The Wrong Asaph – Nehemiah 11 and Friends [Totally Hip Gratitude]

Nehemiah picks up where Ezra left off with the restoration of Jerusalem following the Babylonian Exile. It primarily concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, and it contains a few instances of the word “thanks” near the end, so let’s take a look and see what we can learn about thankfulness.

Psalm 82 – Social Justice Asaph

On behalf of Asaph, I’d like to welcome you to Psalm 82’s courtroom. “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers” (1), the psalm opens. God judges the judges, holding those in power accountable for siding with evil men and not going to bat for their victims. Asaph describes the corrupt authorities-turned-defendants as blinded and ignorant: “They do not know nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness” (5). He closes the psalm with a call for God to deliver the verdict and issue the sentence. Asaph is a social justice warrior.

Psalm 81 – Mandatory Fun

This is a weird one. It starts with a call to worship, an invitation to sing to God and play various instruments for him. You think it’s a psalm of orientation, but then in verse six, the psalmist (Asaph again) starts relaying God’s words, and in essence it’s God speaking for the next eleven verses until the end of the psalm. And God is sad! ““Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!” (13), he laments. He implies that his people’s troubles with their adversaries come from their refusal to accept his blessing. “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (10), he commands.

Psalm 80 – Mantra for a Desperate Nation

Here’s another psalm of Asaph, picking up on some of the same themes from Psalm 79. It’s a prayer to God for forgiveness and restoration in Israel. In the middle of Asaph’s requests to God, he recalls God’s saving works in Israel’s history, using the extended metaphor of a flourishing vine cultivated by God. “You removed a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground before it, and it took deep root and filled the land” (8-9), he says. I’m reminded of Paul’s discussion of the Tree of Abraham in Romans 11, but here, the gentile nations aren’t viewed as branches grafted onto the vine. In vv.12-13, they’re passersby taking its fruit, wild animals and boars devouring it parasitically, the result of God retracting his protection.

Psalm 79 – Sinheritance

In this psalm, speaking for his countrymen, Asaph laments Jerusalem’s destruction. The situation is bad; not only is the city left in ruins (v.1), but the dead are denied burial and left for vulture fodder (v.2), and those still alive bear the scorn of their oppressors (v.4). Why would God let a thing like this happen?

Psalm 78 – Sing a Song of Gene Therapy

I don’t have kids. I may never have kids; I just don’t have a strong impetus to reproduce biologically. But as I’ve realized over the past several years, that doesn’t let me off the hook. God still calls single people like me to invest my time and money and effort in the people around me, just as much as a good parent would give from themselves to raise their child. Just because I’m a single person with no tiny human sharing my direct genetic material, that doesn’t exclude me from the business of reproducing: socially, intellectually, interpersonally.

And it’s in that light that I read Psalm 78, because Asaph’s very much about the generations here. He tells us, “I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings of old” (2), a word that his people heard from their fathers and will pass on to their children. In composing this psalm, Asaph is contributing to the spiritual gene pool, passing on the material he inherited, and his spiritual kids are his hearers and readers.

Psalm 77 – Sleepless Nights Forever

Asaph’s got inpsalmnia. He’s restless and troubled and can’t find any comfort, to the point where it’s affecting his sleep. “You have held my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak” (4), he says to God. Ever have a night like that? Ever ask God why he won’t just knock you out, give you a few hours’ reprieve from the troubles running through your brain?

Psalm 76 – Rebuke of Sleep

This is a psalm about God winning. It’s a psalm about how trained warriors go to absolute pieces when faced with his power. “There He broke the flaming arrows, the shield and the sword and the weapons of war” (3), Asaph writes. The verse is reminiscent of another pair of lines from the sons of Korah: “He breaks the bow and cuts the spear in two; He burns the chariots with fire” (Psalm 46:9). By the testimony of multiple witnesses it is confirmed: God is literally disarming.