Psalm 78:1–8; Song of Solomon 5, 6; Galatians 2:1–14

Psalm 78:1–8: This rather long psalm recounts much of the history of Israel and is more didactic than poetic. The first two verses remind me of an old cowboy sitting around the campfire, inviting others to gather round for stories. Unfortunately, though, it’s a lot more formal than that, so I’m not sure his audience was eagerly awaiting what he had to say:
Hearken, my people, to my teaching.
Lend your ear to the sayings of my mouth.
Let me open my mouth in a rhapsody,
let me voice the verses of old,
that we have heard and we have known,
and that our fathers recounted to us.” (1-3)

The purpose of history, of course, is to pass along our national and tribal stories to the next generation. Our psalmist makes this purpose clear at some length. Happily, his primary objective is to make sure that the next generation knows how deeply God has been involved in Israel’s history:
We shall not conceal from their sons,
the last generation recounting
the praise of the Lord and His might
and His wonders that he did.” (4)

In what I take to be something of an editorial aside—and definitely a very long run-on sentence—our psalmist reminds his audience that the responsibility to pass Israel’s history in to the next generation has been ordained by God himself. And that responsibility must include recognition of God’s great works and the task of passing along the stories must endure to the end of time:
He established a precept in Jacob
and His teaching put forth in Israel,
this He charged to our fathers
to make them known to their sons,
so that the last generation might know,
sons yet to be born
might arise and recount to their sons,
and place their trust in God
and forget not the acts of God,
and observe His commands. (5-7)

There’s a good reason for this command: the fathers of the present generation have not taken their responsibility to heart. Rather, they have become profligate sinners:
That they [the sons] not be like their fathers,
a wayward, rebellious generation,
a generation that was not firm of heart,
and its spirit not faithful to God.” (8)

To fail to heed history and pass along the stories that are cultural glue is a surefire way to lose the culture. As witness our present age, which remains gleefully ignorant of history’s lessons, wrongly believing we’ve become higher, “more evolved” beings than our forebears.

Coincidentally, I’m currently reading a book, “A Generation of Sociopaths: How the Baby Boomers Betrayed America” which seems to pretty much echo—albeit at book length—the point about the father’s generation (that would be us) being wayward and rebellious—and certainly not firm of heart. In short, another proof of the immutability of sinful human nature.

Song of Solomon 5, 6: The overall theme of this book is neatly summarized in a single verse:
Eat, friends, drink,
    and be drunk with love.” (5:1b)

Here, the bride describes her dream of her lover coming to her. It does not require too much interpretation to figure out that the sexual act comprises the center of this dream:
I arose to open to my beloved,
    and my hands dripped with myrrh,
my fingers with liquid myrrh,
    upon the handles of the bolt.” (5:5)

But like other dreams, the object of her love mysteriously vanishes:
I opened to my beloved,
    but my beloved had turned and was gone.
My soul failed me when he spoke.
I sought him, but did not find him;
    I called him, but he gave no answer.” (5:6)

She begs the “daughters of Jerusalem” that if they should find her lover they should tell he that she is “faint with love.” (5:8) The daughters of Jerusalem, who I presume are her friends, ask how he’s so different than other men. The bride answers in no uncertain terms:
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
    O fairest among women?
What is your beloved more than another beloved,
    that you thus adjure us?” (5:9)

The bride then describes her lover in a series of similes that echo the similes that her bridegroom used to describe her in chapter four:
My beloved is all radiant and ruddy,
    distinguished among ten thousand.
His head is the finest gold;
    his locks are wavy,
    black as a raven.” (5:10, 11)

..and so on, as she describes his eyes, cheeks, arms, body, legs, speech, concluding that
he is altogether desirable.
This is my beloved and this is my friend,
    O daughters of Jerusalem.” (5:16)

Chapter six answers the question of where her bridegroom has gone and :
My beloved has gone down to his garden,
    to the beds of spices,
to pasture his flock in the gardens,
    and to gather lilies.
I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine;
    he pastures his flock among the lilies.” (6:2,3)

We can again assume the garden is herself. Together once again, it is now the groom’s turn to speak and describe his beloved bride in another cascade of similes, which we will not reproduce here. But this time the groom also describes her strength in addition to her comeliness:
Who is this that looks forth like the dawn,
    fair as the moon, bright as the sun,
    terrible as an army with banners?” (6:10)

If this beautiful poem proves nothing else it is that beauty does not stand alone. True beauty always encompasses strength of character.

Galatians 2:1–14: Paul provides a pretty fascinating narrative of his meetings in Jerusalem. The first one was “only in a private meeting with the acknowledged leaders” where he discusses “the gospel that I proclaim among the Gentiles, in order to make sure that I was not running, or had not run, in vain.” (2) The key issue was whether or not Gentile Christians had to be circumcised and in this Paul was successful: “even Titus, who was with me, was not compelled to be circumcised, though he was a Greek.” (3).  My own uneducated guess is that had the Jewish Christians prevailed on this issue the church would have died out in not too many years after that meeting.

But Paul did not succeed unopposed: “because of false believers secretly brought in, who slipped in to spy on the freedom we have in Christ Jesus, so that they might enslave us— we did not submit to them even for a moment, so that the truth of the gospel might always remain with you. [the Galatians].” (4,5)  Paul and Peter agree to what we could call the Great Understanding: “I [Paul] had been entrusted with the gospel for the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been entrusted with the gospel for the circumcised.” (7) The leaders agree on this principle and the leaders of the Jerusalem church “asked only one thing, that we remember the poor, which was actually what I was eager to do.” (10)

Paul then recounts a later meeting with Peter up in Antioch. Here, he confronts Peter, who used to eat with the Gentiles and now doesn’t, accusing him of being afraid of the “circumcision faction.” Paul seizes on Peter’s inconsistency, and “I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you compel the Gentiles to live like Jews?” (14) Again, Paul prevails—the lawyer outwits the fisherman.

What are we to make of all this? Well, it certainly demonstrates that the church was fissiparous from its very beginning. Agreements between men—even apostles—were not a long term solution to the problem of maintaining a stable Christian orthodoxy. The New Testament spares us the many heresies which plagued the early church. The discovery of the so-called Gnostic Gospels at Nag Hammadi in 1945 are ample demonstration of the numerous false gospels to which Paul constantly refers. This is why Constantine organized a Council in Nicea in the 4th century CE to write down a creed—whence the Nicene Creed that lays out the key beliefs of the Christian church.

Nevertheless, there is ample historical precedent for the many church splits down through the ages, most notably the split of the eastern (Orthodox) and western (Roman Catholic) churches. Nor should we forget Luther and the Reformation.

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