Psalm 68:28–36; Proverbs 17; 2 Corinthians 1:12–22

Originally published 5/25/2017. Revised and updated 5/24/2019.

Psalm 68:28–36: In an echo of the Song of Deborah found in Judges 5, our psalmist lists a brief catalog of the tribes that participated in the initial battles against the Canaanites. Here, though, the emphasis seems to be on the tribal leaders in a procession bringing gifts of thanksgiving to God, who gave them victory in battle:
There little Benjamin holds sway over them,
Judah’s princes in their raiment,
Zebulon’s princes, Napthali’s princes.
Ordain, O God, Your strength,
strength, O God, that You showed for us,
from Your temple, over Jerusalem.
To You the kings bring gifts. (28-30)

The psalmist continues with a symbolic reference to Egypt’s attempt to recapture the Israelites as they crossed over the Sea of Reeds escaping from slavery:
Rebuke the beast of the marsh,
the herd of bulls among calves of the peoples—
cringing with offerings of silver.
He scattered peoples that delighted in battle. (31)

Egypt is the “beast of the marsh” and the bulls that are among the Israelite calves. But in defeat, Egypt must recognize that Israel’s God is stronger than their own small-g gods. Thus, it and all other nations are invited to join the procession acknowledging that Israel’s God is the only legitimate and all-powerful God overall all small-g gods:
Let notables come from Egypt.
Cush raise its hands to God.”
Kingdoms of earth, sing to God,
hymn to the Master. (32, 33)

The psalm concludes with a paean to God’s majestic strength over all the earth:
To the rider of the utmost heavens of yore.
Look, He makes His voice ring, the voice of strength.
Acclaim strength to God,
over Israel is His pride
and His strength in the skies. (34, 35)

And it is God’s strength which in turn has given strength to Israel:
Awesome, O God, from Your sanctuaries!
Israel’s God—He gives strength and might to His people. (36)

While we may not look to God to give us a military victory, I think this psalm reminds us that God is the source of our own strength to confront—and conquer—the challenges and obstacles that we encounter in our own daily lives.

Proverbs 17: Speaking of catalogs… Our author continues with his proverbial sayings. In this chapter most of the verses are constructed to contrast the wise person and his habits grounded in wisdom against the foolish person. Needless to say, it is the wise person who is superior.

But as always it’s difficult to detect any sort of structural pattern to the order of the sayings. It’s as if the author had a bag of sayings, each one written on a card, which he then dumps out of the bag on to the table and simply lists in the order he finds them.

There is a thread of domesticity and personal relationship in this chapter, beginning with the opening verse—something to reflect on in our overly material, stressed-out culture:
Better a dry crust with peace and quiet
    than a house full of feasting, with strife. (1)

And it is better for a wise family servant to run the family business than a deceitful son:
A prudent servant will rule over a disgraceful son
    and will share the inheritance as one of the family. (2)

In a stern warning to those who post snarky Facebook memes at a time of tragedy our author reminds us:
Whoever mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker;
    whoever gloats over disaster will not go unpunished. (5)

There’s a further warning about starting arguments, which seems to be a popular sport both then and in this Facebook age. We humans argue ceaselessly:
Starting a quarrel is like breaching a dam;
    so drop the matter before a dispute breaks out. (14)

My particular favorite in this chapter is about grandparents and reciprocal respect:
Children’s children are a crown to the aged,
    and parents are the pride of their children. (6)

Friendship is crucial for bringing us through times of adversity:
A friend loves at all times,
    and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (17)

And it helps to keep a positive outlook on life:
A cheerful heart is good medicine,
    but a crushed spirit dries up the bones. (22)

Finally, no chapter in this book would be complete without a reference to the issue of speech and the wisdom of holding one’s tongue:
The one who has knowledge uses words with restraint,
   and whoever has understanding is even-tempered.
Even fools are thought wise if they keep silent,

    and discerning if they hold their tongues. (27, 28)

I think we’d all be better off if were we not living in a culture of endless chatter, innuendo, and rumor-mongering. These verses certainly remind me that much of the endless chatter—especially that of the commentariat who occupy cable news channels—is pretty worthless.

2 Corinthians 1:12–22: I’d love to know what accusations against Paul were in the letter sent by Corinth to which Paul is replying here. He certainly seems to be on the defensive: “Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace.” (12)

Apparently the people in Corinth are miffed because Paul did not come visit them as he had promised: “ I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea.” (16) But that plan did not come to fruition as Paul had hoped, so I suspect someone wrote calling him unreliable for this change in plans: “Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?” (17)

It’s obvious by Paul’s reference to “Yes, yes” and “No, no” that politicians and erstwhile leaders were making the same empty promises (that would be the “worldly manner”) in his time as they do in ours.

Paul builds on his “Yes/No” theme by telling the Corinthians that with Jesus there is only “Yes,” reminding them that “our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.”” (18) In fact, he continues, they’ve received quite a bit of good instruction about “Yes,” as he implies that their accusations of ambiguity are completely unfounded: “…or the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” (19)

Now on a roll, Paul continues, now in full theology mode: “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God.” (20)

This verse is the crux of the passage. Christ’s love is so all-encompassing that he cannot say “no” to our desire to know and love him. And where does that desire come from? Paul’s answer emphasizes the relationship of Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit in a Trinitarian reference, “it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ.” (21) And it is God who “put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.” (22)

We must never forget that when we say, “It’s all about Jesus” that God and the Holy Spirit are equally essential to our Christian life.

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