Tuesday, 29 October 2019

Psalm 65



Some scholars think that our psalm might have been a psalm sung during a harvest festival. It is a prayer of thanksgiving for the things God has done, and the benefits the people enjoy as a result of God’s actions. Here we see a compassionate God who works to make life flourish. As in other psalms, there is a strong connection between joy and gratitude.

The psalm begins with a description of God’s kindness (v1-4).

Praise is due to you, O God, in Zion, and to you shall vows be performed. 2 O you who hear prayer, to you shall all flesh come. 3 When iniquities prevail against me, you atone for our transgressions. 4 Blessed is the one you choose and bring near, to dwell in your courts! We shall be satisfied with the goodness of your house, the holiness of your temple!
God is described as one who hears prayers. Thinking about God as hearing prayer might not seem that astonishing or surprising, but when was the last time you stopped to consider your relationship to an ant on the sidewalk? Surely, the distance between us and God is greater than the distance between us and the ant. We are more like the ant than we are like God in many ways. If we don’t stop to consider the ant, doesn’t it make you wonder why God would be concerned with our prayers? Isn’t that, in itself, an amazing thing? God listens to your prayers. … God draws all living things to Himself. God cares for all living things- “all flesh”. God is not distant, but attentive and compassionate.

The psalmist also describes being attacked by sin- he says “when iniquities prevail against me” as if it was an animal that attacks him. In Genesis 4:7 God says to Cain, who is contemplating murdering his brother, “sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is for you, but you must rule over it.” Sin is seen as a power external to Cain and the psalmist. … Sometimes we feel that, don’t we? As if our temptations and sin are outside ourselves, even sometimes outside our control? Sometimes we can’t even want to resist. … St. Paul tends to see Sin this way as well. He sees it as a power that has enslaved humanity. God, in Christ, rescues us from that power. …

This is right in line with our psalm. He speaks about atonement. Which is the process of being brought back into relationship with God after having that relationship broken by sin. This atonement isn’t considered something the people do through their sacrifices, which is often the stereotype of how Israel dealt with their sin. It is seen as an action of God. God heals the broken relationship between the psalmist and God that is a result of sin. That is right in line with the Christian understanding of what God did through Christ.

The end goal of that atonement is that people are drawn into a relationship with God- In the Psalm that means being brought to the temple. In Christian terms, Jesus replaces the temple as the place where heaven and earth meet, so we could say we are drawn into relationship to God in Christ (see John 2:18-22). … The end goal is establishing a healed relationship between God and human beings. … The psalm also says that this is God’s doing. God chooses. If you are here it is because God has drawn you here. You have responded to something God has done in you- a conversation God started. God is the one who initiates. … Next, to be satisfied with the goodness of God’s house is to realize that there is no lasting pleasure outside God’s presence (see the Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis where demons ). God is the creator of joy and peace. All true lasting joys are to be found in God’s presence. It is spiritual maturity. We are not drawn away from God to seek some good that God can’t give us.

The next part of the Psalm describes God’s deeds (v5-8).

5 By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness [/deliverance], O God of our salvation, the hope of all the ends of the earth and of the farthest seas; 6 the one who by his strength established the mountains, being girded with might; 7 who stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves, the tumult of the peoples, 8 so that those who dwell at the ends of the earth are in awe at your signs. You make the going out of the morning and the evening to shout for joy.

Verse 5 reads “By awesome deeds you answer us with righteousness” or it can also be translated, “with deliverance”. Deliverance and righteousness are pretty religious sounding words, so they can be a bit hard to see in our lives. … But, there's another problem. 

The problem is that, for some reason, when many of us think of God as “righteous” or as giving out “justice” many of us imagine ourselves as the ones being punished or judged. That probably comes from a sensitivity regarding our own sinfulness. … But, when Israel talked about God bringing righteousness it was in the sense of God rescuing them. When they called out for God to give justice it was against an oppressor who was doing them harm.

Imagine you are a child on the playground and you are constantly bullied. The bullies make you hate going to school. They tease you. They kick sand in your eyes. They laugh at you. Occasionally, they actually beat you up. … One day a child in an older grade decides to take you under their wing. All the bullies are afraid of this person. This saviour defends you and the bullies stop bothering you. That person has enacted “righteousness”, and you have been delivered from the hands of your bullies. … That is the sense that Israel would have when they used words like “deliverance” or “righteousness”. …

God is described as “God of our salvation”. “Salvation” is another very religious word. It means to be safe, saved, rescued, and victorious. … You are in the position of having been rescued from the bullies. … The idea here is that God acts in the world for our benefit. He brings salvation. … Twice the psalm mentions the “ends of the earth”. While It might seem like God is the God of Israel alone, this psalm makes it plain that God is for the world- He is the “hope of all the ends of the earth” and “to [him] all flesh will come”. … The natural next step is that he is the one who brings salvation to the world. ... The ancient church often called the psalmist "the prophet", and here we can see why.

In the ancient world the waters could be seen as a manifestation of chaos. Chaos was an unpredictable evil. In ancient thinking the world was made out of the ordering of chaos, and pushing it back made space for civilization. But that chaos still existed in the depths of the seas and lakes and they could rise up and crash against the people at any moment (Think of a tsunami). God, in his grace, pushed it back and calmed it.

No doubt, Ancient Christians would read verse 7, God “stills the roaring of the seas, the roaring of their waves”, and think about Jesus in Mark 4, who was sleeping in the boat when the chaotic waters rose up to destroy them “And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm” (Mk 4:39). Keep in mind that it was common to have these psalms memorized. So, when the disciples see Jesus calm the waters, or when the first readers would have read this, it is likely that this psalm came to mind. God is the one who calms the waters, but here Jesus is calming the waters. It is a subtle way of showing that in some mysterious way Jesus does what God does.

And in the final section (V9-13) we see that the sea of chaos is tamed and its waters are made useful.

9 You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it; the river of God is full of water; you provide their corn, for so you have prepared it. 10 You water its furrows abundantly, settling its ridges, softening it with showers, and blessing its growth. 11 You crown the year with your bounty; your wagon tracks overflow with abundance. 12 The pastures of the wilderness overflow, the hills gird themselves with joy, 13 the meadows clothe themselves with flocks, the valleys deck themselves with corn, they shout and sing together for joy.
The waters of chaos are tamed by God and used to water the fields, like God is a gardener. This was a powerful image of blessings for an agricultural community that relied on the rain. The watered fields produce bountiful crops to sustain the lives of the people. The earth reaches the peak of its fruitfulness. The image we are left with is that of an earth made vigorously alive- green, lush, and adorned with beauty. As Jesus says, “Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these [lilies]” (Lk 12:27). And the ground is producing this beauty abundantly. The ground is producing abundant crops and flocks of animals. The overall effect on the earth is joy- Joy in the morning and joy in the evening- Joy in the hills, and joy in the meadows and valleys.

We can see why this psalm would have been used for a harvest festival. It gives thanks for God who gives us so much. God initiates the healing of our sin, and draws us into deeper relationship with Him. But it is also surprising in that it extends God’s reach beyond Israel to the rest of the world. He is the hope of the ends of the earth. He calms the chaotic waters. And he causes abundant life to grow from the ground. The end result is relationship with God, enjoying the bounty He has produced, and Joy. AMEN

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