Bible Reading Blog

Bible Reading Blog

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Coping With God's "Absence"

Tuesday, October 06, 2020

BIBLE READING: Psalm 79
Note: Some of these thoughts are quoted from the Word Biblical Commentary by Marvin Tate. 

This psalm most likely reflects Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem and the temple in 587 BCE. This was a horrible, bloody episode that changed the lives of all Israelites forever. They had lost their nation and their homes. The ones who survived had lost family and friends, some to death and some to captivity. But the devastation went much deeper than that. They had believed that, as God’s chosen people, such a disaster could never befall them (Amos 9.10). But when the temple was destroyed, it seemed to indicate that God had either abandoned his temple and his people or he had been defeated himself. This is apparently how Judah’s neighbors interpreted the events (Psalm 79.10). But the psalmist refused to accept this. He maintains his faith in the God of salvation to deliver, atone for sins, and show himself superior (Psalm 79.9).

This psalm is not easy to read. It is full of anguish at the horrifying things the people have seen. It is devoid of noble religious sentiments and replaced with confusion and confession. The psalmist is desperate. They had become a people with nothing, except the belief that God was faithful. 

Although he has been unable to see God’s help in the immediate past, the psalmist has not forgotten God’s past deliverance and has not lost hope that he will again see it. He knows that without divine help, there can be no hope. So, this psalm is more than a response to what the psalmist experienced; it is a heartfelt effort to integrate God into his understanding of the events that have wrecked his life. Psalm 79 deals with one of the basic issues in our faith: how do the people of God cope with disaster in the face of God’s seeming absence? The answer is by hanging on to hope in him. 

When faced with a desperate situation the need for God becomes clear. But what about when things are going as planned? We tend to self-medicate with pleasure, comfort and complacency. Our sense of self-sufficiency becomes dominant while our awareness of sin becomes dull.

But times of comfort don’t last forever. At present, we face uncertainty with the COVID crisis and our current political situation. While unsettling, these factors are simply uncovering the reality of this world’s brokenness. Eventually things fall apart, systems get broken, and people turn against one another. If God doesn’t exist to help and save, what a wretched future we all face.

The need for God doesn’t change with circumstances, but the realization of our need does. Whether we think everything is fine or feel like the world is spinning out of control, we need a source of stability that we can trust. This critical void is precisely where God fits. I pray God gently and mercifully allows us opportunity to trust him more deeply with our salvation and our future.

“Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your name; deliver us, and atone for our sins, for your name’s sake!” (Psalm 79.9)

Are We There Yet?

Tuesday, September 29, 2020

BIBLE READING: Psalm 75

“At the set time that I appoint I will judge with equity.” (Psalm 75.2)

“Are we there yet?” No parent wants to hear these dreaded words from the backseat. You can’t really blame a kid. You tell them “we’re going on a trip... it’s going to be great," and all they see is miles and miles of highway passing by... slowly. But as parents it can be frustrating. It’s not like they have to do all the hard work of navigating, driving, or even staying awake. All they have to do is sit there – and still, they are anxious and restless, constantly asking, “Are we there yet?”

I think we do the same thing to God at times. We trust that he’s taking us somewhere, but we want to know when the good stuff comes.

Genesis gives us the story of Joseph, who waited years for the fulfillment of the dream God had given him. He was falsely accused and imprisoned before the time came for him to do what God had shown him he was to do. Exodus 13.17-18 tells us that God led the Israelites the longer, harder way on their journey to the Promised Land. He needed that time to demonstrate his character to them. In the wilderness, they wasted a lot of time wondering about God's timing, but God never failed to take care of them. In both cases, God proved to be in control throughout every event.

There is a randomness we perceive in the events of life (Ecclesiastes 9.11), but nothing is random to God. Everything happens on his timeline and under his watch. He knows when the beginning and end of a thing will be. He knows and sets the limits of suffering and the prosperity of the wicked. He knows when they will be judged, even when we cannot.

God is unmoved and unchanged by circumstances. Instead he is always working according to a timeline where all things will work together for good (Romans 8.28). Sometimes that means immediate judgment towards sin (see Acts 5.1-11). Other times that means wickedness is allowed for a time so that he can assert himself (see Exodus 7.3-5). Whatever the case, God’s work is always on time, intentional, and deliberate.

Ultimately, He will judge based on what each person has done (Romans 14.12; 2 Corinthians 5.10). He will put down the wicked; He will exalt the righteous (Psalm 75.7).

“Are we there yet?” No, and we don’t know exactly when we will be. But this psalm offers a remedy for the anxieties of our heart in the meantime: Remembrance, praise and patience. Remembrance reinforces the proof of God’s sovereignty (Psalm 75.1). Praise elevates our heart to trust him (Psalm 75.9). Patience produces hope as we learn the consistent outcome of God’s actions (Psalm 75.10; Romans 5.3-5).

God knows what he is doing. Let’s be grateful that God is consistent and good, guiding us with righteousness and grace in every season of life.

“He has made everything beautiful in its time.” (Ecclesiastes 3.11)

Senseless and Ignorant

Tuesday, September 22, 2020

BIBLE READING: Psalm 73

“I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.… When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply...” (Psalm 73.3, 16, NIV)

When children play together, there will inevitably be a dispute over toys. One child has a toy the other child wants, and when they can’t have it… things get emotional. I have observed that usually it has nothing to do with the toy and everything to do with wanting what someone else has. Whatever toy the other child has at that moment – and seem to be having fun with – is the toy other kids want. 

Their immaturity is evident, but we’re not that different at times. We fixate on the success and prosperity of others, especially when we are unable to achieve that ourselves. We become discontent with where we are and what we have, and our minds become dominated by comparison. 

Like this psalmist, all of this is driven by what we see and want. Like Asaph, we see others experiencing good health, comfort, and affluence and think to ourselves, “That’s what I need.” We invest our time and emotion in the pursuit of something we believe will satisfy. The reality is we’re trying to get that toy that won’t remedy the true desire we have. 

Asaph later admitted his thinking was not influenced by wisdom or reality. “When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant; I was a brute beast before you.” (Psalm 73.22). That’s a pretty negative way to describe one's self; but it highlights to foolishness of how we respond to the world at times. We react with emotion instead of information. We forget that “for everything there is a season” (Ecclesiastes 3) and “all things work together for good” (Romans 8.28). We set our mind on things below instead of things above (Colossians 3.2)

In the middle of the psalm, Asaph gets his eyes off the world and himself, and he focuses upward. As he's focusing on God, his thinking changes. He starts to realize what the reality is. Even though by worldly standard, Asaph doesn't have a lot, he realizes he's the one with everything because he has God.

“Whom have I heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth I desire besides you. My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73.25-26)

The world will always be a rat race of comparison. Let’s not ignorantly get caught in the flow of politics, culture and comparison. If we get our eyes off ourselves, our problems, our wants and lacks, and off of what everyone else seems to have, we realize how blessed we really are just for knowing God. May we find contentment and confidence in his power and presence. 

“…those who are far from you will perish… but for me it is good to be near God my refuge; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.” (Psalm 73.27-28)

The Almighty Makes Him Understand

Tuesday, September 15, 2020

BIBLE READING: Job 32

“And Elihu … said: “I am young in years, and you are aged; therefore, I was timid and afraid to declare my opinion to you. I said, ‘Let days speak, and many years teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in man, the breath of the Almighty that makes him understand.” (Job 32.6-8)

The conversations between Job and his friends can be frustrating to read. His friends are convinced he has some untold sin while Job vehemently maintains his innocence. Their discourses appear to get nowhere beyond the agony Job is experiencing and mere speculation regarding God’s purposes. 

At this point Elihu enters the story. He is angry at the way God has been insufficiently portrayed and justified (Job 32.2-3). As a younger man, he knew his place and kept silent while the older men spoke, but he could contain himself no longer. Ultimately, Elihu is the only human character in the book of Job whose testimony is unrefuted. He speaks boldly and directly, not personally attacking these men, but extolling the virtue of God’s sovereignty.

Here are some things we learn from the introduction of Elihu:

  1. It is wise for youth to defer to their elders (Job 32.4). Although lengthy and frustrating, Elihu gave them his attention in hopes of learning (Job 32.12). With age often comes valuable experience and insight. Up to this point he has respectfully considered all that has been said. Despite his scathing remarks, he demonstrates that patience and consideration should be practiced by those younger (32.6-7). 
  2. Having said this, age does not always equal wisdom (Job 32.9). I believe the contrast offered here is to help us recognize the true source of wisdom. It does not come simply from gaining knowledge and life experience. These things aid in the communication of wisdom, but in themselves do not produce true wisdom. 
  3. Wisdom originates from God who knows what is best. As we grow older, we gain greater understanding of the logistics of this life; but unless we submit to God and develop a greater sense of humility towards him, it is a practice self-righteousness. There is no amount of years one could live or energy one could exert that will change the truth from God’s word or the wisdom he teaches. 

Elihu gives no pretense that he knows what God is up to. What he knows is that God needs to be honored; That even in the worst of circumstances God is justified simply because he is the Creator. God is God and will do as he pleases. He has no need to justify himself to humanity, although he could and ultimately, he will. 

As with all the wisdom literature, we come to this point of realization: all efforts to make sense of life circumstances will suffer want. There is nothing sure except that God is sovereign over all. And so, as the wise man reminds us, to fear God and keep his commandments is the proper pursuit in life (Ecclesiastes 12.13). 

The Case For Integrity

Monday, September 07, 2020

BIBLE READING: Job 27

“As God lives, who has taken away my right, and the Almighty, who has made my soul bitter, as long as my breath is in me, and the spirit of God is in my nostrils, my lips will not speak falsehood, and my tongue will not utter deceit.” (Job 27.2-4)

It is not by Job’s power that he has gained or by his wrongdoing that he has lost (Job 1.21). Instead, it is the Almighty who gives life and breath (Job 27.3), grace and hope (Job 27.8).

Job made no claim to be the responsible party for the events of his life. By contrast, his friends constantly asserted that his circumstances resulted from improper choices and behavior. As the exchanges intensified, Job refused to concede to their allegations, affirming that no one knows the meaning of circumstances with certainty (Ecclesiastes 8.16-17). Only God does. Job adamantly refused to impose on this sovereign right of God. 

Instead, he emphatically maintains the case of his integrity. Job’s position on God’s sovereignty remained unchanged by circumstances or even his own perceived righteousness (see Job 9.15-21). 

A couple of observations from this reading:

  1. God does not expect us to make sense of our circumstances. There will be times he reveals why, but God is most concerned with our trust. God maintains perfect control in all circumstances – even when Satan is directly attacking God’s people. We should be cautious defining our relationship with God according to cause and effect. Certainly, God has promised to reward some things and punish others, but the timeline is in God’s hand (Ecclesiastes 3.11). And so, integrity is more important than knowing. 
  2. Integrity was the defining feature in Job’s life. His wife and friends knew he would not compromise (Job 2.9; 4.6). They saw this as a weakness, but God saw it as a strength. In fact, Job’s integrity was the basis for God’s brag to Satan (Job 2.3). There were many things Job could not control, but this he could. Our natural tendency is to adapt and conform for our benefit. In many ways our lives are about change (Romans 12.1-2). But sometimes we perceive our changes as more significant than God’s consistent nature. However, it is not my good deeds, my efforts or exertion that define a relationship with God. It is commitment in my inner being to let God be God and to adhere to what I know about him. It is only with integrity that we will find consistency in our walk of faith. 

Like Job, we must be adamant that God is sovereign, in every circumstance. “Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10.23, NIV). May God help us to be strengthened with this resolve. 

“…may he grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being… to know the love of Christ… that you may be filled with all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3.14-19)

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