Psalm 68:20–27; Proverbs 16; 2 Corinthians 1:1–11

Psalm 68:20–27: After reflecting on how God has intervened throughout Israel’s history, our author arrives at the theological heart of this psalm:
God is to us a rescuing God.
The Lord Master possesses the ways out from death.” (21)

This verse operates at two levels. the first of course is the psalmist’s observation of how God has come once again to Israel’s aid. The second is its rich meaning from our perspective as Christians: God sent Jesus to earth to rescue us all from the deathly consequences of our sins.

However, this verse is an oasis in a desert of gory battlefield imagery that follows, some of which is pretty antithetical to our view of God and how God operates in the world:
Yes, God will smash His enemies’ heads,
the hairy pate of those who walk about in their guilt.
The Master said, ‘From Bashan I shall bring back,
bring back from the depths of the sea.
That your foot may wade in blood,
the tongues of your dogs lick the enemies.’” (22-24)

This of course is a logical passage in light of the polarizing dichotomy that permeates the Psalms. Israel was on God’s side and its enemies were the paradigm of wickedness. But then the imagery shifts quickly from the bloodied battlefield to the triumphal procession of the conquering army arriving back at Jerusalem:
They saw Your processions, O God,
my God’s processions, my King in holiness.
The singers came first and then the musicians 
in the midst of young women beating their drums.
In choruses bless God,
the Lord, from the fountain of Israel.” (25-17)

Notice how the poet personalizes the experience of the triumphal procession in the first person (“my God’s processions, my King in holiness.”) We have a sense of his having been an eyewitness to victory form the safety of the city as over against his imaginatively lurid description of the battlefield, which suggests the poet was never there.

Proverbs 16: The first verses of this chapter reflect on the nature of a proper relationship between God and a man (or woman).  The author implies that it is a dynamic relationship, perhaps even struggle, between our human motivations and behaviors and those of God’s:
To humans belong the plans of the heart,
    but from the Lord comes the proper answer of the tongue.
All a person’s ways seem pure to them,

    but motives are weighed by the Lord.
Commit to the Lord whatever you do,
     and he will establish your plans.” (1-3)

Our ideas and emotions—”the plans of the heart”—may be ours, but if we are in a right relationship with God, he will cause us to hold our tongues and keep us from blurting out what may be very bad statements with very bad consequences such as the breaking of trust. Notice, too, how our author recognizes our tendency to feel that our words and behavior are superior to those of others. I know my tendency is to speak quickly and bluntly without reflection, making a pronouncement rather than actually listening to what the other person (usually Susan) is saying or worse, feeling.

This leads to several verses that deal with the consequences of prideful thoughts and deeds:
The Lord detests all the proud of heart.
    Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished.” (5)

And then more famously farther down:
Pride goes before destruction,
    a haughty spirit before a fall.” (18)

Rather, it is a close relationship in God via faith and love that leads to the well-lived life of wisdom:
Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for;
    through the fear of the Lord evil is avoided.” (6)

It is far better to be poor and faithful than haughty and wealthy. Something we all know conseptually but too rarely practice:
Better a little with righteousness
    than much gain with injustice.” (8)
Better to be lowly in spirit along with the oppressed
    than to share plunder with the proud.” (19) 

Of all the sins we can commit, our author is making it clear that the “ur-sin”—the sin at the root of so many other sins—is pride. One of the most important actions we can take to avoid the sin of pride is to hold our tongues. A key to true wisdom is to speak only after thoughtful consideration:
The wise in heart are called discerning,
    and gracious words promote instruction.” (21)

The hearts of the wise make their mouths prudent,
    and their lips promote instruction.” (23)

But the statement about speech that resonates most strongly with me is this:
Gracious words are a honeycomb,
    sweet to the soul and healing to the bones.” (24)

Would that I spoke only gracious words rather than prideful and often harsh pronouncements. Clearly, if I can be in a more faithful relationship with God, then our author is suggesting that a far wiser life will be mine.

2 Corinthians 1:1–11: Bible scholars agree that the Corinthians responded in some fashion to Paul’s first letter, which became the catalyst for his second letter to the church at Corinth. Unfortunately, we don’t have the actual letter but can only discern its contents via Paul’s themes and statements in this epistle.

After an opening salutation and blessing—”Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.” (2)—Paul takes up the theme of suffering versus comfort. He recognizes that whatever comfort he has—and whatever comfort we have—comes directly from God: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (3, 4)

Paul reminds us that life includes both suffering and comfort: “For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ.” (5) Moreover, both suffering and comfort are shared experiences within the Christian community: “And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.” (7)

So what caused Paul to open this letter with a disquisition on suffering and the comfort that Christ brings? This is answered n the verses that follow, which I take to be a reference to the life-threatening troubles he endured at various places in Asia, including Ephesus and Philippi: “We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself.” (8)

But for Paul there is always a purpose to everything that occurs in life. Perhaps greatest of all is the lesson of suffering: “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.” (9) The question to the folks at Corinth and to us of course is do we see suffering as a way to learn endurance? For Paul the answer is obvious: “On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us,” (10). But I think even more importantly, Paul makes it clear that we do not learn endurance on our own. Rather, it is the prayers of our brothers and sisters that help us through periods of suffering: “as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.” (11)

I know that in those few and brief times of suffering in my own life, it is the prayers of my brothers and sisters that have supported me and brought me to the other side of suffering with a renewed reliance on God rather than myself.

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