Psalm 50:7–15; Job 20; 1 Corinthians 1:21–2:2

Psalm 50:7–15: God’s assertion, “Not for sacrifices shall I reprove you,/ your burnt offerings always before me.” (8) seems to fly in the face of the complex sacrificial system that was set up in Leviticus. Is God now saying that sacrifices are no longer required?  It’s a little more subtle than that. Rather, God seems to be saying, ‘I really don’t need your sacrifices’ since all the animals in existence are already his: “For mine are all the beasts of the forest/ the herds on the thousand mountains.” (10) Evoking what Jesus said about God’s intimate knowledge of creation, the psalmist reminds us that God “know[s] every bird of the mountains,/ creatures of the field are with Me.” (11).

The next verse, however, illuminates what God is really talking about: “Should I hunger, I would not say to you,/ for mine is the world and its fullness.” (12) God is making the point that he does not require sacrifice in order to satisfy his hunger, as was the case of other local idols to whom people brought their gifts to provide sustenance for their small-g gods.  This difference becomes clearer as God asserts, “Would I eat the flesh of fat bulls,/ would I drink the blood of goats?” (14)

Rather, our sacrifices to God devolve to our own benefit: “Sacrifice to God a thanksgiving, and pay to the High One your vows.” (14). We do not sustain God; God sustains us, especially in our troubles: “And call on Me on the day of distress–/ I will free you and you shall revere me.” (15)

I don’t think we appreciate just how radical the idea of a God who cares for his people and does not demand sacrifice for his own sake really was in that time. All those small-g gods were jealous, hungry, and demanded sacrifices for their own sake. Israel’s God sees sacrifice as an act for our own sake. That’s what thanksgiving to God is all about.

Job 20: One thing we know about Job’s friends. As soon as Job finishes speaking they do not allow a moment of silence. Rather, they rebut Job’s words almost instantly. Like many modern conversations it seems that rather than actually listening to what Job said and reflecting thoughtfully on his words, Job’s friends are thinking about what they’re going to say next while Job’s still speaking. I know that I personally tend to do this…

So, “Zophar the Naamathite answered.” (20:1) Like his buddies, Zophar shows not a shred of sympathy to Job’s plight. In fact, he’s pretty annoyed with Job as he begins his speech like a stern schoolteacher: “Pay attention! My thoughts urge me to answer,/ because of the agitation within me.” (2)

Zophar’s theology is pretty much the same as his two friends as he implicitly upbraids Job, 

“Do you not know this from of old,
    ever since mortals were placed on earth,
 that the exulting of the wicked is short,
    and the joy of the godless is but for a moment?” (4,5)

OK, we’ve heard this story before. Zophar continues in exquisite detail that the wicked get just recompense for their wickedness, as e.g., “They swallow down riches and vomit them up again;/ God casts them out of their bellies.” (15) and later, “from the profit of their trading/ they will get no enjoyment.” (18b)

And in the end, “God will send his fierce anger into them,/ and rain it upon them as their food.” (15) and “The possessions of their house will be carried away,/dragged off in the day of God’s] wrath.” (28)  This is the deuteronomic theology that suffuses the OT and the Psalms. The wicked will prosper for a while, but in the end they receive their just desserts for their sins. Zophar does not have to directly accuse Job of wrongdoing, but his implication is all too clear that Job has sinned mightily since he is being punished mightily.

But in our hearts, isn’t this really how we want things to work? Zophar’s speech is an operational definition of the human concept of justice. This seems how the world should operate.

1 Corinthians 1:21–2:2: Paul puts his finger directly on why the Gospel message is anathema to most of the world: “For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom.” (1:22) But the message of Christ crucified is neither a sign nor wisdom–at least in the terms the world prefers to define those things.

To human eyes it’s all nonsense. And in today’s culture it seems that more and more people are coming to this conclusion.  If we want to be seen as “wise” in the framework of the world at large, we better stop spouting off about this “Jesus loves me” business or even more offensively, “Christ died for your sins.” What Paul said close to 2000 years ago is still resoundingly pertinent. God does not operate on human terms and therefore his message will be seen as foolish. But as we are slowly learning in reading Job, “God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.” (1:25)

Paul turns to the people of the church at Corinth as his proof: “not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth.” (26) And then in my favorite verse about how God operates in the opposite to what our logic says God should do, Paul makes it clear that the Good News has turned human logic on its head: “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are.” (27)

If I were really courageous, I would not care a whit what the world thinks of what I have to say. And at least as I grow older, I am finally coming to realize that what the world thinks really does not matter one iota. In the end, accepting God’s logic rather than human “wisdom” has become ultimately freeing.

Finally, Paul turns to himself, saying that despite what the people at Corinth would like to think about the depth of Paul’s theological insights, “I did not come proclaiming the mystery of God to you in lofty words or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” (2:1,2). The Gospel message is really that simple. If we accepted Paul strictly at his word, there would have been a lot of unemployed theologians!



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