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.
You are supposed to be awed by King Solomon in chapter ten.
But be careful. The awe is deceptive.
The book of Kings was written centuries after Solomon, and yet, the description of Solomon’s splendor sounds like that of an eyewitness. Look at the detail he gives you about Solomon’s throne and the ubiquity of gold. How does he know these things? There must have been extensive records – or perhaps remnants carried off to Babylon.
All of it was so impressive the Queen of Sheba admitted words could not adequately describe the impressiveness of Solomon’s court.
But the queen looked at Solomon the way other humans looked at him. His wisdom was seen in his material success.
But how wise was it, really, for Solomon to surround himself with so much splendor? In the first place, to do so was precisely contrary to God’s will. The queen could praise the God of Israel for all He had given Solomon, but she did not praise God for God’s own greatness – nor does she attempt to find the will of the Lord, nor does it seem Solomon tried to explain it to her. Like Hezekiah a few hundred years later, Solomon was glorying too much in his blessings to teach about God.
Notice what kind of person Solomon was becoming. After all that Hiram did for Solomon, every kindness he showed him, Solomon responded with third rate gifts.
Worldly wealth captivates us and blinds us to the light of God and the plight of others. It too often makes us self-centered and corrupts our character. People may look at our prosperity and assume we are wise, when in fact, what we really lack is wisdom.
A light reading of the opening chapters of Kings might lead us to marvel at the greatness of Solomon. But there are small dark moments that appear and we must not miss them. Solomon made an alliance with Egypt, marrying Pharaoh’s daughter – the first of many foreign women who contributed to Solomon’s downfall. He worships at a “high place,” rather than the place where God caused his name to dwell. He gives his famous decision about the child of the two prostitutes, but as the text subtly points out, prostitution was present in Israel (all this in chapter 3). In 1 Kings 4 Solomon accumulates the trappings of wealth – specifically forbidden to him by the law (Deuteronomy 17:16) and fulfills the warning of God in 2 Samuel 8: he taxes the people to pay for his lavish lifestyle. Note that Solomon divided his kingdom into twelve districts in order to pay for these extravagances, but note also that Judah is not among them.
In 1 Kings 5, the writer brings the dangers of a king full circle: Solomon enslaves his own people – at least 30,000 of them.
Solomon will not be the greatest king of Israel. He will not be the standard by which all other kings are judged. That honor will belong to his father David . Unfortunately, Solomon fell prey to the things that often befall the children of successful parents – unearned success. The peace David secured through faith in God left Solomon with less to trust God for, and that freedom led to excess and a lack of trust. Passing on faith to your children is tough. That’s why it should be a focused priority of every Christian parent.
How shall we feel about David’s instructions to Solomon in 1 Kings 2? They seem quite ruthless.
And yet, they show a mixture of practicality, justice, leniency, and generosity.
No one had been more dedicated to David than Joab. And no one had been more violent in his support of God’s anointed than Joab. During the war between the supporters of David and the supporters of Saul, Abner killed Joab’s brother, Ashael. It wasn’t really Abner’s fault. Ashael didn’t give him much choice, but Joab never forgot it and in retribution (and in pretense of protecting David), Joab murdered Abner (2 Samuel 2:26ff). Perhaps remembering the judgment brought on Israel because of Saul’s murder of the Gibeonites (2 Samuel 21:1ff), David was determined justice, though now delayed, be done.
David’s instructions regarding Shimei remind me of the old adage: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies closer.” For cursing the king, Shimei deserved death (Exodus 22:28). He could have lived under Solomon’s mercy and David’s delayed justice, but he could not be trusted – as his actions showed.
Evidently by this time, there were two legitimate claimants to the High Priesthood: Abiathar and Zadok. Abiathar had supported Adonijah for the throne, Zadok supported Solomon. The move cost Abiathar the priesthood. But there is something else: Abiathar was the descendant of Eli, who was a descendant of Ithamar, the fourth son of Aaron and God had specifically pronounced that the house of Eli would no longer serve in the priesthood. Solomon’s decision made that come to pass.
All in all, the opening pages of Kings notes the consolidation of Solomon’s power, the fulfillment of the will of God, and emphasizes the administrative leadership of David’s successor. Israel was finally becoming a nation.
Depending on your translation, we might well run over Psalm 149 without much thought, but one word in a different translation makes a difference.
The NIV (1984) issues a call to sing praise in the assembly of the “saints.” But the word for “saint” there is not the normal one we think of. All of God’s people are “saints,” “holy ones” set apart by God for Himself and Him alone. But the word carries with it greater meaning than that.
The Old Testament speaks of God’s “faithfulness,” His devotion – even when it is undeserved. This is His “love,” His “grace.” The people addressed in Psalm 149 are not just the recipients of His faithfulness, they have adopted the faithfulness of God in their lives and are “devoted” to Him as He is to them. Thus newer translations speak of the assembly of the “faithful people” or “the committed” or “the devoted.”
We want to be careful with this psalm. The writer mentions a number of ways of praising the Lord – including the use of dancing. While David danced in praise before the Lord, it does not appear that dancing was a part of the temple ritual. Note also the committed ones sing for joy “on their beds.” Likewise, it doesn’t have reference to some kind of bed ceremony in the temple. Rather, all these mentions of ways of worship and praise have to do with the normal course of life, and the call to praise is the call to all those committed to the Lord to praise God in every station and period of their lives. This includes, when God calls to war, marching out in the confidence of His calling.
Psalms 146 – 150 all begin and end with the call to “praise the Lord.”
Psalm 147 has three parts. All three begin in some way with a call to praise and each call is followed by reasons for praise. The first section (vss. 1 – 6) recounts what God has done in restoring Jerusalem and is followed by God’s magnificent work in creation and by His justice. The second section (vss. 7 -11) begins with God’s work in creation to make provisions for his creatures on the earth and ends by identifying those whom God loves (those who fear Him and put their hope in his unfailing love). The third section (vss. 12 – 20) again begins with God’s blessings toward Jerusalem, moves to His work in creation and ends with the exaltation of God’s people because of His focus on them.
The point is singular: Considering the greatness of God and His love for Israel, Israel has every reason to praise God.
Our task from this psalm is not so much to “count our blessings,” but to reflect on the greatness of God and rejoice that He has chosen to love us above all others.
In Psalm 19:14 the writer prays: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
Throughout the wisdom literature, there is an emphasis on the danger of unguarded speech. In the New Testament, James writes: “No man can tame the tongue; it is a restless evil, full of deadly poison (4:8).
In Psalm 141, the writer is conscious of the influence of others on his speech and this is the focus of his prayer: “Set a guard over my mouth, O Lord; keep watch over the door of my lips. Let not my heart be drawn to that which is evil, to take part in wicked deeds with men who are evildoers; let me not eat of their delicacies.”
What comes out of your mouth often smells a lot like what you take in. When your companions are those whose speech is perverse, you will soon sound like them. It’s the way things work.
Here’s an exercise: Make a list of all the words your parents would have objected to when you were young. Which of those words now reside in your vocabulary? If speech betrays the heart, purifying the heart will require excising from our vocabulary the “adult” words that never should have been there in the first place – words that have more in common with a pagan world than a pious one. You might also want to adopt the prayer of Psalm 141 in the purifying process.
Centuries later, Paul will write: There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes.”
Where would the Apostle get such a pessimistic view of humanity?
From the Psalter – for nearly the entirety of that text (Romans 3:10-18) comes from the Psalms (including Psalm 140). After forty years of ministry, listening to and commiserating with people whose lives have been broken by the depravity of others (and yes, also their own), I confess my conclusion that mankind is not basically good. God created us to be that way, but the devil has done a masterful job of destroying Eden. It’s not that He is so powerful: it’s that being bad is so easy.
As we’ve seen so many times in the Psalms, the Psalmist himself is no saint. He wishes for others precisely what they have done to him. While I believe God would rather us speak our vengeance to Him and entrust His justice and wisdom, I also believe He’d like to see less of this attitude in the hearts of His people. More than that, I think He would like to see less of it in the hearts of all people.
The ending of Psalm 137 takes us by surprise.
This is a captivity psalm, written during the 6th century Babylonian exile of Israel. One of the grievances other nations had against Israel was the insulting way in which Israel held her religion. The nations were perfectly willing to accept the gods of other people. There was great tolerance. This was not true for Israel’s religion (the religion – not necessarily the people’s view). Israel’s God claimed that He alone was God and forbade the worship of any other god in His land, and this intolerance, the nations believed, was intolerable.
How could this nation, who now lay prone under the boot of Babylon, possibly claim her God was superior to the gods of the Babylonians – much less the only God? No wonder the Babylonians taunted them with “where is your god”? Israel must have heard it as “where is your god now?”
Perhaps the request for a “song of Zion” was another taunt.
Or perhaps not. Perhaps it is a telling feature of Israel’s religion, a faith at whose heart lies a joy and confidence that must pour forth in joyous praise that lifts the spirits of all who hear! Outside of Judaism and Christianity (and more so in Christianity), no other religion on the face of God’s earth has music as such an integral part of its DNA. Perhaps the Babylonian captors had been impressed with that — much as the jailer would be in Philippi centuries later (Acts 16).
But there is always the chance that deep within the most joyous heart lies a smoldering resentment toward persecution and oppression that eventually breaks through with horrid sentiment. Such is the case with this psalm. There is no way around this condition. It happens. When it happens to you, be sure to take it to God.
The work of the priesthood did not end when the sun went down. The lamps of the Holy Place were to be kept burning all night (Exodus 27:21-22). During the temple period, priests were employed as guards for the house of the Lord, to make sure no one intruded into the sanctuary and went where no one who was not a priest was supposed to go (1 Chronicles 9:22ff). The altar of burnt offering burned night and day with an offering for the atonement of sin – and that fire had to be kept going.
There is deep symbolism here.
God doesn’t sleep. At no time does his eye leave His people (Psalm 34:15). Light in the House of the Lord says he is “up.” His people are always in need of forgiveness – day and night, and God is there to forgive.
And God’s people, who are His servants and (today) priests, should always be vigilant not only in serving Him, but serving those He cares about. Psalm 134 is a prayer of thankfulness for those whose service to God never flags and who are always about the Father’s business.