Psalm 72:1–11; Proverbs 26; 2 Corinthians 7:13b–8:9

Originally published 6/05/2017. Revised and updated 6/04/2019.

Psalm 72:1–11: This magisterial psalm is written as a blessing to the newly crowned Solomon bestowed, I presume, on him by the high priest. The focus of the first four verses is on the king’s duty (and of any king of Israel, or any leader of a nation for that matter) to dispense justice fairly no matter a person’s station in life, with a special emphasis on the “lowly” folk:
For Solomon.
God grant Your judgements to the king
and Your righteousness to the king’s son.
May he judge Your people righteously
and Your lowly ones in justice.

May he bring justice to the lowly of the people,
may he rescue the sons of the needy
and crush the oppressor.” (1,2,4)

As a Christian, I might be tempted to interpret the lines about the king and the king’s son as being messianic since we could read the king being God and the son being Jesus Christ. However for me, that is stretching it too far. I think it’s better to take the psalm at its face value, which is already impressive enough.

We encounter a benedictory verse that, while it certainly applies to Solomon, also applies to all who would be leaders:
May the just man flourish in his days—
and abundant peace till the moon is no more. (7)

The blessing continues with a broad geographical sweep that indicates the unmatched extent of the kingdom of Isreal under Solomon. Since the psalm was doubtless written some centuries after Solomon’s actual reign, there’s a level of wistful nostalgia for what once was:
And may he hold sway from sea to sea,
from the River to the ends of the earth.
Before him may the desert-folk kneel,
and his enemies lick the dust. (8,9)

The “River” here is probably the Euphrates since its geography appears to include the vast swath of desert far to the east of the Jordan and the nomads who inhabited it. Solomon’s kingdom also stretches to the far west to Mediterranean islands, north to Tarshish, and south to Sheba:
May kings of Tarshish and the islands
bring tribute,
may kings of Sheba and Siba
offer vassal-gifts. (10)

Our author then includes what is basically the entire world:
And may all kings bow to him,
all nations serve him. (11)

Again, I’m left with the feeling that while this psalm is prophecy about Jesus Christ as king, but also again, I feel that approaches over-interpretation.

Proverbs 26: Our author opens with an avalanche of similes that characterize the entire chapter:
Like snow in summer or rain in harvest,
    so honor is not fitting for a fool.
Like a sparrow in its flitting, like a swallow in its flying,
    an undeserved curse goes nowhere. (1,2)

It’s clear that our author, speaking in Solomon’s voice, cannot abide fools—especially those fools who would pretend to be wise but lack true wisdom—as he subjects us to another barrage of similes and metaphors:
Do not answer fools according to their folly,
    or you will be a fool yourself.
Answer fools according to their folly,
    or they will be wise in their own eyes.
It is like cutting off one’s foot and drinking down violence,
    to send a message by a fool.
The legs of a disabled person hang limp;
    so does a proverb in the mouth of a fool.
It is like binding a stone in a sling
    to give honor to a fool.” (4-8)

In other words, don’t give fools the time of day or they’ll steal your watch. The author goes on in this tone making sure that we are never tempted to think that despite seeming words of ersatz wisdom a fool is a wise man. One of course thinks of the many foolish utterances  emanating from Washington DC by a panoply of politicians.

Having dispensed with fools, our author turns his steely-eyed disapproval to the lazy.
The lazy person says, “There is a lion in the road!
    There is a lion in the streets!”
As a door turns on its hinges,
    so does a lazy person in bed.
The lazy person buries a hand in the dish,
    and is too tired to bring it back to the mouth. (13-15)

As far as our author is concerned, lazy persons have an exaggeratedly high opinion of themselves, verging on narcissism as he writes sarcastically:
The lazy person is wiser in self-esteem
    than seven who can answer discreetly. (16)

Busybodies and people with lame excuses are his next target in another barrage of similes:
Like somebody who takes a passing dog by the ears
    is one who meddles in the quarrel of another.
Like a maniac who shoots deadly firebrands and arrows,
so is one who deceives a neighbor
    and says, “I am only joking!”” (17-19)

So many times I have tried to excuse my own bad behavior with the pathetic excuse, ‘I was only joking.” Susan has never bought this and sees right through me. Yet I persist. And in another proof of the immutability of human nature, here is exactly same behavior that dates back three millennia.

The author then excoriates gossip and rumor-mongering:
As charcoal is to hot embers and wood to fire,
    so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife.
The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels;

    they go down into the inner parts of the body.” (21, 22)

Would that a few people in Washington and the media take those two verses to heart.  It probably never occurred to our author that our political leaders and media would so gleefully indulge in spreading rumors, innuendos, and outright leaks.

2 Corinthians 7:13b–8:9: Paul’s pretty happy that Titus has  been a success in Corinth and that he did not overstate Titus’s gifts and capabilities: “For if I have been somewhat boastful about you to him, I was not disgraced; but just as everything we said to you was true, so our boasting to Titus has proved true as well.” (7:14) Now that Titus is back with Paul, he writes that Titus’s “heart goes out all the more to you, as he remembers the obedience of all of you, and how you welcomed him with fear and trembling.” (7:15)

I’m intrigued that the Corinthians must have been so afraid of what Paul had said about Titus that they feared he was going to excommunicate them all because of their numerous shortcomings. On the contrary, it appears Titus must have also shown grace while bringing some discipline.  Maintaining a dynamic balance between grace and discipline is a key element of effective leadership. Apparently Titus possessed that skill. Would that more leaders in the church today had that skill. Never mind the political world at large.

Chapter 8 opens with a stewardship sermon as Paul points out that the Macedonians, who “during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.” (8:2) They have not just given generously but have given “even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege  of sharing in this ministry to the saints.” (8:4) Paul is quick to point out that they gave freely because of their love of God not just their personal affection for him: “they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us,” (5) 

Now he flatters the Corinthians as he asks them to follow the Macedonian example: “Now as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in utmost eagerness, and in our love for you —so we want you to excel also in this generous undertaking.” (8:7)

However, he is quick to point out, “I do not say this as a command, but I am testing the genuineness of your love against the earnestness of others.” (8:8) That’s exactly the spirit in which we should be giving to the church. Which leads Paul to what I think is the best known verse in this epistle—that Jesus himself is the greatest example of generosity: “For you know the generous act of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.” (8:9)

Obviously, what Jesus gave to us is infinitely greater than our wealth. As the song written in 1865 by one Elvina Hall has it,
“Jesus paid it all,
All to Him I owe;
Sin had left a crimson stain,
He washed it white as snow.”

Our gifts back to him no matter how generous we think we’re being are but mere pittances by comparison.

 

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