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God’s Word is most powerful in context

Yesterday, I shared how words from an old youth fellowship song came back and comforted me when the birth of our twins turned into something of an emergency, and I was unable to articulate any prayer of my own.

Later I realised the words came from Psalm 61:1-3. And they give beautiful pictures of what God is like; the concern of a mother hen, the strength of a strong tower, the security of the higher rock. He is a refuge to all who turn to him.

And God’s Spirit brought these realities home so very powerfully to me that day so many years ago. However I make a confession to you. When the words of that song came into my mind, I didn’t know they were from Scripture. I knew the general ideas were Scriptural. But even though I was a Moore College graduate, I didn’t know those song lines were direct quotes from Psalm 61.

It was only several years later, while I was reading the Psalms one day, that the penny dropped. And so I had another surprise.

Because the song only uses the first few verses from the Psalm. But there are several more verses. And those extra verses add a context. And to my mind, they made the psalm even more powerful.

The King is on his Throne

Why? Because the extra verses remind me that the King is on his Throne. Look at the prayer in vv6-7.

6 Increase the days of the king’s life,
his years for many generations.
7 May he be enthroned in God’s presence forever;
appoint your love and faithfulness to protect him. [NIV]

The superscription earlier tells us this is a psalm “of David”. This could mean he wrote it. It certainly means it’s about him. And so in these verses, the prayer for personal protection extends out into a prayer for the King in Israel.

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by David Bailey

Portrait of Queen Elizabeth II by David Bailey

It’s similar to the British national anthem, “God save the Queen”.

When its sung, people pray for their monarch’s health and happiness, and so on. Now whatever you think of the republic debate, these are pretty good things to pray for your head of state. Generally speaking, stability in your head of state brings you stability also.

In the same way, the king being on the throne in Israel was a sign that God was in charge, because the King was the earthly representative of God’s rule.

Now back when these words in vv6-7 were prayed, what did it mean to ask for the king’s years be increased for many generations, that he might be enthroned forever?

Originally, it was probably not for the king to live on personally forever, but for the continuation of his royal dynasty. Whatever personal chaos there was, if their King was on his throne, then it was a sign things were still right in God’s world; that God’s plan had not been derailed.

Forever

But of course, this hope of the king being enthroned “forever” was the promise of the Messiah, which the prophets developed under God’s inspiration.

The Messiah, or anointed King from David’s line, would rule with justice and peace and protect God’s people.

However Israel’s kings kept sinning and dying. None lived forever. Worse still, the whole kingdom was defeated, and the Davidic dynasty was overthrown.

But we live the other side not just of the cross but also the resurrection. Against all expectations, the Messiah was crucified. But it was to bear our sins.

And Jesus the Messiah has also been raised. And he ascended to heaven and is seated at the Father’s right hand where he ever lives to intercede for us.

For example, Ephesians 1:20-21 speaks of God’s mighty strength,

which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority […] not only in the present age but also in the one to come.

In other words, because of the resurrection, we Christians know we have a king on his throne!

Now, it’s invisibly. But in the life to come, forever and openly!

And that’s the reason we can take refuge in God. Because his Son, his King is on the throne.

Those words I just quoted from Ephesians 1 come near the end of a prayer for believers, that we too might know, v19…

his incomparably great power for us who believe…

So Paul says – no matter how grim things seem on the outside – the power at work in you is the same incomparably great power by which God raised Jesus from the dead.

And it can protect you through whatever trials you face. And it can take you to heaven to be with God where Jesus is.

 

It wasn’t just a vague sentimental hope that God would get me through that day in the foyer of the operating theatre. And it certainly wasn’t the power of positive thinking. It was based on the rock solid foundation of the resurrection.

Praise

Now what response can we make to this promise of refuge? The psalm’s answer is praise. Look at the conclusion in v8.

8 Then I will ever sing in praise of your name
and fulfill my vows day after day.

The Bible expects that when we experience God’s goodness, when we experience his protection and care, then we will tell others. We will praise him.

And so, when we had our twins, and people said how lucky we were, it felt natural for me to gently correct them by saying it wasn’t luck, but rather we felt so very blessed by God.

Thanksgiving bubbles over into praise, where we can’t help doing the “word of mouth” thing, telling others how much God has done for us.

Above all, where we want to tell others the greatest thing God has done in sending Jesus, our refuge.

God’s Word is powerful. And it’s even more powerful when we read it in context.

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