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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Spiritual Interpretation of Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is certainly world famous. It begins with the words “the Lord is my Shepherd” and is a beautiful psalm of faith and hope in the Lord. To begin, lets see the psalm in its entirety.

Psalm 23 A Psalm of David. The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want;
he makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies; thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life; and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.

The 7 Sacraments do seem alluded to in this psalm, in a spiritual interpretation.

It says, “He leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul.” This is Baptism, where God brings us to the waters of rebirth and our souls are restored as Children of the Living God through the Holy Spirit.

It says, “He leads me in paths of righteousness..." Confirmation is given to complete our Baptism that we might be strengthen by the Lord so that we might walk on the narrow path toward Him.

It continues, “...I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,” a reference to the Anointing of the Sick which is to be given to those who are in danger of, or near, death.

The psalm says, “thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.” We are comforted in the sacrament of Confession, where we are given the rod of penance and led by the staff of the priest's advice to avoid those sins again.

It says, “ Thou preparest a table before me...," a Eucharistic altar that God has Himself prepared and feeds us from.

It continues, “thou anointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.” This is Holy Orders. Priests are anointed and they offer the Lord the the Blessed Sacrament and sacrifice of Christ's Body and Blood.

Finally, “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life...” Marriage is the sacrament referred to in this verse. No married person can deny the goodness and blessings of marriage coupled with mercy toward one another.

The geographical features mentioned in this psalm are also significant, I believe.
Psalm 23 begins in green pastures and then continues on toward still waters. Then there is a turn toward danger in the valley of death and ends in the house of the Lord.

I think the significance of the geographical features is played out in the life of the Christian destined for heaven.

For the average Christian, the spiritual life begins in green pastures of blessing and prosperity as God tries to woo the soul toward trusting in Him. Once that trust is obtained, God teaches the soul how to carry the cross that was meant for them, and this is where following Christ is really intensified. The valley of death could be that the souls are lead through certain outward trials, or inward trials, like dying to self or a white martyrdom. However the cross might present itself, there is always the final hope of living with God forever in the next life.

I think that this Psalm also tells us about God.

For the most part of Psalm 23 God is the subject of each sentence. God is the initiator of each part. Listen to the part that God plays in this psalm.

The LORD is my shepherd
2 he makes me lie down
He leads me
3 he restores
thou art with me;
thy rod and thy staff,
5 Thou preparest a table
thou anointest my head

So in 6 short verses God is acting on the Christian soul 9 times.

I think sometimes we tell God what we want done to our souls and where we are to be lead and how, but we must let God be in charge if we want to end in the house of the Lord forever.

This is a beautiful Psalm to memorize!

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Betrayal of Jesus and David

In the Book of 2 Samuel beginning in the 15th chapter it talks about how Absalom has ambitious plans of overthrowing his father David and he himself will become king.

David hears of this plan in advance and so he flees Jerusalem, but listen to where he goes.

Verse :23 The king also passed over the brook Kidron,
And verse :30 And David went up the ascent of the Mount of Olives, and wept as he went, and his head was covered and he walked barefoot.

This is exactly what Jesus did on the night that he was betrayed by a spiritual son - Judas.

John 18:1 When Jesus had spoken these words, He went forth with His disciples over the ravine of the Kidron, where there was a garden, into which He Himself entered, and His disciples.
Matthew 26:30 And after singing a hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Also notice what happens next David says this:

2 Samuel 15:25-26 If I find favor in the sight of the LORD, then He will bring me back again, and show me both it and His habitation. "But if He should say thus, 'I have no delight in you,' behold, here I am, let Him do to me as seems good to Him."

And then the prayer of Jesus:

Luke 22:42 "Father, if Thou art willing, remove this cup from Me; yet not My will, but Thine be done."

Both David and Jesus desire the will of God, whatever it may be. They both pray that their hardship may be removed, but their ultimate desire is that the will of God be done.

Meanwhile back in Jerusalem the plot to put David to death is underway, and listen to what one of Absalom’s advisers says.

2 Samuel 17:1-3 I will set out and pursue David tonight. I will come upon him while he is weary and discouraged, and throw him into a panic; and all the people who are with him will flee. I will strike down the king only, and I will bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband. You seek the life of only one man, and all the people will be at peace."

Several things point right to the life of Jesus and the plot to kill him.

Mark 14:27 And Jesus said to them, "You will all fall away; for it is written, `I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.'

- Hey wasn’t David a shepherd?

What Absalom’s servant said also points to what Caiaphas the high priest would say of Jesus.

John 11:49-52 But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, "You know nothing at all; you do not understand that it is expedient for you that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation should not perish." He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus should die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad.

So Absaloms's advisor is almost speaking prophetically like Caiaphas. - If we would just get rid of this guy the people would be won over and then there would be peace. It would be like bring all the people back to you as a bride comes home to her husband.

What Absalom's advisor and the high priest don't know is that this is for Jesus a fulfillment of scripture.

This gathering of the children of God who are scattered abroad is spoken of in Hosea. The people of Israel (who are described as a bride) are going after false gods, but God will bring her back
Hosea 2:16 "And in that day, says the LORD, you will call me, `My husband,'

So God will once again be reunited with his Bride Israel.

Again Absalom's advisor is saying that killing David would win the people over to Absalom the false king. Just like when they put Jesus on trial the people shouted - we have no king but Caesar. On the contrary hat actually happens though is that in putting the true king to death, Israel (the bride) is won over to the true king.

Also both the plans of Absalom and the Jewish high priest at the time of Jesus are thwarted. When David (the true king) returns from exile he brings with him forgiveness for those who previously had cursed him. So when Jesus returns from the grave he also brings with him the forgiveness of sins.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Pharoah's Heart Condition

In the Old Testament, there are some places where it would seem that God is not being very fair. One such example would be when it says in Exodus that God "hardened Pharaoh’s heart." It SEEMS as though it is saying that God is forcing Pharaoh to do Evil, but that is of course not the case.

There are several resources that bring to light the meaning of these verses. One is Tim Gray's study on Exodus, and the other is Jeff Cavin's Great Adventure series.

They really show that at every opportunity, God is giving his grace to Pharaoh to make the right decision. But each of us have experienced what Pharaoh was going through, not necessarily with one million souls on the line, but with smaller choices. Before each of us are two choices, the right thing to do and the wrong, and sometimes with great effort we choose the wrong. But by the very fact that we saw the choice and there was a struggle inside of us proves that God was giving us His grace to make the right decision. God continues to give us now the grace to repent, and hopefully we do, but we can still reject His grace once again and do what we want, for whatever reason.
So sometimes we accept God’s grace and sometimes we reject God’s grace.
The point can be wrapped up in a phrase. “The Sun’s light melts wax and hardens clay."
The Sun’s light is always the same, but it depends on the recipient.
Pharaoh’s heart was like clay.

The Hebrew literally means that Pharaoh's heart was made heavy, that it was weighed down.
Now this doesn’t mean much to us today, but it meant a lot to the Egyptians, yes Egyptians.
The Egyptians believed that the heart was where the emotions ruled from and that it represented the purity of a person. They also believed that when the person died, Anubis (one of their gods) would take the person's heart and weigh it. On one side of the scale would be the person's heart and on the other side would be a feather. If the person's heart weighed more than a feather, it meant that the person was a sinner and the person would experience a terrible death in the afterlife. If it weighed less than a feather, it meant that the person gained eternal life.
So when the Bible talks about Pharaoh’s heart getting hardened, it is really saying that it is being made heavy and that he is being judged as a sinner, unworthy of eternal life.
Something else is that when you read the text carefully, sometimes it says that The LORD hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but other times it says that Pharaoh hardens his own heart.
Exodus 8:15 But when Pharaoh saw that there was relief, he hardened his heart and did not listen to them, as the LORD had said.
Besides, God gave Pharaoh nine chances to turn away from those false gods and turn toward the true God. I would say that God was being very merciful to the Egyptians and Pharaoh.

From what I understand about the Hebrew language, there are idioms where "the subject" isn’t the cause of the action, but gives permission for the action to take place. Here are some examples:
Jeremiah 4:10, “ ‘Lord God, surely thou hast greatly deceived this people’
– Now God hadn’t deceived the people, but had permitted false prophets to spread lies.
Ezekiel 14:9: “ ‘If the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet’
– Now the Lord isn’t deceiving anyone or He wouldn’t be God, reason tells us that. What was happening was that God was permitting them to be deceived.

The same is true for Pharaoh. God wasn’t hardening Pharaoh’s heart, but was permitting it be to hardened.
Finally another great answer to these charges is Metonymy. It is a figure of speech used in rhetoric in which a thing or concept is not called by its own name, but by the name of something intimately associated with that thing or concept.
An example in English would be - The White House supported a certain Bill. It isn’t the White House, it is the president who is supporting the Bill, but because there is a close association between the two, to say one is to imply the other.
So now to the Bible: The Book of Kings says many times that a certain King “walked in the way of Jeroboam…who had made Israel sin.” Now Jeroboam didn’t force anyone to sin, but rather his poor example was one that people chose to follow into sin.
Another example is where it says in Acts chapter 1 that Judas bought a field with the money he received from betraying Jesus.
But it actually wasn’t he that bought the field. Remember Matthew 27 says that he returned the money and that those leaders bought that field. But they bought it with his money, that is why Acts 1 says that HE bought it.
So back to God hardening Pharaoh’s heart.

God gave Pharaoh a Message, and the hearing of that message was the instrument through which Pharaoh chose to harden his heart.
But if God had not given the message, his heart would not have been hardened.
So can we say that Pharaoh hardened his own heart. Yes, the Bible says that.
Can we say that the message hardened Pharaoh heart, yes, because of the reaction of Pharaoh to the message.
And we can say that Moses and God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because they are the channel and the source of that message.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Insights into Jesus in Jericho

Luke 18:35-43
35 And it came about that as He was approaching Jericho, a certain blind man was sitting by the road, begging.
36 Now hearing a crowd going by, he began to inquire what this might be.
37 And they told him that Jesus of Nazareth was passing by.
38 And he called out, saying, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!"
39 And those who led the way were sternly telling him to be quiet; but he kept crying out all the more, "Son of David, have mercy on me!"
40 And Jesus stopped and commanded that he be brought to Him; and when he had come near, He questioned him,
41 "What do you want Me to do for you?" And he said, "Lord, I want to regain my sight!"
42 And Jesus said to him, "Receive your sight; your faith has made you well."
43 And immediately he regained his sight, and began following Him, glorifying God; and when all the people saw it, they gave praise to God.
Luke 19:1 And He entered and was passing through Jericho.
2 And behold, there was a man called by the name of Zaccheus; and he was a chief tax-gatherer, and he was rich.
3 And he was trying to see who Jesus was, and he was unable because of the crowd, for he was small in stature.
4 And he ran on ahead and climbed up into a sycamore tree in order to see Him, for He was about to pass through that way.
5 And when Jesus came to the place, He looked up and said to him, "Zaccheus, hurry and come down, for today I must stay at your house."
6 And he hurried and came down, and received Him gladly.
7 And when they saw it, they all began to grumble, saying, "He has gone to be the guest of a man who is a sinner."
8 And Zaccheus stopped and said to the Lord, "Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much."
9 And Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because he, too, is a son of Abraham.
10 "For the Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost."

While these two stories are separated by a chapter division in Luke between 18 and 19, they certainly belong together.

The first thing that should be pointed out is that both of these events happen in the city of Jericho. That famous city whose walls were destroyed by the trumpet blasts and yelling of the Israelites in the days of Joshua.

Historically, Jericho was the first and greatest of strongholds in the land of Canaan. It is this city that Joshua (which is the Hebrew name of Jesus) comes to conquer first. In the time of Joshua, this city was spiritually filled with the blind, while being materially rich.

They were rich because the land of Canaan was flowing with milk and honey. Yet, they were blind because they failed to recognize the living God that lead the Israelites. Hagar, a citizen of Jericho, had this to say:

Joshua 2:10-11 "For we have heard how the LORD dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites who were beyond the Jordan, to Sihon and Og, whom you utterly destroyed. "And when we heard it, our hearts melted and no courage remained in any man any longer because of you; for the LORD your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath.”

So if I had heard that this God who defeated the greatest army at the time, namely the Egyptian Army, I don’t think I would have too much faith in that wall around my city, unless, of course, I was blinded by sin.

Now, we see Jesus visiting this city and curing them of their blindness.

Both the blind beggar and Zaccheus want to see Jesus but are disrupted by the crowds.

I think that it is significant that both of these men face trouble from the crowds, yet somehow find a way to overcome these obstacles. One overcame the diversity by crying out in faith and the other had to literally climb above the crowd.

I think we all know of people who turn a blind eye toward Christianity and Christ. We need to be their light, and make sure that we aren’t the ones, by our example, who are keeping them from Christ.

Or maybe like Zacchaeus, all that some outside of the Church can see is the crowd mulling about, claiming that Christ is among them. Due to our hypocrisy or their shortsightedness, Christ is not seen. Those folks need to be lifted up in prayer that Christ might visit their home and bless them.

Both men are blessed by Jesus and are in a sense cured of what ails them. The blind beggar cured from his blindness and Zaccheus cured from his defrauding.

Once these obstacles are removed, the new disciples are then free to not only follow Christ, but also to begin living in faith a children of God.

Finally, on an apologetic level, we see that both faith and works are what saves a person. The blind man demonstrates his faith by crying out above the crowd. This faith saves him. Zacchaeus’ faith is never once mentioned, yet is put into action by the very presence of Christ.

Both faith and works are necessary for salvation.