Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 86, 90, 95 and 103.

Psalm 86

      Teach me your way, Lord,
      that I may rely on your faithfulness;
      give me an undivided heart,
      that I may fear your name.

It is one thing to know the right way and another to walk in it. Many wise people have made shipwreck of their lives because, while knowing what God requires, they have not had the will power to live up to it. Right teaching comes from Yahweh (the LORD) with the purpose of relying on God for a heart and will that is centred upon him (in contrast to the “double-minded person” of James 1:7).

      But you, Lord, are a compassionate and gracious God,
      slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

In light of the questioning of the character of God, that occurs when people read about his judgements meted out in the Old Testament,  it’s helpful to remind ourselves that over and over the Scriptures reaffirm that God is patient and overflowing with love. We sometimes forget the enormity of what it takes to bring about God’s judgement and that even then his purpose is to refine and restore rather than to destroy.

Psalm 90

      3 You turn people back to dust,
      saying, “Return to dust, you mortals.”
      4 A thousand years in your sight
      are like a day that has just gone by,
      or like a watch in the night.

Sometimes people have tended to use verse four as some sort of a formula for dating times and seasons. In fact the Psalm is simply a sober reminder of the brevity of our lives compared with the eternal nature of God (see also Psalm 103 below). This is one of the suggested Prayer Book readings for funeral services. It is at such events that we should “number our days” and remember that it is only those things founded in God which have eternal value. It is in such reflection that wisdom is to be found (v12).

Psalm 95

      For forty years I was angry with that generation;
      I said, ‘They are a people whose hearts go astray,
      and they have not known my ways.’
      So I declared on oath in my anger,
      ‘They shall never enter my rest.’ 

Most of the Israelites who had been delivered from Egypt failed to enter the “rest” of the Promised Land. Just because they were Children of Abraham by lineage did not guarantee that they would inherit the promises of the Covenant made with Abraham. It is proposed that this Psalm is the text for the book of Hebrews (which may be the record of a sermon) and is certainly quoted in it. The idea that faith needs to persevere, even for God’s Chosen People is also intrinsic to Romans 10 and 11 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-11. It is in fact woven through the New Testament and seen clearly at the end of each of the letters to the Seven Churches in the book of Revelation. So, Do not harden your hearts as Israel did in the wilderness.

Psalm 103

This is a beautiful Psalm of reassurance for those who have confessed their sins and called on God’s forgiveness. It’s hard to pick out just one or two verses…

Praise the Lord, my soul;  
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the Lord, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

…….

The Lord is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.
He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbour his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.
15 The life of mortals is like grass,
they flourish like a flower of the field;
16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.
17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the Lord’s love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children’s children
18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

In light of my comments on Psalm 95 it is worth taking note of verse 18 here. It adds an important condition to God’s blessings!

Verse twelve is often spoken in association with The Confession in the Prayer Book and verses 13 to 17 are found just before the committal in the burial service. The psalm encapsulates God’s gracious dealings with us and, if we truly believe it, then it will transform the way we live and relate, and elicit heartfelt praise towards our Creator.

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