I am going cherry picking, plucking only the low hanging fruit. Well, maybe I did climb up into the branches a little. Have you ever walked through a cherry orchard like that? One of life's best simple pleasures, this is one of my ripest memories. It's not that some fruit are better than others, just that some of the jucies are easier in reach, a grab for some out of the plenty. Psalm 18 is a long psalm, so without climbing every tree, I will just grab here and there.
It was a long night, Sunday night as I waited for word on my friend's daughters fight for her life. In the gloaming hours, God chose to pluck her up right out of the ripe young age of 28 to take her unto Himself. So, my view of this psalm is slanted through a veil of tears today. The family lives in Virginia and had become snowed in over the weekend. The door was snowed shut, so her husband climbed out the window. I told my friend that it was like that: Jori did not leave in the expected way, but that she climbed out the window into the blindingly pure white of heaven.
Babette and I, along with my daughter Robin, all taught preschool together. Her little girls were often there too. Then, we all became foster parents. When we were overwhelmed with little ones with major problems, Babette and her husband took our older foster daughter in her teens for a while until later we were able to have her back and adopted her. So we shared a child together. Her daughter was our daughter's foster sister. Oh, what tangled lives we live, but isn't this how we get through this life, being bound together, gnarly interwoven limbs where one tree reaches weaves intoanother?
But do you know that God showed me how much He was in charge even as that grief was taking place clear across the nation? I found a book to read while I waited for news, a book by Karen Kingsbury called "Shades of Blue." I didn't know before, but she raises money for charity by auctioning off a chance to be "Forever in Fiction," the candidates being those who are facing severe medical challenges. One of the characters in this book is a young woman with Myocarditis, a heart problem so similar to Jori's. Chance? I don't think so. God knows. God hears. While reading He was telling me He was going to call His sweet one home.
So, Psalm 18 begins with a valentine...
"I love Thee, O Lord,
The Lord is my rock (crag)
and my fortress and my deliverer,
My God, my rock (my strength), in whom I take refuge;
My shield and the horn of my salvation,
I like how the King James is phrased, "I will love Thee." It is a determination. "The verb racham' signifies to 'love with all the tender feelings of nature.' Why should he love Jehovah? Not merely because He was infinitely great and good, possessed of all possible perfections, but because He was good to him; and he here enumerates some of the many blessings he received from Him." "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."
David had to climb to find God's strength while hiding in the craggy precipices. His fortresses were in raw nature. The last Indian battle in California was in Modoc County at Captain Jack's stronghold. This is a natural fortress of rocks, as if Stonehenge squeezed closely together to create an impenetrable hiding place. The Indian Captain Jack took his last stand there. Even Captain Jack needed a deliverer, though no help came for him. But God is our stronghold, our refuge, our deliverer, our place of strength and safety.
He is his strength. This second use of the word "strength," (NASV is rock while KJV is strength,) is a different word than what was used in the earlier verse. It has the connotation of "not only the Object of my adoration, but He who puts strength in my soul...when applied to God, signifies 'fountain, source, origin...an eternal and inexhaustible Fountain of goodness." This is the no- running-out-of-er strength, but the ongoing, unfailing strength, the inexhaustible when you are exhausted kind of strength. Does somebody need that about now, strength of the soul? David did. My friend does.
"His shield (KJV, my buckler) and the horn of salvation,
my stronghold (KJV, my high tower).
"He who covers my head and my heart, so that I am neither slain nor wounded by the darts of my adversaries." Hmm. The head and the heart are the vital places not only in life, but in our approach to our God. Jori's heart gave out. Yet, the horn of God called her forward into the beyond. The horn is an emblem of power. To me it symbolizes the signal to go forth. (My friend's last name is Horn.)
"I call upon the Lord,
who is worthy to be praised,
And I am saved from my enemies.
The cords of death encompassed me,
And the torrents of ungodliness terrified me.
The cords of Sheol surrounded me;
The snares of death confronted me.
In my distress I called upon the Lord,
And cried to my God for help;
He heard my voice out of His temple,
And my cry for help before Him came into His ears."
Death. We are death-defying in our culture. With the miracles of modern medicine, it is almost as if we believe that death should never occur. It is unacceptable. I certainly don't want to accept it right now for any of my loved ones. Yet there it is. We are universally faced with it. All of life is in this long dance with death. It steps on my toes betimes. Pretty soon he will fill up my dance card, and I will have no one else until God taps on his shoulder and says, "May I have this dance?" Then He will sweep me away. God is worthy though we may be terrified, cords surround (those that lower us into the grave), snares confront, distress results in calling out, cries for help. He hears. His temple is throbbing, His blood is coursing for me. Just watch how He comes...
"Then the earth shook and quaked;
And the foundations of the mountains were trembling
And were shaken...
Smoke went up out of His nostrils,
And fire from His mouth devoured;
Coals were kindled by it.
He bowed the heavens also, and came down
With thick darkness under His feet.
And He rode upon a cherub and flew;
And He sped upon the wings of the wind.
He made darkness His hiding place,
His canopy around Him,
Darkness of waters,
thick clouds of the skies.
From the brightness before Him
passed His thick clouds,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
The Lord also thundered in the heavens,
And the Most High uttered His voice,
Hailstones and coals of fire.
Hailstones and coals of fire.
And He sent out His arrows (lightning),
and scattered them,
And lightning flashes in abundance,
and routed them.
Then the channels of water appeared,
And the foundations of the world were laid bare
At Thy rebuke, O Lord,
At the blast of the breath of Thy nostrils.
He sent from on high,
He took me;
He drew me out of many waters...
(the ark of salvation?)"
Pretty dark poetry, I'd say, but fascinating. Sometimes, one can better see something like this by pulling at the corners of the eyes, blurring out the vision. As an artist, I would turn and look at my piece upside down or do this to see my picture in a different light. Thus, in a fanciful way of thinking, I see this as God's thundering down when Jesus was on the cross to finish death once and for all. There was great darkness. The earth shook. The curtain in the temple was ripped. Jesus had come in the mysterious arrival with the cherubim singing, flying down from the mercy seat, God's throne. (KJV "He rode upon a cherub, and did fly: yea, he did fly upon the wings of the wind.") making the darkness of the womb His hiding place, until into the brightness,the flash of lightning, He came forth to rout sin and death. I told you it was fanciful, but Jesus viewed death, as something to conquer. It rocked the world when it entered through the first Adam, and it rocked the world when the second Adam, God's own Son from on high, came to conquer it once and for all time. We are merely in the fierce wind of the battle. "He delivered me from my strong enemy," death itself. (verse 17) Our deliverance won't always be to stay on this earth, but to be lifted up into His arms. "It is finished," He said.
I don't know about you, but I think that's all I can handle for now. Psalm 18's cherry picking will be continued...