Psalm 79:9–13; Isaiah 10:12–11:9; Galatians 5:19–6:5

Psalm 79:9–13: We encounter one of the most moving prayers for rescue in the Psalms. We pray to God for rescue because God’s very name is our rescue:

Help us, our rescuing God
for Your name’s glory,
and save us and atone for our sins
for the sake of Your name. (9)

Moreover, the psalmist asks rhetorically, why wouldn’t God want his name to be greater than all those the small-g gods: “Why should the nations say, “Where is their god? (10) A rescue would benefit not just the captives, but God’s name itself.

The prayer turns to those still held captive, heightening the probability that this psalm was written by a Jew in Babylon: “Let the captive’s groan come before You,/ by Your arm’s greatness unbind those marked for death.” (12)

The last verse is crucial because it regardless of what God chooses to do or not do, we will remain faithful: “We acclaim You forever,/ From generation to generation we recount Your praise.” (13) For me, this prayer says that even in the most dire circumstances we pray and then we praise God for his faithfulness, assured that regardless of what happens next, God has heard us.

Isaiah 10:12–11:9: Isaiah prophesies that “When the Lord has finished all his work on Mount Zion and on Jerusalem, he will punish the arrogant boasting of the king of Assyria and his haughty pride.” (10:12) Isaiah speaks for the Lord: “By the strength of my hand I have done it,/and by my wisdom, for I have understanding.” (10:13) and then a frightening prophecy of destruction:
The light of Israel will become a fire,
    and his Holy One a flame;
and it will burn and devour
    his thorns and briers in one day. (10:17)

God, who has been the light of Israel, has reached his limit. What has been sacred and holy becomes the source of destruction. When we reflect on these words, it’s clear that the people have brought this on themselves by rejecting God’s light, which now becomes a devouring fire. Happily, in Jesus Christ, that in God’s grace, under the terms of the New Covenant, this will never happen to us. But that’s not to say that disaster won’t befall us or our culture. But whatever it might be, it won;t be God’s vengeance.

A remnant of faithful Israel remains in Judah (Zion), and Isaiah, again speaking for God, promises that they need not be afraid of the Assyrian king, because “in a very little while my indignation [against Israel] will come to an end, and my anger will be directed to their [Assyria’s] destruction.” (24) God will be there for the faithful and “On that day his burden will be removed from your shoulder, and his yoke will be destroyed from your neck.” (26)

In fact, one of the greatest promises in the OT will arise through this faithful remnant in Judah, the promise of the Davidic Messiah: “A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse,/ and a branch shall grow out of his roots.” (11:1)

Isaiah describes the marvelous qualities of this coming king:
“The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him,
    the spirit of wisdom and understanding,
    the spirit of counsel and might,
    the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord.” (11:2)

Not only a new king, but a new kingdom where peace reigns and where, “The wolf shall live with the lamb,/ the leopard shall lie down with the kid.” (6) And in what we Christians take as a direct prophecy of Jesus’ birth, “and a little child shall lead them.” (6b) In this restored creation, the wonderful promise of peace:
“They will not hurt or destroy
    on all my holy mountain;
for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord
    as the waters cover the sea.” (9)

It’s clear that this New Creation has not yet come to pass, but like Judah, we can cling confidently to its promise.

Galatians 5:19–6:5: Here, we encounter two of Paul’s most famous lists, juxtaposed against each other so that we see them in stark contrast.

First, “the works of the flesh are obvious: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, anger, quarrels, dissensions, factions, envy,drunkenness, carousing, and things like these.” (5:19). Sounding almost like Isaiah, Paul has a dire warning: “I am warning you, as I warned you before: those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” (21). This verse has been the source of much controversy as some believe we can lose our salvation. I think Paul’s point is that if we are consumed by the desires of the flesh, we will put all thoughts of the Kingdom out of our hearts and minds. We wouldn’t even care whether or not we inherit the Kingdom. In this completely self-centered, self-absorbed life the question of salvation becomes irrelevant. We see these people all around us every day.

Paul goes on, “By contrast, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.” (22,23). If we are really, truly in Christ; if we really, truly belong completely to Christ, that is, we have abandoned ourselves to Jesus, then we will by definition be living in the Spirit and as Paul notes, we will be guided by the Holy Spirit.  And our fruit will flourish. But as always, it boils down to the simple question: who is really in control of our lives?

Paul describes the duties and responsibilities of a community living in the Spirit: “you who have received the Spirit should restore such a one in a spirit of gentleness.” (6:1) and “Bear one another’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.” (6:2). But bearing another’s burdens cannot become a source of pride because “if those who are nothing think they are something, they deceive themselves.” (6:3). In community we must carry our own load, always remembering that as individuals, we are responsible for our own actions.

This is the definition of successful community: individually responsible people, each carrying their own load, but also bearing each others burdens. This is inter-connectedness but with clear boundaries.

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