Thursday, 10 July 2014

(192) July 11: Psalm 4-6 & Acts 16:16-40

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

To discover:­
As you read note what can be learnt about the grounds of prayer.

To ponder:
In each psalm God is asked to act in his “mercy” (4v1, 5v7, 6v2). It acknowledges that as sinners we have no other grounds on which to appeal to him, but through his mercy in Christ.
            Psalm 4 appeals to God for protection from those who oppose David, possibly said at night (4v4, 8). David calls on God as “righteous” – so relying on his commitment to do what is right, and most specifically therefore to keep his promise to uphold David as his king (2 Sam 7v10-11). David seeks “relief” from the “distress” felt in people denying his “glory” – perhaps his right to rule, or his uprightness, or his failure to bring “good” to Israel (as 4v6). Instead, they are denigrating him with lies (4v2, see footnote) in anger at something he has done (4v4). David urges his opponents to know that the LORD has set-apart “the godly” (ie. those who love and obey him) as his, and so will hear David’s prayer. Moreover, he appeals to them (as the psalm would have to all when sung in Israel’s worship) to reflect on what they are doing when on their beds – ie. at the rare time people get to think things over. His call is for them to be silent, convicted of the wrong they are doing, and for them to atone for their sin with sacrifices (presumably burnt offerings), or perhaps just offer themselves like a sacrifice in obedience. Either way, they are to trust God.
In the light of the need for “good” to be done, David is not a defeatist like the “many.” His hope is in the LORD. “The light” probably refers to God’s glory, which is the manifestation of his excellence. 6v6 therefore prays for God to display his character in acting for the good of his people. And having entrusted the situation to God, David can say God has “filled” his heart with greater joy than his detractors have in an abundant harvest (4v7). In the light of this, David can sleep in peace, knowing God will ensure his safety against them. This is a reminder that joy and peace can be found even amidst hardship, in the knowledge that we are the Lord’s and we have given our concerns to him (Phil 4v4-9). Moreover, this joy and peace surpasses the greatest material happiness that can be experienced by those without Christ. Certainly, this explains Christ’s ability to praise God despite knowing where his ministry would lead.
Contrasting Psalm 4, Psalm 5 seems to be a morning prayer, showing prayer regularly bracketed David’s day. Again, he appeals to God to hear his “sighing” and “cry for help,” and commends “expectation” when we pray (5v3). The reference to God as “king” suggests David is seeking his kingly justice. So he affirms God’s hatred and readiness to destroy those who are evil, wicked, arrogant, deceitful and bloodthirsty – implying it is such people that are causing his distress (5v4-6). They “cannot stand” in God’s “presence,” because God’s wrath would break out against them. But because of God’s mercy, David can. So he affirms he will come and worship in God’s temple (tabernacle in David’s day) where God was present. And it seems on this basis, as a worshipper of God, that David asks God to show him how to act according to God’s “righteousness” ie. without turning from the straight path of God’s ways. How much we need such wisdom when navigating difficult people.
David’s opponents are speaking destructive lies (5v9), and so he prays for God as judge to declare them guilty and punish them by bringing their own scheming down on their heads. Such prayers for justice reflect the seriousness of these people speaking against God’s anointed king, which is “rebellion” against God (5v10). But they are also appropriate for the oppressed believer (Rev 6v10). David ends praying for joy and protection for those who “take refuge.” They are those who “love” his name (ie. who he is), and who are “righteous” (not perfect, but who seek to do what is right). David is confident they will receive such “blessing,” because God’s “favour” will be their shield. So the psalm clarifies what the wicked and righteous can expect from the Lord.
Psalm 6 begins with a cry that God would refrain from dealing with David in wrath. This suggests the agony he details so powerfully results from sin. It could be physical illness, but more likely is a metaphorical description of the agony David feels in his soul because of being opposed by “foes” (6v7-10). If so, the setting may be Absalom’s opposition, as it resulted from David’s adultery. David fears for his life and so asks God to save him on the basis of his “unfailing love.” He concludes urging his enemies to flee, as he is confident God will answer him and they will therefore be disgraced. So in two psalms we have two reasons we can be confident God hears our prayers (5v7, 6v4). However, we must note we cannot be as confident God will disgrace our enemies during our lifetime. Many Christians remain persecuted. David’s certainty stems from the God’s unique promise to him as God’s king, that his kingdom would be secure (2 Sam 7v10-11). Our promise is for freedom and justice on the last day.
Praying it home:
Praise God for his loving commitment to hear the prayers of those who love and so worship him. Pray that as you read the psalms, you prayer life would become more regular and instinctive.

Thinking further:
None today.
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