Long Song Study, part A

It’s Bible Study Day!
Since we can’t gather together in person right now,
let’s meet up here!

study

Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible, longer than some entire books of the Bible. Perhaps its length is meant to tip us off to a little secret: learning to walk with God in faith and obedience is not learned in a day. It takes a lifetime. So take God up on His gift of grace, and give yourself some, too.

This study will be more like a slow marathon than a speedy sprint. For those of us non-runners, it will be more like a stroll than a power walk. We’re going to stop and smell some rose-scented words as we saunter through the first eight verses.

Ready? Open up your Bible to Psalm 119. Let’s go!

Verse 1
How does this magnificent psalm begin? With a blessing! It sounds a lot like the first words Jesus spoke in His first public sermon: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” The main idea is that there is great blessing in walking in the ways of the Lord.  All of the 175 verses that follow support that one key thought.
Notice it’s a walk, not a run, but also not a sit. We walk, which means there is steady progress, a quiet advance, a persistent continuance. No fast forward, no hurried quick-fix, no checklist with instant results. Also, no lazy bones, no couch potato procrastinating, no waiting for maturity to magically appear.

Verse 2
Another blessing! This time it’s for keeping and seeking. “We must first get a thing before we can keep it. And in order to keep it well, we must get a firm grip on it.” (Spurgeon) So, we are to grab ahold of the scriptures and not let go. Keep His Word. But seek Him with all your heart. The Hebrew understanding of “heart” includes the emotions, the will, and the intellect. All of it.

Verse 3
It’s not enough to refrain from doing wrong things. We are to pursue the right things! By seeking, we find out what His ways are, so that we can walk like Him.

Verse 4
At this point, the focus shifts from talking about God, to talking directly to God. And he never stops. The rest of the psalm is a prayer with praise and testimony sprinkled in.
Now we learn how the Word is to be kept: with diligence. The Hebrew word used here means “vehemently”, which is defined as zealously, ardently, strongly emotional, and intensely passionate. Is that how you feel about God’s Word?

Verse 5
No wonder, then, that he immediately begins to confess his lack of zeal. He wishes he was farther along when it came to knowing and obeying God’s laws. That’s actually a good place to start, though. When we recognize all our best intentions and lofty goals often fall short, we are in a good position to ask God to provide a consistent desire for and love for the Word.

Verse 6
He doesn’t want to stand before God someday and have nothing to show for his life and be exposed as a fraud, as one who professed the name of God but did not fully live for Him. That would be embarrassing. How can we avoid that situation? Fix our eyes on God’s Word and let it do its work in us. Shame rises up when we compare ourselves to each other. Walking with God is not a competition so don’t worry about lagging behind or being out in front. Just keep walking with your eyes on Jesus.

Verse 7
Prayer leads to praise. We may have a long way to go, but we can give Him praise as we continue growing and learning. The more we learn about the Lord, the more we will want to praise Him.

Verse 8
A resolution is made: I will do this! He commits to keeping all the commandments. Whew! That’s impressive, but we all know willpower only takes us so far. Aware that he probably won’t measure up to such perfection, he appeals to God’s mercy. “Don’t give up on me!” And, of course, He never gives up on us. “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” (Heb. 13:5)

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What do we know for sure from this passage?

  • There is a way that leads to a life of blessing.
  • We can choose to walk in that way, or not.
  • There are things we can do to stay on track: seek Him, keep His commands, fix our eyes on Him.
  • Walking with God is a lifelong process with some successes and some failures.
  • He walks with us and never gives up on us.

Please share your thoughts, insights, comments and questions! This is intended to be a conversation, not a monologue!

For the Flock, Day 15

Today we will wrap up this series on the 23rd Psalm.
I hope it has been a blessing to you!
There’s a little treat for you at the end of today’s post.

Psalm-23

Final thoughts:

David talked to himself a lot in the Psalms.
(Why so downcast, oh my soul? Put your hope in God. Ps. 42:11)

David talked about God a lot in the Psalms.
(As for God, his way is perfect. He is a shield for all who take refuge in him. Ps. 18:30)

David talked to his people a lot in the Psalms.
(Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous. Sing to him a new song. Ps. 33:1,3)

But mostly, David talked to God in the Psalms.
(To you, O Lord, I lift up my soul. Show me your ways. Ps. 25:1,4)

All of these methods are good, even all at once. David often wove in and out of talking to himself and God, talking about God, and preaching to the people, all in one psalm.

The beloved 23rd Psalm is one example. David started by talking about God, and then couldn’t help but talk directly to God. That’s a good lesson for us, too. We should never leave the study of God without going to the throne of God. The walk of faith is about formation, not information.

So, let’s pray.

Dear God, how could I ask for anything more when I’ve got such a great Shepherd? You take me places where I can rest and be fed, where I can quench my thirst in peace and safety. You take all the frenzied parts of me and put me back together. During these scary, dark days, when death seems near, I know You are walking right beside me so those sinister shadows can’t hurt me — it’s not so scary after all. Your guidance and yes, even Your discipline make me feel secure and comfortable. You put on a spread for me, right in front of my adversaries. You pour the oil of blessing on my head — it fills me to the brim and spills over. Without a doubt in my mind I know I will see your love and goodness at every turn. I plan to move into Your house, God, and stay forever and ever.

Let’s close this series of posts by listening to the 23rd Psalm
as David would have read it.

 

 

For the Flock, Day 14

“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23:6

There’s no place like home.

There’s nothing like coming down highway 80 between Montfort and Livingston.
I can see cornfields on both sides of the road stretching out to the horizon.
I cross the railroad tracks and see the farm buildings in the distance.
I approach the stand of cottonwood trees that line the yard.
I hear the sound of the gravel driveway under the tires.

I half expect to see my mom in the kitchen window, doing dishes.
Or my dad pulling the gate to the barnyard closed and walking up toward the house.

Of course, I don’t live there anymore
and my parents have been gone for many years.
The railroad track has been removed
and some of the cottonwood trees have fallen.
But I can go there in my mind.
Home.

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There’s no place like Home.

There is nothing like the place that is being prepared for me.
I will see astounding beauty stretching into all eternity.
I will cross over the river and catch sight of a glittering city.
I will approach the parade line of welcoming saints.
I will hear the sound of my Savior’s voice saying, “Well done.”

Then, I fully expect to see Mom and Dad and Grandpa and Boppy and Grandpa and Grandma and all those who are joyfully going about the business of heaven.

Of course, I don’t know half of what is waiting for me there.
More than I can imagine.
But I can go there in my mind.
Home.

David knew it was true.
One day, he would dwell in the house of his Lord forever.
That was the best way for David to end his psalm.
It’s the best way for us to close every day.

home

This world is not my home, I’m just a passing through. ~Jim Reeves

*Coming next: Day 15 — a final thought on Psalm 23!

For the Flock, Day 13

“Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life.”
Psalm 23:6

I once heard of an old farmer who had three dogs. He named them Surely, Goodness, and Mercy, because they followed him everywhere all the days of his life.

As sweet as that is, it paints the wrong picture.

God’s goodness and mercy don’t tag along behind us
like a good little puppy dog.
Oh no.

The word “follow” means “to chase after, to pursue.” Think of a bloodhound hot on your heels and you’re closer to the truth. We are pursued by goodness. We are chased by mercy. They are hunting us down.

Even though Absalom was in full pursuit of his father’s life and his father’s kingdom, when David looked behind him, all he saw was God’s goodness and mercy.

The valley taught David some valuable truths:
He had a Shepherd who was out in front, leading him.
The Shepherd’s good gifts were closing in behind.
He was in the right place.

 “You hem me in behind and before.” Psalm 139:5 (NIV)

I look behind me and you’re there,
then up ahead and you’re there, too –
your reassuring presence, coming and going.
(Message)

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“All my life you have been faithful.
All my life you have been so, so good.
With every breath that I am able,
I will sing of the goodness of God.
Your goodness is running after, it’s running after me.”
Goodness of God, Bethel Music

For the Flock, Day 12

“My cup overflows.” Psalm 23:5

At the beginning of his psalm,
David said he lacked nothing.

By the end of his psalm,
David said his cup was overflowing.

What happened in between those two statements?

David preached to himself.
“This is what I know to be true of my God:
He is my Shepherd.”

David rehearsed the ways of God.
“This is what I’m finding to be true as I walk with Him:
He leads me.”

David remembered the faithfulness of God.
“This is the truth that holds me up:
He is with me.”

David recalled the kindness of God.
“This truth is ever before me:
He comforts me.”

As we preach, rehearse, remember and recall,
our cups will overflow.

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For the Flock, Day 11

“You anoint my head with oil.” Psalm 23:5

It had been an emotional, exhausting day, but David felt like a new man after resting and eating. He couldn’t neglect his physical needs even during a tumultuous time. Although his dire circumstances didn’t change, David was able to find refreshment for his soul as he felt God’s welcoming presence, His joyful presence, and His healing presence — an anointing.

I’m glad we don’t anoint our heads with oil anymore.
Greasy, stringy hair is not a good look for me.
But it was big in Bible times.

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Kings were anointed with oil at their coronations. (2 Sam. 5:3)
Priests were anointed with oil when consecrated for ministry. (Lev. 8:30)
Oil was used to heal sick people. (James 5:14)
It was applied to open wounds. (Luke 10:34)
Oil was a symbol of joy. (Isaiah 61:3; Hebrews 1:9)
Oil was used in lamps to provide light. (Matt. 25:3-4)
A good host always provided oil for guests’ heads. (Luke 7:46)
Solomon really liked his wife’s perfumed oils. (Song of Solomon 4:10)
Jesus was anointed by Mary and He called it “a beautiful thing.” (Mark 14:6)
The oil of anointing is symbolic of the Holy Spirit’s presence. (Luke 4:18)
Jesus’ very name (“Christ”) means “Anointed One”.

My current favorite reference to oil in the Bible is in Matthew 6.
“But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face.” (Matt. 6:17)

“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face.” (Message)

That’s a good word for me today.

These are difficult days, but as long as I stay healthy,
I don’t need to look like a bedraggled, slipshod saint.

Since we are all on a forced “fast” from normal life for a while yet,
let’s not forget to brush our teeth and wash our faces.
Perhaps use a little hairspray.
Maybe even dab on a smidge of perfume.
Ask for a fresh anointing of the Holy Spirit.

“Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” Matt. 6:18

For the Flock, Day 10

“You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.”
Psalm 23:5

Back on Day 3, I raised the possibility that David wrote this psalm when he was on the run from his son, Absalom. (Read more about that in 2 Samuel 15-17.)

Absalom was coming fast and furious with his army of twenty thousand. A spy working for David tipped him off and David crossed the Jordan in a nighttime escape with all his people. They came to a place called Mahanaim and stopped to rest.

The next day, three of David’s friends from Gilead —
Shobi, Makir and Barzillai — showed up.
And were they ever a welcome sight.

“They brought bedding and bowls and articles of pottery. They also brought wheat and barley, flour and roasted grain, beans and lentils, honey, curds and sheep, and cheese from cows’ milk for David and his people to eat.” 2 Samuel 17:28-29

They prepared a table for David in the presence of his enemy.

After you’ve stopped to ponder that for a moment, here are three other thoughts:

David might have stopped at Mahanaim for a good reason. When the patriarch Jacob arrived there, 930 years before David did, angels of God met him and Jacob said, “This is the camp of God!” (Gen. 32:2) Jacob spent the night there, wrestling with the Lord.
Lesson #1: When facing trouble, stop and rest (or wrestle) in the camp of God.

Barzillai’s act of kindness was remembered. “Now Barzillai was a very old man, eighty years of age. He had provided for the king during his stay in Mahanaim, for he was a very wealthy man.” (2 Samuel 19:32)
When David was nearing death, he advised his son, Solomon, “But show kindness to the sons of Barzillai of Gilead and let them be among those who eat at your table. They stood by me when I fled from your brother Absalom.” (1 Kings 2:7)
Lesson #2: When someone else is facing trouble, do what you can to ease their pain, no matter how old you are. A kindness can be remembered for generations and may come back around to you.

David’s three friends brought food and bedding for their king, but David recognized it as provision from God.
Lesson #3: When friends help you out in troubling times, be thankful for them. They are the hands of God.

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For more on David and his friends, see
Treasure and More Treasure