Psalm 47; Job 12:13–13:19; Romans 15:17–29

Psalm 47: This psalm of celebration, which Alter tells us is sung at the Jewish new year, expresses unfettered joy, and gives permission to all of us to clap our hands when we sing(!): All peoples, clap hands/ shout out to God with a glad song.” (2) The reason for celebration is that “the Lord is most high and fearsome,/ a great king over all the earth.”

The next lines are a bit less comfortable to our “civilized” ears: “He crushes peoples beneath us / and nations beneath our feet.” God does this because God is on Israel’s side and he loves us: “He chooses for us our estate,/ pride of Jacob whom He loves.” (5)

At the second stanza of the psalm the music grows even louder and more joyful as we enter–metaphorically anyway–God’s throne room,”with a trumpet blast,/ …with a ram’s horn sound” (6) as  the assembled multitude sings to God: “Hymn to God, hymn/ hymn to our king, O hymn.” (7) Here, God is not just king of Israel, but “king of all earth is God.” (8)

We have just experienced joy similar to the ancient Israelites here by singing and hearing the music surrounding our celebration of Jesus’ resurrection. The Easter is truly a time for great–and like the psalm here–noisy celebration!

Job 12:13–13:19: Unlike Zophir’s rather simpleminded theology, Job describes a far more complex God. What is remarkable here is how despite his personal woes Job continues to emphasize God as the source of greatness: “With God[a] are wisdom and strength;/he has counsel and understanding.” (12:13) Those who pretend to wisdom–and he lists counselors, judges, kings and priests (13:17-19)–are led away “stripped” of their power and pretense (and perhaps of their clothes as well!). And then, what I take to be a direct accusation to his supposed friend, Job says, “[God] deprives of speech those who are trusted,/ and takes away the discernment of the elders.” (12:20) Which is the most brilliant waythat I have ever read to tell someone to just shut up!

“[God] strips understanding from the leaders of the earth,/ and makes them wander in a pathless waste.”  (12:25) is a superb commentary on today’s politicians and would-be leaders, who pretend to superior wisdom when actually, “They grope in the dark without light.” A glance toward Washington DC confirms again and again the wisdom of this ancient poem.

In his heart, Job knows that God is the source of justice and he wishes to take his God straight into God’s courtroom: “I would speak to the Almighty,/ and I desire to argue my case with God.” (13:3) And, turning to his erstwhile friends, he shouts, “As for you, you whitewash with lies;/ all of you are worthless physicians.” (13:4). And then in possibly the greatest advice ever given to those (including me) who pretend to know what we are talking about: “If you would only keep silent,/ that would be your wisdom!” (13:5)

Job will not allow his friends to speak for God; he doesn’t trust them: “Will you speak falsely for God,/and speak deceitfully for him?” (13:7). Instead, he will speak to God directly, regardless of the consequences: “Let me have silence, and I will speak,/ and let come on me what may.” (13:13) Job is willing to take the risk to defend himself at any cost: “See, he will kill me; I have no hope;/ but I will defend my ways to his face.” (13:15). Would I be as willing as Job to shake my fist at God and be prepared to suffer the consequences?

Romans 15:17–29: Paul has only one purpose for his life: to “make it my ambition to proclaim the good news,” but to do it where the Gospel has not yet come, unsullied by others who may have come before him. He plans to go new places, “not where Christ has already been named, so that I do not build on someone else’s foundation.” To be blunt, this is Paul at his egotistical (in the good sense) best. As an apostle of Jesus Christ he wants to make sure his listeners hear only the unvarnished message, not somebody’s take on complex theology.  God advice for all of us.

It is here that Paul lays out his plan to visit Spain and visit his friends in Rome on the way. Tradition holds that Paul visited Spain, but my own view is that he never made it because as he says, “At present, however, I am going to Jerusalem in a ministry to the saints.” (25). And the last part of Acts tells us what happened in Jerusalem. Paul eventually made it to Rome, trials and shipwrecks notwithstanding. But like all of us, the best laid plans often do not come to pass as we wish.

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