Give Me The Bible — Part 1

They almost wiped me from the earth, but I have not forsaken your precepts (Psalm 119:87).

In his longest Psalm, David says to God: “I rejoice in following your statutes as one rejoices in great riches.  I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways. I delight in your decrees; I will not neglect your word.”  The Psalm, all 176 verses of it, extols the role of the Word of God in our relationship with the Lord.

It’s difficult to explain the power and nature of the Word of God.  Peter said it is living and enduring, powerful enough to grant humans re-birth (1 Peter 1:23-25).  Implanted in our lives, the brother of Jesus said God’s word can save our souls (James 1:21).  It carries with it such intangible qualities as goodness (Hebrews 6:5) and seems to have a mind of its own as it judges the thoughts and attitudes of our hearts (Hebrews 4:12).  It is the power of God, resident in His word that holds the universe together (Hebrews 1:3).  It has the power to make things holy (1 Timothy 4:5), to cleanse us from sin (Ephesians 5:26) and is one of the weapons God provides in our battle against the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:17). God never undertakes to explain how all this works.  He just assures us that it does.

The word of God never originates with humans, but was written by humans as they were carried along by God Himself (2 Peter 1:21).

David tells us the Word of God should not be neglected, but learned, followed, meditated on, hidden in our hearts, and kept.  When it is, we will be empowered to make good decisions, find direction for our lives, and have hope even when almost “wiped from the earth”.

Communal Shepherding — A Work of God

I was struck by this reading a week or so ago in Psalm 141.

“Set a guard over my mouth, Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Do not let my heart be drawn to what is evil so that I take part in wicked deeds along with those who are evildoers; do not let me eat their delicacies.”

Certainly it’s a prayer we all could pray.  In fact, it sounds very much like Jesus’ model prayer: “deliver us from evil” (Matthew 6:13).  With Satan described as a “roaring lion” looking to consume us, and knowing only God has the power to defeat him, it’s a prayer we should pray.

But how will God “keep watch over my lips” and keep us from being drawn to evil?

Perhaps it doesn’t matter . . . as long as He does it.

But David doesn’t leave it at that.  He recognized that God acts not only on His own, but within community – the people of God looking out for God’s own.  It’s their job.  And so David continues his prayer in a way most of us wouldn’t: “Let a righteous man strike me—that is a kindness; let him rebuke me—that is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it . . .”

We’re not wild about communal shepherding . . . are we?  We don’t favor being corrected by others.  And yet, when David was on the receiving end, he considered it blessing – direction from the Lord.  Solomon put it like this: “Whoever disregards discipline comes to poverty and shame, but whoever heeds correction is honored” (Proverbs 13:18).  It’s not the way of the world, but who wants to follow where the world is headed?

Monday, July 7. Psalms 140 – 142

“No one is concerned for me . . . no one cares for my life.”

These words from Psalm 142 are some of the saddest in all of scripture.

The heading of the Psalm helps us to understand the poem in context. David was running from Saul who was trying to kill him. Many saw David as a rebel leader, and a fugitive. Righteous people, not knowing the whole story, were not likely to support him. And so, everyone “in distress, or in debt, or discontented, gathered around him.” They looked on David as a savior. David looked on them as baggage. If they would rebel against the king, they would rebel against him. They were his army, but they were totally unreliable and cared for him only as long as he could provide resolution from their problems.

And so, surrounded by malcontents, David felt utterly alone. He turned to God, the only one he could truly trust and prays for deliverance. He knows, if God will grant him his request, he can have a different set of companions – the righteous.

Reputation is important. Reputation is not who we are. It is who people think we are, and what they think is important. When our reputation falters, no matter what the reason, our real friends are not those who support us and excuse us. Our real friends are always the righteous, and it is their acceptance and company we should seek. The only way to receive it, is through the company of God. We should seek Him first.

Wednesday, July 9. Psalms 146 – 148

Psalm 145 speaks to the comprehensive nature of God. God is good to all, faithful to all His promises, loving, near and watchful over all He has made. He upholds all who fall, and lifts up all who are bowed down.

Psalm 146 continues this description noting that the Lord even watches over the alien, one who is not a part of Israel.

It is true, in both Testaments, that God has a particular affinity for those who constitute His people. The promises of God belong to them. But that doesn’t mean that God doesn’t care for anyone else. He cares for all His creation. If He does so, can we do any less?

It is precisely because God shows this care for His creation that the reader is urged to praise the Lord. In fact, beginning with Psalm 146, the rest of the chapters all end with the same phrase: “Praise the Lord.”

Tuesday, July 8. Psalms 143 – 145

When you have time, compare the reading of Psalm 18 to the one here in Psalm 144. The opening lines are quite similar. In fact, scholars have often remarked that this psalm is cobbled quite a bit from other poems in the psalter.

And yet, the writer here expresses something quite different.

In Psalm 18, the writer recalls his desperate cry to the Lord for deliverance. He then recounts the glorious appearance and work of God in which God in all His fury parted the heavens and came to rescue His servant.

In this Psalm however, using many of the same expressions, the writer once again finds himself in a desperate situation. But his cry is not one of desperation. It is one of confidence. Because the Lord has helped him before, the psalmist knows God can do so again – and he believes God will.

We must confide our struggles and fears to God and ask His help. We must wait for His response and have our eyes open to the many ways He might answer our prayer. We must remember God’s replies.

Why?

Because this is one of the ways that faith is built, so that the child of God in desperate times does not despair, but confidently believes God will care for him. “Blessed are the people of whom this is true.”

Monday, July 7. Psalms 140 – 142

“No one is concerned for me . . . no one cares for my life.”

These words from Psalm 142 are some of the saddest in all of scripture.

The heading of the Psalm helps us to understand the poem in context. David was running from Saul who was trying to kill him. Many saw David as a rebel leader, and a fugitive. Righteous people, not knowing the whole story, were not likely to support him. And so, everyone “in distress, or in debt, or discontented, gathered around him.” They looked on David as a savior. David looked on them as baggage. If they would rebel against the king, they would rebel against him. They were his army, but they were totally unreliable and cared for him only as long as he could provide resolution from their problems.

And so, surrounded by malcontents, David felt utterly alone. He turned to God, the only one he could truly trust and prays for deliverance. He knows, if God will grant him his request, he can have a different set of companions – the righteous.

Reputation is important. Reputation is not who we are. It is who people think we are, and what they think is important. When our reputation falters, no matter what the reason, our real friends are not those who support us and excuse us. Our real friends are always the righteous, and it is their acceptance and company we should seek. The only way to receive it, is through the company of God. We should seek Him first.

Sunday, July 6. Psalms 136 – 139

In the last part of the 1800′s, Francis Thompson wrote a poem based on Psalm 139 entitled “The Hound of Heaven.” Like the hunting dog sticks to the trail of his quarry, so God sticks with His people. Even though we try to elude Him, still he presses on. Nothing can hide us. No thought of ours escapes His attention. No place is to far from His presence.

It’s scary, is it not, that someone should know this much about us, should stick this close to us?

And yet, the writer finds comfort in God’s company. In fact, He invites God’s scrutiny. Which of us would say: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting?”

But the Psalmist says it because He trusts God to use that knowledge to mold his life and make a relationship with the divine better.

Saturday, July 5. Psalms 132 – 135

In just the three verses of Psalm 133 David emphasizes something that is too often forgotten in Christendom: how much God wants us to get along with one another. The images are foreign to us: This precious oil poured on the head running down into the beard sounds mighty messy. And what does that dew of Hermon represent?

Might we liken the “oil” image to the renewal a man feels after a professional shave and haircut? Or how a woman feels after a trip to the salon?

In a land where water is scarce, dew is especially important to crops, and the dew was especially heavy on Mt. Hermon, Israel’s highest mountain.

Unity then brings freshness to our lives and hope for the future.

When brethren treat one another like anything but beloved family – even (and perhaps especially) in the name of orthodoxy (or truth) – they fall outside God’s approval and blessing. It is possible to be right, and act wrong, but it is not possible to act wrong and be like God – or to enjoy His blessing: life forevermore.

It is possible to get along with our brethren because we are so seldom with them. But that is not the unity David is talking about – nor the one God blesses. This unity comes from determined effort, and the effort is required precisely because we are together so much. And so, the blessing of God is in response to us living in community with one another, interacting with one another, and learning to love one another as God loves us.

Friday, July 4. Psalms 129 – 131

The writer of Psalm 130 finds himself in dire straits, but the cause is specifically his sin. The writer does not blame God for sending this misfortune. He counts that the misfortune is simply the result of his own sin. That’s the way with sin sometimes. Sensitive people will recognize that their lot might simply be a consequence of behavior – not a particular divine visitation of punishment.

He’s not alone. A lot of God’s people are suffering in the Psalm – and for the same reason.

But there is reason to hope, because the very nature of God is that He is forgiving and His love is unfailing.

But you will notice there is no resolution to this prayer. Joy is anticipated, but it has not come.

Perhaps the writer wants you to see His great faith in God.

Or, perhaps, the writer wants you to consider something else. Perhaps the author is describing the cries of the unrepentant. After all, he doesn’t actually confess his sin. He doesn’t specifically ask for forgiveness – though he expects it. And since the resolution does not appear, perhaps the writer is presenting a lesson: It’s all well and good to acknowledge the forgiving nature of God, and believe He will be merciful, but such a hope is empty when expressed by unrepentant people.

Thursday, July 3. Psalms 126 – 128

What is the key to a great and prosperous nation?

Psalm 128 challenges our thinking. Greatness is bound up not in the government, nor in economics, but in the individual – which is where this psalm begins. There is movement here from the individual to the family to the nation, but “blessedness” starts with the individual who fears the Lord and walks in His ways.

We should not read this as two separate things. One cannot rightly “fear” the Lord who does not walk in His ways, and one is unlikely to walk in His ways who does not “fear” the Lord. Here’s where it starts. Such a lifestyle moves into the family and influences the spouse and children and later, the grand children. Finally, the city and the country.

An old camp song goes: “It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and soon all those around can warm up to its glowing.” When we begin with individual faithfulness, making a determined effort to live holy lives and urge others to do the same by our example and guidance, the impact will be small at first, but through time and the blessing of God, the nation will be blessed.

Too often in both the church and community, we try to turn the whole without giving attention to the individual. It requires more effort than any one or even a group of people can perform. But when you begin with the self and work outward, great success comes unexpectedly, but it comes.

One final thought on this: We cannot take for granted that productivity, prosperity or a progeny worth being proud of will just happen. These all come by the hand of God, and they come to those who respect and obey God.