Sunday, November 27, 2016

The Bride of the Lamb

(Rev 19:7-9; 21:2, 9:11)
Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment to one person and, barring the intervention of death for a spouse, it may be.
A man goes to visit the grave of his mother, puts a beautiful bouquet at the headstone, and gets up to leave when he notices another man crying his heart out, lying on one of the graves. The sobbing goes on and on, then he hears the other man say, "Why did you have to die? Why did you go so soon?"
Intrigued, the other man goes to him and says: I'm sorry for your loss. Who is this person you are crying over so distraught? "It's my wife's third husband," the man replies. ..."I'm number four."
Marriage is supposed to be a lifetime commitment and, with God as one of the parties, it is. In fact, with God it is an eternal commitment, as we see in answering the question: Who is the Bride of the Lamb?

God established the institution of marriage at creation as the union of one man and one woman: "A man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh" (Gen 2:24). God's purpose for this relationship was two-fold:
  • The first purpose for creating human beings male and female was procreation, which was the same purpose for all the creatures He made. God had an entire planet to populate, and He placed few restrictions on how His creations were to accomplish that goal. He simply said "Be fruitful and multiply" (Gen 1:22, 28), which they did "after their kind" (Gen 1:24-25), some more prolifically than others. Because the Fall of man introduced death into the world,1 procreation needed to be a repeatable event, one God programmed into the drive of every species.
  • The second purpose for creating human beings male and female was companionship, which was unique to man; it was the "one flesh" part of God's arrangement. Although some animals do mate for life (e.g., swans, wolves), God makes no such stipulation for any other species. "The LORD God said, 'It is not good for the man to be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him" (Gen 2:18). Only man had that provision in God's ordering of creation. Since then, some people have attempted to alter the arrangement (e.g., gay marriage), but the results have not been what God intended.
The only marital arrangement for mankind that meets both criteria, procreation and companionship, is the union of a male and a female.2 This literal arrangement gave rise to a figurative arrangement whereby the biblical authors used some aspect of a husband's relationship with his wife to depict God's relationship with His people.3

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Merry Christmas! 2016

Dr. and Mrs. Paul Manuel 
Christmas 2016

Dear Family and Friends,

I was a good driver. In over forty years on the road I had very few accidents. What mishaps I did have were minor and limited to my earliest experiences behind the wheel. There is a learning curve in operating a motor vehicle. Despite the instruction I received and the literature I read, nothing was as useful as time on the road. Thankfully, moving to the countryside of Pennsylvania did not require major adjustments because driving is a transferable skill. Operating a car in the suburbs and city of New York is similar to operating a car in the countryside of Pennsylvania. To be sure, there are different challenges. Deer replaced pedestrians as a most prominent hazard because on foot neither of them may follow on-the-road etiquette. Still, just as I had managed to avoid hitting pedestrians so I avoided the local fauna (although the latter are often faster and more unpredictable). I was a good driver. That changed when I got my new motorized wheelchair. While I have not taken it outside, the marks on the walls and doorways of the house attest to there being a learning curve in operating that device as well. This is true for many aspects of life, and it was true for those who heard about the birth of Jesus.

Jesus' advent that first Christmas was largely unexpected and challenged the faith of many in the first century. People did not immediately embrace the news of the messiah's birth or grasp the significance of his redemptive mission, yet some had faith in what God would do. Two parties stand out as the extremes of people's initial responses.
  • Wise men traveled some distance to see Jesus with only a star to guide them:
Magi from the east came to Jerusalem.... "We saw his star ... and have come to worship him." (Matt 2:1b, 2b)
The learning curve of their faith was probably quite steep at the beginning of their journey, especially as they had so little indication that they would actually find the one they sought. Their quest succeeded, however, for Jesus awaited them in Bethlehem.
Coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. (Matt 2:11)
  • Herod the Great reacted violently to the news of Jesus' birth:
He gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.... (Matt 2:16)
The learning curve of Herod's faith was nonexistent, for he demonstrated only hostility toward the infant king. Herod's plan failed, however, as Jesus escaped to Egypt.
After Herod died.... Joseph took the child and his mother and returned to the land of Israel. (Matt 2:19, 21)
The Magi and Herod were only some of the first respondents to Jesus, but others later were equally varied. Whether common folk or religious leaders, they all had their own learning curve in understanding him.

As the annual commemoration of the savior's birth arrives again, it is appropriate to consider our own learning curve. Is it as steep as it was last year, or has our journey become more level as we draw closer to him? May the joy of this season bring a greater appreciation for what God did in sending Jesus.
Merry Christmas! Pastor and Linda

For a pdf see here.

Friday, November 18, 2016

Jesus' proverbs in Matthew

Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

Within the Jewish milieu of the first century, Jesus uses common literary trope in his teaching, figures like the parable, an extended simile or metaphor. He also uses the proverb, a short pithy saying that embodies a kernel of practical wisdom. Some of these aphorisms probably originated with Jesus, while others were in general use at the time (and may parallel similar sayings elsewhere in Jewish literature). Of the four gospel writers, Matthew most represents typically Jewish thought of the day, and his account includes the greatest number of proverbs.1 All of these sayings offer some perspective for life in the kingdom of God.
  • General observations for life in the kingdom
  • Special prohibitions for life in the kingdom
  • Essential admonitions for life in the kingdom
The first category has the most entries and was probably the most common proverb type in the first century.
  • General observations for life in the kingdom
If salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? (Matt 5:13b = Mark 9:50a; Luke 14:34)2
They asked [R Joshua (early 2nd c.)]: 'When salt became unsavory wherewith is it salted?' ...He replied: ...'And can salt become unsavory?' (b Bek 8b)
A city on a hill cannot be hidden. (Matt 5:14b)3
People [do not] light a lamp and put it under a bowl. (Matt 5:15a)4
Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt 6:21 = Luke 12:34)5
No one can serve two masters. (Matt 6:24a = Luke 16:13a)6
Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matt 6:34b)7
[Moses said:] "Lord of the universe, sufficient is the evil in the time thereof." (b Bet 9b)
In the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. (Matt 7:2 = Mark 4:24b; Luke 6:38c)8
By the same measure which a man metes out [to others], they mete out to him. (m Sota 1:7a)
R Meir [mid2d c.] said: In the measure which one measures, so will there be [measured] to him. (b Sanh 100a)
R Simeon [early 4th c.] said in the name of R Simeon b Abba [early 4th c.]: "All measures have ceased [presumably the four modes of execution], yet the rule of measure for measure has not ceased." (Gen R 9:11)
By their fruit you will recognize them. (Matt 7:16a = 7:20; Luke 6:44a 12:33c)9
It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. (Matt 9:12b)10

Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Pick up your mat and walk"

Dr. Paul Manuel—2016

The first century was not a period of great strides in medical science. In fact, the first century was not a period of great strides in any scientific endeavor. So when Jesus came along demonstrating abilities not seen among God's people since the time of the prophets,1 it was noteworthy,2 especially his curative powers,3 which covered a wide range of taxonomies.4

Dermatology (leprosy)
Matt 8:2 A man with leprosy came and knelt before him and said, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean."5 3 Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man.6 "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" Immediately he was cured of his leprosy. (Also Mark 1:40-45; Luke 5:12-16)
Luke 17:12 As he was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance 13 and called out in a loud voice, "Jesus, Master, have pity on us!" 14 When he saw them, he said, "Go, show yourselves to the priests." And as they went, they were cleansed.
Neurology (paralysis)
Matt 9:2 Some men brought to him a paralytic, lying on a mat. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven."7 ...6 But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins...." Then he said to the paralytic, "Get up, take your mat and go home." 7 And the man got up and went home. (Also Mark 2:1-12; Luke 5:17-26)
Matt 12: 10a ...a man with a shriveled hand was there.... 13 Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other. (Also Mark 3:1-5; Luke 6:6-11)
John 5:5 One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years8... 8 Then Jesus said to him, "Get up! Pick up your mat and walk."9 At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.
Hematology (bleeding)
Matt 9:20 ...a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years10 came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak.... 22 Jesus turned and saw her. "Take heart, daughter," he said, "your faith has healed you." And the woman was healed from that moment. (Also Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-4)

Friday, November 11, 2016

Ceremonial purity

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

As with any ancient literature, the New Testament books confront the modern reader with a host of concerns relevant to their day. The gospels especially offer a glimpse at Second Temple Judaism and at issues that affected people's lives. Some of those issues the modern reader recognizes immediately, either because they remain relevant in his own religious tradition or because he has engaged in a special study of them. Other issues remain largely unexplored or unrecognized, and only the discovery of other period literature (or of some other artifact) brings them to the fore. Such is the case with the issue of purification. When the New Testament was the primary representative of its time, modern readers noticed occasional references to ritual cleansing but generally dismissed them as peripheral to the main thrust of the documents which, for the gospels, was asserting and explaining the ministry of Jesus. Consequently, those passages bearing directly on that concern received the most attention while other more arcane references— such as these six dealing with purification—warranted only cursory treatment.

The discovery and study of the Dead Sea Scrolls, roughly contemporary with the New Testament, greatly enlarged current understanding of the period and demonstrated how some of the topics hitherto ignored affected other parts of that culture. More recently, scholars have begun to suggest that the Qumran material may not be the library of a Jewish sect that withdrew from the mainstream of society but may be a library from Jerusalem, perhaps from the temple itself, hastily removed during the first revolt. If that is the case, then the documents are more representative of First Century Judaism than previously thought. Furthermore, the scrolls themselves seem to present the views of more than one religious tradition and suggest the existence of considerable diversity at that time. If the Dead Sea Scrolls do represent the beliefs and practices of more than one separatist group, perhaps even of Jewish society in general, then the New Testament would probably evince similar concerns, at least to the extent that it portrays Second Temple Judaism.

Thursday, November 10, 2016


Seeking God with All Your Heart
Dr. Paul Manuel—Seventh Day Baptist General Conference—2004

The gospels are the account of Jesus’ life and ministry, including a significant sampling of his instruction. One of his favorite teaching methods was the parable. The synoptic gospels record 41 parables by Jesus. Many of them comprise a special group called Kingdom Parables, because they often begin with the phrase, “The kingdom of heaven (or “God’) is (or “will be”) like…”1 (Matthew collected most of them in chapter 13 of his book.) As the title suggests, they concern the future Messianic Age, when God will establish His rule through His regent. Several of them, however, have implications for the present, indicating how you, as part of God’s people should prepare for your future role and how you should conduct yourself even now as a citizen of that realm, by Seeking God with All Your Heart.

The best-known kingdom parable—indeed, the best-known parable—is Jesus’ story about “The Different Soils,”2 which he uses to instruct the disciples about how they can interpret other parables. Our study this morning will examine Mark’s version of that story and of two other kingdom parables—“The Developing Seed” and “The Mustard Seed”—looking at what God has in store for the future and, equally important, what God expects from us in the present.3 As we begin, it is necessary that we be able to identify a parable and interpret it correctly.

I. Identification
A. What is a parable?
1. Fictional story
  • Not history
2. True-to-life (common)
  • Not a fable (where the non-human assumes human features)
3. Single point
  • Not an allegory (which may have several points)
Please turn to Mark 4, which records the first of the kingdom parables and where Jesus explains something of their use.
Mark 4:10 When he was alone, the Twelve and the others around him asked him about the parables. 11 He told them, “The secret of the kingdom of God has been given to you. But to those on the outside everything is said in parables 12 so that, “‘they may be ever seeing but never perceiving, and ever hearing but never understanding; otherwise they might turn and be forgiven!’”[Isa 6:10]
B. Why does Jesus use parables? (Mark 4:10-12)
  1. To reveal truth to the responsive (v. 11a)
  2. To conceal truth from the unresponsive (vv. 11b-12
Jesus is probably addressing those whose who are predisposed against what he has to teach, who have no intention of accepting his message, regardless of how important or beneficial it might be. For them, the enigma of his parables—that they are difficult to understand—simply confuses them and confirms their unbelief.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Jesus on divorce (Matthew 5)

Adapted from "Matthew: The Rabbinic Gospel."
Dr. Paul Manuel—1998

In Matt 5, Jesus contrasts a popular but superficial understanding of the Mosaic law on divorce ("It has been said") with the divine intention that stands behind the law ("But I tell you").
Matt 5:31 "It has been said, 'Anyone who divorces his wife must give her a certificate of divorce.' 32 But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, causes her to become an adulteress, and anyone who marries the divorced woman commits adultery.
The precept states that divorce requires a certificate, which some took to be the only requirement.
Deut 24:1 If a man marries a woman who becomes displeasing to him because he finds something indecent about her, and he writes her a certificate of divorce, gives it to her and sends her from his house...
In conjunction with a liberal interpretation of the term "indecent," certain men thought they could issue such a document on any grounds, but Jesus states that the certificate is valid only if the wife has been unfaithful.

Tuesday, November 8, 2016


Dr. Paul Manuel—2003

We generally associate aging with physical maladies, illnesses and conditions that accumulate as we get older. Alas, sometimes they come sooner.
Their second child's birth, a daughter, came after a long and difficult labor, but for Mary, it was worth it when their beautiful little girl emerged. Later, in the hospital room, John, her husband looked at the newborn tenderly, with tears in his eyes. Then, as he glanced up at Mary lovingly, she expected him to utter something truly poetic. Instead he asked... "What's her name again?"
Age does not always manifest itself physically and does not always wait until we get older. We may experience its affects mentally and sooner than expected.

Are we humans the only ones who have this problem? Does God, who is a lot older than we are, have lapses in memory? The Bible seems to suggest that He does. Describing Israel's condition in Egypt, Moses writes...
Exod 2:23b The Israelites groaned in their slavery and cried God. 24 God heard their groaning, and he remembered his covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and with Jacob.
Why does the writer say that God remembered? Did God forget? Was He so busy with other matters that He lost track of Israel's situation? ...The author of Ps 77, wondering why God has not answered his prayer for help, asks...
Ps 77:9a Has God forgotten to be merciful?
What does it mean for God to remember, and Does God Forget?1

I have a very poor memory. Linda can recall all sorts of events from our past, even things that happened recently, of which I have no recollection. It is as if my mind erases all but the most immediately relevant information. In computer terms, it is as if I have no hard disk, only RAM (random access memory), which empties whenever I shut down at night. This deficiency becomes most embarrassing with peoples' names and, on more than one occasion, I have simply drawn a blank.

To compensate for a poor memory, I write, because I know that whatever fails to reach paper or drive is gone...trashed...history. I have come to appreciate a line in Sir Francis Bacon's (1561-1626) essay entitled, "Of Studies." He describes the importance of three disciplines for any cultured individual— reading, serious discussion (which he calls "conference"), and writing. Should a person be lacking in any of these, he will only be able to conceal the matter in public if he possesses a superior intellect, which the author calls "cunning."
Reading maketh a full man; conference a ready man; and writing an exact man; therefore if a man write little, he had need have a great memory; if he confer little, he had need have a present wit; and if he read little, he had need have much cunning, to seem to know that [which] he doth not.
I do not possess "a great memory," therefore, I must write a lot.2 Does God have the same problem with His memory? For example, did He write the Torah so that He would not forget it?

Monday, November 7, 2016

"To him who overcomes..." (Revelation 19-20)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

There is a fascinating book entitled, The Way Things Work, by David Macaulay (1988) that demystifies science and technology for children and adults, explaining many things, from the World Wide Web to windmills. Here is a submission for some future edition of the book.
Jack, a Naval Officer, came home from a three-month submarine deployment and told his parents that one of the ways sailors kept up morale was to assemble wooden car kits and run derby races. "What do you do for a ramp?" his father asked. "We don't need one," Jack replied. "We just put the cars on the floor...and tilt the sub."
Some problems require creative solutions. Here, tilting the sub is an unorthodox, albeit effective, way to solve the problem. Likewise, God's sending His son Jesus was an unorthodox way to solve the problem of man's sin, but it too was effective and, in the end, will achieve for man, Salvation at Last.

When John records his revelation, sixty years have passed since Jesus' death and resurrection. Most of the original disciples have died. They have done their work well, however, for the church has spread throughout much of the Roman Empire. Nevertheless, all is not well with these congregations, especially several prominent ones in Asia Minor (modern-day Turkey). In addition to persecution from Rome, they face other pressures, both internal and external, which John describes in chapters 2-3:
  • Conflicting claims of false apostles (Rev 2:2),
  • Lingering connections to paganism (Rev 2:14),
  • Disturbing tolerance for immorality (Rev 2:20).
The most endemic of these problems, though, is spiritual complacency (Rev 2:4; 3:1, 15). Many people have simply lost their enthusiasm for God. They are wondering what difference it makes. Jesus has not returned to rescue them from their difficulties, so it does not matter what they do.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

"Once for all entrusted to the saints" (Jude)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

When you engage in a new activity, there are often aspects you did not expect to encounter, elements you may not have thought through.
When Timmy turned eight, he was old enough to go fishing on his own for the first time. While he loved fishing, he knew little about how fish got from the pole to the plate. His mother arrived home to find a note he'd left for her on the counter: "I caught three fish.... Can you peel them for me?"
When you engage in a new activity, there are often aspects you did not expect to encounter. That can happen if someone questions what or why you believe. At that point you may have to follow Jude's admonition and Contend for the Faith.

The author of this brief epistle calls himself "a servant of Jesus Christ and a brother of James" (v. 1), indicating that he is probably one of Jesus' four brothers.1 He does not identify the recipients of the letter, but it is apparently a particular congregation. Jude originally intended to write on a positive note but changes his mind upon discovering that the church is having trouble with certain "godless men."2 Jude expresses his concern in v. 3 with an exhortation—

I. You must defend the faith (Jude 3).
Jude 3 Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.
Jude was going to write about what they share together: salvation.3 Instead, he finds it necessary to write about what they believe together: the faith. He says to them, "You must defend the faith." By "faith" he does not mean a vague notion about God. They should...
A. Know that it is propositional.
In other words, it is a body of knowledge or doctrine they can state and, therefore, communicate to others. Paul gives an example of this in...
1 Cor 15:3 [W]hat I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins... 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day... 5 and that he appeared to the Twelve.... 6 [and] to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living....
They (and we) can also hold this faith with confidence that it will not shift over time. Consequently, they should also...
B. Know that it is permanent.
It is not subject to revision; it is "once for all" (also v. 5a). The reason for this stability lies in its source. What they believe comes from and is about a God, who does not change, either in His person nor in His plan. Moreover, God has "entrusted to the saints" this truth, making it their responsibility "to contend [or "struggle"] for the faith."4 It is also the standard by which they can evaluate other claims to authority. This implies, of course, that they know what they believe.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

False teachers (2 Peter 2)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

It is important to know the facts before making an assertion that may prove not be true and that may leave you embarrassed...or worse. The following may be a true story.
Two British traffic patrol officers were checking for speeding motorists. One of the officers used a hand-held radar device to test the speed of a vehicle approaching over the crest of a hill, and was surprised when the speed was recorded at over 300 mph. Their radar suddenly stopped working, and the officers were not able to reset it. Just then a deafening roar over the treetops revealed that the radar had in fact latched on to a Tornado fighter jet, which was engaged in a low-flying exercise, approaching from the North Sea. Back at police headquarters, the chief constable fired off a stiff complaint to the RAF Liaison office. A quick reply came in true laconic RAF style: "Thank you for your message, which allows us to complete the file on this incident. You may be interested to know that the tactical computer in the Tornado had detected the presence of, and subsequently locked onto, your hostile radar equipment and automatically sent a jamming signal back to it. Furthermore, an air-to-ground missile aboard the fully-armed aircraft had also automatically locked onto your equipment. Fortunately, the pilot recognized the situation and overrode the automated defense system before the missile was launched and your hostile radar installation was destroyed.... Have a good day."
It is important to know the facts before making an assertion that may prove not be true and that may leave you embarrassed...or worse. This is so when relating what you believe. If not, you may promote erroneous doctrine, such as those whom Peter warns against in his second epistle, where he says, Beware of False Teachers.

Several of our primary beliefs are connected to the doctrine of Christ's second coming. Among these are the physical resurrection of the saints, the establishment of a physical kingdom on earth, and, of course, the expectation of the messiah's physical return. Well, I have run across new light on these issues from some ancient manuscripts that may change the way you view the future.

Friday, November 4, 2016

Make every effort (2 Peter 1:10-11)

WELCOME! (2 Pet 1:10-11)
Dr. Paul Manuel—Homecoming—2002

Whether you are in a strange motel room or spending the night at some else's house, waking up in unfamiliar surroundings can be a disorienting experience.
A church deacon underwent surgery in a local hospital. When he came out of the anesthesia, a nurse's smiling face greeted him. Looking around, he noticed that the shades on the windows were down and asked the nurse why. "Well," she replied, "the house across the street is on fire, and we didn't want you to wake up thinking the operation was a failure." (Adapted from Streiker 1998:84 = Hodgin 1998:159)
You, of course, hope that awakening to the next life will also not be in that other place and that you will encounter a friendly face to welcome your arrival. At church this morning, I trust you will find friendly faces to welcome your arrival. As you await that awakening to the next life, is there anything you should do? ...In his first epistle, the apostle Peter speaks about how you can and should prepare now for that great event. Please turn in your Bibles to 2 Peter 1.

After Jesus' resurrection, as the early church begins to grow, the movement encounters opposition. There are political forces that would destroy the church, viewing it as a threat to the status quo. There are heretical forces that would distort the church, turning it away from the truth. The pressure is on Christians to give up their commitment to God or, at the very least, to make it a less prominent part of their lives.
There are more urgent concerns—needs in the family and demands of the job—matters that require immediate attention. Surely, those things should take priority because they are what matter now. Religion is fine in moderation, but let it run your life and it will ruin your life. Lighten up, kick back, enjoy the ride.
To such advice, Peter offers this response in...1
2 Pet 1:10a ...all the more, make every effort to confirm His calling [you] and [His] choosing you.

Thursday, November 3, 2016

"The guardian of Israel never sleeps" (Psalm 121)

Dr. Paul Manuel—2015

Most people want to be helpful, but sometimes they go beyond what is really necessary.
Jim walked into the lobby of his apartment building and was greeted by this notice: "To whoever is watering these plants, please stop. They are the property of the building, and our maintenance staff will take care of them. They may already have been watered, in which case you will be over watering them. Besides...these plants are fake."
Most people want to be helpful, but sometimes they go beyond what is really necessary. God wants to be helpful, and he never goes beyond what is necessary. In fact, He provides much-needed help, because The LORD Is the Guardian of His People.

Whenever we read the psalms, it is good to bear in mind that they were written for various occasions. This morning I would like to examine one psalm from a collection that was used to help prepare people for worship. God said to Moses,
Deut 16:16a Three times a year all your men must appear before the LORD your God at the place he will choose: at the Feast of Unleavened Bread [Passover], the Feast of Weeks [Pentecost] and the Feast of Tabernacles [Booths].
As these pilgrims made the journey up to Jerusalem, they probably sang about the God they were going to worship. The Bible preserves a collection of 15 ascent songs in Pss 120-134. This morning, I would like to examine my favorite Ascent Psalm. Please turn to Ps 121.

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

He will not stumble forever (Psalm 15)

Dr. Paul Manuel—1999

A Song of David
1. LORD: Who may sojourn in Your tent?
               Who may dwell on Your holy mountain?

2. He who walks blamelessly
          and does righteously
          and speaks truth from his heart.
3. He has not slandered with his tongue,
          has not done evil to his neighbor,
          and has not cast blame on his neighbor.

4. A contemptible man is despised in his eyes,
          but he will honor those who fear the LORD.
    He has sworn to his own evil,
          but will not change.
5. He has not given his money with interest,
       and has not taken a bribe against the innocent.

    He who does these things
        will not stumble forever.
When we have guests in our home, we do not want to give the impression that they are interrupting something or have come at an inconvenient time. We straighten up the papers in the study, vacuum the carpets, make the bed, and set the table with our good dishes. We prepare for their arrival so that they will feel welcome.
A woman was preparing for some very special guests and had spent the whole day getting things in order. Not wanting either her husband or their teenage children to undo what she had labored to complete, she gave them careful instructions not to make a mess of anything. Knowing from past experience that she would probably have to remind them of certain things, she left a rather graphic note for them pinned to the guest towels in the bathroom: "Use these, and you're dead meat!" To her surprise, the place remained tidy until the guests arrived. The evening passed pleasantly, and she eventually bade the guests farewell. Exhausted, she went into the bathroom to get ready for bed and discovered the guest towels in perfect order...with the note still attached. (Adapted from Phillips 1998:106)
If her guests had ventured into the bathroom that evening, one wonders how welcome that note made them feel. Most of us would not visit someone who would not be glad to see us. When you go to church, though, have you ever wondered if God is glad to see you? That is the question the author of Ps 15 answers: Who May Enter God's Presence?

Many of the psalms were composed for use in worship, but Ps 15 is also about worship in that it considers the qualifications of those who have the distinct privilege as well as divine permission to come before God and to express their devotion to Him.1 Scholars call it a liturgical psalm,2 and it treats what God expects from His people. What is particularly interesting, is that in the three liturgical psalms we have (Pss 15, 24, and 134), most of the qualifications are practical not theological; and in Ps 15, these requirements concern our relationships with each other (horizontal) rather than our relationship with God (vertical),3 suggesting that how we behave is at least as important to the One we worship as what we believe.4

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

"How long, O Lord?" (Psalm 13)

"HOW LONG?" (Ps 13)i
Dr. Paul Manuel—1999

People react in various ways when they face a difficult situation. Some hide, hoping the storm will pass by them. Others ignore the problem, hoping it will go away. Still others cry out for help, hoping someone will lend them a hand.
A public-safety communications operator on the graveyard shift received a call from a very frightened and intoxicated citizen. He and some friends had been out celebrating all night. As they left the party for their respective homes, he wandered off in the wrong direction. All he could get across to the operator was that he was alone and lost somewhere near a large body of water. "Are there any houses nearby?" she asked. "Yes," he replied. "Good," she answered. "Go and stand in front of the nearest one and sing very loudly.... A police officer will be along shortly." He did, and there was. (Adapted from A.D. Lawson's contribution to "All In a Day's Work")
Our natural inclination in difficult situations is not to break forth in song, yet that may be just the thing to do, as David suggests in Ps 13.

This psalm falls neatly into three sections.ii Following the superscription, which English versions generally print in small type, the poet opens with a series of complaints in Ps 13:1-2, each of which he begins with the same formulaic question: "How long?" Next, in Ps 13:3-4, the psalmist presents his petition, including the consequences he faces if God does not intervene. He closes, though, in Ps 13:5-6 by expressing confidence in God's unblemished record of deliverance, asserting that he will yet testify of that divine goodness in his own situation, as we see in...

I. The Psalmist's Complaint (Ps 13:1-2)

At some point in our pilgrimage, we will encounter difficulty that will tax our spiritual resources to the limit.
  • It may be the frustration of years of planning as we see the results of careful preparation and hard work crumble before us,
  • It may be a prolonged illness with no foreseeable end in view.
  • It may be an unresolved dispute with a friend, a coworker, or a family member that has begun to hinder our ability to cope in other areas.
The worst part, though, is when our turning to God elicits little or no relief, as if heaven has shut itself to our petition. At such times, we cry out like this psalmist:
A. How long will You neglect my situation? (Ps 13:1)
The psalmist's primary concern, and the one he voices first, is spiritual because it pertains to his relationship with God.
Ps 13:1 How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?