Psalm 117

Big love, forever faithful.

Score! Easy reading today. Wikipedia confirmed this is the shortest chapter in the Bible, and as it turns out the middle one.

Praise God – who? Everyone! All nations, all people.

Praise God – why? Because his huge love has taken over our lives (thanks message translation!) And his faithfulness lasts forever, praise the Lord!

Deep down in its very heart this book’s secret is revealed: the Bible is a love letter.

I was circulated stats yesterday. Australia is approx 50% Christian. I’m actually surprised it’s that high. Glebe, where I go to church is more like 30%, and it dropped about 9% in the past 5 years. I’d even been feeling pretty good about the 30% until they laid out the bars over each other in a graph, each one dramatically shorter.

What’s up God? Is this going to tend down to zero?

And I had a sleepless night. Woke up at two with a restless mind. I’m disturbed, can’t unpack why. A bit to do with identity and the future, somehow.

Praise God – is it a fun communal activity, or a largely unheard plea?

Well it’s true. His love is great, it’s for sharing with everyone, and it will be the last thing standing. Praise God!

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Psalm 113

These all seem to be special purpose or novelty type Psalms. The next group, 113-118 were a set sung at Passover. Jesus would have sung them at the last supper, most likely. We just had two acrostic alphabet Psalms, and Psalm 119 will be the super long one that has a whole stanza per letter of the alphabet… The longest chapter in the Bible.

It’s an appropriate way to kick off passover because it’s praising that God lifts up the lowly.

Praise him: who? The lord. His servants, his name: praise.

Praise him for: who he is. Psalm 8 moment… He’s so big, above the stars, and he’s so loving he has to stoop down just to see heaven and earth, to think of us.

We’re told of the emotion Jesus felt on the night he was betrayed. To think he’d probably sung this. How low must I stoop?

Praise him for: what he does. God stoops down, and lifts up the poor and the needy, the most vulnerable. The miserable slaves in Egypt….

He makes them Princes.

He makes childless women happy mothers, settled in their home.

It reminds you that’s he did literally do that for Rachel, Elizabeth. It’s a sign of blessing about to be poured out.

The world remains a mixture of crappy and wonderful, with a lot of meh besides. Are these things God does happening? On some metaphorical spiritual level? Or literally?

Well was the rescue from Egypt practical salvation of a group of slaves or part of a plan to free the world from the grip of sin? Both.

When Jesus fed the hungry and healed the sick, was it because they were hungry and sick, or to show he was Messiah? Worked both ways.

This praise is the Bible’s promise of optimism, that things should be right, and will be. God is inherently abundant, caring, and strong enough to deliver on these. It a message to shout and a way to live.

Believe it, proclaim it by praising him all day and all night, and live it by doing what you can for the poor and needy in any dimension of those terms.

We won’t and can’t fix all the problems, Jesus didn’t try to feed all the poor, but it has this context of praise, of telling a great truth about the nature and existence of God, of hope that makes it work on multiple levels.

There’s a good start to the day. At work I’m busy, on stuff I’m glad to be doing, and that I’m not necessarily up to doing, it challenges some of my weak spots. I’m feeling keen!

Psalm 110

Verse 1 throws you into it, it’s one of the most quoted Psalms through the new testament:

The Lord says to my lord:
“Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies
a footstool for your feet.”

Suddenly there is three: God, David, and “my Lord” – who is David’s Lord, and seated at the right hand of God – just a minute isn’t that in the creed? It seems David had this extraordinary insight into the plans of God, the Messiah, the rule of the whole earth, the destruction of evil. And it is so concise – 7 verses. And confrontingly violent.

He’s put together a bunch of ideas from his time, plus some pure revelation of the Spirit, into a vision of our time now, and our future: armageddon. A vision of the establishment of god’s rule.

I imagine him as an older king, perhaps, sending off fresh young troops under the power of his kingly sceptre to subdue their military enemies, and waiting till victory is reported back. When that comes, he will declare formally that their rule is at an end and that any lands they took are now officially part of his kingdom.

I imagine his mind turning, after that vivid image of the young troops marching off; to god’s Messiah, and how a Messiah would work.

The Messiah will declare kingship over not just Israel but the whole world, and the believers will go ahead like his troops and declare the kingship to God’s enemies until the day when their time of power ceases.

A few of the images also struck me as having similarities with Psalm 23. Like David had some go-to images of God that lasted his whole life.

His rod and staff comforting him as he passed through the shadow of death, reminded me of the royal sceptre here. Both solid symbols of a higher authority.

Being led to cool waters, reminded me of the moment here where the victorious king is calm enough to stop and take a “drink from a brook along the way” in the last verse, an evocative but otherwise odd inclusion.

And the feast laid out in the midst of enemies, the same phrase, the king’s rule being established in the midst of enemies. There’s a time before the enemies are finally gone where they can see, and maybe respond to the inevitability of god’s rule, his invitation.

He’s also pulled in, with the “make my enemies my footstool” line, to my mind, the image of the destruction of the snake, the evil one from genesis. The finality when the foot crushes the head. The commentators said it was a reference to a known ancient practice of a conquering king placing his foot on the neck of a conquered king.

And the new priest. The Messiah is another kind of priest, not the ones they had in the temple. David pulls out the precedent of Melchizedek to show that it is not heresy. He was king of Salem before it was Jeru-salem and was a priest to Abram before there was a priesthood.

God’s plan for the world is so much bigger than David’s kingship and Israel’s religion. Kingship and priesthood meet in the Messiah and are restored/fulfilled/transformed to their true cosmic meaning.

Our job is running around declaring God’s kingship and priesthood, like David’s troops introducing his enemies to the reality of his kingship.

And, though I feel (Monday morning) a bit burned out and confused, to God I am beautiful “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” Isaiah wrote. Turns out perhaps it was an actual question, answered here: “like dew from the morning’s womb”. Such a description for his young troops!

And the day will come when the opportunity to yield to the king is gone and evil is destroyed forever. The bodies will be piled high, it says. I trust in a God whose love and justice are perfect, but I live with that urgency.

May I work vigorously, worthily this week.

Psalm 103

This is a delightful Psalm of happy praise to God. It’s one of David’s, and they think it probably dates from his later years.

It’s a nice counterpoint to yesterday’s, from the start of his reign promising sincerely to stay pure, strong and good.

Older David is still praising unreservedly, but thanking God over and over for lifting the burden of his sin, his failure. It has a wonderful light, spacious feeling.

As high as the heavens is the size of god’s love, as far a the East is from the West has he removed David’s sin.

He remembers god’s patient compassion to past generations and looks forward to an eternal future of god’s rule, erasing the sadness of the ending of our frail ephemeral span of years.

He lists the benefits of being God’s: personally he’s been pulled from the pit, given a crown of love and compassion (more worth mentioning than the earthly crown) provided good things and he feels young and invigorated, ready to soar like an eagle.

It’s just wonderful intimate tumbling praise of a person filled with God’s spirit.

The righteousness and justice phrase describes god’s objective again.

Righteousness and justice; forgiveness and love. Being the beginning and end of all those seemingly irreconcilable things is the mystery and power of our triune God.

But that’s not a heavy thing to think about, it’s light, fizzy and best expressed in a song.

Psalm 43

This is a sequel to 42. Sometimes they were printed as one, but I did like where the other was left.

The psalmist asks for vindication. He asks to be rescued. I liked how the request for rescue echoes Exodus and Deuteronomy. Led by light, to a mountain of blessing.

He’s doing the consistency argument. Reminding God that He saves…

He mentions being back in the temple praising God on the Lyre. He’s a church guitarist! He’s saying ‘Isn’t that we where you want me God? Where I am supposed to be?’ ‘You like praise don’t you? Put me back and you’ll get more praise…’

It’s a bit like a business proposal: ‘I think your interests and my interests could be better aligned if you take certain mutually beneficial steps…’

But its a good test for prayer. This sort of logic prayer seems self serving, almost manipulative at first blush, but the mutuality of it is a check that the prayer is the within the will of God.

The answer could still be ‘no’ of course but if you are saying ‘God, your character has been this, your plans were this’ it’s a good starting point. It’s respectful, acknowledging that God is calling the shots. It’s the revelation thus far.

Psalm 31

It starts with David in one of the many tight spots he was in during his life and he prays, like people do when they are desperate.

He is out of options, he says if God won’t save him, its not going to happen: they are Jesus’ last words, ‘to you I commit my spirit’

God rescues him, and David recognises that is because God is the rock, solid; the fortress, safe, and because he does good. Not because David was good, because God was good.

That opening verse ‘deliver me in your righteousness’, read with Romans, sparked Martin Luther to be transformed by grace, sparked the Protestant church, apparently.

Luther considered that verse contradicted the church’s teaching that it was God’s holy, righteous nature that condemned us. No, it saves us.

So, rescued David goes on with life and expands that crisis perspective out to be a life attitude.

God remains the rock as you get old, grow weak, eyes fail, your influence fails and people forget about you, and start to plan for you not being around.

He recognises his all his times are in God’s hands just as he gave his spirit over to God in the moment all seemed lost.

The safe fortress of God is spacious, it’s full of good things, and promises shelter and abundance forever.

His moment of acute physical salvation intimately revealed God’s spiritual and eternal nature, of generous, unearned love safety and abundance. And that we are spiritual beings, more than the sum of our bodies.

It’s that simple but massive jump God has patiently been revealing the whole old testament: he doesn’t just save bodies, he saves souls, and they matter more.

He doesn’t just save like a mate lending a hand when you need it, saving is who God is. It’s the gospel in a Psalm.

Jeremiah quoted the phrase ‘terror on every side’ in ch 6 when Jerusalem was under siege, and twice in ch 20 when he was put in the stocks, and people obviously wanted him to fail – a phrase choice to evoke hope. Paul also quoted it, its a classic!

The response? Praise! This is David.

Praise God! What a great return to reading psalms. Yesterday I was quite stressed about my employment prospects and general situation. Less so today.

Jeremiah 49

Ok, Babylon will conquer all the neighbouring kingdoms. 5 prophesies in one chapter.

None are told to repent, it’s just going to happen, there’s nothing they can do.

Two will be inhabited again, the other three it seems to say will never regain their glory.

Often there are intimate pictures of suffering. The palace women running to and fro among the hedges after the king and priests have fled and deserted them. Men paralysed by fear as their camels are led away, their last nomadic security.

Some god loves, such as Damascus. Some like Edom, he talks to in terms of justice… How could you get off lightly when other far more worthy are being destroyed.

The relationship of God and Babylon is hard to understand. Impossible even. Why did he not stop them? Why describe evil as your sword of judgement?

I’ve got to this point many times before in my reading of the Bible.

Someone once described it as trying to understand a tapestry by looking at all the threads in the wrong side… Cross over to the heavenly perspective and you see a beautiful picture.

Non Christians, (those who even bother any more) mock the equation “I don’t know, I just believe”. But that’s pretty much it.

Jeremiah 47

Judgement against Philistine. Don’t call it Palestine!

Which it sort of is, but the internet is full of Jewish writers saying that modern day Palestinians do not share DNA with ancient Philistines. It’s generally conceded at least however that both terms refer to the non Jewish inhabitants of that area.

There is harsh judgement, and a degree of empathy: fathers so terrified their hands are weak, and they forget to look back at their sons.

This in a week where Trump dog whistled racist instincts by calling ms13 gang members ‘animals’. The Bible’s way is to recognise the humanity even of your enemies.

The people are not condemned for anything specific. Maybe it was not necessary as they are the traditional enemies of the Jews. But it seems just like death is judgement. It’s not a crime and punishment model, it’s the lot of us all.

Jeremiah talks to the sword of judgement like a person. He doesn’t say “thanks goodness you are going after that scum” by the way. He says “when will you rest!”

It can’t until the work of this current age is done, until death is consumed.

Isaiah 64

This chapter and the previous have an interesting change of voice. Most of Isaiah has been him speaking God’s word, but these are both passionate prayers. Somewhat flawed human words to God, like the Psalms.

63 seemed to be from the point of view of someone who was in Jerusalem when it was about to be conquered, and this one is from exile, longing to return.

They are like a response to the promised salvation of the previous 3 chapters in a way. “You’ve promised mighty salvation, do it already!”

They share a strong confidence in God’s forgiveness, or at least a demand that he keep his promises, that is even a bit manipulative. Like arguing in 63 that their sin was sort God’s fault for creating them capable of it.

This one is quite humble, and very aware that their long term refusal to acknowledge God has carried them away like dead leaves on the wind.

It does sound a bit critical of God’s timing however. They sound kind of frustrated with him for shaking mountains back in exodus when they didn’t really want it, but not doing it now they are in exile when it would be really helpful.

There is a nice turn of image when they say their evil has melted them, then say they are clay in the hands of the potter, God.

“We don’t deserve it, but save us anyway…” Calling on his creative nature by characterising him as a potter.

It ends with a rhetorical plea – can God really stand to leave Jerusalem in ruins? Zion a wilderness? The temple burned?

“We aren’t worthy to ask for our homeland back for ourselves, we’re in no position do that! We’re simply reminding you that you might want to restore the promised land for your own glory…”

This sort of bargaining with God is what happens when you are really honest with him, show him your feelings. Like one of those moments when you say “I know that you know what I’m thinking, so let’s cut the crap”.

They want really badly not to be in exile. They know God’s promise that there is more of the story of the chosen people to come, but they know by now that they can’t promise to be perfect. So they are finding other reasons to plea with him to act: his own nature, his own glory.

I agree that some of my calm about losing my job, despite being quite depressed about it, comes from expecting God’s plan to be in character with his love and abundance, even though I really don’t deserve it.

Isaiah 44

The YouTube overview of Isaiah describes this bit, it’s where the perspective changes from the fear before being attacked by Babylon etc to the joy of returning from exile and reclaiming Jerusalem.

Some argue it was by a later hand, Isaiah the sequel. I am not a biblical scholar and I don’t care deeply about it, but I don’t see any problem with the idea of Isaiah writing it. He predicted the near future, the attacks, he predicted the distant future, the Messiah, why not the middle future?

It’s an affirmation of how richly he will bless Israel, how there is no other God like him and and condemnation of idols.

The idols section is wonderfully vivid, painting a picture of one piece of wood being used half to burn in a fire a cook dinner, and half to bow down to and worship. Having begged the question of its nurture and growth in the forest…

The ideas are bought together in a final burst of delight at how God forgives, nurtures, protects and supports Jerusalem. Which, if Isaiah did write it must have sounded very odd to the people living in mortal fear of having their society and City destroyed.

They had David’s Psalms however, and I recall being struck by his response to crisis: go into God’s house and wait on him. Stay calm God is in control.

Trump, North Korea, the decline of Christian dominance, Isis… Stay calm, he is the lord “who frustrates the signs of liars and makes fools of diviners, who turns wise men back and makes their knowledge foolish”

No one else like him!