John T. Willis

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Taking Pride not in Horses or Chariots, but in God--Psalm 20

Psalm 20 is a prayer for the king of Israel. This psalm is a model for right attitude toward God with regard to people in leadership positions. The superscription is brief: "To the leader. A Psalm of David." This is probably a later addition. It gives us no information about the content of Psalm 20. Psalm 20 naturally falls into three paragraphs.

I. The Poet prays that Yahweh will Protect the King. Psalm 20:1-3.
   a. The poet begins by beseeching Yahweh to answer the prayers of the king in the day of trouble and protect him from danger. "The day of trouble" is deliberately very broad and vague. The day of trouble may be a time of personal issues, a time of being attacked by enemies, a time of illness, and the list goes on and on. 20:1.
   b. The poet assumes that the king regularly attends worship at the sanctuary on Zion. The poet implores Yahweh to help and support the king as he comes to approach Yahweh. 20:2.
   c. The poet assumes that the king faithfully offers offerings and burnt sacrifices when he approaches Yahweh at the temple. The poet entreats Yahweh to remember positively all his offerings and to favor his burnt offerings. 20:3.

II. The Poet prays that Yahweh will fulfill the plans and petitions of the king. Psalm 20:4-5.
     a. The verb "fulfill" appears in synonymous parallelism twice, once in verse 4 and once in verse 5. The poet assumes that the king has desires and plans to carry out for the good of God's people. So he calls on Yahweh to grant and fulfill the king's desires and plans. 20:4.
    b. When Yahweh carries out these desires and plans, the poet beseeches Yahweh that Yahweh's people ["we"] will shout for joy and set up banners to honor Yahweh for all he has done to fulfill all the king's petitions. The expression "in the name of our God" means "by the authority or power of God." 20:5.

III. The Poet concludes with the Assurance that Yahweh will answer his prayers and help the king. Psalm 20:6-9.
      a. In verses 1-5, the poet offers a prayer of petition. Now, in verses 6-9, he expresses the assurance that Yahweh will indeed respond and answer his prayers. The psalmist is certain [he says "I know"] that Yahweh will help his anointed one, the earthly king and answer him "from his holy heaven" with mighty victories for the king and his people. Yahweh is in heaven looking down on planet earth, and from there he will answer the prayers of God's faithful people. 20:6.
     b. The psalmist observes that some take pride in chariots and some in horses, but he affirms that the pride of Yahweh's faithful people ["our pride"] is "in the name of the Lord our God." The expression "in the name of the Lord" means "by the authority or power of the Lord," as in verse 5. 20:7.
     c. The poet declares that the enemies of Yahweh's people will collapse and fall, but Yahweh's faithful people ["we"] shall rise and stand upright. 20:8.
     d. In summary, the poet concludes with a prayer that Yahweh will give victory to the earthly king and answer Yahweh's people when they call. 20:9.

Share YOUR ideas and enlightenments and experiences and questions and doubts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Eating in the Church Building

It is amazing to me that people can present ideas that cause conflict in God's people. One of the many conflicts that arose in the Church of Christ denomination was eating in the church building. When I was a preacher at the Maple Hill Church of Christ in Lebanon, Tennessee from 1956 to 1960, the first year we had a Vacation Bible School [which most churches still have]. We had a committee to make the plans for the event. We had this in the evenings for a week. This lasted two hours each evening. We thought that it would be great to have punch and cookies for all the children that came for the VBS. We were excited about all the good things we can do to encourage our children. BUT one of the deacons at Maple Hill spoke up and declared: It is a sin to eat in the church building, so we cannot have punch and cookies in the church building. By the way, we were planning to do this in the basement area, which was large and convenient. I asked this deacon where this came from. He snapped back. It is clear in the Bible. Read 1 Corinthians 11:22: "What! Do you not have HOMES to eat and drink it? Or do you show contempt for the church of God?"

1. An argument like this and a position like this is an embarrassment for any church. First of all, these two lines are completely out of context. This deacon had no idea about the context. Often, people in the Church of Christ adopt an idea completely out of context.

2. Second, 1 Corinthians 11:22 means exactly the opposite of what this deacon argued.
    a. This deacon assumed that "the church of God" is a BUILDING. But we have repeatedly emphasized the truth and the church is NOT A BUILDING, but a group of people devoted to God the Father through Jesus Christ our Lord.
    b. This deacon did not finish this verse, which says: "Do you have contempt for the church of God AND HUMILIATE THOSE WHO HAVE NOTHING?" "Those who have nothing" are clearly a synonymous parallelism of "the church of God."
    c. The REAL issue which Paul addressed was that God's people at Corinth gathered TO EAT TOGETHER and share their resources. But what happened is that the wealthy deliberately arrived early, consumed the meal, and left before the hard, poor workers to arrive. The issue here is certainly NOT eating in the church building, but refusing to have REAL FELLOWSHIP at meals with poor people. READ THE WHOLE CONTEXT in 1 Corinthians 11:17-34.
    d. The early church deliberately met together to share meals, and in the midst of these meals, they partook of the Eucharist, the Lord's Supper. Jude 12 clearly refers to these "love-feasts." But when rich people considered themselves to be ABOVE the rest of the church, they refused to have genuine fellowship with the poor. Jesus Himself condemned the Pharisees for having this attitude--see Matthew 23:1-36; James 2:1-13. The Church of Christ denomination has a very long history of arguing that Christianity has nothing at all to do with "social activities," but ONLY religious activities, which they define as meeting for worship in a designated building, baptizing people, and the like. There are so-called missionaries who go into foreign countries. They offer food for the poor people in that country but ONLY after they agree to hear their particular view of the Bible. This is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. James 1:26-27; 1 John 3:17-18 and MANY OTHER biblical texts make this clear.

3. At that time at Maple Hill, this deacon was painting part of the church building. I asked him: When lunchtime comes, where do you eat? Could you eat in the church building on a bench? He was there all alone. His response was: Absolutely not. That would be a sin. I said: Can you eat your lunch leaning against the outside wall of the church building? He said: Of course. I said: Can you go into the church building and lean on the same wall on the inside of the building? He said: NO. That would be a sin. WOW!!! I wonder if God is laughing out loud or crying about our views about God and religion and the church.

4. Bottom line. The Church of Christ has done and is doing some great things. At the same time, we have done many wrong-headed, incorrect, ungodly things. We need to recognize this fact, and admit to ourselves and the world that we are as fallible as any church ever.

Share YOUR experiences and shortcomings and thoughts and ideas and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis   

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

God Reveals Himself in Nature and in His Law--Psalm 19

Psalm 19 is similar to Psalms 1 and 119 because these three psalms emphasize the importance of God's Law. They underline the truth that God's Law is not negative, but positive. God's Law is the only reliable guidance for human life. Billions of people on earth recognize this intuitively. Psalm 19 contains two parallel concepts: God reveals himself in nature--verses 1-6; God reveals himself in his law--verses 7-11. Finally the poet makes some practical applications--verses 12-14.

The Superscription is very short and simple: "To the leader. A Psalm of David." It is doubtful that this was original.

I. Yahweh reveals himself in nature. Psalm 19:1-6.
    a. Without any hesitation, the psalmist declares: "The heavens ARE TELLING the glory of God." The verb here is very important. It is LINEAR ACTION. The heavens CONSTANTLY--MOMENT BY MOMENT ARE REPEATEDLY TELLING the glory of God. Everyone on planet earth can look up into the heavens at any point and see and experience the glory of God. The glory of God is his splendor, his magnificence, his incomparability. No human being or group of human beings could create or master the universe in which God has placed us. Put in a similar way: "the firmament [the arched sky above us] proclaims God's handiwork." Who MADE the stars, the clouds, the earth, etc., etc.? No human being did it. God alone was able to do this marvelous structure. BUT, do the heavens and the firmament actually TELL and PROCLAIM, that is SPEAK? Obviously, not in human words. But there are other ways to communicate. All creation SHOUTS OUT the existence and ongoing powerful work of God the Creator. 19:1.
    b. Day to day and night to night, the heavens pour forth speech and declare knowledge. The universe is not a great mess or haphazard or disorderliness or confusion or mishmash or pandemonium or helter-skelter. On the contrary, God thought of everything in its right place and time and order. Everything is coherent. Our lungs demand that we have oxygen, and it is all around us even though it is invisible. Our eyes demand light, and it is all around us. Every detail declares the wisdom of the God who created us. 19:2.
    c. The psalmist openly and unashamedly declares:
           "There is no speech [from the heavens], nor are there words;
                  their voice is not heard;
             YET their voice goes out through all the earth,
                  and their words to the end of the world."
God's most powerful "words" are never spoken but acted out daily. Day and night is a simple, powerful example. 19:3-4b.
    d. The psalmist uses the example of the rising and falling of the sun every day.
           "In the heavens he has set a tent for the sun,
                 which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy,
                  and like a strong man runs its course with joy.
             Its rising is from the end of the heavens,
                  and its circuit to the end of them;
                  and nothing is hid from its heat."
This is not literal, but figurative language. When the sun rises in the morning, this is like a man comes out of his tent in the ancient Near East. The sun does not live in a literal tent. This is clearly figurative. The emergence and activity of the sun is like a bridegroom coming out of his wedding canopy to greet his bride at the wedding or like a strong man who runs a marathon. No matter where a person lives on planet earth, the sun beats down on the land and everyone involved. 19:4c-6.

II. God reveals himself in His Law. Psalm 19:7-11.
     a. The psalmist compares nature with God's Law. He uses FIVE terms for God's law: law, decrees, precepts, commandment and ordinances. He uses TWO terms as metaphors for God's Law: gold and honey. He uses SIX adjectives to describe the nature of God's Law: God's Law is perfect, sure, right, clear, pure and righteous altogether. He uses FOUR fruits of God's Law in the lives of those who obey him: reviving the soul, making wise the simple, rejoicing the heart, and enlightening the eyes.
     b. The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. We all tend to lose interest and to be distracted to sinful temptations. God's Law REVIVES us. "The soul" here is the whole person. The decrees of the Lord are sure, making wise the simple. We are blind and ignorant. We must have spiritual direction. This comes from God's Law. 19:7.
     c. The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart. Sin and lies and wrong information bombard us at all times. The precepts of the Lord are correct, and thus they rejoice our hearts. The commandment of the Lord is clear, enlightening the eyes. When a runner becomes tired, he/she desperately need GATORADE or some means of reinvigoration. The same is true of the human heart. We become tired. God gives us his word like GATORADE, and this "enlightens the eyes." This expression means to "give new energy." The story of Jonathan eating honey in the forest emphasizes this truth--1 Samuel 14:24-30, especially verses 27, 29. 19:8.
    d. The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever. Here "the fear of the Lord" is obviously a positive force in life. Fear means respect, reverence, highest regard, etc. The fear of the Lord is almost identical to the love of the Lord. The ordinances of the Lord are true and righteous altogether. Here the psalmist reminds all hearers to consider ALL of God's Law, not some isolated law out of context. 19:9.
    e. God's law is more to be desired than much fine gold, and sweeter than honey. Human beings hold gold and honey in the highest regard. God's Law is much more important and precious than either of these. 19:10.
    f. One purpose of God's law is to warn God's sinners against disobeying God and following sinful practices. When one keeps God's law, this brings great reward. 19:11.

III. The psalmist concludes with THREE practical applications. Psalm 19:12-14.
      a. We human beings often are not even aware of our own sinful thoughts and feelings and actions. So the psalmist prays in a personal way: "Clear me from HIDDEN FAULTS." All of us need this sensitivity and prayer. 19:12.
      b. All of us human beings are full of pride. This is the way we are wired. We need constant reminders that we are not nearly as important as we assume. The psalmist personally refers to himself as God's servant, and beseeches him to stay away from his own pride and the pride of all around. Otherwise, pride will have dominion over us. The psalmist desperately desires to be innocent of this great transgression. The great sin of all people is "I STRAIN." 19:13.
     c. What motivates all of us is our heart and our words. The psalmist naturally beseeches Yahweh:
               "Let the WORDS OF MY MOUTH
                 and the MEDITATION OF MY HEART
                 be acceptable to YOU, O Lord."
We must constantly focus on God, not on ourselves, and be concerned not about the activities and concepts of others, but about our own thoughts and our own words. The Psalmist describes Yahweh as "MY ROCK" and "MY REDEEMER." These are common epithets for Yahweh. Rock emphasizes Yahweh's strength and protection. See Psalm 18:2, 31. Redeemer emphasizes Yahweh's deliverance. See Psalm 107:1-3.

Share YOUR ideas and misgivings and errors and determinations and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Grace and Good Works

A very important matter which has troubled Churches of Christ is the significance of Grace and the significance of Good Works. Numerous books and articles have been written over the centuries about this. In one or a thousands blogs would not cover all the ideas and passages involving this issue. Here are only a few basic thoughts for consideration.

1. As I grew up in Churches of Christ, EVERYONE agreed that we are saved by GOOD WORKS. Two major New Testament letters focus on this concept: 1 Timothy and James. Of course, there are other texts that seem to support this concept in the New Testament. Preacher quote and preach on James 2:14-26 often. One example is James 2:18: "But someone will say, 'You have faith and I have works.' Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith." In the 1500s, Martin Luther struggled with the apparent contradiction between James and Paul's letters of Galatians and Romans, and Luther contended that James is not really a part of the New Testament.

2. Anyone who studies Galatians and Romans knows that the emphasis is on GOD'S GRACE. One clear example is Galatians 2:15-16: "We ourselves are Jews by birth and not Gentile sinners; yet we know that a person is justified not by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ. And we have come to believe in Christ Jesus, so that we might be justified by faith in Christ, and not by doing the works of the law, because no one will be justified by the works of the law." Ephesians 2:8-9 emphasize this same point: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God--not the result of works, so that no one may boast." In the 1960s, one of our preachers at the Highland Church of Christ, John Allen Chalk, preached a series on Romans. This series is available to anyone who would like to read and study.

3. In the 1960s, Churches of Christ began to realize that God saves us by grace, not by our own good works. This was a major true transformation for these and all people. All of us are sinners. There is no way that anyone can save himself or herself or others. God alone has the power to save us and transform us into his image.

4. The biblical teaching of God's grace and good works is:
    a. God saves everyone by his own free choice in spite of our sinful nature and way of life. There is nothing at all that anyone of us can do to save us.
    b. The only response we have to God for his grace and mercy is gratitude. Gratitude leads us to obey God and to serve him. Good works are the natural outpouring of the human heart full of thanksgiving and gratitude.
    c. Good works are not a burden. They do not drive us to depression. On the contrary, gratitude motivates us to good many more good works than anyone could do by trying to achieve salvation. We achieve absolutely nothing. God saves us in spite of who we are.

5. Read the Bible again. The Bible is full of wonderful messages about the steadfast love and faithfulness of God, his grace, his mercy, his forgiveness. Exodus 34:6-7 contains God's own definition of his nature:
      The Lord, the Lord,
      a God merciful and gracious,
      slow to anger,
      and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness,
      keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation,
      forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin,
      yet by no mean clearing the guilty,
      but visiting the iniquity of the parent upon the children
      and the children's children,
      to the third and the fourth generation."

Share YOUR shortcomings and questions and ideas and experiences and determinations with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Our God Fights for His People--Psalm 18

Numerous biblical texts declare that Yahweh our God is a WARRIOR, who fights in battles for his people and against his enemies. Joshua 10:14, 42; 23:3 declares that Yahweh "fought for Israel." Many reject and dismiss this clear biblical statement. It would be great if we never engaged in battles and war. But sinful people force us into fighting. This is both spiritual and physical. No one can avoid this reality even when religious people would like to evade this.

Psalm 18 is a psalm which emphasizes this reality. It is clearly a doublet of 2 Samuel 22. The setting is that Yahweh had delivered David and the Israelites from their enemies and from Saul. Here David composes this song, praising Yahweh for protecting him and Israel from their enemies. Psalm 18 falls into two parts: defensive fighting, and offensive fighting.

I. Yahweh defends David and the Israelites from their enemies. Psalm 18:1-30.
    a. The superscription in Psalm 18 is very close to 2 Samuel 22, suggesting that originally this particular psalm came from David.
    b. The psalmist begins by declaring, "I LOVE you, Lord." The first commandment is that all of God's people must LOVE Yahweh with all their heart, soul, strength, and mind--Deuteronomy 6:5. The psalmist describes Yahweh as my strength, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer, my refuge, my shield, the horn of my salvation, my stronghold. The psalmist calls upon the Lord--he PRAYS that Yahweh will deliver him from his enemies. 18:1-3.
   c. Then the psalmist describes his present situation. Enemies threaten him on every side. He calls them the cords of death, the torrents of perdition, the cords of Sheol, the snares of death--all of these are synonymous expressions in Hebrew poetry. In his distress, the psalmist turns to Yahweh for help. Yahweh responded from his temple--here "temple" apparently is heaven. 18:4-6.
   d. Next, the psalmist describes Yahweh's appearance to deliver him from his enemies. These verses are a theophany, a visible appearance of Yahweh. The earth and the mountains reeled, rocked, trembled, quaked. Smoke, devouring fire, glowing coals flamed forth from Yahweh. Yahweh came down and bowed the heavens to earth below. Thick darkness was under his feet. He rode on a cherub [an angelic being], he came swiftly on the wings of the wind; darkness and thick clouds surrounded everything. Hailstones and coals of fire brought through these clouds. Yahweh thundered or uttered his voice in the heavens. He sent out his arrows=his lightning, and everyone saw the channels of the sea and the foundations of the earth at Yahweh's rebuke. All this calls to mind the theophany of Yahweh on Mount Sinai when he revealed his Ten Commandments through Moses. See Exodus 19. 18:7-15.
   e. Yahweh reached down from heaven to rescue David and the Israelites from their enemies like drawing out a threatened swimmer in a terrible flood. These enemies, these waves were too powerful for David, but Yahweh intervened and delivered him. 18:16-19.
   f. The psalmist declares that Yahweh delivered him because he had faithfully tried to follow Yahweh's will and commandments. Thus, he has clean hands. He is blameless before Yahweh because he kept Yahweh's ordinances. His enemies are perverse and haughty, but he is humble and pure. 18:20-27.
   g. The psalmist praises Yahweh as his light and lamp. So as a faithful soldier, the psalmist can crush a troop and leap over a wall. Yahweh is perfect; his promise is true, and he is a SHIELD to all who take refuge in him. 18:28-30.

II. Yahweh Motivates David and the Israelites to Defeat Yahweh's Enemies. Psalm 18:31-50.
     a. In the second part of Psalm 18, the poet begins by proclaiming that Yahweh is INCOMPARABLE, a very important truth declared throughout scripture: see Exodus 15:11;
1 Samuel 2:2. The psalmist asks rhetorically: "Who is God except the Lord? And who is a rock besides our God?" The obvious answer is ABSOLUTELY NO ONE!!! Yahweh is incomparable. 18:31.
     b. The psalmist declares that Yahweh has given him all the equipment he needs to defeat his enemies. Yahweh has girded him with strength and made his way safe; he has made him secure; he trains his hands for war so he can use his bow and arrows to defeat his enemies; Yahweh has given him the shield of salvation and supported him with Yahweh's right hand; Yahweh has made him a wide place so he will not slip. 18:32-36.
     c. The poet continues to praise Yahweh that Yahweh has pursued his enemies until he overthrew them; struck them down until they were consumed; girded him with strength to defeat his enemies; destroyed his enemies; when they cried to Yahweh for help Yahweh did not answer; the psalmist beat his enemies fine like dust before the wind. 18:37-42.
     d. As a result of these victories, Yahweh has made the enemies of David to serve and obey and cringe before David and Yahweh. 18:43-45.
     e. The poet concludes by praising Yahweh for delivering him from his enemies and giving him victories in battle. He extols Yahweh as his rock and the God of his salvation. Thus, David exalts Yahweh among the nations. Yahweh has given great triumphs to his king and showed steadfast love to his anointed one, to David and his descendants forever. 18:46-50.

Share YOUR expectations and reversals and expressions and thoughts and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, August 11, 2014


One terrible BLIGHT in Churches of Christ is the practice of DEBATING on religious topics. If anyone will examine the written history of Churches of Christ, YOU will find that debating has unfortunately been a deep part of our DNA. When I was in Abilene Christian College, many of my fellow students assumed that their role was to preach in a local church, baptize as many people as possible, hold gospel meetings for a week, and conduct debates against people in other denominations. Just check our history. Such debates ranged all the way from whether it is a mortal sin to smoke tobacco to the necessity of immersing people in water for eternal salvation to using instrumental music in public worship to pre- or post-millennium and many others in between. All of these debates were designed to PROVE the opponent is wrong and needs to repent, and these debates were filled with hatred and vehement speech.

Now, let me make things clear. I am a long-time member of the Society of Biblical Literature, the Catholic Biblical Association of America, and the International Organization for the Study of the Old Testament, and in annual and regional meetings, we often are engaged in discussion about biblical and religious matters. But these are always kind and appreciative and friendly, and everyone left as close friends and colleagues. This is VERY DIFFERENT from long-established Church of Christ debates.

Biblically, this type of debates or disputes are CLEARLY SINFUL and contrary to the will of God. Here are ONLY two biblical examples of this truth.

1. Paul gives these instructions in 1 Timothy 6:2-5: "Those who have believing masters must not be disrespectful to them on the ground that they are members of the church: rather they must serve them all the more, since those who benefit by their service are believers and beloved. Teach and urge these duties. Whoever teaches otherwise and does not agree with the sound words of our Lord Jesus Christ and the teaching that is in accordance with godliness, is conceited, understanding nothing, and HAS A MORBID CRAVING FOR CONTROVERSY AND FOR DISPUTES ABOUT WORDS. From these come envy, dissension, slander, base suspicions, and WRANGLING AMONG THOSE WHO ARE DEPRAVED IN MIND and bereft of the truth, imagining that godliness is a means of gain."

2. Paul writes clearly in 2 Timothy 2:23-26: "HAVING NOTHING TO DO WITH STUPID AND SENSELESS CONTROVERSIES; YOU KNOW THAT THEY BREED QUARRELS. AND THE LORD'S SERVANT MUST NOT BE QUARRELSOME but kindly to everyone, an apt teacher, patient, CORRECTING OPPONENTS WITH GENTLENESS. God may perhaps grant that they will repent and come to know the truth, and that they may escape from the snare of the devil, having been held captive by him to do his will."

Here again, Churches of Christ need to repent, to recognize that people in other denominations are just as wise and godly as anyone else. Jesus prayed fervently that all such denominations will collapse. John 17:17-21. No person and no church will ever agree on all topics. It is good to discuss many biblical and religious concepts, but all in love and in full fellowship with God, Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, and all godly people through Jesus Christ.

Share YOUR experiences and concerns and questions and desires and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Saturday, August 09, 2014

A Worshipper Petitions Yahweh to Deliver Him for His Enemies--Psalm 17

Many prayers in the Psalter deal with enemies. Often it is impossible to know who these enemies are. As we turn to Psalm 17, it is apparent that the enemies are personal enemies, probably in Israel. The superscription is very short: "A Prayer of David." This superscription identifies this psalm as a "prayer." There are different types of prayer. But Psalm 17 is clearly a petition. Whether David is the real author of this psalm is unknown, because many superscriptions over Psalms are later additions. No one really knows or not. Psalm 17 falls naturally into two parts.

I. The Psalmist declares that He has striven to be faithful to Yahweh. Psalm 17:1-7.
    a. The psalmist immediately petitions Yahweh to HEAR a just cause in behalf of the psalmist and against his enemies. He uses three verbs of petition: "Hear," "Attend to," and "Give ear." The psalmist states emphatically that he has not used deceit in speaking to Yahweh or others. 17:1.
    b. The poet continues to petition Yahweh to vindicate him and see the right. The poet is certain that his view is correct, and his enemies are incorrect and wicked. 17:2.
    c. The composer implores Yahweh to "try" his heart and "test" him. Then, Yahweh will know that He will find no wickedness in the psalmist and his mouth does not transgress. The verbs "try" and "test" occur often in the Bible. They are based on the practice or trying or testing precious metals like gold, silver, and copper. Refiners put these metals taken from the ground in a hot furnace to separate the pure metal from the alloys (see Jeremiah 6:27-30 for this process). Yahweh tests or tries the heart and life and human beings to purify their hearts and lives. 17:3.
    d. The psalmist continues that he has avoided the ways of his enemies, the "violent," and held his steps fast to Yahweh's paths so that his feet have not slipped. Life is a journey. We are all on a path or a way. We must devote our feet to God's path. 17:4-5.
    e. Finally, the poet beseeches Yahweh to "answer" his prayer, "incline his ear" to the psalmist's words, and thus to show his steadfast love. He declares that Yahweh is the savior of those who seek refuge from their adversaries. 17:6-7.

II. The Psalmist describes the Sinful Ways of His Enemies. Psalm 17:8-15.
     a. The psalmist begins by imploring Yahweh to "guard" him as the apple of the eye, to "hide" him in the shadow of his wings from the wicked who despoil him and surround him as deadly enemies. Here there are two important metaphors. The apple of the eye is the retina, the most important part of the eye. At all cost, the psalmist wants him to protect him as one would protect the retina of the eye. The psalmist imagines Yahweh as a bird: an eagle, a hen, a vulture, etc. The mother bird protects her chicks, and the psalmist beseeches Yahweh to protect him in a similar way. 17:8-9.
     b. The poet asserts that his enemies are relentless. They close their hearts to pity. Wicked actions come from a wicked heart. His enemies speak arrogantly. They pursue the psalmist to destroy him. They surround him. They set their eyes to cast him to the ground. They like a lion and a young lion to tear lurking in ambush. The psalmist is well aware of the nature of his enemies, their power, and their determination to destroy him if at all possible. 17:10-12.
     c. Since his enemies are more powerful and far outnumbers the psalmist, the poet implores Yahweh to "Rise up," that is, swing into action. (The same term appears in Psalm 10:12 and often in the Psalter). He implores Yahweh to overthrow his enemies and deliver the psalmist from the wicked. The poet recognizes that he is but a mortal, and thus desperately needs Yahweh's intervention and help. 17:13-14a.
     d. Finally, the composer beseeches Yahweh to fill the bellies of his enemies what Yahweh has stored up for them and their children will have more than enough. It is not clear WHAT these disasters might be. The psalmist is leaving this totally to Yahweh. At any rate, the psalmist is certain that he will behold Yahweh's face in righteousness and be satisfied, beholding Yahweh's likeness. 17:14b-15.

Share YOUR ideas and questions and beliefs and experiences and shortcomings with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis