Tags: commentary on Psalms, desperate prayer, Heman, intimacy with God, obstetrics, prayer, prayer in suffering, Psalm 88, Sunday School lessons on Psalms, wrestling with God
“Obstetrician” is from the Latin term for a midwife, obstetrix, which has the same root from which we get words like “obstacle.” It has the literal sense of “standing in opposition to,” and you can picture a midwife’s position, “standing against” (literally, of course, not figuratively) a woman in the process of giving birth.
Heman was not afraid – as bizarre as this sounds, in a sense – to stand “in opposition to” God. However, as is the case with a midwife, he was not actually opposing God with his prayer. He was trying to “bring forth” – to bring forth from pain a “delivery/deliverance.”
Heman wrestled with God for healing, deliverance, or at least understanding.
Wilt thou shew wonders to the dead? shall the dead arise [and] praise thee? Selah.
Heman rhetorically asked God, “How will I praise you if I die?”
Shall thy lovingkindness be declared in the grave? [or] thy faithfulness in destruction?
This kind of praying sounds foreign to our ears, but it is not all that uncommon in the Bible, where the petitioner in extreme circumstances sounds as if he’s trying to bargain with God. Abraham did this for Lot as he tried to persuade God to spare Sodom. Moses did this for the people after their idolatry with the golden calf. Here Heman seeks to do it for himself, but he frames it as an opportunity for God to get glory.
Shall thy wonders be known in the dark? and thy righteousness in the land of forgetfulness?
Heman also prayed obstetrically not just in bargaining with God for his life, but in the sense of wrestling with God. This kind of praying does not displease God if we are sincere, and if our heart still retains a reverence for Him and a desire to truly know Him, to know His will, and to receive His blessing. Jacob did it. Job did it. Asaph did it in Psalm 73. Habakkuk did it.
Questioning God’s judgment, wisdom, knowledge, or faithfulness can be a dangerous thing, but He may allow it if, through it, we have a true desire to draw closer to Him.
I [am] afflicted and ready to die from [my] youth up: [while] I suffer thy terrors I am distracted. Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off. They came round about me daily like water; they compassed me about together. Lover and friend hast thou put far from me, [and] mine acquaintance into darkness.
In the darkness we are driven to root out the sins that may have caused our suffering, and this brings us to an intentional spending of time with Him in the awareness of His presence. Even if our suffering is not being caused by specific sins, the Lord’s painful, but gracious, isolation of us from the presence and succor of our friends and loved ones can force us (or free us) to seek Him as the only Light that can shine into, and light our way out of, the deepest midnight darkness of our circumstances or our souls.
Tags: Biblical chastening, chastening, chastisement, God's wrath, Heman, prayer, prayer in suffering, propitiation, Psalm 88, wrath of God
In Psalm 88 Heman prayed openly. He prayed obstinately. And he prayed obnoxiously. Note some of the broad generalizations he used, and the self-centered assumption that God was doing His absolute worst to Heman:
For my soul is full of troubles: and my life draweth nigh unto the grave.
“Full?” We often feel this way when we are in extreme distress, but this is an exaggeration that attempts to disguise the fact that God truly sees to the very depths of our soul.
Thou hast laid me in the lowest pit, in darkness, in the deeps.
“The lowest?” No matter how low we may feel, the pit of anguish in which we languish is far shallower, by God’s grace, than the one we deserve, apart from Him.
Thy wrath lieth hard upon me, and thou hast afflicted [me] with all thy waves.
“All Thy waves?” No, not a one of us, from the strongest to the most faithful to the most affliction-hardened, could withstand one instant under the full tide of God’s wrathful surf. We would be obliterated. Only Christ could, and has, experienced this type of wrath in our place.
Thy fierce wrath goeth over me; thy terrors have cut me off.
What Heman was truly experiencing was not the “fierce wrath” of God. What he was actually experiencing was the chastisement of His loving God, which, although no doubt severe, is done out of kindness, with the goal of correction, the way a good father disciplines his son, not out of petty anger, frustration, or perverse joy, but with the intention that the son may benefit, grow, and learn – not be “cut off.”
That Heman’s feelings, although sincere, were not valid in their extremity, is evidenced by the fact that He was still given grace to pray, and that he had the consolation of knowing that the Master of the Universe was listening.
Next time we will see that Heman also prayed obstetrically.
Tags: Biblical prayer, Biblical prayers, commentary on Psalms, Heman, importunity, Luke 11, prayer, Psalm 88, purpose of prayer, Sunday School lessons on Psalms
In part one we saw that Heman, the psalmist of Psalm 88, prayed openly. Now we see that he also prayed obstinately.
O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:
Mine eye mourneth by reason of affliction: LORD, I have called daily upon thee, I have stretched out my hands unto thee.
But unto thee have I cried, O LORD; and in the morning shall my prayer prevent thee.
Praying day and night, praying with tears and grasping hands, praying first thing in the morning, as though the Lord would hear our prayers before He even (figuratively, of course) begins HIS day – this is what is called praying with importunity. And, while it may be an annoyance to us when someone pesters us this way, it does not bother the Lord.
And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
This asking and this seeking and this knocking is an insistent, faithful, and strenuous calling out to the Lord in prayer, which may very well incline Him to respond. Regardless of whether He grants our plea or not, though, it pleases Him because it teaches us dedication and persistence, and because it brings us to intentionally spend time with Him in the awareness of His presence.
Next time we will see that Heman even prayed obnoxiously!
Tags: Acts 1, Acts 2, Christian unity, commentary on Acts, Holy Spirit Baptism, one accord, prayer, Sunday School lessons on Acts, the Holy Spirit
Jesus told them to wait, but He also gave them a promise. Waiting on God’s promises to come to pass is not a waiting-to-see-IF; it’s a waiting-to-see-WHEN.
And, being assembled together with them, commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father, which, saith he, ye have heard of me.
These all continued with one accord in prayer and supplication, with the women, and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brethren.
In Verse 4 they had “assembled together” physically, and now they were waiting together (“with one accord”) spiritually.
And they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and began to speak with other tongues, as the Spirit gave them utterance.
During the interim period between the promise and the fulfillment, they spent their time in prayer and supplication. Why would we pray for God to bring to pass what He has already promised He will do? For one thing, God commands us to do it (Luke 18:1; I Thessalonians 5:17; Romans 12:12; Philippians 4:6; Ephesians 6:18; Jeremiah 33:3). For another thing, God often uses prayer as the means of accomplishing His will (James 5:16).
Notice also that in Acts 1:14 and Acts 2:4 that ALL of those to whom the promise was made were filled with the Holy Ghost. There were not some who were “Spirit-baptized” with some type of second-level anointing. All who were filled with the Spirit were filled with the same Spirit in the same way and at the same time.
Tags: Biblical prayers, commentary on Psalms, condescension, depression, depression in the Bible, lamentation, prayer, Psalm 88, Sunday School lessons on Psalms
[[A Song [or] Psalm for the sons of Korah, to the chief Musician upon Mahalath Leannoth, Maschil of Heman the Ezrahite.]] O lord God of my salvation, I have cried day and night before thee:
Heman was a musician and a Levite. He was an overseer of music (not lyrics) in the Temple. He was also a prophet, and was renowned for his wisdom.
For he [Solomon] was wiser than all men; than Ethan the Ezrahite, and Heman, and Chalcol, and Darda, the sons of Mahol: and his fame was in all nations round about.
I Kings 4:31
In Psalm 88 he was inspired to write a psalm for the sons of Korah, meaning it would be included on a regular basis as part of Temple worship. It is a song based explicitly on Heman’s life and personal experiences, but also inspired by the Holy Spirit. We get the true feelings of Heman, although the articulation of them is breathed through him by the Holy Spirit, and Heman’s feelings are grief, pain, terror, sorrow, frustration, and utter despair.
Psalm 88 is roundly considered by all its commentators to be the saddest Psalm, and perhaps the saddest chapter in the whole Bible. It is in some ways the least hopeful, the most discouraging, the least joyful. So why study it? So that we may prepare for our own coming distress or depression, or make some sense of – and glean some truths about – some period of suffering we may already be experiencing. Because, whatever your view of Heman’s reaction to his suffering, his complaining, his groaning, his self-pity, you will have to admit that he did the one thing the Lord would unquestionably have us to do if we ever find ourselves in this condition: He prayed.
Heman prayed openly.
O LORD God of my salvation…
This might be the one glimmer of brightness in the whole psalm – and it comes at the beginning. Heman knew God was his Savior. Therefore, he addresses the only One Who can help, and, as he views the entire universe to be against him, he addresses his pleas and petitions to the Master of the Universe. You and I, when we find ourselves in despair or danger, must openly seek help from the only One who can truly provide it.
Let my prayer come before thee: incline thine ear unto my cry;
Do not sit there sobbing, hoping that the Master will notice you. Address him specifically and boldly. Heman asks God to “incline” (in modern English we would probably say “recline”) His ear – to stoop down – to condescend. This may sound presumptuous, but it is an open statement of the obvious fact that, if the sovereign Lord of all creation is to deal with us, He must (and He has proven that He will) stoop down to our lowly and pitiable level.
Heman is honest about his mental condition:
For my soul is full of troubles…
He admits that he has become consumed with his fears and has trouble focusing in his prayers.
… while I suffer thy terrors I am distracted.
How easily are we distracted in prayer? Did you know you can actually ask the Lord to help you focus in prayer as part of your prayers?
Next time, we will see that Heman also prayed obstinately.
Tags: commentary on Matthew, dogs in the Bible, faith, Gentiles, Matthew 15, prayer, Sunday School lessons on Matthew, women in the Bible
Was the Lord Jesus just being cruel or uncompassionate as he ignored the pleas of a Gentile woman on behalf of her daughter?
And, behold, a woman of Canaan came out of the same coasts, and cried unto him, saying, Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou Son of David; my daughter is grievously vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word…
The Lord’s silence seemed to disturb the disciples, rather than deter the damsel in distress.
… And his disciples came and besought him, saying, Send her away; for she crieth after us.
To top it off, it looks, at first glance, as if Jesus called the woman a “dog,” which was a cruel name the Jewish leaders had for the Gentiles (whom they considered unclean). (Matthew 15:26)
However, Christ’s ways are always wiser than our ways, and closer inspection of the Scripture shows that Jesus was simply allowing the woman’s great faith to be revealed.
And she said, Truth, Lord: yet the dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table. Then Jesus answered and said unto her, O woman, great is thy faith: be it unto thee even as thou wilt. And her daughter was made whole from that very hour.
When your earnest desire is to see Christ’s will done – even in your most desperate prayer requests – you will not be deterred by social status, ethnicity, gender, timing, the scorn of fellow believers, or anything else, in bringing your sincere petitions before the throne of glory, where the Savior sits at the right hand of the Father, ever making intercession for His followers (Romans 8:34).
Tags: antropopathism, commentary on Exodus, Exodus 32, God's emotions, intercessory prayer, Moses, Open Theism, prayer, sovereignty of God, Sunday School lessons on Exodus
Now therefore let me alone, that my wrath may wax hot against them, and that I may consume them: and I will make of thee a great nation.
This is an example of anthropopathism. In Exodus 15 we learned about anthropomorphism (“man-form”), where human physical characteristics are used to describe God. Anthropopathism is derived from anthropos, meaning “man,” and “pathism,” referring to feelings or emotions. For example, “pathology” is the study of disease – or why people “feel” bad. Sympathy is feeling bad for someone. Empathy is feeling bad with someone. Someone who is “pathetic” is someone for whom we feel sorry. Anthropopathism is attributing human feelings to something (or in this case Someone) who is not human. It does not mean that God is faking His anger, but, unlike us, He is sovereignly and omnipotently in control of it. His feelings or emotions are real, but they are decreed by Him. They are controlled by Him. And they are exhibited in a way that lets us (finite beings) understand His attributes.
God also seems to be testing Moses in Exodus 32:10, telling him that He is mad at the people, and that He is going to demonstrate His anger and wrath, while at the same time making it clear that He is not mad at Moses. It is as if He is telling Moses to move aside while He deals with the people, and that He will start over by a making a new nation from the seed of Moses. God is not lying when He does this because He is not practicing deceit, but He is giving Moses a chance to demonstrate his own humility and faith – which, in fact, Moses does:
And Moses besought the LORD his God, and said, LORD, why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?
A casual, out of context, glance would make it seem like Moses was disrespectfully questioning God, or just being obtuse, asking a dumb question. But what was really going on was that Moses was praying a prayer of intercession. He asked God to do something in a rather bold way, but he recognized this, and he tempered it with a formal Hebrew way of reasoning.
When you were in high school, you probably didn’t say to your father, “Dad, you’re wrong for not letting me drive the car!” At least not if you were thinking rationally. You probably said something more like, “Why would a kind, gracious man like yourself refuse something harmless and kind to a responsible and careful lad like myself?” So, even though it looks like Moses was questioning God’s wisdom, God really received this as a respectful and reverent prayer, with solid reasoning included, as Moses tried to induce God to have mercy. By reading closely, we can find some principles to emulate in our own intercessory prayers:
1. Moses appealed to God’s great past deeds on behalf of these people: “…why doth thy wrath wax hot against thy people, which thou hast brought forth out of the land of Egypt with great power, and with a mighty hand?” As if he said, “Lord, you have gone to great lengths to redeem them, even though they don’t appear to appreciate it.”
2. He appealed to God’s glory
Wherefore should the Egyptians speak, and say, For mischief did he bring them out, to slay them in the mountains, and to consume them from the face of the earth? Turn from thy fierce wrath, and repent of this evil against thy people.
As if saying, “The Egyptians (and the world) are watching. It’s going to look to them like You couldn’t finish what you started, or like You were playing a cruel trick in bringing them out of a bad condition, getting their hopes up, and then destroying them.” Moses asked God to “repent of evil,” but it’s not the same thing for Him that it is for us. The “evil” that Moses referred to was not moral evil. It was catastrophic consequences. The word “repent” here is the idea of “relenting” – of reconsidering what He’s thinking about doing. He respectfully asked God to “change His mind,” also reminding Him of the fact that they are “Thy people.”
3. He reminded God of His Own promises.
Remember Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, thy servants, to whom thou swarest by thine own self, and saidst unto them, I will multiply your seed as the stars of heaven, and all this land that I have spoken of will I give unto your seed, and they shall inherit it for ever.
For God to start over with Moses would pose a difficulty in making it seem like God was breaking His promise to Abraham, so Moses asked God to keep His side of the Covenant for Abraham’s sake, and, more importantly, for His Own name’s sake. This is not a “prayer-trick” to get God to do what we want. It is a God-ordained feature of prayer and one that pleases Him. He is far more interested in His Own glory than in our desires, comfort, or even needs.
Prayer is not really about getting God to change His mind; it’s about re-centering us on His will, His glory, His name, and His purposes. Some people think this whole exchange between God and Moses is just a set-up – just play-acting arranged by God – and, in an attempt to rescue the doctrine of God’s omnipotence and sovereignty, they say that Moses’s prayer was basically useless – that God was going to do what He was going to do anyway. If you say, no, prayer really works, Moses really did “get” God to hold back His wrath, then someone might say you are guilty of something called “Open Theism.”
Open Theism is a technical heresy that states either: (1) God does not and cannot know the future because, although He can know all the possible outcomes of free will choices, He still can not know what “free will agents” will choose; or (2) God has the power to know the future, but has chosen to limit His own knowledge so that His relationship with His creatures can be more “real” vis-à-vis reciprocal love.
It is not necessary to resort to Open Theism in order to believe in the omniscience of God and the real effects of Moses’s prayer. God simply chooses prayer (and even changing His Own mind, which is infinite and eternal) as the means to accomplish His perfect sovereign will and plans.
Remember the former things of old: for I am God, and there is none else; I am God, and there is none like me, Declaring the end from the beginning, and from ancient times the things that are not yet done, saying, My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure:
Lord, thou hast been our dwelling place in all generations. Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God. Thou turnest man to destruction; and sayest, Return, ye children of men. For a thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is past, and as a watch in the night.
Tags: boldness, commentary on Hebrews, drawing near to God, Hebrews 3, Hebrews 4, Moses, prayer, Sunday School lessons on Hebrews, superiority of Christ
Christ is greater than the prophets. He is greater than the angels. He is greater than any spiritual leader – even Moses, who had a special place in the hearts of Jewish believers.
Wherefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our profession, Christ Jesus;
“Partakers” means that all Christians are in this together. The Holy Ghost reminded the Hebrew believers that they were partakers of the heavenly calling when He began to talk about Moses, their most beloved spiritual leader, because drawing nigh to God needs to be real. The Holy Ghost doesn’t want us to deceive ourselves by drawing close to a spiritual leader when we can go directly to God. Remember, Jesus isn’t just a faraway principle or an idea or a symbol. Jesus is also a “partaker” with us.
For we are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence stedfast unto the end;
It is not that our salvation is dependent upon us holding on until the end with our own strength. No, the whole chapter is written explicitly to believers. Moses should be studied. For the most part, he’s a good example – a man of faith – greatly used of God.
And Moses verily was faithful in all his house, as a servant, for a testimony of those things which were to be spoken after;
But we are to “consider” Jesus – to study Him more carefully and closely than Moses. If you really want to consider something – to study it carefully – you get close to it. Moses was a prophet and a priest, but:
But Christ as a son over his own house; whose house are we, if we hold fast the confidence and the rejoicing of the hope firm unto the end.
“Confidence” means surety, hope, knowledge of how things are going to work out. If I tell someone something in “confidence,” it’s because I trust that person not to tell anyone else. I trust them with the information, and therefore, I can be bold.
Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.
We use that verse many times to encourage folks to be bold with God during prayer time, but remember, to speak with boldness, to speak with confidence, I must draw near. Coming boldly, with confidence, does not equal loud or proud. Can you imagine a petitioner shouting at a king from a distance?
Tags: answered prayers, commentary on Matthew, divine healing, faith, Jairus, Matthew 9, prayer, Sunday School lessons on Matthew, superstition, woman with the issue of blood
In Matthew Chapter 9 Jesus heals Jairus’s daughter and the woman with the issue of blood.
While he spake these things unto them, behold, there came a certain ruler, and worshipped him, saying, My daughter is even now dead: but come and lay thy hand upon her, and she shall live. And Jesus arose, and followed him, and so did his disciples. And, behold, a woman, which was diseased with an issue of blood twelve years, came behind him, and touched the hem of his garment: For she said within herself, If I may but touch his garment, I shall be whole. But Jesus turned him about, and when he saw her, he said, Daughter, be of good comfort; thy faith hath made thee whole. And the woman was made whole from that hour. And when Jesus came into the ruler’s house, and saw the minstrels and the people making a noise, He said unto them, Give place: for the maid is not dead, but sleepeth. And they laughed him to scorn. But when the people were put forth, he went in, and took her by the hand, and the maid arose. And the fame hereof went abroad into all that land.
Jairus was a leader among the Jews and a man; this will sound mean, but, to society’s way of thinking at that time, the woman was a “broke nobody.” Jairus worshipped at the synagogue; the woman was considered unclean. Jairus was pleading for his daughter; the woman needed healing for herself. Jairus’s daughter had been healthy for 12 years; the woman had been sick for 12 years. Everybody knew about Jairus’s problem; no one knew about the woman’s problem. Jairus needed God to increase his faith; the woman’s faith was very simplistic, childlike, and almost superstitious. Jesus ultimately healed both the woman and Jairus’s daughter. As fallen human beings, our faith, just like everything else about us, is far from perfect.
When my second daughter was born, the doctor and the nurse who were in the delivery room with my wife and I remained calm and acted very similar to the way the doctor and nurse had acted when our first daughter was born. They seemed occupied in cleaning her off, checking all her body parts, getting her onto the scale, etc. But we could sense something was wrong. She wasn’t crying nearly as loudly as our first daughter had, and she seemed to be wheezing and having trouble breathing. After a few moments, the nurse decided that she needed to be taken out. It was frightening – terrifying actually – and for the next few days our daughter was in the newborn intensive care section of the hospital on a breathing tube. We were only allowed to hold her very briefly a couple of times a day. Despite the fact that the breathing tube bypassed her vocal cords, making her crying soundless, it was obvious that she was in distress and wailing with body-wracking sobs almost constantly. One of the most frustrating things about the whole situation was that the doctors and hospital staff couldn’t or wouldn’t tell me what was wrong. They said it was too soon to tell, revealing only that it may be something as routine as the need to drain fluid from her lungs or something as serious as a heart valve problem. I pleaded for percentages, possible diagnoses, treatment options, contingency plans, you name it, but the doctor in charge of her case would only shake her head somberly and say that she could give me no assurance at all. I tried my best to stay with my wife, who needed comfort in her hospital room, but it was hard to stay away from the intensive care unit. They had a special waiting area, and I would sit in there all alone, all night long, pleading with the Lord to heal my daughter. This might very well be one of the most sinful prayers you can pray, but many, many times during those three days, I asked God to take my life in exchange for my daughter’s. This was one of the most miserable periods of my entire life, but I can honestly say that I probably drew closer to God in that ICU waiting room than I ever had before. I give Him glory and praise today, almost 17 years later, that He did completely heal my daughter, despite the superstitious nature of my faith.
I don’t know exactly what was going through the mind of Jairus or the woman with the issue of blood before Jesus answered their prayers, but I am eternally thankful that He does answer imperfect prayers prayed with imperfect faith.
Tags: 1 Timothy 5, Christian widows, Christian wives, Cinco de Mayo devotions, intercessory prayer, prayer, prayer ministry, widows
It is right and good that the Bible admonishes us to pay special attention to the needs of widows. Ladies whose husbands have passed away have always been at risk in a sinful society. However, the Lord, while certainly pointing to the plight of, and being compassionate toward, older widows, is also very gracious to recognize their worth and value to the body of Christ.
Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day.
I Timothy 5:5
A Godly lady who would otherwise find herself alone and desolate may nevertheless learn to lean upon, and trust in, the Lord in ways which go beyond the abilities of wives still attending to the needs of earthly husbands. For this reason, among others, the Bible reminds those in church leadership to encourage the powerful and prayerful intercession of these precious women.