Sunday, 31 August 2014

(244) September 1: Psalm 147-150 & 1 Corinthians 11:16-34

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

To discover:­
As you read note why God is to be praised.

To ponder:
Psalm 147 declares how good, pleasing and right it is to praise God. Hopefully that has been our experience as we’ve praised him in response to what’s we’ve learnt. The praise here is for bringing the exiles back to Jerusalem from exile, building up the city, and so, by his action, healing those whose hearts were broken at its destruction (147v1-3). This is seen as a reflection of God’s wider action: He is the creator who decided the number of stars and named them, demonstrating both his mighty power and limitless understanding. And he is the one who uses those attributes in justice, sustaining the humble who look to him, and bringing down the wicked (147v4-6). So he is to be thanked for sending rain to grow grass as food for cattle, and providing food for ravens when they call to him. The sense is that in doing this for these creatures, how much more will he for humans to whom he has made promises. So we hear God doesn’t delight in the power of a horse or man, but in those who fear him and so hope in his unfailing love (147v7-11). He is therefore to be praised by Jerusalem, for granting it security (strengthening its gates), granting it peace, and providing quality harvests (147v12-14). This is a picture of him doing as he promised he would for those who repent when in exile (Deut 30v1-10). It therefore looks to the completion of his promises to Israel under the Davidic king.
            The power and speedy action of God’s word is displayed in his control of water in creation, causing fruitfulness on the earth (147v15-18). So, he is able to quickly bring these things about. By ending with an affirmation that he has revealed his word uniquely to Israel (147v19-20), the psalm seems to end with a reminder of Israel’s privilege, but also the importance of delighting in it in order to receive these blessings (see Psalm 1). As those rescued from our exile from Eden, yet looking to its completion, the psalm urges us to praise God with confidence in his readiness to do as he has said. But it also encourages us to continue to fear and obey him.
            Psalm 148 calls the entire creation to praise God. First, the skies (heavens), angels and astronomical bodies (148v1-6). The “waters above” the sky are an ancient way of referring to the source of rain. The reason for the praise is simply that these things have been created by a decree (command) of God that will keep them in place forever. This reminds us that God is worthy of honour from everything simply because he made it and it is dependent on him. Next comes the earth (148v7-14), with its creatures, weather, geography, vegetation, animals, kings, nations, men, women and children. They are to praise God as the only exalted one, seen in the display of his splendour in the creation above. This probably refers to the night sky reflecting his power and wisdom (as 147v4-5). Yet all creatures are also to praise God for raising up a horn (the symbol of power) for Israel out of care for them. This must refer to Israel’s Davidic king, through whom God promised to establish a secure, righteous, flourishing and everlasting kingdom throughout the earth (Lk 2v69). In other words, all creation is to praise God for his saving work through Christ – symbolised by the living creatures as well as elders of Revelation bowing in worship (Rev 5v8-10). Perhaps animals already do this in some way.
            Psalm 149 develops this final idea, calling the worshipping assembly of Israel in Jerusalem to praise and rejoice in God as their Maker and King for delighting in them and saving them, raising them from a humble position to one in which they are crowned with the honour of being a royal nation (149v1-5, see 1 Pet 2v9). Their regal role is then seen in praising God whilst executing justice on the evil of the nations, imprisoning their rulers (149v6-9). This is said to be “the glory” of God’s saints, no doubt because it is an honourable role (149v5) showing the high regard God has for his people. Indeed, it is to do nothing less than straighten the moral crookedness of the universe in suppressing evil and so enabling God’s kingdom to be established in all perfection and peace. Israel executed such judgement very literally in entering their land (see Joshua). Now the church does so by preaching the word, so judging the thoughts of people’s hearts, and bringing many into submission to Christ (2 Cor 10v3-6, Heb 4v12-13). Yet, at the final judgement too, it seems we will be included in assessing, judging and sentencing both the world and angels in some sense (1 Cor 6v1-4, Rev 2v26-27). This must be a great comfort to the oppressed Christian (as in Dan 7v25-27), and displays how completely God will reverse the authority structures of this present order, exalting the humble and humbling the exalted. The psalm is therefore a fitting conclusion to the psalter.
            As is Psalm 150. Summing the note of praise throughout the psalms, it calls God to be praised in his sanctuary – here probably heaven, which is regarded as being high in the sky (the mighty heavens). The psalm therefore calls us to perhaps the key activity of heaven and the creation to come (see Rev 5-7). The praise is to be for God’s power and greatness which we have seen detailed throughout in his works of creation and salvation in particular. If we find ourselves lacking heartfelt praise, it is these things we need to reflect on. As elsewhere, this praise involves song, instruments and dancing. The latter is of course frequently ignored today, often from an excessive caution that can stifle true joy. The point is that everything that has breath should praise God with its whole being, for this is the most fitting disposition of the creature to the Creator. Is your love of God marked in this way?
Praying it home:       
Praise God for the things you have been most struck by in the psalms. Pray that your prayer and praise life would be shaped by what you have learnt from them.

Thinking further:                             
Well done for completing the psalms. Our reflections have been necessarily longer in dealing with each psalm rather than just pulling out themes. My prayer is that they have fuelled and shaped your prayer life as they have started to mine.

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