Psalm 45:11–18; Job 10; Romans 14:13–15:2

Psalm 45:10–17: Our psalmist now turns his attention to the king’s bride. In a reflection of a patriarchal society, the poet is direct and even a bit peremptory: “Listen princess, and look, incline your ear.” (11a). The poets first advice is perhaps the most difficult for a princess who is part of a negotiated deal between kingdoms: “forget your people, and your father’s house.” (11b). She has a new duty now and an even stronger reminder that this culture is thoroughly patriarchal: “let the king yearn for your beauty,/ for he is your master,/ and bow down to him.” (12)

However, there are a few benefits in this new and unfamiliar role as bride to the king: “Daughter of Tyre, with tribute / the people’s wealthy will court your favor.” (13) (The reference to Tyre suggests, but does not prove, that this princess may have been one of Solomon’s wives). And then there are the riches and the wardrobe: “All the princesses’s treasure is pearls,/ filigree of gold her raiment” (14) as she is brought to the king “in rejoicing and gladness.” (16)

The purpose for her arrival before the king is clear as the poet reminds her again that she has left her father and now has a new master. Her duty is to procreate: “In your father’s stead your sons will be./ You will set them as princes in all the land.” (17). And assuming she successfully executes her duty, she will be rewarded: “Let me make your name heard in all generations./ Therefore do peoples acclaim you evermore.” (18)

As I noted yesterday, this psalm is not about theology and God is not even mentioned. But it gives us a powerful look at the upmost reaches of Israel at the time of its kings. Most tantalizingly, perhaps, king Solomon himself.

Job 10: Whatever anger people may express to God; however much they make shake their fist at heaven, Job was there first. The striking opening line almost stops one from reading further. Yet, I know that many have said exactly the same thing Job says here: “I loathe my life.” But rather than keeping this self-loathing bottled up, Job will speak: “ I will give free utterance to my complaint;/ I will speak in the bitterness of my soul.” (1) I wonder how many wounded souls feeling they have been cheated by God are walking around today who cannot or will not give “free utterance” to their feelings.

Job does not merely shake his fist at God, he castigates God almost sneeringly, reminding God that he is torturing his own creation: “Does it seem good to you to oppress,/ to despise the work of your hands/ and favor the schemes of the wicked?” (3) And then even more boldly he a tells God that “you know that I am not guilty,” (7) and even though “Your hands fashioned and made me,” he accuses God, “now you turn and destroy me.” (8)

Job dares God to execute his justice fairly: “If I sin, you watch me,/ and do not acquit me of my iniquity./ If I am wicked, woe to me!” (14) But his present state is simply inexplicable in every way in which Job (and we!) think we know how God’s justice is supposed to operate. It has been turned on its head: “If I am righteous, I cannot lift up my head,/for I am filled with disgrace/ and look upon my affliction.” (15). In fact what God has done is so unlike the God that Job thought he knew that he asks, “Why did you bring me forth from the womb?” (18). Everything has been turned upside down and inside out. It would be better, Job insists, that he goes,

“…never to return,
    to the land of gloom and deep darkness,
22 the land of gloom and chaos,
    where light is like darkness.”

Light has become darkness and chaos reigns. I think no better description has ever been written of what it feels like to have been abandoned by God and to experience complete injustice; to feel like a victim of a capricious God. Surely, Jesus must have thought of Job in the Garden of Gethsemane.

Romans 14:13–15:2: Paul continues his essay on the harms of judging one another. This is one of those passages that prove (to me, anyway) that human motivations, psychology, and behavior have not changed one whit in at least 2,000 years. What’s striking here is that Paul understands the nature of perception as being the root of judgement, not the object that’s being judged: ” I know and am persuaded in the Lord Jesus that nothing is unclean in itself; but it is unclean for anyone who thinks it unclean.” (14:14)

And, as always, it’s a question of priorities. People are judging others by what they eat and drink, forgetting that “the kingdom of God is not food and drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” (17). On the other hand, Paul argues, don’t just shove bad behavior in other people’s faces: “Everything is indeed clean, but it is wrong for you to make others fall by what you eat;  it is good not to eat meat or drink wine or do anything that makes your brother or sister stumble.” (20, 21) Paul’s bottom line for distinguishing between what is good and what is sinful is very simple: “whatever does not proceed from faith is sin.” (23).

That means that “We who are strong ought to put up with the failings of the weak,” (15:1) not to make ourselves feel good about ourselves (pride, as always!) but that everything we do and say is focused on its effect on our neighbor (and spouse!): “Each of us must please our neighbor for the good purpose of building up the neighbor.” (15:2). Which of course is simply Paul’s statement of the Golden Rule.

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