Psalm 56:1–9; Job 36:1–26; 1 Corinthians 9:1–12a

Psalm 56:1–9: To put it mildly, the preface to this psalm is confusing. The NRSV has it as “according to The Dove on Far-off Terebinths,” which makes no sense whatever. Alter suggests it’s “the mute dove of distant places,” which certainly sounds more poetic, if not just as mysterious. Our poet, writing in David’s voice, assigns the psalm of supplication to the time when David was seized by the Philistines at Gath.

For me, the mysterious introduction is more interesting than the verses itself, which trace a pretty conventional path. The psalmist describes David’s perilous situation as being under attack by enemies. God is the only one to whom David can turn:
Grant me grace, O God,
for a man tramples me,
all day long the assailant does press me.” (2)

As is typical in Hebrew poetry the verset is repeated as David turns to God:
My attackers trample me all day long,
for many assail me, O High One. (3)

The key message of this stanza comes at the next line:
When I fear, I trust in You,
in God, Whose word I praise.
in God I trust, I shall not fear.” (5)

When we are afraid, the only option is to turn to God in prayer. The lesson is for all of us is really quite simple: trusting in God drives out fear.

Now that trust in God has made him less fearful, our poet has regained his senses and he goes on to describe the proximate cause of that fear, which is the conspiracies against him and their attempt to kill him:
All day long they put pain in my words,
against me all their plots for evil,
They scheme, they lie low,
they keep at my heels
as they hope for my life.” (6,7)

The poet, speaking as David, asks not only for escape from his enemies but that God will execute vengeance on them:
For their mischief free me form them.
In wrath bring down peoples, O God.” (8)

After all, he argues before God, he’s suffered enough already and God should take that suffering and this tears into account:
“…put my tears in Your flask.
Are they not in Your counting?” (9)

Once again we are reminded that under the terms of the Old Covenant it was acceptable to argue for God to wreak vengeance against one’s enemies. But Jesus has completely changed the rules of that game.

Job 36:1–26: Apparently Elihu rates the longest speech in this Book of Long Speeches as he continues, now exalting the qualities of God, especially God’s intrinsic goodness:
Surely God is mighty and does not despise any;
    he is mighty in strength of understanding.
He does not keep the wicked alive,

    but gives the afflicted their right.
He does not withdraw his eyes from the righteous,
    but with kings on the throne
    he sets them forever, and they are exalted.” (5-7)

As usual, as far as sinners are concerned (and very much in keeping with the theology of the psalm above), it’s the straightforward deuteronomic formula. Listen to and follow God: Good. Disobey God: bad.
If they listen, and serve him,
    they complete their days in prosperity,
    and their years in pleasantness.
But if they do not listen, they shall perish by the sword,

    and die without knowledge.” (11-12)

Elihu then goes straight at Job, accusing him of unhealthy obsession and a desire to focus only on the darkness:
But you are obsessed with the case of the wicked;
    judgment and justice seize you.

Do not long for the night,
    when peoples are cut off in their place.” (17, 20)

To be blunt I think Elihu has a point. But Elihu’s diagnosis of Job’s plight is pretty much the same one as the pronouncements of the other friends. Job has committed wrong and is therefore being punished by God:
Beware! Do not turn to iniquity;
    because of that you have been tried by affliction.” (21)

Once again I think Elihu is confusing God’s intentions. He sees God as an active agent demanding justice for sins done by people who seek after evil. But my view is simply that in reality God allows evil to exist on the earth and bad things to happen to good people.

This brings us right back to the great unanswerable question of theodicy: If God is good, why does he allow evil to exist and why do innocent people suffer? Elihu at least offers one explanation, which while true in and of itself still fails to answer the core question:
Surely God is great, and we do not know him;
    the number of his years is unsearchable.” (26)

So, do we just leave it at that? I think if knew the answer we would be setting ourselves up to be equal to God. And then we would have no need of God. Which is exactly where many have gone, be they in Job’s time or in ours. They claim that because bad things happen (people don’t talk much about evil these days), God is either impotent or does not exist at all.

1 Corinthians 9:1–12a: Paul seems rather defensive as he defends his bona fides as an apostle and the work he has done: “Am I not an apostle? Have I not seen Jesus our Lord? Are you not my work in the Lord?” (1)  It would be great to know what accusations against him were written in that lost letter that he received from Corinth, which became the basis of this epistle back to them. That letter must have even included an accusation that Paul was in it just for the money and he was wrong in expecting any payment for his pastoral services: “Or is it only Barnabas and I who have no right to refrain from working for a living? Who at any time pays the expenses for doing military service? Who plants a vineyard and does not eat any of its fruit? Or who tends a flock and does not get any of its milk?” (6,7)

As usual, Paul turns to Scripture to buttress his case that he is right to be paid as a workman, even a workman for God: “For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” Is it for oxen that God is concerned?” (9) We can see almost bitter sarcasm here. Paul points out that workers for Jesus are to be paid, just as any other worker would be paid as he answers his own rhetorical question: “Or does he not speak entirely for our sake? It was indeed written for our sake, for whoever plows should plow in hope and whoever threshes should thresh in hope of a share in the crop.” (10)

Just to make sure the Corinthians get it, he comes right to the point: “If we have sown spiritual good among you, is it too much if we reap your material benefits?” (11) In other words, church people, pay your pastors!


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