Monday, November 10, 2014

Not in the Strength of the Horse

His pleasure is not in the strength of the horse,
    nor his delight in the legs of the warrior;
The LORD delights in those who fear him,
    who put their hope in his unfailing love.
(Psalm 147:10-11 NIV)
God is not impressed with our strength. He is not wowed by our wit, not captivated by our wisdom, not enthralled by our abilities. Don’t put your hope in them, for God finds nothing satisfying in our dependence upon them. He shows no favor for that but for something much different.

In this psalm, the writer celebrates the fact that God has gathered the exiles back from captivity and has rebuilt Jerusalem.
The LORD builds up Jerusalem;
    He gathers together the outcasts of Israel.
He heals the brokenhearted
    And binds up their wounds.
(vv. 2-3)
But how is it that they were led off into captivity and exile in this first place? It was because they had turned away from the Lord by turning to the gods of the surrounding nations. And when the Assyrians became a threat to the Northern Kingdom of Israel, instead of turning back to the Lord and putting their hope in Him, they made alliances with the Syrians and Egyptians. They looked to the “strength of the horse” and the “legs of the warrior” to deliver them. But it was in vain, for they were carried off into captivity anyway.

A little over a century later, the Southern Kingdom of Judah likewise looked to an alliance with Egypt against Babylon. They, too, were carried off into captivity and the city of Jerusalem, including the Jewish temple, was destroyed. They were completely helpless.

But now God was rebuilding the temple, rebuilding the city, rebuilding the people. In the next verses, the psalm writer further exalts the Lord for this and then draws an important contrast between those whom He helps and those He does not.
Great is our Lord, and mighty in power;
    His understanding is infinite.
The LORD lifts up the humble;
    He casts the wicked down to the ground.
(vv. 5-6)
The humble are the poor, the afflicted, the weak — the helpless. They must depend on someone else, they must depend on God. Those are the ones God lifts up. In another psalm, “He raises the poor out of the dust, and lifts the needy out of the ash heap, that He may seat him with princes — with the princes of His people” (Psalm 113:7-8).

The wicked are those who do what is evil. They do not trust in God but help themselves to whatever they want. They are proud, arrogant and boastful. These are the ones God casts down, and it happens before they know it. Between the humble and the wicked, God leaves no middle ground.
More praises follow in verses 7-9, and then the writer comes to the center point of the psalm: God has no pleasure in the “strength of the horse,” He takes no delight in the “legs of the warrior.” What is it that pleases Him then?
The LORD delights in those who fear him,
    Who put their hope in his unfailing love.
This is about those who are oriented toward the Lord. They live in the “fear of the LORD,” which is not dread or terror — at least not for those who are in proper alignment with Him — but is a relationship of love, trust and obedience to Him (see What is the Fear of the LORD?). In the Hebrew parallelism that structures this verse, fearing the Lord is seen as putting one’s hope in His unfailing love.

The Hebrew word for “unfailing love” is chesed, which is the faithful love and mercy God has promised to show to His people. The word for “hope” is about waiting in expectation. Putting your hope in the love of God is living in anticipation of it. To put a sharper point on it, to hope in the steadfast love of the Lord is to put your trust Him. Together with the fear of the Lord, what that psalm writer describes here is all about faith in the Lord. This faith is never merely a mental assent to propositions by or about Him but it entails a personal engagement with Him in mutual relationship. To fear the Lord and trust in His love means that He is our God and we are His people, that we are on His side, and He is on ours.

This relationship of faith and trust gets God’s attention. He delights in those who look to Him and will show Himself strong on their behalf. Look not to the “strength of the horse” or the “legs of the warrior” — whatever those may represent in your life — but live in awe of the Lord and set your hope on His love for you.