Approaching Friday’s Psalm

Continuing our series on the Psalms of the Week, we arrive at the psalm “for the day before the Sabbath when the earth was [first] inhabited” (LXX).  Both the Septuagint (LXX) and Mishnah inform us that Psalm 93 held a special place in the Temple’s liturgy every Friday.  And as we have seen, pious Jews in the Second Temple Period (and to this day) followed this Spiritual rhythm in their life. This cluster of psalms, 92-94, was inculcated into the world of the faithful every week.

There are also significant connections between Psalm 93 and Psalm 24, the psalm for the first day of the week (see my Psalm 24: Palm for the First Day of the Week).  Psalm 24 speaks of God in creation and Psalm 93 speaks of Yahweh’s reign over creation. Both psalms speak of the waters/seas of chaos. Both psalms testify to Yahweh’s power in the face of the waters. Both psalms take us to the Temple and the sanctity of the house of God. Thus first day (Sunday) and the day before the Sabbath (Friday, last day of actual creation) are theologically connected in the worship of the Temple and the life of the Jews of Jesus’s day.

Psalm 93 on Friday, Psalm 92 on the Sabbath, Psalm 94 on Wednesday.  Psalm 93 may be outlined as follows: v.1a; vv.1b-2; vv.3-4; v.5. We can translate the psalm as follows.

Yahweh is King,

He is robed in grandeur/majesty
Yahweh is robed, 
He is girded/belted with strength.
The world stands firm;
it cannot be shaken.
Your throne stands firm from of old;
from everlasting You have been.

The seas roar, O Yahweh,
the sea roars its thunder,
the sea roars with pounding. 
Above the thunder of the mighty waters,
more powerful/majestic than the waves of the sea
is Yahweh on high.

Your decrees are utterly sure,
holiness beautifies your house,
O Yahweh, for all times.

Yahweh is King (93.1a)

The kingship of Yahweh is a central theme in the Psalter (see my The Psalms, the Reign of God, and Jesus the Messiah). When the Gospels report that Jesus proclaimed “the good news of  the kingdom of God” (Mk 1.14) no one ever stopped him and asked, “what is the kingdom of God?” Jesus did not invent something new and every Jew was intimately familiar with God’s reign (the phrase “kingdom of God” is better translated into English as “reign of God.”)  They knew the kingship of God from the Hebrew Bible and the Psalms especially.

Yahweh is King is the essential declaration of Psalm 93, everything else in the Psalm is explaining what that means to the Israelite.  In Psalm 93.5, Israelites sang “the LORD is a great God, and a great King above all gods.” In Psalm 96.10, Jesus and pious Jews would sing, “Say among the nations, “Yahweh is King!” In Psalm 99, there rose from the Temple the acclamation “The LORD is King, let the nations tremble,” Why? because he is a “Mighty King, lover of justice” (99.4).

It was while worshiping in the Temple, around 742 BC, that Isaiah, encountered the Great King. There he saw what Psalm 93 confesses. He saw Israel’s true King in majestic glory, attended to by the seraphs as they praised the God of Israel, “holy, holy, holy … the whole earth is full of his glory” (Isa 6.3). Without a word uttered from the King, without a sentence from the seraphs, all it took was a glimpse of Majesty and Isaiah was crushed with the knowledge of his uncleanness. “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips and I am among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the KING, the LORD of hosts.”

Yahweh is King.  But what is the significance of this according to Psalm 93.  That is what the rest of the psalm has the pious Jew confessing to this day … we Christians too.

God’s Clothing (93.1b-2)

The Hebrew Bible is remarkable hesitant to give any “description” of God. Interestingly we do not find any description of Jesus either.  The psalm says that Yahweh is robed, or clothed, in majesty and girded in strength. In Psalm 104.1, the Creator God’s majesty is said to consist of Yahweh’s being “wrapped in light.” In Psalm 27, worshipers gather in the Temple with only one request of God, “to behold the beauty of the LORD and to meditate” (v.4), perhaps this is what Isaiah was doing when God granted his prayer. The apostle Paul, student of the Psalter he was, says the same that God “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Tim 6.16).

Majesty, glory, beauty are all words that are struggling to convey the experience of seeing the King. But words cannot convey an experience that even angel eyes cannot behold. The King is glory majesty itself.

But the King is “belted” or “girded” in strength. As Psalm 24.8 notes (the Sunday psalm) God is “strong and mighty … mighty in battle.” To say that the King is girded in strength is to confess that the God of Israel is all powerful.  As we shall see this is directly connected to the sea/waters motif in verses 3-4.  But God, the King, is a Warrior on behalf of the creation established by his throne.

It is precisely because the King has strength that the world is held firm. The language of “the world stands firm” (or as the NRSV renders it, ‘He has established the world‘) is not so much about the initial creation of the world as the ongoing working of the world.  It is because of language like this (and from other places like Wisdom of Solomon) that Hebrews can say that Jesus “sustains” the universe (1.3). God is King indeed because he created the world (Ps 24) but the King did not create and then abandon it as if Yahweh was a deist (see Psalm 104 where God’s intimate hands on approach to creation is gratefully sang).  There are cosmic forces that are enemies of the King. But the King is not only majestic but powerful enough to handle the threats to his kingdom.

The Sea, Threatening Enemy of God’s Kingdom (93.3-4) 

Psalm 93.3-4 are apt to be confusing to we moderns precisely because there is a considerable historical gulf between the social world of the text and ourselves.  The seas/waters in the ancient world of Israel were more than mere water that quenches thirst. They were the symbols the unpredictable, and extremely destructive, forces of chaos that could wipe out life as we know it.  Even in our modern scientific world the power of the sea/water can bring terror to us.  Witnessing the unpredictable flood that comes through a wash in Arizona can shake one to the core of her being. Watch the sea coming in as a tsunami is horrifying. Rain after the forest fire can (and does) produce “flash floods” of terrifyingly destructive power.

In the world that Israel lived, these forces had a name, Yamm. Yamm was a malevolent god. It is not without significance that the very word used for seas/waters in the Hebrew Bible, including here in Psalm 93, is the word yam.  Thanks to the discovery of the Baal Cycle tablets at Ugarit in 1929 and following years we have lots of information on what people thought of Yamm.  The story of Baal and the war with Yamm was told every year and was an integral part of Canaanite mythology (we must recall that they did not believe it was mythology).  According to the story, Baal has taken refuge upon the mountain of god.  Yamm dares to attack the mountain of god to get him.

Yamm the Sea

Yamm the Sea sends messengers to the divine assembly,
Nahar the River dispatches envoys to the Holy Ones … 
They depart at once,
They do not delay.
They head straight to the Mountain of El (God),
They go directly to the divine assembly …
Baal stands beside El … 

The “holy ones” that form the court of the high god El are in sheer terror of the coming of Yamm.  They react like humans to this day do in the face of the rushing wall of water that forms a tsunami. They panic! So the story says they “bury their heads on their knees” and “hide their faces in the cushions” on their couches.

Yamm demands that El “must stop protecting Baal … Surrender Baal and his followers.

El, the high god, is himself powerless to stop Yamm.  High god or not, the power of the chaotic water was more powerful than El. El decides to hand Baal over to Yamm else his holy mountain suffer from the mighty waters.

There follows a great war between Baal (who will not give himself up without a fight) and Yamm the Sea.  He is given a great battle-ax. But “Yamm is too strong … He does not waver.” But the battle is not over.  Baal has another battle-ax with the name “Expeller” that is mighty. And Baal overcomes the Sea and “expels” the threatening flood from the mountain of god. (Quotations from Victor H. Matthews and Don C. Benjamen, Old Testament Parallels: Laws and Stories from the Ancient Near East, 3rd Edition, pp. 267-269).

Yamm is the name the ancient inhabitants at Ugarit and Canaan gave to the cosmic force that threatened continuing existence of life in the world.  The biblical authors are fully aware that there are powers in this universe that refuse to submit to the King.  They attack the King by attacking the creation … his kingdom!

But Psalm 93 says that Yahweh is belted with strength! What El was not able to do (he surrendered Baal and his followers), Yahweh the King does not surrender us to the forces of cosmic rebellion. El cannot protect but Yahweh can and does.  And the biblical claim is that it is not Baal that ultimately turns the Tide back, it is the King who is seated on the throne in the Temple.

Yahweh is “more majestic/powerful than the waves of Yam is Yahweh on high!” Because Yahweh the King is majestic and strong the world is not threatened even by Yamm. Psalm 93 is the ancient version of the commercial, “Creation in good hands because Yahweh is King.” The world is stable. Life can flourish. The floods are in fact frightening but Yahweh draws a line in the sand (so to speak) that waters cannot pass.  Yahweh is invulnerable.

The King’s Decrees Keep the Kingdom (93.5)

The Temple is the place where God’s space and human space interlock. It is like a button that is sowed on one piece of material and slips through another piece of material to be on top of the joined material. The Temple is the button of God’s space within the created order.  It is the palace of Yahweh the King. It is the “Oval Office” where the universe is run. This is why the Hebrew Bible quite literally sees the Temple/Zion/Jerusalem as the center of the world.  What follows in v.5 is debated among scholars some even thinking it is a much later attachment to the psalm itself because they do not see how the sudden references to “testimonies/decrees” connects.

But I think v.5 flows quite naturally from the psalm.  A weak king cannot govern his kingdom.  El’s decrees were not sure, there was not safety in them.  Even the very presence of El did not ensure the safety of even Baal! But decree of a powerful king is an extension of the power of the King himself. They are as powerful and effective as the One on the throne.  Sovereignty intrinsically assures the stability and welfare of the realm of the King. Unlike some limited potentate whose decrees may die with him, Yahweh’s decrees are sure … which we can translate as “enduring.” The glorious King has provided direction for the citizens of the kingdom to thrive.  Through the decrees we experience the King’s reign, stability and full life.

God’s house, the Temple, is the place where we come to beautified in holiness. It is as if some of God’s own beauty “rubs off” on those seeking audience with the King of Glory.

Wrapping Up

Psalm 93 reminds Jews in Jesus day, and Christians today, that Yahweh is Sovereign. On the “day before the Sabbath” in which God “rested,” we are reminded that the Creator does not simply create but sustains, protects, and battles the forces that would threaten that creation.  The universe is safe, it is in good hands, because Yahweh is on the Throne in the Temple. We trust in the King and remain faithful to the King by organizing our lives in accordance with the testimonies of the realm.  On this day we say in the face of Yamm, in the face of the forces of evil, in the face of those who would rip our worlds apart: We are more than conquerors because …

YHWH MALAK … Yahweh is King

Pray Psalm 93 every Friday

Orientation to Sabbath in Psalm 92

We continue our series on the Psalms of Week.  In this blog we examine the psalm sung in the Temple, and meditated on by all pious Jews, on the Sabbath. Psalm 92.

Christians in general, Evangelicals/Restorationists in particular, have suffered from serious prejudicial views regarding “sabbath.” These prejudices are rooted in centuries of caricature following the biblical period but have virtually nothing to do with what either the Hebrew Bible, or “New Testament,” teaches about the meaning of the Sabbath day. Sabbath is equated with all manner of supposed Old Testament legalism that, “thank God Jesus nailed to the cross!” But we need to be careful not to import things into the Bible but rather we need to read things out of the Bible that are actually there.

Psalm 92, what the Prophet Anna, Mary, Jesus, Paul, the Hebrews Preacher and Jews in general sang every Saturday, gives us in a nutshell what shabbat is all about. The themes are:

1) Thanksgiving
2) Celebration of God’s creation
3) Exaltation of Yahweh’s steadfast love/HESED
4) God defeats the enemies
5) God’s people flourish in his Presence

These themes are the heartbeat of Sabbath as experienced by Jews in Jesus’s day. Sabbath has two poles in the Bible: In Love God created the good and beautiful world and In Love Yahweh redeemed us from certain death in slavery. The North Pole of Creation is found in Genesis 2.1-3 and Exodus 20.8-11. The South Pole is found in Deuteronomy 5.12-15. Every text on the Sabbath in the Bible is on the spectrum between these two poles.

North Pole = In Love God Created

Remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy … For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.” (Exodus 20.7-11)

South Pole = In Love Yahweh Redeemed

Observe the Sabbath day and keep it holy … Remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm; therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day.” (Deuteronomy 5.12-15)

Basking in Love that Creates 

Psalm 92 brings the pilgrim in the Temple, or the faithful Jew in the synagogue in Galilee or Diaspora, to the themes listed above. The Psalm is divided in three “stanzas” which consist of essentially verses 1-4; verses 5-9; and verses 10-15.

The psalm opens with confession and evokes creation in Genesis 1 (sabbath itself evokes creation). The confession is that it is “good” to praise or give thanksgiving. The word “good” could mean “rightness” or “appropriate.” But in this context the word seems to mean “it is pleasant” or “it feels good” as in Ps 147.1. Of course this may be a false dichotomy. But on the Sabbath day, Israel (and all biblical readers) are reminded that, in light of what God has done, it is pure joy to praise the Lord. Joy is the characteristic “mood” of sabbath observance in all Jewish places of civilization.

To praise Yahweh is to brag about and exalt his Hesed, God’s steadfast love. Israel believed, correctly, that Yahweh did not create the world merely because he was powerful enough to do it. God created because of love. Psalm 136.1-9 thunders over and over (9x in 9 verses) that each act of creation was Hesed.

O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his hesed endures forever … (3x)
Who alone does great wonders,
for his hesed endures forever;
who by his wisdom made the heavens,
for his hesed endures forever;
who spread out the earth on the waters,
for his hesed endures forever;
who made the great light
for his hesed endures forever;
the sun to rule over the day,
for his hesed endures forever;
the moon and the stars to rule the night,
for his hesed endures forever.
(Psalm 136.1-9)

The Lyre of Megiddo unearthed in Israel dates to the age of King David. After years of studying the instrument, ancient music scholar, Peter Pringle reconstructed an exact replica. We can now listen to the music of the ten stringed lyre and enjoy its beauty as did David and the Lord.

So on Saturday’s, even today, it is “good” to talk up the love of God that surrounds us and gives us our very existence. When we see the flowers, we see love. When we see the bees, we see love. When we see the sun, the moon, the stars, we see love. When we see people created in God’s image, we see love.  Indeed when we are out under the zenith of the night sky, it is then we have some inkling of the infinite vastness of the hesed of God proclaimed in creation (cf. Psalm 103.11-12). God is the Master Artisan and creation is the “works of your hands,” (92.4) which cause God’s people to sing for joy. Beauty elicits awe, joy and praise.

So much joy in fact that God’s people grabbed lute’s, the ten-stringed harps and lyre’s they burst into praise. In fact they literally “play to your name, Most High” (92.2). (In the Septuagint of 92.2 we have the word psallo that Paul uses in Ephesians 5.19).

Enemies of God, the Joyless Ones

In Psalm 92. 8-9 there is a sudden shift. God’s people celebrate God, God’s love, and are in awe of God’s “works” in creation. One this day recalling the goodness of creation from the Master Artisan, the joyful refrain rises “how great are your works, O LORD! Your thoughts are very deep!” (v.5).  But the enemies of God, called “brutish” or “only someone who is a beast” or even “stupid” (NRSV)  are not in awe and refuse to join in the praise of Yahweh. These people, contrary to God’s redeemed people, fail to have eyes to see and ears to hear (note the contrast in v.11). These blind people, in a manner reminiscent of Ps 1, are fast growing and temporary like grass or weeds. They pass quickly. Often their only legacy in the world is the suffering they have left behind.

It is sad testimony indeed that we find Christians even today who are not enchanted by the created world that surrounds us. They view the world through utilitarian rather than doxological eyes. Psalm 92, meditated on the Sabbath day, inoculated God’s people from such astigmatism.

The Righteous, Those who Love God’s Works and Deeds

In Psalm 92. 12-15 we encounter those who see God’s glory in creation and who praise with gusto, Yahweh’s love (one can not overemphasize God’s love).

The righteous flourish like the palm tree,
and grow like a cedar in Lebanon.
They are planted in the house of the LORD;
they flourish in the courts of our God.
In old age they still produce fruit;
they are always green and full of sap,
showing that the LORD is upright;
he is my Rock, and there is no
unrighteousness in him.”

Date Palms in Israel. They grow to be 80 ft and can live between 200-300 yrs

These are the “righteous.” Righteous does not, either here nor anywhere else, in the Hebrew Bible mean sinless. It is not a claim to perfection (cf. Ps 119. 1, 176). It is simply a claim of love (I love you God) and a claim of faithfulness (I will serve you God). It is a relationship term. Husbands and wives, by the millions, can be (and are) faithful without being either perfect or flawless.

The righteous, those delighting in the joyful praise of God’s works and love are quite different from the brutish naysayers in verses 6-9. Again reminiscent of Psalm 1, they are like trees. The trees here are the date palm and the cedars of Lebanon. Date palms grow 70 to 80 feet and live over 200 years. While the cedars of Lebanon grow over 115ft in height but whose trunks range from 39 to nearly 50 ft in diameter and still produce fruit at estimated ages of 3000 years. God’s people remain vital “forever” essentially.

The image of the tree planted in the Temple also evokes creation. Humans lived in God’s presence in the Garden. Note all the trees and flowers carved into the sanctuary of the temple (1 Kgs 6.29-36). Those lost in the wondrous praise of God for his Sabbath work, are brought back to the Garden, living in the very Presence of God.

Thus Psalm 92 reminds God’s people of God’s love shown in creation but, on the Sabbath day, draws them, like Adam and Eve, back into the very Presence of God.  It is reminding us where we came from and pointing to where we are going. That is both the hope and the prayer of God’s people.

The Sabbath Psalm in the New Testament 

In the New Testament, the Hebrews Preacher does not disparage the Sabbath. Rather “sabbath rest” remains for God’s people (Hebrews 4.1-13). The Preacher imparts a theology that is very much in line with the outlook of Psalm 92, the “eschatological” dimension. The goal of the Sabbath has not yet been reached. It will be reached when God’s people are planted like trees in the very Presence of God. So the Preacher says Sabbath rest is something even Jesus Followers yet anticipate and look forward to. This is both future for the congregation in Hebrews 4 and for ourselves. It is something we look forward to … in the Presence of God. We long for the world that shabbat reminds us of: a world of joy, a world of faithfulness, a world of filled with love.

Cedars of Lebanon can be over 45 ft in diameter and over 3000 years. And still bear fruit.

Finally in the last book of the New Testament we find, interestingly, the saints in God’s Presence grab their harps as they are about to sing the Song of Moses and the Lamb, and the first line is a word for word quotation from Psalm 92.5,

Great and amazing are your works …” (Rev 15.3)

This statement follows the description John sees of the saints with “harps in their hands” which is the previous verse in Psalm 92, of making music to the name with the ten stringed harp and lyre (92.3). The righteous are indeed in the Presence of the Lord singing with bursts of joyful song. The Sabbath Psalm has been incorporated into John’s vision as if to say, what we have been singing for centuries has come to pass!

Final Thoughts

Psalm 92 is a wonderful text. Jesus sang it regularly. It reminds us, with it being assigned to the Sabbath, not only where the world came from (the love of God) but also points to where the world is going. Psalm 92, meditated upon on the Sabbath day, tells us God is restoring his communion with creation and we will live with him in his Presence.

Now a word to potential critics. This post does not advocate or bind a literal observance of the Sabbath on anyone. All are free to do so if they choose, however (Romans 14). Paul and the Jerusalem Church continued to honor the Sabbath day as Acts makes abundantly clear.

This post is simply a look at Psalm 92 and reminds us of what the Bible teaches about the meaning of Shabbat. That meaning is important to the whole Bible and it behooves us to grasp its significance.  And we need to recognize that the NT teaches that the Sabbath rest is the hope for all God’s People even today.

Living in the Presence of God.

Meditating on Psalm 92 on the Sabbath reminds that everything begins in and will end in divine love. I think we all need to be reminded of these things regularly.

Why not read Psalm 92 today … and every Saturday.


Daily Psalms

In the time of Jesus select Psalms were incorporated into Temple worship on a daily and weekly basis. These Psalms permeated the world of the average pious Jews life. They are:

Sunday, Jews sang Psalm 24
Monday, Jews sang Psalm 48
Tuesday, Jews sang Psalm 82
Wednesday, Jews sang Psalm 94
Thursday, Jews sang Psalm 81
Friday, Jews sang Psalm 93
Sabbath, Jews sang Psalm 92

Each of these Psalms are powerful. Jesus would have shared in this normal routine in a pious Jewish home in Nazareth. I encourage you to memorize them and (even if you do not read thru the Psalms each month) to join in Jesus’s day in remembering these Psalms on the days they were used.

Weekly Renewal: Praise

Thursday’s Psalm was 81. In ancient Israel, Psalm 81 was used in festival worship. It was used not only on Thursday but during the Feast of Tabernacles.

Psalm 84 has the flavor of covenant renewal much like Joshua 24. Israel’s festivals were times of remembering God’s Story of Grace and reaffirming our exclusive loyalty to him. Tabernacles is probably the specific festival under consideration in the original historical context (reference to the new and full moon in v.3 supports this).

The Psalm begins with a call to worship (vv 1-5). The Shofar is blown. The harps. The lyre. The festival, its praise in song and music, is a direct command of God from the time of Exodus (vv 4-5).

Sing aloud to God our strength;
shout for joy to the God of Jacob.
Raise a song, sound the tambourine,
the sweet lyre with the harp.
Blow the shofar at the new moon,
at the full moon, on our festal day.
For it is a stature for Israel,
an ordinance of the God of Jacob.
He made it a decree in Joseph,
when he went out over the land of Egypt.

Praise is a direct response to the wonder of Yahweh’s saving grace. Grace demands thanksgiving. On Thursday’s we are reminded of “joy factor” in being God’s people. Joy is a defining characteristic of biblical faith. Why? Because he saved us!

Images of Jesus, and the early church, grabbing a tambourine, shouting joyfully with the harps and trumpets, every Thursday may be the medicine some disciples need.

Weekly Renewal: Exhortation 

But worship in Psalm 81 is not only praise, it is preaching. Suddenly in v.6 there is a radical shift. We have, for the rest of the Psalm, first person speech (“I”) addressing the congregation of worshipers. This is the voice of Yahweh speaking to the Gathered People of God thru the priest. It is a divine sermon (direct divine speech is not infrequent in the Psalms). Yahweh testifies to hearing the cry of the suffering “nobodies” (the slaves) which Exodus 2.23f tells us.

The Israelites groaned  under their slavery, and cried out. Out of their slavery their cry for help rose up to God. God heard their groaning and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. God looked upon the Israelites and took notice of them.” (Ex 2.23-24)

The Exodus was God’s response to the cry of the oppression of the alien (Israel was an alien in Egypt), the powerless, the weak.

God, speaking thru the priest (just as he did the prophets), begins by reminding Israel of the Story. Reminding is necessary. Sometimes God’s people do enjoy the singing and the dancing but we forget the reason why we are are singing and dancing.  We may even say “we have been saved” but forget what salvation is.  So on Thursday’s as Jesus and other Jews found themselves in the temple, the Psalm reminded them of what salvation was really about.

They were Slaves.
They were burdened.
They were nobodies.
They were experiencing state sponsored terrorism against them.
Their baby boys were slaughtered.

On Thursday’s we are reminded what life is like without God’s salvation, a life of pain and injustice.

On Thursday’s we are reminded what life is like with God’s salvation, “I rescued you. I have set you free.

The apostle Paul is not the first one to announce that “it is for freedom that you have been set free.” This is the message of the Exodus from the beginning. God sets captives free by his grace.

God is the Redeemer.
God is the Liberator.

God is the One that responds to those who cry to him. The verses 6-7 recall Exodus 1 -15.

I hear the voice I had not known:
I relieved your shoulders of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, 
and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah


God is faithful. But God’s people usually are not faithful for very long at all. So God says “Hear, O my people” (v.8) and the rest of the Psalm is a plea for God’s people to “listen” (vv.8, 11, 13). The problem is that God’s people have listened to other gods. Our Story is that our God has saved us from slavery and that he would feed us (v.10). The false gods do not listen to us nor do they save us in our need. But … sadly that word is there … “my people did not listen to my voice” (v.11).  Attending the festival, showing up on Thursday’s at the temple, never missing “church,” does not mean we are listening to God’s voice.

Sometimes God’s people love the songs more than they love God.
Sometimes God’s people love the “acts of worship” more than they love God.
Sometimes God’s people love the Bible more than they love the God of the Bible.
Sometimes God’s people worship the idols of church, sound doctrine, and even faithfulness rather than the God who submits to none of our inferences, opinions, or notions.

On Thursday’s Psalm 81 confronts every serious religious person with the question, “do I love God or do I love things about God.” We are invited to refocus our commitment to God himself as Supreme above even our religion.  We must hear his voice.

God’s Lament 

In verse 13ff we see the yearning of God himself for his people. It is divine desire.

O that my people would listen to me;
Israel would not submit to me

If they did they would have the great blessings of the covenant of love. And we encounter that awesome promise

I would feed you with the finest of wheat
and with honey the rock I would satisfy you
” (v.16)

Clearly a reminder of the manna of heaven. Israel has it made.

I Choose You

Do we see what the call to worship and God’s sermon has done? In the festival, and in coming to the Temple on a Thursday, the Israelite is, in effect, brought back to Mt Sinai. He/she is confronted yet again with the decision of being God’s people. In the words of Joshua 24, “choose you this day.” At Sinai, we read,

Moses came and told the people all the words of the LORD and all the ordinances; and all the people answered  with one voice and said, ‘All the words that the LORD has spoken we will do …” (Ex 24.3)

But God’s people didn’t. They shattered the covenant of love in a gross display of cheating on their Savior within just mere days of the “wedding.” The Golden Calf.

Psalm 81 comes to us each Thursday.  We are given the gracious opportunity to renew the covenant by affirming that we, each of us, have considered the Story of Salvation (note that God mentions his salvation acts before he mentions any commands – Exodus comes before Sinai) and we have decided to respond to Him. We get to say that we love GOD not just worship. We love God not just religion.  We love God not just the salvation God grants.  We love God above all things. (We have heard his voice). We say to our Abba, “I choose you!”

Thus in Jesus’ day, on Thursday, the faithful Jew is confronted with the choice he or she must make. We will keep the “festival!!” We will be on the Lord’s side. When Jesus was in the Temple on a Thursday he himself lifted his voice to the One with the Levites and their Shofars and Lyres and sing … and (can you see it) reaffirm his own faith and obedience to the Father. Jesus heard the voice … died on the cross. Can you see it?  I can.


Tuesday’s Psalm

This is our second installment in our series on the Psalms for the Days of the Week.  Before Jesus was born specific psalms had been assigned to days of the week in the temple. Worshipers coming to God’s house would hear and sing these psalms. Pious Jews integrated them into the daily rhythms of their lives. See my blog Psalms and the Temple: What Jesus and the Early Way Experienced for a complete listing of the daily psalms and how the psalms were integrated into temple worship.

Pious Jews, like Jesus’s family, adopted the rhythm of the temple in their daily lives. These psalms became reminders of what life before God was all about.  It was true then, as it is now, that God’s people often sing a better gospel than they believe and live. But by looking at these psalms we come closer to the world in which Jesus himself grew in “wisdom and favor” as Luke tells us plainly (Lk 2.40, 52).

The Tuesday Psalm, Ps 82. Unlike Lynyrd Skynyrd who sang “Tuesdays gone with the wind,” a song proclaiming the singer’s faithlessness as he is leaving his woman behind. our Tuesday psalm calls us to faithfulness.

Save the Weak 

In Jesus’s day, on Tuesday’s, pilgrims would be challenge with the fundamental principles of the kingdom of God: justice for the marginalized in our world. As they approach with their sacrifices in honor of their vows (like Paul in Acts 21.17-27) or of thanksgiving or atonement they would here the words ringing in the Temple,

Save the weak and the orphans;
do justice for the poor and the needy.
Set the needy and suffering free;
save them from the hand of the wicked
(82.3-4, my translation)

Here is the central charge of Yahweh to the rulers, the judges, the people. You are placed here in this age for a reason, to save the weak. To practice justice, mercy and faithfulness. To live the foundational core values of God’s own throne. Tuesday’s psalm brought the Israelite face to face with the heart of the matter.

Psalm 82 begins by telling us that God takes his place among “the assembly.” In the cultures that surrounded ancient Israel, it was believed that there was a “council of the gods.” This is reflected in Baal’s mythology but is seen in Greek mythology with Zeus and the gods of Olympus and in most pagan systems. In the ancient world these “gods” were supposed to ensure the practice of justice and mercy on Earth. But it is plain this does not happen. So in Psalm 82, Israel’s God has entered into their midst and decreed the “death of the gods” (v.7).

Also in Israel, it was believed that the divine sphere (God’s space) and the human sphere overlapped. This is often called “sacred space.” In Psalm 82 this means that what is happening in the divine sphere is mirrored in the human sphere.

In the human sphere those concerned with making sure the least of these (widows, orphans, aliens) are protected are those in power: Kings and Judges. The king, in Israel, is a representative of the God and he is supposed to use God’s very own justice to save the widows, the orphans and the aliens (see Psalm 72.1-3, 12-14).

When the God of Israel shows up in the assembly of the “gods,” or the “judges,” he puts them on trial for failure to discharge their reason for being. That is what is happening in v. 2 in this direct accusation,

How long will y’all [“you” is a plural] judge unjustly
and show partiality to the wicked?

The criteria of the trial of the gods/judges is no other than Yahweh’s personal attributes. The prophet Moses told Israel,

So now, O Israel, what does Yahweh require of you? …
Circumcise your heart, and do not be stiff necked any longer …
God shows no partiality, executes justice for the orphan and the widow,
and who loves the aliens providing them food and clothing.
You shall also love the alien
(Deuteronomy 10.12, 16-19).

God comes among the council of the “gods/judges” and demands to know why they are not behaving like him? Their job is to protect the weak from the powers that be. Instead they collude with the powers of oppression. So God decrees the death of the gods: “you shall die like mortals” (v.6).

Judgement in the king’s hall or in the city gates (cf. Ruth 4) was supposed bring salvation to the poor. But it did not. God declares that the gods/judges are dumb, blind, and ignorant thus bringing the Earth into turmoil. Failure to practice justice and mercy is not simply bad, it is an attack upon God’s kingdom. Justice and mercy are the foundations of God’s throne. As the Israelites in Gathered worship confessed,

righteousness and justice are the
foundation of your throne;
Hesed/steadfast love and faithfulness go before you
(Ps 89.14; cf. 97.2)

Or as Jesus’s echoing the themes of Tuesday’s psalm instructed us to pray, God’s will is not being done “on earth as it is in heaven!”

Your Kingdom Come

The Gathered congregation in the Temple on those Tuesday’s, and if Jesus was there on a Tuesday he would have joined the prayer, respond to verses 1-7 with the words,

RISE UP [i.e. from his throne], O God, judge the earth;
for all the nations belong to you” (v.8)

The congregation calls God to action. God needs to do what the “gods” and “judges” have not done. Save the poor and needy. God must come and save the world.

The gods of the nations are consigned to death. The judges share their fate. The nations, notice the universal claim made every Tuesday in the Temple, belong to the God of Israel. So Yahweh will banish the gods, he will dispense with the faux judges, and God himself will rule creation.

Psalm 82, especially the prayer in v.8, is the heart of Jesus’s instruction on prayer. Jesus taught his disciples to pray,

Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as in heaven
(Mt 6.9-10).

This is in fact what all pious Jews, and Jesus himself from his days as a child, had been praying every week. God come rule the world.

Israel was reminded every Tuesday, our offerings of sacrifice, and our songs of praise, are meaningless apart from saving the poor, the widows, the orphans, the aliens because we know that God has decreed the death of the false gods that trample on the weak.

Instead with God’s own coming to judge … salvation has finally arrived for even the poor. No wonder Jesus claimed that the Spirit of the Lord had anointed him to proclaim “forgiveness” (aphesin, same word used in Acts 2.38 beloved!) to the poor at the beginning of his ministry in Nazareth (Lk 4.18-19). In Jesus, God has “risen” from the throne to come rule the nations.

Jesus’s prayer is the prayer of every Israelite.


A mere ten verses, Psalm 24 is short psalm. The psalm was originally part of Israel’s worship processions, bringing the ark of the covenant and pilgrims into the sanctuary (this could have originally been the Tabernacle but would be the temple through most of Israel’s history).

Long before Jesus was born, however, Psalm 24 became the Psalm for the “first day of the week.” So in the Jerusalem Temple each Sunday, Psalm 24 was sung by the Levites and pilgrims coming to worship and pray in God’s house. Pious Jews copied this practice in the synagogue and in their homes as well. Whether Psalm 24 became the Psalm for the First Day through a prophet or a sage we do not know, but the association is a stroke of Spiritual genius.

Yahweh is King

The First Day is, first of all, a day of new beginnings because we remember the first day of creation itself. The first day when all was good, before sin vandalized God’s creation. Psalm 24.1-2 evokes the creation of world in Genesis 1.1-5.

Quite literally our text reads, this is the claim of all claims and all flows from it,

The LORD’s is the earth.

Yahweh’s ownership of the entire realm of earth is stated in no uncertain terms. Why is the earth the Lord’s? Because God founded it, God created it, God established it (vv. 1-2). The Creator is the King over it. Psalm 24, on the First Day of every week, reminds every Israelite that the world is not random, the world is not order less, the world is not threatened because God is Creator. “In the beginning God created … Day One” (Gen 1.1-5).

Yahweh is Owner Yet 

But we do not begin our week only by remembering that the good world began with the Creator. We begin our week by knowing what that means. The world belongs to the Creator. In fact we confess, as the Israelites did and Jesus did, that means God owns it. God is sovereign over it. That means God is King. Every inch of creation is God’s. Every thing and every person belong to God. He is the King of Glory (24.7-10). Our lives, our week, is in the hands of the King of Glory, the Sovereign Owner of all that exists. On the first day we confess that Yahweh is not simply God of Israel, some tribal deity, but King of all that exists. The sun, the moon, the stars, the birds of the air, the fish of the sea, and even the peoples of the world belong to Yahweh. God is yet King.

The Psalm of the First Day of the Week reminds us that God’s concern is not only for or about us. God’s concern is everything God made. Our enemies may not be God’s enemies! Long before Jesus (who drank the Spiritual water of the Psalms daily) Temple pilgrims are reminded – at the beginning of the week as at the beginning of Creation – all humanity is equally created and equally owned by the King.  A humbling way to begin our week with the Lord.

God’s people have not always grasped that last point though they have confessed it regularly. Some humans we have denied were important and may not even have a soul, this was regularly done in the late 19th century of black folks. But it was the Baptist preacher, of the 19th century, named Charles Haddon Spurgeon who grasped the point. Many in America in the late 19th century despised African Americans and declared that God did not care for them. Commenting on Psalm 24.1-2, Spurgeon noted that if a person (his example is”the negro and other despised races”) is a human then, “God claims that person” as his own creation, equally loved and cared for. God’s people easily slip back into effectively saying “God does not care for that human” because the reality is that we do not care for that human. But on the first day of the week, the Psalm reminds us the human race is one.

Creation and Worship

On the First Day of the Week, Psalm 24 also proclaims who among the human race can worship and come into the glorious Presence of the Lord. This too evokes Genesis 1. “The Spirit of God hovered on the face of the deep.” All life on earth, all blessing on earth, all anything on earth flows from God’s presence through the Spirit. Genesis is a temple text, Israel knew that for thousands of years before modern scholars

Psalm 24.3 has the Gatekeepers of the sanctuary thunder to those seeking entrance, “WHO shall ascend the hill/mountain? Who shall stand in his holy place?

The answer to this question is completely detached from ethnicity, gender or social status. Every Israelite that came to the temple in 700BC or AD 30, each one that recited Psalm 24 on the first day of the week was reminded that not only was Yahweh King of All, but that ALL the human race is called to acknowledge that. It is not JEWS who could come to the Presence. It was not Egyptians. It was not whites or blacks or browns. It was not the rich and powerful. The criteria has less than zero to do with race, gender, or social status.

Who can worship, who can enter the sacred space filled with God’s nourishing Spirit is a matter of integrity and the heart. Those who have “clean hands and pure hearts” (24.4) are allowed by the Gatekeepers to pass into the holy sphere beyond the gates. Neither of these criteria could be measured by the Gatekeeper. Only the seeker of Yahweh’s Presence knew if these criteria were met.

Clean hands” generally refers to how one treats another human and “pure heart” refers to inward devotion. So this is a way of saying to the pilgrims, keep the greatest commands: If you have you loved your neighbor and loved God you are allowed to enter the temple. Jesus, the greatest of all students of the Psalms, himself echoes this psalm in his famous Sermon on the Mount.

Blessed are the pure in heart heart for they shall see God” (Mt 5.8)

So the Gatekeepers say to the festive throng approaching the Temple,

Who shall ascend … those who have pure hearts …
Such is the company of those who SEEK HIM,
who SEEK the FACE of God
” (24.4, 6).

Love and Grace

On the First Day we are reminded that existence is a gift of grace. Being created is an act of divine love (cf. Ps 136). On the First Day we are reminded that an audience with the King requires that we love him and love all the King has made. Our love reflects Yahweh’s own love.

And on the First Day the Psalm for the First Day reminds us that our standing before God, our reception of blessing, is a matter of pure grace. On Sundays, Jews and Israelites, and all who pray Psalm 24 know that,

They will RECEIVE blessing FROM the LORD,
and faithfulness FROM God their Savior.

This is the Book of Romans in a single verse. As the week begins anew we are reminded yet again that relationship with God is something received, something that is given, something that is “from God.” Relationship with God is not an achievement. It does not flow from the Precision of our Obedience. It begins in grace. It continues in grace. It ends in grace. We do not bring faithfulness TO God rather it is received from God … the One who creates us is also the One who saves us (This is NT Christology in a nutshell as well). We receive blessing and we receive faithfulness.

The First Day of the Week and Psalm 24

The First Day is the day the world began. The First Day is when Pentecost, the celebrating of the covenant and receiving of the Torah, is held. Every Jew knew this. But as disciples of King Jesus, we are further down the Story of God and we know that on the First Day creation was REnewED in the Resurrection of the King. We know that the covenant was REnewED on the First Day in Acts 2 (Pentecost is on Sunday beloved, Leviticus 23.15-16).

Psalm 24 does not loose significance in light of the Messiah’s coming. Psalm 24 takes on greater significance and meaning than ever. On the day we gather as the People of God, the old question from the Gatekeeper is still truer than ever. On the First Day with Ps 24:

+ We celebrate that God is the Creator.
+ Confessing God’s Kingship we kneel in worship before God our Maker.
+ We confess that all humans are welcome and equal in God’s sight.
+ We confess that all humans are called to love the King and love those created by the King.
+ We confess that we receive blessing, we receive faithfulness, we are here “by grace.”

What a way to begin our fresh lease on life in a new week lived out before the Gracious King of Glory.

I encourage you to integrate Psalm 24 in the rhythm of your First Day of the Week.


Wonderful collection of sermons by women who have enriched God’s church. You should read it.

First Corinthians 11 is either ignored or it is abused. It is ignored because verses 4-5 do not fit with the invented “be silent” paradigm. It is abused because verses are not dealt with in their context and context. There are some difficult statements (Paul’s “supporting argumentation”) in this chapter we confess, but the actual point of the chapter does not seem in doubt when we pay attention to all of 11.2-16 not just a verse or two. A single verse is not an argument, rather a verse functions within the whole context. So to begin with there are four things that seem completely beyond question.

1) Paul endorses the praying and prophesying by women. This is a fact … though verses 4-5 that are ignored in the invented “be silent” paradigm.

2) While Paul does appeal to creation order in v.3 and 7-9 to seemingly support a patriarchal order what is ignored is the “NEVERTHELESS” in v.11f. Paul seems to subvert the “necessary inference” from those verses and says that man is from woman (v.12). Therefore in reality men and women “in the Lord” are inter and mutually dependent. In other words, Paul’s point does not end in the subjection of women in this text. Paul rather ends in mutuality and interdependence. That is equality.  ” Nevertheless, in the Lord woman is not independent of man [this is what is affirmed by subordinationists] nor man independent of woman [this is ignored].”

3) The passage celebrates creational distinctions that Paul believes are good in themselves. Men and Women are redeemed as men and women as he points out in 1 Cor 15 our “bodies” are raised/redeemed from death.

4) Paul’s concern is the bringing of shame and disrepute on the community.

In the long run we will not solve the debate over “kephale” (head) in this passage. But what cannot be denied is, as C. R. Nichol observed, “I would have you note carefully that Paul recognized the fact that men, as well as women were to ‘pray’ and ‘prophesy.‘”(God’s Woman, p.119).  Paul did not “flip flop” on this matter in the space of a page. As Nichol notes, the “silence” Paul mentions in 1 Cor 14: 1) is not on the grounds that is was “public,” and 2) “be very sure you get into your heart the fact that the ‘silence’ enjoined DID NOT INTERFERE with women prophesying” (p. 124).

The issue is not a “veil” which is not a good translation. It is a “head covering.” Neither Roman nor Greek women wore veils in public. However while performing liturgical acts, a head covering was worn by the woman (and in Roman contexts) some men. Those who did not, they let their hair down, were involved with Dionysius, Isis and Cybele or prostitutes. Paul did not want Corinthian women to be confused with pagan prophecy.

Again, the covering was to be the manner in which women exercised her rights of praying in the assembly and prophesying in the assembly. Donning the covering did not curtail women’s participation, rather it empowered it.

So Paul says the woman is to have a “symbol of authority over her head (v.10). “Authority” does not mean, as is supposed with no examination, the man’s authority over the woman. As has been noted by multiple scholars, if that is what it means then this is the only place it has such. This refers to the “exercise OF authority” by the woman herself rather than submission to it. Richard Hays notes the expression means “that the woman should take charge of her hair and keep it under control.”

We have no such custom” (v.16). What is the custom? If a person is not persuaded, Paul acknowledges some won’t be, and they are contentious, the apostle notes the churches of God have no such custom. The custom is not the covering but of being contentiousness. We do not have a tradition of fighting. Oh that the modern church believed that.

Paul knew the Hebrew Bible better than any one alive. Every time Paul went to the temple, two sets of gates reminded him of the legendary prophet Huldah, they were named in her honor. He knew the Scriptures not only taught there were women leaders of God’s people but that in the messianic age Joel 2.28-29 would be paradigmatic for renewed Israel.

And afterward,
    I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
    your old men will dream dreams,
    your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
    I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

Paul recognizes this in 1 Corinthians 11.4-5, women prophesy and women pray in the messianic community of God. That is the Church of God that is in Corinth.

But for Paul, Jews remained Jews because they were redeemed as Jews. Gentiles remained Gentiles because they were redeemed as such (1 Cor 7.17-18). And men remain men and women remain women. Why? Because was not a Gnostic and creation – as created by God – is GOOD. And his creation will be redeemed.  Ethnicity, Gender and social status is no longer a basis for division and oppression in God’s church rather the diversity of creation itself is now the basis of praise to the Creator God for his wisdom that is displayed in the church.

Paul wants the church to reflect the creational glory of God (Eph 3.9-10; cf. Rev 5.9-14). Women will appear as women. Men will appear as men. Jews will be Jews and Gentiles will be Gentiles. To make an analogy for today, it is as if Paul is saying men should not show up to church in dresses and women should not topless (cf. Hays).

But lest someone go overboard with verses 3 and 7-9, Paul says, those oft overlooked and ignored words,

NEVERTHELESS, in the Lord, woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman. For just as woman came from man [as Paul said in v.8] so man comes from through woman; but all things come from God” (vv. 11-12).

Paul proudly supports the prophetic notion that women pray and prophecy in God’s church … as women. And men pray and prophecy as men to reflect the glory of God’s creation that has been redeemed.

Perhaps the time has come for the modern church to repent from its stubborn resistance to the Holy Spirit in blocking the ministry of women God promised would happen and Paul said did happen. Our continual twisting of certain scriptures (two in particular) and our sweeping of inconvenient ones (a boatload of them) under the rug needs to be repented of.


See here my review of the D’Esta Love’s Finding their Voices in “And Your Daughter’s Shall Prophesy” A Review of Finding Their Voices: Sermons by Women in the Churches of Christ

1 Jun 2018

Ezekiel, His Guitar and Prophecy

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Bible, Ezekiel, Hebrew Bible, Music, Worship

I grew up in a religious fellowship that loathed instrumental music in worship. I heard many a sermon, lecture, and class on instrumental music. We have fought, divided and bloodied one another over instruments.

Sometimes our animosity towards instruments led us to misrepresent the biblical text in profound, and I would say unethical, ways. But my upbringing never allowed me to see just how pervasive instruments are in the Bible itself. These were just filtered out.

For years I was so fixated on “worship” that I never noticed instruments (and music) were associated with preaching or prophesying in the Bible. Preaching and prophesying are “acts of worship” not “separate and apart” from worship in Scripture. Many think biblical prophecy is akin to Nostradamus or fortune telling but such ideas of prophecy have nothing to do with biblical prophecy. Biblical prophecy is preaching, or proclaiming, the word of God. Sometimes that had a future element more often than not it was a call to covenantal faithfulness and repentance.

Have you ever noticed, when you look through Isaiah, Jeremiah, Hosea, etc that it is printed in meter just like the Psalms. This is because the prophets are poetry. The prophets were poets and singers. And what I never noticed for many years, because of my prejudice, was that prophecy (worship) and instruments typically went together through the “hand” of the Holy Spirit. Notice this text,

David … set apart the sons of Asaph, Heman and Jeduthun, who should PROPHESY [my emphasis] with lyres, harps, and cymbals … Of the sons of Asaph … who PROPHESIED [my emphasis] …” (1 Chronicles 25.1-3, read down to v.8)

This text clearly links, at least, some aspect of prophecy with music and even instruments. Asaph, etc feature in the Psalms … are the Psalms considered “prophecy” by the inspired Chronicler? I think so.

We know that “singers” used to go through the Ancient Near East and “perform” songs like Gilgamesh and dozens of other epics and ballads. They were the “classics” of the Ancient Near East And this is what we see in the prophet Ezekiel. In the following text, the Lord is lamenting the insincerity of the people. They like Ezekiel’s “guitar” work but don’t live out the song. (“Guitar” should be recognizable as a poetic license here)

They come to you as people and assemble before you, and they hear your words, but they will not obey them … To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a great voice and PLAYS WELL ON AN INSTRUMENT [my emphasis]” (Ezk 33.31-32)

Ezekiel was a poet, a singer, and he prophesied, that is he preached the word of God, with an instrument. Just like 1 Chronicles 25 describes. The reason the prophets are poetry is because they are songs. Songs are memorable. But notice that when God complained to Ezekiel it was not because he sang or played guitar but because the people did not “hear” and “obey” the Song.

All this is brought together through the prophet Habakkuk. Here we learn by “direct statement” (not inference) that prophets were associated with the Temple and worship. Here we learn that the song (or prayer) of the prophet was incorporated into temple worship and even with instruments. The book of Habakkuk concludes with a magnificent theophany of the God of Israel coming to redeem his wayward people evocative of the Exodus itself. Notice how chapter three begins,

A prayer of the prophet Habakkuk according to Shigionoth

This is a “heading” just like those in the book of Psalms itself. Then notice how the chapter ends

To the leader with stringed instruments” (3.19c)

Prophecy is preaching, praying, worship. Prophecy was poetry in motion … music. I do not know if every “sermon” was sung but a lot were. They came to hear Ezekiel play his guitar! They loved his singing. They did not love the song enough to join in and sing it (i.e. live it).

Not only did Israel sing praises to God through “instruments of music for the LORD” (2 Chron 7.6) but they had the word of God frequently given back to them through a prophet (preacher), a song, and a “guitar.”

Be blessed.

(This is an edited and slightly modified version of something I wrote on Facebook.) While I was on the treadmill this morning, I got a FB message from a person. I’ve never met this person. They have read my Psalms meditations and other writings via FB and this blog. So here is the question,

“Besides your claim in helping to know Jesus accurately, what practical value is the Old Testament in our walk with God?”

I have been thinking about it and for me the answer is very clear. I will look at the pastoral and discipleship values of the Hebrew Bible. (I assume this question was motivated by my response to the Andy Stanley stuff). I think it is an important question.

First, I begin with the Jesus thing. The Hebrew Bible is essential to understanding Jesus and the Gospel. This claim does not seem to be very popular in some circles but it can be sustained from a myriad of texts from Matthew to Luke to Acts to Romans. The first page of the New Testament connects Jesus to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament.  Matthew and Luke claim that:

Jesus has an Old Testament Identity (Messiah/King of the Jews, Son of David, Son of God)
Jesus has an Old Testament Message (his preaching is bringing out the meaning of the law and the prophets)
Jesus has an Old Testament Mission (his mission is defined explicitly in terms of what God is doing through Israel for the world)
Jesus has an Old Testament Ethic (his message and mission and ethic is Jubilee)

The last thing Jesus did in those forty days with the disciples before the ascension was to teach the disciples Old Testament theology.  Luke 24.44-49.  When the sermons of Acts are examined they follow this outline of OT theology of Jesus (Acts 2.14-36; 3. 11-26; 8.26-35; 13.15-43; Cf Romans 1.2-4; 1 Corinthians 15.1-4; 2 Timothy 2.8)

The Hebrew Bible is the ink used for nearly every page of the NT.  This does not imply that a person has to be a biblical scholar to become a disciple.  It means only that the meaning of the Gospel has meaning in relationship to Hebrew Bible.

Second, Paul told Timothy the Hebrew Bible was inspired by God to train us, to equip us, to show us what righteousness, to teach us doctrine, to make us wise in the way of salvation and equip us for every good work (2 Timothy 3.14-17). I believe Paul. But experience has taught me the truth of what Paul says. Most, including preachers, do not seem to know or they simply ignore that this text is speaking primarily about the what is called the “Old Testament” today.  The Old Testament is not merely, simply, or primarily a collection of predictive prophecies about the future Messiah.  Paul gives a much more comprehensive picture of the purpose of the Hebrew Scriptures here in 2 Timothy 3.14-17.  What follows below builds on this text.  For more on Paul’s profoundly Jewish point of view expressed in 2 Timothy 3.16-17 see my 2 Timothy 3.16, The Spiritual Gift of Wisdom unto Salvation in the ‘Old Testament.”

Third, I have read lots of books by people who suffer. They may suffer pain, illness, abuse, death, persecution or many other forms of hardship. I have learned that the Hebrew Bible is a gold mine for processing and providing the language of faith to talk about this suffering. In a recent work I helped edit (along with John Mark Hicks and Christine Fox Parker, Surrendering to Hope: Guidance for the Broken)  passages were listed that fellows sufferers found meaningful, while in the darkness, two thirds of them come from the so called Old Testament.

While going through the dark shattering days of divorce, sickness, the loneliness of despair, there was nothing in the Bible as relevant as the Hebrew Bible. The Psalms, Jeremiah, Job, and other passages speak with power, and authority, “Today” (to swipe a line from the Hebrews Preacher). As a side note, I find it interesting that the “dark” passages in the Hebrew Bible often come under criticism many times by certain people, including C. S. Lewis. But frequently it is those very passages are the ones that shine the “brightest” in the dark days, because one must actually suffer to understand them. Contrast Lewis in his Reflections on the Psalms; the Problem of Suffering and then (after he suffered) A Grief Observed. The dark passages are “gospel.”  We just have to learn to hear them in our modern world.

Fourth, building on #3, in the realm of loss and devastation there is nothing (in my experience) that empowers faith more than the laments in the Psalms. Here we see exactly what Paul meant, we are “trained in righteousness” and made “wise” through the Spirit himself in the Psalms.

Fifth, the Hebrew Bible is an amazing source of hope in God’s grace. No one in the Bible is meant to be a moral example except Jesus. As a rabbi friend once told me, the “Bible” (Hebrew Bible for him) is the astonishing testimony of His patience toward schmucks and how He even uses them for his glory. Blessed be Ha-shem.” So many times in our churches we assume (and often say outright) that the only folks of value to God are Mother Theresa types … but I’m more the David type! The Isaacs, Jacobs, Samsons, Hoseas need to know the message of God. God is not looking for perfection in any one. The Hebrew Bible teaches us that Yahweh is looking for the faith that is about the size of a mustard seed and he will make miracles with it (Jesus knew this).  The New Testament itself points to the long record of women and men used by God who were just flawed people, see Hebrews 11. The Hebrew Bible is the testimony that Damaged Goods are the targets of God’s grace and hesed. What a source of hope.  See my blog Damaged Goods: A Biblical Pattern of Grace & Renewal. The testimony to grace and faith is deeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep in Hebrews 11.

Sixth, the Hebrew Bible shows us what a balanced, loving, faith filled, godly life looks like. The “Wisdom literature” is a gold mine here. Not every question in life has an easy pat answer. The Wisdom literature is an exercise in faith and discernment on how to live. Not just Proverbs. Ecclesiastes and Song of Songs (and if you are brave throw in Sirach) – yes we need to read Song of Songs more – teach us that God created us to live life now. This did not change when Jesus came. Some well meaning people turn the Gospel in Gnosticism when they think it (i.e. salvation) is only about dying and going to heaven. But the Gospel is about living as God intended humans to live both now and in the new age of the new heavens and new earth. Now matters. Now is not just a waiting period to die. 

Seventh, the Hebrew Bible with its profound doctrine of creation, of the cosmos and humans, teaches us to respect God’s world. We learn what it means to be a human being and why it matters. We learn what we were created for. Jesus as the “second Adam” has meaning in relation to what God intended humans (the first Adam) to be in the first place. Paul could never be more “Old Testament” than he is in Romans 8 (restoration of cosmos and restoration of humanity).

Eighth, the Hebrew Bible teaches us how to pray. Prayer is ubiquitous in the First Testament. The Lord’s Prayer, as many folks have observed for millennia, is basically an outline of the Psalter. Jesus did not invent prayer. But we learn prayer from Hagar, Moses, Hannah, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and (especially) the Psalms reign supreme. I confess that I preached for years and had no clue what prayer was. The Hebrew Bible taught me how to pray.

Ninth, the Hebrew Bible teaches us how to worship and what it means to worship God. Oh, I know, many will balk at this. So be it. But worship and dwelling in the presence of God is central to the Hebrew Bible. It is simply assumed in the “New Testament” writings. We learn who to worship. We learn why we worship. We even learn ways of worship. According to the Hebrews Preacher it is none other than Jesus himself who leads us in the praise of God in, and thru, the Psalms,

for this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sister, saying,
‘I [Jesus] will preach/proclaim your name [God’s name] to my brothers and sisters,
in the midst of the congregation I [Jesus] will praise you [God]‘” (Hebrews 2.11-12)

Here the book of Hebrews directly quotes Jesus of Nazareth but it is not from the Gospels.  This quotation is from Psalm 22.22.  Jesus is the minister of worship in the assembly of Christians and he is leading worship through the Book of Psalms.  Whatever else the Hebrews Preacher may have meant by the “old covenant has become obsolete” he did not include Psalms in that statement.  Jesus is preaching, Jesus is teaching, and Jesus is leading Christians in worship in the Psalms.

One of the best books that explores the Jesus ties of the Old and New Testaments.

Tenth, the Hebrew Bible teaches on almost every page, the importance of justice, mercy and faithfulness in everything we do as People who belong to God. We are created out of love. We are created for love to others. The Hebrew Bible teaches this. I am redeemed by mercy for mercy to give mercy to others. The Hebrew Bible teaches that while we certainly have a personal, loving, wonderful relationship with God it is by no means private and for ourselves. We are in relationship with Yahweh to be in relationship with his beloved creation and his beloved image bearers.

So many times we imagine the “authority of Scripture” to consist, essentially, in a series of permissions. That is authority is is to tell us what we can and cannot do (and in my religious tradition) primarily in a church service. But that is not the primary function of the authority of Scripture in either Testament. The authority of Scripture is its power to mold us and shape us in our every day life into people that reflect the holiness of God in the zest of daily life.

The Hebrew Bible is 100% authoritative and does what the Holy Spirit inspired it to do as Paul claims in 2 Timothy 3.14-17.  Paul was right.

This is my answer to the question.

P. S.

I cannot recommend enough reading the wonderful, outstanding and gracefully written book by Christopher J. H. Wright called Knowing Jesus Through the Old Testament.  If you have never read the book may I urge you to get a copy and read it very carefully.  There is a link just click on the title.

Ephesians.  John Calvin once declared Ephesians to be the “crown jewel” in the apostle Paul’s crown.  I have a hard time disagreeing with this sentiment. Ephesians is a majestic writing, casting an inspiring vision of what it means to be the people of God in this fallen world. People of the renewed creation made one.

Today, I want to suggest a way of encountering Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (I realize “Ephesus” is a textual variant) that may be somewhat different than we traditionally do. I want to suggest that we worship our way through Ephesians.

We recently preached our way through this glorious letter at Eastside Church, here by the Bay. And I have been preparing for three lectures on Ephesians at Harbor: Pepperdine Bible Lectures for 2018.

Ephesians is not new territory for me. I have preached through Ephesians in previous years. In fact eleven years ago I did a long series at PaLO VErde in Tucson. For that series I dug through mountains of essays, articles, and various commentaries.  This time, however, I have done something a little different. While I have found some really helpful articles and have wrestled with some standard commentaries, I am taking a different approach. And it has been good. The approaches are not mutually exclusive I hasten to point out. This time I have used Ephesians as a means to worship.

Ephesians as a Book of Worship

Ephesians is a book of worship. Ephesians begins in praise, a wonderful and traditional Jewish style blessing, much like a psalm. It is not difficult to imagine 1.3-14 being sung.

Ephesians contains has two powerful prayers (1.15-20; 3.14-19). Prayers are worship and Paul is himself engaged in worship while praying. The second prayer concludes with Paul bursting into praise usually called a “doxology” (3.20-21; cf. 1 Chron. 16.36 & Ps 106.48).

Ephesians has hymn fragments scattered throughout (5.14). It is hard not to sing lyrics.

Ephesians has the aroma of the temple from beginning to end (Paul tells the readers they have become “a holy temple” where the fiery presence of God “dwells” in 2.21). Paul draws on temple imagery and its sounds of worship. Jesus is said to be a “fragrant offering” (i.e. temple sacrifice, 5.1). Only a few verses later, Paul admonishes the inhabitants of the temple to do what Israelites have always done in the temple, sing the Psalms in the power of the Holy Spirit (5.18-19).

Ephesians is a product of worship, Ephesians was read or delivered in the context of corporate worship. Ephesians is a love affair with the people of God because God has made them God’s people and dwells with them through the Spirit … a wonderful “Old Testament” theme.

Ephesians is the picture of the redeemed, united, praying, praising, worshiping people of God.

Ephesians 1.1-11 in p46

Tuning our Hearts to the Sound of Worship

I want to suggest some meditative readings to frame and for listening to Ephesians through. These readings I have discovered share the same themes as Paul and perhaps were even the soil for his own perspective in Ephesians. Paul, in fact, alludes to a number of these texts. I have found them quite helpful in picking up the aroma from which Paul speaks and the Ephesians hear.

First, Immerse yourself in the Psalms of Ascent (Pss 120-134). Paul, and every Jew, was intimately familiar with these beloved Psalms as they played significant roles in the temple during multiple feasts. For our purposes view them as a unit. Zion/Jerusalem/temple, each are evocative symbols of God’s people, are loved and cherished because of God’s grace, especially his grace of dwelling with the people. Love, grace, unity, praying for the shalom of God’s people. The presence of God, love for the people of God, the longing for shalom among God’s people, the blessedness of unity among God’s people are all there in the Psalms of Ascent. Read these Psalms. Read them deeply and prayerfully. Then read Ephesians. Pray them. Then open Ephesians.

Second, Pray Psalm 27. This powerful psalm was known to every Jew being used in the Temple liturgy on Yom Kippur. It is quoted by Paul shortly after he notes that Jesus himself if a “fragrant offering” (5.1) when Paul says “sing and make melody” to the Lord quoting 27.6 in 5.19. Seeing the “beauty of the Lord,” to “behold your face” is the hunger of worship. The Lord is the “light” of our salvation as we become the light of the world (imagery shows up in Isaiah 49 and 5x in Eph 4.  (See my article, “Making Melody to the Lord …’ Paul’s Debt to the Psalter“).

Third, Psalm 68 a psalm used in the temple on Pentecost is directly quoted by Paul in 4.8. The glory of Yahweh’s grace is on full display. God has rained “abundance” upon the “heritage” of Israel. The nations are invited to come “sing praises to God,” just as Paul directs the “nations/gentiles” to do in Ephesians in 5.19.

Fourth, Psalms 15 & 24. Temples are “sacred space.” And the texts, Pss 15 & 24, speak powerfully to the kind of people who “dwell” within the the sacred space of house of the Lord. These Psalms echo in Eph 5 where Paul informs these former pagan Gentiles they are now sacrifices with a lovely aroma [temple language] and tells them what kind of people they cannot be (read 5.3-5 and then Pss 15 & 24). Worship transforms the worshiping people of God.  They are “saints” which is a good “Old Testament” word found often in the Psalms. But they are “saints” because they are made holy by the presence of the Spirit in the temple.  Pray the texts. Then read Ephesians.

Fifth, Psalm 103. As noted above, Paul bursts out into doxology (worship!) in 3.20-21. This is immediately after a prayer of intercession (also worship) that the Gentiles come to “know” the “breadth and length and height and depth” of the love of Messiah. Psalm 103 is about this very thing (some NT scholars need to read the Psalms more just saying!). The Psalm is a lyrical exposition of the the “creed of Israel” (Ex 34.6-7, quoted in 103.8). Yahweh’s hesed/steadfast love is (note the thematic connection with Paul’s language) “far as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his hesed for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgression from us …” Pray the text. Then read Ephesians.

Sixth. Tobit 13. Tobit 13 is a rich “blessing” of God, of the same type as Paul’s in Ephesians 1. Here Israel is called to “acknowledge him [God] before the nations” (13.3). They are to acknowledge him at the top of their voice. “Bless the Lord of righteousness and exalt the King of ages.” Indeed “a bright light will shine to all the ends of the earth [recall the comment about light above]; many nations will come to you from far away, the inhabitants of the remotest parts of the earth to your holy name, bearing gifts in their hands for the King of heaven.” Pray the text.  Then read Ephesians.

Jews and Gentiles together
And a new Jerusalem (temple!)

Seventh. There are a number of texts in Ezekiel that are powerful reading along with Ephesians. I will just list them 16; 36; 37; and 43.1-12

A “fragrant offering” (5.2) is from the incense on the altar that accompanies a sacrifice in the temple.

Two Helpful Books

Two books of a different sort. Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together and Eugene Peterson’s Practice Resurrection are like echo chambers for Ephesians. They will cultivate “worshipful” reflections and dispositions for hearing Paul.

Worshiping Ephesians

There are a number of readings here. However most are short. The Psalms of Ascent are very short. Ezekiel 16 is the longest reading.

I have been cultivating the following disciplines with Ephesians, maybe they will be helpful to you. I have been reading Ephesians as a whole in one sitting on Mondays and Fridays since the beginning of December when I knew I would be preaching this book. I read the Psalms of Ascent before each reading. I read Pss 15 & 24 after. This takes me about an hour. I read Pss 27, 68, 103 and Tobit 13 on Tuesdays and Thursdays as I am ruminating on the text for that week’s sermon. I read the Ezekiel texts once a week.

Begin by inviting the Holy Spirit to inhabit this time, it is the Spirit’s text after all. This is not necessarily a time of study. It is a time to join Paul, and the Ephesians, in the wonder of worship … and I think Paul uses the grace of worship to cultivate the unity, the oneness, of the Ephesian saints. Drawn into praise, prayer and wonder that is what Ephesians does.

Gary Mabry’s song, Ephesians 3, is a good song to use to close the time of prayerful reading.

I think you will hear things and see things and be drawn into Ephesians like never before.


This is the Advent version of our on and off again series of “Strange World of the Bible.” Sometimes we think we know the Bible but the Bible is wonderfully strange in the multiple meanings of that word.  So to some things we may not know are and are not in the Bible.

1) Did you know that “church of Christ,” with a Big C or little c, is a phrase that does not occur in the New Testament a single time. Not even once. “Church of God” occurs 8x in the NT. The single (1x) “churches of Christ” in Romans 16.16 has gotten a lot of sectarian airplay through the years. People argue, fight and disfellowship over the name “c/Church of Christ” not on a sign, when the irony is that term is not a New Testament term. So much for “Speaking where the Bible speaks and being silent where the Bible is silent.”

2) Did you know we disciples frequently create an “antithesis” where there is none in reality. One spectacular example is John 1.14-18. “Law was given thru Moses; grace and truth came thru Jesus Christ” (1.17). Scholars debate how best to translate this text. Did you know that the words “grace” and “truth” come from the divine self-revelation spoken to Moses (!) in Exodus 34.6, in the Hebrew Bible. John is quoting the “Old Testament.” The KJV even has those very words in that text.

John hardly is saying Moses did not know of, believe in, or even bring grace or truth (Jesus clearly believes Moses teaches the “truth”). Moses brought both! But what John is celebrating is the embodiment, or Incarnation, that is Grace and Truth – the very self-identification of God. Moses is a witness to grace and truth. Jesus is (as the very essence of God) grace and truth. The incarnation is grace and truth walking on two legs. This is not a “new” truth. It is not a slap down on Moses. John simply is noting that what Moses received via verbal communication has arrived in the flesh. We would do well to avoid false readings of the text. We can avoid such false readings many times by knowing the Hebrew Bible as first century followers of Jesus did.

3) Did you know that God destroyed two nations, and singled out two tyrants, in part, because they attacked trees?Yes, Trees! Sennacherib of Assyria is described by Isaiah as one who

laid waste to all the nations {the people} and their lands {the dirt})”

He threatened little Judah and bragged of his destructive power. Isaiah sent a letter to Hezekiah delivering the judgement of God against him. God said that among Sennacherib’s crimes was a war on the trees of Lebanon. The Lord quotes the king’s arrogant boasts,

“I have gone up the heights of the mountains,
to the far recesses of Lebanon;
I felled its tallest cedars, its choicest cypresses

God judges his arrogance. In two texts, Babylon is singled out for similar reasons. In Habakkuk 2.17, Yahweh tells the Babylonian king

for the violence done to Lebanon will overwhelm you;
the destruction of the animals will terrify you.”

Here Yahweh is returning to Babylon the destruction she has sown against creation.

In Isaiah 14 it is the trees themselves that break out in exultation because God has destroyed their Babylonian destroyer,

the cypresses exult over you,
the cedars of Lebanon, saying,
‘Since you were laid low,
no one comes to cut us down.
(Isa 14.8).

Modern westerners read right over these, and similar texts. They do not register in our post-Enlightenment platonic worldview. But even in the New Testament we learn that God will “destroy those who destroy the earth” (Revelation 11.18). The Bible declares that the trees belong to the Lord (Ps 104.16f) and that humans are themselves “creatures” who are part of a community of creatures. No wonder Jesus taught that the Creator God knew even when a sparrow died.

4) Did you know, since I mentioned trees, that Scripture tells us that animals can “teach” human beings? Job in a beautiful defense of his integrity against his so called Friends tells them to go interview the animals … and trees.

But ask the animals, and they will teach you;
the birds of the air, and they will tell you;
ask the plants of the earth, and they will teach you;
and the fish of the sea will declare to you.
Who among these does not know
that the hand of the LORD has done this?
(Job 12.7-9)

Truly the whole world is full of HIS glory … may we have “eyes to see and ears to hear!” God’s Spirit is in the world as the Elixir of Life.

5) Did you know that when Paul wrote “as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs … giving thanks to God the Father” in Ephesians 5.19-20, that this certainly included the book of Psalms.  It may or may not be limited to the Psalter, but it most certainly included Psalms. Paul is quoting from Psalms with these very words (Ps 27.6, LXX).

We know from the Dead Sea Scrolls that other “psalms” besides what Psalter were sung. Many scholars believe that the Song of the Three Jews preserved in the Greek Daniel and the Prayer of Manasseh have their origin in the temple liturgy. They were loved by the early church. The song fragments that are preserved in the NT itself have a Psalm flavor to them. So it is beyond reasonable doubt that the first century church learned to praise God thru the Book of Psalms.

6) Did you know that what we believe about “love” may need to be nuanced? Most of us have heard that the Christian version of “love” is “agape” and it is superior to all others (like phileo, but apparently the Father phileo’s the Son, Jn 5.20). We are told that it is not an emotion. But I wonder? In fact, I believe it is a myth! Perhaps you are not aware that in the Greek version of Song of Songs, a work all about love, emotion and even sexuality, regularly uses agape to describe the “love” between the woman and her man. Perhaps Paul owes more to the Septuagint than the Greek philosophers … perhaps.

Be blessed … eschew sectarianism, love God’s creation as he does, listen to the animals, learn how to worship from the Psalter and become a person of passionate love.

For the Curious: Others in this Series follow the links …

Strange World of the Bible: Nudity, Public Bathing and Dogs

Strange World of the Bible #2: Ten Things the Bible Does NOT Say 

Strange World of the Bible #3: Ten Times the New Testament is Actually the Old Testament, But Didn’t Know it

Strange World of the Bible #4: Missing Eight Windows on Jesus’s Jewishness

Strange World of the Bible #5: “Ordinary People” and the Bible in the First Century