Monday, December 22, 2014

Light in the Darkness; Psalm 89

A repeated theme in Advent is light. As we light another candle each week, the light grows brighter in anticipation of the True Light entering the world. But what about when the darkness seems to overcome the light? What about when it seems as if God really has broken God’s promises? I talked to the children about promises and broken promises and told them that God never breaks God’s promises. That’s what the Bible says, but in today’s psalm, it seems as if God has not only broken a mere promise, but God’s very covenant that God made with David. If you know about covenants, you know that they are binding legal agreements and that the penalty for breaking them is death. So if God can break promises is God really God at all? This psalm is interesting. The last verse 52 is not really part of it. You see, the psalms are actually made up of 5 different sections, or books. Psalm 89 is the last psalm in section 3. Verse 52 denotes the end of this section of psalms. This book has been made up of royal psalms—psalms about kings, mostly David, but even more than that, they celebrate the Lord as King. Since verse 52 is not part of the psalm, that means this psalm ends with a series of questions and a plea for God to remember God’s covenant. Second, we know who wrote at least part of this psalm—Ethan the Ezrahite. From I Kings, we find out that Ethan is wise. King Solomon is declared to be wiser than all the wise men, including Ethan the Ezrahite. This means that Ethan was a very smart dude. We also find out from I Chronicles that he was a musician. He was a singer, songwriter, and played the cymbals. He and some of his fellow musicians were commissioned to write, sing, and play. Third, this psalm is divided into 3 parts. Verses 1- 18 offer praise to God. This section contains all four Advent themes—hope in the sure promises of God, peace because God has conquered all God’s enemies. This victory is expressed in the picture, “You crushed Rahab like one of the slain.” Rahab is a metaphor for Egypt, and with the other references to the sea, symbolizes the crossing of the Reed Sea. Rahab was also a sea dragon in Canaanite mythology. It represented chaos. God brings order out of chaos. In fact, God created the world out of chaos. Genesis 1:1 says God created the heavens and the earth. In verse 2 of Genesis one, the earth is described as formless and void. The Hebrew is stronger, describing the water-covered earth as a big mess. The New Testament tells us that God is a God of order and not of confusion. When has God created order out of chaos in your life? Rahab also symbolizes demonic power. God is greater than all evil. The rest of that verse says, “You have scattered Your enemies with Your mighty arm.” Christ is often referred to in the prophets and New Testament as God’s mighty right arm. Joy is seen in verse 15, “Blessed are the people that know the joyful sound!” The “joyful sound” is a group shout of triumphal praise. It cannot be made by a lone individual. It is like cheers at a football stadium. What would it sound like if we shouted for joy for who God is and what God has done like when our favorite team scores a touchdown or makes that 3 point shot right before the buzzer? The people of the Bible didn’t know modern sports, but they knew this sound. It was common at their festivals and it was directed to God Almighty. Love is seen in the second section of the psalm as well as the first as God’s forever covenant with David is described in detail. And of course there is light. To describe the totality of the Lord’s kingly reign, the mountains Tabor and Hermon are used. Tabor means light and Hermon means a “consecrated place”. Mt. Tabor is also the likely place of the transfiguration, which is appropriate as its name means “light”. This is where Jesus radiated light brighter than the sun. He was revealed in glory. Tabor is west of Jerusalem and Hermon is east. With the north and south and with heaven and earth, it is shown that everything belongs to God and every being belongs to God. Again, God’s hand is mentioned, pointing to the kingship of Christ. Christ is light and Christ is holy. Again, this royal psalm speaks more of Christ’s reign than David’s. Verse 18 says, “The Holy One of Israel is our king.” Yes, David was holy and chosen by God, but Christ moreso. He is absolutely holy. And His being chosen from the people speaks to the incarnation. He is fully man, but He also is Lord of heaven. He rules over the sea. He is the One who calls God, “Abba, Father.” He is the anointed Christ. He is the firstborn. We also know this psalm is about Christ because the angel Gabriel quotes from it in his annunciation to Mary when he says, “He shall reign over the house of Jacob forever, and His kingdom will have no end.” David was great, but Christ is greater. Scholars are divided as to whether Ethan wrote the second and third sections of the psalm in addition to the first, especially the 3rd section, which is a lament. In this section, the lamenter reminds God of God’s forever covenant with David, but the external evidence points to God breaking that covenant. If Ethan wrote it, he may be referring to Absalom’s rebellion, or perhaps he outlived Solomon and saw the kingdom divided. If it is a later addition, perhaps it was written during the exile or even right when Assyria conquered Israel or Babylon conquered Judah. We don’t know, but it is clear that this is a continuation of the psalm as it calls into question all the “forevers” promised by God. Notice that forever 4x’s in reference to God speaking plus an additional time by the psalmist as a pledge of praise and it is alluded to even more times than that. So this psalmist wonders, “What happened to ‘forever’?” Is it possible God renounced this covenant? Have you ever wondered if God has broken a promise? When has it seemed like God is not keeping God’s promises? Even this week, we learned of the massacre of school children far worse than the one in our country 2 years ago, the murder of more than 132 children and 9 staff in Peshawar. This was an act of darkness. It is evil. If God’s covenant is a forever one made to bless all the peoples of the earth, did God leave out Pakistan? Where is the light? The psalmist or psalmists recognize that there is a warning from God about punishing the descendants of David if they break God’s commandments, but even so there is a promise of restoration, grace, and that the covenant will never be broken. And yet, whatever the psalmist is describing is far worse than punishment or discipline. The psalmists’ questions are legitimate—“What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of Sheol?” It has been said that the psalms are the prayers of Christ. I can imagine Jesus praying this psalm in the garden. He was the One who had to bear all the many peoples in His bosom. He was the One who had to endure our shame. Even Jesus had to die. The only two who never died were Elijah, who was taken to heaven in a whirlwind and a chariot of fire, and possibly Enoch, who walked with God and was no more. But Jesus had to die. And the answer to the second question is, “Yes!” The psalmist might not have known it, but Jesus did rise from the grave! Even as He grieved in the garden, He already knew the positive answer to the question. He endured the cross for the joy that was set before Him. God’s covenant was not broken, and it will never be broken, even though it seems like darkness triumphs temporarily. Because of Christ, even we are light. Ephesians 5:8 says, “For once, you were darkness, but now in the Lord, you are light.” We didn’t just live in darkness; we were darkness. We were enemies of Christ, but now in Him we are light. We don’t just live in the light; we are light. We can illuminate the way for others. And so Paul exhorts us in the rest of that verse, “Live as children of light!” We can sing of the mercies of the Lord forever. We can make known His faithfulness to all generations. We have been reminded this season that our timetable is not God’s, and yes, God will always remain true to God’s word. We can claim all these victorious promises. With Christ, who is, as the Nicene Creed says, “Light from light, true God from True God,” the darkness will never win, and has in fact, been given a deadly blow. His death and resurrection made certain of that. Even so, Lord quickly come.


Blogger Pastor Parato said...

This hymn ran through my mind as I prepared this sermon and goes with the theme.

December 22, 2014 at 8:20 AM


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