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Remember to Fear the Lord


Psalm 76:7
7
But you, you are to be feared! Who can stand before you when once your anger is roused?

The Story: It’s pretty clear that many of the people in Jerusalem in Asaph’s day had begun to lose any sense of the fear of God: “they say, ‘How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?’” (Ps. 73:11); “These things you have done, and I have been silent; you thought that I was one like yourself” (Ps. 50:21). With the blessings of God streaming into the city year by year, in ever-increasing quantities, the people must have convinced themselves that they were God’s favorites forever, that perhaps He even owed them such largesse. God commanded His people to love and fear Him (Deut. 10:12, 13), and it seems clear that this was beginning to be less the case among the people in Solomon’s day. But a God more majestic than the glorious mountains of Israel, and mightier by His mere Word than all the armies of men, is a God to be feared. When His people fear God, they keep His commandments; when they cease fearing Him, they tend to presume on His goodness and leave His commandments aside. But God does not simply ignore such presumption and disobedience. When He rises to bring judgment against men—all men, even His people—none will be able to stand before Him.

The Structure: We don’t hear much about the fear of God in churches these days. God loves us; He wants what’s best for us; He’s our friend. What’s to fear? Similarly, we don’t hear much about the Law of God in churches these days. Few Christians know the Ten Commandments in their proper order, and few churches teach that the Law of God has anything other than a kind of token place in the scheme of divine salvation. It should not surprise us to see so many Christian leaders falling into scandalous sin, when the Law and fear of God are so little regarded. Can things be much different with the people who look to such leaders? We need to be reminded that God is to be feared, as well as loved, and His judgment will fall on those who presume upon His goodness (Ps. 52; Heb. 12:1-11). Such reminders won’t make you the most popular worship leader. But they will make you a faithful one.

How would you describe the state of the fear of God and the Law of God in your church?

For more insight on reading the Psalms, get the book, How to Read the Psalms, by Tremper Longman III.

The Worldview Bible examines the teaching of Scripture according to the Story and Structure of Truth—the Framework of Christian Worldview—using only other Scriptures for illumination. Information about The Framework of Truth is available on this site. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Victor Over His Foes


Psalm 76:4-6
4
Glorious are you, more majestic than the mountains of prey. 5The stouthearted were stripped of their spoil; they sank into sleep; all the men of war were unable to use their hands. 6At your rebuke, O God of Jacob, both rider and horse lay stunned.

The Story: Asaph leads the people to praise the majesty and might of the Lord. In the psalms God is typically presented in His transcendent greatness; He is God over all, above all, and ruling all. Recall that, in Asaph’s day, the world was flocking to Jerusalem to admire the greatness of Solomon. He had not come to greatness by military conquest. God had given Solomon wisdom and enabled him to become the greatest ruler of His day. But the focus was shifting from God to the glories of Jerusalem in Asaph’s day, and he was raised up in order to help the people of Israel keep things in a proper perspective. God’s majesty was more awesome than Solomon’s by far—greater even than the majestic mountains surrounding the city of Jerusalem. His power was greater than the all the enemies that might threaten Israel’s security. Just a word from the Lord, and His enemies would fall helpless before Him. The people of Israel in Solomon’s days were in danger of losing their focus; just like Solomon, they had begun to cherish life “under the sun” rather than “under the heavens.” To Asaph, among others, fell the task of helping the people to “lift up their eyes” to the hills, and to the Lord their Savior and Deliverer, before it was too late.

The Structure: It is always a function of worship to help re-orient the people of God. Out and about in the world it’s very easy for us to begin to think that our greatest blessings are material, our greatest resources human, and our greatest needs to gratify the desires of our flesh. In worship God’s people find their proper perspective on life, as they wonder at the greatness of God, adore and thank Him for His might and power, and submit again to His divine economy and eternal purposes. Worship that compromises the transcendence of God, or focuses too much on His immanence (“with us”), does not accomplish the purpose of worship such as is indicated in Psalm 76. Similarly, worship that focuses more on the interests, tastes, and concerns of people (“How did you like the service?”) cannot bring us into the presence of the God of all glory and might.

How would you describe the focus of worship in your church? Does worship cause you to look up and wonder, in praise and humility, at the greatness of God? Or does it speak merely to your own desires and those of your fellow worshipers?

For more insight on reading the Psalms, get the book, How to Read the Psalms, by Tremper Longman III.

The Worldview Bible examines the teaching of Scripture according to the Story and Structure of Truth—the Framework of Christian Worldview—using only other Scriptures for illumination. Information about The Framework of Truth is available on this site. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Peace, Glorious Peace!


Psalm 76:3
3
There he broke the flashing arrows, the shield, the sword, and the weapons of war. Selah

The Story: Where God dwells in greatness and love amid His people, there peace obtains. Asaph uses the symbols of warfare to show that Israel’s striving has ceased; God has brought peace (“Salem”, v. 2) to His people whom He loves. Warfare in the Old Testament often serves as a sign of the spiritual condition of God’s people. When they are advancing against an enemy, it generally indicates God’s favor and pleasure. When they are being driven back, His discipline is upon them for some sin. When peace obtains between Israel and the nations, then the people rest in the presence of God, as in the days of Solomon, when Asaph prophesied and led the people in worship. This verse would have served to remind Israel that the great prosperity and influence they knew under Solomon (1 Kings 10) was an expression of the Lord’s favor. Moses had warned Israel that, when they became fat and happy, they would forget the Lord. Asaph saw those tendencies beginning in his day (Pss. 50, 73), and he used his role as one of Israel’s worship leaders to remind the people of the true Source of their prosperity and peace.

The Structure: The New Testament’s use of military terminology to depict the spiritual life (cf. Eph. 6:10-20) derives from such Old Testament passages as this. God is the Giver of our peace, but we must “work hard” (Eph. 4:3) to maintain it, especially within the household of faith. Prayer and good works are the way to keep peace within the household of God (Phil. 4:6, 7; Gal. 6:1-10). Peace doesn’t “just happen.” It is the work of Jesus Christ and His Spirit, Who overcame all our enemies on the cross and out of the empty tomb, so that we could “fight the good fight” of faith and know God’s peace in the midst of every trial or anxious situation. Peace is the gift of God; when we begin to think that our own efforts and qualifications have brought us peace, we have lost sight of peace’s true character and provenance. Where peace does not exist—within our souls, between men or nations, throughout the world—we must seek the Lord for it first, and only then take up whatever work may be required to attain it.

What are some things that threaten your peace day by day? Meditate on Philippians 4:6, 7. How should you apply these verses to help in maintaining the peace God wants you to have?

For more insight on reading the Psalms, get the book, How to Read the Psalms, by Tremper Longman III.

The Worldview Bible examines the teaching of Scripture according to the Story and Structure of Truth—the Framework of Christian Worldview—using only other Scriptures for illumination. Information about The Framework of Truth is available on this site. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
In the Midst of His People


Psalm 76:1, 2
1
In Judah God is known; his name is great in Israel.
2
His abode has been established in Salem, his dwelling place in Zion.

The Story: The essence of God’s covenant relationship with Israel is summarized in the phrase, “I will be your God, and you will be My people.” Asaph begins this psalm with language that embellishes that covenant motto with some deeper significance. The nature of Israel’s relationship with God is one of love, honor, and presence. “God is known” in Israel; that is, He is loved by those who truly know Him. Whereas pagan gods were not loved but, typically, placated merely, God is infinitely personal and loving toward His people, who love Him in return. His “name is great” among His people. They honor and worship God because they recognize how much He has done for them and how He continues to meet their daily needs. And God’s presence “has been established” in peace (“Salem”, Hebrew: shalom), so that the people who know their God do not dread Him, but bask in the security He brings by having established His dwelling place in their midst. The sense of these two opening verses is that knowing God and honoring Him bring peace to all those who cherish His presence. These are the ideas Jesus had in mind when, before His ascension, He promised His disciples, “I am with you always” (Matt. 28:20). One of the purposes of worship is to reinforce the covenant idea, “I will be your God, and you will be My people.”

The Structure: Worship is, in the first place, a celebration of the presence of God with His people, and of the many good gifts He bestows upon them. Worship should renew and reinforce the ideas of knowing, honoring, and walking with God. In order to do this, God must be the focus and centerpiece of our worship, as we see in all the psalms. Certainly there is a place for the people of God to consider their needs and interests. But these must be properly framed. These two verses are a chiasmus, that is, read together they form an “X”, the top left and bottom right, as it were, expressing the same idea: “Judah” and “Zion.” The top right and bottom left—the “middle” of the “X”—where the focus is on God, illustrate the presence of God “within” His people, where His love, greatness, and provision make them who they are.

It’s a delicate balance keeping our needs and God’s greatness in focus during morning worship. How does your church’s order of worship, and the content of it, accomplish this important task?

For more insight on reading the Psalms, get the book, How to Read the Psalms, by Tremper Longman III.

The Worldview Bible examines the teaching of Scripture according to the Story and Structure of Truth—the Framework of Christian Worldview—using only other Scriptures for illumination. Information about The Framework of Truth is available on this site. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
Worship as Watershed


Psalm 75:10
10
All the horns of the wicked I will cut off, but the horns of the righteous shall be lifted up
.

The Story: It seems to me that this verse should have been put within quotation marks, indicating that God has renewed speaking to the people, as in vv. 2-5. While the first person personal pronoun appears in the preceding verse, it is meant to indicate the worship leader’s—and, by identification with him, the worshippers’—duty in gathering to worship the Lord. Asaph is not going to bring down the wicked and exalt the righteous; that is God’s work, as we saw in verse 7. So here, at the end of the psalm—at the end of worship?—God reminds His people that every gathering to worship the Lord is a watershed moment. We come for a purpose and must go out with a resolve. If we are not resolved to serve the Lord, giving thanks for His blessings and walking in the righteous path of His Law, then we will surely slip down the other side into wickedness. But judgment awaits the wicked, both in this life and forever (Rom. 1:18-32). God will exalt those who cling to Him and travel in His chosen path, following the way of their Savior and King (Matt. 5:17-19; 1 Jn. 2:1-6).

The Structure: In a “traditional” worship service the pastor typically pronounces a benediction at the end, to dismiss the people from the service. This is meant to express God’s pleasure with the offering He has received from His people, to remind His people of His faithfulness, and, if only indirectly, to charge them with the duty of staying faithful to Him in their daily “worship” as well (Rom. 12:1, 2). Asaph’s “benediction” injects another word of warning—which we might expect from Asaph, given the encroaching and expanding, albeit unacknowledged, evil of his day. Would that more of today’s worship leaders had the kind of insight, burden, and boldness that Asaph demonstrated in those compromised days of King Solomon’s glory.

Does worship at your church seek to confront the sins of the people? Why or why not? Should there be more of this in our worship of God?

For more insight on reading the Psalms, get the book, How to Read the Psalms, by Tremper Longman III.

The Worldview Bible examines the teaching of Scripture according to the Story and Structure of Truth—the Framework of Christian Worldview—using only other Scriptures for illumination. Information about The Framework of Truth is available on this site. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
The Purpose of Worship


Psalm 75:9
9
But I will declare it forever; I will sing praises to the God of Jacob
.

The Story: We must always remember that worship is about God, not about us. The strong adversative “but” of this verse is meant to keep the focus of the worshippers where it belongs – not merely on their blessings or their need for repentance (v. 8). The worshipper’s duty is to declare the works of God, to sing and pray back to Him the greatness of His Name, the glory of His works, the wonder of His grace, and to hear in the proclamation of His Word reminders and exhortations meant to strengthen faith in the Lord. The proper context for worship is that of praise to the God of the covenant (“God of Jacob”), who chooses and saves scheming deceivers such as we, incorporates us into His eternal plan for blessing, and never fails to satisfy us with good things day by day. In Jesus Christ we enter into the fullness of God’s covenant and know His blessings in wave upon wave of grace (Jn. 1:16). How can we fail to make Him – not ourselves – the center of everything we do – in worship and at all times?

The Structure: Since the focus of worship is always God, worshippers must do their best to make sure that the forms of worship they employ will be pleasing to Him. We must declare His praises in the forms and elements He prescribes in His Word (Ps. 50), and not just those which we find useful or enjoyable. In our day worship has taken on more of the character of our pop culture generation. Have we ever stopped to consider carefully whether such worship is actually pleasing to God? On what basis of Scripture do we make that judgment? Of course, worship “more in step with the times” will engage many worshippers in an agreeable manner, and perhaps even create a welcoming ambience for any “seekers.” But will such worship engage the pleasure of the One in Whose Name we have gathered?

What process do your worship leaders follow in preparing the service of worship? Do you know whether or not the worship in your church is as full and Biblical as it ought to be?

For more insight on reading the Psalms, get the book, How to Read the Psalms, by Tremper Longman III.

The Worldview Bible examines the teaching of Scripture according to the Story and Structure of Truth—the Framework of Christian Worldview—using only other Scriptures for illumination. Information about The Framework of Truth is available on this site. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
The Wine Is Served


Psalm 75:8
8
For in the hand of the LORD there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.

The Story: It is quite possible that, in composing this verse, Asaph may have had in mind the image of wine in the anonymous Psalm 116. In that psalm those who are truly grateful for the blessings of God take up the cup of salvation to toast their Savior, invite others to celebrate Him as well, and drink their full of the abundant goodness of the Lord. But that same cup of wine, from which Israel drank every day, drawing on the daily blessings of God’s steadfast love (often without giving thanks), also carries bitter dregs in its bottom. They who imbibe God’s blessings mindlessly, without pausing often to give thanks (v. 1), will find the dregs choking their throats soon enough. God sheds His blessings on humankind in more ways than we could ever completely acknowledge. But this is no reason to take those blessings for granted, congratulating ourselves for our “good fortune” (v. 6) and allowing our hearts to drift further from God.

The Structure: “Bittersweet” is a good way of thinking about the psalms of Asaph, and about the role of those who lead the people of God in worship. There are many blessings of God to recount and celebrate, and much to learn about His promises and Law. Asaph never failed to point to God as the Giver of every good and perfect gift; at the same time, he dared to expose the ingratitude and hypocrisy of the people of God in his day, and to warn them of God’s displeasure toward those who spurn His grace and truth. We must learn to take the bitter with the sweet as we hear the Word of God, being nurtured on the latter lest we fall under the discipline of the former (Rev. 10:8-10).

How do you experience the “bittersweet” character of the Word of God? How do you respond to each aspect?

For more insight on reading the Psalms, get the book, How to Read the Psalms, by Tremper Longman III.

The Worldview Bible examines the teaching of Scripture according to the Story and Structure of Truth—the Framework of Christian Worldview—using only other Scriptures for illumination. Information about The Framework of Truth is available on this site. Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version, copyright 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
 
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