Sunday 9th July – Psalm 13
1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and day after day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?
3 Look on me and answer, Lord my God.
Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep in death,
4 and my enemy will say, “I have overcome him,”
and my foes will rejoice when I fall.
5 But I trust in your unfailing love;
my heart rejoices in your salvation.
6 I will sing the Lord’s praise,
for he has been good to me.
There are times in our lives when we can see the point of any circumstances that bring us pain or suffering because they may teach us patience or fortitude, but here the Psalmist sees a seeming endlessness to his predicament leading to the loss of any point or purpose in it. He cries out to God feeling like a caged animal whose owner has gone away and forgotten about him as he paces around in deep anguish. As day follows day he has no answer and his repeated “How long” beats out the pain of his heart like a throbbing headache.
He makes his complaint and says if God doesn’t answer him he will die and his enemies imagine they have overcome him and he will sink into a meaningless grave. We don’t know the circumstance David was in but we certainly know it was dire. Sometimes when we read scripture we are thankful that we are not in the same position as the writers but if such times do come we have a ready resource at hand.
Although verses 3&4 continue to lay out the complaint of the first verses there is a move from complaint over the predicament of life to prayer to the God who is not any god or a faraway power but to his God; David prays “Lord my God”. It is here that the difference between the believer and the ordinary man is seen for David recognises he is in a relationship with the Power over all things; he is exhibiting a personal faith in God which is the only kind that will do in situations like this. No hand-me-down religion will be of any use here.
Sometimes people in trouble will speak of the faith of their parents or grandparents but in so doing often demonstrate a lack of a live relationship with God themselves. This is not the case with David, God is his God. The Psalm concludes in thanksgiving and praise which seems unbelievable but is the outcome of faith and nothing else because there is no evidence that the Psalmist’s situation has changed – that has yet to come – but he has changed. As we have seen before, God doesn’t always answer the mind’s questions but he answers the heart’s needs and this short Psalm shows it.
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 – Genesis 6:1-22
Yes, we are coming to the Ark story and the two by two animals and the rainbow all beloved by children but this narrative leading up to the Ark is about judgement. The light has still to come but chapter 6 of Genesis is a fearsome chapter of judgement telling us first that God would limit the lifespan of people but after that it would be even worse. It says that God was sorry he had ever created Man in the first place because “every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart had become evil all the time” (Genesis 6:5) and he was going to put an end to them once for all. It is a question isn’t it what the Earth would be like without people. Environmentalists speak about the ecological balance of the Earth today and its biggest threat, Man, whose destruction of it is unprecedented and if left unchecked will destroy the whole system. It comes through our power, our understanding and ability to influence and effect. We may well ask, whatever happened to the idea of careful beneficial stewardship?
Of course that is a modern view, the Genesis story isn’t looking at the creative development of the flora and fauna of the planet what it is concerned with is the growth of evil in a far bigger cosmic stage. The beginning of the Chapter tantalises us with mysterious talk of what appears to be hints at an other worldly existence intersecting with ours – the “sons of God” and the resultant “Nephilim” or giants. Is this angelic or spiritual or a different dimension or something else? All commentaries on these are guesses but the main thrust of the chapter is about a dangerous growth of evil which necessitates the intervention of the God of creation. A second start will be required but when it is there will be a rainbow. Praise God.
The Bible’s revelations of the beginning and the end are shrouded in mists which are impenetrable to us and which we must accept as beyond our ability to imagine or understand but what we are given is the person and work of Christ at the heart – The Cross and Resurrection – as the bringing together and resolution of both beginning and end. When Jesus asked Mary if she believed that he was the resurrection and the life he didn’t ask her if she understood it, just that she would trust him. We don’t need to know all the answers in order to trust him but we can miss out on trusting him in our effort to become knowers of everything. When we tell children what to do, the important thing is not that they understand why but just that they do it. They may understand later but, in the present, the important thing is obedience – and so it is with us.
TUESDAY – Genesis 7:1-24
The Ark of Noah has always been seen as a symbol of safety and protection, and rightly so – Ark Housing Assosciation, Ark Children’s trust, Ark Cancer Charity, Ark Trust for Disability (to name a but a few). In the New Testament Peter likens it to our salvation in Christ, entering into Him through the waters of baptism (1Peter 3:20,21) is the reason why Christian initiation has a watery element to it; a storm is coming but those who run into Christ will be saved.
Did you notice what happened about the door? The Lord shut them in (v16) – isn’t that an interesting and comforting word – the Lord shuts us in to Christ for our salvation – it isn’t us who do it. We are to run into him for salvation but the door of safety is closed behind us by God. I love those verses in John’s gospel where in talking of his sheep Jesus says “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no-on will snatch them out of my hand” (John 10:28). You know how in films or dreams when we are running away from some attacker there is always the fear that wherever we run the enemy will follow and so we see the fugitive running and trying to close doors behind or pull things down in the pathway of the person or thing or nameless fear that follows so there is always one eye on safety ahead and one on danger behind.
That’s not the way when we flee to God for He will bring up the rear if we just attend to the goal – “Come to me all you who labour and are heavy laden” he says, and don’t look back, “I’ll see that you’re not caught from behind. Never mind the fear, come for the favour. I’ll close the door behind you.”. Don’t look back, take his hand and run into his house, he’ll see to closing the door behind you.
WEDNESDAY – Genesis 8:1-22
At last, the olive branch, the sign of peace but we mustn’t forget the days shut up in the ark during the flood. We live in the days of the instant where we want everything to happen as quickly as possible but unfortunately this is not happening in our lives today. During the lock-down period we were beginning to champ at the bit for it to be over and yet we were warned by the scientists and politicians that we mustn’t “jump out of our ark” too soon. Just as Noah had to wait until things were ready and safe so we had to be patient so as not to give the enemy virus an opportunity to “flood” us again.
The Raven was a test to see how things were going and then after that the dove on three flights, first it returned – things weren’t ready, then it returned with the olive branch – things were drying out there was hope, then finally it didn’t return at all – it was safe to go out.
If we can leave linking the dove as a type of the Holy Spirit let us just look at the straightforward use of checking. There can be times when we are not sure what to do although we do want to know God’s will. It is in such circumstances that we need to take things gently by pushing at doors first to see if they open. If they don’t it may be that we just have to wait a while even though there may be indications that some course of action is the right one to take. If we are patient God will give us the answers we seek in due time, James says this “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault” (James 1:5). Maybe now is the time to take some course of action in your life, maybe it is time to wait, whatever time it is, it is always time to trust God has good plans and intentions for your life. Watch and pray.
THURSDAY – Genesis 9:1-17
A promise and a future.
The most important thing about this chapter is the promise of God never to destroy life on Earth again with such a disastrous flood and the rainbow is given as a sign of God’s graciousness and of a future hope. When early man looked upwards to the dark and threatening skies, the rainbow was to give reassurance that God was not going to bring the fearful destruction of a watery obliteration of life on earth. If this says something to present day man it will be that God is not going to start again in a different universe and abandon Mankind as a lost historical experiment on Earth. This Earth and its residents may be wrung through but God will bring it to his grand conclusion in his time.
The start of life after the flood comes with some notable things. One is about the relationship that separates man from the animals as it introduces man as a predator although with a ban on human killing (pre-flood that had already happened – see Lamech Gen 4:23). The shedding of blood is portrayed as a bad thing everywhere, it is the taking of life, and even in the allowable slaughter of animals the blood is treated as sacred and must not be consumed, it is a reminder that all life is God’s. Blood is the symbol of life and it is at the heart of the sacrificial system later developed at the time of Moses but here at the close of Chapter 8 we see Noah offering a sacrifice of some of the saved animals with the burning indicating the offering being sent up to God. Life is poured out but offered up to God in thanksgiving and praise for his saving grace. Even though “every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood” (Gen 8:21) God says, he will never again curse the ground because of human life. In other words God knows full well what he is dealing with and in this growing narrative, we feel a question, “how can things be worked out? How can there be a future given what we know.” It awaits another promise which will come in the story of another man, Abraham.
FRIDAY – Genesis 9:18-29
And then we come to this curious tale about Noah and his sons, Shem, Ham and Japheth. What on Earth can this be about? We have come on the subject of nakedness before in the Adam and Eve story and there is more than one thing that can be said about it. Man unclothed shows his mere animal nature, he is but one of the rest. And yet he isn’t, he is greater than the animals, his clothing is to do with his glory, his honour, his distinction from the animals; he is animal but he is more, he is made in the image of God and has a stewardly rule over the rest of creation. Strip a man or woman and you take away their dignity, a dignity given them by God, and you merely emphasize their animality. It is similar to the fact that all swear words belong to one of two categories, the dishonouring of God (in the misuse of his name) or the dishonouring of his highest creation, Man (in the emphasis on his animality). There are no swear words that are not derivations from these two categories because of course swearing is an upward punch against the creator.
The difference between Ham and his brothers lies in the honour or lack of it with regard to Noah, who of course had already dishonoured God by his drunkenness. He had allowed his consciousness of being in the image of God to be lost in the stupor of drunkenness. As someone once said “it is not that there is more sin in alcohol than in water but alcohol finds more sin in me than water does”. Over indulgence in things that take away our consciousness of who we are before God dishonours both us and our creator. Whatever happened, Ham seems to have been unconcerned about his father’s honour whilst his brothers sought to cover up his actions. Peter in the New Testament says “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). If we seek the dishonouring of our fellow men or women we do not honour God.
SATURDAY – Genesis 10:1-32
And so to the post flood era and what happened to Noah’s sons. The writer of Genesis wants us to see this new generation of men after the flood as spreading out over the then known world the three sons representing the peoples of Asia (Shem), Africa (Ham), and Europe (Japheth). The total number he lists comes to 70 which is a symbolic number of completion. Numbers in the Bible most often have a reference that isn’t an arithmetic one, the number 7 and its multipliers being one. The creation in six days with the seventh being the day of rest on completion for example or the year of Jubilee coming every 49 years 7×7 when a kind of restarting for people when debts were to be cancelled and the land was rested.
Some of the names you may recognise but the author’s intention is to give the idea of a spreading out to complete God’s command to fill the earth in that the earth is not meant to be left without man. Although it may be interesting to imagine an earth without man, that is not the way it is meant to be for it was designed to allow man to employ his own creative powers and bring things that are greater, grander and more wonderful to light, all in the praise and wonder of God. As I look out of my front window I see flowers, bushes and trees; I also see cars, our own and our neighbours. All – both nature and our technical creations – are testimonies to the beneficence of God who not only grants the wonder of life in plants and animals but also the sheer wonder of the metal, the glass, the textiles, the rubber and the engineering of the human sub-creation of cars is something to praise God for as well. We have spread through the earth with our great abilities which may be seen in great evil and in ill-thought-out planning but also in great good. Praise God for things made by man as well as in the natural world.