Psalm 44:1–9; Job 5,6; Romans 11:33–12:8

Originally published 4/4/2017. Revised and updated 4/3/2019.

Psalm 44:1–9: I’m not sure that it’s an official psalm category, but this one is historical as it recounts the “days of yore” when Israel conquered Canaan in the time of Joshua. Of course a major medium for transmission is older generations passing down the story to younger generations orally:
God with our own ears we have heard,
our fathers recounted to us
a deed that You did in their days,
in days of yore.” (2)

For our psalmist, God is the root cause in both the establishment and disestablishment of entire nations. The humans who carry out these deeds are merely God’s instrument of action:
You, Your hand dispossessed nations—and You planted them.
You smashed peoples and sent them away.
For not by their sword they took hold of the land,
and it was not their arm that made them victorious
but Your right hand and Your arm.” (3,4a)

If ever we need reminding that Israel was convinced that God was on their side (as long as they followed and obeyed God!) it is right here: “and the light of Your face when You favored them.” (4b)

The psalmist’s focus shifts from God as prime mover to the details of how men carry out God’s will as he employs a rather violent image of bloody warfare:
Through You we gore our foes.
through Your name we trample those against us.” (6)

My more cynical self begins to wonder if our poet is using God as a bit of hyperbole, as a cover for man’s violent actions. He rightly points out that it not the weapons that do the work, but the man wielding them.
For not in my bow do I trust,
and my sword will not make me victorious.” (7)

Nevertheless, there is true faith that underlies this psalm as our poet gives full credit to God:
For You rescued us from our foes,
and our enemies You put to shame.” (8)

Therefore, the psalmist asserts, it is God whom we must worship:
God we praise all day long,
and Your name we acclaim for all time. selah.” (9)

My takeaway here is that even for those of us who do not go to war to gore our enemies, we should praise God for all that he does for us in our lives. We may not agree with the psalmist about God being “on our side,” but that in no way diminishes God’s power and action on our lives—and therefore our response must be to praise and worship him.

Job 5,6: Regardless of our feelings about the underlying story of Job, its author expresses truths that we would do well to remember each day as we read the depressing news from around the world as Job’s erstwhile friend, Eliphaz, states some profound truths that are certainly applicable to our own time:
For misery does not come from the earth,
    nor does trouble sprout from the ground;
but human beings are born to trouble

    just as sparks fly upward.” (5:6,7)

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is we humans who create our own problems. For Eliphaz, however, that does not provide an excuse to avoid following—or even rejecting—God:
As for me, I would seek God,
    and to God I would commit my cause.
He does great things and unsearchable,

    marvelous things without number.” (5:8, 9)

Our poet certainly understands the immutability of human nature. What he wrote several millennia ago certainly rings true today. God justice trumps human mendacity:
He frustrates the devices of the crafty,
    so that their hands achieve no success.
He takes the wise in their own craftiness;
    and the schemes of the wily are brought to a quick end.” (5:12, 13)

And, Eliphaz continues, it is God who protects the innocent and brings justice:
But he saves the needy from the sword of their mouth,
    from the hand of the mighty.
So the poor have hope,

    and injustice shuts its mouth.” (5:15, 16)

If along with Eliphaz, we would acknowledge that we humans and our pride and ceaseless desire for power and control are at the root of humanity’s problems, I think we would instinctively turn toward God. But alas, in its pride humanity is unlikely to acknowledge its inherent sinfulness.

Eliphaz asserts even that God’s punishment serves a larger, better end:
How happy is the one whom God reproves;
    therefore do not despise the discipline of the Almighty.
For he wounds, but he binds up;

    he strikes, but his hands heal.” (17, 18)

Really? Here I disagree with Eliphaz as I don’t believe God acts malevolently to teach us lessons. We humans are sinful enough to screw up things without any assistance from God.

Job also disagrees with Eliphaz as he replies in Chapter 6. Rather justifiably, IMHO, Job believes that God is indeed malevolent:
For the arrows of the Almighty are in me;
    my spirit drinks their poison;
    the terrors of God are arrayed against me.” (6:4)

In fact things are so bad, Job would rather die:
O that I might have my request,
    and that God would grant my desire;
that it would please God to crush me,
    that he would let loose his hand and cut me off!” (6:8, 9)

Moreover, Job realizes he cannot help himself out of his God-allowed predicament:
In truth I have no help in me,
    and any resource is driven from me.” (13)

And his friends are also no help and while they were confident they could help, Job knows their words are ultimately useless:
My companions are treacherous like a torrent-bed,
    like freshets that pass away,

“Teach me, and I will be silent;
    make me understand how I have gone wrong.
How forceful are honest words!
    But your reproof, what does it reprove?
Do you think that you can reprove words,
    as if the speech of the desperate were wind?” (6:15, 24-26)

Job is expressing a great truth: in the end, rhetoric has no power. Words are like the wind. This truth is worth bearing in mind as we read the rants and outrage in a Facebook newsfeed.

Romans 11:33–12:8: Paul’s words are the answer to Job’s dilemma and at the root of Eliphaz’s misconceptions. (And how the book of Job concludes.) No matter how much we think we can understand God, we cannot because we have been made as the psalmist has it—a little lower than the angels:
For who has known the mind of the Lord?
    Or who has been his counselor?”
“Or who has given a gift to him,
    to receive a gift in return?” (11:34, 35)

In the face of God’s inscrutability we can respond in only one way as Paul famously tells us, “by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.” (12:1) Happily, he follows this startling assertion immediately with the explanation of how to actually be a ‘living sacrifice:’ “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.” (12:2) Easy to say; hard to do.

What I particularly like here is that Paul tells us that being a living sacrifice requires constantly renewing our minds. As my father used to say, he could identify any non-Christian cult by the requirement to “leave your brains at the door.” To be sure, being a Christian is a matter of the heart, but it is equally a matter of the mind, which is where discernment and learning take place.

Underlying all this is Paul’s assumption that as Christians we are in community and we need to be careful not to set ourselves up as being better than our peers: “I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.” (12:3)

And then perhaps most importantly, as a community we need to recognize that while we are each different with different gifts, each of us an essential part of the body. As such, we each “have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.” ( 6) Which of course Paul cannot resist listing: “prophecy, in proportion to faith; ministry, in ministering; the teacher, in teaching; the exhorter, in exhortation; the giver, in generosity; the leader, in diligence; the compassionate, in cheerfulness.” (7, 8) Paul will take this issue up in greater detail in I Corinthians.

Churches that succeed recognize that each individual is an important contributor to the life of the body. Churches that ultimately fail are led by someone who sets him or herself above others and devalues the contributions made by others. This is why independent churches founded by charismatic leaders do not often survive the departure of their charismatic leader.

 

 

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