Study of Psalm 124 (Part One)

A song for pilgrims ascending to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.

What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? They would have swallowed us alive in their burning anger. The waters would have engulfed us; a torrent would have overwhelmed us. Yes, the raging waters of their fury would have overwhelmed our very lives (124:1-5 NLT).

Psalm 124 is the fifth of the Songs of Ascent. They were composed for people going to Jerusalem for the three required feasts during the old covenant. As the heading indicates, David wrote this song. His love for the true and living God overflowed to help the worship of God’s covenant people. In our time, people have mainly lost their ability to sing. People will listen to others perform music, but they lack desire to sing. We have become passive in our emotional expressions. It should not surprise us to see people emotionally manipulated by those who produce music. David wrote to improve and enhance the worship of the Lord by his people.

His song has structure; it pushes its participants to move through the muck and mire of their experience to the Lord God. But it does not do this in a balanced way. This might upset the analytic or clinical mind that likes everything in neat orderly packages. But David writes about life, which is anything except neat and orderly, and he writes about God who reveals himself as greater than the wild messes of our lives.

The psalm can be outlined in this way:

  • Presence of the Lord during trials (124:1-5)
  • Protection by the Lord (124:6-7)
  • Praise to the Lord (124:8)

So then we see that David lets us linger in our problems for over half the psalm before he reminds us of how God has rescued us, which in turn he develops into a call to worship.

Let’s speak plainly. None of us want to slowly review our trials. We want them way behind us in the rear view mirror. After I recovered from a heart attack, I wanted to get on with my life as quickly as I could. I was very thankful for how God preserved my life, but once rescued, it was time for other things. Then I had to have bypass surgery a year later, followed by another time of recovery, and more desire to move on. A couple years later, I did move on, but not as I expected! My point is simply that we want to get out of painful and unpleasant situations and get on with whatever. David did not do that. He wanted the pilgrims on the path to remember where they had been and what the Lord had done for them.

Like many psalms, it is unclear what troubles David and Israel faced. Perhaps he pointed to the early years of his reign. He could truthfully says it was a time when people attacked us. Benjamin and the other ten tribes refused to bow to David’s God-given kingship, and a mini civil war lasted for about seven years. That was bad enough, but there were also problems from the Philistines, Israel’s archenemy for many years during the leadership of Samson, Samuel, and Saul. David inherited those enemies when he became king, and he had his own hand in stirring the pot, when he supposedly defected to the Philistines and then was kicked out by them when they went to fight Saul. When the Philistines heard that David was king over all Israel and not merely the tribe of Judah, they decided that they must strike hard against David and Israel (2 Samuel 5). It was a dangerous time for David and his people. He had to flee to his stronghold to get into a defensible position. (God expects us to use our common sense.) Then David rightly asked God what to do. (God expects us to pray. He wants us to welcome him into our problems.) And in two different ways, God gave David and Israel victory over their enemies.

So in this Song of Ascent, David reminded the worshipers of the crisis they had passed through. What if the Lord had not been on our side? Let all Israel repeat: What if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us? By repetition, he helps Israel recall the dangers they had been in. During what dangers you’ve faced have you experienced that God was on your side? Remember the following great word. What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31 NIV)

Grace and peace,
David

Study of Psalm 14 (Part Four)

Will evildoers never understand? They consume my people as they consume bread; they do not call on the Lord. Then they will be filled with dread, for God is with those who are righteous. You sinners frustrate the plans of the oppressed, but the Lord is his refuge (14:4-6 CSB).

In this psalm we see that God’s people may have problems now from the ungodly, but these problems cannot be compared with those that the ungodly face. How is this so? The Lord is opposed to evildoers. Usually they do not think about their condition before the Lord. (Remember that they suppress the knowledge of God.) But there comes a time when the living God steps into their lives and upsets their world. David tells of us this time and its effect on the unrighteous. Then they will be filled with dread… People cannot escape their accountability to God, and when it finally comes upon them, dread overcomes them, since they have no hope. Weep for the hopeless sinner.

What causes their dread? For God is with those who are righteous. Those whom they had oppressed and persecuted are finally recognized to be the favored ones of the Almighty; in fact, God takes his place among them. What is the sinner’s fear is the saint’s comfort. Why can we have confident assurance when all seems to be against us? By faith we know that the Lord of Glory has decided to live with his people. He is not far away; he is present in our company, whether we perceive his presence or not. Let us then lay hold of this truth by faith and so live in hope!

Those who do evil are a source of frustration for the saints, here called the oppressed. There are many things that we would like to see different in the world around us, but evildoers act to oppose and to ruin. What can the saints do? Rest in the Lord. He alone is the refuge of the saints.

Oh, that Israel’s deliverance would come from Zion! When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people, let Jacob rejoice, let Israel be glad (Psalm 14:7 CSB).

David concludes this psalm with a prayer that expresses the deepest longing of the elect of God. How we who have been saved by grace look for the fullness of what has been freely given to us by God! The source of change is the Lord himself. When the Lord restores the fortunes of his people…. God himself will set things right for those he loves. What we have in our position, he will make sure that we possess in our condition.

The psalm closes on a high note. King David calls the saints to rejoice and be glad. There is hope in the future for the called. Let us set our sights on that day!

Grace and peace,
David

Something Special Will Happen!

dscn3808Luke 1:26-28

In the sixth month, the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man named Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And the angel came to her and said, “Rejoice, favored woman! The Lord is with you” (HCSB).

Luke wrote “an orderly account” (Luke 1:3) about our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. The next scene in the Third Gospel opens with a connecting phrase: “In the sixth month….” The time refers to Elizabeth’s pregnancy. The forerunner of the Messiah was on his way. Next, wrote about the first step in the coming of Messiah the Lord himself. It started with a private conversation between Gabriel, God’s messenger, and a young woman named Mary.

Luke tells us a couple of facts about Mary. First, Mary was a virgin. She was sexually inexperienced and hardly a candidate for an angel to tell her that she was going to have a baby. This has always been a stumbling-block to antisupernaturalists, but their world and life view is indefensible, unable to account for many facts of human experience. However, even to those who believe in God and supernatural power, the announcement of a virgin birth is unique. From what we know of the culture of Mary’s time, she was probably about twelve to fifteen years old. So then, a very young woman was about to hear the greatest announcement in history in a private encounter with the angel of the Lord.

Second, Mary lived in Nazareth, a town in Galilee. Nazareth is about seventy miles northeast of Jerusalem, and it is surrounded on all sides by hills, except on its southern side. The village was unremarkable; no notable events occurred there up to Mary’s time. Since the prophet Micah had announced that the Messiah would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2), there was nothing in Mary’s situation to prepare her for Gabriel’s message. She was simply an ordinary teenage girl.

Third, Mary was legally engaged to Joseph, one of many descendants of King David. We later find out that he was a carpenter. The line of David, almost six hundred years after the Babylonian Captivity of Israel, had been reduced to obscurity and poverty. One of my ancestors was one of the founders of what is now the University of Pittsburgh, about two hundred years ago. They have never called me to invite me to a special event. I never expect them to. The point is that after six hundred years, though Joseph was in David’s royal line, he and Mary were not expecting the kingdom to come to their family. They were poor peasants. They would live and die in obscurity, and maybe someday God might do something with David’s house.

However, one day God stepped into Mary’s life! God’s messenger angel went to Mary with a great announcement. Listen to his opening words, “Rejoice, favored woman!” In Luke’s Gospel, the message begins with the typical ancient Greek greeting, “Rejoice!” Gabriel urges her to be glad. True happiness was on the horizon. The joyful God had a happy task for her. We should not pass by this word. Joy is one of the great words and ideas of the new covenant age. God’s people are to be joyful people (Philippians 4:4). Joy is our portion, because in Jesus the Messiah, we are right with God (Romans 5:1-11). In Mary’s Son, the kingdom of God was about to happen, and his kingdom is a kingdom of joy! For the kingdom of God is not eating and drinking, but righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit (Romans 14:17 HCSB, my emphasis).

In his opening words, Gabriel gave Mary a reason to rejoice. She is a “favored woman”. Mary had received favor with God. In what way? The Lord was “with her”. Since Mary clearly knew God’s word (see her words of praise, Luke 1:46-55), these words would resonate in her. When people were told that the Lord was with them, it was a statement that something special would happen to or through them. The Lord was with Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Joshua, and Gideon. All of them were great patriarchs and leaders of God’s people. The last two men were great warriors. But now, God spoke these words of promise and assurance to a woman. The Lord would be with her in a more wonderful way. She would become the mother of Immanuel, “God with us”. Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet: See, the virgin will become pregnant and give birth to a son, and they will name Him Immanuel, which is translated “God is with us” (Matthew 1:23 HCSB).

Grace and peace, David

Welcome to God’s People

IMG_1111Ruth 2:8-9

As we listen to the book of Ruth, it is clear that life had not been easy for this young Moabite woman. She married into an Israelite family, who had gone to live in her native country. But before they had been in Moab ten years, great tragedy struck. Ruth’s husband, father-in-law, and brother-in-law all died. Her mother-in-law, who is filled with bitterness, decided to return to Israel, when she heard that God had come to help his people. And Ruth made the wise and godly decision to go with her. Ruth threw in her lot with God’s people, but still her life did not seem promising. For to the casual onlooker, Ruth was an outsider from one of Israel’s enemies. She lacked financial support. Her mother-in-law could not or would not help, and so Ruth went out into the fields to gather leftover stalks of grain—alone.

However, Ruth was not really alone, because God was with her. As we saw last week, the Sovereign Lord directed her into the fields of one of her relatives by marriage. His name was Boaz, a well-off, influential landowner. In the story of Ruth, a dramatic moment has arrived. Ruth and Boaz talk for the first time. What will happen?

Boaz gave a kind answer to Ruth’s request. As this scene opens, all was not sweetness and light for Ruth. On the one hand, she gathered grain so that Naomi and she could eat. But on the other hand, this was hard work, and from the coming conversation with Boaz, we can gain hints that she felt threatened, perhaps because she was a Moabite. She may well have wondered how successful her endeavor might be. Suddenly, everything changed for her good! It was in the path of faith that Ruth found blessing.

Ruth found acceptance. His kind greeting (“my daughter”) was a message of welcome. Boaz didn’t address her as an enemy or even a foreigner but as a family member. His words conveyed a sense of inclusion and reassurance. They might well have been the first kind words she heard since she arrived in Israel. It was like saying, “We’re glad you’re here; please make yourself at home.” This sense of acceptance ought to permeate every situation in every assembly of Christ’s people. Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. (Romans 15:7 NIV). In addition, his words were also an invitation. He told her to stay in his fields. From his emphasis, it seems that she might have been in the process of leaving. He quieted her fears. My brothers and sisters, we must realize that we need to make others feel very accepted. We might be familiar with handshakes and perhaps hugs in the local church we have attended for a while, but the hearts of guests can be very apprehensive. Perhaps they have never felt acceptance. Now certainly, you don’t rush up and give a guest a hug! But you can ask them if they’d like a cup of coffee, show them where to hang up their coats, or offer to sit near them.

Ruth received protection. Boaz gave Ruth a place in his community of workers. He did not offer to pay her, but he allowed her to support herself off his possessions. Yes, God’s law commanded this, but he let her know that he walked according to the law of the Lord (Psalm 119:1). He reassured Ruth that no one would abuse her verbally, physically or sexually in his fields. He sought to put Ruth at ease. She would not have to work looking over to her shoulder. She was in a secure place where she could enjoy gathering food. It is a man’s responsibility to make women and girls feel safe and secure (cf. 1 Timothy 5:2).

Ruth discovered compassion. Boaz gave Ruth permission to drink from the water jars used by his workers. This was very considerate care for a woman working hard under the near eastern sun; it would also save her time in getting her own water. This act of compassion reversed the usual social customs, because in that culture foreigners usually gave water to Israelites and women to men. So then, this would strike Ruth as very special treatment. He invited Ruth to take the first steps from outside the social circle of the community of Israel to inside at least the outer part of that circle.

Where are you in your fellowship of believers? If it is a gathering of true followers of Christ, you should feel welcome and being drawn closer. It can take people with little knowledge of community time to feel accepted, but the atmosphere of acceptance should be evident. Receive invitations to draw nearer as you perceive the grace of the good news of Christ in the assembly. If you are inside, reach out to people who are new to the group. Get out of your comfort zone to bring others into it. You are the messenger of Christ’s love to newcomers and to those who still linger on the fringes of your local church.

Grace and peace, David