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

brick kiln bondage


“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:


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.’   

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


# 128 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 33 Forks in the road.


Statue of Genghis Khan in Mongolia

If you have read much history you might ponder questions like, “Did God have any control over Genghis Khan and his conquering armies?” If so, keep reading!

Psalm 33 began with the exhortation to, Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous, and then continued with the words, because it is fitting for the upright to praise him (verse 1).

Last time we looked at one of the reasons the writer then gives for praising God and that was because, the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does (verse 4), and then adds, concerning God’s act of creation, For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm (verse 9).

As we continue on reading this wonderful psalm the writer gives more reasons to worship the Lord. Listen to his words:

10 The Lord foils the plans of the nations;
he thwarts the purposes of the peoples.
11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever,
the purposes of his heart through all generations.

Many people acknowledge God as Creator but then act as if that was all he did and now he is basically absent. To believe that is to be far from the reality of things.

In these verses we see that it is fitting for the upright to praise God because not only does he speak but he acts. Here we see two truths:

Verse 10: God, in his wisdom, in his own time and in his own way prevents the plans of certain nations/peoples from actually coming to fruition.

Verse 11: On the other hand, God’s plans/purposes have been and continue to be fulfilled in the earth.

The TPT puts these verses like this:

10 With his breath he scatters the schemes of nations who oppose him;
they will never succeed.
11 His destiny-plan for the earth stands sure.
His forever-plan remains in place and will never fail.

Now, considering the history of the world, you may be thinking that this does not appear to be the reality of things. It would appear that there have been times when, what we would consider to be evil plans/purposes of nations and their evil leaders, have not been thwarted. In fact, they seem to have been allowed to happen to the detriment of many. In this last century alone events around such names such as Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot and Idi Amin come to mind, just to name a few.

So, how do we reconcile the psalmist’s claim concerning God’s power and authority and sovereignty over his creation and our understanding of history and even our own experience?

Although not all may agree with all the authors’ conclusions, one interesting look at history is in a book I read some time back. It is called “The Miracle of Freedom: 7 Tipping Points that Saved the World” by Chris and Ted Stewart (published by Shadow Mountain in 2011). A summary of the book says:

“How unusual is it, really, in the history of all known human experience, to enjoy the blessings of living free?”

…So where did freedom come from, and how are we fortunate enough to experience it in our day?

“A deeper look at the human record,” write the authors, “reveals a series of critical events, obvious forks in the road leading to very different outcomes, that resulted in this extraordinary period in which we live.” They identify and discuss seven decisive tipping points:

1. The defeat of the Assyrians in their quest to destroy the kingdom of Judah
2. The victory of the Greeks over the Persians at Thermopylae and Salamis
3. Roman Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity
4. The defeat of the armies of Islam at Poitiers
5. The failure of the Mongols in their effort to conquer Europe
6. The discovery of the New World
7. The Battle of Britain in World War II

The journey to freedom has been thousands of years long.”

This book is an attempt to look at the big picture of history and how it works together into one story. There is no doubting that despite the plans of certain nations and their leaders in history, their plans have often not eventually succeeded and this has happened too often, I think, to just be a coincidence.

So, just maybe, God was even in control of Genghis Khan and his armies!

Blaiklock comments, “Unless ultimate justice prevails, unless God has a plan which finally will be demonstrated in its perfection, unless the rebellion which is called sin in the end falls by its futility, all faith is vain. The lesson of any life which commits itself to God shows the truth of these words, for the plan of God’s will works out in the mighty stage of history, too wide flung for any single eye to see, and also, in comprehensible microcosm in any individual life.”  (# 37)

It is also important to remember what Michael Wilcock wrote (as quoted in my last post)

Everything God does is right and true, and faithful to his own character. Righteousness and justice underpin it all. In a world where so much is evidently not right, we may not always see how this can be. But the truth is that none of the areas of human study touched on in Psalm 33 – science, history, geography, politics – can ever be properly understood apart from this moral framework. Good and evil are woven into the fabric of the universe, and those who explore and exploit it ignore that fact at their peril.” (# 5)

The writer of this psalm is speaking to, you righteous…the upright, encouraging them (and us) to praise God, reassuring them (and us) that our God is in control, even if their (our) circumstances are difficult. Paul does the same thing in the letter to the Romans 8:28 when he writes:   

28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him…

Then in Ephesians 1:11 Paul is writing about God’s great plan of salvation through Christ and how we, as his people are predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his own will.  

So, if our God is indeed in control, and the scriptures confirm this, then why not

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Father, what a blessing it is to know that you are sovereign in all your creation. We confess that when we look at the seeming chaos of world events it is too easy to despair. But thank you for this psalm which encourages us to trust you, no matter the circumstances because your plans stand firm forever. Amen. 


# 127 A journey through the Psalms. Psalm 33 And God said…


Facsimile copy of Codex Sinaiticus (The Word of God – the Bible)

I was in a library in NZ recently and came across the book in this photo. It is a copy of what is known as the Codex Sinaiticus. The original is held in the British Museum. Concerning this book, it said that it is “considered one of the most valuable manuscripts for establishing the original texts of the Greek New Testament, as well as the Greek translation of the Old Testament, the Septuagint. It can be dated accurately as having been written between 325 and 360 AD…only 300 years [after]…the original manuscripts of the New Testament…The Codex contains portions of Genesis, Leviticus, Numbers, Joshua, 1 Chronicles, Ezra – Nehemiah, Psalms, Esther, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations and Joel –  Malachi…[and] the entire New Testament with the omission of a few verses.” Almost 1700 years later we are still reading these same words inspired by God, although now, God’s Word, the Bible, has been translated into hundreds of other languages.

In Psalm 33 the author exhorts us to praise and worship God. Then he gives us reasons why. His first reason is:

For the word of the Lord is right and true;
    he is faithful in all he does.
The Lord loves righteousness and justice;
the earth is full of his unfailing love.

There is a saying that “a man [or woman] is only as good as his [her] word”, The obvious meaning is that a good man/woman is someone who not only makes promises, but lives up to them – in other words, someone who keeps his/her word.  No one wants to be around a person who says one thing and then goes on to do something else. A person who does not do what he/she says cannot be trusted.

Not so with God. He is as good as his word! Listen to how the psalmist describes God and his word:

God’s word “is right and true” or as the Passion Translation puts it, “He is true to his promises; his word can be trusted”.
God himself
“is faithful in all he does…[he] loves righteousness and justice.”
and the earth “is full of his unfailing love”.

This is the God we worship, the One whose person and character is as good as his Word.

But the psalmist continues and speaking of creation says concerning God’s word:

By the word of the Lord the heavens were made,
their starry host by the breath of his mouth.
He gathers the waters of the sea into jars
he puts the deep into storehouses.
Let all the earth fear the Lord;
let all the people of the world revere him.
For he spoke, and it came to be;
he commanded, and it stood firm.

Reminding us of Genesis chapters 1 where we read:

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.   (1:1)

And where we then read the often repeated 3 words,

And God said…  (1:6, 9, 14, 20, 24 and 29),

as He spoke all things we now take for granted into existence – and that from an “earth [that] was formless and empty”. (1:2)

When God speaks, things happen! Or as the psalmist puts it, he spoke, and it came to be.

Blaiklock says, “A new discovery of God’s faithfulness (4), a fresh insight into [his] unchanging love (5), has driven the writer of [this] song to deeper wonder of [the] Creator, [the] awesome power behind all nature (7), who yet can communicate with the creatures of his making (8) and will bend strength so unimaginable to their good (9).”

He continues: “As Paul maintained (see Romans 1:18ff quoted below*), the very spectacle of the universe should turn any contemplative mind to the discovery and worship of the Mind behind all matter.” (# 37)

* 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)

So, no wonder the psalmist is so enthusiastic about praising and worshiping God and encouraging others (us) to do the same!

Not only is:

God’s word “right and true” or as The Passion Translation (TPT) puts it, “He is true to his promises; his word can be trusted”.


God himself “is faithful in all he does…[he] loves righteousness and justice” or, “everything he does is so reliable and right. The Lord loves seeing justice on the earth”. (TPT)

And then on top of all this,

the earth “is full of his unfailing love” or “Anywhere and everywhere you can find his faithful, unfailing love.” (TPT)

Let me conclude with the words of Michael Wilcock:

“Everything God does is right and true, and faithful to his own character. Righteousness and justice underpin it all. In a world where so much is evidently not right, we may not always see how this can be. But the truth is that none of the areas of human study touched on in Psalm 33 – science, history, geography, politics – can ever be properly understood apart from this moral framework. Good and evil are woven into the fabric of the universe, and those who explore and exploit it ignore that fact at their peril.” (# 5)  

Father, what a wonderful thing it is that we have your reliable Word, the Bible, today to be able to read and understand who you are and be amazed at your love and concern for us, mere humans. Then to see things that happen in this world you created from the perspective of your faithfulness, goodness and righteousness. Open our eyes daily to discover new truths from your Word. Amen.