Psalm 98

Sing to the Lord a new song, for the Lord has done marvelous things!

Psalm 98 recollects the salvation of the Exodus and offers hope for every impossible possibility.

Remember – the song sings. Remember the times in our history when we had no hope and then – completely unexpected – something new and marvelous came into being.

Remember!

Thus Psalm 98 offers hope for Israel as it waits in Exile. Along with the prophets of the Exile, this poetic prophet holds out hope for vindication and salvation (see the similarities of encouragement in Isaiah 52).

Just as God “remembers” steadfast love and faithfulness, so God’s people must remember God’s faithfulness and hold on to hope.
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Psalm 110

Psalm 110  is the most widely quoted psalm within our New Testament.

The LORD says to my lord,
 “Sit at my right hand
until I make your enemies your footstool.”

verse 1

This royal psalm celebrates the king of Israel – an earthly lord who embodies the presence and will of the Sovereign LORD of heaven and earth. Not only did the king represent God’s presence on earth, but Jerusalem and the Temple represented God’s holy dwelling.

The “Anointed of God” ruling from Zion, the “city of God.”

The LORD sends out from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes!

verse 2

More than likely, this psalm originated during the time of the Davidic monarchy and parts of it may have been sung at coronations (consequently categorized as an “enthronement” psalm).

But by the time Psalm 110 was gathered into the psalter, Israel was in Exile. The land, the Temple and the monarchy were now gone, thus the scholars of Israel were challenged to look back at their story and re-interpret its meaning for a tragic new time.

Consequently within the psalter itself, we see theological re-readings and readjustments of Israel’s understandings and expectations. If the Davidic kings were no more, then (Jewish teachers pondered because of the Exile) this hope of God’s reign throughout the earth must be assigned to another “anointed one.”

This is how hope for the Jewish messiah was born.

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Psalm 69

Save me, O God, for the waters have come up to my neck.
I sink in deep mire,
where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep waters, and the flood sweeps over me…

Psalm 69 is the longest and most complex of the laments.

As in all the psalms (as in all of life), there is juxtaposition of complaint and praise, of pain and confidence. This Both/And experience of crucifixion and resurrection reminds us that faith endures and sustains because of the eschatological hope for God’s promised redemption.

More in number than the hairs of my head
    are those who hate me without cause…

The images of this psalm are vivid as they describe the flood of overwhelming persecution. In the understanding of the psalmist, the tortures are unjustified and unjust. He remains faithful in the midst of the faithlessness of his tormentors and argues that his own troubles have come to him because of his trust in God.

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Psalm 118

O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good;

God’s steadfast love endures forever!

Let Israel say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Let the house of Aaron say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Let those who fear the Lord say, “His steadfast love endures forever.”

Psalm 118 begins and ends as several praise psalms do: alluding to the formulaic understanding of Yahweh’s steadfast love to the thousandth generation (i.e. forever.)

This affirmation of God’s steadfastness is followed by three stanzas recalling times of trouble, perilous times, events in which Yahweh intervened and “became my salvation.” Here is a psalm of New Orientation, a prayer of praise and confidence that – no matter what – God is at work in the world and in love with his people.

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Psalm 27

The Lord is my light and my salvation;
    whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life;
    of whom shall I be afraid?

Walter Brueggemann says this stated premise of Psalm 27 insists that “nothing … is severe enough to shake confidence in Yahweh who is light, salvation, and stronghold.”

We Christians will hear in the background the similar confidence of St. Paul: “… nothing in all creation will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Do you see the couplets and the parallelisms in this psalm?

This way of repeating and reinforcing an idea demonstrates a major characteristic of poetry and we especially can see it in the poetry of the psalms.

The repetition offers a bold message of deep confidence. This psalmist has been besieged by troubles before and has experienced the unfailing faithfulness of Yahweh.

Though an army encamp against me,
    my heart shall not fear;
though war rise up against me,
    yet I will be confident.

Here again is God’s Great “Nevertheless.”

Even though disasters are looming; even though real danger threatens; even though life may be collapsing all around me … Yet. Nevertheless … I trust.

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Psalm 106

Praise the Lord!

O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever…

Happy are those who observe justice, who do righteousness at all times.

  • Praise the LORD!
  • Praise Yahweh!
  • Hallelu – YAH!

See how all our praise, worship and thanksgiving is grounded in the name, in the being, in the character of God.

God’s steadfast love endures forever. You probably recognize this recurring theme throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. This statement of faith is a far cry from some of our modern misunderstandings. Have you ever heard someone say: “The God of the Old Testament is about Law and judgment but the God of the New Testament is about Grace and forgiveness.”

The ancient people of God would have puzzled over such a caricature of Yahweh.

The formulaic poetry of God as Creator and Liberator has always observed the “steadfast love of the Lord to the thousandth generation…” (In other words: forever.) This ancient biblical understanding has also always recognized God’s justice: “punishing iniquity to the third and fourth generation…”

Law and Grace, Judgment and Forgiveness. These have always been two sides of a coin.

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Psalm 91

You who live in the shelter of the Most High,
    who abide in the shadow of the Almighty,
will say to the LORD, “My refuge and my fortress;
    my God, in whom I trust.

Psalm 91 seems to be a companion to Psalm 90.

In both, the Almighty/the Most High/the LORD is refuge/fortress/shelter/dwelling place/home.

In both psalms, this Almighty/Most High/LORD is MY God. This is personal.

While Psalm 90 comes to this conclusion after some bold challenges demanding that God keep faith as promised, Psalm 91 begins with unquestioning trust in God’s unfailing faithfulness.

I have struggled with the bold confidence of this song and I’m not the only one. Some people have misread it so completely that they consider this psalm as a kind of magic assurance that they will be protected from any sort of harm.

A thousand may fall at your side, ten thousand at your right hand, but it will not come near you…

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Psalm 90

The Fourth Book of the Psalms begins with Psalm 90 – a Prayer of Moses, the man of God.

Moses is not the author of the psalm. Moses is the context of the psalm.

From the very beginning of the prayer, we think of Moses’ encounter with The Bush that Burned but was not Consumed; of his encounter on the mountain top with the God of Fire and Cloud.

This psalm taps into the eternity of the Divine One: the One who exists outside of time. The Lord/Sovereign/King/Creator who spoke the cosmos into existence:

Before the mountains were brought forth or ever you had formed the earth and the world …

from everlasting to everlasting you are God ….

for a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past …

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Psalm 107

O give thanks to the Lord, for the Lord is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say so, those God redeemed from trouble …

Psalm 107 celebrates surprising reversals.

Those who wandered in desert wastes found a straight way…

Prisoners who were bowed down in darkness were rescued from the gloom and found their bonds broken…

The sick who were near the gates of death were healed and made whole…

The ones who were tossed upon chaotic seas experienced the peace of still waters…

These inversions and reversals of crisis and disaster weave a bright thread through the tapestry of Israel’s life. The surprises of grace remind Israel that God is a God who hears and acts.

This tradition is an ancient one.

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Psalm 46

We will not fear, though the earth should change,

though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea,

though its waters roar and foam,

though the mountains tremble with its tumult.

BECAUSE

God is our refuge and strength,
    a very present help in trouble.

The poet of Psalm 46 pictures un-creation. Everything that is solid and dependable – even the ground beneath our feet – trembles, shakes and roars.

I think of the terror of earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes and wildfires. In an instant, whole worlds are devastated, turned upside down and inside out.

How can we not fear in the midst of such upheaval?

It is said that the encouragement not to fear is one of the most prevalent and consistent in the Bible. In the Genesis stories we hear God say to Abraham:  “Do not be afraid; I am your shield….”and to Jacob: “I am God, the God of your father; do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make of you a great nation there.”

In the prophets, we hear the Word of the Lord come to God’s people again and again:

But now thus says the LORD,
the One who created you, O Jacob,
the One who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.

(Isaiah 43)

In the New Testament stories, angels almost always introduce themselves to humans with the words: “Don’t be afraid.”

In our gospel reading for this week, it is Jesus who is pictured as the One who walks upon the “un-creation;” the One who stands above the chaos and darkness of the raging seas.

The disciples’ boat was far from the land, battered by the waves for the wind was against them.

And early in the morning Jesus came walking toward them on the sea. But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.

But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”

Mark 6
“It is I” Jesus proclaims.
I AM

Fear as a human emotion is normal and common. Our emotions are linked to our experiences. We feel fear when this happens; we feel sad when that happens; we feel happy when something else happens. We humans can’t control these emotions since they come from our gut and not from the thinking, cognitive, choice-making part of our being.

But the Divine Encouragement addresses something deeper than either our intellect or our gut. Here is the life of faith. The way of trust.

In the core of our being, we affirm the foundational Presence of “I AM;” the “Present Help” and we place every circumstance of our lives within the context of that Unseen Unshakable Reality.

Even when we are afraid, we do not fear.

This is the confidence of Psalm 46.

Throughout Scripture, there is only one thing that is ours to “fear.”

So now, O Israel, what does the LORD your God require of you? Only to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul…

(Deuteronomy 10)

The One we love and serve with heart and soul is also always the One whom we cannot fathom; the One beyond our understanding and out of our control.

The psalmist calls us to “behold.”

Come, behold the works of the Lord;
    see what desolations he has brought on the earth.
The Lord makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
    breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
    burns the shields with fire…

And the Psalmist calls us to “be still.”

It is only in this still place in the core of our being, that we can know the foundational Presence of “I AM.”

Be still and know.

Be still and know that I Am!

Be still and know that I Am God!

The God of Jacob is our refuge.

“Eye of the Hurricane” by Moyashi-chan