Psalm 37:1–7; Nehemiah 6:15–7:73a; Romans 4:13–25

Originally published 3/16/2017. Revised and updated 3/15/2019.

Psalm 37:1–7: Alter informs us that this psalm is an alphabetic acrostic, with each stanza beginning with a Hebrew letter. I’m surmising that for a lengthy psalm such as this one, the acrostic was a useful memorization aid.

The verses read more like Proverbs than a psalm, and at first blush seems to be a collection of fairly didactic advice and fairly common metaphors:
Do not be incensed by evildoers.
Do not envy those who do wrong.
For like grass they will quickly wither
and like green grass they will fade. (2)

Regardless of its ordinariness as poetry, it’s advice is worth reflection and remembering, as:
Trust in the Lord and do good.
Dwell in the land and keep faith.
Take pleasure in the Lord,
that He grant you your heart’s desire.“(3,4)

For me, the most personally valuable advice is this:
Direct your way to the Lord.
Trust Him and He will act. (5)

Of course there are many psalms, as well as many times in our lives where it seems like the psalmist—and we—are trusting God, but God remains silent. Or the desired outcome we’re praying for doesn’t ever occur. However, it’s also worth noting that the psalmist doesn’t say, “Trust  Him and He will do what you want.” Our desires and God’s responses do not necessarily align. Of course this is difficult to accept since it’s simply another way of being made aware that we are not in control of circumstances or events.

Equally important is that in trusting God involves waiting quietly: “Be still before the Lord and await Him.” (7a) In other words, patience is mandatory. Sigh.

Finally, a reminder that envy is unworthy of the person who waits upon God:
Do not be incensed by him who prospers,
by the man who devises evil schemes. (7b)

Among the realities that haven’t changed in almost 3000 years is the fact that many who appear prosperous have become so by less than honorable means.

Nehemiah 6:15–7:73a: The Jerusalem walls are completed in a mere 52 days and their  speedy completion has a definite psychological effect on Judah’s neighbors: “all the nations around us were afraid and fell greatly in their own esteem; for they perceived that this work had been accomplished with the help of our God.” (6:16) These neighbors understood the seeming impossibility of the task of rebuilding and yet, here was Jerusalem fortified once again in less than two months. Believing there was no human way this immense task could be completed, they acknowledge that Judah’s God is mighty indeed.

It turns out that many in Jerusalem were “bound by oath” to Tobiah, who apparently is nobility, because they are related by marriage to him. These relatives are a two-way information conduit: “they spoke of his [Tobiah’s] good deeds in my presence, and reported my words to him.” (6:19a) Obviously, Tobiah demands special favors from Nehemiah, who will have none of it, rather tersely noting that “Tobiah sent letters to intimidate me.” (6:19b)

Now that the walls are complete, the gates installed, and musicians and Levite administrators appointed, Nehemiah turns over day-to-day city management to his brother Hanani. Nehemiah observes that his brother “was a faithful man and feared God more than many.” (7:3) Although I think we can be sure that blood relationship had something to do with this appointment as well.

Even though the Jerusalem wall project is complete, there is still much more to do: “The city was wide and large, but the people within it were few and no houses had been built.” (7:4) This observation motivates Nehemiah to turn his attention to the inhabitants of Jerusalem: “Then my God put it into my mind to assemble the nobles and the officials and the people to be enrolled by genealogy.” (7:5) I love Nehemiah’s logical approach!

Ever the thorough engineer/administrator, and leaving no detail unattended to, Nehemiah finds the records in “the book of the genealogy of those who were the first to come back, and I found the following written in it:” (7:6) Which he then proceeds to do, naming towns, names and population figures. “The whole assembly together was forty-two thousand three hundred sixty, besides their male and female slaves, of whom there were seven thousand three hundred thirty-seven; and they had two hundred forty-five singers, male and female.” (66, 67) And of course, livestock is counted as well.

Finally, after Nehemiah provides a financial report, Jerusalem and the surrounding towns have effectively been restored and quotidian Jewish life resumes: “So the priests, the Levites, the gatekeepers, the singers, some of the people, the temple servants, and all Israel settled in their towns.” (73) What’s fascinating here is Nehemiah’s matter-of-factness contrasted with the awe (and not a little fear) that this project has created among Judah’s neighbors. Clearly, they understand that these all-too-organized Jews bear watching.

Romans 4:13–25: Paul’s lengthy disquisition on the nature of faith continues as he reminds us once again that Abraham, the founding father of Judaism, predates the law: “the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith.” (13) In fact, Paul continues, if the law is the only way to God, then “faith is null and the promise is void,” (14) which would lead to the conundrum that without faith, Abraham could not have been righteous before God. This logic chain would cause Pharisaical heads to explode. I’m sure that Paul said these radical things in Jerusalem and doubtless contributed significantly to the antipathy of the Jews there.

So therefore, as he puts it, “it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all [Abraham’s] descendants.” (16a) And since Abraham is the “father of many nations,” the promise of righteousness before God extends “not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham.” (16b) i.e., every human who has ever lived, is living, or will ever live. Here he goes again: he is stating that are Gentiles are co-equal descendants of Abraham! Outrage!

Paul goes on to discuss Abraham’s (and Sarah’s) faith in detail, noting that “He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.” (19) The lesson there for all of us is that no matter our infirmities or circumstances, there is no conceivable situation where faith is inoperative. Abraham’s faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness,” (22) i.e., we come to God through faith, which Paul points out applies not only to Abraham, but to all of us.

Paul’s logic chain is impressive as it moves justification before God from applying only to Jewish adherents of the law to Abraham’s faith absent the law to faith being the gift that every person on earth can partake of. But at the end he adds the crucial ingredient that it is Jesus who has replaced the law. Faith “will be reckoned to us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead, who was handed over to death for our trespasses and was raised for our justification.” (24, 25) Paul will certainly have more to say about exactly how Jesus Christ fits into the issue of faith.

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