# 135 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 35 Slandered-mocked-hated!

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It wasn’t a particularly pleasant experience. There I was at home with my family in the rural town of UM in Pakistan and the police came knocking at the door. They asked me to accompany them to the police station as a complaint had come in as regards us and what we were doing there, which was running TB clinics to help mainly the poor of the district suffering from this killer disease. When I arrived, there sitting with the police chief was the religious leader from the local Mosque, someone who had never been particularly friendly towards us. Straight away he began to make false accusations about us, suggesting that our medical work was useless and just a cover up for the real reason we were there, i.e. to lead people away from his religion. To his first accusation about our work I suggested they asked the many patients who had been cured of TB due to our treatment. As regards his second accusation I simply took out my passport and showed him the visa granted to us by his government. It said “Missionary Visa”!  I said, “Your government is obviously not worried about out religious activities or why would they allow us in the country?’ The ‘case’ was dismissed! But it is never enjoyable to be disliked, falsely accused and slandered. In fact you could say, it is very stressful!

In Psalm 35, I think we can safely assume that the psalmist is David because “many points of correspondence between the statements of this psalm and the experiences of David in Saul’s day can be suggested if one compares 1 Samuel 20, 23-26.” (Leupold  # 43) This was a tough time in David’s life and the sorts of descriptions he uses in this psalm concerning his “enemies” tells all. Among other things he says about them that they are:

 those who contend with me…
 those who fight against me…
those who pursue me…
those who seek my life…
those who plot my ruin…
they question me on things I know nothing about.
They repay me evil for good…
They slandered me without ceasing…
they maliciously mocked
those who hate me without reason…                                                                                                 
devise false accusations…

I think it is safe to say that David was stressed! And who could blame him?

Now, compared to living in days like David lived, or even living in our own days in a war zone like, for example, Syria, most of us (particularly in Australia) know little about stress related to enemies attacking us either verbally or physically. So, I think it is fair to suggest that this would be an extreme situation for the majority of us. But, on the other hand, we all experience stress in some way, and so can enter in to some extent.

So, a key thing we can learn from this psalm is simply that David dealt with this stress by talking about it. Something suggested by any good therapist. But, even more important, by talking about it to God. Sadly, not the normal suggestion of most therapists! And David didn’t gloss over things, he told it like it is. He didn’t consider that there was anything God couldn’t handle, or might be offended by, or wouldn’t be interested in. Everything was poured out to God – all his suffering, his frustration, his anger, his pain and importantly, what the cause of all this was.  He knew what to do and he did it.

I’m not suggesting that this is the only thing we can do in a stressful situation, but this one is vital. Don’t leave it until all else fails!  Prioritize spending time talking to God about all that is happening.

Then, in time, as David says here:

…my soul will rejoice in the Lord
and delight in his salvation.
10 My whole being will exclaim,
“Who is like you, Lord?

Father, in this world we will have times of stress and even opposition because we belong to you. Help us to always come to you in such times, trusting you to meet our needs at such times. In answer to David above, Lord, there is none like you! Amen.

 

# 134 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 35. Omitted from public worship.

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I wonder when was the last time you either read or sang any part of Psalm 35 in church? Or maybe the right question is, have you ever read or sung it in church? We have our favourites and, I imagine, this psalm is not one of them. So then, I guess we need to then ask, why not? And you might say, well Rod, just read it for yourself and then you will understand!

Historically, at times, Christians have had a problem with psalms like this, sometimes called “imprecatory psalms” which are described as those that “invoke judgment, calamity, or curses, upon one’s enemies or those perceived as the enemies of God.”  (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Imprecatory_PsalmsUsing images of conflict and hostility, right from the beginning this psalm reveals this truth as it petitions God to “engage himself as a warrior…to match the hostilities of the opponents.” (Broyles). The psalmist (probably David) passionately and desperately cries out:

Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me;
    fight against those who fight against me.
Take up shield and armour;
    arise and come to my aid.
Brandish spear and javelin
against those who pursue me.
Say to me,
“I am your salvation.”

May those who seek my life
    be disgraced and put to shame;
may those who plot my ruin
be turned back in dismay.
May they be like chaff before the wind,
with the angel of the Lord driving them away;
may their path be dark and slippery,
    with the angel of the Lord pursuing them.

Since they hid their net for me without cause
and without cause dug a pit for me,
may ruin overtake them by surprise—
may the net they hid entangle them,
may they fall into the pit, to their ruin.

Then my soul will rejoice in the Lord
and delight in his salvation.
10 My whole being will exclaim,
“Who is like you, Lord?
You rescue the poor from those too strong for them,
the poor and needy from those who rob them.”

Wilcock quotes C.S. Lewis in his book Reflections on the Psalms when in his chapter on “The Cursings”, he says: “The Church of England’s Alternative Service Book of 1980 marked passages in thirteen [Imprecatory Psalms] which…’may be omitted’…in public worship. In one case (Psalm 58) the entire psalm was so marked.” Thankfully, says Wilcock, “their successors were less swayed by the spirit of the age, and Common Worship, published in 2000, contains no such editorial high-handedness.”

He also quotes Wenham who referred to “a study some years ago which concluded that on the grounds of their ‘bloodthirsty threats and curses’ no fewer than 84 psalms (out of 150!) were ‘not fit for Christians to sing’!”

Such is the problem some people have with these particular psalms. What about you?

Bit by bit, over the next weeks we will look at this psalm and see (with the help of some better qualified than me) if we can find some possible answers to the questions we may have with this particular type of psalm, and hopefully find ourselves having a new appreciation for why these psalms are included in the scriptures.

Father, thank you, even if we don’t always understand everything we read in the Bible, we know that “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that [we] the servant[s] of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). And that even includes these “difficult” psalms! Amen.

Note:  to listen to Psalm 35 as a song go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hfoyhlSJ9f8

 

# 133 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 34 Come…listen…I will teach you…wisdom.

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I hope this doesn’t upset you, but, believe it not, even though,

“For thousands of years, from Ancient Greek legend to modern literature and TV, humans have portrayed owls as sage and wise [and] the wise owl appears in everything from The Iliad to Winnie the Pooh…it turns out, though they’re excellent hunters, owls probably aren’t any smarter than a lot of other birds.

In fact, they may be significantly worse at problem solving than other big-brained birds like crows and parrots. One study found that great grey owls repeatedly failed a simple cognitive test—pulling a string to get a treat—that had been successfully solved by several other bird species.”  (http://mentalfloss.com/article/69941/are-owls-actually-wise)

But, don’t despair, wisdom can still be found in other places.

So-called ‘wisdom literature’ has been around a very long time and continues to be written.

For example, Socrates (490-399 BC) wrote,

“The unexamined life is not worth living.”

And Confucius (551-479 BC) said,

“By three methods we may learn wisdom: First, by reflection, which is noblest; Second, by imitation, which is easiest; and third by experience, which is the bitterest.”

But, some of the most famous and well-known examples of Wisdom Literature are found in the Bible, namely in the books of Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and the Song of Songs (Song of Solomon).

In Psalm 34 we find an example in verses 8-14:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.
Fear the Lord, you his holy people,
for those who fear him lack nothing.
10 The lions may grow weak and hungry,
but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.
11 Come, my children, listen to me;
I will teach you the fear of the Lord.
12 Whoever of you loves life
and desires to see many good days,
13 keep your tongue from evil
and your lips from telling lies.
14 Turn from evil and do good;
seek peace and pursue it.

Kidner comments:

“The lessons of this part of the psalm are chiefly that the true good is to be in concord [i.e. harmony] with God. It is the answer to the hardest times (19f.) and to the most ultimate questions (21f.). Almost every word [from verse 11 -14] is in the style of the wisdom instructor, as in Proverbs 1-9, with his fatherly tone and the stress on the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. This continues with the teaching that the good you enjoy (12) goes hand in hand with the good you do (14). It is an emphasis which answers the suspicion (first aroused in Eden) that outside the will of God, rather than within it, lies enrichment.”  (# 29)

Let’s do as suggested 2500 years ago and learn some wisdom by ‘reflection’ on what we have read above.

  • ‘true good is to [found] in concord [harmony] with God’ – The psalmist says in verses 8-9,Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. Fear the Lord, you his holy people, for those who fear him lack nothing. The advice given is for a very intentional moving towards God with the desire to know him intimately and to enjoy the goodness of God as a daily experience. To ‘hide ourselves in God’ (TPT) and experience a peace and security available only in relationship to him. To have a reverent ‘fear’ or awe and wonder of our God and discover in him is all we need for real deep life satisfaction. The reality is that nothing else we ‘taste’ will ultimately satisfy.
  • ‘it is the answer to the hardest times’ – The psalmist says in verse 19, The righteous person may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all. David knew about troubles from experience, and I’m sure none of us have been exempt ourselves. But, says David, the Lord delivers us. Now his deliverance may come in various forms, depending on the type of trouble itself and just what God is up to in our lives. Paul wrote about such a situation in one of his letters. He wrote: In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:7-10)
  • ‘It is the answer to … the most ultimate questions’The psalmist says in verses 21-22, But the wicked commit slow suicide. For they hate and persecute the lovers of God. Make no mistake about it, God will hold them guilty and punish them; they will pay the penalty!
    But the Lord has paid for the freedom of his servants, and he will freely pardon those who love him. He will declare them free and innocent when they turn to hide themselves in him
    . (TPT). Paul summarizes it as follows:  Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7-8)
  • ‘the good you enjoy (12) goes hand in hand with the good you do [and speak] (14).’ – The psalmist says in verse 12-14, Whoever of you loves life and desires to see many good days, keep your tongue from evil and your lips from telling lies. Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it. Because God is good (verse 8), then it is only natural (or supernatural) that his people (in his strength and with his help) should also live good lives and speak that which is good and helpful to others.
  • ‘It is an emphasis which answers the suspicion (first aroused in Eden) that outside the will of God, rather than within it, lies enrichment.’ – And, the author’s point being that ‘the suspicion’ has and always will be proved to be false. True and ultimate satisfaction can never be found in any substitute for a right relationship with our Creator. As the psalmist puts it here in verse 5, Gaze upon him, join your life with his, and joy will come. Your faces will glisten with glory. You’ll never wear that shame-face again. (TPT).  

So, asks the writer of the Book of Proverbs (written “for learning wisdom” 1:1), How then does a man [and a woman] gain the essence of wisdom?

He then answers the question for us with the words, We cross the threshold of true knowledge when we live in obedient devotion to God. (Proverbs 1:7 TPT)

Father, our lives are full of everyday choices and decisions. We need wisdom from above to navigate our way. Thankyou for your promise that ‘If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.’ (James 1:5) Amen.

# 132 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 34 Taste and see.

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In a recent interview, Jack Darling, an Australian Rules Football (AFL) player, who has recently become a father, was asked if he ever changed his son’s nappies. His answer, unexpectedly, was, “I’ve actually lost my sense of smell”, indicating that the task was not a problem for him! It seems this was due to a head injury several years earlier.

What he didn’t mention is that this means he probably has no sense of taste either. Generally, when you cannot smell, you cannot taste. The two senses work in harmony to make you aware of your surroundings and to enjoy life’s pleasures. If one gets interrupted, the other suffers as well.

We take for granted this ability to smell and taste and only realize this once these vital senses are lost. Our ability to smell and taste allows us to enjoy delicious foods and savour their rich aromas.

Psalm 43:8 presumes this ability by using “a culinary metaphor to urge his listeners into a relationship with God.”

The psalmist says:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him. (Psalm 34:8)

“Like a cook who urges a reluctant eater just to give it a taste, so the psalmist encourages them to sample God and his protection, confident that they will thus recognize his benefits.” (Longman # 30)

So, the psalmist is urging us to “taste” just how good God is!

Now, of course, most English words have a variety of meanings and this word, “taste” is no exception. But, in relation to the verse above, it means, “to perceive or experience the flavour.”

Now the problem with, say, watching a TV show about cooking is that we can see how good the food looks and how to prepare it, but there is no way we can smell or “taste” it ourselves. For that we need to do something. We need to gather the ingredients, prepare them as the TV chef suggested, cook it and then taste and see just how good it tastes!

And it is the same when it comes to God. We can hear all about God. We can read about Him in the Bible. We can listen to sermons or the stories of others who know God, but none of this is enough, as helpful as it all is. We, personally, need to “taste”, i.e. experience for ourselves that “the Lord is good”. Have you ever done that? Or are you still watching from afar, afraid to take that final step towards Him?

So, what “flavour” will you find when you “taste and see”? Well, David lists some of the ‘flavours’ (obviously though not an exhaustive list) as follows:

(Verse 8) – He is good – the Lord is good.

It is interesting that this word is used over 600 times in the Bible and 10% of this is in the Psalms. Such as,

For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.   (Psalm 100:5)

You [God] are good, and what you do is good; teach me your decrees.  (Psalm 119:68)

The Lord is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made.  (Psalm 145:9)

(Verses 9-10) – He is the provider of all our needs – those who seek the Lord lack no good thing.

(Verse 15) – He watches over us and answers our prayers – The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous, and his ears are attentive to their cry;

(Verse 17) – He is our Deliverer –  The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles.

(Verse 18) – He is close to us, our Helper, particularly in tough times – The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

(Verse 22) – He will not disappoint you – The Lord will rescue his servants; no one who takes refuge in him will be condemned.

Maybe there have been many things you have “tasted” and then discovered that the flavour seems good initially, but later on, it turns sour on you. In fact, very disappointing indeed!

If you spend even a short time watching commercial TV stations you will discover that there is much offered to us to “taste” – experiences of holidays in exotic places, gadgets to keep us amused for hours, the fastest cars, the prettiest jewellery, the most expensive clothes, and so on. All things promised to delight our senses, bring fulfilment, create happiness. Most though, as it is soon discovered, are empty promises.

But, not this one from David. “Taste and see that the Lord is good”! This was his experience and it can be yours.

In the stories of Jesus in the New Testament, we find this word, “good”, again used often. In Matthew 4:23, for example, it says, Jesus went throughout Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

And this “good news” was concerning Jesus himself, who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” (John 10:11)

Then after the death and resurrection of Jesus, it says,

Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, [the Apostles] never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.   (Acts 5:42)

The Good News is that “God is good” and because he is good he sent Jesus (“The Good Shepherd”) to be your Saviour and King.

As the psalmist confirms:

You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you. (Psalm 86:5)

So, today, if you have never experienced knowing God personally yourself, then call out to him and take David’s advice and “Taste and see that the Lord is good.” You will never regret it!

Father, nothing satisfies like knowing you. Teach us this truth in the midst of other voices telling us differently. Enable us to drink deeply of the pleasures of knowing you, our God, and to experience for ourselves the joyous mercies you give. Amen.

# 131 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 34 Unbelievable!

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Unbelievable! This seemed to be David’s response, when he looked back on particular times in his life, like he does here in Psalm 34. And that was the response of a friend of mine as well as he looked back on his life and began to write his life story. In fact, that is the name of his autobiography which I have just finished reading. It is called, “Unbelievable – Living in the Son” written and published by Graham Bee. Like when we read David’s stories, often mentioned in the psalms, Graham’s story is at times, as Dr Louis Sutton (Int. Director of WEC Int.) says, “unbelievable…[it] is not only the title, but an accurate description of this book’s ‘ride’ with Graham Bee through his life. It is a ride complete with bumps, and turns, and unexpected hardships and joys. But it is a ride where we see at every corner evidences of an incredible, almost unbelievable God…” Recommended reading, “to inspire us and give us courage in our ‘tiny part’ in God’s bigger story.”

So, as David looked back at a particular situation in his life (as recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15) he then wrote Psalm 34 in response.

He began with worship

I will extol the Lord at all times;
his praise will always be on my lips.
I will glory in the Lord;
let the afflicted hear and rejoice.
Glorify the Lord with me;
let us exalt his name together.

If you read the reference above, then it is obvious that this particular time was a very low period in David’s life. Earlier in 1 Samuel 21 we read of David having to make up a story in order to get some food and weapons as he was fleeing from King Saul, whose was trying to kill him. Then as he fled into enemy territory and came before the King of that land, it says of him that he was very much afraid of Achish king of Gath. So, he pretended to be insane in their presence. The King then dismissed him, saying to his servants, “Look at the man! He is insane! Why bring him to me?  Am I so short of madmen that you have to bring this fellow here to carry on like this in front of me? Must this man come into my house?” (1 Samuel 21:12-15), and so David, by the mercy of God, escaped from what was a dangerous situation. Not exactly one of David’s proudest moments in life!

In fact, as Blaiklock says, “David looked back upon his grave peril in the court of Achish as one of the disgraceful episodes of his life. Under the long stress of his life in the desert, a hunted refugee, his nerve had broken, and he had endured the dire temptations of treason…It was a day of shaken and diminished faith…Perhaps, too, he was in a trough of depression…[and so] David was reduced to feigning madness…[but then] in later moments of tranquillity David remembered his base subterfuge with shame and this song was his offering of repentance…It is a testimony penned long afterwards, a salutary exercise of recollection.”

Blaiklock continues, “There is no better way of leaching a bitter and damaging experience from the mind than doing with it as David did in this psalm. He committed it to God and turned it into poetry. He used an evil thing for good, and it is the commonest experience of life, if life is lived in the patterns of God’s will, to find pain, suffering, even sin itself, taken by the Creative hand and transformed into something beneficent and good.”  (# 37)

And so, David recalls, firstly, how he responded to this tough situation, and then how God responded. He says:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears.
Those who look to him are radiant;
their faces are never covered with shame.
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

The angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him,
and he delivers them.

Not only has this been David’s experience but many believers ever since, including my friend Graham’s. There are many stories worth repeating from his autobiography, but one tells of an experience that he describes as, “without doubt…our [he and his wife’s] fiercest testing time so far.” It recalls a time when he and his family of 3 young children were living in Africa and their 18-month-old son became dangerously ill with “an extremely high temperature” causing “convulsions”. Graham writes, that along with the medical treatment given by nurses, “We lay hands on him and pray: Lord, our son is in your hands. We are desperate. We cry out to you for healing; please touch him and stop the convulsions. We know you are well able to heal, and we trust that you will!” What follows is “days [and nights] of caring, [when] we pray constantly and often read in the Psalms to encourage ourselves in the Lord.” On the fifth day of the illness, having prayed together, “Paul is a gift You have given to us. We have examined our hearts, and we know that, despite the loss and grief we will feel, if it is your will to take him, we will continue to serve you…” That day “Paul opens his eyes slightly…the beginning of a dramatic recovery…We are relieved and thankful.” (Chapter 21 “Paul’s brush with death”)

I have no doubt that Graham’s testimony is similar to that of David’s as expressed in this psalm:

I sought the Lord, and he answered me;
he delivered me from all my fears…
This poor man called, and the Lord heard him;
he saved him out of all his troubles.

I guess, most of you reading this today have also had such an experience. Maybe, the outcome was not exactly what you had hoped or desired, but as you look back you can see that, as difficult as it may have been, it was “taken by the Creative hand and transformed into something beneficent and good.”

On the other hand, if, reading this, you recognize that this is not your experience of God, then the next words of David are for you:

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.   
(verse 8)

Or as the Passion Translation puts it:

Drink deeply of the pleasures of God. Experience for yourself the joyous mercies he gives.

And that especially in times of “grave peril”, “dire temptations” or “fierce testing”.

The Apostle Peter says, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.”  (1 Peter 5:6-7)

Father, truly you are the God who does great and wonderful things in your world. Things that we could simply describe as “unbelievable”! Thank you that in the good times and in the tough times you are with us and we can call upon you at any time, confident that you hear and answer prayer. Help us this day to “taste and see that the Lord is good.” Amen. 

[If you are interested in reading Graham Bee’s book, you can email him at  unbelievable.grahambee@gmail.com]

# 130 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 34 Subversive?

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(http://www.thefridaytimes.com/tft/brick-kiln-workers-the-endless-battle/)

“Subversive” seems a strange word to use concerning God, but in reading Walter Brueggemann’s commentary on Psalm 34 this is exactly the word he uses. Let me explain.

But, firstly a short introduction to this psalm. This psalm is a song of thanksgiving. “The occasion for the song is that the speaker has complained to God and God has acted in response to the lament. The result of God’s intervention is that the old issue has been overcome. The speech concerns a rescue, intervention, or inversion of a quite concrete situation of distress which is still fresh in the mind of the speaker.” (Brueggemann)

So, this particular song of thanksgiving is written by David, “When he pretended to be insane before Abimelek, who drove him away, and he left”, as the heading suggests. This particular incident is recorded in 1 Samuel 21:10-15. At this time David was a refugee running from King Saul who was trying to kill him. So here he refers to himself as this poor man [who] called upon the Lord [who] saved him out of all his troubles (verse 6). And he writes it to those who find themselves in similar circumstances, here described as “the afflicted” (verse 2), the broken-hearted and…those who are crushed in spirit (verse 18), but also called those who fear him (verse 7) and his holy people (verse 9).

Brueggemann writes of these ones as “the socially marginal, who no longer expect the dominant society to succour them, and so they look to Yahweh as the alternative source of hope…the righteous are not hated because they are marginal or because they are good, but because they look to Yahweh. They have discovered something remarkable and subversive about Yahweh.”

Brueggeman then explains why he would say this.

Because “Yahweh’s peculiar inclinations are with the broken-hearted and the ones with crushed spirit. That is, Yahweh’s solidarity is not with the ones who go from success to success, but the ones denied success.” (#  2)

So, I guess, subversive, in this context, means “intending to subvert or overthrow, destroy, or undermine an established or existing system”, i.e. to undermine the world’s way of thinking and acting which too often allows for the exploitation of the poor and marginalized and the glorifying of the rich and powerful. All this being contrary to God’s ways, the God of justice and compassion.

Maybe this helps us to understand Jesus’ Beatitudes when he said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted…
10 Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.                                                                                     11 “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. 12 Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,                    
(Matthew 5:3,4, 10-11)

I think that the Jewish religious leaders of his day may have thought Jesus was “subversive”, seeking to undermine their comfortable positions in Israel. Therefore, they used their influence and power to seek to destroy Jesus and persecute his followers.

And basically, nothing has changed over the last couple of millennia. Persecution of the followers of Jesus continues to this day.

Just recently I read in a Barnabus Fund magazine concerning the tough life of the majority of Christians living in Pakistan, the land where my family and I served for 11 years. In this magazine, found online at:

there is an article titled, “Danger, Discrimination and Dhimmitude”. Here one Christian leader describes Pakistan as the “second most dangerous country in the world for Christians to live”.

One issue described in this article was related to the introduction of Blasphemy Laws which too often are used against “minorities” such as Christians. One particular Christian lady has spent the last 10 years in solitary confinement having been accused of blasphemy. Others have been killed.

Secondly, there is the kidnapping of young Christian (and Hindu) girls to be then married off to men of the majority population. Often their families are then told they have converted to their husband’s religion. There is little the families can do to receive justice.

And thirdly, there is what is known as brick kiln bondage, when Christian (and some Hindu) families are basically bonded for life (over several generations) to brick kiln owners related to an unpayable loan. Unpayable because the wages for making bricks by hand for long hours is never high enough to cover the loan repayments.

Basically, Christians (and Hindus) in this nation are “second class citizens” and the legal system acknowledges this in that the word of a minority person  is considered of less value than that of a majority person.

A pretty tough situation for the followers of Jesus in Pakistan!

But God sees and cares and not only do the Psalms and O.T. prophets confirm this, but also the teachings of Jesus and Apostles.

David says in this psalm:

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
    and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.

17 The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them;
he delivers them from all their troubles.
18 The Lord is close to the brokenhearted
and saves those who are crushed in spirit.

And Jesus promised:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

But, the Bible also teaches that we, as God’s people need to be playing our part. For example, consider the words of Isaiah chapter 1:17

Learn to do right; seek justice.
Defend the oppressed.
Take up the cause of the fatherless;
plead the case of the widow.

And Micah 6:6

He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

And James 1:27

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.

There are many Christian organizations seeking to do just this, including Barnabus fund.

To help go to:

 https://barnabasfund.org/en/appeals/40-families-freed-pakistani-christian-brick-kiln-workers-rejoice-at-their-liberation-%E2%80%93-will

Father, thank you for your heart for the oppressed, for those who are broken-hearted and have a crushed spirit, and for those persecuted for your Name. Thank you that you see and hear and have promised “rest for our souls”. Thank you for those who seek to help  oppressed brothers and sisters in other nations. Enable us to serve you by also serving the poor and oppressed and persecuted of this world. Amen.

# 129 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 33 The Lord sees everything!

ball tampering

How on earth did they think they would get away with it? If you have ever watched a game of international cricket on TV you will be aware of the amazing number of cameras filming the events on the field. There is not a lot that happens on the field that is not followed very closely by one or more of those cameras. So, what were they thinking when in South Africa recently some of the leaders of the Australian cricket team foolishly decided to break the rules by “ball tampering” on the field? Haven’t they ever watched one of their own games on TV?

As I read Psalm 33:12-22 I thought of this situation, particularly when I read verses 13-15 and 18. It says:

12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord,
the people he chose for his inheritance.
13 From heaven the Lord looks down
and sees all mankind;
14 from his dwelling place he watches
all who live on earth—
15 he who forms the hearts of all,
who considers everything they do.

16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength.
17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance;
despite all its great strength it cannot save.
18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,
on those whose hope is in his unfailing love,
19 to deliver them from death
and keep them alive in famine.

I note here that the psalmist speaks not only of God seeing all mankind (13-15), but looking out for particular people, those who fear him (18).

A good example of both of these is found in 2 Kings 18-19 where we have the story of King Hezekiah of Judah and a crisis he and his nation were facing. The dominant power of the time is Assyria whose armies had conquered a number of surrounding nations, including Israel (Judah’s northern neighbour). In 18:13 we read that Sennacherib king of Assyria [then] attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them. The reason given was because Hezekiah, had rebelled against the king of Assyria and did not serve him (18:7), i.e. by not paying taxes demanded by this foreign king.  Hezekiah initially tries diplomacy (gold and silver) with Sennacherib but it fails to satisfy him.

The next thing we read is that Hezekiah and his people are walled up in the city of Jerusalem surrounded by the Assyrian army. Then up to the gates comes the Assyrian supreme commander (18:17) who makes a big speech about how hopeless Hezekiah and his people’s situation is and that they are wasting their time resisting the might of Assyria. He says sarcastically, on what are you basing this confidence of yours?  You say you have the counsel and the might for war—but you speak only empty words. On whom are you depending, that you rebel against me? (18:19-20). He even begins to blaspheme the Lord, comparing Him to all the other man-made gods who have succumbed to the Assyrian might. even suggesting that, The Lord himself told me to march against this country and destroy it! (18:25).  

In the midst of all this Hezekiah calls out to the Lord in prayer and asks others to do the same, including Isaiah, the prophet of God. Isaiah then receives the word that the Lord has spoken against Sennacherib, King of Assyria (19:20) and it includes the following:

“‘But I know where you are
and when you come and go
and how you rage against me.
28 Because you rage against me
and because your insolence has reached my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
and my bit in your mouth,
and I will make you return
by the way you came.’   
[19:27-28]

Which, we can read in both the Bible and other ancient historical books, is exactly what happened!

So, here in this story we see the Lord looking down and seeing all mankind; and from his dwelling place…watching all who live on earth, which included the insolent King of Assyria!

Then we also see that the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, which in this case was the praying King Hezekiah and his people.

But all this looking down and seeing is not just some passive thing but rather it is followed up by the Lord’s action plan which for Sennacherib and his armies meant defeat, and for Hezekiah and his people, deliverance.

David sums it up in his next psalm when he says:

15 The eyes of the Lord are on the righteous,
and his ears are attentive to their cry;
16 but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil,
to blot out their name from the earth.                         
(Psalm 34:15-16)

I guess, for many people, the thought of the Divine Being, the Creator of all things, looking down on us, will not be a comfortable truth. But then, that is not all there is to this. He not only sees, he watches with a purpose, checking out our “hearts” and motivations, considering everything we do! Not like some big umpire in the sky checking out if we are “ball tampering” or not, but rather, seeking out for those who “fear him”, being attentive to their cries, seeking those he can bless as they discover “hope in his unfailing love”.

In fact, the psalmist sums it up when he says, Blessed is the nation [the people] whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.

In the context of this psalm that nation is Israel.  As Wilcock puts it, “In the previous section, the unfailing love of which the earth is full (v. 5) could be seen in God’s providence in creation and the dependability of nature. In this section, it can be seen in his choosing out of the nations one nation which will align itself with his purposes instead of theirs.”

Longman adds, “Today, God’s people are not a nation state, but rather the church. And we must keep in mind that God’s choice of Israel was not just to bless them, but to bring a blessing to all the nations through Israel (Gen. 12:1-3).”   (# 30)

And this is what has happened, as Wilcock adds, “Blessed is that nation … and blessed are the millions who through it, and through its greatest Son [Jesus], have found the forgiveness of sins and an eternal inheritance.” (# 5)

The writers of the NT affirm this truth. Paul says that God has chosen and

called [people], not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles [that’s you and me]. As he says in Hosea:

“I will call them ‘my people’ who are not my people;
and I will call her ‘my loved one’ who is not my loved one,”

26 and,

“In the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they will be called ‘children of the living God.’”   
              (Romans 9:24-26)

What an amazing truth it is that we don’t have to do this thing called life alone. Our great and merciful God is with us. He sees all things, knows all things and is all-powerful to work out his perfect and good plan in our lives. Are you a child of God? Can you confidently call God, Father? Have you believed in Jesus, of whom the Apostle John wrote:

 …to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God. (John 1:12)

And so, the psalmist concludes this beautiful poem with the affirmation that:

20 We wait in hope for the Lord;
he is our help and our shield.
21 In him our hearts rejoice,
for we trust in his holy name.

And a short prayer to the Father:


22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord,
even as we put our hope in you.  Amen