Friday, December 20, 2013

Psalms To See Me Through: Psalm 4—To The Victorious One

For the Choir Director; On Stringed Instruments. A Psalm of David.

Answer me when I call, O God of my righteousness! You have relieved me in my distress; Be gracious to me and hear my prayer. O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach? How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah. But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself; The Lord hears when I call to Him. Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, And trust in the Lord. Many are saying, “Who will show us any good?” Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O Lord! You have put gladness in my heart, More than when their grain and new wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety. {Ps. 4 }.                                                                                                                         

The choir director does not impart the full implication of this song. The Hebrew word means conductor, the head of the entire Temple Orchestra.[1]  David desired a beautiful instrumental that would sear the song upon the hearts of people for generations to come,

The subtleties and intricacies of the Temple music stress that the art of musicology is an essential wisdom, for melodies have the power to arouse the soul as nothing else.[2]

The root of the word, natsach (naw-tsakh') can be translated in two ways. One is eternity, and the other is victorious. This is so powerful. The first meaning speaks to David’s intentions with his songs; they had eternal implications. The second interpretation is quite fitting; David was no stranger to victory; God fought many battles on his behalf—and handed him the victory. 

The Talmud interprets this word as a reference to God; “To Him who causes victory, a song unto David.[3] David had complete confidence in the God that fought and won many victories for him. He trusted that he could cry out to God again and that the Lord would deliver him.  

You have relieved me in my distress; be gracious to me and hear my prayer {v.1}.  

The Tehillim translates the verse:

When I call, answer me, God of my vindication, You have relieved me of my distress, be gracious to me and hear my prayer {v. 2}.[4]

When David called out, he knew he stood righteous before God, When I call answer me—God of vindication.  The word used here is literally my righteousness. When we stand righteous before God and cry out to Him in trouble, He will vindicate us—set a table for us in the presence of our enemy. Your enemy may be a circumstance and not a person; God will be your vindication. This does not necessarily mean you will get the outcome you are asking for, but righteousness is on your side. When David presented this psalm to the conductor, it was for all generations to come. We can find encouragement and trust that the same God that saved David and gave him the victory will fight on our behalf and give the victory. He is fighting for you. 

David speaks out to his enemies;

 O sons of men, how long will my honor become a reproach? How long will you love what is worthless and aim at deception? Selah. But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself {vv. 2-3}. 

The righteous can always stand before the Lord in confidence {see Heb. 4:16}. David knew that Absalom was being deceived by someone and being used as a pawn in a much bigger scheme in this attempted coup; but David trusted God and knew that he would be given the victory.

David is our teacher in challenging times, “This declaration is an eloquent expression of one of David’s most cherished credos. Never be discouraged by the terrible burdens and pressures of life. Every frustrating enfeebling situation is, in reality, a divinely given opportunity to overcoming adversity.[5] When we learn to overcome adversity, it empowers us to persevere. 

But know that the Lord has set apart the godly man for Himself; the Lord hears when I call to Him {v.3}.

I love the rendering in the Tehillim Commentary; 

Recognize that just as Hashem distinguished His devoted one, Hashem will listen when I call upon Him. 

This is a direct warning to his enemies, tread carefully. I will call on the Lord, and He will answer me. God has called us to be a peculiar people, not to be like the nations. When you are devoted to God, He will be devoted to you, and He will answer when you call. 

Tremble, and do not sin; Meditate in your heart upon your bed, and be still. Selah. Offer the sacrifices of righteousness, and trust in the Lord.” {vv. 4-5}.

David repeatedly admonishes the righteous to trust the Lord. This is one of our secrets to enduring trials. Sleep is one place where God speaks to us; there are no distractions. Many times, our dreams are the illustration of our soul, it is a way of working through issues we face. When David admonished through his song to tremble, “The Sages of the Talmud interpret this…A person should constantly arouse his good inclination, to battle against his evil inclination.”[6] When we lay down those things that bring us trouble, we can be still and at peace, trusting in God, whose banner of righteousness is over us. 

Lift up the light of Your countenance upon us, O Lord! You have put gladness in my heart, More than when their grain and new wine abound. In peace I will both lie down and sleep, For You alone, O Lord, make me to dwell in safety. Many are saying, “Who will show us any good? {vv.6-8}.

Nothing in the world can bring true contentment. Without God, all our treasures, and all the plans we have, do not bring happiness and contentment. When we have laid aside our trouble {cast your cares on Him 1 Pet. 5:7} and find our contentment in the Lord, He enables us to sleep in peace, no matter the depth of trial we are facing. When we live right before Him, He is Jehovah Tsidqenu—the Lord our Righteousness; and He reigns as Jehovah Shalom our peace, and we can rest in Him our Shiloh.

[1] Unless otherwise noted, all biblical passages referenced are in the New American Standard Version (La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation, 1995).
[2]Avrohom Chaim Feuer, trans., Tehillim, The Book of Psalms, “Psalm 4” (Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1995), 82.
[3] Ibid.
[4] This translation’s verses differ; the translators regard the heading as verse 1. This is translated verse 1 in major translations.
[5] Ibid., 83.
[6] Ibid., 86. 

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Psalms To See Me Through: Psalm 3—The Conversion of Language

Psalm 3: A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son.

O Lord, how my adversaries have increased! Many are rising up against me. Many are saying of my soul, “There is no deliverance for him in God.” Selah. But You, O Lord, are a shield about me, My glory, and the One who lifts my head. I was crying to the Lord with my voice, And He answered me from His holy mountain. Selah. I lay down and slept; I awoke, for the Lord sustains me. I will not be afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me round about. Arise, O Lord; save me, O my God! For You have smitten all my enemies on the cheek; You have shattered the teeth of the wicked. Salvation belongs to the Lord; Your blessing be upon Your people! Selah.

The third Psalm is the first offered prayer in this prayer book. It is a conversion of language. Eugene Peterson in Answering God explains that the conversion of language is a change from talking about God to talking to God.[1]

David is in trouble, and he is suffering from the worst betrayal; that of his own son. His very own flesh and blood. It was not a sudden attack but a slow, thought-out, well-planned betrayal. Absalom turned the hearts of the people away from David by usurping his father’s throne (2 Sam. 15). David, his family, and a few that remain loyal to the anointed king escape—he must hide from his son Absalom—one that he thought he could trust. He raised this boy in the palace and offered him the best of everything, and he is repaid with betrayal. 

The language of prayer is forged in the crucible of trouble. Eugene Peterson

 David laments his pain to God, illustrating the conversion of language. He is not crying out about God, he is crying out to God. He cries out to God as if God is listening, as if he has a relationship with God. His pain is such that he does not name his enemy—he can’t speak the name of his son, and he can’t bring himself to speak of his son as the enemy. He stutters as he attempts to name him, but he can’t breathe through the pain.  He must still cry out to God for help because this unnamed enemy will kill him if he should catch up to the exiled king. His enemy is mocking him, laughing, “There is no help for him in God!” (v.2 NASB).  

How many times have we felt this pain in our hearts—our enemies mocking our trust in God? Maybe it is not a physical enemy, perhaps it is a circumstance or situation; the devil wants us to believe we have no hope, forcing us to run into exile for our lives. Maybe your exile is bitterness, depression, discouragement, addiction, and anger. The pain is a cruel darkness. The blade of betrayal and hurt brutally impaled into our broken bodies, leaving our hearts skewered. 

David cries out to God, and he is answered. God did not only answer him, but His answer echoed from God’s holy mountain, the place where God’s presence rests. It is hard not to talk about our troubles, we just want to know that someone on the planet knows the pain we are in. We hear the voice of the enemy ringing in our ears “There is no hope!” but the enemy has come to kill, steal, and destroy—and he would see you destroyed if he had his way. But God…though David cries out to God about the enemy he is facing, he does not stay in the place of discouragement that seeks to entrap and defeat him. He turns from the trouble to trust in His mercy and faithfulness as He hears God answering from the mountain. David is not alone. You are not alone. God hears you when you call.   

How can you trust God? David turned from the trouble and remembered the promises God had made to him. God has already proven Himself faithful to deliver David from his enemies, and David trusts that God will do it again, even now. David is so confident that the Lord will deliver that he is able to sleep and wake in peace with God as his shield. David changed his perspective. His eyes shift off the enemy onto God, and His faithfulness and the discouragement and pain have to cower in the presence of God Almighty. David is still in pain, who would not be at the betrayal of a son? Regardless, he places his trust in El Shaddai—God Almighty. Choosing to trust changed David’s perspective and his heart and gave him peace.

The entire theology of prayer, that the world and I can be changed and that God is the one to do it. Eugene Peterson
Prayer changes everything. Prayer changes the one who prays when they put their trust in God. The enemy is going to keep trying to discourage you. Trouble will scream through the dark. The night can prove tormenting. The pain reeling in your head and heart, robs you of sleep; it robs you of peace; robs you of joy. The enemy is overwhelming; he will screech and holler and back you into a corner until it seems that all hope eludes you. This is where you need to make the conversion of language. 

God is not someone to talk about, He is someone to talk to. He desires relationship more than you can ever imagine. He loves you. He wants you to turn from trouble and trust in Him. Jesus assured believers that in this world there will be trouble, but God will always deliver you. He may not take the trouble away, but when you rest in His presence, He will be your Shield and protect you; He will be your glory and raise you up. He will hold your head up high in the face of the enemy. And you will be stronger for it—for enduring the trial. God is faithful.  He will prove faithful to you too. Change your language; change your perspective. Turn from trouble to trust. This is the theology of prayer. 

[1] Eugene Peterson, Answering God: The Psalms As Tools For Prayer (New York: HarperOne, 1989), 42.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

A Kiss of Thankfulness

This past week, Chanukah and Thanksgiving met; yet one event also graced this week of celebration; Advent kissed us in the midst of Chanukah, both celebrations express our longing for the Light to come. A kiss of thankfulness—I do not believe it is an accidental encounter. 

In Chanukah we celebrate the precious oil; though they didn’t have enough for eight days; they chose to honor God and thought it better to light the golden Lampstand regardless, and God honored their act of faith. One more truth remains in the Chanukah celebration we Gentiles take for granted; at the time of the rededication of the temple, the Devil crafted yet again a plot to wipe the Jewish people from the earth. No Jews—no Messiah. We can celebrate the Christology in this blessed event—Jesus Christ the Light of World; the one in which we hope. The Maccabees overthrew the plot and rededicated the temple, the very temple that spoke of the Temple to come—the Messiah. This alone should be enough for us, Jew and Gentile alike, to throw a thanksgiving feast worthy of the King of Glory. 

Who is the King of glory? The LORD strong and mighty, The LORD mighty in battle. 
Ps. 24:8 


The first Advent has come, fulfilling all that the Old Covenant promised. Sunday began the Advent season celebrating that fulfilled promise, Jesus Christ, born in a stable to humble Jewish parents. His only coronation audience- cows, sheep, donkeys, and a few frightened shepherds. His glory laid aside to dwell among us—Immanuel. 

The first Advent candle to light is the ‘hope’ or ‘prophecy candle; reflecting the hope we hold in our hearts—He will come. We hope in His coming, the promise that dripped like honey off the lips of our Savior, His prophetic promise that He will return. He came once; He shall come again. 

Three separate celebrations in a week saturated in thanksgiving. We began with the Feast of Lights celebrating the Light of the World and end it with the beginning of the waiting season of His precious birth; and sandwiched between is Thanksgiving, a time to remember all that we are thankful for; all the Lord has done for us. It is time to cultivate a thankful heart. Thankfulness does not just appear in our hearts, we have to cultivate it, practice it. Thankfulness does not always come easy, in the face of hurt, loss and disappointment. Pain and hurt screams to drown out any hope of joy, yet we have the Light of the world and a journey to a manger, to break any threats of darkness. God is so faithful to us, His faithfulness should rest atop our thanksgiving list…If you can think of nothing to be thankful for…Jesus was beaten and bruised to redeem us because His love for us was too great, He could not even fathom spending an eternity apart from you, He could more easily fathom the Cross, if He does nothing else for me—I am forever awed at this act of love.

 Cultivate a thankful heart;

It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; To declare your lovingkindness in the morning and Your faithfulness by night. Psalm 92:1-2 

This is the day that the Lord has made; I will rejoice and be glad in it. Psalm 118:24

Shout joyfully to the Lord, all the earth. Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing. Know that the Lord Himself is God; It is He who has made us, and not we ourselves; We are His people and the sheep of His pasture. Enter His gates with thanksgiving And His courts with praise. Give thanks to Him, bless His name. For the Lord is good; His lovingkindness is everlasting And His faithfulness to all generations. Psalm 100

O come, let us sing for joy to the Lord, Let us shout joyfully to the rock of our salvation. Let us come before His presence with thanksgiving, Let us shout joyfully to Him with psalms. For the Lord is a great God And a great King above all gods, In whose hand are the depths of the earth, The peaks of the mountains are His also. The sea is His, for it was He who made it, And His hands formed the dry land. Come, let us worship and bow down, Let us kneel before the Lord our Maker. Psalm 95: 1-6

Oh give thanks to the Lord, for He is good, For His lovingkindness is everlasting. Psalm 107:1

 O give thanks unto the LORD; for he is good: for his mercy endurethforever. Psalm 136:1

O LORD, You are my God; I will exalt You, I will give thanks to Your name; For You have worked wonders, Plans formed long ago, with perfect faithfulness. Isaiah 25:1

Do you not think it the devil’s work to steal the joy from so many during a season that should bring us such joy? 

Joy to the World, the Lord is come! Let earth receive her King; Let every heart prepare Him room, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven and nature sing, And Heaven, and Heaven, and nature sing.

Thanksgiving brings joy. 

Thanksgiving may be over, but our thanksgiving to Him should not rest. Sundown on Wednesday marks the last night of Chanukah, but we should not cease searching for the Light of World to give us light on our path and to break through the darkness in our lives. Twenty-one more days lay before us, a path to Christmas morning. Seek for the Holy Child every day until He comes. Cultivate thanksgiving, find joy, feel His peace and keep your eyes on Jesus. For He is why we celebrate.

In His Grace,