Week 7

  1. Dry as the desert

Psalm 42

The sons of Korah were worship leaders at the Tabernacle. It was their job, particularly during time of the feasts and festivals celebrated by the people of Israel, to lead the processions in singing and worship. But during the exile of the people they were separated from the Tabernacle and the place of worship and they wrote this Psalm expressing how they missed the opportunity to worship.

They described themselves as feeling like a deer stuck in the desert desperate for a drink and afraid of the predators that were stalking them. Just like the deer was thirsty for the refreshing water so too they were desperate to have their spiritual thirst to be quenched by worshipping with the crowd. They communicate the idea that they would go to any lengths to be able to get back to the tabernacle to lead the throng of worshippers and praise God together. There are people in nations around the world where they feel the same. They have been denied the opportunity to worship and risk arrest or punishment just to be able to do so. In the west that is not often the case, rather than jump over obstacles and knock down barriers, almost any excuse is good enough to stay away. It could be too hot or too cold, the seats might be uncomfortable or the sermon too long. The songs are old, or too new, there is a good game of football to watch, or the Sunday markets are on, or we are just tired.

Where is the desperation to worship? Why is so hard to be there ahead of time? Could it be that when the people of Israel gathered it was to meet God, to have an encounter with the Almighty, while for us it to meet people, share some stories and a cup of coffee? Brother Yun a pastor in the Chinese underground church said during a trip to the west: “…It’s almost impossible for the church in China to go to sleep in its present situation. There’s always something to keep us on the run, and it’s very difficult to sleep while you’re running. If persecution stops, I fear we’ll become complacent and fall asleep.”

We no longer need to attend a building to meet with God, we are able to do that anywhere thanks to Pentecost, but there is something unique and special about meeting together and expressing our thanks and praise. When we gather do we have the sense ‘of the roar of waterfalls, his breakers and waves overwhelming us’ – indeed have we ever had that sense? Perhaps if we had then we like the sons of Korah would be desperate like the deer in the desert to have our thirst quenched. And then also like them we can ask ourselves: “Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.”

  1. Have you ever felt like the deer in the Psalm?
  2. What do you expect when you meet with others to worship?
  3. What obstacles will you allow to prevent you from worshipping?

2. Put a smile on my face

Psalm 43

The writer of this Psalm was depressed. He felt that God had rejected him, he wandered around with his head down and acted as if he has lost someone he loved. He looked miserable and his mind was in turmoil. “Why do people persecute me?” He asked God, “Why have you rejected me? It’s not fair I need you to stand up for me.”

No reason is given for this depression, but it seems that the writer’s own people are at least part of the problem. These were people who should have been worshipping God, living according to God’s promise and yet they were ungodly, they acted deceitfully and were treating people unfairly. When they were challenged, instead of changing their behaviour they acted as enemies.  This could be a description of godly people living in so called Christian nations today. Nations who have the benefit of God’s blessings and his word to guide them have turned their back on him and those that try to stand up for God are ridiculed and persecuted. It would be reasonable for those who are desperate to see God honoured to be frustrated and downcast.

The writer knew the answer, he needed God’s light and truth. But he didn’t just need them to admire or to be impressed by. It wasn’t enough to know the word and be enlightened by it, he didn’t ask that he would know these things, but he would be led by them. God’s light gives direction to our path according to the psalms and proverbs. Jesus said he was the light and that we should follow him. The word of God, or the bible, is not just a book to tell us about God and to describe the activities of Bible characters it is a guide to follow. The words it contains lead us into abundant life and away from the snare of the devil. The author of this Psalm knew that; he needed to be led out of the hole he was in and to the house of God. He also needed God’s truth so that he would recognize the lies of his enemies and Satan who inspired them, that he would not be in turmoil because it was the truth that could set him free. This writer was not depending on his knowledge or insight, he needed God’s light and truth.

This light and truth would lead him to the Holy Hill, the Tabernacle where God lived. There was an altar there, where he could worship and in that place he could worship God and his joy would return. The altar was a place of sacrifice, but an animal would not be brought, instead a sacrifice of praise would be given. The writer knew that the deliverance he needed for his depression came through praise, and that was only possible when he was in God’s presence. God’s light would lead him there and would lift him out of the gloom so that he could praise his God.

It seems that the Psalm writer gave himself “a good talking to”. He asked himself why he was despondent, why should he be miserable and he found the answer. He was consumed by his own disappointment, he thought he was a victim and acted as if he was. But deep down he knew that God was his strength and he decided to act as if he was. He was going to go to the house of God, and he was going to praise him. He ends the psalm with a rhetorical question: “Why are you in despair, O my soul? And why are you disturbed within me?” He knew the answer of why, but he also knew the way out of his misery: “Hope in God, for I shall again praise Him, the help of my countenance and my God.” He is actually saying God will put a smile on my face.
Sometimes depression has a deeper cause and needs to be treated differently, but sometimes, if not often the cause is spiritual and the solution is self reflection, listening to God’s voice, acting on it and then responding in praise – he will put hope in your heart and a smile on your face!

  1. Do you get despondent because of the behaviour of those who claim to be Christians?
  2. Do you sometimes act as victim?
  3. Does praise lift your mood?
3. A Bitter complaint
Psalm 44

This is a psalm of complaint, the writer is confused and despondent, he believes God has unjustly turned his back on his people and he is bitter. He is also honest and pours out his heart to God because his only hope rests in him.

The writer begins the Psalm by recounting the nations past glories. God had led them into their promised land and fought their battles for them. The nations that had occupied the land were driven out and the people of Israel were planted in their place. They knew it wasn’t their skill of might that had won victories, it was God who had gone before them. They were God’s chosen people and they enjoyed his favouritism.

Even now when they were facing real difficulties they were confident that God would fight for them. Or at least they boasted that he would. Surely God would not desert them, they were the chosen people, he would show up and chase away their enemies just as he had before. But something had gone wrong, God didn’t show up, he had turned his back on them! They had been defeated in battle, some of them had been taken into slavery and they had suffered great indignity. This once mighty nation was now a laughing stock, when once they strutted in prideful confidence now they were humiliated. What had gone wrong, why had God rejected them? The writer protests that even while they were being beaten down and broken they had not forgotten God, they had kept his commands, not turned away from him and had been faithful, why then had God deserted them?

The writer goes on to complain that if they had done something wrong surely he would have told them and then maybe they could understand. But they hadn’t, it just was not right, in fact just like sheep their only purpose was to be slaughtered. They were defenseless and easy prey to their enemies. The apostle Paul uses this analogy when he quotes verse 22 in Romans 8:36, “As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.” The writer understood that it was because they were God’s chosen people that they were attacked in this way, why then did God not get up and fight?

The author of the Psalm was either very brave or at the point of desperation. He accused God of being asleep or at least of hiding his face and almost demands that he wake up and act, he said ‘we are at the end of ourselves, for your sake, if not for ours, rescue us!’ You may not have faced the physical attacks that the people of Israel did, but you may have been overwhelmed by other things. Your health may be failing or your marriage in trouble; your children have gone astray of you have run out of money and you have cried out to God but he has not answered. Why, where is he? You might have examined yourself and confessed every sin you can think of and added a few others just in case, but no help has come, has God abandoned you?

When Paul quoted the verse about sheep, he prefaced it with: “Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or anguish or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of You we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered.” He then answers his own question with: “No, in all these things we are more than victorious through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” No, God has not and will not abandon you, trust him he is your strength and your help in times of trouble – he will deliver you.

  1. Do you ever think God has abandoned you?
  2. Is God always fair?
  3. Is it right to bitterly complain to God?
4. A Royal Marriage
Psalm 45

This is perhaps the most surprising and unusual of the Psalms. Its style is very different, it doesn’t include many of the elements found elsewhere like complaint or lament, outbursts of praise or expressions of confidence in God. Its mood is joyful, and it is directed at an unnamed royal couple. Its title says that it was set to, or according to, the lilies, that may have referred to its tune, the beauty of the way it was written, or the instrument it was played on. The Hebrew word is Shoshannim and may have been a six stringed instrument or trumpets which were shaped like lilies.

The song was spoken by the master of ceremonies at a wedding between a king and his bride. The king is not named and there has been much speculation about his identity, some suggestions include: David at his marriage with his first wife, Michal; Solomon and an Egyptian princess, or any of a number of other options; Ahab and Jezebel; or Joram and Athalia. There are other non biblical identities suggested as well as prophetically looking forward to the Messiah and his bride.

The writer begins by stating that he is writing to the king and then goes on to speak about all his virtues. He is the best looking man around and always says the right thing, he has obviously been given special blessing by God. He was also a mighty warrior who fought for justice and truth, but he was humble and didn’t boast about his success. All his enemies were defeated and he had an everlasting throne, he was the model king, he loved righteousness and hated the wicked. Because of this the psalmist makes a statement that is later used of Jesus in the book of Hebrews: ‘Therefore God, your God, has anointed you with the oil of gladness beyond your companions;’. This statement and the reference to an everlasting kingdom have led most to agree that even if an earthly king was in the mind of the writer the psalm is a reference to Jesus the Messiah and his bride, the church.

The bride to be is encouraged to forget her father’s house and the land she came from and to commit herself wholly to one she was to marry. She has come from another land and though in her heritage there would be Jewish blood this was mixed with that of Gentiles, she was a princess, of royal stock and was accompanied by all the trappings of a royal wedding. The advice she was given looks back to Genesis where the foundation of marriage was a union devoted to each other and separate from their parents. The Jewish marriage ceremony required that the bride be taken in procession and given over to her groom. This bride was told to make sure she didn’t look back, longing to return for what she knew, but to devote herself totally to her husband. In doing this she would ensure that he would desire her, in fact she would become the sole object of his passions. This is also an allusion to the bride of Christ, the church, we the church have been joined to Christ in marriage and we must leave behind our attachment to the world and our former life.

This earthly marriage would produce the line from which the Messiah would come. The kingdom to come will no longer speak about the fathers of the past, important as they remained. The bride was from both Jews and Gentiles and her offspring would be a royal nation who would inherit the earth. Commenting on these verses, James Montgomery Boice asks: “Are we doing as the psalmist did? Do we praise him who has purchased us to himself to be his bride? Are we working to see that the nations come to honour him as well?”

  1. Much is said about the qualities of the groom in this Psalm but not about the bride, why do you think this is?
  2. How tempting is it to look at things outside your marriage for encouragement and support?
  3. Do you think that if marriage partners insisted on devoting themselves only to one another that their desire for each other would grow?
5. Stop Striving
Psalm 46

This is a psalm we all need to hear! It is full of encouragement and confidence, the Psalmist knows where to go when things go wrong, God is his refuge. He is present when we are in trouble, he is always present of course and we know that, at least intellectually, but we also need to know that he is standing right alongside us when it is really tough. It is almost like the fourth man in the fire that appeared after Daniels’ companions were thrown in the furnace. The three were not touched by the flames, they didn’t even have the smell of smoke on them, because a fourth man stood with them. That event hadn’t taken place when this psalm was written, but the writer knew that no matter how fierce the battle he could find refuge in God who was with him in the fire.

The Psalmist imagines the worst of catastrophes, earthquakes, massive floods, tumultuous storms and in all of these we have no need to fear, because God is our refuge. Whatever circumstance we face, whether it is personal crisis or tragedy or threats of world wars, pandemics and disaster, God is our refuge. He is our strength, he is present and as Zephaniah the prophet says: “The Lord your God is in your midst—a warrior bringing victory. He will create calm with his love; he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17).

A river was a symbol of life, of freshness and vitality, the blessed person is pictured planted alongside one in Psalm 1 and in Jeremiah 17:18. In Ezekiel 47 a great river flows from the temple bringing life and fruitfulness wherever it went. Then in Revelation 22 “the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.” God is in the middle of this city and he will not be moved. Even though the nations rage and conspire, when he speaks the earth melts! This is our God, he is in the midst of us and he is mighty -what do we have to fear?

The Psalmist urges us to think about all God has done, how he has brought to nothing the schemes and plans of men and of nations. Even the greatest fall, our history records men like Alexander the Great, Julius Caesar, Genghis Khan, Stalin, Hitler, Idi Amin and Pol Pot all who tried to wipe out worship of the one true God, all have disappeared and remain only a memory. There are leaders now who set themselves against our God, they too will fail. All of them and many others beside were inspired to revolt against God by the same source, the fallen angel who rebelled and was thrown from heaven and who will one day soon be brought to Justice and condemned.

Think about how great is your God and then be still, says the psalmist. The term ‘be still’ can be translated ‘stop striving’, there is no need to fuss or worry about world affairs, be still. He is God and he will be exalted in every nation. The Lord of the angelic hosts is with us, he is our strength, our shield and our victory banner. Part of Satan’s strategy is cause anxiety, to make us feel afraid or helpless, God’s response is ‘Trust me, stop striving, be still, I’ve got this. Everything is under control. I am your God and I am your refuge and strength, rest in me”.

  1. How great is your God?
  2. Do you really believe that God is in control of world events?
  3. Is it easy for you to be still?
6. Everybody Clap
Psalm 47

This Psalm naturally flows from Psalm 45. In that Psalm the writer enthusiastically reminds the people that God is not only in control but will fight and win the battles for them. All they needed to do was be still and trust him. Now he calls on them to clap their hands and to shout with joy.
I can imagine many churches in the western world struggling with this. Imagine being told to clap, not in time to the music, we might be able to do that but to clap with enthusiasm as if we were witnessing a winning performance. Not only that but being told to do it! That is not going to happen, no one is telling me what to do. This worship leader had no problem instructing the people, all of them, to not only clap but to shout as well. Their great God had just won a momentous victory, he subdued all the enemy, now they should clap and shout, maybe even dance and sing with joy. How do you respond when God wins a victory in your life, or in the life of the church? Is it just a quiet “Oh thanks God, we appreciate that”, or is there joy and celebration? Maybe our victories are not that great or we are bit concerned we might be embarrassed.
The shout of God was a war cry, he was going into battle, the trumpets blew, the armies probably hammered their shields and shouted as well. This was an army going into battle. All the time the worship leader cried out “sing praises, sing praises, our God is king”. When King Jehoshaphat was surrounded by the enemy and was scared not knowing what to do, he called on God. God told him to go down into the battle and just watch because he would deliver him. Jehoshaphat did as he was told and went to the place of battle then he appointed singers to praise God, and “As they began to sing and praise, the LORD set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” (2 Chronicles 20:22) They were led by the sons of Korah and perhaps this is the battle that produced this Psalm. Four times the leader commands “Sing Praises” and it is possible to sense the rising confidence and enthusiasm.
God reigns, he sits on his holy throne, he is exalted – the only appropriate response is to praise him. The praise of God is not intended to be a passive, almost soul-less recitation of words to a pleasant melody. It is unbridled, enthusiastic confidence that the Lord God Almighty is with you. When Jehoshaphat’s singers began to praise they didn’t know what would happen, they were told to sing in the frontline of the battle and so they sang. They may have been full of faith, or they may have been apprehensive, nervous as they faced the approaching armies with stringed instruments and trumpets. Their voices may have trembled and their knees shook, but they praised God, they trusted him. And God came to their rescue. God doesn’t always ask you to praise him when you have received the result you prayed for but in anticipation of his acting on your behalf. He waits for your praise because in it he sees your faith. It may be a small as a mustard seed and your spiritual knees may be shaking, but he sees your faith and he responds to it.
Clap your hands, shout aloud, praise him! Don’t worry about what others think or what you look like, Praise him, offer him the fruit of your lips which is the sacrifice of praise.

  1. Do you find it difficult to be enthusiastic in praise? Why?
  2. Are you facing battle? The praise him!
  3. How is praise related to faith?
7. The City of God
Psalm 48

The theme of praise continues in this psalm, now the focus shifts to the dwelling place of God. The writer begins by proclaiming the greatness of God and calling on all those live in his city to praise him. The city was Jerusalem and within its walls was the Temple of God. This was the Holy City the centre of life for the Israelites. The Temple was proposed and planned by David and built by Solomon, it was elaborate, extravagant and dominated the city. The city in turn was built to accommodate the Temple and stood as testimony to the might of God and the security of his people.

For the Israelites the City was more than a place to live, it was the dwelling place of God. A sign to the nations around them that they were unbeatable. So long as God dwelt among them they were safe and should be feared. The writer recounts when kings marched on the city with the intention to destroy it, but when they saw its fortifications and the way it dominated the city they ran in fear. In colourful language the psalmist compared them to the way a woman felt in the last stages of labour. It isn’t clear what episode in Israel’s history this refers to, it may have been the attempt by Sennacherib to capture Jerusalem in the days of Hezekiah and recorded in 2 Chronicles 32 and elsewhere. This army had been unstoppable, taking all before and now it surrounded Jerusalem. Hezekiah did the only thing he could, he called on God and at night an angel of the Lord went out and killed 185,000 of Sennacherib’s troops. He immediately withdrew and returned home to Assyria.

The Psalmist said that he and the people had reflected on God mercy and love from the City in which God dwelt and that from it his praises reached the Heavens. Cities don’t have the same meaning today, nor do the temples or place of worship within them. Jerusalem was built and destroyed a number of times, and Jesus said that the Temple as the place of worship would be torn down. Certainly as we look toward Christ’s return we anticipate a Holy City that is described in Revelation, but God does not confine himself to a physical building and we have the confidence to come to his throne of grace at any time. In times past much time and money has been spent on building elaborate Cathedrals, we may know of Notre Dame, Salisbury, Westminster among many others. They were built as a fitting tribute to God and a place to worship, sadly most of them are now little more than tourist attractions, or used for ceremonial events.

Invading nations are unlikely to be deterred by the majesty of our architecture, and we no longer expect God to protect the buildings as if this is his dwelling place. Because of Jesus you and I are the temple of the Holy Spirit, he chooses to dwell within each person who confesses him as Lord. As the Apostle Peter writes: “you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 2:5). Paul writes: “In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.” (Ephesians 2:21-22).
God invites you to: “Walk around his church, go around her, number her towers, consider well her ramparts, go through her citadels, that you may tell the next generation that this is God, our God forever and ever. He will guide us forever.” The nations that advance against the church, the dwelling of God should still be amazed and turn in fear from an encounter with a Holy God as he rises in judgement against them.

  1. How can you compare today’s church with the City of God?
  2. Are there special places that God defends?
  3. Do you believe that nations would be afraid of God when they attack the church?