Psalm 71:1–8; Proverbs 23; 2 Corinthians 5:16–6:2

Originally published 6/01/2017. Revised and updated 5/31/2019.

Psalm 71:1–8: Although this psalm appears to be a psalm of supplication, it opens on a fairly positive note that reflects the poet’s faith that God is indeed listening. It seems more of a meditation, lacking the sense of desperate urgency that permeated the previous psalm. Nevertheless, there is the usual request for God to prevent shame coming upon him:
In You, O Lord, I shelter.
Let me never be shamed.
Through Your bounty save me and free me.
Incline Your ear and rescue me. (1,2)

Here, God both provides shelter and rescues our supplicant:
Be for me a fortress-dwelling
to come into always.
You ordained to rescue me,
for You are my rock and my bastion. (3)

I wonder how often we think of God as protection and shelter? Yes, we know that God loves us, but I think we tend to forget that one of the key roles of God the father and also that of a human father is as protector and provider. I think in our cultural rush to blur sexual distinctiveness in the name of equality, we have forgotten that husbands and fathers have been protectors of their families down through history. This is wired into male genes, I think. And we certainly have before us ample evidence of the breakdown of families where a protective father is not in the picture.

Now we come to the nature of the poet’s plea. As usual, he is beset by enemies who wish to do him harm:
My God, free me from the hand of the wicked,
from the grip of the wicked and violent.
For You are my hope, Master,
O Lord, my refuge since youth. (4,5)

The last line of verse 5 suggests that our poet is advanced in age We have the sense that the psalmist has been in dire straits before and that this plea is simply one more time that he comes to God who he already knows has consistently watched over him since his birth:
Upon You I relied from birth.
From my mother’s womb You brought me out.
To You is my praise always. (6)

Our psalmist must have been well known in his community and it is to him and his faith in God’s sure rescue that others have drawn their own faith in God’s rescuing power:
An example I was to the many,
and You are my sheltering strength.” (7)

The question of course is now that I am old how good an example of faithfulness have I been to others? I fear I cannot echo the psalmist here.

Proverbs 23: Our author is certainly on a roll as he provides full-throated advice to those I take to be his offspring. Much of the advice is cast in the negative: Do not do this; do not do that. And some of his advice is downright puzzling:
When you sit down to eat with a ruler,
    observe carefully what is before you,
and put a knife to your throat

    if you have a big appetite. (1,2)

Other statements, however, make a good deal of sense:
Do not wear yourself out to get rich;
    be wise enough to desist.
When your eyes light upon it, it is gone;

    for suddenly it takes wings to itself,
    flying like an eagle toward heaven. (4,5)

This statement about working hard for an ephemeral reward reminds me of newly-minted MBAs who go to work on Wall Street, putting in endless hours to become “masters of the universe” without ever asking themselves to what end are they working. Are they any happier? Our author certainly suggests that deep down they are not.

We then encounter what to our culture is perhaps the most controversial verses of all:
Do not withhold discipline from your children;
    if you beat them with a rod, they will not die.
If you beat them with the rod,
    you will save their lives from Sheol. (13)

Punishing a child for wrongdoing is an effective way of teaching them there are consequences to their wrong action—and was so down through history until the present age. Clearly, the author is not advocating abuse, for abuse is not discipline. I think the American habit of treating children as miniature adults and making anodyne statements like, “You need to make a better choice,” rather than confronting them with a more severe consequence is at least partly responsible for the many whiny snowflakes that seem to be part of the culture these days. (Spoken like the curmudgeon I am.)

We should choose our company wisely:
Do not be among winebibbers,
    or among gluttonous eaters of meat;
for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
    and drowsiness will clothe them with rags. (20, 21)

In fact, there is quite a bit of advice about the perils of alcoholic overindulgence as he asks and answers:
Who has woe? Who has sorrow?
    Who has strife? Who has complaining?
Who has wounds without cause?
    Who has redness of eyes?
Those who linger late over wine,
    those who keep trying mixed wines.
Do not look at wine when it is red,
    when it sparkles in the cup
    and goes down smoothly. (29-31)

To which he appends a memorable description of a hangover:
At the last it bites like a serpent,
    and stings like an adder.
Your eyes will see strange things,
    and your mind utter perverse things. (32, 33)

The chapter concludes with a startlingly apt description of an alcoholic’s drunken mumbling:
They struck me,” you will say, “but I was not hurt;
    they beat me, but I did not feel it.
When shall I awake?
    I will seek another drink. (35)

The line about “I was not hurt” reminds me of drunk drivers who kill others while surviving themselves.

I wonder how many hungover college students might have benefited from the advice contained in this chapter?

2 Corinthians 5:16–6:2: Paul speaks of the transformation of Jesus into the resurrected Christ: “even though we once knew Christ from a human point of view, we know him no longer in that way.” (5:16) Which leads to the most well-known verse in this epistle about the transformation we ourselves experience when we are in Christ: “So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (5:17)

It is through Christ that we are able to approach God, “who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation.” (18) Paul says God sent Jesus to earth in order to effect this reconciliation because, as John’s gospel tells us, “God so loved the world that he sent his only son.” Paul of course states the same fact in fancier theological dress: “For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.” (5:21)

This reconciliation with God also brings an enormous responsibility: we are the ones who must witness to others—not just in our words, but in our actions: “So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.” (5:20)

This grace of reconciliation is immediately available to us. Paul’s enthusiasm is contagious. Don’t wait around just making pronouncements. Do something! Or as Paul puts it, “we urge you also not to accept the grace of God in vain.” (6:1) After all, it’s immediately available: “See, now is the acceptable time; see, now is the day of salvation!” (6:2) Yet, it’s so easy when we’re confronted with the urgency of the gospel and our responsibility to spread the good news to simply respond, “Maybe tomorrow.”

 

 

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