Psalm 37:27–33; Nehemiah 12:1–43; Romans 6:17–7:6

Originally published 3/21/2017. Revised and updated 3/20/2019.

Psalm 37:27–33: At this point in this rather overlong psalm, our psalmist seems to be collecting snippets or wisdom statements from earlier in this psalm, from other psalms (or perhaps Proverbs), and listing them in no particular order.

First up is the overarching proverb of what the righteous man is to do:
Turn from evil and do good
and abide forever.
 (27)

Once again he observes God’s faithfulness:
For the Lord loves justice
and will not forsake His faithful.
 (28a)

The name and deeds of the faithful person will endure down through the generations but, as usual, the fate of the wicked is quite the opposite—the fate being that they will not sire progeny and thus be forgotten to history:
They are guarded forever
but the seed of of the wicked is cut off. (28c)

Our psalmist continues to list the qualities of the faithful man, focusing on a possessing a sense of justice that aligns to God’s justice:
The just will inherit the earth
and abide forever upon it.
The just man’s mouth utters wisdom
and his tongue speaks justice. (29, 30)

The faithful man values and dispenses justice because “His God’s teaching [is] in his heart.” (31). But inevitably, faithfulness and justice will  be pursued by evil:
The wicked spies out the just man
and seeks to put him to death
. (32)

Nevertheless, despite these trials, God’s promise to never abandon the faithful person trumps all else. Even if the just man is defeated by evil, in the long run God’s justice will override that injustice:
The Lord will not forsake him in his hands
and will not condemn him when he is judged.” (33)

I suppose that even though there’s a certain predictability on these verses, the concept of God’s faithfulness to those who are faithful to him is well worth repeating. And of course, God’s ultimate statement of his faithfulness to those who believe is he sent Jesus Christ to earth to save us all.

Nehemiah 12:1–43: As is his wont, Nehemiah preserves the names of people who are important in the restoration of Jerusalem. And here he lists the priests and Levites—and not just his contemporaries, but their predecessors as well. The names are recorded form the time of Zerubbabel (1-11); Joiakim (12-21); those who served during the reign of Darius the Persian until the time of Nehemiah and Ezra (22-26)

A description of the dedication of the walls of Jerusalem follows. And it’s a time of great rejoicing as the Levites form all over Judea come to celebrate: “Now at the dedication of the wall of Jerusalem they sought out the Levites in all their places, to bring them to Jerusalem to celebrate the dedication with rejoicing, with thanksgivings and with singing, with cymbals, harps, and lyres.” (27) The priests then purify themselves, the people, the gates and the wall.

Nehemiah lists all the leaders “that gave thanks and went in procession” (31) as Nehemiah splits them into two “great companies” that circumnavigate the wall, singing all the while. Ever fastidious about details, Nehemiah outlines their route: “At the Fountain Gate, in front of them, they went straight up by the stairs of the city of David, at the ascent of the wall, above the house of David, to the Water Gate on the east.” (37)

All in all a magnificent time was had by everyone: “They offered great sacrifices that day and rejoiced, for God had made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced.” (43a) In fact it was a pretty noisy party: “The joy of Jerusalem was heard far away.” (43b).  And why not? The restoration of the temple and the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls and gates is just as impressive (if not as luxurious) as the original construction of the temple in Solomon’s time. The question of course is, will the people continue to worship God and with the psalmist live upright lives, or will there be backsliding?

Romans 6:17–7:6: Paul continues to explain (over-explain?) his analogy of slaves being representative of our former lives: that, “having once been slaves of sin, [we] have become obedient from the heart to the form of teaching to which you were entrusted.” (6:17) But slavery is also a part of our new lives, although now we “have become slaves of righteousness.” (6:18)

Of course in our culture there is nothing whatsoever that can be said to be positive about slavery. So Paul’s arguments are more abstract to us than I think they were to his Roman listeners who were both slaves and masters.

Paul tells us there is a great reward for having become slaves to righteousness: “But now that you have been freed from sin and enslaved to God, the advantage you get is sanctification. The end is eternal life.” (6:22) He concludes his argument (and the chapter) with the memorable definition of grace: “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23) [A verse I recall memorizing when I was in 5th grade Sunday School at lake Avenue Congregational Church in Pasadena.]

Perhaps Paul felt his slavery analogy would not carry the theological day, so he shifts to an analogy to marriage. First, he summarizes Jewish law describing how “a married woman is bound by the law to her husband as long as he lives; but if her husband dies, she is discharged from the law concerning the husband.” (7:2) The law states that she’s an adulteress if she sleeps with another man while her husband is alive, but if he dies, then “she is free from that law, and if she marries another man, she is not an adulteress.” (7:3)

Paul goes on to argue that the same kind of rule applies to Christians. We once were “married” to sin, but now “you have died to the law through the body of Christ, so that you may belong to another, to him who has been raised from the dead.” (7:4) The law was worse than any husband because it held us captive as sinners.

Perhaps not convinced by his own metaphor, Paul circles back to his slavery analogy, “now we are discharged from the law, dead to that which held us captive, so that we are slaves not under the old written code but in the new life of the Spirit.” (7:6) So, even if we are slaves, we are far better off being slaves in the “new life of the spirit.” Even so,, the analogy to slaves really doesn’t carry the day in our present culture. I think we find the institution of slavery to be so repugnant that our minds hang up there and really cannot make the mental leap that Paul is aiming for,

 

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