The Power of God’s word: Psalm 119, part 2

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Today’s reading: Psalm 119:89-176.

You could call this chapter the ABC’s of the law, since in the Hebrew text the letters of the Hebrew alphabet were used in order to begin each stanza of lines. That is lost in translation, but the lessons on the law’s value remain.

Your commands make me wiser than my enemies, for they are ever with me. I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on your statutes. Psalm 119:98-99

If the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom, then the knowledge of God’s word is the fullness of wisdom. In Biblical terms, wisdom is making choices that lead to righteousness and avoid foolishness. It’s a very practical, not theoretical, kind of wisdom. It leads to action. In fact, if you fail to act on God’s word, then you are being foolish.

Righteous are you, O LORD, and your laws are right. The statutes you have laid down are righteous; they are fully trustworthy. Psalm 119:137-138

The Psalmist isn’t just talking about the rules and regulations that we might normally think of as “the Law.” He means all of God’s word. It is trustworthy, and in its entirety it defines our worldview, our understanding of the most basic questions of life. How did I get here? What went wrong? How do we make it right? When we put our trust in God’s word, we accept God’s answers to these questions, and that gives direction and purpose to our lives. We depend on God’s opinion, not how we feel about an issue emotionally, or what our friends or the latest talk shows say about it.

Trouble and distress have come upon me, but your commands are my delight. Psalm 119:143

We’re bound to face trouble in this life. Devotion to God’s word doesn’t take us out of the ocean of distress, but it is a seaworthy boat that keeps us from drowning and gives direction to our storm-tossed journey. Therefore, like a pioneer in the wilderness we cling to our map, joyful that it accurately shows the way to our new home.

My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. Psalm 119:148

Truthfully, I don’t stay up through the night studying my Bible, though this year of blogging through the Bible has kept me up later than usual and gotten me started earlier than normal. There’s a bit of exaggeration going on here, but the writer is making a point. God’s word is worth staying up for. God’s word is worth getting up early to study. Why shouldn’t a passage of scripture be on your mind as you fall asleep at night? Try it; it’s definitely better for you than worrying about all the things that keep people up at night. The point is – make Bible study a priority.

Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. Psalm 119:165

We have peace through God’s word because:

  • obedience to it gives a clear conscience.
  • study of it reveals God’s wonderful faithfulness.
  • it supplies us with the spiritual armor to ward off Satan’s attacks.
  • it bears the spiritual fruit of peace in our hearts.
  • it testifies to the saving grace of Jesus Christ.

Image by Iryna Yeroshko on Flickr, CC by 2.0

The power of God’s word: Psalm 119, Part 1

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Today’s reading: Psalm 119:1-88.

Psalm 119 is all about the benefits of God’s law (all of God’s word, not just the rules and regulations). The fact that this is the longest chapter in the Bible is confirmation of the importance of God’s word. Let’s look at a few of the verses from the first half of the Psalm.

I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. Psalm 119:11

This verse underlines the value of scripture memorization. When we have God’s word at the ready, in our heart and close at hand, it becomes a powerful tool we can use to battle temptation and make wise choices.

 Open my eyes that I may see wonderful things in your law. Psalm 119:18

God’s word is full of wonderful things, but we often fail to see them. We need the Holy Spirit to help us understand scripture. “The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned” (I Corinthians 2:14). To really learn from God’s word, we need to Hear it, Examine it (read it), Analyze it (study it), Remember it (memorize it), and Think about it (meditate on it). When we do all this and also apply it in our lives, then we have God’s word in our HEART and hands (Masterlife presentation by Avery Willis).

 I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free. Psalm 119:32

People like to complain that God’s rules are too restrictive, when actually his law frees us from the chains of sin so that we can be truly free. I like the illustration about the caution or warning signs on the highway. They are there to keep you safe and allow you the freedom to drive where you want to go. Ignore them and you may end up in a wreck or worse.

It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees. Psalm 119:71

Many of us learn our best lessons in the school of hard knocks.  It’s okay to live and learn, but wouldn’t you rather learn and live? If we learn from God’s wisdom, and obey it, we can save ourselves a lot of grief and pain. Paul said the law was his teacher, showing him his sinfulness and need for a savior. Praise God for his grace that allows even our suffering to bring us to salvation.

My eyes fail, looking for your promise; I say, “When will you comfort me?” Though I am like a wineskin in the smoke, I do not forget your decrees. Psalm 119:82-83

Here’s a challenge for us all. God’s word is true, but in the pinch of pressure we may lose patience and begin to doubt his promises. The Psalmist exhorts us to hold on to God’s word, neither forgetting his promises or losing faith in them.

Here is the best thing, “thy word”; hidden in the best place, “in my heart;” for the best of purposes, “that I might not sin against thee.” This was done by the Psalmist with personal care, as a man carefully hides away his money when he fears thieves; in this case the thief dreaded was sin. Sinning “against God” is the believer’s view of moral evil; other men care only when they offend against men. God’s word is the best preventive against offending God, for it tells us his mind and will, and tends to bring our spirit into conformity with the divine Spirit. No cure for sin in the life is equal to the word in the seat of life, which is the heart. There is no hiding from sin unless we hide the truth in our souls. Charles Spurgeon

God does what he pleases: Psalm 115

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Today’s reading: Psalms 115-118.

Many in the world deny the existence of Jehovah. Some are atheists, and some worship other gods which are only idols. As the psalmist says (paraphrased here), their idols can’t lift a pinkie to do anything either good or bad. On the other hand, God’s actions are limitless.

Our God is in heaven; he does whatever pleases him. Psalm 115:3

John Piper has done much to explore this topic, discussing it most fully in his book, The Pleasures of God. Let me credit him for developing the following ideas. Let’s start by realizing that the idea of pleasure has two aspects: the pleasure to do whatever one chooses, and the pleasure one enjoys from his or her actions. The first pleasure is the freedom of choice, an exercise of the will. The second pleasure is a feeling or mood, an exercise of the emotions. In the first case , one does what he pleases; in the second he is pleased by what he does. God is able to enjoy both of these pleasures.

 For I know that the LORD is great, And our Lord is above all gods. Whatever the LORD pleases He does, In heaven and in earth, In the seas and in all deep places. Psalm 135:5-6

Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure. Isaiah 46:10

In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. Ephesians 1:11

God is not limited or constrained in any way. He is able to do whatever he wants to do, and he is not forced to do anything he does not want to do. His freedom of choice is unlimited; therefore he can always do what he wishes or desires to do. Ultimately, what he wishes or desires most is his own glory, since his glory shines far brighter than anything else in existence. It is fitting and right that he be glorified.

God has pleasure in everything he does. Since he has joy or happiness in everything he does, he is always happy or joyful in the actions he takes. I don’t believe he is always pleased at the actions of others (as Piper has said, God is most pleased when I most desire him), but his own actions always give him joy and happiness.

What do we say then, about situations where the actions of men seem to thwart God’s will? God has declared his desire that none should perish, but that all should come to salvation. Nevertheless, the way to destruction is broad and few enter the narrow gate to eternal life. Does this remove God’s pleasure? No, even in this situation God “delights in is the vindication of truth and goodness and of his own honor and glory” (Piper). Therefore, in dealing with the children of Israel when they abandoned  him, God could say:

“as the Lord took delight in doing you good and multiplying you, so the Lord will take delight in bringing ruin upon you and destroying you. And you shall be plucked off the land that you are entering to take possession of it.” Deuteronomy 28:63

What are the implications for me? Since God is unconstrained in his actions, how will his choices affect my life? If he is pleased with everything he does, then what does it mean for my happiness?

  • God will always do what most magnifies his glory.
  • God will always do what glorifies his Son.
  • He will always do what is right.
  • Nothing can keep him from fulfilling his promises to believers.
  • As the catechism says, the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.

What would you add to this list? The most important outcome of God’s unswerving devotion to his own glory is that it will also accomplish what it most desirable for my own good.

We may well endure the jeering question, “Where is now their God?” while we are perfectly sure that his providence is undisturbed, his throne unshaken, and his purposes unchanged. What he hath done he will yet do, his counsel shall stand, and he will do all his pleasure, and at the end of the great drama of human history, the omnipotence of God and his immutability and faithfulness will be more than vindicated to the eternal confusion of his adversaries. Charles Spurgeon

When the Father forsook the Son and handed him over to the curse of the cross and lifted not a finger to spare him pain, he had not ceased to love the Son. In that very moment when the Son was taking upon himself everything that God hates in us, and God was forsaking him to death, even then the Father knew that the measure of his Son’s suffering was the depth of his Son’s love for the Father’s glory. And in that love the Father took deepest pleasure. John Piper, The Pleasures of God

Image by lapidem on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

 

Genesis to Revelation in one chapter: Psalm 110

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Today’s reading: Psalms 108-114.

King David wrote Psalm 110 about 1000 BC. How do we know he wrote it? Jesus said so (Matthew 22:41-46). In these seven verses David looked all the way back to Genesis and an enigmatic contemporary of Abraham named Melchizedek, and all the way forward to Revelation when Jesus will return to rule on earth.

The LORD says to my Lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” The LORD will extend your mighty scepter from Zion; you will rule in the midst of your enemies. Your troops will be willing on your day of battle. Arrayed in holy majesty, from the womb of the dawn you will receive the dew of your youth. The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind: “You are a priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek.” Psalm 110:1-4

These verses are said to be the Old Testament verses most often quoted in the New Testament. Jesus quoted them to emphasize that the Messiah would not only be a son of David but also the son of God (the religious leaders of his day couldn’t accept that). Peter quoted them to prove that Jesus was the Messiah (Acts 2:34-35). The writer of Hebrews quoted them to prove the surpassing excellency of Jesus (Hebrews 1:13).

To understand its meaning better, let’s take a look at the opening verse.

  • “The LORD” translated from Jehovah
  • “says” from a word that means the prophetic voice of God
  • “to my Lord” from the root word for Adonai, meaning master or ruler or God

The opening verse could be stated, “Jehovah proclaims prophetically to my Lord and master, my king and God.” God proclaims that the coming Messiah will rule like a king, conquering all his enemies, and intercede for his people like a priest, removing their sin so that they can enter God’s presence. He is not a priest in the line of Aaron, whose work ended with the destruction of the temple, but in the order of Melchizedek, who was king and priest long before Aaron lived and whose priestly office had no known beginning or end.

It’s fitting that this proclamation comes near the middle of the Bible, looking back to its beginning and forward to its conclusion, and showing that God’s plan has always been in place. Beyond its theology, however, it’s important for you and me practically.

  • We need to remember that Jesus now sits at the right hand of God where he intercedes for us daily. There is no problem that we cannot take to him.
  • We need to remember that God will intervene to ensure that Jesus is victorious over his enemies. There is no peril that will overcome us or him.

“Therefore shall he lift up the head.” His own head shall be lifted high in victory, and his people, in him, shall be upraised also. When he passed this way before, he was burdened and had stern work laid upon him; but in his second advent he will win an easy victory; aforetime he was the man of sorrows, but when he comes a second time his head will be lifted in triumph. Let his saints rejoice with him. “Lift up your heads, for your redemption draweth nigh.” C.H. Spurgeon

Image by Lawrence OP on Flickr, CC by-nc 2.0

What God is up to: Psalm 107

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Today’s reading: Psalms 106-107.

God isn’t a retired watchmaker who set the world to ticking and then sat back and let it run. He is and always has been very involved with his creation. That’s one reason why prayer makes a difference. Psalm 107 isn’t an exhaustive list of what God is up to, but it does open our eyes to some of the areas where he continues to intervene in the world. The Psalmist uses this list to exhort us to give thanks to the LORD for all the actions in which he rescues us.

Let them give thanks to the LORD for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men. Psalm 107:15

He provides for us when we are needy. “He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.” The Psalmist describes people, like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness, who have no home and face starvation. God rescues them by bringing them to a place where they could settle and find food and water.

He frees us from prison. “He breaks down gates of bronze and cuts through bars of iron.” These prisoners are locked up because they rebelled against God’s word; their disobedience allowed the enemy to capture them. Yet God rescues them when they cry out to him, and he breaks their chains and frees them.

He heals us from sickness.  “He sent forth his word and healed them; he rescued them from the grave.” Once again sin and rebellion have awful consequences, leading to sickness that threatens to kill its victims. God rescues them from death and restores their health when they call to him for help.

He brings us through the storm. “He brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.” Merchants on the high seas aren’t the only ones who face terrible storms, but no matter what rough waters you face, God stands ready to rescue you and bring you to a safe port when you ask him for help.

He brings justice to the oppressed. “He lifted the needy out of their affliction and increased their families like flocks.” There are times when the wicked seem to be winning, when their evil is overflowing like a flood, but God will rescue the ones they are oppressing and make an oasis for them where once there was only a desert. The wicked oppressor will have nothing to say, but the rescued poor will rejoice and give thanks to the LORD.

What is God up to these days? He continues to rescue those who are unable to help themselves, who are trapped or sickened by sin, who are unable to provide for themselves or find a home, who face storms or oppression. Consider the great love of the LORD so that when your storm comes you will not lose hope but continue to rejoice in the God who will rescue you.

“Ship in Storm” by Robert Salmon

The OT God is a God of love: Psalm 103

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Today’s reading: Psalms 103-105.

“God is love. He didn’t need us. But he wanted us. And that is the most amazing thing.” Rick Warren

We hear so much about the anger of the God of the Old Testament. I’ll admit I had begun to subscribe to the idea myself, until I began this year-long project of blogging through the Bible. Then I kept coming across accounts of God’s love as I read through the Old Testament (see earlier post). Sometimes God directly declared his love for his people. Sometimes, as in Psalm 103, his people made it known.

As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him; for he knows how we are formed, he remembers that we are dust. As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more. But from everlasting to everlasting the LORD’s love is with those who fear him… Psalm 103:13-17

God shows his love by forgiving our sins. The LORD does not stay angry with us. He will not always accuse us about our sins. He does not treat us as our sins deserve, or pay us back according to our disobedience. Instead he mercifully made a way for our forgiveness: Jesus put himself between us and our sin.

God shows his love by healing our diseases. In one sense, sin is the disease that God heals. It is the root cause of so many of our ills. But God also works through his creation, our bodies, to fight off disease. He sometimes miraculously heals in response to prayer. He heals us through Christian health care workers and Christian scientists who have made important discoveries by his grace. Even when disease ends our lives, God still  heals by giving us eternal life.

God shows his love by redeeming us. This is not just a New Testament idea. Even in the Old Testament the LORD is repeatedly described as a redeemer, bringing his loved ones “out of the pit.”

God shows his love by crowning us with compassion. He shows compassion toward us as a father showers compassion on his child. He gives us the good things we desire. He delivers justice. He clothes us in his righteousness. He removes our quilt from us as far as the east is from the west.

Psalm 103 says more than once that God gives his love to those who fear him. Does that mean that God doesn’t love those who don’t believe in him? This psalm doesn’t answer that question, but it does describe without doubt the love God demonstrates to those who do worship him and obey him.

Our Lord does nothing by halves, he will not stay his hand till he has gone to the uttermost with his people. Cleansing, healing, redemption, are not enough, he must needs make them kings and crown them, and the crown must be far more precious than if it were made of corruptible things, such as silver and gold; it is studded with gems of grace and lined with the velvet of lovingkindness; it is decked with the jewels of mercy, but made soft for the head to wear by a lining of tenderness. Who is like unto thee, O Lord! God himself crowns the princes of his family, for their best things come from him directly and distinctly; they do not earn the crown, for it is of mercy not of merit; they feel their own unworthiness of it, therefore he deals with tenderness; but he is resolved to bless them, and, therefore, he is ever crowning them, always surrounding their brows with coronets of mercy and compassion. Charles Spurgeon

Image by Nils Geylen on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0

True worship: Psalm 96

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Today’s reading: Psalms 96-102.

“Worship is the believer’s response of all that they are – mind, emotions, will, body – to what God is and says and does.” Warren Wiersbe

Psalm 96 was written and sung when David brought the ark of the covenant into Jerusalem. Tradition says that it was sung again when Israel dedicated the new temple after returning from exile in Babylon. It’s easy to imagine that it will be raised in praise to God when Jesus returns to reign on earth. It is a song of worship, and teaches us how to worship.

Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his courts. Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth. Say among the nations, “The LORD reigns.” Psalm 96:7-10

Worship involves singing. “Sing to the LORD a new song; sing to the LORD, all the earth.” We sing because it releases our emotions to worship. Our song of worship should be new because we have been made anew in Christ and because God’s mercies are new every day.

Worship includes praising God. “For great is the LORD and most worthy of praise; he is to be feared above all gods.” “Ascribe to the LORD, O families of nations, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name.” When we praise God we magnify who he is much more than anything he has done or will do. Praise lifts up his nature and character. 

Worship means acknowledging he is the creator. “For all the gods of the nations are idols, but the LORD made the heavens.” It may seem out of place, but God’s work as creator is foundational. Everything else in our relationship with him flows out of accepting his role as maker of heaven and earth. “Know that the LORD is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture.” (Psalm 100:3)

Worship is proclaiming his salvation and telling others of God’s glory. “Proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvelous deeds among all people.” Our worship is incomplete if it remains captive in the sanctuary. It must reach the ears of the lost. Worship fuels evangelism, but evangelism is also an essential part of our worship.

Worship means giving an offering to God. “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; bring an offering and come into his court.” The type of offering described by the Psalmist is a thank offering. We can’t truly celebrate the worth of our savior and creator without being moved to give back to him. If we don’t feel a need to give, I say we don’t give much worth to God.

Worship causes us to tremble before God’s holiness. “Worship the LORD in the splendor of his holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.” The Psalmist describes an involuntary reaction that rises out of our recognition of our own sinfulness and God’s pure righteousness. If we fail to tremble, either we don’t realize our own guilt, or we have not come into the presence of the holy God.

Worship means celebrating his return. A day is coming when all the world will be united in worship. On the day when Christ returns and God judges the earth, all believers will worship as one, and creation will join in worship. “Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them. Then all the trees of the forest will sing for joy; they will sing before the LORD, for he comes, he comes to judge the earth.”

The wonders of his Being, to inspire them with awe. The wonders of his creation, to fill them with amazement. The wonders of his judgments, to restrain them with fear. The wonders of his grace, to allure them with love. W. Jackson.

Image by Cash Luna on Flickr, CC by-nc-sa 2.0