Ep.238: Yessing Our God.

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

Hebrews 11:6 puts this verse in the middle of three Old Testament stories:
  Without faith it is impossible to please God,
      because anyone who comes to God must believe
          that he exists and
          that he rewards those who seek him. 

The first story is about Abel, Adam and Eve’s son. His brother, Cain, brought God an offering of grain and vegetables which God rejected. Abel offered a sheep, which God accepted. Cain was angry at God, so he murdered Abel. The author of Hebrews commends Abel as a man of faith, because he had insight into what God wanted. 

The second story is about Enoch, who lived a long life that pleased God. So instead of letting him die, God took him straight to heaven. 

The third story is about Noah. When God warned him about “things not seen” (Heb 11:7), Noah built an ark. 

John G. Stackhouse defines faith as “yessing”. He says faith is the “yes” we say–or, even better, the “yessing” we keep offering to God–as we walk in step with the Spirit” (Stackhouse, John G. Blog post “Faith as Yessing,” April 10, 2021, blog post at: https://www.johnstackhouse.com/faith-as-yessing/)

Abel pleased God by saying “yes” to God’s choice of offering, Enoch pleased God by organizing his whole life in a way that said “yes” to God. Noah pleased God by saying “yes” to an unknown water-filled future. 

The author of Hebrews comments, “Without faith it is impossible to please God.” God rewards those who say “yes”. 

Let’s pray.

Our father, we say “yes” to you with our hearts and minds and strength. 

Our thoughts are often scattered, we meditate more on our plans and problems than on your Word. But we pause to think of you, to feel the life-giving power of your word in creation, to feel the joy and beauty of your word in scripture, and to say “yes” to you and to your good gifts with our minds. 

We say “yes” to you with our hearts. We are wounded by broken promises, abusive relationships, dysfunctional churches, and our own narrowness. But we choose to say “yes” to you in our hearts. Yes to a relationship with you, yes to loving the people you made, yes to living your way in your world. 

We say “yes” to you with our strength. We choose not to live in despairing lethargy, not to give up because so many of our projects fail, not to abandon our search for you because we so seldom find you. Instead, we say “yes” with our strength, yes with Abel to doing what is right, yes with Noah to building for an unknown future, yes with Enoch to living fully in your presence and care. 

We say “yes” to you, O God. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.237: Psalm 110: Who’s In Charge Here?

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

In Shakespeare’s play, Macbeth, General Macbeth’s wife encourages him to stage a coup, murder King Duncan, and take the Scottish throne. During Macbeth’s brief, paranoid, and murderous rule, she is the power behind the throne. 

If we ask, “Who was the power behind the throne of Israel?”, Psalm 110 gives this answer:
  The Lord said to my master,
      “Sit at my right hand
          until I make your enemies
          a footstool for your feet”.
  The Lord will extend your mighty sceptre from Zion, saying,
      “Rule in the midst of your enemies!”
    Arrayed in holy splendour,
        your young men will come to you
        like dew from the morning’s womb (vv. 1-3). 

The Lord Jehovah is clearly the power behind the throne of Israel. Don’t look for a General and Lady Macbeth fiasco, with a manipulative partner inciting rebellion. No, this is the almighty God of the universe inviting the king of Israel to sit at his right hand and participate in God’s rule of the whole world. 

Modern scholarship classifies this as a royal psalm, probably written by a court poet or composer, in praise of the king of Israel. But the New Testament interprets this psalm as speaking in King David’s voice. David’s comment, “The Lord (God) said to my master” prompts the question, “David wasn’t a slave to anyone. Who is this person he calls his master?” 

In Jesus’ time, the Pharisees were waiting for a Messiah who would have King David in his family tree. Jesus quoted Psalm 110 and asked the Pharisees, “Who is this person, King David’s master, who God invites to sit at his right hand? You think it is the Messiah, but the Messiah is David’s son, not his master. How can he be greater than David?” The Pharisees were stumped.  (See Mat 22:41-46; Mark 12:35-37; Luke 20:41-44). 

Psalm 110 also references Melchizedek, a king and priest of Jerusalem in Abraham’s time. He blessed Abraham and served him bread and wine. Abraham responded by tithing his spoils of war to Melchizedek. The Book of Hebrews interprets this as applicable to Jesus, the Messiah, quoting our psalm:
    The Lord has sworn
        and will not change his mind:
      “You are a priest forever,
        in the order of Melchizedek.”  

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we can’t imagine you saying to modern world leaders, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” That seems to be an offer reserved for Old Testament characters like King David, or perhaps for his son, the Messiah.

Like Israel, we wait for a Messiah who will set the world right, shatter the heads of evil rulers, and bring justice and peace. We also look for a forever priest in the line of Melchizedek, a king of righteousness, who will come in holy splendor wearing the bright dew of morning (v. 3). 

All praise to you, our father. All praise to Christ who sits at your right hand, waiting for you to make his enemies his footstool. All praise to the Holy Spirit who broods over the world, calling us to truth and righteousness. All praise to you, triune God, as you reign forever in glory. 

Amen.

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

Ep.236: Believing What We Do Not See.

Ep.236: Hebrews 11: Believing What We Don’t See

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

Hebrews 11, the great faith chapter of the Bible, begins:
  Faith is confidence in what we hope for,
      assurance about what we do not see. . .
    By faith we understand
      that the universe was formed at God’s command
      so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible.
        (vv. 1,3).

Talking once to a university student who majored in science, I said, “The Big Bang theory says the universe originated suddenly out of a very small, dense, hot bit of something, in a way the laws of physics can’t explain. I’m not sure it’s all that much different to say, ‘A power called God made it happen.’ Both explanations require faith in something we don’t understand and can’t explain.” 

Or as the author of Hebrews put it,   
   By faith we understand
      that the universe was formed at God’s command
      so that what is seen was not made out of what is visible (Heb 11:3). 

So what is faith? Today, we look at faith that explains what we cannot see or prove. 

The science student felt that since modern science has explained so much, it must be well on the way to explaining everything, eliminating the need for God-explanations. This is faith at work: faith in progress, in the scientific method, in reason and logic. 

Conspiracy theories function in a similar manner. The QAnon theory explains that a cabal of evil white politicians and business leaders control politics, economics, coronavirus vaccines, and the Suez Canal. This too is faith at work, faith that the theory gives deep insight to an enlightened few into the causes and progress of evil. Faith that the rest of us are passive sheeple, lapping up a liberal education and eating ourselves sick at the trough of the liberal left media. 

Like scientists and conspiracy theorists, we all try to make sense of the world and of our own lives. We are all influenced in many ways we do understand. For example:

– Invisible genetic DNA affects health, skills, capabilities, and behavior.

– Society and culture fill our heads with news, Facebook rants, adventure movies, and conspiracy theories. We cannot process everything into a coherent worldview.

– We are influenced by our moods and feelings. Happy or sad, sometimes our emotions make sense.
Sometimes they appear from nowhere. Perhaps the state of our digestion drives more decisions than logic and reason.

– Churches give us their view of what life means and what God wants. But how to find our way through their jungles of conflicting interpretation?

Back in Hebrews: it tells us twice that faith looks into things we cannot see, saying:  Faith is the confidence of what we hope for,
    the assurance of things we do not see.
And:
  By faith we understand
    that the universe was formed at God’s command
    so that what we see was not made from what is visible. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, as we live the mystery of our faith, we do not see you, but we believe in you. We see the beauty of sunsets, of love, of logical science, of a well-ordered society, of a faith-filled religion. We see the horror of mass shootings, lying politicians, racial injustice, and absurd conspiracy theories. By faith we give you credit for the good in our world, and blame Satan and ourselves for the evil.  

O Lord, you are the focus of our faith. by you we make sense of our crazy world, our disordered lives, our hopes and aspirations. With the poet Whittier we say,
    Yet in the maddening maze of things
      and tossed by storm and flood,
    to one fixed trust my spirit clings,
      I know that [you] are good. (Whittier, John G. The Eternal Goodness. stanza 11). 

Amen. 

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

Ep.235: Psalm 109: A Pox on My Enemies!

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

Psalm 109’s message sounds like the opposite of Jesus’ prayer on the cross. Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing.” In Psalm 109 , the poet prays:
  Appoint someone evil to oppose my enemy . . .
  When he is tried, let him be found guilty,
      may his prayers condemn him.
    May his days be few,
      may another take his place of leadership. 

    May his children be wandering beggars,
    May a creditor seize all he has,
      may strangers plunder the fruits of his labor.
    May no one extend kindness to him,
      or take pity on his fatherless children (phrases from vv. 6-15). 

How’s that for a sustained and vengeful list of curses! I have four comments:

First, Jesus sometimes confronted great evil with great anger. In Matthew 23, he calls the Pharisees hypocrites, snakes, murderers, and tombs full of bones. He asks, “How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Mat. 23:1-36). His anger is an appropriate response to evil and injustice. We accept Jesus’ anger at the Pharisees and the poet’s anger at his enemies as legitimate emotional responses to people who perpetrate evil. 

Second, there is at least one major difference between Jesus’ anger and the poet’s anger: Jesus expressed anger by pointing out and giving examples of the Pharisees’ sins. The poet’s approach? He wants revenge! He steps beyond the Old Testament’s “eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” rule by inviting evil to avalanche destructively on evildoers and their descendants. 

Third, I like the poets’ description of his enemy:
    He wore cursing as a garment,
          it entered his body like water
          and his bones like oil.
      May it be like a cloak wrapped about him,
            like a belt tied forever round him.
      May this be the the Lord’s payment to my accusers,
            to those who speak evil of me (vv. 18-20). 

What an interesting word picture–an enemy wearing curses like a garment. The enemy’s garment begins to shape his identity. The attitude and practice of cursing seeps into his body like water, into his bones like oil, consuming his thoughts and life. 

Words are powerful. By constantly cursing others, the enemy creates a culture of verbal abuse and violence and he must live in the culture he creates. The poet praysGod permit this to occur, that God will let the enemy inhabit the cursed world his curses create. The poet here is not seeking vengeance on his enemy, just asking that he will experience the consequences of his speech and actions.

And finally, I note that the poet does not take up weapons or make plans to avenge himself against his enemy. His words are a prayer that God will avenge him. A wise choice, not to loose our vengeance and violence on the world, but to express our anger in prayer and invite God to bring about justice.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the anger and vengeance of this psalm are words expressed to you. Help us, like the poet, to see clearly the injustices in the world, to be angry at perpetrators, to bring evil to your attention. Help us to walk with the poet in praying, to walk with Jesus in confronting evil, and to learn to say with Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” 

Amen.

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

Ep.234: Waiting Out the Disaster.

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

Hebrews 10 says:
  You need to persevere
      so that when you have done the will of God,
      you will receive what he has promised. For . . .
          The righteous will live by faith.
                And I take no pleasure
                in the one who shrinks back.
    But we do not belong to those who shrink back and are destroyed,
        but to those who have faith and are saved (Heb. 10:36-39).

This passage comments on the relationship between faith and righteousness by saying, “The righteous will live by faith.” That’s a memorable phrase: the Bible uses it four times. 

The first time is in the Old Testament, when the Babylonian army moved across the Middle East with its evil eye on Israel. The prophet Habakkuk complained to God that Israel was in great danger, so what was God going to do about it? 

God’s response?
  Surely the Babylonians will come and not delay.
  The proud of heart will be destroyed,
      but the righteous will live by faith” (Hab 2:3-4) 

Hardly a comforting thought for Habakkuk. As the doom approaches, don’t be proud. Just wait for the inevitable, trusting that God will take care of you. 

Paul takes up the same verse in Romans 1, changing the context from a military invasion to God’s gift of salvation. He says, “In the gospel, the righteousness of God is revealed–a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, as it is written, ‘The righteous will live by faith’” (Rom 1:17). Like Habakkuk, the world Paul knew had descended into a mess of sin that encompassed Jews and Gentiles. Paul asserted that faith was the key that made people right with God, lighting their way through an evil world.  

In Galatians 3:11, Paul used the verse again, putting it this time into the picture of a courtroom, “Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God,” he wrote, “because the righteous will live by faith.” In this courtroom, our failure to keep the law makes us guilty as charged. We escape this condemnation, not by putting a better spin on our behavior, but by relying on Christ for forgiveness and righteousness. 

The fourth use of the statement, “The righteous will live by faith”, is in today’s passage  from the Book of Hebrews. The Hebrew Christians faced persecution, so the author encourages them not to shrink fearfully back from their commitment to the Jesus way. Losing faith like that would trash the meaning of their lives. Instead of despair, they can choose faith, pressing on through the difficulties of life in the strength God gives to those who are faithful, or full of faith. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we see these pictures of faith. Habakkuk waiting quietly for the Babylons to destroy Jerusalem, trusting his life to you. Paul seeing himself and others failing to keep your law, but believing you give righteousness to failed law keepers who put their trust in Christ. The Hebrew Christians, experiencing the difficulty of living under persecution, turning to faith to sustain their lives and their relationship with you.  

Help us, we pray, to become righteous ones, living fully by faith. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.233: Psalm 108: Over Edom I Cast Out My Sandal.

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

Psalm 108 was composed by combining part of Psalm 57 with part of Psalm 60. An original poem it is not! But it does remind us that old prayers can be reformatted and recycled to fit new and changing conditions of our lives. 

In this psalm, the poet is among the nations, singing to the God of Israel (v. 3). Presumably, he is in exile, perhaps Babylon. From that location, he views God not as the local God of Israel, but as the God who has travelled with him to a foreign land. He states that God’s mercy and truth reach to the heavens, covering all the earth: homeland and land of exile and everything in between. God’s presence encompasses the world. 

But the poet’s mind and heart are drawn to his homeland, to the Promised Land. He thinks of God in relation to familiar places like Gilead and Manasseh, to tribal territories like Ephraim and Judah. He quotes God’s rude comments about the local enemies, as God says, “Moab is my washpot, over Edom I cast out my sandal” (vv. 8-9). 

Then the poet remembers his present desperate plight and prays:
  Is it not you, God, who have rejected us,
    and no longer go out with our armies?
  Give us aid against the enemy,
    for human help is worthless.
  With God we shall gain the victory,
    and he will trample down our enemies (vv. 11-13). 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, the poet reminds us that the whole earth is yours. With him, we see your glory in the clouds that sail over all the world–over ancient Ethiopia, riven by famine and violence; over Syria, largely destroyed by recent war; over your ancient land of Israel, with its confusion of traditional orthodox Jews, modern liberal Jews, Palestinian Arabs, and endless variations.

The poet also reminds us that in this big and dangerous world, you care for your people. Wherever we are captive to identity politics and racial injustice; wherever dictators rule by coercion and violence; wherever we walk that narrow line between use and abuse of creation; we do so under the heavens you built, under the clouds that remind us of your faithfulness, under the blue sky you fixed above us and the sun that is the source of our energy.  

The poet reminds us that in this journey, human help is worthless. James says, human wrath will never achieve God’s righteousness (Jas. 1:20). Help us with the poet to see you always present in creation, to pray for your help in the complex politics of our world, to worship you with a steadfast heart, and to trust ourselves to your glory, which is over all the earth (vv. 1-5). 

Amen.

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

Ep.232: Confidence Man.

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

Hebrews 10 says:
  Since we have confidence to enter the most holy place
    by the blood of Jesus,
    by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain,
            that is his body,
  and since we have a great priest over the house of God,
  let us draw near to God
    with a sincere heart
    in full assurance of faith,
        having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience
        and having our bodies washed with pure water (vv. 19-22). 

The ancient Israelites approached God a bit like we might approach a nuclear reactor. If you get too close without proper precautions, you get burned or vaporized. 

The tabernacle, a tent of meeting, which Moses built, had a staged approach for those who wanted to come near to God. First, was an outside courtyard where priests conducted animal sacrifices. 

Next, the holy place inside the tent, where only priests were permitted. No animal sacrifices here. It was a quiet room with candles, incense, and bread on a table. At the back of this holy place, curtained from view, was the VERY holy place, also known as the Holy of Holies: God’s special place. It contained the mercy seat, sometimes called God’s throne. 

Only the high priest could go into the VERY holy place, and only once a year. On the day of atonement, he took a bit of blood into the VERY holy place, stood for a moment in the presence of God, and sprinkled blood on the mercy seat. If God didn’t annihilate the priest for coming too close, another year of forgiveness was granted. 

We don’t know when the tabernacle disappeared, but we know the Babylonian army destroyed Solomon’s temple in 587 or 586 B.C., carting off the valuables and burning the temple. Surprisingly, God didn’t annihilate the invading army when they entered his VERY holy place. In one of Ezekiel’s visions, it appears that God had abandoned his special place in the temple before the invaders arrived (Ezekiel 8-10). Ezekiel explains that the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the exile to Babylon, was God’s nuclear option for Israel, punishing them for abandoning true temple worship to participate in competing religions. 

But back to the Book of Hebrews. Using the image of the VERY holy place where the priest went once a year, the author says Jesus opened the way for us to enter the VERY holy place whenever we want. We do not fear annihilation as the Israelites did. Instead, we expect a welcome from God, based on a new relationship Jesus negotiated for us.

Let’s pray. 

Our father, Jesus changed our view of how to approach you. We no longer fear that your presence will consume us, or your holiness burn us, or your light blind us, or your anger destroy us. We go confidently through the curtain into the VERY holy place of your presence because our hearts are sprinkled with the blood of Jesus’ sacrifice, and our bodies washed with the pure water of his word. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.231: Psalm 107: Deliverance.

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

Psalm 107 is a hymn of thanksgiving. It begins:
    Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good;
      his love endures forever.
    Let the redeemed of the Lord tell their story
        those he redeemed from the hand of the foe,
    those he gathered from. . .
        from east and west, from north and south (vv. 1-3). 

The backdrop to Psalm 107 is a joyful homecoming of exiled Israelites. Behind that backdrop is another homecoming–the return led by Moses through the Red Sea and across the desert, after the Israelites had lived in Egypt for 400 years.

The psalm tells four stories of deliverance, ending each with the encouragement:
  Give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love,
      and his wonderful deeds for humankind (vv. 8, 15, 21, 31). 

Here are the four stories: 

Some people were lost in the desert, dying of thirst. They cried to the Lord, who led them to a city they could call home (vv. 4-9).

Others were prisoners in darkness and chains. They cried to the Lord who broke their chains and brought them out of darkness (vv. 10-16). 

Some were sick, near death, unable to eat. They cried to the Lord who sent his word and healed them (vv. 17-22). 

Some were sailors in a mighty storm. They too cried to the Lord who stilled the storm to a whisper (vv. 23-32). 

Let’s pray. 

Our Lord, Psalm 107 tells our story. 

We are lost in a desert of modern culture, working our computers, reading endless news, worrying about politics and wars, and chasing rabbit trails on social media. In this desert, we are thirsty for truth, thirsty for life, thirsty for news of eternity. Lead us through our wilderness to a city we can call home, to a new Jerusalem where you will live with us. 

We have been prisoners, chained to our narrow thinking and constricted theology, not sure how to understand evolution and the Big Bang and the expanding universe. We live in a world of decaying morals, where truth is despised and persons are measured by productivity and wealth. Bring us out of our prison into the light of Christ. May he take away our chains, reveal the shallowness of the things we trust, and establish us in his light and truth.  

We are sin-sick, O Lord. Our lives are full of petty jealousy, endless selfishness, needless anxieties, daily sadness. We cry to you in our sickness, deliver us from ourselves, deliver us from our habits, deliver us to sing your praise and give you thanks.

We have been at sea. Our lives are like the Titanic, navigating confidently, heedless of storms and icebergs. O Lord, teach us wisdom on the  sea of life. Teach us temperance. Teach us to put our trust in you. Be our navigator. Pilot us safely to harbor.  

With the poet, we praise you:
  We give thanks to you for your unfailing love,
        for your wonderful deeds for mankind.
  You turn our desert into pools of water,
        our parched ground into flowing springs (vv. 31, 35).
    You poured contempt on the nobles
        and made them wander in a trackless waste.
    But you lifted the needy out of affliction
        and increased the families like flocks.
    We see and rejoice in your works, O Lord (vv. 40-42a).  

Amen.

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

Ep.230: How to Get Rid of Sin.

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

Hebrews 10 says:
  When [Christ] had offered for all time
      one sacrifice for sins
      he sat down at the right hand of God,
  and since that time
      he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool.
  For by one sacrifice
      he has made perfect forever
      those who are being made holy (vv. 12-14). 

It might surprise evangelicals to hear that the “substitutionary atonement” theory we learned in Sunday school and church is a relatively recent development in Christian history and theology. 

In the first thousand years of Christianity, the most common view was likely the “Christ as Victor” view, which teaches that Christ died to defeat the powers of evil–sin, death, and the devil. This theory doesn’t provide a detailed explanation of how Christ shares his victory with us. 

Another early view was the ransom theory: through Adam and Eve’s sin, the human race became hostages to Satan. Christ’s death was a ransom God paid to the devil to release us. 

In the 12th century, theologian Anselm was offended by the thought of God paying a ransom to Satan, so he moved the atonement from a kidnapping and ransom metaphor to a debt and repayment transaction. His take was that we owe God a debt of obedience and honor, but our sin dishonored God and incurred a debt. Jesus paid the debt on our behalf and satisfied the injury done to the divine honor.  

Late medieval and Reformation theologians changed the metaphor again, moving it into the courtroom. Our sin requires punishment, not just repayment of a debt. We deserve to die, but Christ stood in God’s courtroom and accepted the sentence of death, so the judge could declare us not guilty.  

In other atonement theories, Christ is a suffering servant, not a sacrifice. For example, in the scapegoat theory, Christ was a victim, not of God’s wrath, but of human malice and anger. By receiving our sin, he exposed and rendered ineffective human violence. 

In Mere Christianity, CS Lewis wrote, “Theories about Christ’s death are not Christianity; they are explanations about how it works.” He pointed out that we trust in Christ for salvation, not in our favorite theory about how his death works for us. 

Let’s pray. 

Our father, we receive the many pictures scripture provides to describe what Jesus’ death and resurrection mean for us. 

In Isaiah’s story, we are sheep gone astray, and the suffering servant bears our iniquities and heals our wounds.  

The author of Hebrews says that sin requires sacrifice for cleansing and forgiveness.  We accept Jesus’ death as the sacrifice that washes away the dirt of sin.

Like the mob under Jesus’ cross, we have vented on Jesus our anger at you, God. But now we surrender to Jesus, receiving his prayer, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”

In the Lord’s Prayer we say, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.” We owe you an unpayable debt, and we accept Christ’s payment on our behalf.

We have been hostages to sin. We accept Christ’s ransom that sets us free.

Like the prodigal, we are lost and we need to find our way home to you, our father. We accept Jesus as our only way.

In the courtroom of your justice, we see the evidence of our sin and we plead, “Guilty as charged”. We accept Christ’s offer to take our guilt and punishment, declaring us righteous.

Like a country defeated in war, we need a commander to lead us to victory. We accept Jesus as our king, who conquers sin and death, and leads us into everlasting life. 

Amen. 

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

Ep.229: Psalm 106: Bad Memories.

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

Psalms 105 and 106 present sharply different views of Israel’s history. Psalm 105 is an optimistic and uplifting account of how God made promises and protected the Israelites all the way from Abraham to the Promised Land.

Psalm 106, in contrast, is like a modern novel that deals in dysfunction, angst, and moral confusion. The psalm tells story after story of Israel’s sin and rebellion. As I present a summary of the psalm, ask yourself, “Why would a poet focus on such negative history?” 

Here’s my summary.  

Soon after leaving Egypt, the Israelites were trapped between Pharaoh’s army and the Red Sea. They promptly forgot God’s miracles in Egypt, and complained to Moses, saying, “There were plenty of graves in Egypt. Why did you bring us here to die?” (Ex 14:10). 

While wandering in the desert, some Israelites wanted to be priests like Aaron, so they petitioned Moses for religious equality. But God punished them in an earthquake, and sent fire on their followers. Then the Israelites blamed Moses for God’s punishment and the needless deaths, so God sent a plague among them until Aaron offered incense to make atonement (Num 16:1-50). 

When Moses was on Mt. Sinai with God, the impatient Israelites created their own god–a golden calf. God wanted to destroy everyone and start over, but Moses convinced him that was a bad idea (Ex 32). 

The spies who surveyed the Promised Land reported that it was a pleasant and fruitful land. But they also reported the natives were giants who killed invaders. So the people complained to Moses again, and said, “Take us back to Egypt” (Num 13:25-33).

After the Israelites accepted Moab’s invitation to make sacrifices to the local idol, Baal of Peor, God sent a plague among them, killing many, until Aaron’s grandson, Phineas the priest, intervened (Num 25). 

At Meribah, in the desert, the Israelites complained about lack of water, saying to Moses, “Why have you brought us to this wretched place?” God told Moses to speak to the rock, but Moses, in frustration, said to the people, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring water out of this rock?” and he struck the rock with his rod. 

The poet is telling us that the Israelites were so contrary and uncooperative, they provoked Moses himself to dishonor God. God responded to Moses by telling him he would die in the desert instead of leading the people into the Promised Land. 

The sorry history did not improve when Israel lived in the Promised Land. They continued ignoring God, worshipped false gods, and sacrificed  children to idols. It got so bad that God punished the whole nation by letting other nations conquer and enslave them. The nation that provoked Moses and God in the wilderness continued provoking God in the Promised Land. 

The the poet concludes: 

     Many times God delivered them,
      but they were bent on rebellion
      and they wasted away in their sin.
  Yet he took note of their distress
      when he heard their cry;
  for their sake he remembered his covenant
      and out of his great love he relented.
  He caused all who held them captive
      to show them mercy (vv. 43-46).

The poet then offers a strong and unexpected conclusion: a prayer. Let’s pray with the poet.
  Save us, Lord our God,
      and gather us from the nations,
  that we may give thanks to your holy name
      and glory in your praise (v. 47). 

Yes, Lord, with the poet we confess the history of Israel, the history of the world, and our own history. Our sins and unfaithfulness have provoked you and landed us in trouble. In our despair, we tell you our sordid history. Hear our confession and deliver us, for in every age, your grace is new and undeserved. In judgment, O Lord, remember mercy. As we experience the consequences of our sin, remember to be kind to us. Lighten our darkness with rays of hope. 

Amen.

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