Saturday, May 31. Psalms 17 – 20

Keep in mind that the Psalms comprise the music of the redeemed, the people of God. Among the many things they express is the notion that God’s people are favored (by God) above all other people.

The writer of Psalm 18 was in dire straits and if his position were not weak enough, his enemies used the occasion of his vulnerability to attack him. But God heard the prayer of his servant and in righteous indignation “thundered from heaven.” The enemies of the Psalmist were the enemies of the Lord, and God rescued his servant.

The Psalmist writes that God dealt with him according to the writer’s righteousness. One should not read that as saying God rescued him because he was good and deserved rescue. He simply wants the reader to know that the misfortune that befell him was not punishment for sin. In other words, God did not rescue him from what he deserved. In the end, God rescued him because he was God’s anointed (vs. 50).

Christians should remember they have a special relationship with God above all other people. We should live in a way that appreciates that exalted status, and trusts that because of it, God will come to our aid in times of trouble.

Friday, May 30. Psalms 14 – 16

There are reasons the man who denies God’s existence is a fool (Psalm 14). First, he is foolish because he cannot know his position is the true one. He can believe it, but that will not make it rational or true. Second, his belief leads him to live as if there is no one to call him to account. If he’s wrong, such a course is ruinous at best. Third, his course eventually leads him to mistreat those the Lord feels for most acutely, those among whom God dwells. Unbelief is not just a denial of God, but an assault on Him.

Verse 5 is difficult. Who are those “overwhelmed with dread”? There is no good answer. The text seems to say that they are the wicked because they know God is present among those who have taken refuge in Him. But if they don’t believe in God, why would this bother them? Perhaps the Psalmist is voicing his doubt that anyone truly disbelieves in God, but only act as if they do. Another scholar suggests the verse is mistranslated, that it should read ‘the wicked have formed a club, but God is not among them.’

Another way to look at this Psalm is to see it as a description of the unbelieving believer. When we act like an unbeliever, we deny by our actions the existence of God. As Gerald Wilson observes: “When we fail to acknowledge the suffering of the rest of our world, when we seek to preserve our own ‘favored status’ at the expense of those who are less powerful than we are, when we simply try not to think too hard about how our abundance is related to the poverty of others, then the judging words of Psalm 14 are directed to us” who by our lives have foolishly presumed there’s no one who notices, and no one who will hold us accountable.

Thursday, May 29. Psalms 11 – 13

Gerald Wilson has written these words that are most appropriate as we consider Psalm 11: “In a world and society run amok, where the dignity of life is casually ignored and raw power rules in the place of justice, righteousness and equity, what can a righteous person hope to do?”

Often the first response is “run.”

A friend posted an article on Facebook recently lamenting a particular trend of unrighteousness and the growing acceptance of immorality and prejudice against those who would speak out against it. Someone else commented: “That’s why I am moving to New Zealand.”

I wondered: “Does he really believe things are different there? And even if they are, for how long?”

Another response is despondency. “Woe is us!” I know Jesus said “Blessed are they that mourn,” but really, is that what God wants, for his people to see everything as hopeless?

And still another response is “let’s fight,” which more often than not leads to social crusades conducted in Christ’s name but far from a Christ-like way.

Psalm 11 reminds us: God is in charge. There is no need to run, and while we should lament the state of our world, we should remember that little more can be expected of a world lost in sin. Again, God is in charge. He will exact justice. Until He does, our “fight” involves following Jesus, living like Jesus, and calling others to do the same. There is no need to be despondent. We are the children of Him who sits on the throne and who will right every wrong.

Wednesday, May 28. Psalms 8 – 10

As we shall see repeatedly in the Psalms, the frustration of Psalm 4 is continual. Holy people, like Abraham’s nephew Lot, are repeatedly “distressed by the filthy lives of lawless men” (2 Peter 2:7). The writer of Psalm 8 is so vexed he believes the “godly are no more.”

But he is also distressed with the fortunes of the wicked, who “freely strut about” apparently unhindered and unpunished.

In his “Sermon on the Mount,” Jesus said: “Blessed are they that mourn, for they will be comforted.” Psalm 8 is the prayer of a mourner. He mourns for the sins and blasphemies of his nation. He mourns for the erosion of the very concept of truth. He mourns over the greed, the cynicism, the lack of integrity. He mourns that there are so few mourners.

What’s a holy person to do who is so mired in mourning?

Take it to the Lord (at least that’s what the Psalmist did) and trust God to protect us from the likes of those who distress us.

Tuesday, May 27. Psalms 5 – 7

The heading of Psalm 7 reminds us of how much we do not know about the Psalms. First, there is the assertion that this psalm is a “shiggaion,” the only appearance of this designation in the Psalms and we have no idea what it means. Second is the mention of Cush, “a Benjamite” who we also know nothing about. Whoever he was, he brings to David’s mind the notion of unjust suffering at the hands of wicked men who are determined to do David harm.

In this Psalm, David maintains his innocence and to prove it takes what is tantamount to an oath, putting God on the spot. If David is guilty of doing harm either to his friends or his enemies, he calls on God to punish him. On the other hand, if David is innocent, he calls on God to punish those who would do him harm.

Over forty times the Psalmist mentions God as his “refuge.” I wonder how often we treat Him that way? Problems arise, immediately we start thinking about solutions rather than prayer. Sometimes, there are simply no solutions. We must simply ride out the storm. How much better to ride it out in the shelter of our God! In a world filled with the likes of Boko Haram and Kim Jong Un, prayer that God will bring an end to the violence of the wicked ought to be constantly on our lips.

Monday, May 26. Psalm 2 – 4

The fourth Psalm is actually a dialog between the writer and God. The Psalmist begins the prayer, but in verse two, God answers. We’re back to the Psalmist in verse three, back to God in verse four, and back to the Psalmist in verses five through eight. This brief dialog helps us to understand the distress the Psalmist mentions at the beginning.

The writer is distressed by his community, those who place their trust in anything and everything but the Lord. In fact, they are willing to trust in anyone and anything that they believe will bring them the desires of their heart – that’s what their statement “Who can show us any good?” is all about.

God addresses both the Psalmist and the community. He asks the community how long they will stray from Him. To the Psalmist, he says he has every right to be upset, but not to go overboard in his anger and sin.

The Psalmist points the community to God, and then, affirms his own trust in the Lord.

The community in which we live challenges our faith every day. We too should be distressed at their reluctance to trust God. We too should speak to them to urge them to turn to the Lord. But doing that, we’ve done all we can do. Our frustration must be poured out not to the community, but to God, and whether the community turns or not, we must live with joy, knowing that God is at least taking care of us.

Sunday, May 25. Job 40 – 42, Psalm 1

Job’s position has been that God has wronged him. He does not claim to be perfect, only that his life has not warranted the misery thrust upon him – and he blames God for it. Job’s three friends have maintained that God doesn’t send misery on good people. They have made numerous accusations against Job but frankly, in their hearts and in their speeches, they know they are wrong. Job, they know, is a good man. He does not deserve what he has received. Job 32:3 says that his friends could not refute him. This does not mean that they could not “convince” him he was wrong. It means they simply could not prove their point.

Elihu’s long-winded speech traveled the same ground the other friends did, though he spoke with much more authority yet with no more evidence.

The problem was with their world view. They viewed all misfortune as the judgment of God, and all blessing as the approval of God. They were wrong.

In the end, God speaks and basically tells Job he’s overstepped himself in charging God with evil. There are things beyond Job’s understanding and comprehension. The same thing is true with us. And when face to face with the inexplicable, the best decision is to stick with God. Job did, and in the end, he purposefully blessed by God – not because he was right in his judgments (Job wasn’t), but because he was a person of faith.

Saturday, May 24. Job 36 – 39

I find it difficult to imagine a more self-absorbed character than Elihu. Notice that he claims his knowledge is exotic (from afar), a Cambridge grad among Harvard men. A self-confessed “know it all.”

And yet, he seems to have ignored everything Job has said, as well as the truth before him.

He claims that God always punishes the wicked, something Job has denied and his friends know all too well isn’t true. He claims God delivers his people, but that isn’t true as can be seen from Job’s misery. He claims God restores the penitent, but if Job’s life is an example, that’s not true either – at least not yet.

Godless people, he claims, do not turn to God or speak to Him, that’s why they remain fettered in chains. And yet, Job, who Elihu implies is godless, has turned to God and has been greeted with only silence.

At the end of chapter 36, Elihu exalts God in terms similar to those used later by God Himself. He has all the answers. They’re just not the answers to Job’s questions. The whole thing reminds me of these words by Joe Bayly . “I was sitting, torn by grief. Someone came and talked to me of God’s dealings, of why it happened, of hope beyond the grave. He talked constantly, said things I knew were true.”

I was unmoved, except I wished he’d go away. He finally did.

Another came and sat beside me. He didn’t talk. He didn’t ask leading questions. He just sat beside me for an hour and more, listened when I said something, answered briefly, prayed simply, left.

I was moved. I was comforted. I hated to see him go.”

Friday, May 23. Job 33 – 35

We learn in today’s reading that Elihu has been in Job’s company for a while now, listening to the dialog. Elihu believes he has the answers, but they are not answers. They are all statements. Job wants to know why God has afflicted him so. Elihu does not reply specifically any more than Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar did. Once more, Job’s friend spends his time exalting God.

Job has complained that God has not answered his prayers. Elihu maintains God answers prayers in a variety of ways – but he doesn’t specifically say how God has answered Job. Job doesn’t understand why evil doers prosper, and Elihu takes this to mean that Job would rather be an evil doer (something Job never said).

In truth, you will see everything that has been said by Job and his friends repeated by Elihu. Every mistake they have made, he makes too, including a failure to comfort Job. Don’t miss these two salient points: First, Job’s friends have failed to comfort him in his agony. Second, they have defended God by attacking an innocent man. While Job has been upset with God, his discomfort is not an attack on God, but a defense of Him. Job, throughout his speeches, says: “I know God is good. I know God is just. What has happened to me just doesn’t make sense.” It doesn’t lead Job to doubt God. The whole scene does, however, lead us to doubt that Job’s friends are really his friends.

Thursday, May 22. Job 30 – 32

In chapter 32 we meet a new character, Elihu. Out of respect, he’s been quiet the whole time and allowed the older characters to speak, but frankly, he’s heard enough. Throughout, Job has maintained his innocence and if God is in control of everything, punishes the wicked and blessed the faithful – then, Job maintains, God has mistreated him.

Elihu is livid that Job would speak this way, and even more upset that Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar have not been able to persuade Job otherwise.

Now, Elihu believes his turn has come. He claims to know the truth and be compelled by the spirit of God to speak. Arrogantly, he says his words come from an upright man who knows what he is talking about. His address to Job is pointed and condescending (read 33:31-33).

And then, Elihu repeats what has already been said: Job is suffering. God sends suffering on evil doers. Therefore, Job must be an evil doer. The suffering will not be lifted until Job repents.

Youth knows no more than old age, and neither have the wisdom to explain all mysteries of life. Job has said it before. Wisdom can only be found in the hand of God.