10. A Kaleidoscope of Uncertainties

‘Living with Uncertainty’ Meditations: 10. A Kaleidoscope of Uncertainties – the Psalms

Psa 2:1   Why do the nations conspire?

Psa 6:3   My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long?

Psa 10:1  Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?

Psa 13:1  How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

Psa 15:1  Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent?

Psa 22:1  My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?

Psa 42:5 Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?

Biblical Realism: Have a realistic view of this world with its uncertainties but make sure you hold on to The Certainty we have been talking about in these recent studies. That is the message that I have felt coming out in all these studies, this is what I have felt the Lord saying to me. Sometimes we have such a romantic view of the Psalms that we lose a vital truth that comes through in them. Yes, sometimes they are songs of praise, songs of triumph, songs of worship, but quite often they are also cries of anguish. Have you ever noticed how many question the psalmists present to God? Those questions flow out of uncertainty and the anguish that goes with that uncertainty. But let’s extend our consideration of uncertainty to pinpoint three different causes.

  1. Varying Circumstances: Is David a schizophrenic? I ask that because there are times when he comes out with such dynamic faith in both his psalms and his history, that it almost feels difficult to believe it is the same man who is now bewailing his plight. I think one of my favourite quotes of his is, “Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) and then later, “Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God. The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.” (1 Sam 17:36,37) Brilliant, what faith! No, I don’t think he’s schizophrenic, it’s just at different times of life the pressures are different, so yes there are times when David was strong and full of faith, and other times, perhaps feeling tired and jaded, he is struggling.
  2. Burnt Out: We could ask the same thing about Elijah. He does some great stuff, the peak of which is challenging Ahab and his prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel. What a miracle, what a triumph, so much so that he goes running ahead of Ahab all the way back to Jezreel (1 Kings 18), but then Ahab’s wife threatens him and he does a runner to a cave in Sinai on Mount Horeb, as far away as possible from Jezreel, where the Lord finds him in a miserable state. He’s on the verge of a breakdown it seems, utterly wiped out. Perhaps we should realize that sometimes when we fight a great battle against the enemy and triumph, there is a price to be paid. Perhaps it shouldn’t be like that, I’m not sure, but it often is.
  3. Enormity of the Future: I think it is indisputable that one of the two greatest cries of anguish in the Bible comes from Jesus as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. He faces the greatest of anguishes, not merely physical but certainly spiritual in what is about to come: Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” …. And being in anguish, he prayed more earnestly, and his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.” (Lk 22:42-44) A prayer of immense human anguish, and yet I believe it was more than human fear; there was also, I believe, the awareness that having been through one separation from the Father – leaving heaven his eternal dwelling – he was about to face an even greater separation when he took the sin of the world on himself in such a measure that it would blot out the awareness of the Father that had kept him going for three years of ministry, and that second great cry would be dragged out of him, My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mk 15:34)

In the face of the enormity of the awfulness of what was about to come, Jesus shows us himself in immense anguish. He shares in the same experiences that we encounter. How did he cope with it? It is too easy to say, well he was God and had all of that strength, but that ignores the humanity that he carried.  Listen to the writer to the Hebrews: “And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Heb 12:1,2) How did he do it? He looked beyond it to what would follow.

And Us? Look beyond today or tomorrow to the vision that God will give you of what will yet come. Let that be part of the strength (as well as His presence and purpose and power) that keeps you today. There is a new day yet to come! Don’t be put off by ‘bad days’; we all have them. Look past them to the next new day, who knows what it will hold. If you read David’s psalms rejoice when he rejoices,  empathize with him when he anguishes and learn from him when he starts out ‘down’, pours out his heart in anguish but comes through to a new place of certainty and is able to praise the Lord and declare his trust.

If, like Elijah, on one day you give out a lot and are feeling wiped out the next day, find a quiet place and regroup, get refreshed, you are still a much-loved servant of God and there is more to do – when you have been freshly resourced. The wonderful thing is that the Lord understands these low times we go through brought on by tough circumstances and enemy opposition, and He’s there with us, watching, understanding, feeling with us, and ready to restore us.

And when the future looks daunting, stretching out ahead of us with trying and difficult circumstances yet to come – whether health issues, work issues, or people issues – grab for His resources for today, receive His peace to be able to face the future, and look beyond the ‘tough stuff’ to see the glory the other side of it. Can we do that? I’m sure we can – with Him.

14. And Yet…

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 14. And Yet….

1 Kings 11:11-13  So the Lord said to Solomon, “Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.”

Ongoing Folly: The shambles of these foolish kings that we have been observing, forgetting their history and forgetting the Lord, continues as the people reject Zimri who only reigned for seven days (1 Kings 16:16) in favour of Omri. When Omri dies, Ahab his son takes over and a whole new ball game ensures as we soon read, “Now Elijah the Tishbite, from Tishbe in Gilead, said to Ahab, “As the Lord, the God of Israel, lives, whom I serve, there will be neither dew nor rain in the next few years except at my word.” (1 Kings 17:1) God’s prophet is on the scene and big things will occur.

To hold on to perspective and observe contrasts, let’s just recap again the six kings we’ve been observing:

  1. Jeroboam – He ignored God’s prophetic help and when he became king he established a replica religion with idols. His family will be wiped out. Defeated by Judah. No record of his mode of death.
  2. Nadab – Bad as his father. Killed by Baasha
  3. Baasha – Did nothing to improve Israel ‘s spiritual state & was thus condemned. Rebuked by prophet Jehu. Later died but no record of mode of death.
  4. Elah – Same as his father. Killed by Zimri.
  5. Zimri – Followed the idol worship, committed suicide after a week of rule.
  6. Omri – Was worse spiritually than the others. No record of any judgment.

And So?  Not, you might think, a very edifying passage of history to study. No, agreed! But they do go to show what I have often said was one of God’s reasons for creating Israel – to reveal the sinfulness of mankind left to ourselves and thus our need of salvation.

And Yet: Despite all this going on there is a shadow hanging over all of this – the past testimony of David against which all these kings are measured which is referred to again and again in the south but it’s absence in the north is contrasted with their sins.

In the south again and again we find such words as, “So Solomon did evil in the eyes of the Lord; he did not follow the Lord completely, as David his father had done,” (1 Kings 11:6) and, Abijah became king of Judah… He committed all the sins his father had done before him; his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his forefather had been,” (1 Kings 15:3) and, Asa did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, as his father David had done.” (1 Kings 15:11) What an example to be followed, what failure to follow. David is held up by the Lord as the measuring stick against which all the other kings who follow in the southern kingdom are measured.

In the north, observe the contrast: Nadab son of Jeroboam…. did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of his father and committing the same sin his father had caused Israel to commit,” (1Kings 15:25,26) and, Baasha son of Ahijah …. did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the ways of Jeroboam and committing the same sin Jeroboam had caused Israel to commit.” (1 Kings 15:33,34) No mention of David. Why?  Perhaps two reasons.

David’s Family Tree: First, in the south it is expected that the royal line will continue on from David: Solomon his son, his son Rehoboam, his son Abijah, his son Asa, his son Jehoshaphat, his son Jehoram, his son Ahaziah, his son Joash, his son Amaziah, his son Uzziah, his son Jotham, his son Ahaz, his son Hezekiah, his son Manasseh, his son Amon, his son Josiah, his son Jehoahaz, his brother (still part of the family tree) Eliakim renamed Jehoiakim, his son Jehoiachin, his uncle Zedekiah made last king of Judah by Nebuchadnezzar. Thus again and again, there is reference back to David as their example who they should be following – because they are all part of his family tree.

A Backup Plan? Second, in the north, God’s offer to Jeroboam – I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you. I will humble David’s descendants because of this, but not forever,”  – appears a genuine offer conditional on them following the Lord. IF they had done that then there would have been a second godly stream in Israel if the family tree of David failed. Of course someone might say, but surely the Lord knew how it would work out in both the north and the south, and the answer to that has to be, yes, but not because He makes it happen like that but because when He gives them the freedom to take up these two opportunities to create two godly kingdoms, it will only be their own foolishness that stops it happening – as it did. Nevertheless the record is still there – for us – and we can see the sinfulness of the free-will of mankind at work. The need for a saviour has never been greater. It is now seen in two streams!

And Us? I concluded the previous study with what is one of my favourite quotes which bears repeating, “The one thing history teaches us is that history teaches us nothing,” and so I will ask again, will we allow Scripture to teach us, challenge us and keep us on the right path? The picture is very clear once you grasp the facts, the testimonies are there, the teaching is there, and the warnings are there. May we not think they simply applied back then. As the apostle Paul wrote so simply to the Galatians, “A man reaps what he sows,” (Gal 6:7) and elsewhere, “The wages of sin is death,” (Rom 6:23) and perhaps as we might put it, ‘the payback for self-centred godlessness is surely spiritual and eternal death’. What a warning. We are now the people of God, empowered by the Spirit, with a wonderful Savour and amazing destiny; that surely should keep us on track.

10. Revelation through David

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 10. Revelation through David

2 Sam 12:11  “This is what the Lord says: ‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you.

Structure:  There are, I would suggest, four phases to David’s story. Phase 1 is what we have been considering in the previous study, (seen as the third phase in 1 Samuel), him being anointed and then his tumultuous rise to becoming king. Phase 2 is his success as king, Phase 3 is his failures as king and then Phase 4 is his final years. As I have commented right at the beginning of this series, these chapters revealing the warfare and struggles of Israel reveal to us the interaction between God and man, mostly the failings of man and then the discipline of God but they do also accentuate the truth found in the ‘curses and blessings’ chapter of Deuteronomy, (Deut 28) that obedience brings blessing from God and disobedience brings curses or discipline from God. We also need to be honest enough to face these truths in our lives and this world today.

Phase 2 – Success: Remember the early call to Israel was to clear the land of its occupants. Over a hundred years had passed since that call and the Jebusites still occupied Jerusalem. David’s first task after becoming king over all Israel was to take that city, which he did (see 2 Sam 5:6-10). What follows is then two victories over the Philistines, with the Lord’s guidance (see 2 Sam 5:17-25). Subsequently he continued to defeat the Philistines (8:1) and the Moabites (8:2) and other opposing kings (8:3-6) so that, “The Lord gave David victory wherever he went.” (v.6c) and went on to defeat the Edomites (8:13,14) and later the Ammonites (10:1-19). The Philistines continued to be defeated (see 1 Chron 20:4-8) Turning from battles, the accounts of the early parts of David’s reign turn towards returning the Ark to Jerusalem, seeking the Lord and receiving His prophetic affirmations about the future.

Phase 3: Downfall: Almost every person in the Bible (except Jesus) reveal something of their fallenness. David is no exception. David’s testimony in the historical books is quite remarkable: “For David had done what was right in the eyes of the Lord and had not failed to keep any of the Lord’s commands all the days of his life—except in the case of Uriah the Hittite.” (1 Kings 15:5) If you are not familiar with the story, David committed adultery with Bathsheba, then had her husband murdered before he took her for his own wife (see 2 Sam 11) for which he is censured by the Lord (see 2 Sam 12) who declares, “Now, therefore, the sword will never depart from your house, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be your own.” (2 Sam 12:10) and, “‘Out of your own household I am going to bring calamity on you. Before your very eyes I will take your wives and give them to one who is close to you, and he will sleep with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did it in secret, but I will do this thing in broad daylight before all Israel.’” (v.11,12)  This is the background for all that follows.

Outworking: The outworking of this is seen in what follows:

  • the family upheaval starts with one of David’s sons desiring his daughter (2 Sam 13:1)
  • this results in one son, Absalom, killing that brother, Amnon (2 Sam 13:23-29) and fleeing (v.34-38)
  • after three years he returns and is eventually reconciled to David (2 Sam 14)
  • but then he stages a palace coup and David has to flee (2 Sam 15).
  • The prophecy of 12:11,12 is thus fulfilled
  • Absalom is killed by Joab (18:14,15) David returns to Jerusalem (Ch.19)
  • but then a rebel, Sheba caused many to desert David (20:1,2,14,22) but he is pursed and killed
  • subsequent battles occur with the Philistines (21:15-22) ad when David is nearly killed his men forbid him going out to battle any more. The prophecy of 12:10 fulfilled.

Phase 4: Aftermath – Solomon: In his final phase of David’s life he makes Solomon the next king. (1 Kings 1). Solomon was initially, with God’s help, a very wise king and he established the kingdom and his fame spread so that eventually the Queen of Sheba came (1 Kings 10) acknowledging the wonder of all the Lord had done for him. Tragically Solomon unwisely took many foreign wives and fell away from the Lord (1 Kings 11:1-8) so that the Lord decreed, “I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son.  Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen.” (1 Kings 11:11-13) Following his death this occurs.

Discipline: However before that, the Lord disciplines Solomon by raising up Hadad the Edomite in rebellion (1 Kings 11:14-22) and Rezon (11:23-25) and then Jeroboam rebelled (11:26-40) who after Solomon’s death causes the split in the nation with ten tribes of the north following him with only two in the south remaining true to Rehoboam, Solomon’s son.

Summary of Two Great Kings: Thus we have seen the activities of two great kings and God’s dealings with them. First there had been David, a man after God’s own heart, raised up by the Lord to replace Saul after his death. Initially David had been very successful but then he gave way to temptation and committed adultery and murder. For this the Lord brought on him discipline in the form of family rebellion and for a while, before all the eyes of Israel, David has to flee. When he is restored he is never quite the same man again.

The second great king was Solomon who, by the grace of God, was known as the wisest man on earth and whose wisdom enabled him to establish the land as never before or since. Tragically he also gives way to temptation on a much bigger scale than his father and takes many foreign wives, falls away from the Lord and is disciplined by inner rebellions and, after his death, by the kingdom being divided so all his personal glory is gone.

Lessons:  These events reveal a variety of lessons:

Grace: The first and greatest lesson must surely be that the God who knows all things – including the future and how history will pan out – must be a God of immense grace in that He calls people and uses people who He knows are ultimately going to fail Him!

All three kings we have observed so far – Saul, David and Solomon – got it wrong. David was the only one of the three who truly repented but even he had to live out the consequences that followed his sin. The lesson must be that God is not put off dealing with imperfect human beings – and that includes you and me!

Opportunities: Each of these three kings was given the opportunity by God to make good. When the Lord called Saul He anointed him with the Spirit so he knew the power of God. All he had to do was learn to be obedient to God, but sadly he failed to learn that lesson. David’s testimony shows a young man trained for war by God and who is then granted success after success. Tragically the actions of one afternoon led to a train of events that marred his rule. Solomon was granted wisdom that exalted him across the earth and yet wisdom and obedience are not the same thing and so as the years moved on he took wife after wife from abroad and allowed them to lead him away from the Lord. We need to check ourselves out, our hearts, our thoughts, our ambitions, our words and our deeds. They have the potential for leading us into disaster – even after we have been blessed in abundance by God!

Accountability: Paul said it: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows” (Gal 6:7). Whether it be by ongoing circumstances or by the specific act of God, the Lord will discipline those He loves (Heb 12:6). For His name’s sake, He will step in and bring discipline but the thing that stands out in the case of each of these three kings, is that discipline comes first as the prophesied rebuke and only then as the following outworking. If we sin, we will know it. It’s not just ‘conscience’ but it is also the voice of God that speaks into our heart. That comes to call us to repentance and then we must throw ourselves on the mercy of God. Sometimes that means He limits immediately the consequences of our sin, but sometimes He allows the consequences to be fully worked out in order to teach us and change us, as well as give a warning to others.

There may be others, but I suggest that these are the primary lessons we really need to heed that come out in the studies of these three men. May we truly learn from them.

(Aware that these are rather ‘heavy’ studies, we’ll have a pause for a week or so before coming back and picking them up)

9. New Kid on the Block – David

Struggles of Israel Meditations: 9. New Kid on the Block – David

1 Sam 16:1,13  I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king.”…. So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed him in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came powerfully upon David.

Contrasts:  Back in the 1970’s an American preacher, Ern Baxter, impacted parts of the British church at least, at a Dales Bible Week, with a series entitled ‘The King and His Army’, in which he contrasted Saul and David. Saul he portrayed as a ‘head and shoulders’ man (see 1 Sam 9:2, 10:23) and David as a ‘heart man’ (see 1 Sam 13:14) i.e. Saul worked on the basis of human intellect and brute strength, while David was a man who caught God’s heart and responded to it. They contrast ‘flesh-people’ with ‘Spirit-people’.  Hold that in the back of your mind as we progress with this study as we continue through 1 Samuel.

Continuation: So Saul has messed up twice with the Lord and had been rejected by Him but, note this, he is still king. David is anointed to be king by Samuel but he is still a shepherd boy. We need to watch the circumstances that bring change about:

– David gets called into Saul’s service as a lyre player, to ease Saul’s discomfort (see 16:14-23) and he also doubles as Saul’s armour bearer, i.e. he is a servant (clearly there no one knows about the anointing),

– a confrontation occurs between Israel and the Philistines in the south of the country (see 17:1-3),

– clearly most of the time David is still back home looking after the sheep while some of his brothers are in Saul’s army, (see 17:12-15) for his father sends him to the battle front with provisions for them (see 17:17-20).

– on arrival David hears about a giant challenging Israel and to cut a long story short, David kills him (see 17:22-51) and ends up in Saul’s army (18:2,5) and is so successful that Saul finds him a threat.

– at least twice Saul tries to kill him and again, to cut a long story short, David ends up fleeing from Saul and ends up in Gath with the Philistines (21:10) where he eventually has to flee to the wilderness and to the cave of Adullam (22:1). Many discontented Israelites join him there and he makes them into an army.

– shortly afterwards, news is brought to David that the Philistines have attacked Keilah, an Israelite town east of Gath, and after enquiring of the Lord David attacks them and frees Keilah (23:1-5)

– as if David hasn’t enough problems, Saul pursues him and David is only saved by guidance from the Lord and another Philistine attack drawing Saul away (23:7-29)

– when Saul pursues him again, David ends up sparing Saul’s life (Ch.24)

– in ch.26 this occurs again.

– because of this David settles in Gath with the Philistines (27:1-7)

– David and his men become guerrilla fighters unknown to the Philistines (27:8-12)

– when the Philistines gathered in force against Israel they would not let David fight alongside them and sent him home (ch.29)

– meanwhile the Amalekites had attacked his home base and so when he returned he had to pursue them to retrieve his people (30:1-30)

– in the battle against the Philistines, Saul and his sons are killed and Israel flee (31:1-10)

– subsequently David is made king over Judah (2 Sam 1:1-4) and later over all Israel (5:1-5)

Summary:

  • God rejects Saul, and Samuel anoints David as king.
  • David continues as a shepherd boy until events lead him to become a commander in Saul’s army.
  • Saul finds him a threat and David has to flee into the wilderness.
  • There men gather to him and he forms his own guerrilla army who plunder their enemies while continuing to escape Saul’s efforts to catch him and receiving protection with the Philistines.
  • The Philistines continue to plunder Israel and David manages to avoid having to fight alongside them and thus avoids being part of the battle in which Saul and his sons die and Israel flee.
  • Subsequently David is accepted as king of Judah and then over all Israel.

Comment: Within all these activities we see the interaction of God with Israel.  There are various clear stages in what takes place:

  1. He had clearly raised up Samuel as His prophet.
  2. The people eventually demand a kind and so the Lord gives them Saul.
  3. Saul is initially successful but shows he is spiritually and morally not up to it.
  4. The Lord rejects him and has Samuel anoint David as the new future king.
  5. The process involving the downfall and death of Saul, and subsequent crowing of David takes time.

We should note that the Lord allows the affairs of Israel to progress (as we saw through Judges) with the enemy (the Philistines) being allowed to attack them again and again. However Israel do not cry out to the Lord because they have rejected Him in their demand for a king and the Lord allows this king his way until his eventual death. David meanwhile is having to prove himself, part of which we see is him relying on the Lord and seeking Him again and again for guidance in what were very trying circumstances. It is, somewhat differently from the process observed in Judges, a twofold process that brings about the gradual downfall of Saul and the gradual rising of David. The end result is that Israel have new king, a man after God’s own heart.

And So: We have seen the battles against Israel by the Philistines as the background against which the rise and fall of Saul and then the gradual rise of Davis is played out. We see them rising up against the backdrop of the ailing spiritual state of Israel under the leadership of Eli and his wayward sons. The birth and growth of Samuel comes into this background and so, if you like, we see layers of significance: Philistines in the far background forcing their way forward from time to time, Israel’s spiritual state in the middle ground being the driving factor of whether the Philistine background can come forward or not. In the foreground are the players, first Eli the priest, then Samuel the prophet, then Saul the ‘head and shoulders’ king, then David God’s ‘heart man’ replacement. Each layer impinges on and affects the others. Eli allows spiritual decline, Samuel calls the people to God, Saul reflects Israel’s rejection of God, David reveals God’s good intentions for Israel that prevail to ensure the ongoing purposes of God.

And Us?  I wonder how we view ourselves? Players in the foreground of a spiritually declining West, a spiritually declining civilization, ongoing enemy attacks seen through terrorists, wild rampaging gunmen, immoral and self-serving governments? Our call surely, must be to seek to impact the spiritual state of the nation for good by being salt and light and, as the body of Christ, bringing the good news of the Gospel and the practical love, power and revelation of God through His kingdom to the world around us. As we do this, by prayer and power and through goodness, we are to resist the activities of the enemy who seeks to tear down civilization.

Beware a Deception:  Before I conclude this study, there is something more that is essential to observe.  I believe the analysis in the paragraph above to be correct, but some may say, as I have heard it said, but surely we live in such times of affluence and material prosperity and technological advance, surely it isn’t as bad as you make out? In a recent ‘Snapshot’ series of mini-meditations, I set up the picture of a super-technology future but concluded the following: you may have a brain chip implant that accesses information and makes you a super-person of data, but it changes little when it come to the type of person you are. You can still have the tendency to be self-centred, arrogant, brash, uncaring and so much more. Indeed the technology has made you more godless than you were before. You see no need for God now you have become a super-human. But you still have rows with your partner, your teenage kids still break loose and rebel against you, you still engage in office politics and put down competitors by fair mean or foul, and you are still vulnerable to the various ‘doomsday’ threats that become ever more real as every day passes. Technology does not deal with the problem of sin, and the enemy is still at work in the world. Do not be deceived by the good things that technology brings. We will still need the salvation that only Christ brings.

3. The Example of David

Studies in Isaiah 55: 3. The Example of David

Isa 55:3b   I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

Recap:  The call at the beginning of this chapter is to those who are hungry and thirsty to come to the waters and drink and buy provisions without money. We concluded this was a call to receive these spiritual provisions through listening to the Lord. The challenge also came to consider what we are doing with our lives, do we have a right focus so we don’t just work for that which never satisfies. Instead if we listen to the Lord and take in what He says, it will be like receiving a feast for the soul that will not only feed and nourish us but give us eternal life.

Old Covenants: Now consider the living waters that will nourish and feed them. It comes in the form of a promise of a new covenant: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.” The first covenant mentioned in the Bible was that given to Noah (Gen 9:9-) never to flood the earth again. It was an ‘everlasting covenant’ (9:16). The next covenant was that given to Abram: “I will establish my covenant as an everlasting covenant between me and you and your descendants after you for the generations to come, to be your God and the God of your descendants after you.” (Gen 17:7, reiterated in 17:19 and extended to the priesthood in Num 18:19 and to limit the covenant to the circumcised Gen 17:13). The next was at Sinai (Ex 19:5 and subsequent chapters) that Israel be God’s ‘treasured possession… a kingdom of priests’ which implies to the rest of the world. When later in Isaiah He speaks of them as a ‘light to the nations’ (Isa 42:6) it is clear that that covenant was not only a relational one between God and His people, but it was also intended to reveal God through them to the rest of the world. That still stood.

New Covenant: Through Isaiah now comes this mention of a new and everlasting covenant. Now the reference here is to David: “I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.“  It is a covenant to the readers (listeners) and the subject of it is the Lord’s love that He promised to David. Now when we go back to David we find the Lord promised him, Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (2 Sam 7:16) Now the Lord says of David,  See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a ruler and commander of the peoples.” (v.4) or as an expanded version puts it, “I made David a witness of my power for all.” i.e. under his rule God expressed His power that raised David up and made him a victorious ruler who brought peace to Israel throughout his reign in respect of the surrounding nations (except later when the Lord disciplined David).

Current Application: He has just declared this new covenant of love, a covenant reflecting all that had been said to David, and now Isaiah goes on to explain what impact that will have on Israel: “Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations you do not know will come running to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for he has endowed you with splendor.” (v.5) As we said at the beginning, these verse thoughts tend to go in pairs and so these two verses point us first to David (v.4) and then show how the Lord applies that to Israel in that day (v.5). Even as He had made David victorious (because of his heart for God), so the Lord will make this future ‘woman’ (54:1), this future ‘city’ (54:11) – assuming we accept the link between the two chapters – not only great in number but victorious in the earth. It is a word that comes up a number of times in such prophecies.

Wider Application: Again and again – with Abraham and with David – we can see, in the bigger picture, the promises made have a much wider application than simply the one ‘biological nation’. The promises of blessing to all nations – “all peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen 12:3) – is about people of faith who can become God’s people, not merely people of faith within ‘biological Israel’, but also from the Gentiles across the whole world as well, all of whom comprise the real faith ‘people of God’, who express the kingdom of God. When the Lord spoke to David about one who, “is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever,” (2 Sam 7:13) although, no doubt, David understood that to mean Solomon, it is clear from Scripture that in the bigger picture it referred to the coming of Jesus, for in him only, do the words about an everlasting kingdom come true.

Earlier in Isaiah we read of a coming son, “Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it  with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever.” (Isa 9:7) This child, will be God in the flesh (v.6). David demonstrated a rule of righteousness, peace and victory, and now the Son of God rules over a kingdom even today and will continue to rule until the time when he has achieved all that is on God’s heart to be done: “when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 15:24-26) What are the enemies of the kingdom of God? Unrighteousness, ungodliness, rebellion, disobedience, expressed in all the ways the apostles spoke about – e.g. Col 3:5-9, Eph 4:17-19,29-31, Jas 1:14,15, 5:1-6, 1 Pet 2:1,11,  4:3,4,21, 1 Jn 2:16, 3:4. These are the enemies of Christ, the things he works against today and will finally vanquish when he returns again (see Rev 19).

And So? What have we seen so far here? The Lord seeks to encourage His people by declaring a new covenant of love, patterned on the rule of David. His intent was that all His people who had an open heart to Him could experience something of this rule in the present day. Yet there would be a greater fulfillment of this word with the coming of Jesus (for us, now two thousand years ago) and an even greater fulfillment when he returns a second time. God’s intent is that we know and experience this love that has so many practical outworkings. For us today, we need to remind ourselves that we live in the kingdom that is only partially here: sometimes we sense His close presence, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we pray and see answers, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes we pray for healing or deliverance and see it, sometimes we don’t. Sometimes when we witness, people get saved, sometimes they don’t. And so it is, but let the positive things encourage you to press on until the day when He comes in glory and all WILL be submitted to Him, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.” (Phil 2:10) Amen!

57. About ‘attitude’

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

57. About ‘attitude’

1 Sam 17:36   Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, because he has defied the armies of the living God.

Attitude? We sometimes talk about young people with ‘attitude’. Attitude means a strong or belligerent spirit, almost a youthful arrogance. David had ‘attitude’ but it was based entirely in his knowledge and experience of the Lord. He is the supreme example for us of a warrior. He is a man after God’s own heart, we’ve already noted, he’s been chosen by God to eventually replace Saul as king, but in the meantime he is a humble shepherd boy, doing his father’s bidding, living out on the hillside looking after his father’s sheep or, as now, taking provisions to the other brothers at the battle front. And it is when he arrives here he finds this terrible situation – Israel brought to a fearful halt before the taunts of this pagan giant. Everyone else is in a state of fear, and fear immobilizes, and so there appears a stalemate. Nothing is happening – except the giant comes out day by day with his taunts and his challenges.

And the Church? In this day of confusion and chaos, that we have already considered, there is a word-weariness. How does the church appear to deal with this? Apparently by minding their own business and just carrying on as normal holding services.  In the UK, where for well over a year, there has been Parliamentary shambles over Brexit, the church has been silent. Where are the voices of leadership at the top of all the main denominations that should be crying out, “Stop bickering, stop maneuvering for your own ends, work together for the good of the country, seek wisdom to come to a collective agreement, care for the country not your own petty kingdoms!”

In the USA, where for the last two years the integrity of the office of the President has been torn down in the eyes of the watching world, where are the big church voices that should be crying, “Mr. President, some of your goals are worthy but please work for them without tantrums, without abusing people, without lies and apparently constantly changing your mind in a war of words, please regain credibility for the office.”  Where are the voices of the church? They are silent. We gaze across the valley at the enemy (of lies and unrighteousness) and we stand silently immobilized by fear. Where are the Davids?

David’s Testimony: David first testifies to what he knows God has done for him in the past. Remember Isaiah cried out, “To the law and the testimony,” (Isa 8:20) and at the end, “They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony.” (Rev 12:11) In the Old Testament it was to rely on the Law and what God had done previously delivering Israel out of Egypt; in the New Testament it is the work of Christ on the Cross and the testimony of what Jesus has done for us. How much of a testimony do we have today?

The psalmist wrote, “The righteous …. will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green,  proclaiming, “The Lord is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” (Psa 92:12-15)  The elderly righteous have an important part to play in this battle – they have a testimony, years of experiences with the Lord to be declared aloud, things to encourage the following on generations. Where are the voices of testimony in your church or does the church, in attitude at least, push aside the elderly generation as “past it!”?

And me? I can have ‘attitude’ because of my knowledge of the word of the Lord, because of the work of Christ, and because of the years of blessing that I have known. Each of these things should act as fuel for a fire that should burn bright in each of us, that brings boldness, brings courage. And you? Who are there around you in your ‘bubble’?  Family, friends, people at college or in the workplace? What have they learned about me that gives credibility to my voice? Do we stand out as trustworthy, hard and conscientious workers, reliable, gracious, loving, kind, gentle, caring, wise? Are these things part of our testimony, or has the enemy silenced us with a sense of failure? It’s never too late to start again, never to late to start reaching out with God’s servant-hearted love to those around you.

Trust & Relationship & Process: David trusts the Lord to turn up for him, to enable him to do what is necessary to bring down this pagan giant. He knows the relationship that he has with the Lord and knows that Goliath is an enemy of God: Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?” (1 Sam 17:26) The fact that this giant keeps on demeaning Israel is an insult to God. We are God’s people! Don’t we believe the many scriptures where He promises to look after us? Is being a Christian, is being a part of the church, just about turning up on Sunday mornings to work through an hour or so of ritual? Isn’t the calling of Jesus to build up the body (teaching it to do what he did) and take it out into the world to wage war on lies, deceptions, untruth, unrighteousness.

Those are some of the things Jesus is warring against: “he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Cor 15:25) Is this understanding part of our ‘attitude’? Jesus IS reigning in the midst of this fallen world, he IS working for the good of his people (Rom 8:28) and he IS working for the glory of his Father (Jn 17:1), he IS working to extend the kingdom and rule of God on the earth, so that love and goodness and light are extended into the darkness, and he WILL continue to do this until he has achieved it, with all these negatives brought down. Now part of this process is surely taking place today and he uses whoever will be available and will respond to him with their unique gifting to be used in their unique ways, and part of it must be when he returns again in sovereign triumph (see Rev 19)

Your unique part: Because we are just a part of the body of Christ, the church, we should not let the enemy taunt us with, “So you are going to challenge Parliament or the President! Just who do you think you are?”  Well, some of us may have that role, may have positions where we can be voices to the inner sanctum, but that is not true for most of us. So what about us? Are all the words of this study just hot air? No, there are specific things we CAN do. Let me give some starting pointers:

  1. We can and must ‘stand’ (see Eph 6:13,14), holding faithfully to Christ and who he calls us to be, be clear about our identity and holding on to it.
  2. We can and must pray as he guides us (see Eph 6:18, 1 Tim 2:1,2) for our nation and those who lead it. Never belittle your power to pray.
  3. We can ask the Lord to put specific people and local situations upon our hearts to pray for, and as he opens up understanding ask him for wisdom to know what to do, or what to say, so that you may have the opportunity to be salt and light (see Mt 5). This may include people who are in our family, or friends, neighbors etc. Don’t just pray for them but ask the Lord what part He wants you to play in bringing His love to them.
  4. In your church context, ask the Lord to use you to build up, encourage and build faith in others so the body will be strengthened and become more available to go to battle.
  5. Learn something of spiritual warfare – there are books out there, and I have written elsewhere on this site about this – and gather others around you who will be like minded, and make yourself available to the Lord, to pray, to intercede, to act to bring life and light to others.
  6. Daily maintain your relationship with Him for it will only be out of this that all these things will come about into reality.
  7. Pray for the Lord to draw you close, fill you with His Spirit, use you, and enlarge faith in you. Resist a mentality of settling for ease and comfort, declare you will be a kingdom bringer!

Amen?  May it be so.

56. Are we ready to fight?

The Wonder of the Church:  Part 8 – Counter Attack

56. Are we ready to fight?

1 Sam 17:38   Then Saul dressed David in his own tunic. He put a coat of armor on him and a bronze helmet on his head. David fastened on his sword over the tunic and tried walking around, because he was not used to them.

Two men:  Several decades ago, a raspy voiced American, Ern Baxter, caused waves in the UK when he spoke at a Dales Bible Week with a week-long series, entitled, “The King and his Army” and in that series contrasted Saul and David.  Saul, he typified as ‘head and shoulders’ church government  (Saul was a “head taller than any of the others” 1 Sam 9:2) Saul was tall and broad and good looking, a potential fighter-leader which is what the people wanted, someone who looked good, and he relied on human wisdom and human strength. David, he typified, as a ‘heart man’, a man after God’s own heart (1 Sam 13:14) Those two descriptions have probably stayed with all of us who heard those talks back then, and they are as applicable today as back then.

The Contrasts: When we come to fight to regain our Christian heritage in the West, we have to ask ourselves, will be rely on the Church looking good with its pomp and ceremony, its rites and rituals, or will we be the people who are moved by God’s heart and God’s Spirit, to reveal the life, love, power and authority of the ‘body of Christ’?  When David turned up at the battlefield full of faith and was directed to Saul, Saul was still in ‘human-thinking-mode’. You want to fight a battle? You need armor. You have no armor. Take mine. Except David doesn’t fight in armor, he has no need of it.

The armor the world uses is the media, politics, ‘handling people’. The armor we use is truth, righteousness, the Gospel of peace, faith, our salvation and the word of God itself. (see Eph 6) But then consider Jesus’ advice to his disciples: “be as wise as serpents and yet as harmless as doves.” (Mt 10:16 JBP) or “Be as cunning as a snake, inoffensive as a dove.” (Msg) I expect we can go along with the ‘wisdom’ bit, but how about appearing as harmless or inoffensive? Is that a description seen in some Christian activists? I suspect not, in which case there is room for change!

Waging Christian War: “For though we live in the world, we do not wage war as the world does. The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” (2 Cor 210:3-5) The J.B.Phillips paraphrase version is enlightening: The truth is that, although of course we lead normal human lives, the battle we are fighting is on the spiritual level. The very weapons we use are not those of human warfare but powerful in God’s warfare for the destruction of the enemy’s strongholds. Our battle is to bring down every deceptive fantasy and every imposing defence that men erect against the true knowledge of God. We even fight to capture every thought until it acknowledges the authority of Christ.” Yes, our battle is not physical, it is spiritual and the moment we recognize that we realize that to fight spiritually means prayer. The ‘enemy’s strongholds’ are simply set ways of wrong thinking. People get locked into ways of thinking, or attitudes which in the cold light of day – or perhaps seen from a decade looking back – leave you gasping.

Aspects of the Present War: In both the United States and the United Kingdom, in the past three years, events have unfurled that I believe will leave historians in ten years gasping. Let me try and identify some key features of the present battles without taking sides:

  1. The Opposition party is our ‘enemy’ and we hate them. In the last two years enmity has grown up, a hostility, that is worse than seen before.
  2. Truth is being challenged and social media being used as never before to express scenarios that are factually false, i.e. Fake news has become the currency of political warfare.
  3. Fake news means lies and lies mean unrighteousness. Unrighteousness is being used in order to obtain what otherwise might sometimes be laudable goals.
  4. The combination of these things means a loss of integrity, seen in the way there has become an openly declared mentality that says, “If we don’t like the results of the last election or referendum, let’s work to reverse it.” Nothing like this has been seen or heard previously in my lifetime.
  5. The barrage of opposition that is then seen in the way this is worked out includes postulating fearful outcomes, making dubious forecasts (which are often proved to be false), making false statements about others in order to bring them down.

Whatever our political outlook, honesty demands that we see these last few years as having expressions of unrighteousness that seems unparalleled in our times. Where they will lead us only time will tell. By-products of all this on both sides of the Atlantic are, according to the polls, fear, anxiety and uncertainty, world-weariness and a desire to just give up in many.

Opportunities: In the spiritual world, whenever the world takes a nose-dive emotionally with a loss of confidence, this is an opportunity for the Gospel to be heard and received. Historically at such times, it has been shown that the world opens up so that God seems freer to bring revival. Prophecies have suggested that we may be moving towards such a time. One prophecy circulating around the world in Christian circles, brought just at the end of 2018, indicated a need for us in our warfare to do three things:

  1. Learn to listen to God as we never have before – we need His guidance, His strategy.
  2. Be aware of the world’s ways and reject them
  3. Learn to use divine authority and learn to receive divine provision.

Now even if these hadn’t come from a credible prophet, I would suggest they are three good guidelines to be followed in our spiritual activities, as I have said in these and previous studies numerous times.

Key Points Recap? Let’s summarize and then examine the key points:

  1. There IS a battle and it is a battle involving truth and righteousness (righteousness is all about living God’s way) and it is spiritual.
  2. We fight by holding to the truth as revealed in the Bible, seeking God for wisdom and maintaining the fruit of the Spirit – and leaving the rest to God!

Searching for Truth: When it comes to truth, in whatever the subject under debate, our starting point is to say, “Hold on a minute, what actually is the truth here?” We need to challenge the truth or otherwise of what others are saying, not in any hostile confrontational way but in a gracious way that seeks to avoid hostility. I have sought to do this in the past in the series “Reaching into Redemption” and study no.36 ‘Islands of Belief’ and the studies that follow where I have sought this approach with a range of contentious subjects.

Considering Righteousness: Righteousness is the other area I mentioned above, over which the battle wages. It is simply living according to the way God has designed. There are two simple approaches to be thought through here:

  1. What IS God’s design for mankind revealed in the Bible – and why? i.e. what are the practical reasons for this design? In order to see why this is the best approach to live, we need to carefully think through the second, following question.
  2. What is the way of the world today that goes against that, and what fruit is being observed in life in the West because of that, i.e. what harm is being done in the lives of individuals because of that modern way of living? With this second one it is legitimate to ask, is this lifestyle one you could say is a good example to be followed and one you could advise young people to follow, and if not, why not?

If we can provoke honesty to see the weaknesses and failures of modern lifestyles, we will be part way towards possibly helping people face the truth, seeing an alternative to what they have that will be better, and then their need of help to be set free from the old to a new life. There is nothing magical or super-spiritual about this approach but is simply one that calls for honesty and integrity in facing the truth about life.

13. Security

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4: 13. Security

Psa 3:5    I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me

Watched Over: I have struggled with this verse. As you are probably aware as you read these notes, often I find the paraphrase versions shed light on my ponderings, and I often like the way the Message version expresses it, but in this instance there is something crucial missing: “I stretch myself out. I sleep. Then I’m up again—rested, tall and steady,” i.e. there is no mention of the Lord! The Living Bible is better: “Then I lay down and slept in peace and woke up safely, for the Lord was watching over me.” That, I think, conveys more of the sense of what David is writing here.

But to backtrack, it’s an odd verse because you might think that the Message version is right in that that is how things are, surely, we get tired, we go to sleep and wake refreshed; that is what is called common grace, that is what happens to all of us. If only! Modern man seems to be more self-aware than his predecessors and sleep is one of those things you can read about in abundance. But the mere fact that so much is written about it, with changing ideas appearing from ‘experts’, suggests that sleep is not always as simple and straight forward as we just suggested.

The truth is that we can have difficulties with sleep. Yes, we can have trouble getting to sleep and we are told it may be an over-active mind, or eating or drinking too much too late, or we may be turning over worries of the day in our mind. I know of someone who has music or a story playing quietly in the background to help overcome the concerns of the day. When we do eventually get to sleep it can be just as bad and we may only have shallow sleep, sleep that is broken and comes to wakefulness from time to time, or that semi-wakefulness can be invaded by particular concerns that go round and round and just won’t stop. When that happens I now get up go downstairs, look at the stars, make a cup of decaffeinated tea, sit at my computer for half an hour and then invariably go back and sleep soundly. There is one school of thought that suggests that our ancestors tended to usually have two-periods sleep just like this.  The older you get, they say, the less sleep you need, and you certainly worry less about broken nights. In sleep, bad dreams can be an indication of worries (as well as eating wrong food before going to bed!). And so we could go on. The fact is that mind and body work together and, when we are not careful, conspire together to cause all these various problems.

But David is testifying to the Lord’s presence and provision. He has said He is like a shield who surrounds him, sheds His light on him and encourages him (v.3), that he can cry to the Lord and knows that the Lord will answer him (v.4). Yes, he may be on the run from Absalom, his throne has been taken, his rule may be ended, and he may never see Jerusalem again – and indeed his very life is under threat – but he has learned that although the Lord is disciplining him, He is still on his side and so he can further testify, “I will not fear though tens of thousands assail me on every side.” (v.6) He knows, as Job had come to learn, that the Lord may discipline him and even use Satan and his agents to come against him, but the instruction to the enemy is always summarised as, “Thus far and no further.” God has been there for him in the past, and although he has sinned and is under discipline, David has learned something we need to learn – God has not given up on him. God is still in the business of redeeming his life and He hasn’t finished with David.  Whatever your failure, as long as your heart is still pointed in God’s direction, He has not given up on you.

I like even more the ‘Easy-to-Read Bible version of verse 5: “I can lie down to rest and know that I will wake up, because the Lord covers and protects me.” That touches on something that is peculiar to David’s situation.  David has known by past experience that it is possible to creep into an enemy’s camp in the middle of the night with the possibility of assassinating the leader. (1 Sam 26:7) Not only is David secure in the knowledge that if a mass-army turns up, the Lord will still be there on his side, but that divine protection extends to keeping him secure from assassins.  Physical strength restored, mental peace assured, spiritual resources recharged, these are all part of the design and work of the Lord and now, as well, complete security.

Perhaps nowhere is this assurance conveyed more clearly in Psa 121 which starts, I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?” The mountains could be a source of threat, for surrounding Canaan were mountain tribes and peoples who would sometimes come down and invade. In the mountains so often Israel had the so-called ‘high-places’, places where images (idols) were set up and worshipped, false idols, false worship. These were the possibilities open to the psalmist as he wrote that psalm.

But he will not be put in a state of fear by such threats and he will not turn to false gods, for, “My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” (v.2) Yahweh, the Eternal One, the Creator of all things, He is his source of security. “He will not let your foot slip.” (v.3a) i.e. he will make me secure so I can stand firm in the face of all threats. But there is something wonderful about the Lord – He is on the job twenty-four hours a day: “he who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep,” (v.3b,4) and so he could say, “The Lord watches over you,” (v.5a) but God doesn’t watch inactively, He watches to protect.

So, continues the psalmist, it doesn’t matter what is going on around you because, “the Lord is your shade at your right hand; the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.” (v.5b,6) i.e. total protection. Indeed, “The Lord will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.” (v.7,8) The Lord watches over His children to keep them from harm. (This is not to say we can’t walk out from under His protection foolishly and suffer harm). Yes, persecution may come but whatever threats come, nothing can take you away from the Lord’s love (read Rom 8). In the midst of ‘whatever’, the Lord is there and His command to the world is “thus far and no further”. For David under God’s discipline that was the sense of security that he had and thus he can testify as he has. May we be able to do the same.

12. God’s Holy Mountain

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:  12. God’s Holy Mountain

Psa 3:4    he answers me from his holy mountain.

God’s Presence: Again, how casually I have sped over these words with so little thought, and yet I suspect (is He telling me?) that here there are such profound truths to be mined as we meditate. Before we move on in this psalm, I believe there is something of significance that we have passed by without comment here in verse 4: “he answers me from his holy mountain”. What is that ‘holy mountain’?

Zion: Well, back in Psa 2 we read, “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill.” (Psa 2:6) Further back in 2 Sam 5:7 we read, “David took the stronghold of Zion, that is, the city of David.” That is the first reference to ‘Zion’ and it clearly meant Jerusalem. It had long been known as Jerusalem, occupied by the Jebusites who Israel had failed to overthrow initially (Judg 1:21), and it had not been taken until David arrived in power, when he re-established it as his base and subsequently the capital of Israel. When the ark was brought there, and later in Solomon’s reign the temple built, and filled with God’s presence (1 Kings 8:10,11), it became known as the ‘holy city’: “Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion; put on your beautiful garments, O Jerusalem, the holy city.” (Isa 52:1)

Jerusalem: Jerusalem is described as “set high in the hills of Judah” (New Bible Dictionary) and one Internet site describes Jerusalem as follows: “Jerusalem’s seven hills are Mount Scopus, Mount Olivet and the Mount of Corruption (all three are peaks in a mountain ridge that lies east of the old city), Mount Ophel, the original Mount Zion, the New Mount Zion and the hill on which the Antonia Fortress was built.” When a prophet or psalmist refers to the ‘mountain of the Lord’ or ‘his holy mountain’ it can either mean Jerusalem generally or the hill or mountain on which the Temple was eventually built.

As David writes pre-the Temple, it is more likely to mean Jerusalem at large, Jerusalem the whole city. The designation ‘mountain’ may refer to the fact that all of the ‘hills’ of the Jerusalem area are well over 2000 feet above sea level, or it may simply be creating spiritual significance of a place of ascent on which God resides. A study of ‘mountains’ in the Old Testament must take us first to Moriah: Then God said, “Take your son, your only son, whom you love—Isaac—and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on a mountain I will show you.” (Gen 22:2) Amazingly this was Jerusalem where Solomon eventually built the temple (2 Chron 3:1) equated today, it is said, with the vicinity of Calvary. What a symbolic picture. The second mountain that stands out is Sinai where God met with Israel during the Exodus (See Ex 19-). The imagery that goes with that encounter suggests inaccessibility except by divine permission. So often when people went there, the record says they went up to Jerusalem, that same picture of ascending to meet with God that Moses showed us. Thus Jerusalem becomes the place of encounter with the inaccessible God and the place of god’s offering of His own Son to save the world.

Tent of Meeting: God’s instructions to build a Tabernacle (Ex 25-27) appear to be His early means of bringing limited access to Himself by His people. It was also referred to as ‘the tent of meeting (Ex 27:21 etc.): Set up the tabernacle, the tent of meeting, on the first day of the first month. Place the ark of the covenant law in it and shield the ark with the curtain.” (Ex 40:2,3) and it continued in existence until Solomon replaced it with the Temple (see 1 Kings 8). However in the time of Eli and Samuel, after the debacle with the Philistines, the ark (and presumably the Tent) stayed at Kiriath Jearim (1 Sam 7:1,2) until twenty years later David took it to Jerusalem (2 Sam 6) where it was placed inside “the tent that David had pitched for it.” (1 Chron 16:1), but this was clearly different from the Tabernacle still pitched at Gibeon (1 Chron 16:39) The ‘tent’ was clearly simply the home or location for the ‘ark of the covenant’ that was seen to be the place where the presence of God resided on earth. As we noted above, both ark and tent of meeting (as this tent now clearly became) were taken to the temple by Solomon (1 Kings 8:1-4)

God’s Dwelling Place? The ark in the Tabernacle? The ark in the Temple? The ark disappeared in history, but the Temple remained until Nebuchadnezzar destroyed it during the Exile but until then the Temple (and the ark) had been the focus or ‘dwelling place’ of God on earth. Why is that so significant? Because it was there by God’s instructions, and it was a place of focus on God, a place where people could go to worship God (even though they could not encounter His presence hidden in the Most Holy Place, or the Holy of Holies). So when David prays and get answers, they come from the God who has revealed Himself and positioned Himself in the midst of Israel.

And Today? The writer to the Hebrews conveys something quite amazing when he speaks to us: “You have not come to a mountain that can be touched and that is burning with fire …. But you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem.” (Heb 12:18,22) For us, Mount Zion is not just a mountain but a city and it is in heaven. At the end of his amazing visions recorded in the book of Revelation, John records, “One of the seven angels…. said to me, “Come, I will show you the bride, the wife of the Lamb.” And he carried me away in the Spirit to a mountain great and high, and showed me the Holy City, Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God.” (Rev 21:9,10) In the final words that follow it is clear that this heavenly city comes down to the newly recreated earth and is accessible to all, and Father and Son are in the midst of it. The mountain where God had been inaccessible, the place where the Godhead dwells, has finally come to be in the midst of redeemed mankind. In heaven or on the new earth, the dwelling place of God is accessible to redeemed mankind, to the people of God.

A Poignant Psalm: For David it was the place towards which he uttered his prayers, which makes this psalm, headed by “A psalm of David. When he fled from his son Absalom”, so poignant. Until then he had focused on God in Jerusalem but now he was on the run out of and away from Jerusalem and so his focus became more ‘long distance’ if we may put it like that. Yet there is another significant truth: even though David may not have close access to the Tent in Jerusalem, the Lord is still there; He has not departed Jerusalem, it is still HIS city and therefore there is a sense when David utters these words, they come with an underlying assurance that he is still in God’s hands, this is all happening because God is working out His disciplinary will for David and He, the Lord, is still the same and will still be there in Jerusalem for David to call to, and will still be there should the Lord allow him to return. God IS there – for us in heaven and for us by His Spirit, incredibly, indwelling us – and so it doesn’t matter what the earthly circumstances appear to be showing, in respect of the Lord, nothing has changed! He is there and He is there for us and He is there available to us because He has made it so! Hallelujah!

10. Prayer of Testimony

Reaching into the Psalms 1 to 4:   10. Prayer of Testimony (1)

Psa 3:3    But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.

Approach: In our introduction to Psalm 3 we suggested that verses 1 & 2 were David praying out his concern while he was on the run from Absalom, verses 3 to 6 are a prayer of testimony and then verses 7 and 8 a prayer of request. It is thus a psalm that shows us different aspects of prayer – acknowledgement, declaration, petition. I have a feeling that I have read all the psalms many times and yet have only a surface understanding of them and verse 3 that we are moving into is no exception. Some of it appears obvious but as I pause over it, I suspect it is not as obvious as I have usually thought. Let’s approach it slowly and carefully.

Contrast: Circumstances versus reality: The verse starts with a ‘But’. That always suggests a contrast with what has just gone before. In verses 1 and 2 David spoke of his foes and those who had risen against him, and the fact that many were saying that God will not save him. Such verses imply gloom and doom and leave a sense of concern, worry, anxiety, insecurity, threat; that is the cloud that hangs over him because of Absalom, those are the circumstances that bring the ‘down’ feeling. Isn’t that just how it can be so often, the circumstances look and feel bad and the temptation is to sink under them, but David shows us another way. He declares the truth that he has found through his experiences of the Lord. The reality is that God has been there for him. The classic illustration of that was when he testified to Saul in respect of Goliath, “The Lord who rescued me from the paw of the lion and the paw of the bear will rescue me from the hand of this Philistine.”  (1 Sam 17:37) i.e. God is with me and for me, that I know, because that is how it has always been. Now there are four things to note in the verse in respect of his testimony.

Yahweh/Jehovah/The I AM: Note how he addresses God: LORD, with the capital letters denoting the name given to Moses (Ex 3:14), “God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’”  The One upon whom David relies is the ‘I AM’ of Israel’s history, the God who revealed Himself as, “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob,” (Ex 3:6) and subsequently the God of Moses, the Exodus and the conquest of Canaan. This is the One he has experienced and knows, the Eternal One, the Mighty One who is there for His people. This is the starting place of his confidence which rises up to suppress all the negatives of verses 1 and 2.

A Shield: A shield is an instrument of protection against incoming missiles or other weapons. But David says God is a “shield around me”. I don’t know if you’ve ever seen a futuristic sci-fi where a town is covered with a barely visible ‘force field’ that protects it. It completely covers it and protects it and that is how David sees the Lord’s presence, so it doesn’t matter if there is an army against him, he is safe. Elisha understood this concept although he expressed it in a different way. Do you remember when he and his servant were staying in Dothan and an enemy army surrounded it and scared the life out of the servant out for an early morning walk on the walls of the town. He ran to Elisha who knew it was simply a matter of revelation and so prayed for his servant, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” (2 Kings 6:17) There was the Lord’s shield for them, the angelic army of the Lord!

Glory: But he also refers to the Lord as, “my glory”. We see, “But you, Lord, are … my glory.” We know what the Lord’s glory is, for we see it at Mount Sinai (Ex 24:16,17), and as Israel travelled through the desert and it lit up a cloud by day and appeared as fire by night. When the Tabernacle was constructed according to God’s instructions, the glory of the Lord filled it (Ex 40:34). It was a bright light, so when David says you are ‘my glory’ he is saying, ‘You are the One who lights up my life with your splendour, revealing me for who I am, your chosen and anointed servant.’

Affirmation & Encouragement: There are perhaps a number of words that apply into what follows: “you, Lord, are …. the One who lifts my head high.”  All of the negatives of verses 1 and 2 weighed heavily on him, especially as he knew the ultimate cause of them, for they were God’s disciplinary judgment on him. I like how the Living Bible puts it: “You alone can lift my head, now bowed in shame.”  Have you noticed how people with very low self-esteem, those who feel utter failures, walk with the heads bowed down, their eyes on the floor; it is a common thing. So why is David’s head lifted?

God with us: Emmanuel: First, because the Lord is with him and with God on your side, God beside you, and in our case, and with God indwelling you as Lord and Saviour, you are someone special with no reason to have a bowed head. Yes, the enemy is there, the circumstances are bad, and the outlook is bleak, but with the Lord there with you, for you, in you, all that doesn’t matter. The Isaiah prophecy about Immanuel – God with us (Isa 7:14) – and fulfilled in Jesus (Mt 1:23), says it all, God is with us, not far off, not off down the other end of the universe, no, He is here with us!

God the encourager: I said there are perhaps many words that describe what God does for us, to lift our heads, encourage, affirm, empathize and comfort, declare victorious, the list can go on. It isn’t just that God is with us, it is that He is with us to do things, to bless us, deliver us, lead us in victory, and all these things work to the same end, they lift our down-turned faces in the face of the negative circumstances and negative enemies.

And Us? Are we confronted by negative circumstances (in this Fallen World there are usually plenty of them!) or negative enemies?  What is the answer? Not to dwell on their presence but to realize the Presence of the Lord God Almighty and His Anointed One with us, and as we realize that presence, to receive from Him all the good things He wants to bring to us: grace, goodness, love, joy, peace, patience, perseverance, endurance, affirmation, comfort, encouragement; they are all there in His outstretched hands to be received. As we pray, let’s remember who He is and who we are and rejoice in that wonder and put into perspective the negatives of the world. Amen? Amen!