Week 13

  1. From Strength to Strength
    Psalm 84

    Charles Spurgeon called this Psalm the ‘Pearl of Psalms’ and it contains so much that is familiar and full of meaning that is impossible to do justice to it in one reading, so we won’t try to do that here. The Sons of Korah were doorkeepers in the tabernacle (1 Chronicles 9), but this wasn’t just the welcoming committee, or those that made sure the doors were locked, the prophet Samuel was a son of Korah (1 Chronicles 6) and lived in the temple as a child. This Psalm is attributed to the sons of Korah.

    When the opening of the Psalm describes the temple or dwelling of God as lovely, the writer is not referring to the architecture or the furnishings. He expands his description to say that his desire to be there made him light headed. There was no where he would rather be. It was a place that gave him great joy. While today we have the privilege of meeting God wherever we are and in fact are described as being temples of the Holy Spirit because he dwells within us, it is this same Holy Spirit that fits us together into a ‘holy temple in the Lord, in whom you are also being built together into a dwelling of God in the Spirit.’ (Ephesians 2:21,22). We give expression to that when we meet together. This was the habit of the early church that were eager to meet as often as they could to learn, pray, share meals, sing and enjoy each other’s company. Jeremy Myers asks: “How do you feel about attending church? Do you love it? Do you look forward to coming to church? Do you get a thrill out of attending church? Is it the highlight of your week serving in church? Do you miss it when you can’t attend?”

    Do we meet with God when we gather together so that our strength is renewed, our joy is enriched and our lives find new meaning? This Psalm is called a Pilgrimage Psalm because it would be sung as the people made their annual pilgrimage to the temple. Yes it was a pilgrimage and it could be arduous, going through difficult territory, with the threat of being attacked, and enduring harsh conditions, but at the end of it was the dwelling of God where they and the rest of the people would meet with him. Even though they would go through the Valley of Baca they would go from strength to strength. It is not clear whether Baca was a physical place, but the word can be translated so that it reads the Valley of Tears. A dry place, but one that was endured because of the joy at the end of it.

    The writer was a doorkeeper, it may have been a lowly job although very responsible, but he says he would rather do that than live in the lavish luxury of evil people. Just one day in God’s presence with God’s people was better than a thousand years in the best holiday resort. He would put up with any inconvenience just to get there. How different is that to our modern approach to congregational worship? Myers says: “It is at church that we get a glimpse, a foretaste, an appetizer for heaven. If you are looking forward to heaven, then you should also look forward to attending church, because church is the practice ground for heaven.” Is that how you see church, is that how church meetings seem to you? Do you long to meet with God, and feel empty when you can’t, or is something you grew up with or feel you should do as some sort of obligation?

    What draws you to meet with God and each other each week, what would you keep you from it? Is the sun shining and inviting, a good game on TV, a hard week at work, some gardening tasks that just have to be done or family to catch up with? Does your soul faint in anticipation of meeting with God, your heart sing with joy? Will you go through the valley of difficulty just to meet with God because it is there your strength will be renewed?

  1. Do church meetings fill you with the joy of the Lord?
  2. What needs to be different?
  3. What are the obstacles (or excuses) that allow you to avoid meeting with each other and with God?
  1. Restore us again
    Psalm 85

    God’s chosen people had a turbulent history, they went from heights of enjoying the blessing and presence of God, to the depths of facing his anger because of their disobedience. In the depths they called out to God to forgive and revive them, but once he had answered their prayer, they once again turned away. The history of Israel is not unlike that of other nations and also individual believers. The Christian experience is more often like a series of mountain tops separated by dark valleys than it is a steady ascent. God in his grace and mercy leads us through the valleys and puts us back in the high places, and this is the picture this Psalm gives us of Israel.

    There are a number of times when Israel was in captivity to other nations that are described here, but the circumstances are similar. The people were afraid that God would be angry with them, they had lost their enthusiasm for him and were spiritually dead. They called for revival, to be restored. God had acted favourably toward them in the past, and they need him to do so again. The Psalmist says that God had forgiven their wrong doing and had covered their sins. The weight of impending punishment had been taken away, and the failures that had caused separation between them and God had been covered over. God’s anger had been turned away and their relationship was restored. Now they had fallen again and like before they needed revival.

    How often have you and I felt the need for revival? We have known God’s peace and blessing but have somehow lost it. The joy we had known is absent, our singing is mechanical, our prayers empty or unanswered and the bible is dry. Going to church is an obligation, or even a drag and we have no vitality in our faith. What causes these depressions or valleys in our relationship with God? It can, of course be sin. Something we have done or continue to do which robs us of our fellowship with God. It may be that we have become complacent and have taken God for granted. We may have just stopped doing the things that sustain us spiritually. It might even be that we have suffered or been let down in some way and turned from God. In these times, like the writer of the psalm, we must ask God to restore us to the place we once knew and revive our joy through his steadfast love.

    The writer asks that he would hear what God has to say, because it was his job to tell the people. He needed, as all pastors and preachers do, the prayers of the people. It was essential that he speak God’s words to bring his peace to the people. For their part the people needed to commit to not turning back to their old ways again. God is always near to those who have reverence for him, who will trust him and do his will. The preacher needed to be the example, he needed to be revived and to encourage the people to seek their own revival. In this way the nation would be restored.

    When God’s people are restored, there will be righteousness and the guarantee of God’s faithfulness. The land will be fruitful, peace will reign, and people will walk in the pathways God has established for them. Righteousness of the nation starts with the restoration of his people. Do you need to be revived?

  1. Would you describe your spiritual life as steady upward climb or a series of peaks and troughs?
  2. What could you do to reduce the number or depth of the valleys?
  3. Do you need reviving, is your spiritual life gasping for air? Where do you expect relief to come from?
  1. None like you
    Psalm 86

    This is a psalm attributed to David, but it is not clear at what time in his life it was written. There are many occasions that would provide reasons for the requests made here and the basis on which David appealed to God. The Psalm begins by David giving four statements about himself that give grounds for God to respond, he then gives four statements about God which gave him confidence to expect an answer.

    David first of all acknowledges that he is poor and needy. He is not coming with any sense of deserving an answer, he comes because he has nowhere else to go. David was a man of courage, a proven soldier who had fought against enemies with more weapons and support than he had, but now he comes to God not boasting of his success and ability but admitting his need. Because he was poor and needy, God should listen to him. He then claims to be godly and because of that God should save him. He was godly because he had not stopped trusting in God, he had not turned aside but remained committed to serving his Lord. Seven times in this Psalm David uses the word Adonai which is translated Lord. It means supreme and only Lord and David is confessing his absolute dependence on him.

    The third thing David says about himself is that he cries out all day long. This is not a half hearted prayer, or a quick couple of minutes before he went to sleep at night, he was constant and urgent in his prayer. He expected God to be gracious and respond because of his sincerity and commitment. He was totally absorbed by his need and was going to keep on praying until God answered. Fourthly David knew that God would bring gladness to his soul because he prayed expectantly, he lifted his face to him in anticipation of God’s answer.

    David now turns to the reasons he was confident of an answer. God is good and forgiving and always extends his steadfast love to those who call on him – David knew that God had instructed his people to call on him in their day of trouble and he would answer them. Secondly among all the gods there was none that could do the works that God did. He did great and mighty things and nothing that David asked of him was too great. The third thing that gave him confidence was that he alone was God and he would do those things that would bring glory to his name. And then fourthly God had delivered him from death and his steadfast love never ceased. David knew his God, he could look back on what God had done, but also look forward to what he would do, because it was his nature to do it. God was faithful and kept his promises, he always acted consistently with his character and could be trusted.

    David based his prayers on his realization that without God he had no hope; he had never stopped trusting God and examined himself and found no offence; he was consistent and insistent in his prayer; and he had faith, he prayed expectantly believing that God would hear him and answer him. As he concludes his prayer he contrasts his knowledge of God with the actions of the enemies he faced. They were insolent and ruthless; they had had rejected God and wanted to kill David. God was merciful and gracious and held his temper. He was faithful and never stopped loving his people, including David. David knew God would deliver him, but like you and me, he knew that was true but he wanted a sign. He asked God to give him a sign of his favour, for his sake but also to put to shame his opponents – he wanted them to know that God had helped him and comforted him, he wanted there to be no doubt that victory belonged to God.

  1. When you pray are you able to do as David did and give reasons why God should listen to you and answer?
  2. Do you base your prayers on the character of God or something else?
  3. Should you ask for a sign from God that he will answer your prayer?
  1. The City of God
    Psalm 87

    This short Psalm describes God’s passion for his city, Jerusalem. In verse 1 he describes it situated on the holy mount and that he loves its gates, more than all of Israel. He is not speaking about doorways or garden gates, it is not as if he has walked into a multi a million dollar mansion and told the owner, “Wow! I really like your front door”. The gates of a city were very significant and they were essential in keeping the city secure. Jerusalem had 12 of them that were destroyed when the city was taken by Babylon and rebuilt under the leadership of Nehemiah.

    The city gates provide entry to the city, but they were also the place where business was transacted. The city leaders would gather there and talk with one another while caravans of camels and donkeys would bring their goods to trade there. They were well fortified and not only provided the first line of defence but were the point the army would exit to engage the enemy, and victorious processions would return with much singing and dancing. God loved these gates because of what they represented, this was his city, where his Temple was located, and of it glorious things were spoken.

    The writer of the psalm draws attention to the surrounding nations, he mentions Egypt, which here is called Rahab, Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Cush (present Ethiopia), all of which were prominent and powerful nations. He says of these places that people were proud to say that they were born there. It gave them significance. Today people may be proud of their country or origin and boast of it, so too in Biblical times. It should be noted that when the writer wanted to identify nations of influence he spoke of Gentile nations not tribes of Israel. Having accepted that there are those who pridefully speak of their nation, the writer then turns to Jerusalem, which he calls Zion and says, “You may think that makes you important, but being born in Zion is so much superior!” God himself will register the name of everyone who is born in Zion.

    The writer of the Psalm and his hearers were thinking of the physical Jerusalem, perched on the mountain and containing the temple in its glory. To be a citizen of Jerusalem was special, it meant that you were one of the chosen people. Others from Israel, and even some outside were identified with Jerusalem as well, the Bible tells us of people like Melchizedek, Rahab, Ruth, and Naaman all of whom were counted among God’s people, they were registered as citizens of Jerusalem as would anyone who would surrender to His Lordship. Today we don’t identify with a physical city, although we acknowledge it and pray for its peace, we identify with a spiritual city. In Galatians 4:26 Paul speaks of the Jerusalem from above which is not bound by the law and the writer to the Hebrews tells us that we come to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem, to the church of those registered in heaven. (Hebrews 12:22). It is also identified in Revelation 21:2 and 10). Entry to this city is by being born again as Jesus explained to Nicodemus in John 3 and once we are, we are registered in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 3:4: 21:27).

    The City of God is the source of life, it is from where rivers of living water flow. Jesus said to the women at the well that if anyone came to him, he would give them water and they would never thirst again because he gives from a well that springs up to eternal life (John 4:13,14). It is an honour to be a citizen of the heavenly Jerusalem, we are no longer Australian, or English, Chinese or American we are a chosen race, a holy nation a people for God’s own possession, we are just visitors here waiting for our heavenly home. Like the people of the psalmist’s day let us come through his gates with singing and dancing!

  1. Are you proud to say you are citizen of the city of God?
  2. Is it wrong to be patriotic?
  3. Are you sure your name is registered in the new Jerusalem?
  1. A Sad song
    Psalm 88

    This Psalm is considered to be the saddest of all the Psalms, I would go further I would say it is miserable. The writer begins by calling on the God of his salvation, but that is the only note of confidence, his last words speak of being in a dark place and the intervening lines contain nothing of expectancy or confidence. This is not a psalm you would read to bring comfort of joy, there are no echoes of hope, no notes of praise, no sense of deliverance. It is an honest Psalm written by a man who was in deep distress and saw no hope for his future, wherever he turned he saw doom and gloom. Spurgeon writes: “he puts down all the dark places through which he has traveled. He mentions his sins, his sorrows, his hopes (if he had any), his fears, his woes, and so on. Now, that is real prayer, laying your case before the Lord.”

    The writer is identified as Heman the Ezrahite, a prominent person even if he is not well known amongst most believers. He was one of the sons of Korah, a leader of song and worship, a very wise person (I kings 4:31), a talented musician (2 Chronicles 5:12 and elsewhere), he had 14 sons and 3 daughters who were all equally talented (1 Chronicles 25:5-6) and he faithfully served the king (1 Chronicles 25:6).Throughout his life he had much to thank God for, he had been blessed in many ways. Now, however, he had reached a point in his life where all of those blessings were hidden from him. To say he had lost his joy would be an understatement.

    This may not be a comforting psalm in the usual sense, but it is an intensely honest one. There is no pretense, Heman didn’t just try just put a smile on his face and pretend all is well. He didn’t sing happy songs, he wasn’t going to dance. All he could do was cry out, and even then, he wasn’t sure God was going to listen. Too often when we are in despair, anxious or depressed we try to ‘put on a happy face’, pretend that all is right with the world. Somehow, we have been made to believe that showing grief is both unworthy and unhelpful. To admit we are in pain or distress is to show weakness or perhaps absence of faith. David wept and so did Jesus. Elijah was so tired and depressed he asked God to end his life, Peter wept bitterly, many others were inconsolable in grief. The beatitude tells us that blessed are those that grieve, for they shall be comforted (Matthew 5:4 CEV). Don’t pretend before God, He is not fooled!

    Heman’s friends had deserted him, his prayers were unanswered and he was ill – he thought he was close to death, he was afraid and probably suffered panic attacks (verses 15,16). He looked for companions and found none, his closest friend was darkness. This leader of temple worship, a faithful servant of the king was in a very dark place. He cried out to God, because he did not know what else to do, there was nowhere else to turn. There is nothing in his words to suggest that he expected any response from God, it seemed to Heman that God had turned his back on him.

    We know that God heard his plea, not because we are specifically told, but because we know that he hears the cries of the broken, he extends his hand to those that are drowning and he rescues them. We have the added confidence that comes from the presence of the Holy Spirit. Even when we don’t know how or what to pray, when we don’t have the words, the Holy Spirit who understands our every weakness, prays for us with groaning to deep for us to understand (Romans 8:26). You may never reach the depths of Heman, but when you are in a dark place and don’t even know how to pray, rest in the confidence that the Holy Spirit knows your heart and takes your need to your father in heaven, who loves and cares for you. The darkness will pass, his sun will shine and he will restore you to the joy of your salvation. Trust him.

  1. Is it sinful to complain to God?
  2. Heman knew how to praise, but just couldn’t do it. Have you ever felt that way?
  3. Do you spend too much time trying get the right words when you pray instead of just being honest with God?
  1. The Steadfast love of the Lord
    Psalm 89

    Ethan the writer of this Psalm was a contemporary of Henan the author of Psalm 88. It begins in much brighter tone than that of Henan and yet it contains a number of potential conflicts and certainly contrasts. Ethan was a wise man who probably lived during the reign of both David and Solomon, he saw the best and the worst of royal rule and the consequences that were suffered by the people of Israel.

    Ethan begins the Psalm with the familiar refrain that he would sing of the steadfast Lord of the Lord forever and with his mouth he would make known his faithfulness to all generations. He then proceeds to outline the great works of God and the promises he made to Israel. It is as if he is reminding God of the covenant, and the conditions God had set. Ethan points out that God has no rival, he is the mighty God who stands apart from any false god that other nations might worship. He created the heavens and the earth, he rules the nations and rules the raging of the seas. The reference to Rahab may be aimed at those nations that followed a Babylonian myth of creation in which Rahab was a sea monster that gods fought with. As a dragon, Rahab is mentioned in Isaiah 51:9, these passages are not assuming that God had to fight to create the earth and all that is in it but paints a picture of how ineffectual any alternative gods would be in the face of the Almighty God we worship.

    The psalm continues with a description of the benefits that came from God’s covenant, but also the consequences of failure to meet its conditions. Throughout Ethan is appealing to God’s faithfulness to abide by the covenant he had made, ending with the declaration that God had promised never to cast David aside just like the sun and the moon his future was certain. Having made his case, Ethan now gets to the point of his prayer. It looks like God has broken his word, he has rejected and abandoned the king and in his anger God has stripped him of his glory. He has broken down the kings defences and covered him with shame. “How long”, he asks “Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire?” In contrast to the way he opened the psalm Ethan asks: “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old, which by your faithfulness you swore to David?” Has God broken his promise, has he been unfaithful? No, in fact the opposite is true; the covenant contained promises but also the consequence of failing to keep its conditions. A faithful, just God must keep to the terms of the covenant. Failure must be met with penalty, and Israel and its king had failed many times.

    Ethan may have been speaking at the time of Solomon’s spiritual decline mentioned in 1 Kings 11, or during the events immediately after his death, under the rule of his son Rehoboam, or some other time. Whatever the case the blessings God had promised to a faithful people were withdrawn and Israel felt his anger instead. Throughout their history the people provoked the anger of God, but each time God’s anger was intended to bring them to repentance. Now, once again the felt as if God had abandoned them when in reality God had acted with mercy toward them leading them once again to tun to him for deliverance. Having in a sense, blamed God for breaking his word Ethan ends his psalm with the ever hopeful expression of praise: “Blessed be the Lord forever!”

    Like Ethan and the people of Israel you may feel God has turned from you and in anger allowed you to suffer because you have failed him. Instead, God has turned to you and is calling you to humble yourself and call on him so that he can restore you to the peace and blessing of his covenant promise. Like Ethan, sing of the steadfast love of the Lord, forever, because in the heavens he has established his righteousness.

  1. Can God break the covenant?
  2. Can God be faithful and not punish those who break the covenant?
  3. How does the covenant apply to Christians?
  1. God beyond time
    Psalm 90

    This Psalm, attributed to Moses was probably written in the last days of his life as he was about to hand over the leadership of Israel to Joshua. Spurgeon remarks that Moses lived among funerals; throughout their journey through the wilderness there had been death through plague, sickness, earthquake and violence. Now by the time they reached the end of the road none of those who had left Egypt were left, it was a new generation that would cross into the promised land. Moses had been told by God that he too would not cross the river but would die in the wilderness. It is not surprising then that this, his last song would speak of the brevity and uncertainty of life.

    Moses puts human life in the context of God’s eternal existence. He writes that before the mountains were formed, in fact before anything in heaven or on earth was created, he was: ‘from everlasting to everlasting you are God’. He doesn’t say that God was God, or that he would be God, but that before the world was, he is God. God stands outside of time as we measure it, he has no beginning and no end, he eternally exists. We measure what we know in terms of time and space, everything has a beginning and an end, and it occupies some place – it is how we make sense of our world, but God has no such limitations. He is already present in our future, our past is still his present and of course so too is our present. It sounds confusing and difficult to grasp, because it is. God knows our future, the choices and decisions we will make, because he is already present there. God does not age, he was not born or created, and he does not die. Nothing can take him by surprise and nothing in our past is hidden. As David said in Psalm 139: Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

    In contrast to our everlasting and eternal God our life on earth is temporary and brief. We consider a thousand years an age, for God it is a blink of an eye, like a blade of grass on a hot day, it springs up with the overnight dew, but by evening it has faded and withered. Moses said we can expect to live until we are seventy, and if we are really healthy and careful maybe 80, but however long it is, its all hard work.  Moses actually lived until he was 120 so he wasn’t specifying a lifespan for human life, but used exaggerated language, or hyperbole, to make his point. Whatever we achieve in the few years given to us, it all fades away, not much is left. So he asks God to help us to number our days.

    As we get older that is not a comforting thought, but Moses isn’t being morbid. He is telling us that life is short, we must make the best possible use we can of the days we have. Of course, as we do get older, we realise that we have less time to accomplish what we planned, and probably much less energy. Paul wrote that we should make the best use of the time, because the days are evil. (Ephesians 5:16). None of us know how many days God has given to us, so Moses’ instruction seems sensible. Don’t count them as if you haven’t many left but count them in the sense that you make them count. Moses’ final request was, “Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish the work of our hands upon us; yes, establish the work of our hands!” Ecclesiastes 9:10 challenges to: “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all of your might”. Are you wholehearted in the things you spend your days doing, can you ask God to establish these works? Our God is eternal, he knows your future and he will meet you there, but he with you know also encouraging you value each day that he gives you, because once it is gone, it is gone forever.

  1. How hard is it to understand the timelessness of God?
  2. Is it comforting to know that God is already in your future?
  3. Do you thing you make your days count for eternity?