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How Could a Loving God…?

“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.

Public domain painting by Leon Comerre

 

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.

 

Public domain by Leon Bonnat

 

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.

For Lovers of God: Psalm 33

Psalm 33 1) beautifully describes God’s nature as reflected in his many activities and 2) encourages people everywhere to worship him loudly and clearly with joyful praise and celebration.

myjoyonline.com

Psalm 33 opens with a clarion call to praise that pictures a scene of genuine celebration:

1 Sing joyfully to the LORD, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
2 Praise the LORD with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
3 Sing to him a new song; play skillfully, and shout for joy. (Psalm 33:1-3 NIV, 1984)

Verses 4 and 5 give four reasons to celebrate God:

  1. For the word of the LORD is right and true; (vs 4)
  2. He is faithful in all he does (vs 4)
  3. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; (vs 5)
  4. the earth is full of his unfailing love. (vs 5)

The body of the psalm develops these four points:

1. For the word of the LORD is right and true (vs 4)

God created by his Word (see footnote 1, technical).

6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; {Or sea as into a heap} he puts the deep into storehouses.
8 Let all the earth fear the LORD; let all the people of the world revere him.
9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.

2. He is faithful in all he does (vs 4)

10 The LORD foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the LORD stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. 

As we consider today’s shifting political market and humankind’s long world history, we see that various nations and people groups rise and fall. “But the plans of the LORD stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations.” God is faithful, unchanging, ever true, and powerful.

3. The LORD loves righteousness and justice; (vs 5)

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the LORD, the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the LORD looks down and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling-place he watches all who live on earth–
15 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do.
16 No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save.

The LORD blesses those who follow his ways (vs 12). His ways are righteousness and justice. God did not simply create and then disappear into the vastness of an infinite space (deus ex machina). Verses 13-15 state that God looks and sees everyone everywhere. He judges by his own standards of uprightness, of righteousness and justice. Verses 16-17 state that history is full of examples in which leaders with great armies, great strength, and the best of equipment find all those insufficient to save. It is God who saves.

4. the earth is full of his unfailing love. (vs 5)

18 But the eyes of the LORD are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine.

The LORD knows his own. He watches over them carefully, minutely, and always. The text describes God’s people as those who love him, respect, trust in, and obey him (text: fear him) as well as place their hope in God’s loyal and faithful actions and attitude of love towards them. We might call these actions faith. God delivers from death those who place their faith in him, who give their loyalty to him. He also keeps them alive in famine.

What should our response be?

Verses 20 and 21 recap the introductory verses 1-3.

20 We wait in hope for the LORD; he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.

Verse 22 concludes with a prayer that 1) asks the faithful God to continue blessing his people just as he has done in the past, and 2) expresses the continued loyalty of the people.

22 May your unfailing love rest upon us, O LORD, even as we put our hope in you.

Application:

Explanations of a psalm are never as good as the psalm itself, just as reading a synopsis of a book or movie is never as good as experiencing. When someone tells about a great time they had, the description comes nowhere near the great time itself. Explanations like the above serve at best as a roadmap to lead the way or guideposts to point out interesting sights. Whereas experiencing a psalm and being swept up into its mood or passion can happen in just a few short minutes, digesting an explanation can dampen the joy of movement. So read the psalm when you are fresh and celebrate God’s ever present goodness.

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I. Technical Note: The following translations use “word” in verse 6: ESV, NIV 1984, NIB (British NIV, 1984), NAS, BBE (Bible in Basic English), LXE (Brenton’s Septuagint English Translation), NETS (New English Translation of the Septuagint, Pietersma, 2009), KJV, NKJV, NRS (New Revised Standard Version, 1989), and the NIV, 2011. “Word” literally translates both the Greek of the Septuagint and the Hebrew, as the NET points out in its notes. However, the NET model, 2006,  and the NIRV (New International Reader’s Version, 1998) have taken the liberty to interpret the literal “word” of the two original languages and to place the interpretation into the text. NET then puts the literal translation into the notes. Can these two be right and everyone else wrong?

The NET writes for Psalm 33:6, “By the LORD’s decree the heavens were made; by a mere word [breath, or spirit] from his mouth all the stars in the sky were created.” The NIRV writes, “The heavens were made when the LORD commanded it to happen. All of the stars were created by the breath of his mouth.”

The interpretation these two more modern versions have given (although the later NIV went back to using “word”) is a narrow slice of the semantic range of possible meanings of the literal “word” of the original. In the case of the NET, I strongly suspect that this is an editorial decision based upon the philosophy (hermeneutics) of Old Testament interpretation the editors have chosen. NET is fond of placing the literal in the margin and their particular interpretation in the text itself.

Why does this matter? 1) these two versions are changing the literal translation of God’s word. 2) They are interpreting for God the meaning of the text, rather than allowing the readers to do so under the guidance of God.

One of the readers of Psalms was John the Apostle. In John 1:1-5, he writes,

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was with God in the beginning.
3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.
4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it. (NIV, 2011)

The author of Hebrews writes,

2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe.

Why rob the reader the pleasure of seeing the Word, the Son, in Psalm 33:6 by changing the literal translation “word” to “LORD’s decree“? The semantic domain of “word” includes the concept of “decree,” while “decree” erases the possibility of the Personhood of God’s Word.

The text of Psalm 148:5-6 is interesting in its contextual similarity to Psalm 33:6.

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he commanded and they were created.
6 He set them in place for ever and ever; he gave a decree that will never pass away. (NIB, NIV 1984)

5 Let them praise the name of the LORD, for he gave the command and they came into existence.
6 He established them so they would endure; he issued a decree that will not be revoked. (NET)

In these verses, “them” means everything named in verses 2-4: angels, heavenly hosts, sun, moon, shining stars, highest heavens, and waters above the skies, i.e., creation, apart from the earth. These verses contain the translations “commanded…created,” “set them in place,” and “gave a decree.” Interestingly, NET notes does not mention any of the three verbal phrases.

In comparison with Psalm 33:6, the immediate creation context is identical. “6 By the word of the LORD were the heavens made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth.” Yet even though the context is identical, the original Greek and Hebrew words referring to the act of creation are different. Psalm 33, as noted above, uses the Hebrew and Greek original for “word,” “logos” (see Strong’s H1697 and G3056), whereas Psalm 148:5-6 uses different words more directly related to “command” (see Strong’s H6680, H8765, G1781, G2476, and G4367).

“Logos,” which is “word” in the New Testament, carries great weight, and one cannot help but wonder why the NET chose to minimize its potential importance in Psalm 33:6, given that NET’s claimed translation “the LORD’s decree” has other specific Hebrew and Greek words that God could have chosen, as for example, those he did choose in Psalm 148:5-6 in an identical context. Are we to think that God pays less attention to details than NET? In Psalm 33:6, if God intentionally chose Hebrew “dabar” and Greek “logos,” both meaning “word,” then “word” it is.

 

 

Psalms 7 and 37: Dynamic Duo

Psalms 7 and 37 are a dynamic duo: earth’s prayer and heaven’s reply.

 

Psalm 7

Psalm 7 is the first time in the Psalter that the psalmist proclaims his innocence while at the same time beseeching God for mercy to deliver him from enemies who pursue him with false accusations. Psalm 7 is classified as an individual lament in the psalm of innocence category (Tigay, 178).

The theme of false accusations adheres closely to the life experiences of Jesus Christ.

Matthew 26:59 Now the chief priests and the whole council were seeking false testimony against Jesus that they might put him to death, 60 but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward…

Luke 23:4 Then Pilate said to the chief priests and the crowds, “I find no guilt in this man.”

Luke 23: 39 One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” 40 But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41 And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.”

Verses 1-6 reveal the highly agitated emotional state of the psalmist, as he cries out for help:

Psalm 7:1 … O LORD my God, in you do I take refuge; save me from all my pursuers and deliver me,

2 lest like a lion they tear my soul apart, rending it in pieces, with none to deliver.

3 O LORD my God, if I have done this, if there is wrong in my hands,

4 if I have repaid my friend with evil or plundered my enemy without cause,

5 let the enemy pursue my soul and overtake it, and let him trample my life to the ground and lay my glory in the dust. Selah

6 Arise, O LORD, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies; awake for me; you have appointed a judgment.

The psalmist appeals to the judgment of the righteous God to make a decision between the two parties (vv 7-9). The psalm ends with the psalmist  encouraging himself that indeed God will do so (vv 10-17).

Psalm 37

Today’s despairing reader who finds herself still in turmoil after praying Psalm 7 with Christ should turn immediately to Psalm 37 to hear the strongly calm and encouraging voice of the Lord’s comforting reply: Yes, I hear your prayer, I am here, and I am with you. Psalm 37 does not have a named speaker, as many of the wisdom readings of Scripture do not. The viewpoint, however, is so broad and confident, so all-seeing, that the reader would not offend the Lord by attributing the words to the Holy Spirit, God himself.

In Psalm 37 the psalmist speaks in the character of God, who reassures the hurting petitioner with direct commands to actions that will remedy her angst, interspersed with precious promises to the believer and descriptions of the final, dismal outcome in store for the wicked who pursue her.

 God’s Directives to the Righteous

Do not fret…or be envious…trust in the Lord…do good…dwell in the land…enjoy safe pasture…delight yourself in the Lord…commit your way to the Lord…trust in him…be still…wait patiently for him…do not fret…refrain from anger…turn from wrath…do not fret…wait for the Lord. (NIV)

God’s Promises to the Believer:

he will give you the desires of your heart…he will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun…those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land…the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace…the Lord upholds the righteous…in times of disaster they will not wither…in days of famine they will enjoy plenty…those the Lord blesses will inherit the land…if the Lord delights in a man’s way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand…I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread…their children will be blessed…the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones…the Lord will not leave them in their power or let them be condemned when brought to trial… he will exalt you to inherit the land…there is a future for the man of peace…the salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him. (NIV)

God’s Decreed Outcome for the Wicked

like the grass they will soon wither…evil men will be cut off…a little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found…the wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming. The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright. But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken…the wicked will perish…they will vanish–vanish like smoke…the offspring of the wicked will be cut off…I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found…all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off. (NIV)

Note: Psalm 37 reads much more effectively as it is written, with the three themes interacting one with another, as in a symphony.

…………………….

Excursus (a walk along a side path)

One often hears the criticism that God is narrow-minded, intolerant, and judgmental, that he invalidly paints people and behaviors in black and white categories of right and wrong, when in fact people are multi-colored and “okay.” The God of the Psalter is not like this.

First, while it is true that there are categories of right and wrong, of righteousness and sin expressed in the psalms, these are not the categories that popular opinion often claims. The strongest characteristic of a righteous person in the Psalter is a wholehearted reliance and dependence upon God. A righteous person is someone who believes in God and aligns herself with him–she joins his team. An unrighteous person in the Psalter is someone who purposefully, openly, systematically, loudly, and strongly resists God and seeks to exploit and plunder both the poor and needy in general and in particular the righteous person, as just defined. The wicked person in the psalms is your basic bully who willfully hurts others and who willfully attempts to hurt the God of Scripture.

Second, even the most tolerant person must admit that people wrong and hurt other people. No one expects a victim to always forgive and show tolerance toward the actions of someone who purposefully harms them in any number of ways. Because it is true that Christianity teaches a victim to forgive the one who wronged her–Christ’s statement while hanging painfully on the cross being crucified is the best example of this, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do (Luke 23:34)–it is necessary to reconcile justice and punishment with that forgiveness.

Expansion of the above paragraph: Consider the multitudes of millions of people who are poor and needy and the millions who are abused and assaulted by others–financially, physically, sexually, emotionally, and in many other ways. A God who is real must consider and provide a remedy for the victims of abuse and hold the willful abusers accountable to some form of punishment. To say otherwise is to lie about the nature of human beings and their existence.

So justice demands the accountability of punishment, while love demands forgiveness (1). How does one both punish those who willfully harm others and simultaneously forgive everyone? Evolution does not provide an answer. Secular wisdom has no answer. The God of Scripture provides an answer. The key words are repentance and substitution.

God provides forgiveness of everything to everyone through repentance. Without repentance, there is no forgiveness. A truly repentant person admits guilt to God and acknowledges the rightfulness of penalty. In order to receive the mercy and forgiveness God makes available to all, the rebellious heart must approach God and ask for his pardon. Scripture does not promise mercy to the unrepentant and rebellious heart.

Secondly, God in his righteous judgment never waives anyone’s punishment for sin. All sin will be paid for. How does payment for sin work with the concept of forgiveness, or pardon? The answer is in the second key word, substitution. God himself receives the punishment due the pardoned perpetrator. He punishes himself instead of the guilty person. His punishment falls upon himself in the person of his Son, Jesus Christ, the righteous man of Psalm 1, and of all the psalms, and the King of Psalm 2. Christ is the righteous suppliant whose voice we hear in the psalms. To receive God’s forgiveness through substitution, everyone needs to repent, or bow the knee to God.

Through the judgment of substitution, God is able to satisfy both the rightful need of victims for retribution and his own nature of love. It is God who loves first, not the victims. God does require of the victims of wrong that they commit all desires for vengeance to him. And this is why the righteous victims whom we hear pleading to God in the Psalter do not ask God to help them bring their own justice to a situation, but they cry out for God’s justice, God’s mercy, God’s actions. They have committed their rightful need of retribution to God, for, “‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord” (Deuteronomy 32:35, Romans 12:19, and Hebrews 10:30). God does require vengeance for wrongs committed. In Christ, he took his righteous vengeance upon himself.

Psalm 7:12 allows for the possibility of repentance by the guilty party.

Psalm 7:12 If a man does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and readied his bow; (ESV)

Psalms 7 and 37 together tell the innocent and hurting victim that in the end, God makes everything all right.

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1 Forgiveness is very different from tolerance. While tolerance says that there is no such thing as sin, forgiveness names sin and finds a way to forego the penalty.

 

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Psalm 18: Papa Roars and Rescues

Drama from the Past

God the Son endangered, the ropes of death ensnared him, squeezed his breath away. A tsunami of destruction crashed upon his head. He couldn’t breathe. Hell’s net pulled him tighter, under. Death held its vise-like grip. There was no way for him to escape. In gasping anguish he cried out loud; he called to his Father for help.

“Papa! Help me! Save me! Death must not win forever!”

God in his holy temple heard his Son’s voice; the pleading cry of desperation reached the Father’s ear. Though his Son lay buried, three days in the grave, Almighty Papa roared and pierced the sky to save.

The earth reeled and rocked; foundations of mountains trembled. The royal Papa’s anger shook, an earth quaking gush of love. Smoke rose from his nostrils; devouring fire consumed, glowing coals of flame no dragon ever produced.

God bowed the heavens descending, thick darkness under his feet. He rode a cherub and flew swiftly on wings of wind. Almighty Papa in darkness cloaked, a canopy surrounds him. Thick clouds dark with water cover his form from view. Bursting through this darkness, his brightness once concealed, with flashes of fire and brimstone, his golden light breaks through. He thunders in the heavens, blasting out his voice, hailstones and coals announcing–Papa on the move.

Scattering forth his arrows, flashing out his lightnings, God routed the enemy, death…(and here the Son breaks in…)

“The channels of the sea you exposed, the foundations of the world laid bare. You rebuked them, O Lord, my Father, when your nostrils blasted your breath.”

“Did you see all this, my people? Were you watching? Did you see? When he came from on high and took me and pulled me from the waves? He rescued me from my strong enemy, from those who hated and surrounded. They were too mighty for me, confronting, that one single day. But he, the LORD my Papa came through. To this broad place he brought me. He heard my cry and rescued, because he delights in me.”

*This poem draws heavily from the English Standard Version of Psalm 18:4-19

 

 

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Psalms 18 and 118: Up from the Grave He Arose!

Resurrection Glory

 

After the dark Tenebrae chords of Psalm 88 and after the discordant realities of Messiah’s abased life while on earth as recorded in Psalm 89, Psalms 18 and 118 both ring out like joyful peals of Easter bells. Christ is alive! He did not die. Just as we heard from Messiah the God-man in his human form expressing in lament his petitions to his Father, in these psalms we also hear the voice of a man singing his carols of victory, salvation, and release from the grave. Below are a few highlights from each of these psalms. I encourage the reader to read both of these psalms with the vision provided by the apostolic kerygma, the proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We rejoice as believers, because he rejoices as one of us. His triumph was a triumph of humanity over sin and the grave.

Psalm 18

After the dark pleadings of Psalm 88–

5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah (Psa 88:5-7 ESV)

God replies. He was silent and absent in Psalm 88, but in Psalm 18, his response is nothing short of tremendous. And, just as Jesus pleaded his lament with great emotional overtones, God his Father replies with great emotional drama as well. Hear what the psalmist says.

4 The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me;
5 the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.
6 In my distress I called upon the LORD; to my God I cried for help. From his temple he heard my voice, and my cry to him reached his ears.
7 Then the earth reeled and rocked; the foundations also of the mountains trembled and quaked, because he was angry.
8 Smoke went up from his nostrils, and devouring fire from his mouth; glowing coals flamed forth from him.
9 He bowed the heavens and came down; thick darkness was under his feet.
10 He rode on a cherub and flew; he came swiftly on the wings of the wind.
11 He made darkness his covering, his canopy around him, thick clouds dark with water.
12 Out of the brightness before him hailstones and coals of fire broke through his clouds.
13 The LORD also thundered in the heavens, and the Most High uttered his voice, hailstones and coals of fire.
14 And he sent out his arrows and scattered them; he flashed forth lightnings and routed them.
15 Then the channels of the sea were seen, and the foundations of the world were laid bare at your rebuke, O LORD, at the blast of the breath of your nostrils.
16 He sent from on high, he took me; he drew me out of many waters.
17 He rescued me from my strong enemy and from those who hated me, for they were too mighty for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my calamity, but the LORD was my support.
19 He brought me out into a broad place; he rescued me, because he delighted in me (cf 22:8). (Psa 18:4-19 ESV)

Psalm 118

In Psalm 118, the psalmist/resurrected Messiah sings with pure joy and loud celebration his victorious release from the grave and salvation to life. God heard and answered his prayers, and he is no longer confined alone and friendless in the dank darkness of the pit of death, as recorded in Psalm 88.

1 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever!
… … … …
5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD; the LORD answered me and set me free.
6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side as my helper; I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
… … … …
10 All nations surrounded me; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
11 They surrounded me, surrounded me on every side; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
12 They surrounded me like bees; they went out like a fire among thorns; in the name of the LORD I cut them off!
13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the LORD helped me.
14 The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.
15 Glad songs of salvation are in the tents of the righteous: “The right hand of the LORD does valiantly,
16 the right hand of the LORD exalts, the right hand of the LORD does valiantly!”
17 I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD.
18 The LORD has disciplined me severely, but he has not given me over to death.
19 Open to me the gates of righteousness, that I may enter through them and give thanks to the LORD.
20 This is the gate of the LORD; the righteous shall enter through it.
21 I thank you that you have answered me and have become my salvation.
22 The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.
23 This is the LORD’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.
24 This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.
25 Save us, we pray, O LORD! O LORD, we pray, give us success!
26 Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD! We bless you from the house of the LORD.
27 The LORD is God, and he has made his light to shine upon us. Bind the festal sacrifice with cords, up to the horns of the altar!
28 You are my God, and I will give thanks to you; you are my God; I will extol you.
29 Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; for his steadfast love endures forever! (Psa 118:1-29 ESV)

Christians celebrate Easter, which they often call Resurrection Sunday, because in Christ, his victory over sin and death is their victory over sin and death. Because Christ is resurrected, by faith in him, they are resurrected. Because he lives forever, they live forever.

The Bible’s promises are so majestic and broad in scope that words fail. There are no qualifications for anyone to receive all the benefits of God’s covenant of life made with Jesus Christ and through him to all believers. The one and only requirement is a lifelong TRUST in the life, death, and resurrection of the ascended Jesus Christ of Nazareth, as both Savior and Lord. The duration of the lifelong commitment might be no more than one minute, for those who choose to believe on their deathbeds, or an entire span of multiple decades in a hard labor camp. Eternal life is so great that no one merits it, nor one more than another (Matthew 20:1-16).

If you have not already done so, won’t you give Christ your allegiance (1) today?

 

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1 For an interesting approach to the word “allegiance” as it relates to “faith,” see Matthew W. Bates, Salvation by Allegiance AloneBaker Academic: Grand Rapids, 2017.

 

 

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Psalm 89: Short Devotional

Psalm 89 tells an interesting story of God’s promises to Israel concerning Messiah. The exalted expectations are then contrasted with the harsh realities of the Messiah’s life during his incarnation. The psalmist/Messiah points out the contractions to the Lord, reminding him of his promises. He asks the Lord why his life compares so unfavorably with the promises. Nevertheless, he closes by blessing the Lord.

The reader needs to bear in mind that the psalm is prophecy, and this is Scripture’s way of announcing that the Messiah’s life would be one of suffering. The facts of his future incarnation do not seem to resemble the facts of God’s promises. No one understood this in the days when Jesus walked on earth, not even his own disciples. It was left to the Lord to explain the prophetic Scriptures concerning himself to his disciples after his resurrection. We, as readers today, have the great advantage of hindsight, although even today, many, if not most, believers do not perceive the messianic prophecies in this psalm. Psalm 89 is not listed as being messianic in most study Bibles.

In the first section concerning creation, verses 2 and 5-18, we see that God created all things, and his power is supreme. Righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne; steadfast love and faithfulness go before him. (v 14)

The second section describes God’s promises to Israel through Messiah from verses 3-4 and 19-37. God’s righteous, just, loving, and faithful nature, as established, manifested, and proven throughout all of creation, form the basis of his covenant with Israel, as represented by David his servant, and by the Greater David, Messiah. God’s people know and understand God’s nature and are blessed because they walk in it. In the long speech block from verse 19 thr0ugh 37, God describes in his own words the future messianic kingdom, Messiah’s loving response to him (verse 26), and the nature of his disciplinary yet covenantal interactions with Messiah’s progeny. Just as God proves himself to be righteous, just, loving, and faithful in all his created works, so the Israelites and Messiah can count on him to be the same in all his covenantal dealings with them.

Section three, verses 38-51, describes Messiah’s actual incarnated experience with statements such as:

38 But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed.
39 You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust.
… … … … … 
42 You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice.
… … … … …
45 You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame. Selah

Using our reader’s hindsight and what we know of the gospel message about the life of Jesus of Nazareth, we can recognize that the words of prophecy in Psalm 89 describe well Messiah’s actual life during his incarnation.

Section 4 records Messiah’s prayerful protest to God. As we read these words, there can be no doubt that Messiah was fully man. These words are spoken from a human vantage, and a suffering human at that. Well may Paul have had Psalm 89 in mind when he wrote of Christ to the Philippians:

5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus,
6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped,
7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Phi 2:5-8 ESV)

Finally, the last verse concludes the psalm with a word of blessing for the Lord. In this, the psalmist/Messiah reminds us that even when the path is difficult and strewn with trials of all kinds, God is faithful to perform what he promises, notwithstanding all appearances to the contrary, and in that we worship and adore him.

Psalm 89 does not solve the mystery of a suffering Messiah–it simply announces the mystery. Nevertheless, by the time Jesus walked the earth, his entire people had lost sight of the full scope of this psalm’s message. They grasped well enough the exalted promises of God to Israel through a glorified Messiah, but they apparently had never connected or had forgotten the last portions of the psalm, which paint a portrait of a suffering Messiah. How like ourselves–don’t we so often want the glory without the pain?

 

 

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Psalm 88: A Tenebrae Psalm

 

 

A Tenebrae service in its current evangelical format is a dark service commonly observed on the evening of Good Friday and one in which the events of Christ’s Passion are acknowledged and honored. Scripture is read, music is sung, and lights or candles gradually dim or are extinguished, until the service room is very dark. Worshipers often exit in silence. Psalm 88 is highly suitable for a Tenebrae service. This psalm dramatically prophesies Christ’s final suffering and death in his own first person voice. The psalm foretells in this man’s own words what it felt like for him to die. Notice that the psalm has two characters–1) the speaker, and 2) the silent character, God. What a treasure this is for us to find in God’s Word.

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Psalm 88 (ESV)

O LORD, God of my salvation; I cry out day and night before you.
2 Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry!
3 For my soul is full of troubles, and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am a man who has no strength,
5 like one set loose among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom you remember no more, for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the pit, in the regions dark and deep.

In verses 1-3, we sense the events of Holy Week–our Lord’s deep, deep, constant prayers, his foreknowledge of his betrayal, his suffering in the Garden, his arrest and trial, his close friend’s three denials, and finally, his crucifixion. By verse 4, Jesus the man is dead, or nearly so. Verse 6 works very well as a description of a tomb.

7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me, and you overwhelm me with all your waves. Selah
8 You have caused my companions to shun me; you have made me a horror to them. I am shut in so that I cannot escape;

Verses 7 and 8 might be a repetition of the period Christ spent on the cross, resulting in his being placed in a small, dark cave, a tomb, from which he could not escape.

9 my eye grows dim through sorrow. Every day I call upon you, O LORD; I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead? Do the departed rise up to praise you? Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave, or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness, or your righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
13 But I, O LORD, cry to you; in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O LORD, why do you cast my soul away? Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Afflicted and close to death from my youth up, I suffer your terrors; I am helpless.
16 Your wrath has swept over me; your dreadful assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long; they close in on me together.
18 You have caused my beloved and my friend to shun me; my companions have become darkness.

The last ten verses (9-18) are best read as a whole. They seem to repeat in different words the first eight verses with a greater development of the prayers of pleading the psalmist prayed. We hear notes of what Christ may have spoken to his Father when he cried out to him those three times in the Garden, “Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me.” (Luke 22:42; Matthew 26:36-44)

Jesus loved his friends; it grieved him that they shunned him as a horror (verses 8 and 18).

The words dark or darkness are mentioned three times in this prayer-poem: once in verse 6, once in verse 12, and once in verse 18.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 116: Christ Loves the Father

 

 

Psalm 116 is a song of worship, praise, and thanksgiving for the author of love, God the Father. In it, Christ recounts a brief history of the cross, and his relation to the Father throughout its enactment in history. Christ loves the Father and believes. Therefore, he sings this song.

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Psalms are love songs between Father and Son. As the Father loves the Son (Psalm 2:7-8; Psalm 18), so the Son loves the Father. “I love the Lord!” (Psalm 116:1). “I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord,” (verse 13). The cup of salvation is the Eucharist (cup of communion) for the early church and in today’s Orthodox tradition (Reardon, 232 and The Orthodox Study Bible, 760). It represents the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

Psalm 116 states reasons for the Son’s love for his Father: God heard his prayer and delivered him from death.

  1. He heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. (v 1)
  2. He bent his ear toward me and responded to my prayer. (v 2)
  3. I was about to die, and in fact I did die! (v 3)
  4. I cried out to the Lord and he saved me marvelously. (vv 4-8)
  5. Now I am alive and I walk freely with the Lord in the land of the living. (v 9)

Psalm 116 describes the Son’s love for his Father.

Short Version of this Section (Scroll Down for the Longer Version)

  1. He believes, even in the middle of all his horrible experiences. (v 10; Hebrews 11:6)
  2. “The cup of salvation” (v 13) is the cup that brings eternal life. Its cost of purchase was the death of the Son.
  3. Both of the phrases in Psalm 116:11, 1) I said in my alarm, and 2) all mankind are liars, conceivably make reference to the cross. (Read the longer version below to find out how.) This interpretation lines up perfectly with the context and received church tradition of Psalm 116 in its entirety. Verse 11 describes the Son’s agony as he sacrificed himself to the Father in love.
  4. “I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (vv 14, 18) What vows? Quite out in the open and publicly, Christ paid his eternal vows to his Father, sacrificing his body and life on the cross. His obedience demonstrates his love for his Father.
  5. Verse 16 speaks of resurrection. The bonds of servitude are distinguished here from the bonds of death. Christ in verses 17-19 offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving, praise, and continued intercession in prayer (Romans 8:34), thereby displaying his love for his Father God.

Longer Version of this Section

1. He believes, even in the middle of all his horrible experiences. (v 10; Hebrews 11:6)

2. “The cup of salvation” (v 13) is the cup that brings eternal life. Its cost of purchase was the death of the Son. In the early days of the church, many Christians were eager and happy to give up their lives in martyrdom as an expression of their love for Christ (Acts 7:54-60). Christians are martyred today for believing in the Lord. Jesus said, “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (Joh 15:13 ESV)

3. Psalm 116:11 is a difficult verse. “I said in my alarm, All mankind are liars. Jesus Christ’s love for his Father surpasses the unworthiness of the people for whom Christ died. (Romans 3:23; Psalm 14:1-3; John 2:24-25) When Jesus was tried, convicted, and hung on a cross, none came forward to speak on his behalf (Pilate’s wife did mention to her husband the nightmare she had experienced concerning him). There was no one to comfort him (Handel’s Messiah quoting Psalm 69:20). Because the human race, as represented by all who were gathered and by those who chose to stay away and avoid trouble, allowed and encouraged the great Creator’s crucifixion, they all in essence, denied his deity. To not receive Christ, to not acknowledge God’s love in Christ, is to lie. (Romans 1:18 For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. 19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Rom 1:18 ESV) In this sense, in the crucifixion of Christ, the crucifixion of deity, all humankind was deceived and lied about the true relationship between themselves and their Creator/Savior.

The word “alarm” in Hebrew can mean “haste, hurry, to hurry in alarm.” In the Greek Septuagint, the word is “ecstasy,” which refers to a strong emotional state that is not normal, in the sense of not usual. We say that “So-and-so is beside herself.” It can be produced by great terror, bewilderment, astonishment, (as in response to a powerful miracle that overrides physical laws of nature (Mark 5:42, where Jesus resurrected a dead girl; Luke 5:26, where Jesus healed the paralyzed man; Mark 16:8, where the women were beside themselves in astonishment upon meeting the angel in Christ’s tomb, who told them that he had arisen from the dead). A second meaning for “ecstasy” is a trance (Acts 22:17, Peter’s vision of the blanket filled with unclean foods). This second meaning does not seem applicable here.

Continuing with the first meaning of strong emotion, often brought on by great fear, the Greek word “ecstasy” appears in the superscription of Psalm 31, which is Psalm 30 in the Septuagint. The English translation of the Septuagint reads, “For the end, a Psalm of David, an utterance of extreme fear,” or, εἰς τὸ τέλος ψαλμὸς τῷ Δαυιδ ἐκστάσεως in Greek. Jesus speaks Psalm 31:5 from the cross, “Into your hand I commit my spirit,” (Luke 23:46) and the whole psalm speaks of death and resurrection. It should not be difficult to perceive Christ the man experiencing great trepidation both before and while he was being crucified. Witness his sweating of blood in the Garden as he prayed concerning the trial and crucifixion that lay just ahead.

Therefore, both of the phrases in Psalm 116:11– 1) I said in my alarm, and 2) all mankind are liars, conceivably make reference to the cross. This interpretation lines up perfectly with the context and received church tradition of Psalm 116 in its entirety. Verse 11 describes the Son’s agony as he sacrificed himself to the Father in love.

4. “I will pay my vows to the Lord in the presence of all his people.” (vv 14, 18) What vows? The prior verse (v 13) speaks of “the cup of salvation.” This cup (Luke 22:42) included the cross. The triune God determined the plans for the salvation of humanity in eternity past (Ephesians 1:11; 1 Peter 1:20; Titus 1:2). God made certain promises to his Son, and Christ the Son made promises to his Father. (See an excellent article expanding this topic by R. C. Sproul: Link, accessed 3/30/2018.) Another word for promises is “vows.” Christ in his life and death was constantly surrounded by crowds of people. Quite out in the open and publicly, Christ paid his vows to his Father through his obedience unto death, thereby demonstrating his love. The greatest vow was the sacrifice of his body and life on the cross. His obedience demonstrates his love for his Father.

5. Verse 16 speaks of resurrection. The bonds of servitude are distinguished here from the bonds of death. Christ in verses 17-19 offers the sacrifice of thanksgiving, praise, and continued intercession in prayer (Romans 8:34), thereby displaying his love for his Father God.

Summary and Conclusion

Psalm 116 is a song of worship, praise, and thanksgiving for the author of love, God the Father. In it, Christ recounts a brief history of the cross, and his relation to the Father throughout its enactment in history. Christ loves the Father and believes. Therefore, he sings this song.

It is amazing to me how many facets of approach every bit of the Psalter carries for its many readers. My approach today may not be my approach tomorrow. What I discover and emphasize today may not be the discovery and emphasis of another writer. God speaks one language with as many strings as there are hearts of those who seek him. This is wonderful in my eyes. I just want to encourage you to take time and prayer to allow the Lord to open his Word to your heart. You may not see what I see, but what you see directly from the Lord will be just wonderful for you.

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 116:1-9–Simple and Beautiful; Beautifully Simple

Photo by Christina Wilson

Devotional

Psalm 116:1-9 (114 LXX) is simple and beautiful, a beautifully simple psalm.

I love the Lord because He has heard the voice of my supplication.

Because He inclined His ear to me, therefore I will call on Him as long as I live.

The snares of death encompassed me; the pangs of Sheol laid hold on me;

I suffered distress and anguish; then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, deliver my soul!”

Gracious and righteous is the Lord, and our God is merciful.

The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me.

Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.

For He has delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling;

therefore, I desire to please the Lord in the land of the living. (The Ancient Faith Psalter, 256)

“I love the Lord!” exclaims the psalmist. Psalm 116 is the only psalm that opens with this exclamation. How many Christians spontaneously cry out this way when the Lord blesses in a big way? Whenever something outstanding pleases them, people often say things like, “I love this food!” “I love my car!” “I love my house!” “Oh, I love this dress!” This psalmist loves the Lord, and for good reason, which he explains in verse 8:

“He has delivered my soul from death, my eyes from tears, my feet from stumbling.”

Where were you when the Lord Jesus found you? This line exactly sums up my salvation experience. Immediately, also, in the very opening lines of the psalm, I hear the voice of Jesus Christ looking back on his experience with the cross and death. And so, Christ and I are intertwined in the words of this psalm. Verse three–the snares of death were in fact encompassing me when I first cried out to the Lord for his help, I felt the pangs of hell, and I was indeed suffering distress and anguish–all this metaphorically. Christ, on the other hand, experienced and suffered all these things concretely, intensely, in his body and soul as he hung nailed upon the cross and witnessed himself descending into Sheol, or hell*. “…then I called upon the name of the Lord: “O Lord, deliver my soul!” (vs 4). *(See Apostle’s Creed, available at https://www.ccel.org/creeds/apostles.creed.html)

4 Gracious and righteous is the Lord, and our God is merciful.

Unlike idols humans make for themselves, our God is a God who hears (Psalm 115:3-8). He is both gracious and righteous.

God’s righteousness is found in his judgment and condemnation of sin. We all know what condemnation feels like. We all see and experience it in our own court system. God’s judgment first expressed itself when he threw (cast) Adam and Eve out of their garden home.  How many parents have ever thrown their own children out of their homes when they feel their behavior merits such stern discipline? God is holy, and he demands holiness in those who are near him, even his own created beings.

God’s graciousness appears when God takes the form of human beings and takes upon himself the judgment and condemnation of the sin he detests. Our creator took the punishment of his creation’s sin in his own flesh and blood. God did not abandon, he made a way where there was no way. In Christ, God opened the door of return to his home and to his own side.

Jesus, however, sings this psalm not in his role as Creator God but as human being, as one of us, a brother in distress.

The Lord preserves the simple; when I was brought low, He saved me.

All Christians can sing this line as their personal testimony, “… when I was brought low, He saved me.

Psalm 116:1-9 (114 LXX) is truly a resurrection song, an Easter Sunday rejoicing.

 

 

 

 

 

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Psalm 132: Concrete-Literal and Spiritual-Literal

 

Addendum

Before leaving Psalm 132, I want to comment on one of the most amazing differences between Old Testament faith and New Testament faith–the experiencing of the Holy Spirit.

Saints of the Old Testament received the saving grace of God through faith, just as New Testament believers do. It is and always has been God’s grace through faith.

Ephesians 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, (ESV)

There is a great difference in salvation experience between the Testaments, however. When Paul came to Ephesus in Acts 19:1-7, why did he ask the believers there, “Did you receive the Holy Spirit when you believed? (Act 19:2)?” They replied, “No, we have not even heard that there is a Holy Spirit.” (vs 2) They had been baptized with John the Baptist’s baptism of repentance. Paul then baptized them in the name of “the Lord Jesus.” “And when Paul had laid his hands on them, the Holy Spirit came on them, and they began speaking in tongues and prophesying.” (vs 6) Right in these verses is the difference between salvation in the Old Testament and the New Testament: the location of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit played a significant role in the Old Testament.

  1. All Israel knew the presence of the Lord in the wilderness, since he manifested as a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:21-22).
  2. The Ark was revered because it contained the presence of the Lord.
  3. When Moses entered the Tent of Meeting in the wilderness to speak with God before the Ark, he would place a veil over his face when he left, to hide the fading glow he received in his encounter with the Lord there (Exodus 33:7-11; 34:33-35).
  4. God’s Holy Spirit inhabited the First Temple of Solomon as a cloud, “10 And when the priests came out of the Holy Place, a cloud filled the house of the LORD, 11 so that the priests could not stand to minister because of the cloud, for the glory of the LORD filled the house of the LORD.” (1 Kings 8:10-11)
  5. In Ezekiel 10, the prophet describes his vision of the Glory of the Lord leaving this same temple.

The common denominator in all the prior biblical scenes is that the presence of the Lord, his Holy Spirit, was external. He manifested in a visible, concrete-literal way. By literal I mean real. These events really happened; they are true. Concrete means apparent to the physical senses. Spiritual means of the Spirit of God, who is himself invisible. The Holy Spirit accompanied the congregation of Israel in the Old Testament, and his presence was concrete-literal. This is why, I believe, prophecy played such an important role in the Old Testament. David needed a prophet like Nathan to walk up to him and tell him what the Lord was saying, because David did not have the Holy Spirit within him to speak to him directly in his heart.

It is impossible to overstate the change from the Old Testament to the New in the shift from external to internal of God’s Holy Spirit. This is a change from a concrete-literal manifestation of the Holy Spirit among the people to a spiritual-literal. John the Apostle previews this change in Jesus’ discourse with Nicodemus in John 3 and with the woman at the well in John 4. To understand the prominent position Scripture gives this change we can recall Jesus’ last directions to his disciples before he ascended.

Luke 24:49 And look, I am sending you what my Father promised. But stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high,” and “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Act 1:8)

Acts chronicles the multiple occasions when believers received the Holy Spirit, and Paul in his letters again and again proclaims the Spirit’s presence in a new way within the church corporately and within believers singly.

For example, see:

Romans 8:9 You, however, are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if in fact the Spirit of God dwells in you. Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. (ESV)

Romans 8:14 For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” 16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God,

Galatians 4:6 And because you are sons, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”

Ephesians 2:19 So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, 21 in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. 22 In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. 

New Testament believers currently experience the fulfillment of God’s statement in Psalm 132:13-14.

13 For the LORD has chosen Zion; he has desired it for his dwelling place:

14 “This is my resting place forever; here I will dwell, for I have desired it.

The writer of the Letter to the Hebrews sums up the effect of the difference between the concrete-literal experiencing of God’s Holy Presence in the Old Testament and what New Testament believers experience now:

Hebrews 12:20 For they could not endure the order that was given, “If even a beast touches the mountain, it shall be stoned.”  21 Indeed, so terrifying was the sight that Moses said, “I tremble with fear.”
22 But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering,  23 and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel.

As New Testament believers in Jesus Christ join with Old Testament believers in the hope of Messiah by singing the prayer of Psalm 132, may we feel fortunate (blessed) and joyful to know that we are part of the psalm’s fulfillment in grace. Praise God for having restored and even increased the close, intimate fellowship of humans with their Creator.

 

 

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