Psalm 85:8-14; Isaiah 37:14–38; Philippians 1:1–11

Psalm 85:8–14: The the first half of this psalm has been a bold imagining of what Israel will become when God responds to the psalmist’s supplications. God speaks and the psalmist listens. And that having heard God speak in peace, the people will respond in turn and repent:
Let me hear what the Lord God would speak
when He speaks peace to His people and to his faithful.
that they turn not back to folly. (9)

God’s voice instills a new confidence that he will return and rescue:
Yes, His rescue is near for those who fear Him,
that His glory dwell in our land.
 (10)

In a display of the psalmist’s literary boldness, he creates one of the more arrestingly beautiful metaphors in the Psalms by personifying the qualities that God brings in his rescue:
Kindness and truth have met,
justice and peace have kissed. 
(11)

It’s hard to imagine a more wonderful and succinct description of what peace on earth might look like.

Our poet extends this metaphor by imagining heaven and earth meeting:
Truth from the earth will spring up,
as justice from the heavens looks down.
 (12)

For me this means that truth is like a plant, springing to life as God’s justice rains down on the earth. The agricultural metaphor continues as we learn that the harvest is far greater than mere wheat or grapes:
The Lord indeed will grant bounty
and our land will grant its yield.
 (13)

Truth and justice are now regnant in the land as God’s return is actuality:
Justice before Him goes,
that He set His footsteps on the way.
 (14)

O, Lord, in this era where truth and justice seem so far away and evil stalks the land, we pray with the psalmist for you to again cause justice and peace to kiss. For we know that there cannot be peace without justice. And humankind lacks the will and the power to bring about justice and peace in a world that ignores you or pretends you don’t exist.

Isaiah 37:14–38: Amidst the years of corrupt leadership, Hezekiah is one of the few good and noble kings of Judah. The Assyrians stand outside the gate of Jerusalem, threatening its imminent destruction. Even worse, they have mocked Israel’s God, as Assyria’s military leader, the Rabshakeh, sends messengers to Hezekiah, challenging, “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.” (10) and naming all the other lands Assyria has conquered and kings they have deposed.

In response and with the letter in hand, Hezekiah goes to the temple and prays, reaffirming his and Judah’s faith in God, “who are enthroned above the cherubim, you are God, you alone, of all the kingdoms of the earth; you have made heaven and earth.” (16) He beseeches God, to “Incline your ear, O Lord, and hear; open your eyes, O Lord, and see;” (17) observing that all the gods of those defeated kingdoms “were no gods, but the work of human hands—wood and stone—and so they were destroyed.” (19) He concludes by asking God to save them and thus demonstrating that “all the kingdoms of the earth may know that you alone are the Lord.” (20)

Isaiah, whose prophetic insight has apparently informed him of Hezekiah’s prayer, sends word back to the king that God has replied “concerning King Sennacherib of Assyria.” (21) The king and all the Assyrians have mocked God and in their overweening pride have taken sole credit for all their accomplishments. But God, omniscient creator of all, knows exactly what they’ve been up to:
“I know your rising up and your sitting down,
    your going out and coming in,
    and your raging against me.” (28) 

But their pride goes before a great fall as Isaiah, speaking in God’s voice, announces,
Because you have raged against me
    and your arrogance has come to my ears,
I will put my hook in your nose
    and my bit in your mouth;
I will turn you back on the way
    by which you came. (29) 

Isaiah assures Hezekiah, that the Assyria “shall not come into this city, shoot an arrow there, come before it with a shield, or cast up a siege ramp against it.”  (33) Instead, God sends and angel to kill 185,000 troops outside Jerusalem and while worshipping his own small-g god in Ninevah, King Sennacherib is assassinated by two of his sons.

This is certainly a lesson of holding strong to our faith, especially when things look darkest. And it is certainly a testament to the power of prayer. As the culture around us continues to decline into eventual anarchy and enemies surround people of faith, we need to remember Hezekiah’s faith and his prayer that God is indeed more powerful than our enemies.

Philippians 1:1–11: This book is certainly one of Paul’s more uplifting letters written from his Roman imprisonment. After his epistles of cajoling and correction to Corinth and Ephesus, we come to this most upbeat of all Paul’s letters. It’s clear from the outset that he really, really loves the church at Philippi: “I thank my God every time I remember you, constantly praying with joy in every one of my prayers for all of you,” (3, 4) But his gratitude has a firm foundation and it’s not just because the Philippians are nice guys. They have captured Paul’s vision for telling others the good news—and then have acted on that vision: “because of your sharing in the gospel from the first day until now.I am confident of this, that the one who began a good work among you will bring it to completion by the day of Jesus Christ.” (5, 6)

Paul also loves them because they love him. Which is understandable. Perhaps most importantly, they have not been led theologically astray by other purveyors of a false gospel. They have remained fiercely loyal to Paul even though he’s been imprisoned: “It is right for me to think this way about all of you, because you hold me in your heart, for all of you share in God’s grace with me, both in my imprisonment and in the defense and confirmation of the gospel.” (7)

Unlike those other churches, there’s no question that in Philippi love is the foundation of their every action. Even though Paul’s greatest essay about love is in his letter to the Corinthians, it is here that we see how Paul envisioned that love to be acted out in the church: “And this is my prayer, that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight  to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ.” (9, 10a)

Just reflect on that for a moment: knowledge and insight about Jesus Christ cannot possibly occur without it being based in love for Christ—and for each other. Too bad that sort of  love is on such scarce display in the other churches to which Paul wrote—and in most churches today. I personally certainly have not said and acted in very much love within my own church community.

Rather than the chastisement that characterizes his letters to Corinth, Paul asks only that they continue on their current path— that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless. (9, 10). What strikes me here is that growth in faith can happen only in an atmosphere of love for each other.

Love. Knowledge. Full insight. These are the crucial elements that help us “determine what is best” (10b). And having discerned what is best, we reap the greatest reward: “having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.” (11)

 

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