“Consider Well Her Ramparts”: Participating in the Psalms

Reading the Psalms is a great devotional habit, and every now and then a Psalm or a section of a Psalm gives instructions to its reader.  The author is inviting us to participate in something about God that they have experienced by taking specific actions.  Earlier posts on participating in the Psalms (here, here, and here) have covered Psalms 96 and 100, which asked us to sing a new song and to give thanks, respectively.  Today’s post is about Psalm 48, which is a little harder to see how to participate.  Most of the Psalm praises God by talking about His city, Jerusalem, and His mountain, Mount Zion.  If our God’s dwelling place is worthy of praise, then He must be as well.  The “participating” part comes at the end, with verses 12-14:

Walk about Zion, go around her,
            number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
            go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
            that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
            He will guide us forever.

The Psalmist wrote in ancient times that it was worth it to take the time to walk around Zion, to consider the things of God and not just gloss over them quickly, but how do we do that when Christians do not consider Jerusalem and Mount Zion to be the dwelling place of God?  How do we “consider well her ramparts”?

Currently, what was represented by the temple in Jerusalem on Mount Zion is represented by His body of believers, indwelt by His Holy Spirit.  Peter wrote that members of the church, “like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.”[1]  Therefore, do we participate in this Psalm by considering God’s strength through the church throughout history?  When we consider the “towers”, “ramparts”, and “citadels” of the church, do we consider the great “cloud of witnesses” listed in Hebrews 12, in addition to the faithful members of the church through the centuries since then?

Do we consider well not only the strength God has given His church through history, but also the strength that He protects it with even now?  Do we consider our own “ramparts” – the armor of God listed in Ephesians 6:13-17 –

Therefore take up the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, having fastened on the belt of truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and, as shoes for your feet, having put on the readiness given by the gospel of peace.  In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

Consideration takes time, so to participate in this Psalm take some time, if not today then soon, to consider God’s strength as shown through a person in the Bible, in church history, or even your own community or family.  Praise God for His strength and protection over His faithful!

As the “Sons of Korah” who wrote Psalm 48 believed, it’s worth the time and effort to:

Walk about Zion, go around her,
            number her towers,
consider well her ramparts,
            go through her citadels,
that you may tell the next generation
            that this is God,
our God forever and ever.
            He will guide us forever.

Many of this blog’s posts on History (click here) are a decent starting point.

[1] 1 Peter 2:5

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.

An Ethic That Puts People Before Issues

It’s become cliché to say social media brings out the worst of people, since they can hide from consequences behind internet anonymity and distance.  Mike Tyson, one of the greatest heavyweight boxers of all time, said “Social media made y’all way too comfortable with disrespecting people and not getting punched in the face for it.”  But disrespect and wanting to punch people in the face who disagree with us is nothing new.  Just one generation after Adam and Eve were made in the image of God and living in perfect love, their son Cain killed his brother Abel for uncertain reasons.  Genesis also doesn’t tell us exactly how Cain killed Abel, but we can be sure social media wasn’t involved.  Hate doesn’t require an internet connection or working Wi-Fi, only one person deciding that another person is a thing to be defeated, not as a person made in God’s image.  Sometimes by focusing on what we are disagreeing about, we can lose sight of the fact that the person disagreeing with us is inherently valuable.

Today, after months away, we return to a series on James 1:27, which says: “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.”  James gave careful thought to this phrase, not as hyperbole, but as an example of what perfect religion – worship of God the Father – looks like.  Eternal life is for people who love when there’s nothing more at stake than the person being loved, but putting issues above people is one way we get stained by the world and fail to represent Christ.  Note that I didn’t say ignore the issues – it’s a question of priority.

The Singular Person

Psalm 113 is a Psalm about praising God and making Him known throughout the world, and ends with a very specific praise:

He gives the barren woman a home,
            making her the joyous mother of children.
Praise the LORD!”

To me, what’s most striking here is that this is a singular barren woman, not barren women as a group.  It doesn’t say that God ends all barrenness (although He might).  The Psalmist chose as a climactic ending to this poem about the heart of God and how He wants to be known a praise to God for giving a home and family to one barren woman.  This means that the sovereign God of all the universe is concerned about individuals, their specific circumstances, and their specific need for salvation.  He does not respond to an “issue” of the barrenness of women but responds in a way that satisfies the needs of individual people.  People are not statistics to Him, to be counted and divided into opposing sides until one prevails over the other.  Each person’s needs and path to redemption are unique in God’s eyes, and only He can provide for all.  He is the only way to a perfect world.

Similar to the “barren woman”, James 1:27 is about visiting specific “orphans and widows,” not fighting for the end of all afflictions for all widows and orphans.  He is fighting for people, not total victory in an argument.  While this might seem obvious to some, it’s so easy to exalt issues over people that we don’t always notice when we do it.

The Issue of Family
A common issue today is “family,” which I put in quotes because as an issue it doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone.  A lot of time and energy is put into fighting for “family values,” defined many different ways, and James 1:27, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world,” is relevant in multiple ways.

First, an earlier post of this series, said “whatever its source, civil law is a provision for a fallen world, not a pathway to a perfect world.”  In both the Old and New Testaments, God tells us there will always be poor in the land and that every civil law is inherently limited in a broken world.  Christians should “defend the family,” but in what way?  James 1:27 says to stand for individuals for whom the institution of family has already failed – widows and orphans.  “Pure and undefiled religion” succeeds where law fails, filling the gap with the heart of God, who cares for the specific “barren woman” of Psalm 113:9.  There is no perfect law that solves the issue of “family values,” therefore “visit orphans and widows in their affliction.”  Affliction comes in many forms and is too complex and diverse for any government to deal with entirely.

Second, when we fight for perfection in our laws, taking absolute stands on either side of an “issue,” we risk elevating law to a level it’s not possible of achieving, and we also may justify hurting people in the process, thinking the end result will be worth it somehow.  Once we see the world in fully black/white, either/or terms, it becomes easy to think that if only the right side came out ahead, the issue would be resolved, any collateral damage can be explained, and everyone would be happy.  However, consider the extreme example of violence around both abortion clinics and crisis pregnancy centers.  In that case and many smaller ones, when we cause harm to opponents, we prove that there are cracks in our own system, creating new victims on top of the existing ones.  Those left behind haven’t been helped, but new affliction has been added by those hoping it will be somehow worth it to win the “issue” battle.

Third, ministering to widows and orphans keeps us from the pollution of the world which insists that our salvation is political and based on power.  James 1:27 encourages us to reject a world that wants to put laws, culture, even hashtags above actual people.  The world too often believes the ends justify the means because belief in worldly utopia depends on a 100% solution, but also believes it’s ok to ignore concrete problems while fighting for a solution that will never arrive.  Salvation comes from only one source: the cross.

In the start of this post, I wrote that it’s become cliché to say social media brings out the worst of people, and its cliché because massive amounts of time and energy go into fighting over abstract issues and dividing into groups of “us” and “them”.  James 1:27 says that we are not defined by which side of an issue we support, and what we’re willing to do to achieve victory for our side, but by how we love those individuals for whom this world has failed.

It is better to minister to the ones who have been punched by this world than to add another punch to the damage.

Therefore, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.  And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” – Hebrews 10:23-25

And what are “good works”?  “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God the Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unstained from the world.

If you want to start the series from the beginning, the first post is at this link. The next post, “An Ethic That Prioritizes the Gospel” is here.

In Pursuit of Fruit

What fruitful habits do you have for spending time with God?  Are there personal patterns in your relationship with Him through prayer, Bible study or other means?  Note that I write “fruitful” instead of “enjoyable” because although we’d like to enjoy every moment with God, as our Father He sometimes has to tell us things we won’t like immediately.  As Jesus said in John 15:2 – “Every branch in me that does not bear fruit he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”

One example of a fruitful habit for me has been to study more than one book of the Bible at a time.  What do I mean by this?  For example, I currently have a goal to read 1-2 chapters each of the Psalms and the Pentateuch[1] daily, along with study Bible notes.  The idea came from a recent sermon, where the 5 books of Psalms were described as similar in theme to the 5 books of the Pentateuch.  Shortly after, I read that: “Just as Genesis tells how mankind was created, fell into sin, and was then promised redemption, many of these psalms [book 1, or Psalms 1-41] discuss humans as blessed, fallen, and redeemed by God.”[2]  With a little work, I was able to map out a schedule lining up the Psalm readings with the other readings and I’m trying to follow it.  Reading different parts together can help make connections I wouldn’t otherwise.  One connection recently led me to post about frustration with my cat and how it relates to Noah and the ark.

At other times, I’ve been reading a Gospel along with the Psalms, or one of the prophets because changing the pattern over time helps reveal unexpected context or connections.  I wouldn’t talk to a friend the same way over and over again, so why do it with God?  Years ago, when reading Psalm 46:10 and Matthew 21:15-16 on the same day led to a stark reminder that God is worthy of, and will receive, all praise.  These are those verses that nailed the point home:

Be still, and know that I am God.
            I will be exalted among the nations,
            I will be exalted in the earth!”

But when the chief priests and the scribes saw the wonderful things that he did, and the children crying out in the temple, “Hosanna to the Son of David!” they were indignant, and they said to him, “Do you hear what these are saying?” And Jesus said to them, “Yes; have you never read,
             “‘Out of the mouth of infants and nursing babies
                        you have prepared praise’?”

I know I can’t require God to speak to me in a certain way, but these occasional “accidents” from different parts of Scripture have reinforced each other in ways I might have never seen or might even have resisted.  Sometimes, we might prefer to keep certain truths away from certain parts of our lives, but when we make time to be quiet, listen and allow different parts of God’s word to collide in ways we didn’t expect, we may uncover an encouragement or a challenge that bears fruit.

What creative and fruitful habits do you have for spending time with God?

[1] The first five books of the Bible, sometimes called the books of Moses (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy)
[2] Life Application Study Bible, introduction to the Psalms.