John T. Willis

Saturday, November 26, 2016

God is our Refuge--Psalm 46

The author and historical background of Psalm 46 are unknown. The superscription says:
     To the leader. Of the Korahites. According to Alamoth. A Song.
     Scholars have written extensive efforts to try to determine this, but there is no agreement. "Of the Korahites" appears also in Psalms 42, 44, 45, 47, 48, 49, 84, 85, 87, 88. Some scholar have put these psalms together and tried to find significant themes in these psalms. "According to Alamoth" may refer to a well-known tune, but this is uncertain. The superscriptions of the Psalms are later additions, and it would be a great mistake to date any psalm based on a superscription.

The theme of Psalm 46 is "God is our refuge." This term appears in Psalm 46:1, 7, 11. Verses 7 and 7 are clearly choruses or recurring refrains.  This very common in many biblical psalms or songs, and in many modern songs or hymns. Think of "Up from the grave he arose," or "Are your ready?" or "It is well with my soul." In Psalm 46, the poet declares that those who dwell in Zion [Jerusalem] have refuge [protection, security] in God. "Selah" at the end of Psalm 46:3, 7, 11 has no meaning at all, but is a musical signal that the song or poem comes to an end, and the next verse begins the next stanza. Psalm 46:6, 9-10 indicate that Zion has recently been attacked by enemies and God has delivered the city, but the precise setting is unknown. Some scholars suggest this refers to Sennacherib's invasion of Jerusalem in 701 BCE [2 Kings 18-19; Isaiah 36-37], but there is no enough evidence to demonstrate with certainty the historical setting. Psalm 46 inspired Martin Luther to write his moving song: "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" in 1529. Psalm 46 falls into three stanzas.

1. The Psalmist declares that those who have refuge in God are FREE FROM FEAR. Psalm 46:1-3.
    a. The poet begins with his theme: "God is our refuge and strength." God is always present to help in times of trouble. This is clearly a great encouragement for all who truly trust in Yahweh. 46:1.
    b. Since God is always present to help in times of trouble, God's true followers "will not fear." It does not matter if the earth should change or the mountains shake in the heart of the sea or the waters roar and foam or the mountains tremble with its tumult. No crisis, no matter how large and threatening it may seem, God's true followers will not fear because God is always present to help in times of trouble. 46:2-3.

2. Then, the Psalmist declares that those who have refuge in God are IMMOVABLE. Psalm 46:4-7.
    a. The psalmist declares that there is "a river" whose streams make glad the city of God. Scholars debate over the meaning of the "river" in this verse. Since Psalm 46:5 says: "God is in the midst of the city," it is likely that the "river" in Psalm 46:4 is God. Jeremiah 2:13; 17:13 compare Yahweh with "the fountain of living water." Or course, the meaning of this metaphor in Psalm 46:4 is debatable. This verse describes Jerusalem or Zion as "the holy habitation of the Most High." 46:4.
    b. Since God is in the midst of Zion, "it shall NOT BE MOVED." As in Psalm 46:1,  God will HELP when the morning dawns. 46:5.
    c. The surrounding world, the surrounding nations, the surrounding kingdoms, are in uproar and totter, but God utters his voice, and the earth melts. When we become anxious about all the problems and issues of life, we need to remember that God is in control no matter what things might look. 46:6.
    d. The Lord of hosts [The Lord of the heavenly armies--see Psalm 103:19-22; 2 Kings 6:17] is WITH us, the God of Jacob is OUR REFUGE. Just as there was no danger for the boat in the storm sea when Jesus was aboard (Luke 8:22-25), there is no danger for Zion in time of trouble because Yahweh is always present. 46:7.

3. Finally, the Psalmist declares that those who have refuge in God are VICTORIOUS. Psalm 46:8-11.
    a. The psalmist tells his hearers and readers to behold the works of Yahweh, the desolations he has brought on the earth. 46:8.
    b. Unstated nations had attacked Jerusalem or Zion, but Yahweh intervenes and "makes wars cease" to the end of the earth by breaking the bow, shattering the spear, and burning the shields with fire. As Isaiah 2:4=Micah 4:3, Yahweh causes warriors to beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Miraculously, God brings peace between people and nations. 46:9.
    c. Because of this, Yahweh declares:
        "BE STILL, and KNOW that I am God!
          I AM EXALTED among the nations,
          I AM EXALTED in the earth."
It is very clear that Old Testament thought has to do with the whole earth, not the land of Canaan or Israel. Our God is a universal God, not a local God. The God of the Old Testament is the very same God as the God of the New Testament. There is no difference at all between the Old and New Testaments about the nature and work of God and his chosen people. New events present new festivals and practices, but essentially, God does not change.  The song "Be still and know that I am God" contains this powerful concept. 46:10.
    d. For emphasis, Psalm 46:11 reiterates the chorus or recurring refrain in Psalm 46:7.

What an uplifting, encouraging, inspiring Psalm. Share YOUR experiences and events and reversals and problems and ideas with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis


Destroying and Removing the Heart; Heart of Little Worth--XVI

The Hebrew word lebh [English heart] is the direct object of three Hebrew verbs which mean to "take away" or "destroy."
    1. The Hebrew verb sur in the hiph`il means "to remove, take away." Job 12:24 says:
         "He [Yahweh] strips [takes away] heart [NRSV understanding] from the leaders of the earth,
                and makes them wander in a pathless waste."
    2. The Hebrew verb laqach means "to take away." Hosea 4:11 says:
         "Wine and new wine
                 take away the heart [NRSV understanding].
    3. The Hebrew verb 'abad in the pi`el means "to vanish, blot out, do away with." Ecclesiastes 7:7 says:
        "Surely oppression makes the wise foolish,
                 and a bribe corrupts [destroys] the heart."
All of these texts use "heart" in the sense of human understanding.

In connection with this, one should consult Daniel 7:4. Daniel saw a vision of four great beasts coming up out of the sea. Daniel 7:4 says:
    "The first was like a lion and had eagles' wings.
      Then, as I watched, its wings were plucked off,
       and it was lifted up from the ground and made to stand on two feet like a human being;
       and a human heart [NRSV mind] was given to it."
Here, a man's heart means a man's understanding.

Finally, the Hebrew noun lebh [English heart] occurs once with the Hebrew substantive me`at [English a little, fewness, a few]. Proverbs 10:20 says:
     "The tongue of the righteous is choice silver;
           the heart [NRSV mind] of the wicked is of little worth."
This verse emphasizes the smallness of a wicked person's understanding.

Like in many other biblical texts [Old and New Testament], the word "heart" may mean the "mind" or the "understanding."

Share YOUR insights and understandings and imaginations and biases and thoughts with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

Friday, November 25, 2016

A Royal Wedding--Psalm 45

Psalm 45 was composed for a royal wedding between an Israelite or Judean king and a foreign princess. Some scholars argue that the "ivory palaces" in Psalm 45:8 are the "houses of ivory" symbolized by the North Israelite luxury denounced in Amos 3:12, 15 [more particularly the "ivory house" which Ahab built in Samaria (1 Kings 22:37-39) and connect this with the "daughter of Tyre" [meaning the city or people of Tyre] with Jezebel, and conclude that the historical occasion lying behind Psalm 45 was the marriage of Ahab and Jezebel (1 Kings 16:31). But other scholars argue Psalm 45 has in mind Solomon's wedding to Pharaoh's daughter (1 Kings 3:1), and other scholars argue that Psalm 45 has in mind the marriage of Jehoram of Judah to Athaliah, the daughter of Ahab and Jezebel (2 Kings 8:18, 26). One may mention other options. There is not enough information in Psalm 45 to allow certainty on this point.

Psalm 45 naturally falls into FOUR Paragraphs.

1. Introduction. Psalm 45:1.
    a. This psalmist is NOT the king, but an individual who addresses the king in Psalm 45.
    b. This psalmist is excited about his theme, and his tongue is eloquent as he speaks.

2. The Poet addresses the king. Psalm 45:2-9.
    a. The poet begins by commending the king because he is very handsome and his speech is pleasing and appealing because God has blessed him with this gift. 45:2.
    b. Second, the poet praises the king because of his military strength. Using a sword and a bow and arrows, Yahweh empowers the king to defeat his enemies. In this way, he defends the innocent and the oppressed. 45:3-5.
    c. Third, the poet extols the king because of his spiritual strength.  The king supports equity among the people, loving righteousness and hating wickedness. Because of this spiritual emphasis, Yahweh anointed him with the oil of gladness beyond any of his rivals. 45:6-7.
    d. Finally, the poet points out that the king's robes exude fragrance with myrrh and aloes and cassia, stringed instruments make him glad, his maids of honor in the wedding are daughters of kings, and at his right hand his queen enters in gold of Ophir. 45:8-9.

3. Next, the poet addresses the king's bride who has just appeared and come forward, Psalm 45:10-15.
    a. First, the poet implores the king's bride to FORGET her people and her father's house. Her father is a foreign king. She is a foreigner. And thus, she must abandon her people and her original background in order to establish a good marriage with the king of Israel or Judah. 45:10.
    b. When she makes this commitment and submits her heart to the king, the king of Israel or Judah will desire her beauty. 45:11.
    c. Then the daughter of Tyre will bring rich gifts to the king. 45:12.
    d. Similar to Psalm 45:9, the poet describes the approach of the bride and her attendants. The attendants bring the bride to the king decked with gold-woven and many-colored robes. The virgins, her companions, follow the attendants as they are led along to enter the palace of the king. 45:13-15.

4. The poet concludes by assuring the king that he will have a great future. Psalm 45:16-17.
    a. The poet assures the king that he and his bride will have sons to make them princes in all the earth. 45:16.
    b. Yahweh will cause his name to be celebrated in all generations, and the peoples [that is, the nations] will praise this king forever and ever. 45:17.

Psalm 45 presents some very important spiritual ideas about true kingship.
    a. Yahweh "anointed" this king. Psalm 45:7. This does not mean that Yahweh LITERALLY anointed a king, but God's authentic representative in God's name anointed the king. 1 Samuel 10:1 clearly emphasizes this practice.
    b. The Hebrew word for "anointed" is mashiach, in English "messiah." Every king of Israel and Judah was the Lord's "messiah," that is, anointed one. Jesus and his followers adopted this term to describe Jesus' identity as "Christ." The Greek word christos means "anointed." See Acts 2:33-36; Hebrews 1:9. The symbolic anointing of Jesus took place when he ascended into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God the Father (Hebrews 1:3, 13).
    c. The meaning of Psalm 45:6a is widely debated. The context suggests that it means that the throne of the earthly king is actually Yahweh's throne, NOT the throne of the earthly king. Because Yahweh is the real king, the reign of the earthly king will continue for a long time.
    d. The term "forever and ever" in Psalm 45:6a does not mean "endless time," but rather a long period of time in contrast to a brief period of time. A careful study of the expression "forever" demonstrates that "forever" means a long period of time. Only one of many examples of this is
1 Samuel 1:22, where Hannah made this promise: "As soon as the child [Samuel] is weaned, I will bring him, that he may appear in the presence of the Lord, and remain there FOREVER." Later,
1 Samuel 1:28 says "AS LONG AS HE LIVES, he [Samuel] is given to the Lord."

Weddings are very important. Psalm 45 describes a beautiful picture of a great wedding.

Share YOUR thoughts and experiences and backgrounds and problems and anxieties with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis