Monday, 4 August 2014

(217) August 5: Psalm 75-77 & Romans 6

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

To discover:­
As you read consider what we learn about God.

To ponder:
Having wondered why God had not acted (Ps 74), this psalm affirms that he acts according to his timing not ours (75v2). It begins thanking God that his “name,” representing his character and authority, is near, and so he stands with his people. It also speaks of his “deeds,” affirming what he is able to do for his people (75v1). But the psalm immediately affirms God chooses the time of his action and always judges uprightly. This theme of judgement suggests the note about holding the pillars of the earth firm refers to how God’s justice brings stability when people quake from injustice (75v3). So the psalmist speaks against those who boast and use their power (horn) to act against heaven, affirming that only God who judges can exalt or bring down men (75v4-7), and in his hand is a foaming cup of wrath that all the wicked will drink to the full (Rev 14v10, 16v19). The psalmist therefore offers praise, knowing by God’s hand he will “cut off the horns of the wicked” (ie. put an end to their power) – perhaps, looking to the final state (Rev 2v26-27), and see the righteous exalted (75v8-10).
            The psalm therefore develops the perspective of Psalm 74 with the inclusion of the idea of judgement. In the end, the wicked will be punished and the righteous rewarded. It also causes consideration of Christ’s grace in being willing to drink the cup of God’s wrath so that those from the wicked might be saved (Matt 26v39).
            Psalm 76 takes us to the time of judgement. It begins affirming God dwells and is known in Jerusalem, where he broke the weapons of God’s enemies (76v1-3). This recalls that Jerusalem was impregnable before David. God’s presence there is itself therefore evidence of his might. It also presents Jerusalem as the place of God’s throne from which he judged the world in Asaph’s day. Indeed, he is described as “resplendent” – stressing the glory and pure holiness of his judgements, and majestic – referring to him as the awe inspiring king and so judge. The death of warriors is then recounted as proof that God “alone is to be feared,” and this is followed by a declaration of how when he pronounced judgement, the land “feared” as he rose to save the afflicted (76v4-9). This may refer to some deliverance of Israel in the psalmist’s day, but looks also to the final judgement. It also explains why God’s wrath brings him praise: It delivers the afflicted and restrains evil (76v9-10. see Rev 19v1-2). In the light of this, those from surrounding nations are urged to make and fulfil “vows to the LORD” (ie. be devoted to obedience), and bring gifts to him as he “breaks the spirit of rulers” and “is feared by the kings of the earth” (76v11-12). As with Psalm 2 and the worldwide scope of God’s promises, this is a call for all people and governments today to honour and serve the LORD rather than suffer his wrath for oppressing others. And the wider psalm reminds us that God’s judgement is good, right and fearful. Each day should therefore be lived in the light of it.
            Psalm 77 tells of how Asaph untiringly cried to God for help, refusing his soul comfort until he had an answer (77v1-2). Speaking of a night (or nights) of prayer, he recounts how he was kept from sleep by his troubles, that caused him to groan as he remembered God (77v3-4). His particular distress was in comparing his present with his past, when he used to sing with joy during the night. And so he enquired whether God would show his favour again (77v6-7). The sense is that Asaph is speaking of God’s favour to Israel, as he wonders whether God’s promise (presumably to Abraham or David) has failed, or God forgotten to be merciful (77v8-9). But from 77v10 things change. In his meditation, Asaph determines to appeal to the years in which God as Most High used his right hand to act for Israel’s good with miraculous and mighty deeds (77v10-12). He can therefore declare God’s holiness and supremacy as the one who displays his power amongst peoples as he did in redeeming Israel from Egypt (77v13-15). He then describes how God parted the Red Sea, again showing how key this event was in Israel’s history (77v16-19). The description of torrential rain, thunder, lightning, whirlwind and earthquake may denote Sinai (see Ex 19v16-19), but being bracketed by references to the Red Sea could imply they were evident then too. Either way, they testify to God’s power and so ability to act for his people, who the psalm ends describing as God’s “flock” – ie. those he cared for by leading them by Moses and Aaron like a shepherd.
            The psalm proves again that the righteous aren’t guaranteed absence of hardship, but may have whole nights in which they lie awake worrying about whatever troubles them – and especially, as Asaph, for what troubles the church. But it also moves us at such times to meditate on God’s great works for Israel and in Christ, and on that basis cry out in confidence for his help.

Praying it home:                                                                                   
Praise God that he has proved himself sufficient for dealing with all the troubles of this world, but in his own time. Pray that you seek his help, but trust also in his sovereign will.

Thinking further:
None today.

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