Psalm 78:17–33; Isaiah 1; Galatians 3:6–18

Psalm 78:17–31:  Alter suggests that this long historical psalm, which recounts highlights of Israel’s history of the escape from Egypt–the plagues, the crossing of the sea, and incidents in the desert–was used in public worship on commemorative national holidays.  It would be the equivalent of a group of Americans gathered around reciting American history, say, from the revolution through the civill war.

This section describes the events in the desert and the grumbling of the thirsty and hungry wanderers. Even after Moses has struck the rock, which has “brought forth streams from stone/ and poured down like waters.” (16), the people “offended him more,/ to rebel against the High One in their heart.” (17). They test the limits of God’s generosity as “they tried God in their heart/ to ask for food for their gullet.” (18). Of course we are exactly the same: after receiving a gift from God, we ask for more. Which is fine with God.

What is not fine is grumbling and “trying God” in our hearts that riles God: “the Lord heard and was angered.” (21) As the poet asks rhetorically, “For they had no faith in God/ and did not trust in His rescue.” (22) Do we reflect about God’s feelings when we grumble about how things are not going the way we like at church?  God is like a parent who deeply loves his children, but is disappointed and, yes, angered when all he hears from his offspring is grumbling.

But responsible parent that God is, he delivers despite the bad attitude of the people, “and the doors of the heavens He opened/ and rained on them manna to eat…” (24). But like constantly complaining teenagers, “they offended still/ and had no faith in his wonders.” (32) And then a verse that strikes at the heart of our own torpor, our inability to get out and work for God: “And they wasted their days in mere vapor/ and their years in dismay.” (33) How have I wasted my years in complaining rather than thankfulness for all God has done for me?

Isaiah 1: The opening verse provides the historical context for Isaiah: “The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” (1). In other words, Isaiah was the “house prophet” of Judah and outlived three kings.

This chapter is “forthtelling” in its purest terms; Isaiah wastes no time with friendly introductions or telling his listeners that he has some bad news to deliver, and holds nothing back as he speaks for God: “the Lord has spoken:/ I reared children and brought them up,/ but they have rebelled against me.” (2) No one gets off the hook. He doesn’t just blame the leadership, but is an equal-opportunity prophet: “Ah, sinful nation,/ people laden with iniquity,/ offspring who do evil,/ children who deal corruptly.” (4a) Nor is he unclear about the nature of their sin: “who have forsaken the Lord,/ who have despised the Holy One of Israel,/ who are utterly estranged!” (4b)

The people have estranged themselves from God and “continue to rebel.” (5) Comparing Israel to a human body, Isaiah is telling them the disease is spread everywhere: “The whole head is sick,/ and the whole heart faint./ From the sole of the foot even to the head.” (5b)

They are engaged in empty, meaningless worship that no longer pleases God: “bringing offerings is futile;/ incense is an abomination to me.” (13). Even though Isaiah has 64 chapters, the solution is right here early on: “cease to do evil,/ learn to do good;/ seek justice,/ rescue the oppressed,/defend the orphan,/ plead for the widow.” (16b, 17). Notice that once again in the OT, God’s priority is first cleansing and then immediately, it is justice. Just to make sure they 9and we) get the point, Isaiah comes back to the issue of injustice: “Everyone loves a bribe/ and runs after gifts./ They do not defend the orphan,/ and the widow’s cause does not come before them.” The rich pursue their wealth and the poor are cast by the wayside.

Exactly as today. We scoff at prophets and forge onwards in our wickedness, unmoved, unchanging, ignoring true justice as we eagerly pursue our own individual interest, justifying every action with the cop-out, “I can do what I want as long as I don’t hurt others.”  How are we so sure?

Galatians 3:6–18: Paul rather brilliantly uses Scripture to make it clear to the Judiazers that the promise of God’s salvation to the Gentiles emanates right from the beginning: “And the scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, declared the gospel beforehand to Abraham, saying, “All the Gentiles shall be blessed in you.” (8) And therefore the obvious conclusion: “For this reason, those who believe are blessed with Abraham who believed.” (9)

But then Paul is at his most theologically brilliant and creative as he absolutely the direction of Jewish belief from the law to grace through the action of Jesus Christ: “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us” (13). And that Christ’s action provided enormous benefit particularly to the Gentiles and basically positions himself as a Gentile: “in order that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might come to the Gentiles, so that we might receive the promise of the Spirit through faith.” (14)

As the author of Hebrews will elaborate at great length, Christ supersedes the law because he came first. After making the point that the Abrahamic promise really only applied to one offspring, (“the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring; it does not say, “And to offsprings,” as of many) (16a) Christ is that “ultimate” offspring: “that is, to one person, who is Christ.” (16b)

Paul concludes his logic chain rather triumphantly, that the law does not trump Christ: “My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise.” In fact, the law did not–and cannot–actually proceed from the Abrahamic promise, “if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise.” (18). No wonder the Jews in Jerusalem wanted to kill Paul. This is turning established theology–wrong though it may be–completely on its head.

 

 

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