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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Who Follows You? Psalm 145:4

 

Five Generations
Five Generations

4One generation shall commend your works to another,
    and shall declare your mighty acts.”

Psalm 145:4, ESV

The worship continues, as it should. Our last post, vv. 1-3 (http://psalmslife.com/2014/09/14/the-true-king-psalm-145/) has set the pace for us.

But this particular verse has a wonderful slant. It is praise that has been embedded into the framework of family. The idea of this generational dynamic is quite alien to us, living in the West. We stress the individual, with very little thought on our effect on close kin.

Commentary

V. 4, One generation shall commend your works to another, and shall declare your mighty acts.”

As we start to communicate trans-generationally, we find God’s work and activity in our lives passing to our children and grand-children. Our unique experiences with the Holy Spirit, the things we have learned and understood, are not lost– rather stay alive and aware. We give them a heritage, and a narrative of faith that enriches them.

“Life is but one continual course of instruction. The hand of the parent writes on the heart of the child the first faint characters which time deepens into strength so that nothing can efface them.” Unknown

My parents have given me much. Back in the 1970s they acted in faith and became hosts/sponsors of refugees from Cambodia. They took in a family into our little farmhouse. They encountered intense opposition and challenging obstacles. But my dad and mom stayed faithful to the Lord, inspite of daunting issues that dogged them. I learned about God by their life.

A father’s responsibility is not to make the child’s decisions, but to let the child watch him make his.” Ed Cole

Shoulders of Giants

When you communicate your experiences to the ‘church-to-come’ you will leave a legacy that will be a rich source of faith and hope. Because of you, they will stand on the shoulders of giants. The kingdom of our Lord will advance. And they will stand on your shoulders of faith.

Consider these verses–

“You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise.” Deut. 6:7, ESV

“Come, O children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.” Ps. 34:11

“He planted a witness in Jacob,
set his Word firmly in Israel,
Then commanded our parents
to teach it to their children
So the next generation would know,
and all the generations to come—
Know the truth and tell the stories
so their children can trust in God,”  Ps. 78:5-6, MSG

*

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The Secret of Deliverance: Psalms 124

Life behind the fence

The Lord Saves His People
A song for going up to worship. Of David.

 1 What if the Lord had not been on our side? 
       (Let Israel repeat this.)
 2 What if the Lord had not been on our side 
       when we were attacked?
 3 When they were angry with us, 
       they would have swallowed us alive.
 4 They would have been like a flood drowning us; 
       they would have poured over us like a river. 
 5 They would have swept us away like a mighty stream. 

 6 Praise the Lord, 
       who did not let them chew us up. 
 7 We escaped like a bird 
       from the hunter’s trap. 
    The trap broke, 
       and we escaped.
 8 Our help comes from the Lord, 
       who made heaven and earth.

We can play “the what if game.” We can think backwards, and hit replay, and pretend alternate realities. What if, I didn’t join the army? What if I died on that last drunken spree, choking on my own vomit? Date that particular girl, go to a Bible college? These events could have happened. (But didn’t).

David asks an enormous “what if.” And this trip down memory lane examines what would of, (or could have) happened if God would have taken His hand off Israel as a nation.

Commentary

V. 1- 5, King David poses this question. He wants Israel to understand what he is saying. He forces the comment to repeat after him. He then re-frames the question in V.2. David wants his nation to think through this, “What if God had not stepped into the situation?”

I truly believe that we should occasionally do the same today. A moments pause to reflect on His grace and attending care. To understand that it was God’s grace that held us in place. All that He does for us is very good indeed.

The opposing forces of our malevolent enemy have a ministry. That ministry is too steamroll and crush. As a boy I remember having the same vivid dream, especially when I would have a fever. It was always the same, I was on a conveyor belt, and I couldn’t move. At the end of that belt was huge lugged rollers. I was going to be crushed to death. I can still remember the terror of being frozen to the moving belt.

There is a sense of being so overwhelmed by your enemies. The chosen metaphor is an intense flood, irresistible waters sweeping us downstream. Does Satan have this much power? I think he does. But if we focus on these first five verses we see that they are merely potentialities… what could have happened… if God had let go.

V. 6, “Praise the Lord, who did not let them chew us up.”  David is a very vivid writer, he had a flair of choosing the best images. We see God intervening, of wading into the flood, and preventing Israel from being devoured.

V. 7  “We have escaped like a bird from the snare of the fowlers; the snare is broken, and we have escaped!” ESV. I love this verse. “Escaped” is emphasized twice, the bird catchers have collected many birds, snared by a little food and a strong net. But something has just happened, and the birds somehow escape! Growing up I once went ice fishing with my grandpa. He would catch some beautiful fish, but I surreptitiously would slip them into the water to set them free. Somehow I think this is God’s heart.

V. 8, is the ultimate lesson of this psalm. It sums up everything wonderfully. There is help. The Creator who cares for us. He has ultimate strength.

 

ybic, Bryan

 

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The Walls: Psalm 51:17-19, Conclusion

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

18 Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;
19 then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

Psalm 51:17-19, ESV

David is fully committed to Jerusalem. In spite of all the miserable complications his sin has pounded him with, the man is focused on the covenant people of God. David loves Israel, and he is quite passionate about Jerusalem.

In the Church age, we can’t point directly to the physical country and city like he did. However, the new covenant that comes through Jesus has added us to a “spiritual nation” of the faithful. We now have a valid connection with Israel and the capital city of Jerusalem. Abraham and Moses, and each “partriarch” now speak resoundly at us.

This can be a challenge for us. We seem so disjointed and scattered about. Yet, I have to believe that the opposite is true. Yes, we are a people of many different practices and ideas. The Church worldwide is culturally diverse, but has a central love for the Lord Jesus. For every believer, with a valid faith, each look to Jesus as the center of our faith.

Commentary

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

It’s a bit of holy faith that can speak at the sacrificial efforts of the Jews with such awareness. King David has become quite aware that to offer a bull for sacrifice isn’t really enough. Rather, the heart of the sacrificer determines everything. Sin can never be overlooked, and somehow covered with ritual.

There must be a brokenness, and something called “contriteness.” This really is something that is formed within, we can’t fake it, we would be fools if we tried. It seems like God often focuses on the inside, before He looks at the outside.

When God sees your brokenness, your grief over the sin running rampant in your life, He responds to you. He only desires that you come to Him, really and properly.

V. 18, “Do good to Zion in your good pleasure;
    build up the walls of Jerusalem;”

David seems to be always thinking in corporate terms, even when his personal life has been turned-upside-down. I suppose he is thinking like a king, and pursues His people’s welfare. But this is also an astonishing certainty. “Please, God forgive me, but bless your people in wonderful ways.”

The “walls of Jerusalem” are key and sure. They exist to protect, define, and secure the grace of God in a secure place. Walls are also built to keep “undesirables” out. Being a city that counts on its walls to protect it means a lot of effort for many groups of people to build.

V. 19, “then will you delight in right sacrifices,
    in burnt offerings and whole burnt offerings;
    then bulls will be offered on your altar.”

Providing a certain strength to the peripheral  doesn’t mean at all, an acceptance of built-in sin. And this psalm puts the focus on God’s certain desires. “Delight” is a great word, which carries so much.

Sacrifices can be good. They put into the physical what also belongs in the spiritual. The sacrifice describes what the spiritual declares. Ideally, what bull I sacrifice should communicate my heart to God.

So much is embedded in these verses. Much can be seen, and much must be excavated. I just know you will do what is right.

*

ybic, Bryan

Psalm 103:7: On the Outside Looking In?

11-23-11iStock_000017828185 (1)
Moving toward Him, and home

7 “He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel.”  Psalm 103:7

A person can have a generous grandfather who lives in a different country and never really get to know them. The grandparent sends money and gifts for their birthday, Christmas, and high school graduation. They may even get a sweater from the grandparent during winter and a fishing pole during summer and have a brief phone conversation once a year because long distance phone rates are high. After a lifetime of this, it becomes apparent that the grandchild knows the deeds of generosity of the grandfather but doesn’t really know him personally. There’s no intimacy; the grandchild merely knows him “from the outside looking in.”

This analogy is fitting when comparing Moses’ relationship with God and the vast majority of the children of Israel after they left Egypt. Moses’ heart is revealed in Exodus 33:13 when he asks God:

“If you are pleased with me, teach me your ways so that I may know you and continue to find favor with you. Remember that this nation is your people.”

The heart of the vast majority of Israelites was revealed when they left Egypt. When life did not live up to their expectations, they complained to Moses and wanted to return to Egypt, where they would get their fill of fish, cucumbers, melons, leeks, garlic, and onions.

These two stories highlight the difference between Moses and the children of Israel: Moses sought an intimate relationship with God as an end–in–itself  while, for most of the Israelites, God was a means to an end. The latter were very similar to the crowds who followed Jesus around because they wanted to get their fill of the loaves and fishes. They knew the acts of God but not his ways. They were into the gifts but not the Giver.

Matthew 7:21–23 is a breathtaking passage because it talks about people who cast out demons and performed miracles in Christ’s name, but Jesus said he did not know them and called them evildoers. Many during the time of Moses saw the acts of God and didn’t know God personally; Jesus predicted that there would be people who would perform the acts of God and not know him.

These are all sobering passages that drive one to take a searching moral and spiritual inventory of one’s soul. However, this should all be counterbalanced with the truth that God’s grace is amazing and that his mercies endure forever. To a lukewarm church (Laodicea) that did many things that Christ found offensive, he still reached out to them with an invitation of intimate fellowship:

“Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me” (Revelation 3:20).

What’s sometimes overlooked is that this invitation was extended in this passage not to secular people but to church–going Christians. The same opportunity is offered to us every day: to not only know God’s acts but to know his ways, to be on the inside looking out and not on the outside looking in.

If you liked this post, you may also like Jonathan’s 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

Psalm 137: 1–6: Discipline That Brings a Harvest of Righteousness

psalm137-400

Psalm 137

1 Beside the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept
    as we thought of Jerusalem.
2 We put away our harps,
    hanging them on the branches of poplar trees.
3 For our captors demanded a song from us.
    Our tormentors insisted on a joyful hymn:
    “Sing us one of those songs of Jerusalem!”
4 But how can we sing the songs of the Lord
    while in a pagan land?

5 If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand forget how to play the harp.
6 May my tongue stick to the roof of my mouth
    if I fail to remember you,
    if I don’t make Jerusalem my greatest joy.

7 O Lord, remember what the Edomites did
    on the day the armies of Babylon captured Jerusalem.
“Destroy it!” they yelled.
    “Level it to the ground!”

In the background of this psalm, the children of Israel in 586 BC have been led into captivity to Babylon because of their obstinate rebellion and idolatry against the Lord. Their captors are taunting them by asking them to sing songs of Zion in a foreign land but this they cannot do. They are reaping what they sowed and are being disciplined by the Lord through their bondage in Babylon.

This is probably familiar territory for those of us who have walked with the Lord for several  years. Of the many trials that we endure in this life, at least some of them are the discipline of the Lord. At one time or another we all get taken to God’s woodshed. Here are some helpful guidelines to help us while we are in the disciplining process:

(1) Israel endured discipline during this time because they were the chosen people of God; we endure discipline because we are his beloved sons and daughters. Discipline reveals our identity. Hebrews 12:8 goes so far as to say that if we are not disciplined, then we are “illegitimate children and not true sons.”

(2) Discipline in not an end–in–itself; the purpose of discipline is restoration and reconciliation. This is why Israel would not let themselves forget Jerusalem because it represented home and the restoration of their fortunes. Again, Hebrews 12:11 tells us that discipline will produce “a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.”

It’s interesting to note that Israel had its own harvest of righteousness: after their exile in Babylon, there is strong evidence that the problem of foreign gods was never a widespread problem again for many years.

(3) While you are going through the discipline of the Lord, expect demonic opposition to increase in your life. Notice how Israel is tormented by their captors in verse 3. The Edomites also encouraged Babylon to do great harm to Jerusalem during the fall of Jerusalem.

The greatest strategy of the devil is this: convince the believer being disciplined that they are so defective and have sinned so greatly that they are not worthy of God’s tender mercies. This is a lie: his mercies endure forever. Remember Satan is called “the accuser of the brethren.”

(4) How much better it is to be disciplined now in this life, and be purified than to have to stand before Christ, without having gone through the Refiner’s Fire. Our weeping will endure for the night (this present life) but joy will come in the morning (eternity).

If you liked this post by Jonathan, you may also like his book ,Letters from Fawn Creek, that is available at this link:

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

Letters from Fawn Creek

 

ybic, Jonathan

What Our Blessings Look Like: Psalm 128

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem.

 1 Happy are those who respect the Lord and obey him.
 2 You will enjoy what you work for, 
       and you will be blessed with good things.
 3 Your wife will give you many children, 
       like a vine that produces much fruit. 
    Your children will bring you much good, 
       like olive branches that produce many olives.
 4 This is how the man who respects the Lord 
       will be blessed.
 5 May the Lord bless you from Mount Zion; 
       may you enjoy the good things of Jerusalem all your life. 
 6 May you see your grandchildren. 

    Let there be peace in Israel.

Psalm 128, NCV

This one of “the Psalms of Ascent” for pilgrims to sing as the travel to Jerusalem for the high hold feasts. They would walk, most from more than 70 miles. They would travel in large groups for safety against robbers and brigands. They would sing in unison, or in “rounds” using these psalms.

For us, we are making a spiritual journey, also from a long distance. And we too, have songs to sing. We travel hopefully, in groups as well. It’s interesting to note that what we sing should be of sound theology and an edifying quality. The experience of singing the truth joyfully would teach and strengthen the whole family in the profound idea of covenant.

Commentary

V. 1, is interesting because joy and fear are both present. Your joy is a result of your fear.You experience them both together. All joy, or all fear, apart from each other will be a disruption for us.  Notice this was to help us follow Him, when the road was challenging.

V.2, If we fear, we will find joy. We will enjoy what we do. There will be fruit which is always a great thing. Not to have it is very miserable, as it will always mean that something is wrong. Usually, that something is from v.1. They link together like train boxcars.

V. 3, has much to do with a single word, “contentment.” A whole lot of problems and sadness come our way because we are no longer content or at peace with ourselves. Obviously, when we are not happy, we no longer enjoy our life. Depression and despondency will take us down and ruin us. (I know this, firsthand.)

Wife, and children all flourish and grow. Perhaps that is a strong indicator of your spiritual health.  Family that is thriving. Sitting at our dinner table is a real treat. I enjoy this greatly and I’m learning to love it more and more.

V. 4 declares that this is the blessing God gives. It is intensely familial. It’s odd, but some of us who are married with children are still single in our hearts, and minds. Often we isolate ourselves, and keep away from our families, and this is wrong. If we persist in this, we lose the deep blessing of God on our lives.

V. 5-6 are like a water faucet you can’t turn off. Cold, fresh water gushes from the spout and doesn’t stop refreshing. And actually, this is not far from the truth. The idea of continuance and constancy may seem improbable to us. But, its very hard to turn God off. He gives and gives; and sometimes getting a drink is like trying to drink from a fire hose.

ybic, Bryan

kyrie elesion.

Psalm 84:10: Overcoming the Greatest Temptation

temptation-of-jesus

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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Postscript to Psalm 78:9–11: Two Reasons Why People Turn Back in the Day of Battle

The Battle of the Somme July 1, 1916
The Battle of the Somme
July 1, 1916

A few years ago a friend of mine told me about a man in his town who had been arrested for embezzling both from his workplace and at his church. If turning back in the day of battle is defined as a breakdown of character in a time of adversity, then this man would be Exhibit A in any discussion on that topic. I don’t know all the details and can only use my imagination. Perhaps his personal finances were in shambles and this created fertile soil for a temptation to skim off the top and hope no one would notice.

Throughout the Psalms, David talks about the importance of trusting in God’s unfailing love (e.g., Ps. 13:5). Years ago I heard a Christian minister who God used in facilitating emotional and physical healing in people’s lives say, “More and more I run into Christians who believe that God can heal them but are not sure that he wants to heal them. They doubt God’s love for them for whatever reason.”

This reminds me when Moses told the children of Israel that they rebelled against the command of the Lord and grumbled in their tents and said, “The Lord hates us so he brought us out of Egypt to deliver us into the hands of the Amorites to destroy us” (Deut.1:27). Perhaps the man who did all the embezzling, like the children of Israel, doubted God’s unfailing love and decided to take things into his own hands.

A second reason (and there are many) people turn back in the day of battle is because they have too narrow a definition of God’s unfailing love. In Daniel 3 Meshach, Shadrach, and Abednego were thrown into the fiery furnace by Nebuchadnezzar. It’s evident from 3:16–18 that they knew that if God decided to deliver them, then his love was unfailing; and they also knew that if he didn’t decide to deliver them, his love was also unfailing.

Many Christians understand the former but not the latter. God may not heal our child who has a terminal disease, save our floundering marriage, or rescue our drowning finances, but his love is still unfailing. Many Christians go through something traumatic, doubt God’s unfailing love, become offended at God, and then turn back in the day of battle. They expected life to be “X”, and when it turned out to be “Y”, they became scandalized and decided to take things into their own hands. God give us a trusting heart like Job who said, “Though he [God] slay me, yet will I hope in him…” (Job 13:15).

^

ybic, Jonathan

http://www.openheavensblog.com/

Your Face is Shining on Me: Psalm 67

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm. A song.  “Make Your Face Shine Upon Us”

 1 May God be gracious to us and bless us 
   and make his face to shine upon us, 
                         Selah

2 that your way may be known on earth, 
   your saving power among all nations. 
3 Let the peoples praise you, O God; 
   let all the peoples praise you!

 4 Let the nations be glad and sing for joy, 
   for you judge the peoples with equity 
   and guide the nations upon earth. 
                         Selah

5 Let the peoples praise you, O God; 
   let all the peoples praise you!

 6 The earth has yielded its increase; 
   God, our God, shall bless us. 
7 God shall bless us; 
   let all the ends of the earth fear him!

This dear one, is what we call a “liturgical” song, it’s a classic. The author was most likely a Levite, one of the priest’s assistants, but he had a gift for this. The song had been created for Israel, for the profound purpose of bringing and guiding God’s covenant people into a special place. I suppose we all could use the help in this.

Two “Selahs”. I believe this is our first contact with this term in our study. We don’t grasp the meaning, but a Hebrew psalmist would. Actually almost every school boy would understand this. But it keeps everyone aware that we are reading songs (but you don’t read them, you sing them!)  These are lyrics, people. You got to sing them, even if you annoy your neighbors. And so singing is perhaps what we should being doing, and less reading. 

Our lives don’t do that, we would vastly prefer reading or studying. The musical part of us, is to a large degree, atrophied and crippled.  Back in the day, I was a student in a small Bible college. One class was something fiendishly called “Music Conducting.” Now I’m tone-deaf, and furthermore have the musical rhythmic acumen of a tree sloth. I passed the class due to the incredible kindness of my instructor, who understood my calling to someday be a pastor; and she couldn’t bear to be the one to fail me.

Commentary

V.1, and bring out the howitzers! No one does this better and more intensely than writer of Ps. 67. Key words are “graciousness and blessing.” If we wake up tomorrow without these two graces,  we would definitely know it. The writer uses the phrase, “make his face to shine upon us”. This is taken from the Priest’s Prayer we find in Numbers 6:24-26, I’m using the Message Bible here.

24 God bless you and keep you, 
25 God smile on you and gift you, 
26 God look you full in the face 
           –and make you prosper.

Blessing, and then keeping: Smiling, and then gifting: Caring, and then making you prosper. Additionally the word for “God” is “Jehovah.”  That was the name He chose to use with His own people. The Levitical Blessing was a wonderful place to pray (or sing!) like this.

V. 2-3 places the deep-seated need to take God on a “world tour.”  However v. 1 tells us that this special friendship between God and His people needs to be genuinely figured out first. But the vision is universal– for everyone, everywhere. The joy just oozes out, like a very saturated and soggy sponge.

V. 4 doesn’t seem to have the charismatic personality of its brother in v.1. But neither is it to be trifled with. It places everything God wants to do, with all that He intends. My brother John Piper, has used v. 4 as the title of his book on World Missions, “Let the Nations Be Glad.” Great book, see DesiringGod.org.

V. 5 repeats v.3. It doesn’t compete with it, or supersede it in anyway. Maybe I need two feet to be mobile– a right and a left? Perhaps it made sense lyrically, or even musically?

V. 6 is well done as you would appreciate living in an agrarian society like Israel. It’s often seems like these guys are from Iowa, they know what a manure spreader looks like (and how it smells). Everything in terms of surviving or feasting was from the land. God’s presence, His name, and His deep care was a measurable and tangible blessing. Theology is reduced and perhaps, most appreciated by the poor farmer watching a tornado bypass his property.

V.7, is as sure of itself you could ever get. Boldness, without cockiness. Confidence, without arrogance. Steady, like a rock.

*

ybic, Bryan

God’s Night Shift: Psalm 134

temple-etching

Temple Guards, Praise the Lord

A song for going up to worship.

134 Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
    you who serve at night in the Temple of the Lord.
Raise your hands in the Temple
    and praise the Lord.

May the Lord bless you from Mount Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth.

Psalm 134, NCV

This remarkable Psalm is part of an elite group known as “the Psalms of Ascent.” These 15 were sung as the congregation of Israel went up the steps of the temple in Jerusalem. They would sing each in “rounds” with each other. As you can well imagine, this made the ascent slow, but meaningful.

As you read the three verses, I get a picture of worshippers turning back and blessing the Levites. This takes place at the very end of the day. The Levites, and other godly ones who lived in the Temple, (remember Anna and Simeon, in Luke 2?)

Commentary

V. 1, “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord,
you who serve at night in the Temple of the Lord.”

The first significant thought is “Lord” mentioned three times. The word is the recognition of someone’s status and standing. We call Him Lord, because He is that (and more).

The second has to deal with the Levitical “night-shift.” They served and guarded the Temple during the wee hours of the night. They probably cleaned, stacked wood, sharpened knives and maintained the Holy Place with its needs.

There was no real glory working the night shift. There were no people to serve. The crowds were for the day shift. (Here’s a weird thought– think “Disneyland at 2:00 a.m.”) There was also a contingent of non-Levite people ministering to the Lord as well. They had no duties, and only the priests could serve through their work.

V. 2 “Raise your hands in the Temple
and praise the Lord.”

I’ve worked nights before. It’s a real adjustment. You never feel like you’ve had enough sleep, and it is really hard to be positive and cheerful.  I could get pretty grouchy at times.

But an exhortation is given, a shout and a blessing as the crowds leave. “Raise up your hands– and praise Him!” It is as the work, although necessary, would be secondary. The worship however, was primary. We need to hear that.

V. 3, “May the Lord bless you from Mount Zion,
he who made heaven and earth.”

To be blessed (made “lucky”) by our Creator and Lord is pretty profound. As a kid who read a lot, I think of “fairy dust.” I know better now, but to be blessed by God is deeply significant.

To summarize, I believe this Psalm is speaking of those in the church who are doing “hidden service.” No one sees them really. They go about there duties quietly, and purposefully. The only recognition is from God– who sees all.

I must encourage you to keep on. There are more than you think who see your hidden ministry to the Father.

*

ybic, Bryan

Poor Joseph: Psalm 105:17-22

Josephs-brothers-slavery
Joseph is being prepared for his dreams

17 Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them—
    Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet with fetters
    and placed his neck in an iron collar.
19 Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,[a]
    the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
    the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.
21 Joseph was put in charge of all the king’s household;
    he became ruler over all the king’s possessions.
22 He could instruct the king’s aides as he pleased
    and teach the king’s advisers.

Footnotes:

  1. 105:19 Hebrew ‘his word.’

Psalm 105:17-22, NLT

I would love to have lunch with Joseph. Of all the men and women in the Bible, Joseph would be at the very top of my list. Whenever somebody handles the Word, and mentions his name, my ears perk up and I listen closely.

Psalm 105 is more or less, vignettes from Israel’s rich history. These sketches provide a sense of faith, as it encounters obstacles– and as it follows God. This past history is meant to encourage those in the present, and to be prepared for the future.

When I first became a believer, some kind soul gave me a worn copy of “Foxes Book of Marytrs.” I devoured it. A sense of rootedness began to slowly build as I discovered the rich history of those who would give their lives for the Faith. Psalm 105 does much the same thing.

Commentary

Vv. 17-18,  “Then he sent someone to Egypt ahead of them—
    Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
18 They bruised his feet with fetters
    and placed his neck in an iron collar.”

Joseph was being prepared. He would be inserted behind enemy lines. He would become “the tip of the spear.” No doubt though, slavery was a really lousy place to start. He could look down and see the iron shackles. He could reach up, and around his neck, he could feel the collar of a slave.

These are no small things. But perhaps the biggest and most painful was being caught ‘off-guard’ by his brothers, and sold to the slavers. If this were to happen to me– I would become bitter, angry and venomously hateful. I would’ve concocted scenarios where I would wreak revenge (revenge, oops, sorry that slipped out–I  meant justice).

V.v 19-20, “Until the time came to fulfill his dreams,
    the Lord tested Joseph’s character.
20 Then Pharaoh sent for him and set him free;
    the ruler of the nation opened his prison door.”

I believe godly dreams are always linked to a noble character. When God instills something within you, it will come in “seed form.” It will be embryonic. It will need to grow and wait for the precise moment. We can be postured, placed in a forward area until the second is right.

Our impressions of what our dream looks like will almost never be what we thought. But, it will be better. Testing will work you over. You will feel like you just went 12 rounds with Mike Tyson. But you will learn things. God is doing something.

Joseph erupts from his cell. Everything is turned around in a moment. Joseph has been released by Pharaoh himself. The chains and collar are an afterthought (or are they?) He is raised to a prominence never seen before.

The dreams he had as a boy become real. And there is nothing quite like a dream come true!

*

ybic, Bryan

Figuratively Speaking: Psalm 114

figspeak
Image courtesy of http://resepilates.com/

The mountains skipped like rams,
    the hills like lambs!
What’s wrong, Red Sea, that made you hurry out of their way?
    What happened, Jordan River, that you turned away?
Why, mountains, did you skip like rams?
    Why, hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob.
He turned the rock into a pool of water;
    yes, a spring of water flowed from solid rock.

Psalm 114:4-8, NLT

The figurative often makes your message palatable and infuses it with hidden understanding. We encounter the Word of the Lord in a deeper way by embracing it’s “color commentary”.

It’s like your favorite book, with good illustrations. In my mind’s eye, when I was a child, I have memories of a big illustrated Bible. It had these great pictures that I still savor. (Like a drawing of the spies returning carrying a huge ‘grape cluster’ on a pole between them).

Commentary

V. 4, “The mountains skipped like rams,
    the hills like lambs!”

The literalist would have a ‘dickens of a time’ understanding this. The psalmist however, engages us in metaphor and the figurative. A towering mountain was the symbol of established power. There is an innate strength and soundness about a craggy mountain.

The writer of this psalm understood nature’s joy at God’s salvation of Israel. To see a lamb or a sheep leaping about gives the observer insight that would help him grasp the relief creation itself has. Some might say it was only an earthquake, but others recognize God’s hand in it.

V.5, “ What’s wrong, Red Sea, that made you hurry out of their way?
    What happened, Jordan River, that you turned away?”

Again–poetry rules the psalmists roost. Figurative language is being used here to be the container of truth. When I read this verse(s), a little picture leaps up in my mind’s eye. I “see” an old lady jumping out from the front of a big bus. I see a powerful river suddenly turn 180 degrees so a path is made. As we visualize both we start to engage the Word.

V. 5 strikes me as sarcastic, with a bit of mockery thrown in for good measure. It also seems to be flavored to be on ‘the gloating side’, infused with an “I-told-you-so” attitude.

V. 6, “Why, mountains, did you skip like rams?
    Why, hills, like lambs?”

“Why” is said once, and repeated again. Why is a good question to ask. It depends on context, but it can be the hardest of the interrogatives to answer.

As a matter of fact, this is an interrogation. (It doesn’t justify ‘waterboarding’ though.) There exists a cross-examination that forces truth out in the open. It is a demand that the real reason not be toyed with or be disregarded.

Much of our Christian walk seems to involve embracing what is real, and renouncing what is false.

Vv. 7-8, “Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob.
He turned the rock into a pool of water;
    yes, a spring of water flowed from solid rock.”

“Trembling” or shaking, is the furthermost thing a mountain would do. And that is precisely the point. The “presence of God” (mentioned twice), means God is there–right smack in the middle of things.

And He has been transformative.  He makes solid rock ‘morph’ into water for His thirsty ones. This becomes a definite point of praise. He indeed does “great things.”

*

ybic, Bryan

Remember the Exodus: Psalm 114:1-3

God's View
God’s View

When the Israelites escaped from Egypt—
    when the family of Jacob left that foreign land—
the land of Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    and Israel became his kingdom.

The Red Sea[a] saw them coming and hurried out of their way!
    The water of the Jordan River turned away.
The mountains skipped like rams,
    the hills like lambs!
What’s wrong, Red Sea, that made you hurry out of their way?
    What happened, Jordan River, that you turned away?
Why, mountains, did you skip like rams?
    Why, hills, like lambs?

Tremble, O earth, at the presence of the Lord,
    at the presence of the God of Jacob.
He turned the rock into a pool of water;
    yes, a spring of water flowed from solid rock.

Footnotes:
  1. Psalm 114:3 Hebrew the sea; also in 114:5.

I have a confession. I always have been secretly intrigued by “superheroes.” They have such great names: Superman, Batman, the Flash, Iron Man, Wolverine, and Wonder Woman. They all have an arsenal of strengths and each with an assortment of special abilities and tricky moves.

Usually, there is a certain moment in a superhero’s life when they become “activated.” The gift suddenly comes alive, and they start to live their lives differently. The particular gift they have been bestowed with, starts to change the world around them.

We look at the children of Israel and we can see something (or is it Someone?) that makes them significantly different. Just in case you haven’t noticed, Israel does not have a normal history. The Old Testament says that God selected them because they were the least and weakest of all the nations of the earth.

“The Lord did not set His love on you nor choose you because you were more in number than any of the peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples.”

Deut. 7:7

Commentary

V.1-2, “When the Israelites escaped from Egypt—
    when the family of Jacob left that foreign land—
the land of Judah became God’s sanctuary,
    and Israel became his kingdom.”

The weakest has been chosen, by the power of God. The psalmist replays the history for all to hear. These covenant people have metamorphosed into someone completely different. It’s the 98 pound weakling who suddenly becomes a linebacker for the Chicago Bears. Or the meek office boy named Clark who somehow becomes Superman.

There are two words that should ‘cue us up’– sanctuary and kingdom. Both words are used to communicate a sense of the special heritage and position of being “the called ones”.

As believers we must discover who we are. We are set apart as special. My wife has done this to our home. She has dishes that are used on holidays. I wouldn’t dream of using them to microwave a ‘bean-and-cheese burrito’. That simply is not their function.

V. 3, “The Red Sea saw them coming and hurried out of their way! The water of the Jordan River turned away.”

Formidable obstacles will submit to these “special people”. Water has always been used as a tactical barrier. But all of a sudden– with God leading, we see miracles happening. The Red Sea opens up, and the sea bed becomes a “super-highway.” And later on, the same would happen to the River Jordan.

As people of the New Covenant are led by our Savior Jesus through substantial issues. We all have our own versions of the “Red Sea.” We are brought out of slavery with promises of freedom and protection. Sometimes we just need a reminder of who we really are.

*

ybic, Bryan

God Has Really Big Feet: Psalm 108:10-13

10Who will bring me to the fortified city?
    Who will lead me to Edom?
11 Have you not rejected us, O God?
    You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
12 Oh grant us help against the foe,
    for vain is the salvation of man!
13 With God we shall do valiantly;
    it is he who will tread down our foes.”

Psalm 108:10-13, ESV

As believers we all have expectations.  In this Psalm, the mind of David is clear and aware– and it is essentially focusing on whether God will be present (or not?). David has seen a lot in his life. And after our life is all sifted, we should be asking, “how close was God to me?”

“With God we shall do valiantly” is most certainly a profound statement. It is pretty much saturated by an intense faith. It declares that we are now enabled to face anything life decides to throw at us.

Commentary

V. 10, “Who will bring me to the fortified city?
    Who will lead me to Edom?”

David’s question has been cloaked in the metaphors of his day. Today we need to break out our study books to define things for us. But the contemporaries of David would have instantly understood the question.

The “fortified city,” or Edom was the very place of concentrated evil. It was always a source of disruption and pain for Jerusalem. I suppose we could make the comparison between Iran and the USA.

Terrorism and dealing with advanced weaponry are just two of the issues. There are also real religious and social incompatibilities. We face core ideas where we are diametrically and irreconcilable opposed to each other.

The question is this– how do we oppose a fortified city? Or take on the greatest threat to our nation’s prosperity and well-being?

V. 11, “ Have you not rejected us, O God?
    You do not go out, O God, with our armies.”

This statement clarifies King David’s greatest fear. The absence of God in the heart of his nation terrifies him. It is a nightmare when God withdraws His presence from His people.

Yes…Israel does have an army. And I’m sure it was the equal (more or less) with any other kingdom’s army. It would be good to remember that as a boy David faced Goliath. There was something quite solid inserted in his thinking. It had to do with a faithful God acting on Israel’s behalf.

V. 12, “ Oh grant us help against the foe,
     for vain is the salvation of man!”

David refuses to stay in verse 11. He pushes into v. 12. He refuses to accept the false “alternate reality” of an absent God, but instead he forges out this cry for divine help.

This man David was the boy who faced Goliath, the giant. Obviously, Goliath was the superior warrior. He was experienced after many encounters in combat. Never defeated, he was ‘the human wood-chipper.’ And when David defeated him, it was a victory of monumental proportions. And David would never, ever be the same.

I’m reasonably certain that Israel had generals trained in their version of “West Point.” I’m reasonably sure they had a diplomatic presence reaching out for alliances and treaties. But in all these gyrations and preparations, King David refused to put any confidence in them.

V. 13, “With God we shall do valiantly;
    it is he who will tread down our foes.”

A most remarkable verse. It has a definite value far beyond David’s situation, it chisels out a principle that has as much, (or more) significance today.

“With God.” “Do valiantly.” There is something quite heroic about any person that chooses to “walk by faith, and not by sight.” Valiant ones are not necessarily stronger or smarter, rather they know they are weaker. They have relinquished anything that keep them following their Father into victory.

“Tread down” can be understood as ‘trampling or stomping.’ It is the ultimate act of victory, with the enemy under our feet. It reveals the sense of total victory over them. And we must see, it is God’s feet doing the crushing.

“When we pray for the Spirit’s help … we will simply fall down at the Lord’s feet in our weakness. There we will find the victory and power that comes from His love. ”  

Andrew Murray

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ybic, Bryan

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There is No One Like You: Psalm 138

Give Thanks to the Lord

Of David.

  I give you thanks, O Lord, with my whole heart;
    before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
    and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
    for you have exalted above all things
    your name and your word.[a]
On the day I called, you answered me;
    my strength of soul you increased.[b]

All the kings of the earth shall give you thanks, O Lord,
    for they have heard the words of your mouth,
and they shall sing of the ways of the Lord,
    for great is the glory of the Lord.
For though the Lord is high, he regards the lowly,
    but the haughty he knows from afar.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
    you preserve my life;
you stretch out your hand against the wrath of my enemies,
    and your right hand delivers me.
The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me;
     your steadfast love, O Lord, endures forever.
    Do not forsake the work of your hands.

Psalm 138, ESV

Footnotes:
  • Psalm 138:2 Or you have exalted your word above all your name
  • Psalm 138:3 Hebrew you made me bold in my soul with strength

*************

Another work of David, and I believe there are sufficient reasons to question his integrity, and to challenge his character. He was a rascal, and much of what he did in his life was evil. But somehow God loved him “as a man after my own heart.”

I’m comforted with God’s choice to love David. God’s love is never logical, it isn’t where we arrive at; but it is what we believe . There is nothing more foolish than His Love. Many voices will declare that “we are lost, that God has given us up!” These same kind of people, told David, “Many are they who say of me,
There is no help for him in God.” Ps. 3:2

Commentary

V. 1, 2, This is a declaration of both the quality and quality of worship. Effort is made of giving the best to the Lord. There is positioning as well, the temple mount. It’s where God is, and the spotlight is always there shining on any who will step into. Position yourself, to find out what He wants. The reference to “the gods” does not refer to a pluralism. Israel was strictly monotheistic since the time of Abraham. My thinking is that David was looking for something to make a comparable understanding. He was not advocating a new theology.

V. 3,  There will be days that you cry out. If not today, tomorrow, or next week or month. But it will happen. Soon. Strengthening here of the soul, we need to understand that God is always fortifying and empowering us. It’s what He does.

V. 4, 5, The kings themselves will worship the Lord. They have received God’s word. It changes their focus from ruling to serving. There is also “king’s song.” And glory is what they have in mind. It initiates so much.

V.6,  God has His favorites…the humble. He looks and discerns every heart, and those that are arrogant He notes.

V. 7, there is so much here. The Father can be seen working ‘behind the scenes’ on our behalf. “The midst of trouble,” so often that is where we can be found, “in the thick of it.” There is activity in this verse, God strengthens, and He preserves us.

V. 8, “The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me” instills confidence. We wait for His promises, and are assured they will be fulfilled. We find in this verse the wore “steadfast” and the word “love” bonded together. That is the best kind. Don’t forsake me, don’t lose me, don’t forget me! I’m trusting in You.

Calcified Hearts: Psalms 78:32-39

32 But in spite of this, the people kept sinning. 
      Despite his wonders, they refused to trust him. 
 33 So he ended their lives in failure, 
      their years in terror. 
 34 When God began killing them, 
      they finally sought him. 
      They repented and took God seriously. 
 35 Then they remembered that God was their rock, 
      that God Most High[a] was their redeemer. 
 36 But all they gave him was lip service; 
      they lied to him with their tongues. 
 37 Their hearts were not loyal to him. 
      They did not keep his covenant. 
 38 Yet he was merciful and forgave their sins 
      and did not destroy them all. 
   Many times he held back his anger 
      and did not unleash his fury! 
 39 For he remembered that they were merely mortal, 
      gone like a breath of wind that never returns.

Psalms 78:32-39, NLT

When I read this portion of scripture, I try to imagine the emotions of God. This Psalm is one of the “failure kind.” It has a definite weave running through it, and the true theme is sin, with all its allurement and enticement. The secondary theme would have to be God’s work in trying to separate His people from their sin. Will He succeed?

Commentary

V. 32, the earlier verses describe God’s supernatural provision. We discover that the people won’t trust God, no matter what happens. They are locked into sin and unbelief. We call this “rebellion” and I see this as the powerful sin of our generation.

V. 33 reveals the results of this. Failure and defeat. These are anathema to human beings. A subjugated people are frustrated and very weak and desperately afraid.

V. 34 the children of Israel become a target for God’s sharp arrows. God culls them out and takes away His gift of life from them. Was Israel being mistreated? Actually it does seem the other way around. Israel was mistreating God! But a key moment came when so many people died, they finally got very serious. But it took God’s heavy hand to bring this about.

V. 35 “Then they remembered that God was their rock,  that God Most High was their redeemer.” To remember is a gift. For too often we just buzz through life without thinking about it. Remember our rock and redeemer. Remember who you belong to.

V. 36, This was a well orchestrated deceit. To pay lip service only. This was not just the behavior of Old Testament Israelites.  We do the same, far too frequently. The verse said that they lied to Him!

V. 37, “Their hearts were not loyal to him. They did not keep his covenant.” Rarely it seems, do we mix our faith with loyalty. We admire loyal people, but from a distance. God puts a premium on it, however.

V. 38, describes the deep patience of God over our lives. His basic heart is to always forgive. I truly believe that it is very hard to provoke Him to anger. He isn’t like us at all. We can be angry people, but we are most like our Father when we choose to overlook sin.

V. 39 we see that God understands us fully. He sees the big picture. Our lives are very short, fleeting. He grasps our temporary status on this earth, and because our lives are so precarious, He takes that into account.