Psalm 105: A Story for Diminished Times

How you tell a story is everything. Tell a familiar story to children but leave a key moment out and they will call you on it. Leaving something out can make as big of an impact as changing the ending. No story was more familiar to the Jewish people than the Exodus story. That is why the telling of that story in Psalm 105 is so interesting. If you know the story and are paying attention, you notice the glaring omission. It mentions neither the giving of the Law at Mount Sinai nor the sins of Israel in the Wilderness. The main thing is does is tell the story of Israel from the promise of the land to Abraham to the possession of the land in the time of Joshua. God promises, delivers, protects, and keeps his promises. It is drawing attention to who God is and what he has done, not what Israel did or should do. So why might the writer of this psalm tell the story in this way? Stephen told his version of the story in [...]

April 6th, 2017|

Psalm 104: The Circle of Life

This is another "Hey my Self, bless God!" psalm. It takes as its theme not God's work in forgiving and redeeming his people but God's work in Creation. This psalm would be best read in tandem with Genesis 1-2, Psalm 8, Proverbs 8, and John 1. It reminds us that God's act of creating and sustaining the universe was just as much a gift of grace as the cross. It did not have to be, it is gratuitous. Likewise, it calls for just as thorough and enthusiastic of a response from our soul, from our whole person. This is a very visual psalm; one can almost see all that is being described. We move, scene by scene, through the various stages of creation: light and dark, sea and land, wild and domestic animals. A picture is painted for us of the various "habitats" that God provides for all his creatures. There is a busy, and teeming, rhythm to the created order. God provides food and water, seasons, and even life and death in their time. This is a grand vision [...]

March 27th, 2017|

Psalm 103: Talk to Yourself

Psalm 103 seems almost like a response or sequel to 102. Between the two psalms God has answered the desperate cry of the psalmist in 102. Now one of the characteristic qualities of the psalms comes to the fore: the psalmist addresses his own soul or self. Like a coach or boss or parent the psalmist directs his soul firmly into what it should do: bless God, remember all that God has done, thank him. Then, to jog his soul's memory, he gives a litany of the many things God has done. Among the things he lists are healing, forgiveness, and deliverance from oppression. With this list we are once again in the desert with Israel. There he did all the things listed here. Especially with verses 8-9 we are reminded of the most important moment of God's forgiveness of Israel in the wilderness; when God forgave their sin with the golden calf. These verses are a direct quote of Exodus 34:6-7 when God declared his name before the face of Moses. This is the most poignant, most clear picture [...]

March 21st, 2017|

Psalm 102: Dust in the Wind

This is a depressing psalm. For me, it calls to mind all kinds of popular music that records the pain of loneliness and depression: we are dust in the wind, I'm so lonesome I could cry, paint everything black. There is not much detail about the context of the psalm; it simply says it is a psalm for those afflicted. It does mention enemies, but overall it gives us the feeling of general despair at the shortness and difficulty of life. Jacob's words to Pharaoh resonate here: "Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life" (Gen. 47:9). In the middle section, the Psalmist remembers that God will favor his people; he heard their cry in Egypt and one day he will be recognized as the God of Israel and the God of the nations. This is a hopeful horizon and tilts the psalm away from total despair. But then, the psalm returns to the psalmist's lament and plea for God to do something. You get the sense here that the psalmist is saying "you've helped [...]

March 16th, 2017|

Psalm 101: Oath of Office

Psalm 101 has a distinct character. It is mainly a first person declaration by someone in authority to keep to God's way. I call it the "I will" psalm; I will do this, I won't do that. Structurally, it is pretty straight-forward; 1:1-2a is an overall statement of purpose, 2b-4 describes attitudes the speaker will adopt, and 5-8 describe the actions the psalmist is committed to. One can imagine David speaking or singing this psalm as a declaration of what kind of king he will be. Starting with his own heart and moving from there to the whole people and whole land he determines that his reign will be characterized by integrity, fear of God, and faithfulness to God. You could almost compare it to an oath of office for a king or priest. Of course, as soon as we mention David in this regard we also think of ways he did not live up to this oath. Perhaps that is why "mercy" or "steadfast love" are one of the first things he mentions. David's failure then points to the [...]

March 8th, 2017|

Psalm 99

This is the last of the "the Lord reigns" psalms that began in Psalm 93. It celebrates God's enthronement as king over Israel, the nations, and all creation. It is punctuated three times by refrains declaring that God is holy. Through this psalm we receive a great vision of all reality joyfully submitted to God's rule. While it mentions historical moments, it seems to zoom out and draw the whole sweep of history into this worship. Notice, for example how it parallels the praise of Israel with the praise of the nations. God desires both his chosen people Israel and all nations to acknowledge him. Then it sweeps through Israel's history--from the Cherubim that block the way to Eden, to the Cherubim over the Ark of the Covenant, to the Cherubim that Ezekiel saw in his Heavenly vision. This is the Lord's throne, his chariot, seat of mercy and judgment. Again, the psalm draws together times as well; Moses is mentioned in the same breath as Samuel who lived many generations later. Times and places and peoples are gathered to [...]

February 23rd, 2017|