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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?

Psalm 83 November 30, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 83.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph implores God to observe the enemies of His people. These foes have banded together to effect the demise of His people; they constitute formidable opposition.

Yet he recites the names of those who sought to reclaim the Promised Land from His people, reminding God that He obliterated those foes. Thus, he exhorts God to obliterate these foes – thereby reminding them of His sovereignty over the world.

Thoughts: Here, Asaph entreats God to deliver His people from their enemies. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 3:

Hidden away from all harm are the Lord’s chosen; their enemies think not so, but hope to smite them; they might as well attempt to destroy the angels before the throne of God.

As I strolled through this passage, I entertained skeptical thoughts regarding the spiritual state of the Israelites in this instance, as I am familiar with the Old Testament cycle of human sin, divine punishment, insincere repentance, and divine deliverance. Thus, I am curious: what was the context of this passage? Were the Israelites living according to His statutes and ordinances while their foes plotted their demise? Did they constitute a righteous flock beset by wicked wolves? Or were they indulging in their typical sins of idolatry and sexual immorality at that point? Hopefully the Israelites were living righteously at that time – which would lend force to Asaph’s prayer; I hope to probe him on this point in the next life.

In verse 16, Asaph exhorts God to cause the enemies of His people to be ashamed – “so that they will seek your name.” Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Shame has often weaned people from their idols, and set them upon seeking the Lord. If this was not the happy result in the present instance, with the Lord’s enemies, yet it would be so with his people who were so prone to err. They would be humbled by his mercy, and ashamed of themselves because of his grace; and then they would with sincerity return to the earnest worship of Jehovah their God, who had delivered them.

My understanding of Asaph’s main point in this passage is that he is praying for the ultimate defeat – and destruction – of the enemies of the Israelites. If that is correct, then how should we interpret the phrase “so that they will seek your name” in this verse? Did he truly desire the salvation of these foes? Was it possible for them to ask God to be merciful to them – and then for Him to ignore their pleas and destroy them? How should we reconcile this passage with Romans 10:13? Is “seeking” distinct from “calling on”? It would be neat to engage Asaph and Paul in a roundtable discussion on this point…

Psalm 82 November 27, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 82.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph presents a scene where God stands in judgment over all human authorities; He:

  • rebukes them for abusing the power that He granted them
  • commands them to use their power to bless the disadvantaged
  • asserts their lack of wisdom
  • asserts their transience.

Asaph concludes by praying that God would exercise His authority over all human authorities.

Thoughts: In verse 5, God speaks through Asaph, asserting the foolishness of human authorities. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Being both ignorant and wicked they yet dare to pursue a path in which knowledge and righteousness are essential: they go on without hesitation, forgetful of the responsibilities in which they are involved, and the punishment which they are incurring.

Since I have not been given authority over others, I am curious as to how authority figures – especially professing Christians – exercise their powers. For example, this passage reminded me of President Bush’s assertion that God essentially commanded him to invade Iraq in 2003. Does God actually communicate with leaders who profess their faith in Him? If so, how does He speak with them? As for those leaders who either explicitly or implicitly reject Him, how does He exercise His authority via their wicked decisions? Do those who reject Him still experience pangs of conscience whenever they disobey Him? Are they conscious of His presence – or do they assert their independence from all authorities?

Psalm 81 November 25, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 81.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph begins by exhorting the people of God to praise Him with their voices and musical instruments.

He reminds them to observe the New Moon festival that God promulgated to their forefathers.

He then delivers the following prophecy:

  • God delivered their forefathers from their bondage in Egypt
  • thus, God commanded their forefathers to reject idolatry – asserting that if they obeyed Him in that regard, then He would bless them
  • their forefathers disobeyed Him in that regard – compelling Him to give them their just deserts
  • if they obey Him in that regard, then He will pulverize their enemies while granting them the choicest blessings.

Thoughts: In verses 3-5, Asaph asserts that God promulgated the New Moon festival when He delivered the Israelites from their bondage in Egypt. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 4:

When it can be proved that the observance of Christmas, Whitsuntide, and other festivals was ever instituted by a divine statute, we also will attend to them, but not till then. It is as much our duty to reject human traditions as to observe the ordinances of the Lord. We ask concerning every rite and rubric, “Is this a law of the God of Jacob?” and if it be not clearly so, it is of no authority with us, who walk in Christian liberty.

While I concur with Spurgeon’s thesis, I should note that I was:

  • unaware of the meaning of “Whitsuntide” before I strolled through this passage; I now know that it refers to the week after Pentecost (i.e. the seventh Sunday after Easter Sunday), which I do not observe
  • baffled by Spurgeon’s reference to Christmas. I would posit that most – if not all – Christians use Christmas as an opportunity to celebrate the birth of Christ; if that is correct, then why did Spurgeon object to “the observance of Christmas?” Had the observance of Christmas been distorted by Spurgeon’s English contemporaries? Did Spurgeon believe that Christians should refrain from celebrating the birth of Christ? Did Spurgeon believe that His birth should be celebrated at another time of the year? I anticipate probing him on this point in the next life.

In verses 15 and 16, God speaks through Asaph, asserting that those who reject Him will be ashamed – while those accept Him will receive the finest blessings. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Our enemies become abashed and cowardly when we, with resolution, walk carefully with the Lord. It is in God’s power to keep the fiercest in check, and he will do so if we have a filial fear, a pious awe of him…When his people walk in the light of his countenance, and maintain unsullied holiness, the joy and consolation which he yields them are beyond conception.

These are challenging verses, since I struggle to reconcile them with my observations of believers and nonbelievers. Do nonbelievers actually “become abashed and cowardly” when they observe the righteous words and deeds of believers – or do they respond by shunning those believers? If the wicked are resolute in their opposition to God, when will He put them to shame? As for those who accept Him…I occasionally experience “joy and consolation,” but I am inclined to wrestle with Him about the trials that He places in my walk with Him. I would like to be joyful in the midst of trials – but I usually only experience joy in retrospect, when I have the requisite emotional detachment to be able to place each trial within the context of His plan for my life.

Psalm 80 November 17, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 80.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph entreats God to deliver His people from their desolate state – as He has effected their desolation. Indeed, they are distraught, and their pagan neighbors make sport of them.

He reminds God that He established them in the Promised Land and effected their hegemony over their pagan neighbors – yet they have been defeated and their land has been ravaged. Thus, he appeals to Him to respond to their desolation by restoring their hegemony through the monarch that He has chosen to rule them. He asserts that if God answers his prayer in the affirmative, then His people will worship Him.

Throughout this passage, he entreats God for His favor – which necessarily leads to their deliverance.

Thoughts: Here, Asaph wrestles with the fact that God has allowed the pagan neighbors of His people to despoil them. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

First one foe and then another wreaked vengeance on the nation, neither did God interpose to chase them away. Ruin followed ruin. See what evils follow in the train of sin, and how terrible a thing it is for a people to be forsaken by God.

Asaph asserts that God has enabled foreigners to plunder Israel – yet he never cites the fact that He was merely responding to the sins of His people. I assume that Asaph was aware of the sins of his compatriots; why, then, did he fail to mention them in this passage? Why does this passage lack any prayers of contrition or any assertions of remorse? Clearly he knew the answer to the query that he posed in verse 12; why, then, did he pose it? Did he know that God was punishing His people for their sins? Was he wrestling with the thought that God was being overly harsh in this instance? I anticipate probing him on this point in the next life.

In verses 3, 7, and 19, Asaph beseeches God to show His favor to His people – thereby delivering them from their desolation. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 19:

No extremity is too great for the power of God. He is able to save at the last point, and that too by simply turning his smiling face upon his afflicted. People can do little, but God can do all things with a glance. Oh, to live forever in the light of his countenance.

The phrase “make your face shine on us” reminded me of my small group’s recent study of Exodus 33:12-23, where Moses implored God to reveal His glory to him. Exodus 34:29-35 indicates that after that dramatic event, Moses reflected His glory to His people. Those passages spurred my small group to ponder their potential modern-day applications. One thought is that as we seek to honor Him with our words and deeds, He will be glorified in our lives. Others will then get a glimpse of His glory as they observe us. While He does not appear in the same bodily form as He appeared to Moses, He can still reveal Himself through His people today.

Psalm 73 October 5, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 73.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph recounts a time when he envied the wicked, as they enjoyed a plethora of (temporal) blessings. Indeed, he struggled to reconcile the following facts:

  • the wicked sinned in both word and deed – oppressing the righteous and blaspheming God – yet they enjoyed the twin blessings of good health and wealth
  • he strove to honor God with his thoughts, words, and deeds – yet he suffered many hardships.

After wrestling with God regarding this conundrum, He enabled him to grasp the following truths:

  • the wicked are ephemeral
  • the righteous are eternal – thanks to God and His grace towards them.

Asaph responds by 1) lamenting his ignorance concerning these truths and 2) renewing his confidence in God. He concludes by asserting that he will convey these truths to others.

Thoughts: In verses 2-16, Asaph wrestles with the fact that the wicked enjoy a plethora of blessings. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 12:

No bad debts and bankruptcies weigh them down, but robbery and usury pile up their substance. The rich grower [sic] richer, the proud grow prouder. Lord, thy poor servants, who become yet poorer, and groan under their burdens, are made to wonder at thy mysterious ways.

Asaph’s thoughts resonate with me, as I am perturbed by the fact that this world is plagued by various evils, e.g. mass shootings, migrant children being confined to cages, etc. When I read the news and encounter these evils in the headlines, I gravitate toward the thoughts that Asaph entertained before God revealed His perspective to him. One thought is that as modern-day believers, we can be reassured by Asaph’s struggles; since He has given us the capacity to reason, we will naturally wrestle with Him, as we strive to reconcile our understanding of Him and His attributes with current events.

In the KJV, verses 10 and 11 are rendered as, “Therefore his people return hither: and waters of a full cup are wrung out to them. And they say, How doth God know? and is there knowledge in the most High?” Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 11:

I could not bring my mind to accept the rendering of many expositors by which this verse is referred to tried and perplexed saints. I am unable to conceive that such language could flow from their lips, even under the most depressing perplexities.

The NIV renders verse 10 as, “Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.” This translation would appear to resolve Spurgeon’s conundrum, as it indicates that the wicked have many followers. Yet the ESV renders verse 10 as “Therefore his people turn back to them, and find no fault in them” while the NASB renders verse 10 as “Therefore his people return to this place, And waters of abundance are drunk by them.” Thus, I am curious: which of these translations is in error? If the KJV, the ESV and the NASB are all correct, does “his” refer to God? I am eager to meet Asaph in the next life and probe him on this point.

In verse 17, Asaph notes that God worked through a divine encounter to shift his perspective on the prosperity of the wicked. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

His mind entered the eternity where God dwells as in a holy place; he left the things of sense for the things invisible, his heart gazed within the veil. Apparent disorder resolved itself into harmony…A wider view changed his judgment; he saw with his mind’s enlightened eye the future of the wicked, and his soul was in debate no longer as to the happiness of their condition.

This divine encounter must have been overwhelming, as it compelled Asaph to surrender himself to God – as expressed in verses 25 and 26. How did God speak to Asaph at that time? What were his thoughts and emotions as God revealed the fate of the wicked to him? As modern-day believers, how can God shape our perspective on the fate of those who strive to thwart His kingdom plan? How can we pray more earnestly to learn His assessment of current events? How can He enable us to draw closer to Him as we wrestle with the reality of evil in this world?

Psalm 72 September 29, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 72.

Summary: In this passage, Solomon prays that God would empower him to rule justly and righteously.

In particular, he prays that God would:

  • empower him to deliver the oppressed from their oppressors
  • empower him to punish these oppressors
  • grant him a lengthy reign
  • always bless His people
  • increase the fruitfulness of their land
  • compel all nations to submit to his authority
  • work through him to bless all nations.

He concludes by praising God as the ultimate source of justice and righteousness.

Thoughts: Here, Solomon prays that God would enable him to govern justly and righteously. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 2:

Partiality has been too often shown to rich and great men, but the King of the last and best of monarchies deals out even-handed justice, to the delight of the poor despised. The sovereignty of God is a delightful theme to the poor in spirit; they love to see the Lord exalted, and have no quarrel with him for exercising the prerogatives of his crown.

The thrust of this passage can be stated as follows: if the ruler of Israel governs justly and righteously – especially towards those who are being oppressed – God will prolong his reign and bless his subjects. If the ruler of Israel governs unjustly and wickedly, though, then these promises may not be realized. As modern-day believers, we should ponder this passage and consider how our political leaders treat those who are victims of oppression. If they fail to show compassion to those in need, will God be merciful to them?

In verses 18 and 19, Solomon praises God for His sublimity. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

These verses explain themselves. They call rather for profound gratitude than for an exercise of the understanding; they are rather to be used for adoration than for exposition.

When I encountered this quote, I wrestled with it, as I believe that God has given us the capacity to engage in “an exercise of the understanding.” Eventually, though, I was able to view it from Spurgeon’s perspective. While God has given us the capacity to think and reason, I believe that He has placed limits on our cognitive faculties – thereby highlighting His sublimity and our need to submit to His authority. In particular, we fail to comprehend the complexity of God; thus, when we encounter verses such as these, the proper response is to completely submit to His excellence.

Psalm 71 September 26, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 71.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist prays that God would deliver them from their enemies, who act unrighteously. Their request is based on the following facts:

  • they trusted in God from an early age
  • they maintain their trust in Him
  • they display that trust by constantly praising Him.

They then pray that God would not abandon them in their dotage, as their enemies are already plotting their demise. After reiterating their prayer, they call on Him to effect the demise of their enemies.

Next, they vow that if God answers their prayer in the affirmative, they will convey His deeds to the next generation.

They conclude by praising God, as His righteousness surpasses their understanding; moreover, He will answer their prayer in the affirmative – compelling them to fulfill their vow.

Thoughts: In verse 18, the psalmist prays that God would sustain them until they have completed their task of conveying His sublimity to the next generation. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

He desired to continue his testimony and complete it; he had respect to the young men and little children about him, and knowing the vast importance of training them in the fear of God, he longed to make them all acquainted with the power of God to support his people, that they also might be led to walk by faith.

This verse caused me to reflect on the words and deeds of a family friend who passed away several years ago after battling a severe illness. I recall one of the last e-mails that he sent, where he presented his struggles with God, stating, “I still have plans on how to serve the Lord more effectively in my aging years, will God just end the life of this old soldier of His?” That being said, he did serve God throughout his life; for example, I fondly recall several articles that he wrote for a Christian newsletter concerning the harmony between science and faith. His faithfulness continues to inspire me; I hope that this blog will build on the work that he started.

In verses 20 and 21, the psalmist declares that even though God has severely tested them, He will bless them. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 20:

However low the Lord may permit us to sink, he will fix a limit to the descent, and in due time will bring us up again. Even when we are laid low in the tomb, the mercy is that we can go no lower, but will retrace our steps and mount to better lands; and all this because the Lord is ever mighty to save.

We readily make such declarations in the context of praise songs; when we are tested, though, we readily forget them. If God brings a trial upon us and allows “us to sink,” do we actually trust that He “in due time will bring us up again?” We readily blame God in the midst of our trials, as we are not inclined to look past our present struggles and anticipate future blessings. Admittedly I do not welcome trials – yet I pray that God would enable me to look past them to the time when His mercies will be more evident.

In verses 22-24, the psalmist declares that they will praise God, as He has answered their prayer in the affirmative. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 24:

As in many other psalms, the concluding stanzas speak of that as an accomplished fact which was only requested in former verses. Faith believes that she has her request, and she has it. She is the substance of things hoped for – a substance so real and tangible that it sets the glad soul singing. Already sin, Satan, and the world are vanquished, and the victory is ours.

This raises the following question: was this psalm composed in a single sitting…or were verses 22-24 written after God actually rescued the psalmist from their enemies? If the former is correct, then this passage would constitute an amazing display of faith on the part of the psalmist. If the latter is correct, then I wonder: how long did the psalmist need to wait before composing verses 22-24? Hopefully the former is correct, as that would spur us to 1) trust in God more deeply and 2) affirm our confidence in His ability and desire to bless us.

Psalm 70 September 15, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 70.

Summary: In this passage, David prays that God would:

  • deliver him from his enemies
  • defeat his enemies
  • vindicate those who trust in Him – enabling them to praise Him.

Thoughts: This passage is similar to Psalm 40. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

This is the second psalm which is a repetition of another, the former being Psalm 53, which was a rehearsal of Psalm 14. The present differs from Psalm 40 at the outset, for that begins with “Be pleased,” and this, in our version, more urgently with Make haste; or, as in the Hebrew, with an abrupt and broken cry: “O God, to deliver me; O LORD, to help me hasten.”

Spurgeon proceeds to highlight several minor differences between these two passages. This spurred me to ponder questions such as: did David compose both of these psalms? Did he compose neither of them? If these psalms had different authors, was the author of the later psalm inspired by the earlier psalm? What was the context for each passage? Since repetition in Scripture typically indicates a point of emphasis, should this passage spur us to fervently seek God’s assistance? Should this passage spur us to yearn for the defeat of those who oppose God and His kingdom plan?