July 26, 2008 § 1 Comment
The thing that I find amazing about this psalm is its subtitle: “A prayer of Moses the man of God”. That’s what it says in my KJV Bible. If you’d like to follow along, you can read the NASB (New American Standard Bible) version here.
If this psalm was indeed written by Moses, then it was put down on papyrus at a very interesting time of his life. Given the tone of the psalm, it was composed before Moses set out to free the Israelites from the slavery of Egypt. It may have even been written while he was still a prince of Egypt and had just discovered his true origin, or — the more likely possibility — while he was living a quiet life of dedication to the Lord in the deserts of Midian.
The psalm as a whole doesn’t necessarily stand apart from others — it is a prayer to God for the deliverance of Israel. There are numerous psalms like it. But the possibility that this one is written by Moses makes it interesting. And the tone in general is more subdued, more wise, less whiny than in other psalms.
Verse 10 in particular draws my attention: “The days of our years are threescore years and ten ; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years , yet is their strength labour and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away.”
Isn’t that true? Even nowadays, our life expectancy is generally around 70 years. Some people live to 80, and much fewer live to 90, but mostly through the help of modern medicine, not “by reason of strength”. At the time he wrote this, Moses didn’t know it, but his life was to be especially long. He lived to the ripe old age of 120 years (40 years more than he’d predicted), and his strength and vision were unabated to the moment of his death. That’s amazing!
If you’d like to read Moses’ life story, the Bible (book of Exodus) is your best bet. But if you want a good summary, you can find it here. That’s where you’ll find out that Moses’ life was divided into three periods of 40 years. He spent the first forty in Egypt, his second forty in Midian, and the last forty years leading the people of Israel out of Egypt.
Given this information, I think you can understand his reluctance to be their savior when asked by God. He still thought he was on the brink of death — after all, he was 80 years old when God asked him to go back to Egypt, and according to his own calculations, he didn’t have much more to live.
Finally, does God answer prayers? Yes. This psalm is a great example of how God answers them. It is usually not when we want Him to answer, and not how we want Him to answer, but He comes through, and miracles occur. The impossible becomes possible. Moses kept praying for Israel’s deliverance, all the while not realizing he was going to become their deliverer, and at an age when he thought he was going to be in the grave.
Furthermore, God performed so many miracles for Israel during their exit from Egypt, and their time in the desert, and while re-establishing them in their original lands, that no one, in their wildest imagination, could have predicted how much God was going to bless them.
Isn’t this amazing? You sit there praying, and you wonder if your words even reach God. Have faith! They do! And He will act on your prayer, in order to bring about the best possible outcome for you. It may not be what you expect, but it will be just what you need.
January 27, 2007 § Leave a Comment
The author of this psalm remembers the times of God’s tremendous miracles — the times (then) of old, when God had delivered the people of Israel out of Egypt, and took them through the Red Sea as if it were dry land. He wonders if God will ever act like that on behalf of Israel.
It’s obvious the nation of Israel was going through hard times when this psalm was written, and this psalm is a plea for action from God. The author is afraid that the Lord abandoned them forever, and His anger with them will not cease. It’s interesting that the psalm is open-ended. There is no final plea, simply a remembrance of the times of old: “You guided your people like a flock by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” It befits the psalm. It gives the impression that the author expects God to make the next step, whatever that will be.
The questions asked in this psalm apply to all of us. After we do something bad, after we sin, we feel terrible, too. We begin to wonder, was this it? Has God now abandoned us? Will He never again “show favour” to us? But the answers depend purely on us, you see. That’s because God is constant. He always loves us. His anger with us ceases. He wants to show us favor. But we must do our part. Even if we have fallen, we must continue to come to Him. We must ask confess our sins in prayer and ask forgiveness.
Then the healing process begins. As we continue to walk with Him, we feel His presence in our lives once more. We begin to discern the blessings He pours out on us. We feel His love encircling us, protecting us from danger, taking us through our days and strengthening us. We begin to know He exists again, and His wonderful Holy Spirit makes its dwelling place in our souls once more. But we must stay close to Him. The moment we stray, we fall again, and depending on the gravity of our sin, we must start from scratch again. It’s a painful process for us, and it’s even more painful for God, because He loves us and every one of our sins hurts Him, no matter how little they are. The most important thing though, is to continue in our walk with Him. If we seek Him earnestly, we will find Him. He will be there for us, always.
December 11, 2006 § Leave a Comment
This psalm praises God for the power He displays in battle with Israel’s enemies. Various military events are recounted, and God is given the credit for the wins. The futility of human anger is also set in contrast to the awesome power of God’s wrath: “You, you alone, strike terror! Who can hold his ground in your presence when your anger strikes?” The psalm is ended with an entreaty to all people to “make and fulfill [their] vows to Yahweh [their] God”.
The writer of the psalm is certainly correct in attributing Israel’s military victories to God. However, as we’ve seen with past psalms, Israel blamed God when their military pursuits failed, forgetting that in order to receive God’s much-needed help in battle, they needed to live their daily lives in accordance with His will. This was something they didn’t often do, and then they wondered why when God abandoned them. Perhaps this is what makes the entreaty in the last verses more poignant. There was a covenant between Israel and God, and that covenant had two parts: one which described what God was responsible for, and one which described what Israel was responsible for. As we examine the biblical record, we see how often Israel strayed away from the covenant, and every time they did so, they suffered for it. Did they learn their lesson? No. Single generations might have, but later generations managed to repeat their parents’ mistakes anew.
The futility, the powerlessness of human anger is another theme dealt with in this psalm. Nowadays, when we have all sorts of machines that amplify our anger and let us do damage, like guns, vehicles and bombs, it’s hard for us to see how impotent we really are. But during those times, when all people had were swords, lances and arrows, a single human being couldn’t do too much. I think it made them a little humbler, at least on the whole. What we need to learn these days is that none of our weapons, none of our anger can win us a war or affect God in any way. His power is what counts, and His anger is what destroys. With a single utterance or gesture, He can raze us from the face of the earth. Without Him on our side, we have nothing but “heroes”, “sleeping their last sleep”.
November 24, 2006 § 1 Comment
I can’t help thinking as I read this psalm that the author is praying in vain. It’s like crying for spilled milk. The deed is done, you can’t bring back the old times. Focus on the future, and work in the present with a view of that future.
You may wonder why I’m so cruel in my interpretation. After all, this is a heartfelt prayer. It’s a very good prayer. It’s also meant for a good purpose. What righteous Jew of that time wouldn’t desire to recover from a severe invasion, and to restore God’s temple? The author asks some very good questions: “God, why have You finally rejected us…” and “Is the enemy to insult Your name for ever?”. He entreats God to “Look to the covenant!”, etc.
All of that is useless. Let’s remember that God is constant. He would not have gone back on His Word. He never does. If you doubt that, then you don’t really believe that His Son, His Only Son, changed into a man and lived among men on the earth for 33 and a half years, only to die a terrible death on the cross for all our sins. God sticks to His promises. You can bank on that. But He will use that same standard when looking at us, and will not tolerate it when we go back on our promises to Him. The author of this psalm asks God to “Look to the covenant”. Has he forgotten that the Jews were supposed to uphold their part of the covenant as well? He couldn’t have been blind and deaf. He knew what was going on in Israel at that time if God allowed His temple to be rased and the country conquered.
I don’t think the faithfulness of the Jews to God was legendary. On the contrary, they were habitual backsliders. There are countless instances in the Bible when they gave into idol worship and committed other heinous acts. When you do those things time and time again, God will not stand for it. We know the Israelites were given into captivity several times, and that the temple was also rased on a few occasions. The NJB footnotes suggest that it was Nebuchadnezzar’s army that sacked the temple this time. It’s quite probable, and if that’s the case, we can easily tell what crimes against God took place in Israel. It was during the reign of Jehoiakim and his offspring, Jehoiachin and Zedekiah. See Jeremiah, chapters 17 through 25, and Ezekiel chapter 12 for the historical details.
If the Israelites had been faithful, they could have rightfully expected Jerusalem to stand forever (Jeremiah 17:24-27). But in view of their disgusting apostasy and crimes, could they really expect any leniency from God? They simply got what they deserved, and no amount of crying and fasting was going to change it. They were going to be in the situation they’d created until God decided they’d had enough.
It is possible that the author of this psalm was faithful. But it’s obvious from history that the overwhelming majority of people weren’t. I think about the promise that God made to Abraham about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. God said that if there were only 10 righteous people in those cities, He would not destroy them. Obviously, that wasn’t the case, and I have to believe a similar rule would apply to the Jerusalem and Israel at the time of this Psalm. I’m not sure what the threshold would have been for Israel, but it’s safe to assume that very few people still truly believed in God.
Whatever the personal convictions of the psalm’s author may have been, this is one prayer that fell on deaf ears, and for very good reasons. Sometimes, you see, it pays to look around you and inside you before you start blaming God for not doing His part. Have you, or have we, done our part first? Have we been constant, have we been faithful, or have we really bowed to other idols (money, wealth, power, sexual perversions, alcohol, drugs, etc.) and still expect God to help us?
November 9, 2006 § Leave a Comment
This psalm is a marked improvement on the prayer in psalm 70. It’s interesting to find pretty much the same phrases in verse 13 of this psalm as in verses 2 and 3 of psalm 70. Having encountered them in other psalms, I can venture to say they’re probably formulaic.
It appears that this psalm is the prayer of an old man who finds himself persecuted. Or, as the NJB footnotes suggest, there are certain references in the text, like in verse 18, that could suggest the subject of the psalm is the nation of Israel itself. If the latter is the case, I find the language hypocritical. The author of the psalm states that he’s been completely faithful since his birth (see verse 6), and the entire psalm is littered with such references to his steadfast faith, but we know that wasn’t the case with the nation of Israel. Verse 18 is also a sham. Although Israel was supposed to proclaim God to the nations around themselves, they did not. Rather, they were an example of unfaithfulness to God during most times in their history, jealously guarded their faith, did not spread the Word of God, and their rabbis put undue burdens (through ridiculous rules made up about everything) not only on the Israelites themselves, but also on those who wished to convert from other faiths. If you don’t believe me, read the Bible, from cover to cover. It’s full of evidence that points out the nature of the nation of Israel, in both the Old and the New Testament.
In order to avoid negative interpretations, this psalm is better looked at literally, as the prayer of an old man who believes he’s been faithful to God all his life (with no evidence to the contrary presented here). If we do that, this psalm becomes a bitter-sweet celebration of faith in spite of adversities. It becomes inspirational, Job-like. Personally, I think this is the more plausible interpretation, not the alternate one presented in the paragraph above. Here’s this man, who’s had a hard life but has stuck by God and trusted in Him for deliverance. Although God has allowed him to suffer, and his suffering caused surprise to others given the man’s faith, God has delivered him and brought him this far, so there’s no reason to think He won’t carry the man through this time as well.
Of course, we can’t help asking why this man suffers, but we don’t know and can’t speculate. God often allows things that don’t make sense to us. Perhaps we’re meant to be examples for others, like Job was. Also left to ponder is the possibility that “misery” and “hardship” mean different things to different people. Some have a higher tolerance for them, and yet others complain at the first sign of trouble. Since we don’t know the specific circumstances under which this psalm was written, it’s hard to comment on the relative nature of this man’s troubles. For all we know, they may have been big. Whatever the case may be, the fact that he chooses to praise God and what’s more, to thank Him for a deliverance that’s yet to come (see verse 23) makes this psalm all the more worthwhile to read and ponder. This is a right attitude with God, like the one Paul had while in prison, as I mentioned in Psalm 70. It’s important to do this, because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t know God’s plan for our lives. We don’t know why we find ourselves in trouble. But we do know that others are watching, and they’ll be watching more closely when we’re in trouble. If we don’t choose to praise God when it really matters, what’s the point of calling ourselves Christians?
October 28, 2006 § Leave a Comment
This psalm showcases the amazing variety you’ll find in the Book of Psalms. Like no other book in the Bible, the Psalms are written by many different authors, and when we examine them, we get to hear these different voices, and see the way they prayed to God. Sure, we may not agree with their prayers all the time, but those psalms make for interesting reads at least.
This particular one is so full of arcane references, that anyone would have a hard time understanding it without footnotes. Thankfully my NJB provides ample footnotes, so I was able to make a little sense of it.
To begin with, this is clearly a prayer or a song of thanksgiving. It’s praising God for delivering Israel from its enemies for empowering their nation to defeat them as well. The starting verses declare God’s power in astonishing words, one would even say eschatological: “You disperse them like smoke; as wax melts in the presence of a fire, so the wicked melt at the presence of God.” Verses 3 and 4 continue this end times picture.
Verses 5 through 10 recount the coming of Israel to the promised land, and the scattering of the pagan nations to make way for them. Verses 11 through 18 are not comprehensible to me. Perhaps their context was lost, but I don’t think that they’re that important. They probably recount specific events, that might come to life for me if I’d be privy to more historic details about Israel. Verse 19 begins a third section of the psalm, which continues to the end, and is full of praises for God, dropping hints of specific events or people here and there.
Verses 21 through 23 are particularly violent, and perhaps they’re a reflection of the times, or just of the author’s tastes: “God smashes the head of His enemies, the long-haired skull of the prowling criminal… so that you may bathe your feet in blood, and the tongues of your dogs feast on your enemies.” This is disgusting, there’s no other way to put it. This verse, like some in the Psalms, is out of step with the rest of the Bible. God does not engage in despicable acts like these. People do. Anywhere where we see God acting directly on people to punish them, He acts swiftly and decisively. There are no violent beatings, no blood baths. Think of Sodoma and Gomorra. God rained fire on them from heaven. Think of the end times, and the final battle between God and the devil plus his minions and wicked people. God will rain fire from heaven and consume all of them utterly. God doesn’t revel in violence. It pains Him to destroy the very beings He created and loved, but there are times when He deems it necessary. So these verses, again, are simply not representative of God’s character and behavior.
Verse 34 is food for thought: “Over Israel His splendour, in the clouds His power. Awesome is God in the sanctuary.” It must have been truly amazing to have God’s presence so close to them during those times. Can you imagine, being that near to God? Having His cloud, shrouding His glory and Holy Spirit, traveling before you and guiding you through the desert? Or knowing that His presence, the One Living God, filled the temple? That you could truly converse with Him, the Creator, in close physical proximity? Wow, how amazing that must have been!
Verse 35 is a fitting ending for a psalm: “He, the God of Israel, gives strength and power to His people. Blessed be God.” Amen!
October 13, 2006 § 1 Comment
This psalm is rightly called a “harvest song”. It is a prayer of thanks, that once again calls our attention to the complete dependence of Israel’s agrarian society and economy upon God. More on this in my comments on Psalm 65. But here, in Psalm 67, we see the results of those pre-harvest prayers: “The earth has yielded its produce; God, our God has blessed us.”
I have to be a little cynical, I can’t help it. The message of the psalm is, paraphrased: crop target achieved and exceeed, God has blessed us. I wonder what would have happened if the crop had been sub-standard that year. Would this psalm still have been written? Or would we have seen yet another whiny psalm about how downtrodden the people are, and how God has forsaken them?
Thankfully, the crop was good, and the people were happy. They wanted to praise God. I would even go so far as to say they were a little over-flattering: “…You judge the world with justice, You judge the peoples with fairness…” What does this have to do with crops? So the crop was good, that means God was fair? Hey, let’s get overexcited, and heap praises onto God just because we’re happy… What if the crop was bad? Then God is bad? Sounds crude, but it’s true. That’s how people react, it’s human nature. I’m not saying it’s right at all, but that’s how we are if we don’t keep ourselves in check.
The basic purpose of the Jewish nation of that time (and the purpose of God’s people in this time) is also brought out in this psalm, albeit unwittingly, in verses 2 and 7: “Then the earth will acknowledge Your ways, and all nations Your power to save” and “May God continue to bless us, and be revered by the whole wide world.” That was the mission of the Israelites, wasn’t it? They needed to be a lamp to the darkness around them, and to spread God’s Word and Commandments to the nations. They were to be an effective witness, and help bring others to God.
History gives a bleak account of the success of that witness, but the burden is on us to spread God’s light nowadays. Might I add, history has so far given an even bleaker account of Christianity’s witness to the rest of the world. I’m tempted to put Christianity in quotes, because the witness of the Catholic church during the Dark Ages, with its repression of God’s Word, and the torture and killing of others in the name of Christ, is anything but an effective witness of God’s grace, forgiveness, kindness and salvation.
We’ve also been doing poorly in recent times, haven’t we? In large part, many Christian denominations are misguided in their doctrine. They accept only parts of the Bible, and reject others. In some denominations, pagan elements (whether old or new) have crept in, and are corrupting God’s message. We’re in a sorry state overall, and need to get back to the basics, to God’s Word, the Holy Bible, the entire Bible, in order to get ourselves aright.
October 6, 2006 § Leave a Comment
To me, this psalm is a clear-cut demonstration of the way Israelites worshipped God. To others, it’s a resurrection psalm, and I disagree. Let me go through the arguments and show you each side. Then you’ll be able to decide for yourselves.
When we look at the plot of the psalm, it goes like this: A Jewish leader praises God for what looks like deliverance from captivity. Furthermore, he looks at this deliverance as God’s answer to his prayers. He now glorifies God, “who has not turned away my prayer,” and fulfills his vows, “that I pronounced when I was in trouble”, by sacrificing burnt offerings: “I bring burnt offerings to your house, I fulfil to you my vows…”
Those of you who’ve been following my commentaries on the Psalms know that I’m inclined to find parallels to end-time prophecies and eschatological references (when they’re there). That’s why I’m suprised I find none in this psalm, while others do. The footnotes in my Bible (NJB), refer to verse 9 as the reason this psalm is called a “Resurrection Psalm”. Plus, verses 10 through 12 could be interpreted as eschatological, and I suppose that’s what some people do, but to me, that’s too much of a stretch.
Why is it a stretch? Simply because the overall message of this psalm is too old-style. The writer talks about making sacrifices to God, and names them specifically: “burning rams”, “bullocks and goats”. Animal sacrifices were done away with when Jesus Christ, the Son of God, made Himself the ultimate sacrifice for our sins. The tone is also that of a leader speaking to his subjects, not that of a newly resurrected Christian, expressing praise to God. What also tips me off to the nature of this psalm is the author’s understanding of prayer, which is, once again, old-style: “To him I cried aloud, high praise was on my tongue. Had I been aware of guilt in my heart, the Lord would not have listened, but in fact God did listen, attentive to the sound of my prayer.” To me, this looks like the prayer of a Pharisee. We don’t pray like this nowadays. We don’t cry out loud, with high praise on our tongues. Our prayer is private, quiet. We pray on our knees, we are humble, and we are submitting ourselves to God. While we do praise Him, we don’t bring attention to that element of our prayer, as if God expects our praise. He’s not an earthly ruler whose ego must be stoked. He’s God, the creator and ruler of the universe. Any praise we give Him should flow naturally from our hearts, from the love we bear Him and His laws.
Furthermore, I doubt verse 9 refers to a resurrection. It’s much more likely that this is a metaphor, expressing the joy of the Israelites at being out of captivity, and when you look at it like that, verses 10 through 12 make much more sense, because they clarify how God worked to free them and bring them back to their own country. Do you see now why this isn’t a resurrection psalm?
This psalm offers a wonderful glimpse into the way people used to worship God. Even though the way they did it is not the way we do it any more, it’s still an insightful composition, one that teaches us a lot about God’s deliverance, and persistence in prayer. I hope you enjoyed reading it with me.
September 16, 2006 § 2 Comments
This hymn of thanksgiving is a pleasant and insightful demonstration of the dependence of the Israelites on God. Let’s enumerate the ways in which they counted on God:
- Fulfillment of vows (verse 1)
- Answers to prayers (verse 2)
- Judgment (verse 3)
- Forgiveness of sins (verse 3)
- Blessings and “good things” (verse 4)
- Justice (verse 5)
- Hope (verse 5)
- Control of nature (verses 6 and 7)
- By contrast with pagan nations, peace with God (verse 7)
- Wonderful miracles (verse 8)
- Abundant blessings in crops, possibly precious minerals, water, flocks (verses 9-13)
It’s easy to forget that all nations’ economies were agriculture-based at that time, so the emphasis on abundant crops and flocks is to be expected. Also, considering that water was and still is a precious resource in that part of the world, the vivid descriptions of water in verses 9 and 10 are no mistake. If you think a drought wouldn’t affect us much today, when our economy is diversified and we have crop reserves or can purchase grains and fruits from neighboring countries, this wasn’t the case in days of old. It was an absolute disaster when a drought occurred. Modern irrigation methods didn’t exist. When there was no water to speak of, if rain didn’t fall, entire crops perished and people suffered and died. This was a very serious matter.
Perhaps this can help explain why people relied more on God during those days than nowadays. When people are more self-sufficient, they tend to think (mistakenly) that they don’t need God or others. They can do it all themselves. Why should they rely on God for rain when they can irrigate their fields at any time? Why should they rely on God for healthy, abundant crops when they can be purchased from other parts of the world? Why rely on God for miracles when they can be performed with modern medicine or technology? Why should they rely on God for forgiveness when they can “meditate” and make the pain “go away”? It’s much harder to realize our dependence on God in today’s modern world, and this is problematic. Self-sufficience may be convenient in the short run, but it’s also a breeding ground for problems like stress, arrogance, egotism, cynicism, atheism, and others.
Humans are made with a God-shaped hole in their heart. It’s a fact. People need God. And when they can’t get to God, because they either build walls around themselves or believe (wrongly) that there’s no God, they open themselves up to wrong ideas, such as the belief that we’re gods ourselves, or that we can make gods out of stones or carved statues. Or, they end up making gods out of their cars, jobs, gadgets or bank accounts. None of these can ever fill the God-shaped holes in our hearts. Only God can do that, and there is only one God. It’s only when we come to Him and realize our dependence on Him – yes, even in today’s cynical world – that we experience the peace, forgiveness and other abundant blessings that He gladly bestows on those that believe in Him. It’s time we shed our modern masks and come to God as we are, to ask for His forgiveness and peace. Let’s drop our cynical facades and step out in faith, asking Him that created the universe to clean up our lives and show us what truly matters. He’ll do it, we have only to ask!
July 21, 2006 § Leave a Comment
A tone of wailing can be heard throughout this psalm. Pain and defeat are confessed, and help is asked of God. It’s a tortured prayer, after a battle that’s left Israel in a pretty sorry state. “God, you have rejected us…” the author cries out. A better exclamation would have been, “God, what have we done to deserve this?” and the answer would have been, “Plenty.”
Surprised? You shouldn’t be. It’s a Biblical fact that God stuck by Israel all the time. His promises of blessings and protection were conditional, and were spelled out by Moses quite clearly before they entered Canaan. If they ever were to stray from Him, they would be humiliated at the hands of their enemies. That was one of the curses. (Read up on the promises made to the Israelites in Deuteronomy. The whole of that chapter is filled with them.) If Israel had stayed close to God, they would have been victorious in battle. In our covenant with God, it is we who should look to ourselves when the promises are not fulfilled. We can’t blame God. He always upholds His part of the bargain.
Had this author asked himself what Israel had done, he’d have made much more progress with his prayer. The logical next step after that would have been to ask God what could be done to heal the rift between Him and His people, and then this prayer would have been truly fruitful. As it stands, it is simply a wail of pain, and a nostalgic recollection of victorious times of the past.
What do you think? Was God disappointed by this? I think He was. He expected a little more substance. So let this be a lesson to all of us in the here and now. Let’s not waste His time when we pray with complaints about how bad we’ve got it, or how good it used to be. Let’s examine ourselves, and see just what stands between us and Him. Then we should ask Him to help us get close to Him again, and heal our too-weak and spiritually emaciated souls, so that His Spirit may work in us once more, and inspire us to do His will. It is then that we will experience victory in our lives, both internal and external. Dwelling on the past never solves anything. Let’s all decide to move forward in our relationships with God.