What God Gets

                       Psalm 16

Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
    I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord;
I have no good apart from you.”
    As for the saints in the land, they are the excellent ones,
in whom is all my delight.
    The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply;
their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out
or take their names on my lips.
    The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
you hold my lot.
    The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.
    I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
in the night also my heart instructs me.
    I have set the Lord always before me;
because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
    Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices;
my flesh also dwells secure.
10    For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol,
or let your holy one see corruption.
11    You make known to me the path of life;
in your presence there is fullness of joy;
at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. [1]

Christians who feel as if the world, as reported in the daily news, is spinning out of control, feel disoriented and disturbed. They look for a refuge. Psalm 16 talks about the kind of refuge they can have in a strong relationship with God. The psalms often pray for refuge or testify to finding refuge. In the Psalms, to take refuge in God is to cling to him in faith when trouble strikes. The psalmist expresses confidence in God’s protection and fearlessly calls to the Almighty for help. When trouble creates chaos and confusion, the psalmist calls out to God for guidance and seeks to follow God’s way.

Psalm 16 is this sort of prayer. Yet it has a unique perspective that Christians can appropriate to their blessing. Harper’s Bible Commentary says that Psalm 16 points to a time when Israel was falling away from faithful worship, and even Levites were falling away from their calling to serve God in his sanctuary. This view of the situation is expressed in the words, “The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips.” (verse 4) Contemporary Christians have every reason to feel the same way about the world around them.  US culture is just as prone to run after other gods as Israel was, and Christians who deplore the millions of aborted babies in the US will feel the same revulsion toward that news as this poet who rejected drink offerings of blood.

Christians share something with the ancient Levites who viewed Israel’s apostasy from a place of religious leadership. Christians are part of God’s kingdom of priests, and Christians have the same responsibilities of leadership that the ancient Levites had. Christians are called by Christ to be light and salt, visible, active agents of God’s kingdom in the world around them, just as the Levites reminded the Israelites of God’s claims on their lives.

Thinking about that image, it is important to remember a major difference between the Levites and the other Israelite tribes. The other tribes all received allotments of land in the Promised Land, but the Levites did not. The Levites, including those specifically consecrated to the priesthood, were to receive all the offerings that people brought to the Lord. Those offerings were their living. The Levites got whatever God got in ancient Israel. If the Israelites were feeling faithful, they gave larger and finer offerings. If the Israelites were on a binge of Baal worship, then offerings to the Lord might be few and far between.

To be a Levite could be a major challenge during times such as the early days of Josiah’s reign. When Josiah became king, the temple Solomon built with such fanfare had fallen into severe disrepair, and people had fallen away from worship of the Lord to such a degree that the discovery of ancient writings about God in the temple created a frightful stir. The Levites who lived through those days must have been quite resourceful, because they would not have been living on any offerings to the Lord. If they got what God got in those days, it was a very large NOTHING.

Christians, called to serve in God’s kingdom of priests, also get what God gets. Recalling how Bonhoeffer invites contemporary Christians to read the Psalms as Jesus’ prayer book, it is easy to see this parallel between ancient Levites and the kingdom of priests when the psalmist says, “What shall I return to the Lord for all his bounty to me? I will lift up the cup of salvation and call on the name of the Lord.” God has made Christians a kingdom of priests, and like the Levites in ancient Israel, we do not receive our “portion” as real estate. We lift up the “cup of salvation” as our offering to the Lord, and it is simultaneously the priest’s portion. We are priests who are live on the offerings to the Lord. We get what God gets.

This is an important point. As God’s priests, we get what God gets. The ancient priests endured some very hard times. We tend to think that if we have fallen on hard times, God isn’t taking good care of us, and we tend to believe that we should ask him to take away our hard times.

Yet as those who bear the name of Christ, as the kingdom of priests who receive whatever God receives, we are clearly called to share the opprobrium the culture heaps on God. If we are priests, we must endure. We get what God gets.

Jesus said, “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” (John 15:18) When we get what God gets, we get the hate of the world. In many countries, that hatred means that Christians are driven out of their homes, their husbands, wives and children are murdered, they are fired from their jobs, and even refused public utilities. They are deprived of any way to fill the basic human needs for food, clothing and shelter. This very thing could be in the future, the near future, for Christians in the USA, if we get what God gets.

When that happens, will we have the kind of faith the psalmist had? Ask yourself, Will I, in want and misery, be able to celebrate God’s presence in my life and say, “The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places.”

This is not a hypothetical question. In Mexico, 26 Christian families were driven out of their home town when the local government cut off their utilities. Christians had refused to contribute money or goods to local festivities that worship pagan gods. In Nigeria, Muslins who belong to Boko Haram followed a pastor to his home, then shot him dead in front of his wife and children. In Tanzania, a Christian pastor was assaulted with a machete by an angry mob. His injuries were so serious that he spent days in ICU. When the police chief was asked to come and rescue the pastor, the police chief responded, “I cannot protect every pastor.” These countries all theoretically operate by the rule of law, and theoretically have religious liberty for citizens, but violent activists in these and other countries either overwhelm available law enforcement or else officials collude with the cultural pressure and turn a blind eye to violence.

The same attitudes appear closer to home. In the USA, a family recently sought asylum when their home country threatened to take custody of their children. The reason? The family was teaching the children moral values different from those taught by the government. The family was homeschooling their children and teaching biblical morals. The parents wanted their children to be taught Christian values and morals. The US Department of Justice argued in court that the law the family had fled applied to everyone, not just to them, and because it applied to everyone, it could not be considered persecution. At the same time, business after business is suing the federal government because of the requirements of the Affordable Care Act which do not exempt Christians from the employer mandate to buy insurance that includes the so-called “preventive” service of abortion or abortifacient drugs.

Whether persecution is mounted by a foreign government or by the US federal government, God’s kingdom of priests gets what God gets. If God is not respected and obeyed, then Christians are not respected and treated with courtesy. The Psalmist expresses the victorious mindset that prevails and endures in the face of persecution.

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore.  (Psalm 16:11)

 


[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. 2001 (Ps 16:1–11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society.

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