Week 4

  1. Prayer is answered
    Psalm 21

    This psalm and the prayer it contains are given in answer to Psalm 20. If follows a familiar pattern, the first part is addressed to God, the second to the earthly king, David, and the finally an expression of praise.

    David had victoriously returned from battle amid joyous scenes. He and those with him no doubt came with all of the excitement and celebration that comes with winning. At other times we read of David dancing and singing, instruments playing and everybody cheering on the victors. This is the scene here and the waiting people joined in. How do we celebrate victory in our spiritual battle? C.S. Lewis once said that the church had a terrible sense of good taste, by which I take it he meant that everything was done properly and in an orderly manner. There is no place for spontaneity, or outbursts of enthusiasm. In commenting on this passage Charles Spurgeon wrote: “The shoutings of the early Methodists in the excitement of the joy were far more pardonable than our own luke warmness. Our joy should have some sort of inexpressibleness in it.” This was not the experience of David, or the people of God in his time.

    God had answered David’s prayer, he had been given victory, this was God’s doing, not because of greater force, military skill or strategy. David rejoiced in God’s strength and in his salvation. At the end of verse two is the Hebrew word selah, this is used often in the Psalms and means to pause and reflect, perhaps even have a musical interlude before moving on. The people stopped and reflected on the victory but also on the God who brought it about through prayer.

    David prayed for victory and that his life would be spared, he was granted both these things and much else beside. God gave him much more than he had imagined and he was overjoyed, and he was convinced that he could always trust God and could not be shaken from his confidence. David was not spared the battle, he fought in it, but was brought through victorious, more than a conqueror – in the same way God will bring us through our battles.

    The worshippers turned their attention to David and heaped praise on him. They were confident in his leadership, they believed he would be successful in battle and defeat his enemies. No doubt such inspiring confidence in a leader can be over optimistic and David didn’t win every battle he faced, but he must have been greatly comforted to know that his people believed in him! Of course the source of his victory was God, and so long as he and the people remained faithful they knew that God was with them. Sometimes the victory was delayed, but it was always certain.

    The people ended their worship with “Be exalted, O LORD, in your strength! We will sing and praise your power.” It was usual to end in praise and is good practice for us. It is a reminder that God is always with us to strengthen us, but also to take our eyes off ourselves and fix them firmly on God.

  1. How do you celebrate your spiritual victories?
  2. Do you have confidence in you spiritual leaders?
  3. How do you end your prayers?.
  1. From mountain peak to deepest valley
    Psalm 22

    The joy and enthusiasm of Psalm 21 is quickly swallowed up the gloom and depression of Psalm 22. They are probably not written in relationship to one another and David is no doubt recounting one of many turbulent experiences in life. But the placement of them next to each other in the book of Psalms does remind us that emotional and spiritual highs can often be followed by severe let downs. The great prophet Elijah had such an experience. He had won a dramatic contest against the prophets of Baal and through his prayer ended a three and a half year drought that had devastated the country. He ran to the city to see the  and enjoy the celebration only to be met by a threat on his life. He ran into the desert and lay down in deep depression hoping his life would end. God had other ideas.

    Something had gone wrong for David, he believed God had abandoned him. Why him? Why had God forsaken him, what had he done? These same words were later cried out by Jesus as he hung on the cross, why had God closed his ears, why didn’t he deliver him? David cried out day and night, but there was no answer. God hadn’t changed, he was still holy and when Abraham, Jacob, Moses and the rest cried out he delivered them. Why not David, was he so insignificant, so worthless that God would not even answer him? Not only that but he was being mocked, people were saying you trust God, then where is he? Let him save you. These are words were also directed at Jesus in his final hours. David complains that ever since he was a child he trusted God, but now when he needed him, he wasn’t there. He was surrounded by enemies, and he was physically and emotionally broken. Even his own people, those he thought were his friends had turned against him. In another reference to the future death of Jesus, David claims that people were gambling to see who would get his clothes, just as they later did to Jesus.

    One more time he cries out to God, to come to him quickly and deliver him. He hadn’t given up, he still trusted God and believed he could rescue him. This time God answered him (verse 21), he doesn’t say how or what God did, but whatever it was he was rescued. David’s immediate response was to make sure everybody knew, they needed to praise God too. They had to hear how God has lifted David out of the mess and put him back on his feet. He hadn’t been forgotten, God had heard his cries, now he was going to praise him and make sure he kept every promise he had made. Everybody would benefit, even the poor would have enough to satisfy them, the nations would turn to God and every family would worship him.

    This psalm was written from David’s own experience but it was also prophetic speaking about not only Jesus, the messiah who was to come and die on the cross, but who would also come again and rule in power. David looked forward to that ‘great and glorious’ day when Christ will return and reign over the nations. We look back on the death of Jesus, and hear David’s words from his own lips, but now we too look forward in hope to his coming again. There will be tough times, it will get gloomy and sometimes it may seem that God has closed his ears. But like David, never give up, don’t ever believe God has not heard you. He has and he will deliver you. There will come a time when every knee will bow before the king of kings, every nation will proclaim him as Lord, when the poor will be satisfied and the captives will be set free. There are no mountains without valleys, and it is those valleys that will make us appreciate the peaks he wants to lift us to. Lift your vision and see what God has prepared for you.

  1. Is your life a series of peaks and troughs, or is it just sure and steady?
  2. David was no doubt discouraged, have you ever felt like that?
  3. Do you ever make God promises when things are tough and then forget them when they improve?
  1. The Shepherd’s psalm
    Psalm 23

    Psalm 23 is one of, if not the most, well known, passages of the Bible. It is often spoken in times of loss or grief, sometimes memorized and has been the cause of great comfort to many over the years. It is written by David and stands in stark contrast to the mood of Psalm 22. While he still speaks of a valley, now it is not one of fear or suffering but refreshing, comfort and anticipation.

    Many of the Biblical leaders were shepherds, Abraham, Jacob, Moses and David, himself among them. It is still a little surprising though that David would address the Almighty God as a shepherd. J.M. Boice writes: “In Israel, a shepherd’s work was considered the lowest of all works. If a family needed a shepherd, it was always the youngest son, like David, who got this unpleasant assignment.” Rabbi Joseph Bar Hamna, claims that there is not a more contemptible office than that of a shepherd. David did not call God the Shepherd of Israel or in some other impersonal way, he was ‘my shepherd’. He understood God in an intimidate personal way, just a shepherd knew his sheep and cared for them.

    Because God was David’s shepherd, he would not lack anything necessary for faith and life. His shepherd would sustain him by making him lie down. He knew when David needed rest and he supplied it to him, not just anywhere but in green pastures where there was plenty of food. It was also where there was abundance of fresh water, and it was in the place of rest that David’s soul would be restored, so that he could move on along paths of righteousness. There are times in a life when we need rest, it is not a sign of weakness but one of recognition. From the beginning of creation God instituted the principle of rest and insisted we abide by it. The good shepherd will lead you there, for your sake, because there may still be some valleys ahead.

    The valleys in the desert were dangerous places. They were often dry river beds or wadis subject to sudden floods as the water streamed down the mountains. They also held dark shadowy places where thieves would hide to catch or ambush unwary travellers. David knew those places, his words of Psalm 22 bring them to mind. But in those places David was not afraid, because God was with him. The presence of the shepherd does not remove the presence of evil, but it does remove the fear of evil. David did not walk in the valley, he walked through the valley, with God by his side. The shepherd had his rod and his staff, a weapon to deal with attackers and an aid as he navigated the rocky, uneven pathways.

    The metaphor moves from shepherd to generous host, as David pictures a banquet table laid out with the best of food and wine. He has the place of honour even as his enemies were around about him, powerless to do anything. A table had been prepared in anticipation of an invitation to live in the house of the Lord forever. The Lord is your shepherd, follow his lead, he will bring you through the darkest valley to the place he has prepared for you.

  1. Do you know God in an intimate, personal way?
  2. Are you afraid of the shadows, expecting some danger to be lurking there?
  3. Are you looking forward to sitting at his banquet table?
4. Open up the gates
Psalm 24

It is possible that this Psalm was written when the Ark of God was taken to Jerusalem. The Ark was central to the worship of God but had been captured in the days of Samuel by the Philistines. It was returned but taken to the house of King Saul’s son, Aminadab at Gibeon where it remained for 20 years. During that time Saul died along with his son and David became king in his place. After some years David decided that he wanted to establish Jerusalem as the place of worship and planned to take the Ark there. After one failed attempt he succeeded and was met by a great celebration, music and shouting; David is described as ‘leaping and dancing before the Lord’ (2 Samuel 7:16).

On the day the Ark was captured the daughter in law of Eli, the priest charged with the responsibility of taking care of the Ark, was due to give birth. As the child came, she heard the news that the Ark had been captured, and her husband and father in law had died, she was devastated, so she named her son Ichabod, which means ‘the glory has departed from Israel’. The people believed that God’s presence depended on the Ark, and without it he had left them.

As David contemplated the return of the Ark and with it God’s glory, he reflected that all the world, and everything in it belonged to God. He made it, he established it and without him it could not exist. Who could possibly go up to the hill of the Lord? Gibeon, where the Ark was, was called the Hill and a previous attempt to return the Ark had met with disaster, as those who went did not follow the precise instructions God had laid down for its transportation. Who then could go? David immediately answers his own question, those who were not only righteous in the way they acted, but in their intentions as well. Who walked in integrity and were reliable and honest. No-one could meet the standard and so God had set out specific instructions which had been ignored for over 20 years. It had taken David three months to discover those instructions and now preparations were made, and everything was ready. No doubt those who would carry the Ark were very nervous despite being told they would receive a blessing from the Lord!

At last, the Ark came in sight of the city and as the procession drew closer the cry rang out: “Open up your gates, so the king of Glory may come in.” “Who is this king of glory?” Came the response, “The Lord, strong and mighty, the Lord, mighty in battle”. The glory of the Lord had departed Israel, but now it was back! “Open your gates, lift up your heads, open the ancient gates, let the king of Glory come in! Who is he, the Lord of Hosts, he is the king of glory”. Tradition has it that this Psalm was recited by the Jews on the first day of the week, which would mean that on the day of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem these are the words ringing through the Temple.

It is difficult for us to capture the excitement that the people of Israel felt as the procession carrying the Ark, with King David in the lead leaping and dancing, would have felt. God was with them, now their problems were over, he would fight their battles and defeat their enemies – what a glorious day! Sadly, their expectations were not met because it was not long before they once again turned their back on God and stopped seeking him. For them the Ark had become a talisman, an object that had some mysterious or magical power to bring good fortune to the owner. It was a reminder of the presence of God not a substitute for him. In Revelation 3:20 another request is made for the doors to be open. This time it is Jesus standing outside the church and the hearts of individuals and he says, “open the door, so that I may come in and eat with you”. The king of Glory knocks asking to enter, will he be met with the same excitement, hope and anticipation that a box brought to the people of Israel, are you genuinely excited to spend time in the presence of the King of Glory? Open up your doors that he, who is mighty in battle, may come in.

  1. Do you get excited at the prospect of God meeting you when you worship?
  2. Why do you think God was so strict about the rules for carrying the Ark?
  3. Is God banging on your door asking to be let in?
5. Show me the way
Psalm 25

In this psalm David asks for guidance but also confesses his sin, even those that have been on his mind for a long time. He needed the assurance of God’s forgiveness and recognized that some of the struggles he had been having were because of his sins and disobedience. Some writers suggest that this is a psalm read in community by the assembled worshipers, each part recited by one of the team. It is written as an acrostic, though not a complete one, which would assist in the task of responsive reading or speaking.

David begins by expressing trust in God, but he asks for deliverance from those who want to bring him shame. It seems that he is concerned about past failures that might be known by those who want to do him harm. If they were to come to light, David would not only be embarrassed but his reputation would be damaged and he would lose credibility. Not many of us do not have things in our past that we are embarrassed by, we would not want them to come out, we would like them to stay hidden. While God says he will never use our past sins against us, that is not true of other people who may want to hurt us. The memories of those past failures can cause guilt and anxiety.

“What should I do God?” Was David’s question “teach me your ways, lead me in the truth because my only hope is in you”. David knew he couldn’t undo the past; all he could do was wait for God to deliver him. He asks God not to remember the sins of his youth, either these had been weighing heavily on his mind or someone had reminded him of them. Now he asks God not to penalize him because of them. The guilt of his sin was causing him great distress, he had become withdrawn, he was depressed and he felt trapped. David desperately needed rescuing and so he called out to God, he asked God to forgive him based on his own integrity and righteousness. The psalm ends with a confident call to God to deliver all of Israel from its troubles. David’s life was in many ways symbolic of Israel, periods of enjoying God’s blessing followed by acts disobedience that brought the loss of his presence. As David acts and prays on his own behalf, he intercedes too for Israel.

David was haunted by memories of past sin and was sure that the troubles he faced were because of his own failure. Sometimes actions we take have consequences well into the future, moral failure in marriage may cause marriage breakdown, unwise financial decisions can result in difficulties for years, addiction to alcohol or drugs may bring tragic consequences in relationships and so on. In every case God offers forgiveness, but he doesn’t promise to take away the consequences. In the north of this state (and elsewhere) some children are born with fetal alcohol syndrome with disabilities resulting from the actions of their parents. The effects will be seen through generations. The sins, if they have been confessed to God, are forgiven but sadly suffering may continue. When we accept Jesus Christ as our saviour, all of our sins are forgiven, we do not need to list them. The debt is taken away, the slate is wiped clean, he has made all things new. There may be things that need to be put right though, restored relationships, reparation of losses, finding forgiveness. Sadly, not everything can be put back as it was and so like David we need God to show us the way, to untangle us from the net.

Like David we need to acknowledge (confess) our sin, thank him for his forgiveness and ask him to instruct us in the way he chooses, then we will have peace for our soul and hope for the future.

  1. Do you ever get troubled by the memory of past failures?
  2. Are there things in your life that result from choices you made long ago, especially before you became a Christian?
  3. Even though God has unconditionally forgiven you for all of your failures, others may not have. How do you respond to that?
6. Standing on level ground
Psalm 26

There are many ups and downs in David’s life and they are recorded in the Psalms. He can confess sin and admit that he is struggling, needing to be rescued from temptation in one place, and then confidently proclaim his innocence and righteousness in another. In fact, he is a lot like you and me, and even the Apostle Paul who writes of his own struggles in Romans 7. This Psalm is one in which David insists that he is innocent in every way and is happy for God to test him.

David begins his Psalm with a request that God vindicate him. He doesn’t identify the particular trouble he is in but it seems probable that his accusers are challenging his fitness to be king. David could not vindicate himself, his testimony wasn’t enough, he needed God to act to prove David was his choice for the office. David claimed that he had always trusted in God and was faithful and consistent in his life. He was confident he would not slip; he had slipped in the past but now he was certain of his walk.

Psalm one told us that the secret to a blessed life is to choose your companions carefully and delight in God’s word. David insisted that he didn’t hang out with hypocrites, or people who chased idols. He kept away from meetings of ungodly people, and he didn’t get into conversation with the wicked. He could symbolically wash his hands clean to show his innocence. In the daily conduct of life it is difficult to keep apart from those that don’t follow God, we meet them at work, school and in everything we do. Indeed we must interact with them if we want to tell them the good news of the gospel. But we need to remind ourselves of the words of Paul when he wrote “Do not be deceived: “Bad company corrupts good morals.”” (1 Corinthians 15:33). The Phillips translation expands this to say: “Don’t let yourselves be deceived. Talking about things that are not true is bound to be reflected in practical conduct. Come back to your senses, and don’t dabble in sinful doubts. Remember that there are men who have plenty to say but have no knowledge of God.” We can interact with people, be friendly toward them but we must be careful not to be drawn into conversation that is unhelpful and even ungodly – and in our times that extends to how and who with who we communicate on the internet!

David did not want to be identified with these ungodly people nor suffer their fate. He understood the temptation and needed God’s strength to remain firm. Even though he slipped off the road from time to time his desire was always for the house of God. None of us can live without the occasional slip up, we will miss the road sometimes, but like David if our desire is to fellowship with God and walk in his ways, we too can claim to act with integrity. As soon as we become aware we have turned aside, we simply need to acknowledge to God that we have and trust him to lead us back on the right path.

This was David’s confidence and his experience, so even when he struggled he could claim: “as for me, I shall walk in my integrity; redeem me, and be gracious to me. My foot stands on level ground.” And because he trusted in God he declared that: “In the great assembly I will bless the LORD.” When you struggle, trust God to restore you and be confident to express your trust in him. It isn’t necessary to wait until you feel you are doing better, or that you have been forgiven. Take him at his word and respond in worship.

  1. Do you sometimes feel the need to be vindicated?
  2. Do you get drawn into discussions or relationships that are unhelpful?
  3. When you slip up, how do you respond?
7. Of what do I have to be afraid?
Psalm 27

Once again David is facing opposition and so he calls upon God. The first part of the Psalm could be looked at in a couple of ways. It could be a bold declaration by David that he had nothing to fear because the lord was his light, salvation and stronghold. So, he was not afraid. On the other hand David could have been anxious about the danger he faced and so he was musing out loud. There might have been a discussion going on in David’s head, as there may sometimes be in yours. He was anxious, perhaps even fearful, but he asks himself “hang on, the Lord is my light, he is my salvation, he is my stronghold – he has never let me down before, why would he now? What do I have to be afraid of?”

David goes on in a similar way considering the threat against him “they can attack me, but they will fall, they can ambush me or surround me, but I won’t fear, God has always delivered me, I am confident he will do it again”. David reminds himself that there was only thing he really wanted, to dwell in God’s house and one day see his face. Nothing else really mattered and because of that he was sure that not only would God protect him, but he would give him victory. His plan was to celebrate the win, to rejoice, sing and make melody. Once he had convinced himself that his motivation was right and his desire was for what God wanted, he turned to offer a prayer to God.

David reminds God that it was him who told David to seek his face, and that is exactly what he wants. He wonders if God has turned his face from him, is he angry? He tells God, not that he needed to tell God anything, that he had always helped him in the past, so why would he ignore him this time? God was David’s only hope. He needed to be led along the right path, there were people telling lies about him, seeking to do him harm any way they could, including using violence and David couldn’t win the battle without God. David tells God that he done what was asked of him, so now he relied on his help.

Having made his request, David then speaks with confidence: “I believe that I shall look upon the goodness of the Lord, in the land of the living”. He had prayed, asked the Lord for deliverance, and now he shows his faith that God will answer. He can turn to others who are gathered around and tell them, wait for the Lord, be strong, let your hearts take courage, wait for the lord. What he leaves unsaid is his absolute confidence that God will answer his prayers and deliver him and the people.

David was anxious, he was faced with a problem he couldn’t solve by himself. His response was to remind himself about how God had helped him in the past, how he had never been let down and sometimes even against overwhelming odds he had been victorious. Now he was faced with a new problem, well if God had helped him before, surely he would help him now. But just in case, he examined himself, his desires and his motivations. What did he really want? Personal glory, fame and fortune a reputation as a great military hero? No. he was sure that his heart and his motives were right, he wanted God’s presence and for him alone to receive the glory. Once he had done that he prayed. He knew God could deliver him, and there was no impediment that should stop from doing so. So, he confidently asked God to win the battle. Then he acted as if the prayer had already been answered and he planned his celebration.

  1. Do you have discussions going on in your mind where you debate whether God can or will give you what you need?
  2. When you make a request of God are you able to examine your heart and motives?
  3. When you have prayed for help ion a time a trouble do you plan your celebration for when victory comes?