Psalm 70; Proverbs 22; 2 Corinthians 5:1–15

Psalm 70: This compact psalm of supplication includes all the requisite structural elements of  the genre. (Side note: Alter notes that it is essentially the same psalm as Psalm 40 and then provides syntactical reasons, which I will not elaborate, as to why Palm 40 is based on the present psalm.)

The first element is the cry to God for help—and that he better hurry:
God save me,
Lord, to my help, hasten!” (2)

The second element is the desire for God to reverse the position of the psalmist and his enemies, i..e, that the public shame and threats they are heaping on him be brought upon his numerous enemies who seek to do him harm:
May those who seek my life be shamed and reviled.
May they fall back and be disgraced,
who desire my harm.
Let them turn back on the heels of their shame,
who say, ‘Hurrah, hurrah!” (3, 4)

Notice that unlike many other psalms of supplication, this one does not wish for his enemies’ annihilation, only that they enjoy the same shameful fate he himself is experiencing.

The third element is the obligation of righteous men who have been rescued by God to respond in joyful worship:
Let all who seek You
exult and rejoice,
may they always say ‘God is great!’
—those who love Your rescue.” (5)

The concluding element is the psalmist again pleading to God—this time noting his abject humility—to rescue him, and again asking for the rescue to be speedy:
As for me, I am lowly and needy.
God, O hasten to me!
My help, the one who frees me You are.
Lord, do not delay!” (7)

This final verse provides the other side of the poetic envelope that gives this psalm its urgent power.This is a structure we would do well to remember in our prayers of supplication. It’s not just asking God to do something, but always remembering that God is faithful, that he hears our pleas, and we can find joy even in the midst of tough situations.

Proverbs 22: More highlights that strike me for their current relevance:

A reputation for honesty is better than wealth—something that given the constancy of human nature is still a challenge. Whether rich or poor, we are all God’s creatures:
A good name is to be chosen rather than great riches,
    and favor is better than silver or gold.
The rich and the poor have this in common:
    the Lord is the maker of them all.” (1, 2)

Nevertheless, our author acknowledges the reality that power tends to belong to the wealthy:
The rich rule over the poor,
    and the borrower is the slave of the lender.” (7)

But in the long run exploitative rule and injustice will inevitably lead to a bad end, while generosity, especially to the needy, will culminate in reward, even if it’s only psychic:
Whoever sows injustice will reap calamity,
    and the rod of anger will fail.
Those who are generous are blessed,
    for they share their bread with the poor.” (8,9)

Right in the middle of the chapter our author interrupts his lengthy list of wise sayings in order to give a summary of the main aspects of wisdom he has covered in detail this far:
The words of the wise:
Incline your ear and hear my words,

and apply your mind to my teaching;
for it will be pleasant if you keep them within you,
    if all of them are ready on your lips.” (17, 18)

It appears the author has been writing all these sayings to one individual rather than generally:
So that your trust may be in the Lord,
    I have made them known to you today—yes, to you.” (19)

This is an interesting literary device that provides a sense that the author is indeed speaking to an actual human being. This personal note helps reduce the feeling that the reader is just trudging through an endless list. The author refers to thirty sayings, although it feels like a lot more. But he’s reminding us that these wisdom sayings have a an ennobling purpose, which is “to show you what is right and true, so that you may give a true answer to those who sent you.” (21)

The summary list that follows naturally begins with an admonition about how to treat the poor because they are God’s special people—and to cross God by exploiting the poor invites God’s sure punishment:
Do not rob the poor because they are poor,
    or crush the afflicted at the gate;
for the Lord pleads their cause
    and despoils of life those who despoil them.” (22, 23)

Also, he continues, “do not associate with hotheads,” (24) which I’m sure is a regret that many in the Trump White House, as well as many who voted for him, are feeling right now.

Finally, an admonition that I have never encountered before:
Do not remove the ancient landmark
    that your ancestors set up.” (28)

In other words, there’s a biblical mandate to preserve the work of our ancestors, both as landmarks themselves, and by extension, in museums as well. The clear implication here is that there is great wisdom embodied in the works of the past. History has meaning; it’s not just old stories. We ignore history at our peril.

2 Corinthians 5:1–15: Paul hints at his physical suffering with the metaphor of the human body as a tent. First, our body is a gift from God: “we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” (1) Buy while on earth, we are subject to bodily afflictions, which Paul himself is enduring: “For in this tent we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling—” (2) But as always there’s the promise of a better body in the future: “He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee.” (5) In other words, the presence of the Holy Spirit in our present selves is the clear sign of an eternal body similar, I suppose, to Jesus’ resurrected body yet to come.

Paul would frankly rather already be with God: “Yes, we do have confidence, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.” (9) But that hasn’t happened yet. So, in the meantime in our frail human bodies we are called by God to “make it our aim to please him” (9) in all that we do.

I take his section to be a clear signal that we are not to focus on the heavenly pleasures yet to come but rather on the hard work to be done here on earth. That emphasis on working in the here and now rather than obsessing about Christ’s return and our own eternal reward is something I have always appreciated in the Lutheran church.

Paul, having cleared his own conscience and having reminded himself that he still has work to do here in earth, calls on the Corinthians to do likewise: “but we ourselves are well known to God, and I hope that we are also well known to your consciences.” (11) And what is that work? It’s spreading the Good News: “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died.” (14) telling people what Jesus Christ has already done for them: “And [Jesus] died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (15)

That, ladies and gentlemen, is Paul’s statement of the Great Commission that Jesus gave to his followers at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Paul, being Paul, just makes it sound more complicated than it is.

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