Category Archives: Psalms

Praise Yahweh!

“The ones who are raised up from the dust are the poor;

from the garbage heap, he lifts high the oppressed

to make them sit with noblemen;

with the noblemen of his people.

Making the barren woman dwell in a house—

a joyful mother of sons.

Praise Yahweh!”

(Psalm 113:7-9)

The last three verses of this psalm are a direct allusion to the prayer of Hannah (1 Samuel 2:8), Hannah praising God for his providential grace in opening her womb and in giving her a son.  Indeed, in Hannah’s case, she would not only go from being a barren woman with an empty house to being the mother of Samuel, the last Judge of Israel, but she would bear an additional three sons after Samuel as well as two daughters (1 Samuel 2:21).  What grace that God showed to this humble woman, and that grace is a sign of the wonderful care that God takes in lifting the poor and broken-hearted out of their sorry estates and raising them on the heights of joy on eagles wings.  Indeed, not only does God have a heart for ministering to the downtrodden, but should it be such a surprise that God commands our worship to also be one that is focused on the care of the poor, the orphan, and the widow (Isaiah 1:17; James 1:17)?  Richard Sibbes, the great Puritan writer, once wrote that God has two heavens: one that is glorious and high above and the second is the broken heart, which is a place that you just can’t keep God out of.  Indeed, how we must too be about our father’s work.

The question, though, that we must also dwell upon, is why, when God chooses to elevate some from the depths of their despair and barrenness, why does God not choose others who desire and pray earnestly that they might be given children?  Certainly, the obvious answer is that God is sovereign and does not need the council of men, but how do we see God comforting one for whom it is not in his plan to bring children?  There are several answers that we must give.  First, we must learn to trust in God’s providence.  God is sufficient in himself to bring joy even to the most wounded and broken heart.  Certainly that requires us to trust him to bring us such contentment, but he is more than able to bring contentment even to the most downtrodden soul.  Oh, how we fall prey to the lies of this world that our contentment can be found in other gods—even the god of family.  How we see being surrounded by family as the only solution to the loneliness that we often feel, whether it be children or a spouse that you long for or whether it be family that has been separated from you (by distance or death) that you miss.  Beloved, let it be God who brings solace to your troubled heart; let it be God that you surround yourself with during the day; let it be God that brings you rest; and let it be God who fills your home—none will fill your life more richly or more fully than he.

Second, we must ask ourselves, how is God is using these events, as deeply as they may grieve our souls, for the good of his glory.  God has promised us that he will work all things for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose (Romans 8:28), but we must always understand events by God’s standard of good, and not our own.  We often define good as that which is comfortable or easy; God defines good as that which reflects his character and brings him glory.  Beloved, how different a mindset that is than the mindset by which we usually operate.  Oh, how we should praise God even for the great trials of faith that we face, for these trials draw us closer to God and draw us deeper into his abundant mercies.  We may not understand the purpose behind the events of God here in this life, for which of us who are fallen and finite humans, can acts as a counselor to God, but we can be assured that God has good purposes in all his actions.

Loved ones, rejoice in God’s good providence, even if it does not unfold in your life the way that you think it ought.  Trust God and cling to his mercies that all that takes place in your life takes place in such a way that it honors him and brings him glory—and that it does so in such a way that men and women—unbelievers—are drawn to faith through you.  Remember that these psalms of praise that we know as the Hallel psalms carry with them evangelistic overtones.  Yet there is one other piece of the puzzle we must remember.  Not only are these psalms given for the purpose of evangelizing the nations—that the nations might see God’s goodness to his people and be drawn to praise (Psalm 117)—but they are also given for the purpose of evangelizing our children.  How our children need to see in us the joy that we feel in our God.  If they don’t see God being gloriously and magnificently gracious to us, then what will attract them to Christ?

Let all things their Creator bless,

And worship Him in humbleness,

O Praise Him!  Allelulia!

Praise, praise the Father, praise the Son,

And praise the Spirit, Three in one!

O Praise Him!  O praise Him!

Allelulia! Allelulia! Allelulia!

-St. Francis of Assisi

Who is Like our God?

“Who is like Yahweh, our God,

Who makes a high place to dwell;

Who upon the lowly ones will look—

Those in the heavens and the earth.”

(Psalm 113:5-6)

The psalmist poses a challenge to adherents of all other religions: “Who is like Yahweh, our God?”  In other words, he is saying, “Go, look at your gods; bring them to bear in comparison with our God.  Either your god is puny and bound upon the earth (or even bound to the heavens), or your view of God is that he is so transcendent that he cannot communicate to his believers.”  Our God, though, is unlike all of these false gods.  Our God is great and mighty and transcendent and created not only the heavens and the earth—but everything in the heavens and the earth as well!  Why worship the sun or the moon when our God put the sun and the moon into their orbits?  Why worship the animals when our God made the very animals in all of their majesty and variety?  Yet, as high and mighty as our God is—and there is none who is mightier—our God condescends to have a relationship with us as his people.  What an amazing God we have!  What a God we worship!  He is God above all other gods, and he alone should be worshipped!

Friends, have you ever stopped and thought about just how wonderful it is that we have a God that, though he is almighty, he comes down and forms a relationship with us. And, beloved, do not let the world fool you, that relationship is initiated, formed, and empowered by God’s sovereign work—not because you or I pursued God in just the right way.  We have a God that pursued us because he chose, in his wonderful grace, to reveal himself to us and to have a relationship with us.  Oh, loved ones, do you not know that we could know nothing of the infinite God if he had not designed to reveal himself to us?  Do you not know that we could never have gazed upon his beauty had he not revealed that beauty to us, nor could we have known the wonder of salvation had Christ not come to earth to bear the guilt of our sins and had God not inspired the prophets and apostles to write for us the words of truth and life that we know as the Holy Scriptures.

Beloved, do not take this privilege and gift lightly, it was given at a great cost of Jesus, God’s son, himself.  For had Christ not chosen to bear our iniquity, we would know nothing of our God apart from the wrath of his judgment.  How often we take for granted the wonder of the God we have.  How often we take lightly our own sin and the price that our sin caused our God to pay.  How often, in our conceit and arrogance, we think that we know all things about God when the fact that we can even apprehend God is a marvelous gift given to us—yet, how can the finite begin to comprehend the infinite—we simply cannot.  Cherish this remarkable privilege and gift, and rejoice in the one who has given such a gift to you—who has chosen to condescend and to have a relationship with you even in this lowly world.

Let Yahweh be Exalted!

“Exalted over all the peoples is Yahweh;

Above the heavens is His glory!”

(Psalm 113:4)

Oh, beloved, how great is our Lord and how worthy he is to be praised.  He is higher than the heavens—as far as we can see, we cannot see beyond him.  If we extend our technology to fathom the breadth and depth of the great sea of space we call the universe, we cannot exceed Him or escape his power.  God’s glory is demonstrated in all of his creation and as we gaze upon that creation we should simply stare in awe at what our God has done, and that awe should drive us to worship.  Yet, what is more, God’s glory not only eclipses the glory of the universe, God is to be praised by all the peoples of the earth.  Everywhere that mankind has left his mark; God is to be exalted.

Yet, dear friends, how can that happen if God is not made known.  These psalms carry with them a missionary call.  God is commanding all of the peoples of the earth to proclaim His excellencies, thus, it falls upon our shoulders, as those who do know His excellencies, to share the truth with those who don’t.  That means the neighbor down the street who is living apart from faith, the coworker who is living in sin, the sister or cousin who has rejected God, and the people from far away nations where the Gospel ministry has been suppressed, oppressed, or otherwise barred from reaching. Loved ones, you who know the wonderful and sacrificial love of Christ, how we must tell the world of the marvelous sufficiency of our God.  Oh, how we are given a call to tell the nations—beginning with those nations that live in the house next door.

We’ve a story to tell the nations,

That shall turn their hearts to the right,

A story of truth and mercy,

A story of peace and light,

A story of peace and light.

For the darkness will turn to dawning,

And the dawning to noonday bright;

And Christ’s great kingdom shall come on earth,

The kingdom of live and light.

-Henry Ernest Nichol

Praise the Lord All the Day!

“From the sun’s rising to its setting;

Let the name of Yahweh be praised.”

(Psalm 113:3)

When God speaks to Joshua, he tells him to take the writings of Moses (scripture) and to study them day and night so that he may walk faithfully before the Lord (Joshua 1:8).  There is an old story of a young rabbi who wanted to go study Greek philosophy.  His elder rabbi cited this verse from Joshua and told him to “go and find the hour that is neither day nor night and in that hour you may study Greek philosophy.”  In other words, if God thought that it was essential that Joshua, a man of great faith and integrity, keep the Scriptures before his eyes at all time so that he may walk faithfully, ought not we consider it of the same importance in our own lives?

Though the psalmist is speaking about praise and not specifically the study of God’s word, the principle expressed in both of these passages holds true.  How essential it is for us to give our lives to the praising of our Great God and King.  How essential it is for us to live out our lives in a deliberate way so as to bring glory and honor to the King of Kings!  How our lives need to be characterized by the praise of our God!  What a wonderful thing it is to worship our God, what a necessary thing it is to our well-being, but what a neglected thing it is for the people of God—especially if you only understand worship in terms of that which you do Sunday morning.

Beloved, worship of God is for all of life.  The psalmist says nothing of the Sabbath in this verse.  The psalmist says nothing of being in the gathering of the saints in this verse.  The psalmist simply says, from the sun’s rising to its setting—all of your waking hours—let your life praise the name of Yahweh.  How good it is for us, loved ones, to nurture this practice and mindset within our lives.  How important it is, if we are going to stay faithful to God, that we seek to live out our praise in all of life.  Beloved, be deliberate in seeking ways in which your daily, waking, activities can be used in the praise of our Great and infinitely praiseworthy, God and King.

Let the Name of Yahweh be Blessed!

“Let the name of Yahweh be blessed;

From now until eternity!”

(Psalm 113:2)

Oh, beloved, how the psalmist continues with his words of praise!  It is as if the psalmist has been so taken in delight as he sets forth to praise our God and King that he simply cannot contain it in a single verse, but continues on, elevating his praise to a new and more wonderful level.  And here he sets forth a wonderful command:  let the very name of Yahweh be praised, and let it be praised now and forever!  What a wonderful statement.  It is as if the psalmist is speaking to us through the generations and saying, you who fear the Lord, do not forget to honor and praise the name of our God in all you do whenever you do what you do.  What a statement it is that he sets before us.

When God gave us the Ten Commandments, the third commandment was to not take the Lord’s name in vain.  Usually, in modern times, we understand this in terms of slang and vulgarity, and certainly it is quite inappropriate to use our God’s name in such a way.  At the same time, the Hebrews understood this commandment to mean so much more.  They understood this commandment to also speak of using God’s name for empty or vain purposes—don’t take an oath in God’s name if you never intend to fulfill your part of the bargain, for example.  The word “vain” in Hebrew refers to something that is empty or insubstantial, and God commanded that in every use of his name, we are to do so in a substantial way.  Now, historically, the Hebrews eventually became so superstitious about not using his name properly, they stopped using his name at all.  Yet, here, the psalmist is teaching us how to use the name of Yahweh in a way that is not vain or empty—we are to praise it.  Just as God is holy, everything associated with him is holy and righteous and wonderful, and so, too, his name is worthy of our praise.  And, indeed, to take this principle to its logical end, we must look to Jesus, who was given the name which is above all other names, for he is God (Philippians 2:9).

Sometimes, loved ones, we struggle with this.  Sometimes we have a bad tendency to use God’s name in such a way that it is meant to gain us advantage.  Sometimes we simply tell people that we are Christians because we think that is what they want to hear.  Sometimes we do what is worse, and we use, if even accidentally in a slip-up, we use God’s name in a dirty, vain, and vulgar way—or we allow others in our presence to do so without telling them how offensive it is to us.  Beloved, the psalmist is reminding us that there is only one good and proper way to use God’s name, and that is to praise it!  Oh, loved ones, let us set our hearts and lives to doing just that, and let us speak truth into the lives of others to encourage them to do the same.  Let us honor the name of our God by lifting it up in praise and honor.

Jesus! The name that charms our fears,

That bids our sorrows cease;

‘Tis music in the sinner’s ears,

‘Tis life, and health, and peace.

-Charles Wesley

Praise Yahweh!

“Praise Yahweh, praise him you servants of Yahweh!

Praise the name of Yahweh!”

(Psalm 113:1)

Oh, beloved, how good it is to praise the name of Yahweh!  It nourishes the soul, it strengthens the resolve, and it guides the man or woman of faith in all decisions that they make.  We are a people of praise, set apart for the praise of God!  Praise defines who we are and it shapes our relationship not only with God but with other believers who come alongside of us to praise God’s holy name.  And God is praise-worthy!  He is true, he is righteous, he is holy, he is infinite and perfect in all of his attributes, he knows all, he can do all that is righteous and holy, and he is at all places all of the time.  He is more praiseworthy than the sun, the moon, the stars, the creation of human hands, the imagination of the human mind, or of anything else in the created order.  He is God, thus, he is to be praised.

The sad thing is that as wonderful as it is to praise God for who he is, there are many in our world today that do not praise God for who he is or even for what he has done.  Some of these would praise God for these things if they knew the truth about God, yet no one has come to them with the message of the good news.  Some have chosen to reject the message of the good news that has been presented to them and which pervades their culture.  And some fail to praise God because they think that they are praising God, but have just fallen into a ritualistic routine, and since they are sitting in a church week in and week out and since they do some good deeds, they comfortably think of themselves as believers, yet do not have a relationship with the one in whom they profess belief.  And to these, Jesus will say, “I never knew you” and cast out into utter darkness and torment (Matthew 7:21-23).  

One thing that these Hallel psalms constantly set before us is the importance of genuinely praising God for who he is and for what he has done.  In addition, they are a reminder that we are to labor to help others to understand the importance and the wonder of praise.  The praise of our God is praise for the whole world, for even the unbeliever owes God praise for all of the blessings that are found in this life (food, family, friendships, etc…).  Does not God bring rain on the just and unjust in this world (Matthew 5:45)?  Indeed, for the unbeliever to fail to worship God is an offense of the greatest degree.  How much greater, then, for the ones who know the truth?

Beloved, you are servants of Yahweh; praise his holy name.  Praise him with the words of your lips and with the actions of your life.  Praise him in your waking hours and praise him when you rest.  Praise him in your private hours and praise him in the congregation of the faithful, and call others to praise him as well!  Let your life be a life that sings forth praise and let that praise draw others to our great and praiseworthy Lord and High King as well.

Praise Him!  Praise Him! Jesus, our blessed Redeemer!

Sing, O Earth, His wonderful love proclaim!

Hail Him!  Hail Him! Highest archangels in glory;

Strength and honor give to His holy Name!

Like a shepherd, Jesus will guard His children,

In His arms He carries them all day long:

Praise Him!  Praise Him!

Tell of his excellent greatness.

Praise Him! Praise Him!

Ever in Joyful Song!

-Fanny Crosby

I Will Praise You Forever

“I will praise you forever, because of your work;

I will hope in your name, because it is good in the presence of your saints.”

(Psalm 52:11 [verse 9 in English translations])

And here, David, in the midst of the grief and sorrow of loss turns his heart to praise. What a remarkable statement and model for our lives we have in the character in this great king over Israel. How often we find ourselves stuck or absorbed by our grief that we can never find ourselves being pulled out of it; David says that even in the midst of this sorrow, he will give God praise because God has preserved his life and has promised to judge the wicked who have done these horrible things. Loved ones, God will avenge and will make right every wicked act that is done against the lives of his people; may we always follow David’s example and model that in our lives as we praise God in the midst of our crises. 

A note should be made here in terms of the word “saints” in translation. Literally, the word that David uses is חָסִיד (chasiyd), which is derived from the word, חֶסֶד (chesed). The word חֶסֶד (chesed), as we have discussed above, refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to us despite our lack of faithfulness in return. Similarly, then חָסִיד (chasiyd) refers to those who are the object or recipients of God’s חֶסֶד (chesed). In the New Testament, the term ἅγιος (hagios —  literally, “holy ones”) is rendered as “saints,” yet it seems that the sentiment being communicated is rather similar, for indeed, just as there are none of us who are deserving of God’s faithfulness apart from His divine grace, so too, there are none of us who are holy, but instead we are made holy by God’s divine grace through the completed work of his Son, Jesus Christ.

And it is we, the saints, who have faith in the name of God almighty. Notice that the language referring to “the name” of God is singular. God has many names that are applied to him in scripture, but in a very real sense, these names are just aspects of his one true and Triune name: Yahweh — “I am.” When Jesus gives the disciples what we now know as the “Great Commission,” we find him using the same language once again in the context of baptism: “you shall baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit” (Matthew 28:19b). Notice that it does not say, “in the names” (plural), but “in the name” (singular). God may be three persons, but he is one in name. And hope is one of those funny little things. It does not exist in and of its own right, but hope must rest on something (a promise, a coming reality, the character of another, etc…). For the believer, we hope in the name of God for we know that he will not forsake his character or his promises to those who are his holy ones.

Beloved, it is in that hope that we can draw confidence and know that God is our fortress and our protector. He will allow us to grow up strong within his gates. He will defend us against our foes. And he will be the one who will avenge us of the wickedness that the ungodly do against us because of His name. Trust Him to that end.

A Luxuriant Olive Tree

“Yet I am like a luxuriant olive tree in the house of God;

I trust in the chesed of God, eternally and forever.”

(Psalm 52:10 [verse 8 in English])

The choice of an olive tree is more significant than just that olives were a staple fruit of David’s day and in the region of Israel. While mature olive trees are fairly sturdy plants, when olive trees begin their growth they are rather weak saplings which typically need to begin their growth alongside of a sturdy fence or support. They need to be protected if they are going to grow in a healthy way. So it is with the believer. We need to grow healthy and strong within the stronghold of our mighty God and in his Word. All too often Christians believe that they can live in the world and grow strong on their own and with their own ideas. And then they wonder why it is that they have such a distorted view of the providence of God and of his grace. Loved ones, to grow healthy as believers, we must grow within the bounds and the confines of the walls of God’s word…it is our very life and breath.

The word “luxuriant” is a word that we don’t use much today, but it is yet a wonderful word; even the sound of it carries with it the feel of grace and fullness and health. A “luxuriant” olive tree is one that bears an abundance of large, ripe, olives; a luxuriant Christian is one whose life bears the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in abundance. It is strong and healthy and those who interact with the “luxuriant Christian” are attracted to Christ because of the life lived in the Spirit. How different this world would look if all confessing Christians would live lives so marked by God’s fruit — growing in God’s courts.

There is one characteristic of a “luxuriant” life that must be noted here as well, and that is  the trusting in the chesed of God. This Hebrew term is rendered in quite a few ways, depending on the English translation, but it conveys the idea of God’s covenantal faithfulness to us as his people despite our covenantal unfaithfulness in return. When we get a handle on God’s chesed, it will drive us to our knees in thanksgiving and humble prayer. The saint, David reminds us, trusts in this chesed of God and even when the believer does not see God’s hand at work around him, he trusts that God is yet being faithful and will yet continue to be so. Such is the mark that leads one to luxuriant living in Christ Jesus.

See and Fear

“The righteous shall see and fear, and they will mock. ‘Look at the mighty one who would not have God as his refuge and trusted in his abundance and riches! He found strength in his own destruction!”

(Psalm 52:8-9 [verses 6-7 in English translations])

It seems kind of odd to picture believers mocking the downfall of anyone. We are so used to the language of loving and forgiving our enemies, it seems that we have trouble reconciling the two. Of course, scripture doesn’t seem to see any disharmony in this. Yes, the psalmist is mocking those who have chosen to flee from God’s rule and into the means of their own destruction, but at the same time, repeatedly God’s word has called those outside of the faith to repent of their wicked ways and come to God for forgiveness. When one refuses the counsel of wisdom being offered is rejected and the person continues to choose folly, there is a sense that they are getting what they deserve. 

The language of the “mighty one” ought to be seen as sarcastic. Usually the term refers to a heroic warrior on the battlefield, but remember the one being spoken of in the immediate context is Doeg the Edomite, servant of Saul, who slew a family of priests…hardly something that would be marked as a glorious battle or achievement. Doeg trusted in his own status and the wealth of Saul, not taking counsel even from Saul’s other soldiers that attacking priests was just not to be done. How drastically sin and greed blind.

The final statement is the most significant of these two verses: “he found strength in his destruction.” In other words, the things that would destroy him are the things that he sought to magnify and revel in. Such is the pathway of sin. Paul writes in Romans 1 that part of God’s judgment is to withdraw his hand of restraint and allow you to pursue sin and wickedness to your own end. We bury ourselves in our sin, reveling in those things that undo us. How good the grace of God is that delivers us from this end, but how wicked we are in pursuing that end. Beloved, do not find strength in the things that will destroy you; find strength in God alone and you will live.

Loving Words of Confusion

“You love all of the words of confusion on a tongue of trickery.

But God will tear you down forever,

He will take you and drag you from your tent;

He will repeatedly uproot you from the land of the living.


(Psalm 52:6-7 {verses 4-5 in English Translations})

Here we transition and David proclaims the judgment of God against those whose words are filled with deceit, whose ends are their own stomachs, and whose love is to confuse (some translations render this word as “devour” as it shares a root with the word that means “to swallow,” yet in context, “confuse” seems to be a more accurate choice given the word’s range of meaning). Though the wicked love words of trickery (that double-tongue, speaking out of both sides of their mouth), God loves words of truth and will punish those whose ends differ from his own. God will tear them down, he will drag them from their homes, and over and over, he will uproot them from the land of the living. He will lay bare their generation.

How liberating it is to know that we have a God who will bring those who tear us down and destroy us into judgment — a God who will frustrate the plans of the wicked and establish the righteous in places of security. Your initial response might be, “But wait a minute, in the world we live in it seems like the wicked prosper and the righteous get beaten down.” Indeed, that was David’s experience as he was writing this psalm. At the same time, while David did not see the whole of the big picture, he did stand in the confidence of knowing that God does see the big picture and his hand controls every step we take. All too often, when we are in the midst of trials, we cannot see what it is that God is doing, or, we get focused on how we would like God to work out his plan for his church and not on how God is working out his plan for his church. And we are HIS church, by the way…

Ultimately life and blessing and judgment is about God and not about me. It is his will and his design and we can find our comfort in knowing that once everything is said and done, and we are finally able to understand the plan and design of God for our lives from His perspective, our words of response will be, “Blessed is the Name of the Lord, Amen!”

Loving Evil over Good

“You love evil over good;

A lie over speaking righteousness.


(Psalm 52:5 {verse 3 in English Translations})

Selah! Indeed, Selah! We arrive at the first stanza break and we begin to ready ourselves for the affirmation that God’s name will be vindicated; David is moving from despair over what has taken place to reminding his soul that God is just and the wicked will be utterly destroyed. If there is a sense of pity here, it is because the wicked know that they will receive the judgment of God, yet pursue their evil schemes in spite of that knowledge. 

As we have noted in discussions of other psalms, we do not know what the word “selah” means. Most suggest it is a liturgical term long lost to history, but exactly what that term indicated is anyone’s best guess. Some suggest that it indicates a key change, others suggest that it is a musical interlude. Others have suggested that it is a place where the singer would raise his voice. It comes from the verb that means to “throw or hurl something away from you.” Perhaps it could be a reminder that these verses are being sung not simply to one another, but lifted up toward God and hurled in his direction as a prayer. The only thing that we can be absolutely sure of is that no one is absolutely sure of what they mean.

Regardless of the meaning of “selah,” the meaning of the rest of the verse is clear. The wicked have set their hearts on evil instead of good and they are committed to lying over speaking words of truth, justice, and righteousness. How sad it is that we live in a world where we are surrounded by those who would choose wickedness over righteousness. Yet, it ought to grieve our hearts further that we live in a world where so many who profess faith in Christ choose to treat lying (one of the things that God considers evil) so casually. “It won’t hurt anyone” or “it is just a ‘little-white-lie’” people profess. Because God is truth, a lie either great or small, is a departure from living out God’s character in our lives — more importantly, as Satan is the Father of Lies (John 8:44), it reflects that we cannot discern the difference between God and Satan in whose character we are seeking to live out. 

There was a time when the Christian’s word was considered his bond and assurance. No longer in our culture is that so. Today, many professing Christians live out their lives in ways that are little different than the pagans around them and then turn around and wonder why the non-believing world has such a low view of the church. If we wish to see our culture change, the culture of the Christian church will need to lead the way. Seeking the goodness — the character of God — in our lives needs to be the pillars on which our lives are supported both individually and corporately as the body of Christ. It is a transformation that can take place in a generation, the question is whether or not we are willing to commit ourselves to making that transformation.

Planning Destruction

“Destructions are planned by your tongue;

As a sharpened razor, you work treachery.”

(Psalm 52:4 [verse 2 in English translations])

Normally, we are not used to seeing the word “destruction in the plural.” Destruction is more or less total and the idea of repeating a destruction over and over seems rather redundant. At the same time, as David writes these words, he is communicating a great and deep truth when dealing with wicked people: wickedness feeds on itself. The wicked do not simply find their satisfaction in tearing you down once, but repeatedly they delight in kicking you down as you try and stand up. The question does not so much lie in whether they will be there with a boot to kick you in the head, but whether you are going to continue trying to stand as they continue trying to beat you down. Jesus said:

If the world hates you, know that it hated me before you. If you were from the world, the world would love as one in the same. But because you are not from the world—rather I chose you from the world—for this, the world hates you. Remember the word which I spoke to you—a slave is not greater than his lord. If they drove me out, they will also drive you out. If they treasure my word, they will also treasure yours. 

(John 15:18-20)

To drive the word-picture home, David continues by speaking of the tongue’s work of planning destruction as being like a sharpened razor, slicing away all that it touches and being the tool of treachery. The word that we render as “treachery” comes from the Hebrew root hAm∂r (ramah), which means “to abandon” or “to betray.” Of course, the ultimate betrayal of all time is that of Judas betraying our Lord Jesus Christ. At the same time, how often the actions of the world are marked by betrayal when dealing with believers in Christ Jesus.

More importantly, the contrast between the world’s oppression and the faithfulness of God should be made. While the world seeks destruction and betrayal, God builds up his own and promises never to leave or abandon us. It is sad that so often when people desire to be nurtured and treasured they turn only to those places that will betray and destroy. Of course, it is also sad that often the Christian church follows the world’s lead and betrays its own rather than demonstrating the love and faithfulness of Christ even when such things are difficult. Jesus said that the world will know that we are his disciples on the basis of our love for one another — when we choose not to live out that love in fellowship, what does it say about the quality of our witness? 

Praise to Evil?

“Why is it that you offer praise to evil, oh great one? 

The steadfast love of God lasts for all the day.”

(Psalm 52:3 [verse 1 in English translations])

Remember the context, it has just been reported to David that Doeg the Edomite has turned in the family of Achimelek for aiding David. All but Abiathar are murdered at Saul’s command as a result. Thus, the “great one” or “mighty one” in the text is Saul, with David raising the question, “Why do you praise evil works? They are short lived, yet God’s grace endures and will fill you throughout the day. 

One of the marvelous aspects of the Psalms, though, is that they are written not just by David for the situation that David happens to find himself in. Instead, David writes them to express his struggle and prayer to God and then gives them to the church — to you and to me — as tools so that we can express our own struggles when similar situations arise. Fortunately, if we reside in America, the chance of someone coming and murdering our whole family because we supported “the other candidate” for leadership in the community is not likely. At the same time, if we live out our faith and challenge the wickedness around us, opposition will arise and there will be times of frustration and grief that will cause you to throw your hands up in the air and your face to the ground seeking deliverance from those who seek to do you ill. For those times, David gives us these psalms to teach us how to express our heart in a way that is honoring to God. Though the situations themselves may vary, the anguish of our heart remains the same. God has provided for our needs in psalms like this.

David, Doeg, and a Maskil

“To the director of music: a Maskil of David. When Doeg the Edomite came and declared to Saul, saying to him: ‘David has come to the house of Achimelek.”

(Psalm 52:1-2 [Superscript in English Translations])

Though this psalm can be sung and prayed in many contexts, those with superscripts like this one give us a great deal of help in understanding the context within which the psalm was written. At this point in history, David is still on the run from Saul; he and his men are weary and hungry, and he goes to the priests at Nob (where the Tabernacle was at the time) and received the shewbread as well as Goliath’s sword (1 Samuel 21). Jesus himself refers to this event when he teaches that the Pharisaical restrictions on the Sabbath day did not apply to him or to his disciples (Mark 2:23-28).

What follows is disturbing to say the least. Doeg the Edomite tells Saul that Achimelek (whose name interestingly means: “Brother to the King”) has collaborated with David. While Saul’s own men refuse to strike down the priest of God; Doeg does not share that reservation, takes his men, and slays Achimelek and his family — 85 persons in all. Only Abiathar (whose name means: “My Father Gives Generously”) escapes to warn David (1 Samuel 22).

Thus in his time of distress and righteous anger (for the priests of God were slain), David turns to prayer and writes this psalm. We don’t know whether he wrote it immediately as his response to the news that Abiathar brings or later as he recalls this event, either way, these words reflect his heart’s response in the face of such tragedy.

It raises the question as to how our hearts respond to tragedy as well. Do we resort to prayer? Do we lift our hands in frustration and anger? Or, can we stand with David in utter astonishment at the brazen acts of sinful men and proclaim that we will wait patiently for God to vindicate his name. This does not mean that there is not a time to act, David did often, but often we get confused between the expression of our own difficulties and standing for the honor of our God and King. Also, are the words that come from our mouth in times of trial like these characterized by slander or worship? David’s words have guided the worship of God’s people for generations; can we say the same about our own words uttered at such times?

The Lord of Armies is with Us

“Yahweh Tsabaoth is with us;

A high stronghold is the God of Jacob. Selah!

(Psalm 46:12 {verse 11 in English })

And the psalmist closes with the refrain, repeated from verse 8 (verse 7 in English versions). Though the world might come to an end, the God of Armies is with us. He is our guard and our shelter from the storms of life and the enemies that would seek to do us harm. He is the beginning and the end, the Alpha and the Omega. He is the Lord of Hosts. And he is with us.

If we believe these words, why do we struggle so when it comes to engaging the world with the truth of the Gospel of Jesus Christ? Why do we fear that which cannot threaten or harm us? I, like many, suffer from a fear of heights. Even in a glass elevator, where I am perfectly safe and protected as I am lifted upwards, the fear causes my pulse to rise and my grip on the railing in the elevator to grow very tight. Why? Phobias are irrational fears, and though they affect us in real ways, when you look honestly at them, they are kind of foolish. Why should I fear riding high in the air in a glass elevator? Nothing will harm me! Yet my knees grow weak. It seems that many Christians, while not necessarily suffering from a phobia of heights, suffer from a phobia of sharing their faith. Some jokingly refer to this as “witnessophobia,” but let us speak honestly — it is an irrational fear that stems from a sinful heart and a fear of rejection. Friends, don’t fall into this trap, our God is the Lord of Armies and a high stronghold and he has not given us a spirit of fear but one of power and love and self-control (2 Timothy 1:7). Why hesitate; go, share the love and truth of Christ Jesus with a friend or neighbor that does not know him so that they too may find refuge in the Lord of all Refuge…Selah!

Let Go…

“Let go and know that I am God;

I will be exalted amongst the peoples;

I will be exalted on the earth.”

(Psalm 46:11 {verse 10 in English})

This is one of those wonderful passages of scripture that is given to focus and comfort us at every turn in our lives. It is a passage that I have often quoted as I have counseled people struggling with hurt, loss, and anxiety and it is a passage that I have often quoted to myself as I have gone through struggles of my own. Much like a loving parent, God is saying to us, “Relax, don’t get so wound up in this or that, learn to trust my providence for my grace is sufficient for you.”

Typically, we see the first line rendered, “Be still and know that I am God.” Literally, the Hebrew word used here means to let go of something. It is a picture of God telling us to let go of all of those things that we are trying to control by our own efforts and he is saying, “Trust me, I will work things through.” Certainly that does not mean we are to sit back and never do anything because God uses us as tools to do his work in this world. But it does mean that we should not get so uptight about the process for God is in control. Jesus himself cautioned us not to feel anxious about tomorrow (Matthew 6:25-34). We have a God who has ordered all things according to the counsel of his own will (Ephesians 1:11) and that God loves us, so why waste our days fretting and worrying about what might happen or about what might have happened. We can only live in the present; God says, “Let go and know that I am God.”

I suppose that letting go is one of the hardest things for us to do. Our struggle with doing so goes back to the Fall of Adam and Eve, each wanting to do their own thing rather than trusting a loving God to order their days. How much we have yet to learn as we go through the process…

But do not miss the rest of this verse in the context of the psalm as a whole. Paul writes in Philippians that there will come a time when every tongue will confess and every knee will bow that Jesus Christ is Lord (Philippians 2:9-11). When will it be that God is properly lifted up amongst the nations and throughout the earth? It will take place when justice rolls down the mountains like rain upon the wicked and they are finally and eternally brought into submission to the glory of Jesus Christ our Lord. So why be still? Because the God we worship wins in the end…hands down and with no qualifications. And if we are trusting in him, then who can stand against us? Why should we fear the world when we serve the one who has overcome the world on our behalf? Beloved, this is the call and command of God, let go and know in the very depths of your being that our God reigns and he cannot be moved from the designs he has set forth.

Earth and Bow are Shattered

“Come and see the deeds of Yahweh;

How he has brought destruction upon the earth.

He causes wars to cease unto their end;

The earth and bow are shattered;

And the spear is smashed to bits.

The wagons he burns with fire.”

(Psalm 46:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English translations})

If you compare the translation above with most modern English translations, you will notice a slight variation in the third and fourth lines. Typically, the language reads: “He causes wars to cease unto the end of the earth and the bow is shattered.” Yet, this is not how the Hebrew literally reads. Instead, it reads that “the earth and bow are shattered.” Modern translators have taken note of the oddity of grouping the earth and the bow together and instead chose logically to include the bow with the language about the spear and to see the language about the earth as simply describing the extent of the peace that God will bring. 

Yet, in rendering he Hebrew in the way most modern translators do, I believe that they miss the force of what the psalmist is seeking to communicate. The Hebrew language contains a system of accents that work along with the text. Some of these accents are simply for pronunciation as the language does not contain written vowels. There are additional accents, though, that group words together conceptually, something that is especially valuable in poetic writing. And the accent system in this psalm groups the earth and bow together in terms of those things that will be utterly destroyed and shattered by our almighty God. 

I have already suggested that this psalm is eschatalogical in nature — in other words, it speaks of end times. Indeed, even if we were to render the language as our typical English Bibles do, when will we arrive at a time when all wars will cease? Certainly so long as there is sin in the world, wars will rage — even between professedly Christian peoples and nations. Even within a Christian nation, do not Christian denominations wage war with one another? Certainly we do not use bows and spears, but we do use words and accusations. Why must the weapons of war be so narrowly defined as being the weapons that bring death? Beloved, so long as there is sin on the earth, wars of one form or another will rage between nations, between groups of people, and even within families and churches.

And before the sin is wiped clean from the earth, there will come a time of eternal judgment where even the heavens and the earth will be melted down and remade, cleansed from the effects of the fall, and recast as paradise — Jesus bringing to completion what Adam and Eve were supposed to work as they tended the garden of paradise. So, it will not only be the weapons of war that God utterly destroys, but the battleground upon which those wars took place will also find its cessation. And once again, we are speaking of eternal judgment.

The final note needs to be added about the final clause of this verse. The dominant English translation is that the “chariot” will be burned with fire. The term that is used here is  עֲגָלָה (agalah), which literally refers to a farm wagon or threshing cart, not to a chariot (מֶרְכָּב — merekkab). Again, this is where the translators took contextual liberties and decided that if the psalmist was speaking of bows and spears being destroyed, so he must be speaking of chariots and other wheeled vehicles of war. The NIV translators seemed to recognize that the word “chariot” was not consistent with the language of the Hebrew text, but chose again to assume a militaristic tone and rendered the word עֲגָלָה (agalah) as “shield” given that the root-word is עָגַל (agal), which means “round.” Shields were round (as well as wheels), hence the decision they made in translation.

So, what would make the psalmist include the language of a threshing cart in the things that God is destroying? The simplest answer seems to be that God is destroying all of the effects of sin in his final judgment and one of the judgments in the fall is sweat and toil. There was work prior to the fall and there will be work in the new creation, but there will also be food in abundance in the new creation and the sweat and toil that is represented by working the ox-carts through the fields will be wiped away. No longer will our farmers slave, scratching a living from the soil, but food will be abundant and accessible to all.

Loved ones, our God is a mighty God and judgment is coming for all who reject his power and grace. For some, that time of judgment is something to be feared. For the believer, trusting in Jesus Christ as his Lord and Savior, it is something that we look toward with hope for all of the effects of sin will be wiped clean from our homes and world and we will dwell in paradise forever.

Come and See the Deeds of Yahweh!

“Come and see the deeds of Yahweh;

How he has brought destruction upon the earth.

He causes wars to cease unto their end;

The earth and bow are shattered;

And the spear is smashed to bits.

The wagons he burns with fire.”

(Psalm 46:9-10 {verses 8-9 in English translations})

Come and see the deeds of Yahweh! Indeed, the psalmist calls to us to witness the power and the might of our Lord. Usually, when you hear this kind of language, the images that come to mind are images of grace and mercy given to the undeserving, yet that is not the direction that the psalmist takes as he challenges us to come and see. Instead, he speaks of the destruction brought by God’s judgment. The word he uses here is שַׁמָּה (shammah), which is a term that is always used to refer to the destruction that follows judgment. Sometimes this word is rendered as “atrocities” to give it more force from the perspective of those under said judgment.

And indeed, God’s wrath is horrific for those under his judgment. Think about those who perished in the flood of Noah’s day or in the fall of Sodom and Gomorrah. Think of the plagues that God set upon the Egyptians and even the judgments against those like Korah who rebelled in the wilderness wanderings. In the Israelite entrance into the Promised Land, God commanded entire cities be put to the ban; bringing death to every living thing that dwelled within the city. And then in God’s own judgment poured out against his Son, Jesus, when he was on the cross of Calvary. Indeed, these are horrific events, but events with a purpose.

Often Christians shy away from the language of God’s wrath, but in doing so, they leech the Gospel of its power. If we do not have a clear-eyed-view of what it is that we are being saved from, we will not appreciate the salvation that is extended. James says that the demons tremble at the name of God (James 2:19); unbelieving men and believing men alike rarely give God’s wrath a second thought. Why this contrast? It is because the demons know the justice of God is poured out in wrath and that they are bound to receive it in full; men have deceived themselves into thinking that God is little more than a senile grandfather who dotes on his grandchildren. What a rude awakening many will receive.

So what is the purpose of such events? On one level they are meant as a warning to us to drive us to our knees in repentance. In addition, they are a reminder that God is a just God who will not allow sin to go unpunished. Sometimes, when we look at judgment, we may be tempted to cry out as children so often do, “not fair!” Yet, were we to really grasp the magnitude of our own sin we would be forced to concede that God indeed is fairness defined. It is only through and because of the work of Christ that we have any reason to hope for an escape from judgment because he took our judgment upon himself.

Indeed, come and see the justice of our God! To you who believe, know that in our God we have a strong refuge but to you who stand firmly in your own arrogance and pride; beware, for the judgment of God is horrific indeed. Hell is a place where the fires burn and are never quenched, where the worms consume and never go away, where we are eternally in the process of being torn down and are separated from anything that is good. Such is the just punishment for our sins against a Holy and Righteous God. Praise be to God for the redemption that is given in Jesus!

Yahweh Tsabaoth

“Yaheweh Tsabaoth is with us;

A high stronghold for us is the God of Jacob. Selah!”

(Psalm 46:8 {verse 7 in English})

What a wonderful statement the psalmist makes. This is the kind of statement that ought to be set in stone on our patios and stenciled on our walls. It should be the words we are reminded of when we wake up and engage the day and that give us comfort when we lie down to sleep. Our God is a refuge that will keep us and preserve us and in his hands we have no need to fear.

This verse is begun with a fairly common title of God: יהוה צְבָאוֹת (Yahweh Tsabaoth) — literally, “Yahweh of Armies” or “LORD of Hosts.” Hosts, in this context, are not those people that wait tables, but are the hosts of soldiers at the beck and call of a general. In this case, it is the Heavenly Host that is spoken of, the hosts of angels that serve at the word and command of God on high. As Christians, we often only think of God in terms of “Jesus meek and mild” and forget that after the resurrection the language we find describing our Lord is of a mighty warrior coming on a horse to destroy his enemies and to liberate his people from the effects of sin in the world around us. This is the mighty God we serve and this is the reason we should have no fear — for Yahweh of Armies is with us!

And not only that, but our God provides for us a stronghold in which to dwell. The word for stronghold, used 11 times in the Book of Psalms (twice in this psalm!) is derived from the Hebrew word שָׂגַב (sagab), which refers to something that is inaccessible to the reach of human hands. Thus the idea of a stronghold is not simply marked by strong walls of defense, but it is marked by a high elevation where none but the eagles will roost. And it is from that vantage point that the psalmist describes those who trust in Yahweh as their God. Though the enemy may roar like a lion, the stronghold is quite secure.

So, beloved, why do you fear from within such a stronghold? Do you not trust your God to protect you from slander and from sword? Do you fear the enemy who would malign your name when you are safely behind the walls of our God? Do you fear harm when the mighty hosts of heaven are unleashed in our defense? Loved ones, why do we go about our lives acting with such fear when it comes to sharing what is true with those around us. Do we love those around us so little that we will not show them the pathway to safety in God’s arms — a pathway that leads through the gate of Jesus alone — that we are unwilling to show them the way? How often we act as if we are safe it does not matter what happens to others around us. Is that love? We call it courage when someone runs into a burning building to save someone who is trapped inside; why do we Christians exhibit such cowardice when it comes to the many people trapped in their sin that dwell around us? Loved ones, we have a mighty God to protect us, let us cast fear to the side and boldly share the truth about life in the confidence of the stronghold we have.

God is in Her Midst

“God is in her midst; she will never be moved.

God will help her at the dawn of the morning.”

(Psalm 46:6 {verse 5 in English})

As we continue to explore this psalm, the language more and more points us to the consummation of all things when Christ will remake this world and establish the New Jerusalem, the eternal city where he will dwell permanently in the presence of men. What city of men is there that cannot be moved? Athens fell. Babylon fell. Rome fell. Constantinople fell. Nations rise and fall; none are eternal but the nation that God will establish in his time. And why will it be eternal? It will not be because of the work or craftsmanship of men, but it will be because of the presence of God himself in its midst.

Even the language of the “dawn of the morning” is language that anticipates the return of the Messiah. Peter speaks of the “morning star” rising (2 Peter 1:19) to speak of that time when the darkness that shrouds this fallen world will be ultimately lifted and in that day we will no longer need the lamp of scripture for the light of day (Christ’s perfect presence) will be with us. John uses similar language as well in the book of Revelation when Jesus refers to himself as the bright morning star (Revelation 22:16). 

Yet, for now we wait, dwelling as members of the Church…the shadow of the Kingdom of God to come in its fullness. And how, much like the Royal Temple, where the presence of God is, the church will not fall. Yet, how sad it is that God is so often not welcomed and embraced at the doorways of our church bodies. How awful it is that we often do not even ask for him to come into our midst, for we often would much prefer to do things our own way rather than the way of the King. In doing things our own way, we may find success by the standards of men, but in doing so we will crumble. In doing things in the way the King has prescribed, while men will shake their heads and fists at us, the church will live on. Beloved, to whom will you run in the day of trial? Yet know this, if you run to Christ, he will demand that your life reflect His design and not your own. Flee to him and submit to his rule; there is no better or richer way to live and to die in this world.

A Stream to Rejoice the City of God

“There is a stream whose conduits rejoice the city of God;

The Holy Tabernacle of the Most High.”

(Psalm 46:5 {verse 4 in English})

There is a sense here that the psalmist is looking both backwards and forwards as he rejoices in God’s blessings to his people. He is looking backwards and remembering the four rivers by which the Garden of Eden was watered and perhaps even the stream of water that followed the people through the wilderness during their 40 years of wilderness wandering (hence the language of God “tabernacling” with his people). There is also a sense of anticipation to a recreation event where the streams will once again flow through the center of God’s holy city (Revelation 22:1), something that Ezekiel anticipates (Ezekiel 47:1-12). 

Yet, there is something more than an anticipation that is in sight here in this verse. Depending on how late the dating of this psalm happens to be, we may also see a fulfillment of this passage found in Hezekiah’s Tunnel (2 Chronicles 32:30). Anticipating Sennacherib’s siege over Jerusalem, he had a tunnel cut between the Spring of Gihon and what we know as the Pool of Siloam (meaning “Sent”) inside the walls of Jerusalem. This tunnel is one of the marvels of the ancient world in terms of the engineering required to form said tunnel with two teams, each cutting from different ends and meeting in the middle. This tunnel provided a fresh stream of water coming into the walls of the city making it much more defensible when attacked. 

The term that the psalmist uses to speak of the conduits is פֶּלֶג (peleg), literally refers to an artificial water channel cut through an otherwise dry area. For this to be Hezekiah’s Tunnel, then, that would require a dating of this psalm in exilic or post-exilic times, something that would make it consistent with the language being used by Ezekiel already mentioned. One might suggest that the artificial water channel might be the channel God cut through the wilderness to follow them in the Exodus, but given the reference to “the City of God,” Jerusalem seems clearly in sight. 

The last thing that we should note is the use of the title “Most High” to refer to God. In Hebrew, this is one word, עֶלִיוֹן (Elyon), though He is sometimes referred to as אֵל עֶלִיוֹן (El-Elyon) or “God Most High.” This is significant not only because it speaks of the exalted nature of our God, but that it is one of the terms used in the New Testament to speak of Jesus, for the Angel pronounced to Mary that Jesus would be referred to as the “Son of the Most High” (Luke 1:32), a statement designed to connect our Lord and Savior to references in the Old Testament. 

Our God is good and he makes provisions for his people during times of trial and times of rest, the key is found in learning to trust those avenues of provision and glorifying him in the midst of the sanctuary for all he has done. Loved ones, pursue God with all your heart and might, for indeed, the God that will restore the Holy City in that final day of remaking is the same God that will carry and provide for you throughout life. Trust him to do just that and do not lean on your own understanding.

When the Waters Roar

“If the waters roar and swell

And the mountains are torn asunder

in his eminence… Selah.”

(Psalm 46:4 {verse 3 in English})

This verse forms the conclusion of the previous one. Again, the language of the waters being churned up and the mountains being rent asunder and utterly obliterated is in sight, but the final clause of this verse adds a new element. Each of the English translations that I have come across render it something like “at its swelling.” The picture that they paint is that of the mountains being destroyed by the sea that is rising up and crashing against it — a natural effect of erosion and water that is intensified during great storms.

The term that is being rendered here is the Hebrew word hÎwSaÅ…g  (ga’awah) and only in this one case do our English Bibles render this term as “roaring” as the sea might do. Most commonly this term is used to describe someone acting arrogantly or pridefully as found in Isaiah 13:11 where God is judging mankind for their arrogance before him. Our English translators have recognized this and presume that the psalmist is personifying the wave and thinking that the wave is acting arrogantly as it tears asunder the mountain. Yet, that does not suit the spirit of the psalmist’s words. The psalmist is speaking of one’s trust in God no matter what takes place even if taken to the point of the end of the earth, when God rends all things asunder. 

Yet, how does the idea of pride or arrogance play into the interpretation of this psalm? Well, the term גַּאֲוָה (ga’awah) only is translated as “pride” or “arrogance” when applied to men, yet when you find the verse applied to God, as in Deuteronomy 33:26 and Psalm 68:35, it speaks of His majesty and glory. Why is the term rendered differently when applied to God and to men? It should be obvious in that God is power and might and glory and majesty exemplified. One cannot boast greatly enough or wonderfully enough in his name, but we men do little more than play at glory in comparison. Our glory is as far separated from the Glory of God as a flickering candle is separated from the mighty sun. Thus, when men speak of their own glory, it is arrogance; yet when we speak of the glory of God, it is rightly ascribed.

Scripture often speaks of the earth quaking in the presence of God, especially as it anticipates end things. Here is just one more example of scripture speaking as such. Indeed, once again, as the Psalmist proclaims, we will not fear the coming of God’s presence in power and even in judgement, for indeed we are finding our refuge and our glory in him. May all others quake in fear.

When the Earth Shakes

“Therefore I will not fear when the earth shakes

and when the mountains are shaken into the heart of the sea.”

(Psalm 46:3 {verse 2 in English Bibles})

“As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet:

‘The voice of the one crying out in the wilderness — Prepare the road of the Lord, make straight his paths. All the ravines shall be filled and all the mountains and high places shall be humbled. That which is crooked will be made straight and that which has been disturbed will be made into smooth paths. And all flesh will see the salvation of God.’”

(Luke 3:4-6)

“Truly I say to you, the one who says to this mountain, ‘Get up and be cast into the sea,’ and is not uncertain about it in his heart, rather in faith says that it will come to pass; it will be.’”

(Mark 11:23)

“But if one of you is deficient in wisdom, let him ask from the God who gives generously and without reproach and he will give it to him. Whoever asks in faith without being uncertain, for the one who is uncertain is like the waves of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.”

(James 1:5-6)

“But the day of the Lord will come as a thief. The heavens will pass away like thunder and the elements will be burned up and undone — even the earth! And the works done in it will be revealed.”

(2 Peter 3:10)

Because Yahweh is a great refuge for all who run to him, there is no need to fear no matter what transpires in the world around us. The earth may quake, the mountains may rumble and spew flames into the sky, the winds may roar, and the waters may rise up over the homes; the nations may rise and fall, but our God is still enthroned and he will preserve those who flee to him. We may face trial and famine and the sword, but Christ is our redeemer always. How we conspire to build our own empires; there is only one kingdom that will stand for all eternity — the kingdom that shall never be moved and which was formed by no human hand — the Kingdom of God. And Jesus Christ, our redeemer, sits enthroned as the head and Firstborn Son of that great eternal kingdom.

But there is more in view than just the troubles of this life. The psalmist speaks of the earth trembling and the mountains being thrown into the heart of the sea. That language carries with it some rich Biblical connotations. The word that I translated as “shakes” or “shaken” is the term מוֹר (mor). Literally, this term means to exchange one thing for another or to change one thing into something different, often with destructive connotations. The word picture here, as the term is applied to nature, reflects a violent transformation that is taking place. The psalmist is not only stating that he does not fear natural disasters and troubles, but that he also does not fear the hand of God bringing destruction and eventually a remaking to the very earth itself. Peter picks up on this language in his second epistle, reminding the church that there will come a time when God does just what this psalmist is speaking of, tearing the creation to shreds, molting it down, and remaking creation free from the effects of sin. 

For those trusting in Jesus, that is good news. For those who are enemies of Jesus, that is fearful indeed. Hence, when Jesus is beginning his public ministry, John the Baptist quotes from Isaiah 40 and proclaims to the people that in the coming of Jesus the very mountains will be laid low and the uneven places will be made straight and smooth. On one level, this is speaking about the hearts of men; on an eternal level, this is speaking of the consummation of history as we know it, ushered in on that Great Day of the Lord.

The question is whether or not you are ready? How about your children, parents, cousins, neighbors, coworkers, or others you interact with? How about the many people who you simply do not know, but who are alive in this world. Will you tell them? Will you make sure they are ready? Will you make sure that you are ready? Find your refuge in Jesus Christ the Lord.

Are you ready for the great atomic power?

Will you rise and meet your Savior in the air?

Will you shout or will you cry when the fire comes from on high?

Are you ready for the great atomic power?

-Charles Louvin

A Place of Refuge

“God is to us a place of refuge and strength;

A helper in distress he is very much found to be.”

(Psalm 46:2 {verse 1 in English Bibles})

While the wording of the second line of this verse is a little awkward in English, I rendered it so in the hopes of preserving the original Hebrew word order. Often, when the Hebrews were wanting to add emphasis, they would use what we today call a “chiastic structure.” So called for the Greek letter c (chi) which is shaped like an “x,” as you move from line one to line two, there is a repetition of ideas in reverse order — if you assigned letters to the ideas, the first line would go “A, B” and the second line, “B’, A’.” 

This verse is a great illustration of this Hebrew approach to writing. The psalmist begins by making the statement, “God is to us a place of refuge and strength.” The first concept is God, he would be “letter A” as we approach the verse. The second concept is “a place of refuge and strength” would be letter “B.” Were we to hear this statement about God for the first time, we might be inclined to ask ourselves, “what then does it mean for God to be our place of refuge and our strength?” The psalmist answers us in the second line of this verse, though he reverses the order to drive the point home with emphasis. To be a place of refuge means that he is a helper in distress (B’) and then the pronoun (he — which refers to God) is placed in the back end of the line (A’).

Okay, so one might be tempted to say, “that is nice, but unless I happen to be studying Hebrew poetry, why is that important?” And that would be a good question. My answer is in two parts. First and on the most basic level, this is the word of God and he has chosen to give us his word in lots of different styles and forms — in this case, in poetic form. This word is designed to equip us to do every good work in life (2 Timothy 3:16-17). It should follow, then, that the better we understand this word that God has given us, the better we will live out our lives to the honor and glory of God in Christ Jesus. 

On a more personal note, though, think of the Bible as a love letter from God to ourselves. When we receive a letter from one we love and adore, we savor every word and dash that our lover has given us. We read it over and over and over again and dwell on each idea that is expressed. Why not also do this with God’s word? Is there any better love letter that we might receive? Is there any person who loves us more greatly or more deeply that God does? Oh, beloved, immerse yourself in God’s word — drench your life in it that you may grow richly in it and dwell upon the author of that word even more closely and deeply every day of your life.

And as we move back toward the words of this verse, note one more thing in this description. God is our helper in distress. The word that the psalmist uses here is צָרָה (tsarah), which in Hebrew is the polar opposite of salvation. Thus the psalmist is not just speaking of troubles with rambunctious children or an irritating neighbor; the psalmist is speaking of everything being wrecked in his life, not only physically, but spiritually as well. The psalmist is not crying out these words because he has had a bad day, but because he desperately needs someone to save him…to deliver him from his wretched state. It is in this context and especially in this context that God shows himself to be a place of refuge and strength to the weak. This is what the Apostle Paul relates as well to the church in Corinth. God had sent an evil spirit to torment Paul and he had pleaded with God to remove the tormenting from him:

“For this, I urged the Lord three times in order that it might withdraw from me. Yet, he told me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you; for power is completed in weakness.’ Therefore, with pleasure I would boast in my weakness in order that the power of Christ might rest upon me. Therefore I will pleasure in weakness, in violence, in trouble, in persecution, and in distress for Christ — for when I am weak, I am strong.”

(2 Corinthians 12:8-10)

To the Alamoths

“To the Director: Of the Sons of Korah to the Alamoths — a song.”

(Psalm 46:1 — the Superscript in English Translations)

I suppose that I sound like a broken record to some when it comes to the importance of reading superscripts; yet they are not superscripts in the Hebrew Bible and thus we ought to recognize them as being just as divinely inspired as the rest of the text of scripture…hence it is given to us for instruction, guidance, reproof, etc… to prepare us for every good work (2 Timothy 3:16-17). 

So what ought we take away from the superscription of this psalm. To begin with, the psalm is a psalm written by the Sons of Korah. We will again look more closely at the person of Korah later, but let it suffice to say that this family understood the meaning of grace as well as the consequences of taking a stand against God and against his anointed servant. Secondly, we should note that this song was written to the director — most likely a designation given to the Levite who would direct the temple musicians. 

This psalm is also listed as a song, which means it was sung. How we as Christians have deviated from the practice of singing psalms. Now, I am not an advocate of exclusive psalmnody for in the spirit of the “new song sung” sung by the elders and by the redeemed in heaven (Revelation  5:9; 14:3), God has blessed his church with many wonderful hymns through the ages, but I also think that we ought not abandon the old for the new. 

Now, the tune to which this psalm was to be sung was the Alamoth. We know very little about this particular tune other than it was the celebratory tune used when the Ark of the Covenant was brought into Jerusalem (1 Chronicles 15:20). The term itself is actually plural in Hebrew and thus it could represent a group or series of melodies, but we simply don’t know as the music has not been preserved through the generations. 

There are speculations, though as one might suspect. The term עֲלְמוֹת (alamoth) is the plural of עַלְמָה (almah), the latter typically used to refer to a young maiden or virgin. This is the term used, for example in Isaiah 7:14, that speaks of the Messiah being born from the womb of a virgin. Thus, some commentators have suggested that the term used of the tune indicates that it is either to be sung by women or to be played on instruments in a very high key. Psalm 68:26 (verse 25 in the English translations) adds to our understanding slightly, as this term is used to speak of the dancing girls with tambourines that would follow the processional, bringing the Ark into Jerusalem. In modern Egyptian, “almah” is used to refer to belly-dancers, not too far off from a picture of young girls with tambourines. 

Regardless of the actual tune, this song was sung in celebration and stands as a reminder to us as to how we are to respond to the deliverance that God brings. How often we do not make much of all God does in our lives. He is to be praised with all of our might and in any way possible, for he has been good to us both in the good times and in the times of trouble. Our God is indeed a mighty refuge and deserves the praises we bring.