15 Nov 2022

Day 15: Journey thru the Prayerbook of Jesus, Psalms 73-77 (Pain, the Story, Faithfulness)

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: A Gathered People, Discipleship, Exegesis, Faith, Hebrew Bible, Holding On, Jesus, Kingdom, Psalms, resurrection, Spiritual Disciplines, Suffering, Worship

Journey thru the Psalms, the Prayerbook of Jesus. Day 15, Today’s lection is Pss 73-77. Today is November 15, 2022 in the Land by the Bay.

For those who follow me on Facebook know that I frequently post daily meditations on the day’s Psalm reading (which follows a lectio continua fashion from 1 to 150 every month). But this morning I decided to place it on my blog.

It is dark when we wake up at 5:30. Casper insists on being pet. Turned on the coffee, grabbed this month’s translation of the Psalms (Contemporary English Version, CEV). We begin with confessing the Shema and saying a brief prayer of thanksgiving for love, mercy, fellowship in the Spirit, the gift of life and seeking the Spirit’s attendance with our time in the Psalms, I turned to Psalms 73 to 77 to read.

This morning we begin “Book III” of the Psalter (that is Pss 73-89), in which most of the poems are ascribed, or dedicated to, or by Asaph. It is here in Book III that we encounter some of the deepest and the darkest, songs of Israel’s pain and suffering. Biblical faith is familiar with the hurt of the world.

Asaph knew how to express what could not be put in words. Asaph is the psalmist used by God to give voice to the groaning of all of creation as it longs for the redemption pictured in the Cross and Resurrection of the Messiah (cf. Romans 8.11, 19-23). These psalms reveal the two worlds God’s people live in simultaneously as we noted back on Day 1 of our journey:

  1. that is in worship we confess to live in God’s Kingdom, and pledge allegiance to
  2. at the same time we live in the fallen rebellious world that refuses to acknowledge the King.

This tension in the faith of the psalms, sort of an “already” but “not yet,” is at the heart of what it means to be a disciple to this day. We inhabit two world simultaneously.

In my opinion, it is by design that songs by, and in honor, of Asaph have not only been brought together but form the center of the Book of Psalms. There are laments throughout the Psalter, but they are concentrated here in Book III. The psalms of Asaph are the epitome of pathos. Some of my personal favorites are in Book III.

With these ancient saints (many do not realize that “saint” is an “Old Testament” word that has been appropriated by NT writers) urge upon us the necessity of worship, in order to have a true understanding of reality.

When we look “out there” and see how the wicked are thriving (!), they have bodies like Hercules and Aphrodite and the masses swoon over them in their arrogance (the Hollywood and politicians of ancient Israel!) and that they publicly flaunt their disgust (or deceptively pander for it) for God’s Reign. It causes angst.

Despondency comes “until” we enter into the realm of worship and see majestic holiness and the “end” of the wicked is undeniable (73.1-17). In worship, we reject the arrogance of the self-sufficient, confessing that,

there is NOTHING on earth that I desire other than you” (73.25).

In gathered worship we see the world as it truly shall be (destined to be).

Psalm 73 is literally the middle of the Psalter and it is also provides the lens for reading the whole. It is a sort of macro version of Psalm 1 (or better an expanded interpretation/commentary of Psalm 1). The editors of the Psalter, I believe, were guided by the Spirit to place it right here to remind us, once again, of the proper way to see reality proclaimed in Psalm 1 and 2.

Psalm 73.17 shows us that eschatology is essential for anything that resembles faithful living in covenant with God. That is when we know the end of the Story, it casts the entire journey in fresh, and even, surprising new light. (Eschatology is not merely concern for the last days rather it is living now in light of the Victory of God that we know has already taken place. God truly is King and sits on the throne).

Meanwhile, I’ve kept my heart pure for no good reason;
I’ve washed my hands to stay innocent for nothing.
I’m weighed down all day long.
    I’m punished every morning.
If I said, “I will talk about all this,”
    I would have been unfaithful to your children.
But when I tried to understand these things,
    it just seemed like hard work
     UNTIL I entered God’s sanctuary
        and understood what would happen to the wicked
.” (73.13-17, CEV).

The editors of the Psalms were very wise in not denying the reality of pain and the dismay that pain brings in God’s people. But the Psalms (and Ps 73 in particular) gives us the proper filter for understanding, or better continuing to live in hope for the manifestation of God’s kingdom … where his will is done on earth as it is in heaven. Such truth is perceived, according to the Psalms, in gathered worship, in the glorious Presence of the Cosmic King, a place the “wicked” cannot even imagine (cf. Psalm 15 & Psalm 24).

Psalms 74 and 76 pull us back to the bedrock of the covenant of love. Proclaiming “God is King from of old” (74.12) by recalling, both, the Exodus and Creation, the now exiled community pleads with God to remember, both them and those who perpetuate evil. It is in the King that all hope rests.

We are “here” (that is in Exile/a grave) because of our history of arrogant sin. But it is the King who made the covenant of love, thus we have hope despite our rebellion. Our Plea is on the basis of God’s promise not our precision obedience (a notion the Psalmists scoff at).

And Yahweh, the King, speaks in worship (75.2-5). He responds to the people, in worship. He announces that he will indeed judge the earth with equity, and he holds the whole world up lest it cave in upon itself.

You have set a time
    to judge with fairness.
The earth trembles,
    and its people shake;
you alone keep
    its foundations firm.
You tell every bragger,
    “Stop bragging!”
And to the wicked you say,
    “Don’t boast of your power!
Stop bragging! Quit telling me
    how great you are
.” (75.2-5, CEV)

When God comes in judgement he will “save all the oppressed of the earth” (76.9).

Here, as most frequently in Scripture, judgment is not penal punishment but deliverance and making things right. Good News is always for the poor and the aliens. Just as typically violations of the Covenant of Love in Israel is failure to care for the widows, orphans, and aliens. Indeed it was that which broke the camel’s back to bring on the Exile.

Sometimes, I confess with the psalmists themselves, that God may be a little too patient. I do not want him speeding up patience with me. But sometimes, oh sometimes, I do with others. When God does not meet my timetable and anguish and tears are our diet, we begin to question Yahweh’s “steadfast love” (77.8).

At times like this we recall the Story of God’s power and grace that we hear, and know to be true in worship. It is the Story of “the deeds of the Lord.” What are those mighty acts or deeds in Psalm 77, this is the a narration of what I call “the Grace Creed” of the Hebrew Bible. God’s acts of Hesed in,

– the creation,
– calling the pagan Abram,
– being with the arrogant Joseph,
– redeeming rebellious Israel,
– his patience, mercy, and grace on David,
– how Yahweh graciously dwells with God’s people.

Through this Story, we find courage and hope, even in the Dark Night. It is the Story of Grace and Steadfast Love that gives us courage and faith to continue in hope. It is not delusions of our own faithfulness and precision obedience that help in the dark night of the soul.

God has never ceased to be gracious. God has never ceased his steadfast love (Hesed), which the Story reminds us, reaches to the highest heavens (77.11-20).

But I will remember the Lord’s deeds;
    yes, I will remember your wondrous acts from times long past.
I will meditate on all your works;
    I will ponder your deeds.
God, your way is holiness!
    Who is as great a god as you, God?
You are the God who works wonders;
    you have demonstrated your strength among all peoples.
With your mighty arm you redeemed your people;
    redeemed the children of Jacob and Joseph
. Selah

The waters saw you, God—
    the waters saw you and reeled!
        Even the deep depths shook!
The clouds poured water,
    the skies cracked thunder;
        your arrows were flying all around!
The crash of your thunder was in the swirling storm;
    lightning lit up the whole world;
        the earth shook and quaked.
Your way went straight through the sea;
    your pathways went right through the mighty waters.
        But your footprints left no trace!
You led your people like sheep
    under the care of Moses and Aaron.

It is fitting to recall how the Psalms are intermingled with the Life of Jesus. Especially in the godforsakenness of that dark weekend. Jesus’s soul “refuse[d] to be comforted” (77.2). Jesus had to walk by faith into that darkness … and in that darkness he grasped hold of the promises of Yahweh for life.

God burst forth into the darkness, vindicating the faith of Asaph and the faith of Jesus. Yahweh vindicated them by showing steadfast love does in fact reach not only to the highest heaven but into the darkness of the grave … to bring about resurrection of the physical body.

And that is why we Gather in his Presence soaking up his glory. God rose in judgment and saved the oppressed, even Jesus! And because he rescued Jesus … God rescues us! We know the end of story and live victoriously in the present.


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