Psalm 37: Because they take refuge in Him

26 Aug

After the previous Psalm of David this one ends in his usual upbeat way but has quite a bit about the ways of the wicked. However these sections are balanced by some good advice for people wishing to follow God. The title comes from the last verse:

“The Lord helps them and delivers them … because they take refuge in Him” (verse 40)

David ended this Psalm with the focus on God’s redemption but also emphasising that our role is to turn to God. The Psalm repeats this good advice throughout:

  • “Trust in the Lord and do good … delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart” (verses 3 and 4)
  • “Commit your way to the Lord; trust in Him and He … will make your righteousness shine like the dawn…” (verses 5 and 6)
  • “Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him…”(verse 7)
  • “Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret – it leads only to evil.” (verse 8)
  • “Better the little that the righteous have , than the wealth of many wicked.” (verse 16)
  • “The days of the blameless are known to the Lord and their inheritance will endure forever.”(verse 18)
  • “… the righteous give generously…” (verse 21)
  • “If the Lord delights in a man’s way, He makes his steps firm;
    thought he stumbles, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with His hand.” (verse 23 and 24)
  • “Turn from evil and do good, then you will dwell in the land forever.
    For the Lord loves the just and will not forsakes his faithful ones.”(verses 27 and 28)
  • “…the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.”(verse 29)
  • “The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.
    The law of his God is in his heart and his feet do not slip.”(verses 30 and 31)
  • “Wait for the Lord and keep His way…”(verse 34)
  • “The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord, He is their stronghold in time of trouble.”(verse 39)

Whilst I think all these quotes (and the whole Psalm) are full of wisdom to guide us, the two sections I highlighted in bold particularly interested me. Firstly the one on anger leading to evil, and not just anger but worrying – I can understand how worry and anger could drive us from God, they could actually lead us to idolatry in that we give something else the power over us and our lives. Turning away from God like this is evil in David’s lexicon. Secondly I love the confirmation in verse 31 that wisdom is found by keeping God’s law in our hearts.

We have come full circle to Moses:
“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.”

Psalm 36: Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains

25 Aug

This Psalm of David starts with 4 verses on the wicked who have no God but themselves. He described how these people think they are so clever that no one will oppose them and how they plot evil even when resting.

Then he moved onto 5 verses about God’s love and faithfulness and righteousness. These verses emphasise how He saves those who believe in Him due to His unfailing love.

The last 3 verses are more complicated. David asked God to continue to love all who know him, then moved specifically to ask for his own protection against the wicked and finishes with a surprisingly aggressive line for David’s Psalms. David usually brings his Psalms to an end focused on God and clearly putting the world into context under HIm. In this Psalm he comes back abruptly to the wicked men of the first set of verses:
“See how the evildoers lie fallen – thrown down, not able to rise!” (verse 12).

Out of the PSalms of David we have read thus far only two others end without a focus on God and peace in a positive way. Psalm 6 ends with “My enemies will be ashamed and dismayed; they will turn back in sudden disgrace” (verse 10) which is similar in tone to this Psalm. But Psalm 12 has an even darker ending, it is preceded by a verses that claims God’s protection but the Psalm ends with: “The wicked freely strut about when what is vile is honoured among men.”(verse 8).

I suppose in so many Psalms, David is entitled to have days when even he doesn’t quite manage to focus completely on God due to the wicked world around him. All the Psalms do have wonderful praise and worship of God included, even when they end on a low line like this one.

Psalm 35: David had some really nasty neighbours

24 Aug

Reading this Psalm I am struck by how many duplicitous people David knew and knew well enough that he prayed and fasted for their health. I know his children were not particularly wonderful, especially Absolom who lead a military rebellion and made himself king in David’s place, but the behaviour he described in this Psalm is devious and spiteful.

David recorded the following:

  • people fighting him (fairly usual for a king perhaps?)
  • people wanting to kill him (again expected for kings)
  • people plotting his ruin (maybe expected by any leader)
  • people seeking to ambush him with nets and pits (did they think David had no guards or common sense?)
  • people giving lies as testimony against him (this is weird – why try and entrap a king with this kind of deviousness?)
  • people slandering him (I guess expected as a leader but this really upset David to include it here)
  • people lied and hated him (shouldn’t a leader expect this? but also for them to be so obvious is a bit stupid).

Maybe these incidents happened when he was still a rebel leader – maybe he was even pointing at Saul who believed (in his own madness) that David was trying to kill him. It does indicate that David was thoughtful and sensitive because I would have expected this behaviour. To me when you are on the run it shouldn’t be such a problem or even on your radar.

The part that really highlights their crassness is that David recorded himself praying and fasting and mourning for these people. I think this verse (verse 13) shows the heart of the Psalm – David thought these people were his friends. This is why their behaviour and betrayal hurt him so very much.

David does rant a bit and ask God to deal with these people, as well as asking God to save him. But he ended calmly refocused on God without any qualifying statement he simply said:

“My tongue will speak of your righteousness and of your praises all day long” (verse 26).

Perhaps this sentence was David saying that God alone was his friend and faithful confidant, who he could rely on no matter what.

Psalm 34: Thank you to God and madness

23 Aug

Unlike most of David’s Psalms, we have some context for this one. We are told that David wrote this Psalm “when he pretended to be insane before Abimelech, who drove him away and he left.” (Thompson’s NIV Study Bible).

If we did not have this context, we could read the Psalm in the same light as the others. David extolled God’s virtues and praised his love and faithfulness. The Psalm ends with:
“The Lord redeems His servants; no one will be condemned who takes refuge in Him” (verse 22).

Many of the virtues of God David extolled, he had recorded in similar ways in other Psalms. The words of praise and the confidence in God’s redemptive love echo other Psalms too. But I find it interesting that this Psalm is so clearly placed in David’s life with a “victory” achieved arguably by David’s ability to act mad.

Firstly, David had to have recorded its context when he wrote the Psalm – so it was important to David that he acknowledged God’s role in his escape. Secondly, this context stuck to the Psalm when I perhaps would have popped it in a pile of miscellaneous daily events for David not quite on a par with becoming king, or great national events.

Did David get the idea of acting mad from God? Or was David simply saying that without God’s blessing and grace he would never have succeeded in his scam?

Psalm 33: A horse, a horse. My kingdom for a horse!

22 Aug

King Richard III probably did know this Psalm very well. His famous last words according to Shakespeare (which means they must be true) contrast directly with verse 17:

“A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.”

As a warrior king himself, David was well qualified to make this assertion and that of the previous verse:

“No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.” (verse 16)

David placed these verses in the final third of Psalm 33. He had progressed from encouraging everyone to worship God because he is the wise and loving creator of everything to highlighting how God controls the destiny of nations that worship Him. In this section he started by highlighting that God blesses the nation he loves. Then he moved into dismissing the power of the warrior and the army in the light of God’s power to further a nation’s destiny. After this he moved into God saving His people from famine. David ended the Psalm with his eyes on God as the Saviour of His people:

“We wait in hope for the Lord, He is our help and our shield.
In Him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in His holy name.
May your unfailing love rest upon us, O Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” (verses 20 to 22).

Returning to the doomed King Richard, I have not included his plight only for a good title. This Psalm is a part of Scripture that would have been used by “Christian” kings over the centuries to legitimise their rule – if God had not wanted them to be king then why did He support them to defeat their rivals in battle as evidenced in the Bible? Of course they skip the many kings of Israel and Judah who suffered both defeat and victory whilst worshipping idols and God patiently plotted their families’ downfall over centuries.

What people seeking legitimacy for their own plans miss in David’s Psalm is the emphasis on God. This Psalm is not about legitimising an earthly ruler, it is about highlighting that God is the real power and the one who blesses and saves. More of the Psalm is about praising and worshipping God for all his attributes and love than how earthly rulers succeed or fail. But this perversion of God’s word is not limited to kings and rulers, we do it too. We assume God’s blessing on our plans rather than seek His guidance first…

Psalm 32: How to deal with sin

21 Aug

Psalm 32 contains David’s instructions on how to handle sin in our lives. He started by reminding us that the person who God forgives is blessed. He then shared how he had tried to hide his sin by ignoring God and it. During the period he tried this approach he felt tired and oppressed.┬áThen David turned to God and acknowledged his sin. He recorded that God forgave him.

David then left instructions for everyone who “is godly” to pray to God whilst life is good so that God will hear them when disaster strikes. He suggested that people should not be like horses or mules which are controlled by a bit and bridle but must learn from God and live under His love.

David leads from asking for forgiveness for sin into how we must seek God and listen to Him trusting that God’s love does surround us. Once again, David’s honesty about his own faith journey can help us examine our lives and improve our relationships with God.

Psalm 31: Be strong and take heart

20 Aug

This Psalm of David lurches from confident trust in God to describing being isolated with enemies on every side who hate God.

  • Verses 1 to 4 focus on asking God for rescue
  • Verse 5 records David committing himself to God for salvation
  • Verses 6, 7, and 8 record God responding to David with rescue
  • Verses 9 to 13 again record the desolation and loneliness amongst people who hate God
  • Verses 14 to 18 record David again asking in God for salvation and punishment of those who do not worship Him
  • Verses 19 and 20 record God’s goodness
  • Verses 21 to 24 are full of worship and praise for the all powerful God who saves.

The final verse (used in part in the heading) is:
“Be strong and take heart, all you who hope in the Lord.” (verse 24).

Reading this Psalm we experiences an emotional roller-coaster, we are following David’s emotions as he battles isolation and despair in a world who do not value God or those who worship Him. David helped himself to overcome his emotions by looking back and remembering when God had saved him in the past. He repeatedly focuses on God saving him in the present and God saving him in the past. The final verse was perhaps as much of an encouragement to himself as to others.

This raw honesty is why David is one of my favourite people of the Bible. On the surface he was always credited with being a king after God’s heart and this could easily make him a one dimensional pious harp player. Yet he recorded his battles with his own emotions and his own failures in his Psalms. He could not relate to worship as something just about God – for him it was about bringing your whole self before God which included fears, doubts and failures.

David lived through the Golden Age of Jewish faith – he was a king who strove to lead his people and his army under God’s orders. He was committed to leading the people in worship before God and ensuring that they worshipped Him as Moses instructed. Yet many of his Psalms record a sense of alienation from people who did not know God. Perhaps these were all written when he was in exile and before he became king? Perhaps not. We know from the Biblical history books that the people of Israel were fickle and even when their kings lead them in proper praise and worship they often pottered off to groves and high places to worship idols.

Thus we have in David a useful friend who shares our own struggles of personal faith and of finding oneself in a world that does not want to know God.

 

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