Psalm 48; Job 13:20–14:22; Romans 15:30–16:7

Psalm 48: This psalm has a similar tone and theme as the preceding one as it praises God, this time more specifically in Jerusalem, “in our God’s town, His holy mountain./ Lovely in heights, all the earth’s joy…the great King’s city.” (2,3)

I think we fail to appreciate just how central the idea that God dwelt in Jerusalem was to the Jewish religion. We tend to have a far more amorphous, everywhere conception of God. But for Israel, God had come and dwelt in the Ark and even after the Ark was lost, it was OK, because there was a temple in Jerusalem. This is where God performed his marvelous deeds: “We witnessed, O God, Your kindness/ in the midst of Your temple.” (10)

God’s presence in that single geographical spot brought great strength and protection, as well: “God in its bastions/ is famed as a fortress.” (4)

It is this protective quality of God at Jerusalem that gave military victory to Israel and terror to its enemies: “It is [the enemies] who have seen and so been  astounded,/ were panicked, dismayed./ Shuddering seized them there,/ pangs like a woman in labor.” (6,7).

Perhaps if I thought of God in the concrete terms that Israel did, I would trust him and understand more directly his great love for me.

Job 13:20–14:22: Job’s prayer shakes its fist at God, asking questions that humans still ask. Lest we think that we have any new thoughts when we wonder where God is or why God acts in such an arbitrary and yes, cruel fashion, Job was there ahead of us. Job asks the essential question: “Why do you hide your face,/ and count me as your enemy?” (13:24) Job accuses God directly: “For you write bitter things against me,/ and make me reap the iniquities of my youth./ You put my feet in the stocks…” (13:26, 27). And the result is emptiness, despair and death: “One wastes away like a rotten thing,/ like a garment that is moth-eaten.” (13:28)

He then reflects on the innate corruption of humankind (original sin?), noting that we are born, experience trouble and then die: “A mortal, born of woman, few of days and full of trouble,/ comes up like a flower and withers,/ flees like a shadow and does not last.” (14:1,2)  Job then tells God basically go away and let mortals enjoy what few moment they have in peace, undisturbed by God: “…look away from them, and desist,/ that they may enjoy, like laborers, their days.” (14:6) 

Job observes that “there is hope for a tree,/ if it is cut down, that it will sprout again,” (14:7), but as for mortals, “mortals die, and are laid low;/ humans expire, and where are they?” (14:10) Nevertheless, Job’s longing for an understanding, forgiving God is palpable: “You would call, and I would answer you;…my transgression would be sealed up in a bag,/ and you would cover over my iniquity.” (15:15, 17)

But for Job, that God is not forthcoming. There is only pain and darkness. God has abandoned humankind: “They feel only the pain of their own bodies,/ and mourn only for themselves.” (14:22)

Job’s God is so wildly different than the God we encounter just about everywhere else in the OT (except for Ecclesiastes). This God is exactly our 21st century conception of God, where people have decided that God, if he exists, is not interested in human affairs. We have been abandoned and therefore need live only for ourselves. With Job, we feel only the pain of our own bodies and mourn only for ourselves–unnoticed by the God of the universe.

But above all, whatever thoughts we come with on our own about abandonment, woe and despair, Job has been there before us.

Romans 15:30–16:7: Paul moves from theology to his personal circumstances and asks for the Romans’ prayers: join me in earnest prayer to God on my behalf, that I may be rescued from the unbelievers in Judea, and that my ministry to Jerusalem may be acceptable to the saints.” (15:30,31).

And then the personal PS at the end of the letter. This is where we receive insight into Paul’s personality and his self-image, which above all was exceedingly generous. He never claimed all the credit, but spread it generously and joyfully among the saints. He includes a long Pauline list of friends who have helped him, beginning with a woman, Phoebe, a deacon “of the church at Cenchreae,” who “has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well.” (16:2).  (Which forces me to ask: why is it that many churches that want to interpret the Bible literally also prohibit women from serving as deacons or in positions of leadership?)

He also commends “Prisca and Aquila, who work with me in Christ Jesus,  and who risked their necks for my life.” (16:3). Probably rescuing Paul form one of the many riots he seemed to incite.

It would be great to know the individual stories of the many people listed here. But absent that, this list of names gives us a picture of the dynamism of the early church. But we know this: these are the saints on whose shoulders the church stands today.

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