The Bible in a Year – 24 July

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and the introduction to the Psalms for this book of the Bible in particular.

24 July. Psalms 140-145

Psalms 140-143 are all said to be prayers by King David for deliverance from his enemies.  He lived in troubled times when he constantly faced rebellions and plots, often of a violent nature. Three of them speak of his enemies laying snares, nets or traps for him. Probably not in a literal sense, but perhaps ambushes, or surprise attacks when he least expected them.  It is in the nature of human conflict to plot and entrap other people so as to have an advantage over them – surprise has often been a winning strategy in battle, and an individual caught off-guard has little chance of overcoming his assailant.  But traps and snares are also the work of the Devil, who can catch us off-guard when we think we are doing well.  Prayer for protection against the Devil’s wiles is a traditional part of night prayer (compline), along with those prayers I mentioned from Psalms 121 and 132.

 

Psalm 144 is also a prayer of David for protection, but now that of the nation rather than himself.  It is not so much a desperate cry for help as a hymn of praise, beginning with a reminder of God’s strength and eternal nature. God is pictured as “fortress, stronghold, deliverer, and shield” (v.2). Common trust in this God would give the people confidence.  The psalm ends with a request for divine blessing on people, animals and crops.  There is however a brief call for help in the middle of it (v. 10-11), where the dangers are listed as “the cruel sword, [and] aliens [i.e. foreigners], whose mouths speak lies, and whose right hands are false.”

The Bible in a Year – 14 July

If this is your first viewing, please see my Introduction before reading this, and the introduction to the Psalms for this book of the Bible in particular.

14 July. Psalms 90-96

Psalm 90 is unlike most of the others.  For a start, it is described in the heading as a prayer rather than a song, and attributed to Moses rather than to David or one of his contemporaries. Presumably by their time (several hundred years after Moses) it had been handed down orally before being written down and set to music.   Also, it seems quite different in its theme, more in line with the “wisdom books” of the Bible such as Ecclesiastes.   If Moses did compose it himself, it may have been at the end of his long life, looking back on the generations he had seen born and die in Egypt and then in the wilderness.

 

He considers how even a long human life – 70 or 80 years – is a mere moment in God’s eyes, as fleeting as dust, and “a thousand years are as a day”.  In fact, if God is eternal, the creator of time itself, then there is no difference to God between the nanosecond lifespan of the most unstable atom, and the several-billion-year existence of a star.

 

What matters, says Moses, is not quantity of life but quality.  The life of 80 years may be “all toil and trouble” (v.10), but more important is that we ask God to “satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, so that we may rejoice and be glad all our days” (v.14).  He is concerned more for the next generation (v.16) than his own.

hen&chicken

Psalm 91 is about God’s protection, and includes the image of God guarding us under his wings. Surely that should be “her wings” –  it is the mother bird who protects her young, as I saw only recently with this 2-week-old-chick.  Even so, it is hard to have faith that “Because you have made the Lord your refuge … no evil shall befall you” (v.9-10), as experience shows that people of faith suffer no less than others.  Even Jesus, when he was tempted by the Devil to put into practice verses 11-12 “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you … so that you will not dash your foot against a stone”, he sent the Devil packing with a retort that we must not put God to the test. God’s protection is not to be treated link a cloak of invisibility or some other super-power, but rather about him not letting anything destroy what really matters – faith itself.

 

Psalm 94 has a similar theme, that true wisdom takes the long view that faith and obedience are a better way of achieving long-term justice and peace than going along with short-sighted fools in violence and short-term gain.  But Psalms 92, 93, and 95 are joyful songs of praise.  In fact Psalm 95, known from its opening word as the “Venite” (“come!”) is still said or sung at morning prayer every day in the Anglican tradition.