Psalm 91:9–16; Isaiah 62,63; Colossians 4:1–9

Originally published 8/3/2017. Revised and updated 8/2/2019.

Psalm 91:9–16: The last half of this psalm is a beautifully poetic description of the promise of protection afforded the man who follows and as we see here, metaphorically if not literally, dwells with God:
For the Lord is your refuge,
the Most High you have made your abode.
No harm will befall you,
no affliction draw near to your tent. (9, 10)

While we who live in this God-rejecting age tend to poo-poo the idea of guardian angels, for this poet it is the means by which God provides protection from physical danger—be it the rocky landscape or the many animals that once roamed the Judean countryside:
For His messengers He charges for you
to guard you on all your ways.
On their palms they lift you up
lest your foot be bruised by a stone.
On lion and viper you tread,
you trample young lion and serpent. (11-13)

God now speaks and makes it clear why he is protecting this man. It is simply because he has chosen to follow God:
For Me he desired and I freed him,
I raised him high, for he has known MY name.
He calls Me and I answer him,
I am with him in his straits.
I deliver him and grant him honor. (14, 15)

Moreover, in the concluding verset we see that God grants his follower long life:
With length of days I shall sate him,
and show him my rescue. (16)

Wow. What promises! And what a contrast to the many psalms of supplication where God has apparently abandoned the psalmist. Somehow we know that this psalm speaks the absolute truth of God’s promises even when we are in our darkest hours. Yes, there is hyperbole, and too often it seems that God has indeed abandoned us. This psalm makes it clear that is not the case. But I can think of no better description of God’s faithfulness when we but elect to follow him through the salvific power of Jesus Christ.

With just a few lines, I think the psalmist has expressed beautifully the concept that it takes Paul chapter after chapter to get across: God is faithful and loves us and saves us. We need only be faithful and love God and others in return.

Isaiah 62,63: Speaking of God’s promises… Isaiah writes of God’s promise to rebuild Zion (the temple) and Jerusalem itself:
For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent,
    and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest,
until her vindication shines out like the dawn,
    and her salvation like a burning torch. (62:1)

Some of the language of this promise becomes downright florid:
You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the Lord,
    and a royal diadem in the hand of your God. (62:3)

But we have to believe that when the exiled Jews read these passages they would experience that most elusive of emotions: hope:
You shall no more be termed Forsaken,
    and your land shall no more be termed Desolate. (62:4)

More importantly, Isaiah writes of God’s promise that is not just for the daughter of Zion, but through Jesus Christ is for all people down through the ages to come:
See, your salvation comes;
his reward is with him,
    and his recompense before him.”
They shall be called, “The Holy People,
    The Redeemed of the Lord” (62:11)

If we can say nothing else about this book of prophecy, we can agree that its author (or authors) certainly jump around. The beginning of the next chapter describes God’s planned vengeance on Edom (of all places). God or his agent apparently returns from Edom, his robes stained in red. The author asks,
Who is this so splendidly robed,
marching in his great might?

“It is I, announcing vindication,
    mighty to save.” (63:1)

The author asks “why are your robes red,/ and your garments like theirs who tread the wine press?” (62:2) The figure answers that is the metaphorical juice of the people of Edom, who were like grapes crushed in the press as he explains,
I trod them in my anger
    and trampled them in my wrath;
their juice spattered on my garments,
    and stained all my robes.
For the day of vengeance was in my heart,
    and the year for my redeeming work had come.” (63:3, 4)

So much for the image of this redeeming God as we once again see his vengeful side.

As happens so frustratingly often in this book, the author abruptly changes the subject to speak of God’s mercy on Israel:
I will recount the gracious deeds of the Lord,
    the praiseworthy acts of the Lord,

that he has shown them according to his mercy,
    according to the abundance of his steadfast love. (63:7)

A long disquisition about Israel’s rebelliousness follows as our author again recapitulates how God accompanied the people of Israel into the promised land, but after only a few years of loyalty they abandoned God. The chapter ends with a prayer of penitence wherein our author asks one of the great but wrongheaded questions all of ask at one point or another as we seek to return to God:
Why, O Lord, do you make us stray from your ways
    and harden our heart, so that we do not fear you? (63:17a)

Well, we know the answer, don’t we? God does not make us stray from our ways or harden our hearts; we do. But it is because God has given us the free will to reject him.

The chapter ends on a sad note of supplication as the author admits their collective sinfulness as they followed the small-g gods of other nations rather than the Lord God of Israel:
Turn back for the sake of your servants,
    for the sake of the tribes that are your heritage.
Your holy people took possession for a little while;
    but now our adversaries have trampled down your sanctuary.
We have long been like those whom you do not rule,
    like those not called by your name. (63:17b-19)

Colossians 4:1–9: Even though Paul’s writing about slaves makes us uncomfortable in the same way as about the requirement that wives be subordinate to their husbands, he never fails to include instructions to the other side of the relationship. Just as husbands are to love and respect their wives, so too, “Masters, treat your slaves justly and fairly, for you know that you also have a Master in heaven.” (4:1)

Paul then turns to the necessity of prayer in the Christian life: “Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving.” (2). In one of those personal notes he often inserts, he asks for prayer for himself: “At the same time pray for us as well that God will open to us a door for the word, that we may declare the mystery of Christ, for which I am in prison, so that I may reveal it clearly, as I should.” (3,4) Notice that Paul does not ask that he be released from prison, but that he be given more opportunities to witness for Christ. Communicating the Good News was always Paul’s highest priority. Sad to say, it’s rarely mine.

Paul’s concluding instructions—and goodness knows, he is never short of advice—are about the relationship between those in he church with the world outside the church: “Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time.  Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.” (5,6) In other words, don’t waste others time or your own. I think this relates to Jesus’ command to recognize where the gospel will not be received and to shake the dust from our sandals and move on.

I particularly like the part about gracious speech seasoned with salt. Gracious speech does not have to be boring and bland. Too many Christians engage in those tired cliches and Chirsitain jargon like “God knows your heart” or “Jesus told me…” that have zero meaning outside the church. Paul’s advice is to speak kindly but with originality in terms the non-Chirstian world will understand.

This short but grace-filled letter concludes with some personal notes, not least being the happy return of Onesimus, “the faithful and beloved brother, who is one of you.” We will get the Onesimus  back-story in the short letter of Philemon.

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