Catching God’s heart to change ours

Jesus gently challenges the rich young ruler, to tease out where his security and his heart really is, Mark 10:17.

TLW41: Revised Common Lectionary readings for Sunday, October 14

Theme: How much have we caught God’s heart, and He ours?

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression. A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice.

Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower. Mark’s story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love.

Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes. Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands

Also: Psalm 22:1-15

OLD TESTAMENT READING

Job 23:1-9, 16-17 — Job’s heart is tested under oppression

A righteous man is blamed by his counsellors, but still holds out for God’s justice

Eliphaz, in the previous speech, has treated Job as a sinner, in the darkness of sin and for whom he has a remedy. Zophar, the the speech before that, went further in aligning Job’s grave difficulties with his rebellion before God. There is some truth in both positions, but Job does not accept either of them: he humbly asserts that they do not apply. Job is an interesting exception to the general assumption, that everyone’s need can be met by preaching the gospel.

1-3 Then Job replied: “Even today my complaint is bitter; His hand is heavy in spite of my groaning.

3 If only I knew where to find Him; if only I could go to His dwelling!

“If only I knew where…” – Job, true to his name (‘iyyob, Where is the heavenly Father?), is trying to find God from his sense of abandonment. Eliphaz had instructed Job “Return to the Almighty” but Job (vv. 8-9 below) cannot find God to encounter Him anywhere.

4 I would state my case before Him and fill my mouth with arguments.

5 I would find out what He would answer me, and consider what He would say to me.

6 Would He vigorously oppose me? No, He would not press charges against me.

“Would He… oppose Me?” – Job’s change of heart, expecting to find justice, Psalm 97:2 having worked through his earlier fear that God would be too powerful for him to be heard, Job 9:14-20, 33-34.

7 There the upright can establish their innocence before Him, and there I would be delivered forever from my judge.

“I would be delivered” – Job is confident, as a God-fearing worshipper, of a fair hearing, leading to acquittal. The gospel is here in this passage, which looks forward to the justification to be found, not in the tally of our good deeds, but through the relationship we have with Jesus Christ alone, Romans 4:25-5:1; 8:1.

8 “But if I go to the east, He is not there; if I go to the west, I do not find Him.

9 When He is at work in the north, I do not see Him; when He turns to the south, I catch no glimpse of Him.

= = = = = =

16 God has made my heart faint; the Almighty has terrified me.

17 Yet I am not silenced by the darkness, by the thick darkness that covers my face.

“Made my heart faint” – Job’s affliction was physical (sores and wasting) but also what we categorise as mental illness. The devil’s oppression is a combined attack on (human) spirit, (thinking, feeling) soul — and (physical) body. “Thick darkness” – Job was fearful and anxious, feeling like he was groping in darkness, familiar to anyone battling depression.

IN PRACTICE  Despite physical illness and mental torture, Job’s heart is proving to be true. Far from blaming God for his misfortune, the devil’s scheme, He is trusting God for his deliverance. He feels sure that if he could have that conversation, that hearing, that He would find that God was for him. God is for us. It will always be the devil’s strategy to sow thoughts in our minds that God is for others, but not us; that we have done (or not done) something that exposes us to judgment and keeps us out of favour. This is the folly of the religious mind. The spiritual person, who knows God personally through Jesus, will know that it is our heart, and the relationship with God that guards our heart, that gives us assurance – and ultimately deliverance.

QUESTION  Why would God allow such a good person as Job to go through this trial of sickness and a feeling of “thick darkness”? How does Job’s faith, even while questioning, help us?

GOSPEL READING

Mark 10:17-31 — Jesus tests the heart of a wealthy follower

Mark’s version of the story of the rich young man who had ticked the boxes for observance, but overlooked the priority of love

17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

“A man ran up” – previously in Mark’s story Jesus encountered small children who had no standing and were completely dependent. By contrast this was a young man, probably a member of a council or court, Luke 18:18, Matt. 19:20, commandment-keeping and rich. Jews of that time would consider him (wrongly!) to have a great standing with God and therefore claim to salvation.

“What must I do” – the question of a religious, but not spiritual, person. He showed respect to Jesus (“fell on his knees”) but simply didn’t understand Jesus’ teaching of how the kingdom of God is entered, Mark 10:13-16.

18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good – except God alone.

19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honour your father and mother.’”

“Why do you call Me good” – Jesus is not denying His goodness, but making the man think about his question and focus on God. Will he recognise the goodness of God incarnated in Jesus? Will he recognise that only God Himself is intrinsically good?

“You know the commandments” – Jesus mentions the six that address wrong actions and attitudes to others including “fraud” for covetousness.

20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”

“All these I have kept” – this doesn’t read well to us. But the man is sincere. For him, the law is about conforming to the doing, the externals (like the six commandments Jesus quoted). Jesus makes him think: what is missing? The requirement to have a good heart, to love God and, by extension, have God’s love for others, Mark 12:29-30; Exodus 20:3; Deut. 6:5. Entering the kingdom of God is always a step of repentance, Mark 1:5; 6:12.

21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow Me.”

“Sell everything… give to the poor” – not a general command, but addressing the stronghold of self-sufficiency that was holding this man back from salvation.

22 At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth.

23 Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”

24-25 The disciples were amazed at His words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”

“Camel…through the eye of a needle” – the largest animal and the smallest opening. The idea of a laden pack animal shedding its baggage to be led through a narrow postern gate is a great illustration that may (or may not) have been in Jesus’ mind.

26 The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

“Amazed…Who then can be…” – Jesus has overturned the generally accepted idea that riches are a sign of favour from God.  

27 Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

“Who then… with man this is impossible” — this man, they would have thought, was an outstanding  candidate. Jesus explains that there is nothing we can achieve of ourselves to gain salvation. It comes only by relationship with God and receiving His gift.

28 Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”

29-30 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions – and in the age to come eternal life.

31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

“Left… for me… will receive…” — followers of Jesus share a family generosity that transcends social and geographical borders. In this context, the hospitality if a hundred homes and families sharing the same values.

“First… last and… last first” — the kingdom order up-ends the accepted order of wealth, privilege and the merit of having kept the externals. The kingdom is experienced by disciples with no other claim than looking to Jesus and accepting the challenges of His humble way.

IN PRACTICE  This favourite story, also told by Matthew and Luke,  goes right to the heart of our walk with God. Here was a man who had done all the right things that the law said were to be done, but how he felt about God was still a bridge to be crossed. Throughout history, man has put the first commandment – to love God with all our heart – on a shelf while working at all the others. The intention was to be so captivated by God and broken by His love, that everything else follows as a consequence. The rich young man had a theology of ‘doing’ – we might call it religiosity – but who had his heart? 

QUESTION  Jesus asks us the same question from time to time: where is our heart? Can we do no other but to follow Him wholeheartedly, or is our human desire for self-sufficiency holding us?

EPISTLE READING

Hebrews 4:12-16 — The word of God judges our heart’s attitudes

Everything in us is accountable to God but Jesus, our great high priest, has lived in our world and meets us as One who understands

12 For the word of God is alive and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.

“The word of God penetrates” – a warning to those living a sham that faithless disobedience will be exposed by the living power of the word of God which acts like an all-seeing eye.

“Soul and spirit” – the human spirit together with the thinking, feeling, wilful soul. Taken together to mean the whole inner person.

13 Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account.

“Everything… laid bare” – The word of God (v.12) is speaking and acting as the judgment of God Himself. All our thoughts and intentions are exposed, and accountable to the living, written Word, John 6:63, 68, Acts 7:38 as to the living God who is the author.

14-15 Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven,  Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to empathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet he did not sin.

“Great high priest” – for Jewish Christians, coming out of the Old Covenant priest and sacrifice tradition, knowing Jesus as the Great High Priest of the complete, final sacrifice was an important faith connection.

16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

“Confident… that we… receive mercy and grace” — because this high priest has the unique qualification of having been tested through suffering and death for us, Hebrews 2:9-10.

IN PRACTICE  The ‘quiet time’ of starting the day with God and the Bible, letting Him speak through His word, has deep roots in Christian tradition. Fashions change in discipleship, as everything else, but in a busy and confusing world, the need for this discipline seems to gain renewed emphasis. The ‘down side‘, if there can be a disadvantage to learning to hear God speak to us, is that His word is truth. It is that sharp penetrating sword that exposes our heart. It is, very helpfully, a lamp to our feet and our path but also a bright light over the mirror that shows all our blemishes – the part we don’t much like. However, God, in His love, is not so much about showing up what is in our heart, as revealing to us what in our heart we still need to let Him purify. He is in the business of redeeming and recreating and regenerating, and in Jesus a ‘new heart for old’ is  His ongoing promise.

QUESTION  The devil will always find ways to try to prevent you having a quiet time in the word. How resolved are you not to be put off meeting with God in this way?

TLW41/October 14 to print in A5 booklet form

God’s love – no favouritism

Image credit: Gail Davis, www.linkedin.com/pulse/favoritism-prejudice-mercy-james-21-13-gail-davis

Theme: God loves us without favouritism, and that is His way for us

Image credit: Gail Davis, www.linkedin.com/pulse/favoritism-prejudice-mercy-james-21-13-gail-davis

Proverbs 22:1–2, 8–9, 22–23 » The principle of God’s impartial kindness

Mark 7:24-37 » Jesus in a Gentile district is impartial in His ministry

James 2:1-17 » Genuine faith treats others impartially

SUMMARY  The theme explores God’s lack of favouritism – and how we treat each other in that regard. Proverbs 22 lays down principles which the Mark 7 stories expand. Jews had little to do with non-Jews; Jesus, however, carried out a deliverance for a Syrian Gentile woman with a severely demonised child, and then performed another healing miracle in a largely Gentile Decapolis area. James’ teaching in the epistle reading challenges how impartial our response is, to someone coming to join in who is ‘not like us’ – in particular, whether we discriminate between the well-off and others. These Scriptures urge us to go beyond our human love with its social constraints and conditions, to love people with God’s impartial love.

OLD TESTAMENT

Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23 »The principle of treating others impartially and with God’s kindness

The Lord’s way is to treat people of His creation evenly

A good name is more desirable than great riches; to be esteemed is better than silver or gold.

2 Rich and poor have this in common: The Lord is the Maker of them all.

“A good name” – character is to be valued above riches, as Proverbs 3:14 and 16:16. The precepts of the Lord similarly, Psalm 19:10 and 119:72, 127.

To oppress the poor, who are made in God’s image, is to insult God himself. See Proverbs 14:31.

8–9 Whoever sows injustice reaps calamity, and the rod they wield in fury will be broken. The generous will themselves be blessed, for they share their food with the poor.

“Reaps calamity…will be blessed” – Scripture says much about the grace of God but also that all actions have consequences such that we reap what we sow; meanness and generosity of spirit both come back to us, but in opposite ways.

For further study, see Proverbs 11:25–26; 14:21; 19:17, Hosea 8:72; Cor. 9:6–10, Galatians 6:7.

22–23 Do not exploit the poor because they are poor and do not crush the needy in court, for the Lord will take up their case and will exact life for life.

“Do not exploit the poor” – which was common in a culture that believed riches demonstrated God’s blessing. See Proverbs 22:16, 14:31. Justice defends the needy, Isaiah 1:17.

IN PRACTICE  These verses set out God’s way which is to regard everyone without partiality – “God is no respecter of persons, meaning He does not show favouritism”, Acts 10:34, Galatians 2:6. God regards all who are His creation, even-handedly – and often chooses ‘outsiders’. Upholding this viewpoint, rather than the narrow, human perspective of our rights and entitlements to control and judge others, speaks plainly to us about how we judge others – or choose not to judge others. God’s ways are higher than our ways.

QUESTION  We all fall into the trap of favouritism and judging others! What is an area of this attitude that the Holy Spirit is revealing to you?

GOSPEL

Mark 7:24-37 » Jesus in Gentile districts is impartial in His ministry

Ministry in Tyre and then the Decapolis delivers a Greek woman’s daughter and heals a deaf and dumb man

Jesus left that place and went to the vicinity of Tyre. He entered a house and did not want anyone to know it; yet he could not keep His presence secret.

“Tyre” – there was a Jewish community in the mainly Greek-speaking Gentile region of Tyre and Sidon who Jesus knew, Mark 3:8.

25–26 In fact, as soon as she heard about Him, a woman whose little daughter was possessed by an impure spirit came and fell at his feet. The woman was a Greek, born in Syrian Phoenicia. She begged Jesus to drive the demon out of her daughter.

“She begged” – the sense is of asking repeatedly. She was a Gentile, compelled by her extreme need for her daughter, to ask help from a Jewish rabbi.

27 “First let the children eat all they want,” He told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to the dogs.”

“Children’s bread” – Jesus tests the woman’s faith in an exchange that was probably not as harsh-sounding as it is to us. “The children” are the Jewish people, “bread” is His message and “dogs” Gentiles. However “first” looks “the children” to Gentiles also receiving God’s grace.

28 “Lord,” she replied, “even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.”

The Passion Translation renders these verses, “Finally He said to her, ”First let my children be fed and satisfied, for it isn’t fair to take the children’s bread and throw it to the little dogs.“ She answered, ”How true that is, Lord. But even puppies under the family table are allowed to eat the little children’s crumbs.“ Then Jesus said to her, ”That’s a good reply!”

29 Then He told her, “For such a reply, you may go; the demon has left your daughter.”

“Even puppies…are allowed…” – her reply to being compared to an unclean dog is humble but also persistent; the Good News may be for Jews first, Exodus 4:22, but others are included. She comes through the test demonstrating genuine faith.

30 She went home and found her child lying on the bed, and the demon gone.

“She went home” – this was a deliverance where there was no contact or even proximity with the suffering person.

For further study, compare with the healing miracles in Capernaum of the centurion’s servant, Matt. 8:5–13, Luke 7:1–10 and the official’s son, John 4:46–54 where Jesus was distant from the sick person. Spiritual salvation, healing and demonic deliverance are seen as the same process of God’s grace in the Bible.

Then Jesus left the vicinity of Tyre and went through Sidon, down to the Sea of Galilee and into the region of the Decapolis. There some people brought to Him a man who was deaf and could hardly talk, and they begged Jesus to place His hand on him.

The Decapolis, east of Galilee, was another Hellenistic, mainly Gentile region, like Tyre and Sidon, where Jews had resettled following the deportations.

33–35 After He took him aside, away from the crowd, Jesus put his fingers into the man’s ears. Then He spat and touched the man’s tongue. He looked up to heaven and with a deep sigh said to him, “Ephphatha!” (which means “Be opened!”). At this, the man’s ears were opened, his tongue was loosened and he began to speak plainly.

“Put his fingers” – Jesus uses sign language to tell the deaf man what He was doing for his hearing and also speech.

“Took him aside” – Jesus did not want to make the man a spectacle.

36–37 Jesus commanded them not to tell anyone. But the more He did so, the more they kept talking about it. People were overwhelmed with amazement. “He has done everything well,” they said. “He even makes the deaf hear and the mute speak.”

“Overwhelmed with amazement” – The crowd were attracted to someone they saw in terms of signs and wonders and possible political liberation. However Jesus needed His disciples and others to understand from the miracles who He was, a Messiah, vulnerable and without political might. He also wanted them to see beyond the healing of people’s physical disabilities, to their own spiritual blindness and deafness – and need.

IN PRACTICE  Jesus’ ministry in Tyre was a ministry to Jewish settlers there – He didn’t seek out a Syrian Gentile woman with a pressing family situation and a demon or two to send packing. But He wasn’t about to dismiss her because she was not one of the ‘children’ Hhe was sent to. What a lesson for us! We may have a clear idea of who are ‘our’ sort of people – people we relate to, in our church or belonging to our denomination or whatever. And then there’s someone else who needs prayer, who needs help. Maybe they are Romany, or a DSS family with history or folk from a different culture. What stops us? Bits and pieces of discrimination and judgment clutter our thoughts but Jesus, who had a clear call and clear priorities, didn’t hold back His love. Neither should we – we go with what He gives us, without partiality.

QUESTION  God is always testing us and taking us a bit outside our comfort zone. You probably have such a story, if you think about it. What did you learn from it?

EPISTLE

James 2:1-17 » Genuine faith treats others impartially

God’s love is seen in us to the extent we love others just for who they are, not showing any favouritism.

My brothers and sisters, believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ must not show favouritism.

“Favouritism” – Christ lived for 30 years in an undistinguished village and ministered in Galilee and Samaria, regions despised by Israel’s leaders, a strong statement about God’s impartiality.

2–4 Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in filthy old clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

“Meeting” – literally, ‘gathering’. At this time of transition James uses both this general word, also used for synagogue, and the Greek word for ‘church’, James 5:14.

“Gold ring and fine clothes” – rings showed economic status, Luke 15:22. The early church was mixed socially with many who were not well off, Acts 4:35–37, Acts 6:1–6, 1 Cor. 1:26.

“A good seat… sit on the floor” – most in a synagogue would stand or sit cross-legged on the floor. There would be a few benches around the wall and in front, which the Pharisees considered theirs by entitlement, Mark 12:38–39.

5–7 Listen, my dear brothers and sisters: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him? But you have dishonoured the poor. Is it not the rich who are exploiting you? Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court? Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of Him to whom you belong?

“Chosen… to inherit the kingdom” – God’s choosing is a combination of His calling and our response, into the sphere of salvation and the realm of Christ’s rule, the present sense of kingdom. God’s kingdom order confronts the world’s sense of priorities, Luke 6:20–23.

“The noble name” – literally, “who slander the noble name spoken over you,” meaning the ownership of Jesus Christ which we declare at conversion and baptism.

8 If you really keep the royal law found in Scripture, “Love your neighbour as yourself,” you are doing right.

“Royal law” – or sovereign law i.e. one that is binding, quoted from Leviticus 19:18. Taken with the command to love God, Deut. 6:4–5 it encapsulates all the Law and Prophets as Jesus taught and Paul emphasised, Matt. 22:36–40, Romans 13:8–10.

9–10 But if you show favouritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as lawbreakers. For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

“If you show” – more accurately, “since you show”, the form of the verb indicating it was ongoing practice. Exclusive behaviour violates God’s royal, or supreme, law of love which governs all human relationships. Favouritism was prohibited in Leviticus 19:15, three verses removed from the command James quotes.

11 For He who said, “You shall not commit adultery,” also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

“Lawbreaker” – Jewish religious teaching had reduced the law to a long series of injunctions which were held to be of varying importance, rather than a unified way of life of loving God and therefore others. James’ point to his readers is that they could not cherry-pick and claim to live for God.

12–13 Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.

Someone whose life does not show mercy and is judgmental, has clearly not received God’s mercy. The unredeemed will be judged for eternal hell, while those showing the evidence of God’s nature in new life – James assumes his readers are genuine believers – will be those with the assurance of receiving a different judgment, that of merciful freedom.

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them?

“Claims to have faith” – but if not genuine saving faith is demonic, useless and dead, James 2:19,20,26. Can such ‘faith’, form without substance, save them? The implication is that it cannot. Intellectually accepting certain truths, without the step of trusting Jesus Christ as Saviour, is not the faith that justifies and saves.

15–17 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to them, “Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,” but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

Genuine faith and having God’s Spirit active within us is a spiritual condition that cannot help but produce actions that please God. James is in no way saying that a person is saved by their good works. He has clearly stated that salvation is a gracious gift from God that cannot be earned, James 1:17–18, see also Ephesians 2:8–9. He sets out plainly the danger of a kind of religiosity which is not sincere faith and which cannot save, above vv. 14 and 17, James 2:20, 24, 26 and see Jesus teaching e.g. Matt. 3:7–8, John 8:30–31.

“What good is it?” – this picture of false faith is like the illustration of false love in 1 John 3:17.

IN PRACTICE  In a harsh and judgmental world, those who walk with Jesus and His Spirit are called to be different – and also empowered to live differently. Our call is simply to love others with God’s love. That’s more than a nice-sounding phrase. It means choosing not to apply man’s judgmental discriminations. It means accepting people as made in God’s Image. Most will be different. Many will be difficult for us. Their rejection of God may be overt. But God sent Jesus so that they could come back to Him and know Him personally. We are the impartial, non-judgmental guides He has put in place for them, serving under the royal law of love.

QUESTION  If we are called to model God’s impartiality to others, what sort of being different would be good?

PRAYER  Lord, in our humanness we judge others who are not like us and fall far short of having Your heart for them. Fill us with Your Spirit afresh to love with Your love and leave the judging to You because You are completely fair and impartial. Empower us to be reliable guides to others, showing the Way of Jesus and not our way. Amen.

Also a set reading for this Sunday, Psalm 125 – Those who trust in God are upright in heart.

David recognises that his injury of others is essentially a sin against God

TUESDAY, MARCH 13
Psalm 51:1-13

David recognises that his selfishness and independence is inherited from mankind’s fallenness; only God’s unfailing love could give him a new heart

1  Have mercy on me, O God, according to Your unfailing love; according to Your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 1  When sin damages fellowship with the Lord of the covenant, there is a pressing need for mercy and forgiveness. The sinner has no right to His blessings; there is, however, the promise to forgive which is used here like a precedent quoted in a court hearing. The appeal is on the basis of God’s stated “great compassion” and “unfailing love”.
2  Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 2  “Wash away”  or more literally, “wash me thoroughly” is an expression used of foul garments needing repeated laundry treatment – which goes with the “blot out” image of sin’s persistent stain.
3  For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 3  “My transgressions” — or rebellion (NLT).
4  Against You, You only, have I sinned and done what is evil in Your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when You judge. 4  This is more than introspection and regret (v.3) for constructive murder, and adultery. The psalmist recognises that his real sin is against the Lord, as revealed by the prophet Nathan, 2 Samuel 12:13, Luke 15:18 – and by breaking specific covenant commandments, Exodus 20:13-14, 17 
5  Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 5  This verse supports our understanding of original sin and mankind’s depravity. Adam’s sin was passed down from generation to generation and inherited at birth.
6  Yet You desired faithfulness even in the womb; You taught me wisdom in that secret place. 6  God is just, while humankind is tainted by corruption, such that acknowledging sin – which is what God wants from us – cannot happen without revelation, “wisdom from on high”. God’s desire is for His good design to be realised even in the secret place, or womb (the words are parallel).
7  Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 7  A leper was cleansed by a bunch of hyssop (or marjoram), its hairy leaves being suitable for dipping in the sacrificial blood and applying or sprinkling the blood, seven times, Lev. 14:6. After that the pronouncement was made: “And he shall be clean”.
8  Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 8  For the psalmist, to talk of bones being crushed was an expression of deep, penetrating torment, e.g. Psalm 6:2, 22:14 etc

9  Hide Your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity.

10  Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

10  David is saying that his heart has so turned to sin that he needs a new heart to be created.
11  Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.  11  David had seen how the Holy Spirit had left Saul. He recognises the enabling of the Spirit, and how he needs this more than ever.
12  Restore to me the joy of Your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.  12  He knows that God wants true repentance from the inside out. External observances won’t satisfy and cannot sustain right living.
13  Then I will teach transgressors Your ways, so that sinners will turn back to You.  13  At first sight, this is surprising – that David, caught up in such serious sin, should seek to teach others. However, the context is that, as king, David had spiritual responsibilities. He was prepared to teach the nation from his failings.
Application

David was an outstanding king of Israel, a military strategist, a musician and songwriter with a profound sense of God’s presence in worship and prophetic insight – and the perpetrator of some colossal mistakes, alluded to in this psalm.

Why is that helpful to us? Because we can make some pretty bad calls and find ourselves heading down the wrong path. But David knew God. He knew God was for him, and God’s love is unfailing, and His compassion of a different order, to anything we could imagine.

David teaches us not to make excuses, not to bother justifying ourselves, but to recognise that like all humankind we are flawed. We can come back to God’s mercy, but the path is one that gets us stooping down low. We need to pleased the cleansing of the Blood, and to ask the Holy Spirit to do a work of renewal in us – in this Psalm 1 reads as quite contemporary.

Why do we find contrition and humility so difficult? It’s the same reason that gets us into the mire in the first place. There are places in Scripture where the answer is more explicit, but these verses are rich in clues.

For reflection or as a discussion starter

How do you respond to the suggestion that, like King David, you were sinful at birth, or even before (v.5)?

A reminder that God is a merciful and well-intentioned provider, but there are consequences for rejecting Him

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).

6  Israel’s history had episodes of rebellion (focus of Psalm 106), of crying out to the Lord in distress, as here in Ps. 107, and of God’s deliverance (focus of Ps. 105).

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.


Application

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?

God’s way of mercy, the first unconditional covenant with Noah

Readings this week, leading up to first Sunday in Lent, February 18
Genesis 9:8-17
Psalm 25:1-10
Mark 1: 9-15
1 Peter 3: 18-22

Theme of the week: God establishes His ways as an invitation for us to follow and so discover Him

 

MONDAY, FEBRUARY 12
Genesis 9:8-17

God’s way of mercy established in the first unconditional covenant with Noah

8  Then God said to Noah and to his sons with him:

9  “I now establish my covenant with you and with your descendants after you…

This is the first of a number of covenants in Scripture between God and His people, some unilateral like this one, others bilateral and participative.

God had already promised this covenant, Genesis 6:18.

10  …and with every living creature that was with you – the birds, the livestock and all the wild animals, all those that came out of the ark with you – every living creature on earth. This covenant has a wider scope than God’s providence for people. It includes “every living creature”, livestock and wild, and “all life” which can be understood as everything biological and made of cells.
11  I establish my covenant with you: Never again will all life be destroyed by the waters of a flood; never again will there be a flood to destroy the earth.” This is the only recorded covenant where God undertakes not to do something.

Worldwide judgment at the end of the Last Times is not ruled out by this verse. It says there will never again be a worldwide destructive flood.

For further study read 2 Peter 3:4-13

12  And God said, “This is the sign of the covenant I am making between me and you and every living creature with you, a covenant for all generations to come: Covenants in the Bible often go with a particular sign, e.g. circumcision, the Sabbath observance, the bread and wine of the Lord’s supper.

For further study see Genesis 17:11; Exodus 31:13,17; Luke 22:20

13  I have set my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between me and the earth. Literally “I have set My bow…” Hebrew uses the same term for bow and rainbow. One of the OT images of God is as a warrior who shoots arrows of judgment. This in Hebrew thought could be God hanging up his bow of judgment.

For further study see Psalm 7:12, Psalm 18:13-14, Habakkuk 3:9-11

14  Whenever I bring clouds over the earth and the rainbow appears in the clouds,

15  I will remember my covenant between me and you and all living creatures of every kind. Never again will the waters become a flood to destroy all life.

16  Whenever the rainbow appears in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and all living creatures of every kind on the earth.”

Verses 12-13 and verse 16 together make an ‘envelope statement’ of emphasis.
17  So God said to Noah, “This is the sign of the covenant I have established between me and all life on the earth.”

 

 

Application

From now on, in this new start, covenants will be an important feature of the relationship between God and His people. This is the first of five covenants which are called ‘Everlasting’ – looking forward to the end of time.

The other four main covenants which are everlasting are:
• The covenant with Abraham, Genesis 17:7
• The priestly covenant, Numbers 25:10-13
• The Davidic covenant, 2 Samuel 23:5
• The promised New Covenant, Jeremiah 32:40

The covenant with Moses, or the Sinai covenant, is rather different – a rule of life for the Jewish nation until the Holy Spirit was given. It was terminated on the Cross, Romans 6:14, Galatians 3:10-13. Jesus has fulfilled the Law and wants us to choose to live like Him, in the awareness of the Great Commandment, Matt. 22:36-40, rather than live under law. That choice that we make as Christians is both guided, and enabled, by the Holy Spirit, who trains us, “I will inspire them to fear (revere) Me” in the words of Jeremiah, to more than fulfil the objectives of the law (the 10 Commandments and much more) given to Moses – but willingly and intentionally and creatively, in other words, by grace rather than by rule and obedience.

This covenant with Noah makes no demands on Noah or on us. It is all down to God stating, and demonstrating His faithfulness. The seasons will take their course, and rainfall, perhaps heavy rainfall will be a part of that. But the ‘bow hung in the sky’ is a promise that God will keep. It is also a covenant we can go back to in prayer, ‘returning His word to Him’ Isaiah 55:11 whenever the natural order of things seems under threat.

For reflection and discussion

How do you hold on to the reality of God’s promises and faithfulness, while living in a fallen world where bad things happen to ‘good people’ and we are faced with so much uncertainty and unpredictability?