Psalm 46 – Divine Help

Psalm 46:1 by Connie Van Huss

God is our refuge and strength,
    a help always near in times of great trouble.
That’s why we won’t be afraid when the world falls apart,
    when the mountains crumble into the center of the sea,
    when its waters roar and rage,
    when the mountains shake because of its surging waves.

There is a river whose streams gladden God’s city,
    the holiest dwelling of the Most High.
God is in that city. It will never crumble.
    God will help it when morning dawns.
Nations roar; kingdoms crumble.
    God utters his voice; the earth melts.
The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!
    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. 

Come, see the Lord’s deeds,
    what devastation he has imposed on the earth—
    bringing wars to an end in every corner of the world,
    breaking the bow and shattering the spear,
        burning chariots with fire.

“That’s enough! Now know that I am God!
    I am exalted among all nations; I am exalted throughout the world!”

The Lord of heavenly forces is with us!
    The God of Jacob is our place of safety. (CEB)

We possess the unconditional presence of God. Yes indeed, the Lord of all creation is always with us. What a wonderful and radical thought!  But that is not all. What is more, God helps us. The Lord does not stand by idly to watch us squirm in tough situations. Because God is present with you and I, there is divine assistance which can help us in troubling times.

Something we can all seem to agree on is that we are in times of trouble and hardship. Everyone is collectively experiencing adversity. COVID-19 has punched us in our worldly gut and caused us to bend over, writhing in pain. We need the Lord. We require Divine help.

The psalms, as Hebrew poetry, were designed with a certain structure. Unlike the way we arrange things with a thesis statement said right up front, Hebrew poetry has the most important statement smack in the middle of the psalm. What comes before that statement is a growing crescendo meant to highlight the central idea. Everything that comes after is the decrescendo pointing back to the main idea.

What we have in the middle of today’s magnificent psalm is the important truth that the Lord of heavenly forces is with us. This reality is meant to drop its weight on us so that we will feel the impact of God’s presence and power. Consider some of English translations of the Hebrew statement:

The Lord All-Powerful is with us. The God of Jacob is our fortress. (CEV)

The Lord of Armies is with us. The God of Jacob is our stronghold. (GW)

Jacob-wrestling God fights for us, God-of-Angel-Armies protects us. (MSG)

The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. (NIV)

The Lord of Heaven’s Armies is here among us; the God of Israel is our fortress. (NLT)

Yahweh of Armies is with us. Jacob’s God is a turret for us. (FT)

Today (and everyday) is a good day to use the statement, “The Lord of heavenly forces is with us,” as a point of thought, contemplation, and deep consideration. God has the back of those who do right and seek to be just in all things. Whenever you are waiting, driving in the car, in-between scheduled stuff, or just sitting at home, repeat this biblical statement many times to yourself and to the Lord. Then, allow God’s Spirit to bring the truth of it home to the depths of your soul. There is no better security, no better hope than to know God is with us.

God Almighty, great upheaval in this world does not make you nervous because you are above it all.  Thank you that you are with me in all the great churnings of my life, as well as all the small things of trouble.  Even if all around me changes, you do not; through Christ my Savior, I pray. Amen.

Psalm 62:5-12 – Our Place of Safety

Psalm 62 by Christa Rosier (1960-2011)

Only God gives inward peace,
    and I depend on him.
God alone is the mighty rock
    that keeps me safe,
    and he is the fortress
    where I feel secure.
God saves me and honors me.
    He is that mighty rock
    where I find safety.

Trust God, my friends,
    and always tell him
each one of your concerns.
    God is our place of safety.

We humans are only a breath;
    none of us are truly great.
All of us together weigh less
    than a puff of air.
Don’t trust in violence
or depend on dishonesty
    or rely on great wealth.

I heard God say two things:
   “I am powerful,
    and I am very kind.”
The Lord rewards each of us
    according to what we do. (CEV)

My girls, now grown with families of their own, are wonderful mothers. Recently, I got to hold my newest grandson, which is wonderful! A close second to that experience is watching Mom hold her baby. The little guy has not a worry in the world when he is in her arms. For there is no doubt of perfect love and security.

God is our place of safety. For the believer, it is as if we are a baby having finished nursing, lying peacefully and contentedly in God’s loving and secure arms. There is complete trust because God is the one holding us. Our enemies are nothing but a puff of smoke – toothless lions who can make all the noise they want but will never get a bite on us with God around.

I was reminded of yet another truth as I watched my daughter and grandson. Although tired, both are genuinely happy. Neither riches nor fame can ever buy security and happiness. God, as the source of steadfast love and perfect safety, is our Rock. The Lord’s power and kindness meld together in a wondrous and active care for us.

God’s kingdom is constructed on solid rock, not sinking sand. Trusting in violent vengeance, deceitful scheming, or great wealth might build an impressive looking edifice, but will only be destroyed in the first big wind that comes along. Depending upon God as our refuge and strength is building a relationship which will last and stand the test of time and tribulation.

Jesus, aware of the Psalm’s theology, drew upon the image of the rock to impress on his listeners the need for making wise choices (Matthew 7:24-29). The foundation is the key element. The house built on the rock will withstand the storm; the foundation built on sand will not. The cornerstone of faith’s foundation for the Christian is Jesus. The way of Jesus is the entrance into the kingdom of heaven, and the stabilizing presence of peace our lives need. Christ is our place of safety.

May the risen and ascended Christ, mightier than the hordes of hell, more glorious than the heavenly hosts, be with you in all your ways.

May the cross of the Son of God protect you by day and by night, at morning and at evening, at all times and in all places.

May Christ Jesus guard and deliver you from the snares of the devil, from the assaults of evil spirits, from the wrath of the wicked, from all base passions and from the fear of the known and unknown.

And the blessing of God almighty, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

Isaiah 41:14-20 – For Such a Worm as I

Do not fear, you worm Jacob,
    you insect Israel!
I will help you, says the Lord;
    your Redeemer is the Holy One of Israel.
Now, I will make of you a threshing sledge,
    sharp, new, and having teeth;
you shall thresh the mountains and crush them,
    and you shall make the hills like chaff.
You shall winnow them and the wind shall carry them away,
    and the tempest shall scatter them.
Then you shall rejoice in the Lord;
    in the Holy One of Israel you shall glory.

When the poor and needy seek water,
    and there is none,
    and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
    I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
I will open rivers on the bare heights,
    and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
    and the dry land springs of water.
I will put in the wilderness the cedar,
    the acacia, the myrtle, and the olive;
I will set in the desert the cypress,
    the plane and the pine together,
so that all may see and know,
    all may consider and understand,
that the hand of the Lord has done this,
    the Holy One of Israel has created it. (NRSV)

Each morning I rise and read God’s Holy Word. It is a discipline I have been doing for over forty years. In the past few years, I have begun reading more slowly and with greater contemplation – because the goal is not to check off having read some verses on a Bible reading plan. The aim is to connect meaningfully with God. The desired result is to hear the voice of the Lord, and to let the Scriptures do their incredible work in our hearts.

One of the ways I connect with Scripture, after having read the verses for the day several times, is to write it in my own words…

“My dear servant, there is no need whatsoever to worry yourself,

though others say about you,

            ‘That guy is nothing, only a wormy maggot!’

I am your holy God,

            who saves and protects you.

I’ll let you be like a big ol’ log

            covered with sharp spikes.

You will grind and crush

every mountain and hill in front of you

            until they turn to dust.

A strong wind will scatter the dust of unholy jerks

            in all directions.

Then you will celebrate

and praise me, your Lord,

            the holy God who watches your life.

When your financial budget no longer budges

and your bank accounts lie empty

            and you have no idea where to turn,

I, your Lord, and your God

will come to your rescue.

            I will not forget you.

I will make rivers of abundance flow

            on the desolate mountain peaks of your life.

I will send streams of life

to fill your empty valley of life’s tribulations.

Dry and barren places in your life

will flow with springs

            and become a lake of grace and goodness.

I will fill the parched desert areas of your needy life

            with all kinds of fruitful trees –

apple trees, olive trees, fig trees,

oak and walnut, elm and maple, fir, and pine,

like in the original garden,

all your needs will be met in and through me, your God.

Everyone will see this

            and know that I,

the holy Yahweh God whom you love and serve,

            created every bit of it.”

Whichever way we choose to view ourselves, as worm and insect, or as majestic person in the image of God, the spiritual reality continually before us is that the Lord will provide, bless, and care for us. We are the recipients of God’s gracious salvation. Although many modern hymnals do not include Isaac Watt’s, At the Cross, and if they do, the original words have been changed – it matters little. Because the action of deliverance belongs to God, and neither to you nor me. And even though we seem but lowly worms next to God, the Lord chooses to treat us with deference, accommodation, and care. Any low view of self is quickly eradicated in the face of such divine love.

Stanza 1:

Alas! and did my Savior bleed?

And did my Sov’reign die?

Would He devote that sacred head

For such a worm as I? 

Chorus:

At the cross, at the cross,

Where I first saw the light,

And the burden of my heart rolled away –

It was there by faith I received my sight,

And now I am happy all the day. 

By Isaac Watts (1674-1748) and published in 1707.

Matthew 2:13-18 – Flight into Egypt

The Flight into Egypt by Marc Chagall, 1980

When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

So, he got up, took the child and his mother during the night, and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”

When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi. Then what was said through the prophet Jeremiah was fulfilled:

“A voice is heard in Ramah,
    weeping and great mourning,
Rachel weeping for her children
    and refusing to be comforted,
    because they are no more.” (NIV)

It can be easy to be diverted either by all the shiny things about the holiday season, or by all the sorrows which are stirred up for us in this time of year. I invite you to the very mundane and simple manger; the dull and unattractive place where God is found. Because it is here, we find the hope of the nations, and the true desire of our hearts.

Almighty God preserved and protected the child Jesus. Christ’s early life retraced the life of ancient Israel. Like the Jewish patriarchs, Jesus went down to Egypt (and would eventually go down and face hell for us in his crucifixion); and, like the ancient Israelites, Jesus was brought up out of Egypt (and would rise from the dead bringing freedom from sin and death once for all) in a New Exodus. By these Old Testament references, Matthew’s Gospel means to say: “Look, here is the Messiah, the coming King, the promised One of Israel and of all the nations. Jesus is our salvation, the fulfillment of all that we hope for.”

Jesus is the New Exodus

In the second of three dreams, Joseph is told to take Jesus to Egypt. Joseph obeyed the Lord and took the role of protecting Jesus, as contrasted with Herod’s role in attempting to murder Jesus.Yet, there is more to this story than Christ’s protection; this is the fulfillment of a biblical pattern, an identification of Jesus with the people of God. Matthew pulled forward the prophet Hosea to say that just as God brought the Israelites out of Egypt through a great deliverance, God brought up Jesus, the Great Deliverer, out of Egypt as the unique Son of God.  Jesus is God’s divine Son, and so is the rightful Ruler in God’s kingdom.

Just as God preserved Israel from Pharaoh’s wrath, the Lord protected Jesus from Herod’s wrath. God’s kindness and loyalty extends to us as covenant people and preserves us from the wrath of the devil who seeks to keep as many people as possible in the realm of darkness. Our hope is in the Lord Jesus who has conquered the devil by establishing a beachhead on this earth through incarnation as the Son of God.

Flight into Egypt by He Qi

Jesus Brought Us Out of Exile

The scoundrel King Herod massacred innocent toddlers to ensure the destruction of Jesus. Behind his atrocity was the devil himself who knew Jesus was the coming King who would one day bring salvation. Reflecting on a vision of Christ’s birth, the Apostle John identified the sinister plan and the divine deliverance:

The dragon stood in front of the woman who was about to give birth so that when she gave birth, he might devour her child. She gave birth to a son, a male child who is to rule all the nations with an iron rod. Her child was snatched up to God and his throne. (Revelation 12:4-5, CEB)

Satan wars against God’s Son and God’s people, whose roots go all the way back to the first prophecy of Christ after the Fall of humanity. God declared to Satan:

“And I will cause hostility between you and the woman,
    and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
    and you will strike his heel.” (Genesis 3:15, NLT)

There has been continual enmity ever since the Fall between the serpent and the seed of the woman, with the Israelites constantly being threatened with extermination and tempted to conform to pagan ways. King Herod was just another in a long line of demonically animated men trying to perpetuate the kingdom of darkness. We must take this threat seriously because the devil knows that his time is short. A second Advent is coming which will be the final judgment.

Satan’s most powerful weapon, death, has lost its sting because of Jesus. Christmas is a hard time of year for many people, filled with depression instead of joy, grieving over lost loved ones for whom we will not spend another Christmas with. Yet there is a reunion coming, the hope of a bodily resurrection in which we will be with Jesus and God’s people forever.  Be encouraged that there is no time in heaven; it will be only a moment and the people who have gone before us will turn around and see us; we will one day join them.

Matthew also used the prophet Jeremiah to communicate hope. Jeremiah’s prophecy dealt with children who were lost in war to the invading Babylonians.  The prophecy is a lament with the hope that captivity will not be forever. Matthew wanted us to see that the exile is over for us; Jesus has arrived, and the tears which were shed will shortly dry up. There may be a time of suffering which we must endure, yet there will be glory. Jesus is the Great Deliverer who brings us out of sin’s captivity and into the promises of God. He is our hope.

Jesus is the promised One who will deliver us from the tyranny of the devil. Christ is the hope of the nations, the Savior of the world. So, let us come back to the first Christmas which was the beginning of the end for evil on the earth. Believers in Jesus are part of God’s victory and overcome the evil one by the blood of the lamb, acknowledging that Christ’s incarnation was essential for us. 

Just as Jesus made a radical break with his former life in heaven through the incarnation, we, too, must break with our old way of life. God will save his people through this child Jesus. The greatest gift we can give in this season and throughout the year is the gift of grace, the presentation of the Christ child.

Loving God help us remember the birth of Jesus so that we may share in the song of the angels, the gladness of the shepherds, and the wisdom of the wise men. Close the door of hate and open the door of love across the world. Let kindness come with every gift and good desires with every greeting. Deliver us from evil through the blessing of the Christ child. Teach us to be happy with pure hearts. Grant us grateful thoughts, devoted hearts, and gracious hands, through Jesus our Savior in the might of the Holy Spirit. Amen.