Monday, August 19

The True Nature of Strength

For he delivers the needy when they call, the poor and those who have no helper.
He has pity on the weak and the needy, and saves the lives of the needy.
From oppression and violence he redeems their life; and precious is their blood in his sight.
Ps 72:12-14

Calvin said of these verses that "the psalmist again affirms that the kingdom which he magnifies so greatly will not be tyrannical or cruel. The majority of kings, neglecting the well-being of the community, have their minds wholly engrossed with their own private interests. The consequence is, that they unmercifully oppress their miserable subjects; and it even happens that the more formidable any of them is, and the more absorbing his rapacity, he is accounted so much the more eminent and illustrious. But it is far different with the king here described. It has been held as a proverb by all mankind, 'That there is nothing in which men approach nearer to God than by their beneficence'; and it would be very inconsistent did not this virtue shine forth in those kings whom God has more nearly linked to himself."
I emphasized a line that seems particularly true. Stalin, Hitler, Putin, Trump: their leadership is/was deemed all

Sunday, August 18

Christian Values

Give the king your justice, O God, and your righteousness to a king’s son.
May he judge your people with righteousness, and your poor with justice.
May the mountains yield prosperity for the people, and the hills, in righteousness.
May he defend the cause of the poor of the people, give deliverance to the needy, and crush the oppressor.
May he live while the sun endures, and as long as the moon, throughout all generations.
May he be like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.
In his days may righteousness flourish and peace abound, until the moon is no more.
Ps 72:1-7
Psalm 72 is painful for me to read. It is very much a messianic psalm, and Christians see in it a prayer for the reign of Christ. But it also points to the biblical ideal for what a ruler should be—and this is an idea that has not only been rejected by my own people, but most specifically by the very people who claim to derive their faith from the words of the Bible.

Righteousness, justice, peace—these are the themes of biblical leadership. The people, the poor, the needy—these were the emphases of David and Solomon when these two rulers were at their best. And these

Saturday, August 17

The Problem of Pain

You who have made me see many troubles and calamities will revive me again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up again.
Ps 71:20

Psalm 71:20 is very much about resurrection, for I can easily imagine the cross and the empty tomb when I read these words. But I must remember that this psalm is also for me all through the course of my life. To paraphrase Calvin:
If I enjoy nothing but a uniform course of prosperity, I'll no doubt have good reason to be happy. But in that case I would never experience what it is to be delivered from destruction by the stupendous power of God. I must be brought down even to the gates of death before I can see God as my deliverer.
I know that to some this is a poor explanation for the problem of pain. But I have to admit that it works for me. It's not the only explanation. It's not even the best explanation. But it's a good explanation, because even

Friday, August 16

The Wisdom of Age

Do not cast me off in the time of old age; do not forsake me when my strength is spent.
Ps 71:9

Look, I get it. Congregations want younger people. A church that has no young people may have to shut its doors in a generation. But that doesn't mean I like seeing the blurbs in my denomination's employment opportunities section stating explicitly that a particular congregation wants a pastor who can "attract young families."
Most older people also like seeing younger people in the church. But let's not cast our seniors off in the process. It was often their vision and hard work that built the community of faith into something substantial, and it's even more often their gifts that keep it going in its present form. So I think they deserve more respect

Thursday, August 15

Impatience

In you, O Lord, I take refuge; let me never be put to shame. In your righteousness deliver me.
✜ Ps 71:1-2a

Psalm 70 ended with a very impatient prayer: "Don't delay." And about the opening verse of Psalm 71, Calvin says that the one "whose mind is in a state of constant fluctuation, and whose hope is divided by being turned in different directions, in each of which he is looking for deliverance, or who, under the influence of fear, disputes with himself, or who obstinately refuses the Divine assistance, or who frets and gives way to restless impatience, is unworthy of being succored by God." 
But wasn't "restless impatience" the whole point of Psalm 70:5?
I suppose the answer is Yes and No. Impatience, yes. But the impatience was single-minded. It was focused

Wednesday, August 14

Register

But I am poor and needy; hasten to me, O God! You are my help and my deliverer; O Lord, do not delay!
Ps 70:5

There are lots of hymns that use the phrase, "Do not delay." But in every case, the words are directed at people coming to God. For example:

Let ev’ry heart leap forth and rejoice; and let us freely make him our choice; do not delay, but come. 
 ❧ G. Root
Oh, sinner, come, do not delay, but come to God, no longer stay. 
W. Mahone
If you from the Savior have wandered away, return to him quickly, O do not delay. 
E. Barnes
Here in Psalm 70, however, these same words are directed at God. This is a double surprise: Usually we're told not to delay in going to God, and just as often we're told to wait for God. So why is this situation different?

What I note here is called register. We speak in different registers to different people, depending on our

Tuesday, August 13

Aha! Moment

Let those who say, “Aha, Aha!” turn back because of their shame. 
Let all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you. Let those who love your salvation say evermore, “God is great!”
Ps 70:3-4
✙ 
In Hebrew, Aha! is הֶאָח  (pronounced hey-ach, the second part rhyming with Johann Sebastian Bach), and every time it's used in the Bible, it's directed outwardly as an expression of derision.
✙ 
In English, of course, we might also use it as a way to verbally point at someone. Aha! Now I've caught you—you are as bad as people say you are! And this is pretty much what's going on at the opening of Psalm 70. The psalmist is being persecuted and held in derision. Everything they do is used as evidence of the fact that their cause (which here is equated with God's cause) is wrong.

But we have a different kind of Aha! in English, and I think that's what we see implied in verse 4. This type of