Monday, March 14, 2011

Psalm 49

“Everybody listen to me” (vs. 1-4)—Poetry is a marvelous thing. Here the writer takes four verses to say, in effect, “everybody listen to what I’m about to say.” His message will be put to music (v. 4); he will speak wisdom (v. 3), and he emphasizes that “low and high, rich and poor together” should hear him. That includes the whole world. And indeed, his subsequent message is full of light and wise advice. However, the world would not listen in his day, and is not listening today, either.

The foolishness of worldliness (vs. 5-15)—The writer starts his thoughts by saying that there is no reason to be afraid when surrounded by sin (v. 5)—“when the iniquity of (at) my heels shall compass me about,” a lovely, poetic way to express it. The implication from here on is that the wealthy are mostly the cause of the sin we should not be afraid of. That is a general truth; because of their wealth, they have more free time to get into mischief. Others are working hard just to survive. That was certainly true in the subsistence farming era the psalmist lived in. Verses 6 and 7 state the theme of Psalm 49: “Those who trust in their wealth and boast in the multitude of their riches, none of them can by any means redeem his brother nor give to God a ransom for him.” In short, money cannot buy salvation. The psalmist immediately puts his finger on what is truly important and lasting—spiritual things, not worldly. Trusting in wealth rather than God will cost a man his soul (vs. 8-9). “What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matt. 16:26). What is more important to us than salvation? To some, it is money. But that is vanity.

The “he” of verse 10 is a little vague; perhaps the psalmist is speaking of himself. But he states here the reason that wealth is so vain—wise men die, foolish men die, the wealthy die “and leave their wealth to others.” The fruits of all that hard work will be enjoyed by others. They certainly don’t mean it to be so and never really consider spiritual things. They think they will live “forever” (on earth), and even “call their lands after their own names” (v. 11). That’s a bit of a hyperbole; everyone knows that they will eventually die, but again, what is truly important to these people are things of this earth. Such a one may have “honor” from other like-minded individuals (an honor that “does not remain”), but “he is like the beasts that perish” (v. 12). Recognizing that and avoiding the pitfalls of wealth is true wisdom, indeed.

But, they are foolish, and so are all those who exalt them, even in future generations (v. 13). They shall die and “their beauty shall be consumed in the grave” (v. 14). On the other hand, the righteous will be redeemed by God “from the power of the grave” and “He shall receive me” (v. 15). Faithfulness to God, not gold, is the standard accepted in heaven.

The final word of advice (vs. 16-20)—So, going back to his initial statement (v. 5), don’t be afraid of what the wealthy can do to you (v. 16). Keep your eyes on the true prize and realize that when the rich man dies “he shall carry nothing away” and his glory shall not descend after him”—descend, not ascend (v. 17). He and the world may think he’s a hotshot (v. 18), but he will follow his fathers into eternity, an eternity where “they shall never see light” (v. 19). The man who is honored by the world, but doesn’t understand these thoughts, “is like the beasts that perish” (v. 20). A dumb, ignorant, brute beast—that’s what the psalmist calls those who refuse to heed the Lord and His eternal message.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Psalm 48

Praise for God in Jerusalem (vs. 1-14)—Jerusalem was the seat of Israel’s government during the United Kingdom, and then Judah’s when the country divided. The Psalmist here encourages the people of the city to praise God. He calls Jerusalem a “holy mountain” (v. 1) and “Mount Zion” (v. 2); the stability and strength of a mountain is the key here. It is the city of the great King (v. 2), the refuge of His people (v. 3).

Much of the reason for this praise is found in verses 4-7, the protection the Lord gave the city from “the kings assembled” (v. 4). They “passed by” (v. 4), “saw it” (Jerusalem), “marveled” and “were troubled” and thus “hastened away” (v. 5). They became fearful (v. 6), and the psalmist attributes this to the power of Jehovah, who can “break” the mightiest of ships with ease (v. 7). In an age of strong, ruthless empires, when a relatively minor city like Jerusalem is left alone, there is cause for rejoicing. The city will eventually be sacked, of course, in 586 B.C. by the Babylonians, but God’s purpose for Jerusalem, the Jews, and mankind would continue until the Messiah came—which was the point of it all. Jerusalem would be established “forever” (v. 8), that is, for as long as God has use for her. And, indeed, the city still exists, though its divine purpose is unknown to us.

The source of this heavenly protection was the “lovingkindness” of the Lord; reminders of that were daily illustrated in “Your temple” (v. 9)—the fact that He had set up a sacrificial system so that the people might have atonement for their sins. The Lord is a righteous God, deserving of “praise to the ends of the earth” (v. 10). The city and country should rejoice “because of your judgments” (v. 11). The reference in verse 11 to Judah and not all of Israel may imply that the division has already happened. We do not know the exact date or circumstance of the writing of this song.

The writer then closes the psalm with a boast about the strength of the city—look at her towers, bulwarks, and palaces, and pass the message on to future generations (vs. 12-13). But he correctly attributes this to “our God,” who “will be our guide even to death” (v. 14). Our protection from evil in this life comes from the Lord, and it is something we should be thankful for and give Him praise. Indeed, many times He works in His providence to protect us (from others and ourselves) and we may not even know it, because the harm that might have come did not come. Jehovah is worthy to be praised for what we see Him do—and what we do not see.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Psalm 47

Reasons to rejoice (vs. 1-9)—There are many reasons to glorify the Lord and this psalms mentions only a few, and those are largely related to Israel’s situation. But the principles are certainly today. We clap our hands (in joy) and shout the victory He gives to us (v. 1). Such “victories” would be physical as well as spiritual to the national/theological country of Israel. So, why should such rejoicing take place? First, God is “awesome” (v. 2, “terrible,” KJV; “awesome” is obviously better here). He is the King over all the earth (v. 2). Knowing that our God rules the entire world is certainly a reason for joy and comfort. Further, He would “subdue” Israel’s enemies (v. 3), and give them the inheritance He had promised them (v. 4). Jehovah had, of course, already given them the land He had promised to Abraham, but for that “inheritance” to continue is a praiseworthy thing. The shouting and “sound of a trumpet” of verse 5 also have martial overtones; physical Israel needed victories over their physical enemies, and we need victories over our spiritual opponents. The Lord leads us to those victories, and should get the credit. The idea of shouts and trumpets sounding as armies go/went into battle is not relevant in our age, but it was a primary way of rousing the spirit and encouraging the faint-hearted in ancient times. The fife and drums of American revolutionary times would be a parallel. But because of His glorious leadership in battle, the psalmist encourages his readers/listeners to “sing praises to God” (v. 6), the “King of all the earth” (v. 7). These praises should be sung “with understanding” (v. 7), thus with full appreciation of what He does for us.  God reigns over (all) the "nations" (v. 8, KJV has “heathen,” which is probably the way the Jews of old would view the “nations”). He is on “His holy throne” (v. 9), gathering the great and small of the land to protect them (v. 9). Thus, “He is greatly exalted.” There is no other God like Him, of course, for only He reigns. This is indeed a psalm of victory, triumph, and encouragement.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Psalm 46

"God is our refuge and strength" (vs. 1-3)--This beautiful psalm is one of great encouragement; I've often read it at funerals and encouraged the downtrodden to read it. In times when our life is stormy, He is our refuge. He can provide strength. He is "very present" when we are in trouble. These are words of comfort, indeed. And because of this, there is no catastrophe so great that we cannot meet it. The earth being removed, etc. of verses 2 and 3 are hyperbolic. If there is no reason to fear the most awesome and frightening of calamities, then there is no reason to fear the relatively minor disturbances of our lives.

The city of God (vs. 4-7)--Rivers meant life in the ancient world, especially in a hot, desert climate where people scraped along to make a living by agricultural means. So the "city of God" has not only "a river" but also "streams," and they "make glad" (v. 4). God's holy place is there (v. 4) and He is in its midst. That city will "not be moved," and from the earliest moments of the day, "God shall help her" (v. 5). The wicked can rage all they want to, but all it takes for the earth to melt is the voice of God (v. 6). Again, He is "with us, our refuge” (v. 7).

"Behold the works of the Lord" (vs. 8-11)--The psalmist then counsels us to take the time to think on what the Lord has done. He can make "desolations" in the earth (v. 8), but also cause wars to cease (v. 9). This thought would be especially relevant to a small nation like Israel which was surrounded by cruel, heartless, pagan enemies. The Lord "will be exalted among the nations" (v. 10). He is the one, true God. The song ends with a repetition of verse 7: "The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our refuge" (v. 11).

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Psalm 45

The overflowing heart (vs. 1)--This psalm is Messianic. Not only is part of it quoted in Hebrews 1, but, even though we are dealing with poetical language, the descriptions in this chapter could hardly apply to any man, poetry or not. The psalm opens with a prologue; the "inditing" of the KJV simply means "overflowing." And indeed, our hearts should overflow when we think of the glories of the Savior.

Various descriptions of the Messiah (vs. 2-9)--He is "fairer than the sons of men," whose lips (messages) are full of grace, and thus He is blessed forever by God (v. 2). He is mighty and majestic "because of truth, humility, and righteousness" (vs. 3-5). He is, indeed, God (v. 6), Who rules "forever and ever," with a "scepter of righteousness." This is the passage that is quoted in Hebrews 1:8-9 and applied to Jesus. Note that, contrary to Jehovah's Witnesses' doctrine, Christ is truly God. But in Psalm 45, we also get an interesting insight into the triune nature of deity: "Therefore God, your God, has anointed You" (v. 7). Jesus is God, yet in the scheme of redemption worked out in heaven, He is, in effect, "outranked" by the Father (cf. I Cor. 11:3). This, of course, is only a temporary arrangement designed for accomplishing the salvation of man. The Father sent the Son Who sent the Holy Spirit. There is no inequality or superiority here, any more than man is "superior" to woman. Different roles have been assigned to make various tasks easier and more efficient. This Messiah is "scented" with the most fragrant spices (v. 8), and worthy of praise by the highest and noblest (v. 9). The daughters of kings are His servants.

Exalt and worship Him (vs. 10-17)--The theme of verse 9 is expanded through much of the rest of the psalm. The "daughter" of verse 10 might be the "kings' daughters" of verse 9, though there is a plurality in verse 9 that is lacking in verse 10. Regardless, He is so exalted that the "daughter" is commanded to "forget your own people also, and your father's house." Our highest allegiance is to be to Him (Luke 14:26). He desires us, too, but we should "worship Him" (v. 11). Again, that language cannot apply to man, even poetically; only God is to be worshipped. As they should, the rich and the powerful honor Him in various ways (vs. 12-15). His "sons" shall be "princes in all the earth" (v. 16), and He will be remembered and praised "forever and ever" (v. 17). A beautiful psalm lauding the virtues and worthiness of Jesus, the Christ.