Psalm 73:21–28; Proverbs 30; 2 Corinthians 10:7–18

Originally published 6/09/2015. Revised and updated 6/08/2019.

Psalm 73:21–28: Following our poet’s bitter thoughts about how the wicked would always triumph, his feeling that following God was an empty exercise, and then a reawakening that God has “set [the wicked] on slippery ground,” he realizes it was he who was as dumb as cattle:
When my heart was embittered,
and my conscience stabbed with pain,
I was a dolt and knew nothing.
like cattle I was with You. (21, 22)

Rather than having been abandoned by God and thinking the wicked would ultimately triumph, he realizes the truth about God:
Yet I was always with You,
You grasped my right hand. (23)

Moreover, God was not only present, he was active in the psalmist’s life and realizes that following God is greater than any other desire:
You guided me with Your counsel,
toward glory You took me.
Whom else do I have in the heavens,
and beside You whom would I want upon earth? (24, 25)

He will remain faithful to God because this is his highest calling:
Whom else do I have in the heavens,
and beside You whom would I want on earth?
Though my flesh and heart melt away,
God is my heart’s rock and my portion forever. (25, 26)

The psalm ends on a wonderful note that only a deeply intimate relationship with God makes life worth living:
God’s closeness is good to me,
I make the Master the Lord my shelter. (28)

Christians who believe they are standing and fighting alone against all the forces of “tolerance” in the culture wars and especially for those who feel “our side has lost,” would do well to read and reflect on this psalm. From our vantage point it certainly seems that all has been lost and for the opponents, “haughtiness is their necklace” (6) and “they mock and speak with malice.” (8)

But like the psalmist we need to realize that our responsibility is to walk alongside God, fully conscious that he is our guide and our shelter. Yes, we may be mocked and even oppressed, and it will certainly seem like the other side is triumphant, but our ever-faithful God is still nearby and our duty is to allow him guide us in all we do and say.

Proverbs 30: After 29 chapters of proverbs by anonymous authors, collected in seemingly random order, we encounter the “sayings of Agur son of Jakeh—an inspired utterance.” (1) Moreover, we know to whom Agur is speaking: a certain Ithiel.

Agur opens his discourse admitting his discouragement (“I am weary, O God“) and asserting that he lacks understanding and wisdom because he has not “attained knowledge of the Holy One.” (3) Nor can he (or we) because “Who has gone up to heaven and come down?” (4) And then, for Christians, a provocative verse indeed: “What is [God’s] name, and what is the name of his son?” as he asks sarcastically, “Surely you know!” (4)  Which we certainly do now in the New Covenant.

It is with complete humility that “two things I ask of you, Lord;/ do not refuse me before I die:” (7) These are,
Keep falsehood and lies far from me;
 give me neither poverty nor riches,
but give me only my daily bread. (8)

Now we are talking serious wisdom: praying to God for our daily bread, a theme echoed in the Lord’s prayer. Agur provides the reason for his desire to hew to the middle road:
   Otherwise, I may have too much and disown you
       and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’
   Or I may become poor and steal,
       and so dishonor the name of my God. (9)

The remainder of this chapter is a marvelous inventory of the “threes and fours” of creation:
Three things are too wonderful for me;
    four I do not understand. (18)

Agur’s insights into creation and the mysterious ways of humans lead up to the famous line,
If you have been foolish, exalting yourself,
    or if you have been devising evil,
    put your hand on your mouth. (32)

Notice once again that it is our words, our speech, that do the damage. Of course in that era speech was the main means of communication. Today we have so many more media in which to play the fool. And we see it around us every day. But the thrust of the verse is clear: it is our responsibility to not play the fool; we cannot claim to be the victim of circumstances or blame our circumstance on the acts of others. Again, behavior that we see all around us.

2 Corinthians 10:7–18: Paul continues to discourse on the issue of appearances versus actions, asserting the Corinthians are judging him (and others) solely by appearances (7) and that while he may appear weak in person [“he is unimpressive and his speaking amounts to nothing.” (10)] and strong in his letters there is no inconsistency: “people should realize that what we are in our letters when we are absent, we will be in our actions when we are present.” (11)

With this assertion, Paul goes on (somewhat humorously, I think) to tell us that comparisons are pointless, especially when we boast about our personal qualities: “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise.” (12) Which is not to say we should never boast. Paul makes it clear there is one sphere where his boasting is quite acceptable: “[we] will confine our boasting to the sphere of service God himself has assigned to us, a sphere that also includes you.” (13) But even in pride there is restraint: “We do not boast beyond limits, that is, in the labors of others;” (15)

Paul concludes this section about the perils of self-aggrandizement by telling us there is only one safe source of commendation: “For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.” (18)

The question, therefore, to reflect on is, in what ways am I commended by the Lord?

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