No Limits

Airplanes have always fascinated me. Perhaps this has its roots in the model airplanes my Grandpa, a former naval aviator, built and kept around his house. It might have come from my early reading of books about the Wright Brothers. It is even possible that it grew out of watching James Stewart star as Charles Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis or any number of war pictures I watched as a youth. Or maybe the sheer amazement of watching a large, heavy object overcome the power of gravity always stayed with me. But the account I love the most may be America’s early efforts in exploring the power of the jet engine and pushing its capabilities to the limit. In the time immediately after World War II, they produced jets capable of reaching just below the sound barrier. But even in this term we see the challenge they faced. Flying faster than the speed of sound was considered impossible by some, but all thought of it as a real barrier—a physical blockade preventing anyone from passing. However, on October 14, 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 and forever changed the world of aviation. Having proven the people’s prior assumptions about the sound barrier, design changes quickly made it possible for planes to fly many times faster than the speed of sound.

Not unsurprisingly, we often create artificial barriers to our own forgiveness, spiritual growth, blessings, faithfulness, happiness, and even greatness because we do not really trust God to do what He said He will do. And the reality is: so many people have played games with what God said in His Word that they have created a barrier for the real peace only God can provide. In Psalm 71 the psalmist combines a variety of problems that we can allow to keep us from trusting God: shame, doubt, failing strength, troubles, old age. You will note that all of these refer to human weakness, but when we look at God through the lens of these weaknesses it can cause us to see God as weak. And here the psalmist provides three metaphors to counter such foolishness: “Be my strong refuge, To which I may resort continually; You have given the commandment to save me, For You are my rock and my fortress” (Psa. 71:3). God is our refuge. God is our rock. God is our fortress. God is the one place we can go for safety when we think all hope is gone. God provides a place of safety in the midst of a world of unruliness and unrest. God can put us in a position of strength and protect us from the advancement of any and every foe.

We can place ourselves in a very foolish position sometimes because we act like we are the strong ones and God needs our help. But it is only when we realize how helpless we are in our sin and even in life, and then see how strong God is and how willing He is to help, that we are ready to trust Him with our hearts, with our lives, and with our souls. How sad that we—the creation—would have trouble handing ourselves over to the One who made us, treating the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient God as if HE is the one suffering from so many limitations. However, when we stop arguing with God and start trusting God, then and only then, will we realize the depth of blessings and care He is capable of bestowing. Worldly people concerned about worldly things think of God in worldly terms, and so they limit what God could do for them. But when we see the world in spiritual terms, embrace spiritual things, and appreciate God for what He can offer us spiritually in eternity, we realize how small the world has tried to make God and how big He truly is. “My mouth shall tell of Your righteousness And Your salvation all the day, For I do not know their limits” (Psa. 71:15).

Poor and Needy

Investigating the background of various psalms to give them greater context can provide quite a challenge at times. While some offer a descriptive heading to the reader, most do not. Moreover, since the psalms represent a collection written by a number of poets spanning generations, with many unattributed, this only complicates the problem. Then, occasionally one psalm will borrow from another earlier psalm, so that some part of one of David’s psalms finds new life and new application in another generation, though the psalm may still bear that great king’s name. The case of Psalm 70 is more interesting yet. With just a few minor changes in the verbs used and the changes from Yahweh to Elohim, the entirety of the seventieth psalm comes from Psalm 40:13-17. The theme matches well the subject of the surrounding psalms, trusting in God for deliverance, and may explain its reuse here as a prayer for similar occasions.
The cry for immediate help and the need to hurry found in verses one and five suggests a desperate hour in David’s life, most likely during Absalom’s rebellion, but this simplification of the wording and the emphasis on Elohim—The Mighty One—intentionally focuses on the contrast between the power of God and the weakness of man. Thus, the weakness of man highlights the power of God, who alone is able to deliver, as verses one and five make evident. This reality then brackets a series of exhortations highlighted by the third person hortatory (Let…) expressing his wishes concerning first those who are attacking him (Psa. 70:2-3), then concerning those who trust God (Psa. 70:4), and finally, as placed in the mouths of those who trust God, concerning God Himself (Psa. 70:4). This sequence creates a crescendo effect within the context of God’s power addressing man’s need, moving rapidly from the reversal of fortune required against the attacker, the joy that the godly feel in such circumstances, and the ultimate outcome desired of God’s glorification. Thus, what began as part of a personal psalm tied to a specific moment of desperation became a prayer appropriate for any righteous man who should find himself the object of scorn, ridicule, and woe at the hand of the unrighteous.
While the origin of the psalm is interesting and the structure compelling, the basic message of the psalm can easily get lost in its brevity and simplicity. When fully retreating from the context of Psalm 40, this psalm points to the bigger picture of serving God despite opposition and turmoil. In fact, seen spiritually, the power of the message becomes even clearer. Each and every day, Satan and his allies pursue God’s people, trying desperately to take life back from us, hurling hurt toward us in every way imaginable, and taking glee in every misstep we may make along the way. Nevertheless, as the righteous stand faithfully and seek deliverance from God without compromise, the godly rejoice and glorify God who has made such an impact. Is this some great victory that we have achieved by listening, obeying, and being faithful to our Lord? Not at all. We are but poor and needy. The victory is His. And waiting on that moment can seem like an eternity. But it is because of eternity and our faith in God that we can endure.

Zeal for Your House

Of all the words used to describe faithfulness, commitment, conviction, and dedication to the Lord, one rarely used today is zeal. Oddly enough, in the current environment of postmodern fervor and emotional excess—both of which have affected people’s religious views—few would describe themselves, or anyone else, as zealous spiritually. Perhaps this reflects a mere shift in vocabulary—a preference for transcendental terminology (I am a spiritual person) or even popular wording (You can call me a fanatic)—but such changes in wording usually reflect an underlying change in thinking too.

Zeal refers to far more than emotional fervor. Its Hebrew root refers not to some outward display of emotion that feeds the shallowness of soul, allowing a person to substitute his own opinion for divine mandate. To the contrary, it points to the depth of ardent attachment that so identifies with another so as to take any wrong against another quite personally. Indeed, the Greek equivalent also bears this out with its background of “passionate rivalry.” Taken together, these paint a picture of zeal quite different from what people often imagine. Zeal is not a surface emotion but an emotional heart so deep that it reveals itself through commitment in action even during the most difficult of circumstances. Zeal causes a person to identify so strongly with God that social conventions and other false barriers do not prevent godly conviction and righteous action. Zeal boils up inside due to the imbibing of God’s Word until it overflows in a life characterized by God’s expressed will.

Thus, when David prays for deliverance during a time of great adversity  when facing physical danger, he intentionally appeals to God’s knowledge of his behavior to judge if he is worthy of such ill treatment (Psa. 69:1-5). The descriptions that follow all imply his innocence, because he prays for courage to bear the injustice forced upon him, to handle the rejection with dignity, and to accept reproach for a righteous cause (Psa. 69:6-12). Since he identifies with God’s will so strongly, he appeals for its fulfillment no matter what. He appeals to the Lord’s character as sovereign. He appeals based upon his own innocence, and thus appeals to divine pity and divine justice (Psa. 69:13-28). He does not simply stand up for himself; he stands up for God, which is why he also prays for God to be glorified through the care of the needy, the declaring of God’s greatness, the character adopted by His people, and by all the blessings deliverance makes possible (Psa. 69:29-36). All of this supports and explains the declaration found in Psalm 69:9: “Because zeal for Your house has eaten me up, And the reproaches of those who reproach You have fallen on me.” David had a heart for God that caused him to identify with God’s people, God’s Word, and God’s cause with such zeal that it stirred him up to defend righteousness and accept reproach in His name. However, as John 2:17 makes clear, David’s heart, as great as it was, was a mere shadow of the Messiah’s zeal to do the same in a more perfect way.

Christians should do more than simply show up on Sunday. Their faithfulness should extend far beyond basic morality and doctrinal purity. Rather, God’s people should be “zealous of good works” (Titus 2:14), filling their hearts with God (Matt. 22:37-40) and their lives with Christ (Gal. 2:20) to such an extent that their identity is bound up in doing God’s will, defending God’s Word, and taking Christ to others. We do not need more people in order to be effective; we need more zeal.

Captivity Captive

David regularly wrote psalms during the challenging times of his life. His heart provoked him to reflect on his relationship with God when running from Saul. The king cried out in anguish after realizing the depth of his sin with Bathsheba. He expressed a quiet grief throughout the rebellion of Absalom. Therefore, when one of his psalms rejoices in an occasion, it holds the reader’s attention in growing appreciation for the joy expressed in a moment of exultation.

After David’s seven years ruling from Hebron, he finally brought the kingdom together and moved the capital to Jerusalem. However, to a man of God, moving the ark of the covenant, and the tabernacle in which it dwelled, to the capital city was just as important, if not more so. Unfortunately, David originally failed to consult scripture and attempted to transport the ark on a cart, a decision that proved fatal to Uzzah. Nevertheless, once David finally realized and corrected his error, priests carried the ark forward with David and many others leading the way, rejoicing in noting God’s approval. Thus, having reaching the site in Jerusalem where the ark would rest, the tabernacle would be set up, and the temple would ultimately be built, David had an opportunity for joyous spiritual reflection and wrote Psalm 68.

The tenor of the psalm echoes the Song of Deborah, an interesting point of reference considering the timing. However, David envisions the whole of God’s efforts throughout his interaction with Israel culminating in this moment where He sees God’s throne coming home to Jerusalem so that God can then reign over His people. It is therefore a time of victory (Psa. 68:1-2) and a time to praise God (Psa. 68:3-4) for His care for His subjects (Psa. 68:5-6). From the time the ark was constructed before Sinai, throughout Israel’s wandering in the wilderness, and even during the time of the Judges, God came to their aid and provided deliverance (Psa. 68:7-10). Israel’s victories were Yahweh’s victories (Psa. 68:11-14). Yet, despite the grandeur and majesty of various peaks throughout the conquered nation, the LORD chose to place the sanctuary and the ark on a small hill in Jerusalem (Psa. 68:15-16) from which He would give His will (Psa. 68:17) and pour out gifts to men (Psa. 68:18), blessing mankind with blessing upon blessing, but especially with salvation (Psa. 68:19). He alone can provide an escape from death (Psa. 68:20), for He alone can provide true victory (Psa. 68:21-23). As David paints the picture of the processional, (Psa. 68:24-27), he reminds the people that God has provided their land, their safety, and their plenty (Psa. 68:28). The LORD provided wealth for His people and brought the nations around them under tribute (Psa. 68:29-31) so that they too recognize the majesty of God (Psa. 68:32-35).

Such a powerful flood of emotion expressed at a high point in Israel’s spiritual history speaks to the heart of the king to which all others would be compared. However, when we realize that this moment was but a foretaste of the victory, the blessings, the gifts, and the privilege available through the Messiah a millennium later, the message of praise sung by David should be but a prelude to the praise Christians offer to what our God has made possible for us every day.

More Than Enough Reason for Praise

When was the last time you took the opportunity to meditate deeply on all God has done for you? Surely every worship assembly, Bible class, or private devotional should encourage such to some extent, but a deeper consideration requires sustained concentration. Thus, God’s people should regularly move beyond the generalities of thankfulness to more specific thoughtfulness. Rather than running through scripture as if on a time trial, we should slowly breathe it in and let it fill our minds and hearts with a careful consideration of all God’s abundant care and spiritual expectations.

The Psalmist’s outburst in Psalm 67 provides just such a meditation—a reflection on the priestly blessing given in Numbers 6:24-26, though with a renewed focus and selfless vigor. While the wording of the original blessing remains clearly visible in Psalm 67:1, the shift from Yahweh in Numbers to Elohim in the psalm foreshadows the broadening of the understanding of what blessings truly mean. For the psalmist, the blessings and  possibilities that stirred the soul went beyond the individual, the household, or the nation to encompass the needs of all peoples in every nation. This was no mere desire for personal favor but rather a heartfelt hope that the blessings of relationship that Yahweh provided for Israel might ultimately extend to all peoples, that in Elohim they might truly know God and enjoy salvation (Psa. 67:2) and come to worship and praise Him from a heart lifted out of the tumult and confusion of life (Psa. 67:3). Thus, the psalmist builds the anticipation in the hope that all might come to enjoy the full extent of blessings God makes possible—to know His righteous judgment and what a joy it is to have God as King (Psa. 67:4). For this, too, He is worthy of worship and praise (Psa. 67:5). Then, with majestic splendor, he offers the evidence of God’s providential care for all in nature, proving that God cares for all mankind and blesses all mankind (Psa. 67:6). However, in doing so, with this great understanding and hope renewed, He is no longer simply the God of our fathers, nor the God of Israel; He is “God, our own God.” He is a God who includes all and wants people of every nation to be His. Therefore, He gladly blesses us, and when we come to appreciate those blessings will love Him and revere Him all the more (Psa. 67:7).

For a Hebrew poet to have penned such words, moving away from the language of exclusion to the heart of inclusion shows the prophetic mind of inspiration at work. While God did indeed continue to provide for the Gentile nations throughout the centuries, it was in the blessing provided through Abraham’s seed that people of all nations could fully realize the beauty, power, and depth of the blessing God had in mind all along. The psalmist’s reflection caught a glimpse of this beauty and burst out in beautiful song. What more then should we, who have become the recipients of this blessing, do when we reflect on the blessings possible in Christ? “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ” (Eph. 1:3).

Rich Fulfillment

Everyone has a story. You probably will have to ask. And you may need to ask some questions. But everyone who has lived for a reasonable time upon this earth has a story. All of us have endured heartache at some time. All of us have faced adversity. All of us have borne injustice in some way. All of us have had our trials. But when we see people for brief snapshots of their lives, we can make the mistake of assuming that they have had it easy—or at least easier than we have. We look at the person who has an advanced degree or successful business, or perhaps both, and we assume that they cannot understand suffering. Likewise, we sometimes see a person who is knowledgeable and forget the story of the work it took to accumulate that knowledge. We meet people who seem to have their lives together and presume that they have never faced a significant challenge. Upon reflection, we would likely recognize the folly of these passing thoughts. But in the moment, especially when we ourselves are dealing with trials, remembering others have a story can be particularly difficult.

The same principle holds true for groups of people—nations, businesses, congregations. It can be easy to forget the story of people who made our current situation even possible. How many people regularly cite their first amendment rights when burning a flag but remain completely ignorant of the people who designed that flag and wrote and voted for that amendment? How many employees have little appreciation for how much work it took for the business that pays them to get off the ground and succeed at all? And how many Christians appreciate previous generations who studied, evangelized, taught, took a stand, accepted ostracization from the world, established congregations, built buildings, and welcomed them in?

The sixty-sixth psalm is a call for joyous worship and praise to God for what He did to make their lives possible (Psa. 66:1-4). But in doing so, the psalmist recounts the challenges Israel faced as a people in the beginning (Psa. 66:5-7). For preserving them to that day, the psalmist gave thanks to the God “Who keeps our soul among the living” (Psa. 66:8-9). How did He do this and for what did the psalmist say He was worthy of praise? “For You, O God, have tested us; You have refined us as silver is refined. You brought us into the net; You laid affliction on our backs. You have caused men to ride over our heads; We went through fire and through water; But You brought us out to rich fulfillment” (Psa. 66:10-12, emphasis mine, KWR). Because of this, God more than deserved praise, worship, and thanksgiving (Psa. 66:13-20). Rich fulfillment. In the days of David, when Israel reached a high point, politically and spiritually, finally there was perspective. All of the trials existed to chasten them from their sin and error and prepare them for further growth. And in the end, when they persevered, there was rich fulfillment. But it was important for the people in the time of David to appreciate the past, Israel’s story, so that they never took for granted what was theirs to enjoy. This remains true for all of us. We will have trials in life. We will have challenges. We will have adversity. Therefore, we must persevere. And we can do it with confidence, because rich fulfillment awaits us when we come out of the desert, travel through the valley, and finally reach the mountaintop. You have a story, but the ending has yet to be written. But if you seek God and His will, and remain faithful to Him, whatever else you may face in life, you can indeed enjoy rich fulfillment.

The Privilege of Providence

We take far too many things for granted today. We wake up in the morning and do not consider how that can even happen—and be refreshed. We enjoy running water, easy access to food of all kinds, indoor plumbing, instant communication around the world, advanced warning of and preparedness for many natural disasters, personalized music choices, electric lighting, a closet full of clothes, mobile phones, central air and heating—the list could go on and on! And while some people do not share all of these things, they likely have a list just as impressive in its own way. In fact, from the view of history, most of the things cited above are extremely new to civilization. In some places it has become common to use all these items as evidence of some inherent character flaw in society. Society has its problems, but the items listed above are not among them. Instead, they offer evidence of just how blessed we are. And that is why we cannot afford to take them for granted.

Three thousand years ago, before any of the aforementioned luxuries existed, David recognized this same principle and turned to God as the One worthy of praise (Psa. 65:1-2). And even then David saw that the greatest blessings he enjoyed were God’s willingness to forgive sin and accept worship on His terms (Psa. 65:3-4). He had confidence in God’s righteousness, salvation, and help because He took the time to notice what God had already done in His creation (Psa. 65:5). David looked at the mountains and was awed by them (Psa. 65:6). He looked at the seas on either side of the land and saw a God in control of them (Psa. 65:7), as He is over all the earth (Psa. 65:8). He recognized that man does not provide the water and the grain that provides for farmers to grow food. God does (Psa. 65:9-10), and He does so for man’s benefit and for the land’s (Psa. 65:11-12). He saw firsthand how God provides animals for food, as well as crops, and also provides what is necessary for them to grow and flourish (Psa. 65:13). And all these things remain true today.

Some children honestly believe that their food comes from a grocery store. They have no concept of a farm or dairy. Such reports often receive attention in social media, sometimes to make fun of the child, sometimes to make fun of the schools, or sometimes to expose a problem. But many people today cannot see that all of this and more actually comes from God who blesses and blesses again. He chose not to care for us miraculously throughout the ages but chose to work providentially through nature, but that does not negate the love, care, and attention that went into His provision, and it should not dampen, in any way, our thankfulness to Him. David saw these things as worthy of praise and further evidence of what God can do for us spiritually. We would do well to do the same.