Monthly Archives: December 2017

The Book of Psalms

Love is Not a Victory March by Marie

BOOK I  (Psalms 1-41)

Psalm 1: Poetry and Law
Psalm 2: The Lord’s Messiah
Psalm 3: Hope in the Heart of Brokenness
Psalm 4: Finding a Space in the Blessing
Psalm 5: The God Who Hears and Protects
Psalm 6: How Long, O Lord
Psalm 7: The God Who Judges
Psalm 8: The Soul Searcher’s Psalm
Psalm 9: Praising the God of Justice and Might
Psalm 10: Calling on God to be God
Psalm 11: Confident Faith in the Midst of Trouble
Psalm 12: Save Us From Ourselves
Psalm 13: The Cry from the God Forsaken Place
Psalm 14: The Wisdom of Holding to the Covenant
Psalm 15: Entering the Sacred Presence of God
Psalm 16: Remaining Faithful in a Pluralistic Setting
Psalm 17: An Embodied Prayer
Psalm 18: Royal Thanks at the End of the Journey
Psalm 19: Creation, the Law and a Faithful Life
Psalm 20: In the Day of Trouble
Psalm 21: A Blessing for the King
Psalm 22: A Desperate Cry to God
Psalm 23: The LORD as Shepherd, Host and Destination
Psalm 24: The Coming of the LORD
Psalm 25: The Struggle of Faith from Aleph to Tav
Psalm 26: Liturgy of the Falsely Accused
Psalm 27: Faith in an Age of Anxiety
Psalm 28: Can You Hear Me LORD?
Psalm 29: The Thundering Voice of God
Psalm 30: The Life of Praise
Psalm 31: Faith, Questions and the Life of Faith
Psalm 32: A Psalm of Restoration
Psalm 33: The Earth is Full of the Steadfast Love of God
Psalm 34: The Experienced Faithfulness of God
Psalm 35: Lord, Fight for Me in the Struggle
Psalm 36: The Way of God and the Way of the Wicked
Psalm 37: A Song of a Wise Life
Psalm 38: A Cry for Forgiveness and Healing
Psalm 39: There Are No Words
Psalm 40: Experienced Faithfulness and the Hope of Deliverance
Psalm 41: The One Who Cares for the Poor

BOOK II (Psalms 42-72)

Psalm 42 Thirsting for God in an Arid Time
Psalm 43 Calling for God’s Love among a Loveless People
Psalm 44 Demanding a Fulfillment of God’s Covenant Promises
Psalm 45 A Love Song among the Psalms
Psalm 46 A Mighty Fortress
Psalm 47 God Assumes Kingship Over Creation
Psalm 48 God and Zion
Psalm 49 Wealth, Wisdom and Death
Psalm 50 Recalled to the Covenantal Life
Psalm 51 Seeking the Possibility of Redemption

Psalm 32- A Psalm of Restoration

Sunrise on Halekulani, image from

Psalm 32

<Of David. A Maskil.>
1 Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered.
2 Happy are those to whom the LORD imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 While I kept silence, my body wasted away through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 Then I acknowledged my sin to you, and I did not hide my iniquity; I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the LORD,” and you forgave the guilt of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let all who are faithful offer prayer to you; at a time of distress, the rush of mighty waters shall not reach them.
7 You are a hiding place for me; you preserve me from trouble; you surround me with glad cries of deliverance. Selah
8 I will instruct you and teach you the way you should go; I will counsel you with my eye upon you.
9 Do not be like a horse or a mule, without understanding, whose temper must be curbed with bit and bridle, else it will not stay near you.
10 Many are the torments of the wicked, but steadfast love surrounds those who trust in the LORD.
11 Be glad in the LORD and rejoice, O righteous, and shout for joy, all you upright in heart.

This Psalm has often been categorized as a psalm of penitence but it would probably be better to think of this as a psalm of restoration or a psalm of grace. This psalm deals with forgiveness and the difference between carrying around a hidden sin and the freedom of that sin being confessed and forgiven by the LORD. The psalm begins, like Psalm 1, with the declaration that happy are those (the Hebrew word ‘aŝrê translated as happy has the connotation of blessed and is probably the Hebrew idea that Jesus would use in the Sermon on the Mount to express blessedness). The psalmist begins with two beatitudes declaring that the one who is forgiven and the one who the LORD does not declare immoral or wicked. Here the LORD is the one who covers the sin of the person, where the same word translated as hide in verse five talks about the individual covering up their sin. The psalm puts before the hearer the choice of the freedom of the LORD hiding the transgression and the bondage of hiding the transgression within oneself.

Verses three and four poetically describe the experience of hiding one’s iniquity within oneself. There is a physical and a psychological impact for the psalmist of this sin which they hold inside and the conceal from God and the world. There is a weight that the poet carries, a weariness that saps their energy and strength, a consuming silence that they have imposed on themselves which is slowly consuming them. The weight of the guilt becomes too great and the psalmist moves to the moment of confession where they are immediately set free. They dwell on the impact of the sin hidden, but God’s action at the sin confessed is quick and immediate in the psalm, “and you forgave the guilt of my sin.”

There is no movement of penitence, no assigned task of making the relationship right between the sinner and their God, the forgiveness is sudden, graceful and complete. We don’t know the sin that the psalmist confesses but we do sense the joy of the restored relationship in the poetic joy that follows the action of forgiveness. The reception of forgiveness becomes the reason the writer encourages faithful prayer and has a renewed sense of the LORD as their safe place and refuge. Whether the psalmist becomes a teacher giving a proverb in verse eight and nine or perhaps the voice changes to God’s voice, but either way there is a new chance to go in the correct paths without the need for harsh correction or guidance. The psalmist doesn’t need to be led like an animal ridden or pulling a cart for they are now free in their relationship. They are once again among the righteous for their iniquity has been hidden away by God. They now stand in the place of trusting the LORD and they rejoice at the restoration they have felt and received, in the gracious place they now stand within and the forgiveness given once their sin was no longer concealed by them. As Beth Tanner can state, “Just as in Psalm 1, this psalm makes a way of life outside of trust in God the foolish choice. Really, would you rather drag around all your sorrows or be surrounded at all times by God’s hesed? There hardly seems to be a choice at all” (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 309) While Psalm 1 presents a choice between the way of the righteous and the wicked, Psalm 32 presents us with the choice between guilt and forgiveness. Within the world of this gracious psalm of restoration the choice is clear.

The Book of Exodus

Burning Bush by Quirill at

Transitioning into Exodus
Reflections After Walking Through The Book of Exodus
Exodus 1: Setting the Stage
Exodus 2: Moses’ Story Begins
Exodus 3: The Calling of Moses and the Name of God
Exodus 4: Divine Magic, Anger and the Return to Egypt
Exodus 5: The Oppression of the Israelites Increases
Exodus 6: God’s Response and Moses’ Heritage
Exodus 7: The Conflict Begins
Exodus 8: The Insignificant Brings Low the Mighty
Exodus 9: Hard Hearts and Hard Consequences
Exodus 10: Pharaoh’s Hardened Heart and the Eclipse of Ra
Exodus 11: The Final Deadly Sign
Exodus 12: Passover, Departure and a New Identity
Exodus 13: Sacrifice, Liturgy and Journey to Form a New People
Exodus 14: Passing Through the Waters
Exodus 15: The Songs at the Sea
Exodus 16: A Crisis of Trust
Exodus 17: Water and Conflict, Faith and Sight
Exodus 18: Jethro Models Faith, Worship and Leadership to Moses
Exodus 19: Arriving at Sinai to Encounter God
Exodus 20: The Decalogue
Exodus 21: Slavery, Capital Crimes and Responsibility for Property
Exodus 22: Boundaries, Trust and Reconciliation
Exodus 23: Justice, Celebration and Presence
Exodus 24: Sealing the Covenant and Approaching God at Sinai
Exodus 25: Holy Things for Holy Space
Exodus 26: The Tabernacle
Exodus 27: The Court of the Tabernacle
Exodus 28: The Vestments for the Priesthood of Aaron and His Descendants
Exodus 29: Ordination and Offerings
Exodus 30: Precious Things for the Sacred not the Secular
Exodus 31: The Artisans, The Sabbath and the Tablets
Exodus 32: The Golden Calf Threatens the Covenant
Exodus 33: Repairing the Relationship Between God and Israel
Exodus 34: Restoring the Covenant
Exodus 35-36: Beginning the Construction of the Tabernacle
Exodus 37-38: Holy Things for Holy Space
Exodus 39: Completing the Work of the Tabernacle
Exodus 40: A Hopeful Conclusion

Reflections After Walking Through the Book of Exodus

This journey through the book of Exodus was an insightful journey for me. I am thankful for what I learned from four wise teachers who have spent far longer in this book than I did: my primary companions were Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and his book Covenant and Conversation: Exodus the Book of Redemption and Carol Myers volume on Exodus for the New Cambridge Bible Commentary, but I also learned from both Terence E. Fretheim whose Exodus commentary for the Interpretation Series I read at the beginning of the journey and Walter Brueggemann whose work on Exodus is in the New Interpreter’s Bible which I read closer to the end of the journey. In addition there is the discipline of writing out the book I am working through, which takes most of a composition book in the case of Exodus. I continue to be amazed by how much I learn in this process and how much I appreciate each book I have worked through.  Here are a few reflections looking back on my writing about the forty chapters of the book of Exodus:

  • In the book of Genesis, barrenness becomes a major part of the story of the people of Israel but in Exodus this is reversed and one of the central issues that give rise to the crisis in Egypt is the fertility of the people. This is one of the many narratives of reversal in the book of Exodus and will be a place where the narrative points to the Israelites being more robust than their Egyptian overlords.
  • From an overall perspective there is a contrast drawn between the vision of the lords of Egypt, and particularly the vision of a society where Pharaoh controls life and death, and the vision of the LORD the God of Israel for the society the Jewish people are to create. Yet, even for these former captives the vision of a society the saw modeled in Egypt will continue to occupy a potent place in their imaginations.
  • There is a surprising number of places where the role of women is highlighted in Exodus. Early in the book women are the primary resistors to the policies of Pharaoh: the midwives, Moses’ mother and sister, and even the daughter of Pharaoh all in their own ways resist the policies of death decreed by the most powerful man in Egypt.
  • Moses’ actions reveal a person unable to see oppression go unanswered. Moses’ actions with killing the Egyptian abusing a Hebrew and driving off the shepherds for the daughters of the priest of Midian to be able to water their flocks demonstrate he sees and acts upon injustice. This may be one of the things God sees in Moses when he is called.
  • Moses’ resistance to the call of the LORD is worth considering. Even Moses realizes his own inadequacies and attempts to talk God out of choosing him, yet the LORD sees something in Moses that Moses is unable to see in himself. The LORD also accommodates some of Moses’ fears by allowing Aaron to partner with him in this vocation.
  • Zipporah, Moses’ wife, also becomes one who rescues Moses. This time we enter one of the strangest parts of Exodus (Exodus 4: 8-26) where God comes to kill Moses and Zipporah becomes one more woman who through her actions spare Moses’ life.
  • I had never noticed the mythic elements of the signs/plagues previously. It makes sense to read this as primarily a conflict between the LORD the God of Israel and the gods of Egypt and how the plagues systematically demonstrate the superiority of the God of Israel over these gods. They are violent, but there is also an incredible amount of restraint as the signs unfold to resist the taking of human life until the end.
  • The Exodus story is perhaps the central story for the Hebrew Scriptures and is also the metanarrative of the West and has been recast many times. The power of this story in the Hebrew Bible demonstrates how those who were once the pilgrim people can be recast as the oppressor (the new Pharaoh) at later times. This potent move even resonates today. For example, the Civil Rights movement in the United States was able to recast the Exodus narrative to their own situation where they were the people looking for the promised land, living under the oppression of the polices of the Pharaohs of their own time.
  • The God of the Exodus is a God who chooses sides. In the Exodus the LORD hears, sees and responds to the oppression of the people. The LORD also warns these former slaves not to become the oppressors or they will find themselves opposed to the LORD their God.
  • Wrestling with the hardened heart of Pharaoh and free will. Is Pharaoh a villain or a tragic character? Does he become powerless in yet another great reversal in the narrative? However one’s theological position resolves this, it is an interesting theme in the narrative.
  • Looking at the strategies of Pharaoh I was struck by their parallels to the strategies many abusers use to main control over the abused.
  • The people will be forming a new identity as the people of God and liturgy, the structuring time, eating, storytelling and the journey will all be a portion of this identity formation.
  • Just as women were critical early in the story in resisting Pharaoh, they also become important in worship. Miriam sings with the women, women are involved in the creation of the tabernacle, there are women who are stationed outside the tent of meeting. These small glimpses highlight that women had a larger role than I initially thought in the worship of the LORD the God of Israel.
  • Israel continues to have crises of trust and identity along their journey. They will struggle to live by faith as they journey through the wilderness short on water and food. They will seek the relative familiarity and security of their bondage in Egypt. They will, in the absence of Moses, try to worship in the same way that other nations do.
  • Jethro, a foreign priest, will demonstrate to Moses how fulfill priestly responsibilities (he is the first one to sacrifice to the LORD in the book) as well as how to effectively lead.
  • Israel’s vocation as a priestly kingdom, a precious treasure and a holy nation is a high calling and one worth discerning.
  • Like when I worked through Deuteronomy, I find the expansion of the law in Exodus an interesting place to look at the type of society they were attempting to create and even though we may not copy their laws it is worth thinking about what type of society we would want to envision and what laws would make that possible.
  • The God of Israel is not an unemotional God like so many people imagine. The LORD draws close enough to be wounded by the people’s betrayal with the golden calf. The relationship is broken Moses becomes the mediator between the wounded God and the people who have broken God’s trust.
  • Exodus dedicates an incredible amount of space to the narrating and construction of the tabernacle, the holy things within it, the vestments for the priests and the ritual of ordination-holy space, holy things and holy people to work in that space. There is a lot in these two long sections to reflect upon, but the construction of the space is designed as a way for God to travel with the people and to bring a little bit of heaven to earth. We continue to need holy spaces, holy things within those spaces and people set aside for the work of God to mediate this God who desires to dwell among the people.

Psalm 31- Faith, Questions and the Life of Faith

Can You Hear Me by

Psalm 31
To the leader. A Psalm of David.
1 In you, O LORD, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me.
2 Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress to save me.
3 You are indeed my rock and my fortress; for your name’s sake lead me and guide me,
4 take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you are my refuge.
5 Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O LORD, faithful God.
6 You hate those who pay regard to worthless idols, but I trust in the LORD.
7 I will exult and rejoice in your steadfast love, because you have seen my affliction; you have taken heed of my adversities,
8 and have not delivered me into the hand of the enemy; you have set my feet in a broad place.
9 Be gracious to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eye wastes away from grief, my soul and body also.
10 For my life is spent with sorrow, and my years with sighing; my strength fails because of my misery, and my bones waste away.
11 I am the scorn of all my adversaries, a horror to my neighbors, an object of dread to my acquaintances; those who see me in the street flee from me.
12 I have passed out of mind like one who is dead; I have become like a broken vessel.
13 For I hear the whispering of many — terror all around! — as they scheme together against me, as they plot to take my life.
14 But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
15 My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors.
16 Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.
17 Do not let me be put to shame, O LORD, for I call on you; let the wicked be put to shame; let them go dumbfounded to Sheol.
18 Let the lying lips be stilled that speak insolently against the righteous with pride and contempt.
19 O how abundant is your goodness that you have laid up for those who fear you, and accomplished for those who take refuge in you, in the sight of everyone!
20 In the shelter of your presence you hide them from human plots; you hold them safe under your shelter from contentious tongues.
21 Blessed be the LORD, for he has wondrously shown his steadfast love to me when I was beset as a city under siege.
22 I had said in my alarm, “I am driven far from your sight.” But you heard my supplications when I cried out to you for help.
23 Love the LORD, all you his saints. The LORD preserves the faithful, but abundantly repays the one who acts haughtily.
24 Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the LORD.

If you are looking for a strong linear progression in the poetry of a Psalm, then this will not be the Psalm for you. Yet if you are willing to acknowledge that life and faith are rarely linear and that doubt and faith are often places which people in crisis oscillate between. If you can understand that a life of faith is a place where one calls upon the LORD and trusts in the LORD but then must inhabit the space of waiting on the LORD’s actions in the presence of enemies and persecutors who are seen and felt. Then Psalm 31 with its movement from crisis to trust to crisis to trust may be a Psalm that feels complete, honest and genuine to your experience.

Some people have wanted to break the Psalm into two separate Psalms based on the division between verse eight and nine where verses six through eight demonstrate a resolution and a trust in God and verse nine begins again in crisis which seems an even more intense. While the Psalm does have two progressions from crisis to trust and it makes sense to look at the two progressions within it, as I mentioned above life is rarely a nice linear progression from crisis to resolution. Faith and trust may be quickly followed by doubt and despair in the poet’s life. We do not know what type of crisis they are dealing with but there is this continual movement in the Psalmist’s words from the cry to the LORD in the midst of crisis where one asks for God to be the refuge or strength in their life back to the assurance of faith in who the LORD is to the petitioner.

The first four verses of the Psalm call upon God to be their refuge, the one who protects them from shame, their deliverer, their strong fortress and the open who delivers them from a trap. These are all familiar images for God. The Psalmist doesn’t ask for God’s action because of their own righteousness and honor but rather on the LORD’s righteousness and honor. The Psalmist is one who has trusted in the LORD and believes that God will deliver them from this crisis and those who seek to destroy their life and their reputation. Being put to shame, which the Psalmist asks the LORD to prevent, is not merely being embarrassed or humiliated but rather in an honor-shame based society it was to lose one’s standing in society. Dishonor in the ancient world would ruin a person’s name and often could lead to death or ‘a broken life of no hope.’ (Brueggeman, 2014, p. 157)

Verse 5 may sound familiar to many Christians because in Luke’s gospel these words are spoken by Jesus during the crucifixion (Luke 23:46). The Hebrew word for spirit (ruach) means wind, breath, or spirit (in the connotation of one’s life). In the Psalm itself the poet commits their life into God’s hands so that God may deliver them amid their crisis. In Luke’s gospel these words take on a slightly different tone because now Jesus is commending his life into the Father’s hands even as he lets go of life on the cross. The hope of the Psalmist is a hope of God’s deliverance within the span of their days, Christ calls upon God’s deliverance beyond the bounds of death.

For the Jewish people the LORD is one who sees and acts. From the foundational story of the Exodus on the LORD is trusted in to hear, see and act for the one who is in oppression. The corporate trust of the people becomes the individual trust of the Psalmist. In this brief window into the faith of the poet in verses 6-8 we see the how the covenantal faith that they are a part of shapes their trust and expectations of their life with the LORD. Much like the green pastures and still waters of Psalm 23, the broad place of Psalm 31 is a place where the petitioner finds rest and renewal. Yet, this space of rest and renewal do not guarantee a future life free from persecution and trials.

By verse nine the language of distress returns, and it is expressed in language far more intense than originally present in the Psalm. One of the gifts of spending time with the Bible is the deep and sometimes raw honesty that can exist between God and God’s people. Jeremiah, for example, would bear God’s painful emotions to the people but would also use honesty to speak to God on behalf of the people and on behalf of his own experience. The Psalms are emotionally honest poetry, songs and prayers which don’t sanitize the experience of grief, joy, pain, disappointment, fear, distress, jubilation or regret when speaking to God. The Psalms, like all good poetry seeks to move beyond the rational part of our life and moves into the emotions that we must deal with. As Beth Tanner says

Poetry is meant to engage our memories and our imagination and in that transform our relationship with God, so the meaning of this psalm is to examine the thin line between faith and doubt that we all share as we strive to better understand and embrace our relationship with God. (Nancy deClaisse-Walford, 2014, p. 305)

The Psalmist prays for God to be the God who hears and sees and acts, like the God of the Exodus. The poet remembers the covenant and calls upon the LORD of Israel to intervene in their own struggles. The corporate faith becomes embodied in the individual struggles of faith and life. The life of the faithful one is not free of struggle and oppression, yet even in times of struggle the LORD the God of Israel is the one who the Psalmist places their trust in. The faithful one may question why God appears to not act on their behalf when they are being dishonored and threatened but they trust that their God do see, hear and act faithfully.

Post 500

Fire and Rose by Kondratj on

When I started this journey back in 2012 of writing I never imagined that I would be still going 500 posts later. It is an immense amount of writing and learning from the process. I’ve had lots of times where an idea has run out or where I’ve taken a break or moved in different directions, but as I look back on the previous 499 posts there is a lot there.

When I began Sign of the Rose in 2012 I was an associate pastor preaching once a month on average and I needed a creative outlet. For the past four years I’ve been a lead pastor, preaching around 55 times a year. I’ve also remarried, seen my oldest graduate and go off to college. I’ve been overseen the planning and am currently overseeing a building addition to my congregation, I’ve stated an alliance of interfaith leaders (Christian, Jewish, Muslim and Hindu currently) in my community, acted as dean for the Dallas Area Metro North conference of my denomination, and serve on the student health advisory committee for Frisco ISD. There are occasionally times where I wish things would slow down a bit and I would have more time to write, but I genuinely enjoy my work and engagement in the community.

Many who discovered Sign of the Rose probably came here because of my poetry and I thank you for that. There are well over a hundred poems on the site, and there are some I am particularly fond of. Others were experiments that never really came to completion and I try to keep a writing book nearby for those ideas which come up so that I can write at least a few words down for a time when I may be able to return to it. Sadly, many of the ideas are still stuck within the pages and I would love to get back to a place where I am weekly taking the time to develop some of these ideas.

I am a curious person. I enjoy learning and writing helps me understand how I think about things. In contrast to the dictum ‘I think therefore I am’ for me ‘I write so I can process what I think.’ In five hundred posts there is a lot of ground covered on various things. The space really is like a chalkboard for my mind as I work through things. I also find it a useful place for me to go back to and look at what I’ve written about an idea or a topic.

I know that for many people the idea of working systematically through biblical texts sounds tedious. On the one hand it is hard work, even as a student of the Bible. Jeremiah, Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes and most recently Exodus are not books that most people spend a lot of time in. Exodus is perhaps an exception but even in this book most people only engage a portion of the book. What I can say is that even though it is hard work it has been worth it. Working through these books has really made me think about how the people understood God, the society they were attempting to create or advocate for, and they make the story of Jesus richer and fuller. I will continue with this. I just finished the last chapter of Exodus, so I will transition back to the Psalms for a bit as I figure out which book is next, but at this point I look at the work on Exodus, Deuteronomy, Esther, Ecclesiastes, Jeremiah, Haggai and the first thirty Psalms (so far) and I’m impressed with what I have been able to write.

I’ve recently realized that with the volume of what is on this site I need to rethink organization. The index, which hasn’t been updated since March) currently runs 14 pages when it is printed out. One thing I am planning to do is to take each Biblical reflection book and create a page for it that will have all the individual chapters/posts and that will take a lot of those posts off the index page.

I still think of this as a hodgepodge of interesting work. I plan to keep on adding and maybe at some point I’ll reach a point where it no longer feeds an interest in me, but I’m not there yet. If anything, I would like to write more. I have more ideas than time, at least for now. But I never expected to reach five hundred posts in roughly five years. Who knows what the future might hold. Until then thank you for visiting this strange little place where my mind sometimes works.