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.

Psalm 75: “It is I who hold its pillars firm”

17 Nov

This Psalm of Asaph is written to the tune of “Do not destroy”, yet seems all about the destruction of the wicked. At first the focus on God’s power to destroy is overwhelming. Then I noticed the context given in verses 1 and 9, and the story unfolds.

The psalmist starts by giving thanks to God for “your Name is near; and men tell of your wonderful deeds.” (verse 1) and in verse 9 he again turns to praise God. The central verses and indeed the final verse 10 are more about justice than destruction.

In verse 2 the psalmist asserts that God decides the time and the judgement. In verse 3 God’s power is shown as the one who holds the earth during earth quakes – the fragment of this verse is the title of this blog. Verses 4 and 5 are warnings to the wicked not to antagonise God by being arrogant.

The psalmist points out that no one can tell God what to do and He does judge the wicked (verse 6 and 7). But he ends by emphasising that the righteous will be saved whilst the wicked will perish (verse 10).

When the world is reeling from the ISIS attacks on Paris it is perhaps uncomfortable for us to be seen as people of faith. In my own group of friends there are those who reject all religion because of the fundamentalists behind these terrorist attacks. They refuse to hear prayers and they claim that there is no place for any religion in the world as it incites violence.

I think Asaph would have understood the pain we feel today where our God is discarded as part of a problem which is actually about human selfishness and desire for power. To dump faith and God with religious violence, whether ISIS or the Christian crusades, is to remove human choice and propensity to use arms against other people at the smallest provocation. Maybe it is easier to blame religion and therefore God than to see that within us all is the possibility of violence, that we need Jesus to save us. That we need to meditate on His word daily to keep us focused on Him and trusting Him for justice.

I came to believe that all war was unjust, that Jesus truly shows another way. I read with interest how a committed pacifist chose to plot for the assassination of Hitler in reading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s letters and biography. I thought that the Nazis were probably an enemy we ultimately had to destroy but they were unique in history. Now I must ask myself whether that was simply avoiding human nature.

When can we say that God is the judge and the wicked will be punished by Him, and when must we say “not in my name or in my God’s name will I stand by and let this violence happen”? Paris brought it to our door but there are Christians and moderate Muslims being executed and forced into violent slavery and the world’s leaders are debating politics. Whether countries choose to fight is a political choice which gets very complicated but how we behave is our choice.

ISIS appeal to a deep seated need in humans to feel powerful and part of something important, to feel special and unique and promised paradise. Only Jesus can fight this draw but we should be asking how do we stand alongside Him in this battle? Whatever Jesus asks of us, we won’t hear it if we are not listening to Him first and last in our days.

Psalm 74: Rise up, O God

4 Nov

This Psalm is about reminding God of His covenant with His people. The psalmist described how the nation felt abandoned by God and enemies had entered the Temple to destroy it. But he also affirmed that God was his “king from of old” (verse 12), that God was the all powerful creator who chose and covenanted with Isreal. The final 2 verses summarise his plea to God:

“Rise up, O God, and defend your cause; remember how fools mock you all day long.
Do not ignore the clamour of your adversaries, the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.”
(verses 22 and 23)

Both the previous psalm and this one contain some beautiful verses of trust in God and they are made more beautiful because they are in psalms which contain sadness and pain too. Both are Psalms of Asaph.

Psalm 73 contained personal pain with a personal choice for God:

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
But God is the strength of me heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73: 23-26)

Whereas Psalm 74 contains national disaster and loss but the same response – a personal affirmation of God:
“But you, O God, are my king from old;
you bring salvation upon the earth.” (verse 12)

I so often feel like our age is particularly un-Godly. It is even called the post-Christian era! However states chose and choose to define themselves, the faith part of living has not changed much at all since the time of the Psalmist. For the individual choosing to meditate on God’s word daily and praise Him in all circumstances, our spiritual life has  not changed much.

I enjoy reading history books of all types: faction, fiction, biography, textbooks and autobiography and recently have read around the Reformation. Not the story of the Reformation, but of the people and the times as the church divided. This process began such devastation in Europe, but often the struggles were of individuals to find God. To find God in a world where their choice meant life or death; but where that choice was connected to national and regional loyalties too. Nowadays faith is a choice again and it seems to me that in the rise of ISIS it as become a political choice for leaders. Perhaps a choice made for politics will become a true daily meditative faith that revolutionises lives?


Psalm 73: The Books of the Bible and the Books of the Psalms

3 Nov

I had not noticed that the Psalms were in Books as well as verses until today. Psalms 1 to 41 are in Book I, Book II is Psalms 42 to 72 and we are starting Book III today. Book III contains Psalms 73 to 89. I have tried to understand how or who or why we have these five collections of the Psalms in our Bibles today. (Book IV contains Psalms 90 to 106 and Book V contains Psalms 107 to 150.) Not being an academic Bible scholar I did this research through Google without much clarity.

It appears that the collection of the Psalms together happened in pre-Christian times, so the order and contexts are more part of history than I imagined. It has been suggested that the five sections could reflect the five books of the Torah. But there was a lot more speculation as to why and how this “batching” happened.

Whilst I did not find the answer I did find out 2 things:

  1. I thought the Psalms were gathered together when the Bible was gathered together in about the second century when the rest of the Bible was turned into a “complete book” as we know it today. I always knew the Torah existed in completeness but had not actually thought through the development of the Bible over time.

    I have learnt that the Torah was considered a set of books as far back as the 5th century BC and then the Old Testament was collected into further groups over the centuries with the final “set” called the Ketuvim was probably considered part of the Jewish scriptures between 125 BC and 95 AD.

    Our Bible took much of the Old Testament as canon from the Jewish scriptures and the New Testament was added in time. Of course various denominations still have different Bibles with books that other denominations exclude – I use the Protestant texts for my reading. It is suggested that during the fourth century the Bible with the Old and New Testaments in a familiar form were compiled.

    I have learnt that I know very little about the creation of the Bible into the book I read today. It is both older and newer than I thought.

  2.  every time I read the Bible through again, I notice more and different details about it. With this in mind perhaps we’ll be on this journey chapter by chapter and day by day again from Genesis sometime in the future? We are not yet halfway through the Bible although we are in the halfway book (of the Bible not of Psalms). With 586 posts since April 2013, we’ll be at this for a couple more years yet.


Psalm 72: David’s prayer for Solomon

2 Nov

Whilst the superscript says “of Solomon” which means we would believe that Solomon wrote this psalm it  ends with:
“This concludes the prayers of David son of Jesse” (verse 20). I was pleased to see this ending because reading the Psalm as if Solomon wrote it for himself was a bit arrogant (I thought).

The language of the psalm suggests that David was prophesying that Solomon would be wise and just and receive tributes from across the known world, but it also asking God to bless Israel under Solomon and to bless his name.

The psalm mentions God in verse 1: “Endow the king with your justice, O God…” and then it is all about Solomon (and Israel under him) until verses 18 and 19:
“Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvellous deeds.
Praise be to His glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with His glory.
Amen and Amen.”

What did David want for his son, Solomon? Firstly he wanted him to govern with God’s justice and to be a righteous man. Then he wanted prosperity but for the people of Israel – not only the new king. He wanted him to be a man who defended the weak and powerless, but also to receive tributes from distant shores. Finally he wanted his son’s name to live forever:
“May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun.
All nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed.” (verse 17).

With hindsight we know that verse 17 foretells David’s descendant Jesus’ life and death more than Solomon’s. Although Solomon and his wisdom and wealth have become part of our language and culture too. But Solomon is not known, as his father was, as a man whose heart and soul and mind was focused on God as much as any human’s could ever be. David did ask for righteousness in is son, but it is inferred in verse 3 rather than a request to God that his son will seek God with his entire being. Did David already see in his son the flirtations with his wives’ gods?

This psalm was written at the end of David’s life. He had started life as a shepherd, been a teenager wonderboy, the king’s right hand man, the rebel warrior and finally king of Isreal. He was betrayed by his friends and family on more than one occasion. However he lived to die seventy according to convention. In this psalm we see his hopes for the country and nation he loved. This is not only about Solomon but about the people of Israel.



Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 166 other followers