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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.

 

 

Proverbs 2–If . . . Then

Proverbs 2 seems to imply the search for wisdom is in and of itself the path to understanding. This is mainly because the search for wisdom is the search for the Lord, and he is the one who grants a wise heart.

The chapter is divided, to my eye anyway, in two portions. The last portion is a warning to stay away from the harlot. Here, the harlot is not literal (although it is literally good advice) but instead the harlot represents the way of foolishness. This second part is shorter, and begins in earnest in verse 16.

The first portion is what intrigues me. It is a series of “If . . . Then” statements which remind me of my computer class back in high school in the 1980s. We were always writing these silly programs that began with something like “If x<3 then …” whatever. I can’t remember anything beyond that. This is the same style the author of the proverb uses.kenyon-starlin-code-screenshot_c

If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding, if you seek it like silver and search for it as hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God.” (Proverbs 2:4-5).

The search is key. It must be the key. God is the one who gives wisdom, so it is not as if the Lord is some kind of rubric waiting to be translated or the maker of mazes hoping you’ll find your way out. That would be a wrongheaded way of understanding the search for wisdom. The search is learning the ways of the Lord, studying the scriptures, and listening to the world around us as he reveals himself. We don’t search for wisdom because we want to know the secret to wisdom; we search for wisdom because we want to know the one who gives wisdom, the source of wisdom. We do not search so that we can know, we only know that we must continue to search.

This concept culminates in verses 9-10.

Then you will understand righteousness and justice and equity, and every good path; for wisdom will come into your heart, and knowledge will be pleasant to your soul.

Then–and only then–will you understand.

  • Righteousness: the requirement of the Lord, and the ways of faith. This is the moment you realize there is no one righteous. No, not one.

 

  • Justice: There is no peace without justice. Justice is not simply law and order, but it is holding people accountable for their actions and protecting the weak who have no advocate.

 

  • Equity: The world is not fair because it is baed upon power and force. Wisdom, by contrast, sees the necessity for equity and can spot when things are inequitable.

 

  • Every good path: A catchall phrase that can be loosely understood as the good life. Wisdom allows a person to see the things that really matter and maximize those for the benefit of all.

The goodness of God is that he grants these things to the wise.

The failings of humans is that we think we can have these without the Lord. The result is a foolishness that knows no bounds. We want righteousness in the world so we try to make people be righteous through coercion, politics, or law. We think we have justice, but really there is only a masquerade of justice that protects the powerful and exploits the weak. We claim equality for all, but as soon as we get a chance we remind everyone of how much better we are. We believe we can have the good life, but all we do is pop another pill and download another video. There is no true wisdom in any of this, because we have not sought the Lord.

If you and I search for wisdom for the sake of wisdom, we will never find it. If we search for the Lord and seek him, wisdom will wash over us.

SANDRA BLAND SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ARRESTED

The vast majority, probably something like ninety-nine percent of law enforcement officials are amazing and wonderful people.  They put their life on the line every day, try to make the world a better place, and do things that would make most of us wet our pants and go suck our thumbs in the corner.

The problem is that there are some mixed up in there who are not all that amazing.  They are people on power trips, bad tempers, short fuses, and sometimes poor judgment.  Oh, and sometimes they are racists or sexist too.

Apparently Sandra Bland had an encounter with one of these latter kinds of law enforcement officials which tragically led to her eventual death in a county jail cell.  The story is everywhere, but click here for a link to a CNN article.  Below I have included a good video from PBS.

I do not believe her death was intentional or the result of physical abuse.  All the evidence that I have seen indicates she actually did commit suicide and that she had a history of abusing herself and mental distress.  Of course, this needs to be investigated thoroughly by an independent agency (FBI) but the evidence currently seems to point that direction.  Waller County (A large county between Brenham and Houston) is probably liable for not noticing these signs of distress and making certain she got psychological care, as well as liable for leaving her alone in a jail cell with the means, but none of these are malicious, racists, or sexist.

What is malicious and possibly racist or sexists is why she was even in jail in the first place.  The dashcam that has been released is breathtaking.  It is hard for me to believe that a Texas state trooper would do the things I see here.  First, she was pulled over for not signalling a lane change.  Really?  Who gets pulled over for that?  Does anyone here besides me think the real reason might have been she was guilty of driving while black?

Second, we see that the officer is mad because she will not put out her cigarette.  Should she have put the cigarette out?  Probably, but that is not the point.  The point is that smoking a cigarette while driving is not illegal and should not have even been part of the officers discussion with Bland.

Third, the trooper demands that she gets out of the car, and when she resists, he insists that he will “yank” her out of the car and “light her up.”  That is when things really escalated.

It is clear to me that Sandra Bland should never have been arrested.  I do not know what the trooper’s motives were.  Maybe he was having a bad day.  However, people should not be afraid of their police, and police should never be arbitrary with the trust we put in their hands.  What I saw on that dashcam makes me afraid of the police and afraid for my wife or daughter when they drive.  I also see a man who is on a power trip.  He does these things to this woman because he can.  He doesn’t have to.  He shouldn’t.  None of this is a big deal.

But he is a policeman.  He has a gun.  He is a man.  He can make her do what he wants, and that is what he does.  It is an arbitrary display of force that is despicable.  One of the lingering questions in my mind is, how many others?  We know about this one because Bland died.  If she’d not died, we would never know about it.  How many other women, black women, black people, or just people in general have been subjugated to arrest for a lane change violation while smoking a cigarette?  That is the question I want to know the answer to.  Another question I have is why was she still in jail three days later?

Sandra Bland should never have been pulled over.  She certainly should never have been arrested.  She most certainly should not have still been incarcerated three days later.images

Keep in mind, the trooper did not kill Sandra Bland.  She killed herself. But she would have never been in that situation had she never been unjustly arrested, jailed, and isolated in a place far from home.

image from nbcnews.com

PSALM 85–A MEDITATION FOR ADVENT TWO

A key theme for the second Sunday of Advent is peace.  Jesus is our peace, and God’s plan is all about peace–for the individual, for the family, for the church, for the entire world.  Is this peace promised in the Bible spiritual, or is it political?  The answer is yes.  Those who seek peace in only the spiritual things of life but deny sociological, economic, and political peace are missing the plan God has for all people.  Likewise, those who neglect the spiritual peace of true enlightenment in Christ Jesus, the presence of the Holy Spirit, and the knowledge of an eternal purpose only to clamor for everyone to start beating their swords into ploughshares will always have a missing element in life; they will always feel like something isn’t quite right.  IMG_0105

As with most lectionary readings, the text skips around a bit, omitting verses 3-7, which is too bad.  These skipped verses reflect that the pslamist and the people have been delivered by the Lord in the past, but now they are need again for a second rescue.  Because of that, I place this psalm’s date as sometime after the return from exile, perhaps in the time period of Nehemiah and Ezra.

[1] LORD, you were favorable to your land;
you restored the fortunes of Jacob.
[2] You forgave the iniquity of your people;
you covered all their sin. Selah

Take note of the parallelism.  It is a common Hebrew poetic device.  Verse one says the same thing twice.  It is not two different points, it is the same thing, restated.  Likewise, verse two.  To be favorable to the land is the same thing as restoring fortunes, and to forgive iniquity is the same thing as covering sins.  Too often preachers and exegetes will attempt to wrangle too much from parallelism, thus rendering the text neutered if its original, and powerful meaning.

Here the meaning is clear.  There is a linkage between the act of restoration in the land and the forgiveness of sin.

[8] Let me hear what God the LORD will speak,
for he will speak peace to his people, to his saints;
but let them not turn back to folly.

Not condemnation, not judgment, not fear, not rules, not law, not an unending video loop of all our transgressions played out for everyone to see (Romans 8:1), none of these things are what the Lord wants to speak to us about.  He will speak peace.

[9] Surely his salvation is near to those who fear him,
that glory may dwell in our land.

Salvation is not near to all, just those who fear him.  Also note the link between salvation and glory.  Who is the glory for?  The second line here is fascinating.  Glory certainly refers to the Hebrew idea that when the Lord comes to rescue, he will be present in the land and his glory, the glory that settled on the tabernacle, the temple, and which left in the sad days of Ezekiel–will return to the land.  I do not diminish that concept one iota.  However, if someone sits with this text for a moment and feels the pull of the psalmist’s words, I think he or she will feel that part of that glory is for the people of God.  A borrowed glory to be sure, but glory for the saints none the less.

[10] Steadfast love and faithfulness meet;
righteousness and peace kiss each other.

This is one of my favorite images in all of the Bible.  This might be a chiasm.  I can’t prove it, but it sure looks like one to me.  Stead fast love, which is covenantal divine love crosses over to match with peace while faithfulness and righteousness are fairly easily recognized as near cognates.

The kiss is a beautiful thought.  It is not a romantic kiss, but more a kiss of greeting.  Some have scorned translating the word here as ‘kiss’ and instead prefer the idea of ‘linking arms.’  Whichever one you take they are both signs of friendship and trust, the sign of blessing which the Lord has for his people.  Greet one another with a holy (Romans 16:16, 1 Corinthians 13:12) kiss–the kiss of “shalom” as the peace of God.

But now I must digress.  For the past week I have seen the opposite of peace played out in Ferguson and New York as people hurt.  Why is there a lack of peace?  Because we are not righteousness.  We are not faithful.  We do not keep our promises.  We do not meet one another on friendly terms (kiss).  Justice is the byproduct of righteousness and love.  We lack justice because we lack the moral and spiritual power that makes justice a possibility.

[11] Faithfulness springs up from the ground,
and righteousness looks down from the sky.
[12] Yes, the LORD will give what is good,
and our land will yield its increase.
[13] Righteousness will go before him
and make his footsteps a way.

The Psalm finishes with another image.  It moves from a lovely kiss to an agricultural vision.  Faithfulness is now seen as a crop growing, while righteousness is rain and sunshine that makes the growth possible.  From this arrangement, the Lord blesses the harvest and makes it bountiful.  What a poetic view of life.  Taken at face value, we are being taught here that righteousness–a right view of society, law, faith, family–righteousness is the nurturing agent from which faithful people grow.  The opposite is probably true.  Unrighteousness nurtures faithlessness.