Psalm 135 isn’t exactly a brief history of the universe, but that’s the closest I can think of to a one-sentence summary of it. Going by Brueggemann’s classifications, it’s generally considered a psalm of new orientation, but I personally am inclined to read it as simple orientation. It’s a call to praise founded on conviction that God is good, and the only hint of having passed through disorientation (vv.8-11, recollection of Israel’s struggles against Pharaoh and various pagan kings) is a historical footnote, a distant memory at most. Moreover, it’s equal parts assertion of God’s supremacy, litany of Israelite history, and indictment of idolatry. If it evades encapsulation into a single summary with a single theme, then we can roll with that.
I’ve been having the hardest time writing Thursday’s post, as is evidenced by the fact that it’s technically Friday. Fortunately, though, this psalm is about forgiveness.
Here’s another call to worship, echoing similar themes as yesterday’s psalm. But what caught my eye was how it views “other gods.”
Last chapter of Isaiah, fam. Time to tie a bow on this book.
I can’t read the opening verses of this chapter without thinking of the MC Frontalot track “Indier Than Thou,” which precedes each of its verses with spoken lines quoted from Isaiah 65. “I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people,” intones a booming voice, “who say, ‘Stand by thyself, come not near to me; for I am holier than thou!’” (2, 5). God is disgusted by his people’s hypocrisy, as they claim holiness as a sign of social status while ignoring both God and his law. In his song, Frontalot humorously casts himself as a religious devotee of “indieness” in the mode of the Israelites, seeking to garner indie cred through a mixture of obscurity and ignominy. As he puts it: “Should I ever garner triple-digit fans, you can tell me then there’s someone I ain’t indier than” ([*]).
I read an article this morning about the Social Survival Mammoth, which keeps you from doing stuff that will make people kick you out of your tribe and leave you to fend for yourself in the wild where you will probably starve or be eaten by a saber-toothed tiger. It’s largely useless to listen to your Social Survival Mammoth these days, as there is lots of food and the saber-toothed tiger is extinct, but we still do. And I am trying to write this post, wanting to write a good post that you will get something out of, and not wanting to write a bad post that you will ignore and not like and that will cause you to stop following my blog, and that’s my Social Survival Mammoth talking. God does not have a Social Survival Mammoth.
You know the grapes of wrath, right? No, not the novel by John Steinbeck; he based the title of his novel on the phrase “grapes of wrath” from the first verse of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic”, also known as “Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.” You know the line, right? “Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord: / He is trampling out the vintage where the grapes of wrath are stored.” Well, that refers back to Revelation 14:17–21, in which an angel executes God’s judgment on the earth by harvesting “grapes” for the winepress of the wrath of God. Before the basket press and horizontal screw press became widely used in the late Roman Empire and early Middle Ages, workers would juice grapes by stomping on them–and in the winepress from John’s vision in Revelation, the workers in the winepress squeeze out blood that runs for two hundred miles. And I used to think the chain of references ended there, but no.
Welcome to 2017, and to Isaiah 62. The chapter continues to look ahead to Zion’s restoration, and as lines do, a few lines jumped out at me. Isaiah begins the chapter with a promise to keep prophesying; he tells us, “For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent” (62:1). He also promises that the watchmen of Jerusalem will not be silent either. And then we come to this bit: “You who remind the Lord, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth” (62:6-7). Now, God is omniscient, so we humans shouldn’t need to remind him of anything, and he’s going to refrain from resting whether we allow him to rest or not (Psalm 121:4). In short, these are eyebrow-raising verses.
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me.” Sound familiar? It’s not just the first line of today’s chapter. It’s also what Jesus reads in his hometown synagogue in Luke 4:16-21, which he concludes by telling the congregation: “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.” This is my mission, Jesus tells his hearers. God has chosen me to accomplish what Isaiah hoped for, and you are witnesses to my commissioning.
When in doubt, start with a summary: you gotta know what the chapter says before you can figure out what it means. This chapter is about God restoring Israel’s fortunes. Remember the last chapter of historical narrative we read, Isaiah 39, where Hezekiah showed the Babylonians all his wealth and Isaiah prophesied that Babylon was gonna come in and take it all? God’s prophetic message in chapter 60 is that there will come a day when Israel will have neat stuff again. Camels and gold and the respect of the nations: in time it’s all coming back.