Psalm 79:9–13; Isaiah 10:12–11:9; Galatians 5:19–6:5

Psalm 79:9–13: As the previous verse said,Judah has sun very low. And it is at this lowest point that the psalmist pleads for God’s rescue while confessing their collective sins:
Help us, our rescuing God
for Your name’s glory,
and save us and atone for our sins
for the sake of Your name.” (9)

This verse is a beautiful prayer and one that we can say as well. But we also know that through Jesus Christ our sins are already atoned for. Nevertheless, confession and asking for forgiveness is essential if only to make us personally aware of our sinfulness. As John has it, “If we confess our sins God will forgive our sins.” (I John 1:9)

However, the supplication that follows is not one we would necessarily pray under the terms of the New Covenant. Our psalmist asks God to make himself known to Judah’s enemies by wreaking vengeance against them:
Why should the nations say, ‘Where is their god?’
Let it be known among the nations before our eyes—
the vengeance for Your servant’s spilled blood.” (10)

But this is followed by a supplication for those Jews who may be marked for death. Assuming the psalm was written at the time of the Babylonian conquest, the psalmist would not know the fate of those led away in captivity to Babylon. Thus he prays that they will at least be spared from execution:
Let the captive’s groan come before You,
by Your arm’s greatness unbind those marked for death.” (11)

This prayer for mercy is followed immediately by the opposite of mercy as the poet prays that his enemies will endure the same shame it has heaped on God himself. It is basically a curse:
And give back to our neighbors sevenfold to their bosom
their insults that they heaped on You, Master.” (12)

The psalm concludes with a benedictory promise that the Jews will now be faithful until the end of time as the psalmist reminds God that they are his chosen people:
But we are Your people and the flock that You tend.
We acclaim You forever.
From generation to generation we recount Your praise.” (13)

But will they remain faithful? Will we remain faithful when we promise God that we will “acclaim him forever?” Alas, probably not. We continually fail Nevertheless, by praying these words each day the Jews—and us—we are reminded of God who loves us and deserves our worship.

Isaiah 10:12–11:9: Even though disaster has overtaken the Northern Kingdom (aka Israel), Isaiah’s prophecy goes on to assert that God will also punish the conquering Assyrians: “When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride.” (10:12)

What’s most intriguing to me in the poetic discourse that follows is the prophecy  that Israel will rise again:
The light of Israel will become a fire,
    and his Holy One a flame;
and it will burn and devour
    his thorns and briers in one day.” (10:17)

One of the major threads through all the OT prophets is that while the majority of Jews have abandoned God, a faithful remnant always remains. Isaiah describes them here: “On that day the remnant of Israel and the survivors of the house of Jacob will no more lean on the one who struck them, but will lean on the Lord, the Holy One of Israel, in truth.” (10:20)

Isaiah promises this remnant that the yoke of Assyria will eventually be lifted because “The Lord of hosts will wield a whip against them, as when he struck Midian at the rock of Oreb; his staff will be over the sea, and he will lift it as he did in Egypt.” (10:26) At that time, their freedom is restored: “On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.” (10:27)  With these words I can see why many Evangelicals state that this prophecy has been fulfilled in our own time with the establishment of the nation of Israel. Once again we have a prophecy that points at the short term (the Assyrians) and also at the very long term.

Chapter 11 is one of the most poetically beautiful in all of Isaiah. It describes the qualities of the coming Messiah, who will arise our of the house of David:
A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,
    and a branch shall grow out of his roots.
The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.
His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord.” (11:1-3)

For us, of course this Messiah has already come: Jesus Christ, who is the complete fulfillment of every quality described in those verses.

As always, it is the poor and meek who will benefit under the Messiah’s rule while the wicked get their comeuppance:
 …with righteousness he shall judge the poor,
    and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
he shall strike the earth with the rod of his mouth,
    and with the breath of his lips he shall kill the wicked.” (11:4)

And of course there is the famous description of the Peaceful Kingdom:
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
    the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
    and a little child shall lead them.
The cow and the bear shall graze,
    their young shall lie down together;
    and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
The nursing child shall play over the hole of the asp,
    and the weaned child shall put its hand on the adder’s den.” (11:6-8)

I cannot resist adding in the painting by the American artist, Edward Hicks who interprets this passage quite literally:

Perhaps the greatest promise of all concludes this reading:
the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.” (11:9)

As Christians, we know this will only occur at the end of history upon Jesus’ return and the rendering of the final judgement.

Galatians 5:19–6:5: This reading is the most well known part of this epistle. Ever the list maker, Paul provides a comprehensive list of the sins we are all capable of committing: “Now the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions,  envy,  drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (5:19-21a) There is a severe warning here: “I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (5:21b)

The question hangs in the air: does this mean we can lose our salvation by sinning? I don’t think so, but there’s no question that sin drowns out the quiet voice of the Holy Spirit. Paul has been very binary about this: either we are self-centered or we are Holy Spirit-centered. 

And if we elect to be Spirit-centered, we enjoy the famous list of the fruits of the Holy Spirit: “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things.” (5:22, 23)

So if these fruits are so desirable why do we persist in doing the things that are in Paul’s list of sins? As he says, “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” (5:24) Alas, I’m not there yet.

Paul then goes on to discuss the crucial importance of being in Christian community. Each member of the community has a duty to all the others: “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill  the law of Christ.” (6:2) The thing that seems obvious to me is that we cannot focus on the fruits of the Spirit without the assistance of others doing the same thing.

However, community is not an excuse to shirk personal responsibility. A healthy community consists of people who are not enablers trying to “fix” others. Paul is clear: We do not do each others’ work. Rather, we work side by side, each exercising his or her own gifts. Together we accomplish the common mission of the church. “All must test their own work; then that work, rather than their neighbor’s work, will become a cause for pride. For all must carry their own loads.” (6:4,5) I think a healthy church is one where it is clear that Christ is at the center of it all—not the ego of  a few people, especially its leader or the ones who give the most money. 

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