Book Review: Worship in Ancient Israel: An Essential Guide

705424Jacket Blurb – don’t let the heavy wording put you off, see what I have to say about it below! : In an engaging style–characteristic of the author, Walter Brueggemann–this Essential Guide describes the leading motifs of ancient Israel’s worship traditions in the Old Testament. The author guides the reader through the themes, central texts, prayers, festivals, and practices of that worship. He sees throughout the Old Testament a central emphasis on worship as a covenantal gesture and utterance by the community in the presence of God. In addition to being an essential guide to this subject, this book is intended to be in the service of current theological and practical issues concerning worship of the church in its ecumenical character.

As this month contains a number of significant festivals in the Jewish calendar, (which I have blogged about), this book fits right in. The festivals were based around celebrating the provision and faithfulness of God towards Isra’el, and of course, that is done through worship.

I will start by saying that I learnt masses through this great little book. I picked it up to learn about David, then found myself spending more time thinking about how I worship. While not every reviewer has agreed with Professor Brueggemann, he inspired me to take a look at whether I fit in with the current church trend and praise God their way, or whether I worship genuinely, using my own initiative as my heart leads me. This is both a book to help you understand the past, and to make you take a good look at where you’re at with God now.

Professor Brueggemann’s chapter which spoke of the Israelites honest communication with God, was challenging and comforting to me, as I am pretty much a straight talker in the prayer department too. If I feel hard done by, the Lord knows about it and has a sore ear. David was the same, as were quite a few people I had never thought of. I was relieved to know that this is acceptable, as long as I am respectful of Who God is and don’t stoop to abuse or blame; (that last part was my reasoning, not Professor Brueggemann’s content.) A blog post on this topic will be coming out shortly, as it inspired me so much.

The way God’s relationship with Isra’el was interpreted in terms of His covenant with His people and their response, was absolutely correct and added a beautiful rich texture to the book. The focus on worship building a relationship, and adding constant new depth to it was just awesome.

loyaltyHonestly, I think David would really like this book and how he and his nation are represented. It’s not a theological tome on what people did, it’s a key hole view into how God built His nation, and how Isra’el was able to freely embrace and benefit from that in a loving way. Worship is the key response and still is. Some things have never changed.

The Psalms are mentioned in quite a few places and some of Professor Brueggemann’s breakdown of their structure was the least dry assessment I have read yet: and I have slogged through many cracked, mouldy dissections which bled the life out of David’s beautiful responses to God.

There is one problem, sadly… while the jacket blurb refers to an engaging style, the heavy theological language that this book started out with, was anything but engaging and easy to read. I had picked this book up a year ago, tried to read it and failed. This time, I knew I needed the content, so I hung in there, and thankfully, that perseverance paid off exceptionally well. If you cannot handle theological language, big words, or academic, formal writing styles, you won’t appreciate the book, which is a shame as it has so much to offer. My only other criticism is I wish I knew what Professor Brueggemann meant by “thick.” I can take a guess, but a definition would have been beneficial.

I do recommend this work. It doesn’t take too long to read, and has left me more aware of the depth of God’s love for me.

 

amazon-logo_transparentGet it on Amazon
Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005 ISBN: 0-687-34336-4.(This post has been neither sponsored or requested.)

Read a second opinion / review from a theologian. ~


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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

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Boldly Approaching God: The Example of David

baldhonestfaithWe are familiar with Hebrews 4:16: “So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive His mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most;” and Ephesians 3:12: “Because of Christ and our faith in Him, we can now come boldly and confidently into God’s presence;” but what you may not know, is that boldness before God isn’t a New Testament privilege that arrived with Jesus.

This confident attitude in approaching God is evident in how David communicates with the Lord, and was also seen in Moses, Job and other Psalmists. It may look a little disrespectful sometimes, but it is a hallmark of a dynamic, covenant relationship with God.

“I cried out to you, O LORD.
I begged the Lord for mercy, saying,
“What will You gain if I die,
if I sink into the grave?
Can my dust praise You?
Can it tell of Your faithfulness?
Hear me, LORD, and have mercy on me.
Help me, O LORD.” Psalm 30:8-10 (See also Psalm 44 by the Sons of Korah)

I didn’t know about these ancient roots of boldness, until I read “Worship in Ancient Israel,” by Walter Brueggemann. On page 46-47 he writes: “Isra’el also engaged in truth telling about its life with YHWH in confession, lament and protest… Isra’el was not a submissive, second-rate player, but was a full, vigorous partner to YHWH with an unapologetic presence and an unembarrassed voice that refused to be silenced or cowed… Isra’el refuses to submit too readily to YHWH’s sovereignty when that sovereignty was seen to be unfaithful; in such circumstances, Isra’el instead of submitting, made a claim for itself against YHWH.”

Page 49: “Such speech, in its rawness, is in fact an expression of great faith; it expresses deep conviction that when YHWH is mobilised in order to honour YHWH’s covenantal commitments to Isra’el, YHWH has full capacity and power to right any situation or wrong. Thus the voice of protest and rage is characteristically in the service of plea and partition to YHWH.”

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I agree with Professor Brueggemann that calling God to action like this can seem irreverent. However, David is never rebuked by God for being too direct. God could destroy him for speaking out, but as David’s boldness is coupled with praise and dependence on God for help, He doesn’t. It seems that those without the faith to get in God’s face and speak their mind lose, and those with the faith to be bold, win. Honesty with God obviously pays off.

“Protect me! Rescue my life from them!
Do not let me be disgraced, for in You I take refuge.
May integrity and honesty protect me,
for I put my hope in You.” Psalm 25:20-21

Calling on God is submissive, rather than subversive. David could have taken his problems into his own hands and dealt with his enemies by the sword. Instead, he persisted in knocking on God’s door, and his perseverance got him a better answer.

If you study the Psalms, you will find that his entreaties to God are also tempered by praise and a promise to make an offering to God when deliverance has been granted. God gets His due recognition, gratitude and with David, the testimony of what God had done is also shared among the people via a Psalm, to encourage them as well. David’s brave, bold faith benefitted many people, including us today.

“Declare me innocent, O God!
Defend me against these ungodly people.
Rescue me from these unjust liars…”
verse 4: “Then I will go to the altar of God,
to God—the source of all my joy.
I will praise You with my harp,
O God, my God!
Why am I discouraged?
Why is my heart so sad?
I will put my hope in God!
I will praise Him again—
my Saviour and my God!” Psalm 43:1 and 4-5 (Also see Psalm 66:13-15)

So are there limits to how bold we can be? Yes; the limits begin if we abuse the Lord, blame Him for our problems, or in short, cease to address Him with any attitude that doesn’t demonstrate the *fruit of the Spirit. He is merciful and patient, but He is neither a scapegoat, nor a punching bag. Respect is absolutely always called for, in every situation and praise absolutely must accompany these kinds of prayers. Submission is always a requirement.

There are times when like David, regardless of the trouble we are in and how urgent it is, we just have to wait patiently for an answer and keep hoping in the Lord. There are other times when due to complications, such as the effect of other’s free will on our circumstances, God can’t do as we ask, and we have to submit to His authority and wisdom, like it or not. Plus there are times when we’re wrong. Our ‘fix it’ answer was a poor one. In all these conditions we need to adopt the humble attitude Job had when he said:
“I know that You can do anything,
and no one can stop You.
You asked, ‘Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorance?’
It is I—and I was talking about things I knew nothing about,
things far too wonderful for me.” Job 42:2-3
Despite how humbled he is, Job still has the courage to front up and reply to the Lord.

So the next time you’re struggling, don’t hesitate to be honest with God. He already knows every detail of your circumstances and feelings. so hiding what is really going on is impossible. The Lord has promised to **bless us with every spiritual blessing. We are ***beloved, treasured heirs with Christ, and He will always ****be on our side to help us through every trial and battle. Tell Him how you feel and ask for help… And don’t stop asking and seeking Him. You’re not crossing a line, you’re building your faith and a better, active relationship with Him.

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References:
Worship in Ancient Israel: An Essential Guide,” by Walter Brueggemann, Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2005.  ISBN: 0-687-34336-4. (Academically, theologically worded and not easy to read for the average person, but if you can get through the wording it is a massive blessing. I learned so much which reflected on my relationship with the Lord and encouraged me.)

*The fruit of the Spirit: Galatians 5:22-23
**Every spiritual blessing: Ephesians 1:3
***Beloved joint heirs: Romans 8:15-17
****By our side: Deuteronomy 31:8 and Hebrews 13:5

Re: Psalm 43:4: “Then I will go to the altar of God…” This may refer to David planning to go to the tabernacle to give a peace offering as thanks, as per Leviticus 7:11-15.

Moses’ honesty with God can be seen here: “Moses heard all the families standing in the doorways of their tents whining, and the LORD became extremely angry. Moses was also very aggravated. And Moses said to the LORD, “Why are you treating me, your servant, so harshly? Have mercy on me! What did I do to deserve the burden of all these people? Did I give birth to them? Did I bring them into the world? Why did you tell me to carry them in my arms like a mother carries a nursing baby? How can I carry them to the land you swore to give their ancestors? Where am I supposed to get meat for all these people? They keep whining to me, saying, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I can’t carry all these people by myself! The load is far too heavy! If this is how you intend to treat me, just go ahead and kill me. Do me a favour and spare me this misery!” Numbers 11:10-15


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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

King David’s Diplomacy: Manipulative or Spirit Driven?

donotjudgeLearning about King David has been a continual reminder to never judge, especially as no matter how much I have studied, because David’s life is presented as a series of anecdotes, I will never have all the facts. I look at some of David’s actions as a leader and I honestly don’t know whether to trust him, call him a schemer, or give him the benefit of the doubt, as maybe he was doing the right thing? In some cases it did seem like David was doing the only right thing that could be done; the problem is, as he lied in some incidents leading up to pivotal events, he’s given me reason to doubt his character. Without knowing what he was thinking, his motives can look suspicious.

The text which makes me doubt him the *most is at the beginning of 2 Samuel. King Ishbosheth’s Captain, Abner, is murdered by Joab, the Philistines have killed Saul and Jonathan and Isra’el is divided by civil war. Ishbosheth rules the north and David, Judah, in the south. Both kingdoms must come together, and angered by Ishbosheth, Abner decides he will make David King of all.

“Meanwhile, Abner had consulted with the elders of Israel. “For some time now,” he told them, “you have wanted to make David your king. Now is the time! For the LORD has said, ‘I have chosen David to save my people Israel from the hands of the Philistines and from all their other enemies.’” Abner also spoke with the men of Benjamin. Then he went to Hebron to tell David that all the people of Israel and Benjamin had agreed to support him.” 2 Samuel 3:17-19

Abner is not the kind of man you want to trust, but David had to, and did. However, dirty business had gone on in the background between Joab’s brothers and Abner, and at a critical point, Joab murdered Abner in cold blood, in revenge for killing his brother Asahel. [Ref. 1 Samuel 2 and 3]

Quite rightly, David was angry. That murder opened the way for David to be made King of all of Isra’el and he could easily have been blamed for the murder. So he makes a smart move:
“Then David said to Joab and all those who were with him, “Tear your clothes and put on burlap. Mourn for Abner.” And King David himself walked behind the procession to the grave. They buried Abner in Hebron, and the king and all the people wept at his graveside. Then the king sang this funeral song for Abner:
“Should Abner have died as fools die?
Your hands were not bound;
your feet were not chained.
No, you were murdered—
the victim of a wicked plot.”
All the people wept again for Abner. David had refused to eat anything on the day of the funeral, and now everyone begged him to eat. But David had made a vow, saying, “May God strike me and even kill me if I eat anything before sundown.”
This pleased the people very much. In fact, everything the king did pleased them! So everyone in Judah and all Israel understood that David was not responsible for Abner’s murder.
Then King David said to his officials, “Don’t you realize that a great commander has fallen today in Israel? And even though I am the anointed king, these two sons of Zeruiah—Joab and Abishai—are too strong for me to control. So may the LORD repay these evil men for their evil deeds.” 2 Samuel 3:31-39

So, how genuine do you think David’s grief was? It does appear that it could have been wholly politically motivated. However, remember that most of the story is missing.

  1. Could David have fought alongside Abner when they were both in Saul’s army? Battlefields make for deep bonds and who knows, one of them could have saved the other’s life. Their relationship is completely unknown other than a few brief conversations.
  2. There is an old tradition within military circles which goes back to ancient times: even if you don’t like someone in authority, you salute them as you respect their rank, regardless of what you think of the man. This could have applied and would reflect well on David’s character.
  3. We don’t know what Abner’s military service record was. He could have been a great hero of the nation, deserving the utmost respect. To be a commander in Saul’s army he would have been a brave man and an excellent warrior. David may be rightfully honouring that.
  4. Showing kindness to someone by respecting their reputation is always an excellent move.

yhryhrDavid did what was culturally right, what was politically right, what was Scripturally right and what also saved his hide. Whichever way your opinion of David’s actions sways, his actions were a win and were overwhelmingly approved by the people. He was God’s choice for the throne and this event soon after enabled the Lord’s Will to be put in place.

Shortly after, Ishbosheth was murdered in his bed, a cowardly act which also enraged David. That was a dishonourable way to dethrone a king, especially as his murderers then went to David wanting favour for handing him the northern kingdom. David correctly had these traitors immediately put to death. [Ref: 2 Samuel 4]

Whatever you think of David, he was an excellent leader who was congenial, righteous and popular with the people; and when the scales were balanced, “the LORD made David victorious wherever he went….David reigned over all Israel and did what was just and right for all his people.” 2 Samuel 8:14b-15 Unless his heart was in the right place and he was acting correctly under God’s favour, that would not have been the case.

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*David mourned Saul and Jonathan in a similar, appropriate manner (regardless of what he must have thought of Saul,) in the Song of the Bow. [2 Samuel 1] This is the other act of diplomacy which has me wondering exactly what motivated David to say words like these:
“O women of Israel, weep for Saul,
for he dressed you in luxurious scarlet clothing,
in garments decorated with gold.
Oh, how the mighty heroes have fallen in battle!
Jonathan lies dead on the hills.” 1 Samuel 1:24-25


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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

When You Just Lose It – Masculinity and Keeping it Real

Many of us try to be spiritually perfect. We balance work, family, finances, church, friends, Bible study, praise and worship and prayer like an overloaded waitress, with an armful of precariously tipping plates. It’s often too much. We ultimately hit the floor, exhausted and moaning.

But that is not acceptable.

In church we sing about being overcomers, being able to do all things in God. ALL of them. It’s true. We can. The Word of God is very clear that when we focus on the Lord and depend on Him for strength, even the smallest faith can do mighty miracles.

But we still fail and hit the ground.

So where do we go for encouragement? To the Word of God. We look at Moses, at Joshua, at Paul and at David, and we feel inadequate, as we didn’t lead people out of oppression, conquer cities, or spread the Gospel despite huge odds and… Sorry, hang on. Did I just list David as a perfect role model of a spiritual giant? I did.

So then, how do you react to this?

“Word soon reached Joab that the king was weeping and mourning for Absalom. As all the people heard of the king’s deep grief for his son, the joy of that day’s victory was turned into deep sadness. They crept back into the town that day as though they were ashamed and had deserted in battle.

The king covered his face with his hands and kept* on crying, “O my son Absalom! O Absalom, my son, my son!”

Then Joab went to the king’s room and said to him, “We saved your life today and the lives of your sons, your daughters, and your wives and concubines. Yet you act like this, making us feel ashamed of ourselves. You seem to love those who hate you and hate those who love you. You have made it clear today that your commanders and troops mean nothing to you. It seems that if Absalom had lived and all of us had died, you would be pleased. Now go out there and congratulate your troops, for I swear by the LORD that if you don’t go out, not a single one of them will remain here tonight. Then you will be worse off than ever before.” “ 2 Samuel 19:1-7 [* 2 Samuel 18:33]

That does not sound like the David I know. I admit that he had his failings, but the Psalms overflow with faith and his ability to press through anything. This man was a battle hardened warrior with over thirty years of service under his belt. I read this account of David losing his son and almost feel uncomfortable. My biggest hero really lost it, at a time when as a leader, it was a poor decision for both strategy and morale.

Let’s look closer at this. King David had lost his son. But that son was a sociopath who had deceitfully taken over the kingdom and had defiled ten of his father’s wives, in public. Should that diminish David’s reaction?

David’s raw emotion and vulnerability is what makes him so strong a role model. We can relate to him because he is so much like us. I often battle with being like Jesus. It’s not just the problem of trying to become holy, it’s just that as much as I adore Him, I cannot relate to Him. He had a connection with the Father I should hope to achieve, but realistically, I don’t even think is possible for me. Others may be able to do it, but me? Sadly, no. But David. I see David struggle, rejoice, sin, repent, bounce back and I relate. He’s far more human and real to me because he sometimes just loses it.

In our modern, western society, where we hold emotions in, we need David so badly. Men in particular need to be reminded that the toughest, best and most successful men cry: and often in public. “David walked up the road to the Mount of Olives, weeping as he went. His head was covered and his feet were bare as a sign of mourning. And the people who were with him covered their heads and wept as they climbed the hill.” 2 Samuel 15:30

“I am worn out from sobbing.
All night I flood my bed with weeping,
drenching it with my tears.
My vision is blurred by grief;
my eyes are worn out because of all my enemies.” Psalm 6:6-7

In the Psalms, David also freely weeps a number of times, including over the sins of his fellow Israelites. Being a real man, or woman of God, means you don’t have to smother emotions and always look strong. It means you can react with raw honesty: spread the contents of your heart out before the Lord, and allow Him to deal with whatever stresses you are under. Psychology tells us not to hold it in, and the Bible backs this up.

Lamentations 2:19 (on sin) “Rise during the night and cry out. Pour out your hearts like water to the Lord.”

1 Peter 5:7 “Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.”

Falling down is human. At times, we need to fall in order to allow the Lord to lift us up, and set us on the right path. What matters more than falling down, is how we get back up again. When David collapsed over the death of Absalom, he got up again.

“So the king went out and took his seat at the town gate, and as the news spread throughout the town that he was there, everyone went to him.” 2 Samuel 19:8

Ashalim_stream_(Nahal_Ashalim),_Judean_Desert,_Israel_(1)From there he prepared to return to his throne in Jerusalem and rule until Solomon was anointed King. That didn’t mean he stopped grieving, inwardly and outwardly. Knowing David, he would have depended on the Lord for help to get through this unbearable pain.

Not wanting to ask for help, or show weaknesses, is a trait of the flesh; it is not a godly one. The Word never asks us to suck it up and push pain away. Instead, we are encouraged to admit our sin and frailty, and to take our sins and grief to the Lord. That is the way of the righteous.

As David admitted his weak moments…

“My heart pounds in my chest.
The terror of death assaults me.
Fear and trembling overwhelm me,
and I can’t stop shaking.” Psalm 55:4-5

… so should we. That way, we open up our hearts to the Lord’s help.

“Give your burdens to the LORD,
and he will take care of you.
He will not permit the godly to slip and fall.” Psalm 55:22


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Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.

Mercy In The Middle

40297092_m“I am praying to You because I know You will answer, O God.
Bend down and listen as I pray.
Show me Your unfailing love in wonderful ways.” Psalm 17:6-7a

There has been a great deal of upheaval in my life which has resulted in a lot of hurt, and grief. In the middle of this, it’s been hard to trust God. At times I have clung to Him, and at other times, I have been very angry that He allowed me to get into a situation where I would be so badly damaged and disillusioned. I completely went to pieces one night, and God finally got through to me that He was still there, I just hadn’t been able to reach Him as I have been stuck in my own pain and couldn’t see straight.

I felt awful. It is the same as when you accuse someone of something they haven’t done, then find out you were wrong. What could I do but apologise? The greatest thing was He responded with, “That’s what I am here for.” No offence was taken. He could handle the assault on His character, and it didn’t in any way harm our relationship. That’s pretty special. I don’t know too many people who could do that so easily, and with so much love.

When I taught Sunday School, we sang songs with the children about God’s love being so high you can’t climb over it, so low you can’t climb under it and so wide you can’t get around it. They were action songs, and they were a lot of fun. The basic message was, you just can’t dent God enough for Him to stop loving you. What I have learned in the meantime is, I cannot comprehend just how great God’s love for me is. I get little glimpses every so often that blow my mind, but the full size, is way beyond me. I know He treats me better than any person has or will and that is as much as I can get my head around for now.

The trouble with really understanding where we stand with God is, He is so different. I know there are lots of Scriptures that teach us about how He thinks and feels about us, but it is not the same as seeing a smile on His face when He sees me, or giving me a hug when I need it. It takes longer for me to learn to trust Him, and believe how special I am because of that. I like some evidence, and due to His patience and great mercy over the years, He has given me some when needed. It never seems to be enough though, when I am walking through the blackest periods of my life.

One of the songs which has helped me is written by Amy Grant and talks about a little girl, who is now grown up, who was sexually abused. The lyrics are:
“Ask me how I know there’s a God up in the heavens,
Where did He go, in the middle of her shame?
Ask me how I know there’s a God up in the heavens,
She says His mercy is bringing her life againshe’s coming to life again.
He’s in the middle of her pain,
In the middle of her shame He’s in the middle,
Mercy in the middle”

It’s that one line I cling to. “Mercy in the middle.” That is what He gives me. No lectures when things go wrong, no screaming or blaming, no control and manipulation. Love and mercy. It’s so precious to me. It is one hundred percent acceptance, and no one has given me that before.

There are many Scriptures that talk of grace, but I have never understood what it means. So many of the words in the Bible I skim over, and never go looking for the real meaning, but last weekend I looked up grace, and the meaning touched me. Grace is so simple. I’ve heard it called “God’s riches at Christ’s expense” and know all about how it relates to God forgiving our sins etc. Grace is just simply love. Loving-kindness and goodwill. That is how God treats us, with love, and kindness. He wants the best for us (goodwill), so He gives us the best in how He heals, provides for, and forgives us.

Don’t we all long so much for love? It is there, if we reach out to Him and receive it. For me, it means in the middle of my anger and pain and frustration, God pushed aside the wrong things I thought and said, and was just there for me. We’re loved so much. He won’t leave us, He just doesn’t want to. He is completely absorbed in our care.

I don’t think I will ever understand God’s love, because my human mind is just not built to take in something so wonderful. All I can do is regard Him in awe and express my gratitude. Guaranteed, even with this lesson learnt, at some stage in the future I will get angry and do the wrong thing again. However, every time something goes wrong and the Lord reaches out to me, I slowly get stronger and more secure in His love. It is a process, and a great journey of discovery. I am so grateful He has never given up on me, no matter what.

“But let all who take refuge in You rejoice;
let them sing joyful praises forever.
Spread Your protection over them,
that all who love Your name may be filled with joy.
For You bless the godly, O LORD;
you surround them with Your shield of love.” Psalm 5:11-12


Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Please note that this does NOT apply to any of the images on this site except for the free Psalm images which are marked as free. Most photos are purchased stock photos. It is ILLEGAL for you to take and use them, whether for yourself, commercially or for a non-profit venture such as a church or Bible Study. If you have not bought these photos from the source, the stock photography company has every right to sue you.