John T. Willis

Saturday, March 26, 2005

Psalm 56:12-13

Psalm 56 concludes in verses 12-13 with the psalmist expressing her or his gratitude to Yahweh for delivering her of him from dangerous enemies:

"My vows to you I must perform, O God;
I will render thank offerings to you.
For you have delivered my soul from death,
and my feet from falling,
so that I may walk before God
in the light of life."

1. When the worshipper is in great trouble, he or she pleads with Yahweh for help, and vows to show his or her gratitude to Yahweh in some meaningful way when the deliverance comes. An Israelite man or woman who became a Nazirite for a designated period of time did so by taking a vow. During the time they were a Nazirite, they vowed not to eat or drink anything that came from grapes, to bring no razor on their head or beard, and not to touch a dead body--Numbers 6:1-8. They are strictly bound to bring an offering to Yahweh in accordance with their Nazirite vow--Numbers 6:21. Numbers 30; Deuteronomy 23:21-23; and Ecclesiastes 5:4-6 admonish men and women to honor their vows to Yahweh and not to break their word. Leviticus 22:17-25 states that when a worshipper offers a sacrifice as a vow, that sacrifice must be without blemish and in keeping with what the law prescribes. Psalmists often declare that they will pay the vows they have made to Yahweh for delivering them from great affliction--see for example Psalms 22:25; 50:14; 61:5, 8; 65:1; 66:13; 116:14, 18.
2. Thanksgiving is the appropriate, natural human response to God's help and deliverance--see Psalms 7:17; 9:1; 28:7; 35:18; 50:14, 23; 116:17; etc. Psalm 107 contains four concrete examples of people whom Yahweh delivered, and whom the psalmist summons to give Yahweh thanks for doing so.
3. All people "walk (live) before God (in God's living presence)" whether they realize it or not. God tells Abraham in Genesis 17:1: "I am God Almighty [El Shaddai]; walk before me, and be blameless." Hebrews 4:13 says: "And before him [God] no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account."
4. "The light of life" is God's brilliant presence which dispels the darkness of wicked angelic creatures and wicked human beings which leads to death. Jesus says in John 8:12: "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life." Light and life are closely connected throughout scripture. John describes Jesus this way in John 1:3b: "What has come into being in him [Christ] was life, and the life was the light of all people." See further Acts 26:17-18; Ephesians 5:6-14.
Psalm 56 is an exemplary declaration of trust in God in the face of powerful, harmful enemies. The author encourages us not to fear the enemy, but to trust in the all-powerful Creator and Sustainer of all that is.

John Willis

Friday, March 25, 2005

Psalm 56:5-11

The repeated refrain in Psalm 56:10-11 (see verse 4) and the flow of the psalmist's prayer as compared with verses 1-4 indicate the second unt in Psalm 56 is verses 5-11:

"All day long they seek to injure my cause;
all their thoughts are against me for evil.
They stir up strife, they lurk,
they watch my steps.
As they hoped to have my life,
so repay them for their crime;
in wrath cast down the peoples, O God.
You have kept count of my tossings;
put my tears in your bottle.
Are they not in your record?
Then my enemies will retreat
in the day when I call.
This I know, that God is for me.
In God, whose word I praise,
in the Lord, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid.
What can a mere mortal do to me?"

1. The psalmist again chafes because his or her enemies attack him or her "all day long"-- see verses 1b and 2b. There is never a moment that the composer is not in danger.
2. The poet's enemies use three lines of assault: they conceive (think of) ways to harm the psalmist; they watch the psalmist constantly; they stir up strife between the psalmist and others.
3. The composer resolves not to retaliate against her or his enemies, but to ask Yahweh to deal with those enemies as he thinks best. Yahweh assures his people: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord" (Deuteronomy 32:35; Hebrews 10:30; Romans 12:19). The author of Psalm 56 beseeches Yahweh to execute that assurance: verse 7.
4. The psalmist declares that while Yahweh may not right wrongs done against his people immediately, he does "keep a record" of how others treat them: he "counts the tossings" of his assaulted people; he "puts their tears in his bottle" to preserve them for a time of vindication.
5. The great hope of the psalmist is: "God is for me" (verse 9c), which calls to mind Psalm 118:6-7:
"With the Lord on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
The Lord is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me."
6. As in verse 4, the psalmist repeats the chorus, proclaiming that he or she will put his or her trust in God; then there is no reason to fear anything mortals might do or attempt.
May God give us deep trust in him irrespective of those who oppose us and irrespective of our circumstances in life.

John Willis

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Psalm 56:1-4

The composer of Psalm 56 encounters essentially the same problem as the poets who wrote Psalms 54 and 55, namely, powerful enemies are threatening the psalmist, and the psalmist turns to the only reliable source of security for help: Yahweh. The recurring refrain or chorus in verses 4 and 10-11 naturally divides this psalm into three parts. The author says in verses 1-4:

"Be gracious to me, O God, for people trample on me;
all day long foes oppress me;
my enemies trample on me all day long,
for many fight against me.
O Most High, when I am afraid,
I put my trust in you.
In God, whose word I praise,
in God I trust; I am not afraid;
what can flesh do to me?"

1. The psalmist pleads for God to "be gracious" to him or her. He or she does not deserve Yahweh's intervention and protection, but appeals to Yahweh's merciful and gracious spirit. See Psalms 4:1; 6:2; 9:13; 25:16; etc.
2. Psalm 56 does not give enough information to determine the specific threat facing the psalmist. "Trample" (verses 1 and 2) may indicate the rich and powerful of God's people are taking advantage of her or his weak position in society to "oppress" her or him (see Psalm 57:3; Amos 2:7; 8:4). "Fight against" (verse 2) may indicate foreign armies are attacking him or her and his or her associates (see Judges 5:19-20; Psalm 35:1; etc.). In either case, these enemies are powerful and terrifying, and they make the psalmist "afraid" (verse 3).
3. The enemies threaten the psalmist constantly; they never "let up"; the poet declares that they oppress him or her "all day long" (verses 1-2). How can a servant of God cope and survive when enemies oppress him or her relentlessly?
4. The psalmist's enemies set their hope on exploiting people who cannot or will not defend themselves (see verse 6); but the psalmist sets her or his hope in God. There is an important chiastic or inverted movement in verses 3-4 from fear to trust to praise to trust to lack of fear. At the center of this chiasm is praise of God's "word." This word is not the Pentateuch or Scripture in general, but God's recurring promise: "Do not fear; for I am with you"--see Exodus 14:13-14; Joshua 1:9; 10:25; Isaiah 41:10; 43:5; Psalms 27:1; 49:16; Hebrews 13:5-6.
Threatening, powerful enemies and other types of distresses constantly confront God's people. May God help us adopt the attitude of the author of Psalm 56: "When I am afraid, I put my trust in you." God alone is a reliable source of confidence and security.

John Willis

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

Psalm 55:20-23

The composer of Psalm 55 concludes this poem by contrasting his or her familiar friend (see verses 12-15), whom people cannot trust; with God, whom people can trust.
"My companion laid hands on a friend
and violated a covenant with me
with speech smoother than butter,
but with a heart set on war;
with words that were softer than oil,
but in fact were drawn swords.
Cast your burden on the Lord,
and he will sustain you;
he will never permit
the righteous to be moved.
But you, O God, will cast them down
into the lowest pit;
the bloodthirsty and treacherous shall not live out half their days.
But I will trust in you."

1. How disappointing and tragic it is to entrust oneself to a person for years, then to experience the betrayal of that person! This happens in marriages, in business, in social and political friendships, but most tragically of all in what is supposed to be the family of God. Paul writes in Colossians 3:9-10:
"Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator."
The psalmist's "familiar friend," "equal," "companion" spoke "speech smoother than butter," "words softer than oil" repeatedly to the psalmist over many years, leading the psalmist to think his or her friend was genuine and would be there for her or him in all kinds of situations. But recently the psalmist has learned that all the while his or her "familiar friend" was manipulating him or her to that friend's own advantage--and now that that friend had gotten what he wanted, he cut the psalmist's throat and suddenly would have nothing more to do with the psalmist, but sought opportunities to destroy the psalmist.
2. By stark contrast, the author of Psalm 55 has a friend that is much more powerful than her or his friend that had betrayed her or him--God. Thus, he urges his fellow-worshipper's to "cast their burden on the Lord" with the assurance that he would sustain them, and to "trust in" God as a friend who would not deceive or betray or stab one in the back. Peter writes in 1 Peter 5:6-7:
"Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that he may exalt you in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him, because he cares for you."
We cannot force "professed friends" to be genuine, and not to use friendship as a means to attain a position or power or wealth or self-advantage; but we can be true friends to others in order to set a godly example to reassure those whose friends have betrayed them that God does not betray those who trust in him, and that not all human beings are counterfeit.

John Willis

Monday, March 21, 2005

Psalm 55:16-19

The composer of Psalm 55 is greatly disappointed because his or her "equal," "companion," "familiar friend" (whom she or he addresses as "you" in verse 13) betrayed him or her and showed himself to be counterfeit and deceptive. In bold contrast to this unfaithful friend, the psalmist expresses an unwavering trust in Yahweh to intervene and save him or her from that friend and other enemies associated with that friend in verses 16-19:
"BUT I call upon God,
and the Lord will save me.
Evening and morning and at noon
I utter my complaint and moan,
and he will hear my voice.
He will redeem me unharmed
from the battle that I wage,
for many are arrayed against me.
God, who is enthroned from of old,
will hear, and will humble them--
because they do not change,
and do not fear God."

1. The poet constantly communicates with God: evening, morning, and noon. He or She is confident that God will "save" or deliver (see Psalms 3:7; 6:4; 7:1; 31:16; 40:13; 54:1; 57:3; etc.) and "redeem" (see Psalms 26:11; 31:5; 34:22; 44:26; 69:18; etc.) him or her.
2. The conflict between the psalmist and her or his enemies is a "battle." The Bible repeatedly reminds God's people that they are engaged in a daily battle against the forces of evil. See for example, 1 Thessalonians 5:8; Ephesians 6:10-20; 2 Timothy 4:7. No one enjoys conflict, but the very nature of life and of the walk with God puts one in the thick of battle.
3. The hope God's warrior has is rooted in the fact that God is king and in control of everything. He "sits enthroned" in heaven over the universe he has created--see Psalms 2:4; 9:7; 29:10; 93:1-2; 95:3-5; 96:10; 97:1-3; 99:1-3; 102:12. Since the psalmist's enemies are God's enemies (Psalm 55:19), the composer of Psalm 55 can rest assured that God will be victorious.
4. Sometimes enemies "change" and become friends. When this happens, God's people must be forgiving and welcoming. But the psalmist's enemies "do not change" and "do not fear God." Thus Yahweh will overthrow them and vindicate the psalmist.
Psaise God that his power is greater than any earthly power, including our enemies. Even though it may appear that our enemies have the upper hand now, in God's own time he will defeat our enemies and make us victorious with him. See Romans 8:31-39.

John Willis