19 Aug 2013

Rocks, Martin & Psalm 62

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Black History, Hebrew Bible, Hermeneutics, Love, Martin Luther King, Ministry, Prayer, Psalms, Race Relations, Suffering, Worship
Rocks & Martin

In February 1968, the prospect of death looming large in his life, Martin Luther King, Jr took a sabbath with Ralph Abernathy in Acapulco, Mexico. Around 3 am, Abernathy awoke to find that King was not in his bed. Frightened, he went into the living area of their hotel suite and discovered that King was on the balcony in his pajamas, staring into the darkness at the ocean.

Abernathy approached King, “Martin, what are you doing out here this time of the night? What is bothering you?” With his eyes still fixed on the ocean and his ears tuned to the roar of the waves, King whispered, “You see that rock out there?” “Oh, sure I see it,” Abernathy replied.  “How long to you think its been there?” King asked. “I don’t know. I guess centuries and centuries. I guess God put it there.”

“Well, what I am thinking about?” King said softly while Abernathy remained silent. And King began to sing, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me; let me hide myself in thee.” In his hour of trial and darkness and waves crashing in on him, King could only think about trusting in God. Only God could provide him with the peace he so desperately needed. So when he saw that rock it reminded him of the powerful words of the Psalms put to music by Augustus Toplady in 1776.  Singing the song brought a little shalom in the storm.

A basic element in the Psalms is their expression of continual, total and exclusive trust in God alone. God is the problem. But God is the solution. The element of trust dominates our text for meditation, Psalm 62. This theme is present in many others too such as Pss 4, 16, 27 and 131.  Yet for me Ps 62 stands out.  It is expresses the firm hope in God’s ability to enable his faithful ones to become “more than conquerors.”

God ALONE is Trustworthy (62.1-7)

Psalm 62 is easily divided into two major parts: 1) the first eight verses are the psalmists expession of trust in God and 2) verses 9-12 are the psalmist’s “homily” to the gathered people of God to trust in Yahweh as well.

My soul finds rest in God alone; my salvation 
comes from him.
He alone is my Rock and my Salvation; he is my Fortress, I will never be
shaken” (vv. 1-2)

In the midst of the turbulence of 1968, Dr. King found that the only way for him to find shalom was to imagine himself secure in the “Rock of Ages” so our psalmist does the same. God is the sources of all peace and security. These are not words that are spoken naively or rashly.  The psalmist has meditated on his well-being and realizes that all is evanescent except God. God alone is the ground of stability in his life – the Prophet of Justice learned this through real tribulation, just as the psalmist did.

Notice the metaphors the psalmist uses to talk of his God, “my Rock, my Salvation, my Fortress.” All of these are images of confidence, strength and security. The ancient Hebrews, unlike the Greeks, did not talk about God in mere abstraction. They talked about God in concrete, observable and vivid ways. They also talked about God in highly personal terms. He is not someone way “out there” who may or may not know that we (and me) are around.  He is not just concerned with the corporate people of God. He is concerned with me.  He is MY rock! He is MY salvation! he is MY fortress! Therefore I shall not be moved. What Yahweh has done in the past for the whole of Israel by redeeming them from slavery he does in our own lives as members of the covenantal family.

How long will you assault a man? Would all of you throw him down — this leaning wall, this tottering fence?
They fully intend to topple him from his lofty place; they take delight in lies.
With their mouths they bless, but in their hearts they curse.” (vv. 3-4)

Here we finally get a window into the crises of the psalmist. It is a struggle we all face sooner or later.  People – family, friends, brothers and sisters – people are friendly to our face.  They pretend to be concerned with our well being.  They act the friend.  But they honestly would like nothing more than to see us fail! To see us stumble! And they would actively take part in our ruin! That kind of “persecution” is many times as painful as public ridicule precisely because these folks were imagined to be family or friends. Sometimes they are just simply our enemy.  The psalmist bemoans the fact that they assail him with their double tongued behavior.  They bless him verbally but curse him in their heart.  Sound familiar?? Sadly this takes place in God’s Family even yet!

It is interesting to note that even though the Lord is his mighty fortress, physical and verbal attacks are nonetheless undeniable real and quite painful.  Being the Lord’s servant does not makes us immune to suffering and injustice in this fallen age (cf. 2 Tim. 3.12).  We might even argue that it heightens it.  Look at Jesus, the purest of Servants of the Lord.  Did he not suffer the very things the people of God confess and lament in Psalm 62? God was His rock. God was His salvation. God was His fortress.  And he still died on that ignominious Tree for the likes of you and me.

Find rest, O my soul, in GOD ALONE; my hope comes from him.
HE ALONE is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will not be shaken.
My salvation and my honor depend upon God; he is my mighty rock, my refuge
(vv. 5-7)

In these verses, our psalmist engages in what we call today “self-talk.” There is no denying, and the Bible does not deny, that the fallen world is tough to live in. But God is with us. Our minstrel recalls fundamental concepts for our own peace and security.  Do not put trust in ourselves or others.  Real “manliness” does not come from bulging biceps, fearlessness in the face of enemy bullets, or perseverance, nor in our intellectual capacity or imagined doctrinal precision.  This is in stark contrast of the “world” which claims that a “real man” depends on no one and nothing except himself!  Yet this psalmist (David??) declares that his hope is in God ALONE. It is  not in himself.  It is not in his mighty men. It is not even in his ability to pray or worship correctly. It is in Yahweh. Here is the key to being hidden in the Rock of Ages.

The Singer’s faith in God is moving and very challenging.  Because the Lord is our salvation, we can remain steadfast in our obedience.  We will not be shaken. Yet it some how all depends upon God. He alone can provide the way out of the dreadful situations we find ourselves entrapped in.

The word “salvation” is a multifaceted word in the Scriptures. Sometimes it means deliverance from Sin, from enemies, or even death.  All of these are dimensions of the biblical doctrine and we need to not think one is more “Spiritual” than the other.  These dimensions are all embraced by Jesus and they should be by us.  But in Ps 62 “salvation” means deliverance from the situation that has ensnared the psalmist.  It is a real crises.  This understanding of “salvation” is important to us in our contemporary situation too.  Many folks have lost a conception of what “Sin” is (including Christians), but we all know what it means to have an aimless or miserable life! We know of lives that seem to be devoid of purpose and meaning.  When Christ died on the Cross it was not merely to save us from Sin, though he did do that. According to the apostle Peter, Christ redeemed us from “the EMPTY WAY OF LIFE handed down to you from your forefathers” (1 Pt 1.18).  This is incredibly Good News. Our God is a God of salvation.  Salvation that impacts and transforms the here and now of life and not just when we die.  Our God desires the fullest of lives possible.  Our psalmist embraces these truths with gusto.  So should we.

But the psalmist stresses that a good life is from God. It is his grace.  Without God life has no meaning or purpose. We are nothing without Him.  He testifies “my honor depends on God.” My stature is nothing outside of the Lord.  I might as well have never existed, for human honor and worth derive form the Creator God.

Don’t Trust in Humans (62.8-12)

Trust in him at all times, O people, pour out your hearts to him, for God is 

our refuge.
Lowborn men are but a breath [lit. ‘vapor’], the highborn are but a lie; if 
weighed on a balance, they are nothing; together they are only a
breath [lit. ‘vapor’].
Do not trust in extortion or take pride in stolen goods; though your riches 
increase, do not set your heart on them” (vv. 8-10)

Our psalmist now becomes the teacher of the Gathered People of God.  He addresses them rather than himself.  He exhorts us to trust in, to have faith in, God at all times for he alone is our refuge. We should “pour out our hearts to him.” This is a call to prayer! A call to dependence rather than independence! When we feel assailed we seek instinctively our “refuge.”

What the psalmist wants, perhaps, more than all else is not to fall into the trap of trusting in fallen humans And that includes ourselves. The description of humanity in vv 9-10 is in stark contrast to the description of God in vv 5-7.  God is permanent and unshakable, he is a Rock.  He is reliable so he is my Salvation.  He is strong as a Fortress that cannot be breached.  Yet humanity whether a poor pauper or a rich bureaucrat is a wisp, a vapor, and “a lie.”  Vivid imagery captures the human dilemma here. Our teacher says if you take both the rich and the poor and put them in one pan of a balance scale and nothing in the other pan they would fly up because “nothing” would weigh more than them combined.  We cannot trust in humanity for our security and stability or our peace.  We will find no rest there.  Those who have done so have learned, as the psalmist has, that humanity will always let us down.  God will never desert us.  He is faithful.  That is the Good News of Psalm 62.

The Bible is full of exhortations not to trust in humanity.  Paul in Romans 3.10-18 creates a collage of citations from the Hebrew Bible saying it is the gospel truth …

There is no one righteous, not even one there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of shalom they do not know there is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Not a pretty picture of humanity painted by Paul. Humans are liars and untrustworthy.  Only God is faithful so put it all in him.  Our singing teacher reminds us that money and power are common sources of human trust for safety and security too.  But he warns that trusting in apparent might rather than in the right.

Two Things to Take to the Bank (62.11-12)

One thing God has spoken, two things I have heard: that you, O God, are
strong and that you, O LORD are loving. 
Surely you will reward each person according to what he has done.”

The psalm employs a Hebrew idiom, “One thing … two things” which simply means “repeatedly,” or “over and over and over and over.” The psalmist closes his song to the church by sharing the testimony of all who have walked with God, he is Strong and he is Loving! These are two things that are certain as reality itself.  God is Strong!  God is Loving!! You can hang your life on these two truths.  You can live your life even in the darkness holding onto these fundamental truths.  They are more than “truths” they are simply reality.  “This I have heard, this I know … “This is the basis of his faith in God delivering him from the straits he is in.  God has the power and God has the motivation to do it.

Because God has the power and the motivation to right the wrongs of this fallen world – he will do just that.  One day God will judge each man and woman.  He will measure our deeds. The very deeds of evil by you, me, everyone … the whispers, the lies, the double-mindedness God will bring out.  This is in fact ground for praise in the psalm.  It is not the psalmist’s place to exact vengeance on his enemies.  God will take care of that on that Day. And he will do it perfectly.  This is why Christians look forward to the Day of Christ’s appearing. All will be set right. The ones who have put their faith in his faithfulness will be rescued by the angels of God and will greet the King.  Trust in God. If we have shalom and peace in our lives we must give God control.

So I concluded these musings on this amazing text with a call to simply rest in God.  In Good times.  In Bad times.  We like Martin Luther King, Jesus, and the psalmist before them can lift our voices and sing, “Rock of Ages, cleft for me; let me hide myself in Thee!

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