Read Through the Bible in a Year Plan: Psalm 102-104
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
2 Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
3 who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
5 who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
The promises of Psalm 103 are amazing enough in English. The challenge to “forget not all the benefits” of a relationship with God are profoundly comforting. The God of the universe forgives all my sin! He heals all my diseases! He redeems me, crowns me, and satisfies me! He works righteousness and justice for the oppressed! He makes His ways known to His people!
But as comforting as these words are in English, they are utterly stunning in Hebrew.
In Hebrew, each of these verbs– “forgives;” “heals;” “redeems;” “crowns;” and “satisfies” are active participles in the absolute state, preceded by a definite article. Now, I know that is a mouthful. But here’s what it means: In Psalm 103 God doesn’t just forgive, heal, redeem, etc. In Hebrew, God is:
The One Who Forgives
The One Who Heals
The One Who Redeems
The One Who Crowns
The One Who Satisfies.
Here’s why it matters: If it was simply “Who forgives all my iniquity,” then it would be conditional. The emphasis would be on something I did. He heals all my iniquity because I did such and such. He heals my diseases because I did this or that.
But God forgives me because He is the One Who Forgives. He heals because He is Ha Rapha– The Healing One. And so on throughout this list.
These are not things God chooses to do. If they were, He could just as easily choose not to do them. No, they are attributes of His character.
I praise God because His blessings to me ARE NOT CONDITIONAL!!! I can’t earn them; I can only receive them. They are not dependent on what I do, but on who He is.
Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless His holy name!
9 So all Israel was recorded in genealogies, and these are written in the Book of the Kings of Israel (1 Chronicles 9:1)
Unpopular opinion here: I wish there were more genealogies. There. I said it. I know, these days of the read through the Bible plan have been hard to slog through. And I don’t really want more chapters of names I can’t pronounce.
Except that, I feel bad for three of the tribes of Israel.
I feel bad for Naphtali, first of all. Naphtali is the Jan Brady of Chronicles. Remember Jan? It’s ok if you don’t. On The Brady Bunch, Jan is the middle child, always forgotten because of Marcia, the perfect first child. Her best known line of the entire series is,
After an entire chapter on the descendants of Levi (EIGHTY-ONE VERSES!!!), Naphtali gets… a verse. Not even a complete sentence.
Levi! Levi! Levi!
But at least Naphtali gets a verse. Zubulun and Dan don’t get mentioned at all. 1 Chronicles 9:1 says these are ALL the tribes of Israel. Where are Zebulun and Dan?
There’s not a clear answer. Most scholars agree that Dan is missing because of their widespread and unrestrained idolatry. You can read about that in Judges 18. There’s also a great article on gotquestions.org about why Dan is also omitted from the list of the 144,000 gathered at the throne in Revelation 7.
It’s harder to find any reason for the omission of Zubulun. I couldn’t find any consensus on what happened to them. The best guess is that they were just absorbed into the tribes around them. It’s not hard to imagine this scenario when you look at the map of the tribal allotments. They are small to begin with, and they are surrounded by much bigger tribes.
So perhaps, after generations of intermarriage with the Manessites, Asherites, and all the other Ites, Zubulun disappeared. Thankfully, God sorts them out in the end, because, unlike Dan, they are included in the list of 144,000 in Revelation 7.
If this is what happened, then here is the lesson for me today:
Dan apparently fell to idolatry. They followed the gods of the nations they were supposed to have driven out, and as a result, they lost their identity.
Zebulun, on the other hand, lost their identity in the midst of people they were almost like. They shared the same culture as the tribes around them, but they weren’t all the same tribe.
There are two temptations for Christians. We can get lost in the “not like,” as Dan did. But we can also get lost in the “almost-like,” as Zebulun did. This is the more subtle temptation. We may have a lot in common with the people around us who all cheer for the same football team, all speak the same language, all drive the same kinds of cars. Sure, they may not make time for the Lord in their lives, but other than that, they are just like us.
And over time, we wind up becoming just like them, to the point that no one can tell the difference between the Christian family in the neighborhood and all the others. We may not be actively pursuing false gods, but we also are not passionately pursuing the One True God.
There’s more than one way to lose your place among the tribes. And Lord, when the saints go marching in, how I want to be in that number!
O Lord, God of my salvation, I cry out day and night before you. 2 Let my prayer come before you; incline your ear to my cry! (Psalm 88:1-2)
I hope you are blessed to have a mechanic you can trust with your car. Who shoots straight with you, charges you fairly, and doesn’t make you feel like an idiot for knowing so little about cars as you do.
If not, I will pray for you right now.
Allen Herrod and his family have run the only remaining full-service gas station in my town (and one of the very few in our state) for generations. If there was Levitical priesthood for mechanics, it would surely be passed through the Herrod family. Allen inherited the gas station from his father, and he will pass it to his son.
I served the church where Allen and his family were members when I first moved to Prattville. I never knew Allen not to have grease under his fingernails, no matter how much his utterly perfect Southern lady mother probably cringed whenever he stuck out his hand to greet you at church. There would be many men’s Bible studies in the evening in which Allen would come in, straight from work, still in his grimy coveralls.
Allen and his family are the real deal. I was once invited to Sunday dinner at the Herrod’s house. If you are a fan of the TV show Blue Bloods, picture Sunday dinner at the Reagan’s, only without the wine and the genuflecting. They held hands to pray. And before the prayer, they would pull the names of all the family members who weren’t able to be there on that given Sunday out of a hat, and pray for each of them by name.
What I love most about Herrod’s Chevron is that no matter what problem I have with my vehicle, Allen receives the vehicle, gets under the hood, performs his diagnostics, and lets me know what’s wrong. All without judgment.
He never says, “Well, of course your tires have to be replaced again. You don’t rotate them often enough.”
He never says, “You know, most men would know how to fix this themselves.”
I believe that I could do the most boneheaded thing someone could do to a car, and Allen would receive it with grace and patience. Then he would kindly say, “Actually, vegetable oil and motor oil really aren’t interchangeable, James.” And he would fix the problem.
Once when I was still fairly new to the church, I dropped my car off for a repair. At the end of the day, I came to pick it up. I reached for my wallet, but Allen shook his head, and handed me my keys with the invoice. Across the top of the invoice, the word “paid” was stamped in big red letters.
Customers aren’t allowed in the service bays, of course. Like any professional garage, Herrod’s is a mess. There are car parts everywhere, tires leaning against posts, parts catalogs that are barely legible from all the grimy hands that have thumbed through them; the smell of exhaust and grease and dirt. But Allen and his crew are completely comfortable in the mess. They can navigate the mess and find exactly the right tool or part to do what needs to be done.
Psalm 88 is a picture of bringing a troubled heart to the Master Mechanic. Heman the Ezrahite was in a dark place. His soul is full of troubles (v. 3). He feels shunned by his friends (v.8). He has been crying so hard and for so long that his eyes are swollen shut (v. 9).
And the Maker of Hearts receives Heman’s broken heart gently. Without judgment. Without finger pointing. And He says, “I can fix this.”
God receives our hearts the same way. We say, “But it’s a mess.”
And the Mecahnic says, “I work in the mess every day. You can trust Me with your mess.”
And I say, “But it’s my fault! I knew I should have taken better care of it. The warning lights came on, and I just kept driving.”
And the Mechanic says, “I know. But I’ve never seen a heart yet that I can’t repair. And I should know. I designed the heart.”
I say, “But how much is this going to cost me?”
And the Master Mechanic, the Maker of Hearts, pulls out an ancient rubber stamp, caked with years of dirt and dust and grime and—as I look closer—blood.
He stamps it down on my bill with the force of a wooden hammer on an iron stake, and I see the word, stamped in red:
11 Azariah fathered Amariah, Amariah fathered Ahitub, 12 Ahitub fathered Zadok, Zadok fathered Shallum, 13 Shallum fathered Hilkiah, Hilkiah fathered Azariah, 14 Azariah fathered Seraiah, Seraiah fathered Jehozadak; 15 and Jehozadak went into exile when the Lord sent Judah and Jerusalem into exile by the hand of Nebuchadnezzar. (1 Chronicles 6:11-15
Another day in Chronicles, another list of names. If possible, this one is even more confusing than the one from 1 Chronicles 1-2. The list doubles back on itself, repeating itself for no clear reason. Names are repeated across generations (five different Elkanahs!). And through it all, the modern Christian is going, “What’s the point?”
Well, as we talked about a couple of days ago, the key to understanding all this is to remember that 1 Chronicles was written around the time the first settlers were returning to the Promised Land from exile. These chapters of genealogies were crucial for re-establishing the culture that had nearly been wiped out. The two pillars of Jewish society, the priesthood and the monarchy, were on the verge of being forgotten. Without these genealogies, the Jews might have gone the way of so many other forgotten people groups of the day. Anyone ever met a Hivvite? Didn’t think so. The Jews are the only one of the ancient people groups that have maintained their distinct identity since Bible times. And part of it because they were such obsessive makers of lists.
This year, 2022, our reading of 1 Chronicles falls on Yom Ha’Shoah, the Jewish Day of Remembrance for victims of the Holocaust (Shoah is the Hebrew word for “whirlwind,” and it is how the Jews refer to the Holocaust). So beginning with sunset on April 27 and continuing to sunset on the 28th, entertainment venues and restaurants in Israel will be closed. Flags will be lowered to half-mast. And at 10am on the 28th, sirens will sound all over Israel for two minutes. Israelis will stop what they are doing and pause in silence. They will remember the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.
On my most recent trip to Israel, our tour guide was an Israeli from Haifa named Yair. Yair is a larger than life personality. He is joyful, energetic, and gregarious. He is apparently famous (or infamous, depending on who you talk to) as the “trumpet playing tour guide.” Whenever our group needed to be gathered together, Yair would play his trumpet. We walked the path of Jesus’ Triumphal Entry accompanied by “When the Saints Go Marching In”!
But on the day we visited the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, Yair was much more subdued. (I wrote about this visit a couple of days ago, so I’m sorry-not-sorry about two similar posts this week). As we stood by the tree honoring Oskar Schindler, Yair told the story of his family. With his permission, I’m copying his Facebook post from today:
On the eve of the Holocaust Memorial Day, I’m posting the old picture of my grandparents in Jadove, Poland just before the Nazi’s invasion..Esther and Mordecai Zilberman escaped to Siberia, USSR. They survived but most of their families were murdered by the Nazi’s on Yom Kippur,1942, outside the ghetto of Jadove.
They came to Haifa in 1948 with their twin daughters, one of whom was my mother.
May their memories be a blessing..
Some say I resemble my grandfather a bit..
Our eyes can glaze over when we read chapters like 1 Chronicles 6, because to us, they are just names. But to a Jewish exile, seeking to reassemble the pieces of a shattered culture, it was more than a list of names.
For the grandson of Esther and Mordecai Zilberman, the sole survivors from two families, these names aren’t a genealogy. They are a memorial.
“And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.”Psalm 78:72
Psalm 78:72 became one of my favorite verses several years ago. It was my last day in a job I loved— editing Bible study materials for a Christian publisher. I had worked for this company for 16 years, and I felt confident in my work, I loved my coworkers, and I knew what to expect from each day. Publishing has a very slow, steady, methodical workflow, and in the time I was there, I felt like I had mastered it.
But I was leaving to join a church staff in Alabama as an education pastor. I hadn’t served on a church staff in nearly two decades; had never been an education pastor, and the only time I had been to Alabama was on the way to the beach.
I was afraid I would fail. I was afraid I would disappoint people. I wondered if it was only a matter of time before I would come crawling back to what I was comfortable and secure in. This Psalm was part of my quiet time the morning of my last day at my old job. I read verse 72: “With upright heart he shepherded then, and guided them with his skillful hand.”
And it hit me that the Psalmist put these two phrases in this order for a reason. Integrity of heart must precede skillful hands. If the heart is there, the skillful hands will follow. But if the heart isn’t upright, all the skill in the world doesn’t matter.
It seems we have seen a number of church leaders fall in recent years. They have been talented musicians, skilled communicators, and effective, visionary leaders. And as far as I can tell, not one of them left the ministry because they didn’t know enough guitar chords, or they only remembered half of the 21 things John Maxwell says every leader should know.
Ministers fall, and ministries collapse, over integrity of heart issues. Not skillful hands issues.
My church was gracious with me as I learned how to be on a church staff again. And I got pretty good at being an education guy.
Two and a half years later, the cycle began again as another church in town called me to be its lead pastor. All the same fears of leaving what was known to try something new. Was I up for the job? Could I do more than preach? Did I have what it took to lead?
And again, Psalm 78:2. Upright heart, then skillful hands.
Beloved, be faithful in keeping these in the right order. And if you are in a position where you help make hiring decisions, look at the heart first. Skillful hands will follow.
9 Jabez was more honorable than his brothers; and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, “Because I bore him in pain.” 10 Jabez called upon the God of Israel, saying, “Oh that you would bless me and enlarge my border, and that your hand might be with me, and that you would keep me from harm so that it might not bring me pain!” And God granted what he asked. 1 Chornicles 4:9-10
I was working for a Christian publisher in 2000 when Bruce Wilkinson’s little book The Prayer of Jabezwas released, and subsequently became a phenomenon. Seemingly overnight, the Christian market became flooded with PofJ merchandise. In addition to secondary titles– (Prayer of Jabez for Women, Prayer of Jabez for Kids, Prayer of Jabez for Teens, etc); there were T-Shirts, bracelets, necklaces, keychains, coffee mugs, and neckties. There were Bible studies, musicals, retreat planning kits, and study Bibles.
If you have ever worked retail, you know the game of stocking the shelves next to the cash registers with impulse purchase items– cheap trinkets that you throw in the cart at the last minute because you need a graduation gift, or because it’s your mail carrier’s birthday, or just because your child behaved herself while you were shopping. And so for a few months, the Prayer of Jabez owned that space. And the market was happy to accomodate. Like WWJD and Chicken Soup for the Soul before it; and Duck Dynasty and Jesus Calling after, the Prayer of Jabez was marketing gold for a season. Even now, more than twenty years later, there are 753 products related to the Prayer of Jabez listed on Amazon.
To be fair to Bruce Wilkinson, this wasn’t all his fault. All he did was write a book. The Christian retail industry took the book, blew it up, and then ran it into the ground. Cynical side note: This happens all the time. Christian, you aren’t a demographic. You aren’t a commodity. You aren’t a voting block. You are a follower of Jesus. Refuse to be pandered to!
But the book itself is fundamentally flawed. It turns the prayer of Jabez– a prayer one Israelite prayed and which God answered–and makes it a universal promise, good for all times for all people in all situations. The preface begins with, “Dear Reader, I want to teach you how to pray a daring prayer that God always answers!” What follows are stories of people who succeeded simply by repeating Jabez prayer for months and years.
But as David Schrock points out in a post on The Gospel Coalition blog, Jabez and the Soft Prosperity Gospel, “In contrast to the bestselling book, the biblical story of Jabez tells how God comforts those in remarkable pain. But marketed to upwardly-mobile Christians, The Prayer of Jabez told this Israelite’s story as if he was one of us. But that’s the problem: Jabez isn’t like us. He doesn’t live amid our modern materialism. And his prayer can’t be directly applied to us without seeing how it relates to his own situation first and then to Jesus Christ.”
The article goes on to emphasize the importance of interpretation. Context matters. The name Jabez, as Tara-Leigh pointed out in today’s podcast, means “pain,” and Jabez specifically prays that the Lord would keep him from harm that would bring him pain. And God didn’t grant what Jabez asked because he prayed it over and over again like a mantra, but because he was “more honorable than his brothers.”
Beloved, there are no magic formulas and no shortcuts. God desires a relationship with us that is so much more than the relationship we have with a vending machine. And sometimes, that relationship will lead us into places of suffering and pain rather than shielding us from them. The end goal is that we become more like Christ, not that we enlarge our territory. If you are going to pray the prayer of Jabez from 1 Chronicles, you should also pray the prayer of Paul from Philippians:
10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.
For a day in your courts is better
than a thousand elsewhere.
I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God
than dwell in the tents of wickedness.
Psalm 84 is one of eleven Psalms attributed to the sons of Korah. In fact, all of the Psalms we studied today are psalms of the sons of Korah. Psalm 43 is the only one that does’t have that designation in our English bibles, but most scholars believe Psalms 42 and 43 were originally one Psalm, so the heading for Psalm 42 covers both of them.
And for me, the story of the sons of Korah is one of the sweetest redemption stories in Scripture. It’s very subtle, so it’s often overlooked, but here it is.
The sons of Korah were Levites of the Koathite clan. If you go back to Numbers 4, you see that the three branches of the Levites– Koathites, Merarites, and Gershonites, were put in charge of breaking down and setting up the Tabernacle whenever the Israelites moved from place to place during their wilderness wanderings. And of those three branches, it was the Koathites who had the most sacred duties. They were to carry the ark of the covenant itself, along with plates and bowls and lamps and incense burners, and all the other most holy things. It was serious business, so much so that God gave Moses a special warning about the Koathites:
17 The Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying, 18 “Let not the tribe of the clans of the Kohathites be destroyed from among the Levites, 19 but deal thus with them, that they may live and not die when they come near to the most holy things: Aaron and his sons shall go in and appoint them each to his task and to his burden, 20 but they shall not go in to look on the holy things even for a moment, lest they die.” (Numbers 4:17-20)
It was privileged, holy work. But it was also hard work, for unlike the poles and the curtains of the Tabernacle, which could all be loaded up on ox carts, the most holy things all had to be carried by hand. Add to that the emotional burden and stress of knowing you could be struck dead on the spot if you did it the wrong way. And then, multiply that by forty years of being in the desert. Being a Koathite was hard work.
At one point, the Koathites apparently cracked under the strain. In Numbers 16, we read that a Koathite named Korah, along with his friends Dathan and Abiram, rose up against Moses and Aaron.
3 They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, “You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the Lord is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”
As a Koahite, Korah was closer to the holy things than anyone else. His clan cared for the Ark and the altar and all the Tabernacle furnishings. And maybe that was part of the problem. Familiarity breeds contempt, and proximity to sacred things breeds pride and, God help me, indifference.
Korah, along with Dathan, Abiram, and all the others who joined in the rebellion were destroyed. The ground literally opened up and swallowed them. It’s fitting that Korah was swallowed by the earth. Envy, pride, entitlement—those are all things of the world. And like Korah, the world can swallow us alive.
But here is the subtle redemption story. The sons of Korah found their way back into humble service of God. A close look at 1 Chronicles 6 reveals that Samuel, the prophet who anointed Saul and David, was a Koathite (1 Chron. 6:31-38).
And a few generations later, the tabernacle was replaced by the Temple, and the Korathites became its doorkeepers (1 Chron. 9:19-21). Finally, they could lay down the burden of caring for the most holy things. Once the ark had a place to rest, so did the sons of Korah. And Psalm 84 is a picture of contentment and rest in the house of the Lord:
1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! 2 My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord;
4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house, ever singing your praise!
And verses 10-12, which become especially sweet when you think about the family history:
10 For a day in your courts is better than a thousand elsewhere. I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of wickedness. 11 For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. 12 O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you!
It took some time, but the Korahites apparently learned to praise God for the role they were given. God gave them rest from carrying their burdens, and when they laid down their resentments, they took up their instruments and praised God.
God, fill me with gratitude for the work you’ve given me to do. Renew my wonder at sacred things. And let me keep my eyes on You, and not be swallowed by comparison.
God, fill me with gratitude for the work you’ve given me to do. Renew my wonder at sacred things. And let me keep my eyes on You, and not be swallowed by comparison.
Why are you cast down, O my soul,and why are you in turmoil within me? Psalm 43:5
Recently I came across a radical, paradigm-shifting, brain-baking thought that I am still trying to wrap my head around. I was reading Dallas Willard’s The Divine Conspiracy, and he was pointing out all the times in the Psalms when the soul is addressed as a separate entity.
The Psalmist commands the soul to bless the Lord: “Bless the Lord, O my soul” (Psalm 104:1).
He commands his soul to wait on the Lord: For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence (Psalm 62:5)
In Psalm 35:3, the Psalmist asks God to speak to his soul: “Say to my soul, “I am your salvation!””
In today’s reading, Psalm 43, he questions the soul: “Why are you downcast, O my soul.?
In Psalm 116:7, the Psalmist says, “Return, O my soul, to your rest; for the Lord has dealt bountifully with you.”
Return? Return to where? Return from where? This is strange language. Why does it sometimes seem as though the Psalmist’s soul is separate from the Psalmist?
Here’s the brain baker: Dallas Willard suggested that the reason it often seems like the soul is a separate thing is because it is. The soul, he suggests, is that part of us that was intended to be in the constant presence of the Lord. And for those whom God called from the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1:4), it could be that our soul never leaves God’s presence.
However, when sin entered the world, we lost touch with our soul. Our body and flesh rejected God, but our soul remained with Him. When we reject sin and pursue righteousness, our flesh is getting closer to where our soul already is. When we engage in soul-stirring worship, we talk about drawing closer to God. Maybe the truth is that we are simply drawing closer to where our soul has been all along. When I pursue sin, I feel far from God. But it isn’t because God moved. It’s because, when I sin, I don’t take my soul with me, and my body and mind feel the separation.
Think about how our language reflects this. We often feel like our life is “coming apart at the seams.” We tell someone, “pull yourself together.”
Throughout the Psalms, the body speaks to the soul. And I would love to cultivate the habit of speaking to my soul like the Psalmist does. But I wonder: If the soul is that part of myself that is, even now, eternally in fellowship with God; then on the day of resurrection; when the trumpet sounds and the dead in Christ are raised; when my physical body is glorified and the perishable is raised imperishable; perhaps on that day, it will be my soul speaking to my body, saying “At last, there you are!”
Walking through the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem is a gut wrenching, soul crushing experience. It’s hard to put into words the horror of coming face to face with such evil. As I walked from room to room, I began to feel like one of those people you see on the news the day after a tornado or wildfire has destroyed their town. They look shell shocked. They can’t wrap their minds around what happened. So they sort through the rubble, looking for something familiar to help them regain their balance.
That was me, winding my way through the exhibits at the Holocaust Museum. It was disorienting. I felt like I couldn’t catch my balance in a world that had been knocked so far off its axis.
But then, I rounded a corner to a display of Schindler’s List. The actual list of Polish Jews Oskar Schindler employed at his enamel works factory, thereby saving them from the gas chamber.
Each name on the list represents a person who lived and didn’t die. Who had a chance at a family following the war.
Steven Spielberg’s brilliant film Schindler’s List ends with footage of the surviving Schindler Jews; many of them walking side by side with the actors that portrayed them in the film, placing a memorial stone on Schindler’s grave. As the shot widens, you see a line of people stretching out into the distance. Two messages appear on the screen. The first:
There are fewer than four thousand Jews left alive in Poland today.
Then, the second:
There are more than six thousand descendants of the Schindler Jews.
Today, we started 1 Chronicles. And as Tara-Leigh said in the recap, finding a God shot in a list of names can be difficult. But here it was for me. In the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles comes last. Which means that it comes after the story of the Exodus. After the story of the Hebrew midwives who refused to throw baby boys into the Nile, thus saving them from annihilation. After the fall of the northern kingdom to Assyria. After the destruction of the Temple by Nebuchadnezzar. After the deportation of the Jews to Babylon. After the events of Esther, (the second time the Jews were saved from the brink of genocide). After seventy years of exile.
I can imagine a young Jewish boy, reading the Tanakh for the first time. He’s read all the stories of his people throughout the centuries. He’s read about the anarchy of the time of the Judges. The collapse of the United Kingdom after Solomon. The four hundred years of the divided kingdom and civil war.
Like a survivor after a tornado, I can imagine him looking for something familiar.
And then, he unrolls the scroll to the first words of the last book:
Just names. But so much more than names. Ancestors. Patriarchs. Survivors.
One more scene from Schindler’s List. Schindler and his assistant Stern are compiling the list. The list of Jews that would survive. The camera zooms in on an extreme close-up of each letter of each name being typed. Why? Because every name matters. When it is finished, Stern holds the list up to Schindler and says, The list is an absolute good. The list is life. All around its margins lies the gulf.
Beloved, remember as you go through the genealogies of Chronicles; remember: Each name on the list has survived for thousands of years. We are reading the family history of the people God preserved for Himself.
And much more. We are reading the family tree of our Redeemer. Our Savior. The One who rescued us.
Summary: The first half of Psalm 19 deals with what we can learn about God from nature. The second half deals with what we can learn about God from His Word. This is part one of a two part sermon.
Good morning! Please turn in your Bibles to Psalm 19 as we continue our series summer in the Psalms. We talked last week about how Psalms is a book of practical poetry, and how almost all the great moments of life have a soundtrack attached. It could be “Happy Birthday” in front of a cake with candles. Or “Here Comes the Bride” as you are standing at the front of a sanctuary in a rented tux. Or maybe it’s “Sweet Home Alabama” with 100,000 of your closest friends at Bryant-Denny stadium. “God Bless The USA” as you are watching a fireworks display. We are wired to be moved emotionally by music. To remember things with music. So it makes sense that when God wrote to us, he had to include music!
There are 150 Psalms. It is the longest book in the Bible. Don’t worry, we aren’t going to talk about all of them. They were written by people from all walks of life, over a thousand year period. King David wrote half of them (75). Of the other 75, about a third are attributed to a specific author. There was Asaph, a priest, who wrote twelve of them; The Sons of Korah, which were a group of professional temple singers, kind of like Hillsong United, wrote ten of them. King Solomon wrote two. Even Moses wrote one—Psalm 90—which may make it the oldest piece of literature in the Bible.
So the Psalm we are going to look at this morning is a Psalm of David, and it’s classified as a Wisdom Psalm. That means it was specifically written to teach us something. So if you are physically able, let’s stand in honor of the reading of God’s Word, and listen for what God has to teach us this morning.
19 The heavens declare the glory of God,
and the sky above[a] proclaims his handiwork.
2 Day to day pours out speech,
and night to night reveals knowledge.
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,
whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,
and their words to the end of the world.
In them he has set a tent for the sun,
Skip down to verse 7:
7 The law of the Lord is perfect,[c]
reviving the soul;
the testimony of the Lord is sure,
making wise the simple;
8 the precepts of the Lord are right,
rejoicing the heart;
the commandment of the Lord is pure,
enlightening the eyes;
9 the fear of the Lord is clean,
the rules[d] of the Lord are true,
and righteous altogether.
10 More to be desired are they than gold,
even much fine gold;
sweeter also than honey
and drippings of the honeycomb.
11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned;
in keeping them there is great reward.
12 Who can discern his errors?
Declare me innocent from hidden faults.
13 Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins;
let them not have dominion over me!
Then I shall be blameless,
and innocent of great transgression.
14 Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be acceptable in your sight,
O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.
So since this is a Wisdom Psalm, let’s ask God for wisdom together. Let’s pray…
Jesus, teach me from your Word this morning. Amen.
Psalm 19 falls really neatly into two halves. We are going to look at the first half this morning, and the second half next week (so if you were looking at all the blanks on the listening guide and wondering how we were ever going to get through all of them, you can rest easy. We aren’t!)
You can see this on your listening guide: verses 1-6 talk about The World God Created, while verses 7-10 deal with The Word God Communicated. And in both creation and the Scripture, God has revealed Himself to human beings. But he’s done it in two different ways. Theologians call those GENERAL REVELATION and SPECIAL REVELATION. Let’s unpack each of those terms.
General revelation refers to the general truths that can be known about God through nature. [Slide] Some would say God has also revealed himself through philosophy and reason, and I think there’s room for talking about that as well, but for this morning, we’re going to focus on nature, since that is what Psalm 19 focuses on.
Throughout creation, God has given us evidence of His existence . And it is a constant, ongoing revelation. All the verbs in verses 1-2 are either participles or imperfect. This means continuous, unfinished, ongoing action. The Heavens ARE declaring the Glory of God. The skies ARE PROCLAIMING his handiwork. Day to day pours forth speech. Night to night reveals knowledge.
Have you ever stood on the seashore, or the rim of the Grand Canyon, or looked at a mountain range and thought to yourself, “How could anyone say there’s no God?” We all have. And that’s General Revelation. We can look at the perfect design of the Universe and know that there was a designer behind it. If I am walking through the woods and I come across an old wristwatch, I don’t think its the result of a random explosion in a machine shop. Someone had to have designed the watch. And the universe is the same way.
There are lots of websites that can give you facts about how the earth is just the right temperature to sustain life, and has the perfect tilt to its axis, and so forth. I’m sure you’ve heard a lot of those figures. But what blew me away this week was reading some of those facts on non-Christian science websites. For example, at science/howstuffworks.com/life/EVOLUTION (!!!!) In 2000, a paleontologist and an astronomer collaborated on a book called “Rare Earth: Why Complex Life is Uncommon in the Universe,” in which they argued that the odds of finding another living world in all the cosmos were severely unlikely. They called it the Rare Earth Hypothesis, but they might as well have called it The Goldilocks principle
You can read some facts about how Earth fits the “Goldilocks principle” to sustain life. You remember Goldilocks, right? She stumbles on a house in the forest, and finds three bowls of porridge, three chairs, three beds, and only one is “just right?”
The right ingredients: A planet needs liquid water, an energy source and chemical building blocks like carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen for the life forms we’re familiar with to thrive.
The right crust: Gas giants and molten worlds need not apply. Luckily, Earth possesses the suitable distribution of elements to ensure a hot metallic core and a rocky mantle.
The right temperature: The necessity for liquid water also means that planetary temperatures must permit the substance to retain its liquid form in some regions.
The right moon: Our large moon ensures climate stability by minimizing changes in planetary tilt. If our planet didn’t have a tilt, it wouldn’t have seasons. Likewise, a severe tilt would result in extreme seasons.
The right star: The sun provides Earth with the energy for life and is thankfully rather stable. Imagine baking a pot roast with an oven that might suddenly surge in temperature, die or explode. It wouldn’t work for your pot roast, and it certainly wouldn’t work for life.
The right core: Earth’s solid inner core and liquid outer core play crucial roles in protecting life from deadly solar radiation. Differences in temperature and composition in the two core regions drive this powerful dynamo, emitting Earth’s protective electromagnetic field.
The right neighbors: Jupiter shields Earth from constant stellar bombardment. Without the gas giant in the neighborhood, scientists predict that Earth would endure 10,000 times as many asteroid and comet strikes [source: Villard].
But with all this, listen to the conclusion:
In short, Earth contains all the ingredients and environmental necessities for life to emerge, plus the relative safety for it to evolve unmolested for hundreds of millions of years on end.
How is that possible to look at all the evidence for a designer and still miss the truth? It would be as though Goldilocks believed that the “just right bed” evolved from some random mutation of trees and goose feathers!
Hold that thought. We’ll come back to it.
But creation doesn’t just give us evidence for God’s existence. It also gives us insight into His character.
Look at the nature of creation and you find out about the nature of the Creator. Verses 3-4 say…
3 There is no speech, nor are there words,? whose voice is not heard.
4 Their voice[b] goes out through all the earth,? and their words to the end of the world.
There are a couple of different ways to understand this, because the Hebrew is a little difficult to translate. Some say these verses mean that even without speech or language, creation speaks of the creator:
TRANSITION FOR EACH OF THESE
Niagara Falls whispers “There is a God who made me, and he is powerful.” I heard something interesting on the Weather Channel yesterday as I was watching the coverage of Tropical Storm Barry heading to New Orleans. And this is a direct quote from the reporter: “All the levees and locks and dams and gates are just man’s attempt to harness a power that cannot be harnessed.”
The moon whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is romantic.”
The Milky Way Galaxy, 100,000 light years across, and one of one hundred billion galaxies whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is BIG.”
The 300 species of hummingbird, 13,000 varieties of daffodils, 17,500 species of butterfly, ALL whisper, “There is a God who made us, and he is creative.”
The great white shark whispers, “There is a God who made me, and he is to be respected.”
Peer inside a microscope, and you’ll find a God who cares about details.
Hold a newborn, and you’ll experience a God of wonder.
Test the gravity he made by jumping out an airplane, and you’ll experience a God of excitement.
Jump out of an airplane without a parachute, and you’ll discover a God of absolutes.
Say this: “The heavens declare the glory of God.”
Now, there is a second way to look at verses 3-4, where it says “There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.” And that is to say that every single person on planet earth, regardless of what language they speak, or whether or not they even have a written language can know that there is a God just by looking at creation. This is what Romans 1:19-20 is getting at when it says
19 For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. 20 For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. (Romans 1:19-20)
So when scientists (or anyone else for that matter) can look at creation and conclude that there’s no God behind it, they don’t have a knowledge problem, they have an obedience problem. Back up to the verse just before Romans 1:19. Verse 18 says, For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth.
Remember the Goldilocks principle? This would be Goldilocks saying, look, I don’t want to admit that I’m breaking and entering. I don’t want to own up to the fact that I’m criminally trespassing.
So I’m just going to assume that this house, these chairs, this porridge, these beds are all just an accident of natural selection.
But that would be intellectually dishonest, wouldn’t it? But don’t we do the same thing? Maybe you are here this morning and you haven’t wanted to acknowledge God because you know that if you did, you would be responsible for ignoring him. So you’ve kind of conveniently decided that He doesn’t really exist. Friend, you are the one that Romans 1:18 is talking about. By your unrighteousness you are suppressing the truth.
And then look at the last line of verse 20: SO THEY ARE WITHOUT EXCUSE.
It’s that last line that ought to make us stop and think.
But there’s good news. God didn’t just leave us general revelation that points to His existence. He gave us Special Revelation that points to His will for our lives. [SLIDE]
We go from General Revelation— the general truths that can be known about God through nature, to SPECIAL REVELATION, which is the specific truths about God that can only be known through Scripture.
The good news is that God has made known the gospel to us. I want to take you to one more verse in Romans. I know we are working backwards— going from 18-19 to 17, and now we are looking at 16, but bear with me. Romans 1:16 says,
16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. 17 For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.”
In God’s Word, we find out how to be made righteous before God. And that’s what we are going to talk about next week.