David’s Steleae: The Psalms as Public Memorials and Private Prayers

violin-and-psalm“I will tell of the marvellous things You have done.” Psalm 9:1b

“I will exalt You, Lord, because You have rescued me.” Psalm 30:1a

A stele is “an upright stone slab or pillar bearing an inscription or design and serving as a monument, marker, or the like.” [Source: Dictionary.com] They were widely used in the Near East millennia before David, and well after his time. It was standard practice for kings to have steles and statues of themselves made as positive propaganda to support their reign. However, David didn’t follow this practice. In line with the *ten commandments, he didn’t have himself pictured with a representation of YHWH behind him, neither did he carve his achievements in stone. Apart from the book of Samuel and 1 Chronicles, the only memorials we have to David are his Psalms, some of which could be likened to victory steles, and others which have an interesting function.

Roughly half of all the Psalms that are attributed to David were sent to the choir director and made public, and 50% of those Psalms were written when he was in great distress. We don’t know how the other Psalms were used, but it is possible that the ones which have not been specifically marked as “for the choir director” were in his personal collection, then organised into books after his death. His Psalms which are marked as prayers: 17, 86, and 142, were notably not sent to the choir director.

Some of the Psalms that were made public had national themes: Psalm 60 was written while David grappled with Israel’s failures in the battle in the Valley of Salt, and is noted as being useful for teaching; the wording of Psalm 67 is a mix of a prayer and a benediction; and Psalm 58 is an outspoken challenge to the people of Israel on justice [see the final chapter below for clarification]. David also sent Psalm 53 to the choir director, making a public statement of faith with “only fools deny God.”

Using my own classification of the Psalms (I get lost in the theological classifications, so I divided them further for my own use), these are the victory Psalms that David wanted sung before the Lord:

  • Psalm 9: I will tell of all the marvellous things You have done.
  • Psalm 18: When rescued from Saul and the enemies in that period of time.
  • Psalm 20: May the LORD answer all your prayers.
  • Psalm 21: How the king rejoices in Your strength, O LORD!
  • Psalm 30: Weeping may last through the night, but joy comes with the morning.

The Psalms of joy and wonder, plus David’s statements of faith that were sent to the choir director include Psalms 8, 11, 19, 62, 65, 66, 67, 53 and 58.

One thing which occurred to me when looking at which Psalms were attributed to specific events and could be considered memorials, is that there are no Psalms specifically linked to David’s most notable victories such as killing Goliath, bringing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem, or his battle achievements. He didn’t mention God’s special covenant with Him, or his plans to build the temple; (neither did David ask for it to be named after him.) This is a testament to David’s humility, despite the moral dips which occurred with Bathsheba and the census.

The stone tablet with the code written on it. This was placed in a public space so that all could read it.

The stone tablet with the code written on it. This was placed in a public space so that all could read it.

God is always the focus of David’s songs, which is another significant difference between him and any other ruler. He never claims honour or victory for himself. For an example, read the **Code of Hammurabi which has massive chunks at the beginning and end, glorifying and justifying the rule of Hammurabi. For example: “Hammurabi, the prince… making riches and increase, enriching Nippur and Dur-ilu beyond compare… who conquered the four quarters of the world, made great the name of Babylon…who enriched Ur; the humble, the reverent, who brings wealth…”

David’s work shows that he was transparent in how he talked about his life in public and that he wasn’t hung up on appearances. He freely admitted his faults and struggles and the glory for his successes always went to the Lord. Psalm 51, which speaks of his correction by Nathan over Bathsheba, and how sin affected him, was made public. Whether that was to address his sin because it was public knowledge, or whether it was to be used as a teaching aid to strengthen the faith of the people and encourage righteousness, or both, I honestly don’t know.

Psalm 3, which was about when he fled from Absalom, Psalm 34 where he escaped from Philistine territory feigning madness and Psalm 52, where he was betrayed by Doeg to Saul, weren’t marked for use by the choir director either. Not using Psalm 52 appears odd, as all the other betrayal Psalms were publicly sung. Perhaps it wasn’t copied or notated correctly, or perhaps David had some private reason for not sending it on? I wish I knew.

These are the Psalms which have a definite event associated with them and could be considered a form of victory stele.

  • 7 – concerning Cush of the tribe of Benjamin
  • 18 – rescued from all enemies and Saul [PUBLIC]
  • 30 – dedication of the temple / house [PUBLIC]
  • 54 – betrayed by Ziphites [PUBLIC]
  • 56 – seized at Gath [PUBLIC]
  • 57 – when fled from Saul and went to the cave [PUBLIC]
  • 59 – soldiers watching his house [PUBLIC]

The last point of interest is David’s request that two Psalms which relate to persecution by Saul, (57 and 59,) be sung to the tune “Do Not Destroy.” Knowing the old title attached to that melody would add a clear message to the Psalm, which would be noted by anyone knowing that piece of music. Other Psalmists also requested the same for their work.

“Do Not Destroy” is also the melody which was selected for Psalm 58: “Justice—do you rulers know the meaning of the word?” In Bible Hub’s interlinear Bible, “ruler” is elem, or congregation. [Strongs Number 482] It is a masculine word, which is culturally correct as the assembly of believers was all male in David’s time. Some Bibles say gods, some say sons of men. There is no correct consensus. It is a source of profound frustration to me that words such as this are so poorly translated in our Bibles, and a reminder to dig deeper to find the true meaning of the Word of God.
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Notes:

*“You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments.” Exodus 20:4-6

**The Code of Hammurabi translated by L.W. King http://www.general-intelligence.com/library/hr.pdf  and the Louvre Museum’s page on it: http://www.louvre.fr/en/oeuvre-notices/law-code-hammurabi-king-babylon


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Creative Commons License
The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

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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How David Compares to Other Near Eastern Kings

Sumerian King List

Sumerian King List

God changes everything in people’s lives. He always has, He always will. Last year I began to dig back through ancient history to find out what the kings in David’s era and part of the world were like. I wanted to know where the corruption that comes with royalty stemmed from. The search took me back far further than I had anticipated and I was stunned to know so much of the culture was still relevant and active in David’s lifetime.

The roots of kingship go back to the first city states which sprung up in Mesopotamia, where people decided to group together and organise to make survival easier: and of course, someone grabbed power. We don’t know who the first “king” was. They could have been a reputed warrior, a respected priest or someone who was simply savvy enough to take the opportunity to be the guy in charge. You know the deal. It doesn’t matter how many thousands of years have gone past, (estimated to be six thousand by historians,) it’s still a man in a fancier hat with a better house, servants and loads more money than everyone else. Kingship has been synonymous with excess and abuses of power since the beginning not because people tend to be a little jealous, but because that is the way things really are.

When kings first came in society changed. The power stopped being in the hands of the people, or a democratic committee of people. Women started to be treated as lesser beings and the class system was “invented” where some had more and some had less, rather than everyone working towards survival. God gave His people a command from the beginning of time: “go forth and multiply.”[Ref. Genesis 9:7] We were never meant to be clustered together in unhealthy cities with a class and sexist divide which shoves God out of the picture. For the sake of an easier life, our ancestors gave that up and nothing has really changed. We are still suspicious of the number 13, we still exalt people into insane positions of wealth and power, and humanity leans away from the freedom that God wanted for us, creating social problems, mental illness and all manner of physical sickness.

By the time I got to David, three thousand years later, I was mortified to see the same system being maintained and concerned at the similarities between paganism and How Israel functioned. For example, the kings were always placed in power by their deity, the altars had horns, and the priests needs were catered for the same way. There were a lot of parallels where the base culture that had produced Abraham had stuck in people’s minds and had gone through very little modification; the gods were basically the same; no one had grown. The whole structure of society was essentially a corruption of what God had intended.

As I said above, God changes everything in people’s lives. He always has, He always will and He did that with David. Saul bought straight into the culturally accepted, corrupt mode of kingship, and David did follow that to a significant degree, but he was different. David had been bought up strong in the faith and he doggedly stayed on that path, despite being exiled from fellowship and access to Israel’s worship practices by Saul. [Ref. 1 Samuel 26:19-20] He followed the laws in the Torah which God had handed down through Moses, and this made him distinct from any other king. He was so distinct that it’s given historians a reason to doubt he ever existed, as he didn’t leave the usual marks of kingship behind for us to find.

The biggest thing a king did in the ancient Near East was build a temple. Now David did that, but not in the same way. Normally when a Near Eastern king came into power, they set up their own capital city regardless of what already existed (he did that); named it after them (he didn’t do that); then build yet another temple to their god to show what a devout, god-chosen leader they were. No temple existed in Israel until David decided that his living large while God dwelled in a tent was just not right. Why? Saul was not a man of religious fervour, to put it mildly. It is doubtful he would have weighed up the difference between his home and God’s and decided to put the situation right. God had asked Moses to build the tabernacle, which was a nice tent situation, so that would do. It takes a different heart to choose not to live in greater splendour than the One to whom you owe you life, your success and your future. David had that humble heart that cared about His creator.

David’s humility also kept him from following in some of the other time-worn customs of kings. Yes, he did accumulate wives like other kings, which was against the law and had consequences which he regretted deeply. He did grab the King of Rabbah’s elaborate crown for himself… but he did not sing his own praises from the palace roof. Yes, of course he would have succumbed to ego on occasion. When even your wives bow and scrape before you, the human brain is going to go places it should not venture, and you’ll have a tough time staying humble. But David was undeniably modest compared to a typical king. [Ref. Rabbah 2 Samuel 12:29-30]

Lion-men; orthostat relief from Herald's wall, Carchemish ; 850-750 BC; Late Hittite style under Aramaean influence. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey

Lion-men; orthostat relief from Herald’s wall, Carchemish ; 850-750 BC; Late Hittite style under Aramaean influence. Museum of Anatolian Civilizations, Ankara, Turkey

Other kings had elaborate stele (victory memorials), and/or commemorative orthostats (carved scenes on the walls) in their palace, telling everyone who visited how they had won wars, taken slaves and been the best of the best: a powerful man that you don’t mess with. David did none of this. Stele’s nearly always had their god carved into the picture in close proximity to the king to reinforce the idea that the king was chosen, blessed and victorious because of their god. It is the kind of idol imagery which is forbidden in the ten commandments and that may have been one reason why David didn’t do it. He recorded his life events through Psalms, some of which are like victory steles, others which are cries for help, but nothing else has been discovered. We have ancient Babylonian and Assyrian statues and orthostats which pre-date David, but nothing has been found of his as it appears, it just wasn’t his thing. Yes, it could have been destroyed when Jerusalem was sacked by Babylon; but there is no Biblical account of any such objects being made, even though we know which of his great-grandsons thought it would be fashionable to paint the palace walls red.

Read the Psalms: “I will tell of the marvellous things You have done.” Psalm 9:1b and “I will exalt You Lord, because You have rescued me.” Psalm 30 David never takes the glory for himself, he always gives it to God. It would be completely incongruent to his character to build memorials to himself for what God had done.

David was also humble in the empire department. When kings traditionally went on campaign each spring to expand their control, we find David staying at home in Jerusalem while Joab gets on with the security-related tasks. [Ref. 2 Samuel 11:1, Joab was dealing with the aftermath of 2 Samuel 10.] He dealt with the enemies of Israel, but he didn’t get ambitious beyond that. It was common for kings to start expanding their territory just because they could. David didn’t. It’s that simple. The Lord had said, “I gave you your master’s house and his wives and the kingdoms of Israel and Judah. And if that had not been enough, I would have given you much, much more.” 2 Samuel 12:8  It looks like David simply did not ask God for me. He was satisfied with a secure nation and the blessing he had. Psalm 34:14 …. says “seek peace and work to maintain it.” Taking this general attitude and his habit of not joining Joab on the battlefield unless it was absolutely necessary, it appears David was simply not a war-mongering conquerer.

He didn’t give himself a grandiose title or nickname either. King Lugal-zaggisi of Sumer claimed that he ruled the four quarters of the world, even though he was only the ruler of the neighbouring regions of Sumer and Akkad. Etana, King of Kish, called himself “the shepherd, who ascended to heaven and consolidated all the foreign countries.” En-me-barage-si, also of Kish, referred to himself as the one: “who made the land of Elam submit,” and Kubaba, the only female king, called herself: “the woman tavern-keeper, who made firm the foundations of Kish.” David once referred to himself as the “sweet singer of Israel,” but it was it.

I have often called David the anti-king because of his humility, but the glory doesn’t even go to him for achieving that. While it was his choice to be open to the leading and correction of the Holy Spirit, at the end of the day, it was God’s work in David which turned him into the awesome man he became. As many have said, David was the start of an era and the end of that era… and that era was planned and put into place by his God, YHWH, who did this not just for David, He did it for all of His people. God changes everything in people’s lives. He always has, He always will.


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Creative Commons License
The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

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.

The Deep Ancient Roots the Psalms Sprang From

tltnpmRegardless of what age or nationality you are, the culture around you will affect how you worship. Old Western hymns were set to popular tunes of the day so that people would relate to them, and edifying Christian hip hop and rap music is popular with Christian youth in our current time.

There is absolutely nothing wrong with this. Jesus communicated His message in a form which people understood and could relate to. It makes perfect sense. However, when studying the ancient history of the Near East (pre-Abraham), I was surprised at how much some of the cultic hymns sounded like David’s Psalms.

Compare these two:

“Mighty, majestic, and radiant,
You shine brilliantly in the evening,
You brighten the day at dawn,
You stand in the heavens like the sun and the moon,
Your wonders are known both above and below…”

“The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.”

Who wrote what? The first one is a Sumerian hymn about Inanna (Ishtar,) the pagan ‘Queen of Heaven;’ the second is part of David’s Psalm 65. Did that leave you with an awful feeling in the pit of your stomach? I was startled, then realised that this point of time is so far back, both David and the writer of the hymn had the same roots: they both originally came from the one God, YHWH. Psalms by the Sons of Korah and Ethan the Ezrahite (Psalm 89) have the same features. It’s simply a cultural way of song writing.

The key elements of worship that appear in most religions are instituted in the first few chapters of Genesis. God places Adam and Eve in his sanctuary as priests who serve him and commune with him. After they disobey him, God institutes the idea of substitutionary sacrifice and atonement, establishing a covenant with them. Each of these elements characterises the worship of all religions since they are part of the religious heritage of all children of Adam. As Rodríguez notes, “those religious expressions belong to the common human experience of God” (Rodríguez 2001, 47). Romans 1:19–20 testifies to this when it says that God has revealed himself to all people through “the things that have been made.”  [Source: Worldview Bias and the Origin of Hebrew Worship by Scott Aniol, source link below.]

There is a major difference between the way that David approaches his God and the way the worshippers of the pagan god, Inanna worshipped: David has confidence!

“Be merciful to me, O Lord; for I cry to You daily.
Give joy to the soul of Your servant; for to You, O Lord, I lift up my soul.
For You, Lord, are good and ready to forgive, and rich in mercy to all those who call on You.
Give ear, O Jehovah, to my prayer; and attend to the voice of my prayers.
In the day of my trouble I will call on You; for You will answer me.” Psalm 86:3-7

You don’t find that kind of confidence in hymns for the pagan gods. From the ones I read, some of them don’t even make any kind of sense, but David had two things in his favour: the indwelling Spirit of God which gave him a direct link to the one true God, and a righteous boldness. He knew that God was with him and that YHWH was his source of comfort, deliverance, healing, joy and salvation. David was welcome to “boldly approach the throne of grace,” long before those words appeared in our New Testament. [Ref. Hebrews 4:16 and Ephesians 3:12]

“The LORD passed in front of Moses, calling out,
“Yahweh! The LORD!
The God of compassion and mercy!
I am slow to anger
and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness.
I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations.
I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin.
But I do not excuse the guilty.” Exodus 34:6-7a

Inanna had to be appeased, tip toed around. The pagan gods were the scapegoats that man made to explain the mysteries of why bad things happen and how the natural elements of the world functioned. They created jealous, angry gods with human frailties, who you bribed into happiness so nothing went wrong.

2016-12-11_15-55-07_01Looking at hymns which came from a different part of the Near East, Scott Aniol goes on to say: “When comparing the psalms of Israel with those of Ugarit people, important distinctions emerge as well. According to Walton, “the category of declarative praise is unique to Israel”… Biblical history and pagan myth have very different purposes, functions, and literary forms and therefore must not be interpreted in the same manner.”

The same applies to cultic observations about a flood and a baby sent down a river in a basket who was rescued by a princess and bought up in a royal court. The events were written about long after they happened, with the then current pagan interpretations added.

So if you ever come across strange similarities between paganism and the Bible, don’t take them as evidence that your faith isn’t based on a faithful, genuine God. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” John 1:1-5
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Notes:

https://answersingenesis.org/presuppositions/bias-and-origin-of-hebrew-worship/ This is a great article, please take the time to read it.

“Inanna was associated with the planet Venus, which at that time was regarded as two stars, the “morning star” and the “evening star. The discontinuous movements of Venus relate to both mythology as well as Inanna’s dual nature. Inanna is related like Venus to the principle of connectedness, but this has a dual nature and could seem unpredictable. Yet as both the goddess of love and war, with both masculine and feminine qualities, Inanna is poised to respond, and occasionally to respond with outbursts of temper. Mesopotamian literature takes this one step further, explaining Inanna’s physical movements in mythology as corresponding to the astronomical movements of Venus in the sky.” There are hymns to Inanna as her astral manifestation.”  [https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inanna]


kdpcpyrght

Creative Commons License
The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available at http://cateartios.wixsite.com/kingdavidproject.

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.

How YHWH is Unique: Differences Between Him and Mesopotamian Gods

high_priest_offering_incense_on_the_altarOver the last few months I have been studying the ancient history of the Near East to get a handle on how the surrounding nations impacted King David’s life. This is impossible to do without running into dozens and dozens and dozens of pagan deities, who went on to become the gods of Canaan, Babylon and Assyria. One thing that has struck me time and time again, is how radically different our God, YHWH, is compared to the other gods. Moses agrees with me: “For what great nation has a god as near to them as the LORD our God is near to us whenever we call on Him? And what great nation has decrees and regulations as righteous and fair as this body of instructions that I am giving you today?” Deuteronomy 4:7-8

Studying ancient history has shown me similarities between Biblical stories (*the flood) and how YHWH was worshipped, so how do I know that YHWH is the one true god? Because He is so distinctively unique.

Firstly, how do I account for the similarities in worship between Mesopotamia and Israel, which include blood sacrifice, the system for supporting priests; incense, music used in worship, the altars having horns, and the similarities in spiritual language? Scott Aniol from Answers in Genesis sums up what I was thinking beautifully: “All nations had a common ancestry in Adam, and God’s self-revelation was part of their heritage, thus accounting for any similarities in worship practice that exist.” Worship stemmed from one God and one original system which was corrupted for man-made divinities. This form of corrupted worship in the Mesopotamian world remained in vogue for over four thousand years, and some practices (such as the fear of the number 13) still affect many world cultures today.

“When comparing the psalms of Israel with those of Ugarit people, important distinctions emerge as well. According to Walton, “the category of declarative praise is unique to Israel”. Oswalt argues that although Psalm 29 may resemble Ugarit references to Baal as god of thunderstorms, “nowhere in the psalm is Yahweh identified with the thunderstorm. . . . Yahweh sits above the flood” (Oswalt 2009, 105–06. Emphasis original). Likewise, Currid observes that even “the style of writing of the cosmological texts from the ancient Near East is best described as ‘mythic narrative,’” while the biblical record “bears all the markings of Hebrew historical narrative.” (Currid 2013, 43)… Biblical history and pagan myth have very different purposes, functions, and literary forms and therefore must not be interpreted in the same manner.

The key elements of worship that appear in most religions are instituted in the first few chapters of Genesis. God places Adam and Eve in his sanctuary as priests who serve him and commune with him. After they disobey him, God institutes the idea of substitutionary sacrifice and atonement, establishing a covenant with them. Each of these elements characterises the worship of all religions since they are part of the religious heritage of all children of Adam. As Rodríguez notes, “those religious expressions belong to the common human experience of God” (Rodríguez 2001, 47). Romans 1:19–20 testifies to this when it says that God has revealed himself to all people through “the things that have been made.” 
[Source: Worldview Bias and the Origin of Hebrew Worship by Scott Aniol https://answersingenesis.org/presuppositions/bias-and-origin-of-hebrew-worship/]

What is also interesting, is how the Laws that God gave through Moses seem to be put in place to stop the Israelites from copying many of the pagan practices of other religions. For example, the Israelites were told: “A woman must not put on men’s clothing, and a man must not wear women’s clothing. Anyone who does this is detestable in the sight of the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 22:5 In some Mesopotamian ritual processions, the participants dressed half as men, half as women to worship their god. The more I study, the more I realise how much cultural information is lost to us, which sheds an entirely new light on Biblical precepts.
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foster_bible_pictures_0073-1_offering_up_a_burnt_sacrifice_to_godI could write a book on everything I have learned, but the main point I want to leave you with is how YHWH is a distinctive deity:

1. The Israelites could only have one religious relic/artefact, which was the Ark of the Covenant which had the manifest Presence of God upon it. Unlike polytheism, where there are many statues of a god made for every temple and need, there was no limit to the number. YHWH specifically banned the making of such images to represent Him. [Ref. Exodus 34:17]
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2. YHWH is way above the average intelligence of other gods
Some Mesopotamians created statues of themselves praying that they could place in their temples to make theirs gods think they were being prayed to all the time, and the gods knew no difference. According to the Jewish Virtual Library: “An idol, in the pagan mind, was a living and feeling being… The god’s spirit dwelt within the idol and was identified with it. The god was not confined to a single idol or a single shape; rather his spirit dwelt within many idols of varied shapes. The god perceived and sensed whatever happened to its idol…  The argument offered by the Psalmist (Ps. 106:36; 115:9), “they have eyes but they do not see” should be taken literally… The Biblical description of idolatry as “sacrifices to the dead,” (Ps. 106:28) and of idols as “wood and stone,” (Deut. 28:36, 64), and similar descriptions, challenge the pagan claim that the images they worshiped were in fact “living idols.”” 
[Source: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09475.html]
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3. YHWH has exceptional moral character
“And Jehovah (YHWH) came down in the cloud. And he placed himself there with Him, and he called on the name of Jehovah. And Jehovah passed by before his face and called out: Jehovah! Jehovah God! Merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and great in goodness and truth, keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and not leaving entirely unpunished, visiting the iniquity of fathers on sons, and on sons of sons, to the third and to the fourth generation.” Exodus 34:5-7

God’s were prone to the human traits of bitterness, revenge, theft, deception and basically, behaviour which is “fleshly.” [Ref. Galatians 5:16-25] Pagan gods are recorded as viciously punishing their followers over hurt feelings, regardless of who was responsible. This was a way to account for the tragedies and baffling ups and downs of life.

In the Epic of Gilgamesh, King Gilgamesh refuses to marry the goddess Ishtar and reminds her of how she has abused the affection of her past lovers. In vengeance, she complains to her father, who at first says, “serves you right,” but then: “Ishtar opened her mouth and said again, ‘My father, give me the Bull of Heaven to destroy Gilgamesh. Fill Gilgamesh, I say, with arrogance to his destruction; but if you refuse to give me the Bull of Heaven I will break in the doors of hell and smash the bolts; there will be confusion of people, those above with those from the lower depths. I shall bring up the dead to eat food like the living; and the hosts of dead will outnumber the living.’ Anusa said to great Ishtar, ‘If I do what you desire there will be seven years of drought throughout Uruk when corn will be seedless husks. Have you saved grain enough for the people and grass for the cattle? Ishtar replied. ‘I have saved grain for the people, grass for the cattle; for seven years of seedless husks, there is grain and there is grass enough.’ “ 

“She stirs confusion and chaos against those who are disobedient to her, speeding carnage and inciting the devastating flood, clothed in terrifying radiance. It is her game to speed conflict and battle, untiring, strapping on her sandals.” Battle itself is sometimes referred to as “the dance of Inanna.” [Source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inanna]

YHWH is not prone to such human faults and appalling acts of retribution. As we read in Exodus 34:5-7, He is open to reconciliation rather than murder. His people have to completely turn their back on Him before they are cursed.
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4. YHWH is not dependent upon us to provide any of His needs According to Mesopotamian mythology, human beings were created so the gods would have servants. “Man shall be charged with the service of the gods, that they might be at ease.” Babylonian Creation myth.

While the Hebrews (later Israel,) served YHWH, it was by obedience and through worship, they didn’t provide for His physical needs or were used and abused for His pleasure. To please Anu, you had to do the following (plus meet all the other requirements): “Several times a day in an elaborate ritual the god was served a sumptuous meal. The courses were set out before the statue of the god or goddess, music was played, and incense was sprinkled. Here is a daily menu for the god Anu at Uruk: 12 vessels of wine 2 vessels of milk, 108 vessels of beer, 243 loaves of bread, 29 bushels of dates, 21 rams, 2 bulls, 1 bullock, 8 lambs, 60 birds, 3 cranes, 7 ducks, 4 wild boars, 3 ostrich eggs, 3 duck eggs.”
[Source: http://www.dl.ket.org/humanities/connections/class/ancient/mesopreligion.htm]

Instead, He meets ours! “And He will love you, and bless you, and multiply you. He will also bless the fruit of your body, and the fruit of your land, your grain and your wine and your oil, the increase of your oxen and the wealth of your flock, in the land which He has sworn to your fathers, to give it to you. You shall be blessed above all people; there shall not be a barren man or a barren woman among you, nor among your livestock. And Jehovah shall turn aside every sickness from you; and He will not put on you any of the evil diseases of Egypt, which you have known, but He will put them on all who hate you.” Deuteronomy 7:13-15 Literal Translation of the Holy Bible
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557px-the_ark_of_the_covenant5. YHWH is accessible to all of His followers, not just the elite or the priests. “The higher-echelon did all the preparation, and private individuals only came into contact with the gods when statues of deities were brought out of the temple and carried through the streets.” [Source: http://www.dl.ket.org/humanities/connections/class/ancient/mesopreligion.htm]
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6. YHWH cannot be controlled by man
Since the god fully identified with its idol, whoever controlled the idol also controlled the god. When the king of Elam saw that he was about to be defeated by Sennacherib, he took his idols and fled in order that they [the idols] should not fall captive… The custom of taking captive the idols of the vanquished was ancient and widespread… Rab-Shakeh wanted to impress upon the people of Judah the fact that the gods of the neighbouring nations failed to protect them from the armies of Sennacherib .(Isa. 36:18–20; 37:10–12) [Source:
https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09475.html]

It was believed that once you had the idol, you controlled the god who would do your bidding if you appeased them. From there, any success would be possible. YHWH is completely resistant to manipulation. This is shown in Numbers 22 with Balaam who was ordered by the Moabite King, Balak, to curse the Israelites. “But Balaam responded to Balak’s messengers, “Even if Balak were to give me his palace filled with silver and gold, I would be powerless to do anything against the will of the LORD [YHWH] my God.”
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7. YHWH is not a God who has to retreat
When in enemies’ hands, the power of the idol vanished. The vanquished kings would come and beg for the return of the idols; to return an idol to his temple was considered an act of mercy. Because of his fear of the enemy, the god would leave the idol “and fly to the heavens” Jeremiah 50:1–3 makes reference to this belief). [Source: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0009_0_09475.html]

Our God rules over all and has no need of retreat, and no fear of man as He showed when He delivered His people from Pharaoh in Exodus, which David acknowledged when he said: “O LORD, there is no one like You. We have never even heard of another God like You! What other nation on earth is like Your people Israel? What other nation, O God, have You redeemed from slavery to be Your own people? You made a great name for Yourself when You redeemed Your people from Egypt. You performed awesome miracles and drove out the nations that stood in their way. You chose Israel to be Your very own people forever, and You, O LORD, became their God.” 1 Chronicles 17:20-22

Conclusion: “For who in all of heaven can compare with the LORD? What mightiest angel is anything like the LORD?” Psalm 89:6 How blessed we are.

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Notes:
*Flood stories were recorded well after the event, so pagan cultures associated what occurred with their cultural beliefs at the time.


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The King David Project by Cate Russell-Cole is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License (CC BY-SA 4.0).
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How We React to God in the Hard Times

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Matt Jacoby, from the group the Sons of Korah, has recorded this great sermon on Lament in Psalms. It challenges how we react to the Lord when life becomes rugged. Do we lower our expectations of what God can do for us so we don’t become disappointed? Or do we turn up the heat, as David did; knowing God can fix any problem and not backing down until He does.

I loved the message of this video and hope you do too.

Dancing with King David: A Reminder of How Much God Treasures Us

David Dancing before the Ark, painting by James Tissot New York City, Jewish Museum, circa 19th century

David Dancing before the Ark, painting by James Tissot New York City, Jewish Museum, circa 19th century

One of the most common reactions I’ve had to King David’s life has been, “should he have done that?” There are areas of diplomatic strategy that have made me wonder about his motivation, and there are other areas, such as when he wore a priest’s garment to serve the Lord, where I wondered if he had stepped way over the line. Was wearing an ephod an arrogant act by the man in power? Or did he have a God-given right to do that? What surprised me when I researched this topic, was how much it speaks of how much God loves us. David’s dance became a reminder of what a beautiful, high status we all have in the Lord’s eyes.

In our times, for a political leader to publicly put on an priest’s outfit is unthinkable. Priests are called by God and especially trained for ministry. It would be offensive, but David did it.”Now King David was told, “The Lord has blessed the household of Obed-Edom and everything he has, because of the ark of God.” So David went to bring up the ark of God from the house of Obed-Edom to the City of David with rejoicing. When those who were carrying the ark of the Lord had taken six steps, he sacrificed a bull and a fattened calf. Wearing a linen ephod, David was dancing before the Lord with all his might, while he and all Israel were bringing up the ark of the Lord with shouts and the sound of trumpets.” 2 Samuel 6:12-15

Jewish society has always had a definite order which was well established and adhered to. Originally, the firstborn sons of the Hebrew families were to have been the priests set aside to serve God in the Tabernacle and lead His people. However, when the children of Isra’el built and worshipped the golden calf, (while Moses was being given the ten commandments), only the tribe of Levi did not betray God by joining in. Because of this, the Lord had Moses sanctify them as priests and “Thus shall you set apart the Levites from the midst of the children of Israel, and the Levites shall become Mine… For they are wholly given over to Me from among the children of Israel; instead of those that open the womb all the firstborn of Israel I have taken them for Myself.” [Ref. Numbers 8:14 and 16]

Within King David’s dynasty, he took an active interest in ensuring the spiritual needs of the nation were set in place. David established established rosters for the Levites in 1 Chronicles chapters 23-25, prepared for the building of the temple and made God a top priority for everyone. He didn’t leave all the religion stuff to the priests, as Saul and his successor did. As a Hebrew King, David acted as the spiritual head for the nation; and as we see with later Kings, his influence could lead his people away from, or towards the Lord. What confirms David’s status further, is that the prophet Samuel anointed David with the same oil that was used on the High Priest. [Refs. 1 Samuel 16:13 and Exodus 30:31]

According to Rabbi Leibel Schapiro, within Jewish tradition, the king had to bow down before the Lord (in the tabernacle, and later, the temple) for much longer than anyone else, not only to keep his ego in check, but also to wait on the Lord for instructions on how to lead God’s people. The Rabbi also believes that the kings were vehicles by which God’s kingship could be manifest in the lives of the nation. Thus, David could guide the path of the Levites and wear an ephod to serve the Lord when he chose to. His actions were right.

The good news is, that is not the end of it. David had the right to wear an ephod, not just because he was the king and had special privileges, but simply because he was one of God’s chosen people. Regardless of the date on the calendar, we have the same right. Whether Jewish or Christian, we are all called to minister to and worship the Lord, and this was God’s decision which He initiated very early in Jewish history.

Exodus 19:1-6: “On the first day of the third month after the Israelites left Egypt—on that very day—they came to the Desert of Sinai. After they set out from Rephidim, they entered the Desert of Sinai, and Israel camped there in the desert in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.”

This status hasn’t become outdated since Jesus atoned for our sins. In 1 Peter, chapter 2, Peter says this “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” 1 Peter 2:9-10

Reading about David wearing that ephod reminds me that I am special to God. I am not trained or ordained, I cannot lead a congregation, but there is nothing to stop me from worship and directly accessing my Father’s love and Will for me. He has never wanted there to be divisions which result in some followers having more, or less access and privilege. God’s heart is one of equal generosity to all.

Psalm26v3When you look into the commands that the Lord gave to Moses, concerning Isra’el, they are incredibly generous, and exalted God’s people to a status which was the complete opposite to that which they had, had as slaves. In Numbers 15:38, the Isra’elites were told to add tassels to their garments which were died a specific blue, which is called tekhelet; an incredibly expensive product which was so costly, it was only worn by royalty and the highest ranking noblemen. It comes from a sea creature called the chillazon, and it takes many of these creatures to produce enough dye to make one thread blue.

This command of the Lord reinforced the value that God’s people had in His eyes. They were to be a royal priesthood, that served and thrived under Him. Instead of living the arduous, miserable life of a slave, they were valued, provided for and adored and the exact same thing applies to us.

David’s story may be about a king, but it is one which constantly teaches me where I stand with the Lord, boosts my faith and brings me closer to God. That is why I have spent so much time studying his life and I encourage you to do the same.


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.

Finding Genuine Worship ~ #praisebetogod #TrustinGod #GodisGood

37015643_sI have heard it said many times, that when we worship God, it does more for us, than it does for Him. Worship reminds us of the goodness and provision of the Lord. It fosters gratitude, and importantly it makes us feel good. Don’t you notice that? After you’ve sung to the Lord with all your heart, you feel great.

I heard this from so many sources, of course, I thought it was true. Then when I started to study the Psalms, I kept seeing how David poured his heart out before the Lord and I got a horrible feeling in the pit of my stomach. While worship makes us feel good, worshipping to make us feel better is most probably offensive to the Lord and is not an act of worship at all.

I can feel good singing along with the songs on the radio that have a positive message, and an upbeat tune. The human mind and body respond well to music. It is used in therapy, for relaxation, to rally and motivate: it has many benefits. I had been intending to do research on the power of music, then relate it to David’s life. I wanted to nail how it helped him cope through the darkest times. Then the Holy Spirit said, “I don’t want that.”

I stopped, surprised. I couldn’t pinpoint why the Lord had said no. Then I realised the answer: to pull worship apart and attribute positive, healing properties to it, would cheapen David’s expression of his love of the Lord.

Around 2001, a song came out which is obviously a response to the Lord challenging us on how we use worship. Were we worshipping to get a happiness boost? Were we using it to create atmosphere in church? Or were we singing to pour our hearts out to the Lord, as David did? Whatever the intention of writing the song at the time, it reaffirms what I am learning about worship now.

When the music fades,
All is stripped away,
And I simply come.
Longing just to bring,
Something that’s of worth,
That will bless Your heart.

That is what worship has to be: a gift of love and gratitude to the Lord. If that is tainted by anything else, it’s not genuine worship; it’s strange fire and the Lord shouldn’t be expected to accept it.

Leviticus 10:1-3 “Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu put coals of fire in their incense burners and sprinkled incense over them. In this way, they disobeyed the LORD by burning before Him the wrong kind of fire, (or strange fire), different than He had commanded. So fire blazed forth from the LORD’s presence and burned them up, and they died there before the LORD.

Then Moses said to Aaron, “This is what the LORD meant when He said,
‘I will display My Holiness
through those who come near Me.
I will display My Glory
before all the people.’”
And Aaron was silent.”

I feel awful for Aaron when I read that story. The shock and sense of injustice he felt at the loss of his sons, must have been horrific. However, a point was made which still stands today. We know how to worship God. It must come from our hearts, from a living, dynamic relationship with Him. To offer God anything else, whether it be via duty, performance, or going through the motions because we’re at the singing part of a church service, is not to worship. It is unrighteous, strange fire, that shows that we did not go near the Lord.

Listen to what motivated David to sing:

“Because of your unfailing love, I can enter your house;
I will worship at your Temple with deepest awe.” Psalm 5:7

“But I trust in Your unfailing love.
I will rejoice because You have rescued me.
I will sing to the LORD
because He is good to me.” Psalm 13:5-6

“Praise the LORD!
For He has heard my cry for mercy.
The LORD is my strength and shield.
I trust Him with all my heart.
He helps me, and my heart is filled with joy.
I burst out in songs of thanksgiving.” Psalm 28:6-7

“I will be glad and rejoice in Your unfailing love,
for You have seen my troubles,
and You care about the anguish of my soul.” Psalm 31:7

David sang out of a living, thriving relationship with the Lord. It came out of love. You can see the intimacy he had with the Father, come through. “My heart has heard You say, “Come and talk with Me.” And my heart responds, “LORD, I am coming.” Psalm 27:8

There are also other aspects to David’s praise, which point the way to how we are to worship.

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Gutenberg Bible, Creative Commons 4.0

1. In many Psalms, David proclaims an intention to praise the Lord, especially when life was tough. Regardless of how he felt, he didn’t slack off in his devotion to bless the Lord.

Examples of this are found in Psalm 5:7, Psalm 7:17, Psalm 13:5-6, Psalm 18:49-50, Psalm 22:22-25, Psalm 26:12, Psalm 28:6-6, Psalm 31:7, Psalm 35:9-10 and again in verse 28, Psalm 42:8, Psalm 54:6, Psalm 52:9, Psalm 57:7-8, Psalm 59:16, Psalm 61:8, Psalm 63:11, Psalm 69:30-31, Psalm 71:14-16, Psalm 71:22-24, Psalm 86:12-13, and Psalm 109:30-31.

There is a reason why I listed them all. David’s intention is a long-term, deliberate habit.

2. Many Psalms are also prayers. I chuckle when I see theologians try and dissect the Psalms and place them into one specific category. As David pours out his heart, he bounces around many areas. His beautiful works are natural, which is why we relate to and value them. They are not contrived.

A small selection of Psalms where David spontaneously bursts into exclamations of praise include: Psalm 28:6, Psalm 21:1-2, Psalm 24:8, Psalm 35:10, Psalm 57:7-11, Psalm 63:2-8, Psalm 31:19-21 and Psalm 30:11-12. Again, I am listing more than a key example or two, to demonstrate his worship habits.

3. This final area sets an example for us. David frequently encourages others to shout for joy and praise the Lord. He wants to be an example, or as we say, a witness, and he wants to infect others with the same gratitude and desire for communion with the Lord that he has. We need to do the same. Some of these Psalms were written as a means of teaching people about the Lord.

A few examples of these exhortations are found in Psalm 32:10-11, Psalm 33:1-5, Psalm 29:1-2 and I will leave you with this one in closing, Psalm 66:1-4.

Shout joyful praises to God, all the earth!
Sing about the glory of His name!
Tell the world how glorious He is.
Say to God, “How awesome are Your deeds!
Your enemies cringe before Your mighty power.
Everything on earth will worship You;
they will sing Your praises,
shouting Your Name in glorious songs.”


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.