Psalm 144

This quite a personal prayer, David reflecting on God while preparing for war. He not on the run, he’s a king now. But he’s still the same guy, the sum of so many complex parts.

He returns to some of his favourite themes, ideas expressed over and over in his poetry. I felt like we are getting a lot of David in this psalm.

He calls God a rock, a solid basis for his preparation to fight, and a refuge, his safe fortress.

How often has he returned to calling God his refuge? God as a safe place to escape must be his number one image.

Such a helpful thought pattern to learn… Stressful times turn you closer to God, not further away. He learned as a fugitive in his youth to hide in God as he hid in caves.

He’s still the same David inside, though he’s a brave king and warrior on the outside, he does not do bravery in his own strength.

He talks about scale and perspective. Man is so insubstantial, like a breath, a shadow. Yet God thinks of him. He paints a grand picture of God’s heavens to contrast the teensiness of man, as he’s done many times.

And this time God will be active, splitting the clouds, reaching down in lightning and power to intervene in his war and scatter the enemies. But beyond God’s help or otherwise in the current fight, he’s thinking about God’s mindblowing capacity to care for mankind at all.

Then the image of himself playing a new song to God the deliverer on the 10 stringed lyre. The warrior, happiest playing music and singing.

The song will be of abundance and blessing.

It’s a bit of a greatest hits, we’ve done psalm 40 (he set my feet on a rock), psalm 8 (oh what is man, why do you think of him?) and ended where psalm 23 does (goodness and mercy will follow me all my days…)

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Psalm 139

I feel like this psalm is a peak into king David’s head when he spends all that time in God’s presence. I’ve commented before about how in the thrilling narrative of Samuel he reacts to stress by slowing down and filling his mind with God.

The thoughtlines here have all the time and space they need to go where they want to go, though he also has the economy of a poet in the way he evokes them.

It starts and ends talking about being searched by God. I love how he reverses the tenses from what you would expect. He starts by saying God has searched him, and ends by asking God to search him. Its open ended.

He first chases that idea of being known by God into his daily activities… His going out and coming in, God is before him and behind him. He finds it mind boggling. And it is.

I mean, he’s a VIP, king David, so maybe it would make sense that God would give him special consideration, but it’s the same for me, for every soul, including the ones we haven’t the time or energy to care about ourselves. The last shall be first. Each flower of the field more glorious than Solomon, all known, each of us of infinite value.

Then the vision of God goes into scale: forget the daily movements, look beyond the village. You could zoom to the highest, furthest; be hidden in the darkest where you’d think no one or nothing could see, and God would be higher, further, and exposing the darkness like day.

Then the God who is eternal. The idea of God knowing and planning our days before he knits us together in the womb. I’m not a medical man, or indeed a philosopher, but I can appreciate that much is evoked in the phrase “fearfully and wonderfully made”.

He considers the number and value of God’s thoughts… infinite, like grains of sand, but hugely valuable.

These are the sorts of places David’s mind goes when he hears assassins are out to get him. This depth of love and certainty about God is why he can trust him so decisively.

So this is a psalm to go to in distress, when you need to pursue your own thoughtlines about the presence and control of God.

And people do, I feel like most of the lines of this psalm have turned up on posters, or on Facebook image memes!

David ends it with a capper we are used to by now… He’s not actually in a situation that lends itself to being relaxed and ruminative, he’s in a serious pickle. Hence, I guess, the dramatic shift from thinking about the delicate preciousness of God knitting us in the womb to asking God to side with him in the coming fight and slay his enemies.

That’s why the fiddling with tense: you have searched me God, please search me! Expose and calm my anxious thoughts, purify my motives to align with your character.

We go forward into the mess, as messy people with God’s spirit: in front and behind, highest, farthest, deepest, forever.

Psalm 129

The resilience of God’s chosen.

The Israelites define themselves by what they have survived here, more than what they have achieved. It’s bonding and powerful.

From slavery, to wandering, to splitting up and then losing the promised land, and getting it back again, they survived. And as world history rolled on, they continued to survive a lot.

It is very short, and great for chanting. “You oppressed me, you oppressed me, but I won!” Is the opening cadence.

The rest is a vivid harvest metaphor. The Israelites compare the whips of slavery to ploughing… Their oppressors ploughed their backs with deep furrows, but God cut the whipping cords and released them.

Having seen many empires pass, and survived, they can compare the oppressors to useless grass grown in the wrong place, on a roof, that will wither and be useless.

It ends with a happy picture of a proper harvest day, which is blessed work. Passers by would shout God’s blessings on the work back and forth with the reapers.

Those who ploughed the Israelites backs with whips, only to find their harvest withered, will never know that blessing.

It has that confidence, arrogance even, of faith that feels sorry for those who may seem to be the winners in life, but challenge God.

I’m feeling a little overwhelmed this week so, though I can’t claim anyone is ploughing my back, I can use a booster shot of resilience. A cheery chant to get me through.

Psalm125

Jerusalem as parental hug. To a child, a parent is the most reliable, indestructable good thing on earth. Ditto Mount Zion, the temple, the presence of God. And the mountains surounding Jerusalem are like God’s arms holding us, his surrounding protection and love. And peace reigns.

The reign of evil will cease and lose its influence on the righteous. Anyone not good will be banished along with the evildoers.

I was thinking how that “gated community” image of Jerusalem: it’s just for the perfect, sits oddly with Jesus’ teaching about loving your enemies and going an extra mile with them.

The Jerusalem Jesus actually lived in was subject to roman rule, and he surrendered to Caesar what was his, and accepted the death penalty from his unfair trial without fighting back. The ‘sceptre of the wicked’, as the psalm calls it, certainly seemed to be over the land, and rather than banish them, he wept for the citizens because they were like sheep without a shepherd.

Maybe the talk of banishment is an extension of the parental vibe. It’s directed primarily to the inhabitants after all. Parents inevitably say stuff like “if you don’t do your homework, you’ll never get a good job”, and then ban the tv or something. Maybe these aren’t threats, more warnings and corrections, and should be read with the tone of parental love?

I remember being appalled when my eldest brother said he was a universalist, as in, all people go to heaven, when I was a child. He was the one from whom I learned such theology even existed. It had never crossed my mind.

I’d seen those Warner Brothers cartoons where characters nearly went to hell after death, and had to deal their way back to heaven, and they seemed to accord roughly with the Bible descriptions mum read at night before I went to sleep.

These days I would summarise my belief as “dunno – don’t expect to know this side of heaven”. But I cling to idea that whatever the afterlife is like, it will be fair.

I think God definitely wants us to have the fear of God in us for things… Evil, blasphemy, injustice, cruelty.

He wants us to have an urgency and a mission for the ‘lost’, both physically and spiritually – that I can’t say I’m very good at personally. As its turned out, strangely enough, I have a support role in that, both at work and at church.

And the deeper into the scriptures I get the bigger and less conditional God’s love appears to be revealed as being.

So I’ll enjoy the enveloping warmth of love in this psalm, and live as God has prescribed: at war with selfishness and pride in me, and doing my bit to bring the gospel of judgement and grace to the world. And He can figure out how the new Jerusalem works.

Proverbs 20

Wine is a mocker and beer a brawler; whoever is led astray by them is not wise.

Do not love sleep or you will grow poor; stay awake and you will have food to spare

Got me there!

There is a recurring theme of real politic… About pleasing or displeasing the king. It’s quite crawly, but true in an observational way.

A king’s wrath strikes terror like the roar of a lion; those who anger him forfeit their lives.

Most chapters have a few of these, and I tend to skip them. Obviously God encouraged the prophets to ignore this. They were sometimes public enemy number one and had generally terrible relations with the kings.

And I think I rebel generally against the wisdom that is in the “you-may-not-like-it-but-that’s-the-way-it-is” category. What does that teach us of God? Choose your battles? Be practical?

It lets in a bunch of competing priorities. You have Joshua saying “choose today who you will serve” and then proverbs saying “and keep one eye on the king”.

Though I suppose you could argue it is saying to be aware of the consequences. Accidentally or needlessly provoking the king is just foolish.

It is a trap to dedicate something rashly and only later to consider one’s vows.

Ha, can’t deny that one, I was moaning about it only yesterday.

This chapter actually upped the tempo on insightful spiritual sayings, addressing the spirit, love, guidance, being pure of heart. It places great value on reflection as the truest part of life.

The purposes of a person’s heart are deep waters, but one who has insight draws them out.

Many claim to have unfailing love, but a faithful person who can find?

The ultimate wisdom is God, always:

A person’s steps are directed by the Lord, How then can anyone understand their own way?

 

Psalm 79

Just read the Wikipedia article about Asaph, the author of these Psalms. It has a good pithy commentary on all the recent Psalms.

Today’s is a lament.

We start with a crane shot like the one showing the civil war in ‘Gone with the Wind’. The defiled temple, Jerusalem in rubble, dead bodies and blood exposed to the sky for animals to attack.

That what got me reading about Asaph. They said it may have referred to a number of temple musicians, not just a single person.

Unless this is a prophesy, he was there for the destruction of Jerusalem. I was surprised at the late date.

The Psalm appeals to God’s mercy and fairness.

It acknowledges God’s anger, which is an acknowledgement of human sin and the possibility of destruction at all times, held off by God mercy. If God is angry, he allows the inherently greedy powerful empires to attack.

It expresses their dire need for help. It reminds God of the shed blood and the groans of prisoners.

It appeals to God’s defence of his reputation. What will other nations think, there is no vergence? It calls down on the perpetrators 7 times what they have inflicted.

So it’s ok to tell God that life is not matching what was promised in the brochure.

The previous Psalms have had judgement and remembering the past blessings as themes. If this is the now, then it’s a bitter context.

It certainly makes my wistfulness at landing back into the literal and symbolic mess and complexity of home pretty minor. We had a really good holiday, I enjoyed the time with two of my kids (oldest, Lewes, stayed in Sydney… But he’s so complex, holidays don’t work with him).

I’ll move forward on the employment front, go back to work, and undertake a big task at church over the next month or so, moving the church offices. A big commitment of serious organisational input of the kind I often feel inadequate about, which needs to be done very well as part of our church’s long term to some very vulnerable people around where we live.

The challenges begin.

Let me stay connected and thoughtful about my children, let me listen and work with Kelly about what’s best for them and for us.

Let me appreciate how blessed I am, how without God’s ongoing love and mercy, so much could be gone and broken.

Let me shun evil.

Psalm 64

This is all about treacherous people. I was thinking, God already has largely protected me from that. I have very little treachery in my life.

I work at the salvation army (I ended the week with two job applications done, including the manger position that scares me a little, but which would also be great… And 3 or 4 more that I could do). Hard to imagine a less treacherous workplace. Apart from that, there’s family, old family friends, church people.

David describes tongues like swords, words like arrows. The key pivot is where he says God will turn their words against them.

David encourages people to be righteous rejoice in the Lord.

It’s a particularly good thing for me, because I don’t handle that sort of stuff well, I’m not very protective in the way I relate to people. I get stressed just reading the psalm.

It’s paving weekend here. I’m hopefully going to lay lots in my back yard. I shall use this prayer time to be thankful for the many blessings I do have and pray for my family.

I’m going to keep reading Psalms until 72, which is the end of book 2 of 5 divisions. Then I’ll flick to job, a bit of light reading there, and back to Psalms. I’m going to bounce around the poetry books for some time: Ecclesiastes, song of songs, two of my favourite books! But first, a bit more Psalms then job.

They caught a guy in the US who sent 12 bombs to critics of Donald Trump. He is my age, 56, and exactly who you would expect, a pathetic crazy little racist pizza delivery man with lots of hate in his life, no grace, and none coming from Trump worship. I’ll pray for the US election too.

Psalm 59

This psalm comes from the time David was first openly being hunted down by king Saul. The king sent assassins to stake out his house and his wife had to let him out a high window to escape with his life.

He’s clearly terrified, the metaphor of dogs prowling for a kill is about a literal as a metaphor can be. He’s also super indignant because he done nothing to deserve this.

His prayer has three stages of urgency: safety, then vindication: being shown to be right publicly, then ‘in the morning’ to love God.

Turning the story into a dramatic song here, to revisit and learn from, the lesson is God’s strength.

So I start reading annoyed with the repetition, thinking ‘enough with the enemies’! It’s all becoming a blur.

But I’m directed… 3 times I think to think of God as my high tower, my fortress, strong and safe.

And the innocent man accused scenario, the anointed king treated like a criminal, inevitably conjures up Jesus.

He collected so many enemies, enough to kill him.

His silence at his unfair trial. His strength to bear all he had to, to be God’s love and also take the meting out of his justice.

And I think about my kids, not enemies, but ever present concerns I must return to and deal with more than is interesting to anyone else. So repetitive it’s a blur.

As the year nears an end, it’s a marker on areas that haven’t progressed, or gone backwards. I don’t need as much strength as David, I have a wife I don’t have to leave behind, who shares it all the way.

But I do need to remember it is not just our strength that is just at play here. As I consider my inadequacy for the task, I pray for you guys!

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 36

The small and the big. David has a message about the evil ones… They so don’t count.

He talks about them 3 and a half verses in which the evil does just sound pathetic, not to be feared. They confuse themselves with self flattery, not only bad but foolish, and somehow small, lying in their bed at night stuck in the minutiae of their own plotting.

Then 6 verses of contrasting praise of God – no contest. Boundless love, justice, rightness of cosmic dimensions An abundant feast, a fountain of Life feeding a river of delight for us to drink. It’s over the top, the contrast makes the evil ridiculous.

It’s like self talk, king David convincing himself and us we’ve made the right choice in rejecting evil.

What a boost, a reminder of the cosmic power situation. Combating fear by remembering God’s overwhelming blessing. A great mantra: God is love, God is justice, God is bigger.