Desperation and Faith
by Brett Bradshaw
Praise the LORD!
Oh give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever!
Who can utter the mighty deeds of the LORD,
or declare all his praise?
Blessed are they who observe justice,
who do righteousness at all times!
Remember me, O LORD, when you show favor to your people;
help me when you save them,
that I may look upon the prosperity of your chosen ones,
that I may rejoice in the gladness of your nation,
that I may glory with your inheritance.
Both we and our fathers have sinned;
we have committed iniquity; we have done wickedness.
Our fathers, when they were in Egypt,
did not consider your wondrous works;
they did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love,
but rebelled by the sea, at the Red Sea.
Yet he saved them for his name's sake,
that he might make known his mighty power.
He rebuked the Red Sea, and it became dry,
and he led them through the deep as through a desert.
So he saved them from the hand of the foe
and redeemed them from the power of the enemy.
And the waters covered their adversaries;
not one of them was left.
Then they believed his words;
they sang his praise.
But they soon forgot his works;
they did not wait for his counsel.
But they had a wanton craving in the wilderness,
and put God to the test in the desert;
he gave them what they asked,
but sent a wasting disease among them.
When men in the camp were jealous of Moses
and Aaron, the holy one of the LORD,
the earth opened and swallowed up Dathan,
and covered the company of Abiram.
Fire also broke out in their company;
the flame burned up the wicked.
They made a calf in Horeb
and worshiped a metal image.
They exchanged the glory of God
for the image of an ox that eats grass.
They forgot God, their Savior,
who had done great things in Egypt,
wondrous works in the land of Ham,
and awesome deeds by the Red Sea.
Therefore he said he would destroy them—
had not Moses, his chosen one,
stood in the breach before him,
to turn away his wrath from destroying them.
Then they despised the pleasant land,
having no faith in his promise.
They murmured in their tents,
and did not obey the voice of the LORD.
Therefore he raised his hand and swore to them
that he would make them fall in the wilderness,
and would make their offspring fall among the nations,
scattering them among the lands.
Then they yoked themselves to the Baal of Peor,
and ate sacrifices offered to the dead;
they provoked the LORD to anger with their deeds,
and a plague broke out among them.
Then Phinehas stood up and intervened,
and the plague was stayed.
And that was counted to him as righteousness
from generation to generation forever.
They angered him at the waters of Meribah,
and it went ill with Moses on their account,
for they made his spirit bitter,
and he spoke rashly with his lips.
They did not destroy the peoples,
as the LORD commanded them,
but they mixed with the nations
and learned to do as they did.
They served their idols,
which became a snare to them.
They sacrificed their sons
and their daughters to the demons;
they poured out innocent blood,
the blood of their sons and daughters,
whom they sacrificed to the idols of Canaan,
and the land was polluted with blood.
Thus they became unclean by their acts,
and played the whore in their deeds.
Then the anger of the LORD was kindled against his people,
and he abhorred his heritage;
he gave them into the hand of the nations,
so that those who hated them ruled over them.
Their enemies oppressed them,
and they were brought into subjection under their power.
Many times he delivered them,
but they were rebellious in their purposes
and were brought low through their iniquity.
Nevertheless, he looked upon their distress,
when he heard their cry.
For their sake he remembered his covenant,
and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.
He caused them to be pitied
by all those who held them captive.
Save us, O LORD our God,
and gather us from among the nations,
that we may give thanks to your holy name
and glory in your praise.
Blessed be the LORD, the God of Israel,
from everlasting to everlasting!
And let all the people say, “Amen!”
Praise the LORD!
During the ravaging storm of the Holocaust, the French village of Le Chambon was, in the words of one Jewish woman, “the rainbow.” This small community of Christians risked their lives in the imitation of Christ by offering refuge for hundreds of Jews, many of whom were children, fleeing from Nazi controlled Europe. Author Philip Hallie wept when he first discovered a short article on what happened in Le Chambon and describes returning to the story, “And to my surprise, again the spear, again the tears, again the frantic, painful pleasure that spills into the mind when a deep, deep need is being satisfied, or when a deep wound is starting to heal. . . . Those involuntary tears had been an expression of moral praise, praise pressed out of my whole personality like the juice of a grape.” A celebration of goodness amid great darkness such as this is a witness to the piercing praise of God’s relentless love in Psalm 106.
This Psalm is a prayer through the story of God’s wonderous works of salvation in response to His people’s rebellion, bookended by the words “praise the LORD.” The opening praise and petition quickly turns to a reflection on the people of God’s tragic past: insurrection, selfishness, political and religious jealousy, bellyaching and griping, angry outbursts, cultural assimilation and corruption, even the monstrous murder of their own children. For all this, a dementia of the soul is at its root: “They did not remember the abundance of your steadfast love.”
In forgetting God, “They exchanged the glory of God for the image of an ox that eats grass.” It is tempting to think, “That’s ridiculous! How could they be so ignorant?” But if we first take the log out of our own eyes, we might see things a bit differently. We too “soon forget” the relentless love of God revealed in Jesus and trade in the “radiance of the glory of God” (Hebrews 1:3) for self-serving pleasure and power. Our culture teaches us that when things do not go our way, we should grab life by the horns (pun intended) and make things work out the way we want. Take control. Get to the top. Win at all costs. All will be right in the world when our side is in control. Right? Wrong. Lies have consequences, personally and publicly, and they destroy relationships all the way to death, foremost with God and finally with ourselves, everyone, and everything.
Even though we are prone to forget, God remembers His unbreakable promise of redeeming love: “For their sake he remembered his covenant, and relented according to the abundance of his steadfast love.” The prophet Isaiah compares God’s gracious memory to that of a mother, “Can a woman forget her nursing child? . . . Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you” (Isaiah 49:15). God’s long-suffering love answers our deepest distress through the life, death, and bodily resurrection of Jesus. To the criminal’s cry on the cross—“remember me when you come into your kingdom”—Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:42-43). In Him alone, we are saved from the heinous power of evil and set free to celebrate God’s astonishing goodness through a grateful life of justice and righteousness.
When we see our sin through the love sown by the heart of our Savior, then tears of praise may pierce our present darkness and heal our deepest wounds. As Madeleine L’ Engle writes, “We draw people to Christ not by loudly discrediting what they believe, by telling them how wrong they are and how right we are, but by showing them a light that is so lovely that they want with all their hearts to know the source of it.” May that be true of you and of me. Amen.