David and Psalm 23

This week, amongst a million other things, I’ve done a short exegesis paper on Psalm 23.

It’s always interesting to delve into the commentaries and to see what scholars have written about the scriptures, in particular those passages which we can often become dulled to simply through familiarity.

There’s a lot to talk about in Psalm 23! There’s discussions on the royal connotations that the shepherd metaphor had in the Ancient Near Eastern Cultures. There’s the structure: the two metaphors of God as Shepherd and God as Host, and the changing use of pronouns – it starts off referring to ‘the Lord’, and then addresses God directly as ‘You’ before reverting to ‘the Lord’ at the end. There’s plenty of talk about the significance that the psalmist basically does nothing for himself.

The Lord:

makes him lie down
leads him beside still waters
restores his soul
leads him in right paths
is with him
prepares a table
anoints his head
overfills his cup.

This leads scholars to call the psalm ‘a song of trust’ or ‘a song of confidence’; the psalmist’s hope is in the Lord, not in his own abilities.

This is especially true when looking at the valley of the shadow of death, or the deadly place, or the fatal darkness. Some scholars use this image to contrast the metaphor of the Lord as a shepherd with the “shepherd of death” in Psalm 49.

Fearing no evil can imply fearing the Lord, which is the beginning of wisdom.

“You are with me” can hearken back to the promise God first makes to Abraham in Genesis, and which is repeated throughout scripture.

The darkest valley, the guidance of the Lord and the table can all be seen as links to the Exodus story and the Passover meal (and for Christians today, this can rightly take on Eucharistic connotations too).

Goodness and mercy shall follow me apparently translates literally as ‘pursue’, giving this a sense of the relentless intention of God to bless us and be in relation with us.

You get the idea. These are just a handful of examples of the discussions which were common throughout the commentaries I used.

However, there was one particular aspect of the Psalm which I found fascinating. When you open your bibles to Psalm 23  you’ll see that at the top of it it says ‘A Psalm of David’.

This is called a superscription. It’s basically a title but it doesn’t give the psalm a name but rather some information about it (though not all psalms have them). Some will say that they are a Psalm of Korah (a person), or that it’s a psalm of accents (to be sung on the way to the temple)  or that it’s to be played on particular instruments. What’s so interesting about it then? Well, in the commentaries I looked at (and I did not look at them all! Just about thirty or so) the scholars who mentioned it normally said something along the lines of ‘go back to the chapter I wrote about the types of psalms’. So I had a look and they would recap the discussion about the psalms of David. It seems that they may have been written by David, or they may have been collected by David, or they might have nothing to do with David and were called psalms of David in honour of David or even about David. In essence, we don’t have a clue what the connection is to David but they’re called ‘Psalms of David’ anyway.

Because of this ambiguity about their connection to David, the only way to ‘date’ the psalm to the life of David is when the psalms clearly refer to events which are written about in 1 Samuel, the main place where we read about the life of David. Psalms like 59, 56 and 142 are good examples of this. Psalm 23, though, is not considered to have any clear link to any events in his life. Whilst profound and clearly the testimony of an individual, there’s nothing distinctively ‘David’-like in the events in it. As such scholars seem to accept that we don’t know who wrote it, or when, or why.

Yet Psalm 23 is ‘A Psalm of David’.

Now… usually if you have an idea about a passage of scripture which no one else seems to have spotted* then you should reconsider and either realise that you’re stretching things a bit, or write a PhD thesis on it! But this is less of an exegetical point and more of a meditative one – so I feel safe in at the least suggesting it as a helpful way to reflect on Psalm 23.

A Psalm of David.

Well, regardless as to whether David wrote it or someone else wrote it for/about him, I think that it’s an apt description.

Psalm 23 is the Psalm of the God of David as a Shepherd. Which is interesting because David… was a shepherd.

1 Samuel 16, Samuel is looking for the next king of Israel and he meets Jesse, David’s Dad. In obedience to God, Samuel asks Jesse where his youngest son was. “He is keeping the sheep”.

That’s the first we hear of David. He’s a shepherd.

This is important in the following chapter when David kills Goliath the Philistine Giant.

Goliath was huge and had the best armour and weapons. He challenged the Israelite army to a one on one duel, and winner would take all.

“Today I defy the ranks of Israel! Give me a man, that we may fight together.”

When Saul and all Israel heard these words of the Philistine, they were dismayed and greatly afraid.

1 Samuel 17:10-11

David visits his brothers in the army and asks:

“Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?”

1 Samuel 17:26

His brother rebukes him, but King Saul hears and asks to see David.

Now this is where things get interesting.

David said to Saul, “Let no one’s heart fail because of him; your servant will go and fight with this Philistine.” 33 Saul said to David, “You are not able to go against this Philistine to fight with him; for you are just a boy, and he has been a warrior from his youth.” 34 But David said to Saul, “Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, 35 I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. 36 Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God.” 37 David said, “The Lord, who saved me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, will save me from the hand of this Philistine.” So Saul said to David, “Go, and may the Lord be with you!”

1 Samuel 17:32-37 (emphasis added)

David then took his staff and some pebbles in his shepherd’s bag, went out, challenged Goliath and, after telling him that God will deliver him into his hands, killed him.

Here we find that David has total faith in God, and he expresses his faith using the language of his experience as a shepherd. Just as David protected sheep from lions and bears, God will protect David. The lion would take a lamb from the flock, Goliath would fight one person from the army of Israel. The lion would defy David, Goliath defied the living God; and neither would succeed in their ambitions.

If we consider the themes of David’s trust and reliance upon God in the face of adversity, if we consider his analogy of his actions as a shepherd protecting his flock to describe God and if we even consider that his victory was prepared for him by God in front of the philistine army then it seems that these themes overlap incredibly well with the themes we find in Psalm 23.

Reflecting on Psalm 23 while keeping David as shepherd and his understanding of God as Shepherd in mind doesn’t suddenly change the themes and content of Psalm 23. But I would suggest that it might enable us to delve into those themes and encouragements in a way which can give us a deeper appreciation for the beauty of the profound trust and hope found throughout.

And so I encourage you to read it through now, and I’d love to hear what occurs to you as you read it.

Psalm 23 – A Psalm of David

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil;
For you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.


*so far as I can tell, but there’s a lot of stuff which has been written on this Psalm – very possible someone else has had this idea first and I’m just unaware of it!

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The Resurrection Foundation of Christian Faith

Twitter’s defining characteristic is that each tweet can only be 140 characters. Often this means that it’s difficult to have deep, meaningful and nuanced conversations. 

Sometimes, however, what it takes academics whole books and many journal articles to discuss and debate can be distilled into a single tweet and response. 

Paul wrote to the Corinthians, in more than 140 characters, the following: 

But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised.16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied.

20 But Christ has indeed been raised from the deadthe firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man. 22 For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.

1 Corinthians 15:12-22 (NIV)

My Sermon following #Brexit

I had the privilege to preach at Emmanuel Church Northwood on Sunday 26th June 2016 at the BCP Holy Communion Services. I also preached a slightly modified version of this sermon on Wednesday 29th June at the midweek BCP Communion Service.  The passage was Luke 5.1-11 and this was the first Sunday after the UK democratically decided to vote to Leave the European Union in the referendum on the 23rd of June 2016.

On Thursday our country braved the wind and the rain to head to the polls to vote on the EU Referendum.

The polls closed at ten and the country waited. It waited through the night as the different areas declared their votes. By breakfast time it became clear that the result a vote to leave the European Union. This is one of those moments where we know that we stand at the crest of history in the making. Whether we personally endorse the result, or whether we voted to remain it is clear that the voice of democracy has spoken in such a way that the political landscape has been fundamentally changed for a generation, overnight.

We have all seen the heated discussions in the run up to the referendum, in the papers, on the internet, in churches and at pubs. There have also been campaign rallies and assemblies, with crowds of people wanting to hear what the respective sides had to say, wanting to figure out what they thought of it all and whether or not they would vote, and if so – how they would vote.

In a way, this atmosphere of discussion and curiosity is very similar to the reaction of the people to Jesus in the Gospels. There are numerous occasions when we read that all the people came out of the towns and cities to come and hear Jesus speak. Our passage today is one of those occasions. Jesus was by the Lake of Gennesaret. He had been preaching throughout Judea at the synagogues and healing the sick, including Simon’s mother-in- law.

Today the crowd was gathered around him, listening to him as he spoke the Word of God. Normally when someone preaches or speaks on the street it’s possible for a small crowd of people to gather around to see and hear them. Yet today there were too many people. It’s likely that people would have been peering at the backs of other people’s heads and struggling to hear Jesus’ voice faintly on the breeze. And so Jesus turns to Simon, a fisherman he had been staying with, and asked him to put his boat out just off the shore so that the people could see and hear him. Jesus then continued to preach the Word of God to the crowd!

This is such a fascinating thing for us to note. So often for us preaching the word of God can almost be short hand for declaring that Jesus has died on the Cross for our Sins and that he rose again, a promise that all those who believe in his name will join him in the final resurrection when the broken and hurting creation melts away to be replaced by the new creation filled with the heavenly presence of God. This is the Gospel which we believe and which we confess in the Creeds. Yet the Gospel is more than just a story of what has been done for us, but is of a God who loves us and desires to communicate with us! That’s why Jesus preached the Word of God to the crowds, to prophesy God’s continuing faithfulness to his people.

Once Jesus had finished preaching, he turns to Simon and asks him to head out to deeper water and put the nets down for a catch. Now Simon was, as I said before, a fisherman. He knew that the fish wouldn’t be out at that time of day. Yet because he’d seen his Mother-in- Law healed, because he’d seen and heard Jesus speaking to the crowd there was something in him which prompted Simon to acquiesce. On the surface, it was a peculiar request but he says that because the request came from Jesus, he would do it.

Now we know what happens next. We know that there’s a miraculous catch of fish which was so overwhelming that the boat started to sink! But before we get there, let’s acknowledge this simple act of faith – because that’s what it is, an act of faith.

What makes this an act of faith? The belief that actually he would catch fish? I don’t think so. I think that this is one of those moments when faith is found not in what we hope for or expect but actually it is a response to God’s will – even if we do not understand that will, or actively believe that it’s impossible. This is not an act of faith which results in a catch of fish, this is an act of faith which stems from a trust in Jesus.

Often when we tell this story to children in Sunday school we stop with the miraculous catch of fish. However the story does not stop there! In fact, the catch of fish isn’t even the point of the story! The point of the story is Simon Peter’s reaction.

Simon Peter’s reaction.

I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but so far I’ve been calling him Simon. And that’s because so far in the Gospel of Luke he has always been called Simon. Just Simon, in fact. Then here Luke describes the reaction of Simon Peter. Yet throughout the rest of Luke and Acts he’s referred to only as Peter! Now I’ve spent some time reading through the commentaries and I’ve not been able to get to the bottom of why this shift happens in Luke’s writings. I’m not entirely sure as to why Simon becomes Peter, just as I’m unsure why Saul becomes Paul!*

However, what I am sure of is that Luke has written it this way intentionally and that this moment where he is called ‘Simon Peter’ is a turning point, a moment of great significance where everything changes for him.

Simon Peter reacts by dropping to his knees and saying to Jesus ‘Go away from me, Lord! For I am a sinful man”. This was because he was astonished by the catch of fish, he knew the significance. It should not have happened. It doesn’t happen. It’s not luck, that would be even more incredulous than the reality! This was Jesus demonstrating his total authority over creation, an authority which belongs to God alone.

The commentators are divided about whether or not the sure of the word ‘Lord’ here is simply a mark of respect like saying ‘Sir’ or ‘Mr’ or whether or not it actually refers to God, like it does sometimes in the Septuagint version of the Old Testament. However it doesn’t make much difference; Simon Peter’s entire reaction, from dropping to his knees to asking Jesus to go away because he is a sinful man, strongly echoes the experience of the Israelites throughout the Old Testament when the encounter the presence of the Lord! In Exodus the Israelites are so afraid of the presence of the Lord that they fear they may die because of the power of his holiness and their sinfulness before him, so much so that they asked Moses to act as their representative and to stand in the presence of God alone on their behalf! It’s interesting too that often people throughout scripture have similar reactions when Angels appear.

Jesus says to Simon, “Do not be afraid! From now on you will fish for people.”

And so Simon and those with him pulled up their boats on the shore, left everything and followed him.

This moment on the boat changed everything for Simon Peter.

As we here in Emmanuel worship this morning in a country whose future is uncertain it can be easy for us to be afraid, for us to be worried about what is going to happen. This morning, the Jesus who showed Simon Peter that he is the Lord of all creation reminds us that he is our Lord. As we come to take communion, we come as an act of faith – not believing and trusting that a particular set of circumstances will come to us and to our country but rather as an act of trust in who Jesus is.

This Jesus says to us ‘Do not be afraid’.

It was daunting for the disciples to leave everything behind, and through the rest of the Gospels we read of the difficulties they faced and of their despair and heartbreak when Jesus was crucified. It can be daunting for us as we walk forwards as a country into the unknown but we as Christians are to remember our own weaknesses and inadequacies, knowing, like the disciples, that our strength comes not from our own understanding and abilities but from the power of the resurrection and the love of Christ for us.

May the Spirit of the Living Lord be with us in two turning points.

Firstly, may we have the wisdom to act wisely as a country following Thursday’s referendum,

but secondly and more importantly may we day by day trust in Jesus personally as our Lord and saviour, from this day on and into eternity.


*Following preaching this morning I had a great conversation with the Curate who explained that name changing in scripture is often a sign of changing dominion. Other great examples in Scripture include Abram becoming Abraham and Jacob becoming Issac. Apparently in some traditions it is common for people to be given a new name when they become Christian and are baptised. And so when Simon becomes Peter and Saul becomes Paul what’s implicitly being recognised is that they have now come under the authority of Christ in a new and identity altering way. I would love to read up on this sometime in the future.

Take Heart

I preached on John 16:23-33 at the BCP Holy Communion Services at Emmanuel this week.

It’s a great passage:

In that day you will no longer ask me anything. Very truly I tell you, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete.“Though I have been speaking figuratively, a time is coming when I will no longer use this kind of language but will tell you plainly about my Father. In that day you will ask in my name. I am not saying that I will ask the Father on your behalf. No, the Father himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and entered the world; now I am leaving the world and going back to the Father.” Then Jesus’ disciples said, “Now you are speaking clearly and without figures of speech. Now we can see that you know all things and that you do not even need to have anyone ask you questions. This makes us believe that you came from God.”
“Do you now believe?” Jesus replied. “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace.In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

– John 16.23-33

Towards the end of my sermon, I quote 1 John 4.

I returned to read this passage later and couldn’t help but wonder if 1 John 4.4-5.20 could be read as the sermon par excellence on the themes which Jesus speaks of in John 16.

What do you think?

You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them,because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world. They are from the world and therefore speak from the viewpoint of the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God, and whoever knows God listens to us; but whoever is not from God does not listen to us. This is how we recognize the Spirit[a] of truth and the spirit of falsehood. Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us. This is how we know that we live in him and he in us: He has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in them and they in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.
God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.
We love because he first loved us. Whoever claims to love God yet hates a brother or sister is a liar. For whoever does not love their brother and sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen.  And he has given us this command: Anyone who loves God must also love their brother and sister.
Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.
This is the one who came by water and blood—Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. We accept human testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Whoever believes in the Son of God accepts this testimony. Whoever does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because they have not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.
I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us—whatever we ask—we know that we have what we asked of him.
If you see any brother or sister commit a sin that does not lead to death, you should pray and God will give them life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death.I am not saying that you should pray about that. All wrongdoing is sin, and there is sin that does not lead to death.
We know that anyone born of God does not continue to sin; the One who was born of God keeps them safe, and the evil one cannot harm them. We know that we are children of God, and that the whole world is under the control of the evil one.We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.

– 1 John 4.45.20

If you’d like to read my take on it. you can check it out here:

John 16.23-33 : Take Heart

A Trustworthy Saying

There are often times when we find a particular scripture keeps on coming to mind during prayer.

One such passage which has been with me all this last week has been one of Paul’s “Trustworthy Sayings”.

“If we have died with him,
we will also live with him;
If we endure,
we will also reign with him;
If we deny him,
He will also deny us;
If we are faithless,
He remains faithful –
For he cannot deny himself.”

– 2 Timothy 2:11-13

This is such a powerful saying to remember and include in prayer. In essence, this is nothing less than our Gospel hope in Christ Jesus.

We who believe are baptised into Christ’s death and resurrection; Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, through his self-offering of himself in obedience to the love of the Father he died our death on the Cross. Having been crucified, he was buried. Having been buried, the Holy Spirit, the very love of God himself, breathed new life into his broken corpse and now his heart beats, his body is restored to a genuine, living reality which has been established as the reality for all eternity. It is to this reality, to this person Jesus Christ, which we are united to by the Holy Spirit who has drawn our heart and spirits into himself in such a way that we are as intimately and invisibly entwined with him as we are with our own breathing.

Through believing, through being baptised into Jesus’ death, we have in a very real sense died with Jesus, and just as our hope is founded upon the actuality of the resurrection, our lives are entangled with Jesus’.

Just as we have died with Jesus,
Just as we are dying with Jesus,
and just as we will someday die with Jesus;
We will be alive with Jesus,
We are living with Jesus,
And we have been made alive with Jesus.

This is our hope, this is our faith and it is by this that we are able to endure.

Enduring is taking up our crosses and following Jesus, however that looks in each of our lives. Enduring may look like being imprisoned and beaten for some Christians in the world; for others it may look like being called a bigot on twitter; or it may look like somehow providing for and feeding your kids as well as your neighbour’s orphaned children in times of famine; it may look like the self-discipline to be kind to yourself and have a healthy self-esteem and balanced life. It’s easy to ‘objectively’ look at these things and place them on a relativistic scale but this is what we would call: ‘looking at the outward appearances’. Instead of this, 2 Samuel 16:7 reminds us that God doesn’t compare us with one another based on our circumstances or physical qualities but rather looks at the heart.

The great theologian Gandalf acknowledged that we all wish that certain things hadn’t happened to us in our time. “So do I”, said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.” Whatever our lives look like, whatever it is time for us to deal with we are to endure. By enduring, we endure with Jesus and as Jesus has now been exalted to the right hand of our heavenly Father, we will reign with him; sharing in his kingdom and glorifying our Lord.

However, this gospel hope doesn’t absolve us of responsibility entirely. We do not say, by any means, that we can ‘earn’ our salvation through doing good things and trying to be good people, but we say that we have been set free from darkness and sin, we have been set free from our inability to glorify and worship our God. We are not just free from restrictions but we have been set free to freedom itself! In this freedom we are to confess Jesus as Lord, but this isnot an easy thing to say honestly. It’s sometimes a very hard thing to say with integrity. Peter Rollins once stunned Christians by saying that boldly and honestly that he denies the resurrection… when he doesn’t serve the oppressed, when he ignores the poor or supports corrupt and unjust systems. There’s something profound about that, there’s something scary about that. We may do our best to endure but we all too often, and more than we would prefer to admit, deny Jesus by our lives and by what we say. And, in all honesty, God should deny us when we deny him. This sentiment is put all too clearly in a song by DC Talk which opens with the statement:

“The greatest single cause of Atheism in the world today is Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. This is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.”

The song has a great refrain which goes:

What if I stumble,
what if I fall?
What if I lose my step
And I make fools of us all?

 Will the love continue
When my walk becomes a crawl?
What if I stumble
And what if I fall?

This is a very valid fear in response to our responsibility to endure through all things, to not deny Jesus as our Lord.

However…

(And this is where I get excited)

However, this trustworthy saying does not end here; it does not end with us being disowned by God. Rather, it continues to say: If we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself.

The root word for deny here is ἀρνέομαι and it is the same word used in the previous phrase. So we see here the same sense between our denial of God and God’s denial of us, and the impossibility of God denying Jesus as himself. In other words, there’s a distinct contrast between us, and Jesus – we may reject him passively when we stumble but he remains actively faithful to first our Father in heaven, and secondly to us who have received his Holy Spirit.

The DC Talk song goes on to say:

I hear you whispering my name
(You say)
My love for you will never change
(Never change)

This is the truth of the Gospel, though we may be faithless in Jesus alone is the eternally living covenant of love established between God and humanity. Therefore, it is in Jesus that we find and encounter an unrelentingly persistent, if sometimes quiet, love which sustains us through all things and enables us to worship him as our Lord by the power of the Holy Spirit, to the Glory of our Heavenly Father.

This is a trustworthy saying: If we have died with him, we will also live with hum; if we endure, we will also reign with him; if we deny him, he will deny us; if we are faithless, he remains faithful – for he cannot deny himself! Amen!

 


 

Notes

  1. I know that Gandalf isn’t really a theologian, but I would argue Tolkien was in the Lord of the Rings.
  2. Rollins’ comments can be heard by clicking here and read here.
  3. The DC Talk Song is called ‘What If I Stumble’ and can be heard here
  4. There are different interpretations of this passage, before the more theologically literate of you complain, this isn’t an exegetical piece per se and I’m aware that there’s a discussion on the last verse however this is my current reflection on it.

Psalm 97

The Lord reigns, let the earth rejoice;
    let the many coastlands be glad!
Clouds and thick darkness are all round him;
    righteousness and justice are the foundation of his throne.
Fire goes before him
    and burns up his adversaries all round.
His lightnings light up the world;
    the earth sees and trembles.
The mountains melt like wax before the Lord,
    before the Lord of all the earth.
The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
    and all the peoples see his glory.
All worshippers of images are put to shame,
    who make their boast in worthless idols;
    worship him, all you gods!
Zion hears and is glad,
    and the daughters of Judah rejoice,
    because of your judgements, O Lord.
For you, O Lord, are most high over all the earth;
    you are exalted far above all gods.
O you who love the Lord, hate evil!
    He preserves the lives of his saints;
    he delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light is sown for the righteous,
    and joy for the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
    and give thanks to his holy name!

Psalm 97 (ESV)

This psalm has been rattling around my head the last couple of weeks.

“The Lord is surrounded by clouds and a thick darkness.”

It’s quite common in scripture for clouds to signify the presence of God. However, we don’t normally think of God as being ‘surrounded by a thick darkness’.

That said, the rest of the psalm is filled with bright imagery.

Fire

Burning

Lightning

Melting

The result?
“The heavens proclaim his righteousness,
and all the peoples see his glory.”

Even in the midst of thick darkness, the Lord preserves his saints.

Light is sown for the righteous, and joy for the upright in heart.”

Often there is darkness around us. It can come in many different shapes and forms. Our struggles and situations are personal and sometimes they can seem isolating and hopeless. Yet the Lord is not just the Lord of Light; he is also the Lord of the shadows, he is the Lord of all the Earth and all the Heavens and everything within.

Therefore,

Rejoice in the Lord, O you righteous,
and give thanks to his holy name!”