Monday, December 16, 2013

CCXIX - Proverbs 4-7

As stated before, I encourage you to read ahead in the book of Proverbs, and not hurriedly, as these words deserve your attention and reflection.

Chapter 4

This entire chapter speaks of the obligations of the father and the son in every family.  The father’s obligation is to teach the son wisdom and the importance of pursuing it throughout his life.  The obligation of the son is to pay strict attention to the teachings of his father, plus be prepared to pass it along to his own sons in the future.  In this chapter you often see phrases that plead and remind the son to “pay attention; listen; accept what I say; do not forsake my teaching”.  This is not to suggest that the son was inclined to trivialize the father’s teachings, or that his mind was inclined to wander.  But rather, the father was continually emphasizing the importance of the subject of wisdom.  This chapter, like much of Proverbs, compares the wise to the foolish.  In verses 5 and 6 you will also notice that the writer refers to wisdom in the feminine person, using “her” and “she” as the pronouns when referencing wisdom.   This has been used in earlier chapters and we will see it again.  One scholar suggests that the writer is comparing wisdom to a woman saying that wisdom, like a woman, deserves our love.  And, like a precious woman, wisdom will protect you and watch over you.

Chapter 5

There are so many men that should have read this chapter of Proverbs.  This chapter is dedicated to warning against involvement with an adulterous woman.  It starts out with the father pleading with the son to pay attention to these words, as they can have a positive effect on his entire life.  Verse 3 tells how alluring a woman can be.  “Her lips taste as sweet as honey.”  She is a flatterer in that “her speech is smoother than oil”.  But your involvement with her will end in disaster.  You are to stay far from her.  Do not enter her house and give ear to her words, as they may be stronger than you can bear.  Also, in verse 9, it says that your dignity will be damaged as others will learn of your weakness.  Verses 10-14 describe what will happen as a result of yielding to the temptation of a woman who is not your wife.  Then, in verse 15 it advises the young man to embrace his own wife.  Treat the wife of your youth with the love, affection, and respect she deserves, and she will reward you with her Godly womanhood, blessing you with wonderful children (vs 18).  I like 19b speaking of the faithful wife:  “may you ever be intoxicated with her love”.  Then, to emphasize the point he asks rhetorical questions about “why should one be so foolish to involve himself in an adulterous affair?”  {We will continue to see this subject of adultery throughout this book.}

Chapter 6

This chapter is in three parts, the first fifteen verses of which addresses specific sins, against which we should be on guard.  The second part is the infamous list of the six things God hates.  The third part, which carries into chapter 7, again addresses adultery.

6:1-5 speaks of a mistake that has already been made, and is comparing the mistake being like an animal caught in a trap, struggling to get out, but the trap is too strong.  The mistake mentioned here is signing your name as security for a neighbor’s loan.  Sounds like a nice gesture, but the Bible is very clear on this:  DON’T DO IT.  It’s that simple.  If you ever get pressured to do this, simply refer to the Bible and say it is forbidden.  Verses 6-11 changes subjects abruptly.  It speaks of laziness, using the ant as a good example to follow.  Be wise about this my son.  We have seen all around us that verse 11 is true that “poverty will come on you like a thief……” Verses 12-15 warn us to stay away from evil people.  They are sneaky and alluring.  They are easy to recognize by the things they do and speak about.  These four verses are a good lead-in to the next four, as they seem to be interjected abruptly into the text.  These verses (16-19) state six things God hates:

*  A haughty heart (a blatantly and disdainfully proud and arrogant person)
*  A lying tongue (it is never OK to lie)
*  Hands that shed innocent blood (God punishes this)
*  A heart that devises wicked schemes
*  A false witness (in the gates of the cities; perverts justice)
*  A troublemaker (can’t stand when there is peace among people)

The Bible is clear on this.  These six things are listed as absolutes, not to be compromised or over-paraphrased.  Think on these six things.  Remember, God HATES them.  (Don’t forget which one was number one on the list.  Your mother always said “Pride cometh before the fall”}

Verses 20-35 of this chapter speaks again of adultery.  Please read these verses with concentration.  Verse 26 tells that a prostitute can be bought for a cheap price, but another man’s wife will cost you dearly, probably for the rest of your life.  {This scripture is certainly not condoning the involvement with a prostitute, but rather stating that adultery with another man’s wife is hundreds times worse.}  It says in verses 27-29 that disaster is certain when adultery is committed, even by a righteous man.  The Scripture goes on to say that a thief is not as bad as an adulterer.  Think on this.  The worst things one can steal are those things which cannot be given back.
Chapter 7 continues with adultery being the main subject.  Overkill?  Absolutely not!  Adultery destroys marriages, which means it also destroys families.  Look what happens to a society when families are weakened, let alone destroyed.  This subject cannot be overdone.

 This will be my final post until after the holidays.  I sincerely wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.  If and when you travel, please be careful.   

Friday, December 13, 2013

CCXVIII – Proverbs Chapters 1-3

The last post was a short introduction to the book of Proverbs, plus a look at the first seven verses, which not only introduced the entire book, but gave an uncompromising tribute to wisdom itself.  The first few chapters maintain a continuity of themes which we will look at in this post.  This is what makes the earlier parts of this book a bit easier to study.

Remaining in the first chapter, verses 8-19 gives us a warning about greedy, violent men.  {You will notice the phrase, “my son”.  This denotes the sense of a student being taught by a mentor.  It can also be interpreted literally as a son receiving instruction by his earthly father.  Whichever of these scenarios you might prefer, (I prefer the latter) it should be carried throughout the entire book.}  These verses describe evil men as violent and disregarding innocent people.  They lay in wait so they can attack the innocent and even kill them to steal from them.  The writer is not only telling his son not to live his life that way, but also to stay far away from these men and their influence.  This is the lesson of this section:  Do not associate with these people, as their influence is stronger than you might think.  And your resistance might be weaker than you think.  {The biggest concern that parents of teenagers have (or should have) is who their children associate with.}

Verses 20-33 depicts wisdom as a prophetess, loudly proclaiming her words of wisdom throughout the places where people gather.  She speaks against those who spurn morals and ethics, persisting in their ignorance.  She appeals to all to accept her words, making them readily available to anyone who will listen.  But then she prophesies that it will be too late for those refusing her words, as their foolish actions will lead them to destruction, and it will be too late for wisdom to save them from their earlier foolish actions.

Chapter 2

This chapter is dedicated to the moral benefits of wisdom.  In the first verse we are instructed not only to listen to words of wisdom, but also concentrate on them and learn them, making them a part of our very being.  This chapter speaks of wisdom being more precious than silver or gold and should be sought after.  It says in verse 11 that, “discretion will protect you, and understanding will guard you”.  (Verse 12) “Wisdom will save you from the ways of wicked men…..”  Then verse 16 begins a stern warning for all adult men:  We need to call on wisdom to discern and recognize a seductive and adulterous woman.  We must do whatever it takes to resist her charm and her seductive words.  She has already forsaken the man she made vows to, leaving a path of destruction.  {The patriarch Joseph gave us a good example of how to deal with an aggressively seductive woman:  He ran.}

Chapter 3

I want to spend a few minutes on this chapter.  It has four parts to it with four different subjects.  The first part is the first 12 verses.  So much is in these verses.  In short they deal with the benefits of a strong belief and relationship with God:  "Keep my commands in your heart”; “you will win favor and a good name”; “lean not on your own understanding, but submit to the will of God”; “be not wise in your own eyes”.  Then in verse 9 we are instructed to honor our obligation to tithe.  And it includes a promise with that:  “Your barns will be filled to overflowing”.  {I do not dwell on this for fear of sending the wrong message.  Warning:  A tithe and/or and offering is not to be considered an investment which will yield financial gain.}  The second part of this chapter is in verses 13-18.  This part contrasts material wealth with spiritual wealth, being in large part the form of wisdom.  In verse 16 is mentioned long life.  It says “long life is in her right hand and in her left hand are riches and honor”.  {That is making quite a profound promise, but it says what it means and it means what it says.}  The third part is only two verses (19 and 20), which seems to be a short hymn of praise to wisdom.  And finally the fourth part covering the remaining fifteen verses.  This part pleads with the son to seek wisdom, trying to convince him of its value.  There are many verses in this section that are helpful.  It says not to let wisdom out of your sight.  It will keep you safe.  It will give you peace so you can sleep well.  You will not walk in fear.  It also gives some instruction in verses 27-30 concerning neighbors.  Look at verse 28 where it says to give of yourself TODAY, rather than telling your neighbor to “come back tomorrow”.  {Be careful how you treat your neighbors and your co-workers.  You need to be especially careful to treat these people as you want to be treated yourself.  You can chose your friends, but you cannot chose your neighbors or your co-workers, therefore you must go the extra mile to co-exist in peace.}  The remaining verses contrast the wise versus the foolish.  The very last verse in this chapter says, “The wise inherit honor, the fools get only shame”.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

CCXVII - The Book of Proverbs

The Book of Proverbs holds a special place in my heart.  God had blessed me in my career with being placed in positions beyond my training and natural abilities.  I knew I needed help in order to satisfy the demands of these offices.  To do my part I knew I needed not only knowledge, but also wisdom, as these positions involved dealing with all types of people.  ALL types.  I had been taught from my own Bible study plus other sources that God was the Author of all wisdom, much of which He placed in the Book of Proverbs.  Therefore, during much of my career, my daily devotions were from Proverbs.  It helped.  Not only did it help, but I believe my life would have taken a different course had I not given time and focus to these precious words from God, given to us through His servant Solomon and other chosen vessels.  I hope you get as much out of this book as I have through the years.  {Years ago I had this small container shaped like a loaf of bread, titled “Our Daily Bread”.  Placed in the top of it were small cards (about 1”X 3”) on which were printed Proverbs from this holy book.  I kept it in my office.  I would read one or more of these little cards every day at work.  I felt empowered by them.  I don’t remember whatever came of this little “bread loaf”, but I sure wish I still had it.}

I’m not certain how I am to teach this book, but I was uncertain about Psalms as well.  It may seem a bit choppy, but much of it is written that way, maintaining no theme within many large and small sections.  I will again be careful not to jump around out of the order of the book, as a thematic study would make me so inclined. 

The Book of Proverbs has long been considered being authored by Solomon.  I agree that he wrote most of it, but we know that there were at least two other writers, Agur and Lemuel.  These two men wrote chapters 30 and 31 respectively.  Little else is known about them.  The focus of this book is wisdom; common sense dealing with a multitude of subjects in hopes to give the reader guidance in all walks of his/her life.  Proverbs is a series of short statements.  You will find these statements profound, sensible, and easy to understand.  As you read and hopefully reflect on these simple statements, you will realize that although these proverbs deal with common problems, the solutions are Godly, not secular.  One can glean little from them if he/she does not acknowledge the power and glory of our Creator, Who has blessed these sayings as a part of His Holy Scripture.

Wisdom has been defined differently by different groups throughout civilization.  The Egyptians defined it as acquired social and political skills, used to influence people.  The Greeks defined it as learned systematic thought processes taught and handed down through generations.  The Babylonians defined it as a methodology used to gain favor of the various gods they worshiped.   But the Hebrews defined it as stable use of knowledge based upon experience and an abiding respect for God and His commandments.

All of us need wisdom and the sense enough to yield to it.  We need to pray for it and also pray for the ability to recognize wisdom from others when we hear it.  We need wisdom because of the level of difficulty in life.  If you have a job dealing with people in this complex society, you need wisdom and a lot of it.  If you are trying to raise children, you need even more.  If you are trying to navigate through these difficult economic and political times, again you need wisdom to make discernments, as knowledge and advice are often conflicting.  Simple knowledge of facts is not enough.  You need to know how to place that knowledge into the best course of words and actions.  I have observed some very highly educated people who say and do some extremely foolish things.  On the other hand, I have observed some not-so-learned people impart or practice very high levels of wisdom, yielding much fruit.

I urge you to read the entire Book of Proverbs and to read ahead of this study.  Look closely at the first seven verses of this wonderful book.  These verses are actually an introduction to the entire book.  These verses attempt to pay tribute to wisdom and its importance.  After the first six verses herald wisdom, the seventh verse is the actual beginning,  “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge…..”  The word “fear” in this context is a wholesome reverence for God and His commandments.  {We are not to live our lives being afraid of God and what He might do to us.  So when we see the word “fear” in the Bible, we must make ourselves aware of the particular context.}  The last part of verse seven is a contrast to the first part, “……..but fools despise wisdom and instruction”.  You will see the “fool” referenced often in this book.  The fool is defined as a person lacking in awareness of God and His character, and consequently lacking in common sense.  Additionally, the fool is a person who rejects knowledge, either out of pride or stupidity.  The fool will generally grow in his disrespect for Godly wisdom unless he makes an effort to repent and change his life in the sight of God.

Next post – Precious Proverbs

Monday, December 9, 2013

CCXVI – Psalms 135-150

We will finish with the Book of Psalms with this post. 

Psalms 135 and 136 seem to have been written at about the same time, which is generally regarded as the time of Ezra.  It’s as though Psalm 135 was sung aloud by Ezra and the Levite musicians assigned to the Temple.  Then (Psalm 136) the musicians would sing each verse and the congregation would sing after each phrase, “His love endures forever”.  The fashion in which 136 was written seemed to strongly suggest a song sung in an organized worship service.

Psalm 137 is a different type of Psalm with a different subject.  A close reading reveals the heart and mind of the psalmist, which is not pleasant at this time.  He reflects back when he was in captivity in Babylon.  There are three predominant thoughts.  First, he is sad when he is a prisoner and thinks about how wonderful it was before the captivity when he was in Zion (Jerusalem).  He then expresses bitter thoughts of his captors (Babylonians).  Then, the exact time of this writing is revealed when the psalmist is witnessing Persia defeating the evil Babylonians, hoping to inflict as much pain on them as they inflicted on the Jews.  This is one of the few times bitterness of the Jews toward the Babylonians is expressed in such certain terms.

Psalm 139 is a psalm that has been used for centuries in worship services among Jews and Christians alike.  This psalm speaks of the omniscience and omnipresence of God.  Omniscience means having an infinite awareness, understanding, and insight.  Omnipresence means being everywhere at all times.  This psalm speaks of God’s intimate knowledge of us as individuals.  He knows when we lie down to sleep and when we awake.  He knows every thought behind every word our tongues speak.  The writer says in verse 6 that God’s abilities are beyond his understanding, therefore his words are inadequate to describe them.  Then in the following six verses, the psalm proceeds to speak of God being everywhere.  A child of God is not able to escape God’s presence even if he wanted to.  If we were to be on the “far side of the sea”, God would be there with us.  (Vss 11, 12)  The darkness cannot hide us from God, as He sees in the darkness as though it is perfect light.  The rest of this Psalm breaks out in praise to God and his power, but the focal verses are 13 and 14, “For You created my inmost being; You knit me together in my mother’s womb.  I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made…….”  Paraphrase:  God, You knew me before I was born, and You made me just the way You want me.

Psalm 140 tells again how much David was emotionally hurt by the many people who spoke evil of him.  David cared about how people perceived him.  This is expressed in quite a few of his writings.  {I believe this was a characteristic that may have tormented David.  Sometimes we can be too preoccupied with the concern about the thoughts of others.  Try not to get caught up in this trap.}

Psalms 141-144 are psalms written by David in difficult times, some when Absalom was trying to kill him, some when Saul was after him.  142 shows David in a depressed and forlorn state of mind.  He is lonely, frightened, and desperate.

Psalms 145 – 150 are an outpouring of praise and worship, which are a befitting conclusion to this collection of Hebrew songs and poems.  Serving as the final section, they deal specifically and exclusively with praise.  Psalm 145 is described as lively hymn.  It is another of the “acrostic” or “alphabetic” psalms.  Many sections have been put to music throughout the generations.  There are many notable verses.  Verse 4 again indicates the importance of handing down from generation to generation the knowledge of God and His greatness.
The last five Psalms are known as “The Hallelujah Psalms”.  This is because they all start with the Hebrew word “Halelujah”  This is from the Hebrew word “Halel”, which means “tell someone how great they are”.  The “u” in the middle of the word means “You”, to whom one is speaking.  “Jah” is one of the many names the Hebrews used for God.  Although we generally spell this word “HALLELUJAH”, its proper spelling is with only two L’s:  “HALELUJAH”, which renders the phrase, halel-u-jah.  Praise You God.  {This word has not been translated into other languages, for which I am thankful.  I like the word “hallelujah”.  In this single word, we are giving God the praise He deserves, although sometimes we don’t even realize it.}
Psalm 150 climaxes this book of Psalms.  It encourages all generations to worship God, praising Him everywhere, from inside our church buildings to the greater reaches of heaven.  Praise Him for everything about Him.  Then comes an important part of this psalm.  We are again reminded to praise Him with music of every beautiful instrument designed to be pleasant to the ears.  We are to sing songs of praise, accompanied by instruments in our worship services.  We should begin our worship with songs, and end it with songs.

I stated in the beginning of this book of Psalms that it is a rather difficult study to present.  I hope you have gotten something valuable out of this.  The next post will begin our study of the Book of Proverbs.

Friday, December 6, 2013

CCXV - Psalms 119-134

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the entire Bible.  However, I do not want to spend a lot of time on it, as I want to cover the songs of ascent, of which there are many (15).  Psalm 119 is the epitome of the “acrostic” psalms I referred to earlier.  This psalm actually does 22 sections of 8 verses acrostically.  There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet.  The first letter is “aleph”, the second is “beth”, the third is “gimel”, and so on.  In the Hebrew, all 8 verses in the first section called Aleph, begin with the letter aleph.  The entire psalm keeps that pattern.  {Of course it was not possible to maintain this acrostic style in the translation to English or any other language.}  This psalm is commonly considered by scholars to have been written during the time when the exiles had returned to Jerusalem from Babylon.  Ezra is often mentioned as the probable author.  Due to the subject, I am inclined to agree.  Ezra was a Levite scribe and dedicated himself to the teaching of the Law.  In this psalm, several words were used for the “Law” ie. Law, Statutes, Commands, Word, Words, Decrees, Precepts, and other words related to God’s laws.  In this psalm, these words are mentioned 170 times.  The whole psalm is a tribute to the Law and an appeal to the adherence to it as the Jews reestablished their nation.  {Interesting to note one of my favorite songs was taken from verse 105, “Thy Word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path”.}

I mentioned in the first paragraph of this post “the songs of ascent”, often referred to as songs of climbing.  These are Psalms 120-134.  They have many authors, including David, Solomon, and perhaps Hezekiah, Isaiah, Ezra, and/or Nehemiah.  But whoever among these possible authors, there is no doubt that these were written at different times, possibly spanning 500 years.  I like these psalms.  They are short and easy to grasp their meanings.  They were written to be put to music, and well-suited as such.  As to the reason why they are titled “songs of ascent” has been a subject for discussion for centuries.  The two prevailing thoughts are:

1)   1)   There is a section of the Temple which has 15 steps.  As the men would climb these steps, they would stop on each step and sing one of these psalms in order as they are written.

2)    2)  Jerusalem sat atop a hill called Zion.  As Jews made their pilgrimages to Jerusalem, they would sing these psalms as they “ascended” up the hill to enter the city.

Psalm 120 is easy to understand.  The psalmist is forewarning liars what God is going to do to them.  {God hates a lying tongue.}

You will like Psalm 121.  It is tradition among many Jews to place a copy of this psalm in the labor and delivery rooms to promote easier labor for the mother by asking God for His mercy.  Then, the copy is placed in the baby’s crib or carrier, then to its room to protect the child and surround him/her with Scripture.  Interesting, huh?

Psalm 122 is written by David as he established Jerusalem as the capitol of the new nation Israel.  He prays God’s blessings on Jerusalem, and mentions that all twelve tribes will go “up” to Jerusalem to worship.  David acknowledges that God will make Jerusalem His home also.

Psalm 124 was written by David apparently as he was in battle with the Philistines, over which God gave him victory.

The next three psalms seem to be written by the same author.  They deal with the subject of enemies trying to take over the nation Israel.  126 tells of the enemies fleeing, but with a “scorched earth” manner, leaving problems for Israel’s people.  Both 126 and 127 acknowledge that God (not their own arrows) has protected the city and will continue to.

Verse 3 in Psalm 128 shows that one of God’s blessing is many children.

It says in the opening verse of 129 “They have greatly oppressed me from my youth”.  This is not speaking of a person, but rather the nation Israel, as the psalmist prays for God’s protection from all enemies of Israel.

Psalm 130 is a song of repentance, confessing great sin and sinfulness, asking for God’s mercy and forgiveness.

Psalm 131 is one in which David proclaims his unworthiness.  David never laid claim to being anything special, or having special talents.  David lived his life in awe of God having chosen him for such an honorable task.

Psalm 132 is all about the Ark of the Covenant, and how David longed to bring the Ark back to Jerusalem, his failure the first time, then from verse 11 to 18 it speaks of Jerusalem being its proper home.

Psalm 133 is a call for unity among all of Israel, all twelve tribes.

And finally in the songs of ascent, Psalm 134 is an appeal for all of Israel to praise the Lord, which is short and probably considered fitting as the final song for the final “step” as they climbed toward the Temple in Jerusalem.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

CCXIV – Psalm 104-118

We finished the last post with Psalm 103, one of my favorites.  I spoke much about it.  Although 104 opens with similar phrases as 103, I do not think it is an extension of 103, but I think David wrote them both.
Psalm 105 is rather lengthy as it gives an overview of Israel from Abraham to Joshua.  This Psalm is a call to praise God and keep in remembrance of what God has done for His people.  This psalm opens with a quote from Isaiah 12:4.  It goes on to give the History, going into detail with mentioning that Joseph became part of the Egyptian hierarchy, naming the plagues in Egypt, and even mentioning the pillar of fire.  Psalm 106 seems to be somewhat connected to 105.  105 gives a History of what God had done for the Israelites and then 106 speaks of Israel’s rebellion and disobedience toward God.

Psalm 107 begins the final section of Psalms according to the NIV.  You will find many of these last forty-four psalms to be lengthy.  Remember these were poems of thanksgiving and praise put to music, which does much to explain the lyrics.  107 is a psalm written after the Jews were allowed to return to the Promised Land from Babylon, after seventy years of captivity.  Early verses in this psalm describes the difficulty of their journey back to Jerusalem.  Unlike their journey through the wilderness from Egypt, the difficulty of this journey is not often mentioned in the Bible.

David wrote Psalm 108 and I like his opening phrase, “My heart, O God, is steadfast”.  David is proclaiming that his faith does not and will not waiver, in spite of all of the adversities that he must endure.

Please read Psalm 109 and concentrate on it for a moment.  This is a classic (and rare) psalm where David is not only asking God to help him against his enemies, but is actually asking God to make many bad things happen to his enemies.  Look at the list of David’s requests.  David asks God (verse 6) to appoint someone evil to oppose his enemy.  {I read this as him asking God to appoint a warring angel to his enemy.}  You will see such things as making his enemy’s children be “wandering beggars”.  In verse 11 he wants his enemy’s creditors to take everything he has; he wants thieves to plunder his vineyards; may no one extend kindness to his fatherless children.  I have listed but a few.  This psalm goes on and on about bad things David wants God to inflict on his enemies.  {This is quite a different and interesting read.  David must have been in a peculiar mood when he wrote this.  I can sympathize.  I’m not proud of the fact that I have been there.}

Now let’s have a look at Psalm 110.  This is a difficult psalm to understand at the first reading.  I see it as prophetic.  I want to be careful not to get too much text tied up with this, but there is much to be explained.  The opening verse says “The Lord says to my Lord:  Sit at My right hand”.  There is little doubt in my mind that this is the Father talking to the Son.  The Son is our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.  With that in mind, take a moment and read this short psalm (it’s only seven verses).  Verse 3 mentions His troops will be “arrayed in splendor”.  Verse 5 mentions “the day of His wrath”.  But let’s back up to verse 4.  You have heard me mention this man before.  This verse says the Jesus will be “a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek”.  Allow me to take a break and try to explain what is so special about Melchizedek.  Why is he mentioned so many times in the Bible as the standard against which priests are measured?  The short answer is simple:  Because Melchizedek was a priest before the Jews became God’s chosen people.  He was the priest of everybody on earth (just like Jesus).  All of the priests between Melchizedek and Jesus were priests of only the Israelites and the bloodline of Abraham.  There are factions within the Christian faith that believe Melchizedek was actually Jesus before Jesus was made flesh.  I’m not too sure about that, but I cannot oppose that thought.  The evidence is compelling.  In Genesis 14:18-20 Abram met with Melchizedek, (being not A priest, but THE priest) of God Most High.  This was prior to the Jewish nation having been established.  In the New Testament Book of Hebrews, chapter 7 speaks at length of Melchizedek, saying in verse 3,  “Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, he remains a priest forever”.  {We will speak further of this somewhat mysterious figure Melchizedek.  I am intrigued with him because there is no figure in the Bible besides Christ himself that is spoken of with such reverence and awe.  I think that when we get to heaven, we will discover just how magnificent this figure really is.}

Psalms 111 and 112 were written right after the groups of Jews returned to Jerusalem after being exiled for seventy years.  Both of these are considered “acrostic” psalms.

This brings us to Psalms 113-118, which are special psalms.  The Jews have referred to these six psalms as the “Egyptian Hallelujah”.  The word “hallelujah” means  “The Lord Is Very Great”.  There are three feasts celebrated by the Jews, the most important of which is the Feast of the Passover.  This celebrates the time in Egypt when the last plague was placed on Pharaoh and his entire nation.  The Angel of Death was sent to kill all the first born in the nation of Egypt.  As the Angel of Death passed through Egypt, the houses of the Jews were “passed over” by the angel because the Jews had obediently marked their houses as instructed by God through Moses.  So the Feast of the Passover has been celebrated every year since then, and is still to this day among the Jews.  Before the meal they would sing Psalms 113 and 114.  After the meal they would sing Psalms 115, 116, 117, and 118.  These six psalms would respectfully bring to remembrance the Passover and the exodus.

Monday, December 2, 2013

CCXIII – Psalms 90-103

Psalm 90 begins the last of the three major theme sections of Psalms, which is “expressions of thanksgiving and praise”.  The sub-title to Psalm 90 is “A prayer of Moses the man of God”.  Both Jewish and Christian scholars agree that this was not written by Moses himself, but perhaps a psalmist who was reflecting back on the origins of the Israelite nation, which would of course concentrate on Abraham or Moses.  Interesting in verse 10 we see we are gifted with “seventy years, or eighty, if our strength endures”.  Psalm 91 is considered by many as an extension of 90.  I am inclined to agree.

Psalm 92 is sub-titled “A song.  For the Sabbath day.  This is a song of praise and thanksgiving to God and His might, although I do not see references to the Sabbath.  Perhaps it was on the Sabbath that the psalmist could take a break from his regular duties and was able to reflect on God and His greatness.  Take note of verse 7.  Countless times in the entire book of Psalms do we see this reference of evildoers flourishing, but they will be dealt with harshly.  This must have been a subject of conversation among Jews for generations.  I understand their frustrations with this.

I’ve seen Psalms 93-99 referred to as the “Royal Psalms”.  The word “royal” describes someone who is a king, referring to God as King who rules the earth and the universe.  I consider this a rather loose interpretation, and not wholly accepted as a description of these seven psalms.

I like Psalm 100.  It is a short psalm but it says a lot.  It tells us what our attitudes should be when we go to church.  This was perhaps written right after the building of the Temple or the re-building of it.  But whichever, the writer is thankful for the Temple and tells us how blessed we are to have a place to worship God, and the privilege of attending.  Again, God enjoys music.  Our church services should always include music.

Psalm 101 seems to have been written by David when he had been established the King of Israel.  In this Psalm he seems to be describing the type of king he wants to be.

Psalm 102 seems to shift subjects abruptly to a dark subject.  This seems to have been written by a young man who was ill and feared that he would die from his affliction.  Although he was careful to praise God, he asks God in verse 7 not to let him die in the middle of his years, meaning he had so much life ahead of him, and did not want to die young.

This brings us to Psalm 103.  Many psalms from 90-150 relate to public concerns, and some are very personal, such as 103.  This is David reflecting on God and how great God has been to David and all who know and understand God.  In the very first verse David is urging himself to praise God from the depths of his innermost being.  The NIV opens with “Praise the Lord”.  The King James Version opens with “Bless the Lord”.  Significant difference?  In this case, yes.  {Years ago when I studied this psalm to teach to a Sunday School class, I needed to research this phrase in order to understand it.  It didn’t make sense to me that we could possibly “bless the Lord”.  The word “bless” in its origin prior to translation meant to praise all of the characteristics of a person (in this case, God).  It was an all-inclusive praise, often followed by a listing of all of one’s attributes, detailing each.}  But this opening verse says more.  It says, “oh my soul”.  This phrase is not often seen.  It is special.  The word “soul” stands for the whole person, not just one’s mind or heart or mouth, but the entire being.  That is what David is trying to project.  We often see the word “holy”.  The definition of the word is “set apart; unlike anything else”.  (Godly people are to be holy, and live their lives as such.)  Verse 2 repeats the opening phrase from verse 1:  "Bless the Lord, Oh my soul", and goes on to say that he wants to bring to his mind all about God that he knows; all of God’s magnificent benefits (attributes).  By repeating the opening phrase David intensified his call to himself and was trying to create an atmosphere of undisturbed reverence.  I think he wanted to go beyond what he normally prayed and how he normally praised God.  I really think he wanted God to know just how much David loved Him.  His tone was serious and he wanted to come up with the words that could make God realize this.  {We do this often.  Most of the time when we desperately seek God’s attention, it is in times of personal affliction when we need God’s help.  But this is not the case with David as he wrote this psalm.  In this moment David wanted God’s attention so David could tell Him how much he loved Him.  WOW!  No wonder God loved David so much.}  Still on verse 2:  David urges in hopes that he never “forgets” all or any of God’s magnificent characteristics.  He wants to constantly be aware of them all.  I urge you to read this psalm with some thought.  One reason I chose this particular psalm to focus on, is that David praises God for some different characteristics than he had before.  We see throughout the Old Testament how powerful God is, and how perfect was His creation.  But in this psalm, David concentrates on God’s compassion for man.  He forgives our sins and our sinfulness.  He satisfies our desires.  He is slow to anger (however often provoked).  He does not treat us as we deserve, but rather abounding in His grace and forgiveness.  He removes our transgressions far from His mind (which is the only way to accomplish true forgiveness).  He keeps in His remembrance of how short and fragile our lives are, and how precious life is itself.  Then, in the final verses of this lovely psalm, David speaks to the angels.  Bear with my somewhat loose interpretation, but I see this as David wanting God to be happy and full of receiving praise, therefore he appeals to the angels to put forth extra effort to praise God.  Sing extra loud!  Put on a parade!  Let heaven and earth join in praising God at the same time and hope God considers Himself as truly blessed.  This psalm is special indeed.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

CCXII - Think On These Things

As I mentioned before, on the first of each month I will send a list of things for you to think on as a review of what we've covered thus far.  If you are unable to bring to mind significant thoughts concerning each of these, you might want to scan the pertinent blog posting.  This list will get lengthy as we proceed through our study.  Also helpful is the Timeline in post CXCI.

The Creation
Adam and Eve
The Fall
Cain Kills Abel
Noah and the Ark
Noah's Son:  Shem, Ham, and Japheth
Tower of Babel
Sodom and Gomorrah
Isaac Is Born
Hagar and Ishmael
Abraham Tested
Isaac and Rebekah
Jacob and Esau
Stolen Birthright
Jacob's Ladder
The twelve sons of Jacob = Israel
Joseph the Dreamer
Joseph and Potifer's Wife  =  Prison
Cupbearer and Baker
Joseph and Pharaoh
Jacob's Son's Reunite
Israel Goes to Egypt
400 Years of Slavery in Egypt
Moses is Born
God Commissions Moses
Ten Plagues of Egypt
The Exodus
Israel Through the Wilderness
The Ten Commandments
The Tabernacle
The Ark of the Covenant
The Golden Calf
Levitican Law
Forty Years in the Wilderness
Twelve Spies sent to Canaan
Moses Gives Final Sermons
Joshua Replaces Moses as Leader of Israel
Rahab the Canaanite Prostitute
Crossing the Jordan; 12 Stones
Battle of Jericho
Land Allotments for the 12 Tribes
Baal and Ashteroth
Gideon Lays Out the Fleece
Samson and Delilah
Ruth and Boaz
Hannah Dedicates Samuel
Saul - Israel's First King
David and Goliath
Jonathan, David's Friend
The Ark Returns to Jerusalem
David and Bathsheba
Solomon Crowned King
The Temple in Jerusalem
Rehoboam and Jeroboam
Leaders Matter
The Ungodly Kings of Israel
The Godly Kings of Judah
The Fall of Israel to Assyria
The Fall of Judah
The Three Groups Return and Rebuild Jerusalem
Queen Esther and Mordecai
Job Afflicted by Satan
Psalm 23

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

CCXI - Psalm 73 - 89

A short reminder:  The Book of Psalms places the psalms in order of theme, the first of which was the first forty-one being of man’s struggles.  The second deals with man’s plea for deliverance from his oppressions, which are in Psalms 42-89.  Today we will pick back up in this section with Psalm 73.

Many of the psalms we will look at today were written by Asaph.  I wrote a little bit about this wonderful man back in post CCIX, but he is worth a look back as a refresher.  In Psalm 73 Asaph had a problem, one that many of us struggle with on occasion:  He was jealous.  Bad people seemed to have everything that was good: - money, things, happiness.  They seemed to be healthy and sleep peacefully.  These things seemed to elude good people.  But Asaph did not slip away from his faith in God.  But he admits he ALMOST did.  He spends much of this psalm venting frustrations about how the wicked seem to do so very well, and the righteous seem to struggle so much.  But this venting eventually turns into praising God as Asaph realizes the foolishness and short-sightedness of the wicked.

Psalm 74 states as a sub-title that Asaph wrote this psalm.  I must question that somewhat, as the psalm speaks of Nebuchadnezzar destroying the Temple, which was generations beyond the life of Asaph.  But the authorship is unimportant next to the message, in which the writer pleads with God to not allow the destruction of His Temple which was the place God chose to dwell.  {Sometimes we get confused when God allows such things as this.  We are not to beat ourselves up when we get confused and find ourselves questioning God.  As you can see, David and many other Psalmists did the same thing.}

Psalm 75 takes us back into praising God for His faithfulness to those who are faithful to Him.  Abruptly we go from Psalms of Asaph to an unknown author of Psalm 77.  This psalm tells of something happening that was very bad.  The writer is frustrated that God has not intervened.  So frustrated is he that he cannot sleep (vs 4).  There are parallel passages to those found in the Book of Habakkuk, which we will look at later.  Habakkuk wrote that they must have faith; that God will intervene in His chosen time.

Psalm 78 is a rather lengthy psalm, as it goes through much History of Israel.  Some scholars suggest that Isaiah wrote this Psalm.  This makes perfect sense to me.  This story of History covers from the giving of the law to the time of King David.  It mentions many things we are familiar with, such as Moses striking the rock for water, the cloud and pillar of fire, manna, the plagues on Egypt, and more.  But the theme of the whole psalm is that Israel was disobedient to God.  God always was faithful to Israel, but Israel was hardly ever faithful to God.  {So many times in the Bible do we see God’s prophets pleading with the people to return to God and His statutes, trying desperately to convince them that it is the only way they can be delivered into the abundant life God had intended for them.  We need this today, here in this society.}

The subjects of the psalms, going from one to the other in the order they are placed, skips around not only in subject, but in dates of the event to which they refer.  Psalm 78 goes through an entire story of History.  Then Psalm 79 speaks of the Babylonian invasion and captivity.  Then Psalm 80 speaks about when Israel became divided and Rehoboam and Jeroboam were made kings of the two nations.  Psalm 79 mentions an appeal to God to intervene so as to protect His name.  Psalm 80 is one of the few times we hear an earnest prayer that Israel and Judah be reunited.

Psalm 81 shifts subjects and events as it rallies the people to play instruments of music in celebration of harvest.  82, appeals to God to act now, as the heathens and pagans are growing in strength and confidence.  Psalm 83 lists some if the enemies of Israel, which the psalmist insists that any enemy of Israel is an enemy of God.  Then the writer goes on to appeal to God that He again rescues Israel from its oppressors.

Although Psalm 84 states that it was written by the sons of Korah, it certainly has the ring of David.  It is a short but refreshing read at this place in the book of Psalms.

I see Psalm 85 as a prayer when one of the groups of exiles had returned to Jerusalem from Persia.  The psalmist prays in hopes that the Jews who will re-inhabit Jerusalem will not make the same mistakes as did their ancestors.

86 is a psalm of David, pleading for God to deliver him from those trying to kill him.  87 is a psalm about Jerusalem, the old and the new Jerusalem after the return of the exiles.
Psalm 88 is interesting.  Somewhat sad if you reflect on it as you read.  We think it may have been written by Heman.  (Heman was a grandson of Samuel and (with Asaph and Ethan) was appointed as a musical leader by King David.}  But this psalm is written by a person who has been afflicted with an illness for a very long time.  He is suffering and is desperate for God to hear his prayers.  The writer seems to think that he is being punished by God.  Puts you in mind of Job as you read verse 8 and others.

I’ll close this post with Psalm 89.  This psalm was written by Ethan, the third leader of musicians appointed by King David.  Although this psalm is fifty-two verses long, the subject is simple.  David was anointed king of Israel.  With that came the Davidic covenant which promised that a descendant of David would always be king of Israel.  But now that was not possible because all of Israel had been taken away to Assyria and Babylon.  Therefore there was no descendant of David that was Israel’s king.  To the writer this was a problem that must be figured out and dealt with.  Early Christians sang this psalm to the accompanying of musical instruments because Jesus was placed as the permanent King of Israel.  And Jesus’s lineage is in keeping with God’s covenant.


Friday, November 22, 2013

CCX - Psalms 51-72

Psalm 51 is one of the most often used Psalms.  David wrote this after Nathan the prophet had made David realize that not only he had sinned, but the horrid nature of his sins.  David had committed adultery with the beautiful Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah.  Uriah was a soldier who was away in battle with the Philistines at this time.  Bathsheba told David that she had become pregnant.  David immediately had Uriah brought home so he could lie with Bathsheba, making Uriah believe the baby was his.  But Uriah would not take such pleasure while his fellow soldiers were suffering in battle.  David then proceeded to order his military commander to send Uriah on a suicide mission in battle, making sure he would be killed.  So David committed a number of sins:

1) He coveted
2) He committed adultery
3) He lied and deceived
4) He plotted evil
5) He committed murder
When Nathan had exposed David’s sins to him, David at first was not repentant or even apologetic.  But as time went on he began to realize what he had done.  He truly repented and wrote this psalm.  It is a psalm of confession and regret.  He wants God to forgive him and cleanse him of his sins (vs 2).  In verse 7 we see the familiar phrase used by Christians today, “….wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.”  He uses all three terms for wrong-doings:  Sin, Transgressions, and Iniquities.  I feel one of the most important things in the psalm is found in verses 16 and 17.  David understands God.  He always did.  Burning sacrifices was not enough and David knew it.  He understood that physical sacrificing of animals was not what God was interested in.  God wants our hearts.  {The Pharisees never understood this.}  David found forgiveness from God when he felt true remorse for what he had done.
Psalm 52 shifts back to the time when Saul was trying to kill David, then in psalm 53 we see the opening verse saying, “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.””  Unfortunately we have many today that not only think this, but say it aloud.
Psalms 54-57 are written during the time David is running from Saul.  These psalms speak of people (including some friends) betraying David, and also of David so desperate that he ran to Gath, a Philistine city. 
Psalm 58 breaks in as one of the psalms that actually asks God to punish wicked people.  David thinks this way when he gets weary from seeing the wicked seemingly winning so often.
In Psalm 64 David mentions how the words of people (including his friends) are more painful than arrows piercing his flesh.  {David always seemed bothered by people saying bad things about him.  He, like us, places a disproportionate value on what others think and say about us.  I am reminded of the seventy-year-old gentleman who said, “When I was about sixty years old, I stopped worrying about what other people thought of me.  I’ve been happy ever since”.}
Psalms 67 and 68 seem to be songs to be sung by the nation of Israel when masses of people are assembled for observances.
Then Psalm 69 turns rather dark.  Many scholars attribute this psalm to Jeremiah, rather than David.  I’m not sure, but the entire psalm is written while the writer was in despair and desperate for deliverance.
If you have a good memory you will recognize much of Psalm 70 to be like Psalm 40.  The author of Psalm 71 is not certain, but it was written by a man who was old.  This is considered a “Psalm for Old Age”.
I’ll conclude this post with Psalm 72.  It says right beneath the Psalm number the words, “Of Solomon”.  I think it would be a mistake to assume it was written by Solomon.  As I read it, I see David writing it about Solomon and how he envisions his son’s reign as king of Israel.  In this psalm he speaks of righteousness, justice, prosperity, long life, peace from enemies, fame, wisdom, honor, compassion, and other attributes he wishes for his son.
Next post:  NIV Book III of Psalms

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

CCIX - Psalms 42-50

We have completed the first section (Psalms 1-41) which had the theme of "man’s plight on earth".  The second and third sections (42-89) deal with man’s pleas for deliverance from his oppressors.

I’ve mentioned the “Sons of Korah” in CCV.  Briefly, they were Levites, descendants of Korah who had been punished by God for rebellion against Moses following the exodus.  Today’s post will cover eight psalms that were written by the Sons of Korah.  Asaph and Ethan were also descendants of Korah, although they are identified by name.  Evidently all of Korah’s descendants carried their heritage with pride, referring to themselves as just that, rather than by specific names.

It seems 42 and 43 were originally the same psalm.  It appears that this was written by a man once a working member in the Temple, but has been taken captive.  He longs for God to rescue him and place him back at his previous place of service.  (Verse 4) “I used to go to the house of God”.  This man also indicates that God is in His dwelling place (The Temple), and that he longs to get back there so he can be close to God again.  This man longs for his past.  Something has interrupted his life and he is miserable.  But then he awakens to the realization that God is everywhere, as he adjusts the flavor of his words.  {It is my guess that this man had been taken captive by the Assyrians and is somewhere near Damascus.}

Psalm 44 is written by a man who is pleading for God to come rescue himself and other Jews.  He is confused that God had allowed this awful captivity to have happened.  He mentions early in the psalm how God provided Moses and Joshua victory over the ancestors of the same people who are oppressing them now.  The Psalmist says he “lives in disgrace” but claims they have done nothing to deserve this.  While he has faith in God, he is so confused by God waiting so long to deliver them.

Psalm 45 is a somewhat refreshing break.  It is a beautiful poem set to music.  It is what we today would call a “Love Song”.  Actually is was written to be sung at a wedding.  Kind of nice.

Psalms 46, 47, and 48 seem to have been written by the same person.  He breaks out in praise for God.  As we read these three psalms we sense a celebratory tone.  Some scholars suggest this was written right after God had protected Jerusalem from Sennacherib’s first attack.  {Whenever you see the word “Zion”, it generally means Jerusalem, but it is also used to refer to a future perfect city built by God Himself.}

Psalm 49 is written for people who get discouraged about the unrighteous seeming to be so successful.  The psalmist reminds his readers that the wealthy will die and perish just like the animals.  From verse 17 we get the phrase “you can’t take it with you”.  {Some Christians today need to bookmark this psalm (and there are others) to read when they get a bit down due to these all too familiar circumstances.}

Psalm 50  -  The first psalm placed in order that was written by a man named Asaph.  Asaph is probably the most under-heralded figures in the Old Testament.  I cannot in good conscience proceed without breaking to talk about this man, stating facts about him that will hopefully give you better insight into the psalms he wrote.  {We can understand a person’s writings fully, only if we understand their lives.}  Asaph was a Levite, another descendent of Korah.  Asaph, among other things, was an accomplished musician, a gifted leader, a loyal and trustworthy friend, and a man who loved God.  Asaph was selected by David as one of the leaders of music to escort the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem on that glorious occasion.  It is also traditionally recognized that Asaph was appointed David’s musical director.  (Music was important to David.)  Asaph is credited for writing the music that went with many if not all of David’s psalms.  But he wrote twelve psalms himself, and is one of the sons of Korah who is mentioned by name.  Asaph was very young when David appointed him as a member of his service (probably in his late teens or early twenties).  He lived through David’s, Soloman’s and into Rehoboam’s reign.  He worked in the Tabernacle as music director.  He helped oversee the building of the Temple, then assumed the position of music director in that complex.  Asaph lived through David’s conquests in war, then lived through Jerusalem’s years of prosperity and power under Solomon’s reign.  He witnessed the great Solomon turn his back on the very principles that made him great.  {Asaph must have shed many tears during this disappointing period.}  A quick story about Asaph’s character:  He and his brother Zechariah had been openly critical of Solomon’s shift from Godliness toward honoring paganism, influenced by his many pagan wives and concubines.  They both were warned to silence their criticisms, but they both refused to recant their comments publicly.  Solomon’s guards executed Zechariah because of this.  {They dared not go so far as to kill Asaph for fear of public outrage, as Asaph was considered a great patriarch and close friend to the ever revered King David.}  But Asaph nonetheless feared for his life for years, a great portion of his adult life.  To add to his sad adult life, after the death of Solomon, he (a very old man by this time) saw the great David’s kingdom divided into two nations.  This was not David’s vision and neither was it Asaph’s.
We will see Asaph’s life being reflected in the psalms he wrote.  73 definitely tells of his bitterness when his brother Zechariah was executed.  But we’ll discuss that when we get to those.  {Scholars have said that Asaph was over a hundred years old when he wrote some of the psalms.}

I would suppose that Asaph wrote Psalm 50 when he was reflecting on what was happening to the hearts of the Israelite people when Solomon’s character and leadership were turning dark.  Some describe this psalm as a court of law setting where God, as the ultimate Judge, will hold everyone accountable for ALL of their actions, holding the complete Law as the standard against which they will be judged.  I believe this to be an effort by Asaph to persuade Israel to “see the Light”.

Monday, November 18, 2013

CCVIII - Psalms 31-41

These eleven Psalms we will look at today will be the final psalms that carry the theme of man’s struggles.  David is credited to have written all of these.

Psalm 31 was probably written when Saul and his army was bearing down on David.  {I’m not absolutely certain of this because there are references to “those who cling to worthless idols”.  Saul had many weaknesses, but this was not one of them.  But I shall yield to the many scholars and Historians.}  In the twenty-four verse of this psalm there seems to be two separate events.  In the first eight verses we see where David prays for help and God sends him help and delivers him.  Then in verses 9-24 we see where David prays again for God’s deliverance and again God saves him from his enemies.  {This somewhat leans toward Saul because Saul chased David many times when David narrowly escaped his capture.}

Psalm 32 seems to be a bit different in nature.  In many of these psalms David pleas for God to deliver him from his enemies, as they have no reason to hate David.  In these, David declares his innocence and righteousness.  However in this psalm, David is confessing sins and sinfulness.  This leads us to believe that this was written right after David’s dealings with Bathsheba and her husband Uriah.  David’s sins were adultery, lying, and murder.  As I’m sure you remember, David had slept with Bathsheba.  The then sent her husband Uriah on a suicide mission in battle.  David knew this was terribly wrong, but did not confess and repent (vs 3) for quite a while, making himself miserable.  {Huge lesson to be learned here.  Knowing David, he must have been tormented by this.}

Psalm 33 is an interesting psalm as it seems to have 6 subjects.  The first four verses tell us to sing joyfully to the Lord and play musical instruments.  The next five speak of the power of God in His creation.  Next it shifts to the folly of man’s plans, and how God interrupts them.  In verses 13-15 tells of God keeping watch over all people, both the wicked and the righteous.  16 and 17 tell of man’s foolish confidence in his armies, none of which could win a battle if God does not allow it.  The remaining verses encourages us to wait on the Lord, as He is faithful and will delivers us.

I find Psalm 34 as another interesting one.  It is another “acrostic poem”.  Remember, an acrostic poem is one that uses the Hebrew alphabet (in order) as they begin each stanza.  The Hebrew alphabet contains twenty-two characters, the first being “aleph”, the second being “beth” and so on.  It is recorded in the Bible as a sub-title that Psalm 34 was written by David when he pretended to be insane when he was in the presence of Abimelek.  The timing of this event was when Saul declared that he was going to kill David.  David ran away and went to Gath, which was a city inhabited by Philistines.  The king of Gath was a man named Abimelek.  He, like all Philistines, did not like or trust any Israelite, especially David.  So in order to save his own life, David pretended to be crazy.  {I’m not certain how he did this, but David was a very smart man.}  It worked.  Abimelech did not kill David, but sent him away.  This was when David went to Adullam where he hid in a cave.  {There was mental illness then, as there is now.  At that time people didn’t know what to do with the mentally ill, but it was considered taboo to kill them.  This ethic among even the heathen nations saved David’s life.}

In Psalm 35 it’s easy to assume that David is being hunted down by either his son Absalom or Saul.  We know this because in this psalm, David clearly wants God to deal with his enemies because David could not have brought himself to kill either one of them.

Psalm 36 opens with David saying that God has placed a message on his heart concerning the wicked.  He talks about them briefly, describing them by their actions.  They flatter themselves, thus encouraging wickedness upon wickedness.  He says in verse 4 that they lie in their beds, thinking of ways to out-do each other in their wickedness.

Psalm 37 seems to contrast the good and the evil, speaking also of the evil being successfully prosperous as opposed to the righteous poor.

Psalms 38, 39, and 40, like Psalm 32, are written by David in his time of distress right after he had caused Uriah to be killed (II Samuel 11).  He was waiting to feel that God had forgiven him for these atrocious sins David had committed.  David knew he was guilty and he was ashamed.  (37:4) “My guilt has overwhelmed me”.  During this time, David was actually ill and he felt that his days were about to come to an end.  I want to draw attention to 40:8.  He writes, “I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”  This is our goal.  This is why God loved David so.  David understood the Ten Commandments and what God meant when He wrote them.  Jesus came to the earth not to make new laws, but to place the laws in our hearts, thus changing us forever.  The Pharisees were the opposite of David.  They made mountains of additional laws on scrolls, rather than teaching the intent of the Law for people to adopt them into their hearts.

Psalm 41 is the last psalm to carry the theme of pleading for God’s deliverance from the burdens of man.  In this psalm David continues to ask God to have mercy on him, but as I read this, I can’t help but think of Job.  David was still ill, to the point he thought he was dying.  Many people came to visit him and comfort him.  These were supposed to be friends, but David discovered that they were actually saying bad things about him (vs 7), and actually wanted David to go ahead and die, so that a king more favorable to them would be crowned.  In verse 9 he says “even my close friend”, which indicated to me that this was his “best” friend, has turned against him.  We don’t know who this “best” friend was, but he was certainly not the true friend that Jonathan was in David's younger years.

This concludes the section of Psalms that deals with the struggling of man.  In the next post we will begin the section of Psalms that carries the theme of man’s pleas for deliverance from his oppressors.

Friday, November 15, 2013

CCVII - Psalms 19-30

We have looked at eighteen of the first forty-one Psalms that carry the theme of man’s difficulties, those difficulties being mostly enemies.  We will continue this with Psalm 19.

I like Psalm 19.  In this Psalm David is praising God as he sees God’s testimony of Himself in the night and in the day.  It seems to me that David writes this psalm as he is watching daybreak, wondering how anybody could question God’s magnificence, as both the day and the night reveal so much about Him.  Then David suddenly (vs 7) begins talking about God’s written Law, and how perfect it is.  He continues to talk about how God is faithful in His Law, ready to reward all of those who will abide by it fully.

While Psalm 20 seems to be a prayer for others, 21 is a prayer for David himself as a leader going into battle.  Then (I think this is in progression) David seems to be in deep agony, perhaps sick or even wounded in battle.  He seeks God’s immediate help, being careful not to show any doubt that God is with him.

The all-familiar Psalm 23 – a precious Psalm.  Probably the most quoted, most memorized.  But this Psalm has earned this status.  Look at it with me.  I promise to be as brief as this Psalm will allow.  It begins with “The Lord is my Shepherd.”  We need the Lord as our Shepherd.  What better situation could we have?  Shepherds are the most protective people.  They must possess this quality in order to successfully perform their duties.  They often risked their lives for the sake of their flock.  They would even abandon the entire flock briefly to find one sheep that has gone astray.  A sheep’s instincts are not as sharp as those of other animals.  Sheep easily can go astray because of their eating habits.  They will keep their heads down, looking only for the next tuft of grass, totally disregarding the rest of the flock.  As they graze, they are totally unaware of their surroundings.  When they finally look up and realize they are lost, they cry aloud, confident that their ever-faithful shepherd will come for them.  And He will.  {Shepherds are special to God.  He chose shepherds to be the first to hear the news of the birth of Christ.}  “I shalt not want.”  This means we will lack for nothing.  The Shepherd constantly sees to it that His sheep have everything they need, every day.  "He leads his sheep to green pastures"; the best pastures, "beside still and quiet waters" where they can drink without fear of attack.  (Vs 4) Although life takes us through many difficult trials and grievous situations (valley of the shadow of death) we are to fear no evil because our Shepherd is always there to protect us.  God’s protective hand (His rod and His staff) should remind us that He is there for us and no evil can penetrate His protective shield.  (Vs 5) God will not only deliver us from our enemies, He will prepare a banquet setting, honoring us in the presence of our enemies, showing them that we are victorious because we kept our faith in God.  He will further honor us in their presence by anointing us with oil, giving us great honor.  “My cup runneth over” (KJV) means that my heart is so full of blessings, it seems like it can contain no more.  So much that I cannot even reflect on one before another one comes, one right after another.  {Ever feel like that.  I have.  It’s wonderful.}  So much so, that David cannot even imagine an end to this flow of blessings (vs 6).  And to top it off, "we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever".  A beautiful psalm.

Psalms 24-29 are all psalms of David, in times of his distress, seemingly in battle.  He continues his praise to God and his pleas for God’s help.

I’ll end this post with Psalm 30.  This Psalm is written to be sung during the dedication to the Temple (Tabernacle).  At this time David seems to have been given victory in battle and was able to direct his attention to something besides war with his enemies.  He praises God for deliverance from those enemies.  He praises God for healing him of his wounds.  And in the final verses, God has turned David’s clothing from sackcloth to fresh clothes of joy.  Parts of this Psalm 30 are beautiful.  We might be reminded of this Psalm in times when God has answered our prayers after one of our many lengthy battles in life.

In the next post we will finish the Psalms that deal with man’s struggles.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

CCVI - Psalms 2-18

As stated in the introduction to Psalms in the last post, the first forty-one Psalms carry the theme of man’s struggles on earth.  We should be on this theme for no more than three posts, including this one.  I am not going to comment on each post, but rather will pull what I consider significant verses within various Psalms in this section.  I encourage you to keep reading ahead of my blog postings.

Psalm 2 speaks of the kings and other rulers of the earth, feeling like they do not need God, as they themselves are self-sufficient, especially when they band together.  This is folly, as proven throughout the History of civilization.

Psalms 3-6 were written by David.  He was fearful for his life at this time, ironically at the hands of his own son Absalom.  {Note that these psalms are not placed in chronological order.}  He prays for God to show Himself to the many enemies who are hunting David down, confident that if his enemies saw the living God on David’s side they would retreat from their attack on him.  {What must be going through David’s mind when his own son is trying to kill him?  I cannot imagine.}  In Psalm 5 David pleads for God to give victory to all people who are righteous and honor God.

Psalm 7 shifts from Absalom to specifically Cush, the Benjamite.  {As a reminder, Cush was a close confidante to King Saul, and stirred up Saul’s anger toward David.  Cush was a trouble-maker, and gained authority among Saul’s councilors.}

Scholars consider Psalm 8 to have been written when David was a young boy.  In this psalm he speaks of human beings being a little lower than angels.  We will later learn that this statement is not necessarily true.  {Anything about angels draws my attention.  I am intrigued by them.  I think I get this from my beloved wife Peggy, who has always been fascinated by these lovely and interesting creatures.}

Psalms 9-10 are considered to have originally been one psalm.  This makes sense because together, they form an “acrostic poem”.  Acrostic poems use the Hebrew alphabet in order, as they begin each stanza.  Psalm 10 shows a continuation of this in the Hebrew language.  It is also thought that these two psalms were written right after David killed Goliath.  {I have a hard time seeing this in these two psalms, but these scholars are more knowledgeable than I.}  In the latter part of Psalm 10 David comments that the wicked don’t even give God a thought.  He is amazed with this.

Many of these “psalms of despair” are written by David when he was being hunted by Saul, who wanted to kill David.  He is in deep despair and is desperate for God to help him.  He is hiding from Saul and living in a cave much of the time.  {No wonder he was depressed.}  In Psalms 12 and 14, David sounds a bit like Elisha.  He talks like there are no more good people on the earth, ie (12:1-2) “…no one is faithful anymore;  …those who are loyal have vanished from the human race; Everyone lies; (14:3) “All have turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one”.

Interesting in Psalm 15 David refers to the Tabernacle as a “tent”.  This must have been when David pleaded for God to allow him to build God a proper house, but He would not allow David to be the one to build it.  God had pre-selected David’s son Solomon for this task.

Psalms 16 and 17 still seem to be written when Saul was wanting to kill David.

I’ll finish this post with Psalm 18.  This is a lengthy psalm, but it is a good read.  It seems to have been written right after David was delivered from Saul.  In this psalm, David breaks out in praise and thanksgiving to God for delivering David from his enemies.  This is a good read because you can feel David’s love for God in this psalm.  In the beginning verses he is trying to describe God’s power, (which is impossible).  In the middle verses of this psalm, David is not boasting because he has been faithful in righteous living, but rather he is encouraging the righteous to “stay the course; God hears your prayers; He will come through for you as He did for me if you remain faithful to Him”.  In the latter verses David praises God with whatever words his human mind can come up with.

The next post will continue with Psalm 19.

Monday, November 11, 2013

CCV - Psalms

Our lives are a series of ups and downs; highs and lows.  Most of us try to prolong and concentrate on the highs and try to avoid the lows altogether, knowing that it is not possible.  In the History of civilization as we know it, long before the birth of Christ, believers in God Almighty poured out their hearts to the Lord during the extreme periods of highs and lows, those periods of profound joy and those of deep sorrow or personal crisis.  Those extreme periods in the lives of the various writers served as the catalysts for the Psalms.  We refer to this collection of 150 hymns as the Book of Psalms.  The Hebrews refer to it as the Book of Praises.

{This introduction of the Book of Psalms does not flow at all eloquently.  I’m trying to provide you with facts and thoughts that will enhance your reading of this wonderful and insightful book, trying not to leave anything out, so please bear with me.}

I’m not certain who assembled this collection of songs, prayers, and poems, but whoever it may have been, was resolved to confine it to worshipful writings, filled with praise and adoration for God the Creator.  Many, if not all, of the Psalms are considered to have been put to music.  This is assumed because of its very name.  The word “psalm” comes from the Greek, meaning “a song sung to the accompaniment of a musical instrument”.

The Book of Psalms is different from the books we have studied thus far.  I consider the previous eighteen books as divine sources for facts and information.  They should be read to gain knowledge and understanding, which is the way I have tried to teach them.  Somewhat in contrast, the Psalms are to be read in such a fashion that would cause the reader to reflect, rather than seek to gain knowledge.  Many Jews and Christians read the Psalms not only for reflection, but also for comfort.  There are those who read out of the book of Psalms every day, being like a daily devotional.  This is not a bad idea, as it serves as a reminder of our loving and omnipotent God Almighty.  These Psalms are also heralded as some of the most beautiful poetry ever written.  If you are a lover of poetry, you will probably agree.

Also in contrast to the other books of the Bible:  We consider the Bible as God writing to man.  In the Psalms, man is writing to God.  Think on that.

About the Authors:  Many people consider David to have written all of the Psalms.  This is not true, although he wrote more of them than anyone else (73).  There are other writers of the Psalms.  Scholars generally agree on the authorship of 104 of the psalms.  The remaining 46 are unknown.  The list below is generally accepted among Biblical scholars:

David – 73
Asaph – 12
Sons of Korah – 11
Solomon – 2
Moses – 1
Ezra - 1
Ethan – 1
Heman – 1
Haggai – 1
Zechariah – 1
Unknown – 46

All of the authors listed are Levites, except David, Solomon, and Moses.  These are all familiar names with the possible exception of the “Sons of Korah”.  {I must be careful not get too side-tracked into the interestingly colorful and ironic story of Korah and his ancestors.  Korah was the leader of a rebellion against Moses (Numbers 16).  You might remember the story about the earth opening up and swallowing all of Korah, his family and followers, killing them all.  But apparently, two of Korah’s sons were not in that group and they survived.  Seven generations later the great prophet Samuel was born out of this lineage.  We learn further about these Korahites in Chronicles that David assigned them, including Asaph and Ethan, to escort the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, playing music, adding to the pageantry of the occasion.}

The Order of the Psalms

Many assume that David wrote the first 73 Psalms.  Not so.  The order of the Psalms is not by author, but rather by content or theme.  There are three basic themes in the Psalms.  I’ve always taught Psalms from the King James.  I notice that the NIV divides this book into five sections.  The first section (Psalms 1-41) tells of man’s plight on earth.  The second and third sections (42-89) deal with man’s pleas for deliverance from his oppressors.  The fourth and fifth sections (90-150) are expressions of thanksgiving and praise.

This has been a rather lengthy introduction, but Psalms is a lengthy book.  Psalms is the second largest book in the Bible (Isaiah is the largest).  However, at the risk of making this entire post loo long, I want to comment on the very first Psalm.  Please read this short psalm.  (It contains only six verses.)  Then turn back to the very first verse wherein we will find some wisdom, containing somewhat of a warning.  The entire Book of Psalms opens with, “Blessed is the one who does not walk with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take or sit in the company of mockers”.  Study on the progression:  When you WALK with someone, your conversation is generally casual, and influence is slight.  However, if you stop walking and STAND with that person, you are giving more serious attention to his words.  Then if you should decide to SIT with that person, you are placing yourself in a position of exchanging thoughts in a conversation, and possibly yielding to the influence of someone you perhaps should have avoided in the first place.  Isn’t the Bible wonderful?  {This warning is to urge you to stand guard, not to be confused with trying to avoid contact with the ungodly, as we are commissioned to be a positive influence on them.  This often times requires us to spend time with them.  The apostles Paul and Peter spent time with some unsavory characters in order to spread the Gospel.}