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!
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).
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’)
9 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.