Social Unrest

The pervasiveness of decay in today’s society pounds a steady drumbeat of immorality threatening not only to destroy the culture  but more specifically to undermine the very essence of truth. Under such circumstances, the faithful struggle to maintain their place and even their identity amongst the onslaught of negativity hurled against Christianity and morality in general. As frustration with the environment builds, so does the inner cry for God to do something about it, and so God’s people today can appreciate Asaph’s plea opening Psalm 83, “Do not keep silent, O God! Do not hold Your peace, And do not be still, O God!” (Psa. 83:1).

The enemies that rose up against Israel displayed a hatred toward God and His people which serves as a reminder of the relationship between darkness and light (Psa. 83:2). Likewise, the foes we face have many faces and come from various directions, and the combination of their efforts wears down the resolve of the weak (Psa. 83:5-8). It feels much like a conspiracy against all that it is right as Satan and his cohorts “have taken crafty counsel against” God’s people (Psa. 83:3). They want to eliminate godly influence and the role of faith that challenges their godlessness (Psa. 83:4). However, their ignorance reveals their weakness. They do not realize the power of God that fuels the fire of faith. Therefore, even in tumultuous times the godly can have confidence that God can overcome them today just as swiftly and surely as He did in the past. The means may differ (Psa. 83:9-10), but their end will follow the same path of all those who presumptuously opposed Jehovah (Psa. 83:11-12). They boast in their wickedness in the moment, but God will destroy their works in the end. They will not stand against His Word forever but will perish in their pride (Psa. 83:13) and flee with fear when the LORD rises up to defend His cause (Psa. 83:14-15). However, despite all the evil they have done, the divine desire remains “That they may seek Your name, O LORD” (Psa. 83:16). It is not vengeance we seek against our enemies but indeed their own salvation, if they will but listen. For if they reject God and His will, they will “be confounded and dismayed forever;” they will “be put to shame and perish” (Psa. 83:17). For in the end, God will be glorified, and all will acknowledge that Jehovah and Jehovah alone is “the Most High over all the earth” (Psa. 83:18).

Thus, while God’s people today justly speak out with righteous indignation as the forces of darkness led by the prince of the power of the air lead wave after wave of desolation against righteousness, relentlessly charging into the fray to bring down the godly standards that provide the support for society and prevent anarchy, the opposition of Christians must be more than an effort to repel the attack; it should also persevere ever onward in pushing the truth forward so that even our enemies might come to seek God and His righteousness (Matt. 6:33). Therefore, may our prayer, even regarding our most virulent foes, be for their correction and salvation. May God defeat their works, and may God’s people win them over to the truth.

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You Are Gods

The psalmist’s declaration in Psalm 82:6, “You are gods,” has created confusion among Bible students, commentators, and preachers for generations, even with Jesus’ own comment on the passage. The word itself is exactly the same as the word translated “God” throughout the remainder of the psalm, and yet the context clearly dictates that it refers to others. But to whom? That has been the real question. The nature of the word elohim is fairly broad. It is plural and refers either to “mighty ones” or to the “One who is mighty” (though with the plural still present, indicating His majesty, the trinity, or perhaps even both). Some have maintained that the word here refers to angels as does happen on occasion; however, the nature of the responsibilities cited in verses two through four in particular indicate men. But, if so, why did he call them “gods”?

The setting of the psalm provides insight into the structure, the emphasis, and the specific meaning given by Jesus. In the opening verse Asaph presents an ancient courtroom scene with God presiding over all those with some kind of authority, exercising judgment over those mighty ones (Psa. 82:1) similar to how God told Moses that he would be “as God” to Pharaoh (Ex. 4:15-16) and similar in responsibility to those judges Moses appointed at his father-in-law’s recommendation (Ex. 18:25-26). He then presents the accusation as God calls the people in power to account for their failures to judge fairly, essentially charging them with partiality in letting the guilty go free while failing to protect those in need for whose protection the law was given (Psa. 82:2-4). As He brings His argument to a close, He maintains that these people who have been given great authority do not appreciate it or understand the role they have been given, using it selfishly and creating instability in society as a result of their decisions (Psa. 82:5). Thus, in the next two verses He contrasts the greatness of the responsibility with which they were charged with the death sentence against them because of how miserably they have failed to conduct themselves appropriate to the authority given them (Psa. 82:6-7). Therefore, when God told them, “You are gods, And all of you are children of the Most High” (Psa. 82:6), He was emphasizing the responsibility of the authority they had taken on and that they themselves remained under the authority of the Most High God. Therefore, because they had abused that authority, they would suffer the consequences and lose all the authority they had treated as if they had by right instead of by responsibility. However, all judgment depends on the One who judges the earth. The nations are his, and all judgment should reflect the same (Psa. 82:8).

This stinging rebuke of leaders treating themselves as the authority rather than God has many applications. It certainly applies to governmental leaders at every level, as Nebuchadnezzar discovered the hard way (Dan. 4:32). But the emphasis within the psalm goes much deeper because of Israel’s relationship to Yahweh—a name not mentioned in this psalm. Jesus defended Himself and the authority with which He taught and worked using this passage. “Jesus answered them, ‘Is it not written in your law, “I said, ‘You are gods’”? If He called them gods, to whom the word of God came (and the Scripture cannot be broken), do you say of Him whom the Father sanctified and sent into the world, “You are blaspheming,” because I said, “I am the Son of God”?’” (Jn. 10:34-36). The Jews were upset that Jesus called Himself “the Son of God” because of its implications of displaying divine character, which happened by submission. However, Jesus pointed out that He had been given far more authority by God Himself than those judges of old whom God had called “gods.” Therefore, their emphasis on the terminology failed the test of scripture and revealed their lack of substance. But even more than that, Jesus here emphasized the responsibility of fulfilling the role given completely and unselfishly by submitting to God’s will rather than treating it as an earned honor. Leaders should never forget that they exist to serve. No matter how high the office or important the role, in the end all answer to God according to faithfulness in fulfilling His will (Jas. 3:1).

Open Mouths, Open Hearts

When Yahweh gave the Israelites the Law of Moses, besides the civil and moral codes, the religious rites, and the health regulations, He also included instructions for the new nation to gather yearly at appointed times to participate in various feasts (Lev. 23:1). These festivals served an important function in the LORD’s plan for Israel, though they rarely appreciated and kept them throughout much of their history until their return from captivity when they took on greater meaning, as the Pharisees’ attitude toward the Sabbath implies (Lev. 23:3). Most people are familiar with the Passover and its roots in Israel’s deliverance from Egypt (Ex. 12-13; Lev. 23:4-14), and Christians are usually aware of Pentecost due to its significance in Acts 2, even if the particulars of the feast remain a mystery (Lev. 23:15-22). However, the later feast, sometimes called The Feast of Trumpets due to the action that called the holy convocation on the first of the month, which paved the way for the Day of Atonement (Lev. 23:23-32) is sometimes forgotten. Therefore, it is no surprise that people also remain unaware of the Feast of Tabernacles that followed shortly after this holy day (Lev. 23:33-34). Besides the sacrifices and feasting (Lev. 23:35-41), the Jews were to set aside the week and dwell in booths to commemorate their time traveling from Egypt to Canaan (Lev. 23:42-43)—a time that was extended to forty years due to their obstinacy. This background is essential to appreciate the message found in Psalm 81.

When the Jews would travel to Jerusalem for the feast, they would sing as they prepared their minds and hearts for the assembly and festival (Psa. 81:1-2). Thus, the reflections offered in this psalm call to mind their worship while journeying to Jerusalem and their preparation for the final major gathering of the people in the year. The references to the trumpet, the times, the Law, and the land of Egypt leave no doubt as to the purpose of the song (Psa. 81:3-5), but the further commentary of remembrances demonstrates lessons learned the hard way. God had led them out of slavery in Egypt when they cried out to him but quickly forgot his provision in complaining of their thirst (Psa. 81:6-7). The psalm alludes to the covenant relationship Yahweh had with Israel, pleading with the Jews to appreciate Yawheh’s words: “Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psa. 81:8-10). This bold offer called to mind the sending of manna and quail, the provision of water in a dry land, but also the very word of God by which they could truly live (Deut. 8:3). Sadly, they would not listen and refused to learn (Psa. 81:11-12), and this also was their Jewish heritage. But God still cared and wanted them desperately to return and listen, for then he could bless them over and over again (Psa. 81:13-16).

What hope this might offer a people removed from the original events by hundreds of years! But how much more should it mean to God’s people today, for we have seen His faithfulness not only toward Israel but in sending Jesus and the gospel. However, the principles of faithfulness still apply (Rev. 2:10). Therefore, my friends, open your mouth wide! Listen to what God has said and obey, for in fulfilling this there are multitudes of blessings awaiting from a God who can care for our every need.

But We Asked Nicely!

The northern tribes of Israel had set themselves in rebellion against God from the days of Jeroboam. The introduction of the golden calves in Dan and Bethel had paved the way for full-fledged idolatry. Thus, the introduction of Baal to Israel by Ahab, and ultimately participation in the rituals of Molech, doomed the northern kingdom to the destruction God accomplished through the hand of Assyria. This divinely appointed desolation against the capital of Samaria in Ephraim and all the people throughout the kingdom led those in the southern kingdom of Judah to feel pity for their brethren, despite their long-held division. Therefore, as the psalmists in the family of Asaph reflected on this sadness, they penned a heartfelt expression of their grief in a cry to God as the Shepherd of Israel to return in His glory and power to aid His people (Psa. 80:1-2).

Three times in this psalm they employed the wording of the Aaronic call for blessing requesting restoration, fellowship, and salvation. In the first they pled, “Restore us, O God; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved” (Psa. 80:3). In the devastation of the northern tribes’ captivity they found themselves pondering why God would not listen and restore them as before (Psa. 80:4-6). They assumed this surely could not be permanent. In the second instance, they cried out the same plea but appealed to the “God of hosts” (Psa. 80:7). This reference to God’s headship of a great army implies their desire to see Him use yet another nation to reverse what Assyria had done. Using the imagery of a vine, they appealed to their beginning in Egypt and the Lord’s care in establishing them in Canaan (Psa. 80:8). They looked back through their history to note how long God had blessed them, cared for them, and protected them (Psa. 80:9-11). Thus, with this background of extensive interest, they could not fathom why God would invite a heathen nation in to trample the vineyard He Himself had planted (Psa. 80:12-13), calling for Him to defend His own once more, reverse course, and withdraw His hand of rebuke (Psa. 80:14-16). Therefore, in leading up to the final cry, they requested that He strengthen them again with the promise that they would not leave Him again (Psa. 80:17-18). Ending with the final plea, “Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; Cause Your face to shine, And we shall be saved!” (Psa. 80:19), they added one final element to their petition: the covenant name of Yahweh. In this they were asking Him to remember His covenant, because they finally did too. But it was too late for Israel, and Judah had to face up to that fact.

So many people seem to believe that they will always get one more chance to repent, one more chance to get things right, one more chance to obey their Lord. Like Israel, they assume that the longsuffering of the Lord knows no bounds, and sadly, they will only learn better when it is too late. They mistakenly look back to better times, assuming that they deserved them then and deserve the same now, misunderstanding the goodness and grace of God as if it is an eternal pool of blessings for them to dip into as they wish. Then, when they become desperate, they finally realize the importance of the covenant. Unfortunately, they often think of it in terms of God’s promises but not their own responsibilities. How sad that so many people have the opportunity of salvation and yet cast it aside until they need God to pull them out of the consequences of their own failures. They assume He always will. They are wrong (Rom. 2:1-11; 2 Cor. 5:9-11). Salvation and blessings are not a right; they are a privilege, and should be treated accordingly.

Where is Their God?

The sadness Asaph (or more specifically one of that musical family) expressed as a witness of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in Psalm 79 offers a poignant reminder of the fragility of the circumstances in life we often take for granted. He recounted the hurt of watching the army of Nebuchadnezzar marching through Judah, defiling the temple, and destroying Jerusalem (Psa. 79:1). With horror he recalled the extent of death that left throughout the city—bodies left to rot in numbers so great the streets practically ran with blood (Psa. 79:2-3). The emotional distress created by such a humiliating circumstance left Asaph and those like him embarrassed as an object of ridicule by all their neighbors (Psa. 79:4). Left to ponder the lessons to be learned, Asaph correctly recognized that they were experiencing the consequences of their own actions and pled for relief from their pain (Psa. 79:5-7). Recognition finally had set in, and thus the petition for forgiveness in accordance with the Lord’s mercy and the plea for deliverance pointed to the Lord’s character and reputation rather than their own (Psa. 79:8-9). Then, in the midst of this request, in which he seeks an opportunity for Judah to return and be able to demonstrate their faithfulness once again (Psa. 79:10-13), he says something quite striking: “Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their God?’” (Psa. 79:10). A consequence of their failure was quite telling. The Babylonians used it to declare that Yahweh was nowhere to be found. This is important, because the fact is that the evidence of this existed before Jerusalem’s destruction in the unfaithfulness of the people.

The lessons available throughout this psalm are numerous, but the essential point provides a challenge that Christians living in comfort easily forget. The trends in American culture for many years have pushed God and Christianity out of the realm of influence and into a place of relative cultural obscurity. Rather than provoking only political complaints and prayers for a change in circumstances, this should cause us to pause and consider what led to such a situation. For many years people relied on a generic Christian culture to carry their faith and support their morality instead of shining their own lights in a crooked and perverse generation (Phil. 2:15). With the culture turning both completely secular and largely immoral, rather than blaming others it is appropriate to consider our own failure to show others our God through righteous living, refusal to compromise, and bold evangelism. Thankfully, it is not too late to reverse this trend. Christians may not have a majority vote in what happens in Washington, D.C., but they have the power to determine whether people see God in their own lives. This, my friends, is what we must embrace, and we should give it our all, even if it is only, like Asaph, looking to the future and better days ahead.

Higher Aspirations

My oldest daughter recently graduated from high school. Reaching that milestone required overcoming a number of health challenges along the way, but we persevered and never lost faith that she would not only achieve this but much more. And that confidence has only increased over the years. Her mother and I set goals for her and expected excellence, and she did the work necessary to make that happen. While my own grade point average was high, the courses listed on my high school transcript were not necessarily the most academically challenging (something preaching school, college, and graduate school later corrected). And I insisted that my children have a more extensive education than I—something their mother has made possible through years of hard work. In this, I doubt that I am that different from many other fathers. However, even parents who push their children academically in school often fail to point their children to high aspirations spiritually. Instead, they accept a level of participation, education, and effort that they would never accept in general education. And yet, if anything, the opposite should be true. The words of Asaph in Psalm 78 reflect this principle well.

Parents should take seriously the responsibility to take what they have learned by hard experience and pass on to the next generation (Psa. 78:1-3). Truly, failing to do so spiritually is a disservice to our children, amounting to spiritual abuse. They need to know what God has done for us and for them, and they need to appreciate their parents commitment to Him (Psa. 78:4). In an allusion to Deuteronomy 6:4-9, the psalmist emphasizes the importance of teaching our children spiritually (Psa. 78:5-6)—not just facts and information, but faith and hope and love (Psa. 78:7).   The last thing we should want is for our children to repeat our mistakes, accept our ignorance, or reject their God (Psa. 78:8), but the history of Israel shows just how easily this can happen despite their parents’ personal faithfulness  (Psa. 78:9-64). Therefore, individual faithfulness is not enough to guide your children. You must do what it takes to instill in them a faith that they themselves claim as their own. The challenges the children of Israel faced were of their own making, and each generation was accountable to God for its own decisions. But the responsibility for each was the same—following God’s guidance faithfully (Psa. 78:65-72).

We should want the best for our children spiritually, and that means expecting excellence from our children spiritually. The goals we set for our children, then, should not center around their imitating their parents’ knowledge, activity, and involvement in Christianity; our goal, as parents, should be for them one day to surpass us in understanding, in faith, and in righteousness. It is sad how passive, docile, and passé parents can be about preparing their children spiritually. My friends, the core purpose of parenting does not revolve around preparing your children for life; it is all about preparing your children for eternity. And our parenting should reflect this.

Remember

I will admit that my memory is not what it used to be. When I was younger, I remembered vocabulary words quickly and easily, information for tests pretty well, and a lot of trivial information better than most. At one time I could have told you the starting lineup for the Dallas Cowboys for the first twenty years of their existence, and I could remember the answers to Trivial Pursuit questions even if I had no other exposure to the topic. It shows that the problem with memory is not necessarily ability, but often attention. Parents often act as if their children are incapable of learning basic Bible facts or memorizing Bible verses, but those same children can quote every Disney movie they have seen verbatim. While our memory may not function as well as we age, we can compensate by focusing on the right things to remember. Paul emphasized this in Philippians 4:8 when he wrote, “Finally, brethren, whatever things are true, whatever things are noble, whatever things are just, whatever things are pure, whatever things are lovely, whatever things are of good report, if there is any virtue and if there is anything praiseworthy—meditate on these things” (Phil. 4:8). In Psalm 77 the descendants of Asaph provide yet another important aspect of memory and the importance of choice. During times of turmoil, memories can quickly turn to better times, leading to self-pity and despair. However, if instead we choose to remember these things from a spiritual perspective, focused on God, they can lead us away from despair and toward greater faith.

When the psalmist cried out to God because of how badly he hurt inside, he refused the comfort available and chose a sleepless night instead (Psa. 77:1-2). He remembered God enough to pray, but his dismay caused him to complain rather than reflect (Psa. 77:3). Most have experienced similar situations, times when we faced a problem to which no solution seemed possible, something that kept us up at night. We not only lacked the correct answer, we did not even know where to begin explaining the problem (Psa. 77:4).  During times like these, it can be easy to become impatient and demanding with God—so much that we can blame Him for our problems because He does not immediately ease our pain. We question God, but we do not really think about the answers He has provided (Psa. 77:5-9). However, while Asaph felt this way at first, he eventually gained a greater perspective. Rather than comparing his plight to past deliverances God made possible, He recognized that the important thing to remember is that God did indeed make that possible and deliver (Psa. 77:10). If we would take the time to read through the Bible and reflect on what God did for His people, then we cannot but be impressed (Psa. 77:11-12). For when we then approach God in worship and humble ourselves in greater reflection, we realize just how great He truly is (Psa. 77:13). He has shown His power, declared His strength, and exhibited His love from the beginning of time (Psa. 77:14-19). He led Israel out of Egypt (Psa. 77:20), and He sent Jesus to lead us out of our sin (Matt. 11:28-30; 26:28; Acts 2:38; 1 Jn. 1:5-10). These are the things we need to remember when we are facing trials. God is still there, and God still cares (1 Pet. 5:7). We just need to remember it.

God is Known

The broad secularization of society that has occurred over the last few generations has led to increased immorality, decreased devotion, and compromised conviction—even among those still purporting to love and adore God. In the wake of societal changes, missional churches have morphed their mission to the point they have become an unofficial arm of government bureaucracy. The emerging church movement accepted the premises of postmodernism and made cultural compromise their central doctrine. The official positions of various religious organizations on major moral issues facing society have, for the most part, displayed more interest in being accepted by society than standing up for their Savior. And what should we expect? Once you treat compromise as a guiding principle, the gutter becomes the finish line. However, while we tend to view these changes through the lens of recent history, the world—and false religion with it—actually has settled back to its norm. God’s people have always been a major minority, and they will continue to be such until the end of time. But in the meantime, Christians have a responsibility not to allow the negativity of religious antipathy to alter our faith. Instead, we should become beacons to the world, proclaiming through our faithfulness that God is real, God is great, and God is known, for this was the message of Psalm 76.

This psalm is, in essence, a song of victory. While the timeframe is unclear, the nature of the victory is certainly reminiscent of the LORD’s striking of the Assyrian army (Isa. 37:36) during the reign of Hezekiah, sending the powerful army back home in disgrace. Judah and Jerusalem, as well as perhaps even the temple, identify the place, if these are meant literally (Psa. 76:1-2). The description of a defeated army retreating from the presence of God (Isa. 76:3-4) after God kept them from being able to wage war against His people (Psa. 76:5-6) provides astounding imagery, reminding us that no power or enemy is too great for God to defeat. And that remains true today. The nature of the enemy may take a different form, and the victory may come in a different manner, but God still wields His power. Therefore, the lessons learned from this incident and recorded by the descendants of Asaph should strengthen our faith and bolster our courage. God reigns, and God judges; therefore, God should be feared by all who oppose Him (Psa. 76:7-9), and we can rest assured that God will find a way to ensure justice will be done (Psa. 76:10). Therefore, “Make vows to the Lord your God, and pay them; Let all who are around Him bring presents to Him who ought to be feared” (Psa. 76:11 ) rather than the governments of men who seek to do harm to God’s people (Psa. 76:12).

We do not suffer from the same threats as Israel did; therefore, we should not expect the same kind of response from God. However, when we are faithfully God’s people, we can have confidence that God knows our plight, feels for us, and will do something about it when the time is right. While we wait, our responsibility is to make sure that God is known to others by showing them that He is known to us.

God’s Timetable

In Psalm 74 the question rings out, “O God, why have You cast us off forever?” (Psa. 74:1). Psalm 75 implies God’s answer, and it is simple: “I haven’t.” No matter how bad our problems may seem, no matter how difficult the challenges we face, and no matter how bad the consequences we must accept, God is still there, ready to aid, ready to deliver, and ready to show mercy, when the time is right. Therefore, learning to be faithful and thankful while operating on God’s timetable is essential, and it should form the foundation for the message we live by, stand by, and speak.The tone of Psalm 75 points to the end of Babylonian captivity when the psalmist recognized God’s hand in the decree of Cyrus that signified the end of a seventy year exile (Psa. 75:1-3) and finally felt vindication for the warning offered to the Chaldean captors about boasting in their power (Psa. 75:4-5). The faithful knew that God would redeem them eventually, and thus their faith depended not on the powerful armies of surrounding nations but on the God who can raise up any nation He so chooses (Psa. 75:6-7). God will judge nations as well as people, and there are consequences for the oppressor (Psa. 75:8). Therefore, regardless of our political situation, country of origin, or place of power, the honor and the glory always belong to the LORD (Psa. 75:9), and He will determine who rises and falls in power (Psa. 75:10). He always has.

The life lessons available in this simple psalm of thanksgiving are many. 

  1. God deserves not only our petitions for help but also our thanks when it is provided. 
  2. We must accept God’s timetable and recognize that the desired outcome is not simply justice, and not just our relief from oppression, but also our learning from the experience. 
  3. The worldly position we may occupy in the moment is no guarantee of the future, and humility coupled with mercy should guide our interaction with others rather than power and dominance. 
  4. We must ever trust in God for protection and deliverance, especially in recognizing His providence, lest we come to place our confidence in man and men. 
  5. God will judge, the unjust will suffer the consequences of their behavior, and no country has immunity from this fact. 
  6. Our praises offered to God should recognize His sovereignty, power, and love regardless of our current situation because we know who He is, we know that He does not change, and we know that He is worthy. 
  7. We can have confidence in our faithfulness knowing that God will ultimately set everything right; therefore, it is not necessary for us to do so or to place Him on our own schedule. We accept this in faith and therefore must accept the timing in faith as well. 

When we try to figure out how everything should be in life, we must content ourselves with studying God’s Word and applying it personally and leave the rest up to God, knowing that He knows best. It is a hard lesson to accept but a most important one to learn.

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