SOAP Journal – 21 March 2019 (Psalm 13)

But I have trusted in Your lovingkindness;
My heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.
I will sing to the LORD,
Because He has dealt bountifully with me.

Psalm 13:5-6

This psalm seems to divide neatly into three phases.

The first is in verses 1-2 and that is the questioning phase. David finds himself in a time of difficulty and asks God how long He (God) will delay taking action to help him (David). And it sometimes feels as if God is standing back from the difficulties in my life, too. This is not to say that God actually is standing back from the difficulties or delaying taking action any more than is absolutely necessary.

Last night, my daughter and I read the story of John the Baptist and my daughter asked why God did not give Zechariah and Elizabeth a baby when they wanted one so badly. The answer that I found myself giving is that God wanted to give them a baby and He wanted their baby and how he came to them to be extra special; that oftentimes the greatest blessings take the longest time to arrive — they just require more preparation time. That is an answer born of reading the scriptures and learning that God is not slow concerning His promises. It is also an answer born of experiencing God fulfilling the good desires of my heart in good time.

The second phase — verses 3-4 — is the consequence if God does not intervene. The consequence will be that David will sleep the [sleep of] death and his enemies rejoice when [he is] shaken. In essence, David’s adversaries will be victorious and will trumpet that victory. And this has not changed. Human nature is what it has always been: selfish. These adversaries do not think of the cost to David or to the kingdom he rules over or anything else. They think only of their issue with David and their desire to overcome him. If they succeed, then they will not be content with merely succeeding, but will tell everyone what they think they have accomplished.

We are not all that different now. We often make goals without considering their impact on others and loudly proclaim our success when we have accomplished those goals, ignoring those we have hurt or destroyed along the way to our objective.

In the third and last phase of this psalm — verses 5-6 — David transitions to peace and praise. He has laid his requests before God and the peace of God now guards his heart and mind. David can now trust in God’s lovingkindness (mercy), rejoice in God’s salvation, and sing to the LORD. David knows that his own failure or fall is a possibility and that his adversaries may triumph. David also knows God and God’s character. And that is where David finds his comfort. He does not take comfort in knowing that God will act. He does not take comfort in knowing that his adversaries will be thwarted. He takes comfort in God’s mercy and salvation. And, thus comforted, he sings to the LORD.

This psalm reads a bit like a poetic example of Paul’s instruction to the Philippians. Paul instructed them to not be anxious, but to make their requests known to God and promised that the peace of God — which is not always understandable — would guard their hearts and minds. That is David’s progression in this psalm. And this psalm elaborates a bit on the peace. The peace does not stem from knowing that God will do what I ask Him to, but from knowing that God is merciful and has saved me and will continue to save me until I am ushered into His presence.

Which phase am I in this morning? Am I praying at all? If no, then I need to take my cares, concerns, and worries to God.; all of my questions and concerns about what will happen if God does not move. Then I need to rest in His mercy and salvation.

Father, thank You for this reminder of what Paul writes elsewhere. It is good to see the same instruction presented in different ways. Please etch this into my character that I would take my difficulties, with all of my concerns and questions, to You  and then rest in Who You are.

Advertisements

SOAP Journal – 26 February 2019 (Psalm 6)

O LORD, do not rebuke me in Your anger,
Nor chasten me in Your wrath.

Psalm 6:1

This psalm is broken into four stanzas.

The first stanza (vv. 1-3) amounts to a plea for mercy and grace. David asks that God not rebuke him (David) while He (God) is angry, but instead that He (God) would heal him (David). We have all had the experience of knowing that someone was angry with us and had every right to be angry. This seems to be where things stand between David and God. David does not, in this stanza, contest whether or not God ought to be angry, only pleads for grace.

The second stanza (vv. 4-5) asks God to rescue David, giving the reason that there is neither remembrance nor mention of God in Sheol, which is roughly equivalent to the Greek Hades. This reveals a bit about what David thinks happens after death. He seems to believe that there is some place to which souls go. He also seems to think that those souls do not remember what has happened in life.

The third stanza (vv. 6-7) is David’s description of his state. He has been grieving; weeping; agonizing over his adversaries. And this makes me wonder when in his life this psalm was written. There were many times in David’s life that he faced enemies and a fair few wherein the adversary was someone dear to him or related to someone dear to him.

In the final stanza (vv. 8-10), David issues one command and makes two statements. The command is that those who do iniquity would depart from him. Another way to render the phrase might be that David wants the troublemakers to get lost. And the reason for this is that God has heard his prayer and that David’s enemies will be ashamed and greatly dismayed.

The encouragement for me is this: even when God has every reason to be angry with me, I can call out to Him for mercy and grace and help in my need and He will hear me and be merciful and gracious. This is not a license to do things that will anger God. That would be presumptuous. Rather, this is an invitation to seek God even when I fear He might not want to hear from me. When I have done something foolish and want His mercy and grace, but fear that I will be met with His righteous wrath instead, this psalm is an encouragement that God will hear and will be gracious.

Thank You, Father, for this encouragement; for this invitation to come to You and be heard, even when You have every right to be angry with me. Even then, You will love me and want to restore me. Thank You for loving in a way that I cannot fathom and may not ever be able to emulate this side of eternity.

SOAP Journal – 11 February 2019 (Job 25)

How then can a man be just with God?
Or how can he be clean who is born of woman?

Job 25:4

The last words uttered by Job’s friends also happen to be the briefest they have uttered. Bildad says, in essence, rule and glory belong to God and asks, rhetorically, how a person can be right with God. Bildad obviously thinks that rightness with God is unobtainable and leaves the matter there.

There are two major problems with leaving the matter there.

First, this statement leaves anyone who actually believes it without hope or comfort of any kind. Of all the useless things that Job’s “friends” have said in their efforts to “comfort” him, this may be the least comforting and most useless. If there is no way to be right with God, then what is the point of even trying? If the only thing I can actually expect from God is punishment for my inability to be right before Him, then I should leave off trying to please Him and just enjoy what little pleasure life brings to me. But this entire thought process is wrong. God will punish those who are not right with Him, but that punishment may not arrive this side of the grave. God will reward those who are right with Him and that reward is very likely to be amassed in Heaven. Jesus told His disciples to store up treasure where moth does not destroy and thieves cannot break in and steal it. The reward for those who are right with God is rightness with God and the peace and comfort that brings. Everything else is decoration on the icing on the cake.

Second, if there is no way for a man to be right with God, then all of the claptrap that Job’s friends have blathered on about God rewarding those who do right in His sight was something that he (Bildad) did not believe was even possible. His words contradict one another. If there is no way for a man to be right with God and God rewards those who are right with Him and punishes those who are not, then it follows that everyone should always be punished and that no one should ever be rewarded. From the standpoint of pure, unadulterated justice, this is true. God is righteous in a way that human beings can never be and unadulterated justice would demand that we all be punished for willfully violating His Law. But God does not work on the basis of justice alone. God tempers justice with mercy and grace. And He does so through Christ and His work on the cross.

I was reminded of how tilted the scales seem to be this weekend. I received credit cards for which I had not applied and made phone calls to sort out the issue, learning that someone had opened them in my name and successfully charged a large sum to one of the cards. I have read more than a couple articles online about how people have dealt with identity theft and gone so far as to essentially hand the culprits over to law enforcement on a silver platter only to have the officers refuse to arrest the perpetrator. It is disheartening. Then I read this and God reminds me that His justice is sure and that the treasures He wants me to store up are in a place where they cannot be stolen and no one can do anything in my name, because my identity is securely bound up in Christ and only The Father knows my true name.

And He wants to do the same thing for the people whom I allowed to ruin a portion of my weekend. I could have taken the news gracefully and made the necessary calls and arrangements and gone on about my day without thinking about it, but I allowed what had been done to get to me and was angry and wanting justice to be done. While I still want the person to stop stealing and ruining others’ reputations (or credit, at least), I am not longer on my momentary hellfire and brimstone warpath. But God (my favorite phrase in all of scripture) does not want them to face His justice, He wants them to receive His mercy and grace.

Father, I confess that I was not compassionate or forgiving or merciful. I am grateful that You are all of those things and more. Please forgive both me and those who have wronged me. They need You. Just as I do. Please break through both of us, me to conform me better to the image of Your Son and them to repentance. May we both be right with You.

SOAP Journal – 25 June 2018 (1 Chronicles 21)

David said to Gad, “I am in great distress; please let me fall into the hand of the LORD, for His mercies are very great. But do not let me fall into the hand of man.”

1 Chronicles 21:13

When I came across this account in Samuel, I was focused on David’s insistence that he not sacrifice something to the LORD that did not cost him anything. I also got a little caught in the variance in price paid between the two accounts, concluding that one price was for the whole place while the other was for specific parts of the place. This morning, I am caught by a verse that has troubled me for some time.

The account is familiar to me. David decides to number the people. Numbering the people was mandated at certain times and forbidden the rest of the time under The Law. When David realizes his wrong, he repents and asks God to forgive him. God sends Gad, the seer, to give David a choice between disciplinary actions and David chooses to fall into the hands of the LORD. David’s prayer request shifts to a plea for mercy on the people as he sees the devastation wrought by the pestilence and the people had done nothing wrong as far as David knew. The land and sacrifice is purchased and the sacrifice made and the pestilence ends.

I was mulling over the disciplinary actions that David was presented with and wondered why he told Gad to let him (David) fall into the hand of God and not man. It seemed like a cop-out, like David was saying that he could not choose between those things. The more I have thought about it, the more I see that David was giving an answer.

Famine can be seen as a punishment from God, but there are side effects to it. Famine sends people looking for food wherever they can find it. This opens the people up to exploitation. Some people would choose to move from the country experiencing the famine to a country that was not, which is exactly how the book of Ruth opens. Famine could have far-ranging consequences that were not directly the hand of the LORD.

Defeat in battle often means the loss of lives. Add to that the statement that David’s foes would be pursuing him and the whole situation looks like it would become three months of a kingdom ungoverned while the king and the army were constantly on the run. This would leave portions of the kingdom at the whim of enemy monarchs and raiding bands. Again, far-ranging human consequences.

Pestilence, on the other hand, operates differently. People fall ill. Some may die. Others may recover. Whatever the outcome, the human element is effectively removed from the equation. Even today, most countries are loathe to send their people into places with fatal diseases running rampant. Despite our best precautions, we know that diseases sometimes get through our defenses and infect those who were only trying to help. This is the only option on the list that could be understood to be exclusively the hand of the LORD. Moreover, it potentially causes the least suffering. Starvation is slow and painful. Foreign powers defeating the army and doing what ancient armies often did when victorious — raping and pillaging — seems as though it would have causes tremendous suffering. But disease can be a very quick thing and relatively free from suffering.

It appears that David, far from copping out, was actually giving a specific response. More, he revealed in his response a knowledge of God’s character — His mercies are very great. David chose the one punishment that would be exclusively the hand of the LORD.

Father, please keep me from the hands of men. Your mercy is reliable. The mercy of men is fickle, at best.

SOAP Journal – 15 May 2018 (2 Kings 23:31-25:30)

Surely at the command of the LORD it came upon Judah, to remove [them] from His sight because of the sins of Manasseh, according to all that he had done, and also for the innocent blood which he shed, for he filled Jerusalem with innocent blood; and the LORD would not forgive.

2 Kings 24:3-4

The closing chapters of 2 Kings are an unbroken string of bad kings and defeats of Judah at the hands of her enemies. Ultimately, none of it was really a surprise, because God told the Israelites in advance that all of it was coming. And it all traced back to wrongs done.

There are things that stand out in this parade of terrible moments: Judah being pressed between two warring empires on either side — Egypt and Babylon; one of the kings who rebelled against Babylon witnessing the slaughter of his children then being blinded by his eyes being gouged out; the conspiracy against and murder of the governor who tried to get the people to just accept their judgment from God and make the best of things. Over and over, the people display just how deserved their judgment was. Over and over, the people refused to repent. These chapters are saddening and a somber way to start the day.

These passages remind me that God is just. Josiah repented and God held back the coming judgment. Neither the next king nor the people repented and judgment came. It is a simple calculus: repentance invites God’s mercy. And God longs to be merciful.

These passages also remind me that actions have consequences. Manasseh’s horrific actions had consequences, viz. judgment. Josiah’s repentance had consequences in the form of mercy. And the utter lack of repentance after Josiah had consequences in the form of the judgment on Manasseh and the people who had gone along with him that had been held at bay by mercy during the reign of Josiah.

This book and its companion also remind me that Godly parents do not guarantee Godly children and unGodly parents do not guarantee unGodly children. Each of us makes our own choices.

Father, thank You for these reminders and these examples. May they teach me the things that You would have me learn from them. May they encourage, exhort, and warn as appropriate.

SOAP Journal – 27 November 2017 (2 Samuel 14)

Now Joab the son of Zeruiah perceived that the king’s heart [was inclined] toward Absalom.

2 Samuel 14:1

After Absalom murdered his half-brother, he fled the country. His father, King David, longed to go out to Absalom (13:39), but he did not. Joab perceives the king’s heart and decides that Absalom needed to come home. So Joab convinces a wise woman to come to King David and present a fiction like the one that the prophet Nathan had presented, designed to evoke a response from David. So the woman presents the fiction and David offers her the protection that she ostensibly sought, but when she persists, David sees through things and realizes that Joab is behind the whole thing. The king gives Joab what he asks for — Absalom is brought back to Jerusalem — but the king does not see Absalom. Eventually, Absalom goes so far as to set a part of Joab’s field on fire to get his attention and get an audience with David. Absalom says something that, were David a man inclined more toward justice and less toward mercy, would have been the end of Absalom: Now therefore, let me see the king’s face, and if there is iniquity in me, let him put me to death (14:32). There was, in fact, iniquity in Absalom and he should have been put to death. But he was not.

Joab’s non-battlefield judgment was poor. I have already read of his murder of another general during peace talks in retribution for a killing that happened in war time. I continued reading and saw that Absalom stages a coup some years after being brought back to Jerusalem. Joab saw that David’s heart wanted something and Joab thought that David’s heart was good. What Joab did not stop to consider is whether or not David’s mind had a reason for leaving Absalom in his self-imposed exile. There is nothing in the text that says that David said or even implied that Absalom could not come back. Perhaps David, who knew a thing or two about living in a state of non-repentance, wanted to give God time to work on his son’s heart. Perhaps David just wanted to give Absalom some time and space to sort things out. Whatever the reason, David had not gone and gotten his son, despite longing to see him, and Joab missed the mark entirely.

David, for his part, allowed himself to be swayed by Joab’s charade. David saw through the smokescreen and yet still gave Joab what he was after. It is interesting that the text tells me that David did what Joab asked, not what David thought wise or prudent or even that David sought God’s counsel and acted accordingly. David gave Joab what he wanted. There may be people in my life who are able to sway me to do things that I know are imprudent or outright wrong — there have been in times past. It seems that Joab is such a person in the life of David.

Absalom, far from appreciating the mercy involved in his situation, flaunts it and demands to see the king or be put to death for any iniquity in himself. Absalom had plenty of iniquity within him and plenty of reason why he should have been put to death.

In Joab, I see for too much of myself with God. I understand a portion of God’s heart, but I do not know His mind. So I pray and ask Him to do things that may have terribly ramifications. As Paul writes, I do not know how to pray as I ought. So, like Peter, I keep talking despite not knowing what to say. Israel would probably have been better served if Joab had left Absalom in his self-imposed exile. My prayer life would be better if I could come to God knowing that I do not know how to pray as I ought and if I would rely on the Holy Spirit to intercede and speak the words I cannot speak.

In David, I see something of myself. I have been, in times past, unduly influenced by people that I cared about and with whom I had been through much. I am still wont to be thus influenced, I think, but the number of people who are close enough to me and have endured as much beside me is few.

In Absalom, I see a tendency that is sadly common to all people. I see a lack of appreciation of the mercy shown us and a blindness to our own transgressions.

Father, I do not know how to pray as I ought — if Paul didn’t, then I most certainly do not — and so ask that Your Spirit would help my weakness and intercede with groanings too deep for words. I know that the tendency exists in me both to allow myself to be influenced — especially when the direction of that influence agrees with my desires — and to take for granted the mercy shown me. Please work in me so that I am influenced by You and by counsel that comes from You through trustworthy friends. Please give me eyes that see just how much Your mercy has extended to me and how far down Your grace has to descend to reach me.

Wrath Revealed (Romans 1:18-19)

For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.

Romans 1:18-19

As I begin this Good Friday, I was struck by what this day actually is. As I read this morning, the words the wrath of God is revealed hit home: That is what the crucifixion is. Good Friday — the best Friday in an eternity of Fridays for sinners like me — is a commemoration of the day that God’s wrath against ungodliness and unrighteousness of men was revealed and writ large in black skies and the red of my Savior’s blood poured out on a hill. I realize that Paul was potentially writing about something else entirely and I admit freely that what I see on the page might be more Reader Response theory than Formalist theory of reading the text.

Let me remember that this day is a commemoration of the day God wrote His wrath on the back of His Son so that He did not have to write it on me. Let me be mindful of the cost of my unrighteousness and ungodliness. In those moments when any sin seems a little thing, let me turn my eyes to the hill where my Savior bled and died and count the cost of those “little” sins.

I am persuaded that part of the reason God revealed His wrath is so that I could fully appreciate the extent of His mercy.