21. Psalm 19:7-11 “The glory of God is human beings fully alive.”

So let’s move on to the next way God communicates to us, according to this psalm, and that is the Word of God, the Scriptures. The psalmist says:

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. 11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

As an introduction to these verses let me share with you some quotes from some articles in an interesting journal found in our College library. It is called the Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care (see references # 18)  and in this particular journal the theme is “The Formative Reading of Scripture”.

Basically it talks about two ways to read the Bible, the ‘informative’ way and the ‘formative’ way, suggesting that in our lives as believers we should do both. We should read the Bible both for information and in order that God can transform us in the process.

In the introduction to this subject there is a quote from Bernard McGinn who says, “Clearly from the beginning Christians read the Bible both intellectually for growing in the knowledge of biblical truth and experientially so that the biblical truth might be applied to their daily lives.”

McGinn, who wrote on “Christian spirituality especially up to the twelfth century” also said, “The cultivation of the…divine presence [of God] took place within the exercise of reading, meditating, preaching and teaching the biblical text…[for the purpose of] forming Christians and building [up] the body of Christ.”

Certainly at our College the students have the opportunity to read the Bible using their minds in order to learn more and then have the opportunity to share that truth learnt with others, hopefully in a cross-cultural situation. But is that enough? The answer is obviously, ‘no’. And so we endeavour to help them understand that the Word of God needs to be much more than a textbook from where we gain knowledge. It needs to be the place where God speaks to us, refreshes our souls, encourages us in our daily walk with him, reveals things about our lives that are not pleasing to him, teaches us things that he then enables us to apply in our lives in the power of his Holy Spirit, indeed transforming us into the men and women of God that he desires us to be. See Romans 12:1, “Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”   and 2 Corinthians 3:18,  “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”

In another quote in the same journal we read that Thomas Watson, a seventeenth century English Puritan pastor, understood the need for reading the Bible with both our heads and our hearts. He said, keep reading your Bibles “till you find your hearts warmed…read the Word not only as history, but strive to be affected with it.  Let [the Word of God] not only inform you but [also] inflame you.”

Possibly he was remembering the words of the disciples on the road to Emmaus as they walked with Jesus and when he taught them from “Moses and all the prophets” (Luke 24:27). They said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32)

It’s very important to have a good understanding of the Bible, it is an amazing book and to understand God’s Word is to be at a great advantage in living this life as God planned it for us as human beings. In the Word is the truth concerning life in Christ. But, to be really healthy and alive and effective disciples of Jesus Christ we must engage with the Scriptures in such a way that there is lasting transformation in our lives as the Spirit of God gives us understanding. To quote Irenaeus: “The glory of God is human beings fully alive.” And that life is only found in the Christ of the Scriptures.

When Miriam and I did our missionary training in 1980 – 1981, I had been a Christian for 10 years from a non-Christian background. It was a great time for us both to build upon the knowledge we already had of the Bible. For me, I needed to learn some basics that I had never considered before. Let me share one example.

I remember that we studied the NT and particularly the person of Jesus Christ. But, one day a newsletter was read for prayer. It was from a missionary in Indonesia and concerned a conversation she had with a Muslim who was on a bus with her. The Muslim asked her, ‘Who is your God?’ And she answered, ‘Jesus is my God.’ That’s all I can remember, because at that stage I thought to myself that I would not have given that answer and I wondered why.

Soon after this Miriam and I, with our two children, went on a holiday and stayed in a caravan. I can remember two things about those couple of weeks. One was that it was cold! Caravans aren’t the greatest things to stay in when the weather is cool. The second thing though, was that I was still wondering about my response to that newsletter. I remember praying and saying, Father, I know in my head that Jesus is the second person of the Trinity and therefore God the Son, but somehow, in my heart, I don’t really seem to believe in his divinity. I had, up until this time, always related to God as Father and of course believed in Jesus as my Saviour and Lord, but something was missing in my deep understanding of who Jesus really was. So, I asked God to reveal to me, in my heart and not just my head, that Jesus was God.

I remember at some stage during that holiday turning to Colossians 1 and reading these words:

“13 For he [God, the Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15 The Son is the image of the invisible God…16 For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together…so that in everything he might have the supremacy. 19 For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him, 20 and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.”

Now, I had read these verses many times before, but this time it was very different. It was like a new revelation to me from the Spirit of God answering my prayer. I read this and knew, not just in my head, but now in my heart, that Jesus is God!  And when asked in future, ‘who is your God?’ I would have no problem saying, ‘Jesus is my God.’ A very important lesson for me, considering we would spend the next 11 years in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan working with Muslims who deny the divinity of Christ.

20. Psalm 19:1-6 (“no excuse!”)

The psalms often allude to the glory of God’s creation, “the heavens and the earth” and how His creation reveals so much truth about his existence and his character, if we have eyes to see. Not only this psalm, but consider Psalm 89: 5-6, 11-14 below:

“The heavens praise your wonders, Lord, your faithfulness too, in the assembly of the holy ones. For who in the skies above can compare with the Lord? Who is like the Lord among the heavenly beings? The heavens are yours, and yours also the earth; you founded the world and all that is in it. 12 You created the north and the south; [the mountains] Tabor and Hermon sing for joy at your name. 13 Your arm is endowed with power;  your hand is strong, your right hand exalted 14 Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne; love and faithfulness go before you.”

So, in these 6 verses alone we learn that God is full of wonders, faithful, incomparable, Lord of all, the Creator, all powerful, righteous, a God who is just and yet is love. As one author says, He is “the God whose creative act is an eternal gift of being to the whole of time and space, sustaining all things in existence in every moment” [references: 18) and another states that “everything that exists came out of and is dependent upon the continuing creative impulse” of our God. (references: 19)

Then if we move to the NT, there the words of Paul remind us that:

18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since   what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1:18-20)

David, like Paul suggests that when we really begin to look at and appreciate God’s creation with our eyes wide open and with minds just as open to the possibility of God, we will “hear” what God is saying to us through the wonders that we observe and be awed by Him. In fact, if we don’t, then there is no excuse, says Paul, because “God has made it plain to” us in his marvellous creation.

Just consider the stars, the moon, the sun, the plants, the animals, the fish, the birds, men, women and children. The wonder of the infinite universe with not only billions of stars but billions of light years apart from each other. The wonder of the animal and plant world with such variety and colour. Then as we move from the telescope to the microscope, the wonder of the microorganisms that inhabit our planet, in fact our very bodies. And then the wonder of our bodies, the wonder of human birth and we could go on.

No wonder Paul agrees with the psalmists when he says that, “the creation of the world [reveals] God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.”

I recall hearing a friend’s story many years ago. He was a merchant seaman from Scotland and he told of the night be finally believed in Jesus. He said he was looking up at the clear star-filled sky and the immense ocean that surrounded him and suddenly became aware of the One who created all these wonders. That night he became a follower of Jesus.

 

And so David says here in this Psalm 19 that, “The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands.  Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” No wonder there is “no excuse” for missing it.

19. Another Psalm of Praise (Psalm 19 – introduction)

Before we move on from Psalms of Praise (Hymns) to other types of psalms, I thought it would be good to look at what Wilcock calls “one of the most memorable psalms in…any part of the Psalter (see references: 5). That is, Psalm 19, a psalm in praise of God the great communicator. The One who goes to such pains to communicate his glory, love, grace and mercy to us through, as mentioned in this psalm, his creation (particularly “the heavens”) and his Word.

Psalm 19

For the director of music. A psalm of David.

1 The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. 2 Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge. 3 They have no speech, they use no words; no sound is heard from them. 4 Yet their voice goes out into all the earth, their words to the ends of the world. In the heavens God has pitched a tent for the sun 5 It is like a bridegroom coming out of his chamber, like a champion rejoicing to run his course. 6 It rises at one end of the heavens and makes its circuit to the other; nothing is deprived of its warmth.

7 The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple. 8 The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes. 9 The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. The decrees of the Lord are firm, and all of them are righteous.10 They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the honeycomb. 11 By them your servant is warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

12 But who can discern their own errors? Forgive my hidden faults. 13 Keep your servant also from wilful sins; may they not rule over me. Then I will be blameless, ninnocent of great transgression. 14 May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight,  Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.

So, Psalm 19, an amazing psalm all about communication. Let me summarize:

In verses 1-6 it is God’s creation (specifically here “the heavens” with particular emphasis on “the sun”) that is communicating a message, declaring, yet without words that God is glorious and Creator and Sustainer of all things, and that this message is for all peoples “throughout the earth.”

 

Then in verses 7-11 the communication is through the scriptures (God’s Word) to those who read and obey. The psalmist uses the word ‘law’ and its 5 parallel words, meaning all that God wants us to know about himself as revealed in the scriptures. And these words from God are life changing.

 

And finally in verses 12-14 the communication involves the psalmist speaking to God, with a prayer at the end asking that his words and meditations be pleasing in God’s eyes.

18. How to read the Psalms: Nine principles to enrich your understanding by Tremper Longman III

The following is a very useful tool I have discovered to help if you desire to do more than just a quick reading of the Psalms. Longman says:

“Christians love to read the psalms and rightly so. But while Psalms may be the most popular book of the Bible, the psalms are often misunderstood and misinterpreted. Many of us choose a few favourites and ignore other psalms that strike us as bizarre or even cruel. Yet all the psalms were written for our benefit. To understand and appreciate the whole collection, we need solid principles of interpretation that will guide us to a proper reading and application of this riveting book.

There are nine principles that we should keep in mind as we read the psalms. Not only will they help us understand God’s message in the psalms, but these principles will also allow us to see them in all their richness. As we meditate on the psalms we will think, feel, imagine, and choose in increasingly godly ways.

In order to illustrate each of these principles, I will apply them to Psalm 131:

A song for the ascent to Jerusalem. A psalm of David.

1.LORD, my heart is not proud; my eyes are not haughty. I don’t concern myself with matters too great or awesome for me.

2.But I have stilled and quieted myself, just as a small child is quiet with its mother. Yes, like a small child is my soul within me.

3.O Israel, put your hope in the LORD–now and always. (NLT)

PRINCIPLE 1: Read a psalm in its context.

This first principle, of course, is fundamental for reading any passage of Scripture. However, we must take into account the special nature of the book of Psalms as we apply the principle there.

The psalms are unique in the Bible. Psalms is an anthology of 150 separate poetic compositions, not a narrative like Genesis or Mark nor a collection of prophetic oracles like Isaiah.

Through the ages, attempts have been made to give a rationale for why one psalm follows another. Occasionally, you can see small collections of similar poems grouped together, for instance the “songs of ascents” (120-134) where Psalm 131 is found. But context does not mean the same thing in Psalms as it does in other biblical books: A psalm may have no relationship to the ones that surround it.

Clearly, it is important to read a portion of a psalm in light of the whole poem. However, if you are reading a poem like Psalm 131 in its entirety, a different type of context takes on a very important role. So important, indeed, that we will assign it a separate principle as follows.

PRINCIPLE 2: Determine the genre of the psalm you are reading.

Every psalm is unique. No two psalms are exactly alike. Nonetheless, the 150 psalms fall into some basic patterns, reflecting how they were used in their original setting. Psalm 131 is a psalm of confidence.

As you reread Psalm 131, note that it evokes a feeling of calm trust in God. Psalm 131 uses one vivid metaphor, the picture of a quiet child in the arms of its mother, to communicate its message.

PRINCIPLE 3: Meditate on the parallelism of the psalm.

Open to any psalm, indeed any poem in the Bible, and you will discover an echoing effect between the lines. The words are rarely exactly the same, but they are often obviously related in meaning, as for instance in Psalm 2:2:

The kings of the earth prepare for battle; the rulers plot together against the LORD and against his anointed one. (NLT)

“Kings” in the first line parallels “rulers” in the second. “Prepare for battle” in the first is echoed by “plot together” in the second. The third and fourth lines are both prepositional phrases naming the objects of the human rulers’ attack.

Many wrongly understand this phenomenon, called parallelism, to be merely ornamental. “The poet is saying the same thing twice, just using different words.”

On the contrary, the second line of a parallelism, while showing a strong similarity with the first, always carries forward the thought of the first line. It is not A (the first line) equals B, but A, and what’s more B.

How does this apply to the first verse of Psalm 131?

The psalmist (in the A line) distances himself from pride by asserting that his heart is not proud. In the language of the Old Testament, the heart is the centre of one’s personality. It is a metaphor for what makes a person tick. The psalmist is saying that at the core of his being he is without pride. The next two parallel lines flow from this one. In the B line (”my eyes are not haughty”), the psalmist claims that his demeanour is not proud. As people look at him, they see a humble person. Then in the third line (131:1 is a three-part parallelism), the psalmist says that he does not reach beyond himself in how he acts. Indeed, he distances himself from pride in his actions by first saying that he “does not concern himself with matters too great” and then saying it more strongly by denying participation in acts “too awesome for me.”

PRINCIPLE 4: Unpack the imagery of the psalm.

Parallelism and imagery are the two most notable characteristics of biblical poetry. In both cases, we see that we need to reflect more carefully and slowly on poetry than prose, because poetry is compressed language. It says a lot using only a few words.

Not only do we need to ask about the relationship between the lines (parallelism), we must be on the lookout for the metaphors and similes that give such imaginative power to the psalms.

Psalm 131:2 provides a striking instance of an image that needs to be unpacked. The psalmist tells us that he has calmed himself “just as a small child is quiet with its mother.”

Reflecting on the significance of this image, we note that the psalmist is presenting us with a picture of God as our caring and compassionate mother. The psalmist’s soul rests as calmly in God’s loving arms as a “small child” rests in its mother’s, presenting the reader with a heartfelt picture of trust and confidence.

PRINCIPLE 5: Read the psalm in light of the title.

The title of a psalm provides a wealth of information (authorship, worship setting, musical terms, historical situation, action, and so on), but we often overlook it. English translations don’t even assign the title a verse number, making ambiguous its status as Scripture. However, the title is verse 1 and definitely a part of the canon as passed down from Old Testament times.

Nonetheless, we must apply this principle with care. The titles sometimes give us information about such things as the historical setting that inspired the writing of the psalm in the first place (see Psalms 3 and 51 as examples), but the psalm itself purposefully distances itself from that historical setting. It never mentions specific names and events, and for a very important reason. The psalms were written in order to be used in regular worship of the Old Testament people of God. We will explore this further under Principle 9, but for now know that the psalms are intentionally non-specific in terms of their original historical background.

The title of Psalm 131 provides us with two interesting bits of information. The psalm is a “song of ascents.” The New Living Translation is almost certainly correct when it says that these psalms are songs “for the ascent to Jerusalem.” That is, they were sung by worshipers as they left their country towns and made the trip to the temple in Jerusalem to celebrate one of the major festivals such as Passover. We can picture the families making the long walk,  and perhaps the psalmist was inspired in his image of confidence by seeing mothers carrying their calm, sleeping children.

We are also told that David authored the psalm. This is an intriguing bit of information that can help us to understand the psalm.

PRINCIPLE 6: Glean the theological teaching of the psalm.

The psalms teach us about God and our relationship with Him; that is the heart of theology. The Psalter may be thought of as a portrait gallery of God, presenting us with multiple images of who God is. These images are most often pictures of relationship. God is our shepherd (23); our warrior (18); our king (47); and in the case of Psalm 131, a mother who cares for us, protects us, and calms our anxious souls.

The psalms use imagery to communicate God because imagery reveals Him to us by comparing Him to things and people in our experience. But images reveal Him in a way that does not compromise His mystery. We are not presented with a carefully precise prose description of the nature of God, but rather with metaphors, through which we learn truly but not comprehensively. God is high above our thoughts, but He kindly gives us glimpses of His nature through imagery.

PRINCIPLE 7: Ask how the psalm anticipates Jesus Christ.

Jesus gave the disciples a principle that should govern our reading of the whole Old Testament. He told them that His rising and glorification were anticipated in “the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms” (Lk. 24:44).

While the New Testament shows us that a handful of psalms are especially relevant to the coming of Christ (2, 16, 22, 69, 110, for example), we should read every single psalm with Christ in mind.

As we pray the psalms, for instance, we can pray them as prayers to Jesus. Psalm 131 is a prayer of confidence to God. How much more confidence should we have now that the Israelite’s hope of a messiah has actually come? We should pray Psalm 131 with Christ in mind.

We should also think of the psalms as prayers of Jesus. After all, He sang them (Heb. 2:12). During His earthly ministry, He often quoted them (see Mt. 27:46, quoting Ps. 22:1). Indeed, we can say that only Jesus could sing Psalm 131, an expression of absolute trust and humility, at all times of His life and with perfect integrity. Not even David could do that. I think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mt. 26:36-46) struggling with the will of God for His life, but stilling and quieting His soul before His journey to the cross.

The whole Old Testament, the psalms included, anticipates Christ. Ask yourself how the psalm you are reading leads you to Christ.

PRINCIPLE 8: Consider the psalm a mirror of your soul.

The psalms are a mirror of our souls. When I get up in the morning, I drag myself to the mirror. As I force my eyes open, I gasp. I then quickly throw water in my face, shave, and comb my hair. A mirror, you see, gives me a close look at my physical appearance.

Psalms also give me a good look at myself, but they peer deeper than a glass mirror; they reveal my soul.

The psalms express every emotion that human beings experience. The laments articulate our fear, despair, shame, and anger. The hymns express joy, love, and confidence. As we read the words of the psalmist, they become our own. They help us understand what is going on inside of us. But even more, they minister to us as they direct us toward God.

Before a job interview, Brad opened his Bible to Psalm 131. ”I have stilled and quieted myself” (v. 2, NLT). Brad felt his own anxiety with a new level of awareness. I am far from calm, he thought to himself. As he read on, the psalmist pointed him in the only direction where he could find some relief from the churning in the pit of his stomach: “Put your hope in the LORD–now and always” (v. 3, NLT).

PRINCIPLE 9: Let the psalm guide your life.

Brad’s comfort came from the concluding verse of Psalm 131. It is an imperative, a command to God’s people based on the psalmist’s example of humility and confidence in God.

The psalms do more than teach us about God by stimulating our imagination. They do more than guide our emotional lives. They lead us to godly actions and attitudes.

Pre-eminently, the psalms, as the hymnbook of ancient Israel, tell us how to worship. They encourage us to sing, praise, clap our hands, pray, fall on our knees. They invite us to an enthusiastic adoration of our God in good times and in difficult times.

These principles can help us as we seek to understand and apply the psalms to our lives. They are not a magical formula, however. We must approach the psalms with the understanding that we will meet our God there. .

* Fifteen of the psalms (120-134) are designated “A song of ascents,” sung by Jewish pilgrims as they made their way to Jerusalem for the feasts.

* Psalms 25, 34, 37, 111, 112, 119, and 145 are examples of acrostic Hebrew poetry. In these seven psalms, the first letter of each line, verse, or stanza begins with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Their acrostic nature isn’t readily apparent in English.

(http://www.cslewisinstitute.org/webfm_send/681)

17. Is there a Psalm that has been particularly relevant and helpful to you?

Question:  Is there a Psalm that has been particularly relevant and helpful to you A) in a difficult time in your life? B) other time in your life? Briefly explain.

My answer: A) I’m sure I would not be alone to admit that there have been times in my life when the things that were happening in me and around me caused me to doubt God and all that I believed. I have found Psalm 73 a very helpful Psalm at such times. The psalmist knows in his head that “God is good” (v1) but deep down he “envied the arrogant when [he] saw the prosperity of the wicked” (v3). It just didn’t seem fair and he struggled with his doubts until God met him in ”the sanctuary of God” (v17) and everything came back into perspective. I love his honesty! I trust to give further insight into this psalm in the future.
B) Psalm 8 has taken on particular significance recently as I have studied some books on astronomy, checked out the images from the Hubble telescope and read what both some Christian and non-Christian scientists have written. The more I have read, the more I can understand where David was coming from when he cried out, “O Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth…When I consider your heavens…the moon and the stars…” (vs 1,3) A great Psalm, which I have shared a little concerning in  previous blog posts 7-12.

16. What is your favourite Psalm, and why?

I thought it would be interesting and helpful for me if I had an idea of your favourite Psalm(s) and why. So, feel free to let me know.
Let me start.
My answer: I guess over the years I have had a few, but in recent years it has been Psalm 13. It says:
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
It is a psalm of lament by David, which I have discovered is able to be applied to many difficult times in our lives and yet ends with a real sense of hope and optimistic faith. Why it is presently my favourite is because I have used it in recent years in encouraging others going through tough times. Together we have prayed this psalm asking God from our hearts, “How long?” and then ending with “But I trust in your unfailing love.” These prayer times have been very moving. I have also appreciated being able to preach on this and other lament psalms. More on this later.
I look forward to hearing from you.

An interesting version of Psalm 13 is sung by Brian Doerksen @ http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_AT7wa0tPVU

A song on his album “You Shine” (2002).