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

Ep.277: Strange Teachings.

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

Hebrews 13 begins with a list of things we should do:
– Do keep on loving one another (v. 1).
– Be hospitable to strangers, for some have entertained angels this way (v. 2).
– Remember prisoners and sufferers (v. 3)
– Do honor marriage and keep the marriage bed pure (v. 4). 
– Stay free from the love of money, be content with what you have (v. 5) 
– Remember that God is your companion and helper (vv. 5-6).
– Do respect people who teach you scripture and faith and how to live (v. 7)
– Don’t get carried away by strange teachings (v. 9a).
– Do strengthen your hearts with grace (v. 9b).

Mostly a positive list. But strangely, the author inserts a “don’t” near the end. He says, “Don’t be carried away by strange teachings” (v. 9a). Then he comments on food, saying, “It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not by eating ceremonial foods.” (vv. 9b-10).  

Don’t be carried away by strange teachings? What do you think that means? Maybe the author is talking about people who invest time and energy and research and focus on issues that are not central to the gospel or Christian living. Shifting focus from primary to secondary things distances us from the heart of God.

The author uses ceremonial foods as an example. You may have heard strange teachings about food that go like this: “God’s Old Testament food list is still part of our Bible and can still have health benefits if we follow it. Let’s talk about health food. And vitamins. And minerals. And refined sugar. And antibiotics in meat. And whether tomatoes are good for you.” A worthy discussion if you don’t give it undue importance or let it carry you away.

Facebook and the internet are full of strange teachings–conspiracy theories about big pharma and big government and big climate science and the Illuminati and Bill Gates. Some give it a gospel veneer by quoting Paul, We must be aware of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor 2:11). 

It’s easy to get carried away trying to figure out the devil’s schemes, to see the world through conspiracy theories instead of through faith. To develop a suspicious edge, seeing intellectual and social and medical scams everywhere. After a while, it’s just me and a few wise doctors and a couple courageous media outlets who have the truth, who are exposing the great evils of society and trying to protect me against them. So we form our little reactionary tribe, sniping at the government, the media, and modern culture.

Listen to Jeremiah’s advice to the exiles in Babylon. He did not say, “Watch out for their false religion. Pray against their evil empire. Be suspicious of their motives.” His message from God was, “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city where you are in exile . . . Don’t let prophets and diviners deceive you. . . .  They prophesy lies in my name” (Jer 29:7-9). 

Let’s pray. 

Our Father, we live in a day of divisive politics. Lies and conspiracy theories are everywhere. Spiritual forces of evil abound.

Help us not to be carried away by strange teachings. Give us the spirit of truth. Give us discernment to see the good and bad of society, truth and error in the media, the right and wrong in our own hearts. Help us work for the good of the culture in which you place us.

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.276: Psalm 136: Repetitious Worship Songs.

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

Do modern worship songs annoy you when they sing the same line over and over? Spoiler alert: you’d better  avoid Psalm 136. Every verse repeats the same phrase. Listen:
  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good.
       His kindness is forever.
  Give thanks to the God of gods.
      His kindness is forever.
  Give thanks to the Lord of lords,
      His kindness is forever.
    He alone does great wonders.
      His kindness is forever (vv. 1-4). 

How’s that! “His kindness is forever”  occurs 26 times in 26 verses. When I read the psalm I start skipping the refrain after a few repetitions, instead of hearing and receiving it all 26 times. 

Repetition, of course, has a long and respectable history in poetry and music. Think, for example, of the Twelve Days of Christmas in which my true love gives me a partridge in a pear tree every day for twelve days, for twelve days, for twelve days, for twelve days! And what about “99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall”? Have you ever sung all 99 bottles?

Gentle repetition in worship draws me from the critical and analytical focus that colors much of my thinking. But finding God in worship requires effort. If I  lift my hands, still my mind, and turn my heart to God, I sometimes move into a deep and quiet sense of God’s presence. And sometimes not. Too often, I just want to get through the service. Sooner the better. 

The first 135 psalms bring a wide spectrum of human experience into God’s presence–elation and depression, joy and sorrow, victory and defeat, despair and hope. Now, in Psalm 136, the poet sets up a vibrant refrain that asserts God’s goodness in each period of Israel’s history. Moving quietly through the repetition stills my heart, bringing hope that God watches over my history too. 

Let’s pray.

Our father, in your forever kindness, you created the world. You rescued Israel from Egypt and led them to the Promised Land. 

In your forever kindness, you breathe into us life and growth and hope. You watch over us as we fumble and stumble our way, as we learn to navigate the world and seek you in it. 

In your forever kindness, you saw that we were stuck in sin. You sent your son to free us from the muck and set us on a pilgrimage to you. 

In your forever kindness, you meet us when we seek you, you comfort us in our grief, you rejoice with us when  life is good. 

In your forever kindness, we have a home in you, and you have a home in us. With the poet:
  We give you thanks, God of heaven,
    Your love endures forever (v. 26). 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.275: A Consuming Fire.

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

Hebrews 12 compares Sinai, mountain of law and fear, with Zion, mountain of joy and community. It concludes the comparison, saying:  

See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks.
If they did not escape when they refused him who warned on earth,
    how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns from heaven?
    At that time his voice shook the earth,
          but now he has promised,
            ‘Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.’
    The words ‘once more’ indicate removing what can be shaken –
        that is, created things –
        so that what cannot be shaken may remain.

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken,
      let us be thankful, and worship God with reverence and awe,
      for our ‘God is a consuming fire.’  (vv. 25-29) 

I am not sure why I take deep comfort in a passage full of stern warnings, a passage that sees God as a consuming fire. What emotions are these warnings designed to produce? Listen to them:
  – See to it that you do not refuse him who speaks
  – How much less will we escape if we turn away from him who warns from heaven?
  – Once more the heavens and the earth will be shaken
  – Our God is a consuming fire

The warnings produce fear when I meditate on them. But the passage does not dwell in fear. It looks to what God has promised, and suggests we dwell on that. Listen: 
  – We are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken.
  – Let us be thankful and worship God with reverence and awe.

As the author points out, there is no escape from God, no escape from his laws, no escape from the consuming fire. Better to face reality than run from it, to lean into the fire and let it purify me, to shake off things that can be shaken, and to receive a kingdom that cannot be shaken. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, through Jesus we have come to believe that you are for us, not against us. We understand that you play the long game to expose and overcome our sin. You teach us to fear evil, to pursue holiness. And you promise that this present evil age will soon end. 

You shook Mt. Sinai when you gave the law, and you promise to shake the whole of creation one day. But we do not fear the shaking or the consuming fire, because your goal is not to destroy, but to recreate and restore and replenish. 

We have experienced your shaking in our lives. You have shaken loose the sins we cling to, the lies we love, the selfish interests we cultivate, the narrow vision of you that we build. To our surprise, your shaking loosens our fears and gains love. Your shaking causes us to lose our attachment to things and gain an attachment to you. We thought your fire would burn us and cripple us, but it leaves us refined and healed. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.274: Psalm 135: Creator Redeemer.

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

Psalm 135 celebrates God as creator and redeemer. About God as creator, the poet says,
  The Lord does whatever he pleases,
    in the heavens and on the earth,
    in the seas and all their depths.
  He makes clouds rise from the ends of the earth;
    he sends lightning with the rain,
    and brings out the wind from his storehouses (vv. 6-7). 

Following an ancient view of the universe, the poet declares that God can do whatever he pleases in all three parts of creation: the heavens above, the earth around, and the waters of chaos beneath. The creator overcame the violent waters below, making them bubble up into the seas and oceans. And then God created an irrigation system with the tamed waters, sending rain clouds with lightning and wind to water the earth. Clearly the creator was and still is in control.

The creator also became redeemer when he intervened in political chaos on earth. Having chosen Israel as his treasured possession (v. 4), he persecuted Pharaoh and his Egyptian slave-drivers until they released his people (vv. 8-12). God then struck down the evil kings of Canaan to create a home for his people.

Creator. Redeemer. This is the God that Israel loved and worshiped!

The poet disparages the gods of the nations, calling them idols of silver and gold who are blind, deaf, and mute. But the poet’s most striking criticism is that the idols can’t breathe. Israel’s creator God breathed the breath of life into humans, but the idols who pose as gods neither breathe nor give the gift of breath. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, with the poet, we praise you as creator and redeemer. Your spirit brooded over the waters of chaos, preparing for creation. Your spirit brooded over the Red Sea, preparing Israel’s great redemption. Your spirit brooded over Jesus’ life and death, preparing salvation for the world. In creation and redemption, you alone are God.

Our father, Israel did not understand why you chose them out of all the nations on earth. And we do not understand why you chose us out of all the people on earth. But we have heard and received your message of freedom and redemption. You have made your home with us, and you have begun to conquer the powers that rule our lives–lust and greed and anxiety and fear. 

You who breathe into us the breath of life, teach us to walk in the Spirit. You who send the wind and rain to irrigate the earth, send us the water of life. 

You who redeemed Israel through the Red Sea and the thief on the cross through death, redeem us from our wandering and bring us to your eternal home. 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube

Ep.273: Psalm 134: Closing the Conference.

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

Psalm 134 reads, 

  Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord

    who minister by night in the house of the Lord.
    Lift up your hands in the sanctuary
        and praise the Lord.
  May the Lord bless you from Zion, 

    he who is the Maker of heaven and earth (vv. 1-3). 

This is the last of 15 psalms that share the title, “A Song of Ascents”. We don’t know exactly what this title means, but scholars suggest they are road trip songs for pilgrims on a journey up to Jerusalem to worship at the temple. 

Psalm 134 reminds me of a week-long Bible and missionary conference I attended. When it ended, I had a feeling of let-down, of unreality, as I released the intensity of the conference, gathered my notes, and prepared to travel home. Mundane duties awaited. The problems I avoided by attending a conference now needed urgent attention. I think this psalm transitions the Jerusalem pilgrims from their time of worship to the long road back home, from the beauty of the temple back to the homeliness of daily life.. 

Let’s review the conference highlights with the pilgrims, accept the poet’s end-of-conference blessing, then  move on from this collection of psalms. First the highlights:
– Psalm 120: “I call on the Lord in my distress”
– Psalm 121: “I lift up my eyes to the hills, where does my help come from?” 
– Psalm 122: “I was glad when they said to me, ‘Let us go the house of the Lord’.”
– Psalm 126: Those who go out weeping carrying precious seed
                  will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
– Psalm 127: Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain.
– Psalm 130: “Out of the depths I cry to you, Lord” and
              “I wait for the Lord,
                  more than watchmen wait for the morning.
– Ps 133 “How good and pleasant it is when families live together in unity.” 

Psalm 134 concludes this 15-psalm collection with a last invitation to worship, “Praise the Lord, all you servants of the Lord” (v. 1). Then it sends the worshipers home with this blessing:
    May the Lord bless you from Zion,
        he who is maker of heaven and earth (v. 3). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, our lives are a pilgrimage in search of your presence. When we feel your face smile on us, we are glad. When we feel your absence or disapproval, we are sad. 

Thank you for these psalms that lift our eyes above the hills, to you who gives us help. Thank you that these poems bring our lives and feelings into the light of your presence. Build with us this house we are building, sow with us the seeds we sow in tears, cry with us in the depths from which we cry to you, teach us to live in unity with our family and community. 

Send us back to our daily lives with the blessing of this psalm:
  May the Lord bless you from Zion,
    he who made heaven and earth (v. 3). 

Amen. 

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

YouTube channel: Pray with Me – YouTube