Psalm 78:56–64; Isaiah 6,7; Galatians 4:17–27

Psalm 78:56–64: The Israelites persist in angering God by worshiping small-g gods: “They vexed Him with their high places,/ incensed Him with their idols.” (58). As God had promised in Deuteronomy and elsewhere, when the people reject him, he rejects them: “God heard and was angry,/ wholly rejected Israel.” (59) Happily, God is even more patient with us than he was with Israel and we no longer experience this tit-for-tat aspect.

But God gives up on his people–at least temporarily: “He abandoned the sanctuary of Shiloh,/ the tent where He dwelled among men.”  (60) Alter suggests this is a reference to the period of the Judges.

The consequences of God’s abandonment are devastating: “He let His might  become captive,/ gave his splendor to the hand of the foe.” I presume “Might” would be the army; “splendor” would be the Ark. The fate of the those who had abandoned God is tragic: “He gave His people over to the sword/…His young men the fire consumed/and His virgins no wedding song knew.” (62, 63).

When things look darkest, “the Master awoke as one sleeping/ like a warrior shaking off wine/ And He beat back His foes.’ (65, 66a). But even though God has saved the day, our poet reminds us that “everlasting disgrace He gave them.” (66b). In short, while there may be forgiveness and a merciful God steps back in there are long term consequences to our actions. Things will never be as they once were.

Isaiah 6,7: Isaiah has a remarkable vision of his consecration as prophet. He sees “the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.” (6:1) Isaiah’s lips are consecrated with a hot coal and God asks, ““Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” Isaiah responds immediately, ““Here am I; send me!” (6:8) This passage is certainly confirmation that God can speak to us in our reflection and even in our dreams. Of course, the question for me is am I even listening to, and watching for, God in order to even hear his soft voice, much less a vision?

Thus ordained, Isaiah speaks the words of God, who speaks sarcastically, knowing the people will not listen: “‘Keep listening, but do not comprehend;/keep looking, but do not understand.’/ Make the mind of this people dull,/ and stop their ears,/and shut their eyes,” (6:9, 10) God is well aware that even when he speaks we, like Judah, pay little heed.

Ahaz is king and Judah is about to be attacked by  the rebels, Aram and Ephraim. Fear was rampant and “the heart of Ahaz and the heart of his people shook as the trees of the forest shake before the wind.” (7:2) Isaiah reassures Ahaz but the king wants a sign. Isaiah replies with one of the most famous prophetic verses in the OT: “Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and shall name him Immanuel” (7:14)

However, I don’t think Isaiah is actually forecasting an event centuries into the future–even though it is the birth of Jesus. He is much more focused in the here and now and predicts victory over Aram and Ephraim saying, “For before the child knows how to refuse the evil and choose the good, the land before whose two kings you are in dread will be deserted.” (7:16) Isaiah’s business at hand is to reassure Ahaz.

Galatians 4:17–27: Paul is frustrated at the spiritual immaturity of the Galatians, but unlike some of his words to the church at Corinth, he is imminently sympathetic toward them:”My little children, for whom I am again in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you, I wish I were present with you now and could change my tone, for I am perplexed about you.” (19, 20)

He addresses those Christians that insist on following every aspect of the Jewish Law, including of course, circumcision, (which Paul knows will not exactly encourage Gentile males to become Christians) by using the law itself as an argument against them: “ Tell me, you who desire to be subject to the law, will you not listen to the law?” (21)

In a brilliant theological tour d’force Paul points out that Hagar and Sarah, both of whom had children by Abraham, “One, the child of the slave, was born according to the flesh; the other, the child of the free woman, was born through the promise.” (23) Paul’s allegory is that the two women represent law and grace. But manages to make Hagar the slave the representative of “the present Jerusalem,” i.e., the law, while “the other woman (Sarah) corresponds to the Jerusalem above; she is free, and she is our mother.” (26) In short, Paul is saying, we operate under the terms of grace, not the law.

Which I’m sure did not go over well in the actual Jerusalem. But it certainly connotes the terms of the New Covenant under which we no live in freedom. However, I think it’s important to note that Paul does not mock the law or say it is useless. Rather,simply that for purposes of salvation it has been supplanted by a new, better Covenant.

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