Psalm 84:9–13; Isaiah 33:17–35:10; Ephesians 6:1–9

Psalm 84:9–13: This psalm gives us a real sense for a pilgrimage journey as our poet anticipates his eventual arrival at the temple in Jerusalem. He prays for God’s protection as he travels:
Lord, God of armies, hear my prayer.
Hearken, O God of Jacob. selah
 (9)

He also asks God to see how eager he is to worship at the temple:
Our shield, O God, see,
and regard Your anointed one’s face.
 (10)

His enthusiasm transforms into sheer joy as he arrives at the temple entrance, singing those familiar words:
For better one day in Your courts
than a thousand I have chosen,
standing on the threshold in the house of my God,
than living in the tents of wickedness.
 (11)

This comparison is a dramatic assertion that true worship trumps all else in life. The question becomes of course, would I prefer one day in worship to all the other distractions (“tents of wickedness”) that the world has to offer?

The remainder of this psalm is pure worship song as our pilgrim is overcome with joy at being able to express pure worship of a generous God who especially loves righteousness:
For a sun and shield is the Lord,
    God is grace and glory.
    The Lord grants, He does not withhold
    bounty to those who go blameless. (12)

The last line says it all about our relationship with God: “happy the man who trusts in You.” (13) God is indeed the ultimate source of joy and like the pilgrim here, worship is our automatic response.

Isaiah 34:1–35:10: Our prophet’s vision of the end of history continues as he describes God’s anger at the wickedness of the nations that have oppressed and conquered Israel:
For the Lord is enraged against all the nations,
    and furious against all their hordes;
    he has doomed them, has given them over for slaughter. (34:2)

God’s punishing wrath is as gruesome a sight as he can imagine and put into writing:
Their slain shall be cast out,
    and the stench of their corpses shall rise;
    the mountains shall flow with their blood. (34:3)

We have to assume that John of Patmos had fully absorbed Isaiah’s prophecy of doom, adding dramatic flourishes to these woes that will befall Edom:
For the Lord has a day of vengeance,
    a year of vindication by Zion’s cause.
And the streams of Edom[b] shall be turned into pitch,
    and her soil into sulfur;
    her land shall become burning pitch. (34:8,9)

What was once Edom is now an uninhabitable wilderness,—a complete reversal of the weather and power it once possessed:
They shall name it No Kingdom There,
    and all its princes shall be nothing.
Thorns shall grow over its strongholds,
    nettles and thistles in its fortresses.
It shall be the haunt of jackals,
    an abode for ostriches.
Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
    goat-demons shall call to each other; (34:12-14a)

Chapter 35 describes the eventual and glorious return of Israel to the Promised Land:
The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad,
    the desert shall rejoice and blossom;
like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
    and rejoice with joy and singing. (35:1,2)

Isaiah assures those who have not abandoned God that he will wreak vengeance for them:
Say to those who are of a fearful heart,
    “Be strong, do not fear!
Here is your God.
    He will come with vengeance,
with terrible recompense.
    He will come and save you.” (35:4)

Of course, we can read these lines in a less apocalyptic light because God has sent his son to save us. Isaiah goes on to describe the reversal of misfortune to wonderful restoration of health for the faithful—what heaven may be like:
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened,
    and the ears of the deaf unstopped;
then the lame shall leap like a deer,

    and the tongue of the speechless sing for joy. (35:5, 6a)

As the people are restored, so too is nature. This is a reminder that heaven is not “up there,” but it is here on a restored earth, where God has again made his creation perfect:
For waters shall break forth in the wilderness,
    and streams in the desert;
the burning sand shall become a pool,
    and the thirsty ground springs of water; (35:6b, 7)

Isaiah uses the metaphor of a highway (which we will encounter in later chapters) to remind the redeemed that they will eagerly follow God and (unlike the corrupt society in which he writes) will not deviate from his path:
A highway shall be there,
    and it shall be called the Holy Way;
the unclean shall not travel on it,
    but it shall be for God’s people;
    no traveler, not even fools, shall go astray. (35:8)

“Not even fools shall go astray.” What a great promise that at the end of history in a restored earth that the God-fearers—we fallen humans— will no longer do foolish things. The chapter ends with God’s people singing a beautiful hymn in God’s restored creation. If we needed a description of what heaven might be like, it’s right here:
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
    and come to Zion with singing;
everlasting joy shall be upon their heads;
    they shall obtain joy and gladness,
    and sorrow and sighing shall flee away. (35:10)

Ephesians 6:1–9: Paul continues in his commands regarding the family, tuning his attention to children—and a line my father used to quote frequently when I as a child: “Children, obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right. “Honor your father and mother”—this is the first commandment. (1, 2) But children have rights too. They are neither chattel nor objects of disrespect: “And, fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.” (4) How many children have been lost to their fathers because of both verbal and physical abuse?

We now come to a section that bothers our “enlightened” culture—but for better or worse was a societal reality in Paul’s world. Paul instructs slaves to “obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ.” (5) I’m sure that some slaves who became Christians felt they were freed by Christ even to the point of rebelling against their masters. Were that rebellious behavior to gain traction there’s not question in my mind that the early church would have been annihilated by the societal forces of the Roman empire. For better or worse, slavery was a brutal reality.

But Paul then writes something that I’m sure was a radical thought of the time: “And, masters, do the same to them. Stop threatening them, for you know that both of you have the same Master in heaven, and with him there is no partiality.” (9) Paul recognizes that while slaves and masters may be equal in Christ, they are not equal in a fallen world. But as a slave must obey its master, the responsibility of the master to treat the slaves well is incumbent as well.

This entire section of societal advice be it husbands and wives, children and parents, salves and masters is based on mutual respect for the other and especially respect by those who have the power for those over whom the more powerful man holds sway. (And as far as Paul is concerned, it’s always the man with the power.)

Would there were more mutual respect between the powerful and the powerless in our time. Recent events regarding powerful men who have subjugated and abused weaker women and children prove how right Paul was. In Christ we are equal and that equality is expressed as kindness and respect.

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