Psalm 68:8–20; Proverbs 15; 1 Corinthians 16:12–24

Psalm 68:8–20: Our psalmist continues to evoke the manifest wonders of God’s power in a meteorological reference to the events at the foot of Mount Sinai as Israel wandered in the desert. Did it actually rain then or is our poet conflating several different events, including ones in Canaan? I think a bit of poetic license is occurring here:
God, when You sallied forth before Your people,
when You strode through the desert.
The earth shook,
the heavens, too, poured down before God,
sinai itself before God, God of Israel.
A bountiful rain You shed, O God.
Your estate that had languished You made firm.” (8-10)

The verses that follow are downright obscure. Apparently women would announce the army’s victory over its vanquished foe:
The Master gives word—
the women who bear tidings are a great host:
‘The kings of [conquered] armies run away, run away,
and the mistress of the house shares out the spoils.” (12, 13)

Amidst the poetic confusion are two strikingly beautiful lines, whose meaning or symbolism escapes me, but they stand nicely on their own:
The wings of the dove are inlaid with silver,
and her pinions with precious gold.” (14b)

Henry James apparently liked them also when he titled one of his novels, “The Wings of the Dove.”

More weather reporting follows, this one being the very rare occurrence of snow in Israel immediately following a military victory
When Shaddai scattered the [enemy] kings there,
it snowed on Zalmon.” (15)

Our poet connects another mountain with God’s power apparently expressed via an earthquake:
Mountain of God, Mount Bashan,
crooked-ridged mountain, Mount Bashan.
Why do you leap, O crooked-ridged mountains,
the mountain God desired for His dwelling?
Yes, the Lord will abide there forever!”

You went up to the heights
You took hold of your captives
the wayward as well—
so that Yah God would abide. (17, 19)

I frankly do not know what to make of these verses beyond the impression that in the poet’s mind, God’s power underlies both human military effort (that may or may not have been the conquest of Canaan)  and natural events such as rain and earthquakes.

Proverbs 15: More wisdom statements, some of them well known as e.g.,
A gentle answer turns away wrath,
    but a harsh word stirs up anger.” (1)

Many of these verses deal once again with the matter of speech—both its salutary and corrosive effects. Bottom line: We should hold our tongues before saying,  posting, tweeting, or emailing something stupid:
The tongue of the wise adorns knowledge,
    but the mouth of the fool gushes folly.” (2)

In this age of Twitter, we would all be better off if this verse were posted on the walls of the Oval Office. Or this one, too:
The soothing tongue is a tree of life,
    but a perverse tongue crushes the spirit.” (4)

And again:
The lips of the wise spread knowledge,
    but the hearts of fools are not upright.” (7)

And still again:
The heart of the righteous weighs its answers,
    but the mouth of the wicked gushes evil.” (23)

All of which raises the distinct possibility that Washington DC and other capitals are full of futile chatter but devoid of wisdom…

There are great psychological truths scattered throughout this chapter. Case in point: we must be willing to accept correction:
Stern discipline awaits anyone who leaves the path;
    the one who hates correction will die.

Mockers resent correction,
    so they avoid the wise.” (10, 12)

Our author then comes back to the issue of correction near the end of the chapter:
Whoever heeds life-giving correction
will be at home among the wise.
Those who disregard discipline despise themselves,
but the one who heeds correction gains understanding.” (31, 32)

My self-centeredness has always tended to resent correction by others, especially in the workplace. yet, here is real truth uttered thousands of years ago.

The author describes the perverse effects of depression (which is how I take ‘oppression’ in this verse):
All the days of the oppressed are wretched,
    but the cheerful heart has a continual feast.” (15)

As well as the negative impact of untrammeled anger:
A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict,
    but the one who is patient calms a quarrel.” (18)

There is also an argument for teamwork as over against a tendency to go it alone:
Plans fail for lack of counsel,
    but with many advisers they succeed.” (22)

For me, this means that a charismatic leader who has a vision of what path to take and then tries to drag others along without their full buy-in is doomed to failure. I have seen this effect on display in both work and of course at church.

When we are giving correction, it is better to be encouraging rather than negative. This is excellent parenting advice (although too late for me…):
A person finds joy in giving an apt reply—
    and how good is a timely word!” (23)

The chapter concludes with perhaps the most important observation of all:
Wisdom’s instruction is to fear the Lord,
    and humility comes before honor.” (33)

Our behavior is the direct outcome of our relationship with God. When God is rejected, humility is very hard to come by. Alas, there seems to be very little humility, especially among our political leaders and too often, among leaders in the church.

1 Corinthians 16:12–24: Paul winds up his letter with both specific and general advice as he reiterates once again some of the key themes of the epistle.

As for the specific, apparently Apollos is not happy about returning to Corinth although Paul’s optimism shows through: “Now about our brother Apollos: I strongly urged him to go to you with the brothers. He was quite unwilling to go now, but he will go when he has the opportunity.” (12)

After which Paul inserts a general reminder, which by its juxtaposition suggests perhaps that Apollos was not being sufficiently generous in his love for the church at Corinth: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” (13, 14)

Paul then gives the Corinthians more or less the back of his hand by contrasting their immaturity to the spiritual maturity of three men who came to Corinth: “I was glad when Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus arrived, because they have supplied what was lacking from you.” (17) And he suggests that they deserve plaudits for their ministry: “For they refreshed my spirit and yours also. Such men deserve recognition.” (18)

The final paragraph is quite in keeping with letter writing style of the time. The greetings come at the end, and to underscore the authenticity of his letter, Paul takes the pen from his amanuensis and writes his final words of advice and his benediction himself:

I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand.

If anyone does not love the Lord, let that person be cursed! Come, Lord!

The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you.

My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen.” (21-24)

I find it touching that Paul’s final statement is about the agape love that we find only in Christ Jesus. That should be our concluding statement to all our brothers and sisters in Christ with whom we communicate.





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