgent plea, "God, hear my prayer; listen to the words of my mouth." (54:2) In verse 3 he described his pursuers in three ways: they were strangers, they were violent, and they had no regard for God. The last of these was no doubt of greatest concern. If they had no regard for God they would have no regard for his life.

That was David's short plea to God: "hear my prayer" and "violent men seek my life." From there David spoke as if God had already answered his prayer. This was because "God is my helper." God had always been David's helper and He would be again. He could also speak as if God had already answered because of God's faithfulness. (54:5) Faithfulness is in God's nature. Besides, "He has delivered me from every trouble." (54:7)

David's prayer was simple - he asked and he trusted. No lengthy request, no excess of words. God already knew his situation, he simply needed to ask - Lord help me. In doing so he conveyed his trust in the Lord and he drew his own attention to God's help rather than the threat of his enemies.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 53

 Psalms 53(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A special psalm by David for the music leader. To the tune "Mahalath.") Only a fool would say, "There is no God!" People like that are worthless! They are heartless and cruel and never do right.
  2. From heaven God looks down to see if anyone is wise enough to search for him.
  3. But all of them are crooked and corrupt. Not one of them does right.
  4. Won't you lawbreakers learn? You refuse to pray, and you gobble down the people of God.
  5. But you will be terrified worse than ever before. God will scatter the bones of his enemies, and you will be ashamed when God rejects you.
  6. I long for someone from Zion to come and save Israel! Our God, when you bless your people again, Jacob's family will be glad, and Israel will celebrate.

This is a psalm of David addressing the corruption of mankind. According to this psalm, man is not basically good but basically corrupt, and at the core of it is his willful choice to reject God. It is a choice based not on empirical evidence but despite it. David equates such a choice with being a fool and also with being corrupt. A fool is not necessarily stupid or uneducated. He may, in fact, be quite intelligent and educated but is foolish, nevertheless, by willfully choosing to be ignorant regarding God. We often equate being corrupt with being dishonest with money. Although this can be the case, it can also relate to intellectual or spiritual dishonesty and to changing what is true to something that is untrue, therefore, corrupting truth.

This is the nature of the atheist, says David, and such people are not few in number. He says that when God looks down from heaven to see if there are those who are wise and who seek Him, He discovers that "Everyone has turned aside; they have all become corrupt. There is no one who does good, not even one." (53:3) This would seem to suggest that some are proclaimed atheists while others are practical atheists. The latter may not proclaim God doesn't exist, but they act as if He doesn't by ignoring Him. They don't call on Him.

While it would seem from these statements David is saying there are no people at all who seek God, he refers in verse 4 to God's people. Despite man's nature to reject God, some are drawn to accept Him. Though those who seek God may experience a time in which those who reject Him will "consume" them, the time will come when God will fill these evildoers with terror and will put them to shame while He also restores His people.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 52

 Psalms 52(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A special psalm by David for the music leader. He wrote this when Doeg from Edom went to Saul and said, "David has gone to Ahimelech's house.") You people may be strong and brag about your sins, but God can be trusted day after day.
  2. You plan brutal crimes, and your lying words cut like a sharp razor.
  3. You would rather do evil than good, and tell lies than speak the truth.
  4. You love to say cruel things, and your words are a trap.
  5. God will destroy you forever! He will grab you and drag you from your homes. You will be uprooted and left to die.
  6. When good people see this fearsome sight, they will laugh and say,
  7. "Just look at them now! Instead of trusting God, they trusted their wealth and their cruelty."
  8. But I am like an olive tree growing in God's house, and I can count on his love forever and ever.
  9. I will always thank God for what he has done; I will praise his good name when his people meet.

This psalm, written by David, refers to an account that can be found in chapters 21 and 22 of 1 Samuel. David was constantly eluding Saul's pursuits of him in his effort to kill David and had gone to Ahimelech the priest seeking food for his men. But one of Saul's servants, a man by the name of Doeg, was present that day and saw David and reported it to Saul. Not only did Doeg's actions put David and his men at risk, he was assigned by Saul to execute Ahimelech and all of the priests at Nob, the city of the priests. But Doeg, evidently enjoying his power, went even further and killed not only the preists but also the women and children along with the oxen, donkeys, and sheep.

David, in this psalm, envisioned himself addressing Doeg directly and asking him, "Why brag about evil?" And saying to him, "You love evil instead of good, lying instead of speaking truthfully." (52:3) Though Saul may have rewarded Doeg with greater power for reporting David's whereabouts, "God will bring you down forever. He will take you, ripping you out of your tent; He will uproot you from the land of the living." (52:5)

Though Doeg was guilty of treachery, his motivation was misplaced trust: "Here is the man who would not make God his refuge, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, taking refuge in his destructive behavior." Rather than making God his refuge he took refuge in his destructive behavior. David contrasted Doeg's choices with his own choices. While Doeg sought to flourish depending on his own treachery to accomplish it, David trusted in God's faithful love and was like "a flourishing olive tree in the house of God." And we have already seen that instead of flourishing God would uproot Doeg "from the land of the living."

Because of God's faithful love, David determined that he would "praise You forever for what You have done. In the presence of Your faithful people, I will put my hope in Your name, for it is good." (52:9)

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 51

 Psalms 51(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (For the music leader. A psalm by David when the prophet Nathan came to him after David had been with Bathsheba.) You are kind, God! Please have pity on me. You are always merciful! Please wipe away my sins.
  2. Wash me clean from all of my sin and guilt.
  3. I know about my sins, and I cannot forget my terrible guilt.
  4. You are really the one I have sinned against; I have disobeyed you and have done wrong. So it is right and fair for you to correct and punish me.
  5. I have sinned and done wrong since the day I was born.
  6. But you want complete honesty, so teach me true wisdom.
  7. Wash me with hyssop until I am clean and whiter than snow.
  8. Let me be happy and joyful! You crushed my bones, now let them celebrate.
  9. Turn your eyes from my sin and cover my guilt.
  10. Create pure thoughts in me and make me faithful again.
  11. Don't chase me away from you or take your Holy Spirit away from me.
  12. Make me as happy as you did when you saved me; make me want to obey!
  13. I will teach sinners your Law, and they will return to you.
  14. Keep me from any deadly sin. Only you can save me! Then I will shout and sing about your power to save.
  15. Help me to speak, and I will praise you, Lord.
  16. Offerings and sacrifices are not what you want.
  17. The way to please you is to feel sorrow deep in our hearts. This is the kind of sacrifice you won't refuse.
  18. Please be willing, Lord, to help the city of Zion and to rebuild its walls.
  19. Then you will be pleased with the proper sacrifices, and we will offer bulls on your altar once again.

Psalms 51 is David's well-known confession of sin in regard to his adultery with Bathsheba and murder of her husband. It provides hope and comfort for us as we recognize the extent of David's sin and realize that God forgave him and yet considered him a man after His own heart. We, too, can have forgiveness and a renewed spirit regardless of our sin.

David began with open and honest confession. He made no excuses for his actions. He was guilty. "I have sinned and done this evil in Your sight," he said. (51:4) He deserved whatever sentence God chose to pass on him and knew that God was blameless in His judgments. Thus he was willing to submit himself to God's mercy.

Along with God's forgiveness David wanted to be made clean once again and have his sin blotted out. Then he wanted a new heart, a clean heart, that was steadfast in following God, "create a clean heart for me and renew a steadfast spirit within me." (51:10) Nor did he want to be banished from God's presence or have His Holy Spirit taken from him as was the case with King Saul.

Psalm 50 speaks of those who resort to ritualistic sacrifices in an effort to appease God and gain His favor. David did not play this game. He was not after appeasement for he knew that God does "not want a sacrifice." If He did, David would give it, but He didn't. What did God want? "a broken spirit. God, You will not despise a broken and humbled heart." (51:17) This is what he offered God. Once his heart was right God would delight in his sacrifices.

God delights in our worship and praise, but only if our hearts are right. Apart from a pure heart our praise is only noise.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 50

 Psalms 50(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by Asaph.) From east to west, the powerful LORD God has been calling together everyone on earth.
  2. God shines brightly from Zion, the most beautiful city.
  3. Our God approaches, but not silently; a flaming fire comes first, and a storm surrounds him.
  4. God comes to judge his people. He shouts to the heavens and to the earth,
  5. "Call my followers together! They offered me a sacrifice, and we made an agreement."
  6. The heavens announce, "God is the judge, and he is always honest."
  7. My people, I am God! Israel, I am your God. Listen to my charges against you.
  8. Although you offer sacrifices and always bring gifts,
  9. I won't accept your offerings of bulls and goats.
  10. Every animal in the forest belongs to me, and so do the cattle on a thousand hills.
  11. I know all the birds in the mountains, and every wild creature is in my care.
  12. If I were hungry, I wouldn't tell you, because I own the world and everything in it.
  13. I don't eat the meat of bulls or drink the blood of goats.
  14. I am God Most High! The only sacrifice I want is for you to be thankful and to keep your word.
  15. Pray to me in time of trouble. I will rescue you, and you will honor me.
  16. But to the wicked I say: "You don't have the right to mention my laws or claim to keep our agreement!
  17. You refused correction and rejected my commands.
  18. You made friends with every crook you met, and you liked people who break their wedding vows.
  19. You talked only about violence and told nothing but lies;
  20. you sat around gossiping, ruining the reputation of your own relatives."
  21. When you did all of this, I didn't say a word, and you thought, "God is just like us!" But now I will accuse you.
  22. You have ignored me! So pay close attention or I will tear you apart, and no one can help you.
  23. The sacrifice that honors me is a thankful heart. Obey me, and I, your God, will show my power to save.

This is a psalm of Asaph and very different in nature to previous psalms. Rather than offering praise to God or petitioning Him for help, this psalm portrays a courtroom scene in which God is the judge, God's people are the defendants, and the heavens and the earth serve as witnesses. The scene takes place in beautiful Zion - Jerusalem - the location of God's temple.

Verses 7-15 lay out the first charge against the defendants. First, however, the judge assures them that they are not being charged for their sacrifices or burnt offerings. In fact, they offer more than enough of these. But God, the judge, reminds them that He has no need of their sacrifices in which they offer what is already His. For "every bird of the mountains, and the creatures of the field are Mine." (50:11) Nor does God get hungry as if He needed to eat the meat they offer Him. And if He did get hungry He wouldn't tell them "for the world and everything in it is Mine." (50:12) He would just take what he wanted. He doesn't need anyone to give Him anything.

So what's the problem? They offer sacrifices aplenty but not from the heart. They are simply going through the motions. It is meaningless ritual. What God wants instead is for them to "Sacrifice a thank offering to God, and pay your vows to the Most High. Call on Me in a day of trouble; I will rescue you, and you will honor Me." (50:14-15) He wants them to worship Him and to place their trust in Him. Give Him thanks and call on Him in trouble. He wants to be able to rescue them and them have them honor Him as a result.

But meaningless ritual is not the only problem. There is also the problem of their hypocracy. They recite God's statutes which they hate while making friends with theives and associating with adulterers. Furthermore, they use their tongues to mouth evil, maligning and slandering their brother. While they were doing these things God had remained silent for a time and they equated His silence with approval: "you thought I was just like you." (50:21) They not only thought God approved, they thought He did the same things Himself. What depraved minds! They had been reciting God's statutues and covenant which denounce this behavior and yet somehow their minds twisted it all around to believe God approved.

Then comes the verdict and the judge lets them off with a warning: "Understand this, you who forget God, or I will tear you apart, and there will be no rescuer. Whoever sacrifices a thank offering honors Me, and whoever orders his conduct, I will show him the salvation of God." (50:22-23) The warning outlines what they should do rather than what they should not do. They are to sacrifice thank offerings and order their conduct. No list of "do's and don'ts" was needed. A heart that genuinely worships God will want to order its conduct and will pay attention to God's statutes.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 49

 Psalms 49(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm for the people of Korah and for the music leader.) Everyone on this earth, now listen to what I say!
  2. Listen, no matter who you are, rich or poor.
  3. I speak words of wisdom, and my thoughts make sense.
  4. I have in mind a mystery that I will explain while playing my harp.
  5. Why should I be afraid in times of trouble, when I am surrounded by vicious enemies?
  6. They trust in their riches and brag about all of their wealth.
  7. You cannot buy back your life or pay off God!
  8. It costs far too much to buy back your life. You can never pay God enough
  9. to stay alive forever and safe from death.
  10. We see that wise people die, and so do stupid fools. Then their money is left for someone else.
  11. The grave will be their home forever and ever, although they once had land of their own.
  12. Our human glory disappears, and, like animals, we die.
  13. Here is what happens to fools and to those who trust the words of fools:
  14. They are like sheep with death as their shepherd, leading them to the grave. In the morning God's people will walk all over them, as their bodies lie rotting in their home, the grave.
  15. But God will rescue me from the power of death.
  16. Don't let it bother you when others get rich and live in luxury.
  17. Soon they will die and all of their wealth will be left behind.
  18. We humans are praised when we do well, and all of us are glad to be alive.
  19. But we each will go down to our ancestors, never again to see the light of day.
  20. Our human glory disappears, and, like animals, we die.

Psalm 49 is a wisdom psalm addressing the foolishness of placing one's hope and trust in wealth. It is written from the perspective of one who is oppressed by those who are both wealthy and wicked. Those who enjoy the power their wealth allows them and use it against those who are powerless. It is another version of the school bully who picks on those smaller than him and unable to defend themselves against him.

The wise psalmist assures those who will listen that there is no need to fear such people for their wealth will not enable them to escape death nor can they use it to help anyone else escape death. It cannot purchase life. Life is too costly. Despite their wealth and power and prestige, when it comes to death, they are no different than the animals who also perish.

As for the righteous, "God will redeem my life from the power of Sheol (the grave)." (49:15) For those who wealthy and wicked, the grave is the end, but not for the righteous. The wealth of the unrighteous wealthy will not follow them into the grave. They will instead "go to the generation of his fathers; they will never see the light." And as mentioned before, "A man with valuable possessions but without understanding is like the animals that perish." (49:19, 20)

Man pursues happiness in many forms and wealth is one of them. But while it may be more respectable than using drugs and the destruction it brings to one's life slower in coming, its effects are little different. The drug consumes a person forcing them to give their very life to it. The fun or supposed happiness it may bring is very short-lived and increasingly hard to attain. Eventually the drug is used to avoid pain rather than to attain any happiness. What about wealth? It too is pursued to attain happiness, and like the drug any happiness it brings is short-lived and requires more and more to gain even a slight blip on the happiness scale. Meanwhile it consumes one's life in their pursuit of wealth and in the process they turn away those who are close to them leaving them without anyone who truly cares for them. And like the drug, in the end it is pursued in an attempt to turn away pain rather than to gain any measure of happiness, for by then the person realizes it will not bring happiness but must have it to insulate them from the pain of loss.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 48

 Psalms 48(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A song and a psalm for the people of Korah.) The LORD God is wonderful! He deserves all praise in the city where he lives. His holy mountain,
  2. beautiful and majestic, brings joy to all on earth. Mount Zion, truly sacred, is home for the Great King.
  3. God is there to defend it and has proved to be its protector.
  4. Kings joined forces to attack the city,
  5. but when they saw it, they were terrified and ran away.
  6. They trembled all over like women giving birth
  7. or like seagoing ships wrecked by eastern winds.
  8. We had heard about it, and now we have seen it in the city of our God, the LORD All-Powerful. This is the city that God will let stand forever.
  9. Our God, here in your temple we think about your love.
  10. You are famous and praised everywhere on earth, as you win victories with your powerful arm.
  11. Mount Zion will celebrate, and all Judah will be glad, because you bring justice.
  12. Let's walk around Zion and count its towers.
  13. We will see its strong walls and visit each fortress. Then you can say to future generations,
  14. "Our God is like this forever and will always guide us."

This psalm expresses the elation of the people of Jerusalem, Mount Zion, at God's deliverance from the kings that had assembled against the city. This elation is evident in the first verse: "The LORD is great and is highly praised in the city of our God." (48:1) Verses 4-7 describe the source of their elation: "Look! The kings assembled; they advanced together." But when these kings marched their armies within view of the city of Jerusalem, "They looked, and froze with fear; they fled in terror." (48:5) What did they see that frightened them so? We are not told, but it brings to mind another occasion in which God saved the city of Samaria. The invading army heard what sounded to them like a huge army marching to attack them and fled in terror. But it was only the sound of an attacking army that God had put in their ears.

God's intervention and deliverance move the people of Jerusalem to go to the Lord's temple and "contemplate (His) faithful love." (48:9) As the people continue to contemplate God's greatness, they say to themselves, "Go around Zion, encircle it; count its towers, note its ramparts; tour its citadels so that you can tell a future generation." (48:12-13) They wanted to note that the city was unscathed by the invading armies and be able to tell it to a "future generation." They knew that, "This God, our God forever and ever--He will lead us eternally." (48:14)

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 47

 Psalms 47(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm for the people of Korah and for the music leader.) All of you nations, clap your hands and shout joyful praises to God.
  2. The LORD Most High is fearsome, the ruler of all the earth.
  3. God has put every nation under our power,
  4. and he chose for us the land that was the pride of Jacob, his favorite.
  5. God goes up to his throne, as people shout and trumpets blast.
  6. Sing praises to God our King,
  7. the ruler of all the earth! Praise God with songs.
  8. God rules the nations from his sacred throne.
  9. Their leaders come together and are now the people of Abraham's God. All rulers on earth surrender their weapons, and God is greatly praised!

This psalm is a song about the Lord, the great King, celebrating His universal reign. We can only guess at the occasion for which it was written and used. Though it was used in worship, was it for a special occasion such as victory in battle for which it gave praise to the Lord or simply a general worship psalm? It is also understand, however, to have meaning beyond an occasion of worship for Israel. That is, it should be understood prophetically as portraying the coming kingdom of God in which He will reign freely over all the earth when all will give Him homage.

If one will set aside any doubts of the existence of a God or of a creator and fully embrace God as a "great King over all the earth," (47:2) there is great comfort in knowing that for those who choose Him, "He chooses for us our inheritance" and "subdues peoples under us and nations under our feet." (47:3, 4) Furthermore, He "reigns over the nations." These truths point to God's sovereignty over all people and nations regardless of whether or not they acknowledge Him. Nations and peoples rise and fall at His will and not as a result of their own prowess as they assume. Though we see this only in part now, it will one day be seen in full when every knee will bow to Him and "the leaders of the earth" will "belong to God." (47:9)

There is indeed One who has orchestrated the existence of all things and continues to direct its passage through time. I choose to accept that as the true reality and submit to this One who has my destiny in His hands and Who I can trust to handle that destiny in mercy and loving care.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 46

 Psalms 46(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A special song for the people of Korah and for the music leader.) God is our mighty fortress, always ready to help in times of trouble.
  2. And so, we won't be afraid! Let the earth tremble and the mountains tumble into the deepest sea.
  3. Let the ocean roar and foam, and its raging waves shake the mountains.
  4. A river and its streams bring joy to the city, which is the sacred home of God Most High.
  5. God is in that city, and it won't be shaken. He will help it at dawn.
  6. Nations rage! Kingdoms fall! But at the voice of God the earth itself melts.
  7. The LORD All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.
  8. Come! See the fearsome things the LORD has done on earth.
  9. God brings wars to an end all over the world. He breaks the arrows, shatters the spears, and burns the shields.
  10. Our God says, "Calm down, and learn that I am God! All nations on earth will honor me."
  11. The LORD All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress.

Psalm 46 has brought comfort to many who are in times of trouble and many more who know they will need to hold strong in its words soon enough. As I read it I envision one who takes refuge in God being held secure in a bubble that is buffeted all around by a world falling apart.

In the first three verses we are told that with God as our refuge we have nothing to fear regardless of the circumstances. Even if our world is falling apart! Verses 2 and 3 describe the world actually falling apart: "though the earth trembles and the mountains topple into the depths of the seas." But we may take it more metaphorically for the falling apart of our personal world. Whatever we might imagine happening to us, we have reason to take comfort in God who is our helper.

With the vision in our minds of the world falling apart and chaos abounding all around us, we are then taken to a scene in which God's presence is described as a peaceful flowing river. This is our world inside the bubble. Outside there is chaos. Now, in verse 6, this chaos is described as nations raging and kingdoms toppling. But inside our bubble of God's refuge, God's peace is like a peaceful flowing river. This is because, "The LORD of Hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our stronghold." (46:7)

We are invited in verse 8 to take our eyes off the chaotic scene around us and to look instead on "the works of the Lord." "He makes wars cease throughout the earth. He shatters bows and cuts spears to pieces; He burns up the chariots." (46:9) Then we are told to "Stop your fighting--and know that I am God." (46:10) Quit trying to control the chaos and simply let God take over. In so doing, we will know that He is indeed God. Drawn into the imagery of the psalm and adding some of my own, I envision one who is caught in a raging river, flailing about trying to keep their head above water. But then they give in and let the river take them and it becomes a calm and peaceful flowing river that gently carries them along. This being the result of stopping our flailing about to control our chaos and relaxing to let God be our refuge.

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 45

 Psalms 45(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A special psalm for the people of Korah and for the music leader. To the tune "Lilies." A love song.) My thoughts are filled with beautiful words for the king, and I will use my voice as a writer would use pen and ink.
  2. No one is as handsome as you! Your words are always kind. That is why God will always bless you.
  3. Mighty king, glorious ruler, strap on your sword
  4. and ride out in splendor! Win victories for truth and mercy and justice. Do fearsome things with your powerful arm.
  5. Send your sharp arrows through enemy hearts and make all nations fall at your feet.
  6. You are God, and you will rule forever as king. Your royal power brings about justice.
  7. You love justice and hate evil. And so, your God chose you and made you happier than any of your friends.
  8. The sweet aroma of the spices myrrh, aloes, and cassia, covers your royal robes. You enjoy the music of harps in palaces decorated with ivory.
  9. Daughters of kings are here, and your bride stands at your right side, wearing a wedding gown trimmed with pure gold.
  10. Bride of the king, listen carefully to me. Forget your own people and your father's family.
  11. The king is your husband, so do what he desires.
  12. All of the richest people from the city of Tyre will try to influence you
  13. with precious treasures. Your bride, my king, has inward beauty, and her wedding gown is woven with threads of gold.
  14. Wearing the finest garments, she is brought to you, followed by her young friends, the bridesmaids.
  15. Everyone is excited, as they follow you to the royal palace.
  16. Your sons and your grandsons will also be kings as your ancestors were. You will make them the rulers everywhere on earth.
  17. I will make your name famous from now on, and you will be praised forever and ever.

This psalm is widely considered to be a Messianic psalm, referring to Christ as the king rather than David who might first come to mind. If the king depicted in these verses is Christ, would the bride then be the church or would she be the redeemed remnant of the nation of Israel? There are varying opinions on this question.

This royal groom is described as the "most handsome of men" with grace flowing from his lips. Whether or not his handsomeness is intended to refer to his physical attributes, he is portrayed as one to whom we are attracted and one whose every expression flows with grace. Besides his attractiveness he triumphs truth, humility, and justice. Therefore God has anointed him with the "oil of joy." It is this joy that he extends to all who would receive him.

Then come the instructions to the bride who is counseled to "forget your people and your father's house." (45:10) Is this not our call in following Christ? Consider everything else as secondary to our following him. Forsaking all for him makes his bride beautiful to him. To this union will come children who will be made "princes throughout the land" and cause the king to be "remembered for all generations." And the result will be that "the peoples will praise you forever and ever."

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 44

 Psalms 44(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A special psalm for the people of Korah and for the music leader.) Our God, our ancestors told us what wonders you worked and we listened carefully.
  2. You chased off the nations by causing them trouble with your powerful arm. Then you let our ancestors take over their land.
  3. Their strength and weapons were not what won the land and gave them victory! You loved them and fought with your powerful arm and your shining glory.
  4. You are my God and King, and you give victory to the people of Jacob.
  5. By your great power, we knocked our enemies down and stomped on them.
  6. I don't depend on my arrows or my sword to save me.
  7. But you saved us from our hateful enemies, and you put them to shame.
  8. We boast about you, our God, and we are always grateful.
  9. But now you have rejected us; you don't lead us into battle, and we look foolish.
  10. You made us retreat, and our enemies have taken everything we own.
  11. You let us be slaughtered like sheep, and you scattered us among the nations.
  12. You sold your people for little or nothing, and you earned no profit.
  13. You made us look foolish to our neighbors, and people who live nearby insult us and sneer.
  14. Foreigners joke about us and shake their heads.
  15. I am embarrassed every day, and I blush with shame.
  16. But others mock and sneer, as they watch my enemies take revenge on me.
  17. All of this has happened to us, though we didn't forget you or break our agreement.
  18. We always kept you in mind and followed your teaching.
  19. But you crushed us, and you covered us with deepest darkness where wild animals live.
  20. We did not forget you or lift our hands in prayer to foreign gods.
  21. You would have known it because you discover every secret thought.
  22. We face death all day for you. We are like sheep on their way to be slaughtered.
  23. Wake up! Do something, Lord! Why are you sleeping? Don't desert us forever.
  24. Why do you keep looking away? Don't forget our sufferings and all of our troubles.
  25. We are flat on the ground, holding on to the dust.
  26. Do something! Help us! Show how kind you are and come to our rescue.

Psalm 44 expresses what all followers of God experience at some point. Though we place our trust in God and are faithful in our obedience to Him, we find ourselves facing a situation from which He is not delivering us. Instead of victory and deliverance we experience defeat. We wonder where God is in our situation and why He doesn't deliver us and give us victory? It presses us to the question of why we place our faith in God and worship Him? Is it because of what He does for us or because of who He is? Maybe it's a combination of the two. If our trust is in Him because of what He has done for us in the past, do we quit trusting because He seemingly is not helping us in our present situation? And if He is seemingly not helping us in this present situation when do we decide He has totally failed us?

These were all questions that must have haunted the psalmist and his people at the time of this psalm. He pointed to the history of God's help for his ancestors for whom God drove out the nations in the land of promise and gave them the land. The psalmist attributed these victories completely to the Lord and not to the abilities of his ancestors in wielding the sword. He then spoke of victories God had given in his own lifetime and of his own trust in God rather than in the use of his bow or sword. It was God in whom they boasted "all day long" for the victories He had given them over their foes. But now it seemed that God had rejected them and humiliated them before their foes. He had allowed them to be defeated and handed them over to their enemy "to be eaten like sheep and scatter us among the nations." (44:11) The psalmist went on to say, "You make us a joke among the nations, a laughingstock among the peoples." (44:14)

When trouble strikes, what is our first thought? For many, if not most, our first thought is that God is punishing us. And then we begin to take stock wondering what our sin might be. This is, no doubt, the assessment the psalmist made, and after taking stock concluded that, "we have not forgotten You or betrayed Your covenant. Our hearts have not turned back; our steps have not strayed from Your path." (44:17-18) He was innocent of sin and yet God had allowed all this to happen to him and his people. Then the psalmist went further to say not only that God had allowed their defeat but it was "Because of You we are slain all day long." (44:22) It was God's fault they were defeated.

In the end, what was the psalmist's conclusion? Was it to reject God and look elsewhere for help? No, in the end he still placed his trust in God by making a desperate plea for His help. "Wake up, Lord!" he said. "Why are You sleeping? Get up! Don't reject us forever!" (44:23) Do we dare approach God in this way? The psalmist dared, but he was not rejecting God or blaspheming Him. He was asking God to do what He has promised to do: "But if you will carefully . . . do everything I say, then I will be an enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes." (Exodus 23:22) In the end, the psalmist's appeal and his trust was in God's "faithful love."

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 43

 Psalms 43(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Show that I am right, God! Defend me against everyone who doesn't know you; rescue me from each of those deceitful liars.
  2. I run to you for protection. Why have you turned me away? Why must enemies mistreat me and make me sad?
  3. Send your light and your truth to guide me. Let them lead me to your house on your sacred mountain.
  4. Then I will worship at your altar because you make me joyful. You are my God, and I will praise you. Yes, I will praise you as I play my harp.
  5. Why am I discouraged? Why am I restless? I trust you! And I will praise you again because you help me, and you are my God.

If there is no God, to whom do we plead our cause when life is unfair? To whom do we take our complaint? If there is no God, who is responsible? But the psalmist believed there is a God and took his plea to Him, asking Him to "Vindicate me, God, and defend my cause against an ungodly nation." (43:1) Though the ungodly nation in question was responsible for the oppression the psalmist was experiencing, he felt it was happening because God was allowing it and he asked, "Why have You rejected me?" (43:2) It was God who was his refuge, so why was God allowing this to continue?

But the psalmist's tone took a turn in verse 3 and he asked, not for deliverance from the oppression, but for God to "Send Your light and Your truth" to lead him. He wanted God's light and truth to lead him to Jerusalem and to God's "dwelling place," the tabernacle. There he could take refuge in God and worship Him. When he focused on his troubles, as in verses 1 and 2, he was overwhelmed by them. But when he turned his attention to God who was his "greatest joy," (43:4) he asked, "Why am I so depressed?" (43:5)

With a new perspective he confidently stated, "Put your hope in God, for I will still praise Him, my Savior and my God." (43:5)