Just Understanding is OK: Psalm 137

Israelites in Captivity

 1 By the rivers in Babylon we sat and cried 
       when we remembered Jerusalem.
 2 On the poplar trees nearby 
       we hung our harps.
 3 Those who captured us asked us to sing; 
       our enemies wanted happy songs. 
       They said, “Sing us a song about Jerusalem!” 

 4 But we cannot sing songs about the Lord 
       while we are in this foreign country! 
 5 Jerusalem, if I forget you, 
       let my right hand lose its skill.
 6 Let my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth 
       if I do not remember you, 
    if I do not think about Jerusalem 
       as my greatest joy. 

 7 Lord, remember what the Edomites did 
       on the day Jerusalem fell. 
    They said, “Tear it down! 
       Tear it down to its foundations!” 

 8 People of Babylon, you will be destroyed. 
       The people who pay you back for what you did to us will be happy. 
 9 They will grab your babies 
       and throw them against the rocks.

When you get to this Psalm, you need to grip the idea that there is a revolving link. There is something that makes you swirl back to verse 1. It’s a link that brings us from the end to the beginning. A certain revolution that seems circular. When we get to the end of this psalm, we are shunted back to the beginning. There is a certain connection that takes us into a spiritual connection, and then demands we reconnect and do it all over again.

I suppose that we hate the idea.  We start, and then insist on a conclusion, we like to be tidy, and somehow we think completeness makes us spiritual.  But in 137, we discover we are a loop, in this sense. We read it over and over, but honest believers, but we can’t grip onto a true discipleship.

Commentary

VV. 1-2 establishes certain things. There is a kind of nostalgia here. A powerful sadness is acknowledged. Desperation is the theme of this moment. Memories can be good, and yet be savagely painful. The viciousness of all of this makes us act in strange ways. We hang our harps up on the trees. We don’t want anything to do with life in captivity. There is a bitterness in this new world of slavery.

V. 3,  there will be an awful antagonism, and those who order us about have no idea. Pain is afflicted by ‘their’ falseness. Undoubtedly, this isn’t intentional, and they seem so sincere, but savagely brutal. Perhaps might does make right, in seems so in this case.

V. 4 bring us issues of a self-recognition. What Babylon asks from us, is simply not possible. It is not within us to sing in captivity.

V. 5, is a reasonable declaration. There is an intense connection between a man’s religion and all that he is. What marks us at the start, identifies us at the end. You could say, “we are who we have always been.”

V. 6 is a very certain concept. It has to deal with, of “what could be.” The reader has to keep the orientation right. So much seems “airborne.” Completely in flux. But that’s ok.

V.7, has a residual awareness of a deep wounding that happened in the past. The ugliness and pain will continue to be acknowledged. Whether the past will keep being understood is completely up to us.

V. 8 is actually an understanding of a certain action against what is so evil. Nothing escapes, or can even be rationalized. We take the things that come to us, and there is a certain awareness of a “right & wrong” that simply can’t be diminished or reduced. It is now “locked in.”

V. 9 carries something quite tragic and immensely sad.  I won’t push this too much. The pain of such happenings carries an ugly and vicious sadness. There is far too much grief here. The slaughter of innocents, is brutal and difficult. Perhaps the inclusion of this, has come as a result of all that has happened out of the terrible pain of seeing this happen to themselves. Grief has many funny ways as it is absorbed, but that will never make it easy.

And now we cycle back to verse 1. We are brought through all of this. We start over, and then over again. None of us, will ever get complete answers. But I guess that this is ok.

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Hostile Territory: Psalm 61

To the choirmaster: with stringed instruments. Of David.

 1 Hear my cry, O God, 
   listen to my prayer; 
2 from the end of the earth I call to you 
   when my heart is faint. 
Lead me to the rock 
   that is higher than I, 
3 for you have been my refuge, 
   a strong tower against the enemy.

 4 Let me dwell in your tent forever! 
   Let me take refuge under the shelter of your wings! 
                         Selah

5 For you, O God, have heard my vows; 
   you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.

 6 Prolong the life of the king; 
   may his years endure to all generations! 
7 May he be enthroned forever before God; 
   appoint steadfast love and faithfulness to watch over him!

 8 So will I ever sing praises to your name, 
   as I perform my vows day after day.

Psalm 61

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As human beings we live our lives under assault.  As we grow up very little gets communicated to us about spiritual warfare.  The stark realities of heaven and hell are seldom passed down to us. Evil remains abstract; it never becomes personal. Until.

Psalm 61 was written by David, who understood pretty clearly the evil that wanted to destroy him. He was someone who understood the vicious nature of reality. It seems that David wrote this song while he was running from his son. But there are only a couple of hints for that, nothing more. Ps. 61 is meant for the pursued soul, it is designed not to be autobiographical. The details may change from person to person, but we all live in hostile territory.

“There is no neutral ground in the universe; every square inch, every split second, is claimed by God and counter-claimed by Satan.”

 C.S. Lewis

Commentary

V. 1, have you ever talked to someone about something very important, but they aren’t listening? So, you raise the volume a bit, and put more energy behind your words.

V. 2, describes the vast scope of prayer, and its potency and clout. Even out there, teetering on the edge, God hears. David knows exactly where he needs to be. A rock that is way beyond me in scope and size. The “high ground” of the presence of God.

V. 3,  “for you are my safe refuge,  a fortress where my enemies cannot reach me” (NLT). In the Army, I learned tactics of “cover and concealment.” Essentially it’s to put yourself in the place of safety. It’s actually a great skill to have. High ground, thick walls, and out of the weather were all prime ways to find it. David announces to God, that He is his safe place. David has irrevocably put his trust in Him.

V. 4, Here are dual images that work together. God is to be a tent we live in, and wings to hide under. A hen opens up her wings, just enough for the chicks to collect. Now a chicken is not very formidable on our level. But God is. Under His wings we are in the safest place possible.

V. 5, isn’t really a popular truth today. Vows seem antiquated and part of the Old Testament.  But I think that is a bit harsh. We make vows when we get married. It’s a promise made before God and God’s people. Those vows are exceptional words of true commitment.

V. 6-7, we hear David speaking of himself in the “third person.” I think that this reveals a lot of humility. He doesn’t demean or diminish himself here, but in the light of what he knows its quite refreshing. David knows now what is of value, and what isn’t.

V. 8, within this verse we see David establishing a way of life. Vows and praises! Furthermore, David wants God to understand exactly how he intends to supervise his life from this moment on. He fully intends to be an eager servant in the ways of the Lord.

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Where No Enemy Can Reach: Psalm 62:5-8

Chimney-Rock
Chimney Rock, Nebraska, U.S.

Let all that I am wait quietly before God,
    for my hope is in him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.
My victory and honor come from God alone.
    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.
O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge.    Interlude

Psalm 62:5-8, NLT

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Verses 5-6 are ‘almost’ duplicates with verses 1-2. I have used this thought before, but verses that seem repetitive suggest something to pay extra attention. I see them as ‘laminates.’ They come together, and become stronger.

Through these verses, David is exclusively focused on God’s excellence. His words are winsome and his zeal is admirable. David really doesn’t want to talk about anything else– he is the ultimate rarity: he is a God-intoxicated man.

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Commentary

V. 5, “Let all that I am wait quietly before God, for my hope is in him.”

This is a repeat of verse 1. I think it is repeated as an emphasis for us. Waiting quietly is not easy for us. Our impatience and our pride sabotage the process. We just feel too self-important to wait for anyone.

V. 6, “He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will not be shaken.”

This is a repeat of verse 2. When a songwriter finds a theme in his work, he’ll write it in a “chorus.” This chorus usually is repeated a few times through the song. Perhaps that is what is taking place through David, in this psalm?

V. 7, “My victory and honor come from God alone.
    He is my refuge, a rock where no enemy can reach me.”

David sees himself as being evaluated by God alone. Anything of value (victory, and honor) will come as a exclusive effort from the Lord. David isn’t going to look for these things anywhere else.

A refuge is a “place of safety.” It is the place of immunity, and a place of utmost protection. Back in verse 3, David disclosed details of murder plots. When your life is threatened you’ll need a safe place to go.

V. 8, “O my people, trust in him at all times.
    Pour out your heart to him,
    for God is our refuge. Interlude”

I think David is speaking as a king here, to his subjects. He advocates a constant trust in Him. He exhorts his people to pour out everything to God, and hold nothing back.

“For God is our refuge. Selah.” 

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ybic, Bryan

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Becoming Quiet For a Change: Psalm 62:1-4

A Place to Become Quiet

For Jeduthun, the choir director: A psalm of David.

1 “I wait quietly before God,
    for my victory comes from him.
He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will never be shaken.

So many enemies against one man—
    all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
    or a tottering fence.
They plan to topple me from my high position.
    They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
    but curse me in their hearts.” Interlude

Psalm 62:1-4, NLT

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David establishes the wonderful need we have, to be quiet– silence. He understands a great deal of things.

  • Who God is, and His heart for me,
  • being in a precarious position,
  • the extent of the conspiracy against him,
  • the deceitfulness of so-called “friends.”

 

Commentary

V. 1, “I wait quietly before God,
    for my victory comes from him.”

The Hebrew word for “wait” is “kawva.” It is a curious word. Its definition is “to bind together, by twisting.” For David, waiting could not be a passive condition. It had a far more active concept, that of “braiding.” When we “wait on the Lord,” we should be pliable, and soft. It is a time for us to be wrapping our hearts and minds with God, and the things of God.

When we think of “waiting” today, it’s pretty much a passive thing. We “wait” to see the doctor. We sit in a “waiting room,” reading old magazines until he (or she) is ready to see us. Very few people like waiting.

The verse also shows a coming “victory.” It is given to us freely and extravagantly. We certainly can do a single thing to be given such an incredible gift.

 

V. 2, “He alone is my rock and my salvation,
    my fortress where I will never be shaken.”

David sees God as a place of safety, security– a castle. I think that David was seeing God properly. Perhaps all of this crisis– over and over, is exactly what the Lord wanted. When crisis initiates a desperate heart, than it is worth it.

 

V. 3, “So many enemies against one man—
    all of them trying to kill me.
To them I’m just a broken-down wall
    or a tottering fence.”

Sobering, isn’t it. This is not a game, in David’s eyes. “So many enemies,” and the phrase, “kill me” is not melodrama. He’s not making this up, and he isn’t paranoid. He is a target for assassination.

I think what David was trying to say (with the last part of the verse), that many see him as vulnerable and weak. Tottering, especially, is an evocative word. It has the idea of being decrepit. In the eyes of his enemies, David is completely defenseless and totally assailable.

 

V. 4, “They plan to topple me from my high position.
    They delight in telling lies about me.
They praise me to my face
    but curse me in their hearts.” 

David understands how “coups” work. He realizes that slander, and lies are just the first step to remove David as king. He doesn’t trust anyone. He finds that those who are flattering him are telling him lies. They intend to deceive, that is their real purpose.

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ybic, Bryan

 

The Lord-O-Sphere– Psalm 34:15-18

15 “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right; his ears are open to their cries for help. 16 But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil; he will erase their memory from the earth. 17 The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help. He rescues them from all their troubles. 18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

Psalm 34:15-18

I call this “the Lord-o-sphere.” You will find each verse reveals something incredible about Him, the Lord phrase is clearly mentioned in each verse. That must be where we should begin our efforts to understand these verses– we belong in “the Lord-o-sphere.”

Jehovah God is not a mere tribal deity of the rag-tag Israelites. He is not a second tier God with aspirations to be more. Rather, He declares He is supreme, the Creator and Sustainer of everything we see and can’t see. This is never, ever negotiable or refutable. But there is more, and these verses will show them to us.

Commentary

V. 15, “The eyes of the Lord watch over those who do right;     

             his ears are open to their cries for help.”

We are not talking physical eyes, but much more. He easily observes all 7 billion of us on this planet. What He possesses is not a general sight, but one that can pick out His people, sifting and discerning them from others.

Eyes and ears. I suppose that eyes could be enough. But ears, well that means a lot. These ears are open, and attuned to the voices of those in trouble. All who cry to Him will get His help. He doesn’t wear a “hearing aid.”

V. 10, “ But the Lord turns his face against those who do evil;     

              he will erase their memory from the earth.”

Nowhere in the Bible do we see God unwilling to discern good and evil. To “turn your face against something” was to declare unacceptability and undesirability. God will have nothing to do with anything unholy. He cannot blend His heart with sin and darkness. “He resists the proud.”

The phrase, “erase their memory,” is the ultimate act. Because evil people are so entrenched in their sin, they will have no future in the Kingdom of God. They’ve chosen sin over all else, to replace Him. You could say that they have essentially renounced their citizenship in the Kingdom. They have no future.

V. 17, “The Lord hears his people when they call to him for help.    

              He rescues them from all their troubles.”

This verse should be understood in contrast with v. 16. He hears when you start to cry out for help. You are His people, and like a “good shepherd” He is there! All of heaven is energized, and then mobilized to intervene for your rescue.

“Troubles” can mean anything. I think of Satan with a very thick catalog that itemizes each pain and grief he can unleash on you. However, each trouble can be transformed by God, to be good and useful in your life.

V. 18, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted;     

              he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.”

One of my favorite verses. I have struggled with many things, I have let sin rule me. I have had many bad moments. My physical and mental health have been broken. But rather than it distancing me from Him, I see Him drawing closer. Brokenness in His eyes is a true mark of beauty!

You are crushed when a vast weight presses you to the ground. It is such a weight that all you can do is crumble. There is nothing, from our viewpoint, good or delightful about being crushed. But… God coming to the rescue.

ybic, Bryan

Psalm 51:3-5, Recognize the Rebel Within

3 “For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.
Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight.
You will be proved right in what you say,
    and your judgment against me is just.[a]
For I was born a sinner—
    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.”

Psalm 51:3-5, NLT

In this life, we must understand our inner rebellion and  sin. We had better accept and agree with God on this basic matter. If we really are going to be truthful people we have to really focus on this fundamental understanding of our own depravity.

This is the first of seven of Psalms we call “penitential.” It is probably the best known of these seven. Psalm 51 can be broken down into subcategories. Of course, the title precisely cues us in the time David met with Nathan in 2 Samuel 12:1-14.

Commentary

V. 3, “ “For I recognize my rebellion;
    it haunts me day and night.”

David doesn’t cling to false platitudes. He is not deceived by creating a new image. He doesn’t care a whit about public relations. It may seem like he is being a little hard on himself. There are some that suggest that David may be too morbid, too moody. But you try to commit adultery, and than murder, then you can judge the entire scene.

But David has looked into a mirror, and he’s stepped away from it. He cannot forget what he saw. He sees his “rebellion” for what it really is– that he is warped and twisted. David can’t shake off this sense of shame and grief. He has committed adultery which has led to murder of one of his best generals.

V. 4, “Against you, and you alone, have I sinned;
    I have done what is evil in your sight. You will be proved right in what you say, and your judgment against me is just.

All of our sins are against God. Failure to see this results in a repentance that is premature, and deficient. This inadequate repentance will not change you, but only makes you feel somewhat better.

There is no doubt that David sinned terribly against Bathsheba, and her husband Uriah. What he did to them was so wrong, on so many levels. But, what about God? David’s selfishness, greed, lust offended God. Perhaps we need to tweak our concepts. The higher in status and power a person is, the greater the offense. All sin is sin against a holy God.

What David believed is that God could say what God wanted about him, and it would be right and true, for God cannot be otherwise. But rather than stubbornly avoiding God, David sees the positive and he chooses to honor God by his authentic repentance.

V. 5,For I was born a sinner—
    yes, from the moment my mother conceived me.”

David is not saying that his mother was immoral. Rather he is recognizing the depth of his own sin. (He knows who he is, he’s got this tattoo, “Born to Sin” on his biceps.)

ybic, Bryan

We Have Done Wrong: Psalm 106

6 We have sinned just as our ancestors did. 
       We have done wrong; we have done evil. 
 7 Our ancestors in Egypt 
       did not learn from your miracles. 
    They did not remember all your kindnesses, 
       so they turned against you at the Red Sea.
 8 But the Lord saved them for his own sake, 
       to show his great power.
 9 He commanded the Red Sea, and it dried up. 
       He led them through the deep sea as if it were a desert.
 10 He saved them from those who hated them. 
       He saved them from their enemies,
 11 and the water covered their foes. 
       Not one of them escaped. 
 12 Then the people believed what the Lord said, 
       and they sang praises to him. 

Psalm 106:6-12

This particular Psalm resists any kind of easy exegesis. We come and face this part of scripture, but it seems far too bulky. There are way too many verses that we have to deal with. But, there are segments residing within this psalm. But for the most part, they seems to be vaguely repetitious. A pattern develops– a situation is presented, the people take it, and then the people fall. This is repeated, over and over. But consistency can never be achieved, and this is the theme of 106. However— obedience should. We should want to obey in the specific area God is dealing with us on.

Our Father God is not to blame when we sin, He has pulled for us and given us all that He can. But you and I can become quite foolish, and when we do, we sabotage His grace, and short-circuit His power to work. We can be quite ignorant when we do this. We can do this intentionally if sin becomes alluringly close.

Verses 6-7, are “recognition” verses. There are certain things that must be understood before we can ever venture forward. Even our “repentance” needs to be examined closely. The infection of evil will even reach this particular point. The enemy spreads his disease, even without our knowledge.

Verse 8, explains very much. It seems that God is pushing His reputation ahead. What He does with this is profound. He absorbs all of the ugliness, and pain and darkness. He is a sponge. He absorbs all the dark and sinister things that fix themselves on our heart and soul. V. 8 explains to us what has just happened.

Verse 9, takes us into a powerful triumph over darkness. But focus, He is responsible for this! Verses 10-11 are important. The overriding issue here is “salvation”. Everything God does is designed to bring us to this point. Any first-year seminary student knows what “salvation” is. Being saved means we are ushered into safety, love and complete security. We pass through destruction, and arrive through it amazingly complete and whole.

Verse 11, completes the thought. Our deepest enemy is completely saturated with disaster. He is now nullified.  

Verse 12, Worship is one of those things which is first to come, and the last to leave. There is a certain awareness and realization that starts to develop. Very often we insist on knowing the “whys and wheres” before we face down the evil and darkness. But, if it doesn’t end up in worship, no one is going anywhere.

ybic, Bryan

A King On the Run: Psalms 141

1 Lord, I call to you. Come quickly. 
       Listen to me when I call to you.
 2 Let my prayer be like incense placed before you, 
       and my praise like the evening sacrifice. 

 3 Lord, help me control my tongue; 
       help me be careful about what I say. 
 4 Take away my desire to do evil 
       or to join others in doing wrong. 
    Don’t let me eat tasty food 
       with those who do evil. 

 5 If a good person punished me, that would be kind. 
       If he corrected me, that would be like perfumed oil on my head. 
       I shouldn’t refuse it. 
    But I pray against those who do evil. 
 6 Let their leaders be thrown down the cliffs. 
       Then people will know that I have spoken correctly: 
 7 “The ground is plowed and broken up. 
       In the same way, our bones have been scattered at the grave.” 

 8 God, I look to you for help. 
       I trust in you, Lord. Don’t let me die. 
 9 Protect me from the traps they set for me 
       and from the net that evil people have spread.
 10 Let the wicked fall into their own nets, 
       but let me pass by safely.

Psalm 141, NCV

There are several themes coursing through this Psalm of David. Having some awareness of his “ups and downs” really helps. As a young man, he faced the giant Goliath, which was a very bold thing to do. He then also went on a killing spree that raised him to the rank of general. He was pretty much registered as a lethal weapon. But very suddenly, King Saul got very paranoid, and David had to get out of town, really fast.

Commentary

V. 1 comes as an urgent cry. Often desperation will make us believers, and I think that instead of avoiding pain we should be embracing that which forces us to get on our knees.

V. 2 is a lesson. David knew he couldn’t return. He was in a wilderness. And yet he deeply wanted to replace his past worship with the best he could do out in the “boondocks.”

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Kings on the run

V. 5 is really about the role of the Church. It’s one thing to rebuke or exhort another, but what about the recipient? We need that hungry eagerness for correction, and love the wealth that comes to us as we grab a hold of a hard word.   To be in this place, can be hard, and yet wonderful.  (see Prov. 29:1; 1Tim. 5:20)

Vv. 6-7 are hard verses. The verses in the beginning are clear and thoughtful. The commentaries I looked at don’t agree. But they are “imprecatory” in nature. That means they pronounce judgement. And I suppose since the Psalms are “songs, prayers and spiritual songs” they are composed of metaphor, figurative language, and simile. It can be a harrowing experience trying to read in a literal/logical way.

Vv. 8-10 shows us sincere poetic sense. David realizes that there are traps and nets, and these could be real I suppose, but my thinking is they are figurative. Today, we might think, booby traps or land mines, but these are not literal, but they are quite real. The enemy certainly can harm us in a figurative sense, but he insists that we face him in other ways.

This Psalm is a true beauty among all other psalms. It is authentic and heart-focused. I invite you to read and learn why the Holy Spirit has decided to keep it just for you. I’m very sure it will be quite amazing.

ybic, Bryan

Psalm 84:10: Overcoming the Greatest Temptation

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10″ Better is one day in your courts than a thousand elsewhere;
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.”

This may be one of the most profound verses in the Psalms, if not in the entire Bible. In it David is saying that he would rather have the most humble place in the house of God than the highest position among the godless. This proclamation is the exact opposite of what Satan said in John Milton’s epic poem, Paradise Lost, “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.” What makes this passage so weighty is that it encapsulates the greatest temptation of created beings from before the creation of the world to the present day.

What temptation would cause Satan, an exalted angel who dwelled in the presence of the glory of God for eons before his fall from grace, to rebel and inaugurate his own kingdom of darkness? What enticement would cause a significant number of angels (probably one–third; see Revelation 12:4), who also dwelt in the exquisite splendor of God, to follow him in this rebellion? What temptation would provoke Adam and Eve, who lived in Edenic paradise in unbroken communion with God, to disobey God’s clear command and go their own way? What enticement led the nation of Israel, who had amazing, supernatural provision and a special relationship with the Almighty, to reject their Creator and worship other gods?

Satan, the fallen angels, Adam and Eve, and the nation of Israel all succumbed to the same temptation. It goes by different names but I will, for lack of a better word, call it godship. Godship is rooted in pride, the root sin of all sins, and its nature is to make oneself God and to pursue an autonomous existence apart from God and his will. It means taking God off the throne of our hearts, and, in self–exaltation, putting ourselves on that throne.

Satan and the fallen angels did this, and, in the spirit of Milton’s poem, essentially said, “Better to reign in Hell, than to serve in Heaven.” Adam and Eve made their proclamation of godship when they ate the forbidden food because they thought they would become like God, knowing good and evil. Israel’s sin of godship is vividly revealed in Judges 21:25, a passage that describes their entire history:

“In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.”

David’s proclamation in Psalm 84:10 is a watershed moment because he is gazing into the face of the history of fallen creation and is saying, ” I will not join the Rebellion; I will not commit the sin of godship; I would rather have the lowest place in the house of God than rule in the tents of the ungodly.” David would go on to commit egregious sins in his life (adultery, murder, etc.), but he was still a man after God’s own heart (Acts 13:22), and would not commit the most egregious sin of all: godship.

One reason Roman Catholics venerate Mary is because she also submitted herself to the will of God. She was told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to the Savior and said, “I am the Lord’s servant…May it be to me as you have said.”

After fasting for forty days and forty nights, the devil tempted Jesus to commit the sin of godship and live a life autonomous from God and his will. Jesus also stared into the face of the history of fallen creation and said, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only'” (Matthew 4:11). He did this again during his Passion when he said to the Father, “Not my will but your will be done.”

Dear reader, by the grace of God, we can all follow in the footsteps of David, Mary, and especially our Lord. We can get up each morning, look into the mirror, and start our day by saying, ” Dear Lord, thank you for the gift of another day of life. By your grace I choose to be a doorkeeper in your house instead of taking my fate upon myself. I reject the deception of godship and choose to be your servant.”

&

ybic, Jonathan

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Psalm 78: 9-11: Turning Back in the Day of Battle

"White Feather" The Universal Symbol for Cowardice
“White Feather”
The Universal Symbol for Cowardice

 9 The men of Ephraim, though armed with bows, turned back on the day of battle;
10 they did not keep God’s covenants and refused to live by his law.
11 They forgot what he had done, the wonders he had shown them.

Psalm 78

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In reading this passage I’m reminded of pithy sayings I’ve heard over the years such as, “Adversity not only builds character in a person; it reveals character.” The same has also been said about involvement in sports. I’d like to add a third to the collection: “Experiencing signs and wonders can change a person’s heart but it can also reveal what’s in a person’s heart.” We’ve all heard stories of agnostics, atheists, and lukewarm Christians who became devout followers of Christ after witnessing a miracle or a healing. However, sometimes hearts were left unchanged or a change occurred that didn’t bear lasting fruit.

As a young Christian I was mystified by the behavior of the children of Israel in the years that followed their deliverance from Egypt. They saw the Ten Plagues, the Red Sea divided, the manna from heaven, the pillar of fire at night, the cloud of protection by day, and water coming from the cleft rock. And yet with all these signs and wonders, they did not enter God’s rest in the Promised Land and remained a stubborn and rebellious people.

Jesus ran into a similar problem in his ministry and condemned entire towns because of it: “Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes. But it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon at the judgment than you” (Luke 10:13,14). Korazin, Bethsaida, and not to mention Capernaum, followed in the footsteps of the children of Israel.

After several years of being a Christian, my experiences with people and their responses to the supernatural agreed with the biblical narrative. While living in Minnesota, I met a couple whose youngest son was healed of a rare disease through a Christian ministry and it changed the whole family from having a tepid faith to whole-hearted devotion. And yet, in other cases, I’ve known people who, despite experiencing the supernatural, displayed a heart similar to the men of Ephraim. What they saw did not have long-term benefits for them and they faltered in the day of testing. The faith of some has even been shipwrecked.

In my time as a Christian, I have seen another group emerge that I believe is especially dear to Jesus: they have seen very little or no dramatic supernatural activity and remain devoted to and in love with Jesus all their lives. Thomas doubted the resurrection of Christ until he saw his Lord in the flesh. Jesus said,“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

We should all strive to be in this group of disciples, because, unlike the men of Ephraim, they will not turn back in the day of battle. We may feel like we will never belong to this group, but we can always ask Jesus, like the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit, “Help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). He will not deny us. He will not give us a snake when we ask for a loaf of bread.

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ybic, Jonathan

http://www.openheavensblog.com/

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Psalm 51:14–17: What God Delights In

rebellion-seen
I am lost without you

14 Save me from bloodguilt, O God,
the God who saves me,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness

15 O Lord, open my lips,
and my mouth will declare your praise

16 You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings

17 The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

Both Psalms 32 and 51 are about David’s sorrow and repentance because of his adultery with Bathsheba and subsequent murder of her husband, Uriah the Hittite, who David purposely placed on the front lines of military battle, where he would surely die. In verses 14 and 15 he asks God for forgiveness for the murder (“bloodguilt”) so that he can sing of God’s righteousness and offer him praise. Derek Kidner, in his commentary on the Psalms, is helpful here in suggesting that David wants to extol God for his righteousness because he (David) sees God’s crowning achievement being making an egregious sinner like David righteous!

In verses 16 and 17 it’s obvious that King David has learned from his predecessor King Saul’s mistakes. This insight is often overlooked in sermons and commentaries. Saul was given clear instructions by God through the prophet Samuel to utterly destroy the Amalekites and he disobeyed these instructions. He spared Agag, king of the Amalekites, and the best of the livestock so he could offer sacrifices to the Lord. Samuel’s rebuke of Saul essentially said, “Don’t think these sacrifices impress God. Obedience is better than sacrifice. Your disobedience is similar to witchcraft and idolatry. Sacrifice is good but it means nothing if your heart isn’t right.”

The parallels to our present age are legion. Anytime someone is involved in religious activities–i.e. “sacrifices”–but their heart is wrong, they are following in the footsteps of Saul. One thinks of the Pharisees, both in the time of Jesus and now, who were/are more engaged in religious activities than anyone, but their hearts were full of pride and self–righteousness.

As a Roman Catholic, I often hear complaints from fellow parishioners about “cradle Catholics,” who were born into the faith, and do many of the right Catholic things–“sacrifices”–but their hearts are not humble and contrite and they are far from an intimate relationship with Christ. This is a kind of empty “cultural Christianity” that exists in every denomination.

Movements come and go within Christendom.  Some local churches emerge to ride the next big thing.  They become the most fashionable place to be involved. Sometimes the reason some of the members give their time, talent and treasure–“sacrifices”–to these churches is not to advance the kingdom of God; no, it’s because their involvement makes them feel hip and a part of a special group in comparison to all those boring, generic suburban Christians. And they get to rebel against their un–hip parents, who they are angry with, as part of a package deal!

What does David mean in verse 17 by saying that God wants a broken and contrite heart? Because Christ is the Bridegroom and we are the Bride (Matthew 25:1–13), sometimes it helps to understand biblical principles through the marriage relationship. When a husband has sinned against his wife and knows it, often he will engage in a flurry of activities–“sacrifices”– in order to extricate himself from the doghouse. Suddenly he’s bringing home flowers and candy and is doing home–improvement projects that she wanted done several months ago. However, what she really wants is not a whirlwind of goodwill gestures; no, what she really wants is an apology marked by humility and sorrow for what he did. She needs to know that he is truly sorry, not because his carelessness put him in the doghouse, but because what he did hurt, and was a sin against, her.

It’s never too late for the Pharisee, the “cultural Christian” or the “Christian hipster.” Or me, for that matter. We can still offer sacrifices that God will delight in if we come to him with a broken and contrite heart for the many ways we have offended him. “Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted” (Matthew 5:4).

If you liked this post, you may also like Jonathan’s new book, Letters from Fawn Creek, that is now available at this link:

https://www.tatepublishing.com/bookstore/book.php?w=9781628542035

Letters from Fawn Creek

 

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ybic, Jonathan

Transparent Pages, Ps. 31:6-8

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 I hate those who worship worthless idols.
I trust in the Lord.
I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love,
for you have seen my troubles,
and you care about the anguish of my soul.
You have not handed me over to my enemies
but have set me in a safe place.

Psalm 31:6-8, NLT

God’s promises are like watching a sunrise. It is beautiful, and they somehow work inside of us. Wise and patient eyes realize they are seeing something amazing, and it’s good. These three verses overlay each other. When I was a boy, I was fascinated by books that had transparent plastic pages. These pages would fold over on each other. I remember seeing the human body. You see the bones, but if you flip one of these pages– you could see the circulatory system imposed over the bones, and you can add the nervous system and see that as well. Pretty heady stuff for an eight year old boy. This was old school anatomy.

David wrote these verses, and they belong together.  “I hate those who worship worthless idols. I trust in the Lord.” This verse deals with the subject of discernment. The ability to distinguish between certain things, is not always seen as a positive. I cannot remove the stigma of this word– “hate.”  In the NT we’re anchored to this idea of love. But in Ps. 139:22,

“Yes, I hate them with total hatred,
    for your enemies are  my enemies.”

Hatred is a dangerous emotion. It’s has a handle, just like a suitcase. It can be controlled by the Holy Spirit, or manipulated by Satan. As believers, we should be aware of this possibility. Hatred has a place. Romans 12:9 is a ready verse, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good.” We must walk a tightrope here; it will require wisdom and awareness. But I’m also very confident in the Holy Spirit’s ability to assist you in this matter.

The next verse carries with it an intense blessing. It is also a verse that folds into “our picture book.”

“I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love,
for you have seen my troubles,
and you care about the anguish of my soul.”

Being truly glad is the waiting room for believers. It is an active state of a humbled heart. David is thrilled. He is quite aware of having God’s focus– he knows that he is incredibly loved. God has taken on the trials and burdens of David. David’s personal anguishes are taken up by the Lord.

“You have not handed me over to my enemies
but have set me in a safe place.”

David truly believes this. He thinks that this is a truly blessed state to be in. The deep realities of “what could have been” are factored into this awareness. God could have easily sent David to his doom. David is aware of what might have been.

These three verses, (vv. 6-8) snuggle together, like those “Russian nestling dolls.” One inside of the other, inside another. Or like our original metaphor–  multiple transparencies coming together to give us a clear view of David’s real truth.

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ybic, Bryan

The Verdict is In– Psalm 14:1-3

Verdict

Psalm 14

For the choir director: A psalm of David.

Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!

The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.
But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one!

Psalm 14:1-3, NLT

I remember it clearly. I was a student at Alaska Bible Institute, and got enmeshed in one of those “bull sessions” that periodically arise when there is far too much time, pizza and root beer.

The conversation rolled and we got on the subject of the depravity of man. Essentially, it is the doctrine that states that we are at best, evil and fallen into a sinful state. We are living in darkness and iniquity without hope. Only Jesus’ death and resurrection can save us and deliver us.

Commentary

V. 1, “Only fools say in their hearts,
    “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, and their actions are evil;
    not one of them does good!”

David is speaking directly to people who claim they are “atheists.” Within this belief system, there is an aggressive disbelief in any faith in an unseen God. There are also “agnostics” who are not sure that God can be known or understood.

This psalm states that all who state their unbelief are “fools.” There’s no ‘soft’ take here. A verse this bold gives us no real room for any compromise. Deep down we want to be pleasant, and make allowances– but that simply isn’t possible.

“The atheist can’t find God for the same reason that a thief can’t find a police officer.”

In Mathematics there is something called “the lowest common denominator.” What it is is the smallest positive integer that is a multiple of the denominators. According to David, the atheist is a complete fool at his core level.

There is a moral and spiritual decay that results in this foolishness. They are “corrupt,” and “evil,” and no good.

V. 2, “The Lord looks down from heaven
    on the entire human race;
he looks to see if anyone is truly wise,
    if anyone seeks God.”

I believe that we are in a constant state of evaluation. The entire 7 billion humans alive today go under the microscope. This close examination is not intrusive or invasive. God simply knows. He is completely aware of His created beings.

The Lord is seeking wisdom in the hearts of people. Wisdom, in my thinking is completely underrated. We think something else will substitute. I see wisdom as a mix of discernment, and comprehension, with a smattering of foresight and balance.

But– there is no one! This is where the doctrine of the depravity of man makes its entrance.

V. 3, “ But no, all have turned away;
    all have become corrupt.
No one does good,
    not a single one!”

The verdict isn’t good. We are slaves to sin, serving Satan with wild abandon. Most likely, we are not conscious of this arrangement. And even if we were it would change us very little. Sin is what we want, but it is certainly not what we need.

The good news is that He loves us. Jesus Christ lived, died and was raised from the dead. The Old Testament ingrained the deep sense of what is holy. But it also instilled an awareness of the sacrificial. Lambs died for the sins of people. And Jesus “the Lamb of God” substituted Himself in our place.

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ybic, Bryan

O Lord, The Battle is Far Too Fierce: Psalm 70

For the director of music. A psalm of David. To help people remember.

 1 God, come quickly and save me. 
       LORD, hurry to help me.
 2 Let those who are trying to kill me 
       be ashamed and disgraced. 
    Let those who want to hurt me 
       run away in disgrace.
 3 Let those who make fun of me 
       stop because of their shame.
 4 But let all those who worship you 
       rejoice and be glad. 
    Let those who love your salvation 
       always say, “Praise the greatness of God.” 
 5 I am poor and helpless; 
       God, hurry to me. 
    You help me and save me.” 
       Lord, do not wait.

Psalm 70:1-5, NCV

“As in all warfare, the two essential elements in victory are knowing your enemy and knowing your resources.”

Sinclair B. Ferguson

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Welcome to the war! It’s very seldom that a new convert realizes what we are all up against. Not to put too fine a point on it, but you have become a target for hell to shoot their arrows at. What was never an issue before, now becomes an universal adjudication.

There is a nasty viciousness about Satan’s attacks. We look into his kingdom and see such hostility and spite that it takes your breath away. David saw it also. He was able to write cogently and forcefully about what he had experienced. What we have here in Psalm 70 is nothing less then a “first person” account of a war that’s going on for David’s very soul.

Commentary

V. 1, there is a plea of desperate alacrity in this verse. There is a deep earnestness to David’s words. Figuratively, he has been pinned down by the enemy, and is making an urgent call for help. It’s typical for a soldier under a withering assault will cry out to be saved.

V. 2, Sometimes we start viewing the darkness as a kind of foggy philosophy of ‘anti-god’ protoplasm. But David won’t do that. His enemies are real, and they possess solid identities. They can be forced to be backed down. And yet David can’t push these bullies away, and so we see him on the radio to HQ for divine intervention.

V. 3, I can just imagine God hearing these words from David. I can see the hint of a smile that the Father has for such audacity and zeal. I can hear Him say, “Now that’s my boy!” The Father releases His power on those who are desperate.

V. 4, Now David doesn’t remain in this same place. We see him getting up and advancing directly into worship. (I always wanted to get a tattoo, “Born to Worship.”) David finds his footing enough to exhort and encourage his brothers and sisters. Warfare does that to you, David understood where everything was leading to.

V. 5, This verse always struck me as being out of sequence. V. 4 after all seems to be the pinnacle. This arrangement though creates a real sense of the cyclical nature of spiritual warfare. In a certain sense we will never see a final battle in our lifetimes. There will always be high places to tear down, and towering giants to kill. But our Helper is just a prayer away. Thank God.

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Kyrie Eleison.

ybic, Bryan

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How Dark Could it Possibly Get? Psalm 88

My life is full of troubles, and I am nearly dead. They think I am on the way to my grave. I am like a man with no strength.” 

Ps. 88:3-4, NCV

A Study of Psalm 88

As  I read Psalm 88, I suddenly realized the dark depths it took.  It is bleak and grim.  I believe it to be the only psalm there is without a reference to praise.  Not a single “hallelujah” graces this portion of scripture. It is the “black hole” of the Psalms.

But why?  And why has God chosen to leave it where just anybody can read it? This psalm is a masterpiece, but it has been exclusively painted with hues of black.  A word chosen by it’s author is the word, “darkness.”  Is it appropriate? Time after time, I’ve read this, looking for just a glimmer of light.

“Heman the Ezrahite, the apparent composer, was seriously depressed. Maybe he was also chronically ill. Or maybe, like many, he battled almost constantly against a relentless darkness. We honestly don’t know.

But he said he had been this way since his youth (v. 15). He felt abandoned by God (v. 14), his beloved (v. 18), and companions (v. 8). He was desperate and his prayers seemed to be going unanswered (vv. 13-14). He was so overwhelmed that he felt close to death (vv. 3, 15).”

 –John Piper

So! Why has God decided to include this in the canon of scripture?  Obviously, writing psalms was probably a fashionable and a religious exercise, and we can safely conclude that hundreds of Psalms never made it into this book we call the Bible.  Undoubtedly, most of these ‘rejects’ were sincere, and heart-felt.  The deep instinct of a spiritual man or woman is to reflect and share their pilgrimage.

Saturated with despair, and then glazed with desperation,  we must extend the human condition and just accept that things are not always what they should be.  We must conclude that this darkness is within our capability and experience.  It could happen to you, or anyone! You are vulnerable. We all could slide into the dark.

The darkest psalm is really a ‘nightlight.’  It exists to give us hope.  There is a broad range of conditions the human heart will encounter.  Psalm 88 is within the realm of possibility for those who are of the Faith.  We probably will need to expand our ideas of what is possible, and not what is accepted.  Those of us who know deep down the “blackness of darkness” have just started to savor the light.

“…even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is bright as the day, for darkness is as light with you”

Psalm 139:12

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Kyrie Eleison.

ybic, Bryan

The Flourish: the Finish

The conclusion of Psalm 92, NLT.

12 But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.

13 For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.     They flourish in the courts of our God.

14 Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.

15 They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock!     There is no evil in him!”

What an ending. I do confess, I do like watching good movies– and the final scenes can make, or break a good movie. Is it believable, does it flow into the plot, does it carry us beyond the moment?

The very way this Psalm ends intrigues me. The perfect summary for this is found in verses 1-11, which we have already covered. Verses 12-15 is our ending point. We arrive here if we will just follow the conditions of the first 11 verses.

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Commentary

V. 12, “But the godly will flourish like palm trees and grow strong like the cedars of Lebanon.”

What audacity, what boldness! We must recognize that there is a certain place for these ‘flourishers.’ They just explode with a core central growth. We see them, but we are not intimidated. Instead they push us to a higher love.

The strength of us is that we can grow strong all the way through. That is just the way it works, and we take anything that we can get. Envision for a moment, the tallest cedars. I remember seeing for the first time the California Redwoods. It was astonishing, and I got a crook in my neck looking up all the time.

V. 13, “For they are transplanted to the Lord’s own house.     They flourish in the courts of our God.”

No matter where we are, the Father will bring us closer to Himself. We may think we are “out-of-the-loop”. But He sees it all. He does “transplant,” but only within our true calling. And a “flourishing” is part of the package.

How do we process this? We are brought out of a senseless and desperate life, directly into a full life of intimacy with the Lord Jesus. In this place, we start to grow branches, and new buds. Life is not just a great idea–but it starts to flow through our very being.

V. 14, “ Even in old age they will still produce fruit; they will remain vital and green.”

Old age seems close to us. We age, and we determine that it works out to us in obsolescence and defeat. When we hit 60, we determine it is all over, and finished. God promises that as believers we will be green, and fresh–even in this crazy margin of age. But as it works out, we are incredibly “vital.”

I suppose that the truth of this can transform the way we see ourselves, and the way we live out our lives, Old-agedness can never be an excuse to backing out of a true and real spirituality.

V. 15, “ They will declare, “The Lord is just! He is my rock!     There is no evil in him!”

Much of what I have shared with you is solid, but simple. We all end up at this verse though. From here we start to focus directly on all that is plain and level. After all, He is the rock and as we start to focus on this, we are ‘pulled’ into His presence.

We can see no evil in this, and yes it may seem we are in a kind of “pinball machine.” We are bound to voices that try to direct us into its version of deceit. We could be pulled even into “denial” of our faith. But never, or ever is there the slightest sense of evil that comes to us from God.

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ybic, Bryan

Thrill Me, God: Psalm 92

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You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
    I sing for joy because of what you have done.
O Lord, what great works you do!
    And how deep are your thoughts.
Only a simpleton would not know,
    and only a fool would not understand this:
Though the wicked sprout like weeds
    and evildoers flourish,
    they will be destroyed forever.

Psalm 92:4-7, NLT

Contemplation seems to have been stripped out of our modern lives. We move too fast, and there is always something who demands our focus and attention. To contemplate, on the other hand, is to give thoughtful attention, or long consideration to something, or someone. It is closely welded to meditation (the biblical kind.)

The psalmist drills this repeatedly into his readers. If we awake ever at all from his efforts, we will encounter a special glory and a wonderful grace. When we really start thinking about the things of God–those secret special things– we develop extraordinary strength.

Commentary

V. 4, “You thrill me, Lord, with all you have done for me!
    I sing for joy because of what you have done.

The KJV says, “For thou, Lord, hast made me glad through thy work.”

I do like the word, “thrill” from the NLT. Can you think of a time or event that brought you a thrill? A bang, a blast, a charge? When a thrill suddenly comes it’s like fireworks over the lake on the 4th of July.

The psalmist connects this excitement to his spiritual life. A thrill has been bolted on to it and that changes everything. And that makes all the difference. The issue of “thrill-less-ness” is a tragedy of a mean and joyless faith.

V. 5, “O Lord, what great works you do!
    And how deep are your thoughts.

We believers are not part of His fan-club. But we are His friends. We consider the Father’s work, and the thoughts that He is thinking; and we are amazed by it all.

Our heavenly Father keeps nothing for Himself, instead He loads on us. His promises are all golden, and filled with honey.

V. 6, “Only a simpleton would not know,
    and only a fool would not understand this:

All our effort to see and to know the Lord, are rewarded and esteemed. Obviously, there are those who could care less. They will never make any real effort to understand. The Bible doesn’t mince words here– they are called “simpletons and fools”.

V. 7, “Though the wicked sprout like weeds
    and evildoers flourish,
    they will be destroyed forever.”

We can assume there is a sprouting and a flourishing of a certain sort.  Wicked people and those who do evil things often have an earthly appearance of favor. But, it is just a fleeting figment, a brief shadowy kind of a life. The last sentence, “destroyed forever”, should be read with a definite sense of horror.

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ybic, Bryan

He Looked Down: Psalm 102:19-22

Crowd in the rain
Crowd in the rain

19 Tell them the Lord looked down
    from his heavenly sanctuary.
   He looked down to earth from heaven
20     to hear the groans of the prisoners,
    to release those condemned to die.
21 And so the Lord’s fame will be celebrated in Zion,
    his praises in Jerusalem,
22 when multitudes gather together
    and kingdoms come to worship the Lord.

Psalm 102:19-22, NLT

The movie “Roots” is on the tube. I have never seen it before, and it is quite provocative. The scenes on the slave ship, and the slave market where Africans were auctioned off are brutal and vicious. It didn’t seem possible for such evil being afflicted on a people.

I also have been reading this psalm and thinking about God’s certain awareness of both the condemned, and the prisoner. I know His heart is breaking as He watches every mean and wicked action against these sufferers.

There are 7 billion people alive on planet Earth today. Slavery, and prostitution are rampant. Drug addiction and crime seethes into every corner– corrupting and confusing. In fact, if we could weigh all the sin in the world committed in the last five minutes it would bury us.

This thought fits, but may need work to make it real. Bob Pierce, who wrote, “Let my heart be broken by the things that break the heart of God.”

And, it is something that Mother Teresa once said, “May God break my heart so completely that the whole world falls in.” – Mother Teresa

Commentary

V. 19, “Tell them the Lord looked down
    from his heavenly sanctuary.
   He looked down to earth from heaven.”

God is always on alert, watching and looking. He is all-seeing, from a sweat shop in China, to the homosexual in Miami. No dark corner in an alley in Rio can block what He sees. He sees 24/7, and never takes a nap.

His HQ is what we call a “sanctuary”– that is, a position of perfect peace and serenity. But this doesn’t infer to isolate. Rather it seems the very opposite is true, as He looks, and grieves over it all.

V. 20, “to hear the groans of the prisoners,
    to release those condemned to die.”

Have you ever groaned? I went to Dictionary.com and quickly looked it up. The noun form of groan is, “a low, mournful sound uttered in pain or grief: the groans of dying soldiers.

Prisoners groan–a sob, a cry, a whimper. But people being people, one must adapt and become inured to the dull pain that confinement brings. You adapt to stay alive, even when life gets difficult.

The last phrase in this verse, “to release those condemned to die.”  This explains the effort of God to see people liberated. He loves to parole those who will turn to Him. We think this release is physical. But I’m reasonably sure it is a spiritual release as well. If you find Christ, “you are free indeed.”

V. 21, “And so the Lord’s fame will be celebrated in Zion,
    his praises in Jerusalem,”

There is nothing quite like praise of one who has been “scraped off the bottom” and given life. I love worshiping with scoundrels and misfits. They are authentic, they understand being held in dark bondage. They know “a jumping kind of joy.” They party in the Presence of their Redeemer.

V. 22, “when multitudes gather together
    and kingdoms come to worship the Lord.”

You know, I think worship is what our life is all about. In this verse we witness the discovery of a common mission. A young believer in New Delhi, and the quiet elder of a church in Cornwall, have little in common. But worship. Worship is the “true coin of the realm” which we all share.

This verse speaks of both “multitudes” and “kingdoms.” Jesus redeems us one by one–but we all gather to worship together.

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ybic, Bryan

Faith Demands Tests: Psalm 102:3-6

Chemistry1
Our faith needs to be tested to prove its authenticity

3 “For my days disappear like smoke,
    and my bones burn like red-hot coals.
My heart is sick, withered like grass,
    and I have lost my appetite.
Because of my groaning,
    I am reduced to skin and bones.
I am like an owl in the desert,
    like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.”

Psalm 102:3-6, NLT

There is a deeper awareness that seasons our life with frailty and futility and emptiness. This is not some kind of bummer or downer. We arrive at this point, over time and some maturity, to feel this weakness. It can be very profound.

As I speed-read these four verses, I’m  become aware of the following.

  1. The verses all seem to be based on the same foundation.
  2. Metaphors change, but the message stays consistent.
  3. The Holy Spirit who directed the writing, has perfectly chosen each “visual.”
  4. As grim as it may seem, we all need to pass through these experiences.
  5. We really do need to use these words, phrases and metaphors to rightly make sense of our own issues. Like a physical key will open a specific door or lock– so these verses will open up, all that which is now closed.

Commentary

V. 3, For my days disappear like smoke,
    and my bones burn like red-hot coals.”

The imagery is everything. There is a heavy sense of loss, and things just seem to slip through our fingers. Nothing has a handle for us to grab unto. We are in a special place; it’s all sort of vague and bewildering. We are perplexed spiritually.

‘Fire in my bones’ is an intense picture of being consumed at the deepest level. This fire burns viciously and is hidden from casual contact. There are seams of coal in West Virginia that have caught fire underground, and they can’t be extinguished.

V. 4, “My heart is sick, withered like grass,
    and I have lost my appetite.”

Sick and withered. Sick– it’s like having the flu. Withered– clearly like a wilted bush in the desert. (If you had to pick one, which would you choose?) But the psalmist describes a person with both issues.

Loss of appetite is seldom a problem for me. I dearly love to eat. You can take me anywhere– Mexican, Italian, German, and Chinese. I like fried chicken and BBQ ribs. But the writer has no desire at all to eat. He doesn’t want any more cheese cake. There is a time to feast and ‘make merry’ but the psalmist wants none of it.

V. 5, “Because of my groaning,
    I am reduced to skin and bones.”

The spiritual has a direct effect on the physical. The writer is in pain, and he moans out of the depths of his soul. He carries affliction, deep inside. The physical is now involved, as he now has become a complete ruin. He is emaciated, no longer the man he used to be. Like the photos of little children in Uganda, totally wasted and in ruin. The spiritual condition will often reflect into the physical.

V. 6, “I am like an owl in the desert,
    like a little owl in a far-off wilderness.”

The psalmist has been ‘ransacking’ his vocabulary, trying to describe to us his present condition. He wants us to have a full and clear understanding of what he is facing.

These owls were fairly common. They are solitary and seek out solitary places. A “desert” in the scriptures is almost always used to describe a place of testing. A desert is a place of extremes. It is where plants struggle and water is scarce. The heat can be brutal and yet must be endured.

An insignificant “little owl” that lives in a far away wilderness, is the psalmist description of himself. In spite of the conditions, this is perhaps a very healthy view of oneself.

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ybic, Bryan

The Chosen Ones: Psalm 108:7-9

God has promised this by his holiness:
“I will divide up Shechem with joy.
I will measure out the valley of Succoth.
Gilead is mine,
and Manasseh, too.
Ephraim, my helmet, will produce my warriors,
and Judah, my scepter, will produce my kings.
But Moab, my washbasin, will become my servant,
and I will wipe my feet on Edom
and shout in triumph over Philistia.”

Psalm 108:7-9, NLT

In the 5th grade I discovered Geography and History. I excelled at these two classes and just had an infinity with them. And I certainly never had to study. (But I could not understand Algebra, Geometry and Trig. I always had failing grades in these courses.)

In these verses God (speaking through David) is separating the nations in the manner of “the Sheep and the Goats.” We find this as a teaching in Matthew  25:31-46. I think that understanding this teaching provides us with a ‘license’ to fully grasp these verses in Psalm 108.

We can make a list of the proper names which will help us sort things out. I think if we do this we will step away from the arcane and obscure.

  1. Shechem

    English: English translation of hebrew version...
    English translation of Hebrew version. Map of the twelve tribes of Israel, before the move of Dan to the North (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
  2. Valley of Succoth
  3. Gilead
  4. Manasseh
  5. Ephraim
  6. Judah
  7. Moab
  8. Edom
  9. Philistia

Some of these are good, and others are under judgement. Each of these designated a people group living in a city, or region. Here in the U. S. we have an awareness of differences, like someone from San Diego, California and someone from Bangor, Maine. You can grow up living in Tennessee or NYC and life is dramatically different.

Commentary

V. 7, “God has promised this by his holiness:
“I will divide up Shechem with joy.
I will measure out the valley of Succoth.”

First note, God is in control. This is a promise. He is setting up boundaries, and having a boundary is a blessing. God seems to be intensely aware of the needs of His people, and He reaches out in covenant concern to “make things right.” The inclusion of the word, “joy” reveals His heart in this matter.

V. 8, “Gilead is mine, and Manasseh, too.
Ephraim, my helmet, will produce my warriors,
and Judah, my scepter, will produce my kings.

These are the positives. They reach back to the establishment of the 12 tribes of Israel. He takes each to be His very own. The mention of Ephraim (the ‘biggest’ tribe) and Judah (the most ‘elite’ tribe) are energized by the favor of the Lord. They will fulfill their destinies, with God’s help; they experience approval and blessing.

In a sense, we too have been chosen to walk in a blessing. We have been elected and been given favor.

 For we know, brothers loved by God, that he has chosen you,”

1 Thessalonians 1:4, ESV

V. 9, “But Moab, my washbasin, will become my servant,
and I will wipe my feet on Edom and shout in triumph over Philistia.”

These are the negatives. The language used is meant to insult, and disparage. These are the “bad guys.” The three are an active trinity of evil against Israel from the beginning.

I suppose the important thing is the justice of God is never overlooked. These three have harmed and hurt God’s people at every turn. For me, it’s hard to imagine a people who hate others with such venom. But scripture teaches us that there will always be a hatred of what is good.

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ybic, Bryan

Your Enemies Must Be Loved: Psalm 35:19-21

Please, make it so.

19 “Don’t let my treacherous enemies rejoice over my defeat.
    Don’t let those who hate me without cause gloat over my sorrow.
20 They don’t talk of peace;
    they plot against innocent people who mind their own business.
21 They shout, “Aha! Aha!
    With our own eyes we saw him do it!”

Psalm 35:19-21, NLT

Somehow, David is aware that the enemy will gain much by his defeat. It seems he stands at a pivot point, where his obedience and humility will cause issues that he never considered before.

He uses two definite and classic phrases– “enemies rejoice,” and “they cause gloating.” These are definite areas that have made Him so vulnerable and weak. He has given the enemy space to function here in these places.

This Psalm will continue to develop. But these three verses will declare a certain direction. It suggests how evil and ungodliness starts to flourish, and what it uses to make it work for them.

Commentary

V. 19, Don’t let my treacherous enemies rejoice over my defeat.
    Don’t let those who hate me without cause gloat over my sorrow.

First, David’s enemies are “treacherous,” they means they betray, they deceive, and mislead. They do not understand faithfulness. They are definite enemies because of what they have decided.

Second, the second phrase becomes even more vicious than the first. “Don’t let those who hate me without cause gloat over my sorrow.” What is David thinking? I suppose we start with “those who hate me.” David is not the glowing central figure that we think he is. There are many loyal Jewish teachers who would make an issue of David’s adultery and subsequent murder of Uriah. He is hated by many.

But King David presses, “There is no cause.” All that they decide works in conjunction with the devil. Through forgiveness, David has uncover a gracious forgiveness, that has released him from these evils. Many just can’t recognize the release of David from his sins.

The word “gloat” is perhaps too closely related to “bloat.” This is a very negative, and a very poor choice of words. If I gloat it means I have incorporated pride/arrogance/ego with the things I choose to do. When I start gloating, I become pretty much lost.

V. 20, “They don’t talk of peace;
    they plot against innocent people who mind their own business.”

The works of these “scorners” are broadened to include all who profess a Godly hope. These rascals begin to target the innocent ones. The word “plot” is important as it does suggest an effort to bring down any kind of a Godly life they can discover. In a real sense they want to rip up anything that the innocent can develop.

V. 21, “They shout, “Aha! Aha!
    With our own eyes we saw him do it!”

This is everything that the liars and deceivers can produce. There proclamation of a “truthful witness.” I suppose this is someone’s direct witness to David’s terrible sin against Uriah and his wife, Bathsheba.

But I also think that very many took this up, and made it their personal vision. Although most had never saw the details, they too created an imaginary scenario that defied David, and made him ‘forgiven.’  And how can they follow such an evil sinner like King David?

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ybic, Bryan