Psalm 89:Remember how fleeting is my life

17 May

This is a psalm written by Ethan the Ezrahite. There is some speculation about who Ethan was but there seems consensus that he was a musician in David’s court. This gives us a sense of timing.

The first 37 verses are uplifting and inspiring. They start with the famous line:
“I will sing if the Lord’s great love forever…”. After a few verses on God’s love and faithfulness being extolled, the psalm moves to detail the covenant between God and David. God’s power as the Creator and sustainer of Israel is described and elaborated upon from verse 5 to verse 18. Then the covenant with David is discussed in detail with an emphasis on the relationship between David and God. Verse 37 ends on a high note:
“it [David’s throne] will be established forever like the moon,
the faithful witness in the sky.” (New International Version).

However verses 38 to 51 take us down into despair as the psalm describes how God’s wrath has descended on man. Verses 38 to 45 describe loss in a similar way to Job or Psalm 88: God’s servant is lost and alone, exposed and deserted by everyone. Verses 46 to 51 beg God to remember David and the covenant He has made with him. The title for this post comes from verse 47:
“Remember how fleeting is my life,
For what futility you have created all men!

Yet Ethan ended the psalm with this final verse:
“Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.” (verse 52).
The psalmist reiterated his own faith, in spite of his earlier assertions that God had deserted David.

This psalm demonstrates to me what our faith should be like:

  • It has to be based on God’s love for us (verses 1 and 2)
  • We need to recognise the covenant between God and us (verse 3)
  • God’s creation reminds us of his majesty, power and justice (verses 5 to 18)
  • But we need to recognise that we must follow Him (verses 30 and 31)
  • There will be times when we feel far from God and cannot understand why (verses 38 to 51)
  • But if we remember His love and who He is, we can like Ethan finish by saying:
    Praise be to the Lord forever! Amen and Amen.”



Psalm 88: I cry out before you

9 May

This psalm of the sons of Korah is also recorded as “A maskil of Heman the Ezrahite”. It is a rather depressing psalm ending with the phrase “the darkness is my closest friend. “(verse 18, New International Version).

However the encouraging aspect of this Psalm is that in 4 of the 18 verses, the writer cried out to God.

The rest of the verses could have been written by Job. They list so much heaviness:

  • counted as dead
  • troubled soul
  • no strength
  • cut off from God
  • under God’s wrath
  • deserted by friends and family
  • engulfed by terrors.

I am not sure whether reading this would help me when I am feeling depressed and hunted and lost. I guess knowing that this is a human condition and not particularly special to me is encouraging. As is the fact that this psalmist kept faith even when he felt he was calling to God from the grave.

On balance I think I prefer psalms that acknowledge the feelings of desertion and depression but end on the note that “God will hear me” or “I will set my eyes on God who is my salvation”.


Psalm 87: This one was born in Zion

8 May

I feel like I have not read this Psalm before and yet I know I have. It is a psalm of Zion and is only 7 verses so I thought I would share it in full before considering it:

“He has set His foundation on the holy mountain;
the Lord loves the gates of Zion more than all the dwellings of Jacob.
Glorious things are said of you, O city of God:
‘I will record Rahab and Babylon among those who acknowledge me –
Philistia too, and Tyre, long with Cush –
and I will say, ‘This one was born in Zion’.

“Indeed, of Zion, it will be said, ‘This one and that one were born in her,
and the Most High Himself will establish her.’
The Lord will write in the register of the peoples: ‘This one was born in Zion.’
as they make music they will sing, ‘All my fountains are in you.’ ”
(New International Version)

I wanted to get another view of this psalm so turned to Eugene Peterson’s The Message:

“He founded Zion on the Holy Mountain—and oh, how God loves his home!
Loves it far better than all the homes of Jacob put together!
God’s hometown—oh! everyone there is talking about you!

I name them off, those among whom I’m famous:
    Egypt and Babylon, also Philistia, even Tyre, along with Cush.
Word’s getting around; they point them out: ‘This one was born again here!’

The word’s getting out on Zion: ‘Men and women, right and left, get born again in her!’

God registers their names in his book: ‘This one, this one, and this one—
    born again, right here.’

Singers and dancers give credit to Zion: ‘All my springs are in you!’ “

I find this easier to understand. When first reading it, it seemed to be about an earthly conqueror from Zion and that confused me because it was so limited. Limited in possibilities and even Jesus would not be in the number.

But The Message’s version is echoed by quite a few commentators; the translation reflecting that this is about men born again in Zion and this Zion is the spiritual city of Zion. Then the image is one of inclusion not conquest – everyone of every nation can be reborn in Zion. Then Psalm 87 can be read as a revolutionary song which is ahead of the nationalistic fervour that it firsts appears to inflame.

This is not about a city owned by a tribe and nation but rather about the beginning of a worldwide movement for the salvation of mankind. Amen!


Psalm 86: Give me an undivided heart, O God

22 Apr

This is a prayer of David. As I read the verses I felt it was different from yesterday’s psalm. Then I checked the author and gave a smile of recognition – the difference was David.

David asked for God’s mercy and grace just as the sons of Korah did in Psalm 85. Yet he did it in a more personal way. It seems to me that Psalm 85 was written as a national prayer and this is a personal one.

David repeated the mantra of the men of God which was so clearly articulated by Moses: “Teach me your way, O Lord, and I will walk in your truth “(verse 11a).

But the second part of the verse adds anew dimension:
“… give me an undivided heart, that I may fear your name.
I will praise You, O Lord my God, with all my heart;
I will glorify Your name forever.
For great is Your love towards me; You have delivered me from the depths of the grave.” (verses 11b, 12, 13).

The undivided heart aspect reminds me of a New Testament metaphor about where our focus lies. In Luke 9:63 Jesus said:
“No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

It does not surprise me that David and Jesus said similar things about a life of faith. In Luke 12:34 Jesus also said: “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” We are not made to have divided hearts and yet we constantly break our own hearts with faithlessness and fear.

We lose our focus when we look away from God and place our hope anywhere else: in ourselves, in other people, in other gods, in money, in work, in sport, in sex, in the lottery … Again as many times before David provided us the model for changing our own faithless behaviour: Ask God for help.

But note that David first asked God to teach him to walk in truth, then he asked for an undivided heart so that he might fear God and then David committed to praise God forever. David expected to be taught which takes effort and focus from the student too – he did not expect God to “fix” him overnight.


Psalm 85: Restore us again, O God our Saviour

21 Apr

This is another psalm from the sons of Korah. It begs God to forgive the nation of Israel whilst reminding the reader, God and the people of God’s grace to their ancestors. It then ends with a description of how God’s righteousness appears:

“Love and faithfulness meet together;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.
Faithfulness springs forth from the earth,
and righteousness looks down from heaven.
The Lord will indeed give what is good,
and our land will yield its harvest.
Righteousness goes before Him and prepares the way for His steps.” (NIV, verses 10-13)

Whilst the psalm has an overall optimistic tone, verses 8 and 9 reiterates the warning from many leaders of the people of Israel:

“I will listen to what God the Lord will say;
He promises peace to His people, His saints – but let them not return to folly.
Surely His salvation is near who fear Him,
that His glory may dwell in our land.”

God’s patience and love do not override the requirement to fear Him and listen to His commands. God’s restoration only comes when His people return to Him, worship Him and focus on Him.

The psalmist was clever in reminding the people of how God restored the fortunes of Jacob (verse 1). This could be the fortunes of the whole nation under Jacob, but it could also be how his son Joseph who had been sold into slavery and thrown into an Egyptian jail became the saviour of both his family and the nation of Egypt. The reminder is rich is the history it evokes. It contains many echoes of individual, family, tribal and national redemption through the ages. But it does not lose the emphasis on personal and national accountability to God.

The psalmist also never suggested that God’s anger and wrath were not rightly focused on the people. He simply begged God’s mercy to bring an end to His own righteous anger.

This psalm is a useful template for the process of supplication:

  1. remind yourself of God’s mercy in the past (and in doing so who He is and who you are)
  2. remind God of His mercy in the past
  3. beg God to show His love and salvation
  4. commit to listen to God’s word and fear Him
  5. praise God’s righteousness and salvation with thankfulness.



Psalm 84: Home at last

13 Apr

This is a psalm of Korah and it has inspired many praise songs in the recent and distant past. It beautifully weaves from a place where we are at home in God to where He lives in us and back to travelling with Him.

The Message version translates one of the best known verses with a bit of a twist:

“One day spent in your house, this beautiful place of worship, beats thousands spent on Greek islands beaches…”

The mixture of us living in God and God travelling within us on our journeys through life is well measured. It also highlights that the journey is not just us and God in a singular relationship. The psalmist mentions how the birds make their homes in God’s house in the second verse. In the final verse our attention is drawn to the fact that we are within a travelling party, there are many of us under God’s protection.

I like the idea of travelling through life with God and fellow travellers, especially at a time when it feels a bit lonely on this road. This is also mentioned in the third verse where the psalmist says:
“And how blessed all those in whom you live,
whose lives become roads you travel;
They wind through lonesome valleys, come upon brooks,
discover cool springs and pools brimming with rain!
God-travelled these roads curve up the mountain, and
at the last turn – Zion! God in full view!”

There is a sense for me that part of the home we find is in heaven and part of it is through life with God within us. This psalm provides us with a reason for praise in every season, including our last.

Psalm 83: The one and only High God on earth

12 Apr

It has been far too long since my last blog. My personal circumstances changed due to family responsibilities and suddenly my quiet times disappeared completely. Tonight is the start of a new regime. In order to fit in both my blog and my personal time out I am heading to bed at 9pm to wake at 5am. Since I am blogging at night that means once I have blogged it will be closer to 10pm I guess, but enough time to sleep. We leave the house at 6:45 so I have to start really early to find quiet.

In the craziness of the past few months when I certainly prayed but did not rest in God it was easy to lose sight of who I am in His light. It is a blessing He kept me close but I am frayed at the edges. And then I read this Psalm tonight. As so often happens the Psalm is the right one for tonight.

This is a Psalm of Asaph which has three parts:

  1. The psalmist begs God not to shut him out and leave him alone
  2. The psalmist lists how the people who hate God are planning t to take everything for themselves, snubbing God.
  3. But then the psalmist begs God to “Blow them away” and show them that He is “the one and only High God.” (These are quotes from The Message version).

It is good to be reminded that God is the one and only. It is also good to be reminded that things have been going wrong for God’s people for millenia and that our sanctuary is now as it always has been and always shall be IN HIM.

God doesn’t blow people away but He does blow their impact away from our minds and hearts and souls. It is as if the negativity that comes with people’s never ending dismissal of God is like cobwebs that His Spirit blasts out of our minds. Paul told us to renew our minds. David and Moses and Isaiah and Daniel and Habbakuk and Joshua and Joseph repeat again and again that we must focus on Him, on His words. That we must meditate on them.