Psalm 17: “I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness”

3 Aug

This Psalm of David again puts the emphasis on treasures in Heaven but asks for God’s help on earth. The title is the final line and reveals that David hopes for an eternal resurrection with God even though he was besieged by wicked people when he wrote this Psalm.

In the first set of verses David asked God to hear his prayer for help. He progressed to vindicate himself before God by saying that he has not sinned in word and has focused on God alone.

Verse 4 contains a line that I question:
“I have kept myself from the ways of the violent.”
David was a warrior, I would classify this as a violent career. He was also a warrior king. Was David differentiating between fighting under God and random wicked violence? It is the only conclusion that fits this Psalm. Perhaps David would have argued that God had given him the job to do which entailed fighting for His name and he did that – nothing more but nothing less. In this way it meant that his violence was vindicated by God because he only followed God’s instructions.

It is just a small fragment of a verse but I can see how this combined with the doctrine of Holy War allowed leaders and bigots over the centuries to justify violence in God’s name – saying that if it was in God’s name it wasn’t really violence.

It could easily be a translation issue – in my study bible it has “evil” in the margin against “violence”. The Message has an interesting take on the entire verse:

“I’m not trying to get my way in the world’s way.
I’m trying to get your way, your Word’s way.”

Violence is not mentioned but the focus is on God’s way rather than men’s way. I wonder what the translation that inspired the Crusades said?

Psalm 16: “Eternal pleasures at your right hand”

2 Aug

At first reading it appears that David is listing how wonderful his life is. But the fragment of the last verse that I have used as the title puts the entire Psalm in a different light.

David’s rest and peace are guaranteed in eternity, and his portion and allocation are eternal. The Psalm says that God will not abandon David in the grave – this is not to say that David believed he would not die but rather that he would be with God after death.

There is, of course, the connection to Jesus’ resurrection but David did not know this when he wrote the Psalm. For David it shows how deep his faith was and how strongly he believed in a continuing relationship with God even after death.

A single verse suggests that idolatry was alive and kicking when David wrote this Psalm:
“The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.
I will not pour our their libations of blood or take up their names on my lips.” (verse 4)

We have no context indicating whether this Psalm was written before David became king or afterwards. The timing would interest me because while David was king he appears to have tried to maintain the national worship to God. This Psalm shows that he knew it did not mean each person worshiped God regardless of the “official” religion.

David returned to his mantra for life with verse 8:

“I have set the Lord always before me … I will not be shaken.”

He described God counselling him even when he slept. Whilst David did put the security he relied on into the eternal space, he also explained that because God is with him he has peace here on earth too. David said that he slept securely and rejoiced in the Lord. This statement is more powerful when placed in the context of the Psalm. The Psalm states that there are people who worship false gods but David worships the Lord. David believed that his reward was eternal life with God but he still had peace on earth in his heart and mind because God was near to him always.

Psalm 15: “He who does these things will never be shaken”

1 Aug

This is a Psalm of David and he listed the characteristics of a man or woman of God. They do the following:

  • have a blameless walk doing what is righteous (verse 2)
  • speak the truth without slander or slur (verses 2 and 3)
  • do no wrong to their neighbour (verse 3)
  • despise sinners and honour those that fear God (verse 4)
  • keep their oaths under all circumstances (verse 4)
  • lend money without interest (verse 5)
  • do not accept bribes ( verse 5).

David asserted that the person who does this will never be shaken and will dwell in God’s house. The progression from verse 1 where the emphasis is on who will dwell with God to the final verse demonstrates that by focusing on God one can live a life that is secure. The security is not only in God and knowing God’s sanctuary in life, but also by following this code of conduct one has a life that will withstand scrutiny.

Today it is so easy to create lasting evidence of stupid choices (in the previous Psalm David called the man who says there is no God a fool). One’s road rage can be captured on a mobile phone and sent around the world. One’s hurried, harried tweet can be saved as proof of slander or worse. One’s lies and bad behaviour are harder to hide away and David’s suggestions for a life that will not be shaken are perhaps more valid today than ever before.

Psalm 14: “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God’ “

31 Jul

This is another Psalm of David. Most of the Psalm is dedicated to God looking down on a world of men who do not seek God. Sound familiar? David used the phrase “my people” so perhaps this is after he was king, perhaps this is like any person talking of their land.

This is either during or after Samuel’s time as prophet. A key time in the age of the nation of Israel and yet David noted so many people not following God. Then I have to admit that barely were the Ten Commandments set in stone than Moses smashed them in outrage and anger at the Israelites’ idolatry so why would Samuel’s time or David’s time be any better. I imagined that in the early days there was less idolatry and less ignoring of God but why should that be so? Even under kings who worshiped God and ensured that the temple rites were fulfilled as ordained were people turning away to their own chosen gods.

It is an undeniable truth that man’s nature is not to worship God but to find easier gods who do not expect such high standards of behaviour, who tolerate lies and wickedness – like believing in oneself as god. This preference for turning from God and doubting God has been with us since the Garden of Eve and sadly before the Fall of man. It is this that caused the Fall and even in Israel’s Golden Age under David many were drifting off to worship their own gods.

How do we keep the faith in the face of such disbelief? David’s Psalms help us to remember this time is no different from any other time, and God is still in heaven expecting our worship and it is up to us to choose Him. This choice is an ongoing minute by minute choice as much as it is a once in a lifetime decision. Choosing to focus on Him, choosing to listen to Him, choosing to meditate on His words are daily, hourly even minute by minute choices.

We return to Deuteronomy 6 for practical lessons in faith:

“These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of houses and gates.” (verses 6-9)

Psalm 13: “I trust in your unfailing love”

30 Jul

This Psalm of David takes us from feeling lost and alone, without God, to the affirmation that:
“But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, for He has been good to me.” (verses 5-6)

In this Psalm David did not necessarily get an answer, or get God’s attention which he was seeking. But David challenged himself to remember who God was and worship Him in the circumstances in which he felt lost and alone. What children’s story suggests we whistle a happy tune and then we don’t feel so bad? David didn’t quite suggest this but he did choose to refocus from himself and his worries onto God.

It reminds me of a quiet time I had earlier in the year. I recorded in my journal that I had prayed through everything that worried me, talking them over with God. And when I had finished I suddenly became aware that it was such a tiny list with so few little things on it. I laughed out loud in surprise and amusement. Don’t get me wrong they were pretty big in my life – whether I got paid that month or not, for example. But when I placed them before God and into His context and under His control, I laughed at how short the list was and how small the problems really were.

David has shown us in this Psalm how meditating on God’s word and worshiping God by choice can overcome our feelings of being lost and alone. In Phillipians it is said like this:

“Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

“Finally, brothes, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.” (Philippians 4: 6-8 new International Version)

Psalm 12: “Help Lord, for the godly are no more”

29 Jul

This Psalm of David’s is short but hard hitting. David complained that the godly and the faithful are gone, but his examples are about words and about lies, using words to harm people, to manipulate and destroy.

The Psalm is an uncomfortable read because verbal communication is used to mislead people in our society all the time. Politicans, celebrities, news readers and marketing professionals use words to convince people about a certain truth. But is their truth valid? It is so difficult to know the difference between truth and spin, truth and spam, truth and the fake phone call to steal your money. It is not simply about lies either, flattery and boasting are listed by David in the noise. Both of these serve to confuse and mislead people by different means but both with unhelpful intent. The world David described is the world outside my window only today the voices are many and louder and the cacophony bewildering.

You may argue that David and I are blowing something out of all proportion – a little flattery, a little boasting, a little lie what difference can that make?  In the New Testament Jesus challenges our thoughts and what are our words but our thoughts brought out into the open? The book of James says this about the tongue:

When we put bits into the mouths of horses to make them obey us, we can turn the whole animal. Or take ships as an example. Although they are so large and are driven by strong winds, they are steered by a very small rudder wherever the pilot wants to go. Likewise, the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

“All kinds of animals, birds, reptiles and sea creatures are being tamed and have been tamed by mankind, but no human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse human beings, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this should not be. Can both fresh water and salt water flow from the same spring? My brothers and sisters, can a fig tree bear olives, or a grapevine bear figs? Neither can a salt spring produce fresh water.” (James 3:3-12 New International Version)

David’s “cure” was simple – cut off lying, flattering lips and cut out boastful tongues. But instead he asked God for help and for God to send his “flawless words” to protect and redeem His people.

Psalm 11: “The Lord is righteous, He loves justice; upright men will see His face.”

28 Jul

Again we have the ebb and flow of verses in one of David’s Psalms. He started with a statement that he takes refuge in the Lord. But then there are 3 verses of challenge about how the wicked are ready to strike and he, David is running away without a safe place. The Psalm ends with 3 verses of reply to the challenge that the Lord is in control and He will defend the righteous.

This counter balance of views gives the Psalm a sense of realism – well if God is in control where is He? – contrasted with the statement of faith that He is in control anyway no matter what it seems like to man. It reminds me of the Shakespearean literary device of Appearance vs Reality. To the man with faith the appearance is that God does not care and the reality is that God is still in control and does care. To the man without faith the appearance is that there is no God and the reality is that men can be evil and have no consequences to their actions.

David presented the two views together but they way he presented them shows what he believed. He sandwiched the unbeliever’s reality between God’s existence and care for justice. And he ended with the ultimate wish of all believers – that we would see His face.

I am currently reading the showings of Julian of Norwich. She was a fourteenth century Catholic anchoress, who spent the majority of her adult life in a small cell. She chose to seriously meditate on God’s word and earnestly seek Him. In her first revelation of love from God, she describes seeing Jesus in such amazing language that it makes me yearn to see His face. The version I am reading contains this line in the introduction:
“Most of all, Julian of Norwich promises that, in spite of appearance to the contrary, all is well” (Page xix)

I think David would have agreed with her.

NOTE

This quote and the description of Julian are taken from this book:
Julian of Norwich: The Showings: A contemporary translation ” by Mirabai Starr, Canterbury Press Norwich, 2014

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