Psalm 79:1–8; Isaiah 9:8–10:11; Galatians 5:7–18

Psalm 79:1–8: Anguish threads through this entire psalm as it records the catastrophe of the invasion of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple: “God, nations have come into Your estate,/ they have turned Jerusalem to ruins.” (1). And the massacre of its inhabitants, whose bodies are left lying in the streets: “They have given Your servants corpses/ as food to the fowl of the heavens/ and flesh of Your faithful to the beasts of the earth.” (2)  Worse, “there is none to bury them.” (3). Shame is all that is left: “We have become a disgrace to our neighbors,/ scorn and contempt to all around us.” (4)

In the midst of this devastation, the psalmist looks up to heaven, asking rhetorically, “How long, O Lord, will you rage forever,/ Your fury burn like fire?”  And then he essentially accuses God of being unfair, asking for calamity to come upon those who don’t even know God, “Pour out Your wrath on the nations/ that did not know you.” (6) And then, why punish us for crimes our ancestors committed? “Do not call to mind against us our forebear’s crimes.” (8a).  The poet cries for mercy: “Quickly, may Your mercies overtake us.” (8b)

This psalm was surely written from Babylonian exile and it is a beautiful example of poetry and song being the only medium that can really communicate pain and sorrow that is otherwise inexpressible. Will we ever have to write such a poem? Where is the world we know headed? From a human perspective, it’s not looking very promising.

Isaiah 9:8–10:11: What our psalmist bemoans, Isaiah has predicted for Judah by recalling what happened to the Israel, Northern Kingdom. Despite several invasions, “The people did not turn to him who struck them,/ or seek the Lord of hosts.” (9:13). Isaiah notes that  elders and dignitaries and prophets “led this people led them astray,/and those who were led by them were left in confusion.” (9:16) As a result, the people were entirely corrupted, and “the Lord did not have pity on[b] their young people,/or compassion on their orphans and widows;/for everyone was godless and an evildoer.” (9:17). This is the deuteronomic justice: evil deeds result in abandonment and punishment by God.

We now operate under the terms of grace, but Isaiah’s description of a corrupt people still strikes home with us, just as his warnings should have struck home with Judah. He turns directly to the leaders of Judah and notes that injustice is rampant, and is always the case in the OT, injustice committed against those who cannot fight back:
Ah, you who make iniquitous decrees,
    who write oppressive statutes,
to turn aside the needy from justice
    and to rob the poor of my people of their right,
that widows may be your spoil,
    and that you may make the orphans your prey! (10:1, 2)

“Beware!,” Isaiah is saying as he asks, “What will you do on the day of punishment,/ in the calamity that will come from far away?” (10:3) 

In our modern culture wars too many Christians keep insisting that it is “sinners” such as homosexuals, who will be punished by God. But everywhere we look in the OT, it is those who commit injustice and mislead the people so “they are confused” that are the special targets of God’s wrath.  I wish Franklin Graham would go back and read today’s passage.

Galatians 5:7–18: Paul observes that the church in Galatia was once “running well,” asking “who prevented you from obeying the truth?” (7) Then making the critical observation that “A little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough,” (9)–a clear reference to those preaching the primacy of the law– he assures them that “whoever it is that is confusing you will pay the penalty.” (10) He is sounding very much like Isaiah here: “led this people led them astray,/and those who were led by them were left in confusion.” (Is. 9:16). But where Isaiah uses grand poetry to accuse those deceivers and warn the people, Paul is much more blunt: “I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!” (12)

For Paul, the drive to follow the law rather than merely accept grace is depriving them of true freedom in Christ. As a result, they are using freedom in the wrong way: “only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence,but through love become slaves to one another.” (13) That is a strong message to those of us who say today,”we are free in Christ” and then go on our own merry, self-indulgent way.

The test is really quite simple: the right exercise of freedom results in love for each other. Jesus first, now Paul, reminds the Galatians and us: “For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (14)

So, how do we do this? Paul answers that unspoken question with a simple suggestion: “Live by the Spirit, I say, and do not gratify the desires of the flesh. For what the flesh desires is opposed to the Spirit, and what the Spirit desires is opposed to the flesh;” (16, 17) In the end, it’s all about who’s in control: ourselves (flesh) or the Spirit? And here’s the promise of the greatest freedom of all: “if you are led by the Spirit, you are not subject to the law.” (18)

So, the question is always the same: so why do we resist the Spirit? Unfortunately, we know the answer.

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