Psalm 52; Job 28; 1 Corinthians 4:16–5:8

Psalm 52: The psalmist connects the psalm to a specific event in David’s life: “when Doeg the Edomite came and told Saul and said to him, ‘David has come to the house of Achimelech.'” (2) and then casts the psalm as an address to the evil Doeg–or to any wicked person. The poet begins on a remarkably sarcastic note: “Why boast of evil, O hero?” making it clear that the man he addresses is far from heroic.

As usual, the the core sin of the evil man is rooted in speech: “Disasters your tongue devises,/ like a well-honed razor, doing deceit.” (4) The evil tongue is the manifestation of an evil heart: “You love evil better than good, / a lie more than speaking justice.” (5) We need to remember that in this world, the primary form of communication was speech and the psalmist reminds us that speech has a direct link to a man’s character as he accuses the evildoer, that “You love all destructive words, / the tongue of deceit.” (6) Even though we have multiple forms of communication today that does not mask the fact that in the end, it all comes down to what we say and write.

As a person who writes and speaks a lot, this accusation hits home: that what I say aloud is–as the psalmist has it here–a direct reflection of the attitudes of my heart and of my basic character–and how people will judge me. Sarcasm has been a big defense mechanism for me and I have been working to eliminate it in what I say. Words used with evil intent can destroy; even words used carelessly can inflict great harm.

God’s intent for the man who speaks evil is hardly benevolent: “God surely will smash you forevet,/ sweep you up and tear you from the tent,/ root you out of the land of the living.” (7)  This is the grim fate of “the man who does not make/ God his stronghold.” (9)

Job 28: We suddenly encounter this beautiful poem that reflects on the nature of wisdom. Unlike many other speeches here, the author does not credit either Job or any of his friends. It is a peaceful intermezzo in the sturm und drang of the dueling speeches that comprise this remarkable book.

The poem describes a hidden but beautiful part of God’s creation: “Its stones are the place of sapphires,/ and its dust contains gold.” (6) But neither animals know where it is nor miners who “put their hand to the flinty rock,/  and overturn mountains by the roots.” (9). So what is to be found there in this mysterious place? The poet answers with a rhetorical question: “But where shall wisdom be found?/ And where is the place of understanding?” (12)

We humans will not stumble across it because it is not to be found within the creation  we inhabit: “Mortals do not know the way to it,/ and it is not found in the land of the living.” (13). Wisdom cannot be purchased: “It cannot be gotten for gold,/ and silver cannot be weighed out as its price.” (15)

Again, the poet asks, “Where then does wisdom come from?/ And where is the place of understanding?” (20). This time there’s an answer: “God understands the way to it,/ and he knows its place.” (23) It turns out in the last verse that God has actually already told us where wisdom can be found:

And he said to humankind,
‘Truly, the fear of the Lord, that is wisdom;
    and to depart from evil is understanding.’” (28)

So, the question becomes, why is God the last place we humans actually look? Why do we look first for human wisdom, which as Paul has told is is mere foolishness? We are so unwilling to abandon ourselves, who we as the center of the universe, even when God is basically standing before us with the answer.

1 Corinthians 4:16–5:8:  Underneath Paul’s words, “ But some of you, thinking that I am not coming to you, have become arrogant.” (18) we can sense his controlled anger. And his rhetorical question certainly reveals his frustration with the wild talk and cliques that seem to characterize the church at Corinth: “What would you prefer? Am I to come to you with a stick, or with love in a spirit of gentleness?” (4:21)

So, given his already bad mood, Paul lights right into them: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not found even among pagans; for a man is living with his father’s wife.” (5:1) I guess we can be charitable and assume that “his father’s wife” is not actually his mother. But the church has erred by failing to remove him from the congregation.

Paul’s judgement may seem harsh given our preference for grace, tolerance, and all that. But he does not let them take the easy way out. He states that as founder of the church at Corinth he possess authority and, “as if present I have already pronounced judgment in the name of the Lord Jesus on the man who has done such a thing.” (5:4). However, exactly how Paul’s instructions are to be carried out is less clear: “you are to hand this man over to Satan for the destruction of the flesh, so that his spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord.” (5:5) Does this mean something harsher than being thrown out of the congregation?  Again, I prefer the more charitable explanation.

Paul then turns to the problem of pride: “Your boasting is not a good thing. Do you not know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough?” (5:6) And he makes the crucial psychological insight that like bad yeast, pride infects the entire body. We see that today in the behavior of mobs incited to outrageous acts by the behavior of just a few. Once this bad yeast is inside a church congregation, it generally rips the congregation apart. Despite Paul’s words, human nature remains unchanged, and we grieve at the terrible witness to the community when churches are torn asunder by envy, pride and dissension.

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