Following is a beautiful end to our Summer of Psalms. Thanks for journeying with us.
Jim & Lisa
In his book, Prayer, Praise & Promises: A Daily Walk Through the Psalms, Warren Wiersbe writes a devotional for each day of the year from the Psalms. In his entry for December 27, Wiersbe writes the following based on Psalm 147:1-11 entitled “The God of Your Heart”:
The God of the galaxies is also the God of the brokenhearted. That’s what David tells us in verses 3 and 4: “He heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds. He counts the number of the stars; He calls them all by name.”
The contrast we see in these two verses — between the heavens and the broken heart — ought to encourage us. God made the heavens. He spoke and it was done. His creation stood steadfast. The God who made the heavens is concerned about your broken heart. Others may not be concerned, but God is. He’s not so far away that He doesn’t know your heart is hurting. He’s not so great that He can’t stoop down to you when you are pained, weeping, and looking for help.
Yes, the God of the heavens is the God of your heart. The God who numbers and names the stars knows your needs. He knows all about you, and thus He is able to meet your every need. The God who controls the planets in their orbits is able to take the pieces of your broken heart and put them together again. He will heal your broken heart, provided you give Him all the pieces and yield to His tender love.
“Great is our Lord, and mighty in power; His understanding is infinite” (v 5). His love and understanding are limitless. His power is great. He can do what needs to be done.
The One who set the galaxies in motion is the same One who addresses your needs. There is no limit to God’s love, His understanding, or His power. Perhaps you have a broken heart today. Give Him the pieces and let Him heal your heart.
In verse 7b David gives his vow of praise — a distinctive of this type of Psalm. In distress he trusts God for release; in release he promises to praise God for his deliverance. He asks God to bring him out from his prison-like box in order that he might be able to give public acknowledgement to the name of God. Here we see again what many Psalms display: Praise is public and vocal and comes as a response to the person and actions of God. David longs for a day in which he will be able to praise God in the presence of the community. Prayer is the rootage, and praise is the flower. We pray for God’s aid; we praise Him for who He is and for what He does on our behalf.
Psalm 142 concludes on a lovely note of assurance that God has heard. He will deliver, and He will magnify His great name. David sings:
The righteous will encrown me,
For You will have done bountifully with me! (v.7 cd)
– And I Will Praise Him: A Guide to Worship in the Psalms, Ronald B. Allen
Even though I don’t know the words of this song, only that it is based on Psalm 136, it is a beautiful reminder that the Psalms transcend cultures, language and time.
In The Message, Eugene Peterson translates the opening verse of Psalm 133:
How wonderful, how beautiful,
when brothers and sisters get along!
It can be easy to read that psalm and brush it aside thinking it would be easy for David’s army, a group of loyal, highly-skilled soldiers doing the Lord’s work, to get along.
In his book, Leap Over A Wall, Peterson paints a very different picture of this group that is both comforting and convicting. He writes,
Those who came to him are described as “every one who was in distress, and every one who was in debt, and every one who was discontented” (I Sam. 22:2). This is the sociological profile of David’s congregation: people whose lives were characterized by debt, distress, and discontent. It isn’t what we would call the cream of the crop of Israelite society. More like dregs from the barrel. Misfits, all, it appears. The people who couldn’t make it in regular society. Rejects. Losers. Dropouts.
These are the people David lived with for that decade of wilderness years. They foraged together, ate together, prayed together, fought together. There’s nothing explicit in the text about the spirituality of David’s company – nothing that says they became a community of faith and searched out the ways in which God worked his salvation in their lives – but the context demands it. We know that David prayed; I think it’s safe to assume that he taught his companions to pray, surviving in hostile surroundings and realizing that God was with them, working out his sovereign purposes in them. That motley collection of unloved and unlovable people – the distressed, the debtors, the discontented – achieved a remarkable and high-spirited camaraderie, a morale explicitly noted in the summarizing retrospective of David’s company written later in I Chronicles 12.
The large context in which this story is placed – God working his salvation out among those who need to be saved – not only permits but requires that we see David’s morally and socially ragtag band as an embryonic holy people of God. We must stretch our imaginations to the horizons of God’s sovereignty and see that David’s company, even though made up of the distressed, the debtors, and the discontented, was made by God – a people defined not by where they came from or what they did but by what God did in and for them. This seems to be the sort of people that God commonly uses to form companies of believers, disciples, worshipers. Not all scholars are agreed on this, but it’s probable that the word Hebrew wasn’t in the first place an ethnic designation but originally referred to a social class of despised drifters and outcasts who existed on the margins of the Middle Eastern cultures. And it was these men and women, not the cultural and political sophisticates of Egypt and Assyria, who were elected to from the “people of God” through whom God would reveal his saving purposes.
Earlier this summer, we heard Buddy Greene perform his unique Southern-style gospel music at Maranatha. While I enjoyed the variety of music he played, I was struck by the song, Bringing in the Sheaves. The hymn was one that I don’t think I had ever heard before.
The hymn is based on Psalm 126, where the Psalmist records his praise when the workers bring in the “sheaves.” He writes,
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow,
Will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.
If like me you have read that psalm and thought, well I don’t know what sheaves are, and I have don’t have a field to sow and the small garden we have doesn’t require much reaping so next psalm please.
But, as Buddy introduced the song he remarked that all of us have fields that we have sown with tears that when they produce a harvest (or “sheaves” – the harvested wheat) result in great joy, which we should direct as praise to God. As I thought more and more about his comments, I saw the beauty of this psalm.
- If you have ever wept over a daughter who feels lonely at school and cried with her and invested hours listening to her and praying for her, sheaves may be the day she comes home and tells you she met a new friend.
- If you have ever cried with a spouse over a cancer diagnosis and spent hours caring for that spouse and the extra responsibilities of the family, sheaves may be a five-year cancer-free diagnosis.
- If you have ever begged God for the spiritual condition of a family member, sheaves may be the joy of watching them respond to God’s grace in their lives.
- If you have ever had a difficult, stressful job that has left you in tears, sheaves may be the provision of a new job.
- If you have ever lived apart from family and felt the pain of separation, sheaves may be having a sister and her family move to town.
- If you have ever begged God for a child, sheaves may be the day you come home with a little boy or girl (or both!), whether from the hospital or an orphanage.
The beauty of the Lord is that he takes the seed of our tears and the hard work of our prayers to produce a harvest of immense joy.
As you are thinking about the fields that have produced sheaves, or the fields that you are currently sowing with tears and toiling over with prayer, listen to the encouragement of Psalm 126 as expressed in Buddy Greene’s version of Bringing in the Sheaves.
Psalms 120-134 are unified as a sub-collection of the Psalter by the common title “A song of ascents.” The background to this superscription has several interpretations. The Hebrew word translated “ascents” is related to the verb “to go up.” Since the Jerusalem temple is geographically situated on a hilltop in the south-central mountain region of Israel, going to Jerusalem involved an “ascent.” Ezra refers to his “journey” (NIV) from Babylon to Jerusalem using this word (Ezra 7:9; cf. 2:1), so one interpretation is that this term recalls the return of the captives from exile in Babylon.
Perhaps the most common view is that pilgrims on their journey to Jerusalem for one of the three annual feasts sang these songs in anticipation of the festivities (Ex. 23-14-17; 34:18-24; Lev. 23:4-44; Deut. 16:1-7). The imagery of Psalm 126:5-6; 127:2; 128:2; 129:6-8; and 132:15 may allude to agricultural harvests.
The word translated “ascents” can also mean “steps” (used by Ezekiel to refer to the temple staircase, Ezek. 40:21, 31). Later Jewish tradition suggests that these fifteen songs were sung by Levites at the Feast of Tabernacles as they stood on each of the fifteen steps leading to the main court of the second temple. This latter interpretation does not exclude a possible earlier use of these songs during pilgrimages to the annual feasts.
Assuming that these psalms were used in conjunction with the great pilgrim feasts, they express a strong longing in anticipation of worship in Jerusalem.
–“Pilgrim Psalms” in Psalms: Zondervan Illustrated Bible
Backgrounds Commentary, John Hilber