May 6, 2020
O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
You have set your glory above the heavens.
2 Out of the mouths of babes and infants
you have founded a bulwark because of your foes
to silence the enemy and the avenger.
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet,
7 all sheep and oxen,
and also the beasts of the field,
8 the birds of the air, and the fish of the sea,
whatever passes along the paths of the seas.
9 O Lord, our Sovereign,
how majestic is your name in all the earth!
Have you ever felt small and insignificant? Perhaps you have been in an area with little light pollution and you gaze at the billions of stars. Perhaps you felt small when you have driven through the Rocky Mountains, or looked out over lush rolling hills, or stood under a rainbow.
This beautiful hymn of praise is one of the most well-known psalms. I am using the NRSV translation because it’s probably the most poetic translation. Although the psalmist questions how humans can have much worth compared to all that is in the universe, verses 3-8 establish human glory as part of God’s glory. We are told humans not only are a little below God, but we have control over all that is on earth.
The 8th psalm ends with a joyous declaration. First “O Lord”, then “Our Lord” (Sovereign).
Blessings on your reading,
May 4, 2020
Before writing my sermon each week, I read at least 3 or 4 translations of the selected Bible passages. Most often I use the New Living Translation for worship; it is also the translation of the Bibles in the pews.
The Bible has been translated into 698 languages. There are over 450 different translations in English. I thought it would be fun to compare two different translations of Psalm 7 today.
If you have never read the Message translation of the Bible, you are in for a surprise. Published in increments between 1993-2002, the Message is a paraphrase of the Bible by Eugene Peterson. It is written using lively and colorful contemporary American English.
Here is Psalm 7 using The Message.
1-2 God! God! I am running to you for dear life;
the chase is wild.
If they catch me, I’m finished:
ripped to shreds by foes fierce as lions,
dragged into the forest and left
unlooked for, unremembered.
3-5 God, if I’ve done what they say—
betrayed my friends,
ripped off my enemies—
If my hands are really that dirty,
let them get me, walk all over me,
leave me flat on my face in the dirt.
6-8 Stand up, God; pit your holy fury
against my furious enemies.
Wake up, God. My accusers have packed
the courtroom; it’s judgment time.
Take your place on the bench, reach for your gavel,
throw out the false charges against me.
I’m ready, confident in your verdict:
9-11 Close the book on Evil, God,
but publish your mandate for us.
You get us ready for life:
you probe for our soft spots,
you knock off our rough edges.
And I’m feeling so fit, so safe:
made right, kept right.
God in solemn honor does things right,
but his nerves are sandpapered raw.
11-13 Nobody gets by with anything.
God is already in action—
Sword honed on his whetstone,
bow strung, arrow on the string,
Lethal weapons in hand,
each arrow a flaming missile.
14 Look at that guy!
He had sex with sin,
he’s pregnant with evil.
Oh, look! He’s having
the baby—a Lie-Baby!
15-16 See that man shoveling day after day,
digging, then concealing, his man-trap
down that lonely stretch of road?
Go back and look again—you’ll see him in it headfirst,
legs waving in the breeze.
That’s what happens:
17 I’m thanking God, who makes things right.
I’m singing the fame of heaven-high God.
Now here is Psalm 7 using the New Living Translation.
I come to you for protection, O Lord my God.
Save me from my persecutors—rescue me!
2 If you don’t, they will maul me like a lion,
tearing me to pieces with no one to rescue me.
3 O Lord my God, if I have done wrong
or am guilty of injustice,
4 if I have betrayed a friend
or plundered my enemy without cause,
5 then let my enemies capture me.
Let them trample me into the ground
and drag my honor in the dust.
6 Arise, O Lord, in anger!
Stand up against the fury of my enemies!
Wake up, my God, and bring justice!
7 Gather the nations before you.
Rule over them from on high.
8 The Lord judges the nations.
Declare me righteous, O Lord,
for I am innocent, O Most High!
9 End the evil of those who are wicked,
and defend the righteous.
For you look deep within the mind and heart,
O righteous God.
10 God is my shield,
saving those whose hearts are true and right.
11 God is an honest judge.
He is angry with the wicked every day.
12 If a person does not repent,
God will sharpen his sword;
he will bend and string his bow.
13 He will prepare his deadly weapons
and shoot his flaming arrows.
14 The wicked conceive evil;
they are pregnant with trouble
and give birth to lies.
15 They dig a deep pit to trap others,
then fall into it themselves.
16 The trouble they make for others backfires on them.
The violence they plan falls on their own heads.
17 I will thank the Lord because he is just;
I will sing praise to the name of the Lord Most High.
If you would like to explore different translations go to Biblegateway.com. Each one gives a slightly different perspective on the readings.
Blessings on your reading,
May 1, 2020
O Lord, don’t rebuke me in your anger
or discipline me in your rage.
2 Have compassion on me, Lord, for I am weak.
Heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony.
3 I am sick at heart.
How long, O Lord, until you restore me?
4 Return, O Lord, and rescue me.
Save me because of your unfailing love.
5 For the dead do not remember you.
Who can praise you from the grave?
6 I am worn out from sobbing.
All night I flood my bed with weeping,
drenching it with my tears.
7 My vision is blurred by grief;
my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.
8 Go away, all you who do evil,
for the Lord has heard my weeping.
9 The Lord has heard my plea;
the Lord will answer my prayer.
10 May all my enemies be disgraced and terrified.
May they suddenly turn back in shame.
New Living Translation
[Note: We do not know who wrote the psalms, and although we often use the male pronouns, I will use both genders in talking of the authors. I find it easier to use one gender throughout a psalm rather than constantly using he/she. Please understand I am using both genders at random, not because of anything in the psalm itself.]
I remember well the first time I read this psalm. I was dumbstruck by the description of sadness and despair. I knew the tears that drenched her bed were tears of fear, anger, and betrayal; the emotions that also made her so weak her bones ached. The NRSV translates the phrase, “my bones are shaking with terror.”
It is disturbing to find that the author believes her situation may be a punishment from God, v 1, who is angry and may be acting in a rage. Of course, the idea that sickness is a punishment from God for our actions is still one that is hard to convince people is not true.
Verse 8 marks the change in tone of the psalm. The author believes God has heard her and is now on her side. So, she taunts her enemies by warning them God will turn the tables and punish them and redeem her.
Blessing on your reading,
Verse by Verse Psalm 5
April 29, 2020
O Lord, hear me as I pray;
pay attention to my groaning.
2 Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God,
for I pray to no one but you.
3 Listen to my voice in the morning, Lord.
Each morning I bring my requests to you and wait expectantly.
4 O God, you take no pleasure in wickedness;
you cannot tolerate the sins of the wicked.
5 Therefore, the proud may not stand in your presence,
for you hate all who do evil.
6 You will destroy those who tell lies.
The Lord detests murderers and deceivers.
7 Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house;
I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe.
8 Lead me in the right path, O Lord,
or my enemies will conquer me.
Make your way plain for me to follow.
9 My enemies cannot speak a truthful word.
Their deepest desire is to destroy others.
Their talk is foul, like the stench from an open grave.
Their tongues are filled with flattery.
10 O God declare them guilty.
Let them be caught in their own traps.
Drive them away because of their many sins,
for they have rebelled against you.
11 But let all who take refuge in you rejoice;
let them sing joyful praises forever.
Spread your protection over them,
that all who love your name may be filled with joy.
12 For you bless the godly, O Lord;
you surround them with your shield of love. (New Living Translation)
The opening lines are straight forward and raw. “Hear me as I pray”, “pay attention to my groaning”, “listen to my cry for help.”
When you notice that Professor Walter Brueggemann has written a book or article you know that reading it will be delight. He is an expert on the Old Testament, writing with great depth, wisdom and humor. In Praying the Psalms. He remarks on words that are in the Lutheran church liturgy of confession, “from whom (God) no secrets can be hid.”
“….The psalms are ‘embodied’ prayers. There is no or little slippage between what is thought/felt and what is said. The Psalms are immediate. There is no mediation to ‘clean up’, censor, or filter what is going on.
This directness reflects a readiness to risk in an uncalculating way with this one ‘from whom no secrets are hid.’ The psalms dare to affirm that, as there are no secrets from God, so there likely is less self-deception at work in these prayers. These prayers are marked by candor and robustness with the God who ‘searches the heart’ (Jeremiah 17:10; Proverbs 20:27)…
Liberated prayer of this kind is filled with passion, that is, with conviction that
in these words, something is at issue that can be resolved in more than one way…
Prayer stays very close to the realities of life in these poems…”1 Psalm 5 has that
approach! It is a lament, as the psalmist prays: “…pay attention to my groaning…” p 53
Blessings on your reading and your praying,
Monday, April 27, 2020
Answer me when I call, O God of my right!
You gave me room when I was in distress.
Be gracious to me, and hear my prayer.
2 How long, you people, shall my honor suffer shame?
How long will you love vain words, and seek after lies?
3 But know that the Lord has set apart the faithful for himself;
the Lord hears when I call to him.
4 When you are disturbed, do not sin;
ponder it on your beds, and be silent.
5 Offer right sacrifices,
and put your trust in the Lord.
6 There are many who say, “O that we might see some good!
Let the light of your face shine on us, O Lord!”
7 You have put gladness in my heart
more than when their grain and wine abound.
8 I will both lie down and sleep in peace;
for you alone, O Lord, make me lie down in safety.
This is the psalm for those of you who struggle to get to sleep at night. You can almost see the author pacing back and forth, first talking to God, then to his presumed enemies, then to himself, then back to God. It might have been one of those nights when sleep didn’t come because, as one of my favorite authors Gerhard Frost put it, “I was lying awake, babysitting the world.”
There are certainly many things that could keep us awake at night, although this author seems to be upset about people who are telling lies about him. The psalmist has turned to God for help before, “you gave me room when I was in distress,” and received breathing room after being “uptight” or “tied up.”
After stewing about those speaking against him, he gives himself some advice—don’t sin (don’t take action) when you are upset, but go to bed, ponder the situation in silence, and remember to trust God.
The last verse is the one we can take with us to bed this evening:
“In peace I will lie down and sleep, for you alone Lord, will keep me safe.”
Blessings on your reading and your ponderings,
Friday, April 24, 2020
O Lord, I have so many enemies;
so many are against me.
2 So many are saying,
“God will never rescue him!”
3 But you, O Lord, are a shield around me;
you are my glory, the one who holds my head high.
4 I cried out to the Lord,
and he answered me from his holy mountain.
5 I lay down and slept,
yet I woke up in safety,
for the Lord was watching over me.
6 I am not afraid of ten thousand enemies
who surround me on every side.
7 Arise, O Lord!
Rescue me, my God!
Slap all my enemies in the face!
Shatter the teeth of the wicked!
8 Victory comes from you, O Lord.
May you bless your people.
Psalm 3 is not used in the Revised Common Lectionary, the 3-year schedule of Bible readings used in worship at St. Luke’s and many other churches. Although you probably have never used this psalm in worship, it may sound familiar since it has a common theme among lament psalms. An individual is surrounded by enemies; yet even as he calls for help, he praises God for protecting him.
Scholars believe this psalm refers to King David’s escape from Jerusalem pursued by his son Absalom, who wanted him dead so he could claim David’s throne. Most of the army of Israel sided with Absalom. Verses 1 and 6 refer to the many thousands of soldiers who fought against King David.
King David’s warriors killed Absalom in battle and David returned to his throne. “Victory comes from you, O Lord.” v 8
(The story of Absalom is found in the 2 Samuel, Chapters 13-18.)
Blessings on your reading,
Verse by Verse—Psalm 2
April 22, 2020
1 Why are the nations so angry?
Why do they waste their time with futile plans?
2 The kings of the earth prepare for battle;
the rulers plot together
against the Lord
and against his anointed one.
3 “Let us break their chains,” they cry,
“and free ourselves from slavery to God.”
4 But the one who rules in heaven laughs.
The Lord scoffs at them.
5 Then in anger he rebukes them,
terrifying them with his fierce fury.
6 For the Lord declares, “I have placed my chosen king on the throne
in Jerusalem,[a] on my holy mountain.”
7 The king proclaims the Lord’s decree:
“The Lord said to me, ‘You are my son.[b]
Today I have become your Father.[c]
8 Only ask, and I will give you the nations as your inheritance,
the whole earth as your possession.
9 You will break[d] them with an iron rod
and smash them like clay pots.’”
10 Now then, you kings, act wisely!
Be warned, you rulers of the earth!
11 Serve the Lord with reverent fear,
and rejoice with trembling.
12 Submit to God’s royal son,[e] or he will become angry,
and you will be destroyed in the midst of all your activities—
for his anger flares up in an instant.
But what joy for all who take refuge in him!
While Psalm 1 presented clear life choices for individuals, Psalm 2 gives a similar choice to the nations. “Serve the Lord with reverent fear,” and you will rejoice with trembling. But ignore God’s chosen one, and “you will be destroyed.”
It is difficult to think of a time when the opening verses of this psalm have not been true. Many nations in our world seem to be in a continuous state of war, or of preparing for war. God’s response surprises me. The Psalmist writes that God “laughs.” One can only laugh in this situation if they are certain of their power.
At the time the psalm was recorded the phrases “I will set my king on Zion,” v 6 and my “anointed one,” v 2 referred to the current king of Israel, designated by God to reign.
But as Christians read this we see the foreshadowing of Jesus the Christ, anointed by God and set as ruler of the universe.
As we read Psalm 2, and continue to read the remaining psalms, the advice of Rev. James Howell might be helpful:
“We cannot be sure how to read the Psalm, and that is perhaps as God would have it. We simply read. We ponder. We are amazed. We wonder. . . . Ours is to read, listen, tremble, hope, wait, forgetting to check what time it is, or even that there’s a smart phone in my pocket. We listen for the laugh from God’s throne. Then all we can do is shake our heads, and smile.”
April 20, 2020
During Holy Week in 2011, I began to offer a way our congregation could read through the books of the Bible. Unlike our readings during Sunday worship, we chose a book and then read it straight through. I offered reflections and historical background. This study of the Psalms continues in that tradition.
The Book of Psalms, or the Psalter, is known as the Bible’s songbook. It is a collection of songs of praise written for worship; prayers for help, called lamentations; and instructions for life.
The 150 psalms were written over a long period of time. Some were from the very earliest days of Israel and others were written as late as the return of people from the Babylonian exile. As they were gathered into one document, there was probably a great deal of “editing.” Psalm 1 and 2 are thought to have been written as introductions to the book, and Palm 150 written as a grand doxology to end the book.
Today’s reading is Psalm 1:
Oh, the joys of those who do not
follow the advice of the wicked,
or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
2 But they delight in the law of the Lord,
meditating on it day and night.
3 They are like trees planted along the riverbank,
bearing fruit each season.
Their leaves never wither,
and they prosper in all they do.
4 But not the wicked!
They are like worthless chaff, scattered by the wind.
5 They will be condemned at the time of judgment.
Sinners will have no place among the godly.
6 For the Lord watches over the path of the godly,
but the path of the wicked leads to destruction.
As with most poetry, you may want to read the psalm through 2 or 3 times before you continue.
This psalm offers two stark choices about how to live your life. Verses 1-3 describe the joys of those who meditate on God’s law. While verses 4-6 describe a life no one would want.
The Bible has a somewhat hidden structure that can be interesting to unearth. Let me explain one structural piece pertaining to Psalm 1.
The Hebrew Bible is not arranged in the same order as the Christian Old Testament. It is divided into three sections. The first is the Torah or the Pentateuch, containing 5 books—Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy.
Part 2 is Nevi’im, the historical and prophetic books.
Part 3 is Ketuvim, or the Writings, which begins with the Psalms.
The first book of Nevi’im is Joshua, and its first chapter is an introduction not just to Joshua but to all the books in the Nevi’im
“Be careful to obey all the instructions Moses gave you. Do not deviate from them, turning either to the right or to the left. Then you will be successful in everything you do. 8 Study this Book of Instruction continually. Meditate on it day and night so you will be sure to obey everything written in it. Only then will you prosper and succeed in all you do.”
Did you notice the similarity between Psalm 1and Joshua 1? Both present the importance of taking the right path and the importance of meditating on the law of Moses.
I plan to offer a new psalm every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, by email, Facebook and on St. Luke’s website.
Blessings on your reading and your pondering,