Psalm 128 – Obey and Enjoy Happiness

Around Your Table by Melani Pyke

Happy are those who respect the Lord and obey him.
You will enjoy what you work for,
    and you will be blessed with good things.
Your wife will give you many children,
    like a vine that produces much fruit.
Your children will bring you much good,
    like olive branches that produce many olives.
This is how the one who respects the Lord
    will be blessed.
May the Lord bless you from Mount Zion;
    may you enjoy the good things of Jerusalem all your life.
May you see your grandchildren.

Let there be peace in Israel. (New Century Version)

Obedience and blessing go together like a hand in a glove. Holy Scripture consistently connects the call to obey the Lord with blessing from G-d. Indeed, in carefully observing wise and biblical instruction, one will typically enjoy divine favor and approval.

Keep in mind, however, this is not a math equation. Like 2+2=4 there are folks who expect a neat linear connection between their obedience and their blessing. In math theology, when a woman is unable to have children, or a child goes astray from their heritage, the parent concludes that they themselves must have been unfaithful to G-d’s law or are being punished. Conversely, with children who grow to be good citizens and respectful persons, the parents might conclude it was because of their superior observance to the spiritual life.

In both cases, parents take too much credit, either for a child’s wandering or success. As for kids going astray, even G-d had prodigal children, so cut ourselves some slack. As for children who maintain faithfulness, a lot of factors went into who they are. I suppose it is only natural to quickly assume we have far more control of than we really do.

This all cuts to the heart of biblical interpretation. If all Scripture is read literally, then we will likely see the Bible as a math equation where doing and saying the right things gets a predictable result of blessing. Yet, this mistakenly views promise and proverb as the same thing, and divine work with one person or group will be precisely the same for another. The wisdom literature of Scripture, which includes the psalms, were never designed as prescriptive decree but rather as the sage approach for work, worship, and family.

“Faith is only real when there is obedience, never without it, and faith only becomes faith in the act of obedience.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Today’s psalm communicates the path of happiness coming through love and respect for G-d. It neither promises lots of kids, ensures money, nor guarantees smooth sailing. Rather, when one lives each day being cognizant and observant to center everything around the divine, then blessing and happiness will tend to follow.

Blessings and benedictions are given to sustain us in hope and confidence. The best things in life usually come through faith and family. So, when we choose to walk with G-d and travel down the ethical road, then life becomes full of peace and prosperity – perhaps not always in the manner we expect, yet blessing, nonetheless.

Humanity is hard-wired for blessing, for a steady diet of encouragement, acceptance, and approval from G-d and others. When this is withheld from us, unhappiness, even despair begins to settle. Giving and receiving blessing is at the heart of being fully human and alive. Our work and family life will likely be miserable if blessing is absent. Yet, with blessing, we have a sustainable form of happiness and enjoyment.

Most every good thing in life is obtained through a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. Obedience is no easy task. It typically requires courage and is complicated in its application to life situations. Here are a few ways to maintain an obedient life to G-d:

  • Devote yourself to the daily reading of Scripture. One cannot obey that which is neither known nor remembered. A steady regimen of good old fashioned Bible reading is the best way to refresh the mind and incline the heart toward biblical commands. (Psalm 119:57-64)
  • Pray to listen and pay attention. There is more to prayer than petitions and praise. We must also practice silence and solitude so that we can give focused attention to hearing G-d, thus, obeying the Spirit. (Jeremiah 7:21-26)
  • Practice repentance. Being aware of our guilt and shame, acknowledging it, and naming it before G-d is the path of change – keeping us on the narrow road of obedience. (1 John 1:5-10)
  • Take the long view. Not all obedience is rewarded in this life but in the life to come. Perseverance and patience is needed to sustain obedience over the long haul of life. And, in the end, there are heavenly blessings awaiting us. (Hebrews 11:36-12:3)

Eternal God, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed, guide, strengthen, and bless us through your Spirit so that we may give ourselves to your service and live today in love to one another and to you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Hosea 3:1-5 – Reconcile the Past

Then the Lord said to me, “Go and love your wife again, even though she commits adultery with another lover. This will illustrate that the Lord still loves Israel, even though the people have turned to other gods and love to worship them.”

So, I bought her back for fifteen pieces of silver and five bushels of barley and a measure of wine. Then I said to her, “You must live in my house for many days and stop your prostitution. During this time, you will not have sexual relations with anyone, not even with me.”

This shows that Israel will go a long time without a king or prince, and without sacrifices, sacred pillars, priests, or even idols! But afterward the people will return and devote themselves to the Lord their God and to David’s descendant, their king. In the last days, they will tremble in awe of the Lord and of his goodness. (New Living Translation)

Sometimes you have to get your behind in the past before you can put your past behind you.

The ancient nation of Israel was in a spiritual pickle. Gradually, over hundreds of years, they made small decisions of compromised religion which added up to a severe breach of faith with their historic God.

The relationship between God and God’s people, throughout the prophetic books of the Old Testament, is many times likened to a marriage of two spouses – God, the faithful spouse, and Israel, the unfaithful spouse who adulterated themselves by seeking the love of other gods.

This situation evoked feelings of sadness and anger within God. To help restore the broken marriage, the Lord used the prophet Hosea as an earthly illustration of the divine/human dilemma.

Just as Hosea graciously took a wife of dubious repute, so God mercifully took Israel. Just as Hosea’s wife, Gomer, slept with other men, so Israel went to bed with other gods. And just as Hosea remained faithful and actively sought to reconcile the past with his wife, so God tenaciously and dramatically honored the covenant relationship with Israel by showing steadfast love, despite her sordid past.

Israel needed to do her part by reconciling the past – returning to the Lord through acknowledging the truth of the situation and owning their responsibility to make things right.

Holy Scripture exhorts the believer to live according to truth. Whenever we fail to do so, we suffer spiritual loss. We are told to confess and reject unfaithful patterns of past behavior and not allow them to influence us today (Titus 2:12; 1 Peter 1:14, 18). 

Neglecting our responsibility inevitably causes emotional, mental and physical repercussions, as well as spiritual. In the New Testament, when the Apostle Paul said he was forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, he could say that because he had come to terms with and reconciled his own terrible unfaithful past with God. (Philippians 3:4-13)

It is both helpful and necessary to go back into one’s life and deal with the past on the basis of truth. In doing so, we honor our relationship with God. We must ask the Lord to turn the searchlight of truth on us and our past. 

Trust God to help you remember all the times in which you need to reconcile what has happened (or failed to happen). Make the choice before God to be as honest as you possibly can. 

The following are some suggestions from a former professor and mentor, the late Dr. Victor Matthews, (put in my own words) to carefully follow:

  1. Write out every time you were unfaithful or were hurt by another’s unfaithfulness (reject the temptation to just think and/or talk about it). Be complete, name the people involved, state what happened, do not try and protect yourself or other people and do not fantasize and let your thoughts run amok.
  2. Evaluate each past event on the basis of truth. If you were unfaithful, then confess it to God truthfully and receive forgiveness and cleansing (1 John 1:9). If you were hurt by someone, and it was their fault, then state out loud that “_______ should not have done that to me.” When you have finished writing out the event(s) deliberately stop and completely forgive the person(s) (Mark 11:25-26).  If you were at fault in some way, then confess that to God, as well.
  3. Resist the temptation to hurry with this process! Do not generalize by putting many events into one. Be specific and take the time necessary to get in touch with what God is trying to help you connect with.  This practice of reconciling the past is not introspection, so do not indulge in self-pity, self-criticism, or develop a martyr syndrome.
  4. Affirm that your inner critic, others, and any dark force may no longer use your past against you. “In the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ I take this event away from Satan and declare that he may not use it against me anymore!” (Ephesians 4:27; 5:11; 6:14).
  5. Receive the healing provided for those who believe and live according to God’s words and ways (Isaiah 53:5). “Now that I have made this right with you, O Lord, I receive the healing you have provided for me through the cross of Jesus Christ.” (Galatians 2:19-20)

When you have finished your work, then count it finished. When Jesus said, “It is finished!” he meant what he said. (John 19:30)

Reconciling the past means leaning into the finished work of Jesus for our complete healing. If and when we think of our unfaithful past, then firmly state: “I have dealt with that truthfully. It is settled, once and for all.” 

Whenever unfaithful, from this point forward, confess it, receive forgiveness, and make the affirmations of truth. In doing so, we are living by faith in the Son of God who loved us and gave himself for us. Amen.

James 5:7-12 – Hang in There!

Be patient, then, brothers and sisters, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop, patiently waiting for the autumn and spring rains. You too, be patient and stand firm, because the Lord’s coming is near. Don’t grumble against one another, brothers and sisters, or you will be judged. The Judge is standing at the door!

Brothers and sisters, as an example of patience in the face of suffering, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy.

Above all, my brothers and sisters, do not swear—not by heaven or by earth or by anything else. All you need to say is a simple “Yes” or “No.” Otherwise you will be condemned. (New International Version)

In 1952, a woman named Florence Chadwick attempted to become the first female to swim the twenty-one miles from Catalina Island to the California coast. Less than a half-mile from her destination she gave up. It wasn’t because of fatigue, but because of the thick fog. Florence simply could not see how close she was to her goal. Two months later she did it, also in the fog, but had learned her lesson and persevered even though she couldn’t see the coast in front of her.

Everyone who has faced adversity knows how hard it is to keep going without seeing the goal. It is important to be patient and to persevere knowing that the Lord’s coming is near. Like the farmer, we must expectantly wait till the harvest. There is nothing we can do to speed up the process and go straight from planting to harvest. It takes time and plenty of patience. Grumbling and complaining about how long it is taking will not make it go any faster.

Although the Christian’s salvation is free, the process of sanctification takes a great deal of blood, sweat, and tears. Perseverance in the face of hardship is a major pathway to realizing a holy life. To do that, the Apostle James encourages us to consider the ancient prophets and the Old Testament character Job:

  • The prophet Jeremiah was faithful to proclaim God’s message yet was thrown into a cistern and left for dead. (Jeremiah 38:1-28)
  • The prophet Micaiah was faithful to declare truth to King Zedekiah, who then promptly imprisoned him, even though the king asked for God’s message. (1 Kings 22:24-27)
  • The prophet Daniel was faithful to pray consistently to the one true God and was thrown into the lion’s den to be killed. (Daniel 6:1-28)

The prophets all suffered for doing the right thing and did not waver in their commitment to the Lord. Through their troubles they learned to trust and draw near to God. The adversity strengthened, not weakened, their faith.

As for Job, he had it all, along with constant faithfulness. And he lost it all… except his faith. Job tenaciously held onto righteousness, despite his grinding physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual pain. Although Job’s God was agonizingly silent for a long time, and Job’s friends were despairingly talkative for much too long, the flame of Job’s faith was never extinguished in his heart.

We are to keep going in our faith and not give up. There are forces and processes at work behind the scenes of our lives that we might never know, this side of heaven. Yet, God is moving a good and divine agenda to its climax.

The soul would have no rainbow if the eyes had no tears. We live in a time when we will either sink or swim – there is no in-between. God’s celestial shore is within sight; don’t miss it by getting discouraged by all the fog. Hang in there, my friend.

Patient God, you endure through all of my ignorance and impatience and just keep growing me by your grace. Thank you for working me as a farmer works the soil. May there be a great harvest of righteousness in my life as I allow your faithful work to be done in me. Amen.

1 Chronicles 10:1-14 – Faithfulness Matters

The Philistines fought against Israel in a battle at Mount Gilboa. Israel’s soldiers ran from the Philistines, and many of them were killed. The Philistines closed in on Saul and his sons and killed three of them: Jonathan, Abinadab, and Malchishua. The fighting was fierce around Saul, and he was gravely wounded by enemy arrows.

Saul told the soldier who carried his weapons, “Kill me with your sword! I don’t want those godless Philistines to torture and make fun of me.”

But the soldier was afraid to kill him. Then Saul stuck himself in the stomach with his own sword and fell on the blade. When the soldier realized that Saul was dead, he killed himself in the same way.

Saul, three of his sons, and all his male relatives were dead. The Israelites who lived in Jezreel Valley learned that their army had run away, and that Saul and his sons were dead. They ran away too, and the Philistines moved into the towns the Israelites left behind.

The next day the Philistines came back to the battlefield to carry away the weapons of the dead Israelite soldiers. When they found the bodies of Saul and his sons on Mount Gilboa, they took Saul’s weapons, pulled off his armor, and cut off his head. Then they sent messengers everywhere in Philistia to spread the news among their people and to thank the idols of their gods. They put Saul’s armor in the temple of their gods and hung his head in the temple of their god Dagon.

When the people who lived in Jabesh in Gilead heard what the Philistines had done to Saul, some brave men went to get his body and the bodies of his three sons. The men brought the bodies back to Jabesh, where they buried them under an oak tree. Then for seven days, they went without eating to show their sorrow.

Saul died because he was unfaithful and disobeyed the Lord. He even asked advice from a woman who talked to spirits of the dead, instead of asking the Lord. So, the Lord had Saul killed and gave his kingdom to David, the son of Jesse. (Contemporary English Version)

The books of Samuel and Chronicles contain similar content and material concerning the kings of Israel and Judah. Yet, whereas 1 & 2 Samuel gives a more straightforward narrative, 1 & 2 Chronicles often provides the narrative with explanatory comments. 

We have such a story in today’s Old Testament lesson. The last chapter of 1 Samuel gives an account of King Saul’s death, along with his sons. However, in 1 Chronicles 10, we get the narration of their deaths along with a clear concise note on why King Saul perished in battle:

Saul died because he was unfaithful to the Lord and hadn’t followed the Lord’s word. He even consulted a medium for guidance. He didn’t consult the Lord, so the Lord killed him and gave the kingdom to David, Jesse’s son. (1 Chronicles 10:14, CEB)

The original compiler of Chronicles did so for the Jewish exiles who were returning to Palestine. He did not want to simply recount the important stories of the kings of Israel; he wanted the exiles to know exactly why they went into exile to begin with, and how in the future they could keep it from happening again. So, Saul served as Exhibit A of the kind of person that erodes the true worship of God and lives against the grain of faithfulness to the Lord.

The true measure of a godly person is not in titles, positions, or membership. The real test of a faithful person is obedience to, and observance of, the revealed will of God contained in Holy Scripture. Thus, to read it, know it, and live it is one of the highest callings as God’s people.

Faith in the Bible is a complete trust in who God is and what God has done. The Lord shows faithfulness through steadfast love, gifting people with faith to obey, and remaining true to divine promises for humanity.

In the New Testament, the height of faith is to place one’s life completely in God’s hands, believing in the person and work of Jesus Christ. Faith involves both information and action.

For example, the Mackinac Bridge, connecting the upper and lower regions of Michigan, is an imposing structure. It’s the longest suspension bridge in the Western hemisphere at 26,372 feet. At its mid-point, the bridge’s roadway towers 200 feet above the Mackinac Straight.

The wind on the bridge can be punishing. In 1989, a woman died when her small car flew over the 3-foot-high railing and plunged into the water due to an excessively high gust of wind. I have crossed the bridge many times. Sometimes the bridge is open to road traffic, and sometimes not, due to the wind conditions. The bridge authorities even have a protocol about how to cross the bridge when it is windy but not excessively so (driving beside a truck).

This is all important and necessary information for crossing the Mackinac Bridge. Yet, knowledge alone is not enough. At some point, one needs to actually drive across the bridge. Information must lead to action. I couldn’t just cross the Straight between the two regions of Michigan at any point along the land with a blind faith that believes I’ll make it to the other side. I needed some knowledge. Then, I needed the courage to act on that knowledge.

The person who is scared crossing the bridge, and the person who thinks nothing of it, both make it to the other side. It isn’t the amount of faith that is important; it’s in what (or who) that faith is placed. Faith in the Bible is having some important and useful information about God, then putting that knowledge into action with a trust and commitment that you’ll make it to the other side.

Saul tried to cross over on his own terms. It didn’t go so well for him. His car was picked up and thrown into the Straight.

We need to be careful what and whom we consult when we are stressed. Not collaborating with God isn’t going to end well. Being faithful matters.

Who are you faithful to? Where is your trust placed? Because the answer to those questions determines which actions we will take.

Eternal God, you remain the same throughout the ages of time. Help me to be faithful to your standard of righteousness and live faithfully into the ways of Jesus, my Lord. Amen.