27. Chastised?

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.27

Psa 80:12 Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes?

In the psalms especially we find some amazing truths about spiritual life. The psalms are full of human experience and experience that touches on God. We take it for granted but the psalms are all cries to God, prayers if you like. Some of them appear more like straight declarations and others like pleas from the heart, but they all speak of the human experience with God. Some of them are powerful praise while others seem almost whimpers of the down trodden. Perhaps because they get referred to so much or read so much in church services, we take them for granted but they each say something significant about the human condition and the human experience of God.

As we come to the end of this short series, it is something to observe, this matter of prayer that arises in the human heart in the face of conflict. Especially, in the light of this particular series of meditations, it is important to note that these prayers are not merely declarations of love, but many of them are cries from the heart that involve questions. The Hebrew psalmists are not afraid to ask questions of God. Perhaps it is a measure of the depth of their anguish that they are past caring, or perhaps it is a case that they have come into such a depth of relationship with the Lord that they know they can ask things of him. It would be many centuries later that a church leader by the name of James would write,If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.” (Jas 1:5), but that is what the psalmists are so often doing.

What seems even more incredible is that the psalmists are not afraid to ask these questions of God, even in the face of God’s apparent anger and judgment. We’ve recently been looking at psalms written during the Exile where many thought God had given Israel up. In this psalm today there is a sense that God has acted powerfully against His people. You might think that the psalmist would be too scared to speak to God on such issues, that he might think he would become a focus of God’s anger, a target for his judgment, but there is no such reticence apparent in these psalms.

In this psalm the psalmist acknowledges that God’s anger burns against his people (v.4) and the Lord has made them a source of mockery for their enemies (v.6). He speaks of Israel as a vine (v.8) that God brought out of Egypt and planted in this land. It grew and spread (v.11) and indeed, by what follows, Israel is pictured not merely as a vine but a walled vineyard, well established. Walls speak of protection, stability and security. But then we find,Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes? Boars from the forest ravage it and the creatures of the field feed on it.” (v.12,13). The question here for God is, why have you taken away our protection, our stability and our security so that we have become prey of all and sundry? But it is worse than that; it isn’t merely the removal of security and protection, it is the destruction that has been wrought as a result: Your vine is cut down, it is burned with fire; at your rebuke your people perish.” (v.16)

Three times in this psalm the psalmist cries,Restore us, O LORD God Almighty; make your face shine upon us, that we may be saved.” (v.3,7,19) and yet no acknowledgement of sin or reason for God’s judgment is given. The nearest thing to a clue why this has happened is found in verse 18 when, after the Lord’s restoring work is done, he adds, Then we will not turn away from you; revive us, and we will call on your name.” with the implication that they had turned away from God and needed reviving. Perhaps the fact of the psalm is evidence of contrition but otherwise there are no such signs in this psalm. It is simply a plea to God to come and restore the fortunes of Israel. It is an acknowledgement that only the Lord can do this, otherwise they would have done it themselves and this psalm would have not been needed. They are in a state where they acknowledge God’s anger (v.4) and acknowledge that He has brought them to tears (v.5) and made them a mockery (v.6). He has broken down their security (v.12) and brought great destruction to them (v.16).

Yet the Lord is still the “Shepherd of Israel” (v.1) and therefore the plea is to bring a redeemer: Let your hand rest on the man at your right hand, the son of man you have raised up for yourself.” (v.17). This is a somewhat enigmatic verse, unclear as to whom he refers. Is it the Lord’s anointed on the earth, the king in the line of David, or is it the one who sits at the Lord’s right hand, the one who will one day come to earth to be the Saviour of the world? Whoever it is, there is an acknowledgement of need for one to come and save them. In this respect this is a psalm of pure reliance upon the Lord.

The question here,Why have you broken down its walls so that all who pass by pick its grapes, seems almost rhetorical. It seems it is not so much asking for a deep answer, as simply part of a plea for God to come and restore. Sometimes it seems it is better not to worry about answers to questions but instead look and call for the presence of God to come and do the transforming work that only He can do. Sometimes we just have to trust that part of the restoring will involve putting right whatever caused the downfall. Sometimes the childlike call to God is just that, childlike! Children aren’t so much concerned with the details as the need to be restored to daddy. Knowing Him and knowing a closeness to Him is surely the greatest thing we can ask for. Let’s not be afraid to ask Him for wisdom about the questions that arise in our minds in the face of difficulties, but let’s ensure our greatest desire is not self-centred comfort, but to know Him and to be able, with His help, to do His will at all times.

26. Atheistic People

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.26

Psa 79:10 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”

As we have commented before with this set of meditations there are certain similarities, and the questions in today’s verse are similar in some ways to the things we saw in the 12th meditation considering Psalm 2 and the cry there of the nations against God. Similar and yet different. There is a similarity also to the meditation two days ago from Psalm 74 for both Psalms come from the time of the Exile. In Psalm 79 the psalmist starts out with that acknowledgement, “O God, the nations have invaded your inheritance; they have defiled your holy temple, they have reduced Jerusalem to rubble.” That is what Nebuchadnezzar’s army has done to Jerusalem. The previous meditation was about the struggling over the thought of rejection by God, but this psalm is focusing more on what the nations will say about Israel and about God. It is concern for the name of the Lord that comes out here. Yesterday’s meditation was about our responses to the violence of such people, but the plea that comes forth now is simply about reputation.

There are times, as Christians, when people say things against us, unjustly, and we feel hurt and upset. Our reputation is being maligned, but that is really a minor thing for they said such things about Jesus. They made a whole lot of false or wrong accusations about him and then, in Acts, about his followers, so we shouldn’t be too concerned on that count. If our heart is a heart of love for God, our greatest concern is what people say about God. Just before today’s verse the psalmist cried, “Help us, O God our Saviour, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.” Lord, he is saying, for the sake of your name, please act; don’t let them say things about us that malign you! We need to understand what is going on here.

When Israel were taken into captivity, in the eyes of the surrounding nations who were pagan, idol worshippers and who had denied the one true God, their natural and obvious conclusion would have been that whatever ‘god’ Israel worshipped, actually had no power. In their lack of understanding, they would have seen and heard what had happened and considered that this ‘god’ was obviously impotent against a great human force like Nebuchadnezzar’s army. They would not have realized that Nebuchadnezzar was, in fact, God’s instrument to discipline His people. This wasn’t a mighty king defying God but a mighty king doing God’s biding for Him, this was Nebuchadnezzar acting out God’s will. But no, the surrounding nations wouldn’t have understood this, and so they would have written off Israel‘s God.

But that is just like many atheists today. Although there are many scientists who are Christians, there are a number who look at the apparent power of science and of technology and jump to the false conclusion that everything can be explained away without the need of God. They see how the universe ‘works’ and assume wrongly that it doesn’t need God to explain it and keep it going. Yet the word of God, speaking about Jesus says, “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.” (Heb 1:3) Without the Son of God, this world wouldn’t exist and wouldn’t continue, but there’s little point saying that to those who have already closed their minds against God.

Ah, there is a truth, the closed mind. Paul speaking about history, said, “God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him.” (Acts 17:27). The person with an open seeking heart will look at what has happened in the world and seek and find God. Similarly Paul wrote: “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities–his eternal power and divine nature–have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that men are without excuse.(Rom 1:19,20), i.e. those with open hearts will ponder on the wonder of creation and see God in it. That’s what many modern day scientists are doing. Solomon also caught something of this: “He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men.” (Eccles 3:11) i.e. God has made us so that something in us will be yearning for meaning and purpose and understanding and will reach out for Him.

The truth about the Exile, of course, was that God knew what He was going to do and wasn’t put off by the foolish words of closed-mind unbelievers. Paul spoke of “those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality” (Rom 2:7) and said that they will receive eternal life from God. Implied in that is that they are responding to Him, perhaps without realizing it. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what is happening. What matters is the heart of the individual, perhaps revealed as he or she responds to what is happening. Those with open and righteous hearts will perhaps wonder and, because they have open hearts, God will speak to them. Answers are given to those who seek with open hearts. The truth is that it is the foolish closed-mined unbeliever who says, “Where is there God?” in a derisory way and they say it like that because they have a derisory heart that is not open to God because they are rebellious against any authority, because they are, as the Bible says, ‘lawless’. They don’t want anyone to tell them what to do, so they reject God, not out of intellectual reasoning but out of self-centredness.

So when you come across someone apparently espousing atheism, check their heart. See if they are open-minded seekers who just haven’t found their answers yet, or whether they are self-centred closed-minded individuals who are not interested in anything else other than getting their own way. It makes a lot of difference to how we should respond. To the first we need to gently give answers. To the second, we need to gently disengage.

25. Reticent God?

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.25

Psa 74:11 Why do you hold back your hand, your right hand? Take it from the folds of your garment and destroy them!

The mystery of evil, as it is sometimes put, seems to be always with us. Why is there evil? Why does God seem to tolerate evil men? We have in fact touched on these questions already but here it comes again. It is good to be able to be able to examine different aspects of the problem. We said yesterday that this psalm was probably written in the Exile and yesterday’s meditation was about the apparent rejection aspects of the Exile. But there was another side to it. Yes, Israel had been apathetic towards God, and yes they had worshipped idols and yes they had done wrong in respect of God, but there is another issue festering in the heart of the psalmist: what about these violent people who have taken us away? Aren’t they just as bad as us, if not worse, and aren’t they God’s enemies, so why doesn’t He deal with them?

This is quite possibly how the self-justifying Jews might have felt. We all like to justify ourselves after we have failed, and one of the ways we do it is by comparison: well I’m not as bad as them! Nebuchadnezzar had come with his great army and wiped Israel clean. It had not been a pretty sight. There is nothing glamorous about war and this war had been particularly unpleasant. This was a mighty marauding force that had just come and taken the people, killing and pillaging no doubt, wiping away any resistance and taking all the people, with the except of a tiny minority, into exile in Babylon where they would be assimilated. The Star Trek Borg cry of “Resistance is futile!” certainly applied to them. Bit by bit Nebuchadnezzar cleared them away. Neither he nor his men were nice. So why doesn’t God deal with them?

Whenever there is a long-term war between peoples, where a dictator oppresses others, the question arises. Indeed it wasn’t only a matter of their violence that would have upset the Jews: “How long will the enemy mock you, O God? Will the foe revile your name forever?Yes, there is the derision that such violent people show towards God and towards His people. “So where is this God of yours?” is a common question from such people. Years before in Hezekiah’s reign, Sennacherib’s army had come against Jerusalem and derided the people: “Do not let Hezekiah persuade you to trust in the LORD when he says, `The LORD will surely deliver us; this city will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (Isa 36:15). The commander also went on, “Do not let Hezekiah mislead you when he says, `The LORD will deliver us.’ Has the god of any nation ever delivered his land from the hand of the king of Assyria ? Where are the gods of Hamath and Arpad? Where are the gods of Sepharvaim? Have they rescued Samaria from my hand? Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the LORD deliver Jerusalem from my hand?(Isa 36:18-20) In other words he was saying, what do I care about the gods of the nations I come against. I’m much greater than them. Sennacherib had yet to learn about the Lord. This was His word to Hezekiah: “I am going to put a spirit in him so that when he hears a certain report, he will return to his own country, and there I will have him cut down with the sword.” (Isa 37:7). That happened!

So there are times when the Lord clearly does act, they might have thought when they looked back over their history, so why doesn’t he act now? Well of course the answer, when we read Daniel, is that the Lord had other ways to deal with Nebuchadnezzar and by the end of that Nebuchadnezzar was to declare, It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me. How great are his signs, how mighty his wonders! His kingdom is an eternal kingdom; his dominion endures from generation to generation.(Dan 4:2,3).

Our problem when we come across such violent people is that we want them destroyed: destroy them! But sometimes God wants them redeemed – and He’s not in a rush: “But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Pet 3:8). There is in fact, no one who is beyond God’s ability to transform them. Of course they have to have a heart to surrender to Him first, but once they have done that, there is no one too bad for God to change. Nebuchadnezzar was a most proud man, but he was redeemed and humbled by God. Naaman was a similar violent man who God blessed (see 2 Kings 5).

So when we see those in authority around us, sometimes violent men, can our cry be, “Lord save them, but if you see they are those who have set their hearts totally against you, then for the sake of your people, remove them.” Yet even in that we may have to be patient, for there are those who will not turn to the Lord who He yet uses as instruments of judgment or of chastising. Discipline is part of our loving heavenly Father’s activities, and sometimes He does it through people – unpleasant people, people who will one day be forever excluded from His presence, but for now He uses them. The best thing we can do is seek to ensure we do nothing that incurs God’s loving discipline. We need to ensure we do all we can with His help to walk in righteousness and love, and then simply trust in our Father. When we come across the violent enemy of the Lord, do what Jesus told us to do: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven.” (Mt 5:44,45)

24. Rejected?

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.24

Psa 74:1 Why have you rejected us forever, O God? Why does your anger smolder against the sheep of your pasture?

There have been times in church history, both ancient and modern, when it seems, from the human perspective at least – and we must continue to reiterate this throughout these meditations, that it is from the human perspective – that God seems to have given up on His people. This cry seen in the verse above comes either when something so dramatic has happened that this must apparently be the conclusion, or when a long period passes when God seems to have been silent.

Perhaps for many people, there is no expectation of God’s moving and so religion is just a week by week ritual, but for those who are truly the children of God, there surely must be an expectation that God is a God of communication who speaks and moves and does things. He speaks to His people either by a word into the individual’s spirit, or through a prophetic word to the individual or His gathered people. The ‘does things’? Yes, He brings healing when we pray, He clearly changes circumstances when we pray, He draws people to Himself and miraculously transforms their lives, He provides miraculously for His servants and He brings revelation and wisdom to show them the way forward. In a whole variety of ways He speaks and moves. That is the norm for the Christian life. That is what we should expect.

But then there have been low times, times when the Lord seems to be silent. In the days of Eli and young Samuel we find, “In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.” (1 Sam 3:1). The reason soon became clear; the leadership of Israel was far from the Lord. No wonder the Lord appeared silent. But this Psalm was written, it is believed, in the time of the exile. Jerusalem has been destroyed and the people have been cleared out of the Land. Even the remnant that had been left has now fled to Egypt. This surely, they think, is a sign of the Lord having rejected them. When Jerusalem was destroyed in AD70 and the Jewish people scattered into the world, they would have thought the same thing. The psalmist even believed that all of God’s prophets had gone (v.9) and so there were no mouth-pieces left for the Lord to speak to the people, but then why would He speak when He had no people left?

But that, we said, was the human perspective when it feels low. That forgets the prophetic word that had come through Jeremiah, “This whole country will become a desolate wasteland, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years. But when the seventy years are fulfilled, I will punish the king of Babylon ” (Jer 25:11,12) and even more, This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD , “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. I will be found by you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back from captivity. I will gather you from all the nations and places where I have banished you,” declares the LORD, “and will bring you back to the place from which I carried you into exile.(Jer 29:10-14) Now that was an amazing prophecy, but it is so easy to forget that the Lord has spoken when you are in the midst of a period of silence.

In such a period of silence, it is so easy to listen to the enemy and think you have been utterly rejected, but at those times we are simply called to be faithful. After the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple and the re-establishing of Jerusalem, there was over four hundred years when the Lord seemed to be silent and seemed to do nothing. Surely during those years, some of the people must have wondered if their centuries of experience of the Lord were all now past history. But then came the Son of God into the most glorious but brief time in human history.

In the modern church as we see the decline of moral standards and the breakdown of society, it is natural to wonder, “Has God given up on our society? Has He rejected our country?” History tells us that this is how it has been before every revival. Before every powerful and miraculous coming of the Lord in revival, the state of the land has always been very low. Yet He comes again and again into church history and brings salvation in powerful ways and in large numbers, in ways that, during the times of prior darkness seem almost impossible.

Through Isaiah the Lord spoke about restoring His people in the end times. In the mid-twentieth century Israel returned to their land. It is still a time of waiting, yet the promise is still there and one day He will come and breathe fresh life into that physical nation and draw many of them to know Him through their Messiah, the Son of God. For us as Christians, in a time of limited divine movement, we cry out for Him to come in revival power, for we see that nothing else will redeem our societies. Elsewhere in the world He moves, but in the West, that movement seems strictly limited. Has He rejected the West? No, be patient, be faithful and pray, and watch and wait. He is coming!

23. Envy

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.23

Psa 68:16 Why gaze in envy, O rugged mountains, at the mountain where God chooses to reign, where the LORD himself will dwell forever?

Again we consider a question which is not so much one of God, but one generally, but it still produces much fruit by considering it. Envy is the begrudging of what someone else has got, wishing you had it. Envy is a dissatisfaction with what you have in the light of what someone else has. Envy is one of the signs of insecurity, of not being content with who you are when you look at others. Envy, if we let it grow and fester, leads us to malign others or do wrong to them. It was said of Pilate in respect of the religious authorities handing Jesus over to him, “he knew it was out of envy that they had handed Jesus over to him.” (Mt 27:18) James warned, “For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice.” (Jas 3:16). Do you see there, James links it with selfish ambition? That’s its close cousin!

In case we weren’t sure, Jesus in his teaching clearly condemned envy as an evil: “What comes out of a man is what makes him `unclean.’ For from within, out of men’s hearts, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and make a man `unclean.” (Mk 7:20-23). Paul likewise placed envy alongside lots of other clearly wrong things, things that come from the old sinful nature: “The acts of the sinful nature are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like.(Gal 5:19-21).

Now that we are quite clear in our minds about envy we are ready to consider the question today. The Psalm is one of rejoicing over the works of God in delivering and establishing Israel. In v.7 it speaks of God leading the people through the desert from Sinai (v.8). The Lord blessed the new land (v.9,10) and kings fled before Israel (v.12), and the Lord chose Mount Zion as His dwelling place (v.16), the place from which He will reign. The psalmist imagines other bigger mountains in the land being envious of Mount Zion as being the place of His choice for a sanctuary (v.17) where He may dwell (v.18).

The impression that is given is that some of the other mountains, as we said, are bigger, yet it is here the Lord has chosen. The first lesson is not to be envious of others because He has chosen them to do something He hasn’t asked of you. The Lord’s choice is the Lord’s choice and it is always the best choice. It is simply that for some reason that perhaps He alone knows, this other person is a better choice for the role than you, even though you may have other more obvious gifts. Zion was the site of Jerusalem and that was the place over all others that the Lord had chosen for His temple. We don’t know why but it just was. We must learn to rejoice in what God has given us and be at peace in that, not getting upset because it is different from someone else we know.

Another close cousin of envy is jealousy. Saul became jealous of David when he saw the blessing of God on him bringing the adoration of the people: “from that time on Saul kept a jealous eye on David.” (1 Sam 18:9). Saul couldn’t rejoice in this young man’s blessing because he was insecure in his own role that had gone wrong. Each one of us needs to know who we are and what God has gifted us with and be at peace in that. The apostle Paul wrote a lot about us being all one body and the body is made up of lots of different members, each of which is important (1 Cor 12). Envy is the inability to accept your gifting and role in the body when you see it next to others who you consider more gifted or more fortunate. Rejoice in the gifting of others that God has given them and enjoy them. The verse gives us a subtle warning in the question, against measuring ourselves against others.

But there is another side to this. Others will be envious of us. If they saw Jesus and were envious of him, as we noted above, then people will be envious of us, of the gifting that God gives us. Remember what we have said. It is a sign of their insecurity. We don’t have to feel bad about the gifting that God has given us, especially if others indicate their envy. As a leader, at various times in my life I have had those who challenged my role and said, “I ought to be leading this!” Leaders in the kingdom of God know they are what they are because God has called them to it and it’s only with His gifting can they do it. It is an uncomfortable place being out front; you become the first target for the enemy, and one way he will come is through the challenging words of others. The classic example of this was against Moses: “Miriam and Aaron began to talk against Moses because of his Cushite wife, for he had married a Cushite. “Has the LORD spoken only through Moses?” they asked. “Hasn’t he also spoken through us?” And the LORD heard this.” (Num 12:1,2). What they were basically saying was, “He’s just our brother. We’re just as good as him. Why should he be the leader?” Immediately after we read, “Now Moses was a very humble man, more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth,” and the inference is that he didn’t defend himself but left it to God, who promptly dealt with them.

It is clear from the account that Joseph’s brothers envied him: “When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” His father obviously loved him more than them and that they couldn’t cope with. That is how the enemy stirs up envy and subsequently strife; he takes a position where one of God’s children is being blessed more than others and then challenges them in the minds of the others. Beware envy, beware the enemy stirring it in you. Seek to be a peacemaker if others are envious of you. Let’s not give the enemy any room to move in us!

22. Pride

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.22

Psa 52:1 Why do you boast of evil, you mighty man? Why do you boast all day long?

Do you ever read or watch the news and wonder? So often there are ‘celebrities’ or ‘great leaders’ or leaders who think they are great, and they come over with such confidence. They have money, stardom or position and they seem so full of themselves. Perhaps you have a college lecturer like that, or a boss at work. They look and sound so sure of themselves, at least in public, and their lifestyles leave much to be desired, and they are godless. In fact they even pronounce on our folly in believing in a make believe God. They don’t need any such belief to support them. They are strong, they are powerful, they have the ear of important people, and who are you after all? You are just some insignificant Christian who doesn’t cause half the ripples in the world that they do!

Boasting is a sign of pride and pride is an overblown estimation of self. Proud people think they are in control, think they are invincible, think they are all-important, think they can do what they like and get away with it. But proud people are wrong! Proud people, although they don’t realise it, have a major problem: “God opposes the proud” (Jas 4:6, 1 Pet 5:5). The apostle Paul taught, “Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited” (Rom 12:16). Pride we said was an overblown estimation of self. We think our cleverness or our strength or our power has got us to the place where we are, and we don’t realize that it was in fact the grace and mercy of God. We also don’t realize how vulnerable we are. How quickly we fall when the flu strikes or a previously unknown pain strikes, and fear follows a frightening diagnosis. How easily are the mighty fallen!

The heading at the top of the Psalm from which today’s question comes, indicates that David wrote this shortly after he had fled from Saul, gone to the priest for help and been seen by a man by the odd name of Doeg. Yes, this is not so much a question for God as for those who oppose God. Doeg was an Edomite and the Edomites had so often been enemies of God’s people, but Doeg curried favour with Saul to cause upset and opposition against God’s anointed man, David. Doeg was Saul’s chief shepherd (1 Sam 21:7) and Doeg told Saul where David had gone (1 Sam 22:9) and when Saul ordered the priests to be killed, only Doeg would do it (1 Sam 22:18 ,19). Only an outsider would raise his hand against God’s priests. That day he killed 85 of them.

As David writes about this he writes, “Why do you boast all day long, you who are a disgrace in the eyes of God?Doeg may think much of himself in his own eyes, but in God’s eyes he’s a disgrace! He may think, “I’m Saul’s chief shepherd, I’m an important man and I helped the king” but God calls him a disgrace. That’s the folly of pride; it wrongly assesses itself. It thinks it’s great but the most important Assessor of all, utterly disdains it! He says through Solomon, “I hate pride and arrogance.” (Prov 8:13)

Obadiah exposed pride when he prophesied against Edom, “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, `Who can bring me down to the ground?(Obad 1:3). Pride thinks it is secure. The Edomites thought that because they lived in mountain strongholds they were safe. In their pride they boasted, but the word came, I will bring you down, declares the LORD.” (Obad 1:4). David’s question in our verse today essentially is saying, “Why do you boast you silly person? Don’t you know you are answerable to God and you have no security before Him?”

This is the point, isn’t it, that the proud think they are all important and that they are secure, yet before God they are utterly weak. In that Psalm David goes on, “Surely God will bring you down to everlasting ruin(v.5). In other words, don’t you realize you are doomed because you oppose God? David derides him for his folly: “Here now is the man who did not make God his stronghold but trusted in his great wealth and grew strong by destroying others!(v.7). More and more the word of God reveals the folly of this proud man. He trusted in wealth. Presumably Saul had paid him well as chief over all his flocks. He grew strong in Saul’s court by doing Saul’s ungodly and unrighteous bidding and so, foolishly, thought he was completely secure. Don’t worry about the proud; leave them to the Lord!

When Peter, quoting Proverbs, wrote, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble” (1 Pet 5:5) he prefaced it with, “All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another.” and followed it by, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.Our call is not to join the ranks of the proud, but to remember who we are, remember our frailty and weakness and need of God, and to get our perspective right. As Paul said, “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment.(Rom 12:3) When we do this, it will not only act as a safety check for us, it will help us realize again the wonder of who we are in God, because we will find ourselves meditating on the wonder of what God has done for us and in us. When we do that there is no room for pride. “Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded” (Rom 3:27 ). Let’s make sure that is how it is.

21. God hiding

‘WHY?’ QUESTIONS No.21

Psa 44:24 Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?

As we’ve commented a number of times in these meditations, there are bound to be various commonalities in them, the prime ones are that these cries arise when we are in trouble and God doesn’t seem to be responding as we think He should. Today’s cry has aspects that are unique to it. When someone ‘hides’ they are purposefully making themselves not available so that they cannot be found.

References to the Lord hiding His face occur many times in the psalms – 30:7, 88:14, 27:9, 69:17, 102:2, 143:7. Little children hide their face when they are embarrassed and want to pretend they are not there. We tend to think of adults as turning their face away, but it is the same thing. When someone turns their face away there may be three different things they are doing. The first is that they are showing that they don’t want to see what you are doing. It suggests they disapprove of it and therefore don’t want to know about it. The second thing is that they are showing they don’t want to communicate with you. We communicate with our mouths and with our faces generally, and when we don’t want to communicate we turn away and ignore the person. The third reason is that they want to hide what they are feeling, by hiding what is on their face. In each case there is the suggestion that there has been some breakdown in the relationship so that the person hiding their face wants to dissociate themselves from the other person somehow.

With the Lord, seeing His face is a special privilege. When Moses was talking to the Lord on one occasion, the Lord said, “you cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live” (Ex 33:20) and “you will see my back; but my face must not be seen” (v.23) yet when the Lord spoke about Moses, He said, “With him I speak face to face, clearly and not in riddles; he sees the form of the LORD.” (Num 12:8) yet the phrase ‘face to face’ clearly didn’t mean that Moses saw the Lord, but that the communication between the two of them was open. The best that could be said was that Moses had seen ‘the form’ of God, the shape or outline. Similarly Moses said to the people, “The LORD spoke to you face to face out of the fire on the mountain” (Deut 5:4) and again the phrase ‘face to face’ obviously doesn’t mean ‘visibly clear’ but more ‘distinctly’.

Just before the time of Moses’ death, the Lord warned him that in the future the people would turn away from the Lord and turn to idols at which point He warned, “On that day I will become angry with them and forsake them; I will hide my face from them, and they will be destroyed.” (Deut 31:17). Hiding His face thus also became synonymous with standing back from Israel and allowing judgment through surrounding nations to come upon them. So ‘hiding His face’ came to be used when the Lord cut Himself off from His people and brought judgment on them.

David in Psalm 4 wrote, “Many are asking, ‘Who can show us any good?’ Let the light of your face shine upon us, O LORD.” (Psa 4:6). There he saw that the Lord’s ‘face’ shone with glory and therefore when the Lord turned towards them, His glory would shine on them and would bring God’s goodness to them. In Psalm 11 he said, “For the LORD is righteous, he loves justice; upright men will see his face.” (Psa 11:7) implying a relationship is there with the Lord for the person who is righteous. Simply seeing his face, means having a relationship so, as we said above, if the Lord turns away His face, it is a sign of His relationship being withdrawn.

Now for us, we need to understand that as Christians, that relationship is only ever withdrawn when there is apostasy, the clear and purposeful turning from a life with God to a life of sin – see Heb 6 (in v.6 ‘fall away’ doesn’t mean to commit an occasional sin, but to completely change your life to sin). However, there is a withdrawal of communion when we are in a wrong attitude that offends the Lord. On those occasions the Lord does ‘hide His face’ from us and there is no communication. Scriptures tells us that it is possible for us to “grieve the Spirit” (Eph 4:30) and on those times there is a breakdown of the relationship as far as communication is concerned. The bizarre thing is that we can generally have our hearts turned towards Him and yet have and maintain a wrong attitude or behaviour towards others, which grieves the Lord. While we persist in that course of thinking or action, it will be as if the Lord hides His face from us and there is little or no communication with Him.

Moses laid down an important principle: “you will find him if you look for him with all your heart and with all your soul” (Deut 4:29). If you fear there has been a breakdown in communication between you and the Lord, then the answer is clear: look for him with all your heart and with all your soul. When you do that, one thing you will find you are doing is examining yourself to ensure there is nothing in your life to hinder that relationship. If you do that wholeheartedly then you will deal with any wrong attitudes or actions and put them right, for you will want nothing, but nothing, to get between you and the Lord. Paul said about Communion, “A man ought to examine himself before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup.” (1 Cor 11:28). It is for the same reason. We can seem apparently good people in public but if we harbour wrong thoughts, then we will find that because this grieves the Lord, He will hide His face. May it not be so!