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Mark His Words

April 15, 2018, More from this speaker 更多关于此讲员: Rev Enoch Keong (Psalm 89:1-18) For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Maskil Psalms
Preached at a Mandarin (Sunday) service

Tags: Psalm 诗篇

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Title: Mark His Words
Date: 15 & 22 Apr 18
Preacher: Rev Enoch Keong

The psalm that we reading this morning may sound like a high praise, but it is in fact a difficult song to sing. What do we mean? The first 18 verses – our set text for this morning – praise God as the creator. He created the world, and he is sovereign and mighty; a God who had subdued chaos and made Israel into a powerful nation. When we read on, we should feel warmness in our heart. Because the section is about how God covenanted with David with His steadfast love and faithfulness. By the time we finished reading the 2 opening sections of the psalm, we might want to exclaim, “thank God, amen!” But all the warmness will disappear very quickly once we get to the next section, which is the reason for saying that this is a difficult song to sing. And here’s how the next section goes:

38But now you have cast off and rejected; you are full of wrath against your anointed. 39You have renounced the covenant with your servant; you have defiled his crown in the dust. 40You have breached all his walls; you have laid his strongholds in ruins. 41All who pass by plunder him; he has become the scorn of his neighbors. 42You have exalted the right hand of his foes; you have made all his enemies rejoice. 43You have also turned back the edge of his sword, and you have not made him stand in battle. 44You have made his splendor to cease and cast his throne to the ground. 45You have cut short the days of his youth; you have covered him with shame.

And so we see that the wonderful things said in the opening sections were in fact referring to things of the past, the good old days where Israel was a self-governing prosperous nation. At the time when the psalmist was writing, everything in his world had fallen apart. His nation, once strong, was now captive of the Babylonians. His God, once the provider and protector, is nowhere to be seen amidst the pain and suffering. The psalmist hence cried out, “46How long, O LORD? Will you hide yourself forever? How long will your wrath burn like fire? 47Remember how short my time is! For what vanity you have created all the children of man!”

Friend, in reading this psalm, I like to believe that we are reading words written by a good person, a man who was devoted to God. But just as his fellow countrymen, he was experiencing God only as an absentee. His nation sinned greatly, he remained devoted, yet he suffered just like the rest, all the same, God was nowhere to be found.

Friends, are we able to identify ourselves with the psalmist, a devoted person crying out to an absentee God? Talking about being devoted, we are probably not at the level of the psalmist. As Christians, we don’t come to the church every day, and it may not even be our regular practice to bring every matter before God to ask for wisdom and for help. But, in the place and time where we are living in, with all the responsibilities that we need to fulfill, I believe we are doing what we can to be devoted Christians. In other words, I like to believe that our devotion is acceptable to God and it is therefore legit for me to ask if we ever find ourselves like devoted persons crying out to an absentee God. Is the psalmist’s experience our experience?

In the case of the psalmist, God was absent because of national sin. But let’s get it straight, I am not suggesting that ours is a time where sin is prevalent, should we find God as an absentee sometimes somehow. And neither are we saying that God only behaves like an absentee when there is too much sinning going around. We are asking a straightforward question, without other assumptions. Are there moments, or for a longer period of time, where God seems not to be there. We pray, but we hear no answer. We read the scripture, but there seems nothing beyond the printed words on the pages.

I bring this up because I get to hear Christians lamenting about God’s absence every now and then. I have heard friends saying to me, “I can’t sense God’s presence”; “It feels like God is so far away these days”; “I think I am now hanging on to my faith purely by my own strength”. From the conversations with my friends, I gathered that half the time; Christians make such statements when they are struggling with health issues, or when met with setbacks in life, or when they are overworked and tired, or conversely, when they feel listless. If these reasons sound all too familiar to us, I think it’s because they really are the common causes of this common experience of God being absent. So may I ask again, is the psalmist experience our experience?

We don’t like it when God seems nowhere to be found and neither did the psalmist when such a thing happened to him and to Israel. But the psalmist is probably more theologically minded and more hopeful than quite many of us when faced with a situation of God being absent. How is it so?

The psalmist’s lament is about God having ditched the covenant made with David, that is all that he is complaining against God in the psalm. And since that’s the case, logically speaking, all that would be needed is actually the section on God covenanted with David and the lament section on God going against his words. The 2 sections, by themselves, would have made the composition looks rather balanced and complete. Yet, the psalm has also this long section on God being the mighty creator, which is our set text for this morning. We should ask why this section is there, shouldn’t we?

The long section begins by inviting us readers to peep into the council meeting happening up in the heaven. And what do we see? We will see God ruling as the incomparable God surrounded by divine beings, praising his mighty works and his faithfulness. To the people back then, such a portrayal goes to says that God is the God of gods, the ruler of the universe.

Next, we are to see how this God of gods dealt with the chaos of chaos, and there are two such chaos to be exact. One is the raging sea, God rules over it. The other would be Rahab, God had it crushed. It might be easier for us to understand the psalmist when the 2 chaos are explained in a reversed order. Let’s give it a try. The psalmist is here borrowing a myth that was widely circulated back in his time to make a point. There was this cosmic battle that went on between God and the chaos dragon named Rahab. God, of course, won the battle. His victory then led to the creation of the universe where there’s the raging sea among other things. And God the mighty creator rules over the scary and potentially harmful raging sea. In short, the psalmist is declaring that God is the creator. He rules over his creation, and he does so with righteousness and justice, steadfast love and faithfulness. We see this in his subduing of the oppressive and harmful forces represented by the raging sea, creating in turn a livable and nurturing environment.

Having praise God as the true God, the creator and ruler, the next thing the psalmist wants is for us to hear the praises gien to God by his people, because their human king belongs to such a God and received from him glory and favor.[1]

So here we have the content of the long section on God being the mighty creator, but what’s the big deal about it? And in what ways is the psalmist more theologically minded and more hopeful compared to some of us?

The psalmist and his people suffered tremendously, that was the reality they faced. Yet to the psalmist, the 3 aspects in which he renders praises to God are also realities. They are realities about God and his works. God, declares the psalmist, was and is and will be God above all. He is God who created the universe and rules it with steadfast love and faithfulness. And, He is God who wanted quite badly his representatives on earth to rule over the earth the way that he rules over it. And may I suggest that it is precisely because God wanted this very thing not just quite badly, but so badly, that the punishment of Israel through Babylon had to happen when they insisted on being unkind and unjust. In other words, the present painful reality that the psalmist faced was in fact an expression of God’s faithfulness; only that it was in the form of tough love.

What we are trying to say is this, the psalmist is here confronting reality with realities. Present reality with realities about God and his work. I don’t know why, but it seems an adequate thing for him just to be able to perceive these realities about God, and his faith remains sound and solid. Perhaps that’s just what true and living faith is about.

And so we see the psalmist continues to praise God, he did not curse God. He continues to pray to God, He did not doubt God’s goodness.

According to biblical history, what the psalmist prayed for did not materialize. The Davidic kingdom came to an end in year 587BC.

But thanks be to God, for that’s not the end of the story, and the psalmist is not wrong in affirming that God rules the world with steadfast love and faithfulness.

Because God in his time gave to this earth a new Davidic king, he sent his son Jesus. And it is more than a comforting thing to know that Jesus came as none other than God Immanuel. The psalmist only had God the mighty creator to cling on to, and that was enough for him. We have a better deal in comparison, we have God in a much more direct and intense manner. We have God Immanuel, God with us, God revealed in us, God who lives in us. Friends, would that not be enough for us?

So the next time when we find or feel that God is absent. Maybe we should first ask ourselves or others around us if we might have some fixing to do in terms of health condition or stress level. Perhaps what we need is to rework our priorities or our schedules. Or maybe it’s a time to learn to let go of something that we want really badly and let God decide what is best for us. Or maybe what we need is to work harder on our understanding of this God that we think have faith in. Or maybe we need to do some serious soul searching, and make right with God in areas where we have fallen short of his glory.

In sum, God being absent is something that the psalmist remained unconvinced. To him, God is always there. What about us, people who has in our system, God Immanuel?

[1] James L. Mays, Interpretation, A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching: Psalms, Louisville: Westminster John knox Press, 1994. 284-5

Psalm 89:1–18 (Listen)

A Maskil of Ethan the Ezrahite.

89:1   I will sing of the steadfast love of the LORD, forever;
    with my mouth I will make known your faithfulness to all generations.
  For I said, “Steadfast love will be built up forever;
    in the heavens you will establish your faithfulness.”
  You have said, “I have made a covenant with my chosen one;
    I have sworn to David my servant:
  ‘I will establish your offspring forever,
    and build your throne for all generations.’” Selah
  Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD,
    your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
  For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD?
    Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,
  a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
    and awesome above all who are around him?
  O LORD God of hosts,
    who is mighty as you are, O LORD,
    with your faithfulness all around you?
  You rule the raging of the sea;
    when its waves rise, you still them.
10   You crushed Rahab like a carcass;
    you scattered your enemies with your mighty arm.
11   The heavens are yours; the earth also is yours;
    the world and all that is in it, you have founded them.
12   The north and the south, you have created them;
    Tabor and Hermon joyously praise your name.
13   You have a mighty arm;
    strong is your hand, high your right hand.
14   Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne;
    steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.
15   Blessed are the people who know the festal shout,
    who walk, O LORD, in the light of your face,
16   who exult in your name all the day
    and in your righteousness are exalted.
17   For you are the glory of their strength;
    by your favor our horn is exalted.
18   For our shield belongs to the LORD,
    our king to the Holy One of Israel.

(ESV)