1. Faith in a pandemic
Over the last few years we have been challenged by a global pandemic, there are few families that have not been affected in some way. Psalm 91 offers hope during such times but it is important not to take the psalm out of its context. The author is not identified but it is possible, if not probable, that it was written by Moses at the same time as the previous psalm. Not long before Moses surrendered the leadership of Israel to Joshua to lead the people into the promised land he called the people together to remind them of God’s covenant. The people were assured of God’s blessings if they kept the conditions of the covenant, in other words that they diligently obey the Lord and follow all of his commandments. On the other hand if they failed to do that then rather than blessings they would experience curses.
The sad tale of Israel was that they did not fulfil the conditions of the covenant, and while God still blessed them, they did not enjoy all that they might have and offered suffered distress instead. As the writer begins this Psalm he says: “He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High, shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (NKJV). All the assurances that follow are based on this condition. Many who are called believers know little or nothing about dwelling in the secret place, in his shadow, that is reserved for the super spiritual, the mystics. The rest are likely to trot out the cliché that we should not be so heavenly minded that we are no earthly use. While that sounds cute it is the opposite of what God requires, he wants us to be obsessed with thoughts of heaven and the one who dwells there. It is to those who take their commitment to God that seriously that he makes assurances of protection.
God’s promises contain assurance of deliverance form terrors, pestilence, plagues and destruction. This has led some to believe that we can ‘claim’ these promises and we will be protected , from sickness, injury – and in recent times viruses. Satan used words from this psalm to tempt Jesus in the wilderness – Jesus could throw himself of a mountain and God would “command his angels concerning you, to guard you, on their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.” (Luke 4:10,11). Unfortunately he left out
God blesses us with hope and the promise that “he who holds fast to me in love, I will deliver him; I will protect him, because he knows my name.” We may not be spared from the effects of the pandemic, but we have hope, he is with us, he will deliver us and grant us his salvation. While we have this hope, Mahri Leonard-Fleckman asks, and then answers her question: ”So after the ground under our feet settles, and a new stability emerges, who will we be? For the psalmist, the answer depends largely on where we take refuge throughout this crisis, and on how we orient ourselves. We face a choice: we can expand our connection to God and others, or we can contract into fear and self-absorption. Social distancing doesn’t mean turning our backs on our neighbors. It means making sacrifices so they might live. Psalm 91 has been, and continues to be, a powerful prayer of hope for communities in upheaval. It shows the path from confusion to freedom. Let’s make it our own.”
1. If you protection from God depended on your complete obedience, how would you feel?
2. We do not need to ‘claim’ God’s promises they are just given to us. Can you explain that?
3. How can you offer hope to communities in upheaval?
- Start the day well
Psalm 92This anonymous psalm has been identified as a psalm for the Sabbath. The Sabbath, or seventh day, was established by God as a day of rest, but it was also the occasion of a convocation of worship. It was expected that this psalm would be read at that time.The writer exclaims that it is a good thing to give thanks to the Lord, to sing praises to his name. To declare his steadfast love in the morning. I wonder if that is how you start your day when you leap out of bed, or does it begin with a grumble and moan, a longing for an extra hour of sleep. Many of us are not at our best first thing and the idea of singing praises, especially if they are to be accompanied by the music of the lute and the harp, with the melody of the lyre is the furthest thing from our mind. Yet the psalmist says that this is what he does because God’s work has made him glad.
The bible tells us that the joy of the Lord is our strength, that we are to rejoice in him always and Psalm 118 tells us that “this is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it”. While the writer of the Psalm tells us that this psalm is for the Sabbath, he does not suggest that we only praise him on that morning, this should be the habit of our life. He means to start the day well and encourages the rest of us to do the same.
In particular it is in the morning that we remind ourselves of his steadfast love and then in the evening we declare his faithfulness. We start and end the day with praise and faithfulness. As we reflect on the day that has been we can bring to mind the times when God has answered the quickly offered prayers, meet a need just at the right time, stopped us from some unnecessary word or action or brought somebody across our path, someone just at the right time. In doing so we cultivate an attitude of thankfulness and prepare ourselves to be refreshed in sleep.
The psalmist reflects on the greatness of God’s works and acknowledges that they are complicated, if they are too deep for him then the senseless, or stupid has no chance of understanding. These fools, as he refers to them, may succeed, even prosper for a while but it won’t last, they and all their works will perish. On the other hand, God has exalted the psalmist he was like wild ox, known for its strength. The horn of the ox was also used as a vessel to contain oil, and this was poured over him as a blessing. He had seen the fall of his enemies, he had heard the sounds of their defeat.
The righteous are now compared to first, a palm tree and then a cedar. The palm tree lived to an old age and was regal in appearance while the cedar was known for its size and substance. These trees were planted in God’s house and even in old age they would be full of vitality and would bear fruit. The heritage of those who dwell in God’s house is fruitfulness and energy, there is no use by date that God puts on those who serve him, they will bear fruit into old age. Even old trees need feeding and pruning though, if they are to bear fruit, and God as the master gardener will apply the pruning shears where needed. As we get older we may think we can just sit back and leave it others, but God has other ideas. If you are feeling ‘past it’, change your thinking, you have substance and are of great worth. Be ready to bring forth new life as he applies his touch and while you produce fresh fruit others will rest in your shade.
- How do you start the day?
- How do you finish it?
- In what ways has God demonstrated his faithfulness to you this week?
- The Lord Reigns
Psalm 93This and the next few psalms have a familiar theme – God reigns! Despite wars and pestilence, disasters and conspiracies, God is in charge. He and his throne will never be moved, our God reigns! It is good to regularly remind ourselves of this, whether in song or in some other way. No matter how uncertain things seem, whatever the turmoil is that surrounds you, even if the future is uncertain and you can’t see your way forward, your God reigns.Our God is clothed in majesty, J.M. Boice writes: “Majesty is a hard idea to define, but it has to do with dignity, authority of sovereign power, stateliness, and grandeur. It is the proper characteristic of earthly monarchs”, sadly this description fits few, if any of the current monarchs or leaders that seek to rule the world, but it is always true of our God. The world that he established will never be moved, the systems he put in place to keep it in order will remain, they cannot be moved. His throne is eternal, he rules forever, he has no rival. Earthly rulers come and go, some by democratic processes, others through violent means or because they die or resign from office, but God will never vacate his throne, he is in the highest place beyond all rule, power and authority, this is our God.
To the Jews the symbol of a raging sea, speaks of chaos. The floods could not be held back, they rise higher and higher wiping out everything in their path. For emphasis the writer three times says the floods are lifted up and each time their noise level increases until it became deafening. The waves crash, the storm is unrelenting, everywhere there is danger and destruction. But God is mightier that all of these, mightier than the thunder, mightier than the waves, he is just mighty!
The world my seem to be in chaos, there is threat and danger everywhere. Nations conspire against one another, the strong oppress the weak, there is a tide of refugees travelling the globe seeking refuge, all the while the forces of nature bring hardship and suffering to many. The flood is rising, is there any hope? In the midst of the chaos stands one who is majestic, who is clothed in power. He tightens his belt, stands to his full height and with a word calms the raging sea. He cannot be moved, he is mighty, he reigns in heaven and earth. The floods cannot overwhelm him, nor can they dislodge him from his throne. This is our God, in whom we place our trust, he is our hope and our deliverer. Our confidence is in him. Truly, our God is an awesome God, he reigns, he reigns.
God keeps his word, his decrees are trustworthy. He promised to be your protector, the solid rock on which you can take your stand and against which the waves will not prevail. He is your God. He is a holy God and his dwelling place should likewise be holy. Adam Clarke wrote: “Thy nature is holy, all thy works are holy, and thy word is holy; therefore, thy house – thy Church, should be holy…The ministers of this Church should be holy, the members holy, the ordinances holy; its faith, its discipline, and its practice holy. And this at all times, and in all circumstances; for holiness becometh thine house – for ever.” The Apostle Paul presses this further when he writes: “If anyone defiles the temple of God, God will destroy him. For the temple of God is holy, which temple you are” (1 Corinthians 3:17). Individually, and together we are a dwelling prepared for God, and just as he is Holy, so must we be. This is the only reasonable response to our God, the mighty God who reigns.
- Does God reign in your life?
- Are the flood waters threatening to engulf you?
- What does being holy look like to you?
4. God the Avenger
Samuel Johnson the compiler of the first comprehensive English dictionary wrote: ‘Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice. Injuries are revenged; crimes are avenged.’ The writer of this Psalm calls out to the God of vengeance to act. There were crimes to be avenged, justice to be served and punishment to be delivered. God, the God of justice was expected to act according to his character and judge the earth.
This psalm in some ways reflects our own time, the subject of God’s justice were those who claimed to be his people, led by a corrupt government. While there was a remnant of faithful believers in the land, the nation had lost its way, had sold its soul to other nations in exchange for wealth and power and turned from following God’s ways. The writer wanted to know how long it would be before justice was delivered, it was not a matter of if God would act, but when, and he was anxious that it happen quickly.
The leaders of the nation were described as wicked, arrogant and evil. They were boastful and thought that God was unaware of their activities. In their quest for power and to maintain their position they had pushed down, even crushed the needy, they neglected the widows, refugees and orphans so much that the psalmist called them murderers. The people that God had chosen were afflicted, they were pushed aside in pursuit of acceptance by pagan nations and increased wealth and power.
The Psalmist tried to reason with these leaders, calling them fools. They thought that God didn’t see them or if he did, he didn’t care, but the writer points out the stupidity of their argument. God sees everything, he hears everything, he will discipline those who go astray. He had taught these rulers what was right and they had rejected the truth, God not only knew their words but he knew the thoughts that inspired them. Just as these empty words would fall to the ground so too would those who spoke them, they were like a breath, soon to vanish into the air. The church today faces a similar predicament, often placed in a nation with an ungodly government it tries to reason with its leaders. To appeal to its ‘better’ nature, to speak of the truth as God declares it, but the rulers will not listen. If they believe there is a God, he either cannot or does not listen or stand up for the broken and the oppressed. They arrogantly assume that they will not be held to account for their deeds, but like the rulers of the past, they will be swept away while God’s heritage will remain. While God will bring justice to the wicked spoken of in this psalm, he will preserve and protect those that have remained faithful to him. The psalm ends with these words: “But the Lord has become my stronghold, and my God the rock of my refuge. He will bring back on them their iniquity and wipe them out for their wickedness; the Lord our God will wipe them out” but “the LORD will not forsake his people; he will not abandon his heritage; for justice will return to the righteous, and all the upright in heart will follow it.”
God has blessed some nations with a heritage that comes from the good news of Jesus. Many if not most of these nations have despised the blessings they have received and turned their back on God. They pass laws that directly contradict his commandments, engage in relationships with nations to secure wealth and prestige even when they know that in some of these nations people are oppressed and ill treated. Universities and media promote a godless agenda and speaking of God in classrooms is forbidden. Reason will not turn the minds of the rulers and governors, and if they do not turn to God in humility and repentance judgement is certain. The church will continue and will flourish, but the nation states may fall. God will avenge the widow, the fatherless, the refugee and the broken, his justice demands it.
1. Is it easy to leave vengeance to God?
2. How would you rate your government according to God’s standard?
3. How should the church act when it exists in a nation that has rejected God?
5. An Invitation and a warning
The psalm writer issues an invitation “Come” he says “let us sing to the Lord, make a noise. Let’s come into his presence the way we should, with thanksgiving, joyfully with songs of praise”. He seems to be offering advice, if not giving instruction, on how we should begin our services of worship. The idea of coming into the presence of God was not to suggest they could enter the Holiest place where God was, that was off limits, it meant that worship should be done with a conscious sense of God’s presence, God’s people don’t sing into empty space, he is present among them. They are to come joyfully, with enthusiasm thanking God for the great things he has done.
The reason behind this enthusiastic display of gratitude is that their God is a great God, above all other gods. He was the creator and sustainer of the world and all that is in it and he allows his people to come to worship him. The writer of Hebrews, a book which quotes this Psalm often, writes: “Since we are receiving a kingdom that can’t be shaken, let’s continue to express our gratitude. With this gratitude, let’s worship in a way that is pleasing to God with respect and awe”. So then “let us worship and bow down; let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!” The biblical word we translate as worship is usually used to refer to the act of bowing down in humility and reverence. It speaks of an attitude and posture, and whilst we are constantly exhorted to come to him with praise and thanksgiving, once he receives us the appropriate response is to bow down. We do this because we are his sheep, and he is our shepherd, he leads us into the land he has prepared for us.
God now issues the warning, ‘Don’t turn a deaf ear to my call, it will be today. Make sure you are listening and when you hear, do as I say’. He refers to the incident in the promised land when the people complained they had no water, in Exodus the event is recorded: “And he called the name of the place Massah and Meribah, because of the quarrelling of the people of Israel, and because they tested the Lord by saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?” They tested God even though he had performed numerous miracles for them, delivered them from captivity and fed them in the wilderness. Now instead of expressing gratitude they quarrelled and complained until God had enough.
For forty years God said he loathed this people. These are strong words, and some translations soften it by using the word grieve. The Hebrew word carries the idea of a strong emotional reaction, which could lead to the object of the loathing being destroyed. Job says this of himself when he was so distressed with his life that he had come to loathe it. God had chosen this nation to possess the promised land but now he was prepared to see them perish in the wilderness rather than to cross into it. In his anger he swore they would never enter his rest, that is the promised land.
God issues this stern warning, today when he calls you, don’t harden your heart. He offers the promise of eternal rest and if you have not yet received that promise, then today when he calls you, listen to him. Do not harden your heart. He may not call again. He may be calling you to come closer into his presence, to dwell in the shadow of the Most High, answer him, do not close your ears. He may even be calling you into service in a particular area, to act in faith – do not resist him as the people at Meribah did. Do not presume upon God. Today, when you hear his voice listen to him, and then as the sheep of his pasture, follow the lead of your shepherd.
1. How do you prepare yourself to enter the presence of God?
2. Do you expect God to speak to you each day?
3. Have you responded to his invitation to enter his rest?
6. There is only one God
Sing to the Lord a new song, says the psalmist. A song about the majesty and greatness of God. This psalm is not just addressed to the people of Israel, and the instruction to sing is not limited to them – all the earth, every nation is to join in and one day they will.
All of the earth is to tell of God’s salvation, every day; it is to declare his glory and his marvelous works among all peoples. Glory is one of those words that is often used but not always explained or understood. It also adopts different meanings according to the context. Soldiers may seek glory in battle and athletes in winning a trophy. We may refer to a sunset as glorious, but how do we declare the glory of God? Ryken describes God’s glory this way: His glory ―includes splendor, beauty, magnificence, radiance and rapture. In the Bible it is primarily a quality ascribed to God and places of his presence, including places of worship and heaven. While Wood and Marshall write: “The revelation of God‘s being, nature and presence to mankind, sometimes with physical phenomena.” We are told that at certain times God’s glory filled the temple, Moses was hidden behind a rock as God’s glory passed him by and the priests could not stand in the presence of God’s glory.
Like many of the attributes of God this is beyond our comprehension, we can only imagine a little of what his glory is and like the biblical writers do our best to put our impressions into words and even pictures. The writer of this psalm says: “The Lord made the heavens. Splendor and majesty are before him; strength and beauty are in his sanctuary” more words would still be inadequate but in comparison all and any other gods are worthless. The word ‘worthless’ in the original language is ‘nothing’ so we could read “all the gods of the people are no gods”. They are not inferior gods, they are not gods at all. They have no substance, no splendour and certainly no glory, they are nothing and therefore worth nothing.
The only appropriate response to a God of glory is to worship him, to come to him with offerings and praise. To worship in the splendour of holiness and tremble at his name. The writer of the letter to the Hebrews warns his audience to ‘’show gratitude, by which we may offer to God acceptable worship with reverence and awe, because our God is a consuming fire”. The psalmist says, “say among the nations the Lord reigns!” This God, the God of glory before whom the whole earth will tremble reigns and he is coming to bring justice to the earth.
“Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord, for he comes”. All of creation waits in eager expectation for the coming of the king. The apostle Paul writes: “For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility…in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” (Romans 8:22-23). The remarkable thing about this God is that he tells us that because of his son, we have confidence to come into his presence for help and mercy in our time of need (Hebrews 4:16). No god invites us into his presence like our God, no idol offers grace and mercy, no other reigns over heaven and earth but our God. This is our God, and he reigns!
1. How confident are you that God reigns over all the earth?
2. How would you describe God’s glory?
3. You can approach God with confidence and yet must do so with gratitude, how do you do that?
- An Awesome God
Psalm 97Psalm 96 and Psalm 98 both look forward to the coming king in anticipation of the benefits that will bring to true worshippers. While this psalm also looks toward the King’s return, its emphasis is “the frightening, awesome side of God’s kingly rule” (J.M. Boice). The writer begins with the reminder that the Lord reigns and the earth and all of its coastlands should be glad. Coastlands is often used as a term to refer to all of the nations outside of Israel, particularly those around the Mediterranean and so all the earth and its people are included here.God reigns, this is a familiar statement and indicates that he isn’t a creator who having done his work leaves it to its own devices. He is not like the watchmaker who design and assembles a timepiece and then leaves it to function independently. God remains intimately involved in his creation, he rules over it and is concerned for its welfare. All the earth and all its people have reason to be glad because it is God who reigns.
The picture of God that is painted is one of majesty and awesome power. He is not a God to be treated lightly or to be taken advantage of. There is probably a reminder here to the story recorded in Exodus 19:16 after Moses had come down from Mt. Sinai: “so it came about on the third day, when it was morning, that there were thunder and lightning flashes and a thick cloud upon the mountain and a very loud trumpet sound, so that all the people who were in the camp trembled…Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the Lord descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace and the mountain quaked violently” (Exodus 14:16,18). Using poetic language the writer of the Psalm describes God’s awesome nature – the earth trembles, the mountains melt like wax, fire runs before him. This is the image of a God so terrifying that no one would dare approach him, the only appropriate response would be to fall at his feet as though dead, which was the experience of John in Revelation 1:17 and Ezekiel in chapter 1:28 in the book of his name.
In the face of such an awesome God, all the worshippers of objects made of stone and wood, the false gods and idols are embarrassed, they are put to shame. If they had put their hopes in these worthless gods they would be bitterly disappointed, they were impotent, they had no power and no authority, they were not gods at all. The writer calls on these false deities to worship the one true God, the only God, the God who reigns.
The basis of God’s reign is justice and righteousness. All of his judgments were true and they would bring light for the righteous and joy to the upright in heart. Those that followed in his steps who have a clear path, they would not stumble, they would be delivered from the wicked and their lives would be preserved. The anticipation of the coming king brings hope and gladness to those who worship him – to those who reject him however, there is a terrifying prospect of judgement. This awesome God who reigns over heaven and earth who is unapproachable by those who have denied him, calls us to himself. He is awesome and holy, but for those who believe, he is a loving Father and he says “Come, let the one who hears say, “come”. And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take water of life without cost”. He invites you to come, just as you are, just come.
- Is your idea of God one who is awesome and unapproachable in someone who is very familiar?
- If you believe God is an awesome God how would that affect the way you worship him?
- What might prevent you from coming to God?