For Sunday’s Lesson

 

Psalm 36

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!
    The children of mankind take refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the abundance of your house,
    and you give them drink from the river of your delights.
For with you is the fountain of life;
    in your light do we see light.

 

Our scripture lesson for this Sunday will be Psalm 36.  As you study this psalm in preparation, think about its structure.  Does the structure of the psalm raise any questions?

Think also about what the psalm teaches us of God.  What does it tell us about His nature and character?  What does it tell us about what God wants from you and me?

 

Is there anything in this psalm that is surprising to you?

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About Last Sunday . . .

 

 

As so often happens, the best parts of last week’s class were the questions raised.

 

There were several good ones, but the two that stick with me most were raised by Terry and Don.  Let’s take Terry first, for his question is a little more definite.  Although this isn’t a perfect, word-for-word quote of the question, I think it is fair to say that in essence Terry asked whether there is evidence in the Book of Ruth that our protagonist, Ruth herself, had converted to Israel’s God – Yaweh.

That is an important question – the ultimate question, actually – in any circumstance and it is particularly important here – to our consideration of this little Book.  For we are concerned with Ruth’s motives and with the results of her decisions.  We won’t really understand the Book unless we understand what moved Ruth to act as she did and unless we understand the reason for her great good fortune.

So the question – and we’ll be discussing this next Sunday – is what, if any, evidence is there in the text that Ruth had – or had not – converted to Israel’s God before she left Moab?

The second question is broader and not so well defined, but is of ultimate importance for our study.  It was something like this:  “What about the God part of this story?”

Well, yes.  What about that.  I am reminded of our Lord Jesus Christ’s admonition to a group of Pharisees who were (as was their bent) trying to trip Jesus up on the scriptures.  Jesus – as was His bent – stops them dead in their arrogant tracks with this statement:  “You study the scriptures because in them you think you have eternal life, and they are they that testify of me.”   Eugene Peterson, in The Message, translates Jesus’ admonition this way:

“You have your heads in your Bibles constantly because you think you’ll find eternal life there. But you miss the forest for the trees. These Scriptures are all about me!

John 5: 39

And our Lord’s words here are certainly words to us as we take up the study of this beautiful little Book of Ruth.  It is a poignant and romantic story, full of heroic and heart-rending acts.  So much so that we might be tempted to take our eye off of the ball here and consider the story only for its human content.  If so, then we might as well be in the public library and not the church.  We read the scriptures because they testify of Jesus Christ and the life we are offered in Him.

Given that, the next, obvious question becomes this: “Where do we find Jesus Christ in this story?”  The short and glib answer would be this:   At the very back of the book where he is mentioned by name as a direct descendant of Ruth and Boaz.  That’s correct of course and also very important; but let’s consider the whole book.  Where do we see Jesus Christ in the story as it unfolds?

Where do we see His character?  And what part of His character do we see?  What in this story is Christlike?   What do we see of His grace?

Weeping In Secret Places

But if ye will not hear it, [God’s word] my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride

Jeremiah 13: 17

I try to read some in the Bible every day.

I read the Psalms because they are generally readable in small bites (Psalm 119 is a rather drastic exception) and I often read in short bursts.  I’m still wading through the Psalms for the umpteenth time, but for some reason I have also started going on Jeremiah, too.

Maybe not for the highest of reasons.  I have discovered lately – that is, I think I have discovered,  I might be fooling myself – that I can actually hear the different voices in the prophetic writings of the Old Testament.  That is, I can hear a different voice when I read Habakkuk than when I read Isaiah.  I have never really tried to make these discernments and I know that if someone gave me a passage from one of the prophetic books and said, “Okay, Mr. Scholar, based on the voice you hear, tell me which of the great troublers of Israel this bit came from” I would be at a complete loss, unless it was one of the passages that I have committed to memory and  already knew the author.

That being said, I do find that when I read one or the other of the prophets I find in them different poetic sensibilities.  And, yes, they are poets.  One of the interesting things about this study is the notion that prophesy and poetry are kind of linked.  A prophet was one who proclaimed, not predicted,  and his messages had more to do with interpreting what was happening in the moment than with predicting the future.  I’m sure that some readers with object to this, and they have grounds.  I know that the prophetic books are full of predictions of doom and then of a messianic age when all will be put to rights.   I know.  But I had a very trustworthy teacher, years ago, who emphasized the idea that biblical prophets were “forth-tellers,” and not so much “foretellers.”  And I just read – or maybe heard in one of Carl Trueman’s excellent lectures on the history of The Reformation – that the Biblical prophets were interpreters of the events and circumstances of the day – kind of like today’s pundits, but with the perspective of what God meant in and by those events, and that those who attempted to predict the future were “diviners.”

If you will bear with me for a moment, then, and assume with me that the Biblical prophets were primarily concerned with interpreting the meaning of the events of their day, then the notion of poetic expression and the idea that prophesy and poetry are linked comes back into view.

If we think of prophets as those who interpret and proclaim the meaning of the events of the day, we might compare them to the singer-songwriters of the sixties and seventies who wrote about the meaning of current events – for example, the Viet Nam war, the civil-rights struggle and the ruin of the environment.

Okay, I can just hear the wailing now.  “You – you little blogger, you!  You have the temerity to compare Isaiah, whose words have lasted for three thousand years – whose words were quoted by Our Lord Jesus Christ – with Jackson Browne and Stephen Stills?  Ugh!”

Well, no.  Well, yes and no.  I don’t mean to imply that their writings are at all of the same value.  But what I am saying is that they were doing the same thing – commenting on the affairs of the day and trying to interpret the meaning of those events.  The difference, of course, is that the Biblical prophets were inspired by God’s Spirit and spoke from God’s perspective and with His authority.  No such thing for Stephen Stills.

Still, when we look at it this way – that the prophets of Israel and the songwriters of the sixties were trying to do the same thing, we may start to understand the relationship between poetry and prophesy.  A poet is a maker.  A poet is someone who attempts to convey meaning and emotion through the creative use of language.  A poet employs metaphor to spark the imagination and meter and rhyme to trigger the memory.  Would we have understood – would we have “gotten” – the meaning of the Viet Nam war – as the songwriters wanted  us to get it – without the music and rhythm and rhyme of, for example “Have You Ever Seen The Rain,” or “Run Through The Jungle”:

Whoa thought it was a nightmare
Lord it was so true

They told me don’t go walking slow
The devil’s on the loose

Better run through the jungle
Better run through the jungle
Better run through the jungle
Whoa don’t look back to see

Thought I heard a rumblin’
Calling to my name

Two hundred million guns are loaded
Satan cries “take aim”

“Run Through The Jungle,” John Fogerty

And Jeremiah, for my money, at least, did those very things.  Although meter and rhyme cannot survive the translation from ancient Hebrew into modern English, I can still see and feel the poetic expression in Jeremiah’s writings.  They are full of metaphor and emotion.

Today I was reading in Chapter 13 and came upon this verse:

But, if ye will not hear it [God’s word], my soul shall weep in secret places for your pride

 In spite of the three thousand years in between us, I think I get this verse in a way I could not if Jeremiah had not been a poet.  What does “in secret places” mean?  Other English translations suggest it means that Jeremiah goes off and hides somewhere before he cries; that he is referring to “secret places” in a physical, geographic sense.  I don’t think so.  I think he is referring to the secret places in the heart.  His grief is so great and so woven together with shame that he even hides his tears.  Jeremiah’s grief is so terrible and so unique that it finds expression only in those places in his soul that are  secret; that are hidden, even to himself.

Question and Answer

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Here is an exchange between Karen and Don Burford and me about a passage that I quoted in class yesterday.  I encourage this kind of dialogue.

 

 

Good morning, Larry

Don and I spent a little time yesterday afternoon comparing our Sunday school passage in The Message with The NIV version.

I appreciate Peterson’s more colorful way of describing the fruits of the Spirit but
I’m not sure I understand what He’s  is saying in his interpretation of goodness.
He writes “and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people”.

If you’ll be so kind as to tell me what you understand him to say I would appreciate it.

Again I thank you for the time you put into studying and sharing the scriptures with our class.

Karen B

 

Hoo-boy!  What a good question!  That phrase you isolate has given me pause from the start.  I should have mentioned that in class when I read through it.  Every other bit of description in that passage is helpful to me, but this one almost seems out of place and certainly seems inconsistent with the doctrine of the fall and the “total depravity of man.”    In Psalm 16 we read that “as for the saints in the land, they are the noble ones, in whom is all my delight.  Those who choose another god multiply their sorrows.  Their libations of blood I will not pour out, nor take their names upon my lips.”  How do you square that with Peterson’s phrase here? What does he mean by it and should we accept his meaning?

 

The passage is describing the changes that occur in the life of the faithful believer.  The gifts of the spirit.  Here in this phrase I think Peterson is talking about a change in perspective.  I don’t know that he means to say that we’ll start to think that all people are basically good.  But if I think back on my own experience it does seem that walking with the Lord changes one’s perspective on people.  We might be a little less paranoid.  Outside of Christ, our selfish, human tendency might be to – as Peterson puts it earlier in the same chapter – “depersonalize everyone into a rival.”  Thus, although we hold to the notion that humanity is fallen – otherwise why would we even need the kind of conversion that Paul is expounding on here – when we are “new creations” in Christ, and thus aware of our own sin, we might be a little more empathetic; a little less likely to jump to harsh conclusions about people as individuals.  We might see them a little more like we see ourselves.  We have our own sinful tendencies, but we are always ready to give ourselves the benefit of the doubt and ready to forgive ourselves and allow ourselves a new start.

 

I still think that Peterson should have come up with something better here.  And  I hope this response is of some help.  If you will give me your permission, I’d like to post your letter to me and this response on the class blog.  This is the very kind of study and dialogue that I’d like to promote.

 

Looking Ahead

If the two beasts – the two forces and institutions that Satan employs to carry out his campaign against “those who keep the commandments of God and have the testimony of Jesus Christ” – are organized violence (the sea beast) and organized deception (the land beast), John warns his readers not to fight fire with fire – not to respond to violence with violence and not to respond to deception with more deception. Rather, the Christian is to respond to this onslaught of organized violence with endurance and faith:

“Here is a call for the endurance and faith of the saints.”

Revelation 13: 10

And to the bombardment of organized deceit with discernment:

18 This calls for wisdom. Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a man.[e] That number is 666.

Revelation 13: 18

Here is Eugene Peterson:

How do we protect ourselves from organized deceit?  St. John is blunt; use your heads.  Figure out what is going on.  Most of the conspicuous religion that is in vogue at any one time in the country derives from the land beast.  Expose these religious pretensions.

Reversed Thunder, Harper Collins, 1991, at page 126.

In the weeks ahead, let’s meditate on what, exactly, these strategies are.  We’ll start with the idea of endurance.  What, exactly, does John have in mind here?  What does he mean by “endurance?”  We’ll consider these questions:

  1. What is the Christian called to endure?

  2. How does the Christian endure?

  3. How long must the Christian endure?

  4. Why does the Christian endure?

Looking At Beasts

In our study of the Book of Revelation we have discussed the idea that this book is a particular kind of writing or literature known as “apocalyptic” writing.  The word “apocalypse” is from the Greek and its literal translation is something like “unveiling.”  That is to say that an apocalyptic writer is engaged in an effort to pull back the veil of surface appearances and show us what is actually going on beneath the masks.

Apocalyptic writing has definite characteristics.  It often employs symbols and may be cryptic to outsiders – that is, to people outside of its intended audience.  In fact, Greg Carey, in his book Ultimate Things: An Introduction to Jewish and Christian Apocalyptic Literature, recommends that we interpret apocalyptic texts as creative literary and religious responses designed to influence communal beliefs and behaviors.

That recommendation is very easily applied to the Book of Revelation, for the book itself is quite clear about the communities to which it is addressed.  It is written to seven churches in separate cities in Asia Minor (modern day Turkey) and unmistakably intended to influence the “beliefs and behaviors” of that audience.

We have suggested that John’s original, intended audience would have been steeped in the Old Testament scriptures.  They would have known them intimately, as they would have been a part of the culture of the early church.  We have discussed the idea that John may have employed symbolism from the Old Testament as he wrote this book.  He would have known that these churches would have gotten his references – would have understood their import and meaning – while an outsider, such as some official of the Roman government, might have no idea of what was being said.

The two commentators we’ve been using throughout this study – Eugene Peterson and Vern Poythress – both say that the people to whom the book was originally written would have understood this patchwork monster that comes out of the sea in Chapter 13  as representing the Roman government.  Poythress points to the idea that the beast of Revelation 13 is a pieced-together amalgamation of the several beasts in one of the Prophet Daniel’s visions.

Let’s compare the vision recorded in Daniel chapter seven with the sea beast in Revelation chapter 13.

The beasts in Daniel’s vision all come out of the sea, just like the beast in Revelation 13.  The first of Daniel’s beasts is “like a lion,” the second is like a bear, the third like a leopard.  A fourth beast in Daniel’s vision has ten horns. (Daniel 7: 1-8)

The beast in John’s apocalypse also has ten horns and “was like a leopard,” and had feet like a bear and the mouth of a lion.

After describing the beasts, Daniel goes on to tell his readers that the all four of them represent kingdoms. (Daniel 7: 17)

Revelation, Chapters 12-13

 

Tomorrow we’re going to be talking about the War In Heaven depicted in this vision.  This brings into consideration the person of Satan.  It has been the modern trend to dismiss Satan as a myth.  Certainly there is no consideration given him in the secular world and even in the church there has been a modern trend to ignore the notion and “get on with the good stuff.”

 

But if we take the scriptures at all seriously, we cannot ignore the fact that Satan exists and that he is active in the world and is responsible for much of the evil in it.  If we believe that the New Testament is a part of the fuller revelation of God – in fulfillment of what the Old Testament promised or hinted at – (and I do believe this) then we have to take seriously the fact that the person of Satan and the idea of constant spiritual warfare are far more express and dominant in the New Testament than in the Old.

The modern ignorance of Satan might be tied to the theories of Marx and Freud.  Both of these men held that there was no outside force of evil in the world and that all that is wrong is merely of man’s own doing.  What flows from that philosophy is the notion that, if the problem is all within us, then surely we can fix it ourselves.  We don’t need supernatural resources to defeat evil, we can do it through our own ingenuity and devices: psychotherapy on the one hand, “five year plans and new deals” on the other.  Only look at Stalin’s pogroms and the total decay and final collapse of the Soviet Union to see where this thinking leads.

 

As we consider tomorrow’s lesson, we may want to refer to this article discussing erroneous beliefs about Satan.  It’s written by J.I Packer, a distinguished protestant minister and theologian known best for his very popular book Knowing God.

 

Here is the link:  http://matthiasmedia.com/briefing/1996/10/the-devil-unmasked/