This beautiful Psalter number is paraphrased from the first part of the familiar, somber Psalm 90. It was written by Moses during the forty-year period when the Israelites were wandering in the wilderness. It is a prayer of Moses for the nation of Israel, a petition that God remember and bless them.
The song begins by calling on the Lord as our dwelling-place. What a comfort to remember that God is a secure home and refuge for us! He preserves His people all through our own lives and throughout history. He was God even before creation, beyond the conception of our finite minds. He revealed Himself to Moses and Israel as Jehovah, the unchanging “I am.” As our Savior in the New Dispensation, He is the same, yesterday, today, and forever. (Hebrews 13:8)
The second verse reminds us that man’s life is in God’s hand. In contrast to God’s eternity, our lives are very brief. Moses as one of the oldest in the nation (he was 80 when the Israelites left Egypt) was a witness to the passing of generations. This year we mark the passing of a thousand years and the world celebrates the achievements of man. How small this is in the sight of the eternal God!
Verse three also speaks of man’s frailty and brevity. His life is like a breath, a passing dream. The Bible often compares man’s life to grass, which grows up and soon withers under the sun and wind. We so easily forget in times of health and prosperity how frail we really are, how in a few moments our life could be taken away. In the fourth verse Moses focuses on the condemnation of Israel. God can see right into man’s heart and knows every secret sin. The people had turned from God’s promises and had not had faith that they could conquer the Canaanites, so God condemned the whole older generation to die without seeing the promised land. They were experiencing His wrath on their sin as they wandered for years as pilgrims in the wilderness.
This Psalter ends on a sobering note. The lifespan of one man is maybe 70 or 80 years, lived in sorrow and toil, and he is soon taken away by death. We are so weak that we can’t even give God the reverence He is worthy of. The idea of God’s terrible wrath is often brushed aside in the church world today, but it is appropriate that we have a true fear of God and love Him with awe.
Although not versified in this song, the Psalm goes on to remind us to spend our short days in this world wisely. Moses prays that God would bless and establish the new generation of Israelites who would enter the promised land. This Psalter gives us much to contemplate about our own frailty and brevity. As the Psalms say in another place, “What is man, that Thou art mindful of him?” It is a cause for lifelong praise and joy that God in His mercy has saved and loved us.
Have you ever sat staring into a campfire late into the night and been mesmerized by the flickering flames? Fire is one of the most mysterious and fascinating creations of God. Nothing else has such power to destroy as well as to serve man for many tasks. When out of control it can quickly consume a house or forest and strike terror in every man and beast.
Fire appears many times in the Bible, not only because it was the primary means of heating and cooking, but as part of miracles, visions, and signs. Fire symbolizes many other things, such as God’s power and His anger towards sin, and man’s emotions of wrath, jealousy, or lust with which he can become consumed. The book of James compares the tongue’s sin of gossip to fire, because both can quickly spread destruction. (James 3: 5, 6)
The presence of God Himself was manifested to Moses from a burning bush, and a pillar of fire led the Israelites by night on their journey to Canaan.
Fire was very important in the worship of God in the Old Testament. Incense was burned as a sign of the prayers of God’s people reaching Him as a sweet smell. God required burnt offerings to be made as sacrifice for sin. Animals brought to the temple were killed, placed on the altar by the priest and completely burned as a sign of atonement for sin.
Once God sent fire from heaven to consume a sacrifice! In the miracle on Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18), Elijah mocked the gathered priests of Baal as they vainly called on their idol god to send fire on their altar. Then he told them to drench his sacrifice and wood altar with 12 barrels of water. Elijah called on the name of the LORD, praying that He would reveal Himself. God answered with fire that consumed not only the bullock and wood but the stones, dust and water all around the sacrifice! What an unmistakable sign before the Baal worshippers, who confessed, “The LORD, HE is the God!”
Fire is a sign of God’s judgment and wrath on wickedness. Genesis 19 tells the story of the early cities of Sodom and Gomorrah which were destroyed for their Godless lifestyle. God sent fire and brimstone (a smelly and flammable form of sulfur) to consume them, and they remain a monument of judgment to the world for all time.
II Peter 3:7 says that the present earth and heaven are reserved for fire and the judgment and destruction of the ungodly. At the end of the world the elements of the universe and earth will be dissolved with fire. This teaches us to look for the new heavens and earth which will last forever.
In contrast to judgment on the wicked, fire is also a metaphor of God’s instrument of refining His people, cleansing our sins and making us able to serve Him better. Sanctification is pictured as a process of refinement on the “metal” of the righteous. Precious metals are usually found mixed with other rock and soil and must be refined to obtain pure metal. Fire cannot consume metals but burns away the dirt around them leaving them pure. We, like a precious metal, are naturally filled with weakness, with sin ingrained in our hearts. “The fining pot is for silver, and the furnace for gold: but the LORD tries the heart” (Prov. 17:3). Fire upon the righteous only strengthens us, burning our old nature and making us into new and holy creatures.
I Peter 1:7 says, “That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honor and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.” This verse teaches us to thank God even in the experiences that give us pain, because we know that afflictions serve to test and strengthen our faith.
So, next time you find yourself gazing into the flames, stop and remember God’s “fire-works,” and praise Him.*
This past summer, the fourth family conference was held in Castlewellan, Northern Ireland. The British Reformed Fellowship has organized a week-long family conference in the British Isles every second summer since 1990, and this year’s was probably the best one yet!
The members of the Fellowship from Scotland, Wales, England, and Northern Ireland really look forward to this contact, since they are in small and scattered groups. Many do not have an established Reformed church to go to.
The group that met this year was very diverse and included people of many spiritual backgrounds and from many countries. About 150 people attended, many of them young people traveling from the States. There were a month-old baby, a newly-married couple, and elderly saints as well.
Our sister church in Ballymena, Northern Ireland had arranged for the group to stay in a 15th-century style castle! It was built in the 1800’s and restored to be a comfortable Christian Conference Center. It overlooked a beautiful lake, with gardens and a campground nearby. There were trails throughout the grounds and many of the young people walked around the lake after group devotions every evening. The castle, set on a hill with its windows lit up, was bright and inviting seen from the dark woods!
The conference theme was Eschatology, or the doctrine of the End Times. There were daily speeches with question and answer periods which became a source for much discussion. Professors Engelsma and Hanko presented the Scriptural Reformed perspective on a number of challenging subjects. They also led the Sunday worship services held in Ballymena, an hour’s drive from the castle.
The issues of amillenianism and the place of the Law in church and state were debated by young and old. People could be found in the lounges till long after midnight, singing around the piano or talking heatedly over their Bibles.
There were several day-trips planned during the week. The tourists rode in a double-decker bus to see the church and statue of St. Patrick and tour a historical estate. One day was spent seeing the sights of Belfast, the capital of Northern Ireland, and one afternoon a large group hiked up Slieve Donnard, the highest peak in the area. There was plenty of free time for recreational activities such as the favorite Irish sport, football (soccer.)
The conference was a great time of Christian fellowship and provided much food for spiritual growth. Everyone grew in appreciation for the universality of the Church, and all who can will try to attend the next conference in Wales in the summer of 2000! ♦♦♦
Athens is the capital city of Greece. It is located on a plain near the southern coastline. Greeks first occupied Athens around 1900 B.C. The earliest settlements began on the large, flat-topped hill of Acropolis, which was protected by steep slopes on all sides except the west. The city eventually grew around the fortified hill. Athens was one of the first city – states, an independent region including a main city which governed itself. In Athens developed the first democratic government.
The people of Athens first tried to build their society on their city-state. Their city and its government was supposed to give their lives meaning. This failed since the city was not adequate to be a base for their society.
The Athenians worshiped many gods. They believed that these gods had human forms and made mistakes, were limited in power, but supposedly lived forever. Some Athenians realized that their gods were childish and unworthy of worship. So, they turned to philosophy and tried to discover the meaning of life.
Paul came to Athens on one of his missionary journeys. He fled from Berea when Jews came to persecute him. As he waited for Silas and Timothy, he saw that the city was “wholly given to idolatry.” Paul debated and argued with Jews in their synagogues and idol worshippers in their temples, in the market, or wherever he was.
Athens was one of the first Gentile cities to hear the Gospel preached. Paul was encountered by Epicureans and Stoics, philosophers who were searching for happiness and the meaning of life. The Bible explains, “For all the Athenians and strangers which were there spent their time in nothing else, but either to tell or hear some new thing.” This shows what a great hold philosophy had on the people of Athens. Then Paul stood up on Mars Hill and began to preach. He rebuked the Athenians for their superstitions. He eloquently explained who God is and how to worship Him. God was now commanding all men everywhere to repent. Some thought he was introducing a new, strange god because he spoke of Jesus. They questioned him further about this “new doctrine”. When the people heard of the resurrection, many mocked and did not believe. But God had His people here, too. A few followed Paul.
Many of the ideas and thoughts of the world today can be traced back to Athens. Like the Greeks in Bible times people today are searching for life’s meaning and the way to happiness. They search for something to trust in: no longer do they put their hope in images but in things like money, health and youth. As in ancient Athens, today’s world worships man in humanism as well as worshiping the human body and the human mind. We as God’s people not only reject the many gods set forth by the Athenians, but we also reject the confidence of today’s man in man and the passing things of this world. We know that Christ is our only comfort in life and in death because He has given us a new spiritual life and mind.
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