Psalm 109:1–7; Lamentations 1:1–15; Hebrews 7:4–17

Psalm 109:1–7: The central theme of this psalm of supplication is around the effects of hateful speech—and terribly relevant in today’s hostile environment of polarizing accusations made so casually against each other via “social media” from the highest ecehons of political leadership on down

Our psalmist accuses wicked people of conspiring against him, but I think these opening verses apply to all of us at some point:
For the wicked’s mouth, the mouth of deceit,
has opened against me,
they spoke to me with lying tongue.
And words of hatred swarmed round me—
they battle for no cause.” (2, 3)

Our psalmist believes he is unjustly accused and that he has done nothing to deserve these accusations. By contrast, he sees himself as having reached out in honesty and love only to be rebuffed by hatred:
In return for my love they accuse me,
though my prayer is for them.
And they offer me evil in return for good
and hatred in return for my love.” (4,5)

How often we feel that having had only the best intentions our words are misinterpreted at best or create hostility at worst (from our POV, of course).

At this point the psalmist begins quoting the imprecations and accusations that have been hurled against him—or at least how he assumes what his accusers are saying about him as they prejudge his every word and deed with no evidence:
Appoint a wicked man over him,
let an accuser stand at his right.
When he is judged, let him come out guilty,
and his prayer be an offense.” (6,7)

Of course what’s striking about this psalm is that we all have felt wrongly accused, and like the psalmist, we imagine what awful things they are saying behind our back. This is just one more instance of the immutability of human nature in both accused and accuser. Of course this psalm is another reminder of the immense and often destructive power of words. One wishes a certain president would take these cautionary words to heart.

Lamentations 1:1–15: If Jeremiah was the prophetic and narrative history of the fall of Judah and Jerusalem, this book is the poetic reflection, doubtless written in exile, on the enormity of the loss. And while our author (Jeremiah?) focuses his poetry on this historical event, the underlying theme of despair is equally applicable to our time.

The fall of Judah and Jerusalem is a cautionary tale for every society that thinks it’s invulnerable to internal corruption and outside enemies. But realization of its intrinsic sinfulness always comes too late:
[Jerusalem’s] uncleanness was in her skirts;
    she took no thought of her future;
her downfall was appalling,
    with none to comfort her.
“O Lord, look at my affliction,
    for the enemy has triumphed!” (9)

As far as the poet is concerned what has happened to Jerusalem is the result of failing to heed God’s commands and God punishing them accordingly:
Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
    Look and see
if there is any sorrow like my sorrow,
    which was brought upon me,
which the Lord inflicted
    on the day of his fierce anger.” (12)

Our poet certainly blames God for what has happened:
The Lord has rejected
    all my warriors in the midst of me;
he proclaimed a time against me
    to crush my young men;
the Lord has trodden as in a wine press
    the virgin daughter Judah.” (15)

We do not need to confine these words of sorrow to that long-ago time. Like so many psalms, these verses perfectly describe the despairing feelings of anyone today, who believes they are being punished—whether by God or simply by circumstance. And in these verses of lamentation we can take some comfort that we are not the first ones to walk this dark path.

Hebrews 7:4–17: Our author continues to sing the praises of Melchizedek and the fact that Abraham gave a tithe to him in recognition of Melchizedek’s priestly greatness. This tithing policy has been carried down through the line of Abraham [the Jews] ever since. But the really remarkable thing, our author asserts, is that “this man [Melchizedek], who does not belong to their [i.e., the Jews] ancestry, [but he] collected tithes from Abraham and blessed him who had received the promises.” (6)

Since “it is beyond dispute that the inferior is blessed by the superior” (7), our author’s logic chain concludes that Melchizedek is the higher-ranking priest to every other Jewish priest that descended down through the line of Abraham, i.e., the Melchizedekian priesthood outranks the Aaronic priesthood.

We finally arrive at the reason he has been obsessing about Melchizedek. The Aaronic priesthood has proved insufficiently powerful: “if perfection had been attainable through the levitical priesthood—for the people received the law under this priesthood—what further need would there have been to speak of another priest arising according to the order of Melchizedek, rather than one according to the order of Aaron?” (11) So, our author has set up the need for a superior priesthood to the Aaronic one. Not just a priesthood, but “there is necessarily a change in the law as well. ” (12) I think we can see what’s coming.

And who should be that priest of the non-Aaronic line? Why Jesus Christ of course, who is not descended from the line of Aaron, but “it is evident that our Lord was descended from Judah, and in connection with that tribe Moses said nothing about priests.” (14)

Since the Aaronic priesthood has failed, “It is even more obvious when another priest arises, resembling Melchizedek.” (15) Moreover, the physical descent through Aaron has been superseded by “one who has become a priest, not through a legal requirement concerning physical descent, but through the power of an indestructible life.” (16)

That priest can be no one other than Jesus Christ. And our author wraps up his case by quoting Psalm 110:4: You are a priest forever,/ according to the order of Melchizedek.” In other words, Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest.

 

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