SOAP Journal – 11 March 2019 (Psalm 9)

And those who know Your name will put their trust in You,
For You, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek You.

Psalm 9:10

I normally try to take a psalm in its entirety, but this verse continued to stand out to me amidst the rest of the psalm. This is not to say that this is not the theme verse for the entire psalm — it may very well be — but that I have struggled to string together the whole of the psalm into a single, coherent thought process. David’s poetic styling is not always something I can parse.

David asserts that those who know [God’s] name will put their trust in [Him]. David, being such a person, would know. David knew God’s name and had been zealous for it from his youth. It was in God’s name that David took his stand against Goliath. David had the type of personal relationship with God that God desires to have with everyone. And David had put his trust in God throughout his life. David had seen God execute judgment for the peoples (v. 8) and maintain [David’s] just cause (v. 4). These actions contributed to God’s name, God’s reputation. If I know God’s reputation, then the reasonable response is to put my trust in Him.

David adds another reason to his preceding reason. If God’s name were not enough reason to trust Him, David adds that [God has] not forsaken those who seek [Him]. One of the most compelling aspects of God’s name is His faithfulness. Jesus says that anyone who comes to Him He will in no wise cast out (John 6:37). And Paul writes to Timothy that God remains faithful to us even if we are faithless to Him (2 Timothy 2:13). God’s faithfulness is an often remarked on and truly compelling part of His name. And David adds it as a reason to put my trust in God.

I must learn to trust God more. I know His name and I have sought Him. Let me learn more about Him and seek Him still more.

Father, thank You that You have made Yourself known so that Your name is glorious. Thank You that You desire more than just people who know of You. Thank You that You want relationship; You want each one to know You personally. Please draw me into the place where I seek You more diligently and look to know and be known by You.

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SOAP Journal – 06 March 2019 (Psalm 8)

O LORD, our Lord,
How majestic is Your name in all the earth!

Psalm 8:9

This is one of David’s psalms and one which is often partially quoted. This psalm could be seen as a meditation on the greatness of God and His kindness toward humanity.

David begins with God’s greatness, which is an excellent place to begin. The same phrase that David closes with in verse nine is the one with which he opens, “O LORD, our Lord, How majestic is Your Name in all the earth.” The Name of God is majestic and its implications reach farther than we may ever know. His Name, YHWH, is understood to mean something akin to “I AM.” No god or goddess of our own devising has ever been given such a name.

David says that it is from the mouth of infants and nursing babes that God has drawn what was needful to shut up the mouths of His adversaries. God did not go to the wise or the eloquent or any other such, but to infants and nursing babes; to those who cannot communicate well or clearly or at all. From this source, God draws out what He needs to silence the enemy and the revengeful.

From the theme of God’s greatness, David moves on to God’s goodness toward humanity. David considers the moon and the stars and that God has created such things and yet has created humanity and given us value and honor above those stars; above sheep and oxen; above the birds of the heavens and the fish of the sea; above every other created thing. It is this same positioning of humanity so high in the natural order that astonishes people still. I have heard more than one talk being given about another topic that took a moment to wax lyrical about how amazing humanity’s place is. We are not the strongest creature out there or the fastest; we are not suited to flight or diving into the depths. But we have made ourselves all of these things and that after we had already spread all over the face of the globe, slighting the odds.

With these two things held in his mind, David returns to his initial thought and is awed by the majesty of God’s Name.

And that is where I ought to find myself when I meditate on God and what He has done for me. If I am not, with David, in awe of God and His magnanimity, then I do not understand Who He is or how much He has done for me. And, in truth, I do not always understand. I do not always grasp just how amazing He is or just how gracious He is to me. The more I live, the more I see how great He is and how deep His mercy and grace toward me are and how expansive His blessings truly are. We in the Western world are often quick to poo-poo God’s intangible blessings like love, joy, peace, patience, and so on. But if we understood those blessings aright, we would seek them in a way that cares not a bit for material blessing. I have only caught glimpses, but those have been enough to draw me to the intangible blessings.

Father, You are good and Your mercy endures forever. You have done great things for me. Please give me the ability to contain the magnitude of this in my mind and to meditate on this, that I might know You better.

SOAP Journal – 18 August 2017 (1 Samuel 4)

So the Philistines fought and Israel was defeated, and every man fled to his tent; and the slaughter was very great, for there fell of Israel thirty thousand foot soldiers. And the ark of God was taken; and the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, died.

1 Samuel 4:10-11

1 Samuel 4 reads like a Shakespearean tragedy. The Israelites go to war with the Philistines and lose the first round of battle. They then bring the Ark out to the battlefield, thinking that God would give them victory if only they had the Ark with them. They were wrong. Not only are they defeated, but they lose the Ark in the process. A man escapes from the battlefield to take news back to the people at home and brings news to Eli that both of his sons are dead and that the Ark has been taken. That last bit of news is too much, and old Eli falls out of his chair and breaks his neck. Eli’s daughter-in-law, in labor with a child, hears the news that her husband and father-in-law are dead and that the Ark is gone and names her newborn son Ichabod, which means “the glory has departed” before she dies.

It does not seem like there is much hope in this passage. And there really is not. I know that God throws down with the Philistines in the very next chapter — and it is epic — but that does not decrease the body count or make Ichabod any less an orphan. This chapter serves as a sobering testimony to the cost of doing things the wrong way.

Should the Israelites have gone to war with the Philistines? There is no way to know, They should have asked God what He wanted them to do. Instead, they got themselves prepared for battle and went out to fight because they thought it was right. Proverbs 14:12 and 16:25 both state that There is a way [which] seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death. When I go off without consulting God, I can expect that I will sometimes, perhaps often be wrong.

Should the Israelites have brought the Ark out onto the battlefield? In this case, no. There are plenty of times where God tells people to bring out the Ark as a symbol of His presence, because He sanctioned the action being taken. But this battle is not sanctioned. God was not consulted. And the Israelites brought the Ark that it may come among us and deliver us from the power of our enemies (v. 3). They saw the Ark as some idol that could carry the Presence of God wherever it went or as a sort of leverage to make God come out t the battlefield and give them victory. Neither of these is true and both represent terrible misunderstandings of Who God is and how He operates. If I come to God on any terms other than His own, then I will have a false god.

This chapter is a sort of illustration of how the first three Commandments can be violated. The Israelites did not consult the True and Living God because they had set up some other god in His place — possibly themselves. They used the Ark as a sort of graven image, acting as if it had some power in and of itself; like it was a lucky charm. And they took God’s Name; God’s reputation to themselves in vain when they brought the Ark into the camp. The Philistines were afraid, for they said, “God has come into the camp.” And they said, “Woe to us! For nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who shall deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? These are the gods who smote the Egyptians with all [kinds] of plagues in the wilderness (vv. 7-8). God had not come into the camp. There is no record of whether He sanctioned this battle or not, but it seems likely that He did not, since the Israelites are soundly defeated and the Ark is captured.

Application.

First, if I am not consulting God about decisions in my life, then I am in danger of setting up a false god in His place. I need not pester God with questions about where I should eat lunch or what I should have, but I might meet neat people and avoid a bout with food poisoning if I do. God is not disinterested in the minutiae of my life, but He is not going to force His inputs on me.

Second, nothing can act as leverage with God and I should not think that anything — tangible or otherwise — is going to make God do anything. The only thing that will make God do something is God Himself. He is the I AM and He cannot be forced to do anything. Additionally, He will remove my crutches — my lucky whatsits and my comfort thingamabobs — until He is all that I rely on.

Third, I need to leave God’s reputation; God’s Name out of things wherein I have done something without consulting Him. Many years ago, a younger and much less mature me dated a young woman whose morals did not align with mine and with whom I argued about many things. I knew that it was a bad decision, but we had been friends and got on well in that capacity. We tried to make it work, soldiering on even when it was becoming evident that the mismatch was tearing one or both of us apart. Instead of owning it and ending things, that younger me brought God into things and gave His disapproval as a reason for ending the relationship. It may very well be that He was unhappy with the relationship — they were many reasons to think that He might have been — but there was no voice from the clouds or prophetic dream in which He told that younger me to end things. God was thrown under the bus. It was not His fault that the relationship was a shambles. It was, however, definitely my fault.

Father, I confess that I have, at times, taken Your Name; Your reputation to my actions and myself when what I did was nothing to do with You. I confess that I have sometimes set up other things in Your place — my wants, my self (most often) — and have not properly recognized those usurpers. Please forgive my wrong and work in me to see You rightly and to honor You properly and to live in such a way as to take Your Name to myself in an appropriate way. Teach me how to honor You as my King; to obey You as my Master; to be loyal to You as my Friend; and to love You as my Father. Please keep me from idols and from attempts to strong arm You into doing anything. Thank You for this lesson and for this reminder and for the light that illuminates both past and present.

SOAP Journal – 06 December 2016 (Exodus 20:7)

“You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain, for the LORD will not leave him unpunished who takes His name in vain.”

Exodus 20:7

Much and more has been said about this verse.

Some think that God is saying that His Name is not to be used as a swear word, e.g when people use the name of Jesus Christ as an expletive. This is plausible, as use of a name as an expletive would dull the impact of that name and cause it to become a by-word; something we say without considering the individual behind the word. And, since God wants relationship with the people He has created, it makes sense that He wants us to think about Him when His Name is spoken.

Others think that God is saying that I am not to claim to be His without living that out. This is a great way of seeing the verse, as it stems from the idea of a person’s name that was prevalent in the ancient world. A person’s name was their reputation; the sum total of their public identity. To take someone’s name … in vain may very well mean that we drag their reputation through the dirt by claiming to act under their aegis while behaving in a manner not in keeping with their character. Since God, like everyone, wants to be accurately represented, this idea also makes sense.

A third possibility occurred to me this morning, that of a bride taking her husband’s name when they are married. God uses the metaphor of marriage to describe the relationship between Himself and Israel (Ezekiel 16) and the relationship between Christ and the church (Revelation 19:7, 21:9, 22:17), so it may not be all that far-fetched. In this instance, the idea would be that of joining myself to God with no intention of fidelity, like a man or a woman who marries knowing that they will be adulterous. And God is faithful to me, so it would make good sense that He would look for fidelity from me in the relationship.

None of these understandings is mutually exclusive to the others. I can understand God to be saying that His Name is not to be used as an expletive and also believe that He wants me not to drag His reputation through the muck. I can believe that He wants me to join myself to Him with the intent of being faithful and also believe both of the foregoing. None precludes the others. In fact, the three might inform one another quite well.

This morning, let me examine myself and see whether I use God’s Name as an expletive or a byword — I sometimes think the phrase “God knows …” is something of a byword and maybe I ought to stop using it — and whether I drag His down His reputation by my words and actions and life and whether I am committed to being faithful to Him.

Father, thank You for this reminder that Your Name is so much more than a word that identifies You, but is itself holy. Please teach me to rightly handle Your Name and to treat it with the holiness it deserves.

SOAP Journal – 24 October 2016 (Exodus 3:13-14)

Then Moses said to God, “Behold, I am going to the sons of Israel, and I will say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you.’ Now they may say to me, ‘What is His name?’ What shall I say to them?” God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM”; and He said, “Thus you shall say to the sons of Israel, ‘I AM has sent me to you.’”

Exodus 3:13-14

These verses are part of the account of Moses meeting God in the burning bush. As I read the interaction between God and Moses, the asking of God’s Name brought to mind an earlier passage in the book. Moses had just killed an Egyptian in order to stop the Egyptian from beating an Israelite. The next day, Moses sees a pair of Israelites fighting and tries to break it up. Exodus 2:31-14: [Moses] went out the next day, and behold, two Hebrews were fighting with each other; and he said to the offender, “Why are you striking your companion?” But [the Hebrew] said, “Who made you a prince or a judge over us? Are you intending to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and said, “Surely the matter has become known.”

In the earlier instance, an Israelite asks Moses who made him their leader. Now that God Himself is sending Moses in as the leader, Moses stops to ask for God’s Name so that he (Moses) can answer if anyone asks Who sent him. And God answers Moses’ question.

There is a tremendous difference between trying to do God’s work in my own strength and doing it how and when God has commissioned me to do it. Moses was right about what God wanted him to do, but Moses’ timing and methods were all wrong. At that juncture, he was not acting in the Name of God; not doing God’s work in God’s way at God’s time so as to preserve God’s glory. He was doing Moses’ work. And his own name; his own reputation was not sufficient to grant him genuine authority over the Israelites. He was just another oppressor. Moses had to come to know God and be commissioned by God in order to receive the authority to do the work of God.

Likewise, in my own life, I cannot do God’s work unless I know Him and have been commissioned by Him to do it. Sure, I could try to pastor a church, but it would be a frustrating and futile experience, at the least. I have not been commissioned to pastor a church. I could try to be an evangelist and stand on a street corner preaching the gospel. While God might use that, it is not the thing to which he has called me. Moses was commissioned to liberate God’s people from Egypt and the commission came with God’s authority in the form of His Name as well as power to accomplish the task. The work for which God has commissioned me is the place where I will have His authority to act and will also see His power doing the work.

Let me take the time to know God and to wait on His commission before stepping out into a work.

Father, thank You for this pair of passages that remind me that Your work must be done in Your time and in Your way. Moses tried to do the right work at the wrong time and in the wrong way and it backfired catastrophically. While the results may not be as terrible, it is no benefit to me or to You for me to do Your work in the wrong way or at the wrong time. Please open my eyes that I might see the timing and the methods that You would have me employ. Keep me mindful that it is in Your Name that the work will be done.