Psalm 86 is an appeal to God for help. It begins by listing a number of reasons why God should intervene: because David is poor and needy, because he is godly, because he prays continually, and because God Himself is good and loving. David then shifts to praising the virtues of God: His willingness to answer prayer and His uniqueness among all other gods. He asks God to teach him His way and promises to praise Him for His deliverance. The psalm concludes by contrasting the wickedness of David’s enemies and God’s goodness. God should respond by blessing David and defeating them.
Psalm 87 is about the city of Jerusalem, founded on Mount Zion. God loves her and glorifies her. Indeed, just as it was meaningful to be a citizen of the great cities of the ancient world—Babylon, Tyre, and so on—it’s meaningful to be born in Zion because God remembers her citizens. Zion is so beautiful that she inspires those who praise her.
Psalm 88 is one of the darkest psalms in the psalter. The psalmist cries out to God continually and asks Him to bless him. His life is so bad that he’s practically dead, and he attributes his plight to the wrath of God. God has done this to him. He’s been abandoned by his friends, he’s so desolate that he can’t see, but God won’t help him.
The psalmist rhetorically asks God if He thinks he will praise him if he is dead. Do dead people even care about God anymore? Nonetheless, even though he prays all the time, God continues to hide His face. He’s miserable, he feels attacked by God, and all of his friend have vanished. The end.
Psalm 89 is nearly as gloomy. It begins on an optimistic note. The psalmist expresses his determination to praise God forever because He is faithful. Particularly, He has established a covenant with David. For this, he glorifies God as incomparable. He has defeated His enemies, and He reigns over the heavens and the earth. He is righteous, and His people rejoice in Him.
The psalmist then returns to the subject of David. God anointed him and promised to protect him from his enemies. In response, he was supposed to honor God. Similarly God would confirm his offspring on his throne forever, and even if those offspring sinned, God swore that He would not reject them completely. David’s descendants would endure forever.
However, now it seems like God has done the opposite. He appears to have rejected the descendants of David. Jerusalem has been conquered and looted. The enemies of Judah are happy. The king has been defeated and humbled by his foes. The psalmist asks how long God is going to allow this to continue? He urges Him to remember how frail and fleeting the lives of men are. He asks where God’s faithfulness is, and he urges Him to remember how God’s anointed is being mocked. Nonetheless, he continues to lift up God as blessed.
Some ways of thinking seem to lend themselves naturally to apostasy. There are some arguments that, if you find yourself making them, are signs that you are about to abandon the truth. Among these is the cultural-coincidence argument.
It goes like this: “I know that X has been the traditional understanding of Scripture for hundreds or thousands of years, but I’m a better Bible student than all of those other people, and I have arrived at the more enlightened understanding of Y. Coincidentally, X is something that the worldly culture around me dislikes, and Y is something that it celebrates. Isn’t it wonderful that my new, 100 percent intellectually honest, interpretation is helping me to win the friendship of the world?”
Perhaps this is cynical of me, but when I see people making arguments like this, I tend to suspect that maybe, just maybe, they are using the world to understand the Bible rather than using the Bible to understand the world.
One of the more obvious places where this occurs is in the recent re-reading of Scripture to endorse the practice of homosexuality. Apparently, all those passages that people of faith have always understood as condemning same-sex intimacy do nothing of the sort.
For instance, this revisionist interpretation claims that the sin for which Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed was not the homosexual lust expressed in Genesis 19:4-5. It was hostility to the poor. This argument is based on Ezekiel 16:49-50, in which Judah is warned not to imitate the pride and greed of Sodom.
If Ezekiel contained everything the Bible says about the sin of Sodom, the argument would be valid. However, it doesn’t. Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrah sinned by engaging in gross immorality and going after strange flesh. This does not contradict Ezekiel; instead, it adds to our understanding of the wickedness of the Sodomites. Their hearts were filled with both greed and lust (and yes, it is still sinful today to be hard-hearted toward the poor).
In response to this, revisionists will sometimes argue that “going after strange flesh” means trying to have sex with angels because that’s what the visitors of Genesis 19 were. Merely having sex with men, then, would be OK.
The problem with this claim, though, is that “going after strange flesh” is a statement of intent, of desire. The Sodomites did not know that the visitors to their city were angels. As is evident from their speech, they believed they were men. They did not intend to have sex with angels (which I don’t think is possible anyway). Instead, they intended to have sex with men, and they were destroyed not for making an innocent mistake, but for acting on an evil desire.
Whenever we think we’ve found a way to re-read the Bible to accommodate what we want to believe and do, we should be very concerned. So it is here. I don’t agree with the people who reject the Bible because they believe the practice of homosexuality is good, but at least they’re being honest. On the other hand, those who twist the Scriptures to fit their pre-conceptions are not succeeding in reconciling the two. Instead, they are endorsing sin and adding to it self-deceit.
The world is full of teaching strategies and teaching experts, but as Christians, we should be taking our example from the One who is supposed to be our example in everything. Being a disciple of Jesus means believing that imitating Jesus is enough. That’s true in faith, it’s true in morality, and it’s true in teaching. Ph.D.’s in education are all well and good, but no man ever spoke like that Man!
Indeed, as we seek to reach the lost, Jesus must be our guiding light. It is not easy to imitate the Lord. In fact, I think that’s why there have been fad evangelism programs sweeping the brotherhood ever since I was a kid. We want the lost to be saved, but we don’t want to be personally involved.
However, personal involvement is the essence of discipleship. What was the Word becoming flesh and dwelling among us, if not Jesus personally involving Himself with mankind? As His example shows, this kind of personal connection is the only way to be truly effective in personal work. Let’s see what we can learn, then, as we consider the way that He instructs the woman at the well.
The first thing that we should take from Him in this story is the importance of CONNECTION. Look at how He connects with the woman in John 4:1-9. Jesus’ initial interaction with her reminds me of His initial interaction with Zacchaeus in Luke 19. In both cases, what you see on the surface is Jesus asking somebody to do Him a favor.
However, in neither case is that really what is going on. Instead, in both cases, Jesus is using His request to treat somebody better than they were expecting. Zacchaeus is a tax collector, the woman at the well is a Samaritan, and both expect Jews to treat them like dirt. When Jesus asks them for help, He shows them that He believes that they have dignity and value as human beings. That opens the door for everything else He says.
Today, whenever we want to teach somebody, we must begin by showing them that we respect and value them. This can be as simple as getting a child to pass out color sheets in a classroom. It can be as complicated as spending months nurturing a relationship with an outsider. Regardless, people who know that we value them are far more likely to value what we say. When we treat them better than they expect, we stand out to them.
Second, let’s notice how RELEVANCE is central to the initial part of Jesus’ conversation with the Samaritan woman. The story continues in John 4:10-14. Of course, Jesus knew hearts and knew everything about the woman before she opened her mouth, but everything He says here could have been based on keen observation and quick wits.
Apparently, this well is some distance from the village of Sychar, where the woman lived. We know from later in the account that people coming from the village were clearly visible to those at the well. As He was resting by the well, Jesus doubtless watched this woman lugging her heavy jar toward Him, and He knew that she would have to make the return trip with an even heavier jar. She does this not because she’s in desperate need of exercise, but because she’s in desperate need of water. So what does Jesus talk about with her? Water—the one thing it is clear she cares about and needs.
So too, if we want people to listen to us, we need to present the gospel in a way that is meaningful to them. Because it is universally relevant, there’s always going to be a way to do this. However, as Jesus observed the woman with her water jar, we have to observe those we teach. The more we learn about them, the better able we will be to present God’s word in a way that resonates with them.
Third, if we want to be effective teachers, we must have CREDIBILITY with our students. Look at how Jesus establishes His credibility with the woman at the well in John 4:15-19. Through the conversation to this point, Jesus and the woman really have been talking about two different things. She thinks Jesus is discussing literal water, whereas in reality, He’s been talking about the water of life. When she asks Him for water, then, He uses the opportunity to establish His spiritual bona fides by revealing His knowledge of her complicated marital history. She concludes, and rightly so, that He is a prophet.
Today, obviously, none of us are prophets. However, we can establish our credibility by referring to God’s prophetic word. If we want to accomplish this, though, we can’t rely on a series of half a dozen proof texts. Instead, like Jesus adapted His words to the life of the woman, we have to adapt our use of the Scriptures to those we are teaching. As we answer their questions and meet their needs with book, chapter, and verse, we show them that they can trust us as a source of spiritual information.
The final thing that we see in Jesus’ teaching style is CHRIST-CENTEREDNESS. Let’s see how this unfolds in John 4:20-26. Now that the woman has decided He is a prophet, she asks Him to settle the centuries-old religious controversy between Jews and Samaritans. Where should they worship, in Jerusalem or on the mountain? Jesus responds by telling her that the time is coming when the worship of Jews and Samaritans alike will be transformed, so that rather than worshiping in a place, they will worship in spirit and truth. She hears that and correctly concludes that the bringer of truth will be the Messiah, the prophet like Moses predicted in Deuteronomy 18. This allows Jesus to reveal Himself to her.
From the beginning, Jesus’ goal was to get her to accept Him as the Christ. This must be the goal of all of our teaching too. Brethren, if the time we spend teaching in Bible classes and kitchen-table studies doesn’t bring our students closer to Jesus, we have wasted our time. We’re supposed to be engaged in soul-winning, not academics, and if soul-winning is our aim, the more we talk about the Lord, the more we lift up the Lord, the more successful we will be.
Proverbs 31 contains the wisdom of King Lemuel’s mother. She addresses two main topics. The first concerns the dangers of drinking alcohol. She warns him that alcohol isn’t for kings. It will destroy him and lead him to forget justice. If he wants to defend the rights of the poor and needy, he needs to abstain.
The rest of the chapter concerns the worthy woman. She is a trustworthy wife to her husband, works hard in providing for her household, cares for the needy and the members of her own family, and earns their praise.
Psalm 82 is addressed to the judges of the earth (called “gods” in 82:1 and 82:6 because they exercise the authority of God). It warns them that as they sit in judgment on others, God sits in judgment on them. He calls them to account for their failure to judge in favor of the weak and vulnerable. Because they have not judged wisely, God will strike them down, and they will die as other men do. The psalm concludes with an appeal to God to exercise this judgment.
Psalm 83 asks God for His help in battle. Many of the nations around Israel, from the Philistines to the Assyrians, have joined together and conspired against her. The psalmist appeals to God to defeat this alliance as He defeated the Midianites in the time of Gideon. He asks God to make them as impermanent as chaff and fire, so that they will be defeated and forced to acknowledge Him.
Psalm 84 is an expression of delight in God’s temple. The psalmist longs to be in the temple, and he compares being in the temple to a bird being in its nest. He belongs there, and he envies those who are always there. Similarly, the most blessed people are those who know how to travel to Zion, where the temple is. God will protect them.
Finally, the psalmist asks God to hear his prayers. Because of God’s presence and attention, a day in the temple is better than a thousand elsewhere, and dwelling in the temple is better than dwelling with the wicked. God will surely bless those who seek Him.
Psalm 85 is an appeal to God to restore His favor. It begins by pointing out His past kindness in bringing Israel back from captivity. Now, the psalmist asks God not to remain angry forever, but to show similar kindness to His people in their current trouble.
The psalmist then expresses his determination to wait for what God will do. He is confident that God will bring peace and bless the land. All sorts of virtues will come together there, the land will prosper, and God will dwell there.
Be merciful to me, O God!
To You my soul will fly;
Beneath Your wings I will abide
Until the storms pass by.
To God Most High I will cry out,
For He will send and bless
To put to shame my enemy
With all His faithfulness.
My soul is in the midst of foes
Whose ways are not the Lord’s;
Like spears and arrows are their teeth;
Their tongues are sharpened swords.
Be great, O God, above the skies,
With glory over all!
With hate, they dug the pit for me
Where they themselves now fall.
With steadfast heart I praise the Lord
And make a melody;
Awake, my heart, to honor Him;
Awake the dawn for me!
Among all nations, I will sing
And hail Your faithful love
Because it stretches to the skies
And to the clouds above.