Wednesday, 27 August 2014

(240) August 28: Psalm 135-137 & 1 Corinthians 9

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’s greatness and love gives hope.

To ponder:
With similar wording to Psalm 134v1-2, Psalm 135v1-4 calls those who minister in the temple to praise God for his goodness in choosing Israel to be his treasured possession, adding that this is to experience joy for it is “pleasant.” It is entirely fitting to be motivated to praise God for our salvation because of the enjoyment it brings. This honours him.
            The greatness of Israel’s God is then declared in his acts of creation and redemption, as proof that he is greater than all gods, which are simply idols. So the LORD does whatever pleases him throughout his creation, causing the weather to come just as he determines (135v5-7). The focus on weather reflects how critical it was for the good of Israel as an agricultural society, but also how its power testifies to the power of God. The psalmist then tells how God “struck down” Egypt’s firstborn, amidst the plagues (signs and wonders) sent against the mighty Pharoah and his servants. God also “struck down” other nations and mighty kings, including the Canaanites, giving their land to his people (135v8-12). The point is that this all displays God’s supremacy over the false gods these nations thought fought for them. And so the renown of God’s name in doing such great things will endure forever – as it does in Judaism and Christianity (135v13-14). The declaration that God will “vindicate his people” suggests the psalm was composed when they were in trouble, and so God’s greatness would again be seen in delivering them.
            135v15-18 is almost identical to 115v4-6, 8 (see notes there) stating the impotence of nations’ idols, and how those who trust them will become lifeless too. So Israel, the High Priesthood, the Levites, all who fear God from the nations, and Zion too, are called to praise him who dwells in Jerusalem (135v19-21). The psalm therefore affirms the foolishness of being drawn away to false religion, reminding us of God’s supremacy, most clearly now seen in the signs and wonders through which Christ has “struck down” the devil and all evil. God alone is to be praised.
            The theme of Psalm 136 is not hard to spot: to thank God that his love endures forever. The refrain counters those who dismiss repetition in praise as somehow mundane. As with Psalm 135 it is God’s goodness and supremacy as God of gods and Lord of lords that is in mind (136v1-3). He “alone” does great wonders, as in first four days of creation (136v4-9), his redemption of Israel from Egypt with a “mighty” outstretched arm (136v10-12), his parting of the Red Sea by which he destroyed Pharoah and his army (136v13-14), his leading the people through the desert, and his striking down the Canaanite kings to give Israel their land as an inheritance (136v16-22). So the worshipper is called to give thanks to the God of heaven for two acts of enduring love: redemption, in which he remembered and freed Israel from her low estate under slavery to the Egyptians, and creation, by which he feeds every creature. These are to the two themes for our praise too, although our redemption is from slavery to sin.
            Like Psalm 120, the theme of Psalm 137 is the people in exile. This suggests the psalms of ascent (Psalms 120-134) and those praising God as creator and redeemer (Psalms 135-136) were placed to look the worshipper forward to the God acting as creator and redeemer in completing what he began in the return from exile: the fulfilment of his promise to establish a perfect kingdom under his Christ. Psalm 137 may have been written after the return. It begins recounting the sadness of the people remembering Zion in Babylon, when asked to sing of it by their captors (137v1-3). The psalmist declares they cannot sing “the songs of the LORD” in a foreign land – probably having joyful songs in mind that they cannot sing because they cannot rejoice (see 137v6). Moreover, by saying that if he forgets Jerusalem, then he should lose his ability to sing (137v4-6), he suggests there is no other reason for singing, but for God’s acts and promises centred on Zion. His despair is then expressed in calling God to remember how the Edomites (Israel’s old enemy) encouraged Babylon in tearing Jerusalem down, stating they will be destroyed and declaring that those who would repay them would be happy in avenging their evil (137v7-9). The Edomites are probably titled “daughter of Babylon” because they served Babylon against Israel, or because they reflected her same traits. The apparent delight in the killing of children is phrased to reflect the idea that justice is to receive the equivalent of what one has done to you (an eye for an eye). It is to say: “You were happy to encourage Babylon to dash our children against rocks, so may the one who repays you by dashing yours against rocks be happy too.” The phrase should therefore be understood as an expression reflecting the extremity of what Israel suffered rather than a literal desire. Moreover, as mentioned previously, although Christians can rightly pray for justice, the focus of our prayer will be on blessing and repentance for our enemies, who we will love and seek to be reconciled to. Nevertheless, this psalm resonates with the believer under persecution, who is mocked by tormentors, who may in turn be encouraged in their oppression by others. Indeed, it reflects the despair of all who long for glory or are kept apart from God’s church.

Praying it home:       
Praise God for his love expressed in feeding his creation and redeeming his people. Pray for those persecuting Christians today.

Thinking further:                             
None today.

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