I remember reciting Psalm 100 during morning assembly in elementary school. My how things have changed. As a tad, I had a problem understanding verse three, ”Know ye that the LORD he is God: it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.” I never had a problem with God being God and the fact that He made us, but I wondered how I could be a people and a sheep at the same time. Concrete thinking would not allow my developing mind to grasp it.
The word sheep is used many times in the Bible in reference to God’s people (in some instances of all people). It does not take long for one to realize that sheep are wanderers. An old neighbor used to raise them and he told me they are “dumb as a box of rocks” and difficult to keep inside a fence. He claimed they were always looking for a way out. Possessing abstract thinking now allows me to see the comparisons God makes between us and sheep. I do not care how smart or accomplished any of us are-we too are “dumb as a box of rocks”! How many Christians are looking to the other side of the fence and what it has to offer? It is like our walk as Christians. If we stay within the loving confines (fenced area) of God’s direction and watch- care (His Word and Commandments) we would do well. However, we are born with a bent-that to sin.
In our own lives, how many times have we drifted from our anchor? How many times have we gone beyond the fence? I was told barbed wire was ineffective on sheep, because of the length of their fleece (they do not feel the stickers!). Using abstract thinking can we imagine God’s Word as barbed wire? The Bible points out sin and the Holy Spirit convicts, so one could say it is a protective fence that God has provided for us. Yet, it not always keeps us from “straying,” and the fault lies with us and our sinful nature.
When, not if, we stray, we break through this fence (“All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the LORD hath laid on him (Jesus) the iniquity of us all,” Ps.53:6-italics mine). Sure, like the sheep, we may feel a little stick or poke, but our thick fleece (reasoning and rationalizing our sin) allow us to get through with minimal harm (we think). The more we drift, the thicker our hide. We must stay focused on God, the Word and the prompting of the Holy Spirit to be able to stay within the confines of a devout life. The world is a cruel taskmaster, but we the redeemed (sheep), can claim the Lord is our Shepherd (Ps. 23:1)!
I distinctly remember this particular Sunday morning when I was either 12 or 13 years old. Something seemed different as there seemed to be an odd feeling to the service. I then remember when the service was over going out to the car and seeing my mom crying. I don’t remember when exactly the story was relayed to me but I do remember learning in short order that things were never going to be the same at my childhood church. Our pastor had been found to be siphoning money off of the church’s account and into his own. How he had done that I don’t know but the proof was beyond dispute.
How could something like that happen? Our reading today sheds some light on this all-too-common issue. 1 Timothy 6:9-10 says, “But they that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition. For the love of money is the root of all evil: which while some have coveted after, they have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.”
The love of money and the things it offers has been an issue as long as humans have been on this earth. Whether it’s the desire to have a lot of money to spend on elaborate vacations and expensive toys or the desire to save it all and enjoy the security that it brings sitting in our bank accounts, it is a temptation that many of us face. However, Paul warns in these verses about the trouble that yielding to this temptation brings. Phrases such as “foolish and harmful lusts” which “drown men in destruction” and the prospect of being “pierced with many sorrows”.
The answer to this type of sin is spelled out for us in verse 8. “And having food and rainment let us be therewith content.” That’s it, contentment. That doesn’t mean we don’t look for opportunities to better ourselves financially but at the same time we should strive to be content with the things God has blessed us with, even if they may be just the basic material things of this life. And if we have that attitude we will save ourselves from the consequences of a materialistic and greedy mindset.
Upon reading the Bible this morning, I came upon verse 12 of Psalm 96, “Let the field be joyful, and all that is therein: then shall all the trees of the wood rejoice.” I was reminded of a song we used to sing in Bible Camp. It is entitled, “When the Trees of the Wood Will Clap Their Hands.” As we sung this kid’s favorite, all would clap their hands at that part and sing out loudly. Being one of the adults there, I would wonder about trees clapping their hands-literally. Surely, I saw trees on the “Yellow Brick Road” engage humans in speech; however, this is not a fictional movie! But I did my share of wondering in awe.
So, do trees clap, the sea roar, do floods clap and hills rejoice (Ps. 98:8)? My answer is simply-yes. An inquisitive person would ask if I have ever seen or heard trees clap. I have heard mighty rushing winds that sounded like voices (another language only the Creator knows?). I have seen endless wheat fields sway back and forth, in the wind, as if dancing in the presence of the Almighty. Who could forget the majesty of the Tetons? Many a morning the alpenglow was glorious, as sunrise approached, giving the viewer a quick peak at God’s palette. There was no detectable sound, yet I knew there was praise taking place and it caused me to praise God too. What about the Grand Canyon? Nowadays folk gather there to discuss what millions of years have done to create it. Hogwash. Time was not the sculptor of this wonder, but a Holy God who either spoke it into existence or used a finger to etch it so. “I stand amazed in the presence…”
So, the verdict? Some say these verses are metaphorical, but not I. If God’s Word says these things, why couldn’t they be literal? Why do humans think they have to rationalize everything? “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!” (Rm. 11:33). Everything was created to praise God in one way or another, but humans have a choice; that sadly, not all exercise. From the early morning robin, to a rock on the ground (Lu. 19:40), to a hoot owl at night, to the clapping tree and even the stars (Job 38:7) these are all part of God’s choir. We have but a powerful lesson to learn from these things. We possess the wherewithal and knowledge yet we balk. Theologian Karl Barth summed this up beautifully when he wrote, “When man accepts…Jesus Christ…he is only like a late-comer slipping shamefacedly into creation’s choir in heaven and earth, which has never ceased its praise.”
The book of Chronicles begins and you probably wonder when the names will stop. Imagine looking through a photo album, but not of your family. It is your neighbor’s or your friend’s album. Maybe you recognize a few faces because you grew up together, but that is the extent of your familiarity. In Chronicles, you are looking through someone else’s photo album. Each name contains a story. There are stories of celebration and distress, of wickedness and righteousness, of renown and obscurity.
Keep in mind the author’s intent. He was not writing a cure for insomnia. A few decades earlier, the Jews returned to Jerusalem after spending a few decades in exile. The promises of God were fulfilled. He did bring them back to Israel, which meant His other promises were also possible. The promise of a perfectly just ruler in Jerusalem from the line of David who would reign with unrivaled righteousness. All the nations of the earth would flood into Jerusalem to worship Him. The Messiah would sit on the throne. This chronicler is simply stimulating the hope of Israel.
By replaying all the known history via a catalog of names, the reader is to quickly refresh his memory of God’s work in times past. The accounts of King David and his sons build the anticipation. The King is coming! In the Hebrew Bible, Chronicles is the last book. Can you appreciate the Jews excitement as you turn the last page of Chronicles and live out the incredible arrival of the Messiah in the Gospel accounts? The memories are fresh, the promise reviewed, the nation waits with bated breath as the forerunner announces the Messiah’s arrival. Can you also grasp their devastation as their Prince of Peace was not sitting on a throne, but hanging on a cross? The story continues. Just as the chronicler wrote, the future is bright because the promises of God are still alive and well. Get ready to herald the King’s entrance!
Worthy is the Lamb that was slain to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. And every creature which is in heaven, and on the earth, and under the earth, and such as are in the sea, and all that are in them, heard I saying, Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him that sitteth upon the throne, and unto the Lamb for ever and ever” (Revelation 5:12-13).