Psalm 47; Job 12:13–13:19; Romans 15:17–29

Originally published 4/11/2017. Revised and updated 4/10/2019.

Psalm 47: We can hear the loud singing and even shouting in this exuberant psalm of thanksgiving. (It also justifies hand-clapping during worship!)
All peoples, clap hands,
Shout out to God with a sound of glad song.” (2)

The reason for the singing and shouting is simple. All Israel is praising God for his protection and enabling their victory over their enemies:
For the Lord is most high and fearsome,
a great king over all the earth.
He crushes peoples beneath us
and nations beneath our feet.” (3,4)

But as always, God is the central focus of celebratory worship:
God has gone up with a trumpet-blast,
the Lord with a ram’s horn sound. (6)

Perhaps most important here, the people realize that this is not something they accomplished on their own, but rather that God has chosen them, loves them, and has helped them:
He chooses us for our estate,
pride of Jacob whom He loves. Selah.” (5)

And in response to God’s love and his provision, our psalmist writes with unbridled enthusiasm:
Hymn to God, hymn,
hymn to our king, O hymn.
For king of all earth is God,
Hymn joyous song.” (7,8)

Our poet expands the horizon of celebration by telling us that God is not Israel’s exclusive property but that “God reigns over the nations and sits on His holy throne.” (9) God’s kingship over all the earth—over all his creation—is the core reality of God’s being and the reason why he sent a Savior to rescue all humankind, not just the Jews.

Nevertheless, the celebration concludes with a reprise of God having chosen and protecting Israel via the efforts of its military:
The princes of peoples have gathered,
The people of Abraham’s God.
For God’s are the land’s defender.
Much exalted is he.” (10)

This psalm is an excellent example of expressing the joy in knowing—truly knowing— just who God is and how he protects us today just as he protected Israel so many years ago.

Job 12:13–13:19: Job continues his lengthy disquisition on the nature and qualities of God, which impacts all creation:
With God are wisdom and strength;
    he has counsel and understanding.
If he tears down, no one can rebuild;
    if he shuts someone in, no one can open up.
If he withholds the waters, they dry up;
    if he sends them out, they overwhelm the land.” (12:13-15)

But an angry, hurting Job observes that God is also capricious, and brings calamity even to those who trust in him:
He deprives of speech those who are trusted,
    and takes away the discernment of the elders.
He pours contempt on princes,
    and looses the belt of the strong.
He makes nations great, then destroys them;
    he enlarges nations, then leads them away.” (12:20,-21, 23)

Notice how Job also observes that God both creates and destroys entire nations. When we examine history which is chockablock with the cyclical growth and eventual decay of empires and nations we realize just how true Job’s statement is. Nor should we here in America think that somehow our nation is exempt from decay and downfall. Perhaps it’s just because I’m old, but I certainly detect the first stages of that eventual downfall here on our own shores.

Job asserts that he is an equal with his erstwhile friends:
What you know, I also know;
I am not inferior to you.” (13:2),

And rather than allowing these “friends” to adjudicate his case, Job intends to go into God’s courtroom:
I would speak to the Almighty,
and I desire to argue my case with God.”

Having made this decision, he hurls insults back against his three interlocutors:
As for you, you whitewash with lies;
    all of you are worthless physicians.
If you would only keep silent,
    that would be your wisdom! (13:4,5)

Now, that’s one great put-down! I wonder if I’ll ever have the opportunity to use it.

Job believes he is entitled to a fair trial and he is ready to stand in the dock, even to the point of death:
See, he will kill me; I have no hope;
    but I will defend my ways to his face.” (15)

In the end, Job is doing what we all want to do when we believe we have been unfairly singled out by God for unwarranted punishment. We want justice and we want to make our case in God’s court:
I have indeed prepared my case;
    I know that I shall be vindicated.
Who is there that will contend with me?

    For then I would be silent and die. (13:18, 19)

But will Job’s wish to be heard by God be granted?

Romans 15:17–29: Paul states that “I have reason to boast of my work for God” (17) for the simple reason that he has been designated as apostle to the Gentiles: “I will not venture to speak of anything except what Christ has accomplished through me to win obedience from the Gentiles.” (18) He is also careful to note that he will not obstruct others engaged in a similar mission and he will work only in areas where the gospel has not yet spread: “I make it my ambition to proclaim the good news, not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation.” (20)

It’s too bad many missionary activities in the 19th and early 20th centuries did not follow Paul’s sage advice. Instead, the various missionary groups competed with each other, e.g. in Africa. One has the distinct feeling here that Paul feels that others have been working in his vineyard and even corrupting his message. But the key for Paul is that he is working in virgin territory.

At this point we find out that Paul is writing to a church he has not yet visited: “This is the reason that I have so often been hindered from coming to you.” (22) But he fully intends to come, which of course he eventually does, although not in the way he planned.

What’s intriguing here is that he plans to visit Rome on his way to Spain. He makes this point twice, first at verse 24 and then again at 28: “I will set out by way of you to Spain.” Whether Paul ever made it to Spain has been the subject of intense speculations—most Spaniards preferring to believe that Paul made it to that edge of the Roman Empire. We’ll never know for sure since Spain is not mentioned in the book of Acts. My own view is that he never made it.

Instead of heading to Rome and Spain, Paul tells them, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints; for Macedonia and Achaia have been pleased to share their resources with the poor among the saints at Jerusalem.” (25, 26) Unfortunately, we know too well what happened in Jerusalem such that Paul eventually arrives in Rome as a prisoner.

The key message for me here us that even if our plans are to do God’s work they will not necessarily turn out the way we had hoped. It’s the old saying: if you want God to laugh just tell him your five-year plan.

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