Psalm 72:1-8 Advent Two: A Meditation

The readings for the second week of advent (Year A, 2019) have a theme of the rule of the future Davidic king bringing peace and harmony to the world: Romans 15 speaks to the scope of this reign as over the Jews and Gentiles, Matthew 3 is the summary of John the Baptist’s preaching in preparation for the coming of this Davidic King, Isaiah 11 is more specific about the stump of Jesse which will arise and bring the new age.

The Psalm reading intrigues me. Psalm 72:1-8 is a series of petitions to the Lord, prayers, regarding the rule of an earthly Hebrew king for certain, but with an eye on the eventual one who would fulfill the hope of the ages as the eternal king. My instinct tells me Psalm 72 was probably read at the installation of kings, or composed for the installation of a specific king. One notes, however, the backhanded nature of these petitions: praying for the king to do the right sorts of things indicates perhaps the King, or his predecessor, had failed to live up to the obligations and expectations of a righteous leader.

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to the royal son! May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.

There is a lot of poetics in the opening lines. First the careful reader will notice justice and righteousness are first asked to be given to the king, then these same attributes are asked for the people through the work of the king. Did you notice the change in order? In verse 1 we have justice then righteousness and in verse 2 we have righteousness and then justice.

I wonder if there isn’t some kind of parallelism here with the judging. There certainly is in verse 1 where “king” aligns with “royal son” forming a chiasm with “righteousness” and “justice” as roughly synonymous. If this works In verse two as well, then there is no chiasm but “your people” would then be synonymous with “your poor” as the same basic group of people. Poor people are God’s people. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

On an interpretative level, these two verses are a plea for the leadership to be fair to all people and not just the wealthy who can bribe and buy justice. It makes a person think about the fact, not opinion, but fact, how much you can afford to pay a lawyer goes a long way in determining wether you go to jail or not in this country. We have to be careful that we don’t take this plea be able punishing the right or even complaining that the wealth get justice. This is not about envy; it is about asking for the poor to get a fair shake in justice.

Let the mountains bear prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness!

The third verse shifts subjects momentarily from the king to mountains. The request is that the mountains will prosper and provide economic provision for the people. Putting this in context with the surround text, our eyes can focus on what the person praying is really concerned for. It is not the wellbeing of the king or the wellbeing of the mountains. Rather, the concern for the prayer is the wellbeing of the people. He is praying that both the king and the mountains be good to the people.

This verse reminds us it is not improper to pray for prosperity and for blessings. As this year ends and a new one is on the horizon, it is proper and biblical to ask the Lord to let ‘the mountains’ or ‘the factory’ or ‘the stock market’ or ‘the sales numbers’ bear prosperity for you and your family. Always keep in mind, however, we are blessed that we may be a blessing.

May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the children of the needy, and crush the oppressor!

The subject goes back to the king, but we can still see who it is the petition is for — the poor people and their children. This is a prayer and is not necessarily what God is speaking, but is speech to God. In this speech we see the concern is with the oppressed and the needy. I wonder if people of faith too often make their prayers aimed at protecting the privileged and the powerful rather than the poor and the children of the poor.

There is a vitriol here as well. The prayer asks those who hurt the children and the needy be crushed. Not punished, but crushed. Before you move on, let that language settle in on your soul.

May they fear you while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, through all generations! May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth! In his days may the righteous flourish, and peace abound, till the moon be no more.

It is a little confusing the way this starts — “may they fear you” — but this is not a valid reading. Likely the text should read “May he live” –thus asking the Lord for the king to live a long life in the idiom of ‘as long as the sun endures.’

The poetics continue as the work of the king is described as a blessed rain that falls on freshly cut grass watering the earth. If we put these together, we have an appeal for the king to be as faithful and stable as nature that allows for the a life filled with shalom. Can you smell the grass? Can you feel the warm rain on your skin? See the moon glowing in the night sky? See the sun’s last rays on a winter’s evening as the fire burns in the hearth? These are the feelings the pray invokes as it asks for good governance that creates the atmosphere of wellbeing for everyone.

May he have dominion from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth!

Amen–May this kind of dominion rule from sea to shining sea and up and down all the mighty rivers.

This Hebrew prayer inspired me to put my own words to the same thoughts — which I think is a powerful way to understand the Psalms — ancient prayers to inform our daily prayers. I crafted it as a national prayer, but keep in mind the best hermeneutic of this would likely be a prayer crafted around the Kingdom of God rather than national entities. I chose national entities to keep it in the political context of the original writing; to help us, and by us I mean me, understand what the original implications might have been:

Help our government to value justice, O God, and our leaders to be righteousness.

May our judges be filled with righteousness, and may the poor find justice in every aspect of life.

May all of the economic engines of our nation be prosperous, let them be fair and just so that no one is left behind and no one is exploited, manipulated, or used.

May the President and those in charge of executing the laws have compassion on those who are needy, regardless of where they come from or what language they speak or who they pray to. Give him a vision and passion to be a protector of children.

May our nation, for as long as she is just and righteous, stand as long as the sun sits at the center of our solar system and the moon waxes and wanes above our heads; may our values of freedom and liberty be like refreshing rain showers upon a world that is thirsty for hope.

May we accept your dominion over us, Lord Jesus Christ, from the Harbors of the East Coast to the beautiful shorelines of the West Coast, from the bountiful Valley of Texas to the expansive Great Lakes of the Midwest. May we experience your shalom forever and ever. Amen.



Advent 2, Year C–Luke 3:1-6

For use in my own preaching, I moved this Advent reading to week 3 (December 16) as the sermon text. The reason? I started working on Luke 3:1-6 for week two, but it blew up to about four thousand words (which is about one thousand too many) so I cut it in half, changed the form on the first part, and made it two different sermons. The point of my little opening aside here? These lines here at the beginning of Luke 3 can take you to many different places, and most of them are good.

The historian inside Luke screams out as he gives us a backdrop of the time period we are in and the location where things are happening.

. . . the reign of Tiberius, Pontius Pilate . . . Herod . . . Philip tetrarch of the region . . . Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene . . . priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas . . . in the wilderness .. the region around the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of repentance fo the forgiveness of sins.

Luke 3:1-2

We know when we are, which is important because Chapter 2 ended with the boy Jesus in the temple. Luke is reminding us we’ve shifted to the future when Jesus is no longer a child, and the powers in this world are political and religious. In contrast to these powers, John The Baptist is preaching something difference. He is preaching forgiveness and repentance. So Luke, the ever careful writer gives us who, what, when, and where.

The part of this text which most people will focus on, and rightly so, is the quotation from Isaiah’s vision of the future. This is the why.

As it is written in the book of the words of Isaiah the prophet, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall become straight, and the rough places shall become level ways, and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.”

Luke 3:4-6

I’m preaching this passage in ten days, so I will not show all my cards. Let me just point out three things about this amazing text.

  1. Luke doesn’t say John is saying this. In our imagination we often put these words in The Baptist’s mouth. That is a mistake. This is Luke’s interpretation of who John is and what prophetic function he fulfills. It is often other people, and later generations, who are benefited and understand our work the most.
  2. It is hard to know what is meant in the opening of the prophesy. A clear reading is nearly impossible, and in every language it seems to be muddled. I have never been fully satisfied. It could be, “The voice of one crying, ‘In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord” as if a person is crying out that the highway should be built in the wilderness. Or, is it “The voice of one crying out in the wilderness, prepare the way of the Lord” where the wilderness is more about where the person is shouting and not necessarily where the road is to be built. Either way, though, the Lord is coming and you better be ready.
  3. Luke, and the other gospel writers as well, see this passage then as a connected to the message of repentance and forgiveness, and continues, in the rest of Luke 3, to wed these ideas with ethical behavior, fairness, and integrity. It is about this time we should remind ourselves this was a huge part of the prophetic message in the Old Testament, including Isaiah. Belief and faith are important, but if they are disconnected from ethical behaviors all that remains is superstition.





Today I post what I translated last week in my Gospel Advent readings.  These verses are very dramatic, featuring the conclusion of the frightening Olivet Discourse, Jesus predicting Peter’s denial, Judas’ betrayal and the Lord’s Supper.  Curiously, the Gospel readings take a side trip away from Luke and over to John 8 for the “woman taken in adultery.”  Some of the horrorific language in the Olivet Discourse was hard to straighten out; but as always it was fun. 

Luke 21:20-28

But when you see armies encircling Jerusalem, then you will know devastation is near.  Then those of you in Judea escape into the mountain and you leave from her midst and also do not let those in other towns come back into her.  That day vindication of those cities will fulfill everything written.  Woe for those pregnant and those nursing then, for it will be a great disaster upon the land and wrath to this people.  And they will fall by the edge of the sword.  They will be taken prisoner into every nation and Jerusalem will be under the heel of the Gentiles until the time of the Gentiles is fulfilled.  There will be a sign on the sun, and on the moon, and among the stars as well as upon the land.  The Gentiles will have anxiety over not knowing what to do, like a sound tossing the sea.  Men will have died for fear and the whole inhabitation of the earth will be waiting, for the power of the heavens will be shaken.  Then they will see ‘the son of man coming in the clouds’ with power and all glory.  Now, when these things begin to occur, you straighten up and lift up your heads because your redemption is near.   

Luke 21:29-38

And he spoke a parable to them, “You see the fig and all those other trees?  When it blossoms you see for yourselves and you know now that summer is near.  In the same way, when you notice these things happening you will know that the kingdom of God is near.  Truly I say to you that this generation will not pass by until everything happens.  The heavens and the earth will pass away but my words will never pass away.  Watch yourselves, that you do not let wildness, drunkenness, and the cares of everyday life overtake your hearts in those days.  It will come upon every one of those living everywhere like a trap.  You must be awake at all times; praying that you will have the strength to flee out of all these things that are about to happen and to stand before the son of man.”  Now he was in the temple teaching in those days, but every night he came out and spent the night on the Mount of Olives.  All the people rose up early to hear him in the temple.

Luke 22:1-13

Now, it drew near time for the Feast of Unleavened Bread; which is called Passover.  And the chief priests and the scribes kept looking for how they might kill him, but they feared the people.  But Satan entered into Judas Iscariot, who was one of the Twelve.  He went away to speak with the chief priests and soldiers about how he might hand him over to them.  And they were overjoyed and agreed to give him silver.  He consented to seek a good opportunity to hand him over apart from the crowd. 

Now, the Day of Unleavened came.  This is the day in which it is necessary to kill the Passover.  And Jesus sent Peter and John saying, “You yourselves go and prepare the Passover so that we may eat it.”  And they said to him, “Where do you want us to prepare?”  He said to them, “Behold, as you are going into the city you will meet a man carrying a jar of water to his house.  Follow him in.  If the owner of the house should ask, you say, “The teacher asks, ‘Where is the guestroom where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’  Then he will show you a great room upstairs spread with couches where you may prepare.” So they went away and found it just as he said to them and so they prepared the Passover.

Luke 22:14-30

And when he came to the house he and the apostles with him reclined.  He said to them, “I eagerly desire to eat this Passover with you before I suffer.  For I say to you, I will not eat it again until the time of the kingdom of God is fulfilled.”  Then, taking the wine cup, he blessed it and said “You receive this and share it among yourselves.  I say to you that I will not drink from now on of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”  And receiving bread he blessed it and broke and gave to them saying, “This is my body that I am giving for you, you do this as a remembrance of me.”  And the wine cup he did likewise after they ate the meal, saying, “This is the wine cup of the new covenant in my blood poured out for you.  Behold, however, the hand of the one handing me over is with me upon the table.  For now, the son of man will be taken away, as it has been appointed.  Nevertheless, woe to the man who hands him over.”  They began to discuss among themselves who from them could be going to do it when a dispute arose among them about who is considered greatest.  Then he said to them, “The kings of the nations rule and wield authority over people and they call them benefactors.  But with you it is not so.  The greatest among you will be the youngest and the leader as the servant.  For who is greater, the one reclining at table or the one serving?  Is it not the one reclining?  But I am in the midst of you as one serving.  You are those people who remained throughout with me in my trials.  I myself appoint you, just as the Father put me upon my kingdom, so that you eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and you yourselves will sit upon thrones judging the twelve tribes of Israel.”

Luke 22:31-38

“Simon, Simon, behold Satan requests to sift you as wheat!  But I prayed about you so that you would not fail.  But when you return to yourself, strengthen your brothers.”  Then he said to him, “Lord, I am ready to follow you into prison and into death.”  But he said, “I say to you, Peter, before the rooster crows tonight you will deny me three times.” 

Then he said to them, “When I sent you without purse and bag and sandals, did you lack anything?”  They said, “Nothing.”  Then he said to them, “But now those having a purse, take it and the same for those with a bag.  The ones not having these things should sell his coat and buy a sword.  For I say to you that in me the Scripture saying, ‘And with the lawless he was reckoned’ is completed.  It is near realization.”  So they said, “Lord, look, here are two swords.”  He said to them, “It is enough.”

John 7:53-8:11

And they lead off each one into his home.  But Jesus went out onto the Mount of Olives.  Again at dawn he appeared in the temple and all the people came to him, so he, sitting down, taught them.  But the Scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman they had captured in the act of adultery and made her stand in the midst of the crowd.  They said to him, “Teacher, this very woman she was seized in the act of adultery.  Now, in our law Moses commanded such as these to be stoned, but what do you say?”  Now this they said testing him, so that they would have accusation of him.  But Jesus stooped down and wrote in the dirt with his finger.  As those remaining behind inquired of him, he gazed up and said to them, “The sinless among you should be first to throw a stone at her.”  Again he stooped, writing in the dirt.  Those hearing this began to depart, one by one, starting with the oldest until the only one remaining was the woman in the middle.  Jesus now gazed up again and said to her, “Woman, where are they?  Do you have no one to judge you?”  She said, “No one, Lord.”  Jesus said, “Neither do I judge you.  Go.  From now on do not sin any longer.”