Sunday, March 30, 2008
It’s fitting that these two psalms by David are one after the other in the collection and also fitting that we read them together for today! Psalm 20 is a request for God’s blessing, a prayer for victory. Even within the prayer for help is the assurance of it – that God takes care of His anointed. Psalm 21 is a praise for God’s answer. We see how God helped and delivered!
For the choir director. A Psalm of David.
1 May the LORD answer you in the day of trouble!
May the name of the God of Jacob set you securely on high!
2 May He send you help from the sanctuary
And support you from Zion!
3 May He remember all your meal offerings
And find your burnt offering acceptable! Selah.
4 May He grant you your heart's desire
And fulfill all your counsel!
5 We will sing for joy over your victory,
And in the name of our God we will set up our banners
May the LORD fulfill all your petitions.
6 Now I know that the LORD saves His anointed;
He will answer him from His holy heaven
With the saving strength of His right hand.
7 Some boast in chariots and some in horses,
But we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God.
8 They have bowed down and fallen,
But we have risen and stood upright.
9 Save, O LORD;
May the King answer us in the day we call.
A couple of things hit me as I read and thought about these psalms. First, I imagined Psalm 20 done antiphonally, as a chorus. The first verses (1-5) would have been sung by a group (the Israelite people’s prayer for David, their king). Then would come verse 6, a solo representing David’s reply, that God cares for and saves His own. The people respond in verses 7 – 8, replying that their trust is in God and that is how they stand firm. Finally the whole choir, David and his singers, sing to the One King. This psalm WAS put to music, WAS sung. I don’t know that it was performed the way I imagine it, but I would love the hear it done that way and somehow it came alive to me when I thought of it performed like that.
And how timely is it that just now, as we’ve read this past week in Leviticus about the meal offering and the burnt offering, they are mentioned here! Refer back to Day 88 (Leviticus 1-2) for a review.
For the choir director. A Psalm of David.
1 O LORD, in Your strength the king will be glad,
And in Your salvation how greatly he will rejoice!
2 You have given him his heart's desire,
And You have not withheld the request of his lips. Selah.
3 For You meet him with the blessings of good things;
You set a crown of fine gold on his head.
4 He asked life of You,
You gave it to him,
Length of days forever and ever.
5 His glory is great through Your salvation,
Splendor and majesty You place upon him.
6 For You make him most blessed forever;
You make him joyful with gladness in Your presence.
7 For the king trusts in the LORD,
And through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken.
8 Your hand will find out all your enemies;
Your right hand will find out those who hate you.
9 You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger;
The LORD will swallow them up in His wrath,
And fire will devour them.
10 Their offspring You will destroy from the earth,
And their descendants from among the sons of men.
11 Though they intended evil against You
And devised a plot,
They will not succeed.
12 For You will make them turn their back;
You will aim with Your bowstrings at their faces.
13 Be exalted, O LORD, in Your strength;
We will sing and praise Your power.
Though these psalms were written by David, a king, they are more about another KING than about himself. Everything in these psalms points to the LORD God, the Ruler of all. David could have been all about himself…many powerful people are (actually many of us are) but he wasn’t. He was focused on God – God was the one who would save and God was the one given the glory for the victory.
I am seeing more and more as I read Psalms this time, how there are several layers of meaning. The first layer is the actual historical meaning. David was a real man, a person of flesh and blood who actually lived in a certain time and place. He was an imperfect, frail human just like we are. He was a king, and most of all “a man after God’s heart.” These psalms all come from that context. The second layer of meaning is about us. If we trust in Jesus’ death and resurrection rather than our own goodness, then we are His anointed, too. We are kings and priests, as it says in Hebrews. So the words of the Psalms apply to us. But even more wonderfully, we can see how the words here are fulfilled in Jesus. I am amazed that what David wrote, under the inspiration of God’s Spirit, points to Christ. All the way through, we catch glimpses of God’s final answer, Jesus.
In Psalm 20 one request is, “May He grant you your heart's desire and fulfill all your counsel!” And Psalms 21: 2 tells us that that specific request was answered! “You have given him his heart's desire, and You have not withheld the request of his lips.” What do you think David’s heart desire was? What were the requests of his lips? What did he talk to God about? See Psalm 27:4; 40:8, 73:25; 119:40.
I’ve thought about that. What are my heart’s desires? Too often I accept substitutes for my heart’s deepest longings. This world offers many fakes, many items that are advertised as fulfilling our hearts’ longings. They, each one, are a perversion of something only God can offer. I don’t want to settle for anything but the real thing – Him!
Both psalms also speak of the object of our trust. Psalm 20:7-8 says, “Some boast in chariots and some in horses, but we will boast in the name of the LORD, our God. They have bowed down and fallen, but we have risen and stood upright.” Other translations of the phrase “boast in” are to “remember” or “recall,” or to “trust in”. The Israelites were going to battle and like all people at war at that time, they used horses and chariots. But David didn’t confuse what they used (the means) with the One who won the battle, who gave the victory. Psalm 21: 7 echoes chapter 20, “For the king trusts in the LORD, and through the lovingkindness of the Most High he will not be shaken.” Our confidence should be in the LORD, not in the means He has given us to use (such as goals, doctors, savings, investments, work, food, health, family, ________ - you fill in the blank!). The LORD is the only one worth trusting in; He alone is a sure foundation for standing – in the storms of life and against the enemy.
When you pray do you pray with praise? Praise focuses our hearts on God rather than on ourselves. Notice with me how David prays in his psalms. Let’s put it into practice!
“It’s not that praise is a sort of magical incantation that makes us strong in faith and maneuvers God into doing what we want. Rather, through praise we focus on God. We fix our inner eyes on Him with a basic trust in Him. Our praise springs from this simple response of faith, this simple choice to believe God; and praise in turn increases our confidence in Him.” (Ruth Myers, 31 Days of Praise, 116)
You alone are worth my confidence, Lord. I trust You. You know all there is to know about me and You love me with an everlasting love. You hear me and you satisfy my longings. You give me life – abundant life now and life that goes on forever. You are my strength – you defeat those enemies within me that war against You. Even in the midst of struggle I can stand firm because I know your lovingkindness! I praise You that You are strong and loving.
Thursday, March 27, 2008
SCRIPTURE: Exodus 39-40
Here the tabernacle was completed just as God instructed Moses. It was set up one year after the Exodus from Egypt and nine months after Israel's arrival at Mt. Sinai. Once all the preparations were completed, the cloud covered the tabernacle, and the glory of the LORD filled it.
One purpose of the Tabernacle was to provide a place for God's presence among Israel. Now God has a home, so to speak, in the midst of His people. The cloud and fire are still present to lead Israel on her journeys, but now the glory of the LORD fills the tabernacle.
Another purpose was to provide a place of worship and sacrifice. There is an altar and instructions for sacrifices and offerings to be presented to God by Israel. These sacrifices will provide a covering for the sin of the people until the ultimate sacrifice -- Jesus -- will be made.
I'm trying to imagine myself in that place and time. Seeing the tabernacle in the middle of the camp would be a vivid reminder of God's presence, especially with the cloud and fire above it all the time. It would also be a reminder of the need for sacrifices to cover my sin. Since I'm not a priest, I would be forbidden to enter the holy place, and I would never have direct access to God myself. And I think I would be trying to keep the commandments we have just received, but I doubt I would be very successful. Or maybe I would keep them pretty well -- outwardly. I think I would have a tendency to spend time in or near the tabernacle so I could be near to God.
David said, "One thing I have asked from the LORD, that I shall seek: That I may dwell in the house of the LORD all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate in His temple" (Psalm 27:4).
A day in your courts, Lord, is better than a thousand days spent anywhere else (Psalm 84:10, Katrina's paraphrase). You have given me access to You through the blood of Jesus -- not the blood of bulls and goats. Thank you for providing a way for me to be cleansed from sin -- not just have it covered over. Thank you for Your holy law that teaches me Your holiness and my right conduct -- It would condemn me completely without the blood of Jesus that provides complete forgiveness. And thank you for making me a part of the priesthood of believers -- No longer are You accessed only through Levitical priests. Thank you, Lord, that I can dwell in your presence always and meditate on YOU and Your word. Through Jesus, Amen.
Sunday, March 23, 2008
Poetry is the heart of language and is closely tied its language of origin, which can make it difficult to translate. Hebrew poetry, from what I’ve been able to learn, uses simple structure and figures of speech, is compressed and connotative, and relies on repeated sounds and balanced phrases for rhythm. As I’ve meditated on Psalms, I’ve often wished I understood Hebrew! (I’ve wished it so much I’m seriously considering learning it.)
Psalm 19 speaks of two witnesses of God. Verses 1 - 6 tell of the first witness, the heavens. Both the daytime sky with its sun and clouds and the nighttime’s swirling, orderly dance of stars tell of God’s greatness and honor without using words. Yet their language is understood by everyone on earth. Think about that paradox. God uses a language that isn’t a language to communicate His glory. At the end of that passage, one specific part of the sky, the sun, is focused on. Look at the metaphors, the figurative language, used there. I love the image of the nighttime tent for the sun. That huge light goes into a tent at night and comes out, the one mighty hero of the day, to trace his route in a circuit over the sky.
Psalm 19: 7 – 11 tell of a second witness to God. These are words! God has given us instructions: laws, rules, precepts, ordinances, and commands. These valuable words guide us and give sweetness to life. They give us discernment. More on this section later in the reflection part of this entry…
The last few verses of the psalm are a prayer. Two kinds of sins are mentioned here: those that are hidden and hard to discern, and those that are willful and arrogant and presume on God’s goodness. That word “blameless” in verse 13 doesn’t mean sinless, but rather completed or finished.
I love this last verse:
“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.”
My Rock and my Redeemer! So much in that phrase. He gives a foundation and stability and He rescues us, ransoms us, buys us back. David didn’t know the specifics about Jesus, but he knew that God is our Redeemer. Don’t you love how God reveals Himself here, even before He came in the flesh to buy us back from the power of sin?
“Redeemed, how I love to proclaim it! Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb; Redeemed through His infinite mercy, His child and forever I am!
My husband had to work yesterday so I had time to meditate on this psalm and ended up writing another poem meditation. I went a little crazy with it, especially at the end, but had such a good time doing it!
Meditation on Psalm 19
God’s perfect laws
Yet souls renew.
His faithful word
Gives wisdom true.
His tools do school this fool.
His precepts fair
That stand upright,
Light hearts with joy.
His bright commands
His sight to light the right.
His right to light my sight.
His light to right my sight.
His judgments all
Stand strong and tall,
Support me sure.
His fear is pure
And will endure.
So I’ll persevere and revere
The sphere’s Premiere.
To this dear Engineer
I will steer and adhere,
And draw near to fear.
That dear fear
Sears my tears,
Clears my ears.
To hear while here.
(Okay, so I may have overdone the rhyme a bit! LOL! I wrote the verses in the plain text first and then got carried away and wrote the parts in italics.)
APPLICATION AND PRAYER:
Think through this prayer and then pray it if you mean it.
“Forgive my hidden faults.
Keep your servant also from willful sins;
may they not rule over me.
Then will I be blameless,
innocent of great transgression
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
Be pleasing in your sight,
O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer”.
Thursday, March 20, 2008
God specially gifted certain people with the necessary skills to make the items for the tabernacle. He wanted their work to be artistic, creative, and beautiful. The work was done by God's Spirit through the hands of men. God works that way a lot, and it's a beautiful thing.
The Sabbath was a special sign of the covenant between God and Israel, and profaning it was punishable by death.
Back in chapter 24, God had promised to give Moses tablets of stone with the law engraved on it and called him up onto the mountain. God has been explaining the tabernacle, etc. (all that's in chapters 25-31) during the 40 days that Moses has been on the mountain with Him.
Meanwhile . . . back at the camp . . . the people were getting impatient. Aaron made a golden calf and instructed the people to worship it as the god who brought them out of Egypt. This was a throwback to religion in Egypt where cattle were sacred. Maybe Aaron was making the calf as a representation of God rather than as a different god. Regardless, Aaron and the people were quick to turn aside from the true God who had miraculously delivered them from Egypt.
God declared them to be an obstinate people and planned to destroy them. He offered to make a nation out of Moses instead. But Moses interceded for Israel (again) based on three things (1) God had chosen Israel Himself (v 11); (2) God's name must be vindicated (v 12); and (3) God won't be able to keep His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob if He destroys Israel (v 13). Moses had an opportunity here for making his own name great, but he chose to honor God's name instead.
When Moses reached the camp and saw the sin, he was enraged and threw down the stone tablet, shattering it. He held Aaron responsible for making the calf, but Aaron lied and made excuses. Moses called together all who wanted to be faithful to the true God and instructed them to kill all those who didn't.
Then Moses went back to the LORD to try to make atonement for the people. But God said He will punish those who sinned against Him.
Isn't it amazing how quickly we can turn away from God and into sin? Sometimes I think, "I wouldn't do that," but in reality, my heart can very quickly go from worshiping God to sinning against Him. And God is very much justified in His wrath toward me and my sin! I need a mediator between me and God to make atonement for me! Thank you, Jesus!
I appreciate how Moses was more concerned about protecting God's name than gaining glory for himself. He appealed to God's own character and promises when pleading for mercy for the people.
Do I want to see God honored more than I want honor for myself?
Do I guard myself to avoid sinning against God? Or am I quick to follow along when others make sin look like a good idea?
Show me your ways, O Lord, teach me your paths. Guide me in your truth and teach me, for you are God my Savior, and my hope is in you all day long. Remember, O Lord, your great mercy and love, for they are from of old. Remember not the sins of my youth and my rebellious ways. According to your love remember me, for you are good, O Lord. (Psalm 25:4-7 NIV)
Monday, March 17, 2008
SCRIPTURE: Psalm 18
In the Hebrew the inscription above the chapter is included with the chapter, all of one piece. So David sang this song to the LORD when God delivered him from the hands of his enemies and the hand of Saul. Later, probably toward the end of his life, he gave the song to the director of music to be sung. The song, with few variations, is also found in 2 Samuel 22. Check it out!
David was chosen by God and anointed by Samuel to be the next king of Israel, after Saul. David knew this. But for several years he was hunted by King Saul who was jealous of him and wanted to kill him. David spent those years on the move hiding from Saul, trying to survive. David did not connive or try to wrest the kingship from Saul. He had opportunity to kill him, but didn’t. And he kept his men, those who joined him in hiding, from harming Saul. Eventually Saul and his son Jonathan were killed in a battle with the Philistines, and David became king. For the first years of his reign he warred with neighboring pagan countries who wanted to control Israel: the Philistines, the Moabites, the Ammonites and others. Finally, David was given peace.
In this song, David pictures Jehovah God as a rock, fortress, deliverer, shield, horn of salvation (which signifies strength), a stronghold, and a light giver. There is a long passage (vv. 7- 17), a powerful extended metaphor, that shows God as a mighty warrior, riding through the sky to defend and rescue David, who was overwhelmed and cried to God. Notice the parallel structures of many of the verses, the balanced statements.
This is a long psalm – a long song! Wouldn’t you have loved to hear David sing it? I would! Maybe we will get to someday!
David was overwhelmed by those who were powerful and proud, the ungodly, those who relied on their own wits and strength and power rather than on God’s. David’s fear was like a flood, the distress was like being bound by ropes – these are some of the images David uses to show his helplessness in the face of his enemies. Yet, in his distress he didn’t strike out or sin by taking things into his own hands; he remained faithful to God, obeyed God, and he cried to God for help. “In my distress I called to the LORD; I cried to my God for help.” (v. 6) And God heard! God rescued him from the deep water of fear and despair. (v. 16) God renewed him and strengthened him and gave him victory. Verse 36 uses a metaphor to explain how God eased David. It says that God made the path broader for David, so that David didn’t trip or fall down or hurt himself.
Read verses 27 – 36 again: “You save the humble/ but bring low those whose eyes are haughty. You O LORD, keep my lamp burning;/ my God turns my darkness into light./ ... As for God, His way is perfect;/ the word of the LORD is flawless/. He is a shield/ for all who take refuge in Him./ For who is God besides the LORD?/ And who is the Rock except our God?/ It is God who arms me with strength/ and makes my way perfect.”
What passages are especially meaningful to you today?
Have you ever been overwhelmed by distress in some form – by worry, fear, indecision, unfair treatment, hurt by others, your own sin? I have. The metaphors of flood and darkness are so apt. What do you do in those times; to whom do you turn? Next time (or now, if you’re in a dark place at this moment) read this psalm out loud from your heart. Turn to God – our rescuer and stronghold and light giver. Keep on trusting and obeying and cling to our ROCK!
This psalm is a song of praise to God. It really is all about God. It lifts up the Name of the One who made a covenant with David. The Bible is not primarily a book of rules for us to follow, or of moral stories that tell us how to live better, or a self-help book. It is a book that celebrates God the King’s covenant love for His people, for those who trust in Him. So often we make the Bible about us, and it was given to us, but it’s not about us – we are not its focus. The focus of the Bible is on the LORD God and His glory, on lifting up the Name of the One who rescues us!
Isaiah 55: 1- 3 says, “Come, all you who are thirsty,/ come to the waters;/ and you who have no money,/ come, buy and eat!/ …. Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,/ and your soul will delight in the richest of fare./ Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live./ I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” If those of us who are thirsty, spiritually impoverished, and humble – those of us who know we are needy - come to God for life, for sustenance – we are part of the everlasting covenant that God made with David. God promises us His faithful love!
So that last verse of the psalm is for us! We know far more of God’s plan than David did. That “Warrior” who charged down to save David from his enemies, came in the flesh to save those who trust Him, to save those in distress. He has defeated our enemies: sin and death. Let’s take some time today to praise God for His unfailing kindness to us.
PRAYER (Feel free to sing it! It’s really about Psalm 104, but fits with this psalm, too.)
O worship the King, all glorious above,
And gratefully sing His power and His love;
Our Shield and Defender, the Ancient of Days,
Pavilioned in splendor, and girded with praise.
O tell of His might, O sing of His grace,
Whose robe is the light, whose canopy space.
His chariots of wrath the deep thunderclouds form,
And dark is His path on the wings of the storm.
Thy bountiful care, what tongue can recite?
It breathes in the air, it shines in the light;
It streams from the hills, it descends to the plain,
And sweetly distills in the dew and the rain.
Frail children of dust, and feeble as frail,
In Thee do we trust, nor find Thee to fail;
Thy mercies how tender! How firm to the end!
Our Maker; Defender, Redeemer, and Friend.
Friday, March 14, 2008
The Bad News: My whole family has been sick since Sunday.
The Good News: I am 90% cured, and the rest of them are at about 70%.
The Bad News: I want to get a good rest for the extra 10-30% because we have a field trip tomorrow.
So, I will go ahead and post both Exodus 26 & 27 tomorrow.
Have a great Friday and keep reading!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Now God tells Moses and the people to build a tabernacle. It will be a portable structure that Israel will pack up and carry with them wherever they go until the more permanent temple is built. This would be a place where God would meet with His people. His very presence would be there. It will give a picture of how one can approach God, which will be fulfilled through Jesus. There are a lot of "scarlet threads" in this section on the tabernacle.
The people were to voluntarily provide the necessary materials for the tabernacle. Everything had to be given willingly, according to the desire of each man's heart, not imposed as a tax. These were high quality, valuable materials. And the people gave all that was needed and beyond (Ex. 36:5-7).
The Ark & Mercy Seat (vs. 10-22)
The first items described are the ark of the covenant and the mercy seat. An ark is simply a box, and this one was to hold a copy of the law, or testimony, that God was giving to them. (Other objects will be added later.) This ark represents the very presence of God. It is covered by the mercy seat. The word for mercy seat literally means a covering. It is the place where sins are covered, the place of atonement. Christ will become this covering for our sins, and His blood will provide for our atonement.
The Table of the Showbread (vs. 23-30)
Like the ark, this table is made of acacia wood and completely overlaid with pure gold. Also, both pieces of furniture have rings attached with poles through them. This will enable the Israelites to carry them without actually touching these holy objects.
The Bread of the Presence, or "showbread" as it's also called, is set on this table. There are twelve loaves, one for each tribe of Israel. The bread represents God's provision for Israel's "daily bread" and Israel's communion with God. Jesus will be called the "Bread of Life." (See John 6:32-35.)
The Lampstand (v. 31-40)
Here is another object made of pure gold and very ornate. This would be the only source of light inside the tabernacle whereby the priests could see to do their work. It represents Christ, the "Light of the World."
The tabernacle, all of the objects in it, and all of the practices done there will provide a way for man to approach God and for God to commune with man. My sin has to be covered in order for me to be in the presence of God, so God provides a way for that to happen. His Law is preserved in an honored place, and should likewise be hidden in my heart. He provides the bread over which I commune with Him and by which I live. He provides the light by which I can see Him, His Word, His provision, His covering.
I just want to encourage everyone to keep reading attentively. The details of this section can get tedious, but if you have a good understanding of the law, the tabernacle/temple, and the priesthood, you will have a greater appreciation of many of the events to come later in the Bible.
Thank you, LORD, for providing a covering for my sin. You are a God of great mercy! My soul rejoices in the God of my salvation. Amen.
Monday, March 10, 2008
READING: Psalm 17
The text itself titles this “A Prayer of David.” It differs from some of the other psalms in that it was a prayer, rather than a poem written to be sung. David wrote this prayer, prayed this prayer, probably when he was running from Saul who was looking for him and wanted to kill him. From the context of the prayer it is clear that David is being hounded in some way by men who are stronger and more powerful than he is.
David opens this prayer with a plea to God to hear him, with a plea to God for justice. He makes sure his heart is right before God, that he isn’t being deceitful with God or himself about what’s happening. When David says in verse 3, “Though you probe my heart and examine me at night,/ Though you test me, you will find nothing;/ I have resolved that my mouth will not sin,” I don’t think he’s saying he never sins. It’s clear from other psalms that David knew that he sinned. He’s saying that in this situation he hasn’t done anything to deserve what has happened to him. He has watched his own heart and mouth and he hasn’t sinned. And if this prayer is in response to Saul’s hounding of David, other Scripture backs this up. David had opportunity to speak ill of Saul, to spread rumors about Saul, to hurt and even kill Saul, but he refused to do any of those things. Instead, he left his “rights” in God’s hands, just as here, he leaves vindication and vengeance in God’s hands.
After David asks for justice and reviews his own response, his heart and actions in what has happened to him, he again calls to God to hear him, to listen. This time, in verses 6 – 9, he asks for God’s loving protection. He uses metaphors to express his need of God’s care. “Keep me as the apple of your eye;/ Hide me in the shadow of your wings.” The “apple” of the eye is the pupil and it is in one of the most protected parts of the body, set back in a cave of bone. The second metaphor, of being hidden in the shadow of God’s wings, gives the picture of a mother bird, hiding her chicks from danger.
When I was a little girl, my mother had Bible clubs in our home and sometimes she would tell stories that were like modern day parables. One story that she told I will always remember when I think of what it means to be hidden in the shadow of His wings. I won’t give all the details, but the story was about a little boy on a small farm who had a pet chicken. The hen hatched some baby chicks and the boy loved watching the chicks run after their mother. Then one day a fire swept over the grasslands and threatened their farm. The boy and his family had to leave, or were busy saving the buildings, or something. (Can’t remember that part, I was so worried about the chicken!) The boy was worried about his chicken and after the fire went to look for her. He found her alone, huddled on the ground in a charred area, blackened with soot like the ground around her. It was clear she was dead and the boy began to cry and went over to pick her up. When he did, out from under her wings ran her chicks, peeping and alive. The mother hen had hidden her babies under her wings; she gave her life so that her chicks could live. That story had a huge impact on me. God protects us that way. He came in the flesh and died so that we can live.
Next, in verses 10 – 12, David focuses on his enemies and what characterizes them. They have callous hearts toward God; they are arrogant; they are powerful. The images here are ones of hunters, of a hungry lion that seeks prey, and David was the prey! So David again turns to God, “Rise up, O LORD, confront them!” God is more powerful than those enemy lions!
At the end of the prayer David ponders the fate of those who live for this world: for power, for money, for fame, for pleasure, for position… all that ends when this life ends. David contrasts their purposes with his own. He wants to please God, to live for Him, to look at God so long and so hard that he’s made into God’s image.
This prayer begins with a cry for help and ends in contentment and rest.
I was hit by what David says at the beginning of this prayer. He tells God that it comes from an honest heart, or as the NASB puts it, “is not from deceitful lips.” David was honest with God when he prays. This might sound obvious, like duh, of course, Becky! But I think it’s easy for us to use platitudes when we pray. I realized this for the first time when I was in college. I was raised in a Christian family, and became a believer as a young child. I had a good idea how God wanted me to be, what pleased Him, what didn’t. So when I prayed sometimes I said things that I knew I ought to be saying, not what I really thought or felt. As we read the prayers of David and the psalms that reveal his heart, I think we’ll see, as we see in this chapter, that David is transparent with God. He honestly speaks his heart. I want to be like that, too, bring my heart and thoughts, as they truly are, to God. What about you?
In verse 14, David asks that God deliver him from men “whose portion is in this life,” whose focus is on what they can gain in this life: power, position, pleasure, possessions. It is so easy for us to live like our “portion is in this life.” So this verse cautions me to stop and ask just what I am living for. What is the focus of my life? It’s so easy to get our perspective skewed.
And finally, David didn’t try to get even or retaliate, but left vindication and justice in God’s hands. When someone hurts you, what is your response? Is it to hurt them back? Let’s try to apply this psalm and pray, entrusting God with the justice of our cause, rather than striking back at those who’ve harmed us.
Lord, thank You that You are just and righteous and that we can lay everything on Your lap – our troubles, our fears, our hearts – because You care for us. Help us to pray from honest hearts, as David did. Help our portion to be in You, not in this life. Thank you that You love us and protect us, and that You died for us in order to give us refuge, and so that we might live!
Friday, March 7, 2008
First of all, my thanks to Katrina and Becky for their contributions this week. I was able to have two glorious days at the Oregon Coast without internet access and without concern because they took over for me while I was gone. Also, you may have already noticed that Katrina will be the regular Thursday contributor to the BBC, and Becky will be taking over the Psalms and Proverbs! Thanks so much, Katrina and Becky!
Also, if you have strengths in any particular books of the Bible, you are welcome to contribute to this blog. I am not territorial about things here. I am a firm believer in "synergy" (interaction of different people such that the total effect is greater than the sum of the individual effects) when it comes to studying the Bible. So, step forward! I would love it.
End of Announcements! See you tomorrow for Exodus 20.
How To Be Rich!
This chapter, the continuing advice from father to son about wisdom, organizes itself into six sections. This advice is true for us! One of the most well-known passages of the Bible is here, in verses 5 and 6, but there’s so much else of value.
In Proverbs 3: 1-12 seven instructions and commands are listed along with the benefit of obeying each one. The first instruction (vv. 1-2) is to remember God’s word, to guard in our heart the wise commands of God. The benefit is a long life and peace. Again, these are not promises, but general statements of truth. The next (vv. 3-4) is to not relinquish kindness and truth. The benefit of hanging onto truth and kindness is that we will find favor and have a good reputation. There are five more commands. Try listing them, along with the benefit of obeying each.
Proverbs 3: 13 – 18 gives the value of wisdom. The passage doesn’t simply state that wisdom is valuable, but uses figurative language to compare it with things that people value and desire and long for (like wealth and beautiful jewelry). Wisdom is personified again, as a woman – a good woman - who brings with her long life and riches and honor and beauty and peace and life. I don’t think the “tree of life” mentioned in v. 18 is “the” tree of life of Genesis and Revelation, but a picture of wisdom as a tree that nourishes and blesses those who partake of it.
Verses 19 and 20 made me pause and think, because at first glance they don’t seem to fit in with the rest of the chapter. They’re a statement of how God created and sustains the earth through wisdom and understanding and knowledge. I think they’re there to give a philosophical basis or more insight into wisdom. God, the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, is our source of wisdom. Wisdom comes from Him and leads back to Him.
The next verses, 21 – 26, list the benefits of sound judgment and discretion. Many of these verses echo the proverbs in the beginning of this chapter. How many benefits do you see? What are they? Dwell a bit on the images there. I love this section!
Verses 27 – 32 are another list of commands – negative commands – what we are NOT to do. I think it’s interesting that the chapter has both positive and negative commands.
And finally, verses 33 – 35 use contrast to show the difference in how God relates to the wise and humble as opposed to those who scoff and are wicked and fools.
It’s interesting that in verse 3 the two traits of kindness and truth are linked together. We are told “Do not let kindness and truth leave you;/ Bind them around your neck,/ Write them on the tablet of your heart.” Being kind without clinging to truth leads to rationalizing and ennabling, while standing for truth without being kind makes us harsh and can lead to enmity. We are to do what we can to keep both kindness and truth with us. We are told to tie them around our necks – as outward adornment, like a necklace. And we are also to “write them on the tablets of our hearts.” What an image! We copy them inside us until they are part of us and are what motivate us.
As I pondered this chapter I thought of what sweetness wisdom brings. Wisdom leads us to peace and to good relationships with other people. Wisdom leads away from “me,” to trust in God. And as we trust God we are given security and rest. The One who “by wisdom founded the earth,” who by understanding “established the heavens,”who causes the dew to fall (v. 19-20), this is the One who is our confidence (v. 26)! I can’t think of anyone better to put our confidence in, can you?
I am always amazed, though I shouldn’t be, at how different parts of God’s word tie together. We’ve been reading in Exodous and as I look at Pharoah and at Moses I see examples of men who were wise and foolish. Pharoah was powerful, but didn’t seek true wisdom. He trusted in himself and his own strength. Moses was weak, but had the humility to listen and obey what God said, and God used him.
Let’s try to put some of the verses of this chapter into practice. We can take some steps in becoming wise by hearing these words and doing them. And becoming wise is more than just a list of what we do and what we don’t do – the external. We can look pretty fine on the outside, but be a mess on the inside (like most of the Pharisees Jesus talked to). If we are going to follow wisdom and practice her ways we need humility and teachableness.
Give us soft hearts, Lord. Help us, each of us, to realize that we aren’t always right. Help us to turn to You for wisdom, Lord, to long for You and to seek You. Help us to be people of integrity – the same on the inside and outside. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
Thursday, March 6, 2008
READING: Exodus 19
Meeting God at Sinai
Exactly three months after their great Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites have arrived at Mt. Sinai for their appointment with God. This is where God promised Moses he would bring the people to worship Him (Exodus 3:12). They set up camp here and will remain in this location close to a year. While they are here, Moses will receive the Law, and they will build the Tabernacle.
First off He reminds the people that they have seen what He can do and has rescued them from Egypt and brought them to Himself with many great miracles. All the earth belongs to Him, and He has chosen this particular family of people to call His own. They have not done anything to earn this position with God; He has chosen, by His grace, to bestow it upon them.
Moses was the mediator between God and the Israelites, and God was giving authority to Moses in the sight of the people (v 9).
The covenant is entirely God's making; Israel did not contribute any ideas to it. Also note that this is a conditional covenant. There are conditions that Israel must meet in order to receive the blessings promised. It is not a covenant to provide life or salvation, but a means by which Israel would become a "kingdom of priests and a holy nation" (v 6). It will set them apart (sanctify them) as a unique people, blessed of God. The chapters to come will be the details of the covenant.
The people had to have two days to prepare for this meeting. They needed to purify themselves before coming near to the LORD.
The LORD set boundaries for the people. They were not permitted to come too close or see too much. It would be enough for them to see the cloud and to hear the thunder of God's voice. This protected them from God's holy presence.
After reading this chapter, read Hebrews 12:18-29. I hope you'll find it as fascinating as I do!
Reflection on verses 16-19 -- the description of God's presence -- thunder, lightning, thick cloud, loud trumpet, smoke, earthquake. Then the trumpet grew louder and louder, and God spoke with thunder. This is an amazing manifestation of God! Yet, as a believer, I do not come to Mt. Sinai full of fear and trembling. But I come to Mount Zion where Jesus is my mediator. I do not come to God with fear of destruction but with acceptance before Almighty God.
I'm sure I would have trembled greatly if I had been there! What awe! What an incredible presence! There would be nothing to do but fall down and worship God. Through Jesus, I am permitted to come into the presence of God. I must always remember to do so with great reverence and awe. His presence is not to be taken lightly.
As I wash my clothes, I can be reminded that I am consecrated for God. He has washed me clean for His use. Because I am clean, I can enter His presence. "Let us therefore draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and may find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16)
LORD, You are and awesome God! Your power and majesty is beyond comprehension. Yet, you have chosen me, You have consecrated me for Your glory. Thank you for allowing me access to You through the blood of Jesus. May I always show my gratitude to You by offering myself in service to You with reverence and awe. Through Jesus, Amen.
Monday, March 3, 2008
Where in the Bible do we go when we're sad or weary or troubled? What part do we open when we're full of joy? No book in the Bible reflects the ranges of the heart as well as the Psalms. The Psalms in my Bible are marked up with exclamation points, dates, questons marks, “Thanks, Lord,” and other comments. It’s so easy to see why God referred to David, flawed human that he was, as a man after His own heart. David was so transparent before his Lord and King. He turned to God with a faithful heart – a heart full of questions and doubts and fears and joy and exuberance and wonder and simple statements of understanding.
I am going to put today’s Psalms on the blog. They are poetry, and in my opinion, should be written that way, to help add to their meaning.
So let’s turn to the Psalms for today:
Psalm 15 (NKJ version)
A Psalm of David
LORD, who may sojourn in Your tabernacle?
Who may dwell in Your holy hill?
He who walks uprightly
And works righteousness
And speaks the truth in his heart;
He who does not backbite with his tongue,
Nor do evil to his neighbor,
Nor take up a reproach against his friend;
In whose eyes a vile person is despised,
But who honors those who fear the LORD;
He who swears to his own hurt and does not change
He who does not put out his money at usury,
Nor takes a bribe agains the innocent.
He who does these things shall never be shaken.
Psalm 15 is a didactic poem full of parallelism. It is a poem that is intended to teach while it gives pleasure. The pleasure comes primarily from the arrangement of thought and the repetition of phrases of similar structure. In verse 1 David asks two questions that are much the same question worded slightly differently. That repetition serves to make us pause and rethink the question with the psalmist. The next few verses (v. 2 – the first part of v. 5) answer the question. And the Psalm ends with a short, simple statement that sums everything up.
So what does David ask? He asks, through the use of metaphor, what kind of person lives in God’s presence? And then he answers his question, using simple parallel statements. (And from what I’ve read they’re even more parallel in the Hebrew than in English.) Do you see them? Can you paraphrase them? If you haven’t pondered them, do it now before you read more!
The list includes what we do and what we say and what’s important to us and who we seek out and how we treat others. So what is important to someone who lives in the presence of God, what does that person look like? She will do what is right; she will be truthful with herself and others; she will not hurt her neighbor either with her tongue or her actions; she will be a faithful friend even when others are not; she will not crave the approval of wicked people; she will honor those who honor God and seek their approval; she will do what she says even when it’s hard and hurts; and she will not exploit others or seek to benefit by hurting others.
A simple, wonderful statement at the end concludes the poem. Those who do the things listed, whose lives are characterized by them, will never be moved or shaken. Those people are strong and stable – grounded in their God – so that when the storms of life come they don’t falter or fall or lose their footing.
When I read that last statement of the Psalm I immediately thought of the wise and foolish men Jesus mentions in Matthew 7: 24-27. I’m studying Matthew with some international ladies and that’s exactly where we were last week. The wise man (or woman!) is the one who hears what God says and puts it into practice and is thus on solid ground that won’t shift and move and cause instablity. … well, read it for yourself!
Psalm 16 (NIV)
A miktam of David
Keep me safe, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I said to the LORD, "You are my Lord;
Apart from you I have no good thing."
As for the saints who are in the land,
“They are the glorious ones in whom is all my delight.” *
The sorrows of those will increase who run after other gods.
I will not pour out their libations of blood
Or take up their names on my lips.
LORD, you have assigned me my portion and my cup;
You have made my lot secure.
The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
Surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the LORD, who counsels me;
Even at night my heart instructs me.
I have set the LORD always before me.
Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
My body also will rest secure,
Because you will not abandon me to the grave,
Nor will you let your Holy One (or faithful one) see decay.
You have made known to me the path of life;
You will fill me with joy in your presence,
With eternal pleasures at your right hand.
*or As for the pagan priests who are in the land
And the nobles in whom all delight, I said:
(Apparently the meaning of v. 3 isn't clear. I think this one about the pagan priests makes more sense in the flow of the Psalm.)
Poetry can often be understood on two levels – one more straightforward (don’t want to say literal, because figurative language is hardly literal!) and the other symbolic. Part of this Psalm, the part that talks about not being abandoned to the grave or decay, is quoted by both Peter (Acts 2: 25-28) and Paul (Acts 13: 35) in reference to the Lord Jesus. There's our scarlet thread! So on one level it is a Messianic Psalm – a Psalm that looks forward to God’s Promised One. But it can also be understood on a human level, by those who trust in God.
Spend some time with me thinking about this Psalm. We won’t do it line by line because this entry is already too long, but I want to focus on a few of the phrases and images that hit me.
Psalm 16 progresses from a request for safety to an assurance of joy.
In the opening line God is pictured as a refuge. Think about that image for awhile. What is a refuge? When do we go there and why? It is with God that we are safe. Safe in what sense? What do you think?
As I read on in the Psalm, I next pause at the line “Apart from you I have no good thing.” Wow. Is that true for me? Is it an emotion that’s stated there or a truth? I think David is stating a truth here, not just something he’s feeling. And when I think about it, I get a glimpse of understanding. What is good? If not for God would there be anything good?
Now let’s look at some of the figurative language in this poem, which adds so much richness to our understanding. First, the phrase, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.” This is probably an allusion to the apportioning of the land of Canaan that God gave the twelve tribes. So this would have meant something to David that I can only wonder at. But I do understand the joy that a beautiful piece of land can give. This metaphor (a comparison between two things that establishes a meaning on one level and then asks the reader to "carry over" that meaning to another level) is there so that we can picture ourselves in a pleasant place, a place of rest and beauty. My husband and I recently bought some land that I have fallen in love with – it’s peaceful and green and beautiful. Daffodils and paperwhites and silverbells are popping up all over it right now. It’s not inherited, but it is delightful! I am full of happiness and contentment when I’m there. David uses that kind of image to show how it is for us in God, what we’ve been given.
And this Psalm, too, like the previous one, talks of not being shaken. Because God is “at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Here is more figurative language. God is not literally at David’s right hand (or mine, since I think I can say this with David). So why use that phrase? Well, I am right handed (as are most of us) and when I sit on the couch it’s much easier for me to have a table to my right. I can more easily reach things. So being on the right hand makes something accessible. Also, traditionally, even in ancient times, the right hand was the place of honor and power; it was extended in friendship and to embrace someone. So the image of God at our right hand, and later at the end of the Psalm, of us at God’s right hand, gives an image of being close in a place of honor and love and accessibility. Because we are right (Hey, a pun!) there next to God, we are safe and will not fall or be shaken. Close to Him we are firm and steady. He guides us in the path of life that begins now and goes forever. We find our joy in Him.
What other metaphors and images do you see in Psalm 16? Sometimes it’s easy to gloss right over them. Do they help your understanding?
Maybe you will want to paraphrase one of these Psalms or write a meditation or poem based on one of them. Take some time to let them sink in.
Or think of some passages in the New Testament that talk about standing firm. Will you share them with us?
Thank you, Father God, that even as I have you at my right hand, You have me at your right
hand. Thank you for your counsel, and that you work in us even when we are sleeping. Thank
you for Jesus, whose body did not see decay, and through whom we have life and have it
forever! May we be people who stand firm in You, who are not shaken, even when all about us
seems to be falling apart. As we stand in your presence may we reflect you in what we do, say,
Sunday, March 2, 2008
Part 1 -- verses 1-21 -- Having been miraculously delivered from the Egyptians (again), Moses and the people break out into a song and dance of praise to the LORD. This song tells the story of how God delivered them and praises God for His power.
Part 2 -- verses 22-27 -- On the heels of the great victory of crossing the Red Sea, the Israelites spent three days in the desert without water. Then, when they did find water, it was not drinkable. The people complained, Moses prayed, and God provided. (This is a pattern we will see several more times in the history of the Israelites.) God was testing them. He had shown His power in their time of need; will they trust Him to do it again? Then God promised that if they would do what He said, He would not bring plagues upon them like he did to the Egyptians. He took them about seven miles away to a place where there were twelve springs of fresh water.
Part 1 -- verses 1-21 -- Ponder the words of this song. What images does it give of God? Notice the figures of speech used to describe the water, the armies of Pharaoh, and the power of God. What do Moses and the Israelites praise God for in this song?
Part 1 -- Consider writing a poem, song, or prose to God, praising Him for what He has done for you.
Part 2 -- Am I quick to complain when things get difficult? I need to turn to God and trust Him to deliver me.
Singing to the Lord is a form of prayer and of worship. Here is a song you may know, that comes from this chapter.
I will sing unto the Lord,
For He hath triumphed gloriously,
The horse and the rider He has thrown into the sea!
The Lord is God and I will praise him,
My father’s God, and I will exalt him!
Saturday, March 1, 2008
READING: Exodus 14
This is a great narrative and doesn't need much explanation, so I just have a couple of notes:
The locations mentioned in verse two are uncertain, and exactly where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is not known. This map is one of the commonly suggested routes.
The crossing of the Red Sea is a type of baptism. See 1 Cor. 10:1-2.
I would suggest reading this chapter slowly and carefully and trying to picture images of the events in your mind. As you paint your mental pictures, remember a few things -- There are around 2,000,000 people, including the aged, infirm, ill, infants, small children, pregnant women, etc., all crossing a wide, dry swath of ground with walls of water on each side. They have large herds and flocks of animals with them as well. Not a single person or animal perished in the crossing. The crossing took several hours to accomplish and was mostly during the night.
One of my favorite parts of this chapter is verses 13-14. "But Moses said to the people, 'Do not fear! Stand by and see the salvation of the LORD which He will accomplish for you today; for the Egyptians whom you have seen today, you will never see them again forever. The LORD will fight for you while you keep silent.'"
This is such a far cry from Moses' initial, "I can't do this; please send somebody else." Moses has experienced God at work and has no doubt that God has a miraculous plan of action in mind.
And then verse 31 -- "And when Israel saw the great power which the LORD had used against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in His servant Moses."
So, I've been reflecting on my walk of faith. The more I see God at work, the stronger my faith becomes. He is a God who interacts with us, lets us experience who He is, and strengthens our faith in Him by showing us His power. When we experience His power, it gives us the confidence to trust Him even in the most difficult of situations.
Take note whenever you see God's hand at work, whether through events in Scripture, your own life, or the lives of others. Keep a journal or make memorials that commemorate God's work. You can be creative or keep it simple, but the important thing is to remember it!
When I am afraid, Lord, I will put my trust in You.