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Psalm 122 July 3, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 122.

Summary: In this passage, David asserts that he delights in praising God with others as they ascend to Jerusalem.

He then asserts that those who ascend to Jerusalem to praise Him are obeying Him.

He concludes by praying for the security (and prosperity) of Jerusalem – so that her denizens would be blessed.

Thoughts: In verse 1, David rejoices when others exhort him to join their ascent to Jerusalem. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

He was glad for the sake of others: glad that they wished to go themselves, glad that they had the courage and liberality to invite others…But David was glad for his own sake: he loved the invitation to the holy place, he delighted in being called to go to worship in company, and, moreover, he rejoiced that good people thought enough of him to extend their invitation to him.

I was curious about the Songs of Ascent. A quick Google search indicates that Jewish pilgrims to Jerusalem would actually sing those psalms as they ascended a hilly road to that city. Now I am curious: how should we apply the Songs of Ascent to our modern context? My initial thought is that we could sing praise songs as we travel to church for worship services. That being said, now that we are in the midst of a pandemic and cannot worship Him in our churches, perhaps we should consider the possibility that those psalms have a deeper meaning. How can we prepare to worship God at home?

Psalm 116 April 5, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 116.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist asserts their love for God – as He delivered them from dire straits. At that time, they feared for their lives, knowing that no one besides Him could succor them.

Thus, they resolve to:

  • worship Him among His people in the temple in Jerusalem
  • fulfill the vows that they made to Him
  • rely on Him throughout their lives.

They conclude by praising Him.

Thoughts: In verse 1, the psalmist asserts their love of God, as He has answered their prayers. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

The psalmist not only knows that he loves God, but he knows why he does so. When love can justify itself with a reason, it is deep, strong, and abiding. They say that love is blind; but when we love God our affection has its eyes open and can sustain itself with the most rigid logic. We have reason, superabundant reason, for loving the Lord…

Admittedly, when I encountered this verse, I wrestled with it. We see that the psalmist viewed His act of deliverance as the basis of their love for Him. Now what if He had not chosen to deliver them from dire straits – and they had actually perished at that time? Would they have asserted their love for Him when they realized that He would not preserve them? What was their view of the afterlife? If they believed in an afterlife, could they have drawn strength from that belief? This is a challenging point for us as modern-day believers; can we still love God even if He does not deliver us from dire straits?

In verse 14, the psalmist asserts that they will respond to God’s assistance by fulfilling the vows that they have made to Him. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Good resolutions cannot be carried out too speedily; vows become debts, and debts should be paid. We need not be afraid of having witnesses to the fulfilling of holy vows, for this will show that we are not ashamed of our Lord, and it may be a great benefit to those who look on and hear us publicly sounding forth the praises of our prayer-hearing God.

Admittedly I am prone to making vows to God in the midst of a trial, where I promise Him that if He would succor me, then I would strive to honor Him in some specific way. Yet after He succors me, I often fail to fulfill my vows, as that would entail breaking at least one bad habit. This demonstrates the salience of Spurgeon’s point: accountability is often invaluable in fulfilling such vows. We often need the assistance of other believers when we face the challenge of honoring Him on a consistent basis, especially when our initial feelings of gratitude to Him have subsided…

Psalm 99 February 2, 2020

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 99.

Summary: In this passage, the psalmist asserts that God is sovereign over all nations; thus, all nations should magnify Him.

They then assert that He is omnipotent, just and righteous – especially regarding His people; thus, His people should magnify Him. Indeed, He responded to the prayers of Moses, Aaron and Samuel – since they magnified Him through their deeds.

They magnify Him – as He is holy, just and merciful; they conclude by exhorting His people to magnify Him.

Thoughts: In this passage, the psalmist exhorts all nations to worship God. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point in his commentary on verse 1:

Not merely “the people,” but the whole earth should feel a movement of adoring awe when it is known that on the mercy-seat God sits as universal monarch. The pomp of heaven surrounds him, and is symbolized by the outstretched wings of the waiting cherubs.

This passage caused me to ponder the sublimity of God and how He calls us to acknowledge His majesty – especially as the word “holy” appears in verses 3, 5, and 9. Now I should note that while this passage includes references to the ark of the covenant, Moses, Aaron, Samuel, and the pillar of cloud, we should not commit the error of assuming that the God of this passage is a mere relic of the Old Testament. As modern-day believers, we must ponder this statement: the God of this passage is the God of the New Testament. If we believe in its veracity, how do we acknowledge His holiness today? Do we recognize His sublimity, or do we subconsciously dismiss it?

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 43 June 9, 2019

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Here are my thoughts on Psalm 43.

Summary: In this passage, the Sons of Korah pray that God would:

  • vindicate them
  • deliver them from their opponents
  • enable them to worship Him in His house.

While they cannot fathom their predicament, they maintain their trust in Him.

Thoughts: In verse 5, the psalmist reaffirms their confidence in God. Spurgeon offers some thoughts on this point:

Wherefore indulge unreasonable sorrows, which benefit no one, fret yourself, and dishonor your God? Why overburden yourself with forebodings?

This verse – which appears twice in the preceding passage – encouraged me during a recent trial. While I pondered this verse, I made the following conjecture: we cannot expect a believer to initially respond to unwelcome tidings by exclaiming “praise God!” Indeed, a normal initial response to adverse circumstances includes feelings of shock, sadness, anger, etc. In light of this conjecture, I view the key words in the above-mentioned quote as “indulge” and “overburden.” While our initial response may be sorrowful, at some point we must decide to place our ultimate trust in God Himself. We must eventually resolve to allow the Holy Spirit to shape our words and deeds even in the midst of our difficulties. In this way we will see Him sustaining us through the vicissitudes of life.

Jesus Anointed at Bethany September 23, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 26:6-13.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus is at the house of Simon – a former leper – in Bethany. Mary approaches Him with a vessel made of alabaster containing perfume that is worth a year’s wages; she then pours it all over Him.

This angers the disciples, as they believe that she has wasted her perfume. In particular, Judas had wanted to enrich himself by selling it.

Jesus responds by:

  • asking them why they are furnishing Mary a burden – as she has shown her love for Him by lavishly preparing His body for burial
  • asserting that while they should still meet the needs of the poor, they should show their love for Him at this time
  • asserting that all who read the Gospels will encounter a memorial of Mary’s act of love.

Thoughts: Here, Mary worships Jesus by preparing His body for burial. Ryle offers some thoughts on this point:

Third, we see in this incident a blessed foretaste of things that will take place in the day of judgment. On that great day no honor done to Christ on earth will be found to have been forgotten. The speeches of parliamentary orators, the exploits of warriors, the works of poets and painters, will not be mentioned on that day; but the least work that the weakest Christian woman has done for Christ, or his members, will be found written in a book of everlasting remembrance.

The main point of this passage is to celebrate Mary’s beautiful act of worship of Her Savior. Now if one attempts to apply this passage to the process of drawing up a church budget, difficult questions arise. For example, a deacon could ask, “should we use these miscellaneous funds to start a literacy program for neighborhood youths, or should we transfer them to our building fund?” Such questions often lack simple answers. Thus, I believe that when reading this passage, we should not attempt to complicate matters by pondering its modern-day applications; instead, we should be thankful that God worked through Mary to help her grasp the reality of Jesus’ impending death – a fact that the disciples failed to grasp.

Jesus at the Temple July 29, 2018

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Here are my thoughts on Matthew 21:12-17.

Summary: In this passage, Jesus enters the temple and throws out:

  • all who are working with the priests to extort the people
  • makers of small change.

Since they have fulfilled a prophecy in Jeremiah 7:11, He must fulfill a prophecy in Isaiah 56:7.

He then shows compassion to those who suffer, and young boys worship Him. While the chief priests and the scribes are furious, He asserts that this act of worship fulfills a prophecy in Psalm 8:2.

Thoughts: Here, the chief priests and the scribes respond to Jesus’ acts of compassion with anger. When I read this passage, I immediately judged them for their response, as I failed to comprehend it. Upon further reflection, I determined that their response stemmed from their spiritual arrogance; they viewed Jesus as a lunatic from Nazareth (not Jerusalem) who had not been divinely commissioned by God, as He promoted heresies. On a related note, as modern-day believers, we must not allow our biases to impact our response to God and His genuine work in the world. For example, believers in First World countries should not immediately dismiss accounts of miracles in Third World countries. Instead, we should ask Him for discernment in assessing their veracity – and the strength to praise Him even if we cannot reach a firm conclusion on that point.

False Religion Worthless February 17, 2017

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Here are my thoughts on Jeremiah 7:1-29.

Summary: In this passage, God commands Jeremiah to preach the following message at the gate of His temple in Jerusalem: the people of Jerusalem and Judah have failed to worship Him properly. Although they pretend to worship Him, they repeatedly sin against Him; for example, He charges them with:

  • idolatry
  • oppressing the disadvantaged
  • shedding innocent blood.

While they commit these sins, they rest on the assumption that God will not hold them accountable for their deeds. In particular, they assume that since God has placed His temple in their midst, He would never allow it to be destroyed; thus, they draw strength from its supposed permanence. Yet He disabuses them of that notion by citing the example of Shiloh; He punished their ancestors for their sins by allowing Shiloh to be destroyed, and so He will punish them for their sins by allowing His temple to be destroyed.

Thoughts: Here, we see that the people of Jerusalem and Judah assume that since God has placed His temple in their midst, He would not allow it to be destroyed. Calvin offers some thoughts on this point:

The prophet repeated the words the temple of the LORD because the Jews boasted, as it were, “We are invincible. How can enemies come to us? How can any calamity reach us? God lives in the middle of us. He has his court, his temple, and his Most Holy Place with us.”

There are no modern Christian theocracies – apart from the Vatican City – and so this passage lacks a primary application for most modern-day believers. In terms of a secondary application, though, perhaps believers who live in countries where a majority of the citizens are Christians should heed the warnings in this passage. Do we – either knowingly or unknowingly – assume that God views our nation with special favor? Are we hewing to His commands in verse 6 and striving to bless the disadvantaged in concrete ways? Indeed, as long as we strive to obey the second greatest commandment – and reject the assumption that our nation is uniquely blessed by God – then we can be confident that He will abound in spiritual blessings towards us.

Verse 18 displays the pervasive nature of idolatry in Jerusalem and Judah during the ministry of Jeremiah. Here, we see that all members of a particular family collaborate in the offering of sacrifices to an idol. Indeed, the depravity of the people of God even ensnared children. In light of this sobering fact, it is no wonder that Jeremiah’s repeated appeals for the people of God to repent were met with derision. Clearly God had to employ the Babylonians as His instrument of punishment; otherwise, the sinfulness of His people would continue to offend Him for generations to come.

The Three Angels February 10, 2016

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Here are my thoughts on Revelation 14:6-13.

Summary: In this passage, John observes:

  • one angel – who calls the world to worship God before He judges all unbelievers
  • a second angel – who proclaims the demise of Babylon the Great
  • a third angel – who declares that those who worship the beast out of the sea will face the wrath of God; he also exhorts all believers to maintain their faith.

The Holy Spirit then confirms that any believer who passes away – without committing apostasy – will be blessed.

Thoughts: This is a challenging passage, as it clearly distinguishes the fates of:

  • those “who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus,” as they are “blessed” and “will rest from their labor”
  • everyone else, as they “will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb.”

I conjecture that any believer who endures persecution for their faith is strongly tempted to renounce their faith – thereby reaping the short-term benefits of apostasy. Persecuted believers know that if they maintain their faith, they may:

  • lose their possessions (e.g. job, home)
  • be reduced to begging for food and drink
  • lose their families
  • lose their lives.

Yet God calls all believers – especially those who endure persecution – to maintain their faith; in this way, they exchange the short-term benefits of apostasy for the long-term benefits of salvation. We must rely on the Holy Spirit for His requisite assistance as we struggle to live out our long-term priorities; without His help, we would certainly exchange them for short-term priorities.

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.