Psalm 109:21-31; Lamentations 2:11–3:15; Hebrews 8

Psalm 109:21-31: After quoting the curses that have apparently been directed against him, our psalmist turns to God in a fairly typical prayer of supplication:
And You, O Lord, Master,
act on my behalf for the sake of Your name,
for Your kindness is good. 
For poor and needy am I,
and my heart is pierced within me.” (21, 22)

He then catalogs his weakened emotional state before God using some rather creative similes to demonstrate his despair before God
Like a lengthening shadow I go off,
I am shaken like the locust.
My knees falter from fasting
and my flesh is stripped of fat.” (23, 24)

He acknowledges that he can turn to no one else beside God since is now an outcast among his neighbors, who have become his enemies. What’s unique here is that as he prays to be transformed by God he is also asking that his neighbors will see that transformation and come to understand God’s power:
As for me, I become a reproach to them
They see me, they shake their heads.
Help me, O Lord my God
Rescue me as befits Your kindness,
that they may know that Your hand
it is, it is You, O Lord, Who did it.”
Let them curse, and You, You  will bless.
They will rise and be shamed, and Your servant will rejoice.” (25-28)

Of course I think there’s a bit of schadenfreude going on here as it would certainly make our poet very happy to see his enemies experience the kind of shame he feels. I’m pretty sure I’ve prayed the same kind of prayer myself.

The psalm ends by drawing the sharpest possible contrast between his enemies and himself. They should be cursed as he stand prouds and blessed as he worships God:
Let my accusers don disgrace,
and let them wrap round like a robe their shame.
I highly acclaim the Lord with my mouth,
and in the midst of the many I praise Him,
for He stands at the needy’s right hand
to rescue him from his condemners.” (29-31)

I think we need to look at this psalm as a form of psychological baring of the soul rather than a theologically-correct psalm of supplication. There’s little question I’ve had these feelings myself, but I tend to bury them and then those feelings explode at some unpredictable and always inopportune moment. I think our psalmist has it right. It is far better to go to God in total honesty and express our deepest feelings, even our hatreds. God can take it.

Lamentations 2:11–3:15: The poem continues with really striking images of the awful events surrounding the conquest of Jerusalem:
My eyes are spent with weeping;
    my stomach churns;
my bile is poured out on the ground
    because of the destruction of my people,
because infants and babes faint
    in the streets of the city.” (2:11)

Woven into the poem are the same kinds of accusations Jeremiah made against his fellow prophets. They did not heed his warnings and all Jerusalem has now paid the price at the hands of angry God:
Your prophets have seen for you
    false and deceptive visions;
they have not exposed your iniquity
    to restore your fortunes,
but have seen oracles for you
    that are false and misleading.

The Lord has done what he purposed,
    he has carried out his threat;
as he ordained long ago,
    he has demolished without pity;
he has made the enemy rejoice over you,
    and exalted the might of your foes.” (2:14, 17)

But in the eyes of our poet, God’s punishment has been too severe. There is an accusation against an angry God that has carried punishment too far:
Look, O Lord, and consider!
    To whom have you done this?
Should women eat their offspring,
    the children they have borne?
Should priest and prophet be killed
    in the sanctuary of the Lord?
The young and the old are lying
    on the ground in the streets;
my young women and my young men
    have fallen by the sword;
in the day of your anger you have killed them,
    slaughtering without mercy.” (2:20, 21)

Not only have the people of Jerusalem suffered too much, but our poet is in despair at his own present plight—again caused by God’s merciless wrath:
I am one who has seen affliction
    under the rod of God’s wrath;
he has driven and brought me
    into darkness without any light;
against me alone he turns his hand,
    again and again, all day long.” (3:1-3)

His accusations against God are bitter and deep as the remainder of the reading continues in the same vein of God’s relentless and overbearing punishment. Underlying these verses is the sense that our poet feels the punishment has been disproportionate to the crime:
He has made my flesh and my skin waste away
and broken my bones;
he has besieged and enveloped me
with bitterness and tribulation;
he has made me sit in darkness
 like the dead of long ago.” (3:4-6)

He goes on, but I think we get the drift here. Our poet has not only been abandoned by God, he has been punished severely—too severely. There’s no question this is our go-to book when we are feeling oppressed by God or other people. One thing stands out: we have not experienced any feeling that has not been previously experienced by someone else. Our author perfectly captures and describes those feelings as he expresses both anger at God and despair at his plight. If we take nothing else away from this book [and many psalms as well] it is better to express our anger at God than to bottle it up inside only to have it eat away at us. As we’ve noted already, God can take it.

Hebrews 8: Just in case his readers (and us) didn’t get it in the preceding verses of chapter 7, our verbose author recaps: “Now the main point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens, a minister in the sanctuary and the true tent[a] that the Lord, and not any mortal, has set up.” (1, 2)

Up to this point, our author boldly asserts, the entire Jewish sacrificial system has been a mere shadow of the glorious reality of our great high priest, Jesus [One is reminded of Plato’s shadows on the wall of the cave]: “They offer worship in a sanctuary that is a sketch and shadow of the heavenly one [while] Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.” (5,6)

Feeling like deja vu all over again, we encounter a lengthy quote from Jeremiah 31 about how God will one day “establish a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah; not like the covenant that I made with their ancestors.” (8, 9) He quotes Jeremiah at some length, including what I think is the central verse from that book:
This is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel
    after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds,
    and write them on their hearts,
and I will be their God,
    and they shall be my people.” (10)

Up to this point, Jews have read that verse as applying to them. But our author takes abold step and asserts that God’ promise applies to every human being.

Our author continues with boldness as he summarizes: “In speaking of “a new covenant,” he has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.” (13)

There’s little question at this point that our author is writing to his fellow Jews, trying to tell them that centuries of tradition, and more importantly of established law in the Torah are now basically obsolete. He’s marshalled powerful arguments for the supremacy of Jesus Christ and for the New Covenant. But as we know from history, his arguments proved largely ineffectual with the Jews. That branch of the Christian church faded away fairly quickly.

But there has been a hugely positive effect of his arguments as well. In the end, all this argumentation provided a firm theological foundation for a Gentile Christianity that is the direct lineal successor of Judaism. Without this book we would have only Paul’s  interpretation of the New Covenant that he outlines in Romans. Even as convoluted as his argument is, what with the Melchizedekian priesthood and all, I think our author has made the all-important point that the New Covenant truly replaces the Old. And even more importantly, that Jesus is our high priest advocate before God.

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