Psalm 73:1–12; Proverbs 28; 2 Corinthians 8:22–9:9

Originally published 6/07/2017. Revised and updated 6/06/2019.

Psalm 73:1–12: Alter informs us that this “Asaph psalm” is attributed to Asaph the Levite, one of eleven in this section of the Psalms.

Our psalmist is reflecting back on the time he was envious of the wicked and it was apparently a close call that he did not fall into their company:
As for me, my feet had almost strayed,
my steps had nearly tumbled.
For I envied the revelers,
I saw the wicked’s well-being. (2,3)

He describes his jealous thoughts during that time of temptation and raises the eternal conundrum of why the wicked not only seem to comprise the wealthy but also seem to be in better health than the rest of us. The neverending question: why do they get to escape the woes that afflict us who are less fortunate?
‘For they are free of the fetters of death,
and their body is healthy.
Of the torment of man they have no part,
and they know not human afflictions.’ (4,5)

But as he reflects further he comes to see their true nature. And it’s a sarcastic picture that for me creates a striking similarity to the current occupant of the White House:
Thus haughtiness is their necklace,
outrage, their garment bedecks them.
Fat bulges around their eyes,
imaginings spill from their heart. (6,7)

Even in that pre-Twitter age, these people clearly communicated their arrogance far and wide:
They mock and speak with malice,
from on high they speak out oppression.
They put their mouth up to the heavens,
And their tongue goes over the earth. (9,10)

The human tragedy is that they collect enthusiastic followers along the way. At this point I have the feeling that Asaph is describing the king of Israel who ruled them. But I think the same words apply to many of our current leaders as well as people believe their press releases:
Thus the people turn back to them,
and they lap up their words. (10)

Even worse, these arrogant leaders get away with questioning God’s very existence, instead placing themselves in a god-like position over the people they rule. They believe they can get away with their wickedness without consequence:
And they say, ‘How could God now,
and is there knowledge with the Most High?‘ (11)

Asaph’s frustration at the unfairness of it all spills out:
Look, such are the wicked,
the ever-complacent ones pile up wealth. (12)

Alas, the sinful state of the world is still pretty much the same. Only we live it on a far larger scale, aided and abetted by technology. But those who think the world is more corrupt than ever should spend more time in the Psalms. As we’ve noted numerous times, human nature and its tendency toward sin is immutable

Proverbs 28: The overarching theme of this chapter is about the qualities of the rule of law and justice as in verse after verse he contrasts the bad habits of the wicked with the practices of the righteous.  And speaking of the wicked, our author first observes that at their core they are cowards:
The wicked flee when no one pursues,
    but the righteous are as bold as a lion. (1)

As our author knows, the rule of law is essential to civilization:
When a land rebels
    it has many rulers;
but with an intelligent ruler
    there is lasting order. (2)

He goes on to remind us that the wicked are neither interested in nor understand the nature of law and justice. Only the righteous can comprehend true justice:
Those who forsake the law praise the wicked,
    but those who keep the law struggle against them.
The evil do not understand justice,
    but those who seek the Lord understand it completely. (4,5)

The foundations of the Judeo-Christian law and practice thread throughout this chapter.
Better to be poor and walk in integrity
    than to be crooked in one’s ways even though rich.
Those who keep the law are wise children,
    but companions of gluttons shame their parents. (6,7)

Those who are wise can always discern the pretensions of the wicked:
The rich is wise in self-esteem,
    but an intelligent poor person sees through the pose. (11)

And, as my father used to say, schemes and lies eventually will be uncovered and the ‘chickens will come home to roost’:
No one who conceals transgressions will prosper,
    but one who confesses and forsakes them will obtain mercy. (13)

For me, the key verse in this chapter is about where we place our trust and our need to realize that wisdom in not inherent in our own being, i.e., we are not born wise. Our author gives short schrift to those self-centered souls who think they can make it through life completely on their own because they think they are so smart:
Those who trust in their own wits are fools;
    but those who walk in wisdom come through safely. (26)

We are doomed if we do not seek wisdom through knowledge and understanding that comes from God and would rather rely only on our own smarts. We are fooling no one but ourselves. Which is something I need to remind myself of daily.

2 Corinthians 8:22–9:9: I’m never sure why the Moravians split up the readings the way they do. As we saw yesterday, Paul has been praising Titus and mentions he is sending “the brother who is famous among all the churches for his proclaiming the good news” (8:18) without mentioning this person’s name. Now Paul underscores this man’s bona fides, telling the Corinthians that along with Titus, “we are sending our brother whom we have often tested and found eager in many matters, but who is now more eager than ever because of his great confidence in you.” (8:22) Moreover, Titus and this other person are “messengers  of the churches, the glory of Christ.” (23) But frustratingly, Paul still doesn’t identify this famous preacher!

“Trust me,” Paul seems to be saying as he asks that the Corinthians receive these men “openly before the churches, show them the proof of your love and of our reason for boasting about you.” (24)  As it turns out, Paul has an ulterior motive for sending his best “messengers” to the fairly wealthy church at Corinth. The Corinthians have apparently made a pledge of money or other gifts for the much poorer church at Jerusalem. Now it’s time to pay up.

Among Paul’s many talents is brilliant salesmanship and he goes for the preemptive close by first flattering the Corinthians, “I know your eagerness, which is the subject of my boasting about you to the people of Macedonia, saying that Achaia [Corinth] has been ready since last year; and your zeal has stirred up most of them.” (9:2) But now it’s time for these wealthy Corinthians to put their money where their mouth is.

The real reason he’s sending Titus et al to Corinth is so, “that our boasting about you may not prove to have been empty in this case, so that you may be ready, as I said you would be.”  (9:3) In other words, Paul has put both the Corinthians’ as well as his personal credibility on the line with the Macedonians. Consequently, it’s essential that the Corinthians had better pay up sooner rather than later. Now casting aside all subtlety, Paul says, “otherwise, if some Macedonians come with me and find that you are not ready, we would be humiliated—to say nothing of you—in this undertaking.” (9:4) And then even less subtly, “so that it [the gift] may be ready as a voluntary gift and not as an extortion.” (5)

We now arrive at the verse that is probably the most quoted of all possible verses in stewardship sermons: “the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each of you must give as you have made up your mind, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.” (9:6,7) Which does not make it any less true.

Paul’s logic is compelling. God has provided abundantly for us, and as the OT says over and over, it is our duty in return to provide for the poor. Paul uses a verse from Psalm 112 to make his point: “As it is written,

“He scatters abroad, he gives to the poor;
    his righteousness endures forever.” (9:9)

If the Bible is clear about anything, it is clear about our duty to provide for those less fortunate than we. The question is, am I responding or m I holding back as apparently the Corinthians were?

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