Psalm 44:18–27; Job 8; Romans 13

Originally published 4/6/2017. Revised and updated 4/5/2019.

Psalm 44:18–27: Despite God’s apparent unfaithfulness that caused Israel to be shamed before its neighbors, our psalmist asserts that they have remained faithful to God in their times of trouble—the clear implication being, “So, where were you, God, when we were being faithful to you?? Huh? Speak up! Goodness knows we’ve all asked that question more than once. Our psalmist asks almost plaintively:
All this befell us, yet we did not forget You,
and we did not betray Your pact.
Our heart has not failed,
nor have our footsteps strayed from Your path…” (18, 19)

Then, he becomes bluntly accusatory because God has allowed them to be placed in a situation of great peril that brings them close to death:
…though You thrust us down to to the sea monster’s place
and with death’s darkness covered us over.” (20)

After all, he goes on to argue, if they had betrayed God he certainly would have noticed—and responded to—their unfaithfulness with his usual punishment:
Had we forgotten the name of God
and spread out our palms to an alien god,
would not God have fathomed it?
For he knows the heart’s secrets.” (21, 22)

Yet, even though they have been faithful to him, God has remained silent
For Your sake we are killed all day long,
we are counted as sheep for slaughter
.” (23)

At this point, our psalmist is pretty worked up and basically is trying to shake God awake from  slumber that has led to such great calamity:
Awake, why sleep, O Master!
Rouse up, neglect not forever.” (24)

We can hear the desperation in his voice as he shouts at God, reminding them of their grim situation:
Why do You hide Your face,
forget our affliction, our oppression?
For our neck is bowed as dust,
our belly clings to the ground.” (25, 26)

He concludes with one final plea for God to respond, appealing to God’s justice and kindness:
Rise as a help to us
and redeem us for the sake of Your kindness.” (27)

So, when we are discouraged and in desperate straits ourselves and God seems silent, here is a prayer we can pray. Yes, I know the old cliche about walking alongside God: when there is only one pair of footsteps and God seems to be missing it’s because he’s carrying us. But for me, the desperate honesty of this psalm as the poet cries out to an absent, silent God is far more compelling. Where is God when you really, really need him? This psalm allows us to be angry with God and to honestly ask that question.

Job 8: Job’s second erstwhile friend, a certain Bildad the Shuhite, reacts to Job’s mournful complaints and his desire to die. What he says is exactly the same thing people tend to say when they think we are being wrongly harsh about God—such as the complaints of the psalmist above. They, like Bildad here, go immediately to pointing out how wonderful God is—which is not exactly what Job—or we—want to hear at times of great distress. But Bildad launches into a theological dissertation just when Job needs comfort:
Does God pervert justice?
    Or does the Almighty pervert the right?” (3)

Bildad is explicating the old deuteronomic code of justice: you sin; you’re punished. In this case he opines that even though Job has not sinned his plight must be because his children sinned:
If your children sinned against him,
    he delivered them into the power of their transgression.” (4)

All Job has to do to make things right, Bildad claims, is “seek God/ and make supplication to the Almighty.” (5) After all, he continues,
if you are pure and upright,
    surely then he will rouse himself for you
    and restore to you your rightful place.” (6)

Would it were just that simple.  As we learn from Paul in Romans, it’s actually impossible for us to live “pure and upright” lives. But this reality does not deter Bildad, who then gives a long speech about the mistaken confidence of those who forget God and his goodness:
While yet in flower and not cut down,
    they wither before any other plant.
 Such are the paths of all who forget God;
    the hope of the godless shall perish.
 Their confidence is gossamer,
    a spider’s house their trust.” (12-14)

Bildad’s implication is clear: Job has obviously deluded himself about his faithfulness. His protestations notwithstanding, Job has failed to have a meaningful relationship with God.

Bildad winds up his sermon with the tired argument that as long as we’re pure, God will like us:
God will not reject a blameless person,
    nor take the hand of evildoers.
 He will yet fill your mouth with laughter,
    and your lips with shouts of joy.” (20, 21)

We’ve all heard these sermons. God is God; we just have to be good in order to please him. Yet, if ever we needed an exemplar of intrinsic human goodness, it is Job. And he is suffering. Bildad’s superficial analysis and advice are not helping. A good thing to remember when we come alongside someone who is in great distress or is mourning.

Romans 13: In this infamous passage Paul argues that we are “to be subject to the governing authorities; for there is no authority except from God, and those authorities that exist have been instituted by God.” (1) He goes on to assert that “whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (2) Moreover, he argues, “rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad.” (3) Uh Huh. Especially those benevolent Roman emperors who styled themselves as gods. Paul appears to believe that those in authority will wield their power justly: “It is the servant of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer.” (4) Which is a somewhat ironic statement in light of the amply unjust crucifixion of Jesus.

He also provides the biblical basis for the IRS: “Pay to all what is due them—taxes to whom taxes are due, revenue to whom revenue is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due.” (7)

This passage seems to be a sop to the ruling authorities at Rome and elsewhere to convince them that Paul and the Christian church are not fomenting rebellion against the Roman government. Given the tenor of the times, with plots and conspiracies abounding, this is an understandable and sound strategy, even though Paul comes off sounding more preachy than usual.

Being on an advice-giving roll, Paul goes on to remind his listeners in that pre-credit era, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.” (8) Then, to cover every circumstance, he then tosses in a restatement of Jesus’ famous statement, “any other commandment, are summed up in this word, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” (9)

Paul concludes this chapter with a defensive military metaphor that is expanded on in Ephesians 6: “Let us then lay aside the works of darkness and put on the armor of light;” (12) The way we do this is to live honorably in love and “not in reveling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarreling and jealousy.” (13) In the end we turn our lives over to Jesus as the way to avoid these sins: “put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.” (14)

In fairness to Paul, the foundation of everything he has to say in this chapter is love. And if we love our neighbors as ourselves, we will surely carry out the other commandments, including honoring the authorities. After all, neither Jesus nor Paul said only to love your fellow Christians. We are to love everybody. Good advice indeed. But pretty difficult to execute consistently.

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