Week 17

1.The character of the righteous
Psalm 112

This Psalm starts where the previous finished, with the fear of the Lord. Psalm 111 insists that wisdom begins with the fear of the Lord and now this Psalm focuses on what such an attitude does in the life of the believer. This is not a cringing fear that comes when one is afraid of being punished, but a sense of awe and majesty and power of being in the presence of a Holy God. Such a believer finds delight in God’s commandments, they are not a burden to be endured but a means of blessing and righteousness.

 

At the time this psalm was written, the expectation of the people was that the blessings of the covenant would be experienced materially and so they would look forward to wealth and prosperity in return for obedience. We now live under a different covenant and while we may also share in material blessings now, we anticipate a future state when we will share fully in the immeasurable riches of his grace and glory which bring health, prosperity and abundance in every way. We may not experience material wealth in our houses, but we are guaranteed the riches that come from his presence and access to his throne.

 

The character of the blessed person is one we can expect to reflect. He or she is:
a person who makes a home for his or her family
a loving and kind person
a helping person
a wise person
a strong person
a generous person
a person who does not abuse power

 

This blessed man and woman is particularly noted for their generosity and graciousness, this is to be a hallmark of a child of God. Spurgeon writes: “Finding himself in circumstances which enable him to spare a little of his wealth he lends judiciously where a loan will be of permanent service. Providence has made him able to lend, and grace makes him willing to lend. He is not a borrower, for God has lifted him above that necessity; neither is he a hoarder, for his new nature saves him from that temptation; but he wisely uses the talents committed to him.” This is written at a different time and in different language from what we would use today, however the principle remains. A godly person is generous and looks for opportunities to help others. The apostle Paul wrote to the church at Thessalonica that they should “live quietly, and to mind your own affairs, and to work with your hands, as we instructed you, so that you may walk properly before outsiders and be dependent on no one.” (1 Thessalonians 4:11,12).

 

A person whose character is formed by a reverential awareness of God and delight in his commandments can face the pressures of life confidently, he or she ‘is not afraid of bad news’ How many people are worried about the mail that comes to their letter box, fearing it will be a demand for more money, or a message from a loved one with news about a family illness or tragedy? Perhaps it’s the result of a job interview or an exam that has been taken that causes anxiety. Some people live in constant anxiety fearing that news will always be bad. The righteous however will never be moved; she will be remembered forever. He is not afraid of bad news; his heart is firm, trusting in the LORD. Her heart is steady; he will not be afraid. (Vs7,8).

 

As we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus and delight in his word we can face the world with confidence. We need not be shaken by wars or rumours of wars, disasters or epidemics, our trust is in a Mighty God, he is our rock, he is our salvation, and our deliverer, what have we to fear?

  1. A righteous person is a generous person, what do you think of that?
  2. In what way can you experience God’s blessings now?
  3. How does your character match that described in the psalm?
  1. He raises the Lowly
    Psalm 113

Psalms 113 to 118 are together referred to as the Egyptian Hallel. Hallel is a shortened form of Hallelu Yah meaning ‘Praise the lord’ which frequently appears in the Psalms. These are called Egyptian because they represent the time of deliverance of God’s people from Egypt. They would be recited or sung at festivals and particularly at the Passover when the first two would be sung before the meal and the other four at its end. Significantly these are most likely to be those sung by Jesus and the disciples at the last supper before his crucifixion.

 

The theme of this psalm is deliverance. God who is high above the heavens, supreme in power and majesty looks down from heaven and sees the hurting and oppressed. He lifts them out of the dust and sits them with princes. He uses the example of women who were unable to conceive, who at the time of writing would be subjects of ridicule and scorn. According to Willem VanGemeren: “A barren woman was a social outcast; she was a disappointment to her husband, to other women, and especially to herself.” There are a number of examples of God miraculously bringing children to women who were thought to be barren and in some cases physically beyond the possibility of conception: Sarah, Rachel, Hannah, The wife of Manoah who became the mother of Samson and Elizabeth all were blessed in this way. The metaphor of barrenness can be applied to Israel who was “delivered from Egyptian bondage and given fruitfulness in a new land”. (Hicks).

 

The people of Israel were in bondage, held captive by the Egyptians and forced into hard manual work. They were a nation of shepherds now forced to serve an oppressive regime without any rights or hope in the future. In Exodus 3 we read: “The LORD said, “I have indeed seen the affliction of My people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their oppressors, and I am aware of their sufferings. I have come down to rescue them”. This is the event that begins the Passover memorial, God looking down and seeing the broken and the oppressed and coming to their rescue. Years later the Israelites once again found themselves captive, this time to the Romans and yet again God heard their cry and looked down from heaven. Once again, he sent a deliverer to set them free. It was this deliverer who sat with his disciples and sang the words of Psalm 113 recalling the miraculous acts that secured their freedom. Once again God would break the bond of captivity and set the prisoners free, this time it would cost the life of his son and would forever break the grip of Satan.

 

Each day God looks down from heaven and sees the lonely, the broken and the oppressed and he sends his Holy spirit as a comforter and advocate to act on their behalf. The chains are broken and yet many people remain in their prison not knowing that they have been set free; they only need to take by faith the hand that is stretched out to them and he will lead them out.

 

The Psalm ends as it starts: Hallelujah – praise the Lord. He gives life to the barren, hope to the hopeless and strength to the weak. God delights in restoring the broken and will always listens for their cry.

  1. Do you feel lonely and forgotten, have you cried out to God?
  2. The Jews use songs and psalms to remind themselves of God’s acts of deliverance, how do you remember those thigs in your life?
  3. Have you ever felt imprisoned by circumstances or false beliefs? What can you do about it?
  1. The heart of redemption
    Psalm 114

The story of the deliverance of Israel from captivity in Egypt is central to the redemption story. While it is true that the whole Biblical revelation is concerned with the message of God preparing a people for himself and in so doing defeating sin and its consequences and setting those people free, for the Jews this is demonstrated best in the Exodus.

 

Psalm 114 starts without preamble or explanation: “When Israel went out from Egypt…” The Jews immediately knew what the writer was referring to. This was the predominant theme of their worship, a story that was passed down from generation to generation to describe the miraculous intervention by God in the destiny of the nation. Israel went to Egypt as the household of Jacob, He and his families sought refuge there during a famine in their own land and 400 years later they were still there, but now treated as slaves. The psalm describes the Egyptians as people of strange language, and while it is likely they spoke differently to the people of Israel, after 400 years it is probable that it was no longer strange because of the words they used.
There are many metaphors and examples of poetic language used in the psalm, and here there is perhaps a metaphor of how we as Christian’s live amongst people of a strange language. Language is a reflection of the culture and values of the nation from which it comes, and Egypt’s culture was very different from that of Israel, in the same way our culture as Christians should be informed by values that are very different from the world around us. On leaving Egypt, Judah, one of the tribes of Israel became God’s sanctuary while Israel became the kingdom over which he reigned. Genesis 49:10 states that Judah would become the seat of the kingdom from which the Messiah would come, while Israel would always be the people of God.

 

The Psalm focuses particularly on two events both of which concern God’s miraculous intervention by stopping the flow of bodies of water. Verse three speaks first of the Red Sea that was parted to allow the escape of Israel from Egypt and into the wilderness. Then it moves to the Jordan River which was ‘turned back’ to allow the nation to enter the promised land. There is another metaphor here for us. Having escaped the captivity of sin by the miraculous intervention of God we begin a pilgrimage leading to our promised land. At the end of our journey, once again God will provide an entrance, this time into the new heavens and the new earth. Along the way we will face trials and tests, confront and defeat enemies and depend on God’s provision. There is never a doubt, however that we are God’s people and he will deliver us.

 

The psalm writer speaks of skipping mountains and hills which may be a reflection that all of creation is rejoicing in the redemption of all of creation. A reminder of what is written in Romans 8:21: “Creation itself will also be set free from the bondage of corruption into the glorious freedom of God’s children.” He does though, contrast this with the trembling of mountains at the presence of God. The writer doesn’t dwell on the miracle involved in separating the sea or driving back waters but on the presence of God. It was enough for God to be present for creation to respond to him, his presence makes mountains tremble, hills are moved and all obstacles to the progression of God’s purposes are taken away.

 

On two occasions God brought water out of rock (Ex. 17:6 and Num. 20:8–13), one of those times brought an unhappy result because of the disobedience of the people. The writer doesn’t mention that, only that God brought water out of hard unresponsive rock. Yet another metaphor, even when our hearts have become hard and unresponsive, with a word God can bring out times of refreshing. Nothing is beyond his power, no river too wide, no mountain too high and no rock too hard. As you journey on your pilgrimage he is with you every step of the way. He has led you into the journey and he has already prepared for your departure from it and promises that he will never leave you nor forsake you.

  1. How different is your language (including what you talk about) from that of those around you?
  2. Do you see your life as a pilgrimage or journey?
  3. Are those mountains or hills in your life that you need God to speak to?
  1. Not about us
    Psalm 115

Twice in the opening verse of this psalm the writer insists that glory is not sought for himself or his hearers. In the heart of every person is the desire to be well thought of, to be successful. This in itself is reasonable, Paul the apostle tells us in 1 Thessalonians 4 that we should be ambitious and that elsewhere that he was ambitious. Of course, the question to be asked is ‘what is it reasonable to be ambitious about?’ Paul was ambitious to preach the gospel (Romans 15:20) and the Thessalonian Christians were to be ambitions to live quiet lives, mind their own business and work hard so that they would not be a burden to others. These may not be the things that are the focus of many ambitious people in our world.

 

Sadly, even within the church there seems to be ambition to bring praise to the church or its leaders. Pride is taken in the size of buildings, congregations and budgets. The drawing power or eloquence of the preacher, the talent of the music team or the quality of the media presentations are matters of comparison against others. It is hard not to think that it is the reputation and glory of the church that is at stake rather than God himself. What may be true of the church as an institution can also be true of its members. The preacher may seek the approval of the crowd, the musician may be looking for applause for his or her ability, the one who gives, for their generosity, the pray-er for the length and passion of their prayers and so on. The temptation to seek approval from men and women is common and real and the writer of this psalm wants to be clear that glory must go to God, not the people.

 

God should receive glory because of his steadfast love and faithfulness, and this needs to be seen and talked about so that no one could question his existence. It is often asked that if God is so good why does he allow all the suffering in the world. The writer points out that if God received the glory he deserved that question wouldn’t be asked. In fact, God is in heaven, not like the false gods which were either earthbound idols or figments of the imagination. As God, he does whatever he likes, he is not answerable to mankind -he does not need to explain himself. The writer then proceeds to describe the false gods or idols. They have features of created beings, eyes, ears, nose, hands and feet, but none of them work. They cannot even speak in fact they are useless, Isaiah scornfully speaks about these false idols in Isaiah 44:9-20. The worst things is that those who make the idols become like them, it is often said we become like what we worship, as Christians we would hope that we become more and more conformed to his image as we worship him (2 Corinthians 3:18).

 

Given that the false gods and idols cannot do anything to help the people, the Psalm writer exhorts them to trust in God. He identifies three groups, first of all the nation, then the religious leaders and then all those who trust in the Lord whether of Israel or not. It is he and he alone that is their defender and shield and he can do what the idols could not – he promised to bless them. The Psalmist prays that all these people would experience these blessings which should be extended to the following generations.

 

The heavens belong to God, he has no rival, he rules in absolute authority. The earth has been given to men and women and their offspring to enjoy and to manage and while we occupy it is our responsibility to praise him and bless him for all he has done. We are called to excel in what we do but not so we will be applauded but so that God will receive the glory.

  1. Do you see evidence of churches or Christians wanting to succeed to build their own reputation?
  2. What is your ambition?
  3. Do you trust in things like money, education, talent to deliver you instead of God?
  1. What can I give to the Lord?
    Psalm 116

This is another of the Psalms sung by the people of Israel at the Passover and it is probable that Jesus and the disciples sang it together as they concluded their commemoration (Mark14:26). As they did so Jesus no doubt reflected on the verses of this psalm which speak about death and deliverance.

 

The Psalm begins with a statement; the writer loved the Lord because of what he had done for him. He had listened to his prayer for mercy and delivered him. It is a natural response to look with affection on those who do things for us, we love people because there is something about them that inspires love or because they can give us something we want. God’s love though is different, he loves us because it is in his nature to do so. It is not offered to us because of something we have done or because there is something desirable about us, he loves because of who he is. It is this love that led Jesus to the cross, while we were sinners and opposed to him and it is this same love that will bring us into his heavenly home.

 

The psalmist recounts how God had shown mercy to him. He was facing death, there was no escape and yet God delivered him. As Jesus meditated on these words he knew that he would shortly be arrested and sentenced to death. It was inevitable, there was no escape, and yet he relied on God the Father for deliverance. The psalmist writes that he was brought low and Jesus would soon be humiliated, humbled before the crowd as he was mocked, tortured and stripped naked – and still he looked to God, not to spare him from death, but nevertheless to show him mercy. He may stumble under the weight of the cross as he made his way to calvary, but he would not deviate, he would walk before the Lord.

 

Th apostle Paul quotes verse 10 in 2 Cor. 4:13 as he reflected on his own circumstances: ‘’ We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus’’, but then he is able to write with great confidence and faith: ‘“I believed, and so I spoke,” we also believe, and so we also speak, knowing that he who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and bring us with you into his presence.’ As Jesus did with his disciples, he looked beyond his current affliction and future certainty of death to a blessed assurance.
“What can I give to God in response to all he has done for me?” the Psalmist asks. The answer is to worship him, both privately and publicly. During the ceremonial meal of the Passover, called the ‘’seder’’ four cups of wine would be drunk, while there is debate about how they should be named it is generally agreed that they are: The Cup of Sanctification, the Cup of Deliverance, the Cup of Redemption and the Cup of Praise. It is only in this psalm that the cup of salvation is mentioned, but when Jesus took up what was the third cup he said: “This cup which is poured out for you is the new covenant in My blood. (Luke 22:20) and Paul later wrote “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a partaking of the blood of Messiah? The bread which we break, is it not a partaking of the body of Messiah?’’ (1 Cor. 10:16). The cup for the Jews was an essential element of the Passover and for believers today it is no less an essential element of our worship.

 

The psalm writer guaranteed that he would bring an offering of thanksgiving and he would keep the promises he had made to God as he responded to the mercy extended to him through God’s love. Jesus offered himself on the cross, he kept the vow he had made to give up his own life as an acceptable sacrifice. Our only reasonable response is to worship him.

  1. What are the benefits that God has given you that you should thank him for?
  2. When you share in the communion are you aware of what the death of Christ meant for him, and achieves for you?
  3. Are there promises you have made to God that you have not kept?
  1. Everybody, everywhere, Praise the Lord!
    Psalm 117

Not only is this  the shortest chapter in the bible, it is right in the middle. While only two verses in length, according to James Montgomery Boice, Luther devoted 36 pages to it! According to Prof. Marc Zvi Brettler, from a Jewish perspective ‘’Short does not mean simple: Psalm 117 is one of the more difficult psalms’’. Not only is its theme the strong encouragement for all the people of all the world to worship the God of Israel, but if it was to be read in private or even in the temple how would any but Jews hear it?

 

The psalm has a prophetic voice that the apostle Paul refers to in Romans 15, speaking of the availability of the gospel to all people, Jews and Gentile alike. But as a Hallel Psalm it was intended to be sung as part of Jewish festival worship and so the message it contains was important for the Jews in every age.

 

The psalm begins with the twin instructions to praise the Lord and to extol him. We are familiar with the word praise, but extol is not a term that is readily used in modern speech. Some Bible translations prefer the word ‘laud’, ‘glorify’ or even ‘applaud’, and many just repeat the previously used ‘praise’. Our English dictionaries define ‘extol’ as meaning to praise highly and enthusiastically. So the message is clear everybody, everywhere is expected to enthusiastically praise God. The writer first puts this expectation on all the nations and then all the peoples. Many nations are made up of different people groups or tribes, none are left out. This anticipates the great commission of Jesus to his disciples in which he told them that they were to make disciples of all the nations. He used a Greek expression here (pante ta ethne) which according to Luis Bush from Mission Frontiers means: “a large group of people based on various cultural, physical, or geographical ties! There is a strong biblical basis for including communities/castes in the term ethnē in Matthew 28:19.”

 

If all the people of all the world are going to praise God, they must first be brought to an understanding of who he is. Paul having quoted verse I in Romans 15:11 went on to state: “I make it my ambition to preach the gospel, not where Christ has already been named, lest I build on someone else’s foundation, but as it is written, “Those who have never been told of him will see, and those who have never heard will understand.”” This ambition of Paul has been extended to us that we tell the good news to every person in every sector of society so that they have the opportunity to also sing his praises.

 

The reasons that are given for these expressions of praise are the unrelenting and unfailing love of God and his enduring faithfulness. An alternative translation to verse 2 is: ‘For His mercy toward us is great, And the truth of the LORD is everlasting. Praise the LORD!’ Hebrew is a complex language and some words are not easily expressed by a single alternative. Khesed which is translated ‘steadfast love’ is one of those, it carries the meaning of mercy, kindness and grace. It is the character of God which causes him to love without qualification and to deliver us from sin and its penalty. Another is emet which is rendered ‘faithfulness’ but can also be ‘reliability, firmness or truth’ or a number of other similes. Because God is a God who is true, he must also be faithful. He keeps his word, not just for a season, for a short time, but for ever. Jesus said that he was the truth, that access to the father was only through him, the way, the truth and the life. Psalm 117 speaks prophetically to the proclamation of the gospel to every people and nation but then impresses upon you and me the obligation to make disciples from them with the good news of Jesus.

  1. It has been said about missions that we must be ‘going or sending’, what does this mean?
  2. Before he was ascended Jesus told the disciples they were to be witnesses throughout the world – he extends this to you and me. (Acts 1:8) How can you do this?
  3. Where do you go to discover truth about world events and the future?
  1. The Steadfast love of the Lord
    Psalm 118

Martin Luther said of this Psalm: “I fell in love with this psalm especially. Therefore I call it my own. When emperors and kings, the wise and the learned, and even saints could not aid me, this psalm proved a friend and helped me out of many great troubles.” It is the last of the Hallel Psalms sung at Jewish festivals and may have been on the lips of the disciples as they separated after supper and went on to the Mount of Olives. Knowing what lay ahead the recurrent words of the first four verses must have been especially significant to Jesus, the alterative translation is ‘His mercy endures forever’. It is also possible that this is the psalm recited at the foundation of the second temple in Ezra 3.

 

The words of verses 2-4 echo those of Psalm 115:9-13 where the same three groups of people were first called to trust in the lord and then were assured of his blessing. Now they were to declare that his steadfast love (enduring mercy) lasts forever. This is the reason all the people, were to give thanks as they began to conclude their worship with this psalm.

 

What is there to fear when the Lord is on my side, asks the psalmist, if he is my helper I will win the battle. The popular song “The Blessing” is drawn from a number of verses of scripture including this Psalm and the Stanza:

In the morning, in the evening
In your coming, and your going
In your weeping, and rejoicing
He is for you, He is for you

 

And the repeated refrain “he is for you, he is with you” reflect the confidence of David the probable writer of this psalm.

 

Four times he speaks of being surrounded and being pushed hard by his enemies, but the Lord helped him. He quotes from the song of Miriam, the sister of Moses when she sang about deliverance from Egypt. It was God’s right hand that had brought the victory. (Exodus 15). Three times David speaks of God’s right hand and emphasizes that is him who does valiantly. David knew he was not going to die, he had been delivered and now he was going to make sure he would speak continuously about God’s deliverance. As Jesus thought of the cross that lay before him and the cruel death he faced, he was still able to say that he would not die, he would live, death could not hold him down. The gates of righteousness would be opened to him and by entering through them he prepared the way for others to follow.

 

David speaks of the stone that was rejected, in his mind he may have been thinking of himself and certainly Israel but verse 22 became the most quoted Old Testament verse in the New. In Acts 4:11 Peter makes it clear that it speaks of Jesus who the Jews had rejected. The cross was the ultimate rejection of Jesus, but God lifted him up and made him the cornerstone, the foundation on which the temple stands. God has done this and it is marvellous – for this reason, says David we will sing “this is the day that the lord has made, we will rejoice and be glad in it”.

 

The Psalm ends with a reminder that the steadfast love of the Lord endures forever and therefore we should give thanks. It is difficult to imagine knowingly facing the prospect of cruel death while singing these words. Yet it was not only the example of Jesus but many who have died in his name, martyred for their faith. May we have that same courage!

  1. Do you think of God’s mercy when you are facing difficult times?
  2. The Lord is for you, the Lord is with – what do you think of these words?
  3. David, Jesus and others sang praises as they faced death, yet we often allow relatively minor trials to unsettle our faith. What is you attitude when life gets hard?