November 26, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Sunday next before Advent


Morning – Psalm 124, 128, Joel 1:13, 2 Pt. 1:1-11
Evening – Psalm 131, 132, 134, Rev. 1:1-8

Commentary, Psalm 124

The theme of this Psalm is gratitude.  Verses 1-4 recall dangers and enemies who have risen against Israel.  Verse 2 compares them to wild beasts which would have swallowed Israel alive.  Verse 3 compares them to a flood that would carry Israel away.
What has preserved the Jewish people?  Only the hand of God.  He was on their side.  He delivered them from the jaws of the wild beast.  He loosed them like birds caught in nets.
We who believe in Christ have also been delivered from great danger.  An enemy far more dangerous than the Gentile nations around Israel pursues us.  But is it not our land or wealth he wants.  His desire is our souls.  God delivered us by becoming flesh and dying in our places. Thus we can say with all of God’s people, “praised be the Lord, who hath not given us over for a prey.”


Morning – Psalm 129, 130, Joel 2:1-11, 2 Pt. 1:12
Evening – Psalm 132, Rev. 1:9

Commentary, Psalm 132

Psalms 122-134 are called Songs of Degrees, or Songs of Ascent.  They are thought to be part of a liturgical service in which people ascended the steps of the Temple, pausing at designated places to sing a Psalm.  A variation of the service is thought to have been sung by Jews traveling to Jerusalem for Passover and other feasts.  Thus, they are also called, “Pilgrim Psalms.”
Yesterday morning we read the first Psalm of Degrees, Psalm 124.  Written by King David, it recalls Israel’s deliverance from enemies, and is a perfect hymn to sing going into the Temple for Passover.  We can easily see how Psalm 132 fits into this liturgy also.  Written by David, it expresses his desire to replace the Tabernacle, which was essentially a tent, with a Temple building.  The wording of verse 4 does not mean David believed God needed a house to live in.  He knew, as Isaiah knew, that heaven is God’s throne and earth is His footstool, and no man can build a house for God (Is. 66:1).  They simply mean David desired to build a place that is worthy of the worship of God.  But even such a place, whether Tabernacle or Temple, is merely the Lord’s footstool, not His dwelling place (vs. 7).
Verses 10-18 recall God’s promise to allow the descendants of David to rule Israel.  This promise is, in one sense, conditional upon the obedience of the descendants (vs. 12).  In another sense, these verses describe God’s promise to send The Son of David who will rule the true Israel forever.  That Son of David is none other than our Saviour Jesus Christ (Mt. 1:1).  The true Israel is the Church, including Old Testament and New Testament people saved by grace through faith.
Psalm 132 expresses a joy that is equally relevant to those entering the Tabernacle, ascending the steps to the Temple, or on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem.  It is also expressive of the joy of those on their earthly pilgrimage to the Heavenly Jerusalem, where the Lord Almighty is the Temple and the water of life flows freely (Rev. 21:22, 22:1).


Morning – Psalm 136, Joel 2:12-19, 2 Pt. 2:1-10
Evening – Psalm 139, Rev. 2:1-11

Commentary, Psalm 136

The Book of Psalms was the hymnal of the Old Testament Church, and continued so in the New Israel, the New Testament Church.  The Church in Apostolic times chanted the Psalms exactly as they were sung in the synagogues and Temple, for the majority of Christians were Jews who had memorized the Psalms in childhood.  The Psalter contains 150 hymns divided into five books as follows;

Book I,    Psalms 1-41
Book II,  Psalms 42-72
Book III, Psalms 73-89
Book IV, Psalms 90-106
Book V,   Psalms 107-150

Psalm 136 is part of Book V, and is a song of thanksgiving.  It is meant to be used as a litany in which the minister sings the first part of the verse, and the congregation responds by singing, “for His mercy endureth forever.”
Most of the Psalm recalls the deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt, their preservation in the wilderness, and their establishment in Canaan.  “God of gods” in verse 2 does not indicate the existence of, or belief in other gods.  It simply means God is absolute and supreme.  There is no God beside Him.


Morning – Psalm 137, 138, Joel 2:21, 2 Pt. 2:11
Evening – Psalm 140, 141, Rev. 2:12-17

Commentary, Psalm 137

The Palms often ask God to judge the enemies of Israel.  This is one of those Psalms.  It begins with a lament for the Jews who live in captivity in Babylon.  In 586 B.C. the Babylonian Empire conquered Israel and destroyed Jerusalem.  Vast numbers of Jews died in the war.  Vast numbers more were executed after it.  Most of those left alive were taken to Babylon to live in what has been called the Babylonian Captivity.
While the conquest was brutal, Jewish life in Babylon had many benefits, and many Jews elected to stay in Babylon rather than return to Jerusalem when Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon and released the prisoners.  But, at first, with the memories of war and brutality fresh in their minds, the Jews hated Babylon and Babylonians.  The Psalm says they wept.  They hanged their harps upon the willows, meaning they took no pleasure in music.  They vowed never to forget Jerusalem (vss. 5, 6), and they prayed for God’s judgment on the Babylonians.  Calling Babylon Edom in verse 7 equates it with the very worst of Israel’s enemies, the way John called JerusalemSodom and Egypt” in Revelation 11:8.  The one who conquers Babylon will be happy, or, blessed, in the eyes of the Jews (vss. 8, 9).


Morning – Psalm 142, 143, Joel 3:1-8, 2 Pt. 3:1-10
Evening – Psalm 144, Rev. 3:1-6

Commentary, Psalm 142

The inscription on the Psalm says, “Maschil of David; A Prayer when he was in the cave.”  Thirteen Psalms are inscribed with the word, “Maschil,” yet scholars learned in the Hebrew language differ over its meaning.  Some believe it means “instruction,” others think it simply means a meditative song. We will not err if we see both in this Psalm, for it is certainly a meditation on prayer.  It is also instruction, for, as Baptist minister Charles Spurgeon wrote in his commentary on the Psalms, “It teaches us principally by example how to order our prayer in times of distress.  Such instruction is among the most needful, practical, and effectual parts of our spiritual education.”
The cave is the place in which David hid after King Saul sought to kill him (1 Sam. 19:10-18, 22:1). Again quoting Charles Spurgeon, “Caves make good closets for prayer; their gloom and solitude are helpful to the exercise of devotion.  Had David prayed as much in his palace as he did in his cave, he might never have fallen into the act which brought so much misery upon his later days.”  Of course, Spurgeon refers to a cave in a figurative sense, as a time of trouble and gloom, rather than a literal cave.  Like wise, the palace is a time of peace and relief from troubles.  Truly we would be far happier if we prayed as much and as devoutly in the good times as we do in the bad ones.
“I cried unto the Lord” refers to the deep, deep cry of the soul overwhelmed with sorrow.  “I poured out my complaint” is another way of saying “I cried unto the Lord.”  We often see the Psalms using this literary technique.  Psalm 143:1, for example says, “Hear my prayer, or Lord.”  Then it repeats the idea saying, “give ear to my supplications.”  But this is not merely a literary device.  It is a way of emphasizing something that is essential in the mind of the writer.  David is emphasizing the depths of his sorrow and the desperate sincerity of his cry.  It is a cry so deep it is beyond words.  It is a groaning which cannot be uttered.  It is the cry of a person whose spirit is overwhelmed within him (vs. 3).
The reason for his distress is found in verses 6 and 7.  His persecutor is Saul, King of Israel.  How wicked it is for those charged with protecting the freedom and security of people, to move into the role of persecutors.  Yet we see this happen in governments, schools, families, and even religion.  History is full of stories of the oppressed becoming the oppressors, and using the force and power of government to harm rather than protect people.  King Saul has become an oppressor, using the power and the resources of the government to persecute an innocent man.  David’s prayer in verse 7, “Bring my soul out of prison,” is still the prayer of billions who are wrongfully abused by their own public servants.
What, then, is the instruction for us?  It is to seek God.  It is to pray.  It is to trust Him with the troubles and sorrows of our hearts.  Are we in great distress?  Are our sorrows too deep for words?  Take them to God.  Remember Christ sits at the right hand of the Father and “maketh intercession for us” (Rom. 8:34).  Remember He “ever liveth to make intercession” (Heb. 7:25).  When our need is so deep we don’t seem to be able to express it in words, remember that the Holy Spirit “maketh intercession for us with groanings that cannot be uttered” (Rom. 8:26).
            Our greatest oppressor is Satan, and our greatest need is to be delivered from the prison of our sins.  Here, too, our God is our Deliverer.  He freed us and pardoned us from the cross.  All who are His in Biblical faith can joyfully say He has brought our souls out of prison.


Morning – Psalm 146, 149, Joel 3:9-17, 2 Pt. 3:11
Evening – Psalm 148, 150, Rev. 3:7-13

Commentary, Psalm 150

Today is the last day of Trinity Season.  It is also the day we complete our reading of the beloved book of Psalms.  Therefore, the commentary will focus on tonight’s reading of Psalm 150.
This is a Psalm of praise.  In Hebrew, all verse, except verse 6, open with the word, “Hallelujah,” and verse 6 closes the Psalm by repeating it twice.  The King James Version translates hallelujah as “Praise ye the Lord.” The Great Bible, used in the Book of Common Prayer, translates it as “Praise God,” and Praise him.” The Psalm is not about working us into an emotional state.  It is about calling us to a rational response to the Majesty of God.  This response, praise, summarises all that we do in worship, and all that we do in life.  Hallelujah means very much what the New Testament means by the word “glorify.” The Greek form of it is the word from which we get “Doxology.”  Thus, when 1 Corinthians 10:31says “do all to the glory of God” it uses the word doxan.  It also defines what it means to praise God.  It shows that praise is doing what we do to the glory of God.  Essentially, glorify/praise/hallelujah/doxa means to recognize and live in accordance with the glory of God.  This is the meaning of “Praise ye the Lord” in Psalm 150.  Matthew Henry points out that Psalm 150 teaches whence (where), upon what account (why), in what manner (how), and from whom God’s praise is due. 
Where is God to be praised? In the firmament of His power, and His sanctuary.   Psalm 150 is primarily concerned with the formal liturgy of the Temple, but God’s sanctuary also includes His people. “I dwell in the high and holy place, with him also that is of a contrite and humble spirit,” says Isaiah 57:15.  “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” says 1 Corinthians 3:16.  God is to be praised in His people.  He is “thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel” (Ps. 22:3).  God is to be praised in church, at home, and in all places.
Who is to praise God? Everything that hath breath, meaning life and intellect. The meaning is clearly that all creatures in Heaven and earth join together in a concert of praise to God.

“THEREFORE, with Angels, and Archangels, and with all the company of heaven, we laud and magnify thy glorious Name; evermore praising thee, and saying, HOLY, HOLY, HOLY. Lord God of hosts, Heaven and earth are full of the majesty of thy glory: Glory be to thee, O Lord Most High. Amen”
Order for Holy Communion, Book of Common Prayer.
Why praise God?  For what He does (His mighty acts), and who He is (His excellent greatness).  Of all His mighty acts, the greatest of all, to us, is the life, death, and resurrection of Christ.  In Him God became flesh, paid the price of our forgiveness, and conquered sin, death and hell for us forever.  His excellent greatness is His perfection in all attributes of goodness, wisdom, and power.  Most of all, to us, it is the excellent greatness of His love.
How is God to be praised? Psalm 150 is primarily concerned with the liturgy of the Temple.  This ritual, in certain places had ceremonial calls of trumpets (ram’s horns) and gongs. These things signaled certain events in the liturgy.  But the Psalm is concerned with God’s praise outside of the Temple also.  Thus it refers to dances at weddings and other occasions, such as that of Miriam in Exodus 15: 20.

The final Psalm ends with, “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord.  Praise ye the Lord.”  This is more than simply an exhortation.  It is a joyful exclamation that God is worthy of praise.  He is all that we could ever want in God.  Therefore let us praise Him in all places and in all things.  “Praise ye the Lord.”

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