Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Thoughts on Psalm 20:2 - Strengthened by Prophecy

2 ​​May He send you help from the sanctuary,
​​And strengthen you out of Zion;

I have felt very discouraged lately. For many reasons, but ultimately I think it boils down to this: things haven’t gone the way I’ve expected them to.

And so I have battled depression, anger, frustration, and fear for the last few weeks. Truthfully, most of 2016. I would go so far as to say this year has been the most emotionally and spiritually challenging year of my life.

So these words - strengthen you - here in Psalm 20 are very appealing to me.

And from what we recently investigated about “Thought Rhyme” we can look at the two lines of verse 2 as being slightly different angles on the same idea.

So again in context from verse 1 - this is about “the Day of Trouble.” And God’s solution? To send you help. And what kind of help? Strength.

Very interesting. It’s not necessarily a deliverance - at least not yet. The first thing God wants to do to help you is to strengthen you.

And although there are many ways God can and does strengthen, there is one in particular that I want to focus on: prophecy.

Yikes. That can be a scary word. Images of Old Testament prophets calling down fire and casting judgments over nations come to mind.

Or perhaps you’ve been exposed to some modern day self-proclaimed prophets, who foretell of strange things such as the end of the world, or that God is going to send you to Africa, or something that is just… way out there.

In everything, I think there is a healthy balance.

So let’s try and put aside any prejudice we may have toward this idea of prophecy and look at one true Biblical concept of prophecy (this is not meant to be a comprehensive study of prophecy - but one purpose), and then we’ll consider how it applied to the life of David, who wrote those words, “May He.. strengthen you”

It’s likely that you’re somewhat familiar with the famous “Love Chapter” - 1 Corinthians 13, which ends with:
And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Cor 13:13

But do you know what the very next statement in the Bible is? It is a command:

Pursue love, and desire spiritual gifts, but especially that you may prophesy. 1 Cor 14:1

Right after Paul gets through laying out the most beautiful and perfect definition of love ever written, he says, “pursue love, and desire that you may prophesy.”

Clearly, there is a connection! Prophecy is love in action. And listen to the following results - and I would suggest that this is a foundational Scripture for New Testament prophecy:

For he who prophesies speaks edification and exhortation and comfort to men. 1 Cor 14:3

So there are three results of prophecy: edification, exhortation, and comfort.

And for now, I just want to focus on this word exhortation. To exhort. “To strongly encourage or urge (someone) to do something.”

To strongly encourage. To strengthen.

Let me just add at this point that if someone claims to be a prophet and says, “God is going to send you to Africa,” or something out of left field, that you haven’t even considered before,  you do not have to accept that word. God does not override your free will, and prophecy will not either. We are commanded not to despise prophecies, but to test them:

Do not despise prophecies. Test all things; hold fast what is good. 1 Thessalonians 5:20-21

So prophecy is not primarily meant to give you direction (though it can at times). It is really meant to exhort you: to encourage you; to strengthen you.

I believe God gives prophetic words to give a picture of what the end result will be. So that when the world seems to fall apart around you, you can hang on to this promise and know that everything will turn out okay.

Let’s look at this in the life of David. Again, we find David in a Day of Trouble. After he kills Goliath, he becomes famous in Israel, and king Saul becomes very jealous of him, saying “now what more can he have but the kingdom?” 1 Samuel 18:8

Then Saul tried killing David. Several times.

Can you imagine if the president of the United States put out a kill order on you?!

Do you think you’d be afraid for your life? Take some time and imagine that. It will help connect you to where David was in his heart through this period.

So David flees. He gets out of town. And Saul sends his army after him. Every day.

Saul sought him every day, but God did not deliver him into his hand. So David saw that Saul had come out to seek his life. 1 Samuel 23:14-15

I imagine it was a terrifying experience: sleeping with one eye open, always having to look over his shoulder.

I imagine David thought back to that time the prophet Samuel came and anointed him with oil and told him he would be king of Israel one day (1 Samuel 16:13).

“Where did I go wrong? I’m supposed to be king someday, yet I’m living like a fugitive, running for my life. Why hasn’t God’s promise come through? This isn’t what I expected!!

The Bible doesn’t explicitly say that David had those thoughts, but I think they are very reasonable thoughts to have in that type of situation. And I can admit I’ve had thoughts along those lines this year.

The day of trouble can be very discouraging. Very disheartening.

But God’s provision for David in the Day of Trouble shows up as a prophetic word that strengthens him:

Then Jonathan, Saul’s son, arose and went to David in the woods and strengthened his hand in God. And he said to him, “Do not fear, for the hand of Saul my father shall not find you. You shall be king over Israel, and I shall be next to you. Even my father Saul knows that.” 1 Samuel 23:16-17

Jonathan pointed David back to the end result that Samuel had already established (in chapter 16). He opens a later chapter in the book of David’s life and says, “look, don’t be afraid… you shall be king” - so even though he’s living in the wilderness of a forest, even though the king is hunting him down - somehow he is going to get through this.

That is a wonderful example of prophecy. Very simple, but very profound. In the middle of the world falling apart - David was reminded of his future.

It’s interesting that there is no record of how Jonathan knew that David would be king. Was it common knowledge that Samuel anointed David? I don’t think so. Samuel said, “If Saul hears [that I am going to anoint David as king], he will kill me.” 1 Samuel 16:2 So I personally think it was done in secret.

But somehow Jonathan knew. Maybe it was just the favor that was on David’s life, but in any case - he was able to point David to his future, of what God had promised him, and

Don’t despise prophecies just because some people have misused the term. Prophecy is God’s gift to His people to strengthen us; to encourage and exhort us.

And if you’re needing strengthening in the Day of Trouble, trust that God will give it to you. It may come from a person. It may even be that the person doesn’t know they’re prophesying to you. They don’t say, “thus saith the Lord”. The just say something to you that hits you right in your heart and strengthens you.

And His strengthening may not come from a person - it may be a verse of Scripture that God highlights to you. It may be a sign on the side of the road. It may be a dream you have. Or, as happened to me this week, it may be revisiting older blog posts that I wrote myself, which ministered to the very heart of what I’m struggling with.

And in any case, recognize that though the message may be delivered through various forms, it is coming from the Lord Jesus Christ just for you.

May the Lord send you help and strengthen you in the Day of Trouble.

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Friday, August 26, 2016

How the Psalms Rhyme and Why it's Awesome

I’ll be honest. This post is going to sound a lot like a high school English lesson.

But I promise that it will be worth your time to read! (or watch the video)

If you grasp this idea of Parallelism (Thought Rhyme) - it will help you unlock some of the beautiful mysteries God has hidden for you in His Word.

Last time, I mentioned how the psalms don’t have any rhythm or rhyme to them, but then introduced this literary tool called Parallelism, or “Thought Rhyme” to achieve a poetic effect with two key benefits:
  1. It is completely translatable from language to language
  2. It provides a “3 Dimensional View” of the topic

Your left eye and right eye see slightly different images of the same object, and your brain combines those two images to form a single image that has an additional sense of depth that one eye alone cannot give.

In the same way, Thought Rhyme gives two slightly different perspectives on an idea, and combining the two gives a deeper perspective.

Let’s take a look at some examples, as well as the different types of Thought Rhyme.

The earth is the Lord’s, and all its fullness,
The world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1

Looking a little closer at this verse, try and get the deeper perspective that is available by comparing the two lines:

The earth
is the Lord’s
and all its fullness
The world

and those who dwell therein
Two slightly different views on the same object
The fact that the world is the Lord’s is implied in the second part, though not stated explicitly
Two slightly (though not obvious) different views on the same thing

So you can make a connection between the “fullness of the earth” and “those who dwell therein” - that’s us, God’s people!

This type of Thought Rhyme is called “Synonymous Parallelism” - that is, when the two thoughts say the same thing.

Another type of is “Antithetical Parallelism”. This is when the two thoughts contrast each other. It’s like looking at two different sides of the same coin. E.g.
A soft answer turns away wrath,
But a harsh word stirs up anger. Proverb 15:1

Dissecting, we can make connections:

A soft answer
turns away
But a harsh word
stirs up
Opposite ways of responding to someone
Opposite results
Slightly different view on the same thing

I’ll leave it to you to meditate on that.

Yet a third type of Parallelism is  “Progressive Parallelism”.

In this case, there is a natural progression of the thought - going deeper on the same thought line by line.

Blessed is the man
​​Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
​​Nor stands in the path of sinners,
​​Nor sits in the seat of the scornful; Psalm 1:1

Do you see the progression? Walking to standing to sitting. It’s like stairs that lead deeper down into a single thought.

And a fourth type is Synthetic Parallelism. This is a cause & effect type relationship between the two lines:
The Lord is my Shepherd,
I shall not want. Psalm 23:1

The second line is a result of the first line. But they are still directly connected. They are not independent thoughts.

To summarize these types of Thought Rhyme:
  1. Synonymous - the thoughts say the same thing (left eye & right eye)
  2. Antithetical - the thoughts contrast each other (two sides of the same coin)
  3. Progressive - the thoughts have a natural progression (go deeper)
  4. Synthetic - the thoughts have a cause & effect relationship

Okay, so if you’ve stuck with me through this pseudo English lesson, it’s about to pay off. This is the punchline to the benefit of recognizing Thought Rhyme:

The two thoughts are sometimes not obviously connected. But because of the principle of parallelism, a connection can be made and insight can be gleaned.

Let’s look at two passages of Scripture that talk about this idea of “The Fear of the Lord”:

Oh, fear the LORD, you His saints!
​​There is no want to those who fear Him.
​​The young lions lack and suffer hunger;
​​But those who seek the LORD shall not lack any good thing. Psalm 34:9-10

“The fear of the Lord” can sound like a strange statement. But when you compare:

Those who fear Him
do not want (or lack)
Those who seek Him
do not lack

Do you see the connection? Seeking the Lord is part of what it means to Fear the Lord.

Yet another example:

The LORD takes pleasure in those who fear Him,
​​In those who hope in His mercy. Psalm 147:11

Again, these are not isolated statements. It’s not like the Lord takes pleasure in those who fear Him and those who hope in His mercy. This is parallelism at work, and you can combine these two slightly different perspectives into a single images.

As a result, we can see that “hoping in His mercy” is yet another aspect of what it means to Fear the Lord.

Again, if you really understand this principle, and observe it in the Scripture, it can fundamentally change the way you understand the poetry of the Bible.

I'll be referencing this principle of Thought Rhyme often in the devotions on the Psalms, so I just wanted to take the time to introduce it properly. I hope it helps!

God bless you!

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Monday, August 22, 2016

If the Psalms are poetry, why don't they Rhyme?

Rhyme is a beautiful poetic device that is pleasant to the ear. It naturally draws in the audience, and adds a level of emotion to the writing beyond what the words alone can do.

So if rhyme is so wonderful, why doesn’t the poetry of the Bible use it?

One of the chief limitations of rhyme is that it is language specific. That is, what rhymes in English doesn’t rhyme in Spanish. Once translated, a poem must either lose the essence of the words, or lose the rhyme. It cannot keep both.

And the poetry of the Bible was written in Hebrew. So naturally any rhyme wouldn’t translate.

However - and this is so awesome- the poetry doesn’t rhyme even in Hebrew! At least, not in the way that we consider rhyme today.

The Psalms utilize a different rhyming method called Parallelism, or Thought Rhyme

So where normal rhyme has similar sounding words, thought rhyme has similar sounding thoughts, or phrases.

For example:
The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness
The world and those who dwell therein. Psalm 24:1

If you read that carefully, you’ll see that the psalmist is basically saying the same thing twice.

Do you see how the thought - the entire phrase - is rhymed? Instead of two words sounding alike, the two thoughts sound alike. You’ll quickly see that this runs throughout almost all of the poetry of the Bible!

Thought Rhyme has two significant benefits.

First, it is completely translatable. Hebrew, English, Spanish, French, German - the thought can be rhymed without losing its poetic effect. This is so brilliant! God knew that His Word would be translated into hundreds of languages, and so the rhyming technique He chose would allow the poetic effect to be carried through translation. Amazing.

Secondly, and I think more importantly, it enables what I call a “three dimensional view” of any given thought. Let me give an analogy:

With normal vision, you have two eyes. A left eye and a right eye. If you hold an object just in front of you, close your left eye and look at the object. Then close your right eye and look through just your left. Go back and forth a few times and you’ll notice that each eye sees the object in almost exactly the same way - but at a slightly different angle.

With both eyes open, your brain then takes those two subtly different images and combines them into a single, 3-dimensional image in your mind.

That is exactly what Thought Rhyme enables you to do! It gives you two slightly different angles on a single topic, so you can combine the two to get a sense of depth for any given passage of Scripture that would otherwise be “flat” or 2-dimensional.

If this idea of Thought Rhyme clicks with you - if you really get it and understand it, it will transform the way you look at the Bible. It will add a depth of perspective and understanding to the Scripture that will forever change your relationship with the Word of God.

And it’s not isolated to the Psalms! When you read the Gospels, you’ll notice, for example, that Matthew 13, Mark 4, and Luke 8 all have accounts of “The Parable of the Sower”. They are all 3 very close, but have subtle differences. Combining the 3 together forms one complete picture. And so it is with all of the stories and parables in the Gospels.

Truly this idea of Parallelism, Thought Rhyme, is amazing. I cannot say enough about it!

I will share one more post, in which I will share the various types of Thought Rhyme, along with several examples. Then I will continue the devotions on the Psalms. But I will be making reference to this rhyming technique often, so I wanted to take the time to introduce it properly.

As you read the Psalms, Proverbs, Isaiah, etc., be on the lookout for “Thought Rhyme”, and consider how the two slightly different statements combine together to form a complete picture of what is being said.

A nice article discussing Parallelism (Thought Rhyme):

Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson. Used by permission. All rights reserved.