Psalm 40:9–17; Esther 8:1–9:17; Romans 10:1–13

Psalm 40:9–17: These verses seem to be almost stream of consciousness as the psalmist describes his desire to please God [“To do what pleases You, my God, I desire,” (9)] and asks God to remember his how he has spoken to others about God [“Lord, You Yourself know. / Your justice I concealed not in my heart./ Your faithfulness and Your rescue I spoke.” (11)].

He speaks of how God will always protect him [“Your steadfast truth/ shall always guard me” (12)] from the multitudinous evils that surround him. But then, suddenly, a confession of his failure: “My crimes overtook me/ and I could not see..and my heart forsook me.” (13) This realization is followed immediately by supplication: “Show favor, O Lord, to save me./ Lord, to my help, hasten.” (14)  And let’s not forget to include the usual supplication to humiliate our enemies: “May the be shamed and abased one and all,/ who seek my life to destroy it.” (15).  Instead, let’s reflect on those who like me, follow God: “Let all who seek You/ exult and rejoice in You./ May they always say, ‘God is great!'” (17). And end on a note of humility and supplication: “As for me, I am lowly and needy/ May the master account it for me…My God, do not delay.” (18)

So, what do we make of this psalm that seems to wander all over the place? For me, it is a poetic reflection of the mind as it travels form place to place in thought–which is a very familiar feeling to me. Once again, we see just how human these psalms are: Reflections by real people who agonized and wondered and rejoiced about the same things as we.

Esther 8:1–9:17: Even though Haman has been hung for his evil deed, the letters containing the orders to kill the Jews throughout the kingdom are still out there. Obedient soldiers are likely to have already started carrying out executions of Jews. Time is of the essence. Esther pleads to the king, “how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming on my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” (8:6). The king gives permission for Mordecai to send letters under the king’s seal (on his signet ring) to rescind the order.

This is an enormous task for there are 127 provinces each with “its own script and to every people in its own language” that must be notified. The letters are written and sealed and “couriers, mounted on their swift royal steeds, hurried out, urged by the king’s command.” (8:14)

The Jews are saved and soon the Jews “gain power over their foes.” (9:1). Mordecai grows powerful and “the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them.” (9:5). The king seems to approve and asks Esther what else she wants. Esther replies, “If it pleases the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” (13). This order is carried out. The same slaughter of Jewish enemies occurs in the provinces. But everywhere the Jews “laid no hands on the plunder.”

While the story of Esther is very appealing, the part of the story of the Jews killing their enemies is far less attractive to our modern eyes. Once again, the Old Testament forces us to realize that even though the motivations and psychology of humans is unchanged over thousands of years, the social structure and cultural mores were vastly different. But are we any more civilized today?  There’s strong evidence that we aren’t.

Romans 10:1–13: Paul is at his lawyerly best when he asserts that ignorance–here, about God’s law– is no excuse: “For, being ignorant of the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking to establish their own, they have not submitted to God’s righteousness.” (3). But since “Christ is the end of the law” all that’s needed is belief to participate in righteousness.

In one of the favorite verses of the Evangelical world that I heard a zillion times while growing up, Paul asserts, “if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (9). And then the formula: “one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved.” (10). Many Christians feel this is all that’s needed, and indeed, it’s sufficient for salvation. But it leaves out grace IMO, and makes it seem to much like what I do as over against what God does. Christ has come to us through the baptism. And it is in confirmation  where we acknowledge what Christ has done for us and at that point, we “confess with our lips.” Otherwise it’s just too easy to leave out half of the salvation process.

It’s taken me a long time to come around to the view that Christ has come to us first and and that we respond rather than the view by some that I hold all the power by “accepting Jesus Christ as my savior.” And even though confirmation is derided by some and omitted from some churches (I’m talking about you, Saint Matthew); and even though many new confirmands “graduate” from church, that public confession remains. And eventually, many of those who leave return to the body because they understand as adults the enormity of what Christ has done for them. To leave out that public confession form a young person’s spiritual development is a great disservice to them, IMHO.

Speak Your Mind