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.
May 28, 2008 § Leave a Comment
I could be uncaring and call this psalm “the prayer of the emo kid”, but I have to recognize it for what it is: the uttering of someone in the depths of depression, someone who’s lost all hope and doesn’t see a way out.
The subtitle offers somewhat of a clue, by attributing the psalm to “the sons of Korah… Poem for Heman the native-born”. If this was indeed a psalm written for someone else, that might explain the overly dramatic stylings. At the same time, the sons of Korah are indicated as authors on many psalms. Whether they were the same people, or whether they were the descendants of a certain family, they were still closely associated with religious service, and thus should have known better than to describe God in these terms, even if it was done to humor a depressed, suffering individual.
Another clue is offered by the NJB. In the footnotes, it says: “With this anguished prayer, compare the complaints of Job.” When you put it that way, yes, it’s quite similar to what the Book of Job contains. Then again, we have no other information to place this psalm or Job’s writings before or after each other — although it is commonly thought that Job’s writings are the oldest in the Bible. And even if these two are intended to be similar in composition and effect, it’s still not right. God rebuked Job for his complaining, and Job admitted he was wrong in wailing so much. Why then replicate troublesome writing in this later psalm? It makes no sense.
The only good things I can say about it are found in verses 9 and 13. I’ll quote them below:
- “I call to you, Yahweh, all day, I stretch out my hands to you.”
- “But, for my part, I cry to you, Yahweh, every morning my prayer comes before you.”
That is indeed what we must do, every day, and especially when we don’t understand what’s happening to us. We must persist in our prayers and continue to hope for an answer and salvation from God. He promises He will respond, and He also promises us the ultimate salvation. It’s within our right to ask it of Him.
March 7, 2008 § Leave a Comment
This psalm is a typical, almost formulaic, prayer for help. These sorts of prayers are a common theme in many of the psalms, and they all follow a sort of pattern. There is praise involved; it could also be called flattery. God is praised for being wonderful, and powerful, and helpful, and everything one would want Him to be, and then the request for help is put in.
At the risk of sounding rude, I could phrase it something like this:
“God, you’re amazing. You do all these things for me and for others, and everyone fears You. I fear you and obey Your commandments. Every one already adores You or will adore You. You’ve done a tremendous amount of stuff for me already. So, since You can do all these and are so amazing, why don’t you help me? I’m in trouble and it would be a piffling thing for You to help me. You wouldn’t need to move a muscle. You’d just will Your help into existence, and poof, my enemies will be put to shame.”
When you consider the whole thing from a distance, it looks cheap, doesn’t it? You’re resorting to outright flattery with an ulterior motive. It’s pretty distasteful, and it doesn’t befit us as Christians to engage in that sort of behavior.
Yet, it’s so easy to do, isn’t it? It’s so easy to fall into that mindset and let our fallen human natures take over our interaction with God. It’s so easy to think God needs our flattery, that He needs to be deceived and manipulated the way we deceive and manipulate other people in order to move Him to act on our behalf.
He can see right through that. You already knew that, didn’t you?
Don’t think I’m blaming the write of this psalm and pinning the blame on him. Not at all. We are all guilty of this. I’ve done it plenty of times, too. But it’s important to step back and realize that it’s wrong. It cheapens our relationship with God. It saddens Him to see that we’re not truthful with Him.
A simpler, more natural prayer for help would have gone something like this:
“Lord, I come before you to ask for your help. [Tell Him what's going on in a sentence or two.] I know you already know all of this, and you know how lonely and helpless I feel. You’re the only one I can turn to. Even though I don’t deserve it, as I don’t deserve any of the gifts you’ve given me, including that of eternal life through Jesus Christ, please come to my aid. I will wait for Your powerful Hand to protect me and carry me through this. Thank you for this and for all that you do for me. Amen.”
February 9, 2008 § 6 Comments
The Israelites have returned to their lands after a period of captivity, and they are asking for God’s help in this psalm. They feel that they are still not right with Him, and are begging for His forgiveness. What makes this psalm interesting is the supposed dialog between God and the people of Israel.
God replies in verses 8 through 13. Verse 8 says:
“I am listening. What is God’s message? Yahweh’s message is peace for His people, for His faithful, if only they renounce their folly.”
It sort of leaves you wondering what these people’s “folly” is, doesn’t? Remember what Solomon wrote once? “Fear of God is the beginning of wisdom,” he said. I imagine this “folly” of theirs must be the opposite of wisdom. They must give it up and move toward the opposite side of the spectrum, toward wisdom. To do that, they must begin to fear God. Verse 9 confirms this. The pieces are starting to fall into place, aren’t they?
“His saving help is near for those who fear Him, His glory will dwell in our land.”
God is waiting for these people to start fearing Him, and He will right then offer His help, which is described quite beautifully in verses 10 through 13. You might think this “fear” that keeps getting mentioned here is some sort of unnatural fright that God inspires in believers. Not at all. This psalm is a great example of true repentance, because it shows its two important stages, which show whether it (the repentance) is genuine or not.
Stage 1 is asking for forgiveness and for help. That’s done in verses 4 through 7. Forgiveness is implied here, and that’s the way it is. God is ready to forgive us as soon as we ask for it. His love is boundless. But our repentance isn’t complete unless Stage 2 occurs, and that’s where “fear” comes into play. What the Bible means by “fear” is that we should be concerned about God when we are next faced with a choice to sin. We should be afraid of causing Him pain and suffering. Because He suffers every time we sin, and He suffers even more after He’s forgiven us and we commit the same sin, again and again.
That’s what “fear” means. It means having enough respect for God to think about Him when we are faced with choosing to sin and fulfilling our trite, flesh-driven desires. Do we have enough respect for Him? Do we fear Him enough? Do we realize that we’re hurting our all-powerful Creator, who gave us life and who could take it away in an instant? Do we realize we’re hurting the One being that is always ready to help and bless us, no matter what, if only we’d turn to Him?
That’s the question this psalm poses. It’s a powerful question, and one that we all need to ask ourselves.
January 19, 2008 § Leave a Comment
This is one of those psalms where the NJB footnotes prove very useful. From them, we are able to see that it is a pilgrimage song used by those on the way to Jerusalem. Even more, from the reference to “early rain” in verse 6, we can ascertain that it was likely used during the Feast of Shelters.
The psalm expresses the writer’s desire to be close to God. The terms used are God’s courts, His altars, His House, Zion, His threshold. Earthly counterparts are contrasted with these Godly places in verse 10: “Better one day in your courts than a thousand at my own devices, to stand on the threshold of God’s house than to live in the tents of the wicked.” Notice how the author doesn’t make apples to apples comparisons here. He refers to God’s threshold, which is the entrance to the house but not inside the house, while he talks about living “in the tents of the wicked”. This is to make the contrast even more evident, which is the same reason for the “one day” to “thousand” days comparison as well.
I chuckled at verse 11 when I read it: “Yahweh refuses nothing good to those whose life is blameless.” After all, whose life is blameless but Christ’s? But one has to look at this in the historical context. The Feast of Shelters occurs five days after Yom Kippur, which is the most important Jewish holiday of the year. It is the Day of Atonement, when one obtains forgiveness for all of the sins from the past year. Therefore, it stands to reason that a person going to the Feast of Shelters would rejoice at having obtained reconciliation, and thus, a blameless life, in the eyes of God, after Yom Kippur. They could refer to their lives as “blameless”, more or less, if they hadn’t done anything bad in the few days between the two holidays.
By the same token, our lives can be blameless as well. You see, a Jew could obtain forgiveness from sins by making a sacrifice and confessing their sins over the head of that animal or bird. Their record after that reconciliation with God would be blameless. We too, can confess our sins and claim the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, thus reconciliating ourselves with God and obtaining forgiveness for our sins. Christ’s sacrifice rendered individual animal sacrifices unnecessary, since He was the sacrificial Lamb that the Old Testament prophesied.
While we do not have a Feast of Shelters, we can sing this psalm, if we so desire, on our way to church, knowing that we have obtained forgiveness through Jesus Christ and our prayers, encouraged by the hope of the new life that awaits us after this one, a life of eternity spent with God, in His courts.
September 28, 2007 § Leave a Comment
I’m pretty adamant about being allowed to worship God the way I see fit, and I think most people are that way. Religion is one of those areas of our lives where we prefer to have as little interference as possible. We all want to find our own path to God, and that’s the way it should be. We all come from different cultures and backgrounds, and we all perceive God in different ways. We relate to His presence individually, although we tend to worship collectively.
Having said that, I think of God as a rational being. As the creator and master of the Universe, author of the Ten Commandments, and of the laws of nature that govern our very being, He is logical, rational, compassionate and loving. In His every address to us through the Bible, we see Him as articulate, all-knowing, powerful, and as someone we can trust with our lives.
Because that’s what I think of God, I have a very hard time considering certain worship practices acceptable. The modern way of speaking in tongues, is, in my opinion, a fallacy. I don’t think God would endorse wild blabbering that makes no sense to anyone, not even to the person engaging in it. The Bible says the apostles spoke in tongues, but they spoke articulately, and in languages that the various people who gathered to listen could understand. No one can understand the gibberish that comes out of certain congregations nowadays. It is not the proper way to worship God.
Another foolish practice is that of tempting God by handling snakes or other dangerous animals in church. I just cannot see how that could be considered an act of faith. We are not Paul, and even he did not seek such practices. When he got bit by a snake, it was accidental, and God protected him. He did not go out to find the animal and brandish him around like some kind of totem, blabbering on about faith like some believers do nowadays.
Let me briefly cover some others. Faith healing (the way it’s done in certain pentecostal churches) is nothing but fakery. It has nothing to do with God, and has more to do with the devil. Why? Because I can spot charlatans on sight. Chanting certain verses or dancing until some sort of religious epiphany is experienced is also not Biblical nor Christian. This sort of thing has its roots in Far East, New Age religions.
Some churches carry this even further by engaging in sessions of hysterical laughter that go on until people either pee or defecate on themselves. They argue that it’s Biblical, but I think it’s nothing but sheer idiocy. I’m sorry if this offends some people, but you’d have to be truly retarded to think you’ve just found God after you relieve yourself in your pants, rolling on the floor in hysterical, uncontrollable laughter.
The problem with these wrong ways is that they rely too much (or entirely) on feelings in one’s quest for God. But that’s diametrically opposed to the way God wants us to find Him. Read the Bible. It’s not about feelings. It’s about hard laws, decisions, thought, work and time. God gave us the privilege of free choice so we could think about our choices, then decide on the path to follow. He did not give it to us so we could fritter it away on idiotic worship practices that have nothing to do with Him. If you don’t agree with me (yet), think about it. Put that brain of yours to good use, and do some research in the Bible.
Some of these wrong ways were documented in a documentary made in 1967, called “The Holy Ghost People“. It’s available in its entirety on the Internet Archive, and can be downloaded and viewed freely. You can also view an edited version containing the highlights, courtesy of Ransom of the mental_floss magazine. I invite you to view either version, and draw your own conclusions. You know where I stand by now…
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.
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.
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?