Psalm 59:11–18; Job 42; 1 Corinthians 11:17–30

Originally published 5/8/2017. Revised and updated 5/7/2019.

Psalm 59:11–18: Our psalmist continues to express his faith that God will wreak vengeance against his enemies:
My steadfast God will come to meet me,
God will grant me the sight of my foes’ defeat. (11)

However, he changes his mind about wishing for their death, now preferring that God would make an example of them, demonstrating to others the folly of rejecting God:
Do not kill them lest my people forget.
Through Your force make them wander, pull them down,
our shield and master. (12)

In fact, it should be their own deceitful words that bring them down and become objects of derision:

Through their mouth’s offense, the word of their lips
they will be trapped in their haughtiness,
and through the oaths and the falsehood they utter. (13)

How many times have I wished for those whom I believe to be deceitful to be hoisted on their own petard!  There is scarcely a more satisfying feeling to see someone trapped by his own lie. Usually they are politicians…

Perhaps in the heat of the emotion that envelopes this psalm, our psalmist suddenly changes his mind and once again he wishes for the fairly violent death of those same enemies—and that it would be good if those deaths receive widespread publicity as an example of God’s power and the cost of abandoning God:
Destroy, O destroy in wrath, that they be no more,
and it will be known to the ends of the earth
that God rules over Jacob.” (14)

Clearly, our psalmist is writing in stream of consciousness about the evil these enemies have wrought as he suddenly switches back to recalling their behavior, this time comparing them to roving packs of dogs:
They come back at evening,
they mutter like dogs.
They prowl round the town.
They wander in search of food
if they are not sated, till they pass the night. (15,16)

The food in this case being their innocent victims. The psalm concludes with one more declaration of the poet’s steadfast faith in God and in God’s protection:
But I shall sing of Your strength,
and chant gladly each morning of our kindness. (17a)

I think this psalm brilliantly lays out in poetry the kinds of often wild thoughts that rattle through our head when we have been wronged by someone. We can think all kinds of evil thoughts and hope they are targets of God’s vengeance. But in the end we can trust only in our relationship with God because unlike humans, God is resolutely faithful and recognizing this we sing with the psalmist:
My strength, to You I would hymn,
for God is my fortress,
my steadfast God.” (18)

Job 42: The story of Job is wrapped up fairly efficiently in this final chapter as Job finally speaks, admitting that he may have been a bit too presumptuous regarding his relationship with God:
Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand,
    things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.” (3)

But Job’s more significant statement is the one that for me describes the essential element of true faith in God:
I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
    but now my eye sees you;
therefore I despise myself,
    and repent in dust and ashes. (5, 6)

Here, I think, is the author’s message: Faith is not just an intellectual “hearing exercise.” Rather, true faith comes by (1) recognizing that God is God and (2) seeing ourselves for the sinners we are. The core of faith is recognizing our state of sinfulness and that regardless of our good deeds and our good words we cannot save ourselves. It is this recognition of “despising myself,” which Job expresses here that leads to repentance—and to being acceptable to God.

Job’s erstwhile friends receive their comeuppance because rather than recognize and repent as Job has, they have bloviated about theology and their suppositions of what God does and does not do. God lays it on the line to Eliphaz: “My wrath is kindled against you and against your two friends; for you have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (7)

In the end, it’s really quite simple: Job recognizes that God is God and he—like all of us— is God’s broken creature and in this recognition, he repents. The three friends have not done this yet. All they’ve done is talk. So it is Job who must intercede with God on behalf of his friends and “and the Lord accepted Job’s prayer.” (9) BTW, Elihu is not mentioned. I wonder what his fate was?

Restoration follows repentance as “the Lord restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the Lord gave Job twice as much as he had before.” (10)

So what’s the takeaway from this frequently troubling book? For me it is that we must recognize that God is God and that’s there’s nothing we can do to alter that reality. Further, it is the height of arrogance for us— his creatures—to pretend we understand God’s intentions and motivations. All we can do is recognize that we are not God.

We also need to remember that we have a profound advantage over Job and his friends. We know that Jesus Christ came to die for us and to restore us to a right relationship with God. And we do not need to take 42 chapters of speeches to figure this out.

1 Corinthians 11:17–30: Paul emphasizes that the factions at Corinth have pretty much created chaos that is especially visible around their attempts to recreate the Last Supper: “When you come together, it is not really to eat the Lord’s supper. For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk.” (20, 21)

Paul makes it clear that the Lord’s supper is no ordinary meal. In fact, he remonstrates, “What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in?” (22) Thus, Paul establishes good practice—a practice whose words we still hear today every time we come to the table of Jesus—words worth quoting in their entirety:
…that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for  you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (23-26)

We can be grateful that Paul said these words for each time we hear them we are connected directly back to the very earliest Church.

Accompanying this institution Paul immediately warns the folks at Corinth—and all of us—that we must take our participation very seriously: “Whoever, therefore, eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be answerable for the body and blood of the Lord.” (27)

And he follows with a crucial instruction that we too often ignore: “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (28) In other words we must be fully aware of who we are and what we have done before partaking in the Eucharist. Which is one of the reasons I find the idea of a worship service that includes communion but excludes confession to be incomplete because it subtly allows us to skip over Paul’s instruction about self-examination.

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