Psalm 89:1–18; Isaiah 48:7–49:21; Philippians 4:14–23

Psalm 89:1–19: The joyful opening verses of this psalm are a strong contrast to the darkness of the preceding psalm. [One wonders of the editors juxtaposed these psalms to prevent the reader from descending into despondency.] The first section celebrates two wonderful aspects of God: his kindness and his faithfulness: “For I said: forever will kindness stand strong,/ in the heavens You set Your faithfulness firm.” (3) The covenant is proof of this faithfulness, specifically to King David: “I have sealed a pact with my chosen one,/ I have sworn David my servant.” (4) [We sense a whiff of Christological succession via the house of David: “Forevermore I shall make your seed stand firm,/ and make your throne stand strong for generations.” (5) ]

Following this introduction, the psalmist continues to notes God’s faithfulness: “And the heavens will proclaim Your wonder, o Lord,/ Your faithfulness, too….” (6) And again at verse 9: “Your faithfulness round You.” Here, God has not abandoned anyone. This is truly a psalm of worship and adoration.

The next section celebrates God’s preeminence in all creation in the famous lines, “The world and its fullness, You founded them./ The north and the south, You created them. We also glimpse the roots of God’s faithfulness as “Justice and law are the base of Your throne./ Steadfast kindness and truth go before Your presence.” (16)

Kindness, faithfulness, justice, truth: these are the qualities of God that suffuse the OT despite the popular image of an angry or missing God. Those who see only the angry God of the OT are missing a lot.

Isaiah 48:7–49:21:

 The Lord loves him;
    he shall perform his purpose on Babylon,
    and his arm shall be against the Chaldeans.
15 I, even I, have spoken and called him,
    I have brought him, and he will prosper in his way. (48:14, 15)

As much as I would like to think these lines refer to the Messiah, they seem to be a direct reference to Cyrus the Mede. Isaiah, speaking in God’s voice, berates Israel for its sins that have brought them to captivity in Babylon with the usual deuteronomic formulation: “O that you had paid attention to my commandments!/ Then your prosperity would have been like a river,” (48:18) But now, when they are free, they are to “Go out from Babylon, flee from Chaldea,/ declare this with a shout of joy, proclaim it,/ send it forth to the end of the earth;” (48:20) The message to us: Like Jesus’ widow, who rejoiced upon finding what was lost, we, too, must rejoice greatly at what has been done for us.

And by contrast, in this famous line, “‘There is no peace,’ says the Lord, ‘for the wicked.'” (48:22)

In the next chapter, Isaiah intervenes with an autobiographical note, describing how he was called in these memorable lines:

He made my mouth like a sharp sword,
    in the shadow of his hand he hid me;
he made me a polished arrow,
    in his quiver he hid me away. (49:2)

And Isaiah’s mission is clear and simple, if daunting: to speak to Israel now “deeply despised, abhorred by the nations,/ the slave of rulers,” (7) that through this prophet,

“Kings shall see and stand up,
    princes, and they shall prostrate themselves,
because of the Lord, who is faithful,
    the Holy One of Israel, who has chosen you.” (49:7b)

And then, God’s great promise of return and that “ the Lord has comforted his people,/ and will have compassion on his suffering ones.? Even when we think God has abandoned us [But Zion said, “The Lord has forsaken me,/ my Lord has forgotten me.” (14)] God is this there as Isaiah reminds us in this tender metaphor: “Can a woman forget her nursing child,/or show no compassion for the child of her womb? We see the faithfulness of God that our psalmist celebrates in this simple verse: “Even these may forget,/ yet I will not forget you.” (15)

Can we ask anything more in our own despondency and sense that we are alone? This promise stands firm. We may think we have been abandoned, but that feeling of abandonment arises out of our despair. God is always at our side.

Philippians 4:14–23:  Unlike the underlying frustration that we see in Paul when he concludes other epistles, here we see Paul’s winsome praise for the generosity of the Philippians on full display: “no church shared with me in the matter of giving and receiving, except you alone. For even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me help for my needs more than once.” (15, 16) And again, “I have been paid in full and have more than enough; I am fully satisfied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent, a fragrant offering, a sacrifice acceptable and pleasing to God.” (18)

The church at Phillipi has remembered what too many churches today forget: generosity of spirit–and tangible gifts–that goes far beyond the own needs of the community.

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