PSALMS 135:1 – 137:9 and PHILIPPIANS 4:1–23
There is not a title or obvious author that can be gleaned from this Psalm but it is thought to be penned around the period of the Restoration era. It speaks of temple worship and so could be a compilation of material that would have been gathered from the Law, Prophets and Historical Books. The season we are in as a church today parallels this portion of Israel’s history. There is much that we can learn from this Psalm in preparing for the future days before us. This psalm begins with a sounding forth of praise to the goodness of the Lord. It is a good thing to sing praises and give thanks unto the Lord. This attitude of prayer is a wonderful way to start a day; it is a wonderful way to begin a church service and it is a wonderful exercise that can be practiced at any time. It is pleasant and it is pleasing to the Lord.
God had just delivered His beloved Israel from their captivity in Babylon. Their primary reason for being sent into captivity was due to idolatry. It was there where they were forced to bow down to foreign gods and idols. The restorers can now rejoice in declaring that God is far greater than any heathen god or idol. The Psalmist meditates on the creation of God and is overwhelmed in awe and admiration at God’s creative capacities (vs 6-7). In verses 8-9 he recounts the God of judgement against Pharaoh and Egypt. This demonstration of God’s power shook the enemies of Israel throughout the land of Canaan. It is a picture of what will be seen in these last days when God begins to fight on behalf of His people, particularly at the time of the 2nd coming. Remember, this is a declaration from a people who have just come out of Babylon; they have paid a price and have allowed God to do a work of deep cleansing within them. The Psalmist who is rehearsing God’s history with Israel in this Psalm is not some nominal believer.
He recounts more of their history as he cites God’s judgement upon the enemies on the eastern side of Jordan which became occupied by Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. The Psalmist then makes a quote from Exo 3:15 as seen in verse 13.
Exo 3:15 And God said moreover unto Moses, Thus shalt thou say unto the children of Israel, The LORD God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, hath sent me unto you: this is my name for ever, and this is my memorial unto all generations.
This is why it is so important to have an understanding of Biblical history. You see this as a common trait among many of the leaders of the Restoration era. Nehemiah was an avid student of their history and it was through his understanding that he came to know of his call and destiny (Neh 1:6-10).
In verse 14 the Psalmist is recording what the Lord spoke through Moses in Deu 32:36. It was here where God spoke of a time when Israel would go into captivity if they sinned but would be returned to their land afterwards. This is what had just taken place at the time that this Psalm had been written. Once again what was the primary reason for their going into captivity? It was due to idolatry; for serving idols that were the works of man’s hand instead of serving the living God. These idols had no mouths, eyes, ears and breath yet Israel gave themselves to them. There is an interesting point brought out in verse 18 where it speaks of becoming like the idols that are worshipped. Take a good look around and see what it is that people give themselves to. There is a cult like worship of entertainers whether they are athletes, musicians or movie moguls. If only men gave such attention to the living God and becoming more like Him. God brought Israel out of Babylon after cleansing them of their idolatrous ways. The Psalmist does not hold back in exhorting the reader to walk in the Fear of the Lord while blessing the Lord out of Zion at all times.
This is an interesting Psalm seeing that it has the same refrain “for His mercy endureth forever” at the end of every verse. It could have been presented as a song where the first part of the verse was sung by one group followed by the singing of the refrain by another. The timing of the Psalm would place it around the reign of King Jehosophat when they went forth to battle (2 Chr 20:21).
The first three verses is all about giving thanks to the Lord for being good, being the God of gods as well as being the Lord of Lords. May we never forget that our God is sovereign having the rule and reign over all the affairs of men. This should be the attitude and mindset that we carry to the Lord in prayer. Jesus actually speaks to this when teaching men how they are to pray. It begins by knowing that we come before our Father who is in heaven, far and high above all things (Math 6:10) This mindset was instrumental for Israel as they prepared for war against the Ammonites and other foes. It was a battle that was preceded by the singers going forth first among the warriors. The power of praise should never be minimized.
In verses 4-9 there is the praise to God for His creation. The wonderment at the exactitude of all that God has created whether it be the placements of the stars in heaven or the laying out of the waters upon the earth. The great lights such as the sun and moon are absolute wonders that contribute to the makeup of God’s handiwork. When one gets caught up and overwhelmed at the marvels of creation the only thing left to say is that “His mercy endureth forever”. We begin to understand what David meant when he uttered the words “Who is man that thou should take notice of him” (Psa 8:4).
In verses 10-15 the hand of the Lord is seen in how He delivered Israel out of the bitter bondage and captivity of the Egyptians. He makes mention of the Passover event and follows through the time of bringing them through the Red Sea. It also makes reference as to how the Lord judged and destroyed Pharaoh and all of Egypt. The recounting of these great victories was meant to stir up the faith of Israel for the current battles at hand. The ability to reflect upon the goodness of God in times past helps to heighten ones faith and expectancy as to what God can do today. He is an unchanging God and we do well to acknowledge the blessings experienced in times past.
The praises to God continue in verses 16-24 as the history of God’s dealings with Israel through the wilderness is recounted. What was the primary purpose of the wilderness? It was to test the people of God and see what was really in their heart (Deu 8:2). It was also an opportunity to teach His people how to fight against their enemies. It is interesting to see the numerous accounts of reviewing the history of God’s dealings with His people. It should inspire us to journal and keep a record so that we too can benefit from reflection at both a personal and Biblical level. The Psalm closes by showing forth the Lord as a provider in verse 25-26. God is faithful and His mercies are new each and every day. It is times of reflection like the above that helps to instil courage and strength to the congregation. As leaders we need to always maintain a posture of thankfulness and praise. It is a weapon that helps to keep the enemy at bay while strengthening our inner spirit man to stand strong in the midst of adversity.
This Psalm was written sometime during the captivity of Israel in Babylon. There is a strong lamentation over their current condition while reflecting on the former glories of Zion. This truth should help us to never take anything for granted. There is a similar sentiment arising concerning the deterioration of my home country (USA). The sins of the nations have transformed America into something far different from the land I grew up in. I dread the days that are before America and its inevitable destiny with judgement. The song of Babylon may well have an American counterpart; in fact it already does. In verses 2-3 you see how joy has been stripped from the people which are now replaced by endless weeping. The prophet Joel spoke of a future day which captures this moment.
Joel 1:12 The vine is dried up, and the fig tree languisheth; the pomegranate tree, the palm tree also, and the apple tree, even all the trees of the field, are withered: because joy is withered away from the sons of men.
If you were to read on in Joel you would see the priests being instructed to weep and howl before the altar and to call for a fast. This burden is already being placed upon the hearts of many in anticipation for what is about to take place. Their captors would mock the people and demand for them to sing the songs of Zion. Can you imagine the humiliation and utter sadness that the children of Israel had to endure? We will see later when studying Daniel that there comes a time when God moves in judgement against Babylon, culminating in the judgement of King Belshazzar at the fall of Babylon (Dan 5).
The environment of Babylon had all the natural appeal of a modern society but it meant nothing to those who longed for their capitol city of Jerusalem (vs 5-6). It can be likened to Moses who had all the privileges and advantages of Egypt yet could not help in identifying with his own people (Heb 11:24-27). Daniel had the same opportunity as well only to separate himself from the defilements of the Chaldeans.
The mourners appeal to the Lord to remember the children of Edom calling to mind the prescribed judgments that were to come upon Edom. The prophet Obadiah spoke exclusively towards this end. Isaiah spoke similarly in Isa 34:5-6. These words were spoken prior to their exile but they call them to mind in bringing it before the Lord. They follow up by reminding the Lord of the judgments to come upon Babylon. God was allowing the people to pray to help fill the respective cups of iniquity for both Edom and Babylon. There would be a fulfilment of the fall of Babylon when it later falls to the Medes and Persians. There is also a future connotation when looking at the two Babylon’s of the last days in Revelation (Rev 17-18).
As this chapter begins we see the deep love and affection that Paul had for this church. He encourages them to stand fast in the Lord. This needs to be reemphasized due to so many starting well in their walk with God only to fizzle or plateau along the way. The more one presses on the more the challenges. Paul spoke earlier of how he seeks to press on to the end without giving up. This is a relevant exhortation for us today. The enemy specifically targets those who are seeking to hit the God ordained mark for their lives. The Philippian church had quality which drew the attention and ire of the enemy. Paul had every confidence that they would hold steady and prevail.
Paul promotes the exercise of rejoicing at all times and in all circumstances in verse 4. The power of rejoicing helps to ensure that we become more than conquerors. It is a weapon that does great damage to the enemy. You see rejoicing and praise as being prominent at times when the enemy is being judged (Psa 149:6-9). Our testimony of the Lord should be on display for all men to observe and potentially learn from. We are called to be light and salt to the earth and we should seek to be faithful in making Him known in our respective sphere in life.
Paul then demonstrates how we are to approach the Lord with our needs (vs 6). We are not to be anxious when in need but rather come before the Lord with thanksgiving and prayerfully make our requests known unto Him. There needs to be the attitude of knowing that God loves and cares for His own when petitioning him in prayer. This approach actually honours God because it shows the level of trust we bring in coming before Him. The Lord teaches us to observe the Father’s creation and to note the tender care He takes in feeding the birds of the air. Shall He not do even more for His own? This opens the door to the subject of peace that surpasses all human understanding (vs 7). The Peace that God gives is a fruit of the Spirit that comes by way of the keeping of His commandments (Isa 48:18). There are so many blessings associated in the keeping of God’s commandments and peace is certainly one of them. The Psalmist (presumably Ezra) makes the statement concerning the obtaining of “great peace” given to those who love God’s Law (Psa 119:165). In a world filled with increasing turbulence we need to know the fruit of peace all the more. It is something that cannot be worked up but rather obtained as one walks in the light.
In verse 8 Paul mentions 8 things that we are to think and ponder upon. This indicates the significance of our thought life and how it can lead us in one path or another. We should seek to evaluate the things we hear and think upon by these 8 different qualities. Is it pure, is it honest, is it of good report are just a few of the criteria that are mentioned. If we assess the things we think and meditate upon by these standards it will help to preserve and strengthen our inner being. In verse 9 Paul repeats an earlier statement that he made concerning the Philippians taking note of his example; to seek to imitate his way and manner of life.
In verses 10-12 Paul speaks to the subject of contentment. This is an important truth especially when one comes into a position of prominence. Paul had a wonderful ability of being to function whether he was abased or abounding. He had the ability to flow with whatever the religious climate may have been at any given time. This is a rare quality and it speaks as to how riches and fame had no control or hold over him. I am afraid the same cannot be said for many today. Paul wrote to Timothy in saying that godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim 6:6). We should never make any unreasonable demands when given the opportunity to minister. There are too many today who offer their services for hire in their respective ministerial role. Paul was not that way nor was the Lord. Those who offer themselves for hire are in fact hirelings and the church is filled with far too many of them.
In verse 14-20 Paul speaks of the generosity of the church. They were not a particularly rich or thriving church yet they always sought to look after the needs of Paul and the needy saints in other places. From the time Paul established the house church through Lydia at Macedonia they have helped to look after Paul (Acts 16). They took interest in Paul and were proactive in assessing his needs even when he was not with them. This is a real blessing and it aided Paul in his ability to effectively minister in other places. The Philippian church has a rich reward due to the prayer and support that extended beyond their own needs. Paul loved this church and was continually amazed in the different ways they reached out to him. He notes a gift that was passed to him through Epaphroditus which touched him. He goes on to say in verse 19 that God will more than abundantly supply their need according to His riches in glory through Christ Jesus. Paul could say this with authority because he was a beneficiary of their generous spirit and he saw their liberality toward others. God honours and rewards such a generous heart and though they may not be rich and overflowing with material abundance their needs will always be met. They provide a picture of what the modern day church should look like. They were founded on a good foundation as seen in the generous attitude of Lydia and they continued to build upon that foundation as they began to grow. This foundation enabled them to receive greater revelation and promises which required persistence in pressing forward to a goal and target. The Philippian church had the qualities and credentials to receive such promises. Paul encouraged them and through them was able to present the vision of pressing on to hit the high calling of Christ Jesus for each of our lives. The Philippian church provided Paul the platform and example in showing how this could be done. May we learn from their example.