Psalm 63; Proverbs 5; 1 Corinthians 13:8–14:5

Originally published 5/12/2017. Revised and updated 5/11/2019.

Psalm 63: This thanksgiving psalm opens with a stark metaphor of thirst in the desert as the psalmist describes his intense quest for God:
God, my god, for You I search.
My throat thirsts for You,
my flesh yearns for You
in a land waste and parched with no water. (2)

I think it is in the desert places of our own lives where we are most likely to encounter God. Our defenses are down and we finally realize that we are no longer as in control of our lives as we once thought. I certainly know that has been true for me.

Our poet finds God in the desert and expresses ecstatic joy that becomes worship:
For Your kindness is better than life.
My lips praise You.
Thus, I bless You while I live,
Your name I lift up my palms. (4,5)

In contrast with the thirst of the desert our poet finds a sumptuous feast in worship:
As with ripest repast my being is sated,
And with lips of glad song my mouth declares praise. (6)

Gratitude beyond measure for God’s presence envelopes our poet, even as he lies in bed alone at night:
Yes, I recalled You on my couch.
In the night-watches I dwelled upon You.
For You were a help to me,
and in Your wings’ shadow I uttered glad song.
My being clings to You,
for Your right hand has sustained me. (7-9)

These verses remind us that God is always present and that we can find him and worship him or even in the dark of night and far from church. Not every experience with God occurs in community. God is present even in our deepest solitude. And for some of us, it’s in solitude that we may be more likely to encounter God.

No David psalm would be complete without a passing reference to his enemies and the corresponding wish for their destruction:
But they for disaster have sought my life—
may they plunge to the depth of the earth.
May their blood be shed by the sword,
may they be served up to the foxes. (10,11)

I love the contrasting images involving of meals. Our psalmist is sated by God’s generosity while he hopes his enemies become the main course for feasting animals.

Nor would a David psalm would be complete without some reference to the power of speech—and here it is in the negative as the poet concludes his psalm with the idea “all who swear by God will revel” [because] the mouth of liars is muzzled.” (12) Given the endless words coming in Washington DC, I wouldn’t object if every mouth—liar or not—were muzzled.

Proverbs 5: At first read there seems to be a misogynistic undertone here as our author continues to dispense his advice:
For the lips of a loose  woman drip honey,
    and her speech is smoother than oil;
but in the end she is bitter as wormwood,
    sharp as a two-edged sword. (3,4)

Of course there’s also some truth to his assertion as women have been seducing men (and the other way round) all through history. And as he asserts, “Her feet go down to death.” (5a) If not to death then certainly to ruin.

Our author then describes a pretty elaborate set of bad consequences should his listener fail to heed his warning and lose his honor through scandal:
you will give your honor to others,
    and your years to the merciless,
and strangers will take their fill of your wealth,
    and your labors will go to the house of an alien;
and at the end of your life you will groan. (9b-11)

It will all come to deep and very public regret. We are reminded of public officials and not a few ministers who have trod this very path:
…and you say, “Oh, how I hated discipline,
    and my heart despised reproof!
I did not listen to the voice of my teachers
    or incline my ear to my instructors.
Now I am at the point of utter ruin
    in the public assembly. (12-14)

The far better path is to remain faithful to one’s own spouse. Our poet employs a powerful metaphor of water to contrast the sexually faithful life with the dissolute path of seduction—and a barely concealed reference to a man’s semen:
Drink water from your own cistern,
    flowing water from your own well.
Should your springs be scattered abroad,
    streams of water in the streets?“(15, 16)

It all boils down to self-discipline, an old truism ignored in the breach as we witness so much self-centered indiscipline in today’s culture. On the contrary, the dire warnings, the consequences , and also the rewards of faithfulness are exactly the same today as they were three millennia ago. God still knows our thoughts and deeds:
For human ways are under the eyes of the Lord,
    and he examines all their paths.
The iniquities of the wicked ensnare them,
    and they are caught in the toils of their sin.
They die for lack of discipline,
    and because of their great folly they are lost.”  (21-23)

Truer words have never been spoken, and these days we seem to be witnessing folly—and real stupidity—on an enormous scale on all sides in Washington DC.

1 Corinthians 13:8–14:5: Paul tells us that love is the one sure thing: “Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end.” (13:8) Love remains and and love trumps all else, even such wonderful things as faith and hope. For even these cannot flourish without love: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” (13:13)

Paul shifts the theme away from love to the maturity that true love for God brings to our lives. And as the author of Proverbs reminds us above, this requires the adult discipline that comes with love-based maturity: “When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways.” (13:11) What is disturbing is when we see adults engaging in childish behavior, which again is on full display on Washington DC.

But even as disciplined, mature adults we will not understand everything, most especially God’s ways. As Paul famously reminds us, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (13:12) So when someone asserts they have true knowledge of what God intends for them (or worse, for me) in a particular circumstance, it’s always helpful to recall this verse. God is loving and kind but he is also inscrutable. Otherwise, he wouldn’t be God.

In the next chapter paul turns to the thorny issue of tongues (glossolalia) as a spiritual gift. This is still a thorny issue in many churches today. Glossolalia is not a means of communication but rather a gift that really benefits only to the individual speaking it: “For those who speak in a tongue do not speak to other people but to God; for nobody understands them, since they are speaking mysteries in the Spirit.” (14:2) and “Those who speak in a tongue build up themselves.” (14:4a)

Paul the contrasts the public benefits of prophecy—”those who prophesy build up the church.” (4b)—with the private benefits of glossolalia. So even though Paul has no particular problem with people speaking in tongues, he’d prefer more prophesy since that’s a positive influence on the health of the church: “One who prophesies is greater than one who speaks in tongues, unless someone interprets, so that the church may be built up.” (5)

I’m a bit more conservative than Paul: I’d be happy to not have tongues at all since its very weirdness (at least in our culture) becomes a distraction at best and a divisive issue (as it has in many churches) at worst.

 

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