Psalm 80:1–8; Isaiah 11:10–13:22; Galatians 6:6–18

Psalm 80:1–8: This psalm of supplication is accompanied by a musical instrument called the shoshanim, which no one knows what it looked or sounded like. However, the words are mighty familiar. The psalmist asks God to come to the aid of three tribes, which Alter informs us comprise much of the northern kingdom of Israel. So this psalm may have been written while the Assyrians were gathering their strength to attack Israel from the north. In any event, the psalmist sounds fairly desperate as he calls on God:
Shepherd of Israel, hearken,
He who drives Joseph like sheep,
enthroned on the cherubim, shine forth.
Before Ephraim and Benjamin and Manasseh
rouse Your might
and come to the rescue for us.” (2, 3)

As usual, things have been going badly and in good deuteronomic fashion, our psalmist suggests that God’s apparent abandonment in their hour of desperate need is because he is angry at Israel’s sinful deeds:
O God, bring us back,
and light up Your face that we may be rescued.
Lord, God of armies,
how long will You smolder against Your people’s prayer?” (4,5)

Our poet then goes on to basically accuse God of having caused the current distress and sorrow in Israel:
You fed them bread of tears
and made them drink triple measure of tears.
You have put us in strife with our neighbors,
and our enemies mock us.” (6, 7)

Really? This dire situation is God’s fault? Aren’t we humans responsible for the consequences of our own sins that bring us to tears and sorrow? Well, I think that would be over-interpreting what’s going on here. I’m pretty sure that the psalmist is suggesting that God has already meted out sufficient punishment for Israel’s sins and that his mercy would be more than welcome at this point. This raises the interesting question, does God punish us for our sins or do the consequences of our sinful action create their own punishment? I tend to go with Paul here when he says in Romans,”the wages of sin is death.” Those are consequences we’ve earned by virtue of our own actions, not those of God.

Isaiah 11:10–13:22: Speaking of sufficient punishment, Isaiah goes on to describe what will happen when the Messiah, the “root of Jesse,” will do upon his glorious—and very public to all nations— return to Israel and the faithful remnant of Jews that remain:
He will raise a signal for the nations,
    and will assemble the outcasts of Israel,
and gather the dispersed of Judah
    from the four corners of the earth. (11:12)

As far as Isaiah is concerned, perhaps the greatest promise of the Messiah’s arrival is the cessation of internecine hostilities between Israel in the north (Ephraim) and Judah in the south:
The jealousy of Ephraim shall depart,
    the hostility of Judah shall be cut off;
Ephraim shall not be jealous of Judah,
    and Judah shall not be hostile towards Ephraim.” (11:13)

When these promises are fulfilled, there will be thanksgiving and worship—and we encounter memorable verses that for those of us at Saint Matthew Lutheran in the 1980s bring back the memory of the beautiful Song of Isaiah:
Surely God is my salvation;
    I will trust, and will not be afraid,
for the Lord God   is my strength and my might;
    he has become my salvation.” (12:2)

And the wonderful metaphor and hymn comprise the entirety of this short chapter suffused in praise of a merciful God: “With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.And you will say in that day:

Give thanks to the Lord,
    call on his name;
make known his deeds among the nations;
    proclaim that his name is exalted.
Sing praises to the Lord, for he has done gloriously;

     let this be known in all the earth.
Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion,
      for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.” (12:3-6)

This, ladies and gentlemen, is true worshipful hymnody, not a banal ditty.

Chapter 13 begins a new and rather apocalyptic thread about in this prophetic book. Praise and thanksgiving give way to the end of time when the Day of the Lord dawns:
Wail, for the day of the Lord is near;
    it will come like destruction from the Almighty!
Therefore all hands will be feeble,
    and every human heart will melt,
and they will be dismayed.
Pangs and agony will seize them;
    they will be in anguish like a woman in labor.
They will look aghast at one another;
    their faces will be aflame.
” (13:6-8)

Quite a contrast to the previous chapters where lions lie down with lambs.  We can see where the author of Revelation obtained much of his material:
For the stars of the heavens and their constellations
    will not give their light;
the sun will be dark at its rising,
    and the moon will not shed its light.” (13:10)

So what is the Day of the Lord? It is judgement day for the prideful wicked and I’d be perfectly content not to be around for this day:
I will punish the world for its evil,
    and the wicked for their iniquity;
I will put an end to the pride of the arrogant,
    and lay low the insolence of tyrants.

Therefore I will make the heavens tremble,
    and the earth will be shaken out of its place,
at the wrath of the Lord of hosts
    in the day of his fierce anger.” (13:11-13)

This battle is light years away from the peaceable kingdom. Suddenly we learn that Isaiah is predicting the conquest of Babylon (and per what we read in Revelation, presumably the downfall of the whore of Babylon)—the same Babylon that conquered the southern kingdom in 586 BCE:
And Babylon, the glory of kingdoms,
    the splendor and pride of the Chaldeans,
will be like Sodom and Gomorrah
    when God overthrew them.” (13:19)

All kingdoms eventually perish. Babylon was conquered in 539 BCE by Cyrus the Persian. Babylon was in present day Iraq and Persia is Iran. The parallels are ominous.

Galatians 6:6–18: Paul concludes his rather testy yet profound letter to the Galatians by reminding them that their leaders should be paid: “Those who are taught the word must share in all good things with their teacher.” (6) But more importantly he warns them (and us) that our actions have consequences: “Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for you reap whatever you sow.” (7) Or as my Dad used to put it rather colorfully: “The chickens always come home to roost.”

But Paul quickly adds that we can reap both bad and good consequences: “If you sow to your own flesh, you will reap corruption from the flesh; but if you sow to the Spirit, you will reap eternal life from the Spirit.” (8) The other key element in living a fruitful Christian life is persistence, of hanging in there: “So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.” (9) He adds a reminder that these good things are accomplished in Christian community: “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith.” (10) I think it is easier to be persistent in our faith if others are along side us also being persistent in theirs.

Paul concludes this letter by writing the final paragraphs in his own hand. And he takes one final swipe at those who would demand circumcision of Gentile Christians: “Even the circumcised do not themselves obey the law, but they want you to be circumcised so that they may boast about your flesh.” (13) Paul, on the other hand, notes that he has only one thing to be boastful about: the cross of Christ (14) There is a new church with a new rule: “For neither circumcision nor uncircumcision is anything; but a new creation is everything! As for those who will follow this rule—peace be upon them, and mercy, and upon the Israel of God.” (15, 16) Even some 2000 years after Paul we can celebrate being new creatures in the wonderful new creation that is the church of Jesus Christ.

 

 

 

 

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