Ep.282: Psalm 140: Snakes and Other Enemies.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Psalm 140 is the first of five lament psalms that describe the poet’s enemies and their evil deeds. The poet moves through lament to faith. Faith that God will save him by overthrowing his enemies and setting his world right. 

The psalm opens like this:
  Rescue me, Lord, from evildoers;
    protect me from the violent,
  who devise evil plans in their hearts
    and stir up war every day.
  They make their tongues sharp as serpent’s;
    the poison of vipers is on their lips (vv. 1-3). 

It looks like the snake from the Garden of Eden is still at work. The poet’s unscrupulous enemies speak sharply and falsely, they plan violence and war, they threaten the poet’s life. His only recourse is to God:
  Keep me safe, Lord, from the hands of the wicked;
    protect me from the violent,
    who devise ways to trip my feet (v. 4). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we stand in a long line of believers who have studied how to be faithful when evil is everywhere. As our weary world plods on, as power corrupts leaders, as the Internet distributes the snake venom of divisiveness and lies, as entertainment grows more violent and pornography more hardcore, we pray to you, our God, to protect us from the ruin of our society, from the ruin of the world, from the ruin of unbelief. 

When we look at ourselves, we hear Jesus’ words, “From within, out of the heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit” (Mark 7:22). Perhaps as Pogo said, “We have met the enemy and he is us” (Walt Kelly, Pogo (comic strip), April 22, 1971. 

With the poet, we pray against all our enemies, those within and those without; those who are subtle and well-spoken like the snake in the garden; and those who are forthright and violent as they run roughshod through the world. 

We believe that you,Lord, will rescue and redeem us. As the poet says:
  Keep me safe from the hands of the wicked;
      protect me from the violent,
      who devise ways to trip my feet (v. 4).
    Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer,
      you shield my head in the day of battle (v. 7).
  I know that you secure justice for the poor
      and uphold the cause of the needy.
  Surely the righteous will praise your name,
      and the upright will live in your presence (vv. 12-13). 

O God, you carry the weight of the world on your shoulders. Christ carries the world’s sin on his cross. The Spirit shines in all dark corners, bringing light and truth.. 

Teach us to live in the truth. Expose the lies of the snake. Confound his conspiracy theories. Paralyze the hands of the violent. Stop the tongues of rage and slander. In the strong name of Jesus, protect the upright. Build your church into a community of life and truth. 

Amen

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.281: Psalm 139: Perfect Knowledge, Perfect Hatred.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Psalm 139 is popular for the poet’s description of himself as Exhibit A of God’s amazing creation. He says:
    I will praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
      wonderful are your works,
      I know that full well (v. 14).

But the poem is not so popular for the poet’s attitude toward his enemies. He says:
    Do I not hate those who hate you, O Lord. . . .
    I hate them with perfect hatred,
        I count them my enemies
(vv. 21a, 22; KJV translation “perfect hatred”; see also Walter Brueggemann). 

How does the poet transition from wonder to hatred? Let’s follow his trajectory by praying parts of the psalm. 

Let’s pray.

   Lord, you have searched me
    and you know me.
  You know when I sit and when I rise;
      you know my thoughts from afar.
    You search out my path and my lying down,
      you are familiar with all my ways.
    Before a word is on my tongue
      you know it completely, O Lord.
    You hem me in behind and before,
        you lay your hand upon me.
    Such knowledge is too wonderful for me,
        too lofty for me to attain (vv. 1-6).

O Lord, we keep our inner lives hidden, where evil thoughts lurk, where unclean desires rule and unkind words arise, where we judge our neighbors and excuse ourselves. But all is visible to you, for you search us and know us. To you “all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden” (“Collect for Purity”, Book of Common Prayer). As the poet says,
    Where can I go from your Spirit? 
        Where can I flee from your presence?
      If I go to the heavens, you are there;
        If I make my bed in hell, you are there.
      If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
        and settle on the far side of the sea,
      even there your hand will guide me,
        and your right hand will hold me fast.
    If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me,’
      and the light becomes night around me,
    even the darkness will not be dark to you;
      the night will shine like day,
      for darkness is as light to you (vv. 7-12).

O Lord, this is our comfort and our fear. We have nowhere to hide, no darkness for cover, no location too distant, no place of escape in heaven or hell. Teach us to bring our lives willingly into the light of your presence, to rejoice that you have wonderfully created us, to trust that you think well of us. As the poet says:
    You created my inmost being,
      You knit me together in my mother’s womb.
    I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
      your works are wonderful,
      I know that full well.
    Your eyes saw my unformed body;
      all the days ordained for me were written in your book
      before one of them came to be.
    How precious are your thoughts to me, God,
      How vast is the sum of them (vv. 13-15, 17). 

And then, surprisingly, the poet changes direction,180 degrees, asking you to destroy the wicked:
    If only you would slay the wicked, God!
    They speak of you with evil intent;
        your adversaries misuse your name.
    Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord,
        and abhor those who rebel against you?
    I hate them with perfect hatred;
        I count them my enemies (vv. 19a, 20-22). 

With the poet we celebrate you as the God who sees. You created us in the womb, you formed us into human beings, you watch over us forever. 

But one thing still mystifies and confuses the poet, and us. If you are so good and great and life-giving, why don’t you deal with your enemies: those  death-dealers who speak maliciously against you, who want to destroy your creatures and your creation. 

The poet, and we with him, identify ourselves with your cause, God. Your honor is our honor; your judgments are our judgments. You are our friend, God. Your enemies are our enemies. We reserve our hatred for their evil ways, their misuse of your name, their opposition to all that is good.

Finally, in the last stanza, we join the poet to rest peacefully in your presence, to receive your intimate knowledge of us, to turn from the sins we know and the sins we don’t yet know. We affirm you as our everlasting guide:
    Search us, O God, and know our hearts;
        test us and know our anxious thoughts.
    See if there is any wicked way in us,
        and lead us in the way everlasting (vv. 23-24). 

Amen

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.280: Outside the Camp.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray With Me”.

Hebrews 13 says,
  The high priest carries the blood of animals
        into the Most Holy Place as a sin offering,
        but the bodies are burned outside the camp.
  Likewise, Jesus suffered outside the city gate
         to make the people holy through his own blood.
  Let us, then, go to him outside the camp,
        bearing his reproach.
        For here we do not have an enduring city,
            but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Heb 13:11-13)

First, about the camp. The Book of Numbers tells us that, after the Israelite slaves escaped Egypt, about 600,000 men and their families camped out in the desert (Num 1:46). This made a rather large camp. In contrast, the nine-day Burning Man festival in the Black Rock Desert in Nevada, has a maximum attendance one seventh that large–80,000 campers.  

The largest camp in the world today, located at Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, is a refugee camp for 600,000 Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. 

At the centre of the Israelite desert camp was the Tent of Meeting, a portable worship place. This tent was like the computer room in a modern business, which only high priests of technology may enter, swiping their coded key cards, performing their service of worship, and retreating quickly to the outer courts of the temple. 

In the Israelite religion, priests who sacrificed animals and entered the tent were permitted to eat the sacrificial meat. But on the annual Day of Atonement, when the high priest sprinkled blood in the Most Holy Place, the animals that supplied that blood were taken outside the camp and burned.

What role do you think the author of Hebrews gives Jesus in the day of atonement ceremony? Earlier, the author assigned Jesus the role of high priest. But in Hebrews 13, Jesus gets the role of a sacrificial animal that is taken outside the camp and burned. 

Perhaps an apt metaphor. Jesus carried his cross to an unclean place outside Jerusalem, where he was crucified and his body disposed of. 

The author invites us to go outside the camp with Jesus, sharing his rejection. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, through many sermons we have grown accustomed to seeing Jesus as our high priest, taking his blood into your holy presence for our cleansing. It’s a stretch to think of him as an animal whose body is discarded in the desert. 

As we receive his forgiveness and cleansing, teach us to follow him outside the camp. 

Amen. 

I’m Daniel, on the channel “Pray with Me”.  

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.279: Psalm 138: Though I Walk in the Midst of Trouble.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

In Psalm 137, the poet refused to sing for his captors in Babylon. Psalm 138 places the poet in Jerusalem, singing, praising, and worshipping in the temple.

Psalm 138 follows a trajectory we have come to know and love in the psalms. The poet opens with thanks and praise because God heard and delivered him (vv. 1-3). Then he says that God is worthy of world-wide praise because he looks after the world, not just Israel (vv. 4-5). Finally, the poet gives a personal testimony, saying:
  Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
      you preserve my life.
  You stretch out your hand against the anger of my foes,
      with your right hand you save me (vv. 6-7).

The psalm ends with hope and a request: 
   The Lord will vindicate me;
      your love, Lord, endures for ever–
      hold fast the works of your hands (v. 8). 

The poet’s prayer is that this God of everlasting love will hold him tight, and never let him go. 

Let’s pray. 

We praise you, Lord, with all our hearts,
  before the gods we sing your praise (v. 1). 

We praise you above the gods of consumerism that rule our greedy society. Black Friday sales and Christmas discounts and Boxing Day extravaganzas are nothing compared to the glory of your name. As Jesus said, “Is not life more than food and your body more than clothes?” (Mat 6:25). 

We praise you above the gods of violence that rule the military-industrial complex. Armed drones roam the skies. Satellites spy on the earth. Ballistic missiles are armed and ready. But you are God of the world, king over the presidents of America, China, and Russia. 

  May the kings of the earth praise you, Lord,
    when they hear what you have decreed (v. 4). 

  Though you are exalted, God, you look on the lowly. As the poet says,
    Though I walk in the midst of trouble,
      you preserve my life (vv. 6a, 7). 

Thank you for not running credit checks to determine if we’re worthy. Thank you for not charging interest on our outstanding balance. Thank you are not mercenary, your motives not mixed, nor your advertising false. Thank you that as we walk in the midst of trouble, you preserve us.   

Thank you that your love endures forever,
    That you do not abandon the work of your hands (v. 8). 

We are the work of your hands, you are the breath that we breathe, you are the light in our darkness. Heal us of our sin sickness. Give our churches light and life. Restore our nations to sanity, our leaders to reality, our philosophers to wisdom. Do not forsake the world you made. Then with the poet:
  We will praise you with our whole heart,
      singing your praise before the gods (v. 1).    

Amen

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.278: Psalm 137: Revenge Fantasy in Babylon.

Hello, I’m Daniel Westfall on the channel “Pray with Me”.

Psalm 137 begins,
  By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept
      when we remembered Zion.
  There on the poplars
      we hung our harps,
  for there our captors asked us for songs,
      our tormentors demanded songs of joy
      saying, “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”
  How can we sing the songs of the Lord
      in a foreign land? (vv. 1-4).

The psalm ends shockingly with the poet’s fantasy about revenge:
  Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,
      happy is the one who repays you
      according to what you have done to us.
  Happy is the one who seizes your infants
      and dashes them against the rocks (vv. 8-9).

Psalm 1 started with a beautiful blessing
  Blessed is the one
      who does not walk in the way of the wicked
  or stand in the way of sinners,
      or sit in the company of mockers. . .  (v. 1-2a). 

The poet of Psalm 137 is captive in Babylon, powerless, defeated, refusing to sing after the cruel destruction of Jerusalem, the obliteration of the temple, and the violence of war. Using the same word “bless” that occurs in Psalm 1, he says to Babylon, the evil empire:    
    Blessed is the one who repays you
        according to what you have done.
    Blessed is the one who seizes your infants. . . (vv. 8-9).  

The poet uses the word “bless” to introduce his most vicious curse against Babylon. I make four comments:

First, the psalm is realistic about the brutality of war. Genocide is not a modern invention, mass graves are not new. When Pharaoh feared his Israelite slaves might turn against him, he ordered the death of newborn boys. When Herod feared a new king had been born in Bethlehem, he ordered the death of infants. Babylon may have used a similar strategy to prevent a new generation of warriors in Jerusalem.

My second comment is about retributive justice. We have all wished someone would get a taste of their own medicine. When my brother poured pepper into my mouth, my mother grabbed the pepper shaker and poured pepper into  his mouth. Sweet, eh! Retributive justice at its finest. The poet of Psalm 137, awash in pain and injustice, fantasizes about Babylon getting a taste of its own violence.

Does the poet’s violent suggestion paint a picture of the world as God wants it? No, he paints the world we live in, the real world. Which leads to my third comment: the poet brings his world and his cause to God. He does not plan a regime of violence and revenge, he asks God for justice. And the poet paints a brutal, vengeful picture of the justice he seeks. I think God receives the poet’s pain and his suggestion, without agreeing to implement it.

And finally, Jesus said that those who live by the sword will die by the sword (Mat 26:52). The Babylonian empire, born and nurtured in violence, was destined for a violent end. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we live among evil empires, singing your songs in our land of exile. Like the poet, we fantasize about revenge and victory. Where is our Luke Skywalker who will unmask and destroy Darth Vader?  

We submit our cause to you, God. In the Book of Revelation, you prophesy the doom of the evil empire,  saying:
  Give back to her as she has given;
       pay her back double for what she has done.
       Pour her a double portion from her own cup.
  Give her as much torment and grief
      as the glory and luxury she gave herself (Rev. 18:6-7).

Lord, somehow, some day, we trust you to set this violent world to rights. Until then we wait patiently for you.  

Amen. 

I’m Daniel on the channel “Pray with Me”. 

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube