Imprecation-Psalm 58

Do you rulers indeed speak justly? Do you judge the people with equity? No, in you heart you devise injustice, and your hands mete out violence on the earth.

Even from birth the wicked go astray; from the womb they are wayward, spreading lies. Their venom is like the venom of the cobra that has stopped its ears, that will not heed the tune of the charmer, however skillful the enchanter may be.

Break the teeth in their mouths, O God; Lord, tear out the fangs of those lions! Let them vanish like water that flows away; when they draw the bow, let their arrows fall short. May they be like a slug that melts away as it moves along, like a stillborn child that never sees the sun.

Before your pots can feel the heat of the thorns-whether they be green or dry-the wicked will be swept away. The righteous will be glad when they are avenged, when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked. Then people will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded; surely there is a God who judges the earth.”

Hermeneutical Categories

Did it work? Did I get you to read my post by using a tricky word like imprecation? I was going to use, “You’ll never believe what happens when this guy calls down God’s Judgment on his neighbors!” but didn’t really feel like I could deliver on that headline. However, I did use imprecation and hermeneutics (see above) so maybe you’re interested, maybe your not, but try to stick around for a minute as I address something that I think that we can all identify with.

'The Sacrifice of Noah', Jacopo Bassano, circa 1574

‘The Sacrifice of Noah’, Jacopo Bassano, circa 1574 Evidence of God’s Judgment

How do you read the Bible? I saw a post recently on Facebook where someone had put up a chart of a particular hermeneutic. Their hermeneutic (interpretation of scripture) was to take an idea or a particular situation in life that they wished were true and then find a way to justify it by what the Bible says, or rather, what they think that the Bible says. The chart concluded that anyone who would read the Bible and still believe that homosexuality is a sin can only fall into the category of bigoted and closed minded.

This person seemed to send the message that they were not open to reading the Bible any differently than the ideas that they had already formulated. From the conclusions that the chart came to, it was evident that if you didn’t agree with them, then you fit into a certain category or type of person. I wanted to respond with, “Wait a minute, is this fair? Where is your evidence? How is this different than the worst of internet memes?” But then I realized that as soon as I say something against this diagram, I fit instantly into the categories that they had created for someone like me. To be fair, I wish that I could talk to this person and find out more before I fit them into a category, which I realize I’m dangerously close to doing.

When we make a practice of fitting people into categories, it’s not surprising that we would do this to God as well. But this isn’t a liberal or conservative problem, it’s a human one. We take what we wish were true about the world based on our desires or the desires of someone close to us and then find a way to put God into a category that agrees with our thinking. This is a terrible hermeneutic, of which I am guilty. God’s word is meant to shape us instead of us shaping God’s word.

But what if it’s a hard passage or what if we disagree with what God is teaching us? Instead of assuming an answer here (since I’ve already assumed the question) it might be helpful to address a posture we ought to pursue before we ever come to the scriptures.

We aren’t God.

You, me, us, we aren’t God. No matter how we feel about the world, no matter how we “wish” things could be (I wish that I could eat a carton of moose tracks without consequence but that’s just not how the universe works) we aren’t God. We don’t get to decide what is right, just, holy, pure, true and what is sinful. God does. The only way that we’re ever to become fully free in our humanity is to become fully bound to our Creator.

Imprecca…what? 

My goal here isn’t to address sexual sin or to debate who is on the right side of the issue of the right to marry. My goal is to help us to see how it is a tragic mistake to make light of God’s word and not take the time or do the homework of understanding what he is communicating to us and how he wants us to live and flourish.

There are passages all over scripture that carry the weight of imprecatory Psalms, or Psalms of judgment. However, it is here in the Psalter that we see explicit sentiments or postures of judgment and cursing. Jesus said to love your enemies and to pray for those who persecute you. How do we reconcile that with prayers of judgment (imprecatory prayer) in the Psalms?

“Break the teeth in their mouth, O God.”

It is unfair to look at a passage like Psalm 58 and simply pass over it quickly or explain it away by claiming that the Old Testament is different than the New. We don’t get to ignore or explain away the parts of scripture that we disagree with. There’s hard work to do.

Where are you going with this?

The Psalms run the full spectrum of human emotions. They are filled with worship and praise, joy and celebration as well as tears, death, sadness and submission. They are the book of worship that Jesus was intimately familiar with and from which he quoted more than any other. The Psalms are necessary today for Christian worship. They are to be understood communally within the people of God and they teach us all of the beauty of the mercy, love and judgment of our God. As with all of Scripture we don’t get to ignore these prayers, we don’t get to re-translate them, we don’t get to dismiss them as hateful and not from God, we don’t get to deny their inspiration and they’re not to be read in contrast to a New Testament ethic.

Can we live a dedicated Christian life of love and mercy and prayer for our enemies AND pray the Psalms with understanding that God has judged and will judge sin? Over the next few posts I want to explore the beauty of worship found in imprecations against the wicked, what kind of posture the Christian should have when we pray these prayers and how imprecatory Psalms fit beautifully into God’s story of love for his people.

Soli Deo Gloria

Antinomy-Psalm 53

The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, and vile; there is no one who does good. God looks down from heaven on all mankind to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. Everyone has turned away, all have become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one. Do all these evildoers know nothing? They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on God. But there they are, overwhelmed with dread, where there was nothing to dread. God scattered the bones of those who attacked you; you put them to shame, for God despised them. Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!

Antinomy Are you ok with contradiction? Actually, let me put it this way, are you ok with a life that can’t seem to escape contradiction? I can remember when I used to think (my early version of Christianity when I was a whipper-snapper) that life was black and white and that being a Christian meant being good (not-a-sinner) unnamed-3while being a sinner meant, well, just that, being a sinner. But as I grow and understand God’s story better I now see that the problem for many of us is not that the world isn’t black and white but that we can’t fit ourselves into finished categories of what we wish we were or could potentially be. Typically, we don’t like contradiction. We don’t like to think about what we wish we were and then act another way. We don’t like the fact that we would love to do what our hearts love to do, but at the same time make our hearts want what we know that we should do (ummm, ok, if you got that then just wink twice and move on). When I look at a donut, I want it! But what I would love is to make my heart not want it so that I don’t actually eat it. But alas, I eat it. Again and again and again. Confession As I grow to understand Hebrews 10:14 better, “For by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” I am thankful for the antinomy, the seemingly contradictions of life. As Paul says in Romans 7, “I don’t do what I so desperately want to do!” Ever feel this way? Grasping the gospel is being ok with confession. Grasping the gospel is being ok with not being ok. That doesn’t mean that we get to act like the fool who says, “there is no God.” but it does mean that we are thankful that the essence of grace is that we are given what we so desperately can’t get on our own. For there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! Salvation for a Reason In verse 6 here in Psalm 53 we are reminded that we are saved for a reason. “Oh that salvation for Israel would come from Zion! When God restores his people…” We are both, made perfect and are being made perfect. Our salvation is a gift which restores us to God, by the blood of Christ and this gift of life also works to perfect us even now as we are in the body. We grow and learn and understand that there are times of desperation and unbelief and there are times of great joy and obedience knowing that salvation has come from Zion! We are not overwhelmed with dread because, though yet we are fools, and turn from God, corrupt and vile, we are restored! What grace and beauty comes from this gospel of salvation for those who are in Christ! We don’t have to look at our lives as if we are accepted by God one day and then not the next. The contradiction we feel is good because what it means is that we care about and confess our unbelief and rebellion. As we live in the body, what we do in the body matters and has consequences, but we remember that Christ has redeemed us! Salvation has come from Zion and we are restored and are being restored. We are faithless, yet full of faith. We are broken, yet not broke. We are sinners but not lost to sin. Where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more. We are free, but are learning to live in this freedom. In the meantime… Let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad! Salvation has come from Zion! soli deo gloria

Just Stop Moving-Psalm 46

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.

There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells. God is within her, she will not fall; God will help her at break of day. Nations are in uproar, Kingdoms fail; he lifts his voice, the earth melts. The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Come and see what the Lord has done, the desolations he has brought on the earth. He makes wars cease to the ends of the earth. He breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the shields with fire. He says, Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” The Lord Almighty is with us; The God of Jacob is our fortress.

“Just stop moving!”IMG_0947

A few years ago (ok probably about 6 now) some friends and I went to the river to fish. That doesn’t sound strange, and since I live in Montana now it is a regular event. But in Arkansas our adventures to go fishing in streams of cool water for trout were fewer and farther between.

On this particular adventure we chose to fish the calmer flows of the North Fork river. Calmer waters or not, river fishing involves wading through waters that can sometimes become unexpectedly deep with rocks that are slipperier than Arkansas roads after a half inch of snow.

In a situation just like this, my friend Topher realized (as I have many times myself) that rather than try to tackle the slippery rocks head on sometimes the best advice, (as shouted from Mike nearby on the shore) is to just stop moving!

My Way or God’s Way

The rocks of the North Fork river or the green of the Gallatin here in Montana don’t have an agenda. They’re just there, waiting for unsuspecting feet to try to find footing on their round vegetated surfaces. As any experienced fisherman may know, it’s futile to move too fast or to keep going when the best course of action is to stop, assess and in many cases, go back or find another way.

The Psalmist here in Psalm 46 reminds us that to push forward, to seek to do it our own way without submitting to God, only ends in fear and destruction. In order to understand Psalm 46 it helps to go back and read Numbers 16. Psalm 46 was written by the Sons of Korah. The Sons of Korah were descendants of Levi, a priestly nation given the special task of carrying holy items as the Israelites moved through the wilderness.

In Numbers 16 a dispute breaks out. The ancestors of the Sons of Korah from Psalm 46 make a tragic mistake. They begin to believe that they are due honor and glory that they aren’t given from God. They complain to Moses and tell him that they don’t like being subordinate to anyone. They threaten a coup and so God decides to remind them who is in charge.

I won’t give the story away but just to say this, the earth does gives way, the waters roar and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea. It’s quite possible that the author of Psalm 46 is reminded of this rebellion and the mistake that his ancestors made. In an attempt to lead God’s people in worship he reminds them and us to, “just stop moving!” “Be still and know that I am God; I will be exalted in the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.”

Submitting

It’s hard to submit, and I find myself desperately wanting to complain and tell God what the Kohathites told Moses in Numbers 16 that “you, God, have gone too far! Life is too difficult and I want to do it my way now!” But slippery rocks are a dangerous way to cross a river. I confess of my arrogance in thinking that I know the best way and that I want to be God.

The command to “be still” doesn’t simply mean to stop moving. To be still, in the way that the Psalmist means it, is to stop going the way that we think is best. Stop doing it our way. We’re not in charge and until we submit to God’s plan and will we won’t know what it means to find God as a refuge and strength.

Verse 4 reminds us that, “there is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy places where the Most High dwells.” Jesus, when ministering to the woman at the well in John 4 reveals 2 things about the Kingdom of God. 1. The Kingdom of God has perfect standards for admission. 2. Anyone of drinks from the water of life is included. We can keep moving, believing that we are in charge and that our way is best or we can, be still, and know that He is God.

“Come and see what the Lord has done! The Lord almighty is with us, the God of Jacob is our fortress!”

Soli Deo Gloria

Waiting and Trusting-Psalm 40

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand. He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in Him.

Blessed is the one who trusts in the Lord, who does not look to the proud, to those who turn aside to false gods. Many, Lord my God, are the wonders you have done, the things you planned for us. None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire-but my ears you have opened-burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not require. Then I said, “Here I am, I have come-it is written about me in the scroll. I desire to do your will, my God; your law is within my heart.”

It’s hard to wait.

When we go hiking as a family mom and dad often find ourselves waiting. What are we waiting for? Most of the time it’s for short legs to catch up to our long ones! Many times we have to intervene and end up either holding hands or hoisting up tired feet onto shoulders. But I can imagine that there is more waiting on their part than ours. The waiting that I am speaking of is the desire for change. The desire to get bigger and to be able to tackle the mountainAub and Daddy the way that mom and dad do. Many of us have desires and things that we wish would happen. We all like to have that sense of completion and the fulfillment of accomplishment.

The last time that I hiked up Bridger Peak (not to the top mind you) I asked a weary traveler heading down, “How much farther is it?” to which he replied, “Well that depends, how far are you going?” my response, “not too much farther.” His answer was spot on and revealed the ridiculousness of my question when he answered, “Well then I guess you’re almost there.”

I’m impatient and my impatience reveals the heart of a child who so desperately wishes to have things figured out.

Waiting and Trusting

David brings us into the heart of worship when he talks about waiting on the Lord here in Psalm 40. Waiting and trusting are difficult because what it requires is dying to self. Waiting and trusting require putting aside our agendas and looking to the will of God. But David reminds us that there are blessings in waiting and trusting in God. The one who waits sings a new song and decides that the idolatry in our hearts is not equal to the reward of trusting in the Lord.

The Heart of Christ

As we consider where we struggle to wait and trust in God, David points to the beauty of the blessing of our waiting. And as we wrestle to give up that which we are trusting in instead of God we can wrestle with hope because as David reminds us in verse 8 of Psalm 40, we hear the words of Christ from Hebrews 10:7, “Here I am-it is written about me in the scroll-I have come to do your will, my God.”

The patient heart of our Savior has always been to do the will of the Father. Where our hearts are frail and sinful, his is strong and faithful. His perfect sacrifice of love, justifies and purifies us and by faith we wait and trust knowing that no matter what, we’ll never be separated from our Father. Our verdict is secure, we are loved and adored. This frees us to let go of what we think we need to do to prove ourselves worthy. It frees us to be rescued, lifted from the muck and mire onto the shoulders of our loving father and what better place to wait and trust.

Soli Deo Gloria