Psalm 130

Our greatest difficulty in reading the Psalms is that we struggle to enter the Hebrew mind. This short piece sounds so much like David for its depth of passion, but there were others who caught the same fire for the Lord. In this short piece, we can catch a glimpse of that same path of devotion.

This song begins with recognition of our fallen nature. We live in the depths of delusion and sin; it is our natural state. But we were not made for this, and we know it instinctively, so we seek redemption, some small measure of restoration. From the depths of our cursed existence, we cry out to Jehovah. His court alone has jurisdiction for this sorrow. There is no other help, so we call to Him alone.

Should it be that God preserves the record of our failures, there would be no hope. No one but God is holy by nature. Yet in His holiness, forgiveness is also His nature. He blots out the record of our sins. The logic here is simple: If none are pardoned, then there is no one to give Him glory on the earth. For His divine justice to be apparent, for His fame and repute to live on the earth, there must be those who have been delivered by His justice and live to sing His praises.

The concept of “wait” in Hebrew here is binding together, of me wrapping my whole existence and welfare in His desires for me. What He reveals to me is life itself; His divine moral character is the fabric of existence. What He reveals is reality. Thus, there is no higher priority. Standing watch at night can be long and lonely, cold and exhausting, but a guard’s investment in relief at the dawn cannot compare to my depth of desire to know what God wants for me next.

And this passionate personal experience is not mine alone; it is the nature of our calling and covenant as the people of Jehovah. So the psalmist calls on his nation to join him in trusting Jehovah alone as the sole source of mercy. The Lord has more than enough redemption to cover every soul that calls on His name. Regardless how great our failures, He’s there to redeem it all.

Our Crazy Ancient New Religion 2

It was almost as if someone was crying, injured and unloved.

I turned to the bush and something made me look around behind, under the leaves and branches. There, stuffed in among the limbs close to the ground was an old rotting paper bundle, a multiple rocket launcher from some previous Independence Day celebration. It as all charred and brittle as I pulled it out. The bushed heaved a sigh of relief.

Fanciful imagination? Fine, but I did remove some pollution from the bush outside my apartment breezeway and felt a sense of divine approval in my heart. It’s the same when I pick up cigarette butts and other trash from the breezeway and grass around the building. I don’t do that because I’m some kind of prissy middle-class grouch who worries about appearances, nor is it merely because I can’t forget the military training that makes it almost an instinct to police up litter. I do it because it’s right for me.

It feels the same to me if I eat right or do something to assist my neighbors. It feels the same as reading the Bible or writing a blog post about my faith. It feels like riding my bike and taking pictures of beautiful landscape. It feels like blessing my Father’s name.

For the earnest expectation of the creation eagerly waits for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself also will be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation groans and labors with birth pangs together until now. Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body. (Romans 8:19-23 NKJV)

Westerners today call it anthropomorphism, but I assert that Hebrew minds took it seriously, sometimes quite literally, that Creation is alive and has a strong thread of God’s moral character. All Creation, your body included, cries out for redemption. The whole business of God’s revelation is to allow us some level of participation in that redemption by ameliorating the effects of the Fall. The Fall is how “creation was subjected to futility.” We embrace the Flaming Sword of divine moral truth, let it burn away our sinful nature, and strive to bring our world back into Eden.

It’s not a question of remaking the world to be like Eden, because the full measure is not possible without God’s final act of judgment on all sin. It’s taking the leverage that God places in your hands and doing what He has called you to do. I can pick up trash around my residence. I can stop on my bike rides and move large objects out of the road, or push aside broken glass. I can eat wild foods and exercise in ways my body tolerates. I can pray and read the Bible and tell others about my faith. But pulling trash out of my friend, the bush, is no less evangelism and redemption than writing books and giving them away.

Holiness is holiness, and the Law of Moses made it plain that God regards sanitation and health as loyalty. We need to break the very bad mental habit of compartmentalizing our religion. God created the heart to hear all of Creation groaning for relief so that we could get involved in His redemption.

Psalm 90

Thus we begin the Fourth Book of Psalms. The psalms that follow are generally liturgical in nature, as are those of the Fifth Book. Perhaps it’s divided between 106 and 107 only for convenience in terms of size, because the nature and style of the songs do not change.

This song is ascribed to Moses who led the Exodus. When we read of all the carping, whining and resistance he faced from Israel, we hardly wonder at the subject matter here. At the same time we notice how it resembles much of Ecclesiastes. For Solomon, this style of writing emulates the very best of classical Ancient Near Eastern Wisdom Literature. It’s easy to forget how Moses was educated in Pharaoh’s courts, and then at the hand of his father-in-law who was also hardly a country bumpkin. Thus, the message here is more subtle than might seem obvious from the words alone. This is dramatic oratory meant to draw us along a path of ancient Eastern logic, and we are obliged to read between the lines if we expect to see where it goes.

Moses first establishes that the One he addresses stands outside our time-space bubble. Jehovah isn’t just an immortal being who lives without dying. This is the great God Almighty, Creator of all things whose existence is rooted in an entirely separate realm. Existence itself is rooted in Him. It goes without saying that all things bear the stamp of His divine moral character; whatever He says is. If there is any hope for understanding this world, we first must seek His revelation.

Some of this translates poorly into English because it relies on an orientation of mind that simply is not quite possible from the same context as our tongue arises. It requires entering into a radically different set of assumptions that are exceedingly difficult to explain in any human language. Thus, Moses alludes to things in terms of characterization, not description. Most English translations miss the point here. God made us of the same stuff as earth, but we chose sin in the Garden, wandering from His revealed purpose. Thus, our human constitution includes a healthy dose of the Curse of the Fall, a measure of destruction. A primary element of that curse is our mortality. We weren’t supposed to die like this. Still, God calls us to return to Him. He is the Eternal One, and we are of such short duration in our lives that there are no words to compare.

Moses compares us to the passing of a single night and day in God’s lifetime. Our longest possible span of life is little more than a the passage of the sun over the earth to God, as if we were some ephemeral herb. Tomorrow we are but fertilizer for the next generation that lasts but a day, too.

Then Moses launches into an explanation that we have moved away from God and into His wrath. He cannot forget our rejection. Our darkest secret thoughts shine brightly before Him. Noting that we are fortunate to see some eighty years of life, our best prospect is to spend those years in labor and sorrow. When we die, we will have gained nothing that we can take with us. Like smoke on a strong wind — poof — we are gone and soon forgotten. No one can live long enough to measure the extent of God’s wrath against sin. Moses asks that we be reminded of our mortality often.

God calls us to return to Him, and Moses responds by calling on God to return His mercy to us so that we can regain our reverence for Him. Like a man who cannot work without a good breakfast, he asks that God fill us up with divine mercy so we can do His work and bring Him glory. There is precious little happiness in this world, but the joy of walking in God’s truth is unshakable. Give us a chance to teach our children a better way to see life. Let your glory sparkle in our dark existence so that the world will know there is such a thing as redemption.