Bringing in the Sheaves

The Babylonian captivity shook the confidence of the Jews to the very bone—intentionally so. Their previous arrogance had built up a spiritual barrier so large that they failed to see how far from the LORD they had fallen. Therefore, despite warnings dating back to Moses, despite the wave after wave of foreign invaders taking away evidence of past glory, and despite the reform efforts made in the waning hours of the kingdom, they held out hope for deliverance even when the LORD told them He would not save them from Nebuchadnezzar. Therefore, from the original invasion to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem to the ultimate defeat of Babylon at the hand of the Medo-Persian Empire seventy years later, the Jews had generations as captives to adapt to circumstances far different from their previous comfort and hubris. 

As a result, “When the LORD brought back the captivity of Zion,” the author of Psalm 126 says, “We were like those who dream” (Psa. 126:1). Having spent so many years in oppression, their deliverance seemed too good to be true.   Thus, the aged, who had been taken captive as children, the young, who had known nothing but captivity, and everyone in between laughed from joy and lifted their voices in song with rejoicing so great that others noticed (Psa. 126:2). A people who had neglected all the blessings provided by God in the land flowing with milk and honey finally had come to their senses and proclaimed, “The LORD has done great things for us, And we are glad” (Psa. 127:3). Their release and opportunity to return home came to them as suddenly as a far off rainstorm can flood the land upstream and turn a dry riverbed into a life-giving stream (Psa. 126:4). And yet their return had not come in a moment, as some had originally hoped. It had taken decades of humbling sorrow and spiritual renewal to produce the joy of the moment (Psa. 126:5). And this was the most important lesson to learn. The best, most important lessons often are the most difficult on us—painful in the moment, and yet rewarding in the end. That is why, like a farmer sowing seed and waiting on harvest, it is to our benefit to develop patience and endure chastening and discipline in order to reap the harvest of growth and self-discipline and all their attendant blessings in the end (Psa. 126:6). As some translations indicate, these lessons transcend the captivity and have far broader implications. However, as a Song Of Ascent reminding future generations of Jews of a difficult lesson learned the hard way and not to be repeated, the context of captivity offers a depth rooted in Israel’s history that a mere psalm about the benefits of hard work could hardly capture.

 Christians should certainly not wish for the harsh conditions of captivity endured by the Jews in Babylon. However, to the extent that we recognize some of the challenges of living in a vulgar and immoral age, of feeling like outcasts in the land of our birth, and of experiencing a constant sense of rejection and humiliation from a secular society, we should come to appreciate the lessons of patience and humility, of compassion and care, and of virtue and value. For only by responding to the challenges of our day—whatever they might be—with a heart for God will we gain a true sense of appreciation for His blessings. We take so much for granted today. The Jews did in their day too. And that is why we need to learn from them.

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True Believers

The situation described in Psalm 125 is specific enough to offer an excellent picture of the challenges facing the author and his companions while generic enough to prevent assigning it to a specific time or incident. The LORD’s people were under threat in some fashion and needed God’s protection (Psa. 125:1-2) because wicked rule had descended on the land God intended for the righteous (Psa. 125:3). Therefore, the psalmist prayed that God would protect the faithful from this threat (Psa. 125:4) and rid the land of all who fell prey to compromise (Psa. 125:5). These themes reflect eternal principles, but the implied circumstances fall within oft-repeated themes in Israel’s history. Indeed, as a Song of Ascent sung as Jewish pilgrims returned to worship at the temple, the psalmist might have reflected upon some particular past event when Jerusalem faced potential attack and yet endured due to faith as the foundation to encourage future generations to remember—as they themselves approached the ancient city—to place their trust in the LORD who had delivered His people in times past and punished those whose faith faltered. Jews familiar with their history most certainly would have recalled the boast of Sennacherib recorded in the Assyrian record that he had shut up Hezekiah “like a bird in a cage” but that, despite all of that king’s boasting, Hezekiah’s trust in the LORD for deliverance had been rewarded as Isaiah and subsequent events made clear (2 Kings 18:13-19:37). What great encouragement such a reflection would have been to Jews returning to the site of such a deliverance! What faith it must have provoked! What comfort it must have provided! And that is how Christians, as God’s people today, should read and feel it.

While many today look to Jerusalem as a matter of politics, God points people to Jerusalem to remind them of His presence and His promises, both of which far transcend the perimeter of the City of David. For God’s concern lies not in reclaiming territory but in restoring faith, building trust in His people that does not fail in adversity but that abides looking unto eternity (Psa. 125:1; Heb. 11:1-6; 2 Cor. 5:7). Such a trust does not focus on the worldly challenges that ever apply pressure to relent but on the LORD who offers His defense and protection from the enemy to those willing to look to Him in faith (Psa. 125:2; 1 Pet. 5:8; Jas. 4:7-8). While God allows His people to face adversity and challenges to their faith, He Himself does not give ground but keeps His promises. Therefore, it is essential for the faithful to endure, to withstand the pressure exerted by the wicked with faith in eventual victory (Psa. 125:3; 1 Cor. 10:13; 1 Jn. 5:4). There will always be temptation to capitulate, temptation to compromise, and temptation to quit; therefore, the righteous must likewise maintain a heart committed to doing the LORD’s will, having confidence in the LORD’s goodness even in the midst of strife or temptation (Psa. 125:4; 2 Tim. 1:12). Difficult circumstances are a proving ground, revealing weakness of faith in some and building greater faith in others. The LORD will reward both accordingly (Psa. 125:5; Rom. 2:1-11). Therefore, the greater our confidence in Who God is and what God has said, the greater our own faith can be. As He promised protection and peace for Israel long ago, so also the exceeding great and precious promises He has made to the church today rest on the same perfect character of the One for Whom all things are possible and therefore the One who will always deliver (Matt. 19:26; 1 Jn. 2:25; 2 Pet. 3:9).

What If?

What if? These two words can prove exciting or frightening, depending on their context, what follows, and our reaction to those words. What if Hitler had not invaded the Soviet Union? What if someone else won the election of ________? What if modern medicine had not existed for that surgery? What if I had bought stock in Apple in 1997? What if? It can change everything. Sometimes we consider this and grow melancholy while contemplating missed opportunities. At other times we might realize just how blessed our lives have been. However, far too rarely do we consider this question spiritually. Among the section in Psalms containing a series known as Songs of Ascents, Psalm 124 draws attention to this very question. 

If we accept the attribution of the psalm to David, the circumstance most likely in view occurred early during that great king’s reign when the Philistines were still Israel’s major nemesis. After the end of the civil war and the consolidation of the tribes into a united kingdom, David took Jerusalem and established himself in what became known as the City of David (2 Sam. 5:1-12). The Philistines recognized the danger of their position with their most formidable foe in power and deployed an army in the Valley of Rephaim (2 Sam. 5:18). David asked the LORD what to do, and the LORD promised to deliver them into his hand which He subsequently did (2 Sam. 5:19-25). But that brings us back to the psalm which begins, “‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side,’ Let Israel now say—‘If it had not been the Lord who was on our side, When men rose up against us…’” (Psa. 124:1-2). What if? What if the LORD had not been on their side? That is the point of the psalm as the verses that follow make clear. The outcome would have been completely different. They would have lost the battle. They would have been overwhelmed by water. They would have died as in a flood (Psa. 124:3-5; 2 Sam. 5:20). But the LORD provided protection from the enemy, escape from the clutches of a dangerous foe (Psa. 124:6-7). The Creator of the universe made Himself available to help those who served Him (Psa. 124:8). The sublime beauty described by such care astounds. And it once more causes us to consider the opening thought: What if?

What if God did not care for mankind to the extent He has demonstrated from the time of creation? What if God had never communicated His will to His creation? What if God left man to fight Satan on his own? What if God never sent His Son to die on the cross? What if? God has proven Himself so consistent in providing for man’s most important and desperate needs that men take them for granted. As a result, they only tend to question God when they encounter some problem for which they wish God’s intervention instead of appreciating all that He has already done and promised to do. So, what if we spent less time complaining and more time giving thanks? What if we opposed God less and obeyed God more? What if we valued our own opinions less and God’s Word more? What if we dropped our pride completely and embraced truth entirely? What if? It is amazing how different life is depending on whether you seek God’s will first or try to live life on your own. How good could your life be if you just followed God’s will? What if?

Have Mercy

It hurts when I hear people, including some Christians, use the phrase “Have mercy” so cavalierly. After all, it is essentially an appeal to God, whether they realize it or not. And no appeal to God should be made vainly or regarding silly matters of no consequence. Few probably appreciate the origin of the phrase or its true character, but it is important for us to move beyond the loose exclamatory use of these two words and to see them in their true context. Following the Babylonian captivity, an unnamed Jew wrote a series of psalms, each with the heading “A Song of Ascents,” for the children of Israel to sing together as they traveled back to Jerusalem to worship. Each tends to build on the psalms before it, creating a collection that helps transition the mind from the situation back home to preparation for worship in Jerusalem. In the midst of these psalms lies Psalm 123, a brief offering filled with emotion and meaning because it captures how God’s people of all ages live between two worlds—the materialistic world dominated by the prince of the power of the air and the kingdom of heaven in which God Himself reigns. Therefore, this psalm expresses faith in an important way. It looks to the Lord above with a renewed perspective of deep need and with gratitude for His patience, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, and love all the while keenly aware of the world’s enmity toward God’s people and all things spiritual.

The psalmist opens with purposeful longing for God’s attention and protection, but also with an eye to see beyond the earth’s horizon to engage God who is spirit in his cause: “Unto You I lift up my eyes, O You who dwell in the heavens” (Psa. 123:1). He remains all too cognizant of his own position upon the earth, and this is essential for any who appeal to heaven. The recognition of the distinction between heaven and earth and the need of man and the power of God lies at the heart of prayer and all appreciation for the attention God offers in listening to His people’s petitions (1 Pet. 3:12; 1 John 5:14-15). But the relationship between man and God matters as we look to Yahweh for help. Indeed, to approach Him as anything other than humble servants who realize that every appeal depends on the gracious character of a loving Master is to miss the essence of what makes the relationship possible. “Behold, as the eyes of servants look to the hand of their masters, As the eyes of a maid to the hand of her mistress, So our eyes look to the LORD our God, Until He has mercy on us” (Psa. 123:2). There is such longing in this description, a patience and perseverance that only faith can maintain, and this precisely fills the hearts of those dedicated to the LORD with full confidence in His mercy along with the recognition of their great need for it. The world is fraught with trials and tribulation, dangers and difficulties, hostilities and heartache. Nevertheless, God’s mercy abounds. And our confidence in this should permeate our existence to the point of eliminating all doubt. This is essential because of the constant pressure the godless and the faithless of this world will often apply against us. The worldly will despise the spiritual; those who value luxury will ridicule those who value sacrifice; the disdain of the proud in this world will rise up to humiliate those already humbled for their need for God. “Have mercy on us, O LORD, have mercy on us! For we are exceedingly filled with contempt. Our soul is exceedingly filled With the scorn of those who are at ease, With the contempt of the proud” (Psa. 123:3-4). 

Have mercy. Two simple words. Placed in their context, they express such faith in the love of God. And that is how we should think of them—meaningful, heavenly, spiritual. It is not about condemning a casual use of a phrase so much as about calling for higher speech through spiritual thinking. We all need God’s mercy so desperately. So let us appreciate it, and let our speech honor it, and so honor the God who offers it.

A Prayer for Peace

Looking toward the future can be thrilling or frightening depending both on your circumstances and your point of view. If you are a child in December, you look forward to Christmas with an anticipation that brings joy to every moment. But if you are an adult in April, you tend to dread the day you must write that check to the United States Treasury. Perspective matters. Therefore, consider what it must have felt like to be a Jew returning from captivity in Babylon. Imagine all the work over decades that it took under Zerubbabel, Ezra, and Nehemiah, including the preaching of Haggai and Zechariah, to rebuild the temple after captivity, rebuild Jerusalem from the rubble, and rebuild society in accordance with the Law. This was the challenge for all those who returned from Babylon, and these were their accomplishments after many years of effort. This work—every step of the way—meant facing the ruins of the past daily, opposition and persecution regularly, and then gradually making progress that would mean life could once more return to some sense of normalcy. I have trouble imagining the emotions of those Jews who once more had the opportunity to travel to Jerusalem, enter its gates, and then worship at the newly constructed temple. Fortunately, we do have to imagine, because a psalmist penned exactly how he felt in Psalm 122:1-9.

The heading that includes “Of David” describes the style rather than the authorship. More important is the heading “A Song of Ascents,” indicating that this would be sung as people once more came from all over to worship. The inspired writer had seen dark times; he knew adversity; and through hard work, he also enjoyed a renewal of success and joy. And this is the kind of perspective we need today about the Lord’s church so that we can move beyond difficulties and begin to build a brighter future. 

We ought to be excited for the future (Psa. 122:1-2). Christians ought to be excited to have the opportunity to gather with the saints and worship God precisely as He desires—every time (Jn. 4:24). God’s people ought to be excited about the work already accomplished and what it makes possible today (1 Cor. 3:6; Mk. 16:15-16). To get to participate in what God has ordained itself should produce energy within (1 Cor. 15:58). Somewhere along the line we began serving less out of anticipation and more out of obligation. It is time to recapture that excitement for what the church is really all about and what a privilege it is to be part of it, and then channel that excitement into what we can build for the future. Christians ought to hope for a better future (Psa. 122:3-5). There is always hope for a better future when we follow the word of the LORD that came forth from Jerusalem on the day of Pentecost following the resurrection of Christ and let it govern us, shape our opinions, and change our character (Acts 2:17-47). There is hope for a better future when our worship becomes more about God and less about us (Jn. 4:23) and our enemies become friends because they submit to the King of Kings. Our future will be bright as long as we let Jesus decide what we do instead of trying to force God to accept whatever we do. This is why we ought to pray for the future (Psa. 122:6-7)—to pray for future peace from the attacks from without and for unity within (Jn. 17:15m 29-23). We should pray for future prosperity for the people committed to the church and for the benefit of the whole (Jn. 17:16-19, 24). And throughout it all, we must remain motivated for the future (Psa. 122:8-9)—by Christian fellowship (Heb. 10:24) and by God and His purposes.

No matter what we face in the present, the future is there, waiting on us to make something of it. We must do better at visualizing just how good things can be if we are willing to work toward greater goals in the kingdom. We must do more to build a future for the church that will make future generations thankful. We ought to spend far more time praying for the work—specifically, fervently, and daily—instead of seeing it as a given. We must motivate ourselves to fill our lives with all of those things that will make the future bright, because that is what it will take.

The LORD is Your Keeper

In modern America few people show concern over their safety when traveling. Oh, many still say a quick prayer before an airplane takes off, and some might express concern for the reckless drivers they encounter at an ever-increasing rate, but the nature of travel has changed so dramatically that people generally feel safe and secure within the confines of a temperature controlled motorized vehicle capable of great distances and averting problem areas via instructions on a smartphone. Contrast all this with the weary Israelite traveler, returning to Jerusalem to attend a feast, who faced many perils in the process of his journey to worship. Especially after the captivity carried large populations away from Judea to settle in areas far away from the epicenter of their faith, faithful Jews would leave their homes and cover many miles to return to their homeland. Such a pilgrimage included a vast number of dangers inherent in ancient travel. The odyssey itself required physical endurance. The route also could take them through hostile territory, including to some degree Samaria, and areas of pagan influence. More than that, they would find it necessary to watch carefully as they traveled due to the marauders and thieves that camped in strategic locations along major roads, often hiding in the caves within the mountainous countryside. Thus, the concern expressed in the opening of Psalm 121 came from a very real place: “I will lift up my eyes to the hills— From whence comes my help?” (Psa. 121:1). Faith initiated the journey, as Psalm 120 implies. However, the people would also need great faith to sustain their travels and ensure that they arrived in Jerusalem as planned, and the remainder of the psalm captures this faith in God’s providential role in their safety perfectly.

The psalmist makes an unequivocal statement of faith: “My help comes from the LORD Who made heaven and earth” (Psa. 121:2). Yahweh, as implied by His name, will be there, and He will help. Moreover, the help He can offer comes with the power of creation behind it. Such a declaration moves far beyond fear and passes timidity to embrace confidence and security. At this point in the psalm, the wording takes an interesting turn. Abandoning the first person declaration of faith, the psalm now moves to third person. While some consider this someone else’s response to the original question, I believe it better represents the psalmist’s faith that the same confidence He has in God should characterize others when they remember His character. The LORD provides the steadiness to secure a defense against any foe’s attack (Psa. 121:3). He remains ever alert and cognizant of His covenant with Israel and all its attendant promises (Psa. 121:4). “The Lord is your keeper” (Psa. 121:5a). He is more than able to care for you, protect you, and guide you, offering constant protection whether from the heat of the sun or the perils that strike at night (Psa. 121:5b-6). He always acts with our best interest at heart. Thus, if there are any doubts remaining, the final two verses surely dispel them. “The Lord shall preserve you from all evil; He shall preserve your soul. The Lord shall preserve your going out and your coming in From this time forth, and even forevermore” (Psa. 121:7-8). God extends His protection to cover “all evil.” No evil exists that He cannot counter. His protection addresses your very “soul.” This likely refers to His commitment to protect the whole of our being, but its spiritual implications remain and are indeed profound. Moreover, the protection provided suffers no lapses in time. Every moment you live, God is there for you. 

Jews arriving safely in Jerusalem after a potentially treacherous journey surely had reason to give thanks to God—but really no more than what His people enjoy each and every day. When you place yourself in His hands, the LORD is your keeper. And while that surely offers peace in the midst of a chaotic and sometimes cruel world, it provides even more when considered in terms of  “even forevermore.”

Frustrations Over Conflict

Following their captivity in Babylon, God provided the means and motivation for the Jews to rebuild the temple under the leadership of Zerubbabel and Ezra and reinstitute temple worship in accordance with the Law once they completed their mission. Nehemiah, who served the king in Persia, ultimately returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem and reinvigorate Jewish society and spiritual commitment. However, this, along with the prophecy of Zechariah, demonstrates how slowly the Jews returned from exile, many choosing to remain behind rather than relocate to their homeland. This diaspora created its own challenges, leaving God’s people in the midst of a foreign and ungodly culture to face the constant barrage of immorality, ridicule, and opposition that their neighbors inflicted upon them. Regardless, their captivity had taught them greater piety, and so many would journey to Jerusalem for the commanded feasts. Their longer journey to their homeland presented an opportunity for them to refocus and remember why they were making the trip. During this time, an author or authors penned a series of psalms known collectively as “songs of ascents,” psalms written for the journey home. In Psalm 120 we find the first in this series, and its content very naturally focuses on the author’s feelings at the beginning of the journey.

This psalm has a personal tone to it more than a collective national feeling, and yet its content quite naturally reflects the people as a whole. The psalm opens with a hint of their former captivity. A people in distress cried out to the Lord for relief, and He answered (Psa. 120:1), an acknowledgement that the opportunity to return to Jerusalem existed due to God’s deliverance. However, the reality of life among ungodly people and their regular words of mockery—an ever present problem throughout captivity—now receive a response. For decades they had listened while pagan lips ridiculed their God and their faith as insufficient to deliver them from their hand, but in the end they could point to His lovingkindness and mercy to prove that their faith had not been unfounded (Psa. 120:2-3). Therefore, in a sense, they could point out to those in Babylon that they too now felt the sting of Jehovah’s judgment (Psa. 120:4). However, this opportunity to return home had another effect. The faithful child of God now felt isolated from home as never before, as though living in the distant lands to the north or as nomads in the south (Psa. 120:5). The burden of living long with those opposed to God no longer appeared as merely a physical distance from home but also a moral chasm as well, for while seeking God’s will and peace with others through it, the surrounding world yet resists (Psa. 120:6-7). 

Such a perspective should feel more than natural to the child of God. We also live in a world that promotes immorality and ungodliness. With increasing frequency we hear attacks on our faith and attempts to silence the Bible’s message. Many Christians work in an environment hostile to faith in general and Christianity specifically. The Supreme Court has stripped as many references to God as possible out of the public schools. Political correctness has reached the point where a basic statement of reality receives death threats in response in social media. And with so much out of our control, we should appreciate even more the focus of the psalmist and long for those times when we can gather together as God’s people, proclaim our faith, encourage one another, and build our courage to face the onslaught of Satan’s minions. It took the Jews decades to realize how much they should value worship and spiritual fellowship. God’s people today need to learn from Israel’s failure AND from the psalmist’s revival of hope—and learn quickly.

The Purpose of Bible Study

Nowhere in scripture will you find more attention and greater praise for the written word of God than in Psalm 119. While those familiar with Bible trivia immediate recognize it as the longest chapter in the Bible, totaling one hundred seventy-six verses, the power and beauty of this psalm lie in its detailed insight into the value of God’s word. Divided into twenty-two sections of eight verses a piece following the Hebrew alphabet and basing every line within each section on the corresponding letter, the psalm displays a brilliant aspect of ancient poetry. However, without any doubt, its content more than its style cause the godly heart to sing. Most assume that David penned this ode to written revelation; however, the focus, placement among the psalms, and limited situational references all point to the time following Judah’s return from Babylonian captivity when the rebuilding of the temple coincided with renewed attention to the Law amidst adversity and controversy. If so, the scriptures still offer a hint regarding its potential authorship: “For Ezra had prepared his heart to seek the Law of the Lord, and to do it, and to teach statutes and ordinances in Israel” (Ezra 7:10). The same verbs emphasized in this one verse—seek, do, and teach—demonstrate the same themes that recur throughout this powerful poem, which I encourage you to read in its entirety before continuing. Regardless of the authorship, the content deserves great attention and appreciation for its sublime description of the purpose of studying God’s word. 

While various descriptions of God’s word dominate this psalm, its purpose lies not in emphasizing spiritual learning but spiritual living. The psalmist interweaves his love for the word of God, his learning the word of God, and his living the word of God throughout the psalm, all in the process of seeking God, honoring God, and obeying God. Thus, these concepts do not exist independently of one another but rather coalesce to present a unified whole. This should affect how God’s people see God’s word and the role it should play in their lives. For the psalmist, seeking God and living according to what God revealed are part of the same process. The word deserves the utmost attention, respect, admiration, care, and love we can muster precisely because of Who gave it to us. While God introduces the extent of His power and providential care through creation, He reveals His mind, His purpose, and His heart through His word. It serves as the gateway to knowing Him and then also knowing how to please Him. God’s word guides us through life, away from sin, and to the LORD. The word of God opens a window into wisdom far above our own experience that provides insight into the nature of life and into our own soul. It offers a perspective for our existence that lifts us up when we are down, humbles us when we forget our place, and gives strength in times of weakness—not due to offering cliches and feel good stories, but by drawing man closer to His Creator. However, all of inspiration benefits us none whatsoever unless we are willing to spend time, thought, and energy contemplating not only the meaning and wisdom of divine precepts but also considering the God who gave them. Our God does not call on His people to understand His will in some academic fashion; He gave us His word to affect our will so that we submit to His will.

Every aspect of studying God’s word should ultimately focus on living in a way that brings us closer to God. And yet, in today’s world, people seem unaware that obeying what God has revealed is the pathway to that closer relationship. In fact, some speak as if the Bible is an impediment to people’s love for God, as if doctrinal faithfulness and precise obedience—both direct responses to God’s will—somehow diminish joy, hope, and love. We should all adopt the psalmist’s point of view. For him, the word of God was not an impersonal document loaded with burdensome regulations and restrictions. Instead, he allowed himself to embrace its content as though feeling the breath of God as He spoke. Thus, the word was not an impersonal barrier but an essential bridge, making it possible for God’s heart and wisdom to affect our own and so change our lives completely through our obedience. If this is not the end in mind when we study God’s word, we are doing it wrong.

What Can Man Do to Me?

As a general rule, people feel sorry for themselves far too much. Self-pity fills social media when people take a break from arguing about mostly meaningless matters. Rather than seeing the challenges of life as regular occurrences and difficult circumstances as the nature of life, people behave as if they have some inherent right to a perfect life free from adversity. We have convinced ourselves that we can rid the world of warfare, eliminate all disease, and quash bad behavior with the wave of a wand. We have turned every possible negative into some kind of cause as if we possess the ability to eradicate all sadness. As a result, rather than accepting the reality of problems in life and rising to meet the challenge with courage, character, and commitment, many respond with an insufferable case of the “Why me?’s.” Modern society has become so soft that people believe they can encourage competition while outlawing losing, challenge children to be their best while complaining when anyone pushes them to improve, and enjoy freedom of speech while maintaining the imaginary right to be free from ever being offended. Ironically, this deplorable state of humanity exists primarily due to placing so much focus on…humanity.

When the psalmist penned Psalm 118, by inspiration he looked far beyond even his own society to describe an attitude regarding life that expresses a perspective that transcends self even in the midst of great hardship to embrace faith to such a degree that it redefined life. From this perspective, challenges and adversity do not dominate but rather the mercy of God, because it demonstrates His care throughout life so consistently for good that the negatives stand out by comparison (Psa. 118:1-4). Therefore, accepting the reality of danger in this life, even under duress (Psa. 118:5) faith remains strong (Psa. 118:7-9) because “The Lord is on my side; I will not fear. What can man do to me?” (Psa. 118:6). Thus, rather than allowing life’s challenges to overwhelm, faith makes it possible to remain strong and confident even when under attack (Psa. 118:10-12). Life upon this earth faces the ugly reality of death on a daily basis—and sometimes with a fury that demands attention every moment (Psa. 118:13-16), but even then faith conquers fear because, come what may, “I shall not die, but live, And declare the works of the Lord” (Psa. 118:17). God does allow suffering in this life (Psa. 118:18), but He does not abandon us to it (Psa. 118:19) because He has made it possible to deliver the righteous even from the most tragic circumstances, which is why, even when facing death, we can offer Him praise (Psa. 118:20-21).

If such faith and perspective seems impossible, what follows in the psalm should help tremendously. “The stone which the builders rejected Has become the chief cornerstone. This was the Lord’s doing; It is marvelous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; We will rejoice and be glad in it” (Psa. 118:22-24). The perspective offered throughout the psalm is Christ’s. Despite the rejection of the Jews, the humiliation of the trial, and the excruciating pain of crucifixion, Jesus never asked, “Why me?” He understood. And when we not only appreciate His attitude but also adopt it, it makes it possible for us to see life in terms of God’s mercy and goodness too, for even through our suffering and death, He has not abandoned us (Psa. 118:25-27). He is still our God, and He still deserves our praise (Psa. 118:28).  Therefore, whatever adversity, whatever hardship, whatever pain, whatever grief, let us also respond with eternity in view and cry out to heaven, “Oh, give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! For His mercy endures forever” (Psa. 118:29).

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