TUESDAY, APRIL 10
The ‘fear’ of God in a secure trusting relationship with Yahweh overcomes the fear of man.
For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.
A lament to God and prayer admonition in a situation of difficulty and opposition.
1 Answer me when I call to you, my righteous God. Give me relief from my distress; have mercy on me and hear my prayer.
David calls on God in His faithfulness to fulfil His promises. The appeal to “my righteous God” – literally, ‘God of my right’ – is no mere formality, but an appeal to God on the basis of His character. God is the protector of His own and the champion of right, Psalm 5:4–6.
2 How long will you people turn My glory into shame? How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
“You people” or more literally, ‘you men’ – the landowners of wealth and power. They have shown contempt for King David’s God-given authority, and expressing “delusions” have mocked both David and God Himself without counting the cost, in God’s order of things, of doing this.
3 Know that the Lord has set apart His faithful servant for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to him.
“Know” – the first of a list of seven imperatives (emphasis added)
4 Tremble and do not sin; when you are on your beds, search your hearts and be silent.
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous and trust in the Lord.
The enemies are admonished to respond in a more respectful way, both to God and to His anointed – to recognise that David has been set apart by the Lord and rules under a covenant of His steadfast love (2 Samuel 7:1-15).
6 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?” Let the light of your face shine on us.
All leadership is subject to the challenge of people’s unfulfilled expectations and David’s rule is no exception. As a considerate ruler, he knows the hearts of his people.
7 Fill my heart with joy when their grain and new wine abound.
God’s blessing and therefore better times for the people is David’s joy.
8 In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety.
David’s experience through His relationship with God (Yahweh) is a sharp contrast to the negativity of the enemies who want better times by bringing him down. David can go to sleep committing the outcome to God “in safety”, betach, a word related to trust: unafraid.
Any kind of leadership brings a measure of unpopularity and the unjust blame that comes from people’s unfulfilled expectations being piled on the person in authority.
Things don’t appear to be going too well, and two different ways of responding are contrasted here.
In politics, difficult times often result in a opinions becoming factions and a divisive leadership challenge.
Those in leadership have the choice to be reactive to those ganging up against them, or to be proactive in trusting their instincts and supportive advisers. Put faith into the equation, and the ‘instincts’ to trust become God’s guidance and the confidence in His call and higher purpose.
David, Israel’s most renowned king, made mistakes and learned from them, all of which built up his ability to trust in God’s faithfulness and grace, through a lifetime of opposition. His way of dealing with his undermining enemies was to be secure in his call and anointing and call on God to direct them to respect that call, too. David is resolute in making a righteous response. He calls on God to adjure those opposing him to have regard for God’s ways and not just man’s way.
For reflection or discussion
How do you respond to criticism and opposition in a task you have been given responsibility for?
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?
Psalm 126 – A song of ascents
If the Lord was able to do it before, He can do it again
Readings from New International Version (NIV)
1 When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
- The immediate application of this is the restoration of the first exiles from captivity in 538 BC. However relating verse 1 to verses 4-6 gives this a much wider and more contemporary application.
2 Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy. Then it was said among the nations, “The Lord has done great things for them.”
- The Lord had brought Israel out of Egypt, and now brought about a restoration from exile, a joyous turnaround. Both of these happenings said a lot about God’s character to the surrounding nations.
3 The Lord has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.
- A powerful dimension of breakthrough prayer is praise for who God is, coupled with thankfulness for what God has done. ‘Testimony’ stories which recall what God has done raise the level of faith in both teller and hearer, and are spiritually robust answers to the doubts and discouragements we hear all the time in the enemy’s accusing voice.
4 Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.
- The Negev is an exceptionally arid area. As the seasonal rains flood the desert wadis, the land turns green again. The prayer looks for Israel’s fortunes to flower again in a similar way.
5 Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
6 Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
- This speaks of God’s character: faithfulness to those who have persevered with faith. It applied to the exiles but also speaks to today. “Sowing with tears” is part of the Christian experience, seldom understood at the time, in which God tests us and proves us – do we stay in faith for the promises expressed here?
Luke 1:46-55 – The Magnificat
True dependence on God puts us in place to be part of His next move
- Mary may have made up this song, thinking about the story of Hannah, on her several days’ journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. It borrows much in thought and phrase from Hannah’s prayer, 1 Sam. 2:1-10, but the tone of submission to God is different. It would not be unusual for a devout Jewish girl like Mary to have quite a depth of Scripture knowledge and insight, which she shows here. At the same time, as John Wesley suggests, perhaps Mary sang this Holy Spirit-inspired prophetic song without fully understanding all that she was singing.
46 And Mary said: “My soul glorifies the Lord…
- Older sources based on Latin texts may attribute this song to Elizabeth. But it is Mary’s. Elizabeth’s response (v.42) is an exclamation, a shout, quite different in tone from her quieter cousin’s.
47-49 and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour, for He has been mindful of the humble state of his servant.
- Amplified Bible: “For He has looked [with loving care] on the humble state of His maidservant…” This is Mary describing herself as a sinner and a slave-girl – a humble state, rather than humiliated state.
From now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me – holy is his name.
- Mary’s faith, waiting on God to bring His promises to fulfilment (see also v.45), was exemplary, by contrast with Zacharias, Luke 1:18-20 .
50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation.
- “Mercy” is a BIG word, expressing the Old Testament and covenant-language concept of God’s love which is loyal, gracious and faithful. This love comes to those who overcome human pride to look to Him with awe and deep respect.
51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; He has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
- Where people of influence are proud in their thinking and attitudes, problems in society ensue: cause and effect. The kingdom of God, allowing God’s rule and order to have domain in our thoughts and attitudes, stands in direct, confrontational opposition to man’s desire for independence and self-sufficiency.
52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.
53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.
- The tenses point to God’s “mighty deeds” of the past but as is often the way of the Prophets, may be using the device of looking back to what God has done, to speak of what God can and will do. The deeds of the past give substance to the promise of the Good News to come.
- The established way of the world is turned upside down in this series of statements where the proud are scattered, rulers are removed from position, the rich miss out while the hungry and humble – those that recognise their need of God – are elevated.
54-55 He has helped His servant Israel, remembering to be merciful to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as He promised our ancestors.”
- Recalls the unconditional covenant with Abraham and his descendants – and those believing Gentiles like us who are ‘grafted into the vine’, Romans 11:17-19 .
The exiles knew their need of God. They had lost everything – and also lost much of the sense of their national identity as God’s covenant people. But after a generation, and a change of heart, the return began and it was a joyful returning.
Mary knew her need of God. She was young, she felt that she was a nobody, and her situation drew criticism – who else would know what the angel had said? Perhaps she had talked to God about this on her journey to see her cousin Elizabeth. And the evidence is that she had heard afresh from God and now she was rejoicing, knowing that she was blessed, singled out for an important, if challenging, assignment from God.
Sometimes we don’t know what’s going on in our lives. And sometimes it’s too confusing to expect God to tell us. Yet Mary, humble before God and aware of her need, seems to have come through to praise and rejoicing. In her song, she praises God not just for His goodness, but for specific deeds of the past where He has upheld the humble and overturned the self-sufficient.
3. What attitudes are contrasted in these passages?
4. What promise, or promises, do we see in these passages? Is there a condition attached?
5. What lessons does Mary’s song have for us, in how we approach God?