John T. Willis

Thursday, May 05, 2005

Psalm 64:1-6

Psalm 64 neatly falls into two parts: verses 1-6 and verses 7-10. In verses 1-6, the composer pleads with Yahweh to protect her or him from "the dread enemy," and these verses contain a description of that enemy. In verses 7-10, the author proclaims her or his stalwart confidence that Yahweh will intervene and overthrow this enemy. In verses 1-6, the psalmist prays:

"Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
preserve my life from the dread enemy.
Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
from the scheming of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless;
they shoot suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, 'Who can see us?
Who can search out our crimes?
We have thought out a cunningly conceived plot.'
For the human heart and mind are deep."

1. The psalmist "complains" because his enemies are sinister and powerful (verse 1). They strike "fear" in the psalmist's heart, and seem to be "without fear" in their evil actions (verse 4b). The purpose of the composer's complaint is to persuade Yahweh to intervene and deliver him or her from these enemies.
2. The poet's enemies "plot" to destroy the psalmist in their "heart" and "mind" (verses 2, 6b-c). Their inner, hidden plots lead them to "speak" deceptive and malicious words against the psalmist (verse 3), and to act viciously against the psalmist by "laying snares" for him or her (verse 5b). The wicked use words as deadly weapons to destroy those they oppose (verse 3; see Psalms 55:21; 57:4; 140:3). Human beings have an uncanny ability to twist the truth and to make situations and people look quite different from what they really are, if their hearts are evil and their purpose is to hurt others in order to get what they want.
3. Wicked people deceive themselves into thinking that they are accountable to no one (verses 5-6; see Psalms 10:13; 73:11). The truth is that Yahweh knows all we do (see Proverbs 15:3), and in his own time and way will hold us accountable for all our thoughts, words, and deeds (Hebrews 4:12-13) within the context of his mercy and grace.
4. Evil persons try to "hide" their real intentions and their evil words and deeds. They attack those who serve Yahweh faithfully from ambush (verses 2, 4). In stark contrast, the psalmist beseeches Yahweh to "hide" him securely from the attacks of the wicked in his safe refuge and stronghold (verse 2; see Psalms 17:8; 27:5; 31:20; 32:7).
May God protect his people from the evil schemes, words, and deeds of those who seek to do them harm; and may he give his people deep trust in him when it seems the wicked are succeeding.

John Willis

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Psalm 63:9-11

The third and final part of Psalm 63 also begins with the psalmist referring to his "soul" (NRSV "life," that is, existence, self, energy). The composer says in verses 9-11:

"But those who seek to destroy my life
shall go down into the depths of the earth;
they shall be given over to the power of the sword,
they shall be prey for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
all who swear by him shall exult,
for the mouths of liars will be stopped."

Here the psalmist makes three bold contrasts between one who "rejoices" in God (see verses 5, 7, 11) and one who gives one's life to destroying others.
1. One who rejoices in God finds life and sustenance is God's presence and is satisfied, while one who gives one's life to destroying others goes down to Sheol away from God's presence and is never satisfied (verse 9; see Psalms 16:9-11; 86:13b; 88:3-7).
2. One who rejoices in God has his spiritual hunger satisfied by God (verse 5), while one who gives one's life to destroying others shall become food for jackals (verse 10).
2. One who rejoices in God seeks God and lives (verses 1, 3, 5), while one who gives one's life to destroying others shall be stopped (verse 11c).
Although the king of God's people was their earthly ruler, he was always subject to God and accountable to God on the basis of God's laws (verse 11a; see Deuteronomy 17:14-20; Psalm 20:6-9).

May we rejoice in God, and seek satisfaction for our soul in his presence.

John Willis

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Psalm 63:5-8

The second part of Psalm 63 is verses 5-8, where the composer utters a beautiful description of the joys of the intimate relationship between Yahweh and human beings:

"My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,
and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
when I think of you on my bed,
and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
for you have been my help,
and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me."

1. The human "soul" (that is, life, being, energy) constantly depends on Yahweh for spiritual sustenance. In verse 1, the psalmist compares a person's desperate yearning for Yahweh with "thirst." Now, in verse 5, the speaker compares it with "hunger" (see John 6:32-35). God alone "satisfies" the inner longings of the human heart (see Psalms 17:15; 65:4; 90:14). This is a major theme in the book of Ecclesiastes.
2. A human being is the sum total of that on which he or she "meditates." The composer of Psalm 63 "meditates" on Yahweh day and night, which is very close to "meditating" on God's word (see Joshua 1:8; Psalms 1:2; 119:15, 99), because God's word is a witness which points beyond itself to Yahweh (see John 5:39-40).
3. "The shadow of [Yahweh's] wings" may refer to the huge cherubim [angelic-like figures] rising above the ark of the covenant in the Jerusalem temple (see 1 Kings 8:6-8; Psalm 80:1), but more likely this is a metaphor for God's protection and "help" (notice the parallel line in verse 7) (see Psalm 57:1; Isaiah 31:5; Luke 13:34). The Bible often praises Yahweh because he is the "help" of those who depend on him (see Psalms 22:19; 27:9; 40:17; 46:1; 121:1-2). One should note that the fact that God "helps" those in need does not mean he is inferior to them. This is important when considering the affirmation in Genesis 2:18, 20 that Yahweh made woman to be man's "helper." This does not mean the woman is inferior to the man, any more than the affirmation that God "helps" human beings means he is inferior to human beings.
4. The only reason human beings continue to exist and prosper is that Yahweh "upholds" them with his powerful "right hand" (see Psalms 3:5; 37:17, 24; 51:12; 54:4; 145:14).
May God give us a "thirst" and "hunger" for him, and a deep gratitude for all the ways he sustains us in every aspect of life.

John Willis

Sunday, May 01, 2005

Psalm 63:1-4

The composer of Psalm 63 yearns for Yahweh's constant presence, because in Yahweh alone is true life. The Hebrew word nephesh, "soul," occurs four times in this psalm (verses 1, 5, 8, 9). This word actually means "life" (the NRSV translates it "life" in verse 9), "vitality," "being," "energy," and the like. "Soul" or "Life" marks the beginning of each of the three parts of this psalm. In verses 1-4, the psalmist says:

"O God, you are my God, I seek you,
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
So I will bless you as long as I live;
I will lift up my hands and call on your name."

1. Thirst is a universal human drive and need. No one can survive without water. Yahweh is the only spiritual water for the heart, who alone can satisfy the desires of the human spirit. Jeremiah 17:7-8 compares one who trusts in Yahweh with a tree planted by water, sending out its roots by the stream. As water nourishes the tree and makes it grow and bear fruit, so God nourishes the heart of a human being and makes her or him grow and bear fruit.
2. Yahweh's "power" and "glory" indicate his kingly rule over all creation (see Psalm 29:1, 10-11). When Yahweh appeared to Isaiah at the Jerusalem temple (note the reference to the "sanctuary" in Psalm 63:2), one seraph (heavenly being, angel) called to another, saying:
"Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory" (Isaiah 6:3).
3. As in Psalm 62:11-12, the author of Psalm 63 links Yahweh's "power" with his "steadfast love" (verses 2-3). The song of victory which Moses and the Israelites sang just after crossing the Red Sea also combines these two characteristics of God (Exodus 15:13). Because of his "steadfast love," Yahweh forgives and redeems human beings (see Exodus 34:6-7; Psalms 5:7; 57:10; 89:1-2, 14, 24; 117:1-2; and very often).
4. Since the life of every human being depends entirely and solely on Yahweh's "steadfast love," the only appropriate human response is praise and thanksgiving. One non-verbal way God's people demonstrate their praise and thanksgiving to God is by "lifting up their hands" when they pray and sing and praise him (verse 4; see Psalms 28:2; 141:2; 1 Timothy 2:8; and very often).
May God help us realize that his steadfast love is better than life, and praise him every day for his gracious gift and sustenance of life.

John Willis