Psalm 84:1–8; Isaiah 32, 33; Ephesians 5:21-23

Psalm 84:1–8: This beautiful psalm—and a welcome respite from the previous two wishing ill for Israel’s enemies—describes a pilgrim journeying toward the temple at Jerusalem. Even though he is still some distance away, he can already  see it in his mind’s eye as he describes his longing:
How lovely Your dwellings,
O Lord of armies!
My being longed, even languished,
for the courts of the Lord.
 (2, 3a)

Our poet’s eager anticipation is suffused with underlying joy:
My heart and my flesh
sing gladness to the living God.
 (3b)

He visualizes the birds that are already present at the temple, even a swallow which has managed to make a nest for itself in the  crevices between its mighty stone blocks (the Western Wall today) and raise its young brood:
Even the bird has found a home
and the swallow a nest for itself
that puts its fledglings by Your altars..
.” (4)

Eager to join them, our poet sings,
Happy are those who dwell in Your house,
they will ever praise You
. (5)

Of course it is not the physical structure of the temple itself that draws our poet closer, it is because that is where God is present. We children of the New Covenant can rejoice that God is everywhere wherever we are, not just at a temple in Jerusalem.

True joy arises from trusting God:
Happy the folk whose strength is in You,
the highways in their heart
.” (6)

What a lovely, felicitous phrase—’the highways of the heart,’—as it evokes a never-ending journey of the love that comes from God.

This section of the psalm concludes with specific geographic references: …who pass through the Valley of Baca,
they make it into a spring—
yes, the early rain cloaks it with blessings
. (7a)

Our mind’s eye can see the lush green landscape surrounding the spring, made all the more gorgeous by the rain. But the greater idea here is that like that gentle rain, we are showered with God’s blessings, if we give but a moment’s reflection.

Isaiah 32, 33: Isaiah envisions a just government that doubtless stands in stark contrast to the corruption that surrounds him:
See, a king will reign in righteousness,
    and princes will rule with justice.
Each will be like a hiding place from the wind,

    a covert from the tempest,
like streams of water in a dry place, (32:1, 2)

The upside down world in which Isaiah present lives (and one that seems awfully similar to our own 21st century world) will be righted by God:
The minds of the rash will have good judgment,
    and the tongues of stammerers will speak readily and distinctly.
A fool will no longer be called noble,

    nor a villain said to be honorable. (32:4, 5)

He then turns to a prophesy that focuses on complacent women, who are the companions of this rampant corruption. Their lives of comfort will soon come to an abrupt end:
Tremble, you women who are at ease,
    shudder, you complacent ones;
strip, and make yourselves bare,
    and put sackcloth on your loins. (32:11)

Interestingly, Isaiah predicts the destruction of the cities, which is where he believes the societal corruption to be centered:
For the palace will be forsaken,
    the populous city deserted;
the hill and the watchtower
    will become dens forever,
the joy of wild asses,
    a pasture for flocks; (32:14)

It is in nature, not the cities, where God’s justice and peace will reign:
Then justice will dwell in the wilderness,
    and righteousness abide in the fruitful field.
…My people will abide in a peaceful habitation,

    in secure dwellings, and in quiet resting places. (32:16, 18)

I certainly agree with the prophet. It is the cities—those engines of commerce and centers of corruption—where chicanery seems to mostly dwell. Even certain politicians recognize this when the speak of “draining the swamp” of government. It is in the wilderness where we can truly experience the wonders of God’s creation and sense both his justice and especially God’s peace.

Isaiah goes on in the next chapter to remind us that justice will eventually come as he predicts the demise of the corrupt:
When you have ceased to destroy,
    you will be destroyed;
and when you have stopped dealing treacherously,
    you will be dealt with treacherously. (33:1)

But before this era of peace occurs, though, things will be darkest for the righteous:
Listen! the valiant cry in the streets;
    the envoys of peace weep bitterly.
The highways are deserted,

    travelers have quit the road.
The treaty is broken,
    its oaths are despised,
    its obligation is disregarded. (33: 7,8)

But there is hope on the horizon. God will destroy the corruption in a rather apocalyptic manner:
“Now I will arise,” says the Lord,
    “now I will lift myself up;
    now I will be exalted.
You conceive chaff, you bring forth stubble;

    your breath is a fire that will consume you.
And the peoples will be as if burned to lime,

    like thorns cut down, that are burned in the fire.” (33:10-12)

In what seems to be a clear reference to foreign invaders, God will conquer:
No longer will you see the insolent people,
    the people of an obscure speech that you cannot comprehend,
    stammering in a language that you cannot understand. (33:19)

In this new world where foreign evil has been banished, God reigns in this restored paradise:
But there the Lord in majesty will be for us
    a place of broad rivers and streams,
where no galley with oars can go,
    nor stately ship can pass. (33:21)

I have to wonder: what was the response of the corrupt and indolent people who must have heard Isaiah’s prophesy? I’m pretty sure he was dismissed as a raving lunatic. But as we know, foreign invaders from Assyria and then from Babylon came and destroyed both the northern and southern kingdoms of Israel. Who are the true prophets—the Isaiah’s— in our midst today? All we know is that warnings from God will be dismissed until ruin overtakes us.

Ephesians 5:21-23: This is surely one of the most contentious, misunderstood, and mis-interpreted sections in all of Paul’s writings. It’s clear he was dealing with martial conflict. Paul opens this section with the overarching framework: “Be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (21) In short, if we are truly living in Christ and guided by the Holy Spirit, we will not jockey for power over others.

Paul goes on to draw a parallel between the relationship of the church to Christ with the relationship between husbands and wives: “Wives, be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord.  For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church.” (22.23) He immediately amplifies this hierarchy in the next verse: “Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands.” (24)

So, what do we do with this? In the culture in which Paul writes, hierarchies of power were the norm. Husbands clearly ruled, too often treating their wives as mere chattel. So, if I were an Ephesian reading this, nothing Paul has said so far is at all radical. He’s simply stating a social reality. But there is something else lurking in the background: Paul is drawing the hierarchal parallels with Christ and his church. Why would  he do that?

The next verses make it clear exactly what Paul is doing: he’s providing the context for the next thing he says, which was probably quite radical in the male-dominated culture of the Roman empire: “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her [the church] … so as to present the church to himself in splendor, without a spot or wrinkle or anything of the kind—yes, so that she [the church] may be holy and without blemish.” (25, 27)

Paul makes it clear that through baptism, the church has been made holy. So, too, what Christ has done for the church in making it holy, so too, Christian husbands must do for their wives: “In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies.” (28a)  The husband’s responsibility in the relationship is not just about power but equally about love.

Paul goes on to offer a profound psychological insight: “He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church” (28b, 29) In other words, husbands are to extend their inherent self esteem to their spouse. This statement also implies that in a marriage relationship, the sheer exercise of power over one’s wife that absent of love is just as debilitating to the husband. Paul is telling us men to extend our self-care equally to the care of our wives—and to our family.

By the end of this passage, Paul has probably figured out that he is wading in deep water as he concludes with a brief but very clear summary of the bilateral responsibility within the marriage relationship: “Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband.” (33)

Psychologists have pointed out many times that in a relationship women desire love above all else and men desire respect. I certainly know that I desire respect and I pray that I always make my love for Susan the highest possible priority.

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