TUESDAY, MARCH 6
Psalm 107:1-9, 17-22
Desert experiences come to us all; even if we have brought them on ourselves, God is merciful to respond to our cry for help.
|1 Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good; His love endures forever.||1 A call-to-worship refrain that is often repeated in Psalms. It is a simple but spiritually powerful declaration of praise for God’s character of unconditional love and goodness – and thanks for His goodness received by us in many ways.
1 God is good! This most fundamental characteristic of God’s nature is essential to praise. It is a persistent lie of the devil to plant the thought that God is harsh and unfair. The praise of God’s goodness (regardless of feelings or circumstances) breaks the hold of this faith-sapping lie.
For further study, see Psalms 106:1; 118:1,29; 136:1; Jer. 33:11.
1 “His love” – the English word is too weak and too general. Better, His “mercy and lovingkindness” (Amp), “faithful love” (NLT). The Hebrew word is hesēd which is used for God’s love in connection with His covenant – hence unconditional love. The NT equivalent word is agape.
2 Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story – those He redeemed from the hand of the foe,
3 those He gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south.
|2-3 If this psalm was written by a Levite after the return from exile, “the lands” are the places of exile under the Assyrian and Babylonian dispersions.|
|4 Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle.||4 The first of four crises in this psalm (two in this excerpt) – the wilderness wandering, vv. 4-9; bondage as prisoners, vv.10-16 (not included in this lectionary excerpt); suffering as a consequence of sin, vv. 17-22; and distress at sea, vv.23-32 (not included).
4 There is no specific reference to Numbers 21 (this week’s OT reading), but this reference to desert wandering does read like a reflection on that situation.
4 “City where they could settle” (and v.7) – literally “city of habitation” where people live in the security of a steady supply of food and water.
|5 They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away.||5 A presenting problem of the wilderness experience, Exodus 15:22, 16:3.|
|6 Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and He delivered them from their distress.||
6 “Cried out to the Lord” – exactly the right response when trouble threatens. Also verses 13 and 19 (and v.28, not included).
|7 He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle.||7 “Straight way” – has the sense of level, free from obstacles. Israel’s return from exile is sometimes portrayed as a kind of second exodus, Isaiah 11:16, Isaiah 40:3.|
8 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind…
|8 “Unfailing love” – hesēd, see note to v.1.|
|9 …for He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.||9 The crisis of vv. 4-5 reversed. The original hearers would have no difficulty in seeing the allusion to God’s provision of water and food in the desert, Exodus 15:25, 16:13-35.|
|17 Some became fools through their rebellious ways and suffered affliction because of their iniquities.|| 17 Statement of cause and effect, reinforcing vv. 10-16 (omitted in lectionary) which describes how harsh labour in foreign bondage broke the spirit of those who had rebelled against God’s decrees and suffered deportation.
17 “Fools” always goes together with sin in Psalms.
For further study, see Psalm 38:5, 69:5, Proverbs 1:7.
|18 They loathed all food and drew near the gates of death.||18 This implies that God can allow wasting disease because of the foolishness of ‘rebellious ways”, v.17, with the intention of provoking a repentant response, v.19, leading to saving and healing, vv.19-20.|
| 19 Then they cried to the Lord in their trouble, and He saved them from their distress.
20 He sent out His word and healed them; He rescued them from the grave.
|19-20 “Sent out His word” – word is personified, as in the more familiar John 1:1, 1:14. Words which are God’s words declared (spoken out) in faith have greater impact than we may imagine. See also Ezekiel 37:4.|
|21 Let them give thanks to the Lord for His unfailing love and His wonderful deeds for mankind.||21 “Unfailing love” – one word again, hesēd, as v.1 and v.8. Note that this unfailing love is God’s love and grace expressed towards rebellious fools who are, however, still covered by the covenant. God’s grace is expressed in the OT but is less explicit– it is there to be found if we look for it.|
|22 Let them sacrifice thank offerings and tell of His works with songs of joy.|
This song speaks of God’s goodness and love which is “unfailing” even when we have clearly failed in our attitude Him.
The key in this psalm is in the phrase “then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble” which is repeated for emphasis.
Why is this important? When we have gone away from the Lord in some way, deliberately or otherwise, we find ways to justify ourselves rather than “crying out to the Lord”. We will fail to hear or reject the “word sent out” which heals (v.20) until we make the shift.
The phrase “cried out… in their trouble” conveys an attitude of heart which, quite simply, recognises being in trouble. Just as it’s pride that gets us into trouble, the humility that recognises that we need the Lord’s help is what gets his attention. And He meets us where we are with “unfailing love”
For reflection or as a discussion starter
2 “They wandered… in desert wastelands.” We all experience ‘desert times’. Why does God allow these? How does He use these times?
TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 27
Psalm 19: 1-14
God reveals Himself in the order and beauty of creation, but even more in the words that define His ways
The two main ways that God reveals Himself are contrasted in this psalm, verses 1-6 and then 7-14.
1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.
2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.
|1-2 “The heavens” can mean God’s dwelling place or, as here, the skies. Here the heavenly skies silently extol God the Creator’s majesty in what theologians term General Revelation.|
3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them.
|3 “No words” – by comparison, vv. 7-14 is expressed in words.|
4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world.
In the heavens, God has pitched a tent for the sun.
|4 Ps. 104:2 The Lord… stretches out the heavens like a tent. Creation is set out like the Lord setting out a tent, Isaiah 40:22.|
5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course.
6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.
|5-6 Many ways have been put forward to explain this, with reference to the mythology of the time which ascribed particular powers to the moon and sun. In Egyptian and Mesopotamian texts the sun-god’s penetrating rays exposed every human activity. However, here the sun is subject to God, the Creator. If its heat and light affect everything, how much more does God’s word refresh and inform and guide (expanded below); there is true joy and security in that.|
7 The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul;
The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.
|7 Here is the change of direction from the general revelation given by creation and specifically, the skies and the sun tracking its way across each day…|
8 The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.
The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.
|8 …Now, by comparison, God’s word brings what is far better – specific revelation which can be trusted, which is enlightening, reliable and lifegiving.|
9 The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.
The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.
|“The fear of the Lord” is usually the reverence of the Lord. Here “the precepts” and “the commands” become the definition of “the fear” and some versions e.g. ESV keep this within the one sentence.|
10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold;
they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb.
|10 The word for “pure gold” or, in some versions “finest gold” is different from the word for “gold” – it is a stronger expression in Hebrew than in English. God’s truth is of rare, remarkable sought-after value.|
11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.
12 But who can discern their own errors?Forgive my hidden faults.
13 Keep your servant also from willful sins; may they not rule over me.
Then I will be blameless, innocent of great transgression.
11-12 God’s word, like 24 carat gold in its purity, reveals the truth which confronts attitudes we use to defend our bits of denial. Sharp and penetrating, it “judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart”, Hebrews 4:12.
12-13 The psalmist is seeking to be blameless before God and free of “great transgression” and the behaviour that goes with it. At the same time, the human tendency to have blind spots for our own failings, or “hidden sins”, is acknowledged. We are all creative when it comes to self-justification.
14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
“Be pleasing” is correct but a bit shallow. Most other versions have ‘acceptable’ for ratzon, a word that goes with sacrifice. The psalmist has seen the glory of God in the wonder and beauty of His creation, and has been impacted by the revealing truth of divine principles in the written word. Now there is a heart response to be offered, a life to be loved as a sacrifice to God.
God’s majesty, glory and creativity affect everyone, whether they acknowledge it or not; anyone who has been struck by a landscape view, or looked up with wonder at the stars and planets on a clear night has had an encounter with the One who created it, even if not a very profound one!
The ancient people of Mesopotamia saw the sun rise and traverse the sky with penetrating heat and light. To them the sun, and the moon also, were deities that observed our actions and required our penitence for our wrongdoings, known and unknown. The psalmist gives a nod to this while explaining the natural revelation of God Almighty that is in His creation and which stirs our conscience to join the heavens in declaring the glory of God.
But God has given us His word, specific revelation of who He is and how He is – and His way of truth for us. This truth is pure and free from any tarnish, like pure gold, and it acts like a mirror, showing up things in us we cannot see or have got accustomed to not seeing in denial and self-justification. At the same time, God’s principles from his word give us the security of good and righteous guidance, and bring us joy in bringing us closer to Him.
Of course, this stirs up a desire in us to respond to this. We want to live according to His purposes for us, to speak what is pleasing, from heart attitudes that reflect the heart of God Himself.
For reflection or discussion
How much do we value God’s word, and the principles for Christian living we find there? In reading and reflecting on the Bible day by day for ourselves? In holding the Bible readings and exposition through preaching central among the sacraments of Sunday worship?
Scriptures for Sunday, March 4 (Lent 3) to study through the week:
MONDAY 26 – Exodus 20: 1-7 – 10 Commandments
TUESDAY 27 – Psalm 19: 1-14 – The law of the Lord is perfect…
WEDNESDAY 28 – John 2: 13-22 – Jesus clears the Temple and says “Destroy this temple…”
THURSDAY, MARCH 1 – 1 Corinthians 1: 18-25 – Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world?
FRIDAY, MARCH 2 – The emerging message
MONDAY, FEBRUARY 26
In a superstitious culture of many deities that must be appeased, God wants His people to look to Him and His ways only
|1 And God spoke all these words:||
This title is simply “All these words”. The Ten Commandments title comes later, Exodus 34:28, Deut. 4:13 and the way of making up the traditional 10 is not defined and may vary.
1 The Hebrew emphasises that these are spoken words – words of revelation, from God Himself. God has many ways of speaking to us, through the word and by the Holy Spirit, but His voice speaking these words is a unique occasion of divine gravitas. See also Hebrews 12:19.
1 A document of treaty or covenant or command would normally begin with a sentence identifying the writer, e.g. Nehemiah 7:12.
1 The importance of these ten words of command is reinforced by their being repeated e.g. Deuteronomy 5:6-21 and Jesus referring to them in the three narrative gospels, Matt. 19:18, Mark 10:19, Luke 18:20.
|2 “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.||2 God has aligned His name, Yahweh (sometimes written YHWH with the vowels implied as in the Hebrew) with Israel’s deliverance: “I am YHWH… who brought you out… This is not calling for belief in God in general but in God in Person who acted to bring them out of Egypt.|
|3 “You shall have no other gods before Me.||3 The ‘plural majesty’ also allows “no other god” and the expression could be before Me or beside Me. The meaning is straightforward and unambiguous – in a surrounding polytheistic culture, the children of Israel were to look to no other God but Yahweh. Period.|
|4 “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.||
4 The original form of the Hebrew (from comparing Deuteronomy 4) was short and sharp: “You shall not…” and the specific thing i.e. pesel, statue – a form of words which could be engraved on a stone.
4 There is no prohibition of artistry here, as the Exodus passages about the craftsman Bezalel and the description of the divinely-ordered design of the tabernacle make clear. What is forbidden is carving an object (later, casting an object in metal like the golden calf for the purpose of worshipping it, verse 5 below.
|5a You shall not bow down to them or worship them…||5 This phrase is a figure of speech where two expressions, “Bow down” and “worship” are used to form one idea. “Bow down and worship” is only used in the Bible of the forbidden practice of offering worship to pagan deities.|
|5b …for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate Me…||“Zealous” is easier to understand than “jealous”. However God’s version of jealous is not distrustful or envious, but it is the part of God’s character that makes the righteous demand of our exclusive devotion.|
|6 …but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love Me and keep my commandments.||6 God’s covenant love ‘hesed‘ extends to a thousand generations, while His punitive judgement is still generational, but only to the next two or three generations (verse 5 above). This can be put right and cut off, by prayerfully renouncing the sins of ancestors.|
|7 “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.||
7 Being a jealous or zealous God (the Hebrew words, like in English, have the same root and similar sound) embraces our undivided devotion, but is a jealous anger when He is opposed, and a jealous vindication of those who are His.
For a Bible study on these three aspects of God as jealous or zealous, see (1) jealous of our devotion, Exodus 34:14, Deut. 4:24, 5:9, 6:15; (2) His jealous anger, Numbers 25:11, Deut. 29:20, Psalm 79:5; and (3) His jealous vindication 2 Kings 19:31, Isaiah 9:7, Isaiah 37:32, etc.
As God reveals Himself here, He wants people for Himself, and He wants His people to love Him and belong to Him wholeheartedly.
That’s a challenge in a multifaceted, multicultural and free-flowing society, where commitment (let alone duty) is for many people not a high value.
Earlier generations knew about loyalty, to your hometown, the way or worshipping you grew up with, your occupation or employer, the political persuasion of your family and friends, the team you cheered for and the shops you patronised.
Now in a postmodern era, all of those ‘traditions’ are held up to question. Movement and diversity have taken over from ‘belonging’.
The command by God to “love Me” and “have no other before Me” and more than a thousand years later, the insistence by Peter following the healing of the man at Beautiful Gate that “there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved” are not ‘politically correct’. It is a loving challenge that confronts the deepest roots of our desire for independence.
Not all diversity is wrong – some diversity is found even in the Old Testament. But being anything less than sure about who God is, and who we are listening to, leads to bad outcomes. The Nation of Israel became unable to listen to God and the repeated warnings of His prophets; they were simply unable to trust God. In 589 BC the holy city and presumed dwelling place of God, Jerusalem was razed and all its people of substance deported.
Six centuries later the same challenge came from God, this time through His Son, who said: “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life – no one comes to the Father except through Me John 14:6.
Hearing God speak is hearing a call to stand and be prepared to be different, and bear the cost of that.
For reflection and discussion
What are the values, attitudes, activities or areas of emotional investment we hold which are not negotiable? Which of these might we hold over and above God and His purpose for our lives, and what does He say about that?
FRIDAY, JANUARY 26
The emerging message
Reviewing again the four readings for Sunday, January 28:
One day, God says, He will raise up another prophet who will speak truths from the heart – His heart.
The Lord’s precepts are not just trustworthy, but His heart is constancy and covenant – “for ever and ever”.
Mark 1: 21-28
Jesus taught from the heart rather than from the mind, and impure spirits recognised the authority of the heart of the Father in Him.
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mere knowledge can be arrogant and putting down of others, while the love that is at the heart of life in Jesus builds people up.
The heart of God changes our hearts
Moses was someone who had a very close walk with God. Not so close that he didn’t make mistakes and not so protected that he didn’t make God angry on occasion. But close enough to learn, and listen, and to be able to speak to the Israelites out of the heart of God which had captured his heart.
Jesus was, on one level, another prophet or spokeman for God, whose character and call had similarities to Moses. This was what Moses saw in the Spirit and spoke about. Of course, Jesus Christ was more than that – He was the only and unique Son of God, involved in the original creation, part of the godhead of Father, Son and Holy Spirit, so close in relationship that they are not three gods but joined as One, although presenting three points of access for us. Whether we come to the immense and all-encompassing love of the Father’s heart, or encounter the love of Jesus as One who has lived our life and overcome, or received the loving encouragement of the Holy Spirit’s leading and prompting and empowering – our heart is transformed once we catch God’s heart.
That heart connection is what He desires from us in praise and in more intimate worship. As we draw close, we find that God has a very different character value from our human way of being. We blow hot and cold, quickly ‘move on’ and forget, and make promises which are situational. They might be quite sincere at the time but as situations and relationships change, the heart of the promise or intention… kind of fades. And we think that is normal.
With God, His heart and promise never changes or faces. He sees situations with us change and our relationship with Him draws close and veers off wider again, however His intention, His covenant undertaking to love us, does not change at all. And He says, that is His ‘normal’!
Jesus came into the world as the Son of God but born or man, to live a human life but also a perfect life, and as one in whom was no sin, to pray the complete price for all our revellion and selfishness and independence. Along the way, He “taught as One with authority” and everything spiritual, whether dark or light, knew that. Why? Because what Jesus said came from the heart, and it wasn’t just any old heart – His heart was also the heart of the Father. He gave up His divine identity to live on earth as one of us, but He was also doing that living as one fully and perfectly filled with the Holy Spirit – so no wonder His heart was so closely connected to the Father’s heart. However perfectly or, more likely, imperfectly filled with the Spirit we think we are, Jesus modelled a relationship and way of being that we can grow into. And we, too, can speak and serve with the authority that comes from the Father’s heart by the same connection, the Holy Spirit dwelling in us.
The outworking of this comes in the witness we give to others who may not be at our place of faith. They may be some way off, spiritually – but they see us and watch us, how we are and how we handle life. They recognise something of the life of God in us, and that is a hallmark, a holiness or setting apart. They watch to see how our interactions with the unholy and unseparated ways of the world play out. Are we so separated and strict that they feel judged, or religiously obligated to be the same? Or are we so good at being accommodating to people of different values, that we are not actually very different or godly? Paul goes to what is in our hearts – is it a pride in knowing who we are in Jesus, so we can do what we want without fear of God’s judgment? Or is it the love that is in Jesus, that gets alongside others wherever they are on the journey, with His encouragement and understanding even though we personally have had an encounter with Him that has changed our hearts?
Tuesday, December 9
God knows our true heart attitudes, and we can’t hide from Him. At the same time, we cannot be hidden from His saving help and mercy.
1 You have searched me, Lord, and You know me.
- The key phrase of this psalm is “You know” and the key concept is the human heart, although that word is not used. This is praise to God who knows us intimately and knows our heart attitudes – something that David understood, although at the time relationships with God were more typically mediated through the priesthood.
- The “searched me” or “searched me out” phrase is related to winnowing. This is adoration of God who knows us better than we know ourselves, in an active and engaged way.
- “You know me” has more depth as in the sense of complete divine discernment. In the final verses of the psalm (Ps. 139:23-24) knowing is also making judgments, but as a fair-minded, if rigorous, judge.
2 You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar.
3 You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways.
4 Before a word is on my tongue, You, Lord, know it completely.
- This gently confronts our tendency to ‘pray a news bulletin’ to God, or at least, to rely on the persuasion of our many words. It is encouragement to enter into a different kind of prayer encounter which lays down the need to explain and persuade, for listening and hearing God’s word for the situation.
5 You hem me in behind and before, and You lay your hand upon me.
- The psalmist recognises that God is everywhere and sees everything – omnipresent and omniscient in theological language. Not being able to escape scrutiny is not good news for someone with a furtive attitude or lifestyle, but not being able to escape God’s notice and mercy is surely good news for someone set on living openly being known and corrected lovingly by God?
6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
- Which is an awesome prospect, but also an unsettling one – am I ready for this?
7 Where can I go from Your Spirit? Where can I flee from Your presence?
- “Your presence” is literally “Your face” and the first thought of a less-than-holy human who encounters “God’s face” is to hide, as it was in the Garden in Genesis.
8 If I go up to the heavens, You are there; if I make my bed in the depths, You are there.
- Heaven and Sheol are opposites; so are the wings of the dawn, farthest east and far side, far west, of the Mediterranean (v.9)
- This language, perhaps even this expression, is picked up by Amos in Amos 9:2 to describe a fugitive from justice. There is the sense here of a flight from such awesome love, such all-seeing and perfect justice.
9 If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
10 even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.
- Here thoughts of fleeing give way to being picked up and held close by God’s love in all its depth and breadth.
Only Job was similarly forthright about God knowing him. The human tendency is to live behind a mask which we present to others, and not want people to know us too well, too soon, because they might find something which causes them to reject us. But God will never reject us, and He already knows everything there is to know. He wants to lead us into freedom from the fear of rejection, to be transparent and with Him and with others, with nothing to prove. That is the journey into maturity.
Difficult times and situations are part of the spiritual battlefield of life. Sometimes they are self-inflicted, but verse 7 reminds us we can never be far from God’s presence. If we head into a dark valley, even if it is of our own making, God’s goodness and mercy follow us, as David wrote in the well-known Psalm 23, verse 6, which supports the assertion of v.10 “…even there your hand will guide me, your strength will support me.“
What initial thoughts does being hemmed in by God (verse 5) conjure up?