Psalm 110; Lamentations 3:16–66; Hebrews 9:1–10

Psalm 110: Alter informs us that this is a “royal psalm” probably written by a court poet (nice job!). The opening verse imagines a statement made by God himself to the poet’s king:
Sit at my right hand
till I make your enemies
a stool for your feet.” (1)

The the poet then begins speaking to his master as the king evidently prepares to go to war. Personally, I find the whole thing a bit over the top:
Your  mighty scpeter
may the Lord send forth from Zion.
Hold sway over your enemies.
Your people rally to battle
on the day your force assembles
on the holy mountains, from the womb of dawn,
yours is the dew of your youth.” (2,3)

But I guess that since the king was paying the poet’s salary, this is the sort of obsequious stuff he’d write—and I’m sure the king lapped it up…

Now we arrive at the very verse by which the author of Hebrews justified his assertion that Jesus is our great high priest forever, outranking all the Jewish high priests that preceded him:
The Lord has sworn, He will not change heart.
‘You are priest forever.
By my solemn word, my righteous king.‘” (4)

There’s no denying that as far as the poet is concerned, God himself has ordained the king also as “priest forever.” Obviously, the poet had no inkling about Jesus, who appeared several centuries later. But the odd thing here is that no Jewish king was simultaneously a priest. That roles belonged strictly to the descendants of Aaron. The other strange thing is “forever.” The king was a mortal; why would God pronounce the king a “priest forever?”

I can certainly see why our Hebrews author glommed onto this verse because I have to confess, it seems to fit only Jesus Christ and not any mortal king. Was the poet prescient? Or did the Holy Spirit cause him to write these words that just lay there for hundreds of years before they proved so vitally important to the Hebrews author?

I can also see why the Hebrews author did not bother to quote any of the verses that follow. They are pretty standard stuff about how God will aid the king in his various military depredations:
The Master [i.e., God] is at your right hand.
On the day of His wrath He smashes kings.
He exacts judgement form the nations,
fills the valley with corpses,
smashes the heads across the great earth.” (5,6)

Here we see the usual angry God taking vengeance on those who have attacked Israel. This is certainly a contrast to that mysterious ‘You are a priest forever’ verse. But then there’s the last verse, which just seems to be a giant non-sequitur about God taking a drink from a stream:
From a brook on the way He drinks.
Therefore He lifts up His head.” (7)

I suppose we could argue this represents Jesus’ baptism, but that seems to be over-interpretation. Even our dauntless Hebrews author didn’t try that one out.

Lamentations 3:16–66: Well, this is certainly a striking opening line to the reading. It makes my mouth feel dry just to read it:
He has made my teeth grind on gravel,
    and made me cower in ashes” (16)

The Lamentations poet offers us deep insight into the thoughts of someone in deep emotional distress:
my soul is bereft of peace;
    I have forgotten what happiness is;
so I say, “Gone is my glory,
    and all that I had hoped for from the Lord.”
 The thought of my affliction and my homelessness

     is wormwood and gall!
My soul continually thinks of it
    and is bowed down within me.” (17-20)

[I’ve always wondered where the ‘wormwood and gall’ line came from. Now I know.] But even in the midst of deepest sorrow there is always hope for those who trust in God:

But this I call to mind,
    and therefore I have hope:
The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

     his mercies never come to an end;
they are new every morning;

      great is your faithfulness.” (21-23)

Here we can see exactly where the author of the lyrics of the hymn,”Great is Thy Faithfulness” got his inspiration: “Great is Thy faithfulness!”/ Morning by morning new mercies I see.” I’m coming to think that one of God’s greatest gifts is the creation of night and day so that every morning we can see his mercies in our lives once again. Every morning is a fresh start.

Our Lamentations author also espouses thoughtful meditation:
It is good that one should wait quietly
    for the salvation of the Lord.
It is good for one to bear
    the yoke in youth,
to sit alone in silence

    when the Lord has imposed it.” (26-28)

At this point, the poet asks one of the most hardest questions of all: WHy does God allow evil?
When all the prisoners of the land
    are crushed under foot,
 when human rights are perverted
    in the presence of the Most High,
 when one’s case is subverted
    —does the Lord not see it?” (34-36)

There’s a striking answer to the question:
Is it not from the mouth of the Most High
    that good and bad come?” (38)

As we see so often in the Psalms, I don’t think this is a theological or philosophical insight, but an emotional reaction—which is completely understandable as we witness evil all around us. Why does God allow evil to happen? Is God really the source of evil as well? As well, does an angry God not forgive? Does he not hear our prayers? In the midst of his emotional turmoil, our author seems to think God doesn’t hear us:
We have transgressed and rebelled,
    and you have not forgiven.
You have wrapped yourself with anger and pursued us,

    killing without pity;
you have wrapped yourself with a cloud
    so that no prayer can pass through.
You have made us filth and rubbish
    among the peoples.” (42-45)

There is immense anger here. Accordingly, our author goes on to reflect on God’s anger [once again!] but then he eventually recalls that God did indeed rescue him when he called out to him:
I called on your name, O Lord,
    from the depths of the pit;
you heard my plea, “Do not close your ear

    to my cry for help, but give me relief!”
You came near when I called on you;
    you said, “Do not fear!” (55-57)

But again another shift in tone as the poet calls on God to take out his enemies:
Pay them back for their deeds, O Lord,
    according to the work of their hands!
Give them anguish of heart;
    your curse be on them!
Pursue them in anger and destroy them
    from under the Lord’s heavens.” (64-66)

If the book of Lamentations does nothing else, it certainly takes us on a roller coaster ride through every conceivable emotion, and the reality that like the author, we are fully capable of thinking and saying conflicting things to ourselves and to God when we are distraught. And as we’ve noted elsewhere, God can take it.

Hebrews 9:1–10: Our intrepid author describes the detailed architecture and furnishings  of the of the original tabernacle, careful to point out that “Behind the second curtain was a tent called the Holy of Holies. In it stood the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant overlaid on all sides with gold… above it were the cherubim of glory overshadowing the mercy seat.” (3-5a) Following all these details, in a bit of unconscious irony our author notes, “Of these things we cannot speak now in detail.” (5b) which of course is exactly what he’s done.

Apparently the point of his little excursion into detail is to remind us that “only the high priest goes into the [Holy of Holies], and he but once a year, and not without taking the blood that he offers for himself and for the sins committed unintentionally by the people.” (7)

He asserts that all of this is but “a symbol of the present time, during which gifts and sacrifices are offered that cannot perfect the conscience of the worshiper.” (9) In other words, the Holy of Holies and the high priest’s annual visit is a precursor, a shadow of something better yet to come, that will eliminate the need for a priest to atone for our unintentional sins.

All of this ceremony—”food and drink and various baptisms, regulations for the body” (10a)—is necessary only “until the time comes to set things right.” (10b) But we will have to wait for tomorrow’s reading to find out when that time has come. Although I think we already know where he’s headed…

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