Psalm 109:8–20; Lamentations 1:16–2:10; Hebrews 7:18–28

Psalm 109:8–20: It’s almost as if the psalmist, who has been assaulted verbally (and we presume in other ways, as well) has become the amanuensis to the people who are belittling and cursing him, carefully recording every curse hurled against him. His enemies wish him an early death and loss of his job: “Let his days be few,/ may another man take his post.” (8). And not only that “his children become orphans/ and his wife a widow” (9) but that his family be equally cursed: reduced to poverty and “his children wander and beg/ driven out from the ruins of their homes”(10) and his creditors snatch whatever assets are left: “May the lender snare all that he has/ and may strangers slander his wealth.” (11)

But the loss of family and fortune are mere trifles compared to the curses that come next. His enemies demand the extinction of his line: May his offspring be cut off/…his name wiped out/” (13) And then they demand that even the sins of this man’s ancestors and parents be remembered: “May the wrong of his fathers be recalled by the Lord/ and his mother’s offense not be wiped out.” (14)

Why these terrible curses? The answer comes in the voice of these same accusers: “Because he did not remember to do kindness,/ and pursued the poor and needy,/ the heartsore, to put him to death.” (16). And then, that what he did to others be visited upon him: “He loved a curse, may it come upon him.” (17a) These are the greatest sins: to be unkind and to hound the poor an needy.

The question becomes: like the psalmist do we deserve curses for having neglected kindness and oppressed the poor? We cannot escape God’s demands of social justice in the OT in general and the psalms in particular. We must ask ourselves, have we “donned this curse as [our] garb?” (18) for our seemingly trivial sins? Have we allowed unkindness to “enter [our] innards like water?” (18) We may think that the psalmist is being cursed by his enemies for unspeakable sins. But in fact, he is being cursed for simply having been unkind and ignoring the needs of those around him. If those are the sins that raise such howls of execration, then all of us, certainly I, stand justly accused.

Lamentations 1:16–2:10: And on that happy note, we come to the indescribably sad poetry of the aptly-named Lamentations:
     For these things I weep;
         my eyes flow with tears;
     for a comforter is far from me,
         one to revive my courage;
     my children are desolate,
        for the enemy has prevailed. (1:16)

Our poet acknowledges that “The Lord is in the right,/ for I have rebelled against his word;” and now he suffers the consequences: “my stomach churns,/ my heart is wrung within me,/ because I have been very rebellious.” (1:20) We often forget that actions have consequences and that even though “if we confess our sins, God will forgive our sins,” we must still endure the outcome of what we have done–or failed to do.

This book is not just about the suffering of a single man, but of an entire nation. The book of Lamentations is the consequence of the failure of Judah and Israel to heed the warnings of Jeremiah:
     The Lord has become like an enemy;
         he has destroyed Israel.
     He has destroyed all its palaces,
         laid in ruins its strongholds,
     and multiplied in daughter Judah
         mourning and lamentation. (2:5)

Some may ask, “So, what?” this is ancient history of an ancient land that forsook their God. What has this to do with us? Everything. Yes, God may not strike us down or carry us off to Babylon, but the core lesson here is that our actions and our failure to heed warnings can (and will) have dire consequences. As a society we seem to be happy to care deeply only our own needs and pleasures, to borrow the seed corn of our progeny for our own hedonistic pleasure. Our main effort is to set ourselves as the center of the universe, caring only that no one sins against me or attempts to infringe on my rights. All while ignoring the plight of desperate people halfway around the world. But our inaction will have consequences as well. Will American society eventually “sit on the ground in silence;/ [having] thrown dust on [our] heads/and put on sackcloth?” (2:10)

Hebrews 7:18–28: Our author makes it clear that “the law made nothing perfect” but, “there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.” (19) And Jesus dod not just show up, but made an oath, a promise, quoting again from Psalm 110:
     “The Lord has sworn
         and will not change his mind,
     ‘You are a priest forever’” (21)

In other words, Jesus has sworn to the priesthood of Melchizedek to whom Abraham once swore and therefore, “Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.” We talk about the “Old Covenant” and the “New Covenant,” but here it is a “better Covenant.” That raises the idea that God is not unchanging, but considers “improvements.”

And  Jesus is a vast improvement over the Old Covenant because he is also God, who, “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” Moreover, Jesus, our Great High Priest, has been the sacrifice himself so, “unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.” (27) Just to make sure we get this “once-and-for-always” business, our writer repeats himself. God has “appoint[ed] a Son who has been made perfect forever.” (28)

To the Jews, inured to the temple rites of having to return again and again to the temple to make sacrifices over and over, this is not just a “new” Covenant or even a “better” Covenant, it is totally revolutionary. From our 2000-year perspective of the church having always been around us, we cannot possibly grasp just how wild this idea of Jesus as our “forever priest” must have been. It’s little wonder that the Jews became so enraged at Paul for preaching this apparent heresy and wanted to kill him.


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