Again we have songs of ascent today, but here faith is rooted in the realities of daily life.
Psalms 127 & 128 place the benefits of faith firmly in the domestic realm. Only where a family is founded upon God’s love is it secure. These psalms give us a good challenge to the pressured life of so many families – even if life is filled moment by moment with activity, and even if we work tirelessly to provide for our families, unless the LORD is at their heart they will come to nothing.
In fact, the same principle that we see in Psalm 127 can be applied to anything good we’re working for, whether as a family or an individual. In all the many books, apps and blogs dedicated to productivity, there are all manner of principles, skills and practices to help us to get things done, but this psalms reminds us that unless what we’re trying to do is founded upon God’s presence and blessing in the first place, better techniques and harder work just mean that we’re building bigger and better towers on the same foundation of sand.
Psalm 129 takes us back to the familiar ground of prayer for the psalmist’s vindication and the downfall of his enemies – and reminds me that we don’t have much of this in our hymnbooks.
Then Psalm 130 changes the tone. It’s the prayer of someone in need of forgiveness, opening his heart to the LORD without excuse but with full confidence and hope. In this psalm is the puzzlling verse 2.
If you, O LORD, should mark iniquities, LORD, who could stand?
But there is forgiveness with you, so that you may be revered.
The last word seems traditionally to be translated ‘feared’, and (I wondered enough to look it up and try to decipher the Hebrew) is the same as or at least closely related to the word translated ‘fear’ in psalms 111 and 112. It seems to make sense to use ‘revered’ rather than ‘feared’ here – after all, forgiveness is something we generally find reassuring, not frightening. Two things strike me, though. The first is that the sense of ‘reverence’ here might reinforce the idea that the fear mentioned elsewhere does indeed have more of the character of reverent awe than of terror.
The second is that to know God as forgiving can indeed lead to fear, for it brings us face to face with the fact that he is not like us and doesn’t act by our rules. Forgiveness is all very well until we realise that it might apply to our enemies as readily as to us. God is not just ‘me’ exaggerated to giant proportions. He is who He is. And that can be scary sometimes.