Psalm 85:1–7; Isaiah 36:1–37:13; Ephesians 6:10–24

Originally published 7/13/2015. Revised and updated 7/15/2019.

Psalm 85:1–7: This psalm is both retrospective and prospective as we encounter the phase “turn back” several times. The psalmist looks back to the original restoration of Israel to Canaan. More importantly, I think, the psalmist recognizes that an angry God relented and forgave his ancestors:
You favored, O Lord, Your land
You restored the condition of Jacob.
You forgave You people’s crime,
You covered all their offense.
You laid aside all Your wrath,
You turned back from Your blazing fury. (2-4)

Now once again, the people find themselves in dire straits and once again God is angry with them, and once again, the psalmist begs God:
Turn back, pray, God of our rescue
and undo Your anger against us. (5)

Our psalmist asks almost plaintively if God’s anger is now permanent:
Will You forever be incensed with us,
will You draw out Your fury through all generations? (6)

If God will turn back from his anger, the psalmist promises, “Your people will rejoice in You.” (7)

We Christians define repentance as “turning back,” which is exactly what is being described here. If God will “turn back” from his anger, Israel will “turn back”—repent—from its sins. What’s fascinating here is the idea of God “turning back,” in essence, repenting from his own anger. There is much more a feeling of quid pro quo here than we Christians would ever sense. We view God as unchanging, ever-loving. But here, God is far more emotional, and as the psalmist asserts, has abandoned Israel in anger because of its manifold sins. We can be grateful that through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, God never turns his back on us and we always have a way, through Jesus, of “turning back” ourselves.

Isaiah 36:1–37:13: We move from prophecy to historical narrative. The army of King Sennacherib of Assyria has already captured several cities in Judah and arrives at Jerusalem, taunting the court of Hezekiah, “Do you think that mere words are strategy and power for war?” (36:5), and telling them that Judah’s alliance with Egypt is useless. Sennacherib’s captain, the Rabshakeh, even invokes Israel’s God, saying, “The Lord said to me, Go up against this land, and destroy it.” (36:10).

Hezekiah’s officials are mortified and worry that the Rabshakeh’s will negatively affect the morale of the Jewish soldiers. They beg him, “Please speak to your servants in Aramaic, for we understand it; do not speak to us in the language of Judah within the hearing of the people who are on the wall.” (36:11). But the enemy refuses,  telling Hezekiah’s army standing on the city wall that they are doomed. King Hezekiah’s servants consults Isaiah, who responds, “Thus says the Lord: Do not be afraid because of the words that you have heard, with which the servants of the king of Assyria have reviled me.” (37:6) Isaiah promises that God will cause the Rabshakeh to hear a rumor and “to fall by the sword in his own land.” (37:7)

But the king of Assyria responds to Hezekiah, “Do not let your God on whom you rely deceive you by promising that Jerusalem will not be given into the hand of the king of Assyria.” (37:10) arguing, “ Have the gods of the [other] nations delivered them, the nations that my predecessors destroyed?” (37:12). Will Israel’s God stand the test, or like all the small-g gods of the other nations simply fall by the wayside? Will Isaiah and his prophecy be vindicated?

Ephesians 6:10–24: I well remember the 5th grade Sunday School flannel graphs of “putting on the whole armor of God,”—truly one of Paul’s most memorable metaphors. What I didn’t appreciate then as I do now was that even though we are holding the “sword of the Spirit,” our posture is defensive, not aggressive. Paul tells us that although we are to be strong, the point of the armor is so we “may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil.” (10). Truth and righteousness are our body armor: Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness. (14) We are to surround ourselves with these two essential qualities. Without truth and righteousness metaphorically covering our bodies we will fall when injured by Satan’s slings and arrows. And our greatest defensive protection is our faith in Jesus Christ , allowing us to stand tall against evil that is all around us. With the shield of faith, we are “able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.” (16)

In fact the only “offensive action” we are to take is to “Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication.” (18) And, “To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints.” (18b) Prayer is the Christian’s only offensive weapon.

However, as I look around at the response of many Christians in the wake of social upheaval being promulgated by those who reject all the qualities  and the general ongoing rejection of Christianity by the larger culture, I see lots of “woe is us” defensiveness, and even some very ugly lashing out. However, I suspect many of us are not praying as Paul has asked us to do. If we truly have faith, Paul is telling us, we will indeed stand firm against the “wiles of the devils” (as I learned the words in the King James version.) Our duty is simple and it is clear: we are to pray, not to lash out and not to whine.

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