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Trees… July 16, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“The righteous are like a sprouting date-palm tree;

Like the cedars of Lebanon they grow large.”

(Psalm 92:13 [verse 12 in English])

 

The psalmist gives us a picture of two trees and parallels that with one who seeks to live a righteous life (or a congregation that does so). The palm, or a better translation would be the date-palm, along with the cedar were trees that were prized in the ancient world. Both grow quickly and had a variety of uses. The date-palm was perhaps best known for the abundance of fruit that it would provide to the people. Dates were a staple food and in some regions in the middle east, the sap of date trees was also collected for syrup. Palm branches formed a significant resource for weaving baskets and other practical items, and the wood of the date, though not suitable for large-scale construction, was still useful for smaller buildings as well as for burning.

While the wood of the date may not have been suitable for large-scale construction, the wood of the cedar was. These trees would grow to be well over 100 feet tall with trunks as much as 8 feet in diameter at the base. These huge trees grew especially quickly and plentifully in the region of Lebanon and thus their fame even today. In addition to buildings, their wood was also used to construct naval and merchant ships and was a significant building material used in the construction of the Temple in Solomon’s day.

Thus, the psalmist has the strengths of both of these trees in mind when he thinks on the character of the righteous…the church that follows after God. Their growth and maturity should be measurable and the fruit they bear useful for the community. In fact, every aspect about the church should be found to be useful for the work of God. The church itself should be a useful resource to the community and highly adaptable to changes in the world around them. Such is the church that worships God faithfully in Word and in Spirit. Such is a church that is focused on Christ and not on themselves.

Sadly, many churches do not reflect this characteristic as many individual Christians do not as well. How we should all be learning and growing in our understanding and application of Scripture. If this is not happening, something is askew. How our congregations ought to be growing deeper in the Word of God, which also ought to cause others to become curious and thus over time, the congregation grow broader.

The Wall Goes Up! July 15, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“My eye has been made to see my wall being raised up;

Before me is the one who does evil;

My ear hears.”

(Psalm 92:12 [verse 11 in English])

 

A short survey of English Bible translations will give a vast variety of interpretations of this verse, thus it ought not be surprising that the one I offer above is again rather distinct from some of the others. In fact, about the only thing that each translation can be said to have in common is that it speaks of the eye seeing and the ear hearing something, though that something is debated by translators.

The text literally speaks of seeing “my wall” being raised up. The Hebrew word used there is r…wv (shur), which typically refers to a small wall that might be placed around a well or a fence that might be laid between two people’s property. In context, it seems that God is giving the psalmist the confidence to say that though the enemy is on my borders, I shall not fear because even now I see God erecting a wall to protect me and to protect this covenantal land that God has entrusted to my family.

If we translate the verse in this fashion, then rather than it speaking of the destruction of the psalmist’s enemies, its focus is really on the defense of the psalmist from his enemies…something that lends itself better to the following verses. Remember too, this is a Sabbath psalm, and as such, this is that which the assembled congregation would be singing as they implore God’s protection from the foes all around them.

The notion of the ear hearing things is not so much a notion of the psalmist hearing perhaps the clamor of the enemies outside of the walls, but instead it is covenantal language that speaks of the design of God: “He who has ears, let him hear” is a common Biblical phrase to say, “Listen to the design and wisdom of God.” In other words, while the enemy is before you, listen to God’s plan to preserve you healthy and strong from the onslaught of the wicked…for (as the following verses speak) it will be you who bear fruit in old age.

Thus it is a reminder to us to be confident and sure that God is in the business of strengthening and walling in his own to preserve them from the evil one. And indeed, God is still in the business of preserving his own today which ought not only to give us confidence in doing his work in this world, but it should also drive us to praise for he has done this for us.

An Offering of Praise July 11, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“You have raised up my horn like a tower;

I poured out as with fragrant oil.”

(Psalm 92:11 [verse 10 in English])

 

This verse is a little awkward to translate and as such, there are various renderings in our various English Bibles. To understand this verse, though, you need to break it down a bit and understand some of the key terms. The first word is that of the horn, or in Hebrew, N®rRq (qeren). This can refer to a simple ram’s horn or a vessel in which oil is contained, but when used metaphorically, it typically refers to strength or that which holds the oil that spiritually strengthens the believer.

Connecting the horn to the oil is fairly obvious given the second line of the verse, but we still have the word MEa√r (re’em), which I am rendering as “tower” though many of our translate as “wild ox.” The term itself is highly debated amongst scholarship, but many see the language of the horn in the verse as the guiding interpretive feature. And, on a level, such a rendering makes sense if we see the horn as a sign of power and the strong wild ram or ox on the mountain as a symbol of strength. Yet, such a translation does not seem to take into account the language of the oil later in the verse.

The term can also be rendered as the word “Tower,” a high place that also serves as a refuge for the believer to worship. Given the language of the raising up earlier in this verse, such a translation seems to make more sense, seeing also a tower as a sign of strength against one’s foes.

The next term in dispute is that of the pouring out. Many of our English translations render this phrase as “You have poured…” or “I have had oil poured…”. The problem with both of these renderings is that the verb in question, llb; (balal — to pour out) is in the first person  singular in the Qal stem. That means that “I” must be the subject and the verb is active, not passive…thus dismissing both major translational option. Rightly translated, it is “I poured…”. Some would argue that in poetry one is given some degree of grammatical freedom, but granting free reign here just adds complexity to the meaning rather than presenting the simple meaning of what the text says.

So, what is this fragrant oil that is being poured out? Most of the translations (by rendering the verb as a passive or as a second person) presume that the psalmist is being anointed with the oil in question, yet that is not what the text states. Instead, the psalmist is pouring out his oil that has been lifted up to this tower — on this high place. Rightly understood, it seems better to understand this pouring out to be a kind of drink offering that is being made by the psalmist in honor of his God who has lifted him up and has protected him from his enemies. Again, remember the context of this psalm is worship, if we get too far from God being the subject of our affection and focus more on God’s affection toward us, we lose that spirit or tone of worship before our creator and sustainer.

Thus, may we too be quick to raise up an offering of praise to our God, both in public and in private worship. May he be glorified and honored in all that we do. Our strength comes from him, let us return that strength to him in offerings of praise.

Enemies shall Perish! July 04, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“For behold your enemies, Yahweh!

For behold your enemies shall perish!

All those who do iniquity shall be scattered!

(Psalm 92:10 [verse 9 in English])

 

Indeed, in the end, all of God’s enemies will be tossed into the lake of fire where they will be tormented forever…bringing an end to their torment of God’s own, their mocking of God’s name, and their flagrant sin and wickedness. In that end, all the enemies of God will know and intimately understand the finality of God’s wrath. And in that time, we will not weep. We will not mourn. We will not grieve. We will celebrate the victory of our Lord and the destruction of his enemies.

Yet, these words are not purely words that speak of the end times. Even in this life, God brings his hand of judgment upon the wicked and scatters them just as he scattered the wicked people who built the tower of Babel. For a season, from our perspective, they seem to prosper, but they are bereft of life and truth. They suffer their own sorrow and loneliness as they seek to find satisfaction in anything but the one who can bring satisfaction to their life. God even gives them over to their wickedness and allows them to become so mired in their wretchedness that they cannot see anything but their sin before their eyes. He robs them of satisfaction and he robs them of rest.

Beloved, we are all so often tempted to envy the wicked and their abundance. Do not be tricked into doing so. Their pleasure is fleeting and their satisfaction is empty. But in Christ, satisfaction is full and pleasure is eternal. Though we may suffer for a season, there is an eternal weight of glory before us that is beyond compare.

Yahweh is Lifted Up! July 01, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“But you are elevated eternally, Yahweh.”

(Psalm 92:9 [verse 8 in English])

 

God is lifted up! He reigns on high! There is no god like our God, he is the great Yahweh, who sets his throne in the heavens and makes the earth his footstool. Can we not praise him highly enough? Will we ever exhaust the praises that our God deserves even in the light of eternity? Never! Our God reigns and he does so from on high.

What is amazing, wonderful, and remarkable about our God is that he condescends to us in relationship. Yet, in light of this relationship, let us never lose sight of the total “other-ness” of our God. It is my concern that, in the emphasis on a personal and intimate relationship with God that we downplay his elevation…in other words, we treat him as casually as we might treat a friend or neighbor and thus forget who he is and the reverence that he rightfully deserves. Indeed, is it not the “Fear” of the Lord that brings knowledge and wisdom? Where there is no fear, will not foolishness multiply? Is that not the plight of the church in our age today?

In many circles, God is merely treated as one of many gods rather than the God above all others and in a class entirely of his own. To borrow from the Medieval theologian, Anselm, he is “The being greater than whom no other being can exist.” There is none like him and it ought to give us goosebumps to draw near to him while at the same time we do boldly draw near to the Holy One of Israel in our midst. What a glorious gift, but in our worship, let us be drawn up to him and not seek to draw him down to us.

So, friends, as you pray this day and in the day to come, may you be altogether aware that it is the God who is lifted up who has given you permission to come into his presence. Celebrate that, but do so with a holy fear as well, for in that fear you will find knowledge and wisdom.

Destroyed, Forever and Ever… June 27, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“The wicked sprout like weeds,

And all who do iniquity blossom;

To be destroyed, forever and ever.”

(Psalm 92:8 [verse 7 in English translations])

 

Paul writes in Romans 9:21-23 that God has created the wicked as vessels of wrath for the purpose of pouring out his power upon in destruction. The psalmist speaks in similar terms here. Though the wicked seem to sprout up like weeds all around us and those who revel in their sin seem to prosper, there is a purpose for which they were created…and that purpose is destruction. While the believer may be created, in the words of the Westminster Shorter Catechism, “to glorify God and to enjoy him forever,” the wicked are created to face His wrath and be destroyed forever.

For most of us, that is a fearful warning, for though we may be believers we know many who are not. Indeed, some may be destined for this destruction. Others may be of the elect of God, yet in God’s providence they have yet to come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. The question is, might you be the one whom God will use to share the Gospel with such persons? Yet, such cannot take place unless you begin the conversation with them about what is true and what is eternal. The grass withers and perishes but the word of the Lord lasts forever. Will you be the one to share that word with those in your midst? Will there never be left any question as to your care for their eternal souls?

All too often we read passages like this and we fail to seriously consider the reality of hell and the horrors of such eternal destruction. The scriptures refer to it as the “second death” (Revelation 2:11; 20:14; 21:8). A dying that lasts eternally in all its fearful connotations, devoid of hope. Such is the end to which those this verse speaks of are destined…should it not make us shudder that we have friends, neighbors, and coworkers that will be found under God’s thumb of wrath. Will you warn them of the coming wrath?

Ignorant and Stupid June 19, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“The man who is stupid does not know;

The ignorant one does not understand this.”

(Psalm 92:7)

 

The language of one who is stupid and ignorant is used in a very specific way in the Bible. Today, we often refer to people who are uneducated as ignorant and use the term “stupid” as more of an insult. We might cruelly comment, “What are you stupid or something,” if someone just does not understand a basic idea.

But the Bible prefers to reserve these terms for a very specific class of people: those who pursue idols. It is the stupid man who bows down to idols of silver or of wood or who crafts such abominations for sale amongst the people. Those who are ignorant are ignorant in practical aspects of living — they cannot make the kind of decisions that will be wise for them or for their families. And since the fear of the Lord is the most basic decision we can make that leads to knowledge and wisdom, those who reject such fear reject that which will allow them to make wise decisions and live life well.

And thus, those who pursue idols or the illusion of atheism do not understand this. But what is the “this” in question? It is the strength of God and his mighty works. They don’t understand the basis for worship. For them, coming to church is either habit or foolishness, they don’t see it as an engaging with the God of the universe who rules over all things.

The condemnation, then, is there, for there are many in our communities and even in our churches that are stupid and ignorant because of their attitude toward God and life. And one need not be conscientiously an idol worshipper or atheist to fall into this category; many do so by their actions. So, beloved, the question is first, will we look at our own lives and honestly ask ourselves whether we are guilty of such things? And then, will we address those areas in a way that honors our God? In addition, will we then share what we do know about the power of God with those who are ignorant and stupid in our midst, pointing them to the God who claims our allegiance, our worship, and our obedience in every area of our lives…not just in what we do in church.

Oh How Deep! June 13, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“How your works are great, Yahweh,

Your plans are quite mysterious.”

(Psalm 92:6 [verse 5 in English])

 

Oh, heavenly Father, “what is man that you are mindful of him!” We make plans and perceive our designs to be deep and meaningful, but in a moment they are washed away by the winds of time. How we plan for tomorrow yet have no control over today. How we ponder our designs while neglecting the design that you have revealed in your word. Oh, how foolish are we puny men, yet you have condescended to reveal yourself to us in fearful and wonderful ways. Amen!

As great and mighty as God’s works are, his decrees and plans run deeper. We may spend a lifetime plummeting the depths of that which he has revealed in his Word to us, yet will never scratch much more than the surface. Oh, were we given a thousand generations to dig into the word, we still would not come closer to reaching the bottom of the richness of God’s revealed Word.

Thus, they are a mystery to us, but not the kind of mystery that discourages or disheartens, but the kind of mystery that draws us in, that sparks our interest and curiosity, and that envelops us in the love and truth of this mighty God.

Oh, the depths of the riches and of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God!  How unfathomable are his decrees and incomprehensible are his ways!  For who is he who knows the mind of the Lord? Who is he that has become his counselor? Who is he that first gave to him that he might receive repayment? For out of him and through him and for him are all things.

For to him is the glory unto eternity, amen!

(Romans 11:33-36)

Rejoicing in Yahweh’s Divine Actions June 12, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“For you make me rejoice constantly, Yahweh, in your divine action; in the works of your hands, I continually exult.”

(Psalm 92:5 [verse 4 in English])

 

The question that we must raise is whether or not we can really say, with the psalmist that we rejoice and exult in the works of God. On the surface level, our first response is probably to say that we do rejoice in God’s works, but in saying that we need to take a closer look at what we are suggesting. Indeed, it is easy to rejoice in the blessings that God brings into our lives, but what of the trials? What of those times when everything is falling apart and we just cannot figure out which end is up in life? Is it not harder to rejoice in God and exult in his works when such things take place? Yet this, too, is in sight of what the Psalmist is saying.

Sometimes the hardest thing to do, when things fall apart in our lives, is to praise God in the midst of such things. Yet, in times of distress like this, such is what our soul most needs. We need that communion and worship and we need to affirm that God’s work is continually a good thing in my life because it is used to conform me into the image of his Son, Jesus.

One of the great reminders of this principle is the setting aside of the Sabbath day. A day where we join with the body of Christ and worship together — where we even lift one another up in worship, standing in the gap for the brother and sister who is broken and cannot stand (spiritually) on their own feet to do so. That joined with the promise that if we count the Sabbath a delight, God will raise us up from our depths and give us a taste of his glory (Isaiah 58:13-14).

God’s Faithfulness June 10, 2014

Posted by preacherwin in Devotions, Devotions on Psalm 92.
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“To declare your chesed in the morning;

And of your trustworthiness in the night;

Upon the ten strings and upon the harp;

With the sound of the zither.”

(Psalm 92:3-4 [verses 2-3 in English])

 

Again we find an emphasis on singing praise accompanied by the sound of instruments. The reference to the “ten strings” in Hebrew is unique to the book of psalms (33:2, 92:4, 144:9) and is likely a reference not simply to a small personal shoulder harp (which might have had 5 or 7 strings), but to a larger harp requiring more skill to play. Granted, depending on the dating of this psalm, much larger harps would have been familiar items; the ancient Egyptians had 22 strings on their full-sized arched-harp. Arguably this is one more reminder that this psalm has its focus the gathered worship of God’s people where skilled musicians (levitical or otherwise) would have been present, not simply to private worship.

The additional reference to the zither seems to reinforce both the corporate setting (as multiple instruments are being mentioned) and to skillful musicians required to play it. Often this word is translated as lyre, which shouldn’t surprise us as the lyre has its origins in the zither. Again, the emphasis of music in Sabbath worship.

Yet, what is more important is not the instruments used but for what God is being praised. Here, it is his “chesed” and his trustworthiness. The word chesed I have simply left untranslated as there is not a simple word-for-word equivalent of this idea. Ultimately it refers to God’s covenant faithfulness to his people (that’s us!) despite the covenant unfaithfulness of his people (sadly, that’s us too…). This we do not deserve, but this God graciously gives to his own to his own glory and praise. As the Apostle Paul wrote, salvation is by grace, not works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9). Indeed, it is worth praising our God for his faithfulness and for his chesed.

And it is for this faithfulness (amongst other things) that we praise God when we gather together on the Sabbath. The sad thing is that all-too-often, the lyrics of our praises are focused heavily on the individual, not on the God who saves the individual. Loved ones, remember, it is not our goodness or our works that brings about God’s faithfulness…God is faithful despite our lack of goodness and our failures…that is the essence of Grace. As the old Fanny Crosby hymn went… “To God be the glory, great things he has done!”

And you shall remember—for you were a slave in the land of Egypt and Yahweh, your God, redeemed you.  Because of this, I command this thing of you today.

(Deuteronomy 15:15)

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