Sunday 20th August – Psalm 19
How clearly the sky reveals God’s glory!
How plainly it shows what he has done!
2 Each day announces it to the following day;
each night repeats it to the next.
3 No speech or words are used,
no sound is heard;
4 yet their message[b] goes out to all the world
and is heard to the ends of the earth.
God made a home in the sky for the sun;
5 it comes out in the morning like a happy bridegroom,
like an athlete eager to run a race.
6 It starts at one end of the sky
and goes across to the other.
Nothing can hide from its heat.
The Law of the Lord
7 The law of the Lord is perfect;
it gives new strength.
The commands of the Lord are trustworthy,
giving wisdom to those who lack it.
8 The laws of the Lord are right,
and those who obey them are happy.
The commands of the Lord are just
and give understanding to the mind.
9 Reverence for the Lord is good;
it will continue forever.
The judgments of the Lord are just;
they are always fair.
10 They are more desirable than the finest gold;
they are sweeter than the purest honey.
11 They give knowledge to me, your servant;
I am rewarded for obeying them.
12 None of us can see our own errors;
deliver me, Lord, from hidden faults!
13 Keep me safe, also, from willful sins;
don’t let them rule over me.
Then I shall be perfect
and free from the evil of sin.
14 May my words and my thoughts be acceptable to you,
O Lord, my refuge and my redeemer!
What a marvellous Psalm to start any day. Read it and pause over it. The Psalmist wants to say that there are two things that lead us to God, the one is creation, vs1-6, and the other is the law of God, variously expressed in vs 7-9 (notice that every line contains a word meaning law – statutes, precepts, commands etc).
The amazing thing about having two eyes is that it gives us bifocal vision which shows us the world in 3D. So it is with the two elements that the Psalmist mentions which let us know God not in the flat but in 3D as it were.
First of all creation. One of the benefits of the lock-down for me was the ability – even the necessity for exercise’s sake – of walking more outside. The thing about the natural world is that it doesn’t shout, it can’t even speak, but the Psalmist says it shows the glory of God. The sense of awe and wonder often strikes us at things that are larger than us – looking to the night sky for example or as Jeffrey Kluger, senior editor of Time Magazine said, “It’s hard to be an atheist when you’re looking at the Grand Canyon” but even the small, the tiniest of things can strike us as pointing to something greater.
In the second half of the Psalm David turns to the Law of God. The giving of the law after the Exodus from Egypt was God’s teaching given to the Israelites on how to live now they had been released them from the slavery of Egypt. It showed them who God was, and told of His nature and David says that it “refreshes the soul and makes the simple wise etc”
It is as though he is looking at a wonderful painting over the shoulder of the artist and then the artist turns around to speak to him and tell him of himself and his painting. He concludes by acknowledging his sin but praying that God would work with him so that he too would be for the glory of God (v10-13)
Let us close our morning meditation on this Psalm with the words of David, “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” (v14)
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 1:1-14
Someone once remarked that the first book of the Bible (Genesis) begins and ends with four words that are very symbolic of the state of mankind. The words are – at least in the KJV – “In the beginning, God” and the last, “a coffin in Egypt”. The last words refer to the burial of Joseph but the book as a whole tells of the downward slide of Man from brightness in the Garden of Egypt to enslavement and imprisonment in Egypt. The Bible’s message in Old and New Testament is that our state after birth is, “without God and without hope” (Eph 2:12) in the world. No longer in a garden of Eden in fellowship with God but separated and in a state of loss.
Have you ever heard of “Escape Rooms”? There are numbers of them around the country and they work as games that people play. Groups of people, families or friends, are locked in a room and are given certain clues to follow to find out how to get out and usually with a limited time to get out. Some are intrigued by it, others are panicked at the thought and would never agree to being locked in a room. The thing is, it is possible to find your way out if you are clever enough. It is a game not life, however the Bible tells us that being trapped and excluded from the presence of God which is where we are from birth (Ps 51:5) (Roms 3:23) is no game, it is a life sentence.
Human life is tantalising, from music to art, literature to architecture, poetry to human consciousness, all points to a greatness within human life but one that is cut off. As the writer of Ecclesiastes says, “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the human heart; yetno one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (Ecc 3:11), it is all vanity or pointless, he says, for life ‘under the sun’ (in other words here and now) leads nowhere but death. We are given something wonderful but it won’t last. No-one who walks behind a hearse says “that’s OK, this is how it’s meant to be” ……. No, the inner cry is loss, “it shouldn’t be”. Is there any escape from this because, worse, the scripture says, “The soul that sins shall surely die” (Ezekiel 18:20) and “It is appointed unto man once to die and then the judgement” (Hebrews 9:27). The Book of Exodus is about the enslaved people of Israel but it is also about us. Has it any hope for us?
Tuesday Exodus 1:15-22
The story starts with the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in a place, Egypt, which turns out in due course to be a hostile place. The growth of the people proves to be the thing that puts them in jeopardy because Pharoah fears their rebellion against him and so puts them to increasingly hard work. Far from making them shrink however, the people grow such that his next decision is to tell the midwives to kill all the boy children once they are born. Snuff them out at birth is his plan but it doesn’t work. This plan has been seen throughout history and we have only to look at Hitler’s holocaust to see a more modern illustration.
The midwives who will not obey Pharoah because they fear (respect) God He makes fruitful themselves in bearing children (Ex 1:20,21). The tragedy and horror of the Christian Church is that at various times over the centuries rather than protecting and seeking the benefit of God’s ancient people they have ended up on Pharoah’s side in their persecution however those who have done the opposite and sought their well-being have and will be blessed. We must always remember our older brothers who in God’s plan will be gathered with us in the fulness of time to be one in Christ to the glory of God (Roms 10:1-5; 11:25-26).
Wednesday Exodus 2:1-10
Here we come to the baby in the bulrushes, the story of Moses birth and survival, the baby drawn out of the water. What was Moses mother thinking about when she made this little ark for him and consigned him to the river? She had obviously turned away from the horrendous casting of him into the Nile unprotected and helpless but her making of a basket that would float was no guarantee in and of itself of his survival. She was pleading with God in faith that he might do something miraculous, she didn’t know what.
Floating on the waters, symbolic of chaos, it was like Noah’s ark and the future, if there was to be one, was going to be in God’s hands entirely. Moses’ mother gives her baby to God. The happy outcome is that he becomes found and adopted into the royal household through Pharoah’s daughter and yet is handed back to his mother to be his nurse and carer. What could be happier. This picture is what baptism is about in our tradition: parents hand their little one over to the minister to be baptised with water in Christ’s name, a symbol of belonging to Christ, but is then handed back to the parents to care for and bring the child up, not to be regarded as their own child, but as Christ’s, with their role as stewards. This little episode by the banks of the Nile is a great little picture of our position as parents.
Thursday Exodus 2:11-25
Though Moses was brought up in Pharoah’s daughter’s household he never forgot where he belonged and he became enraged when he saw one of his fellow Hebrews being beaten by an Egyptian. He took retributive action in killing and hiding the man but he didn’t know that he had been spotted. The next day, seeing a wrong enacted by one of his own people and trying to intervene, he was told off by the wrongdoer and threatened because he knew about Moses’ murder of the Egyptian slave driver. He was finding that seeking to uphold justice was dangerous and he had to flee. No-one should imagine that doing the right things will always be easy; it can cost.
He flees far away to the land of Midian to escape the wrath of Pharoah, he is but here we find him exhibiting his sense of righteousness and decency stepping in to become a protector of Reuel’s daughters whom he sees being persecuted by other male shepherds ((v16,17) and he receives the thanks of their father. In these cases Moses is seen to be in a rescuing role, something, though he did not know it yet, that was to become his life’s role in the future. Standing up for right should not just be something we do for ourselves but a preparedness to stand for others too whenever we see them getting the rough end of someone’s stick.
Friday Exodus 3:1-12
The Church of Scotland’s symbol is the burning bush which was regularly seen on the front cover of our hymn books when we had them and can sometimes be seen in pulpit falls. Chapter 3 in Exodus introduces us to Moses experience before a burning bush while he was out going about his shepherding business. We need to note that this wasn’t soon after his settlement in Midian (look back at 2:23), he had been raising a family and going about business with Reuel’s flocks for some years. A turn in his life was about to come, would he be ready for it? Are we ready for whatever God might have for us in whatever stage of life we are at?
God told him that he was appointing him to rescue his people from Pharoah and the land of Egypt. Moses’ response was “Who me?” (v11) but the most important thing in the exchange was God’s reply, “I will be with you” (v12). To do the right thing will always mean that we have God with us. The children’s chorus, “Be bold” though taken from a different part of the Old Testament story is equally apt here as at any time in our own lives. Click here to listen
Boldness however is not Moses’ first response – is it often ours either? He is full of excuses and reasons why God’s plan for him might not work. We’ll come to those tomorrow.
Saturday Exodus 3:13 – 4:17
“Who shall I say you are?” Moses asks God which seems an odd question to us but in that day people had many gods and many names Moses wants to know which God shall he say? And what God says next is the foundational name by which he would come to be known – JHWH. That is the transliteration of the Hebrew word sometimes called the tetragrammaton and often pronounced Jahweh though it was never spoken by the Jews who considered it too holy and special to be taken on the lips of men. When they came to the word in scripture they used the word Adonai or Lord and our Jehovah is a kind of blending of the two words. However behind the word lies the nature and essence of God. In Exodus 3:14 God says, “I am that I am”, in other words God states that He is the existent one. He is neither past nor future but always present, if in English it could be made to be sensible it would be “I aming” – I was, and am, and will be. He adds on top of that that he is the God of their forefathers – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He is to tell the people that the God of the past has heard their cry and is coming to them to deliver them.
Moses worries that words won’t be enough and so God gives him signs to perform, his staff turning into a snake, his hand becoming white like leprosy, and water from the Nile being poured out like blood. Moses still looks for a way of escape from this charge and argues that he is not an eloquent man and says to God, “Not me. Send somebody else” (V13) which rouses the ire of God who brings the discussion to a close by saying that his brother Aaron will act as his speaker.
There are a lot of arguments with God in the Old Testament but at the end of the day God’s Word must prevail and that remains true to this day with all of us.