Psalm 82:6–8; Isaiah 26, 27; Ephesians 4:7–16

Originally published 7/8/2017. Revised and updated 7/8/2019.

Psalm 82:6–8: God continues his speech to the small-g gods. It appears that at least for this psalmist there once was a family of deities, all of whom had god-like power over the affairs of the earth. God reminds them of their divinity, expressing ironic disappointment much as a father would be chastising his children:
As for Me, I had thought: you were gods,
and the sons of the Most High were you all.” (6)

The price of their failure in siding with wickedness and oppressing the poor and lowly is that they lose their godly powers, most notably their immortality:
Yet indeed like humans you shall die,
and like one of the princes, fall.” (7)

I wonder if ‘one of the princes’ is a veiled reference to Satan himself who indeed fell from heaven. I have to give the psalmist credit for his creativity. He has written as though he is observing a family meeting of all the small-g gods who were under God’s parental supervision. They have failed at their jobs and are being punished accordingly. It’s certainly an original view of God and the hierarchy of spiritual powers.

The psalmist himself speaks in the final verse of this rather odd poem:
Arise, O God, judge the earth,
for You hold in estate all the nations.” (8)

I think this line, ‘all the nations,’ gives us a clue as to who these small-g gods were. In the ancient world every tribe and nation had its own god, which that nation’s inhabitants worshipped. But the small-g gods have been vanquished for their collective failure. Our psalmist is asserting that only Israel’s God is truly the single supreme being of the universe. Unlike the small-g gods, God cares, is just and righteous, and therefore is the God of every nation.  Which of course is exactly Jesus’ message that we are to carry the Good News “to every nation.”

Isaiah 26, 27: Isaiah has forecasted doom for all the surrounding nations (much like the theme of the psalm above). Just one nation remains upright on the Day of the Lord. Not surprisingly, it is Isaiah’s own: Judah. He draws a stark contrast between those who are faithful and righteous and those who are not. The righteous enjoy peace because they trust in God:
Those of steadfast mind you keep in peace—
    in peace because they trust in you.
Trust in the Lord forever,
    for in the Lord God
you have an everlasting rock. (26:3,4)

This is the first time we encounter the metaphor of righteousness as smooth highway—a metaphor we will encounter again later in this book:
The way of the righteous is level;
    O Just One, you make smooth the path of the righteous. (26:7)

In keeping with the theme of the psalm above, Isaiah observes that Judah once worshipped small-g gods but has now rejected them in favor of God alone:
Lord our God,
    other lords besides you have ruled over us,
    but we acknowledge your name alone. (26:13)

The prophet goes on to celebrate God’s victory over evil as things turn somewhat apocalyptic, including the resurrection of the righteous who have died. Once again, I am struck by how Paul and the author of Revelation drew upon both the concepts and language of the OT prophets:
Your dead shall live, their corpses shall rise.
    O dwellers in the dust, awake and sing for joy!
For your dew is a radiant dew,
    and the earth will give birth to those long dead. (26:19)

As always, there will be judgement of the wicked on the Day of the Lord:
For the Lord comes out from his place
    to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity;
the earth will disclose the blood shed on it,
    and will no longer cover its slain.” (26:21)

The author of Revelation surely drew—and then elaborated mightily—upon these verses in his description of the Judgement Day.

Chapter 27 continues in apocalyptic mode as Isaiah prophecies that Israel will one day be restored to its former glory:
In days to come Jacob shall take root,
    Israel shall blossom and put forth shoots,
    and fill the whole world with fruit. (27:6)

But this will happen only if Jacob—Israel— rejects the false gods and the idols it once worshipped, i.e., there must be repentance:
Therefore by this the guilt of Jacob will be expiated,
    and this will be the full fruit of the removal of his sin:
when he makes all the stones of the altars
    like chalkstones crushed to pieces,
    no sacred poles  or incense altars will remain standing. (27:9)

At this point, the righteous who were scattered around the earth will return to Jerusalem to worship God: “And on that day a great trumpet will be blown, and those who were lost in the land of Assyria and those who were driven out to the land of Egypt will come and worship the Lord on the holy mountain at Jerusalem.” (27:13)

This is one of those passages that many Evangelicals and Orthodox Jews believe has been fulfilled with the establishment of modern Israel in 1945, accompanied by the return of Jews who were scattered all over the world. I’m not buying that interpretation because it seems to me that Isaiah has been clear for the last few chapters that these promised events will occur only on the Day of Lord, i.e., at the end of history. Say what you will, but history hasn’t ended yet.

s: In demonstrating that Christ’s gift to us is grace, Paul quotes Psalm 68:18, which describes God’s victory parade ascending to the temple in Jerusalem: “Therefore it is said,

“When he ascended on high he made captivity itself a captive;
    he gave gifts to his people.” (8)

But Paul, being Paul, uses the verse for his own purposes, which is to argue logically that God cannot ascend without having first descended: “ (When it says, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is the same one who ascended far above all the heavens, so that he might fill all things.)” (9,10) Which is a clever way of describing the incarnation: that Jesus Christ descended from heaven to earth, becomes human, dies, is resurrected and then ascends back into heaven. Therefore, he argues, the psalm is referring to Jesus Christ.  (We saw this descending theme of Jesus leaving heaven to come to earth in John 1 and we’ll encounter the idea again in Philippians.)

Paul then takes the idea of Christ’s gift of grace down a level of abstraction in order to sow how we put it into practice. The gifts of grace are different for every person in the church: “The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers...” (11) These gifts have a singular purpose: “to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ.” (12, 13)

By exercising these gifts we grow into mature Christians as Paul exhorts us, “We must no longer be children, tossed to and fro and blown about by every wind of doctrine, by people’s trickery, by their craftiness in deceitful scheming.” (14) In fact, he continues, it’s our responsibility to grow up and become mature Christian adults: “But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ.” (15)

To grow into a mature Christian requires active discipline on our parts—what we refer to as the “spiritual disciplines.” In short, the church cannot grow and flourish if it’s populated only by immature Christians—by spiritual infants. Only with maturity will we achieve what Paul is telling us is the purpose of the church, i.e. to be “joined and knit together by every ligament with which it is equipped, as each part is working properly, promotes the body’s growth in building itself up in love.” (16)

Notice the last word: ‘in love.’ Unless love is the firm foundation, absolutely nothing that encourages spiritual growth and maturity can happen. I think this is the basic stumbling block at many churches today.

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