Psalm 119:25-32

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Daleth

25  My soul clings to the dust; 

give me life according to your word! 

26  When I told of my ways, you answered me; 

teach me your statutes! 

27  Make me understand the way of your precepts, 

and I will meditate on your wondrous works. 

28  My soul melts away for sorrow; 

strengthen me according to your word! 

29  Put false ways far from me 

and graciously teach me your law! 

30  I have chosen the way of faithfulness; 

I set your rules before me. 

31  I cling to your testimonies, O Lord; 

let me not be put to shame! 

32  I will run in the way of your commandments 

when you enlarge my heart! (ESV)

The psalmist opens this stanza with stating that his nefesh (life source, entire being in English translations soul) clings to the dust (v 25a). The psalmist here is “not just having a down day, but he is experiencing a time of real need because dust is a frequent biblical image for humiliation (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 408 see also Job 16:15; 30:19; Ps 44:25; Isa 47:1). It is in humility that the psalmist cries out to the Lord commanding Him to give life according to His Word (v 25b). Life in this verse can also be translated revive or renewal. “The anticipation of renewal is based on the “word” (dābār) of God (W. VanGemeren Psalms REBC, 2008, p. 865 see also vv. 42, 51, 65, 69, 78, 85, 95, 110, 134, 141, 150, 154, 157, 161; Dt 8:3; 30:6, 15, 19–20; 32:47).

In verse 26 the psalmist has told/declared his ways to the Lord and He answered him (v 26a). The psalmist is remembering the Lord’s past faithfulness to him and as such prays for the Lord to teach him His statutes (v 26b). Because God has been faithful to him before, the psalmist can have confidence the Lord will be faithful now.

In verse 27 the Psalmist implores God to cause him to understand (hiphil, imperative, 2ms with 1cs suffix) the way of His precepts. The hiphil is a verb of causation and the Lord here is the Agent. The semantic definition of Agent is “the person or thing that instigates an action or causes change in another person or thing” (J. Thompson, The Lexham Glossary of Semantic Roles (2014, n.p.).

As the Lord causes the psalmist to understand His precepts, he will meditate on his wondrous works. “With the increase in knowledge and understanding there will be increase in devotion and praise” (A. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90-150) KEL, 2016, p. 491). The Lord’s people should consistently cry along with the psalmist, “cause me to understand your precepts,” because “God’s instruction and illumination deepen human dependence on the Lord. The psalmist prays that he may “meditate” on the “wonders” of the Lord. The word opens the way to recognizing the greatness of God’s acts in creation and in redemption” (VanGemeren, p. 865).

The psalmist’s nefesh is depleted from “grief and vexation” (VanGemeren, p. 865), and he calls out to God to strengthen him by His Word (v 28). The Lord promises to give life according to His Word (v 25). The psalmist again uses a hiphil, imperative to strongly ask God to cause him to put false ways far from himself. The psalmist is pleading with God to be the Agent of change in putting away false ways and the Agent who graciously teaches him His law (v 29).

“Proverbs 14:12 states that “there is a way that seems right to a person, but its end is the way to death,” so as in Ps 139:24 the psalmist asks the Lord to remove the “offensive way” from him. Whatever deviates from the Lord’s way is deceitful and false, but the instruction of the Lord will keep him on the right path. Though he may stumble into sin, he values the truth of God’s word over falsehood” (Estes, pp. 408-409).

Verses 30-32 “Devotion to God focuses on doing his will. The psalmist affirms his deep commitment in the language of action: “I have chosen … I have set … I hold fast … I run”” (VanGemeren, p. 865). The way of faithfulness stands in contrast to false ways (v 29). Faithfulness’s way “summarizes a life that is characterized by obedience to the will of God” (Ross, p. 493).

The psalmist in verse 25 stated that his nefesh clings to the dust and in verse 31 he clings to the Lord’s testimonies. “As he has cleaved to the dust, so he cleaves to God’s word. Doubtless his oppressors derided him for his commitment to what the Lord has said, so he pleads with the Lord not to put him to shame. He fully expects the Lord to be faithful to him in his need, and he has no backup plan. If the Lord does not strengthen him (v. 28), the psalmist would suffer humiliation and shame” (Estes, p. 409).

This stanza concludes with the psalmist running. “Usually we simply walk in the way of Yhwh’s commands (vv. 1, 4); running in the way of them is another way of suggesting not mere compliance with Yhwh’s expectations but living by them enthusiastically and energetically” (J. Goldingay, Baker Commentary on the Old Testament: Psalms 90-150, 2006, p. 396).

The Lord is the Agent causing the psalmist’s heart to enlarge. Heart as noted before encompasses the mind, emotions and will. “God’s commands liberate his heart to run in the way of the Lord” (Estes, p. 409). God will cause our hearts to enlarge when we run in the way of His commandments (v 32). We will become more confident like the psalmist when we meditate on God and His wondrous works. By meditating on His wondrous works we will also be less fearful and anxious by the trials, calamities and hardships that we will face.

Lord God, there is so much truth and richness in this stanza. Lord God, may we be a people who seek to hear and obey Your Word. May we run in the way of Your commands, seeking to delight in You rather than to run and delight in the wicked ways of this world. Lord God, cause us to understand Your ways, putting false ways far from us. Lord God, in Your grace and mercy teach us to delight and love Your Word. Lord God, thank You for this reader. Lord God, may we choose, set and cling to You and Your Word each and everyday. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

 

Psalm 119:17-24

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Gimel

17  Deal bountifully with your servant, 

that I may live and keep your word. 

18  Open my eyes, that I may behold 

wondrous things out of your law. 

19  I am a sojourner on the earth; 

hide not your commandments from me! 

20  My soul is consumed with longing 

for your rules at all times. 

21  You rebuke the insolent, accursed ones, 

who wander from your commandments. 

22  Take away from me scorn and contempt, 

for I have kept your testimonies. 

23  Even though princes sit plotting against me, 

your servant will meditate on your statutes. 

24  Your testimonies are my delight; 

they are my counselors (ESV). 

 In the last stanza the psalmist referred to himself as the Lord’s student and in the opening of this stanza he refers to himself as the Lord’s servant. The psalmist “does not accept God’s blessing and then proceed to do as he pleases, but he humbly takes his place before the Lord, his Master, whom he asks to deal [bountifully] with him. His reasonable response to the Lord’s goodness is obedience that keeps his word” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 406).

Verses 17-18 each begin with prayers in the form of imperatives followed by purpose clauses. The first imperative is deal bountifully. In the Psalter, bounty has the “connotation of deliverance” (A. Ross, Psalms 90-150 KEL, 2016, p. 483). When the psalmist here prays that the Lord will deal bountifully with him it is so that he can live and keep the Lord’s Word (purpose clause).

The second prayer is for God to open his eyes. “In both the OT and the NT, sight is a frequent metaphor for understanding (see Gen 3:5; Eph 1:17–18). Apart from divine revelation and illumination, humans are blind, but the psalmist calls on the Lord to open his eyes so that he would be able to see the extraordinary things in his instruction” (Estes, p. 406).  No one will ever out know God’s law/instruction and it is important to remember “…not everyone who reads God’s word has the spiritual understanding to appropriate it correctly (see Matt. 6:22–23; 7:3–5; John 9:39–41)” (Ross, pp. 483-484).

The psalmist moves from calling himself servant to sojourner (v. 19). In the Ancient Near East (ANE) the poor, widow, orphan, sojourner/foreigner were “especially vulnerable and in need of protection” (Estes, p. 406). The psalmist knows that the Lord cares for the poor, widows, orphans and sojourners (Deut 10:18). “In this context, in which the psalmist lives among those who do not share his godly values and commitments, he needs direction from the Lord, so he asks the Lord to make his commands clear to him” (Estes, p. 407). 

In verse 20 the psalmist refers to his soul (nefesh). In Hebrew nefesh derives from the word for neck and it means life source, whole inner being. The psalmist here is saying that his life source, his entire inner being is consumed with loving God’s rules/just decrees. “It is evident that he passionately desires God’s direction for his life” (Estes, p. 407).

The psalmist compares his obedience (v. 22) to the disobedience of the insolent (v. 21). “Even though he has obeyed the Lord, he has received contempt from his wicked oppressors because living by God’s word is not a guarantee of a pain-free life in a sinful world. He is confident, however, that the Lord can thwart those who threaten him, and he entrusts his plight into God’s hands” (Estes, p. 407).

Even though princes (magistrates) plot against the psalmist, he as the Lord’s servant will meditate and delight in His Word because they are his counselors (vv. 23-24).

God’s Word gives comfort and guidance in times of difficulty and distress. Believers today need God’s wisdom and discernment now more than ever; testing and holding everything we read and hear up to the light of God’s Word. May our nefesh be completely consumed in desiring God and His Word.

Lord God, thank You that You reveal Yourself to us through Your Word. Thank You that Your Word brings life and not death for those who believe the Good News of Jesus Christ. Lord, for the reader who does not know You Lord, may they seek You today while there is still time. Lord God, may we follow the example of this psalmist desiring and meditating on Your Word to help us in these darkening and difficult times. Lord God, help us to be a people whose entire being is consumed with You and Your Word rather than being consumed with the things of this world. Lord God, thank You for this reader. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

 

Psalm 119:9-16

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Beth

How can a young man keep his way pure? 

By guarding it according to your word. 

10  With my whole heart I seek you; 

let me not wander from your commandments! 

11  I have stored up your word in my heart, 

that I might not sin against you. 

12  Blessed are you, O Lord; 

teach me your statutes! 

13  With my lips I declare 

all the rules of your mouth. 

14  In the way of your testimonies I delight 

as much as in all riches. 

15  I will meditate on your precepts 

and fix my eyes on your ways. 

16  I will delight in your statutes; 

I will not forget your word (ESV).

In language similar to Wisdom Literature, “the ‘young man’ is the disciple, also known as ‘my son’ in Proverbs” (W. VanGemeren, Psalms REBC, 2008, p. 862). This matter of purity “does not only concern a young man, but any concerned disciple” (A. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90-159) KEL, 2016, p. 476).

Purity was vital to Israel’s existence. The question of “how can a man keep his way pure?” encompasses all areas and activities of a person’s life. The answer is that he will keep his way pure by “guarding” the Lord’s Word (v 9). Guard here is the same as in Genesis 3:24 where the cherubim and flaming sword “guard the way to the tree of life” (emphasis mine). The psalmist is to guard his way with the same ferocity as the cherubim and flaming sword guard the way to the tree of life.

By asking how to “keep his way pure?” the psalmist acknowledges (as in previous verses) that he is prone to temptation and folly’s invitation (see Proverbs 9:13-18). It is worth mentioning the psalmist does not ask, “why does a young man need to keep his way pure?” The psalmist already knows why, “blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord” (Ps 119:1). The psalmist does not lament the effort that he has to give in actively keeping and guarding his way. Today, Christians often lament, whine and complain about the hardship and drudgery of obeying God and keeping pure (see Old Testament Israel for further thoughts).

It is only fitting that with this perspective the psalmist would seek the Lord with his whole being and store His word in his heart so as to not sin against Him (vv 10-11). “Because the word of God has penetrated to his [“heart”], the core of his life that includes his thinking, his feelings, and his choices (cf. v. 2), it keeps him from missing the mark of God’s holy standard expressed in his word” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 405).

The psalmist calls the Lord blessed and then cries out for the Lord to teach him His statutes (v 12). “The point of the verse is the desire to learn more of God’s law, but a teachable spirit begins with a proper regard for God—hence, the praise for the teacher” (Ross, p. 478). In verse 13 the psalmist declares his learning “publicly because he views himself as the channel of God’s instruction to others” (Estes, p. 405). The psalmist delights in the Lord’s Word “as much as in all riches” (v 14). In verses 15-16 the psalmist actively chooses to meditate on His precepts because he loves Him and wants to obey Him. Because the Lord’s ways lead to life, he will fix his eyes on them. By delighting in the Lord’s statutes, he will not forget His Word.

Lord God, help us to be a people who choose to keep their way pure. Help us to be agents and ambassadors of light and not debauchery and darkness. Lord God, help us to guard Your Word as You have guarded us from finding Eden and the Tree of Life. Lord help us to keep our way pure as we share Jesus with the lost. Lord God, help us to be a people who seek You with their whole being. Lord God, may our times of wandering from Your Way become less and may we become quicker at recognizing when we have strayed. Lord God, as society becomes more and more hostile to Your Word, may we learn Your Word, storing it in our hearts. Lord God, thank You that You will teach us Your Word when we are sincere in obeying it. Remind Your people Lord that You never teach us anything to keep it to ourselves. You teach us so that we may strengthen and encourage Your Body! Thank You Lord for this reader and help them to not forget Your Word. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

 

Psalm 119:1-8

ESV
Aleph

1 Blessed are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord! 

2 Blessed are those who keep his testimonies, who seek him with their whole heart, 

3 who also do no wrong, but walk in      his ways! 

4 You have commanded your precepts 
to be kept diligently. 

5 Oh that my ways may be steadfast 
in keeping your statutes! 

6 Then I shall not be put to shame, 
having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. 

7 I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous rules. 

8 I will keep your statutes; do not utterly forsake me! 
CSB
א Aleph

1 How happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk according to the LORD’s instruction!

2 Happy are those who keep his decrees and seek him with all their heart.

3 They do nothing wrong; they walk in his ways. 

4 You have commanded that your precepts be diligently kept. 

5 If only my ways were committed to keeping your statutes!

6 Then I would not be ashamed when I think about all your commands. 

7 I will praise you with an upright heart when I learn your righteous judgments. 

8 I will keep your statutes; never             abandon me.

ʾašrê (אַשְׁרֵי) can be translated in English as either blessed or happy (vv 1-2) and I absolutely LOVE how this psalm opens “on a note exclaiming the happiness of those who walk according to the Lord’s instruction” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 402).

There are many similarities to the opening of Psalm 119 and the opening of the Book of Psalms itself, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Ps 1:1-2 ESV, emphasis mine). Jesus also begins each Beatitude (Matt 5:3-11) stating, “blessed/happy are…” (for more on this see Mourning; Meek; Hunger, Thirst and Psalm 1; Mercy; Pure in Heart; Peace: Maker or Breaker?; Persecution).

Many English versions translate torah in verse 1 as law; however, Estes is correct when he says, “the CSB properly construes it as “instruction,” because its nuance is teaching or guidance” (D. Estes, Psalms 73-150 NAC, 2019, p. 402 see also Introduction to Psalm 119 for the different words used to refer to God’s Law). He also goes on to say, “The Lord instructs one how to lead a good and godly life. Self-direction does not lead to happiness, but the good life is ordered according to the way of the Lord” (pp. 402-403).

Walks and keeps are both participles meaning that God’s people are actively, continuously to walk in His instructions and to keep His testimonies/decrees. While seek is not a participle in the Hebrew, the imperfect aspect renders this an ongoing action. Ross states, “To seek the LORD with a whole heart means that they are completely occupied with the discernment of the LORD’s will revealed in his word. It is the people who keep God’s laws and diligently seek him who are blessed by him” (A. Ross, A Commentary on the Psalms (90-150) vol 3 KEL, 2016, p. 469).

The wise and blameless person does not just do “what is right before God but also avoids what is wrong” (Estes, p. 403). The wise and blameless person is the one who seeks God with their whole heart so that they may discern the lies of this world; “testing the spirits” (1 John 4:1) against the Truth of God’s Word.

Bible believing Christians need wisdom and discernment now more than ever and we gain wisdom by seeking God, meditating on His Word and surrounding ourselves with other likeminded believers as we evangelize/share Jesus with the lost.

The Lord “has commanded [His] precepts to be kept diligently” (v 4). These are not suggestions nor opinions. “Love for God receives expression in doing the will of God” (W. VanGemeren, Psalms REBC, 2008, p. 860) which is why the psalmist declares in his next verse, “Oh that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes!” (v 5).

“The psalmist further prays that no “shame” or ultimate disgrace may overtake him (v. 6). “Shame” in OT usage connotes abandonment by the Lord and condemnation to utter ruin, as happen to the enemies of God (cf. vv. 31, 46, 80; 6:10; 25:2; 83:17). In this prayer the psalmist intimates that he lives with adversity while walking in the way of the Lord. His lament is like a sobbing, and he prays that the Lord will have mercy on his servant” (VanGemeren, p. 861). Estes adds, “In Psalm 119 both active disobedience and passive neglect of God’s word lead to shame (cf. vv. 31, 46, 80). The psalmist must contemplate with favor all that God has commanded (cf. v. 15), not selecting what he prefers but obeying completely what the Lord has required” (p. 403).

In verse 7 the psalmist will praise the Lord with an upright heart when he learns God’s rules/decrees because he knows “the Lord blesses the righteous” (Ross, p. 473). The psalmist is not doing this for show nor as works based salvation and protection, but out of a heart (mind, will and emotions) that knows that God is who He says He is and He does what He says He will do.

The psalmist ends this first section saying that he will keep God’s statues/decrees but because “he is prone to incomplete commitment to the Lord’s commands (cf. vv. 5–6), he calls on the Lord not to abandon him” (Estes, p. 404).

Father God, Lord how blessed and happy we are when we walk in a manner that is pleasing to You. Although we may suffer for it, we know that You are with us. Lord God, help us to be a people who actively seek You with our whole hearts (mind, will and emotions) learning Your Word, and desiring to walk and follow in Your ways so that we may obey Your instructions. Lord God, help us to be a people who seek to be blameless, pure and holy in a world that values debauchery and filth in every area of life. Lord God, help us to grow in wisdom and discernment. Help us to test everything we see and hear against Scripture. Lord God, may we be a people who say that we will praise You even in the midst of adversity and not knowing what Your next plan is for us. Lord God, may we be reminded that for those who are seeking to keep Your Word that they will not be put to shame. Lord God, Your Word brings life and we thank You for it. Lord God, thank You for this reader and for the opportunity to study Your Word together. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

 

Introduction to Psalm 119

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It is well known that Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Bible. In fact, it is twice as long as any other. Psalm 119 is also an acrostic in which each stanza begins with the successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. For example: verses 1-8 begin with aleph (the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet), vv 9-16 begin with Beth, vv 17-24 begin with Gimel etc. Most modern translations note this distinction with subheadings.

Since writing my post on the “Authority of Scripture” my yearly Bible plan has brought me to Psalm 119 and I cannot help but to reflect on the importance of loving, understanding, murmuring, obeying and applying the Word of God.

The Psalmist uses eight different Hebrew words for God’s Law:

  1. Law (tôrâh) is used 25 times. “The word “law” has both a broad and a narrow meaning. In the broad sense it refers to any “instruction” flowing from the revelation of God as the basis for life and action. In the narrow sense it denotes the Torah of Moses, whether the Pentateuch, the priestly law, or the Deuteronomic law” (VanGemeren, Psalms, REBC, 2008, p. 859).
  2. Word (dābār) occurs 24 times. “Any word that proceeds from the mouth of the Lord is dābār, whether it pertains to the Decalogue (Dt 4:13), the law of Moses (Dt 4:2, 10), or the word revealed through the prophets. It is a most general designation for divine revelation, whether of expectation or promise” (p. 859).
  3. Decisions/judgements (mišpāṭîm) occurs 23 times and are God’s laws/decisions/judgments that are the foundation of Israel’s legal system.
  4. Statute(s)/Testimony (ʿēdût/ʿēdôt) occurs 23 times. Testimony is often related to covenant and the “observance of the “statutes” of the Lord signifies loyalty to the terms of the covenant made between the Lord and Israel” (p. 859).
  5. Command/s (miṣwâ/miṣwôt) occurs 22 times. “The word “command” is a frequent designation for anything that the Lord, the covenantal God, has ordered. It is a synonym of “law,” as well as of “decrees” and “laws”” (p. 859).
  6. Decrees (ḥuqqîm) occurs 21 times. God is the Sovereign Author of His decrees.
  7. Precepts (piqqûdîm) occurs 21 times and is only found in the Book of Psalms in which it is synonymous with covenant and related to command. The Psalmist is to respond to the Lord’s commanded precepts by guarding, longing for, meditating on, gaining understanding so as to never forsake, stray or forget them. “Essentially, the God who orders human beings to respond to his revelation expects an appropriate response of submission and loyalty to and love of his commands” (p. 860).
  8. Saying/promise (ʾimrâ) occurs 19 times and can refer to anything that God has spoken or promised.

Allen Ross notes that all eight synonyms occur in four stanzas (verses): 57–64; 73–80; 81–88 and 129–136. “The other stanzas use seven or six of the words, sometimes repeating one or two of them. So there is no apparent attempt at a perfect symmetry” (A Commentary on the Psalms (90-150) KEL, 2016, p. 460).

What I love about this psalm is how similar it is to both the Torah and to wisdom thought and language found in Proverbs. Psalm 119 is also a lament/complaint psalm in that the psalmist is crying out to God for His help against the powerful people who are lying, maligning, and afflicting him.

In a day in age where Christians are increasingly being mocked and scorned for their faith, I thought it would be a worthwhile to traverse this psalm together. As Ross says, “As a major resource for meditation this psalm is superb. It reveals how divine revelation is the basis for everything that the believer does; but it also shows how the Word of the LORD is applied in all the circumstances of life” (p. 462).

May we find comfort in the fact that “the psalmist knows firsthand the oppression of evil. He has been surrounded by wickedness, pursued by the arrogant and proud, and humbled by sorrow and disgrace; yet his refuge is in God. He constantly cries out to God, retreats into his shadow, and finds solace in his strength. This is a psalm not only of law but also of love, not only of statute but also of spiritual strength, not only of devotion to precept but also of loyalty to the way of the Lord. The beauty in this psalm resounds from the relationship of the psalmist and his God” (VanGemeren, p. 858).

Lord God, prepare us as we journey together through Psalm 119. Lord, may we find refuge and strength in You. May we drink deeply of Your Word, as we bring our laments and complaints to You, seeking Your knowledge and wisdom so that we may love, worship, know and obey You more. Lord God, thank You that Your Word is Truth. Help us to be holy, pure and blameless because You are Holy, Pure and Blameless. Lord God may we desire Your Word, may we carve out time to meditate on Your Word daily whether by reading or hearing Your Word. Lord God, thank You for Your love for us. Thank You Lord for this reader. Stir in this reader a desire to know You more. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

FACING EAST

Sunrise from 7 January 2019; photo taken by Mandy Sweigart-Quinn.

While I love watching and driving around following the setting sun (I have thousands of pictures to prove it!), there is NOTHING like watching the sun rise. I love to greet the Lord’s dawn with my song (Ps 57:8; 108:2). I will literally seek out places whether inside my house or someone else’s house, in a hotel, or somewhere out in nature where I can read my Bible and journal, soaking up the Son’s rays. Direct morning sunlight fills my soul like nothing else.

The other morning while basking in the Lord’s sunrise, I started reading through Numbers. While I have read the early chapters of Numbers numerous times, I have come to appreciate the beauty, wonder and order of the Lord even more!

Chart by Mandy Sweigart-Quinn

Forgive me folks, I am NOT an artist in the least bit so this is my humble offering of a chart of Israel’s Wilderness Camp given in Numbers 1-3.

I have long known that Israel’s directional orientation faced east with her back being toward the sea and the setting of the sun. I never gave any thought as to what this looked like.

Although Judah was the fourth son of Leah, he was given pride of place as firstborn because of the sins of Reuben, Simeon and Levi. Judah was the head of the eastern triad and whenever Israel moved on from camp or went out to battle they led the way. Reuben led the southward triad and was given secondary honor. After the triad of Reuben moved out, “Then the tent of meeting shall set out, with the camp of the Levites in the midst of the camps; as they camp, so shall they set out, each in position, standard by standard” (Num 2:17 ESV). Ephraim, fulfilled Jacob’s blessing (Gen 48:5-20) and was the leader of the westward triad; the first to follow behind the Tabernacle when they moved from camp. The northward triad and the last to move were led by Dan.

Whether Israel was on the move or stationary in camp, the Tabernacle (or Tent of Meeting) was always in the center. I love what Allen says, “On the line of march the triads of Judah and Reuben would lead the community; next would come the tabernacle with the attendant protective hedge of Levites; then would come the triads of Ephraim and Dan. In this way there was not only the sense of the indwelling presence of God in the midst of the people, there was also the sense that the people in their families and tribes were protecting before and behind the shrine of his presence” (Numbers, REBC, 2012, p. 98).

It is truly significant that Moses no longer had to go outside of camp to meet with Yahweh (Ex 33:7-11). “There is a sense here of the progressive manifestation of the presence of God in the midst of the people. First he was on the mountain of Sinai; then he came to the tent outside the camp; then he indwelt the tent in the midst of the camp. One day he would reveal himself through the incarnation in the midst of his people (Jn 1:1–18); and, on a day still to come, there will be an even greater realization of the presence of the person of God dwelling in the midst of his people in the new Jerusalem (Rev 21:1–4). The story of the Bible is largely the story of the progressive revelation of God among his people…and the progressive preparation of a people to be fit to live in his presence” (R. Allen, p. 98). Numbers truly is a book about worshipping Yahweh!

I am a person who CRAVES order, structure, consistency and stability. In a world that is growing more tense, chaotic, unstable and hostile by the day, reading and meditating on these chapters have calmed my soul. “There is a sense in which the orderliness of these early chapters of Numbers is akin to the orderliness of Genesis 1. As God has created the heavens and the earth and all that fills them with order, beauty, purpose, and wonder, so he constituted his people with order, beauty, purpose, and wonder. And as the heavens and earth may “praise” God in their responses to his commands (Ps 147:13–18), so the peoples of God may praise him in their responses to his commands (Ps 147:19–20). Indeed, his people must praise him” (Allen, p. 93).

God cares about the order and manner in which He receives worship. In Numbers 3, Moses retells the story of Nadab and Abihu. The order of the tribe of Levi’s tents around the Tabernacle in 3:21-38 are given from least favored to favored (opposite of non-levitical tribes, favored to least).

Gershon to the west, away from the entrance of the tabernacle was responsible for the Tabernacle’s structure: tent, coverings, curtains and ropes. Kohath to the south was the largest clan and cared for: furnishings of tabernacle, ark, table, lamps, altars. Merari to the north cared for: frames, posts, bases, crossbars and supplementary materials. The Priests (Moses, Aaron and sons/descendants) had the honored position of being on the east, protecting the entrance of the Tabernacle.

“Moses and Aaron were not placed in the posture of arrogance on the eastern side of the tabernacle; they were placed there for a representational ministry (“on behalf of the Israelites”). Theirs was an exclusive work but beneficent to the community. Service in the tabernacle was an act of mercy, a means for the people to come before God. Yet it was marked by severity—all had to be done in God’s way! God receives the worship of his people only because of his mercy. The sovereignty of God was evident in his limitations on the means to approach him. The “stranger” could be a better man or woman, more pious and devout than a given descendant of Aaron; yet he or she would still face death in the case of actions based on presumption. The warning of death to the “stranger” is found four times in the book (see 1:51; 3:10, 38; 18:7)” (Allen, p. 111).

Near the end of Numbers 3 we read, “male Levites over the age of one month were to be regarded by Yahweh as “belonging to him” as the payment of redemption for the firstborn of the nation. The firstborn of animals were to be sacrificed to the Lord, but God never countenanced the sacrifice of persons on his altars. Hence a substitution was made. A male Levite was regarded as a substitution for the firstborn member of a family in a non-Levitical tribe. Notice that the firstborn of the livestock were also included in the substitutionary arrangement: Levite for firstborn of Israel, and Levite’s livestock for firstborn livestock of Israel” (Allen, p. 113).

The structure, detail and order given to Israel’s wilderness camp is so humbling and beautiful to me. For Christians today, we know that Jesus took on flesh and dwelt among sinful man. When we overlook these beginning chapters of Numbers we can miss seeing how Jesus is our sacrificial and substitutionary Lamb who redeemed us by His shed blood on the cross. Jesus is the Lion of the Tribe of Judah who is already victorious but will come back to fight His enemies at the end of the age. Jesus is our great High Priest who is making intercessions on our behalf before the Father.

While our lives may be marked by disorder and dysfunction, we know that God is not chaotic nor disorganized. As God strategically and purposefully ordered Israel’s camp, setting them apart from the other nations, so too is God strategically and purposefully ordering our camp and steps. May we take comfort that the Lord Jesus Christ is in our midst and that the Holy Spirit will help us to live in a manner where we bring glory to God the Father.

Lord God, You absolutely amaze me. I am humbled by who You are and what You do. Lord God, in a world that is full of chaos and disorder I am thankful that You are stable, consistent, organized and purposeful. Lord God, Your presence and redemption are themes that run from Genesis to Revelation. Lord God, open this reader’s mind, heart, and hands to love and trust You and Your Word more. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

 

Old Testament Israel

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In reading Severe Compassion: The Gospel According to Nahum I absolutely agree with what Gregory Cook said. “Christians often make a grave error in their interpretation of Old Testament history. When we read about Israel’s sins, we tend to judge Israel harshly. We are right to see these sins as grievous, because the Bible makes this plain. What we in the church have not rightly considered is that we have sinned even more grievously” (p. 24).

I often hear people say, “Israel got what they deserved.” This is true. Israel repeatedly broke covenant with Yahweh and suffered the consequences. While Christ has paid believers’s sin debt on the Cross, our sin no less grieves God. Moses and the Prophets were Israel’s intercessor, while believers today have Jesus, their Great High Priest making intercession on their behalf.

“Israel had only the promise of a Messiah, we have a glorious gospel. We need to repent of how we have viewed the Israelites. They sinned greatly against God, but our sin is much greater” (Cook, p. 25). When we love the world more than Christ, we are much worse than Israel. Israel did not have the completed, inspired, infallible Word, nor did they have Jesus as their Mediator.

“Is there anything in your life that excites your passion more than Jesus? If so, you need to consider that the sins listed in the Old Testament are specks, while yours is a log” (p. 25). I am SO thankful that Jesus satisfied God’s wrath on the Cross! God cannot and will not excuse sin. “Every sin must be paid for” (p. 25); however, through Christ’s work and belief in Him “grace is freely extended to the worst of sinners” (p. 26). When we confess our sins, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive us (1 John 1:9).

A warning for all of us today is that “[t]he Bible does not allow us to use grace as a license for sin. We have no right to judge the sins of Old Testament Israel and then to presume upon God’s grace to cover our own love for the gods of our culture” (p. 26).

I do not ever want to take advantage of the grace of God extend in Christ Jesus our Lord. I do not want the Lord to discipline/rebuke me for harshly judging the sins of others while refusing to look at the sins in my own life.

When we are quick to judge Old Testament Israel’s sins, we need to be as equally quick to judge our own sins. Now more than ever we need to cling to our Savior and not to this world. We need to remember: “When we enter into covenant with God, receive the blessings of that covenant and then worship what the world worships, we sin deeply. Israel committed this sin in Exodus 32. Israel again committed this sin in Numbers 13. Judah committed this sin when it chose Assyrian protection instead of faithfulness to God. We commit this same sin when we find God boring and the world fascinating” (p. 18 see 1 John 2:15-16).

May we strip off every sin that trips us up, so that we may run with endurance the race that we have been given with our eyes fixed on Jesus, the Author and Perfecter of our faith (Heb 12:1-2).

Father God, may we NEVER become bored with You. May we NEVER forget that You hate sin. May we NEVER get tired of looking to You. Lord God, may we not gloss over our sin. Lord God, may we be reminded that as You left a remnant in Israel, so You leave a remnant of believers in each generation. Lord God, may we judge/hold others accountable with pure hearts and motives. Lord, may we seek to grow in holiness and Christlikeness. May we take comfort in Your provision and care for Israel. Lord God, I know there are MANY debates and theological differences to national, political Israel today. In all things Lord may we be reminded that You are seeking and saving men, women and children from every tribe, nation and tongue. Lord God, may Your Spirit stir mouths and hearts to confess Jesus as their Lord and Savior while there is still time. Thank You Lord for this reader. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Jealous and Avenging God

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The Lord is a jealous and avenging God; the Lord is avenging and wrathful; the Lord takes vengeance on his adversaries and keeps wrath for his enemies (Nahum 1:2 ESV).

In my last post Burning Coals believers are not to take vengeance, we are to leave this to God. Here in Nahum, three times he uses נֹקֵ֤ם to mean avenging or vengeance. These are qal, participles describing God’s character. Keeps is also a qal participle with the root word meaning watch over or guard.

God’s jealousy, vengeance and wrath cannot be separated from His love, mercy and grace. “If God did not care when our hearts are far from him (Isa 29:13) or when we adulterously give our hearts to the world (James 4:4), he would not love us…The notion of a love without jealousy and vengeance cannot survive a thorough biblical examination. It is a concept lacking passion or power. It is apathy masquerading as virtue” (G. Cook, Severe Compassion: The Gospel According to Nahum, 2016, p. 11).

The Lord has really put His jealousy, vengeance and wrath heavy on my heart lately. This world is changing rapidly and as believers we absolutely cannot love God and this world. It is impossible.

It grieves me at how easily I can be distracted and sidetracked from spending time with the Lord. I hate it! I genuinely believe that covid has and is revealing people’s hearts (my own included) in a way in which we have never seen before.

God hates idolatry and anything that competes for His people’s love, attention and affection! As this world becomes more hostile to Christians we have two choices: look like the world which brings death or look like Christ and live. While not in the same way, God will judge both the believer and nonbeliever.

I am grieved to think of my unsaved loved ones who will experience the vengeance and wrath of God. I really appreciate what Cook says, “The primary reason for missions and evangelism is not to save people from hell, as important as that is. The primary reason to abandon all to tell others about Christ is that he might receive glory” (p. 13).

May we seek ways to glorify our Triune God while there is still time.

Lord God, may we NEVER forget that You are a Jealous God, that You will take Vengeance and pour out Wrath on Your enemies. Lord God, may we not gloss over this or make light of this. Lord God, we are truly entertaining ourselves to death. May we remember our first love. May we remember You. Lord God, may we glorify You as that is the purpose that You have for us. Lord God, whenever Your people wonder what their purpose is or if they matter, remind us that it is to bring You glory! Lord God, thank You for this reader. May they carve out time to worship You today. May this reader seek You today while there is still time. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Burning Coals

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If your enemy is hungry, give him bread to eat, and if he is thirsty, give him water to drink, for you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you (Pr 25:21-22 ESV).

Love for one’s enemy is a biblical theme that runs from Genesis to Revelation. In this Proverb eat and drink are commands; enemy and heap are participles. It is a fact that we will deal with enemies in this life, but when we heed the command of giving our enemy bread to eat and water to drink we will continuously heap burning coals on the head of our enemy. The concept of heaping coal’s on an enemy’s head is one of pain and shame. The verb reward is related to shalom which is more than just peace, it is the state of being whole.

Paul confirms this when he says, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head” (Ro 12:20.) As in Proverbs 25:21-22 feed and drink are commands. But the motive of Paul is different: “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord'” (Ro 12:19).

When we allow the Lord to deal with our enemies and we trust Him by loving our foes, He will take care of us. This is a mark of the true Christian. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Ro 12:21). Paul commands us to not be overcome by evil as well as to overcome evil with good. This is by no means easy! But we can rest assured that God is indeed a God who wages war on His enemies. While this is NOT popular today, it is true. From Genesis 3 to Revelation 20, there is a theology of holy war in the Bible.

Each day is one day closer to the return of Christ, as such believers need to start practicing what it looks like to love their enemies now. Hostility for Christians is growing by the day. As Philip Ryken says, “The law always reveals the character of the lawgiver” (P. Ryken, Exodus: Saved for God’s Glory,2005, p. 525). As to the character of the lawgiver, “It must also be noted that Jesus’ instruction on the love of enemies (Matt 5:43–47) be read in light of this proverb and that the love of enemy is originally an Old Testament idea that was both enacted and commanded by Jesus” (Duane A. Garrett, Proverbs, Ecclesiasties, Song of Songs, 1993, p 209). The more that we love our enemies and overcome evil with good the more we will be transformed into the image of Christ.

Leviticus, Deuteronomy, Proverbs, Matthew, Romans we are given commands to love God, be holy as God is holy, love our neighbor and to let the Lord take vengeance for His Name’s sake and for the sake of His people. Again, I do not claim this is easy; however, may we start obeying God and His commands. The more that we love our enemies, overcoming evil with good, the more we will be transformed into Christ’s image.

Lord God, it is not easy to love our enemies. I am thankful Lord that loving our enemy does not go hand and hand with reconciliation. Lord God, give us wisdom and discernment when it comes to handling difficult relationships and people. Lord God, help Your Church. Help us to be a people who live in Your strength and not our own. Lord God, may we NEVER forget that You are both a God of Wrath and a God of Love. May we NEVER forget that You are Just, Jealous and Compassionate. May we NEVER take Your mercy and grace for granted. Lord God, it is time for Your called out, set apart, holy people to live LESS like this world and MORE like citizens of Heaven. Lord Jesus, You know I get this wrong ALL the time, I am a sinner saved by grace and I praise You for the gift of salvation daily. Lord God, thank You for this reader. Lead them and guide them as they navigate living in a world that is rapidly changing. Keep this reader connected to You Lord and in all things may they seek You more than the things of this world. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.

Joseph and Potiphar

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Meanwhile the Midianites had sold [Joseph] in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard (Gen 37:36 ESV).

 It is well known that Joseph goes from being the favored son of Jacob, to being sold by his brothers to the Ishmaelites and then being sold by the Ishmaelites Joseph to Potiphar (see Genesis 37:1-35).

What is not well known is the significance of Potiphar’s title the captain of the guard. In Hebrew the root word for guard here is associated with slaughter or butcher. Alter states, “The actual responsibilities of this high imperial post remain unclear” (The Five Books of Moses, 2019, p. 144); however, I think we can make a connection that Potiphar had some degree of involvement with Pharaoh’s kitchen (as we will see in later events).

Joseph was both trustworthy and handsome (39:6). As much as Potiphar trusted Joseph, Potiphar’s wife wanted to seduce Joseph. Joseph continues to resist her advances until she had enough and told Potiphar that Joseph tried to lie with her (see vv 7-18). When Potiphar heard her story his “anger was kindled” (or “he burned with anger” NIV) and he put Joseph in prison (vv 19-20).

There are some misconceptions here. First, Potiphar was NOT angry with Joseph; he was angry with his wife. Potiphar is angry that she lied about Joseph trying to seduce her. Walton states, “Given his wife’s slander of his own motives [Potiphar bringing a Hebrew into the house to laugh at them], the proven trustworthiness of Jospeh, the fact that he is going to lose the services of a competent slave, and his knowledge of his wife’s character or lack of it, his anger arguably burns at his wife, not at Joseph” (J. Walton, Genesis, NIVAC, 2001, p. 671).

The second way we know that Potiphar believes Jospeh is because he did not have Jospeh executed immediately. To this point Walton states, “Jails were not common in the ancient world since imprisonment was not a standard punishment for crimes. If Potiphar truly believed that Joseph, his slave, was guilty of sexually assaulting his wife, execution would have been the swift and normal response” (J. Walton, “Genesis,” ZIBBC, 2009, p. 127). Potiphar puts Joseph imprison to keep his family’s honor and to preserve Joseph’s life. “The actions he takes against Joseph are as minimal as they can be” (Walton, Genesis, p. 672).

Later on we learn that “Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined” (Gen 40:2, emphasis mine). While Potiphar is not mentioned by name here, what is mentioned here is Potiphar’s title, captain of the guard.

Jospeh is not imprisoned in some other part of Egypt, he is “transferred to another part of Potiphar’s house” (“Genesis,” p. 127). This is why I think that guard has a connection to the kitchen. It only makes sense that Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker would be imprisoned at the house of the captain of the guard. The chief cupbearer and chief baker are vital to the survival of Pharaoh. Walton states, “The potential for assassination attempts through the king’s food was real and constant, so these officials not only needed to be incorruptible themselves, but also had to be able to hire people above reproach and to identify attempts at infiltration of the staff by enemies of the king…it seems logical to speculate that the king may have gotten sick from a meal” (“Genesis,” p. 128).

If in fact the chief baker and chief cupbearer were enemies of Pharaoh, it makes perfect sense why Potiphar, “the captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them and attended them [because] they continued for some time in custody” (v 4, emphasis mine). Potiphar, as the captain of the guard would not want anything to happen to Pharaoh under his watch. Potiphar already knows the kind of man that Joseph is and again, it is no wonder that he “appoints” Joseph to watch over them!

No two people would be closer to Pharaoh than the chief cupbearer and chief baker and at some point each of these men had a dream (v 5). God gave Joseph the ability to interpret the dreams correctly. The chief baker was hanged and the chief cupbearer was restored to his position (vv 6-23).

Two years later, God caused the cupbearer to remember the “young Hebrew… a servant of the captain of the guard (41:12, emphasis mine) who interpreted correctly the dreams of himself and the chief baker. Pharaoh then sent for Joseph. God caused Joseph to interpret Pharaoh’s dream correctly, thus being elevated to the second most powerful person in Egypt (vv 14-45). In which Joseph is used by God to save Israel and sons from the famine in the land. Truly what Joseph’s brothers meant for evil God used for good.

By looking at the historical-cultural background we can see even more how God’s Hand, Favor and Protection were upon Joseph. Joseph was with Potiphar for 11 years (how the time is divided between house and prison is unknown; see Walton, Genesis, p. 672). God uses unbelieving people to accomplish His will in His people’s lives, both in blessing and in consequence/discipline. Potiphar is part of Joseph’s story more than we realize. Who are the unbelieving people that God has used in your life?

Father God, thank You that when we look deeper into Your Word we learn more about the time and place in which Your people who went before us lived. Lord God, may we be reminded that Your common grace rains on both the just and the unjust. Lord God, thank You for the life and story of both Joseph and Potiphar. Their lives are intertwined more than we usually realize. Lord God, help us to be a people of integrity regardless of who is watching. Lord God, while You may not elevate us to the palace in this life, may we be mindful that Your Kingdom that is coming is more glorious, more majestic and magnificent than any palace this world has to offer. May we be encouraged by Your past workings in our lives and in the lives of others, so that we may endure our current circumstances and to eagerly await Your second coming and the consummation of Your Kingdom. In Jesus’s Name I pray. Amen.