Graham is on holiday so this weeks sermon was brought by Adam Raffell. Adam gave us his thoughts on Psalm 139 to us. You can listen again to his sermon here:
The Lords is Here! (Psalm 139 pt 2)
Continuing from Graham’s preach on Psalm 139 a couple of weeks ago.
Recap on Psalms
The title of the book of Psalms in Hebrew is tehillim, which means “praises”, and we use the the greek “psalmoi” – “instrumental music”. Tehillim is a noun based on the verb hallel “to praise” which forms the start of a very familiar term: “Halelujah”!
The Psalms are broadly associated with King David, with many containing the detail that they were authored by him. The collection – the final edit of the compilation if you like – of the Psalms is normally considered to have been completed around the time of the return from exile. It’s hard to consider an earlier date because it contains Psalms referencing the time when Israel was exiled in Babylon (notably Psalm 137), and its suggested that the compilation took place to be used. But that of course doesn’t mean that much of what we read in the book of Psalms couldn’t have been much older, or that a version of it didn’t exist earlier which had more Psalms added to.
Form – real worship of God’s people
In the Old Testament, the Psalms belong to that third section of the book – the Writings. They read as poetry, and the translations we read sometimes try to replicate that for us, but some have instructions about musical accompaniment, so although we don’t have music for them, we know that in at least some cases – perhaps all – they would be sung. Certainly, they were to be spoken aloud – as Graham said last week, written by a person. These were prayers, rich and deep words of praise, which were collected because they showed the real worship of God’s people in practice. Then they were used communally.
Read Psalm 139.
Graham also alluded last week to the fact that in reading the Psalms we find expressions of raw emotion born out of their particular context.
Calvin – “I have been accustomed to call this Book, not inappropriately, an Anatomy of all the Parts of the Soul, for there is not an emotion of which any one can be conscious that is not represented as in a mirror.”
The Psalms are very human. They contain incredible theology and celebration of God’s work in history, and all kinds of responses to it. In them we find some more gritty statements, which we might find hard to identify with today. I could imagine someone saying, “slay the wicked” that doesn’t sound very ‘Christian’. One of the things which I want to talk about a little later is what we might want to make of it today. And you can see its important because it’s hardly possible to read the Psalm in full and not need to immediately acknowledge that something just happened in those last few lines.
So to Recap: Graham a couple of weeks ago picked up three themes:
being heard, – God hears us.
being known, – God knows us
being held. – God holds us. ….Like when Jesus could sleep through a storm, but woke at the sound of His disciples in distress.
My Testimony about Psalm 139.
Particularly special Psalm to me personally – church youth week away in Snowdonia. I remember very clearly quiet personal times reading Psalm 139 through the week. Drinking in these words about a God who knows us so intimately and deeply – it touched me. Something happened to me that week which I can’t really put into words. I felt God was present, and that wasn’t new, but it was like the Psalm confirmed and validated, verified, that feeling. It made it real, and showed me that being in the presence of God wasn’t a fleeting feeling, but something far greater, well beyond my control and comprehension.
Because it was special, I learned it.
Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed, the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.
Psalm 139: A Model for Worship: What happens when we give praise to God? (not exhaustive – was to be a group question but time did not permit)
We rehearse and celebrate God’s action in History.
What God has done for us? – He “searched and know[s]”
We remind ourselves about God’s identity.
Who is God? (Who is this God) – Ever Present “Where can I go”
(Often these are the same: “For you created my inmost being.”)
We commit ourselves to Him.
Resolve to follow. – Strangely: “Do I not hate those who hate you” – desire to take God’s holiness seriously.
We ask for His guidance.
We pray. – “Search Me… Test me…”
We express our emotion.
We love. – “I praise you because I am fearfully, wonderfully made.”
All of these things are going on in Psalm 139. More than just Creator, the Psalm reminds us that God is our own creator, of you and me individually. He’s the God who has chosen to give us knowledge that is too wonderful and lofty for us to attain – the knowledge of His presence with us.
- His Knowledge of us, gives us Knowledge of Him
Couplet in the Psalm:
- Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.
- How precious to me are your thoughts,[a] God! How vast is the sum of them!
What kind of knowledge are we talking about? Knowledge of God?
Actually: 2 implies thoughts about us. Knowledge of God’s knowledge of us.
Point: We meet God in His encounter with us. We have knowledge of God in God’s coming to us.
We don’t have access through another avenue. We depend upon God’s coming to us, to even know God. Without Jesus, coming, revealing God as one fully God and fully human and being Crucified and Raised, there is little reason to consider that around half of the world’s population today might profess on one level or another to believe in Him and in the God and esteem the ancient texts of one ancient Near Eastern nation.
Profound implications for sharing our faith. The sharing the Gospel does not involve imparting propositional knowledge or a formula – the facts/history of Jesus life alone. We DO need to be able to give a coherent account of our faith, but I am yet to hear the testimony or story of a believer who tells me that someone convinced them to believe in Jesus with a persuasive argument. The kind of knowledge, the wonderful knowledge of God is the God who first knows us. And it’s a knowledge which is more than fact based. It’s an intimate knowledge, and it’s not one we can possess. It touches heart/mind/soul/strength. Every part of the human being. Rather, we have to bear witness to it. We have to nurture it in our own lives as a living reality, and then invite others to join us on that journey.
The invitation which we have to offer to those outside of the Church – the Gospel is not “know x, y, z”, but “Come and See”. Come and meet Jesus for yourself and do that by joining with His people.
- God’s Presence With Us
A couple of additional things to say about the presence of God. v7-10 etc
The first thing almost goes without saying, but let’s say it anyway. God’s presence is universal and international. Wherever we go, whatever culture, context, circumstance, tricky spot or whatever any one of us ever finds himself or herself in, God is there. God will be there. Graham read from the conclusion to Romans 8 last week, and that’s the perfect companion to the Psalm here.
The second thing I want to draw attention to is this “If I make my bed in the depths”. The depths here is literally ‘sheol’ – the word for the realm of the dead. There are not so many places in the Old Testament which speak about the afterlife. E.g. for the Sadducees (although wrong!) it was possible for them to come to the conclusion that there was no life after death.
In most English translations, it isn’t always obvious that this is an explicit reference to the presence of God enduring beyond the grave. Through death, God’s presence is inescapable. In other words, where God is not, is not. It is worth noting that we find both this reference, as well as a clear reference to the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, in the worship of David which would have later been recited by others too. The anticipation of grace by the Psalmist extended to expectation as though realized already. What we know today as the assurance of Salvation and Eternal life in Jesus Christ.
- “Oh that you would slay the wicked”!
Those harsh words…
I quite like what Graham said last week about the writer changing mood from anger, being heard and then returning to that final prayer of supplication. That’s certainly one possibility of what’s going on here. No one really knows for sure. I’d like to share another angle which might subsist with that perspective. Graham talked about remembering that the Psalms come from a pre-New covenant, pre-Jesus age. I think there’s a caution we need to exercise in looking back at the Old Testament from the starting point that this was somehow a more primitive stage in the development of God’s dealings with His people, and that now thanks to Jesus we are somehow above or superior to that – which undoubtedly was not what Graham was suggesting.
Of course, David and the other Psalmists didn’t know, and couldn’t include the name of Jesus. The gap between us here this morning and David and her first readers before Jesus is essentially the subject we just touched upon earlier in Psalm 139 – Revelation. Knowledge. Undoubtedly that gap impacts upon David, the Psalmist’s perspective, But also, David was encountering a world which has yet to be so radically impacted, changed and influenced by the teachings of Jesus and the scriptures. The moral values and teachings which have shaped the development of the world and our systems of law and justice over nearly two millennia.
I think (you must make up your own mind) that this kind of statement comes from a world which is largely alien to us. In an age where the god of a nation came to be inseparably identified with that nation, and nations engaged in mortal struggles to survive and overcome their rivals. Real people with real swords, spears and lances who would come and kill and enslave and destroy. If they succeeded, it was believed, they didn’t just kill the nation, but they killed that nation’s god too. Psalmist doesn’t have in mind people who have sinned or fallen short in particular ways. The context and the wording suggests more the people who represent an immediate and mortal threat to David, and the people who read these words afterwards.
The fundamental point remains that we don’t read these words as the model for our attitudes today, or especially of our understanding of God’s attitudes. We have to cross reference verses such as these with descriptions of God’s character. Gracious, Compassionate, Slow to Anger and abounding in Steadfast love. A God who so loved that world that he sent His only son so that whoever believes in Him might not perish but receive eternal life.
Today, we would likely pray instead that people’s eyes might be opened or their minds turned. We would pray that they might have revelation from God of His knowledge of them and their ways. At the same time, neither are we people who can stand aside quietly in the face of evil rather than rising up to confront it.
Perhaps we might still identify with the frustration, or the fear that David feels in including these words. The invitation of the Psalm here is to let it out. After all. God can cope.
Psalm 139, like so many passages in Scripture contains the presence of God – the presence of Christ. So let’s ingest it, assimilate it, carry it with us. Learn it. Remember it, and be changed by it.