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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 contradictions 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 of suffering 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 believers, if not most, 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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Bless the Lord, O my soul…!

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Psalms 25 and 26: Guilty or Innocent?

 

In Psalm 25, the psalmist admits his guilt; in Psalm 26, he maintains innocence. How can both be true? Both Psalm 25 and Psalm 26 are ascribed to David. Psalm 25:7-11 and verse 18 confess and deal with the sin issue, while Psalm 26 in its entirety is a statement of the psalmist’s righteousness. Surely this anomaly needs an explanation?

Oddly, many commentators skip over the superscription attributing these psalms to David. It does not appear to be an item of interest, perhaps for the reason often stated that no specific incident in David’s life can be connected to either of them. Be that as it may, whenever a reader ascribes a psalm to a human person as its subject, certain difficulties may be encountered. For example, while Scripture attests fully to David’s sin with Bathsheba, it proves more difficult to justify David as the author of Psalm 26, since according to Scripture, he was not innocent, but a shameful adulterer and murderer (2 Samuel 11-12:15). Several commentators face this difficulty by modifying the meaning of “innocent” to refer to one’s attitude of loyalty to God when attempting to enter his temple, rather than to a meaning of moral purity and sinlessness. They claim that the speaker in Psalm 26 does not claim moral perfection, but a relative righteousness in comparison with his enemies, who hate God outright. But are these weasel words? [1]

Fortunately for the reader, consistently applying a few basic premises to the Psalter as a whole serves to clear up such difficulties. These premises are 1) that the Psalter is poetic prophecy of the Christ, and 2) that Christ is the speaker in the first-person singular psalms, especially those ascribed to David. Let’s apply these premises to Psalms 25 and 26.

First, consider these statements from the New Testament.

God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
(2 Corinthians 5:21 NET) 

He committed no sin nor was deceit found in his mouth. (1 Peter 2:22 NET)

For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, (Romans 8:3 ESV)

Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us– for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”– (Galatians 3:13 ESV)

…25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification. (Romans 4:25 ESV)

 9 And they sang a new song, saying, “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation,
10 and you have made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:9-10 ESV)

As we read these New Testament quotations in the light each one sheds upon the other, it becomes clear that Christ himself was without sin of any kind. He was morally perfect. Yet, he was the sacrificial lamb who not only took upon himself the sins of people, but even more than that, became sin for us.

Next, consider the question, how would you reveal this information to a people who were only being taught for the very first time a multi-person God? One of the purposes of the Psalter was to reveal that  the one God has a Son (see Psalm 2:7).

Finally, to comprehend from poetry that God’s Son suffered and died as a sacrifice for sin would be no easy matter for Old Testament worshipers. God is holy, eternal, and sovereign–how then can he confess sin and die as a sacrifice? People in that era basically thought in concrete terms rather than spiritual. God designed the sacrificial system in order to teach about sin and atonement in a concrete way. The Psalter is a poetic application and spiritual extension of that concrete symbolism–not necessarily easy in that era for people to grasp.

Consider, even for many of us, who possess the facts of Jesus’ life as presented in the Gospels, it may be difficult to envision how one person could be innocent and guilty at the same time (see 2 Corinthian 5:21 above). When the Psalter was being written, I believe it fair to say that the vision of God’s people was far more limited than our vision today.

The solution? Two prophetic poems rather than one. Nevertheless, difficulties of comprehension still remained.

The Psalter reveals that the Christ was coming, that he was God’s holy King, that he would have enemies who falsely accuse and kill him, and that he would be raised from the dead to occupy God’s throne. Did God’s people understand all this? Scripture tells us that very few understood.

10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories. (1Peter 1:10-11 ESV)

7 But we impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God, which God decreed before the ages for our glory.
8 None of the rulers of this age understood this, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. (1Corinthians 2:7-8 ESV, Read also to the end of the chapter.)

25 And he said to them, “O foolish ones, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!
26 Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory?”
27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself. (Luke 24:25-27 ESV)

44 Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.”
45 Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,
46 and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead,
47 and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. (Luke 24:44-47 ESV)

Application and Exhortation to Faith: We today do not need to be “foolish” and “slow of heart” to believe. We have Christ’s own word that the Psalms were written about him. It behooves us to search out what they say and to stand upon the assurance of biblical faith that we who live in New Testament times most certainly do not need to limit our understanding of the Psalter to what a listener of that era may or may not have understood about the coming Christ. The Psalter is an amazing book, and we cheat ourselves if we do not see Christ predominantly in it.

For more on Christ in his mediatorial role, see Penitential Psalms: Psalm 51–A Personal God of Love and Psalm 25: Change of Person and Multiple Speakers.

_______________

1 See, for example, each of the following in its discussion of Psalm 26: 1) Bonar, Andrew A. Christ and His Church in the Book of Psalms: 150 Inspirational Studies. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1978. 2) Reardon, Patrick Henry. Christ in the Psalms, 2nd edition. Chesterton: Ancient Faith Publishing, 2011. 3) Belcher, Richard P. Jr. The Messiah and the Psalms: Preaching Christ from All the Psalms. Scotland: Christian Focus Publications, Ltd., 2006.

 

Psalm 24: Formal and Boring or Dramatic and Exciting?

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A Bit of a Meandering Approach…

I remember the third stanza of Psalm 24 (verses 7-10) from my Sunday School childhood. Our teacher had selected this psalm for her class to memorize and present in a little program to the church. What did it mean? Who knows? We were never taught. My young mind created an image of large and heavy, wood and iron gates, fairytale style, cranking themselves up all by themselves, so that a King on a horse could enter over a stone road paved in large, boulder-like slabs to whatever it was that lay beyond. Did I know that the King was the Lord Almighty Jesus Christ at his ascension? No, not at all. The words held no concrete meaning for me at that point in my life. Actually, that the words came from “the Bible” meant nothing to me either. Nevertheless, I always remembered those few lines of this little poem. Our teacher had us perform the psalm chorus style. Although I enjoyed following her stage directions to deliver these final verses in a loud, strong voice, no internal emotion accompanied my recitation. No wonder, since the words held no meaning for my tiny life.

I reread this poem in January, and in the margin I wrote, “Awesome.” Then I forgot about it. This morning, when I read it again, my first reaction was one of confusion. What does Stanza 1 have to do with Stanza 2? And how do we get from there to Stanza 3? Nevertheless, I knew that something amazing was happening in the third stanza, and I wrote the one word response, “Wow.”

Finding the psalm to be beyond me, I went straight to my most spiritual commentator, John Barclay. In light of what I’ve written here, you my reader may understand why I burst out laughing, as in “LOL!”, when I read what Barclay had written. He wrote bunches, far more than normal.

Although it seems perfectly true, as all the commentators say, that this Psalm (and perhaps all the rest) was used to be sung in parts, by the different bands of sacred music which David (no doubt by the direction of the Holy Ghost) had appointed for the service of the Sanctuary; yet, if we attend any further than that, to the dull, dry, bare, and beggarly disquisitions of the carnally-minded … [academics] …, concerning the procession of the ark, its being received into the temple, and set upon its own place, with such like childish ideas, and nugatory [worthless, trivial] observations, retailed and enumerated every day, and almost in every place of worship, in the most stale and tedious manner imaginable; now do we find our whole spirit, fervor, and devotion, in the most amazing manner, all at once, as if it were by enchantment, damped, destroyed, and shrunk to nothing, after the manner, if we may so say, of the plump kine [cows], and full ears of corn, which were devoured and swallowed up by the lean, thin, blasted and shriveled!–But if, ceasing from the… [academicians], we take the spirit of the Psalm from the Spirit who inspired it, and read it in its own light, the light of its parallels, and especially the light of the New Testament, we will find, instead of the darkness of the Mosaic veil, the glory of God shining in the face of Jesus, filling our whole hearts… (Barclay, 147).

I hope you were able to wade through that–he did, after all, write those words in the early 1800’s, before texting, Twitter, and bit-speech were ever invented. I laughed when I read his impassioned description of dry, dead academia because of the confidence and unabashed moxy he displays in his vigorous attack of the “letter” that kills (2 Corinthians 3:6). I laughed because he sums up my thought exactly and bludgeons where I barely dare to hint.

So, what did Barclay (and others in my bibliography) find in Psalm 24? In short–a summation of the entire Bible and gospel.

Stanza 1, which is verses 1 and 2, represents Christ before time in his sovereignty and great creative act, as God and with God.

1 The earth is the LORD’s and the fullness thereof, the world and those who dwell therein, 2 for he has founded it upon the seas and established it upon the rivers. (ESV)

His parallel verses are John 1:1 and Colossians 1:17. I would add a phrase from Hebrews 1:3, “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.”

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.
2 He was in the beginning with God.
3 All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.
(John 1:1-3 ESV)

16 For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities– all things were created through him and for him.
17 And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. (Col 1:16-17 ESV)

Stanza 2 extends from verse 3 through 6 and displays Christ in his sinless human nature making atonement as mediator between those sinners who nonetheless desire God, and God in his holiness. It is by the obedience of belief in this one man Christ that God declares every willing human righteous, who is “found in him… not having a righteousness of [their] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith.”  (Philippians 3:9 ESV) This verse from Philippians is almost a restatement of Psalm 24:3-6 and presents the gospel message in a nutshell. In Psalm 24, verses 3-5 refer to Christ, and verse 6 to his followers.

3 Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. 5 He will receive blessing from the LORD and righteousness from the God of his salvation. 6 Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah (ESV)

Stanza 3, verses 7 through 10, closes this short psalm with a dramatized declaration of Christ’s victory in battle over sin and death and his ascension to kingly reign alongside his Father in heaven–Christ is both Savior and Lord, both human and God, the point of connection between earth and heaven. Verse 8 makes reference to the battles Christ fought in his incarnation as human, and verse 10 displays him as the LORD of hosts, the King of glory, coequal with God.

7 Lift up your heads, O gates! And be lifted up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 8 Who is this King of glory? The LORD, strong and mighty, the LORD, mighty in battle! 9 Lift up your heads, O gates! And lift them up, O ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in. 10 Who is this King of glory? The LORD of hosts, he is the King of glory! Selah (ESV)

A Bit of Editorial Meditation

There is no doubt that it is difficult for us as readers today to comprehend the life and vitality of these 10 verses. We are inundated by media that proclaim a worldview in staunch contrast and opposition to the faith-view presented in Psalm 24. Further, we are limited by a contemporary language that has descended to near illiteracy. Finally, we experience noise all around us constantly, noise which distracts us and robs us of contemplative moments when we can simply ask God by his Spirit to open the understanding of our spirit made in his image.

Yet these are not insurmountable obstacles. I believe a deeper issue lies at the heart of our inability to appreciate God’s biblical treasure map to us, our love letter-in-a-bottle, that is, Holy Scripture. The issue is pinpointed when we answer the question, Who do I worship? Negotiating daily life in today’s age has taught me to place myself at the center of everything. How am I doing? How do I rate? Are my needs being met? Am I performing adequately? Even our church worship services tend toward the me, me, me. Have I met God today? Have I been fulfilled by this service? Rather than, Have I presented God with a sacrifice of worship that pleases him?

Yes, the church is included in Psalm 24:6, but it’s not a psalm about the church, it’s a psalm about Jesus Christ. In order to fully appreciate Psalm 24 I need to accept that it’s a psalm not about me–it’s not about my successes and failures, my needs, my wants, my poverty, my riches–it’s a psalm about the person and fantastic success of Jesus Christ in his eternality and temporal mission. In all honesty, I find that most of my waking thoughts are about myself. Most of the living I do is an attempt to make my self happy, to fulfill my needs as I perceive them, and yes, even when I go to church. To let all that go and to find contentment in extolling an outsider–not myself–that is today’s challenge. To let someone else’s success be my own–that is rest. I do it for my favorite football team–why can’t I do it for Jesus Christ?

Am I making sense?

 

Penitential Psalms: Psalm 143–Knowing Who We Are in Christ

 

 

Psalm 143 is the final psalm in the grouping historically know as the Penitential Psalms. The other six psalms are: Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130, and 143. Psalm 143 clearly states where the Christian’s focus should abide: God. 

  • When reading through Psalm 143, the repetition of certain words pop out. Repetition is a strong clue when deciphering any passage of Scripture. In general, according to the way language functions, the more often a word or concept gets repeated, the more important it becomes. Repetition of variants of the word “you” or “your” are striking in Psalm 143. These occur in 10 of the 12 verses, or 83.3% of the time. By comparison, variants of “you” occur in 54.5% of the verses in Psalm 32, and the least percentage, 21.7%, occurs in Psalm 38.
  • Additionally there are five verses in which the word “Lord” occurs in direct address to God.
  • Repetitions of “you” and “Lord” demonstrate to the reader where the psalmist’s focus lies.

Interestingly, in the only two verses in which the psalmist does not address God directly (as displayed in the words “you,” “your,” and “Lord”), his focus shifts first, to the enemy (vs 3), and second, to himself (vs 4) in an introspective examination of how his spirit is doing.

The enemy pursues me,
he crushes me to the ground;
he makes me dwell in the darkness
like those long dead.
So my spirit grows faint within me;
my heart within me is dismayed.
(NIV)

Were the psalmist’s focus to remain on the enemy and the landscape within his own spirit, Psalm 143 would be depressing, rather than uplifting to faith. As it is, Psalm 143 encourages both the psalmist who prays this prayer and the reader, whose heart can join in, as she applies the prayer to Christ in his suffering and to her own circumstances.

In Psalm 143, the reader encounters words and phrases such as: mercy, faithfulness, righteousness, relief, what your hands have done, morning, unfailing love, my trust in you, the way I should go, to you I lift up my soul, I hide myself in you, your will, you are my God, your good Spirit, level ground, your name’s sake, your unfailing love, I am your servant. Psalm 143 teaches us to focus our thoughts and prayers upon the Lord, and our hearts will be lifted up.

What about Penitence? 

As this study has shown, several of the so-called Penitential Psalms have little or nothing to do with traditional concepts of penitence, such as confession and remorse for sins committed. Verse 2 is the only verse out of the 12 that approaches the topic of sin. And it appears to do so only in order to dismiss it quickly.

2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you.

Within the context of the psalm itself, this is as much as to say, “I am not interested in confession of my sins right now, for the enemy is pursuing me hotly and I shall soon be crushed to death (vs 7) if you do not help me quickly right now.” Why should God help him? The psalmist answers, “For I am your servant” (closing words of vs 12). Either the psalmist is arrogant in his deft brushing aside of the sin question, or he is confident of a special relationship between himself and his God. Rather than displaying arrogance, the psalmist appeals to God’s grace, which has been established in long relationship with him.

The question for each of us as readers is, Do I have this confidence before the Lord in my hour of greatest need? Am I certain of my relationship with him? Or, do I feel a need to be punished for my sins before I can ask and expect God to help me? Fortunately for the psalmist, the firm ground of his relationship with God had been established long before he cried out to the Lord in this psalm. He was secure in his overall position of obedient servant to an all-powerful, loving God. Therefore, he was able to apply himself whole heartedly to his most pressing need of asking God to save and rescue him from immediate trouble and danger.

Now is the time for each one of us to examine our relationship with God, so that when we need his help the most, we will be free to ask quickly, just as God is free to give. The ground has already been laid by the saving work of Jesus Christ upon the cross. Reader, have you laid hold of Christ’s blessing? I encourage you to enter into prayer with Jesus Christ right now, in order to make sure that you are his servant. The moment when you need his help the most is not the time to begin to debate with yourself on all kinds of issues and paroxysms of guilt and repentance. Get all that settled in advance, now, so that when you face an emergency, you, the Lord’s servant, will be able to immediately claim your birthright in Christ and quickly ask for the help you need.

Is all this contained in Psalm 143? Ask the playwright and set designer, and he will tell you, yes, it is. Read it for yourself, and see.

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This concludes the series on the Penitential Psalms. Link to the first chapter of the series

 

 

 

Penitential Psalms: Psalm 102–Devotional

Photo by Christina Wilson

 

One person can never transfer to another their own conscious perception. Only the Holy Spirit of God can do that. Scripture calls this transfer having “the mind of Christ.”

But we have the mind of Christ. (1Co 2:16 ESV)

In this sense the Bible is an interactive book. The Holy Spirit can place directly into our conscious perception thoughts and feelings he wishes to convey. It’s very exciting when the Lord does this to us as we read his Word. My prayer is that you, the reader, after reading the words I write here, will at some point turn to Psalm 102 (101 in the Septuagint) and read through it out loud, slowly and carefully, listening for the voice of the Holy Spirit in your heart. Prayerfully, God will share with you the insights that he has shared with me. Additionally, intellect alone can appreciate what I write here. That’s the best we can ever give each other: intellect shaping into communication the insights of our heart.

Here is my devotional guideline for Psalm 102.

Outline of my understanding of this psalm:

  1. Speaker One (the Son): Verses 1-11 (12 LXX).
  2. Speaker Two (God the Father): Verses 12-22 (13-23 LXX).
  3. Speaker One (the Son): Verses 23-24a (24-25a LXX).
  4. Speaker Two (God the Father): Verses 24b-28 (25b-29 LXX).

[Link to the first of the Psalm 102 sequence]

Text I am using for Psalm 102 (101 LXX):

(102) A Prayer for the Poor; when he is deeply afflicted, and pours out his supplication before the Lord.
Hear my prayer, O Lord, and let my cry come to thee.
Turn not away thy face from me: in the day when I am afflicted, incline thine ear to me: in the day when I shall call upon thee, speedily hear me.
For my days have vanished like smoke, and my bones have been parched like a stick.
I am blighted like grass, and my heart is dried up; for I have forgotten to eat my bread.
By reason of the voice of my groaning, my bone has cleaved to my flesh.
I have become like a pelican of the wilderness;
I have become like an owl in a ruined house. I have watched, and am become as a sparrow dwelling alone on a roof.
All the day long mine enemies have reproached me; and they that praised me have sworn against me.
For I have eaten ashes as it were bread, and mingled my drink with weeping;
10 because of thine anger and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and dashed me down.
11 My days have declined like a shadow; and I am withered like grass.
12 But thou, Lord, endurest for ever, and thy memorial to generation and generation.
13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Sion: for it is time to have mercy upon her, for the set time is come.
14 For thy servants have taken pleasure in her stones, and they shall pity her dust.
15 So the nations shall fear thy name, O Lord, and all kings thy glory.
16 For the Lord shall build up Sion, * and shall appear in his glory.
17 He has had regard to the prayer of the lowly, and has not despised their petition.
18 Let this be written for another generation; and the people that shall be created shall praise the Lord.
19 For he has looked out from the height of his sanctuary; the Lord looked upon the earth from heaven;
20 to hear the groaning of the fettered ones, to loosen the sons of the slain;
21 to proclaim the name of the Lord in Sion, and his praise in Jerusalem;
22 when the people are gathered together, and the kings, to serve the Lord.
23 He answered him in the way of his strength: tell me the fewness of my days.
24 Take me not away in the midst of my days: thy years are through all generations.
25 In the beginning thou, O Lord, didst lay the foundation of the earth; and the heavens are the works of thine hands.
26 They shall perish, but thou remainest: and they all shall wax old as a garment; and as a vesture shalt thou fold them, and they shall be changed.
27 But thou art the same, and thy years shall not fail.
28 The children of thy servants shall dwell securely, and their seed shall prosper for ever. (Psalm 101, Brenton Septuagint translation, available at https://ebible.org/eng-Brenton/PSA101.htm, accessed May 24, 2019)
First, we see a human being in great distress, one who suffers emotionally, spiritually, and physically. The reason for his stress he states in verse 10, “because of thine anger and thy wrath: for thou hast lifted me up, and dashed me down.” Read these verses out loud and hear the Son of God, Jesus Christ, speaking from various points throughout the course of his Passion–his arrest, trial, and crucifixion upon the cross. Even though he mentions his “enemies” in verse 8, he addresses God his Father and attributes his suffering directly to him. Please pause and let this sink in. How painful it is when our own parents reject and punish us, but this is God’s own Son. How tragic beyond imagination for the perfectly innocent Son of God to be so treated by his own Father. Christ as one of us suffered as one of us–
Hebrews 5:7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence.
8 Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. (ESV)
When we see the Son of God suffering the rejection and wrath of his Father upon the cross, our empathy is sufficient to understand something of the great love God has for humankind: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit were willing that God the Son should suffer this way.
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. (ESV)
Second, we see the Father’s tenderness toward his Son in the reassuring responses he supplies in two passages: 1) verses 12-22 (13-23 LXX) and 2) verses 24b-28 (25b-29 LXX). Is it too difficult for us as readers to imagine the despair and might I say with no irreverence intended, the self-doubt as to the reality of his high role as Savior, as perceived by his human identity–as a man–that Christ might be feeling as he hung upon the cross? The agonies he experiences, as he finds his life being cut off in mid-stream, he experiences as a man–a male human being. How much more intense it would be for him as Son of God! In the replies of his Father we see such a great love for his Son, as he speaks into the eternal identity that transcends this moment of mortality upon the cross. Beyond the reassurance God gives his Son in these two speeches, God through Scripture speaks prophetically to us. Since these words were written centuries before they occurred, the Holy Spirit is indicating well in advance future events in the life of Messiah. Walking alongside the two Emmaus Road disciples (Luke 24:13-27), Psalm 102 would surely be part of the picture Christ painted for them of his life of sacrifice, as foretold in the Scriptures of the Old Testament.
Third, they talked! I find it utterly amazing that such an extended dialogue between two persons of the Trinity should be occurring right here before our very eyes, and in the Old Testament, no less. In addition to having been placed in Scripture for Christ, that he might have written assurance from his Father as he traveled the path through Calvary, these words have been written for us as believers. God wants us to know and understand who he is and what he has done for us. It is not for nothing that John the Apostle calls Christ “the Word” in John 1:1, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Indeed, God through Scripture is a great communicator.
Fourth, God is love. A gift beyond description that comes through our apprehension of Psalm 102, is the certain knowledge that only the Holy Spirit can convey to our hearts, that just as God the Father loves God the Son, so he loves each and every one of us in Christ. As regards the Father’s love, what is true for Christ is true for us in him.
1 John 3:1 See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. (ESV)
John 17:26 I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.” (ESV)
Fifth, a further gift beyond measure is the knowledge that God speaks to us through his Word. Often the timing of when the Holy Spirit chooses to interactively connect with our conscious awareness of his presence coincides with a difficult moment we may be passing through at that exact point in our lives. In those moments, as we experience God speaking directly to our hearts from within the passage of Scripture we are reading, each one of us realizes that God sees me and that God hears and understands the travails of my heart. We learn from Psalm 102 that God does indeed “know what it is like” for us, having been where we are to the maximum degree.
Hebrews 4:15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. (ESV)
Sixth, our God is a God of power. Not only does he understand our hearts by means of his Son’s very own personal experience, not only does he love us as he loves his Son, but God also has the power to have placed these written words in the Bible in just such a way. First, he placed them centuries before Christ as part of his preparation for Christ’s arrival. Second, he maintained them in Scripture so that Christ in his incarnation would know them and be blessed by them. Third, he has preserved these words down to this present day. And fourth, God has power to speak this psalm specifically into our hearts on the occasion when we most need to hear it. Such is the power of God’s love.
Seventh, Psalm 102 adds greatly to the Old Testament prophetic testimony of the future coming of a Savior Messiah. Even if the national religious leaders and Jesus’ very own disciples did not, we know that some few, at least, understood the significance of its prophecy. We read:
1 Peter 1:10 Concerning this salvation, the prophets who prophesied about the grace that was to be yours searched and inquired carefully,
11 inquiring what person or time the Spirit of Christ in them was indicating when he predicted the sufferings of Christ and the subsequent glories.
12 It was revealed to them that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the good news to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look. (ESV)
Luke 1:68 “Blessed be the Lord God of Israel, for he has visited and redeemed his people
69 and has raised up a horn of salvation for us in the house of his servant David,
70 as he spoke by the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
71 that we should be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us;
78 because of the tender mercy of our God, whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace.” (Luke 1:68-79 ESV)
Read in its entirety, the previous passage sounds remarkably like a fulfillment of Psalm 102:12-22 (13-23 LXX), spoken by the Second Speaker:
12 But thou, Lord, endurest for ever, and thy memorial to generation and generation.
13 Thou shalt arise, and have mercy upon Sion: for it is time to have mercy upon her, for the set time is come.
14 For thy servants have taken pleasure in her stones, and they shall pity her dust.
15 So the nations shall fear thy name, O Lord, and all kings thy glory.
16 For the Lord shall build up Sion, * and shall appear in his glory.
17 He has had regard to the prayer of the lowly, and has not despised their petition.
18 Let this be written for another generation; and the people that shall be created shall praise the Lord.
19 For he has looked out from the height of his sanctuary; the Lord looked upon the earth from heaven;
20 to hear the groaning of the fettered ones, to loosen the sons of the slain;
21 to proclaim the name of the Lord in Sion, and his praise in Jerusalem;
22 when the people are gathered together, and the kings, to serve the Lord.
Eighth, Jesus Christ is Creator. Psalm 102 explicitly and more completely than almost anywhere else in Scripture reveals the identity of God’s suffering Messiah as none other than God the eternal second person of the Trinity, through whom the heavens and earth were created. He also shall be the one to bring about the new creation at the end.  It is this content of the psalm which Hebrews 1:10-12 expounds. Could this be a passage upon which the apostle John leaned when he wrote, “All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made” (John 1:3 ESV)? A great deal of comfort and amazement over the great love of God for us is available for all who stop and ponder that our Creator is also our Savior, that he personally came to us and suffered as he did to reclaim us and to salvage our lives from the destruction of the enemy. Oh what a Creator we have! And what a powerful Savior he is. God’s unequaled power matched by his unequaled love.
Application: 
Hebrews 4:14 Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession.
15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.
16 Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.
(ESV)
Psalm 102 displays in tender, emotional, human fashion the infinite pains God has taken on our behalf. When we forget this, we should not berate ourselves, because even Jesus, as expressed in Psalm 102, needed and received special encouragement from his Father. Just as he turned to his Father God in his greatest hour of need, so should we.
As Karl Barth so ably said, “God is for us.” Barth received that from the Apostle Paul, who writes–
Romans 8:31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?
33 Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies.
34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died– more than that, who was raised– who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.
35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?
36 As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”
37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
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.
(ESV)
Amen!
Some Closing Thoughts: Hopefully I don’t need to say that I did not get all this in one reading, nor in my first several readings. I have read Psalm 102 most likely dozens of times. What I received that wonderful morning when I first read it in the Septuagint was the simple but startling realization that there were two people talking in the psalm, one of them Christ and the other his Father. This realization came to me as I meditated in recollection upon the psalm, out for a walk shortly after having read it. This was when I was a young Christian, long before I had heard of its quotation in Hebrews. I mention this to demonstrate that God does work upon our spiritual understanding by two means: 1) the plain language of everyday speech, as it is recorded in Scripture, and 2) the presence of the Holy Spirit in our inner beings. When the Holy Spirit “quickens” the words of Scripture to our understanding and to our hearts, the effect within us is not something we soon forget. I pray that God will use Psalm 102 to bless you, the reader, as much as he has used it to bless me. 

Psalm 1: Devotional

Photo by Zé Zorzan on Unsplas

Not so the ungodly;–not so: but rather as the chaff which the wind scatters away from the face of the earth. Psalm 1:4 (LXE, Septuagint in English)

Reading Scripture aloud from a different translation or even a different language than what we are used to often allows the Holy Spirit to penetrate our heart. I was reading Psalm 1 aloud this morning from the Greek Septuagint in preparation for the next article on Psalm 6, struggling along with pronunciation of many of the longer words.

The first paragraph of Psalm 1 hums along with images of strong blessing after strong blessing. Here is the righteous person who in various ways has kept herself separate from enjoying the company of the ungodly. (It doesn’t mean she never associates with the unrighteous on a day to day basis, but that she doesn’t hang out with them and entertain herself in their company by doing the unwholesome things that it pleases them to do.) Such a person delights in the law of the Lord–in other words, God’s kind of person really enjoys conversing with him through his Word. She’d rather be doing that than any number of other things.

Then the blessings are listed. He (or she) will be like a tree planted by the brooks of waters. Yes, I can see that. I know that image. I love trees; I love water; I love its sound and the deep, cool shade of the tree set by the stream. This biblical tree has delicious fruit which grows in its season. She herself can eat its fruit, and others can, too. The tree’s leaves never fall off. This means it is always spring and summer; autumn and winter never come. There’s no death or dying, just abundant life everlasting. And whatever this blessed-of-God person decides to do, God will prosper. Yes, yes, yes, says my heart.

Then comes a paragraph break, followed by these words, “Not so, the ungodly, not so…” It was the repetition of “not so,” that got me. It startled me, because I had never heard it before. The quietly persistent repetition is not present in our regular English Bibles–it’s replaced by an exclamation point in many versions. But in that repetition, I could hear the soft, determined voice of the wise grandmother or the confident father, perhaps a respected teacher in the classroom or a courtroom judge. We can see the finger wagging and the head shaking back and forth in the calm, assertive authority that doesn’t need to raise its voice. But in that repetition, I could hear the soft, determined voice of the wise grandmother or the confident father, perhaps a respected teacher in the classroom or a courtroom judge. We can see the finger wagging and the head shaking back and forth in the calm, assertive authority that doesn’t need to raise its voice. “Not so…not so.” Don’t think you’re going to get off free on this one, “Not so…not so.” The ungodly will not receive those blessings.

What will be their lot instead?

“They will be like the chaff which the wind scatters away from the face of the earth.” And here is where I lost it and began to cry. I just cried because the image is so sad. Think of the loneliest time in your whole life you have ever felt, and then add cold barrenness to that feeling. Imagine what it would be like to just blow away in the wind, lost, forgotten forever, away from every fire that ever warms a human heart, insignificant, having ceased to exist, as far as human or godly fellowship is concerned. I wouldn’t want to be that person, that piece of lonely chaff forever. And I cry for the ones for whom this word is intended.

Now if these verses don’t cause a Christian to have compassion for the lost and to at least pray for the unsaved…it’s important to keep on keeping on and to not lose heart, for in the end, we will receive what we ask for.

When Christians Fail: Psalm 37:23-24

 

Have you ever attempted something and failed? For me, it’s controlling my appetite, losing weight, and getting enough exercise. I’ve been sick for a whole month, mostly sitting or lying around at home. I feel really bad. And I feel like a failure.

The current theme of this blog is how God through his Spirit speaks directly into our hearts as we read his Word. Today this principle was illustrated. As I was studying biblical word usage this morning in a technical way not related to the theme, these two verses popped up. I felt the Lord poking into my heart.

LXE Psalm 37:23 The steps of a man are rightly ordered by the Lord: and he will take pleasure in his way. 24 When he falls, he shall not be ruined: for the Lord supports his hand.

Rewritten for a female child of God, the same verses sound like this:

The steps of God’s child are rightly ordered by the Lord: and he will take pleasure in her way. When she falls, she shall not be ruined: for the Lord supports her hand.

When my little granddaughter was a toddler who had just learned to walk, I so enjoyed holding her hand as the family took our little trips down the sidewalks of town. I had to pay good attention and not let the sights distract me, because once in a while she would stumble and completely lose her balance, body beginning to fall. Because I held her hand securely, she was safe.

God is like this. He firmly grasps our hand as we walk through life. He takes great pleasure going along beside us. He’s delighted to be with us, holding our hand and guiding our walk. Sometimes we do trip and fall. We fail in our endeavors, or we make bad mistakes. But these two verses teach that our stumbling will not destroy us. God is firmly grasping our hand in protection, and he always helps us back to our feet.

God’s personal message to me this morning: Don’t berate yourself; I love you in spite of all your shortcomings and failures, and this is not the last page of the book of your life. I am still here beside you, and I will never let you go. I love you.

That’s enough for me. God’s love is sufficient.

Psalm 21 Devotional: Jesus’ Victory Is Our Victory

Romans 8:16 The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, 17 and if children, then heirs– heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. (ESV)

Everyone who’s attended Christian church for any length of time has been taught, “What is true of Christ is true of us in him.” The Holy Spirit unites the church and Christ through believer’s baptism. We can pray the psalms with Christ, because, as believers, He is in us and we are in Him.

Romans 6:3 Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? 4 We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. 5 For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. (ESV)

Nowhere is the victory of Christ more pronounced than in Psalm 21. Andrew Bonar rightly divides this psalm into three sections: 1) Verses 1-7: “Messiah’s exaltation after his suffering,” 2) Verses 8-12: “His future acts when He rises up to sweep away his foes,” and 3) Verse 13: “The cry of his own for that day, as their day of realized bliss.” (Andrew Bonar, 72)

What is true of Christ is true of us. In Christ we have our resurrection from difficult situations that threaten to drown and annihilate us. In Christ we have our victory over our enemies. These include death itself, fatigue, despair, persecutors, fear, uncertainties, hopelessness, and many others. Finally, our end will be glorious, as we share an eternity of praise and thanksgiving for the Father of the One who set us free.

Merry Christmas!

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.

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