The Hometown of God’s People

The city of Jerusalem regularly appears in the news throughout the world due to its historical and political significance in the struggle of competing worldviews, religions, and even civilizations. While the current political conflict between Jews and Muslims, clearly seen in various security checkpoints, and the religious conflict represented by the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Wailing Wall speak to the modern division in the city, this merely echoes its role throughout many centuries. However, the Bible introduces the city of Salem as the home of Melchizedek, a priest of the Most High God and Salem’s king (Gen. 14). Centuries later the Israelites found it inhabited by the Jebusites (Jsh. 10) until the children of Judah took the city (Jdg. 1:8), though the Jebusites recaptured it sometime afterward (Jsh. 15:63), remaining in their possession until David recaptured it and made it the capital city (2 Sam. 5), continuing in that capacity until its destruction by the Babylonians in the sixth century B.C. Sometime during the latter portion of this captivity, when Jerusalem still lay in rubble, the sons of Korah likely penned Psalm 87, an ode to Jerusalem, in a sense, that offers hope for the rebirth of the city, looking unto even greater things.

Jerusalem would not return to greatness, however, because of the power of Israel or the grand design of an empire. Rather, the LORD Himself desired its restoration for His purposes, and this made Jerusalem holy (Psa. 87:1). God’s love for the city, rooted in His plan to use it, motivated its rebuilding (Psa. 87:2), so that the basis for its praise is rooted not in the past but in its potential: “Glorious things are spoken of you, O city of God!” (Psa. 87:3). The means and significance of this purpose would center on how Gentiles from Israel’s greatest enemies and from far away lands would one day call Yahweh their God and think of Jerusalem as their place of origin (Psa. 87:4), all due to God’s provision (Psa. 87:5-6). Despite its destruction, which fulfilled God’s will, Jerusalem would become the source of blessing once more (Psa. 87:7).

Under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra, the Jews rebuilt the temple, and under the leadership of Nehemiah, they rebuilt the city. The LORD thus raised Jerusalem from the dead to serve His purposes. But while the Jews rejoiced in the restoration of temple worship, God and this psalm looked beyond the return of the Jews to their capital and pointed to the time when Jerusalem would serve as the place from which Christianity would rise (Acts 2) and offer Gentiles reason to embrace the city with thankfulness because of the message of the gospel that sprang forth from within its walls. Jerusalem deserves to be celebrated and embraced—not simply for its storied history, but for its spiritual significance—not as the capital of a holy land, but as the place from which God made it possible for people of all nations to become His holy people (1 Pet. 2:9-10) and have reason to think of Jerusalem as their hometown.

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What Do We Really Need?

All of us are poor and needy at heart, whether we realize it and admit it or not. Indeed, often a stubborn heart and rebellious spirit keeps us from enjoying full access to the depth of God’s care because we refuse to acknowledge our needs, our weaknesses, and our true situation, choosing instead to try to do everything ourselves, including much that is impossible for us to do. Is it then any wonder that anxiety holds sway when we fail to turn to the One available and able to come to our aid? David, despite fighting as a soldier and reigning as king, had a heart for God so tender that he turned regularly to Him in great humility to ask and even plead for the needs of his soul, as Psalm 86 provides more than adequate evidence.

In the first seven verses David calls on God to preserve him, to save him, to show him mercy, and to give him a reason to rejoice by answering his prayer in the affirmative. However, the basis for his request shows how his mindset  differed from how we often see ourselves and therefore approach God. David came to God specifically because he saw himself as “poor and needy” (Psa. 86:1) and because God is so much more: holy, trustworthy, good, ready to forgive, and abundant in mercy. Indeed, David had confidence in coming to God because of how positively God contrasts with man—a concept quite opposite from the 21st century desire to lower God to man’s level. But the LORD’s nature especially qualifies Him to help us because His uniqueness makes Him capable of doing what no one else can do (Psa. 86:8). He alone deserves recognition as truly great and therefore worthy of worship (Psa. 86:9), and He has proven such by the power displayed in miraculous and wondrous works performed in times past. Truly, He alone is God (Psa. 86:10). For this reason, we can have complete confidence in His instruction and guidance (Psa. 86:11). Because of this, we can have confidence in His deliverance (Psa. 86:12-14). But more than that, we can have confidence in all these things because of His character. “But You, O Lord, are a God full of compassion, and gracious, Longsuffering and abundant in mercy and truth” (Psa. 86:15). Surely we have every reason to turn to our God and do His will, because His will is in our best interest, and He cares for us (1 Pet. 5:7).

Only Jehovah God can provide all that we need. And we need Him desperately. Therefore, let us humble our hearts and acknowledge our need, let us realize the great power and mercy of the one true God and reach out to Him with confidence that He will do what is best for us. As long as we live upon this earth, we will face struggles without and struggles within, but through it all, we have a God on whom we can always rely. This is why, regardless of our problems and regardless of our situation, the faithful can lift their voices to heaven and cry, “Oh, turn to me, and have mercy on me! Give Your strength to Your servant, And save the son of Your maidservant. Show me a sign for good, That those who hate me may see it and be ashamed, Because You, LORD, have helped me and comforted me” (Psa. 86:16-17).

Revive Us Again

Israel knew the pain of sin and rebellion. They had lived through the self-inflicted torture of captivity and poverty. They had experienced the consequences of their own bad decisions and come to recognize God’s justice in the process. Therefore, when the sons of Korah penned Psalm 85, they had come to grips with their responsibility and acknowledged both their sin and their need. As they reflected on the grace of God that gave them Canaan and brought them out of Egyptian bondage (Psa. 85:1), they remembered His forbearance and forgiveness when the people sinned time and time again (Psa. 85:2). Thus, the recognition that God had let His anger subside (Psa. 85:3) gave them hope for their future as well, causing them to call out to Him with a passionate and urgent plea for a renewed relationship. This is similar to where each of us finds ourselves at some point in life—previously safe in the arms of Jesus but then, through our own lust, trapped in the despair of our own sin. Consequently, the plea of the psalm provides a pattern for a personal petition of renewal even today.

Restoration of the soul’s relationship with God depends first on the grace and mercy of God. Without His patience, without His longsuffering, without His willingness to provide unearned opportunity, there could be no hope. And yet this is precisely what we require and what He offers (Psa. 85:4-5). Our cry for salvation does not fall on deaf ears, but the LORD extends His hand from His own mercy rather than our innate goodness, and the new opportunity granted serves a greater purpose than mere selfish survival. “Will You not revive us again, That Your people may rejoice in You? Show us Your mercy, LORD, And grant us Your salvation” (Psa. 85:6-7). He has indeed answered in glorious fashion; however, the gracious opportunity made possible by the love of God (1 John 4:7-11) comes with high expectations and conditions. God requires His people to listen and learn how to act as His people rather than turned to their own heart of foolishness (Psa. 85:8). His people should revere Him in love for the deliverance He makes possible and acknowledge the necessity of His hand in enjoying blessings in life (Psa. 85:9). Therefore, new life has new responsibilities, and God’s people must live accordingly (Rom. 6:3-4). In God’s redemptive scheme, He has found a way for His mercy and His standard of truth to meet so that there can be peace with God despite our spiritual failures (Psa. 85:10-11). God alone has made this possible because He truly is the Author of all that is good (Psa. 85:12; Jas. 1:17). He wants what is best for us, and that is the reason why we should always follow Him wherever He leads (Psa. 85:13; John 14:6).

You may come to a point in life where you realize sin owns you (Rom. 6:16-18), but this is why we can rejoice that Jesus has paid the price for us (1 Pet. 1:18-19). Yet, just like with Israel, we must respond in line with God’s character, listening to His Word and submitting to His will—not in some vain assumption we impose on Him of our own desires, but in the humble recognition of what His Word requires (Jas. 4:10; John 17:17). Only the scheme of redemption planned in the mind of God and expressed in Holy Scripture can bring mercy and truth together in complete harmony. Only the love and light of God Himself could make righteousness and peace kiss. Let us then embrace their beauty and submit to their wisdom.

The Doorkeeper’s Privilege

Have you ever felt that combination of frustration and longing when you desperately wanted to be somewhere, surrounded by friends and family, but instead found yourself elsewhere by forces outside of your control, practically alone, and daydreaming about all that you were missing? It might have been a family reunion, a concert, or just a group of friends from school getting together to talk about old times. Whatever the occasion, missing it creates a loneliness that gnaws at you deep within. But what if you are missing out on a spiritual reunion, a gathering to worship, and an opportunity of fellowship? If these things truly matter to you, missing them will hurt deeply, because you find yourself separated from the community and the joy that means the most. Faithful Christians who are shut-in and unable to gather with the saints to worship, study, and work—except perhaps occasionally—can appreciate this feeling, knowing how much the simple visit of one brother or sister means in soothing the soul. However, the sons of Korah who penned Psalm 84 understood this as well, and these inspired words capture the essence of longing and the hope of renewal that can provide spiritual solace for those in a similar situation today.

While the exact date of the psalm eludes us, the internal clues provided by the content suggest the words of those swept away in Babylonian captivity, but likely before the destruction of the temple. Thus, one who had ministered in the temple and anticipated journeying to Jerusalem for the annual feasts found himself unable to return but only able to remember and imagine. O how he loved coming before the LORD where He dwelled (Psa. 84:1), and now this had been taken from him; the loss compelled him to cry out (Psa. 84:2). Even birds could take shelter on the temple grounds, while he was left only with his memories (Psa. 84:3). He envisions the journey through the barrenness of the Valley of Baca, but he sees it as an opportunity rather than a burden (Psa. 84:6). Therefore, unable to make the journey, he longs for God to accept his prayer offered in isolation (Psa. 84:8), a prayer asking for protection in difficult circumstances, including for the deposed king led away in shame (Psa. 84:9).

While the background of the psalm has a tinge of sadness, the message centers on spiritual joy. For despite his own situation, he sees what so many forget. (1) Worshiping God, bowing before His presence, and praising His name is a privilege we should not take for granted (Psa. 84:4). (2) When you find your strength in God, the more time you spend with Him and serving Him, the stronger you become (Psa. 84:5, 7). (3) The stronger our faith in God, the more happiness and joy we can allow into our lives, because we will see all that God makes possible (Psa. 84:11-12). He so wanted to experience this once more that he concludes standing on the threshold looking in from the outside to glimpse for just a moment the blessings that come from God are vastly superior to living in comfort in a wicked land: “For a day in Your courts is better than a thousand. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God Than dwell in the tents of wickedness” (Psa. 84:10). We are not in captivity—not yet. But let us learn from the psalmist and appreciate our blessings today and not wait until they are taken from us.

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.

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.

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