Psalm 89:10–19; Isaiah 48:7–49:21; Philippians 4:14–23

Psalm 89:10–19: Our psalmist continues his paean to God by focusing on his power over nature in fairly militaristic terms:
You rule over the tide of the sea.
When its waves lift up, it is You who subdue them.
It is You who crushed Rahab like a corpse—
with the arm of Your might You scattered Your enemies.” (10, 11)

Alter informs us that Rahab “is one of several names for the primordial sea beast of Canaanite mythology.” God not only has power of nature, he is its creator:
The World and its fullness, You founded them.
The north and the south, You created them.
Tabor and Hermon sing glad song in Your name.” (12, 13)

Having established God’s power and preeminence over nature, our poet segues back into God’s essential qualities of justice, truth, and faithfulness which arise from that same creative power:
Yours is the arm with the might.
Your hand is strong, Your right hand raised.
Justice and law are the base of Your throne.
Steadfast kindness and truth go before Your presence.
Happy the people who know the horn’s blast.” (15, 16)

Bearing in mind that this psalm is intended to demonstrate that the Davidic heir is the rightful king of Israel, we cannot miss the parallels between God’s qualities and the implicit qualities of the rightful king. In fact, in the verses that follow the psalmist basically conflates Israel’s king with God by describing the qualities of a king:
In Your name they exult all day long,
and through Your bounty they loom high.
For You are their strength’s grandeur,
and through Your pleasure our horn is lifted.
For the Lord is our shield,
And to Israel’s Holy One, our king.” (17-19)

So is “Israel’s Holy One” (note the capitalization) God or the king? Or both? By praising God, our poet is deftly praising the man who in his eyes should be king. For us, of course, these verses are a compelling portrait of God’s power, justice, truth, and faithfulness.

Isaiah 48:7–49:21:  God’s speech continues in the manner of his speech in Job, noting hop humans can never know what God knows. But what is especially intriguing here is how Isaiah’s God did not just create long ago but is still actively creating:
From this time forward I make you hear new things,
    hidden things that you have not known.
They are created now, not long ago;
    before today you have never heard of them,
    so that you could not say, “I already knew them.” (48:6,7)

So, God wants Israel to listen up and recognize that God is God over all the earth, not just Israel. Moreover,  he will deal with the Babylonians and the Chaldeans in his own way:
Listen to me, O Jacob,
    and Israel, whom I called:
I am He; I am the first,
    and I am the last.
… 
The Lord loves him;
    he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
    and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.” (48:12, 14)

Above all, though, Judah needs to understand one thing (and so do we):
Thus says the Lord,
    your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
I am the Lord your God,
    who teaches you for your own good,
    who leads you in the way you should go.” (48:17)

We need to fully comprehend in both our hearts and minds that God must be the one who leads us through our lives, not our own self-centeredness. The chapter ends on one of the great truths across all time: “There is no peace,” says the Lord, “for the wicked.” (48:22)

Chapter 49 opens with the Messiah speaking. But this Messiah is not the kingly messiah but is the Servant. {Servant of what and whom will become clear eventually.) For Christians this chapter is the first of several chapters that describe the ‘Suffering Servant,’ whom we believe to be none other than Jesus Christ himself:
The Lord called me before I was born,
    while I was in my mother’s womb he named me.” 
He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
    in his quiver he hid me away(49:1, 2)

Notice that the Servant is “hidden away” and will appear at a time no one can anticipate. That’s certainly how Jesus came: ‘hidden away’ in the womb of an obscure teenager from an obscure town in an obscure part of Israel. The Servant’s mission is to bring Israel back to God:
And now the Lord says,
    who formed me in the womb to be his servant,
to bring Jacob back to him,
    and that Israel might be gathered to him.” (49:5)

The rally good news, though, is that the Servant comes not only to rescue Israel but to rescue all humankind:
I will give you as a light to the nations,
    that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” (49:6b)

This is the great promise that God has fulfilled in the person of Jesus Christ. The remainder of this chapter focuses on the nature of Israel’s rescue by the Servant. Once again we encounter the metaphor of God building a highway that brings every human being back to him:
And I will turn all my mountains into a road,
    and my highways shall be raised up.
Lo, these shall come from far away,
    and lo, these from the north and from the west,
    and these from the land of Syene.” (49:11, 12)

Some theological skeptics have argued that the New Testament is simply tacked on, independent of what is promised in the Old Testament. Yet again and again we encounter passages like these in the Old Testament where God is being very clear that he will send someone to earth to rescue not just Israel, but all humankind. For me, the New Testament is simply the logical uninterrupted continuation of the story that began here in Isaiah and in the other prophets.

Philippians 4:14–23: In these concluding verses Paul remains over the top in expressing his gratitude for the generosity of the church at Philippi: “You Philippians indeed know that in the early days of the gospel, when I left Macedonia, no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.” (15, 16) And as usual, Paul tries to explain that he did not ask for the money: “Not that I seek the gift, but I seek the profit that accumulates to your account.” (17)

In his gratitude, Paul even identifies the person who brought the funds from Philippi: “ I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (18) Even though Paul seems to go on and on at excessive length (IMHO) about how he did not seek these funds, it’s clear that he has been immensely blessed by the generosity of the Philippians.

As far as Paul is concerned, generosity breeds generosity in his final word to the Philippians: “And my God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus.” (19) Unfortunately, this verse has been often exploited by the opportunists who espouse the “prosperity gospel.” Their message is “send me money and you’re receive even more money from God.” But that is not what Paul says. He says “every need” not “every want.” There’s a big difference.

This marvelous little letter so full of gratitude and optimism concludes with one of those Pauline asides that we wish he had elaborated on: “All the saints greet you, especially those of the emperor’s household.” (22) What we wouldn’t give to know just who in the emperor’s household were Christians. Was it just the slaves? Or were other more important persons or even nobility that were also part of the church?

 

 

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