Week of September 17

Food for the Table and the Soul

Read: Daniel 3-4; Psalm 81; Revelation 17
“I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it.”
Psalm 81:10, ESV


“The childish idea that prayer is a handle by which we can take hold of God and obtain whatever we desire leads to easy disillusionment with both what we had thought to be God and what we thought to be prayer,” says Robert L. Short. Two failings on our part are evident in these words. A failure to understand God’s nature as Provider and a failure to pray for and pursue the right things.

I will begin today’s prayer and Bible time with what I typically use to end it—my devotional take away. In the effort to feed your body, do not starve your soul! The psalmist helps us to set these things right today. Let’s learn about God’s amazing offer to provide for us.

The Meaning of the Text

Background to the song
I always enjoy learning the background to a song or chorus. I want to know what inspired the writer to pen the words and music. Well, the psalmist begins Psalm 81 as a hymn, but then he turns his focus toward an oracle of exhortation from God. This approach to the song causes me to wonder how this hymn might have been used in worship. It is a fair guess to think that it was used at one of Israel’s great festivals. Perhaps the first part was sung by the congregation and the second was used as a lesson or exhortative homily. We do not know, but the point is clear—hearing God’s words must be followed by practicing them or we have failed to truly worship (see James 1:22)!
This psalm served to remind the people of remaining steadfast in their loyalties to God. We may easily see this theme in the hymn’s divisions: a song for a festival (vv. 1-5b) and a message from God for the people (verses 11-16). If the song was sung at the Feast of Tabernacles, the people would ascend the hill to the temple and would worship once inside to the sound of lyres (v. 2). The people would sing joyously, and the use of tambourines suggests that they also danced while singing praise (v. 2)! The purpose of the celebration was to proclaim aloud the mighty acts of the Lord throughout Israel’s history (v. 5). The latter section recalls God’s goodness (vv. 6-10) as well as the frequent disobedience of the people (vv. 11-16). It occurs to me how often we sing of God’s goodness, and pledge to remain loyal to Him in our worship, then leave and practice the opposite—just like the Israelites!
How we may pour our life story into our drink offering of praise
(See 2 Timothy 4:6-8)
Do you have special songs that bring to mind significant events in your life? I am sure that hearing one of the songs used in your wedding ceremony brings that important day to mind. Or you may hear a song that causes you to recall a time when God healed you from a horrible illness. The words and music were healing to your soul in that time of trial. This song may have been used at a Passover celebration or at the Feast of Tabernacles which commemorated significant life events in Israel’s history. We, too, may learn much today about how to live out of the celebration of God’s goodness to us.
Sing of God’s deliverance!
Deliverance from slavery. Israel considered in its worship the freedom God gave them from Egyptian slavery (vv. 6-7). It does not hurt us, at times, to recall the oppression that was formerly a part of our lives (cf. “baskets” for carrying clay and bricks in Pharaoh’s building projects). Like Israel, we have groaned beneath such burdens and have cried out to God for deliverance (v. 7).
God’s guidance through testing times. It also does not hurt us to recall testing times that were part of the pathway we took out of our oppression. God certainly delivers us miraculously, but He also grows us spiritually along those paths (trial at Meribah; Exodus 17:1-7; Numbers 20:1-13)! Give thanks to God in all your struggles, both deliverance and development.
Guided by scripture in our praise
It is no secret that I often pray using the scriptures, as many of you also do, but when we do this, we have not made some spectacular discovery. The psalmist, and even our Lord, did the same thing. Notice here in verses 8-10 that this section resembles Deuteronomy: “Hear, O my people (v. 8; Deuteronomy 4:1; 5:1; 6:4; 9:1; 20:3); “I will warn you” (lit. “I will testify against you”; Deuteronomy 31:19, 26, 28); “if you would but” (Deuteronomy 5:29; 32:29); “You shall have no . . . you shall not bow down” (v. 9; Deuteronomy 5:7); “alien god” (Deuteronomy 32;12, 16); “I am the Lord your God” (v. 10; Deuteronomy 5:6; EBC).
God uses His word to help us to conform to His likeness. We do this by hearing and obeying His commands. God had supplied all their needs in the wilderness, and He promised rich blessings for those who would respond wholeheartedly to Him (Deuteronomy 29:5-6; 32:10-14; 30:1-20). God is always ready to “fill” our needs (v. 10; cf. John 6 and feeding of 5000; EBC).
Do not miss the point of the psalm!
We will certainly miss the main point of the psalm if we only think, “O, how wonderful! God feeds us and provides for us.” Indeed, He does provide for our every need, but there is more here.
To “fill” our mouths does have spatial meaning, such as filling the houses in Egypt with locusts (Exodus 10:6), or a winepress full of juice (II Kings 4:6), or even our stomachs with food (cf. John 6:11). It also has temporal significance as well (cf. completion of a fixed period like a pregnancy; Genesis 25:25). Hello! God did not have Israel climb the hill in worship and sing and dance in the temple for thanksgiving over food alone (cf. Deuteronomy 8:3; Matthew 4:4).
There is a theological meaning in the text. The word means God’s omnipresence (Jeremiah 23:24) and His glory (cf. Exodus 40:34-35). God’s word is likely that which was to fill the lives of His people because it was the very thing that would satisfy their deepest need (cf. v. 5c and v. 10). It was His voice they heard in Egypt, and it was through those words they were ultimately delivered by following them.

The Message for Our Lives

George Mueller, the powerful man of faith, who literally built and sustained orphanages in Bristol, England, by prayer and faith alone, comes to my mind just now. In Bonnie Harvey’s biography of his life, Mueller used this passage of Scripture as a text that he relied upon for God’s provision. I recall times when the children literally had no bread or food to eat, and Mueller would fall to his knees in prayer.
The house parents at the orphanages would actually seat the children for the meal even when there was no food to feed them and by prayer and faith a knock would come at the door and milk and bread would be delivered at just the moment of deepest need.
Hear me well: It was not Mueller’s prayer or faith that brought the miracle, but God’s promise to provide for His children. Their stomachs were filled (spatial), the mealtime was complete (temporal), and God’s presence in power was experienced (theological). The point? We are to open our mouths and hearts daily, and He will fill them! Here’s my testimony to my family, because you know what we are walking through. I awaken each day and I thank God for the food to eat and the house in which we live, but I hunger most for His presence to feed my soul. I cannot live without Him in my life. Praise God!

For Thought and Action

1. Write down the top three needs in your life right now. Do not ponder too long because you know what they are. Pencil next to each need whether it is spatial, temporal, or theological. Lay the pen down for a while and ask God to impress upon your heart the need for His presence to indwell your life and His word to become your deepest hunger. Add those areas of need that God presents to you. Seek His help to fulfill them.
2. Ponder what needs your church is meeting in the lives of people—spatial (e.g., comfortable housing and seating); temporal (e.g., excellent worship, study, and social occasions); and/or theological (e.g., hunger for regular encounters with the living God)? Pray that God helps your church to position itself in such a way that it meets the needs of people entirely, so that they are filled with God’s provisions.
3. For Families: Let’s think about taking these three spheres of God’s “filling” and applying them to our families’ lives. Provide a large piece of construction paper for each child, and some glue. Now have them draw a large circle on the paper, and divide it into thirds, like a pizza with only three slices.

Now ask your children to write three pairs of words - one pair in each of the three spaces. Write “house/food,” “learning/exploring,” and “knowing/praising.” Share what the Psalmist has said today in this passage: God promises to open our mouths wide (and our minds wide, and our hearts wide), and He will fill us with Himself!

Now provide bowls of dried beans (kidney, pinto, split pea), or different colors of dried flower petals, and give your children pencils. They dip the tip of the pencils in the glue, and then apply a dot to their circle. Then they press a bean or flower petal into that dot firmly. Use a different kind of bean or color of flower for each section of the circle.

Ask your children to fill up their circle and say something they are thankful for with each bean or petal they put into place. For example: for the “house/food” category, they can call out a kind of food or something at their house they are thankful for. For the “learning/exploring” category, use a different bean or colors of petal to be thankful for things they have learned, or experiences they have had that taught them something. For the “knowing/praising” category, they can say something they admire, respect, or honor about God.

Use their “circles of filling” during the upcoming week to reinforce the ways God promises to take care of every part of us!

May your paths be straight,
Larry C. Ashlock