Psalm 1: A Devotional for the Wise

psalm1TzviHaLeviBerger
by Tzvi HaLevi Berger (b.1924, Transylvania)

“That kind of person is like a tree that is planted near a stream of water.
It always bears its fruit at the right time.
Its leaves don’t dry up.” (Psalm 1:3 NIrV)

 The wise are the “happy” and “blessed” (Psalm 1:1). They find themselves consumed by the things which please the LORD. They hang on His every word. His stories fill their dreams. His commands are their delight.

These happy saints sing His songs. They pray His prayers. They are washed by the waters of His cleansing and they eat His bread and drink from His cup. And they live. And they give life.

They find themselves planted by a stream of water where their roots find continuous sustenance. Their very life is maintained by this happy home where that life never fails to flow in, through and from them.

These happy trees are not blown away by the winds. They are not dried up when the rains cease. They do not withhold their fruit, because their fruit never stops growing. They have found the very source of life itself in their being planted in the garden of the LORD. Their leaves bring healing to the nations of the world who echoes their ceaseless praises to the Lord and Giver of Life. And the fruit of their lives is the fruit of that never ceasing river.

Such trees never cease to produce all that is good and right and enduring. And these righteous ones are that tree of life promised to the overcomers who are faithful to the LORD in all things and their reward shall never be taken from them. And they will flourish in His garden forever.

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To be published by myself in Grow Deeper: A Devotional by Trinity Bible College (2015).

Prayers and Psalms (for Ash Wednesday)

ImageMay the Lord hear our cries! May the Lord grant redemption to the ends of the earth! May every tongue, tribe, people, and nation praise the Lord! He has forgiven us and we are forgiven! He calls to life…and we live! He is coming again and He is preparing His Bride! Prepare your people to enter into the rest which alone is found in your enduring mercy and grace! Love us with your everlasting love!

O Lord, who hast mercy upon all,
take away from me my sins,
and mercifully kindle in me
the fire of thy Holy Spirit.
Take away from me the heart of stone,
and give me a heart of flesh,
a heart to love and adore Thee,
a heart to delight in Thee,
to follow and enjoy Thee, for Christ’s sake, Amen
St. Ambrose of Milan (AD 339-397)

PSALM 103 (NLT)

Let all that I am praise the LORD; with my whole heart, I will praise his holy name.
Let all that I am praise the LORD; may I never forget the good things he does for me.
He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases.
He redeems me from death and crowns me with love and tender mercies.
He fills my life with good things. My youth is renewed like the eagle’s!
The LORD gives righteousness and justice to all who are treated unfairly.
He revealed his character to Moses and his deeds to the people of Israel.
The LORD is compassionate and merciful, slow to get angry and filled with unfailing love.
He will not constantly accuse us, nor remain angry forever.
He does not punish us for all our sins; he does not deal harshly with us, as we deserve.
For his unfailing love toward those who fear him is as great as the height of the heavens above the earth.
He has removed our sins as far from us as the east is from the west.
The LORD is like a father to his children, tender and compassionate to those who fear him.
For he knows how weak we are; he remembers we are only dust.
Our days on earth are like grass; like wildflowers, we bloom and die.
The wind blows, and we are gone — as though we had never been here.
But the love of the LORD remains forever with those who fear him. His salvation extends to the children’s children of those who are faithful to his covenant, of those who obey his commandments!
The LORD has made the heavens his throne; from there he rules over everything.
 Praise the LORD, you angels, you mighty ones who carry out his plans,listening for each of his commands.

Father, forgive us as we forgive others. Grant us mercy this day to live in a manner pleasing to the glory of your Name. We fall in your presence as those who must give the labor of our hands to your praise. Cleanse our hands that they might be clean. We are those who must surely declare your praise. Give us pure hearts that we might know the joy of your presence.  Keep us in the time of our temptation that we may cling to you. Wash us and we will be clean. Pour out your Spirit and we will live. Let your Son’s judgment be our own and receive us into your glory as well-pleasing sons and daughters. To you alone be all praise, glory, and honor, forever and ever. Amen.

What If All Is Not Well With My Soul?

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I was thinking tonight…what if all isn’t “well with my soul”? This hymn which has meant so much to so many just doesn’t seem to do full justice to the need for self-expression in grief. It can at times function more to repress genuine feelings of grief, anger, and despair. It can at times serve only to attempt to ignore the pain of sorrow. Is there still a place in our hymnody for raw expressions of pain and sorrow as the ancient Israelites held to in their psalms? Can we sing songs of despair or anger over injustice? I love this hymn, but wonder if we have too quickly dashed from the valley of the shadow of death into a pleasant meadow of our own self-making? Am I less than Christian if at any time all is not well?

Praying the Imprecatory Psalms

ImageI have found it disturbing (to say the least) that some folks in the U.S. believe that the imprecatory psalms offer a prayer for our current president (from Psalm 109:8).  This is nothing if not disgusting abuse of the Scriptures to promote hate-mongering. However, I’m not so simple as to think the Church should not appropriate the imprecatory psalms into our prayer life, but to recognize that between the Church and the Psalms…is Christ–crucified, died, buried, raised on the third day, and coming again to judge the living and the dead.

So I thought I’d include a brief discussion of Bruce Waltke’s and Derek Kidner’s approach to these troubling psalms:

Bruce Waltke believes that while imprecatory psalms are “theologically sound…these petitions for retribution are inappropriate for the church because, among other reasons, judgment will occur in the eschaton (Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Isa. 61:1-2 with Matt. 13:30; 25:46; Luke 4:18-20; John 15:15; 2 Cor. 6:2; 2 Thess. 1:5-9); sin and sinner are now more distinctly differentiated (cf. Eph. 6:11-18), allowing the saint both to hate sin and to love the sinner; and the saint’s struggle is against spiritual powers of darkness, where he conquers by turning the other cheek and by praying for the forgiveness of enemies (Matt. 5:39-42, 43-48; 6:14; Luke 6:28, 35; Acts 7:60).” [“Psalms: Theology of” (pp.1100-1115), New International Dictionary of Old Testament Theology and Exegesis, ed. Willem A. VanGemeren (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1997), IV:1106-1107]

Derek Kidner (Psalms 1-72 [TOTC 15; Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 1975]) writes, “To get fully in tune with the psalmists on this issue we should have to suspend our consciousness of having a gospel to impart (which affects our attitude to fellow-sinners) and our assurance of a final righting of wrongs (which affects our attitude to present anomalies).” He believes we cannot properly hear the answer given to injustice in such psalms “until we have felt the force of their questions” (40). Further, he perceives that there is a sense of rhetoric at play wherein “horror may be piled on horror more to express the speaker’s sense of outrage than to spell out the penalties he literally intends” (41-42). He likens such extreme language to hyperbole for the sake of deep emotional expression that could simply not be expressed otherwise than it is. Finally, he argues that such language is intended “to touch and kindle us rather than simply address us” (42). Where we might think to criticize the psalmist (from some “reasonable” perspective), we are drawn into the “desperation which produced” the cry of imprecation (42). His understanding of a Christian appropriation suggests that rather than judgment being removed (though dealt finally by the cross of Christ) is actually drawn nearer and taken from the hands of the wronged individual and placed into the nail-scarred hands of Christ as Lord (43-45). His reply to the Christian wanting a straightforward appropriation is a “No” because the cross stands between us and these psalms (46-47).

We can hear the cries of victims of injustice and abuse and offer the healing of Christ, but we cannot truly pray such judgment upon individuals least of all those in authority over us (1 Tim.2:1-3).  We can (and must) offer prayers of imprecation concerning the ultimate justice of God that all might be set to rights.  (See also my older post “Blessed be the One Who Grabs Babylon’s Babies and Smashes Them on a Rock”)

So what are your thoughts on praying these psalms?

Future Reading Plans

While this may be a bit of a stretch, much of it will actually be read by the end of summer and into the fall season.  Many folks have asked what I’m doing now with all my “free time” since I graduated from Seminary.  Well…I’m doing lots of reading as well as will be doing some teaching at several schools in the region (colleges and seminary) over the next year.  Some of the following reading is for the courses I will be teaching, some is for my church and some is just for fun:
Leviticus
John E. Hartley, Leviticus (WBC 1992); Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus: A Book of Ritual and Ethics (CC 2004); Mark F. Rooker, Leviticus (NAC 2000); Allan Ross, Holiness to the Lord: A Guide to the Exposition of the Book of Leviticus (2006); Gordon J. Wenham, The Book of Leviticus (NICOT 1979).
Deuteronomy
Walter Brueggemann, Deuteronomy (AOTC 2001); Duane Christensen, Deuteronomy (WBC 2 vols. 1991, 1999); Peter C. Craigie, The Book of Deuteronomy (NICOT 1976); J. G. McConville, Deuteronomy (AOT 2002).
Former Prophets (Joshua-2 Kings)
Robert B. Chisholm, Interpreting the Historical Books: An Exegetical Handbook (2006); Terence E. Fretheim, Deuteronomic History (1983); Victor P. Hamilton, Handbook on the Historical Books (2008); L. Thomas Holdcroft, The Historical Books (2000); David M. Howard Jr., An Introduction to the Old Testament Historical Books (2007); Martin Noth, The Deuteronomistic History (JSOTSup 2nd ed.1991); Marvin E. Tate, From Promise to Exile: The Former Prophets (1999).
Psalms
Derek Kidner, Psalms (TOTC 2vols. 1981); John Goldingay, Psalms (BECOT 3vols. 2008).
Matthew
D. A. Carson, Matthew (EBC 1984); R. T. France, The Gospel of Matthew (NICNT 2005); Grant Osborne, Matthew (ZEC 2010); David Turner, Matthew (BECNT 2008).
Other
Marcus J. Borg and N. T. Wright, The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions (2000).

Of course, none of this includes the volumes of Barth and Bonhoeffer which I continually am wading through, but it gives a brief look at my reading schedule for the next few months.  I am thoroughly excited about reading these volumes and all the treasurers to be uncovered in the intensive study of Scripture and theology.