A Knife-Edge in HistoryOct 03, 2023
A Knife-Edge in History
The 10-Ps in the middle chapter of the Bible
Count the chapters in the Old and New Testament and they total 1,189—594 chapters lie on either side of Psalm 118. A month or so ago I felt the nudge to explore Psalms 110 through 118 which set me in anticipation of learning something new. When I eventually got to Psalm 118, the middle chapter of the revealed truth of God, it looked like the standard Old Testament song format: God is good, things got bad for a while, then God came through again, so God is good.
Unsatisfied with my cursory reading I took some time to reflect a little longer. Have you ever walked a ridge path at the peak of a mountain with one side of the world falling to your left and another to your right? I get this feeling reading this chapter in the center of a world of truth and error. Here are the 10 Ps I found in this pinnacle passage.
Peering to one side of revealed biblical truth the songwriter proclaims, “his love endures forever.” He also calls on the nation of Israel, then the priests, then anyone who fears God to state out loud, “His love endures forever.” In the Western world, a national acknowledgment of God is not cool; not so in other nations. Leaders of countries outside the “let’s separate God and government” club are calling on their people to seek God, sometimes even dedicating their nations to God. “Let Israel say…”
The second group the psalmist challenges is the “house of Aaron” or the religious leaders. It’s as if he knew that those who should be representing God to the people and the people to God would be tempted to think, even say, “Perhaps God is not so good after all.” Today the unfaltering goodness of God is too often thrown under the bus of relative truth and cultural relevance.
The third group potentially includes each one of us who has a healthy regard for God. As you look at the world around you do you say, “This is a mess” or “His love endures forever”?
There is a certain pressure that comes from victory. The liberation of Israel from Egypt and the formation of a new nation was a success story. With it came opposition and enemies. “When hard pressed…” Sometimes your pressures come from your walking in God’s plan and calling. What will you reach for when pressure comes; who will be your refuge?
Walking in the purposes of God requires persistence. The Kingdom of God is not for freeloaders on the express lane to heaven; it is here and now with swarming opposition and surrounding nuisances. Three times the writer says, “…but in the Name of the Lord I cut them off.” What are you doing to prevent your victory from being swallowed up by the wallowing of self-whatever… self-pity, self-help, self-care? Take your stand on this knife-edge of history. Persist.
“I was pushed back and about to fall, BUT the Lord helped me.” Entrepreneurs know that agile pivoting is key to survival. Kingdom people know that the real pivot is not a new product, funding model, or value proposition; it is the “but the Lord” moments in our history that make the difference.
“Shouts of joy and victory resound in the tents…” Where? “… in the tents” which means they were not at home, but still on the battlefield. Your proclamations are needed during the struggle, not at the after-parties. Saying “I will not die” when your business or project or idea looks dead—that requires faith. Proclamations are made in temporary places so that we can inhabit the permanent places.
One of my favorite assurances is in verse 17; during tough times I have spoken it often. “I will not die but live, and will proclaim what the Lord has done.” God will discipline or correct us along the way, but he does not lead us out to die, but to overcome.
The pathway to the presence of God is lined with trees of praise. Gratitude is the gateway to glory. If we are upset with God because our lives didn’t turn out the way we hoped, we will leave footsteps of ingratitude that will grow into grumbling potholes of hopelessness. “Open for me the gates… I will give thanks…” If we wait until everything is “resolved” before giving thanks we will not enter the presence of God where things are resolved. Psalm 73:17 has another pivot phrase for a man on a rant: “Until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I understood their end.” The pathway of praise will keep us from the doors of self-destruction.
I mentioned this psalm being a backward look at history; in verse 22 we see the forward-looking gaze to the Person upon whom history hinges. “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” The songwriter sees centuries into the future to the person of Jesus Christ. Your future, my future, will make no sense unless we see Jesus in it. “This is the day the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.”
That day did not come cheap. The builders of the day, the political and religious leaders of Israel, rejected Jesus. Paradoxically, this was a success. “Lord, grant us success.” The apparent failure of Jesus was the basis for our success. To get heaven’s Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) we must be willing to look like failures before mankind. This is an ugly truth for too many businesspeople who are used to setting KPIs that make themselves or their companies look successful. You don’t get to speak on the Christian circuit unless you have had an IPO, or sold your business for 100x, or been on the 30-under-30 list… all of which probably means nothing to the one who was rejected by the scorekeepers of his day.
What price are you willing to pay?
When Jesus made his triumphal entry into Jerusalem some cried out, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord” as they trumpeted the words written centuries before. As I wrap up this look at this central chapter in scripture I see three processions:
10.1 The procession into Jerusalem (Luke 19:28-40)
10.2 The procession to hell (Ephesians 4:9) where Jesus took death captive and grabbed the keys of death and hell.
10.3 The procession to heaven (Ephesians 4:10).
“Note the implication here—to say that Christ “ascended” means that he must previously have “descended”, that is from the height of Heaven to the depth of this world. The one who made this descent is identically the same person as he who has now ascended high above the very Heavens—that the whole universe from lowest to highest might know his presence.” Phillips
The procession to the presence begins and ends with Jesus. I remind myself, however, that it is entered into as I keep perspective, don’t waiver under pressure, persist when opposed, embrace “but God” pivots and make proclamations before victory is apparent. I live in the presence of God when I stand on promises, and enter gates of thanksgiving onto pathways of praise lined with trees of gratitude. This takes me to the Person of Jesus, thankful for the price that he paid so that he could lead me in a triumphal procession into the Father’s presence.
History seems to be at another knife-edge moment: some things are getting worse and others are getting better, foundations are being eroded and truth is dying in the streets, evil is called good and good is labeled evil. As for me, I will walk the high path of scripture between the 594 chapters to the left and right and say, “Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever.”