Psalm 49:1–12; Job 15,16; Romans 16:8–20

 Psalm 49:1–12: After introductory verses that establish the psalmist’s bona fides–“My mouth speaks wisdom,/ my heart’s utterance, understanding” (4)–he turns to the theme of the psalm: the foolishness of those who trust in anything besides God. At the top of the list is the persons “Who trust in their wealth/ and boast of their great riches.” (7) –a false trust that we see just as much today as when the psalm was written. Because, at some point, those who have depended on wealth for any sort will come to understand “they surely will redeem no man,/ will not give to God his ransom.” (8).

The foundations and charities of the rich notwithstanding, they too must answer the psalmist’s rhetorical question: “Will he yet live forever?/ Will he not see the Pit?” (10).  The poet sums up this reality of “you can’t take it with you” in a verse that could have been lifted straight out of Ecclesiastes: “For he see the wise dies,/ both the fool and the stupid man perish,/ and they abandon to others their wealth.” (11) Death is the Great Equalizer. Even for those who have known great fame, whose “names had been called upon the earth” (12b) are “likened to the beasts that are doomed.” (13).

Only one thing lives on after us: “in words alone, they show favor.” (14) And even then it will be only the words that we have recorded. Something to think about.

Job 15,16: Eliphaz the Temanite responds to Job’s dark soliloquy accusing Job of undermining belief in God and religion by “doing away with the fear of God,/ and hindering meditation before God.” (15:4)/ And then cruelly to Job, “Your own mouth condemns you, and not I;/ your own lips testify against you.” (15:6) suggesting that he has not “listened in the council of God.” (15:8) and is “one who is abominable and corrupt,/ one who drinks iniquity like water!” (15:16). Eliphaz is saying that all men are corrupt, including even self-righteous Job and cannot therefore approach God or know what God is up to.

Job just needs to realize his innate corruptness before God. If men depend on their own wisdom, if they “ trust in emptiness, deceiving themselves; … emptiness will be their recompense.” (15:31). In fact there is theological truth here. Eliphaz accuses Job of trying to understand the thoughts of God, which leads to a foolish and wrong headed wisdom that is mere emptiness at the end.  Mankind is intrinsically evil, he’s saying, ending his speech with the simple but depressing declaration, “They conceive mischief and bring forth evil/ and their heart prepares deceit.” (15:35) Something we know to be true.

So what gives?

Job responds to Eliphaz in the next chapter. His opening remarks include a statement that all of us have thought when we know that someone has not really listened to what we are saying, but are just lecturing us with their own brand of “wisdom:” “Have windy words no limit?/ Or what provokes you that you keep on talking?” (16:3).  [Definitely a really polite way of saying, “Shut up!”]

Not knowing the original deal between God and Satan, Job continues to insist that it is God who has caused his woes in verse after eloquent verse:

11 God gives me up to the ungodly,
    and casts me into the hands of the wicked.
12 I was at ease, and he broke me in two;
    he seized me by the neck and dashed me to pieces;
he set me up as his target;
13     his archers surround me.
He slashes open my kidneys, and shows no mercy;
he pours out my gall on the ground.  (16:11-13)

Without God, his faith shattered, there is nothing left for Job. And as the psalmist observed about the wealthy, emptiness is all that remains: “For when a few years have come,/ I shall go the way from which I shall not return.” (16:22). This chapter reveals Job’s deep despair of a shattered faith. We talk about “the patience of Job,” but I think that’s a mischaracterization. Job feels not only punished by God, but worse, he feels abandoned by God. There is no darker feeling to have had faith and then to have lost it because we believe God has turned his back on us.

Romans 16:8–20:If Paul were writing today he would have added a final “PSS” after his long list of names of people he commends and asks the recipients of his letter to greet on his behalf.

Since it’s the last thing Paul ever writes to the Romans (that we know about anyway) I have to think it is the one thing that weighs most heavily on his mind. It is not theology, nor is it the relationship of Jews and Gentiles or any of the other weighty matters he’s discussed. Instead, it is simple human behavior: “ I urge you, brothers and sisters, to keep an eye on those who cause dissensions and offenses, in opposition to the teaching that you have learned; avoid them.” (17) Because Paul knows it is dissension in the church that rips it apart. And finally, we are “to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil.” (19) If we cannot discern that crucial difference, then we are doomed.

What a challenge for us in today’s world, which is strikingly similar to the Roman world. We can distinguish between good and evil and as Paul says in Philippians 4, embrace that which is good, or we can head down the path of the world, following its evil. Paul’s message to the Romans–and to us–boils down to that crucial distinction. Will we make the right choice?

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