Psalm 4

Psalm 4

For the director of music. With stringed instruments. A psalm of David.

1 Answer me when I call to you,
my righteous God.
Give me relief from my distress;
have mercy on me and hear my prayer.

2 How long will you people turn my glory into shame?
How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?
3 Know that the Lord has set apart his faithful servant for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.

4 Tremble and do not sin;
when you are on your beds,
search your hearts and be silent.
5 Offer the sacrifices of the righteous
and trust in the Lord.

6 Many, Lord, are asking, “Who will bring us prosperity?”
Let the light of your face shine on us.
7 Fill my heart with joy
when their grain and new wine abound.

8 In peace I will lie down and sleep,
for you alone, Lord,
make me dwell in safety.

Focus.
Only four psalms into this project and already I am realizing that this is more difficult than I expected. Here, again, we see a shifting focus.

Verse one is focused on God’s actions. It is the understood “you.” [You] Answer me; [you] give me relief; [you] be merciful; [you] hear. David is speaking directly to God, and the focus is on how David desires for God to behave toward him. David is petitioning God, but his trust is in God to respond according to His holy attributes.

In verse two, suddenly, we are talking to men; but verse 3 immediately returns focus to God’s actions. David tells us how God behaves toward those He has set apart–specifically, that He hears when they call to Him.

Verses four and five are interesting. David is speaking again to men, telling them how to behave toward God. I’ll just note that herein are two of the most fascinating phrases in Scripture to me:

In your anger, do not sin;

Search your hearts and be silent.

The last three verses are clearly focused on God.

Music.
In the Psalm 3 writing, I said that if there is something theological about music, then there must be something worth noting about silence, also. Although, I’m reconsidering my thoughts about this. Think about the moment of Creation (regardless of how you believe it happened): I have always said that it was God’s voice that broke the silence and darkness. And that’s true, I think. (I think!) Except that silence and nothingness in the realm of mankind does not necessarily denote silence and nothingness in eternity. Before man, before Earth, before our universe, were the living creatures of Revelation 4 still crying, “Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty; who was and is and is to come”? If so, then even though there is silence in the world of created man, there is sound in eternity. That is a really mind-blowing idea, and I challenge you all to think about its implications.

I am fascinated by verse four: Search your hearts and be silent. I have no idea what this may imply. It suggests to me more of a contemplative or reflective meditation, rather than a cognizant prayer. In fact, it may be why we see that beautiful word “Selah” at the close of the statement. We often think that for God to hear our prayers, we must offer something coherent or articulate. I know I do! For me, it has a lot to do with the way I write, the way I process: I am often more verbal than I need to be, simply as an exercise of discovery. The more I say (or write), the more I understand what I’m really thinking or feeling, what the “right words” are, etc. Fortunately for myself, this has lead to a very abundant prayer world; unfortunately, it has meant that I struggle with silence.

Piano has helped. It isn’t silence, but it definitely allows me to focus and search without allowing my intellect to take over. It may be worth considering that in a noisy world, we could all use some silence–even in our prayers.

And here’s an added bonus.

Psalm 3

Psalm 3

1 Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
2 Many are saying of me,
“God will not deliver him.” Selah.

3 But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
4 I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain. Selah.

5 I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
6 I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.

7 Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.

8 From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people. Selah.

Focus.
As I suspect will be the case in many of the psalms, it is not immediately clear where the focus of this prayer is. This is a psalm of David, when he was fleeing from Absalom, his son, and it begins with something of a desperate cry.

Almost immediately, the focus shifts from the many that surround David to the character of God. Verse 2 is pivotal. It speaks the question of whether God is willing to intervene and deliver David. Interestingly, it ends with that mysterious word we all love: Selah. Perhaps the best explanation I’ve read (though it is an idea, not a certainty) is that “selah” meant to pause. It allowed time for reflection before moving on.

Inserted here, we sense a tension. It is like a moment in fiction where our hero is considering whether to give up in despair or to press on in determination. It is a moment of decision. The question here is this: What does David believe? Does he listen to the doubters and scoffers? Are they right? Has God abandoned David to his foe?

And here is the pivot: “But you.” Suddenly, we hear the conviction in David’s tone. He is defying his doubt with statements of how God behaves. Relationally, the focus seems to be on David–how God behaves toward him. However, the focus is really God’s actions, not the recipient of His actions.

Music.
There are two things I’d like to point out here.

First, we have the first use of the word “Selah.” in the Psalms. What does the word mean? We may never know for certain, though I am partial to the idea of pause. If there is something theological about music, there must also be something at least worth noting about silence.

Second, the wording of verse 4. Notice that David doesn’t merely cry or pray or hope; he calls “out.” In the KJV, it is rendered, “I cried unto the Lord with my voice.” In the old NIV (the Bible I use), it reads, “To the Lord I cry aloud.” There is a definite sound attached to David’s plea. Is this intentional? I cannot say; only that sometimes in our greatest need, our greatest darkness, it helps to speak aloud, to let our voices break the silence.

It was God’s voice that broke the silence in Genesis, bringing all things into existence. Could He have created man with only His will, without His voice? Of course. He is God! But it should tell us something about God (and ourselves) that Creation comes from His voice.

As does David’s prayer.

Psalm 2

Psalm 2

1 Why do the nations conspire[a]
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the Lord and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”

4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them.
5 He rebukes them in his anger
and terrifies them in his wrath, saying,
6 “I have installed my king
on Zion, my holy mountain.”

7 I will proclaim the Lord’s decree:

He said to me, “You are my son;
today I have become your father.
8 Ask me,
and I will make the nations your inheritance,
the ends of the earth your possession.
9 You will break them with a rod of iron[b];
you will dash them to pieces like pottery.”

10 Therefore, you kings, be wise;
be warned, you rulers of the earth.
11 Serve the Lord with fear
and celebrate his rule with trembling.
12 Kiss his son, or he will be angry
and your way will lead to your destruction,
for his wrath can flare up in a moment.
Blessed are all who take refuge in him.

Focus.
This second psalm follows the manner of the first: It reads something more like a proverb or a piece of prophetic literature (i.e.: Isaiah) than what we typically think of as psalms. It is almost poetic narrative rather than prayer or worship.

The subject here is clearly man, if we take it at face value. The psalmist is speaking to people. I have no qualms about grouping this one in the “man” column.

Except that it is one of the Messianic psalms: It is prophetic. Any honest theologian must confess that he begrudgingly names the focus here as man and not the Savior of which it foretells. Still, for the simple purpose of this exercise, the subject is very pointedly man.

Music.
I am captured here by a phrase which may or may not partake in this study. ‘Rejoice with trembling.” In my more charismatic days, I confess that this was understood rather literally, as a moving of God’s Spirit. Even a more conservative view–for instance, that we are to worship with reverence and humility–may be lacking.

Before we can answer the question of what it means to rejoice with trembling, I think, we must ask what (if any) relationship exists between rejoicing and trembling. Our first inclination should be that they oppose one another (and in a faith full of paradox, this should not surprise us). You rejoice when you are happy; you tremble when you are afraid. I do admit, however, that this is not a steadfast rule. A child full of anticipation and excitement for Christmas morning may tremble, and it signifies joy, not fear or sorrow. Still, when we dig into this verse, we find that the Hebrew word does not denote joyful jitter; rather, it clearly depicts a fearfulness.

Maybe the psalmist is simply telling us to fear Him who can destroy us. It would not stretch the context of this psalm one bit. It is worth noting at this point that our God is clearly both our Wrath and our Refuge (another great paradox of God’s character).

Maybe only when we realize our own insignificance, maybe only when we fathom how frail we truly are, maybe then, in that outrageous and terrifying humility, can we begin to see what God truly accomplishes.

Maybe true rejoice must stem from such a dark and terrible place.

Maybe such a realization should shake us to our very core.

Psalm 1

Psalm 1

1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither—
whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Focus.
This is one of the few psalms that–to me–read more like a proverb than a “psalm” as we’ve come to think of them. It lends itself to a bit of wisdom.

The structure of this psalm is beautiful. Here, I wish I knew how to discuss Hebrew Parallelism on my blog, because it is excellently represented in this psalm. Verses 1 through 3 depict a man who is blessed; verses 4 and 5 show us a man who is wicked. And verse 6 wraps it all up for us. I think there is something to be gleaned here.

At first glance, it may seem that the focus of this psalm is man. Blessed is the man. More specifically, this psalm is a contrast between a righteous man and a wicked man. The blessed man is productive and rooted down to a healthy habitat, while the wicked man is blown around without foundation. While this is true, it is incomplete; it misses the essential point.

What if we change the emphasis? Blessed is the man. It helps us to see this more as a psalm about the blessings of righteousness. It is a not a focus of what a righteous man looks like so much as it is a focus of the blessings the Almighty bestows on those who seek hard after Him. He establishes the blessed man near life-giving water and causes him to grow; He brings fruition to the blessed man’s life and deeds (i.e.: Romans 8:28).

The man is blessed. But is the subject the man and how he is blessed? Yes; however, it also immediately demands answer: Blessed by whom? The answer, of course, is given at the close: The LORD watches over him.

Music.
There is nothing overtly musical about this psalm, but the more I consider it, the more I find myself convinced of rhythm. Look at the blessed man: There is a ritual, a returning and repeating of his blessings.

He is a like a tree that yields its fruit in season. It is not a constant yielding of fruit. It is a preparing, a rest, a growth, and a produce. Every year, the same, being prepared, resting, growing, producing, yielding fruit in season.

Day and night, the blessed man meditates on God’s law. This is not an occasional feast with a King; it is the daily habit of partaking in Christ’s words. This, again, is very rhythmic. It pulses, day after day, night after night, like the heartbeat of the man himself.

Compare this idea of rhythm and repetition to the wicked man: There is no return. He is simply described as chaff, blown by the wind. Does the wind blow a steady course? Is there any stability to it? Any design? Any path toward growth?

Music is structure. It is stability and framework from which we can be artistic and creative. Music is rhythmic, like the day in and day out meditation of the blessed man, and it yields its own fruit (resolution) after much rest (rest), much preparation (harmony, dynamics), much growth (tension, dissonance). It is not a whimsy flowing wherever the musicians take it. Even the most whimsical piece is wrapped up in the structure of scales and dynamics and the intent of the composer.

What does this say about theology?

Something to chew on…
I did not note this in my journal, but today as I’m reading the passage again, I am aware that the blessed man is described as “delighting” and “meditating.” There is no contrast with this in verses 4 and 5.

Why I Didn’t Write the Bible

I’m not much a fan of Paul.

I know, I know. It’s almost heretical to confess it freely. It’s not that I don’t like him. It’s not that I don’t think he’s a great teacher of our faith. It’s not that I don’t appreciate his sensitivity to the Spirit of God. It’s just…I’m not a fan. I read his letters, and I think, “Come on, Paul. Come down to my level.”

It shouldn’t surprise you, then, that I take great comfort in reading Peter’s epistles.

Nonetheless, I had an inner-argument this morning. It was between the Me who doesn’t care much for Paul, and the Me who knows Paul is right (I suppose this could be more accurately described as the natural self and the spiritual self — which makes Paul right, all over again).

It went something like this:

the Paul-is-right Me: Sarah, just stand.
the other Me: Quiet, you.
the Paul-is-right Me: Sarah…just stand.
the other Me: If I had written that passage, I’d have written something better. Like…and having done all, Crochet.
the Paul-is-right Me: Not crochet. Stand.
the other Me: Or…work on your novel.
the Paul-is-right Me: No. Stand.
the other Me: Or play my guitar.
the Paul-is-right Me: Or stand?
the other Me: Make lasagna?
the Paul-is-right Me: Having done all, stand.
the other me: Didn’t I tell you to be quiet?
the Paul-is-right Me: Just stand, Sarah.

It’s not that I want Paul to be wrong. It’s not even that I disagree with him. It’s more that I try to distract myself from the difficulty of life by doing things. While doing things can be acts of faith, acts of worship, acts of love, they can also be distractions and acts of disbelief. And don’t get me wrong — distractions can be okay sometimes. The problem is that if you seek distractions when things are difficult, you not only shield your gaze from the struggle, but also from the Solution.

Several months ago, my mom told me something that I found very profound. She said that we tend to relearn the same lessons again and again. It’s not always that we forget the lesson; it’s not always that we have failed and need to be corrected; it’s that we need the reminder of where our Help comes from. We need the reminder that nothing and no one in this life is stable or faithful; only God Almighty is faithful. Only He can be fully trusted. Only He can provide our needs. Only He can make us whole. Only He can grant us peace.

That’s where I am this morning: Relearning the lesson. Having done all, to stand. I don’t have to figure everything out. I don’t have to make a meal and write a new song about it. I don’t have to crochet a new afghan or save the whales. I just have to stand. I just have to plant my feet firmly on the Rock that will not move.

And be thankful…that I didn’t write the Bible.

Stand firm, then.