Out of Exile (Psalm 126)

When the Lord brought back the captive ones of Zion,
We were like those who dream.
2 Then our mouth was filled with laughter
And our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations,
“The Lord has done great things for them.”
3 The Lord has done great things for us;
We are glad.
4 Restore our captivity, O Lord,
Like streams in the South.
Psalm 126:1-4

 

When God chose Israel to be his people, he made a covenant with them. A covenant is a binding agreement which makes people family. In a sense, God “adopted” Israel and made the people His own “family.” He pledged loyalty to them. He expected loyalty in return.

But instead of loyalty, God only received rebellion. Israel walked away from Him. And so God eventually walked away from the people. He kicked them out of the Promised Land and scattered them among the nations in exile.

But that’s not the end.

God had promised that they would come back to the land after 70 years:

“This whole land will be a desolation and a horror, and these nations will serve the king of Babylon seventy years” (Jeremiah 25:11).

Psalm 126 was written when the 70 years were up. The people are now back in the land. God had brought back the exiles!

Now back in Israel, the people think they are dreaming!

But there’s more context behind this song. Although the psalmist thanks God for bringing the people back from exile, he also prays for a return from exile: “Restore our captivity, O Lord, like streams in the South.”

So what gives?

Why is the psalmist praying for a return from exile when the people are already back?

That’s because there are two kinds of exile in the Bible: physical and spiritual exile.

Yes, the people were kicked out of the land. But more important was why were they kicked out: their hearts were far from God (Isaiah 29:13). That’s spiritual exile.

And the spiritual exile began all the way back at the very beginning when Adam and Eve were kicked out of God’s very presence in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:22-24)

The psalmist knows that a physical return without a spiritual return is pointless. Because it doesn’t really matter if you are near your homeland, if you are far from God.

Which is why Jesus came to die: to end the exile. “But now in Christ Jesus you who formerly  were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13).

All of us enter this world in spiritual exile, separated from God. Our sins have created an insurmountable mountain to get to God. Our sins have created an unbridgeable gap to get to God. We have been far off, and we are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1-3). But God has shed the blood of Jesus to bring us near. Through His death on the cross, we are forgiven and made new. And God makes a better covenant with us, a new covenant. A new covenant where God is loyal to us not because of our loyalty to Him but because of Jesus’ obedience on our behalf (Hebrews 7:23-28; 8:6-13)

A Way Out (Psalm 124)

Blessed be the Lord,
Who has not given us to be torn by their teeth.
Our soul has escaped as a bird out of the snare of the trapper;
The snare is broken and we have escaped.
Our help is in the name of the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
Psalm 124:6-8

God is our helper who comes through in the clutch for us. David is so thankful for God because He did not allow him to be torn by his enemy’s teeth. It’s like running out and scaring away a hungry hawk about to scoop up your Chihuahua. God’s help comes at just the right time.

The very day that my and I took our new baby home from the hospital, God spared me. After spending four days in the hospital, we finally got home. When he arrived, I had to go to the pharmacy to pick up some medicine for my wife.  I was extremely tired having just spent four days being woken up at all hours of the night. As I was driving to the pharmacy, I got distracted looking out the driver’s side-window. When I looked up, an Escalade was barreling towards me head on. I jerked the wheel so hard to the right, and we barely missed each other. When I got to the pharmacy parking lot, I was praising God. In an instant, my life could have been over. My family had just went from a family of three to four with the birth of our daughter. But it could have gone back down to three that day. God spared me and delivered me just at the right time.

What has the Lord done in your life?  How has the Lord saved you? God makes a way for us to escape. Even though there may be times when we are flailing in life like a trapped bird, God breaks the net. God has a way of making a way when there is no way. And He did that for Jesus too.

God made a way for us even through death. In Jesus’ situation, it looked absolutely hopeless. Jesus never did anything wrong, so no one could justly blame Jesus for anything. And yet He was unjustly condemned. The powers-that-be worked the system to make sure that Jesus was condemned. How unfair is that!

Jesus also found out that there was no other way to save the world than straight through death and darkness. As Jesus was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, he desired to save the world any other way than death on the cross. Yet He still submitted Himself to God. So Jesus had no way out. And He died. But even in the darkest hour God punched a hole through death and made a way by raising Jesus from the dead. He can make a way out for you as well. Are you facing enslaving sin? Remember that you are a new creation, freed from the bondage of sin! Are you facing opposition? Remember that what people intend for evil, God uses for good! Are you tired and worn down by life? Remember that God will raise you up with new strength!

 

God is FOR You (Psalm 124)

 

“Had it not been the Lord who was on our side,”
Let Israel now say,
“Had it not been the Lord who was on our side
When men rose up against us,
Then they would have swallowed us alive.”
Psalm 124:1-2

God is on our side. Literally, Lord is “for us.” David recognizes that if the Lord was not for him and his people, then they would have been destroyed. God is for His people. The New Testament picks up this truth and expands on it in Romans 8. After describing God using all things for our good and His great plan to make us look more like Jesus, Paul writes, “What will we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31).

I mean, the logic is pretty sound here, right?  If you have God on your side, then who is against you? Who can stand against you?  What do you have to fear?

Now, if that’s all the Bible said about God being on our side, then it would be very easy to agree with the Prosperity Gospel preachers that say, “Hey, God wants you to be successful and He wants you to be materially rich! By the way, God is going to make everything you do prosper!” But Romans goes on to actually explain what God being for us means in the next verse:

“God did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32)

God is on your side by not sparing His own Son from death. God sent Jesus to die on the cross. Before God can be for you, He is against you! Earlier in Romans, Paul writes, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). Because of our sin, God’s wrath stands against us.

Romans talks about how we have substituted worship of created things for the Creator (Romans 1:21-23). Because God is God and the Creator of all, He is due all of our worship. To degrade an infinite God means to deserve infinite punishment. We all deserve to go to Hell. He is against us, but the good news of Christianity is that God can be for you. He can be on your side because He did not spare His own Son. He gave His own Son as a sacrifice for our sins.

As a result of God being for us, He will give us everything (“all things” Romans 8:32) that we need to look more like Jesus. God will bring everything into our lives to make us grow and exhibit the character of Christ in our own lives. Sometimes this means rest and respite. Sometimes this means suffering and pain.

 

The Delay of God’s Justice (Psalm 73)

It often doesn’t feel like God is a just Judge, right?

I mean, it often looks like the wicked triumph. It looks like evil gets its way. The prosperity of the wicked is exactly the issue that the author of Psalm 73 is grappling with. His faith is shaken: “But as for me, my feet came close to stumbling/My steps had almost slipped” (Ps. 73:2). The life of faith in the Bible is often described as a journey, as walking with God. And here the author says his feet almost slipped off the path: he almost lost his faith in God. Why? Because he envied the wicked! He saw their prosperity and success and he wanted it.

The Problem: The Success of the Wicked

[4] For there are no pains in their death,
And their body is fat.
[5] They are not in trouble as other men,
Nor are they plagued like mankind.
[6] Therefore pride is their necklace;
The (garment of violence covers them.
[7] Their eye bulges from fatness;
The imaginations of their heart run riot.
[8] They mock and wickedly speak of oppression;
They speak from on high.
[9] They have set their mouth against the heavens,
And their tongue parades through the earth.
[10] Therefore his people return to this place,
And waters of abundance are drunk by them.
[11] They say, “How does God know?
And is there knowledge with the Most High?”
[12] Behold, these are the wicked;
And always at ease, they have increased in wealth.

Two major descriptions of the wicked come to the forefront in these verse. The first is that they are “fat.” That might seem weird to us, but back in the ancient world, being skinny was not beautiful. If you were skinny, that meant you worked out in the field all day and didn’t have enough to eat. Being fat was beautiful back then, because it meant you were rich and didn’t need to labor in the field. You could just sit around in your palace or house all day and have servants wait on you. Being fat indicated a life of ease and comfort.

The second description is that the wicked are arrogant. They are “clothed” in arrogance, everything they do is for their own self-promotion. They also speak out against God; they pontificate as if they are truly knowledgeable about matters in which they no nothing. “Behold, these are the wicked: always at ease and they have increased in wealth.” The success and prosperity of the wicked causes the psalmist’s faith to be shaken. He wanted what they wanted, and the wicked seemed to get everything they wanted without God.

Not only does the success of the wicked cause the psalmist’s faith to be shaken, but it also affects him by making his faith seem pointless:

[13] Surely, I have cleansed my heart in vain,
And I washed my innocent hands [in vain].
[14] And I have been struck every day,
Punished every morning.
[15] If I say, “I will speak in this way”
Then, listen: I would have betrayed a generation of your sons.
[16] When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my eyes,

What benefit is there in following God, if the wicked win?  Why follow God when the bad people get all the good stuff anyways? “I have cleansed my heart in vain. And I washed my hands in innocence.” In his view, it is pointless to confess and repent of sin. Why should he care about dealing with sin, when the wicked triumph over the righteous. He also has kept his hand innocent in vain. The hands are often used to represent a person’s behavior. The metaphor pictures innocence as the water in which the psalmist has washed his hands. In other words, his behavior is totally “submersed” in innocence. He is blameless and righteous. But he also sees such blameless living as vanity, because the wicked who are not innocent are “winning.”

It’s easy to envy the wicked and think our faith is pointless. But the point of faith isn’t to be successful. The point of faith is to glorify God by enjoying Him! Some people say, “You know, I’ve tried the whole ‘Jesus thing’ before, but it didn’t really work for me.” And lurking behind that kind of thinking, is the idea that God owes us. He owes us success at work. He owes us a healed loved one. He owes us the kind of marriage we want. And when that doesn’t happen, we think God has failed. But God doesn’t owe us anything. If we got what God truly owed us, we’d all be punished for our sins. But God gives us grace in Christ Jesus. All the other stuff—a good marriage, success at a job—that may or may not happen. What we can be assured of is that God will forgive us our sins in Christ Jesus and promises us a glorious future with Him in the new creation

The Resolution: The Inevitable Justice of God

There is resolution for the psalmist.  Although the success of the wicked shakes his faith, and makes his faith seem pointless for a time, it is not forever. He comes to realize that the success of the wicked is temporary. God’s justice will be executed.

 [16] When I pondered to understand this,
It was troublesome in my eyes,
[17] Until I came to the sanctuary of God.
Then I understood their final destiny.
[18] Surely, You have set them upon a slippery place.
You caused them to fall into deception.
[19] Oh! How they will become a desolation in a moment!
They came to an end. They perished because of sudden calamity.
[20] Like a dream when you wake up,
When you wake up, O Lord, you will despise their form.
[21] When my heart was embittered
And my kidneys were pierced through,
[22] And I was stupid and did not know,
Then I was like an animal before You.

God will bring justice in His timing. That is what is important to remember. God will punish the wicked and vindicate the righteous in His timing, not ours. The truth is that God’s justice will come quickly when viewed from the perspective of eternity. Notice that it is God who sets the wicked “upon a slippery place.” He will bring down justice. He causes them to fall into ruin. This is not merely God’s passive judgment—a handing sinners over to their sin. This is God’s active justice, where He does, in fact, judge them.

Sometimes God’s justice comes swiftly. If you become addicted to meth, you will see terrifyingly real consequences in this lifetime. Some sins take a while for God’s full justice to be manifested. But this doesn’t mean that God won’t judge that sin. He will! There’s a great quote from the movie Inside Man about the inevitability of God’s justice: “The further you run from your sins, the more exhausted you are when they catch up to you. And they do. Certain. It will not fail.” But God is gracious to give people time and opportunity to repent:“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish, but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 2:9).

Notice, also, that the psalmist receives resolution to his struggle when he enters into the sanctuary of God to worship Him. In the Old Testament, God purposefully confined His glorious presence to the temple. Coming into the temple was the place for the Israelites to have “access” to God. It was the place of worship and atonement. It was also the place of corporate gathering. Once the psalmist entered the sanctuary, he then finally understood the final destiny of the wicked. When Jesus came, he fulfilled all those expectations of the OT. He is our temple. He is our sacrifice. When we come together as the people of God, we—the church—are now God’s sanctuary. And as we worship together and hear God’s Word together we can find assurance in our faith and answers to our questions.

This is especially important for those of you who struggle with doubt. Worship has a special function to reinforce our faith and give us insight into the truth. It’s a lot like witnessing, when you share your faith, you become convinced, “Hey, I actually believe this stuff!” So too, with worship, when you pour your heart out to God—and see others doing the same—then your faith is strengthened to believe in God’s justice. When we see God’s perspective on the matter, we know that He will one day bring down His justice.

Trust in God, He is a Just Judge. It may seem like evil has won the day, but it hasn’t, for God will bring His justice against all unrighteousness and wickedness.