# 42 Psalms of Remembrance (#4) Psalm 78 Remembering to Inspire

Recently I read in a newsletter that, “We are about to begin a special time…the 30th anniversary of Betel International…We will remember and give the glory to God that, from one heroin addict who came looking for help 30 years ago, the grace of God has taken this ministry into some 100 cities in 25 countries around the world. Tens of thousands have been helped, churches have been planted and 2400 men, women and children are currently being cared for…This will be a time of remembering the wonders that the Lord has done, as well as allowing him to inspire us to move on to greater things in the years to come.”   (http://betelinternational.org)

This last sentence above summarizes the purposes of the Remembrance Psalms, in fact, of much of the Bible. Longman says concerning Psalm 78 that it “moves beyond praise and explicitly uses redemptive history to instruct future generations how to act.” (see references # 1)

The first 8 verses (of 72 verses) illustrate this:

Psalm 78. “Lessons from History. Asaph’s poetic song of instruction.”

“Beloved ones, listen to this instruction.   Open your heart to the revelation   of this mystery that I share with you.   A parable and a proverb is hidden in what I say,   an intriguing riddle from the past.   We’ve heard true stories from our fathers   about our rich heritage.   We will continue   to tell our children and not hide from the rising generation   the great marvels of our God, his miracles and his power   that have brought us all this far.   The story of Israel is a lesson in God’s ways.   He gave Moses his laws then commanded us to keep them,   and to make them known to our children.   For perpetuity God’s ways will be passed down  from one generation to the next, even to those not yet born.   In this way, every generation will have   a living faith in the laws of life   And will never forget the faithful ways of God. By following his ways they will break the past bondage   of their fickle fathers who were a stubborn, rebellious generation   and whose spirits strayed from the Eternal God.   They refused to love him with all their hearts! “

And then verse 9 starts the stories: “Take for example…”   (The Passion Translation)

Here are a few helpful comments on this psalm:

As mentioned, verses 1-8 (above) are a good summary of the purpose of the psalm because, as Broyles says, “Each generation must hear the story of salvation and so [have the opportunity to] choose to trust God. In sum, God has revealed his deeds (vv. 4, 7, 11), wonders (vv. 4, 11, 12, 32, 43), power (v. 4), and signs (v. 43). He has established his law (vv. 5, 10), statutes (or ‘testimonies’, vv. 5, 56), covenant (vv. 10, 37), and his commands (v. 7). He has guided (vv. 14, 53, 72) and redeemed (vv. 32, 42) his people; he has provided them with water and bread (vv. 15-16, 23-25), shepherded them (vv. 52, 70-72), and settled then in the land (vv. 54-55).”

Just to name a few of the many interventions of God in the lives of his people worth recalling!

Sadly, as we continue reading, after all these amazing acts of their loving and compassionate God, the verses following are not so positive as we discover some more details of what the psalmist was talking about in verse 8 when he spoke of these “fickle fathers who were a stubborn, rebellious generation and whose spirits strayed from the Eternal God. They refused to love him with all their hearts!” The latter verses speak then of their sin and the inevitable judgement that resulted, even to the point where God rejected them (vv. 59-60).

“The psalms solution to this dilemma for ‘the next generation’ lies in retelling this story [‘warts and all’], so they, unlike their forefathers, would not forget but know, put their trust in God and keep his commands (vv. 4-8). A living memory of God and his acts is the crucial factor.” (see references # 4)

Kidner entitled this psalm as “Lest We Forget” and says “it reviews the turbulent adolescence of Israel from its time of slavery in Egypt to the reign of David…it is meant to search the conscience: it is history that must not repeat itself. At the same time, it is meant to warm the heart, for it tells of great miracles, of a grace that persists through all the judgements, and of the promises…” of God to his people. (see references # 29)

I wonder what a psalm that describes our life from the beginning to the present day would look like? Would it be so inspiring that it could be passed “down from one generation to the next, even to those not yet born”?   And would it be that in “this way, every generation [who reads it] will have a living faith” in God and “will never forget the faithful ways of God”?

As 2015 draws to a close, why not try writing a psalm  to celebrate and describe the grace of God in your life over this past year?

Here’s mine, reflecting something of what I wrote about in my post # 33, commenting on Psalm 30.

Father, what words can express the sense of gratitude I feel today?

It’s been a year of many ups and downs, of open doors and closed doors.

There were times of elation, times of confusion, times of doubt and times of faith.

If nothing else this year, along with many others, I learnt what it means to be dependent upon you in a new way.

So often we recognised that we had no idea of the way to go.

Failure and rejection were our constant companions along the way, and not very pleasant ones at that.

But, deep down, we knew. We knew they weren’t our only companions. There was no doubt about it. You were there!

You gave us peace when all around us was chaotic. You gave us strength when we felt like giving up.

You answered prayer when all seemed lost. Each time we wanted to throw in the towel, you came near and encouraged us on.

And we did it, together, in community.

Thanks for the lessons you have taught us together and we are better people for it.

So, now we are here. We didn’t really see it coming, but the year has almost ended and with a good outcome.

And we have hope. There is no doubt in our minds that you have a plan for us.

In you our future is certain.

You are good and I give you thanks.

# 41 Psalms of Remembrance (#3) Psalm 136 ‘The Great Psalm of Praise’

I heard the sad story recently of a man who was just about to go on a 3 month journey around the world. Before he left he was challenged by a good friend to find three things every day to give thanks to God for. On return his friend asked him how he had gone finding things to give thanks for and was saddened by the reply she received. Her friend said that he had given up after three days because he couldn’t think of anything else to give thanks for!

Not so the psalmist! Remembering the wonder of God and all that he had done and then responding in thankfulness is what Psalm 136 is all about. In Jewish liturgy it is known as the Great Hallel or the ‘Great Psalm of Praise’.

First, the psalmist remembers who God is – his character:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the God of gods. His love endures forever. Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures forever.                                                                                                                             to him who alone does great wonders, His love endures forever.

Our God is not only ‘good’ but he is superior over all other ‘gods’, whether imagined and created by man, or all other spiritual beings, including angels and demons. And, His love endures forever!

He then turns to some of these “great wonders” as he acknowledges that “the heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1) – his creation:

…who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures forever. who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures forever. who made the great lightsHis love endures forever. the sun to govern the day, His love endures forever. the moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures forever.

There are many things we don’t understand, and in particular there are many gaps in our understanding of the universe we live in, but the psalmist suggests that when God created all these things it was “by his understanding” or wisdom. Longman comments, “The creation is ordered [just ask any scientist], not random. The assertion belies the thought that the universe is the result of pure chance.” (see references # 30) And, His love endures forever!

Then, like so many of the Remembrance Psalms, the psalmist speaks of the history of God’s intervention in the life of Israel – his redemption.

10 to him who struck down the firstborn of Egypt His love endures forever. 11 and brought Israel out from among them His love endures forever. 12 with a mighty hand and outstretched arm; His love endures forever.

13 to him who divided the Red Sea asunder His love endures forever. 14 and brought Israel through the midst of it, His love endures forever. 15 but swept Pharaoh and his army into the Red Sea; His love endures forever

In other words, the exodus! A remarkable display of God’s glory and power in delivering his people from slavery and oppression from the hand of Pharaoh in answer to their prayers. And, by the way, His love endures forever!

In our day, of course, we can write our own psalm remembering and giving thanks for the redemption that is in Christ, the One in whom, as Paul said, “we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding.” (Ephesians 1:7-8)

And from redemption to his presence with them leading them to the land promised so many years before to Abraham – his guidance.

16 to him who led his people through the wilderness; His love endures forever.

A very quick summary of what was a pretty up and down experience over 40 years, but his key point being that God remained faithful during this time. As it says in Exodus 13:21, “The Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.” And, of course, His love endures forever!

On arrival at the promised land there was work to be done and next the psalmist recalls God’s activities in giving them the land – his conquering.

17 to him who struck down great kings, His love endures forever. 18 and killed mighty kings— His love endures forever. 19 Sihon king of the Amorites His love endures forever. 20 and Og king of Bashan— His love endures forever. 21 and gave their land as an inheritance, His love endures forever. 22 an inheritance to his servant Israel. His love endures forever.

“The psalmist continues the flow of redemptive history by now thanking God for the gift of the land through conquest and settlement.” (see references # 30) And, don’t forget, His love endures forever!

And so the psalmist brings this psalm to an end with “general statements describing God’s actions for his people” – his provision.

23 He remembered us in our low estate His love endures forever. 24 and freed us from our enemies. His love endures forever. 25 He gives food to every creature. His love endures forever.

26 Give thanks to the God of heaven. His love endures forever.

Here we are reminded that God also “remembers” us. In this case he “remembered” the dire situation the Israelites were in and acted. “Remembrance means more than mental recall, and implies his actions to alleviate their suffering.” (see references # 30). And, His love endures forever.

Our God has not changed, he is still good and all powerful and, in reality, there are even more than three things daily we could remember and give thanks to him for! A colleague of mine was challenged to give thanks (on Facebook) for one thing every day for a year – and he did it! What about you? Could you do that? And if you did, what difference would it make to your life and relationships?

And, by the way, let me say it just one more time, His love (for you) endures forever!

# 40 Psalms of Remembrance (#2) His loving-kindness continues forever (Psalm 136)

Over many years of song writing there must have been thousands of lyrics that speak of one person’s love for another, and often they use extravagant phrases to describe their love, like, “never dying”, or as something that will last “forever”.

Bob Dylan, for example wrote, “I could hold you for a million years. To make you feel my love.”

Sadly, on the other hand, there are probably just as many sad songs that speak of broken hearts due to broken relationships when love has failed.

Harry Nillson, for example, sang, “Can’t go without her. There’s no song without her. It’s all wrong without her.”

We all know, that in reality, no matter how strongly love is confessed to be, the divorce statistics reveal that the inclination to infidelity and broken relationships is far too high.

But, all is not hopeless! Psalm 136 speaks of a place where love that is truly a forever-love can be found. Love where there is no possibility of infidelity, at least on the part of the Ultimate Lover. And to emphasize this point the psalmist repeats it 26 times! Just so we will never forget. A very unique Psalm of Remembrance (and thanksgiving).

The psalm commences with,

“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.                                                                                                                   His love endures forever.”  (NIV)

It is this last refrain, that is repeated in each of the 26 verses, that we will consider today. Other English versions put it this way:

“His tender love for us, Continues on forever!” (Passion Translation)

“His loving-kindness continues forever.” (Living Bible)

“His steadfast love is eternal.” (Jewish Study Bible)

The phrases above are an endeavour to explain a key Hebrew word/concept used often in the OT, and that is the word hesed.  It is helpful to look at what this means to really appreciate this forever-love of our God for us, his people.

The Jewish Study Bible suggests that hesed “means a favour done out of loyalty [often undeserved]. God’s hesed to Israel is eternal…When used of God towards Israel, it may be related to the covenant, and it expresses God’s faithfulness, goodness and graciousness”. (see references # 7)

Kidner suggests that the word is used in the context of “covenant-fidelity”. He says that hesed is “that faithfulness to a covenant, to which marital devotion gives some analogy.” He speaks of this words connection to “a strong element of fidelity” or in other words, faithfulness. (see references # 29)

Longmann says that “a key phrase associated with the idea of covenant in the Bible is, ‘I will be their God, and they will be my people.’” He continues, “Covenant [speaks of] an intimate relationship with God…[and the psalmist] often directly addresses God…as one aware that God is with him…[and in speaking of him, he uses the words] ‘my God’ or ‘our God’.”

And so, back to the use of the word hesed, Longmann suggests that the word often translated as ‘love’ in English, “carries a more specific meaning than love. It is better translated covenant lovingkindness. Hesed refers to the love which results from God’s intimate covenant relationship with his people.” (see references # 1)

[For further information on the topic of God’s covenant relationship with Israel, see chapter 3 of Longman’s book]

But as we move from the OT to the NT, we discover that now, in Christ, a new covenant is revealed. Jesus at the ‘last supper’ said, “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matthew 26:28). In Christ, hesed, the eternal loving-kindness of God, is revealed in a remarkable way in incarnation, death and resurrection. As John explains, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)

Now that is something worth remembering (not only when we share in communion, but daily), and to respond to by giving “thanks to the Lord, for he is good.” For “His tender love for us, continues on forever!”

# 39 Psalms of Remembrance (#1) “Remember the wonders [God] has done…”

 

“We learn from history that we learn nothing from history.” 

Above is a famous quote from George Bernard Shaw, possibly when he was having a “bad hair day”! But, you have to admit, there is truth in his statement. Sadly, our default position far too often is to easily forget the good things and not give thanks or fail to learn from past negative experiences and repeat them.

I remember a conversation I had with Peter, an older missionary friend, prior to going to serve God in Pakistan. He said, “Rod, do you write a journal?” Caught off guard, I asked, “A what?” He explained. The idea had never even occurred to me, so I then asked my friend, why I would do such a thing. He answered, “So that you can look back and remember all the great things God has done for you.” Seemed pretty obvious to him!

I decided that I would give it a go, and in March 1992, on a flight to the UK to prepare to join the mission organisation that we would serve with for 11 years, I began to write Journal # 1 (those days in a notebook). These days I am up to Journal # 64 (approx. 50 pages each on my laptop), and at times I do look back, read what I have written, remember what God has done (and what I wish I had not done!) and give thanks to the Lord for his grace and goodness and mercy and forgiveness.

Did you know the word “remember” occurs over 230 times in the Bible and for a good reason – we forget far too easily! In fact, there is even a type or genre of the psalms, according to Longman’s list, called the “psalms of remembrance”. Let’s check them out.

Longman suggests that the “Psalms of remembrance are those in which God’s past acts of redemption are the focus of attention…These psalms are united in their subject matter, the ‘wonderful acts’ of God (Psalm 105:2). Nowhere in the Bible is history reported only to impart historical information, but this is especially true in the psalms. Rather, God’s acts are recounted so that Israel might praise him: ‘Give thanks to the Lord, call on his name; make known among the nations what he has done.’ (Psalm 105:1)”  (see reference # 1)

Memory, which is described by Dictionary.com as “the mental capacity or faculty of retaining and reviving facts, events, impressions, etc., or of recalling or recognizing previous experiences”, is a wonderful thing and yet sometimes sadly, it can be a distressing thing, and the older one gets, so it seems, the more challenging it becomes. In his “Autobiography” Mark Twain says:

“I am grown old and my memory is not as active as it used to be. When I was younger I could remember anything, whether it had happened or not; but my faculties are decaying now and soon I shall be so I cannot remember any but the things that never happened.”

I mentioned above that the word “remember” occurs many times in the Bible. Many times it is exhorting us to remember what God has done and then respond in praise and thanksgiving, but it is also used in another way. And that is to remind us that, even if we forget, God does not. For example, “Remember the wonders [God] has done…” (Psalm 105:5), followed by “He remembers his covenant forever, the word he commanded for a thousand generations, the covenant he made with Abraham, the oath he swore to Isaac.” (105:8-9)

So, even when we forget Him, he never forgets us!  In Isaiah 49:14-16 we read the following:

14 But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,     the Lord has forgotten me.”

[To which the Lord replies:]

15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast     and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget,     I will not forget you! 16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands…”                                                                                                                                                                    Such is the wonder of God’s love for us, his people. Certainly worth remembering!