Psalm 77:11–16; Song of Solomon 1:1–2:7; Galatians 1:1–12

Originally published 6/17/2017. Revised and updated 6/17/2019.

Psalm 77:11–16: After wondering if God has abandoned him for keeps, our psalmist takes responsibility  for God’s anger. It is his sins that have separated him from God; not the other way around:
And I said, it is my failing,
that the High One’s right hand has changed. (11)

Unlike so many of us, our poet is not in denial about where the root of the problem lies. And with that confession he turns from his negative reflections about God that we saw in the opening verses to an elegy of the great things God has done for creation and for Israel:
I call to mind the acts of Yah,
when I recall Your wonders of old.
I recite all Your works,
Your acts I rehearse. (12, 13)

I wonder that if were I as angry at God about the intrinsic unfairness of life if I could execute the thematic about-face we see here? Yet, by shifting our psychological gaze from all the awful things we think God has done over to reflecting on the great things God has done, we can find healing. I know that initially when I was diagnosed with cancer I was pretty angry. After all, I’d led a pretty decent life, trying to be a “good Christian.” Why would God allow this to happen? But after a while I realized that God’s seeming unfairness is because we we live in a sinful, imperfect world. Like the psalmist, I found healing in reflecting on the blessings that God had brought to me down through the years.

The verses that follow are a marvelous paean to God who rescues a sinful people—and through Jesus Christ rescues each of us:
God, Your way is in holiness.
Who is a great god like God?
You are the god working wonders,
You made known among peoples Your strength.
You redeemed with Your arm Your people,
The children of Jacob and Joseph. (14-16)

Like the psalmist, our response is awe and gratitude when we seriously consider all that God has done for us. And unlike the psalmist, we also know that God’s rescuing agent is Jesus—a reality for which we can be even more grateful than what our psalmist has so joyfully written here.

Song of Solomon 1:1–2:7: As its first verse indicates, this book is also called the Song of Songs, “which is Solomon’s.” Although I take this more as a dedication by the poet than a statement of Solomonic authorship.

It is a love poem structured as a dialog between a young woman and her lover. It is frank in its sexuality and I think it’s in the Bible because of its gorgeous poetry and as the best human expression of what love is that we find in the Bible. In that context, the poetry here is a book-long metaphor for God’s love for us. More prosaically, as Qoheleth advises us in the previous book, since we’re going to die anyway, we might as well enjoy life to the fullest while we have it. In any event, I think it’s difficult to find a more beautifully powerful expression of human love than in this short book of poetry.

The opening verse sets the tone and theme of a woman’s love for a man in a famous comparison:
Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth!
For your love is better than wine,
  your anointing oils are fragrant,
your name is perfume poured out;
    therefore the maidens love you. (1:2,3)

The first lines are familiar because they were the lyric of a song sung by Jimmie Rogers; Peter, Paul and Mary; and others in the 1960’s: “Kisses sweeter than wine.”

Some Christians have tried to make Jesus the male lover in the poem, but I think that is taking interpretation too far.  I think this book of poetry deserves to be read and enjoyed, not dissected as a theological treatise.

So I will only note and comment briefly on some of the lines which for me are particularly beautiful.

The bride speaks first:
I am black and beautiful,
    O daughters of Jerusalem,
like the tents of Kedar,
    like the curtains of Solomon. (1:5)

I’d never noticed the line, I am “black and beautiful” before. Perhaps it’s a reference to the Queen of Sheba, who comes from Africa.

Then the bridegroom speaks:
I compare you, my love,
    to a mare among Pharaoh’s chariots.
Your cheeks are comely with ornaments,

    your neck with strings of jewels.
We will make you ornaments of gold,
    studded with silver.  (1:9-11)

and then even more passionately…
Ah, you are beautiful, my love;
    ah, you are beautiful;
    your eyes are doves.
Ah, you are beautiful, my beloved,
    truly lovely. (1:15-16)

The bride replies with a metaphor that hints strongly of her sexual desire:
As an apple tree among the trees of the wood,
    so is my beloved among young men.
With great delight I sat in his shadow,
    and his fruit was sweet to my taste. (2:3)

And there is her deep longing (the German word, ‘Sehnsucht‘ which intertwines longing with passion expresses this better than English):
O that his left hand were under my head,
    and that his right hand embraced me! (2:6)

But then a warning intrudes:
I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem,
    by the gazelles or the wild does:
do not stir up or awaken love
    until it is ready! (2:7)

Authentic human love is never in a hurry and it waits for the right person and the right time.

Galatians 1:1–12: The church at Corinth was not the only church that turned quickly to false gospels once Paul had left town. There are problems down in Galatia that must be addressed as well. I believe that a more mature Paul penned this epistle that IMHO expounds with a far richer theology than the second letter to Corinth.

Following a warm greeting and invocation, Paul loses no time in getting down to business: “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting the one who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—” (6) As at Corinth, the problem seems to be preachers of a false gospel arriving after Paul’s departure. As far as Paul is concerned, they are leading the good people of the church at Galatia astray: “not that there is another gospel, but there are some who are confusing you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” (7)

Paul gives his listeners—and us—a taste of the strength of his barely disguised anger when he notes that “even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed!” (8) And to make sure the Galatians (and we) get his point, Paul repeats himself: “As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!” (9)

If this opening paragraph didn’t grab the Galatians’ attention then the cause was lost. Paul is certainly aware that he is upsetting people, but the necessity of hewing to the true Gospel of Christ far outweighs the desire for polite conversation: “If I were still pleasing people, I would not be a servant of Christ.” (10)

Which is pretty much the opposite of how the church, consummate marketer that it has become, operates in America today. Unlike Paul we are more likely to pussyfoot around the more difficult aspects of the Gospel for fear of offending people and sending them racing for the doors. I certainly know I am personally guilty of pussyfooting around when it comes to witnessing my faith.

It’s crucial that Paul clearly establishes his bona fides, which he does next. The key differentiator, as we marketers would say it, is that the Gospel he is preaching is not something he made up himself. Rather, “I did not receive it from a human source, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.” (12) The Damascus Road experience and the days of instruction that followed are Paul’s unique claim of apostolic authority outside the original twelve disciples. That is also why Paul’s letters make up a substantial portion of the New testament. The church fathers who assembled the NT canon certainly accepted Paul’s claim that he was conveying the true, divinely revealed gospel.

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