Psalm 77:16–20; Song of Solomon 2:8–4:16; Galatians 1:13–24

Psalm 77:16–20: These concluding verses recall Israel’s escape from Egypt with powerful, almost photographic imagery of God parting the waters of the sea for Israel to cross: “The clouds streamed water./ The skies sounded with thunder./ Your bolts, too, flew about.” (18) The imagery expands to describe how God is the master of all creation as his mythical chariot drives across the sky: “Your thunder’s sound under the wheel–/ lightning lit up the world./ The earth shuddered and shook.” (19)

Once the waters have been so noisily parted, the poet describes the wonderful act of God’s rescue: “In the sea was Your way,/ and Your path in the mighty waters,/ and Your footsteps left no traces.” (20). And finally, God comes down from his sky chariot and becomes the Good Shepherd: “You led Your people like a flock/ by the hand of Moses and Aaron.” (21)

This juxtaposition of God’s awesome power with the tender gentleness of a shepherd reminds us that God, being God, possesses qualities that seem contradictory, but also remind us that God is more powerful and yet more tender than any of his creatures–including us.

Song of Solomon 2:8–4:16: Almost all of the similes and metaphors of this poem relate to nature–animals, flowers, trees, the landscape–that it becomes as much a celebration of God’ good creation as it does a love poem. “My beloved is like a gazelle/ or a young stag.” (2:9)

Every sense is engaged:
The flowers appear on the earth;
    the time of singing has come,
and the voice of the turtledove
    is heard in our land.” (2:12)


The fig tree puts forth its figs,
    and the vines are in blossom;
    they give forth fragrance.
Arise, my love, my fair one, (2:13)

It is also an abundant source of book titles: “Catch us the foxes,/ the little foxes.” (2:15)

The bride’s dream describes her poignant search and discovery  in the city for the man she loves:
Scarcely had I passed them,
    when I found him whom my soul loves.
I held him, and would not let him go” (3:4)

We can almost smell the sweetness of the day as the groom approaches:
What is that coming up from the wilderness,
    like a column of smoke,
perfumed with myrrh and frankincense,” (6)

(It’s interesting to see these two spices juxtaposed here since the Gospel writer was surely familiar with this poem.)

Suddenly, we realize this is a description of Solomon’s own wedding day:
“Look, O daughters of Zion,
    at King Solomon,
at the crown with which his mother crowned him
    on the day of his wedding,
    on the day of the gladness of his heart.” (3:11)

The the groom, whom we assume is Solomon himself, speaks. He is deeply in love: “How beautiful you are, my love,/ how very beautiful!” and he describes her beauty with remarkable similes of animals, fruits, structures–many of which are quite unexpected and even unlikely to be taken well today should a man describe his bride in the same manner as he moves relentlessly downward from her head to her body.

“Your eyes are doves”…”Your hair is like a flock of goats”…”Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes”…Your cheeks are like halves of a pomegranate…”Your neck is like the tower of David,”…”Your two breasts are like two fawns,”… (4:1-5)

And then “I will hasten to the mountain of myrrh/ and the hill of frankincense.” whose sexual meaning seems clear. He is deeply in love with every part of his bride’s being:
You have ravished my heart, my sister, my bride,
    you have ravished my heart with a glance of your eyes,” (4:9)

The poem becomes even more sexual as Solomon contemplates his virgin bride, knowing that the time for intercourse is not just yet:
A garden locked is my sister, my bride,
    a garden locked, a fountain sealed.
Your channel is an orchard of pomegranates
    with all choicest fruits,” (4:12,13)

But soon he will possess her and:
“Awake, O north wind,
    and come, O south wind!
Blow upon my garden
    that its fragrance may be wafted abroad.” (4:16)

Was there ever a more beautiful and fetching description of intercourse. If for no other reason this poem is here in the Bible to remind us that love comes from God and that sex of a married couple is a beautiful act bearing no shame. One wonders why parts (not all!) of this poem is not read more frequently at weddings!

Galatians 1:13–24: While we have biography in Acts of Paul’s conversion experience, here we have autobiography. Paul states “I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age,” but then admits, “I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.” (14). So we know that Paul’s personality, smarts, and above all his zealous passion prepared him well for his calling.

Then, intriguingly, he states that “God, who had set me apart before I was born and called me through his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me,” (15) we hear that Paul knows this has been his calling since birth I’m guessing some would use this statement as a “proof text” for predestination, but I prefer to focus on Paul being prepared, trained, and then called, just as pastors are today. Moreover, Paul knew from the beginning the thrust of his ministry that “I might proclaim him among the Gentiles,” (16)

We also learn something that was not revealed in Acts: “I did not confer with any human being, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were already apostles before me, but I went away at once into Arabia, and afterwards I returned to Damascus.” (17) So, what did Paul do in Arabia? Was he instructed by someone; did he become a solitary contemplative. I’m pretty sure whatever happened it was where Paul developed much of his theology that so powerfully brought Christianity to the Gentiles during that three-year period. As we read in Acts, when he begins preaching, it is a fully formed, sophisticated message aimed at the Gentiles. There’s no stumbling around.

Only after Arabia and Damascus did he go to Jerusalem for a mere fifteen days and then met only with Peter and James, apparently in secret. Based on his cryptic remark, “In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!” we have to assume that during that visit, Paul received Peter’s and James’ blessing to go forth among the Gentiles. (This would be after Peter’s baptism of Cornelius.)

There can be little question that conversion of the church’s greatest persecutor into one of its greatest apostles electrified the churches everywhere. It was such good news, that “they glorified God because of me.” Even today, we can be excited by dramatic conversions, but I think we have to give Paul pride of place here.


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