PSALM 139 TALK:   SEARCH ME O GOD

PSALM 139 TALK:   SEARCH ME O GOD

 (The second Psalm of a collection of eight Psalms attributed to King David in the fifth and final book of Psalms and this Psalm features the idea of how God is a God who is all knowing (omniscient), always present (omnipresent) and all powerful (omnipotent). This God searches after us and knows us intimately and we cannot avoid him even though some openly do try to do so and go even further by opposing him and his faithful followers and for this they will face the judgment of God.)

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

“Search me O God,

And know my heart today

Try me, O Saviour,

Know my thoughts I pray,

See if there be

Some wicked way in me

Cleanse me from every sin

And set me free”

 This is the first verse of a hymn written in 1936 by a Baptist evangelist, James Edwin Orr after he was the main speaker at an Easter evangelistic campaign in New Zealand. It has been said that James Edwin Orr, an expert in the history of Christian Revivals saw for himself first hand a wonderful revival of God through his Holy Spirit at that Easter evangelistic campaign in New Zealand.

Apparently before James Edwin Orr left the area he had been working in for that evangelistic campaign some local Maori girls sang a local Maori song of farewell and James Edwin Orr immediately fell in love with this beautiful tune and wrote the first verse of a new hymn also inspired by the last two verses of Psalm 139 (verses 23 and 24).

Orr believed that these two verses from Psalm 139 and the rest of his hymn (another 3 verses) reflected the heart of the revival he had seen taking place in that evangelistic campaign he had conducted in New Zealand that Easter. You can see his theme of Christian revival in the rest of his hymn and particularly the last verse and the rest of Orr’s hymn goes like this,

“I praise, Thee, Lord, for cleansing me from sin;

Fulfil Thy word and make me pure within;

Fill me with fire, where once I burned with shame;

Grant my desire to magnify Thy name.

 

Lord, take my life, and make it wholly thine;

Fill my poor heart with Thy great love divine;

Take all my will, my passion, self and pride;

I now surrender, Lord, in me abide.

 

“O Holy Ghost, revival comes from The

Send a revival, start the work in me;

Thy Word declares Thou wilt supply our need:

For blessing now, O Lord, I humbly plead”.

Orr’s “Search Me O God” hymn only reflects the last two verses of Psalm 139 and I see those two verses as the climax to that Psalm and because they are the climax to that Psalm you cannot both fully understand the message of that Psalm unless you come to terms with the 22 verses of Psalm 139 that proceed it.

The Psalm was written by David during his reign and given to his director of music at that time (see Hebrew heading) featuring the idea of God searching us as it starts with God searching us and ends with a plea by David for God to search his heart and lead him on the path of everlasting life.

So far as when it was probably written we cannot tell but it was obviously written at a time when David faced grave danger of death from some kind of enemies who were also the enemies of God as he writes this in verses 19 and 20,

“If only you, God would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name”

 These verses are a good description of David’s rebellious son Absalom and his followers.

However, David faced bloodthirsty enemies all through his reign and before his reign so this Psalm could fit into a number of known situations in David’s life.

So, I will seek to open up this Psalm with the main theme of “Search Me O God” and my Psalm talk outline reflects this:

  1. (1 – 6)   GOD’S SEARCHING OF US CANNOT BE AVOIDED
  1. (1 – 4) God’s thorough searching of us
  2. (5 – 6) How wonderful is God’s searching of us

      2    (7 – 12)  WHY GOD’S SERACHING OF US CANNOT BE AVOIDED

  1. (vs. 7) Where can I go to avoid God’s searching
  2. (8 – 12) Nowhere to hide from God’s searching

      3    (13 – 18)  WHY GOD CAN SEARCH US

  1. (13 – 16) God created us so he can search us
  2. (17 – 18) How precious is God’s searching of us

      4    (19 – 22) WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO OPPOSE GOD’S SEARCHING

  1. (19 – 20) God’s judgment on those who oppose him
  2. (21 – 22) Have nothing to do with those who oppose God
  1. (23 – 24) SEARCH ME O GOD
  1. (vs. 23) Search me O God
  2. (vs. 24) Search and lead me on God’s way

 Let’s then have a closer look at this Psalm with this outline in mind:

  1. (1 – 6)   GOD’S SEARCHING OF US CANNOT BE AVOIDED
  1. (1 – 4) God’s thorough searching of us

David opens this Psalm with a clear statement of how God has searched him,

“You have searched me, Lord, and you know me”.

 Most commentators speak of this Psalm as a deeply personal Psalm and is in fact an example of David sharing with us in this Psalm how he has experienced the searching and deep work of God in his life. Albert Barnes picks us the meaning behind these opening words of this Psalm this way,

“The word rendered searched, has a primary reference to searching the earth by boring or digging, as for water or minerals”.

 Barnes refers to another example of the same Hebrew word or term in Job 28: 3,

“Mortals put an end to the darkness; they search out the farthest recesses for ore in the blackest darkness”.

 So, God’s search, David is saying went deep within his inner self or heart and therefore he can say because God has probed so deep he knows him. We might say God knows us better than we know ourselves. Paul speaking about the work of the Holy Spirit in our lives says this in Romans 8: 27,

“And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God’s people in accordance with the will of God”.

 David goes on to speak of the thoroughness of God’s search and uses what Tremper Longman 111 calls a series of merisms to express this and Longman describes merisms as,

“Pairs of opposites that denote everything in between”.

 This Psalm contains four examples of these merisms and the first is in verse 2 that says,

“You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar”.

 This merism describes simply and beautifully the attribute of God we call omniscience or God’s all – knowing ability Arthur Pink in his book, “The Knowledge of God” sums up the whole bibles teaching on God’s attribute of omniscience with these words,

“God is omniscient. He knows everything: everything possible, everything actual; all events, all creatures, God the past, the present and the future. He is perfectly acquainted with every detail in the life of every being in heaven, in earth and in hell. ‘He knoweth what is in the darkness’ (Dan. 2: 22). Nothing escapes his notice, nothing can be hidden from Him, nothing is forgotten by him”.

 So, every part of David’s day when he sits and rises God perceives or knows his,

“Thoughts from afar”.

 God’s searches man’s hearts and sees and knows everything as even the Apostle John declares in 1 John 3: 20,

“If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything”.

 Jesus says that God’s knowledge of us is so complete and detailed that,

“Indeed, the very hairs of your head all numbered” by God, Luke 12: 7.

Then in verse 3 contains the second merism when it says,

“You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways”.

 Spurgeon explains the first part of this verse so well with these words,

“I am encircled within the bounds of thy knowledge. Waking or sleeping I am still observed of thee. I may leave thy path, but you never leave mine. I may sleep and forget thee, but thou dost never slumber, nor fall into oblivion concerning thy creature”.

 God’s searching and probing mind sees and knows our day to day lives and walk through life made clear by David’s words in the second part of verse 3 that says,

“You are familiar with all my ways”.

 The writer to the Hebrews puts it this way in Hebrews 4: 13,

 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.”

 A few years back I was involved in a special evangelistic outreach program where nonbelievers in the area I live where invited to a series of dinner meetings where the basic Christian message was explained over a meal and table discussions. These proved to be an effective program for introducing and explaining the Christian message to non- believers and the program was called “Christianity Explored”.

One night we were discussing our certain judgment day and our study guides pictured that day being like standing before God and around him was in full colour a movie re-run of our lives in every detail. We were asked how would we like God and everyone in heaven seeing our detailed re-run of our lives like this?

Our answer was of course we would not like to experience this but God does not need a movie to run of our lives on the day of judgment as he knows every day, hour and second of our lives and armed with this he will judge all of us.

I went home a bit freaked out by this but of course my source of comfort was what I know as the Gospel message which Paul expresses so well in Romans 6: 23,

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

 God knows our every sin but in Jesus our every sin is paid for and covered by his death on the Cross as Peter declares in 1 Peter 3: 18,

“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit”.

 Finally, in this first part of the first section of Psalm 139 David declares,

“Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely”.

 This verse completes David’s thoroughness of the searching omniscient or all- knowing mind of God as God knows,

“All that I say; all that I have power to say; all that I am disposed at any time to say” (Albert Barnes).

 And when David said this he must have realised that God knew both the good and bad things he had said and would say and yet he believed God still loved him as we learnt from verse 2 in the previous Psalm, 138,

“I will bow down toward your holy temple and will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness”.

 We know this love even more than David would have known as we as the writer to the Hebrews puts it in verse 9,

“We see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

 It is that grace of God or unmerited love of God that makes the difference between God hearing and knowing our not so good words and the judgment we deserve because of them and his loving hand still being on us, as Paul speaks of in Ephesians 1: 6 – 10,

“To the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding,9he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ’.

 Another evangelistic approach I have heard of involves asking people two questions and the first question is,

“If you died tonight and you stood before God and he asked you why should I let you into my heaven, what would you say?”

We could not say, well I basically lived a good life as David has just said God knows every word we have said and will say and we all know we have said things we know we should not have said. Later in this Psalm 139 David says in verse 20b,

“Your (God’s) adversaries misuse your name”.

 We all are guilty of that one way or another and so our only answer to the all- knowing heart-searching God to the question of why he should let into his heaven is because we have put our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins which include the careless and sinful words from our lips on many occasions.

In this Psalm talk I want to share with you my own verses for the James Edwin Orr hymn, “Search me O God” that are not just based on the last two verses of Psalm 139 but follow the teaching of Psalm 139 all through it and climax with Orr’s first verse of “Search me O God”. Here is my first verse which is a summary of this first part, verses 1 – 4 and of course they can be sung to the old Morori tune called “The Morori Farewell”.

You have searched me Lord

You surely do know me

You see when I rise

And all my thoughts you see

And everywhere I go

You surely do know

Even the words I speak

Before I speak you know.

  1. (5 – 6) How wonderful is God’s searching of us

We come then to two verses in this first section of this Psalm 139 that declare that David did not dislike God’s all – knowing searching eye and ear in his life but rather he saw its benefits and thanked God for it. He starts this with these words in verse 5,

“You hem me in behind and before, and you lay your hand upon me”.

 This hemming him in by God could be seen as a negative fact only that we can see from a verse like Job 1: 10 how this could also be seen as a positive thing,

“Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land”.

 This hemming him in or hedge around him by God could well mean that David sees this as God’s protection and help which was something he experienced and spoke about in many of his Psalms like Psalm 31: 1 – 5,

“In you, Lord, I have taken refuge;let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your

righteousness.Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue;be my rock of refuge,

 a strong fortress to save me.Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me.Keep me free from the trap that is set for me,for you are my

refuge.Into your hands I commit my spirit; deliver me, Lord, my faithful God”.

 David knew through real life experience the hemming in of God and because he knew it and had experienced it he continually asked God for it again and again as we see him doing in Psalm 31. Paul speaks of our sure hope in God’s protection and help in 2 Thessalonians 3: 3,

“But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one”.

We know that David saw the all- knowing searching mind and hand of God hemming him in as a positive thing as he goes on to say in verse 6,

“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain”.

 Allan Harman writes,

“Called ‘wonder’ actions that by their nature are beyond human ability or ‘Marvellous deeds”.

 He gives then three bible cross references, Psalm 71: 17, Psalm 72: 18 but I will quote directly here Psalm 86: 10,

“For you are great and do marvellous deeds; you alone are God”.

 God’s help and protection which David came to know by living in the presence of his God who searches and knows us intimately is something he marvels at and in the end he simply cannot fully understand as David expresses in the words,

“Too lofty for me to attain”.

 When I was in Bible College many years ago now I came upon the expression, “Mind blowing” and I used it on many occasions when I came across marvellous truths about God and his ways and deeds. Maybe David is saying here that God’s searching mind and hand of protection is to him something that is simply mind blowing.

In 1 Corinthians 13 verse 12 Paul makes a mind- blowing statement about the difference between what we know and understand in this life to what we will know when we get to heaven and he puts it this way,

“For now, we see only a reflection as a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”.

 This is even more of a mind-blowing statement as mirrors in Pauls day were nothing more than highly polished brass dishes.

So, I will now share my second verse of my version of James Edwin Orr’s “Search me O God” hymn to the tune of “The Morori Farewell” tune that covers verses 5 and 6 and the next verse, verse 7 which I will deal with next.

You have hemmed me in

Your behind and before

Such is your knowledge that

It’s to wondrous to explore

Where can I go

To flee away from you

For your Holy Spirit Lord

Has me within your view.

      2    (7 – 12)  WHY GOD’S SERACHING OF US CANNOT BE AVOIDED

  1. (vs. 7) Where can I go to avoid God’s searching

David in this Psalm uses the literary devise of the rhetorical question and that is exactly what we have here in verse 7 that asks two rhetorical questions,

“Where can I go from your Spirit?

Where can I flee from your presence?”

 Some commentators have suggested David is for some reason or another seeking to get away from God so he asks these types of questions and the famous “Hound of Heaven” poem seems to have been written by a back slid den Roman Catholic poet named Francis Thompson in 1893.

I found this explanation of the poem on an internet high school study guide called “Cummings Study Guides”,

“Francis Thompson was a devout Roman Catholic who led a tortured life. After abandoning studies to become a priest and later a physician, he drifted and fell into financial hard times.

So, poverty-stricken was he in London, where he was pursuing a career as a writer, that he sold matches to earn money and borrowed paper on which to write poems. His troubles increased when he developed neuralgia. To relieve the acute pain of this condition, he began taking laudanum, a concoction of opium and ethanol. He became an addict’.

 This study guide goes on to explain the message of this famous poem,

 “In “The Hound of Heaven,” the speaker runs from God in order to maintain the pleasures of his dissolute life. One can imagine the speaker’s real-life counterpart, Thompson, doing the same as he pursued the groggy pleasures of his opium habit. Meanwhile, he contracted tuberculosis. Though he fought his drug habit, he eventually succumbed to TB, dying a month short of his forty-eighth birthday”.

 So, is David because of great sins like his adultery and murder in his affair with Bathsheba seeking to run from God like Francis Thompson sought to do?

I believe there is another better explanation of what David is seeking to communicate in this second section of his 139 Psalm. H.C. Leupold explains this other explanation of David’s words with this,

“David is not attempting to flee from God but rather visualize what might happen if one were to attempt to get beyond the reach of God”.

 So, David’s rhetorical questions in verse 7 are hypothetical and they present a wonderful simple presentation of the omnipresence of God or the fact that wherever we might go or be God is there as God’s searching eye and mind is everywhere. This means God’s searching or awareness of us cannot be avoided.

Jeremiah speaks clearly of God’s omnipresence or God searching eye and awareness is everywhere in Jeremiah 23: 23 – 24,

“Am I only a God nearby,”declares the Lord, “and not a God far away?24 Who can hide in secret places so that I cannot see them?”declares the Lord. “Do not I fill heaven and earth?”
declares the Lord”.

 Or even in the New Testament Paul speaks of God’s omnipresence or God searching eye and awareness is everywhere in his speech to the Athenians in Acts 17: 27,

“God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us”. 

  1. (8 – 12) Nowhere to hide from God’s searching

 David continues his use of rhetorical questions and his use of what Longman describes as merism’s,

“Pairs of opposites that denote everything in between”.

 In this second part of the second section of Psalm 139 he uses these rhetorical questions and merisms to spell out much more the God’s omnipresence or God searching eye and awareness is everywhere. Let’s have a look at each of these verse by verse starting with,

Verse 8,

 “If I go up to the heavens you are there; if I make my bed in the depths you are there”.

This merism Allan Harman says,

“The extremities are used to signify the totality of the universe”

 Harman then gives us two bible cross – references (Job 11: 7 – 9 and Amos 9: 1 – 4) and I really like Job 11: 7 – 9,

“Can you fathom the mysteries of God? Can you probe the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than the heavens above—what can you do? They are deeper than the depths below—what can you know?Their measure is longer than the earthand wider than the sea”.

 Nothing in all of creation Job is saying goes unnoticed by the God of the bible, the one true God of the universe. This, as I said before is another example of a mind- blowing concept as our finite minds cannot fathom how this is possible but clearly God is so wonderful and so different than us that he can and does operate like this.

Verse 9,

 “If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea”.

 Albert Barnes explains this verse so well I will directly quote him here,

“Literally, “I will take the wings of the morning.” That is, I will take this as a supposable case; I will imagine what would occur, should I be able to take to myself the wings of the morning, and endeavour to escape “by flight” from the presence of God, or go where he could not pursue me, or where he would not be. The “wings of the morning” evidently mean that by which the light of the morning “seems to fly” – the most rapid object known to us. It is not to be supposed that the psalmist had an idea of the exact velocity of light, but to him that was the most rapid object known; and his language is not the “less” striking because the laws of its flight have become accurately known. The word rendered “morning” refers to the dawn – the daybreak – the Aurora – the “first” beams of the morning light. The beams of light are in fact no swifter then than at any other time of the day, but they seem to be swifter, as they so quickly penetrate the darkness”.

 So, even if I could escape from God at the speed of light his omnipresence is so powerful he could still see me or anyone just as he could see us on some far of sea the light might take us to.

Verse 10,

 “Even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast”.

 The key term in this verse is the last phrase, “will hold me fast” and it is similar in meaning to verse 8, “You hem me in”, according to Allan Harman and like “You hem me in” the phrase, “will hold me fast” is not a negative thing but a very positive reality for all true believers for the right hand or the strongest and most powerful hand of the God of the universe is with us anywhere we go or go through.

Paul had this kind of confidence in God and the Lord Jesus Christ for from his prison cell he wrote these words to the Philippians in Philippians 4: 12 – 13,

“I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

Paul could do all things that God wanted him to do for Christ who sits at the right hand of God is with him through his Holy Spirit as the writer to the Hebrews says about what Jesus did and where he is now in Hebrews 1: 3,

“The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven”.

 Then in chapter 4 verses 14 – 16 the writer to the Hebrews speaks of holding fast because Jesus is there at the right hand of God in heaven for us, Hebrews 4: 14 – 16,

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”.

 Verse’s 11 – 12,

 “If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light becomes night around me’, even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you”.

 So, distance and speed, the speed of light cannot be used to hide from the searching eye and mind of God so maybe darkness can do it?

I mentioned earlier the famous poem “The hound of Heaven” by Francis Thompson who used drugs and living a dark life of debauchery to try and get away from God but he found God to be the hound of heaven who searched him out in his darkness like a hound chasing after its prey as the first verse of that famous poem says,

“I fled him, down the nights and down the days;

I fled Him, down the arches of the years;

I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways

Of my own mind; and in the midst of tears

I hid from Him, and under running laughter.

Up vustaed hopes I sped;

And shot, precipitated,

A down Titanic glooms of chasmed fears,

From those strong Feet that followed, followed after.

But with unhurrying chase,

And unperturbed pace,

Deliberate speed, majestic instancy.

They beat – and a Voice beat

More instant than the feet –

‘All things betray thee, who betrayed Me”.

The reality of life so many people today live their lives like Francis Thompson speaks of in his tragic poem thinking that darkness will be where they can hide from God but to God who is like pure light,

“Darkness will not be dark to you (God); the light will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you (God).”

 This reminds me of the words of John in John 3: 19 – 21,

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God”.

 Even the darkest places of human existence and experience like Francis Thompson sought to go to hide and run away from God was not successful for God searches after us even in those dark places of sin and hopelessness and offers us his love as Paul indicates by his words in Ephesians 5: 13 – 14,

“But everything exposed by the light becomes visible—and everything that is illuminated becomes a light. 14 This is why it is said:“Wake up, sleeper,rise from the dead,and Christ will shine on you.”

 I close this second part of the second section of Psalm 139 with two more verses of my version of James Edwin Orr’s hymn, “Search me O God”,

If I go on high

Lord I know that your there

Or to the depths of the sea

Lord your every where

Even if I fly

To parts unknown to me

You are there to help and guide

And surely set me free.

 

Even if I say

Darkness please hide me

Darkness is not dark to you

For you will help me see

For you O Lord

Are this world’s great light

Nothing can hide from your

Great power and might.

      3    (13 – 18)  WHY GOD CAN SEARCH US

  1. (13 – 16) God created us so he can search us

When we consider the number of people even in the world today and the vast distances across the earth we live we might ask how is it at all possible that anyone even the God of the universe can know and see the deeds, thoughts and intensions of every human being?

David’s answer to that important question is verses 13 – 16 and the key answer to this question is verses 12 and 14 where David says,

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”.

 When you consider the miracle of life expressed in the beauty and wonder of it all then what could God not do. David expressed this thought in another way in Psalms 8: 3 – 4,

“When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?”

 I was at a church lunch the other day and a good friend of mine and I were having a discussion about the wonder of God’s creation and I made particular mention of how incredible involved and amazing is the design of our human bodies. I then made the point that the only other alternative to a great and powerful designer God as what lies behind this is that we and all creation is a miraculous accident or series of complex amazing accidents.

My friend said that the evolution non- believing God explanation for creation needs even a greater amount of faith to believe in than believing in a great designing God being behind it all.

David like me in my conversation with my good friend picks up the design and creation of the internal workings of a human being evidence of God’s ability to be able to search us and know us all,

“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb”

 Here David also points us to the wonder of human birth and the complex and amazing biological process of our creation in our mother’s womb. This process also is in the hands of God and David goes on to conclude that we are fearfully and wonderfully made as is all of God’s works of creation, verse 14,

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”.

 So, if God is so clever and powerful to make us and all creation why can he not be so clever and powerful to be able to search out and know every human being on earth that he has made?

David’s continues to meditate of his creation as a human being in his mother’s womb in verses 15 and 16 and again picks up the twin God attributes of omniscient – all knowing and omnipresent – present everywhere and these verses and the two before them forces us to also think of God being omnipotent – all powerful and supreme as David says,

“My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth.16 Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days

ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be”.

 Allan Harman explains the phrase,

“Woven together in the depths of the earth”,

 With these words and other phrases about the womb,

“Share the idea of separation from the normal realms of life”.

 The other interesting and to sometimes puzzling phrase is,

“Written in your book before one of them came to be”.

 Harman explains this phrase well with these words,

“God does not need written record, but the idea of a book is used in the Old Testament as a reassuring way of speaking of God’s knowledge of, and care for his people (Exodus 32: 32, Psalm 56: 8, Psalm 69: 28 and Malachi 3: 16)”. 

  1. (17 – 18) How precious is God’s searching of us

So, God knows us all intimately from the time of our conception and into our lives and his searching eyes and ears see and hear all we say, do and even think and so David armed with this insight turns to praise and wonder again in verses 17 and 18,

How precious to me are your thoughts, God! How vast is the sum of them! 18 Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand—  when I awake, I am still with you”.

 David praises the very thoughts of God that he states in two ways, they are precious and they are vast.

They are actually precious because they are so vast and the analogy of their vastness is that they are more numerous than the grains of sand upon the seashore. This is an uncountable number and the last phrase of verse 18 seems to suggest he has fallen to sleep trying to count them yet when he awakes no matter how horribly he failed to count the thoughts of God for him God is still with him,

“When I awake, I am still with you”

 As another Psalm writer Asaph says in Psalm 73: 23,

“Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand”.

 Jesus makes a special promise to always be with those who take his Gospel to the world in Matthew 28: 19 – 20,

Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 Jesus promises his church his special presence in Matthew 18: 20,

“For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them”.

 So, God’s ability to see and hear everyone’s lives and thoughts comes from his mighty creative ability that did not stop after the universe was first made but continues even today and if we, like David look to him in faith we too can know and appreciate his special presence always with us to help and guide us in this life.

Here is another new verse for “Search me O God” that covers the last six verses we have just looked at:

“Lord you created me

So, wonderful we’re made

Before I was born you knew

What days I was ordained,

Precious are your thoughts

They are so vast to me.

I could not count them Lord

Like the sands of the sea.”

      4    (19 – 22) WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO OPPOSE GOD’S SEARCHING  

  1. (19 – 20) God’s judgment on those who oppose him

 David then turns this beautiful Psalm about the searching, ever- present, all knowing and all-powerful God on its head as he writes four verses of what we have come to know as imprecatory prayer or prayer for God’s judgment to come on his enemies.

We have seen a number of examples of these types of prayers right throughout the book of Psalms and I have made many comments on these before. Basically, my line of biblical thought is that with the coming of the Lord Jesus a greater more loving approach has been given to us through Christ in how we should act towards our enemies.

This greater way of dealing with our enemies who are also God’s enemies is to love them and pray for them as Jesus commands us to do in passages like Matthew 5: 43 – 44,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

 Jesus goes on to give what I believe is the main reason why we must do this which is that God loves us, who before we came to know the love of God through The Lord Jesus Christ we were enemies of God yet God did not do this to us. Therefore, if we are children of God, Jesus argues, we must love others just as he has loved us, Matthew 5: 45 – 48,

“That you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

 So, with this in mind we have in verses 19 – 20 what I have called, “God’s judgment on those who oppose God”.

“If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty! They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name”.

 We must note that David is actually praying for God to judge those who oppose him and in opposing him oppose God. We see this in the way these wicked God opposing people speak of God,

“They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name”.

 There are many people in my country and other western countries today who use the name of Christ as a swear word and I have often thought why do they choose to use the name of God or the names of God as a way of cursing or a way of letting go frustrations?

My thought is that they are in such rebellion to any idea of a God that they are choosing any name or idea of God to denounce and ridicule any thought or idea of his existence. They also know that God believers hold the name or ideas of their God in high esteem so to put them down and attack their beliefs they hold dear to them they misuse the name of God to upset them.

David also tells us in verse 19 that these wicked God haters are also murderers as in verse 19 he says,

“You who are bloodthirsty”

 To understand what David might be saying here we must look at a time when he faced wicked God haters who sought to kill him and a great example of this is in the time of his oldest son Absalom rebellion and we read these words of David to his officials in Jerusalem when Absalom turned the hearts of the people against David and his faithful followers in 2 Samuel 15: 14 – 18,

“Then David said to all his officials who were with him in Jerusalem, “Come! We must flee, or none of us will escape from Absalom. We must leave immediately, or he will move quickly to overtake us and bring ruin on us and put the city to the sword.”

15 The king’s officials answered him, “Your servants are ready to do whatever our lord the king chooses.”

 16 The king set out, with his entire household following him; but he left ten concubines to take care of the palace. 17 So the king set out, with all the people following him, and they halted at the edge of the city. 18 All his men marched past him, along with all the Kerethites and Pelethites; and all the six hundred Gittites who had accompanied him from Gath marched before the king”.

 Albert Barnes explains the term, “You who are bloodthirsty” another way with these words,

“The Hebrew is, “Men of bloods;” that is, men who shed blood. The language is used to denote wicked men in general. The idea here is not that the psalmist was in danger from them at that time, but that he desired to be separate from that class of people; he did not wish to be ranked with them, to partake of their conduct, or to share in their fate. He had no sympathy with them, and he desired to be separate from them altogether”.

 So, whether this term, “You who are bloodthirsty” refers to actual enemies of God David faced at the time like Absalom and his many followers or is a general term for the wicked who oppose God like Albert Barnes suggests we cannot tell but in both cases God revealed to David in Psalm 2 that those who oppose David, the Lord’s anointed oppose God, verse 2 and for this they will face the certain judgment of God verse 5.

The ultimate, “Lords Anointed” king is The Lord Jesus Christ and those who oppose him, if they do not repent and turn to him will also face the certain judgment of God as we read in a verse like Revelation 21: 8,

“But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.”

 So far as those misuse of the name of God Jesus says this about that and the coming day of judgment in Matthew 12: 36 – 37,

“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. 37 For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.”

 How does Jesus command to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us fit in with David’s words in the two verses we have just looked at?

My answer to this is the wonderful example of the great Apostle Paul who before he came to see and experience the love of God through Christ was called Saul and Acts 9: 1 says this about him,

“Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem”.

 It was on that road to Damascus that Saul who became the great apostle Paul came to the know the love of God through the Lord Jesus when Jesus appeared to him and said in Acts 9: 5 – 6, Jesus tells Saul who he is with these words,

I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

 It was the apostle Paul who years later told the Roman church this in Romans 5: 8,

“But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

 My point here is it is only the love of God through Christ that can save anyone even a former great persecutor of the early Christian church so we must pray for and offer this love of God to all our enemies and maybe God will use this to save some of them from the certain judgment to come.

Recently a non-Christian person I know on Facebook had a go at my Christian faith by posting a picture of Roman Catholic inquisitors torturing probably protestant believers in the middle ages and saying Christians and Christianity is no better than extreme Muslim believers who torture and kill Christians today.

My answer was that this was so called Christians who had lost sight of the teaching of the bible especially the teachings and example of Christ himself and this is why the church needed to have a reformation to get back to the way Jesus wants us to treat others including our enemies who might even seek to kill us for our faith in Christ. Thankfully today Christians around the world especially in the many persecuted countries show love to their enemies not hatred and bloodshed.

  1. (21 – 22) Have nothing to do with those who oppose God

 David continues his imprecatory prayer or prayer for God’s judgment to come on his enemies in verses 21 – 22 and does this with even stronger words,

“Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies”.

 David, in this part of the imprecatory prayer makes his elegances clear with his words in verse 21,

“Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
Allan Harman points out that David is pledging his loyalty or elegance to the Lord,

“In a manner, customary in the ancient near east”.

 Harman gave me a very interesting cross reference of Psalm 5: 8 – 12, interestingly more than likely written by David during the Absalom rebellion when his own son and his many followers turned away from trusting in the God of the bible and became an enemy of David when they sought to kill him and all his family and faithful followers,

 “Lead me, Lord, in your righteousness because of my enemies—make your way straight before me.Not a word from their mouth can be trusted; their heart is filled with malice. Their throat is an open grave; with their tongues they tell lies.10 Declare them guilty, O God! Let their intrigues be their downfall.Banish them for their many sins,for they have rebelled against you.11 But let all who take refuge in you be glad;let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them, that those who love your name may rejoice in you.

12 Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous; you surround them with your favour as with a shield.

 We might not express our allegiance to the Lord Jesus Christ the same way that David did in these two verses but Jesus still demands our allegiance and his words in Matthew 12: 30 express this well as an indication that passive non – allegiance is a bad as aggressive opposition to Jesus and his faithful followers,

“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”.

 David’s words in verse 22 says,

“22 I have nothing but hatred for them; I count them my enemies”.

 I find particularly jarring to my Christian ears or thought processes that know those commands of Jesus like Matthew 5: 43 – 44,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you”.

However, I read David’s words in verse 22 and even 21 as a way of him expressing his desire to have nothing to do with those who oppose God, those in the context of this Psalm try to shut out or shut down the searching eye and mind of God. People like Francis Thompson who wrote “The Hound of Heaven” who for many years sought to run away from God but discovered God was like a hound not giving up on its prey.

Francis Thompson like all non-believers were and are in rebellion to God. That means they don’t not recognize God’s rule in their lives and are either running away from God like Francis Thompson was or are directly opposing God like David’s enemies were seeking to do.

So, we to must not let those who are running away and rebelling the rule of God in their lives drag us way from God. We must hate the sin they do because of their rebellion to this ever-searching God but because of the love of God we should love the sinner not the sin they commit. Love the sinner like God loves us, saved sinners when he brought us out of our darkness into his glorious light through the message of his Sons death and resurrection for us.

So, my new verse of the hymn “Search Me O God” for these verses is,

Lord save me from

Your enemy’s O Lord

Judge them for their wickedness

They hate you and your word.

Help me to love

And pray for them O Lord

So, they could be saved like me

By your life -giving word.

  1. (23 – 24) SEARCH ME O GOD
  1. (vs. 23) Search me O God

We come then to the two verses that James Edwin Orr wrote the first verse of his famous hymn, “Search Me O God” and the question I have been toiling with all through my study and reflection of this Psalm is,

Why does David speak so clearly on how God has searched him and knows him as he searches and knows everyone yet here in verses 23 and 24 he closes his Psalm with the request for God to search him?

He starts this request for God to search him in verse 23 with these words,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts”

 So, he is praying for God to search him to know him and I think there are three reasons for David praying this prayer that answers my question above:

  1. David wants to make sure he has not got a wicked wayward heart like God’s enemies have.

2. David is applying his theological understanding of God’s all- knowing (omniscient), ever-        present (omnipresent) and all- powerful (omnipotent) nature to his own life and experience.

  1. David wants to know himself as God knows him as God knows us better than we know ourselves.

Let me now explain these three reasons why David prays search me O God:

  1. David wants to make sure he has not got a wicked wayward heart like God’s enemies have.

The immediate context of this prayer request for God to search him is David’s imprecatory prayer or prayer for God’s judgment to come on his enemies. In that prayer, he has pinpointed many of the characteristics of the wicked:

  1. Bloodthirsty
  2. Speak of God with evil intent
  3. Misuse God’s name
  4. Hate God
  5. Rebel against God
  6. Are God’s enemies

So, David is saying to God, “Search Me”, “Know me”, “Test Me” and in verse 24, “See if there is any offensive way in me”. David knew he was a sinner after all he at one point of his life committed two big sins, adultery and murder. Stephen J. Cole puts it this way,

“David no sooner mentions the wicked and his hatred for their irreverence than he quickly realises his own need for God’s cleansing”.

 I said before that one way of describing and non-believer is that they are in rebellion to God and his rule of their lives and David as we should must ask God to deal with any sin or rebellious attitude to God he might have.

The apostle John puts it this way in 1 John 1: 8 – 10,

 

“If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 10 If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us”.

  1. David is applying his theological understanding of God’s all- knowing (omniscient), ever- present (omnipresent) and all- powerful (omnipotent) nature to his own life and experience.

David started this Psalm 139 with a clear statement of God’s omniscient nature or all – knowing nature with the words,

“You have searched me, Lord and you know me”.

 He goes on in the Psalm to speak of God’s omnipresence or ever – present nature like verse 7,

“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence”?

 Then he also speaks of God’s omnipotence – all – powerful nature like verse 14,

“I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well”.

 So, in verse 23 David is applying what he knows about God to himself in the prayer,

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts”

The writer to the Hebrews speaks of applying our faith in Christ in a deeper way in our lives in what he says in Hebrews 10: 22- 24,

“Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds”. 

  1. David wants to know himself as God knows him as God knows us better than we know ourselves.

David Guzik in his commentary on this Psalm writes,

“David knew that he could not know his heart at its depths, so he asked God to know it”

 We might think we know ourselves but I believe the bible says we don’t fully know ourselves but God does and Paul speaks of this and why it is so in Romans 7: 15 – 24,

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. 18 For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. 19 For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. 

20 Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.

 21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death?

 These words of Paul sound like that we don’t only know the depths of sin within us but that there is no answer to the terrible situation we have within us but then at the start of verse 25, the next verse that follows this passage Paul declares,

“Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

 Paul goes on to say how God has delivered us from the bind of our sinful nature by the Lord Jesus Christ in the opening two verses of the next chapter,

“Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death”.

 So, we should be like David and the Apostle Paul and acknowledge we do have anxious thoughts and offensive ways deep in our hearts and ask God to search our hearts and minds by his Holy Spirit and do a work of recreating us from within as Paul says God does do when we truly do believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and what he has done for us, 2 Corinthians 5: 17,

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!”

 This recreation of our hearts and minds is an ongoing process so we must continually ask God to search our hearts and minds and cleanse and renew us day by day as James Edwin Orr so well put it in his first verse of his hymn “Search me O God”,

“Search me O God,

And know my heart today

Try me, O Saviour,

Know my thoughts I pray,

See if there be

Some wicked way in me

Cleanse me from every sin

And set me free” 

  1. (vs. 24) Search and lead me on God’s way

I have already commented on the first part of this last verse of Psalm 139 that says,

“See if there is any offensive way in me”.

 This is a continuance of David’s prayer for God to search him for the three reasons I gave in the last part of this concluding fifth section of this Psalm 139.

However, in this last verse David adds a final request to God that simply says,

“And lead me in the way everlasting”.

 David knew God as the Lord or “Yahweh”, the great “I am who I am” or eternal, everlasting God so what he is asking for here is to be led God’s way. David believed that going God’s way led to the everlasting God or was a path that would lead to eternal life with God.

In both the book of Psalms and book of Proverbs, ‘the road” or “the way” is referred to a lot like Psalm 27: 11,

“Teach me your way, Lord; lead me in a straight pathbecause of my oppressors”

 Or Proverbs 2: 20,

“Thus, you will walk in the ways of the good and keep to the paths of the righteous”.

 Note the way of the Lord or the way of everlasting is in complete contrast to the way of sinful man and death as we see in Proverbs 14: 12,

“There is a way that appears to be right,but in the end, it leads to death”.

 So, again David could have in mind here his words in verses 19 – 22 when he spoke of those who are in rebellion to God and his way which he makes clear in these verses lead to the judgment of God and therefore death.

 Jesus came to make the way back to God and his gift or eternal life as Jesus makes clear in John 14: 6,

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”.

 So, as we join with David in asking him daily to search our hearts and minds to continue his remaking of us within we are looking to go the way or path of everlasting which is the way Jesus is speaking about in John 14: 6.

CONCLUSION

 We have seen through this Psalm how David believed that his God the God of the bible was a God who could and does search us because he is an all -knowing God – omniscient, all – present God – omnipresent and all – powerful God – omnipotent and he knew all this from his experience of God in his life.

Then he declares his hatred of those who oppose and rebel against God who are God’s enemies. These people are bloodthirsty people, intent on evil who misuse the name of God and therefore are denying or running away from the searching eye and mind of God.

Finally, because David knew what God was like as the great searching God who we cannot escape from he asked God to search his heart and mind (thoughts) to cleanse him from the sin he knew we all have so that he and we can avoid being like the God haters who are in rebellion God’s rule in their lives. This means we can experience day by day God’s recreating power and by doing so go God’s everlasting way.

I close as usual with my poem / song and final prayer:

SEARCH ME O GOD

(New words based on Psalm 139 and James Edwin Orr hymn search me O God that was written to the Maori “Song of Farewell)

You have searched me Lord

You surely do know me

You see when I rise

And all my thoughts you see

And everywhere I go

You surely do know

Even the words I speak

Before I speak you know.

 

You have hemmed me in

Your behind and before

Such is your knowledge that

It’s to wondrous to explore

Where can I go

To flee away from you

For your Holy Spirit Lord

Has me within your view.

 

If I go on high

Lord I know that your there

Or to the depths of the sea

Lord your every where

Even if I fly

To parts unknown to me

You are there to help and guide

And surely set me free.

 

Even if I say

Darkness please hide me

Darkness is not dark to you

For you will help me see

For you O Lord

Are this world’s great light

Nothing can hide from your

Great power and might.

 

Lord you created me

So, wonderful we’re made

Before I was born you knew

What days I was ordained.

Precious are your thoughts

They are so vast to me

I could not count them Lord

Like the sands by the sea.

 

Lord save me from

Your enemy’s O Lord

Judge them for their wickedness

They hate you and your word.

Help me to love

And pray for them O Lord

So, they could be saved like me

By your life- giving word.

 

Search me O God,

And know my heart today

Try me, O Saviour,

Know my thoughts, I pray,

See if there be

Some wicked way in me

Cleanse me from every sin

And set me free.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Lord I pray that you will search my heart and mind and find the sin I have within so that through the blood of your Son shed on the cross for me you can cleanse me and remake me into the person you want me to be. I thank you Lord that you are all – knowing, ever present and all -powerful God and therefore I can trust in you and your love to search and change me. Help those who are still in rebellion to your love to come to the realisation of your love and help me to show them your love by the way I seek to pray and love them. I Jesus name I pray, Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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PSALM 138 TALK:   PRAISING THE LOVE OF GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART  

PSALM 138 TALK:   PRAISING THE LOVE OF GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART

 (The first of a collection of eight Psalms attributed to King David in the fifth and final book of Psalms that feature praise for the God he believed delivered him from sin and his enemies because he is a great God of love and righteousness. The first of these eight Psalms, Psalm 138 feature praising God for his love and sets the tone for the next seven Psalms to come).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

 “Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all”

 Is the last two lines of the famous hymn by Isaac Watts called “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” and these two lines have kept ringing in my head ever since I read recently Psalm 138 in preparation for this Psalm talk.

I believe Psalm 138 features God’s love and I have called it, “Praising the love of God with all your heart”. The Psalm starts with the writer’s desire to praise the Lord with his soul, life and all for what he calls in verse 2, God’s unfailing love and faithfulness and closes with a clear statement of God’s love with the words,

“Your love, Lord, endures forever”.

 Psalm 138 is the first Psalm of an eight Psalm series, 138 – 145 that are the final Psalms of David in the book of Psalms. We know this because the Hebrew Headings for these eight Psalms attribute the authorship of them to David.

Why did it take nearly 500 years for eight more Psalms of David to appear in the final book of Psalms?

The first thing I would say about this is that we have already seen former collections of Psalms not in the book of Psalms before incorporated into this final book of Psalms like the “Songs of Ascent Psalms” (120 – 134) and the “Hallelujah Songs” (111 – 118). So, it seems the editors of the fifth book of Psalms looked around for any final examples of songs and prayers the Hebrew people had sung over many years to formally recognize them as Psalms to go in their fifth and final book of Psalms.

I believe particularly because of the content of many of the fifth book of Psalms being post exile inspired and because the dead sea scrolls did not have the fourth and fifth books of Psalms as we know them that this fifth book and fourth book of Psalms came together after the Jews returned from exile in Babylon.

Albert Barnes answers my question with these words,

“They appear to be of the nature of a supplement to the Book of Psalms, composed of Psalms unknown to the original collector and arranger of the book, and subsequently discovered and ascertained to be the works of David. It is not to be regarded as strange that there should be psalms of this nature David at different periods which might have been preserved in different branches of his family, and which might not have been generally known to exist”.

 It seems that the “Songs of Ascent” Psalms (120 – 134) existed separately as a group of Psalms sung by Pilgrim Travellers to Jerusalem for one of the three worship festivals their and were decided by the editors of the fifth book to be brought into the official book of Psalms in the fifth and final collection.

So maybe these eight Psalms of David newly discovered after the return from exile in Babylon were also decided to be placed at the end of the book of Psalms just as the start of the book of Psalms contains the larger collection of David’s Psalms.

Psalm 138 has David’s fingerprints all over it with many phrases and ideas from his other Psalms mirrored throughout this Psalm. Here are five clear examples of this, Psalm 9: 1 mirrors verse 1, Psalm 5: 7 verse 2, Psalm 113: 5 – 9 verse 6, Psalm 23: 4 verse 7 and Psalm 57: 3 verse 8.

If David did not write this Psalm its writer used many of David’s previous Psalms as his inspiration and style.

So, the first of David’s final collection of Psalms, Psalm 138 features his deep desire to praise the Love of God after it seems he experienced first- hand another example of that love of God for him manifest in his life as we read in verse 7,

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand, you save me”.

 What experience of deliverance David is referring to here we cannot tell as God helped or saved David in many ways on many occasions by his powerful hand of love stooping down from heaven to help and save him as he indicates by what he says in verse 6.

“Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty, he sees them from afar”.

So, with the theme of “Praising the Love of God with all your heart” and the words of Isaac Watts hymn, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” in mind my outline for this Psalm talk is:

  1. (1 – 3)   GOD’S LOVE DEMANDS MY SOUL, MY LIFE, MY ALL IN PRAISE
  1. (vs. 1) My soul, my life, my all will praise God
  2. (vs. 2) Praise God’s love
  3. (vs. 3) Why David knew again God loved him

      2   (4 – 5)    KINGS WILL PRAISE GOD FOR HIS LOVING ACTIONS

  1. (vs. 4) The praise of kings
  2. (vs. 5) The song of praise for God’s ways of love

      3   (6 – 7)   GOD’S LOVE SAVES US

  1. (vs. 6) God stooped down with love
  2. (vs. 7) God’s love saves and protects us

      4   (vs. 8)   GOD’S LOVE IS OURS FOREVER

 So, with these headings let’s now look at this wonderful Psalm of David:

  1. (1 – 3)   GOD’S LOVE DEMANDS MY SOUL, MY LIFE, MY ALL IN PRAISE
  1. (vs. 1) My soul, my life, my all will praise God

 David commences his Psalm 138 with the words of deep commitment to praise the Lord, “Yahweh” the eternal God of God’s and Lord of Lords, he writes,

“I will praise you, Lord with all my heart; before the ‘god’s I will sing praise”.

 This first verse has two aspects to it that need some explanation before we can fully comprehend what it is actually saying and those two aspects are:

  1. What does David mean by “with all my heart”?
  2. What does David mean by “before the ‘gods’?

Let me explain what I believe these two main aspects of this first verse mean:

  1. What does David mean by “with all my heart”?

Bakers Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology” sums up well and explains well the meaning of the term “heart” in the bible with these words,

“Heart” (Hebrew lebab/leb [b’bel], Gk. kardia [kardiva]) occurs over one thousand times in the Bible, making it the most common anthropological term in the Scripture. It denotes a person’s centre for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities; sometimes it is used figuratively for any inaccessible thing”.

 One of the most famous use of this term heart is in Deuteronomy 6: 5 and could well be what David had in mind when he used this term in the first verse of this Psalm,

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength”.

 I mentioned in my introduction that we can find a lot of other known David Psalms that mirror the wording of this Psalm and the use of “heart” is used by David in Psalm 9: 1,

“I will give thanks to you, Lord with all my heart; I will tell of all your wonderful deeds”.

 So, David like the wording of Isaac Watts hymn wants to praise, thanks and proclaim (tell) the wonderful works of God which are his acts of love as we don’t deserve his love so David praises God  with his whole heart or soul or life or all, As Isaac Watts put it,

“Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all”

 Paul tells the Corinthians that the love of God expressed in the death and resurrection of Christ compels him or drives his praise and service for God in 2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 15,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

 This kind of praise from our hearts or our soul, our life or our all is spoken about by the writer to the Hebrews who calls it a sacrifice of praise in Hebrews 13: 15 – 16,

“ThroughJesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. 16 And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased”.

 To give our all or to praise God from our hearts for his wonderful loving deeds we need to offer that praise to God as a sacrifice, something we give freely and fully to God for thanks for what he has done for us and Paul says in Romans 12: 1 when we do this we are truly worshipping him,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”. 

  1. What does David mean by “before the ‘gods’?

The more difficult concept to interpret is David’s words,

“Before the “god’s” I will sing”

 What is David speaking about here?

We know he could not be saying that there is more than one God as the bible and particularly the first five books of the bible which David had and knew tells us that there is only one God, like Deuteronomy 4: 35,

 “Youwere shown these things so that you might know that the Lord is God; besides him there is no other”.

 All other supposed God’s are false God’s as David makes it clear in other Psalms like Psalm 40: 4,

“Blessed is the onewho trusts in the Lord,who does not look to the proud,to those who turn aside to false gods”

 I came across three explanations for what David is referring to in his expression, “before the ‘god’s’”.

 The first is that ‘god’s’ are ‘angelic beings’ as we see certainly in David’s Psalm 29 verse 1,

“Ascribe to the Lord you heavenly beings, ascribe to the Lord glory and strength”.

 Or As another Psalm writer Asaph speaks of in Psalm 82: 1,

“God presides in the great assembly; he renders judgment among the ‘god’s’”

 The second explanation of ‘before the ‘god’s’” is well presented by Allan Harman when he writes,

“god’s is a Hebrew term applied to human rulers (Exodus 21: 6 / 22: 8 – 9).

 This is an attractive answer for it connects with David’s words in verse 4 of this Psalm that says,

“May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed”.

 The problem with these two possible answers is firstly how can David sing God’s praises before Angels in heaven before he has died and gone to heaven and if ‘god’s” is referring to earthly rulers like kings why does he call them ‘god’s’ in verse 1 and then ‘kings’ in verse 4.

There is a third explanation for David’s term ‘god’s’ which is expressed well by Albert Barnes when he writes,

“The idols, all idols, in preference to them all. This does not mean that he would do this in the presence of other god’; but that Yahweh should be acknowledged to be God in preference to any or all of them”.

 So, before the god’s is before any god alternative we must recognise “Yahweh” as the God that we should praise with all our hearts and sing of him as our great God of love as we will see from the rest of this Psalm.

Sing just as Jude 24 – 25 does,

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen”.

 2    (vs. 2)  Praise God’s love

David’s opening verse of this Psalm simply states he will praise God from his heart, his life, his all even before any other God alternative but in the opening first part of verse 2 David gives us the place and content of his praise, he writes,

“I will bow down toward your holy temple and I will praise your name for your unfailing love and your faithfulness”.

 Some modern commentators seize on the mention of the Temple here as a way of putting down the concept that David wrote this Psalm. They argue that the Temple did not become a reality unto after David’s death as it was built by his son Solomon.

Allan Harman puts down this criticism by pointing out that,

“The Hebrew term Temple here is applied to the Tent that was God’s house before the Temple was built”

 Allan gives four references to back this up, 1 Samuel 1: 9, 3: 3 and Psalm 27: 4 – 5.

Note in the Psalm 27 reference David, referring to the Tent of God also called The Sanctuary seeks to dwell in it all the days of his life. This, I believe is not a literal desire but is David recognising the sanctuary and later Temple representing God’s presence on earth and so his real desire is to live in the presence of God and in Psalm 138 verse 2 his desire is to bow in the presence of God and praise and worship him.

So, what is the content of David’s praise for God?

Here in verse 2 of Psalm 138 it is expressed in two ways:

  1. God’s name or character
  2. God’s unfailing love and faithfulness

Let me flesh these two great things out a bit.

  1. God’s name or character

All through the Old Testament the name of God and the names of God are spoken about as something people like David could both trust in and glorify or praise.

Tony Evans says this about the concept in the Old Testament of “The name or names of God” in his book, “The power of God’s names”,

“In Scripture, God reveals Himself to us through His names. So, to fully grasp the significance and power of God’s names, we first need to understand the importance of names in ancient cultures. In Old Testament times, a name was more than simply nomenclature. Rather, it revealed important information about the individual or thing itself”.

 God’s name and names tell us so much about what God is like and David in Psalm 8 says in verse 1 that even creation itself reveals the name or something of the character of God,

“Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens”.

 Tony Evans speaks of how the name of God is also a very important concept in the New Testament and says this about this in his book “The power of God’s names”,

“When Jesus said, “I have made Your name known to them, and will make it known” (  John 17:26), He was referencing more than just sounds put together in a word. In Jesus, God came to earth in the flesh and unveiled His heart, mind, will, character, and being through the revelation of His name”.

 Paul speaks of the powerful name or character of Jesus in Philippines 2: 9 – 11 this way,

“Therefore, God exalted him to the highest placeand gave him the name that is above every name,10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father”.

 So, part of David’s content of his praise of God with all his heart or his life, his all is the name of God his revealed character.

  1. God’s unfailing love and faithfulness

As Mark Evans pointed out,

“In Jesus, God came to earth in the flesh and unveiled His heart, mind, will, character, and being through the revelation of His name”.

 This heart of God David calls in verse 2, God’s,

“Unfailing love and faithfulness”

 Jesus demonstrated this love so well that John was able to say in John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

David knew this love of God through so many experiences of his life when against all odds God saved him from his enemies like King Saul, the many neighbouring hostile nations and even his eldest Son Absalom when he rebelled against his father and sought to kill him. This Psalm, 138 was probably written soon after one of these demonstrations of God’s saving love.

David praises this saving love of God in Psalm 57 verse 2 and 3 this way,

“I cry to God Most high, to God, who vindicates me. He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me – God sends forth his love and faithfulness”.

 This term God’s love and faithfulness in the Old Testament usually refers to God’s covenant of love that David knew and which was the basis of God’s special relationship with his people, Israel as we read of in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9,

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments”.

 Jesus, in the New Testament is called the mediator of a new covenant, a fulfilment and wonderful expansion of God’s covenant of love that offers Jews and Gentiles the opportunity to be part of his special nation or family as we read in Hebrews 9: 15,

“For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

 In the next part of verse 2 David goes on to say,

“For you have exalted your solemn decree that it surpasses your fame”.

 I found these words puzzling unto I read H.C. Leupold’s paraphrase of these words,

“Thou hast given us a new revelation of Thy glory”.

 The fame of God then is probably his general revelation of himself in nature as Psalm 19: 1 speaks of,

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands”.

 However, God’s solemn decree which Leopold speaks of as, “a new revelation of Thy glory” is the word of God that makes clear that he is a God of love and faithfulness. John at the start of his Gospel speaks of the word of God creating everything (John 1: 1 – 5) and then says that this word or God’s special decree or revelation of himself is The Lord Jesus himself in John 1: 14,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

Spurgeon makes this concluding statement about this last part of verse 2 with these words,

“Let us adore the Lord who has spoken to us by his word, and by his Son; and in the presence of unbelievers let us both praise his holy name and extol his holy word”.

 God’s word through Christ coming speaks even more about God’s amazing love as Isaac Watts does in the last verse of his famous hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross,

“Were the whole realm of nature mine,

That were a present far too small;

Love so amazing, so divine,

Demands my soul, my life, my all”. 

  1. (vs. 3) Why David knew again God loved him

 The third verse of the first section of this Psalm speaks of how David possibly came to his fresh revelation of God’s love and faithfulness which was like a new and better revelation of God and his word and it seems it came from a very real answer to a desperate pray to God because David writes in verse 3,

“When I called you answered me: you greatly emboldened me”.

 On many occasions David seemed like he was trapped and humanly speaking he had no hope but on each occasion, he looked to God and God answered his prayer and saved him and David himself always acknowledged that he did not deserve God’s answer of help but it came because his God, the God of the bible is a God of unfailing love and faithfulness which he called mercy and which the New Testament calls “grace”.

In Psalm 30 we believe David prayed one of these desperate prayers when after counting all his fighting men in Israel which God had told David he must not do David and his nation faced a terrible plague that God used to punish David for his sin.

Then David in this desperate situation prayed to God as the plague was about to take down his people in Jerusalem and on the hill in Jerusalem that became the hill called Zion David saw a vision of the Angel of the Lord and he and the elders of Jerusalem prayed a desperate prayer dressed in sackcloth, a physical Old Testament symbol of repentance and faith and on Mount Zion God stopped the angel of death from killing the people in Jerusalem (see 1 Chronicles 21: 1 – 17).

David records something of that prayer that day in Psalm 30: 8 – 10,

“To you, Lord, I called; to the Lord I cried for mercy:“What is gained if I am silenced, if I go down to the pit?Will the dust praise you?Will it proclaim your faithfulness?10 Hear, Lord, and be merciful to me; Lord, be my help.”

 David saw yet again that day the love or mercy of God as he had seen on many previous occasions and would see again and again on future occasions and this as he says in verse 3 of Psalm 138,

“emboldened him”

 Which some commentators say could be translated “encouraged” or even “strengthened” him and in the last two verses of Psalm 30 we hear emboldening or encouraging words of David in verses 11 and 12,

“You turned my wailing into dancing;you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
12 that my heart may sing your praises and not be silent Lord my God, I will praise you forever”.

 This is David praising the love of God with all his heart and we too can be confident God listens to our prayers and answers them as Jesus promises to do in Matthew 7: 7 – 8,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”.

 How often do we miss out on being emboldened or encouraged because we do not take our problems and concerns to God in prayer and this reminds me of the first verse of the old hymn “What a friend we have in Jesus”,

“What a friend we have in Jesus,

All our sins and griefs to bear!

What a privilege to carry

Everything to God in prayer!

Oh, what peace we often forfeit,

Oh, what needless pain we bear.

All because we do not carry

Everything to God in prayer!” 

      2   (4 – 5)    KINGS WILL PRAISE GOD FOR HIS LOVING ACTIONS

  1. (vs. 4) The praise of kings

As I said earlier some see what David is speaking about in verse 4 relates to his difficult to interpret phrase in verse one,

“Before the gods I will sing your praise”

 So, if “the god’s” in verse 1 are the Kings and rulers in this world who have the greatest power on this earth then David is saying the God of the bible is the God of heaven and earth and is far more powerful and greater than any earthly supreme power you could think of or even imagine.

So, what David now says in verse 4 makes real sense for if the God in heaven is the supreme ruler of the entire universe than,

“May all the kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed”.

 Maybe David has another verse in mind from the early chapters of Deuteronomy as we read in Deuteronomy 4: 8,

“And what other nation is so great as to have such righteous decrees and laws as this body of laws I am setting before you today?”

 The laws in the Old Testament represented the revealed word of God and so if this is so than the revealed word of God is his decrees and when even earthly kings and rulers hear these words from God they should praise that great and loving revealed God of heaven and earth.

The sad reality in David’s day is that the kings and rulers of his time did not praise the revealed God of love and power as David expresses so clearly in Psalm 2: 1 – 3,

“Why do the nations conspireand the peoples plot in vain?The kings of the earth rise up

and the rulers band togetheragainst the Lord and against his anointed, saying,“Let us break their chainsand throw off their shackles”.

 Psalm 2 contains also a prophecy of a change that will come when a greater son of David would come and bring the Nations and of course the kings of the earth under God’s control. We read of this in Psalm 2: 7 – 11,

“ I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:He said to me, “You are my son; today I have become your father.Ask me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession You will break them with a rod of iron; you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;be warned, you rulers of the earth.11 Serve the Lord with fear and celebrate his rule with trembling”.

 The final verse of Psalm 2 comes with a warning for kings and rulers of the earth that if they fail to acknowledge the divine rule of the universe with praise and worship of this greater son of David they will face the terrible judgment of God that is coming with him as well, vs. 12,

“Kiss his son, or he will be angryand your way will lead to your destruction,for his wrath can flare up in a moment.Blessed are all who take refuge in him”.

 (See my Psalm talk for Psalm 2 to understand better the poetic images in this Psalm)

Of course, the greater son of David is in fact The Lord Jesus Christ and Jesus identifies with the prophecies like Psalm 2: 7 – 11 and Psalm 110: 1 of him being the greater son of David, The Messiah in Matthew 22: 41 – 46,

 “While the Pharisees were gathered together, Jesus asked them, 42 “What do you think about the Messiah? Whose son is he?”“The son of David,” they replied.43 He said to them, “How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls him ‘Lord’? For he says,

44 “‘The Lord said to my Lord: “Sit at my right handuntil I put your enemies under your feet.”

45 If then David calls him ‘Lord,’ how can he be his son?” 46 No one could say a word in reply, and from that day on no one dared to ask him any more questions”.

 Matthew commences his Gospel with a detailed genealogy showing how Jesus is not only a descendant of Abraham but a descendant of David and therefore a greater son of David and of course the Son of God through his father in heaven.

Through the greater and clearer message of God’s love for the world through the death and resurrection of this greater son of David this word or message or as we call it Gospel has gone out into all the world and many kings and rulers have come to fulfil desire that,

“May all kings of the earth praise you, Lord, when they hear what you have decreed”.

 Even though some kings and rulers have acknowledged Jesus as their greater king throughout history many others stood against Christ and his followers and persecuted them. An example of a king or ruler who turned to Christ, David’s greater son and praised and served him is the great Roman emperor Constantine who converted to Christianity in 312AD and helped change the Christian’s fate in the Roman empire to outsiders often persecuted to the accepted faith of the entire Roman Empire.

However, as I said many kings and rulers in both ancient and modern history opposed Christ and his followers but in the end the book of Revelation tells us this will all change at the end of history when Christ returns to judge the world and take his faithful followers to heaven as we read in Revelation 17: 14,

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.” 

  1. (vs. 5) The song of praise for God’s ways of love

David goes on to speak a little more about how these kings of the earth will praise the God of heaven and earth in verse 5,

“May they sing of the ways of the Lord, for the glory of the Lord is great”.

 In verse 1 David speaks of him singing the praises of the Lord of heaven and earth possibly before earthly kings and maybe even heavenly exalted ones, angels and demons but now he says these kings or rulers will join him in not only praise but songs of praise as well.

Of course, the ways of the Lord are like the name of the Lord which is the character and actions of the Lord which we have seen is made clear by his love and faithfulness.

So, this song or singing of the ways of the Lord will be about the love of God and in a New Testament context this is the great song of the love of God expressed in the sending of his only son to die on the cross to forgive our many sins.

Paul sings the praises of this kind of love and spells out so clearly why we must always praise the love of God with all our hearts in Ephesians 1: 1 – 8,

 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love hepredestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding”.

 The third verse of Isaac Watt’s famous hymn “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” speaks of the great love of God expressed in the death of his only Son Jesus Christ for us,

“See from his head, His hands, His feet,

Sorrow and love flow mingled down!

Did e’er such love and sorrow meet.

Or thorns compose so rich a crown?”

 Watt’s picks up in the last line of his third verse of his hymn “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” the earthly crown of Jesus, the crown of thorns or the crown of suffering but when Jesus returns he will be seen as the great king of kings and Lord of Lords wearing many crowns and as John’s vision of him presents in Revelation 19: 11 – 16, he will be great, powerful and glorious,

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice, he judges and wages war

12 His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head, are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself. 13 He is dressed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is the Word of God. 14 The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.15 Coming out of his mouth is a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations. “He will rule them with an iron sceptre.” He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty.16 On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: king of kings and lord of lords”. 

      3   (6 – 7)   GOD’S LOVE SAVES US

  1. (vs. 6) God stooped down with love

So, David has just predicted that even the greats of this world, Kings, will acknowledge what the God of the universe has done and will sing his praises. Now this great and almighty God will choose to stoop down from his high and lofty heaven to save what David calls, the lowly.

Verse 6 says,

“Though the Lord is exalted, he looks kindly on the lowly; though lofty he sees them from afar”.

 There are two important issues that must be explained first before the full impact of this verse can be realised and those two issues are”

  1. What does David mean by God looking down from heaven?
  2. Who is David referring to when he speaks of the lowly?

I will attempt now to answer these two questions that are the two issues that must be explained to appreciate the full impact of this verse.

  1. What does David mean by God looking down from heaven?

Leupold explains the meaning of God looking down from heaven on the lowly this way,

“It will be an ancient rule that is emphasized throughout sacred Scripture, the rule that the exalted Lord stoops with special interest to the lowly and has regard for them”.

 I have heard atheists argue that the Christian religion or faith is ridiculous as it presents the so- called creator of the universe reducing himself willingly to become a human being to sacrifice himself on a cross to forgive the sins we have committed against him.

I believe this is either a ridiculous idea as an atheist like Richard Dawkins firmly believes or it is the greatest expression of love we could ever know.

In Psalm 113 verses 4 – 8 what Leupold has just called “the ancient rule of sacred scripture is presented so beautifully,

“The Lord is exalted over all the nations,his glory above the heavens.Who is like

the Lord our God, the One who sits enthroned on high,who stoops down to look on the heavens and the earth?He raises the poor from the dustand lifts the needy from the ash heap;he seats them with princes,with the princes of his people”.

 The New Testament presents how God literally stooped down to save us and it presents this as coming from the core of the God of the universe’s nature or character, namely his love in a key verse like John 3: 16,

 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

 Later the same writer, The Apostle John speaks of this expression of God’s love in a letter to churches he looked after later in his life and ministry on earth and he says this in 1 John 4: 9 – 10,

“This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins”.

 So, atheist’s might mock the Christian Gospel as a ridiculous idea but as Christians we marvel at it as a great act of love and we praise this God of love with all our heart.

  1. Who is David referring to when he speaks of the lowly?

If this Psalm was written by David who was the great king of Israel than who then is he referring to as the lowly as he could not mean a person’s social standing. So, what does he mean by the lowly?

I found two key bible references which I think explain who are the lowly according to the bible.

The first is from the Old Testament and is Isaiah 66: 2,

“Has not my hand made all these things,and so they came into being?”declares the Lord.

“These are the ones I look on with favour: those who are humble and contrite in spirit,and who tremble at my word”.

 Then from the New Testament Luke 1: 51 – 52

“He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the

humble.53 He has filled the hungry with good thingsbut has sent the rich away empty”.

Spurgeon explains it well that these people God sees as lowly are people who recognize they are lowly in the sight of the Almighty God of the universe, he writes,

“Because they think little of themselves he thinks much of them. They reverence him, and he respects them. They are low in their own esteem, and he makes them high in his esteem”.

 They are as David was, people of true faith who humble themselves before God and James says in James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up”.

 So, verse 6 of Psalm 138 is saying that out of love the great God and Lord of the universe stoops down to those who truly trust in him, who humble themselves before God and God looks kindly or lovingly towards them.

2     (vs. 7)  God’s love saves and protects us

 David has just said that the God of the universe who is exalted in highest heaven looks kindly on those who are lowly who we have seen are those who trust in him and humble themselves before him. Now David says what this looking kindly actually turns out to be and in verse 7 he states this clearly,

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life. You stretch out your right hand against the anger of my foes; with your right hand, you save me”.

 As I said in my introduction this Psalm this Psalm has David’s fingerprints all over it as so much of it mirrors other phrases or concepts David used in other Psalms and the first part of this verse mirrors the fourth verse of David’s famous twenty third Psalm that says,

“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil. For you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me”.

 In the twenty third Psalm David is speaking of God’s love stooping down to save and protect him in ancient shepherding terms. David had been a shepherd in his younger days and he knew that his weak and defenceless sheep needed his protection and even at times salvation from dark and difficult places and enemies like lions and bears.

In Psalm 138 he speaks more openly of God’s salvation and protection in the expression,

“Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve my life”

 This means that God’s stooping down to the lowly with kindness is in practical terms his saving and protecting interventions for those he loves, namely the lowly or those who truly trust in him and humble themselves before him.

In the New Testament Paul is confident to tell the Thessalonians in 2 Thessalonians 3: 3,

“3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one”.

 David then says that it is like God’s powerful right hand, as the right hand is consistently in scriptures the strong and dominant hand, is stretching out to give him personal protection.

Not only did this right hand of God protected David but according to the last phrase of verse 7, God’s right hand saved him,

“With your right hand, you save me”.

 What David is literally referring to here is unknown but we can refer to many times in David’s life that he was saved by God’s intervention in his life in various ways. Spiritually David was saved from the consequences of his sins of adultery and murder in his sinful affair with the married women Bathsheba. After David confesses his great sins and throws himself at the mercy or undeserved love of God. David confesses to God with words like we read in Psalm 51: 1 – 2,

“Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin”.

God heard the penitent cry of his lowly servant and forgave David so the mighty outstretched right hand of God is not only powerful but is a loving hand.

In the New Testament Jesus comes from the right hand of God to be our saviour and Lord and after he died on the cross and rose from the dead he ascended back into heaven to sit again at the right hand of God.

Paul picks up the importance of Christ seated at God’s right hand in Colossians 3: 1 – 3 and tells us how this should influence our daily lives,

“Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things.For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God”.

 So, we have been saved by the loving and powerful right hand of God through Christ who came from the right hand of God and who now sits on a throne at the right hand of God so that we can go to him in prayer at any time for protection and salvation as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 4: 14 – 16,

Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin. 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need”.

 This is yet another reason why we should praise the love of God with all our hearts and Isaac Watts speaks of being lowly and humble servants of God who trust in the death of Christ for our sins alone to save us in his second verse of his famous hymn “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”,

“Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,

Save in the death of Christ my God!

All the vain things that charm me most,

I sacrifice them to His blood”. 

      4   (vs. 8)   GOD’S LOVE IS OURS FOREVER

 David’s renewed confidence in the love and faithfulness of God continues to show itself in the last verse of this Psalm as he writes,

“The Lord will vindicate me: your love, Lord endures forever – do not abandon the works of your hands”.

 Albert Barnes believes the word “vindicate” is speaking of God’s perfecting or completing of David’s salvation and he writes,

“He will complete what he has begun. He will not begin to interpose in my behalf, and then abandon me. He will not promise to save me, and then fail to fulfil his promise. He will not encourage me, and then cast me off”.

 Albert Barnes like a number of commentators then refer to the words of Paul in Philippians 1: 6,

“Being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ”.

 Some Christians shy away from the doctrine or teaching in the New Testament of the assurance of our faith in the Lord Jesus Christ because maybe they know sadly fellow Christians who seemed to have fallen away from the faith.

My experience of the Christian faith is that if the bible did not teach the assurance of our faith I would have long ago fallen away from the Lord as in my late teenage years it looked like I had fallen away from God and his good work in me that had started in my early teenage years and looked like it was not going on to completion.

However, God continued to work in my life both internally with a heavily convicted conscience and externally with a dear older sister in the Lord never giving me up and encouraging me to come back to the Lord and his church.

When I did come back I needed intensive Christian counselling and encouragement and I remember with great affection the words of Jesus in John 10: 27 – 29,

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. 28 I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. 29 My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father’s hand”.

 Our assurance like David’s assurance is not based in what we have done or not done but it is based as David declares in verse 8 in God’s never- ending amazing love,

“Your love, Lord endures forever”

Someone told me when I was coming back to the Lord after three years of turning my back on him that, “If God no longer feels close to you guess who moved”. God’s love never gives up on us as his love unlike ours is both reliable and eternal.

Finally, David makes what seems at first a surprising word of prayer. It is surprising because he has just stated clearly that God’ love will never give up on him and that is why he believes that the Lord will vindicate or bring his salvation to completion and then he prays,

“Do not abandon the work of your hands”

 This conundrum is answered well by the great C.H. Spurgeon he says this,

“Our confidence does not cause us to live without prayer, but encourages us to pray all the more”.

 We need to seek God’s help daily to grow and keep moving towards what Paul calls in some English translations of Philippians 3: 14, “The upward call of God” or as the NIV translation puts it,

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus”.

 In a couple of verses before this Paul speaks of how he and I believe all Christians must look to God for help and assistance to press on in the Christian life,

“Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. 13 Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead”.

 So, we too should pray daily the kind of prayer David prayed at the end of Psalm 138,

“Do not abandon the work of your hands”

 Like Paul we can have confidence in the enduring and amazing love of God to always answer this prayer and any of our prayers.

The last verses I will quote in this Psalm talk is 1 John 15 – 17, which sum up God and his wondrous love for us and which also tells us how we can come to know this love and why God’s love gives us confidence in him to complete the work of his hands in us,

“If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God.16 And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus”.

 The last verse I will quote of Isaac Watts famous hymn, “When I Survey the Wondrous Cross” is the first verse,

“When I survey the wondrous cross

On which the Prince of glory died,

My richest gain I count but loss,

And pour contempt on all my pride”.

 Our response to this should be the same as David, praise the love of God with all our heart.

I finish with my original poem and prayer as usual. This poem can be sung to the tune of, “There is a Ship” my favourite tune to sing Isaac Watts famous hymn “When I survey the Wondrous Cross”.

 PRAISE THE LOVE OF GOD

(PSALM 138 and the tune “There is a ship”

 

I’ll praise you Lord with all my heart

I’ll praise you Lord the only God above.

I’ll bow my head and praise your name

Because I know your unfailing love.

 

You gave your word that declares your love

A word that’s great for it exalts your name

You answered my prayer when I was down

So, in your love I will remain.

 

May all earths kings praise you Lord

When they have heard what you have done

For they will sing how great you are

When they realise your kingdoms come.

 

Though the Lord is great he looks down on us

Though he is high he helps all who trust

Although I sometimes walk a troubled way

The Lord helps me walk his way each day.

 

 

The Lord’s right hand protects me now

His love saves me every day and hour

So, I do ask the God above

To continue to work in me his love.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 

Thank you, father, in heaven for your great love for us revealed in the wondrous cross of your one and only Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. May your love be the source of not only our salvation but our praise and thanks to you. May we from all our soul, life and our all ever praise you for your love shown in the way we serve you and each other day by day until we one day we will go to be with you in heaven for all eternity. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

PSALM 137 TALK:   LOOKING BACK TO ZION / LOOKING FORWARD TO HEAVEN

PSALM 137 TALK:   LOOKING BACK TO ZION / LOOKING FORWARD TO HEAVEN

 (A Psalm that is an ancient Hebrew song written during or just after the Jews went into a 70-year captivity in Babylon that speaks of the great sorrow and sadness felt by the captive Jews as they look back to their ruined capitol city and their forced separation from God’s special presence in Zion. The song features the captive Jews un- willingness to sing about Zion and to not forget about it and the city of Jerusalem. It also cntains the desire for God to judge the merciless and wicked nations of Edom and Babylon for their cruel attack on God and his special people – Israel).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

Just after I completed my three- year Bible College training I decided to read carefully the next most read book of all time to the bible, John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim Progress”. Bunyan lived between 1628 – 1688 and he was a Reformed Baptist lay preacher who suffered 12 years imprisonment because he refused to conform to the King of England’s law to use only the Book of common prayer in worship services. I decided to read this book because I felt as a Christian minister – actually Youth Worker I could not feel equipped unto I had read the book that has been called,

“The greatest allegory ever written” (gotQuestion.org)

 After I read the original version of this book I read a modern English version and the book had a wonderful effect on me and particularly on my understanding of the Christian life.

The central character of the book is a man named “Christian” who at the start of the book carries a great burden on his back which rolls off his back when he comes to the cross. He then is given gifts to aid him on his long and often difficult journey to what Bunyan calls “The Celestial City”.

On his long journey, he encounters opposition from a variety of sources like, Mr Worldly Wise, Obstinate, Atheist, Money – Love, Mistrust, Formalist, Sloth, Discretion etc. All of these opponents represent the kind of problems and difficulties and even enemies we all face as Christians as we journey towards heaven.

However as got Question. Org says,

“Christian experiences times of mortal danger, refreshment and blessing”.

 Psalm 137 is a Psalm that presents God’s people experiencing very difficult times caused by their many great sins bringing upon them God’s judgment in the form of a cruel and devastating overrunning and destruction of their homeland and particularly their precious city of Jerusalem and the loss of the Temple that sat there on the special hill called Zion. To make things even worse most of the people were forcefully taken into exile in far off Babylon for 70 years.

This Psalm seems to have beeen sung originally in Babylon as the writer and his fellow Jews sat on the shores of one of the great rivers of Babylon. There they had laid down their musical instruments and as they did they were asked by their cruel captives to play and sing one of the now famous songs of Zion.

The Psalm writer says they could not sing of the place they had been taken away from and then he vows to not forget Jerusalem.

He especially vows to not forget the special place of God’s presence on earth called Zion. We will learn that the goal of the Babylonians in taking people into exile was for the captive people to forget their national identity and assimilate into Babylonian mind set and way of living and worshipping.

The writer finishes with a prayer that God would judge his enemies as particularly the Prophets like Isaiah (Isaiah 13) foretells particularly verse 13 of Isaiah 13 that speaks of what I will call “Destruction of off- spring” that would mean the end of any succeeding Babylonian generations. I will discuss much further the New Testament implications of what many see as a tricky verse namely verse 9 and its desire for infants to be dashed against rocks.

How does Psalm 137 relate to us a Christians?

I will argue and pinpoint the “Pilgrim Progress” type application of this Psalm in that the New Testament does not present the Christian life as a “Rose Garden” or a life that means God will wrap us up in some kind of Spiritual cotton wool. On the contrary, I will follow and apply Paul’s view of suffering or difficulty in the Christian life that he states clearly in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And weboast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”.

 Christian in Pilgrims Progress encountered problems, difficulties and many enemies as he journeyed to the Celestial City – Heaven but with God’s help and by never taking his eye off the ultimate journeys destination he triumphed and eventually crossed over the great river – death to be welcomed with great wonderful fanfare into his eternal home.

In Psalm 137 the Jews looked back to Jerusalem and particularly Zion and vowed not to forget that special place of God’s presence. As Christian’s we look back to the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ who made it possible through his death on the cross for our sins to look forward to the ultimate place of God’s special presence the New Jerusalem, the heavenly Zion our eternal home with God forever.

With this in mind my outline for this Psalm talk is:

  1. (1 – 3)   LOOKING BACK WITH TEARS TO ZION
  1. (vs. 1) By the rivers of Babylon we wept
  2. (2 – 3) We could not sing of Zion

      2    (4 – 6)   LOOKING BACK TO ZION NOT FORGETTING GOD

  1. (vs. 4) How can we sing in a foreign land
  2. (5 – 5) Curse me if I forget God

      3    (7 – 9)    LOOKING FORWARD TO GOD’S JUDGMENT DAY

  1. (vs. 7) Looking forward to Edom’s day of Judgment
  2. (8 – 9) Looking forward to Babylon’s day of Judgment
  1. (1 – 3) LOOKING BACK WITH TEARS TO ZION
  1. (vs. 1) By the rivers of Babylon we wept

 When I started my study of this Psalm I remembered that one of my favourite singer song writers of the 1970’s Don Mclean wrote a short song based on the first verse of this Psalm and that song has not got out of my head for the last week or so, the first verses of Psalm 137 says,

“By the rivers of Babylon, we sat down and wept when we remembered Zion”.

 Don Mclean’s lyric reads like this:

“By the waters, the waters, the waters of Babylon

We lay down and wept, and wept, and wept, for thee Zion”.

 These simple striking words accompanied by Don Mclean’s haunting melody fills me with something of the kind of feeling of dread and sadness that those ancient Jews must have felt when they were cruelly and forcibly removed from their beloved homeland which they saw destroyed by their enemy The Babylonians and then they were made to settle in far off foreign land called Babylon.

As they sat down, probably for prayer and worship next to one of the many waterways of either the Tigris or Euphrates rivers they wept as they remembered where they had come from their treasured homeland and particularly the place their God dwelt in a special way on the Temple hill called Zion.

They gathered by the river because as Jews that was a place that at least some of their religious ceremonies could be conducted as H.C. Leopold points out,

“The presence of water facilitated the ceremonial ablutions which were also a mark of the Hebrew religion”

 It seems Paul could not find a Synagogue in Philippi so we read in Acts 16: 13 how Paul found some Jews gathered together for prayer,

“On the Sabbath, we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there”.

 The Jews who gathered by the river in Babylon did not do much prayer according to verse 1 of Psalm 137 as they were so overcome with grief they mainly wept as they remembered Zion.

According to the New Testament do Christians some- times have to suffer so much they are caused to cry?

My answer to this brings us to the shortest verse in the bible John 11: 35,

“Jesus wept”

 Why did Jesus weep or cry?

Jesus was emotionally effected by the outpouring of grief and loss by the family and friends of his good friend Lazarus even though he knew he would raise him from the dead he still wept in the company of the mourners outside the grave of Lazarus.

Jesus is also recorded as weeping or crying as he approached Jerusalem for the final time in his life in Luke 19: 41,

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it”

 Why did he weep when he saw Jerusalem?

Well verses 42 – 44 answer that,

  42 and said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace—but now it is hidden from your eyes.43 The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. 44 They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s coming to you.”

 If Jesus wept then it is sure we his followers will have times when our Christian life will lead us into a time of weeping and emotional pain.

I witnessed the death of my dear father nearly twelve years ago and for two days I simply was in a state of shock but as I travelled as a passenger in a car a piece of music playing at that time made me think of my Father and caused me to burst into uncontrollable weeping and when the car was stopped I was physically sick on the side of the road.

Even Christians will face grief when they lose a love one in this life and Jesus weeping outside of the grave of Lazarus tells us this is something that is both normal and even necessary.

So, the Christian life can and does lead us into problems and difficulties that might even cause us to weep or cry but as Christians Jesus does promise to be with us and with his help we can experience what David speaks of in Psalm 30: 11,

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy”.

 Jesus knows that we are like Christian in Pilgrims progress carrying many burdens but through his death on the cross he can offer these wonderful words of promise and help in Matthew 11: 28 – 30,

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

 The Jews in Babylon as they sat by one of the great rivers of Babylon wept as they looked back and remembered the special place of God’s presence on earth, Zion. We can look forward to a day that is coming for all who have faith in The Lord Jesus Christ when we will be fully in God’s presence in the heavenly Zion that Revelation 21: 3 – 4 speaks of this way,

“And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. 

They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

  1. (2 – 3) We could not sing of Zion

 It seems from the text of Psalm 137 that the ancient Hebrews who gathered probably for prayer and worship by one of the great waterways in Babylon were Levite musicians.

This is because in verses 2 and 3 the writer speaks of their musical instruments and singing which in the ancient Hebrew Temple worship services was led by Levitical musicians. As we see David set up in 1 Chronicles 15: 16,

 “David told the leaders of the Levites to appoint their fellow Levites as musicians to make a joyful sound with musical instruments: lyres, harps and cymbals”.

 Note how this verse says that these musical instruments which includes harps were to make a joyful sound but in Babylon as captives far away from the now destroyed Temple in Jerusalem these Levitical musicians could not play joyful music and verses 2 and 3 tells us what they did and why they could not play and sing the music they lived to play and sing,

“There on the poplars we hung our harps, for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, ‘Sing us one of the songs of Zion”.

 Joy was far from their hearts as we saw in verse 1, they were weeping or crying as they remembered Zion so far away and now in a terrible state of ruin. So, they hung their harps on Poplar trees that many commentators point out is similar to what we call weeping willow trees that grow close to water ways throughout many parts of the world even today.

Verse 3 tells us that some of their Babylonian overlords teased and goaded these Levite musicians and singers to sing one of their now famous joyful songs of Zion. This request would have added to the pain they felt and even in the face of what would have been intimidating circumstances they simply could not sing joyful songs of Zion.

I decided to try and write more verses to Don Mclean’s Babylon and my verses for these two verses is,

“Sing us a song of Zion our enemies called upon

How could we sing a song in a foreign land far from Zion?

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion”.

 Spurgeon pin- points the cruel nature of the request of their captors and indeed tormentors with these words,

“In this demand, there was an insult to their God as well as a mockery of themselves, and this made it the more intensely cruel. Nothing could have been more malicious, nothing more productive of grief”.

 Like Christian in Pilgrims Progress we also face ridicule and mockery from our enemies who despise our faith in God and in my country Australia the main difficulty we face as faithful Christians is in the form of social and emotional pressure. Many times, have I been made the object of peoples jokes as they see my faith in God as an odd and sometimes dangerous viewpoint that has long been disproved as myth and legend.

I take heart from two bible verses from the writings of Paul and the first is Paul’s advice to Timothy about persecution in 2 Timothy 3: 12,

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted”.

Then Pauls way of dealing with the persecution he faced in his day in 2 Corinthians 12: 10,

“That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

 When we face our tormentors, we need to trust as Paul did in Christ and he will help us not only to face the pain these people might cause us but even use their ridicule as an opportunity to show them that our God is real and is with us.

I like Paul’s advice to the Philippians in Philippians 2: 14 – 18 on how we should act in the presence of unbelievers,

“Do everything without grumbling or arguing, 15 so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.”Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky 16 as you hold firmly to the word of life. And then I will be able to boast on the day of Christ that I did not run or labour in vain. 17 But even if I am being poured out like a drink offering on the sacrifice and service coming from your faith, I am glad and rejoice with all of you. 18 So you too should be glad and rejoice with me”. 

      2    (4 – 6)   LOOKING BACK TO ZION NOT FORGETTING GOD

  1. (vs. 4) How can we sing in a foreign land

 The ancient Hebrews in Babylon had little to rejoice in but at least they could remember Zion or look back to Zion the place they knew their God had made himself known to them and ultimately to the world.

However, in their God ordained place of discipline, exile in Babylon, they could not sing joyful songs of the Lord as expressed by the question they asked in verse 4,

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

 When we are in the midst of some kind of painful trial it is hard for us to rejoice in the Lord or give him thanks as Paul calls us to do in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18,

“Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.

 This was made clear to me recently when I was recovering from a major operation on one of my kidneys. As I came out of surgery I was very sick and in a lot of pain and I remember thinking about how I could possibly be thanking God in such a state. However, I hung in on trusting the Lord in my difficult days of recovery and within a few days my health improved and apart from one week of an uncomfortable set back after my operation I believe God brought me through my physical trial.

This recent experience made me realise what Paul was saying at the end of the verse I quoted earlier, 2 Corinthians 12: 10,

“For when I am weak, then I am strong”.

 By being made so low in my physical state I had to look to God and he helped me in my weakness to become strong again.

Maybe the answer to the question posed by those ancient Hebrews of,

“How can we sing the songs of the Lord while in a foreign land?”

Lies in what they were doing in this Psalm by looking to God in the midst of their trial as David did in Psalm 30: 11 – 12 and in that finding the ability to sing in their hearts as God turned their wailing to dancing and their sackcloth to clothes of joy,

“You turned my wailing into dancing; you removed my sackcloth and clothed me with joy, that my heart may sing your praise and not be silent. Lord my God I will praise you forever”. 

  1. (5 – 5) Curse me if I forget God

 For now, there is no sign of joy in the heart of the writer of Psalm 137 but there is a steely resolve to not forget Jerusalem and of course the Lord. So, the faith of these downcast weeping Levite singers and musicians is still fixed on the God of the bible despite their terrible life situation.

Leopold calls verses 5 and 6 a,

“self-imprecation”

 An imprecation is a prayer for God’s judgement to come on one’s enemies as the last three verses are in this Psalm but a “self-imprecation” is a prayer for God’s judgment to come on the person praying if their terrible situation in Babylon causes them to turn away from the Lord and the place of his special presence on earth Zion in Jerusalem,

“If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy”.

 The curse the writer calls down on himself if he turns away from the Lord and his special place of his presence on earth Zion in Jerusalem is to do with the special gifts of music he had been given by God, namely his ability to play the harp and the ability to sing.

I can relate to the loosing of the ability to play an instrument as I have played the Ukulele for 49 years now and recently I was diagnosed with the first stages of Osteoarthritisin my hands and for a time this year I could not play the instrument I love to play without lots of pain. I have been trying to do some exercises and taking some pain medications which have helped me to be able to play again. However, the loosing of the ability to play for while caused me great stress and anxiety.

I have learnt to turn my anxiety into prayer as Paul teaches us in Philippians 4: 6 but the experience of going through this has helped me see what losing the ability to play an instrument after being able to do it could be like.

This gifted Levite harp player is saying that if he turns away from his commitment to the Lord and his Holy City of Jerusalem then God should take his wonderful gift of music away from him.

In verse 6 he extends this curse on himself to his ability to sing and Leupold rightly calls what he asks for,

“Paralysis of the vocal chords”

 I too have the gift of singing and to lose that as well I would find devastating. So, this Levite singer is determined not to fall to why the Babylonians took people into exile namely the reorientation of their captives to their way of thinking, living and worshipping.

A paper by a man named Obvious Vengeyi called “An Analysis of Babylonian / Empire Strategies from an African perspective” says this,

“All empires: ancient and modern (represented by Babylonian) were keen on disturbing the human factor qualities of the conquered peoples. They did so and continue to do so by imposing and promoting their cultures, languages, diets, world views and philosophies on conquered people. Using the theory of social death as propounded by Orlando Patterson (1982)”.

However, the determination shown by the writer of Psalm 137 as seen in verses 5 and 6 and most of his fellow Jewish captured countrymen did not allow for the Jewish faith and culture to die out or be assimilated into Babylonian culture and religious belief. In- fact the Jewish faith blossomed and got stronger during the 70 years of Babylonian captivity as seen by the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that record the successful return of the Jews to their God given homeland and the re-building of Jerusalem and the Temple there.

This is a lesson to us as Christians as well as we need to keep hold of our faith in The Lord Jesus Christ even in the face of adversity and strife. I have seen close friends of mine fall away from the faith when difficult times came their way.

Also, I equally know other close friends whose faith has been strengthened in the face of difficulty and strife as they looked to God and proved his never- failing help and support in their times of trial and difficulty.

We must realise like this ancient Levite realised that our highest place of joy is the Lord and his promise of heaven or as Christian in Pilgrim Progress put it our promised Celestial City. As a possible contemporary of this Levite, Nehemiah said in Nehemiah 8: 10,

“The joy of the Lord is your strength.”

Peter advises his readers now suffering persecution from the anti-Christian Roman authorities in 1 Peter 4: 12 – 13,

“Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you. 13 But rejoice inasmuch as you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed”.

 And Pauls says something similar to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 4: 16 – 18.

“Therefore, we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”.

 My extra verse to Don Mclean’s Babylon that covers these verses reads this way,

“If I forget you Jerusalem may I not be able to sing a song

May my tongue be stuck to the roof of my mouth so I cannot sing a song

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion.”

      3    (7 – 9)    LOOKING FORWARD TO GOD’S JUDGMENT DAY 

  1. (vs. 7) Looking forward to Edom’s day of Judgment

We come then to what many see as the tricky part of Psalm 137 the last three verses which are what is called an imprecatory prayer a prayer for God’s judgement to come on one’s enemies.

I have spoken about these kinds of prayers many times in my Psalm talks because it is in the book of Psalms that these types of prayers are prominent. The first time I came across an example of this type of prayer was in Psalm 5: 10 a Psalm of David and I have quoted myself below to explain my New Testament understanding of this type of prayer,

“There are many examples of imprecation in the Psalms and these Psalms are often called Imprecatory Psalms.

This raises the issue in my mind of whether we should pray that God will deal with his enemies the same way today. Jesus taught us to love our enemies and pray for them, Luke 6 : 27 – 29,

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic”.

 However, we also know from the teaching of Christ and the rest of the New Testament that God has appointed a day that all men will be judged, Acts 17: 31,

 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

This means that when we read David praying for God to deal with his enemies like he does here in Psalm 5 verse 10, who are also God’s enemies we should think of this in the context of the final judgment to come. Martin Luther pointed out that when we pray in the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Kingdom come”, we are praying for God’s Day of Judgment to come as well”.

So, we have in verses 7 – 9 another example of an imprecatory prayer a prayer for God’s judgement to come on one’s enemies.

The first prayer for God’s judgment to come on an enemy is for God’s judgment to come on the Edomite’s,

“Remember, Lord what the Edomite’s did on the day Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down, they cried, ‘tear it down to its foundations”.

 It is clear from a number of Old Testament references that Edom was somehow involved in the destruction of Jerusalem along with the Babylonians. We see this in a reference like Amos 1: 11,

“This is what the Lord says:“For three sins of Edom,even for four, I will not relent.
Because he pursued his brother with a sword and slaughtered the women of the land,
because his anger raged continuallyand his fury flamed unchecked”.

 Obadiah 8 – 16 speaks of God’s judgment coming on Edom for their involvement in the destruction of Jerusalem just as verse 7 of this verse does as well,

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, those of understanding in the mountains of Esau?Your warriors, Teman, will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter.10 Because of the

violence against your brother Jacob,you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.11 On the day you stood aloofwhile strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.
12 You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune,nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction,nor boast so muchin the day of their trouble.
13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster,nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster,nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.14 You should not wait at the crossroad to cut down their fugitives,nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.15 “The day of the Lord is near for all nations.
As you have done, it will be done to you;your deeds will return upon your own head.
16 Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually;they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been”.

 There are other mentions of the judgment of God coming upon Edom in the Old Testament prophets like Ezekiel 25: 12ff, 35: 2 and Isaiah 34: 5ff. Wikipedia says this about Edom’s involvement in the fall and destruction of Jerusalem,

“In the time of Nebuchadnezzar II the Edomite’s helped plunder Jerusalem and slaughter the Judeans.For this reason, the prophets denounced Edom violently”.

 Albert Barnes connects the remembering of Jerusalem and Zion with the evil deeds of the Edomite’s with these words,

“They would remember her (Jerusalem) former splendour; they would remember her desolations; they would go further – they would not forget those who had brought these calamities upon her; those who had done most for her overthrow. As among the most prominent, they would remember particularly the ancient; enemies of their nation – the Edomite’s – who had been among the most active in its destruction, and who had united with the Babylonians in the work of ruin. They would remember all this; and they prayed God that he also would remember the desolation itself, and all the actors in that work of desolation”.

 My extra verse to Don Mclean’s Babylon goes like this,

“Jerusalem is my place of joy unto my enemies seized upon

Remember Lord those Edomite’s and others who attacked Zion

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion”.

 What does verse 7 then have to say to us as Christians or followers of Christ our Lord?

I will quote directly now from Stephen J Coles excellent exposition of this Psalm as my answer to this important question, he writes,

“His prayer was not, “Give me an opportunity to get even with those scoundrels!” Rather it was, “Lord, you avenge the evil done to your people.” That is a significant difference. We see this difference in practice when we compare David’s imprecatory psalms with his personal actions. He often prayed that God would take action against his enemies. His passion for justice often caused him to be outraged when he heard of injustice and evil (2 Sam. 3:26-39; 4:1-12; 12:1-5). But when he had a chance to kill his personal enemies, such as Saul, he refused to do it.

 The imprecatory psalms are not rooted in a spirit of personal vengeance, but rather in a passionate desire for God to vindicate His people by judging the wicked.

 It is the same kind of righteous anger that would cause us to pray that a murderer or child molester be brought to justice”.

 I will add that Jesus gives us an even higher and more powerful way of praying for and dealing with our enemies and I will quote again Jesus words in Luke 6: 27 – 29 to illustrate this,

“But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic.”

 The idea in the New Testament is that we are all enemies of God as unforgiven sinners before we come to the Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and faith and so we are wonderful recipients of his love called grace in the New Testament which is the unmerited love of God.

This grace of God then should be our main drive in life even influencing how we treat our enemies and it will be the grace of God that will change this world for the better even for those who oppose us and the God we now trust in.

  1. (8 – 9) Looking forward to Babylon’s day of Judgment

We come finally to the Psalmists words of imprecatory prayer for who he calls in verse 3, captors and tormentors the Babylonians. These last two verses and particularly the last verse is a very controversial part of this Psalm.

These two verses read this way,

“Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is the one who repays you according to what you have done to us. Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks”.

In understanding these two verses we must understand three key factors:

  1. This prayer for God to judge the Jews Babylonian enemies comes from God’s Prophetic word about their judgment to come.
  2. 2. The Babylonians were ruthless, Godless and very cruel conquerors.
  3. The prayer is a request for God to repay the Babylonians for what they did to them.

Let me comment on each of these three key factors relating them to these two verses.

  1. This prayer for God to judge the Jews Babylonian enemies comes from God’s

Prophetic word about their judgment to come.

Isaiah speaks of God’s judgment on Babylon in both chapter 13 and 21 of his prophecy and a good verse that illustrates God’s judgment of Babylon in Isaiah 13: 9,

“See, the day of the Lord is coming – a cruel day, with wrath and fierce anger – to make the land desolate and destroy the sinners within it”.

 Isaiah like a number of prophets even picks up the terrible prophecy of the destruction of infants in Isaiah 13: 16,

“Their infants will be dashed to pieces before their eyes; their houses will be looted and their wives violated”.

 This killing of infants and violation of captured women was very common practice in the ancient world and was of course practiced ruthlessly by the Assyrians and Babylonians who both faced the judgment of God for their terrible sins against humanity.

  1. The Babylonians were ruthless, Godless and very cruel conquerors.

As I have just proposed the Babylonians like the Assyrians before them practiced a barbaric and cruel form of conquest and good description of the cruel conquest tactics of Assyrian and later Babylonians is in 2 Kings 8: 12,

“Why is my lord weeping?” asked Hazael.

 “Because I know the harm you will do to the Israelites,” he answered. “You will set fire to their fortified places, kill their young men with the sword, dash their little children to the ground, and rip open their pregnant women.”

 The title of “Daughter Babylon” in verse 8 Leupold says is,

“A collective personification of all her (Babylon’s) inhabitants”

 This means all of Babylon, men, women and children were implicit in their nations sins and cruelty and therefore under God’s Judgment as Isaiah predicts for Babylon in Isaiah 13: 11,

“I will punish the world for its evil, the wicked for their sins, I will put an end to the arrogance of the Haughty and will humble the pride of the ruthless”.

  1. The prayer is a request for God to repay the Babylonians for what they did to them.

I wont to highlight finally the key words of this imprecatory prayer or prayer for God’s judgment to come on God’s enemies in verse 8,

“Happy is the one who repays you (Babylon) according to what you have done to us”.

 Albert Barnes fleshes out both the meaning here and how God’s retribution was paid out on Babylon with these words,

“The idea is, who shall repay thee for thy treatment of us; or, as we should say in common language, “Who shall pay thee back?” That is, he will be esteemed a fortunate man who is made the instrument of inflicting deserved punishment on a city so guilty and so cruel. He will acquire fame and honour by doing it; his name will be made known abroad and perpetuated among people. In fact, the name of Cyrus, who conquered Babylon, is among the names of the most celebrated of conquerors; and the manner in which he took Babylon and overthrew the government and kingdom, has given him a most eminent place among successful princes and conquerors”.

To put it simply Babylon got what it deserved and even the terrible plight of the cruel and ruthless killing of their infants was only a pay- back for what they did to not only Israel but many other nations they over – ran as well.

How then do we as Christians interpret verse 9 of this Psalm and its statement about the horrible death of children?

I have come up with again three possible answers to this important question:

  1. God will judge sin and sinners
  2. Jesus loves children and wants them to come to him
  3. God’s love or grace leads us to love our enemies

Let me explain each of these three possible answers to the Christian interpretation of verse 9 of this Psalm.

  1. God will judge sin and sinners

All through the bible great warnings appear of a day of Judgment to come where God will not only judge sin but do away with it as well forever. Paul makes this clear in Athens when speaking to the top thinkers and philosophers of his day, Acts 17: 31,

“For he (God) has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead”.

 Jeremiah like many Old Testament prophets and New Testament prophecies speak of our sins or deeds being punished as he says in Jeremiah 21: 14,

“I will punish you as your deeds deserve, declares the Lord”.

 This is what the phrase in Psalm 137 verse 8 means when it says,

“according to what you have done to us”

 However, I want you to note that we are both not to judge or carry out in any way God’s judgment as some extreme Muslim followers do as Jesus says in Matthew 7: 1 – 5,

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.

“Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye”.

 This is also seen in Psalm 137 as the writer of that Psalm is not advocating he or other Israelites carry out God’s judgment but is speaking, I think of the ones God was going to ordain or use as his agents of judgment and of course in the case of the ancient Babylonians who conquered and destroyed Jerusalem this act of judgment was carried out by the Persians under the leadership of Cyrus.

  1. Jesus loves children and wants them to come to him

The last verse of Psalm 137 does raise in some modern people’s minds the question of does God judge innocent children?

When I have been asked this question in years past I have spoken about two key facts that the New Testament particularly gives us.

The first is that the God of the bible is the divine judge of everyone and is both a just and loving God.

I cannot speak on his behalf to say what he will do with very young children on the day of judgment but I can say that they like everyone will be in the hands of a just and loving God.

The second New Testament fact about God’s actual attitude to children is Jesus expressed attitude and even commands concerning children. We find this in a passage like Matthew 19: 13 – 15,

“Then people brought little children to Jesus for him to place his hands on them and pray for them. But the disciples rebuked them.

14 Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” 15 When he had placed his hands on them, he went on from there”.

 Jesus love for children is also expressed in Mark 9: 42 – 49 as something he feels strong about even in this life,

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. [44]  45 And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. [46] (47) And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell”.

So, when asked about the fate of children in the day of judgment I point to the clear stated attitude of The Lord Jesus to little children and say again they like all of us will face a just and loving God on that great day of judgment.

The ultimate answer to anyone facing judgment is the message of the Gospel which we should preach and teach people of all ages that is expressed so well in that famous verse John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

  1. God’s love or grace leads us to love our enemies

My final word on these last two verses of Psalm 137 is to state again that imprecatory prayer a prayer for God’s judgement to come on one’s enemies are not encouraged in the New Testament owing to Jesus words in the Gospels like Luke 6: 27 – 29,

“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back”.

 This advice of Jesus is because we are to treat our enemies as God treats us as we without the grace or undeserved love of God deserve his judgment for our sins. In another place in the Gospels, Matthew 5: 43 – 48, Jesus speaks of loving our enemies particularly those who persecute us and speaks of doing this as children of his Father in heaven who loves us,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect”.

 Finally, Paul makes it clear to the Corinthians that we are constrained, controlled or compelled by the love of God expressed by Jesus death on the cross for our sins in 2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 15,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

 My verse for extra verses for Don Mclean’s Babylon song for these last two goes like this,

“Remember Lord Babylon and repay it Lord for what it’s done

It lay siege to Jerusalem and attacked your Zion

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion.

 CONCLUSION

 Psalm 137 is both a beautiful Old Testament song and encouraging word from God about not giving up or turning away from God and his heaven when life’s troubles and difficulties might come upon us just as we read in the famous Christian allegory called, Pilgrim’s Progress.

I know that some people turn away from God and blame him for their problems and difficulties when they face them. Others I know find God’s help and assistance in the midst of their problems and difficulties and their faith is deepened and grows through that experience.

Will you not forget Zion when you are caused to weep in a Babylonian type place in your life?

Interestingly I did some study on the bibles significance of the Babylonian Empire and the best thing I read on this was the conclusion “Gotquestion.org” said on this and I will quote it directly now for your edification,

“In the Bible, Babylon is mentioned from Genesis to Revelation, as it rises from its rebellious beginnings to become a symbol of the Antichrist’s evil world system. When God’s people required discipline, God used the Babylonian Empire to accomplish it, but He limited Judah’s captivity to 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11). Then, God promised to “punish the king of Babylon and his nation” (Jeremiah 25:12) “for all the wrong they have done in Zion” (Jeremiah 51:24). Ultimately, all evil will be judged, as symbolized by Babylon’s demise in Revelation 18:21: “The great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again.”

 My last verse of Don Mclean’s “Babylon” song extended to five more verses reflects Revelations 18: 21 prophecy of the demise of Babylonian ant – God world system and attitude when Christ returns,

“One day the Lord will destroy the forces of Babylon

The Lord Jesus will come, will come and establish Zion

We look forward, we look forward, we look forward to Zion”.

 I close with the full Don Mclean extended song of Babylon and a final word of prayer,

BABYLON

(Based on Psalm 137 and Don Maclean’s Babylon)

By the waters, the waters of Babylon

We lay down and wept, and wept, for thee Zion,

We remember we, remember we, remember thee Zion.

 

Sing us a song of Zion our enemies called upon

How could we sing a song in a foreign land far from Zion?

We remember we, remember we, remember thee Zion.

 

If I forget you Jerusalem may I not be able to sing a song

May my tongue be stuck to the roof of my mouth so I cannot sing a song.

For we remember we, remember we, remember thee Zion.

 

Jerusalem is my place of joy unto my enemies seized upon

Remember Lord those Edomite’s and others who attacked Zion

We remember we, remember we, remember thee Zion.

 

Remember Lord Babylon and repay it Lord for what it’s done

It lay siege to Jerusalem and attacked your Zion

We remember, we remember, we remember thee Zion.

 

One day the Lord will destroy the evil forces of Babylon

The Jesus will come, will come and establish Zion

We look forward, we look forward, we look forward to Zion.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Father in heaven I pray for your help to keep my eyes fixed on you and your wonderful promise of eternal life with you in heaven even in the dark and difficult times in my life. Help me to always remember your Son who died for my sins on the cross and made a way for me to travel in this life to heaven above. Thank you, Jesus, that you promise to always be with me helping me to carry my load and guide me through to the joy of knowing you now and for ever more. In Jesus name I pray this, Amen

PSALM 136 TALK: THE GOD OF ENDURING LOVE

PSALM 136 TALK:  THE GOD OF ENDURING LOVE

(A Psalm or ancient Hebrew worship song or hymn that appears to be an Old Testament form of liturgy in that one group or person makes a statement and another group of people respond with a continual refrain that thanks God for being a God of enduring love).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

I have read of many stories of people lost in the darkness of sin and despair turning in prayer to God for help and finding a God who loves them despite the wretched state of their lives. In this Psalm talk I will refer to the famous conversion story of the 18th century former slave trader who became an Anglican church minister whose name is John Newton.

I love John Newton’s story for a number of reasons and one is the hymn he later composed when he was the minister in a church in a small English village called Olney. The hymn is of course “Amazing Grace” in which Newton calls himself a wretch.

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found
Was blind, but now I see.

The book of Psalms contains Psalms that are obviously designed as congregational corporate prayers and hymns designed to be read or sung Antiphonally or in a responsive manner. Psalm 136 is an excellent example of such a Psalm. It has the first part of a verse that is a reason to thank God for something specific followed by a set refrain that says,

“His love endures forever”

This specific response in this Psalm speaks of the kind of love John Newton discovered when he called out to God in the midst of a terrifying storm. He prayed something like God if you are really there to save me. The God of the bible is there and wants to save all sinners who turn to him and his Amazing enduring love.

Interestingly this congregational response in an act of worship recorded three times in the history of Israel, God’s ancient chosen people. The first is during the time of dedication of the Temple during the reign of King Solomon recorded in 2 Chronicles 7: verses 3 and 7 in the 10th century B.C.

Two hundred years later in the reign of King Jehoshaphat in the southern Kingdom of Judah we have another record of this refrain,

“His love endures forever”

This time it is part of the song Jehoshaphat appointed singers to sing as they led the army of Judah into battle agains the combined attacking armies of Moabites, Ammonites and Meunites. That day God fought ahead of this army and these attacking armies were routed and turned away from Jerusalem.

Then around four hundred years later we find this same refrain sung again and this time the refrain is sung at the celebration of the laying of the foundation stone of the re-building of the Temple in Jerusalem recorded in Ezra 3: 11.

So, God’s enduring undeserved love is celebrated at least three times over a 600-year period and it seems that around the time of Ezra this well -known congregational response to acts of God’s goodness and love became the Psalm we now call, Psalm 136.

It is believed that the first part of each verse of this Psalm was spoken or sung by a priest in the Old Testament Temple and the refrain was said or sung by the entire congregation present at that worship service. This makes Psalm 136 not only unique but I believe a powerful statement of the central theme of the entire bible, namely the enduring love of the God of the bible.

Only the Jewish – Christian religion presents their God as a God of enduring love and for the Christian the central message of God’s enduring love is summed up in one famous verse, John 3: 16,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

It has been said that only the Christian faith and message is not based on what we do for God to get into his favour but is simple based on what God has done for us. The fact both the Old and New Testaments presents the God of heaven and earth as a loving saving God and Psalm 136 does this not only in its refrain but in all it says from its beginning to its end.

Psalm 136 calls on us to constantly and regularly thank God for his powerful saving enduring love. Paul made it clear to the Thessalonians in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18 to praise and give thanks to God always and that this is God’s will for us in Christ Jesus,

“Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.

With the enduring love of God and the call to give thanks to God in all circumstances in mind my outline for this Psalm talk is:

1. (1 – 3) THANK GOD FOR HIS GOODNESS

1. (vs. 1) The God of goodness and love
2. (2 – 3) The God of God’s

2 (4 – 7) THANK GOD FOR HIS CREATIVE POWERS

1. (4 – 5) The creative wise God
2. (6 – 9) The God who made the world

3 (10 – 15) THANK GOD FOR HIS REDEMPTION

1. (10 – 12) The God who saved Israel out of slavery
2. (13 – 15) The God who saved Israel but judged Egypt

4 (vs. 16) THANK GOD FOR HIS GUIDANCE

5. (17 – 22) THANK GOD FOR FIGHTING FOR US

1. (17 – 20) The God who fought off two kings
2. (21 – 22) The God who gave Israel its inheritance

6. (23 – 26) THANK GOD FOR LOOKING AFTER US

1. (23 – 25) The God who helps us and provides for us
2. (vs. 26) Thank the great God of Heaven

Let’s then have a close look at this Psalm with theses headings:

1. (1 – 3) THANK GOD FOR HIS GOODNESS

1. (vs. 1) The God of goodness and love

The opening line of this Psalm 136 is the first call for thanks or praise of the God of heaven and earth. The God we only know because he has made himself known through the events of history when he got involved in it recorded for us in the pages of what we call the bible.

These words, we believe were spoken loudly by a chosen priest in the Temple worship service in Jerusalem in ancient Israel.

The topic of this opening reason for praising or thanking God is The Goodness of God expressed like this,

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good”.

Many times, in the book of Psalms we have read of the goodness of God and in the previous Psalm, Psalm 135 we read in verse 3a,

“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good”

I stated in my Psalm talk for Psalm 135 and this verse that the Goodness of God is,

“Mentioned in at least five other Psalms, Psalm 25: 8, 34: 8, 73: 1, 86: 5 and 100: 5″.

In Psalm 34: 8 David issues us a challenge that says,

“Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him”.

In my Psalm talk for Psalm 34 and this verse I commented this way on the concept of “Tasting” the goodness of God,

“David wants his listeners to experience for themselves what God can do for them. Many non-Christians say to Christians I will not believe unto I can see for myself that God is true and real. The answer to this is why not take God at his word and see for yourself. I remember when I was a teenager attending church fellowship groups I heard a number of times an older leader challenging us after he had presented the Gospel message to pray a simple prayer like, “God if your there please reveal yourself me” and then he said now sit down in a quiet place and read Johns Gospel. I think he had copies of Johns Gospel in a simple plain English version to give to anyone who was willing to take on his challenge. He had the “Taste and See” approach to evangelism.

David like that fellowship leader had great confidence in God’s willingness to reveal himself as he writes,

“Blessed (happy) is the man who takes refuge in him”.

This taste and see form or challenge is not unique to David as Jesus himself uses it to his listeners when he says in Matthew 7: 7 – 8,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 8 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened”.

I have heard the testimonies of many Christians asking God if you are their reveal yourself and as I said in my introduction one is the famous testimony of the 18th century slave Trader John Newton who lived a debouched life but one night was tied to the wheel of his ship by his crew during a powerful storm and in desperation he cried out to God if you’re their save me.

John Newton was saved that night and went on to discover the love and goodness of God and write the famous hymn, Amazing Grace which the first verses says,

“Amazing Grace how sweet the sound
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now I’m found
Was blind but now I see.”

The response or refrain we will see is not a set of mindless words that has no connection to each statement for giving thanks to the God of the Bible and I will show how this refrain relates to each of the statements for giving thanks to God in this Psalm.

So, the refrain says,

“His love endures forever”

You see the goodness of God to us not something we deserve or could ever earn it comes only because the God who is good to us is an enduring God of love. He saved John Newton not because he deserved to be saved but as John Newton wrote it was because of God’s amazing grace that a wretch like him was saved and received the goodness of God.

Paul says in Ephesians 2: 8 – 9,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast”.

The goodness of God which is the grace or undeserved love of God is the first reason Psalm 136 suggests as a reason for thanking God.

2.  (2 – 3) The God of God’s

Again, like the previous Psalm, Psalm 136 the supremacy of the God of the bible over all other God alternatives is presented in the two phrases,

“Give thanks to the God of God’s” (vs. 2)

And

“Give thanks to the Lord of Lords”. (vs. 3)

These statements of reasons for thanks are similar to verse 5 of Psalm 135 that says,

“I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods”.

I will now give you what I said about verse 5 of Psalm 135 which I think is also an excellent commentary on verses 2 and 3 of this Psalm 136,

“This verse is not saying there are other God’s as we will see in verses 15 – 18, the supposed other God’s represented by the great idols people made of them are nothing but false and unreal.

However, the God of the bible is very real and very great and our writer probably has Exodus 18: 11 in mind here that simply says,

“Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

These words were spoken by Moses after the God of the bible had defeated the supposed God’s of Egypt and in the end a whole army inspired by these gods was destroyed when they sought enter the red sea or sea of reeds to pursue and destroy God chosen people, Israel. Interestingly God used forces in nature to destroy this non -God of the bible opponents.

Today we face a society aggressively running away from the God of the bible and turning to other ways of thinking about the origins of life and the great questions of why we exist and how they should live. Paul tells us in Romans 1: 21 – 25

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.
24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen”.

Paul is saying here that mankind is actively and collectively turned away from God to some other form of God or God’s and in Pauls day these were represented by idols. Today these idols are not usually images made to look like human beings or animals but are things like money, fame, self-glory or even other religions that have as part of their philosophy the denial of the truth of the God of the bible.

Even in the Christian church today we have influential so-called leaders denying the truth of the bible and offering an alternative way of thinking about it. Paul warned Timothy of such preachers and teachers rising up even in the early church in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 5,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.
4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

So, we promote and praise the God of the bible like Paul encouraged Timothy to do proclaiming how our God is “Great” and no other so- called god alternative is as great or greater than him”.

The New Testament presents The Lord Jesus Christ as God become flesh and he is spoken about in the book of Revelations, like Revelations 19: 16 as the,

“King of Kings and Lord of Lord’s”.

We are then, to give thanks to God of God’s and Lord of Lords or king of kings and the peoples response to that was again,

“His love endures forever”

Israel only knew this great one true God because he chose to reveal himself to them and in revealing himself to them he set up an agreement with them which we call the covenant of love. This covenant of love started with the great patriarch Abraham but became clear in the renewed covenant of love made to Abrahams descendants through Moses on mount Sinai.

This covenant of love is expressed in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 9,

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. 8 But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt. 9 Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments”.

This covenant of love was fulfilled and transformed by the coming of God’s Son Jesus Christ as Hebrews 9: 15 clearly states,

“For this reason, Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

So, we thank God for his enduring love expressed in the fact that God is the one and only God who chose to save us through the death and resurrection of his only Son who is God with him and the Holy Spirit one God a great God of enduring love.

The apostle John later we believe in his ministry and life spoke of the enduring love of God as our motivation to both love God and one another in one of his three letters to churches he cared for and we read these amazing words about love and God in 1 John 4: 7 – 12,

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. 8 Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us”

2 (4 – 7) THANK GOD FOR HIS CREATIVE POWERS

1. (4 – 5) The creative wise God

We have already seen that Psalm 136 follows a similar pattern of teaching to the previous Psalm, Psalm 135 and this next little section and the one that follows it is another example of this. For verses 4 – 5 looks at the creative abilities and evidences of the great God of the bible followed by the redemptive activities of the God of the bible in verses 10 – 15 similar to that same pattern in Psalm 135 as a reason for thanks and praise of our God.

In verses four and five the creative activities of the God of the bible is spoken about as showing God’s great wondrous nature and also his wisdom as we read these words again spoken more than likely by a leading priest in the Temple,

“To him who alone does great wonders” (verse 4)

And verse 5,

“Who by his understanding made the heavens”.

Allan Harmon writes,

“Creation is the fruit of many wonders that God performed”.

Today the majority of people believe that our wondrous or amazing world and universe came about by an accident of nature. Let me ask you can you accept that the intricate, complex and perfect design of our genes points to its creation as an accident?

I believe modern science has only pushed us further towards concluding that some kind of designer lies behind the wonderful designs and beauty of nature. Many modern scientists say that out of the chaos of the big bang came eventually the order and beauty of nature as we know it.

May I suggest that this view requires a bigger leap of faith to believe than the belief in a wondrous and great almighty God as the creator and designer of the world and our universe.

There are eminent scientists who believe in a God and still practice good sound scientific study and they do not believe that modern science proves the non- existence of a God but sadly many people today blindly accept this as fact.

Psalm 72 verses 18 and 19 express well marvellous or wondrous deeds in creation that deserves our thanks and praise,

“Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel, who alone does marvellous deeds. Praise be to his glorious name forever; may the whole earth be filled with his glory, Amen and Amen.

The whole earth is filled with God’s glory as we admire God’s handiwork in this world and the universe.

So how did God do it?

According to verse 5 of Psalm 136, he did it by his understanding which could be translated as wisdom,

“Who by his understanding made the heavens”. (vs. 5)
This verse seems to be a summary of what we read in Proverbs 3: 19 – 20,

“By wisdom the Lord laid the earth’s foundations, by understanding he set the heavens in place; 20 by his knowledge the watery depths were divided, and the clouds let drop the dew”.

From the amazing and great intelligence of our God came the creation of the world and the universe. God is almighty, powerful and the highest of any intelligence in the entire universe and John tells us at the start of his Gospel that God’s creative intelligence lies in his Son called in this passage “The word”, John 1: 1 – 5,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning. 3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.

John goes on to say in verse 14 that this great word or God became flesh in the form of the Lord Jesus Christ,

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

So, we can thank God for his wondrous and intelligent nature seen in the creation of this world and the universe through his only Son Jesus Christ and join in the refrain the people of God in ancient Israel responded with that says,

“His love endures forever”

God is a God of enduring love made evident every day of our lives by the wonder and beauty of nature. I live in the midst of a beautiful expression of the God of nature, the Blue Mountains west of Sydney Australia and there is not a day that goes by that I don’t marvel at the great enduring God seen in the natural beauty that surround my home.

Paul makes a clear statement about the role Jesus Christ played in the creation of the world and his enduring love for us for not only did he made a beautiful creation but he also continues to makes beautiful re-creations, his church all the company of all true believers that was made possible by his great act of enduring love on the cross for the forgiveness of our many sins as we read in Colossians 1: 15 – 20,

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy.19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”.

2. (6 – 9) The God who made the world

Our writer of Psalm 136 then goes on to spell out a bit more of the actual creation God’s wonder and wisdom actually made as further reasons for thanks and praise, he writes in verses 6 – 9,

“Who spread out the earth upon the waters” (vs. 6)

“Who made the great lights” (vs. 7)

“The sun to govern the day, (vs. 8)

And “The moon and stars to govern the night”, (vs 9).

These three verses “echoes” Alan Harman says the words of Genesis 1: 6 – 8 is telling us,

“And God said, “Let there be a vault between the waters to separate water from water.” 7 So God made the vault and separated the water under the vault from the water above it. And it was so. 8 God called the vault “sky.” And there was evening, and there was morning—the second day”.

Spurgeon comments aptly on God’s creation of the great lights of day and night with these words,

“This also is a creating miracle worthy of our loudest thanks. What could men have done without light? Though they had the heavens above them, and dry land to move upon, yet what could they see, and where could they go without light? Thanks be to the Lord, who has not consigned us to darkness. In great mercy, he has not left us to an uncertain, indistinct light, floating about fitfully, and without order; but he has concentrated light upon two grand luminaries, which, as far as we are concerned, are to us “great lights.”

Again, the great refrain of the ancient Hebrew congregation responds to this with the words,

“His love endures forever”.

God’s great enduring love is again proclaimed as a word of thanks and praise for his creation of this world and particularly his provision of light. Not only should we thank God for his enduring love for us expressed in his creation of natural light but also for his provision of spiritual light for because of our many sins we are naturally in the dark about God but John tells us in John 3: 19 – 21 both what God has done about our spiritual darkness and how we should respond to it,

“This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God”.

We must accept the gift of God’s enduring love of light given to us freely by God through the Lord Jesus Christ because if we turn away from this great gift of light we are condemned to live in spiritual darkness.

3 (10 – 15) THANK GOD FOR HIS REDEMPTION

1. (10 – 12) The God who saved Israel out of slavery

As I said before Psalm 136 follows a similar pattern to the previous Psalm 135 and here is another example of this with the source or God’s acts and deeds of creation followed by his acts of great redemption for his people as a source for great thanks and praise. It was the enduring love of God that led him to free and save his people from slavery in Egypt.

So, we read of this as a source of thanks and praise with these words, again spoken or sung by a leading priest in the Temple worship service,

“To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt” (vs. 10)

“And brought Israel out from among them” (vs. 11)

And vs. 12, “With a mighty hand and outstretched arm”.

In Psalm 135 verse 8 the striking down of the first born of Egypt is spoken of in verse 8 and again I will quote directly from my Psalm 135 on this,

“The God of the bible is not a God in exile or inactivity he did not create the world and the universe and then remove himself from it. The fact I believe he is actively involved in our world even today leading people to redemption or salvation.

In ancient Hebrew times the proof that the God of the bible was involved in their world in acts of redemption was through his saving of his people out of slavery in Egypt which the writer of Psalm 135 reminds his readers of in verses 8 and 9,

“He stuck down the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of people and animals. He sent signs and wonders into your midst, Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants”.

I have seen in many Psalms the story of the Exodus used in many ways on many occasions and here it seems to be used to reveal that Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to turn to the one true living God. After many signs and wonders that the God of the Bible revealed to Pharaoh only hardened his heart against the God of the bible. Ultimately God judged Pharaoh and he lost the life of his beloved first born son.

Over and over again in the story of the Exodus is used in the book of Psalms to remind the people of God that the God of the bible is a saving God of love but also a God of Judgement for those who seek to oppose him and his chosen people.

There is no better example of the principle of salvation for God’s people and judgment of those who oppose God and his people than Psalm 81: 5 – 7,

“When God went out against Egypt, he established it as a statute for Joseph. I heard an unknown voice say: 6 “I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket. 7 In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thunder cloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah”.

Then again and even more clearly in Psalm 106: 7 – 11,

“When our ancestors were in Egypt, they gave no thought to your miracles; they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
8 Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known. 9 He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up; he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries; not one of them survived”.

So, God’s great saving hand in the Exodus is referred to in the book of Psalms and in the books of Old Testament prophecies as a concrete example of the Saving Power of the God of the bible”.

Here in Psalm 136 God’s saving outstretched arm is proof of his enduring love God for his people, Israel. This outstretched arm judged Pharaoh and the false God’s he and his people believed in and sought to overcome Israel and their God the one true God of the bibles.

So, God saved Israel out of Egypt just as The Lord Jesus Christ through his death on the cross saved us from the slavery of sin and death. So, like the ancient Hebrews of old we can respond with the same refrain they sang in response to the message of God saving Israel out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt with the words,

“His love endures forever”

The New Testament sees a clear connection between the act of God’s enduring love in the Exodus story and the act of enduring love of The Lord Jesus Christ sacrificing himself on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins as we see from a passage like 1 Peter 1: 18 – 19,

“For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, 19 but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect”.

And Pauls words in 1 Corinthians 5: 7,

“Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed”.

John the Baptist saw clearly this amazing connection of Jesus and the passover when he called Jesus this in John 1: 29,

“Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.

We have great cause and reason to thank and praise God because of his enduring love shown to us in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ which is our hope for our salvation as Paul speaks of in Romans 15: 13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

2. (13 – 15) The God who saved Israel but judged Egypt

This remarkable story of the redemption or salvation of the people of Israel out of the bondage of slavery in Egypt continues in the next three verses where the salvation of the people of Israel co- insides with the judgement of God on Pharaoh and his non – God of the bible driven army.

We read these grounds for thanks and praise in verses 13,

“To him who divided the Red Sea asunder”

And verses 14,

“And brought Israel through the midst of it,

And finally verse 15,

“But swept Pharaoh and his army into the red sea”.

The story of the Exodus makes clear that Pharaoh after letting the people go had a change of heart and decided to hastily form an army to pursue and destroy the people of Israel.
Pharaoh would have thought he had the people of Israel trapped on the shores of the red sea and all had to do was ride in on his chariots and hack to death the people responsible for the death of his first- born son.

Even the people of Israel felt they were trapped and doomed on the shores of the red sea because we read this in Exodus 14: 10 – 12,

“As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the Lord. 11 They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? 12 Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”.

However, as verse 13 of Psalm 136 says God divided the red sea asunder and the people were able to cross in safety. When Pharaoh arrived he decided, foolishly to follow the Israelites into the divided sea and he discovered to his horror that God brought Israel through the midst of the sea, safely as verse 14 of Psalm 136.

However, just as God saved Israel he judged Pharaoh and his non – God of the bible believing army and as verse 15 states,

“But swept Pharaoh and his army into the red sea”.

I mentioned earlier the words of John 3 that spoke of God sending his light, Jesus Christ into the world and just before that in verses 17 – 18 we read these words about how the salvation and judgment of God actually works,

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son”.

Pharaoh and his fellow Egyptian soldiers refused to believe in the God of the Bible even after the many signs and wonders they had witnessed including now the opening of a sea and their stubborn closed minded sinful hearts led to their destruction at the hands of the God they opposed.

This again was wonderful grounds for thanks and praise and so the ancient worshipping congregation says or sings the refrain again that says,

“His love endures forever”

They realised yet again that their ancestors were saved only because their God is a God of enduring love and for that they are full of praise and thanks.

As Christians, we are reminded over and over again through the communion service that Jesus instituted that we are only saved through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ an even greater expression of the enduring love of God. As Paul sets down to the Corinthians in 1 Corinthians 11: 23 – 26,

“For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said,
“This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.
” 25 In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes”.

Paul made it clear in many places that we are saved only in and through the giving of Jesus in his death and resurrection and that this was God’s great act of love and salvation for us as Paul speaks of in Galatians 2: 20,

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me”.

This then is central to our continual thanks and praise.

John Newton expressed this central concept of enduring love he called in his hymn “Amazing Grace” and in his second verse of that hymn he says this,

“Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved;
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed”.

4. (vs. 16) THANK GOD FOR HIS GUIDANCE

Most of the commentaries I read on this Psalm 136 made verse 16 a separate topic for the bases of our thanks and praise and I agree with this as verse 16 says,

“To him who led his people through the wilderness”.

This verse speaks of thanking God for the guidance of his people Israel in the wilderness period. We will see in the next section that this guidance included God’s fighting for his people against large and aggressive enemies during the wilderness period of around 40 years.

However, this verse is probably a direct reference to the miraculous way God led his people as expressed in Exodus 13: 21 – 22,

“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. 22 Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people”.

Once the people of the wilderness entered the promised land God stopped this very miraculous form of guidance but he still guided them through the conquest of Canaan and beyond with the Ark of the Covenant going before them.

I once read an article about the word Guidance that our English word Guidance is made up of two parts, 1. Guide and 2. Dance and that this is a picture of how God wants us to be guided in our lives.

We are to look to God for Guidance he promises to Guide us and we are to live our lives believing he is guiding us as we look to him which is like dancing. In ballroom dancing it is the male partner who leads and the female who follows and in the dance of the Christian life it is God who leads and it is us who follow that lead as Proverbs 3: 5 – 6 states,

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight”.

The Ancient Israel worshipping congregation on hearing of how God guided the Israelites through the wilderness respond with that refrain again that says,

“His love endures forever”

God chooses to guide us because he is a God of enduring love and this is yet again wonderful grounds for our thanks and praise. I like Spurgeon’s comments on this when he says,

“Their faithfulness soon failed, but his did not: the fiery, cloudy pillar which never ceased to lead the van was the visible proof of his immutable love”,

In the New Testament we, if we truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ are led by his Holy Spirit as Paul speaks so clearly of in Romans 8: 14 – 17,

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. 15 The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. 17 Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory”.

James gives us practical advice of guidance in James 1: 5 – 6 when he says,

If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”.

Personally, I have claimed this verse in the midst of difficult times or times when I felt I did not understand what God wanted me to do or say and I can testify to the fact that in some way or another God always answered my prayer for wisdom and guidance and I have found yet again the love and guidance God has for my life.

God does guide us and this is not because we deserve or earn that blessing but again it is given to us because God is a God of unmerited enduring love. For this also I give God the thanks and praise he deserves.

5. (17 – 22) THANK GOD FOR FIGHTING FOR US

1. (17 – 20) The God who fought off two kings

In verses 17 – 20 two important illustrations of the enduring love of God are stated which are part of the previous point of God guiding his people through the wilderness period. These two illustrations of God’s enduring love and guidance are of the two kings and their nation’s attempt to stop and destroy the people of Israel in their long journey to God’s Promise land of Canaan.

We read of God fighting for Israel against the two kings this way,

“To him who struck down great kings” (vs. 17)

and vs, 18, “And killed mighty kings”

Then vs. 19 and 20 these kings are named,

“Sihon king of the Amorites”

“And “Og king of Basham”.

Albert Barnes explains the significance and application of these verses with these words,

“The idea in the whole passage, in view of the divine interposition in slaying the mighty kings, and in giving their land for a possession to the Hebrew people, is, that it was a proof of mercy and benevolence. It is benevolence to mankind and to the church of God – it is in the interests of humanity, of domestic peace, and of the charities of life, to remove wicked people from the world”.

Of course, wicked people being removed from the earth is never fully done in this present age but in the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ as judge rather than as Saviour we will see the total over- throw of all evil and wickedness as we see from a passage like Revelation 20: 11 – 15,

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire”.

However, God does judge evil from time to time in this life especially when evil attempts to bring down his church or people like we see in the case of the people of Israel in the wilderness opposed by powerful evil nations led by their non -God of the bible believing Kings.

In the New Testament, I like Pauls prayer in 2 Thessalonians 3: 1 – 5, here Paul wants his readers to pray for him particularly because of the opposition by wicked people to his preaching the Gospel message and also for his Thessalonian brothers and sisters who like him are caught up in the fight or battle against the evil one (the devil) as they live the faithful Christian life.

“As for other matters, brothers and sisters, pray for us that the message of the Lord may spread rapidly and be honoured, just as it was with you. 2 And pray that we may be delivered from wicked and evil people, for not everyone has faith. 3 But the Lord is faithful, and he will strengthen you and protect you from the evil one. 4 We have confidence in the Lord that you are doing and will continue to do the things we command. 5 May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance”.

Not how Paul sees in this pray that the Lord does fight for us or helps us fight the battles we all face against the evil forces of this world and the spiritual world as Paul sets down in Ephesians 6: 12,

“For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

As with other wonderful examples of God’s help and blessing expressed in this Psalm the people or the worshipping congregation respond with the now familiar refrain,

“His love endures forever”.

God fighting for his faithful people is yet another example of the enduring love of God in action. The God of the bible is not just a theory or hope but an active living God of love.
Paul proved over and over again that faith in the Lord Jesus Christ does connect us to God and his loving assistance and no better illustration of this is his words in Romans 8: 37 – 39,

“No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”.

John Newton expresses his conviction of the enduring love of God he calls “God’s grace” has and will help him in the rough and tumble of this life in his third verse of his hymn that says,

“Through many dangers, toils and snares,
I have already come;
Tis grace hath brought me safe thus far,
And grace will lead me home”.

2. (21 – 22) The God who gave Israel its inheritance

The writer of Psalm 136 then moves from thanking God for his enduring love expressed in his loving help for the ancient people of Israel in their wilderness journeys to the actual provision and possession of the promised land for them.

The next two verses, verses 21 and 22 express this great gift of God for his chosen people,

First, we have verses 21,

“And gave their land as an inheritance.

And verse 22,

“An inheritance to his servant Israel”.

The first portion of the promised land given to Israel was the Transjordan area that the defeated King of the Amorites and Bashan controlled these were given to the tribes of Gad, Reuben and half the tribe of Manasseh. This land and the larger land called Canaan is known as the Promised Land as way back it was promised to Abraham and his descendants in Genesis 15: 18 – 21,

“On that day the Lord made a covenant with Abram and said, “To your descendants I give this land, from the Wadi of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates— 19 the land of the Kenites,Kenizzites, Kadmonites, Hittites, Perizzites, Rephaites, 21 Amorites, Canaanites, Girgashites and Jebusites.”

In verses 16 God tells Abraham that this land would not be taken away from these people unto their sinfulness had reached its full measure which means unto their sinfulness was so bad God would judge them and take their land away from them and give it to Abrahams descendants,

“In the fourth generation, your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”

God being God knows everything and he knew at the time of Abraham that the sinfulness of the people of the Transjordan and Canaan in the future would reach an unacceptable level and his judgment would fall upon them at the hands of his chosen people who would through God’s enduring love give them this land as a kind of inheritance.

We don’t get inheritance’s because we deserve them but they are given to us in this life because we are the next generation that rightfully can claim them. God’s inheritance of the Land of Israel was not given to Israel because Israel deserved it but it came from the hand of the God of enduring love.

So, the right response of the worshipping congregation is made in the refrain,

“His love endures forever”

The ancient Hebrew congregation is acknowledging that the land they now lived in only came to be theirs because God chose to give it to them out of his enduring and undeserved love.

As Christians, we have a far greater gift of inheritance than a patch of earth to live on as Peter declares in 1 Peter 1: 3 – 5,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy, he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4 and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,5 who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time”.

Note how Peter says that this eternal inheritance is given to us out of God’s great mercy and therefore we could never say or claim we deserve the gift of eternal life with God in heaven as we only have it because of God’s enduring love. John Newton claimed that this enduring love of God was his Amazing Grace and in his hymn of that title the last verse speaks of the gift of God’s eternal life in heaven coming from God’s Amazing grace with these words,

“When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun.
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we’d first begun.

6. (23 – 26) THANK GOD FOR LOOKING AFTER US

1. (23 – 25) The God who helps us and provides for us

In the final four verses the things the writer of Psalm 136 speaks of for thanking God for which he gives freely to us out of his enduring love are more general in nature than the previous verses as they dealt directly with the ancient Israelites.

In verses 23 – 25 we have things to thank God for that relate to what I call God’s promise to look after us in this life.

Verse 23 says,

“He remembered us in our low estate”.

All we have seen so far falls under this general concept of God remembering or helping his people when they needed held and needed it badly or they were in a low estate or in a bad way.

They were in a low estate when they were led by God out of slavery in Egypt and when they faced the Egyptian army coming at them with their backs to the red sea. They were in a low estate when far more powerful kings opposed them in the wilderness. Even as they entered the Promised Land they were in a low estate compared to the numerous powerful Canaanite nations living there.

However, the God of enduring love made the difference between their lowly estate and as verse 23 declares,

“And freed us from our enemies”

Stephen J. Cole makes an insightful spiritual application for us in these words,

“The biggest hindrance to salvation is the notion that you can do something to save yourself. If you think that you are good enough or that you deserve salvation, you don’t get it. Only God can save you from your sins and He does it apart from anything that you can do. You must simply receive it as His gift by faith”.

Israel only had victory over their enemies because the God of enduring love chose to fight for them. On some occasions in the Old Testament Israel went out to battle trusting in their own abilities to save themselves but they were soundly defeated like King Saul towards the end of his reign and life against the powerful Philistine forces he fought against and lost badly. David however trusted in the God of enduring love and God gave him victory over the powerful Philistines.

Paul makes the point that our salvation from sin and death is only made possible by God alone and it is by God’s enduring love he calls grace that we are saved by and that has nothing to do with our good works, Ephesians 2: 8 – 9,

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast”.

Humility lies at the heart of the Gospel and this humility or total reliance on God extends as far as our daily needs of food and water as the writer of Psalm 136 speaks of in verse 25,

“He gives food to every creature”.

God’s enduring love extends to all creatures or everyone in the daily provision of food and sustenance a principle Jesus declares in Matthew 5: 45,

“That you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous”.

This general principle of God’s providence to all creatures, good and evil is made even clearer by Jesus in the next chapter of Matthew’s Gospel, Matthew 6: 25 – 27,

“Therefore, I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”
Jesus however does make it clear at the end of this chapter that God especially blesses those who turn to him and put him first as Jesus declares in Matthew 6: 33 – 34”,

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”.

This seeking God first is an outworking of God’s enduring love in the hearts and lives of those who come to him by faith an act of God to save us as Paul declares to Timothy in 2 Timothy 1: 9 – 10,

“He has saved us and called us to a holy life—not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time, 10 but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Saviour, Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel”.

We like the ancient Hebrew congregations of old can respond to these great truths with that wonderful refrain,

“His love endures forever”.

God saw our lowly estate of sin and darkness and lifted us up out of that terrible dark place by his enduring love through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ.

God saved us from our enemies of sin, death and the devil again through his only Son Jesus Christ and his death for our sins on the cross an act of enduring love.

God provides for us our every need and if we lack anything or need his help he again through his enduring love will give us what we need and we only need to ask for it in faith as Jesus boldly proclaims in John 14: 13 – 14,

“And I will do whatever you ask in my name, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son. 14 You may ask me for anything in my name, and I will do it”.

Jesus, I believe is saying this couched in the provision of what we ask for is not contrary to the expressed will of God as if we ask for something that God says we cannot or should not have then that prayer will be answered with a big no. God promises to give us all we need not what we necessarily want as Paul makes clear to the Philippians in Philippians 4: 19,

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus”
Recently I proved yet again how God answers the prayers of our needs as for week I suffered some pain and discomfort after I got out of hospital after major kidney surgery and I prayed that a procedure my doctor was going to perform would be successful and relieve the pain and discomfort I was experiencing. God answered that prayer and immediately after my doctor performed the procedure I was pain and discomfort free.

John Newton knew the full extent of God’s enduring love which he called “Amazing Grace” and in his fourth verse of his hymn of the same name he writes,

“The Lord has promised good to me,
His word my hope secures;
He will my shield and Portion be,
As long as life endures”.

2. (vs. 26) Thank the great God of Heaven

The last verse raps up the ancient Hebrew priest call to his congregation to give thanks or praise with the words,

“Give thanks to the God of heaven”.

And interestingly phase only used in the later books of the bible (Ezra 1: 2, Nehemiah 1: 4, 2 Chronicles 36: 23 and Daniel 2: 18) and Leopold explains its significance,

“This title is a reminder of the exalted nature of him who did his people all the mighty works which have been enumerated in this Psalm”.

This Psalm then has made clear that the God of heaven is a God of enduring love and in fact this is his overriding attribute. He is a God of enduring love in that he,

1. Shows himself as Good
2. Created everything
3. Redeemed his people out of Egypt
4. Guided them through the wilderness and into the promised land
5. Fought for them against their enemies
6. Always provides and helps his people.

This means we should give thanks or praise to The God of Heaven for is Amazing enduring love for us.

As Christians, we know far more of the Amazing enduring love of God in and through the Lord Jesus Christ and Paul speaks of the reality of his enduring love in his second letter to the Corinthians, 2 Corinthians 5: 14 – 15,

“For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. 15 And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again”.

In Pauls prayer for the Ephesian church in Ephesians 3: 14 – 19 we see the power, wonder and praise of the enduring love of the God of heaven seen in Christ,

“For this reason, I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”.

So, we can join the ancient Hebrew congregation one more time and say or sing the phrase used throughout this Psalm,

“His love endures forever”.

We might change it to read,

“Christ love endures forever”

For Christ is God’s ultimate expression of his enduring love as we know this from John 3: 16, that says,

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”.

This is then the heart of the message we as Christians have and should take to the world that there is Good News in such a bad News world as even though our sins lead to death or eternal separation from God, God has made a way for us to know his enduring love by the Amazing love of God seen in sending his only Son to pay the price of our many sins on the cross and through that give us the gift of eternal life.

As the little letter of Jude puts it in verses 24 – 25,

“To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— 25 to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Before I close I would like to quote one more verse from John Newton’s hymn, Amazing grace, this time verse 5, not often sung these days,

“Yea, when this flesh and heart shall fail,
And mortal life shall cease,
I shall possess, within the veil
A life of joy and peace”.

I close as usual with an original poem and final word of prayer:

THE EDURING LOVE OF GOD
(Based on Psalm 136 and John 3: 16)

(vs’s 1 – 4)

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
God’s love endures forever.
Give thanks to the God of gods.
God’s love endures forever.
Give thanks to the Lord of lords:
For we see great things his done by his words
Yes, he made the heavens and this world
For God’s love endures forever.

(vs’s 5- 9)

God by his understanding made the heavens,
God’s love endures forever.
He spread out the earth upon the waters,
God’s love endures forever.
He made the great lights to send their ray
The sun to govern the day,
Moon and stars at night display
For God’s love endures forever.

(vs’s 10 – 14)

To him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt
God’s love endures forever.
And brought Israel out from among them
God’s love endures forever.
With a mighty hand and outstretched arm
He divided the red sea that was calm
And Moses sang of Israel’s deliverance in a Psalm
For God’s love endures forever.

(vs’s 15 – 21)

God swept Pharaoh’s army all away
God’s love endures forever.
He then led his people through the wilderness;
God’s love endures forever.
He struck down all the kings who opposed them
The Amorite king and the king of Basham
Then he led his people to the promise land.
For God’s love endures forever

(vs’s 21 – 26)

God gave his people an inheritance
God’s love endures forever.
He remembered his people’s low estate
God’s love endures forever.
He freed them from their enemies.
And provides food in great quantities
So give to God in heaven wonderful praise
For God’s love endures forever.

(John 3: 16)

God sent to earth his only Son
God’s love endures forever.
He died on the cross to forgive our sin
God’s love endures forever.
And whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life
And we can trust him even in our strife
So, we praise God for his gift of eternal life
Yes, God’s love endures forever.

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

Dear Father up in heaven we thank you for being a wonderful God of enduring love seen clearly in all you have made and how you have saved us from our many sins. We thank you for your love made clear by the sending of your Son, Jesus Christ to die for our sins on the cross and rising to life to give us the gift of eternal life. May we thank you daily by the way we live and what we say because of your Amazing enduring love and we look forward to being with you in your eternal home where we will join with the Angels in praising you for your amazing enduring love. In Jesus Name we pray, Aman.

PSALM 135 TALK:   PRAISE THE LORD YOU SERVANTS OF THE LORD

PSALM 135 TALK:   PRAISE THE LORD YOU SERVANTS OF THE LORD

 (A Psalm or ancient Hebrew worship song or hymn that directs God’s chosen religious leaders called servants of the Lord to lead the people of God in praise and worship).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

INTRODUCTION

 I am not an ordained minister of my church but years ago after three years training in a Bible College I worked for 13 years in three full time ministry positions in my church, The Anglican church of the Sydney Diocese. Those 13 years gave me among many things an insight into what’s involved in working full time in ministry for God.

In my thirteen years, I realised I had very little time to myself and I was in constant demand from the people I sought to minister to even putting pressure on my time and commitment to my family. I know that people ask a lot of their ministers and sometimes the pressure this causes them leads them to emotional and even spiritual pressure and even physiological breakdowns.

In the pressure cooker atmosphere of full time ministry, it is easy for us as ministers to lose sight of his calling and what should be his ultimate goals in leading the people of God that God has given him to lead.

Psalm 135 is an excellent reminder of what any full- time minister in his church should focus on and I believe if they do focus on this their ministry will get its priorities right and God will bless them and the church they seek to serve.

In this Psalm talk I am interpreting the phrase, “You servants of the Lord” as first and foremost the full -time ministers or leaders in the church today as verse 2 of this Psalm says,

“You who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of our God”.

 This is a clear reference to the Old Testament Priests and Levites who were also pinpointed in this Psalm in verses 19 and 20.

 However, because the New Testament teaches us clearly that all true believers are priests or ministers, 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,

that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

 The special word to servants of the Lord who minister in the house of the Lord has application to all of us. In recent years God has lead me to have a unique ministry in his wider church through music and these studies of the Psalms so I like all who follow the Lord Jesus Christ am a servant of the Lord.

This means that the priorities of ministry Psalm 135 sets down also apply to me as much as they do to one of my full-time minsters at my local church.

I would like to give you one quick word on the general background of this Psalm which deals with how it was written. Psalm 135 has been described as a mosaic or patchwork of thoughts of lots of previous Old Testament Scriptures. Spurgeon writes,

“The whole Psalm is a compound of many choice extracts, and yet it has all the continuity and freshness of and original poem”.

 Because of the use of many Psalms used in this Psalm clearly written after the return from the exile in Babylon this Psalm or song must have been written around the same time. So far as its author we have no way of determining but the suggestion is that the author was probably some kind of Temple priest or Levite which has merit but cannot be proven.

Leupold refers to Nehemiah 9: 4 and 5 as a kind of interesting outworking of the servants of the Lord in the house of the Lord leading the people in praise and worship,

Standing on the stairs of the Levites were Jeshua, Bani, Kadmiel, Shebaniah, Bunni, Sherebiah, Bani and Kenani. They cried out with loud voices to the Lord their God. And the Levites—Jeshua, Kadmiel, Bani, Hashabneiah, Sherebiah, Hodiah, Shebaniah and Pethahiah—said: “Stand up and praise the Lord your God, who is from everlasting to everlasting.“Blessed be your glorious name, and may it be exalted above all blessing and praise”.

 With the theme, then of the servants of the Lord leading the people of God in praise and worship my outline for this Psalm talk is:

  1. (1 – 4)  A CALL FOR GOD’S SERVANTS TO LEAD THE PEOPLE IN PRAISE
  1. (1 – 2) Praise him you servants of the Lord
  2. (3 – 4) Praise him for he is good

      2    (5 – 7)  PRAISE GOD’S ACTS OF CREATION

  1. (vs. 5) God is great
  2. (6 – 7) God is creator

      3   (8 – 14) PRAISE GOD’S ACTS OF REDEMPTION

  1. (8 – 12) God’s redemption of ancient Israel
  2. (13 – 14) God’s enduring reputation as a saving God

      4  (15 – 18)  PRAISE THE ONE TRUE GOD NOT IDOLS

  1. (15 – 17)  The truth about God alternatives
  2. (vs. 18) The truth about those who turn to God alternatives

      5  (19 – 21)  A CALL FOR ALL GOD’S PEOPLE TO PRAISE THE LORD

  1. (19 – 20) God’s servants and people are to praise the Lord
  2. (vs. 21) God’s praise is to go out from Jerusalem.

  Let’s then have a closer look at this Psalm using this outline:

  1. (1 – 4) A CALL FOR GOD’S SERVANTS TO LEAD THE PEOPLE IN PRAISE
  1. (1 – 2) Praise him you servants of the Lord

This Psalm opens and closes like so many of the Psalms in book five of Psalms with the Hebrew term, “Hallelujah” which we translate as “Praise the Lord”. This is because the Hebrew word “Hallelujah” is made up of two key concepts:

“Hallelu” which in Hebrews means “praise” and “Jah” which is the start of the Hebrew special name for God most people pronounce as

“Yahweh” which is usually translated in English as “The Lord”.

However, “Yahweh” is a special name for God that carries much deep and significant meaning and Allan Harman points out that “Yahweh” literally means,

“I am who I am” and that this term carries with it the idea of,

“The one who defines himself”.

 We will see from the rest of this Psalm the unique and powerful nature of this God who alone defines himself as good, great, powerful creator, redeemer, real and worthy of praise.

Then we read in the rest of verse 1 of this Psalm 135 that one particular group of people are exhorted to praise the Lord,

Praise the name of the Lord; praise him, you servants of the Lord”.

 The term, “Servants of the Lord” must be referring to the Old Testament forms of full time ministers in Old Testament times, the Priests and Levites which is made clear by what we read they did in God’s service in verse 2,

“You who minister in the house of the Lord, in the courts of the house of the Lord”.

 You only got to be a priest or Levite by birth as we see from verse 19 of this Psalm that speaks of the,

“House of Aaron”

 This goes all the way back to the time of Moses and we read in Numbers 18: 1,

“The Lord said to Aaron, “You, your sons and your family are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the sanctuary, and you and your sons alone are to bear the responsibility for offenses connected with the priesthood”.

 Then in Numbers 1: 48 – 51 we read of God’s decree for the family group known as the Levites as special servants of the Lord in the Temple worship of ancient Hebrew people,

“The Lord had said to Moses: 49 “You must not count the tribe of Levi or include them in the census of the other Israelites. 50 Instead, appoint the Levites to be in charge of the tabernacle of the covenant law—over all its furnishings and everything belonging to it. They are to carry the tabernacle and all its furnishings; they are to take care of it and encamp around it.51 Whenever the tabernacle is to move, the Levites are to take it down, and whenever the tabernacle is to be set up, the Levites shall do it. Anyone else who approaches it is to be put to death”.

So, the Priests and Levites where the God ordained full time leaders of worship in his Temple in ancient Hebrew times.

Note how they are to lead by example in praise of the name of the Lord. The name means all that characterises God, his essence and the rest of the Psalm spells out many of these wonderful characteristics of this God that should cause us all to praise him.

So, the number one priority of a full -time servant or minster of the Lord should be to lead the people in praise of the God of the bible. This means that a minister must have as his focus at all times nothing other than the name or character of the God of the bible.

Paul states in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18 that Praise or thanks to God is God’s ordained will for all believers,

 Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

So, it is not strange to say that our full -time ministers must have as their number one priority the leading of the people of God in praise and thanks.

Paul also sets down to Titus the characteristics and Godly qualities of the full- time elders or ministers of the church in his day and says this in Titus 1: 5 – 9,

“The reason I left you in Crete was that you might put in order what was left unfinished and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you. An elder must be blameless, faithful to his wife, a man whose children believeand are not open to the charge of being wild and disobedient. Since an overseer manages God’s household, he must be blameless—not overbearing, not quick-tempered, not given to drunkenness, not violent, not pursuing dishonest gain. Rather, he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined. He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it”.

 The characteristics of these elders I want you to note are the very characteristics of the God of the bible and particularly The Lord Jesus Christ as they both serve and help others to serve.

I see 10 Christ like qualities here:

  1. Blameless
  2. Faithful
  3. Leading a Godly household
  4. Self- controlled
  5. Living a good example
  6. Hospitable
  7. Loving good
  8. Holds firmly to the word of God
  9. Encourages others to know and follow God’s word
  10. Refutes those who oppose God and his word.

To have any of these Godly qualities a person must be putting God first in their lives and always seeking to give him the praise he deserves.

As I said in my introduction I am not an ordained minister of the church I attend in Sydney Australia yet as we are all “priests” or ministers of the Gospel according to 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,

that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

 Then we all should seek to exhibit the same Godly qualities of an elder or minister that Paul set down for New Testament ministers in Titus 1: 5 – 9 and we too can only do this if we truly put God first in our lives and “Praise his name”.

  1. (3 – 4) Praise him for he is good

 From verse 3 onwards Psalm 135 then spells out all sorts of reasons why the God of the Bible should be praised. The first reason given is in verse 3 which says,

“Praise the Lord, for the Lord is good”

 The goodness of God is a great theme of particularly the Psalms and we see it mentioned in at least five other Psalms, Psalm 25: 8, 34: 8, 73: 1, 86: 5 and 100: 5. I like the last one of these references Psalm 100: 5,

“For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations”.

 David Guzik writes,

“What would be more basic than this, God is good? Nothing at all, since this is God’s essential nature. Even the word God is a shortened form of “the good”.

 Only this week I experienced the goodness of God, I had one set back from my recovery from Kidney possible cancer surgery and I prayed to God about this and got others to pray for me as well. Only yesterday our prayers were answered by the good God we prayed to and my operations complication went away.

This experience reminds me of two wonderful bible verses that promise us the goodness of God in our daily lives:

Psalm 31: 19,

“How abundant are the good things that you have stored up for those who fear you, that you bestow in the sight of all, on those who take refuge in you”

 Romans 8: 28,

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him. Who are called according to his purpose”.

 This knowledge of the goodness of God should show itself in our outward daily worship of this Good God as the second half of verse 3 says,

“Sing praise to his name, for this is pleasant”

 The idea that singing God’s praise is pleasant probably comes from Psalm 133 verse 1 which says,

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”.

We might say the people of God who sing the praises of God together stay together in unity and peace and this is a very worthwhile or pleasant experience.

Allan Harmon speaks of the Hebrew word for pleasant as coming from the idea of graciousness and the next verse speaks directly of the graciousness of God in how he chose Jacob who became Israel as his treasured possession,

“For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be his own, Israel to be his treasured possession”.

 The Old Testament makes it clear that Jacob and his descendants who became the nation of Israel did not deserve to be chosen in any way and it only happened because of the Grace or undeserving love of God as we see in Deuteronomy 7: 7 – 8,

“The Lord did not set his affection on you and choose you because you were more numerous than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. But it was because the Lord loved you and kept the oath he swore to your ancestors that he brought you out with a mighty hand and redeemed you from the land of slavery, from the power of Pharaoh king of Egypt”.

 So, it is with us as Christians we are only chosen because the God who chose us is a God of grace as Paul spells out in Ephesians 2: 4 – 9,

But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast”.

 So, this great gift of grace should cause us to constantly praise the great God of grace and love and again praise is not only something we do with our lips but we should show it also with how we live our lives as Paul makes clear from Romans 12: 1,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”.

 A full -time minister’s priority should always be to encourage and promote the people in their churches to a life lived in praise and thanks to the good God of the bible who is a God of grace or unmerited love.

      2    (5 – 7)  PRAISE GOD’S ACTS OF CREATION

  1. (vs. 5) God is great

The Psalmist then looks at two great ways the God of the Bible reveals why he should be praised by the servants of the Lord and those two ways are:

  1. In his acts of creation
  2. In his acts of redemption

In verses 5 – 7 the Psalmist deals first with God great acts in creation. He starts this by simply stating the greatness of God compared to any other supposed God for in verse 5 he says,

“I know that the Lord is great, that our Lord is greater than all gods”.

 This verse is not saying there are other God’s as we will see in verses 15 – 18, the supposed other God’s represented by the great idols people made of them are nothing but false and unreal.

However, the God of the bible is very real and very great and our writer probably has Exodus 18: 11 in mind here that simply says,

“Now I know that the Lord is greater than all other gods, for he did this to those who had treated Israel arrogantly.”

 These words were spoken by Moses after the God of the bible had defeated the supposed God’s of Egypt and in the end a whole army inspired by these gods was destroyed when they sought enter the red sea or sea of reeds to pursue and destroy God chosen people, Israel. Interestingly God used forces in nature to destroy this non -God of the bible opponents.

Today we face a society aggressively running away from the God of the bible and turning to other ways of thinking about the origins of life and the great questions of why we exist and how they should live. Paul tells us in Romans 1: 21 – 25

“For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen”.

Paul is saying here that mankind is actively and collectively turned away from God to some other form of God or God’s and in Pauls day these were represented by idols. Today these idols are not usually images made to look like human beings or animals but are things like money, fame, self-glory or even other religions that have as part of their philosophy the denial of the truth of the God of the bible.

Even in the Christian church today we have influential so-called leaders denying the truth of the bible and offering an alternative way of thinking about it. Paul warned Timothy of such preachers and teachers rising up even in the early church in 2 Timothy 4: 1 – 5,

“In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction. For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry”.

 So, we promote and praise the God of the bible like Paul encouraged Timothy to do proclaiming how our God is “Great” and no other so- called god alternative is as great or greater than him.

            2. (6 – 7) God is creator

 God’s greatness is seen then in verses 6 and 7 in his great power and majesty in creation for the God of the bible is first and foremost the creator God as we see from these two verses,

“The Lord does whatever pleases him, in the heavens and on the earth, in the seas and all their depths. He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lighting with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses”.

 Note how God does as he pleases and no one man or spiritual being can make God do what they want as God is sovereign a major teaching that runs right through the whole bible and this psalm mirrors a lot of the teaching of Psalm 115 a Psalm the writer or writers of this Psalm must have known and known as verses 2 and 3 of that Psalm says,

“Why do the nations say, “where is their God” Our God is in heaven, he does whatever pleases him”.

 Jesus told his disciples in Matthew 19: 26,

“With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible”.

 So, God does whatever he pleases and it pleased God to make the heavens and the earth as verses 6 and 7 express and Paul says that God made all this through his Son who is the great supreme one as we read in Colossians 1: 15 – 18,

“The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. 16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18 And he is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning and the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything he might have the supremacy”.

 Our writer speaks of the vastness of God’s creative ability and control by speaking of what we can see in heaven and earth and also what we cannot see the seas and particularly its great depths.

He then in verse 7 eludes to God providing sustenance to the earth like rain or water which come ultimately from God’s vast storehouses,

“He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth; he sends lightning with the rain and brings out the wind from his storehouses”.

 One of the major God of the bible alternatives the ancient people of Israel turned to was the Canaanite God Baal, who is called by its followers as the storm God.

Baal and in fact storms are not to be praised or worship but rather the one true God who is behind them and makes them possible is to be worshiped. Recently our rural sector has been experiencing great lack of rain but I hear nothing of these farmers seeking help from the God of the bible. I’m sure there are churches in our rural areas praying for rain but sadly the general trend in our rural areas for some years now has been the turning away from the God of Bible that shows itself in churches closing down.

We need more servants of the Lord going out into these rural areas to call people to the Lord who is the only answer to the drought our country is presently going through.

My personal thought is that God is using this drought to encourage our country brothers and sisters to turn to him in prayer and praise.

An interesting incident takes place in one of Pauls missionary journeys in the city of Lystra where God leads Paul to heal a man who had been lame from birth. The locals, fixed in their pagan Greek god’s beliefs start thinking Paul and his companion Barnabas are two of the God’s come to earth, named Hermes who they said was Paul and Zeus who they thought was the real identity of Barnabas.

In such a pagan, non – God of the bible world Paul and Barnabas reaction and words to this is very informative, Acts 14: 14 – 17,

“ But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of this, they tore their clothes and rushed out into the crowd, shouting: 15 “Friends, why are you doing this? We too are only human, like you. We are bringing you good news, telling you to turn from these worthless things to the living God, who made the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything in them. 16 In the past, he let all nations go their own way. 17 Yet he has not left himself without testimony: He has shown kindness by giving you rain from heaven and crops in their seasons; he provides you with plenty of food and fills your hearts with joy.”

 My counties rural areas need many men and women preaching this kind of message to people who for a number of generations now have lost faith in the one true God, the God of the bible who Paul says wants us to know the Good News of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ.

      3   (8 – 14) PRAISE GOD’S ACTS OF REDEMPTION

  1. (8 – 12) God’s redemption of ancient Israel

So, we have seen how the servants of the Lord should reflect on the great God of creation as a source of praise and worship and now a second great reason or source of praise is presented in verses 8 – 14 which I call his acts of redemption.

The God of the bible is not a God in exile or inactivity he did not create the world and the universe and then remove himself from it. The fact I believe he is actively involved in our world even today leading people to redemption or salvation.

In ancient Hebrew times the proof that the God of the bible was involved in their world in acts of redemption was through his saving of his people out of slavery in Egypt which the writer of Psalm 135 reminds his readers of in verses 8 and 9,

“He stuck down the firstborn of Egypt, the firstborn of people and animals. He sent signs and wonders into your midst, Egypt, against Pharaoh and all his servants”.

 I have seen in many Psalms the story of the Exodus used in many ways on many occasions and here it seems to be used to reveal that Pharaoh’s stubborn refusal to turn to the one true living God. After many signs and wonders that the God of the Bible revealed to Pharaoh only hardened his heart against the God of the bible. Ultimately God judged Pharaoh and he lost the life of his beloved first born son.

Over and over again in the story of the Exodus is used in the book of Psalms to remind the people of God that the God of the bible is a saving God of love but also a God of Judgement for those who seek to oppose him and his chosen people.

There is no better example of the principle of salvation for God’s people and judgment of those who oppose God and his people than Psalm 81: 5 – 7,

“When God went out against Egypt, he established it as a statute for Joseph.I heard an unknown voice say: “I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the basket. In your distress you called and I rescued you, I answered you out of a thunder cloud; I tested you at the waters of Meribah”.

 Then again and even more clearly in Psalm 106: 7 – 11,

“When our ancestors were in Egypt,they gave no thought to your miracles;they did not remember your many kindnesses, and they rebelled by the sea, the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name’s sake, to make his mighty power known.He rebuked the Red Sea, and it dried up;he led them through the depths as through a desert.
10 He saved them from the hand of the foe; from the hand of the enemy he redeemed them.
11 The waters covered their adversaries; notone of them survived”.

 So, God’s great saving hand in the Exodus is referred to in the book of Psalms and in the books of Old Testament prophecies as a concrete example of the Saving Power of the God of the bible.

What does the Exodus story have to say to Christians then?

I came across a very interesting Christian article that answers this question beautifully it was by a man named Silverio Gonzalez and in a short section of his Article called “Why the book of Exodus matters for your life” and under the heading “The Pattern of Salvation” he writes,

“After God saved his people from Egyptian bondage, he began to prepare the world for a salvation from greater slavery. Through the Mosaic Law and Israel’s temple worship, God brought his people into a loving relationship to prepare them for the coming Messiah. The Messiah would come to save the world from sin, death, and the devil. This, Jesus did.

Exodus shapes both Jewish and Christian identity. Its themes are a major part of the Psalms and the Old Testament prophetical books. Many themes in Exodus are taken up in the New Testament and displayed in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection”.

The central Jewish feast that remembers and celebrates the Exodus is called the “Passover” for on the night the angel of death passed through Egypt to kill the first born son’s the believing Jews slaughtered a lamb as a sacrifice and blood from this Passover lamb was sprinkled on the doors of the people of Israel. When the angel of death saw the blood of the sacrificed lamb he passed over and the first -born sons of that house and they were saved.

This concept of the Passover lamb or the lamb sacrificed to save us is picked up right through the New Testament and we first come across it in Johns Gospel right at the very beginning of Jesus ministry that led to his death on the cross we read of John the Baptist saying loudly, John 1: 29,

“Look, the lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world”.

At the last supper Jesus institutes a remembrance service that would replace the Passover that helps us look back to what Jesus achieved through his death on the cross in our salvation as Jesus himself said to hid disciple on that last night, Luke 22: 19 – 20,

And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

 20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you”.

 The God of the bible is an active saving God and he continues to get involved in our lives today if we have faith in him but as we have seen in the case of Pharaoh and the Egyptians the God of the bible is active in our world judging those who refuse to turn to him which the writer of Psalm 135 picks up in verses 10 – 11 which says,

“He struck down many nations and killed mighty kings – Sihon king of the Amorites, Og king of Bashan, and all the kings of Canaan”.

 These two kings mentioned here are the kings and their people who opposed the people of Israel when they were on their wilderness journeys.

Then we read of the conquest of the Promised land again attributed to the God of the bible who struck down the kings of Canaan to deliver to his chosen people what verse 12 speaks of,

“And he gave their land as an inheritance, an inheritance to his people Israel”.

 In all these battles Israel was always the weaker army but God made the difference and gave his people victory.

As Christians, we are involved in a great spiritual battle with all the forces of evil as Paul speaks of in Ephesians 6: 10 – 12,

“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. 12 For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms”.

 We have not an earthly inheritance but a heavenly one as Peter speaks of in 1 Peter 1: 3 – 5,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you,who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time.”

 So, as servants of the Lord who lead the people in the house of the Lord we need to encourage both knowledge and praise of the great saving God of the bible and remind them that this is only possible because of the mercy or grace of God.

  1. (13 – 14) God’s enduring reputation as a saving God

We have just seen that the God of the bible deserves our praise because he is a great God of salvation or redemption and that all through the bible the saving acts of God in the Exodus from Egypt and in the conquering of the Promised land are remembered and used to inspire trust and praise in him.

So, the writer of Psalm 135 now states this enduring reputation of the saving God in verses 13,

“Your name, Lord, endures forever, your renown, Lord, through all generations.

 In the next Psalm 136 the enduring and never- ending love of God will be dealt with in some detail. However here in Psalm 135 something of the never- ending saving nature of the God of the bible is spoken of in the concept of his enduring reputation.

Have you ever asked the question, can you always rely on God?

The answer to that question according to verse 13 of Psalm 135 is yes you certainly can. This is because the God of the bible is not a man that he can lie as Numbers 23: 19 proclaims. Our Psalm writer could look back to both recent and long way back evidences of God being reliable as a saving God.

I say this because we are fairly certain this Psalm was written after the return from exile in Babylon and our writer could have been a returning Jew or was only a few generations away from people who recently returned from exile through the mighty saving hand of God.

We can look back to far greater evidences of the enduring nature of the God of salvation particularly as we look back at the life and death of the Lord Jesus Christ who died on the cross for our sins.

The writer to the Hebrews puts this fact this way in Hebrews 2: 9,

“But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

 However why does our writer of Psalm 135 say this in verse 14,

“For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants”.

 No matter when we live as believers we will always face some kind of opposition and difficulty and if this was written during the time of the return from Babylonian captivity we know from the books of Ezra and Nehemiah that God’s people back in Jerusalem faced great difficulties caused by non- God of the bible believing people so our writer most naturally and properly calls on the Lord for vindication and compassion from his peoples many enemies.

He could be seen in verse 14 as putting into practice what he has just been saying about his God as a God of power, love and salvation that he is now relying on the essence of real faith in God.

As full -time servants of the Lord who serve in the house of the Lord the priority of promoting praise and worship of our God does not diminish in the face of opposition and difficulty but in fact should increase as we prove God in our lives even in the midst of difficulties and strife.

Paul a giant in the field of full time servants of the Lord rejoices in the saving power and love of God in Christ Jesus and also speaks of doing this in the midst of suffering which he sees also is part of God’s loving act of salvation in Romans 5: 1 – 5,

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, wehave peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,

 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but wealso glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”. 

      4  (15 – 18)  PRAISE THE ONE TRUE GOD NOT IDOLS

  1. (15 – 17)  The truth about God alternatives

Verses 15 – 17 are almost a direct quote from Psalm 115: 4 – 8 and as I did quite a bit of work coming to terms with these verses in my Psalm 115 talk I will now directly quote from that Psalm talk to explain these verses in Psalm 135 with some appropriate adjustments that fit better with Psalm 135 than Psalm 115.

“In our writer’s day, the great God of the bible alternative view was usually some kind of god’s that were made of wood or stone. In Myanmar which I visited again recently the idols are usually big Buddha’s often made of gold or at least coated with gold but no matter how big or expensive looking they might be they leave me feeling cold uninspired as they are useless religious structures that have no spiritual power or ability.

 This is what verses 4 – 7 of Psalm 115 is actually saying and is what verses 15 – 17 of Psalm 135 is saying as well.

 “The idols of the nations are silver and gold,made by human hands.16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,eyes, but cannot see.17 They have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths”.

 I love Isaiah’s sarcastic go at the futility of idol worship of idols made out of wood in Isaiah 44: 14 – 20,

 “He cut down cedars, or perhaps took a cypress or oak. He let it grow among the trees of the forest, or planted a pine, and the rain made it grow. 15 It is used as fuel for burning; some of it he takes and warms himself, he kindles a fire and bakes bread. But he also fashions a god and worships it; he makes an idol and bows down to it. 16 Half of the wood he burns in the fire; over it he prepares his meal, he roasts his meat and eats his fill. He also warms himself and says, “Ah! I am warm; I see the fire.” 17 From the rest he makes a god, his idol; he bows down to it and worships. He prays to it and says, “Save me! You are my god!”

 18 They know nothing, they understand nothing; their eyes are plastered over so they cannot see, and their minds closed so they cannot understand. 19 No one stops to think, no one has the knowledge or understanding to say, “Half of it I used for fuel; I even baked bread over its coals, I roasted meat and I ate. Shall I make a detestable thing from what is left? Shall I bow down to a block of wood?” 20 Such a feed on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”

 Idol worship is condemned in a number of places in the bible, like other passages in Isaiah, 40: 18 – 20, 41: 7 and verse 29, 46: 5 – 7 and even Jeremiah has something to say about this in Jeremiah 10: 1 to 5.

 The story of Elijah challenging the priests of the idol worshipping god called Baal shows both the futility and powerlessness of idol worshippers and of course the value and power of believing in the one true God of heaven and earth, the God of the bible. The climax of that wonderful story is in 1 Kings 18: 36 – 39,

 “At the time of sacrifice, the prophet Elijah stepped forward and prayed: “Lord, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command.

 37 Answer me, Lord, answer me, so these people will know that you, Lord, are God, and that you are turning their hearts back again.”

38 Then the fire of the Lord fell and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, the stones and the soil, and also licked up the water in the trench.

 39 When all the people saw this, they fell prostrate and cried, “The Lord—he is God! The Lord—he is God!”

 Even though idol worship still exists today in the Old Testament form of man fashioning idols as I have seen in places like Myanmar when I visit their other alternatives to the God of the bible is still applicable here.

 Any god view that does not see God as the almighty spirit who dwells in heaven as lord supreme of this world and entire universe and who is both God to be feared and yet God who has stooped down particularly through the Lord Jesus Christ to save us is nothing more than a delusion.

 When Paul was in Athens recorded in Acts 17 he saw the many idols their and reasoned that this was evidence that these people did not know God. All other non – God of the bible views of God are simply elaborate attempts by human beings seeking to know the unknown God and designing from their own minds and imaginations a view of God that is useless and futile.

 So, Paul’s sermon to the top thinkers of the idol worshipping Athenians was to take them from an altar to an unknown God to the message of the God who has revealed himself in his Son, Jesus Christ and Paul says this about him in Acts 17: 24 – 31,

 “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. 25 And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else.

26 From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. 27 God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. 28 ‘For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring’.

 29 “Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by human design and skill. 30 In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to everyone by raising him from the dead.”

 So how do these four verses in Psalm 135 (15 – 17) taken from Psalm 115 fit into the context of Psalm 135?

We must understand that in Old Testament times only the small nation of Israel believed in one great God who demanded no earthly image be made of him, Exodus 20: 4 – 6,

“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.

 You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments”.

 So, Israel was always surrounded by many Nations who believed in many God’s represented by some kind of idol. Tremper Longman the 111 points out this reality about idol worship,

“These idols were not seen as Gods but represented God’s though through certain ritual (the opening of the mouth) they were seen as physical vehicles through which the God’s made their presence known to the people”.

 The problem with Israel and all believers in the God of the bible making an image to even represent the God of the bible is that no image we could come up with would do him justice. If it was a big giant man idol, God is not a man. If the image was an animal like a large bull God’s strength might be understood but a bull is also dumb and God is supremely intelligent.

So, in the context of Psalm 135 the full- time ministers or servants of the Lord were to discourage the people of God from any form of idol worship and promote true spiritual worship of the God of the bible.

In a previous Psalm talk I spoke of an Anglo – catholic Anglican friend of mine when I was attending Bible College taking me to a highly elaborate High Church service and asking me what I thought of it after the service was finished.

I told my friend that the involved ritual was both unnecessary and dangerous as it could promote a form of idol worship where even the communion elements are held up and bowed down to.

My friends reply was both shocking and surprising, he said, Jim you must understand some people like to worship with smell, touch and colour while others like worship God in spirit and truth”.

I had to strongly say to my friend that Jesus came to change and encourage true worship and quoted Jesus words to the Samaritan women about the answer to what is true worship in John 4: 21 – 24,

“believe me, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth.”

 I am not condemning my Anglo – Catholic Christian friends but as a servant of the Lord I must warn them that the danger of heavily dominated ritual worship services is the worshipper worships the service and not the God who it is directed to, sadly this can become another form of idol worship.

  1. (vs. 18) The truth about those who turn to God alternatives

 So, our writer and the writer of Psalm 115 has said that the idol God’s of the nations that surround them are dead and useless, made by human hands, cannot speak, cannot see and cannot hear.

Now in verse 18 he like the writer of Psalm 115 in verse 8 states that,

“Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them”.

 I like C.H. Spurgeon’s comment on this verse,

“The idol worshippers are as bad as the idol makers; for if there were none to worship, there would be no market for the degrading manufacture. Idolaters are spiritually dead, they are the mere images of men, their best being is gone, they are what they seem”.

 What they seem we have learnt is that they are spiritually dumb, blind and deaf to the true living God who made heaven and earth.

Idol worship is a delusion of the devil and people caught up in it are under the condemnation of God as we see from Isaiah 44: 9 – 11,

“All who make idols are nothing,and the things they treasure are worthless.Those who would speak up for them are blind; they are ignorant, to their own shame.10 Who shapes a god and casts an idol, which can profit nothing?11 People who do that will be put to shame;

 such craftsmen are only human beings.Let them all come together and take their stand;

 they will be brought down to terror and shame”.

 And in the New Testament Revelations 9: 20,

“The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood—idols that cannot see or hear or walk”.

 My wife and I visited the ancient ruins of Ephesus in 2011 and we were amazed of how much adultery can still be seen in the ruins there. Shells of temples to God and Goddesses line the steep and narrow streets of that ancient city yet it was here that God made a stand against idol worship through Paul and his preaching of the Gospel. The makers of idols in Ephesus caused a riot as they saw Paul’s message as a great danger to their trade (Acts 19: 23 – 41).

Years later Paul wrote these words as a prayer to the Ephesian Christians in Ephesians 3: 14 – 20, a prayer that contains the true nature and foundation of God ordained worship as opposed to the dead and useless worship of idol worship,

“For this reason, I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us”.

 So, all true full- time servants of the Lord who work in the house of the Lord (in New Testament terms the church) are to promote spiritual worship based on the Gospel of Christ and to denounce the false, worthless and dangerous worship of idols or any other alternative to worship of the true and living God of the bible.

      5  (19 – 21)  A CALL FOR ALL GOD’S PEOPLE TO PRAISE THE LORD

  1. (19 – 20) God’s servants and people are to praise the Lord

This Psalm 135 started with a call to praise particularly a call to the full -time servants of the Lord who ministered in the house of the Lord and now this Psalm concludes with a call to praise and worship the Lord. This call is also addressed to the full- time servants of the Lord who minister in the house of the Lord but also widens out to all of Israel who believe in the Lord for verse 19 says,

“All you Israelites, praise the Lord; house of Aaron, praise the Lord”.

 The people of God are to follow the lead of their full- time ministers and praise and worship the Lord. If the people of God do this they are fulfilling the desire and motive of their minister’s goals and objectives.

Sadly, most of the Old Testament reveals that the House of Aaron, or the ordained full -time ministers of praise and worship failed to fulfil their God given role and function. Some even led the people of God into idol worship and many Old Testament prophets pronounced God’s judgment on these priests and the people who follow their evil leadership, like Jeremiah in Jeremiah 32: 30 – 35,

“The people of Israel and Judah have done nothing but evil in my sight from their youth; indeed, the people of Israel have done nothing but arouse my anger with what their hands have made, declares the Lord. 31 From the day it was built until now, this city has so aroused my anger and wrath that I must remove it from my sight. 32 The people of Israel and Judah have provoked me by all the evil they have done—they, their kings and officials, their priests and prophets, the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem. 33 They turned their backs to me and not their faces; though I taught them again and again, they would not listen or respond to discipline. 34 They set up their vile images in the house that bears my Name and defiled it.35 They built high places for Baal in the Valley of Ben Hinnom to sacrifice their sons and daughters to Molek, though I never commanded—nor did it enter my mind—that they should do such a detestable thing and so make Judah sin”.

 This judgment of God came on Israel in a devastating way in the form of the Babylonian conquest of Judah and Jerusalem in 598BC.

In the New Testament those who teach and lead the church will be judged with greater strictness as James says in James 3: 1,

Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly”.

 Paul sets down very clear and strong guidelines for full time ministers of the church of Jesus Christ, ministers he calls overseer’s and deacons in 1 Timothy 3: 1 – 10,

“Here is a trustworthy saying: Whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task.

 Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money.“4 He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil.He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.In the same way, deaconsare to be worthy of respect, sincere, not indulging in much wine, and not pursuing dishonest gain. They must keep hold of the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience. 10 They must first be tested; and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.11 In the same way, the womenare to be worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything”.

 Paul also warns Timothy of full time ministers who will enter the church to lead the people of God away from the truth in 2 Timothy 2: 14 – 19,

“Keep reminding God’s people of these things. Warn them before God against quarrelling about words; it is of no value, and only ruins those who listen. 15 Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth. 16 Avoid godless chatter, because those who indulge in it will become more and more ungodly. 17 Their teaching will spread like gangrene. Among them are Hymenaeus and Philetus, 18 who have departed from the truth. They say that the resurrection has already taken place, and they destroy the faith of some. 19 Nevertheless, God’s solid foundation stands firm, sealed with this inscription: “The Lord knows those who are his,” and, “Everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness.”

 Our writer of Psalm 135 repeats this call for the full -time servants of the Lord who minister in the house of the Lord joined by all the people of God to praise and worship the Lord in verse 20.

“House of Levi, praise the Lord; you who fear him, praise the Lord”.

 I like Albert Barnes comments on this verse and the one before it when he writes,

“It is an earnest call on all classes of the people to bless and praise the Lord. It is language expressive of overflowing joy; the utterance of a heart full of exalted conceptions of the majesty, the glory, and the mercy of God; of a heart which feels to the utmost the fitness of praise, and desires that all classes of people – priests and people – that all created things should unite in the praise of Yahweh. Who, in reading the psalm, can fail to catch the feelings of the psalmist, and to say Amen and amen!”

 It has been suggested that the phrase, “you who fear him, praise the Lord” could include non- Jews who are called Gentiles who came to recognise that the God of the bible is the one true God of Heaven and earth and therefore must be feared or respected and therefore worshipped.

Through the coming of Christ Jews and Gentiles can come to God in faith and praise as Paul speaks of in Galatians 3: 26 – 29,

“So, in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptised into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise”.

 Paul lays down in Colossians 3: 15 – 17 the Christian full -time servant of the Lord’s guidelines for leading worship and praise in his household or church,

“Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”. 

  1. (vs. 21)    God’s praise is to go out from Jerusalem

This Psalm ends its word of praise in the place the Lord chose to dwell in Old Testament times, Zion in Jerusalem,

“Praise be to the Lord from Zion, to him who dwells in Jerusalem, Praise the Lord”.

 Allan Harmon points out the significance of these words<

‘The temple in Jerusalem was the visible token of God’s presence with his people. From there he blessed them (Psalm 128: 5), and in turn they ascribe praise to him”.

 Harmon points out that from Jerusalem true praise would go into all the world which was only fulfilled by the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ who preached the Gospel in Jerusalem died on the cross just outside Jerusalem, rose from the dead and ascended to heaven close to Jerusalem.

From Jerusalem, the disciples are sent out to preach and teach the Gospel message as Acts 1: 8 clearly states,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth”.

 Jesus commissions the disciples from Jerusalem with these words in Matthew 28: 19 – 20,

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 Finally, the Psalm ends with the Hebrew term for praise, “Hallelujah” just as it commenced with this term.

God’s full-time servants who minister in the house of the Lord are to be champions of praise leading God’s people in Hallelujah’s or praise for the God of the bible known as Yahweh”. They in New Testament terms are ministers of ministers or priests to priests as we are all priests of God or ministers of God according to 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession,

that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

May we all then serve the Lord with praise and love for both who he is and what he has done for us in The Lord Jesus Christ.

I close as usual with an original poem / song and a final word of prayer:

PRAISE HIM YOU SERVANTS OF THE LORD

(Based on Psalm 135 and influenced by the Polyeleous chant)

Give Praise to the Lord all you servants of the Lord

You who minister in the house of the Lord

Sing God’s praises for he is good

All you chosen sister – brotherhood.

Serve him now for he is full of grace

And he treats us like his chosen race.

 

I know that the Lord is a great amazing God

For he is greater than any other supposed God’s

He does whatever he wants to do

In heaven and in this world too

He makes the clouds rise on the earth

And course’s rain to give the earth new birth.

 

God struck down Egypt’s first -born son’s

For Pharaoh ignored God’s many powerful signs

He like many earthly kings stood against the Lord

And God judged them with his mighty word.

He gave Israel the land as an inheritance

And through Jesus one day we’ll stand in his presence.

 

God’s name endures for endless generations

And the Lord gives those who trust him vindications

For our God is a wonderful God of love

Who sent to earth his Son from heaven above

All other God’s are idols with no power

But our God is real and we can trust him every hour.

 

So, all Christian people join to praise the Lord

You minister’s must show how to praise the Lord

Praise God on earth and in heaven above

Praise him for his undeserving love

From Zion God gave us his word

So praise him you servants of the Lord.

 

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

 Father up in heaven we pray for the minters of our churches that they would faithfully lead us in praise in worship of you and your dear Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Help them to faithfully teach your word, encourage us in our various ministries for you and correct those who fall away from the truth of your word. It is your glory we seek in and through the wonderful name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

PSALM 134 TALK   BLESS THE LORD DAY AND NIGHT

PSALM 134 TALK   BLESS THE LORD DAY AND NIGHT

(GETTING TO THE FINAL DESTINATION OF THE JOURNEY OF FAITH AND THE CONCLUSION IS THAT WE MUST SEEK TO BLESS OR PRAISE THE LORD ALWAYS)

 (The thirteenth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with the ultimate attitude and all -embracing activity we must always be involved in, namely seeking to bless or praise or worship the Lord and he promise is to bless us always).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

 For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 134

 I was very interested to learn in my study of this Song of Ascent Psalm, Psalm 134 that the NIV translation of the opening words, “Praise the Lord” is better translated as, “Bless the Lord”. This is because the actual Hebrew word used is, “Barakhi” which means literally “Bless the Lord”. This led me to study what it means to, “Bless the Lord”.

Some might say why does God want us to say to him “Bless You” when he is as the Psalm ends with, “The maker of heaven and earth”. Yet, particularly in the book of Psalms the concept of us saying, “Bless the Lord” is found in many places and the most famous of these is of course Psalm 103 verse 1,

“Bless the Lord, my soul; all my inmost being, bless (or praise) his holy name”

 This verse was the inspiration for the modern worship song “10,000 Reasons” which commences with the words,

“Bless the Lord Oh my soul

Oh, my soul

Worship His Holy name

Sing like never before

Oh, my soul

I’ll worship Your Holy name”

 In my search for what it means to “Bless the Lord” I came across a YouTube clip by a famous Jewish Rabbi called Rabbi Mardeshai Becker who spoke of the close association of the Hebrew word, “Barakhi” with another Hebrew word, “Bereicho”which means “Pool” or the bubbling source of a pool or stream of water. Mardeshai argues that this is not a coincidence and that when we bless God there is a flow of activity between the Lord and us which is seen in Psalm 134 because the first two verses are us blessing or praising God and the last verse is Lord blessing us.

Other Hebrew scholars also point out that the Hebrew word “Barakhi” or “Bless” is related to another Hebrew word that means “Knee” or “Kneel”, which relates to worship although in Psalm 134 the instruction is for worship to be done by lifting our hands which I will explain the meaning of more fully later in this Psalm talk.

So why does my NIV bible translates “Bless the Lord” to “Praise the Lord”?

The answer seems in the widely accepted meaning for “Bless the Lord” which I found was expressed ver well by another “YouTube” clip by John Piper who says that “Bless the Lord’ is,

“Synonymous with praising the Lord” and he offers Psalm 34 verse 1 to show this connection,

“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips”.

 Piper goes on to give us a very clear definition of what “Bless the Lord” actually means,

“It is speaking well of the Lords greatness and goodness”.

 So, this final Song of Ascent brings to a close the journey of the ancient Jews to Jerusalem. In this Psalm, they are now at the final destination, Jerusalem and the Temple or Sanctuary as it was called in David’s time.

So, what should they do once they have arrived at their final destination?

The answer is simple, “Bless or praise the Lord” and once they did that they would receive God’s promised blessing who is the maker of heaven and earth.

What does this mean for us as Christians on our journey of faith to heaven?

I will advocate that whether we are in heaven or still on our way our supreme duty and desire should be to seek to, bless or praise the Lord. With this in mind I will now seek to open up this wonderful last song of ascent Psalm, Psalm 134.

My outline for this Psalm talk reflects the idea of us blessing or praising the Lord and the Lord blessing us.

  1. (1 – 2)BLESS THE LORD
  1. (vs. 1)Bless the Lord you servants of the Lord
  2. (vs. 2)Lift up your hands in praise

2   (vs. 3)   THE LORD WILL BLESS YOU

  1. (vs. 3a) The Lord will bless you
  2. (vs. 3b) The Lord the maker of heaven and earth

 Let’s then have a close look at this Psalm with these headings:

  1. (1 – 2)BLESS THE LORD

 So, as I said in the introduction my NIV bible does not fully represents the literal meaning of the original Hebrew which should read,

“Bless the Lord, all you servants of the Lord who minister by night in the house of the Lord”.

There are four things I want to make comments about in this first verse of this Psalm and they are:

  1. Bless the Lord
  2. All you servants of the Lord
  3. Who minister by night
  4. In the house of the Lord

Let me now comment on each of these four things in this verse;

  1. Bless the Lord

As I said in my introduction the NIV translation along with many other translates the Hebrew word for bless, “Barakhi” is translated “Praise the Lord”. It seems that “Bless the Lord” is a concept that non – Hebrew speaking people would have problems with but as Rabbi Mardeshai Becker aptly pointed out in his “YouTube” clip blessing God and saying blessings is a natural well understood thing for a Hebrew speaking Jew.

He speaks of the English tradition of saying “Bless You” when someone sneezes and says we want our sneezing person to not be sick even though they are sneezing. In fact, this tradition started, it is believed in England during the times of terrible plague when sneezing was an early sign of you coming down with the plague.

So, we can understand why we can say “Bless You” to another human being but why would we want to say to God “Bless You”?

It seems that the connection of the Hebrew word for “Bless” to another meaning “Kneel” is the key to how we are to bless God, “GotQuestions.org” says,

“The Hebrew word translated “bless” or “praise” means literally ‘to kneel”, the implication being to kneel in worship”.

 The ancient Hebrews have had a hard and long journey to Jerusalem and the Temple there so what will they do when they finally get there?

The answer is “Bless the Lord” or “Praise the Lord” or better still worship the Lord as they kneel at his feet. I have mentioned in many of my earlier Psalm talks the Westminster Confessions shorter catechism first question and answer that goes like this,

  1. 1.What is the chief end of man?

And the answer is:

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever”.

 When we seek to bless or praise God we are truly worshipping him and that means if we are doing it from our hearts we are glorifying our God. We do this because of what he has done for us in The Lord Jesus Christ through his act of mercy or undeserved love in dying for our sins on the cross.

This is what Paul tells us true worship is all about in Romans 12: 1,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship”.

 Or as the writer the Hebrews says in Hebrew 13: 15,

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name”.

 Note the writer to the Hebrews speaks of this praise or worship offered to God is a,

“Fruit of our Lips”

 Interestingly, I found John Pipers comments on David’s words in Psalm 34 verse one,

“I will bless the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips”.

Emphasised the words, “on my lips” or in the translation he quoted “from my mouth”

 Piper says,

“It is though David is eager for his soul to get to work”.

 He explains that David is saying something like, lord my mouth is praising you come on soul get on board and praise or bless you as well.

Praising God and enjoying in him forever is what we are called upon to do now on our journey to God in heaven and it is what we will be doing forever in heaven. As we see from many references of what goes on in heaven from the book of revelations like Revelation 19: 5 – 7,

Then a voice came from the throne, saying:“Praise our God, all you his servants,you who fear him, both great and small!”Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting:“Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns.Let us rejoice and be gladand give him glory!For the wedding of the Lamb has come,and his bride has made herself ready”.

When those ancient Jews got to Jerusalem after their long difficult journey to that place their joy or pleasure was wrapped up in worshipping the Lord for that was the goal of the pilgrimage. We don’t want to go to heaven like a mountaineer wants to climb a mountain, because it is there. We want to go to heaven to join other fellow believers in praise and worship of the Lord.

In fact, why do you want to go to church?

My reason for wanting to go to church on a regular basis is to join with other fellow believers to worship the Lord together and serve one another and in turn be blessed by the whole wonderful experience.

As the writer to the Hebrews says Hebrews 10: 22 – 25,

“let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. 23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, 25 not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching”.

2.    All you servants of the Lord

This call to bless the Lord or praise the Lord is addressed to special individuals in the Temple or Sanctuary in Jerusalem who are called,

“Servants of the Lord”

Who then are these servants of the Lord?

The general view of most commentators is that these “servant of the Lord” are in the priests and Levites who continually worked on worship practices in the Temple and we will see soon they performed both day and night.

In the Old Testament, the whole Temple operations had priests and Levites that performed duties from offering up sacrifices, leading the people in prayer, maintaining the temple area and even guarding the Temple day and night.

This special ministry was in the Old Testament given to the descendants of Levi and Aaron as we see in a reference like Numbers 3: 5 – 10,

“The Lord said to Moses, “Bring the tribe of Levi and present them to Aaron the priest to assist him. They are to perform duties for him and for the whole community at the tent of meeting by doing the work of the tabernacle. They are to take care of all the furnishings of the tent of meeting, fulfilling the obligations of the Israelites by doing the work of the tabernacle.Give the Levites to Aaron and his sons; they are the Israelites who are to be given wholly to him. 10 Appoint Aaron and his sons to serve as priests; anyone else who approaches the sanctuary is to be put to death.”

 The coming of Jesus and the establishment of the New Covenant through his sacrifice on the cross for our sins changed all this as the writer to the Hebrews tells us in Hebrews 8: 1 – 6,

“Now the main point of what we are saying is this: We do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

 Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises”.

 Then in Hebrews 9: 11 – 15, the writer to the Hebrews sets down how Jesus changed forever the way God wants us to worship him,

“But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here,he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 

14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death,so that we may serve the living God!

 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

 So, who now are the servants of the Lord?

The answer to this is a wonderful revelation and it is found in a key reference in the New Testament 1 Peter 2: 4 – 5,

“As you come to him, the living Stone—rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual houseto be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ”.

 To make this even more clearer Peter tells us this in 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

 From these two references came a radical teaching even in the Christian church in the great reformation in the 16thcentury called “The Priesthood of all believer”. The fact is even the Christian church somehow forgot how God wanted them to conduct worship now that he had sent his son and through his death made a way back to him.

We don’t need “Priests” offering sacrifices like the Old Testament we are all priests offering as the writer to the Hebrews said in Hebrews 15: 13,

 “A sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that openly profess his name”.

        3.   Who minister by night

This final Song of Ascent then throws up a very curious phase,

“Who minister by night”

 So, the previous phrase, “servants of the Lord” refers to the Priests and Levites who serve in the Temple but now it is picking out the priests and Levites who do their service at night.

What does it mean then, “who minister by night”?

 On this point, the commentators went all over the place suggesting up two three possibilities,

  1. The Pilgrims often arrived at night time
  2. The Pilgrims often left early in the morning to return thus still night time
  3. The quietness of the night favoured a good time to catch the ear of God

I did not find any of these suggestions convincing to me so here is my theory or idea for you to consider.

First of all, it is clear that Temple activities by Levites and Priest did not stop at night as we see form a reference like Exodus 27: 21,

“In the tent of meeting, outside the curtain that shields the ark of the covenant law, Aaron and his sons are to keep the lamps burning before the Lord from evening till morning. This is to be a lasting ordinance among the Israelites for the generations to come”.

 Or Leviticus 6: 9,

“Give Aaron and his sons this command: ‘These are the regulations for the burnt offering: The burnt offering is to remain on the altar hearth throughout the night, till morning, and the fire must be kept burning on the altar.

 So, Levites and Priest would have had to work what we would call today, the night shift to keep those sacrificial fires burning and even the more mundane aspects of Temple maintaining went on at night as we see from 1 Chronicles 9: 26 – 27,

“But the four principal gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. 27 They would spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning”.

 So, worship of some sorts even took place at night suggesting to me that worship of the God of heaven and earth is not just a part time affair, only during the day but is a day and night activity God wants us to be committed to.

Maybe the writer of Psalm 134 by picking out the servants of the Lord who minister by night to Bless or praise the Lord is saying lets always be in an attitude of praise and worship. Paul makes this point to the Thessalonians in his first letter to them in 1 Thessalonians 5: 16 – 18,

“Rejoice always, 17 pray continually, 18 give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus”.

 In all circumstances includes good times and bad or day representing and good time in life and night representing a bad, difficult or dark times in life. The test of our real faith is if we are able to give thanks or worship God in the difficult or dark times in life.

 I’m not advocating physical worship day and night but a life lived in an attitude of praise, thanks and worship like I referred to in Pauls words in Romans 12: 1,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship”.

4.   In the house of the Lord

We have seen all through the Songs of Ascent that the ultimate destination of the Jewish pilgrim travellers was Jerusalem and the Temple there. The Temple was to these ancient Jews, “The house of God” or to be exact, a house or dwelling place for the Ark of the Covenant which was God’s ordained symbol for his covenant agreement to dwell with his people Israel as indicated by Exodus 25: 22,

“There, above the cover between the two cherubim that are over the ark of the covenant law, I will meet with you and give you all my commands for the Israelites”.

 This is why the Tabernacle became known as the tent of Meeting and therefore the Temple became God’s house where God and his people met through his covenant of love.

It is clear that God did not really want David to build him a house as he said this to David through the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 7: 5 – 7,

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling.

Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

 Isaiah makes it clear why God in principle maybe did not want an earthly house as all the nations around Israel would have had called Temples as Isaiah says this in Isaiah 66: 1,

“This is what the Lord says: “Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?Has not my hand made all these things”.

 Stephen in the New Testament in his final speech to the Jewish leaders before he was stoned to death took up Isaiah’s words to say this in Acts 7: 48,

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands”.

 So why did God allow Solomon to build him an earthly house or Temple?

The answer to this question lies in the very words of Solomon at the start of his dedication to the nearly built Temple prayer in 2 Chronicles 6: 18 – 21,

“But will God really dwell on earth with humans? The heavens, even the highest heavens, cannot contain you. How much less this temple I have built! 19 Yet, Lord my God, give attention to your servant’s prayer and his plea for mercy. Hear the cry and the prayer that your servant is praying in your presence. 20 May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your Name there. May you hear the prayer your servant prays toward this place. 21 Hear the supplications of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place. Hear from heaven, your dwelling place; and when you hear, forgive”.

 Note what Solomon sees the Temple as, not God’s dwelling place or house but a house or Temple of prayer an intermediary place between God as his people and this is what Jesus saw as being so wrong with what the Temple in Jerusalem had become in his day with the money changes and fowl smelling and noisy animals for sale for sacrifice in the Temple.

Jesus says this as he with righteous anger clears the Temple in Matthew 21: 13,

“It is written,” he said to them, “‘My house will be called a house of prayer, ’but you are making it ‘a den of robbers.”

 What is the house of the Lord for us as Christians?

My answer to this might surprise you but I base my answer on what the New Testament says about this.

First of all, Jesus made it clear that his coming and particularly his death and resurrection would do away with the Temple as we see from his words in Luke 21: 5 – 6,

“And while some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, he said, “As for these things that you see, the days will come when there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.”

 Jesus knew that in the very near future the physical Temple in Jerusalem would be destroyed as it was by the Romans in AD 70.

Jesus also predicted that his death and resurrection would establish a new intermediary place or way between God and man as we see from two New Testament reference, John 2: 20 – 22,

“The Jews then said, “It has taken forty-six years to build this temple,and will you raise it up in three days?” 21 But he was speaking about the temple of his body. 22 When therefore he was raised from the dead, his disciples remembered that he had said this, and they believed the Scripture and the word that Jesus had spoken”.

And 1 Timothy 2: 5,

“For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus”.

So, without the physical Temple as a house of prayer how do we go to God in prayer as Christians?

The answer to this is given so well by the writer to the Hebrews who says this in Hebrews 7: 23 – 25, using past Old Testament context to how we should now pray because of what Christ has done for us,

  “Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completelythose who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them”.

 Why do we as Christians always end our prayers in the name of Jesus?

It is because we go to God in prayer only through the Lord Jesus Christ and not through anyone else as Roman Catholics might teach.

Finally, what does the New Testament say about what is the Temple?

Paul made my most radical aspect to my answer to what is the house of the Lord on earth is when he writes in 1 Corinthians 6: 19 – 20,

 “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore. honour God with your bodies”.

 It seems up to the coming of Christ the house of prayer was limited to one place, The Temple in Jerusalem but through Jesus death and resurrection and the giving of his Spirit to all who have put their faith and trust in him God can now go into all the world through living Temples. We are therefore dwelling places of God on earth who take his message of Salvation to the world and act as his ministers of love.

When we travel to Heaven by faith in the Lord Jesus we are God’s special servants or ministers who offer God our blessing or praise.

  1. (vs. 2)   Lift up your hands in praise

The second verse of Psalm 134 speaks further about what we as God’s servants or ministers must do as we seek to worship him, that verse says,

“Lift up your hands in the sanctuary and praise the Lord”

 Again, the word for praise here is “Barakhi” or bless the Lord but it is a form of praise telling the Lord of the mighty and wonderful things he has done for us.

So as the Priests and Levites did this they were to “Lift up their hands” and Tremper Longman 111 points out that lifting your hands was,

“A common gesture of prayer in ancient Israel”

 It was an outward expression of what we should be doing inwardly when we bless or praise the Lord as David seems to indicate in his use of this expression in Psalm 28: 2,

“Here my cry for mercy as I call to you for help as I lift up my hands toward your Most Holy Place”.

 The Most Holy Place David is speaking about here was in his day called, “The Sanctuary” as verse 2 of Psalm 134 calls it. This could mean that this Psalm was written in David’s time as the term Sanctuary seems to have changed to Temple once David’s son Solomon built the Temple in Jerusalem.

I am not one who uses the raising of hands in prayer myself but that does not mean I think it is wrong to do but what is more important is what this lifting of hands means here in this Psalm which I found C.H. Spurgeon expressed for me the best when he writes,

“Hands, heart, and every other part of their manhood must be upraised, elevated, and consecrated to the adoring service of the Lord. As the angel’s praise God day without night, so must the angels of the church be instant in season and out of season. And bless the Lord”.

 Paul tells Timothy this in 1 Timothy 2: 8,

“Therefore, I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing”.

 Maybe I should consider adopting this practice of lifting my hands in prayer and particularly praise when I worship the Lord day or night.

2   (vs. 3)   THE LORD WILL BLESS YOU

  1. (vs. 3a) The Lord will bless you

As I said earlier this little final Song of Ascent has two distinct parts, us blessing God and God blessing us. Just like Rabbi Mardehai Becker theory of the Hebrew word for bless being very similar to the Hebrew word for the flowing or bubbling source of a pool or stream there is a flow between God and man when we come to him in prayer in the proper way and since the coming of Christ that is through faith in him.

So, the first part of verse 3 says,

“May the Lord bless you from Zion”.

 These words seem to be a blessing from the Priests who we were read about in verses 1 and 2 and for them to bless people from Zion means they are pronouncing this blessing form God’s special place on earth called Zion or the place where his house or temple sat.

This could mean that the last thing the Pilgrims to Jerusalem and the Temple there received from God before they left to return home was his blessing given by the Priests who served him in that place.

The priestly blessing God gave to Aaron and his sons to give the people which was also given through their descendants is in Numbers 6: 24 – 26,

“The Lord bless you and keep you;25 the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you;26 the Lord turn his face toward youand give you peace.”’

 The Lord blessing from Zion is the Lord blessing his people from his dwelling place and as we have seen from references like Isaiah 66: 1 that is the Lord blessing his people from heaven where he actually dwells.

Zion in the New Testament is a loaded name place and represents heaven, the church and even Jesus the mediator of a new covenant as Hebrews 12: 22 – 24 expresses so clearly,

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”.

 So, what is God’s blessing on us as New Testament believers?

The answer to this is mind blowing and it is found in the writings of St Paul in Ephesians 1: 3,

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ”.

 I have mentioned before my experience many years ago when two Mormon Missionaries came to my door and asked if they could enter my home to give me and my home a blessing. I said no and quoted Ephesians 1: 3 but they said to me, ‘but don’t you want our blessing”.

I replied I simply don’t need it as Christ has blessed me with every spiritual blessing from the heavenly realms. They then left muttering something like, ‘and he doesn’t want our blessing”.

Paul goes on in Ephesians one to give us a bit of a rundown of what all the blessing in the heavenly realm might entail in verses 4 – 9,

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonshipthrough Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 

 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ”.

 So, as we continue on our journey of faith that leads to God in heaven we are blessed by God through Christ and this blessing comes from him in the heavenly Zion and is what saves us, equips us and gives us hope and constant inspiration throughout this life so why would I want any more blessing than that.

  1. (vs. 3b) The Lord the maker of heaven and earth

 We have read the final words of Psalm 134 before in Psalm 121 verse 2 that simply says,

“He who is the Maker of heaven and earth”.

 In Psalm 121 we looked to our destination heaven pictured in the Old Testament as being in the Mountains or the Hills. We also learnt that when we face the difficulties in this life, the Mountains or Hills, then we have the help of the Lord who is the maker of heaven and earth.

Here in Psalm 134: 3 we are blessed by the same Lord who is the maker of heaven and earth. This gives the blessing he gives power and authority. David Guzik quotes a commentator name F.B Meyer who writes,

“Is it possible for him to have made heaven and earth, and not be able to bless the soul whom he has not created only, but redeemed! He cannot fail to bless those that bless”.

 So, we have this flow of blessing, we seek to bless God in Zion and from Zion God seeks to bless us. Jesus is that maker of heaven and earth as John spells out in the opening of his Gospel calling the pre- incarnate Jesus Christ as The Word, John 1: 1 – 5,

“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it”.

 We learnt from Ephesians 1 that God blesses us from heaven through his Son, Jesus Christ who John speaks of coming to this world in John 1: 14,

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

 We then who have received Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour have received from God his grace and truth guaranteed by the fact that Jesus is the Maker of Heaven and earth and made our salvation possible by his death and resurrection.

We walk the way of faith to God in heaven because Jesus made for us that way to walk as we see from two final verses:

  1. John 14: 6,

“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me”. 

  1. Hebrews 12: 1 – 2,

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God”.

 CONCLUSION

 We have moved through the past 15 Psalms all with the title “Songs of Ascent”. 15 Psalms that we believe were sung by ancient Jews when they made up to three long and dangerous journeys a year up to Jerusalem and the Temple there.

We have learnt from these 15 Psalms about how that at every stage the Lord Jesus Christ is our helper and guide. We have learnt in this final Song of ascent that God wants us to bless or praise him and he promises that he will in turn bless us drawing on all his vast resources as the maker of heaven and earth to do so.

May we all come to the starting line of this great journey to heaven through faith in Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour. May we continue this great journey to heaven through trust in The Lord Jesus Christ who promises to be with us even to the end of the age or the world. May we seek to bless him for all he has done for us and in turn receive his blessing that is so vast and wonderful and is more than we need to reach the shores of heaven itself where we will join with many other believers and the Angels in endless praise and blessing.

I close as usual with my original poem / song and a final word of prayer.

I’M HEAVEN BOUND

(Based on Psalm 134 and the tune of “I’m pressing on the upward way”)

 Oh, Praise the Lord you servants now

Yes, praise his love and mighty power

For he will bring us to his home

And no more will we have to roam.

 

Refrain:

 

Oh, praise him now day and night

Praise his power and his might

For through his Son salvation found

And through his death I’m heaven bound.

 

May all who minster for God

Be helped by him to upward trod.

For we must praise him day and night

And he will bring us into his light.

 

Refrain:

 

Oh, praise him now day and night

Praise his power and his might

For through his Son salvation found

And through his death I’m heaven bound.

 

Lift up your hands in joyful praise

For all the Lord’s great, loving ways

Look up to God in heaven above

And thank him for his wondrous love

 

Refrain:

 

Oh, praise him now day and night

Praise his power and his might

For through his Son salvation found

And through his death I’m heaven bound.

 

The lord will bless you every day

As you come to him and pray

He will bless you through his Son

Who made this world and every one.

 

Refrain:

 

Oh, praise him now day and night

Praise his power and his might

For through his Son salvation found

And through his death I’m heaven bound.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Lord help us to look always to you in heaven above with praise seeking to thank you day and night for all you have done for us. We lift our hands in praise Lord for how you sent down to earth your Son to become a man and die for our sins on the cross. We thank you Lord for how you promise to bless us in Christ and we look forward to the day when because of what your Son has done for us we will live with you in your eternal home ever praising you as you bless us with eternal life. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

PSALM 133 TALK   UNITED WE STAND IN THE BLESSINGS OF GOD

PSALM 133 TALK   UNITED WE STAND IN THE BLESSINGS OF GOD

(GETTING TO THE FINAL DESTINATION OF THE JOURNEY OF  FAITH   UNITED TOGETHER FOREVER)

 (The thirteenth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with being united before God and experiencing his many blessings together).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

 For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 133

 I usually don’t like jokes about heaven but this one is not only funny it has a very good point to it. The joke goes that a man dies and meets St Peter at the Pearly gates and Peter then takes the man into heaven to show him around. They first come across a large group of people with books in their hands with half of these people saying prayers that the other half respond to. The man being shown around heaven asks St Peter, “who are those people”? and St Peter says “they are our Anglican or Episcopalian Christians”.

St Peter and the man move on a bit further into heaven and they come across some people together playing instruments like tambourines and all kinds of brass musical instruments and the man asks St Peter, “who are those people”? and St Peter says, “They are our Salvation Army Christians”.

They go a bit further into heaven and come across people waving their arms in the air shouting out Hallelujah and Praise the Lord and the man asks St Peter, “who are those people?” and St Peter says, “they are our Pentecostal Christians”.

Finally, they travel on a little further into heaven and the man sees people walking around bumping into each other and other people but not acknowledging any of them and the man asks St Peter, “who are those people” and St Peter answers, “they are people who think that no one else is up here but them”.

As I said I usually don’t like jokes about heaven but the point of this joke is the way some Christians act and live in this life is that they alone know the truth about God and they alone will be going to heaven.

One of the joys of my life and ministry has been the fact that I have had the privilege of ministering and fellowshipping with Christians from all kinds of churches and denominations and on my recent short- term mission trip to Myanmar I taught the message of the Psalms to people in churches and Bible Colleges in Anglican, Baptist, Pentecostal, Brethren and even a Seven Day Adventist Bible College. In all of these different Churches and Bible Colleges I experienced the blessing God gives to those who gather together united in The Lord Jesus Christ and his inspiring word to us.

I am often called “Brother Jim” and I have grown to like this title and often refer to and sing Richard Gillard song “The Servant Song” and the first verse that song says this,

“Brother, let me be your servant.
Let me be as Christ to you.
Pray that I might have the grace
To let you be my servant, too”.

 Psalm 133 is short Psalm like a number of the Songs of Ascent Psalms but it might be short but it is certainly very beautiful and its central theme is “The unity of God’s People”. The Hebrew title says that David wrote it probably in his early reign when the unity of his people was extremely important as his country for the first few years of his reign as king did not recognise him as king only his tribe in the south of Israel, Judah recognised him as king. Then in 2 Samuel 5: 1 – 5 David is recognised even by the people of Israel in the North as the king of a united Israel.

Only David son Solomon would reign over both South and North Israel and experience fully the unity that Psalm 133 speaks of. However, as the people who did not live in Jerusalem travelled up to Jerusalem and the Temple there they would have travelled and joined together in Jerusalem as one Nation or in unity as this song encourages them to. I’m sure in those times of unity they would have experienced the blessing God promises us if we live in unity with other fellow believers.

My joke about haven is nothing more than a joke as all of our so called denominational differences will not exist in heaven and no one will be there bumping into people and not knowing they are there for all our often-petty differences will be a thing of the past in heaven. In heaven, we will be one people standing before the Lord united in our common love for the Lord Jesus Christ and the Father who sent him to earth to die for our sins on the cross that actually made it possible for all of us to be there.

My challenge to all bible believing Christians is if unity is what we will experience in heaven why don’t we experience it here on earth as we are all journeying to heaven by faith like the ancient Jews did when they journeyed together to Jerusalem and the Temple there?

Just as Paul said to the Corinthians who themselves lost this sense of unity even in the days of the early church in 1 Corinthians 1: 10,

“I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another in what you say and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be perfectly united in mind and thought”.

 With this theme of Christian unity in mind then my outline for this Psalm is:

  1. (vs. 1) HOW GOOD IS UNITY
  1. (vs. 2) HOW PRECIOUS IS UNITY
  1. (vs. 3a) HOW FAR REACHING AND REFRESHING IS UNITY
  1. (vs. 3b) HOW BLESSED ARE WE UNITED

 We will now look at Psalm 133 with these four sections in mind:

  1. (vs. 1) HOW GOOD IS UNITY

The first verse of this Psalm is dedicated to the benefits of the unity of God’s people and it reads like this,

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”.

 David apparently according to commentators who know Hebrew say that his opening Hebrew word of this Psalm literally means “Behold” or “Pay attention” which means David is saying what I am about to say is very important.

So, what is David actually saying to his people in this opening verse?

Allan Harman sums the over- all meaning of what David is saying with these words,

“Unity in the family is extolled as a very precious thing”.

 I first experienced this wider sense of unity with Christians when I went to an interdenominational Bible College in my early twenties. Many of my Anglican friends asked me why I was not going to The Anglican Theological College and my answer was that I wanted to get a broader understanding of the bible and along with that have the precious experience of fellowshipping with Christians from a variety of churches.

Through my wonderful experiences of my three years of theological training at an interdenominational Bible College I became life time friends with men and women from Baptist, Brethren and Reformed churches and they helped shape me into a person who loves to work in unity with Christians from all kinds of denominational backgrounds.

Again, the actual Hebrew word for “God’s people” in this verse actually literally means “brothers” and this could mean both direct family associations but also distant family relationships as ancient Hebrews all would have had.

For us as Christians many verses in the New Testament speak of us as belonging to God’s family and we too are all brothers and sisters in Christ as the writer to the Hebrews says in Hebrews 13: 1,

“Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters”.

 And as John teaches in his first letter chapter 3 verses 1 and 2 that when we come to Christ by faith we are now children of God,

“See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is”.

\And Paul says we are children of God and therefore brothers and sisters in Christ through adoption in Ephesians 1: 5,

“He predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will”.

 So, what’s so good about unity in the family of God according to the first verse of Psalm 133?

David says that unity is both”

  1. Good
  2. Pleasant

So, let me explain what these two words or terms mean:

  1. Good

The word good in Hebrew Ray Fowler points out means something like “Excellent” or “Agreeable” or “Beneficial”.

When Christians act together or work together in unity they are presenting to the world the very nature of God which is love as Jesus told his disciples in this in John 13: 34 – 35,

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

So, Jesus wants us as his followers to be characterised by love and love can only be seen when we as Christians work together and appear to be working together in unity.

After my time at Bible College I worked as a church Youth worker and a few years after Bible College when I worked as a Church Youth Worker I experienced another wonderful experience of Christian unity when I worked with many Christians from many different denominations working together at the Billy Graham Crusade in my home city of Sydney Australia.

I think one of the reasons these amazing crusades where so effective was God was able to use them to show non – believers how Christians do both love one another and the world. It is sad that we only have a few times when we as Christians work together in unity for when we do it is very good or beneficial.

  1. Pleasant

David not only says unity is good or beneficial but it is pleasant which could also be translated as “Precious” and David Guzik writes,

“It is pleasant because it makes life together as God’s people so much more enjoyable than seasons when constant bickering and conflict dominate”.

 I’m sure we have all experienced Christians bickering and conflict and I remember at our church years ago two families had a nasty dispute over discipline. It seems one mother decided to speak strongly to a miss behaving boy in another family and the other boy’s mother overheard the mothers angry rage. Then both sets of parents bickered opening after church about this for a number of weeks. This was a very unpleasant thing to witness and it was very upsetting for our entire congregation. Our minister eventually was able to privately settle this dispute between these two sets of adults.,

 This is an illustration of the opposite experience David is speaking about in this verse for disunity is very unpleasant and is a disappointingly negative and unhelpful experience.

Why does the Christian church sometimes suffer from disunity?

The answer for me comes from an older Christian writer and theologian named Michael Griffiths who I had the pleasure of meeting many years ago at a large Christian conference. Michael wrote a book about the church called “The Cinderella with Amnesia” and in that book Michael advocated that there are two ways of seeing the church.

The first way is seeing the church as a museum of perfect specimens or the church is a group of righteous perfect people that meet together to worship a righteous perfect God.

The second is that the church is a hospital for sinners.

If you think the church is full of righteous people or people who think they are righteous and perfect then you will be sadly disappointed. For when some kind of conflict occurs in your church like we had years ago between those two Christian families then your faith in God and particularly your church could be shattered.

However, I agree with Michael Griffiths the church is not a museum of perfect specimens but a Hospital for sinners and sadly Christians can fall into sin both inside the church and out of it as well. The bumper sticker is correct, “Christians aren’t perfect just forgiven”.

In Romans 14 Paul deals with the problem of disunity in the Roman church. In Paul’s time its seems Christians had disputes over what should or should not eaten and what sacred days should have observed or not observed but Paul gives us advice on how we can maintain unity in the church when we have differences of opinion on non-essential Gospel issues.

Paul starts this advice with these words in Romans 14: 1,

“Accept the one whose faith is weak without quarrelling over disputable matters”.

 In verse 13 Paul lays down this charge which I find very helpful when I encounter other Christians who disagree with me and want to argue with me about it,

“Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put stumbling block or obstacles in the way of a brother or sister”.

 When I encounter someone with a different theological point of view than me who wants to have an argument with me about it I try and put my point forward to this brother or sister in Christ in a loving way but then I refuse to carry on the argument seeking to respect the opinion of my fellow brother or sister in an attempt to do what Paul says we should always seek to do in verse 19 of Romans 14,

“Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and mutual edification”.

 The fact is I agree with David in Psalm 133 when he says,

“How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity”.

Give me unity any day and for the sake of it and its benefits I will continue to seek to avoid arguing with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ even if I think I am right and they are wrong.

2   (vs. 2)  HOW PRECIOUS IS UNITY

David then gives us two Old Testament vivid images of what unity is like and the first of these two images has the point of the preciousness of the experience of unity. David writes in verse 2,

“It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down on the collar of his robe”.

 Christian unity is not only good and pleasant it is also precious and this Old Testament image speaks volumes of that. To get the full impact of this Old Testament image or illustration I must explain a few things first.

The image deals with the anointing of oil which Tremper Longman III explains was used to,

“Anoint priests, kings and occasionally prophets to their office”.

 Longman goes on to explain that the oil,

“Represents the gift of God’s Spirit that would enable these important officials to exercise responsibilities”.

Ray Fowler cleverly pin- points the message of the illustration being the preciousness of unity which runs all through the way this image is presented. Let me take up Ray’s theory to open up the meaning of this image.

  1. The Oil itself is precious

The image is described as,

Precious oil”

 Oil particularly the special oil used in the anointing of Aaron (Exodus 30: 22 – 25) would have been both expensive and the products to make it rare to get a hold of. So, it is with unity among God’s people it is hard to achieve and therefore precious when you experience it.

I spoke earlier of the dispute between two families at my church years ago and how that dispute created a feeling of disunity. Once that dispute was resolved and the bickering stopped the feeling of unity again came back into our church and that was a very precious feeling. So, unity is precious and we all should work hard and prayerfully for it to be a living reality in our churches and within the wider Christian community today.

  1. It is precious oil spread on the head

This would have been a vivid aspect to this illustration of preciousness as the custom even in the time of Christ was that when you visited someone’s house you helped them wash their feet and for a special guest you would refresh your visitors head with oil.

We should be willing to anoint one another’s head with oil which is the image of humble service to one another because God has anointed our head with oil as Psalm 23: 5 says,

 “You (God) anoint my head with oil”

 This is an Old Testament image of God blessing us like a person anointing a special guest with expensive precious oil.

So, to anoint one another with oil is like Jesus washing the disciple’s feet an act of humble service to anyone and everyone but especially to our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. So, if we fail to unite in service with our fellow brothers and sisters maybe our problem is that we lack both humility and the willingness to serve our brothers and sisters in Christ.

As Paul says in Colossians 3: 13 – 14,

“Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14 And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”.

Unity is precious then like the act of anointing the head of a special guest to the home of an ancient Hebrew person.

  1. Running down on the beard

This is running down of the oil is said twice I think for emphasis and Ray Fowler believes this part of the image or illustration is speaking of,

“God’s blessings flow down to us from heaven”.

 Fowler then quotes James 1: 17,

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows”.

 Fowler adds,

“Living together in unity is a gift to be received from God”.

 If Christian unity is a gift from God then it is precious and we should thank God for it when we experience it. I thank God continually for my on- going opportunities for experiencing and promoting Christian unity.

  1. Down to the collar of his robe

This precious oil not only is poured on the head of the high priest but it runs down his beard and flows onto the top of his garments and David Guzik explains the significance of this when he writes,

“What abundant blessings unity is! It is like oil poured out so richly that it flows from head, to the beard, down to the very edge of the priest’s garments”.

 Unity among fellow Christians is very precious and it should flow down from God on to us and then out to each other and then on and on to the world at large.

Peter gives us the formula for how the church can experience the preciousness of Christian unity, the church working as one in 1 Peter 4: 8 – 11,

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. 10 Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. 11 If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen”.

 Note how Peter in this reference speaks of the gifts and grace coming from God but being shared out to others not kept selfishly for oneself.

  1. (vs. 3a) HOW FAR REACHING AND REFRESHING IS UNITY

The second image or illustration of the effects of God’s people experiencing unity is at the start of verse 3 which simply says,

“It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion”.

Like the first image or illustration of the effects of Christian unity this second one does not make sense to us until we realise some very real Old Testament realities that people living in ancient Israel would have known.

This verse uses two mountains in its illustration of the effects of unity of God’s people and both mountains are miles apart. Mount Hermon is in the very North of ancient Israel now on the border of Lebanon and Syria. While Mount Zion is in the southern region of ancient Israel in of course Jerusalem. Mount Hermon is a high snow-capped maintain with lots of dew or rain water while Mount Zion is a smaller dryer mountain to the south.

This means dew falling on Mount Hermon then falling on Mount Zion is impossible and is therefore an image meaning something. That something is I think two things:

  1. The far- reaching nature of unity
  2. The refreshing nature of unity

Let me explain:

  1. The far – reaching nature of unity

With the two mountains, so far apart in this image the good effects of unity in God’s family, the church is therefore pictured as being far- reaching as Ray Fowler again so well explains,

“The fact that Hermon and Zion are united by the dew in this image also reminds us that in the church we are all one. It is a unity of the great and small, the high and the low, the north and south brought together, it is unity that crosses all human boundaries and divisions”.

 I have been speaking about in this Psalm talk some of my own experiences of Christian unity and another one that stands out for me is the first time I attended The Christian Conference Centre at Katoomba a couple of hours drive west of Sydney and near where I currently live. As you walk into the very large auditorium there you see directly in front of you over the elevated stage where the speaker stands to preach a sign that reads, “All One in Christ”.

This sign really struck me in a very inspirational way the first time I saw it as I was there with many of my Bible College friends who came from many different denominational backgrounds yet we were all working together ministering to many young people and that feeling of unity in Christ was a wonderful experience I will never forget.

That sign comes from Pauls letter to the Galatians, in chapter 3: 28,

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus”. 

  1. The refreshing nature of unity

The second aspect of this image is its obvious refreshing nature of the image particularly for someone in or thinking of Mount Zion as that mountain was not only smaller than Mount Hermon but dryer as well. David Guzik explains this aspect of the image of unity well when he writes,

“It is like the rich dew that covers Mount Hermon, making it green and moist. It is an almost complete contrast to the dry wilderness found in other parts of Israel. Unity among God’s people makes life thriving and healthy”.

When we as Christians move out of our holy huddles and into the wider world we can have such an impact. I have visited churches all over the world and when I have had the privilege of sharing God’s word and joining in the fellowship with these sometimes-small church gatherings the refreshing nature of Christian unity is so wonderful.

Not too long ago my wife and I went on a road trip around Australia for over four months and every Sunday while we were away we went to church in the towns we were visiting. A lot of those towns were in remote dry and not so populated parts of my country Australia and many times members of the churches we visited spoke of how refreshing and up – lighting it was when Christians like us visited and worshipped with them. We were like the dew of Mount Hermon falling on dry Mount Zion to those Christian people living in dry remote parts of my country.

As Paul advices, the Philippians in Philippians 2: 1 – 4, which reveals how we should work on Christian unity with loving refreshing service,

“Therefore, if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”.

       4.  (vs. 3b) HOW BLESSED ARE WE UNITED

The final words of David’s little song on the value and impact of unity in the family of God sums up all he has been saying about unity,

“For there the Lord bestows his blessing, even life forevermore”.

 I told the joke in my introduction about all the different types of Christians in heaven and how one group thought that non- one else was up there but them. This is a joke as the pictures of heaven particularly in the book of Revelations are of a great united oneness that knows no earthly divisions like denominations. Like the scene of heaven described in Revelation 7: 9 – 10,

“After this I looked, and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 10 And they cried out in a loud voice:“Salvation belongs to our God,who sits on the throne,and to the Lamb.”

 Note how this picture of heaven sees us united as one because it speaks of the vast multitude coming from every nation, tribe and language but speaking as one in praise of our salvation found only in God and the lamb which in the book of Revelation is name for The Lord Jesus Christ who died for our sins on the cross.

David says that unity bestows blessing on us and this blessing and the unity that produces it is forevermore. David Guzik quotes here James 1 : 9 – 10,

“Believers in humble circumstances ought to take pride in their high position. 10 But the rich should take pride in their humiliation—since they will pass away like a wild flower”.

 He then writes,

 “In other word’s it doesn’t matter how high or low you are in the eyes of the world. In Christ we are one, and we have a special unity through Christ and the Holy Spirit”.

 One of the greatest causes of disunity in the church is what I call classism or snobbery when some people think they are better than others and look down on them causing a breakdown in unity in the Church. The reality is that in heaven there is no class or looking down on others.

The disciple themselves got heaven wrong when they asked Jesus about being seated higher in heaven than others in Mathew 18 and Jesus reply is quite radical, Matthew 18: 2 – 5,

“He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”.

 The Christian Gospel started to radically change society in the first century with slaves coming to Christ in big numbers and in the church and they were generally accepted as brothers and sisters in Christ.

The Gospel radically started to change the status of women which continues to this day. So, it is in the Christian Gospel message we find our grounds for common unity.

Like the ancient Jews travelling to Jerusalem and the Temple their unity and the oneness of being part of God’s family was good, pleasant, precious, far reaching and refreshing so it is for us travelling to heaven by faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are eternally blessed when we stand and walk together to God in heaven. I close with one more reference on Christian Unity, Romans 6: 5,

“For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his”.

 I close as usual with my original poem / song and a final word of prayer:

UNITE US ALL IN-GOD’S LOVE

(Based on Psalm 133 and the tune of “The Old Rugged Cross)

 

How beautiful it is to live in peace

With those who love and serve the Lord

For our unity comes through the grace of God

Which transforms us by God’s life- giving word.

 

Chorus:

 

So, come to the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came down from heaven above

To die for our sins on the cross

And unite us all in God’s love.

 

How precious is the unity we share

In the God who sent his Son down to earth.

It’s like the oil of God’s holy Spirit’s power

Who comes in to give us Spiritual rebirth

 

Chorus:

 

So, come to the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came down from heaven above

To die for our sins on the cross

And unite us all in God’s love.

 

How far reaching is the unity we share

In the undeserved love of the Lord

For we can go to the end of the world and find

A love for God’s wonderful word.

 

Chorus:

 

So, come to the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came down from heaven above

To die for our sins on the cross

And unite us all in God’s love.

 

For united we stand in the love of the Lord

With our brothers and sisters, we will come

To the shores of a place where we’ll live for evermore

With God and our Saviour his Son.

 

Chorus:

 

So, come to the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came down from heaven above

To die for our sins on the cross

And unite us all in God’s love.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

We look to you Father up above to unite us all in your great love. When we are tempted to bicker and fight help us by your Holy Spirit to seek peace and love. When we see a brother or sister in Christ going the wrong way in life help us to lovingly guide them back to walking your way with love and care for them. When we feel disappointment, and hurt caused by a fellow Christian help us to reach out with love and forgiveness. So, may we all who love your word and your Son, The Lord Jesus Christ walk together united in our love for you to the shores of your eternal home where we will be together united forevermore. In Jesus name we pray this, Amen.

 

 

 

 

PSALM 132 TALK   GOD’S ETERNAL DWELLING PLACE OF REST

PSALM 132 TALK   GOD’S ETERNAL DWELLING PLACE OF REST

         (GETTING TO THE FINAL DESTINATION OF THE JOURNEY OF FAITH)

 (The thirteenth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with the final destination of the Christian journey Zion God’s eternal dwelling place).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

 For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 132

 One of my first holidays overseas was in Fiji a beautiful set of Islands in the south Pacific. For the first week, we went to a large and busy resort on the main island but on the second week of our holiday we went to a small private Island actually owned and run by Australians. This tuned out to be my first experience of the kind of holiday where you sit around a pool with a cool drink and read a book and simply relax.

For the first couple of days I loved the rest and relaxation but soon I wanted to get up and do something. I even walked around the Island, which only took an hour or so and one day we went on a small boat trip to an uninhabited Island where we swam in super clear water and had a delicious BBQ on the beautiful scenic beach.

So, what is your idea of resting?

Psalm 132 deals with the twin ideas of resting and dwelling and speaks of David’s passionate desire to build God a house or Temple on earth a house or significant dwelling to place the Ark of the covenant in which is the symbol of God’s dwelling with his people on earth.

Then it deals with taking the Ark of the Covenant up to Jerusalem and placed in what would have been only a large Tent called the Tabernacle. The Ark had been taken in battle by the Philistines who sought to give it back because it caused so many problems for anyone who had it in their town. Before David eventually got it successfully up to Jerusalem it spent a number of years in a place Psalm 132 calls “the fields of Jaar” which is another name for a place in ancient Israel called Kirjath – jearim.

The last part of the Psalm speaks of how God promises David a house instead of him building a house for him and God’s house for David is an eternal dynasty from which God will bring to earth The Lord Jesus Christ who will make the way for all who trust and obey in him to enter God’s eternal dwelling or resting place.

God’s eternal dwelling or resting place will be far superior to any earthly resting place like an exotic Island paradise like Fiji as when we are in it that resting place according to verse 16b,

“Her faithful people will ever sing for joy”

 This Psalm seems to be a Psalm written early in reign of the Davidic kings and could have been written by David’s Son Solomon or someone else in Solomon’s time as verses 8 – 10 are part of a direct quote from Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the Temple he built in Jerusalem recorded in 2 Chronicles 6: 41 – 42.

So far as how it fits into a “Song of Ascent” is I believe in its subject matter about the final destination of the ancient pilgrim journeys namely Mount Zion in Jerusalem and the Temple there.

For us as Christians on the great journey of faith the ultimate destination is the eternal heavenly Zion or dwelling and resting place of God where we will find both eternal dwelling and rest. We will get there by trusting and obeying throughout our life the greater Son of David The Lord Jesus Christ who is the king of kings and Lord or Lords and our saviour.

With the theme of God’s dwelling place of rest in mind then my outline for this Psalm is:

  1. (1 – 10)DAVID’S DESIRE TO BUILD GOD’S DWELLING PLACE OF REST ON EARTH

 

  1. 1. (1 – 5)David’s desire to build God’s house or dwelling place on earth
  1. (6 – 10) Taking the ark of the covenant to God’s dwelling place

 

  1. (10 – 12)GOD PROMISE OF AN ETERNAL HOUSE FOR DAVID

1.  (11 & 12b) God promises to establish an eternal house for David

  1. (vs. 12a) A house or dynasty conditional on obedience to God

 

      3.  (13 – 18)   GOD’S CHOOSES ZION AS HIS DWELLING PLACE OF REST

 

  1. (13 – 16)God chooses Zion as his dwelling place
  2. (17 – 18)God promise of a future greater king and dwelling place of rest

Let’s then have a closer look at this Psalm using these headings,

  1. (1 – 10)DAVID’S DESIRE TO BUILD GOD’S DWELLING PLACE OF REST ON EARTH
  1. (1 – 5)David’s desire to build God’s house or dwelling place on earth

 To understand what these opening verses are really telling us I need to explain the historical events that led to them being written. David had become king of Israel and started to establish the nearly conquered mountain top city of Jerusalem as the capitol of the nation of Israel he now ruled.

Jerusalem story in the bible goes back as far as Abraham who met its king in his day called Melchizedek a mysterious character called in Genesis 14: 18, a priest of the God most high. Jerusalem was called Salem at that time and Salem means, “King of Peace”.

Then in Genesis 22 we have the story of Abraham taking his Son to Mount Moriah which is the old name for the hill in Jerusalem that became mount Zion. God stops Abraham at the last minute and provides a lamb for sacrifice.

Then we come to David’s time David conquered Jerusalem by defeating the Jebusites in 1052 BC/BCE (1 Chronicles 11:4-9).

David then goes on a massive building project which includes building himself a palace (2 Samuel 5: 9 – 12) and not long after this moves the neglected Ark of the Covenant up and into Jerusalem. The Ark of the covenant we will see represented the spiritual reality of God dwelling with his people Israel through his covenant of love an agreement between God and his chosen people Israel.

The Ark of the Covenant had been on the move, not resting for a long time but now it finally came to rest in God’s chosen place, Jerusalem on God’s chosen place of sacrifice, Mount Zion which we will see later was selected by God as the place of sacrifice in Abrahams day but also in David and Solomon’s day as well.

So, David now has the Ark of the covenant in what seems a temporary dwelling, the tent or Tabernacle with its inner sacred and holy place called The Holly of Hollies which is where the Ark of the covenant rests.

David argues that I live in a palace but God’s dwelling place is a tent so I want to build God a great house, dwelling place or Temple to house God’s special Ark of the Covenant.

This leads to our first verse of Psalm 132 that says,

“Lord, remember David and all his self-denial”.

 So, we can see these words are spoken after David’s time as the verse speaks of “remembering” David and as I said in the introduction this could have been written by Solomon or someone else around that time.

But what does the writer want God to remember?

This question is partially answered by what we read at the start of verse 2,

“He swore an oath to the Lord”

 An oath it seems concerning the building of a house, dwelling place, Temple for the Lord in Jerusalem as verse 5 says,

“Till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob”.

 This “self-denial” which has been also translated as hardships Allan Harman proposes were inward troubles as he writes in his commentary,

“David’s troubles or hardships endured were not outward ones but rather the inward of distress that the ark of the covenant was separated and that the ark did not have a permeant resting place”.

 We get a glimpse of this inner troubles of David from the words of 2 Samuel 7: 1 – 2,

“After the king was settled in his place and the Lord had given him rest from all his enemies around him, he said to Nathan the prophet, ‘Here I am living in a house of cedar, while the ark of God remains in a tent”.

 So, David was inwardly troubled that his God who he calls, “The Mighty One of Jacob” a name for God meaning “Warrior” used originally in Genesis 49: 24 is living in a tent while he lives in a luxurious palace.

This comes out even more in the words that our writer attributes to David as his spoken oath concerning this in verses 3 and 5,

“I will not enter my house or go to my bed, I will allow no sleep to my sleep or slumber to my eyelids, till I find a place for the Lord, a dwelling for the Mighty One of Jacob”.

 These words show the depths of David’s feelings for the building of God’s house or dwelling the resting place of the Ark of the Covenant that David was able with the Lords help bring up and into Jerusalem.

The question David should have answered first was,

Does God want a house on earth or a dwelling to make his presence known to mankind?

The answer to this is two- fold and the first part of God’s answer to this question comes from the Old Testament and the second from the New Testament:

  1. Isaiah 66: 1 – 2,

Isaiah makes it clear that God lives in heaven and the earth is like the footstool of his throne,

“This is what the Lord says:“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.
Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord”.

 Stephen refers to this reference from Isaiah in his speech before his stoning with these words in Acts 7: 48,

“However, the Most High does not live in houses made by human hands”.

 I have travelled through Europe a couple times now and seen many of its so called magnificent cathedrals and none of them have made me feel close to God and in fact for me they have left me cold and disappointed when I think of the money I believe was wasted years ago on such massive buildings.

Not that we don’t need fine church buildings but they should be practical, attractive and functional buildings that lend themselves to places to worship and service of the members of those churches and the communities they exist in.

The church I currently attend has just opened a very attractive and functional extension to what I call its multipurpose building and we are praying that it will be used to extend the kingdom of God in the community we live in.

2. John 1: 14,

The New Testament presents clearly that even though God does not dwell in buildings made by men he chose to dwell in the body of a human being to both reveal himself to us and use that indwelling as a means to save us and bring us to his heavenly home.

As John says in verse 14 of the first chapter of his Gospel,

“The word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth”.

 The Greek word for dwelling in this verse could be translated, “pitched his tent” and other verses in this Gospel of John like 14: 6 speak of how Jesus, the Son of God become flesh and made a way back to the Father in heaven through his death and resurrection.

  1. (6 – 10)Taking the ark of the covenant to God’s dwelling place

 We will learn soon in this Psalm that David was not allowed by God to build the house for the Ark of the Covenant but David was led by God to bring that sacred object up and into Jerusalem to be placed in a large tent called The Tabernacle.

Verses 6 – 9 speak of this very event and I have broken this part of the first section down into three smaller parts:

  1. The transporting of the ark (vs. 6)
  2. The call to worship (vs’s 7, 8)
  3. The request for blessing of the worshippers (vs. 9)

Let me comment on each of these three smaller parts of this second section of this Psalm:

  1. The transporting of the ark (vs. 6)

This verse contains the names of two significant Old Testament places, “Ephrathah” another name for David’s home town Bethlehem and “Fields of Jaar” another name for the place the Ark of the Covenant was kept for a number of Years in the house of a man Abinadab who lived in Kiriath Jearim (1 Chronicles 13: 5).

Verse 6 then says,

“We heard it from Ephrathah we came upon it in the fields of Jaar”.

 My reading of 1 Chronicles 13 which deals with how David first tried, unsuccessfully to move the Ark of the Covenant up into Jerusalem suggests to me that David sought to rally the people together to bring the Ark of the Covenant up and into Jerusalem which is how verse 6 of this Psalm reads as well.

Allan Harman sees verses 6 – 9 as a call to worship and I see it as a call to worship centred on moving the Ark of the Covenant up and into Jerusalem. This call to worship starts in David’s home town Bethlehem or Ephathah right through the land to the very place the Ark of the Covenant was then resting.

2.  The call to worship (vs’s 7, 8)

This call to worship centred on moving the Ark of the Covenant up and into Jerusalem becomes much clearer in verses 7 and 8 that says,

“Let us go to his dwelling place, let us worship at his footstool, saying, Arise, Lord, and come to your resting place, you and the ark of your might”.

 We need to understand the Old Testament worship mind set of ancient Israelites to understand these two verses correctly.

In the time of Moses, the people of Israel when they were in the wilderness had at the centre of their worship The Tabernacle which was a large movable tent that contained the relatively small gold-plated box called The Ark of the Covenant.

Numbers 10: 35 tells us what Moses and I believe the people said whenever they packed-up the Tabernacle and Ark of the Covenant to set off to the next place God led them to,

 ‘Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you”.

 So, David is speaking like Moses about what he hopes will be the final journey of The Ark of the Covenant to its final resting place in Jerusalem, God’s designated place for his Tabernacle and under Solomon, The Temple and of course within these structures a small curtained off room called. The Holy of Hollies”.

I remember visiting a Medieval church somewhere in Europe which had a closed off front area you could only see into called the holy Sanctuary where only the priest entered to consecrate the bread and wine for communion. This idea falsely comes from the Old Testament Holy of Hollies which was broken down by Jesus death for our sins on the cross.

In the Gospel of Mark 15: 38 we read these words about what happened in the Temple in Jerusalem when Jesus breathed his last breath on the cross,

“The curtain of the Temple was torn in two from the top to bottom”.

 The writer to the Hebrews makes it clear that the concept of a Holy of Hollies for Christians has been superseded by the death of Jesus and his blood spilt there with these words in Hebrews 10: 19 – 22,

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, 21 and since we have a great priest over the house of God, 22 let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water”.

 However, in David’s time worship was regulated through The Tabernacle and later Temple with regular on- going sacrifices directed to the Ark of the Covenant also known in the Old Testament as, God’s “footstool”.

 This Ark of the Covenant was then the symbol of God dwelling and being with his people and in all of the battles in the wilderness wanderings it went before the army of Israel leading them to victory thus the Ark of the Covenant at the end of verse 8 is called,

“The Ark of your might”

 These verses are extremely significant in the context of the Songs of Ascent being songs sung by Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and the Temple there. They were answering David’s call to worship coming from all parts of Israel to worship in the Temple of Jerusalem, the resting or dwelling place of the Ark of the Covenant the representation of God with his people helping them in all sorts of ways including victory over their enemies.

3.  The request for blessing of the worshippers (vs. 9)

The Psalm writer then asks God to bless these Old Testament worshippers with these words,

“May your priests be clothed with your righteousness; may your faithful people sing for joy”.

 David Guzik explains the reference to the priests being clothed in God’s righteousness with these words which he quotes from a famous commentator known as Alexander Maclaren,

“The pure vestments of the priests were symbols of stainless character, befitting the ministers of a holy God. The psalmist prays that the symbol may truly represent the inner reality”.

 I have never been impressed by elaborate liturgical clothing and one day many years ago a high Church of England friend of mine took me to a church service at his parish church. After the service, he asked me what I thought of their way of worshipping God and my frank reply was that it was, “a lot of pomp and ceremony with little substance”. His reply really shocked me for he said, “Well you like to worship God in spirit an in truth but some of us like to worship God with smell and colour”.

 By the way “smell” referred to all the incense they threw around that day. Maybe wearing vestments and throwing incense around has a place but the danger in this kind of worship might be the avoidance of Jesus own definition of true worship found in John 4: 24,

“God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in Spirit and in truth”.

 In verse 9 of our Psalm 132 the writer here is calling for the priests to see themselves as not clothed in Old Testament vestments, which they would have been but more clothed in a right attitude of righteousness.

For the general worshippers then he wants God to help them to,

“Sing for joy”

Albert Barnes explains these words this way,

“The fact that there is a God, and such a God, and that this God is ours – that we may serve him, glorify him – is suited to fill the mind with joy”.

 This reminds me of Paul’s words in Colossians 3: 16 – 17,

Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. 17 And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him”.

 I’m sure the ancient Hebrews who travelled to Jerusalem and the Temple there did lots of singing and these songs and of course that means this song they would have sung with great joy and once there we will see God helped them make their worship even more joyful.

So, it is with us on the Christian journey to God’s heavenly dwelling or resting place we should worship with great joy and that joyful worship will be even greater when we finally get to heaven where we will join with other believers and the angels in endless praise and joy. 

    2.  (11 – 12)GOD PROMISE OF AN ETERNAL HOUSE FOR DAVID

  1. (11 and 12b)God promises to establish an eternal house for David

Our writer of this Psalm in the first half of this Psalm asked that God remember David’s deep and totally committed desire to build a house or dwelling place for his God in Jerusalem which we have learnt also meant a house or dwelling place for The Ark of the Covenant. This request gets another go with the words of verse 10,

“For the sake of your servant David do not reject your anointed one”.

This prayer request did not go unheard by the Lord but his answer would have been a surprise to both David and his people for it was not a house for God but a house for David and that house was an eternal dynasty of kings.

Verses 11 reads like this,

“The Lord swore an oath to David, a sure oath he will not revoke; “One of your descendants I will place on your throne”.

 But more than a one generation succession is promised here as verse 12b says,

“Then their sons will sit on your throne for ever and ever”.

 I will deal with the first part of this verse 12 separately soon but for now I want to point out that David swore an oath to God to build him a house or dwelling in Jerusalem and God answered that desire and prayer of David with a promise of an eternal house or dynasty through his direct descendants.

This is a reference to the words God spoke to David through the prophet Nathan in 2 Samuel 7: 11b – 13,

“‘The Lord declares to you that the Lord himself will establish a house for you: 12 When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever”.

 Note how God uses the description of this eternal kingdom as “a house” as the verses before this in 2 Samuel 7 are a response to David’s deep desire and commitment to build a house for God which of course is technically known as a Temple. Listen to what God said about an earthly home built for him in 2 Samuel 7: 5 – 7,

“Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord says: Are you the one to build me a house to dwell in? I have not dwelt in a house from the day I brought the Israelites up out of Egypt to this day. I have been moving from place to place with a tent as my dwelling,

Wherever I have moved with all the Israelites, did I ever say to any of their rulers whom I commanded to shepherd my people Israel, “Why have you not built me a house of cedar?”’

 God seems to be saying he doesn’t want a house built for him on earth after all we learnt earlier form Isaiah 66: 1, 2 that,

“Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.Where is the house you will build for me? Where will my resting place be?
Has not my hand made all these things, and so they came into being?”
declares the Lord”.

 No, God’s intentions for his people is a land or a place for them to dwell in and the Ark of the Covenant was a symbol that God was with his people leading them, fighting for them and generally being with them in a spiritual way not a literal way like some Temple building and that is what God says through the prophet Nathan to David in 2 Samuel 7: 8 – 11a,

“Now then, tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have cut off all your enemies from before you. Now I will make your name great, like the names of the greatest men on earth. 

10 And I will provide a place for my people Israel and will plant them so that they can have a home of their own and no longer be disturbed. Wicked people will not oppress them anymore, as they did at the beginning 11 and have done ever since the time I appointed leaders over my people Israel. I will also give you rest from all your enemies”.

 So, God swore an oath to David according to verse 11 of Psalm 132 and I believe this oath is expressed in the prophet Nathans words we have just looked at and we will see that in another surprising way God kept his oath to David of an eternal home or dynasty in that one of David’s great descendants was The Lord Jesus Christ and he is the inheritor of David’s eternal kingdom as the Angel tells Mary in Luke 1: 30 – 33,

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”

So, on our journey to God in heaven we must keep our focus on The Lord Jesus Christ and not earthly things like great buildings or ornate religious ceremonies or anything that detracts us from following him to our real eternal home, dwelling or resting place, God’s heavenly eternal home.

  1. (vs. 12a)A house or dynasty conditional on obedience to God

I have made the opening statements of verse 12 a separate section because they lay down God’s conditions for the promise of an eternal Kingdom for David’s descendants and they are expressed in these words,

“If your sons keep my covenant and the statutes I teach them”.

 The conditions or requirements for God’s promise are the same for Israel being God’s chosen people and we know from the rest of the bible both David’s descendants and their people generally failed to keep God’s conditions of the covenant of obedience to his statutes and laws.

Even in the example of David’s son Solomon we see a reign of two halves. Solomon starts out trusting and obeying God and does so throughout the early part of his reign with the building of the Temple in Jerusalem and its wonderful God centred dedication. However, as Solomon’s rule goes on he marries many foreign wives and they both lead Solomon and his people away from trusting in and obeying the God of the Bible.

At the end of Solomon’s life, we read this assessment and condemnation of his life and reign by God himself in 1 Kings 11: 9 – 13,

“The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

 The United Kingdom of Israel only lasts through David and Solomon’s rule and Solomon’s son Rehoboam loses most of his Kingdom in a revolt by Jeroboam and he is only King of the tribe of Judah to the south centred in Jerusalem.

Worse comes to pass many centuries later when the Babylonians conquer Judah and sack Jerusalem destroying its walls and Temple and even worse killing the last of the kings in the line of David who had not kept the covenant of God and not obeyed his laws. It seems then that God’s promise of and eternal kingdom to David is lost. However, we learnt from the Angels words to Mary that a great descendant of David did inherit and establish God’s eternal home or dynasty as we read in Luke 1: 30 – 33,

“Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favour with God. 31 You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. 32 He will be great and will be called the Son of the Highest. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,33 and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end”.

 Jesus had to come for the Old Covenant had to be superseded by a new and greater one for the Old Testament story of Israel revealed that mankind is incapable of keeping God’s law to be saved so God had to step in and save us through the sending of his Son as Paul states clearly in Romans 5: 6 – 8,

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly.Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us”.

 This death on the cross for our sins is the basis of this New Covenant a better way for us to come to God’s eternal home or dwelling place as the writer to the Hebrews points out in Hebrews 9: 11 – 15,

But when Christ came as high priest of the good things that are now already here he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not made with human hands, that is to say, is not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

 15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant”.

 So, as we walk the way to heaven we must realise that this way was made only by the spilt blood of Jesus who through his death cleared the way to God for us to walk. Jesus then is the great descendant of David that The Old Testament called “The Messiah” which literally means “Anointed One” who has established the throne of David for ever and ever, an eternal throne that sits in very centre of God’s eternal home, dwelling or resting place known as heaven. 

    3.  (13 – 18)   GOD’S CHOOSES ZION AS HIS DWELLING PLACE OF REST

    1.   (13 – 16)God chooses Zion as his dwelling place

So even though God has told David he does not want or did not desire an earthly home he still institutes the building of a more permanent home or Temple for his Ark of the Covenant which verses 13 – 18 declare.

I see two aspects of this declaration of God concerning the choosing of his earthly dwelling or resting place:

  1. (13 – 14) God’s declaration of his chosen earthly dwelling place
  2. (15 – 16) God’s promise to bless his people through it

 Let’s then have a closer look at these two aspects of God’s declaration concerning the choosing of his earthly dwelling or resting place:

  1. (13 – 14) God’s declaration of his chosen earthly dwelling place

God now declares his choosing for an earthly home, dwelling place which is the final resting place of his Ark of the Covenant in verses 13 and 14,

“For the Lord has chosen Zion, he has desired it for his dwelling, saying, This is my resting place for ever and ever; here I will sit enthroned, for I have desired it.”

 Zion or its old name Mount Moriah gets God’s nod of approval as his special place on earth a number of times. I see this nod of approval of Mount Moriah – Zion three times in the bible:

  1. (Genesis 22: 1 – 18) When Abraham was tested and God provided the sacrificial lamb.

2. (1 Chronicles 21 and 2 Samuel 24) When David buys a threshing floor owned by a   Jebusite where the Angel of the Lord appeared in Jerusalem and withdrew his hand of death over David’s kingdom after David sinned by counting his fighting men which God had forbade him to do. Here David made a sacrifice to God and here David decided that God wanted the Tabernacle and later Temple should rest. These earthly structures would house The Ark of the covenant.

  1. (2 Chronicles 7) When God sent fire down from heaven to consume the first burnt offerings made in the newly built Temple there.

So, over a long period of time God reveals that the Mount Moriah later known as Mount Zion is the chosen desired dwelling and resting place on earth.

Mount Zion is also one of the bibles names for Jerusalem and this follows that Mount Zion is within the enlarged city of Jerusalem that David and later Solomon instigated.

Here God continued to choose as the place to reveal himself even through his Son, The Lord Jesus Christ who ministers and preaches there, rides triumphantly into and is eventually sacrificially killed there and of course rises from the dead there as well. Finally, from Jerusalem the Gospel message will go out into all the world as Jesus commands it should in Acts 1: 8,

“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

And of course, Matthew 28: 19 – 20 expands this into “The Great Commission”,

“Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely, I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

 This command was given to the disciple just outside Jerusalem and from there the Gospel message of how we can come to God through The Lord Jesus Christ went into all the world.

In the later parts of the New Testament Zion and even Jerusalem become symbols and even names of God’s heavenly eternal home for all believers and this is the very idea that the writer of the letter to the Hebrews speak of in Hebrews 12: 22 – 24,

“But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the Judge of all, to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, 24 to Jesus the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel”.

  1. (15 – 16) God’s promise to bless his people through it

What we read in the next two verses is a natural follow on from the presence of the Lord on Mount Zion namely his blessing for his people through his in- dwelling presence in his people’s lives which I believe is symbolized by the Ark of the Covenant resting on Mount Zion. Verses 15 and 16 says then,

“I will bless her with abundant provisions; her poor I will satisfy with food. I will clothe her priests with salvation, and her faithful people will ever sing for joy”.

 The provisions God promises to bless his people here with are physical namely food in verse 15 but interestingly this changes to spiritual blessings in verse 16 where the priests are blessed with clothes of salvation a greater blessing than righteousness in verse 9 of this Psalm.

God’s people are also blessed with spiritual blessing in verse 16 namely singing eternal joy again far greater than just joy in verse 9. Ray Fowler points out that,

“The New Testament tells us that these things are fulfilled in us today in our salvation in Christ”.

 Ray then quotes 1 Peter 2: 9 – 10,

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy”.

 We declare God’s praises today in this life to the world through the preaching of the wonderful Gospel message which Peter refers to in the words,

“Who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”.

 However, we look forward to an even greater day of blessing in the New Jerusalem where we will dwell intimately and fully with God forever as Revelation 21: 1 – 4,

“Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”

 So as we make the journey to God like those ancient Hebrews journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple their we can realise God’s blessing on us that can be the meeting of our physical daily needs but are more prominent and wonderful in God blessing us with our spiritual needs beyond that we expected or even hoped for as Paul states in Philippians 4: 19,

“And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus” 

  1. (17 – 18)God promise of a future greater king and dwelling place of rest

I mentioned earlier the Old Testament promise of “The Messiah” or “Anointed One” and here in these final two verses of this Psalm a fine example of that kind of promise exists as these two verses say,

“Here I will make a horn grow for David and set up a lamp for my anointed one. I will clothe his enemies with shame, but his head will be adorned with a radiant crown”.

 Ray Fowler explains these verses so well I will give you the main things he says about them in the following quote,

“The horn in the Old Testament is a symbol of strength. The lamp is a symbol for light and life and goodness. The crown here speaks not only of Christ rule but also his holiness”.

 Ray notes how the crown is radiant and therefore speaks of Christ glory or in the context of the Psalm the glory of the coming Messiah.

I read last year a modern Jewish criticism of Jesus being the Messiah and that went something like that Jesus fulfilled many of the Old Testament prophecies of the Messiah but not all of them so Jesus could not have been the Messiah.

The answer to this is that Jesus has to come twice to fulfil all the prophecies and do all the jobs the Messiah has to fulfil. For instance, he could not save us from our sins as the suffering servant and be a judge at the same time. So, Jesus came the first time to be the suffering servant Messiah but will come a second time after we have an opportunity to respond to his message of salvation as the glorified judge of all mankind.

As Peter refers to in 2 Peter 3: 9,

“The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance”.

 So, these final two verses mix up the two comings of Christ as one coming as after all Jesus first and second coming are but one great event with two parts.

We see Jesus presented as a horn of salvation in Zechariah’s prophetic song in Luke 2: 68 – 75,

“Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, because he has come to his people and redeemed them.69 He has raised up a hornof salvation for us in the house of his servant David70 (as he said through his holy prophets of long ago),71 salvation from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us—72 to show mercy to our ancestorsand to remember his holy

covenant,73 the oath he swore to our father Abraham:74 to rescue us from the hand of our enemies, and to enable us to serve him without fear75 in holiness and righteousness before him all our days”.

 Note even this prophecy mixes up Jesus first and second coming.

Jesus calls himself the Light of the world in John 8: 12 similar to the Messiah in verse 17 of our psalm “setting up a lamp”.

Then Jesus has victory over his enemies not in his first coming but through what he achieved in his first coming fulfilled in his second coming. As we read in many references in the New Testament but here are just two to give you a taste of what The New Testament has to say about Jesus defeat of sin, evil and his many enemies,

  1. Hebrews 2: 14 – 15,

“Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— 15 and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death”. 

  1. Revelation 17: 14,

“They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings—and with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers.”

 Finally, the radiant crown that adorns Christ head I refer you to the writer to the Hebrews again when says this in Hebrews 2: 7 – 9,

“You made them a littlelower than the angels; you crowned them with glory and honour
8and put everything under their feet.”In putting everything under them, God left nothing that is not subject to them. Yet at present we do not see everything subject to them. But we do see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone”.

 Note again the two comings of Jesus that makes it possible for him to be firstly made lower than the angels but then through what he did as Isaiah’s suffering servant on the cross rose to victory and has been crowned in glory with a radiant or glorious crown.

So, for the ancient Hebrews on their long journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple there this song of ascent we call Psalm 132 would have been a great source of inspiration and hope.

So, it is with us on our journey of faith to God’s eternal dwelling place in heaven this Psalm offers us great inspiration and hope.

Jesus has prepared a place for us and interestingly when he speaks of this great promise he uses the image of a home or dwelling place in John 14: 1 – 3,

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.

 My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am”.

 I close as usual with my own original poem / song and final word of prayer.

MY RESTING PLACE

(Based on Psalm 132 and the tune of “There is a ship”)

David longed to build God’s house on earth

In Jerusalem where the Temple would dwell

But God for bade David’s hearts desire

And his Son Solomon did build it well.

 

Refrain:

 

The Lords does live in heaven above

And I long to be there with him

For this is my resting place

For in that place there is no sin.

 

David moved the Ark from fields of jaar

Up to Zion God’s chosen mountain there

And there he blessed his people with joy

For they came to him to sing and share.

 

Refrain:

 

The Lords does live in heaven above

And I long to join God’s people there

For this is my resting place

For in that place true worship we’ll share.

 

David did receive from God above

The promise of an eternal house

And through his line came the Lord Jesus Christ

Who came to earth to die for us.

 

Refrain:

 

The Lords does live in heaven above

And through his son we will live with him

For this is my resting place

A place that I will praise and sing.

 

The people gathered on Zions hill

God’s chosen place to worship him

From there his light shinned to the world

For the Gospel went out from Jerusalem.

 

Refrain:

 

The Lords does live in heaven above

And through Christ love there we’ll find release.

For this is my resting place

A place of joy and eternal peace.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

Thank you, Father who lives in heaven, above that you revealed yourself through your ancient people Israel centred in your chosen place of worship on Zions hill in Jerusalem. Thank you Lord that through the line of David you sent to earth your only Son who died for our sins overlooking Jerusalem your chosen place of reconciliation and through his death we have the gift of eternal life. Help us now to take the message of your love to the world as it began in Jerusalem and may we all look forward to the New eternal Jerusalem where we will gather with all who believe in you to experience true joy and worship for ever more. In Jesus name we pray, Amen.

PSALM 131 TALK   HUMBLE YOURSELVES BEFORE THE LORD

PSALM 131 TALK   HUMBLE YOURSELVES BEFORE THE LORD

(GOING DOWN BEFORE THE LORD TO COME UP AND GO ON  IN CHRISTIAN JOURNEY           OF FAITH)

 (The twelfth Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with how we must humble ourselves before the Lord in trust and hope if we want to go on and up on the road to God in heaven).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

 For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 131

 I always get a laugh out of the satirical song by Mac Davis that says,

“Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble

When you’re perfect in every way

I can’t wait to look in the mirror

Cause I get better lookin’ each day

To know me is to love me

I must be a hell of a man

Oh Lord, it’s hard to be humble

But I’m doin’ the best that I can.”

 I found on the internet some very funny true sayings about humility by famous people in the past on the internet, here are the best three I discovered,

1.   Edgar Watson Howe – “A modest man is usually admired, if people ever hear of him.”

2.   Helen Nielsen – “Humility is like underwear, essential, but indecent if it shows”.

3.   Ted Turner – “If I only had a little humility, I would be perfect”.

Then there is that colloquial saying, “I’m humble and proud of it” but all jokes aside humility is a tricky topic to speak on but thanks to Psalm 131 and James 4: 10 that task becomes a little easier. For even though Psalm 131 is a short Psalm of only three verses it tells us simply and clearly some of the things God has to say about what is the nature and implications of true humility as we seek to walk his way to heaven.

C.H. Spurgeon says that Psalm 131 is,

“One of the shortest Psalms read, but one of the longest to learn”

 Psalm 131 Hebrew title attributes it’s composition to King David who showed throughout his long life both true humility and the sin of pride and it seems like David inserted the battles he had with humility in the opening words of verse 2 of this Psalm which simply says,

“But I have calmed and quieted myself”.

 These words could indicate David’s struggles with humility and living a life of trusting the Lord and give us all a word of encouragement as we battle with the sin of pride and going our own way in life.

This short Psalm is a “Song of Ascent” and I feel it fits into this collection of songs that were originally sung by Jewish Pilgrims to Jerusalem and the Temple there as it speaks of the general character they must have as they made those long journeys and that is the character of humility and trust or hope in the Lord as apposed to self- reliance and lack of faith that characterise those not going God’s way in this life.

I will refer to one New Testament verse throughout this Psalm talk, James 4: 10

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

 This verse, I believe captures both the central message of this Psalm and the overall teaching of the bible on nature and implications of true Godly humility.

With all this in mind my outline for this Psalm is:

  1. (vs. 1)   A RECEIPE FOR HUMILITY
  1. (vs. 1a) Humility is not being proud or haughty
  2. (vs. 1b) Humility is knowing your true place in life
  1. (vs. 2) A PICTURE OF TRUE HUMILITY
  1. (vs. 2a) The struggles to find humility
  2. (vs. 2b) The picture of true humility
  1. (vs. 3)  A PLEA FOR HUMILITY BY TRUSTING IN GOD
  1. (vs. 3a) Hoping and trusting in God is the way of humility
  2. (vs. 3b) Hoping and trusting in God should always be sought

 Let’s then have a closer look at this Psalm under these headings:

  1. (vs. 1)   A RECEIPE FOR HUMILITY
  1. (vs. 1a) Humility is not being proud or haughty

I found this definition of the word recipe on the internet that captures what I mean by a recipe for humility,

“Something which is likely to lead to a particular outcome”

 I believe verse 1 of Psalm 131 fits this definition for “Humility” or what the bible says “Humility” is or should look like. This recipe for humility has two parts which are:

  1. (1a) What we don’t do to be humble
  2. (1b) What we do to be humble.

I will deal first with what we don’t do to be humble and verse 1a says,

“My heart is not proud, Lord, my eyes are not haughty”

 So, the two things we are not to do if we want to be truly humble is:

  1. Don’t be proud
  2. Don’t be haughty

So, let’s have a close look at what each of these two things means we are not to do.

  1. Don’t be proud

There is a kind of pride God hates and there is a kind of pride God loves. First of all, I need to tell you the kind of pride God hates and this is expressed well in Proverbs 8: 13,

“To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance,evil behaviour and perverse speech”.

 The kind of pride that God hates comes from our rebellious or sinful nature as Psalm 10: 5 seems to tell us,

“His ways are always prosperous;your laws are rejected by him;he sneers at all hisenemies”.

 “Got Question. Org” sums up why our pride comes from our rebellious or sinful nature when it says,

“Pride is giving ourselves the credit for something that God has accomplished. Pride is taking the glory that belongs to God alone and keeping it for ourselves. Pride is essentially self-worship. Anything we accomplish in this world would not have been possible were it not for God enabling and sustaining us.

 “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Corinthians 4:7)”.

 So, when David says,

“My heart is not proud, Lord”

 He is saying that he realises his true place under God’s heaven and that all that he is or has comes from God and God alone. This is then the recipe for true humility which James 4: 10 says is,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

Before I leave this negative aspect of humility namely not being proud I would like to comment on the kind of pride God loves and that is twofold:

  1. Pride in a job well done for God
  2. Pride in the accomplishment of others working for God

Let me explain:

  1. Pride in a job well done for God

God word does speak of being proud of a job well done for God and others for instance in Galatians 6: 4,

“Each one should test their own actions. Then they can take pride in themselves

alone, without comparing themselves to someone else”.

 Note how this good kind of pride does not come about by comparing ourselves with others as the wrong kind of pride comes about when we think we are better than someone else.

Paul gives us the perfect antidote to this bad kind of pride in Philippians 2: 3 – 4,

“Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others”. 

2.  Pride in the accomplishment of others working for God

The first kind of good pride leads naturally to the second kind of good pride namely a kind of pride we express in the accomplishment of others as Paul speaks of in 2 Corinthians 7: 4,

I have spoken to you with great frankness; I take great pride in you. I am greatly encouraged; in all our troubles, my joy knows no bounds”.

 This kind of pride expressed to others is a great way of encouraging them to continue the good work they are doing for the Lord.

  1. Don’t be haughty

The second thing David speaks of we should doing to be truly humble is in verse 1 when it says,

“My eyes are not haughty”

 Note how being proud in the first part of this verse is in the “heart” and the second part is in the “eyes” or comes from looking out to others. Tremper Longman 111 explains well what,

“My eyes are not haughty” actually means when he writes,

“This is equivalent to a person today saying that they do not look down their noses at other people”.

 Paul offers us the antidote to this problem of our eyes being haughty or looking down on others in Romans 12: 3,

“For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you”.

 I’m sure we all find what we call in the western world, “Snobs’ or people who think they are better than us or others very annoying well if you look down on someone thinking you are better than then you are simply being a snob and humility is a quality you simply do not have.

Again, James says we are not to look down on others but to look up to God by humbling ourselves before God and he will lift us up (James 4: 10).

This means the way God wants us to live is not like the worlds way where people live their lives looking down on others rather we are to humble ourselves before God and look out for others. James speaks of this in verse 6 of chapter 4,

“But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble”

  1. (vs. 1b) Humility is knowing your true place in life

 David has told us two things we should not do to be truly humble, don’t be proud and don’t look down on others or be haughty so, what must we actually do to be truly humble?

David gives the answer to this question in the second half of verse 1,

“I do not concern myself with great matters or things to wonderful for me”.

Leopold sights the words of Jeremiah to his scribe Baruch in Jeremiah 45: 5 as a cross reference here,

“Should you then seek great things for yourself? Do not seek them. For I will bring disaster on all people, declares the Lord, but wherever you go I will let you escape with your life.’”

 This Leopold suggests that what David is saying we should do if we want to be truly humble is not seek “great things” or as verse 1b actually says “great matters” for our own selfish ends but rather seek to serve God faithfully.

Alan Harman sheds great light on the phrase when he writes,

“Things to wonderful for me”.

 By pointing out that this phrase is used in others Psalms to describe the deeds of God, like Psalm 71: 17,

“Since my youth, God, you have taught me,and to this day I declare your marvellous deeds”

 The next Psalm, Psalm 72 has the same use of the term in verse 18. Harmon’s conclusion is that,

“The idea may be that he does not attempt to elevate himself in a God like position”.

 Today the arrogance and Godlessness of modern man speaks of how they think and act like they are in charge of their lives and they can determine their destinies and they know better than the so -called God of the bible. This is the slippery slope to destruction as Proverbs 14: 12 says,

“There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end, it leads to death”.

 Ray Fowler spells out what I think David has been saying with these words,

 “I have learned not to walk above my means. I have learned not to reach beyond my grasp.

 I have learned not to expend great effort trying to do things beyond my ability or attempting to understand things beyond my comprehension. I am willing to admit that there are things I cannot do, and many things I do not understand. And that’s okay, because my walk is humble, not proud. I’m not caught up in greatness, or achievements or accomplishments.

 I maintain a lowly, humble walk before the Lord, and I bow my knee to his great power and understanding.”

 Again, my key verse offers the way of humility, James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

For the Jewish pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem and the Temple there David’s song of Psalm 131 would have reminded them to stay focussed on God and not be drawn away by seeking to look to themselves and matters they should not concern themselves with if they desired to get to the end of their long journey. We to need this kind of focus and if we have it James says “God will lift us up”.

  1. (vs. 2) A PICTURE OF TRUE HUMILITY
  1. (vs. 2a) The struggles to find humility

David then offers us one brilliant but simple picture of what true humility is, a young child calmly sitting close to its loving mother, he writes,

“But I have calmed and quietened myself, I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content”.

 Before I look closely at the image of the child with its mother I would like to comment on the introductory phrase of this verse that says,

“But I have calmed and quietened myself”.

 As I said in the introduction these words seem to indicate this Psalms writer, who we believe is David had a real battle as we all do with living our lives with true humility. Tremper Longman 111 in his commentary on Psalms says this about this phrase,

“The Psalmist present confidence did not come naturally, but after a struggle he calmed and quietened himself”.

 The idea that David struggled with humility and its opposite quality “Pride” rings a bell with my understanding of the life of David so I would like to give you two instances of David acting without humility and then two examples of David acting with true humility.

  1. David acting without true humility

i)  When David nearly killed Nabal

The first instance I would like to sight of David not acting with true humility is found in 1 Samuel 25 where David is on the run from King Saul and he and his men found shelter in the desert area of Paran. There David and his men helped protect the herds and land of a man named Nabal.

After some time in that place David sent men to Nabal’s house to ask for some food and supplies as a way of showing thanks for their good work for him. However, Nabal’s reaction was to insult David and his men and refuse to help them.

David’s reaction was to strap on his sword in rage and take some of his men to ride down to Nabal’s house and slaughter him and his men and family. David’s ill thought through reaction to Nabal of rage that came from a man not looking to God but acting out of his own foolish pride is calmed and quietened by the wise and Godly actions of his faithful wife Abigail.

Abigail rides out to meet David on the road to their house with food and supplies and when she meets David she says these very wise and Godly words recorded for us in 1 Samuel 25: 25 – 26,

“Please pay no attention, my lord, to that wicked man Nabal. He is just like his name—his name means Fool, and folly goes with him. And as for me, your servant, I did not see the men my lord sent. 26 And now, my lord, as surely as the Lord your God lives and as you live, since the Lord has kept you from bloodshed and from avenging yourself with your own hands, may your enemies and all who are intent on harming my lord be like Nabal”.

 She then lays before David the food and supplies she brought out to him and then adds these wise words of council in verses 28 – 31,

“Please forgive your servant’s presumption. The Lord your God will certainly make a lasting dynasty for my lord, because you fight the Lord’s battles, and no wrongdoing will be found in you as long as you live. 29 Even though someone is pursuing you to take your life, the life of my lord will be bound securely in the bundle of the living by the Lord your God, but the lives of your enemies he will hurl away as from the pocket of a sling. 30 When the Lord has fulfilled for my lord every good thing he promised concerning him and has appointed him ruler over Israel, 31 my lord will not have on his conscience the staggering burden of needless bloodshed or of having avenged himself. And when the Lord your God has brought my lord success, remember your servant.”

 These words of Abigail Nabal’s wife had an amazing calming effect on David, who you might say came to his senses and acted with Godly humility. We see this in the words David uses in response to what Abigail has just said and done in verses 32 – 34,

“David said to Abigail, “Praise be to the Lord, the God of Israel, who has sent you today to meet me. 33 May you be blessed for your good judgment and for keeping me from bloodshed this day and from avenging myself with my own hands. 34 Otherwise, as surely as the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, who has kept me from harming you, if you had not come quickly to meet me, not one male belonging to Nabal would have been left alive by daybreak.”

 David then offers Abigail his blessing and lets her return home un harmed and he moves away from Nabal’s house probably to enjoy the food with his men that Abigail brought him. After Nabal recovers from a drunken party Abigail tells him how close he came to death at the hands of David and his men and ten days later we are told the Lord struck Nabal dead.

After this Abigail becomes one of the wives of David and her Godly humble actions and words became a great story of how a person should act with true humility. However, in the case of David it is a good illustration of him, at least at first not having true humility and more like a man who wants to take things into their own hands without trusting in God.

ii)    David commits adultery and murder

The next instance I want to share with you about how David did not act in a humble, trusting in God way was when he was firmly established as the king of Israel and he fell to the two horrific sins of adultery and murder.

This sordid story is recorded in 2 Samuel 11 and it first tells us of how David covets another man’s wife after seeing her bathing looking down from one of his palaces balconies and he then sends for her and commits adultery with her.

The women known as Bathsheba falls pregnant to David and David attempts to cover up his sins with even worst sins in having Uriah, Abigail’s husband killed in battle by being moved to the front lines of his army.

Here we see David acting completely without true humility and more with pride and disobedience to God and his laws. David of course is told by the prophet Nathan that God knows David’s sins and David reacts with repentance asking God to forgive him.

God does forgive David but David still faces some sad consequences of his sins with the death of the child he had with Bathsheba and on- going turmoil in is family which we will look at soon as well.

  1. David acting with true humility

i)   David not killing king Saul

David’s life was not only long but it was also very difficult throughout most of it and one of the difficulties David faced was his eight years or so of being on the run from King Saul who accused him falsely of treachery and for this sought to hunt him down and kill him.

The other problem is that before the prophet and judge Samuel died he anointed David as the true king of Israel as God had rejected Saul as king owing to his continued disobedience to God and his law.

The first book of Samuel records two times what seems on the surface two God given opportunities for David to kill his nemesis King Saul when Saul was trying to hunt down and kill David.

Both times that David decides not to kill Saul and on the second occasion when David had an opportunity to kill king Saul 1 Samuel 26: 7 – 11 tells us what happened and what David said about killing his enemy,

“So, David and Abishai went to the army by night, and there was Saul, lying asleep inside the camp with his spear stuck in the ground near his head. Abner and the soldiers were lying around him.

 Abishai said to David, “Today God has delivered your enemy into your hands. Now let me pin him to the ground with one thrust of the spear; I won’t strike him twice.”But David said to Abishai, “Don’t destroy him! Who can lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed and be guiltless? 10 As surely as the Lord lives,” he said, “the Lord himself will strike him, or his time will come and he will die, or he will go into battle and perish. 11 But the Lord forbid that I should lay a hand on the Lord’s anointed. Now get the spear and water jug that are near his head, and let’s go.”

 David shows by his words and actions an act of true humility and trust in the Lord and this humility and trust does seem to be the main characteristic David reveals of himself during his long life except for a couple of instances when his sinful pride also reveals itself in his actions and shows us something of what David wrote in Psalm 131 verse 2a about the struggle he had with true humility throughout his long life.

ii)   David cursed by a tribal member from Saul’s tribe when on the run from his rebellious          son Absalom.

My second example of David acting in a humble way before God is in 2 Samuel chapter 16 verses 5 – 14. This incident took place when David was on the run again in his life and this time it is from his very own eldest Son Absalom.

Absalom engineered what seemed at first a successful rebellion to take over his father’s throne. He like King Saul years before sought to track down and kill his father and members of his family so he would have had no possible challenge to his rule over Israel.

On the run with members of his family and loyal soldiers of his army a man named Shimei a member of Saul’s tribal group of Benjamin catches up with David and throws rocks and insults at David and his men. This is the sort of things Shimei said to David, 2 Samuel 16: 7 – 8,

“Get out, get out, you murderer, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has given the kingdom into the hands of your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a murderer!”

 David’s humble response is recorded in verses 9 – 14,

“Then Abishai son of Zeruiah said to the king, “Why should this dead dog curse my lord the king? Let me go over and cut off his head.”10 But the king said, “What does this have to do with you, you sons of Zeruiah? If he is cursing because the Lord said to him, ‘Curse David,’ who can ask, ‘Why do you do this?’”

 11 David then said to Abishai and all his officials, “My son, my own flesh and blood, is trying to kill me. How much more, then, this Benjamite! Leave him alone; let him curse, for the Lord has told him to. 12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

 13 So David and his men continued along the road while Shimei was going along the hillside opposite him, cursing as he went and throwing stones at him and showering him with dirt. 14 The king and all the people with him arrived at their destination exhausted. And there he refreshed himself”.

 This is an example of David acting in a humble God trusting way. Note how David indicated that he believed if he humbled himself before God or trusted God not the circumstances of his life God would eventually lift him up as he says in verse 12,

12 It may be that the Lord will look upon my misery and restore to me his covenant blessing instead of his curse today.”

 So, the challenge is to actually practice humbling yourself before God when things are not seeming to be going well in your life but we must remember at all times of our lives what James says in James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

Spurgeon is write when he said this Psalm is:

“One of the shortest Psalms read, but one of the longest to learn”

David took a life time of struggles and set- backs to learn how he could be humble before the Lord as his opening words of verse two seem to indicate,

“But I have calmed and quieted myself”

 Which the message bible translates as,

“I’ve kept my feet on the ground, I’ve cultivated a quiet heart”.

 Trouble and difficulties then are used by God to teach us true humility and Paul says this about the role of suffering or strife in our lives in Romans 5: 3 –  5,

“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us”. 

  1. (vs. 2b) The picture of true humility

 David then gives us a beautiful picture of what true humility is in the second half of verse 2 and that picture of humility reads this way,

“I am like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child I am content”.

 David had many children and like most fathers he would have witnessed the close and special bond of a child and its mother. This is one of the few times in the bible where the God of heaven and earth is likened to a mother but we cannot read into this more than it is trying to tell us about the nature of true humility.

The first issue is why does David speak of the child as a weaned child?

Most of the experts I read say that the difference between a weaned child and an un -weaned child seems to be that an un- weaned child is still restlessly seeking milk from its mother’s breast but a weaned child is more settled and is more comfortable snuggling up to its mother’s side.

Jesus used a child as a living visual aid to make a similar point to his disciples in Matthew 18. At the start of this chapter the disciples come to Jesus with a question about which disciple will be the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Jesus then does something both unusual and for his day controversial he calls over a little child and places that child among them and then says, verses 3 – 5,

“Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”.

 This was both an unusual and controversial thing for Jesus to do and say because of the extremely low status of children in ancient times. We have the saying, “Children should be seen and not heard”, but in Jesus day children were not even considered important enough to be even seen and in Jewish and Roman cultures of Jesus day children rated only one step above animals and grown women above them with men dominating the top place in society.

So, David is saying in verse 2b that before God is like a baby close to her mother a truly lowly place and therefore a truly humble place before God. This is what the disciples also needed to learn that as James later said in James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

This graphic picture of a weaned child with its mother has one more thing to teach us about humility and that is in the words of that verse that says,

“I am content”

 The weaned little child is not restless David is saying when he or she is next to his or her mother and this picture of not being restless is also saying what being truly humble is all about. It means that we accept the lot or the place God gives us in this life.

The apostle Paul had learnt this lesson when he says to the Philippians in Philippians 4: 11 – 12,

I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

 The disciples in Matthew 18 sought to be great or greater in the kingdom of heaven but Jesus told them visually and verbally they had to be like a little child who seeks only to be with its mother and rest in her a picture of someone content because they rest or trust in God no matter what is the circumstances of their lives.

For Paul, he knew tough times as well as incredible good times but at all times he humbled

himself before God and God lifted him up. This is seen in his words to the Philippians about contentment in verse 13 that says,

13 I can do all this through him who gives me strength”.

  1. (vs. 3) A PLEA FOR HUMILITY BY TRUSTING IN GOD
  1. (vs. 3a) Hoping and trusting in God is the way of humility

The last verse of this three verse Psalm does not mention the word humility but humility permeates throughout it. It is a plea for Israel to act and live with humility by David expressed in the idea of putting their hope in God which is another way of saying look to God or humble yourself before God in trust and obedience.

The first part of the verse says,

“Israel, put your hope in the Lord”

 Some commentators point out that this plea for the nation to act in a humble way in putting their hope in God came about because Israel at the time of writing was not doing this or it was looking to other things or even beliefs for their hope and security.

This could fit the early reign years of King David when he led his people to great victories over many of their enemies who had been supressing them.

It seems that when things are going well in our lives then there comes with this a sense of self – reliance or even self-importance and our hoping in God can slip away.

Paul learnt to be content in all situations good and bad, need and plenty and did this because at all times he looked to God and humbled himself before him.

The New Testament teaches us that we are the new Israel of God, Galatians 6: 16 and Galatians 3: 28 – 29, so this plea to hope in the Lord applies to us as well and in my life at the moment and the lives of many others in my church this is a plea we need to hear and obey.

God has blessed us and our church with so much of the riches of his grace and the trap is now above any time we can become complacent and feeling self -reliant that we start to look away from God and not humble ourselves before him.

This plea to put out hope in God reminds me of Jesus plea to do the same thing put in another way in Matthew 6: 33, that says,

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well”.

 If we, humble ourselves before God even in the seemingly good times in life we are truly putting our hope in God or seeking his Kingdom first and remember James 4: 10 says if we do humble ourselves before God,

“He will lift you up”

 As the ancient Jews journeyed to Jerusalem and the Temple there they needed to be reminded to put there hope in God and so also do we need to respond to this plea as we walk God’s way to heaven.

  1. (vs. 3b) Hoping and trusting in God should always be sought

 The final phrase at the end of Psalm 131 is,

“Both now and forevermore”

 Allan Harman explains the meaning of this phrase with,

“Hoping in the Lord is not a momentary act but an abiding experience”.

 Having a humble heart or Humbling ourselves before the Lord is not just something we do once or from time to time but is both for now and evermore a life style act of trust and obedience to the Lord and his word.

This expression has appeared in the songs of ascent psalms before and in fact is the last words of Psalm 121 and appears at the end of the second verse of Psalm 125.

Maybe the writers or even later editors of the fifth book of Psalms wanted the readers and singers of these Psalms to always have a humble or God hoping attitude to life while on their pilgrim journeys to Jerusalem and the Temple there.  They also wanted them to have this same God trusting, God honouring and before God humbling attitude every moment of their people’s lives.

Recently I helped lead the singing in church and we sang the old hymn “May the Mind of Christ My Saviour” and two verses stood out to me that rap up this last verse of this Psalm in the context of having true humility.

I like the first verse,

May the mind of Christ my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By His love and pow’r controlling

All I do and say.

And the fourth verse,

May the love of Jesus fill me,
As the waters fill the sea;
Him exalting, self -abasing,
This is victory.

 Those last two words sum up the main message of this Psalm so well,

Him exalting, self -abasing,
This is victory.

So, reminiscent of the verse from the book of James I have been quoting all through this Psalm talk, James 4: 10,

“Humble yourselves before God, and he will lift you up”

 Before I close I been thinking about that comedy song I quoted at the start composed by Mac Davis entitled “Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble and I thought I might have a try at rewriting it with some of the things I have learnt from this Psalm in mind. It is not funny but I believe my version is biblical,

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

When you’re not perfect in any way

Sometimes I can’t look in the mirror

For I see such a sinner each day

God knows me yet he loves me

He must be a wonderful God

Oh Lord it’s hard to be humble

But his helping me change as I trod.

I close as usual with my own original poem / song and final word of prayer:

HUMBLE YOURSELF

(Based on Psalm 131 and the tune of “Whispering Hope”)

 

My heart seeks to not be so proud Lord

My eyes seek to not look down on men

I look to the Lord for inspiration

And seek to live only for him.

I won’t meddle in useless affairs Lord

I won’t be caught up in grandiose plans

I will trust in the Lord and his word now

And place my life in his hands.

 

Chorus:

 

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

All my life I have struggled to find Lord

Your humble way in my life

But through all the trials I’ve faced Lord

You’ve changed me transforming my life.

And now I’m just like a baby

In the arms of my mother’s love

For I am content in your Love Lord

For God saved me when he came from above.

 

Chorus:

 

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

God’s people should hope in the Lord now

Trusting in his life- giving word

Turning from selfish plans Lord

To share your wonderful word

This should be done every day Lord

As we seek to live each day

So, trust in the Lord all God’s people

As you humbly walk God’s way.

 

Chorus:

Humble yourself

Before the Lord

And he will lift you up

By his life changing word.

 

By: Jim Wenman

 

PRAYER:

 Dear Father in heaven we are inspired by the example of your Son to walk humbly before you because he was willing to give up heaven to come down to be one of us and die for our sins on the cross. Help us to live our lives trusting only in you and your word. Help us to not live selfish Godless lives but lives that reflect your love to others. Help us to humble ourselves before you Lord and we know from your word you will lift us up in service for you and one day the glorious life of eternity with you in heaven. In Jesus now we pray this, Amen.

 

PSALM 130 TALK   OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

PSALM 130 TALK   OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

(LOOKING BACK AND FORWARD ON THE CHRISTIAN JOURNEY OF FAITH)

 (The eleventh Psalm of the 15 Psalm series in the book of Psalms called “Songs of Ascent” which deals with how it is possible for us to make the journey to God in heaven as we are all sinners in need of great forgiveness. We are like a drowning man desperately calling out for help but God reaches down with his love and forgiveness and lifts us up to give us hope and help to go his way to heaven with others who have the same faith and hope in the God of the bible).

(THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide”.

 GENERAL INTRODUCTION

 For an introduction to the Songs of Ascent see Psalm talk for Psalm 120

PART 3.   PSALMS 130 – 134 – PERFECTING THE JOURNEY

INTRODUCTON TO PSALM 130

 Bill Durden a sixty-four-year-old retired Navy pilot went fishing one night a couple of years ago off the coast of Mexico and snagged his fishing line on the motor of his boat and was pulled over board. He ended up treading water for 20 hours before being rescued.

Bill tells the amazing story of his desperate struggle to stay alive in the extreme elements of open sea, blaring sun, then the pitch- black darkness of the night and lots of marine life attaching themselves to his legs and even bumping him during the night. He prayed for a miracle of a rescue and even prayed for a stray bottle of coke to float past him to quench his ragging thirst.

In the morning, he found a buoy of a crab trap and grimily hung on to that and in his desperate despair he prayed for the miracle of being lifted out of the depths of the sea. Then around 10.30 he saw a flare light up in the sky. He then heard the distinctive roar of an airplane engine and saw a A.C. 130 Coast Guard plane flying overhead. The plane spotted him wearing his bright yellow shirt, he did not have a life jacket on and soon a helicopter arrived and lifted him up to safety.

This story mirrors the message and images used to convey it in Psalm 130 as this Psalm starts with the famous words,

“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord”.

 The term “out of the depths” is only used in other parts of the Old Testament as a image of a man who is caught in dangerous and deep waters.

 Just like Bill Durden was and in a similar way David uses this image of rescue in Psalm 69: 1 – 3,

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold.I have come into the deep waters;the floods engulf me.I am worn out calling for help;my throat is parched.My eyes fail,looking for my God”.

David’s words in this Psalm and the opening verses of Psalm 130 could easily have been words Bill Durden would have said when he was lost in deep water at sea and certainly they describe perfectly the harrowing experience he had two years ago.

However, Psalm 130 is using this concept of being saved out of deep waters figuratively for we will see from the rest of the Psalm that the writer is speaking about being saved or lifted up from the consequences of sin.

I believe the bible presents very clearly that it is the sin problem that causes the terrible mess we are all in and so we all suffer from what I will call the despair of sin and so we all need to be lifted out of the depths of despair caused by our many sins.

Psalm 130 is the sixth penitential Psalm (6, 32, 38, 51, 106, 130 and 143) which deal with confession of sin and its wonderful remedy the love and forgiveness of the God of the bible. It is the eleventh Song of Ascent and if Paul Faris is correct it is the start of the final five Songs of Ascent that deal with perfecting or finishing the journey of faith to God in heaven and in Old Testament terms finishing or perfecting the pilgrim journey to Jerusalem and the Temple there.

How then does Psalm 130 fit into the perfecting or finishing of our journey of faith to God in heaven?

My thinking on this is that this is a bridge Song of Ascent Psalm in that to commence the journey of faith to God in heaven or in ancient times, for the Jews to pilgrim journey to Jerusalem and the temple there you must first be lifted out of the despair and depths of sin through God’s forgiveness. To continue on in this journey of faith to God in heaven you need his constant forgiveness of your sins and finally to arrive in heaven or for the ancient Jews Jerusalem you need God’s love and forgiveness as well.

I see this Psalm being like and ascent or a series of steps upwards moving from the depths of the despair of sin to God’s forgiveness and then continuing ever upwards on our journey of faith with ongoing hope or faith in God and his word and finally moving even further upwards to heaven itself with others who share the love of God and the hope he gives us to get there.

So, my outline for this Psalm reflects this upward journey of faith in the love and forgiveness of God:

  1. (1 – 2) OUT OF THE DEPTHS

     1.  (vs. 1) Out of the depths of despair

     2. (vs. 2) God being attentive to our cry

     2.  (3 -4)  INTO FORGIVENESS

  1. (vs. 3) All have sinned
  2. (vs. 4) But God forgives

3.   (5 – 6) CONTINUING IN HOPE OR FAITH

  1. (vs. 5) Waiting and hoping
  2. (vs. 6) Waiting with faith

    4.  (7 – 8) SHARING THE LOVE

  1. (vs. 7)  Hope and love
  2. (vs. 8)  Redeemed from sin

  Let’s then have a closer look at this amazing Psalm:

  1. (1 – 2) OUT OF THE DEPTHS
  1. (vs. 1) Out of the depths of despair

The opening verse of this Psalm has been the inspiration for many people including famous people like Martin Luther who David Guzik writes,

“Luther, when buffeted by the devil at Coburg, and in great affliction, said to those about him, Come, let us sing that psalm, ‘Out of the depths’, in derision of the devil”.

 Guzil also points out that another famous Christian preacher and leader John Wesley on the afternoon of his conversion to Christ attended a worship service in St Paul’s Cathedral and it is said that Psalm 130 was sung that day and Wesley was so moved by it he saw it as one of the means that God used to open his heart to the Christian Gospel.

So that first verse simply says,

“Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord”.

 As I said in my introduction the concept of being lifted or delivered out of the depths is always used in other parts of the Old Testament as being lost or going down in water like the waters of the sea as in Ezekiel 27: 34,

“Now you are shattered by the sea in the depths of the waters; your wares and all your company have gone down with you”.

 Or as I pointed out in my introduction Psalm 69: 1 – 3,

“Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck. I sink in the miry depths where there is no foothold.I have come into the deep waters;the floods engulf me.I am worn out calling for help;my throat is parched.My eyes fail,looking for my God”.

 Bill Durden knew what it was like to be in the depths of despair in a vast deep ocean and I believe our writer knew that his sin as we will see in the second section had trapped him in the depths of life’s despair.

This cry could have literally come from our writer while he was locked up in captivity in Babylon or it simply could have been spoken when he was back in the Promised Land suffering at the hands of many enemies who now lived in the land after the Jews return from captivity in Babylon.

Nehemiah prays a kind of desperate prayer like this in Nehemiah 4: 4 – 5,

“Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders”.

 Often God has to allow people even today to sink to a pretty low state in life before they finally realise the sorry state sin has led them to before they are willing to cry out to God for help and salvation. I like the story of the disciples in the boat on Lake Galilee when they are caught in a massive storm and Jesus is strangely asleep and the disciples wake him with these words recorded in Matthew 8: 25,

“Lord, save us! We’re going to drown”.

 Spurgeon writes,

“The depths usually silence all they engulf, but they could not close the mouth of this servant of the Lord; on the contrary, it was in the abyss itself that he cried unto Yahweh. Beneath the floods prayer lived and struggled; yea, above the roar of the billows rose the cry of faith. It little matters where we are if we can pray; but prayer is never more real and acceptable than when it rises out of the worst places”.

 If you are reading this at a time when you are feeling the despair of sin or your sins all you have to do is cry out to God to save you and you can take the assuring words of Jesus if you do in Matthew 7: 7 that says,

“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you”.

 David knew what it meant to face the depth of despair of sin when he realised how sinful he was after committing adultery and then murder to cover it up and in a later Psalm he writes these encouraging words in Psalm 145: 14,

“The Lord upholds all who fall and lifts up all who are bowed down”. 

  1. (vs. 2) God being attentive to our cry

Then in verse 2 our writer adds these words to his desperate cry for God to lift him up from the depths of the despair of sin,

“Lord, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy”.

 This man was serious about God lifting him out of his desperate despair caused by his full realisation of his many sins as we will learn of in verse 3 and his prayer was loud and real as I’m sure Bill Durden’s prayers to God for rescue would have been as he tread water for 20 hours off the Gulf of Mexico.

Leopold suggests the use of the word “Attentive”,

“Suggests that God may bend over solicitously to the poor man in his need and hear his petitions”.

 John Gill calls the God of the bible a,

“God hearing prayer God”.

 All through the bible God is presented as a God hearing prayer God like 2 Chronicles 7: 14,

If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land”.

Or, Psalm 102: 17,

“He will respond to the prayer of the destitute;he will not despise their plea”.

 And in the New Testament James says in James 5: 13 – 15,

Is anyone among you in trouble? Let them pray. Is anyone happy? Let them sing songs of praise. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let them call the elders of the church to pray over them and anoint them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well; the Lord will raise them up. If they have sinned, they will be forgiven”.

 Note how James says God will not only hear the prayer but will raise them up and so we have a wonderful God we can call to in the depths of our despair to lift us up from that despair and we will learn as this Psalm continues how and why this is possible.

    2. (3 -4) INTO FORGIVENESS

    1.  (vs. 3) All have sinned

The writer of Psalm 130, a song of ascent takes a step up from his despair with God’s help in verse 3 when he realises and acknowledges a very important biblical fact namely the state of humanity because of our sin, he writes in verse 3,

“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins, Lord who could stand”.

 The problem with people today is that they don’t believe they are sinners or doing the wrong thing has its consequences. The devil has so blinded the eyes of people today that when sins catches up with them they blame God for the trouble they are in but the bible is clear we are all accountable for our actions and Paul spells this out clearly in Romans 1: 21 – 25,

For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth about God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator—who is forever praised. Amen”.

 The writer of Psalm 130 makes it clear if God kept a record of his sins and other parts of the bible says he does, then he could not stand or have any hope of being lifted up from the depths of his despair.

What people today need to realise is what Paul says in Romans 3: 23,

“23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.

I said to my wife the other day that even when I see problems caused by sin even in our church I am reminded that, “all have sinned” and in fact the church is not a museum of perfect specimens but a Hospital for sinners. As Christians, we are not perfect just forgiven.

How is the realisation that we are all sinners a step up from the despair of sin in our lives?

Well, we cannot receive the forgiveness God offers us if we don’t believe we need it as Jesus said in Matthew 9: 13b,

“For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

The fact is no admission of sin that leads to repentance then there is no forgiveness received for it was never sought in the first place. So, in that sense the first step up and out of the depths of the despair of sin is to acknowledge you have it in the first place.

  1. (vs. 4) But God forgives

 The next step up from the depths of despair caused by our many sins is like a giant lift upwards like Bill Durden received when the coast guard helicopter lifted him out of the water to safety of that helicopter for verse 4 says,

“But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you”.

 The God of the bible, you see is not only a hearing prayers God but is also a forgiving God and this is not just a New Testament idea it is right through the whole bible. The writer of Psalm 130 knew this and proclaimed it in his Song of Ascent with the words,

“But with you (God) there is forgiveness”.

 Many years ago, I watched a TV program about a rather extreme religious group in America that proclaimed they believed in the God of the Old Testament who is a God of vengeance and judgment and as a result they believed they should act like that God and they condemned other Christians that taught love and forgiveness.

Even the Australian TV interviewer who was not a believer said something like but doesn’t the bible also speak of God being a God of love. The person she was interviewing simply quoted vengeance and judgment verses back at her and refused to admit that the bible had anything to do with the so called soppy and weak idea of God loving people.

I was shocked and wanted to jump into the TV some- how and quote verses from the Old Testament like verse 4 of this Psalm. The fact is the bible does speak of God’s Judgment but the amazing thing is even though no – one deserves forgiveness the God of the bible because he is a loving God offers it freely to those who come to him in repentance and faith.

Let me give you three Old Testament verses and three New Testament verses that back this idea up.

Three Old Testament verse’s

  1. Isaiah 43: 25 – 26

“I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more.26 Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence”.

  1. Daniel 9: 9,

“The Lord our God is merciful and forgiving, even though we have rebelled against him”.

  1. Micah 7: 18 – 19,

“Who is a God like you,who pardons sin and forgives the transgressionof the remnant of his inheritance?You do not stay angry foreverbut delight to show mercy.19 You will again have compassion on us;you will tread our sins underfootand hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea”.

 So much for the false and misleading idea that the Old Testament speaks only of a God of vengeance and judgment and I could have given you hundreds of other Old Testament verses that speak of God’s love and forgiveness particularly from the book of Psalms.

 Three New Testament verse’s

  1. Acts 3: 19,

“Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”. 

  1. Ephesians 4: 31 – 32,

“Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. 32 Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you”.

  1. 1 John 1: 9,

“If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness”.

 The fact is God is a God of vengeance and Judgment and this is revealed in what lies behind what he writer of Psalm 130 said in the previous verse about how he could not stand before God if God kept a record of his sins.

The fact also is that the God of the bible is not just a God of vengeance and judgment but a God of love and forgiveness and he appeased his vengeance and judgment in the death of his sinless Son on the cross so that we can be forgiven and therefore be raised from the depths of despair our sin that inflicts us.

Just as Peter declares I 1 Peter 2: 24,

“He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.”


Or as Paul declares in Ephesians 1: 7,

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace”.

 Note then how Paul uses the word “Grace” which means we have God’s forgiveness because we don’t deserve it but because God gives it to us out of his love. Paul says it is actually a gift and we cannot claim any credit for it as it is totally God’s act of love for us from beginning to end as he clearly says in Ephesians 2: 8,

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God”.

God lifts us up then from the depths of despair by his love and forgiveness and this is such a remarkable lifting up that it leads to what the writer says it leads to in the second half of verse 4, namely,

“So that we can, with reverence, serve you”  

 Or serve God.

Allan Harman says,

“Receiving mercy increases our sense of awe and reverence in God’s Holy presence”.

 God’s love rightly understood transforms our lives and leads us to want to serve this loving God and his people as well. As Paul states, so beautifully in Romans 12: 1,

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship”.

 The gift of God’s mercy and love through the death and resurrection of God’s son Jesus Christ transforms even how we now worship God. Worship now becomes service not just on Sundays in church but every day of our lives showing how much we appreciate what God has done for us in Christ lifting us up from the depths of despair of sin by his loving forgiveness.

    3.  (5 – 6) CONTINUING IN HOPE OR FAITH

    1.  (vs. 5) Waiting and hoping

Once out of the water Bill Durden was now able to walk again on dry land although it did take him some days to get over the ordeal of treading water for 20 hours but eventually he went back to normal life but the experience of that night changed him and he had both a stronger faith in God and different perspective of the value of life and those he loved like his wife and family.

Our writer of Psalm 130 speaks also of further upward steps he now was making as a result of God’s great gift of forgiveness. He seems to be now more determined to hope and trust in God which he also calls waiting on God, he writes in verse 4,

“I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits, and in his word, I put my hope”.

 I like John Gill’s comment on the phrase, “my whole being waits” or “my whole soul waits”,

“This was not mere bodily service or waiting upon God and for him in an external way; but expresses the intenseness of his mind, the earnest desires of his heart after God, his affection for him, and the exercise of all other graces on him; his whole soul, and all the powers of it, were engaged in this work”.

 The fact is we are saved or in the context of this Psalm lifted out of the depths of the despair of sin by faith and we continue this upward journey by faith in God and his word as well. This is why the writer of Psalm 130 says,

“And in his word, I put my hope”.

 At the end of the article I read on the rescue of Bill Durden I read these words that Bill said himself.

“For the last couple of nights, when the sun goes down, I get knots in my stomach. But I’ll go back on the boat. I just won’t go alone. Today, I bought four automatic, self-inflating life vests and I’m going to buy some other rescue equipment,” he says. “I am so thankful to the Coast Guard; they’re the reason I’m here. I feel grateful to be alive. And I want to not think about it for a while.”

 My point in giving you this quote from the Bill Durden story is that the whole experience Bill had of being lost in the deep waters off the Gulf of Mexico for 20 hours treading water and being lifted out of those depths of despair had an on- going impact on his life and it made him make changes in his thinking and acting.

So, it should be for us when we realise what God has done for us in Christ. God’s loving forgiveness should transform our lives and cause us to both wait on God in service and cause us to think and act with hope and faith in God and his word.

Faith then should lead to obedience as Jesus speaks of in John 14: 15,

“If you love me, keep my commands”.

Then in John 15: 10 – 12 Jesus makes this connection between love and obedience even clearer,

“If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love. 11 I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. 12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you”.

 So, waiting on the Lord is similar to hoping or trusting in the Lord and that should show itself in wanting to and seeking to obey the Lord Jesus Christ. Bing saved by the love and forgiveness of God should and must make a difference for the better in our day to day lives.

  1. (vs. 6) Waiting with faith

 Then we have another verse about waiting on the Lord which I think tells us the kind of waiting or faith with actions we should have as the verse says,

“I wait for the Lord more than watchmen wait for the morning, more than watchmen wait for the morning”.

 The watchmen were the city guards who were stationed on the city walls to look out for any kind of in- coming danger and attack and during the long night of watching they waited patiently for the certain rising of the sun in the coming morning thus the repeated phrase of this verse that says,

“More than watchmen wait for the morning”.

 Our faith or hope is not a vain hope or faith but a certain hope or faith that is as certain as the rising of the sun each morning. The writer to the Hebrews in Hebrews 11: 1 describes this kind of faith this way,

“Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see”.

 Paul speaks of faith and hope overflowing in our lives as we go God’s way in this life in Romans 15: 13,

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit”.

So, as we step out each day in the journey to God in heaven we should do so in certain faith and hope and as we do so God will fill us with joy and peace even if the way gets difficult God is with us through the power of the Holy Spirit helping us go his way in life.

    4.  (7 – 8) SHARING THE LOVE

  1. (vs. 7)  Hope and love

The final step upwards in our journey of faith to God in heaven is made through the sharing of the love of God with other fellow believers as verse 7 declares,

“Israel, put your hope in the Lord, for with the Lord is unfailing love and with him is full redemption”.

 We must always remember that on our journey to God in heaven we never walk alone but we share the unfailing love of God with many fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. I love the second verse of The Servant Song, one of my favourite hymns that says,

We are pilgrims on the journey

We are brothers on the road

We are here to help each other

Walk the mile and bear the load”.

 When the writer calls Israel to put their hope in God we must remember that the New Testament calls the church The New Israel of God, Galatians 6: 16. The church is the body of Christ and in Ephesians 4: 4 – 13 Paul tells us what being part of the body of Christ is and what God has designed it to achieve,

“There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called;one Lord, one faith, one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.“7 But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says:“When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people.”(What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly region]10 He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe.) 11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body ofChrist may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”.

 In the church, we work and sing together as brothers and sisters in Christ as we all make our way to God in heaven by faith and hope in the Lord Jesus, sharing the love Jesus has given us. I think the fifth verse of The Servant Song says it all so well,

“When we sing to God in heaven

We shall find such harmony.

Born of all we’ve known together

Of Christ’s love and agony”.

 Beautiful words that express what verse 7 of Psalm 130 is telling us with New Testament insight and we too can say like the writer of that Psalm that in Christ we have,“full redemption”. Something I will explain more fully in my explanation of the last verse of this Psalm.

  1. (vs. 8) Redeemed from sin

 The Psalm ends with a confident statement of faith in the redemption or salvation of God with the words,

“He himself will redeem Israel from their sins”.

 H.C Leopold tells us that Martin Luther classified this Psalm as,

“Pauline in character”

 One cross reference I got from Allan Harman’s commentary certainly bears this out, it is part of Pauls advice to Titus in Titus 2: 13 – 14,

“While we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good”.

 I really like my NIV study notes explanation of verse 14 and I copy down here for you to read as well,

“Christ’s redeeming us opens the way for him to purify us. Redeem means to purchase our release form the captivity of sin with a ransom (see Mark 10: 45). We are not only free from the sentence of death for our sin, but we are also purified from sin’s influence as we grow I Christ”.

 Mark 10: 45 says,

For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

This concept of redemption of our sins is the height of the lifting us out of the depths of the despair of sin this Psalm offers and it is something we can appreciate when we first come to the Lord and as we seek to go his way in life and also something we can look back to as we complete or finish the journey of faith – heaven itself.

For the ancient Jew travelling together with other fellow believers to Jerusalem and the Temple there this word of confidence and faith in the saving work of their God would have been a great encouragement at all parts of their great journeys to Jerusalem and the temple there.

So, it should be for us as we walk the road of faith the God in heaven with fellow redeemed or saved brothers and sisters in Christ, sharing a common faith, sharing a common hope and sharing a common love that God has given us in Christ.

I close as usual with an original poem / song and a final word of prayer:

OUT OF THE DEPTHS OF DESPAIR

(Based on Psalm 130 and the tune of “Going Home)

Out of the depths I cry O Lord

O Lord hear my plea

May your mercy come to me

And set my poor heart free.

 

Refrain:

 

Out of the depths of despair

I’m saved by God’s Sacrifice

For Jesus died on the cross

And paid for sins great cost.

 

If you O Lord recorded all

The sins that I have done

I would not be able to stand

Before you when you come.

 

Refrain:

 

You are there Oh my God

Through you forgiveness came

And so, I’ll praise your love O Lord

And glorify your name.

 

Refrain:

 

And so, I wait on you O Lord

For in you I know there’s hope

For your love has saved my soul

And given me help to cope.

 

Refrain:

 

Out of the depths of despair

I’m saved by God’s Sacrifice

For Jesus died on the cross

And paid for sins great cost.

 

By: Jim Wenman

PRAYER:

 Dear Father in heaven I thank you for sending your Son, your great sacrifice for us. For Jesus came and died on the cross to pay for our many sins. Help us to look always to you knowing that you love us with an undeserved and unfailing love. Help us to join every day with others who also know your love to work together in service for you and to help and encourage everyone to continually walk your way of faith and hope that will lead us all to the very gates of heaven itself. In Jesus name I pray this, Amen.