Thursday, 14 August 2014

(227) August 15: Psalm 103-104 & Romans 14

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 God expresses his kindness.

To ponder:
Psalm 103 is a thoroughly gospel-centred psalm, praising God for the forgiveness of sins. This praise stems from the heart or “inmost being” and so is sincere. And it praises God’s “holy name,” which denotes his set-apartedness, here in his grace and faithfulness (103v1). The introduction urges the worshipper not to forget the “benefits” of knowing God. And they are many: forgiveness, healing from sickness, salvation from death – for David perhaps at the hands of an enemy, and many “good things” that renew one’s vigour (103v2-5). For David, such acts are to be “crowned” with love and compassion, ie. have his authority to rule affirmed by God’s kindness towards him. For us, they affirm our status as God’s children.
            David now turns to the general believer. His assertion of God acting in righteousness and justice for the oppressed probably refers to his doing what is right and just with respect to his covenant with Israel (103v17-18). So David speaks of how God revealed his ways to Moses on the mountain (103v7-10 compare Ex 34v6-7). The focus is on his patience and grace, based on the fact that there is no end to his love for those who fear him. He therefore wholly removes their sins, and has compassion on them like a father (103v11-13). And he is like this because he knows without it we will just return to dust and be forgotten. But whereas our lives are by nature this transient, his love is “from everlasting to everlasting” for those who “fear him” by keeping his covenant, acting righteously not just for them but their “children’s children.” In other words, he doesn’t forget his commitment to them and their descendents. For Israel and us, this was a commitment to love and so bless the children of believers in a particular way (Ex 20v4-6, Acts 2v39). And it’s contrast with the transience of life hints to God overcoming the inherent mortality of his people too.
            The psalm ends moving from Israel to the universe as God rules from heaven, and his kingdom that is centred in Israel is therefore over all. The angels who obey and serve him, as Israelites are to, are therefore called to praise him; as are all his works throughout creation. Perhaps the sense is that as the believer praises God for his benefits, they join the praise of all things (see Rev 7v9-12).
            Psalm 104 picks up this theme of creation, praising God for making and sustaining it. Here, being “clothed” with splendour and majesty seems to refer to the splendour and majesty of the sun, moon and stars as God’s “garment” (104v1-2). Indeed, showing how utterly he rules the creation, the various parts of the “heavens” (ie. sky) are described as his tent, house, chariot, and messengers (104v2-4). The “waters” of verse 3 are a description of water held in the clouds. Following the order of the days of creation 104v5-9 then move to the earth which God founded as unmoveable and covered with water, which he then moved with a word to settle just as he determined, revealing the land. 104v9 alludes to God’s promise to Noah, and so God’s grace in sustaining this order of things despite human sin. This sustaining grace is then detailed: God provides water for animals to drink (104v10-12), to cause vegetation to grow to benefit livestock and man (104v13-15), and trees as homes for birds. His formation of mountains as homes for animals is also mentioned (104v16-18). The benefit of seasons is then mentioned in passing, and would have been known to be a blessing in terms of agriculture. But day and night are the focus – the former as a time for beasts to get their food from God and the latter for man to work (104v19-23). The point is that God has ordered them for man’s safety. No wonder the psalmist praises God at this point for the wisdom of his works. The things of creation we take for granted have been formed with very specific purpose – to provide for God’s creatures. So we go on to read of how both the earth and sea team with creatures, yet they all look to God for their food, and he satisfies them with good things. They can be terrified when God hides his face too, causing them to experience hardship. Moreover, they die when he takes their breath away and are created when he sends his Spirit (104v24-30). Every creature is therefore dependent on God in every way.
            The “glory of the LORD” the psalmist desires to endure forever must therefore be his wisdom and goodness as displayed in these works – especially his power that causes the earth to tremble and mountains to smoke (104v11-32). Yet the psalmist also desires that God rejoice in all he has done, committing himself to praising and rejoicing in God for his whole life himself (104v31-34). His conclusion that prays his meditation would be pleasing, but that the wicked would vanish (104v33-35) may reflect a desire that this great work of creation be untainted. It certainly links God’s goodness and power with the certainty of his exercising those things in a final judgement. Whatever the case, this glorious psalm urges us to praise God for this goodness, power, and wisdom which are at work every moment throughout the creation. In displaying God’s intimate care for all creatures, it also challenges us with respect to the care of them he has entrusted to us as those in his image (Gen 1v26-28).     

Praying it home:                                                                                   
Praise God for his power, goodness and wisdom displayed throughout the creation – and the many benefits these grant you because you fear him. Pray that you would care as he does for the creation.

Thinking further: Children of believers       
In what way does God act for the children and children’s children of believers? Certainly they have a privileged access to God’s word, enjoy the fellowship of a church family, the benefits of parents who are influenced by God’s wisdom, and share in the good he grants to their household. As God intends believing parents to raise godly offspring, it also seems more likely (but not certain) that by these means he will bring such children to faith (Mal 2v15). This is probably what is implied by his promise that in a general sense his Spirit and word will not depart from his people’s descendants (Is 59v21). Christians differ on this, but 1 Corinthians 7v14 even suggests that in being regarded “holy” and “clean” the children of believers may be forgiven and accepted by God until reaching an age when he holds them accountable for their own response to him. This was the principle behind the Abrahamic covenant that is fulfilled in the gospel. Children were counted as having kept the covenant on account of the parent’s faithfulness, or cut off from it if the parents proved unfaithful (Gen 17v12-14).

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