Thursday, February 27, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 74

 Psalms 74(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A special psalm by Asaph.) Our God, why have you completely rejected us? Why are you so angry with the ones you care for?
  2. Remember the people you rescued long ago, the tribe you chose to be your very own. Think of Mount Zion, your home;
  3. walk over to the temple left in ruins forever by those who hate us.
  4. Your enemies roared like lions in your holy temple, and they have placed their banners there.
  5. It looks like a forest chopped to pieces.
  6. They used axes and hatchets to smash the carvings.
  7. They burned down your temple and badly disgraced it.
  8. They said to themselves, "We'll crush them!" Then they burned every one of your meeting places all over the country.
  9. There are no more miracles and no more prophets. Who knows how long it will be like this?
  10. Our God, how much longer will our enemies sneer? Won't they ever stop insulting you?
  11. Why don't you punish them? Why are you holding back?
  12. Our God and King, you have ruled since ancient times; you have won victories everywhere on this earth.
  13. By your power you made a path through the sea, and you smashed the heads of sea monsters.
  14. You crushed the heads of the monster Leviathan, then fed him to wild creatures in the desert.
  15. You opened the ground for streams and springs and dried up mighty rivers.
  16. You rule the day and the night, and you put the moon and the sun in place.
  17. You made summer and winter and gave them to the earth.
  18. Remember your enemies, LORD! They foolishly sneer and won't respect you.
  19. You treat us like pet doves, but they mistreat us. Don't keep forgetting us and letting us be fed to those wild animals.
  20. Remember the agreement you made with us. Violent enemies are hiding in every dark corner of the earth.
  21. Don't disappoint those in need or make them turn from you, but help the poor and homeless to shout your praises.
  22. Do something, God! Defend yourself. Remember how those fools sneer at you all day long.
  23. Don't forget the loud shouts of your enemies.

Another of Asaph's psalms. Is he angry with God or merely desperate? "Why have You rejected us forever, God?" he says. "Why does Your anger burn against the sheep of Your pasture?" (74:1) Is his forthrightness with God appalling? I would call it honest. A close relationship with God requires honesty. If the thoughts were in Asaph's mind and heart, he needed to speak them to God and be honest with himself as well as with God, for God knew it anyway. And it was much better that he take his anger to God than to express it to others.

Enemies of Israel and of God had destroyed the temple, leaving it in ruins, and threatened the destruction of Israel. Asaph asked God to "Remember Your congregation," which was Israel, and to "Remember Mount Zion where You dwell," which was the temple in Jerusalem. To make their situation more desperate, Israel had no prophet to give spiritual counsel and to help them know how long this siege by the enemy would last. And so he asked, "God, how long will the foe mock? Will the enemy insult Your name forever?" (74:10)
In Asaph's appeal to God for help he called upon His mighty powers, for God had performed "saving acts on the earth" from ancient times. Destroying their enemy would be nothing new for God. God had also "divided the sea" with His strength and "smashed the heads of the sea monsters in the waters." (74:13)

Destroying their enemy would be nothing for God. God not only had power over monsters but also over nature, causing streams to flow or stop flowing and establishing the moon and sun. He even made the seasons - summer and winter. Saving Israel from her enemy was no problem for God. But why didn't He act? That was the question.

As if God needed prodding, Asaph reminded Him that "the enemy has mocked the LORD, and a foolish people has insulted Your name." (74:18) He also reminded God that He should consider His covenant with Israel. So he asked God to "Arise . . . defend Your cause" and to remember the insults against Him by this enemy.

The historical setting for Asaph's appeal for God's help is uncertain, but it would seem a strong possibility that it was Babylonian's invasion of Israel. But whether it was that occasion or another, the fact that God had allowed an enemy to penetrate Israel's defenses and destroy the temple was no doubt a result of Israel's idolatry and other sins. Asaph may well have been like many of us who have little contact with God or even much thought about Him until they are in trouble. Then they want His help. If this was the case with Asaph's prayer and it was the occasion of Babylonian's invasion, God's help would be a long time in coming and would not save them from the enemy's grasp.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 73

 Psalms 73(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by Asaph.) God is truly good to Israel, especially to everyone with a pure heart.
  2. But I almost stumbled and fell,
  3. because it made me jealous to see proud and evil people and to watch them prosper.
  4. They never have to suffer, they stay healthy,
  5. and they don't have troubles like everyone else.
  6. Their pride is like a necklace, and they commit sin more often than they dress themselves.
  7. Their eyes poke out with fat, and their minds are flooded with foolish thoughts.
  8. They sneer and say cruel things, and because of their pride, they make violent threats.
  9. They dare to speak against God and to order others around.
  10. God will bring his people back, and they will drink the water he so freely gives.
  11. Only evil people would say, "God Most High cannot know everything!"
  12. Yet all goes well for them, and they live in peace.
  13. What good did it do me to keep my thoughts pure and refuse to do wrong?
  14. I am sick all day, and I am punished each morning.
  15. If I had said evil things, I would not have been loyal to your people.
  16. It was hard for me to understand all this!
  17. Then I went to your temple, and there I understood what will happen to my enemies.
  18. You will make them stumble, never to get up again.
  19. They will be terrified, suddenly swept away and no longer there.
  20. They will disappear, Lord, despised like a bad dream the morning after.
  21. Once I was bitter and brokenhearted.
  22. I was stupid and ignorant, and I treated you as a wild animal would.
  23. But I never really left you, and you hold my right hand.
  24. Your advice has been my guide, and later you will welcome me in glory.
  25. In heaven I have only you, and on this earth you are all I want.
  26. My body and mind may fail, but you are my strength and my choice forever.
  27. Powerful LORD God, all who stay far from you will be lost, and you will destroy those who are unfaithful.
  28. It is good for me to be near you. I choose you as my protector, and I will tell about your wonderful deeds.

Psalms 73 is a wisdom psalm written by Asaph. It is a confession of the trap that nearly captured him. From the start he established that he knows God is good to the pure in heart. But he allowed his thoughts to stray from this and looked at the "prosperity of the wicked." (73:3) When he did, his "feet almost slipped" and his "steps nearly went astray." (73:2) The trap was the allure of being prosperous and forgetting it is a short-term trade off.

The problem with Asaph's straying thoughts was not the desire for prosperity so much as the means of gaining that prosperity. For what he envied was not just prosperity, but the prosperity of the wicked. When he looked at the wicked he saw an arrogant people who were prideful and violent. They mocked and spoke maliciously, setting "their mouths against heaven." (73:9) They questioned whether God even knew of their sin. "Does the Most High know everything?" (73:11) And yet, they seemed also to have an easy time. They didn't seem to have trouble like others. And all the while, their wealth increased. It caused Asaph to question, "Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing?" (73:13) The thought behind the question is the one that sets the trap for us. It presumes that our reason for placing our faith in God is so He will prosperous us materially. If this doesn't happen do we really have a reason to follow Him and be obedient to His teachings?

After Asaph came to his senses he was glad he hadn't said "these things aloud," thus betraying God's people. It was in God's sanctuary that he realized the folly of his thinking. We have to wonder if the reason his thoughts strayed as they did was because he had neglected worship. When he entered God's sanctuary, he understood the destiny of the wicked for he realized, "How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors." (73:19) He then realized he had been a fool to think such thoughts.

Asaph realized not only the sudden end that comes to the wicked but also what he had as a follower of God. He had God's presence with him all the time giving him guidance and counsel and then God would "take me up in glory." (73:24) He realized that having God is enough, for "I desire nothing on earth but You." (73:25) So the outcome is that those who are far from God "will certainly perish," but for Asaph, "God's presence is my good." (73:27, 28) God was his prosperity. Therefore, he said, "I have made the Lord God my refuge." (73:28)

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 72

 Psalms 72(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (By Solomon.) Please help the king to be honest and fair just like you, our God.
  2. Let him be honest and fair with all your people, especially the poor.
  3. Let peace and justice rule every mountain and hill.
  4. Let the king defend the poor, rescue the homeless, and crush everyone who hurts them.
  5. Let the king live forever like the sun and the moon.
  6. Let him be as helpful as rain that refreshes the meadows and the ground.
  7. Let the king be fair with everyone, and let there be peace until the moon falls from the sky.
  8. Let his kingdom reach from sea to sea, from the Euphrates River across all the earth.
  9. Force the desert tribes to accept his rule, and make his enemies crawl in the dirt.
  10. Force the rulers of Tarshish and of the islands to pay taxes to him. Make the kings of Sheba and of Seba bring gifts.
  11. Make other rulers bow down and all nations serve him.
  12. Do this because the king rescues the homeless when they cry out, and he helps everyone who is poor and in need.
  13. The king has pity on the weak and the helpless and protects those in need.
  14. He cares when they hurt, and he saves them from cruel and violent deaths.
  15. Long live the king! Give him gold from Sheba. Always pray for the king and praise him each day.
  16. Let cities overflow with food and hills be covered with grain, just like Mount Lebanon. Let the people in the cities prosper like wild flowers.
  17. May the glory of the king shine brightly forever like the sun in the sky. Let him make nations prosper and learn to praise him.
  18. LORD God of Israel, we praise you. Only you can work miracles.
  19. We will always praise your glorious name. Let your glory be seen everywhere on earth. Amen and amen.
  20. This ends the prayers of David, the son of Jesse.

Psalms 72 is one of only two psalms attributed to Solomon. The other being Psalms 127. Though this psalm likely describes his reign, it also speaks of the Messiah's milllennial reign. This psalm portrays the king, not as a dictator over the people, but more a savior of the people to protect and provide for them. Solomon perceived that his role as king was to rule with righteousness and justice. Therefore, he prayed for God to give him justice and righteousness. God was his source. He did not see himself as a deity, as was/is sometimes the case with kings. If his reign was successful praise belonged to the Lord, not himself: "May the LORD God, the God of Israel, be praised, who alone does wonders." (72:18)

Verses 8-11 take on Messianic overtones as the king's reign is envisioned as being worldwide: "may he rule from sea to sea" and "let all kings bow down to him, all nations serve him." (72:8, 11) These overtones also carry over into verses 12-14 as the king is seen as the rescuer of the poor and afflicted, redeeming them from oppression and violence, "for their lives are precious in his sight." (72:14) This last statement is especially descriptive of the Messiah.

The Messianic overtones continue into verses 15-17 with prayer for the king's reign to endure forever. And then the prayer, "May all nations be blessed by him and call him blessed." (72:17) We can look forward to the Messiah's reign as a time free of oppression when peace and prosperity reign. There is no mention in the psalm of the wicked or of evil deeds, for the wicked have been crushed and justice reigns.

Though it is said of the king that "all nations (will) be blessed by him and call him blessed." (72:17), the praise goes to "the Lord God of Israel, who alone does wonders." The king is only His instrument for righteousness and justice.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Reflections on Psalms71

 Psalms 71(Contemporary English Version)
  1. I run to you, LORD, for protection. Don't disappoint me.
  2. You do what is right, so come to my rescue. Listen to my prayer and keep me safe.
  3. Be my mighty rock, the place where I can always run for protection. Save me by your command! You are my mighty rock and my fortress.
  4. Come and save me, LORD God, from vicious and cruel and brutal enemies!
  5. I depend on you, and I have trusted you since I was young.
  6. I have relied on you from the day I was born. You brought me safely through birth, and I always praise you.
  7. Many people think of me as something evil. But you are my mighty protector,
  8. and I praise and honor you all day long.
  9. Don't throw me aside when I am old; don't desert me when my strength is gone.
  10. My enemies are plotting because they want me dead.
  11. They say, "Now we'll catch you! God has deserted you, and no one can save you."
  12. Come closer, God! Please hurry and help.
  13. Embarrass and destroy all who want me dead; disgrace and confuse all who want to hurt me.
  14. I will never give up hope or stop praising you.
  15. All day long I will tell the wonderful things you do to save your people. But you have done much more than I could possibly know.
  16. I will praise you, LORD God, for your mighty deeds and your power to save.
  17. You have taught me since I was a child, and I never stop telling about your marvelous deeds.
  18. Don't leave me when I am old and my hair turns gray. Let me tell future generations about your mighty power.
  19. Your deeds of kindness are known in the heavens. No one is like you!
  20. You made me suffer a lot, but you will bring me back from this deep pit and give me new life.
  21. You will make me truly great and take my sorrow away.
  22. I will praise you, God, the Holy One of Israel. You are faithful. I will play the harp and sing your praises.
  23. You have rescued me! I will celebrate and shout, singing praises to you with all my heart.
  24. All day long I will announce your power to save. I will tell how you disgraced and disappointed those who wanted to hurt me.

The writer of Psalms 71 is not identified but reveals that he is elderly and had placed his trust in the Lord all of his life. As he had been doing throughout his life, he again went to the Lord to save him from the "hand of the wicked, from the grasp of the unjust and oppressive." Though his detractors were unjust, he knew God to be just, and it was because of His justice the psalmist anticipated He would "rescue and deliver" him.

Though there were those seeking to do the psalmist harm, the Lord was his "strong refuge," and had been from his birth. Now that he was of old age, he prayed that the Lord would not discard him or abandon him which, for some reason, is what his enemies thought. They thought they could chase and catch him without interference because "God has abandoned him." (71:11)

The psalmist had been through "many troubles and misfortunes" in his lifetime which he attributed to the Lord. His reasoning at this point is not provided, but perhaps he attributed his troubles and misfortunes to God because of His sovereignty. Regardless, he had never stopped praising the Lord throughout his life, and was confident that as before, the Lord would again revive him. And when He did, the psalmist would have cause again to praise His faithfulness.

Thursday, February 20, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 70

 Psalms 70(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (By David for the music leader. To be used when an offering is made.) Save me, LORD God! Hurry and help.
  2. Disappoint and confuse all who want to kill me. Turn away and disgrace all who want to hurt me.
  3. Embarrass and shame those who say, "We told you so!"
  4. Let your worshipers celebrate and be glad because of you. They love your saving power, so let them always say, "God is wonderful!"
  5. I am poor and needy, but you, the LORD God, care about me. You are the one who saves me. Please hurry and help!

Psalms 70 is a quick prayer by David which, along with his plea for the Lord to hurry, suggests the urgency of his need. Those who were after him wanted to take his life, and the urgency of his plea gives the impression that they were not far away. He asked the Lord to cause his enemies to be "disgraced and confounded," "driven back and humiliated," and to "retreat because of their shame." Though these requests may seem like revenge or retaliation, they are the help or deliverance for which he was asking. If the Lord were to help him, it would require that the Lord stop his enemies in some way. In what way would He do it. David was suggesting that it be by confounding their plans and bringing them to disgrace. This would cause them to be driven back and humiliated, retreating in shame. He did not ask God to destroy them, only to confound them.

David seems never to simply make his request and be done. He always envisions a time of praise when the Lord will have answered his prayer and he will rejoice because of it. In this case he says, "Let all who seek You rejoice and be glad in You; let those who love Your salvation continually say, 'God is great!'" (70:4) He states it as another part of his request asking that the Lord grant him his help so he will be able to "rejoice and be glad" in the Lord. But it also implies that rejoicing in the Lord is a natural part of receiving God's help. He would not fail to give God credit for His help. He will not ask and then receive without continually saying, "God is great!"

Finally, to impress upon the Lord the urgency of his situation, he again states, "I am afflicted and needy; hurry to me, God." (70:5)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 69

 Psalms 69(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (By David for the music leader. To the tune "Lilies.") Save me, God! I am about to drown.
  2. I am sinking deep in the mud, and my feet are slipping. I am about to be swept under by a mighty flood.
  3. I am worn out from crying, and my throat is dry. I have waited for you till my eyes are blurred.
  4. There are more people who hate me for no reason than there are hairs on my head. Many terrible enemies want to destroy me, God. Am I supposed to give back something I didn't steal?
  5. You know my foolish sins. Not one is hidden from you.
  6. LORD God All-Powerful, ruler of Israel, don't let me embarrass anyone who trusts and worships you.
  7. It is for your sake alone that I am insulted and blush with shame.
  8. I am like a stranger to my relatives and like a foreigner to my own family.
  9. My love for your house burns in me like a fire, and when others insulted you, they insulted me as well.
  10. I cried and went without food, but they still insulted me.
  11. They sneered at me for wearing sackcloth to show my sorrow.
  12. Rulers and judges gossip about me, and drunkards make up songs to mock me.
  13. But I pray to you, LORD. So when the time is right, answer me and help me with your wonderful love.
  14. Don't let me sink in the mud, but save me from my enemies and from the deep water.
  15. Don't let me be swept away by a flood or drowned in the ocean or swallowed by death.
  16. Answer me, LORD! You are kind and good. Pay attention to me! You are truly merciful.
  17. Don't turn away from me. I am your servant, and I am in trouble. Please hurry and help!
  18. Come and save me from my enemies.
  19. You know how I am insulted, mocked, and disgraced; you know every one of my enemies.
  20. I am crushed by insults, and I feel sick. I had hoped for mercy and pity, but there was none.
  21. Enemies poisoned my food, and when I was thirsty, they gave me vinegar.
  22. Make their table a trap for them and their friends.
  23. Blind them with darkness and make them tremble.
  24. Show them how angry you are! Be furious and catch them.
  25. Destroy their camp and don't let anyone live in their tents.
  26. They cause trouble for people you have already punished; their gossip hurts those you have wounded.
  27. Make them guiltier than ever and don't forgive them.
  28. Wipe their names from the book of the living; remove them from the list of the innocent.
  29. I am mistreated and in pain. Protect me, God, and keep me safe!
  30. I will praise the LORD God with a song and a thankful heart.
  31. This will please the LORD better than offering an ox or a full-grown bull.
  32. When those in need see this, they will be happy, and the LORD's worshipers will be encouraged.
  33. The LORD will listen when the homeless cry out, and he will never forget his people in prison.
  34. Heaven and earth will praise our God, and so will the oceans and everything in them.
  35. God will rescue Jerusalem, and he will rebuild the towns of Judah. His people will live there on their own land,
  36. and when the time comes, their children will inherit the land. Then everyone who loves God will also settle there.

David experienced shame and ridicule at the hands of enemies who hated him without cause. His only "sin" was that he had zeal for the Lord's house. David's suffering was a result of his enemies disdain for the Lord which had fallen on him. His experience, and the words of this psalm which describe it, have a prophetic nature to them in terms of Christ's suffering leading up to His Crucifixion. John 2:17 quotes from verse 9 of this psalm in reference to Christ's cleansing of the temple: "His disciples remembered that it is written: Zeal for Your house will consume Me." In another prophetic reference to Christ, David said that though he waited for sympathy and comforters, all he received was, "gall for my food, and for my thirst they gave me vinegar to drink." (69:21)

David knew he was not without sin and confessed that saying, "God, You know my foolishness, and my guilty acts are not hidden from You." (69:5) But it was not his foolishness or guilty acts that had brought on this persecution. Besides his zeal for the Lord's house, anything he did of a spiritual nature brought on the insults of his enemies: "I mourned and fasted, but it brought me insults. I wore sackcloth as my clothing, and I was a joke to them." (69:10-11) City officials and town drunkards alike "make up songs about me," sung in derision. (69:12)

David's prayer was this: "my prayer to You is for a time of favor. In Your abundant, faithful love, God, answer me with Your sure salvation. Rescue me from the miry mud; don't let me sink. Let me be rescued from those who hate me, and from the deep waters. Don't let the floodwaters sweep over me or the deep swallow me up; don't let the Pit close its mouth over me. Answer me, LORD, for Your faithful love is good; in keeping with Your great compassion, turn to me." (69:13-16) Though David felt he had cause to call upon God and to expect His help since it was because of his fervor for God that brought on his problems, his confidence in receiving God's help was based on God's "faithful love" and His "great compassion." In his prayer for his enemies, David asked that God "Add guilt to their guilt; do not let them share in Your righteousness. Let them be erased from the book of life and not be recorded with the righteous." (69:27-28) This prayer differs from Christ's prayer for His enemies in which he prayed "Father, forgive them, because they do not know what they are doing." (Luke 23:34)

Further appeals in the psalm for God's help spoke of the encouragement it would be to others who were in distress: "The humble will see it and rejoice. You who seek God, take heart!" (69:32) In response to God's help, David vowed to "praise God's name with song and exalt Him with thanksgiving." (69:30) He knew this would please the Lord "more than an ox, more than a bull with horns and hooves." (69:31)

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 68

 Psalms 68(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm and a song by David for the music leader.) Do something, God! Scatter your hateful enemies. Make them turn and run.
  2. Scatter them like smoke! When you come near, make them melt like wax in a fire.
  3. But let your people be happy and celebrate because of you.
  4. Our God, you are the one who rides on the clouds, and we praise you. Your name is the LORD, and we celebrate as we worship you.
  5. Our God, from your sacred home you take care of orphans and protect widows.
  6. You find families for those who are lonely. You set prisoners free and let them prosper, but all who rebel will live in a scorching desert.
  7. You set your people free, and you led them through the desert.
  8. God of Israel, the earth trembled, and rain poured down. You alone are the God who rules from Mount Sinai.
  9. When your land was thirsty, you sent showers to refresh it.
  10. Your people settled there, and you were generous to everyone in need.
  11. You gave the command, and a chorus of women told what had happened:
  12. "Kings and their armies retreated and ran, and everything they left is now being divided.
  13. And for those who stayed back to guard the sheep, there are metal doves with silver-coated wings and shiny gold feathers."
  14. God All-Powerful, you scattered the kings like snow falling on Mount Zalmon.
  15. Our LORD and our God, Bashan is a mighty mountain covered with peaks.
  16. Why is it jealous of Zion, the mountain you chose as your home forever?
  17. When you, LORD God, appeared to your people at Sinai, you came with thousands of mighty chariots.
  18. When you climbed the high mountain, you took prisoners with you and were given gifts. Your enemies didn't want you to live there, but they gave you gifts.
  19. We praise you, Lord God! You treat us with kindness day after day, and you rescue us.
  20. You always protect us and save us from death.
  21. Our Lord and our God, your terrible enemies are ready for war, but you will crush their skulls.
  22. You promised to bring them from Bashan and from the deepest sea.
  23. Then we could stomp on their blood, and our dogs could chew on their bones.
  24. We have seen crowds marching to your place of worship, our God and King.
  25. The singers come first, and then the musicians, surrounded by young women playing tambourines.
  26. They come shouting, "People of Israel, praise the LORD God!"
  27. The small tribe of Benjamin leads the way, followed by the leaders from Judah. Then come the leaders from Zebulun and Naphtali.
  28. Our God, show your strength! Show us once again.
  29. Then kings will bring gifts to your temple in Jerusalem.
  30. Punish that animal that lives in the swamp! Punish that nation whose leaders and people are like wild bulls. Make them come crawling with gifts of silver. Scatter those nations that enjoy making war.
  31. Force the Egyptians to bring gifts of bronze; make the Ethiopians hurry to offer presents.
  32. Now sing praises to God! Every kingdom on earth, sing to the Lord!
  33. Praise the one who rides across the ancient skies; listen as he speaks with a mighty voice.
  34. Tell about God's power! He is honored in Israel, and he rules the skies.
  35. The God of Israel is fearsome in his temple, and he makes us strong. Let's praise our God!

Though Psalms 68 was likely composed to celebrate a particular event in which the ark of the covenant was returned to Mount Zion after being captured by the Philistines, the psalm pictures a victorious journey of the ark from Mount Sinai and the time of Israel's journey from Egypt through the wilderness, eventually arriving at Mount Zion in Jerusalem when David captured the city and made it the capitol city of Israel and the home of the ark and later of God's temple. It was at Mount Sinai that God gave Israel the covenant and the ark was constructed, so this was the beginning of that journey. And it was Mount Zion where God's temple was eventually erected and the ark found its permanent home. Verse 16 imagines the other mountains of the Hermon mountain range being jealous with God's selection of Mount Zion for His dwelling place.

In the psalm, God is portrayed as One who leads His people to victory over their enemies. But they are the enemies of His people because they are His enemies, and His people are happy when He crushes these enemies and they have peace. But in the psalm, God is not only portrayed as a victorious God over the wicked, but as a compassionate God of the fatherless, the widows, the deserted, and those who are imprisoned. Therefore, He becomes a father to the fatherless, a champion of the widow, provides a home for the deserted, and leads the prisoner to prosperity. By contrast He leaves the rebellious in their desolate condition, living "in a scorched land." (68:6)

Praise to God is encourage for "God is our salvation," and "Day after day He bears our burdens." (68:19) In the following verses examples are given. In the concluding verses, following examples of God's greatness, the people are again encouraged to praise the Lord, singing praise to Him. This time the praise is aimed at who He is rather than what He does for His people. He is powerful and awe-inspiring, and He gives power and strength to His people.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Reflections on Psalm 67

 Psalms 67(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm and a song for the music leader. Use with stringed instruments.) Our God, be kind and bless us! Be pleased and smile.
  2. Then everyone on earth will learn to follow you, and all nations will see your power to save us.
  3. Make everyone praise you and shout your praises.
  4. Let the nations celebrate with joyful songs, because you judge fairly and guide all nations.
  5. Make everyone praise you and shout your praises.
  6. Our God has blessed the earth with a wonderful harvest!
  7. Pray for his blessings to continue and for everyone on earth to worship our God.

This psalm expresses God's ideal for His people. His people, in this case, being Israel, but it applies to any of His people for all time. It begins with the appeal for God to bless His people and look on them with favor, not for their benefit but for His benefit and the benefit of all people. This is a truth that is at the heart of God's relationship with His people and of all scripture. There are two aspects of this truth: first, that we should understand that there is a missionary nature to our relationship with God, and second, that our best benefits of God's blessings come indirectly rather than as our primary pursuit. In other words, our primary aim in seeking God's blessings is that His kingdom would be furthered and all people would come to know His salvation. As a participant in the furthering of God's kingdom we, too, are blessed.

So the psalmist appeals to God to "be gracious to us and bless us; look on us with favor," so that, "Your way may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations." (67:1, 2) The desired result of God's salvation being known among all nations is that "the nations (may) rejoice and shout for joy, for You judge the peoples with fairness and lead the nations on earth." (67:4) This relationship with God is the primary benefit of worshiping God, but a side benefit is receiving the earth's harvests which is God's blessing to those who worship Him.

Human nature being what it is, we are prone to view God's blessings selfishly. seeking them for ourselves alone and even viewing God's primary purpose to be blessing us and making us happy. But God desires for His people to take on His nature and His heart and to value what He values. And He values the salvation of all people so much that He gave up His own son for that purpose. If we have this same value, we will not view His blessings selfishly but as a means of drawing all people to Him.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 66

 Psalms 66(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A song and a psalm for the music leader.) Tell everyone on this earth to shout praises to God!
  2. Sing about his glorious name. Honor him with praises.
  3. Say to God, "Everything you do is fearsome, and your mighty power makes your enemies come crawling.
  4. You are worshiped by everyone! We all sing praises to you."
  5. Come and see the fearsome things our God has done!
  6. When God made the sea dry up, our people walked across, and because of him, we celebrated there.
  7. His mighty power rules forever, and nothing the nations do can be hidden from him. So don't turn against God.
  8. All of you people, come praise our God! Let his praises be heard.
  9. God protects us from death and keeps us steady.
  10. Our God, you tested us, just as silver is tested.
  11. You trapped us in a net and gave us heavy burdens.
  12. You sent war chariots to crush our skulls. We traveled through fire and through floods, but you brought us to a land of plenty.
  13. I will bring sacrifices into your house, my God, and I will do what I promised
  14. when I was in trouble.
  15. I will sacrifice my best sheep and offer bulls and goats on your altar.
  16. All who worship God, come here and listen; I will tell you everything God has done for me.
  17. I prayed to the Lord, and I praised him.
  18. If my thoughts had been sinful, he would have refused to hear me.
  19. But God did listen and answered my prayer.
  20. Let's praise God! He listened when I prayed, and he is always kind.

This psalm, not necessarily a psalm of David, is another psalm of praise to God, probably written for a special occasion, though none is identified. In it, the whole earth is called upon to praise God and is told to say to Him, "How awe-inspiring are Your works! Your enemies will cringe before You because of Your great strength. All the earth will worship You and sing praise to You. They will sing praise to Your name." (66:3-4) Then the psalmist encourages the whole earth to "see the works of God," for "His acts toward mankind are awe-inspiring." (66:5) As an example, he tells how God "turned the sea into dry land, and they crossed the river on foot." (66:6) Furthermore, the psalmist tells the whole earth that God "keeps His eye on the nations," and "does not allow our feet to slip." But with His watchful eye He also notices and deals with the rebellious.

Next the psalmist turns his attention to God. Speaking to God he says, You have tested us and have "refined us as silver is refined." (66:10) God, he says, had taken them through the fire to refine them as silver is refined. In doing this, he says, God "lured us into a trap" and "placed burdens on our backs." (66:11) He is not suggesting, though, that God tempted them to sin. For God does not tempt anyone as is pointed out in James 1:13, "No one undergoing a trial should say, "I am being tempted by God." For God is not tempted by evil, and He Himself doesn't tempt anyone." Instead, the psalmist said that God "tested" them. This was a testing of their faith. Would they believe what God had said to them about caring for them? Would they trust in this when circumstances seemed to say otherwise?

Faith is not just a mental exercise. Because we say we have faith does not mean we do. True faith demonstrates itself by trusting God even though circumstances seem to go contrary to what God has told us. And this testing, to which the psalmist refers, is not for God's sake but for ours. God knows before we are tested whether or not our faith is more than words. But we need to see for ourselves that His word is true regardless of life's circumstances, and we need to learn to depend on Him and trust Him no matter what happens. We need also to learn that the outcome in these times will not necessary be what we expect. They will be better than what we expect! This is what the psalmist speaks of in verse 12: "we went through fire and water, but You brought us out to abundance."

Looking beyond the time of testing, the psalmist says, "I will enter Your house with burnt offerings; I will pay You my vows that my lips promised and my mouth spoke during my distress." (66:13-14) During his time of testing when he was in distress, he vowed certain things to God in return for His deliverance. Now he will honor his vows. Then he says to the congregation that was gathered in the Lord's house, "Come and listen, all who fear God, and I will tell what He has done for me." (66:16) And he tells them of how he cried out to God and God listened and paid attention to his prayer. Then he said that God "has not turned away my prayer or turned His faithful love from me." May God be praised!

Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 65

 Psalms 65(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by David and a song for the music leader.) Our God, you deserve praise in Zion, where we keep our promises to you.
  2. Everyone will come to you because you answer prayer.
  3. Our terrible sins get us down, but you forgive us.
  4. You bless your chosen ones, and you invite them to live near you in your temple. We will enjoy your house, the sacred temple.
  5. Our God, you save us, and your fearsome deeds answer our prayers for justice! You give hope to people everywhere on earth, even those across the sea.
  6. You are strong, and your mighty power put the mountains in place.
  7. You silence the roaring waves and the noisy shouts of the nations.
  8. People far away marvel at your fearsome deeds, and all who live under the sun celebrate and sing because of you.
  9. You take care of the earth and send rain to help the soil grow all kinds of crops. Your rivers never run dry, and you prepare the earth to produce much grain.
  10. You water all of its fields and level the lumpy ground. You send showers of rain to soften the soil and help the plants sprout.
  11. Wherever your footsteps touch the earth, a rich harvest is gathered.
  12. Desert pastures blossom, and mountains celebrate.
  13. Meadows are filled with sheep and goats; valleys overflow with grain and echo with joyful songs.

This psalm of David is a song of harvest blessing, celebrating God's goodness to His people. It celebrates not only God's provision of an abundant harvest but of God's atonement of sin, and His awesome power. No petitions for God's help are found in this psalm, only praise.

David was so overwhelmed at God's goodness he was convinced "All humanity will come to You, the One who hears prayer." (65:2) Who would not want to join in receiving God's blessings? Only God "can atone for our rebellions." "How happy is the one You choose and bring near to live in Your courts!" (65:3, 4) In response to our prayers "You answer us in righteousness, with awe-inspiring works." He is the "God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the distant seas." (65:5) Look at what He is capable of: "You establish the mountains by Your power, robed with strength; You silence the roar of the seas, the roar of their waves, and the tumult of the nations." (65:6-7) This is the God David worshipped, and the God we worship if we so choose. There is nothing He is incapable of. Why would we look to anything or anyone else?

All of this, expressed in verses 1-8, leads up to the main event - celebration of God's provision of an abundant harvest. Read David's description of God's provision of harvest:
Psa 65:9 You visit the earth and water it abundantly, enriching it greatly. God's stream is filled with water, for You prepare the earth in this way, providing people with grain.
Psa 65:10 You soften it with showers and bless its growth, soaking its furrows and leveling its ridges.
Psa 65:11 You crown the year with Your goodness; Your ways overflow with plenty.
Psa 65:12 The wilderness pastures overflow, and the hills are robed with joy.
Psa 65:13 The pastures are clothed with flocks, and the valleys covered with grain. They shout in triumph; indeed, they sing.

David and the other worshipers gathered annually to remember that their harvest was not by chance or any other source, but was from God alone. It is good for us to do the same, remembering periodically that all we have, God has provided. Sure, we may have worked hard and may have exercised great skills and wisdom in acquiring what we have, but who gave us these skills and understanding? Who brought circumstances together to make possible what we gained? Who made us and made the things we have acquired?

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 64

 Psalms 64(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by David for the music leader.) Listen to my concerns, God, and protect me from my terrible enemies.
  2. Keep me safe from secret plots of corrupt and evil gangs.
  3. Their words cut like swords, and their cruel remarks sting like sharp arrows.
  4. They fearlessly ambush and shoot innocent people.
  5. They are determined to do evil, and they tell themselves, "Let's set traps! No one can see us."
  6. They make evil plans and say, "We'll commit a perfect crime. No one knows our thoughts."
  7. But God will shoot his arrows and quickly wound them.
  8. They will be destroyed by their own words, and everyone who sees them will tremble with fear.
  9. They will be afraid and say, "Look at what God has done and keep it all in mind."
  10. May the LORD bless his people with peace and happiness and let them celebrate.

David was again in the cross-hairs of enemies taking aim at him. And again, David took his plight to the Lord in prayer. It appears that David was experiencing what those who are in the public eye often experience. There are those with malicious intent and likely a malicious agenda who take aim at the public figure and use evil schemes to try to bring them down. Although in David's initial outcry in verse 1 he speaks of "the terror of the enemy" as if he were in physical danger, the schemes of the wicked to which he refers have to do with using their tongues against him and setting traps in which to catch him in a situation which they can use against him.

David was the king. He was not without the power to defend himself or to go on the offensive against these "evildoers" and catching them in their own devises. But this is not what David did. Instead he took it to the Lord. He trusted that the Lord would take up his defense and would "shoot them with arrows" and "suddenly, they will be wounded." (64:7) Furthermore, God would cause them to stumble in their schemes and make "their own tongues work against them." (64:8)

The outcome would be that by giving his plight over to the Lord rather than trying to solve it himself, everyone would see God's intervention and would "tell about God's work, for they will understand what He has done." (64:9) In verse 10 David says, "The righteous rejoice in the LORD and take refuge in Him; all the upright in heart offer praise." It was the "righteous" and the "upright in heart" who would recognize God's intervention and offer Him praise. Those caught up in evil schemes against the righteous would not recognize God's hand in these events. They would have another explanation for these events. Having chosen darkness over light, they are unable to see.

Monday, February 10, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 63

 Psalms 63(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by David when he was in the desert of Judah.) You are my God. I worship you. In my heart, I long for you, as I would long for a stream in a scorching desert.
  2. I have seen your power and your glory in the place of worship.
  3. Your love means more than life to me, and I praise you.
  4. As long as I live, I will pray to you.
  5. I will sing joyful praises and be filled with excitement like a guest at a banquet.
  6. I think about you before I go to sleep, and my thoughts turn to you during the night.
  7. You have helped me, and I sing happy songs in the shadow of your wings.
  8. I stay close to you, and your powerful arm supports me.
  9. All who want to kill me will end up in the ground.
  10. Swords will run them through, and wild dogs will eat them.
  11. Because of you, our God, the king will celebrate with your faithful followers, but liars will be silent.

Though we can seek God and worship Him anywhere, a particular setting can enhance our sense of God's presence. For David, that setting was the Lord's tabernacle in Jerusalem. But as he wrote this psalm he was in the desert rather than in Jerusalem and he missed being able to go to the tabernacle for worship, which he did so eagerly or earnestly as he says in verse 1. But his distance from the tabernacle, his normal place of worship, did not stop him from reaching out to God in worship. This connection with God he needed as his body needed water.

So, in David's longing for God in this "land that is dry, desolate, and without water," David glorified God in the desert, "because Your faithful love is better than life." (63:3) Therefore, he said, "I will praise You as long as I live." (63:4) God satisfied him as did "rich food." (63:5) Even in the dark hours of the night, David's thoughts were on the Lord. He says, "I meditate on You during the night watches." (63:6)

David's longing and thirsting for God is in part because God had been his help and he felt the most secure when under His protection. He expresses this saying, "I will rejoice in the shadow of Your wings." (63:7) It was under the Lord's protection that he felt safe from his enemies, for "those who seek to destroy my life will . . . be given over to the power of the sword." (63:9, 10)

In closing, David says, "all who swear by Him (God) will boast," because of what the Lord does for them. (63:11)

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 62

 Psalms 62(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by David for Jeduthun, the music leader.) Only God can save me, and I calmly wait for him.
  2. God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe and the fortress where I am secure.
  3. I feel like a shaky fence or a sagging wall. How long will all of you attack and assault me?
  4. You want to bring me down from my place of honor. You love to tell lies, and when your words are kind, hatred hides in your heart.
  5. Only God gives inward peace, and I depend on him.
  6. God alone is the mighty rock that keeps me safe, and he is the fortress where I feel secure.
  7. God saves me and honors me. He is that mighty rock where I find safety.
  8. Trust God, my friends, and always tell him each one of your concerns. God is our place of safety.
  9. We humans are only a breath; none of us are truly great. All of us together weigh less than a puff of air.
  10. Don't trust in violence or depend on dishonesty or rely on great wealth.
  11. I heard God say two things: "I am powerful,
  12. and I am very kind." The Lord rewards each of us according to what we do.

The theme of this psalm is, "God Alone." God alone can be depended upon for salvation and security. Therefore David says, "Rest in God alone, my soul, for my hope comes from Him." (62:5)

By contrast, David points to other sources that do not stand up to God. One source is those who threaten and oppress. Their plans to bring a man down will not stand up against God. Another source we should neither fear or depend upon is exalted men. They should not be depended upon for our salvation or feared as a threat. We should rest in God alone, for He alone is our hope. Further, we should not look to wealth as a source of hope. David says, "If wealth increases, pay no attention to it." (62:10) If our wealth increases we will be tempted to place our security and hope in it. But again, we should rest in God alone.

Oppression is another source we should not turn to for our hope and security. When threatened by others we may be tempted to use their tactics of oppression to get the upper hand. But David says this is not our hope. God alone is our hope. Implied in all of this as a source of security or hope is ourselves. We cannot depend on ourselves as a source of salvation or security. Though we may feel that we can only depend on ourselves to take care of our own interest, we are no more capable than these other sources of providing our own salvation and security. We need to rest in God alone.

David said he had heard two things from God: "strength belongs to God, and faithful love belongs to You, LORD." (62:11, 12) God alone is truly strong, and God alone is faithful in His love.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 61

 Psalms 61(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by David for the music leader. Use with stringed instruments.) Please listen, God, and answer my prayer!
  2. I feel hopeless, and I cry out to you from a faraway land. Lead me to the mighty rock high above me.
  3. You are a strong tower, where I am safe from my enemies.
  4. Let me live with you forever and find protection under your wings, my God.
  5. You heard my promises, and you have blessed me, just as you bless everyone who worships you.
  6. Let the king have a long and healthy life.
  7. May he always rule with you, God, at his side; may your love and loyalty watch over him.
  8. I will sing your praises forever and will always keep my promises.

David was no doubt in another of his "cliff-hanging" predicaments when he wrote this psalm, crying out to God for help. We are given no clue as to the occasion, nor is it really important to our drawing encouragement and strength from it for our own "cliff-hanging" predicaments. To David, the Lord was "The Rock That Is Higher Than I," a statement that has inspired songs of comfort throughout the centuries.

David longed to be on this Rock that was higher than himself, or in other words, he longed to be in the presence of the Lord. For this Rock provided him refuge and was a "strong tower in the face of the enemy." Changing metaphors, David said, " I will live in Your tent forever and take refuge under the shelter of Your wings." (61:4) Though he could not physically live in the Lord's tent or take refuge under His wings, he could do so mentally, finding emotional safety and calm from the dangers he faced physically. And he was confident that soon he would find safety physically as a result of the Lord's protection.

His prayer was that the Lord would "Add days to the kings' (his) life," thus sparing him from the threat he faced. He wasn't seeking to leave this life to live in the Lord's tent in heaven where he would be free from the dangers of life. He simply desired to find comfort in the Lord and to be rescued to live another day - in fact to live many generations.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 60

 Psalms 60(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (For the music leader. To the tune "Lily of the Promise." A special psalm by David for teaching. He wrote it during his wars with the Arameans of northern Syria, when Joab came back and killed twelve thousand Edomites in Salt Valley.) You, God, are angry with us! We are rejected and crushed. Make us strong again!
  2. You made the earth shake and split wide open; now heal its wounds and stop its trembling.
  3. You brought hard times on your people, and you gave us wine that made us stagger.
  4. You gave a signal to those who worship you, so they could escape from enemy arrows.
  5. Answer our prayers! Use your powerful arm and give us victory. Then the people you love will be safe.
  6. Our God, you solemnly promised, "I would gladly divide up the city of Shechem and give away Succoth Valley piece by piece.
  7. The lands of Gilead and Manasseh are mine. Ephraim is my war helmet, and Judah is the symbol of my royal power.
  8. Moab is merely my washbasin. Edom belongs to me, and I shout in triumph over the Philistines."
  9. Our God, who will bring me to the fortress, or lead me to Edom?
  10. Have you rejected us and deserted our armies?
  11. Help us defeat our enemies! No one else can rescue us.
  12. You will give us victory and crush our enemies.

Psalm 60 is considered to be a didactic or teaching psalm. David was teaching that both victory and defeat in battle come from the Lord. Of course, this can be applied to victory and defeat in life. The occasion to which he refers was an experience in both victory and defeat. On this occasion, David had taken his army to the north to wage war against the Arameans and while he was away Edom invaded Judah.

This invasion led to David's cry to God, "God, You have rejected us; You have broken out against us; You have been angry. Restore us!" (60:1) He continued in this vein through verse 4: "You have shaken the land and split it open." (vs. 2); "You have made Your people suffer hardship." (vs. 3); "You have given a signal flag to those who fear You, so that they can flee before the archers." (vs. 4) This last statement is rather obscure, but is generally understood to mean that the banner God had raised for Israel which is usually raised in victory was instead a banner of defeat signaling retreat before the archers of her enemies. If this understanding is correct, it would be a statement of sarcasm.

Whether or not David was being sarcastic and maybe angry with God, he knew God to be his only hope for rescue from this defeat. In the next verse he prayed for God to "Save with Your right hand, and answer me, so that those You love may be rescued." He then quoted the words of the Lord stating that all nations were His and He would take the land of Israel's enemies and apportion it to Israel who He had chosen for it. This was a promise which David was claiming for God's deliverance in the face of Israel's present defeat. "Who will lead me to Edom?" David asks. "Is it not You, God, who have rejected us?" (60:9, 10) So David was crediting God for their defeat by Edom but also looking to Him for victory against Edom in retaliation. "With God," he says, "we will perform valiantly; He will trample our foes." (60:12)

David did not mention any sin for which he thought God had brought defeat on Israel. He may not have known or even felt it to be a result of sin. But what he did know was that God is sovereign and whether Israel experienced victory or defeat God was in control. Therefore he would remain focused on God. Anger with God for allowing the defeat would not bring him rescue from the defeat nor would it bring future victory. He would keep looking to God who was his help.

Monday, February 3, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 59

 Psalms 59(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (For the music leader. To the tune "Don't Destroy." A special psalm by David when Saul had David's house watched so that he could kill him.) Save me, God! Protect me from enemy attacks!
  2. Keep me safe from brutal people who want to kill me.
  3. Merciless enemies, LORD, are hiding and plotting, hoping to kill me. I have not hurt them in any way at all.
  4. But they are ready to attack. Do something! Help me! Look at what's happening.
  5. LORD God All-Powerful, you are the God of Israel. Punish the other nations and don't pity those terrible and rebellious people.
  6. My enemies return at evening, growling like dogs roaming the city.
  7. They curse and their words cut like swords, as they say to themselves, "No one can hear us!"
  8. You, LORD, laugh at them and sneer at the nations.
  9. You are my mighty fortress, and I depend on you.
  10. You love me and will let me see my enemies defeated.
  11. Don't kill them, or everyone may forget! Just use your mighty power to make them tremble and fall. You are a shield for your people.
  12. My enemies are liars! So let them be trapped by their boastful lies.
  13. Get angry and destroy them. Leave them in ruin. Then all the nations will know that you rule in Israel.
  14. Those liars return at evening, growling like dogs roaming the city.
  15. They search for scraps of food, and they snarl until they are stuffed.
  16. But I will sing about your strength, my God, and I will celebrate because of your love. You are my fortress, my place of protection in times of trouble.
  17. I will sing your praises! You are my mighty fortress, and you love me.

The occasion in David's life to which this psalm refers can be found in 1 Samuel 19:9-18. David was married to Saul's daughter, Michal. One day an evil spirit came over Saul as David played the harp for him and he tried to kill David with a spear. David eluded him, but that night Saul sent agents to David's house to watch him and kill him when morning came. David's wife, Michal, lowered him from a window, allowing him to escape.

In the heat of these events David called out to God for help. He felt justified in asking for God's help because the pursuit of these men against him was unjustified. It was not due to "any sin or rebellion of mine." (59:3) David called out to God to "Awake to help me, and take notice." Did he perhaps think God was not paying attention to his plight or he would not otherwise be running for his life?

Whatever his thoughts in pleading with God to "awake," he had no doubt of God's help. He says, "I will keep watch for You, my strength, because God is my stronghold." (59:9) God was his strength and his stronghold. It was God's strength and not his own on which he was depending. As David waited through the night, his life in danger, he watched, not for his killers to show up, but for God to show up. He knew God was faithful and would "come to meet me." When He did, He would "look down on my adversaries." (59:10) David asked God not to kill his adversaries but rather to "make them homeless wanderers and bring them down." (59:11) Why was this? So his people would not forget what happens to the wicked. Rather than being killed and soon forgotten their plight as "homeless wanderers" would serve as an example.

The psalm concludes as David's psalms often do. He praised God in anticipation of His deliverance, praising Him in the midst of his troubles as if the Lord's deliverance had already come. "But I will sing of Your strength," David says, "and will joyfully proclaim Your faithful love in the morning." (59:16) Then he again affirms that God is his stronghold.