I wanted to write a quick and easy, last minute message for Thanksgiving Day. “Piece of cake,” I thought. So I hit the concordance looking for a short psalm of pure thanksgiving. Except for Psalm 100, I found none. What I found is that psalms containing “thanks*” are woven into many psalms that speak of hardship, suffering, the wicked, and judgment. Light bulb!
How often do you, or I, or anyone experience days of pure thanksgiving? The key to understanding thanksgiving in Psalms is that they are “woven in.” Psalms is like a tapestry created from the fabric of life. Perhaps this is why they have remained on the top ten list of biblical popularity for eons of human history. They express real life and living. Just as pain and blessing are woven together, so are pain and thanksgiving.
God understands our human hearts, and he is very wise. When he tells us in his Word to give thanks, it is because he knows that thanksgiving is good for us. Finding something to thank God for in the middle of chaos, hurt, disappointment, doubt, confusion, and despair is like finding a rock in sinking sand. It can literally save our psyche from severe harm. In general, our minds are monaural–they follow one track at a time. When I am purposefully giving thanks out loud, it means that I am not doubting, not complaining, not fearing, and a host of other “nots.” I can only do one thing at a time. When I am worshiping God with thanksgiving, God is rescuing my heart from harm. Hallelujia!
So here we go:
Thank you Lord that I slept in a warm, dry bed last night. Thank you Lord that I woke up and am still alive this morning. Thank you that I have family and friends. Thank you that I have one more day to live, that yesterday, which was so horrible for me, is not the last page in the book of my life. Thank you that my car still runs. Thank you for your presence in my heart. Thank you that your invitation for me to turn to you still stands. Thank you for your promise of life after death. Thank you for this little blade of green grass growing through the crack in the pavement. Thank you Lord for sharing this moment with me. Thank you for you…
It’s not hard to fill half an hour with simple thoughts such as these. Thanksgiving is an anti-depressant for those who have little. For those who have much, it’s an antidote to pride. Giving thanks reminds us that we are not in charge. It cautions us not to take our blessings for granted.
So, Happy Thanksgiving!!
Here is one example of a variegated psalm that contains the mix of life.
Psalm 28:1 Of David. To you, O LORD, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me, lest, if you be silent to me, I become like those who go down to the pit.
2 Hear the voice of my pleas for mercy, when I cry to you for help, when I lift up my hands toward your most holy sanctuary.
3 Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbors while evil is in their hearts.
4 Give to them according to their work and according to the evil of their deeds; give to them according to the work of their hands; render them their due reward.
5 Because they do not regard the works of the LORD or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.
6 Blessed be the LORD! For he has heard the voice of my pleas for mercy.
7 The LORD is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.
8 The LORD is the strength of his people; he is the saving refuge of his anointed.
9 Oh, save your people and bless your heritage! Be their shepherd and carry them forever. (ESV)
IS IT COINCIDENCE OR GOD’S PLAN that three psalms ending with the number 8 form a triplet detailing the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ, God’s divine and human Son? Psalm 88 is a first person account of the crucifixion. Yes, that’s right–the Psalter gives us in Christ’s own words an account of what it was like for him to die. Foretelling in advance is called prophecy. Through the poet Christ prophetically speaks out his thoughts and deep feelings as he lies within his tomb. That God captured this moment in time and included it within his Scripture for us to find and read is precious beyond words.
Psalm 18 is a joyful account of Papa God rescuing his Son from death. For us who have seen so many movies, the word that comes to my mind is “playful.” This account of the resurrection frolics, and I mean no disrespect. A more modern word might be “rocks.” Psalm 18 rocks. Reading this psalm fills me with admiration for God, wonder, and respect. The drama of the psalm matches the drama of the most amazing event in all of human history–a man who had been dead for three days broke free from his grave alive and well. Psalm 18 tells how that happened. It later describes the exaltation of Christ to Kingship over all nations as he executes judgment upon his enemies, both spiritual and physical.
Finally, Psalm 118 continues the celebration of resurrection. It’s a glorious day!
Please take time to reread these three prior posts as they explain in detail what I have outlined above. The links are here:
JESUS TOLD US his Father loves to fish. All fishermen have stories to tell. Read some of God’s favorite fish stories in Psalm 107.
Four Fish Stories
1. Some refugees lived out in the desert. One day they got lost and wandered around in the wasteland. They became hungry and thirsty and knew they were about to die. No one was there to help them. They had heard about God, but he wasn’t their God. Nevertheless, at their wits’ end and not wanting to perish, they cried out to the Lord. He heard them. He showed them a straight path they hadn’t seen before. It led to a nearby village where they settled.
Do you think they should thank him for taking them to a safe place where they had water and food?
2. Some children grew up and became rebels against God. “Sunday school BS!” they called it. Unfortunately, they wound up in a foreign prison where they suffered in darkness and iron chains. Their captors forced them into bitter labor. After a long time, they began collapsing on the job, and there was no one to help them. So they swallowed their pride and cried to the Lord in their trouble. Miraculously, the court reversed their sentence, and they were set free.
Do you think they should thank God for his love?
3. Some other children grew up and also rebelled. They turned to drugs, alcohol, and sex. In the end, they hurt their own bodies, got sick, lost all their appetite, and wasted away to nothing. No one really wants to die, so they turned to the Lord in their trouble and cried out to him. He heard. He sent crazy Christians to them who loved them and told them God’s word. God healed them.
Do you think they should thank him and even joyfully tell others about him?
4. These other people became savvy business men and women. They knew all about global marketing and made gobs of money, even millions. But the world economy was very unstable. The markets crashed, their wholesale and retail outlets failed, and all their stocks became worthless. Their stomachs churned and they got sick. No matter which way they turned, the whole world was reeling around them. Really, really scared, they cried out to the Lord in their trouble. He helped them. He stilled the storm to a whisper, and the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm. He guided them to the safe haven they desperately longed for.
Do you think they should thank him by going to the other sophisticated people in their world with praise for the God who saved them?
Do you see how God catches his fish? We say, “Why does God allow all this pain and hardship in our lives? How could a good and loving God allow this?” It’s true–he does allow humankind to suffer. It is true–God does turn rivers into deserts and flowing springs into thirsty ground. A good farm becomes a dust barren waste. He does this because people are wicked and ignore his commandments.
But then God goes and does just the opposite–he turns the desert into pools of water and the parched ground into flowing springs. He brings the hungry to live in bounteous places. They work and spend their time and resources wisely, and he blesses them and their families.
It’s a sad truth, but when things go well for us, our human tendency is to forget all about God and his ways. We even thumb our noses at him. But when oppression, calamity and sorrow come, we are humbled. God has no respect for the high and mighty among us. But the needy, he lifts out of their affliction and increases their families like flocks. The upright see and rejoice in all this, but the wicked just shut their mouths.
A wise person should think about these things and consider the great love of the Lord.
Some parts of Scripture are written as an appeal to nonbelievers–the Gospel of John, for example–while other parts, such as Psalm 77, are written for believers. The poetry of Psalm 77 is like a painting. It paints the intimate details of a believer’s heart as he, or she, struggles to maintain faith through a dark night of ongoing trial.
These words from the NIV are like colors:
I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me; in distress; I stretched out untiring hands; I would not be comforted (chose to pray rather than sleep away the pain); I groaned; I meditated; my spirit grew faint; you kept my eyes from closing; I was too troubled to speak; Will the Lord reject forever? Will he never show his favor again? Has his unfailing love vanished forever? Has his promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
What Christian has never felt like this?
But the poet in Psalm 77, who could easily be Christ himself as he nears his death, chooses not to remain in this posture of unanswered, agonized beseeching. He steps forward. He resolves to do something about his mental state. He purposefully chooses to remember.
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD; yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago. I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds.” (NIV)
What does this believer remember? God’s ways, his past miracles, his power among his believing people. Every Christian has a history with God Almighty. If not, then they are not Christian. All Christians have been saved by God. There is so much to remember! The older one grows, the greater in number are these memories of times when God stepped in to help and to save. For the poet in Psalm 77, it was the crazy crossing of the Red Sea that he remembers. For the guards at the tomb of Christ, it was that magnificent earthquake that released to freedom their no longer dead prisoner. For Jesus, it was when he came up from the waters of baptism and the dove of the Holy Spirit alighted on his head. For Peter, it was when an angel of the Lord silently broke the locks on the chains that bound him captive to the guards in Herod’s dungeon (Acts 12:1-11).
We all have memories. Psalm 77 encourages us as believers not to remain in our feelings of fear and despair, but to make an instant withdrawal from the savings account of our past dealings with God. God’s nature and his love never change; he is eternal; so is his love for us. Because we remember all the times that God saved us in the past, we know that he will not fail us now. Weeping may last for the night, but joy comes in the morning.
PSALMS ARE NOT WRITTEN IN CHRONOLOGICAL SEQUENCE. Readers hinder themselves when they only read Psalms in sequential order. If I may use a word like “fun” when describing the Bible, then it’s fun and exciting to find two psalms separated numerically that link in chronological sequence. By “chronological sequence,” I mean the sequence of events in Jesus’ life.
Using a psalm arrangement such as that found in 31 Days of Wisdom and Praise sometimes helps locate links that otherwise might be lost. One such link in this book is found on Day 17. On Day 17, Psalm 47 immediately follows Psalm 17. Psalm 17 (see link to the left) contains a prayer which prophetically describes Jesus’ thought life at some point near the time of his Passion. In verses 9-12, the reader can easily picture Christ as he is confronted in the Garden of Gethsemane and later assailed by a mass of accusers at his unjust trial. Then in verses 13-15 the prophetic voice of Christ through the psalmist asks God for help and expresses faith that God will perform his resurrection. Psalm 47 answers Psalm 17, though separated by thirty other psalms.
Psalm 47:1 To the choirmaster. A Psalm of the Sons of Korah.
Clap your hands, all peoples! Shout to God with loud songs of joy!
2 For the LORD, the Most High, is to be feared, a great king over all the earth.
3 He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4 He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5 God has gone up with a shout, the LORD with the sound of a trumpet.
6 Sing praises to God, sing praises! Sing praises to our King, sing praises!
7 For God is the King of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm!
8 God reigns over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9 The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted! (ESV)
While Psalm 17 is ascribed to David, a solo speaker, Psalm 47 is ascribed to the Sons of Korah. The reader perceives Psalm 17 in deep chords of stress and endangerment, while the group speakers of Psalm 47 appear barely able to contain themselves for joy and jumping gladness. In Psalm 47, God answers what the psalmist prays in Psalm 17, while the chorus of singers in Psalm 47 serve as witnesses and co-beneficiaries of God’s reply. The reader can easily picture the disciples’ astonishment, followed by joy, as they learn that Jesus their friend and teacher is no longer dead, but alive. The amazement and extreme jubilation carries over to the incipient church assembled to watch as Jesus ascends into the clouds. The church continues to express their reverence and jubilation over Christ their King throughout the remainder of the New Testament. Psalm 47 is an appropriate celebration of both Christ’s ascension and his second coming.
Readers should remember that the psalms are prophetic. They use poetry, often written in first person, to foretell what will happen at a later date to Jesus, who is God’s anointed, and to Israel, which in the prophetic application of Psalms is Jesus’ church. Verses 5-9 celebrate the ascension of King Jesus and name him as God. Psalm 47 complements Psalm 2, which also names the Son as sharing divinity with God, “…You are my Son; today I have begotten you.” (Psa 2:7 ESV)
“How could a loving God allow this?”
“If God exists, how could he allow this?”
Nonbelievers and those overwhelmed by tragedy often ask some form of the above two questions.
Twice in human history, God answered.
The first was the global flood recorded in Genesis 6 and in cultural stories and artifacts from all over the world. In the Genesis account, God passed judgment on the entire human race. God spared only one man he judged righteous and seven others of his close family. Everyone else in the entire human race died.
The second time God answered the “How could he…?” question, he lifted his Son on a cross. In this judgment, one righteous man died so that the entire human race might be rescued. The only thing God requires of people is to Believe and Receive.
Sin is ugly in all its forms, especially to our creator, who is good and who made us good. Yet in answer to our, “How could a loving God…?” question, so many rebel at the choices God gives when he tells us that he does NOT, in fact, allow these things. So many refuse the “believe and receive” option. They might prefer a sliding scale if they judge their own sin to be nonexistent or quite small. I don’t have an answer for your heart, only my own. But knowing my own deep, dark secrets and all the acts I’ve ever done or left undone, I prefer God’s second option. Knowing Jesus is not that bad. He’s far, far better than God the judge, and he takes good care of his own. It’s your call. Each of us chooses for ourselves.
The speaker of Psalm 16 has an amazing relationship with the Lord. He runs onto the stage in verse 1, makes a beeline to the Lord, and cries out, “Help me!” (Protect me, save me, guard me.) “Here’s the deal,” he says, “I’m hiding in you. You are my refuge, my safety, my one spot, my only hope.”
Then he grants the Lord everything, “You are the Lord. You are the One. I have nothing worth anything anywhere in all myself or my life apart from you.” Talk about putting your eggs into one basket! What a confession this is.
Scholars concede that verses 3 and 4 are difficult, as in not clear, not understood. Let’s just say that the psalmist makes reference to other people, whether for good or for bad, but dismisses them all and turns back to the Lord.
“You are the One. You are my reward and blessing.” The original of verse 5 reads, “You are my piece of inheritance and my cup.” Not a house, nor a piece of property, not a castle, nor acres and acres of land, but You, a person, you are my inheritance and my daily provision. “I will settle myself down in You and drink of You.” Crazy, huh? Can we even imagine relating to another person in this way? I can only think of someone who is madly in love. Verse 5 also says, “You make my lot secure.” That speaks of knowing someone who both owns the lottery and controls the machine that chooses the numbers. This person matches up the winning number with the ticket I hold in my hand. Can’t get any more certain than that.
I also like the Septuagint translation of the last part of verse 5, “You are he who restores my inheritance to me.” The word restore means to bring back what was lost, to bring back what was once beautiful, whole, powerful, good, and strong. Think about the entire Bible from start to finish. What was lost in Genesis? What gets restored in Revelation? Humankind’s innocence was lost in Genesis–peace, prosperity, walking and talking in the presence of God in a place that was paradise. All this is restored in Revelation. But not just people lost out when Eve surrendered to God’s enemy and ate the apple–God lost out. The Creator and his Son, who was always by his side, they lost what they created to an enemy who destroyed and ruined what they had made for their eternal enjoyment. The Bible tells the story of how all God’s creation gets restored to God. In verse 5 the psalmist speaks of his inheritance portion of all this. Then in verse 6 we see the psalmist surveying his inheritance. “Yep,” he says, “I got the best piece. My inheritance is really good, better than anything else.”
By now we might be wondering who this psalmist is. His tone is so certain, so sure, so totally convinced that he himself is the winner of all. Who talks like this? Verse 7 gives a clue. The psalmist is someone who is close to the Lord. All night long the Lord keeps him awake instructing him, giving him guidance and counsel; we might even say child-training him, educating him, discipling him. Verse 8 tells us the psalmist is someone who sees the Lord always directly in front of his face. He never loses sight of him, never loses track. Further, the Lord is at his right hand. The right side symbolically is the position of power, the leading side, the side of protection and favor. Such confidence in the Lord is amazing.
The psalmist’s confidence in his Lord translates into an overwhelming sense of gladness and joy that in verse 9 completely floods the psalmist’s heart and every other part of him. Even his body rests securely, not the least bit anxious about anything. Verse 10 is the most amazing statement of all. The psalmist speaks out his faith and confidence in God by saying, “You will not leave my soul in hell, neither will you allow your Holy One, me, to see corruption.” In other words, even when I die, the psalmist is saying, You, God, are not going to leave me dead, and you’re not going to allow my body to rot as every other living thing since creation itself does when it dies. I’m different. I’m special. You God will not allow my body to rot at death, nor will you let me stay dead.
There is only one human being in all of history who can make a claim like this one and have it come true–Jesus Christ, God’s Son. The apostle Peter said so in Acts 2:25-28. There he quotes Psalm 16:8-11 and applies these verses pointedly to Jesus shortly after all the apostles and many others witnessed his resurrection.
Psalm 16 closes in verse 11 with this great verse, quoted here from the NET Bible, “You lead me in the path of life; I experience absolute joy in your presence; you always give me sheer delight.” What could be better than this?
Before I leave here, I just want to point out what strikes me about Psalm 16.
- When the psalmist runs to God for safety in verse 1, he is running for a reason. He’s in trouble.
- The psalmist, God’s Son, has total confidence and assurance in who God is. He knows that God is able to help him and is eager to do so.
- The psalmist knows who he himself is. He is someone whom God very certainly wants to help.
- The psalmist speaks to God from a point in time far before the historical events that equate with this psalm, the events of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. In other words, this is prophecy. Christ the Son existed eternally before he became human, before his incarnation. This is how through the human penman he was able to foresee and foretell his future through this psalm.
- This one is important for us as readers. What is true of Christ in this psalm is also true of all those who give allegiance to him as their King. Just as the psalmist places his trust 100% in God as his Lord and benefactor, so believers must place their trust 100% in Christ as the King whom they follow and rely upon in everything. The New Testament teaches this everywhere.
- All the blessings the psalmist receives from God, God also gives to those who own Christ, to those who by their allegiance to him are found to be in him.
Romans 8:11 If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ Jesus from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through his Spirit who dwells in you. (ESV)
Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God.
Romans 8:38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
7. Therefore, we can read Psalm 16 with Christ as speaker, or we can read it with ourselves as speaker. It works both ways.
How does God feel about what we read in our daily news? Read Psalm 15 here to find out.
ESV Psalm 15:1 A Psalm of David. O LORD, who shall sojourn in your tent? Who shall dwell on your holy hill? 2 He who walks blamelessly and does what is right and speaks truth in his heart; 3 who does not slander with his tongue and does no evil to his neighbor, nor takes up a reproach against his friend; 4 in whose eyes a vile person is despised, but who honors those who fear the LORD; who swears to his own hurt and does not change; 5 who does not put out his money at interest and does not take a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things shall never be moved.
God will not be mocked, and his Word will not be trumped. In crystal clear, plain language God proclaims what he expects from people. God is Creator, the Great Benefactor, the Savior, and Judge.
God is good. Psalm 15 describes what goodness is in God’s eyes. He sees everything. Nothing escapes his notice.
The question is: Does God expect us to behave politically the same way he expects us to behave toward our families and our friends? Psalm 15 makes no distinction. And Jesus clarified his Father’s word even further.
ESV Matthew 5:43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.
Within the Psalter, God fully declares his expectations of us.