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The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world. In them he has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

Psalm 19:1-6 (ESV)

How would you describe beauty? I could point you to a picture of a stunning sunset or get you to listen to The Lark Ascending, one of the most stunning pieces of classical music I’ve ever heard. But I don’t think I could straight up tell you what to look for. What about majesty? It’s how we describe kings and eagles and lions. But I can’t define it in the same way that I’d define what something physical like a book is (the OED definition is “a written or printed work consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers”, in case you were interested). I have to use a concrete thing to communicate to you about an abstract thing.

Psalm 19 is about two ways in which God is revealed, through creation and through His Word, and this time I’m going to focus on the first six verses. So let’s see what this Psalm has to say about creation; how it, a concrete thing, displays the glory of the God who made it, and how, when we look at the natural world around us, our hearts are led to look beyond what we see and worship the God it points to.

The first thing we see as we look at these six verses of Psalm 19 is that nature declares God’s glory. The psalm bursts open with this! When he was writing this, David wasn’t making a cold observation; you can sense his wonder as he passionately exclaims:

“The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork. Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge. There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.” (v1-4b)

The first thing you notice as you read this is how much communication is going on: by the heavens and the sky, day and night. It isn’t a small memo casually slipped onto your desk, either: they are declaring, proclaiming, pouring out speech, all day, all night, all over the world! And what is this message that the heavens are shouting to all and sundry? God’s glory. The goodness, the perfection, the purity of who God is in all His wisdom and power and knowledge and love and holiness and so much more! The natural world around us is communicating.

It communicates God’s glory because it is created by Him. When I was at school, I used to really enjoy art lessons. I loved painting things and making things, especially when we got to use things you don’t get to use every day. Like clay, because then you get to make stuff in 3D rather than endless drawings of random fruit and veg. It was great fun to mould it, to give it shape with my own hands rather than a brush. And to finish proudly with something that looked… close enough to the idea I had in my head, covered in fingerprints and lines that the ridges on my hands had made, and the occasional nail-mark that I’d forgotten to smooth over. The creation bore the marks of its maker. And – much better than my attempts at creativity – God’s great masterpiece, the universe, bears the fingerprints of its Maker. It reflects Him because He made it.

Verses 5-6 give an example of what we see in creation. In the UK, the sun is often a thing of myth, especially in our long and overcast winters; but when David was writing he was in Israel, where the climate is hot, and the sun would have been far easier to spot in the sky!  Let’s look at how he describes it:

In them [the heavens] he [that is, God] has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber, and, like a strong man, runs its course with joy. Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them, and there is nothing hidden from its heat.” (v4c-6)

The sun has been given a place in the sky by God: a home, and a course to run (v4c, 6). And our closest star doesn’t struggle along as if it’s dragging its feet; no, it is like a groom going to his wedding, the happiest day of his life, all dressed up and bursting with happiness. It is like an athlete doing what they have trained for, muscles singing and heart thundering with the thrill of the race. The sun, as David describes it here, shows God’s glory as being exhilarating! And other parts of the physical world show other things about God’s glory.

This means that the physical world is good. As we want to be people who imitate God, and resist the temptation that comes so naturally to our human nature, we can fall into the trap of forgetting that the world we live in is made by God, and God made it good. We can focus on crucifying the passions and desires of the flesh, as it says in Galatians 5:24, and this is a good thing to do; but we can do it so religiously that we either don’t allow ourselves to enjoy the good things in this world, or don’t realise that God has made these things to display His glory – the nourishing taste of good food, the sweet pleasure of a well-performed symphony, the reassuring warmth of a hug from your mum.

The fact that God displays His glory through His creation also means that we have no need to worry about science. I firmly believe that you can be a scientist and be a Christian, and I think that people like Richard Dawkins who famously wield science as the antidote to God are wrong. At the end of the day, science is about discovering how the universe works. So what we find out won’t disprove God, because God doesn’t lie (Numbers 23:19), and He wouldn’t deceptively make something that disproves Himself. As we discover more about our universe, it’ll only show us more about His creative power and glory! And for those of us who are involved in discovering more about the world, it’s important to not lose our sense of wonder as we look at what God has made. We shouldn’t let rampant rationalism steal away our joy and reduce nature to a mere set of rules and processes. The heavens declare God’s glory; all the burning balls of gas that we call stars hang in space because they are held by God’s sustaining power.

But God displaying His glory through creation also means that we should look after it. When He created us, God gave us the task of looking after the world (Genesis 1:28-30). Can we say that we do that today? Do we care for our planet as the God-given reflection of His glory that it is, or do we use it as if exploiting our resources won’t have any long term effects? This is something that can be harder to bear in mind as our cultural mind-set has become separated from the land that we live in and depend on; we can forget that the food we eat is grown in the ground, that our electricity comes from energy released by burning coal and oil (mostly), that our cars aren’t carbon neutral. So part of our worship involves looking after our planet.

We’ve seen that creation displays the glory of God because He made it. The second thing we see in Psalm 19 is that creation is a hint of the true God. It is God’s glory that the heavens declare. Nature reflects Him because He actively chooses to communicate through it. Romans 1:19-20 says that “… what can be known about God is plain to them [that is, humanity], because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have clearly been perceived, ever since the creation of the world.” God has given us something concrete to describe something we can’t see ourselves. His glory is something that we cannot see and survive to tell the tale [Exodus 33:20] because God is so pure and holy and we are so imperfect. So God doesn’t just communicate what He is like in words, like what we see in the Bible. God created a physical world that displays His glory, and He gave us the ability to see it, and taste it, and hear it, and touch it. The smell of cooling rain on a hot summer’s day. The quiet splendour of a winter’s morning where the sun gently rises in pastel hues of pink and orange.  The ferocity of a storm, where the rain pummels roofs and roads, thunder roars over our heads, and the sky is split by great flashes of lightning. All of these hint at how life-giving, how beautiful, how powerful God is!

But these hints can be misinterpreted – look at how many religions throughout history have worshipped nature or gods representing the sun or the sea or animals. They’re seeing the glory shown in nature, but are missing the point. And I think this could be one reason why Psalm 19 isn’t just about creation. The rest of it is about God’s “law” – God’s commands and everything else God wants us to know about Himself. It’s basically His Word, the Bible as we know it today. Henry will talk about it in much more details about it next week, but today it’s important to know that the glory creation displays in colour and sound and substance, the Bible specifically attributes to God, and only God.

When we marvel at the vastness of the sky and open ocean, God says “He who made the Pleiades and Orion, and turns deep darkness into the morning and darkens the day into night, who calls for the waters of the sea and pours them out on the surface of the earth, the LORD is his name” [Amos 5:8]. When pride gets the better of us and we start thinking we have the right to tell God what to do, He says “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you have understanding. Who determined its measurements – tell me, if you know! Or who stretched the line upon it? On what were its bases sunk, or who laid its cornerstone, when the morning stars sang together and all the sons of God shouted for joy?” [Job 38:4-7] When life gets too much, God points us to the star-filled night and says “Lift up your eyes and see: who created these? He who brings out their host by number, calling them all by name, by the greatness of his might, and because he is strong in power, not one is missing… He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.” [Isaiah 40:26].

God uses creation to points beyond itself to who He is. So get out there! Walk round the lake in Wollaton Park. Climb mountains! Go rockpooling! At least, watch a David Attenborough documentary! One of the sad things of our modern world is how we are separated from nature. We work in office blocks away from the sky and grass and trees; we stay up late in artificial light, not noticing the moon and stars and the soft evening breeze; our food comes from the supermarket rather than fields watered by rain and ripened by the sun. Nature becomes something to be controlled and bent to our will, rather than something to delight in. And so we can be missing out on something that’s really refreshing for us, and spiritually refreshing as well as emotionally or physically refreshing. The beauty of the natural world shows God’s glory, and God’s glory is transforming [2 Corinthians 3:18].

And while you are being refreshed, remember Who it is that nature points to. Remember that God is the God who made everything, things we can and can’t see, mountains, DNA, rainforests, atoms, supernovas. This is our God! He is our loving Father and awesome Saviour and invincible Lord. And delight in the world God has created because it points to Him!

As we’ve looked at the first few verses of Psalm 19, we’ve seen that creation displays God’s glory and point to Him as the better reality of what it reflects. But as I’ve been talking, I wonder how easily you believe what I’ve said? Have you taken it all in, thinking “Yes, the world is wonderful! It’s so obvious how great God is!” Or has a seed of doubt, a shadow, passed through your mind? Do you wonder whether what I’ve said really is true, because as far as you’ve seen nature isn’t all sweetness and light?

I’ve just finished a Masters degree in Clinical Microbiology. Over the last year, I’ve studied a whole load of infections and what causes them. Besides seeing how fantastic our immune systems are and how sneaky some bugs can be, I’ve realised that viruses, bacteria and fungi aren’t intentionally horrible. It isn’t like the Ebola virus decided that one day it would destroy humanity and started infecting people in Africa. Infection is an intrinsic part of how these bugs survive, reproduce and even flourish. You can’t separate their life cycle and the effect they have on the people they live in. The same goes for all infections. It’s a tragic reality. So can a good God really exist when the universe He has made contains disease and disaster and wasps?

I don’t often agree with Richard Dawkins, but he puts the issue quite well:

“The total amount of suffering per year in the natural world is beyond all decent contemplation. During the minute that it takes me to compose this sentence, thousands of animals are being eaten alive, many others are running for their lives, whimpering with fear, others are slowly being devoured from within by rasping parasites, thousands of all kinds are dying of starvation, thirst, and disease. It must be so. If there ever is a time of plenty, this very fact will automatically lead to an increase in the population until the natural state of starvation and misery is restored. In a universe of electrons and selfish genes, blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, other people are going to get lucky, and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it, nor any justice. The universe that we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but pitiless indifference.”

[Richard Dawkins, River Out of Eden: A Darwinian View of Life]

Dawkins, and others, use this as a reason not to believe in God. But how should we deal with the fact that the world is messed up? That sometimes it does look like there’s no justice, no reason behind all the suffering we see, and surely no loving God behind it all! Turn with me to Romans 8:19-23. It says:

For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. And not only the creation, but ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Creation is groaning. Our whole universe has been made subject by God to decay, to suffering, to futility. Why? Why would an apparently good and loving God force something He created good to submit to this horror? Because of sin. Genesis 3 talks about the first time humanity rebelled against God, which has had consequences that have spun through our entire history. Our relationship with God and with each other was broken, and creation was plunged into misery. Humanity was thrown out of the garden that was a place of safety and provision, and the world became a place where life would be hard and filled with suffering. All that Dawkins was talking about in that quote, the gruesome destruction of life to feed life, the starvation, the misery; these all show what a world without God is like. They show how horrendous rejecting God is, and the appalling consequences of sin. God is so completely perfect that sin is repulsive to Him, so as we are disgusted by the misery we see, creation is still displaying God’s glory by enabling us to understand His hatred of sin.

But, as verse 20 says, creation was subjected to futility in hope. As we have been shown the horror of sin to a holy God, He will show His glory again. Did you notice, v21 says that creation was subjected to futility in hope “that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.” There will be a day where God will free creation from the decay-ridden state it’s in and transform it into a place of peace with no death or mourning or crying or pain, as it says in Revelation 21:4. Creation will be at peace; wolves and lambs, calves and lions, children and cobras will be safe to put together because they won’t harm each other [Isaiah 11:6-9]. And this was made possible by Jesus’ death on the cross, where God reconciled to Himself all things [Colossians 1:20]; and so those of us who believe in Him, who are called God’s children, have an incredible future ahead of us. We and creation will have freedom and glory [v21] where we shall be so transformed that nothing gets in the way of us truly delighting in God and being satisfied in Him!

Yet for now, we see the cruelty of nature. Creation shows God’s glory, but creation is tainted by the corruption that stains us all. And this is why God’s Word, the Bible, is so important. Because it addresses the problem of our spoiled world and shows us what true goodness is. It says that we’re right to be appalled at death and suffering, but it won’t last forever. And it says that a holy and glorious God has made a way for us to be renewed, and made right with Him, at great cost to Himself. So let the darkness of this world drive you to the refreshing Light of Jesus. If you aren’t a Christian today, I really do hope that you’ll come to know this great God.

If you are a Christian, be encouraged! Look around you at what God has made! And delight in the fact that God, who is so glorious and powerful, is our God! One day we will see Him as clearly as we see the earth around us, and hear His voice as clearly as we hear a thunderstorm. One day we will be freed from all death and pain, and the universe will be transformed into something more incredible than it is now!

As we’ve looked at the first bit of Psalm 19, we’ve seen that the natural world around us declares God’s glory. It shouts it out for all to hear. And the glory we see in creation is the glory of God Himself – every speck of beauty, every hint of majesty points to the Lord its Maker. Still, this world is broken because God has subjected it to decay so that we would see sin for the monster it is and turn to Him. And one day God will renew the universe, and transform us, into something perfect and a people who will completely enjoy Him forever. So as we see the splendour of the world around us, let’s worship the God who made it! And as we see the misery of its fallen nature, let’s be driven to turn away from the corruption of sin to the God who will make all things new.

OK, I promise I’ll post the Song of Songs stuff soon (hopefully!) – it’s just taking me ages to write it. In the meantime….

Humans are relational people. As the famous saying goes, “no man is an island”. And our friends are important to us – can you think of the people you couldn’t live without? On the internet someone has predicted that we meet on average about 100,000 people in our lifetime[1]. That’s a lot of people! But not all of them will be our friends. We have circles of friends, best friends, and acquaintances, with different levels of closeness with each person we know. We love different people differently, too. I wonder who your closest friend in the world is; the person, or people, who you love the most?

1 Samuel 20 focusses on the relationship between King Saul’s son, Jonathan, and the David who we know was later to become king of Israel. But first, let’s look at a bit of background.

Saul was Israel’s first king, and had failed in his duty to be faithful to God. So God rejected him as king, and instead chose David to be the next king of Israel. David was a nobody, a shepherd boy from the backwater of Bethlehem, but God chose him because of his heart after God. He blessed him with success – first in his defeat of Goliath, and then in victories as a commander of Israel’s army. But Saul became jealous of this upstart shepherd boy, and several times in the previous two chapters had tried to kill him. At the beginning of chapter 20, David has just fled from one of Saul’s attempts on his life. Jonathan’s response to David was much different to his father’s. He became close friends with David, and formalised their friendship in a covenant where he symbolically handed the kingdom over to David.

This passage is huge, so I won’t quote the whole thing here. But here’s the basic story:

At the beginning of this passage, Saul has once again tried to take David’s life, so David has run away. He goes up to Jonathan and asks why Saul wants him dead (v1). Jonathan won’t believe that his father wants to kill David, but David insists that Saul is trying to kill him and makes a plan to prove Saul’s hatred. The next day is the start of the New Moon festival, where, as a member of the court, David was expected to attend the feast. David plans to not go, and make an excuse about having to be elsewhere. If he is missed, he asks Jonathan to tell Saul that he had to go home. Saul’s reaction will show whether he really does hate David and want him dead. In case David and Jonathan can’t be seen speaking to each other, they invent a cunning way of communicating. The New Moon festival arrives, and, sure enough, David’s place at the feast is empty. To start with, Saul thinks nothing of this, since it wasn’t unusual for people to miss such an event because of accidentally becoming ceremonially unclean. But on the second day of David’s absence, Saul askes Jonathan why David isn’t there. Jonathan gives David’s excuse, and Saul explodes in anger – not just at David, but at Jonathan as well! He even tries to kill his own son in his anger! Jonathan now knows beyond a doubt that his father hates David, and the next day goes to tell David of this.

As we look at Jonathan and David’s friendship, we’re going to see what this passage shows us about God, what it shows about Jesus (or, rather, the correct response to Him), and what we can learn from it. Let’s start by looking at what this passage shows us about God.

There is no “God did this” or “God did that” explicitly in this text, but can you see how God is at work behind the scenes? To start with, God is keeping His servant safe. He has protected David thus far from Saul’s anger and now is using Jonathan to protect him. Not only is God providing safety for David, but He has given David a faithful friend in Jonathan. Because of Saul’s public statement that David must die in verse 31, he now has to leave his home and his place at court, and is on the run from the authorities. In all of this, God provides a friend for David who has promised love and protection. Thirdly, God is securing His sovereign plan. David was the man that God had chosen to be the next king of Israel. Where Saul had failed as God’s servant, David was intended to succeed. David wasn’t perfect, but he was a man after God’s heart and a foreshadowing of God’s true King, Jesus Christ. God used David as part of His promises to His people, and by keeping David safe, He was carrying out His own plan for salvation.

So that’s what we can see about God. Let’s now look at what we can see about Jesus here. There isn’t so much in this passage about Jesus explicitly. However, we can have a look at Jonathan’s relationship with David as God’s promised king, and see if this has any relevance for us since David was foreshadowing Christ. David wasn’t just Jonathan’s covenant close friend. Jonathan knew that God’s plan was to have David as the next king. And, where his father rejected God’s plan and hated David, Jonathan accepted what God was doing and loved David.

Saul knew that God had rejected him as king, and was jealous of David’s success and rise in popularity. He hated David so much that when talking with Jonathan at the feast he won’t even say David’s name! He treats David shamefully, as it says in v34, and his anger is uncontrollable to the point of trying to kill his own son for defending David (v33).

Jonathan, instead of hating David, loved him. He knew that God had chosen David to be the next king of Israel, which was why he symbolically handed over the kingdom to him in the covenant in chapter 18, and has promised to protect him now. Jonathan saw God’s plan and submitted to it, whereas Saul railed against it. Throughout the passage we see David and Jonathan’s close friendship – to start with, Jonathan says that if Saul wanted to kill David, he would tell him (and he has done so in the previous chapter). Although he doubts whether his father wants to kill David, he still agrees to follow through on David’s plan to test Saul’s motives. He also agrees to protect David, working out a way to communicate with him in case it is dangerous for David to be seen.  He was a loyal friend to David, defending him when Saul’s anger flared up against him; and Jonathan was livid at Saul’s treatment of his friend. And when David had to leave, the friends’ grief showed their affection for one another. So Jonathan not only submitted to God’s plan, but he also loved God’s king.

We’ve had a look at what we see of God in this passage, and we’ve seen Jonathan’s reaction to God’s new king. Now we come on to looking at what this means for us.

There are three applications that we can draw from what we’ve seen here. The first application here is from what we’ve seen about God preserving His plan in these events. Even the smaller details of the events here, which to David and Jonathan must have seemed very distant to God’s big picture at the time, were all part of God’s outworking for His Sovereign plan for salvation. You see, God works in the big picture, and He works in the details, and each these are never separate from other. God has the holy ingenuity to weave His plan and our lives together. Isn’t this great? And since God Himself is behind it all, we know that we can trust in what He is doing, no matter how dire life might seem at the time.

The second application here comes from Jonathan’s submission to God’s plan and love for God’s king, which made him willing to give everything up for him. His position as crown prince means a lot in the world – with wealth, power, and influence, it is one of the highest positions a person can have. Yet he gave it all over for the sake of God’s plan and God’s king. How readily do we give all we have to Jesus? I find it all too easy to say that I’ll give everything to God, but when it comes to that money, that dream for my future, or even that sin, I want to cling to them. If God wants it, He’ll have to prize it out of my hands. My life is relatively comfortable, and I may say that I’m willing to sacrifice what I have for the sake of the Gospel, but I know that when the rubber hits the road I’m more likely to walk away rather than stand up for Jesus. We can easily forget that God is carrying out His Sovereign plan today. And when we forget this, it’s easier to want to hold on to our own little kindgoms – maybe our reputation, or that job we want, or that relationship we hope for – instead of surrendering them to Jesus.

The third, and main, application, is this: Jonathan loved God’s promised king. He showed it formally in his covenants with David, but also personally in his relationship with him. There is obviously a close brotherly affection in how David and Jonathan interact – they trust each other, Jonathan defends David to his father, and Jonathan protects David’s life. Obviously, Jesus doesn’t need us like David needed his friend, but can you see the challenge to love, to trust, to devote ourselves to Jesus like Jonathan was devoted to David? How personal is our relationship with Jesus? Is it just a formal declaration of love that we give in our songs and prayers on a Sunday, or do we live like Jesus is actually a person, our Friend as well as our Redeemer and King, who is with us every day till the end of the age? How much do we talk to our King? How honest are we with Him? We can devote ourselves to Jesus in prayer, in trust, in standing firm in our faith and telling others the Gospel.

Jonathan had great love and devotion for God’s promised king, David. And this is a foreshadowing of how we should love God’s King, Jesus. We should be devoted to our King, who is also our Friend and Saviour. Jesus deserves our hearts and our lives, and there is no sweeter thing than giving everything to our King to gain eternity with Him.

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