Psalm 107 is clearly a versified psalm (notice the repetition found in vs. 6, 13, 19, and 28), and it is about God’s deliverance of people in various kinds of trouble. It opens by calling all of God’s redeemed to praise Him. Then, it lists various kinds of redemption. God rescues those who are lost in the desert (4-9), imprisoned (10-16), sick (17-22), and caught in storms on the sea (23-32). The psalm concludes with a discussion of God’s ability to turn things upside down, whether the fertility of land (33-38) or the fortunes of humankind (39-43).
Psalm 108 is an expression of praise and a cry for help in battle. In it, the psalmist begins by declaring his determination to praise God and give thanks to Him. Such praise is due to God because of His steadfast love. The psalmist calls for God’s exaltation than asks for His help. He recalls God’s promise to defend the territory of Israel and give victory over Israel’s enemies. However, apparently the fortified cities of Edom have defied the armies of Israel, so the psalmist pleads with God for help, which he knows will be effective.
Psalm 109 is an imprecatory psalm aimed at one of David’s enemies. He asks God to speak up because his enemies are slanderously and treacherously accusing him. David then curses his enemy, beginning with personal harm, then extending to children and even parents, with the result that God will destroy even the memory of his family (Note, by the way, that vs. 8 is applied to Judas in Acts 1:20.). This is an appropriate punishment because the wicked man himself took such delight in cursing others, so he deserves to have those curses land on him instead.
By contrast, David asks for God’s blessing because he is poor and suffering. He contrasts the curses that his enemies have flung at him with the blessings that he knows the Lord will bring. He concludes by promising to praise God for His goodness.
Psalm 110 is a messianic psalm cited in many different places in the New Testament. In it, God invites David’s Lord to sit at His right hand and to have dominion over His enemies. He promises that the Lord’s people will follow Him and observes that He is a priest forever, according to the order of Melchizedek. The psalm concludes with the promise that God will help the Lord to have victory over His enemies.
Psalm 111 praises God for His good works. The psalmist begins by declaring that he will praise God. God is worthy of such praise because of the greatness of His good works. Especially, He provides for His people and gave them the land as an inheritance. He established His law, and He redeemed His people. The wise learn from these things to fear and praise Him.
A few days ago, Ellen DeGeneres made headlines by sitting next to George W. Bush and daring to interact cordially with the man. Many expressed their shock that she would be civil to a conservative who did lots of conservative things while he was president. In response, DeGeneres opined that you’re supposed to be kind to everyone, regardless of what they have done.
As unremarkable as this might sound to Christians, apparently it too was controversial. Yesterday, this op-ed from Vanity Fair wandered across my news feed (side note: how many Vanity Fair readers these days are aware that the title comes from John Bunyan’s The Pilgrim’s Progress?). In it, the author takes DeGeneres to task for her never-never-land moralizing when presented with an enemy like Bush. Among his sins, the author numbers not only his intentional actions (starting the Iraq War) but also his unintentional errors (botching the response to Hurricane Katrina). One should, apparently, not socialize with those who make mistakes.
In this, I can’t help but see a twofold reminder of a) how badly we need Christ in order to be kind, and b) how bad things get without Him. Have self-professed Christians been ungracious and vengeful too? Of course they have! However, even atheists realize that this is not how things are supposed to go. The most religiously ignorant American out there is still aware that Jesus stands for the idea that you are supposed to be nice to people.
For those who are in the faith, the relationship between Christ and kindness is profound. Because of His grace, our lives are hidden in Him, and we have the hope of eternal life. His example teaches us to be gracious, and His blessings free us to be gracious. I can be kind even to my enemies without fear of being taken advantage of, because the damage they might do to me pales in comparison to the riches of His grace. Jesus makes His people invincible in doing good. No matter what happens, we still will overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us!
Take Christ away, and the invincibility drops out. If our lives aren’t hidden in Him, they can’t be hidden anywhere. Instead, we have to be eternally vigilant against threats to the things we value, and we must attack our enemies constantly to make sure they can’t harm us. Without the wealth of Christ’s forgiveness, we can’t afford to forgive others. In a dog-eat-dog world, the only imperative is to be the top dog.
It is only natural, then, for folks like the Vanity Fair writer to be vengeful, to be angry at DeGeneres for not scoring political points when she had the opportunity. Doesn’t she understand that this is ideological war to the knife??? You should only dole out kindness when you know it is safe and it will cost you nothing. Certainly, kindness should not be lavished on enemies!
To the worldly mind, all of the above makes sense and is logically consistent (and note, by the way, that I believe such worldliness is all too evident on the left and right alike. Donald Trump is not noted for his kindness to his enemies.). However, when a society embraces norms of ungraciousness and vindictiveness, the potential for disaster almost cannot be overstated. Civil wars don’t come from political disagreement. They come from the hearts of people who believe their enemies are hateful and worthless.
Christ stands for kindness because He stands for the intrinsic value of everyone. Apart from Him, I don’t know of any way to reach the conclusion that everyone matters. Without Him, we inevitably will behave as though no one does.
My God, I seek You earnestly
And crave Your righteousness;
I thirst for You as in a land
Both dry and waterless.
Within Your courts, I see Your might
And know Your steadfast love,
So I will bless You all my life
And stretch my hands above.
Your name is sweetness to my soul;
I praise You with delight;
In bed, I still remember You
And meditate all night.
I celebrate Your help for me
Beneath Your shadowed wings;
Your strong right hand upholds my life;
To You my spirit clings.
All those who seek to take my life
To darkness will descend;
The sword will claim them by its power
And jackals be their end.
But I will still exult in God;
His people shall rejoice;
But He will stop the scoffer’s mouth
And still the liar’s voice.
I have to say, there are few better ways to vary up the content of your preaching than to solicit sermon suggestions from the congregation! Frankly, the suggestions I get show me how narrow my perspective is. Even if I never got another sermon request, I wouldn’t have any trouble coming up with two sermons a week indefinitely, but almost invariably, the requests that I do get are on subjects that I never would have thought to preach on.
This evening’s sermon is a case in point. Its inspiration came from Landon, who noted that in our hymns, we sing a great deal about Zion, but we don’t necessarily understand as much about Zion as we think we do when we’re singing. Once I started studying for the sermon, I realized, somewhat to my dismay, that Landon was right. I can’t speak for anybody else, but I sure didn’t know as much about Zion as I thought I did! In fact, there are some pretty important things that I learned that may well not be common knowledge. With this in mind, then, let’s consider Zion, the mountain of God.
Let’s begin by considering ITS OLD-TESTAMENT SIGNIFICANCE. Mt. Zion appears in the Bible for the first time in 2 Samuel 5:6-7. I have to say, this was an eye-opener for me. I had always associated Mt. Zion with the Temple Mount, but it isn’t. Instead, Mt. Zion is the eminence directly to the south of the Temple Mount. It’s the location of the Jebusite citadel that David conquered and made his capital. Mt. Zion held the oldest, earliest parts of the city of Jerusalem, which is why “Jerusalem” and “Zion” are used interchangeably in the Bible.
Here’s why this matters. It means that whenever we read or hear “Zion”, we should not think “temple”. We should not think “priest”. Instead, we should think “fortress”, and we should think “king”. It’s a whole different set of imagery than the temple-priest-sacrifice imagery of the Temple Mount.
Instead of all those things, Zion was significant in three main ways. First, it was the dwelling place of God. Look at Psalm 76:1-2. I find this surprising for a couple of reasons. First, once I figured out the actual location of Zion, I expected the Bible to make a big deal about the kings of Israel and Judah living there. That doesn’t happen. It’s mentioned a time or two, but the main inhabitant of Zion is the great King, God.
This is disorienting for another reason. Typically, when we think of God’s dwelling place in the Old Testament, we think specifically of the temple. However, the Scriptures point out over and over again that Zion is His dwelling. To put things another way, even though there was a sense in which God lived in the temple, apart from His people, He lived in their midst, in Zion, too. Even today, it should matter deeply to us that God dwells in our midst!
Second, Zion also features prominently as a place of safety. Here, look at Psalm 125:1-2. This makes perfect sense. In a purely physical sense, Zion was a mountain in the middle of a bunch of other mountains. It was hard for invading armies to get to. Additionally, it was heavily fortified. There’s even a psalm, Psalm 60, that’s about the Israelites asking for God’s help after the walls of Jerusalem were destroyed in an earthquake. When you are surrounded by homicidal neighbors, walls are important!
However, what made Zion truly secure was that it was God’s dwelling place. Notice that in Psalm 125, the true source of protection isn’t the mountains surrounding Jerusalem, but the Lord surrounding His people. This is still important to us today. The hymn-savvy among you will already have noticed that the words to our hymn “Surround Us, Lord”, come from v. 2. Even now, as the inhabitants of a spiritual Zion, we look to God for protection.
Finally, in an Old-Testament sense, Zion was the source of salvation. Consider Psalm 14:7. Once again, this is something that I can only connect back to Zion as God’s dwelling place. Because only God could save, salvation had to come out of Zion.
This theme continues even in the books of the prophets. Isaiah, for instance, talks about Zion a great deal, though his focus was on post-exilic Judah returning to Zion. When the exiles re-entered the city, that was when they could rejoice in God’s salvation.
Today, of course, this subject is even more meaningful to us. We don’t regard the dwelling place of God as the source of our salvation from earthly enemies or earthly captivity. Instead, we rejoice because our spiritual deliverance has come out of Zion!
Shifting forward in time, we see that Zion is also a concept with MESSIANIC SIGNIFICANCE. To capture this, I think we need to read the entirety of Matthew’s account of the Triumphal Entry, Matthew 21:1-11. Notice how prominently the prophecy of Zechariah 9 features in this text. Jesus rides into Jerusalem on a donkey in order to fulfill a prediction made hundreds of years before.
However, there’s more to the idea of the king entering Zion than merely that. As we have seen, yes, Zion was the dwelling place of the Davidic kings, but it was really the dwelling place of God. As a result, all the people who were hailing the return of the king to Zion weren’t just hailing the son of David, though they thought they were. They were hailing the Son of God. Only when the great King is in Zion can His people be restored.
Today, restoration is still THE MEANING OF ZION FOR US. Let’s wrap up our reading for the evening with Hebrews 12:18-24. There are plenty of people out there who insist that the physical Mt. Zion and the earthly Jerusalem still have spiritual significance. As this text makes clear, they could not be more wrong. Today, it is the spiritual Zion, the heavenly Jerusalem, to which we have come.
However, even though the location may have changed, its symbolic significance remains the same. Zion, partially in the church and fully in heaven, is still the place where God dwells with the assembly of His people. It is where we come into contact with the blood that purifies us instead of condemning us. Most of all, Zion is the place where we can be perfected through our covenant with Jesus. Zion has been meaningful to the people of God for 3000 years, and even after the earth is destroyed, its significance will continue.
Possibly, Psalms 105 and 106 were originally a unit, like Psalms 42 and 43 were. Even if they weren’t, they are clearly intended to be understood together.
Psalm 105 recounts God’s care for His people. It begins by calling the Israelites to remember the way He protected the patriarchs. Because God is faithful, He remembers the covenants He makes, including the promise (originally made to Abraham, confirmed to Isaac and Jacob) to give them the land of Canaan as an inheritance.
His faithfulness first manifested itself in the way He safeguarded them. Even though they were few and weak, He still kept them safe from the powerful and would not allow anyone to oppress them. Even when He sent famine on the earth, He provided for His people by sending Joseph to Egypt. Joseph suffered as a slave, but then he was exalted and given great power. As a result of this, Israel found provision in Egypt.
When God prospered the Israelites so much that the Egyptians began to hate them, He sent Moses and Aaron to deliver them. Through them, He performed the miracles of the ten plagues. As a result of this, Israel left Egypt with great riches, and the Egyptians were glad to see them go. On the journey, God provided guidance for them with the cloud and the fire, and He provided for their needs with manna, quail, and water in the desert—all because of His promise to Abraham. He brought them to Canaan and gave them the land so that they could honor Him, and He is indeed worthy of praise.
If Psalm 105 is about God’s faithfulness, Psalm 106 is about Israel’s faithlessness. The psalm opens by exalting God and appealing to God to bless the psalmist so that he can rejoice.
From there, he acknowledge that both he and his fathers have sinned. In Egypt, even though they forgot Him, He saved them by leading them through the Red Sea and destroying the Egyptian army. However, despite this, they forgot His goodness and tested Him in various ways.
They complained about the manna and were stricken with disease as a result. They rebelled against Moses and Aaron, and the ringleaders were swallowed up by the earth and consumed with fire. At Sinai, they made and worshiped a golden calf, provoking God to such anger that He would have destroyed them but for Moses’ intervention. They questioned whether He would give them the land, causing Him to condemn them to die in the wilderness. They committed idolatry and immorality at Baal-Peor, leading to a plague until Phinehas righteously intervened. Finally, they rebelled at Meribah, angering Moses and causing even him to sin.
Even once they received the land, their sin continued: not destroying the nations, intermarrying with them, and committing idolatry. Most egregiously, they sacrificed their children to Molech, polluting the land with innocent blood.
God attempted to chasten them through foreign oppressors, but their repentance was never more than temporary. Finally, God sent them into exile, but even there He had compassion on them and protected them from their captors. The psalm concludes with a prayer for God to restore them to the land and a call for His people to bless Him.