Psalm 78:32–39; Isaiah 2:1–4:1; Galatians 3:19–29

Psalm 78:32–39: Our psalmist writes in seeming disbelief that even after God struck down “their stoutest fellows” and brought “Israel’s young men..to their knees,” the Israelites remained unrepentant:
Even so they offended still
and had no faith in His wonders.” (32)

Moreover, the Israelites appear to be immersed in ennui and indifference:
And they wasted their days in mere vapor
and their years in dismay.” (33)

This verse is a real challenge for me. Am I wasting my days in “vapor” and many years in “dismay?” There aren’t that many years left to me at this point. Our psalmist is making it clear that we need to live with purpose.

Or, we can be hypocrites like the Israelites, who “came back and looked for God”  (34). For a moment it looks like they have truly repented:
And they recalled that God was their rock
and the Most High God their redeemer.” (35)

But it’s only a facade as we read one of the better definitions of real hypocrisy:
Yet they beguiled Him with their lips,
and with their tongue they lied to Him,
and their heart was not firm with Him,
and they were not faithful to His pact.” (36, 37)

One could hardly blame God if he abandoned them in the desert. Or if he abandoned any of us for our smooth talk and hard hearts. But God does not give up, and as our psalmist points out that despite our hard hearts,
He is compassionate, He atones for crime and does not destroy,
and abundantly takes back his wrath
and does not arouse all His fury.” (38)

Why would God be so compassionate? The psalmist answers this unspoken question by noting that God remembers that he has given us humans free will—a will that is seems predicated to rejecting God:
And He recalls that they are flesh,
a spirit that goes off and does not come back.” (39)

We are certainly seeing this same behavior on full display in this day and age. We think we have all the answers of life and that God is a mere psychological crutch. How wrong we are!

Isaiah 2:1–4:1: Although Isaiah certainly had no idea that he was predicting the world-changing advent of the Church of Jesus Christ, in our retrospective view, he certainly seems to predict it:
In days to come
    the mountain of the Lord’s house
shall be established as the highest of the mountains,
    and shall be raised above the hills;
all the nations shall stream to it.” (2:2)

Perhaps one of the greatest promises in this book—and one that has been appropriated by the culture at large—we read:
He shall judge between the nations,
    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;
they shall beat their swords into plowshares,
    and their spears into pruning hooks;
nation shall not lift up sword against nation,
    neither shall they learn war any more.” (2:4)

The promise stands, but in the greater culture we never see exactly who is going to accomplish this magnificent promise. Usually, the suggestion is that humans will be able to accomplish peace, but Isaiah is bracingly clear. The one who will beat swords into plowshares can only be God himself. In a God-rejecting culture one thing is clear: swords will remain swords and spears will remain spears. There is no hope for human-induced peace on earth.

In fact, Isaiah points out that our arrogant human pride will lead inevitably to our downfall:
The haughty eyes of people shall be brought low,
    and the pride of everyone shall be humbled;
and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.” (2:11)

And to make sure we get the point, Isaiah repeats himself a few verses later:
The haughtiness of people shall be humbled,
    and the pride of everyone shall be brought low;
    and the Lord alone will be exalted on that day.” (2:17)

Isaiah is making it clear that pride is the greatest sin of all. All empires have eventually fallen. In some ways it feels that the present age that so vigorously rejects God has entered a similar decline.

In chapter three Isaiah goes into some detail of what Judah’s downfall will look like:
The people will be oppressed,
    everyone by another
    and everyone by a neighbor;
the youth will be insolent to the elder,
    and the base to the honorable.” (3:5)

Civility and order disappear as the sinful culture descends into the chaos of reversing what was once good into something disgraceful. Again, even though Isaiah is speaking of Judah’s fate, his words have tremendous relevance to the upside down morality that increasingly characterizes our present age:
Instead of perfume there will be a stench;
    and instead of a sash, a rope;
and instead of well-set hair, baldness;
    and instead of a rich robe, a binding of sackcloth;
    instead of beauty, shame.” (3:24)

Is Judah’s fate to be our American fate? The portents are not promising.

Galatians 3:19–29: Paul argues that while the Law cannot bring us salvation, it still has relevance and does not in and of itself contradict Christ’s promise of grace. Paul answers his own rhetorical question: “Is the law then opposed to the promises of God? Certainly not!” (21a) Nevertheless, he continues, the law has not and will not save us: “For if a law had been given that could make alive, then righteousness would indeed come through the law.” (21b)

Paul positions the law as a temporary surrogate as the world awaited the incarnation, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ:”Now before faith came, we were imprisoned and guarded under the law until faith would be revealed.” (23)  But now that faith has been revealed, “in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith.” (26)

Paul employs a distinctive metaphor to state how Christ has changed us: “As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.” (27) Since we are all wearing the clothing of Christ we all become the same as he famously asserts, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.” (28)

The image that comes to mind for me is that we are all wearing the uniform of Christ. A uniform does not eradicate our personalities, but a uniform makes it clear that we are all part of the same group. Perhaps this verse was inspiration for the old song that has become politically incorrect: “Onward, Christian Soldiers.”

To continue the uniform metaphor: when I was in OCS we stood inspection virtually every day as our uniforms were inspected for the slighted items such as untucked shirts or unpolished shoes. The question I have to ask myself is, would my uniform of Christ pass inspection?

 

 

 

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