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

Glory-Psalm 24

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it;
the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
and established it on the waters.
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust in and idol or swear by a false god.
They will receive blessing from the Lord
and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek your face, God of Jacob.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
be lifted up, you ancient doors,
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is this King of glory?
The Lord strong and mighty,
the Lord mighty in battle.
Lift up your heads, you gates;
lift them up you ancient doors.
that the King of glory may come in.
Who is he, this King of glory?
The Lord Almighty-He is the King of glory.

כָּבוֹד The Battle For Glory

I’m not much of a sports guy, but I do find that at times I am jealous for those who are. I wish I had a “team” or a “player” that I loved to follow. Whether you’re a fan or not it’s not hard to argue the case that all pro sports have their glory hounds. An article published in The Bleacher Report a few years ago highlights a struggle for athletes who are good at their craft.  In the article, the author presents the 20 most self-centered athletes in the world. This is of course subjective but nonetheless it leaves the reader with 20 opportunities to judge those who make more money than we do. In this short article we see 20 people scrutinized for their attempt to make much of themselves.

In Psalm 24 David uses the Hebrew word כָּבוֹד kavowd to describe God’s glory. The definition is complex and can be defined in a few ways but the overall idea is evidence of greatness, or wonder and amazement at the power and prominence of someone’s performance. Whew…that’s kind of wordy but we all understand what it boils down to. Glory means that someone get’s the credit.

But someone has to get credit right? If we play basketball against LeBron James and lose we can’t say that it was because we had an off day. LeBron wins every time. He gets the glory. Making much of ourselves has never been a problem for only pro athletes. One of the  greatest struggle in humanity is our battle for the glory that is due to God and God alone. Pastor and counselor Paul Tripp puts it well when he says,

“human beings are glory junkies…Whether you like to admit to it or not, you’re addicted to glory. Glory junkies talk about themselves a lot. Their story is the most important and their interests are better than anyone else’s. This may seem harsh, but be honest – you and I often see people as a waste of time. When we’re overly confident and independent, people become an irritating and unhelpful interruption of what we could accomplish on our own.”

Glory Comes From Sacrifice

Psalm 24 gives us a glimpse of The Kingdom of God. In a kingdom it’s only the King who gets the glory. David starts with a reminder of our condition in verses 1-3, “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it…” Glory is rooted in ownership. As kids we would taunt each other on the court with phrases like, “I own you!” Our intent was to gain glory by ousting the other. This is fun when it’s sports and it’s done for humor, but it’s sin when done to gain glory for ourselves. David is painting a picture to remind us of who owns what.

In verse 3 we are exhorted by way of the rhetorical question, “who may stand in God’s holy place?” There is a 2 fold answer: 1. No body (see Psalm 14) unless they are 2. Clean. But how can we possibly be clean? In verse 4 we see a picture of Christ, holy, perfect and clean. His glory was revealed in his service to us making us pure and clean. Paul says in Romans 1:4 that Christ was vindicated as the Son of God by his defeating death! This was done so that we might be able to “ascend God’s holy hill” and “stand in his holy place.” We serve a king who first served us. God get’s the credit; He wins every time.

The king Submits to The King

When we see how Christ offered himself for us and how his offering enables fellowship with God it changes us. Psalm 24 wasn’t just written to encourage us to look to Christ, because even King David only saw types and shadows of what was to come. We are called to seek righteousness and holiness. It’s a wonderful reminder that here we have a king (little k) writing of his desire to serve a King (big K). David understood what it meant to seek to bring God the glory and for a king to submit to The King.

In God’s Kingdom there is a reversal of values. At some point Christians should wrestle with the temptation to seek a life that glorifies self or one that gives Glory to God. The way up is the way down. Who is this King of Glory? The Lord Almighty-He is the King of Glory!

Revelation–Psalm 19

The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 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. It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived from its warmth.

Psalm 19:1-6

When we first learned that we were moving to Bozeman it truly seemed dreamy. Surrounded on all 4 sides by several mountain ranges Bozeman is teeming with outdoor opportunities! More than that there is no humidity in the summer months! Lengthy summer days beg to be spent outside. Truly, it is difficult to imagine a less opportunistic environment to envision a creator. The Author, (King David) here in Psalm 19 is declaring with evidence that God exists! All one has to do is look outside for a moment, witness the beauty that surrounds them and come to the conclusion that such magnificence, such order in creation is no accident.

1655862_10152276409287962_1063138673_nOf course, Bozeman isn’t the only place in the world with such beauty and when we consider the full universe we are confronted with not just beauty but mystery as well. The distance across the galaxy, the amount of stars in the milky way, the size of planets and distant stars is enough to make the most skeptical person at least stop and wonder about the existence of God.

But if the natural world were enough then why doesn’t everyone agree that God is real, active and HUGE? What David is getting at here in Psalm 19 is just the beginning of what it means to see and understand God. This natural revelation or general revelation (as it is revealed to all and speaks of God in a general sense) is just the beginning when it comes to knowing God.

In Romans 1 Paul takes the argument further when he says that nature actually presents enough evidence for God that every single person is held accountable to what we believe because of what we witnesses in creation. That means that if we claim that God isn’t real or does not exist then we are suppressing what we ultimately know to be true.

But nature is not sufficient for us to understand who God is and what is at the heart of his nature and character. It’s is not enough for us to simply spend time outdoors or to fill up on the beauty of creation. We need more.

In John 1 Jesus is described as the Logos, or the word made flesh. In Hebrews we see how in the past God would reveal himself to mankind in various ways through the prophets and patriarchs of the Hebrew faith. But now, we have the revealed Logos, the Word of God made flesh.

Spending time outside will only get you so far. Enjoying whatever version of the “good life” you are after will never fill you the way the bread of life will. Jesus tells his audience in John 6 that he is the bread of life. Anyone who hungers must feed on him. We don’t get to make up whatever we want to about God. He has revealed himself to us in his creation but more than that he reveals himself to us in his word.

I struggle with this on the days where I know that I need to read my Bible and pray but what I want to do is forget about it an just go fishing. I fight the battle to confess my sin and humble myself before the God of the universe when what I really wish I could do is just withdrawal by watching Netflix until my eyes dry out!

Psalm 19 reminds me that not only does God care enough about us to leave his thumbprint on creation, but that he loves us so deeply that he gives us his word to see and know who he is, to play witness to the Logos of Christ and with creation declare his glory and praise!