It is hard to believe that we are less than a week away from being finished with this challenge. This Psalm really turns the corner and presents a very different perspective than the one of David in a cave. It is prayer, a psalm of blessing upon the people of the Lord. The ability to put ourselves within the context of recognizing that we are but the breath of the Lord, fleeting and momentary, allows us to appreciate the current blessings that we enjoy.
I guess you can separate this psalm into two. The first part would be vss.1-8 which is a typical prayer of deliverance. But then starting in vs.9ff it is almost as if the author has won the lottery. Everything changes. There is a celebration as the author cries out for a new song. He is jamming on a 10 stringed harp. We know that David enjoyed playing the harp and one with 10 strings was probably the Fender of its day.
Starting at vs.12 he lays out the blessings that he wishes upon…himself. He asks for sons and daughters who will be blessed, barns filled, sheep increased, safety beyond measure, happiness for eternity. That’s not a bad list, except for the sheep part.
It is the day after the bombing in Manchester. The lives of teenagers and their families will never be the same. What kind of prayer and what kind of Scripture can be offered in the wake of this tragedy? As you read through Psalm 143 you know instinctively that there can be nothing trite and rote which can be tossed to those families as if this is any type of magical balm which will heal all wounds. The words of the Lord in Scripture have been used by generations as a healing balm, but with the recognition that words cannot heal, but only the Lord can. David understood this.
As he wrote this psalm and he found himself still in a cave hiding from his enemy, he knew that his life would never be the same no matter what happened from this day forward. Yes, he would experience happiness and joy again, but this time in the cave was defining and was a time that would always leave a mark and an impression upon him. The same is true of any tragedy or event in our life which is defining and horrific. In this day and age when we recognize more than ever that as Westerners we are susceptible to the realities of life that most of the world has known for generations, that at any moment an act of violence could take our life, we need to hear the words of those who were able to reach out and beseech the Lord in a life that was constantly surrounded by a violent environment.
David saw death all around him. David killed his enemies. David asked the Lord to protect him while he was in battle and pursuing his enemies. We have to ask the question of what use is a psalm from a person whose life was so radically different from our life as we live in a reality that is so different from the author. While a bomber’s cowardly act brings death and destruction to the headlines, we have to recognize that most of the world lives in a reality where every single day their life could be asked of them in a violent way.
I’ll never forget being a pastor in Russia and knowing that half of my congregation as they stepped out into the streets of Moscow would be taking their life into their own hands. The violence that people of color are subjected to in Russia is real. It is daily. When I step out of my door I don’t have to worry about where I walk or with whom I interact. Because of my complexion my concerns revolve around other matters, I don’t have to think about how I look and how that is going to be interpreted by people. I wonder how we would go through life if we did have to worry about violence which would be brought against us because of the way that we look, or in David’s case, because we are on the wrong side of the battle.
The violence that was a part of David’s life led him to say to the Lord: “Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails. Do not hide your face from me, or I shall be like those who go down to the Pit.” The Pit would be death. Maybe it would be helpful in the face of terroristic attacks to recognize the big picture of it all. God is still in control. He was in control when David faced death every day of his life. He is in control when random acts of violence punctuate our existence, but don’t seem to overwhelm it. We need to recognize that for some these acts of violence are a daily concern. Once we recognize that, then we might be able to understand David’s writings better, and the realities of those whose pigmentation makes them a target.
The Hebrew prelude for this psalm states that it is one which was written by David while he was in a cave hiding from King Saul who looked to kill him. It is a pretty specific and bleak description of a time in David’s life when he was conflicted by his loyalty to the king and his duty as a servant of the Lord most high. He did not kill Saul, as he could have, because of his respect for the office which he knew God had instituted. But in this Psalm he does cry out to the Lord for deliverance. In vs. 2 we read that he pours out his complaint before the Lord. He makes a supplication to the Lord.
Is it okay to complain to God? Job complains to God and God responds by saying: don’t forget who created you and all the things of this earth. Jonah complains to God about his grace toward the Ninevites and God produces a plant which gives shade to Jonah and then dies leaving him in the scorching sun. The lesson is the same as it was for Job. Don’t forget who created you and all the things that you see around you, including the Ninevites.
David complains to God and asks that God will heed his cry. It is a cry of protection. It is not a complaint of the unfairness of God, which is what Jonah spoke out against, and which is what Job could have been alluding to. It is simply a call for protection against those who were seeking his life. It is a complaint of survival. I guess that does sound a lot like Job and less like Jonah.
The end of this psalm provides us with a type of answer to the complaint when David states: “The righteous will surround me, for you will deal bountifully with me.” It is an affirmation of what God is able to do for us. In the midst of our complaint if we can affirm what God is able to do, then that will put us in a very different place when we face those things which we consider difficulties in our life.
Wow, I have a lot of making up to do. I guess this is what happens when you go away for a week with study leave. But I kept up with things while I was in San Antonio, it was only when I got back that things slacked off. Okay, back to Psalm 141.
This Psalm has to be paired with James 3 and especially those parts that talk about the tongue and the instrument that it can be for both good and evil. Look at vs.3 in Psalm 141 and you will hear vestiges of James 3. Well, actually, that should be vice-versa. If you read James 3 you will hear Psalm 141:3 sounding loud and clear. There will be a series of psalms coming up, including this one, where we can imagine David in a cave as a he is hiding out from Saul and calling out to the Lord to deliver him.
We also find in this psalm, specifically verses 5-7 a part of the manuscript that is uncertain. The oldest manuscripts that we have do not contain very legible portions of these verses. As a result the scribes, and even us today, have to come up with a best guess for what is written because the actual characters are hard to distinguish. I hope it doesn’t put anyone in crisis to know that we do not have the original text as King David wrote it. Our earliest manuscripts were written in the middle ages, so probably 1,500 years or more after David wrote them. Even if we take the Dead Sea Scrolls and say they were 1st century manuscripts then the writings are still not the original but at least 6 or 7 hundred years old by then. The Word of God has been passed down from generation to generation. I’m okay with that. In fact, I think it is my responsibility, read our responsibility, to continue to pass it down.
It is hard to believe that we are on the home stretch to finishing up these psalms. We will be done before June begins. Psalm 140 is another psalm where we find David pleading to the Lord to deliver him and to save him from his enemies. He appeals again to the fact that David is part of that group of people that God has set apart as His people, and so it really is God’s responsibility to care of His people. This in turn means that it is really God’s responsibility to take care of David as he faces his enemies.
The psalm ends again with the final two verses lifting up the cause of the poor and the needy. We have to keep asking ourselves the question of who exactly does David mean, and who exactly does God use these verses to support and uplift? I’m guessing David probably meant himself when he spoke about the poor and the needy, especially in light of a psalm beseeching God to save him in the midst of his enemies. But when we take Jesus’ words where he speaks about the poor and the needy there is a common thread if we really mean the poor and the needy. Jesus is continually lifting up the poor and the needy as God’s favorite, the least become the first.
There are a lot of favorite Psalms in the 120’s and 130’s. This is one of them. I try to read this Psalm every time that someone is going into the hospital for surgery. The reason why is as you read it, think about the knowledge that God has of your body. Think of the fact that God has known us ever since we were intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Think of how God knows how we have been knit together in the womb of our mother, and then take comfort in knowing that whatever happens in that room, God is ultimately the one who has complete charge and control of your body.
It is so important to remember that God has created our bodies so we ought to treat out bodies as a temple. Paul says this in I Corinthians 6:19. That means that even though God is in control of our bodies, we can’t think that we can do anything that we want with our bodies, while at the same time abusing them thinking that since we are faithful God will compensate for our faults. Take care of your bodies.
I stop reading that psalm at vs.19 because the psalmist seems to be having a hangover from psalm 137 as he wishes God to kill the wicked, aka his enemies. The Psalm begins and ends, if you count vs.18 as the ending, with the assurance that God knows not only our bodies but also the end of our days. God knows when our days will come to an end. It is simply a great psalm.
If you look at the verses beginning at 7-8 you get a feel that you have been transported back to Psalm 23. It begins with the somewhat familiar words: “though I walk in the midst of trouble…”, it sounds a bit like the words: “Though I walk in the valley of the shadow of death…” There is also a similarity in the words: “you preserve me against the wrath of my enemies”, sounds very similar to: “you prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies”. And yet while Psalm 23 is one of the most reassuring psalms, this psalm doesn’t make the list. But it is a good psalm whether it makes the list or not.
You have to pair this Psalm with Isaiah 43:14-21. It is an agonizing Psalm. It is one where it begins so peacefully and beautifully even if the author is lamenting the fact that they no longer had their homeland. So, you need to keep in mind that the author is writing while they have been taken into captivity into a foreign land. This is not David. This is someone who has been conquered and made into a slave. Think of about that as you sit in your room in your house and the comforts and the niceties which we have around us. We are not slaves, we are not out of our home land, we are not witnessing the abuse of our people at the hands of invaders. Some people in our country are, but we are not. We have not witnessed our children dashed against the stones. This author is living all of that now.
So, if we place ourselves in their context maybe, just maybe vs.7-9 makes a little more sense, even if we don’t applaud it, we can understand it. Even if we can say that this is not what God wants, we can understand the voice that speaks this angry, violent, bloody thought. I’m at a preacher’s conference and there is a theme that is pretty powerful around here. We are living in dangerous, similar times to that in which the people of God were living when Scripture was being written. I don’t completely agree, but I understand why people might think so.
Our understanding of history is normally taken from the perspective of being an American. I would say that if we were a Syrian Christian we would say that we have been living in the times of the Scripture for quite a few decades now. That is where my disagreement takes shape. Depending on where we live in the world we can say to a lesser or greater degree we live in the times of eternity and that the more things change, the more they stay the same. Things are not getting any worse in the world. How can things get worse than when we have been separated from God? I firmly am convinced that Jesus is coming back irrespective of what is happening on the face of this earth. Jesus doesn’t need us to do anything in order for him to come back. He is waiting on us to get things together before he can come back.
When we are in the position of this Psalmist, or a Syrian Christian, or living in a nation where it seems like our political reality is so bewildering, Jesus is still coming back.
FOR HIS STEADFAST LOVE ENDURES FOREVER
Well, we sure are in a good mood aren’t we? It seems like the psalmist just met the Lord face to face and wants to write about it. What I’m about to say next is not even close to what the psalmist is feeling, but I’m feeling pretty good myself today. Here I am sitting in the Admiral’s Club in Houston. A long time ago I signed up for a credit card from American Airlines and part of the deal was a free ticket and two passes to the Admiral’s Club. It is amazing. Free food, wifi, drinks, lounge, TV, all of it as I get ready for my final leg into San Antonio. It wouldn’t be right for me to repeat vss.19-21, but there is a part of me that wants to say: Bless the Lord!
What is probably happening with David in this Psalm is that he is reflecting over his life and how God has blessed him. He sees his son Solomon growing up and being all that he would have wanted to be. From Jacob, his ancestor, God has raised one that would build the house of the Lord where all nations could come to worship him. It is in my mind a looking back on all that God has done and the natural, mandatory response is: Bless the Lord!