Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Psalm 72

What is God's goal for humans? In Genesis we learn that humans are created in the image and likeness of God. Made of the "stuff of the earth" (adamah=ground, clay, dirt, dust) God breathes His ruah (breath, spirit, wind) into the clay figure and makes him a living soul (nefesh=soul, living being, hunger). God says that the human (adam, note the playful pun on the Hebrew word for dirt) has authority and dominion. Later we will learn that humans must conquer and defeat the natural chaos; the human must protect and watch over (literally keep, the Hebrew word will also be used in commands to keep the laws of God. Obey and keep are connected and the Good Shepherd keeps the sheep and keeps the law).

Torah (law) really means instruction, it is God's wise words to govern our choices. From the beginning, humans are not completely one with God. From the beginning, we are separate beings, hungry and lonely ('it is not good for the man to be alone,' says YHWH the Creator Lord). From the beginning God comes and goes, providing humanity with space to choose. With instructions in  place, God trusts the human and entrusts the world to human dominion. Humans have freedom to choose: will it be God's way or another?

The Genesis Garden story is rich in images and its symbolic depth far exceeds the simple story. Sin and exile are recurring themes of the Jewish Scriptures. The failure of humans (individually and corporately) to "keep" the instruction of God, the refusal to take it to heart and honor the covenant, the decision to reject the Lord and walk in paths of our own making is a disaster. It opens the heart of humanity to powers and forces which are demonic and deadly. With God pushed out, it opens the world to dissolution and decay. As Paul says, "all creation groans."

YHWH the Creator will soon be described as regretful and grieving. In a few chapters, the sins of the first parents and then their son multiply until all the earth is filled with evil sinners. Chaos returns with a vengeance. God grieves, we read, He is sorry He created humans. Love opens God to pain. Rejection inflicts the pain on the heart of God--already we see the crucifixion revealed. So God starts over (reread the flood story in light of the first creation account and see the parallels) this time with a remnant (one family, pairs of animals) locked up in an oblong box, God seeks to redeem His world. In the aftermath, life springs forth, however, just as quickly so does sin. And more sin.

God makes a people, choosing Abraham (daddy, father) and making covenant with him and his descendants (next Isaac, then Jacob=Israel, finally the twelves tribes through Moses). Abraham's children are to be the source of blessing to all the earth. This people, peculiarly God's own family, are, in Jesus' words, "the light of the world." It is an honored place and special grace, but also a heavy task. It is a burden of holiness to be the "image-bearer of God"--as the Ancient Church Fathers say, "we have the image of God, but we must repent, cooperate through hard efforts to renew the likeness of God." It is God's gift and our lifelong task...

In time, the people of Israel (there are lots of ups and downs, sinning and repenting, with much suffering) call for a king. The Scriptures are of two minds regarding this king. On the one hand, YHWH God is Israel's king (He tells Samuel they are rejecting me by seeking a human king) and this is seen as tragic (distrust of God and the desire to be like other nations). On the other hand, there is a stream of writings around King David who is the type of Messiah. God will reign through His beloved son (the Davidic line, fully-filled-up in Jesus the Messiah Son of God). This is reflected in Psalm 72 which spells out what salvation means from God's perspective.

Psalm 72 is ascribed "of Solomon." Does this mean David wrote it about his son, or his son wrote it, or another scribe composed it with the son of David as a symbolic representation of "THE Son of David." It is very common in the Bible to speak of a people in the person of their founding father (starting with Jacob as a stand in for all Israel).

The king must be blessed with justice and righteousness so that He can rule justly and rightly. God desires justice and right relationship between humans and Himself, and between humans with one another. These words (justice and righteousness) will be found often in Paul regarding our relationship with God in Jesus. It is not simply legal performance, although doing the right thing is always part of the picture. It is, first and foremost, right relationship (including repentance for sin). We are not perfect, but if we truly love and seek God, if we trust God's promise, then we are 'in the right'! But the King's rule in justice is also divine saving actions. He rescues and redeems the lowly poor (Hence, Jesus' beatitudes: blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor, blessed are those who suffer for righteousness). The continued contrast, abundance poured out on God's faithful poor while the enemies of God are humbled and brought low, is intermixed with the refrains on justice and righteousness and redemption.

In the end, all the earth shall stream to God's king with gifts (signs of worship, hearts humbled and contrite) something the discerning eye will find in the Book of Revelation and the magi//wise men of Matthew's Gospel. In fact, Psalm 72 could be called a non-apocalyptic apocalypse. It is composed of the same themes of judgment/salvation/deliverance, without the extraordinary images and symbols.

We are called to pray and ponder Psalm 72 in the Holy Spirit. It reminds us that Messiah Jesus saves and delivers, not to bring people to heaven but to bring the Kingdom of Heaven (God's reign) to earth. It causes us to ponder: am I one of His poor and needy ones, or do I act unjustly towards others? When Jesus comes, will He rescue me, or toss me aside to rescue others whom I oppress? A frightening concept, no doubt, but one which we must take seriously. Remember, Jesus warns that some will be told "I do not know you, out of my sight!" Perhaps you must ask today, who among the poor and needy would point to me and say, 'the mercy and salvation of Jesus is already present in that one.' 

We are image bearers of God, servants of the true King. In His name we bring deliverance and salvation. (Today's Gospel calls it proclamation of the Kingdom, teaching and healing--bodies, souls and spirits) We are to keep the instruction of God and tend the sheep, care for the world and help one another. We do not do it well all the time, so we pray that the true KING JESUS will come soon. To fill up perfectly the promise of Psalm 72. 


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