Why don’t they understand? The solution seems obvious to me, why can’t they see it? How come they think so differently to me? Why can’t I understand their point of view on this matter?
Ever felt like this? Maybe when connecting (or trying to connect anyway) with people of a different culture, or even a different generation than yourself. We certainly experienced it when living in Pakistan, and later in life when our children became teenagers. In fact, they (the Pakistanis and our teenagers) were most probably asking the same questions concerning us at times!
Psalm 89 (the third longest in the Psalter) was written maybe around 3000 years ago, by a man, Ethan the Ezrahite, who had been brought up as a Hebrew in Israel. There’s the first hint concerning the possibility that we may not comprehend why he wrote this poem as he did. But still there is so much we can learn from him. How is this possible? Because the key factors that have not changed over 3000 years are the heart of man and the heart and purposes of God.
Now, as I read this psalm, I wondered what was unique about it that would help us today to enter into it and be blessed as we read it. Then, in the process of reading some commentators on Psalm 89 I read these words by Wilcock:
“Psalm 48 [first] brought to our attention the Hebrew notion that the past is in front of us and the future is behind us.”
Now that is something worth considering, I think! Let me quote further from Wilcock, and hopefully shed some light on this rather confusing notion to my Western mind.
He continues that such “An idea so alien to western culture is worth thinking about. Our generation [he was writing this in 2001 in the UK] is busily editing history out of its educational system, and is besotted with hopes and fears, plans and projections for the future. But the word of the Lord insists that concerning the future we know nothing, except the single fact that one day we shall meet Him, either at our death or at His return. By contrast, the past in all its glittering variety he spreads before those who are prepared to learn from it as a comprehensive guide to living in the meantime.
Old Testament prophecy, so extensive and so varied, all points to the single fact, though from one stage further back: that ‘God is working his purpose out.’ Everything that happens, however mystifying, he weaves into the fulfilling of his covenant with the line of David, which is the line of Christ.”
I checked back on his commentary on Psalm 48 and on this same subject Wilcock says:
“To think of the past being in front of us and the future behind us seems the wrong way around, but it is very logical. The past is what happened ‘before’, and so it lies ‘before’ us: we know what it contains. The future is what is coming ‘after’ us, and we can’t see it.” (# 5)
At his stage, it seems a good idea, to stop and consider (maybe re-read the above) before moving on, or as the psalmists so often say: Selah, or Pause in His presence (TPT).
So, where do we see the application of this in Psalm 89 and what can we learn from this?
This prayer poem is divided into 3 main parts (although the third part could be divided into 2 separate sections). Verses 1-14 which is basically a recalling of the greatness of God and of what He has done. Then verses 15-37 when the psalmist reminds himself (and God) of His unchangeable covenant with David. All in the past! But this is what Wilcock means when he says, “The past is what happened ‘before’, and so it lies ‘before’ us: we know what it contains.” This is the very foundation of the psalmist’s life and prayer – that which he knows from what he has been taught and experienced. As he prays, he looks forward with these truths forever before him.
Then the psalm becomes a lament (verses 38-51). The first section being Verses 38-45 which describes the present grim reality of his present situation. This is then concluded with verses 46-51 when he cries out to God to deliver them from their present plight and from what looks like a bleak although unforeseeable future. The future, so far, that has not turned out as he had expected. That which Wilcock explains as, “The future is what is coming ‘after’ us, and we can’t see it” and “concerning the future we know nothing.”
In this psalm is a very different way of seeing things and a different way of praying. I wonder, are we open and willing to learn new things from this psalm?
Hopefully this introduction has been helpful, although probably like me, maybe the concept has been very difficult to grasp. But we will look at this psalm in more detail over the next weeks and hopefully this will help us. If you have any comments, especially helpful ones in understanding this non-western way of looking at life, please send them to me.