Thursday, May 29, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 122

 Psalms 122(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A song by David for worship.) It made me glad to hear them say, "Let's go to the house of the LORD!"
  2. Jerusalem, we are standing inside your gates.
  3. Jerusalem, what a strong and beautiful city you are!
  4. Every tribe of the LORD obeys him and comes to you to praise his name.
  5. David's royal throne is here where justice rules.
  6. Jerusalem, we pray that you will have peace, and that all will go well for those who love you.
  7. May there be peace inside your city walls and in your palaces.
  8. Because of my friends and my relatives, I will pray for peace.
  9. And because of the house of the LORD our God, I will work for your good.

Authored by David, this is another psalm or song of ascent to be sung during the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem for worship. David rejoiced when they said to themselves, "Let us go to the house of the LORD." Associated with this pilgrimage were several fond experiences. There was, of course, the experience of meeting God in worship. But along with this was the experiences of coming to the temple and to the city of Jerusalem, the city God chose for His temple, His meeting place with His people. All of this was special to the spiritual pilgrim. To them, Jerusalem was built as a city should be built. Besides being the location of the temple, Jerusalem was where justice was administered for Israel as was pointed out in verse 5, "There, thrones for judgment are placed, thrones of the house of David."

Because of this special status of Jerusalem, the Jew was admonished to "Pray for the peace of Jerusalem." And so they prayed: "May those who love you prosper; may there be peace within your walls, prosperity within your fortresses." (122:6-7) Peace was illusive for Jerusalem, however, for it required faithfulness toward God on the part of Israel which was also illusive.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 121

 Psalms 121(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A song for worship.) I look to the hills! Where will I find help?
  2. It will come from the LORD, who created the heavens and the earth.
  3. The LORD is your protector, and he won't go to sleep or let you stumble.
  4. The protector of Israel doesn't doze or ever get drowsy.
  5. The LORD is your protector, there at your right side to shade you from the sun.
  6. You won't be harmed by the sun during the day or by the moon at night.
  7. The LORD will protect you and keep you safe from all dangers.
  8. The LORD will protect you now and always wherever you go.

Psalms 121 is part of a collection of psalms, 120 to 134, that are called "songs of ascents." These were songs sung by the Israelites as they made their annual pilgrimage or ascent to Jerusalem for the annual feasts. Since Jerusalem was in the hills, the journey was an ascent from most places in Israel. This also gives context to the statement in the first verse, "I raise my eyes toward the mountains. Where will my help come from?" The implied answer is that it comes from the Lord who, in the pilgrims mind, resided in the temple in Jerusalem which was on the mountain.

This One who was their help is "the Maker of heaven and earth." (121:2) He is fully capable of providing whatever help is needed on the journey whether it be from stumbling along the way ("He will not allow your foot to slip") or from the heat of the sun or from the dangers of night. Nothing will get past the Lord who "does not slumber or sleep." (121:4) He "will protect you from all harm." (121:7) For "The LORD will protect your coming and going both now and forever." (121:8) This last statement was assurance for the pilgrims that God guarded their movements at all times and not only on the pilgrimage.

There is an unspoken condition of this protection from the Lord. We must submit our ways to Him as did the pilgrim who was on a journey to worship the Lord and who looked to the Lord for his protection. He is not our protector when we are on a mission to do harm, for instance. He does not necessarily keep us from harm when we foolishly place ourselves in harm's way. There are limitations to God's protection.

Furthermore, when we place ourselves in the Lord's care, we must trust that He has our best interest at heart regardless of how circumstances may appear. If seeming harm does get past Him we must trust that He has a good outcome in mind for us if we will trust Him and allow Him to bring it to completion.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 120

 Psalms 120(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A song for worship.) When I am in trouble, I pray,
  2. "Come and save me, LORD, from deceitful liars!"
  3. What punishment is fitting for you deceitful liars?
  4. Your reward should be sharp and flaming arrows!
  5. But I must live as a foreigner among the people of Meshech and in the tents of Kedar.
  6. I have spent too much time living among people who hate peace.
  7. I am in favor of peace, but when I speak of it, all they want is war.

The psalmist was up against an enemy whose weapon was slander. It is an effective weapon against which there is little defense. Like an arrow that has been shot from a bow, once it leaves the bow there is little means of stopping it from striking its target. Those who do not know or do not like the one slandered are quick to accept it, and for those who are his or her friends doubts are raised.

What options do the one slandered have for their defense? Retaliation is likely the first to come to mind, but though it may hurt the offender, it does little to remove the harm done. The psalmist chose the best option by turning to the Lord, asking Him to "deliver me from lying lips and a deceitful tongue." (120:2) How will the Lord deal with the deceitful tongue? The psalmist tells us that He will send to the offender "A warrior's sharp arrows, with burning charcoal!" (120:4) What does this do for the offended? Besides providing retaliation on his behalf, it discredits the offender. He is harmed without the one he offended lifting a hand against him. It must be at God's hand.

The psalm closes with the psalmist's lament of his enforced stay among the tribes of Mesheck and Kedar who were noted as savage and uncivilized people. While he spoke of peace, they spoke of war as if they enjoyed inflicting pain on others. But the Lord obviously delivered him from this experience and he lived to write the psalm.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 119

 Psalms 119(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Our LORD, you bless everyone who lives right and obeys your Law.
  2. You bless all of those who follow your commands from deep in their hearts
  3. and who never do wrong or turn from you.
  4. You have ordered us always to obey your teachings;
  5. I don't ever want to stray from your laws.
  6. Thinking about your commands will keep me from doing some foolish thing.
  7. I will do right and praise you by learning to respect your perfect laws.
  8. I will obey all of them! Don't turn your back on me.
  9. Young people can live a clean life by obeying your word.
  10. I worship you with all my heart. Don't let me walk away from your commands.
  11. and obeying your laws makes me wiser than those who have lived a long time.
  12. I obey your word instead of following a way that leads to trouble.
  13. You have been my teacher, and I won't reject your instructions.
  14. Your teachings are sweeter than honey.
  15. They give me understanding and make me hate all lies.
  16. Your word is a lamp that gives light wherever I walk.
  17. Your laws are fair, and I have given my word to respect them all.
  18. I am in terrible pain! Save me, LORD, as you said you would.
  19. Accept my offerings of praise and teach me your laws.
  20. I never forget your teachings, although my life is always in danger.
  21. I treasure your word above all else; it keeps me from sinning against you.
  22. Some merciless people are trying to trap me, but I never turn my back on your teachings.
  23. They will always be my most prized possession and my source of joy.
  24. I have made up my mind to obey your laws forever, no matter what.
  25. I hate anyone whose loyalty is divided, but I love your Law.
  26. You are my place of safety and my shield. Your word is my only hope.
  27. All of you worthless people, get away from me! I am determined to obey the commands of my God.
  28. Be true to your word, LORD. Keep me alive and strong; don't let me be ashamed because of my hope.
  29. Keep me safe and secure, so that I will always respect your laws.
  30. You reject all deceitful liars because they refuse your teachings.
  31. As far as you are concerned, all evil people are garbage, and so I follow your rules.
  32. I praise you, LORD! Teach me your laws.
  33. I tremble all over when I think of you and the way you judge.
  34. I did what was fair and right! Don't hand me over to those who want to mistreat me.
  35. Take good care of me, your servant, and don't let me be harmed by those conceited people.
  36. My eyes are weary from waiting to see you keep your promise to come and save me.
  37. Show your love for me, your servant, and teach me your laws.
  38. I serve you, so let me understand your teachings.
  39. Do something, LORD! They have broken your Law.
  40. Your laws mean more to me than the finest gold.
  41. I follow all of your commands, but I hate anyone who leads me astray.
  42. Your teachings are wonderful, and I respect them all.
  43. With my own mouth, I tell others the laws that you have spoken.
  44. Understanding your word brings light to the minds of ordinary people.
  45. I honestly want to know everything you teach.
  46. Think about me and be kind, just as you are to everyone who loves your name.
  47. Keep your promise and don't let me stumble or let sin control my life.
  48. Protect me from abuse, so I can obey your laws.
  49. Smile on me, your servant, and teach me your laws.
  50. When anyone disobeys you, my eyes overflow with tears.
  51. Our LORD, you always do right, and your decisions are fair.
  52. All of your teachings are true and trustworthy.
  53. It upsets me greatly when my enemies neglect your teachings.
  54. Obeying your instructions brings as much happiness as being rich.
  55. Your word to me, your servant, is like pure gold; I treasure what you say.
  56. Everyone calls me a nobody, but I remember your laws.
  57. You will always do right, and your teachings are true.
  58. I am in deep distress, but I love your teachings.
  59. Your rules are always fair. Help me to understand them and live.
  60. I pray to you, LORD! Please answer me. I promise to obey your laws.
  61. I beg you to save me, so I can follow your rules.
  62. Even before sunrise, I pray for your help, and I put my hope in what you have said.
  63. I lie awake at night, thinking of your promises.
  64. Show that you love me, LORD, and answer my prayer. Please do the right thing and save my life.
  65. I will study your teachings and follow your footsteps.
  66. People who disobey your Law have made evil plans and want to hurt me,
  67. but you are with me, and all of your commands can be trusted.
  68. From studying your laws, I found out long ago that you made them to last forever.
  69. I have not forgotten your Law! Look at the trouble I am in, and rescue me.
  70. Be my defender and protector! Keep your promise and save my life.
  71. Evil people won't obey you, and so they have no hope of being saved.
  72. You are merciful, LORD! Please do the right thing and save my life.
  73. I have a lot of brutal enemies, but still I never turn from your laws.
  74. All of those unfaithful people who refuse to obey you are disgusting to me.
  75. Remember how I love your laws, and show your love for me by keeping me safe.
  76. I will take pleasure in your laws and remember your words.
  77. All you say can be trusted; your teachings are true and will last forever.
  78. Rulers are cruel to me for no reason. But with all my heart I respect your words,
  79. because they bring happiness like treasures taken in war.
  80. I can't stand liars, but I love your Law.
  81. I praise you seven times a day because your laws are fair.
  82. You give peace of mind to all who love your Law. Nothing can make them fall.
  83. You are my only hope for being saved, LORD, and I do all you command.
  84. I love and obey your laws with all my heart.
  85. You know everything I do. You know I respect every law you have given.
  86. Please, LORD, hear my prayer and give me the understanding that comes from your word.
  87. Treat me with kindness, LORD, so that I may live and do what you say.
  88. Listen to my concerns and keep me safe, just as you have promised.
  89. If you will teach me your laws, I will praise you
  90. and sing about your promise, because all of your teachings are what they ought to be.
  91. Be ready to protect me because I have chosen to obey your laws.
  92. I am waiting for you to save me, LORD. Your Law makes me happy.
  93. Keep me alive, so I can praise you, and let me find help in your teachings.
  94. I am your servant, but I have wandered away like a lost sheep. Please come after me, because I have not forgotten your teachings.
  95. Open my mind and let me discover the wonders of your Law.
  96. I live here as a stranger. Don't keep me from knowing your commands.
  97. What I want most of all and at all times is to honor your laws.
  98. You punish those boastful, worthless nobodies who turn from your commands.
  99. Don't let them sneer and insult me for following you.
  100. I keep thinking about your teachings, LORD, even if rulers plot against me.
  101. Your laws are my greatest joy! I follow their advice.
  102. I am at the point of death. Let your teachings breathe new life into me.
  103. When I told you my troubles, you answered my prayers. Now teach me your laws.
  104. Help me to understand your teachings, and I will think about your marvelous deeds.
  105. I am overcome with sorrow. Encourage me, as you have promised to do.
  106. Keep me from being deceitful, and be kind enough to teach me your Law.
  107. I am determined to be faithful and to respect your laws.
  108. I follow your rules, LORD. Don't let me be ashamed.
  109. I am eager to learn all that you want me to do; help me to understand more and more.
  110. Point out your rules to me, and I won't disobey even one of them.
  111. Help me to understand your Law; I promise to obey it with all my heart.
  112. Direct me by your commands! I love to do what you say.
  113. Make me want to obey you, rather than to be rich.
  114. Take away my foolish desires, and let me find life by walking with you.
  115. I am your servant! Do for me what you promised to those who worship you.
  116. Your wonderful teachings protect me from the insults that I hate so much.
  117. I long for your teachings. Be true to yourself and let me live.
  118. Show me your love and save me, LORD, as you have promised.
  119. Then I will have an answer for everyone who insults me for trusting your word.
  120. I rely on your laws! Don't take away my chance to speak your truth.
  121. I will keep obeying your Law forever and ever.
  122. I have gained perfect freedom by following your teachings,
  123. and I trust them so much that I tell them to kings.
  124. I love your commands! They bring me happiness.
  125. I love and respect them and will keep them in mind.
  126. Don't forget your promise to me, your servant. I depend on it.
  127. When I am hurting, I find comfort in your promise that leads to life.
  128. Conceited people sneer at me, but I obey your Law.
  129. I find true comfort, LORD, because your laws have stood the test of time.
  130. I get furious when evil people turn against your Law.
  131. No matter where I am, your teachings fill me with songs.
  132. Even in the night I think about you, LORD, and I obey your Law.
  133. You have blessed me because I have always followed your teachings.
  134. You, LORD, are my choice, and I will obey you.
  135. With all my heart I beg you to be kind to me, just as you have promised.
  136. I pay careful attention as you lead me, and I follow closely.
  137. As soon as you command, I do what you say.
  138. Evil people may set a trap, but I obey your Law.
  139. Your laws are so fair that I wake up and praise you in the middle of the night.
  140. I choose as my friends everyone who worships you and follows your teachings.
  141. Our LORD, your love is seen all over the world. Teach me your laws.
  142. I am your servant, LORD, and you have kept your promise to treat me with kindness.
  143. Give me wisdom and good sense. I trust your commands.
  144. Once you corrected me for not obeying you, but now I obey.
  145. You are kindhearted, and you do good things, so teach me your laws.
  146. My reputation is being ruined by conceited liars, but with all my heart I follow your teachings.
  147. Those liars have no sense, but I find happiness in your Law.
  148. When you corrected me, it did me good because it taught me to study your laws.
  149. I would rather obey you than to have a thousand pieces of silver and gold.
  150. You created me and put me together. Make me wise enough to learn what you have commanded.
  151. Your worshipers will see me, and they will be glad that I trust your word.
  152. Your decisions are correct, and you were right to punish me.
  153. I serve you, LORD. Comfort me with your love, just as you have promised.
  154. I love to obey your Law! Have mercy and let me live.
  155. Put down those proud people who hurt me with their lies, because I have chosen to study your teachings.
  156. Let your worshipers come to me, so they will learn to obey your rules.
  157. Let me truly respect your laws, so I won't be ashamed.
  158. I long for you to rescue me! Your word is my only hope.
  159. I am worn out from waiting for you to keep your word. When will you have mercy?
  160. My life is wasting away like a dried-up wineskin, but I have not forgotten your teachings.
  161. I am your servant! How long must I suffer? When will you punish those troublemakers?
  162. Those proud people reject your teachings, and they dig pits for me to fall in.
  163. Your laws can be trusted! Protect me from cruel liars.
  164. They have almost killed me, but I have been faithful to your teachings.
  165. Show that you love me and let me live, so that I may obey all of your commands.
  166. Our LORD, you are eternal! Your word will last as long as the heavens.
  167. You remain faithful in every generation, and the earth you created will keep standing firm.
  168. All things are your servants, and the laws you made are still in effect today.
  169. If I had not found happiness in obeying your Law, I would have died in misery.
  170. I won't ever forget your teachings, because you give me new life by following them.
  171. I belong to you, and I have respected your laws, so keep me safe.
  172. Brutal enemies are waiting to ambush and destroy me, but I obey your rules.
  173. Nothing is completely perfect, except your teachings.
  174. I deeply love your Law! I think about it all day.
  175. Your laws never leave my mind, and they make me much wiser than my enemies.
  176. Thinking about your teachings gives me better understanding than my teachers,

Two often quoted verses from this psalm denote its theme. Verse 11: "I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You." and verse 105: "Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path." As we see by these verses, the psalmist considered God's word to be important for his life. It kept him from sin and guided his way in life.

The psalmist had learned the key to a life well-lived. It was in daily reading and meditating on God's word. This guided his ways and directed him in the life God intended for him. He found that all he desired in life were found in pursuit of God's word and adherence to His instruction in His word, not in his pursuits apart from God.

This psalm is designed as an acrostic based on the Hebrew alphabet of 22 letters. So in each paragraph (strophe) of 8 verses, each line or verse of the strophe begins with the same letter of the alphabet, and each strophe is based on a different letter of the alphabet. Each strophe makes one or more references to God's word. The references may speak of "Your word" or "Your decrees" or "Your instruction" or "Your precepts." The following list of verses gives a verse from each of the 22 strophes that refers to God's word:
  1. Psa 119:2 Happy are those who keep His decrees and seek Him with all their heart.
  2. Psa 119:11 I have treasured Your word in my heart so that I may not sin against You.
  3. Psa 119:24 Your decrees are my delight and my counselors.
  4. Psa 119:30 I have chosen the way of truth; I have set Your ordinances before me.
  5. Psa 119:34 Help me understand Your instruction, and I will obey it and follow it with all my heart.
  6. Psa 119:43 Never take the word of truth from my mouth, for I hope in Your judgments.
  7. Psa 119:54 Your statutes are the theme of my song during my earthly life.
  8. Psa 119:59 I thought about my ways and turned my steps back to Your decrees.
  9. Psa 119:72 Instruction from Your lips is better for me than thousands of gold and silver pieces.
  10. Psa 119:74 Those who fear You will see me and rejoice, for I put my hope in Your word.
  11. Psa 119:81 I long for Your salvation; I put my hope in Your word.
  12. Psa 119:93 I will never forget Your precepts, for You have given me life through them.
  13. Psa 119:101 I have kept my feet from every evil path to follow Your word.
  14. Psa 119:105 Your word is a lamp for my feet and a light on my path.
  15. Psa 119:114 You are my shelter and my shield; I put my hope in Your word.
  16. Psa 119:127 I love Your commandments more than gold, even the purest gold,
  17. Psa 119:130 The revelation of Your words brings light and gives understanding to the inexperienced.
  18. Psa 119:140 Your word is completely pure, and Your servant loves it.
  19. Psa 119:147 I rise before dawn and cry out for help; I put my hope in Your word.
  20. Psa 119:160 The entirety of Your word is truth, and all Your righteous judgments endure forever.
  21. Psa 119:165 Abundant peace belongs to those who love Your instruction; nothing makes them stumble.
  22. Psa 119:169 Let my cry reach You, LORD; give me understanding according to Your word.
The psalmist had only the law and the prophets of the Old Testament. These were his guide. We now have available all of the Old Testament and the New Testament as well gaining a more complete understanding and guidance through the teachings of Jesus and His Apostles. We cannot seriously follow Christ without frequent meditation in His teachings through scripture. The abundant life He desires to give those who follow Him can only be found in understanding and adherence to His teachings.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 118

 Psalms 118(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Tell the LORD how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful.
  2. Let Israel shout, "God is always merciful!"
  3. Let the family of Aaron the priest shout, "God is always merciful!"
  4. Let every true worshiper of the LORD shout, "God is always merciful!"
  5. When I was really hurting, I prayed to the LORD. He answered my prayer, and took my worries away.
  6. The LORD is on my side, and I am not afraid of what others can do to me.
  7. With the LORD on my side, I will defeat all of my hateful enemies.
  8. It is better to trust the LORD for protection than to trust anyone else,
  9. including strong leaders.
  10. Nations surrounded me, but I got rid of them by the power of the LORD.
  11. They attacked from all sides, but I got rid of them by the power of the LORD.
  12. They swarmed around like bees, but by the power of the LORD, I got rid of them and their fiery sting.
  13. Their attacks were so fierce that I nearly fell, but the LORD helped me.
  14. My power and my strength come from the LORD, and he has saved me.
  15. From the tents of God's people come shouts of victory: "The LORD is powerful!
  16. With his mighty arm the LORD wins victories! The LORD is powerful!"
  17. And so my life is safe, and I will live to tell what the LORD has done.
  18. He punished me terribly, but he did not let death lay its hands on me.
  19. Open the gates of justice! I will enter and tell the LORD how thankful I am.
  20. Here is the gate of the LORD! Everyone who does right may enter this gate.
  21. I praise the LORD for answering my prayers and saving me.
  22. The stone that the builders tossed aside has now become the most important stone.
  23. The LORD has done this, and it is amazing to us.
  24. This day belongs to the LORD! Let's celebrate and be glad today.
  25. We'll ask the LORD to save us! We'll sincerely ask the LORD to let us win.
  26. God bless the one who comes in the name of the LORD! We praise you from here in the house of the LORD.
  27. The LORD is our God, and he has given us light! Start the celebration! March with palm branches all the way to the altar.
  28. The LORD is my God! I will praise him and tell him how thankful I am.
  29. Tell the LORD how thankful you are, because he is kind and always merciful.

Psalms 118 triumphs in the Lord's enduring love which endures forever. Indeed, if it were not an everlasting love, if it had an ending point, could it be said to endure? The psalmist and his countrymen had experienced God's love and he called on them to give Him praise saying, "His faithful love endures forever." All Israel should give this praise. The house of Aaron, that is, the priests, should give this praise. And, all those who fear the Lord, whether an Israelite or not, should give this praise.

The psalmist "called to the Lord in distress." (118:5) Was he accustomed to calling on him in good times too? If so, it was natural to turn to Him when in distress. When we have an ongoing relationship with the Lord, when the time of distress comes, and it will come, calling to the Lord for help will more likely be a first resort rather than the last one. With His help we can maneuver through the distressful circumstances with His guidance and can have His intervention sooner rather than later. Furthermore, regardless of the nature or source of our distress, the Lord desires to use them for our good. This can only be accomplished when we turn to Him for help.

What the psalmist learned from the Lord's help was that with the Lord as His helper, "What can man do to me? . . . It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in man. It is better to take refuge in the LORD than to trust in nobles." (118:6, 8-9) Whether from the circumstances that prompted the psalm or from earlier circumstances, the psalmist learned from calling on the Lord that He "is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation." (118:14) Therefore, the psalmist can proclaim, " I will not die, but I will live and proclaim what the LORD has done." (118:17) Verse 18, "The LORD disciplined me severely but did not give me over to death." suggests the psalmist recognized his time of distress to be the Lord's discipline. By turning to the Lord he allowed his experience to have a positive outcome rather than a negative one.

Verse 22 is a rather familiar one, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone." We know it particularly from Jesus' application of it to Himself. Though the religious leaders of His time and the people in general rejected Him, He was the cornerstone of God's plan for man's salvation. In a broader sense, however, it applies to much in God's kingdom. For much of what God uses, man rejects. God's values are often upsidedown to man's values. So it should not be surprising that man also rejects the very cornerstone of God's kingdom - Jesus.

Verse 24 is another that is familiar, "This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it." We apply this to each day as a day the Lord has made. But it might also be applied to an era. And in the context of this psalm in which the psalmist found deliverance and salvation from his distress through the Lord, the era following the time of distress was an era, a day, the Lord had made possible and he determined that he would rejoice and be glad in it. When we turn to the Lord after trying to negotiate life on our own terms, it is a day the Lord has made. It is something in which to rejoice and be glad.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 117

 Psalms 117(Contemporary English Version)
  1. All of you nations, come praise the LORD! Let everyone praise him.
  2. His love for us is wonderful; his faithfulness never ends. Shout praises to the LORD!

The psalmist calls for not just Israel, but all nations and all people to praise the Lord in worship. God is not just the God of Israel but of all people. His faithful love extends to all people and so all should give Him praise. By praising God we acknowledge that we value Him and His faithful love toward us. Our praise can take many forms, but the first and most natural way is to express it verbally. If our praise is genuine it is not likely to stop there, however. For if we truly value God we will want to spend time with Him and learn from Him followed by obedience to His instruction. We will also want to direct our lives by His guidance and will want to serve Him.

The Apostle Paul urged the Christians in Rome to not stop short of offering their whole lives to God as a living sacrifice in expression of their praise and worship of Him. He said to them, and to us, "Therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, I urge you to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God; this is your spiritual worship." (Romans 12:1)

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 116

 Psalms 116(Contemporary English Version)
  1. I love you, LORD! You answered my prayers.
  2. You paid attention to me, and so I will pray to you as long as I live.
  3. Death attacked from all sides, and I was captured by its painful chains. But when I was really hurting,
  4. I prayed and said, "LORD, please don't let me die!"
  5. You are kind, LORD, so good and merciful.
  6. You protect ordinary people, and when I was helpless, you saved me
  7. and treated me so kindly that I don't need to worry anymore.
  8. You, LORD, have saved my life from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.
  9. Now I will walk at your side in this land of the living.
  10. I was faithful to you when I was suffering,
  11. though in my confusion I said, "I can't trust anyone!"
  12. What must I give you, LORD, for being so good to me?
  13. I will pour out an offering of wine to you, and I will pray in your name because you have saved me.
  14. I will keep my promise to you when your people meet.
  15. You are deeply concerned when one of your loyal people faces death.
  16. I worship you, LORD, just as my mother did, and you have rescued me from the chains of death.
  17. I will offer you a sacrifice to show how grateful I am, and I will pray.
  18. I will keep my promise to you when your people
  19. gather at your temple in Jerusalem. Shout praises to the LORD!

The Lord had heard the psalmist's call for help and had rescued him from death. Therefore the psalmist expressed his love for the Lord and vowed to "call out to Him as long as I live." (116:2) From his experience of salvation, the psalmist knew the Lord to be compassionate and that He "guards the inexperienced." (116:6) Does this mean, then, that his inexperience led him into the situation that threatened his life? Having been rescued from near death, the psalmist could now, "walk before the LORD in the land of the living." (116:9)

The psalmist's heart overflowed with thankfulness and praise for the Lord's salvation. "How can I repay the LORD all the good He has done for me?" he asked. (116:12) In answer to his own question he determined that he would "take the cup of salvation and worship the LORD." And would "fulfill my vows to the LORD in the presence of all His people." (116:13, 14) He also proclaimed himself to be the Lord's servant.

Concerning his rescue from death, the psalmist said, "The death of His faithful ones is valuable in the LORD's sight." (116:15) The Lord does not take our deaths lightly because He values our lives. Life to Him is precious and therefore death is precious and something He does not wish to happen prematurely. Thus He rescued the psalmist. But when it is time for us to die, He has prepared for that time by offering His own Son so that death might not be the end, but the beginning of life in His presence.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 115

 Psalms 115(Contemporary English Version)
  1. We don't deserve praise! The LORD alone deserves all of the praise, because of his love and faithfulness.
  2. Why should the nations ask, "Where is your God?"
  3. Our God is in the heavens, doing as he chooses.
  4. The idols of the nations are made of silver and gold.
  5. They have a mouth and eyes, but they can't speak or see.
  6. Their ears can't hear, and their noses can't smell.
  7. Their hands have no feeling, their legs don't move, and they can't make a sound.
  8. Everyone who made the idols and all who trust them are just as helpless as those useless gods.
  9. People of Israel, you must trust the LORD to help and protect you.
  10. Family of Aaron the priest, you must trust the LORD to help and protect you.
  11. All of you worship the LORD, so you must trust him to help and protect you.
  12. The LORD will not forget to give us his blessing; he will bless all of Israel and the family of Aaron.
  13. All who worship the LORD, no matter who they are, will receive his blessing.
  14. I pray that the LORD will let your family and your descendants always grow strong.
  15. May the LORD who created the heavens and the earth give you his blessing.
  16. The LORD has kept the heavens for himself, but he has given the earth to us humans.
  17. The dead are silent and cannot praise the LORD,
  18. but we will praise him now and forevermore. Shout praises to the LORD!

The psalmist seeks vindication among the nations while also affirming Israel's trust in the sovereign God of Israel. Previously, Israel had lost sight of God's greatness and turned to the idols of the other nations. As a result she was sent into exile in Babylon. Having turned attention back to God, the psalmist asks God to vindicate them by demonstrating His power on their behalf so the other nations do not ask, "Where is their God?" They were being taunted by the other nations that their God had forgotten them or maybe even that He was incapable of coming to their aid. What the psalmist was seeking was not only a vindication for Israel but also for God Himself.

A comparison is then made between the sovereign God of Israel and the idols of the other nations. "God is in heaven and does whatever He pleases." (115:3) By contrast, the idols are made of silver and gold and can't do anything. Though they have mouths and eyes and hands and feet, none of them function. They are inanimate. Those who make the idols and who trust in them are just like them - unable to do anything in their own power. They are impotent whereas the God of Israel is omnipotent.

Was Israel still tempted to turn her trust from God to the idols? We might wonder as the psalmist exhorts the people to "trust in the LORD! He is their help and shield." (115:9) "He will bless those who fear the LORD--small and great alike." (115:13) It is the Lord, not the idols, who is "Maker of heaven and earth." And as Maker, He retains the heavens to Himself, "but the earth He has given to the human race." (115:16) The unspoken question then, is "why would anyone trust in an inanimate idol?"

In the closing verses of the psalm the psalmist says, in effect, While we still have life, "we will praise the Lord." For "It is not the dead who praise the Lord."

Monday, May 12, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 114

 Psalms 114(Contemporary English Version)
  1. God brought his people out of Egypt, that land with a strange language.
  2. He made Judah his holy place and ruled over Israel.
  3. When the sea looked at God, it ran away, and the Jordan River flowed upstream.
  4. The mountains and the hills skipped around like goats.
  5. Ask the sea why it ran away or ask the Jordan why it flowed upstream.
  6. Ask the mountains and the hills why they skipped like goats!
  7. Earth, you will tremble, when the Lord God of Jacob comes near,
  8. because he turns solid rock into flowing streams and pools of water.

Awe and reverence of the Lord, which is expressed as fear of the Lord, is the aim of this psalm. This was the response of nature to God's bidding on behalf of Israel when God took her out of Egypt and delivered her to the land of promise. The Red Sea "fled" before God, certainly not before the Israelites, to allow their passage to the other side, away from the Egyptian army in their escape from Egypt. The Jordan "turned back" before God to allow the Israelite's entry into the promised land. Similarly, the mountains skipped "like rams," and the hills skipped "like lambs" at the Lord's presence. These are thought to be references to the response of the mountains and hills at God's presence on Mount Sinai when God gave Moses the law.

Further reference to God's affect on nature is in verse 8 in which it is remembered how the rock turned "into a pool of water" at God's bidding through Moses. In light of these select events, the psalmist, in verses 7, exhorts the whole earth to tremble "at the presence of the Lord." In all of this is the inference that we, too, should tremble at the Lord's presence. We should not take lightly or ignore the Lord and His instructions as if they were of no consequence. The writer of Hebrews pointed out that while God's voice shook the earth when He delivered the law to Moses, there comes a time when He will "shake not only the earth but also heaven." (Hebrews12:26) At that time, what can be shaken will be removed and He will establish His heavenly kingdom. This transition will be a time of judgement which all should fear except those who accept Jesus, the mediator between God and man. The writer of Hebrews says, "See that you do not reject the One who speaks; for if they did not escape when they rejected Him who warned them on earth, even less will we if we turn away from Him who warns us from heaven." (12:25)

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 113

 Psalms 113(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Shout praises to the LORD! Everyone who serves him, come and praise his name.
  2. Let the name of the LORD be praised now and forever.
  3. From dawn until sunset the name of the LORD deserves to be praised.
  4. The LORD is far above all of the nations; he is more glorious than the heavens.
  5. No one can compare with the LORD our God. His throne is high above,
  6. and he looks down to see the heavens and the earth.
  7. God lifts the poor and needy from dust and ashes,
  8. and he lets them take part in ruling his people.
  9. When a wife has no children, he blesses her with some, and she is happy. Shout praises to the LORD!

Psalms 113 begins and ends with "Hallelujah!" meaning "Praise you!" Although the Hallelujah serves to open and close the psalm, the opening one might be considered praise to God because of who He is, and the closing one praise because of what He does for His people.

The Lord is exalted not only above all the nations, but above the heavens. Nations represent man's greatness, but God is greater - greater than any nation. He is greater than all the heavens, leaving nothing that is as great as He is. But what may be even more amazing than God's greatness is His willingness to lower Himself (stoop down) to intervene in the lives of mankind. This is a characteristic of God that many find difficult to grasp. As they consider God, their thinking may be something like this, "If there is a God who made all that is, He is way up there and I am down here and He can't concern Himself with my life. I am unimportant in the scheme of things."

It is truly amazing that God even considers man, let alone interacts with him. That man is made in God's image and likeness is just as hard to comprehend, but it is the teaching of scripture. Therefore God has made us for personal interaction with Him. Furthermore, he interacts not only with the powers that be among mankind, but with even the poor and needy. This stretches our minds even further. A person might consider themselves as unimportant in society and therefore even less important to God. Not so. He has a special concern for those who are not in a position to help themselves. Therefore, "He raises the poor from the dust and lifts the needy from the garbage pile in order to seat them with nobles--with the nobles of His people." (113:7-8) He also, "gives the childless woman a household, making her the joyful mother of children." (113:9)

I interact every week with people who have found new life in Jesus Christ, and are seeing Him help them get free from addiction and get out of prison and put their lives back together, rebuilding relationships that have been broken because of their addictions. They are blown away by God's interaction in their lives. I am blown away anew each week as I hear their stories and watch the transformation that takes place in their lives.  Their voices join that of the psalmist in giving praise to the Lord "From the rising of the sun to its setting."

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 112

 Psalms 112(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Shout praises to the LORD! The LORD blesses everyone who worships him and gladly obeys his teachings.
  2. Their descendants will have great power in the land, because the LORD blesses all who do right.
  3. They will get rich and prosper and will always be remembered for their fairness.
  4. They will be so kind and merciful and good, that they will be a light in the dark for others who do the right thing.
  5. Life will go well for those who freely lend and are honest in business.
  6. They won't ever be troubled, and the kind things they do will never be forgotten.
  7. Bad news won't bother them; they have decided to trust the LORD.
  8. They are dependable and not afraid, and they will live to see their enemies defeated.
  9. They will always be remembered and greatly praised, because they were kind and freely gave to the poor.
  10. When evil people see this, they angrily bite their tongues and disappear. They will never get what they really want.

Psalms 112 picks up on the concluding thought of Psalms 111, "The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom." (111:10), and continues with it, telling us, "Happy is the man who fears the LORD." (112:1) The accompanying behavior of the one who "fears the Lord" is a delight in His commandments. This in turn leads to a lifestyle that brings very different results than if he did not fear the Lord.

Verses 2-9 enumerate on the blessings of the one who fears the Lord. He prospers because of his righteousness, he is given light to have discernment, goodness comes to him in return for his generosity, and he has a confident faith that is unshakable and unfearing of what man might do to him. Finally, because he gives to the poor he will be made strong and honorable by the Lord.

We see in these verses not only the blessings of the one who fears the Lord, but the different lifestyle resulting from his delight in the Lord's commandments. He is righteous, he acts with discernment, he is generous, he operates out of faith instead of fear, and he gives to the poor. A brief contrast is given in the last verse of the wicked. He lives in anger and despair. The desires he pursues will "come to nothing."

The wicked, as used here, seems to refer to any who do not fear or reverence the Lord. As such, it refers to a condition of heart rather than to any particular actions. The actions, however, will no doubt follow the condition of the heart leading further and further away from the lifestyle and blessings of the one who reverences the Lord and His teachings.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 111

 Psalms 111(Contemporary English Version)
  1. Shout praises to the LORD! With all my heart I will thank the LORD when his people meet.
  2. The LORD has done many wonderful things! Everyone who is pleased with God's marvelous deeds will keep them in mind.
  3. Everything the LORD does is glorious and majestic, and his power to bring justice will never end.
  4. The LORD God is famous for his wonderful deeds, and he is kind and merciful.
  5. He gives food to his worshipers and always keeps his agreement with them.
  6. He has shown his mighty power to his people and has given them the lands of other nations.
  7. God is always honest and fair, and his laws can be trusted.
  8. They are true and right and will stand forever.
  9. God rescued his people, and he will never break his agreement with them. He is fearsome and holy.
  10. Respect and obey the LORD! This is the first step to wisdom and good sense. God will always be respected.

This psalm tells us that the Lord's works inspire praise, and the psalmist proclaims his intent to praise Him "with all my heart" in the assembly of the congregation.

Why do the Lord's works inspire praise? Because they are great and "All that He does is splendid and majestic." (111:3) When we consider the examples given by the psalmist of the Lord's works, we see that He does these works on our behalf. It is not like watching a fireworks display in which we are an outside observer oohing and ahing at the magnificent and colorful displays. Instead, we are both participants and benefactors of God's works. It is for us that He does them. His pleasure in doing them is to receive our praise.

The key in all this is found in verse 10. All of God's majestic works are lost on us unless we fear, or respect the Lord. Otherwise they are not even noticed, or if noticed they are credited to chance and not to God. "Fear of the Lord," the psalmist says, "is the beginning of wisdom." And with this wisdom comes a growing recognition and appreciation of God's works, not to mention the growing benefits received due to our recognition and appreciation of them. Notice, this is a closed "party." Only those who fear the Lord are invited. Only they receive the benefits of His works. Only they delight in them.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 110

 Psalms 110(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by David.) The LORD said to my Lord, "Sit at my right side, until I make your enemies into a footstool for you."
  2. The LORD will let your power reach out from Zion, and you will rule over your enemies.
  3. Your glorious power will be seen on the day you begin to rule. You will wear the sacred robes and shine like the morning sun in all of your strength.
  4. The LORD has made a promise that will never be broken: "You will be a priest forever, just like Melchizedek."
  5. My Lord is at your right side, and when he gets angry he will crush the other kings.
  6. He will judge the nations and crack their skulls, leaving piles of dead bodies all over the earth.
  7. He will drink from any stream that he chooses, while winning victory after victory.

Psalms 110 is clearly a Messianic psalm written by David. Many psalms are questionably considered to be Messianic, but Jesus spoke of this psalm as referring to Himself, the Messiah. Teaching in the temple complex one day, Jesus asked, "How can the scribes say that the Messiah is the Son of David?" (Mark 12:35) Then He referred to verse 1 of Psalms 110 saying, "David himself says by the Holy Spirit: The Lord declared to my Lord, 'Sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.'" (Mark 12:36)

So under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit David foresaw the coming Messiah as one who was not only his son, or descendant, but also His Lord. One who would be greater than himself as both king and priest. Verse 1 says, "The Lord declared to my Lord." That is, "The Lord," Yahweh who is God the Father, "declared to my Lord," a?d?o?nay who is the Messiah. So God the Father said to the Messiah, "Sit at My right hand until I make Your enemies Your footstool."

Thus, one day the Messiah will rule all people. There will be those who willingly submit to His rule and those who God will make His "footstool," that is, those who are forced into submission. Those who willingly submit to His rule will volunteer to make up His army to bring all other people into submission. Those who rule in their own might will be crushed and their followers will turn to follow the Messiah. The Messiah will then rule over all people forever as both priest and king.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Reflections on Psalms 109

 Psalms 109(Contemporary English Version)
  1. (A psalm by David for the music leader.) I praise you, God! Don't keep silent.
  2. Destructive and deceitful lies are told about me,
  3. and hateful things are said for no reason.
  4. I had pity and prayed for my enemies, but their words to me were harsh and cruel.
  5. For being friendly and kind, they paid me back with meanness and hatred.
  6. My enemies said, "Find some worthless fools to accuse him of a crime.
  7. Try him and find him guilty! Consider his prayers a lie.
  8. Cut his life short and let someone else have his job.
  9. Make orphans of his children and a widow of his wife;
  10. make his children beg for food and live in the slums.
  11. "Let the people he owes take everything he owns. Give it all to strangers.
  12. Don't let anyone be kind to him or have pity on the children he leaves behind.
  13. Bring an end to his family, and from now on let him be a forgotten man.
  14. "Don't let the LORD forgive the sins of his parents and his ancestors.
  15. Don't let the LORD forget the sins of his family, or let anyone remember his family ever lived.
  16. He was so cruel to the poor, homeless, and discouraged that they died young.
  17. "He cursed others. Now place a curse on him! He never wished others well. Wish only trouble for him!
  18. He cursed others more often than he dressed himself. Let his curses strike him deep, just as water and olive oil soak through to our bones.
  19. Let his curses surround him, just like the clothes he wears each day."
  20. Those are the cruel things my enemies wish for me. Let it all happen to them!
  21. Be true to your name, LORD God! Show your great kindness and rescue me.
  22. I am poor and helpless, and I have lost all hope.
  23. I am fading away like an evening shadow; I am tossed aside like a crawling insect.
  24. I have gone without eating, until my knees are weak, and my body is bony.
  25. When my enemies see me, they say cruel things and shake their heads.
  26. Please help me, LORD God! Come and save me because of your love.
  27. Let others know that you alone have saved me.
  28. I don't care if they curse me, as long as you bless me. You will make my enemies fail when they attack, and you will make me glad to be your servant.
  29. You will cover them with shame, just as their bodies are covered with clothes.
  30. I will sing your praises and thank you, LORD, when your people meet.
  31. You help everyone in need, and you defend them when they are on trial.

This psalm of David is one of the most glaring of the psalms in terms of calling down curses on one's enemy. It obviously does not reflect the New Testament teachings of Christ to love one's enemies. But on the other hand, it expresses a zeal for God's cause of justice and righteousness on earth. Not only does David want his enemy to be put down, he wants those who stand against God and His law to be put down.

In the first part of the psalm David raises his complaint against his enemies. They speak against him with lies, return his love for them with accusations, and they repay his good to them with evil. Then he turns to calling down curses on them. Curses which extend beyond the enemies to their families and ancestors. He asks that they have their own accusers who cause them to be found guilty before a judge. He asks that they might die, making their days few and their children fatherless. Then, becoming more vitriolic, David asks that their children become beggars having to search for food, and that creditors seize all that they own. He wants their descendants to be cut off and their forefathers' guilt to be remembered before the Lord. He continues with these curses through verse 20.

Having concluded his requests for God's curses on his enemies, David turns to asking for God's blessings on himself. Whereas the curses against his enemies are seen as upholding God's righteousness by putting down those who stand against it, the request for blessings for himself are seen as upholding those who stand with God in agreement with His law. David asks that God deal kindly with him and deliver him from his enemies. He makes this appeal based not on his own worthiness but on God's faithful love. He also believes God will naturally stand with the needy who are being oppressed and against their oppressors, allowing His justice to reign.