PSALMS 76:1 – 78:72 and 2 CORINTHIANS 8:1–24
Many speculate that this Psalm was written around the time of King Hezekiah’s reign. This would be at the time when the Assyrians were seeking to overrun Judah. It is during this time where you see the strong link between Hezekiah and Isaiah the prophet. God brought forth a mighty victory on behalf of Judah with the slaying of 185,000 Assyrians in one night. In the first 3 verses we see a picture of the power of the presence of God. This is why we long for the Lord to come and sing in the midst of the congregation (Psa 22, Zeph 3:17). It helps in understanding why Judah was the first to be sent forth to battle as the praisers. There is power in praise and power when the presence of God in the midst of a people.
This psalm highlights two triumphant victories that God wrought on behalf of Israel. The breaking of the Egyptian yoke of bondage is cited in verse 6. What a beautiful example to reflect upon when one is feeling oppressed and overwhelmed. When God comes on the scene everything changes. It is good to think back on the impossibility of their situation. They had the attacking armies of Egypt coming up against them while stationed at the brink of the Red Sea and they had the sea before them. There was nowhere to turn; it was then when God opened the sea in allowing them to pass over. It was also then when the waters destroyed and broke the power of the Egyptians. Then there is the aforementioned account of the Assyrian threat. They were destroying every other nation that stood in their way which included their northern brethren (Israel). They stood no chance against them in the natural but in one night 185,000 Assyrian soldiers woke up as dead men (vs 5) (See Exo 14:27-28 and 2 kings 19:35).
In the closing verses of the psalm we see how the Lord uses the enemy to help produce a work in His people. God allowed Pharaoh to be raised up but when the cup of iniquity was full he brought total annihilation upon Pharaoh and Egypt. This was coupled with the prayers of the saints from their bitter bondage that ascended before God through the years. The same can be said for Sennacherib and the Assyrians; they were a powerful force that seemed unstoppable until God intervened on behalf of Israel and their godly king. The enemy in his prime is actually a testament to the greatness of God because it allows the Lord to show Himself strong on behalf of His own. The key for us is living an honourable life that enables God to work in such a way. Moses was such a man as was Hezekiah and David who saw his enemy diminish right before his eyes (Psa 37:35-37). The key for all of us is to be sure to maintain peace with the Lord while seeking to live honourably before Him.
This is a Psalm that I have referred to in many messages and teaching sessions. It has similarities to psalm 73 where there is the pain of trying to understand how the wicked prosper while one is seeking to do right. In the beginning of this Psalm the author is struggling with situations in his life. He finds himself as being overwhelmed and distressed. He also found himself complaining to God because of his condition. No doubt many of us have felt like this from time to time. How does one respond at such times? The key verse, in my opinion is found in verse 6.
Psa 77:6 I call to remembrance my song in the night: I commune with mine own heart: and my spirit made diligent search.
Everything turned around when the psalmist began to reflect on what God had done in the past. The same God who met Asaph in his earlier area of need is the same God at work today. We quickly forget things that the Lord has done in the past and yet those former victories may serve as the key for our breakthroughs today. The thought of making a diligent search can be likened to the merchant man seeking goodly pearls. He was intentional in discovering that treasure (Math 13:45-46).
In the year 1995 I began to make daily entries into a journal as part of my devotional time. It was nothing fancy but it did include what God was saying coupled with events that were happening at that time. In recent years I have gone back and read those entries and to my surprise found many instances where God moved powerfully in difficult situations. I had forgotten many of things we had gone through and yet God came through on so many occasions. Perhaps we should make a better effort in conducting “diligent searches’ from our own history to see how God has been faithful. This then allows for an atmosphere of faith to arise. This is why journaling and reflection is such an important part of our Christian walk. It is reflection where we come to know God in a greater way. It is in reflection where our hearts can become fertile ground for the seeds that are planted to become that 100-fold fruit (Luke 8:15).
The enemy is very good in over whelming us in the here and now. He seeks to narrow our focus and rob us of life changing faith. It is essential to have a strong devotional life because it helps to recalibrate our priorities and perspective. It allows for God to speak outside the circle of circumstances while drawing from His past performance of faithfulness through our lives. In Psalm 77 Asaph is going through a most difficult ordeal; there seems to be no solution and it seems as if God is distant. In the midst of his battle he makes a determined effort in calling to memory God’s faithfulness of old. This then stirs and encourages him to look at his current situation in a different light. Today we are prone to complain at the slightest hint of unease. This mentality will never hold or keep us in the challenging days to come. There is another key verse that bears mentioning in this Psalm.
Psa 77:13 Thy way, O God, is in the sanctuary: who is so great a God as our God?
The quality of intentionality and seeking is required for anyone who wants to know God in the sanctuary. This was the answer to the psalmist’s dilemma in Psalm 73 (73:17). It is here where God is revealed in a much greater measure; it is here where one sees the bigger picture and true perspective. It is here where the ways of God begin to be understood. It is here where God calls all men but not all men will respond. There is a cost to pay and each of us has to determine whether it’s worth it. The balance of this psalm sees Asaph declaring the wondrous and mighty acts of God. His soul is renewed and refreshed and ready to face any challenge. Let’s learn the beauty and benefit of Biblical reflection and make every effort to do a diligent search of all that God has done for us to date. Our faith and hope will be enlarged and it will allow God to show Himself strong in even greater measures.
This is one of many of the historical reflections seen in the scriptures. We saw Stephen give a mini review of the Old Testament at the beginning of the early church (Acts 7). His message ended up costing him his life in being the first martyr but it resulted in a resounding welcome into heaven as he saw the Lord awaiting him just before he was stoned (Acts 7:56). The Lord gave a quick but anointed review of Israel’s history in his discussion with the men on the Emmaus Road (Luke 24). This Psalm is a more comprehensive review of God’s dealing with Israel from the time of the Exodus up to the days of Solomon. There are several divisions that mark this Psalm.
The first 8 verses serve as a reminder to listen to the Law and to listen and learn from the instructions of their fathers. If Israel would have listed to Moses in Deuteronomy 28 they would not have been in so many problems. How many times did Moses warn them about the keeping of God’s commandments? It really should be no secret; it is the law which serves as the first target of attack from the enemy. He seeks to diminish and redefine it as he successfully did in the garden (Gen 3:1-6). God’s Law is seen from the very beginning in Genesis all the way through Revelation. If one keeps the law there is blessing and protection; if broken or violated there are consequences whereby doors are opened up for iniquity to invade. One of the series of verses I refer to often is listed below:
Psa 78:9 The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
Psa 78:10 They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
It is one thing to talk of a strong walk with God it is another thing to back it up. Ephraim had the look of strength and readiness but utterly wilted in the day of battle. They could not back up their bravado. Why was this? In verse 10 we see that they lightly regarded the law of God; it was not a priority. Can we not make a similar assessment today with many of our churches? On the surface things can be flourishing but what is behind the veneer? How will people and churches stand in the day of adversity? When God speaks for the church to go forward into their inheritance will they or will we see a repeat of what happened at Kadesh Barnea (Num 13)? We see further insights regarding Ephraim when the Lord speaks to the church at Ephesus in the Book of Revelation. They had a love and zeal for God but they had lost their first love relationship with him (Rev 2). This is why we are to have no other gods before the living God. It will help to ensure that fire and love of intimacy to be intact as we go forth in our walk with God. There are two other instances in this Psalm where the Lord rebukes Israel for turning back (vs 41, 57). This is a solemn warning to keep in the battle and to not give up and turn back. Jesus spoke of this in Luke 9:62 concerning one who after putting his hand to the plough turns back. Such a person will not be fit for the kingdom of God. We need to adopt the attitude of the Apostle Paul who continually pressed forward towards the mark (Phil 3:10).
In verses 23-41 we see very important verses in how God deals with his people. God daily met their needs by providing manna and keeping all His people in good health. They were provided for in every area of need. Still, the people rebelled and complained and began asking of God according to the desires in their heart. They persisted upon God and eventually God gave them what they asked for (Num 11:31-35). There is a beautiful example that counters this attitude which is seen in Queen Esther. She required no extras or any unneeded things. God responds to a people who are content and thankful for the things that He provides. It is dangerous to be asking of the Lord for things that are not in His heart. If we persist no long enough we may end up getting what we want but it will not be for our good. God sent leanness into the soul of Israel as they kept crying out for meat. This means we may end up asking the Lord for wrong things. It is one of the ways in which the church will divide in the last days. God is after our heart and He will answer us according to what is in our heart. If this is our attitude we end up limiting God in what He can do in our lives.
The Psalmist then goes back to the time when God intervened on their behalf while they were still in Egypt. He reviews the plagues and judgments that God brought upon Pharaoh; how He delivered them through the Red Sea and into the wilderness where He provided for them. Still, they disobeyed His commandments and turned away from His statutes. There came the time when they took the presence of the Lord for granted at Shiloh. This was after the period of the Judges where it was said that every man did that which was right in his own eyes. (Jud 21:25)
Psa 78:60 So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
Psa 78:61 And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand.
This account is brought forth in greater detail in our review from 1 Sam 4 and 5. It was here where God allowed His presence to become captive to the Philistines. It was here where the Ark of the Covenant was removed from Moses Tabernacle never to return to it again. It was here where God judged the corrupted priesthood of Eli to begin the preparation of a true king/priest by the name of David. The Ark of the Covenant resulted in great judgement upon the cites of the Philistines and was ultimately returned to Israel (vs 60-66). The Lord desired the hill of Zion to be the resting place of His presence (vs 68). Psalm 78 should be read periodically so that we are reminded of how Israel fell short of the purposes of God and that the same thing can happen to us. We see the dangers of presuming upon God and asking things of God that may not be upon His heart. We are warned of never taking the presence of the Lord for granted. May the lessons and truths from this historical psalm serve as an eternal reminder for each of us.
2 Cor 8
Paul is now going to address the subject of giving. This was not an area where the Corinthian church was particularly strong. A spiritual church or person is one who excels in giving. They are those who know the blessing and purpose that comes with giving. The Lord even challenges us to put Him to the test to see if He would not pour out a blessing (Mal 3:10). Remember, God already has given to us all He could ever give by way of His son (Joh 3:16). Our response in giving to God is the acknowledging of what He has already done; it is an expression of our gratitude for all He has already done. True love is founded on giving and it is a cycle that reciprocates. Paul speaks of the generosity of the Macedonians as an example of what it means to give (vs 1-4). We later see Paul elaborate on the generosity of the Macedonian churches when he writes to the Philippians, which was a Macedonian province. In verses 5-8 Paul speaks yet more regarding the giving of the Macedonian brethren in how they gave both of tithes and service to the Lord. Paul was saying that they went above and beyond that which was required. What a standard and benchmark they presented to the Corinthians or any other church for that matter. One of the areas of need was for the poor and oppressed in Jerusalem. He goes on to speak as to how they abound in things spiritual but to now put their spirituality to practical application. The Apostle James warns of being spiritual but turning a blind eye to those in need (Jam 2:16).
In verse 9 Paul reminds the church of how Jesus divested Himself. Do we really know what it means to be poor in Spirit? How is it that someone can become poor and in doing so make many rich? Paul made many rich in the things of the kingdom as he suffered away in prisons. Our problem is that we do not properly identify what the true riches really are. We place extreme emphasis on the temporal and those things which ultimately perish. I think we will be amazed as to how the Lord evaluates things when we stand before Him in eternity. May God help us to esteem and come to know what the true riches really are and to invest accordingly.
It is clear that the Corinthians had already begun some sort of campaign for giving but needed to once again gather the momentum (vs 10-11). It is vital to follow through and finish well any project that is begun. We want to be those who finish strong as we approach our respective finishing lines. It requires a strong mind and attitude of heart to be consistent in this effort. There are seasons when God may have us in a position to give because of the abundance that is in place. It seems that the Corinthians fell into this category. There could well come times when they would be in need where they would be dependent on the generosity of others. It is a privilege and honor to be in a position of giving to the work of the kingdom.
Paul then speaks to the importance of integrity and transparency when it comes to the management of finance. The way one handles money will speak volumes about that particular individual. If we are not careful it can provide an open door for the enemy to attack. Paul is exhorting the Corinthians to be consistent in their generosity while emphasizing the importance of financial prudence. This is solid advice for the church of the last days.