March 18, 2012 Psalm 18A vs. 1-30 A Shelter in a Time of Storm
Numbers 21:4-9 Psalm 18:1-30 Eph. 2:1-10 John 3:14-21
“Don’t tell God how big your storm is, tell the storm how big your God is,” Marcy Keefe-Slager
Storm season is upon us early this year, making this statement appropriate as we are already experiencing thunderstorms and the threat of tornados. Also appropriate for today’s psalm. This is a long psalm, two psalms joined together, verses 1-30 is an individual thanksgiving hymn, verses 31-50 royal psalm of a king who has won victory in battle. Because of this I will be separating the two and doing first one, 18A, today, 18B at a later time.
Our psalm starts out with words of praise of God, “I love you, Lord, my strength, Lord, my rock, my fortress, my deliverer. . . I have been delivered from my enemies.” (1-3) God is seen as the “rock” – strong, reliable, a natural symbol of strength and safety. He praises God for delivering him from his enemies.
He goes on to talk about his troubles in vs. 4-6, how he called upon God and God heard – death surged around him; menacing floods terrified him; cords of Sheol tightened around him. He was in the throws of death and God heard and saved him.
Verses 7-15 recount God’s response in the form of a theophany – God’s great power in nature. They provide a powerful description of God’s majesty, grandeur and power through the image of a storm, earthquake, thunder, lightning, hail. In the midst of this storm, God reaches down and saves the writer as we hear in vs. 16-17, God brought him to a safe place.
Vs. 20-24 state how God rewarded him because of his righteousness.
Vs. 25-30 then point to how God deals with others: how God is loyal to those who are loyal to him, blameless with the blameless, pure with the pure, crooked with the crooked. (Or forward with the forward – King James Version. Froward means from-ward, as opposed to toward, however God is never from-ward with his people, always “toward”, moving towards us, his people.) This is a way of invoking “karma” – what goes around comes around, or as you measure out, so shall you be measured as Jesus said (Luke 6:30, Mk. 4:24). Writer goes on to say God delivers a humble people, but brings down the haughty – a common theme in Scripture (vs. 27). Vs. 28 – God lights my darkness, in contrast to the darkness of God in vs. 9. With God all things are possible, the weak are strong, with God “I can leap over a wall,” “I can crush a troop.” The psalm concludes with statement that God’s ways are perfect, God’s promises true – he is a shield for all who take refuge in him.
Whatever peril the writer was facing, it was perceived as huge on his part, life-threatening, thereby requiring a mighty act of salvation on the part of God who appears in all of his power and majesty.
With all of the natural disasters that occur in the world, earthquakes in Haiti and Japan, tsunamis, hurricanes and most recently tornados, this is an apt and timely description of God. Storms can be terrifying and awe-inspiring at the same time, reminding us of God’s awesome power. In our psalm God rescues the just from the storm. There is clearly a problem with this, though, for we know that natural disasters strike the just and the unjust. There is no guarantee of safety amidst a storm. Natural disasters are not God’s punishment for sins, though there were those who believed this in Old Testament times and even today. They just happen. So what is this psalm saying to us today?
Reading from Numbers we hear the last of the murmuring stories. The people in the desert were constantly complaining. They complained that they were hungry and God provided manna and quail. They complained of thirst and God gave them water from a rock. In today’s reading they were complaining because they didn’t like the food God had given them, not so unlike us today. Always something we can complain about. God’s punishment is to send serpents with a fiery sting. When the people repent God instructs Moses to put a bronze serpent on a rod where it can be lifted up for all to see. Those who looked upon the serpent were healed.
In some ways a troubling passage, would seem like Moses had made a false image for the Hebrews to worship. There were cults at the time that worship images of serpents. It was also troublesome because the serpent was an image of the devil. King Hezekiah later had the bronzed servant destroyed in his efforts to abolish idolatry (2 Kings 18:4). And yet, Jesus chose to use this image as a sign of his saving power, as we see in our gospel today. Reminder that God’s ways not our ways; God will use anything and everything to reach his people. A serpent can be a sign of the devil, or a sign of the healing power of a physician, as it has come to be.
In Numbers, God sends the scourge and then removes the scourge, a seeming contradiction, yet with a contrary people, perhaps God needed to be contrary to get their attention. As we see in our psalm, sometimes God returns to us what we give to God, not out of contrariness on God’s part but because it may be the only way to reach us.
In Ephesians, Paul says that “you were dead in your transgressions and sins” but now through Jesus, we all have life. Like the psalmist who counted himself as among the dead and was rescued, so we, too, are rescued from our sins. For God so loved the world that he gave his only son. Jesus was lifted up on the cross so that all who look upon him might be saved, a sign of God’s everlasting love.
What are some of the storms in your life? Perhaps you are dealing with the storm of cancer or another life-threatening illness for yourself or a loved one. Perhaps a financial storm brought on by losses in the stock market, or sudden, unexpected job loss that can leave one bereft of financial security and the identity that a job provided. Just this past week had news of a friend who suddenly lost a position she had held for a quarter of a century. Perhaps you have loved ones dealing with the aftermath of a physical storm such as the tornados that tore up areas of our country recently.
Perhaps you are dealing with a spiritual storm or darkness. Psalm speaks of how God made darkness his secret hiding place (vs. 11). If so, perhaps God has called us to this place to speak to us. What we call darkness may very well be the overwhelming light of God that appears as darkness to us with limited vision. Perhaps you are overwhelmed with grief and thus called into the darkness of grief where God may be waiting to whisper to you.
The rain raineth on the just and the unjust alike. None of us get through this life without encountering some storms, but for those of us who believe, there is salvation, there is safety, shelter in the times of storm. The shape of that salvation may not take the form of worldly goods, health or wealth. It is better than that. It is life everlasting with Jesus in heaven.
So whatever storms might be blowing about in your life, don’t tell God. God already knows. Instead, tell the storm how big your God is. God is master of the storm, he rides the winds of the storms, he controls the seas and the depths of the earth, and he will rescue all who call upon him. He truly is a shelter in a time of storm.
Robertson Copyright March 2012