1       world views

Way back in the late 1970s I read a book by James Sire, entitled ‘The Universe next Door.’ Sire’s book gives an outline of what he sees as the 10 most common world views. This list includes theism, naturalism, Marxism and postmodernism. As Christians we would certainly come under the category of Theists and I think it’s fair to say that there is a Bible world view too. We all have a world view and our world view influences our thinking and the way we live our lives. One of the questions Sire asks in his book is whether we are aware of the world view that influences our thinking and actions.

I believe the most common world view we encounter in the UK is naturalism. It’s the view that most atheists embrace – there is no God and all that we see and experience in this universe can be explained by natural phenomena. As we saw last week, this view gives the most pessimistic of outlooks on life. There was nothing, then there was something, the something brought about the big bang and by undirected random processes life appeared, life that will eventually disappear as the universe reaches heat death, or some other end point variously described as the big rip, the big crunch etc. – none of which is something to look forward to! Such a world view impacts our thinking and how we live our lives. Of course, many people live without thinking much about these things, but we are (largely) taught naturalism at school we are exposed to it on the BBC and newspapers and ultimately our society does drift in the direction in which naturalism leads: no basis for morality, the elevation of nature above mankind – it’s best to save the planet than save people of no consequence etc. Interestingly, there is something within us that finds naturalism rubs against the grain, and I believe that is because we have been made in the image of God.

The theism world view (and let’s restrict this to biblical theism) leads us in a very different direction. It says that we live in a created world, there is a God who sits outside of time and space (but who intervenes in his creation from time to time). This elevates mankind to a position above the created world. The Sun is a huge star that keeps our solar system working, yet as John Lennox put it, you are more important than the sun! You are aware of the Sun, but the sun is not aware of you! The world is created, and it bears the hallmarks of the creator. The universe it turns out is (very) finely tuned. There are three important forces that impact the sort of universe in which we live. The nuclear strong force, the electromagnetic force and the force of gravity. These need to be finely balanced. If the ratio of the nuclear strong force to the electromagnetic force had been different by 1 in 1016, no stars could have formed. If the ratio of the electromagnetic force to the gravitational force was increased by 1 part in 1040 then only small stars would exist – that might not sound too bad, but it would be a universe in which no life could exist. This is the kind of accuracy that is hard for us to comprehend. One astrophysicist asks us to imagine covering the USA with coins up to a depth to the moon, then imagine a billion other such USAs and then at random placing one coin painted red in one of the billion piles of coins. Now ask someone to pick out a coin at random. The odds are 1 in 1040 that he or she would! There are many examples of such fine tuning – we live in a created universe! The bible not only gives us a world view on origins, but it describes who we are, what we have become and what the future will hold. We are created in the image of God; we are not in the same category as animals and we have moral responsibility. Sadly, Adam rebelled, and we are all affected by his rebellion. As we saw in Psalm 36, we have lost our position in the created world and we have lost fellowship with God.

2       God’s restoration plan

A God-initiated restoration plan is in place and the bible tells the story of that restoration plan. Broadly, we have a choice, do we want to restore our relationship with the loving creator-God or do we want to continue in the rebellion.

Much of the bible story relates to this restoration plan and it may surprise us to learn that the plan involves a specific group of promises made by God to Abraham. The promises are 3-fold. First there were premises personally for Abraham – he would be blessed and would bless others, he would have many physical descendants, he would be given a land forever and so on. Second there were promises for Israel: they would be a great nation and would be given a land forever. Finally, there were to be blessings for all peoples of the world through Abraham and his descendants.

Sadly, despite these important promises, Israel generally messed things up! We’re studying the book of Judges on Thursday evenings at the moment and it’s fair to say that there is little to commend Israel during that period of its history. They were to occupy the land and become light to the neighboring people, but they adopted the wicked practices of the surrounding people. There is doubtless a lesson for us in this too! It seems strange but the promise that Israel would be given a specific piece of land forever turns out to be much more important than we might think. It is from this piece of land and through the nation of Israel that God’s kingdom will come on earth: a kingdom of peace, justice, righteousness, prosperity, good health, and safety. Jesus said he would return to Israel to accomplish this. I find it interesting that this land is now occupied by the descendants of Abraham (just as God promised) but largely the world hates them for it (and not a few Christians too!).

The land promise, and the nation of Israel thus are key features in God’s rescue plan for this world.

3       Psalm 37

This Psalm was written by the King of Israel, King David and is another acrostic Psalm. You will recall that some of the Psalms we have already studied are acrostic Psalms. In these Psalms the writer begins each section with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. The Psalm follows the letters (usually) in sequence. Psalm 37 follows this pattern to perfection – well almost. There are 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet and there are indeed 22 sections to the Psalm and the letters are followed in strict order. But there are some minor, and significant patterns which I believe help us uncover David’s line of thought. The general structure is that each letter is afforded 4 lines of poetry. So, for example verse 1 (which begins with aleph, the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet) has 4 lines, verse 2 begins with the second letter of the alphabet (bet) and has also 4 lines and so on. But three verses stand out as being different. They are verse 4, 11 and 22. Each of these letters is given only 3 lines of poetry. Interestingly there are three of the letters which are given 5 lines of poetry. Let’s take the 3 Hebrew letters with the 5 lines of poetry and see what David is emphasizing.

3.1         The 5-line Hebrew letters

Hebrew lettersVersesTheme
Chet (8)14 The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow
to bring down the poor and needy,
    to slay those whose ways are upright.
15 But their swords will pierce their own hearts,
    and their bows will be broken.
The wicked, their current activities and their outcome (hearts pierced)
Nun (14)25 I was young and now I am old,
    yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken
    or their children begging bread.
26 They are always generous and lend freely;
    their children will be a blessing.
The righteous, their current activities and their outcome (children a blessing)
Tav (22)39 The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord;
    he is their stronghold in time of trouble.
40 The Lord helps them and delivers them;
    he delivers them from the wicked and saves them,
    because they take refuge in him.
The ultimate fate of the righteous: deliverance and refuge in God.

David has placed these 5-line letters evenly throughout the Psalm, they are spaced in what seems to be a deliberate pattern in terms of their position on the Hebrew alphabet: 7 letters before chet, 5 letters between chet and nun and 7 letters after Nun – there is symmetry.

The overall theme of chapter 37 seems to be related to the fate of the wicked and the fate of the righteous: those who trust in God in contrast to those who go their own way and live in opposition to God’s perfect way. Note the features that characterize the wicked: they are not interested in the poor and needy and are quick to ‘bend the bow.’ The righteous are however ‘generous and lend freely.’ They have a light grasp on material possessions. The ultimate fate of the righteous is deliverance. This gives us an idea of the general themes in Psalm 37, but I think the 3-line letters give us important information too.

In one sense we are all in the camp of the wicked by nature. As we saw last time, there is for sure a pathway to unbridled wickedness when we deliberately suppress the conscience and promote the desires of the sin nature. When we place our trust in God, he is the one who makes us righteous in his eyes, this is not something we can do, but something we can seek and find.

3.2         The 3-line Hebrew letters

Hebrew lettersVersesTheme
Dalet (4)7 Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for him;
    do not fret when people succeed in their ways,
    when they carry out their wicked schemes.
Don’t be disturbed by the success of the wicked, but wait for God
Khaf (11)20 But the wicked will perish:
    though the Lord’s enemies are like the flowers of the field,
    they will be consumed, they will go up in smoke.
The wicked might look great, but their lives are build on things that do not last
Quf (19)34 Hope in the Lord and keep his way.
    He will exalt you to inherit the land;
    when the wicked are destroyed, you will see it.
There is a day of reckoning, God will be faithful to his promises

These three verses seem to capture the three key ideas in the Psalm.

3.2.1            Be still

It seems for many believers that life is difficult, and at times it seems that there is no real benefit in trusting God. It is a fact that more often than we would wish, bad things happen to good people and good things happen to bad people. For sure there were times when David felt that, especially when he was in the run from the murderous intent of King Saul! What are we to do in such situations? Verse 7 says be still and wait with patience. God’s restoration plan doesn’t work at the speed we might wish! In the preceding verses, David states, do not fret, trust in the Lord and do good, commit your way to the Lord. If you are finding life hard as a Christian, do not fret and be patient! There is a big plan in play – God is working out his purposes and there will be a day when these things that bring sorrow will be gone forever.

3.2.2            Beware

The second of the 3-line verses gives a warning to the wicked. The wicked have a future and it is not to be desired. They will perish and ‘go up in smoke.’ There will be a day of reckoning – the universe will not end in a heat death but will end in a day when the king will come and his kingdom will be characterized by justice. It will be a perfect justice. There will be no wrong convictions or miscarriages of justice. God’s exhaustive knowledge will see to that.

3.2.3            Be assured

Remember that this Psalm was written in the context of the nation of Israel. Part of God’s big plan is to have that people in their land and for his kingdom to come to them for the benefit of the entire world. The promise of the land is of great importance. David writes, ‘hope in the Lord and keep his way. He will exalt you to inherit the land.’ The big plan will be realised! The people will indeed inherit the land promised by God and as they do, they can be assured that the king of kings will take up his throne and make things right in the earth.

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