Psalm 65:1–9a; Proverbs 7; 1 Corinthians 14:20–35

 Originally published 5/15/2017. Revised and updated 5/14/2019.

Psalm 65:1–9a: In this psalm of thanksgiving, our poet believes that God’s greatness is inexpressible—beyond words—and thus, he should be worshipped in silence as he calls all others to pray in silence as well:
To your silence is praise, god, in Zion,
and to You a vow will be paid.
O, listener to prayer,
Unto You all flesh shall come. (2, 3)

This psalm of worship opens—as should all worship, IMHO—with confession. Here, recognizing the important reality that we cannot bear our sins in silence. At some point we must come to God:
My deeds of mischief are too much for me.
Our crimes but You atone. (4)

Confession completed, the poem moves on into full worship mode in an aura of joy of a God who gives us far more than we deserve—or can ever expect:
Happy whom You chose to draw close,
he will dwell in your courts.
May we be sated with your house’s bounty,
the holiness of Your temple. (5)

Although centered at the temple at Jerusalem, the songs of worship expand beyond the temple to worship a God who both acts and rescues all creation:
With awesome acts justly You answer us,
our rescuing God,
refuge of all the earth’s ends
and the far-flung sea. (6)

As is the case in virtually every psalm of thanksgiving, God’s power is on full display via his acts in nature, as well as his intervention in the cacophonous affairs of humankind:
Who sets mountains firm in His power,
—He is girded in might—
Who quiets the roars of the seas,
the roar of their waves and the tumult of nations. (7,8)

I am struck by the parallel here of God who quiets the seas will also quiet the conflicts of nations. And such is my prayer at this fraught time in history. And I pray that someday the assertion of the psalmist will come to pass:
And those who dwell at earth’s ends will fear Your signs. (9a)

But right now, we humans are too self-absorbed and self-centered to realize that God is truly the one who controls our collective destiny. But will we listen to him? I am not optimistic

Proverbs 7: Given his relentless lecturing on the consequences of adultery, one is left with the impression that author must have been very close to an adulterous relationship—or to be somewhat heretical, perhaps even had been in an adulterous relationship himself.

Having already lectured about the conceptual evil of adultery, in this chapter he provides a real-life example of its consequences:
I observed among the youths,
    a young man without sense,
passing along the street near her corner,
    taking the road to her house
in the twilight, in the evening,
    at the time of night and darkness. (7-9)

How many of us were “young men without sense?” But given the misogynist bent of our author, it is the woman who seduces the youth:
Then a woman comes toward him,
    decked out like a prostitute, wily of heart.
She is loud and wayward;
    her feet do not stay at home;
now in the street, now in the squares,
    and at every corner she lies in wait.
She seizes him and kisses him… (10-13a)

And it is the married woman who proposes the amorous hookup (shades of Mrs Robinson in “The Graduate.”):
Come, let us take our fill of love until morning;
    let us delight ourselves with love.
For my husband is not at home;
    he has gone on a long journey. (18, 19)

Alas, the youth falls for her temptation—and once again, speech is the instrument:
With much seductive speech she persuades him;
    with her smooth talk she compels him.
Right away he follows her,
    and goes like an ox to the slaughter... (21, 22)

So, our author concludes, as if lecturing to a group of adolescents (which maybe he was!):
And now, my children, listen to me,
    and be attentive to the words of my mouth.
Do not let your hearts turn aside to her ways;
    do not stray into her paths. (24, 25)

Perhaps to truly strike the fear of God into his audience, our author concludes that to fall into this seductive trap is to set oneself up for an awful fate affecting one’s entire life:
For many are those she has laid low,
    and numerous are her victims.
Her house is the way to Sheol,
    going down to the chambers of death. (26, 27)

Regardless of what we may think of our author’s point of view about the woman seducing the man, I think it’s worth remembering the lesson here. Adultery is a life-ruining affair for all concerned.

1 Corinthians 14:20–35: It’s pretty clear by this time in the letter that glossalia—speaking in tongues—was rampant at the church at Corinth. Paul pretty much accuses them of thinking like children rather than adults: “Brothers and sisters, do not be children in your thinking; rather, be infants in evil, but in thinking be adults.” (20)

He makes his case by quoting Isaiah 28:11, which allows him to assert that “Tongues, then, are a sign not for believers but for unbelievers,” (22) as he rather logically concludes, “If, therefore, the whole church comes together and all speak in tongues, and outsiders or unbelievers enter, will they not say that you are out of your mind?” (23) To which I can only add, “Amen!”

For Paul, prophecy is far superior to tongues because at its heart, prophecy is rational argumentation—and Paul is the poster child for rational argumentation.

But Paul is also a realist and he knows that his words will not eliminate glossalia, but he attempts to tamp it down by assigning it a limited role within worship—and then only of it has a clear purpose to “build up” rather than create dissension: “When you come together, each one has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. Let all things be done for building up.” (26) Of course this is putting in action Paul’s thesis of different gifts coming together in worship. The sum of the different gifts is greater than each gift on its own.

Moreover, whoever is leading worship must limit the amount of glossolalia and in perhaps the toughest obstacle, to require another person interpret it: “If anyone speaks in a tongue, let there be only two or at most three, and each in turn; and let one interpret.” (27) If no one is there to interpret, the the tongue-speakers must remain quiet: “But if there is no one to interpret, let them be silent in church and speak to themselves and to God.” (28) As always, prophecy is preferable and it has a clear purpose, “so that all may learn and all be encouraged.” (31)

Finally, Paul asserts that worship must be an orderly affair because “God is a God not of disorder but of peace.” (33) Having been to some worship services in my past that were way too casual, even verging on disorder, I heartily agree with Paul.

This reading concludes with one of Paul’s more divisive statements: “women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.” (34, 35) [One wonders if Paul really wrote this or if it was added in a later manuscript.]

As we know all too well, those words have been ripped out of both their biblical and cultural contexts and too often applied wantonly. Be that as it may, I’m pretty sure this statement is here immediately after the discussion about glossolalia because it may have been mostly women speaking in tongues at Corinth that was creating the problem. We also need to remember that the culture of the time was far more restrictive regarding the public role of women. Paul doubtless felt that the prohibition would create greater order at worship. As well, newcomers to the faith would not be as shocked—and possibly repelled—by women speaking at worship.

But we live in a far different culture and Paul’s words here have deprived too many churches of the gifts of women. And they are much the poorer for it.

 

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