Sunday 6th August – Psalm 17
Listen, O Lord, to my plea for justice;
pay attention to my cry for help!
Listen to my honest prayer.
2 You will judge in my favor,
because you know what is right.
3 You know my heart.
You have come to me at night;
you have examined me completely
and found no evil desire in me.
I speak no evil,
4 as others do;
I have obeyed your command
and have not followed paths of violence.
5 I have always walked in your way
and have never strayed from it.
6 I pray to you, O God, because you answer me;
so turn to me and listen to my words.
7 Reveal your wonderful love and save me;
at your side I am safe from my enemies.
8 Protect me as you would your very eyes;
hide me in the shadow of your wings
9 from the attacks of the wicked.
Deadly enemies surround me;
10 they have no pity and speak proudly.
11 They are around me now, wherever I turn,
watching for a chance to pull me down.
12 They are like lions, waiting for me,
wanting to tear me to pieces.
13 Come, Lord! Oppose my enemies and defeat them!
Save me from the wicked by your sword;
14 save me from those who in this life have all they want.
Punish them with the sufferings you have stored up for them;
may there be enough for their children
and some left over for their children’s children!
15 But I will see you, because I have done no wrong;
and when I awake, your presence will fill me with joy.
Often in the Psalms we wonder what circumstance was in the mind of David when he penned the particular one we are reading. Those who are familiar with his life as detailed in the books of Samuel and Kings can make guesses but we are never quite sure. With Psalm 17 we are hearing a prayer for help against the lying and deceitful lips of others who are trying to trip him up.
A lot of this kind of behaviour comes from the politics of court life which, like all governmental establishments, is a breeding ground for dissent, gossip and manipulation. There is in fallen human nature a will to power that is prepared to step over truth and honesty in a mad struggle to gain ascendancy. Are there any countries today where we cannot see this? Even in democracies, playing to the gallery of group desires and wishes in order to gain a seat at the top table is easily seen.
David is God’s man and, though not perfect, is described as “a man after God’s own heart” (1 Samuel 13:14). He is also a precursor of God’s Messiah, Jesus, and when we look to him we know we are hearing the truth (“The words I speak to you are spirit, and they are life”) (John 6:33) yet how often was he spoken against and traduced both in his ministry and at his trial? At the receiving end of lies and untruths David does not try to match his opponents tactics to gain the ascendancy instead he takes his situation to God asking him to “rise up and confront them” (v13) and in so doing gives the path for us to follow whenever we feel we are being ill-spoken of. There are times when we just have to “take it” even when we are angry and annoyed inside; God’s eyes see it and he will answer in due time.
If you are ever wounded by words spoken against you, don’t pick up the weapons of those who are against you, go to Psalm 17 and make it your prayer.
READINGS FOR THE WEEK AHEAD
If you don’t have a bible at home you can find the readings on a website such as www.biblegateway.com or an app such as YouVersion
Monday 1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13
Paul was frustrated that he couldn’t go to meet the Thessalonians again to sort out the difficulties and opposition they were receiving and he says he did try more than once but “Satan blocked the way”. He doesn’t say any more than that and we are left to guess what he meant but he certainly knew the hindrance wasn’t of God. There were other times when he felt he wanted to go to a certain place but it was “the Spirit” who prevented him (Acts 16:6) but here he says it was Satan. Not being able to go he did the next best thing he could think of which was to send Timothy in his place to see how they were, to give them encouragement, and see that they were not unsettled by trials.
Timothy had returned with good news that the church was not shaken but standing firm in faith and so Paul expresses his joy and relief. The shared love within the early Church is quite evident here (v12) and Paul prays that this mutuality will be strengthened. We need to remember not just to jostle along with each other in the Church but to grow in real and genuine love for one another. Some were trying to sow discord amongst the Thessalonians, but they had shown that they were not knocked off their genuine love and respect for the apostles. Let’s do the same.
Tuesday 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12
In chapter 4 we are given a glimpse into some of the teaching Paul had given the young Church and he wants to repeat it because of its importance. The apostle having rejoiced in the new believers in Thessalonica doesn’t want them to forget how they should live now that they belonged to a new Lord.
The first thing he does is warn them about their sexual behaviour (I Thess 4:1-8). People often groan about the Church having a bee in the bonnet about sex whenever it says anything about it but actually it is the other way round – it is the world that can’t keep away from sex – look along the magazine racks to see what takes the interest! And, as today, this was certainly the case in the ancient world. In 1997 a brothel was discovered in Thessalonica described as an “exceedingly well-equipped house of debauchery”. It was linked to a bathhouse and dining room and had a warren of tiny rooms and eye-opening artefacts I won’t begin to describe here. Edmund Richardson said it was “one of the few windows we have into the everyday sexual life of an ancient city”. William Barclay commenting on the effect of Christianity on the ancient world said “Chastity was the one completely new virtue which Christianity brought into the world. In the ancient world sexual relationships before marriage and outside marriage were the normal and accepted practice. The sexual appetite was regarded as a thing to be gratified, not to be controlled”. Paul warned them that this wasn’t the way of God’s new kingdom and he strengthens his words by saying that anyone who rejects this teaching doesn’t reject me but God (V8). Quite some statement.
The manner of life he encourages is to make it their ambition to live a quiet life, minding their own business so that their lives would win the respect of outsiders. Chastity outside of marriage and faithfulness within does win the respect of outsiders.
Wednesday 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
A troublesome issue amongst the young church was that of the death of members in view of their expectation of what the resurrection meant for them. Obviously Paul had taught that in Christ they would be resurrected but also that Christ was coming again, how to put these things together was puzzling to them and they were concerned that if some had died before Christ came they would miss out on the glories of life in the new kingdom.
Paul tells them not to grieve like the rest of mankind who have no hope, for those who die in Christ are not lost to an eternal grave. If we add in what Paul says in Philippians 1:23 (and also his teaching in 1 Corinthians 15) believers who die will be with him in some spiritual way until his coming again and when he returns they will be with him and united with those who are still alive on the earth becoming resurrected (the dead) or bodily changed (the still living) to be “with the Lord forever”. He says – and we should take this for ourselves as well – “therefore encourage one another with these words”
Thursday 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Paul continues his teaching on the end times which he had previously done (v1) but he wants to repeat to make sure they know how to live in preparation – something that is as relevant to us as well. He uses a phrase “the Day of the Lord” which has a lot of use in the Old Testament where the prophets speak of it in militaristic terms both from the standpoint of the victors and the defeated. Isaiah speaks of it as a time when the proud and lofty will be brought low (Is 2:12). Amos challenges the people of his day with “why do you long for the day of the Lord” telling them that for them it will not be a day of light but of darkness” (Amos 5”18) but then Joel holds out a promise that “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved”.
What Paul wants to tell them is that this day has a suddenness about it, its arrival being unexpected for the world at large (5:2,3) but the young church shouldn’t be surprised because they are children of the light (v5). The world at large he characterises as being asleep and being like drunk men in the darkness but not so the church. He tells them that they belong in the light, they are children of the day, and therefore should live that way. Their soldierly equipment for that day being faith and love as a breastplate and hope as a helmet.
Being on holiday as I write I remember that before we came we got organised and packed, making sure everything was ready, we didn’t sit and wait until the morning when we were due to go, so it is that our Christian life needs to be one of readiness to meet our Lord whether suddenly in death or to come in the near present (v10).
Friday 1 Thessalonians 5:12-28
Paul comes to some final instructions starting with teaching about leadership and about fellowship. The Thessalonians were to hold their leaders in high regard and they were to live in peace with each other. That didn’t mean ignoring behaviour that was wrong (v14) but it meant striving to do good for each other (v15). That’s a great message for any church.
Then comes something we ought always to remember every day we get up “Rejoice always, pray continually and give thanks”. What does he mean by ‘pray continually’? I heard it described once as what we do when we have a persistent cough, it doesn’t mean that all our breathing is cough but it does mean that its repetitive nature is always there.
When he says not to quench the Spirit he means that when we are aware of the Holy Spirit’s prompting within us we should not ignore it. Prophecies or words spoken with the sense of them being from God ought not to be brushed aside easily. God may speak through a sermon on a Sunday or through other members of the church and we should not treat them with contempt but test to see whether this is God’s word to us. Read the last verses again and note Paul’s prayer for the young church – their sanctification before the coming of Christ.
Saturday The Book of Ruth
We turn now to a fascinating little book in the Old Testament and one of only two with women’s names in the title. This book is a romance. A romance between two people but also a romance about the relationship of the Church and her Groom, the Lord Jesus. Love is at the heart of it, at the heart of God’s people and the mutual love between her and her Lordr.
It starts with a bit of background about life about 1000 years before Christ, a time when life was hard with skirmishes between peoples mixed with famine and economic hardship. People moved, they became refugees in neighbouring lands struggling to carve out a life for themselves and their families and it tells us of one man from Bethlehem called Elimelek who took his wife and two sons from where they were living and went to live in Moab.
We should remember that Elimelek was a Jew and he was living in the area of Bethlehem which was a part of the land God had promised to his people however Elimelek took his family to Moab, a kingdom adjacent to Israel which bore a hostility to Israel and worshipped other gods. Was there a hint of lack of faith on Elimelek’s part? Anyway, the family fortunes declined because Elimelek died and so did his two sons leaving his sorrowing widow, Naomi, and two Moabite daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah.
God still had plans for this benighted family but for the moment things looked grim. This is a good reminder that even if we drift far from God taking wrong paths he is still a gracious God who can bless the weakest. Is that a word to someone reading these chapters today? Read this book and see how good God is.
Naomi found out that God had brought better times to the land of Israel and so she decided to move back but encouraged her bereaved daughters-in-law to stay where they were in the hope of finding other husbands and a continued future in Moab. She wasn’t returning with great hope but she went back nevertheless.