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Psalm 96 January 25, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 96.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist:

  • exhorts the people of God to praise Him – especially among nonbelievers – on a daily basis, since He created all things
  • draws a sharp contrast between His sublimity and the emptiness of idols
  • exhorts all nations to praise and worship Him in His house in Jerusalem, since He is sovereign and just
  • exhorts all of creation to praise Him, since He is just and faithful.

Thoughts: Verses 7-9 are very similar to verses 1 and 2 in Psalm 29, which spurred me to consider the following questions:

  • Since the title note of Psalm 29 states, “A psalm of David,” does that imply that David was the author of this psalm?
  • If David did not compose this psalm, did its author also compose Psalm 29 – and adhere to the principles of Davidic worship?
  • If this psalm and Psalm 29 had distinct authors, how did God influence them when they composed these similar verses?
  • Which psalm was written first?

I should note that these are excellent verses; thus, my questions should not be misconstrued as criticism. In any event, I anticipate resolving the above-mentioned questions in the next life.

In verse 13, the psalmist exhorts all of creation to praise God, as He will (eventually) judge all nations according to His righteousness. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Honesty, veracity, integrity will rule upon his judgment seat. No nation will be favored there, and none be made to suffer through prejudice. The black man will be tried by the same law as his white master; the aboriginal will have justice executed for him against his civilized exterminator.

Admittedly I was unfamiliar with Spurgeon’s views on slavery; a quick Google search led me to this link, which indicates that Spurgeon ardently opposed slavery. I then searched for information regarding his views on the treatment of the Aboriginal Australians, but I was unsuccessful. Thus, I am curious: did he condemn the actions of the Europeans who settled Australia? How would he have viewed the treatment of Aboriginal Canadians (especially throughout the 20th Century)? Did he believe that aborigines – and the descendants of slaves – deserved reparations? Did any of Spurgeon’s parishioners actually condone slavery? If so, did they express their views to him?

Psalm 95 January 21, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 95.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist exhorts their audience to praise and worship God – as He:

  • is sovereign over all of creation
  • cares for them.

They conclude by warning their audience that if they fail to praise and worship God, then they will fail to enter His presence – just as their ancestors failed to enter the Promised Land when they failed to praise and worship Him.

Thoughts: In verse 1, the psalmist exhorts the people of God to praise and worship Him. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

It is well thus to urge others to magnify the Lord, but we must be careful to set a worthy example ourselves, so that we may be able not only to cry Come, but also to add let us sing, because we are singing ourselves. It is to be feared that very much even of religious singing is not unto the Lord, but unto the ear of the congregation: above all things we must in our service of song take care that all we offer is with the heart’s sincerest and most fervent intent directed towards the Lord himself.

Spurgeon’s thoughts spurred me to ponder The Heart of Worship by Matt Redman. Although Spurgeon lived more than a century before Redman composed those memorable lyrics, Spurgeon’s thoughts highlight the timelessness of the issues that Redman addressed in his song. Indeed, human nature often impels us to sing to elicit the approval of others. Yet we are called to reject our human nature in those instances and meditate on His perception of our singing. Along those lines, how can we evaluate our “sincerest and most fervent intent”? If others believe that we are singing “unto the ear of the congregation” – yet we are convinced that our worship is “directed towards the Lord himself” – how can we respond to them?

Verses 6 and 7 form the basis of “Come Let Us Worship And Bow Down”. A quick Google search reveals that this song was written by Dave Doherty. This link describes how Doherty composed these memorable lyrics. I hope to meet Doherty some day and learn more about his walk with God – especially if he composed other songs based on other psalms. On a related note, as modern-day believers, we should evaluate verses 6 and 7; how do we spend our quiet times with God? Do we truly submit to Him in those instances? Also, do we genuinely believe that He cares for us? Or do we ponder the blessings that others enjoy and castigate Him as an unfair God?

Psalm 94 January 13, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 94.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist beseeches God – who is just – to condemn and punish the wicked, since they have:

  • mistreated His people
  • oppressed the disadvantaged
  • blasphemed Him by rejecting His omniscience.

They then address the wicked, asserting His omniscience – as He:

  • has created all things
  • maintains His authority over the entirety of His creation.

Next, they praise Him as the One who maintains His authority over His people – thereby blessing them. They assert His faithfulness in that regard; their confidence is founded on their recollection of dire circumstances where He succored them.

They conclude by returning to their initial prayer; they assert that God will answer them in the affirmative – despite the deeds of the wicked.

Thoughts: In verses 1-7, the psalmist laments the sins that the wicked have committed against the disadvantaged. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

This how long? of the text is the bitter plaint of all the righteous in all ages, and expresses wonder caused by that great enigma of providence, the existence and predominance of evil. In due time God will publish his reply, but the full end is not yet.

Spurgeon penned those thoughts before the 20th century – which was marred by several genocides; one can only wonder how he would have responded to those heinous deeds. More than a century after Spurgeon’s passing, believers still ask God, “how long?”, as we are repeatedly confronted by the suffering of the disadvantaged at the hands of the powerful. We naturally wrestle with Him in that regard, as we:

  • believe in His justice, love, omnipotence, and omniscience
  • struggle to reconcile those beliefs with current events.

In verse 10, the psalmist asks – rhetorically – whether God is ignorant of the schemes of the wicked. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

It begins, He that teacheth man knowledge, and then it comes to a pause, which the translators have supplied with the word, shall not he know? But no such words are in the original, where the sentence comes to an abrupt end, as if the inference were too natural to need to be stated, and the writer had lost patience with the brutish men with whom he argued.

Interestingly, J.I. Packer’s introduction to Spurgeon’s commentary includes the following notes:

In C.H. Spurgeon’s own day he was not thought of as a scholarly man…he was often dismissed, even by admirers of his preaching, as a brash upstart for challenging the wisdom of the learned and as a myopic dinosaur for proffering the old paths. Yet he was a bookworm from childhood, and a diligent student all his life. He was an amazingly rapid reader, with a photographic memory, virtually total recall, and as he put it, “a shelf in my mind” for storing every fact with a view to its future use.

If Spurgeon’s thoughts on verse 10 are accurate, then I wonder if he actually had a solid grasp of ancient Hebrew. I am also curious as to whether he delved into the “original” for other verses in the Psalms (besides verse 11 in Psalm 92, which I have noted in the corresponding post); if so, why did the editors decide to remove those observations from this Crossway Classic commentary? I enjoy these priceless glimpses of Spurgeon’s intellect, and I hope to learn more about his “virtually total recall” in the next life…

In verse 21, the psalmist reiterates that the wicked scheme against the righteous. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

This description is historically true in reference to persecuting times. The dominant sect has the law on its side, and boasts that it is the national church; but the law which establishes and endows one religion rather than another is radically an injustice.

Spurgeon has occasionally alluded to persecution and heresies in his commentary. As I am relatively unfamiliar with the history of religion in 19th-century England, I am curious: did Spurgeon address any heresies during his ministry? A quick Google search led me to the Oxford movement; were his allusions to heresies at least partly inspired by that movement? What were his thoughts on the Oxford movement? I wonder if he ever met John Henry Newman; could they have found common ground on theological matters?

Psalm 93 January 11, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 93.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist praises God, since:

  • He is the eternal ruler over the entire world
  • the power of the seas testifies to His sovereignty
  • His righteousness and sanctity are eternal.

Thoughts: In verse 1, the psalmist asserts that God continues to exercise His sovereignty over the world. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

That there is any stability, either in the world or in the church, is the Lord’s doings, and he is to be adored for it. Atheism is the mother of anarchy; the reigning power of God exhibited in true religion is the only security for the human commonwealth. A belief in God is the foundation and corner-stone of a well-ordered state.

I must admit that I have not delved into the debate over the salience of religion in society. From what I can tell, though, this issue has not been resolved; for example, we can consider the following works:

I will not attempt to resolve that debate in this post, though I should note that I subscribe to Spurgeon’s views regarding a “well-ordered state.” Now I am curious as to whether atheists have considered the following idea: if climate change compels humanity to colonize other planets, designate one (habitable) planet as a secular environment and only permit atheists to reside there. That raises the following question: is it possible to establish a new society on another planet that is entirely secular? Clearly that society would need to be governed by laws; could such laws be entirely divorced from religion?

Psalm 92 January 4, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 92.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist extols the virtues of praising God – with the aid of music – throughout the day.

Their praise flows from the sublimity of His deeds and the profundity of His wisdom; in particular, they marvel at the fact that He will effect the demise of the wicked, who are ostensibly blessed. Indeed, He has already scattered the psalmist’s (wicked) enemies – thereby displaying His favor to the psalmist.

They conclude by drawing a sharp contrast between the demise of the wicked and the fate of the righteous; in particular, they assert that God will persist in displaying His favor to the righteous. Moreover, the righteous will respond by praising Him.

Thoughts: In verse 11, the psalmist remarks that they have beheld the demise of their (wicked) enemies. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Mine eye also shall see my desire on mine enemies. The words my desire, inserted by the translators, had far better have been left out. He does not say what he should see concerning his enemies; he leaves that blank, and we have no right to fill in the vacant space with words which look vindictive. He would see that which would be for God’s glory, and that which would be eminently right and just.

My curiosity on this point spurred me to look up the following translations of this part of verse 11:

  • “My eyes have seen the defeat of my adversaries” (NIV)
  • “My eyes have seen the downfall of my enemies” (ESV)
  • “And my eye has looked exultantly upon my foes” (NASB).

If Spurgeon’s interpretation is correct, then all three of these translations are inaccurate. Thus, I anticipate probing the psalmist, Spurgeon and several translators on this point in the next life: what is the correct reading of this verse? If Spurgeon’s interpretation is correct, then why did the psalmist choose to omit “vindictive” words from this verse?

In verse 14, the psalmist asserts that God can work through elderly believers to advance His kingdom plan. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Aged believers possess a ripe experience, and by their mellow tempers and sweet testimonies they feed many. Even if bedridden, they bear the fruit of patience; if poor and obscure, their lowly and contented spirit becomes the admiration of those who know how to appreciate modest worth…Blessed be the Lord for this! Because even to hoary hairs he is the I AM, who made his people; he therefore bears and carries them.

I mostly concur with the psalmist on this point. Yet I wrestle with the implication that God can also work through those elderly believers who are experiencing cognitive decline. How does He enable those who suffer from Alzheimer’s to bear fruit? How does He advance His kingdom plan through those who have suffered (typically irreversible) brain damage? If a believer suffers from cognitive impairment, will they be able to maintain their focus on God and resolve to honor Him? Relatively young believers should consider this point, as God does not guarantee that they will maintain their mental health as they age.

Psalm 91 January 1, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 91.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist addresses those who place their trust in God; they assert that He will:

  • respond to their prayers
  • enlist His angels to succor them
  • deliver them from maladies – and enemy attacks
  • enable them to triumph over their enemies
  • grant them longevity.

The psalmist also implies that those who do not place their trust in Him will not receive the above-mentioned blessings.

Thoughts: I anticipate meeting the author of this passage in the next life and learning more about its context. Why did they reference a “pestilence” and a “plague” in verses 3 and 6? Since they also referenced a “shield and rampart” in verse 4 and an “arrow” in verse 5, did they compose this psalm during an enemy siege of Jerusalem? If so, then perhaps it was a lengthy siege; perhaps a famine had swept through the city, sowing fear and panic among its denizens. If so, then perhaps God spoke through the psalmist to encourage His people to hold fast to Him in the midst of that severe trial. Hopefully the psalmist will correct any misconceptions on my part…

Satan quotes verses 11 and 12 during his temptation of Jesus in the desert, as recorded in Matthew 4:6. This is a prime example of the importance of considering verses in their proper context – instead of considering them in isolation. In this passage, the psalmist does not include a note that God will still grant the above-mentioned blessings to His people if they test Him. They only state one condition for His people in verse 9; fulfilling that condition leads to the blessings in verses 10-13. As believers, we must reject the impulse to consider verses in isolation; instead, we must wrestle with God as to how we can properly apply them to our modern context.

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.