Psalm 90; Isaiah 58,59; Colossians 3:1–11

Psalm 90: This psalm–the only one dedicated to Moses–reflects on man’s ephemerality, the briefness of our lives compared to God, who lives outside of time.  The measures of time, days, months, years, resonate through the psalm. Peter surely had this psalm in mind when he wrote about a “thousand years is but a day,” for here our poet says, “For a thousand years in Your eyes /are like yesterday gone,/ like a watch in the night.” (4) By comparison, we humans are merely “like the grass that passes” (5) which “In the morning it sprouts and passes, by evening it withers and dies.” (6)

And most of our time on earth is “consumed in Your wrath,/ and in Your fury we are dismayed.” (7) because God, in his omniscience, sees  our wrongdoings, “You have set our transgressions before You.” Even our deepest secrets are known by God: “our hidden faults in the light of Your face.” (8) And alas, “our days slip away in Your anger. We consume our years like a sigh.” (9)

And we don’t have that many years allotted to us, as we read the lines that my friend Verl came to know so well at the end: “The days of our years are but seventy years, / and if in great strength, eighty years.” (10). Yet, the psalmist tells us, what we  experience most is “trouble and grief, and in the end, “swiftly cut down, we fly off.” (11)

Despair in this psalm is not about the brevity of our life–that is simply a fact–but that  so much of our lives is spent in the shadow of God’s anger. Thus, the psalmist’s plea: “Come back, O LORD! How long?—/and have pity on Your servants.” (13) And rather than standing in the shadow of God’s anger, the poet begs, “Sate us in the morn with Your kindness,/ let us sing and rejoice all our days.” (15)

The existential quality of this psalm is remarkable. As Christians, we know that through the intercession of Jesus Christ, we no longer stand in the shadow of God’s anger. Time and our lives pass just as swiftly for us as for the psalmist. But through God’s mercy we do not have to spend our lives worrying that God will always be angry with us. Indeed, “the sweetness of the Master our God [is] upon us.” (17)

Isaiah 58,59: Isaiah deals with false worship: “Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight/ and to strike with a wicked fist.” (58:4a), which is pointless: “Such fasting as you do today/ will not make your voice heard on high.” (4b) On the contrary, God (through Isaiah) asserts: “Is not this the fast that I choose:/ to loose the bonds of injustice,/ to undo the thongs of the yoke,/to let the oppressed go free,/ and to break every yoke?” (58:6) As always, God’s purpose in the OT is to ensure justice. Something we still don’t do very well today.

Nor is the requirement to bring justice just left in the abstract.  There are very specific instructions: “Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,/ and bring the homeless poor into your house;/when you see the naked, to cover them,/ and not to hide yourself from your own kin?” (58:7). These verses are a real challenge to me. I can rationalize all I want, but I am certainly deficient in carrying out these very clear instructions. Because as the implication is clear here, these are also the elements of true worship. and, as with the sabbath, “if you honor it, not going your own ways,/serving your own interests, or pursuing your own affairs;/ then you shall take delight in the Lord,” (58:14)

If chapter 58 is the reminder that we will be truly worshipping God if we help bring justice to the poor and oppressed, then chapter 59 is the warning of the consequence of injustice and oppression is separation from God: “Rather, your iniquities have been barriers/ between you and your God,/ and your sins have hidden his face from you/ so that he does not hear.”

Isaiah remarks of the cynical uses of the justice system in Judah:
No one brings suit justly,
       no one goes to law honestly;
   they rely on empty pleas, they speak lies,
       conceiving mischief and begetting iniquity.
   They hatch adders’ eggs,
       and weave the spider’s web;” (59:4,5a)
which certainly has a familiar ring when we reflect on the flaws and abuses in our own system of justice. And alas, what was true then is true today:
Therefore justice is far from us,
       and righteousness does not reach us;
   we wait for light, and lo! there is darkness;
       and for brightness, but we walk in gloom.” (59:9)

But when “The Lord saw it, and it displeased him/  that there was no justice” (15), God acts. “He put on righteousness like a breastplate,/ and a helmet of salvation on his head;” (Now we know the roots of the armor metaphor in Ephesians 6!) In the face of injustice, God “will come to Zion as Redeemer,/  to those in Jacob who turn from transgression,”. For us Christians, this is the promise that Jesus will bring justice, and now today, it is the church’s role to stand up and bring justice.

Colossians 3:1–11: The good news is that Christ has come and brought us new life: “When Christ who is your life is revealed, then you also will be revealed with him in glory.” (4) As Isaiah tells us that our responsibility is to bring societal justice, here Paul tells us that we are to set aside our self-centered, earthy habits–create personal justice, if you will: “ Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry).” (5) And like Isaiah, there is a clear warning: “ On account of these the wrath of God is coming on those who are disobedient.” (6). This of course is a reference to the final judgement–a topic about which I, at least, am most uncomfortable…

It is only when we have put away our self-centered behaviors that “In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!” (11) Notice the qualifier: “In that renewal.” Only then do we lose our specific racial and social identities and become one in Christ. I think we forget the very important fact that true equality comes only through turning our lives over to Jesus Christ–not through wishful thinking or even judicial decree.

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