Psalm 5; Genesis 6:1–7:10; Matthew 3

Originally posted 1/5/2016—edited and updated 1/5/2018

Psalm 5: This psalm of supplication begins with the usual formula:
Hearken to my speech, O Lord,
attend to my utterance.” (2)

Then   a little more directness, perhaps even a tinge of annoyance as the psalmist commands, “Listen well to my voice crying out, my king and my God,
for to you I pray.” (3).

And he believes God is listening, evoking an image of giving testimony in the courtroom before God the judge:
Lord, in the morning you hear my voice;
    in the morning I plead my case to you, and watch.” (4)

He reminds God that God does not tolerate being around wicked people:
For not a God desiring wickedness are You,
no evil will sojourn by You.” (5)

And then, right to the point, “You hate all the wrongdoers.” (6b).

However, God doesn’t just hate evildoers, he annihilates them:
You destroy those who speak lies;
    the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.” (7)

By contrast, perhaps to reassure himself, the psalmist reminds God of his faithfulness in worship:
As for me–through Your great kindness I enter Your house,
I bow to Your holy temple in the fear of You.” (8)

Now that he has firmly established that he is religious and faithful and on God’s side, our psalmist finally comes to the problem at hand. He is apparently being slandered by his foes. Since the psalmist is speaking in the voice of David, we can assume this has to do with court intrigue using the striking metaphor of a liar’s throat being an “open grave:”
For there is nothing right in their mouths,
within them–falsehood,
an open grave their throat, their tongue, smooth talking.” (10).

Our psalmist’s supplication is direct and to the point:
Condemn them, O God.
Let them fall by their counsels for their many sins.
Cast them off, for they have rebelled against You.” (11)

This psalm addresses one of the major themes of Psalms: the evil created by speech. In that preliterate society, words were even more freighted than they are now. A man’s character was revealed by how he spoke. Truth was the all-important social currency and deceit through words was seen as a sin against God, perhaps even blasphemy. We also see that human nature and its tendency to lie has not changed one whit in three millennia.

In praying for his enemies destruction, this psalm also raises the contradiction to what Jesus said: that we are to love our enemies. Thus, I think under the terms of the New Covenant, we should read this prayer for interest but definitely not as an example of how to pray in Jesus’ name.

Genesis 6:1–7:10: Things do not go according to God’s plan as the human race multiplies. There seems to have been regular intercourse between women and the “Sons of God,” whom I presume were angels and these couples bore super-human creatures, the Nephilim, who “were the heroes that were of old, warriors of renown.” (6:4)

I take these long-lived “heroes” to be Jewish parallels to the mythic figures that populated the in stories of neighboring kingdoms such as Mesopotamia. In any event, God puts an end to this practice and our author observes that human lifespans are now limited to 120 years. But even without the sons of God around, humans are still fully capable of great evil and God declares, “I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air, for I am sorry that I have made them.” (6:7). This certainly raises a question about God’s character. Does God, being God, really regret his actions?  In any event, God’s noble intentions for man to follow him and do good seems to have taken root in only one man: Noah.

I should note here that I do not believe there was a historical Noah, just as I believe there was no historical Adam and Eve. Rather, I see these first chapters are the grand national myth of Israel’s origins. As we read further, we will see how Israel’s God is quite different than the small-g gods that populated the national stories elsewhere in the Middle East at the time Genesis was written. For example, there are flood stories in the myths of many other civilizations, and I believe we need to read Noah’s story as a metaphor for how God rescues us through faith.

God speaks to Noah and he obeys by building the ark and engaging in his great zoological enterprise. What I had not noticed before is that in chapter 6, God resolves to destroy living thing: “people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air,” (6:7). But now God apparently relents and decides that since there is one honest man, he will spare the animals and focus his destructive powers on wicked humans.

We see the Jewish spin on this story is that God commands Noah to take seven pairs of clean animals, i.e, the animals that were worthy of sacrifice in the Temple, while only one pair of unclean animals was allowed on board.

The week that Noah was on board the ark and it doesn’t start raining must have been an extraordinary test of his faith. I can certainly hear his family complaining about his stupidity and willingness to follow this unfaithful God. But one week later, flood comes.

Righteousness is preserved while wickedness is destroyed. The ark is certainly a metaphor for the remnant of Judah and Israel that God kept rescuing in the latter days of the kingdom before the Babylonian captivity. And of course for us Christians, it’s a metaphor for our salvation through baptism. Water keeps showing up as a central element of our faith.

Matthew 3: Once settled in Nazareth, Jesus and his family disappear from the scene. Matthew’s second act opens with John the Baptist and as his wont, our gospel writer provides a proof text, this time from Isaiah:
“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’” (2)

Here, Matthew also sets up the central conflict of his gospel between Jesus’ radical words and the religious establishment as John “saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming for baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” (7)

We hear the famous apocalyptic words that John hurls at the Pharisees and Sadducees: “Even now the ax is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (10)  Unfortunately, Matthew does not give us a clue as to how the official responded to John’s accusation.

John tells the crowd that the one to come “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.” (11). With these words, Matthew has laid out the arc of his story, and the adult Jesus enters the stage of the story. At first John resists baptising Jesus as Matthew informs us that John knows exactly who Jesus is: the long-promised Messiah as he says humbly, ““I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (14)

Jesus responds calmly, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness,” (15) reminding John that the Messiah will arise out of righteousness, not out of power. (A hint of things to come!) John relents and baptizes Jesus. The dove descends and the voice from heaven intones, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.” (17) Right here at the very beginning of Jesus’ ministry we have a confluence of the Trinity: the dove, representing the Holy Spirit, Jesus, and God himself speaking from heaven. Even this early in the game, Matthew is making sure that we see–and attempt to comprehend– the simultaneous the divinity and the humanity of Jesus.

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