Psalm 46; Job 11:1–12:12; Romans 15:3–16

Psalm 46: This song returns to the theme of God as protector: “God is a shelter and strength for us,/ a help in straits, readily found.” (2) So when disasters occur “we fear not when the earth breaks apart,/ when mountains collapse in the heart of the seas.” (3)  This beautiful couplet can certainly refer to natural disasters, but its real strength is in the metaphor. God is with us when the world we know seems to collapse in around us through illness, death or personal catastrophe.

Even though “waters roar and roil, [and] mountains heave in its surge” (4) God never abandons us despite the vicissitudes that seem like a tiny raft running class 5 rapids. Indeed, God brings us refreshing water, but it is the peace of “a stream, its rivulets [which] gladden God’s town.” Like the temple at Jerusalem, our lives will not disintegrate. There can be tremendous anxiety and even destruction around us–“Nations roar and kingdoms collapse” (7a)–but God “sends forth His voice and the earth melts.” (7b) The pretenses of humankind are nothing before God.

We can carry the metaphor of God with us even as the psalm evokes military images: “The Lord of armies is with us/ a fortress for us.” (8) And for the world, the promise of a world without war and conflict: God has “caused wars to cease to the end of the earth./ The bow He has broken and splintered the spear,/ and chariots burned in fire.” (10) Whether God brings peace to the nations or not, he can surely bring peace to our hearts.

Although it has become almost a meaningless popular cliche, here in its context it is the best possible instruction for our anxiety- and fear-ridden lives: “Let go, and know that I am God.” (11) because “The Lord of armies is with us.” (12). God may often seem absent, but this psalm reassures us that God is at our side bringing peace to our lives.

Job 11:1–12:12: Of Job’s three friends, Zophar is the cruelest. He replies to Job’s soliloquy with snide sarcasm: “Should your babble put others to silence,/ and when you mock, shall no one shame you?” (11:3) And then promptly implies Job is dissembling, “For you say, ‘My conduct is pure,/and I am clean in God’s sight.’” (11:4) To Zophir, Job’s problem is simple: he just lacks sufficient wisdom to truly understand God: “Can you find out the deep things of God?/ Can you find out the limit of the Almighty?” (11:7)

At heart, Zophir is the fatalist. God is powerful: “If he passes through, and imprisons,/and assembles for judgment, who can hinder him?” (11:10) Job’s problem, Zophir asserts, is simple. He just hasn’t been truly sincere before God: “If you direct your heart rightly,/you will stretch out your hands toward him.” (11:13). Just do that, Zophir says, and “You will forget your misery;” (11:16) and life will get better: “you will have confidence, because there is hope.” (11:18) Everything will be hunky-dory in the end: “You will lie down, and no one will make you afraid;/many will entreat your favor.” (11:19)

Zophir offers the kind of Norman Vincent Peale/ Joel Osteen advice we hear today. Essentially, it’s think positive thoughts and everything will be OK.

Job begs to differ with his erstwhile friend, telling him, “I have understanding as well as you;/ I am not inferior to you.” (12:3) He tells Zophir that everybody seems to believe this trivial philosophy: “Who does not know such things as these?” (12:3b) Rather, Job says, “ask the animals and they will teach you.” (12:7a) It’s really quite simple and has noting to do with one’s attitude or failing to understand God’s intentions. Instead, God is simply in control: 

9 Who among all these does not know
    that the hand of the Lord has done this?
10 In his hand is the life of every living thing
    and the breath of every human being.

God is the source of life and therefore, Job is saying, God is the source of these woes. It really has noting to do with the sincerity of JOb’s beliefs or his attitude. All the platitudes of the world will not change this simple reality.

Romans 15:3–16: These last verses of Paul’s epistle are his cadenza. In ringing tones, he summarizes how the the Gospel is intended for Jew and Gentile alike. We are to “Welcome one another, therefore, just as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God.” (7) Paul cannot resist quoting four more scripture passages that prove his point, this time scriptures that refer specifically to Gentiles, ending with Isaiah’s promise,

“The root of Jesse shall come,
    the one who rises to rule the Gentiles;
in him the Gentiles shall hope.” (12)

And then, what seems to be a benediction, “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (13)

But Paul, being Paul, has a difficult time simply ending his letter. His stream-of-consciousness style insists on a few more points as he reminds his readers and listeners of his apostolic bona fides: “Nevertheless on some points I have written to you rather boldly by way of reminder, because of the grace given me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles in the priestly service of the gospel of God, so that the offering of the Gentiles may be acceptable, sanctified by the Holy Spirit.” (15, 16) We are left with the feeling there’s still a few more points Paul wants to be sure to make.


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