God the Mighty Deliverer – Psalm 46

Humans need help. And lots of it. We constantly need to be delivered. When I look at my life I know that without the help of others, I would be dead.

When babies are born, we often say that they are delivered. I know it was the case for me. I was born at 6:30am, at the time when the nurses changed shifts. My mom had to scream to get help because I came so fast, I popped out like soap and a nurse came just in time to catch me. I call my birth my first bungee jump.

As a 4 years old I once jumped into the pool without my floaters. I sunk straight to the bottom. If it wasn’t for my dad jumping with all his clothes on, I would have died.

In second grade, I was so bad at spelling, I even misspelled my own name on a spelling quiz.

I once burnt my backyard. If it wasn’t for my mom seeing the fire and the fire hose installed by qualified people, who knows what would have happened.

Without my glasses, I can barely see anything. Without eye doctors, I would be useless.

Even now, as I grown up, I continue to get in trouble and need help. One day, I was holding our little baby and I didn’t have a shirt on, and little Elena grabbed my nipple. It hurt so bad, and in the angle I was holding her I could not get her off, I had to yell to get my wife to come.

It’s hard to believe, but even the smallest people can put you in situations where you need to be delivered. The other day I was taking a bath with my baby to help her relax, and she started pooping all over the water. If it wasn’t for my wife helping me, it would have been a lot worse.

As humans, we constantly need deliverance. Sometimes from small and silly situations, but other times from life-threatening situations.

As of now, just in this audience, I can list a tons of things from which you may need to be delivered.

Some of you need to be delivered from bad decisions you have made.

Some of you need to be delivered from financial problems at home.

Some of you need to be delivered from dangerous situations that you put yourself into.

Some of you need to be delivered from drugs and other addictions.

Some of you need to be delivered from slavery to medias and entertainment.

Some of you need to be delivered from oppression from friends or family.

Some of you need to be delivered from your own stupidity and foolishness. And if you laugh because you think of someone in your mind, this one is for you, because there is no greater fool than the one who believes that he is better than those around him.

Some of you need to be delivered from the consequences of your own sins.

Some of you need to be delivered from bad puns that non-funny people make around you. Some of you need to be delivered like pizzas are delivered.

And all of you need to be delivered from temptations, from sin and from death.

Now, the world will often offer pleasures or distractions to help you cope with those issues. But in all of this world, I can guarantee you that there is only one Savior and deliverer powerful enough to deliver you from all you troubles, and at any times. That is the God that we serve.

This week, we are going to look at many different aspects of God’s deliverance. And today, as we begin, I wanted us all to be reminded of God the mighty Deliverer.

READ PSALM 46

Psa 46:1  To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. [2]  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3]  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah. [4]  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. [5]  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. [6]  The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. [7]  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah. [8]  Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. [9]  He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. [10]  « Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! » [11]  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.

 Now this Psalm is a Psalm of the sons of Korah. Now, who the heck are those guys? there are several Korahs mentioned in the Bible, but one in particular stands out in the book of Numbers because he opposes Moses. And the reason why he opposed Moses was because Korah and Moses both belonged to the same tribe, the tribe of Levi which had been set apart by God to serve Him. The Levites were indeed the priests and those who sacrificed and ministered in the tabernacle and the Temple.

Now one day Korah became jealous of Moses.

Num 16:1  Now Korah the son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi, and Dathan and Abiram the sons of Eliab, and On the son of Peleth, sons of Reuben, took men. [2]  And they rose up before Moses, with a number of the people of Israel, 250 chiefs of the congregation, chosen from the assembly, well-known men. [3]  They assembled themselves together against Moses and against Aaron and said to them, « You have gone too far! For all in the congregation are holy, every one of them, and the LORD is among them. Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the LORD? »

Korah was jealous of Moses’ authority as a leader. Following this, Moses challenged him and his followers, and they put censers in front of them to see who God would bless. Then the earth opened from underneath their feet and “swallowed” them.

But then you get that very short verse that stands out: “But the sons of Korah did not die” (Numbers 26:10).

While God destroyed Korah and all the possessions that he had, he spared his sons. And as Levites they continued to serve God, and eventually became singers and wrote many Psalms.

Now what is important to know about the sons of Korah is that as Levites they only had the opportunity to blossom and really serve in the times of good kings, because when the kings didn’t care about God, well, most Levites lost their jobs. This is why they are only referred to in times of revival, first with king David, then king Jehoshaphat and king Hezekiah, periods which all went through terrible wars as well, and amazing miracles of deliverance from the Lord. So in all, the sons of Korah were probably some of the most qualified people in history to speak of God’s grace and deliverance.

And it is one thing to write a song in times of peace and prosperity. It is another one to write a song when there is an army that is coming against you, that is stronger than you, more powerful and numerous, and that can potentially destroy everything you live for. In times of war, when you are on the losing side, you can expect many things. Many would lose their lives and see many of their friends and family be killed. Some would see their wives and sisters and mothers and daughters be raped or kidnapped. Some would be taken as slaves. If you are on the losing side, your house and city might be burned, and even if you survive, it will be only to live under the oppression of a new system which will take advantage of you as a conquered land.

It is a question of life and death. And if you chose the wrong deliverer, you’re done.

And so when you read the words of this Psalm, there is a lot of weight in the trust they give to God to be their deliverer. And the main point is this: God is the Mighty Deliverer. He is bigger than the bigger danger. He is closer than the closest threat. He is stronger than the strongest enemy. He is the mighty deliverer.

I.                    God is bigger than the biggest danger (vv.1-3)

And so we begin our Psalm with this in mind, and the first point that we see is that God is bigger than the biggest danger.

Psa 46:1  To the choirmaster. Of the Sons of Korah. According to Alamoth. A Song. God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. [2] Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3]  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah

I love how this Psalm begin. What is the first word? God. It is also the last word in Hebrew, as the Psalm ends with “God of Jacob.” Yes there are difficult times and events and situations in life, but if we keep dwelling on them we will sink very fast. The best way to approach difficulties is by staying focused on God from the start.

“God is to us refuge and strength, a help in trouble exceedingly available” we could also translate this verse, more literally.

And why should we start on God? Because He is a refuge, He is strength, and He is available.

Now, we must understand the context once more. What is refuge in the Bible? Is it just a place to run when it rains a little bit outside? No, it’s much more significant than this. A refuge is a place of safety in times of life-threatening dangers. It is the strongest place of trust for someone in trouble.

David defines this in 2 Samuel 22 after God delivered him from Saul:

2Sa 22:2  He said, « The LORD is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer, [3]  my God, my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold and my refuge, my savior; you save me from violence. [4]  I call upon the LORD, who is worthy to be praised, and I am saved from my enemies. [5]  « For the waves of death encompassed me, the torrents of destruction assailed me; [6]  the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.

But God is not only a refuge, He is also strength. You know, it is one thing to have a place of refuge, but sometimes the most dangerous time in a war is when you are on your way to the place of refuge. Those are the times when we are the most vulnerable and the easiest to ambush. But God is not only a refuge, He is strength. He gives us the energy and the inner resource to stand firm and hold the fort.

And not only is He refuge and strength, but He is also available and present to help in times of trouble. Here the word for “trouble” is interesting because it comes from the root meaning “tightness.” Trouble comes when things get tied. When there is tension.

And He knows how to fix that. Remember when Adam was created and he was alone in the Garden? God saw His need and created a “helper fit for him.”

God is the one who created help. He is the One who invented the concept of helping. He is the best at helping, and He is exceedingly present to help those who trust in Him.

So yes, God is the best at helping, no matter the difficulties. We see that in the following verses:

Psa 46:2  Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, [3]  though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling. Selah.

The imagery here is that of the tidal waves that destroy mountains. The enemies that faced Israel were so strong, they were compared to the power of the ocean, limitless, unstoppable, extremely strong.

And we know the power of the ocean. I am sure most of you have seen some footage of the tidal wave that hit Japan in 2011. 15,000 people were killed, and it damaged more than one million buildings, one out of 6 being completely destroyed. It left 4.4 million people without electricity. In fact, the earthquake that created the wave was so strong that it even shifted the axis of the planet several inches.

In 2004 there was also a tidal wave in the Indian Ocean that was so powerful, it killed over 230,000 people. It caused the entire planet to vibrate, and earthquakes were caused by it all the way to Alaska.

Water can swallow mountains. There is a reason why 16% of the world’s electricity is produced by water. It is strong.

Nature when it is unbridle is extremely powerful. In 10 minutes, a hurricane releases more energy than all the nuclear weapons of this world combined.

But guess what? God is much bigger than that. There is no wave, no hurricane, no mountain that can crush God’s refuge for those who fear Him. He is the ultimate deliverer. He is God. He always win.

I mean, how strong do you think that God is? He can eat any of the Marvel super hero for breakfast.

If you took all the planets and stars and galaxies and put all their energy into a mega ball of intense fire, it would not even splinter His finger.

He is God. He is the biggest, the strongest, and the most reliable. Those who take refuge in Him will always be rescued.

II.                  God is closer than the closest threat (vv.4-7)

First, God is bigger than the biggest danger. Secondly, God is closer than the closer threat. You see this in verses 4-7.

Psa 46:4  There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy habitation of the Most High. [5]  God is in the midst of her; she shall not be moved; God will help her when morning dawns. [6]  The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. [7]  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.

While the other nations are like the waves of the ocean, random, violent, unreliable, fearsome and deadly, God’s goodness is like a river. Unlike the waves of the ocean, that river is constant, it is always there, giving life, blessing and flowing with joy.

And contrary to the mountains that move into the ocean or the kingdoms that totter (verse 6, which is the same Hebrew word for “move” as well), that river does not move. God is always there, and always there to bless. His presence is a gift that cannot be taken away by enemies.

That presence He had chosen to put it in Jerusalem, in the Temple. In the Old Testament, the expression “city of God” always refer to Jerusalem. That was were God’s glory dwelt, where the Ark of the Covenant stood. And there was absolutely nothing that would move it away. God had chosen to be close to His people, and there was nothing that could come in between Him and them. For those who trust in Him, God will always be closer than the closest threat.

It doesn’t mean that there aren’t any challenges. But even in the midst of those, God is closer to us than the dangers are.

As a kid I still remember going very early to church with my dad one morning and seeing it in smoke because someone had tried to burn it by throwing a Molotov cocktail in the basement. The church was brand new, and to see it so badly shaped devastating. Yet, the insurance gave us over $160,000 for it. We fixed everything ourselves for $20,000, and the rest of the money served to pay off the church property. That’s our God!

 At the end of history, we will see the final score of all the bad things that happened: God 50 billion, Satan 0.  Even when Satan induced people to kill Jesus and to betray Him, God still used that to save the entire human race!

When Joseph’s brothers tried to get rid of him, they meant it for evil, but God meant it for good, and through Joseph the people of Israel were saved from the famine, as well as the people of Egypt and the surrounding countries.

You can’t beat God. Everything works together for the good of those that love Him and are called according to His purposes. He will always be there for those who seek Him for deliverance, and He will always win.

God is there, but again, only those who take refuge in Him will taste of His goodness.

Isa 8:6  « Because this people has refused the waters of Shiloah that flow gently, and rejoice over Rezin and the son of Remaliah, [7]  therefore, behold, the Lord is bringing up against them the waters of the River, mighty and many, the king of Assyria and all his glory. And it will rise over all its channels and go over all its banks, [8]  and it will sweep on into Judah, it will overflow and pass on, reaching even to the neck, and its outspread wings will fill the breadth of your land, O Immanuel. »

God was to His chosen people a gentle and pleasant river, full of grace and goodness. But for those who go away from Him and seek the pleasures of the world and the idols of the heart, not living in obedience and in love to Him, there will be destruction and no refuge.

A lot of you here need to repent from lives of sin and disobedience. And the good news is that God is there to welcome you and deliver you and free you from those passions that entangle you.

Psa 46:6  The nations rage, the kingdoms totter; he utters his voice, the earth melts. [7]  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.

While entire nations and kingdoms may rise against you, all that God needs to do to stop all your trouble is to utter His voice. He just need to speak to stop the waves of the sea…wait…didn’t Jesus do that to?

He showed it to us in a tangible way, but that’s what He can do to any situation. He utters his voice, the earth melts. That’s pretty incredible. I mean, wouldn’t it be cool to have a flamethrower that could melt any problem you have in life? Any time you face an issue, a problem, a tension, you take your flamethrower and burn it to the ground?

Well, God is the mighty deliverer. He can do just that. Now it doesn’t mean that there is no war, but simply that when we trust in God we win every time. He promises wisdom to those who ask in faith. He promises strength to the weak. He promises joy even in the midst of sufferings. That’s the God who delivers.

But then look at verse 7.

Psa 46:7  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.

That is super meaningful. He is the LORD of hosts with us. Now, the word for host might not do the best job for us to describe what that means. When we think of hosts we often thing of a big mass of people, but in Hebrew, it most often refers to an army. That is why in French they always translate “LORD of hosts” as “LORD of the armies.”

Now, why is this significant?

Do you know the greatest atmosphere of the battlefield? Confusion. When you are on a battlefield, things come at you from all sorts of directions, move all the time, you lose people around you, things get destroyed, there is no stability. For God to be the LORD of hosts means that He is also the LORD who can lead you to do exactly what you need to do, even in the midst of confusion.

And many of you are confused. You are confused about your meaning in life. You are confused about your faith. You are confused about the choices you need to make or that you have made. You are confused about who you are and who you want to be.

As God of the armies, God is the only one who can take all of us confused people in the world and gather us into a unified army fighting for what really matters.

He is the LORD with us, a fortress worth trusting in.

III.                God is stronger than the strongest enemy

First, we saw that God is bigger than the biggest danger. Secondly, we saw that God is closer than the closest threat. Finally, we see in the last verses of this Psalm that God is stronger than the strongest enemy.

Psa 46:8  Come, behold the works of the LORD, how he has brought desolations on the earth. [9]  He makes wars cease to the end of the earth; he breaks the bow and shatters the spear; he burns the chariots with fire. [10]  « Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! » [11]  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.

Here is an invitation. Come! Behold the works of the Lord!

The sons of Korah were not just abstract theologians. They didn’t ask people to trust in God and take refuge in Him because it was the right religious thing to do. It was more than this. They had seen with their eyes God crushing the armies of the enemies.

Now, as I mentioned in the beginning, there are only 3 times where the sons of Korah are mentioned in the history of the kings of Israel. Since the Temple wasn’t built until after David, we suspect then that this Psalm was probably written during the time of Jehoshaphat or Hezekiah.

So let’s take a look at the stories, since the sons of Korah invited us to do so.

JEHOSHAPHAT

2Ch 20:1  After this the Moabites and Ammonites, and with them some of the Meunites, came against Jehoshaphat for battle. [2]  Some men came and told Jehoshaphat, « A great multitude is coming against you from Edom, from beyond the sea; and, behold, they are in Hazazon-tamar » (that is, Engedi). [3]  Then Jehoshaphat was afraid and set his face to seek the LORD, and proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah. [4]  And Judah assembled to seek help from the LORD; from all the cities of Judah they came to seek the LORD. […] [14]  And the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jahaziel the son of Zechariah, son of Benaiah, son of Jeiel, son of Mattaniah, a Levite of the sons of Asaph, in the midst of the assembly. [15]  And he said, « Listen, all Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem and King Jehoshaphat: Thus says the LORD to you, ‘Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed at this great horde, for the battle is not yours but God’s. [16]  Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz. You will find them at the end of the valley, east of the wilderness of Jeruel. [17]  You will not need to fight in this battle. Stand firm, hold your position, and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.’ Do not be afraid and do not be dismayed. Tomorrow go out against them, and the LORD will be with you. » [18]  Then Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD. [19]  And the Levites, of the Kohathites and the Korahites, stood up to praise the LORD, the God of Israel, with a very loud voice. [20]  And they rose early in the morning and went out into the wilderness of Tekoa. And when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, « Hear me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem! Believe in the LORD your God, and you will be established; believe his prophets, and you will succeed. » [21]  And when he had taken counsel with the people, he appointed those who were to sing to the LORD and praise him in holy attire, as they went before the army, and say, « Give thanks to the LORD, for his steadfast love endures forever. » [22]  And when they began to sing and praise, the LORD set an ambush against the men of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah, so that they were routed. [23]  For the men of Ammon and Moab rose against the inhabitants of Mount Seir, devoting them to destruction, and when they had made an end of the inhabitants of Seir, they all helped to destroy one another. [24]  When Judah came to the watchtower of the wilderness, they looked toward the horde, and behold, there were dead bodies lying on the ground; none had escaped.

HEZEKIAH

2Ki 19:6  Isaiah said to them, « Say to your master, ‘Thus says the LORD: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me. [7] Behold, I will put a spirit in him, so that he shall hear a rumor and return to his own land, and I will make him fall by the sword in his own land.' » […] [32]  « Therefore thus says the LORD concerning the king of Assyria: He shall not come into this city or shoot an arrow there, or come before it with a shield or cast up a siege mound against it. [33]  By the way that he came, by the same he shall return, and he shall not come into this city, declares the LORD. [34]  For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David. » [35]  And that night the angel of the LORD went out and struck down 185,000 in the camp of the Assyrians. And when people arose early in the morning, behold, these were all dead bodies.

It does not matter how strong the enemy is. The king of Assyria had just conquered early the northern kingdom of Israel and taken the tribes into captive. In the southern kingdom, he had also come and destroyed almost everything. He wrote on a wall in his country: that he had destroyed in Judah 46 strong cities, countless smaller places, and had trapped the king in Jerusalem like a bird in a cage.

But God protected those who trusted in Him and took refuge in Him.

He is strong, stronger than the strongest enemy. There is nothing that can prevent Him from delivering those who trust in Him. Nothing.

And this calls to a response!

Psa 46:10  « Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth! » [11]  The LORD of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah.

God holds the world in His hands. There is nothing that won’t happen without Him allowing it. Even the trouble in your life happens for a reason. Do you know why? So that you can know Him! The reason why God brings tests in our life is so that we can see Him deliver us! That’s His specialty!

See, in most religions God is a distant god. But our God can be known. You can get to know God, and how glorious He is. And you will get to know Him the more you trust Him. The more you turn to Him to satisfy your life, to guide you in times of confusion, to fill you with love and knowledge, the more you will know how good He really is, and how worthy it is to know Him!

God is worthy of all glory. He is powerful, beautiful, perfectly loving, just and holy, and one day He will get all the honor for this. His name will be exalted because it deserves to be exalted.

This is why we should saturate our thoughts with God. The Psalmist began with God being a refuge, and ends here with God being a fortress. It’s all about God. All your trouble and your problems and your confusion exists for a reason. God has allowed it so that through those things you can learn to trust Him and to know Him, who is the most precious to know in this world.

So don’t waste your troubles. Don’t waste your confusion. Don’t waste your trials and tests in life. Get to know God. Trust in Him, and see how strong of a Savior He is.

Bless Without Ceasing – Psalm 34

Sometimes I wonder…if God had a Bible for Himself…what would it say?

It is easy to know how much we are needy as human beings simply by looking at how big is God’s manual for us. If only we were a little smarter and had a little better memory, God would not need to tell us the same truths again and again and again, through all sorts of angles and parallels and stories…but the reality is that without reminders, we just forget what we need to do. Of course, God is not like this. He doesn’t need a manual to be God. He doesn’t forget what He is supposed to do, He doesn’t need instructions written in a book to keep in line with His job. But sometimes I wonder, if God had His own Bible…what would it say?

Well, I think it would probably blow our minds to see all the things that God intentionally does for us every day. No doubt, if God had a Bible, it would be filled with truths about His character that would make our minds explode in wonder.

Today we are going to look at Psalm 34, and when I read this Psalm, it makes me wonder if before creation God did not read a verse saying: “Bless without Ceasing.” 

Of course God doesn’t need to be reminded of anything, and not only because He doesn’t forget, but also because that’s simply who He is. God cannot help but to bless, and to bless at all times.

And this is what we see in Psalm 34.

We’ll look into it verse by verse in a moment, but before this, let me read a few passages, and tell me if you don’t see a pattern there:

Verse 1: I will bless the Lord at all times his praise shall continually be in my mouth

Verse 4: I sought the Lord and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears

Verse 5: Those who look at him are radiant and their faces shall never be ashamed

Verse 6: This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him of all his troubles

Verse 9: Those who fear him have no lack

Verse 10: Those who seek the Lord lack no good thing

Verse 19: Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all

Verse 20: He keeps all his bones, not one of them is broken

Verse 22: None of those who take refuge in him will be condemned

In 1 Chronicles 17:27 it is written that when God blesses something, it is blessed forever. When God blesses, He doesn’t do it half-heartedly. When God sets His mind to do good to someone, believe me, goodness flows, and overflows, even grace upon grace as the New Testament puts it: one truck load after the other. 

God loves to bless. He loves to help people in need. In fact, that’s even His specialty. He even named His only Son “Jesus: salvation from God.”  Saving is what He does best, and so He loves being able to do it. He’s got skills beyond understanding, no matter the situation, the problem, the troubles; He can save and turn any circumstances into a blessing.

And as we look at Psalm 34, we will see 6 never-ceasing aspects of God’s blessings, so that we can grow to have a heart of continuous praise to Him.

Prayer

Now this Psalm is really interesting because it is one that we actually know when it happened. A lot of Psalms are anonymous and without historical context, but not this one.

Of David, when he changed his behavior before Abimelech, so that he drove him out, and he went away.

Now most of us would remember that story in 1 Samuel 21 when David flees from Saul and goes to Philistia to find refuge, and when the king Achisch sees him, David acts like a madman, making marks on doors and letting his spit run down his beard. Now the name Abimelech is a little confusing for tow reasons. First, it must not be confused with the prophet of Nob Ahimelech in the same chapter. Second, the name of the Philistine ruler here is Achisch, not Abimelech, but the truth is that the name “Abimelech” which literally means “my father the king” is very often used for rulers, especially in Philistia. When Abraham went to that region, the king’s name was Abimelech. When Isaac went to that region, the king’s name was also Abimelech.

If we turn a few chapters earlier in the book of 1 Samuel, we see what made David flee:

1Sa 19:1  And Saul spoke to Jonathan his son and to all his servants, that they should kill David. But Jonathan, Saul’s son, delighted much in David.

And then there is some drama happening. Jonathan takes the defense for David, and Saul swears before the Lord not to harm him. But then he changes his mind, and the second time it is Saul’s daughter, Michal, that saves him.

And so David is both confused and scared, and really fears for his life:

1Sa 20:3b  But truly, as the LORD lives and as your soul lives, there is but a step between me and death. »  

And so David flees to Philistia, out of desperation, not really planning well what he will do. I mean, running to enemy territory might not be the smartest thing. It’s like if we all got scared of Obama and all ran together to North Korea instead. But David doesn’t have time to think. The king is after him. And so he runs to the land of the Philistines, and when he realizes what he has done, he gets really scared:

Sa 21:10  And David rose and fled that day from Saul and went to Achish the king of Gath. [11]  And the servants of Achish said to him, « Is not this David the king of the land? Did they not sing to one another of him in dances, ‘Saul has struck down his thousands, and David his ten thousands’? » [12]  And David took these words to heart and was much afraid of Achish the king of Gath.

So again, when we understand the life of David, he was a fugitive for close to 10 years. And here is where it all started. Of the 12ish Psalms of David with historical background, this is only the 2nd one. The one previous to that is Psalm 59, when David just fled at night with the help of Michal, and the next one is Psalm 56, where much maturing  has happened then, so much that he doesn’t even seem fazed by the hardships, but simply awakens the dawn in praise.

And here we are. Right before this Psalm, David is afraid, and he doesn’t know what to do. And so he comes up with the most desperate, crazy, unimaginable scheme: he takes the role of a madman. And we don’t know how long he does this. It could have been days, it could have been weeks. But the king finally comes to check it out, he let him go.

And I can just picture David’s unbelief after the whole thing. “I can’t believe that this worked! That was the dumbest, most risk-taking, most unthought-of plan, and it worked! It simply means one thing: God can truly save anybody, out of any situation, at any time!”

I.                    Never-Ceasing Praise (v.1-3)

And so here we go into the Psalm. And the first aspect that we see, is a Never-Ceasing Praise.

Psalm 34:1   I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. [2] My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. [3] Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

Here David affirms his conviction: that he desires to praise the LORD at all times, never failing. Not only does he want to praise God in all circumstances, but also in a growing manner. The way “continually” comes from the root meaning “to stretch.” Not only does David want his default mind-setting to be on praise mode, but he also want to have an automatic “click” on the refresh button continually, because he knows that new blessings will always come.

David speaks out of conviction. “I will bless the LORD at all times.” This is a resolution. This is a commitment. This is how he wants to live for the rest of his life. And again, we can understand why. He had made all the worst possible choices, and yet God had given him deliverance with absolutely no harm and no loss.

“I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth.” he says. I love that image. David wanted his mind to be focused on the LORD at all times, and in consequences, he wanted his mouth to be filled with praises at all times. My little daughter, I never know what to expect when I see that her mouth is full. She has tried to eat dirt, Kleenexes, plastic objects, even her own poop. And often this is how we are, even as believers. The way we react to others and our responses are often random and not well seasoned.  But David wanted God to be on the tip of his tongue so that every time words would come out, praise to God would flow as well.

And he explains that a little more as he goes:

Psa 34:2  My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad.

 Not only he is committed to do it in the future as a resolution, but he is starting right there, writing a song for God! He changes from the future tense to the present tense. “My soul makes it boast in the LORD.” He is living it out.

 Now it would have been easy for David to boast in himself. People sung songs about him, as the one killing his ten thousands. He had been the Israel Idol of the teen girls in Jerusalem. He was smart, cunning, courageous, victorious, a leader of men, a war strategist. And although he displayed great faith throughout his fights, I am sure that the temptation to accept praise would have been great. But here he doesn’t, and the reason why is that he couldn’t even if he wanted to. He was caught off guard, acted ruthless, and the only reason why he had been saved was a complete act of God’s grace. 

 And so he boasts in the LORD, and calls those that are of humble state to join him. And here the word for “humble” could also be translated as “poor, lowly, needy.” David here was reminded of something every important: God’s salvation is for those in need, those that are helpless and destitute. It’s not for those who have it figured out.

 He continues:

 Psa 34:3  Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

 Here we have a call to worship with the unity of believers. David knows that the praise of one man alone is insufficient to do justice to the greatness of God’s name. He wants to magnify, literally “make great” the name of the LORD, and exalt his name, literally to “elevate, make it high.” 

God’s goodness is so great, it takes all of the praise of all the believers to do justice to it.

II.                  Never-Ceasing Protection (vv.4-7)

And why does David want to praise the LORD so much? The rest of the Psalm speaks for itself. From verses 4-7, never-ceasing praise comes from God’s Never-Ceasing Protection.

Psa 34:4  I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. [5] Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. [6]  This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. [7]  The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

God never ceases to look for ways to protect and to bless. People can seek Him (v.4), look for Him (v.5) cry to Him (v.6) or even taste Him as we will see in verse 8.

First there is David in verse 4, the coming king, had been in danger, and God had saved him from all his fears. God delivered him, literally, “snatched him away.” David was in a “fear” zone, and God simply showed up, grabbed him, and walked out, leaving all the fears behind. All that David had to do was to seek the Lord and to pray to Him.

But God doesn’t want to only save David.

Psa 34:5  Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed.

The faithful ones that look at Him are radiant. I love that word. It comes from a root that gave the words for river and for light in Hebrew. It speaks of a continual flow of life. It is often paired up with the notion of a deep and abundant joy that just overflows from one’s soul. That’s what happens to all who trust God. They taste of His never-ceasing protection. They can walk in joy day after day, because there is nothing that can come their way.

“Their faces shall never be ashamed” David says. In an honor/shame society, to tell someone that he would have shame again would be the same as giving a winning lottery ticket to someone believing in the American Dream. To live without shame would have been the utopia of the day. It’s like telling someone that everything he ever strived for was granted to him.

And that’s how God does things. He doesn’t bless just half-heartedly. When He blesses, He blesses even beyond what we can receive.

He protected David, He protects those who look for Him, and He even protected the poor random citizen:

Psa 34:6  This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.

Even the random poor man, God found out about him and saved him out of all his troubles. That man was so insignificant, David doesn’t even remember his name. But he remembered that even in his poor and lowly situation God had heard him, and he had saved him out of all his troubles, because that’s what He does best.

That poor man was in “trouble” a word here that comes from the root “tightness.” Things had been tight. Things had been difficult, complicated, unexpected, stretched thin to the point of despair. But in time God showed up, and there was not one trouble that He did not resolve.

Indeed:

Psa 34:7  The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

I love this image. The angel of LORD encamps around those who fear him. He surrounds them under his protection and care, and He delivers them. He is no distant God. He is here, he is near, and there is no direction that we can walk, left or right, ahead or behind, where He is not protecting us. He is all around, as a shield against all dangers. We can go to the right and make a good decision and be protected by God, or turn to the left and make a not-so-good decision (which happens all the time since we are fallen beings) and still be protected by God.

And He “delivers” which is an interesting word because it comes from a root meaning to “withdraw” which is similar to the “snatching away” that we saw earlier, but it is also a play on word with a root that means to “equip for battle.” So not only God does deliver by taken us away from our fears and our troubles, but He also equips us to face them in His presence.

III.                Never-Ceasing Provision (vv.8-10)

 Never-ceasing praise comes from never-ceasing protection, but also never-ceasing provision. And this is what we see in verses 8-10).

Psa 34:8  Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! [9]  Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack! [10]  The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Again we see here God’s heart to bless without ceasing. Not only is He good, but His goodness is also constantly poured out to those who seek Him.

And again, the blessing is near because God is near. He is right there, so close you can even taste His goodness as it passes by. This is why David encourages the hearers to take refuge in Him. “Go live where God lives! Stay close to Him, wrapped in His arms, and you will see that the taste of goodness will never leave your mouth!”

And the result of clinging to God is to have no lack.

Now we know this. We hear in Psalm 23 that those who count God as a Shepherd lack nothing, in 2 Peter 1:3 we hear that believers have all things that pertain to life and godliness. The problem is not so intellectually but practically. Sometimes the bank account run lower than we expect, our attitude changes. This is where we can learn from David. His resolutions of praising the Lord were not based no circumstances but on His God, and so He was committed to give glory to God no matter the outcome.

God does not want us or does not expect us to figure out everything on our own. Those that are naturally gifted are not necessary those that taste of God’s goodness.

The young lions suffer want and hunger; but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.

Here David does not talk about baby lions. Young lions in the Bible refer to lions in their strength, they have already learned how to hunt. In the Bible, young lions are described as those that never give up their prey. They are bloodthirsty, extremely dangerous, the worst enemies and can be a symbol of wrath. But even they suffer need and hunger.

Sometimes it is easy for us to trust in our natural giftedness and strength. And often we rest on these things because it appears successful. But again, we must understand everything in perspective. The success of the young lions is temporary. They might look strong in one context, but in another they are completely hopeless, and there is nothing they can do about it.

But God delights in blessing the humble. The one who seeks Him, and fears Him.

IV.                Never-Ceasing Pursuit of Man (vv.11-14)

And this is where David turns next. To the never-ceasing pursuit of man: the fear of the Lord. Never-ceasing praise comes from God’s never-ceasing protection and provision, but also from our never-ceasing pursuit of God.

Psa 34:11  Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD.  [3rd mention] [12]  What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? [13]  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. [14]  Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

Here David calls for children. Once again, this is a call to the lowly. To the humble. To the needy. It’s not just because he isn’t king yet and can’t teach the grown-ups. But sadly, this is a lesson that only the humble can accept.

Psa 34:11  Come, O children, listen to me; I will teach you the fear of the LORD

Now what is the fear of the Lord? In some ways, the best way that we can define it is by faith. That is the way the righteous live. And as we will see, after these verses, the believers are no longer referred to as those who fear the Lord but as the righteous. The righteous lives by faith. He lives by fearing the Lord. He lives with a constant understanding of God’s presence, which changes his every moment decisions and actions.

The book that helped me understand this the most was the book of Ecclesiastes.

If we turn with me first to Ecclesiastes 2:24-25

Ecc 2:24  There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, [25]  for apart from him who can eat or who can have enjoyment?

Here we see a very simple concept. Believers and unbelievers basically live similar lives. All are human beings that generally grow up, are educated, work, are involved in relationships, have children, and die. And all these little things are opportunities that are given for man to see God and to acknowledge Him. These are all opportunities for us to see God at work. With God every moment is a test for us to see Him, as Job wrote:

 Job 7:17  What is man, that you make so much of him, and that you set your heart on him, [18]  visit him every morning and test him every moment?

And we see why God does that later in the book of Ecclesiastes:

Ecc_3:14  I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.

Ecc_12:13  The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.

 And this is why we can praise God in a never-ceasing manner. Every moment is a test for us to see the windows of heaven opened. That is our never-ceasing pursuit.

And then look at what happens:

Psa 34:12  What man is there who desires life and loves many days, that he may see good? [13]  Keep your tongue from evil and your lips from speaking deceit. [14]  Turn away from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.

When you walk by the fear of the Lord, who is good, you turn out to see good (v.12) and to do good (v.14). In short, you become like God. The more we learn as believers to wait on the Lord and to trust Him, the more we actually become like Him. And we start to bless people in a never-ceasing manner, like He does, speaking truth at all times, doing good in all circumstances, and bringing peace to those around us.

 V.                  Never-Ceasing Pursuit of God (vv. 15-19)

So yes, to learn the never-ceasing praise of God, we need to embrace this never-ceasing pursuit. But look at what comes next. Next comes God’s never-ceasing pursuit, which is that of blessing the righteous.

Psa 34:15  The eyes of the LORD are toward the righteous and his ears toward their cry. [16]  The face of the LORD is against those who do evil, to cut off the memory of them from the earth. [17]  When the righteous cry for help, the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles. [18]  The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

Here we see God’s intense commitment to the righteous. His eyes are towards them, his ears are towards them, and his face…well it is against those who do evil because it is facing the other way towards the righteous!

God delights so much in those who fear Him, that the world will be given to them. The other ones who delight in sin and selfishness and indulge in the passions of the world will be forgotten. Their memory will be cut off from the earth. But it is not so for the righteous. When they cry for help, God is quick and ready to help and to deliver from all the troubles they find themselves into.

Why does God bless people so much? He blesses them so that He can bless them even more. The more you receive God’s blessings, the more you can understand, enjoy, and receive even more blessings!

But again, God doesn’t deliver people just because He is bored and has nothing to do. He does so because He wants to bless people by making Himself known to them, Him, the perfectly good and awesome God! The reason why God gives so much of Himself is because He knows that to know Him is to know the best thing in the universe!

And this is why God delights in delivering especially those who have their eyes open to see Him, those who humbly wait for Him, and who quickly go to Him in times of need, knowing that He desires to show up in glory!

  Psa 34:18  The LORD is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.

 He is near because He knows that He will have an opportunity to bless, and He is near because He knows that His deliverance will be received in faith.

 Here we see the desperate situation of those in need: the brokenhearted. Those whose hearts have been scattered to pieces. They have been hurt to the depth of their core. The crushed in Spirit. Those whose spirit has been reduced to ashes. The word for “crush” here is the same one that gave the word “dust” in Hebrew. Those that have seemingly lost everything. Those that are desperate.

 Well, God saves them. It doesn’t matter how hurt people can be. He is the Savior.

 So why not come to Him more for deliverance? Why don’t we simply trust Him with our troubles? Bring your problems, your sins, your pain and your past to God, and see if He cannot deliver! It’s His specialty!

VI.                Never-Ceasing Promise (vv.19-22)

Finally, we see God’s never-ceasing blessings in God’s never-ceasing promises.

Psa 34:19  Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all [20]  He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. [21]  Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned. [22]  The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

And here we end our Psalm with 4 promises:

 Psa 34:19  Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the LORD delivers him out of them all

That’s what He does. He is the cause of the deliverance. There is no salvation outside of Him. Sometimes when times are tight and rough we turn to different things to find comfort. We turn to self-indulgence, self-gratification, self-absorbance, selfish pleasures…but none of those things can deliver. Only God can. The LORD is the one who delivers from our real problems.  

Psa 34:20  He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken.

The second promise is God’s commitment not to let His loved ones endure sufferings that are beyond what they can bear. David here speaks in amazement on his own experience. He had been at war dozens of times. It was a real miracle that his bones were intact.

Now the Bible doesn’t say that we do not have trouble. Tests and trials will exist until the end comes. But the LORD will never let us endure something that is beyond our capacity. His goal is not to torture our confuse us, but to refine us.

But this promise goes beyond that. It refers to Christ’s crucifixion (John 19:36). Just as the one-year old lambs needed to be offered whole without any broken bone, so was Christ offered for our sakes. Now again, we see the grace of God. Although Christ suffered tremendously, God protected Him from many unnecessary excesses. He suffered just enough to accomplish God’s purposes. And then rose victorious.

Psa 34:21  Affliction will slay the wicked, and those who hate the righteous will be condemned.

 The third promise is this: those who do not have the LORD will suffer affliction without having a deliverer.

 This is a humbling and sobering truth, but the fact is that those who do not have the LORD simply do not have a deliverer. When the weight of this sinful world falls on them, they have no protection. In a world as corrupted as ours, this is a tragedy.

 My grand-parents in France have had a maid for decades, a super nice lady, although no a believer. Her daughter got married to someone who a few years ago killed her and then committed suicide. Of course something like this is devastating. But without the comfort and the hope of the LORD, how do you move on from something like that?

 True deliverance and comfort is only found in the LORD.

 Psa 34:22  The LORD redeems the life of his servants; none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.

 The final promise is my favorite. The righteous will never be condemned.

 And the reason why this is so is that the righteous belongs to God. They are redeemed. He paid the price to have them saved from this world and to be His own. This passing world and its sinful condition have no say on our lives. The destiny of this present world is not ours. This world will eventually be destroyed and reduced to ashes. But we belong to God. Because of this, His goodness is fully ours. His heaven will one day be fully ours. His love and His peace are fully ours.

 And again, we see one more time the call to the lowly. Who is it that God redeems? His servants. Those who live, not as if they were the center of their own plot, but those who humbly agree to make God their hero, their Savior, and their King.

 CONCLUSION

 We have covered much in this Psalm, and there is still a lot more we could have looked into.

 When I think of God’s goodness, I sometimes think of the widow that the prophet Elisha went to minister to. All he asked her to do was to take empty jars and fill them with that one jar of oil that God had blessed. And we know the story. As she poured out the oil, every single empty jar was filled. None were half-filled. None were filled with corrupted oil. They were all perfectly filled. Because that’s how God blesses. The only think that limited her from tasting more of God’s blessing was her faith. All she had needed to do was to get more jars. God still would have filled them all.

 And our life will continue to be filled as long as we put empty jars for God to fill. This requires faith, and humility, but the result is without fail: we will like David know never-ceasing praise, as we taste of God’s never-ceasing blessings.

 

A time to be humble – Ecclesiastes 3:16-22

As we have seen so far, the book of Ecclesiastes is a book of questions. Solomon’s goal in writing Ecclesiastes was to make people think, and that’s why we see over 30 questions in his book. And believe me, by the time you think through all of these questions, if you take them seriously, it won’t leave you hanging, but will foster in you convictions on how to live and how to think.

The way we answer his first question, “is there gain in earthly labor?” defines much of how we live. By having a right perspective on work, we understand better our place on earth before God. By seeing how short-lived the results of our labor are, we have but one application: to depend on God through faith.

The way we answer his second question, “is there gain in human wisdom?” defines much of our thinking. By understanding how limited human wisdom is, we are drawn to the same application: to depend even more on God and on His revelation.

The way we answer his third question, “is there gain in pleasure?” defines much of our attitude and priorities. As we understand how many diverse pleasures God has given for man to enjoy righteously, we are reminded that our God is good even in the simple things of life, and that excesses are not necessary to find happiness. And so we are lead to the same application again: to be dependent on God and His Word to know what pleasures should rightly be enjoyed and in what measure, keeping in mind what is the most important.

Finally, the way we answer Solomon’s fourth question, defines if we understand the first part of the book or not. This fourth main question, “is there gain in independence?” defines the level of submission and dependence that we will be willing to give. See, Solomon was a king. He thought he could do whatever he pleased, whatever his heart desired. And he did so, only to realize after the fact that all his excesses, all his pursuits, and his mad schemes, were only what were expected from kings. To accumulate riches, to have many wives, to build nice buildings and gardens and to enjoy nice food…that’s what kings do. And he thought he had grasped some kind of freedom only to look back and see that he was caught in a system that was much bigger than him. There was nothing new that he could do. He only had the freedom to do what the system let him do.

You know, gangsters might think there are free in their rebellions. But believe me, when you are a gangster, you do what gangsters are supposed and expected to do. Your rebellion to one system only makes you the slave of another system. Gangsters walk like gangsters, talk like gangsters, and act badly like gangsters. There is no such thing as a freedom of independence. We are all trapped into a system in which we have absolutely no control.

And so the application becomes once again the same: because we are powerless to create our own freedom, we must submit to God to enjoy the real freedom that He has given us.

And this pattern continues through the whole book, and we know there is a common thread because there is a conclusion that ties everything together: to fear God, living by faith and dependence, and to obey His commandments.

So first Solomon starts provoking us with those questions, but then he slaps us with a question even more difficult to answer: if we are not in control and God is in control, then why the world is messed up like it is? That’s a fair question to ask, isn’t?

And so he begins to answer this question in chapter 3. There is a time for everything, he says. God has a plan that is beyond our understanding and that will work for good. And this plan encloses everything, from the best to the worst.

Well, this might sound good, but when you are caught in the middle, what lesson is there to learn? I mean, who cares if a movie has a happy ending if we don’t get what’s happening from the beginning to the end, or if we can’t relate to any of the characters?

And so Solomon pushes the issue. How should we live, knowing that God is in control?    

And Solomon answers: Live with humility. Live with humility because God is bigger than anything you could ever imagine, contain or measure; and live with humility because by yourself, without God, you are more insignificant than anything you can imagine, contain or measure.”

Ecc 3:16  Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. [17]  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. [18]  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts. [19]  For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. [20]  All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. [21]  Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth? [22]  So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

And as we look at this passage today, we will investigate 3 realities that should lead us to a humble attitude.

I.                    The Reality of God’s Retribution

The first reality is that of God’s retribution. Solomon writes:

Ecc 3:16  Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness. [17]  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. [18]  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.

The reality of our world is that often, evil comes from a place that is expected to uphold what is good. Very often wickedness comes from the place where we should expect righteousness. We live in a world filled with injustice.

There are things that are happening now and that happened in history that are unjust and evil.

God has given me a big heart for the country of France, and often when I think about the country, I wonder why God let the evils that happened there take place. 400 years ago there were more believers in France than there are now, even though the population might have been 3 times smaller!

And if you know anything about the history of the Huguenots, it is sobering. When you take into account the massacre of St Bartholomew when the houses of believers where assigned to mobs who killed entire families, thousands of people, in just a few days for political reasons. And the great exodus of the Huguenots happening in France 2 centuries later because of Louis the XIV. Some speculate that the king decided to overthrow the Huguenots after a civil war broke out. A seditious group rose against the king, and the Huguenots sided with the king to protect him. Seeing how strong and powerful they were, after he used their help he saw them as a threat and in one generation the number of believers in France fell from half a million or a one million to one thousand only, according to the king himself.

And France never recovered from this blow.

Injustice is what defines our history. We look at the last centuries and the world wars, and the millions of killings based on unjust philosophies and ideologies.

Not only history shows us how much injustice takes place, but the reality of our own government.

How can we justify 55 million babies aborted in the US? While justice should rest in the arms of the government, it is often the opposite.

I have a friend who is a cook in the area. He has worked in all sorts of context and has done quite a bit of catering. Once we were working on preparing a meal together for a church event, and I asked him what had been the worst place he ever had to go serve. He told me that the scariest events he ever catered for were for the police, because of the amount of drugs that was consumed and the fact that many used their guns to randomly shoot in the sky. I mean, who breaks the traffic law more than anyone else? The police does it all the time.

Not only that, but the way the government spends money is often an insult to those who pay their taxes.

And it’s the same all around the world. I had a friend in who was working for the government in France. He told me that it would only take him 1-2 hour a day to complete his task. He spent the other 6-7 hours of his time studying the Bible or surfing on the web.

Once I saw him at church and he looked really tired. And so I asked him, “what happened?” He answered, “I got a new boss!” “Does he make you work?” I replied. “No, he snores.” That’s just a joke of course, but too often true of those working for the government.

And not only in the government, but even in the church and within Christian families. So many fathers and elders abuse their authority and give to people injustice instead of righteousness.

And we could keep going, of course. But that’s not too helpful. And we know these things are happening, and as Solomon said, God will judge everyone for these things.

But why does he let these things happen?

Ecc 3:17  I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for there is a time for every matter and for every work. [18]  I said in my heart with regard to the children of man that God is testing them that they may see that they themselves are but beasts.

God allows these things to happen to keep us humble. To keep us at the right place. At a place of dependence, and of humility. So that we can see with our own eyes that we are but beasts.

Not this is an interesting statement for Solomon to write.

In the book of Ecclesiastes, again and again, Solomon speaks of searching to see what is going on in the world.

Ecc 1:12  I the Preacher have been king over Israel in Jerusalem. [13]  And I applied my heart to seek and to search out by wisdom all that is done under heaven. It is an unhappy business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with. [14]  I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a striving after wind.

 Solomon searched to see anything that he could find with his human senses to make sense of this world. You can trace the verbs such as “searching” “seeing” “perceiving” “considering” “seeking”…it’s all over the book. Solomon was on a quest to find out the depth of life. And this is what he finds out:

God has already made plain for us what he wants us to see. Namely that God is testing the children of man that they may see that they are but beasts.

Compared to God, we are but beasts. Compared to His greatness and His glory, we are nothing but insignificant mosquitos, dirty worms, brainless birds and foolish fishes.

Answering the question of evil is not an easy one. But one thing is certain. When we go through suffering, injustice, or oppression, there is one good thing that can always be produced from these circumstances, and it is humility.

This is why the Psalmist wrote in Psalm 119:71 “It is good for me that I was afflicted, that I might learn your statutes.

But here is the truth: the reason why suffering still exists in our world is because for God, this temporary suffering creates humility. And the height of blessing that comes from this humility is worth it, becomes in light of eternity it makes any well of suffering look like a kiddy pool.

And in the context of Ecclesiastes, the humble person is the one understood as the one who accepts God’s sovereignty and control in obedience, joy and faith.

To be humble is not to be weak and lazy and without conviction like the world often portrays it. To be humble is to live a life fueled and energized by a dependence on God in faith that is not satisfied until God shows up in all His glory. Because when we understand how weak we are and how strong He is, then of course we want to see more of Him and less of us. And that’s what humility does.

II.                  The Reality of our Feebleness

God has planned for man to go through these seasons of life, that there would be a time for everything, because God wanted man to see how little control he had and that humility was the correct path. The reality of God’s retribution points to that, and secondly, the reality of our feebleness points to this.

Ecc 3:19  For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. [20]  All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return. [21]  Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?

Solomon reminds us in this passage of the reality of our feebleness. We are made of the same dust that the animals are made of, and the dust that constitutes our frames will all end up in the same place. We are made from dust and we will all return to dust.

Now this is where Solomon as a scientist helps us a little bit. When God created Adam and Eve, He created them out of dust says the Word. But never before was it written that animals were created from the dust. But Solomon has seen enough animals and eaten enough of them to know that they were made of the same stuff that constitutes our beings. Like us most of them have some sort of skin, and blood vessels, and organs, and now with modern science we can even know that the DNA information that shapes our beings is made of the same kind of code.

At the end of the day we are made of the same molecules and the same dust as the animals are.

By constitution we are not that different. And not only that, but our end is also the same. We die just like they die, we breathe just like they breathe, and Solomon eve writes, “man has no advantage over the beasts.”

I mean, think about it. Who works harder, the men and women of this world, or the cats and dogs? Who do you thing has it easy? I can guarantee you there are plenty of dogs in this world that are much happier than you are.

But not only that, Solomon even adds: Who knows whether the spirit of man goes upward and the spirit of the beast goes down into the earth?

So yes, on one side some animals live well and peacefully on earth, but then, do you even know what happens after death? Do you know if the souls of animals go to hell or to heaven or stop to exist? You don’t even know that. But if God welcomes the souls of dead animals, and then on the other side some other humans go to hell, then I can guarantee you that some animals will for eternity be much happier than humans.

And yet we boast! And we are prideful! And we think so highly of ourselves, so much that we often think that our ways are even better than God’s ways! And we can be so prone to look down on others, and to exaggerate our abilities and convince our own minds that we are worth more than what people are ready to pay for.

Do you know how to get rich quickly? You buy a human at his true value and you sell him at the value he estimates himself.

Our frame is so feeble, it’s not even funny. Do you know that the human body starts dying around 18 years of age? It spends less than 2 decades growing, and the rest of the time it is dying and there is no turning back. I mean what a sobering truth. We spend more time dying than growing.

And guess what. God has willed it that way. Because in this fallen world, if we can’t understand what dying is, we will never understand what it means to die to self. Without the reality of that barrier of death, how could we ever understand the immeasurable breach created by sin and the need to get rid of it?

That’s why Solomon says that it is better to go to a house of mourning than to a feast. Because death is one of the best teachers that we have on earth. It is direct, solemn, unequivocal, and universal.

And it teaches this: that we need to be humble. We need to find our place on earth, which is one of submission and dependence towards God, and elevate God with as much energy as possible to give Him the glory due to His name.

Because one thing is certain: if there are many points of convergence between us and animals, there are none between them and God. While our resemblance with animals may suggest that we are feeble, it should also remind us that God is completely different. He is spirit, immortal, invincible, without weakness, in perfect control, and He will reign forever!

III.                The Reality of our Lot

So first: we must learn humility from the reality of God’s retribution, secondly from the reality of our feebleness, and thirdly from the reality of our lot.

Ecc 3:22  So I saw that there is nothing better than that a man should rejoice in his work, for that is his lot. Who can bring him to see what will be after him?

Listen. There are things on earth that you can do and others that you can’t. Some of my friends can play music well enough to make a living off of it. Some others, no matter how much they’ll try, will only make money with music if they start singing when people pay them to stop. God has given to each one unique and diverse abilities, and there are things that we can do and be good at it, and others things we will never be able to do. For me, I know I would never be able to be a good business man. I am horrible at making money, it’s just not my gift.

But God has given to each one to work according to the abilities He has given, and that is our lot. We can accept this lot with resentment, when we are prideful and believe we deserve better, or else we can embrace humility and accept our lot with joy.

Do you know what the hallmark of a humble person is? Solomon tells us here: it is a thankful heart and a joyful spirit.

Being humble and dependent to God does not necessarily make life easier or simpler. But it creates within people a spirit of contentment and joy that this world is incapable of imitating.

And I have already shared this with you, but it is one of the reasons why I respect and admire my wife so much. When I met her she was on a wheel chair and she didn’t know if she could ever walk normally again because of her joint problems. But yet I would see her at church in her wheelchair encouraging people, worshipping with all of her heart, and challenging the younger generation with love and perseverance. And I am telling you, we’ve been married over two years by now and never had a single fight, even when physically things are not easy, because she has learned to accept her lot with joy, even being married to a crazy Frenchman.

But the truth is that we are not really in control of our lot. Who knows whether poverty or wealth will strike? Who knows whether there will be health or illness? Who knows whether there will be fruit or division in relationships? We are not in control of these things. All we can know that there is a season for everything. And if we can accept this with humility, it will create joy.

As a well-known pastor often says, the cheapest package you could ever find is a man all wrapped up in himself.

I mean on a scale of 7 billion men and women walking on earth, where do you think you fall? Even if you were a little above average in terms of intelligence, there could still be another 2 billion people smarter than you in any given area. And as a friend of mine often says, for every gift or ability that you may have, there is a 10-year-old Asian kid somewhere that is 10 times better than you at it.

Conclusion

So yes, because of the reality of God’s retribution, of our feebleness and of our lot, all things outside of our control, we must be humble.

And why does God do that? Why did he make us so close to beasts that we should be so insignificant without Him? Simply so that we would find our significance in Him. And as we depend on Him, once more, we become bearers of His greatness.

Listen. There is no competition between our greatness and God’s greatness. It would be like trying to have a death match between an angry elephant and a sardine out of water. You can fight that battle if you want, trying to be in control of your own life, or otherwise humbly accepting God’s lot for you with joy.

And yes, hard times will come, I am sure for many of you hard times are already here, but truth is that you don’t have to be alone. And if you learn to trust the God who is in control, you will find joy, no matter what your lot is.

Is there gain in our labor? – Ecclesiastes 1:1-11

Sigmund Freud, the “father” of modern psychology, once wrote concerning the meaning of life: “When we begin to ask questions on the meaning of life and on death, we become sick, for none of this exists in an objective way.”

To his credit, Freud was very true to his worldview. If you believe in evolution and humans being the random result of natural causes, you shouldn’t ask yourself if life has a meaning, because there wouldn’t be such a thing as a meaning for life. In fact, the reality that you would even consider asking yourself the question would just be the evidence that you are mentally sick, unbalanced and in internal conflict.

Because without God, a meaning for the life is just an absurd thought.

Can there be any meaning in this life apart from God?

No, there cannot be.

But then, it make us wonder…if there is no meaning in life without God, how can my life looks so much the same as my neighbor who doesn’t believe in God? Both of us were born in this world the same way, both of us look the same, and both of us spend most of our days doing the same thing, namely to earn our bread, eat it, and rest a little before starting the process again, until both of us die. Of course I go to church and I pray and read the Bible, but still 90-95% of life is still the same as unbelievers.

Is there anything to gain from our toil under the sun? Think about it a second…ask yourself…is there anything lasting and meaningful to gain from all your daily toil under the sun? For working a job? For studying in school? For keeping a house together? For changing diapers?

Well, I’m glad you asked, because I just happen to have come across a book written by the the wisest man who ever lived on earth and who and saturated his mind with a quest to understand this question.

This question, Solomon would ask it six times, once in every first six chapters of the book of Ecclesiastes, where I invite you to turn in your Bibles. And we will look at the first chapter, from verses 1-11.

The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem.”

Before we even get into the text, this needs a little explanation. Here we have the words of Solomon, son of the most popular king that Israel ever had, was himself king of Jerusalem during its most prominent days, and was known as the Preacher. As the wisest of all men, no doubt Solomon’s “sermons” must have been the best ones you could ever imagine.

Now no doubt Solomon’s personality is confusing. On one side he appears like a megalomaniac lover of money and women and pleasure, on the other side as the most profound thinker and theologian of the old covenant.

How can this be? There is only one thing that can explain this reality. God’s grace.

2Sa 7:12  When your days are fulfilled and you lie down with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring after you, who shall come from your body, and I will establish his kingdom. [13] He shall build a house for my name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. [14]  I will be to him a father, and he shall be to me a son. When he commits iniquity, I will discipline him with the rod of men, with the stripes of the sons of men, [15]  but my steadfast love will not depart from him, as I took it from Saul, whom I put away from before you.

God had promised David that his steadfast love would never depart from Solomon. And even when Solomon gave himself to folly, he writes that even then his wisdom did not depart from him.

In all of Scripture, this is probably one of the most striking pictures of God’s grace. That God would commit to bless so much someone who would sin so much. He was capable of the best and of the worse, but for the worse he was the best. And although it might be easy for us to judge him and point all his sins and excesses and mistakes, there is a truth that we cannot escape: this book was written by a sinner who had been overwhelmingly covered by God’s grace. Even to the point that after his wanderings into folly he could come back and write some of the most profound truths you will ever read.  

You might wonder why he would not mention his name here but only introduces himself as the preacher. His name, “Solomon” means peace. He failed to do it justice. Instead of peace, his life had been full of toil, most of it being meaningless. And so we read:

Ecc 1:1  The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. [2]  Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. [3]  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun? [4]  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. [5]  The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. [6]  The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. [7]  All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again. [8]  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. [9]  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. [10]  Is there a thing of which it is said, « See, this is new »? It has been already in the ages before us. [11]  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

 “Vanity of vanities” said the preacher…we’ve heard this phrase many times. But why do you think Solomon said it…to make you feel bad about your day? To help you better understand despair? To make you spend money on a psychologist? To make you empathize with him because he was a loser?

We’re talking about the wisest man who ever lived here…

No, the reason why he states this so bluntly is to provoke you to think about the matter. Because the only way you will ever do anything with his message is if it creates convictions in your heart about what you really believe. Because everyone needs to know what they live for, and how this should flesh out on a daily basis. When I first began to study the book of Ecclesiastes as a teenager, it changed my life. And even to this day, I can say without a doubt that the book of Ecclesiastes has been the book giving me the most hope concerning the meaning of my life on earth.  

The book of Ecclesiastes is a book of answers, just as it is a book of questions. Now, not all the questions in the book have answers. Some of them he throws at us just to provoke us. I mean, the book has over 30 questions that he asks us, such as:

–           Is there such a thing as something new?

–          What is true wisdom?

–          Do animals go to heaven?

–          If you could live 2000 years, would that really make you happier?

–          Is there a benefit of being wise if no one listens to you?

–          What is next?

–          Will you always find someone to answer questions of things that are beyond your understanding?

–          Can you improve or correct God’s creation?

–          Do you know if anyone has the authority to have the final say in an interpretation?

But the main question remains: Is there any gain in our toil? And the answer is: yes, there is gain, there is infinite gain. And today we are going to look at 4 realities concerning our toil that should make us toil even harder. 4 realities concerning our toil that should make us toil even harder.

[Now bear with me. Solomon uses the power of opposites and of contrasts. So don’t get depressed in the beginning. The good stuff will come at the end when we wrap it all up.]

I.                    Earthly Toil Defines our Lives (vv.1-3)

The first aspect of our toil that we see here is that earthly toil defines our lives.

Ecc 1:1  The words of the Preacher, the son of David, king in Jerusalem. [2]  Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. [3]  What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?

The reason why Solomon asks this question about the meaning of our toil is because it is the reality of our lives. All that we do is toil. There is nothing on earth that is done that doesn’t require effort. As a result, the sum of our lives is really the sum of our efforts.

And without God it is all vanity.

The term “vanity” is actually a pretty good term to define our lives. It comes from a Hebrew term that comes from a root meaning “vapor” or “breath.” And just like breath, most of what you do will pass without being seen. Like a breath, your life will pass without leaving anything of itself behind. It will pass and be gone forever from under the sun. Like a breath, your life is one among billions and is insignificant in comparison to the scope of this world. A breath is meaningless. It cannot be grasped, cannot be seen, cannot be measured, it doesn’t last, it comes from nowhere and goes nowhere, and it is not worthy to be remembered. And yet, that’s all that we got.

“Vanity of vanities, says the Preacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity.” 

Without God, there is absolutely nothing that we can contribute to this world. In and of ourselves, we are absolute nothingness. That is our identity, and the reality of everything that we do. We are but empty vessels.

And so Solomon asks, rhetorically,

“What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?”

I mean, doesn’t just asking the question make you tired? “What does man gain by all the toil at which he toils under the sun?” Doesn’t that just want to make you exhale “pfffiu!” Isn’t it tiring just to think about all the things that you need to get done? 

But Solomon gets the guts to ask: If we are nothing, and everything that is done is nothing, then why do we keep on doing it?

His answer throughout the book seems even more fatalistic: we do it because God made us to toil, and there is nothing we can do about it. This is the lot given to men. Adam was given work in the Garden, it became harder after the Fall, but that’s basically our story. We were created to work and since the first day of creation we’ve been busy working. That’s pretty much the unifying factor of all of humanity. Hard-working people have worked hard, and lazy people have worked the system so that they could be lazy, but even that is work. There is no such a thing as a break. There is no such a thing as a vacation, we all know those require even more work and rarely do they make us actually rested.

We work because we’re humans and that’s what humans do.

II.                  Earthly Toil is Powerless (vv.4-7)

So first earthly toil is what defines us, secondly, earthly toil is powerless.

Ecc 1:4  A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever. [5]  The sun rises, and the sun goes down, and hastens to the place where it rises. [6]  The wind blows to the south and goes around to the north; around and around goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. [7]  All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they flow again.

Here we see four different images from nature that show to us how powerless we are as humans to change anything in the world in which we live.

There is the earth that remains forever, there is the sun that remains forever, there is the wind that reminds forever and there are is the sea that reminds forever.

Simply put, we live in a world in which we cannot change the rules of the game. We are creatures of limited power in a world of excessive power. And even though we crave for power, no matter how much little power we can attain in our limited state, we will never be able to change anything with the forces that set this world in motion. The laws of nature cannot be altered, slowed down, broken or changed. And if our existence was to find meaning in us making a difference in this world, we would be doomed to total despair.

The earth, the sun, the wind, the sea…all trump us.

As Newton would say, “Gravity of gravities, all is gravity.”

And it doesn’t matter that we understand some of those laws of nature more than our predecessors. There is still that pull that is stronger than us which will always get the best of us, and there is nothing we can do about it.

And the truth is that all of the efforts of humanity will never change how this world is ran. You can combine all the generations that ever lived and all the toil ever sweated on the face of the earth…there is nothing that we can do that can actually truly change what humanity looks like, needs and depends on. We’re always going to need to breathe, to sleep, to eat, and to wish for good weather.

And what is humbling about all of this is that entities of nature that are much bigger, much older and much stronger know no change. So if those great things don’t have the ability to alter their course, who are we to think that we can?

We simply can’t. We will never be able to improve humanity with our cunning, resources, and toil. We are powerless to make this world a better world. At the end of the day, mankind we still remain as depraved, as needy, as wicked, as weak, as limited and as powerless as it has been since the Fall.

III.                Earthly Toil is Wearisome (v.8)

So first, we saw that earthly toil is what defines us. Secondly, that earthly toil is powerless. Thirdly, we see that earthly toil is wearisome.

Ecc 1:8  All things are full of weariness; a man cannot utter it; the eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing.

Earthly toil is wearisome. It is tiresome. It makes you sweat, it makes you hungry, and it empties you of your strength.

Life is a constant investment of self. There is nothing that you do that does not require a part of you: whether it is your time, your energy, or your resources. Man is constantly losing his most precious possession which he calls life, to never get any of it back.

All things are full of weariness, so much that we cannot describe it. Because everything requires effort, to describe effort makes effort, and so the weariness will always outbalance its explanation. Labor is a competitor that can never be out-bided. It will always trump you in everything you do. No human being able to talk will ever be able to describe all the efforts that they had to do to live on earth.

But is even more deplorable about this is that even though everything takes effort, there is no reward for it. The eye is not satisfied with seeing, nor the ear filled with hearing. It is as if the human’s soul is bound to a formula in which all satisfaction is measured by the amount of toil multiplied by zero. How can you win when you multiply by zero? You can only lose.

Can wealth bring happiness?

Do you guys realize how wealthy Solomon was?

The weight of gold that he made every year just from the profit in Israel was 666 talents of gold (1 Kings 10:14), which is the equivalent of 25 tons of gold every year. You are talking about a massive cube of over 6 feet on each side, which in our day, since one ounce of gold is worth between $1700-1800 and there are over 35,000 ounces in a ton, would be about $1.5 billion. $1.5 billion every year…and he was king for 40 years. That’s 60 billion dollars too spend.

But he writes concerning money:

Ecc 5:10  He who loves money will not be satisfied with money, nor he who loves wealth with his income; this also is vanity.

Can pleasure bring happiness?

Ecc 2:10  And whatever my eyes desired I did not keep from them. I kept my heart from no pleasure, for my heart found pleasure in all my toil, and this was my reward for all my toil. [11]  Then I considered all that my hands had done and the toil I had expended in doing it, and behold, all was vanity and a striving after wind, and there was nothing to be gained under the sun.

 Ecc 6:7  All the toil of man is for his mouth, yet his appetite is not satisfied.

You can desire pleasure, you will never get enough…

And it is sad, but a lot of people start life thinking that they are the new Christopher Columbus on board of his brand new vessel, ready to explore seas of pleasure, only to eventually become stranded with no land in the horizon, no direction, and no hope.

And the list continues…Solomon tried to find satisfaction through human wisdom, through human success, through romance, through power, through fame, through the search of human perfection…all failed. And it didn’t matter how many excesses he had…it was always multipled by zero.

I mean we know it…one episode does not satisfy. That’s why we watch the next one, and the next one, only to finish a series and to start another, always on our hunger. Same with video games. One level is passed, then the next, then the next one, then what? The eyes are never satisfied. All that the world gives us is salt water. It is made of the same stuff that satisfy, but it just never gets there. It only makes it worse.

But again, that’s just how man is made. We are made to toil, we are made to be limited in power, and we are also made to have holes in our heart that longs for something bigger than ourselves, for something infinite and eternal.

IV.                Earthly toil is Meaningless (vv.9-11)

First earthly toil is what defines us, secondly it is powerless, thirdly wearisome, and fourthly it is meaningless. Earthly toil is meaningless.

Ecc 1:9  What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun. [10]  Is there a thing of which it is said, « See, this is new »? It has been already in the ages before us. [11]  There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be among those who come after.

Listen to this story: Workmen in Rome, digging gravel for ballast, were instructed to dig from one central pit so as not to spoil the site with too many holes. They unearthed an ancient plaque inscribed in Latin, which turned out to be a sign intended for workman digging ballast for Roman ships. It instructed them to dig from a central pit so as not to spoil the site with too many holes.

Do things really change? There is nothing new under the sun. Mankind is and will always be made of the same mold. And we might like our Steve Jobs and our Einsteins and our pop stars, but eventually it all passes like a breath, and all is forgotten.

Now, when Solomon says there is nothing new, we must understand the context. It’s not that man cannot makes inventions, but about the incapacity to change who we are and what makes us happy. The 20th century is a great testimony of that, as it showed that technology does not improve man’s morals or well-being…while some might have enjoyed lives a little more comfortable, tens of millions have perished in world wars and weapons created by our “new” technologies for mass destruction.

There is no such a thing as a new source of pleasure, there is no such a thing as a new message of wisdom, there is no such a thing as a deeper and better definition for the meaning of life.

Think about the life of Solomon.

In Ecclesiastes 7:15 he writes, “In my vain life I have seen everything.” Now don’t you think that someone who has seen everything could give you a deeper sense of what this world is all about?

Well, listen to his last words…

Ecc 12:13  The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. [14]  For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.

Now listens to the last words of his father, king David,

1Ki 2:2  « I am about to go the way of all the earth. Be strong, and show yourself a man, [3]  and keep the charge of the LORD your God, walking in his ways and keeping his statutes, his commandments, his rules, and his testimonies, as it is written in the Law of Moses, that you may prosper in all that you do and wherever you turn,

Is it really different? Here they are with the same message: if you want to be a man, fear God and obey Him, because He is the only who can truly bless you.

Now, don’t you think it would be humbling for Solomon to write this as his conclusion? The man was the wisest man who ever lived before Christ. Not only that, but he experienced all the excesses and the depths and heights of human life…and yet he couldn’t even improve or add anything to what had been passed down to him.

So here we are in our quest of defining the meaning of life: man is a creature that is made to toil, that is incapable of changing his nature, that is condemned to suffer weariness and pain, and who longs for something bigger than himself of which he will taste out of his own toil.

Conclusion

So, well…thank you for listening, now you can go home and cry, lament, quit your job, and curse the day of your birth

Well, God would not have placed the book of Ecclesiastes in the Bible if that’s all it did.

But before we get to the “good” stuff, don’t move away mentally from the feelings that this provoke in you. I mean, when we read and study this stuff, it should create unrest in our souls, because we all know that this world must be full of meaning, that there must be a sense for all of our toil.

While Solomon asks 6 times, “why do we toil?” Seven times he answers, like in Ecclesiastes 2:24:

Ecc_2:24  There is nothing better for a person than that he should eat and drink and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God, [12]  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; [13]  also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

Solomon’s answer to our question is simple: mankind is the way it is because God has willed it this way, and it is a blessing; not because mankind is glorious, but because God is with mankind. His hand is directly involved.  He is there with us, even in the mundane. He alone brings meaning, because when we live by faith, He works through us, anywhere, anytime, in whatever situation.

And here it becomes super awesome. Without God, all we can do with our toil is take the pleasure that is given to us and multiply by zero. But when God is on our side, He takes these things ad multiply them by infinity.

Ecc 3:14  I perceived that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it. God has done it, so that people fear before him.

 The works of man don’t last. But whatever God does endures forever. And God has made man to be a vessel of His very glory and of His very works. And he makes everything beautiful in His time (Ecc 3:11).

I mean…can you imagine multiplying your bank account by infinity? Wouldn’t that rock your world? Well, that’s what happens in heaven with our reward, every single time we depend on God. 

And what becomes so meaningful is that anytime we depend on God, we wait on Him, we obey His commandments, we live with the fear of His presence, He transforms those opportunities into works that are eternal and of eternal rewards.

When you go to work with God in your mind, you don’t go to work like unbelievers do. You go to work bringing God’s peace, God’s joy, God’s blessings and God’s love with you. And you know that when you live humbly and by faith, you will get a reward that is beyond your understanding. When you go to school with the fear of God, you go to school with hope, with purpose, because you know that God is watching you and is there to help you at any time. And when you do those math homework with faith, you get an infinite reward in heaven that earthly words cannot even fathom. When you stay at home with God in your soul, doing mundane things or raising kids with a heart of submission to God and of praise, you do for an eternal reward that will never be taken away from you.

So why do we toil? Why do we have to wake up early tomorrow go to work or to school or to take care of a family?

Because God has made us this way. To be so needy, so useless, so insignificant, that we would live with a constant understanding of our need for Him, and as we do so, to give Him the opportunity to work through us.

And so, what do you think, how much should we work? How much should we toil?

Ecc 11:1  Cast your bread upon the waters, for you will find it after many days. [2]  Give a portion to seven, or even to eight, for you know not what disaster may happen on earth.

 Solomon’s conclusion is clear: work your tail off. Give yourself to others. Sweat like God cursed you to do. Work hard with your family. Work hard at your job. Work hard at church. Be human as humans should be, tired, weak, needy, but always filled with joy because when you have faith God is with you everywhere you go, to bring eternity in action through the mundane of life.

Without God, all the pleasures of life are multiplied by zero. With Him, they are multiplied by infinity. If this isn’t meaningful, I don’t what is.

 

 

Psalm 131 – Childlike Trust

How many of you have people in your family tree that are just…different?

Recently I got to see one of my uncles. I hadn’t seen him in over 10 years. All I remembered of him as a kid was that he was a very funny man. Well, I was in Maine some time ago and I got to know him a little better. Now, the guy is incredible. He started being interested in earthquakes when he was a student and with the years he developed a way to predict them. He is probably one of the only ones in the world with that knowledge. He used to get phone calls from all around the globe. One time, when my family was still living in Quebec, Canada, he called us and told us we would have an earthquake. Sure enough, the next day it came about. He worked in research most of his life. He has 3 or 4 masters in physics, geology, and all that stuff and also a phd. So the guy is really smart.

But the thing is that he never did much else than just study all his life. And you all know that students are not very rich. In fact, he never really had the money to afford to pay for a home.

Talking to him, I realized that the house he inherited from my grandmother a couple of years ago was the first house he had lived in since he left home for college. He had lived most of his life in a trailer that had been given to him and it had a huge whole in it with no running water or electricity. He used to live in Colorado in the woods and used to hang out with coyotes. They actually became his friends and he would play with them and walk with them. But before that he lived in the building he used to work at. It was very high-security governmental building with very restraint access. He told me, “it was pretty hard to get it, but it was pretty easy to stay.” He found a wall that was kind of empty with a lot of electric wires inside and there was enough room for a mattress in there so he lived there 3 years and no one ever knew. He said all these electric connections would make him feel bizarre at times. Before that he lived in some abandoned tunnels underground. But the last one he told me was the hardest one to believe. He mentioned that while he was in college he found a little cave somewhere outside and lived there for two years.
And I thought about it for a while. How would it be to live in a cave? That would be though, wouldn’t it? No comfort, no security, no warmth of a home. Now, if you truly had to live in a cave, how much would you look forward for each day? But then, what if I had to live in a cave for five years, for ten years? How would you feel? And let’s say that in the same time Bill Gates and Obama got together and decided that they wanted to kill you and were going to combine all of their power to do so? How excited would you be for each day? What would be your first words when you wake up?

Now I’m sure many of you can see where I am going. Let’s turn to Psalm 57: 7-11

When David wrote this, he was living in a cave, fleeing away from Saul, the richest and most powerful man in the country. David spent about 10 years of his life like this. Yet, this is what he writes:

7 My heart is steadfast, O God,
my heart is steadfast;
I will sing and make music.
8 Awake, my soul!
Awake, harp and lyre!
I will awaken the dawn.
9 I will praise you, O Lord, among the nations;
I will sing of you among the peoples.
10 For great is your love, reaching to the heavens;
your faithfulness reaches to the skies.
11 Be exalted, O God, above the heavens;
let your glory be over all the earth.

What a challenge does David offer us. For 10 years he would wake up every morning knowing that the king of the land wanted to kill him and that he would have to live as a fugitive. And yet, here, David awakens the dawn to praise God and meditate on Him. When is the last time you awakened the dawn for no other reasons but to sing to God?
Even in the hardest times, David would wake up early to rejoice in his God. Why? Because he knew his God, and He knew he could trust him. He could rejoice because he had learned to quiet his soul before God. He had learned to humble himself before God, giving up even the thought that he could be in control of anything that would happen during the day. He had learned to wait on God, embracing with thankfulness even the most difficult circumstances. Yes indeed, he had learned to rest in God like a weaned child with its mother.

Today we are going to look at a different psalm of David, Psalm 131. In it we see David, a king, coming to God with a humble heart, putting his trust in God and finding hope in Him. And this is what I hope that we will all remember at the end of the story: a humble heart is expressed by trust and blessed with hope. No matter how hard the days can be, if we have a humble trusting heart, our days will be filled with blessed hope.

Let’s Read Psalm 131

A Song of Ascents. Of David. 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.
But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me.
O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and forevermore.

Background

Back in the days of Moses, God had commanded all the men of Israel to meet together and celebrate three major festivals every year. When David was king, this took place in Jerusalem. People from all around the country would walk miles and miles to gather together and celebrate feasts dedicated to God in remembrance of his faithfulness, past and present. During the journey, people would sing some particular psalms to prepare their heart for the worship of God, the psalms of ascents, that we find in the Bible from Psalm 120-134. It is very likely that these songs would also be sung in order.

This is very important in order to understand the meaning of this psalm. Psalm 131 is very short and very rich, but it is even more significant when we understand it light of psalm 130. In psalm 130, the psalmist cries to God for mercy and for forgiveness of sins and then praises God for the fact that He has the power to forgive sins. He writes (130: 3-4):
“If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, O Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness, that you may be feared.”

At the end of Psalm 130, the reader is left at the altar of God, at the only place in the entire world where forgiveness can be found. And this is why God must be feared: He is the only One who can forgive sins. And so we finish Psalm 130 at the foot of the cross, in the arms of God, the only place for us sinners, to be at peace. s

Now, the compilers were really wise to put those psalms together. Psalm 130 describes the sinner, humbled by the greatness and mercy of God, running in his arms; and Psalm 131 describes how it feels once there, at peace, in the embrace of the loving God.

I. David Rejects Pride

And so we start Psalm 131 and this is what we found in verses 1 and 2: a humble man in a very intimate relationship with God, rejecting pride, and resting peacefully.

David begins his Psalm: LORD!
Now, as most of you know, the English translations have two different ways to spell Lord, one with all the letters capitalized, and one with only the L capitalized. The first one will all letters capitalized refers to Yahweh, which is the name God gave to Moses when he revealed himself in he bush, and the second one is Adonai which means Lord. Even though they both are very similar, the one with all capitalized letters, Yahweh, is a lot more personal. It is a name of God that is only attributed to God.

During his life, David went through many trials. But David had understood something very important. In order not to be consumed will all the problems he was facing, he started his days facing the Lord, not facing his problems. And he knew that if he started his day facing God, he would not remember his problems at the end of it, but would remember what he saw: the living God rich in steadfast love and faithfulness.

And so we see David approaching God, getting close to him, putting his worries aside. He knew that he couldn’t approach the day with his wrists closed saying, “I’m going to do it!” I’ll take all my problems one by one and fix them all.” No, he knew that the only think he could do was to come to God and say, “God, I can’t do it, but I know you can, and I want to stay close to you and be with you.”

And once in the arms of God, David realizes how meaningless pride is. Once he finds comfort in the arms of God, the concept of pride “grows strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace” as the song would say. Once in the arms of God, David understood that he had absolutely no reason to look at himself. All he needed was there, found in God. He could just let go the rest.

And so he says:
“O LORD, my heart is not lifted up; my eyes are not raised high.”

In other words, David states: “God, I need you. I know I need you and I need you desperately. I cannot find in me anything that would grant me happiness or lasting comfort. My peace is in you, not in myself.”

It is the exact opposite of what the fool would say: “The fool says in his heart there is no God” (Psalm 14:1).

Foolishness it to believe that we can live without God. True wisdom is to believe that we cannot live without God. And it beings with humility. No one can last in the presence of God with a heart and eyes that display pride. God told David in Psalm 101:5, “Whoever has a haughty look and an arrogant heart I will not endure.”

God does not care about our achievements. He does not care about all our efforts. And that is why David did not occupy himself with things too great or too marvelous for him; or too difficult for him we could also translate.

Now this is an interesting statement. A little paradoxical I would say. David had a lot of responsibilities. He was the leader of a whole nation. He was their protector, their judge, their spiritual leader. He was doing a lot of “great things.” But what he understood was that God’s calling for his life was limited, and that he did not have to worry about things beyond it. His role was to be faithful where God had put him, not to have everything under control. Now, that’s a difficult one at times. As humans, we love control; and we love it because it allows us to live by sight. But David knew that his role was not to get in every household and make sure they had no idols there; but simply to be faithful and content where God had placed him. What David was burdened to do was not to give himself a great name but simply to be in the will of God, close to God, in his arms at all times.

Even Jesus had a limited calling. Jesus was God. He had the power to get rid of all the sicknesses in the world by just snapping his fingers. He could have stopped all the wars of his time by just speaking a couple of words. But he knew that he didn’t have to worry about these things. He was here for a specific calling and the rest was in God’s hands.

We don’t need to look for things too great or too difficult for us. Maybe God did not call you to become affluent in the workplace. Maybe God did not call you to be popular or recognized in what you do. Maybe God did not call you to be as busy as you are. There is no doubt that we have to give our best, but there will always be a point where we will reach the limit of influence and impact we can have on people, and beyond that point, we have to trust God. If we are truly doing his work, then he’ll send other people to complete our shortcomings. It’s a humbling thing to accept, but that’s where God wants us to be.

II. David Rests Peacefully

In verse 1 we saw that David rejected pride, and now in verse 2 we see how he rests peacefully in the Lord. “But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

This is one of the most vivid pictures of the relationship that we have with God that we can find in the Bible. Think about a weaned child. In Bible times, it would refer to a child of maybe four or five years of age. At that age, the child already has a decent sense of consciousness. Now, how would he feel in the arms of his mother? How attached to you think he would be to his mother who nursed him for so many years, every single day? How much peace would he find in this mother that had provided for his physical needs all his life?

This is the picture that David tries to communicate to us. Every single need that was ever met for him, he attributed it to God. And throughout the years he had learned to develop a very intimate relationship with His God, he had learned to be dependant and God had shown himself so faithful that David had no reasons not to trust him.

Now, I don’t know how you picture David in your mind, but he sure was not a wimp. David was a mighty man. He was a warrior. This man killed a lion with is bare hands. He went on dozens and dozens of battlefields, and he was probably still lifting the sword all the way to his fifties. He certainly had killed a lot of people. And yet, here, he compares himself to a weaned child. Now, have you ever seen a weaned child on a battlefield? That is very strong paradox. But the truth is that David did not put his trust in himself. After he had humbled himself, he was out of the picture. All the room was left to God. Now, there is biblical word for abandoning oneself in the hands of someone else. It’s called trust. And the first sign for trust is quietness.

Do me a favor please. Close your eyes and start thinking about everything you have to do for next week. Think for a minute. All right. Now tell me, when you started thinking about all these things, was there noise in your mind, or was their calm?

When Jesus said “come you who are weak and heavy laden and I will give you rest” he did not say that he was going to give some rest. How much do we actually trust him with our worries and all our busyness? But how wonderful that we can, like David, come to God, and truly find rest.

I don’t think there is any picture as vivid as a weaned child to illustrate David’s point. A weaned child can do nothing on his own. He is entirely dependent. And that’s how we are spiritually. Spiritually speaking, we are all children. We cannot do anything spiritual independently from God. But what kind of children are we? Are we noisy children or have we calmed and quieted our souls? Is our life characterized by complaint, or by praise? How much do we truly trust God?

Now, how many have ever seen a book on the 12 virtues of worrying? Seriously, what are the advantages of worrying? Think about the times you’ve worried in your life. Any good memories? That’s why Jesus asked in the sermon of the mount, “Why do you worry?”

And that’s also why Solomon wrote in Proverbs 17:27, “He who has a cool spirit is a man of understanding.” Actually, we could also translate the word ‘understanding’ for ‘intelligent’. And it’s true, there is nothing smart about worrying. There is no point in it. But the fact is that we cannot get out of it unless we replace our worries by a trust in God. And it’s not always easy because we’d rather be mighty men than weaned children. It’s hard to get out of the picture and to leave the room for God. But what if we could really have the peace of a baby in the arms of his mother?

I remember a couple of years ago going through Exodus and being struck by Exodus 14:14. There you have Israel, trapped between the Red Sea and the army of Pharaoh riding after them. On a human perspective there was absolutely no hope. And this is what God tells to Moses, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent.”
How often do we start the day and ask God to fight for us? It’s not worth worrying, it’s not worth getting tired because we try to do things with our own efforts. It’s not.

During the times of Isaiah Israel was getting crushed by the Assyrians. Yet this is what God tells the people in Isaiah 30:15,
“For thus said the Lord the Holy One of Israel,
‘In returning and rest you shall be saved;
in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.’”

Hard circumstances will always come. Trials, suffering, responsibilities; these things will never cease to come. But there are two ways we can approach them. Like a calm and weaned child in the arms of God, or like a noisy child. Because the truth is that we are like little children anyways. We can’t control our circumstances. But we can either accept them in trust, or reject them with worries.

The thing is that we are not on earth to accomplish our works. We are here so that God can accomplish his work through us. We are his workmanship and he has works that were prepared even before we existed for us to do. All that God demands of us is to rest in his arms and wait in silence. And at the end of the day, if we are faithful, we will have no regrets. Seriously, what would you rather see: God at work, or yourself?

III. David Resides in Hope

In the beginning, David displays humility by rejecting pride and resting peacefully. Secondly he exhorts Israel to hope in the Lord.

“O Israel, hope in the Lord
from this time forth and forevermore.”

After David humbled himself before God, he found rest. Then hope follows. Why? Well, the reason is simple. If you seek God, you find him. And when you are with God, you have everything that you could hope for with you.

Now, what is the object of hope that David encourages his people to follow? Is it a better life? Is it a good looking spouse? More money? More French food? No, of course not; he says, “Hope in the Lord.” Our hope is not a place or a condition. It’s not to be away from sin, it’s not to be done with suffering, it’s not even to be out of hell. Our hope is to be with God, in the presence of God. Is that your hope?

There was a time where hope did not exist. There was a time when hope was not necessary. When Adam was in the garden, he did not need hope, he had everything he needed. And then one day he fell short of the glory of God. I don’t think I’ll ever be able to understand what Adam went through at that time. Imagine being in heaven and all the sudden getting kicked out of there. I don’t know if I could have survived that.

But then as Adam loses all the meaning of his life and of his identity God does something completely amazing. For the first time in the Bible, God makes a promise. For the first time, he gives hope. He says to the snake in Genesis 3:15,

“I will put enmity between you and the woman,
between your offspring and her offspring,
He shall bruise your head and you shall bruise his heel.”

The first promise of the Bible concerned the coming of Christ. Now, what is the last promise of the Bible? In Revelations 22:20 Jesus says, “Surely, I am coming soon.” What was the last promise of Jesus before leaving the earth? “I am with you always.” Now, what happened when Christ was born? Angels came on earth to sing. But what is interesting is that throughout the Bible you never see angels singing on earth. They always sing in the presence of God. Except when Christ came.

Christ is our hope because Christ is the presence of God. Adam had fallen short of the glory of God, but now, “Christ in you, the hope of glory” wrote Paul in Colossian 1:27.

We often say that the greatest gaol of the Christian is to glorify God. But what is interesting is that in Hebrew the root for ‘glory’ comes from the word ‘weight.’ The glory of God is the weight of God, it is the heaviness of his presence. For us to glorify God is to bear the weight of God, the presence of God. It is simply to get out of the picture to let God do his works through us. And that happens when we humble ourselves and rest in Him like a weaned child with its mother.

Now I hope you see the meaning of Colossian 1:27. Christ in you, the hope of glory. If the object of our hope is Jesus Christ and we have his Spirit within us, how much hope should we have? All of it. It does not matter anymore how hard the circumstances of life can be, we have God living in us. What do you expect when the living God is working? When we wake up every morning, we should have hope, because we should expect to see the living God at work. Do we realize what it means that we have a God that is rich in steadfast love and faithfulness? It means that God loves us, and that he does it all the time and with the same intensity. Now we know how deep is the love of God. He manifested it at the cross. And that is the same love with which he loves us every single moment of every day and it is the same love with which he prepares every single circumstance of every day. Every moment of every day, God planned them with the same intensity and passion that he showed at the cross.

That should motivate us to wake up early in the morning, shouldn’t it?

If we truly come to God with a contrite heart, casting on him all our cares and surrendering our lives in his hands with trust, then we are out of the picture. And at this point it is no longer us who live but Christ who live in us with the fullness of his glorious presence. Christ in us, the hope of glory. Steadfast love and faithfulness everyday.

What God requires of us is to walk humbly with him. He wants us to walk with him, to do life with him. To be mindful of him all the day long. Every moment is a gift, and it is also a test, to see if we can truly recognize the source of our hope, as Job wrote in Job 7:17-18,

“What is man, that you make so much of him,
and that you set your heart on him,
Visit him every morning
and test him every moment?”

Our hope is that God is here and that he will always be here. Every morning, he will come again to test us, to see if our trust is truly in him, to see if we are truly resting in him and letting him accomplish his work in us and through us.

Conclusion


Psalm 131 is a very intimate Psalm. David beings by calling the most personal name of the Lord, then he compares his relationship to him as the one of a weaned child with its mother. And at the end, David encourages his people to find hope in the living God that he has learnt to trust.

And that is my call for all of you today as well. Run away from pride, reject it. Find rest in the Lord, and hope in his presence. Our God is a loving God who desires us to rejoice and to be blessed. But in order to be blessed by him, we must learn to quiet our noise so that we can hear his voice. The voice of a nursing mother caring with all her might for a child as if it were one of the most precious things in the world. The voice of a loving shepherd calling his sheep by name, telling them how much he cares for them.

Zephaniah 3:17,
“The Lord God is in your midst,
a mighty one who will save;
he will rejoice over you with gladness;
he will quiet you by his love;
he will exult over you with loud singing.”