August 18, 2007 § Leave a Comment
The tone here is more subdued, more humble than in Psalm 79. That’s good. Still, this psalm is short on repentance and big on requests. Give us this, give us that, restore us, why did you leave us — the whole thing goes on like this. The only acknowledgment of guilt is in verse 18: “Never again will we turn away from You, give us life and we will call upon Your name.”
In view of this admission, brief and full of empty promise as it is, the question posed in verse 12 becomes rhetorical: “Why have you broken down its fences?” There’s no fooling anyone here. The author of the psalm knows why, we know why, and more importantly, God knows why — He had a very good and just reason.
The psalm is otherwise full of metaphors, which by themselves are quite beautiful. In the larger context, I fail to see what value they bring to a prayer which was meant to have less flourish and more honest repentance. Nevertheless, I like the reference to God as a shepherd in verse 1, the presentation of Israel as a vine in verse 8 (this image is carried through to the end of the prayer), and the wonderful entreaty (repeated in verses 3 and 19), “let Your face shine on us and we shall be safe.”
Taking another step back from the text, I have to wonder how many of our own prayers are like this. We’re always asking God for more things, complaining about how things are going, wanting it to be better, but not wondering why they’re going that way, and what part we played in causing things to work out that way.
Israel had it easy — or at least it looks that way in retrospect. What I mean by that is that they knew they had to stay close to God in order to survive and thrive as a nation surrounded by hostile, pagan people. Nowadays it’s a lot harder to see God’s presence among us. We can easily slip into superficiality in our beliefs, and go to church or the synagogue while not really clinging to God as if our lives depended on it. We begin to think we can make out just fine on our own, that we don’t really need God. Before we know it, we wonder what’s the point of religion, and then things really start going downhill…
Because it’s so much harder to see God at work in today’s world, it’s very important that we keep an account of our prayer requests, and see when and if they’re fulfilled. I’m talking about even those simple little requests — like those times when we ask Him to keep us safe as we’re driving home, or to make our tires last a few months longer, till we can afford new ones. If we do this, we’ll be surprised, even shocked, as we tally up the count and discover Him right there, beside us, the whole time, working things out for our protection and benefit, quietly, peacefully, lovingly.
In those moments of awe, the perfect thing to do is to fall on our knees in a quiet spot, and thank Him. I tell you, if we truly knew how many times God helps us, every single day, by keeping us from danger, or working things out to our benefit, or creating opportunities for us to use our talents, we would never doubt His existence and love for us.
August 10, 2007 § 1 Comment
This psalm reminds me of Psalm 74. We hear the same cries for justice, for revenge, for restoration, and again, I can’t help thinking they did something to deserve it.
Oh, I have nothing against prayers for forgiveness — but this psalm isn’t one of them. In all 13 verses and hundreds of words, there are only four words that resemble such a prayer. You’ll find them in verse 9: “wipe away our sins”. I don’t consider that a prayer. When you look at the tone, it’s more of a request. As a matter of fact, I find the tone of this entire psalm brash and unrepentant.
Instead of falling on his knees and begging God for grace and redemption, the author of the psalm blames Him for allowing pagans to invade Israel and Jerusalem. He complains that people have been killed, and that the nation of Israel has become the laughing stock of its neighbors. There is no remorse in this psalm — there is only reproach toward God. The author requests that Israel receive its deliverance for the sake of God’s name; he invokes this as a right, since they considered themselves God’s people. Truly, they had been chosen, but it was never a birthright. It needed to be deserved, and the privilege of God’s favor remained with them only when merited. Otherwise, this psalm wouldn’t have been written.
How quickly people forget that God owes us nothing! We owe Him everything, but most of us of us do nothing for Him.
Even more repulsive is the request for vengeance on not only the nations that invaded them, but on their neighbors, for daring to laugh at their misery. Add to that the hollow-sounding declarations of verses 8 and 13, where the author asks God not to count against them “the guilt of former generations”, then promises to thank Him “for ever”, and to recite His praises “from age to age”, and you’ve got one pitiful psalm.
What about the guilt of that generation, the one that sparked God’s anger in the first place? There’s no mention of that in the psalm! I need do nothing to refute the claim made in verse 13. History itself proves it false.
I wonder, how hard is it for people to learn (Jew and Christian alike) not to make false promises to God? Do they think they’re fooling Him? Or are they fooling themselves?
I’m pretty sure this prayer fell on deaf ears, but then that should come as no surprise to the attentive reader.
May 19, 2007 § 1 Comment
Psalm 78 is one of the longer psalms of the Bible. I waver when I consider its nature. It could be either pompous or poetic. Today, I tend to think it’s a bit on the pompous side. It recounts the history of Israel, and concentrates on the escape from Egypt and the trek to the promised land, emphasizing the fickleness of the Jewish nation when it came to faith in God.
The last part of the psalm, from verse 56 onward, recounts the history of the nation until David’s reign, and again lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the unfaithful men of Israel — where it should be, in my opinion. It tells of how God allowed the Ark of the Covenant to be taken away to a heathen nation, and of captivity, persecution, and finally, the return of the Ark to Judah and the mountain of Zion, through the hands of David.
The ending is a bit confusing. I think the last verse (72) refers to David’s reign in Israel, not his days as a shepherd — and if that’s the case, then the description is inaccurate. It reads: “He pastured them with unblemished heart, with a sensitive hand he led them.” But we all know his heart wasn’t unblemished. There were some things he did which angered God greatly. I don’t need to go into details, we all know David’s story, and if we don’t remember it, this is a good time to review it.
This last verse is also why I tend to think the psalm is too pompous for its own good. It glosses over important matters like David’s straying, and makes me wonder what other things it generalizes or paints in a different light for the sake of making a point.
I believe this is one example of the human element at play. While God’s message is clear, it needs to be delivered through people, and we, unfortunately, always color it through our own perspective. What’s even more shameful is that some of us dare add or subtract from that message. When I discover instances like this one in the Bible, that can be discerned to be inaccurate through a more careful reading, it makes me wonder what else the writer got wrong. It’s disconcerting, and can weaken peoples’ faith. That’s why it’s important to know the entire Bible, from cover to cover. It’s that sort of knowledge that can give us the big picture we need. It allows us to place things in perspective, identify where writers deviate from the truth, and still keep our faith, because we can fill in those gaps through the light that we have come to possess.
March 24, 2007 § Leave a Comment
I have a deep mistrust of TV evangelists. So many of them are all flash and no substance. I can see through their masks to the shallowness of their faith and morals. It comes as no surprise to me to learn that my intuition is correct on this. ABC News has a great article on how money donated to TV evangelists gets used. I recommend you read it. What’s more, I think you ought to bookmark the website of MinistryWatch (a not-for-profit organization which examines how religious charities use the money given to them) and do a bit of research on the people who receive your hard-earned money.
Don’t think that only TV evangelists misuse funds. Some churches are every bit as guilty of that as well — in particular the mega churches. Wherever there’s plenty of money floating around, people will misuse it, and it matters not that they profess to be Christians or other religious folk. That’s why it behooves you to know exactly how your money gets used. Hold the people where you donate money financially accountable. Ask to see financial statements. Insist on financial transparency, otherwise you will be guilty of tempting them to sin by encouraging their profligate spending through your silence.
November 7, 2006 § 1 Comment
This short psalm records a self-professed “poor and needy” man’s cry to God. From the looks of it, he appears to be in a serious situation, where others may demand his life. And yet others mock him for his “misfortunes”. It’s interesting how many of the psalms, including this one, demand retribution for the behavior of other people. Not only does the author of this psalm want deliverance from his situation, but he also wants those who went after him or made fun of him to pay for what they’ve done, in one way or another. About a third of the psalm is dedicated to this.
The counter argument is also presented, where the righteous are praised, and the righteous include the author of the psalm, of course: “But joy and happiness in you to all who seek you. Let them ceaselessly cry, ‘God is great’, who love your saving power.” The author, however, doesn’t cry this same cry, although he considers himself part of this group. Instead, he cries for help, and he wants it now: “… God, come quickly to me! … do not delay!” What he’s implying is, “God, I’ll praise you after you deliver me. Now hurry up and do it…”
This psalm underlines the difficulties we have when praying under duress or extraordinary circumstances. We assume we’re being persecuted, we assume we’re in the right, we associate ourselves with those who are in the right, we know we should be praising God but we don’t. Instead, we moan and groan, asking for immediate help out of our misery. And oh yes, we also find the time to wish for revenge, as if we haven’t got enough on our plates. It’s really tough for us to keep our backbone straight sometimes, isn’t it? If we’re right, shouldn’t we rejoice? God deserves better behavior than this! I’m reminded of the apostle Paul’s behavior while in prison, after being beaten and bound. He started singing and praising God. Did he complain? Did he moan and groan? He had no time for any of that. He was happy to praise God. And what happened? God delivered him out of prison. An earthquake shook the place. Angels entered the prison. His chains and bonds fell apart, as did those of the other prisoners. The prison keeper became a believer, as did his family. Although it’s a really tough act to emulate, that’s what we should be doing when in trouble. We should praise God! It’s easy to praise Him when we’re doing great and everything’s fine, but the only way to show Him that we really mean it is to do it while things aren’t going well.
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.
August 7, 2006 § Leave a Comment
God’s goodness and constancy is made all the more relevant and poignant in contrast with the evil present in the hearts of men, and the dirty deeds they commit. This psalm is full of profound advice, and great quotable lines. I believe there’s even a hymn inspired by verses 1 and 2.
How majestic they are! “In God alone there is rest for my soul, from Him comes my safety; He alone is my rock, my safety, my stronghold so that I stand unshaken.” Wow! The sentiment is repeated, with slightly different words, in verses 5-7, and extended in verse 8: “In God is my refuge; trust in Him, you people, at all times. Pour out your hearts to Him, God is a refuge for us.”
Verse 9 amazes me, and reminds us all of our fleeting existence and meaningless vanity: “Ordinary people are a mere puff of wind, important people a delusion; set both on the scales together, and they are lighter than a puff of wind.” All of us are deluding ourselves when we believe we’re important. We are so frail, that we are as a puff of wind – no, lighter than it. This isn’t meant to dishearten us, and it doesn’t mean that we cannot make a difference in the world. We certainly can. Each of us can be a force for good or evil, and history itself shows how much of an impact individuals can make depending on what they set their mind to. The point is to dedicate ourselves to doing good, and verse 10 is a strong reminder of that.
The Bible itself is a powerful record of the deeds of men. If we examine it, we see that God endows each of us with a certain amount of strength, and with certain talents. We are each to use what we are given to do good works, to do the will of God, but some of us (actually, most of us) waste that strength and those talents on vain pursuits, and some even put them to evil use. That is why verses 11 and 12 are there, to remind us of our purpose, and coming retribution: “… Strength belongs to God, to you, Lord, faithful love; and you repay everyone as their deeds deserve.”
July 5, 2006 § Leave a Comment
Dishonest judges, out to profit and cause harm, are severely chided and threatened with divine punishment in this psalm. The punishments David (or the author of the psalm) has in mind for them are quite un-Christian, and truly violent. Here’s a sample: “The upright will rejoice to see vengeance done, and will bathe his feet in the blood of the wicked.” I doubt a truly upright person would wish this sort of vengeance, or would share a desire to bathe his or her feet in blood.
As disgusting as this psalm gets in its imagery, it is interesting to follow the Psalms. Unlike any other book of the Bible, each is different. It’s a self-contained prayer to God, and the author is usually unknown. Sure, David is thought to be the author of most of them, but when one compares his life with the words of these psalms, it’s hard to believe he wrote them. Some, like this, are so violent, so un-Godly, so unlike the David that Samuel describes, that I have to believe the author is someone else, someone less knowledgeable of God and His ways. And that’s what’s captivating about the Psalms. You get to see the point of view of various people who wrote their prayers down. You get to shudder in disgust, or feel the joy of a shared experience with God. You see all things, and you get to critique what you find is wrong. You can compare and see where different people were in their relationship with God at different times in their lives. At the very least, it’s insightful, and usually, it’s inspiring. Sometimes, it’s truly awesome. This psalm, however, is just plain misguided.
June 12, 2006 § Leave a Comment
I like this psalm, because there is a peace that pervades it. Yes, there is turmoil in the words, but one gets the sense that its author, although harried, finds peace in prayer to the Lord, and in His promises of protection.
The attitude of this psalm is also much better than that of the last few psalms I’ve written about. There is a more complete trusting in God, and its author isn’t concerned with revenge. Instead, I find this: “When I am afraid, I put my trust in you, in God, whose word I praise, in God I put my trust and have no fear, what can mortal man do to me?” This is beautiful! Incidentally, it parallels Psalm 27: “Yahweh is my light and my salvation, whom should I fear? Yahweh is the fortress of my life, whom should I dread?”
The same feelings are mirrored in verses 1 and 11: “This I know, that God is on my side. In God whose word I praise, in Yahweh whose word I praise, in God I put my trust and have no fear; what can mortal man do to me?” Lest you think David’s being repetitive here, think about this: what more is there to say, when we trust in God? No matter what the problem is, we know God will take care of it.