Tag Archives: Psalm

Nowhere to Hide

So Jeremiah took another scroll and gave it to the scribe Baruch son of Neriah, and as Jeremiah dictated, Baruch wrote on it all the words of the scroll that Jehoiakim king of Judah had burned in the fire. And many similar words were added to them.
Jeremiah 36:32 (NIV)

Along my life journey I have taken a few willful detours. I chose to leave the path of following Jesus and, instead, struck out on my own way. It was during these detours that I learned the lesson of the prophet Jonah: You can’t actually escape from God because no matter where you run He’s already there. It’s like the lyrics to David’s psalm:

Where can I go from your Spirit?
    Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
    if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
    and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
    the night will shine like the day,
    for darkness is as light to you.

In today’s chapter, Jehoiakim the King of Judah is spiritually on the run. Jehoiakim wanted nothing to do with God. He barred the prophet Jeremiah from the temple. He put layers of bureaucracy between himself and the prophet so that he wouldn’t have to listen to Jeremiah’s incessant messages telling the King to turn from his rebellious ways.

And so, Jeremiah dictates God’s message to his servant and scribe, Baruch. He then sends Baruch to jump through all the bureaucratic hoops at the temple. God’s favor appears to be on Baruch as he recites the words of the scroll and his message gets passed up the chain of command until he finally has an audience with the king.

King Jehoiakim’s hard heart, however, was unmoved. As the envoy reads the scroll, King Jehoiakim has each column cut from the scroll and thrown into the fireplace of his chamber. He then tries to have Jeremiah’s servant arrested. So Jeremiah repeats the message to Baruch so that a copy would survive, and he adds a prophetic prediction of the negative consequences Jehoiakim and his royal line will experience because of his willful choice to shun God.

In the quiet this morning I am thinking about King Jehoiakim. He also was experiencing the lesson of Jonah, the same reality I experienced on my rebellious detours on my life journey. You can’t really successfully run from God. No matter where you run, God’s already there. I can harden my heart. I can refuse to listen and willfully ignore the truth, but then I’m just like the child who puts a cardboard box over their head and thinks no one can see him.

 

Fill in the Blank

Source: Doug Floyd
Source: Doug Floyd

The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer;
     my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge,

    my shield and the horn of my salvation.
He is my stronghold, my refuge and my savior—
    from violent people you save me.
2 Samuel 22:2b-3 (NIV)

Anyone who has followed my blog for any length of time knows that I’m a fan of J.R.R. Tolkien. If you pick up a copy of the final book of his Lord of the Rings trilogy and quickly page through it, you’ll find something rather interesting. There are hundreds of pages of supporting documentation and appendices at the end. These aren’t necessary to the main storyline, but provide those who want to explore the world of Middle Earth with a ton of extra information. For example, in the Lord of the Rings films there is a romantic storyline between Aragorn and Arwen that is only hinted at in Tolkien’s narrative. The story of Aragorn and Arwen is actually found tucked into the appendices at the end.

The final few chapters of 2 Samuel are similar in nature to the appendices at the end of Tolkien’s trilogy. David’s storyline starts in 1 Samuel, continues in 2 Samuel and basically ends with the restoration of the kingdom after Absalom’s rebellion. For the next few chapters we are given some supporting documentation including, in today’s chapter, a copy of the lyrics to one of David’s many songs.

As I read David’s song lyrics I wondered why this one was chosen for the appendix to David’s story. I asked myself in what ways this song is a good summation of David’s life and experience. One of the things I noticed about it was the way David bookended the song with the metaphor of God as rock, fortress, stronghold, and refuge. So much of David’s life journey hinges on those many years living in the caves in the wilderness of southern Israel and, in particular, in the cavernous fortress known as the Cave of Adullam. For David, the word picture of God as rock, fortress, stronghold, and refuge is very personal to his own journey and experience.

But what about me? I appreciate David’s word picture, but rocks, caves, fortresses and strongholds have not been party of my personal journey living in Iowa. If I were writing a song and wanted to paint a word picture of God that is personal to my own journey how would I fill in the blank at the end of the lyric “God is my __________” ?

That’s what I’m pondering today. Check back with me in a day or two and I’ll tell you what I came up with. (Feel free to think of your own and share it with me, btw)

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Dirty Harry Blues

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 58

Then at last everyone will say,
    “There truly is a reward for those who live for God;
    surely there is a God who judges justly here on earth.”
Psalm 58:11 (NLT)

I was reading a college paper my daughter wrote just the other day about human trafficking and slavery in today’s world. The numbers were depressing. Close to two million human beings enslaved in the world and most of them falling under the designation of the sex slave trade. Even here in the “land of the free” the number of human beings enslaved and trafficked for the sex slave trade is estimated to be 10,000 or more. And, this is just the tip of the injustice iceberg when you start talking about slave labor, corrupt governments, organized crime, drug cartels, religious intolerance, and genocide. The weight of it all is enough to make a person’s blood boil with righteous anger.

Today’s chapter is what scholars call an “imprecatory” psalm. That’s a fancy word meaning to call down a curse on someone. David is calling on God to violently destroy those who do evil in this world, and it’s a bit difficult for some people to reconcile with Jesus’ call to love our enemies and bless those who persecute us.

Great songwriters know how to express the breadth of the human experience in the language of music. David was not just a warrior; He was an artist, as well. When he wrote his songs, which we now refer to as psalms, he covered his own emotional spectrum from A to Z. When David was feeling good, he wrote a rockin’ song of praise. When David got angry, he wrote the blues. Because he was both an artist and a warrior, his blues lyrics didn’t come out sounding like a helpless victim, they came out sounding like Dirty Harry.

From the time David was a kid he faced injustice with a sling and a sword.  When he saw the injustice of the way Goliath was mocking God, David killed the giant and cut off his head. David was a soldier and a warrior and his first instinct was to exact justice with capital punishment. Therefore, when he looked at the injustice of the world, his warrior heart wanted God to show up with a sword and destroy the guilty. David was expressing a very real emotion that is part of the human experience – to see those who do evil punished and destroyed. It’s the same satisfaction we feel when we see the evil villain taken out at the end of the movie.

Yesterday we talked about the fact that being a Jesus follower means choosing to swim against the tide of our emotions and circumstances. Because we’re called on to love our enemies doesn’t mean our natural emotions aren’t going want to see them dead. That’s what makes Jesus followers different. There is a difference between feeling anger about the corporate evil of injustice and acting out in anger against an individual. We may feel David’s righteous anger and desire to see all who do evil destroyed. We might even sing right along with him. When faced with how we respond to an individual who has wronged us, it our conscious choice to act against anger and vengeance and to inexplicably choose forgiveness and grace that reveals our faith and marks us as followers of Jesus. That is what Jesus meant when He said that the world will know His followers by their love.

 

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 44

English: Compact Disc player carousel for thre...

Wake up, O Lord! Why do you sleep?
    Get up! Do not reject us forever.
Psalm 44:23 (NLT)

Go through almost any CD and you’ll generally find a wide mixture music. A fast paced, energetic song will be followed by an introspective ballad. The next song will have driving intensity and a powerful social message, but the following track will be a sweet song of love. Record producers know that you can’t put together a CD with ten tracks that all sound the same. Variety is the spice of life. As life’s journey contains both peaks and valleys, we need music to express the breadth of the human experience.

When reading through the book of Psalms, we can never forget that it is a catalog of musical lyrics. It was carefully compiled by ancient record producers. Like the CD that slides into the dashboard of our car stereo, the psalms contain a diverse selection of songs which speak to an immense variety of life circumstances.

Everyone experiences crushing defeat from time to time. The greatest sports teams of all time still lose some of the time. Watch the Biography Channel and you’ll see that every person who has reached the heights of success has had to experience tremendous loss on their way up. There is a time for everything under the sun. There is a time for victory, and there is a time for defeat.

The lyric of today’s psalm come out of the confusion and questions which rise up in our hearts and minds after a crushing loss. In those acute moments of despair we remember past victories and when things were good. We feel the injustice of the defeat in light of our self-righteousness. We feel alone and abandoned as if God decided to sleep in and forget about us.

Music reminds us that we’re not alone. Turn up the blues and we find encouragement that others have been there before us. We sing along and our negative emotions find a healthy outlet of expression. Keep listening. Keep singing. The next track on the CD reminds us that these feelings of abandonment and despair are momentary. Better times are just a song away.

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 7

Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobb...
Gollum from The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

[The wicked] dig a deep pit to trap others,    
     then fall into it themselves.
The trouble they make for others backfires on them.
     The violence they plan falls on their own heads.
Psalm 7:15-16 (NLT)

I just finished the unabridged audio version of J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings…again. Listening to the epic tale is sort of an annual pilgrimage I make while I spend time on the road. Over the years I’ve come to appreciate the many themes Tolkien developed within this “leaf” he claims to have pulled  “from the tree of tales.”

I was struck once more by the very theme David brings out in the lyrics of today’s Psalm. Evil digs its’ own grave. The trap that the wicked lay for others springs back on themselves. The orcs at Cirith Ungol kill one another, allowing Sam to find and rescue Frodo. Saruman’s indescriminate attitude towards nature brings the unexpected wrath of the Ents which, in turn, brings ruin down on the kingdom he’d created for himself. Even Gollum, driven by his self-seeking addiction to the ring, ends up bringing an end to himself and it.

To that end, Tolkien weaves an interesting change in Frodo towards the end of the story. When the hobbits return back to their beloved homeland, they find it overrun with evil men and ruffians under the influence of the broken wizard, Saruman. While Pippin and Merry raise the Shire, realizing that the ruffians will only be driven out by armed force, Frodo becomes a voice for tolerance in the conflict. He refuses to take up arms. He stops fellow hobbits from indescriminate killing. He refuses to allow Saruman to be killed by a hobbit, choosing to let Saruman go to find his own evil ends (which he quickly does when his own wicked protege slays him).

Over time, Tolkein’s story, along with passages of God’s Message like today’s chapter, have influenced how I view and perceive others in whom I perceive wickedness of thought and action. I still have more questions than answers. Nevertheless, the older I get the more my scales of thought tip towards obedience to Jesus’ command not to judge others “for even the wise cannot see all ends.”

Chapter-a-Day Psalm 5

from imuttoo via Flickr

Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.     
     Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.
Psalm 5:3 (NLT)

When I was a kid, I often made outrageous requests of my parents at Christmas time. I’d leaf through the catalog and put some crazy expensive toy on my list. I knew there was no way that toy would be under the tree, but I threw it on there anyway. What’s funny is, I still have a lot of that kid in me. When Wendy asked me for a wish list for my birthday, I gave her a complete list that included both the practical and affordable as well as outgrageous (she loved seeing a motorcycle on the list). There’s no expectation that the outrageous would happen, but it’s out there.

I thought about prayer this morning in relationship to what happens after we pray. Do we sincerely present God with meaningful requests and then wait consciously, expectantly, knowing that God has both the power and desire to answer our prayers? Or, do we treat prayer a bit like an outrageous wish list? We throw it out there, but quickly walk away and forget about it because in our hearts we doubt God would ever answer.

Today, I’m not just mindful of my on-going conversation with God and the sincerity of my requests, but also my own response to my prayers. I don’t want to be like the farmer who throws seed up into the wind and then walks away. I want to plant my seeds carefully, then wait expectently for things to emerge.