Psalm 103, 104, 105
Psalm 103 blessed the Lord for His kindnesses to the individual, the community, in history, and throughout the cosmos. Psalm 104 blessed the Lord for the wonders of creation. Psalm 105 gives thanks to the Lord for specific acts of providence in guiding Israel through history, especially saving the people from famine by sending them to Egypt, delivering them from bondage in Egypt, and protecting them as they wandered through the wilderness. This history has inspired generations of believers as they struggled with their own hard times, beginning with the Jews who were saved from their own faithlessness when God sent them to Babylon, then delivered them from Babylon, and protected them in those uncertain years of rebuilding Jerusalem, surrounded by enemies. (See Ezra and Nehemiah for more on this fascinating and often neglected period in the history of the Bible.) More recently, the black community clung to this history in the times of slavery, emancipation, and uncertain integration into society.
Often when I read or teach psalms which praise God for His works in history, I encourage my listeners to consider the blessings God has put in their lives. For me, meeting and marrying Kathy has been a touchstone of grace for over two decades. But Psalm 105 calls us to consider something bigger than our own lives, the grace which brought our community into being centuries before we lived. Do you know history? It's worth learning, at one level, simply so you can see the hand of God working through events. The Confederacy had several legitimate complaints against the north at the beginning of the War Between the States, and was winning the war up until the Battle of Antietam.
At the same time, Lincoln was considering issuing the Emancipation Proclamation, but wanted to wait for a Union victory to do so. Have you learned about Special Order 191, Robert E. Lee's entire battle plan, how a copy found its way into the hands of George McClellan, the commanding Union general? It is nothing short of miraculous, or a series of coincidences which no novelist would ever attempt for fear of being dismissed by his readers. But it happened. At the end of the battle, the Confederates retreated, which was close enough to victory for Lincoln to issue the Proclamation. When it went into effect three months later, the south won one more major battle, Chancellorsville, but lost Stonewall Jackson, and never again won a campaign. God's will.
Recently I have been reading 1776, the history of that pivotal year in the formation of the United States. More than once I have been wondering how the country survived, and more than once natural phenomena at convenient times, convenient for the Americans, have saved the army for fighting another day. Is this coincidence, or miraculous? What do you believe? And which is more comforting when we face a future when we don't know exactly what to expect? God's will is going to be accomplished, and He will see that it is done. Will you trust Him and follow Him forward?
Powell Sykes Pastor, Westminster Presbyterian Church A Confessing Church in the PCUSA