Psalm 82:1–5; Isaiah 24,25; Ephesians 3:14–4:6

Originally published 7/7/2017. Revised and updated 7/6/2019.

Psalm 82:1–5: This highly creative psalm is unique in that its setting which is some place where God and all the small-g gods have gathered. God chastises the small-g gods (or perhaps they’re angels) for their incompetent and unjust administration of human affairs on earth, which have resulted in the ascendancy of the wicked and the oppression of the poor:
God takes His stand in the divine assembly,
in the midst of the gods he renders judgement.
How long will you judge dishonestly,
and show favor to the wicked?” (2)

As we have observed again and again in these musings, one of the strongest themes in Scripture—especially in the OT—is God’s demand for justice for the poor, the oppressed, the widows, and the orphans. Our poet raises the question that permeates the book of Job: Why do the wicked prosper and the poor suffer? Needless to say, this upside-down state of affairs persists across history right to our own times and culture.

The small-g gods are impotent and useless as God demands that they—and we—to abandon our cultural habits that favor the rich and wicked. We may not be small-g gods (even though many of us often think we are!), but we would do well to heed God’s command, which our poet frames in the strongest, most imperative terms:
Do justice to the poor and the orphan.
Vindicate the lowly and the wretched.
Free the poor and the needy,
from the hand of the wicked save them. (3, 4)

The persistent practice of wickedness and injustice creates darkness and moral blindness and destabilizes even creation itself:
They do not know and do not grasp,
in darkness they walk about.
All the earth’s foundations totter. (5)

This last line describing instability is especially apropos today as we see terrorism, nations threatening each other, environmental destruction, and frankly, the decline if not outright collapse, of western civilization as it careens away from its Judeo-Christian roots into a decadence based on self-centered individual rights. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that American culture is tottering on the brink of moral disaster.

Isaiah 24, 25: Speaking of judgement… Isaiah predicts God’s judgement at the end of time as a metaphorical—and perhaps physical— earthquake:
Now the Lord is about to lay waste the earth and make it desolate,
    and he will twist its surface and scatter its inhabitants.” (24:1)

Unlike other apocalyptic writing, the focus os not on battles or heavenly interventions. Instead, Isaiah focuses on the destruction of nature itself:
The earth shall be utterly laid waste and utterly despoiled;
     for the Lord has spoken this word.

The earth dries up and withers,
    the world languishes and withers;
the heavens languish together with the earth. (24:3, 4)

So why is all creation cursed? Among other things—and certainly relevant today—humans have befouled God’s world:
The earth lies polluted
    under its inhabitants;
for they have transgressed laws,
    violated the statutes,
    broken the everlasting covenant. (24:5)

Human pleasure has ceased as “all joy has reached its eventide” (24:11) as “Desolation is left in the city,/ the gates are battered into ruins.” (24:12)

But off in the distance there is singing by the righteous remnant that is has never abandoned God:
They lift up their voices, they sing for joy;
    they shout from the west over the majesty of the Lord.
Therefore in the east give glory to the Lord;
    in the coastlands of the sea glorify the name of the Lord, the God of Israel.
From the ends of the earth we hear songs of praise,
    of glory to the Righteous One.” (24:14-16)

But then these joyous voices seem to fall silent as Isaiah returns to his main theme:
Terror, and the pit, and the snare
    are upon you, O inhabitant of the earth! (24:17)

The reason for earth’s destruction (it has gone far beyond the psalmist’s ‘tottering’) is exactly as we expect: human sinfulness:
The earth staggers like a drunkard,
    it sways like a hut;
its transgression lies heavy upon it,
    and it falls, and will not rise again. (24:20)

Interestingly, it appears that the hoi polloi—the poor, the widows and orphans— will not have to endure this punishment. Only those in positions of power will suffer:
On that day the Lord will punish
    the host of heaven in heaven,
    and on earth the kings of the earth. (24:21)

Is the ‘host of heaven’ the same small-g gods whom God rebukes in today’s psalm? As for humans, those who receive God’s harshest punishment are leaders who have abandoned their responsibility and led people astray. The chapter concludes with a bold statement that God is the victor:
the Lord of hosts will reign
    on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem,
and before his elders he will manifest his glory. (24:23)

I read chapter 25 as the worship celebration of God who reigns over all by that faithful remnant we met in the previous chapter:
Lord, you are my God;
    I will exalt you, I will praise your name;
for you have done wonderful things,
    plans formed of old, faithful and sure.  (25:1)

Injustice has been conquered by God’s beneficent mercy:
For you have been a refuge to the poor,
    a refuge to the needy in their distress,
    …
you subdued the heat with the shade of clouds;
    the song of the ruthless was stilled. (25:4, 6)

A wonderful celebration follows:
On this mountain the Lord of hosts will make for all peoples
    a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines,
    of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. (25:6)

And in a famous verse, Isaiah promises that God’s mercy…
will swallow up death forever
Then the Lord God will wipe away the tears from all faces,
    and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth. (25:8)

I think this is a direct prophecy of the first and second comings of Jesus Christ. And our patience as Christians will ultimately be rewarded in God’s promise. As Isaiah reminds us:
This is the Lord for whom we have waited;
    let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. (25:9)

Will I wait patiently or will I turn away and be consumed by my own agenda? Will I be one of the faithful remnant or will I go my own self-centered way?

Ephesians 3:14–4:6: Paul interrupts his theological discourse to pray for the Ephesians—a prayer I think is worth quoting in full:

I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit, and that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love.  I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length and height and depth,  and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God. (3:16-19)

The prayer is followed by a marvelous benediction:

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. (3:20, 21)

This prayer is of course highly theological in and of itself, chockablock with the core elements of the Good News. There are echoes of Paul’s famous chapter on love:  “as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (3:17) because we “know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.” (3:19) If ever I needed a clarion call that Christ’s love transcends my ability to comprehend its enormity and that Christ’s love conquers the heart as well as the mind, it is right here.

As far as the church is concerned, out of each person’s experience of Christ’s love, unity among believers should arise naturally: “with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” (4:2,3)

Paul believed that with the Holy Spirit living in each Christian, the church would emerge with an unprecedented unity: “There is one body and one Spirit, … one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all.” (4:4-6)

Paul was looking forward onto the future and believed deeply that this love would result in a unified community; that the church would become a world-changing force based on love. Alas, looking back in history, we see that isn’t quite how things worked out. There are too many splits and denominations that have occurred because love was diminished or absent altogether. And I think the church has pretty much lost much of its power and relevance today because we have forgotten unity and we have forgotten love. Alas, both have been shoved to the background by our self-centered wills.  We in the church may talk a great line about unity and love, but our deeds too often betray our true nature.

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