Psalm 89:1–9; Isaiah 46:1–48:6; Philippians 4:2–13

Psalm 89:1–9: In a rather  stark contrast to the preceding psalm, this rather long one opens with a worship celebration of God’s faithfulness and kindness:
Let me sing the Lord’s kindnesses forever.
For all generations I shall make known with my mouth Your faithfulness.
For I said: forever will kindness stand strong,
in the heavens You set Your faithfulness firm.” (2,3)

The juxtaposition of ‘faithfulness’ and ‘kindness’ describes God’s core being—and it’s a reminder to us that if we are faithful to God, we are much more likely to be kind to our neighbors, as well as to ourselves.

With this brief introduction, the psalmist gets down to business. And it’s important business because he writes in God’s voice as a pronouncement straight from heaven:
I have sealed a pact with my chosen one,
I have sworn to David my servant.
Forevermore I shall make your seed stand firm,
and make your throne stand strong for all generations.” (4,5)

OK, God himself is reaffirming the Davidic covenant and that it must endure as long as Israel endures. This suggests this psalm may have been written at a time of crisis, perhaps a battle between rivals over who would ascend the throne. Our psalmist wants to make sure that everyone remembers that the David line of succession has been ordained by God himself and therefore, it’s obvious that the king descended from David must reign.

With this pronouncement from on high, the psalm returns to worship mode but with intriguing additional information about how heaven is organized:
And the heavens will acclaim Your wonder, O Lord,
Your faithfulness, too, in the assembly of the holy.
For who in the skies can compare to the Lord,
who can be like the Lord among the sons of the gods?
A God held in awe in the council of the holy,
mighty and fearsome above all His surroundings.” (6, 7)

The ‘assembly of the holy’ and ‘council of the holy’ anticipates the great throne room scene in Revelation 4 when all the angels, cherubim, prophets, etc. gather round and worship the Lamb of God. The ‘sons of the gods’ certainly suggests a hierarchy of heavenly beings. But notice that neither ‘son’ no ‘gods’ is capitalized. Whoever they are, they’re inferior to God—and to the Son of God—but they’re ‘holy,’ so they’re definitely not the idols of the small-g gods that Israel was wont to worship.

I think that in describing the hierarchy of heaven with a fearsome God reigning supreme, the psalmist is drawing a parallel to what is supposed to be occurring in Israel: a king from the line of David must reign—not only because God said so, but because what is on earth must echo what is in heaven.

Of course, this is probably all idol (!) speculation on my part…

Isaiah 46:1–48:6: As usual, Isaiah is speaking in God’s voice, warning Judah about the futility of worshipping idols, even expensive gold ones:
Those who lavish gold from the purse,
    and weigh out silver in the scales—
they hire a goldsmith, who makes it into a god;
    then they fall down and worship!
They lift it to their shoulders, they carry it,
    they set it in its place, and it stands there;
    it cannot move from its place.
If one cries out to it, it does not answer
    or save anyone from trouble.” (46:6,7)

Rather, he advises, they (and we) should reflect on who God really is:
Remember this and consider,
    recall it to mind, you transgressors,
remember the former things of old;
for I am God, and there is no other;
    I am God, and there is no one like me.” (46:8,9)

What is it about us humans that we forget and constantly need to be reminded to ‘remember God?’ These words are exactly what we need to be doing today: remembering who God really is as over against the trivialities that mostly occupy our minds. Especially in light of God’s promise that concludes this chapter:
I bring near my deliverance, it is not far off,
    and my salvation will not tarry;
I will put salvation in Zion,
    for Israel my glory.” (46:13)

Of course, we know exactly how God delivered salvation to all of us…Not just in Zion, but throughout all creation through the gift of Jesus Christ.

Chapter 47 is a long disquisition on how Babylon, which was the superpower of the age in which Isaiah wrote, will meet its rather dismal fate:
Sit in silence, and go into darkness,
    daughter Chaldea!
For you shall no more be called
    the mistress of kingdoms.” (47:5)

and

 in a moment, in one day:
the loss of children and widowhood
    shall come upon you in full measure,
in spite of your many sorceries
    and the great power of your enchantments.” (47:9)

I think this specific prophecy was written as a means of encouragement to a disheartened Judah, who felt threatened by Babylon. Unfortunately, this prophecy notwithstanding, Babylon later came and conquered Judah. But after that Babylon was indeed conquered by the Persians, so Isaiah was right in the long run. It’s just that his timing was a bit off.

With Babylon taken care of, Isaiah returns to the main theme of the book: Judah’s relationship with God. Here in chapter 48 he is reminding Judah that he has already done many great things and fulfilled his every promise down through their history:
The former things I declared long ago,
    they went out from my mouth and I made them known;
    then suddenly I did them and they came to pass.” (48:3)

But unsurprisingly, Judah did not seem to notice and by implication ignored God, preferring to give credit to their idols:
Because I know that you are obstinate,
    and your neck is an iron sinew
    and your forehead brass,
I declared them to you from long ago,
    before they came to pass I announced them to you,
so that you would not say, “My idol did them,
    my carved image and my cast image commanded them.” (48:45)

Which of course is a perfect description of us in the here in now: we remain obstinate, convinced that all good things arise by our own efforts, aided by our idols of power and wealth.

Yet, God is eternally persistent and keeps on promising new things for Judah—just as he does for us:
You have heard; now see all this;
    and will you not declare it?
From this time forward I make you hear new things,
    hidden things that you have not known.” (48:6)

Philippians 4:2–13: Paul interrupts his letter to “urge Euodia and I urge Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord,” (2) who seem to have lost their enthusiasm for Christ. Perhaps they have become discouraged at work that does not seem to yield results because Paul then gives us one of his most famous verse of encouragement: “Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to everyone. The Lord is near.” (4, 5)

Then, he gives encouraging advice that is so easy to forget: “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” (6) Prayer is central to the well-lived Christian life. Prayer is an area where I am basically a complete disciplinary failure. Prayer simply does not come naturally to me. It always seems forced and inauthentic. Yet, as Paul tells us, prayer brings with it a wonderful gift: “And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (7)

Then to the most beautiful of all of Paul’s lists: “ Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about  these things.” (8) The question is: what percent of my time do I give over to the advice Paul gives here and reflect of the wonderful gifts we have received? Alas, not that much.

In the final paragraph of the reading he thanks the Philippians for their gift, which apparently went to him personally rather than to the church. He seems oddly defensive about it, essentially suggesting that they could have given it or not since he has learned how to live in both plenty and deprivation, which to me seems to dismiss the Philippians’ generous act: “Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need.” (11, 12)

But as usual, Paul gives Christ all the credit for this particular skill in this short but powerful verse: “I can do all things through him who strengthens me.” (13) Would that I remember this promise each day.

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