From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind; 14 from his dwelling-place he watches all who live on earth 15 he who forms the hearts of all, who considers everything they do. 16 No king is saved by the size of his army;
no warrior escapes by his great strength. 17 A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. 18 But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him, on those whose hope is in his unfailing love, 19 to deliver them from death and keep them alive in famine. 20 We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield. 21 In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name. 22 May your unfailing love be with us, Lord, even as we put our hope in you.
We sometimes hear people say “might is right” not usually in a positive sense but meaning that the mighty abuse their power to suit themselves and make themselves the judge of their own behaviour. Not many of us are aware that “Might is Right” was the title of a book published in 1896 which denied the existence of such things as natural or human rights and argued instead that physical power and strength alone could set moral and ethical standards. Dictators down through history have followed that creed as have kings of old. Psalm 33 reminds us that this is codswallop. Any power that exists, exists only in the overall purpose of God and with his permission. The warning of the psalm is that God sees all people equally, he is an eye witness to every deed, and God’s weighs every motive and action. Dictators beware!
The other side of the coin is that no king or nation is secure in and of themselves. “No king is saved by the size of his army”. Our ability to control circumstances is limited. We have discovered that in the past 6 months as the world in its most developed state in history, both technically and economically has been devastated by a virus that no-one reckoned on or saw coming. Generally governments and people have forgotten what the psalmist realised thousands of years ago when he wrote “We wait in hope for the Lord, he is our help and our shield. In him our hearts rejoice, for we trust in his holy name.”
Gimme 5 is going to take a break for the summer months but as we sign off remember the two lines with which this psalm concludes “May your unfailing love be with us Lord, even as we put our hope in you.” Make that your prayer. Continue to pray for one another, for the church, our community and nation. Ask that a cure and a vaccine for this pandemic might be found soon and that when it is remember to whom we prayed and ask that we will not forget the lessons of this time.
Listen (This is a belter!)
The Lord foils the plans of the nations; he thwarts the purposes of the peoples. 11 But the plans of the Lord stand firm for ever, the purposes of his heart through all generations. 12 Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance.
I watched the tea time news yesterday and in Moscow President Putin took the salute at a massive military parade to mark the Soviet victory in World War Two. The item ended by saying that the Russian people are to vote on a proposed changed to the constitution of the country which would allow Putin to serve two more terms as President without having to stand aside for a time as he did before. Before the Coronavirus took our attention by storm you’ll remember that we were in a time of growing international tension. Now that Coronavirus is on the wane, for the moment at least, we find that international tensions are coming to the fore again. Russia is flexing its military muscle, North Korea has blown up a centre for peace funded by South Korea, the Taliban is becoming increasingly active in Afghanistan having been given a role in the country by the USA.
Had we time to reflect upon it, all these are worrying signs and perhaps even now they cause us some unease; the world suddenly seems to be an unstable place. Powerful men jostle for position and cling to authority, they plan for national glory and crave influence in the world that will write them into history and, of course, enable them to enjoy the economic fruits and creaturely comforts of political position or is it dictatorship? It’s typical of human arrogance and at the same time foolish of us to imagine that such men are all powerful. While they may be influential in their generation their power is limited, firstly because their lives are limited to the normal span; age and decline will remove them. Beyond that there is one more powerful, one who is sovereign in all things for verses 10-12 of this Psalm tell us the second reason why we should sing in joyful praise to the Lord. In summary our God reigns!
Men and women may have their moment in history, they may wreak havoc for a time but the Lord foils the plans of the nations, and thwarts the plans of politicians that are in anything contrary to his will. By contrast the Lord’s plan and purpose from generation to generation remains the same, and will prevail. Time like an ever rolling stream may bear all her sons away, but it carries the entire human race and all creation closer to that day when Christ shall return and establish His Kingdom in power. Then we will see the new creation in all its glory.
When this psalm was written the people of God was largely defined as the nation of Israel. In the gospel age that definition has broadened to include people of every nation and race. All made one through faith in Jesus Christ. Blessed is the people he chose for his inheritance. Think about that last sentence, It’s not a grammatical error.
Here’s a blast from the past, well from my past anyway. In the last century (no kidding it was the 1970’s) we used to sing a song in BB bible class that went like this. “Kingdoms may rise, kingdoms may fall, nations refuse to hear God’s call but the word of the Lord endureth forever more.” That’s the truth, praise God!
Behold our God (video below)
John Piper on God’s sovereignty - click link (10 minutes)
Psalm 33:4-5 (NIVUK)
4 For the word of the Lord is right and true; he is faithful in all he does. 5 The Lord loves righteousness and justice; the earth is full of his unfailing love. 6 By the word of the Lord the heavens were made, their starry host by the breath of his mouth. 7 He gathers the waters of the sea into jars; he puts the deep into storehouses. 8 Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the people of the world revere him. 9 For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.
As a parent it can be really vexing when your child in answer to every instruction comes back with the question “Why?”. So the conversation goes something like this. Come in now. Why? Because it’s time for bed. Why? Because it’s late. Why? Because you need to go to bed. But why? Because I said so!!!!! That usually settles the matter. As a society we are more apt to question authority than our parents’ generation, so we are more like our kids than we imagine. Here though, in the Psalm the author calls us to praise and then gives the reasons immediately and he must have had Presbyterian roots (I jest of course) since there are three.
The first is his word which reveals his nature and achieves his will, verses 4-9. That word reveals the moral character of God. Right and true means upright, and the dictionary definition of the word is righteous, strictly honourable and honest. His character also governs his actions, he is faithful in all he does. Others may fail, others may fall away, others may be selfish and be untrue but the Lord is nothing if he is not faithful to himself, his character and the promises he makes such that the Psalmist writes, the whole earth is full of his unfailing love. We in turn, as those created in God’s image have a sense of what is right, a sense of fair play, a sense of justice even if we don’t always live by and display those qualities in our own behaviour.
The word of the Lord has also power to achieve his will verses 6-9. He speaks and breathes existence and life into the universe around us. This creative work of God is so plainly visible to all humanity, clear enough to make us search for God that the psalmist in verse 8 calls for the peoples to revere the Lord.
Open your eyes look around you, our sense of right and wrong, our wonder at the universe, the delight we take in creation, these things all point to the nature and power of God who created them and calls us to join the praise.
1 Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous; it is fitting for the upright to praise him. 2 Praise the Lord with the harp; make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre. 3 Sing to him a new song; play skilfully, and shout for joy.”
It never fails to amaze, and sometimes to exasperate me (but that’s our secret) how many people, mainly men, come to church and stand with books open and mouths closed as songs are sung in praise to God.
Well for God’s people here is a command, an imperative, “Sing joyfully to the Lord”, and the context here would seem to be occasions of worship together. The psalm writer tells that our approach should be, joyful; he describes the means, using all kinds of instruments to make music, and with ever new words that express his glory and how, skilfully! In three words, worship should be joyful, comprehensive, and skilful.
Well that’s fine for Sundays but what about the rest of the week. Is God only to be praised one day a week? Well no, clearly not but the same three words still apply. Our lives should express praise to God and that praise should be characterised by joy, more than a cheesy grin which is easily wiped off our faces but a deep contentment in knowing Jesus.
Our praise should be comprehensive, everything we do should glorify God and if that was fixed in our minds we might find that we fell into specific sins less frequently than we do; and skilfully, we should do our very best, using our gifts, our talents and learning to full effect, not to please the boss or impress the people around us, but to please God as an offering of praise to him. Praise and a life of praise is not one in seven, but seven /seven! So if we can’t praise our Saviour in these other ways Monday to Saturday then we better learn to play the one man band!
Acts 18:9-11 New International Version
9 One night the Lord spoke to Paul in a vision: ‘Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. 10 For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city.’ 11 So Paul stayed in Corinth for a year and a half, teaching them the word of God.”
From Philippi where he was jailed, to Thessalonica where he had to flee the city at night, through Berea and Athens, Paul came at last to Corinth where in accordance with his practice he began to preach in the synagogue reasoning with both Jews and God-fearing Greeks that Jesus was the Messiah. The pattern however was the same as in other places. Some believed in Jesus including Crispus the leader of the synagogue and his family, but others became abusive driving Paul out so that he made his base the home of Titius Justus just next door.
This was a pattern of opposition and persecution Paul had become familiar with and although it is not stated directly in the text we conclude that Paul preached the gospel despite his recent experiences and fears for his safety and that of the new believers. The Lord however knowing those fears encouraged and comforted Paul in a vision, telling him not to be afraid, to keep preaching and assuring him of his presence in the words now familiar to us... “For I am with you”. The fact that God spoke to Paul and told him not to be afraid reveals that fear was present but the message he received must have greatly encouraged him and the assurance that God had many people in Corinth no doubt spurred him on.
Telling others about Jesus can be quite a challenge, for some more than others, and it can fill us with fear. Courage is not speaking from a position of safety, but overcoming fear or anxiety and speaking even when there is a risk of verbal or physical abuse. While we must be prayerful about our witness and careful how and when we express our faith, if Jesus truly lives in our hearts and our faith is vibrant then expressed it must be. We may not all have the assurance that our witness will be fruitful in terms of numbers coming to believe but we have each one the assurance of Christ’s presence always. If you are afraid pray about that too, ask for wisdom, ask for courage, ask for the opportunity to speak without embarrassment and expect an answer.
Haggai 1:12-15 (NIVUK)
12 Then Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the whole remnant of the people obeyed the voice of the Lord their God and the message of the prophet Haggai, because the Lord their God had sent him. And the people feared the Lord.
13 Then Haggai, the Lord’s messenger, gave this message of the Lord to the people: ‘I am with you,’ declares the Lord. 14 So the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of the whole remnant of the people. They came and began to work on the house of the Lord Almighty, their God, 15 on the twenty-fourth day of the sixth month.
It’s never easy to start again whatever it might be, and after the national trauma of conquest and a seventy year exile in Babylon the Lord had honoured his promise and brought a faithful remnant back to Jerusalem. Things began well but as so often happens, the enthusiasm soon waned and people became burdened with the challenges of life in hard economic times, and were waylaid into a self-centred lifestyle. True enough things had to be done, the harvest brought in, life was sometimes a struggle; it may have been that a military campaign in Egypt by their political masters had put a tax burden on them but the spiritual malaise into which the returnees had fallen was reflected in the abandoned temple. Work had stopped for some 16 years. Things spiritually were on the slide!
At that point God stepped in and challenged the people with the facts. They said it wasn’t the right time and they would get round to it but not just yet. On the other hand they had put the time and resources into building something more than basic homes for themselves which they claimed were not there to rebuild the temple. It was a question of priorities! However, as we’ve read when God challenged the people of Haggai’s day they responded in obedience to the message of the prophet. When that happened God sent a new message of assurance through the prophet “I am with you”. In turn their spiritual desire was stirred and they resumed work with almost lightening speed.
It’s never easy to start again (deliberately used) and I wonder how we will start again as a church when this present health crisis is over, or do we see even now a kind of spiritual lethargy in some Christians. If, as psychologists tell us, it is important in a time like this to establish routines, it is even more important to do so spiritually. Personally, it amazes me how quickly I can fall into a new pattern of behaviour and follow the least difficult course. So, when the economic shock of Covid-19 strikes us, as we’ve been told to expect, will concern for everyday life pull down our spiritual desire to a new low in an age when it wasn’t that high anyway? Let alone society in general, is it time for us, God’s people to hear the challenge Haggai brought from God “Give careful thought to your ways.” Haggai 1:5. It’s not that having the means of life and supporting our families is unimportant quite the opposite but it should not be the cause of anxiety that leaves no room for perusing God. Luke recorded Jesus words ( 12:29-31) on the matter “.... do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.
Challenges lie ahead for our nation and the church, so listen to the inner prompting of the Spirit. To those who respond and seek His face with renewed vigour the promise is the same “I am with you”
Isaiah 41:1-10 (NIVUK)
The helper of Israel
1 ‘Be silent before me, you islands! Let the nations renew their strength! Let them come forward and speak; let us meet together at the place of judgment. 2 ‘Who has stirred up one from the east, calling him in righteousness to his service? He hands nations over to him and subdues kings before him. He turns them to dust with his sword, to wind-blown chaff with his bow. 3 He pursues them and moves on unscathed, by a path his feet have not travelled before. 4 Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord – with the first of them and with the last – I am he.’
5 The islands have seen it and fear; the ends of the earth tremble.
They approach and come forward; 6 they help each other and say to their companions, ‘Be strong!’ 7 The metalworker encourages the goldsmith, and the one who smooths with the hammer spurs on the one who strikes the anvil. One says of the welding, ‘It is good.’ The other nails down the idol so that it will not topple. 8 ‘But you, Israel, my servant, Jacob, whom I have chosen, you descendants of Abraham my friend, 9 I took you from the ends of the earth, from its farthest corners I called you. I said, “You are my servant”; I have chosen you and have not rejected you. 10 So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
Under Joshua Israel possessed the land but because they were disobedient did not subdue it as intended and Israel continued to be troubled politically and spiritually by the peoples and nations around them. Israel as a nation reached the peak of its power under David and Solomon but after that it was a downward path with Israel becoming increasingly disobedient and the people wayward in their faith. Politically the kingdoms of Israel, north and south were caught between the superpowers of the day, and both fell into captivity and suffered deportation, the northern kingdom passing forever into history but the exiles of the southern kingdom eventually returning to Jerusalem under Ezra and Nehemiah.
It is very easy for any of us to look around us and believe that we are caught in series of random events and sometimes the schemes of men and nations. These may be events personal to us, perhaps the result of international tensions or for example worldwide pandemics over which we have little control. Israel in her disobedience faced such a situation yet Isaiah 41 serves as a reminder that God is in control of history and that he has called out a people for himself. Look at the tenderness of verses 8-10. Israel may be descending into the furnace but is not forgotten by God, nor has his purpose failed even if the nation has, and he will be with them in day of trouble, note the promise of verse 10, he is the one who will uphold them.
The people called by God today form the church of Jesus Christ. Still, in the face of world events we seem at times to be at the mercy of the schemes of man or the uncertainties of nature. Not so! It is God who holds the nations to account (verse 1 above) and who calls rulers as instruments of his judgement and discipline (verse 2) and who is sovereign in everything be it the course of history, outcomes for the church or our lives.
Isn’t it the case that at times we need to remind ourselves that we are not caught up in a world which is at the mercy of blind forces? True, a spiritual battle is going on behind the scenes but God is in control and victory is never in doubt. Jesus has conquered the grave, sin has been atoned for, hope is secure in him and we, despite all we may face and all we may feel in our darker moments are not forgotten. “So do not be afraid, I am with you; do not be dismayed for I am your God.” Is 41:10
Joshua 3:5-7 (NIVUK)
5 Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’ 6 Joshua said to the priests, ‘Take up the ark of the covenant and pass on ahead of the people.’ So they took it up and went ahead of them. 7 And the Lord said to Joshua, ‘Today I will begin to exalt you in the eyes of all Israel, so that they may know that I am with you as I was with Moses. “
When Joshua succeeded Moses as leader in Israel, God promised to be with him, as he had been with Moses. The charge that followed was for Joshua to be strong and courageous, to summon up courage in effect, but not in himself or his natural resources but given the promise, he was to be strong in the Lord. As in fact Paul had encouraged the believers in Ephesus to be strong in the Lord.
Spies had been sent into Jericho and returned with encouraging news. Now came the first test and as Joshua prepared the people to cross the Jordan to claim the land promised to Abraham and his ancestors, the Lord spoke to him again. This time however, God gave an assurance that he would not live in the shadow of Moses but be exalted in the eyes of the people as God showed himself to be with Joshua.
It isn’t clearly stated here so we can’t say definitively but perhaps God was aware of two things, Joshua’s inner concerns that the people may not have confidence in him as they did in Moses, and perhaps a fear among the people that on the eve of possessing the land and perhaps facing their greatest challenges for a generation they had lost their trusted leader. So, in one go God addresses both concerns by showing that He is the power behind the man, that the leader, any leader, is nothing without God.
When we stand on the verge of a new beginning or a fresh challenge, a new calling or maybe a new job or school, for those who trust in Jesus it is important for us to remember that our strength and encouragement in is him. If we are walking in his will and continue to look to him he will equip us for every challenge.
The writer of Proverbs has this advice in ch.3:5-6. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; 6 in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”
In terms of how we live day by day the first 10 or 12 verses in Proverbs 3 is well worth reading. Today submit your way, your concerns and fears to the Lord and trust him.
Joshua 1:1-5 (NIVUK)
1 After the death of Moses the servant of the Lord, the Lord said to Joshua son of Nun, Moses’ assistant: 2 ‘Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the River Jordan into the land I am about to give to them – to the Israelites. 3 I will give you every place where you set your foot, as I promised Moses. 4 Your territory will extend from the desert to Lebanon, and from the great river, the Euphrates – all the Hittite country – to the Mediterranean Sea in the west. 5 No one will be able to stand against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. 6 Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them. 7 ‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go.
The final verdict of God’s word on the life of Moses is unequivocal in its praise “Since then not prophet has risen in Israel like Moses whom the Lord knew face to face.” Yet because he broke faith with God publicly at Meribah- Kadesh he was not permitted to enter the land promised to Israel. That task fell instead to Joshua, Moses’ assistant. What shoes or sandals I suppose, he had to fill!
Joshua had seen at close hand the struggles of Moses, the challenges to his leadership as he guided a headstrong and often disobedient nation. Joshua would face the same and more as he led the people in the conquest of the land they were entering, and alas he would face the same struggles to keep the nation faithful to God. As he assumed leadership of the people God knew everything that troubled Joshua, perhaps his sense of unworthiness or of being out of his depth, or just not up to the job and so he received a very great assurance from God, “As I was with Moses so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
When God makes a commitment like that he means it and unlike us he is powerful to keep the promises he makes. Joshua need not have feared, yet he was human as we are, a man of the dust like us and so he was bound by all the weakness and frailty of our humanity. It shows us first that God uses frail and feeble people in his service but also that he equips them for that service. Secondly, the promise of God’s presence does not make the task easy or minimise the challenges and so we see he charges Joshua “be strong and courageous not once but twice in successive verses 6 and 7. God knew what Joshua faced and that he would need to muster all his strength and gather his courage for the challenges ahead.
Having the promise of God’s presence does not reduce the size of the challenges we face or remove them. It does not trivialise the heartache or the painful realities of daily life or the circumstances that test our faith, hence the need to gather our strength and muster courage for those challenges. If you are a Christian, be strong and courageous but remember as well that you are not struggling alone. The Apostle Paul had this to say in writing to the church in the city of Ephesus “ Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11 Put on the full armour of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes...... so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.
Exodus 3:9-12 (NIVUK)
9 And now the cry of the Israelites has reached me, and I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. 10 So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt.’ 11 But Moses said to God, ‘Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?’ 12 And God said, ‘I will be with you. And this will be the sign to you that it is I who have sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you[a] will worship God on this mountain.’
Jacob went with his family to Egypt, generations passed and God honoured the promise to make his descendants into a nation there. However a king came to the throne who was ignorant of the history of Joseph and the Hebrews and how they came to be in Egypt and he feared them greatly. The answer was to enslave the entire Hebrew population of Egypt. In their suffering they cried out to God who heard their cry and saw their suffering and took action. That was in sending a deliverer to free them from slavery and bring them to the home God had promised. That deliverer was Moses, but I expect you see the parallels with Jesus.
Moses of course had a history in Egypt, a Hebrew child, he was found by Pharaoh’s daughter in a basket by the river and raised as her own within the palace. He had killed an Egyptian overseer who was beating a slave and had fled as he thought and hoped to a life of obscurity in the desert of Midian. He would soon learn that there was no fleeing from God or escaping his reach when he was called from the burning bush to return to Egypt and lead the Israelites out. To encourage him God gave the promise of 3:12 “I will be with you” but for reasons of his own continued to make excuses to God until God became angry and he, Moses eventually conceded.
As believers we are commissioned by Jesus to carry the gospel as witness for him into the world at home or abroad, in our families, in our work places, to neighbours, or in response to a specific call. That may fill us with trepidation or uncertainty, we may feel unworthy or ill equipped but what we must not forget is that God equips us for those tasks and gives us help through the ministry of his Holy Spirit. Above all we have the promise of Jesus, “surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age. Matthew 28:20. It is natural and right that we should test our sense of call and consider our gifting for the task but we should never doubt the ability and the intention of Jesus to go with us and of God the Holy Spirit to fit us for his work.