John T. Willis

Monday, March 03, 2014

The Lord is My Shield--Psalm 3

Some unknown thinker added the superscription to Psalm 3, attempting to connect this psalm with the event in 2 Samuel 15:13-23 which says David fled from Absalom as David's son Absalom and his army advanced from Hebron to Jerusalem coming north. It would be a major mistake to try to connect this event with Psalm 3. This brief psalm reads in the New Revised Standard Version:

      O Lord, how many are my foes!
           Many are rising against me;
      many are saying to me,
           'There is no help for you in God.'
      But you, O Lord, are a shield around me,
           my glory, and the lifter of my head.
      I cry aloud to the Lord,
           and he answers me from his holy hill.
      I lie down and sleep;
           I wake again, for the Lord sustains me.
      I am not afraid of ten thousands of people
           who have set themselves against me all around.

      Rise up, O Lord!
            Deliver me, O my God!
      For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
            you break the teeth of the wicked.
      Deliverance belongs to the Lord;
            may your blessing be on your people."

Thus, Psalm 3 falls into two parts.

I. The psalmist trusts in Yahweh and is not afraid of his enemies. Psalm 3:1-6.
    a. Throughout the psalm, the poet addresses Yahweh. He addresses him "O Lord" three times (verses 1, 3, 7) and "my God" once (verse 7). Three times, the psalmist emphasizes that his enemies are "many." And his enemies rail against him, saying, "There is no help for you in God." 3:1-2.
    b. In response to the taunt of his enemies, the poet turns to Yahweh and honors him with three positive terms. 3:3.
        1. Yahweh is "a shield around me." When enemies attack a person or a people, a major protection is necessary. Yahweh himself is a shield. This is a common term throughout scripture to emphasize that Yahweh is our protection and defense. See, for example, Genesis 15:1; Deuteronomy 33:29; Psalms 7:10; 18:2, 30, 35; 28:7; 33:20; 59:11; 84:11; 144:2.
        2. Yahweh is "my glory," a common term for Yahweh because of his splendor and majesty. See for example, Psalms 8:1; 24:7-19; 29:1-3, 9.
        3. Yahweh is "the one who lifts up my head." When Yahweh lifts up a person's head, he places him in an important, advantageous situation or position or office. A good example of this is the account of the cupbearer who Pharaoh put into prison and later Pharaoh replaced him in his office. Genesis 40:13.
   c. The psalmist, surrounded and threatened by his enemies, "cries aloud" to Yahweh, and Yahweh answers him "from his holy hill." This same term appears in Psalm 2:6; 15:1, which means Zion or Jerusalem. Yahweh chose Jerusalem as his dwelling place, and thus Jerusalem is "the city of God"--Psalms 46:4; 48:1-2; 76:2, which sits on several hills, one prominent of which is Zion. 3:4.
   d. Confident that Yahweh surrounds him as a shield, the psalmist can lie down and sleep and after several hours of sound sleep wakes again, "for the Lord sustains me." 3:5.
   e. Against the threats of his enemies, the psalmist serenely declares, "I am not afraid" of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around, returning to verses 1-2. 3:6.

II. The composer beseeches Yahweh to defeat his threatening enemies. Psalm 3:7-8.
     a. "Rise up, O Lord" is a very common term throughout scripture to cry out to God to "swing into action" and demonstrate his power. See for example, Psalm 7:6; 9:19; 10:12; 17:13; 74:22; 82:12; 132:8. The prayer "Deliver me" is also very common in critical situations--see Psalms 20:9; 22:21; 28:9; 31:16; 54:1; 69:1; 106:47. Yahweh faithfully and consistently strikes all his enemies on the cheek, and breaks the teeth of the wicked. 3:7.
    b. Deliverance does not come from horses and chariots, from large armies, from powerful nations, but belongs to the Lord. Thus, the psalmist prays that Yahweh's blessing will be on his people. In this general context, the poet may be a king or a commander in chief of the army of Israel. 3:8.

Share YOUR thoughts and anxieties and insights and beliefs and failures with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Sunday, March 02, 2014

God's Compassion

Numerous biblical speakers and composers declare that Yahweh is a God of compassion. Compassion is not an abstract word or concept or act, but rather a deep feeling that comes from the heart. Our God is a PERSON who contains deep feelings. Compassion is feeling with and for others. Different English Biblical Versions translate the Hebrew and Greek words for compassion use terms like "mercy," "tender mercy," "bowels of mercy," "pity," "tender affection," "compassion," "full of compassion," "cords of compassion," etc. God's compassion extends to all people and all nations, to individuals, to his chosen people, to foreigners, to enemies, etc. Here one may focus on the following texts to emphasize the meaning and importance of God's compassion.

I. Jonah and Nineveh. Jonah 4:2, 10-11.
   a. The story of Jonah is well-known, but often people miss the spiritual point of this story. Jonah was an Israelite. Yahweh called him to preach to Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, a non-Israelite, foreign, enemy nation and people. Jonah attempted to refuse to obey Yahweh and thus fled to go to Tarshish--going west, when Yahweh commanded him to go east to Nineveh. Yahweh stopped him by sending a storm and a fish to turn Jonah back eastward. Then a second time, Yahweh commanded Jonah to go to Nineveh. Jonah obeyed Yahweh and preached at Nineveh, and the Assyrian repented, and Yahweh "changed his mind" and delivered Nineveh.
   b. When this happened, Jonah became very angry. He PRAYED to God:
        "O Lord! Is not this what I said while I was still in my own country?
          That is why I fled to Tarshish at the beginning;
          for I knew that you are a GRACIOUS God and MERCIFUL,
          slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and ready to relent from punishing." Jonah 4:2.
   c. Yahweh responded by APPOINTING three things for Jonah: a bush, a worm, and a sultry east wind. Jonah was VERY HAPPY about the bush, because this bush protected him from the burning sun, showing God's grace and mercy. But Jonah became VERY ANGRY when God sent the worm to destroy the bush and send a sultry east wind which made Jonah very uncomfortable.
   d. The book of Jonah concludes with these words of Yahweh:
       "YOU [Jonah] are CONCERNED about the bush, for which you did not labor
                            and which you did not grow;
         it came into being in a night and perished in a night.
         And should I not be CONCERNED about Nineveh, that great city,
                    in which there are more than and hundred and twenty five thousand PERSONS
                    who do not know their right hand from their left,
                    and also many animals?" 4:10-11.
   e. Unlike Jonah [and most Israelites] Yahweh had a DEEP CONCERN for PEOPLE. He is a God of compassion, and we need to develop that same heart attitude.

II. Psalm 103.
     a. Psalm 103 is a beautiful prayer of thanksgiving. Verses 6-13 emphasize Yahweh's great compassion for sinful people. We human beings sin against God, and YET God responds by having compassion on sinful people and forgiving all of us. Here is the text:
        "The Lord is MERCIFUL and GRACIOUS,
                slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love.
          He will not always accuse,
                nor will he keep his anger forever.
          He does not deal with us according to our sins,
                nor repay us according to our iniquities.
          For as the heavens are high above the earth,
               so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him;
          as far as the east is from the west,
               so far he removes our transgressions from us.
          As a father has COMPASSION for his children,
               so the Lord has COMPASSION for those who fear him."
   b. God's mercy, grace, and compassion are very similar feelings. God's compassion is his deep feeling for people much like the feeling of a father or mother for their children. Psalm 78:37-38 communicates the same idea in these words:
       "Their [Sinful Israelites'] heart was not steadfast toward him;
              they were not true to his covenant.
         YET he, being COMPASSIONATE, forgave their iniquity,
              and did not destroy them;
          OFTEN he restrained his anger,
              and did not stir up all his wrath."

III. Hosea 11:1-11.
      a. Hosea 11:1-11 paints the beautiful picture of the loving father receiving the prodigal son back into his family after the prodigal son left his father, went into a distant country, and wasted his substance in riotous living.
      b. Yahweh explains:
           "I led them with CORDS OF HUMAN KINDNESS,
                 with bands of love.
             I was to them like those who lift infants to their cheeks.
             I bent down to them and fed them."
This is the picture of a parent teaching the crawling child to learn to take his or her very first step. The Israelites used a rope or cord or little saddle to encourage the child to take a step; and if and when the child started to fall, the parent would hold him or her up so he or she would not be hurt. Then the parents BENDS DOWN and picks up the child in his or her arms and holds the child close for reassurance and love. This is a powerful demonstration of God's compassion. 11:4.
     c. When the mature child left the parent and went into a far country, at first Yahweh sent his people into the land of Egypt, a symbol of the Assyrian captivity in 721 BCE. 11:5.
     d. But even in spite of the rebellious nature of his child, Yahweh suddenly declares he cannot bring himself to abandoned him or her. Thus, he cries out:
          "How can I give you up, Ephraim?
            How can I hand you over, O Israel?
            How can I make you like Admah?
            How can I treat you like Zeboiim? [Two of the cities of the Plain: Genesis 14:8]
            MY HEART recoils within me;
            I will not execute my fierce anger;
            I will not again destroy Ephraim;
            for I am God and no mortal,
            the Holy One in your midst,
            and I will not come in wrath." 11:8-9.

God's deep compassion is incomprehensive and amazing. God is a PERSON consisting of deep feelings of all kinds. One of these is his compassion.

Share YOUR experiences and thoughts and shortcomings and wishes and fears with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis