Psalm 90

Meditations on the Psalms by Kevin Youngblood
 

Teach us how to apportion our days that we might gain a wise heart. Psalm 90:12

Psalm 90 is a sobering reflection on the brevity of human life from the perspective of divine eternity. With the reality of death firmly fixed before the psalmist, he proceeds to marvel at the speed with which the days evaporate. Nothing quite focuses our attention on the present, on our priorities, as does the contemplation of our deaths, especially the fact that we are not guaranteed another day on this earth. There is simply no time to waste on sin and self from this perspective. Perhaps this is why the Rule of St. Benedict advises us “To desire eternal life with all of the passion of the spirit. To keep death daily before one’s eyes.”

This I think captures well what the psalmist is saying: “Teach us to keep death daily before our eyes.” When I practice this discipline of contemplating my death, of imagining that today is the last day of my life, I am immediately ashamed at how much time I have wasted on foolish, shallow pleasures, on sin and selfishness. I would get stuck in this downward spiral of shame were it not for the assurance of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Lamentations 3:23 comes into razor sharp focus – YHWH’s compassionate acts are renewed every morning. In the light of Psalm 90 and in the light of the discipline of “keeping death daily before my eyes” I come to see that time itself is a grace of God. The fact that God has given me one more day to make things right, to live with the correct priorities, to give sin no place, and to waste no time on selfishness and shallow pleasures is itself evidence that he graciously woke me up this morning to further his work in my mind and heart and to extend his healing love in and through me for the betterment of the world.


Read more...

Mark 3:13-15

Meditations in Mark by Kevin Youngblood
 

And he went up on the mountain and called to him those whom he desired, and they came to him. 14 And he appointed twelve (whom he also named apostles) so that they might be with him and he might send them out to preach 15 and have authority to cast out demons. Mark 3:13-15

The gospel reading for yesterday’s evening office caught my attention and I have not been able to stop thinking about it. The words “and he went up on the mountain” stood out to me as never before as I read about Jesus’ selection of the twelve apostles. This is such an important moment in Jesus’ ministry that I doubt anything about is accidental or insignificant, including his choice of venue. Why did Jesus ascend a mountain before summoning the twelve he had chosen as apostles?

I think the reason may be that Jesus is recreating the scene from Exodus 19 – 20 where the twelve tribes of Israel first arrive at Sinai and enter into covenant with YHWH. YHWH was very insistent that no one even touch, much less climb, the mountain he had chosen for his first formal address to Israel as his new holy people. Indeed, the prohibition was reinforced with the threat of death by stoning whether human or beast. YHWH’s point in making this strict prohibition, I think, was to emphasize that he must take the initiative in establishing a relationship with Israel. He does not want a repeat of Babel where human beings took it upon themselves to construct their own sacred mountain and to climb their way up it to reach God on their own terms. Rather, YHWH will descend the mountain and dwell among the people in a tent non unlike the ones in which they live during their desert sojourn. Furthermore, Sinai was a prototype of sacred space and was therefore divided into three zones (corresponding to the tabernacle’s three sections: the court, the holy place, and the most holy place). Thus Israel who was clean but not holy as were the priests had to remain at the foot of the mountain. Moses (and only Moses), however, as prototypical high priest, could ascend to the peak of Sinai which corresponds to the inner sanctum, the Holy of Holies.


Read more...

Psalm 118

Meditations on the Psalms: Kevin Youngblood

 

 The Lord is on my side; I will not fear.

What can man do to me?

The Lord is on my side as my helper;

I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust in man.

It is better to take refuge in the Lord

than to trust in princes.

I have never felt entirely comfortable with the psalmist’s assertion in Psalm 118:6. The psalmist says “YHWH is on my side.” The Hebrew here is a little more ambiguous (יְהוָ֣ה לִ֭י) “YHWH is for me” or “YHWH is mine,” but the discomfort remains. I suppose this is because I have been warned all of my life of reducing God to the level of a human companion, a sidekick, a groupie, a cheerleader, someone who is unconditionally committed to supporting and advancing whatever cause I happen to be championing at the time.


Read more...

Psalm 46

Meditations on the Psalms: Kevin Youngblood

Come, behold the works of the Lord,

how he has brought desolations on the earth.

He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;

he breaks the bow and shatters the spear;

he burns the chariots with fire.

10 “Be still, and know that I am God.

I will be exalted among the nations,

I will be exalted in the earth!”

11 The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress. Selah

These closing lines of Psalm 46 are somewhat surprising. On the one hand, they invite us to behold YHWH’s “works.” We expect to see the unveiling of some great masterpiece, some breathtakingly beautiful work of art, but what we see instead are the desolations that he has brought on the earth. Can this be right? In what sense can it be said that desolations are the work of God? Surely this cannot be the goal or objective of God’s work. Indeed it isn’t.

This leads to the next surprise in the closing of Psalm 46. These desolations are further defined as the cessation of wars. The ground is littered with broken bows, shattered spears, the charred remains of chariots. The desolations of verse 8 are in reality an expose of the emptiness and ugliness of the world we have built on the foundation of violence, division, warfare and bloodshed. The desolation is the divine disarmament of the unsustainable world at war with itself. God has entered the fray as the divine warrior to forever disarm the opposing sides of every conflict. The weapons of our warfare cannot simply be put away, they must be disabled – made incapable of ever shedding blood and taking life again. Thus the desolation. But even this is not God’s ultimate goal. This is still just ground clearing.


Read more...

You Are My Son

Meditations on the Psalms: Kevin Youngblood

I will tell of the decree:

The Lord said to me, “You are my Son;

today I have begotten you.

Ask of me, and I will make the nations your heritage,

and the ends of the earth your possession.

Nestled in the second psalm of the Psalter is a memory, a recitation that the Davidic king repeats to himself in the midst of raging nations and quarrelsome kings who are rattling their sabers and breathing out threats. Both in the eyes of these kings and in his own eyes the Davidic king seems small, far from equal to the forces that oppose him. Who is he to confront these super powers? His kingdom is a backwater, a mere midget among giants on the world stage. As the king of Assyria once said to Hezekiah, “I’ll give you 2,000 horses if you can even find enough riders to put on their backs, just to make it a fair fight!” (Isa 36:8; 2 Kgs 18:23).

Intimidated and daunted by what he’s up against, the Davidic king takes a deep breath with the threats and taunts still ringing in his ears and he closes his eyes and he repeats to himself the words that YHWH spoke to him on the day of his coronation: “You are my son. Today, I have become your father. Just ask and the nations will become your inheritance, the very ends of the earth your birthright.”


Read more...

Psalm 37

Meditations on the Psalms: Kevin Youngblood

My reading of Psalm 37 this morning revealed to me a connection I had never made before. The psalmist makes two references to those who will inherit the land. The first in verse 9 refers to these people as “those who wait on/hope in the LORD.” The second in verse 11 refers to them as “the afflicted/meek/gentle.” Both of these statements occur in the larger context of warnings not to fret over the deeds of the wicked, not to let them get to you and disturb your peace. In other words, do not let the wicked provoke you to wickedness. Do not let them trigger you to thoughtless sinful reflexes, angry knee-jerk reactions.

What I had never considered before was the connection between “waiting on the LORD” and meekness, gentleness, tolerating a certain amount of persecution for the sake of a greater goal or cause. It would appear that as we wait on the LORD the Spirit cultivates in us our savior’s own gentleness. Of course, these verses are famously recalled in the third beatitude of our Lord’s Sermon on the Mount where, arguably, the extent of the inheritance expands to encompass the whole world – the new creation. Wait on the LORD long enough and the world itself becomes yours! Exercise increasing gentleness and the next thing you know you’ve “conquered” the world! Meditating on this psalm reminded me this morning of just how counter-intuitive the psalms are. They reveal to what a great extent the world has messed with my head and challenge me to think differently, to declare my independence from this present age’s conventional wisdom.

Father,

Thank you for reserving the eschatological inheritance for those who in gentleness wait for your vindication and intervention. Teach me not to fret nor to allow my actions to be dictated by the perverse provocations of the wicked. Increase my immunity to such provocations. May they lose their impact on me as I pursue your holiness and love. Through your psalms continue to detoxify my mind of polluted thoughts. Sober me up with the psalms that I may no longer be “drunk with wine” but rather be filled with the Holy Spirit whose fruit is gentleness and patience.

Amen