Psalm 78:65–72; Isaiah 8:1–9:7; Galatians 4:28–5:6

Psalm 78:65–72: Only in this section do we learn the poet’s true intention.


First, there is a final battle that establishes Israel as a kingdom. God awakens “and He beat back His foes,/ everlasting disgrace He gave them.” (66)

After recounting the history of Israel, we learn that “God rejected the tent of Joseph,/ and the tribe of Ephraim He did not choose.” (67) Instead, “He chose the tribe of Judah,/ Mount Zion that he loves.” (68). In other words, this is a paean to the dynasty of Judah, celebrating its kingly apotheosis: David: “And He chose David His servant/ and took him from the sheepfolds.” (70)

Moreover, not only is the Davidic line chosen by God, but God also chose Jerusalem as his headquarters, since that is God’s choice of where the Temple would be located: “And He built on the heights His sanctuary,/ like the earth He had founded forever.” (69).

The psalm concludes with the assertion that God chose David: “From the nursing ewes He brought him/to shepherd Jacob His people/ and Israel His estate” (71)  And reflects on David’s kingly qualities: “And with his heart’s innocence he shepherded them,/ with skilled hands he guided them.” (72) Given the low quality of most of the kings that followed David and Solomon, it’s easy to feel the almost nostalgic aspect of these final verses. And as Christians, we think not only of David but of our own Good Shepherd.

Isaiah 8:1–9:7: Isaiah continues his testimony. God directs him to “Take a large tablet and write on it in common characters, “Belonging to Maher-shalal-hash-baz,” and have it attested for me by reliable witnesses,” (8:1) because that will be the name of Isaiah’s own son. And then, the frightening prophecy: “before the child knows how to call “My father” or “My mother,” the wealth of Damascus and the spoil of Samaria will be carried away by the king of Assyria.” (8:4). Which of course came to pass.

But even though disaster will visit Israel (the Northern Kingdom), God advises Isaiah to be of good courage and “warned me not to walk in the way of this people,” (8:11) God advises Isaiah, to be unlike everyone else: “Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what it fears, or be in dread.”  (8:12) This is good advice for Christians in America. We are so quick to panic about living in a “post-Christian” culture, almost afraid that but for our own herculean efforts, the church will collapse. Instead, it is God through Jesus Christ who ensures the church lives on.

And like Isaiah, we should recall that “He will become a sanctuary, a stone one strikes against; for both houses of Israel he will become a rock one stumbles over—a trap and a snare for the inhabitants of Jerusalem.” (8:14) In other words, God will do what is necessary in the culture. Here the manifest sins of Israel will be dealt with first by the Assyrian invasion.

Rather than fretting about the kings of this world, like Isaiah, we can look to the King of the next, as we ponder the famous verses of the 9th chapter:

The people who walked in darkness
    have seen a great light;
those who lived in a land of deep darkness—
    on them light has shined. (9:2)

And for us we know exactly who that Light is, as the music of Handel reverberates in our heads:

For a child has been born for us,
    a son given to us;
authority rests upon his shoulders;
    and he is named
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. (9:6)

It is our Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God in whom we must place our trust, not the fallen kings, presidents, prime ministers, and politicians of this world,

Galatians 4:28–5:6: This is Paul’s brilliant discourse on the nature of Christian freedom as he concludes his amazing essay on how Gentiles became children of the Spirit: “we are children, not of the slave but of the free woman.” (4:31) And in what is almost–but not quite–a tautology: “For freedom Christ has set us free.” (5:1)

Paul reaches new heights of passion on the issue of circumcision, warning, “Listen! I, Paul, am telling you that if you let yourselves be circumcised, Christ will be of no benefit to you.” (5:2) Paul, drawing on his Jewish heritage, asserts, “I testify to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obliged to obey the entire law.” (5:3) And if a man does that, we have “cut yourselves off from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” In short, we will have rejected the freedom that comes through grace. And having done that we will have abandoned Christ himself.

Paul’s crowning argument is that “in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.” (5:6)

It’s easy to see why Luther so valued this epistle. I’m sure that he felt that the church had become the center of law rather than the center of grace. And that he–and the people–had truly lost their freedom because of the suffocating corruption that had overrun Rome. Like Paul, Luther cries out for freedom, telling the world that the only thing that counts is faith working through love.

Speak Your Mind