Meeting the LORD this New Year: Psalm 132

What are you looking forward to this New Year?

Our family does this thing every few years. Call it “family visioning”. We gather everyone together and list out what we consider our strengths, our growth areas, and dreams. Back in 2015—before we’d caught the slightest whiff of Northwoods life—we listed out our dreams: more functional kitchen … chickens … wood-burning stove (that was mine!) … becoming better fixer-uppers … and living on a ranch (one of the boys).

Uncanny. With the exception of the last item (please, no!), the LORD has blessed our desires. He didn’t have too, but here we are …

Psalm 132 is a great psalm for New Year’s, because it’s about looking back to someone with great desires whom God blessed. It’s also, then, about looking forward to the fullness of what God is doing.

One of the Psalms of Ascent (Psalms 122-134) which the Nation would sing as they’d go up to the Temple Mount to meet with the LORD, Psalm 132 looks back to 2 Samuel 7.  In that earlier passage David (after conquering his enemies and moving to Jerusalem) aspired to build a dwelling place (a meeting place) for the LORD, who at that time chose to localize His presence above the Ark of the Covenant, to which His people could come and meet with Him.

You remember the story. In that same passage, God stopped David, saying, You’re not to build the Temple for me, but your son will. But, further:

… your house and your kingdom shall be made sure forever before me. Your throne shall be established forever (2 Sam 7.16)

This, of course, looks to Jesus, who reigns presently, and is coming back to take His throne! But, for Israel, before the coming of Jesus, the goodness and rightness of Israel’s hope to meet with the LORD is brought about by David’s desire to build a dwelling place for the LORD and by the LORD’s promise of the Messiah to dwell with His people forever.

For us in our churches today, Psalm 132 gives us a clue what we ought to be looking forward to in the coming year.

This New Year we get to look forward to gathering with God’s people! The psalmist appeals to God to remember and honor how David wanted to make a special place to meet with the LORD (:1-5).

I will not enter my house or get into my bed … I will not give sleep to my eyes or slumber to my eyelids … until I find a place for the LORD (:3-5).

The psalmist, then, goes on to record Israel’s response in following David and, finally, a further appeal to God to accept the present king, whomever he might have been at the time:

For the sake of your servant David, do not turn away the face of your anointed one (:10).

I catch a little insecurity here, don’t you? Of course, God’s promise of remaining on the throne was conditioned on obedience for each of David’s kingly descendants. Those who did not seek the LORD (and, most didn’t) were removed.

This brings us to the reason we can look forward to gathering in our church’s this New Year. God will meet with His people, because of the active obedience of Christ! And, more, God meets with us, because He chooses to dwell in the midst of His people whom Paul calls the Body of Christ. Your church is a local chapter of this Body, and you can meet there with God’s people without insecurity, because of Jesus’ work.

Great as that is, there’s something else to which this psalm helps us look forward.

This New Year we, together, get to anticipate Christ’s return. The second half of the psalm records God’s response to David: God’s oath to David (:11-12), God’s choosing of Zion (Jerusalem), to which His Messiah will come (:13-16), and God’s securing of the throne for David in Messiah (:17-18).

For the Nation, as for us, this is yet future. Ah, but there’s so much to look forward to. Note the word pictures: clothing, indicating salvation and righteousness … a horn, a picture from the animal world, indicating dominance … a lamp, showing revelation from God … and then, the crown. Jesus, who reigns presently, will return to establish His reign!

There are three great holidays for Christians, you know. There’s Christmas, which we’ve just celebrated, when we celebrate Christ’s coming. There’s Easter, when we celebrate the finished work of Christ. And then, there’s the Return of Christ.

The last is future. But when we gather with God’s people in our churches, we get to remind one another that God’s plan is really going somewhere: Jesus is really born! … He really died and was raised! … And, He’s really returning for us!

The Old Testament worshipper could celebrate David’s desire to meet with the LORD and then look forward to the fullness of David’s desire, yet to be fulfilled. We get more of the fullness, and together (with God’s people), we get to anticipate the completion of God’s plan for His people.

Let’s look forward this New Year to gathering with God’s people and together anticipating Christ’s return. 


How about you? What are you looking forward to in the new year? 

How does Psalm 132 change the kind of thing that you desire about 2018?

How does this Old Testament psalm about the Temple worship of the Nation of Israel help you make the connection to Christ? What is still difficult about making the connection to where we are in the Church today? 

Besides the truth that Jesus is coming back, what other truths do you encourage each other in when God’s people meet together in churches? 



Thru the Bible in … a bit longer than a year!

It’s that time to begin again. There’ll be lots of talk in the next few days about New Year’s resolutions. Then, after a week, or so, you’ll not hear much about these fresh starts, did you ever notice?

While I’m not much for New Year’s resolutions, I do like to start new things.

Here’s one … Last year I discovered the 5 Day Bible Reading Program, put out by Lower Lights and available at (Since they encourage us to reproduce the plans, everybody attending Woodland will receive one in her bulletin).

This is the Bible reading plan I’ve always wanted. Basically, the entirely of the Old and New Testaments are broken into five readings per week for 52 weeks. There’s little bubbles, so obsessive types like me can ink in the circles at completion of each day’s reading. When an entire week’s reading is complete, there’s another column to record the date when that week’s reading was finished.

Important for me, I’ve found, is that you keep pressing forward. Don’t go back to read material you’ve missed! Save that for the next year. So, now at the beginning of 2018, I see that I competed the first three weeks of January in 2017, but then, “Ah, oh,” I got behind. No worries. I’ll just start on the fourth week of January in 2018, and try to keep ahead. If not, no worries again. I’ll just pick it up in 2019. The idea is to keep moving through the material.

Another important idea: when I come to hard-to-read, arcane writings, I need to move quickly and not get bogged down. I’ll recognize all those genealogies and codified lists of rules, but I’ll read for the big picture. Scan even, sometimes. This is Bible reading, not detailed exegesis. If ever I teach through Leviticus, that will be a different matter. For Bible reading, I want to keep going.

So, there’s your picture of me in the winter months … Early mornings in my basement, favorite chair in front of my Woodchuk stove, coffee in my blue mug (reminds of the winter sky), and with my ESV and 5 Day Bible Reading Program.

Why don’t you grab your own reading program at the site above? Join me, and let me know how you’re doing, after all those resolutions have faded away.

Jesus, Light to All Peoples: Isaiah 9.1-7

I’ve been thinking about why Jesus came. And, as I’ve been pairing my favorite Advent passages with answers to this question, I’ve returned to the Hallelujah Chorus of the Old Testament:

The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light/Those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shone … For to us a child is born/ to us a son has been given/And the government shall be upon his shoulder/And his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace … (Is 9.2 … 6, ESV)

And, as such, Jesus came to be a light to all peoples!

In context, we find the passage at a time of great darkness for Israel. King Ahaz is on the throne of Judah (734 B.C.). The Israel/Syrian alliance approaches Judah from the northeast. Philistia and Moab press in from the southwest and southeast. God promises to deliver Judah and prompts Isaiah to urge Ahaz to ask God for a sign of this coming deliverance. Even though God is often stingy with His signs and this is special, Ahaz doesn’t want any part of God’s deliverance, but would rather appeal to Assyria.

The LORD responds with His sign anyway. Assyria will play its role in the discipline of both Israel and Judah (7.18), and Israel and Syria will not overcome (7.7-9), but the LORD will visit His people through the birth of a son; and, this to preserve the Nation of Israel and transform the nations.

The Sign of Immanuel is a far-reaching promise that gathers speed throughout the Book of Isaiah and the rest of the Old Testament, finally culminating in the birth of Christ.

All this took place to fulfill what the LORD has spoken by the prophet: Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel (Matt 1.22-23; Is 7.14)

Isaiah 9, then, simply tells us about the Person and rule of Jesus. At His return Israel’s time of darkness is over (:1-2), the battle with darkness is over (:3), the oppression of darkness is over (:4-5), and God will be with His people in the Person of Immanuel (:6-7).

There’s a sense in which the Sign of Immanuel isn’t fulfilled yet. The full reality—when Jesus brings in peace and darkness has been transformed to light—awaits the return of Christ. Even so, those who have trusted Christ have moved from darkness to light:

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shown in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor 4.6)

How about you? Where has Jesus met you in your darkness this year? The spiritual darkness of unbelief, the mental darkness of depression, the material darkness of broken things, the physical darkness of bodies that don’t work, the financial darkness of income not matching bills, the social darkness of relationships grown cold?

Then … Where in your life are you trusting Jesus, Light to all Peoples, to be light to you in your darkness in this coming year? 

Isaiah 9 describes Immanuel, Light to the Nation in darkness, fulfilled once at Jesus’ birth, completed at His return. And, even as this is God’s work among the nations, God’s solution to my darkness is to enter my world in the Person of Jesus and transform me, by faith, to share in His light. 

May God bless you each richly this Advent Season as you join me in thinking about why Jesus came!

Godly Compassion: Jonah 4.5-11

Do you know somebody who doesn’t know their right from their left? That is, do you know someone who is clueless about God? Then, what does your response to them say about your heart for God?

This week at Woodland we’ll leave Jonah behind, but not the lessons learned. In fact, we’ll see that Jonah (fish and all) is a fine entryway to Christmas.

Jonah 5.5-11, Episode 7 in the book, stands alone as a kind of epilogue. Not parallel to any other scene (as every other scene is), this post-climactic scene provides the account of how God schools Jonah to leave him with something about Himself to ponder. The result of God’s object lesson revealing Jonah’s double-standard is the vindication of God’s justice and the demonstration of God’s compassionate mercy.

Jonah puts God’s compassionate mercy to the test (:5). Following God’s decision not to destroy Nineveh, “Jonah went out of the city and sat to the east of the city …” (:5a). Jonah’s immediate departure from his most recent dealings with God harken back to his original flight from God (1.3). He’s back to his old ways, and it doesn’t seem to matter whether he goes west in a ship or east of the city to sit; Jonah has run from God.

In a device of his own making, Jonah constructs a makeshift booth, and enjoys its “shade,” a word used elsewhere in the Hebrew to describe God’s protection. Such an effort would have reminded Jewish readers of Israel’s wilderness wanderings.

What’s Jonah after? He’s awaiting the fate of the city, and this seems strange in light of God’s recent pardon of the Ninevites. There’s two possibilities. Either Jonah is waiting for Nineveh to fail in its obedience, so that God will judge the city, or Jonah is daring Yahweh to choose Nineveh over him. “Either them or me, God!” we might hear Jonah say. In either case, Jonah continues to believe that God’s mercy is compromising His justice, and he doesn’t like this aspect of God’s character one bit.

The LORD God provides an object lesson to vindicate His justice and show His compassionate mercy (:6-8). While Jonah begins to cook in the east wilderness, ” … the LORD God appointed a plant and made it come up over Jonah …” (:6). This is God’s mercy, and God has “appointed” the plant, just like He once appointed the fish. Both serve as props in the story to save Jonah, the first to save him physically, the second spiritually. (Literally, the text reads, ” … to save him from his evil”.)

Jonah is “exceedingly glad because of the plant …” Jonah likes mercy when he receives it, but he wants everybody else to get what they deserve.

Then, God appointed a worm to show Jonah justice (:7). This worm “smote” (a military term) the plant, and God’s provision of mercy withered and died. The irony here, of course, is that God (for the purpose of argument and instruction) has done to Jonah the very thing Jonah wanted for the city. “Here’s the justice you want!” God might be heard to say.

God’s appointment of the east wind simply shows Jonah the condition of his own heart. The sun “smote” him (since God’s instructional mercy is removed), and Jonah is ready to die again. “My death is better than life!” Jonah complains. Jonah has turned inward, even as God looks outward.

God poses a question and leaves Jonah to ponder His compassionate mercy (:9-11). “Do you do well to be angry for the plant?” God asks Jonah. Notice, they’re no longer discussing the city. “Yes, I do well to be angry, angry enough to die!” Jonah responds. Notice, they’re now not even discussing the plant.

They’re actually discussing God’s character. Jonah is right in that God is being arbitrary in removing His mercy from him. What Jonah doesn’t get is that this is what he wants God to do in removing mercy for the city. Jonah has just experienced a small dose of what he’s demanding for the city, and he doesn’t like it one bit. What is in play here, really, is not God’s character even, but the condition of Jonah’s heart.

Then, Jonah is left to ponder God’s compassionate mercy (:10-11). You pity the plant, for which you did not labor, nor did you make it grow … And should not I pity Nineveh, that great city, in which there are more than 120,000 persons who do not know their right hand from their left, and also much cattle?

The Torah warned Israel not to turn to the right or the left. These were those who received divine revelation. But, the Ninevites hadn’t even heard from God! Shouldn’t God have mercy on the clueless? And, when his compassionate mercy extends to all His creation? … And, much cattle. 

The approach to our final major lesson from Jonah yields a number of implications. First, Israel was indeed God’s covenant people, but not at the expense of God’s own glory. In time, God would use Assyria to judge His own people, Israel. And then, God would judge Assyria, as the Book of Nahum recounts. In the end, God shows mercy—to nations and to people. But, God is on no one’s side; He is holy to Himself, and on His own side. Jonah came to understand this; he just didn’t like it.

Second, God’s mission is broader than Jonah wanted to imagine. The Book of Jonah anticipates our New Covenant relationship with God in that it anticipates a time when all those united by faith in Christ will receive God’s mercy, despite nationality or ethnicity. Again, Jonah didn’t want to go there.

Finally, there is a narrowness in God’s mercy, even as there is a wideness. The Apostle Paul, in addressing both Jews and Gentiles in the Book of Romans asks, ” … did they [Jews] stumble in order that they might fall? By no means! Rather through trespass salvation has come to the Gentiles …” (Rm 11.11a). Jonah’s stubbornness, and the stubbornness of those like him, resulted in God’s character being revealed to the nations. “Hardness” for the physical sons of Abraham will continue, we’re promised, until all the spiritual Ninevites have come in (Rm 11.25).

Important to grasp is that God’s mercy, wide as creation though it be, is not universal. This salvation is found in Christ! And, it is Christ’s obedience that merits mercy rather than justice for all those who rest in His “shade”.

For those who are “in Christ” the message of Jonah challenges us to show the very compassionate mercy of God to those who don’t know Him. This will involve both God’s justice and mercy, seen in the work of Christ and representing the very character of our compassionate God.

My response to God’s merciful plan must involve representing the LORD God who justice and compassionate mercy is seen in the Gospel. 

Here’s a few aspects of Jonah’s final scene that can be talked about in a small group:

How is Jonah’s final attempt to get away from God just another example of man’s age-old attempt to operate apart from God? 

How does God’s lesson for Jonah instruct us regarding the way we, sometimes, want God to judge others while showing us mercy?

Who are those in your life who “don’t know their left hand from their right hand”? 

How does the Book of Jonah help you understand how you’re to interact with those you’ve identified above? 

Mercy: Jonah 4.1-4

This week at Woodland we reach the crisis-point of the Book of Jonah. And, we ask with Jonah: How can Gods mercy on sinners operate without compromising God’s justice?

Miraculous as the repentance of Nineveh’s king and people was, that wasn’t the high point of the book. We come to the high point in 4.1-4 where, just like earlier in the fish, Jonah will meet with God. Earlier, in the fish, Jonah was motivated to pray in response to God’s mercy on him—with the result that Jonah was finally ready to go to Nineveh to help God judge Israel’s enemies. In the parallel episode of 4.1-4, now outside the spared city of Nineveh, Jonah prays again, this time in response to God’s mercy on somebody else.

Jonah’s prayer finally reveals the reason Jonah has been running all along. There’s something in God’s character Jonah finds unacceptable: … for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster (:2b).

The reader now learns something that God knew all along. Apparently, Jonah has had long discourse with God, and God knows Jonah’s heart. Also known to every Jewish reader of Jonah is that Jonah’s description of God is very nearly a word-for-word description of God coming from the LORD Himself in Exodus 34.6-7. That scene follows the Golden Calf incident where Moses has interceded for Israel: Turn from your burning anger and relent from this disaster against your people, Moses has prayed to God (Exodus 32).

After God relented, Moses interceded for the people and prays once more, revealing his reason for confidence before God: Consider too that this nation is your people … For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth (Exodus 33).

Jonah knows this scene. He understands this scene to mean that Yahweh is on his side, and this becomes the basis of his claim to righteousness against his enemies.

Then, Yahweh does something unthinkable: He pardons Israel’s enemies at Nineveh!

This confirms what Jonah has suspected all along: YAHWEH IS ON NOBODY’S SIDE! I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy (Exodus 33).

Jonah has learned that God is not a domestic, regional deity. And, it’s enough to blow his world! In fact, Jonah wants to die, because he can’t see how God’s mercy doesn’t compromise God’s justice, and challenge who he perceives himself to be as one chosen by God.

God deals tenderly with Jonah, proving that He is compassionate and long-suffering. And the LORD said, “Do you do well to be angry?”

Sometimes we’re like-wise angry with God’s mercy. Like Jonah (or, maybe, like a jealous two-year-old who doesn’t want to share her mommy with other children), we want to keep our small god, who will vindicate us by judging those who oppose us.

Jonah couldn’t see how God’s mercy doesn’t compromise God’s justice, but we can see this. Where do we see this? How about the cross of Christ where God’s justice fell on Christ, and where all those who take refuge in Christ find mercy?

The cross of Christ is what Jonah couldn’t see, because of his place in God’s redemptive plan, but also because he didn’t want to see it by faith.

My response to God’s merciful plan MUST include reflection on the cross of Christ where both justice and mercy are displayed. 


Think about a few questions to apply this passage from Jonah:

Where do you most struggle with God’s mercy on other people? Has there been a time when you’ve seen God bless someone you didn’t consider deserving? 

How did the incidents you described above challenge your identity as one who belongs to God? 

How does the cross of Christ help you understand how God’s justice and mercy work together? 

What do you think of the idea that GOD ISN’T ON ANYBODY’S SIDE. He’s on His own side, and He “shows mercy on whom He shows mercy” (Exodus 34.7; Jonah 4.3).

How does reflection on the cross of Christ help you show mercy to others?