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Archive for the ‘Psalms’ Category

3d_animals_-_snake

It’s been noticed for centuries that the five books of the Psalter correspond roughly to the five books of the Torah. Not that you want to push it too far but at least we should not be surprised when we find echoes of the Torah in the Psalms and sometimes we’ll find these echoes very helpful in understanding a Psalm and appreciating it’s richness and power.

So in book 1 (Psalms 1-41) we find…

  • Adam who listens to the counsel of wickedness and is driven away, like chaff or withered grass (Psalm 1, 35, 37, 39)
  • Second Adam who is righteous, delights in God’s word, is like the tree of life, flourishing in every way, not to be swept away (Psalm 1, 26)
  • True Adam with all things under his feet (Psalm 8)
  • Adam’s wicked race whose thoughts, as in the days of Noah, are only evil all the time (Psalm 10, 12, 14, 36)
  • Lot in Sodom (Psalm 11)
  • Abraham who rejoices in his beautiful inheritance and is certain of resurrection (Psalm 16)
  • The Second Adam who can read in creation his role as bridegroom and in Scripture of danger, reward, righteousness and life (Psalm 19)
  • Adam laid in the dust, lowered below the beasts (Psalm 22)
  • Creation, light, word (Psalm 8, 19, 24, 27, 29, 33)

An example: Psalm 3

It’s “a Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son”. It’s a Psalm of the Christ. Admittedly David’s troubles were in some ways the punishment for his own sin (2 Sam. 12:10-11) but in the Psalter, the great rebellion against David mainly seems to point forward to the great betrayal of Jesus (Psalm 41, 55; 69; John 13:18). And when you read 2 Sam. 15 itself there are loads of pointers forward to Jesus and Maundy Thursday.

Jesus was surrounded by “thousands of people” (Ps. 3:6) baying for his blood. Verse 2 is almost exactly what was hurled at Jesus as he hung on the Cross: “He saved others; he cannot save himself. He trust in God; let God deliver him now, if he desires.”

Jesus did “cry aloud to the Lord” (Ps. 3:4), the great cry as he died and “the Lord answered from his holy hill” by shaking the earth, splitting rocks and ripping the Temple curtain from top to bottom.

Verse 5: Jesus “lay down and slept” (Good Friday) “and woke again” (Easter Sunday).

So it’s first and foremost a Jesus Psalm. But the Psalm also points backward to the first Adam. The theme of the Psalmist facing personal foes/enemies is very strong throughout Psalms but particularly in the first book (cf. esp. Ps. 4-9; 13, 17-18, 22-23, 27, 31, 35, 38, 40-41). It looks forward to the enemies of The Christ (Psalm 2:1-2; Acts 4:25-28) but it also reminds us of the first garden where the great enemy tempted the first Adam. The day when the Serpent basically said, “There’s no salvation for your soul in God. God doesn’t want the best for you. He doesn’t want to give you abundant life, he wants to inhibit you and restrict and restrain you, because, the truth is he’s frightened of you becoming like him. Real salvation and freedom and life for your soul will be found outside of God.”

Then at the end of Psalm 3 is an appeal to God, confident that he “strikes all my enemies on the cheek; breaks the teeth of the wicked” (v7). Why the cheek and teeth? Because again and again in the Psalms the Psalmist is attacked not so much with sticks and stones but by the mouth of his enemy. Mocking, plotting, deceiving words, gnashing of teeth (E.g. Ps. 5:9; 10:7; 22:13; 5:16; 35:21; 37:12). Interestingly, in Psalms 58 and 140 the speech of the enemies is likened to the mouth of a serpent. It was by the mouth of the Serpent that the first man was attacked, deceived and thrown down. It is by his mouth that Satan, the father of lies, continues to attack and accuse and deceive the children of Adam. But the good news is that one day the second Adam’s prayer (Ps. 3:7) will be answered and the mouth of the Serpent will be well and truly smashed.

On that day we will all say “Salvation belongs to the LORD” (v8a). On that day His “blessing” (v8b) will be on His people. Blessing – another great Genesis theme. The blessing of Adam and Eve (Gen. 2:28); that the Serpent lured them from with his deceptive mouth; replaced with curse (Gen. 3:17); preached to Abraham (Gen. 12:3); through his offspring crying, dying, rising it has finally come.

Serpent crusher

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When we look at New Testament letters, for example, many of us are quite familiar with the idea of ‘travelling to Corinth’.

Travelling to Corinth

That is we recognise that 1 Corinthians, for example, was a real letter written by a real man to real people living in a real place with real problems and questions that are being addressed. It is not a collection of spiritual truths floating around. It is not first and foremost about me or written to me (even though it is ultimately for me). What I need, if I am to really hear the riches of, e.g. 1 Corinthians 13, is to read the passage in the context of the whole letter and put myself in the shoes of the Corinthian believers hearing it read the first time, hearing it speaking into their context of division and pride and unlove. That’s when I start to feel the cutting edge of the sword and it starts to cut me too.

Well so much for 1 Corinthians. But what about the Psalms? I think often the ‘travelling to Corinth’ thing goes out the window and we draw a straight line straight from the text to us.

Straightlining

It’s very tempting because the words of the Psalms resonate so strongly with us. I’m sure you’ve had that experience I’ve had when you read a Psalm and you think – that’s exactly how I feel. And the Psalms make great songs – unsurprisingly, as they are songs (note all the titles like “for the choirmaster on stringed instruments”). They express the depths of grief and the heights of praise so wonderfully. And I don’t want to take away from that for a moment. But I think they can be even more powerful when we remember who’s saying/singing them first – King David, the anointed one, the Christ, the Beloved One (the name David means ‘beloved’).

And they also make a lot more sense that way. You know that experience of reading through a Psalm, or hearing it preached, and it all makes for wonderful devotional stuff about trusting God alone and longing for him and remembering his promises and then suddenly, often near the end, you get all this stuff about slaying enemies or perhaps an appeal to the Psalmist’s perfect righteousness and innocence. At that point we either have to tone down the language and say, he didn’t really mean that, or we bring in David and say, well, this bit must point us to Christ – which makes for quite a satisfying devotion/sermon – we get lots of practical and devotional points about us with a final point about Jesus so we can tick the ‘got the gospel in’ and ‘proclaiming Jesus’ boxes – but it’s not that satisfying as a treatment of the whole Psalm. Why are some bits about me and then other bits (with no grammatical warning) turn out to be about Jesus?

Wouldn’t it be a lot simpler to just read the whole Psalm as firstly a Psalm of David (especially if it says it is – obviously some are by Asaph or someone else) and then a Psalm of The Christ (as the New Testament consistently reads the Psalms) and then a Psalm for those who are in Christ?

Travelling to David

I’ve been reading through the Psalms recently as songs of Jesus and it has been revolutionary for me – so exciting and refreshing – I recommend it. Here is one example to get us going:

Psalm 139

A wonderful Psalm on God’s omnipresence and the believer’s comfort in that truth.

But what do we do with v19-22 then? “Oh that you would slay the wicked… I hate them with complete hatred”.

How about if we take the whole Psalm as a song of David? “To the Choirmaster. A Psalm of David”.

Verse 16: “in your book”. What was the one book which David as the king was commanded to read? God’s Law (Deut. 17:19). In fact the king is the only one who is commanded to have a daily quiet time (for the rest of us it’s wise but not law). It was by reading the Law that David was to find his role and destiny.

But the Psalm fits Jesus Christ even better than David Christ:

  • Jesus is the one completely known and loved and enfolded by the Father; who delights in and marvels at that enfolding. Jesus’ thoughts and words are known by the Father because they are the Father’s thoughts and words (cf. John 3:34; 7:16; 17:14). Psalm 139 gives us an insight (amazingly) into Jesus’ experience of his oneness with the Father – his sense of joy and security in that unity and interpenetration.
  • Jesus is also enfolded by the Spirit (v7a) – he is the anointed one who has the Spirit without limit, the one on whom the Spirit rests – and he knows the Spirit as personal – the Spirit of the Father (cf. Matt. 10:20) – the presence he never outruns.
  • Jesus is the Second Adam. Whereas Adam was driven out of the presence of the Lord (and Jonah fled it), this man delights always in the presence of God and never rebels against his guiding hand (v7-10).
  • Jesus has gone to the extremities. He has ascended to heaven. He has descended to Sheol. He has been cast into the depths of the sea (like Jonah) and gone through the darkness. David didn’t go to those placed and we certainly haven’t but Jesus has and in all these places he remained completely one with the Father.
  • Jesus had a body made for him in his mother’s womb. Of course in one sense we all did but in Jesus’ case his body really was very fearfully and wonderfully made – both in its miraculously creation in a virgin’s womb and in the sinless perfection of his flesh.
  • Jesus really does know how wonderful the Lord’s works are (v14b). He was there at the creation of the world. He was there at the deliverance from Egypt. And he knows all the Father’s thoughts (v17). So he is both known and knows.
  • Jesus is the one who read’s God’s book (the Law) and finds written there every one of his days – his coming, his mission, his death, his resurrection, his victory (John 5:46; Luke 24:44-46).
  • Jesus is the one who ‘awakes’ after the Sheol, darkness and night (v18 cf. Ps. 13:3; 76:5; Job 14:11-12; Dan. 12:2).
  • Jesus is the one who will say, “Depart from me” to God’s enemies (v19 cf. Matt. 7:23; 25:41). Though he is the one who came to save sinners he is also the one who will come again to destroy the enemies of God (e.g. 2 Thess. 1:8; Rev. 19:15).
  • Jesus is the one who can ask God to examine him for any ‘grievous way in him’ (v23-24) and be found completely faultless.

Where are we in Psalm 139? Well first, naturally, we’re the wicked enemies of v19-22. The Psalms tell us repeatedly that there’s no-one righteous, we’re all sinners (Ps. 14; 53; 130; 143). We need to respond to the opening invitation of the Psalter – kiss the Son (Ps. 2:12). Then, once we are united with him (as in marriage cf. Ps. 45) we can claim Ps. 139 for ourselves in that we are in Christ. We have this wonder-ful oneness with the Father because we are in the beloved Son. We have gone through Sheol and ascended to heaven in Him. We are eternally secure, blameless and loved in the Son.

A few MP3 downloads:

  • Psalm 1 – Mike Reeves – brilliant stuff and an introduction to reading the whole Psalter

And a couple of examples of me trying to preach the Psalms:

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Ascension Day Psalm

Valley of Vision Resurrection

Still thinking of eternity…

I’ve just noticed it’s ascension day today – 40 days after Easter.

Psalm 110 is a great ascension Psalm. Matthew Henry calls it “pure gospel”.

My attempt at preaching it on Easter Day this year is here (21 min, 8MB).

  • Lord God
  • Gospel King
  • Forever Priest
  • Warrior Judge

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Whistler-Blackcomb by Jordan Manley

Sammy spoke to us about eternity from the book of Job at our last MTC.

Then early yesterday morning one of the pastors from our church passed on suddenly.

Here are some quotes and words from an eternal perspective…

I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27)

…but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.  And for us this is the end of all the stories… But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning  Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before. (C. S. Lewis, The Last Battle)

When this passing world is done,
When has sunk yon glaring sun,
When we stand with Christ in glory,
Looking o’er life’s finished story,
Then, Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

When I stand before the throne,
Dressed in beauty not my own,
When I see Thee as Thou art,
Love Thee with unsinning heart,
Then Lord, shall I fully know—
Not till then—how much I owe.

(Ro­bert M. Mc­Cheyne, died at the age of 29)

Show me, Lord, my life’s end
and the number of my days;
let me know how fleeting my life is.
You have made my days a mere handbreadth;
the span of my years is as nothing before you.
Everyone is but a breath,
even those who seem secure.
Surely everyone goes around like a mere phantom;
in vain they rush about, heaping up wealth
without knowing whose it will finally be.
But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you. (Psalm 39:4-7)

…teach us who survive, in this and other like daily spectacles of mortality, to see how frail and uncertain our own condition is; and so to number our days, that we may seriously apply our hearts to that holy and heavenly wisdom, whilst we live here, which may in the end bring us to life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ thine only Son our Lord. (From The Order for the Visitation of the Sick from the 1662 BCP – the whole order is so radically different to most modern Christianity it’s worth reading in full)

I preach as never sure to preach again, and as a dying man to dying men. (Richard Baxter)

I stand vigilantly on the precipice of eternity speaking to people who this week could go over the edge whether they are ready to or not. I will be called to account for what I say there. (John Piper)

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” (Revelation 14:13)

So truly our way to eternal joy is to suffer here with Christ; and our door to enter into eternal life is gladly to die with Christ; that we may rise again from death, and dwell with him in everlasting life. (Order for the Visitation of the Sick)

…labour always to learn to die. Defy the world, deny the devil, and despite the flesh, and delight yourself only in the Lord… desire, with St Paul, to be dissolved and to be with Christ, with whom even in death there is life. (From the letter of Lady Jane Grey, 9-day Queen of England, to her sister Katherine, written in the back of her Greek New Testament the night before her execution)

For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain. (Philippians 1:21)

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In the Arab world nations are in uproar, kingdoms totter and fall.  In Turkey the mountains quake.  In Thailand and Cambodia the waters swell and surge.  Here in Kenya the war with Al-Shabaab has added a new layer of instability on top of rocketing prices, youth unemployment and anxiety about the Elections next year.  Then there are the personal crises of money or malaria or muggings or the mortuary.  There is plenty to be fearful about.

Psalm 46 gives us the worst-case-scenario.  Like something out of a disaster movie the earth gives way and the mountains are thrown into the heart of the sea.  And yet, ‘we will not fear.’  Extraordinary!  How can you not fear when everything falls apart?  ‘God is our refuge and strength,  a very present help in trouble.’  Ok – but what does that actually mean?  Is it just vague religious sentiment?  What does it actually look like for God to be our refuge and strength and help?  How does that work?  The rest of Psalm 46 tells us:

  • The pleasures of the Lord – ‘There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God’.  It is very hard to be glad and fearful at the same time.  The joy of the Lord is our strength.  Our greatest defence is a wholehearted delight in the person of the Lord Jesus, the fountain of living waters.
  • The presence of the Lord – We are ‘the holy habitation of the Most High, God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved.’  Twice we are told, ‘The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.’  We need our eyes opened as the servant of Elisha at Dothan to see the defences of the Lord of hosts.  And even more than that we need our eyes opened to the Lord of hosts himself present with us – Emmanuel – who through his incarnation and death and resurrection and Spirit has bound himself to us in the strongest possible way – a unity equal to the unity of the persons of the Trinity.  He is more strongly present to us than our own consciousness or limbs – he will never leave us or forsake us for all eternity.
  • The promise of the Lord – ‘God will help her when morning dawns.’  It might not be according to our timing but there is a firm pledge that God will help us.  The darkness is not oblivion – it is night and night is always followed by dawn.  There was a foretaste of dawn in Ezra’s day.  The first rays of dawn broke powerfully into the darkness as the Light walked this earth.  There are victories and small dawns for us in our day – thank God.  But the full rising of the Son is yet to come – and it will certainly come.
  • The power of the Lord – ‘He utters his voice, the earth melts.’  Awesome awesome power.  I can’t make a candle melt by talking to it.  This is the Creator talking to his creation.  He made the universe by his word and one day he will melt it by his word.  And in the meantime he is working powerfully by his Word, melting kingdoms, melting the bonds of the world, the flesh and the devil.
  • The perspective of the Lord – ‘Come’, the psalmist says, ‘Look at the world from the Lord’s perspective.’  Everything that you read when you open your paper, all the rising and falling of nations – these are ‘the works of the LORD.’  We do not believe in two gods – one who sends good and one who sends bad.  We believe in one triune God who is totally sovereign.  ‘He has brought desolations on the earth.’  He determines when wars start and wars cease.  Even the pagan dictators of the world are (unwittingly) his servants – tools in his hands.
  • The pre-eminence of the Lord – ‘Be still, and know that I am God.’  This isn’t a gentle encouragement to meditation.  This is the cry of a warrior; the cry of the King who has been defied too long; the command of the Creator to his creatures; the rebuke of the Lord Jesus to the raging storm.  One day, despite how things look right now, despite the convulsion in Africa, despite the godlessness of Euope, despite all the raging of the nations, “I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!”  That truth is our joy, our confidence, our refuge and strength.

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Pragmatism may be the dominant philosophy of the twenty-first century but it is not a new mentality.  Kris Lundgaard writes:

What do most people think about and cherish?  According to the psalmist, “Many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’” (Psalm 4:6). That is, most people want to know who will help them get the things of this world and give them peace of mind. But the psalmist says, “Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.  You have filled my heart with greater joy than when grain and new wine abound” (Psalm 4:6-7).  Nothing in this world can compare with seeing the light of God’s glory in the face of the eternal God-man.  (Through the Looking Glass: Reflections on Christ that Change Us, pp. 35-36)

Harrison, team leader of iServe Africa, identifies pragmatism as one of the most
insidious threats to the Kenyan church. It is more subtle than a blatant prosperity gospel that promises perfect health and wealth if you ‘sow a seed’ (i.e. give to my ministry).  Even churches that explicitly teach against the prosperity gospel can end up making church a place where we come to get a ‘blessing’ and resolution to our immediate problems – financial, relational, health.  Very easily man is at the centre and Christ only turns up for the altar call.

This has been a very cutting challenge to me personally.  I may decry the prosperity gospel but so often my prayer life and thought world are dominated by immediate, earthly problems.  As I deal with water leaks and power cuts and door handles falling off and delayed freight I’ve found myself very prone to pragmatic religion.

Let’s turn our eyes to eternity, to seek Jesus, his face, his kingdom, his glory.

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