Sunday 27th August – Psalm 20
A Prayer for Victory
May the Lord answer you when you are in trouble!
May the God of Jacob protect you!
2 May he send you help from his Temple
and give you aid from Mount Zion.
3 May he accept all your offerings
and be pleased with all your sacrifices.
4 May he give you what you desire
and make all your plans succeed.
5 Then we will shout for joy over your victory
and celebrate your triumph by praising our God.
May the Lord answer all your requests.
6 Now I know that the Lord gives victory to his chosen king;
he answers him from his holy heaven
and by his power gives him great victories.
7 Some trust in their war chariots
and others in their horses,
but we trust in the power of the Lord our God.
8 Such people will stumble and fall,
but we will rise and stand firm.
9 Give victory to the king, O Lord;
answer us when we call.
This Psalm is written in the form of two voices with vs1-5 speaking a blessing and vs 1-6 an answering response. We can imagine it in a liturgical setting with a priest praying and interceding for the King and the latter responding with thanks not only for the prayer but that it has been answered.
Prayer for one another is an integral part of the Christian life. We are not meant to be spectators of each other’s lives but are called to be participators in prayer and support. “May the LORD answer you when you are in distress”, “May he send you help …and grant you support”, “May he give you the desire of your heart and make all your plans succeed”, these are amongst the requests that are made by the interceder in the Psalm. In the New Testament Paul often asks for prayer from the churches as well as praying for the churches himself.
When prayer grows in the Church it begins to flow out to those around us as well, it gradually becomes the air we breathe. I’m thankful for learning from my daughter who, if an ambulance passed the car, said to our grand-children, “Look, lets pray for the person the ambulance is going to help”. Fred Rogers was a TV fixture in America for years heading up his Programme, “Mr Rogers Neighbourhood” (Tom Hanks plays him in “A Beautiful Day in the neighbourhood”). He had a great way of dealing with children in all sorts of situations and although he was retired by the time of the 911 Twin Towers horror, the President asked him if he would come back to speak to the children after such a terrifying time. He always dealt with bad things by telling the children, ‘look to the helpers, see, there’s a fireman, there’s a policeman, there’s a doctor’ seeking to take the focus away from the disaster to the sources of help.
When we read or listen to the news every day we need to listen to the apostle Paul’s words when he says, “I urge . . . that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving be made for all people—for kings and those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” 1 Timothy 2:1-2
Let’s not be like the rest of the world around us, don’t grump at the invisible ‘they’ – pray for them, local and national, they need your prayers.
A Prayer: Almighty God who gives us life and breathe and everything else, hear our prayers for our brothers and sisters in Christ and for those around who govern daily life, grant mercy and help in times of trouble and lift us up to reflect your goodness and to bring betterment for all. In Christ Jesus, Amen.
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 4:18 – 31
Moses goes to Reuel (also called Jethro), his father-in-law, and explains to him that he must leave and go back to Egypt. Jethro wishes him well and so he departs with all his family. God gives him further instructions about what he must say to Pharoah about letting his people go but he tells Moses that he won’t comply and it will come down to a bloody end (4:22,23).
After this comes a strange account about God seeking to kill Moses, Zipporah cutting off the foreskin of her son and throwing it at Moses feet with the exclamation “Surely you are a bridegroom of blood to me” (v25)? What is this about? The Hebrew text is not exactly clear and scholars have written at large about it but it seems (give me some leeway here) to be about the subject of circumcision which Moses had not performed on his son thus failing to honour God’s covenant with his people to give them a land to live in – a covenant that he is about to honour in saving them from Egypt. There is much more than just this but could it be that Moses was holding back on his faith that God was really going to fulfil his ancient covenant with this people? Is Zipporah not wanting to see the family put at risk? These and many other things could be hidden in this mysterious meeting but God is seen as prepared to end the life of Moses without further ado. William Cowper’s old hymn reminds us that our knowledge of God’s ways will always be dim but we should “Judge not the Lord by feeble sense but trust him for his grace”
God moves in a mysterious way
His wonders to perform;
He plants His footsteps in the sea,
And rides upon the storm.
Deep in unfathomable mines
Of never-failing skill,
He treasures up His bright designs,
And works His sovereign will.
Tuesday Exodus 5:1-20
In Chapter 5 we see the contest beginning as Moses and Aaron appear before Pharoah with the commission from God – “Let my people go”. Paul Robeson gives a marvellous rendition of “Go down Moses” with a voice that could shake a mountain (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w3OjHIhLCDs ) but here Pharoah is not in the least shaken instead he asks, “Who is this Lord, I don’t know him?”. The truth is that the world does not recognise our God or his commands and it is folly to imagine they will. What happens in Egypt is that the slave driving Pharoah makes it more difficult for the people to do their building job for him by cruelly requiring the same work but without the provision of straw to make the bricks.
It has often been seen in countries across the world that Christian people have found things made difficult for them when they have sought to live in ways that have not fitted in with the general way the community around them sees their life. Nurses say, who have not wished to take part in abortions or Registrars who have not wished to perform same-sex marriages or even workers who have sought to have Sundays off, have not uncommonly found their work made more difficult. The world will always want us to do their work in the way that fits in with them, this was Pharoah’s response to Moses request.
However his people began to feel that they were not sure they wanted to be ‘set free’, this felt more like extra time in an inhospitable prison and they began to turn on Moses and Aaron (V21). Not a happy role for God’s appointed leaders.
Wednesday Exodus 5:22-6:8
Jesus said, “Beware when all men speak well of you”, here Moses was finding out that he was certainly not being spoken well of either by the Egyptians nor by his own people, in fact he was at the receiving end of brickbats from all quarters and he cries to God, “Why, Lord, why have you brought trouble on this people? Is this why you sent me?” (5:22) adding, “you have not rescued your people at all” (5:23). It could be a little like the new Christian’s complaint on finding out that life was not turning into a garden of roses. Heaven needs to wait. In Moses case God would bring the rescue about but that time hadn’t arrived, certain water had to go under the bridge first. God did assure Moses however that he was intent on completing his plan and Moses and the people ought to trust him. Perhaps another verse of Cowper’s hymn is fitting:-
Ye fearful saints, fresh courage take;
The clouds ye so much dread
Are big with mercy, and shall break
In blessings on your head.
In the New Testament the writer to the Hebrews says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. For by it the people of old received their commendation. (Heb 11:1-2). We may not see everything in our future but let’s trust in the one who does.
Thursday Exodus 6:9-7:7
It’s pretty hard when you want to tell something but nobody wants to listen, doubly hard when what you want to say is from God. This was Moses’ problem and his complaint to God was “Why should I speak to Pharoah when my own people won’t hear me – and remember, God, I told you I was not a good speaker” (6:12). Moses never hung back when he wanted to tell God how he was feeling – a good pointer to us in our prayer times! Don’t try to pretend before God, it is a waste of time and it doesn’t work for he knows you in and out, be straightforward. The rest of Chapter 6 is about the people, listed as tribes, who Moses was going to bring out in due course even though he was down at the mouth just now.
In chapter 7 God reiterates his command to Moses about telling Pharoah to ‘let my people go’ but jumps ahead of Moses rejoinder which would probably be “it’s a waste of time”, by actually telling him precisely that. Pharoah won’t listen. God was telling him, “before you come back feeling a failure, I’m telling you now this job is going to fail”. How can God put us in this position?
I can’t help being reminded of God’s call to Isaiah to be his prophet before the people of Israel and saying to him, ““Go and tell this people,‘ Be ever hearing, but never understanding; be ever seeing, but never perceiving.’” (Isaiah 6:9”. Isaiah wanted to know how long he was to go about with this thankless task, ‘how long must I do this?’ he asks, to which God replies, ““Until the cities lie ruined and without inhabitant, until the houses are left unoccupied and the land is desolate and ravaged,” Oh my, sometimes God’s word to his messengers is hard. We’ll come to why in due course.
Friday Exodus 7:8-8:19
Now the plagues come. We need to see them as warnings to Pharoah to heed the word of God althoough stubbornly, he does not. First comes Moses staff becoming a snake as it is cast on the ground. The staff is the symbol of Moses’ authority and leadership – but Pharoah commands his magicians to do the same thing and, by their magic arts, they do.
Next comes the plague of blood turning the river into a red foul-smelling stream but just like the last time, Pharaoh’s magicians were able to repeat the same thing and Pharoah returned to his palace not taking the matter to heart although his people were greatly affected and had to do a lot of digging by the riverside to get fresh water.
Next, seven days later, came the frogs and they were more invasive and troublesome coming into the houses and even into the palace so Pharoah summoned Moses and Aaron to pray to God to take them away, which they did. Notice how each plague steps up from the previous one causing more problems and becoming more personal for Pharoah.
Next comes the plague of Gnats and by now the magicians of Egypt realise that they have lost the battle and they tell Pharoah, “This is the finger of God”. He is warned that he is not just fighting against this troublesome man and this recalcitrant people but his life is arraigned against God.
Tragically some think their way of life and attitudes are just different from others – and particularly from God’s people – but it can move on to hostility against faithful godly people and then, before they know it, their lives are really against God himself and his commands. How many realise that their so-called self-determination is really antagonism against the one who made them? The life of Pharoah is a warning to all.
Saturday Exodus 8:20-9:35
Ah, is there a break in the dam? The plague of flies comes next but even as the flies swarm all over the land, the people of Israel are spared. God makes a distinction here. Most of the time the trials of this world affect all of us but there are other times when God providentially spares his people not through their goodness or betterness but through his grace. There are times in our lives when we have to say, “Lord, why are you so good to me, why have you brought blessings upon me I never thought of?” And give thanks.
During this plague Pharoah seems to relent as he tells Moses, “Go sacrifice to your God here in the land” (v25) but that wasn’t the requirement and besides Moses makes one reason that wouldn’t be sufficient which was that the Hebrews culture and practices were detestable to the Egyptians. Pharoah seems to give a little but not the release that was required (v28).
Then came the plague on livestock with no change, then the plague of boils. It is with this that we note a change in the language. In the early plagues Pharoah is said to have ‘hardened his heart’ but here we find the wording in v12 saying, “the Lord hardened Pharoah’s heart”. It is as though God said “so you wish to harden your heart against me, then so be it, I will make sure that happens”.
With the plague of hail we find Pharoah saying “the Lord is in the right, I and my people are in the wrong” (v27) and asks for prayer. However he finds that God is not on the end of a phone line whenever he wants, as the Psalmist says, “If I regard wickedness in my heart, The Lord will not hear” (Ps 66:18). It is a dangerous thing to toy with God’s Word imagining that things can be changed any moment we wish. They can’t. As Joshua years later said to the people of Israel, “If the Lord be God, follow him”. The time for Pharoah had passed, his repentance is still shown to be short-lived and untrue.