Thursday, March 15, 2018

Psalm 31:5 – “Faithfulness”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

5Into Your hand I entrust my spirit. You have ransomed me, Lord God of truth.

This, we all know, is the verse Jesus quoted from the Cross, “Father, into Thy hands I commend My spirit.” For Him and at that time, they were of course dying words. Down through the centuries they have been the dying words of many, many of God’s people. What a priceless privilege we enjoy that, even as we hang for a few last seconds between time and eternity, we can be calm, contented, hopeful people, entrusting our very souls to our faithful God.

But, on the other hand, when that moment comes it isn’t some strange new experience for us, nor was it for Jesus. Peter tells us that, “When He was insulted, He did not retaliate; when He suffered, He made no threats.” And why? “Instead, He entrusted Himself to Him who judges justly” (I Peter 2:23). In fact, these words are the very essence of faith itself, “Father, into Your hands I commend my spirit.” All day every day, to walk by faith is to commit to Him ourselves, our lives, our families, our finances, even the outcome of whatever it is we need to trust Him for. This quote becomes dying words to those who have long been living them. Lord, help us to live these words today, that they might be our dying words tomorrow.

As I’ve been studying this verse, I have become more and more convinced all of this is the importance of the second half of the verse, “You have ransomed me, Lord God of truth.” The word translated “ransomed” is basically a synonym for the word “redeemed.” These words remind us that the very beginning of our relationship with God is that He redeemed us. He paid the ransom to free us from sin and hell. His name of course is Jesus – “for He shall save His people from their sins.” And so that is who we are – redeemed people. Redeemed by the blood of the Lamb. The God to whom David is praying and to whom we would pray the words of this Psalm is none other than our great Redeemer. Our very relationship with Him starts with Him showering His great and gracious love on us.

Some translations make this an imperative, “Redeem me, O Lord God of truth,” and that certainly is an option. However, the word they translate “redeem” (which is more literally “ransom”) is in the Hebrew perfect tense, which would more naturally be translated as past tense, so I have it as “You have ransomed me …” In the Hebrew picture-painting, story-telling, practical kind of thinking, it probably doesn’t make any difference, but, once again, I’m trying to translate things in their most basic sense first, then see if there is a good reason to resort to the options which are possible, though less basic.

Finally David addresses Him as “Lord God of truth.” Once again, in the Hebrew picture-painting, story-telling, practical kind of thinking, this simple appellation takes on a universe of meaning. David is addressing the Lord as “Lord God of truth” as part of his prayer, “Into Your hands I commend my spirit. You have ransomed me Lord God of truth.” God is truth. Jesus said, “I am the truth.” The only reason faith is even possible is because God is truth. He is who He says is. He will do what He said He’d do. His words are to us “very great and precious promises.” The writer of Hebrews says we can trust Him because “it is impossible for God to lie” and that “we who have fled to take hold of the hope offered to us may be greatly encouraged. We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (6:17-20).

If David is thinking along these lines, we could translate his words as “Lord God of faithfulness.” I suspect that is in fact his idea. We can commend to Him our spirits precisely because He is the One who has ransomed us and because He is our faithful God. He is truth, and at times like these, that truth comes to our hearts as faithfulness.

Knowing our faithful God, we could talk at length how important it is for us to be faithful too. We all can have “faith” precisely because God is faithful. Other people should be able to have faith in us as well because they find us faithful or, another way of saying it, dependable. We too should do what we said we’d do, be who we said we’d be. We of course can never be as faithful as God, but our own dependability ought to be high on our list.

The old people used to often say, “My word is my bond.” They meant by that “My word binds me.” They meant that whatever they said, you could count on. It’s interesting that, as this country has lost its grip on God, it’s also lost this resolve to be faithful ourselves. That is too bad, as we all depend heavily on each other in a million different ways. But, while you and I can’t change a whole country, we can ask the Lord to help us be different, to be people whose “word is our bond.”

Back to our Psalm, may the Lord today give us grace to honestly commend our very lives to Him, to remember the great work of Redemption He’s already carried out for us, and to trust completely in His faithfulness.

Too many people don’t have a God to trust.

But we do.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Psalm 31:4 – “Strength”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

4Bring me out from the net, this [one] they hid from me, because You [are] my strength.

“Bring me out from the net, this [one] they hid from me…” David, being a king, had a lot of enemies. Some were obvious – like the Philistines – but too he would have had all the usual palace connivers, all the intrigue and scheming that goes on around thrones. The latter is what seems to be in view here and I think we’d all agree it is the more difficult to deal with. It’s one thing to have someone who openly hates us. It’s another thing to have those who pretend to be friends while they secretly try to ruin us. Absalom was of course a huge example of that in David’s life – his own son who would steal his throne.

I have had the blessing in my own life that I’ve seldom had to deal with people who were actually plotting my ruin behind my back. I’ve certainly had people who hated me and, to this day with most of them, I have no idea why. When in leadership positions, I’ve certainly had to deal with people’s opposition. But on the whole, I’ve enjoyed “people.” I really hope and pray this blessing can continue until I leave this world.

On the other hand, I have suffered grievously at the hands of two enemies. The first is myself, or should I say my dark side. I would not hesitate to say the evil me has ruined my life. It would be easy to say I would have had an altogether wonderful life if only I wasn’t always there. Sure I’ve known a few unpleasant people, but even then, had I done a better job of dealing with them, maybe they wouldn’t have seemed so bad. It was me and my stupidity that ruined it all.

The second is of course the enemy, the devil. Every night I read from the prayer of Psalm 143 which says in v3,4: “The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is stunned.” I don’t know of any more fitting description of my life than this. I am painfully aware that all day every day there is someone working against me, someone plotting my ruin, someone lying to me and luring me to my destruction. He is relentless in his cruelty. As David said there in Psalm 143, “… my heart within me is stunned.”

When I was younger, I don’t know how much the devil needed to bother with me. I did a pretty good job of wrecking my own life. But just in the last few years, I feel like the Lord has taught me such jewels of grace that perhaps we’ve tipped the scale. I feel now it really is the enemy who is most bent on wrecking my life. I’m of course always ready to give him a hand, but I really do feel these days he’s leading the charge.

And again, he is relentless. I feel all day every day his crushing and I feel my spirit growing “faint within me.” I can’t do this. Just a few verses ahead of Psalm 143, David prayed in Psalm 142:6: “…rescue me from those who pursue me, for they are too strong for me.”

Ah but thanks be to God, I’m not alone. David can pray for the Lord to draw him out of the net the enemy has hidden for him – and why is that? “Because You are my strength.” I love this phrase. It’s just three simple words in Hebrew, “Qi Atah maozi.” What is the Lord’s answer to the enemy’s relentless cruelty? “My grace is sufficient for thee, for My strength is made perfect in weakness” (II Cor 12:9). “My strength,” the Lord says. I love His answer to Gideon when he plead his weakness. The Lord told him, “Go in this thy strength.” “Go.” “Just do it.” “I know You have no strength, but Mine will prevail.” I can’t tell you how many times I’ve started into my day carried by those simple words, “Go in this thy strength.”

I head into my day, even today, painfully aware of the enemy’s malice and of my stumbling weakness against him. But I go with hope because I have a Champion. Again, I really like David’s simple words, “For You are my strength.” “Qi Atah Maozi.” As I’ve been studying this verse, I’ve been struck with the thought that I don’t know if I’ve ever really seen the Lord as “my strength.” Of course I’ve known He was my strength in the sense that He gives me the strength to go on day after day, that I only succeed at all because He helps me. But it’s one thing to say of the Lord, “He is my strength.” It’s another thing to look Him in the eyes and say, “You are my strength.” You are my strength.

He’s all those other things to me – Rock, Refuge, Shield, Hope – and it is a blessing to add to that list Strength, but not just in a third person, matter-of-fact kind of way, but rather seeing this “Strength” is a Person. Someone observed that strength is one of the Lord’s essential attributes. It’s who He is. It’s not something He is because I need Him to be. He is Strength. And as I look in His eyes I can say to Him, “You are my Strength” – my very own, my very personal presence of the strength to go on even while the adversary would brutally crush the very life out of me. As David says in Psalm 143, “I lift up my hands to You.”

What a blessing to go out into this very real and, in many ways, this very difficult world but know that my Champion goes with me – and that He doesn’t just “help” me, He is “my Strength.”

“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are saved” (Prov 18:10).

We can do this.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

Psalm 31:1-3 – “Faith-Talk 2”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

1In You, YHVH, I have taken refuge. Do not let me be ashamed to ages. In Your righteousness, deliver me. 2Incline to me Your ear. Quickly rescue me. Be to me to a rock from strength, to a house of fortresses to save me, 3because You [are] my Rock and my Fortress and for the sake of Your name You lead and guide me.

In the last post, I pondered over the “Be to me because You are.” There is a little more to the “because” I want to think about before I move on to v4.

David says, “Be to me a Rock and a Fortress because You are my Rock and my Fortress,” but then notice in my translation, the “because” clause continues: “Because You are my Rock and my Fortress and for the sake of Your name You lead and guide me.” It is this final “and” clause I want to think about.

First of all, I should note this clause is variously translated. Both the NIV and the old KJV translated the phrase as imperatives:  “For Your name’s sake, lead and guide me,” while the NASB translated it as futures: “For Your name’s sake You will lead and guide me.” As usual, I recognize that the translators are far better Hebrew scholars than I will ever be, but, on the other hand, this is a good example of exactly why I personally have to be able to examine the original text. While they may all be great scholars, yet they don’t agree on how to translate it – which means it is subject to judgment.

It is precisely these places where I want to be able to form my own opinion. I want to know exactly why they are disagreeing, exactly what the Hebrew text does say, and then be able to decide for myself what I think is the best translation. A general rule I try to follow is, at least at first, to render the simplest possible translation of each of the Hebrew words. Only after that do I look back and consider perhaps the simplest translation is for some reason not the best.

For example, consider this decision of whether the verbs are indicative (as in my translation), imperative (as in the KJV and NIV), or futures (as in the NASB). The form of the Hebrew verbs could be any one of the three – but the simplest translation is to leave them as indicatives … and so I do.

Also notice in my translation this final phrase begins with an “and.” None of the three major translations even include the “and,” even though there is in fact a Hebrew “and” in the text. Once again, I include the “and” in my translation just because it’s there, then look back to see if for some reason I think there is some reason to ignore it. In this case, in my opinion, I see no reason to ignore it and, in fact, if we leave it in, we see that the thought in our larger “because” clause is actually continued.

In my opinion, the entirety of vv. 2&3 form a single sentence, based on what I think is the simplest translation of each word all compiled together. For whatever it’s worth, this is also why I always start these posts with my “fairly literal translation of these verses.” What I’m trying to record (for my own later perusal) is what I think is the simplest possible translation of each word. It makes for very awkward English translations, but, what I’m trying to avoid is that, in order to “smooth out” the English translation, any would-be translator has to make a lot of decisions. As in this text, the old KJV or the NASB try to reflect the original text, to be as “literal” as possible, which sometimes leaves them (like me) reading a little awkwardly. The NIV translators, in an effort to make the Bible very readable (and in which I personally think they did a very admirable job), often depart further from the original text than I personally am comfortable with. What we are all reflecting is the difficulty of translating from one language to another – do you try to translate exactly what they said or is it more important to translate what they meant? The problem with the first is that it may be awkward. The problem with the second is that it is subject to the translator’s judgment (and biases … and errors).

What I’m trying to do with my “fairly literal” translations is to reflect the simplest possible translation from the original words without inserting my own judgment. “It is what it is.” In this case, however, one does have to make some decisions in order for the English to make any sense at all, and so, in the end, my translation just becomes one of many. Being fundamentally arrogant, of course I think I’m right, that mine is the simplest (and best) translation of the words. Honestly (and I hope humbly) I do think my translation is the most defensible – and so, going forward, my thoughts are candidly based on my own translation.

I had to say all of that so I could comment on this final “and” clause of indicative verbs. David, again, is praying, “Be to me a Rock and a Fortress because You are my Rock and my Fortress and for Your name’s sake you lead me and guide me. I personally think this “and” clause is highly significant. As I pondered in my last post, we, in faith, ask the Lord to be to us who He is. But there’s more to it than even that. We can ask Him to be who He is to us, but we also can remind ourselves that it is all “for His name’s sake.”

There is something going on here much more important than my own personal comfort and desires. Even as I struggle on in my little corner of the universe, the Lord Himself is engaged in the great eternal battle of the ages. It is “for His name’s sake” that He leads us and guides us. Fortunately for us, the Lord’s greatest glory is always our greatest good. Recognizing this, we can pray for whatever we think we need or what we think should happen in the confidence that He will in fact do what is best. This, of course, is just more faith-talk. Confidence in Him is faith in Him.

“Be to us because You are and because we’re confident You always do what’s best.”

Friday, March 2, 2018

Psalm 31:1-3 – “Faith-Talk”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

1In You, YHVH, I have taken refuge. Do not let me be ashamed to ages. In Your righteousness, deliver me. 2Incline to me Your ear. Quickly rescue me. Be to me to a rock from strength, to a house of fortresses to save me, 3because You [are] my Rock and my Fortress and for the sake of Your name You lead and guide me.

Over at least the last couple of years, one of my prayers has been, “Lord, teach me to pray.” In particular, I’ve always had a terrible problem with my wandering mind – that I can’t pray but a few sentences and my silly mind is off frolicking in a stream somewhere or designing someone’s chlorine analyzer. But beyond that, I’ve become more and more aware that somehow my prayers are just deficient. I have felt more and more that something is missing. Add to that the realization how much the Lord enjoys our prayers. He calls them “incense” and says Himself, “The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Prov 15:8). All that said and as I am studying even these few verses of Psalm 31, I feel He is answering my prayer – to teach me to pray.

I particularly notice the “because” which starts v3. In v2, David asks the Lord to “be to me a Rock and a Fortress” then says in v3, “because You are my Rock and my Fortress.” As Alexander McClaren and others point out, that almost sounds illogical: “Be to me a Rock and a Fortress because You are my Rock and my Fortress.” If we were talking to another human being, perhaps it would be a rather nonsensical statement, but we’re not talking to another human; we’re talking to God.

The statement itself is actually an expression of faith. David is saying that he believes that God is a Rock and a Fortress. The very soul of his prayer is believing that God is who He says He is. He comes to God needing Him to be a Rock and a Fortress and so he asks, “Be to me a Rock and a Fortress.” “Be to me what You are.” “I believe You are a Rock and Fortress … but I need You to be those things to me.” And the full expression of this faith-talk hinges around the “because” of v3. “Be to me a Rock and a Fortress because You are my Rock and my Fortress.” “… because You are my Rock and my Fortress.”

“Be to me because You are.” That’s faith-talk.

I’m reminded again of Jesus’ words, “For this is eternal life, that they might know You …” The very essence of real faith is to know God. And what grows out of truly knowing God is prayer that is not just “saying prayers” but rather this dynamic merger between who He is and the cries of my needy heart. “Be to me because You are.”

And notice too the personal element in it all. Here I am speaking to the God of the Universe who inhabits eternity – “Be to me a Rock and a Fortress because You are my Rock and my Fortress.” Is this not more faith-talk? John 3:16 says “God so loved the world …” but Paul can say in Gal 2:20 of Jesus, “who loved me and gave Himself for me.” Faith, in a sense, would be useless if it wasn’t also personal. Prayer, in a sense, is where God’s “very great and precious promises” become personal to me. Real prayer is the personal expression of real faith.

I recently noticed Isaiah 62:6,7: “You who call on the Lord, give yourselves no rest, and give Him no rest till he establishes Jerusalem and makes her the praise of the earth.” I noticed the “give Him no rest.” That of course immediately reminds us of the importunate widow in Luke 18, where Jesus told them the story specifically to the end that “they should always pray and not give up.” The Lord has recently really burdened my heart with a particular person’s salvation and so, based on Isaiah 62 and Luke 18, I told Him I would “give Him no rest” until He saves them and then embarked on a habit of every day specifically taking this prayer to Him.

I feel, in so doing, I’ve actually learned a little about “how to pray.” It feels “odd” to, in a sense, barge into His throne room to basically demand an audience with Him and then beg importunately for Him to do something. But I find in Isaiah and Luke the “permission” to do it and then I’m only further encouraged remembering Heb 4:16, “Let us therefore [because of Jesus] come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.”

Each day, as I pray for this person, I have to overcome this rather “strange” feeling that I am somehow being inappropriately persistent with this great King. I think to myself I don’t know that I’d ever do this with any earthly ruler or boss, but then I think that depends on my relationship with them. If I was really, really close to a ruler or boss, and if I was really confident in my relationship with them, and if they had even encouraged me to be persistent “if I needed something,” I suppose I would.

There you go – it “depends on my relationship.” If it makes sense at all to anyone, I am feeling this persistent praying actually strengthens my relationship with God, it “improves” my praying, because I am dealing very specifically with exactly what that relationship is. I’m finding the same thing as here in Psalm 31 – that real prayer arises from actually knowing God. “Be to me because You are” and what You are is “my Rock and my Fortress.”

I should close but I want to say I am ceaselessly amazed with this “knowing God” business. After nearly 40 years of “knowing Him,” I’m still learning to know Him better, but then what is so amazing is how everything I learn about Him only makes me want to know Him more. He really is everything our hearts could have ever dreamed, and the more we know Him the more we find it true.

“Be to me because You are.”

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Psalm 31:2 – “Needy”

As always, here’s my fairly literal translation of these verses:

2Incline to me Your ear. Quickly rescue me. Be to me to a rock from strength, to a house of fortresses to save me.

The symbols David includes in this prayer are like a string of pearls to us beleaguered believers. “Incline Your ear to me.” What a rapturous joy it is for us to cry out to our God, to know He is at this very minute keeping an entire universe in motion, that He probably has a billion other people crying out at the very same time, and yet, like a kind, devoted father, He leans down His Divine ear to hear our feeble sobs.

“Quickly rescue me.” The word translated “rescue” paints the idea of being snatched out or drawn out. The silly child has fallen into a hole only to have the strong arms of his father reach down and draw him out. “As a father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that are His.” And David adds, “Quickly!” Here we are, simple-minded children crying out “Quickly!” to our God who inhabits eternity. Time means nothing to Him, yet He knows it can mean everything to us – and once again He stoops to hear us begging for relief “quickly!”

“Be to me a rock of strength, a house of fortresses.” In this world I am constantly reminded I am not a rock. I have no strength. And I have no fortress of my own. After 60 years I will say without hesitation this is a very scary world. Nothing is secure. As poor Job found, everything we care about, everything we treasure can be gone in a heartbeat – and the truth is there is nothing I can do, in the end, to prevent it.

Right now in America, we are having a flu epidemic. People are actually dying. And not just feeble old people. Healthy young adults are getting “a cold” and three days later they’re dead. Perfectly healthy children are doing the same. It chills my heart to realize not just my parents but any one of my children or grandchildren could be next. Even my beautiful wife. The thought stirs an unthinkable, icy terror to the very depths of my soul. And what can I do about it? Pray. Nothing more. Take away my blessed assurance and what can I do? Nothing.

But I have a Rock. I have a Fortress. And like David and the billions of believers who’ve lived in this world, I go to Him. “Some trust in horses and some in chariots” but we believers learned long ago they’ll do you no good. “We trust in the Lord our God.” The inexhaustible kindness of His big loving heart is my refuge. His wisdom to do whatever is best is my comfort. His omnipotent strength is my confidence.

And I love that the last words of this verse are “Save me!” The word translated “save” is the same word from which derives the name “Jeshua” – which we Anglicize to Jesus. “You shall name Him Jesus, for He shall save His people from their sins.” Years ago I realized that the very basic nature of our relationship with God is that we need to be saved and He is a saving God. In other words, here we are crying out, here we are messed up (again), in all likelihood whatever it is, we got ourselves into it, and even if He does save us today, we’ll be back on our faces tomorrow. We are a very, very sad case to be anyone’s children, much less servants. Hopeless, helpless, failing we are. But He doesn’t save us because we need to be saved. He saves us because He is a saving God! It’s who He is. That’s what He does. It’s okay that I’m hopeless – He is a saving God. It’s okay that I’m constantly needing Him. It’s okay that I’m so hopelessly weak. That is our relationship – I need to be saved, and He is a saving God.

Jesus. The “radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of His being.” Jesus. Savior. Saving One. Immanuel, God with us.

Every word of this Psalm is a pearl specifically because we come to Him needing Him and He is to us everything our hearts ever dreamed, immeasurably more than we could ever have asked or thought.

Cry on, O needy ones!