Posts Tagged 'Affliction'

A Thanksgiving Meditation

Thanksgiving.  For what?  Food?  Family?  Friends?  Amidst the holiday hustle and bustle, it’s easy to forget the reason why we set aside a day to give thanks in the first place.

The psalms offer the perfect remedy for shallow Thanksgiving traditions.  Transcending our limited view of God’s providence in our immediate circumstances, they remind us that we ought to thank God firstly for who he is, and secondly for what he has done.

In particular, the psalms have some special words about the Lord’s care for the oppressed.  For many of my family and friends, as well as millions of souls across this nation, the year 2012 hasn’t been easy.  The Midwest encountered one of the most severe droughts on record, while the East Coast was walloped by a hurricane.  Each of us knows friends and family that have been afflicted in other countless ways this year—perhaps some of us are those people.  How can we give thanks in the midst of suffering?  Praise God! the psalms have an answer.

For today’s Thanksgiving meditation, I’ve mixed bits from the Book of Psalms (ESV) and some particularly poignant passages from our own Psalter Hymnal.

PSALM 9 (Listen)

I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will recount all of your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you;
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.

–vv. 1,2

Thou, Lord, art a refuge for all the oppressed;
All trust Thee who know Thee, and trusting are blest;
For never, O Lord, did Thy mercy forsake
The soul that has sought of Thy grace to partake.

Behold my affliction, Thy mercy accord,
And back from death’s portals restore me, O Lord,
That I in the gates of Thy Zion may raise
My song of salvation and show forth Thy praise.

–Psalter Hymnal #14

PSALM 66 (Listen)

Bless our God, O peoples;
let the sound of his praise be heard,
who has kept our soul among the living
and has not let our feet slip.
For you, O God, have tested us;
you have tried us as silver is tried.
You brought us into the net;
you laid a crushing burden on our backs;
you let men ride over our heads;
we went through fire and through water;
yet you have brought us out to a place of abundance.

–vv. 8-12

Come, ye that fear the Lord, and hear
What He has done for me;
My cry for help is turned to praise,
For He has set me free.
If in my heart I sin regard,
My prayer He will not hear;
But truly God has heard my voice,
My prayer has reached His ear.

–Psalter Hymnal #119

PSALM 89 (Listen)

My song forever shall record
The tender mercies of the Lord;
Thy faithfulness will I proclaim,
And every age shall know Thy Name.

I sing of mercies that endure,
Forever builded firm and sure,
Of faithfulness that never dies,
Established changeless in the skies.

–Psalter Hymnal #169

Let the heavens praise your wonders, O LORD,
your faithfulness in the assembly of the holy ones!
For who in the skies can be compared to the LORD?
Who among the heavenly beings is like the LORD,
a God greatly to be feared in the council of the holy ones,
and awesome above all who are around him?
O LORD God of hosts,
who is mighty as you are, O LORD,
with your faithfulness all around you?

–Psalm 89:5-8

PSALM 103 (Listen)

Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless his holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity,
who heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit,
who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy,
who satisfies you with good
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.
The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all who are oppressed.

–vv. 1-6

Yea, the Lord is full of mercy
And compassion for distress,
Slow to anger and abundant
In His grace and tenderness.
He will not be angry alway,
Nor will He forever chide;
Though we oft have sinned against Him,
Still His love and grace abide.

As the heavens are high above us,
Great His love to us has proved;
Far as east from west is distant,
He has all our sins removed.
As a father loves his children,
Feeling pity for their woes,
So the Lord to those who fear Him
Mercy and compassion shows.

–Psalter Hymnal #201

PSALM 138 (Listen)

I give you thanks, O LORD, with my whole heart;
before the gods I sing your praise;
I bow down toward your holy temple
and give thanks to your name for your steadfast love and your faithfulness,
for you have exalted above all things
your name and your word.

–vv. 1,2

O God, whene’er I cried to Thee,
Thou heardest me and didst deliver;
For by Thy strength, when sore afraid,
My soul was stayed, O gracious Giver.
The kings of earth in one accord
Shall thank Thee, Lord, with praise unbroken;
When over all the earth is heard
The wondrous Word which Thou hast spoken.

Lord, though I walk ‘mid troubles sore,
Thou wilt restore my faltering spirit;
Though angry foes my soul alarm,
Thy mighty arm will save and cheer it.
Yea, thou wilt finish perfectly
What Thou for me hast undertaken;
May not Thy works, in mercy wrought,
E’er come to naught or be forsaken.

–Psalter Hymnal 287

May the Lord give us deep and heartfelt gratitude to him this Thanksgiving Day for the abundant blessings he has showered upon us, and through all our trials may we be able to joyfully confess in the words of the Heidelberg Catechism (LD 9, Q&A 26):

[I believe] that the eternal Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who out of nothing created heaven and earth and everything in them, who still upholds and rules them by his eternal counsel and providence, is my God and Father because of Christ his Son.

I trust him so much that I do not doubt he will provide whatever I need for body and soul, and he will turn to my good whatever adversity he sends me in this sad world.

He is able to do this because he is almighty God; he desires to do this because he is a faithful Father.

Happy Thanksgiving.


Psalm 129: Assailing, Not Prevailing

“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth”—
let Israel now say—
“Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth,
yet they have not prevailed against me.

–Psalm 129:1,2 (ESV)

The careful reader will notice many similarities between Psalms 124 and 129.  Both eight-verse songs open with “Let Israel now say” and a repeated line—a unique structure in the psalms.  Both include a blessing at the end, although it is purposed differently.  More importantly, though, Psalms 124 and 129 both focus on affliction and deliverance for God’s people.

Psalm 124 speaks of times “when people rose up against us,” referring in particular to the Israelites’ escape from Egypt and their passage through the Red Sea.  Psalm 129 also hearkens back to this event as God’s people mourn, “Greatly have they afflicted me from my youth” (v. 2).  Here the lament is not so specific; looking back over the centuries that have passed since the Exodus, Israel simply admits that “the plowers plowed upon my back” (v. 3).  Yet the psalmist quickly transitions to praise as he declares, “The LORD is righteous; he has cut the cords of the wicked.”  For the people of God, affliction is not hopeless, for one reason: it was “the LORD who was on our side” (Ps. 124:1).

As with so many other passages, Psalms 124 and 129 rest in the implicit confidence that the LORD will one day vindicate the righteous and destroy the wicked.  Thus, the remainder of Psalm 129 paints vivid pictures of the sudden doom awaiting those who oppose Israel.  In a powerful yet surprising finale, the last verse snatches away all hope of the LORD’s blessing from the wicked.  Yet even this verse contains an implied blessing for God’s people, for it is based on the assurance that “our help is in the name of the LORD, who made heaven and earth” (Ps. 124:8).

271, “Through All the Years, May Israel Say”

Honestly, I was surprised to learn that “Through All the Years” is a 1912 Psalter setting; it certainly has many of the marks of an Isaac Watts paraphrase.  The first two stanzas are fairly sound, although the vivid imagery of plows and furrows has been muted to “scars of conflict and distress.”  The third stanza merges v. 5 with some completely extraneous material (“Their wicked plans shall come to nought/And all mankind forget their name”), while skipping vv. 6 and 7 completely.  The final stanza, thankfully, ends on a better note.  Depending on your church’s psalm-singing practices, you may be completely comfortable with number 271 as a loose paraphrase that reads much like a hymn.  Or you could justifiably argue that a much better versification is needed in its place.

As to the tune HUMILITY, well…it’s humble.  There’s not much else to say; it works just fine with this psalm, but a wide variety of long-meter tunes could be substituted in its place if desired.

Psalm 129 could fill a variety of roles in the Christian life.  It could apply to the individual believer undergoing oppression from his sworn enemies, the devil, the world, and the flesh.  However, I like to think of it more directly as a song of the church.  When our congregations undergo suffering, fractures, or external pressure, we can turn again and again to these words of comfort:

Through all the years, may Israel say,
My bitter foes have oft assailed,
Have sought my hurt in fierce array,
Yet over me have not prevailed.


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