In its immediate context, the latter half of the last verse of Psalm 127 is referring to the blessings of a father with many children; and, in the slightly broader context of the whole psalm, the blessedness of the person who, because of his faith and behavior, is rightly related to YHWH.
He shall not be put to shame when he speaks with his enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:5b ESV)
I am not a Hebrew scholar by a long shot, but I am told that the verse could also read: “They shall not be ashamed when they speak…”
Moreover, when translations are compared, we discover that the Hebrew word translated “speak” above is sometimes rendered “contend.”
All of which brings up a question. Did the psalmist mean, “contend,” as in “win the argument and humiliate the foe,” or “speak,” as in, “have a conversation”? Is the psalmist saying that the person rightly related to God will be victorious in an argument with enemies, or is the author saying that the person living close to God’s heart can dialogue unashamedly with her enemies?
Depending on the translation, two different pictures emerge. On the one hand, we see a person winning an argument, contending victoriously, humiliating the opposition. On the other hand, we see a person respectfully, nonjudgmentally, and without coercion, having an honest conversation with another human being who holds contrary views.
I wonder if it is our occidental tendency to adore power, control, and coercion that leads to assuming the psalmist meant that the former. My heart has enough violence in it to like to like the idea of verbally humiliating an “enemy.” Gates to ancient cities were places where business was conducted and weighty matters discussed. One picture that can be drawn from Psalm 127 is of verbal victory in the public square, like one of our political debates where one person totally humiliates the other and everyone cheers. Talking heads on cable television all shouting at once comes to mind.
But, if the purpose of the Hebrew Bible is, as Jesus insisted, to testify of Him, to point us to Christ, to be a schoolmaster or a mentor leading us to faith in Jesus, then to properly interpret the Old Testament, I must read through the lens of the teachings and sayings of Christ. This is a cruciform hermeneutic. I read the Old Testament in light of the New; I read the New Testament in light of the “red letters;” I read the “red letters” through the lens of the Sermon on the Mount, and I read everything through the lens of the Cross. God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God. Jesus is God incarnate. If you have seen Jesus, you have seen the Father. The Old Testament scriptures testify of Christ. And what is Christ/God like? Self-sacrificial, all-forgiving, nonviolent, willing to die, love.
So, if I look at Psalm 127 through the lens of the Cross, i.e., through the self-denying, enemy-forgiving, noncoercive love of Calvary, then I doubt God would be telling me to bone up my arguments so I can verbally humiliate my foes.
If, however, the translation, He (or they) shall not be put to shame when he (or they) speaks with his (or their) enemies in the gateis accurate, then what I hear is God saying that living in close fellowship with the Holy Spirit will lead me to lovingly engage everyone I meet. Noncoercively and without a preconceived agenda, I will learn to actively listen, try to understand, affirm, and respect the other person whose opinions and views differ from my own. In conversations or debates with those whose views are different than ours, perhaps even views we find repugnant, what is most important, winning, or loving? Can I give up my “right” to be right?
After all, that’s what Jesus did.
Let it be said at the outset that she was not under the influence of any hallucinogenic substances, nor was she under extreme physical stress. She was known for her scientific, logical, very sober, analytical mind.
As she was backcountry backpacking through the northern half of Yosemite in wilderness inaccessible by any other means, climbing over rocks and making her way through forests of towering pine, redwood and sequoia, mule deer and black bear scattering at her approach, she came across – literally stumbled across – the skull of an Etruscan bear (Ursus etruscus), which she knew from her graduate studies in paleontology had to date back at least 10,000 years – perhaps as many as five million. Curious, she lifted it up and examined it closely, turning it softly in her hands, feeling its contours, running her fingers over the jaw bone, gazing into the eye sockets, imagining the beast of which it was once the integral part.
With a yelp, she dropped – verily flung it – into the pine needles as it suddenly glowed a hot white – light radiating forth as if illuminated by an inner sun.
Surprise and astonishment instantaneously metamorphosed into disbelief and fear when the bear skull began to speak out of the light. Its voice (as one might expect) was deeply masculine, resonating somewhere between baritone and bass – authoritative, yet somehow equally gentle and nonthreatening. The voice had a soothing quality to it that caused her fear to dissipate and her astonishment melt into inquisitiveness. As it spoke, the light within flickered as if synchronized.
“Ah, Little One, child of earth, have you heard the lament of Brother Sequoia, seen the veil of tears flowing down the granite mountain faces, or touched the cool pure grief of the tumbling watercourse?
“Apollyon has no horns or hooves, but instead sits in boardrooms wearing suit and tie. Greed, Mammon, Avarice, rapacious cupidity subverting all morality, gobbles souls before it destroys seas and forests.
“Weep with us, my sister! Lamentation and woe! We are undone. Destroyers destroy us, selling our souls for luxury and ease!”
As the voice spoke, she felt the weight of hopeless sorrow, and, now again no longer afraid, she held the skull that seemed to weep with her as she sobbed uncontrollably.
The light within the skull radiated even more brightly. She could no longer look directly at it. The voice spoke with calm authority.
“A massive reversal, and that very soon, my child.
“Spears pruning hooks.
“All things new.
“Now, listen, Little One! Become one with Mother Sea who carried you in her womb. Allow ABBA who created you to hold you in eternal arms of love. Enter our Temple of Shalom.”
The radiant light shot from the skull in all directions, kissing mountains, rivers, cascades, snow, trees, wild animals and birds alike, filling the sky with a shimmering turquoise. Stars seemed visible in broad daylight. Galaxies joined in eternal waltz.
Before her astonished eyes trees began to dance, their branches waving as they sang ethereal songs in strange languages, whose sounds blended and harmonized with other voices that seemed to come from the rocks, mountains, birds and beasts. A deep baseline reverberated from earth itself. And far away, seas and sea creatures folded their unique symphonic voices into the music of spheres and she was sure she smelled the salty breeze as if sitting on the shore.
(Later, try as she would, she was unable to rationalize what she saw and heard that day deep in the woods.)
But in the moment, she had no thought of rationalizing. She found herself, in spite of herself, spinning and dancing, her voice undulating with song. She could hardly help it. The entire cosmos was in concert.
How long this went on she would never know. She had no desire for it to end. But end it did – slowly gently fading into perfect stillness and peace.
And there she sat, gazing in wonder at the ancient bear skull.
Don’t you realize that in a race everyone runs, but only one person gets the prize? So run to win! All athletes are disciplined in their training. They do it to win a prize that will fade away, but we do it for an eternal prize. So I run with purpose in every step. I am not just shadowboxing. I discipline my body like an athlete, training it to do what it should. Otherwise, I fear that after preaching to others I myself might be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27 New Living Translation (NLT)
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith. Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame. Now he is seated in the place of honor beside God’s throne. Think of all the hostility he endured from sinful people;then you won’t become weary and give up.(Hebrews 12:1-3 New Living Translation (NLT)
In this section of First Corinthians, Paul is answering questions about liberty. Americans are all about liberty, freedom. Inalienable right. Liberty.
Why is liberty inalienable, absolute, indisputable? Because it is given to all humans by the Creator God. We have freewill. We have liberty. God given liberty.
The liberty about which Paul speaks is not the personal and self-centered liberty of the Enlightenment that Thomas Jefferson espoused and which enabled him to proclaim it while enslaving fellow humans. Enlightenment liberty is what most Americans mean when they use the word. It is freedom to do most anything I want; freedom from control; freedom from government, freedom to pursue life for me, liberty for me, and happiness for me – if necessary at your expense.
Christian liberty is entirely different. Christian liberty is being fully surrendered to and under the control of sacrificial, altruistic, other-oriented, enemy-forgiving cruciform love. The New Testament in many ways is diametrically opposite from the Declaration of Independence.
Liberty must always be regulated by love.
Love is the highest virtue. Faith, hope, love abide forever, but the greatest is love.
Love: the New Testament Greek word is Agapé. Agapé is:
God is Agapé.
Jesus is Agapé.
God is exactly like Jesus. There is nothing unchristlike in God.
But, how can God be love? Isn’t love a combination of emotions and actions? How can a Being be love?
Herein lies the essential difference between Christianity and all other religions. Many religions assert that God is omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, sovereign, and holy.
Only Christianity asserts that God is Triune: Father, Son, Holy Spirit.
God’s eternal essence is a singular loving community, so united as to form a single being joined in an eternal love relationship.
All of our false concepts of God involve seeing God as a singular person: Angry god, judgmental god, distant god, kindly old grandpa god, Santa Claus god, vengeful god – all singular.
The True and Living God who is pure love created us with freewill. Liberty. There is no real love without the freedom to choose. Law had to be given because of the abuse of liberty.
But liberty must always be subject to love because love is the essence of God.
We are not at liberty to pollute or exploit the earth because God created the earth and pronounced it good.
We are not at liberty to enslave, use, abuse, kill, dismiss, manipulate, or disenfranchise people because people are created in the image of God.
Love must always regulate liberty.
In 1 Corinthians, Paul speaks of his willingness to give up some of his liberty, specifically, in this passage, his right as a minister of the gospel to expect that the church will take care of his material needs.
He also speaks of being willing to give up anything that hinders the fulfilling of his appointed task.
What he absolutely refuses to give up is his authority as an apostle appointed by Jesus to carry the good news to the world. Paul’s eyes are fixed on the goal. Like an athlete training for the Olympics, he is disciplined, gives up whatever would hinder, and focuses on doing what God has called him to do.
Paul determined to run the race of life to win. He was determined to lay aside every weight that would hold him back and run with endurance looking unto Jesus.
I am 68-years-old. I am determined to run with all my might for the rest of my life the race God has set before me. God has called and appointed me as a pastor-teacher.
Nothing and no one will dissuade me.
I intend to flameout for Jesus.
With a living coal from off Thy altar,
Touch our lips to swell Thy wondrous praise
To extol Thee; bless, adore Thee
And our songs of worship raise;
Let the cloud of glory now descending
Fill our hearts with holy ecstasy,
Come in all Thy glorious fullness
Blessed Holy Spirit have Thy way.
Let the fire fall, let the fire fall
Let the fire from heaven fall;
We are waiting and expecting
Now in faith dear Lord we call;
Let the fire fall, let the fire fall
On Thy promise we depend;
From the glory of Thy presence
Let the Pentecostal fire descend.
Or, leader and perfecter of our faith
Some manuscripts read: Think of how people hurt themselves by opposing him.
Quotations are from the New Living Translation (NLT)Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
Let the Fire Fall, by Henry Tee