Wednesday, 23 July 2014

(205) July 24: Psalm 41-43 & Acts 24

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 we can hope in God.

To ponder:
Perhaps reflecting its dominant theme, this first major section of the psalms finishes on the note of trust. Those who are concerned for the weak and so righteous are “blessed” because, as we’ve seen throughout, according to his particular covenant promises to Israel, the LORD will protect, preserve and deliver faithful Israelites (even from sickness), so that they can enjoy life in the land (41v1-3). And David looks for just this. He recounts how he sought God’s healing when he had sinned - perhaps the situation in previous psalms. During that time his enemies hoped for his death, with some visiting him and speaking as if they cared, whilst contemplating how to then slander him (41v4-8). Indeed, even a “close friend” with whom David shared his table lifted his “heel” against him (41v9) – perhaps implying a readiness to metaphorically stamp on David. But consider God. David is confident that he can trust in him in a way he couldn’t even this close friend. And so he prays God would mercifully raise him from his sick bed so he can repay these people with right kingly justice (41v10). Of course, Jesus sees a pattern here of his own betrayal by Judas (Jn 13v18). Moreover, he was delivered by his resurrection and will come to execute justice against all who oppose him. But in him, we are reminded that whereas friends will fail and even harm us, God will always remain faithful.
            For this reason, David is confident that despite his own sin, God is “pleased” with him because of his “integrity” – presumably in confessing his sin and seeking mercy. He is confident of this because God has not let David’s enemies triumph. He is therefore sure he will continue to be upheld and even “set” in God’s presence forever – a hint to David’s recognition that even if he did die from this sickness, he would nevertheless be with the LORD. It’s all a reassuring reminder that our confidence in God is not dependent on being sinless, but being upright, in the sense that in faith we seek to obey him, and repent when we fail to.
            41v13 is the refrain that divides the five sections of the psalms (see 72v19, 89v52, 106v48). As we’ve seen, it affirms their central purpose of giving God praise, and especially for his deeds on behalf of Israel. Indeed, he is to be everlastingly praised as will be the case in glory. “Amen and Amen” underlines the importance of this truth. It should be our daily desire.
            The similarity of refrain in Psalms 42 and 43 and the lack of title in the latter, suggest they may have been one or intended to be sung together. With constant tears, David is longing for God to strengthen and refresh him like a deer that longs for water (42v1-3). Yes, he is able to “pour out” his “soul” in prayer. But his longing is for the special sense of “meeting” with God as we consider him in times of corporate praise (Eph 5v18-20), which in David’s day would have taken place at the tabernacle (42v4). The sense is that he is far from Jerusalem (42v5b), perhaps at war, and opposed by enemies who mockingly ask “where is your God?” because God doesn’t seem to be saving him (42v3, 10). As if to rebuke himself, David asks his soul why it is so downcast, telling himself to “hope” in God as Saviour, knowing he will praise him at the tabernacle again (42v5). He therefore determines to remember God from where he is, and although it feels like he is sinking deeper and deeper under God’s hand, he recalls that the LORD directs his love to David by day and enables him to sing in prayer by night (contrast the tears of 42v3). Indeed, he remembers God is “living” and so able to act. Nevertheless, as is often our experience, this confidence alternates with despair. So David asks of God as his “rock” of safety, why it seems he has “forgotten” him, so that he has to mourn and experience agony under the oppression and mocking of the enemy. Yet he ends, disciplining his soul once again to hope in God.
            Psalm 42 therefore provides practical wisdom for when we despair. At such times we should remind ourselves of what we know about God and take hold of our souls to ensure they keep hoping in him. But we might also seek out the gathered community in worship, which has its own strengthening and refreshing effect. Wonderfully, through Christ, we do not have to travel to Jerusalem to do so (Jn 4v21-24).
            Psalm 43 begins with a request for “vindication” – perhaps against the mocking suggestion that God is not with David (43v1, see 42v10). “The ungodly nation” may be a Canaanite nation or Israel itself in opposing him as their king (as with Saul or Absalom). Again, David asks why as his “stronghold” of safety God seems to have “rejected” him (43v2, parallel to 42v9). His call for “light” may simply refer to God acting to rescue him from the darkness of his current situation. By paralleling “light,” “truth” probably entails God acting according to his promise to be for David (2 Sam 7v10-14). If so, David is asking that in faithfulness, God would save him and bring him back to the “holy mountain” of Jerusalem, where he could again praise him by the altar (43v3-4), that symbolised God’s presence (only High Priests could see the ark). For a third time, he therefore disciplines his downcast soul to hope in God (43v5). Just as Christ experienced such rescue when God called him to his presence in glory, so our hope is in the same.

Praying it home:                                                                                   
Praise God for how he strengthens and refreshes his people as they praise him together. Pray that you would be able to remember and direct your soul to hope in God when downcast.

Thinking further:
None today.

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