Tag Archives: Asaph

Fight Song

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Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
    so that they will seek your name.

Psalm 83:16 (NIV)

I consider it virtually impossible for a person in 21st century America to comprehend what life was like for the ancients, such as the songwriters of the Psalms. As evidence, I submit today’s chapter, Psalm 83, as Exhibit A for your consideration.

Psalm 83 is a song of national lament. It’s a plea to God to protect them from and destroy their enemies. A quick side note as I’m thinking bout it: One thing that has become really clear to me as I journey through the psalms the past few months is that David, who wrote most of the songs compiled in the first half of the anthology we call the Psalms, wrote personal songs expressing emotions he felt in his own circumstances. The songs attributed to Asaph, like today’s, were more about tribal and national issues. It’s the difference between me blogging about the stress I’m feeling in my own personal life and blogging about the issues surrounding the recent national election.

Asaph’s song was written at a time of national crisis when all of the people groups surrounding them were allied against them and bent on wiping them out. Here in North America, the nations that we see as a threat are an ocean away. For Asaph and the people of Judah, the enemies were less than 50 miles away. The map below is a scale of 50 miles and pinpoints all but one of the people groups mentioned in Psalm 83. Jerusalem is pretty much right in the middle. They were literally surrounded by 10 neighboring nations bent on ending their existence.

I try to imagine it. I live in Pella, a small town in rural Iowa. I try to envision being at war with every other sizeable town in a 30-mile radius. The Newtonians, the Knoxvillites, Oskaloosans, the not-so-Pleasantvillians, the New Sharonians, the Albians, the Monrovians, the Prairie Citians, the Montezumians, and the big empirical threat the Des Moinesiacs. If all these people groups immediately surrounding my town were banded together in an alliance to come and kill everyone in Pella and take everything we have and own as plunder, I would be feeling an incredible amount of stress. Welcome to the daily “kill-or-be-killed” realities of Asaph and his people.

So, Asaph writes a spiritual fight-song asking God to protect them and fight for their existence. It’s a very human thing to do. We just commemorated Pearl Harbor Day on December 7 which was the last time America was seriously attacked and threatened back in World War II. It took me ten seconds to find a playlist on YouTube of American fight songs from that era including Praise the Lord and Pass the Ammunition, Stalin Wasn’t Stallin’ in 1943, Hot Time in the Town of Berlin (When the Yanks Go Marchin’ In). And who can forget Spike Jones’ famous lyrics:

When the Fuhrer says, “We is the master race,”
We sing:
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
“Heil” (blow a raspberry)
Right in the Fuhrer’s face.

How much life has changed in just two generations. I can hardly comprehend the realities of 80 years ago. How can I really comprehend Asaph’s realities over 2500 years ago?

The fact that I can’t comprehend Asaph’s realities leads me to extend him some grace as I try to wrap my head around the context of asking God to destroy my enemy. Which leaves me asking, “What am I supposed to take away from Psalm 83?”

That brings me to the lyric that stuck out at me this morning:

Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
    so that they will seek your name.

Underneath the cries for God to help them successfully defeat the enemy was a desire for their enemies to ultimately know God. When Jesus arrived on the scene hundreds of years later the situation was very different. The known world was ruled by the Roman Empire and while Jesus said that humanity can expect wars to continue right up until the end of the Great Story, He set the expectation that I, as His follower, would take a different approach to getting my enemy to “seek His name.”

“Here’s another old saying that deserves a second look: ‘Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’ Is that going to get us anywhere? Here’s what I propose: ‘Don’t hit back at all.’ If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously.

“You’re familiar with the old written law, ‘Love your friend,’ and its unwritten companion, ‘Hate your enemy.’ I’m challenging that. I’m telling you to love your enemies. Let them bring out the best in you, not the worst. When someone gives you a hard time, respond with the energies of prayer, for then you are working out of your true selves, your God-created selves. This is what God does. He gives his best—the sun to warm and the rain to nourish—to everyone, regardless: the good and bad, the nice and nasty. If all you do is love the lovable, do you expect a bonus? Anybody can do that. If you simply say hello to those who greet you, do you expect a medal? Any run-of-the-mill sinner does that.

“In a word, what I’m saying is, Grow up. You’re kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you.”

I understand that there is a difference between international relationships and personal ones. All I know is that today, in my circles of influence, Jesus asks me to follow His instruction to love my enemy, bless my enemy, and pray for my enemy.

So, “Praise the Lord, and pass…” a little more love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self-control.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Meaning in the Metaphor

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You brought a vine out of Egypt;
Psalm 80:8 (NRSVCE)

I have celebrated Christmas as a follower of Jesus for almost forty years, and I can tell you that the most forgotten storyline of the Christmas story is found in the second chapter of Matthew.

King Herod was the regional ruler operating under subservience to the Roman Empire. It was Herod to whom the Zoroastrians (that we call the “Three Kings” or “Magi”) went to find out where the Jewish Messiah was to be born. Herod got the answer for them and sent them on their way to Bethlehem. Herod was a blood-thirsty man, however. A shrewd monarch with boundless ambition, Herod’s successful reign was made possible in part by his ability to assassinate any rival. This included members of his own family.

Matthew shares that Herod, wanting to make sure the newborn Messiah would not grow up to threaten his worldly power, ordered all the baby boys in Bethlehem two years and under killed. Warned by an angel in a dream, Joseph and Mary flee with the baby to Egypt. When Herod died a few years later, they returned to Joseph in Nazareth.

In telling this piece of the story, Matthew quotes the prophet Hosea, who said: “Out of Egypt I have called my son” (Hosea 11:1). In my podcast A Beginner’s Guide to the Great Story (Part 7) I talked about prophecy and the fact that part of the mystery of the prophetic is that metaphor can be layered with meaning. Hosea was writing about the Hebrew exodus out of Egyptian slavery, but Matthew sees that Jesus, God’s son, was also called out of Egypt.

In today’s chapter, Psalm 80, we have a song of lament written somewhere around 725 BC. The Assyrians were attacking the northern kingdom of Israel. Refugees from the northern tribes were flowing into Jerusalem, and Asaph laments that God brought the nation out of Egypt and planted them in Canaan only to let foreign countries attack them. In this case, Asaph uses the metaphor of God bringing a vine out of Egypt only to let foreign powers like Assyria and Babylon pick “the fruit” of God’s hand.

As a follower of Jesus, I am immediately reminded of Jesus’ words to His most intimate followers the night before His crucifixion:

“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. John 15:1-5 (NIV)

When Asaph writes his lyric: “You brought a vine out of Egypt” he was being as prophetic as Hosea was when quoted by Matthew, but here’s where I found added meaning in Asaph’s metaphor. Asaph metaphorically envisions that he and the fellow Hebrew tribes were the Vine. When Jesus came, Asaph’s misunderstanding becomes clear. Jesus is the Vine, and his followers are the branches. If you’re not connected to the Vine, then you get pruned back and cut-off.

The Hebrew prophets made it clear that the Hebrew people had disconnected themselves from God. They worshipped foreign gods and were unfaithful to the covenant they made through Moses. The prophets made it clear that the Assyrians and Babylonians were God’s pruning shears, because contrary to Asaph’s lyrics the only fruit left on those branches was rotten.

In the quiet this morning I wondered how often I, like Asaph, lament the fact that life isn’t going so well. I feel empty, depleted, and attacked like someone plucked everything from me when my real problem is the same as the Hebrews: I’m not connected to the Vine. There’s no spiritual nourishment flowing from the Living Water deep in the root structure. There’s no support from the Vine and no protection from the other branches. The fruit my life is bearing small, tasteless, impotent, even rotten.

As another Christmas approaches, I’m thinking about the least discussed event of that first Christmas. The Son of God, emptied of Heaven and dependent on a young mother, goes into exile in Egypt. Out of Egypt God will call His Son, the Vine. If I miss that connection, then I’m missing the Life, not only of the Christmas story, but the entire Great Story itself.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

One Thing I Always Fail to See

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Your path led through the sea,
    your way through the mighty waters,
    though your footprints were not seen.

Psalm 77:19 (NIV)

Do you ever have an idea that just sort of sits there begging for your attention, but you’re not sure what to do with it? It just sits there. You might forget it’s there for a time, but then every once in a while it reminds you that it is sitting there. “Hey, Tom! I haven’t gone away. I’m still here!”

I try to keep track of those things. I write them down. Sometimes it’s a matter of timing and it’s waiting for its time. It’s like this commercial I remember from my childhood. Orson Welles (a famous old actor) is sitting there holding a glass of wine and he said, “We will sell no wine before its time.” The idea is sitting there fermenting, aging, preparing for the right time. Other times it’s a matter of pursuit. I have to go after the idea, work it, play with it, throw it on the potter’s wheel to see what it becomes.

For a while now, I’ve had an idea for a series of messages, maybe Wayfarer Weekend podcasts, or a book. The theme is the most common notions we have about God, Jesus, the Bible, and the church that are completely wrong based on evidence in the Great Story. It’s about asking the question “Why do we keep saying this, believing this, praying this, acting this way when the Great Story clearly says….”

As I read today’s chapter, Psalm 77, that idea reared its head from my mental hard drive and said, “Hey Tom! I’m still here!” Here’s why:

Psalm 77 is a song of Asaph. It’s a great one to read and meditate on if-and-when you find yourself depressed, lost, drowning in grief, despairing, feeling abandoned, and convinced that God is completely absent. The song itself is Asaph’s journey. The first half is all about his feeling alone in the pit of despair. The middle stanza (verses 13-15) is the hinge or the inflection point in which Asaph consciously chooses to think back to all the things God has done in all of the stories in the Great Story. In the second half of the song Asaph finds himself walking with the Hebrew people out of captivity in Egypt as God parted the waters of the Red Sea and the people walked through. It’s at that point that Asaph makes an important realization: “Our path led through the sea, your way through the mighty waters, though your footprints were not seen.

One of the things that I hear people praying every week when our local gathering of Jesus followers meets, and I catch myself praying from time-to-time, is for God to be present:

“God, be with us…”

“I pray for your presence…”

“Jesus, be near…”

“Holy Spirit, come.”

As Asaph mentally walks with the Hebrews through the Red Sea he looks down at the dry sea floor. Then he looks up at the head of the line where God is leading the procession as a pillar of fire, and this meant that God made no footprints. So what? Asaph makes the same realization that I constantly have to make myself. I’m looking for a footprint, a sign, a feeling, some tangible evidence that God is here and has not abandoned me but the truth is that God is omnipresent.

Paul writes to Jesus’ followers in Colossae that “in [Jesus] all things hold together.” Jesus is the dark matter, the gluon, the thing that holds all matter in the universe together. He is knit into the very fiber of my being, the chair I’m sitting on, the desk I’m writing this on, and the keyboard I’m tapping. The problem is not that God is absent, the problem is that I’m blind to the obvious. I’m oblivious to the elephant in the room. I’m standing in the middle of troubled waters looking down at my feet for signs of God’s footprints ignoring the fact that God is there holding back the waters from falling down on me.

Why am I asking for the very things that I say I already believe? Oh, me of little faith!

I don’t need to pray for God’s presence. I need to pray that God will heal my spiritual blindness. I need to pray for the eyes of my heart to be open. Like Asaph, I need to take a little spiritual trek through the Great Story where I’m reminded time-and-time again:

“I will never leave you. I will never forsake you.”

“I am with you always.”

“I am always present. I’m the very thing holding everything together.”

I need to stop looking for footprints and pull out my spiritual electron microscope. If I really believe what I say I believe, then Jesus is here in-and-between every atom of my very body. In every moment, He’s holding me together.

In the quiet this morning, I find myself praying for the spiritual sight I need to comprehend just how powerfully present God really is in each and every moment of this day.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Beginning the End of a Shaky Year

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When the earth and all its people quake,
    it is I who hold its pillars firm.

Psalm 75:3 (NIV)

It is the first day of December, and the end of the year approaches. This is the month when news and media outlets release lists of the best-and-worst, highs-and-lows, and the top stories from the past year. This is the month we collectively reminisce about the year that has been, hit the reset button for a new trip around the sun, and make resolutions for the year to come. I have a feeling that most of the collective conversation this year will be a giant good-riddance to 2020 and desperate, hopeful pleas for better times ahead.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 75, was a liturgical song of thanksgiving, likely used as part of worship in Solomon’s Temple. You can tell by the fact that the four stanzas have different voices. It’s possible that different individuals, choirs, or groups were appointed to sing the different voices of the song:

The congregation proclaims corporate thanks to God in the first verse.

God’s voice then speaks from heaven in verses 2-5, proclaiming that He will bring equity and judgment at the appointed time.

The voices of the people then faith-fully affirm God’s authority in verses 6-8, proclaiming that the wicked will ultimately be brought low and made to drink the dregs of God’s judgment.

The song ends with a personal pledge to praise God forever, trusting that He will bring down the wicked and raise up the righteous.

The tone of the song suggests that it is a time when the Hebrew people felt particularly insecure. Scholars believe that it may have been written when the Assyrian empire was threatening to lay siege to Jerusalem. Ironically, the Assyrian army was mysteriously wiped out over night. One of the explanations scholars suggest for this historical event is a sudden and deadly viral pandemic within the Assyrian camp.

Ancient Mesopotamian cultures envisioned the earth as flat and held up by giant pillars in the underworld. In times of trouble and threat, they metaphorically spoke of the world “shaking” as in an earthquake. The pillars holding the world up were unstable. When Asaph, who is attributed in the liner notes with writing the song, gave voice to God saying, “I hold the pillars firm” it had tremendous meaning for the Hebrew people singing it and hearing it. When their entire world was threatened, they were trusting that God would be their stability, just as David called God his “rock” and “fortress.”

Which brings me back to 2020 with all of its uncertainty and chaos. I certainly feel like the world has been shaken up in multiple ways. And while it has undoubtedly been the most tumultuous year of my lifetime, history and today’s song remind me that it’s one of a number of “shaky” moments that routinely dot the Earth’s timeline. Or, as Motown psalmists the Shirelles put it: “Momma said there’d be days like this.”

In the quiet this morning, I find my heart welcoming December and, with it, the annual reset button that comes with New Year’s Day. No matter where I’ve been on this life journey and no matter where God leads me, I will echo Asaph’s ending refrain: “As for me, I will declare this forever. I will sing praise to God.”

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Child-Like Feelings, Child-Like Faith

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Do not ignore the clamor of your adversaries,
    the uproar of your enemies, which rises continually.

Psalm 74:23 (NIV)

Our grandson, Milo, turns three in a few weeks. And, while we haven’t physically seen him in almost a year, our video chats across the pond along with photos and snippets reveal a normal little boy complete with fits and tantrums. When Ya-Ya Wendy and Papa Tom mentioned we couldn’t wait to have him visit us, he ran and got his shoes on because he thought the transatlantic flight to Papa and Yaya’s house was boarding immediately. The photos of his meltdown pout upon hearing that there was no immediate flight to Papa and Yaya’s house are priceless.

I’ve come to realize along my life journey that there are aspects of childhood that we as human beings retain. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Jesus told us that child-like faith is a spiritual necessity in following Him. I have observed, however, that child-likeness takes many forms. Just as we are called to have child-like faith, we can also have child-like frustrations.

Today’s chapter, Psalm 74, is an ancient Hebrew blues lyric written after the city of Jerusalem and Solomon’s Temple were destroyed by the Babylonians. Amidst the rubble, the ruins, and the reality that scores of his friends and family were marched off into captivity and exile in Babylon, Asaph expresses his grief and confusion in a song.

Asaph is in full meltdown blues mode. God has forgotten His people. God has abandoned them. There are no prophets to give voice to God’s message. God has given no time frame for how long the Hebrews are going to be in their exilic time out. Foreign gods have defeated, dishonored, and defamed the Almighty, and God is ignoring the whole affair.

Except, none of it is true.

There was a prophet left and his name was Jeremiah. God had spoken through Jeremiah to tell the Hebrew people they would be taken into Babylonian captivity for seventy years. God also spoke through Jeremiah to explain that there was eternal purpose in their circumstantial pain. Through Jeremiah, God told His people to settle into captivity, to pray for their enemies and captors. He told them to pray for Babylon to prosper. Another prophet, Daniel, was one of the exiles, as was Ezekiel. Through Daniel, it became clear that God was actively working to reveal Himself to the Babylonian king and people.

In the larger context of the Great Story, Asaph’s blues read like a child’s tantrum. But isn’t that exactly what I do when I lament my own circumstances without any understanding of what God may be doing on a larger scale? If I lack the faith to believe, or the sight to see, that God has not abandoned me and God is fully engaged in my circumstances, then I’ll be full meltdown blues mode myself. Just as I confess I have been on many occasions.

My mind wanders back to my grandson, and I am reminded of the photo of Milo seriously lamenting that he can’t go to Papa and Yaya’s house. The picture was texted to us accompanied by his mother’s confession that she and daddy have to actively keep themselves from laughing at times. For Milo, feeling all the feels is honestly where he is at in the moment. For mom and dad, who see and understand the moment in the much larger context of life, the job is to help the little man feel all the feels, get through the rough moments, and keep pressing on in the journey.

How often do I allow my circumstances to send me into a child-like tantrum in my thoughts, emotions, and spirit? How do I recognize it in the moment, and transition those child-like feelings of fear, anxiety, and despair into the child-like faith Jesus requires of me?

The fact that Asaph’s song made it into the anthology of Hebrew song lyrics tells me that, like a good parent, God understands that sometimes we have to feel our feels. And, like a good parent, God keeps beckoning me, leading me forward in this spiritual journey to deeper levels of understanding, greater levels of spiritual maturity, that ironically result in the simple purity of child-like faith.

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

Envy: The Pretty Sin

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When I tried to understand all this,
    it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
    then I understood their final destiny.

Psalm 73:16-17 (NIV)

Wendy and I were having a conversation early in our relationship and she used a metaphor that I’d never heard before. She spoke to me of “ugly” sins and “pretty” sins. It gave language to something I’ve always inherently understood but never really knew how to simply express.

Ugly sins are those types of moral failures that, when brought to light, are typically accompanied by public shame and humiliation. Ugly sins generate scarlet letter status within a community. We not may make modern day Hesters stitch the letter on their clothing anymore, but it doesn’t mean others haven’t stitched it there with their hearts and minds. Ugly sins generate gossip, slander, and hushed whispers behind the sinner’s back long after the secretly committed sin was made public and created sensational community headlines.

Pretty sins, in contrast, are shortcomings we largely ignore because we all do it and so there is an unspoken social and spiritual covenant we have with one another to turn a blind eye. No need to notice the speck of it we might perceive in the eye of another so that no one will point out the log of it in my own. Pretty sins are typically overlooked, dismissed if noticed on occasion, and sometimes we even find ways to make them virtuous.

Envy is one such pretty sin, and it’s at the heart of the song lyrics of today’s chapter, Psalm 73.

With Psalm 73, we start Book III of the Psalms. What’s cool is that the editors who compiled the Psalms put three symmetrical groupings together: six songs, five songs, six songs, with the middle song as the “center” of Book III. It’s the same way an individual Hebrew song would be structured. So they made Book III one giant psalm with individual songs as the “verses” of the structure. Psalms within psalms.

Psalm 73 is an instructional psalm in which Asaph confesses to the sin of envy. He looks at the lives of the wickedly rich and famous living in their Beverly Hills mansions, driving their Maserati, and jetting off to their summer homes on Martha’s Vineyard or their yacht in the Caribbean. Life is so easy for them. They don’t know what it means to struggle. On top of that, they are so arrogant looking down their noses on the rest of us.

I’m reminded of a conversation I had a week or two ago with a friend of mine who is a retired CEO. He lives near an elite golf club that caters to the jet-set and took a part-time job driving club members from their private jets to the luxurious private golf club. He told me how amazing it was to drive these billionaires around and routinely get treated like crap and stiffed for a tip. That’s the kind of people Asaph is singing about. Like Asaph, I confess that I’m envious to know what that kind of life must be like, even as I feel contempt for them.

As Asaph’s song continues, he goes into God’s Temple and it’s as if the Spirit of God gives him an attitude adjustment. He stops looking at the objects of his contemptuous envy with earthly eyes, and he opens the eyes of his heart to view them with an eternal, spiritual perspective.

Jesus taught that we who follow Him should maintain a similar spiritual perspective. On multiple occasions, he told parables warning about spending our lives “gaining the whole world” while we “lose our souls.”

Asaph ends his song of instruction understanding that it’s “good to be near God.” Along my journey I’ve discovered that contemptuous envy of others leads to destructive ends on many different levels. When I stick close to God, as Asaph instructs, it’s easier for me to keep both the eyes of my body and the eyes of my heart focused on things of eternal value. I can see my contemptuous envy for what it is, and can better perceive the spiritual price paid to gain this world and the things of this world.

In the quiet this morning I am looking forward to a simple feast with a few family members tomorrow. I’m looking forward to being home surrounded with love, joy, peace, and gratitude.

Wherever this finds you, I wish you and your loved ones a Happy Thanksgiving. I’m taking the next few days off. See you back on this chapter-a-day journey next week.

Cheers!

Want to Read More?

Click on the image, or click here, to be taken to a simple, visual index of all the posts in this series from the book of Psalms.

There is also a list of recent chapter-a-day series indexed by book.

About This Post

These chapter-a-day posts began in 2006. It’s a very simple concept. I endeavor each weekday to read one chapter from the Bible. I then blog about my thoughts, insights, and feelings about the content of that chapter. Everyone is welcome to share this post, like this post, or add your own thoughts in a comment. Thank you to those who have become faithful, regular or occasional readers along the journey along with your encouragement.

In 2019 I began creating posts for each book, with an indexed list of all the chapters for that book. You can find the indexed list by clicking on this link.

Prior to that, I kept a cataloged index of all posts on one page. You can access that page by clicking on this link.

You can also access my audio and video messages, as well.

tomvanderwell@gmail.com @tomvanderwell

God from a Distance; God who is Near

from a distanceO Lord, you are so good, so ready to forgive,
    so full of unfailing love for all who ask for your help.
Psalm 86:5 (NLT)

For the past week or so we’ve been reading lyrics of psalms penned by Asaph during a period of time when Jerusalem was under siege by Babylon and eventually captured and destroyed. In those lyrics I felt a sense of God being distant, almost like a stranger. They feel to me like a corporate national cry from afar to God of whom they’ve heard about but do not necessarily know intimately.

This morning’s psalm written by David felt like a sudden and sharp contrast. The lyrics are a very personal plea to God who is near, intimate, and personally known:

  • I am devoted to you.
  • You are my God.
  • I give myself to you.
  • I call…you will answer
  • With all my heart I praise you
  • I will give glory to you
  • Your love for me is great

I am reminded this morning that our view of God is often dependent on our experience and perspective. I know many for whom God is a distant, angry, and judgmental entity because that’s the view they were presented when they were young. Others I know view God as a unknowable father who has abandoned them. For some, God is simply a stranger they’ve heard about from many different people but have never personally met.

I feel much more like David. My experience is of a thirty plus year relationship with an intimate, personal Father God of love, compassion, grace, mercy, provision, forgiveness, and patience. The songs of my heart sound much more like David and little like those of Asaph.

God is not that far off. God is longing to know and be known. As Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened.” I have found along the journey that there is a difference between observing God from a distance and actually asking, seeking, and knocking.

Vengeance Times Seven

lukodi drawingO Lord, pay back our neighbors seven times
for the scorn they have hurled at you.
Psalm 79:12 (NLT)

A year ago our kids, Taylor and Clayton, travelled to Uganda. Taylor put her Art Therapy education to work with young women and children in Lukodi who had been victims of local terrorists calling themselves The Lord’s Resistance Army. Taylor brought home a stack of pictures drawn by children. Mixed among the very child-like images of a soccer match, a church, or tree there were equally child-like images of their homes burning, giant men with guns hovering over them, and dead bodies lying on the ground bleeding. The reality of the horror these children had experienced drawn by their own hands is heart wrenching. My soft-hearted daughter came home with that soft-heart ripped open and the realization that there was a threshold on what she could handle as an Art Therapist.

I am blessed to have lived a life relatively free of tragedy. I cannot, and hope that I will not, ever experience the horrors like those of the women and children of Lukodi, or the horrors Asaph describes in today’s psalm of those who suffered through and witnessed the seige and destruction of both Jerusalem and Solomon’s temple.

Scholars call pslams like today’s an imprecatory psalm. It is the blues on steroids in which the song writer not only expresses their pain, but also their desire for revenge. It is an angry call for vengeance. In Asaph’s lyric scream, he calls for vengeance multiplied seven times. In God’s Message, seven is a special number. It is the number of “completion” and in calling for vengeance times seven Asaph is asking for complete destruction of his enemies. I can only imagine that the hunger for vengeance is a very real, very natural, very human emotion for those who have suffered unspeakable atrocities at the hands of others.

I can’t condemn victims for wanting vengeance. I think it is a very real emotion that needs to be expressed in healthy ways whether that be a crayon drawing, a poem, or a blues song. Yet, this morning as I read Asaph’s call for vengeance times seven I was reminded of Jesus’ response when Peter asked if he should forgive someone seven times to make sure he had completely forgiven the person. “Not seven times,” Jesus replied, “but seventy times seven.”

Moving Forward Facing Backward

from Halans via Flickr
from Halans via Flickr

But then I recall all you have done, O Lord;
I remember your wonderful deeds of long ago.
Psalm 77:11 (NLT)

One of the recurring themes I’ve found on my sojourns through the Old Testament is exactly what Asaph does in his lyric of this psalm by “recalling all you have done, O Lord.” Time and time again the writers recount the many things God did as chronicled in the writings. One of my teachers once told me that the people of ancient Israel “walked backwards into the future” as their constant looking back and remembrance of all God had done before gave them faith to continue moving forward.

I was reminded this morning of an old hymn we would sing in church growing up which admonished us to “count your blessings, name them one by one.” It’s the same principle. Often, when the road ahead is dark and scary, the best prescription for moving forward is a long glance back to remember God’s faithfulness in bringing me this far. As I recall specific instances of grace, deliverance, forgiveness, and provision I find strength to take the next step.

A Lesson in Asaph’s Unique Lyric Style

But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done;
Psalm 75:9a (NLT)

If jazz is playing in the background and I hear Louis Armstrong playing the trumpet, I know it. If an electric guitar solo is being played by Carlos Santana, I can tell it’s him. Walk into an art museum and I can tell you immediately the Picasso from the Matisse and the Rothko from the Miro. Ernest Hemingway’s voice as a writer is so distinctive that there’s an annual contest to see who can best parody him, and Woody Allen used Hemingway’s own words to humorously establish the character in his movie Midnight in Paris [see video]. Artists, musicians, and writers have distinctive styles that mark their work. God is an artist, and making us in His image He gave us the gift of being able to express ourselves uniquely. Just as each of our DNA is unique, so our creative expressions (when we honestly express ourselves) is unique.

Psalms 73-78 are a grouping of songs penned by Asaph. As I read through the lyrics of Psalm 75 the phrase in the line above struck me: “But as for me….” That sounds a lot like what I read the past two mornings.

  • But as for me, it is good to be near God.” Ps 73:28
  • But you, O God, are my king from of old.” Ps 74:12
  • But as for me, I will always proclaim what God has done.” Ps 75:9a

As with all artists, Asaph had developed a personal style. He likes to set up a scene with his lyrics and then drive a stake in the ground establishing his faith in contrast to all that he sees around him. It’s effective. It causes me to think about my own personal faith and my belief system in contrast to the world around me. Where do I place my own personal stake in the ground?

  • I see a lot of brokenness, but I believe God redeems broken things.
  • I see a lot that I don’t understand, but I believe God is telling a story that will someday be complete and all will come into context.
  • I see many who give up on the faith journey, but I am going to press on.
  • I observe many self-proclaimed believers who differentiate themselves by what they piously and religiously don’t do, but I want to differentiate myself by being loving, gracious, and forgiving.