Psalm 69:23–29; Proverbs 20; 2 Corinthians 3:12–4:6

Psalm 69:23–29: We arrive at one of those uncomfortable tirades where the psalmist employs every creative metaphor in his poetic arsenal to ask God to ensure their devious schemes go awry, for them to experience dread diseases, and finally for God to annihilate his enemies:
May their table before them become a trap,
and their allies a snare,
May their eyes grow to dark to see,
make their loins perpetually shake.
Pour out upon them their wrath,
and Your blazing fury overtake them.
May their encampment be laid waste,
and in their tents no one may dwell.” (23-26)

As we have observed many times before, these imprecations are a form of psychological release of an angry man who feels let down—even abandoned— by God.

Notice also that he is imploring God to do these awful things for him. Our poet has no intention of undertaking these acts himself.  The upshot is, that by shaking his fist at God and wishing the worst upon his enemies no actual physical violence ensues. Would that our culture spent more time shaking its angry fist at God rather than on actually carrying out violent acts.

From wishing physical violence to rain down on his enemies, our poet turns to asking God to punish them by excluding them from God’s presence (as well as the presence of righteous men) and rewards altogether. In short, he wishes for the damnation of their very souls:
Add guilt upon their guilt,
and let them have no part in Your bounty.
Let them be wiped from the book of life,
and among the the righteous let them not be written.” (28, 29)

Obviously, what God elects to do—or not do—to these people who the poet hates so much is up to God alone. But as far as I am concerned, Jesus’ words about loving one’s enemies has cancelled out this part of this psalm. It is a mere historical artifact in the light of Jesus’ love. We can get as angry as we want and shake our fist at God. But to wish eternal damnation upon others is no longer an option for us.

Proverbs 20: Again, a few highlights that strike me as particularly relevant to our American here and now.

Wine is a mocker, strong drink a brawler,
    and whoever is led astray by it is not wise.” (1)

Wow. Is there a more profound truth about alcohol (and its more contemporary narcotic cousins) than this? Not only truth at the literal level, but “wine is a mocker” reveals the irony inherent in the idea that some people think that alcohol makes them more insightful and profound. No, wine only lets you pretend to ersatz wisdom. It is indeed a mocker of its imbiber.

There is gold, and abundance of costly stones;
    but the lips informed by knowledge are a precious jewel.” (15)

Those who are wealthy tend to think they have superior knowledge and wisdom. Our author is saying there is no correlation between wealth and knowledge. And I think we need look no further than Washington DC to see the evidentiary truth of this proverb on full display.

A corollary proverb relates to those who would lead a nation into battle:
Plans are established by taking advice;
    wage war by following wise guidance.” (18)

We have certainly witnessed the consequences of failure to heed wise guidance in Vietnam, Iraq, and elsewhere. And I fear it will only continue.

The next proverb bears a striking resemblance to a certain tweet-happy president and the difficulties he is currently facing:
A gossip reveals secrets;
    therefore do not associate with a babbler.” (19)

Relating directly to today’s psalm, vengeance truly belongs to God. Otherwise plan on experiencing dire consequences:
Do not say, “I will repay evil”;
    wait for the Lord, and he will help you.” (22)

Further, consider the consequences and the difficulty involved before you make a promise, especially to God:
It is a snare for one to say rashly, “It is holy,”
    and begin to reflect only after making a vow.” (25)

Finally, one that resonates with me as I age:
The glory of youths is their strength,
    but the beauty of the aged is their gray hair.” (29)

It is nice to think that as far back as Solomon the wisdom and experience of old age has been seen as something to be respected and even honored.

2 Corinthians 3:12–4:6: Generally speaking, Paul is pretty p.o.ed that the Jews have not understood that Jesus Christ is indeed their long-expected Messiah. And he lets them have it here: “But their minds were hardened. Indeed, to this very day, when they hear the reading of the old covenant, that same veil is still there, since only in Christ is it set aside. Indeed, to this very day whenever Moses is read, a veil lies over their minds.” (3:14, 15). The solution is really quite simple, Paul asserts, “but when one turns to the Lord, the veil is removed.” (3:16) The unspoken implication here is that depsite their outward appearance of religiosity, the Jews have not truly turned their hearts to God.

And in failing to turn their hearts to God, they have missed the liberating power of the Holy Spirit: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom.” (3:17) Which is a good thing for us to remember, as well. I know that I tend to forget about the Holy Spirit and as a result my faith is far more crabbed than it could be.

Paul implicitly recognizes that the Gospel message is completely unexpected and in many regards, very strange. But even so,”if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing.” (4:3) And if we ever needed a statement about how many so-called tolerant Americans view Christianity today, it is right here: “In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.” (4:4) In fact, in the name of “tolerance” there are many who would prefer that Christianity disappear from public view altogether.

But we also know that efforts to quash Jesus Christ and the church are ultimately doomed for the very simple reason that “it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (4:6)

So, then, what are we to do is to let the light of God in Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, shine through us. But I confess that I persist in putting a figurative lampshade on that light in order to not let it shine too brightly.

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