“Let Not the Flood Sweep Over Me”

Yesterday’s post was about Jeremiah’s comparison of false religion to a broken cistern, with God alternatively being “the fountain of living waters.”[1]  Jeremiah lived when most of God’s people – including most of the priests and prophets – had turned from Him to follow other gods.  As Jeremiah remained faithful, correctly predicting that Jerusalem would fall to Babylon, he was persecuted, including this instance in Jeremiah 38:6, where King Zedekiah’s officials “took Jeremiah and cast him into the cistern of Malchiah, the king’s son, which was in the court of the guard, letting Jeremiah down by ropes. And there was no water in the cistern, but only mud, and Jeremiah sank in the mud.”

Since God is “the fountain of living waters,” the only path to eternal blessing, it’s incredibly ironic that Jeremiah, one of the few remaining faithful prophets and therefore a rare source of God’s “living waters,” should be cast into a cistern with no water.  Perhaps it was broken.  King Zedekiah thought he could silence the “living waters” Jeremiah represented by casting them into a cistern, trading truth for falsehood.

Later, Jeremiah seems to recall the cistern experience in Lamentations 3:52-57, where he said:

I have been hunted like a bird
            by those who were my enemies without cause;
they flung me alive into the pit
            and cast stones on me;
water closed over my head;
            I said, ‘I am lost.’
‘I called on your name, O LORD,
            from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, ‘Do not close
            your ear to my cry for help!’
You came near when I called on you;
            you said, ‘Do not fear!’”

Returning to the book of Jeremiah, we read that Ebed-melech, an Ethiopian eunuch, heard of Jeremiah’s situation and pleaded his case: “My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they did to Jeremiah the prophet by casting him into the cistern, and he will die there of hunger, for there is no bread left in the city.”[2]  This unlikely source – a foreigner – was Jeremiah’s deliverance from God to rescue Jeremiah from the well.  Ebed-melech gathered 30 men, “Then they drew Jeremiah up with ropes and lifted him out of the cistern. And Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard.”

Jeremiah was not the only Old Testament figure to suffer for his faithfulness.  Many years earlier, King David also referred to “sinking in the mire” in the Messianic Psalm 69, verses 14-15:

“Deliver me
            from sinking in the mire;
let me be delivered from my enemies
            and from the deep waters.
Let not the flood sweep over me,
            or the deep swallow me up,
            or the pit close its mouth over me.”

David knew this feeling of sinking came not because of his sin, but when he was faithfully serving his Lord.  David’s “sinking in the mire” happened under these circumstances from verse 9 of the same Psalm:

For zeal for your house has consumed me,
            and the reproaches of those who reproach you have fallen on me.”

In Jeremiah’s case, as well as David’s and that of Jesus, whom Psalm 69 foreshadowed[3], we know that cannot judge our faithfulness based on whether it improves our circumstances.  When we do, we might stop being faithful because it seems we are “sinking in the mire.”  Being reproached by the world and feeling down aren’t the circumstances we prefer, but “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”[4]  Through these and all other circumstances, God develops in us deeper trust in Him.

Therefore, with David may we pray:

But as for me, my prayer is to you, O LORD.
            At an acceptable time, O God,
            in the abundance of your steadfast love answer me in your saving faithfulness.” – Psalm 69:13

And in His time, He will deliver us, perhaps in ways we don’t expect.


In 1995, Christian rock group Jars of Clay released their self-titled album, and the track “Flood” has similar themes to this post.  The song was also a mainstream hit, charting as high as No. 12 on the Billboard Modern Rock Tracks chart,[5] amazing for a song that is essentially a prayer like David’s in Psalm 69.

You can check out the song’s lyrics here: https://genius.com/Jars-of-clay-flood-lyrics

Or, if you have 3 ½ minutes, watch the music video here:

[1] Jeremiah 3:13
[2] Jeremiah 38:9
[3] John 2:17, 15:25, Acts 1:20, Romans 11:9-10, 15:3
[4] Matthew 5:10
[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flood_(Jars_of_Clay_song)

A Prayer of Complaint: Psalm 64

Do you ever just feel like complaining about the bad things and people in this world?  While we might hold back complaining to God, thinking He prefers ACTS prayers – focused on Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication – He is infinitely and steadfastly loving and patient, and will listen to whatever we have to say.  David shared Psalm 64 with us as an example.

Read how David begins the Psalm:

Hear my voice, O God, in my complaint;
            preserve my life from dread of the enemy.”

Basically, David begins this Psalm by letting God know what’s coming: a series of complaints.  In the next verses, David complains about evil plots against him happening in secret, and those who can’t wait to ambush him.  David complains about how good evildoers are at what they do.  He writes:

“Hide me from the secret plots of the wicked,
            from the throng of evildoers,
who whet their tongues like swords,
            who aim bitter words like arrows,
shooting from ambush at the blameless,
            shooting at him suddenly and without fear.
They hold fast to their evil purpose;
            they talk of laying snares secretly,
thinking, ‘Who can see them?’
They search out injustice,
saying, ‘We have accomplished a diligent search.’
            For the inward mind and heart of a man are deep.”

By “diligent search” they have found every method available and used every skill they have to attack David, and the evildoers are impressed with their ability to be unjust and to attack “the blameless”, “shooting at him suddenly and without fear.”  A lot of time and effort has been put into these secret plots.

The blog’s mascot: Ebenezer, the “But God” squirrel.

How will David stand against such attacks?  He won’t, but God[1] will, as David continues in verses 7 through 9:

But God shoots his arrow at them;
            they are wounded suddenly.
They are brought to ruin, with their own tongues turned against them;
            all who see them will wag their heads.
Then all mankind fears;
            they tell what God has brought about
            and ponder what he has done.”

The wicked, after much “diligent search,” gathered their “swords” and “arrows,” the words they would use to attack David and God’s people.  But because we have God, when we complain in prayer we don’t stop once our complaints have been aired – we continue with the “but God” part of the prayer, which comes with these three main implications:

  • First, that we need not respond in kind, because God needs only one arrow to bring them “suddenly” to ruin.  We are saved by His strength.
  • Second, we need not respond in degree – If our enemies are extraordinarily diligent or skilled in their plots, we do not need to match their effort, because it is God who takes care of us.  All the time and effort put in by the wicked in brought to nothing in a moment, and in that moment, “all mankind fears.”  We need not be intimidated.
  • And finally, any success of God’s enemies is temporary.  Someday He will resolve every complaint of injustice and silence every accusation against His people.

Therefore, as the Psalm ends:

“Let the righteous one rejoice in the LORD
            and take refuge in him!
Let all the upright in heart exult!”


[1] See the earlier posts Two Words That Might Save Your Soul and Meet Ebenezer, the Blog’s New Mascot, on the significance of Ebenezer the squirrel and the words “But God”

God’s Justice is Good

Many of the Bible’s Psalms are beautiful songs of praise, but some are harder to read, including what are called “imprecatory” Psalms.  To “imprecate” is to curse, and in the case of these Psalms, the writers curse the enemies of the writer and of God.  Psalm 58, written by David, uses some very harsh language, such as “O God, break the teeth in their mouths” (in vs. 6) or “Let them be like the snail that dissolves into slime, like the stillborn child who never sees the sun.” (vs. 8).  These harsh phrases may be hard to read, they’re part of the Bible and worth taking some time to understand.

These curses have a context, and for the imprecations in Psalm 58, the context is injustice due to bad worldly judges.  Verses 1 and 2 say:

“Do you indeed decree what is right, you gods?
            Do you judge the children of man uprightly?
No, in your hearts you devise wrongs;
            your hands deal out violence on earth.”

Every day in the news we can easily find injustices to complain about, just as David did, and in many of our hearts, we feel some of the emotions David must have felt.  Much of what passes as news today might be categorized as imprecatory.  David’s curses continue through verses 3 through 8, including the phrases quoted above, but in verse 9, after writing of how wicked and dangerous his enemies are, David notes how quickly God (not David) can sweep them away if He chooses:

Sooner than your pots can feel the heat of thorns,
            whether green or ablaze, may he sweep them away!

This image is not chosen at random, but to make a specific point.  Dry thorns catch fire very quickly, and so when God judges, the unjust judges will be swept away “Sooner than your pots can feel the heat”. Not sooner than the food in your pot cooks, or sooner than the water in your pot boils, but much sooner than that.  A watched pot never boils, they say, but here the result is immediate.

The Psalm closes in vs. 11 with relief that ultimately, there will be true and complete justice, and:

Mankind will say, ‘Surely there is a reward for the righteous;
            surely there is a God who judges on earth.’”

God’s justice is good because when God judges, He judges rightly, unlike the imperfect, or corrupt, judges of the world from the beginning of the Psalm.  If the things on the news we complain about are truly unjust, God will take care of them “Sooner than your pots can feel the heat.”  Also, when people pursue right actions instead of injustice, God will reward them “Sooner than your pots can feel the heat.”  Judgment by God is good news because He is fully just.  Without such a perfect judge, we only have imperfect judges to judge the imperfections and evils of the world.

Another part of the context is that when David prays in vs. 7 – “Let them vanish like water that runs away; when he aims his arrows, let them be blunted” – he is not vowing to take vengeance himself, but being honest about his frustration and trusting that God will take care of everything when the time comes.  On verse 7 John Calvin commented: “Let us not cease to pray, even after the arrows of our enemies have been fitted to the string, and destruction might seem inevitable.”

Therefore, trust God to take vengeance on evil, even when it seems powerful and triumphant.  Each and every sin will be borne by either the sinner or on the cross.  None will be ignored, and in God’s time, all will be resolved “Sooner than your pots can feel the heat.”  Until then, justice is delayed while God calls His people back to Himself with an offer of patient grace and mercy.

Listen to His call, not only to return to Him, but to patiently trust Him to deal out perfect justice.

Politics Didn’t Keep King David Up at Night

In the United States, we just had midterm elections, those falling between the presidential elections that happen every 4 years.  The end result of government divided between Democrats and Republicans likely has many wishing their preferred side had more power.  This post is a slightly edited version of one from this April, when anxiety about these elections began to heat up.  While in Psalm 2, God declares “As for me, I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill,” where He laughs at the kings and rulers of the world who stand against Him, that declaration may be harder to take when events don’t appear to go our way.  Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” follows, and I don’t think it’s an accident because it records God’s king at the time, David, lamenting about being chased from power by his own son.  The story may provide comfort when things don’t look to be going God’s way here on earth.

Absalom’s Rebellion
The story of King David in the Bible is a very condensed version of his life but does not shy away from David’s serious failures and flaws.  The story of his adulterous relationship with Bathsheba is not swept under the rug, and eventually, Absalom’s rebellion against his father David was justified in his mind by those flaws.  Absalom harbored resentment for years after David’s lack of punishment for Absalom’s brother Amnon, who raped his sister Tamar.  One can imagine Absalom thinking about his father: “You’re the king of Israel, so why didn’t you protect Tamar, or at least punish Amnon?  If my sister and I don’t get justice, you don’t deserve to be king!”

David, on the other hand, was quite aware of the limits of being king.  In Psalm 131:1, David wrote:

O LORD, my heart is not lifted up;
            my eyes are not raised too high;
I do not occupy myself with things
            too great and too marvelous for me.

Even while writing as divinely selected king of Israel, David knew many things were “too great and too marvelous” even for him.  Instead, David focused his heart on the God-given task before him, which did not include achieving perfection in this world.  That task belonged elsewhere.  Later, Psalm 131 was included in the Psalms (or Songs) of Ascent[1], which served as a liturgy for pilgrims traveling to Jerusalem for the three annual festivals.  In those Psalms are reminders of God’s provision for things the world can’t provide, including salvation for our souls and a way to perfect righteousness.  The pilgrims did not go to Jerusalem to worship the earthly king, but to encounter God, and including Psalm 131 in that liturgy would always be a reminder that our worldly aims should always be rooted in humility.

When Absalom raised several hundred supporters and entered Jerusalem to violently overthrow his father David, “a messenger came to David, saying, ‘The hearts of the men of Israel have gone after Absalom.’ Then David said to all his servants who were with him at Jerusalem, ‘Arise, and let us flee, or else there will be no escape for us from Absalom. Go quickly, lest he overtake us quickly and bring down ruin on us and strike the city with the edge of the sword.’”  (2 Samuel 15:13-14)

David’s Response
After surrendering the throne and fleeing, David wrote Psalm 3, “A Psalm of David, when he fled from Absalom his son,” which says in full:

“O LORD, how many are my foes!
            Many are rising against me;
many are saying of my soul,
            “There is no salvation for him in God.” Selah
But you, O LORD, are a shield about me,
            my glory, and the lifter of my head.
I cried aloud to the LORD,
            and he answered me from his holy hill. Selah
I lay down and slept;
            I woke again, for the LORD sustained me.
I will not be afraid of many thousands of people
            who have set themselves against me all around.
Arise, O LORD!
            Save me, O my God!
For you strike all my enemies on the cheek;
            you break the teeth of the wicked.
Salvation belongs to the LORD;
            your blessing be on your people! Selah”

Knowing the background of this Psalm and its placement after Psalm 2 make it far more interesting.  David had suffered a massive political defeat, being humiliated and tossed out of Jerusalem by his own son.  Instead of despairing, he turned to God for his salvation because he knew even the king of Israel could not save the people.  He was only a temporary and provincial authority.  Even though God had promised David the throne, God was able to save David, and Israel, without David on the throne.  With the murderous and vengeful Absalom on the throne, was God defeated?  No, instead we have this Psalm as a reminder of God’s presence and provision of salvation in spite of whatever situation we find ourselves in.

David, having cultivated over years an awareness of his own limitations as king of Israel, and the limitless power of God, “lay down and slept,” then “woke again, for the LORD sustained me.”  Surrounded by foes and removed from his throne, David slept soundly!  In contrast, Absalom broods upon every imperfection, plotting ways to force justice as he sees it on others, even if he must dishonor God.  You could say he is driven by a belief in a government that can solve all of our problems and shouldn’t rest until it does.

Jesus was not our midterm ballots, but flawed candidates of many types were.  Some more like David, and some more like Absalom.  A lesson from Psalm 3 is that we should be able to sleep at night in good conscience because no matter what the world looks like, God says “I have set my King on Zion, my holy hill” (Psalm 2:6) even when king David was on the run for his life.

The success of God’s plan does not rely on our political success. “Salvation belongs to the LORD” and He deserves our vote every time.

[1] I’m currently writing about those Psalms in a series, which began here.

When All You Have is God

Photo by Greg Willson on Unsplash

Near the end of Book 3 in the Psalms (43-89), several Psalms read like cries for help by writers at the end of their rope.  In Psalm 86:14, for example, David writes: “O God, insolent men have risen up against me; a band of ruthless men seeks my life, and they do not set you before them.”  While the exact circumstance is unclear, David knows there is a wide conspiracy against him, and his only hope is to turn to God.  The Psalm opens with “Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy.”

Likewise, when we feel desperate and don’t know where to turn, these Psalms remind us that God will never turn us away.  On Psalm 86 John Calvin comments that “the more severely any one is oppressed, and the more destitute he is of the resources of human aid, the more inclined is God graciously to help him. That despair therefore may not overwhelm our minds under our greatest afflictions, let us support ourselves from the consideration that the Holy Spirit has dictated this prayer for the poor and the afflicted.”  In other words, because these Psalms are in the Bible, we can be sure that, no matter the mess our own choices or the actions of others have put us in, God in His steadfast love will listen.

Throughout the Psalm, David writes reminders of the character and works of God as a contrast to both his circumstances and his feelings of futility.  Like him we must always remember that our character is never so bad that God loving us is inconsistent with His character, and that our circumstances are never so bad that loving us is beyond His power to achieve.

Our character is never so bad that God loving us is inconsistent with His character

Even for the most desperate, there is always a way out, as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” In Psalm 86, David does not just pray for a miraculous deliverance, but in verse 11, David looks for the way of escape: “Teach me your way, O LORD, that I may walk in your truth; unite my heart to fear your name.”  A united heart is one that feels no anxiety because it knows it is seeking God’s will and willing to act on it based on reverence for Him.  God may urge us to merely wait for His deliverance, or prod us to actions we may not expect, but in all cases, He knows the way, because He is the Way. Only He can unite your heart.

Bring your desperate anxiety to Him and let Him show you the way forward.  When all you have is God, He is enough.  When you feel your faith is weak because you can’t see or feel God in your life or the world around you, begin with “Incline your ear, O LORD, and answer me, for I am poor and needy,” and He will listen.