Posts Tagged 'Psalms'

Panic Podcast: Delight, Part 7

Good morning, folks.  Today it the final study in our  series, What God Wants Us to Delight In, but instead of looking at something that delights us, I want to look at what God delights in.  I hope you find this an interesting study.  God bless you, and thanks for taking the time to study the Bible with me this week.

 

Panic Podcast: A Handful of Psalms, Part 1

Happy Friday and welcome along! Today I want to start a new series in which I’ll be looking at some of my favorite psalms. On today’s show, I’ll be talking about Psalms 23 and 37. And, if you can imagine, I’ll be reading – or rather stumbling through – the King James Version!

 

Psalms of Ascent

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In all, there are 15 “psalms of ascent.” They are conveniently grouped together and not scattered throughout all 150 psalms like the other types of psalms we have looked at. Psalms 120 to 134 make up the psalms of ascent. Psalm 120 is the very first psalm to bear the title Shir ha-maaloth, which means “a song of the goings-up.”

These psalms figured prominently in the life of the faithful Jew, who made his pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the various festivals throughout the year. Some scholars are of the opinion that observant Jews spent as many as three months each year just celebrating the festivals of God. In the New Testament, we see Jesus, the most observant Jew ever, journey to Jerusalem as an adolescent to observe Passover (Luke 2:41) and then later as an adult (John 7:10; 10:22). John’s Gospel goes to some lengths to point out just how observant our Lord was.

All of the Jewish festivals were events of religious remembrance and national pride and the psalms of ascent celebrated these thoughts. They were recited or sung, probably in order, by those making the journey to Jerusalem, a city built on a hill which made it the highest city in the land. So these psalms of ascent not only celebrated Jerusalem – it’s topography and its spiritual heights – but also the spirits of the those who were singing them. For as they recited this group of psalms, their spirits would be lifted.

Paul Goodman, in his book Little Prayers and Finite Experience, gives us a sense of these wonderful psalms:

On the high road to death trudging, not eager to get to that city, yet the way is still too long for my patience.

Teach me a travel song, Master, to march along as we boys used to shout when I was a young scout.

Yes, these psalms of ascent are the believer’s “travel songs,” helping to keep our focus on God and close to Him, no matter how rough the road we are traveling on may be.

Bob Westbrook makes an interesting observation about this group of psalms.

This group of fifteen Psalms is describing the progression of events from the point of conflict between Israel and those who want her land, all the way through to the rebuilding of the Temple, the restoration of Israel, and the coming of the Lord Jesus to Mount Zion!

And here is his excellent outline of the psalms of ascent:

Psalm 120 – Ascent 1 – Distressed call from Israel in response to deceitful, warlike people in their midst.

Psalm 121 – Ascent 2 – Assurance of help and the Lord’s constant watchfulness in spite of those enemies on the surrounding hills.

Psalm 122 – Ascent 3 – A call to go up to the house of the Lord in Jerusalem.

Psalm 123 – Ascent 4 – A request for mercy in response to the contempt and scorn inflicted by the arrogant.

Psalm 124 – Ascent 5 – The Lord is on the side of Israel, helping them when attacked by those whose anger flared up.

Psalm 125 – Ascent 6 – The Lord’s people trust in Him for security, and he banishes the others from the land allotted to Israel.

Psalm 126 – Ascent 7 – Great joy on the restoration the fortunes of Zion!

Psalm 127 – Ascent 8 – The Lord builds the house!

Psalm 128 – Ascent 9 – The Lord’s blessing from Zion to those who fear Him.

Psalm 129 – Ascent 10 – Israel, greatly oppressed for a long time, is now free from those who hate Zion.

Psalm 130 – Ascent 11 – Israel cries out for forgiveness, and the Lord responds with unfailing love and full redemption.

Psalm 131 – Ascent 12 – Israel humbles itself and puts its hope in the Lord.

Psalm 132 – Ascent 13 – The Lord returns to Zion, His chosen resting place, remembering His oath with David.

Psalm 133 – Ascent 14 – Brothers dwell in unity, enjoying the Lord’s blessings from Mount Zion.

Psalm 134 – Ascent 15 – Continual praise and blessing from the house of the Lord on Mount Zion.

Psalm 121

Given the history of God’s people, it’s astounding that they existed to sing any psalms at all! The second psalm of ascent carries on the theme begun in the first one:

I call on the Lord in my distress, and he answers me. (Psalm 120:1 NIV)

Woe to me that I dwell in Meshek, that I live among the tents of Kedar! Too long have I lived among those who hate peace. (Psalm 120:5, 6 NIV)

The psalmist, representing all Israel, needs deliverance from the enemy who is all around. In fact, the psalmist wrote that he dwelled among the enemy; everywhere he looked, all he saw were his enemies. He has faith in God because God had delivered him before, but what about now? How will God deliver him this time?

The NIV translates Psalm 121:1, 2 like this –

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth. (NIV)

Kenneth Taylor’s paraphrase of those two verses gives us a clearer sense of what the psalmist was getting at:

Shall I look to the mountain gods for help? No! My help is from Jehovah who made the mountains! And the heavens too! (Psalm 121:1, 2 TLB)

The psalmist is teaching a very profound truth every Christian needs to lay hold of: Our confidence must be in the Lord who created the material universe; help is not found in any created thing or person, but in the Creator Himself. This calls for absolute faith in God and loyalty to Him.

The Canaanites and all the pagans that surrounded Israel looked to the high places and their gods for spiritual help. God’s people, however, must look higher! You may be inspired by the majesty of God’s creation, and though you are able to see God’s hand in creation, you don’t find deliverance in the mountains or salvation in nature. While it is true that God created man, and some men are full of great wisdom, wisdom that saves comes only from God.

The theme of God’s protection continues throughout the rest of this great psalm. Notice how many times the psalmist writes about God watching over His people. He’s always doing that!

For the eyes of the Lord range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him. (2 Chronicles 16:9 NIV)

John Owen, the great puritan non-conformist, wrote:

To believe that He will preserve us is, indeed, a means of preservation.

He right about that. And that’s why this psalm, as part of the psalms of ascent, was recited over and over. Knowing that God preserves and protects is part of His preservation and protection because confidence is created in the hearts of believers.

Psalm 122

The third ascent, Psalm 122, contains the name of David, as do Psalms 124, 131, and 133 in this group. Many, though not all, Bible scholars believe that David wrote these particular psalms of ascent, while others think they were either written for him, about him, or in his style. It’s theme is the “golden” city of Jerusalem, the very pride and joy of the psalmist and the goal of his aspirations. He has traveled far and finally reached his destination.

I rejoiced with those who said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord.” Our feet are standing in your gates, Jerusalem. (Psalm 122:1, 2 NIV)

The travelers have reached the very gates of Jerusalem, their journey is over and they are ready to go to the temple and worship the Lord, which was the purpose of their journey. Jerusalem was a magnificent city at the time this psalm was written. It was built and established by the Lord, “a city solid and unbroken” (Moffatt). But these pilgrims were interested only in going into “the house of the Lord.” The gates of Jerusalem led to the city and, for the faithful, the Temple led not only to God’s presence, but into His very mind and heart. N.T. Wright wrote this concerning the Temple of the Lord:

The Temple was never supposed to be a retreat away from the world, a safe holy place where one might stay secure in God’s presence, shut off from the wickedness outside. The Temple was an advance sign of what God intended to do with and for the whole creation. When God filled the house with His presence, that was a sign and a foretaste of His ultimate intention, which was to flood the whole world with His glory, presence, and love.

No wonder the faithful wanted to get into the Temple! It was the focal point of their theology. It wasn’t so much that it was merely a grand building, which it was, but that it was a sneak peak into what God has in store for the whole world. In other words, the Temple was never the be all and end all of the Jewish faith! That’s why the prophet Jeremiah wrote these words:

Do not trust in deceptive words and say, “This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!” (Jeremiah 7:4 NIV)

The prophet understood what the psalmists understood; that the Temple was way, way more than just a building! It was the intersection between heaven and earth; the one place where God was making known His purpose for all creation. And that was God’s purpose for the nation of Israel: to become the example for the nations of the world that God wants.

The world has moved on since this psalm was written, and the Temple is no more. One of the many benefits of Christianity is that with the initiation of the New Covenant, God’s presence is everywhere. He is no longer localized in a building, on a hill, in the Middle East. Even so, we read this:

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem… (Psalm 122:6a NIV)

The command is to pray for the shalom of Jerusalem. Shalom a big word that usually gets translated as “peace,” but it also means things like, “prosperity,” “perfection,” and even “well being.” This command is just as pertinent today as it was when this psalm was written. We understand, however, that there will be no lasting peace in Jerusalem, or anywhere else on earth for that matter, until the Prince of Peace returns.

Psalm 130

Psalm 130 is another psalm of ascent, but it is also one of seven penitential psalms, and verse one captures the tone of this psalm:

Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord… (Psalm 130:1 NIV)

Morgan wrote:

The deepest note in all true worship is this sense of “plenteous redemption,” and the perfection of Jehovah’s love as thus manifested. To mark iniquities would be to fill us with despair. To redeem from all iniquities is to inspire us with hope.

That’s this psalm in three sentences. The psalmist is full of truly heart-felt misery as he gives voice to the despair he feels when he considers his sins and those of his people.

If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord, who could stand? (Psalm 130:3 NIV)

He’s right about that. Without the righteousness of Christ covering us, we could not stand in God’s presence. Fortunately for us, God is a loving, compassionate God.

Hatred stirs up conflict, but love covers over all wrongs. (Proverbs 10:12 NIV)

Verses 3 and 4 are all about God’s forgiveness, but if you think the psalmist is writing about perpetual forgiveness for perpetual sinning, you’ve missed the point entirely.

But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you. (Psalm 130:4 NIV)

Sinners are forgiven so that they in turn may service the Lord with reverence, or with a holy fear.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge… (Proverbs 1:7a NIV)

Just so. If God alone can forgive, then on Him alone can the sinner come to for mercy. If we pray for forgiveness, He forgives. But if we persist unrepentantly, then He will judge. When we claim God’s forgiveness, there must follow a corresponding devotion to Him. The psalmist puts it like this:

I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning. (Psalm 130:6 NIV)

If you’ve ever suffered from insomnia, then you’ll get the gist of what our psalmist is trying to say here. What a relief it is when you roll over and see the dawn! All night long you tossed and turned, waiting for the sun to rise so you could get up. That’s the sense of what it means to be waiting for the Lord. Charles Spurgeon wrote this about waiting on the Lord:

If the Lord Jehovah makes us wait, let us do so with our whole hearts; for blessed are all they that wait for Him. He is worth waiting for.

That might be the pithiest thing Spurgeon ever wrote, and he’s absolutely right. No believer loses anything by waiting for God.

Covenant Psalms: The Necessity of Obedience

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Our Bible is divided up into two parts, but it wasn’t always like this. The designations “Old” and “New Testaments” are not part of the original texts of the Bible; they were added early in the third century AD when Tertullian referred to “two testaments of the law and the gospel” in his description of the Bible. But what do those appellations actually mean?

The last 27 books of the Bible form what we have come to call the New Testament. There is an interesting verse in an Old Testament book that ties the two Testaments together, and yet also serves to separate them:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord, “when I will make a new covenant with the people of Israel and with the people of Judah. (Jeremiah 31:31 NIV)

The fact that this Old Testament verse is quoted in the New Testament ties the two testaments together, but at the same time we read about a “new covenant” that God will make with His people. The Greek word for “covenant” is diatheke, and is also translated “testament” and “will.” That’s why we also call the New Testament the “New Covenant.”

God made small covenants all the time throughout the history of Israel. But the Israelites understood that they were God’s people because He made a big, binding Covenant with them – the Old Covenant. Christians understand the same thing: we are made God’s people because of the New Covenant God had made with us through the atoning work of Jesus Christ:

And he took a cup of wine and gave thanks for it and gave it to them and said, “Each one drink from it, for this is my blood, sealing the new covenant. It is poured out to forgive the sins of multitudes.” (Matthew 26:28 TLB)

The blood of Jesus forms the basis of the New Covenant God is making with His people, replacing the Old Covenant. Our “Old Testament” is the history of the people (Israel) of the Old Covenant, and our “New Testament” is the story of the people of the New Covenant (Christians).

Though the Covenants have changed, God hasn’t. That’s why studying the Old Testament is so important. We, as signatories of God’s New Covenant, don’t want to make the same mistakes as those of the Old. We can learn a lot about how to live within the bounds of God’s Covenant by looking at their occasionally good example, but more often than not, their bad example. And we can see how God relates to those who live in obedience to the Covenant, and how He relates to those who do not.

Psalm 81:8 – 16

Psalm 81 is, at its heart, a psalm of adoration. It is also a Covenant Psalm. Verse 3 gives us the purpose for which this psalm was written:

Blow the ram’s horn on the day of the New Moon Feast. Blow it again when the moon is full and the Feast of Booths begins. (Psalm 81:3 NIrV)

So it seems that Psalm 81 was intended to be used during the fall festivals in Israel, including the Feast of Trumpets in connection with Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Tabernacles. It’s an anonymous psalm, but because Joseph is mentioned by name in verse 5, there are some scholars who think it was written in the northern kingdom, late in the history of the divided kingdom.

God had been very good to His people down through the years. Verses 5, 6, and 7 give some examples of His goodness. In light of that, God has some simple expectations of the people who signed onto His Covenant:

Don’t have anything to do with the gods of other nations. Don’t bow down and worship strange gods. (Psalm 81:9 NIrV)

That’s idolatry the psalmist was writing about. Israel knew a lot about idolatry. In fact, if the scholars are right, then by the time this psalm was written idolatry had become the norm in Israel and the worship of Yahweh very rare. The Lord claimed the exclusive loyalty of His people. This was the most basic component of the Old Covenant and was the first of the Ten Commandments, Israel’s national constitution and spiritual manifesto.

You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3 NIV)

The very foundation of God’s Covenant with Israel was that He did a momentous thing for them, and they owed Him for that. Giving Him their loyalty was His expectation. Perhaps that has a tinge of harshness, but that expectation is not given in isolation. There’s this:

Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it with good things. (Psalm 81:10b NIrV)

The limitless power of God gives (or should give) His people encouragement to ask for big things (“open your mouth wide”). This isn’t just an Old Covenant idea, by the way. Jesus, who established the New Covenant, made it part of His Covenant, too!

You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it. (John 14:14 NIV)

You’d think Israel would hold up their end of the Covenant, but the lure of idolatry was strong and persistent and the worship of idols seemed more appealing to them. You’d think that God’s pleading with His people for their loyalty over the centuries would have been heard, yet He was ignored. This is the gist of the remainder of this covenant psalm. God delivered His people (vs. 10), but they didn’t appreciate it and rebelled (vs. 11). So God abandoned them to their own wills (vs. 12). He yearned for them to return and obey (vs. 13). God was willing to take them back and punish their enemies (vs. 14, 15) and bless them with the finest of food (vs. 16).

French novelist Alphonse Karr originally wrote:

Plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose.

Or as Snake Pliskin and Bon Jovi put it:

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

Psalm 81 is all about Israel, but it’s message should resonate with the Church, members of the New Covenant. Sadly, many of these verses are a spot-on commentary on the lives of way too many Christians. In spite of all that God has done to save us, we ignore Him. Even though God’s one and only Son gave His very life to save us, we refuse to yield our lives in obedience to Him. We are the ones with the deaf ears, stubborn hearts and selfish ambitions now. Every sin that characterized Israel now characterizes the Church of Christ. Is it any wonder why America is declining so quickly?

So I let them go their own stubborn way. I let them follow their own sinful plans. (Psalm 81:12 NIrV)

What if the state of America is really God’s judgment on the Church and not on the sinners?

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 NIV)

Psalm 78

Psalm 78 is another covenant psalm, and it is also the second longest psalm in the psalter, clocking in at an amazing 72 verses! And while it is a long covenant psalm, it can also be called a “historical psalm,” along with psalms 105, 106, 114, and 136. The big theme in Psalm 78 is Israel’s history, with many verses recounting the things God did for His people. Generally speaking, it’s hard to get excited about Psalm 78; it could be considered depressing as you read how poorly the people responded to the all the good things God did for them.

Verses 1 – 8

The first eight verses are filled with history, or “His-story,” because they are a recital of God’s works designed to teach people – young people, especially – the unavoidable truth that disobedience always leads to disaster, on both an individual level and a national level. Both hearing “His-story” and telling it is vital and are things all believers should be doing. Pastor, author, and Puritan John Flavel was absolutely correct when he wrote:

If you neglect to instruct (your children) in the way of holiness, will the devil neglect to instruct them in the way of wickedness? No; if you will not teach them to pray, he will teach them to curse, swear, and lie; if ground be uncultivated, weeks will spring.

The state of our nation testifies to the wisdom of the Bible and, sadly, to the veracity of Flavel’s observation.

Verse 4 is an interesting principle unique to Israel:

We won’t hide them from our children. We will tell them to those who live after us. We will tell them about what the Lord has done that is worthy of praise. We will talk about his power and the wonderful things he has done. (Psalm 78:4 NIrV)

Israel never tried to cover up the failures of their forefathers, unlike other nations did and do. Nations don’t usually write volumes about their military failures, foreign policy screw ups, or ruinous economic policies they enacted. But God, in His Word, never whitewashes any of His people, not even His “heroes.” All the patriarchs and prophets of Israel were full of shortcomings and we know all about them. Abraham, Moses, David, Jonah and other men of renown all did great things for God and His people but God’s Word makes sure to record their failures, too. Why? Because the weaknesses and greatness of even the best of God’s people serve to show everybody’s desperate need for Christ’s atoning death.

A rebellious spirit: Ephraim, verses 9 – 16

Beginning at verse 9, the psalmist singles out a single tribe for special rebuke, Ephraim.

The soldiers of Ephraim were armed with bows. But they ran away on the day of battle. They didn’t keep the covenant God had made with them. They refused to live by his law. (Psalm 78:9, 10 NIrV)

Why would He do that? Was Ephraim worse than all the other tribes? Ephraim became the leading tribe of the northern group of tribes, which would eventually become the Northern Kingdom, which was frequently referred to only as “Ephraim.” The Northern Kingdom existed neck-deep in a state of almost constant apostasy. But their godless attitude really began back in Egypt! That’s a nation starting their downfall early!

He did miracles right in front of our people who lived long ago. At that time they were living in the land of Egypt, in the area of Zoan. (Psalm 78:12 NIrV)

The psalmist’s account of God’s faithful doings is briefly interrupted by yet another account of the people’s unfaithfulness.

But they continued to sin against him. In the desert they refused to obey the Most High God. They were stubborn and put God to the test. They ordered him to give them the food they longed for. (Psalm 78:17, 18 NIrV)

The psalmist does this numerous times throughout this long psalm and points out the two lessons Hebrew children were to learn from their parents: God’s unlimited love and power, and man’s persistent sin. This is also a lesson Christians need to be reminded of. God’s love is unlimited and it is undeserved. We are not loveable people, yet God loves us constantly and fully. Even when we succumb to the temptations to sin, God still loves us. The temptations never stop; they are relentless. The people of Ephraim – the Northern Kingdom – couldn’t seem to get the victory over the temptation to worship idols. Maybe you are also struggling with the persistent temptation to sin or worse, some persistent sin your life you just can seem to get a handle on. Verse 22 gives us the reason the people of Israel didn’t stop their sinning and it’s the reason why we Christians won’t stop ours:

That was because they didn’t believe in God. They didn’t trust in his power to save them. (Psalm 78:22 NIrV)

How else can you explain why God’s people rebelled? In response to all God did for them, they rebelled continually. From God’s perspective the reason was obvious: they were not overwhelmed by His ability to deliver and to provide for them. In fact, Israel was completely unconcerned with God and His wonders. With the passing of each generation, their society became more and more secular and its basic orientation was not spiritual but fleshly. Verses 61 – 64 describe what happened to their society as a result of God’s letting them go:

He allowed the ark to be captured. Into the hands of his enemies he sent the ark where his glory rested. He let his people be killed with swords. He was very angry with them. Fire destroyed their young men. Their young women had no one to get married to. Their priests were killed with swords. Their widows weren’t able to cry. (Psalm 78:61 – 64 NIrV)

Very bad things happen when God lets His people pursue the life the want instead of the life He wants for them. The lessons of Psalm 78 are simple and are as old as man. It is sin that separates us from God. God is merciful but He is also just. We deserve stern punishment, but receive grace instead. Given what God has done for us and what He promises to do for us, we Christians should stop acting like spoiled children, like the Israelites as they wandered in the desert or like arrogant ingrates like Ephraim.


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