Psalm 68:19–27; Proverbs 16; 2 Corinthians 1:1–11

Psalm 68:19–27: As elsewhere, God is intimately connected to the mountains. Here, “Mountain of God, Mount Bashan,/ crooked ridged mountain” (16) and “–O Sinai in holiness!/ You went up to the heights/…so that Yah God would abide.”  (17, 18) Why mountains? I think it is because it is the visible symbol of God reigning on high and that to be at the top of a mountain connotes real power. My children tell me that the thing they miss most about living in the flat Midwest is the absence of mountains.

Now that we understand how mountains have been formed over millions of years, when we are in them, we sense that they are at the core of creation; that God created the mountains to remind us of his awesome power.

The psalm continues with the theme of “God is to us a rescuing God.” (21) And, “The LORD Master possesses the ways out of death.” (22) We then encounter of very gory image of the how God rescues Israel form its enemies: “…That your foot may wade in blood,/ the tongue of your dogs lick the enemies.” (24). In the ancient world there was no greater curse than to die in the field, unburied, and to have wild dogs (coyotes?) come lick one’s corpse. So, to be rescued from that gruesome fate (and to see one’s enemies instead) is cause for rejoicing.

For Israel, it is God’s rescue that matters and worship, as always, is our response: “The singers came first and then the musicians” and then in a remarkable, almost provocative image, “in the midst of young women beating their drums./ In choruses bless God.” And when we are rescued from desperate straits–as Jesus Christ has rescued us– so too, our response is joyous worship.

Proverbs 16:  There are two proverbs that stand out in this chapter. The first is, “The human mind plans the way,/ but the Lord directs the steps.” (9) I have heard many Christians speak of “God’s plan for my life,” even to the point of believing that God has picked out one’s fiancee or career path. But here the writer makes it clear that we operate in partnership with God. God has given us the intelligence and sense to lay out a plan. The thing that matters is the nature of heart as we set out down that path.

If we are in communion with God, then God will direct our steps–especially at those points where we have to make decisions–but he will never overstep the bounds of our own free will. We are not God’s automata. Of course this also requires the courage to lay out a plan in the first place and the willingness to abandon ourselves wholly to God as we take those steps. 

The second proverb is better known, but that does not detract form its verity: “Pride goes before destruction,/ and a haughty spirit before a fall.” (16) I think this statement relates to the issue of who is guiding our steps in the proverb above. The simplest definition of pride is our desire to take control of our lives (or think we take control) and proceed down the path without regard to God–or of other people. In our culture this pride expresses itself as individualism, the self-centered idea that I am the one not only in control but the only one who matters. All others around me are called to be “tolerant” of whatever idea or action I may take as long “as it doesn’t hurt others.” Easy words to say, and we wrongly think it gets us off the hook of dealing with the inevitable consequences of pride 

And, as the writer makes abundantly clear, the consequences are never pretty. Narcissism is the all too common outcome of pride. I firmly believe that our society is reaping–and will continue to reap–the negative consequences of unbridled “self-actualization” and narcissism that blithely has invented new individual “rights.”  And unfortunately, we as a society will experience what the writer warns us about: “Sometimes there is a way that seems to be right,/ but in the end it is the way to death.” (25)

2 Corinthians 1:1–11: Paul writes a second letter to the church at Corinth. (Among others I suppose, I wish that we had the letter that came back from Corinth in response to Paul’s first letter that induced him to write another lengthy missive to this congregation.)

What’s interesting in the opening salutation is that Paul gives equal billing to Timothy as author: “Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,” (1) Clearly, at this point in his life Paul sees Timothy as his partner and successor.

The Paul who writes this letter seems quite different than the confident Paul who wrote the first one. He does not open with high theology about God’s wisdom vs. man’s wisdom, but in the grateful humility before God that suffering brings: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all consolation, who consoles us in all our affliction.” (3, 4a) But Paul never turns inward feeling sorry for himself, but views his suffering as a means to aid others: “so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God.” (4b) It is always about others: “If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation,” (6) and he empathetically realizes that the church at Corinth is suffering, as well: “Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.” (7)

This is Paul at his pastoral finest. The bold preacher who set out from Damascus has learned humility through the “affliction we experienced in Asia; for we were so utterly, unbearably crushed that we despaired of life itself.” (8) And in this suffering and the consolation he received from God, he is newly vulnerable and open. It’s clear here that Paul sees his role as more than theologian or corrective agent or great preacher. He sees that providing consolation to those who are suffering is among the greatest gifts that a pastor can bring to his flock.


Speak Your Mind