Psalm 42; Job 1,2; Romans 11:7–18

Psalm 42: This psalm plumbs the depths of the poets soul as he reflects on his desire to be restored to a relationship with God. [Alter notes that for this section of the Psalms that begins here at 42, the poets refer to God as “Elohim” rather than Lord (YHWH).]

From the famous opening line, “As a deer yearns for streams of water,/ so I year for God.” the psalm uses the senses and emotions to evoke how it feels to be seeking a God, who seems to be hiding. There is thirst for the absent God [“My whole being thirsts for God” (3)] to sight [“when shall I come and see / the presence of God?” (3b)] And then tears that “became bread day and night” and “I recall and pour out my heart.” (5) There is yearning to “march into the house of God” and always hope: “Hope in God, for yet will I acclaim Him / for His rescuing presence.” (6)

In the next section, He reflects on God’s presence in nature, which seems to echo far off with God’s voice: “Deep unto deep calls out/ at the sound of Your channels.” (8) And he feels the presence of God through water, evoking a powerful sense of baptism: “All Your breakers and waves have surged over me.” (8b) Even though God has not spoken, he knows God is there: “By day the Lord ordains His kindness/ and by night His song is with me.” (9) Day and night become the “prayer to the God of my life.” (9)

But even so, there is anxiety: “I would say to the God my Rock, /’Why have You forgotten me?” (10) And the poet’s thoughts turn even darker in the shocking phrase, “With murder in my bones, my enemies revile me.” But even though God has not shown himself or spoken, hope still remains: “Hope in God, for yet I will acclaim Him,/ His rescuing presence and my God.” (12)

The lesson for us is that hope will triumph over despair. Even when God does not speak to us, the evidence of his being is all around us: in nature, in our feelings and ultimately, in our hope. God seems very far away on this Holy Week as the world seems to careen toward hysteria and increased danger. This psalm brings real comfort in the realization that that God is indeed our “rescuing presence.”

Job 1,2: I’m pretty sure that it’s no coincidence that the Hebrew editors of Scripture placed this book Job–virtually synonymous with despair–  immediately following the triumph that suffuses the book of Esther. Where that book never mentions God once, God is everywhere in Job. And it is not the God of “rescuing presence” that is celebrated in today’s psalm.

In the very first verse we learn without equivocation that Job “was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.” He is wealthy in children and worldly goods. And he offers burnt sacrifice to God just in case “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” (1:5).

In one of the rarest settings in the Bible, the scene shifts to heaven where God and Satan joust. Satan accuses God of putting “a fence around him and his house and all that he has, on every side?” (1:10) So, of course, Job is faithful to God. Nothing bad has ever happens to him. And God agrees that Satan (not God!) can put Job to the test, “only do not stretch out your hand against him!” (12)

Satan loses no time in bringing disaster into Job’s life. His sheep, his oxen, his camels, his servants, and worst of all, his children are taken from him. But Job is stll faithful, reminding himself–and us–“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return there; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.” (1:20) Job does not shake his fist at God.

Satan intensifies Job’s trials by attacking his health. Even Job’s wife thinks her husband’s faith is foolish, “Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.” (2:9) But Job persists, noting that “Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?” (2:10)

Job’s three friends arrive “to go and console and comfort him.” Job is in such bad shape they do not recognize him, but sit in silence on the ground for a week.

Whether or not Job was a real person, he is a metaphor for what faith in God is about. I once thought I’d make it all the way through my life without any particular trials or disease. What stands out to me is that God does not create these trials; Satan does. We can never accuse God of doing bad things to us.

Romans 11:7–18: Paul continues to deal with the Jewish track separately form the Gentile track. He pretty much concludes that by ignoring Christ’s salvific power, “Israel failed to obtain what it was seeking.” and he quotes back-up Scripture that “God gave them a sluggish spirit,/ eyes that would not see / and ears that would not hear.”  (8) However, it is the failure of the Jews to realize what God has done for them that becomes the catalyst of salvation of the Gentiles: “But through their stumbling salvation has come to the Gentiles,” (11).  But as a Jew, Paul is still wistful about the enormity of the missed opportunity, “if their stumbling means riches for the world, and if their defeat means riches for Gentiles, how much more will their full inclusion mean!” (12).

He then turns his attention to Gentile attitudes, lest they feel superior to the Jews who have rejected Christ, reminding them that they derive their own holiness from the Jewish root, “and if the root is holy, then the branches also are holy.” (16). In fact, Gentiles have been grafted through Christ to the Jewish root; but they are mere branches. He warns them (us), “do not boast over the branches. If you do boast, remember that it is not you that support the root, but the root that supports you.” (18).

At 2000 years out, I think the egregious anti-Semitic actions of Christians against the Jews in defiance of Paul’s warning here is one of the great tragedies of history. And even today, anti-Semitism persists–and perhaps is blossoming in some places. Of course we need to be careful not to conflate the state of Israel with the Jewish religion. They are not the same. But in our collective political antipathy to the only democracy in the Middle East, I think it would be difficult to deny that in some ways we Christians are forgetting that the root–the Jewish people–are indeed just as holy as we.

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