יִשְׁלַח מִשָּׁמַיִם וְיוֹשִׁיעֵנִי חֵרֵף שֹׁאֲפִי סֶלָה יִשְׁלַח אֱלֹהִים חַסְדּוֹ וַאֲמִתּוֹ
“He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. Selah. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.” (NRSV)
My first reading of this is: “God will send help from far away.” And, there is some basis for this reading. But, that’s not the whole story.
In the Jenni-Westermann Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament we read:
Heaven often appears as the dwelling place of Yahweh and his hosts…, so that he also acts from heaven (e.g., Deut 4:39; 10:14; 26:15; 1 Kgs 8:23, 30, etc.; Isa 63:15; 66:1; Psa 2:4; 11:4; 20:7; 89:12; 102:20; 115:3, 16; Lam 3:41, etc….).” The Lexicon quickly adds that even Heaven itself is, of course, not adequate to either contain or constrain God. “As God’s resting place, heaven naturally belongs to the cultically pure realm (cf. Exod 24:10; …). Heaven is not able to contain God, however, because he stands beyond any cosmic boundary (1 Kgs 8:27; 2 Chron 2:5; 6:18; cf. Jer 23:24).
— Theological Lexicon of the Old Testament edited by Ernst Jenni with assistance from Claus Westermann © 1997 by Hendrickson Publishers Used by permission. Electronic text hypertexted and prepared by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 1.4
A visitation of God is an experience of heaven on earth. As the song says:
“Heaven came down and glory filled my soul,
When at the cross the Savior made me whole;
My sins were washed away and my night was turned to day,
Heaven came down and glory filled my soul!”
There may well be a time for saying: “God is in Heaven and all is well on earth.” But, when all is clearly not well, when there is trouble or confusion or lostness or grief, we want “heaven to come down.” Thus, Jesus taught us to pray a prayer that seeks to bring the realms of Heaven and earth together: “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Since even heaven (whatever, and wherever it is) cannot itself contain God, how can I think of God as “far away”? Several years ago I remember reading these words in Dallas Willard’s book The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life In God:
The Old Testament experience of God is one of the direct presence of God’s person, knowledge, and power to those who trust and serve him. Nothing — no human being or institution, no time, no space, no spiritual being, no event — stands between God and those who trust him. The ‘heavens’ are always there with you no matter what, and the ‘first heaven,’ in biblical terms, is precisely the atmosphere or air that surrounds your body. (p. 67)
When Paul on Mars Hill told his Greek inquisitors that in God we ‘live and move and exist,’ he was expressing in the most literal way possible the fact learned from the experience of God’s covenant people, the Jews. He is not speaking metaphorically or abstractly. (p. 68)
Nonetheless, I often experience the absence of God. Well, it certainly feels like the absence of God. It’s all well and good to know theoretically that God is not absent. But, I feel abandoned just the same. In that moment my prayer is that heaven and earth will meet: “He will send from heaven and save me…” The Psalmist speaks of the heavens in verses 4, 6, 11 and 12 to emphasize that all the resources of God’s realm are available to God’s faithful people — when we cry out! Heaven comes down. Heaven and earth meet. For, however it may seem at times of stress and difficulty, heaven and earth are not finally distinct. Both are part of of one realm — for earth is God’s Creation, and thus also part of the realm of God.
In Marvin E. Tate’s Commentary on Psalms 51-100 (in the Word Biblical Commentary series) he writes these words about Psalm 57:
The formulaic expression ‘heavens and earth’ seems to carry both the idea of the bipolar nature of reality and its oneness. The interaction of these two fundamentally different realms of creation is reflected in Psalm 57. Earth is the living space for human beings, and heaven is the living space for God, the locus of his heavenly temple and throne (see Psalm 11:4; 18:7) and of his cosmic dominion. However, God moves into the realm of earth, and manifests his glorious presence, especially through his acts of salvation. (p. 81).
And prayer is the place, prayer is the moment, when heaven and earth meet, and God’s will and purpose are actualized in our world.
But, is it that God is sending help from far away or is it that God is sending help from all around me? Is it that God is far off or is it that my eyes need to be opened to God’s presence? In my times of need I long for some perceptible expression of God’s presence and will. I want to experience the presence of heaven in the midst of this earthly realm. I want to see healing and justice and restoration and peace and right.
“The man of God sent word to the king of Israel: ‘Beware of passing that place, because the Arameans are going down there.’ So the king of Israel checked on the place indicated by the man of God. Time and again Elisha warned the king, so that he was on his guard in such places. This enraged the king of Aram. He summoned his officers and demanded of them, ‘Will you not tell me which of us is on the side of the king of Israel?’
“‘None of us, my lord the king,’ said one of his officers, ‘but Elisha, the prophet who is in Israel, tells the king of Israel the very words you speak in your bedroom.’
“‘Go, find out where he is,’ the king ordered, ‘so I can send men and capture him.’ The report came back: ‘He is in Dothan.’ Then he sent horses and chariots and a strong force there. They went by night and surrounded the city.
“When the servant of the man of God got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. ‘Oh, my lord, what shall we do?’ the servant asked.
“‘Don’t be afraid,’ the prophet answered. ‘Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.’
“And Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.”
— 2 Kings 6:9-17 (NIV)
Send from heaven
or maybe just open my eyes —
May I see the Hosts of Heaven all around.
For I feel alone and abandoned.
Remind me again that I am not.
Open my eyes.
May I see the Hosts of Heaven all around.