Psalm 149

This psalm of praise has a sharp end, calling for the praise to be a double edged sword in their hands, carrying out vengence on other nations, binding their Kings and shackling their nobles, carrying out a sentence that has been pronounced on them.

There’s bits missing here (which nations? what sentence?). These can be filled in by the exile and the prophets.

Probably Babylon is the nation they are most likely thinking of, who sacked Jerusalem and exiled Israel, and the sentence is probably some version of the prophesy that the exile would end after 70 years, as it did, when the Persian Empire defeated Babylon and freed the people.

What’s more, singing the song in its original context: praising while captive, it probably wasn’t a good survival strategy to be more specific. It’s probably deliberately vague.

It’s a salvation psalm. You have the people rejoicing in God, God delighting in them, and them anticipating his salvation.

And I do long for the Kings of the nations to be fettered. To give Kings and princes their due, I suppose someone’s got to do it. But it is more common than not that the power makes them compromised and disappointing figures, even the ones who don’t kill the kids and drive you from your homeland.

I just watched the trailer for Tom Hanks’ movie about Mr Rogers. He was a Presbyterian minister, and his kids show about being a neighbour was squarely based a biblical inspiration for his life mission.

Hollywood aren’t fools, they know how this portrait of a deeply civil and gentle man will play against a national – maybe international – discourse that is descending into crude name calling, simplistic populism and dark forces like racism.

I knew I was being co-opted, but the trailer made me cry, anyway.

May our praise be a double edged sword.

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Psalm 102

The triumph of trust in God over your personal circumstances. It will all work out.

It’s personal story but also a metaphor.

The first half of the psalm details the suffering of the author, who is broken, reviled and will have a short life.

I found the metaphor where he compares himself to a single bird on a roof the most affecting. No help, exposed, vulnerable.

Half way through the Palm he starts factoring god into it, drawing comfort from knowing that time will extend, that God was before and will be after, that generations will flourish.

Also that god’s reign will extend. He will rise and show compassion to Zion.

It’s an exile Psalm, so the broken state of the author reflects their smashed nation. But he he has trust that God will restore Jerusalem, which he did. And further that all nations and rulers will revere God, which via Jesus and Christianity also happened.

He looks forward to his personal narrative of misery being transformed, becoming part of the story of god’s glorious salvation and rescue, which he is.

God laid the foundations of the earth, and is the solid thing that will remain. His compassion, hearing our groans, his releasing us from the condemnation of death, those are the lasting things.

From lonely bird on a rooftop to participant in the universe’s greatest victory.

I’ve woken up a bit stressed about life and work. There’s a few more loose ends than I can keep in my mind at one time, so that they dance from one to the other worrisome thing I mustn’t forget. This is an encouragement.

I know more of the bigger picture than this Psalmist did, what a great example of trust. God is glorious, my problems could even get a lot worse and still not really matter. It will all work out.

Job 28

A stand alone poem about wisdom. No one is quite sure if it’s Job’s or the narrators voice. It’s one of the passages that instantly conjures up an anthem I sang as a choirboy, though listening back to it theres a reason I can never remember more than the opening and closing sections, they’re the catchiest bits.

It starts relating about what man finds precious, and the lengths he goes to to obtain it: gold, silver, precious stones.

Hidden in obscure places, yet man finds the places and uses all his energy and ingenuity to extract these things.

Yet nowhere in earth is wisdom found, and it is of greater value than all the precious wealth we mine.

Death and destruction have heard a rumour of wisdom… Maybe this is a hint at the silver lining in what Job has been through, and validates his position of being more authoritative than his friends because he has less certainty, is more aware of how much we don’t know.

God knows where it is and what it is. It was in the beginning, and part of the creative process. This he says to us: wisdom is to fear the Lord and to depart from evil.

Maybe this is the most basic revelation to man, knowable without the specifics of the light of Christ, or the salvation stories of Israel. Any human is capable of rejecting or acknowledging their innate awareness of God, and moving away from their evil urges.

I’m not turning this into a universalist creed. If you are being presented with committing to Jesus’claim to be God’s son and you choose instead to believe in a God of your own making and entirely conveniently defined according to your preferences, at a certain point you are rejecting the revelation and the promptings of the spirit.

And if wisdom includes departing from evil, it implicitly accepts original sin, that evil is in us all.

What is this? I think I need help. This is the most precious thing anywhere. But how does it relate to the rest of my belief system? Where is Jesus? Where is Jehovah?

Sheesh! Read the commentary, not much help.

I think I’ll hold that thought. I’m very tired after a long weekend and much to think about. Day off tomorrow on lieu of weekend. Unscramble brain.

Job 27

I am not that guy.

Job’s final words to his friends cycle back to the point that more is needed.

Job agrees with all the terrible things his friends say will happen to those who defy God. Things like happened to him: lose the things they loved and be thrown from God’s presence. But he is not that guy.

He loves God and is assured of his acceptability to God – as we have been in the set up in chapter one. Job will never be convinced otherwise, as any believer would not.

So missing pieces are needed to fill in the picture of God’s justice, his love, his salvation.

After the raucous rally last night to gee up the salvation army someone said ‘but where is Jesus?’ Well he’s in there. The oft repeated vision I gladly signed up for is about ‘transforming Australia one life at a time with the love of Jesus’.

But there was also a fair degree of cultural tub thumping in the mix, and also a lot more talk of of justice and salvation. Stories of transformation from the lips of people around the nation, hitherto operating in parallel, now to be administered as one.

And it’s confronting when they announce they are releasing X million dollars to set up X number of new churches. Is that how God’s kingdom works?

The first evening session was quite self deprecating in a way: we partner, we fit in around others. Then yesterday was more ‘we’re going to win the church contest!’ Rah, rah’.

The Salvation army is a bit like a piece of performance art. There is an element of instinct, stuff just happens and the meaning gets unpacked in real time. A series of iterative actions rather than the result of long reflection. Not the way I’m accustomed to a church operating. Not saying it’s wrong necessarily, but makes me think.

Apt I think, to start talking about the search for God’s wisdom.

Job 19

The skin of my teeth.

I was with my brother at a rousing performance of Macbeth yesterday that emphasised its qualities as popular entertainment.

The are similarities with Job. Their literary quality and the number of phrases and ideas coined so perfectly that they have stayed in common usage. This chapter, where job rebukes Bildad and friends for adding to his sufferings, and urges them to examine their own lives, is the source of the phrase ‘by the skin of my teeth’.

It comes during a very Shakespearean (or was Shakespeare Jobsian?) extended metaphor about skin and flesh. God has made him skin and bones, he’s survived by the skin of his teeth, now his friends are attacking his flesh as God has, but he has the consolation that he will see God in the flesh.

My brother and I discussed the book of job, as brothers will, and he mentioned the amazing ‘I know that my redeemer lives’ verse. Talk about a spoiler alert… It’s in today’s chapter, flowing directly after the passage I’ve just described.

And it still made my hair stand up. This startling messianic revelation. ‘I know that my redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand on the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes—I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!

Why suffering? Suffering is the amazing mysterious ingredient by which God brings love with justice to the world. It has thrown Job into hope in the living God in ways his friends could not understand. God’s suffering in Christ absorbs all suffering. Job knows his will pass and his flesh will see God his redeemer.

How is that here, in this book? Its all so much to process. Prayers of praise and thanks, I think.

Psalm 66

Shout for joy to God, all the earth!

A psalm about God’s salvation.

It makes you realise God was always preparing the world for Jesus being his salvation plan. Jesus isn’t in this Psalm, but he fits in like a light bulb in a socket.

It talks about global, national and personal salvation. It’s all to be praised.

So it tells the whole earth to shout for joy, praise God, see his wonderful deeds.

The deeds are what he’s done for Israel, the exodus.

Again it says all nations should praise God because he kept their (the Jews) feet from slipping, refined them by fire, bought them from prison into abundance.

God wasn’t just saving the Jews, he was showing the world what a saving God looks like, and showing where salvation would come from and how it works.

Then the writer tells of his own salvation, by offering sacrifices in the temple, and fulfilling his vows. It is an example for all those who fear the Lord, who don’t cherish sin in their heart. God will not withhold his love.

The message from Christians to Jewish people is flipped these days, the light has come And we’re saying to Jewish people, ‘come see the mighty works of his salvation’.

But there are weird hints in Romans and elsewhere that God’s plan for the nation of the chosen people are not over, and I mean, its all Jehovah. After reading the old testament for a few years straight now, I feel so close to Jewish people, and this the day after a horrific antisemitic massacre in the US.

Antisemitism is on the rise again, particularly in the US. They are claiming it is the worst attack on Jewish people ever on US soil.  And in the year leading up to the attack, antisemitic incidents are up 57% I read on the weekend.

Wow, I think I’ve been in shock, not letting it sink in. But the thought of that while reading the psalm is like being thrown into trauma.

It is a horrible dark cast over the joy of this Psalm. Though there is pain in there already. ‘you let people ride over our heads, we went through fire and water’.

And I pray for God’s abundance, his mercy on those faithful Jewish people that were senselessly shot at a baby naming ceremony.

We told about what our witness should be in the Bible, how we are to live our lives. We are to live the gospel of Christ, we are to be prepared to give an account of what Christ has done for us, just as the writer here asks the whole earth to hear the promise of saving love he knows he has from the sacrifices in the temple.

Who’s in who’s out of heaven, of God’s eternal grace? Saved by the gospel I’m to live? I have absolutely no idea, and I don’t think I’m meant to.

I skimmed Paul’s discussion of Jews and Gentiles in Romans.  There is an extended metaphor of olive tree branches being cut, new ones grafted on and then old ones re-grafted, while some are never cut. That leads to: ‘for God delivered all to disobedience, that he might have mercy upon all’  after which he concludes ‘how inscrutable are God’s judgments and how unsearchable his ways’. Indeed.

I trust that God’s salvation will be just, full of grace, loving and abundant. That is the God this Jewish writer wants the whole earth to shout for joy at here, and I’m convinced. Though the water, through the fire. Through the most ghastly hate, horror and pain imaginable.

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 40

You did it before, you can do it again.

This is a much loved and analysed Psalm, so my take on it is about the size of a pinch of salt, but I was struck by the idea that it’s all explained by the last two words “don’t delay”

In fact the more I read of David’s Psalms the more convinced I am that the best of his considerable poetic skills is his endings.

They are like a trap being sprung. In the ultimate David Psalm you get excitement and discursiveness …he writes in a fever like Paul, piling on associations, the thread of his argument zigzagging via flights of spiritual grandeur.

But then at the end it comes sharply into focus. You see what his starting point was and the rest gets context. It all falls into place.

Here, again, he’s praying in a pickle. God hasn’t saved him yet, and if he doesn’t soon, there will be nothing to save. He makes it pretty clear that all that is in the ‘don’t delay’.

The thrust of his plea to God is, you’ve saved me before, you are God, time to save me again.

But this Psalm is like self talk, or that happy situation where just asking a question answers it in the positive.

Just bringing his emergency to God, remembering how God has saved him in the past, how great and how transformative God is – putting a new song in his mouth – how much he loves God, how much God loves him and has a special plan for him. How God’s saving nature has the whole Earth’s history and future in His strong hands, hands of love…

I’m sure once David prayed his prayer, prompted by urgent desperate problems, he was emboldened and courageous, confident that he would indeed be saved without delay, as am I today reading it.

By the end of the prayer the problems haven’t gone away, but the power of them has. They’ve been overwhelmed by this glimpse of heaven, by the true state of things. The ‘don’t delay’ still has an element of nervousness about the timing, but there is also I reckon a keen ‘let’s get on with it!’ confidence in there now too.

I come to it feeling very unworthy today, and having read this, very saved.

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.

2 Chronicles 22

A chapter of intrigue. The next king is the youngest son, does not love God and rules just one year. It’s a story of false alliance between the North and South, that split after Solomon.

God is mentioned as judge in his death at the hands of an assassin.

His mum the princess from the evil northern kingdom, Israel, stages a northern takeover when he dies and kills everyone in the house of David.

The dead King’s sister manages to hide her nephew, the heir, as a commoner in the temple where he lives 6 years during his grandmother’s reign.

So the promise of the Messiah is barely hanging on though intrigue in a time of rampant evil. It’s Noah in the ark, Joseph in the pit, Moses in the bullrushes, all over again. It will be the baby in the manger.

God’s mighty saving power is sometimes in the smallest things.