Good news, everyone. You remember Thursday’s tangent of identifying various Asaphs and not really talking about thankfulness at all? Today that tangent pays off. What a serendipitous development!
Nehemiah picks up where Ezra left off with the restoration of Jerusalem following the Babylonian Exile. It primarily concerns the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s wall, and it contains a few instances of the word “thanks” near the end, so let’s take a look and see what we can learn about thankfulness.
Testerday we saw Asaph urging God to act against oppressors within Israel, and today he urges God to act against oppressors without. Israel’s enemies are getting on that noise. They have Gone Loud.
On behalf of Asaph, I’d like to welcome you to Psalm 82’s courtroom. “God takes His stand in His own congregation; He judges in the midst of the rulers” (1), the psalm opens. God judges the judges, holding those in power accountable for siding with evil men and not going to bat for their victims. Asaph describes the corrupt authorities-turned-defendants as blinded and ignorant: “They do not know nor do they understand; they walk about in darkness” (5). He closes the psalm with a call for God to deliver the verdict and issue the sentence. Asaph is a social justice warrior.
This is a weird one. It starts with a call to worship, an invitation to sing to God and play various instruments for him. You think it’s a psalm of orientation, but then in verse six, the psalmist (Asaph again) starts relaying God’s words, and in essence it’s God speaking for the next eleven verses until the end of the psalm. And God is sad! ““Oh that My people would listen to Me, that Israel would walk in My ways!” (13), he laments. He implies that his people’s troubles with their adversaries come from their refusal to accept his blessing. “Open your mouth wide and I will fill it” (10), he commands.
Here’s another psalm of Asaph, picking up on some of the same themes from Psalm 79. It’s a prayer to God for forgiveness and restoration in Israel. In the middle of Asaph’s requests to God, he recalls God’s saving works in Israel’s history, using the extended metaphor of a flourishing vine cultivated by God. “You removed a vine from Egypt; You drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground before it, and it took deep root and filled the land” (8-9), he says. I’m reminded of Paul’s discussion of the Tree of Abraham in Romans 11, but here, the gentile nations aren’t viewed as branches grafted onto the vine. In vv.12-13, they’re passersby taking its fruit, wild animals and boars devouring it parasitically, the result of God retracting his protection.
In this psalm, speaking for his countrymen, Asaph laments Jerusalem’s destruction. The situation is bad; not only is the city left in ruins (v.1), but the dead are denied burial and left for vulture fodder (v.2), and those still alive bear the scorn of their oppressors (v.4). Why would God let a thing like this happen?