Psalm 78:40–55; Isaiah 4:2–5:30; Galatians 4:1–16

Psalm 78:40–55:  The psalmist contrasts the grumblings and sins of Israel against the mighty work of God in helping them escape Egypt: “And again did they try God,/ and Israel’s Holy One they provoked.” (41) And Israel’s biggest sin here? They forgot. “They did not recall His great hand,/ the day He ransomed them from the foe.” (42)

We, too, forget God’s mighty works. Certainly as individuals. But the poet here is speaking of an entire people who have forgotten. And so, too, our own society. And like Israel, not just forgetting, but active hostility.

A catalog of the plagues follows, “when He set out His signs in Egypt,” (43) which eventually resulted in Israel’s escape from slavery. God “sent against them [Egypt] His smoldering fury, / anger, indignation, and distress” (49) provides us a clear reminder that God is not an avuncular old man, but an active God, full of emotion and feeling. God’s anger against Egypt results in the greatest plague of all: “And He struck down each firstborn in Egypt,/ first fruit of manhood in the tents of Ham.” (51)

The poet turns back to God’s rescue of Israel: “And He led His people forward like sheep,/drive them like sheep in the wilderness.” (52). Skipping over the wilderness wanderings, which the psalmist has already described in earlier verses, we arrive at Canaan: “And He brought them to His holy realm/…And He drove out the nations before them.” (54, 55a)

And the thanks that God receives from Israel for rescue, preservation and the new land is what it always is: indifference that becomes disobedience that becomes rebellion: “Yet they tried God the Most High and rebelled,/ and His precepts they did not keep.” (56) Alas, our hardened hearts have not changed one whit over the millennia.

Isaiah 4:2–5:30: An intermezzo of a wonderful future interrupts Isaiah’s litany of the people’s sins. It has the same eager anticipatory tone as John’s description of the New Jerusalem in Revelation: “On that day the branch of the Lord shall be beautiful and glorious, and the fruit of the land shall be the pride and glory of the survivors of Israel.” (4:2) The description of this restored Jerusalem also echoes the presence of God over Israel in the wilderness: “Then the Lord will create over the whole site of Mount Zion and over its places of assembly a cloud by day and smoke and the shining of a flaming fire by night.” (4:5)

But Isaiah returns to more typical form in chapter 5 as he describes the unfruitful vineyard, a clear metaphor of God’s relationship–and disappointment–with his people: “he expected it to yield grapes,/ but it yielded wild grapes.” (5:2) Like the grapes, Israel grows and prospers, but they are not cultivated grapes, but wild, unruly, and yes, disobedient fruit. Isaiah’s logic is relentless as he asks rhetorically, “What more was there to do for my vineyard/ that I have not done in it?” (5:4) and it meets  the end it deserves in a clear prediction of the invasion to come: “I will break down its wall,/and it shall be trampled down.” (5:5)

Isaiah explores the causes of why the grapes became wild in God’s vineyard. There is drunkenness: “Ah, you who rise early in the morning/ in pursuit of strong drink,/who linger in the evening/  to be inflamed by wine,” (5:11). There is apostasy: “who do not regard the deeds of the Lord,/ or see the work of his hands!” (5:12). But worse, the greater evil is the loss of the people’s moral compass: “ you who call evil good/ and good evil,… you who are wise in your own eyes,/ and shrewd in your own sight!” (5:20, 21). And then, in keeping with the constant theme of injustice, especially to the poor, running through the entirety of the OT: “who acquit the guilty for a bribe,/ and deprive the innocent of their rights!” (5:23)

It is difficult to read these verses and not project them forward to our own culture. And when we do that, the verses that follow are even more grim: “He will raise a signal for a nation far away,/ and whistle for a people at the ends of the earth;/Here they come, swiftly, speedily!” (5:26)

Will we experience an invasion by a foreign army as Israel did? Perhaps not, but an invasion by internal corruption and thinking ourselves better than God is perhaps even worse.

Galatians 4:1–16: Paul uses a powerful metaphor of inheritance. Under the law, the Jews “are minors, are no better than slaves, though they are the owners of all the property;” (1) Like heirs, we all now wait until the promise of inheritance is fulfilled through Jesus Christ: “when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law,” (4) for the simple reason that “we might receive adoption as children.” (5).

We have been transformed from slaves to the Law (an idea that certainly inflamed Paul’s Jewish opponents) into the heirs, the children of God, because “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”” (6)

Paul comes down a level of abstraction, turns to the Galatians. Before “you were enslaved to beings that by nature are not gods,” (8) But now that we are the children of God, “now that you have come to know God” (9) “how can you turn back again to the weak and beggarly elemental spirits?” In other words, how can the Galatians (and us) turn our backs on the God who has made us heirs and children and prefer something far inferior?

Of course we do this every day, because when we seek out that which is inferior, we see ourselves not as children, but as adults, fully in control of our actions and our destiny. Which of course is a delusion.



Speak Your Mind