Psalm 73:13-20; Proverbs 29; 2 Corinthians 9:10–10:6

Originally published 6/08/2017. Revised and updated 6/07/2019.

Psalm 73:13-20: Having reflected on the haughty and malicious wicked, who appear to have all the power and wealth, our psalmist limns his despairing futility of having attempted to lead a righteous life but alas, to not good avail:
But in vain have I kept my heart pure
and in [naive] innocence washed my palms. (13)

But he also realizes that to emulate the speech of the wicked is a fool’s errand and a betrayal of his faith in God:
If I said, let me talk like them.
Look, Your sons’ band I would have betrayed.
When I thought to know these things,
it was a torment in my eyes. (15, 16)

As he continues to ponder the alternative course he might have taken, he comes to realize that the wicked will indeed eventually receive their comeuppance:
Till I came to the sanctuaries of God,
understood that would be their end.
Yes, You set them on slippery ground,
brought them down to destruction. (17, 18)

Upon this realization, our poet’s despair is transformed to enthusiastic joy as he contemplates their destruction:
How they come to ruin in a moment,
swept away, taken in terrors!
Like a dream upon waking, O Master,
upon rising You despised their image. (19, 20)

Jesus of course has told us we are to love our enemies. But I have to say that I can really identify with the psalmist’s emotional state as it rises from despair to joy when justice is served and the wicked receive their due reward. As always, we must never forget that the Psalms are primarily expressions of deep emotions, not theological treatises. Frankly, I see nothing wrong with our psalmist feeling and expressing his inner joy when he witnesses God’s justice brought down upon those who deserve it.

Proverbs 29:In fact we encounter a proverb that exactly expresses what our psalmist has been feeling:
When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice;
    but when the wicked rule, the people groan. (2)

There is a profound truth in what the author says about leaders ruling in justice. There are numerous examples down through history to the present day:
By justice a king gives stability to the land,
    but one who makes heavy exactions ruins it. (4)

My fear is that the current polarized political situation is inherently unstable, and that we are at risk of losing the qualities that have sustained this nation for almost 250 years. There is a highly relevant “current events” quality to several of our author’s assertions:
The righteous know the rights of the poor;
    the wicked have no such understanding.
Scoffers set a city aflame,
    but the wise turn away wrath. (7,8)

After all, the protestors on college campuses who have prevented those they disagree with speaking, are but scoffers with a tendency to violence. Then, there are those in politics who keep making stupid statements and sending provocative tweets, whose effects perfectly characterize the political climate our describes:
If the wise go to law with fools,
    there is ranting and ridicule without relief.

A fool gives full vent to anger,
    but the wise quietly holds it back. (9, 11)

There are far too many fools—starting at the very top but plenty of others as well—who are giving full vent to their anger while the rest of us reap the consequent whirlwind that I believe can too easily lead to instability.

Our author also addresses domestic matters and child-rearing. Living in this “enlightened” time where too many children effectively rule their parents, there is wisdom for the ages here:
The rod and reproof give wisdom,
    but a mother is disgraced by a neglected child. (15)
Discipline your children, and they will give you rest;
    they will give delight to your heart. (17)

And no, I don’t think discipline injures a child’s self-esteem as an adult. The author goes on to describe the adult problem of speaking before thinking and the effects of angry words:
Do you see someone who is hasty in speech?
    There is more hope for a fool than for anyone like that. (20)

One given to anger stirs up strife,
    and the hothead causes much transgression. (22)

These behaviors are all because of the problem of pride:
A person’s pride will bring humiliation,
    but one who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor. (23)

Yes, we’ve read all these proverbs several times already in previous chapters, but perhaps the idea here is that if we read them often enough their inherent wisdom may eventually sink in and we will start changing our behavior. Of course the real problem is that hardly anyone actually reads this book today. (I’ve never heard a sermon on Proverbs.) I think our culture has lost much by virtue of ignoring the unchanging truths about human nature that it contains.

2 Corinthians 9:10–10:6: As usual, the Moravians have split Paul’s speech about giving and stewardship in half. Here in his conclusion, Paul promises that our generous giving will cause the givers to be “enriched in every way for your great generosity, which will produce thanksgiving to God through us.” (9:11) Unfortunately too many TV evangelists have used this verse as their “prosperity gospel” that promises great personal rewards and even wealth if they just send money to the huckster perverting Paul’s words.

He makes the interesting point that those who give will experience gratitude themselves: for the rendering of this ministry not only supplies the needs of the saints but also overflows with many thanksgivings to God. (9:12)

Paul goes on to tell us that giving generously is one of the tests of the church’s sincerity, indeed its essential to proving its authenticity in hewing to the true gospel: “Through the testing of this ministry you glorify God by your obedience to the confession of the gospel of Christ and by the generosity of your sharing with them and with all others.” (9:13)

In the next chapter, Paul returns to defending himself and his ministry. He certainly must have been deeply wounded by the unfair accusations made against him by the Corinthians. He asserts that while he is “humble when face to face with you, but bold toward you when I am away”  (10:1) boldness is unnecessary in this case by his “daring to oppose those who think we are acting according to human standards.” (10:2)

At last we have an insight into the nature of one of the accusations made against Paul: he was accused of being insufficiently faithful to the Gospel message—and there is no accusation that could possibly have cut Paul more deeply.

He admits his humanity but denies he is acting according to the usual human rule of argumentation: “Indeed, we live as human beings, but we do not wage war according to human standards.” (10:3) What his accusers have interpreted as Paul’s unreasonable human behavior is a manifestation of a far stronger spiritual power: “for the weapons of our warfare are not merely human, but they have divine power to destroy strongholds.” (10:4)

Paul has raised this destructive spiritual power against wrong belief and wrong theology: “We destroy arguments and every proud obstacle raised up against the knowledge of God, and we take every thought captive to obey Christ.” (10:6, 6)

The challenge here for us is, are the thoughts we have and the things we say “captive to obey Christ,” or are they simply reflections of our own self-centered pride? The essential argument that I think Paul is making here is that we must communicate the gospel through the power of the Holy Spirit, not through our own clever ideas.

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