Psalm 55:9–15; Job 32,33; 1 Corinthians 7:17–24

Psalm 55:9–15: Once again we come to the theme of speech, only this time as a prayer request to sew confusion among the psalmist’s enemies: “O Master, confound, split their tongue, / for I have seen outrage and strife in the town.” (10) [Which sounds a lot like Washington DC and its polarized politics…]

In this case it appears that a band of outlaws have taken over and destroyed the peace of the city for “day and night they go round it on its walls,/ and mischief and misdeeds within it,/ disaster within it guile and deceit never part from its square.” (11, 12) There’s a very contemporary feel to the idea that miscreants have usurped what formerly was peaceful. Many American Christians feel that secularism has usurped the public square and that they are being denigrated, if not excluded from the culture. Some want to just give up and cease speaking out.

But our psalmist is a man of courage, unafraid of these enemies: “No enemy insults me, that I might bear it,/ no foe boasts against me, that I might hide from him.” (13). Alas, however, it appears he’s been betrayed by a close colleague: “But you–a man to my measure,/ my companion and my familiar,/ with whom together we shared sweet counsel,/ in the house of our God in elation we walked.” (14,15)  In short, regardless of what his enemies say or do, the far greater pain is to have been betrayed by someone close.  Happily, that has not happened to me.

Job 32,33: After 31 chapters we hear a new voice: Elihu, who brings a new viewpoint to this story: everyone who has spoken, including Job, is wrong: “[Elihu] was angry at Job because he justified himself rather than God; he was angry also at Job’s three friends because they had found no answer, though they had declared Job to be in the wrong.” (32:2,3)  Elihu has held back because he was younger than the three friends, but now he lets loose.

First, he gives no credence to the idea that older people are wiser: “I said, ‘Let days speak,/  and many years teach wisdom.’” (32:7). But Elihu understands something that neither Job nor the friends seemed to have grasped: “But truly it is the spirit in a mortal,/ the breath of the Almighty, that makes for understanding.” (32:8) I am certainly reading this from my New Covenant context, but to me it seems clear that Elihu is saying that wisdom comes from the Holy Spirit dwelling within us.

Elihu has stood back, but now, “I am full of words…I must speak, so that I may find relief;/ I must open my lips and answer./ I will not show partiality to any person/ or use flattery toward anyone.” (32:20, 21)

And speak he does… First to Job: “You say, ‘I am clean, without transgression;/  I am pure, and there is no iniquity in me” and that Job has accused God for his woes when he says, “he counts me as his enemy;/ he puts my feet in the stocks,” (33:10,11) and that God has refused to answer him.

But Elihu asserts, “ in this you are not right. I will answer you:/God is greater than any mortal.” (33:12). And then in a brilliant discourse, the young man states that God speaks in many ways: 

14 For God speaks in one way,
    and in two, though people do not perceive it.
15 In a dream, in a vision of the night,
    when deep sleep falls on mortals,
    while they slumber on their beds,
16 then he opens their ears,
    and terrifies them with warnings,

In short, if we are listening, we will hear God. Elihu is basically telling Job that he must have missed God’s warnings. That if he had heard God speaking in a dream and heeds those warnings, then “he prays to God, and is accepted by him,/ he comes into his presence with joy.” (33:26) So, confession is the way to God, “and God[c] repays him for his righteousness.” (33:27)  Moreover, Elihu asserts, “God indeed does all these things,/ twice, three times, with mortals,/ to bring back their souls from the Pit,/ so that they may see the light of life.” (33:29. 30)

But is it really as simple as Job failing to have perceived the voice of God in his dreams, then failing to heed God’s warnings and the confessed?  At one level Elihu is absolutely right. That is how we understand confession. But like the friends, I don’t think Elihu has not perceived the real situation here.

1 Corinthians 7:17–24: We can tell by these verses that the Jewish faction at the Corinthian church was demanding that Gentile converts be circumcised. But for Paul makes the outward marks are not what matter; it’s the condition of the heart: “Circumcision is nothing, and uncircumcision is nothing; but obeying the commandments of God is everything.” (19)  And just to be clear guys, “Let each of you remain in the condition in which you were called.” (20)

So, too, with slaves: “For whoever was called in the Lord as a slave is a freed person belonging to the Lord, just as whoever was free when called is a slave of Christ.” (22) Paul commands, do your work for God in your present status: “In whatever condition you were called, brothers and sisters, there remain with God.” (24)

Easy for Paul to say, and I confess I’m reading this through the lens of my own culture where slavery is abhorrent. Nevertheless, I’m left with the uncomfortable feeling that it was easier for free men and women to accept Paul’s advice than it was for the slave.

 

 

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