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Selah

I’ve heard it said that when David broke one of the strings on his lyre, he’d exclaim, “Selah”! Perhaps that was said tongue in cheek, but it does bring out the fact that nobody actually knows what it means. Some modern translations (like the NIV) appear to have given up and just ignored it entirely. I mention this, because this post is somewhat off piste from my routine of going through the psalms. I am pausing to consider, which, by coincidence, is one popular (but unsubstantiated) guess at the word’s meaning.

Going through one psalm a week has proved less helpful than I had hoped. Or at least, that is how it feels. Already themes are beginning to repeat themselves, often related to a request for God to bless me, while poking out the eyes of my enemies with a pencil. Maybe not quite that, they didn’t have pencils. So, at one psalm a week and 150 psalms, I may have bitten off more than I really want to chew. Yet, I believe there is still value in what I am doing doing, I just need to be more selective. So, rather than doing every psalm, I will continue with just those psalms that are referenced in the New Testament, starting with the ones that are referenced more than once, which, as Psalm 2 has already been covered, makes for a grand list of ten. After that I will review again.

However, one curious thing has struck me. Psalm 23, which must be the most popular psalm in churches today, isn’t referrenced in the New Testament at all, not even once. Odd that. I’ve no idea why, but I do find it interesting…

 

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Clockwork

I used to be an amateur horologist and repair clocks. I mention this, because that is where my meditations on Psalm 5 led me, albeit by a circuitous route. You see, the more I considered what the psalmist was saying, the less it seemed worth saying. He seems to be mainly praying for God to listens to the righteous, but not the wrongdoer. This is surely a given. So I had to ask myself, what was going on?

The psalmist appears to be experiencing a disconnect. The truth he knows is being challenged by those who want to defraud him. So, he is praying that the realities of heaven would be manifest on earth. Which is all very well, but how does that effect me, where my reality of the Kingdom is also being confronted, not by fraud, but by my recent back injury and cold? Which is where clocks come in.

When I was (much) younger, I would go to jumble sales and buy broken clocks and watches, strip them down and rebuild them. Oddly, I thought that was fun. I got to be quite good with clocks, although, few watches survived. The parts of a watch must all be very carefully aligned before the back can be replaced, or the pins bend. Something that was all to easy to do. To function well, everything must be aligned and working as intended. Which seems close to the Hebrew idea of Shalom. It means more than peace. It conveys the idea of the right ordering of things. Everything in its proper place and working as God intended, peacefully. Like a clock, finely calibrated.

When we pray for God’s Kingdom to come, we are asking for God’s right order to be established – the blind seeing, the lame walking, of course. However, as Kingdom ambassadors, we are also called to show the way – which is what much of Jesus teaching was about. And, as in a clock, everything is inter-related. We can’t ask God to restore order, while we continue to bring disarray. So, the psalmist asks God to help him walk God’s path.

So, while we want the blind to see, that is only part of God’s wider shalom, a shalom that we cannot separate ourselves from. We need God’s help to allow us to act in ways that restore right order – by loving God and neighbour. I look towards the day when I see more healing, but, for today, I have enough to do with my part!

Shalom.

 

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The One and the Many

We are in a minority. I’m sure, many would argue against that, but that is because they confuse a religious facade for its content. We are in a minority, and always have been. The person portrayed in Psalm 4 speaks out as the voice of the one to the many. He (or maybe she) asks them how long they will seek after vanity and illusions and calls on them to turn to God. They do not appear to be listening. Like so many today, they are too busy seeking happiness, but totally unaware from whom it is found. It is only the psalmist who knows the answer. For all the apparent wealth (and wine) of the many, the psalmist declares that his joy is richer and that he is also able to sleep in peace, resting secure.

In our world, we focus on results. We preach the good news, we don’t see any results, and we give up. Yet, the psalmist shows no sign of discouragement. He has called the people to respond to God. The fact that they do not does not disturb him. After all, for him, as for us us, there is no guarantee of being listened to. Indeed, Jesus warns us to expect even worse. The response is not our concern. Nor is it our concern that they seem to be outwardly doing better than we are, or that many around us say that we are the ones living an illusion. They can point to their stores of wealth, to their pleasures in wine. These are real. Yet we have a different reality. Our joys are richer and we we are secure. We also sleep well at night.

My Glory and Broken Teeth

Elisha was surrounded by the Aramaean army. No doubt, feeling pleased with themselves. Where is Elisha’s God now? No wonder Elisha’s servant was feeling scared. It was only when Elisha prayed for his servant’s eyes to be opened, that he realised the true state of affairs. It was the Aramaeans who had been trapped, surrounded by the armies of heaven. This, for me, seems to be the essence of psalm 3. God lifts our eyes to see the reality of the Kingdom. A truth that is often hard won – at least for me. When adversities surround me, I am frequently overcome with fear and worry before God is finally able to get me to look where I was supposed to be looking and realise that I have nothing to fear. It is a good lesson to learn, but, in living with the psalm for a while, I find am not able to gloss over the bits I do not understand or am uncomfortable with.

I must confront the fact that God not only lifts my head, but he is my glory to. I found that odd. I suppose part of it is that glory is a term that is used glibly, without much thought as to its meaning. In Hebrew, the word literally means ‘heavy’. The wealthy and powerful were better fed and so it was used figuratively to symbolise prestige and honour. A royal throne is surrounded by gold to show that the person sitting on it is worthy of respect – it is part of their glory. Today, that might translate into the expensive cars and fancy houses of the rich and famous. Yet, my glory is in none of these. My glory is in God. My identity comes from him – and occasionally that identity leaks out and is seen by others.

I am also confronted by a psalm that asks God to break my enemies teeth. That is an uncomfortable prayer to pray. It is perhaps passages like this that make me a little cautious towards some psalms. They were written for a different world. Yet, in this case, I think this is more idiomatic. An English equivalent might be to say, ‘give the wicked a bloody nose and your people a blessing’! It is a cry for justice and the right ordering of things.

This weeks journey has not taken me on a straight path. It has at times been challenging to place myself within this psalm. Yet, it remains God’s truth for us – even in its oddness, even from its different culture. I am aware that some of the psalms to come might present an even bigger challenge, but that is a problem for another day. My journey through the psalms looks as though it could prove more challenging than I imagined.

The Nations

The trouble with the early psalms in the Psalter is that I have read them many times before. It is only the ones after about psalm 30 that have not been read often. The point where my interest flags and I move on to other things. So psalm 2 is familiar. I know its story. By the middle of last week I felt I had exhausted it and wanted to move on. I had to fight hard to resist. By the end of the week I did not know the psalm any better, yet, its truth had moved into a sharper focus. So, while my knowledge of the psalm has not changed, in some small way, I have. Its truth has been internalised more – which, after all, is what my experiment with the psalms is all about. It is proving an interesting journey.

Psalm 2, itself, has an interesting complexion when considered alongside psalm 1. While psalm 1 looks at the individual who does right (as opposed to the one who does wrong), psalm 2 continue where psalm 1 left off, but zooming out, to take in the nations and the kings of the World.

We see powerful nations, with leaders who appear to be far removed from those who contemplate God’s teaching. They are contemplating vanity. It is that same Hebrew word, hagah. Vanity is not just being considered, it is being ruminated on. Nor do we need to look far to see how the World plots to release itself from the constraints of, what it regards as, our less enlightened past. It is easy to look at all of this and give in to fear – for ourselves or our children. Yet, the psalm lifts our eyes off of this world and asks us to look from heaven, where we find a God who finds man’s efforts quite laughable, and God’s own king, who has been given a rod of iron to use, should he wish.

The psalm encourages the World’s leaders to become wise, but we see little evidence of that happening in our day – or in any other. It is fortunate then, that, in spite of appearances, the fate of the World does not rest on the wisdom of its leaders, like Donald Trump, but on the graciousness of God – who sent his Son, and who now sends us. For, happy indeed are those who take refuge in him.

And so, my journey is beginning to bear fruit, if only in a very small way. A small nudge here, a small nudge there, but then I am only two psalms in. I have another hundred and forty-eight to go.