This was more my style growing up as a teenager. Probably not the best way to end our 150 day challenge. I should have something a bit more appropriate and serious. But this is where we find ourselves. We find ourselves at the end of 150 days that we agreed to read the psalms and contemplate what God’s message might be for each of us. We end with a psalm which states simply: “Praise the Lord”. It is a good ending.
I hope you have enjoyed these 150 days. That brings us to the end of one 90 Day Challenge, and then another 90 Day Challenge, and now these 150 days. We have been doing this for 330 days not in continuity, but over these past couple of years. We will continue until we finish the entire Bible. I look forward to our next 90 Day Challenge. I pray that you have not only appreciated the discipline, but grown from it as well.
This is again a psalm of praise, but we do find ourselves in our nation, at least, on a day that needs to be mentioned. We find ourselves on Memorial Day, a day that we remember those who died while they were in the line of duty. It was interesting that the speaker at the service today said that there is a real distinction between Memorial Day and Veteran’s Day. Today is a day that we remember all those who died while in the line of duty. It is not a day that we simply remember our service men and women. She made that distinction because she was then able to rattle off about a dozen or so people whom she knew, and with whom she had served, who had indeed paid the ultimate sacrifice. When you meet a soldier you know that you are meeting someone who knows comrades who have died while on duty. It is that simple. Meet a soldier and meet someone who has known death first hand of a friend and colleague.
This psalm praises the Lord but also asks for vindication and justice to be served in the form of violence against those who might go against the wishes of the author. It is interesting that we find this author say that the glory of the Lord also lies in meting out justice on the kings and rulers of other lands who do not follow the way of the Lord. This is a bit in contrast with what we hear in Isaiah 19:25 which states: “Blessed be Egypt my people, and Assyria the work of my hands, and Israel my heritage.” At least in this Scripture we don’t have the author taking glee in the massacre of the enemies of the Lord. Here, rather, the enemies of the Lord, of which Egypt and Assyria were, and continue to be, the habitual enemies of the people of Israel, are called blessed. This is more along the lines of what Jesus promises and what Jesus would have espoused as a theme for His people.
This is a typical psalm of praise. Can you figure that out from how many times we hear the phrase: “Praise the Lord”? I would count 12 times that the word “praise” is used in relationship to what we ought to do for God. That is our task and our duty. If you ever memorized the Westminster Catechism, which I never did, you will remember what the first question is: What is the chief end of man? And the answer to that question is: “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” I love that answer. What is our chief end, what is the reason for our being? There is no greater reason to live than to glorify Him, read praise Him, and to enjoy him forever. I like that goal.
But if you notice in the psalm it isn’t just the people who are called to praise God. We find that every single living thing is called the praise God. Even the sea monsters! The Leviathan as Psalm 104 and 74 both point to, that creature that God could only have created and loved. Even that sea creature is called to praise the Lord. I wonder if this includes mosquitos.
You may not know it but there is a mountain in Israel that actually has snow. In fact, the more the ice cap is on the mountain, then the more secure Israel is in regards to water. The mountain is called Mt. Hermon and it is one of those areas of Israel that is contested. They say the one who controls the water, controls the region. If you take that logic out one more step, you can also say the one who controls the mountain, controls the region. Part of the mountain is in an area called the Golan Heights which was taken by the Israelis from the Palestinians and annexed by them in 1981.
When the psalmist speaks of snow and how it melts and provides the water, it is not a negative thing which we may envision, that is all positive in the mindset of the Middle Easterner. Water is life in that region of the world. This psalm is peppered with the phrase: “Praise the Lord.” For some reason this song came to my mind. It was one that I loved when I was in high school.
Actually, it is this song that I like from Mylon Lefever.
This is another psalm that needs to be matched up with a New Testament Scripture. But there is an Old Testament Scripture which also needs to be added. Go ahead and turn to Luke 4:18 and then again Isaiah 61:1. Keep in mind that the Luke Scripture is when Jesus is asked to read in the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth, and he does by taking the scroll of Isaiah. Once he reads it and says it is fulfilled in their sight they drive him out of town and look to cast him off the edge of the cliff of the town to his death. Below you can see the edge of the cliff of the town of Nazareth where this event is commemorated.
It is a precipice, without a doubt. Jesus is added to the number of messengers from the Lord who were cast out. In this Psalm it is interesting that the author, who could have been David, tells us not to trust in princes or mortals. He praises God because he knows that happy are those whose help is in the God of Jacob. Not happy are those who are great at taking the initiative and doing things on their own.
This psalmist tells us that God watches over the strangers, he doesn’t demand that they speak English. He upholds the orphan and the widow, he doesn’t remove their social net which allows them to survive day in and day out with the help of the ruling power. The more and more that I read the psalms, the more I see the hand of God which directs us to reach out and help the most vulnerable in our society. It is an imperative, it is a command from our creator. If we do not reach out to them, then we are no different from the people in the synagogue of Nazareth looking to keep their town in the way that it was. Here comes this preacher bringing new ideas. Let’s drive him out. These new ideas were based around the fact that the kingdom of God is not only open to everyone, but everyone ought to have a fair opportunity to live this life as a child of God. It is an incredibly powerful message for us today as well.
So I guess I would focus on vs.8-9 for this psalm. We have heard it before. This is absolutely a psalm of praise and thanksgiving, with no complaining or no request for the enemies to be destroyed and massacred like so many other psalms before it. I like that about this psalm.
Look at vs. 16 and think about the phrase: “You open your hand.” I’ll never forget when I was doing my psychological evaluation in order to become a pastor they had you draw your family. I am not an artist. So I used stick figures and it looked something like this:
I told you I’m not a good artist. But they gave me way more time than I needed, so I added hands to the figures, and on those hands were 5 fingers on each hand attached to the arm. By the time I was finished each figure was decked out with hands that had very visible long fingers. When the psychologist came into the room and saw what I drew I could tell that she was not pleased. When it came time for the evaluation I was told that because I drew “open hands”, that it meant that I had some repressed anger within me. Hmmm, maybe, but probably not because of the “open hands”.
Here in this psalm we find the image of the “open hands” as being a positive one. It was the source of that which satisfied desires of every living thing. I’ll take an open hand any day. But about that repressed anger…
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.