TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 6
Psalm 50:1-6

God calls the consecrated people to the court of His covenant – both heaven and earth together

Together with Psalms 46-49, this psalm is part of a liturgy of five sections which are all about the recalling and renewing of covenant by God’s covenant people. It has three parts in all: announcing the Lord coming to call His people to account; The Lord’s words of correction for those whose intentions are righteous; and the Lord’s rebuke of those of unrighteous intention – called ‘the wicked”. We are just reading the first part of this, but it is helpful to know the whole context.

  The Mighty One, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth from the rising of the sun to where it sets.

  • This psalm includes seven titles and names of God, three in the first sentence.

2  From Zion, perfect in beauty, God shines forth.

3  Our God comes and will not be silent; a fire devours before him, and around him a tempest rages.

  • Fire and storm are often used to describe the intense presence of God, as in the Mount Sinai encounter, Exodus 19:16-18.

4  He summons the heavens above, and the earth, that He may judge his people:

  • Best seen as God exercising righteous rule over His people. God’s judgment is linked to His righteousness, and can mean vindication as well as punishment.

5  “Gather to me this consecrated people, who made a covenant with me by sacrifice.”

  • Sacrifices were part of the ritual that sealed the covenant.
  • The privilege that comes from being in covenant with Almighty God as provider and protector, also brings with it the responsibility of covenant.

For further study, see Exodus 24:3-7

6  And the heavens proclaim His righteousness, for He is a God of justice.

  • “For He is a God of justice” is rendered “for God Himself is judge” in earlier NIV and ESV. “Judge” is used as a title for God in Psalm 94:2 – the Hebrew for king and judge are sometimes used interchangeably.
  • “His righteousness” in the Psalms and in the OT refers to His faithfulness in acting as the divine King of kings, following up on commitments He has expressed, including protection for the poor and justice for the oppressed, Psalm 4:1.

For further study, see Psalm 27:7, Psalm 102:2, Genesis 32:6-12

Application

We don’t have priests offering animal sacrifices to seal the covenant (v.5) but a New Covenant in Christ Jesus, sealed in His blood. So is God still a God of righteous justice, experienced in wrath as well as love, whose presence can be fire and storm as well as shekinah glory, intimacy and peace?

In churches where it is usual for members to be admitted on the basis of having a story of their personal encounter with Jesus and perhaps making the choice to be baptised as a believer, public confession of sin is generally de-emphasised and sometimes left out altogether. The sense of being called together to be accountable to God in His righteousness comes as a challenge to what can become a casual approach to worship, lacking in awe and reverence.

Many liturgical churches do have confession of sin, often at the start of a service as a ‘first things first’ statement, and reflections of self-examination e.g. in the prayer of Humble Accession. The danger here is not a lack of reverence, but rather an unhelpful reinforcement of unworthiness and condemnation which is not what the Father wants for His children, Romans 8:1-2.

However, seasons of reflection, encounter and repentance are often times when God speaks prophetically to encourage His people. Where the experience of God’s leading, answered prayer and hearing His voice is diminished, these few verses offer a remedy. Allow God to be the just judge and so discover what is wrong.

For reflection and discussion

How do we, post-resurrection and relating to God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit, celebrate and renew our covenant relationship with Him? What does God really want from us?

For further study, read the whole of Psalm 50 and the passages on ‘insincere sacrifices’ in Isaiah 1:11, Amos 4:4, Micah 6:6-8; NT and post-resurrection perspective Luke 22:20, Galatians 4:6.

 

Read ahead – all the readings for Sunday, Feb 11

God’s word is His intention – then, now and for ever

TUESDAY, JANUARY 23
Psalm 111

The Lord’s precepts are not just trustworthy, but His heart is constancy and covenant – “for ever and ever”.

This psalm goes with Psalm 112, written by the same author (probably following the exile) and with the same acrostic structure following the Jewish alphabet on each half-line; so we can say they are intended to be read together.

1   Praise the Lord.
I will extol the Lord with all my heart
in the council of the upright and in the assembly.

  • The “council of the upright” is probably a more select group than the assembly and of proven godliness – similarly the “upright” of Ps. 112:2 and 4.
  • “With all my heart” a phrase associated with other psalms and in this context – perhaps what Jesus was alluding to when He gave the Great Commandment beginning “Love the Lord your God with all your heart”, Matt. 22:36-37.
  • Relating to God, heart to heart, is central to the theme this week

2  Great are the works of the Lord;
they are pondered by all who delight in them.

3  Glorious and majestic are His deeds,
and His righteousness endures forever.

4  He has caused His wonders to be remembered;
the Lord is gracious and compassionate.

5  He provides food for those who fear him;
He remembers His covenant forever.

  • “His righteousness endures forever…His wonders to be remembered… He remembers His covenant forever.” Three of about six expressions of the enduring, unchanging, unfailing quality of God’s decrees (see also note to verses 8-10).
  • God’s people serve a God who remembers; on our side, an important part of worship is our remembering publicly what He has done.

For further study: Psalm 42:6, 45:17, 71:16-18, Exodus 17:14, Joshua 4:7.

  • Testimony linked to the Good News (pondered by all who delight in them, v.2, His wonders… remembered v.4) is spiritually powerful. Good News is not a phrase used in the psalms, yet the psalms speak of declaring it: “The Lord has done great things for us, and we are glad” it says in Psalm 126. Therefore, according to Psalm 107, “Let the Redeemed of the Lord say so!” Psalm 126:3, Psalm 107:2

6  He has shown His people the power of His works,
giving them the lands of other nations.

  • “Shown His people…”: God reveals His purposes to His people Psalm 19:1-4, showing Himself to be worthy of complete trust (v.7 below)
  • Part of the promises of the enduring covenant concern “lands of other nations” given to His people, politically controversial or not!

For further study: Psalm 78:55, Genesis 12:7, 15:18

7  The works of His hands are faithful and just;
all His precepts are trustworthy.

  • “All His precepts are trustworthy…”: the theme about the particular authority and anointing on the Lord’s word emerges here.

8  They are established for ever and ever,
enacted in faithfulness and uprightness.

9  He provided redemption for his people;
He ordained his covenant forever
holy and awesome is His name.

10  The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow His precepts have good understanding.
To Him belongs eternal praise.

  • “…Established for ever and ever… ordained His covenant for ever… To Him belongs eternal praise.” Three more expressions of how God’s covenant is praiseworthy – and permanent.
  • The much-repeated, classic definition in the wisdom literature: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom”. True wisdom is living in the light of God’s nature and character. Willing submission to His ways is the key to seeing the Lord’s strategy.

For further study: Job 28:28, Psalm 112:1, Proverbs 1:7, 9:10.

Application

We have little personal experience of decrees that are enduring, in a world where the values are transient and situational – ‘if it fits, it applies – until the time that it doesn’t’. We are casual; God by complete contrast is constant and faithful to His decree. More recently there has been controversy over people taking more notice of social media ‘fake news’ than journalism which is properly researched, backed up and balanced; and the way assertions, even wild assertions, repeated often enough and loudly enough, are given credibility.

By contrast, God speaks in a way which is utterly true and totally trustworthy. He often refers back to what He has said before, and reminds us of promises which are still standing. His intentions, expressed in His Word, remain His intentions, and they go on and on. He may say more about them, or put them into a new context, but unlike a politician’s tweet, they have foundation and real substance.

God wants to receive our praise not as routine but from the heart, and He also wants us to catch His heart, which is about His constancy and love which is eternal, and never fickle.

Discussion starter

What promises has God made long ago which might help us reach people for Him more confidently?

Covenant and God’s faithfulness

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 5 of 5

The emerging message

2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

Luke 1:26-38

Romans 16:25-27

Do we sometimes doubt God, or wonder if we are in the right place for Him to see our needs or grant our requests? This week’s message is about God’s faithfulness to His purpose and to His people, told over a time span of over 1,000 years that saw following but also much failure.

David’s renown and kingly influence would continue, according to the covenant promise to David that emerges through the first reading. As we now know, the story of that succession, in the books of Kings and Chronicles, was a bumpy ride for the nation of Israel; there were some good and godly leaders, and there were far too many who were the exact opposite – they were covenant breakers. How could that prophetic word be fulfilled.

The psalmist of Psalm 89 writes 400 years later, at the time of the fall of Jerusalem, about how this unconditional covenant seems to have been abandoned. Standing in the ruins of a city broken down where most had been exiled, the psalm praises God while lamenting God’s apparent unwillingness to save them – the covenant was unconditional, but like any agreement, it was not unilateral. But, as the psalm asserts, God is always faithful to what He has promised. The anointing that was on David, and on David’s line, will be fulfilled.

In the angel’s appearance to Mary we begin to see how the covenant promise will be fulfilled in a different way. He sets out her special mission and responsibility, to give birth to the Son of God, whose ministry was to be the Good News that had been announced by the prophets so much earlier – the good news which was now for all mankind, Gentiles as well as Jews.

Our God combines being all majestic, all powerful and all holy – with being in all things faithful to His promises and loving with patience and longsuffering. The covenant with David and his successors was all but forgotten by the time Jerusalem, after many threats and constant appeals by the prophets, was finally sacked. Had the covenant been broken? No, but it had been abandoned by those it was supposed to protect. Nevertheless the Lord would maintain His covenant promises with His people, when there were people who regarded themselves as His. As we now know, it was worked out rather differently, as had long been foretold, in Jesus the Messiah and the Light to the Gentiles as well as Israel.

Wherever we are in life, wherever our level of faith may be, we can always come back, and there are promises for us particularly in the New Covenant in Jesus, but without losing the benefits of older covenants. He is our God and we are His people, and He desires His promises to be worked out in our lives even more than we do.

All the discussion starters

  1. What (verses 8-16) does David or his descendants have to do or to be, in order to comply with this promise? If it is not explicit, what might be implicit?
  2. Why is it important as church to begin worship with declaring God’s goodness in praise? What reminder does that embed in us?
  3. Is our heavenly or spiritual worldview separated from our everyday worldview and beliefs about how our world works, or are we able, at times, to connect them and see how God’s heavenly purpose seeks to influence our earthly lives? Quite a profound question to consider, but this is a season when we remember a profound miracle where heaven impacted the earthly order!
  4. To what extent have you received the gospel from someone else – and found that you needed to outgrow their perspective, as you grew in your own revelation of it, through your relationship with the Lord?
  5. We are made in God’s image, but do we try to relate to God as being like us? What have we learned about His way of being that is quite a lot different to ours and which challenges our understanding of His ways?

A covenant that God will not break

The Living Word for week up to Sunday, December 24, 2017: Part 1 of 5

The story of God’s faithfulness in maintaining covenant, from King David’s successors to the Good News of King Jesus.

Monday, December 18: 2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Tuesday, December 19: Psalm 89:1-4 and 19-26

Wednesday, December 20: Luke 1:26-38

Thursday, December 21: Romans 16:25-27

Friday: The emerging message and discussion starters

Monday, Dec 18: 2 Samuel 7:1-11 and 16

Nathan the prophet’s word to King David about the house, or dynasty, of David which would follow him.

  • Although not called a covenant here, in other places it is i.e Psalm 89:3,28,34,39; Psalm 132:11; and 2 Samuel 23:5 “If my house were not right with God, surely He would not have made with me an everlasting covenant…(NIV)”. This promise to make David’s family the representative of His people for ever is a key passage in the history of salvation.

1-2 When King David was settled in his palace and the Lord had given him rest from all the surrounding enemies, the king summoned Nathan the prophet. “Look,” David said, “I am living in a beautiful cedar palace, but the Ark of God is out there in a tent!”

  • David wanted to build the Lord a ‘house’ or suitable, permanent place for the Ark to remain – but contrast this with v.11 below, The Lord… will make a house for you…”
  • The Ark of God is covered by (literally) ‘curtains’.

3 Nathan replied to the king, “Go ahead and do whatever you have in mind, for the Lord is with you.”

4 But that same night the Lord said to Nathan…

  • An example of a project that has started to form without the Lord being consulted, except in the sense of his prophet being part of a prayerful conversation. Nathan was hasty in his “Go ahead…” response because he hadn’t heard at that point. When we start with our plan and seek the Lord’s approval, He may substitute His own plan!

5-7 “…Go and tell my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord has declared:

  • “The Lord is with you” v.3 but “This is what the Lord says…”

Are you the one to build a house for me to live in? I have never lived in a house, from the day I brought the Israelites out of Egypt until this very day. I have always moved from one place to another with a tent and a Tabernacle as my dwelling. Yet no matter where I have gone with the Israelites, I have never once complained to Israel’s tribal leaders, the shepherds of my people Israel. I have never asked them, “Why haven’t you built me a beautiful cedar house?”’

  • See 1 Chron. 22:8 for the reason why David was not permitted to build the temple. He had waged too many wars and shed too much blood.
  • Israel’s leaders, or judges. The word as it stands can mean ‘sceptres’, a figure of speech for rulers.

8-11 “Now go and say to my servant David, ‘This is what the Lord of Heaven’s Armies has declared: I took you from tending sheep in the pasture and selected you to be the leader of my people Israel.

  • “My people…” is an important emphasis. It is the Lord who called David from shepherding to kingship, prevailed over enemies and who had made the original promise of enduring renown, Genesis 12:2.

I have been with you wherever you have gone, and I have destroyed all your enemies before your eyes.

  • The events in the following chapter probably preceded this chapter – but the material has not been arranged chronologically, as we assume, but in topics.

Now I will make your name as famous as anyone who has ever lived on the earth! And I will provide a homeland for my people Israel, planting them in a secure place where they will never be disturbed. Evil nations won’t oppress them as they’ve done in the past, starting from the time I appointed judges to rule my people Israel. And I will give you rest from all your enemies.

  • It is the Lord acting on His promise, rather than David’s acts of military achievement, who will establish His people in a land of their own.

“‘Furthermore, the Lord declares that He will make a house for you – a dynasty of kings!

16 Your house and your kingdom will continue before me for all time, and your throne will be secure forever.’”

  • “The house” now takes on the meaning of dynasty.
  • This is a double prophecy with covenantal implications: the first outworking of this is in Solomon, who (unlike David) is permitted to build the Temple (v.13); the second “eternal throne… established forever” is fulfilled in Jesus the Messiah.

Application

Our faith has deep roots and this event, 1000 years before Christ’s appearance, has big implications.

It describes God, speaking through the mouthpiece of an attested and righteous prophet, about a one-way promise, or covenant, He is making with David which will extend beyond his lifetime or present influence, indefinitely. This is number six of seven major covenants recorded in Scripture and its form is essentially unconditional – it is a description of what God undertakes to do for David, not of what David has to do for God. There is, however, a presumption of continuing loyalty to God on the part of David’s descendants which is in the nature of any covenant agreement: that the parties actually enter into it.

It promises David:

  • Enduring renown
  • Israel to have their own land to remain in
  • Security and rest from enemies
  • A dynasty and influence that endures

David knew God as the Faithful One, Psalm 145:13,17 “ The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises and faithful in all He does.”

In the ups and downs of life, in a world where agreements are seen as situational and easily broken, God is there for us upholding the commitment of His covenant.

We have a better covenant than Abraham, Moses or David in Jesus Christ, with better provisions, and based on God’s grace – we turn to Him and He turns to us. God who has made and maintained promises for those who were after His heart in the past, makes and maintains promises to those who belong to Him in Christ Jesus. That’s something to have ready for when the enemy comes knocking on the door of your mind with his doubts and fears.

Discussion starter

  1. What (verses 8-16) does David or his descendants have to do or to be, in order to comply with this promise? If it is not explicit, what might be implicit?

Mon, Dec 11: Anointing of both authority and servanthood

The Living Word Bible study for Sunday, December 17, 2017 (wk50)

Mon, Dec 11: Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Tue, Dec 12: Psalm 126, Luke 1:46-55

Wed, Dec 13: John 1: 6-8, 19-28

Thur, Dec 14: 1 Thess 5:16-24

Fri, Dec 15: The emerging message

Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11

Anointed by the Spirit of praise and joy to rebuild, restore and renew.

1 The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

  • The anointing of the Spirit is an anointing as both kingly authority – proclamations are what kings do – and as a divine servant, with concern for prisoners and the poor and practical involvement with those who are destitute. This brings together Isaiah’s earlier prophecies of a king to arise, and also the suffering servant of the Lord. Isaiah spells out Jesus Christ in all but name.

2-3 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour…

  • This is a well-known passage. Why? Because Jesus applied it to Himself. Following His encounter with the Holy Spirit in baptism and testing in the wilderness, and soon after the start of His public ministry, Jesus attended the regular synagogue worship in Nazareth, in the synagogue He had known from childhood. Synagogue worship was relatively free, with ministry shared. He stood up to read Scripture and was handed the Isaiah scroll. He read the beginning of Isaiah 61 (above) and then said, to the amazement of His hearers, “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” Luke 4:16-21.
  • Jesus, in His reading of this, ended as above “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour”. He saw His call as divided into two visitations, the first to bring salvation and freedom and favour with God, which we now understand as His human sinless life and giving up that life on the Cross. The second includes the judgment and realised kingdom of God, which fits with the Second Coming.

…and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn and provide for those who grieve in Zion – to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.

  • “The oil… and a garment…” is a picture of something applied and put on, an impartation. The language of anointing and oil is often used symbolically of the Holy Spirit. So this is describing an impartation which brings dramatic change to those receiving it from mourning and despair, to joy and praise. Without Jesus this life is a slow dying with a grim outcome. Receiving new life and eternal life in a new spiritual birth is coming alive in Christ with a release into the Holy Spirit’s expression of joy and praise.

4 They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations.

  • The immediate meaning of this for the original hearers is about coming out of exile and rebuilding the ruins, as documented by Ezra and Nehemiah. Isaiah saw this restoration, but also a restoration of God that affects every age. For us, the impartation of the Holy Spirit and the life of the Spirit is about being empowered as God’s agents of restoration and transformation. Those who demonstrate the Life of the Spirit are those who will, simply through their lives, bring renewal of church and also society, ministering in Word and Spirit and in engagement with the world that doesn’t necessarily own Christian beliefs or values.

= = = =

8 “For I, the Lord, love justice; I hate robbery and wrongdoing. In my faithfulness I will reward My people and make an everlasting covenant with them.

  • The community of the people of God are covenanted (for us, under the New Covenant in Jesus) to imitate and display the character of God, who stands for justice and is set against wrongdoing, Micah 6:8; Isaiah 35:15.

9 Their descendants will be known among the nations and their offspring among the peoples. All who see them will acknowledge that they are a people the Lord has blessed.”

  • The people of God are those who represent and uphold God’s values.

10 I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For He has clothed me with garments of salvation and arrayed me in a robe of his righteousness, as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

  • Clothed with salvation, arrayed in a robe of righteousness is a description of how righteousness with God is put on us as part of the faith relationship; we have to come to the point of realising that we cannot earn or achieve any of that righteousness. The theological term is “imputed”, meaning it is assigned or attributed to us through our new standing in Christ Jesus. “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God”,  2 Cor. 5:21. Both of these verses are major statements of how God sees us in this spiritual transformation. This is the heart of the New Covenant for those who give their lives to Jesus. In Christ Jesus, as people of new creation with a new nature, we become — and are the demonstration of — what God’s righteousness looks like.

11 For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations.

  • A supernaturally natural process whereby the kingdom of God would start to be apparent, not just to the Jewish nation but to nations beyond,  Isaiah 49:6 . From the start of Jesus’ ministry his message emphasised the kingdom of God, e.g. Mark 1:15 “The time has come,” He said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”

Application

Isaiah foresees a Holy Spirit anointed ministry, the characteristic of which is freeing and transforming of people, vv. 1-2, communities, v.4 and values, vv.8-9. This is a broad-brushstroke picture of what the ministry of Jesus the Messiah would look like.

The same Holy Spirit is the enabler of the purposes of God in bringing to bear His kingdom order in all the dimensions of spiritual salvation, physical and emotional healing and deliverance from oppression, as demonstrated by Jesus.

The same Holy Spirit empowers the same purposes of God in us, giving us a growing revelation of how we are to continue Jesus’ ministry, and building our confidence in it.

The same Holy Spirit transforms how we see ourselves. The revelation of how God sees us “clothed” in Christ Jesus transforms our confidence from tentative prayer requests to declaring in faith and spiritual authority what we know God has already said.

Discussion starters

1. If Jesus took this passage (the first two sentences at least) and applied it to Himself, how might it apply to us?

2. How does the Sovereign Lord “make righteousness and praise spring up” before others, today?