Saturday, June 27, 2009

Psummer Psalm Pseries: Psalm 18 - A Victory Psalm


6In my distress I called upon the LORD,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears.
7Then the earth shook and quaked;
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken, because He was angry.
8Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And fire from His mouth devoured;
Coals were kindled by it.
9He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
10He rode upon a cherub and flew;
And He sped upon the wings of the wind.
11He made darkness His hiding place, His canopy around Him,
Darkness of waters, thick clouds of the skies.
12From the brightness before Him passed His thick clouds,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
13The LORD also thundered in the heavens,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
14He sent out His arrows, and scattered them,
And lightning flashes in abundance, and routed them.
15Then the channels of water appeared,
And the foundations of the world were laid bare
At Your rebuke, O LORD,
At the blast of the breath of Your nostrils.
16He sent from on high, He took me;
He drew me out of many waters.

Victory! You can imagine the word ringing in our ears after a long fought battle. You go through a tough battle, a long haul, a very difficult time and what do you say? Many of us go, “Phew” and just carry on. Some of us recognize that it has been a spiritual thing, and so we turn our words to praise. We shout out a testimony of praise to God for delivering us. Sometimes we are not able to do that because when we encountered the trouble we never turned to the Lord for help. Why is that? Why do we often forget to bring the Friend of friends, the One who sticks closer than a brother into our life, hurts, and pain?
This Psalm is one of Victory. The text tells us David wrote it in response to his deliverance from his enemies and from Saul. Ever had someone or several people who seemed to be out for you? Are you tired of waging a war and feeling all alone? Come listen to this Psalm and the comfort it brings.

The Pattern - As mentioned previously, Hebrew poetry has several features. One of them is like a reflection. In This case we find a pattern of ABCBA. Praise and worship both start and end this Psalm. Next to them are to sections of a rehearsing of God’s deliverance. In the middle of it all is a passage that relates to the basis for that deliverance. The outline by verses looks like this:

A Verses 1-2 Praise and worship
B Verses 3-19 Rehearsal of God’s deliverance
C Verses 20-30 The basis of the deliverance
B Verses 31-48 Rehearsal of God’s deliverance
A Verses 49-50 Praise and worship

Now let us have a look at each section and see what David’s testimony consists of.

A) Praise and Worship
Look at the words found in these verses: Rock, Strength, Fortress, Deliverer, Horn of Salvation, Stronghold, Deliverance, and Lovingkindness. If you could describe a safe place, what words would you use? When you look at these words you see words of length; words that are more than just for a moment. When I go places, I like to look for rocks. I find the variety and colours and a host of other things about rocks cool. The fact that they have been around for a long time is a pretty big part of the coolness. The oldest tree is a bristle cone pine in the White Mountains east of the Sierra Nevada. It is called Methuselah and is said to be 4,768 years old. The world’s oldest rocks, found in Canada either in the NWT or on the eastern shore of Hudson Bay in Quebec are said to be over 4 billion years old. Wouldn’t you like to have a place with that kind of stability to go to? Remember the story of the 3 little pigs? Through both straw and wood safety was not found. Not until the rock of brick did the enemy get held back.
These words are all descriptions about David’s (and our) relationship with God. They are rock solid, words that focus both on the security of our relationship with God because of strength, but also on the eternalness of that relationship. Our hope is in God - isn’t that a wonderful place to be? Don’t you want to use words like that in your life? These are wonderful words of life and spiritual health, of vigour and vim. If you can’t say words like "I love You, O LORD, my strength. The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge; my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.” Then you need to pursue God more. That is what God offers to you and I.

B) Rehearsal of God’s deliverance
The words found in this passage are fascinating, and as I wrote them down there was an obvious progression to them: He (God) heard, sent, delivered, rescued, rewarded. These are all words of action. Sometimes we get the feeling that God is far away and does not know what we are going through. Don’t let that lie linger in your thoughts because it just is not true. When you look at these words you can’t help but understand that God is involved. He didn’t just wind up the earth like a clock and is off doing something else while it winds down. He is actively involved - today! And God is not just involved like some uber-human looking down and playing games with the people below Him. God is not like the Greeks or Romans concept that had their Gods running around with very human emotions doing very human things. God is beyond what we could imagine, and after millennia of trying to understand Him we can still struggle to get a good grasp of who He is.
But here we are with a God of process. This process is about God with us - Emmanuel. From God hearing us to God rescuing and rewarding us He is present in our lives, and that makes sense! If God is going to be our Rock and Fortress, He has to be involved. We can’t have security or hope if God is off somewhere else, unable to hear us. Remember the story of Elijah and the challenge with the prophets of Baal. They both built altars, and the prophets of Baal went first. They prayed and chanted and beat themselves - all day, and nothing happened. Elijah mocked them, and depending on the translation or paraphrase you read he was on vacation or having His morning constitutional. What Elijah was mocking was the inability of an idol or false god to hear the cries of his/her people. But Yahweh, now that was a different story. Elijah had them drench the alter with water. The wood was soaked through and through. He prayed a simple prayer and woomph! The fire came down and burned up the sacrifice, the wood, and even the rocks. Never believe if someone says, “God can’t hear you.” They are wrong.

C) The Basis of the Deliverance
What do you sense when you hear these words the Psalmist says about himself: my righteousness, the cleanness of my hands, I have kept the ways of my Lord, blameless? You get a sense of “it is all about me”? Do you get a sense of “it is because I am so holy and Godlike that He has blessed me and delivered me. You can hear that there, can’t you? So often we get caught up in this whole Christian thing and like to think it is all about us. Sometimes in our marriages we say the same thing - I have such a wonderful marriage because I am a great husband or I do so much… Years ago the Times of London asked the question, “What is wrong with the world?” G.K. Chesterton and English writer of the early 20th Century wrote in and said, “I am.” Here and imaginative and teachable sinner hit the nail on the head. It usually takes some prodding or nudging or even a steamroller, but the Holy Spirit strives with us to recognize that we can’t do it.
It is about God in us. The Psalmist admits this when he says in verses 28-29 “For You light my lamp; the LORD my God illumines my darkness. For by You I can run upon a troop; and by my God I can leap over a wall. As for God, His way is blameless…” The Psalmist can only talk of his own righteousness because it is something God has done in his life. It is the path of God to be holy, and when He sets our course, He provides the way for it to happen. How reassuring that we understand that not only is God at work in the world around us, but He is at work in us. Sometimes this pilgrimage seems long. Sometimes we wonder if we will ever make it to a place in life where we are consistent. Stay the course - God is leading and providing. Keep striving with sin in the power of God. Battle in the places of your thoughts and mind. Don’t give up your affections to the things of this world.
David wasn’t perfect. In fact, he had some of the biggest sins we can think of, and was scandalized in public, all the while the king of God’s people. Today he would be tossed out on his ear and judged and given up on. Is he so different than us? Are we so holier than him? Maybe we are above adultery and murder, but have we murdered with our words and adulterated our spiritual relationship with gossip and a love for things of this world. In the end David was called the apple of God’s eye because he knew how to repent. When confronted with his sin he gave no excuses, he gave no shifting statement of blame. He simple said I sinned. Before God and God alone, I am responsible. Respond like David and pursue God with all your heart, soul and might. Love your neighbour as yourself, and set your feet upon the rock of your salvation, Jesus Christ.

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