Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 127, 135, 137 and 139.

Psalm 127

There is peace in knowing God and being able to commit your future, your dreams and desires into his hands because, unless Yahweh builds the house, the builders labour in vain. There is no gain in driving yourself into the ground to increase your wealth. God knows what you need and grants sleep to those he loves.

Children are a heritage from Yahweh… a reward…

When you observe western society you would wonder whether it had ever realised this truth. The message our society sends is a mixed one. On the one hand we seek to make the welfare of the child the centre of our educational systems (almost to the point of encouraging them to be self-centred). We probably seek to protect them from harm more than at any other time in history. And yet they are becoming less and less exposed to the truths about God, they are becoming more exposed to violence and pornography and the unborn child has little or no chance if the parent decides to terminate his or her life.

If we really believe that children are a gift from God then it should mould the way we think about them and nurture them. It should dictate our and their priorities in their involvements and exposure to the world. Particularly we will want to introduce them to the Creator, who gave them life and who will build their house if they will commit themselves to his ways.

 Psalm 135

15 The idols of the nations are silver and gold,
      made by human hands.
16 They have mouths, but cannot speak,
      eyes, but cannot see.
17 They have ears, but cannot hear,
      nor is there breath in their mouths.
18 Those who make them will be like them,
      and so will all who trust in them.

I don’t notice too much political correctness with the prophets! They tell it as they see it, or rather as God shows it to them.

We don’t come across too many idols of wood and stone, though they are not unknown in some migrant families in Australia. Assuming that idols are the things which replace the worship of God, we may ask what constitutes idolatry in the wider community these days?

It must be those things which we treasure the most, above God. The things to which we devote most of our time and energy. The things that replace prayer, reading the Scriptures and our corporate worship. So it could, in fac,t be almost anything!

Verse 18 – Those who make them will be like them – is, I think, proposing that idolaters will become as lifeless as the things they worship. Another aspect to that is that we can become like the things we love the most – they change us – they turn us into something else.

However, to spend time with God in worship, prayer and praise, is to become  more like him, whose name endures for ever (v13).

Psalms 137 and 139

Psalm 137 is a lament of people who have lost everything and who now dwell, mocked and despised, in a foreign country with alien gods. Their experience is one of abandonment by Yahweh. But, even knowing that, it is hard for us to read verse 9. The talk of dashing infants against rocks makes us wince. At worst it expresses an anguished abundance of violence, hatred and vengeance. At best it is calling for justice and the non-perpetuation of a people who have already dealt so cruelly with the Judeans, now living in captivity. It also puts the task of vengeance into the hands of God, who has the right to mete out justice. However, Jesus has taught us a better way. Though we may find ourselves initially responding to situations in anger, it is grace and forgiveness that transforms both perpetrator and victim for the better.

Psalm 139 is such a contrast in attitude. Wherever the Psalmist may be, God is there, holding him fast! God knows him intimately, better than he knows himself and before he even came to birth and gained self-consciousness. God sees the unborn and knows what they will do, say and achieve. He has plans for them. Of course they have responsibility to respond to God’s will for them, and to walk in the ways that he has set before them. This is why the Psalmist prays that God will search him, not so that God will discover things he hadn’t noticed, but rather that God will reveal to the writer what he already knows about his unwarranted anxieties and offensive thoughts and actions. Once known the Psalmist can embark on correction with God’s help.

It is in this sort of intimate walk with God that we can learn to weather the storms of life and respond appropriately to the people who cause them.


Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 106, 115 and 119.

Psalm 106

But they soon forgot what he had done
and did not wait for his plan to unfold.

This Psalm outlines the failure of Israel in the Wilderness and is a recipe for backsliding  and spiritual discouragement. They forgot… and did not wait!

Conversely a way of staying on track must be to remember what God has done, in Israel’s, in the wider world’s and in our personal history. And then to “wait”. Not rushing ahead with our own plans but first praying. Not becoming impatient when we don’t see things happening quickly.

The results of forgetting and not waiting are borne out in verse 35. They mingled with the nations and adopted their customs. Israel’s separation was bound up with her spiritual life and identity as God’s People, demonstrating his good laws and upholding his name as Creator and God over all nations. The customs were not those innocent cultural differences but the practices that signified an entirely different worldview, explained from verse 36 onwards: They worshipped their idols, which became a snare to them. They sacrificed their sons and daughters to false gods…

This is certainly not a call for Christians in this age to separate themselves from the rest of the world, but it is a warning to avoid relationships and practices which would undermine our faith. We may like to think we are spiritually strong, but our strength lies in remembering and waiting on God. If we see that slipping away, we need to stay off the slide!

Psalm 115

Our God is in heaven:
He does whatever pleases him.

Underlying many of the Psalms – in fact the whole of Scripture – is the proposition that the God of Israel is the Almighty Creator, Yahweh, The One Who Is, The Great I Am, The Eternal God. He is contrasted with impotent, man-made, worthless idols of wood and stone, which are powerless to do anything. The fact that God can do whatever pleases him is not to describe a capricious dictator but one who is well able to save and deliver. One who may not always be understood but who acts according to his plans, which are elsewhere described as just, as well as merciful. We may on occasions shake our fist at him because we don’t get our own way or see events unfolding as we would like, but in the end God will do what is right. It is his world and his plan and, remarkably, he is doing what is best for humanity as a whole (See also Psalm 118:14, 22-23 for example).

Psalm 119

We don’t usually associate law with stimulating and edifying reading. Perhaps more as a cure for insomnia. We may also think that the proliferation of laws is a sign of a sick society, since love ought to guide us into doing what is right from the inner compulsion of God’s Spirit. Now there is some truth in that but it doesn’t mean that we don’t need guidelines and clear boundaries. ‘Good fences make for good neighbours.’

There is security in knowing what is right and wrong. There is revelation in knowing what God requires of us as we relate to him, to one another and to the world in which he has placed us. Reflecting on and obeying these requirements will, furthermore, help us to know peace within ourselves.

When we understand these things we can appreciate this extensive poem in twenty-two sections, each starting, in the original Hebrew, with a new letter of the alphabet. Let me leave you with just a few quotes to ponder and apply and to use in prayer…

Beth (pronounced ‘bait’)
How can a young person stay on the path of purity?
      By living according to your word.

         18 Open my eyes that I may see
      wonderful things in your law.

Daleth (pronounce ‘dar-let’)
         27 Cause me to understand the way of your precepts,
that I may meditate on your wonderful deeds.

He (pronounced ‘hay’)
37 Turn my eyes away from worthless things;

Teth (pronounced ‘tate’)
      72 The law from your mouth is more precious to me
than thousands of pieces of silver and gold.

        98 Your commands are always with me
     and make me wiser than my enemies.
99 I have more insight than all my teachers,
for I meditate on your statutes.
100 I have more understanding than the elders,
for I obey your precepts.

       105 Your word is a lamp for my feet,
a light on my path.

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.

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 77, 79, 80 and 84

Psalm 77: When God is Invisible.

Your path led through the sea,
your way through the mighty waters
though your footprints were not seen.

What do you do when you are in distress and you are crying out for help, but God does not seem to be there?

You do what the writer of this psalm did. To this I will appeal: the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand. I will remember the deeds of the LORD.

Yes, he remembered what God had done in the past, just as in the old hymn, Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done. You look back in the Scriptures and see how God delivered Israel; you notice the difference prayer makes to your day; you recall remarkable stories of God work in the lives of contemporary people; you observe how wonderfully you are made and the delicate balance of life in all its amazing complexity; you look at the stars and vastness of space, and you recognise the handiwork of God in it all, even though you do not see him physically.

This is why it is so important to, tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the LORD (Psalm 78:4). Teaching God’s dealings with humanity so that our children and grandchildren may learn from history.

Psalm 79: The Nations, For Blessing or Curse.

O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance.

The Bible makes it abundantly clear that God’s people were blessed by God so that they could be a blessing to the nations, by revealing God to them. Their failure to do so and their descent into idolatry meant that instead of the nations coming to Jerusalem to hear about God, they came as invaders! This judgement on disobedient people is a predominant story in the Hebrew Scriptures (The Old Testament). But it should surely stand as a warning to Christians living today. We are commanded to take the gospel to all nations (Matthew 28).

Psalm 80: Restore us!

Restore us , God Almighty,
Make your face shine on us,
that we may be saved.

This refrain pleads over the desolation of Israel. It reminds us that when people pray to God Almighty then there is the expectation of change and new beginnings. It has been noted that the more recent great religious revivals, which swept through the people of God and transformed the communities in which they lived, began with people praying faithfully and fervently, sometimes over long periods of time. When you hear the accounts you can’t help but be inspired, but will you be inspired enough to commit to dedicated prayer for the revival of yourself and your own community?

Psalm 84:  God’s Presence vs The World.

I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of the wicked.

I have watched enough crime and action shows, true and fictitious, to know that the wicked, even when they are rich and powerful, are not to be envied!  They are never satisfied and while their lives may seem to be fleetingly exciting, they are most often filled with stress and conflict. Our world, with all its labour saving devices, seems to have paradoxically increased in the pace of life. We are saturated with information. People binge-watch, binge drink and apparently need to have city venues open most of the night to feel that they are getting the most out of life. I’m not saying that it is all “wicked” but where is the inner peace of being at one with our Creator, of experiencing his presence? Even in the action movies it seems that, beyond the mayhem of the main plot, a peaceful or resolved existence is the final goal. In today’s world though too many people seem to be stuck in the chaos. Better a menial job and a quiet life, walking with God, than a frantic existence which is going nowhere fast.

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 52, 57 and 65

Psalm 52: The Fool and Atheism

The fool says in his heart, There is no God.

It does not logically follow that every atheist is a fool or that all fools say there is no God. However the atheist position forms a foundational supposition on which that person’s worldview is then built. Life is analysed and ethical boundaries drawn through the lens of “There is no God.” Convinced atheists will admit that there is no meaning to life. There is no greater power who has given humans purpose. Life is an accident.

Of course atheists must then construct their own moral code and this usually arises from a utilitarian view of life. Basically they ascribe to what seems to work best for relationships and for the survival of our species. It assumes that the species is worth preserving but, because there is no overarching purpose, will easily accommodate such things as late-term abortion and euthanasia.

Because good relationships are deduced from what actually appears to work it may open up the position to the influences and whims of the majority, especially amongst unthinking atheists. Societal influences offer a strong incentive to get along with the crowd. New generations take different perspectives and it is often difficult to analyse those perspectives objectively from the inside of any generation.

Of course it may be objected that Christians take different positions on moral issues. It seems to me, though, that this largely occurs between those who hold to Scripture as God-inspired and those who do not, but who cherry-pick what they want to believe. In other words the atheist and the liberal Christian, both have moral codes, but the ultimate authority behind those positions lies within themselves.

The psalmist here links the fool, who says there is no God, who fails to seek God, with corruption. Unthinking atheists will eventually realise that if there are no consequences and no meaning to the way they live, then they might as well live for themselves (and isn’t self-interest what advertising in the media tends to promote?). Why should they live for others unless it benefits them, now. After all, there is nothing to look forward to after this life.

The psalmist also sees godless fools being overwhelmed with dread. Without God there is no refuge, no back up, no guidance. You are on your own.

The psalmist however does seek God. He calls out to him and finds strength and comfort. He delights in God’s law and follows his paths. In King David’s case, in particular, this was a known way and God had not failed him (55:16 & 22, 56:4 etc).

Psalm 57: The Chief Purpose of Humanity

I was recently challenged about my prayer life. Too much of what I pray for is related to myself and those I know. While it is important to pray for such things, I must not forget that the world needs to know about God. The Westminster Catechism asks…

     What is the chief end of man?

And answers…

     Man’s chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever.

That is worth sharing. In fact Jesus’ Great Commission of Matthew 28:18-20 commands it! Israel’s purpose was to proclaim God’s glory, and the author of this psalm says…

      I will praise you, Lord, among the nations
I will sing of you among the peoples.

We are blessed by God in order to be a blessing to others (See Psalm 67 especially)

So I must pray more, for the nations to hear and respond to the message. To pray for people to be sent out. To pray for those who are already out there.  And to pray for opportunities to share the Good News wherever I am.

Psalm 65: Abundance

There are many examples of beautiful poetry in the Psalms. This is but one short passage that illustrates the overflowing abundance of knowing God and living in his ways…

 You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 41, 42, 47, 49, 50 and 51.

Psalm 41: The Weak

“Blessed are those who have regard for the weak”

It’s one of those recurring themes; that God cares for the poor, the oppressed and the outcast and that he expects his people to do the same. Jesus mixed with and came to the aid of such, Micah wrote, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (6:8.) and the ever-practical James states in his letter, Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” (1:27)

It’s easy to de-emphasise the outworking of our faith if we only think about seeing people “saved” (important though that is!).

Psalm 42: The Suffering

      My tears have been my food
      day and night,
      while people say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

This is reminiscent of Job’s situation. In the face of disappointment, bereavement, disaster and human failure, victims and observers alike often ask the same question. The situation can either bring out the best in people or it can destroy their faith. The Psalmist finds solace in the refrain of verses 5 and 11 and 43:5…

      Why are you cast down, O my soul,
      and why are you disquieted within me?
      Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
      my help  and my God

Psalm 47: Awesomeness

For the LORD Most High is awesome.

It occurs to me that the word “awesome” has become so devalued in modern speech along with other superlatives such as “absolutely”. We can become desensitised to the intensity of meaning incorporated in the words.

During religious revivals it is reported that the presence of God was so evident that people hid under the church pews. The revelation of God as “the great king over all the earth… seated on his holy throne” commands utmost awe and respect. In the laidback worship which may only treat God as our best friend (not necessarily a bad thing), let’s not become so familiar that we forget how great he is and how small we are. Such knowledge should not of course continue to make us cower in fear but lift us up to praise with the Psalmist…

Sing praises to God, sing praises;
      sing praises to our King, sing praises.
      For God is the King of all the earth;
sing to him a psalm of praise.

Psalm 49: Resurrection

Some people doubt whether the idea of the resurrection of the dead is evident in the Old Testament. Certainly the Sadducees even in Jesus’ day didn’t believe in it. This psalm does seem to hint at it though. Consider this…

the ransom for a life is costly,
      no payment is ever enough—
      so that they should live on forever
      and not see decay.

Although that could refer just to this life, the following seems to go beyond. The context is speaking of the wealthy who reject God…

Their tombs will remain their houses for ever…
This is the fate of those who trust in themselves…

Their forms will decay in the grave,
far from their princely mansions.
But God will redeem me from the realm of the dead;
he will surely take me to himself.

The message here is; Don’t be jealous of the wealthy. They can’t take it with them. Nothing matters in the end but your relationship to the God who can raise you up.

Psalm 50: No Bull

      I have no need for a bull from your stall

At the heart of our relationship with God is our faithfulness to his Covenant with us. In New Testament (New Covenant) terms this is established through the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son, Jesus Christ for our sins. It is entered into through placing our faith in Christ. In the words of the Baptismal/Confirmation rites of many Christian denominations, “I turn to Christ. I repent of my sins.”

In the Psalmist’s day and before, the Covenant was sealed with a sacrifice, but a sacrifice without a heart of faith and a willingness to obey God was, and is, empty ritual. Both Testaments of the Bible confirm as the writer does here…

      Do I eat the flesh of bulls
or drink the blood of goats?
      “Sacrifice thank offerings to God,
      fulfill your vows to the Most High,
and call on me in the day of trouble;
      I will deliver you,
and you will honour me.”

Psalm 51: Broken

David’s psalm of repentance echoes Psalm 50.

      You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it…
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
A broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise

From brokenness, comes forgiveness and from forgiveness comes praise and joy and the ability to teach others God’s ways (verses 12, 13, 15).

Gleanings from the Bible: Psalms 1, 8, 12 and 19

The Psalms are numbered amongst the wisdom literature in that they stand outside of the biblical narrative of salvation. Like other wisdom literature they sometimes speak in generalisations. They tend to be personal in that they reflect the fears, failings and feelings of the individuals who have penned them. They reflect the emotions of praise and the passions of love and hate. They often express the way we feel and amongst them there seems always to be at least one that mirrors are situation at any given time.

As you might expect (given that many were written by the warrior king, David), there is a predominance of prayers for deliverance from one’s enemies, often starting with despondency and finishing with trust in God after bringing to mind all that he has done and reflecting on his power and mercy.

The following are a few verses that stood out for me as I have read them through on this occasion:-

Psalm 1

It starts with “Blessed is the one,” (singular) who stands in contrast with “sinners” (plural). The people of God have always been encouraged to pursue godliness even when they may have to stand alone. They are the ones who are well grounded and they prosper in God’s sight. They recall the sentiments of Psalm 18:29 By you I can crush a troop, and by my God I can leap over a wall.

 Psalm 8

The other day I watched a TV program on the Cosmos. It ended with the camera on a virtual spacecraft zooming out from earth. As it travelled the voice-over commented on all the conflicts, hopes and aspirations that had taken place, bound on an ever-diminishing blue dot that eventually became invisible. It powerfully put our greatest fears and triumphs into perspective! In the past I have looked into the night sky, while taking the garbage out along the track from our rectory. All the things I worried about and hassled over receded when I realised with the author of this Psalm, “…what is humankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?” And yet…

And yet, we do not simply curl up and die from insignificance, for God has crowned us with glory and honour. In parts of our western world, which is rejecting God and condemning itself to irrelevancy, the Biblical message offers meaning and hope.

I wonder if the phrase, “LORD, our Lord” at the beginning and end is meant to reflect and contrast the immeasurably powerful transcendence of Yahweh (LORD, The One who Is) with our Adonai (Lord), who draws close to us and offers a relationship with him, through his Son, Jesus Christ? LORD, our Lord, shows us the one who is well able to help us and the one who already helps us.

Psalm 12

7     You, O Lord, will protect us;
you will guard us from this generation forever.
8     On every side the wicked prowl,
as vileness is exalted among humankind. (NRSV)

I have watched the world change over my 66 years. Things which were deemed shameful in my youth are now celebrated. People who would have been shunned, are now regarded as celebrities. We tend to reward and honour the talented, the beautiful, the wealthy and the intelligent – the things we mostly inherit rather than work for. As someone commented, “It can be like looking into a shop window, where someone has mixed up all the price tags.” It’s not all bad of course. We often do show more love and consideration to those who might once have been ostracised without help or mercy (at least superficially). But sometimes I think we may have abandoned standards which have fallen like dominoes in an effort to justify our fallen race (Psalm 14:3). Perhaps it is time to remind ourselves of Psalm 1 and also address the balance between justice and mercy.

Psalm 19

There are similarities with Psalm 8 here, and the sentiments are reflected later in Romans chapter one. Psalm 14 reads that “The fool says in his heart. There is no God.” Romans states that people are without excuse. The writer of Psalm 19 confirms that God can be seen in the things that he has created, “their voice goes out into all the earth…”

So many have tried to reduce the creative activity of God to the happenings of chance. The odds against life occurring as it does, by chance, are stupendously large, as science keeps reminding us. And yet it has become easier to accept the idea of an amazingly complex world, with even more amazingly complex human life occurring this way, and without any purpose, than to accommodate a Creator, who gives us a reason to live and thrive.

To do the latter makes sense of God’s law (not just a set of rules but a way of relating to our Creator). The Psalmist says that it is refreshing, trustworthy, making wise, giving joy, giving light, enduring and righteous (and more). He finishes with the prayer that could well form on all our lips,

May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart
be pleasing in your sight,
Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer