John T. Willis

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Psalm 71:19-24

The third section of "petition" in Psalm 71 is a brief line in verse 18b: "O God, do not forsake me" (we included this in the previous blog). Psalm 71 concludes with the third section of trust and praise in verses 19-24:

"Your power and your righteousness, O God,
reach the high heavens.
You who have done great things,
O God, who is like you?
You who have made me see many troubles and calamities
will revive me again;
from the depths of the earth
you will bring me up again.
You will increase my honor,
and comfort me once again.
I will also praise you with the harp
for your faithfulness, O my God;
I will sing praises to you with the lyre,
O Holy One of Israel.
My lips will shout for joy
when I sing praises to you;
my soul also, which you have rescued.
All day long my tongue will talk
of your righteous help,
for those who tried to do me harm
have been put to shame, and disgraced."

1. In this section, the psalmist praises God for several things:
a. God is powerful (end of verse 18); he has done great things (verse 19c). This demonstrates that he is "a great king over all the earth" (Psalm 47:2; see also Psalms 70:4; 95:3).
b. God is righteous (verses 19a, 24a; see also verse 15a). He rights the wrongs which wicked human beings do to those who seek to be faithful to God--see verses 20-21, 24.
c. God is incomparable. The obvious answer to the question, "O God, who is like you?" in verse 19d is "NO ONE." See Exodus 15:11; 1 Samuel 2:2; Isaiah 40:18, 25; Psalm 89:6.
d. God is faithful--verse 22b. The Bible repeatedly emphasizes this important characteristic of God--see for example, Exodus 34:6; Psalms 86:15; 89:1-2, 5, 8, 14, 24; 117:1-2.
e. God is holy--verse 22d. The title "Holy One of Israel" occurs often in the book of Isaiah--for example, Isaiah 1:4; 5:24; 10:20; see 6:3. This is very close to the idea that God is incomparable, because holiness means complete separation from what is unholy or unclean.
2. The author of Psalm 71 also praises God for reversing life's situations. The enemies of the psalmist have tried to put her/him to "shame" (verse 1), but now he declares with assurance that God will "increase" her/his "honor" (verse 21a), and states that "those who tried to harm her/him have been put to shame" (verse 24c-d). When we are experiencing terrible times, it is always a comfort to know that in God's own time and way, he will turn things upside down and "revive us again" (verse 20b).
3. The psalmist praises God with the gifts God has given her/him: the ability to sing (verse 23b), and the ability to play musical instruments--the harp and the lyre (verse 22a, c). The best way to use the gifts God has given us is to praise him.

John Willis

Friday, July 15, 2005

Psalm 71:14-18

The second section of trust and praise in the alternating "pattern" of Psalm 71 is verses 14-18:

"But I will hope continually,
and will praise you yet more and more.
My mouth will tell of your righteous acts,
of your deeds of salvation all day long,
though their number is past my knowledge.
I will come praising the mighty deeds of the Lord God.
I will praise your righteousness, yours alone.
O God, from my youth you have taught me,
and I still proclaim your wondrous deeds.
So even to old age and gray hairs,
O God, do not forsake me,
until I proclaim your might
to all the generations to come."

1. We know who God is by what God does. God's "righteous acts" or "deeds of salvation" reveal his "righteousness" (verses 15a-b, 16b; see also verses 19, 24) and his "faithfulness" (see verse 22b). Here God's "righteousness" means his "setting things right" or "righting the wrongs" in the world. Enemies oppress the psalmist, but he/she beseeches God "not to forsake" him/her (verse 18b).
2. When God answers our pleas for help and intervenes in our behalf, there are two natural or appropriate responses. The first is to thank him or to praise him. And thus the composer of Psalm 71 affirms that he/she will "praise" God "yet more and more" (verses 14b, 16), which recalls verse 8a and anticipates verses 22a, c, 23b. There is no way that we can thank God or praise God enough for all he has done and is doing for us.
3. The second appropriate response to God's mighty acts in our behalf is to tell others what he has done for us. The author of Psalm 71 uses two verbs to communicate this: (1) "tell"--verse 15a; (2) "proclaim"--verses 17b, 18c. When someone does something special for us, we cannot wait to tell others about it. The same is true when God does "righteous acts," "deeds of salvation" (verse 15a-b), "wondrous deeds" (verse 17b) for us. See Psalms 22:22; 66:16; and often.
4. Praising God and testifying to God's mighty acts are not activities in which we engage merely when we gather to worship God as an assembly of his followers. Rather, they are a lifestyle; they are activities which we do naturally "continually" (verse 14a), "yet more and more" (verse 14b), "all day long" (verse 15b; see also verses 8b, 24a). His deeds in our behalf are so numerous that "their number is past our knowledge" (verse 15c), so we can never praise or thank him enough, or testify enough to others about what he has done and is doing.

John Willis

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Psalm 71:9-13

In the alternating "pattern" of Psalm 71, the second section of petition/complaint is verses 9-13:

"Do not cast me off in the time of old age;
do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
For my enemies speak concerning me,
and those who watch for my life consult together.
They say, "Pursue and seize the person
whom God has forsaken,
for there is no one to deliver.'
O God, do not be far from me;
O my God, make haste to help me!
Let my accusers be put to shame and consumed;
let those who seek to hurt me
be covered with scorn and disgrace."

1. In verses 5-6, the poet has already said that he has trusted Yahweh from birth, from her/his youth. Now, in verse 9, she/he begs Yahweh not to forsake her/him in old age, when the strength of youth and earlier years is gone (see verse 18; Psalm 31:10). According the verse 11b, the psalmist's enemies claim Yahweh has "forsaken" her/him; but the psalmist pleads with Yahweh not to "forsake" her/him (verse 9b).
2. Wicked people are very insecure, and thus they must have companions to bolster their courage and support their evil intentions. The author of Psalm 71 describes her/his enemies are a group of people who get together regularly to strategize how they will destroy the poet and to encourage each other to attack the psalmist while she/he is vulnerable (verses 10-11). One can rest assured that wicked people do not and will not "fight fair." Their internal fears will not allow them to be noble enough to confront their enemies face to face; instead, they talk about them "behind their backs," and try to diminish or destroy their reputation by saying bad things about them or simply insinuating negative things about them (see Psalm 3:2). This is typical, because it is the way the enemies of Jesus and Paul treated them.
3. The composer of Psalm 71 prays fervently that Yahweh will be near her/him, and will help her/him very soon, because she/he completely depends on God (verse 12; see Psalms 22:19; 70:1, 5).
4. The author of Psalm 71 also prays that God will intervene and cause her/his enemies to suffer public "shame" and "disgrace" (verse 13). Verse 13 stands in bold contrast to the prayer in verse 1b, and anticipates the thanksgiving in verse 24 (see also Psalms 31:17; 70:2). "Shame" and "honor" are very important aspects of life in the ancient world.
May God help us look to him for help constantly when enemies attack us.

John Willis

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

Psalm 71:5-8

The first section of trust in and praise of God in Psalm 71 is verses 5-8:

"For you, O Lord, are my hope,
my trust, O Lord, from my youth.
Upon you I have leaned from my birth;
it was you who took me from my mother's womb.
My praise is continually of you.
I have been like a portent to many,
but you are my strong refuge.
My mouth is filled with your praise,
and with your glory all day long."

1. "Hope," "trust," and "lean upon" are three recurring expressions in the Bible meaning complete dependence on the object of the trust--in this case, complete trust in God. See for example Isaiah 30:15; 31:1; 36:4-10; Psalms 31:14; 33:20-22; 40:1-4; and very often.
2. Whether a person realizes it or not, Yahweh takes care of and protects a person from birth to death. The author of Psalm 71 is very aware of his/her dependence on Yahweh every day--all the way back to conception and birth, and all the way forward to old age and death--see verses 5-6, 9, 17-18. See also Psalms 22:9-10; 37:25.
3. The only appropriate response to God's work in his world and in one's life is "praise," not a ritual act that one does in a worship assembly, but a life style. Praise is something which a genuine follower of God does "continually" (verse 6c), "all day long" (verse 8b).
May God help us trust in him under all circumstances and praise him continually.

John Willis

Monday, July 11, 2005

Psalm 71:1-4

Psalm 71, which probably is one psalm with Psalm 70 and thus continues Psalm 70, exhibits an alternating pattern:
verses 1-4--petition
verses 5-8--trust and praise
verses 9-13--petition and complaint
verses 14-17--trust and praise
verse 18--petition
verses 19-24--trust and praise.

The first petition, then, is verses 1-4:

"In you, O Lord [Yahweh], I take refuge;
let me never be put to shame.
In your righteousness deliver me and rescue me;
incline your ear to me and save me.
Be to me a rock of refuge,
a strong fortress, to save me,
for you are my rock and my fortress.
Rescue me, O my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of the unjust and cruel."

1. The psalmist's enemies are many and strong and cruel. The psalmist has nowhere to turn for help but to Yahweh. He refers to Yahweh as his "rock," his "refuge," and his "fortress." In other words, God alone can protect him from all those who seek to destroy him. These are powerful metaphors for God used throughout scripture. See for example, Psalms 2:12; 18:2, 30-31, 46; 19:14; 28:1; 31:2-3; 46:1, 7, 11; and very often.
2. The author of Psalm 71 uses powerful verbs in pleading with God to deliver him from his/her enemies: "deliver," "rescue," "save." All of these are terms used to describe Yahweh's deliverance of his people from Egyptian bondage--see for example, Exodus 6:2-8; 14:30; Psalm 106:8-11.
3. The composer describes her/his enemies as "wicked," "unjust," "cruel." As this psalm will indicate later, these are the kind of people that use others to get what they want, and they do not care what it takes to get what they want. They are oppressors of those who cannot defend themselves. God takes the side of the oppressed, and rights the wrongs which oppressors bring upon them--see for example, Exodus 22:21-24; 2 Samuel 12:1-7; 1 Kings 21:1-26.
May God help us to seek refuge and protection in him alone, and thus to be faithful to him under all kinds of adverse circumstances.

John Willis

Sunday, July 10, 2005

Psalm 70

In Book II of the Psalter, only Psalms 43 and 71 have no superscription in the Hebrew. Psalm 43 is clearly part of the same psalm as Psalm 42, as the many connections between and flow of these two psalms together show; and it is likely that Psalms 70 and 71 together are actually one psalm. Note the following links:
70:1b, 5b and 71:12b.
70:2 and 71:10, 13.
70:1a and 71:2.
70:4c and 71:19c.

Psalm 70 is almost identical to Psalm 40:13-17, and says:

"Be pleased, O God, to deliver me.
O Lord, make haste to help me!
Let those be put to shame and confusion
who seek my life.
Let those be turned back and brought to dishonor
who desire to hurt me.
Let those who say, 'Aha, Aha!'
turn back because of their shame.
Let all who seek you
rejoice and be glad in you.
Let those who love your salvation
say evermore, 'God is great!'
But I am poor and needy;
hasten to me, O God!
You are my help and my deliverer;
O Lord, do not delay!"

1. Malicious enemies are attacking this psalmist, and are about to destroy her/him. So, she/he prays fervently for Yahweh to act NOW: "make haste," "hasten," "do not delay." Sometimes in life our problems are so pressing that we feel we will "drown" in them in the next few moments if we do not receive relief. Thus, we can relate closely to the psalmist's feelings here.
2. The composer pleads with Yahweh to do two things. First, he/she begs Yahweh to defeat his/her enemies who are oppressing him/her (verses 2-3). This is the same kind of prayer we have just discussed in Psalm 69:22-28. This kind of prayer occurs often in the Psalter and elsewhere in scripture. The child of God refuses to retaliate herself/himself, and turns over her/his problems to God, trusting in God's assurance: "Vengeance is mine; I will repay, says the Lord" (Deuteronomy 32:35-36; Romans 12:17-21).
3. Second, the poet begs Yahweh to give true joy to those who are striving to be faithful to him, including the psalmist (verses 4-5). Joy here does not mean giddiness or superficial happiness, but a deep, long-lasting, abiding inner assurance of God's constant presence, deliverance, and help.
Praise God for the joy he gives those who truly seek and serve him.

John Willis