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Psalm 78 November 9, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 78.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph exhorts the people of Israel to recall the following seminal moments in their nation’s history:

  • God delivered their ancestors from their bondage in Egypt by performing a plethora of miracles
  • God facilitated their flight from Egypt by parting the Red Sea
  • God then guided them on their trek through the desert
  • God sustained them by causing water to flow out of rocks
  • they responded by demanding that He sate their appetites
  • God responded by causing manna and birds to fall from heaven; He then punished them for their insolence
  • they responded to His punishment by persisting in their rebellion against Him
  • God responded to their rebellion by causing them to perish in the desert; thus, they failed to enter the Promised Land
  • God showed His grace to their children by enabling them to enter the Promised Land
  • God enabled them to settle in the Promised Land by expelling its sinful denizens
  • they responded to His grace by rejecting His ordinances
  • God responded to their sinfulness by allowing the Philistines to defeat them in battle and seize the ark of the covenant
  • God then showed His grace to them by enabling them to defeat the Philistines and recover the ark of the covenant
  • God established David as their righteous and just king.

Asaph reminds his audience that God has commanded His people to convey His deeds to their descendants – enabling them to avoid the errors of their forefathers.

Thoughts: In this passage, Asaph recounts several miracles that God performed on behalf of His people. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

He forbade a drop to fall upon his chosen; they felt no spray from the crystal walls on either hand. Fire will descend and water stand upright at the bidding of the Lord of all. The nature of creatures is retained or altered at the will of him who first created them. The Lord can cause those evils which threaten to overwhelm us to suspend their ordinary action, and become innocuous to us.

My understanding is that while all of the Israelites witnessed these miracles, only Joshua and Caleb were able to enter the Promised Land, while Moses was able to view the Promised Land before his death. Can we infer that God ascribed righteousness to Joshua, Caleb, and Moses? If so, then I anticipate meeting them in the next life and hearing their recollections of those miracles. What were their thoughts and emotions as God parted the Red Sea? Were they overwhelmed by a desire to respond to His sublimity by praising Him? How did they respond to the failure of their brethren to apprehend His sublimity?

In verses 56-58, Asaph recounts the rebellion by the second generation of Israelites after God had enabled them to settle in the Promised Land. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 57:

Turned over the old leaf, repeated the same offenses, were false and faithless to their best promises…They were a new generation, but not a new nation. Evil propensities are transmitted. Human nature does not improve.

After pondering this point, I now believe that while the second generation – and their descendants – acted unrighteously, I can empathize with them. I assume that the first generation had vivid memories of the miracles that God performed on their behalf. Yet it is difficult – if not impossible – to transfer the power of those memories to others. As time passed, could each generation of Israelites properly apprehend the power of those ancient miracles? If we had been in their position, I doubt that we could have held fast to God by relying (solely) on our understanding of those miracles.

This passage also caused me to ponder the following point: it is often difficult to hold fast to God. As modern-day believers, we have more privileges than the Israelites who failed to maintain their faith in Him, including:

  • Scripture – including the Old and New Testaments
  • hindsight – as we look back to Jesus, while they had to anticipate Him
  • a plethora of other resources (e.g. sermons, books, hymns).

Yet we often waver in our faith, wondering if God will actually deliver us from the trial at hand. Thus, we should ponder Spurgeon’s quote in the previous paragraph; each generation is plagued by the weaknesses of human nature, which rebel against the work of the Spirit. We rely on His supernatural power to maintain our faith in Him – especially when we fail to perceive Him at work through the above-mentioned privileges.

Psalm 77 October 27, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 77.

Summary: In this passage, Asaph recounts an instance where his restlessness compelled him to call out to God, as he could not sleep. In particular, he wrestled with the thought that He had rejected His people.

At that time, God enabled him to ponder the miracles that He had performed on their behalf. In particular, he marveled at the fact that He displayed His sovereignty over nature during the Exodus; he praised Him for parting the Red Sea, thereby enabling His people to cross it on dry ground.

Thoughts: In the first part of this passage, Asaph recounts his struggles with God concerning His faithfulness. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 4:

Sleep is a great comforter, but it forsakes the sorrowful, and then their sorrow deepens and eats into the soul…Great griefs are dumb. Deep streams brawl not among the pebbles like the shallow brooklets which live on passing showers. Words fail the man whose heart fails him. He had cried to God, but he could not speak to man…

I know – from personal experience – that it is difficult to maintain my confidence in God in the midst of trials. While God has promised that believers will enjoy spiritual blessings (especially in the next life) He does not guarantee that believers will enjoy physical blessings in this life. As human beings, we are wired to enjoy physical blessings; when we do not receive them, we will wrestle with God, raising the same questions that Asaph posed in verses 7-9. Indeed, the mere thought of God withholding physical blessings is almost unbearable, as we are not wired to appreciate spiritual blessings.

In verses 10-12, Asaph resolves to reflect on the miracles that God has performed, and he is strengthened by that exercise. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 12:

Sweet work to enter into Jehovah’s work of grace, and there to lie down and ruminate, every thought being absorbed in the one precious object…The subject of our meditation should be choice, and then our talk will be edifying…Holy talk following upon meditation has a consoling power in it for ourselves as well as for those who listen.

Since I made a New Year’s resolution to “count my blessings” this year, Asaph’s meditations in this passage resonated with me. Indeed, when I am in the midst of a trial, I, too, am strengthened by my reflections on concrete examples of His grace. Trials often shake my confidence in the unchanging nature of God, as I wonder if He will choose to withhold physical blessings in those instances. Yet my meditations on His grace remind me of His concern for my best interests – granting me the strength that I need to move forward.

Psalm 66 September 1, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 66.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist exhorts all nations to praise God for His deeds and for His sovereignty over the earth. For example, He:

  • sustained the Israelites throughout their enslavement in Egypt
  • parted the Red Sea, enabling the Israelites to flee from Egypt
  • brought the Israelites to the Promised Land.

Thus, the psalmist resolves to fulfill the vows that they made to God during a recent trial. In particular, they resolve to offer Him the requisite sacrifices, as He saw their integrity and responded to their cries for relief. The psalmist concludes with another burst of praise.

Thoughts: In verses 10-12, the psalmist praises God, as He brought their ancestors through various trials. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 10:

He proved his Israel with sore trials. David had his temptations. God had one Son without sin, but he never had a son without trial. Why ought we to complain if we are subjected to the rule which is common to all the family, and from which so much benefit has flowed to them? The Lord himself tests us; who then will question the wisdom and the love which are displayed in the operation?

The fact that all believers must suffer to some extent may be somewhat encouraging, but if that suffering did not lead to blessing, we would be frustrated (at the very least). Instead, we can ponder Spurgeon’s note about how “so much benefit has flowed to them.” Lately I have reflected on some of my trials and experienced a deep sense of thankfulness to God – especially for those whom He worked through to support me in those instances. God has also granted me opportunities to discuss those trials with other believers, and I am grateful that He has blessed them through these discussions. I trust that God will continue to teach me His ways through my trials…

In verses 13-15, the psalmist resolves to fulfill the vows that they made to God during a recent trial. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 14:

What we were so eager to vow, we should be equally earnest to perform…All people have trouble, but they act not in the same manner while under it; the profane take to swearing and the godly to praying. Both bad and good have been known to resort to vowing, but the one is a liar unto God, and the other a conscientious respecter of his word.

I can recall a trial where I made a vow to God that I would fulfill if He delivered me from the predicament in question. After He delivered me from that predicament, I failed to fulfill that vow. That is a sobering example of the inherent danger in making vows, as it is distressingly simple to break a vow – especially in the midst of relative prosperity, where one does not regularly reflect on God’s sustaining grace. Instead of making a vow to God in the midst of a trial, perhaps we should ask Him to simply help us reflect on His blessings when we are not in the midst of a trial.

The Death of Jesus November 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 27:45-56.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus yells, “my God, why have You forsaken me?” at three in the afternoon. After yelling again, He voluntarily gives up His spirit.

Several dramatic events occur during – and after – His death, including:

  • the Sun goes out from noon until three in the afternoon
  • the curtain that surrounds the Holy of Holies is ripped from top to bottom
  • a devastating earthquake
  • a resurrection.

The centurion and the soldiers under his command who have been guarding Jesus are terrified at these events; they declare that Jesus is the Son of God.

Thoughts: In verse 51, we see that at the death of Christ, the curtain that surrounds the Holy of Holies is torn in two. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

But there was a meaning in the sudden tearing of the curtain from top to bottom which must have pricked the heart of any intelligent Jew. The conscience of Caiaphas, the high priest, must have been hard indeed if the news of that torn curtain did not fill him with dismay.

I am curious as to how Caiaphas, the chief priests, the Pharisees, and the teachers of the law responded to this dramatic event. Did they dismiss it as a mere coincidence with the death of Jesus? Did they fail to ponder its significance – and immediately commission a new curtain? How did they respond to the darkness that spread over Jerusalem before His death? How did they respond to the devastating earthquake and the resurrection after His death? Did any of them sense that God actually caused these events? I assume that I will never receive an answer to these queries (though I hope to meet at least some of these Jewish elites in the next life and learn how they eventually came to faith in Christ).

In verse 54, we see that at the death of Christ, the centurion and the soldiers under his command who have been guarding Him assert His divinity. I am curious as to how their relationship with God progressed from that point. Did they possess genuine faith in Jesus as their Lord and Savior? If so, did their superiors punish them for worshiping a foreign deity? If not, how swiftly did they reaffirm their belief in the Roman deities? Did they believe that Jesus was divine – while failing to ponder His exclusive claims to divinity? Did they ever come to regret their harsh words and deeds toward Him in the hours preceding His death?

Jesus Heals the Blind and Mute March 3, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 9:27-34.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus performs two miracles:

  • restoring the sight of two blind men – who have repeatedly affirmed His identity as the Messiah
  • healing a deaf and dumb man who had been possessed by a demon.

Many are astounded by these miracles – yet the Pharisees assert that Satan is the source of Jesus’ power.

Thoughts: Here, we see that two blind men recognized Jesus as the Messiah. Ryle offers some insights on this point:

They could not, of course, have seen the miracles that he did: they could only know him by common report. But the eyes of their understanding were enlightened, if their bodily eyes were dark. They saw the truth which teachers of the law and Pharisees could not see; they saw that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah. They believed that he was able to heal them.

As modern-day believers, we can – and should – identify with these blind men. We have not seen Jesus with our “bodily eyes” – yet we have received reports of Him. The blind men had accumulated information about Jesus, and they had to consider the following question: given what they knew, were they in the presence of the Messiah?

Similarly, we have accumulated information about Jesus, and we have to consider the following question: given what we know, is Jesus the Messiah?

We need His wisdom and strength on a daily basis to answer that question in the affirmative, as Satan constantly tempts us to answer it in the negative.

Jesus Heals Many February 2, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 8:14-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus fulfills a prophecy in Isaiah 53:4 by performing the following miracles:

  • curing Peter’s mother-in-law of a fever
  • healing many who are controlled by demons.

Thoughts: Here, we see that Jesus exercises His sovereignty over the spiritual world. As a believer in a First World country, I cannot recall an encounter with demonic forces. Thus, I – and, I suspect, others in similar circumstances – readily ignore the reality of the spiritual world. We observe the physical world and assume that it constitutes the totality of reality. Yet this passage should disabuse us of that notion. Perhaps we need to respond to this passage by humbling ourselves and asking God to equip us with the requisite tools for battling the influence of demonic forces. If He ever allows them to assault us – according to His good plans for us – we want to emerge victorious over them.

The Apostles Heal Many May 15, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 5:12-16.

Summary: In this passage, the apostles continued to perform miracles, such as:

  • Peter healing the sick by merely allowing his shadow to fall on them
  • driving out tormenting, evil spirits.

Also, the church continued meeting at the temple in Jerusalem, and it grew rapidly.

Thoughts: When I first read this passage, I was baffled by an apparent contradiction between verses 13 and 14: were people actually accepting the Gospel message? Calvin offers some insights on this point in his commentary on verse 13:

A second consequence of the miracles was that unbelievers were so convinced about God’s amazing power that they did not dare to ignore the apostles. Quite the reverse: they were forced to honor the church…Anyone who does not reach the point of willingly embracing God’s grace, which is so evident in the miracles, is held back through a guilty conscience.

Calvin’s insights spurred me to consider this question: do unbelievers affirm the reality of miracles? At least some would argue that since all phenomena can be explained by science, miracles are figments of our imagination. Others may affirm the reality of miracles while ascribing them to some entity other than God Himself. Now Christians affirm the reality of miracles – yet we, to varying degrees, battle our inner doubts along these lines. We definitely need strength from God Himself to remain open to the possibility of miracles in this day and age. Perhaps this video will offer some encouragement for us in this regard.

Peter Heals the Crippled Beggar April 27, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Acts 3:1-10.

Summary: In this passage, Peter and John went to the temple in Jerusalem for the afternoon prayer. They encountered a beggar who had been crippled since birth, and he asked them for money. Instead, God performed a miracle through Peter – healing the beggar of his infirmity. The beggar then joined Peter and John as they entered the temple courts; he praised God for what He had done for him, and the onlookers pondered this miracle.

Thoughts: In verses 7 and 8, we see that when Peter healed the beggar of his infirmity, “his feet and ankles became strong” and he began “walking and jumping.” As a sports fan, I have grown to appreciate the importance of the feet and ankles in terms of maximizing an athlete’s performance. Injuries such as plantar fasciitis, Jones fractures and Achilles tendon ruptures generally prevent athletes from competing at a high level, as they are unable to push off their feet; they must endure lengthy stretches of rest and rehabilitation. It should be noted, though, that the beggar in this passage had never been healthy; this highlights the role of Christ as the Great Physician, as He is able to instantly heal any infirmity.

The Beast out of the Earth February 4, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 13:11-18.

Summary: In this passage, John observes a beast emerging from the earth. This beast acts on behalf of the beast from the preceding passage; in particular, it compels all unbelievers to:

  • worship that first beast; to this end, it performs miracles and signs
  • have the mark of the first beast on their hands and foreheads; otherwise, they would be destitute.

John references the number 666 as the number of the first beast.

Thoughts: This passage should be lumped in with the preceding passage. In fact, the pastor at my old church covered both passages in one sermon; he offers the following insights in one of his devotionals:

The two beasts, then, are the Roman imperial power and the local provincial authority which enforces the worship of the emperor. The dragon is Satan, working through the empire, demanding worship due God alone, and persecuting those who resist. Yet while this passage refers directly to the Roman imperial system, its application is not restricted to the first century AD…Revelation 13 applies whenever a government aspires to blasphemous claims or ambitions; all the more, if it oppresses the people of God…

…We must avoid two extremes today. One is excessive loyalty. Governments tend to self-promote and self-aggrandize. Many use patriotism to promote compliance. Christians are to be absolutely loyal to God alone. The other extreme to avoid is disparagement of our government, especially after a polarizing election. Government is not demonic unless it demands absolute allegiance from its populace, deifies itself, or persecutes the church.

Thus, both of these passages offer solace to believers who are subject to state-sponsored persecution. They realize that Satan works through their government to oppress them – yet they also know that God has already won the ultimate victory over Satan. If they maintain their faith in God in the midst of state-sponsored persecution, then they will join God in His ultimate victory. These passages should also spur believers in countries that practice religious tolerance to pray for their brothers and sisters who do not enjoy religious freedoms – that they would emerge victorious from these severe tests.

In verses 16 and 17, we see that people could not “buy or sell unless” they “had the mark…of the beast.” The pastor at my old church offers some insights on this point in one of his devotionals:

The mark of the beast is required for all commercial transactions: the emperor’s seal was required on business contracts, his portrait was on the face of coins, and professional trade guild meetings included emperor veneration. In short, the emperor cult competes for loyalty with God…

If I had been a believer in a first-century church in Asia Minor, this financial restriction would have been a severe test of my faith. How would I obtain food, drink and clothing? How could I avoid any contact with coins that featured the emperor’s portrait? Would I resort to a life of begging on the streets of my city? I certainly hope to meet the members of these churches in the next life and learn how they were able to maintain their faith in God without succumbing to the demands of the emperor cult.