Sunday, 3 August 2014

(216) August 4: Psalm 73-74 & Romans 5

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 an eternal perspective impacts the present.

To ponder:
Psalm 73 begins psalms related to Asaph, a choir leader at the temple (title and 1 Chr 16v5). It starts affirming God’s goodness to those in Israel who are “pure in heart” – ie. those who are unadulterated in their devotion to God. Asaph confesses that he almost slipped from this purity out of envying the wicked in their prosperity (73v1-3). With echoes of Job, he relates that prosperity: In a general sense they seem free from struggle or ill health. And it is because of this that they do evil; and by laying claim to heaven and earth win people to themselves who assume God does not see or know what they’re doing (73v4-12). By contrast Asaph considers himself plagued and punished daily (perhaps a reference to hardship), and so has felt it pointless to be pure, turning from doing wrong (73v13-14). Yet he displays righteousness by realizing it would have been detrimental to others if he had voiced his doubts – a lesson to us (73v15). Nevertheless, he found considering these things oppressive, until he entered the temple sanctuary and gained a true perspective. There he realized that whatever prosperity the wicked enjoy, when God arises and so chooses, they will be suddenly destroyed by terrors – a reference perhaps not just to death but what lies beyond (73v18-20). Like Job, on seeing this Asaph acknowledges that when embittered in his envy he was ignorant and like a beast (73v21-22). This may refer to him not displaying the supremely human quality of trust in God. But he recognises that God has always held him, guides him, and will eventually take him to glory – a clear Old Testament pointer to the afterlife. In the light of that, Asaph affirms his utter desire for God which means that earth has nothing he could envy or long for by comparison, as even if he were to die, God is his strength and portion forever (73v23-26). “Portion” here refers to God like the portion of the promised land given as an inheritance to each Israelite. It’s a way of saying God is all Asaph desired, and is his ultimate reward. And so he concludes that the unfaithful will perish whilst he now knows it is good to be near God, making him one’s refuge. He will therefore tell of God’s deeds (73v27-28).
            The psalm helps us process our own struggle over why as God’s people we may suffer when those who despise God prosper. It also restores a right perspective within which we are reminded of the wonder that God doesn’t just give us good things, but his very self, from which glory follows. We are therefore encouraged to stick with him in all purity of heart.
            Psalm 74 also communicates confusion as to God’s purposes. It asks why God has rejected and is angry with his people. It then describes Mount Zion in ruins and the sanctuary destroyed, most likely referring to the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (2 Kgs 25). This means this psalm wasn’t composed by Asaph who lived earlier (see title), but may be like one of his psalms or for the choir he once headed. The prayer is that God would remember his people that he purchased from Egypt – the cost was probably the price that had to then be paid for the firstborn from Israel (Ex 13v1-16). The destruction of the sanctuary and all other places of worship is described in tragic detail. And it is added that the people are left without miraculous signs or prophetic messages, with no sense how long this will last (74v4-9). The picture is of true God-forsakenness. And so the psalmist asks how long the enemy will revile God’s name – no doubt, by implying he is impotent by their victory. He also asks why God holds back, praying that he would destroy them. What follows is a meditation to support the psalmist’s continued conviction that God is king from of old who brings salvation. It speaks of his power in dividing the Red Sea, and uses the myth of Baal’s conquest of sea monsters as an illustration of God crushing Pharoah, or the armies that faced Israel in the desert. It then looks to God’s drying up rivers – ie. the Jordan, as Israel crossed into their land. The point is that God has proved his power to save his people. Indeed, it is he who created and sustains the days and seasons (74v12-17). And so, the psalmist urges God to remember how the enemy had mocked him by destroying the sanctuary, and asks him not to hand over his precious dove (Israel) to wild beasts (the enemy). Instead, he prays that God would remember his covenant and act against the violence that fills the land (probably that of the conquerors who remained), freeing the oppressed so that the poor and needy praise him (74v18-21).
            The psalm ends on this same note – the call for God to “rise up” and defend his own cause (74v22-23). And this is essentially its point. It’s concerned with his honour, seen in judging those who oppose his people and mock his name, and in restoring the place whereby he is worshipped. The former was fulfilled when Persia conquered Babylon, and the latter when the people return and rebuilt the temple. But both events look to the establishment of the church as the temple place for worshipping the Lord, and the final judgement in which all will know he is God. It is his power that will complete all these things, and it is proved not only by creation and the redemption of Israel from Egypt, but now by the works and resurrection of Christ too.

Praying it home:                                                                                   
Praise God for how the glory to come gives perspective to the injustice and hardship of the present. Pray that you would continue to trust him as one who is pure in heart.

Thinking further:
None today.

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