Psalm 80:13–20; Isaiah 15,16; Ephesians 1:11–23

Originally published 7/3/2017. Revised and updated 7/2/2019.

Psalm 80:13–20: As we’ve seen, our psalmist is pretty irritated at God that after all the effort God undertook to plant the metaphorical vine of Israel in the Promised Land, and then expand its empire under Solomon [“You sent forth its boughs to the sea/ and to the river its roots” (12)], God now appears to have abandoned Israel to a cruel and humiliating fate:
Why did You break through its walls
so all passers-by could pluck it? (13)

Our poet stretches the metaphor to characterize Israel’s enemies as feral animals that feast on the vines in the vineyard:
The boar from the forest has gnawed it,
and the swarm of the field fed upon it. (14)

He begs God to reconsider his plan to abandon Israel as it now hangs on the cusp of total annihilation:
God of armies, pray, come back,
look down from the heavens and see,
and take note of this vine,
And the stock Your right hand planted,
And the son You took to Yourself— (15, 16)

At first glance, the “son” in this verse could be David and the subsequent Davidic dynasty. It is certainly not Jesus. I think we need to take “son” as representing Israel, although the metaphorical shift from Israel as vine in one line to Israel as son in the next is somewhat disconcerting. Nevertheless, an awful fate awaits Israel as the verse concludes:
burnt in fire, chopped to bits,
from the blast of Your presence they perish. (17)

The poet’s tone becomes less confrontational as he makes his final plea for mercy:
May Your hand be over the man on Your right,
over the son of man You took to yourself.” (18)

Is Israel the “man on Your right” or the “son of man”? The idea of the “man on Your right” as a metaphor for Israel sitting at the right hand of God would certainly bespeak its perceived role as God’s chosen nation. But the latter phrase, son of man, is almost always a messianic reference. I think it’s possible for us Christians to interpret this verse as a direct reference to the incarnation of Jesus Christ who indeed, as our creeds tell us, is sitting at the right hand of God. Once again, as can read Scripture at several levels we can assign multiple meanings to verses like these.

The psalm concludes rather prosaically with the usual promise if constant faithfulness and worship if God would only rescue Israel from its present plight:
And we will not fall back from You.
Restore us to life and we shall call on Your name.
Lord God of armies, bring us back.
Light up Your face, that we may be rescued. (19, 20)

Alas, as we know, the Assyrians came anyway and Israel—the northern kingdom—was no more…

Isaiah 15,16: Per the editors of the NRSV, chapter 15 is “an Oracle concerning Moab,” which is meeting its ultimate destruction to the enormous sorrow of its people. The poetry here beautifully captures true grief of the destruction of an entire nation:
On every head is baldness,
    every beard is shorn;
in the streets they bind on sackcloth;
    on the housetops and in the squares
    everyone wails and melts in tears. (15: 2,3)

The image of mourning for the dead intensifies:

For a cry has gone
    around the land of Moab;
the wailing reaches to Eglaim,
    the wailing reaches to Beer-elim.” (15:8)

Worse, Isaiah, speaking in God’s voice, promises total destruction of its people:
For the waters of Dibon are full of blood;
    yet I will bring upon Dibon even more—
a lion for those of Moab who escape,
    for the remnant of the land. (15:9)

Unlike Israel, the land of Moab is no more—the prophecy has certainly come true. But Isaiah has more to say about Moab than just its destruction. It appears that a Messiah will arise out of Moab, just as David himself is descended from Ruth the Moabite:
When the oppressor is no more,
    and destruction has ceased,
and marauders have vanished from the land,
then a throne shall be established in steadfast love
    in the tent of David,
    and on it shall sit in faithfulness
a ruler who seeks justice
    and is swift to do what is right. (16:4b, 5)

I will take this as a prophecy of Jesus, who being of the house of David is indeed the “ruler who seeks justice and is swift to do what is right.” But as for the nation of Moab itself, it is doomed. Like our psalmist above, Isaiah uses the metaphor of an abandoned vineyard to represent a people who are no more:
Joy and gladness are taken away
    from the fruitful field;
and in the vineyards no songs are sung,
    no shouts are raised;
no treader treads out wine in the presses;
    the vintage-shout is hushed. (16:10)

The prophet then switches to prose and apparently in an effort to make is listeners fully appreciate what he’s saying in poetry, tells them in no uncertain terms, “the glory of Moab will be brought into contempt, in spite of all its great multitude; and those who survive will be very few and feeble.” (16:14)

All is silence. Is the culture we live in today fated to meet the same destiny as Moab?

Ephesians 1:11–23: Paul goes on to explain that this gift we have received through Jesus Christ is in the form of an inheritance, which directly implies that God sees us as part of the family: In Christ we have also obtained an inheritance, having been destined according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to his counsel and will.” (11)  Of course, “destined” is a word freighted with heavy theological meaning and another basis of the theology of predestination.

Paul then describes his personal role in carrying news of this inheritance to the world: “so that we, who were the first to set our hope on Christ, might live for the praise of his glory.” (12) I’m assuming that the “we” here refers to the apostles among whom Paul includes himself. The apostles, including Paul, have brought the good news to others, who upon believing, have received the Holy Spirit: “In him you also, when you had heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and had believed in him, were marked with the seal of the promised Holy Spirit.” (13) This is a pretty complete description of the nature and effects of evangelism—bringing others to Christ, who infuses them with the Holy Spirit.

Paul is pretty enthusiastic about the Christians at Ephesus, whom he has apparently not yet met: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love  toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.” (15, 16) This love for those he has not yet met causes him to launch into a rather effusive prayer on their behalf: “I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him,  so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,” (17, 18)

Notice that the core of the prayer is that the Ephesians become “enlightened” as to the generosity of the inheritance and in the nature of the salvation Jesus Christ has brought to them. This is quite a contrast to Paul’s letters to the Corinthians and the Galatians. But then its always easier to sing the praises of someone we haven’t yet met and h ave not yet encountered their flaws.

Paul goes on to make it crystal clear that it Christ as head of the church is God-ordained and that it is Christ to whom God has delegated permanent authority over the church: “God  put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church” (20-23) This is indeed the Church of Jesus Christ.

These are important verses to remember when we too often focus on the pastor, some TV evangelist, or even the pope, seeing them as the head of the church. Like the apostles themselves, they are mere fallen humans. And when they start to set themselves up as the persons to whom others should look, it is time to get out of there. It is Jesus Christ in which the power and effectiveness of the church ultimately resides.

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