Reading: Psalm 137
Remember, LORD, what the Edomites did
on the day Jerusalem fell.
“Tear it down,” they cried,
“tear it down to its foundations!”
Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,
happy is the one who repays you
according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
and dashes them against the rocks (NIV).
German is a fascinating language. It’s a language that seems to specializes in compound words—short words that are combined to form longer words. Some English language examples of compound words are quarterback, overcoat and windshield.
Schadenfreude is a compound German word. Actually, it’s such a useful and descriptive word that it has migrated into the English language and it can be found in any quality English dictionary. Schaden means harm or damage. Freude means joy. Simply put schadenfreude means joy experienced at another person’s expense—rejoicing in someone else’s suffering or loss.
Today’s reading from Psalm 137 is all about schadenfreude. The Edomites celebrated the destruction of Jerusalem. Rather than mourn over their neighbor’s calamity, they joined in calling for the destruction of the Jewish capital.
This manifestation of schadenfreude was rooted in centuries of fraternal rivalry and envy. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, while the people of Jerusalem were the descendants of Jacob. These two people groups were linked by heredity, language and culture, and yet generation after generation they continued this brothers’ feud.
This psalm is not the only biblical counsel for us to avoid rejoicing in other people’s harm: Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble do not let your heart rejoice, or the LORD will see and disapprove and turn his wrath away from them (Proverbs 24:17-18).
If the LORD is punishing the evildoer, we should not appear too smug. We are spared by the grace of God and not by our moral superiority. The self-righteous suffer from delusions born of pride. It’s best not to identify with that camp. The opposite response is called for. Rather than crowing over someone else’s misfortune, we should be offering help, or drawing lessons on how to avoid a similar calamity.
When I see others experiencing calamity, I need to replace my schadenfreude with the genuine joy found in extending mercy, grace and compassion.
Response: LORD God, at times I have been guilty of schadenfreude. Help me to show compassion rather than smug indifference when I see others experience loss. Thank you for your ongoing mercy. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you experienced schadenfreude? How do you keep it in check?
Reading: Psalm 130
A song of ascents.
Out of the depths I cry to you, LORD;
LORD, hear my voice.
Let your ears be attentive
to my cry for mercy.
If you, LORD, kept a record of sins,
LORD, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you (NIV).
Psalm 130 is a perfect example of a psalm that brings us into the private inner sanctum of communion with God. Here is a portrait of a fallen man—a man on his knees before his Maker, the eternal One. Hear him now as he agonizes in prayer, “Out of the depths I cry out to you, O LORD; O LORD, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.”
The opening lines of this psalm leave little doubt as to what has transpired. The psalmist has failed; he has missed the mark. He has transgressed, yet again. There is an abject poverty of spirit reflected in these words—a poverty that almost makes us cringe.
We do not know what sin, or list of sins has brought the psalmist to this wretched state. The transgression is left unstated. Was it anger, malice, or unbridled lust? Was it pride, greed or willful dishonesty? Was this a transgression of the mind, of the tongue, of action or inaction? God knows.
I am always somewhat skeptical of those who claim they could never commit this or that sin. I think we rarely comprehend the depravity of our own hearts. Pushed into wrong circumstances, in the wrong environment, with the wrong peer group, who can plumb the depths to which a man or woman may sink? I can identify with the psalmist. I have added my own pile of dung to this world’s heap of moral filth. I too have found myself in the psalmist’s position, sobbing out these words, “Out of the depths I cry out to you, O LORD; O LORD, hear my voice. Let your ears be attentive to my cry for mercy.“
But despite my failings, despite my moral poverty, this great God—this God of holiness—is approachable. He is a God of mercy. The psalmist reminds himself and the LORD of His merciful nature with these words: If you, LORD, kept a record of sins, LORD, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness, so that we can, with reverence, serve you.
I need daily reminders of God’s forgiveness and mercy. God the moral accountant is also the LORD of forgiveness. No one does forgiveness better than God. When we confess our sins, He destroys the record. What accountant does that?
Response: Father God, I thank you for forgiveness. I have failed you many times, but you are rich in mercy. You are a patient God. Thank you for destroying the record of my sins. Thank you for the blood Jesus shed so I could be washed clean. Amen.
Your Turn: Have you been guilty of digging up the record of your sins—sins that have been forgiven?
Reading: Psalm 123
A song of ascents.
I lift up my eyes to you,
to you who sit enthroned in heaven.
As the eyes of slaves look to the hand of their master,
as the eyes of a female slave look to the hand of her mistress,
so our eyes look to the LORD our God,
till he shows us his mercy.
Have mercy on us, LORD, have mercy on us,
for we have endured no end of contempt.
We have endured no end
of ridicule from the arrogant,
of contempt from the proud (NIV).
Like every parent, I have had moments when I have needed to correct my children. In my professional life as a teacher, correcting a child’s behavior was a daily, sometimes minute-to-minute occurrence. In such situations eye contact is crucial. If the child does not make eye contact with you, you are wasting your breath. Your advice—your admonition—your warning—is going nowhere. You might as well speak to the wind. But in such situations, it is essential that you speak to the heart of the child.
The eyes are the window of the heart. When someone is avoiding eye contact, in reality they are hiding their heart. They are closing their heart to you.
Of course the same principle is true when we consider our relationship with God. We need to make eye contact with the LORD. That’s why there is something truly intimate about this psalm. It’s all about making eye contact with God. It’s about opening your heart to the LORD and exposing what is deep inside you. You are showing when you lift your eyes to Him that you are ready to receive instruction. Yes, and correction too, if that is needed.
So the psalmist speaks these words: I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. He takes the position and the posture of a slave—a humble servant. He is looking for mercy—hoping for grace and blessing from the hand of His master.
This is perhaps the most intimate of the Songs of Ascent. Having come a great distance, the pilgrim is now in the LORD’s house. He has drawn nigh in the fullest sense. The pilgrim lifts his eyes—not to an idol, but to the LORD—the One who fills all, formed all, and transcends all. With eyes wide open he exposes his heart to God. He waits expectantly for the LORD’s instruction.
Prayer at its best is modeled for us in this psalm. It’s prayer with our eyes and our ears wide open to God. We are looking to Him for mercy, comfort, strength and direction.
Response: Father God, I come before you now. I lift up my eyes to you, to you who sit enthroned in heaven. Be merciful to me. Speak to me. Correct me, if I need correction. Give me direction. I am ready to receive instruction from you. I am your servant. Amen.
Your Turn: Are you drawing nigh to God? How do you make eye contact with the Lord?
Reading: Psalm 97
Zion hears and rejoices
and the villages of Judah are glad
because of your judgments, LORD.
For you, LORD, are the Most High over all the earth;
you are exalted far above all gods.
Let those who love the LORD hate evil,
for he guards the lives of his faithful ones
and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Light shines on the righteous
and joy on the upright in heart.
Rejoice in the LORD, you who are righteous,
and praise his holy name (NIV).
Love and hate are two extremes—two opposites. Almost always we see love as a good thing, something to be encouraged or applauded, while hate is regarded as a universally negative emotion. But is this a correct view of love and hate?
The addict may love his crack cocaine pipe, but is that a good or wholesome kind of love? Strange as it may seem, the battered wife may love her abusive husband and yet feel locked into that relationship despite its toxic or even deadly consequences. Is that a healthy kind of love? Of course not, but the addict and the abused partner both use the term love when they describe the object of their affection.
Similarly hate—that polar opposite emotion—is universally viewed as negative. Is it wrong to hate injustice, murder or pedophilia? Of course not. Hate is the right emotional response when we see these things taking place. The devastating consequences of sin and criminal wrongdoing are repulsive. Seeing such harmful conduct should prompt us to hate those actions.
In today’s reading from Psalm 97, we see a different perspective on love and hate. Let those who love the LORD hate evil, for he guards the lives of his faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.
Are you loving God and hating evil? All too often we see there are those in this world who love evil and hate God. Why do they hate God? Could it be because the LORD expects—no requires—better from them, and they thinking they know better, have gone their own selfish way?
Note that we are commanded to hate evil. We are not commanded to hate evildoers. God in His great mercy may yet redeem the evildoer. It is by God’s grace that we ourselves are not caught up in evil, so wisdom urges us not to be haughty. We do well to focus on loving the LORD. We can draw encouragement from these words: Light shines on the righteous and joy on the upright in heart.
Response: LORD God, teach me to identify and hate evil when I see it. I want your light to shine on me, so I can walk in the path you have set out for me. Let my love for you grow day by day. Amen.
Your Turn: Are you loving the LORD and hating evil? Do you get caught up in hating the evildoer?