John T. Willis

Saturday, April 16, 2005

Psalm 60:6-12

Psalm 60:6-12 [=108:7-13] first recalls Yahweh's "promise" to bless his people and to keep their enemies under subjection (verses 6-8), then continues the prayer for Yahweh's intervention to deliver his people from their enemies begun in verses 4-5 (verses 9-12):

"God has promised in his sanctuary:
'With exultation I will divide up Shechem,
and portion out the Vale of Succoth.
Gilead is mine, and Manasseh is mine;
Ephraim is my helmet;
Judah is my scepter.
Moab is my washbasin;
on Edom I hurl my shoe;
over Philistia I shout in triumph.'
Who will bring me to the fortified city?
Who will lead me to Edom?
Have you not rejected us, O God?
You do not go out, O God, with our armies.
O grant us help against the foe,
for human help is worthless.
With God we shall do valiantly;
it is he who will tread down our foes."

1. Verses 8 and 9 suggest that the primary foe opposing God's people in the setting of this psalm is Edom. Thus the setting could be the attack on Jerusalem in 589-587 B. C. (see Psalm 137:7-9; Obadiah 1-16; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Lamentations 4:21-22; etc.).
2. Yahweh has assured his people that he is in control of all nations (verses 6-8). He divided the land of Canaan among his people because he is its owner (see Joshua 13:1-7; 19:51). Yahweh uses Moab like his personal washbasin; he acquired Edom by "hurling the shoe" (see Ruth 4:7); he defeated Philistia and shouted in triumph because of that victory (2 Samuel 5:17-25; 8:1). Exodus 15:14-18 describes the exodus from Egypt and the conquest of Canaan in similar language, suggesting that the author of Psalm 60 anticipates a "new exodus" from the enemies now oppressing Israel.
3. The identity of "me" in verse 9 is quite uncertain. "Me" is the psalmist speaking in behalf of his people, and thus he or she uses "we," "us," and "our" in verses 10-12. "Me" may be the king at the time this psalm was composed, or the leader of the faith community.
4. It appears that Yahweh is absent (verse 10; see verse 1), and thus has "rejected" his people in a time of distress. But the psalmist pleads with Yahweh to intervene and "help" his people (verse 11; see Psalms 22:19; 38:22; 121:1-2). Then, with the inner assurance that Yahweh will answer his or her prayer, the psalmist concludes by affirming that Yahweh will intervene and tread down his people's foes (verse 12; see Numbers 24:18; Psalm 118:15-16).
It is inevitable that throughout life, enemies are going to attack God's faithful followers. May God give us that deep trust in him to know that he will intervene and deliver us from the most difficult and trying circumstances.

John Willis

Thursday, April 14, 2005

Psalm 60:1-5

The composer of Psalm 60 speaks in behalf of her or his faith community (notice "we," "us," and "our" in verses 1, 3, 5, 10-12), who are in dire circumstances (verses 1-3, 10-12) because of Yahweh's "anger" with them (verse 1). The most likely historical setting for this psalm is the Babylonian exile after the fall of Jerusalem in 587 B. C. Thoughts and language in this psalm are very similar to prophetic passages belonging to the period of the Babylonian exile. Psalm 60:5-12 is almost identical to Psalm 108:6-13. In Psalm 60:1-5, the psalmist declares God's people's complaints because they are suffering greatly in exile, and pleads with Yahweh to intervene and deliver them:

"O God, you have rejected us, broken our defenses;
you have been angry; now restore us!
You have caused the land to quake; you have torn it open;
repair the cracks in it, for it is tottering.
You have made your people suffer hard things;
you have given us wine to drink that made us reel.
You have set up a banner for those who fear you,
to rally to it out of bowshot.
Give victory with your right hand, and answer us,
so that those whom you love may be rescued."

1. Over a long period of time, God's people Judah made rebellion against God and sin against God a way of life. God tried various means to bring them to repentance, but failed (see, for example, Jeremiah 2:20-29; 13:23). So, in desperation, God resorted to the most heinous punishment of all: he "sent" the Babylonians against Judah to defeat them, and carry the survivors into exile (see, for example, Jeremiah 1:13-16; 4:5-8; 6:1-6, 22-26; 25:8-11; Habakkuk 1:5-11). God, through the Babylonians, "broke Judah's defenses" (2 Kings 25:4-21), burned down the temple, tore down the wall, and essentially levelled the land like an earthquake breaking forth (see similar language in Psalm 46:2-3; and the metaphor of an earthquake to describe Babylon's overthrow of Judah in Jeremiah 4:23-28).
2. The Babylonian exile is like Israel's hard captivity under Egypt before the exodus in the days of Moses. The "hard things" Yahweh was causing his people in Babylonian exile to suffer mentioned in verse 3 calls to mind the "hard service" the Israelites suffered under the Egyptians mentioned in Exodus 1:14; 6:9; Deuteronomy 26:6; Nehemiah 9:9.
3. Several biblical texts compare Yahweh's punishment of his sinful people (including the Babylonian exile) with drinking the cup of the wine of God's wrath (verse 3; see Isaiah 51:21-22; Jeremiah 13:12-14; 25:15-29; Revelation 1:16-17:6 [especially 16:19]; 18:1-8 [especially 18:3, 6]).
4. However, in the midst of the psalmist's complaints because he or she and his or her comrades are enduring great suffering in Babylonian exile, the poet declares great faith in Yahweh that he desires to deliver those who repent and return to him ("the remnant" of prophetic texts): "now restore us" (verse 1b; see Jeremiah 30:3, 18; 31:23; 32:44; 33:7, 11, 26); "you have set up a banner for those who fear you, to rally to it out of bowshot" (verse 4; see Isaiah 11:10, 12; 49:22; 62:10-12); "give victory with your right hand and answer us" (verse 5a; language which indicates a "new exodus" from Babylon like the exodus from Egypt in the days of Moses; see Exodus 15:6, 12; Deuteronomy 4:34; 5:15; and often); "so that those whom you love may be rescued" (verse 5b; language which further indicates a "new exodus" from Babylon like the exodus from Egypt; see Exodus 14:30; Psalm 106:8-10; and often).
5. "Setting up a banner" (verse 4a) refers to ancient military practices: the king or the leader of an army gave signals to the soldiers by raising a "flag" or a "banner" which indicated to them how they should proceed. Depending on the signal, raising a banner might mean advance on the enemy, or move to the right or the left, or retreat, etc. (See Isaiah 5:26; 13:2; 18:3; 30:17; etc.). In Psalm 60:4a, Yahweh the king raises a banner to call his faithful people ("those who fear him") to a place of safety under his protection.
Our God is slow to anger, but if all of his other attempts to bring us back to him fail, he will resort in desperation to severe treatment in the hope of saving some. This is one of many manifestations of his deep care and concern for the human race. May we learn from his nature to turn back to him quickly, and to be alert to his activity in his world and in our lives.

John Willis

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Psalm 59:14-17

The second part [Psalm 59:14-17] of the second section [Psalm 59:11-17] of Psalm 59 begins exactly like the second part [Psalm 59:6-10] of the first section [Psalm 59:1-10] with a comparison of the composer's enemies with ravenous dogs (verses 6 and 14). Thus Psalm 59 concludes:

"Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
They roam about for food,
and growl if they do not get their fill.
But I will sing of your might;
I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning.
For you have been a fortress for me
and a refuge in the day of my distress.
O my strength, I will sing praises to you,
for you, O God, are my fortress,
the God who shows me steadfast love."

1. Wicked enemies of God's people never let up in their relentless attempts to destroy God's faithful followers on earth. Peter emphasizes this aspect of the godly life in 1 Peter 5:8-9:
"Discipline yourselves, keep alert. Like a roaring lion your adversary the devil prowls around, looking for someone to devour. Resist him, steadfast in your faith, for you know that your brothers and sisters in all the world are undergoing the same kinds of suffering."
To be sure, it is unpleasant to have to deal with Satan's servants day in and day out (see 2 Corinthians 11:12-15), but this is what a person adopts when she or he makes the decision to follow God through Jesus Christ. Paul puts it this way in 2 Timothy 3:10-13:
"Now you have observed my teaching, my conduct, my aim in life, my faith, my patience, my love, my steadfastness, my persecutions and suffering the things that happened to me in Antioch, Iconium, and Lystra. What persecutions I endured! Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked people and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived."
2. The psalmist's wicked enemies do their malicious works "each evening." In stark contrast, the psalmist "sings aloud" of Yahweh's steadfast love "in the morning," the time of day when God gives a new start, a new beginning, refreshment, help, and protection. Psalm 46:5 says: "God will help it [Jerusalem] when the morning dawns." And the author of Psalm 30:5c-d declares:
"Weeping may linger for the night,
but joy comes with the morning."
(See also Psalms 57:8; 90:14; 143:8). At the beginning of each day, God's people can proclaim:
"This is the day that the Lord has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it" (Psalm 118:24).
3. Yahweh is the psalmist's "fortress," "refuge," and "strength"--her or his help and protector and deliverer in all kinds of distress. Yahweh's intervention in the psalmist's behalf against his or her enemies demonstrates ("shows") clearly Yahweh's "might" and "steadfast love."
Praise God for his powerful presence with his people in all life's situations, including those when enemies of God's faithful followers are prowling about like lions and dogs to devour them. May we seek refuge in him.

John Willis

Monday, April 11, 2005

Psalm 59:11-13

The thought and structure of the second section of Psalm 59 (verses 11-17) are parallel to the thought and structure of the first section (verses 1-10). Accordingly, the second section naturally falls into two parts: verses 11-13 [parallel to verses 1-5] and verses 14-17 [parallel to verses 6-10]. The poet prays in verses 11-13:

"Do not kill them, or my people may forget;
make them totter by your power, and bring them down,
O Lord, our shield.
For the sin of their mouths, the words of their lips,
let them be trapped in their pride.
For the cursing and lies that they utter,
consume them in wrath;
consume them until they are no more.
Then it will be known to the ends of the earth
that God rules over Jacob."

1. There is an ongoing battle between the righteous and the wicked on earth; so the composer of Psalm 59 prays that God's people will always be aware that they are engaged in mortal combat against Satan and his forces. But Yahweh's power is greater than the forces of evil, and ultimately Yahweh will prevail and deliver his faithful people from his and their enemies.
2. Yahweh alone is our "shield" (see Genesis 15:1; Psalms 3:3; 7:10; 18:2, 30, 35 [=2 Samuel 22:3, 31, 36]; 28:7; 33:20; 84:11; 115:9-11; 119:114; 144:2), that is, our protection from all dangers.
3. As in verse 7, in verse 12 the author denounces the ungodly speech of her or his enemies, including cursing and lies. But such speech issues from the heart, which is the real source of sin: PRIDE (see Isaiah 2:6-22; Jeremiah 9:23-24; 1 Peter 5:5-6.
4. When Yahweh works in the lives of his chosen people, his primary purpose is to demonstrate to the whole world that he alone is God. See Joshua 4:23-24; 1 Samuel 17:46; 2 Kings 19:14-19= Isaiah 37:14-20.
The warfare between the redeemed and the obstinate rages daily. May God's people seek refuge behind their only reliable protection: Yahweh our "shield."

John Willis

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Psalm 59:6-10

In the second part [verses 6-10] of the first section of Psalm 59 [verses 1-10], the composer describes the persistent efforts of her of his enemies to destroy her or him and her or his faithful companions [verses 6-7], but then declares her or his unwavering trust in Yahweh to intervene and triumph over those enemies [verses 8-10]:

"Each evening they come back,
howling like dogs
and prowling about the city.
There they are, bellowing with their mouths,
with sharp swords on their lips--
for 'Who,' they think, 'will hear us?'
BUT YOU laugh at them, O Lord;
you hold all the nations in derision.
O my strength, I will watch for you;
for you, O God, are my fortress.
My God in his steadfast love will meet me;
my God will let me look in triumph on my enemies."

1. It is very common in the Bible to compare wicked enemies of God's people with ravenous animals: lions, bears, dogs, etc. See 1 Kings 14:11; 16:4; Psalms 7:2; 10:9; 17:12; 22:12-13, 16, 20; Isaiah 56:11; Jeremiah 5:3; 1 Corinthians 15:32; Philippians 3:2. Such people, like ravenous beasts, are always "on the prowl," looking for vulnerable prey to devour (see Psalm 55:9-11).
2. The psalmist's enemies are evil through and through. Their evil comes from their hearts ("they treacherously PLOT evil": verse 5), and expresses itself in their deeds ("they WORK evil": verse 2) and in their speech ("they bellow with their MOUTHS, with sharp WORDS on their LIPS": verse 7). The Bible frequently compares the speech or words of the wicked with "sharp swords": Psalms 22:20-21; 55:20-21; 64:2-3; Proverbs 5:3-4.
3. The wicked assume naively that they can "get by with murder," that they have plotted their words and actions so cleverly and completely that no one will be able to detect what they are doing and hold them accountable. They say assuredly: "Who will hear us?" "God will not seek it out;" "God will never see it" (Psalms 10:4, 11; 73:11; 94:6-7; Jeremiah 12:4).
4. God "laughs" scornfully at those who think they can prevail against him and his people (see Psalm 2:4). This is the kind of "laugh" which means: "That will be the day," or "You have to be kidding me," or "This will never happen."
5. Even against strong and malicious enemies, the psalmist can be certain of triumph because God is his "strength" and his "fortress" (see Psalms 9:9; 18:2; 46:1, 7, 11; Proverbs 18:10).
6. God's intervention to save the psalmist and his comrades is a clear manifestation of his "steadfast love" (verses 10, 16-17; see Exodus 34:6-7; Psalms 85:7, 10; 86:5, 15; 89:1-4; 103:8; 117:1-2; 145:8; and often).
Our God is the only safe refuge. May we run to him under all circumstances for protection and deliverance.

John Willis