Psalm 109:20–31; Lamentations 2:11–3:15; Hebrews 8

Psalm 109:20–31: We hear his own voice once again as our psalmist takes the curses that have been spoken by his accusers and prays for God to turn them back on them: “This be the plight of my accusers from the Lord,/ and those who speak against my life.” (20) And now the tone of the psalm shifts back to supplication asking for God to act, as he prays, “And You, O Lord, Master,/ act on my behalf for the sake of Your name,/ for Your kindness is good. O save me!” (21) Once again, he is not asking or planning to take vengeance on his enemies himself, but is asking God to act. Something to remember before we take matters into our own hands no matter how badly we have been treated.

The verses that follow reveal personal desperation: For poor and needy am I,/ and my heart is pierced within me.” (22) He has been injured from the inside out. We recall that he has been injured by words and curses that have been spoken against him. Likewise, in our own culture we are surrounded more by words than deeds. And what is spoken to us can pierce our own hearts–just as we can pierce the hearts of others. Especially the hearts of those who are close to us and who we love.And what is spoken cannot really be unspoken, no matter how much we may regret and apologize.

The psalmist pleads, “Rescue me, as befits Your kindness,/ that they may know Your hand/ it is, it is You, O Lord, who did it.” (26b, 27) In other words, God’s rescue will serve as an example to those who mock and curse. In fact, he says, “Let them curse, and You, You will bless./ They will rise and be shamed, and Your servant will rejoice.” (28) Again, notice the emphasis on God’s action rather than our own. The psalmist is on his knees and he turns it all over to God. We can feel his faith that God will act and justice will be served. The juxtaposition of curses and blessing is striking. Humans curse; God blesses.

Lamentations 2:11–3:15: The Lamenter’s agony has become physical when he reflects on the innocent children who are among the casualties:
     My eyes are spent with weeping;
         my stomach churns;
     my bile is poured out on the ground
         because of the destruction of my people,
     because infants and babes faint
         in the streets of the city. (2:11)

In simple, stark words, these verses evoke the images of the horrors of battle. Not just in the streets of Jerusalem, but every battle that has occurred since then, down to today in the streets of Syria. No photographs are required to place the images of disaster and slaughter directly in front of us:

   Should women eat their offspring,
        the children they have borne?
    Should priest and prophet be killed
        in the sanctuary of the Lord?
     The young and the old are lying
        on the ground in the streets;
     my young women and my young men
         have fallen by the sword; (2:20, 21)

But in the midst of horror a solitary voice rises in desperate prayer, not unlike the prayer of our psalmist. But here the source of his agony is not the curses and taunts of others. It is God’s wrath: “I am one who has seen affliction/ under the rod of God’s wrath;” (3:1) The Lamenter feels trapped and believes he has been deserted by an angry God:
     He has walled me about so that I cannot escape;
         he has put heavy chains on me;
     though I call and cry for help,
         he shuts out my prayer; (3:7,8)

There are Christians who believe that they sin if they get angry at God. Here is a perfect counter-example that one can pray in immense anger arising of feeling abandoned by God. And who among us has not felt that abandonment? And when that happens, we accuse God: “He has filled me with bitterness,/ he has sated me with wormwood.” (3:15).  The poet does not mask his feelings and pretend everything is wonderful and God is unfailingly good to him. He cries out in bitterness and anger.

And although today’s reading is concluded, the prayer is by no means complete here.

Hebrews 8: This chapter requires some untangling as our author continues his essay on the superiority of the new covenant and Jesus’ role within the New Covenant: “But Jesus has now obtained a more excellent ministry, and to that degree he is the mediator of a better covenant, which has been enacted through better promises.” (6) And then he says what truly must have been anathema to any Jew within hearing: “For if that first covenant had been faultless, there would have been no need to look for a second one.” (7)

Imagine if somebody came along and pronounced your steadfast beliefs to not only be inferior, but faulty. Realizing this assertion would rile people up, the writer turns to the Scriptures to prove his point that the old covenant was faulty. He quotes Jeremiah: “The days are surely coming, says the Lord,/ when I will establish a new covenant with the house of Israel/ and with the house of Judah” (8) because “they did not continue in my covenant,/ and so I had no concern for them, says the Lord.” (9) [Verses we encountered just a couple of weeks ago in the Moravian readings!] 

Then he quotes the famous verses from Zechariah:
    I will put my laws in their minds,
        and write them on their hearts,
    and I will be their God,
        and they shall be my people. (10)

Indeed, if the Hebrews had been paying attention, they would know that not just a Messiah, but a whole new covenant was in the offing. And then the clincher from Isaiah: the proof that the new covenant is superior to what it replaces because God will forget sins. Something he was assuredly not doing through all of Jewish history to that point:
for they shall all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
   For I will be merciful toward their iniquities,
    and I will remember their sins no more.”

And it’s obvious who “me” is here. It can only be Jesus Christ. And with this logic chain so beautifully and forcefully expressed, the author makes what must have been to many ears the most outrageous assertion of all. The new covenant is not only superior to the old, but God himself “has made the first one obsolete. And what is obsolete and growing old will soon disappear.” (13) In short, jesus Christ has replaced some 1500 years of Jewish theology and practice. Imagine what our response would have been should we as good practicing Jews would have heard here.

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