Psalm 9:9-20 – Assertive Anger and Confident Trust

The poor can run to you
    because you are a fortress
    in times of trouble.
Everyone who honors your name
    can trust you,
    because you are faithful
    to all who depend on you.

You rule from Zion, Lord,
    and we sing about you
    to let the nations know
    everything you have done.
You did not forget
    to punish the guilty
    or listen to the cries
    of those in need.

Please have mercy, Lord!
    My enemies mistreat me.
Keep me from the gates
    that lead to death,
    and I will sing about you
    at the gate to Zion.
I will be happy there
    because you rescued me.

Our Lord, the nations fell
    into their own pits,
    and their feet were caught
    in their own traps.
You showed what you are like,
and you made certain
    that justice is done,
    but evil people are trapped
    by their own evil deeds.
The wicked will go down
    to the world of the dead
    to be with those nations
    that forgot about you.

The poor and the homeless
won’t always be forgotten
    and without hope.

Do something, Lord!
    Don’t let the nations win.
    Make them stand trial
    in your court of law.
Make the nations afraid
and let them all discover
    just how weak they are.
(Contemporary English Version)

Everyone gets angry. Every single person on planet earth knows what anger feels like. And, to me, it makes sense that people get angry. After all, God gets angry. As people created in God’s image, we share God’s sense of justice and injustice.

That’s really what anger is: an emotional response to injustice. Whenever we are wronged or treated unfairly – or observe another person or group of people experiencing injustice – it stirs up our anger.

So, anger, in and of itself, is neither good nor bad. It just is. It’s what we do with our anger that gets dicey. A lot of human anger gets expressed in unhealthy ways by either passively stuffing it down into the soul and ignoring it; aggressively lashing out with verbal or physical violence; or passive-aggressively doing indirect jabs at the object of our anger.

The psalmist, however, takes another way of expressing anger. He is assertive, straightforward, and addressed God with his observations and feelings, as well as affirming that the Lord is the One who administers justice with fairness and equity.

When the poor are overlooked or oppressed by the rich, it is unjust. It creates anger, both human and divine. In their misery and hardship, they can flee to God, who is faithful to care for them and treat them with respect and dignity, as people carrying the divine image, like everyone else.

The nations of the earth are not all attentive to the needy. They don’t all serve their citizens and try to do right by them. Unfortunately, many people throughout the world groan under national leadership which is enamored with power and privilege – and forget those who are powerless, unable to lift themselves by their bootstraps.

Because of this reality, the psalmist petitions God. He asks, even insists, that God step in and act as judge and jury. It is an assertive use of anger that goes to the source of true help, to the Lord, who possesses both the will and the ability to overturn injustice and establish a right use of power.

Holy Scripture is consistent in its insistence on paying attention to those outside the halls of power. The prophets directed their message to issues of justice:

Learn to live right. See that justice is done. Defend widows and orphans and help those in need. (Isaiah 1:17, CEV)

Just look at those lawmakers who write evil laws and make life hard for the people. They are not fair to the poor. They take away the rights of the poor and allow people to steal from widows and orphans. (Isaiah 10:1-2, ERV)

He has told you, human one, what is good and what the Lord requires from you: to do justice, embrace faithful love, and walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8, CEB)

Do you know what I want? I want justice—oceans of it. I want fairness—rivers of it. That’s what I want. That’s all I want. (Amos 5:24, MSG)

Doing justice is taking up the cause of the powerless, the oppressed, and the needy among us in society. Because God cares, we care. To ignore the poor is to ignore God. To treat them unfairly is to flip the middle finger at God.

The Lord, thankfully, is a strong fortress for the oppressed and a protective force in times of trouble.

God remembers the prayers of the down-and-out.

Sooner, or later, those who are wicked in their dealings through exploitation of the powerless, will know firsthand, they are puny humans, and that God is immensely big.

Today’s psalm is both an angry petition, as well as an affirmation of faith. May it serve as a model for using our anger assertively, ordering our love rightly, and trusting our God confidently.

God almighty, you have given all peoples one common origin. It is your will they be gathered together as one family in yourself. Fill the hearts of humanity with the fire of your love and with the desire to ensure justice for all. By sharing the good you give us, may we ensure equity for all our brothers and sisters throughout the world. May there be an end to division, strife and war. May there be a dawning of a truly human society built on love and peace, through Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.

**Above image: The Kveshi Fortress in the nation of Georgia.

1 Samuel 17:55-18:5 – True Friendship

As Saul watched David go out to fight the Philistine, he asked Abner, the commander of his army, “Abner, whose son is this young man?”

“I really don’t know,” Abner declared.

“Well, find out who he is!” the king told him.

As soon as David returned from killing Goliath, Abner brought him to Saul with the Philistine’s head still in his hand. “Tell me about your father, young man,” Saul said.

And David replied, “His name is Jesse, and we live in Bethlehem.”

After David had finished talking with Saul, he met Jonathan, the king’s son. There was an immediate bond between them, for Jonathan loved David. From that day on Saul kept David with him and wouldn’t let him return home. And Jonathan made a solemn pact with David because he loved him as he loved himself. Jonathan sealed the pact by taking off his robe and giving it to David, together with his tunic, sword, bow, and belt.

Whatever Saul asked David to do, David did it successfully. So, Saul made him a commander over the men of war, an appointment that was welcomed by the people and Saul’s officers alike. (New Living Translation)

“One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”

Seneca (5 B.C.E.-65 C.E)

We may have numerous acquaintances; social media friends; friends we do activities with; family friends and cousin friends; and even some good close friends. However, there are few, maybe only one or two people, who are so close as to be your best friend and a kindred spirit.

That person is the one whom you know always has your back; is the first person you call in the middle of the night in an emergency; and is the confidant you can say anything to, and they won’t freak out about it. They will always shoot straight with you and are your biggest encourager and fan. There is nothing they would not do for you.

I hope you have such a friend because they are rare gems. Such relationships typically begin by hitting it off well together. Usually, some event or particular place brings two people to a point of discovering they have such commonality of thinking and a commitment to living a certain way that their hearts are immediately drawn to each other. This is exactly what happened to Jonathan and David.

Before Jonathan and David’s friendship emerged, Jonathan (King Saul’s son) took it upon himself to step up and step out in single-handedly taking on the Philistine army. Jonathan faced them with only his armor-bearer behind him, climbed a cliff to other side where the Philistines were, and attacked all by himself. One guy deliberately went against an entire army. 

While six-hundred Israelite soldiers were hiding, too afraid to face the enemy, Jonathan took it upon himself to act. It was not a rash action but a decision of faith:

Jonathan said to his young armor-bearer, “Come on, let’s go over to the fort of these uncircumcised men. Maybe the Lord will act on our behalf. After all, nothing can stop the Lord from saving, whether there are many soldiers or few.” (1 Samuel 14:6, CEB) 

Jonathan passionately believed the Lord was with him and would achieve the victory. Indeed, God sent a panic throughout the Philistine camp when Jonathan acted. The result was a complete rout.

David had his own act of faith with the Philistine giant, Goliath. While everyone in the Israelite camp was fearful of the larger than life enemy, David saw him through the eyes of faith, and stepped up to challenge someone twice his size. 

It just so happens, that on that day, Jonathan had a front row seat to the entire event. It was immediately after David killed Goliath that Jonathan knew this was a guy with remarkably similar sensibilities. David possessed Jonathan’s same passion for God; same zealous faith that takes enormous risk; same heart for God’s people and God’s name. They clicked – and became kindred spirits, as if knowing the one of them was to know the other.

It was true friendship at its absolute best. Jonathan had David’s back. There was nothing he would not do for him, and vice versa. So, he made a covenant with David. And it turned out to be a lasting commitment neither of them ever regretted. 

Jonathan did not make the covenant with David just to buddy-up with the new popular person. No, Jonathan is a timeless example of one who was humbly unselfish. He gave up his robe and his weapons to David. This was a magnanimous gesture. Jonathan believed David was the next true king, so he gave his kingly objects to him.

As the king’s son, Jonathan stood in line to be the next king. In fact, everything we know about Jonathan informs us he would likely be a darn good king. Yet, Jonathan recognized David was a more worthy candidate than himself. So, he gave up his right to the throne and handed over his symbols of potential kingship.

Jonathan delighted in David’s success. He joyfully watched David become a great warrior and successful leader. Jonathan was always the first one to give David a pat on the back and do whatever was needed in supporting him. 

Jonathan didn’t mind that David upped him on the battlefield and commanded ever larger numbers of soldiers.  Jonathan could have pulled rank on David as the king’s son – but he never did, because he honestly believed his friend was the real king.

“If Christ Jesus dwells in a person as his friend and noble leader, that person can endure all things, for Christ helps and strengthens us and never abandons us. He is a true friend.”

St. Teresa of Ávila

In the New Testament, we see a person with the same spirit and devotion as Jonathan. John the Baptist was out in the wilderness being a literal wild man. And he gained quite a following. All kinds of people went out into the desert to be baptized by John and to be his disciples. Yet, John recognized that he himself was not the true king. Concerning Jesus, John said:

“This is the one I told you would come! He is greater than I am because he was alive before I was born.” (John 1:15, CEV)

“I am not the Messiah…. I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way for the Lord.’” (John 1:20, 23, NIV)

“Though his ministry follows mine, I’m not even worthy to be his slave and untie the straps of his sandal.” (John 1:27, NLT)

“I have seen and testified that this one is God’s Son.” (John 1:34, CEB)

John never became jealous, envious, or concerned that his cousin Jesus was greater than himself. In fact, he celebrated it:

“I am so happy that he is here. He must become more and more important, and I must become less important.” (John 3:29-30, ERV)      

John was focused on God. He therefore was able to respond rightly and humbly to Jesus, the true king. 

Jonathan was focused on God, and so was able to respond rightly and humbly to David, the true king.

Jesus is both king and friend. Jesus can be your kindred spirit, the one who always has your back. You can call, and he will be there. And we can delightfully watch Christ increase while we decrease. His success is our success. 

Divine friendship is possible. God’s people can enjoy incredible unity because Jesus has gone before us – he has won the victory over sin, death, and hell on our behalf. By faith we step out and act with the knowledge God is with us.

Jesus said, “No longer do I call you servants, for a servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you.” (John 15:15, NKJV)

**Above wood sculpture of Jonathan and David by Olen Bryant (1927-2017)

1 Samuel 16:14-23 – The Work of God

Now the Lord’s spirit had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him. Saul’s servants said to him, “Look, an evil spirit from God is tormenting you. If our master just says the word, your servants will search for someone who knows how to play the lyre. The musician can play whenever the evil spirit from God is affecting you, and then you’ll feel better.”

Saul said to his servants, “Find me a good musician and bring him to me.”

One of the servants responded, “I know that one of Jesse’s sons from Bethlehem is a good musician. He’s a strong man and heroic, a warrior who speaks well and is good-looking too. The Lord is with him.”

So, Saul sent messengers to Jesse to say, “Send me your son David, the one who keeps the sheep.”

Jesse then took a donkey and loaded it with a homer of bread, a jar of wine, and a young goat, and he sent it along with his son David to Saul. That is how David came to Saul and entered his service. Saul liked David very much, and David became his armor-bearer. Saul sent a message to Jesse: “Please allow David to remain in my service because I am pleased with him.” Whenever the evil spirit from God affected Saul, David would take the lyre and play it. Then Saul would relax and feel better, and the evil spirit would leave him alone. (Common English Bible)

In the realm of God, everything seems upside-down. Those who are first are last, and the last are first. The rich are really poor, and the poor are actually rich. People of low position are the highest in God’s realm, while those at the top are really at the bottom. The religious insiders, appearing close to God, are on the outside; and the outsiders, seemingly far from God, are really the insiders and close to the Lord.

If we judge circumstances according to human standards of fair-play and what seems right to us, God’s ethics might not make much sense. There are two extreme responses to this reality of God’s odd working in the world. 

One response is to try and nail down everything we don’t understand, to create a black and white world where every question has an answer, and all things are certain so that we know exactly how God works, all the time. 

The opposite response is to never try answering anything about the mysterious working of God, saying, “whatever will be, will be.” Somewhere in the middle of the extremes is probably a good place to be – working to know God better and how divinity operates in the world, while being comfortable with mystery and discerning we will never completely understand everything in this life.

There are times we feel confident of what God is doing. Other times, maybe most of the time, we are clueless as to how God is working. We do not have all the answers to God’s activity. Yet, there is still a lot we know about God. The Lord worked in quite different ways with Saul than with David.  

The difference in the two characters, Saul and David, hinges upon the presence and absence of God. God withdrew divine presence from Saul. King Saul’s deliberate and consistent disobedience of God’s direct commands led to the divine absence. Not only did God leave Saul, but an evil or bad spirit from the Lord tormented him. That reality might be something way off your understanding of how God works with people.  God departed from Saul and put him in a situation of inflicting pain.

Bear in mind, in a biblical worldview, there are not two equally opposing forces of God and Satan. Rather, Lucifer is a created being who aspired to be like God and fell from heaven. God stands alone as the one sovereign Being who controls all things in heaven and earth. 

Saul is not an isolated occurrence of experiencing a bad spirit. For example, God hardened the heart of Pharaoh so that he acted harshly against the people of Israel (Exodus 9:12; 10:20, 27; 11:10). From a strictly human perspective, it seemed God was kicking the can down the road, pushing off the people’s deliverance. Yet, the Lord was orchestrating deliverance from bondage, and a redemption far beyond what the Israelites could have ever imagined. 

Sometimes, we are privy to God’s working. For example, in the days of the Judges:

Abimelech ruled over Israel three years. But God sent an evil spirit between Abimelech and the lords of Shechem; and the lords of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech. This happened so that the violence done to the seventy sons of Jerubbaal might be avenged and their blood be laid on their brother Abimelech, who killed them, and on the lords of Shechem, who strengthened his hands to kill his brothers. (Judges 9:22-24, NRSV)

In whatever way we understand an evil spirit from God in the life of Saul, the point to grasp is that God is aware and in control – whereas Saul is a disturbed man due to his own bad choices. Some ancient interpreters of the story view this as an act of mercy on God’s part, by not just eradicating Saul altogether, but, instead, giving Saul an opportunity to turn his life around and again experience the presence of God.

Keep in mind, just because someone experiences mental or emotional pain in the form of depression or anxiety or other disorder, does not necessarily mean there is a bad decision behind it. To go down that route is to take the extreme position of living in the black and white world of trying to be certain of everything. We only need consider the life of Job to know that pain, even extreme pain and horrible circumstances, does not necessarily mean sin is at the root of it all. (Job 2:7-10)

“People with absolute certainty are usually the misguided souls who confidently tell other people in terrible circumstances how God is either punishing them or that this will all work out in some fairy tale ending of the miraculous (which it rarely does).” 

Mit Tdrahrhe

On the other extreme, those embracing only mystery simply say to people in pain to trust God and accept your situation because God has a plan (not helpful, even hurtful). So, what is helpful?

The servants of Saul knew what was helpful. They asked the king to put out an ad for a music therapist. And the best one they could find was David. The problem of Saul’s anguish needed the answer of a good harpist. 

Saul got some relief from pain, got a chance to perhaps come back to God, and David (already the next anointed king) got to learn the job of leading first-hand from the bottom-up by being in Saul’s service.

David needed to learn lowly service before becoming an exalted king. God could have simply knocked Saul off the throne and did away with him (which would make sense to a lot of people). Instead, God graciously gave young David time to observe the duties of a king.

God isn’t off his rocker. God knows what he is doing. God knew both Saul and David, inside and out. And, the Lord intimately knows each person, family, faith community, nation, and people group. If anyone claims to know precisely what God is doing and should do, they are a spiritual huckster speaking from ignorant pride. Conversely, if anyone throws up their arms in exasperation, mumbling how nobody can know God’s working, they are spiritually immature and irresponsible.

How we act or not act, what we say and do not say, is all a function of our theology – our real view of God. So, what might we take away from this story?

  1. The mystery of God and the certainty of people do not mix well. Claiming to always know what God is doing is delusional and just doesn’t help anyone.
  2. The clarity of God through divine commands, and the apathy of people to them, is a bad situation.  Claiming to never know what God is doing is a cop-out (because God has spoken clearly about a lot of things, like the Ten Commandments).
  3. Unlike Saul, do the best you can in the circumstances before you. Many situations we cannot avoid. However, in every situation we can control our response.
  4. Like David, be an agent of comfort, healing, and blessing to others. Most of the psalms were written in times of doubt, distress, and disturbance. We can take those psalms and pray them directly to God in the midst of our own discomfort.

We are in God’s hands, all of time. There is never a time when we are outside of God’s sight or ability to work.  The Lord’s arm is not too short to accomplish good purposes. God is our strong tower and mighty fortress for every life circumstance.

**Above painting: David playing the harp for King Saul, by German painter, Januarius Zick, 1750

Luke 6:43-45 – Your Words Reflect Your Heart

A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot produce good fruit. You can tell what a tree is like by the fruit it produces. You cannot pick figs or grapes from thornbushes. Good people do good things because of the good in their hearts. Bad people do bad things because of the evil in their hearts. Your words show what is in your heart. (Contemporary English Version)

I always find public confessions on TV to be something rather disingenuous. Typically, celebrity apologies only take shape when one has been caught saying something and are called on the carpet. Then, when the apology comes, it is predictably odd and incongruent, in which the person says something to the tune of, “I’m sorry if I hurt anybody by what I said. Saying that really wasn’t me. I’m not really like that.”

Well, apparently you are like that because it came out of your mouth. Jesus said that out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The words we say out loud betray what is truly inside us.

To illustrate that point, Jesus used the metaphor of a tree. If the roots, the trunk, and the branches are good and healthy, then you can be sure the tree will produce good healthy fruit. However, if the tree is diseased, or infested with insects and rotting from the inside out, then no one can expect anything other than bad fruit, not fit to consume.

If the fruit is bad, the tree is bad. If the words are hateful, sarcastic, passive-aggressive, manipulative, conniving, racist, hurtful, ignorant, mean, unjust, foolish, and either subtly or overtly abusive, then the person has a dark heart and is need of redemption, not excuses.

Conversely, if the words are affirming, encouraging, loving, compassionate, gentle, caring, direct, helpful, peaceful, kind, giving hope and life, then there is a good heart behind it.

Yes, bad hearts can parrot good words. However, those words are not genuine but mere rote recitations to achieve some sort of personal agenda. And, of course, good people will occasionally say dumb or hurtful words. In such times, let it be a reminder that we all have some shadowy places within our hearts – and that we must depend on God’s grace to enlighten those dark spaces.

It is best to observe patterns rather than focus on isolated events where either good or bad words were said. A consistent pattern of invalidating another’s experiences or feelings; intimidating or threatening others; dismissing or discounting someone’s input; or being unnecessarily blunt are all major red flags pointing to a severe heart issue.

Evil does exist in the world. And if we are not vigilant to it’s insidious role in the crafting of words, wickedness can easily smack us upside the head when we aren’t looking.

The heart cannot be concealed forever. Eventually, the virtuous person will be shown as such by their stream of speech which pours forth from the heart, as if it were living water for others to drink and enjoy. Their words reflect their good character.

The wicked person, however, cannot keep the bad words down. Those vile words sit in the soul, poisoning and making the person ill. Then, all of a sudden, the evil words come up and out with a great vomitous heave and spew impurity and unholiness all over the innocent. Their words betray their foolish and poor character.

Every tree that does not bear good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. The wicked heart will not be able to speak ill of others with impunity forever. They will be called to account for their abusive words, whether overtly violent, or subtly undermining.

The righteous heart, however, shall experience divine pleasure and reward, as if the careful construction of helpful and building up words win first-prize at the great heavenly fair.

The good person loves and does not hate. They are so far from harming anyone that they even pray and wish well for their enemies. They pray for blessings on those who curse them. There is an honest striving to speak good words to everyone, regardless of who they are.

The upright heart thinks the best of everyone and holds nothing over someone else’s head. Such a good heart condemns no one, leaving all judgment to God alone. It is patient with the most exasperating of people, praying they might come to their senses and become spiritually healthy.

The righteous are able to use their speech to admonish their neighbor with care and affection. They freely forgive, happily give, liberally encourage, and use their tongue to speak words of life. Indeed, their speech is wise, humble, full of grace, and above all, loving.

If there is a problem with words, it will not do to simply change the speech. That’s because it is a heart issue. And the heart must be willing to change and be transformed by sheer mercy. Fortunately, God is the expert on renovating dilapidated hearts and performing effective heart transplants.

Jesus is the gracious carpenter. God is the divine surgeon. The Holy Spirit is the energetic power source. They are ready for the work. Will you let them in?

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hid: Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit so that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy Name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.