Week 15

  1. Absolutely Marvellous
    Psalm 98

When Mary was pregnant with Jesus and visited her cousin Elizabeth she probably had this psalm on her mind. There are strong similarities between the first part of the psalm and the speech she made, which is called the ‘Magnificat’ in Luke 1:46-55, indicating that the promises contained in the Psalm would be fulfilled in the birth of her son.


Each of the first three verses contain the word ‘salvation’. in verse 1 we read that God’s right hand and his holy arm have worked or accomplished salvation. Verse 2 tells us that he has made it known to the nations and in doing so revealed his righteousness. Then in verse 3 all the nations of the earth have seen his salvation displayed in the way he had shown his love and faithfulness to Israel. All these are marvellous things that should cause his people to sing a new song.


Through salvation he revealed his might and strength as a warrior God who defeated his enemies and gained a victory. He is a righteous God who revealed himself by making salvation known through his dealings with Israel, and he proved himself faithful by extending steadfast love and kindness to his people so that nations everywhere would see his saving grace at work. The psalm writer insists this is the reason to sing a new song, not to rely on the songs of old, those of Deborah, Moses and others but to compose a new song that told of his mercy, faithfulness and love.

They were to sing this song joyfully and with musical accompaniment. Noisy worship was common for the people of Israel, Ezra records that when the foundation of the temple was laid, “they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD: “For He is good, For His mercy endures forever toward Israel.” Then all the people shouted with a great shout, when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid…and the sound was heard afar off.” (Ezra 3:11,13) and Nehemiah writes: “The two choirs that gave thanks then took their places in the house of God; so did I, together with half the officials, as well as the priests… The choirs sang under the direction of Jezrahiah. And on that day they offered great sacrifices, rejoicing because God had given them great joy. The women and children also rejoiced. The sound of rejoicing in Jerusalem could be heard far away.” (Nehemiah 12: 40ff). Their worship was unrestrained and enthusiastic – God had done great things and they were going to celebrate.


Not only were the people going to sing and shout but so too would the sea and all it contained, the world and all of its inhabitants and even the rivers would clap their hands while the mountains and hills would sing for joy. When Jesus made his entrance to Jerusalem the week before the first Easter, the religious leaders tried to prevent the crowd from singing praise, Jesus told them in response that even if they stopped the rocks and stones would cry out. Nothing could or should stop the sound of praise to a God who did marvellous things.


This joyful and noisy celebration was to welcome the coming king. The one who is coming to judge the earth. He will deal righteously and with fairness, he will bring justice to the oppressed and will hold to account those who have done the oppressing. All of those who have surrendered to the lordship of the king will be invited to sit with him having been declared righteous, while those that have refused to bow their knee to him will be condemned. Those who have faithfully waited for his deliverance will be rewarded while those who have trusted in false gods will be rejected. For those who have put their trust in Jesus and confessed him as Lord it is time to celebrate in anticipation of his coming, to raise a banner, to sing with passion and enthusiasm and declare the marvellous things he has done.

  1. What marvellous things has God done in your life?
  2. What picture do you have in your mind when you think of the Jews worshipping?
  3. Can you picture yourself like that?
  1. Holy, Holy, Holy
    Psalm 99

Almost as if the psalmist needs to remind his hearers, he begins with the declaration “The Lord reigns”. This time however he writes that God’s Lordship should produce a different response. Having said that his reign is a reason to sing joyfully a new song and to praise him in an exuberant fashion now the people should tremble. There is a tension between the unbridled joy and wonder at his great and marvellous deeds, and recognition that he is a Holy God that should only be approached with reverence and caution.


In Isaiah 6 the prophet records his vision of God above whom where angels crying out “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory”. When the apostle John was given his revelation, he saw four living creatures around God’s throne and they continually cried “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come!” (Revelation 4:8). Here, in this psalm the writer three times declares that God is Holy. David Guzik writes that: “God’s holiness is a part of everything He is and does. God’s power is a holy power. God’s love is a holy love. God’s wisdom is a holy wisdom. Holiness is not an aspect of God’s personality; it is the essence of His entire Being.” To be Holy is to be apart from everything that is untrue, unjust or evil, “Holy is a word to emphasize the distance between God and man: not only morally, as between the pure and the polluted, but in the realm of being, between the eternal and the creaturely.” (Kidner).


Our enthusiastic and confident praise must be tempered with reverence before such a Holy God. On the one hand the earth and all that is in it will rejoice on the other it trembles and quakes before him. He is a God who leads us by the hand and the God who sits enthroned in the clouds surrounded by angelic hosts. He gave his laws and statutes to men and answered them when they called on his name and yet they could not approach him or his holy mountain. The same God who is steadfast in mercy and love is a consuming fire that will not tolerate the presence of sin. He is a Holy God that we dare not approach, but a merciful God that we must draw near to. We receive salvation as a free gift of grace and yet we must “work out our own salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). We call him abba, father and can come before his throne of grace with confidence for help and mercy in our time and need but must never forget that he is a Holy God who we must approach with reverence.


The writer of the Psalm ends by calling his hearers to “Exalt the LORD our God, and worship at His holy hill; For the LORD our God is holy.” But how can that be? Psalm 24 provides us with the answer: “Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” The apostle Peter writes: “but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” (1 Peter 1:15,16), he is referring to a number of passages: Leviticus 19:2; Leviticus 20:7; Leviticus 20:26; Leviticus 21:8; Exodus 19:6. To be holy is to be apart, separate from those things that God detests, what is untrue, unjust, evil. It is to pursue godliness, purity and humility wholeheartedly. As we examine ourselves and like King David ask for a clean heart, we know that God in his grace and mercy will answer our prayer and extend his hand to us to come into his presence, once there we have confidence having been declared righteous because of the gift of his son, and knowing we have been adopted by the father to be his child. It is then we can offer our praise and thanksgiving with exceeding joy.

  1. How do you approach a Holy God?
  2. Do you consider yourself to be holy?
  3. When you approach God do you feel apprehensive or confident?
  1. Serve the Lord with gladness
    Psalm 100

This Psalm begins by giving three things that we should do: Make a joyful noise, serve him with gladness and come into his presence with singing. This instruction is directed to all the earth, not just those who belonged to Israel or the church. Each instruction relates to worship, and they are followed with an explanation of why we should worship and further detail on how.


Worship should both be reverent and joyful, Spurgeon writes: “The original word signifies a glad shout, such as loyal subjects give when their king appears among them. Our happy God should be worshipped by a happy people; a cheerful spirit is in keeping with his nature, his acts, and the gratitude which we should cherish for his mercies.” Our service, which is an act of worship should be offered gladly and we come with a song in our heart and on our lips.


There are two main Biblical words expressed as worship. The first has to do with our posture or attitude. It is one of humble reverence, the act of bowing down in deep respect; the other relates to the service we perform for him. In the Old Testament this included the requirements involved in preparing the temple worship, but also giving, providing music, singing and various other practical tasks. Now it will involve many activities we carry out in our gathering together including those of the Old Testament, but extends to our vocational work as well. The injunction here is to serve with gladness. Whether our service is making cups of tea, cleaning the building, playing the drums or preaching the message it is to be offered gladly. It is a privilege to serve in this way, it is an act of worship and is to be offered not out of a sense of obligation, but gladly.


The Lord God has made us, not just as individual people, but as the people of God. He has drawn us together and built us into a holy nation. To change the metaphor, he is our shepherd and we are his flock. He cares for us, protects us and leads us into good pasture. What better reason could there be than to come to him with joy, to serve him gladly and to sing with thankfulness? As we come together to worship we do so with joyful anticipation of being in the presence of our creator, shepherd and king.


So, how do we come? We come with thanksgiving. The cares and worries of the week are left at the door, the grievances and complaints are forgotten, the news we have to share with each other can wait. We come to worship him, and we come with praise. It is right that the first thing we do is offer thanks for who he is, and what he has done. Catching up with friends is important and so is that first cup of coffee, but offering praise is the highest priority and our expression of worship. We come with a shout, or at least a joyful noise, we are glad to offer our talents, ability and money in service to him, and our voice is raised in songs of praise and bless his holy name.


Our God is good, his love lasts forever, it never runs out. It endures, he is eternally patient overlooking a multitude of faults, he never gives up. He is faithful to all generations. The promise he made to our ancestors, the patriarchs of the Old Testament and church leaders of old are as real today as they ever have been. There is no generation gap with God, he remains faithful to our children and to their children and their descendants until the end of this age. His word is sure it will never fail. So make a joyful noise, serve him gladly and come into his presence with a song of thanksgiving.

  1. When you serve God, are you always able to do it gladly?
  2. Do you consider your job to be worship?
  3. What’s the most important part of coming to church for you?
  1. Walking the talk
    Psalm 101

To ‘walk the talk’ means to back up what you say with actions, words aren’t enough the evidence of who you are is shown in what you do. It is thought that this psalm was written by King David just after he became King of Israel and reflected his intention to conduct himself with integrity. David was anointed as king three times. The first when he was young man living with his father and looking after the sheep, (1 Samuel 16:13) the second time he was appointed king over the tribe of Judah at Hebron (2 Samuel 2:4) and then, seven years later he was anointed king over all the tribes of Israel (2 Samuel 5:3). This psalm was probably written when he became king over all the tribes and reflected his desire to rule in a different way to his predecessor, Saul.


David’s rule was going to be based in his relationship with God, love and justice would be the hallmarks of his reign. But more importantly David was going to start at home. It was there that he most needed to act with integrity. Campbell Morgan wrote: “No man is able to make the city in which he dwells anything like the city of God who does not know how to behave himself in his own house” and Charles Spurgeon was even more to the point when he said: “How fares it with your family? Do you sing in the choir and sin in the chamber? Are you a saint abroad and a devil at home? For shame! What we are at home, that we are indeed.” The language is from another time, but the meaning is clear, integrity is how we behave when no one is watching, but of course at home our family watches. How would they comment about our character? The home is where we let down our guard, where we often give vent to our frustration and make known our displeasure. It is place where the flaws in our character are most likely to show. It is here that we must be most on guard and most intent on walking the talk!


David then declared he would not spend his time looking at worthless things. Job said he would make a covenant with his eyes that he would not give in to temptation. David sadly did allow his eyes to lead him into sin, good intentions are not enough – they must be matched with action. In our day there is an abundance of opportunity to put worthless things in front of our eyes, social media, TV, forms of entertainment, marketing campaigns, advertising, shopping sales and the like. Like David intended we must decide to close our eyes to things that would rob God and our families of our time, talent and resources.


David had a problem with those people who said they would do things but let him down, he said he wasn’t going to waste his time with them. Nor would he entertain plans and schemes that were ungodly, he wasn’t going to spend time with corrupt and ungodly people. Gossips, slanderers and liars would not be allowed in his house. The arrogant and boastful were not welcome, but he would seek out the faithful, and he would seek advice from the honest and upright.


Like David, if we want to be men and women of character it starts at home, and it demands action. We must make choices to protect ourselves, put boundaries in place. Choose our friends and forms of entertainment carefully; be ruthless in dismissing gossips and slanderers and use our time wisely. It doesn’t mean we don’t have fun or relax, but it does mean we are careful where we walk and make the most of our time. David had good intentions but sadly they weren’t enough. He dropped his guard, let his eyes wander and at times listened to the advice of ungodly people. He remained the man after God’s own heart, but his lapses cost him and those he loved dearly. Commit your ways to God, seek him daily and he will sustain you.

  1. Do you think you can say that you ‘walk the talk’ at home and at work?
  2. Are there areas that you particularly struggle?
  3. Are there practical things you can do to protect your integrity?
  1. Overwhelmed but hopeful
    Psalm 102

There are three main parts to this psalm. It begins with the writer crying out to God for help and deliverance. The second part details the afflictions he is suffering from and thirdly he looks forward to his own recovery and the restoration of the city. The psalm may have been written during the time that Israel was in captivity in Babylon or at some other time when it was suffering from the effects of war.
The psalm writer is in a bad way, he is distressed about many things and it seems to him that God has turned away. His condition represents that of Israel which also is afflicted and badly needs to be rescued from its ‘day of trouble’. He needs a speedy response, he fears his life is nearly over and he can’t go on much longer.


The list of complaints the writer brings to God include the shortness of his life; physical pain; dejection or depression; weight-loss; sleeplessness; loneliness; reproach and rejection from others; humiliation; being ignored by God and wasting away. He uses a number of metaphors to describe his misery: his bones are on fire; his heart is withering away; his bones stick to his skin because he is so thin; he is like a solitary pelican in the wilderness or an owl haunting the broken walls and collections of rubbish. Sparrows are social birds, but like one which has become separated from the flock he lies awake at night, lost and lonely. He is a joke among his friends, they laugh and poke ridicule at him. It was customary for mourners to put ashes on their head, and it felt to this man that they had become bread in his mouth, the drink he had was mingled with his own tears as they ran down his face, and he thought God was angry and had rejected him. Death wasn’t far away, his life was fading fast.


But despite the pitiful state he was in, the psalmist lifts his eyes, “you, O LORD, are enthroned forever; you are remembered throughout all generations. You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favor her; the appointed time has come” he writes. He has not lost hope. He knew that God would not fail he would trust in him. God would restore Jerusalem and the people would be set free from captivity. “Nations will fear the name of the LORD, and all the kings of the earth will fear your glory. For the LORD builds up Zion; appears in his glory; he regards the prayer of the destitute and does not despise their prayer.” He looked forward to a time when God would rule, he was confident because he knew God and his faithfulness, and he knew that God would rescue the oppressed. The writer had come to the end of himself, he was destitute and had nowhere else to turn, but God would listen to his prayer and answer him.


The psalm writer was overwhelmed by grief. So much so that he suffered physically, emotionally and of course spiritually. He was broken, tired, disillusioned and distressed, on top of that it seemed that God had turned his back on him, or at least was just not listening. In times of intense grief, it is common to withdraw from others and to be consumed with self, and so it was with this man. He was alone, but also lonely, he wanted to sleep but couldn’t, the few friends he had were turned off by his constant complaining. He was hungry, but couldn’t eat, he had no energy and no joy. ‘’But God’’, these words interrupt the tale of woe. Into every situation God inserts himself, when all is bleak, ‘but God’, where there is no hope, ‘but God’, when we are at the end ‘but God’. No situation is beyond God’s mercy, no distress or pain is outside is lovingkindness, no threat exceeds his power and strength. You may feel overwhelmed, overcome and at the end – But God, has other ideas!

  1. Have you been so overwhelmed that you suffer physically?
  2. Have you ever got the end of yourself and don’t know what to do?
  3. Do you need a ‘but God’ moment in your life?
  1. With everything I’ve got
    Psalm 103

This psalm calls us to worship God whole heartedly, with all that is within us, with everything we’ve got. Our worship is to take the form of blessing God, how do we do that? Ordinarily we understand the greater always blesses the weaker or gives something of value in response to actions offered by the person being blessed. That cannot be the case here because there is no question that God is the stronger and he needs nothing from us. The original language of the Old Testament is Hebrew, and it is a complex language, the word that is translated ‘bless’ comes from the Hebrew meaning ‘to kneel’ and the form it takes here means “to bring a gift to another while kneeling out of respect.” (Brenner). The gift we bring is our praises and thanks in an attitude of worship. Ashley Crane puts it this way: “So the kind of blessing we are called upon to offer to God is fundamentally different from the kind of blessing God bestows on us. God’s blessing is something outside of ourselves that he gives to us. When we “bless the Lord” we offer something from within ourselves to God in response…God blesses first, and our blessing of thanksgiving and adoration is always a response.


David, the writer, gives the reasons why we should bless God, the benefits we receive include: forgiveness for all of our sin; he heals all of our diseases, he redeems our life; he extends never failing love and mercy; he satisfies us with good things, and he renews our strength. When reading a list of this nature it is usual that either the first statement provides the context for all that follows or the list builds from the weakest to the strongest. It is most likely, given the content of the benefits mentioned and the description later in the psalm, that what is in mind is the blessings of the covenant which depend upon obedience and forgiveness for sin.


God’s attitude to our sins is that because of his love and mercy he has removed them as far as the east is from the west. This is a picturesque way of saying that just like no matter how far east we travel we never meet west, we will never meet our sins again. He heals all of our diseases according to David, this too was a blessing included in the covenant. We know God can and indeed does heal our diseases, sometimes in miraculous ways, but not always, so what does this mean? Of course we know that in the kingdom to come there will be no sicknesses or sorrow, so is this what David was pointing to? He knew that if the people were able to keep the covenant perfectly then they could expect freedom from sickness, but that had never been the case, he also knew that some sickness was directly related to sin and if that sin was dealt with then sickness could be healed. (Psalm 51). James later alludes to this when he wrote “Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.” (James 5:16) and the apostle wrote to the church at Corinth: “That is why many of you are weak and ill, and some have died. But if we judged ourselves truly, we would not be judged” (1 Corinthians 11:30,31). The ‘’healed’’ is used a number of times in the Bible to refer to dealing with sin, for example, Isa. 6:10; 53:5; Jer. 3:22; Hos. 14:4.


The benefits God extends to us are all found in the promises of the Old Testament covenant, many of which will not be fully realized until we take up our inheritance in the Kingdom to come. In the meantime we appreciate them in part, God renews our strength, he forgives our sin and promises healing of all our diseases. Sometimes he extends grace to give healing in this life. Whether this healing happens now or later, he promises his steadfast love and mercy, and through the suffering we sometimes endure, he brings us closer to himself and “having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.” (James 1:12). In the meantime he invites us to pray to receive help and mercy, he assures that we can cast our anxieties on him because he cares for us and to trust in him for deliverance, because in him there is healing.

  1. Are you able to say that you will worship with all you’ve got?
  2. What benefits has God given to you?
  3. God says he has hurled all your sins into the sea, how often do you fish them out again?
  1. The God of Creation
    Psalm 104

This Psalm continues the theme of the previous and is most likely written by the same author, David. Bless the Lord, he says because he is very great. The psalm then provides a poetic description of God’s acts of creation and follows a similar pattern to the creation event written in Genesis 1.


Like Genesis the description of God’s creative acts starts with light. This isn’t the light produced by a sun or reflected by a moon, it is something that seems to cover God but at the same time emanates from him. In Revelation 21, John says of the heavenly city that there is no need for the sun or the moon because the glory of God will light it up, this is the light that David describes. Of course David wasn’t a witness to the creation and he is describing the best way he can the splendour and majesty of God in words which are inadequate. He is inviting his hearers to let their imaginations run free. He pictures God as riding on the clouds, pushed along by the wind with flashes of lightning all around, a majestic God for whom there is no rival who uses the heavens as a tent and the waters of the earth to hold up the floor of his house.


It is God who set the foundations of the earth, who separated the oceans and raised up the mountains. He set everything in its place and established boundaries for all that he created. In the valleys springs of water flowed that gave drink to all the wild animals, the birds lived alongside them in peace. At the bottom of the valleys the fertile soils produced grass for livestock and crops for the men and women he created to cultivate. Everything he made was so good that David could say the earth was satisfied with God’s work. The animals and trees all had an abundance of food, the seasons came and went, and the sun rose and then disappeared from view. Everything had its place and was provided for, how many and varied are God’s works writes David, all things were made according to his wisdom, everything belongs to him.


All of creation waits for God, and in due season he provides for it. If God was to turn away, all of creation would be dismayed, and ultimately would perish. But he does not turn away, he sends his Spirit to renew ‘the face of the ground’. When God placed the first man and woman in his garden he gave them a job, to look after all of his creation, like many other responsibilities and expectations given to us by God, we have not done well in this. Creation shows the evidence of abuse and neglect at the hands of men and women. The psalmist wants God to rejoice in his work, in other words he wants it be treated and cared for in such a away that it brings him joy and it reflects his glory. This then is an act of worship, to look after that which God has created and entrusted to us.


David insists that he going to sing to the LORD as long as he lived; He asked that his thoughts would be pleasing to God. On the other hand he wanted all the sinners to be consumed and the wicked to be disposed of. He was particularly thinking of those whose sins had caused God’s creation to suffer, it was sin that caused the corruption of God’s creation and continual sinful actions that cause further decay. The creation was intended to reflect the glory of God and the apostle Paul writes: “For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made” (Romans 1:20). He has given men and women the responsibility of managing and caring for it in such a way that he will rejoice in the work of his hands, that is the challenge for each of us.

  1. How would you describe God?
  2. What do think of when you consider God’s hand in creation?
  3. How seriously do you take your responsibility to care for God’s creation?