Psalm 60; Proverbs 1:1–2:8; 1 Corinthians 11:31–12:11

Originally published 5/9/2017. Revised and updated 5/8/2019.

Psalm 60: This psalm’s superscription asserts it is linked to the incidents described in 2 Samuel 10 when David led Israel’s army against Moab and Edom and Joab “struck down twelve thousand in the Valley of Salt.” (2)

The opening verses are awash in complaints to God, who in turn was angry with Israel and expressed his anger in earthquakes and other punishments—none of which are described in the 2 Samuel passage:
God, You have abandoned us, breached us.
You were incensed—restore us to life!
You made the land quake, You cracked it.
Heal its shards, for it has toppled.
You sated Your people with harsh drink,
You made us drink poison wine.” (3-5)

There’s a longing on the part of the psalmist (speaking in David voice) to restore the previous relationship:
You once gave to those who fear You
a banner for rallying because of the truth.
” (6)

As if to remind him, our psalmist goes on to name various tribes, recounting a past when God rejoiced in the his relationship with Israel:
God once spoke in His holiness:
‘Let me exult and share out Shechem,
and the valley of Sukkoth I shall measure
Mine is Gilead and Mine Manasseh,
and Ephraim My foremost stronghold,
Judah My scepter. (8, 9)

Our psalmist contrasts that once excellent relationship with God’s longstanding negative disposition against Israel’s enemies in humiliating terms:
Moab is My washbasin,
upon Edom I fling my sandal,
over Philistia I shout exultant. (10)

This is an almost sarcastic plea for God to join with Israel, which he once loved, against its enemies, which he has always despised. Our psalmist’s David asks directly for God’s strategic help at this time of crisis:
Who will lead me to the besieged town,
Who will guide me to Edom? (11)

The final three verses follow the usual threefold arc from supplication to wondering why God has abandoned them to a concluding confidence that God will indeed join their side:
Have You not, O God, abandoned us?
You do not sally forth, God, with our armies.
Give us help against the foes
when rescue by man is in vain.
Through God we shall gather strength,
and He will stamp out our foes. (12-14)

This is the emotional path we so often follow in our own relationship with God. We feel deserted and alone, but after reflecting and yes, yelling at God for a while, our spirit will be restored—knowing that God is indeed on our side.

Proverbs 1:1–2:8: The author(s) of Proverbs attribute this collection of wise sayings to Solomon, although I suspect these aphorisms and observations were collected much later in Israel’s history, perhaps during the Babylonian exile.

The prologue clearly sets out the purpose of this book:
For learning about wisdom and instruction,
    for understanding words of insight,
for gaining instruction in wise dealing,
    righteousness, justice, and equity;
to teach shrewdness to the simple,
    knowledge and prudence to the young… (1:2-4)

But looming above all these excellent purposes is the overarching precept: a wise man has a righteous relationship with God:
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge;
    fools despise wisdom and instruction. (1:7)

Happily for all mothers and fathers, the first proverb in this book is one that states that parents are the civilizing source of knowledge to children:
Hear, my child, your father’s instruction,
    and do not reject your mother’s teaching;
for they are a fair garland for your head,
    and pendants for your neck. (1:8, 9)

In our own “enlightened” and “progressive” culture where family has been redefined to include any combination of genders or more tragically, only a single parent, these words are often derided as obsolete or, worse, patriarchal. Yet the two sex, two parent family is the basis of civilization. We redefine the family at our long term peril.

The parent’s first word of advice to her child is exactly what we encounter in so many psalms. They warn against being tempted by, or worse, consorting with evil companions:
My child, if sinners entice you,
    do not consent. (1:10)

The reason is simple: conspiracy and greed are self-destructive and lead inevitably to a bad outcome:
For in vain is the net baited
    while the bird is looking on;
yet they lie in wait—to kill themselves!
    and set an ambush—for their own lives!
Such is the end of all who are greedy for gain;
    it takes away the life of its possessors.”(1:17-19)

Rather, we should follow the ways of wisdom—presented here as a female entity:
Wisdom cries out in the street;
    in the squares she raises her voice. (1:20)

And then we encounter a verse that seems to perfectly capture the zeitgeist of American society in 2019—particularly in Washington DC:
How long, O simple ones, will you love being simple?
How long will scoffers delight in their scoffing
    and fools hate knowledge? (1:22)

The author goes on to describe the benefits of wisdom, reminding us that true wisdom is God-given:
For the Lord gives wisdom;
    from his mouth come knowledge and understanding;
he stores up sound wisdom for the upright;
    he is a shield to those who walk blamelessly,
guarding the paths of justice
    and preserving the way of his faithful ones. (2:6-8)

But we also need to remember that acquiring wisdom requires significant effort on our part. It does not come automatically but only after thoughtful reflection and disciplined study:
…treasure up my commandments within you,
making your ear attentive to wisdom
    and inclining your heart to understanding.” (2:2)

These verses remind me that information—in which we are so inundated—is not knowledge, much less wisdom. But because our culture no longer fears God, I think it is stuck in collective simple mindedness. We are unable to discriminate between what is true and what is false or worse, not even caring.

1 Corinthians 11:31–12:11:
Paul concludes his essay on the difference between Communion and plain old eating, advising the Corinthians, “If you are hungry, eat at home, so that when you come together, it will not be for your condemnation.” (11:34a) He also makes the intriguing statement, “About the other things I will give instructions when I come.” (12:34b) We are left wondering what “these other things” were about.

We now arrive at one of the centerpiece themes of this letter: Paul’s essay on spiritual gifts. While Paul does not come out and give us the back story, his words suggest that the Corinthians were creating a hierarchy of gifts, thereby setting certain people with certain skills as being superior to others less endowed. Moreover, those who lorded it over others doubtless believed their gifts were self-created rather than coming from God. Paul sets them straight on both fronts.

Paul is clear on this point: all gifts have the same source—and it’s not ourselves: “Now there are varieties of gifts, but the same Spirit; and there are varieties of services, but the same Lord; and there are varieties of activities, but it is the same God who activates all of them in everyone.” (12:4-6)  Equally important, these gifts have a single immutable purpose: “To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (12:7) That is, gifts are for the benefit of the entire community, not just the individual. In short, gifts are a means, not an end.

Paul, being Paul, goes on to list the various types of gifts including faith, working miracles, prophecy, and healing. These all come from the Holy Spirit, including the one that is still contentious today, glossalia: “to another various kinds of tongues, to another the interpretation of tongues.” (12:10)

Regardless of my attitude about some of these gifts, as well ongoing theological debates as whether or not they are still relevant today, there is one immutable reality: “All these are activated by one and the same Spirit, who allots to each one individually just as the Spirit chooses.” (12:11) So it is good when we correctly identify our gifts and then use them. But it is far less good if we use our gifts as a means of feeling superior to others.

 

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