# 74 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Twenty: Psalm 12 It’s only words!

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“It’s only words, and words are all
I have to take your heart away.” (“Words”, by the Bee Gees, 1977)

 

The world is full of words – written  and spoken. In these incredible days we live in words travel the earth at break neck speed via mobile phones, emails, facebook, twitter, just to name of few.

 

Words can be lifesaving or soul destroying, encouraging or discouraging, helpful or destructive, giving life or bringing death.

 

God understands this and here are a couple of things that we read in his word:

 

“A man of knowledge uses words with restraint…Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent…” (Proverbs 17:27-28)

 

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing.” (James 3:9-10)

 

And in Psalm 12 words are mentioned, here contrasting the words of evil men with those of God:

 

Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore;
those who are loyal have vanished from the human race.
Everyone lies to their neighbour;
they flatter with their lips
but harbor deception in their hearts.

May the Lord silence all flattering lips
and every boastful tongue—
those who say,
“By our tongues we will prevail;
our own lips will defend us—who is lord over us?”

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
And the words of the Lord are flawless,
like silver purified in a crucible,
like gold refined seven times.

You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked,
who freely strut about
when what is vile is honoured by the human race.

 

More than any time in human history our words have incredible power due to the media and the fact that what someone says can be heard, seen or read by millions of people, and that almost in an instant. And generally, there is no possibility of turning back, no possibility of retracting what was spoken or written. For example, just consider the “conversations” happening between the candidates for the next president of the USA. One wonders when these two adults will begin to seriously regret some of the things they have said!

 

On the positive side, as Eugene Peterson says, “It is the very nature of language to form rather than inform. When language is personal, which it is at its best, it reveals; and revelation is always formative – we don’t know more, we become more. Our best users of language, poets and lovers and children and saints, use words to make – make intimacies, make character, make beauty, make goodness, make truth.” (Eugene Peterson Eat This Book – The Art of Spiritual Reading Hodder and Stoughton 2006)

 

Sadly though, it is just as true on the negative side. How many people have been “formed” from lies, flattery, deceptive words, words of pride and evil self-serving words.

 

I guess we have all been subject to them. Some of us were bought up with such words, forming us in such a way that we believed a lie (or many lies) for too long. Words such as, “You are useless and will never make anything of your life!” Then when we eventually came to our senses, realizing just how deceived we had been, maybe we felt like crying out like the psalmist: “Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies… what is vile is honoured by the human race.” Or maybe it was more like, “”I can’t believe the lies I was told. I’m not sure who I can trust ever again!”

 

Having lived a life surrounded by lies and unfaithfulness, when I was 19, Jesus intervened in my life and I discovered Him who among other things claimed, “I am the way and the TRUTH and the life.” ( John 14:6) and this Truth, said Jesus, “shall set you free.” (John 8:32) He set me free!

 

The truthful and reliable words of God are described by David as:

“…flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.”

 

He elaborates on this even more in Psalm 19:7-10, 12 when he says:

 

“God’s Word is perfect in every way,                                                                                                  How it revives our souls!                                                                                                                           His laws lead us to truth,                                                                                                                          and his ways change the simple into wise.                                                                                          His teachings make us joyful and radiate his light;                                                                          His precepts are so pure!                                                                                                                           His commands, how they challenge us                                                                                                   To keep close to his heart!                                                                                                                        The revelation-light of his Word makes my spirit shine radiant.                                           Every one of the Lord’s commands are right,                                                                        Following them brings cheer.                                                                                                        Nothing he says ever needs to be changed.                                                                                        The rarest treasures of life are found in his truth.                                                                       That’s why I prize God’s Word like others prize the finest gold.                                            Nothing brings the soul such sweetness                                                                                                As seeking his living words…                                                                                                         Without this revelation-light                                                                                                                How would I ever detect                                                                                                                            The waywardness of my heart.”   (The Passion Translation)

 

 

Thank God that we have such free access to God’s truth, wherever we might live in the world.

 

And the truth is that even though we may feel like the psalmist at times when he said, “no one is faithful anymore; those who are loyal have vanished from the human race…Everyone lies to their neighbour; they flatter with their lips but harbor deception in their hearts… the poor are plundered and the needy groan… the wicked…freely strut about when what is vile is honoured by the human race”, there is still hope. And that hope is in God who says in reply,

 

“Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan,
I will now arise,” says the Lord.
“I will protect them from those who malign them.”
You, Lord, will keep the needy safe
and will protect us forever from the wicked…”
And remember, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” (Galatians 6:7).

Father, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always pure and pleasing, acceptable before you. Amen

# 73 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Nineteen: Psalm 11 God the King rules from heaven.

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I had thought I would move on to Psalm 12 when I realized that there was an incredibly important truth in Psalm 11 that I had only really mentioned briefly in passing. That was the remarkable words of verse 4 which states:

“The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.”

Just stop for a moment, as I did, and meditate on these words.

These words are teaching us about the God we worship. These words are a revelation concerning the One who created all things and the One who sustains all things. The One who rules, who is everywhere, knows everything and is all-powerful. And the psalmist suggests here that this One “is in his holy temple…on his heavenly throne.” Words that gave him great comfort and the courage to not run from his troubles or his troublemakers.

Why? Are these just nice words or does God really “sit on his heavenly throne” ruling over his creation?

Rather than going first to see what commentaries say, I checked out some very interesting cross-references to verse 4 as follows:

Solomon in his prayer to Yahweh, the “Sovereign Lord” (I Kings 8:53), asks that when he and his people call out to him that from heaven, your dwelling place, hear their prayer and their plea, and uphold their cause.” (1 Kings 8:49)

Prior to this, Solomon’s father David, “sang to the Lord…when the Lord delivered him from the hand of all his enemies…” and said these words:

In my distress I called to the Lord;
I cried to my God for help.
From his [heavenly] temple he heard my voice;
my cry came before him, into his ears.” (Psalm 18:6)

Then there is that remarkable vision of Isaiah’s when he “saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim …And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”    (Isaiah 6:1-3)

Later on he quotes this same Lord as saying:

Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool.”   (Isaiah 66:1)

Micah speaks of “the Sovereign Lord … bear[ing] witness against you,
the Lord from his holy temple.” (Micah 1:2)

And then Habakkuk has a serious suggestion for us all:

20 The Lord is in his holy temple;
let all the earth be silent before him.    (Habakkuk 2:20)

When we turn to the NT, the writers confirm what their OT counterparts wrote about. For example, Matthew, quoting Jesus, says,

34 But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool.”  (Matthew 5:34) – A quote from Isaiah 66:1 above.

But then to top all this off is the Revelation of John chapter 4-5, tiltled “The Throne in Heaven” in the NIV. If you have time, read it now. Here are just a few snippets:

“After this I looked … At once I was in the Spirit, and there before me was a throne in heaven with someone sitting on it. And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne. Surrounding the throne were twenty-four other thrones, and seated on them were twenty-four elders … In the centre, around the throne, were four living creatures … Day and night they never stop saying:

“‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come.”

Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives for ever and ever, 10 the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne and worship him who lives for ever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:

11 “You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.”   (Revelation 4)

What John saw was what the psalmist had mentioned when he said, “The Lord is in his holy temple; the Lord is on his heavenly throne.” And this is our God!

So, I guess, these are not just nice words to bring some comfort in trouble. Not just nice words to give courage against those who oppose us. But, the reality! The OT writers understood this. Some of them had a vision of God on his “heavenly throne”. Jesus in the NT affirms its truth and he should know! Then we have John’s vision just to complete the picture.

Of course, the point is not where this heavenly throne is, because we don’t know, and we don’t know because we aren’t told and most probably we are too earthbound to understand anyway!  As Wilcock comments, “it is not a matter of location; it is a matter of function…heaven…is where God welcomes all to his eternal presence and governs all by his eternal power.” (see references # 5)

Remember, according to the psalmist,  it is from here that God “observes the sons of men, his eyes examine them…the Lord [who] is righteous, [who] loves justice…[and whose face] the upright ones will see…” (Psalm 11:4-7)

A couple of other thoughts from commentators are:

In verse 3 the psalmist draws our attention to “foundations [that] are being destroyed”. Broyles suggests that the psalmist then points to “a building whose foundations will never be destroyed. It is the supreme image of stability and order….this statement does not merely locate God’s presence ; rather it affirms that he has assumed his role as universal Judge and is about to exercise that role. There is the sense that the entire world stands before him in his court.” He continues, “In the minds of the ancients the earthly temple was an immanent symbol participating in the transcendent reality.” (see references # 4)

And finally, Longman suggests that the psalmist “explains why he has such confidence in God in the face of armed attackers. [He] simply states that God ‘is in his holy temple’. In other words, he has made his presence known among his people…[and He is]  ‘on his heavenly throne’. The temple is an earthly manifestation of a heavenly reality….[and the point being] that God the King rules from heaven. From this heavenly vantage point, he observes everyone [the ‘righteous’ and the ‘wicked’].”   (see references # 30)

One day, we too, if we can be described as “righteous” (11:4) and “upright” (11:7), will “see his face” as we enter the heavenly throne room. How that is possible is found in John’s revelation chapter 5.

John here describes what he saw next, which was “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders… [and] the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. …  And they sang a new song, saying:

“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign on the earth.”

11 Then I looked and heard the voice of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand. They encircled the throne and the living creatures and the elders. 12 In a loud voice they were saying:

“Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain,
to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength
and honour and glory and praise!”

13 Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying:

To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be praise and honour and glory and power,
for ever and ever!”

14 The four living creatures said, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped.”

Thanks be to God that Jesus, here described as “The Lamb who was slain”, is the only way we will ever enter into God’s presence and “see his face”!

Father, this is all a bit too much to take in, but that doesn’t mean that it is any less the reality.  Thank you that you reign supreme and “love justice”. Help us to also “act justly…love mercy and to walk humbly with [you] our God.” (Micah 6:8) Amen

# 72 A journey through the Psalms. Truths to help us to “…live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received.” (Ephesians 4:1). # Eighteen: Psalm 11 “When I am weak, then I am strong.”

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My heart is in anguish within me;
the terrors of death have fallen on me.
Fear and trembling have beset me;
horror has overwhelmed me.
I said, “Oh, that I had the wings of a dove!
I would fly away and be at rest.
I would flee far away
and stay in the desert;
I would hurry to my place of shelter,
far from the tempest and storm.”     (Psalm 55:4-8)

Ever felt like this?

I wonder what was happening in David’s life to make him feel that all he wanted to do was run away (or “fly away”) to a place of safety. Knowing his story, there were plenty of occasions it could have been, but we are not told. But, in this psalm, there is no indication that this is what he actually did.

Well, that’s Psalm 55! It’s interesting though that in today’s psalm, Psalm 11, he rebukes his counselors who suggest that this is what he needs to do. Here David says:

In the Lord I take refuge.
    How then can you say to me:
“Flee like a bird to your mountain.
For look, the wicked bend their bows;
they set their arrows against the strings
to shoot from the shadows
at the upright in heart.
When the foundations are being destroyed,
what can the righteous do?”

Why so positive here? Because, it seems,  he knew without a doubt that:

The Lord is in his holy temple;
the Lord is on his heavenly throne.

So, why such a different reaction to what seems to be a similar situation?

Well, obviously with no background information, we may never know.

But, just maybe we have both psalms as a gift from God to be able to relate to both these times in our lives.

Psalm 55 for the times when we are feeling very weak and vulnerable and completely overwhelmed by all that is happening to us and we say (or maybe sing!) to ourselves, “O for the wings of a dove…” And yet, despite the seeming hopelessness of the situation maybe we are still able to say in faith:

22 Cast your cares on the Lord
and he will sustain you;
he will never let
the righteous be shaken.
23  …But as for me, I trust in you.

Then Psalm 11 for the times when, despite all that is happening, our confidence remains strong that God is on the throne and he can be trusted as we find our “refuge” in Him.

Like David, our feelings fluctuate. Some days we are feeling full of faith and confident that God is “on the throne”. Other days we may be not so sure of things, crying out to God, just as the father of the boy possessed by an evil spirit did to Jesus when he said, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)

Paul certainly understood tough times and he too cried out to God for the strength to go on. Listen to one occasion as mentioned in 1 Corinthian 12:7-10:

“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. 10 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.”

Not exactly fun times, and certainly not what we would desire naturally, but opportunities to rely upon our God rather than upon ourselves or others. Opportunities to strengthen our faith in him and allow him to transform us to become more like Jesus.  And so David confidently ends this psalm with:

For the Lord is righteous,
he loves justice;
the upright will see his face.  (Psalm 11:7)

Father, thank you that no matter what the circumstances of our lives, you are with us, you are good and your ways are good. Thank you that in the tough times your grace is all sufficient. Thank you that, like Paul, we have experienced those times when your power is made perfect in our weakness. Amen.