Psalm 112

I didn’t look at the commentary yesterday and missed the background to these two Psalms.

They are a pigeon pair, each are twenty two lines long in the original, and both are alphabet acrostics, ie: in the original language, each line starts with a letter of the alphabet in order. Twice through the alphabet.

The great preacher Charles Spurgeon pithily nailed both – as he so often does – calling them the sun and moon. 111 looks directly at the glory of God, 112 sees his glory reflected in the life of believers.

I felt sad at the first couple of verses because it talked about the success of the believers’ children and how wealthy and rich their houses will become.

I’m sensitive about my children but I need to be positive and take this as a promise to trust in their value as human beings and love them for who they are. Other ways, madness lies, for me.

The wealth is relative of course. I can be worrying about making ends meet and still be very much among the richer on the planet…

And the psalm turns out not to be unrealistic about the Love God=#blessed equation, going on to say that that believing in God can make light dawn in the darkness. I took it to mean that even if a believer is in a dark time, the light of Christ will make it better.

The rest of it talks about security in God, which is a thread that links the good and the bad times for believers. It talks about not needing to fear. Even the worst news will not shake us badly because we know god’s love and steadfastness.

You have the confidence to be generous and just. None of the other things people long for will be as rewarding.

Better with God, that what I hear, and so true, better with God.

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Psalm 85

God and people, up and down. God above, people below.

The first half talks to God, remembering blessings past and asking for restoration again. Specifically for God’s anger to pass, for him to show his unfailing love, revive and save the people.

It was clearly written during a time of distress.

Second half talks about our part in it. The author promises to listen to God, to fear him and not be foolish.

Then you have these lovely pictures of God’s grace and our response kissing. Godly people being the meeting place of God’s righteousness and the faithful responses on earth.

It may have been a prayer for an actual drought, or a metaphor, but you have God’s blessing coming down and the fruitfulness of the fields reaching up.

The sense of mutuality, of my part to play, is a great way to launch into a new week. I’ll give it my all!

Since we’re doing so much music of late, here chance the rapper’s blessings song, which this psalm bought to mind.

Psalm 77

If this book of Psalms, starting from psalm 73, so far has had a theme it’s remembering.

Yesterday’s was about when Israel had military glory. Today’s joins the dots.

It narrates much more fully the journey from fear and despair in the night to remembering and calling on God to be in control.

At first the night time meditation on God produces distress, classic night fears that abandonment, rejection by God will go on forever.

But then appealing to the deeds of long ago starts to calm him.

He visualises the chaos of the sea. Dark stirring water is an abiding metaphor of losing control for all Israelites it seems. Then he visualises lightning and storms, the power of God over the sea.

It ends on a specific memory of the Israelites, led by Moses and Aaron, leaving Egypt by walking through the sea stepping in the invisible footsteps of God.

This image combines God’s power with his specific love for Israel, and calms him.

The mighty blue mountains, nature’s intimidating size, and a lifetime of memories, along with time to be with my family, is calming and restoring me, praise God.

Being aware of the movement of air, or the stillness of it. The heat has been crazy, but there’s always a stream to cool your toes in.

We’ve played board games and browsed antiques and clothes. Slowed down, remembered rituals, watched bad TV and found new things.

I think the psalmist is listening, letting God speak. Creating opportunities to hear him. We bought a funny antique glitter art framed verse to put on our wall yesterday ‘quench not the Spirit’.

Speak father, in this moment of our lives’ intersection, to all our different needs.

Psalm 73

I’m back to Psalms, Book 3.

New year’s Day and a wonderful journey of encouragement to kick off the even more than usual uncertainties of 2019.

My key verse, a great one for someone getting to the cardiac arrest years of life:

“My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

I’ve made mainly unstartling doctor’s-advice type new year’s resolutions: less alcohol, more exercise sorts of things. Maps say I can ride bike to work faster than bus, keen to give that a go.

The narrative of this psalm is a common theme of many of them, though here expressed in a particularly touching, relatable way.

The author says his feet nearly slipped, he nearly lost his foothold, because he envied the arrogant when he saw the prosperity of the wicked.

You could swear he spent too long on Instagram before he sat down to write: “They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.

This is their reward for laughing at God, living for greed and cheating their fellow humans. Sigh

Holidaying in Wentworth Falls, a beautiful place in the middle of blue mountains national Park, you think about your feet not slipping.

I couldn’t look at the sight of 20s-something tourists, foolishly cavorting atop Katoomba Falls. Dancing on wet rocks, in water that, less than a metre from their feet, plunged spectacularly down to the valley floor.

But I didn’t turn my eyes from Pirramirra, or Whispering Pines, spectacular mansions, slices of heaven on earth carved out by some seriously wealthy people, private paradises fenced off so I could only crane my neck and glimpse.

The second scenario is the dangerous one for me. A big component of my longing to hear about job prospects hanging over from 2018 is the sweet promise of financial security. My wife finishes her course this year and may even find work herself.

A few dominos fall the right way, we could be more prosperous this time next year than we’ve ever been. Hard not to feel that dream would fix everything. Tantalising, but surely resistable for someone who’s just read Job? And psalm73:

“When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” Tick.

“Whom have I in heaven but you? And earth has nothing I desire besides you.” Double Tick!

Keep your mansions I’m not without temptation, but I know who I want to be in 2019.

Psalm 65

This is a beautiful psalm. Its a praise psalm, but praising more what God does than who God is, and at the end it goes into wonderful tumbling raptures about the abundance and provision of nature.

It navigates the relationship between the chosen people and all people. God is God of all the earth, creator of all, blesses all, and all will come to him. But he finds specific praise and those who will keep vows to him in Zion, and they appreciate being blessed that way.

There is a creating/taming section and an abundance section.

They stand back in awe at the one who made and tamed mountains, roaring waters and nations. His power, size and eternal nature is a source of joy. I always think of the elation you feel when you go to an impressive lookout or see a big storm, or fly over lands.

But then it goes human scaled, the sweetness of abundant provision, of spring and harvest – spring is described as crowning the year. We sang a gorgeous anthem when I was young, set to these words.

I had a sense of the streams and creeks being like fingers of God’s blessing, spreading out life and gentleness over the earth, resulting in hills of gladness, covered in flocks and harvest carts overflowing with bounty.

Suits my mood, nicking off church to do – an admittedly self serving – DIY project.

Finally, after years, paving our backyard, in the happy anticipation of a summer of hospitality and enjoying meals outside in the warm evenings. Hashtag blessed!

Oh here is a vid of the anthem. I don’t think it’s the first time I’ve linked it, but it’s so sweet. Under 2 mins, just one verse of text, and the vid is of a slightly rough but keen choir… That was us. Visualise young me in the front row.

And the lines of polyphony, criss crossing melodies, remind me of those bright playful fingers of streams running though the hills and fields, the life blood of blessing.

2 Chronicles 9

Behold! The Queen of Sheba.

The visit of this exotic personage, from a far flung and wealthy kingdom… (they think it was in present day Yemen, pretty much the edge of the known world to them) …lends massive credence to the honour and fame they have achieved.

This nation of former slaves, transformed by God’s blessing so that all the world acknowledges his greatness.

More descriptions of Solomon’s stunning opulence follow. It goes on for 40 years, Israel’s high period, and then Solomon dies. The Queen sums it up:

“Praise be to God who has delighted in you”

It’s what God wants for us. The garden of Eden is described in similar abundant terms, as is the new earth and heaven described in revelation.

The history of Israel is a huge lesson that people’s hearts don’t become loving if you pour out massive blessing on them.

Look at the wealthiest, most blessed nation on earth today. The US are desperate to become “great” again. Yesterday I read they slapped trade tariffs on Turkey because the world trade system is ‘so unfair’.

Great wealth has begotten more greed and bullying of nations poorer than themselves. Their policy of ‘America first’ belies the fact that they already are first. It’s actually America further first.

And Australia is not better, look at how we treat refugees while shrinking or foreign aid. If the West is in decline is because our rich diet is so bad for us.

1 Chronicles 29

The book ends with the handover from David to Solomon. Solomon asks for wisdom, in terms that acknowledge that God has made a great nation, remembering his love for David. This pleases God. He grants Solomon wisdom and he also promises great wealth.

They go to the tabernacle and offer sacrifices. I got mixed up earlier, there are two tents. This one Moses made in the wilderness, and another in Jerusalem that David made for the ark of the covenant.

The book concludes with a description of how wealthy and powerful Israel became during Solomon’s reign.

It’s a sweet fulfillment of God’s promises.

It’s such a brief period, is like the flowering of the American prosperity theology. God blesses them with wealth.

Indeed, he doesn’t only use poverty or suffering. I’ve mentioned before the English band the Housemartins who famously said they would be Christians only when they had nothing in their bank accounts, but that is not the only way.

Here is a period when gold and silver were as common as stone. However God also doesn’t only use wealth and success.

It’s tempting to think that this is where it was done right, where God is in control and his will is being done fully as he intended. But it isn’t.

He told them back in Samuel that even having kings in the first place was second best, plan B.

The bad Kings that would come, and the split, decline and fall of Israel, result in the soaring visions of the prophets, the wisdom literature, global redemption, the God who lives in hearts, not buildings.

It’s one of the few books about the Jewish nation’s history with a happy ending, until you read that the only reason it ends here is that the scrolls it was written on weren’t long enough to hold the whole story. It ends here for technological, not literary, reasons.

So I’ll enjoy the good things without guilt, and pray that I can accept the bad. Neither condition demonstrates or questions God’s existence, his favour, or his will.

1 Chronicles 15

Ark done right. Listening to God, David had learned his lesson and consulted God about how to carry the ark, after the attempt in chapter 13 resulted in death from God’s anger.

It’s carried on the shoulders of Levite priests on poles. Pretty nervous priests I’m guessing, but it doesn’t go wrong again

But the message is clear, consult God, follow his word.

I wondered if we’d get the detail that Saul’s daughter disapproved of Davids joyous dancing. We did.

Palace disloyalty, and his lusts will prove his weakness.

But this day is one of his best, a day of huge significance, joy and celebration.

David has established Jerusalem, God’s capital of his promised land, and bought into it the ark that they carried through the wilderness, the artifact of their epic journey from slavery.

I’m not doing it justice. Bit of a chemical sleepiness this morning, took a drowsy headache pill. At least the sadness from earlier in the week has largely passed.

But I need to get onto some things, I motivate myself with how good it will feel. I need to be light. It feels like a step in my journey I need to take. My life has come down to battles of fear vs bravery at the moment.

Jeremiah 24

Bad figs and good figs.

A new section where exile has started under some of the last Kings, and essentially a Babylonian puppet king is on the throne of Judah (replacing the Egyptian puppet king…)

The people remaining in Jerusalem are represented by a bowl of bad figs in Jeremiah’s God given vision for this chapter.

Those sent away are the good figs.

The exiles. The ones who seem abandoned.

We need to remember what a topsy turvy effect sin has. The great bought low, all our efforts in vain, the place where the action is actually the place of corruption and futility, the humble lifted up.

The Lord of the rings is a powerful parable for that. The off-stage, marginal, nature of how God’s power acts on earth.

Isaiah 61

It’s the passage that Jesus read in the synagogue when he staked his claim to be Messiah. The sermon got a definite reaction. They didn’t fall asleep, they tried to throw him off a cliff.

It’s a great promise that the Lord’s timing is on a cycle, it is a season, a year of favour. It ends with the blessing compared to blossoms pushing forth from mud.

It’s also political, or quasi so. Justice, release for the captives, Good news for the poor. A revolution in the sense of an upsetting of the existing order.

A theme here repeated from the last few chapters is the rebuilding of ancient ruins. That literally came true when the exiled Israelites returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the walls and temple.

NT Wright blew my mind a little this year when he described heaven as being still on earth, this earth, but remade to be perfect as it was in the time of Eden. Why not?

Revelation speaks of a new heaven and a new earth, for the former had passed away.

I really don’t know, they are all pictures. The promise is of truth and justice and love reigning eternally, as god intended creation to work.

It’s the evolution of the idea of Jubilee from the Torah, the first five books of the Bible. The idea that regularly, seasonally, all debts are cancelled, and justice, equality is bought about. Very anti-capitalist!

God’s eternal kingdom is the permanent year of Jubilee, the coming of Jesus was the arrival of the season. He is the means by which creation is fixed.

All so mind blowing, is a huge promise, one that is wonderful but also hard to envisage what will actually be like to experience.

God says “trust me”. Who else have I to trust?