Tuesday, 22 July 2014

(204) July 23: Psalm 38-40 & Acts 23:12-35

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read note the reasons for which God is to be praised.

To ponder:
Psalm 38 is a prayer for salvation from being punished for sin. David’s description of physical suffering seems literal rather than metaphorical, and he sees it as stemming from God’s wrath at a particular sin he has committed (38v1-8). And it has implications: Not only does David need God’s deliverance, but he has found his friends staying away and so offering no comfort, and his enemies plotting to use the opportunity to deceive him (38v9-12). David is however unable to listen or reply to them. Rather, all he can do is wait for God to act, and therefore answer them by delivering David so they can no longer gloat or plot (38v13-16). Acknowledging there are many such opponents, David confesses his sin, asking God not to forsake him, but instead to save him (38v17-22). The psalm reminds us that when we wander from God and find life starting to unravel, perhaps as punishment, we can still return with repentance.
            Psalm 39 offers a different perspective to the same (or similar) situation. David is suffering for his sin, and initially determined to “keep silent” whilst the wicked are in his presence (39v1), perhaps to ensure that he didn’t complain before them as Job did, and so dishonour God or lead others to complain too (39v9, as Ps 73v14-15). But in his silence David felt even more anguish until he had to speak (39v2-3). And when he did, he asked God for perspective as to the shortness of his life, and therefore the futility of busying oneself with seeking wealth only to lose it at death (39v4-6). Perhaps greed had been the temptation that led to David’s sin, and he wanted to be kept aware of what really matters so that he wouldn’t repeat his error. Whatever the case, “phantom” picks up the transience to life and closeness to death that makes our priorities now so important. In the light of this, David affirms that “now” what he looks for is God’s salvation from his sins. His “hope” is in God forgiving him and so removing his sufferings (39v10), and therefore keeping him for being scorned by others (39v8) – perhaps those who might say he was rejected as God’s king. So David affirms that God “disciplines men for their sin” and “consumes their wealth” just as moth does clothes, by keeping their life so brief (39v11, see Matt 6v19). He therefore prays for God to “look away” in his anger, so that he might at least have some more joy before he dies. Indeed, by describing himself as an “alien” he suggests he is like those who could live in Israel but not own land. He is alive, but not currently able to enjoy that life properly.
            Although the psalm is focused upon this life, it reminds us of the pointlessness of running after wealth, and the temptation that can bring us to sin and so suffer God’s punishment. Rather, wisdom is to prepare to meet God, ensuring we look to him to keep us mindful of what really matters and forgive us our wrongdoing.
            Psalm 40 may well be a celebration of God answering the prayers of the previous two psalms. David “waited patiently” as we must for our answers. And God heard and answered him, lifting him from his place of danger to a rock of security (40v2). Here “slimy pit” and “mud and mire” may also imply a situation of sin. One cannot but think of the foolishness of building on sand as opposed to the words of Christ (Matt 7v24-27). Having been delivered, David has a new song of praise to sing. And as he tells what God has done in song he is sure many will come to “see” and “fear” and so “trust” God too (40v3). David’s praise follows, as he affirms the blessing enjoyed by those who trust God and do not side with the proud and idolatrous. He then states that the wonders God has done are just too many to declare. Again then, we see the importance of praising God to others for what he has done through Christ, and the benefits of testifying to Christians whenever he answers prayer.
            40v6-8 affirm that God never really desired the offering of sacrifices, but the devoted offering of oneself in obedience that they were intended to portray. So David looks to the emphasis of the new covenant in Christ (Heb 10v5-10). The piercing of the ear refers to how a servant would dedicate himself out of love to serving his master for life (Ex 21v5-6). The reference to David being written about in “the scroll” may refer to the law’s description of the righteous king (Deut 17v14-20), but also looks to its fulfilment in Christ. The point is that having experienced God’s salvation, David has wholly devoted his life to him – a model of course for every Christian. And so he will proclaim God’s righteousness, faithfulness and salvation to the assembly of Israel (40v9-10). Moreover, he prays that what he has experienced he will continue to experience – always knowing God’s mercy, love and truth protecting him from the troubles that have resulted from his sins, and that are causing his heart to “fail” (40v11-12). It’s a reminder that even when forgiven, the consequences of our sin may continue to hound us.
            David therefore asks God to save him from those seeking to take his life, disgracing them, and causing them to be “appalled” at the shame they experience at God’s hand (40v13-15). He then prays that all who “seek” God may know joy and forever exalt or praise him (40v16). Here “love your salvation” may refer to their delight in God’s saving acts, which causes people to so praise him. David’s situation is however serious. So he ends the psalm crying that God quickly help him in his need.

Praying it home:                                                                                   
Praise God for his the innumerable wonders he does in salvation and everyday answers to prayer. Pray that you would more readily proclaim what he has done to Christians and non-Christians alike.

Thinking further:
None today.

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