Two constant human activities are contemplated in Psalm 127: that of building and protecting. The writer is plain about both of these endeavors: if God is not involved, all our labors are in vain. It is not that they won’t result in anything, only that our success will not be proportional to our effort. Working harder, rather than partnering with God, will not help.
On the other hand, if we are following the leading of the Lord, success will be ours. Though the Psalm speaks of warfare and protection of the city, the poem is decidedly familial in its tenor. Focus on the family should begin with a focus on the Lord, and that begins with the wisest, most experienced of family members, the family, and especially the father. If both parents do not value the leading of God, the children will not either. Exceptions exist, but who wants to count on an exception? Children may ultimately reject a parent’s values, but they seldom embrace what they have not learned from their youth. Education and training are important, but a life of success will elude those who don’t include God.
Psalm 123 is a Psalm of “disorienttion,” the cry of an anguished life seeking relief.
The writer speaks for his companions who find themselves in the position of slaves. Those with authority over them are oppressive and abusive, and the company of the Psalmist finds themselves devalued, insulted and hurt.
We have not other information. The Psalm is the yet unanswered cry of despair.
Not all prayers are answered the way we want them, and as we’ve seen so often in our readings, the silence of God’s response is often unexplained. But He is our only hope as the was the Psalmist’s, and in faith, we continue to take our hurt to Him. This Psalm is valuable in that it provides the words to do so.
Psalm 119 is the longest Psalm in the book, and the longest chapter in the Bible. Even in its structure it is a piece of art. It is divided into twenty-two sections, corresponding to the twenty-two letters in the Hebrew alphabet. That’s what those strange letters and words are in the headings of each section (aleph, beth, gimmel etc.) Each section has eight verses and each verse begins with a word that starts with the letter of that section.
The Psalm is devoted to praise for the Word of God, His written word. I know it is written because of the abundance of terms used to describe it – laws, statutes, decrees. It’s those same terms that indicate the importance of the Word: it provides boundaries and direction for our lives.
God’s word is supremely that guide. So much so that when, ages later, Isaiah confronted various and often conflicting views of God and His will, Isaiah replied: “To the law and to the testimony. If they do not agree with me (or you), then my (and your) words have no light of dawn.
The Psalmist will list the blessings that come form God’s word. But why are those blessings so often absent from our lives? Has the word failed?
It is not that the way of the Lord has been tried and found wanting. It is simply the way of God has not been tried. If you doubt that, just think about what a challenge it has been to stick with the daily Bible readings.
Psalm 116 is what noted Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann calls a Psalm of “reorientation.” It is the outpouring of a once hopelessly doomed life, now rescued by the Lord. We’ve seen some of the wording before in Psalm 18 and 2 Samuel 22, but this time it is different. In those cases, the distress was due to David’s enemies. This distress seems due to something else, perhaps an illness.
There is an interesting line in verse 15: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.”
What does it mean?
I’ve tended to think that human death, particularly the death of a Christian is meaningless to God because that’s one more soul for heaven. I’ve heard people say in grief, of a loved one lost: “I guess God just wanted them in heaven.”
But God is no fan of death. Death, any death, is a temporary triumph for Satan. It always strikes fear into the hearts of God’s people, despite the fact that Jesus died to deliver us from just such a fear. When one of God’s children dies, when they have to face it or endure it, it affects God. In the Psalmist’s case, God delivered him, and the writer determined to make good on His promises.
Is it wrong to try to “make a deal” with God? Hopefully thus far you’ve noticed it is a common tactic in the Psalms. The important thing is not whether we try to “make a deal” with God, but whether we accept the deal God ultimately hands us.
Psalm 113 is a call to praise God, and if that were all, it would be enough. But the psalm is more than that. It reveals to us the concerns of God, part of His value system, and finding reason for rejoicing there, it calls on us to imitate God.
God does not approve of people who can do better feeding off their neighbors. God does not countenance letting justice slide because a criminal is poor or otherwise disadvantaged. But on the other hand, God has a special regard for those who cannot help themselves.
God’s great position is presented in the first five verses but in verse 6 there is a change. This great God “stoops down” to look at the heavens and the earth. And of all He could notice, what he does notice are the poor and needy, and those anguished of heart.
The old saying, “God helps those who help themselves” is wrong. He helps those who cannot help themselves. So should all who call on His name and praise the Lord.
Sometimes, New Testament writers place new meanings on Old Testament texts. Isaiah 7 speaks of a young woman giving birth to a child, but the New Testament gives another meaning: the young woman is a virgin. Both meanings are correct in their respective contexts. But sometimes, Old Testament passages are given a specific New Testament meaning and the Old Testament passage could not have meant anything else.
This is the case with Psalm 110. It is cited or alluded to eighteen times in the New Testament and all of the uses refer to Jesus.
Psalm 110 says it was written about David. At first glance, it appears to be a general prayer for the king, but closer examination reveals it is more than that. David, the king, speaks of his Lord who sits at the right hand of God. Additionally, this lord/king is also a priest in the Melchizedek order. And yet, in the Old Testament, kings were not priests, and there is nothing about the Melchizedek order in the Old Testament.
The easiest explanation of the Psalm is that God has revealed to David something of Jesus, and David has passed it along in this Psalm, exalting the coming of an unstoppable king who also serves as a priest. This is the interpretation Jesus places on it in Matthew 22:44, an interpretation seemingly accepted by Jewish leaders in his own day.
What did David know about Jesus? Probably not what we know, but God had revealed something of him to David. Interesting, is it not, the notion that the coming of Jesus was such a wonderful treat in the mind of God that here and there in the Old Testament, He gives us glimpses into Christ’s coming.
One over-arching theme exists in Psalm 107: God’s love is unfailing.
He does however, have a peculiar way of showing it – at least according to modern thinking.
We expect a loving God to come to our aid when we need it, and verses 1-9 indicate that God does that. The problem comes with the rest of the Psalm for there, God is not just the rescuer from misery, but the cause of misery.
He sends punishment on those who rebel against Him (vss. 10-16), but he rescues when they return to Him. He sends misery on others who do not keep His ways, but he brings relief when they cry unto Him (vss. 17-22). He sends peril on those who forget Him in search of material wealth, but rescues them when they come to their senses (vss. 23-31). God disciplines (vss. 32-34) and then blesses (vss. 35-36), a training that is as persistent as His unfailing love (vss. 37-42). Wise people will take note of the Lord’s ways, and live their lives accordingly.
In at least the New International Version, the proper name for the God of Israel (as opposed to “god” in general or the gods of other peoples) is translated Lord (a combination of large and smaller capitals). The reader is supposed to pick up on this.
Psalm 104 is a call to worship Israel’s God, a reminder to the Psalmist and to the reader that they should do this.
The Lord should be worshiped because He is great, evidenced by His creation. Some Christians have bought into the notion that when it comes to the matter of origins, one may legitimately believe our world and life within it came about as a result of chance, a matter of random unguided events. But this isn’t true. While Christians are under no obligation to believe what the Bible doesn’t say (it doesn’t say, for example, that the world is only 5000 years old, or give the age of the earth at all), Christians are under obligation to believe that God did create the heavens and the earth – and they would not be here otherwise.
Verses 1-9 call to mind the greatness of creation. Verses 10-23, in more detail, demonstrate how God provided for the good of His creation. Verses 24-33 remind us that because God created all things, we are dependent on Him. Then we end with a call to worship the Lord.
Because of creation, our God is worthy of praise.
Psalm 100 has two parts (verses 1-3 and 4-5) and both follow the same outline: first there is a call to worship. Then follows a reason for worshiping.
Like Psalm 96, the call to worship is not just for God’s people, but for “all the earth.” For God so loved the world that he gave His son, that whoever trusted in Him might have eternal life.
The word translated “worship” at the beginning of verse 2 can also be translated as “serve” and from that notion, we sometimes call our church gathering a “worship service.” In pagan theology, worship to the gods involved seeing to their needs, thus people came to worship to provide for their god and thus “serve” Him. But Old Testament theology does not provide for such a notion. Our God needs nothing from us. Thus the call to “serve” the Lord is a call to submit to Him as a servant, to do His will. Verse 2 then has two calls: first to delightful obedience (“worship the Lord with gladness), then to assembly (come before Him with joyful song).
The psalmist gives two reasons for worship: He created us, and therefore, we belong to Him, and He is good to us, keeping His word to us constantly. He is not good to us because we worship. He is good to us first. And we worship because of it.
As you read the call to worship in Psalm 96, don’t overlook the following points:
First, it is a call to worship.
Second, it is a call to all people to worship, not just a call to Israel. Note the call to “all the earth,” “nations,” “all peoples,” “families of nations,” “the world.”
Third, it is a call not to worship god in general, as we might interpret it to be a call to be religious, but it is specifically a call to worship Israel’s God. He is greater than all other gods. You will find a word-play in verse 5. “All the gods (eloheim) of the nations are idols (elilim – probably better translated as “nothing” or “worthless”).
Fourth, God is owed worship because of His power, His mighty works (which he does not just among His people, but among all people – vs. 3), but especially because He is the judge of all the earth and he is coming to judge.
The tendency of Christianity in our culture to assume that all religions are equally viable is simply wrong. The reluctance of Christians to call their neighbors to come to the one true God – to say among the nations our God reigns – is a reluctance to engage in the work God has commanded us to do. The resulting dishonor of God will subject not only those we have not reached to the judgment of God, but ourselves as well.