Sunday 10th September – Psalm 22
1 My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
2 My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.[b]
3 Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.[c]
4 In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.
5 To you they cried out and were saved;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
6 But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by everyone, despised by the people.
7 All who see me mock me;
they hurl insults, shaking their heads.
8 “He trusts in the Lord,” they say,
“let the Lord rescue him.
Let him deliver him,
since he delights in him.”
9 Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
10 From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
11 Do not be far from me,
for trouble is near
and there is no one to help.
12 Many bulls surround me;
strong bulls of Bashan encircle me.
13 Roaring lions that tear their prey
open their mouths wide against me.
14 I am poured out like water,
and all my bones are out of joint.
My heart has turned to wax;
it has melted within me.
15 My mouth[d] is dried up like a potsherd,
and my tongue sticks to the roof of my mouth;
you lay me in the dust of death.
16 Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce[e] my hands and my feet.
17 All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
18 They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
19 But you, Lord, do not be far from me.
You are my strength; come quickly to help me.
20 Deliver me from the sword,
my precious life from the power of the dogs.
21 Rescue me from the mouth of the lions;
save me from the horns of the wild oxen.
22 I will declare your name to my people;
in the assembly I will praise you.
23 You who fear the Lord, praise him!
All you descendants of Jacob, honor him!
Revere him, all you descendants of Israel!
24 For he has not despised or scorned
the suffering of the afflicted one;
he has not hidden his face from him
but has listened to his cry for help.
25 From you comes the theme of my praise in the great assembly;
before those who fear you[f] I will fulfill my vows.
26 The poor will eat and be satisfied;
those who seek the Lord will praise him—
may your hearts live forever!
27 All the ends of the earth
will remember and turn to the Lord,
and all the families of the nations
will bow down before him,
28 for dominion belongs to the Lord
and he rules over the nations.
29 All the rich of the earth will feast and worship;
all who go down to the dust will kneel before him—
those who cannot keep themselves alive.
30 Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
31 They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
I wish we could hear the music this Psalm was sung to. Its title is “The Doe of the Morning” which sounds light and bright but the Psalm is sad and solemn, the first words are the second last words of Jesus on the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
As we read the Psalm we hear cries of anguish and suffering – “I cry out by day, but you do not answer, by night, but I find no rest”. (V2) – no one comes to help or sustain the writer but in contrast, “All who see me mock me; they hurl insults, shaking their heads. ‘He trusts in the LORD,’ they say,
‘let the LORD rescue him’”. (V7-8). And as we read these words we say, hold on a minute, I know who this Psalm is about, it’s about Jesus isn’t it? – “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment” (V18). Of course it is.
Once again we see a Messianic Psalm of David not just about him but about Jesus. Everyone knows the 23rd Psalm but how many look back to see this one immediately preceding it because it is this Psalm which tells of why Jesus is the Good Shepherd. In one of his parables Jesus said the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep which is precisely what he does as he heads for Jerusalem in the last week of his life to lay down his life for us. It was this Psalm which was in his mind on the cross as he cried to his Father feeling the pain of the loss which sinners destitute of fellowship with God feel.
Although based on Isaiah 53, Handel’s great Aria from the Messiah, sung by Kathleen Ferrier brings out the heart of what Psalm 22 says of the inner suffering of Jesus on the cross. He is indeed the Man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.
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 Exodus 15:1-21
The escape from Egypt and the pursuing Egyptian Army is celebrated in this chapter in what is called the Song of Miriam because it is a corporate hymn of praise to God for his deliverance. Music and singing have been a part of Christian life and worship right from the start. After the last supper Mattew tells us, “When they had sung a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives”. (Matt 26:30). The preface to the Methodist Hymn Book which has given so much to English hymnody said, “Methodism was born in song” and throughout Christian history song has been part of the heart of the Church.
This is quite different for example to Islam where there are no musical instruments and there is no singing in mosques. Recited prayers are what are spoken. I remember being quite surprised by this when I first heard and asked a Muslim friend how God can be praised or worshipped without music and song. That is a question for Muslims to answer but for us, when we see and perceive the sheer goodness and grace of God, our hearts bring music to the fore to enhance and lift up the words of praise and thanksgiving that come may be to us. This is what happened after the deliverance from Egypt.
Whatever your favourite hymn or song may be, many Christians want to have hymns of praise sung at their funerals so that they leave this life sharing the music of redemption and life with those they leave behind. If you haven’t so far, maybe you might think about it now.
Tuesday Exodus 15:22-27
If you have been following these readings when we went through the Book of Ruth, you will remember Naomi didn’t want to be called by her name but to be called ‘Marah’ because her life had been made bitter (by God?). We hear that word at the end of chapter 15 because the people of Israel called the place they stopped at ‘Marah’ because the needed water they found was bitter and not drinkable whatever the cause of it was.
Well, well. Three days ago there was singing and dancing and rejoicing that they had escaped from their terrible persecutors and now – down in the dumps and critical of Moses. Our feelings can fluctuate like the weather and if we don’t realise this we will end up in the same position as the Israelites here.
I remember an old chorus that went “I’m so happy here’s the reason why, Jesus took my burdens all away” which, while true, is not the whole story. Another old hymn “At the cross, at the cross, where I first saw the light and the burdens of my sin fell away ….” ends with “…now I am happy all the day”. I’m afraid we have to say no to such sentiments because once starting on the Christian pathway we find we are traversing a desert on the way to the promised land and in the desert, there be nasty surprises. Jesus was tempted forty days after his baptism so should we expect anything different once we give our life to him?
If we find bitter experiences happen to us let’s not turn around with angry recrimination against God. We may not direct our grumbles against God may not be God, we will persuade ourselves it will probably be someone else who gets the hard edge of our tongue, but it is God who is the hidden target none the less. Beware.
We could say much by way of allegory about the tree thrown into the water which cured the brackishness if we think of the cross for by his death Jesus extracts the pain and takes the bitter away when we trust him. Amen. Bless the Lord.
Wednesday Exodus 16:1-15
Grumbling is becoming endemic in the people of Israel. They grumbled when they saw themselves trapped on the Egyptian side of the Red Sea, they grumbled after the Exodus when the water was bitter at Marah, now they grumbled about the food provision.
I remember a friend who was in hospital opposite a persistent grumbler who couldn’t find anything right with the ward, the staff, the doctors, in fact he was always ready to share with his fellows what was wrong. My friend, who was a bit of a wit, decided if he couldn’t beat him he might as well join him, and so he started to complain too, only he upped the anti; he started with the operating theatres being filthy, the doctors never coming in on time and drinking on the job, the surgical instruments being left to get rusty. Eventually the man opposite began to go quiet.
God heard the grumbling (v11) and told Moses and Aaron to prepare the people for he would send quail in the evening followed by manna for the people. The word manna just means “what is it?” because the people didn’t know what it was but it was a provision given them by God as they travelled through the desert. It is amazing how God is gracious even to grumblers – but it is amazing how many Churches have them!
Thursday Exodus 16:15-36
So, God provided manna for them to eat and there was always enough for everyone, no matter how large or small the families, but they were only to gather enough for themselves and not to try to store it so they could have more than their needs. Did they do this? No, they did not. Some tried to heap up all they could and what happened was that it went off, it was full of maggots.
One can’t help wondering about the comparison of this daily provision and modern-day finance. The apostle Paul said “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want..” (Philippians 4:12). He was in prison at the time. How wonderful to read this; how difficult to do.
By now we realise that this is a people who couldn’t take a telling. On the Sabbath, which God designed as a rest day for the people, there would be enough manna on the Saturday for two days so that they didn’t need to go out on the Sabbath. However, some went out and God said to Moses, ““How long will you refuse to keep my commands and my instructions? (Exodus 16:28). As a memento of God’s provision however an omer of the Manna was to be kept in a jar as a reminder to the people in years to come that God supplied them with all they needed while they were wandering in the desert. Sometimes it is good to keep something at home as a reminder of past blessings and it is always right to recount past mercies from God with thanksgiving.
Friday Exodus 17:1-7
Did you expect to hear the end of grumblings from the saved people? Think again. God calls this people in a few places, “stiff-necked”, in other words not ready to change direction from the way they are going and in this chapter they find when they camped at Rephidim that there was no water. They quarrelled with Moses and said, ‘Give us water to drink’, though Moses replies, “Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?” (Exodus 17:2). We notice once again that it is not God they grumble at but his servant, Moses. It is always that way.
God gives Moses an answer which is designed to be a miraculous answer to the people’s complaint, done before them so that they can see. Moses was asked to strike a rock out of which water would come for the people – and this is what he did and what happened.
This incident is one which is spoken of a few places in the Bible – in Deuteronomy 8:15 God reminded the people that he had brought water out of hard rock, in Psalm 78:15,16 he reminds the people he split the rocks in the wilderness and gave water as abundant as the seas, and in the New Testament Paul says that the people, “drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ”. (1 Cor 10:4). Pause and meditate on that and on a spiritual thirst that you may have and how it is assuaged in Jesus.
On top of this the satisfying of our own thirst can also quench others. John says “Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.”(John 7:38). If we stop grumbling about our circumstances, God can more than abundantly satisfy us and use us to bring a water of life to others too.
Saturday Exodus 17:8-16
We are introduced in these verses to a group called the Amalekitess about which the Old Testament has more to say but which we will not deal with here. As to their origin they were a tribe of nomads living to the South of Canaan descended from Jacob’s brother Esau – remember the earthy man who ‘sold his inheritance to his brother’ for ‘a mess of pottage’ (Gen 25:29-34) – and lost the blessing of God given by Isaac. Jacob’s future descendants were given the name ‘children of Israel’ after his other name (Gen 35:10). So here we have ancient ‘half-relatives’ trying to snuff out Jacob’s children in the wilderness. Pharoah tried to keep them as his slaves, here the Amalekites try to get rid of them altogether.
Moses plan for defence was to put Joshua in charge of the fighting men whilst he would go up on a hill and pray/plead with God for victory. The way he did this was to take his staff, the symbol of leadership God had given him, and hold it above his head as a plea to God. When he did this the Israelites were on the offensive and winning, when his hands grew tired they were on the losing side and when that happened he got Aaron and Hur to stand either side of him and hold his hands up. So it was that the Israelites were victorious.
Our spiritual lesson from this is obvious; we need to “pray and not to faint” as Jesus said in his parable in Luke 18:1-8. I remember a fellow minister many years ago who started a small prayer group in his church, however when folk came they expressed the idea that they would suggest things and the minister would pray for them. In fairness they came from an area which hadn’t seen congregational prayer for generations but this little event in Exodus points us to the need to support one another (not just ministers) in prayer and in that way the whole community benefits.