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A sermon preached at Wethersfield (CT) Evangelical Free Church on July 3, 2022 as part of series entitled ‘Prayers of the Bible’

David Baer

Psa. 64:0         To the choirmaster. A David Psalm.

Psa. 64:1         Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;

              preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

2      Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,

              from the throng of evildoers,

3      who whet their tongues like swords,

              who aim bitter words like arrows,

4      shooting from ambush at the blameless,

              shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

5      They hold fast to their evil purpose;

              they talk of laying snares secretly,

        thinking, “Who can see them?”

6      They search out injustice,

        saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”

              For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.

Psa. 64:7         But God shoots his arrow at them;

              they are wounded suddenly.

8      They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;

              all who see them will wag their heads.

9      Then all mankind fears;

              they tell what God has brought about

              and ponder what he has done.

Psa. 64:10        Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD

              and take refuge in him!

        Let all the upright in heart exult!

Congregational prayer

On this Independence Day weekend, we thank You for the many privileges that our nation has brought to us as its citizens. We are thankful.

We know that the fruits of independence and nationhood have not always in our history been available to all. We ask forgiveness for those times when we have been participants in such shared sin, either by omission or commission. And we thank you that you have on so many occasions been merciful to these United States of America.

We are anxious in this moment, when nothing seems assured. We who have children or grandchildren fear for the world and the nation in which they will come of age. Like the psalmist, we often feel that unrighteousness and conspiracy outrun justice and truth and even decency. Have mercy upon our nation, we ask. 

Among our flock and our families at WEFC, we are plagued by the same illnesses and vices and worries that are common to all of our neighbors. We ask you to be merciful to us. Yet we have hope in our Lord Jesus Christ, we have tasted his goodness, we have known freedom in him. We want more of his Spirit. We ask you for more freedom in Christ, freedom not only to rejoice, but also to serve and even to lay down our perks and our lives as you invite us to do.

We pray that even as you have been present to us in worship, that you now come to us through your Word and then through the Lord’s Supper. We are hopeless without you. Yet we rejoice in your closeness and your care.

Amen.

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Psalm 64 is nobody’s favorite Psalm. 

Nobody memorizes this psalm. I bet we could walk through every home represented in our WEFC family and not find Psalm 64 tucked under a single refrigerator magnet. I can almost guarantee that nobody has this psalm cross-stitched and framed, hanging in the living room.

It’s a dark psalm. It’s foreboding. It begins with a complaint that is then developed in such conspiratorial detail that it doesn’t really even fit any of our established categories of the biblical psalms.

It walks us through a sinister, conspiratorial landscape. Only late in the psalm does the Lord even show up in the prayer’s lines and dissipate the clouds that the psalm has by that point left hanging above our heads. And only in the final clause of the entire psalm does the pray-er discover that he’s not the only one who knows this dark web of fears, conspiracies, and anxiety that has become his life.

The psalm does bring us into the light, does bring us towards hope in its final verse or two. But it makes us wait an unusually long time before it grants us that relief.

The writer of Psalm 64 believes he lives in a dangerous and menacing world. If we share his assessment, then we walk with him on infected soil. The path to school or to work or to grandmother’s house takes us past the open mouth of a dark cave. People are plotting against us—against me—around a candle just inside.

If you have seen anxiety in your life or a family member’s life descend towards paranoia, then this psalm will sound uncomfortably familiar to you, at least in its first verses. In our family, Karen and I not unfamiliar with paranoia. A family member calls up when his own darkness descends. He knows he’s being paranoiac in those moments, he knows the things he fears are probably not real, but he can’t escape the thoughts.

Or maybe the things you fear—alongside this brother psalmist—really are real. Maybe a rational person shouldfear those things. Maybe the anxiety that grips us in 2022 is a rational response.

By my lights, the writer of Psalm 64 claims to live in a deeply conspiratorial time when it’s impossible to know for sure how much of our anxiety is based on fact and how much is merely imagined.

And you know what? I think we do, too. 

I think that when this psalmist describes his moment, he describes ours as well.

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Now we are a community of Jesus followers. You may be visiting us this morning and may not yet have become a follower of Jesus. If so, you’re warmly welcome among us. We hope you’ll choose to hang out with us often. But a Jesus community is who we are and why we gather.

We claim to have found light and life in the mist of all that I’ve described. That’s our experience. It’s our testimony. It’s our witness. It’s our claim.

So in the light of this conspiratorial psalm this morning, I want to say this:

We rejoice in a dangerous and uncertain world. Our God-given joy takes root in infected soil. We whistle as we walk past the open mouth of that dark cave, not because we are naive, but because we have learned to trust in a reliable Lord who is really there. Really here.

The prayers of the Bible are not always voiced from strength. Quite often, their words flow from weakness. The prayers of the Bible do not always express deep confidence. Quite often they manifest dread and anxiety. We may find some model prayers, but we won’t always find model pray-ers. Perhaps there is no such thing. Maybe we mostly find pray-ers in process … pray-ers in formation … maybe as pray-ers we’re all works in progress.

This psalmist sure seems to be one.

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He prays out of palpable alone-ness. You could cut his anguished isolation with a knife.

In fact, the fact that he is very much alone is the first of three observations I want to make about this psalm.

Let’s hear again those first six verses:

Psa. 64:1            Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;

                   preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

2        Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,

                   from the throng of evildoers,

3        who whet their tongues like swords,

                   who aim bitter words like arrows,

4        shooting from ambush at the blameless,

                   shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

5        They hold fast to their evil purpose;

                   they talk of laying snares secretly,

          thinking, “Who can see them?”

6        They search out injustice,

          saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”

Do you notice that everything about this psalmist is singular and everything about those who threaten him is plural? He’s outnumbered.

Let me read it again, highlighting the singularity of this psalmist over against the plurality of his enemies… 

Psa. 64:1            Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;

                   preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

2        Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,

                   from the throng of evildoers,

3        who whet their tongues like swords,

                   who aim bitter words like arrows,

4        shooting from ambush at the blameless,

                   shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

5        They hold fast to their evil purpose;

                   they talk of laying snares secretly,

          thinking, “Who can see them?”

6        They search out injustice,

          saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”

He is all alone. Outnumbered. All the odds are in their favor. He is left only with the hope that God is somehow present … listening … watching … and prepared to act. But all of his address to God is a pleanot yet a report.

Observe with me, too, how invisible those who conspire against him are to him:

Psa. 64: 2 Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,

                   from the throng of evildoers,

3        who whet their tongues like swords,

                   who aim bitter words like arrows, (YOU CAN’T DODGE AN ARROW, YOU DON’T EVEN SEE IT COMING, IF YOU DON’T BELIEVE ME, TALK TO A DEER HUNTER WITH A SCAR OR TO THE VENISON IN YOUR FREEZER.)

4        shooting from ambush at the blameless,

                   shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

5        They hold fast to their evil purpose;

                   they talk of laying snares secretly, (YOU DON’T SEE A SNARE BEFORE IT’S TOO LATE … TALK TO A TRAPPER WITH A SCAR.)

          thinking, “Who can see them?”

Let’s take a deep breath … and let’s take the measure of this man’s predicament.

FIRST: He is all alone.

SECOND: He can’t see his enemies.

Let’s take a deep breath … and let’s the measure of this man’s predicament.

First: He is all alone.

Second: He can’t see his enemies.

I’ve wondered, as I’ve spent many hours with this psalm this week, whether this pray-er is sure that all those invisible conspirators really exist. The nature of a conspiracy is that it takes place in secret. It’s hard to know for sure who’s out there … how many of them there are … how realistic is their threat … and whether they’re even really there … which is pretty bad if they are. Or whether I’m making this all up in my head, which might even be worse.

And even this wondering seems to bring our psalmist closer to our time … and to our anxious, conspiratorial moment. A time when it’s sometimes hard to know who are the crazy ones and who are the sane ones. And where I stand on that spectrum.

If you identify at all with this kind of isolated anxiety, then this psalm is a prayer for you. You should pray it.

Praying in the Bible’s way is not an exact science. We don’t have to know precisely what’s going on around us. We are invited to express before the Lord our ‘complaint’—as this Psalm call its—in hope that we aren’t actually as alone out here as we feel.

Or maybe you know all too well who has plotted against you at work … at school … in your family. Maybe there aren’t really any ambiguities at all. It’s not that things are unclear for you, it’s just that they’re so miserably unfair. So wrong.

And you are so left isolated and defenseless against their plot.

This prayer, then, is also a prayer for you:

Psa. 64:1            Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;

                   preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

2        Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,

                   from the throng of evildoers,

3        who whet their tongues like swords,

                   who aim bitter words like arrows,

4        shooting from ambush at the blameless,

                   shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

5        They hold fast to their evil purpose;

                   they talk of laying snares secretly,

          thinking, “Who can see them?”

6        They search out injustice,

          saying, “We have accomplished a diligent search.”

                   For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.

Before we leave this first part of today’s message, may I leave you with one more observation? It would feel evasive for me not to say something about it before we move on into the two remaining sections of this psalm. It would seem as though I were leaving God’s Word floating in space, unconnected with who we are and where we are in this moment.

In our hyper-politicized moment in this country, how can you know if you’ve fallen prey to the angry environment we live in? No matter whether there are conspiracies and conspirators out there, how can you know when *you* have become conspiratorial (and are playing the enemy’s game)?: When you no longer take your fears to the Lord first before you take them anywhere else.

I think this psalm encourages us to do just that.

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This psalm’s first pray-er felt himself to be very alone. He was isolated and more than a little bit afraid.

 Now the biblical psalms before they are anything else are prayers. They show us the many forms that prayer to the God of Israel and the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ can take. They offer us models for prayer. Not the prayers of model people, necessarily. But the range and diversity and daringness and honesty of prayers as these were prayed by Israel and as they are now prayed by followers of Jesus everywhere. But the psalms do more than merely show is what honest prayers are like. They show us also how honest prayers work.

Very often prayer begins with our darkness and then leads us into deep encounter with God.

That is exactly what happens in this prayer. The prayer takes a step forward at verse 7. In English, this awareness of God’s presence and God’s activity is introduced with the word ‘But…’.

Why this little word?

Well, ‘but’ appears right here in order to represent a turn that the Hebrew pray-er makes in the sudden realization that he is not alone.

Now don’t misunderstand what I’m saying here. He has not yet realized that his plight is one that is familiar to other people. It’s not that he finds himself suddenly in the presence of a sympathetic community. The turning at verse 7 is not that kind of turning.



Rather he sees that his invisible enemies … his unseen conspirators … have their counterpart in the presence of the unseen God … an unseen Ally … an unseen Protector.

Psa. 64:7            But God shoots his arrow at them;

                   they are wounded suddenly.

8        They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;

                   all who see them will wag their heads.

Let’s dig down deeply into this truth that this prayer is telling in these two little verses.

Do you see the irony in these verses, right here in verses 7 and 8?

Back in verse 4, we read that the wicked ‘shoot… from ambush at the blameless, shooting at him suddenly and without fear.’

Here we see that God shoots his arrow suddenly. In the Hebrew text, the words are the very same two words, just as in our English translation ‘shoot’ and ‘suddenly’ are the same words in verse 4, where they describe the conspirators’ shooting as in verse 7, where they describes God’s sudden shooting.

That’s one aspect of the irony of what the psalmist begins to see clearly as he prays and communicates to us in vv. 7-8. We could bookmark this reality for a moment by observing that ‘maybe the pray-er’s world is not quite as dangerous as he imagined.’

But there is a second irony. It is the conspirators’ own scheming that leads to their downfall. They are brought to ruin ‘with their own tongues turned against them.’

So which is it?

A. Does God turn on his righteous one’s persecutors and destroy them?

B. Or does their own scheming bring their downfall.

Well, the psalmist seems untroubled by the fact that it’s both of these things at the same time.

There’s instruction in this for us, I think.

Why is it, in time, that the worst schemers we’ve ever met … whether in our little private lives or on a public canvas writ large in the form of politics or history … why is it that they are so often … in time … brought low … disgraced … and often destroyed? 

Did they do it to themselves? Yes, because that is how the world works, our psalm tells us.

But did God’s arrow also fly silently and suddenly in the turn of events. Well, yes, because that’s also how the world works, our psalmist would have us believe.

Are we being instructed to have eyes to see the silent hand of God moving in the slow and then sometimes sudden turning of events?



I think so.

More importantly, are we being invited to learn to walk prayerfully and fearlessly through the conspiracies of our moment? Yes, I think so.

You see, there is a permanence in righteousness that tends to outlast its enemies. And there is a fleetingness to the temporary dominance of the unrighteous that tends to fade slowly or to fall suddenly as time in this God-shaped world of ours moves forward.

It turns out, this psalmist comes to understand in prayer, that he is not alone. It turns out, we students of this instruction, come to understand, that we are not alone. God, with his swift arrow, is watching … patiently … but also attentively … and in time actively.

Do we expect it? Do we observe it? Do we quietly give thanks for it?

Or are we bereft of eyes that see the movements of God’s hand no matter how blurry and fleeting and poorly lit the image? Have we become so secularized that we cannot see His hand in our history … in our histories?

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At the end of this psalm—in the last two verses … the final four lines of this psalm, the pray-er finally finds himself in human company.

I’m going to skip over verse 9 and focus in the final moments of this teaching on verse 10.

[Then all mankind fears;

                   they tell what God has brought about

                   and ponder what he has done.]

Psa. 64:10          Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD

                   and take refuge in him!

          Let all the upright in heart exult!

In the first line of verse 10, our pray-er is still very much alone. But having seen what his eyes have seen—or perhaps what his confidence in the Lord promises his heart that he will see—his is a solitude of rejoicing rather than of trembling in fear. It is an aloneness that shouts out God’s reliability and seeks to find still further refuge in Him.

Then, in the psalm’s final syllables, the pray-er recognizes that God’s trustworthiness amid anxiety-producing circumstances is an experience that all God’s sons and daughters can be expected to experience: Let all the upright in heart exult!

The Psalms so often do this kind of thing, moving from the long, arduous, taxing journey of the individual, who must fight his or her battles himself…

… into the welcoming embrace of a community … of a family … where every one has fought his or her own battles.

There is in fact a coming home to a family like ours at WEFC and hundreds of thousands of other communities where Jesus is honored. But that community of faith … of shared destiny … of Jesus’ presence … never quite eliminates the burden that rests on the shoulders of each of us to engage our fears, our addictions, our anxieties, our sin, our faithlessness … on our own and for ourselves … before God.

It’s a paradox of being a disciple of Christ, one of the really deep ones. Each of us is very much alone in the most critical decisions about who we will be … and at the same time embraced in the arms of a community that understands, supports, prays, and walks with us.

This psalm is just one of many manifestations of that same reality.

Are you anxious? Are there those who would bring you down? Or bring your church down? Or bring your nation down? (On this Fourth of July).

Does the chaos within and without make you unsure about whether the threat lives only in your head? Or whether it really and truly stalks your family, your workplace, your school, your country?

Then pray:

Psa. 64:1            Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;

                   preserve my life from dread of the enemy.

2        Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,

                   from the throng of evildoers,

3        who whet their tongues like swords,

                   who aim bitter words like arrows,

4        shooting from ambush at the blameless,

                   shooting at him suddenly and without fear.

5        They hold fast to their evil purpose;

                   they talk of laying snares secretly,

          thinking, “Who can see them?”

This little, unfavorite psalm is not the answer to all our problems. Nor is it more than a single important voice within Scripture.

But it invites those who trust in God to walk with confidence until that day, soon or far off, when God’s will shall be done … on earth as it is in heaven.

Meanwhile…in this present darkness…

Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD

                   and take refuge in him!

          Let all the upright in heart exult!

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A reflection offered to United World Mission’s US Leadership Team

27 September 2021

I think we may find ourselves in a season of Joshua-like courage.

I’m no doubt influenced in saying so by John’s kick-off video last week, but also by a long weekend walk in the autumnal Connecticut woods with my dog Rhea and three recent conversations with—respectively—Jonathan, Jessica, and Chad. Those convos were of such quality that they left me feeling as though we’re in the kind of season that becomes a point of reference for entire careers. The kinds of seasons that have retired LAMers at Penney Farms still talking about the 60s and 70s when young renegades like René Padilla, Samuel Escobar, and Orlando Costas burst on the scene without asking permission. LAM, to the astonishment of many and the horror of some, cautiously embraced these Latin American voices.

The rest is history.

I’m sure we could narrate similar tales come from critical hinges in 20th and 21st century history, for example, when it became possible to serve behind the Iron Curtain as the Berlin Wall trembled and eventually crumbled.

In each case, Joshua-like courage was required … and forthcoming.

I think we might be in another of those seasons. We may someday talk about the moment we’re living now in the UWM retirement community that John will build for us. Some sooner than others.

Here’s a text:

Josh. 1:1  After the death of Moses the servant of the LORD, the LORD said to Joshua the son of Nun, Moses’ assistant, 2 “Moses my servant is dead. Now therefore arise, go over this Jordan, you and all this people, into the land that I am giving to them, to the people of Israel. 3 Every place that the sole of your foot will tread upon I have given to you, just as I promised to Moses. 4 From the wilderness and this Lebanon as far as the great river, the river Euphrates, all the land of the Hittites to the Great Sea toward the going down of the sun shall be your territory. 5 No man shall be able to stand before you all the days of your life. Just as I was with Moses, so will be with you. I will not leave you or forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, for you shall cause this people to inherit the land that I swore to their fathers to give them. 7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good successwherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success. 9 Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”

Joshua 1.1-9 (ESV)

 Can you see in this opening to the first book after the ‘five book of Moses’ how utterly grounded—the more appropriate term is rooted—Joshua is called to remain?

7 Only be strong and very courageous, being careful to do according to all the law that Moses my servant commanded you. Do not turn from it to the right hand or to the left, that you may have good successwherever you go. 8 This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous, and then you will have good success.

Joshua 1.7-8 (ESV)

And yet Joshua’s commission is anything but backward-looking. To the contrary, he is charged with stepping into very large shoes and with leading his people into the scary unknown. Not all of them wanted to go there. Not all of them wanted to go there under Joshua’s baton.

This happens in the midst of lots of drama, with Yahweh responding in Deuteronomy to Moses’ plea to be allowed to enter the promised land after he’d been told that was not gonna’ happen:

Deut. 3:23   And I pleaded with the LORD at that time, saying, 24 ‘O Lord GOD, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your mighty hand. For what god is there in heaven or on earth who can do such works and mighty acts as yours? 25 Please let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that good hill country and Lebanon.’ 26 But the LORD was angry with me because of you and would not listen to me. And the LORD said to me, ‘Enough from you; do not speak to me of this matter again.’

Deuteronomy 3.23-26 (ESV)

Deeply rooted …. forward-leaning.

I wonder if that’s where we find ourselves as UWM and as a USLT…

I might be tempted to leave Joshua and Joshua-like courage where it stands, not uprooting it from its native soil and forcing into some kind of relevance for us when that might not be what it’s there for.


Except for Psalm 1, one of my favorites.

Blessed is the man

who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,

nor stands in the way of sinners,

nor sits in the seat of scoffers;

but his delight is in the law of the LORD,

and on his law he meditates day and night.

He is like a tree

planted by streams of water

that yields its fruit in its season,

and its leaf does not wither.

in all that he does, he prospers.

Psalm 1.1-3 (ESV)

One of Israel’s poets has riffed on Joshua 1 and, in the process, democratized it. The way he redeploys the language of what for us is Joshua 1 make it indisputably a poetic restatement of the Joshua text. Then a final editor of this book of Israel’s praises—maybe the same persona, maybe not—has placed it as the very doorway into Israel’s hymns, laments, meditations, screams, and words of stabilizing wisdom.

So Joshua-like courage now becomes a summons for every daughter and son of Israel.

Again, we see that his blessed person is very, very deeply rooted. Now to say ‘grounded’ is not enough.

Yet this Psalm is no more antiquarian than the Joshua text, no more backward-looking that Joshua’s commission was. It is about wading forward into the psalms, wading forward into life with Yahweh, wading in as a responsible member of the community in which Yahweh has embedded each of us, wading in to forge a future out of sometimes unpromising raw material.

Joshua-like courage, now for everyone. Still deeply rooted …. and still forward-leaning.

It’s this line of thinking that has got its claws into me in this season of life within UWM (and FUSBC…) that has me seeking Joshua-like courage, which is no more innate in me than it was in Joshua. He, after all, needed strong exhortation to summon up this courage rather than simply employ a kind of heroic fearlessness that lay somehow on the surface of him, readily available.

That’s what I want to do and what I observe numbers of you doing.

I want to reminisce about this season someday on my rocking chair at Bernard Farms in central Vermont, when Autumn is falling and the voices of my LAM forebears in Penney Farms have gone quiet. It’ll be worth it.

So that’s what I’ve got.

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The poet who stands behind our 104th psalm contributes to a compendium that adds to YHWH’s activity in history a celebration of his work in creation. It is a beautiful oddity.

Curiously, two features of divine participation in creation interweave the psalmist’s celebration. (more…)

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Psalm 103 insists that we live in a world in which clear vision leads to gratitude.

Blessedness is reality. The failure to see this means that someone has gone blind, perhaps even succumbed to a lie.

Yet gratitude requires a choice—and even that ongoing choice which becomes a discipline—because for some unnamed reason we are liable to forget. Blessing is a fact on the ground, yet gratitude seldom occurs in nature. It requires practice, discipline, even culture, lest blessing go unanswered by thanksgiving. (more…)

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The exclamation, the sensuous enthusiasm of the summons that comes to us in the 8th verse of this psalm of testimony and wisdom surprises. If such an invocation to sensation is just about imaginable in the context of witness, it is utterly defiant of the disciplined reflection of classical wisdom.

Yet here it is:

Oh, taste and see that the Lord is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! (Psalm 34:8 ESV)

Perhaps the particular challenge that an acrostic psalm (alphabetically ordered) thrusts against the prowess of its composer explains this ranging wide of the customary field of play. We might imagine that the poor guy will say just about anything as long as it begins with the right letter. Or conversely, if we’ve sung or read this language of sanctified gustation one time too many, its impertinence might even escape our attention. (more…)

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The famous rhetorical question of the eighth Psalm is widely misgauged:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? (Psalm 8:3–4 ESV)

The assumption behind the question is too often thought to be that human beings are too measly and pathetic to warrant such divine attention. In fact, the context suggests just the opposite: there is some intrinsic glory—albeit veiled—in human beings that holds YHWH’s gaze:

Yet you have made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honor. You have given him dominion over the works of your hands; you have put all things under his feet, all sheep and oxen, and also the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the fish of the sea, whatever passes along the paths of the seas.

Next to the massive dimensions of the moon and the stars, humans are manifestly small creatures. One might not expect YHWH to find them fascinating and worthy of his care. Yet in spite of their humble bearing, we read that YHWH is mindful of them, cares for them, indeed has exalted them over the rest of creation. (more…)

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As the Psalter works its way down the home stretch toward its finale in the 150th psalm, the gloves come off. Doxology reaches to a stretch, digs down to bedrock, summons even the unseen powers and convenes heaven’s lights.

Praise the Lord! Praise the Lord from the heavens; praise him in the heights! Praise him, all his angels; praise him, all his hosts!

Praise him, sun and moon, praise him, all you shining stars! Praise him, you highest heavens, and you waters above the heavens!

Let them praise the name of the Lord! For he commanded and they were created. And he established them forever and ever; he gave a decree, and it shall not pass away.

(Psalm 148:1–6 ESV)

In the ancient Israelite context, calling upon sun and moon to praise their Maker is brave: they were often worshiped as gods themselves. It is also polemical: they are put in their place.

They do not seem to mind, in the psalmist’s opinion, though worshippers of the heavenly bodies might beg to differ. The psalmist imagines heaven’s lights praising YHWH at full throat simply for the privilege of having been created at his command so that they can do so.

There is, we are asked to accept, no corner of heaven or earth where praise is rightly withheld. If there is war in heaven, celestial conspiracies afoot, they are forgotten as the psalmist reaches forward to how things should be. Will be.

The most awesome, the most mighty, the high and almost holy, even these burst into song when their time comes. They know their place, and are glad in it.

How much more we mortals, elevated as we are now to sing along without too much embarrassment about our little voices, trembling hands, sad yesterdays.

Perhaps He commanded us, too, into existence so that we could sing like this, eyes moist because we are not yet fully home.

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The faint heart is often insomniac. What is it about the 3:00 a.m. hour, so full of worries, fears, and untimely wakefulness? As though on schedule, eyes open and the faint heart races. Life’s shadows loom taller and more menacing than usual. Improbable fears seem perfectly plausible. Things that will shrink into proportion in the light of day take the shape of lethal threats and impassable walls. The sixty-first psalm relieves us of at least one of our disabling fears: that we cannot pray because our heart is faint. (more…)

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After detailing the radical bent-ness of the wicked, the writer of the thirty-sixth psalm finds himself overwhelmed by the ubiquity of YHWH. The LORD’s loving justice is everywhere.

Your steadfast love, O LORD, extends to the heavens, your faithfulness to the clouds. Your righteousness is like the mountains of God; your judgments are like the great deep; man and beast you save, O LORD. (Psalm 36:5–6 ESV)

The Hebrew Bible does not traffic in the notions of omnipresence or ubiquity to which thoughtful readers of the Bible would eventually lay their hand. Its natural dialect is more concrete, more this-worldly. Yet, in spite of what might seem to our habits of thinking a limitation, the Hebrew poet knows how to say exactly what he wants to say. (more…)

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The thirty-second psalm is all but drunk with sweet release.

Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the LORD counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1–2 ESV)

Like most durable truths, this one has been hard won. Whatever the shattering failure of the writer, it led to writhing that seemed a sickness unto death:

For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah

I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,’ and you forgave the iniquity of my sin.

(more…)

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