Tuesday, May 1. Psalms 64 – 66

Some of the Psalms are hymns of personal contrition, an individual cries out to God because of his sin and asks for rescue.

But there are Psalms that are communal in their contrition.  In other words, the community of faith joins together in a hymn to confess sin and ask for God’s forgiveness on the community.  Psalm 65 is just such a hymn.

I doubt that there is enough unity in any community to bring us together to beseech God because of our failings.  Walter Brueggemann, Professor of Old Testament, writes: “The problem is that the public imagination is so filled with pride, self-serving complacency, and moral numbness that we could hardly imagine an act of public repentance or acknowledgment of forgiveness, for to ask for and receive forgiveness is to be vulnerable.”

But the Church, as local congregations, should be just such communities; they feel deeply the alienation from God sin causes us as a people.

Notice verses 1 – 5 and the focus on God: “Praise awaits you.  To you our vows will be fulfilled” and on he goes.  It is as if the writer is distinguishing his god from all others – and indeed he does.  The God of the psalmist, the God of his community, is the God of creation who so orders everything that one flows into another till the whole benefit all (verse 6 and following).

This is the God who forgives, and the one to whom we address our petitions.  If you believe your reality came into being by disordered chance, it will be hard to find anyone great enough to forgive you, or lift your burden.  When no one is greater than you or the community, we are back to pride, and bereft of forgiveness.

 

Monday, April 30. Psalms 61 – 63

“Alone.”

Can there be a more discouraging, frightful word?

I know people who enjoy peace and quiet, curling up with a good book by the fire on a winter’s day.  I know people who are “comfortable in their own skin.”  But I don’t know anyone who delights in being “alone.”

Psalm 62 is full of “alones” – more than any other Psalm.

Weak himself (described as a “leaning wall, a tottering fence”) he faces great opposition.  Experience has revealed he can count on no one – lowborn or high.  He has experienced enough betrayal to know that outward appearances only disguise a deceitful heart. Not even wealth can help him.

Though surrounded, he feels alone and there, abandoned be everything he can see,  he turns to the invisible company that is constantly present.  He turns to God.  The Lord will help.  The Lord can rescue.  That’s who He is.  It’s what he does for all who make him their only refuge.

 

Sunday, April 29. Psalms 57 – 60

The heading provides for us the setting for Psalm 57.  David is in desperate straits.  Be believes, as he’s said to Jonathan, that he is only one step from death.

Pursued by Saul, David finds refuge in caves where he is joined by a band of not-so-merry men – distressed, indebted, discontented.

How could David associate himself with such low-lifes?

He didn’t.  They associated themselves with him, and he took them in.  But he never lost sight of who they were as this Psalm plainly reveals.  Other than this band of men, David has no supporters.  Even those he rescues are willing to betray him (cf.  1 Samuel 23 and the city of Keilah).  With Saul hot on his trail, David takes refuge in a cave.  Saul arrives and no doubt he and his men observed Saul’s movements.  Then, as if Saul sees them, Saul excuses himself his soldiers and heads toward David’s cave!  The men fall back to its furthest recesses.  Saul enters, perhaps disrobes, and begins to relieve himself.  Seeing Saul’s vulnerability, David is pushed by his soldiers to attack.  But David refuses.

Later, David composes this Psalm which, surprisingly, spends more time describing David’s companions than his pursuers.  Surrounded by “ravenous beasts” (his own men) and chased by the army of Israel, David really has no place of refuge but God.  “Between a rock and a hard place,” David takes time to acknowledge his predicament and reaffirm his trust in the Lord.

 

Saturday, April 28. Psalms 53 – 56

Ever wanted to just “run away”?  Just get in the car and go.  No particular destination in mind – anywhere but here.

That’s the mind set of David in Psalm 55 and I’ve often wondered when he composed it.  Whenever it was, it had to be a really low point in his life.

From the Psalms we discover that David was either the most paranoid man who ever lived or he had enemies galore.  The phrase “uneasy lies the head that wears the crown” was never more true of anyone than of David and when you find yourself at the bottom of an emotional well, this psalm can be helpful.  The suffocating pressure, fear, a desire to run, anger, disappointment, it’s all here in this psalm.

The prayer springs from betrayal.  An old and dear companion has turned against him and brought on David all kinds of trouble – the worst sort.  With our closest friends we share the deepest parts of our lives, sharing the pressure and making the burden lighter.  But we don’t expect those confidences to be shared with our enemies – and that’s what David’s friend has done.  And now David is “undone.”  Michael Card writes: “Only a friend can betray a friend, a stranger has nothing to gain.  And only a friend comes close enough to every cause so much pain.”

God, however, is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.  He can be trusted and with him, there is no corner without an exit.  When all you want to do is run, be sure you run to Him.

 

Friday, April 27. Psalm 50 – 52

The first time I led a church in prayer I was twelve years old.  It was such an important event, I wrote the prayer down verbatim in the front of my Bible, and read it verbatim when I rose to lead the prayer.

Perhaps you have had a similar experience.  To lead a church in prayer is an important task that deserves preparation – not for show, but because the leader addresses God on behalf of the church and when he is finished, the church agrees with the prayer through a chorus of “Amen.”

But Psalm 51 is a private prayer.  Why write down a private prayer?

Because it too is important.  The heading tells us it is the prayer David prayed after being confronted for his sins of adultery and murder (the Bathsheba story).  He wants to be sure to express his penitence, to make God know how truly sorry he is, and why.  Known as a “penitential psalm,” it is the  fourth of seven such prayers in the book of Psalms (see also Psalms 6, 32, 38, 102, 130, and 143) and can be divided into five parts:

Verses 1 & 2 express total dependence on God.  Only God can wash away (blot out) sin and the only reason He does it is because of His grace (unfailing love).  In verses 3-5 David confesses his sin.  It is his sin.  There are no excuses but he does not confess to sinning against Bathsheba or Uriah.  In the end, the sins are against God.  Sin is the world in which David lives and he takes full responsibility.  In verses 6-14 he throws himself on God’s mercy and asks God to forgive him.  It is a pleading underscored by imperatives (cleanse, wash, let, hide, create, renew, don’t cast, don’t take, restore, grant, save).  These are not commands, but pointed cries.  Because he knows who God is, David is confident God will answer (verses 15-17).  David knows the way home and he knows God will receive him.

Finally, David asks for further blessing – though not for himself, but for the city (and people) of God.  He knows his sin has far reaching consequences.  He prays for those whose lives have been or will be touched by his sin.

I wonder if David knew his prayer would be preserved?  The next time you think about dashing off a quick one, remember David’s preparation.  Serious conversations deserve serious consideration.

 

Thursday, April 26. Psalms 47 – 49

Psalms 45 – 48 all speak, in different ways, of the greatness of God.  In Psalm 48, the greatness is applied to the city of God, Zion, Jerusalem.

George Knight, who served as a professor of Old Testament at the University of Chicago as well as University of St.  Andrews in Scotland remarks “The nations round about Jerusalem all believed in the existence of a mighty mountain [Zaphon - mt] that lay away far off in the north.  It was a divine mountain; it was so lofty that it passed through the clouds right into the heavens, right up to the divinities who dwelt above it there in the bright blue sky.”

For the writer of Psalm 48, Jerusalem is that mountain.  It is the place of God’s dwelling, a magnificent city that causes would-be conquerors to flee in terror.

Jerusalem, however, is but on a hill, only 2400 or so feet high.  In a list of the world’s highest mountains, Mount Zion wouldn’t even rank.  Even the Mount of Olives to the east is higher.  And so, when the Psalmist tells his reader to take a walkabout and be amazed at the city, her towers, ramparts and citadels, they all may very well be impressive to him, but we can be sure they were not the most impressive in the world.

What sets Jerusalem above all others and makes her so glorious is that God dwells there; and that gives a new perspective to everything.  Using worldly eyes, Jerusalem is but a “town” (Robert Alter calls it that in his translation), but through God’s eyes, there is no greater city.

Is God deceived?

No.  The greatness of anything is determined by its relationship to God.  May God help us to see ourselves the way He sees us, His dwelling place now, as He saw Zion then.

 

Wednesday, April 25. Psalms 44 – 46

The heading to Psalm 45 identifies it as a wedding song, written by the sons of Korah.  It is written for the king – though we don’t know which king.  Verses 6-7 are cited in Hebrews 1 to refer to Jesus, but it is best here simply to view it as the heading calls it: a “wedding song.”

What man does not look his best on his wedding day?  What woman is not seen as her most beautiful at the same time?  It is a glorious occasion and while God’s people should not think that a wedding requires expensive clothing, or lots of pomp and circumstance, neither should it be regarded as an occasion of ordinary or negligible import.  This is a God event, for marriage is an institution created by God.

The writer addresses first the groom.  He is to give himself to truth, humility,  righteousness and justice and God will provide success beyond measure.  In fact, a groom given to these qualities is already set by God above his companions and as he comes to the bride, she is presented as a gift from God.

The psalmist then addresses the bride.  Her past is the past.  Now, her desire is to be toward her husband.  He, being a man of sterling qualities, and she, having devoted herself to him (and therefore also to those qualities) will be blessed with a home like that of a king, with children who bring them both honor and praise from the community.

It’s a beautiful hymn addressed on an occasion marked by beauty, hope and happiness to a couple beginning their life journey together and reminding them of life traits that are most important for the blessing of God.

 

Tuesday, April 24. Psalms 41 – 43

“Lost your faith?”

Some people do.  But it is seldom because they have encountered some philosophical or scientific argument that God isn’t real.  Usually, people lose their faith for one of two reasons:

First, they simply no longer desire to live as God expects.  Having given themselves to living as they please, they assuage their guilt by maintaining God isn’t real.

The second reason however is far more prevalent: God simply let them down.  He didn’t seem to be there when they needed Him.  He didn’t answer when they called.  The Psalms are full of prayers offered by these people.  What they all have in common is that they are still addressing their petitions to God.  Psalms 42 and 43 are examples of these prayers and those two have much in common with each other (compare 42:5, 11 and 43:5 , 42:9 and 43:2).

In Psalm 42, the writer thinks back on all those times when he went to worship – the good old days when “church” was a delight.  Now that his life is in the darkness of the deep, he wonders where God is.  His friends taunt him with :where is your god now?

Where indeed?

The Psalmist (and us) has two choices: he can abandon God.  If he does, he’s still in the pit but all hope is gone.  Or, he can stick with God and keep crying out.  The latter alternative is the one of faith, and the one to remember when you too find yourself depressed beyond measure.  The writer says through it all “I will yet praise him.”  He is the saving God.

 

Monday, April 23. Psalms 38 – 40

Psalms 38 and 39 have at least one thing in common: they are written by someone who is suffering, he feels, at the hand of God.  The suffering is not unwarranted.  The writer does not deny his sin, nor that he deserves discipline.  Psalm 40 differs slightly in that while the writer is also suffering because of sin, the “punishment” is simply the consequences of sin.  His plea is simply that God will shorten the time of punishment.

Psalm 39 was written “for” Jeduthun.  The most prominent person with that name in the Old Testament was a lead musician in David’s court, under David’s direct supervision (1 Chronicles 25:6) and I wonder whether the Psalm was written as a prayer for him to pray during a time of distress, or if it was a poem of instruction.

Either way, the main points will be the same: time has been wasted.  Sin has been committed.  Wealth has been lost as a result, and the subject knows it is his own fault – a judgment from God.  He asks God to help him use his time wisely, and he requests that God “look away from me” – not that God no longer care about him, but that God shorten the punishment and restore his life.

Whether difficult days are the consequence of behavior or a deliberate additional punishment, it is the wise person who recognizes the hand of God and turns to the Lord for redemption.

 

Sunday, April 22. Psalms 34 – 37

Psalm 37 is an “instructional” Psalm, and not the first one we have seen (Psalms 33 and 34 are other examples).  These psalms often sound very much like Proverbs but the trait they have in common is that they deliberately set out to teach.

Injustice is a common theme in the psalms.  The writer cannot understand why the wicked prosper and seem to get away with murder.  If they can do that, why be righteous?

The psalmist cautions: “Do not fret” (vss.  1,7, 8) and as you read it, ask yourself if the writer does not have some notion of life beyond this one.  The consolation he offers about the wicked is that they will soon die (vss.  2, 20, 36).

But won’t we all?  What kind of comfort is that?

The writer has a notion that not all accounts are settled in this life.  “There is a future,” he writes, “for the man of peace.”  Not for the wicked.

Don’t fret.  Trust in the Lord.  Be still.  Do good.  Wait for the Lord.  These phrases are repeated several times each as the writer makes this observation about those who follow his advice: “I was young and now I am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread. They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.”