Psalm 75; Ecclesiastes 6:1–7:14; 2 Corinthians 12:1–13

Psalm 75: At the third verse of this psalm of thanksgiving, God himself speaks of one of the central themes of the OT: divine judgement: “When I seize the appointed time,/ I Myself shall judge rightly.” (3) And he reminds us he is the Creator, not we, and were it not for God all creation would pass away: “Earth and its dwellers would melt,/ had I not set its pillars.” As Creator-in-charge, then, God warns those who would be tempted to set themselves up as small-g gods: “I said to the revelers, Do not revel,/ and to the wicked, Lift not your horn.” (5) (We assume that the horn is a weapon.)

And another warning, this time around arrogant speech. This time the horn seems to be an instrument of communication: “Lift not your horn on high. / You would speak arrogance against the Rock.” (6) To those who would put themselves above God he warns, “But God is the judge,/ it is He Who brings down and lifts up.” (8) Foaming wine in a cup becomes the metaphor for judgement, out of which God “will pour from it,/ yes, its dregs He will drain/ all the earth’s wicked will drink.” (9)

The point of view shifts back to the poet, who worships, “As for me, I shall tell it forever/ let me hymn to the God of Jacob.” (10) Our psalmist also really likes the horn image  as he lets God have the fairly violent last word as to the fate of the wicked versus the just: “And all the horns of the wicked I shall hack off./ The horns of the just will be lifted!” (11)

My take on this psalm is that a culture that arrogantly rejects God will sooner or later face God’s retributive justice. We laugh at those who talk about God’s judgement coming to America, but…  And as we know every empire eventually falls, almost always from arrogant corruption form within.

Ecclesiastes 6:1–7:14: (Why won’t the Moravians allow us to linger on the existential philosophy of Qoheleth?) Our author notes the grand irony of “ those to whom God gives wealth, possessions, and honor, so that they lack nothing of all that they desire,” (6:2a) and seems to blame God because “God does not enable them to enjoy these things, but a stranger enjoys them.” (6:2b) [One is tempted to be cynical here and suggest that the “stranger” is the government which has taxed away the man’s wealth…]

But then he offers good advice that too few of us follow: “however many are the days of his years, if he does not enjoy life’s good things, or has no burial, I say that a stillborn child is better off than he.” (6:3) But we do not enjoy the good things of life because our philosopher understands human nature too well: “All human toil is for the mouth, yet the appetite is not satisfied.” (7) We are creatures of endless striving, but never reach our self-centered goal. Our striving becomes “vanity and a chasing after wind.” (6:9)  Even authors and bloggers are not exempt: “The more words, the more vanity, so how is one the better?” (6:11) as the chapter ends bitterly: “ For who knows what is good for mortals while they live the few days of their vain life, which they pass like a shadow?” (6:12)

God is nowhere to be found here these verses which dwell on the empty strivings of men. Which I think is a metaphor for the lives of those who reject the possibility of the transcendent.

But we begin to see a dawning light as the author becomes poet in chapter 7, and its theme is the emptiness of life without God and is full of observations that seem lifted right out of Proverbs. One theme suffuses these lines: is better to be dark and brooding seeking wisdom than to lead a life of empty laughter: “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning;/ but the heart of fools is in the house of mirth.” (7:4) Moreover, we are to avoid meaningless nostalgia: “Do not say, “Why were the former days better than these?”/ For it is not from wisdom that you ask this.” (7:10). Instead focus on building wisdom for “Wisdom is as good as an inheritance,” and “the protection of wisdom is like the protection of money,/ and the advantage of knowledge is that wisdom gives life to the one who possesses it.” (7:11, 12). 

Suddenly, God makes an appearance at the end of the poem, as the poet recognizes we are trapped in the arrow of time and can take each day only one at a time: “ In the day of prosperity be joyful, and in the day of adversity consider; God has made the one as well as the other, so that mortals may not find out anything that will come after them.” (7:14),  In short, focus on today whether it is good or bad. As he notes elsewhere, this, too shall pass.

2 Corinthians 12:1–13: This is one of the most intriguing–and hotly debated–passages in the Pauline corpus: his description of what happens when we die–a topic that continues to engender books, films and TV shows. Paul provides a tantalizing hint that is frustratingly vague as he begins by referring to himself in the third person: “I know a person in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know; God knows” (2) and that whatever it was he saw it is indescribable: “as caught up into Paradise and heard things that are not to be told, that no mortal is permitted to repeat.” (4)  Paul’s advice is good: we should not try to fathom it; nevertheless, we persist, forgetting what Qoheleth told us: “mortals may not find out anything that will come after them.”

Paul makes the provocative connection that his brief vision of heaven led directly to his thorn in the flesh–the nature of which scholars have debated ever since. Note that he calls the affliction “a messenger of Satan…to keep me from being too elated,” and that it is therefore a direct consequence of what he was allowed to see. Is there such direct cause and effect today? Hard to say since Paul’s experience is admittedly unique.

What we have to focus on here is the conclusion Paul reaches at the end of this grand essay on boasting about his seeming weakness, remembering what God said to him: “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” If we, like Paul, are willing to boast of our weakness rather than strength, we are effectively abandoning ourselves to God. Once we do that the power of the Holy Spirit will be able to do powerful things through us.

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