Wednesday, 6 August 2014

(219) August 7: Psalm 79-81 & Romans 8:1-18

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

To discover:­
As you read consider how the restoration of God’s church should be sought.

To ponder:
Whereas Psalm 78 recounted God’s judgement against the Northern Kingdom, Psalm 79 recounts that against the southern. It begins describing it: The nations invading, defiling the temple, utterly destroying Jerusalem, and leaving God’s “saints” (ie. holy ones) unburied so that birds feast on them. It’s a shocking picture, and leaves God’s people scorned by others – no doubt callously mocked by Canaanites they once ruled over (79v1-4). So the psalmist asked how long will God be angry and jealous at Israel’s unfaithfulness, praying for his wrath on the nations for what they had done, and for speedy mercy on his people in their desperate need (79v5-8). By praying that God wouldn’t hold the sins of the previous generation against them, we see the psalm may have been written some years into the exile. We also see again, that it couldn’t have been written by Asaph, a contemporary of David and Solomon (see title), but must be a psalm in his style, or for his choir.
            The prayer is for “help,” but motivated by a concern for God’s glory (79v9-10) – as a conquered people suggests an impotent or neglectful God (79v10), a forgiven people testifies to a merciful God, and an avenged people displays a powerful and just God. And so the psalmist prays that the groans of Jewish prisoners might come before God, provoking him to payback the neighbouring nations who suggested, no doubt mockingly, that God was impotent or unjust. It is not therefore a prayer for personal vengeance, but for God to be honoured. And the response of God’s people will be to praise him for generations, recounting his deliverance. We should note this has happened, as the history of how God punished Babylon, brought his people home and restored Jerusalem and the temple is told in Daniel and Ezra-Nehemiah. It should give us confidence all the more to pray for the restoration of the church in our day – for the sake of God’s name.
            From the restoration of the Southern Kingdom, Psalm 80 seeks the restoration of the davidic king, with all his significance for God’s promises (2 Sam 7v10-16). Of course God is Israel’s true shepherd, leader and king, enthroned between the cherubim. As such, he is appealed to, to act in powerful salvation by restoring the people (80v1-3). Again, to have his face shine on them is to experience the glory of all God is acting for their good (80v3, 7, 19). Once more, God is asked how long he will continue in his anger, noting that tears have been his people’s food and water, and they have been mocked by their enemies (80v4-6). Israel were initially planted in the land like a vine that flourished and filled it. But now God is asked why the walls around this vine have been broken down so people can pick its grapes and animals ravage it – a reference to the nations plundering what is good from Israel (80v8-13).
            And so the psalmist calls on God to return to his people, see and watch over the vine (80v14-15). Calling it a “son” probably refers to God treating Israel as his firstborn son (Ex 4v22) in Egypt, and so the one he loves and who will inherit from him. He has been “raised up” for God in the sense that Israel were brought from Egypt to the land, to flourish and serve God there. Yet now, the psalmist notes, the vine is cut down, burned and perishing at God’s rebuke because of her sin (80v16). 80v17 is important. It now refers to “the son of man” God “raised up for himself,” praying God’s hand would rest on him in such a way that the people will not turn from God but be revived (80v17-18). At one level, this must have simply looked to a descendent of David who as king would represent and restore the “son” that is Israel in the sense that all kings were expected to – through promoting pure worship by rebuilding the temple and righteousness by administering the law. But this king is said to be at God’s “right hand” – a throne next to his (see 80v1). This king is therefore a heavenly one, who shares God’s power and authority (see Dan 7). The psalm therefore looked to Christ and can be prayed as a prayer for the revival of the church through the reigning king Jesus.
            Psalm 81 begins calling people to praise God at the festivals according to God’s decree. This praise is for their redemption in which he rescued them from Egypt when they called, spoke to them from the thundercloud at Sinai, and tested and so taught them at the waters of Meribah (81v1-7). The “basket” probably refers to those the people had to carry when slaves. 81v8-16 record some of God’s lessons during that time. Key is that the people listen and hear his warning, not committing idolatry, because the LORD is their God and promises to “fill” their mouths with his provision (81v8-10). But God declares how the people would not listen and so were given over to stubborn hearts. He then promises, that if they would listen after all, and follow his ways, he would subdue their enemies with everlasting punishment and satisfy them not with manna and water, but the finest wheat and honey “from the rock” (81v11-16). This psalm calls us not just to celebrate our redemption, but ensure we learn what it means in terms of faithfulness and obedience to the Lord. If we display such a response, we can be sure the wondrous provision of the new creation is ours.

Praying it home:                                                                                   
Praise God that for his might and mercy. Pray that he would restore the church to a greater state through Christ.

Thinking further:
None today.

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