Daily Psalms – Psalm 95

Daily psalm reading – Psalm 91-95

Psalm 95 is one which many of us can “sing,”, or at least the first two thirds of it. Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord (vs. 1-5), and Come, let us worship and bow down (vs. 6-7) have both been set to music many different times, and made their way into many congregations in the 90’s and early 2000’s.

But our familiarity with the psalm usually stops there. Verses 7b-11 really don’t lend themselves to modern song as much as the beginning of the psalm, and yet they’re vital to understanding the importance of this work.

I think the story is familiar to most who have read the Hebrew Scriptures, even if the names are not. In Exodus 17 the Israelites are traveling through the desert being lead by Yahweh when they settle in a place called Rephidim. There the Israelites needed water. But instead of asking Yahweh for water (keep in mind he has already done amazing miracles before them), they grumbled against Moses and questioned the reality of Yahweh’s presence among them!

Yahweh tells Moses and the elders of Israel what to do. They take a staff and strike the rock at Horeb and water poured forth. Now read the words of Moses:

And he called the place Massah and Meribah because the Israelites quarreled and because they tested the Lord saying, “Is the Lord among us or not?”

Exodus 17:7 NIV

Yahweh had set them free from slavery by crippling Egypt through 10 powerful plagues, parted the Red Sea for the Israelites to cross on dry land, destroyed Pharaoh’s army, led them with a pillar of fire and cloud, appeared to them on Mount Sinai…I could keep going. Yahweh appeared everywhere, and constantly took care of them, and yet when they needed something they doubted his presence?

It’s really easy for us to sit here and cast stones towards the Israelites wondering how they missed the presence of God in their lives. And yet we do the same thing, don’t we? We have the most prosperous and existence in all of human history, and when something doesn’t go our way we question his presence as well.

The admonition of this psalm is for us to worship Yahweh, to declare his praises, to acknowledge that everything around us is his because he made everything! When we understand that he has made and cares for everything, won’t he care for you as well? Aren’t you just as valuable to him as anything else he has made? Isn’t he our Good Shepherd?

Today, if only you would hear his voice…

Psalm 95:7b NIV

Are you listening for God’s voice today? Are you seeking his presence? He is with you, and will never leave you. Worship recenters us on that. Remembering the Creator cares for the creation does that as well. We can have peace and trust his provision, if only we will hear his voice. Blessings.

Daily Psalms – Psalm 23

Daily Psalm Reading – Psalm 21-25

Today our meditation is on Psalm 23, perhaps the most famous passage of Scripture, and one that our western experience doesn’t really understand. We don’t live in a shepherding culture, and we certainly don’t live in the landscape of rural Israel. But that’s the context in which this passage speaks most clearly.

We often read this psalm with images of God’s abundant blessings. “I lack nothing” seems to indicate “I have everything I want!” “Green pastures” seems to indicate a feast of epic proportions in belly deep alfalfa hay. But have you ever seen pictures of Israel? Do we really understand what David is writing here?

Keep in mind that Psalms 20-23 are Messianic in nature; they describe the coming (returning) Messiah and how he would live. Did Jesus have all the physical possessions he wanted? Was his a wealthy and luxurious existence? Something seems to be off with our American understanding of this famous psalm.

If you look at the picture I have attached to this post, you will see the “green pastures” of Israel. Look closely. Do you see the sheep grazing on the hillside? Can you see the little tufts of green grass on the hillside in the desert? These are the green pastures of David’s world, of Jesus’ world, and of Psalm 23.

In the desert that is very little water and virtually no grass, yet this is where you can raise sheep in Israel. Each night a strong wind from the west blows humid air from the Mediterranean Sea against the hot desert hills and the condensation occurs. Overnight this moisture causes green tufts of grass to sprout that in the morning provide grass for the sheep, but by mid afternoon the sun has scorched everything there. Unless the sheep are in the right place at the right time they will have nothing to eat.

Do you know the most common cause of death in the desert? Drowning. Seriously, I’m not making this up! Though it doesn’t rain in the desert, it pours in the mountains and the mountains cannot absorb the water. These torrential runoffs stream through dry riverbeds (wadi’s) into the desert. Often there is water left over in the bottom of these wadi’s, and that’s the problem. When you attempt to get water out of these wadi’s you leave the rock often get stuck in the miry mud that is left.

People drown like this every year because they see water, their thirst in the desert drives them into these wadi canyons and when 70 feet of floodwater rushes through the canyon at once they cannot get out. Desert people will tell you instead to get your water from springs, also known as “still” or “quiet waters.” In these places there is no danger.

So who knows where the grass will appear in the morning? Who knows the difference between flood waters and quiet waters? The sheep? No, it’s the Shepherd that knows these things. So what does it mean to have Yahweh as your shepherd? And what what might happen if we don’t listen to our Shepherd?

I could write about this psalm all day, but hopefully I’ve provided enough to get you thinking. Here’s a couple of takeaways. First, read this psalm with the cultural and geographical information from above and see what David might be saying. Is he saying we will have everything we want because we follow Yahweh, or is he saying we don’t have to worry because because the Shepherd will always give us just what we need when we need it? The words of Jesus seem to echo here as well!

“Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body or what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?…But seek first the kingdom and his righteousness, and all theses things will be given to you as well.”

Matthew 6:25, 33 NIV

Second, if Psalm 23 is Messianic in nature, then read this as if Jesus were speaking. Can you see his story here? And finally, read this in your voice. What does it mean to dwell in the house of Yahweh forever? What does it look like to dwell in his house now?

May Yahweh bless you as you spend time wrestling with his word today. Shalom.

Follow Me

Our final Gospel reading for the year comes from the end of John’s Gospel, chapters 20 & 21. I have always loved the personal touches John includes in this section, including the fact that he was a faster runner than Peter (20:4).

One of the interesting debates surrounding this portion of Scripture has to do with the occasion of the writing of chapter 21. It certainly appears that 20:30-31 is the ending of the Gospel. And yet there’s chapter 21. I could bore you with all of the scholarly arguments back and forth, but the truth of the matter is that all early manuscripts of John contain chapter 21. What does this mean? Chapter 21 was written by John as well. It appears that John completed his Gospel with chapter 20, and was then moved by the Spirit to include one more episode in the life of Jesus, likely for the reason given in 21:22-23. It’s an important story with a message we need today!

If you remember in John 18, we see Peter deny Christ three times around a charcoal fire (see 18:18). This so devastated Peter that it appears he had given up on his ability to follow Christ and had returned to fishing (21:3). Jesus performs yet another fishing miracle among them, a clear signal to Peter about who was talking to him, and the disciples come to shore where they find Jesus cooking breakfast, once again around a charcoal fire (21:9). In a way, Jesus has once again placed Peter at a charcoal fire in an effort to give him another chance. Three times Jesus asks Peter to confirm his love for the Savior. Each time Peter does, and each time Jesus invites Peter to feed his sheep, an expression basically telling Peter to act like the pastor he has been called to be. But Jesus also gives Peter an ominous prediction.

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. I tell you the truth, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!” – John 21:17-19

Did you notice what just happened? Peter returned to Christ. He has been reinstated, and called to shepherd the flock of believers. As Jesus is calling Peter he basically tells him that the pain and suffering he himself had just endured would also be endured by Peter. It’s almost as if he’s saying, “Peter, you too will be crucified. Now follow me.” And the shocking thing is Peter did. Peter followed him! And in case you are wondering, church history tells us that Peter was crucified, but differently than Jesus. Peter claimed he was unworthy to die in the same manner as his Lord, so Peter was crucified hanging upside down from the cross.

Jesus calls us to deny ourselves and follow him. He calls us to die to ourselves and follow him. He calls us to give up everything, including our own lives to follow him. It’s radical. It’s extreme. It’s Jesus. My question is this: What is Jesus calling you to do that you have not done? Is he calling you to change something in your life? Is he calling you to share the Gospel with a friend? What is he calling you to do that you haven’t done?  Just like Peter, if you have denied him or ignored his call, it’s not to late. He will welcome you back, with open arms. But the call remains: Follow me!