Psalm 78:32–39; Isaiah 2:1–4:1; Galatians 3:19–29

Psalm 78:32–39: The psalmist recalls how Israel in the wilderness abandoned God, was punished, and then returned: “When He killed them, they sought Him out,/ and came back and looked for God./ And they recalled that God was their rock…” (34, 35a). But it was only temporary, even false repentance: “Yet they beguiled Him with their lips,/ and with their tongue they lied to Him.” (36). Worse, “their heart was not firm with Him,/ and they were not faithful…” (37) This is us: a ceaseless oscillation between abandoning God and returning to faith. Only today, many are merely abandon God, seemingly never to return.

Despite our unfaithfulness, God “is compassionate, He atones for crime and does not destroy,/ and abundantly takes back His wrath/ and does not arouse all His fury.” (38). It is God who “atones for crime,” which seems a Christological hint of events yet to come when the psalmist writes these lines. For indeed it is Christ who atones for our waywardness.

The psalmist explains a root cause of God’s grace: “He recalls that they are flesh,/ a spirit that goes off and does not come back.” (39). This is a brilliant description of our hard-wired ability to drift away from God, thinking we are the center of the universe, thinking we do not need God. That somehow we can be “spiritual” without needing God.

But God is not indifferent to our abandonment. Yes, like Israel, we “caused Him pain in the waste land.” (40) We wander in our own wasteland when if we would only abandon our self-centeredness we could return to God’s garden and be with him. He’s there waiting for us.

Isaiah 2:1–4:1: Isaiah envisions a world at peace in the immortal lines,

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.” (2:4)

But this is what Isaiah hopes will come to pass. Alas, in the very next verses he leaves the hoped-for world and returns to the world as it really is: “For you have forsaken the ways of your people,/O house of Jacob.” (2:5) Israel is full of corruption, “Indeed they are full of diviners from the east/ and of soothsayers like the Philistines,” (2:6) and what for me is a brilliant description of the values and content of our modern world: “Their land is filled with silver and gold,/and there is no end to their treasures;…Their land is filled with idols;/ they bow down to the work of their hands,” (2:7,8) We worship power, wealth and technology–“the work of our hands.”

But eventually, there will be reckoning:

The haughtiness of people shall be humbled,
    and the pride of everyone shall be brought low;
    and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.” (2:17)

Isaiah described that reckoning in detail. God is “is taking away from Jerusalem and from Judah/ support and staff—” (3:1) and in what seems to be a reference to too-young kings, “ I will make boys their princes,/ and babes shall rule over them.” (3:4). (We, too, are ruled by self-centered men, who, while not chronologically “babes,” display pandering and narcissistic immaturity of the worst sort.)

Isaiah goes on to describe the physical woes yet to come, including the rather gruesome, ” the Lord will afflict with scabs/ the heads of the daughters of Zion,/ and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.” (3:17) Isaiah describes in detail the riches, jewelry and possessions that will pass away and “Instead of perfume there will be a stench;/and instead of a sash, a rope;” (3:24)

No wonder he was unpopular. Judah had no desire to hear of bad things that were yet to come to pass as we are. We, too, rely on our riches, thinking them permanent and valuable when to God, they are mere dross.

Galatians 3:19–29: Paul reprises much of what he had to say about the law in his letter to the Romans. Clearly his opponents have set up the Law as the opposite of grace and that it should be abandoned in all respects. This is too much for Paul and he responds with a rhetorical question, “Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not!” (21). But of the law were so effective, he notes, “then righteousness would indeed come through the law.” (21). But it can’t. The law is there to anticipate “that what was promised through faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe.” (22)

For Paul, the law was a placeholder until the arrival of Jesus Christ: “the law was our disciplinarian until Christ came, so that we might be justified by faith.” (24) But Jesus has superseded the law and “now that faith has come, we are no longer subject to a disciplinarian,” (25). But Paul is careful to clarify it is “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (26). Without Christ we are naked. Being baptized we are no longer naked under the law, but “have clothed [ourselves] with Christ.” (27).

Moreover, Paul reminds us in this famous verse that being baptized in Christ, we are all equal: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.: (28). I doubt that as citizens of a society that speaks of equality (although practices it generally poorly) we have any sense of just how radical  this statement really was in the culture of the Roman Empire.

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