John T. Willis

Thursday, August 13, 2015

God Watches the Motives, the Words, and the Actions of all Human Beings--Psalm 33

Psalm 33 is a beautiful psalm. The poet reminds every hearer that Yahweh is always watching from heaven above to observe the motives and desires, the words, and the actions of every human being (verses 10-11). In this context, he addresses "the righteous," "the upright," those who desire to serve Yahweh faithfully (verse 1). This psalm falls into four parts.

I. The composer exhorts his hearers to praise Yahweh. Psalm 33:1-3.
    He specifically enumerates FOUR ways God's people are to praise God.
    a. Worshippers must praise Yahweh WITH THE LYRE. God has created each human being with certain innate gifts. Many have the skill of using musical instruments. In such cases, Yahweh expects these people to praise Yahweh with their musical instruments. Here the psalmist particularly mentions the LYRE. 33:1a.
The verb "make melody" in the entire Bible means to use musical instruments. The Hebrew verb for "make melody" is zamar; the Greek equivalent is psallo. Many texts throughout the Bible naturally connect "sing" with the voice with "make melody" with musical instruments, as in Psalm 33:2b and Ephesians 5:19.
     c. Worshippers must SING TO YAHWEH A NEW SONG. The Hebrew verb for "sing" is shir; the Greek equivalent in the Newer Testament is ado, again as in Ephesians 5:19. Singing with the voice and making melody with musical instruments are two ways in which worshippers express the feelings and desires of the heart. If singing or using musical instruments is not genuine from the heart, it is not acceptable to Yahweh, as Amos 5:23 emphasizes. 33:3a.
     d. Worshippers must PLAY SKILLFULLY ON THE STRINGS, WITH LOUD SHOUTS. When God gives us a gift, it is essential to use that gift, whether it be singing or using musical instrumentsor praying or preaching or helping the poor or whatever that gift may be. Of course, Paul emphasizes this important point in 1 Corinthians 12:4-11. 33:3b

II. The Psalmist emphasizes Yahweh's Power in Creation. Psalm 33:4-9.
     a. "The word of the Lord" in verses 4 and 6 is not the written word of God recorded in the Bible, but God's oracle proclamations orally in creation, in history, and in all life. Yahweh's dynamic, spoken word in creation show that it is upright, faithful, righteous, just and full of steadfast love. 33:4-5.
     b. In creation, Yahweh made the heavens and their host: the sun, moon, and stars, "by the word of the Lord," that is, "by the break of his mouth." Yahweh brought everything into existence not by some great deed which he performed but simply by speaking his will. 33:6.
     c. Planet earth is surrounded by powerful oceans over which no one has control. The psalmist emphasizes that Yahweh gathered the waters of the sea in a bottle and put the deeps in storehouses or silos. Yahweh alone is in control of the mighty waters on earth. 33:7.
     d. As a result of this undeniable truth, the psalmist summons "all the earth," that is, "all the inhabitants of the world," to fear the Lord, which means to stand in awe of him, to respect him completely, to honor him. The reason for this is that Yahweh spoke, and it came to be. For example, God said, "Let there be light," and there was light (Genesis 1:3). God commanded, and it stood firm. 33:8-9.

III. The Psalmist emphasizes Yahweh's Power in History. Psalm 33:10-19.
      a. Nations, presidents, emperors, powerful human beings have made great plans and schemes to carry out their purposes and desires. This NEVER WORKS, BECAUSE YAHWEH ALONE is in control of all history. The psalmist declares: "The Lord brings the COUNSEL OF THE NATIONS TO NOTHING, HE FRUSTRATES THE PLANS OFTHE PEOPLES." ONLY the counsel and plans of the Lord will prevail. History has proved again and again that this is the case. 33:10-11.
      b. Only the nations who trust in the Lord will prevail. 33:12.
      c. As KING OF THE UNIVERSE, Yahweh constantly looks down from his heavenly throne in heaven to see ALL HUMANKIND, ALL THE INHABITANTS OF THE EARTH to evaluate and judge their thoughts, their words, and their deeds. NO HUMAN BEING can avoid this reality, no matter how smart or how powerful a person may think he or she may be. 33:13-15.
      d. Through history, kings have amassed great armies, great warriors have fought strong battles, and very sophisticated weapons have been made, but none of them has prevailed. ONLY GOD has prevailed, and this will always be true. 33:16-17.
       e. "The eye of the Lord" wants to deliver all people, and those who fear him, hope in his steadfast love, will be the recipients of Yahweh's deliverance. 33:18-19.

IV. The Psalmist concludes by encouraging all people to trust in Yahweh alone. Psalm 33:20-22.
      a. The psalmist and his comrades declare that they "wait for" the Lord and "hope in" his steadfast love and "are glad" in Yahweh, and "trust in" his holy name, and in no one and in nothing else. These worshippers set an example for all others. 33:20-21.
      b. Finally, the psalmist addresses Yahweh himself. He implores Yahweh to let his steadfast love be on all true worshippers as they "hope in" him and in no one else. 33:22.

What a POWERFUL, BEAUTIFUL psalm. These thoughts should change our hearts and our lives.

Share YOUR prayers and dreams and ideas and setbacks and experiences with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Who Can Understand the Heart?--I

The Hebrew word for "heart" is lebh or lebhabh. It occurs 860 times in the Hebrew Bible. Obviously the human heart is predominant in godly Christian living. In the next several blogs, we will deal with some of the concepts in the Bible about the role of the heart in the Bible.

One should begin with the broad perspective of the heart in Proverbs 4:23:

I. God has "wired us" so that we cannot avoid our inner being.
    a. People often attempt to PRETEND they are one kind of person while IN THEIR HEART is very different. We have the capacity of "masking" or "camouflaging" who we really are. Accordingly, we have the ability of DECEIVING many people in life.
    b. Jeremiah approaches Yahweh with this question:
          Why does the way of the guilty prosper?
              Why do all who are treacherous thrive?
           You plant the, and they take root;
               they grow and bring forth fruit;
                YET FAR FROM THEIR HEARTS. (Jeremiah 12:1c-2).
    c. The composer of Psalm 55 describe one of his close friends who pretended he was true to him but in his heart planned to destroy him. Psalm 55:20-21 says:
        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.
     d. Paul tells Titus about the reality of dishonest Christians in Titus 1:15-16:
          To the pure all things are pure,
          but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure.
          Their very MINDS and CONSCIENCES are corrupted.
          They PROFESS TO KNOW GOD,
          but they deny him BY THEIR ACTIONS.
          They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.

II. These texts demonstrate that the HEART has to do with a person's intentions and desires.
     a. The reason that Yahweh destroyed humanity at the flood is that "every INCLINATION of the THOUGHTS of their HEARTS was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5; 8:21).
     b. When the Pharisees and the scribes  rebuked Jesus because his disciples were eating with defiled hands, Jesus responded in Mark 7:20-23:
         "It is what comes out of a person that defiles.
          that EVIL INTENTIONS come:
          fornication, theft, murder, adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit,
          licentiousness, envy, slander, pride folly.
          All these evil things COME FROM WITHIN, and they defile a person.

III. It is typical of human beings to emphasize GOOD external words and deeds.
      a. A big topic for everyone is politics, the election of the new president of the United States.
      b. Another big topic is sports: baseball, football, track, hockey, tennis, soccer, etc.
      c. Another big topic is the movies.
      d. Another big topic is new novels.
      e. Another big topic is all types of digital materials: iPhones, iPads, Verizon, Dell, etc.
      f. All these and many other external things are interesting and seize the imagination of many people, but God's people MUST get above and beyond all these external activities, and focus on the HEART.

Share YOUR experiences and surprises and dreams and beliefs and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Monday, August 10, 2015

Personal Experience of Sin and Forgiveness--Psalm 32

Psalm 32 is brief, but powerful. Several specific ideas suggest that this psalms is a Wisdom Psalm.
   1. "Happy" in verses 1-2 is characteristic of Wisdom :iterature--see for example, Proverbs 3:13; 8:34; 20:7.
   2. The admonition in verse 6 is common in Wisdom Literature.
   3. The composer of Psalm 32 says he will "instruct" and "teach" his audience is verses 8-9. This tone is clearly that of a wise person teaching a class.
   4. The contrast between the righteous and the wicked in verses 10-11 is common in Wisdom Literature.

The Psalmist's approach is compelling an persuasive. It falls into three natural parts.

I. The composer begins by giving the conclusion, the point, he wishes to emphasize. Psalm 32:1-2.
    a. The poet wants to persuade his audience that Yahweh's forgiveness of human sins makes the sinner happy.
    b. Here the psalmist uses the THREE terms for sin in the Bible: transgression (verses 1, 5); sin (verses 1, 3, 5 [2x]), iniquity (verses 2, 5). It would be a mistake to try to sharply distinguish between these three terms. They are simply synonyms; they mean essentially the same thing.
    c. The psalmist uses THREE terms for Yahweh's forgiveness: Yahweh "forgave" his transgression (verse 1) and the guilt of his sin (verse 5); Yahweh "covered" his sin so that no one would ever see it (verse 1); Yahweh "did not impute"  his iniquity on him (verse 2).
    d. The point in verses 1-2 is that Yahweh does not hold it against the sinner his sin as a large debt which he owed him.

II. The composer gives his own testimony about his experience with sin. Psalm 32:3-5.
     a. The psalmist confesses that when he first committed his sin, he tried to hide it, to pretend that it had never occurred, as if he had done nothing wrong. But the harder he tried, the more miserable he became. The human conscience will not allow a person to hide his sin ultimately. Yahweh's hand is heavy on the human heart when we sin. It is miserable every day to try to hide our sins. 32:3-4.
     b. After many struggling days, the psalmist finally came before Yahweh and confessed his sin. And when that happened, Yahweh graciously forgave him of his sin. 32:5.

III. Having shared his own experience, the psalmist urges his fellow-worshippers to follow his example. Psalm 32:6-11.
      a. Sin is so powerful that it feels like "mighty waters" overwhelm and drown the sinner. So the psalmist urges his comrades to offer prayer to Yahweh in confession of their sins. 32:6.
      b. The only protection from sin is Yahweh. He alone is the sinner's "hiding place." It is futile to try to hide oneself. Yahweh has the power of "surrounding" and protecting all who come to him in trust. 32:7.
      c. As a loving, faithful teacher, the psalmist declares he will instruct and teach his audience. The instruction is: "Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle." All human beings want to be independent, to do their own thing. This never works. The psalmist urges all of us to quit rebelling against God in pride, and turn to God in trust and seek his forgiveness. 32:8-9.
     d. The psalmist reminds his audience that the torments of the wicked are many. If one digs in and becomes hard-hearted, his heart and life are doomed. Only Yahweh's steadfast love "surrounds" everyone. Thus, the message is: trust in Yahweh alone, and you will rejoice in his deliverance. 32:10-11.

Share YOUR experiences and questions and confessions and shortcomings and reversals with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis