Psalm 109:8–20; Lamentations 1:16–2:10; Hebrews 7:18–28

Psalm 109:8–20: If one ever needed a catalog of creative but awful curses to hurl at someone else it is right here, starting with wishing for an enemy’s early death:
Let his days be few,
may another man take his post.
May his children become orp[hans
and his wife a widow.” (8, 9)

Not content with heaping coals upon just his enemy himself, our psalmist wishes evil upon his family:
May his children wander and beg,
driven out from ruins of their homes.
May the lender snare all that he has
and may strangers plunder his wealth.” (10, 11)

Not content to bring physical and economic ruin to his family, the psalmist hurls the most severe curse of all: that his enemy be forgotten by history because his progeny dies out and his name has disappeared:
May no one extend to him kindness
and no one pity his orphans.
May his offspring be cut off,
in the next generation his name wiped out.” (12, 13)

Even more intensely, he wishes that God will enter the picture and punish him as well, causing his name to disappear while the sins of his ancestors are remembered:
May the wrong of his fathers be recalled by the Lord
and his mother’s offense not be wiped out.
Let these be be ever before the Lord,
that He cut off from the earth their name.” (14, 15)

We arrive at last to the reason these curses are being heaped on his enemy’s’ heads:
Because he did not remember to do kindness
and pursued the poor and the needy,
the heartsore, to put him to death.” (16)

The psalmist reminds us that wishing evil upon others can become a habit and an intrinsic part of one’s personality:
He loved a curse, may it come upon him,
he desired not blessing—may it stay far from him.
He donned curse as his —
may it enter his innards like water
and like oil in his bones.” (17, 18)

Our psalmist ends his diatribe by wishing permanent evil to come upon this enemy who has done him harm:
May it be like a garment he wraps around him
and like a belt he girds at all times.” (19)

Perhaps what’s most remarkable here is that this entire monologue has been a prayer for God to act against this enemy:
This be the plight of my accusers from the Lord,
and those who speak against my life.” (20)

While it’s impossible to condone this prayer—and Jesus certainly would not condone it—we can take some satisfaction that it was a prayer to God rather than a direct speech against the enemy himself. As we witness in what can barely be construed as dialog in the present political climate, speaking these curses aloud is even more harmful. At least the prayer in private must have brought some amount of psychological relief.

Lamentations 1:16–2:10: The editors of this book certainly named it well:
For these things I weep;
    my eyes flow with tears;
for a comforter is far from me,
    one to revive my courage;
my children are desolate,
    for the enemy has prevailed.” (1:16)

But what is most fascinating here is that these lamentations are are written in the first person. So, who’s the person speaking? I don’t think it’s any one individual. It certainly doesn’t appear to be Jeremiah. Instead, I think it is the entirety of the remorseful Jewish remnant in Babylonian exile speaking in a single voice. It is a dialog between a devestated community and God.

The “I” identifies itself as Zion—how the community in exile refers to itself— in the next verse:
Zion stretches out her hands,
    but there is no one to comfort her;
the Lord has commanded against Jacob
    that his neighbors should become his foes;
Jerusalem has become
    a filthy thing among them.” (1:17)

The price of Judah and Jerusalem’s sins is steep and even though there is confession, there are also consequences:
The Lord is in the right,
    for I have rebelled against his word;
but hear, all you peoples,
    and behold my suffering;
my young women and young men
    have gone into captivity.” (1:18)

What strikes me here is that the writer lays much of the blame for what has happened at the feet of an angry, wrathful God:
The Lord has destroyed without mercy
    all the dwellings of Jacob;
in his wrath he has broken down
    the strongholds of daughter Judah;
he has brought down to the ground in dishonor
    the kingdom and its rulers.

The Lord has become like an enemy;
    he has destroyed Israel.
He has destroyed all its palaces,
    laid in ruins its strongholds,
and multiplied in daughter Judah
    mourning and lamentation.” (2:2, 5)

And so on… God is even held responsible for destroying the temple itself:
He has broken down his booth like a garden,
    he has destroyed his tabernacle;
the Lord has abolished in Zion
    festival and sabbath,
and in his fierce indignation has spurned
    king and priest.” (2:6)

Finally, God has sucked the life out of Judah and Jerusalem itself:
The elders of daughter Zion
    sit on the ground in silence;
they have thrown dust on their heads
    and put on sackcloth;
the young girls of Jerusalem
    have bowed their heads to the ground.” (2:10)

But it’s natural, isn’t it? We may briefly admit our own sins but then we tend to blame an angry God for all the other bad things that happen to us. This may be good psychological activity in terms of expressing our woes. But I think blaming God for the consequences that we must endure as a result of our own sinfulness is a fool’s errand.

Hebrews 7:18–28: Our author finally arrives at his main point—the same point Paul makes in Romans in a far less convoluted manner. It’s really quite simple, actually: the law given to Israel is inadequate, or more specifically, “it was weak and ineffectual (for the law made nothing perfect)” (18b, 19a). But fear not, God has something better for us: “there is, on the other hand, the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach God.” (19b)

Rather than the ineffectual priests sacrificing on behalf of an ineffectual law, we now have something far better—this New Covenant is secured by Jesus Christ and God’s oath (which our author again quotes from Psalm 110): “this one became a priest with an oath, because of the one who said to him,

“The Lord has sworn
    and will not change his mind,
‘You are a priest forever’”— (21)

And finally the grand conclusion: “accordingly Jesus has also become the guarantee of a better covenant.” (22)

Not only is the New Covenant superior to the old, but it is permanent, since Jesus “holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.” (24) And now the best part of all: “Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.” (25)

Unlike those priests of the Old Covenant, who held office by dint of their ancestry rather than an oath, and who kept dying off and needed to be replaced, we now have an oath-backed New Covenant in Jesus Christ that will last forever.

But wait! There’s more! “Unlike the other high priests, [Jesus] has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.” (27) In other words, the old sacrificial system has been superseded by the single sacrifice made by Jesus himself. And it is “the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.” (28)

Well, it took seven chapters of fairly impenetrable prose to get to this wonderfully simple conclusion: Jesus Christ is our Great High Priest and the New Covenant—based on God’s oath—has replaced the old. It is both permanent and it applies to every person alive when our author wrote and for all time and all people yet to come—and that includes us and our children and grandchildren.

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