- No compromise
A common theme throughout the psalms is that of David calling out to God and making sure he was listening! How often do you hear someone’s voice but not actually listen to what is being said? Has anyone ever asked you “Are you listening to me?” or being told to pay attention? David wanted to make sure God was not just aware of the sound of David’s voice, but that he was listening. Too often it seems we rush into God’s presence when we pray, perhaps we are in a hurry and assume that God will adjust to our sense of urgency. As we begin to speak do we pause to be sure that God is listening? We know that he hears everything (a thought too difficult to comprehend!) but prayer should be a conversation between two parties that are actively engaged in what is being communicated. Next time you call out to God, perhaps pause for a moment to allow him to respond, wait between each request, take a breath!
David asks that God consider his prayers as incense, and his posture of prayer, that is with his hands raised, would be like the presentation of an evening sacrifice. Incense was offered every morning and evening on the golden altar before the veil of the sanctuary (Exodus 29:39, and Numbers 28:4). It was a complicated business, the incense that was used was made up of the perfumes stacte, onycha, galbanum and pure frankincense beaten into very small pieces. Any incense which was not made of these ingredients was forbidden to be offered. (Exodus 30:9) The high priest, was appointed to offer incense each morning and evening. Smith’s Bible Dictionary states: “When the priest entered the holy place with the incense, all the people were removed from the temple, and from between the porch and the altar. Profound silence was observed among the congregation who were praying outside, and at a signal the priest cast the incense on the fire and, bowing reverently toward the holy of holies and retiring slowly backward.” This could not be hurried, it was an act carried out with reverence, and David wanted his prayers to be the same. It was customary for the person praying to lift their hands in supplication and to show absolute dependence on the Lord for the answer they wanted.
Like many of us David knew that his mouth could lead him into trouble, he needed to watch his words and asked God to set a guard over them. James wrote in his letter about the danger of the tongue and says that none of us can really tame it (James 3:8). We may be singing God’s praises one minute and the next abusing a driver for cutting us off on the freeway, or shouting irritably at our kids! Paul writes to the Philippians “whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think (and talk) about these things.” (Chapter 4:8); to the Colossians: “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt” (chapter 4:6); and the Ephesian church: “Don’t use foul or abusive language. Let everything you say be good and helpful, so that your words will be an encouragement to those who hear them.” (Chapter 4:29 NLT). David knew that the words he used could do both good and harm, and often reflected the state of his own heart and the company he kept.
David encouraged rebuke! Most of us dislike criticism and do not take rebuke well but David understood that if it came from the right people, it was good for him. He welcomed it. On the other hand, he would rather throw ungodly people off a cliff than listen to their advice. He needed to keep out of bad company and as he said in Psalm 1, not sit in the seat of scoffers or walk in the counsel of the wicked.
If we want to avoid the traps of compromise, of accepting the values of the ungodly, like David we must keep our eyes focused on God. As the writer to the Hebrews says: keeping our eyes upon Jesus, the beginning and the end of our race. (Chapter 12:1,2). The wicked will fall into their own snares, but we will walk by safely.
- Do you sometimes rush into prayer without preparing yourself?
- How good are you at taming your tongue?
- Would you rather hear the applause of the ungodly or the rebuke of the righteous?
- Alone in a cave
This psalm is called a maskil a word of uncertain meaning but which most authors refer to as a contemplative song, or one that is sung. Tara Mizrachi of Sefaria, an organization committed to making Jewish texts available writes: “A maskil is a psalm with a message so delicate that King David asks a special wise person to recite and interpret the words so that people may understand it better…The word “maskil” shares the same 3-letter root as “sechel” or wisdom and understanding.” The title tells us that it was written while David was in a cave. This was probably the cave of Adullam to where he fled while hiding from King Saul and is described in 1 Samuel 22:1.
David is being threatened on every side, Saul was chasing him, the Philistines wanted him dead, and his family and friends had rejected him. He was alone and feeling broken. David had been told that he was going to be king, he had fought battles on Saul’s behalf, married the king’s daughter and was the best friend of his son. He thought he had done what was expected of him, by God and by King Saul but here he was alone, in a cave in fear of his enemies with nowhere to go and so he did the only thing he could do – he cried out to the Lord. Most of us pray silently when we are on our own, but sometimes we need to speak out aloud, to give voice to our needs, not because God needs us to, but we need to. David had to put words to his needs, sometimes the act of doing that makes things much clearer and the way forward is more certain. I remember many years ago I was going through an uncertain time and I went to a quiet place to pray for a period of time, most of my prayers were spoken and I didn’t want an audience! On my return I was asked if I had got all the answers I wanted, I replied that I didn’t go to find the answers – I went to find out what the questions were! Once I knew that, the answers were usually fairly obvious.
Even in this lonely place David was confident that God had a plan for him. At his lowest ebb, when he felt deserted by everybody, let down by all he had depended on, away from his family and afraid to leave his refuge in case he fell into a trap. God was there. The story as it is recorded in 1 Samuel tells us that before long his brothers and family joined him in the cave and then others came to, until eventually, he had an army. God brought him his lowest point to prepare him for the purpose for which he had set apart.
David was a man of undoubted courage, by his own testimony he had fought bears and wolves to protect his father’s sheep; he confronted Goliath when many shrank back in fear and proved himself in battle many times, but in the cave he was confused and afraid. There may be times in your life when you, like David are confused, feel alone and are anxious. Maybe you have been successful and surrounded by well-wishers, but something has gone wrong; you are not popular anymore, you are not sure you are in the right place, and you don’t know where your future lies. Like David you are in a cave, not a physical one but an emotional and spiritual place that is dark and lonely. David poured out his complaint to God, he was overwhelmed but God knew the future. Romans 8 reminds us that there are times when we don’t even have the right words, we don’t know what to say but even in those times the Holy Spirit who helps us in our weakness interceded for us (Chapter 8:26).
It wasn’t long before David was told to leave the cave. He needed to go to Judah and return to the battlefield. Years later the prophet Elijah retreated to a cave because he thought that his ministry was over, he had tried as well as he could, but nothing had worked. He was disillusioned and wanted to give up. God told him to leave his cave, he still had things to do, not what he had been doing but something new. Is it time for you to leave you cave?
- Do you ever pray aloud when you are on your own?
- When you ask God for things in prayer are you always sure you are asking for the right things?
- Are you in a cave? Is it time to leave?
- From one crisis to another
As we read the psalms it seems that David’s life is characterised by lurching from one crisis to another. This is not always the picture we see when we read the accounts in the books of Samuel and Kings. The psalms though are almost his personal diary or journal in which he pours out his deepest feelings, both good and bad. Some people find it helpful to write their own private journal in which they express themselves to God as honestly as possible, unlike David if you do that it is probably best to keep it from the eyes of other people. It is also helpful, or challenging to go back to them after a while to remind yourself of where you have been and how much progress you have made to get to where you are now.
David begins this page of his journal with a familiar request – ‘Hear my prayer, listen to my pleas for mercy’ he cries’. He qualifies his request by asking that God deal with him according to his own righteousness because if God were to judge David according to his own actions he would be in deep trouble. No one alive is righteous according to David, on other occasions he appealed to God on the basis that he was righteous, but he is not being contradictory here. His claim to righteousness was when he was accused falsely by his enemies and rightly protests that he was not at fault. But when he was faced with his own frailty he knew that he was unrighteous, and stood in the place of judgement.
David was in a dark place, his spirit had fainted within him, he was crushed and dispirited, he had no energy to fight. As he sat in this sad and lonely place he thought back to the good days, when he had joy and hope. He recognized that those days were due to the work and presence of God and as he meditated on that he reached out for God once again. He was dry and needed refreshing, nothing else would do – he needed God. It is common when people are feeling down or anxious to look for something to take away the pain, to help them cope. Unfortunately those coping strategies don’t work, they may give short term relief, but it doesn’t last and may lead to worse outcomes. Sometimes people turn to alcohol or shopping, it can be sport or more time at work, or eating, the internet or reading; whatever is used to cover the pain can bring its own set of complications and even addictions. It is possible to even find legitimate ways to cope: praying, fasting, spending time with family, travelling and so on. Again they may provide short term relief but they are a substitute for the one thing that will satisfy the thirsty soul and that is the presence of God. He may lead you to those things we call spiritual disciplines like praying, reading and giving but they must never be a substitute for God himself.
David needed a quick response, he said his spirit was failing; perhaps God was hiding his face. But God cannot be hurried and he does not hide his face, he knows our limitations and the extent of our strength. He promises that he will not allow us to be tested beyond our capacity to resist (1 Corinthians 10:13). When we, like David have lost our way we too can be assured that “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end: they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness” (Lamentations 3:22,23)
David had run to God for refuge and found it with him. He wanted God to remind him of his ways and to lead him on level ground. No ups and downs, lurching from side to side but steady progress as he followed the lead of the Holy Spirit. As you look back on your life, how steady is your progress?
- Do you think keeping a journal is a good idea?
- Are you guilty of looking to strategies to help you cope that leave you dissatisfied?
- Do spiritual disciplines pay a part in your life?
- Ready for Battle
David is grateful that God had prepared him for the battle he had faced and the ones that were to come. He possibly wrote this around the time of his ascension to the throne of all of Israel and some of the thoughts expressed seem a little disconnected.
He begins by acknowledging the basis of his success was God, he was the rock that could not be moved, it was on him that he took his stand, but he still had a part to play. God trained him for battle, he didn’t send him out into conflict and then leave him to it, he trained him, and continues to train him. There were weapons available to David, but without the knowledge of how best to use them they wouldn’t be much help, in fact if he relied on them while not using them properly, they may have presented more danger to him than his enemy. You and I are unlikely to be called on to go to a physical war to defend God’s kingdom, although some nations have the idea that they are fighting Holy wars even now.
We wrestle against rulers, authorities, cosmic powers and spiritual forces. With that army against us how can we hope to win? The answer is in the following words, the battle is in the heavenly places. We know that it is in these same places that Jesus is placed above all those forces. He has dominion over all of them, He has called us to sit with him in a place of rest, knowing that everything that needed to be done to defeat the enemy has been done. We know that when Jesus ascended above the heavens he took captive those who seek to take us captive. He has sealed us with His Holy Spirit and declared us to be his chosen possession, his children. He has declared that nothing, no principality or power can separate us from his love. We know that in all of these things we overwhelmingly conquer.
Does that mean we don’t need to be prepared for battle? 3 times in Ephesians 6:10-14 we are told to stand firm so that we can withstand. We are assured that if we take on God’s armour we can stand against the schemes of the devil; we will be able to withstand in the evil day; we can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. The battle is not ours, it is God’s and he has already won. The armour that God gives us are reminders of what he has given to us. It is defensive, protecting us against Satan’s strategies and weapons. Weapons like fear guilt, anxiety and temptation to sin. One piece of armour is however offensive – the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. We need to be properly trained swordsmen and women, knowing how to use this weapon properly. How to confront the lies of Satan with the truth of his word and at all times staying alert to surprise attacks. Praying for others, for their protection and so that they can take the battle to the enemy and take from him more and more ground.
While the battle is in those heavenly places and decided there, it is fought out in our homes, our workplaces and in our communities. As David looks to the future, he expects God’s victory to be demonstrated in those places. His children would grow and prosper, his business ventures would succeed and his food supply would be certain. We look to a future when Christ will return and proclaim the ultimate victory, but in the meantime we engage the battle in these areas of life confident that God had prepared us and continues to train us to be more than conquerors in all of these things. Take your stand on the rock, equipped with the armour he has given you and with the sword of the Spirit face your enemy with courage and determination.
- How well trained are you for the battles you face?
- Are you taking your stand on the rock or on your own ability?
- We are not told to run from the battle -what do you think about that?
- The Lord is good to all
This is the last of the psalms written by King David, it is one of the last six in the collection of psalms which Old Testament scholar Walter Brueggemann says are designed to bring Israel’s faith to a statement of basic trust. In commenting on verses 15-16,
The eyes of all look to you, and you give them their food in due season. You open your hand; you satisfy the desire of every living thing.
which he claims is the most eloquent statement of the psalm he writes: “Notice the one with looking eyes and open hands and yearning desire does nothing, produces nothing, earns nothing, manipulates nothing, possesses nothing – only gladly, trustingly receives”. He goes on to say that reciting this psalm is a declaration of the good news that ‘’invites deep departure from the greed system of self-securing, nothing less than a redefinition of reality against our crippling ideologies”. This is reflected in the words of Jesus on the sermon on the mount and particularly Matthew 6:25-32 where he instructed his hearers not to concern themselves with what they should eat or drink because their heavenly father knew what they needed.
The whole psalm is an expression of praise, in verses 1-6 David declares “I will” four times. He will extol or exalt his God and king, he will bless and praise his name forever, he will meditate on his glorious majesty and his wonderful works, and he will speak of God’s greatness. Not only will David commit to doing this but he expects that the practice will be adopted and taught in the families of Israel. In verse 4 he states that each generation will commend these things to the next, probably referring to Deuteronomy 11: 19-21 “You shall teach them to your children, talking of them when you are sitting in your house, and when you are walking by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates, that your days and the days of your children may be multiplied in the land that the Lord swore to your fathers to give them, as long as the heavens are above the earth.” He expected that subsequent generations would learn from the behaviour of their parents.
Verse 9 contains the statement that God is good to all people, he doesn’t withhold his goodness from anyone, this is sometimes called common grace that we all participate in. The psalm is inclusive, depending on the translation the word ‘all’ is used 17 times throughout, no one is excluded. He extends mercy to all and he is near to all of those who call him, “He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. The Lord preserves all who love him”, but on the other hand “all of the wicked he will destroy”. All people share in the goodness of God and he promises “The Lord upholds all who are falling and raises up all who are bowed down”, but his saving grace is only received by those who have committed to and worship him.
There is recognition in this psalm that all good things come from our God in heaven, it stands in direct opposition to the self-congratulation of the successful and wealthy, the basis of much of western society. The words of Deuteronomy 8 reinforce the radical message of the gospel: “Beware lest you say in your heart, ‘My power and the might of my hand have gotten me this wealth.’ You shall remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you power to get wealth, that he may confirm his covenant that he swore to your fathers, as it is this day.” Because David understood this he would make sure that every day he would praise the name of the Lord.
- Are you able to follow David’s four-fold expression or praise?
- Do you model this in your house so that your children (and others) will see it?
- Are you convinced that your success is based entirely on the goodness of God?
- Don’t trust in princes
As the writer begins this psalm, he directs himself to praise the Lord, his soul, that part of him that gives life, that animated his whole being was to praise God. This was not something set aside for a specific time of the week or for a season, but he was going to praise him for as long as he lived. Praise was going to be his manner of life, at every opportunity and in every circumstance, he was going to praise his Lord. His would be a lifestyle of praise.
The apostle Paul exhorted the Philippian Christians to “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!” (Chapter 4:4). We are to develop a lifestyle of thankfulness in which we continually offer praise to our Lord. When we are surrounded by turmoil and upheaval, when times are uncertain and the there is danger lurking at every corner it is far easier to complain than it is to give thanks, and yet this is what God desires. Much has been written about the power of praise, how it gives entrance to the presence of God, in the way it prefaces the victories that God brings. Praise reminds us of who God is and what he has done and will do again, it is the attitude we are expected to have when we come to him bringing sacrifices of praise; and when we are anxious and in need of his peace it is the manner in which we bring our requests. Praise must permeate every part of our lives and energise us in our worship.
The writer immediately warns his hearers not to put his trust in princes. He is not really talking about royalty here but as Derek Kidner puts it those who are influential and “whose backing may well seem more solid and practical than Gods”. We are surrounded by ‘influencers’ and those who are happy to give advice on a whole range of issues from relationships, to managing money. Then of course we have our political leaders or princes who promise the world but deliver significantly less. The psalmist says, ‘Don’t trust them, they can’t save you’. They are here today and gone tomorrow, when they leave this life, their advice will go with them. They are insubstantial, often untrustworthy and unable to produce the results they offer.
On the other hand if you trust God and put your hope in him you know he can deliver! He made the heavens and the earth, in fact everything in all of creation. He can be trusted because he keeps his word – forever. There is no comparison. Not only can God be trusted, all of his power is aimed at bringing justice. He will feed the hungry, set the prisoners free, watch over the refugee and the stranger, give sight to the blind. In fact all of the things that Jesus came to accomplish on earth and gave as a responsibility to the church. To truly praise God is to enter into his redemptive plan for the world, it is to engage with him and with his creation is a way that brings him honour and praise.
Brueggemann writes: “In its praise the church is big-mouthed. This company of singers must find its mouth and its voice, and then put its money where its mouth is. It will not, however put its money in daringly new places in passionate new ways until its mouth, its tongue, is put unreservedly at the disposal of God”. His point is that we can enthusiastic and loud in our songs of praise, but do those songs lead us action, bringing healing to the nation and redemption to its people?
The Lord will reign forever, through all generations. He will lift up the righteous but the wicked will be brought to ruin. He calls the church to take its stand with him and bring the good news to a lost and hurting world. Don’t trust in princes, ignore the advice of influencers and place your trust and praise in the one who can and does deliver his promises. Let your mouths be filled with praise, but let his praise direct your life and your priorities.
- How easily does praise come to your lips?
- Does praise change the way you feel?
- In what way must we and the church ‘put or money where our mouth is’ to reflect a life of praise?
- He gathers the outcasts
In many ways this psalm is a continuation of Psalm 146, similar themes are mentioned and the emphasis on praise is reinforced. It is likely that the Psalm is written after the rebuilding of Jerusalem which gave additional reason to praise God. In Nehemiah 12:27 we read: “Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing, with cymbals and stringed instruments and harps.” The Israelites felt that their fortunes had been restored, and it was fitting and pleasant to sing a song of praise. Later Nehemiah writes that when the walls of the city were dedicated, “they offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced. And the joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.”
When Jerusalem was rebuilt, the outcasts were gathered; those who had been in exile, who had no home and were rejected now had somewhere to belong and God healed them, dried their tears and gave them hope. Spurgeon identifies a range of those people who may be considered outcasts: They may be those who are poor and rejected by society; those whose sin or crime has separated them from their community; some who just chose to be outside the normal customs of social life; backsliders from the church; those who were struggling with mental or emotional sickness and those who were persecuted for their faith. This may not be a comprehensive list but there are many who feel they don’t belong, or they just don’t fit in. Perhaps due to personal circumstances or race, gender or ethnicity, or some other reason, whatever it is they are alone and often lonely, rejected and broken hearted. God intends to heal them, and he intends that the church receive them and accept them.
The writer goes on the describe the greatness of God and the extent of his knowledge. He starts by speaking about the stars, many years before God had invited Abraham to gaze at the night sky and count the stars, no doubt Abraham could not complete that task, but God could. In fact he doesn’t just know how many there are but he decided how many there would be, and he gave a name to every one. How could anyone grasp the extent of God’s knowledge and power? But a God so great stoops to lift up the humble and the lowly, he makes time for the lost, the lonely and the rejected and he lifts them up – how could we not praise him? Even in his care for creation he provides for the young raven, the most despised of creatures, considered unclean and not to be touched. Nothing is outside of God’s care from the outcast to the despised, the broken and the humble, his mercy is everlasting. God is not impressed by man’s strength or ability in war, he doesn’t delight in muscles built up in the gym for no other reason than to create an image, but he does take pleasure in those who hope in him and worship him.
Everybody should praise the Lord, he has restored them and will bless them with abundance. The psalmist shows God’s power in creation by, perhaps unusually, speaking about his control over cold weather. The snow, frost, wind, rain and hail all respond to his commands, and it is by a word that changes the weather. In Hebrews 1:3 we read that: “he upholds the universe by the word of his power.” He brought the world into being by a word, he upholds it by a word and he will bring it to an end by a word. By a word he can change your life and your circumstances, with a word he can strike down your enemies and restore your fortunes. With a word he will bind the broken hearted and give peace to the lonely and rejected. He has made his word known to his church so that as we take this word into our world those who receive it will be gathered into his kingdom.
- Do you know any ‘outcasts’?
- How can the church help in gathering in the outcasts?
- Do you need God to speak into something in your life?