Psalm 82:God the Eternal Judge

13 Jan

This is a short psalm of only 8 verses but it is very punchy in its message which is as valid today as aeons ago. Since it is so short I thought I would share it in its entirety from the New International Version.

“God presides in the great assembly;
He gives judgement among the ‘gods’:

“‘How long will you defend the unjust and show partiality to the wicked?
Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.

“‘They know nothing, they understand nothing.
They walk about in darkness; all the foundations of the earth are shaken.

“‘I said, “You are ‘gods’; you are all sons of the Most High.”
But you will die like mere men; you will fall like every other ruler.’

“Rise up, O God, judge the earth, for all the nations are your inheritance.”

Verses 3 and 4 summarise our responsibilities are humans under God’s law and bear repeating:
“Defend the cause of the weak and the fatherless; maintain the rights of the poor and the oppressed.
Rescue the weak and needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.”

How is it that the world has “evolved” and societies “developed” yet we still have the weak, the fatherless, the poor and the oppressed? I know Jesus said we would always have the poor amongst us (Matthew 26:11, John 12:8 and Mark 14:7) but it still saddens me that the wicked and the unjust are preferred by people with power – the ‘gods’ on earth. It isn’t clear who exactly are the lost who understand nothing but I suspect it is those who believe they know it all and do not need God.

I do sometimes feel like crying out “How long Oh Lord? Come Lord, come.”

 

 

Psalm 81: You shall have no foreign gods

12 Jan

This is the psalm which explains the reasons for the disasters described in psalms 79 and 80. In this psalm of Asaph there is no skirting the issue that it is the people’s turning away from God that caused their disaster.

This psalm starts with verses 1 to 5 extolling the reasons and ways to praise God. Verses 6 and 7 describe God rescuing the people and bringing them out of Egypt.

But then verses 8 and 9 give God’s warning:
“Hear, O my people, and I will warn you
– if you would but listen to me, O Israel!
You shall have no foreign god among you;
you shall not bow down to an alien god.”

Verse 10 explains that if the people follow God then He will care for them and this is repeated in verse 16.

However, in between verses 10 and 16, the reasons and consequences of the people’s infidelity is detailed:
“But my people would not listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me.
So I gave them over to their stubborn hearts
to follow their own devices.
If my people would but listen to me,
if Israel would follow my ways,
how quickly would I subdue their enemies
and turn my hand against their foes!
Those who hate the Lord would cringe before Him,
and their punishment would last forever.”

Again and again God is clear about the way the world – His world – works. Listen to Him, the Creator God; worship Him and He will be with you. Ignore Him and He will judge you.

I worship God and seek His ways because it is the most logical approach to life. If one has even the slightest belief in a Creator God then it makes sense to seek Him out and obey Him – after all HE MADE THE UNIVERSE! Why turn your back on the one being that knows how life should be lived and who wants to have a relationship with you?

Psalm 80: Restore us, O God

11 Jan

When reading this psalm I started to wonder when it was written as it is clearly from a time of national crisis. In doing some research I find that there is no definitive timing linked to this psalm. I suppose David’s psalms are the easiest to date or at least link to events in his life.

I then tried to see the perceived age of the book of Psalms as a whole and found that we have psalms from the time of Moses (Psalm 90) to after the exile to Babylon. This suggests that the latest psalm was written between 586 and 538 BC (the most definitive information I found here).

The general consensus is that this psalm was written before the exile but opinion is divided whether it was written before the split between Israel and Judah occurred. What is clear is that this psalm of Asaph was written by someone who saw God’s judgement working in the disasters that were occurring.

The psalmist asked for God to restore and revive the people so that they might be saved. He repeated again and again the request for God’s face to shine upon the people “that we may be saved” (verses 2, 3, 7, 19).

Whilst the author acknowledges God as the source of the judgement and begs for it to end, he does not appear to acknowledge the people’s part in their disaster. Yes, he suggested that they had turned away from God but it is implied in verse 18:
“Then we will not turn away from you;
revive us, and we will call on your name.”

This psalm is often connected with the previous psalm, as if they should be read together. Psalm 79 also lists the disasters which God has allowed Israel to suffer and also begs God to save them.

Whilst this Psalm gives God the glory and power of running the world, it does not in my opinion sufficiently highlight why the people are suffering. To say they are suffering because God has turned away is not enough. He turned away because they stopped worshiping and obeying Him. Whilst there is a circle of God calling humans to worship even before he/she considers it and then God listening and blessing them because they pray to Him; this does not preclude people from turning towards God rather than away from Him regardless of their circumstances.

David’s psalms are a clear example of someone obeying and trusting God even when things were not going perfectly, and also considering where they themselves contributed to disaster and God’s judgement.

Psalm 79: How long Oh Lord?

6 Dec

This is another Psalm attributed to Asaph. There are twelve Psalms attributed to Asaph and this one has given pause to my acceptance that every one of them was written by one man, Asaph. Some scholars suggest it was simply part of the Asaphite tradition – these were temple singers designated in David’s reign under Asaph. Others say Asaph write or transcribed them.

But here’s the rub – scholars also say that this Psalm refers to the destruction of the temple by the Babylonians which was in 587 BC. The Temple was finished in 960 BC, 7 years after David’s death. Asaph cannot be one man appointed as worship leader by David and still writing more than 350 years’ later. If we take the destruction being discussed as the first time the temple was desecrated, which was by the Egyptian Shishak in 926 BC, then perhaps Asaph (David’s worship leader) could have still been alive. Perhaps it was a son writing in his name.

However there are no clear dates on the Psalms so the Temple defilement and destruction of Jerusalem being lamented could have been any of those in the following 4 centuries after Solomon completed it. The most significant episode was when the Babylonians destroyed the Temple and the city. Whilst there were further occasions when the city was overrun and the Temple destroyed over the following centuries, I think we can assume that this Psalm was connected to the Babylonian destruction or earlier attacks. Of course that still means it is very unlikely for Asaph the author to be David’s appointed man.

This Psalm echoes Psalm 74. It is lamenting the fall of God’s people and the accompanying losses that defeat entails – people in captivity and exile, the capital in ruins, the Temple defiled. But the Psalm also calls on God to remember them and to save them, for His name’s sake:
“Help us, O God our Saviour, for the glory of your name;
deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.
Why should the nations say ‘Where is their God?’
Before our eyes, make known among the nations
that you avenge the outpoured blood of your servants.” (verses 9 and 10)

The psalm ends with a small token of hope:
“Pay back into the laps of our neighbours seven times
the reproach they have hurled at you, O Lord.
“Then we your people, the sheep of your pasture,
will praise you forever;
from generation to generation we will recount your praise.” (verses 12 and 13)

This is an interesting end. It is a bargain with God – we will praise you when you save us? I don’t think so. I think it is an assertion that when God saves the people they will praise Him as they do now. Remember that even if the Asaph of the psalms was not the same writer, this Asaph would have known the other Asaph psalms. The psalms that exhort the people to turn back to God and to praise Him. The psalms that trust that God will save them. The final verse of this Psalm is a reminder to the people to praise God from generation to generation because only He can be their Saviour.

Psalm 78: Teaching of God’s faithfulness

23 Nov

This is a rather long psalm of Asaph – 72 verses. But it reads really well with a flow of stories about God’s relationship to His people. The recurring theme is that Asaph was trying to teach the children so that they would teach their children of God’s power and kindness to His people. Again and again Asaph highlighted that their forefathers had constantly strayed from faith in God.

Asaph charts the journey of faithlessness of the people through specific instances in their history. This description is not chronological but starts with the tribe of Ephraim choosing not to follow God’s instructions to fight – there are a number of instances of this happening but when Jephthah defeated the Ammonites and 42,000 Ephraimites died too as a result of their refusal to join God’s army (Judges 11 and 12) is probably the time that Asaph described.

Asaph mentioned the Ephraimites abandoning their covenant with God and then started to describe what they chose to forget about God. Asaph then described the miracles in the desert that God performed in spite of the lack of faith of the people of Israel. Asaph included all the tribes as descendants of Jacob when he told of how God gave them water and fed them and then destroyed them because of their arrogance.

“In spite of all this, they kept on sinning; in spite of His wonders, they did not believe” Verse 32 demonstrates Asaph’s impatience with the people of Isreal’s faithlessness. He described how whenever God punished them, the people would turn back to Him as their Redeemer, but even in those moments of faith they were lying and “their hearts were not loyal to Him” (verse 37).

Asaph then returned to the miracles that God showed the world in Egypt. He did this in exasperation of the people’s forgetfulness. He listed the miracles and God’s mercy to the people. But in verse 56, he described how the people rebelled against God again, like their forefathers.

Asaph continued from this point in his history lesson highlighting that the people were sold into captivity, God abandoned the tabernacle at Shiloh, the Ark of the Covenant was taken from them and many people died. He stated that this was because the people angered God.

In verse 65, Asaph leapt forward in time to God’s choice of David as king. He highlighted that God decided to find someone to be the shepherd of his people and lead them in His favour.

The final verse probably shows the point of the psalm – to “big up” David as king:

“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.” (verse 72)

Psalm 77: When God doesn’t seem to hear you

22 Nov

I enjoy listening to books whilst travelling and recently downloaded Eric Metaxas’s newly released “Seven Women” (published in September, 2015). He describes the lives of seven women who he chose to because they changed the course of history following God’s call on their lives: Joan of Arc, Susanna Wesley, Hannah More, Maria Skobtsova, Corrie ten Boom, Mother Teresa, and Rosa Parks.

I learnt so much about these women and not only the impact they had on the world around them but also their relationships with God. What struck me is that they all had highs and lows in those relationships. By that I mean each of them had moments of intense spiritual intimacy with God that did not last for any period of time, in fact these were moments for each of them. Even Mother Teresa did not continually experience the closeness with God that she found in these moments.

Somehow I have always thought that as one becomes more spiritually mature these moments will last longer. But, as these women’s personal diaries or letters show, it seems that in our human form we are unable to experience these moments for more than a brief period. I was surprised to find that for these women these moments did not usually happen at the peak of their earthly achievements or near the end of the lives. Often it was these moments of clarity that started them on journeys and lives of change. It was a glimpse, however imperfect, of heaven which inspired them to bring God’s Kingdom to earth. This sustained them throughout their lives.

What all of these women experienced was those moments in limbo when it seems like God doesn’t hear. I suspect no Christian ever truly lives a spiritual life without these lows. Elijah is my most notable Bible hero who felt this despair and isolation, and this psalm of Asaph both describes this time well and provides a cure.

Asaph described being unable to sleep and crying out to God is distress. He said that his “soul refused to be comforted” (verse 2) and all he could do was remember his times of joyful praise in God’s presence. In verse 7, even questioned whether God would “reject forever?”. But verse 10 is the turning point, then Asaph decided to remember God’s “miracles of long ago”, he chose to “meditate on all Your works” (verse 12). The rest of the psalm is about God’s wonderful deeds and mighty power. Asaph moved from his bad night to God by choice.

Again in Metaxas’s book, he decribes each of his seven women making the same chose. The most notable is in the story about Corrie ten Boom. When she and her sister arrived in a new concentration camp barrack (where her sister would die) Betsie insisted they thank and praise God for everything. Corrie found it almost impossible to thank God for the fleas. It was Corrie who looked back in amazement that those fleas stopped the guards entering their hut to torment them or interrupt their praise sessions.

We don’t have the full story of Asaph’s sleepless night but we do know he ended his psalm with a focus on God.

Psalm 76: “He is feared by the kings of the earth.”

18 Nov

This is another Psalm of Asaph and he is continuing the theme of God as the judge. The heading is the final line of the psalm from verse 12.

This psalm does use the majority of verses to praise God and extol his glory. He also emphasised the base of God being in Judah, in Israel, in Salem and in Zion. Verse 6 calls God “O God of Jacob”. This is about a national God who exerts judgement across the world.

Verse 11 tells us to “Make vow to the Lord and your God and fulfill them” but continues with “let all the neighbouring lands bring gifts to the One to be feared”. Again we have the balance: this psalm was written to be sung in the temple so the people who were being exhorted to fulfill their vows to God were expected to be there in the temple; however the neighbours of Israel were told they should bring gifts to this God of Jacob.

This short twelve verse psalm is quite inflammatory in its nationalistic way. Yes, Israel were chosen by God and He also chose to inhabit the temple in Jerusalem. But He is also the creator of the universe and the eternal judge of the world. This psalm does include the latter aspects too, but I am not sure they are done in a way which would have sold worshiping Yahweh to the neighbouring tribes.

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