Psalm 54

David is in trouble again. They pinpoint it to when he was being chased across the country by Saul, who wanted him dead.

David was on one side of a mountain, Saul on the other, and the locals, the Ziphites were helping Saul.

It falls into the pattern of cry before confidence that saying your problems out loud will do.

Starts with the panic part of the brain: ‘Lord help me!’ ‘are you listening?’. Then the calm part starts to reason: ‘you sustain me, evil won’t triumph forever, you’ve saved me in the past, you can do it again’.

Oh the value of prayer! Psychologists preach cognisance, the value of self talk to start processing our reactions. Prayer is cognisance plus… an awareness of a loving higher power working everything in the long run (admittedly sometimes a quite long run) for good. Self talk with extra juice.

I was reminding myself yesterday to trust God in the crisis. So reassuring today to consider that, if you are too in the moment to trust yet, merely shouting at God in a crisis can be a good starting point.

Yelling ‘Oh my God!’ when the hammer hits your thumb needn’t always be taking his name in vain.

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Psalm 53

Almost identical to psalm 14. It’s an adaptable song a bit like happy birthday, except you substitute a reference to your current problem at the end instead of a person’s name.

Last time I wrote a lot about atheism. This time I got distracted at how the goal posts keep shifting on who’s ‘good’/believers and who’s ‘bad’/unbelievers.

It seems clear when it talks about the ‘fool who says in his heart there is no God’. Atheists, or in their day practical atheists who follow religion as a custom but don’t believe it in their heart.

But its less clear when it goes on to say everyone is corrupt, emphatically: no one does good, and no one seeks God.

And indeed, ‘believers’ continue to sin. We are scarcely seeking God when we are lying, cheating, lusting, resenting, being cowards for God, are we?

Then the goal posts seem to move again and it talks about the ‘evildoers’, who are attacking them, who will be beaten by fear.

We’ve seen again and again God’s favourite and most convenient shortcut to a military victory is to fill the enemy with unfounded fear, so they retire in confusion, or worse, destroy each other.

I like how David doesn’t really argue for God. He is confident that unbelief is a self deception, which will run aground on facts.

But that response to attack requires the most faith. The Israelites had to literally do nothing but trust God. Which can be terrifying. Fear and fools on their side too.

So you have a scenario of an impending attack on Israel, and David is saying: none of us are good, none of us deserve to win. We can be fools like our attackers and not trust God, or call on him.

You may call yourself a ‘believer’, but we are basically all the same evil hearted beings. Calling on God to overcome fear, trusting him for the crisis, is the thing.

David was clearly longing for Jesus, the one uncorrupt man. We know him, but the psalm still rings true. So many Christians prefer to trust politics for the crisis, for instance.

And I’m worried about my future, and my family. Let’s see how I go.

Psalm 52

David was a fugitive, running from his predecessor king Saul. He got bread from Ahimelech, a priest, telling him he was on a secret mission for Saul.

Doeg, one of Saul’s herdsmen, reported the priest. David was long gone, but Saul in a rage, demanded the the priest and all his order be killed. Saul’s regular army refused to do it, but Doeg, who was not Jewish, slaughtered many priests, women and children in the place it happened.

This psalm is a meditation on Doeg. When he calls him a ‘mighty warrior’ in the first verse, it’s sarcastic. He recognises him for the lying opportunistic coward he is, getting the kings favour such a dreadful way. He inflamed Saul against David even more than he already was.

Godliness is the difference. Doeg trusted himself and succeeded by destroying others. David becomes doubly determined not to be the same, to trust and praise God.

Having fallen out with the king, I suppose becoming like Doeg represented a moral choice David had. David would never lift his hand against Saul, because he was God’s anointed. So he indeed didn’t succeed by destroying him.

David later expressed remorse for his part in the event, after all, he involved the priests with a deception. So that regret might have been driving some of his resolve. Maybe it’s another penetential Psalm, like 51, in a way.

It’s tempting, even in small ways, to suspend the rules for really shameless disgraceful people, to fight fire with fire. But our purpose here is to bear witness to God, not be God.

I face the new week with a temporary reprieve from unemployment, my contract with Salvos was going to end in November, extended to 8 January, very generous actually, paying me for the new year break.

And it will allow me time to apply for a slew of jobs in the new structure they are introducing… Some prospects, in with a chance. At the same time my 14 year old is in a world of pain, his friends pretty much ghosted him all holidays, going back to school today, very much in my prayers.

Psalm 51

Psalm 51! David’s second most famous Psalm after 23.

He faces his evil, his sin. His crime of lust and murder, perfectly covered up with the corruption of his kingly authority is dragged into the open by Nathan the prophet.

But though he’d technically gotten away with the ghastly mess until Nathan, it was ever before him, the poisonous guilt between him and God.

So ugly. And he knows it runs so deep. He speaks of being a sinner in the womb, original sin, but not by way of some sort of excuse.

Acknowledging the whole ugliness to God means experiencing the complete beauty of forgiveness and renewal. Mercy, grace deep down to every dark place. All the evil he’s ever done and been, the evil he will do and all the horrible consequences, known and borne, absorbed, by God.

What can I say? I too know that grace. As a child I sang Allegri’s ridiculously beautiful music – I got to sing the really high note. These things are meant to be sung. Into a frame of misery, remorse and sadness, the entry of God’s mercy is too beautiful. Praise him!

Psalm 50

This psalm is by Asaph, who is mentioned in chronicles as a seer as well as a musician. He’s good at singing and cymbals, apparently.

It sent me to the commentary, I found it hard to follow. But they made it quite clear. The people of God are judged for two things: empty ritualism and hypocrisy.

They quoted the preacher Spurgeon. Always a good idea. He said of ritualism ‘what was meant to instruct became their confidence’

So true! For Israel it was the animal sacrifices. They were supposed to consider that the blood shed should have been theirs, and repent of their sin. Learn.

But its so easy to instead think that you have given God something, be it an animal or any other regular duty… Going to church, reading your Bible, taking communion.

As the psalm dramatically points out, God doesn’t need anything, he already owns the cattle on 1000 hills. We need… To acknowledge him, humbly call on him.

Ditto hypocrisy, which is dealt with in the second half of the psalm.

The set up is significant though. It starts with a huge stage, all of Earth witnessing God shining from Zion, fire and tumult announcing his presence. And he judges his people first.

You would think judgement day would be one day when we could be smug. ‘Aha – now the unbelievers are in trouble’ we might think. But our ritualism, our hypocrisy, and the call on us to repent is the judgement held up before the whole earth.

And this judgement day isn’t necessarily at the end of time, it’s just God’s judgement. It’s happening as the song is being sung. The second half of the psalm talks about God being patient, giving us time while he remains silent to repent before we are torn apart (!)

And so it remains. And how misguided, how hypocritical do we often appear to the world. The response is so often to defend ourselves, rather than to show the world what true repentance and mercy looks like.

We have no right to feel smug, our repentance is part of the hope of the whole world.

I’ve had a few things happening but today is not the day, maybe tomorrow’s Psalm I’ll talk about it.

I’m enjoying the Psalms! I’m taking them as devotional moments, meditations. I think I got impatient with them before because they seemed repetitive and the book as a whole wasn’t going anywhere. But sometimes repetition is good, like coffee. I never ask ‘what does today’s coffee add to yesterday’s coffee?’ Psalms is more of a series of coffee breaks than a journey.

Psalm 49

You can’t take it with you.

Don’t be a slave to wealth, don’t be jealous of it, don’t be threatened when it appears to enable people to get the upper hand.

If you think the aim of life is wealth, you are putting your trust in yourself and not God, and you can’t save yourself from death.

The people who trust God see the light of life. God redeems them from the dead and calls them to him. The rich will never have enough money to buy eternal life, it’s a ransom more costly than that.

It’s a simple message, but in the narrative of the Bible so far the concept of eternal reward, eternal life, is a rare insight and emphasis. It does justify the excited introduction spruiking the great wisdom you are about to hear.

For example, before this I just finished chronicles, the summary story of the whole old testament, from Adam to return from exile, but they didn’t really get to this revelation.

Eternal life is this idea, this truth, connected to the Messiah that comes to the O.T. writers in moments of transcendent inspiration of the spirit, almost like speaking in tongues.

The tragedy is, we have this truth, but we are still slaves to money. It’s one thing to know it, but another to know it. It still requires a constant focus on God and empathy for fellow man to begin to fight back the iron grip that wealth has on us.

What a good idea to make a song of it, so you can sing it into your consciousness. I probably won’t get the chance, but this one deserves to be put to modern music.

Psalm 48

The city, the temple, the Lord. All to be greatly praised.

If I can stay awake.

I’ve been getting the flu, I see now, since daylight saving came in on the weekend. My body clock is all over the place. Wasn’t ready for the alarm this morning. Having second thoughts about not having a second day off work.

All three are intertwined, God, his City, his temple, all sorts of positive connotations are piled on all three: beautiful, strong, loving, astounding.

This could well be talking about the event in chronicles where the sons of Korah, writers of the psalm, are mentioned.

Local countries teamed up to destroy Israel in a weak moment, but they became overwhelmed with confusion and fought each other, annihilated each other.

King Jehoshaphat of Israel showed tremendous trust in God. Faith in him was his military strategy: ‘we look to you’.

The singing of songs praising the splendour of God’s holiness was an integral part of the victory. It bought a generation of peace.

This is exactly the song for that moment.

But being the Bible, the truth about God’s home has larger eternal meanings, after Jesus’ words about destroying and rebuilding the temple in his death and resurrection, and the vision of the new Jerusalem in Revelation.

We sing the psalm today and it still makes perfect sense. It reflects our own salvation, the God we know and love. I’m a temple, I live in the holy city, among God’s chosen. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, in me he sees God. I am beautiful, strong, astounding. I am channel of his love through the whole earth. With him my soul finds an eternal dwelling.

Psalm 47

A jolly praise Psalm about God becoming king of all nations.

It starts with clapping: an international language, all beings praising.

It talks about God first choosing the Israelites, giving a special inheritance to the pride of Jacob.

The covenant with Abraham was to be a father to all nations. His grandson Jacob was the father of the 12 tribes, Israel’s is a story within the larger promise.

Then in this quick praise filled version of the larger story God ascends to his throne as king… Like Jesus actually did… Amid the shouts of joy of all nations, and trumpets. He reigns. All people gather. They praise, and praise some more.

It is the story of the Messiah, and our gentile ears should tingle (while we are clapping, shouting and praising) because he is the revelation of God to all of us.

I’ve been thinking about universalism in my old age, whether it’s possible everyone is saved. I don’t think that is probably true, but I feel less hard on people who do. I don’t think it makes a heap of practical difference to the life you lead or the message you preach.

It’s just a an awareness of this feeling of stories within stories, smaller blessings within larger ones. God is always managing our revelation.

Like the layers of creation stories, from being made in God’s image to the dishonest temptation to be like God by eating of the tree of Knowledge. What does that mean? If someone is an image of God but out of the garden, do you address them as being God’s? I face this problem of address regularly at work.

I’m contemplating that many more or many less people may be believers, or saved, than I would have thought. Which makes sense. I mean, how on earth would that be something I would know?

But you grow up thinking you do. You know, all Anglicans are in. Well, the evangelicals, the ones we know. Other protestants, good to go. I’m not intolerant.. as long as they believe something ( looking at you Uniting). Catholics pentecostals? Depends on the moment… Is this a conversation about theology or demographics?

For example, Abraham goes back 4000 years, but Aboriginals have lived here most likely 60000 years. What did they know of God those 56000 years? That’s a very lot of years. I’m totally with my brothers and sisters, when Captain Cook arrived, God was already here.

But equally, reading about the ‘chosen’ people in the old testament this past few years, the majority never seemed to have got it. Many spent a lot of time worshipping other Gods, or just being blatantly nominal Israelites who did religious duties, enjoyed the feasts, but behaved with total self interest, spiritually hollow. True believers always seems to have been a tiny subset.

We think the church is in decline, Australia doesn’t identify nearly as Christian as it did a generation ago. But I don’t think God is failing, perhaps nominalism is failing.

We meet each week in our sandstone cave in glebe point road, 70 of us in a population of 1000s. I don’t think God’s mission is a failure, I do what I feel led and taught to. I trust and obey.

St Paul’s image of us seeing through a glass darkly frees me from overthinking this. It’s an awareness that, yes we still don’t have the full story, but I have my story, and God is very happy to run with that.

I’m aware of my failings and challenges. I spend a lot of my time either boosting the salvation army or my beloved local church, or praying for and sharing life’s ups and downs with my family.

I share in this international vision of praise of a mighty God of love and justice, everyone’s King. But I don’t really have a clue how it literally plays out on that level, just an evolving sense of how it plays out in my little patch.

Psalm 46

These psalms of the Sons of Korah are a hit parade. This is one of the best known. Almost impossible for Christians of a few generations not to hear Dambusters theme as you read it.

3 stanzas, like Psalm 42 they have the violent water and the calm water. Earth’s overwhelming flood and cataclysmic shifts. Environmentally, and as a parable of life.

Then the calm of heaven, God’s control with a soothing river, unmovable.

Then the chaos of Earth again, but the promise of peace.

There is heaven and earth, calm and chaos.

God is present in each, so here in the chaos, calm down, be still and remember his presence.

All pithily done as a song with a returning chorus. A cheer up ditty to hum though the day and rouse up group optimism when the faithful gather.

So what are my worries?

The news this morning presents urgency over the environmental clock. The world seems incapable of focus.

Politics is sort of in turmoil. The way news is consumed, via algorithms that, in the hunt for clicks, endlessly pander to everyone’s confirmation bias. Perfectly designed to undermine fundamental institutions of tolerance, majority consensus, civility. Polarised ungenerous thinking everywhere you look, into which sweeps opportunists.

Personally, the family seems incurably sad.

I don’t know if it’s daylight saving, but I am overwhelmed, too many balls in the air, ironically sapping my energy.

Prone to blank panic when I get discretionary time. What should I be doing? Why is my head so blank? Should I make a list? Maybe this is what early dementia feels like?

Economic uncertainty going into the end of the year, don’t know if I’ll have a job, we keep spending too much money.

God is with us. The mountains may be plunging into the sea, but he promises wars will cease. He’s bigger than all of it, it makes sense to him. All will be well.

Be still, know he’s there.

He’s present, he’s present, present.

Psalm 45

A bridal Psalm which, even before the New testament, was taken as messianic. Hebrews 1 8-9 sealed the deal, quoting it directly. The vision of the king on a horse riding out for justice seems to be picked up in revelation as well.

The writer opens by describing his tongue as another’s pen, like he is prophetically guided by God.

The opening section describes a glorious king, beautiful, fighting for justice, his arrows hit the heart. Handsome is as handsome does, it’s idealised.

They speak of the king as God, having an eternal throne of justice. And then there are two gods. God, the God of the king gives him honour and anoints him with joy. It’s impossible not to read as about the Messiah.

And this is the Son in glory, the risen king, attractive in every way.

The second section talks about the bride.

There is a scene of her accompanied by a group, approaching the king in joy, basking in the connection and the celebration, anticipating their sons becoming Princes forever. It is regarded as thematically picked up in the passage in Ephesians 5 about the church being like a bride to Christ.

What this adds to those passages is poetry. It’s taking everything good and giddy about a royal wedding and saying God is that noble Prince Charming, heroic and attractive, and we are the one chosen to be elevated to be with him, seen as uniquely beautiful to him.

Yes maybe it’s a bit creepy if you overthink it. But its powerful. If you idealise the most celebrated relationship imaginable on earth, that is us to God.