Pastoral Relief and Retreat

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Wethersfield, CT, United States
I am Pastor at Poquonock Community Church, Congregational (CCCC) in Windsor, CT. My wife Jama and I live in Wetherfield, CT. We'd like to invite you to Terre Haute -- High Ground -- That's what Jama and I call the retreat space on our property. We offer free intentional get-away retreats. We'll feed you and house you and give you space to be with the Lord. All are welcome; no questions asked. This blog is my daily devotional journal. I write it because it is so easy to go for weeks without ever taking the time to be alone with God. Writing helps me develop a discipline I need.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

Have you ever caught yourself praying for someone to get their come-upance?   "O God... teach that scoundrel a lesson!"  I suppose we all have.  There's no better example of this that I can think of in all of Scripture than Psalm 83.  Sit with it for a moment and imagine the emotions that are going on in the Psalmist's heart:

83:1 O God, do not keep silence;
do not hold your peace or be still, O God!

For behold, your enemies make an uproar;
those who hate you have raised their heads.

They lay crafty plans against your people;
they consult together against your treasured ones.

They say, “Come, let us wipe them out as a nation;
let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”

For they conspire with one accord;
against you they make a covenant—

the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
Moab and the Hagrites,

Gebal and Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia with the inhabitants of Tyre;

Asshur also has joined them;
they are the strong arm of the children of Lot. 
Selah
Do to them as you did to Midian,
as to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon,

10 who were destroyed at En-dor,
who became dung for the ground.

11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,

12 who said, “Let us take possession for ourselves
of the pastures of God.”
13 O my God, make them like whirling dust, [1]
like chaff before the wind.

14 As fire consumes the forest,
as the flame sets the mountains ablaze,

15 so may you pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your hurricane!

16 Fill their faces with shame,
that they may seek your name, O 
Lord.
17 Let them be put to shame and dismayed forever;
let them perish in disgrace,

18 that they may know that you alone,
whose name is the 
Lord,
are the Most High over all the earth.

This kind of praying though, seems to me ugly and self-serving.  Sure there are people out there who would like to see you wiped out.  Does that mean that you have to wish the same upon them?  Does God really approve that kind of thing?  

This line of thinking brings up an important point of internal discord for me.  I believe the Gospel is the way of peace, and that the simple fact that Jesus refused to raise up an army when he had the opportunity, and didn't support the idea of overthrowing an evil government, and called his followers to turn the other cheek, really means that he was revealing something about the true nature of God.  So why are passages like Psalm 83 in the Bible?  If I were writing the Scriptures, I sure wouldn't have put something like this out there.  It is confusing.  It advocates exactly the opposite of what Christ taught.  

Could it be that our definition of the Scriptures as the Word of God is too limited?  Now don't jump on me all at once and call me a liberal.  What I mean is that the average Christian tends to apply a blanket statement to his reading of the Word.  He has been taught that everything in the Bible came from the mouth of God and therefore (he assumes) is God-approved.   I prefer to look at it like Paul does in 1 Cointhians 10:11, "These things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come."  Just because God allowed a poem like Psalm 83 to become part of his Word doesn't mean that he approves or even answered the prayer of Asaph.  

Also, Asaph and his fellow prophets were assigned by David to provide musically-based prophesy.  So we might consider that this psalm is in some way a lyric, the tune of which has been lost to time and memory.  Lyrics often amplify a feeling while not directly speaking a truth.  The fact that the feeling is an ugly one is of no consequence.  It may even be that Asaph is writing this to help cure Israel of such expressions by really putting it out there in its basest form for all to see.

The Lectionary this morning counterbalances this messy bit with the prophesy from Isaiah referring to the coming One:

61:1 The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to bring good news to the poor; [1]
he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim liberty to the captives,
and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; [2]
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.

Jon


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