Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Psalm 81 – From Stubborn of Heart to Blessed of God

The school-yard bully is given chance upon chance to redeem himself, then one day he pulls a blade on a fellow student. Things clearly have gone way too far now. He’s now got to be expelled. The school has no other choice in the matter.

We all identify with this story. Either it is our own children that have been tormented by these, or it was we ourselves back a generation or two past, or we see and hear the stories in the broadcast News.

Sooner or later these delinquents have something coming to them.

But, in a sense, we’re all delinquents in this life until we come before the throne of grace in Christ Jesus. Until Christ is seated upon the throne of our hearts—taking the forefront of our consideration—we will be like the school-yard bully, albeit more sublimely, running our own show in contempt of God.

And this is the vein of Psalm 81, a sermon on the First Commandment: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Exodus 20:3 TNIV).[1] The psalm is, however, quite disparate, starting in praise (vv. 1-5) before ending as a second person sermon (vv. 6-16) from Yahweh himself. The psalm was an important Jewish festival ordinance, confronting the assembled people.[2] And we too need to be confronted.

This is the desperate voice of a great and good God, through the psalmist, calling his holy nation to repentance and faithfulness... the sentiment is ‘if only you would unreservedly come before me, I would show you the way and protect and bless you abundantly.’

God seeks for us to open our mouths only for him—that he alone might fill us (v. 10b).

Moreover, when Christ is actually entrenched on the throne of our hearts he is freshly and powerfully resurrected through us. We find new life through his dominion over us. And, yet, this only works on a situational basis. We must continue to re-affirm our allegiance, our willingness to seek and live his will for our daily lives.

From him to us, we have no dominion of our own—we give it up—we cast that crown before him; but we do have an eternal world of dominion in his holy and precious name. And this dominion is the powerful dominion of truth and grace—we side with an unconquerable God.

Echoing from the Exodus story, he removes the burdens from our shoulders and our hands are taken out of the basket of slavery (v. 6) of this world. In honour of our obedience to him, he subdues our enemies and even ‘turns his hand against’ our foes (v. 14).

Like a father chiding his child, the eternal Father beckons, “Listen to me, Israel!” (v. 8) And it’s the same for us. We must choose to come under the authority of God—his moment-by-moment will for us—for it is not only the best thing for us, it’s the right thing to do if we’re confessing Christians. We can’t have it both ways.

God is the best protection, an eternal protection, anyone could find. When we’re hemmed in with life issues and problems (and even that school-yard bully) we should be wise to seek and heed God on the matter. But, we shouldn’t also wait until ‘life happens’ to choose God i.e. in our desperation.

© S. J. Wickham, 2009.
[1] James L. Mays, Psalms – Interpretation Series (Louisville, Kentucky: John Knox Press, 1994), p. 265.
[2] Mays, Ibid, p. 266.

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