John T. Willis

Saturday, September 03, 2016

Fear the Lord, not Enemies, Distresses, Anxieties--Psalm 34

The Superscription of Psalm 34 alludes to David's feigned madness before "Abimelech," when Abimelech drove him out and David went away. This superscription clearly refers to 1 Samuel 21:10-15, when David fled from Saul when Saul was trying to kill David and went to King Achish of Gath seeking asylum. When the servants of Achish realized that his person was indeed David, David became very much afraid and pretended that he was a madman; 1 Samuel 21:13 says: "So he [David] changed his behavior before them; he pretended to be mad when in their presence. He scratched marks on the doors of the gate, and let his spittle run down his beard." Whoever wrote the superscription confused Achish with Abimelech. Most, if not all, of the superscriptions in the Psalms are later additions in which later thinkers tried to connect a psalm with a historical event.

Psalm 34 is an alphabetic acrostic; each line in Hebrew begins with the next letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Since the Hebrew alphabet contains 22 letters, Psalm 34 contains 22 verses. A major theme in Psalm 34 is "fear." In verse 4, the psalmist tells his audience that Yahweh delivered him from all his fears. It is not clear what these fears are, but usually this has to do with enemies, calamities, and afflictions. Verses 7, 9, and 11 emphasize the importance of "the fear of the Lord," which obviously means holding God in the highest respect, honoring God, reverential awe.  Psalm 34 falls into three parts.

1. The psalmist begins by encouraging his fellow-worshippers of Yahweh to join them in praising God. As an example, the psalms declares that he will bless the Lord at all times and praise him continually in his mouth. He boasts in the Lord, and encourages his fellow-worshippers hear and be glad in his boast. He encourages his fellow-worshippers to magnify the Lord with him, and exalt Yahweh's name together. It is clear that Yahweh's name in Psalm 34:3b is a synonymous parallelism to "the Lord" in Psalm 34:3a. Thus, "Yahweh's name" is a circumlocution for "Yahweh himself." 34:1-3.

2. The psalmist tells his fellow-worshippers that he had prayed to Yahweh and Yahweh delivered him out of all his troubles, and encourages his fellow-worshippers to do the same. 34:4-10.
     a. The psalmist sought the Lord in prayer, and Yahweh answered him and delivered him from all his fears: his enemies, his afflictions, his anxieties, his trouble. 34:4, 6.
     b. He encourages his comrades to "look to Yahweh" for help and "be radiant" so that their faces will never be put to shame. 34:5.
     c. He declares that "the angel of the Lord" always surrounds and protects those who fear the Lord and delivers them. Here "the angel of the Lord" is an unnamed invisible being created by God designed to protect God's people. 34:7.
     d. He encourages his fellow-worshippers to "taste and see" that Yahweh is good; happy are those who take refuge in him. "Taste and see" means to risk and dare  to turn one's problems over to the Lord. 34:8.
     e. He declares that young lions may suffer want and hunger, but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing. "Seek the Lord" means to trust in the Lord and pray to the Lord for his help. 34:9-10.

3. The psalmist concludes by teaching his "children" how to live before God. 34:11-22.
     a. The psalmist begins by inviting his hears, whom he calls his "children," to come and listen to him to teach them "the fear of the Lord." 34:11.
     b. Immediately, he tells his audience how to desire life and enjoy good. 34:12.
     c. The psalmist declares that the correct way to live a good life is:
          1. Keep your tongue from evil, your lips from speaking deceit. Unfortunately, many so-called Christians slander others and lie to others about all kinds of situations in their lives. Godly people will avoid slander and lying. 34:13.
           2. Depart from evil, do good, seek peace and pursue it. Only in this way can one truly enjoy life and good in the fullest sense at the depth of one's being. In this way, the eyes of the Lord are on and approve the righteous, and Yahweh's ears are open to hear the prayers of godly people. 34:14-15. It is significant that in 1 Peter 3:10-12, Peter quotes Psalm 34:12-15 to instruct Christians how to deal with their afflictions and anxieties.
       d. The psalmist declares that Yahweh opposes evildoers and will cut off their remembrance from the earth. In contrast, Yahweh will rescue his faithful people from their troubles. 34:16-17.
       e. Yahweh is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit. 34:18.
       f. Even though the righteous encounter many afflictions throughout life, Yahweh ultimately rescues them from them all. 34:19-20.
       g. In due time, Yahweh will bring death to the wicked and condemn those who hate the righteous. 34:21.
       h. At the same time, Yahweh redeems the life of his servants and does not condemn those who take refuge in him. 34:22.

I hope this psalm will encourage YOU to trust in Yahweh and believe that Yahweh will ultimately deliver YOU from all YOUR troubles.

Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Imagination and the Heart--V

According to the Bible, God is greatly concerned about the "imagination of the heart." Imagination is a mental image, concept, notion, or view. It can come from almost any source. Imagination is a creation of God. The human mind and the human heart are very complicated. Often, the mind and the heart are identical, but in other cases, the mind has to do with intellect while the heart has to do with attitudes and feelings. Here are some relevant biblical texts for one to consider.

1. When humankind multiplied on the earth, the sons of God married the daughters of men, which led to corruption and violence. Genesis 6:5 says:
      "The Lord saw that the wickedness of humankind was great in the earth,
       and that every inclination [imagination] of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually."
     After the flood, Noah offered a sacrifice before Yahweh. Genesis 8:21 says:
      "And when the Lord smelled the pleasing odor, the Lord said in his heart,
        'I will never again curse the ground because of humankind,
         for the inclination [imagination] of the human heart is evil from youth;
         nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done."
Broadly speaking, this obviously has to do with self-centeredness in stark contrast to focusing on God and following the Creator of the universe. Because of this attitude, God sent a flood to destroy almost all human beings in the days of Noah.

2. When Moses renewed the covenant in Moab, he told the people in Deuteronomy 29:19-20:
     "All who hear the words of this oath and bless themselves,
       thinking [literally, walking in the imagination] of their hearts,
       'We are safe even though we go our own stubborn ways'
       (thus bringing disaster on moist and dry alike)--
       the Lord will be unwilling to pardon them,
       for the Lord's anger and passion will smoke against them."
Here again, the problem is God's people desiring to "go their own stubborn ways," i. e., doing what they want to do rather than putting God's will and desires first.

3. Several times, Jeremiah denounced God's sinful people in Judah and Jerusalem using this language:
    "Yet they did not obey or incline their ear,
      but in their stubbornness of their evil will [literally imagination],
      they walked in their own counsels, and looked backward rather than forward"
This concept appears in Jeremiah 3:17; 7:24; 9:14; 11:8; 13:10; 16:12; 23:17.

4. Moses wrote a lengthy song presented in poetry in Deuteronomy 32. Just before this, Moses said:
    "And when many terrible troubles come upon them,
      this song will confront them as a witness,
      because it will not be lost from the mouths of their descendants.
      For I know WHAT THEY ARE INCLINED TO DO [literally, their imagination] even now,
      before I brought them into the land that I promised them on oath."
It is clear that the imagination of the heart has to do with the thoughts and plans and desires of human beings.

5. When David instructed his son Solomon to build the temple, he said:
    "And you, my son Solomon, know the God of your father,
      and serve him with single mind and willing heart,
      for the Lord searches every mind, and understands EVERY PLAN AND THOUGHT
                                 [literally, all the imaginations of the thoughts]."
Again, the imagination of the heart has to do with every idea, notion, desire, and inclination.

When one realizes the importance of the imagination of the heart, he/she reflects and grows spiritually to be transformed into the image of Christ.

Let me hear from YOU.
John Willis