Christianity 201

August 26, 2016

A Psalm by Herman

NASB Ps. 88: 1 O Lord, the God of my salvation,
I have cried out by day and in the night before You.
Let my prayer come before You;
Incline Your ear to my cry!
3a For my soul has had enough troubles

Okay, it’s actually Heman, not Herman, but if he was around today he’d probably change it to avoid being called He-Man…

…This one needs an extended introduction.

The author of this devotional is frustrated, even to the point of calling Psalm 88, “This stupid Psalm.” (Not necessarily a recommended approach, but…) Artist and illustrator Jackson Ferrell writes a lighter devotion and is looking for an illustration to get things going and then realizes twice that some of the stories from his own life he thinks would be applicable, aren’t really what the Psalmist is saying.

Too many times we simply place the illustration too quickly, we think it fits and we don’t take the time to really slow down and read the passage. Perhaps sometimes our stories have nothing to do with the text.

Start by reading Psalm 88

…Today’s devotional is taken from the rather unusually named Chocolate Book. Each day the author has a chocolate flavor of the day and a reading for the day. (Seriously!) To read this at source, click the title below, and yes, the author of this Psalm is really named Herman…

Psalm 88 – Life in the Grave

This stupid psalm is resisting introduction. I’m about to ask “Have you ever thought you were going to die?” and recount the time I got stuck upside-down in a pool floatie as a toddler or the time the family Camry got hit by a semi truck when I was eleven, but then I realize: this psalm is about an extended period of being on the edge of the grave. It’s not about watching your life flash before your eyes in a moment. So then I’m about to ask “Have you ever wished you could die?” and talk about lying in the upstairs hallway overwhelmed by pain on the third day of having chicken pox when I was eight, but then I realize: the author of the psalm wants God to rescue him from his perpetually near-death state. He has no desire to die. So here’s the question: have you ever gone through a time in your life where, day after day, you felt like the living dead?

The psalm (which judging by the epigraph appears to have been penned by Heman the Ezrahite, one of the sons of Korah) is about being close to death in a particular way. The man compares himself to a corpse: “I have become like a man without strength…like the slain who lie in the grave, whom You remember no more” (4-5). He’s not even the walking dead; it’s like he’s going through his life just lying there. It’s like he’s gotten the Joseph treatment or even been buried alive: “You have put me in the lowest pit, in dark places, in the depths” (6). And who is it that’s put him six feet under? The psalmist contends that it’s God.

Chocolate Psalm 88Like David in Psalm 38, Heman the Ezrahite sees himself as an object of God’s wrath. He pleads to God, “You have afflicted me with all Your waves” (7) and “Your terrors have destroyed me” (16). Not only has God left him ostensibly drowning in judgment, it would seem he’s isolated him. “You have removed my acquaintances far from me” (8), the psalmist states. God has taken away the people he knew; moreover, God has made him an object of derision. It may be that Heman is being melodramatic, an unreliable narrator who cannot see God carrying him through this trial. I’ll entertain that possibility. But the fact remains: this is how it feels to Heman. To dismiss him as a histrionic drama queen would be a cruel disservice both to his inner state and the external pressures he’s suffering.

When he pleads his case to God in the middle of the psalm, it’s on grounds we’ve seen before. “Will You perform wonders for the dead? Will the departed spirits rise and praise You?” (10) he asks. How can God get any meaningful praise out of a corpse in the grave? His argument recalls one that David made in Psalm 30, one that might be construed as a bargain for rescue, offering to trade your praise for God’s salvation.

By the end of the psalm, nothing has changed, except that Heman has finished a song about his afflictions. He remains troubled to the last note of the last bar, and what happened afterward we can only imagine. But we know this much: even in the depths of the pit, he still called out to God. He still believed God might release him.

 


Curious to read more Psalms commentary like this one? Or maybe you just want to check out some other chocolate flavors! Either way, take a few minutes to read more at Chocolate Book.

September 8, 2015

Old Testament Provides Examples of What Not To Do

Today we pay a return visit to Juli Camarin at JCBlog. The article is long, but there is good insight here. Click the title below to read at source and look around the rest of the website.

A Textbook Example of What Not To Do

Do you ever stumble across an odd statement while reading your Bible and think, Are you kidding me?

This happened to me this morning. I was reading the account in Numbers where Moses struck the rock and water came out. This account is actually the second time in Israelite history this event has occurred—and check this out—it happened at the exact same place as before: Meribah, which means “quarreling.”

The first account of getting water from the rock was shortly after the Israelites were delivered from Egypt. But the second account that gave me pause happened a generation later. Same place, same situation, but this time this generation had grown up in the desert and grumbled and complained to Moses about not having water.

This is what they said:

“If only we had died when our brothers fell dead before the Lord! Why did you bring the Lord’s community into this wilderness, that we and our livestock should die here? Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:3b-5).

Sounds like a classic rant, doesn’t it?

“We’re going to die of thirst!”
“It would have been a lot better to die when our parents died!”
“Moses, admit it…you’re trying to kill us!”

The Israelites had fallen into a textbook example of a loose tongue backed by charged emotions…I know I’ve been there…(just ask my husband).

Here are the laments that stopped me cold: “Why did you bring us up out of Egypt to this terrible place? It has no grain or figs, grapevines or pomegranates. And there is no water to drink!” (Numbers 20:5).

That is an odd statement coming from a people who grew up in the wilderness eating quail and manna. Of course, there are no grains, figs, grapevines, or pomegranates because they are wandering in the desert!

Come to think of it, when had they ever had figs, grapes, or pomegranates? And why were they complaining to Moses about there not being any at Meribah? It’s the wilderness after all! Makes me scratch my puzzled head:

  • Do you know where there are figs, grapes and pomegranates? Egypt.
  • Do you know who came from Egypt? Their parents.
  • Do you know why that entire generation died in the desert? Because they were faithless.

Their parents’ generation was a textbook example of what not to do. They grumbled, complained, and continually tested God. But you know what? Let’s cut them some slack because they grew up as slaves and didn’t know any better.

But their children, oh, their children should have known better! They were never slaves, as they had always been free.

They had always lived under God’s provision. He went before them in a pillar of fire. He fed them for forty years. He protected them from every single enemy that tried to wipe them off the face of the earth. And most amazingly, during their entire time in the desert, their clothing and shoes never wore out!

This generation was familiar with the miraculous ways that God provides. On top of that, they had this amazing promise from God of a permanent home in Canaan. This was their time to shine!

And yet their main complaint was about their lack of figs, grapevines, or pomegranates…echoing their parents. How disappointing!

Don’t get me wrong—there is nothing wrong with knowing where you come from and remembering the trials and situation you’ve survived to become who you are. It is part of your story and is therefore worth sharing.

But sharing becomes dangerous if we use those things as an anchor to keep us chained to our past rather than walking full of faith into the unknown with the knowledge that the future is full of God’s promises waiting to be unlocked.

Here is an important truth: God will be faithful to you regardless of whatever situation you presently find yourself. So why not trust Him to lead you through it?

This is where I truly believe the Israelites went wrong. They were longing for something in the past, and they kept looking back to what was known rather than looking forward to what was promised!

God was angry with them because they could never quite accept that He had a good plan even though it was unfamiliar to them within their life experiences up until that point. Because His plan was unknown, the Israelites clung to what they remembered and taught their children to do the same, and they all bought into it—hook, line, and sinker.

The Book of Hebrews calls this behavior disobedient unbelief! (Heb. 3:18-19).

So here they are in the exact same place as their parents when they came out of slavery and they are facing the exact same problem. But instead of remembering how God provided water from the rock for their parents’ generation, they longed for figs, grapes, and pomegranates. In other words, they yearned for Egypt, even though that meant slavery.

I call this behavior insane! I read this and thought, Are you kidding me?

They remembered their bondage in Egypt through a different lens than the reality of what actually was. Slowly throughout the years, this fantasy became preferable to wandering in the desert. But the real tragedy in all of this is that their disobedience and hardness of heart blinded them to the real freedom God desired to give them in the future.

Imagine what would have happened if the older generation had only focused on what they were looking forward to: if they spoke about the Promised Land and how it flowed with milk and honey reminded each other that God had promised that land to Abraham. They would have convinced themselves that God would be faithful in bringing them into that land.

I imagine that their children would have shown up in Meribah and announced that this was the last water stop before Jericho! (Oh, the irony, as there was no water anywhere!).

But the entire generation that wandered and died in the desert only spoke of Egypt. They spoke so well of it that their children held onto the hope of having figs, grapes, and pomegranates from a master’s table rather than having their own land, their own vineyards, and God’s best for them. Sadly, this is true because they had never been taught any better!

Friends, we need to evaluate our own lives:

  • Why are we clinging to the past?
  • Why are we focused on our solutions to our problem rather than on the faithfulness of God in the midst of our problems?
  • When was the last time we spent a moment reflecting on the promises found in scripture? And if we know them, do we really believe them?

From the example of the Israelites, we see how harmful this type of thinking is! Not only did it keep them out of the rest God planned to bring to them (Heb. 4:6) it also taught their children to do the same! And the scary thing is that we still behave like this!

  • How many of us are resting in God’s promises, actually resting, which means at peace in the midst of turmoil?
  • How many of us are confident about the future, even when the past and present are less than ideal?
  • How many of us are drowning in circumstances instead of looking to the author of solutions?

If the Israelites are the textbook example of what not to do, then let’s learn from their example and try something different.