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Psalm 90 December 28, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 90.

Summary: In this passage, Moses praises God for His eternality; he draws a sharp contrast between His eternality and the ephemerality of mankind.

He then acknowledges the sins of the Israelites and the role that God played in punishing them for those offenses.

In light of these facts, he beseeches God to:

  • grant them a proper fear of Him
  • fill them with joy
  • reveal His glory to them – and their descendants
  • bless them – and enable them to bear fruit for Him.

Thoughts: Here, Moses prays that God would show His favor to the Israelites. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

We must consider the whole psalm as written for the tribes in the desert, and then we shall see the primary meaning of each verse. Moses, in effect, says – wanderers though we be in the howling wilderness, yet we find a home in thee, even as our forefathers did when they came out of Ur and dwelt in tents among the Canaanites.

I anticipate meeting Moses in the next life and learning more about the context of this passage. Did he compose this psalm while the Israelites wandered about the desert for forty years (which was a punishment for their rebellion against God)? Or did he compose this psalm before that time (e.g. before God freed them from their bondage in Egypt)? What were the “iniquities” and “secret sins” that caused God to respond with “anger” and “indignation”? Did God grant Moses an answer to this prayer in his lifetime? How would he respond to the musings in Ecclesiastes?

Moses also contrasts the brevity of mankind with the eternality of God. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

Human frailty is thus forcibly set forth; God creates us out of the dust, and back to the dust we go at the word of our Creator. Observe how the action of God is recognized: man is not said to die because of the decree of fate, or the action of inevitable law, but the Lord is made the agent of all.

I must admit that when I strolled through this passage, I was:

  • overwhelmed by Moses’ depiction of the ceaselessness of God; in particular, verse 2 was awe-inspiring
  • saddened by Moses’ depiction of the transience of mankind; in particular, verse 10 was disheartening.

This passage reminds us that we should focus on eternal – not temporal – things. What does that look like in practice, though? One thought is that the deeds of those who “live for eternity” are counterintuitive (e.g. donating a significant portion of their income to an overseas charity). Yet they trust that He will enable them to bear fruit through those deeds; thus, they persist in their long-term focus.

Psalm 89 December 25, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 89.

Summary: In this passage, Ethan the Ezrahite begins by praising God, as He:

  • forged an (ostensibly) everlasting covenant with David (and his descendants)
  • is sovereign over all of creation – including Egypt and the denizens of heaven
  • exercises His sovereignty in a righteous and just manner
  • seeks the best interests of those who acknowledge His sovereignty – especially the ruler of Israel.

Ethan the Ezrahite then expands on his last point, describing the (ostensibly) everlasting covenant that God made with David (and his descendants). Indeed, He resolved to maintain that covenant even if the descendants of David failed to obey Him.

In light of that promise, Ethan the Ezrahite raises the following complaint: God has (ostensibly) broken His covenant with David (and his descendants). In particular, the pagan neighbors of Israel have defeated – and deposed – her sovereign; moreover, they are insulting her.

Thus, Ethan the Ezrahite beseeches God to respond to this sad state of affairs – especially in light of the brevity of human life. He exhorts Him to adhere to the covenant that He made with David (and his descendants) – especially in light of the above-mentioned insults.

This book of the Psalms concludes with a brief doxology.

Thoughts: I anticipate meeting Ethan the Ezrahite in the next life and learning more about the context of this passage. Who was the ruler (or rulers) of Israel during his lifetime? Did he compose this psalm in a single sitting? If not, did he compose verses 1-37 in one sitting – and then compose verses 38-51 in another sitting? If he did compose this psalm in a single sitting, what were his thoughts and emotions as he penned verses 1-37, knowing that he was about to wrestle with God in verses 38-51? Why did other pagan nations mock the deposed ruler of Israel? Had that king sinned against God? If so, what were Ethan the Ezrahite’s thoughts on those offenses?

In this passage, Ethan the Ezrahite wrestles with God’s (ostensible) rejection of the covenant that He made with David (and his descendants). Spurgeon offers some interesting thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 29:

David’s seed lives on in the Lord Jesus, and the seed of Jesus in believers. Saints are a race that neither death nor hell can kill.

Throughout his commentary on this passage, Spurgeon stresses its modern-day application to the church of God. I diverge from him on that point, though. We know that Ethan the Ezrahite was addressing the aftermath of the deposition of the king of Israel; since that was the primary application of this passage, what would be a valid secondary application? One thought is that we can wrestle with God in any situation where He has (ostensibly) failed to fulfill His promises. For example, recall Revelation 21:5, where He asserted, “I am making everything new!” Perhaps we can wrestle with Him as to whether He is actually “making everything new” in light of climate change. Can we maintain our trust in Him while raising these challenging questions?

In verse 42, Ethan the Ezrahite asserts that God has worked through the enemies of Israel to defeat her sovereign. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

…thou hast, instead thereof, sided by his enemies, and lent them thy strength, so that they have gained the supremacy…

Note that while Ethan the Ezrahite praises the “arms” and “hands” of God in verses 10, 13, and 21, he then uses this verse to lament the fact that God has worked through the “hand” of His enemies. He evidently knew that God could either increase or decrease the fortunes of Israel. As modern-day believers, can we tell if God is working through those who oppose Him? How can our awareness of the “hand” of God be as acute as that of Ethan the Ezrahite, where we believe that God is truly at work in all circumstances? Can we reject the belief that God is merely aloof from the world?

Psalm 88 December 21, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 88.

Summary: In this passage, Heman the Ezrahite beseeches God to hear the following prayer:

  • He is convinced that his demise is imminent
  • He laments his apparent abandonment by God
  • He believes that God is taking punitive action against him – causing all of his dear friends to shun him
  • He is despondent
  • He appeals to God – arguing that his demise would not allow him to praise Him and declare His righteousness
  • He believes that God has turned a deaf ear to his prayers
  • He reiterates his belief that God is taking punitive action against him – causing all of his dear friends to shun him.

Thoughts: This psalm is relatively unusual, as its conclusion is rather depressing. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

His distress had not blown out the sparks of his prayer, but quickened them till they burned perpetually like a furnace at full blast. His prayer was personal; it was intensely earnest, so that it was correctly described as a cry, such as children utter to move the pity of their parents; and it was unceasing – neither the business of the day nor the weariness of the night had silenced it; surely such intreaties could not be in vain.

I pray that I will meet Heman the Ezrahite in the next life and learn more about the context of this passage. What were the “troubles” that he laments in verse 3? How was he “repulsive” to his “closest friends,” as he asserts in verse 8? Were his circumstances analogous to those of Job, whose three friends reacted to his physical ailments by treating him with disdain? What was his understanding of life after death? Did God respond to his prayer in the affirmative? If so, how did He bless him?

In verses 10-12, Heman the Ezrahite argues that God should forestall his demise – since his demise would prevent him from praising Him. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

True, the souls of departed saints render glory to God, but the dejected psalmist’s thoughts do not mount to heaven but survey the gloomy grave; he stays on this side of eternity, where in the grave he sees no wonders and hears no songs.

These verses caused me to ponder the utility of wrestling with God by asserting the compatibility of our requests with His kingdom plan. Since we have limited understanding, we are incapable of grasping the extent of His kingdom plan. Yet we assume that our requests are compatible with His will; we argue that if He were to grant them, then His will would be accomplished. I assume that Heman the Ezrahite eventually perished; thus, we must wrestle with the thought that God may not need to grant our requests to accomplish His will. How can we (painfully) submit to Him in those instances?

Review: Boundless Love – Healing Your Marriage Before It Begins December 16, 2019

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I recently finished Boundless Love – Healing Your Marriage Before It Begins by Javier and Christina Llerena.

This book has already been thoroughly reviewed on Amazon, but I figured that I would add my two cents to the ongoing discussion.

In this book, the authors present their thoughts on how one can experience “boundless” love within the context of marriage. Their views are informed by their experiences – especially vicissitudes of childhood that affected them as adults. They discuss a range of topics, including developing a godly perception of oneself, engaging in healthy courtship, and learning how to honor one’s spouse.

I appreciated the authors’ candor regarding their self-inflicted wounds (e.g. Javier’s anger on the evening of his fortieth birthday), as that made them more relatable. Also, I was refreshed by their advice to love oneself; normally I would dismiss it as a “man-centered” thought, but in this instance, it was well-reasoned:

The truth is that God wants you to fully and unconditionally love yourself first. Why? If you don’t, how can you love others in the same way? If you don’t look for the good, the great, the amazing in you, how can you look for it in others? If you don’t praise and support yourself in a moment of struggle, how are you going to support others in a meaningful way?

In addition, I found the chapter on “Financial Health” to be invaluable; I posit that many couples do not consider this topic before their marriage. The authors stress the value of engaging in (difficult) conversations on this point, including in the early stages of a relationship.

Now I would have appreciated some discussion of the impact of daily devotions on their marriage (and relationship with God), as I believe that daily devotions – which are often neglected – are an essential facet of a strong spiritual foundation. The authors include a quotation from Scripture at the beginning of each chapter, but they do not discuss the impact of the Bible on their lives. While they include a section on “Prayer is our Therapy” in the chapter on “Getting Right With God”, that section was (arguably) light on details. How do they actually pray together? Do they also pray with their children? Could they provide an example in this regard?

I was also perturbed by the following note in the section on “Intimacy is More than Sex” in the chapter on “Sex and Intimacy before Marriage”:

Whether you choose to be sexually active during dating or not, you want to be talking about sex from the get-go with your partner. Go to God and discern what is right for you.

At first glance, this is a controversial view. I hew to a more conservative reading of the Bible on this topic; in particular, I believe that God has intended that sex should only occur in the context of marriage. That being said, I may be misinterpreting the authors’ point.

One quibble is that the book had a few typos that will hopefully be fixed in the next edition. Examples include:

  • “I had to believe that is [sic] was God guiding me” in the chapter on “Healing Childhood Wounds: Learning to Love Yourself”
  • “Terrified by her authority, my stomach sunk [sic] as I thought that I was in trouble” in the chapter on “Healthy Boundaries”

Overall, I would recommend this book to those who are either married or contemplating marriage – provided they supplement it with a book that delves into the impact of daily devotions on one’s marriage.

Psalm 87 December 15, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 87.

Summary: In this passage, the Sons of Korah praise God, as He:

  • has bestowed His especial favor upon Jerusalem
  • will cause Gentiles to place their trust in Him
  • will proclaim that those Gentiles are citizens of Jerusalem.

They assert the blessedness of those who are declared to be citizens of Jerusalem – and conclude by declaring that life flows from her.

Thoughts: Here, the psalmist praises God, as He will cause (at least some of) the Gentiles to enter His church. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 4:

Zion’s old foes are new-born and have become her friends, worshiping in the temple of her God…That is, this nation has been born into Zion, regenerated into the church of God. The new births of nations it is at once a great blessing and a great wonder.

Since I am a Gentile, I enjoyed my stroll through this passage; I certainly delight in the salvation that God has effected for me. Now one can read this passage and wonder, “how can the Gentiles actually be ‘born in Zion,’ as the Jews failed – throughout Scripture – to fulfill their calling to be a blessing to the nations?” Yet we know that the answer to this query can be found in passages such as Ephesians 2:11-22, i.e. that Jesus Christ, through His sacrifice on the cross, has enabled the Gentiles to be “born in Zion.” Thus, while this passage is not explicitly Messianic, it can lead us to meditate on His great work of salvation – especially on behalf of the Gentiles.

Psalm 86 December 14, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 86.

Summary: In this passage, David entreats God to answer his prayer (in the affirmative), since he 1) is in a predicament and 2) trusts in Him.

Indeed, he is certain that He:

  • blesses those who trust in Him
  • reigns over all (false) deities
  • will compel all nations to acknowledge His sovereignty.

He then prays that God would enable him to hew to His righteousness, and he praises Him as the One who has delivered him from other predicaments; moreover, he resolves to persist in offering these praises to Him.

Finally, he reveals the reason for his entreaties: his enemies seek his life. Yet he repeats his assertion that God blesses those who trust in Him. After reiterating his prayer, he concludes by “putting out a fleece” – as he wants to compel his enemies to acknowledge His faithfulness.

Thoughts: Throughout this passage, David makes an appeal to God and then immediately justifies it (e.g. verses 1-4, 7). Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

Our distress is a forcible reason for our being heard by the Lord God, merciful, and gracious, for misery is ever the master argument with mercy. Such reasoning as this would never be adopted by a proud man. Of all despicable sinners those are the worst who use the language of spiritual poverty while they think themselves to be rich and increased in goods.

My stroll through this passage dovetailed with my recent excursion through John White’s classic text “Daring to Draw Near,” as it reinforced White’s argument that one’s prayer life can be enhanced by a willingness to engage with God on a deeper level. When I present a specific request to God, I typically resort to offering a default prayer of “Your will be done” and then leave it at that. Yet this passage – and the examples from Scripture that White cites – demonstrate that we can still honor God while wrestling with Him in our prayers. In fact, earnest prayers often reflect a fundamental trust in God – specifically, His goodness – while acknowledging one’s necessarily limited understanding of how a given request fits into His kingdom plan. I hope that God will continue to shape my prayer life in this regard.

In verse 9, David asserts that “All the nations you have made will come and worship before you, Lord; they will bring glory to your name.” Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

It makes us content to be in the minority today, when we are sure that the majority will be with us tomorrow. David was not a believer in the theory that the world will grow worse and worse, and that the dispensation will wind up with general darkness and idolatry. We look for a day when the dwellers in all lands worship thee alone, O God…

Admittedly I subscribe to “the theory that the world will grow worse and worse,” as I ponder the worldviews of many friends and acquaintances (and contemplate the daily news, which usually reflects the failings of humanity). Consequently, I wrestle with David’s assertion. We know that God is still working out His kingdom plan through the good words and deeds of believers around the world (e.g. people are being brought to faith, they are serving the disadvantaged). Do such good words and deeds overcome the spiritual decline in First World countries (and the pain that is reflected by the daily news)? My (possibly mistaken) belief is that when the world reaches its “spiritual nadir,” we will see the Second Coming of Christ…

Psalm 85 December 6, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 85.

Summary: In this passage, the Sons of Korah remind God that He has previously forgiven the transgressions of His people – and restored the fruitfulness of their land.

Thus, they entreat Him to act accordingly – given their current predicament.

They then express their confidence in Him, as He has resolved to bless those who place their trust in Him.

They conclude by marveling at the beautiful connection between His blessings and the trust that His people place in Him.

Thoughts: In verse 2, the psalmist reminds God that He has previously forgiven the transgressions of His people. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Often had he done this. Who is so slow to anger, so ready to forgive? Every believer in Jesus enjoys the blessing of pardoned sin, and should regard this as the pledge of all other needed mercies. He should plead it with God – “Lord, thou hast pardoned me, and wilt thou let me perish for lack of grace, or fall into thine enemies’ hands? Thou wilt not thus leave thy work unfinished.”

That verse helped me connect with this passage; this passage does not merely consist of a supplication, but it includes an acknowledgment of past sins. On a related note, several years ago, I adopted the ACTS model of prayer, which improved my prayer life; clearly this verse applies to the “C” (i.e. “Confession”) part of that model. I would suggest that any prayer (besides a brief request) that includes supplication while excluding confession is incomplete. One caveat, though, is that our confessions do not compel God to grant our requests. What, then, is the value of confession? We should remember that as sinful people, confession of sin is an act of obedience.

This psalm may have been composed in response to a famine in Israel. Spurgeon offers the following note along these lines in his commentary on verse 12:

When the people yielded what was due to God, the soil would recompense their husbandry.

I am curious as to whether a famine in Israel motivated this psalm; thus, I hope to probe the psalmist on this point in the next life. How would they respond to our modern context, where a lack of physical blessings (e.g. barren land) does not necessarily stem from divine judgment for sinfulness? Would they acknowledge the flaws in the prosperity gospel – or would they actually subscribe to it? As modern-day believers, how does God want us to apply this passage to our context? How can we connect our efforts to live righteously with the intangible spiritual blessings that God has promised to His people?

Psalm 84 December 3, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 84.

Summary: In this passage, the Sons of Korah express their earnest desire to worship God in His house. Indeed, they envy those birds who have built their nests in His house.

They then assert the blessedness of:

  • their brethren who reside in His house
  • the pilgrims who journey to His house; moreover, they convey these blessings to the land they traverse.

After praying for divine grace upon their king, they reiterate their desire to enter the house of God – as He will be gracious to His people (who rely on Him and strive to obey Him).

Thoughts: Verses 1, 2, and 10 form the basis of “Better Is One Day”. A quick Google search reveals that this song was written by Matt Redman. I hope to meet him at some point and and learn how he composed those memorable lyrics. How did this passage inspire him at that time? Did he consider weaving verses 3-9 or 11-12 into this song? On a related note, as modern-day believers, how does this passage impact our thoughts, words and deeds? Do we actually “yearn” and “faint” to be with God in paradise – or do we “yearn” and “faint” for the temporary pleasures of this life? Does the notion of “one day in your courts” resonate with us – or is that concept too abstract for our earthbound minds? Would it be appropriate to apply this passage to the experience of worshiping God in a church? Would it be appropriate to apply this passage to our quiet times?

In verse 3, the psalmist remarks that even the birds who dwell in the house of God are blessed. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

He envied the sparrows which lived around the house of God and picked up the stray crumbs in the courts thereof; he only wished that he, too, could frequent the solemn assemblies and bear away a little of the heavenly food…He envied also the swallows whose nests were built under the eaves of the priests’ houses, who there found a place for their young, as well as for themselves.

This passage reminded me of my excursions through Psalm 42 and Psalm 43, where the Sons of Korah lamented their inability to worship God in His house. Thus, I am curious: what was the context of this passage? Since the psalmist prays for the king of Israel in verses 8 and 9, I assume that this passage was written before the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem. If so, what was the spiritual state of Israel at that time? If the psalmist was not in exile at that time, were they able to worship God in His house on a regular basis? If so, how did God cause their souls to “yearn” and “faint” for His presence when they were not in His house?