Tuesday, July 16, 2019

The God of Thunder

Part 2 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 29




Ascribe to the LORD, O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength. Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness (vv. 1-2). 


Yahweh Versus Baal 

Psalm 29 is a psalm of praise. The object of the psalm’s praise is “the LORD.” In this psalm, you’ll find the word “LORD” eighteen times! In the original Hebrew text, the word translated as “the LORD” is “Yahweh.” This is God’s name.

Psalm 29 is also a protest against the worship of Baal, one of the Canaanite gods. The Canaanites believed that Baal was responsible for storms, thunder, lightning and rain that made the earth fertile. When the Canaanites heard thunder, they thought they heard the voice of Baal. In this psalm, the psalmist has taken phrases that were used in the worship of Baal and substituted “Yahweh” for “Baal.” [1]

Psalm 29 could be given the title “Yahweh Versus Baal.” The psalmist is saying that Baal is no match for Yahweh. Yahweh is the real God of thunder. 


A Call to Worship 

Psalm 29 begins with a call to worship: “Ascribe to the LORD [i.e., Yahweh], O heavenly beings, ascribe to the LORD glory and strength” (v. 1). Who are the “heavenly beings”? Probably angels. “Ascribe” means to acknowledge. The angels are told to acknowledge the “glory [i.e., greatness] and strength [i.e., power]” of Yahweh.

The call to worship continues in verse 2: “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendor [i.e., beauty] of holiness.” The NIV says “the splendor of his holiness.” Yahweh deserves worship. He is a God to be both feared and loved. Why?


The Voice of Yahweh 

In verses 3-9, the phrase “the voice of the LORD” occurs seven times. Verse 3 says, “The God of glory thunders.” In this psalm, “the voice of the LORD” is thunder. The psalm describes the movement of a powerful thunderstorm. Thunder was the loudest noise that ancient people ever heard.
The storm begins over the Mediterranean Sea: “The voice of the LORD is over the waters; the God of glory thunders, the LORD, over many waters. The voice of the LORD is powerful; the voice of the LORD is full of majesty” (vv. 3-4). I’m sure we’ve all witnessed a powerful thunderstorm. How did it make you feel? Afraid? Amazed?

The storm travels east to the mountains of Lebanon: “The voice of the LORD breaks the cedars; the LORD breaks the cedars of Lebanon. He makes Lebanon to skip like a calf, and Sirion [i.e., Mount Hermon] like a young wild ox” (vv. 5-6).

The storm travels further east to the wilderness of Kadesh: “The voice of the LORD flashes forth flames of fire [i.e., lightning bolts]. The voice of the LORD shakes the wilderness; the LORD shakes the wilderness of Kadesh” (vv. 7-8).

Then the scene shifts to the temple in Jerusalem: “In his temple all cry, ‘Glory!’” (v. 9).

Verse 10 says, “The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD sits enthroned as king forever.” He is the king over everything. He is the king forever.

Psalm 29 reminds me of the story of Elijah and the prophets of Baal. [Read 1 Kings 18:17-29, 38-39.] When the prophets of Baal cried out to their god, there was “no voice” (v. 29), no thunder or lightning from Baal. “The LORD [i.e., Yahweh], he is God” (v. 39).

Richard Dawkins has said, “An atheist is just somebody who feels about Yahweh the way any decent Christian feels about Thor or Baal or the golden calf. We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.” [2] How would you respond to this? 


Jesus Is the Voice of Yahweh 

The Bible begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). How did God create all things? By his voice. He spoke the words, “Let there be light,” and there was light.

When we flip over to the Gospel of John, we discover that the apostle John begins by saying, “In the beginning was the Word” (John 1:1). “The Word” is Jesus. He is “the voice of the LORD.” John writes, “All things were made through him [i.e., the Word], and without him was not any thing made that was made” (v. 3). Then in verse 14, John declares, “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”

Do you remember the story of Jesus calming the storm? He said to the wind and the sea, “Peace! Be Still!” (Mark 8:39). The voice of the LORD can start a storm (as in Psalm 29) or stop a storm. How did the disciples react to this miracle? They were “filled with great fear and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’” (v. 41).

It was this same Jesus who died for us. The voice of the LORD can be heard as we look at the cross. Yahweh--the holy, glorious, all-powerful God--says, “I love you.” Yahweh deserves our worship. He is a God to be both feared and loved.


Peace to Yahweh’s Worshipers 

Psalm 29 begins with the angels in heaven ascribing glory to God (vv. 1-2) and ends with peace on earth: “May the LORD give strength to his people! May the LORD bless his people with peace!” (v. 11). Does that sound familiar … glory in heaven and peace on earth?

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the angels praised God by saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!” (Luke 2:14). On that night, the voice of the LORD came to earth not as thunder, but as a baby--a baby who would bring peace.

Think about who Yahweh is--the God of thunder, the God who could destroy everything with just a word. Now think about what this God did for you. Think about the humble birth of Jesus. Think about his death on the cross. We should be filled with amazement. We should be filled with praise. We should be filled with love. We should bow down before this God and say, “Here’s my life. It’s yours.”

____________________

[1] Sidney Greidanus, Preaching Christ from the Psalms, p. 199
[2] https://www.ted.com/talks/richard_dawkins_on_militant_atheism?language=en

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

The Blessed Life

Part 1 of Summer in the Psalms 2019

Text: Psalm 1




Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night (vv. 1-2). 


Our Search for Happiness 

We all want to be happy, don’t we?

Unfortunately, we often look for happiness in all the wrong places. We think we’ll find happiness in money, a job, a relationship, possessions, etc. But if all we have are these things, we won’t find happiness.

Psalm 1 tells us how to find real happiness.


#blessed  

Psalm 1 begins with what word? “Blessed.” What does “blessed” mean? It means “happy.”

Jesus began his Sermon on the Mount by repeatedly using the word “blessed.” Based on what Jesus says, we know that being “blessed” doesn’t necessarily mean that the person who is blessed has an easy life. For example, Jesus declares, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

The kind of happiness that Psalm 1 is describing is not a happiness that fluctuates according to life’s circumstances. The apostle Paul writes, “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances” (Phil. 4:11, NIV). The blessed life is not always an easy life, but it’s the best life.

How can we live the blessed life?


Two Ways of Living 

In Psalm 1, there’s a contrast between “the righteous” and “the wicked.” The psalmist’s focus is on the righteous person (i.e., the person who is blessed), so that’ll be our focus as well. But as we look at the psalm’s description of the blessed life, we’ll compare it to the life of the wicked person.

First, what the blessed person doesn’t do: “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers” (v. 1). The blessed person doesn’t “walk in step with the wicked” (NIV). He/she isn’t “conformed to this world” (Rom. 12:2). 

Second, what the blessed person does: “his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night” (v. 2). “The law” can be applied to all of God’s word.

The blessed person values God’s word. If our “delight” is in God’s word, what will we do? We’ll meditate on it. It won’t go in one ear and out the other. When we meditate on God’s word, we should be listening for what God wants us to hear (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16).

What does the wicked person value? Autonomy. The wicked person is someone who says yes to himself/herself and no to God. He/she thinks (foolishly) that happiness can be found in living life according to their own rules.

Third, what the blessed person is like: “He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers” (v. 3). The blessed person is like “a tree planted by streams of water.”

The blessed life is a fruitful life (doing good for others like fruit from a tree).

The blessed life is a resilient life. The blessed person has hope (because of the death and resurrection of Christ) even in the midst of terrible storms.

The blessed life is a prosperous life. How does a tree (e.g., an apple tree) prosper? It does what God made it do: bear fruit.

What does the wicked person like? He/she is “like chaff [i.e., the husk surrounding a seed] that the wind drives away” (v. 4). This is a life without direction, a wasted life.

How can we live the blessed life? We can only live the blessed life if we delight in God’s word. That begins with saying yes to God’s invitation to receive salvation through faith in Christ. It continues by saying yes to God’s word each day.


The Two Roads 

In verses 5 and 6 we see the final outcomes of the blessed life and the life of the wicked person: “Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment [i.e., the final judgment], nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.” [Read Matthew 7:13-14.]

Notice the first and last words of Psalm 1. It begins with the word “Blessed” and ends with the word “perish.” Those two words tell us where the two roads of life lead. [Read Matthew 7:24-27.] 

Psalm 1 doesn’t give any commands. But it pictures two ways of life and shows us which is the wise choice and which is the foolish choice.