Psalm 59:1–9; Job 41; 1 Corinthians 11:3–16

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

Psalm 59:1–9: The introductory verse of this psalm refers to the incident described in I Samuel 19 where Saul sends assassins to David’s house. WIth the help of his wife, Michal, David manages to escape. The first stanza is a straightforward prayer of supplication as David prays for God to rescue him:
Save me from my enemies, my God,
over those who rise against me make me safe. (2)

Not surprisingly, our psalmist, writing in David’s voice, castigates his pursuers as evil and himself as the innocent subject of a vast conspiracy:
Save me from the wrongdoers,
and from men of bloodshed rescue me.
For, look, they lie in wait for my life,
the powerful scheme against me
—not for my wrong nor my offense, O Lord. (3-5)

This is yet another example of why the Psalms are so psychologically on target. David rightly feels attacked and just as we would in the same circumstance, he casts himself as the weaker, oppressed party. And he calls out for justice, whose desired outcome is the punishment of his traitorous enemies:

And You, Lord, God of armies, God of Israel,
Awake to make a reckoning with all the nations.
Do not pardon all wrongdoing traitors. (6)

He goes on to describe his murderous enemies in stark metaphor:
“They come back at evening,
they mutter like dogs
They prowl round the town.” (7)

Then, as happens so frequently in the Psalms, the focus shifts from the enemy’s attempts to take David’s life to the generally destructive energy of slanderous speech:
Look, they speak out with their mouths—
and swords on their lips—” (8)

We cannot overemphasize the theme of the evil effects of slanderous speech that threads through the Psalms. This is the same kind of hateful speech we witness too frequently in so-called “social media.” But in the end, as far as God is concerned, evil speech is ultimately ineffectual:
And You, Lord, laugh at them,
You mock all the nations. (9)

Once again, we’ve encountered a sudden shift from David’s personal danger to God’s all-encompassing view of humankind’s ultimately feeble efforts. But would God actually “mock all the nations”? I think this is a descriptively emotional comment on the part of the psalmist rather than an accurate theological statement. Again, we need to be careful to keep the emotional expressions in the Psalms separate from doctrinal theology.

Job 41: As far as the author of Job is concerned, God is just as wordy as Elihu. He now spends many verses describing Leviathan, the oceanic parallel to land-based Behemoth. And once again, God asks a rhetorical question verging on the sarcastic:
Can you draw out Leviathan  with a fishhook,
    or press down its tongue with a cord?
Can you put a rope in its nose,
    or pierce its jaw with a hook? (1-2)

God’s sarcasm intensifies as he points out that Leviathan has no interaction with humans:
Will it make many supplications to you?
    Will it speak soft words to you?
Will it make a covenant with you
    to be taken as your servant forever?
Will you play with it as with a bird,
    or will you put it on leash for your girls?
Will traders bargain over it?
    Will they divide it up among the merchants? (3-6)

These questions answer themselves: Of course not. So Job’s God goes on for quite a while describing the frightening qualities of Leviathan, including:
There is terror all around its teeth.
Its back is made of shields in rows,
shut up closely as with a seal. (14b, 15)

And my particular favorite:
Its sneezes flash forth light,
    and its eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn. (18)

I have to believe that the author of Revelation was familiar with God’s speech here in Job as many of the adjectives and similes are very similar as they connote immense power, e.g., “From its mouth go flaming torches; / sparks of fire leap out.” (19) Unsurprisingly, any human efforts to conquer Leviathan will prove fruitless:
The arrow cannot make it flee;
    slingstones, for it, are turned to chaff.
Clubs are counted as chaff;
    it laughs at the rattle of javelins. (28, 29)

All very entertaining, but why would God say any of this? Is he cynically driving his point home for Job? Or perhaps our author is using his imagination and literary license to once again make the point that God is God and there’s absolutely nothing we humans can do about anything that God creates or wills into existence, including these mythical beasts. In any event, by this time we readers are saying, “OK, I get it enough already. Yes, you’re God and we’re not.”

But perhaps that’s the point. We constantly want to be small-g gods ourselves and we try over and over to conceive of our puny human selves as having power over creation. That’s certainly true today as we tend to believe there’s a technological solution to every problem when we in fact we do not. Perhaps the greatest demonstration of this hubris is thinking that we have the power to halt or reverse climate change. Yes, we can—and should—become better stewards of the planet, but just as we cannot control Behemoth or Leviathan it’s futile to think we can usurp God’s true creative power that is infinitely greater than ours.

1 Corinthians 11:3–16: We arrive at one of the more troubling, almost misogynistic, passages where Paul deals with the contentious issue at Corinth about headgear during worship:  “Any man who prays or prophesies with something on his head disgraces his head, but any woman who prays or prophesies with her head unveiled disgraces her head—it is one and the same thing as having her head shaved.” (4,5)  Really, Paul?

My own somewhat heretical feeling is that these are not Paul’s words, but were added in at some point to address an issue in the early church. the issue of head coverings may have been important in the Corinthian culture, but we live in a very different world today—although I’m old enough to remember when Catholic women were required to wear head covering or hats at mass. I also remember my Mom wearing hats to church on Sundays in the 1950’s.

But for me, headgear is not the most troubling aspect of this passage. Again, bearing in mind that Paul (or the scribe who added this passage) was writing in a particular time to a particular culture, had a rather rigid view of sexual hierarchy: “but woman is the reflection of man. Indeed, man was not made from woman, but woman from man. Neither was man created for the sake of woman, but woman for the sake of man.” (7b-9) One wonders how many husbands down through the centuries have used this passage to justify unfair oppression of their wives.  Since many churches take Scripture quite literally, we have an entire sector of Christianity where women cannot take leadership roles—much less become pastors.

These same folks tend to skip right over Paul’s rather tepid assertion that “in the Lord woman is not independent of man or man independent of woman.” (11) And he even acknowledges that men are born via women: “ For just as woman came from man, so man comes through woman;” (12) Yes, we are in a partnering relationship and yes, there is a need for clear understanding of roles within a male-female relationship. But IMHO, too much wrong has been committed based on Paul’s assertion of man superior to woman.

On balance, I’m left feeling pretty annoyed with Paul that he would take up this much scriptural space worrying about things like hair length: “Does not nature itself teach you that if a man wears long hair, it is degrading to him, but if a woman has long hair, it is her glory?” (14, 15) Frankly, I think Paul (or the later scribe) is trying to (no pun intended) disentangle himself from an issue that was peculiar to a particular time and place. While there is truth here about male-female relationships, we should nevertheless read this passage in his cultural context and thoughtfully see what and how these rules apply—or don’t apply—in our own cultural context. 

 

Speak Your Mind

*