December 31, 2007

Lk 1:46-55 / Mk 1

On this last day of the month, we revisit the seasonal canticle for December, Luke 1:46-55, so the post on those verses is duplicated below, and we begin the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark.

Luke 1:46-55

For December, Luke 1:46-55 is the seasonal canticle, a liturgical song without a fixed meter.

Overview

Luke 1:46-55 is the first of four great canticles recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel account. We know it as “Mary's Song” or The Magnificat (for its first word in its Latin version, which we would translate as “it magnifies”). Mary sings the song when she visits Elizabeth and John the Baptizer leaps in his mother’s womb at the presence of the Lord in Mary’s womb.

Comments

Reading verse 48, we can think of God’s regard for us in our low estate of sin and of His mercy promised to Abraham and his descendants, which we are, spiritually. We also certainly join all generations in calling Mary, the Mother of our Lord, the God-bearer, "Blessed". Note how in verses 51-52 the Blessed Virgin sings of the great reversal that God brings about: scattering the proud and putting down the mighty, but exalting the humble ("them of low degree", KJV). God truly helps His spiritual Israel (the Church today), as He has promised (v.54), showing His mercy from generation to generation of those that "fear" (understand also "love and trust in") Him.

We can reflect on our fixation on material things, worrying about food, shelter, and transportation. Perhaps our occasional lack in these regards can keep us humble before God, recognizing that not only does He provide all that we truly “need”, but also that as we are at least spiritually humble and hungry we are lifted up and filled. Not only in December with its Advent coloring but always, as we wait for our Lord's promised second-coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, we do well to remember His promises and how He fulfills them for us, even as He fulfilled them for Mary and all the past faithful believers.

Q&A

The following verses and topic are addressed in an answer to a reader's question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The entire Bible is God’s Word, but the version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy singles out the following reading for use in church services.
  • Lk 1:39-56 – The Visitation (July 2)

Hymn References

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that refer or allude to verses from our readings may help you meditate on the reading.
  • Lk 1:46-55 -- #275 (sorry there’s no link, but the lyrics are apparently still copywritten)

The Magnificat is also one of the canticle options for Vespers. You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Mark 1

If you have been plugging along with our Daily Lectionary reading through Revelation and Isaiah, you are about to be rewarded by reading one of the four Gospel accounts! With the reading of Mark 1, today our main reading shifts back to the New Testament for about two weeks before returning to the Old Testament.

Introduction to Mark

The Evangelist St. Mark as illustrated in a 12th-century Byzantine Greek manuscript of the Gospel accounts now in the special collections of the University of GlasgowLet’s start with some details about John Mark (see Acts 12:12, 25; 13:5, 13; etc.) and his Gospel account, a theological life of Jesus. Likely from a family known to Christians in Jerusalem (if not also to our Lord), St. Mark was apparently a coworker of both Paul and Peter. (The image with this post is of St. Mark as depicted in a 12th-century Byzantine Greek manuscript of the Gospel accounts now in the special collections of the University of Glasgow; to see a larger version of the image with this post, either click it or see from where we got it.) The New Testament gives evidence of Mark’s working with Paul and of a relationship with Peter, and the early church fathers tell us that the Gospel account bearing his name was the content of Peter’s preaching. Mark’s account of the Gospel was likely recorded in Rome in the days before Peter was martyred there, probably in the 50s or 60s. Although many modern-scholars might think otherwise, the Holy Gospel according to St. Mark may well have been the last of the synoptic Gospel accounts to have been written (note its placement third in New Testament canon). Perhaps occasioned by Roman persecution of Christians, the account holds up our Lord’s suffering for the mostly-Gentile believers so they could follow Him in their own suffering. This Gospel account is unashamedly teaching or doctrine that fills out the basic preaching about Jesus the hearers of the Gospel would have already known. Special themes include the cross, discipleship, and Jesus’ identity as the Son of God. While reading, note especially the identification of Jesus the God-Man with the Good News (what the word “Gospel” means) that St. Mark reports. Moreover, St. Mark’s account makes it clear that Jesus is both Christ and Son of God (note well the converted Centurion’s confession in Mark 15:39). The role of Christ is further elaborated as one both of the glorious Son of Man and of the Suffering Servant (about whom we read in Isaiah 53, for example). Events are linked in quick succession, and St. Mark seems to focus more on Jesus’ deeds than words (even as we today focus on God’s Word combined with His sacramental actions). You can find a summary of the basics on Mark here.

Overview of Mark 1

Today we read Mark 1, which covers the beginning of Jesus’ ministry and some of His early ministry in Galilee.

Comments

Mark by Divine inspiration omits any detail about John's and Jesus’ conceptions and births and goes right to John’s fulfilling Isaiah’s prophecy by preaching in the desert. Mark’s account then moves to the Baptism and temptation of Jesus and Jesus’ calling of the first disciples. Therein note the careful return to a major theme of the account Jesus as the Son of God (1:1 and 1:11). In the exorcism and healings that follow, be especially sure to recognize Jesus’s Word and "Sacrament" model of ministry: teaching and effecting what He has taught (John the Baptizer had taught and then effected forgiveness, too). Note how in going to the synagogue and preaching (1:21), Jesus in His day did not do away with the existing order of worship (anymore than we should do away with that order of worship today). Mark highlights well the people’s reaction to Jesus’ teaching: they recognized His as authority different from that of their regular teachers (1:22, 27). Jesus’ touching the people (as in 1:31) also shows the living out of that teaching. Despite the miracles, Jesus still tried to keep some aspects of His Messiahship a secret (for example, 1:34, 44), so that He would be able to complete His mission of suffering, dying, and rising again to save us from our sins.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary from The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services, does not tap Mark 1 for any Gospel readings.

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to verses from Mark 1 and so may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 1:32-34 -- #557 Translated in a number of other languages, this hymn was written in English and, at least at one time, was said to be “one of the most popular evening hymns in the English-speaking Church”. However, the hymn did not make it into the Lutheran Service Book, and, while one might only guess as to why, the text of the hymn still does seem to have some edifying sentiments.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you today and all through 2008! (Remember we have a worship service at Grace at 10:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day, celebrating the Circumcision and Naming of Jesus.)

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 30, 2007

Ps 29 / Is 64-66

We find worship of false gods indirectly and directly addressed in both of our readings today.

Psalm 29

In Psalm 29 the Lord’s power is especially contrasted with that of Baal, a false pagan divinity thought to be present in thunderstorms.

Overview

According to one commentary, Psalm 29 is composed of a two-verse introduction, a seven-verse stanza, and a two-verse conclusion. The Lord’s name is mentioned four times in both the introduction and conclusion (once in each half verse). In the main body of the psalm, the Lord is mentioned ten times by name, and His voice is mentioned seven times. (The numbers four, ten, and seven signify completeness.)

Comments

Can you and I give glory and strength to the Lord? In Psalm 29:1 we hear a call to do so (KJV). How can we who are inglorious and powerless give glory and strength to the Lord Who is all-glorious and all-powerful? Looking at other translations is helpful, as the ASV, NIV, and NASB translate “Ascribe to the Lord”, and we notice in the second half of verse 2, in all the translations, the parallel use of “worship the Lord”. When we come before the Lord to receive the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, we confess Who God is and who we are in relationship to Him. We ascribe glory and strength to Him and admit that we are inglorious and powerless. In so doing, we are His people who receive His blessing of peace (v.11).

The Hebrew phrase used in the second half of verse 2 is difficult, and translators usually either take it to describe God as holy or to describe how worshipers are to approach God. As an example of the first, the New International Version translates, “worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness” (the KJV is a little more ambiguous). As an example of the second, the New American Standard Bible translates, “Worship the Lord in holy array” (so, too, the ASV). Both of the more modern translations give the alternate reading in their text notes. In either case, however, those addressed seem to be the heavenly worshipers and not those of us here on earth (see the address in verse 1). Nevertheless, people today frequently want to experience the glory of heaven and think that they can worship God in His majesty. In fact, we sinners by nature cannot even enter into His holy presence, let alone stay there and worship Him. We need to draw near to confess our sins and be forgiven so that we can enter into His presence and worship Him there. Yet, in this life even forgiven we do not approach the Almighty and Glorious God, but we come to a baby in a rude manger or a beaten man hanging on a rough-hewn cross. In this life there are hints of glorious worship, but we find the Presence of our Lord contradictorily hidden in simple water, words of life, the mouth of a sinful man, and in bread and wine. Thereby clothed now in the white robe of Christ’s righteousness, we know we will one day answer the call to glorious heavenly worship in that holy array.

When we have to make significant or maybe even less-significant decisions in life, we may long for a direct revelation from God. More than ten years ago I would have said all I needed was a message on my answering machine, but now I suppose I would be content with an email. How different such desires are from the reverential fear the psalmist put into words for the people of Israel in Psalm 29. “The voice of the Lord” (v.3) is not something that is therein described as bringing comfort and peace. In reading Psalm 29 today, I was reminded of the people of Israel pleading with Moses to speak to them on God’s behalf and for God not to speak to them directly (Exodus 20:18-19). Such appearances of God as at Sinai and as the king of creation are quite different from our Lord’s speaking words of comfort and peace through His Word, whether in Scripture, sermons, or sacraments. There is also guidance and direction for our significant and less-significant decisions in life, but, as with His words of comfort and peace, we content ourselves with it being spoken through others God uses to guide and direct us.

Psalm 29:11 praises the Lord’s all-mighty power and drives home its impact for us: “The Lord will bless His people with peace” (KJV). The peace that matters is the peace between God and repentant human beings, made possible by the Prince of Peace, Jesus Christ, Who died on the cross for your sins and mine.

Q&A

The following verse and topic is addressed in an answer to a reader's question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 29 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for two Sundays.
  • The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
  • The Twenty-fifth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to Psalm 29.

Isaiah 64-66

With the reading of Isaiah 64-66 this prophetic Old Testament book is finished.

Overview

Isaiah 64 finishes the prayer for the Lord’s deliverance begun yesterday; chapter 65 gives the Lord’s answer to that prayer, and chapter 66 reiterates the judgment for the unrepentant and eternal glory for the forgiven. These final chapters repeat several themes and figures of speech used earlier in the book to communicate them.

Comments

An image of a potter working clayLet’s begin with chapter 64. In 64:6 note the indictment of all of us, and realize that the “filthy rags” are those a woman uses during her period! In 64:8 our relationship of creature to Creator is again emphasized. I very much suspect that even though Adelaide A. Pollard’s 1907 hymn is not in any LCMS-approved hymnal (at least not that I am aware of) we all still know her text that draws on that verse from Isaiah 64. Already elsewhere in Isaiah we have read of potters and clay, but such imagery does not always apply to God and to humankind as it does in Isaiah 64:8 (to see a slightly larger version of the picture of an unidentified potter taken by an unidentified photographer included with this post, either click the image or see from where we got it). God had formed the first man out of the dust of the earth, and in a similar way He forms and shapes us today—not at our initiating the action but at His. And, we do well to remember our place as His creation and not question the way He shapes us or what He shapes us into (see, for example, Isaiah 45:9).

The remaining two chapters warrant a few specific comments. In chapter 65 the Lord’s wrath against unfaithful Israel is expressed, but so is His preservation of the remnant (65:8-10). Isaiah 65:17-25 describes not so much the exiles returned to Israel but more so God’s believers of all times and places in the final and full consummation of Christ’s kingdom (the verses may be familiar to you from those read near the end of the church year in the Divine Service). Isaiah 66:2-4 again attacks those whose hearts are not right with the Lord but hypocritically worship Him. Those attacks are harsh, but the condemnation for the unrepentant that ends the book is harsher: everlasting torment illustrated by the worm that does not die (66:24). There is a bit of law motivation for us to “fear” God, but the greater motivation is that brought by the Gospel: a God Who loved us so much “that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16 KJV).

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints two Sunday Old Testament readings from Isaiah 64-66.
  • 65:1-2 -- The Twentieth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • 65:17-19 -- The Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to verses from Isaiah 64-66.

God bless you, and may you let Him make today holy for you by rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 29, 2007

Ps 28 / Is 61-63 / Folo

A prayer for immediate deliverance from enemies and prophecy of our long-term deliverance are the content of our reading today.

Psalm 28

We find in Psalm 28 references to some of the same themes we have been finding in the psalms since Psalm 23.

Overview

The psalmist starts by calling on God to hear him; note that the lifting up of the hands is in worship and prayer (as the uplifted hands are used in worship today as a gesture of prayer). Then the psalmist calls on God to deliver him and judge his and God’s enemies. Next the psalmist, confident of being heard, offers praise to God, and, finally, the psalmist ends his prayer with a call for God to daily bless and ultimately save His people—a prayer answered most completely in the service of the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ.

Comments

“The pit” of verse 1 is often linked with “the depths” and “the grave”, along with the person’s “silence” (not to be confused with God’s silence in this psalm), “darkness”, “destruction” or “corruption”, “dust”, “mire”, “slime”, and “mud”. In the context of this psalm, we notice that the psalmist fears being “like those who have gone down to the pit”, that is, he fears going down to the pit himself, which he says will come about if the Lord does not hear (is deaf to) or answer (remains silent in response to) the psalmist’s cries. Literally, a pit was often cut out of rock and sometimes plastered over as a place to collect water during the dry season for use in the rainy season. The steep smooth-sided pits or cisterns sometimes served as prisons (remember how Joseph’s brothers used it in Genesis 37:20-29), and sometimes even as a place to dump corpses (Jeremiah 41:7, 9). So, there’s little surprise that figuratively speaking, being cast alive into “the pit” can refer to experiencing great danger but allow that the person can still cry to the Lord and be delivered. On the other hand, going into the pit dead can be more final in the sense that death is thought to be final. Of course, if Christ does not return first our bodies will be cast into the pit of the grave at least figuratively, if not also literally. Yet, the pit is not final, for believers in Christ have the sure promise of deliverance from the pit, the resurrection of the body, and everlasting life of body and soul together with Christ.

Television’s so-called “reality shows” (don’t get me started on whether that name fits) often put a person or team in competition with other people or teams. Judges or viewers at home often compare and contrast what each person or team did in order to decide which did the best. Today in Psalm 28 there’s sharp contrast between at least two different works: what the hands of the wicked have done (v.4) and what the hands of the Lord have done (v.5). You may notice that the psalmist does not contrast what the wicked have done with what he, the psalmist, has done. Perhaps we could say that implicit between the verses is that whereas the human psalmist may also have done some wicked things at least He has regard for the works of the Lord, especially His redemption of Israel. In much the same way, we have all sinned and what determines our eternal state is not what we have done but what we do with what God has done for us in the birth, death, and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. Those who disregard salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ will be eternally punished for their own works, as will those who claim to believe but “treat as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant that sanctified him” (Hebrews 10:29, and understand a reference to the Sacrament of the Altar). On the other hand, we who in sorrow confess our sins and trust God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake will receive eternal salvation because of what God has done.

Note that the first part of verse 9 is part of the Te Deum Laudamus we use in Matins, although we sing “govern them” where the KJV translates “feed them” and the ASV, NIV, and NASV translate “be their shepherd”. Apparently alternate readings of the Hebrew text are behind the differences.

There’s a story that’s often told, with some variation, about Palestinian shepherds breaking the legs of straying sheep and carrying them over their shoulders while the leg heals so that the sheep better learn the shepherd’s voice and not stray in the future. One published version of the story is in Herman William Gockel’s My Hand in His: Ancient Truths in Modern Parables (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1961 revised and republished in 1999), and he doesn’t give a source for the claim. That a shepherd would hurt his sheep, however, seems unlikely. According to one of my “cast of thousands”, Weldon Phillip Keller’s A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 (for example, Grand Rapids: Zondervan, republished in 1997) is quite critical of those who neglected or mistreated their animals. A shepherd who also lived with shepherds, Keller also tells how lost sheep would be carried back because they were too exhausted to walk and how a shepherd would keep straying sheep close by with a staff. (Keller did admit, however, that when there was a sheep that could not be trained it was turned into mutton!) There are places in Holy Scripture, such as Psalm 28:9 that we read today, that at least describe a shepherd carrying sheep (v.9). Other Old Testament passages describing the Lord carrying His people are Deuteronomy 1:31; Exodus 19:4; Deuteronomy 32:11; Isaiah 63:9. Especially note in Isaiah 63:9 the carrying of the weak, the lifting up of the helpless to remove them from danger. Like Psalm 28:9, Isaiah 40:11 speaks of the Shepherd feeding His flock, gathering the lambs and carrying them, and gently leading those with young. Ezekiel 34:11-16 describes the Lord as the Shepherd seeking His sheep, delivering them, feeding them, and healing them. In the New Testament, Luke 15:5 similarly speaks of a shepherd picking up a lost sheep that had strayed and was helpless in fear. Whether or not we think the story of the broken leg to learn the voice is true, we can draw comfort from the Good Shepherd’s calling us by name and leading us out and His laying down and taking up His life for us.

Q&A

There are no previous readers’ questions about Psalm 28, but anyone is welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 28 is included by The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, among those psalms appointed for two Sundays of the Church Year.
  • The Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
  • The Sixth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from Psalm 28 and therefore may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 28:2 -- #6 in (See your hymnal for the text.) Interestingly, the German original of this hymn that dates back to the 16th-century was itself a paraphrase of a 9th-century Latin sequence hymn. The Latin hymn, its German paraphrase, and our English translation all preserve the Greek expression: Kyrie, eleison!, that is, “Lord, mercy!” You might also note the three-fold repetition of the petition, once for each of the three Persons of the Blessed Trinity.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Isaiah 61-63

Today from Isaiah 61-63 we hear wonderful words about the Messiah and His deliverance.

Overview

Reading Isaiah 61-63 today continues the last section of Isaiah, which speaks of eternal deliverance and eternal judgment. Today we read of the Messiah prophetically describing the Lord’s favor (chapter 61), of the Lord’s promised bliss for forgiven sinners (62:1-63:6), and the beginning of a prayer for God’s deliverance (63:7-19).

Comments

A watercolor image of Christ in the Synagogue reading from Isaiah 61 by French artist James Tissot (1836-1902)For me, hearing the opening verses of Isaiah 61 immediately brings to mind our Lord’s application of those verses to Himself when He “preached” on the text in a synagogue in His hometown of Nazareth, as recorded in Luke 4:18-19. (Jesus made only a partial use of the quote, ending in the middle of verse 2, which stopping point one commentator suggests was because the “day of vengeance” does not fully occur until His final coming.) The image with this post, a watercolor by the French artist James Tissot (1836-1902), depicts that event (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). Although the term “Servant” is not used, the Spirit’s commission and empowerment on the speaker to bring about the new era makes a clear connection with the earlier Servant Songs. Also related is the Jubilee year described by Leviticus 25. You might notice how Isaiah 61:3 turns emblems of mourning into emblems of joy; you won’t notice in English, however, a clever play on words in the Hebrew. The emblems are like all positive things in the Bible: gifts of God! In 61:5 aliens shepherding the flocks of Israel and working in fields and vineyards are positive things; those foreigners have become the people of God and entered into His congregation. Regarding the double portion of 61:7, see here.

In chapter 62 note the great reversal God brings about for those who trust in Him. Note how the significant meaning of the names in 62:4 are immediately explained: Hephzibah means “My delight is in you” and Beulah “married”. One commentator says, “We need to recall that Biblical names usually are not just IDs, but partake of and help establish the circumstances they describe.” Isaiah 62:6-7 seems to suggest that the Lord’s ordained watchmen are to call the people to ceaseless prayer, in order, as it were, to “harass” God. (The watchmen are prophets, as whose duties are described in such places as Ezekiel 33.) Regarding the highway of 62:10, see here.

In chapter 63 note how the speaker recounts God’s salvation history. Regarding 63:1-6, see TLH #209, although it doesn’t show up in the index I am using for the entries below. This hymn from the “Easter” section, originally written for Ascension, seems to be directly based on these verses. (Appreciate the hymn in TLH, because it isn’t in Lutheran Worship or Lutheran Service Book.) This dialogue, as it were, between Isaiah and the Lord makes it clear there is no victory without defeat nor salvation without damnation. A previous post applying Isaiah 63:4 to a “contemporary” issue is here. Finally, in 63:17 the people apparently thought the Lord had hardened their hearts. While he may have done that to some, if He had actually done that to all, then they would not have been turning to Him in prayer (there is more hardening of hearts and the example of Pharaoh here).

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints three Old Testament readings for church services from Isaiah 61-63.
  • 61:1-3 -- The First Sunday after Epiphany
  • 61:10-11 -- The Transfiguration
  • 63:7-18 -- New Year’s Eve

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal is said to contain three hymns that refer to verses from today’s reading of Isaiah 61-63.
  • 61:1, 2 -- #66 (an Advent hymn drawing on what the Anointed One will do), #482 (a "ministry" hymn that draws a parallel between the Lord's anointing and ordination; see your hymnal for the text)
  • 61:3 -- #48 (a "close of service" hymn that rightly sees the comfort in God's Word--if you look at only one today, maybe make it this one)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Biblog folo

The Biblog folo today is more on the translation of the opening verse of Psalm 23. I indicated in this post that I thought I knew a translation "I shall lack nothing" but couldn't find it. A reader emailed the "I lack nothing" from Today's New International Version and the "I will never be in need" of the Contemporary English Version. Those are truly close!

God bless you, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 28, 2007

Ps 27 / Is 58-60

As days are thankfully getting longer now, the Light of the Lord shining out on the world also happens to be a theme common to our reading today of Psalm 27 and Isaiah 58-60.

Psalm 27

Psalm 27 is one of my favorite psalms, partly because of a great musical version of it I have heard but mostly because of its great message of trusting in the Lord for deliverance, both deliverance now by receiving His gift of forgiveness at His Temple and also the ultimate deliverance of heaven.

Overview

Psalm 27 is another prayer of David to God for deliverance from his enemies. The psalm begins with two stanzas of faith’s confidence in the Lord (vv.1-3 and 4-6), and the main prayer comes next (vv.7-12) and is followed by a conclusion (vv.13-14) that echoes the opening verses’ confidence.

Comments

Verse 1, in which we confess the Lord as the source of all blessings but most of all salvation, especially keeps our modern problems in perspective (much like Romans 8:31-39).

If I tell you that at graduation I wore a cap and a gown, but I tell someone else that I wore graduation regalia, is there a contradiction? I think we probably all recognize that “regalia” is a broader term that includes the cap and the gown, but that the cap and the gown are individual items is also fairly obvious. (For example, I have at least one picture where I’m wearing the hat but not the gown.) I’ve often reflected on our Small Catechism confession both that Baptism “works forgiveness of sin, delivers from death and the devil, and gives eternal salvation” and that in the Sacrament of the Altar “forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation are given us”. Does each sacrament give us three separate things? Do these two sacraments give us different things? In Psalm 27:1 we hear that the Lord is our “light and salvation”. My study Bible makes some distinctions between “light” and “salvation”, but one could argue that they are distinctions without a difference. In much the same way, we might say that each sacrament does not really give us three separate things and that the two sacraments do not give us different things, at least not as expressed in those two statements from the Small Catechism, which is therefore not to say that there are no differences between what the two sacraments give us. We are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ; Baptism is usually the way of receiving that faith and coming into the family of the Church, while the Sacrament of the Altar is one of the ways of sustaining that faith. Both Sacraments give us life, but we might say that the one begins it and the other sustains it, and we could make an analogy to our human lives and their birth and daily sustenance.

People who spend a lot of time involved in serving their church or congregation may feel like they “live” at Church, and others measure the health of a congregation by how often during the week the lights are on with cars in the parking lot. The dwelling in the house of the Lord mentioned in Psalm 27:4 is not really along either of these lines. As I previously noted regarding Psalm 15 (see here and its related links), priests temporarily lived in the Temple complex during their time of service, but the psalmist desires much more—the dwelling in the House of the Lord forever, as also in Psalm 23:6 and 61:4. The dwelling is also more than just being in the Temple complex; the dwelling is an “intimate spiritual intercourse” with God. In the case of such eternal dwelling (made possible only by grace through faith in the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ), the only work being done is praise of God, and that’s hardly “work” as we think of work. In this life there is certainly work in the more traditional sense to be done, and congregations certainly need volunteers to carry out various tasks and responsibilities, but the measure of congregation’s health is hardly people spending so much time at their church building that they are neglecting their vocations as parents, children, and the like. The Lutheran Reformation did not free us from a false understanding of monasticism so that we could enslave ourselves to a new monasticism that says everyone must be “doing something” in service to the congregation or to be out spreading the Gospel. When the average person comes in to Grace Lutheran Church his or her primary purpose for being there is to receive God’s gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacrament. So forgiven and fed, he or she can go out to live in his or her calling and, as the Holy Spirit gives opportunity, give answer for the hope that lies in him or her. We might like to make the church building our place of refuge now and stay there constantly, away from the madness of the world, much like Peter wanted to stay on top of the mountain with Moses and Elijah when Jesus was transfigured. But, in this life we are called to go out of the church building, down from the mountain, and to live our life during the week, coming back in and up the next Sunday or feast day until we come back in and up for eternity. (See the sequence in Psalm 121:8 and the similar statement in our Baptismal rite!)

Remember that the beauty of the Lord (v.4) and the Lord’s face (vv.8-9) refer to His gracious favor, blessing, and deliverance.

Verse 10 speaks of parents forsaking the psalmist, David, but the Lord receiving him. Like David, those of us brought up in faithful Christian families are truly blessed. There is no evidence that David’s parents actually did forsake him (see, in fact, 1 Samuel 22:3), and so some take the first part of this verse as hypothetical: “Though my father and mother might forsake me”. In faithful Christian families forsaking on account of the faith is not too likely, although those who convert to Christianity from other religions have always risked being abandoned by their family, especially converts from Islam. If things continue the way they are in the Missouri Synod, we may find applications we never anticipated to such passages as Matthew 10:32-39 and Luke 12:51-53 and 14:26-27, which sound harsh, but we also remember the promise of Matthew 19:29 and parallel passages (Mark 10:29 and Luke 18:29).

Of verse 14 it is well said that faith is therein encouraging faith, the patient waiting and confident trusting in the Lord to deliver in His way and time.

Q&A

There are no previous readers’ questions about Psalm 27, but you should feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, includes Psalm 27 among those appointed for five Sundays of the Church Year.
  • The Fourth Sunday in Advent
  • The First Sunday after Epiphany
  • The Fifth Sunday after Trinity
  • The Eleventh Sunday after Trinity
  • The Twenty-first Sunday after Trinity

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from Psalm 27 and may help you meditate on the reading.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Isaiah 58-60

Part of our reading of Isaiah today helps us look from the Christmas season more towards Epiphany.

Overview

As we read Isaiah 58-60, we begin a final section of Isaiah’s so-called Book of Comfort. This section speaks of eternal deliverance and eternal judgment. Today we read the contrast between false worship and true worship (chapter 58), Zion’s confession and redemption (chapter 59), and Zion’s peace and prosperity with the promise of deliverance from sin (chapter 60).

Comments

The essential difference between false worship and true worship (Isaiah 58) is in the attitude of the heart: true faith will produce genuine good works, while hypocrites will go through the motions of repentance without being genuinely sorry for their sins and without trusting in God to forgive them for Jesus’ sake.

Note how in Zion’s confession and redemption (Isaiah 59) Isaiah by Divine inspiration goes from 3rd person plural “they” to the 2nd person plural “we”; he uses three different but common words for sins in 59:12; he introduces the Lord’s plan of salvation after removing any hope of human beings saving themselves; and he uses a description of God’s armor that seems to be at least in the background of a New Testament description of spiritual armor (Ephesians 6:13-17). There is a mention of Isaiah 59:17 here, in connection with “St. Patrick’s Breastplate”. Be sure to also note that in 59:20 the true Zion consists of those who repent of their sins, which repentance includes faith in Jesus Christ, “Who for us … and for our salvation came down from heaven And was incarnate by the Holy Ghost of the Virgin Mary And was made man”.

An image of a watercolor by British-American Alan Falk (1945-) portraying the light to the nations prophesied by Isaiah 60:1-3Every week in the Nunc dimittis of the communion liturgy we sing about Christ as “a Light to lighten the Gentiles” (the nations of non-Jews), although we may not think much of the rich Old Testament background to that Song of Simeon (Luke 2:29:32), such as Isaiah 60, which also seems to be background for Revelation 21-22. Chapter 60 tells of the glory of Israel as people from nations that once opposed her come to the light she radiates from her Redeemer (these verses are familiar from Advent but also help us begin to look toward Epiphany, which begins with the visit of the magi traditionally observed on January 6th). Jesus truly is the Light of the World (John 8:12), whether or not everyone confesses that reality, such as British-American Alan Falk (1945-), the Jewish artist who painted the watercolor image with this post (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). The Hebrew words on the hand in the image are l’owr goyim “for a light to nations”. I expect the artist thought of the hand as the Father’s hand that also first created light, but we can also think of the hand of our Lord, which is inscribed with the marks of His crucifixion for us that also revealed His glory to the world.

Q&A

As for questions pertaining to Isaiah 58-60, so far there is only a reader’s previous general question about all of Isaiah.

You are welcome to ask a question more-specifically about Isaiah 58-60, if you wish.

Sunday Lectionary Use

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, one Old Testament reading comes from Isaiah 58-60.
  • 58:6-12 -- The Fourth Sunday after Trinity

I expected some Epiphany readings, but maybe I’m thinking of a different lectionary series.

Hymn References

Six hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer or allude to verses from Isaiah 58-60.
  • 59:20 -- #62 (apparently picking up on the Advent theme of “coming” in verse 20)
  • 60:1 -- #498 (a nice “missions” hymn that confesses Jesus as the Light of Nations)
  • 60:1 ff. -- #503 (a familiar tune to a relatively unfamiliar hymn, although I especially like stanza 4’s statement about the permanence of God’s Word)
  • 60:1-6 -- #126 (a more-familiar Epiphany hymn; if you are going use only one in your devotion today I would recommend this be the one)
  • 60:3 -- #642 (again a familiar tune for a less-familiar hymn in the “foreign missions” category)
  • 60:13 -- #633 (also a familiar tune for I would think a seldom-used hymn)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 27, 2007

Ps 26 / Is 55-57

With Isaiah’s and John the Baptizer’s call for a leveling-out to prepare the way for the Lord still fresh in our minds, look for that common ground in both of our readings today.

Psalm 26

Like the psalm before it, Psalm 26 expresses trust in the Lord and cries for the Lord to show mercy and deliver the psalmist, although in Psalm 26 the psalmist does not confess his sin as in the one before it.

Overview

In Psalm 26 the psalmist prays for the Lord’s merciful vindication and redemption (the request is especially clear in verses 1 and 12, which serve as bookends, as it were, for the psalm).

Comments

Psalm 26’s superscription says only that it is “Of David”, but some speculate that the particular opponents are those who joined David’s son Absalom in his attempt to take over the kingdom. In that case, you might see 2 Samuel 15:6, 25 for thoughts that may be behind those in this psalm.

Again in verse 1 and throughout the psalm, it seems that the psalmist is claiming to be righteous, but the immediate context makes it clear that is not the case—for if it were, then the psalmist would not be praying for redemption. Yes, he claims not to be as immoral as his enemies and not to be in fellowship with those who are evil, but he does not claim to be altogether free from sin. The psalmist also emphasizes his faith (v.1) and regard for the Lord’s house (v.8).

Parents are often rightly concerned about the people their children hang around with; their friends can be either a positive or negative influence on them. The same is true of Christians of any age, and we probably all can think of people in our own lives who have been positive influences on us and of others who have been negative influences on us. In Psalm 26:4-5 we hear the psalmist speak of how he avoids associating with those likely to be a bad influence. One can certainly take such an avoidance to an extreme, as have certain monastic or hermetic groups over the years, who avoid any and all contact with the world for fear of its corruption. (For more on just what monks and hermits avoid, see this folo.) The world can corrupt us Christians, but we know that we are to shine Christ’s light to the world and be the salt of the earth (Matthew 5:13-16). We are to be in the world, but we are not to be of the world (see John 17). We are not to be conformed to the world but are to be transformed by the Holy Spirit working through Word and Sacrament (Romans 12:2). We can and must interact with people of the world in order to live in our various vocations, and we are thankful for the opportunities the Holy Spirit presents to us to give an answer for the sure and certain hope that we have by the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (1 Peter 3:15). We can teach, as it were, in the Temple Courts, but we retreat to the Lord’s House for the Divine Service (Acts 2:46-47), not participating in the assembly of evildoers or partaking of their “sacred” meals (Psalm 26:5-6).

In verse 6, the psalmist uses a figure of speech to make his claim of relative innocence; the figure of speech refers to a symbolic act we may know from elsewhere in Holy Scripture (see Deuteronomy 21:6 and Matthew 27:24). You might also note how by the end of the psalm the psalmist is confident of God’s deliverance and his restoration to the worshipping community.

Note in verse 8 the connection between the Lord’s presence and His glory, and read John 1:14 in light of that connection. Where the Lord is present He is present to bless, as in the Divine Service when really, physically present on the altar He gives the forgiveness of sins with His Body and Blood.

Q&A

So far there aren’t any readers’ questions on Psalm 26, but you are free to ask a question.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for Sunday and festival services at Grace, includes Psalm 26 among those appointed for several Sundays and festivals.
  • The feast of St. Stephen (yesterday)
  • The Presentation of Christ and the Purification of Mary
  • Rogate (the Fifth Sunday after Easter)
  • The Second Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Day of St. James the Elder

Hymn References

One hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 26 and therefore may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 26:12 -- #568 is a free rendition of a sixteenth-century Dutch prayer of thanksgiving for a victory with England’s help over a Spanish oppressor

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Isaiah 55-57

One of the highlights of our reading of Isaiah 55-57 is a great promise God makes regarding the use of His Word!

Overview

As we continue to read of the Suffering Servant’s work in Isaiah 55-57, we read of the call to salvation to Jews and non Jews alike (55:1-56:8) and of the judgment on the wicked (56:9-57:21).

Comments

The invitation in 55:1-7, especially in verses 1-2 and 6, comes in some of my favorite verses in the Bible (yes, you can note that again food and beverage is in view). The invitation is similar to that spoken by Wisdom in Proverbs 9:5 and thus also by Jesus in John 4:14 and 7:37. Notice also the emphasis on hearing leading to living (as in Romans 10:14-18). Isaiah 55:7’s call to repentance is clear, and verse 8 emphasizes how people and God are on different wavelengths (a verse we often turn to in times of disasters). Isaiah 55:9-11 is a great promise to us as we read and proclaim God’s Word. Isaiah 56:7 and the “house of prayer for all people" (KJV, nations NIV) refers to salvation being for more than the Jews (Jesus may be referring to this verse in Mark 11:17).

An image of the work of Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-1989) depicting Isaiah 55:6I like some of the religious paintings by Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali (1904-1989), although the one with this post that is associated with Isaiah 55:6 was new to me (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). To me, the image could be taken as Isaiah prophesying to those going by, or it could be taken as suggesting some sort of journey is needed to find the Lord. (For more on the image, see this folo.) In fact, no pilgrimage to Jerusalem, Mecca, or Rome is needed to find the Lord. Quoting Deuteronomy 30:14, St. Paul in Romans 10:8 says the Word of faith is near you. I’m certainly not saying that reading your Bible online is all that is needed, for those who believe will make a pilgrimage of a sort to receive, with the community of believers, God’s gift of forgiveness from His called and ordained servants through the purely preached Word and rightly administered Sacraments (Holy Baptism, Holy Absolution, and the Sacrament of the Altar). Those who truly believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of sins will want to seek His gift in those ways.

As I, a single man trying to live a chaste and decent life, read Isaiah 56:1-8, my curiosity was piqued about what the verses said regarding the eunuchs (the Hebrew word is saris), and I would think others, especially other "single" individuals, would also be interested. When you first hear the English word “eunuch” you may think of a boy or man who has been castrated or for some reason cannot produce sperm. While such people are certainly “eunuchs” in one sense of the word, eunuchs in Bible times could also be court officials or harem attendants, for which latter task those who had been castrated or could not produce sperm were perhaps ideally suited. (You might be interested to know that the word “eunuch” comes from Greek and more-literally translates as “keeper of the bed”.) Not all court officials called “eunuchs” were necessarily castrated, however, and the modern informal use of “eunuch” for an ineffectual or powerless man is in contrast to the older idea of uncastrated people called “eunuchs” being important officials of a king’s court. What does all of this have to do with our reading today? Well, the context of the Hebrew word saris helps one know whether a court official or castrated man is in view. Isaiah 56:3 certainly seems to reflect an inability to procreate, which would lead us to think a castrated or otherwise impotent man is in view, perhaps especially Israelite men mutilated against their will in order to serve foreign officials. Verses 4-5 are addressed to them (verses 6-8 are addressed to the “foreigner” mentioned first in verse 3). Where the old covenant apparently excluded physical eunuchs from the worshipping assembly (Leviticus 22:24 [clearer in translations other than the KJV] and Deuteronomy 23:1), God through Isaiah is saying such is not the case under the New Testament (for an example of fulfillment, see Acts 8:27, 38-40). Where the eunuchs may have been worried about not having descendants, Isaiah’s prophecy says that in a sense such believers will not be excluded from the community and will be more blessed than those who have sons and daughters. The words of our Lord in Matthew 19 and of St. Paul in 1 Corinthians 7 are also relevant in this regard. In Matthew 19:10-12, our Lord says the demands of the kingdom may mean that some people must live celibate, eunuch-like lives, such as a divorced couple that is unable to reconcile (see 1 Corinthians 7:10-11; St. Paul also can be seen as suggesting widows and widowers, like him, might do best not to marry a second time). (While we may think of celibacy primarily in connection with the Roman Catholic abstaining from marriage by a vow, it can also mean a state of being unmarried or in voluntary singleness and virginity.) Living such a life is not an impossibility, Jesus says, for with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26), and, to be sure, there is forgiveness for when we fail to live such a life. God gives us grace sufficient for each day to be content in all circumstances. In 1 Corinthians 7:26-38, Paul, like Isaiah, seems to say that those who do not marry and have children are in some ways more blessed. With the Corinthians, Paul was dealing both with those who thought sexual issues did not matter and with those who made too much of them. Our Lutheran Confessions (Apology XXIII:38 is just one example) similarly are careful both to recognize that the celibate state is more praised in Holy Scripture and to make it clear that no one is saved by being celibate (in contrast to the Roman Catholic teaching of that day, which suggested becoming a monk or nun was necessary for the “perfection” of justification). Although in no way am I denigrating the holy estate of marriage instituted by God Himself, like Isaiah’s prophecy, I do not think that marriage and children are necessary for people to be fulfilled. In Christ we have brothers, sisters, and other family members through the waters of Holy Baptism and our common bond in Christ’s blood, for the receiving of which—not the usual familial ties but—the common confession of the faith unites those around the Lord’s Table.

Isaiah 56:9-12 is a sad comment on Israel’s spiritual leaders (and some spiritual leaders today, too). The evildoers commit spiritual adultery and prostitution (57:3 and verses following, note the extended adultery image in v.8), doing such things as sacrificing their children to the idol Molech (57:5 and the specific reference to Molech in v.9). The Lord is not an absent God removed from His creatures, but He abides with those who repent (57:15), promising healing and restoration (57:18). Isaiah 57:21 is a good verse to answer those who claim “their” God would not judge, and it is also a good verse to have in mind in this Christmas season when we hear “Peace on earth” and forget that that peace is only for those of the Lord’s “good will” or pleasure (that is, those who are saved through faith).

Q&A

There is just one previous reader’s question that came from the reading of Isaiah in general.

You are welcome to ask a question specifically about Isaiah 55-57, if you like.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services taps Isaiah 55-57 for a number of Old Testament readings over the course of the Church Year.
  • 55:1-13 -- The Circumcision and Name of Jesus
  • 55:10-13 -- Sexagesima Sunday (the Sunday in the sixth period of ten days before Easter)
  • 57:15 -- Ascension Day

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to make use of Isaiah 55-57.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 26, 2007

Ps 25 / Is 52-54

Today we read both a prayer for pardon and a wonderful prophecy of the Messiah and how He makes our pardon possible.

Psalm 25

Psalm 25 that we read today is closely linked to Psalm 24 that we read yesterday, by way of Psalm 24:4 and the lifting up of the soul referred to in 25:1.

Overview

One commentary breaks Psalm 25 down into four unequal stanzas, with the first stanza (apparently vv.1-3) and fourth stanza (apparently vv.16-21/22) related by the theme of prayer for relief from distress or illness and the attacks of the psalmist’s enemies and with the second stanza (apparently vv.4-7) and third stanza (apparently vv.8-15) also related but by the confident prayer for guidance and pardon.

Comments

One commentary notes that David prays for deliverance, guidance, forgiveness, and relief; the commentary then suggests that they are all related, that God’s forgiveness will lead to His removing the affliction and thus the occasion for his enemies to slander him. Would that it were that simple! God’s forgiveness does not remove temporal consequences of our sin, and even the removal of affliction does not completely end false accusations by enemies. For us I think the prayer for forgiveness can be a major theme of the Psalm, and the confident hope and trust in the Lord are also worth noting. As redeemed children of God we know that our final deliverance from trouble (v.22) will come at our moment of death in this world and the beginning of life eternal in the next.

There’s much talk in some church circles about “lifting up” someone in prayer, Psalm 25 arguably could be said to support such a notion, although that phrase means to worship or trust in, as made clear in the parallel phrase in 25:1. In verse 1, the psalmist calls his own soul to look to God in faith, especially for the two petitions named in verse 2. The Hebrew verb nasa’ is significant for a number of reasons. In 25:1 some sort of confident trust seems to be in mind, although elsewhere the verb can be used for people sinning. Perhaps more importantly the same verb is used for Christ bearing our sin and then for our sin being removed or forgiven. Only because the Holy and Innocent Son of God carries our sin can it be forgiven and can we lift up or direct ourselves to confidently trust in the Lord’s ultimate deliverance in Christ.

Modern moralists sometimes wonder where “shame” has gone in contemporary society. The “shame” they are wondering about is not quite the same as the biblical concept of “shame” that we find in Psalm 25:3. Our normal idea of shame has to do with an inner attitude or state of mind, while the biblical idea stresses the sense of public disgrace or physical state. Most of the Bible’s references to shame come in the prophets and Psalms, and parallels are often “to be humiliated” or “to be shattered, dismayed”. A common usage refers to the result of defeat at the hands of an enemy, disgrace of being paraded as a captive. The idea is part of the threat made to encourage people to repent, the promise of no shame made to those who do repent. The psalmist reminds God of that promise today in Psalm 25, and we do well to remember that by nature we deserve to be paraded as a captive to hell but that by grace through faith in Jesus Christ we are freed from that captivity. In the short term believers in Christ may have public disgrace, but in the end God is faithful to His promise and we are vindicated. The final disgrace and shame are with those who refuse to believe in Jesus.

I was struck by verse 10: “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful for those who keep the demands of his covenant” (NIV). Many people today would like to stop half-way through that verse: “All the ways of the Lord are loving and faithful”. So often we hear, “My God wouldn’t do such and such” or “A loving God wouldn’t do so and so”. In the case of “My God”, people generally want to create God in their own image and want to have nothing to do with the God of the Bible. In the case of “A loving God”, we hear in this verse that all God’s ways are loving “for those who keep the demands of his covenant”. Although there is no one who perfectly keeps the demands of his covenant, we should not read that second part of the verse in such a way as to exclude everyone. Rather, we should understand that as we believe in Christ God sees us with Christ’s righteousness of having kept the covenant demands. We fear the Lord (verse 14) and pray for forgiveness as the psalmist does (verses 1-7, 16-22), and we know that He mercifully hears our prayers and that His answer to those prayers are loving and faithful.

Q&A

No readers have asked questions about Psalm 25 yet, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 25 is among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for four Sundays of the Church Year.
  • The First Sunday in Advent
  • Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent)
  • Oculi (the Third Sunday in Lent)
  • The Third Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from Psalm 25.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Isaiah 52-54

The Church in its wisdom put feast days for martyrs on two of the three days after Christmas Day—St. Stephen on December 26 and The Holy Innocents on December 28—in part to temper the syrupy sentimentality that surrounds the annual celebration of our Lord’s birth. Our timely reading of Isaiah 52-54 in some ways serves the same purpose for us, reminding us that Christmas is more than a cute Baby in a manger, although to be sure Christmas is a major step towards victory in a cosmic struggle that has life or death consequences for each person on earth.

Overview

Isaiah 52-54 continues a section and subsection begun yesterday. We finish reading the subsection dealing with the comfort of the Redeemed (52:1-12); then we read of the Suffering Servant Who atones for our sin (52:13-53:12), and finally we read of the Servant’s offsprings’ future glory (chapter 54).

Comments

As you finish the section dealing with the comfort of the Redeemed, especially 52:3, think of Dr. Luther’s explanation to the Second Article of the Creed: “Who has redeemed me … not with gold or silver, but with His holy, precious blood and with His innocent suffering and death”.

A contemporary image of Jesus Christ, the Suffering Servant of Isaiah 52:13-53:12, before being nailed to the crossPerhaps nowhere else in the Old Testament is our redemption by way of the Messiah’s suffering and resurrection (note 53:11) spelled out so clearly than in the Song of the Suffering Servant (52:13-53:12). This Servant Song is likely familiar if you are in church during Lent and Holy Week, and you will note references to it and quotations from it as we eventually make our way through the Gospel accounts of the Passion. While there may be some biographical experience that enters into description of the Suffering Servant, at its core it is to be understood as pointing prophetically and typologically to Jesus, the Christ. Jesus, as is sometimes said, is “Israel reduced to one”, Who both in a sense repeated and fulfilled the nation’s history and prophecy. By faith we through Holy Baptism, Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper become and stay a part of the body of which Christ is the Head and so in a sense experience what He experienced but more importantly benefit from what He has done for us. Note well the description of us as wandering sheep (v.6) and Jesus’s dutiful Lamb-like slaughter on our behalf (v.7). Again kudos to Handel for the way the music of "The Messiah" has the sheep all running off in their own directions. This Suffering Servant Song is rich Gospel, emphasizing how our Lord’s passion was for us! Don’t let 53:12 make you think of limited atonement—Jesus died for all; the expression “many” can either be understood with the sense of “all” and thus as Jesus’ objective justification or with the sense of the “many” who believe in Him and thus as subjective justification. (The image of the Suffering Servant with this post is, from the style, by a relatively recent, though unidentified, artist; to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it.)

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on two Sundays or festivals.
  • 52:13-15 -- Easter Sunday
  • 52:13-53:12 -- Good Friday

Hymn References

There are a “perfect number” of hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal, from a variety of different categories, that are said to refer or allude to verses from today’s reading.
  • 52:7-10 -- #487
  • 52:8 -- #609
  • 53:3-5 -- #153
  • 53:4-7 -- #142
  • 54:2 -- #510
  • 54:2, 3 -- #640 (check the hymnal for the text of this hymn)
  • 54:10 -- #337

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 11:59 PM

December 25, 2007

Ps 24 / Is 49-51

Psalm 24 is an appropriate psalm for us to read on the Nativity of our Lord, Christmas Day, as the Infant Lord born today was born to triumph over His and our enemy, the devil, on the cross and for us to welcome Him into our hearts and bodies as His temples. Our reading from Isaiah 49-51 drives home some of those same points.

Psalm 24

The psalm may have been used in a procession celebrating the Lord entering Jerusalem via His ark. The Christian church has used the psalm in connection with Jesus’ ascension to the heavenly Jerusalem, but its words anticipating the Lord’s coming to His Temple and calling us to prepare His way are also connected with Advent (see the hymn linked below) and thus with Christmas (see below for its inclusion among those appointed for use in church on Christmas Day). From the Ark’s arriving at the Jerusalem Temple, to the Lord’s tabernacling in the Temple of His flesh, to His dwelling among us in His Church by way of Word and Sacrament, we in the New Testament Church always anticipate His final coming in glory, even as we annually celebrate the anniversary of His birth.

Overview

Verses 1-2 recognize the Lord is the King of Glory, for He created, sustains, and preserves the whole world (which founding is referred to figuratively as if it were the Temple itself). Verses 3-6 call to mind Psalm 15 and the moral standards for those eligible to enter the temple, but notice that God blesses and vindicates His faithful children. Notice in verse 4 that “lifting up the soul” is to worship or trust in, and recall the communion liturgy “Lift up your hearts. We lift them up unto the Lord.” Verses 7-10 welcome the King, Who has triumphed over all His enemies, to enter the city and its Temple.

Comments

In verse 6 we see how those whom God has prepared to dwell with Him (by their receiving His blessings) are those who seek and believe in Him; they are the Church, the true Israel. Even if they cannot trace their family line to Jacob according to the flesh, they are Israel after the spirit.

Verses 7 and 9 make it seem as if the gateways or doorways dating back to the beginning need to expand in order to accommodate the Lord’s entering, as if their “heads”, essentially their lintels, need to be lifted up.

When we think of a “host”, most likely we think of someone who has a party or TV show of some sort to entertain guests, although the noun can also mean such things as an organism infected by a parasite or the main computer in a network. When we find the noun in the King James and other Bibles, however, the meaning intended by the word is usually that of “a very large group of people or things” or the archaic military meaning of “an army”. In Psalm 24:10 we find God referred to as “the Lord of Hosts” (KJV, ASV, NASB; “Lord Almighty” NIV). In such cases, the “hosts” can be the multitude of His heavenly angels or the sun, moon, and stars, or the “hosts” can be the armies of Israel. Remember that often when Israel’s armies won a battle the heavenly forces were explicitly mentioned as being a part of the victory and that unless the Lord went to battle with Israel the effort would end in failure. You may know the Hebrew word sebaot used here by way of the Latin Sabaoth, since the Sanctus of the Divine Service liturgy uses the Latin word in the title “Lord God of Sabaoth”. (When I sang Latin works before I learned Latin, I was taught to put a hard “t” at the end, despite the “h”, but Lutheran Service Book rightly notes the pronunciation for the Sanctus as “SAH-bay-oath”.) The title “Lord of Hosts” is an exalted title associated with the Lord’s glorious kingship, as we see in Psalm 24. Even if we do not see the glory of that kingship now, the day is coming when we will. The final victory was already won on the inglorious cross, but when Christ ultimately makes all opponents subject to Himself then His reign from Mt. Zion will truly be glorious. As we are graciously forgiven by faith in Him we know we will one day share in that glory. (By the way, while “host” as we have been discussing it comes from the Latin word hostem, meaning “stranger” or “army”, in Communion the “host” in reference to a wafer of bread that is the body of Christ comes from a different Latin word, hostia, meaning “victim”, or “sacrifice”.)

The Lord’s coming to Jerusalem in the form of His Ark surely was glorious, and more so will be His final coming. His birth into the flesh was humble and lowly, of course, as is His coming to us now with the forgiveness of sins in bread that is His body and wine that is His blood. Thanks to the window above the altar and the Sacrament below on the altar, we at Grace can easily picture the Lord gloriously enthroned between the Cherubim and humbly and really, physically present for us. (For more on Psalm 24 and the Lord’s coming for us, you can also see this Memorial Moment.)

Q&A

No readers’ questions about Psalm 24 have been submitted to date, but you are free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 24 is among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for one Sunday and two festivals of the Church Year.
  • The First Sunday of Advent
  • Christmas (the Feast of the Nativity of our Lord)
  • Ascension

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal refers or alludes to verses from Psalm 24 and therefore may help you meditate on the reading.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Isaiah 49-51

Today we begin a new section of Isaiah that deals with the Servant’s work of atoning for sin.

Overview

As we read Isaiah 49-51, we read of the Servant’s call in the second so-called “Servant Song” (49:1-13), Israel’s spiritual repopulation (49:14-26), Israel’s sin and the Servant’s obedience (chapter 50, including the third “Servant Song”), and the redeemed’s comfort (chapter 51:1-52:12, though today we just read through the end of 51).

Comments

Picture of an unidentified spring of water by an unidentified photographerThe Servant’s call in 49:1-3, 5 is similar to that of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1:5) and the apostle Paul (Galatians 1:15). Note the mouth-sword connection we have seen before (Revelation 1:16; 2:12, 16; and see Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12). Even the Messiah’s labor seems to be a failure (49:4), though faithful Jews and Gentiles are His reward. For, restoring Israel is not enough (for example, 49:6-7). Verse 8 is quoted by St. Paul in 2 Corinthians 6:2, and we can say that today also is the day of salvation. Water is frequently used in Holy Scripture to illustrate God’s provision, as we see in verse 10. (The image with this post is of an unidentified spring by an unidentified photographer; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or from where we got it.) Note in 49:10 how the shepherd imagery that we saw yesterday in Psalm 23 is in play, as is the apocalyptic image of heaven that we read in Revelation 7:16-17. The best water of all, of course, is that living water or water of life which flows over us in the Baptismal Font, working forgiveness of sins for us, rescuing us from death and the devil, and giving us eternal salvation.

Israel is not abandoned (49:14-15), though consider how the Jews of Jesus’s day and since have refused to turn to Jesus to be saved!

Despite Israel’s unfaithfulness, not even a certificate of divorce (which she was never given) could separate her from the Lord (50:1). Note the Servant’s willingness to suffer (50:6) and determination to complete His mission (50:7, carried with Luke 9:51). Isaiah 50:9 seems to anticipate Romans 8:1, 34. The Light that saves comes from the Lord and not from fires of our own lighting (Isaiah 50:11).

The Lord gives us a portion of suffering (for example, the cup of 51:17 and verses following), but He does not make us face more than we can endure with His help (note how he delivers Israel in 51:22).

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

From Isaiah 49-51, the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints four Old Testament readings for use in the church on Sundays or festivals.
  • 49:1-7 -- Epiphany
  • 49:8-13 -- Laetare (the Fourth Sunday in Lent—the more joyous one, like Advent’s Gaudete)
  • 50:6-9 -- Good Friday
  • 51:9-16 -- The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

Two hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from today’s reading.
  • 49:14-17 -- #268 (which seems unfamiliar to me but appears to have a nice text)
  • 50:6 -- #172 (what can be a timely reminder that Christmas is about more than a cute baby in a manger)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 24, 2007

Ps 23 / Is 46-48

One reading today anticipates the Christmas shepherds, while another is fitting as Advent draws to a close.

Psalm 23

Psalm 23 is perhaps the best-known of all the Psalms, and its six verses speak volumes of comfort to believers.

Overview

Psalm 23 can be broken down into two equal stanzas, each of four couplets (one line in Hebrew poetry), with a triplet in the middle that transitions between the two stanzas.

Comments

Used so often for funerals, I think Psalm 23 must be familiar even to unbelievers, although I often wonder what they think the psalm’s opening verse means. Do not let the King James Version and other versions mislead you: we “want” the shepherd, for with the Lord as our shepherd, we shall “lack nothing”. While the “I shall not want” of the KJV, ASV, NASB, NKJV, and ESV can make it sound as if the believer does “not want” the Good Shepherd, when what it means is that with the Lord as our Good Shepherd we “shall not be in want” (NIV; “I shall want nothing” NEB; “I have everything I need” Beck’s AAT; I thought someone else translated “I shall lack nothing”, but I can’t seem to find it—you can find more on the translation here and here).

Lying down in green pastures beside quiet waters (v.2) are indicators of a secure and flourishing, refreshed life, of the outcome indicated in verse 3: the restored soul. The righteous path we follow (v.3) brings honor to the Lord’s Name. The rod of the law and the staff of the Gospel ultimately comfort us even as we pass through death, the portal to life eternal (v.4). We eat the meal of the New Testament and are blessed now and for eternity (vv.5-6). A song I sang with the seminary Kantorei said of the dwelling in verse 6: “No more a stranger or a guest, but like a child at home.” Amen.

I frequently highlight shepherding imagery in our daily readings, and I hope that does not sour you on the theme! Psalm 23 is one of the more obvious examples, if not the Old Testament example par excellence (the best or truest of its kind, the quintessential example). At least indirectly, Psalm 23 also figures prominently in the New Testament. The Psalm certainly is behind Jesus’s declaration of Himself being our Good Shepherd in John 10. In Old Testament literature a “shepherd” was widely used as a figure of speech for kings or other leaders, and King David calling the Lord his “shepherd” is significant. In giving the account of our Lord walking this earth in His public ministry, the evangelists by Divine inspiration make deliberate allusions to Psalm 23. Mark 6:32-44’s account of the feeding of the 5,000 is one example: note verses 34, 39, 41 and 43. We find Psalm 23 and the feeding narratives like Mark 6 pointing to the heavenly food our Good Shepherd gives us in the Sacrament of the Altar. In this life we do pass through the valley of the shadow of death, but we do not fear any evil, for the Lord is with us; as we remain faithful to Him, His goodness and mercy (KJV; “lovingkindness” ASV, NASB; “love” NIV) in Word and Sacrament stay with us all the days of our lives.

Our English word “pastor” ultimately is traced back to the Latin word for “shepherd”. That statement prompted this exchange, which lead me to spend some time and effort trying to track down the sources behind the claim that at the time of the Reformation the term “pastor” (German Pastor) was not used but came into Lutheranism later from pietism, supposedly emphasizing “edification” (perhaps from Ephesians 4:12). I was able to trace the claim back through the writings of the now-sainted Rev. Prof Kurt Marquart and James H. Pragman to that of Wilhelm Pauck, who makes the claim but offers neither a citation for it nor evidence of how he came to that conclusion. Other evidence I found suggested four terms were more or less in use at the time of the Reformation: Pastor, Prediger, Pfarrer (or Pfarrherr), or Priester (“pastor”, “preacher”, “master of the parish”, and “priest”, respectively)—and that’s not to mention Seel-sorger or Seel-hirten (“soul-carer” or “soul-shepherd”, respectively), which also may have come into use later under the influence of Pietism. Distinctions may be made between how the spiritual leader was spoken of and how he was addressed, of course, as well as between different people with different primary responsibilities. The Rev. Dr. David P. Scaer, with his usual accurate acerbity, wrote in an email to me last February, “Since so many clergy persons are addressed with their first name ‘Joe,’ the issue is moot.” At Grace usually I am addressed as “Pastor”, for which I am thankful, as it is a reminder of what my relationships are both to the people who call me that and to the Good Shepherd (in Latin Pastor Bonus), Whose under-shepherd I am.

After I finished my Ph.D., people often asked me when people should call me “Dr. Galler”. I usually tell people in congregations that “Pastor” is the title that matters to me most. I appreciate people appreciating the degree and wanting to show me respect for achieving it, but, unless I am in an academic setting and with people with whom I do not have a pastoral relationship, I hardly want people to call me “Dr. Galler”. (As I also point out, that is my father’s title; formally mine is “Rev. Dr. Galler”.) Thinking also of Luke 15:1-10, we remember that the Lord Jesus is for all of us Pastor Bonus (Latin for “Good Shepherd”), Who not only seeks out and finds us wandering sheep, laying us on His shoulders rejoicing, but Who also lays down His life for us sheep and takes up His life again. “What wondrous love is this, O my soul!”

Q&A

So far there are no readers’ questions on Psalm 23, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 23 is among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for two Sundays of the Church Year.
  • Misericordias Domini (the Second Sunday after Easter, also called Good Shepherd Sunday)
  • The Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity

Hymn References

Psalm 23 is referred or alluded to by five hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal.
  • Ps 23 -- #312 (a beautiful Lord's Supper hymn that makes the psalm's Sacramental connection), #368, #426, #431, and #436 (probably the best known and most loved of the bunch)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Isaiah 46-48

Our reading of Isaiah today fits well our Advent emphasis of repentance.

Overview

With Isaiah 46-48 we finish up the section we began with chapter 40, today reading of the Lord as superior to the gods of Babylon (chapter 46), the fall of Babylon (chapter 47), and the Lord exhorting His people (chapter 48).

Comments

Babylon’s gods are named in 46:1, powerless to stop the captivity of those that worship them (v.2). The fact that the idols of Babylon are powerless prompts the Lord to call His remnant to return to Him (vv.3-13). But, the Lord speaks to Babylon of the suffering it will endure for its arrogance (for example, almost claiming a god-like status for itself, as in v.8). Israel’s affliction, meanwhile, was to refine and purify her faith (48:10). The people are free to leave Babylon to escape its coming judgment at the hands of the Medes and Persians, and Israel’s deliverance from its Babylonian captivity is likened unto Israel’s deliverance from slavery in Egypt (48:20-21). Similarly, God delivers us from our captivity and slavery to sin by redeeming us with the blood of Jesus.

Pouring silver that has been refined from lead ores from Mt. Isa and George Fisher, Queensland, AustraliaTo most people today, especially around Central Texas, the purification of water may be better known than the purification of metals such as silver or iron. But, it is that latter type of purification that we find today in our reading of Isaiah 48:10, timely, too, as our season of Advent draws to a close today. (The image with this post is of the pouring of silver refined from lead ores extracted from Mt. Isa and George Fisher in Queensland, Australia; to see a larger version of the image click it or from where we got it.) Refining by fire and testing in the furnace in some ways relate to judgment, although in this case not necessarily to judgment’s final verdict (compare Jeremiah 9:7 and Ezekiel 22:18-22). (Compare “choosing” in the KJV and ASV, either based on a different reading of the Hebrew or taking a broader sense of the word.) Israel’s time of affliction in Egypt was regarded as a furnace (Deuteronomy 4:20; 1 Kings 8:51; Jeremiah 11:4), and so was the exile in Babylon. Our own afflictions can also be regarded as the furnace that helps burn off the dross (or waste product) of our sinful natures so that we can be pure and thus stand in the presence of our Holy God. If the metal ores could feel, I am sure they would not find the refinement pleasurable, just as we seldom enjoy the afflictions we experience. But, rather than destroying, the Lord in mercy refines us, and He also provides the grace we need to endure what He allows us to experience (2 Corinthians 12:9) until we experience full and final deliverance (Psalm 66:6-12).

Q&A

So far there is just a general question about Isaiah from a previous reader.

You are welcome to ask a question specifically about Isaiah 46-48.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace for Sunday and festival services does not tap Isaiah 46-48 for any Old Testament readings.

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Isaiah 46-48.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 23, 2007

Ps 22 / Is 43-45

Even when it seems the Lord is not answering our prayers, as in Psalm 22, we know that He is the only God, as in Isaiah 43-45.

Psalm 22

Psalm 22 is the most-frequently-quoted Psalm in the New Testament, which says David’s anguished prayer as a godly sufferer victimized by enemies he has not provoked is fulfilled in the passion of our righteous Lord Jesus Christ for all of our sins (see, for examples, Matthew 27:35, 39, 43; John 19:23-24, 28).

Overview

By one analysis, the psalm is broken down into three roughly symmetrical parts: verses 1-11, “the disconsolate cry of anguish”; verses 12-21, a description of the psalmist’s outward and inward life (including the main petition of the prayer in vv.19-21); and verses 22-31, “thanksgiving and hope”.

Comments

Jesus spoke half of Psalm 22:1 while hanging on the cross, and we struggle to understand how Jesus could be forsaken by the Father with Whom He shared the same substance. (See more on that topic here.) Do you ever feel as if God has forsaken you and does not hear your cries for help? In that way perhaps all of us can relate to the opening verses of Psalm 22, even if the rest of the psalm does not apply to us as much as to King David and to our Lord.

The recollection of the Lord’s faithfulness and deliverance for Israel (expressed in verses 3-5) is said in hope and with confidence that He will be faithful and deliver again; note how in verses 9-10 the Lord’s work is brought down to a very personal level. Verses 6-10 and 12-18 describe the mocking and affliction the psalmist suffers (on v.18 see especially Matthew 27:35). Verses 19-21 calls for the Lord to be faithful and deliver, and verses 22-31 include a vow to praise and a description of the praise the psalmist will lead in the growing worshiping community; the description is said to be the grandest of all the Psalms. Even in our Lord Jesus Christ’s deepest and darkest anguish on the cross He did not fully despair of God the Father’s mercy and deliverance, and neither should we in our moments of deep and dark anguish. Note the change from verse 21 to 22, where the petitions of the psalm give way to the vows to praise the Father, vows made in confident assurance that the petitions would be granted. How often are our prayers for deliverance from our troubles made with such sure and certain faith?

The “people yet unborn” (v.31 NIV) also reminds us to take special note of verses 9-10 and that, while it might be taken as suggesting the psalmist knew God from birth, there are other passages in the Bible (such as Jeremiah 1:5 and Luke 1:41, 44) that make it clear infants in the womb are complete people and can have faith. In view of the reference to the Messiah’s mother in verses 9-10 we can note that the Old Testament reportedly never refers to a human father or begetter of the Messiah, thereby indirectly—but nevertheless clearly—teaching the virgin birth. We do well to think of how the psalmist from birth would have been cast upon the Lord sacramentally by way of circumcision, as we are by way of Holy Baptism today. Furthermore, we similarly can see in verse 26 a reference to the Holy Supper that we share with the Church and that satisfies our every need.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Given its connection to our Lord’s passion, Psalm 22 is not surprisingly among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for services during Holy Week.
  • Palmarum (Palm Sunday)
  • Good Friday

Hymn References

Only one hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from Psalm 22 (I expected more).

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Isaiah 43-45

The great comfort of our Lord, to literal exiles in Babylon and to figurative exiles in sin, continues in our reading today.

Overview

Continuing the Book of Comfort, the second major part of Isaiah, chapters 43-45 also continue its first major section, the Deliverance of Israel, by way of the next two subsections. First, Isaiah 43:1-44:5 deals with the regathering and renewal of Israel, and, second, Isaiah 44:6-45:25 is about His being the one and only God in comparison to idols.

Comments

God had judged His unfaithful people but, as Isaiah prophesies, would restore them. Israel witnesses the Lord’s new Exodus and new creation. Israel/Jacob is again God’s servant. In a sense, Cyrus, the leader of Persia, is the Lord’s anointed servant, too, for the Lord works through Cyrus to bring devastation to Babylon, send the exiles back to Judah, and order the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. God does truly have a plan of salvation and works through history to accomplish it, but not everything is revealed to us (see especially Isaiah 45:15 for a key passage on the notion of a hidden God—the Latin term is Deus absconditus).

A picture of the Baptismal Font at Grace Lutheran Church, Elgin, TexasThere are several things worthy of mention in the first subsection. Note the references to Holy Baptism in 43:1-2 and how there we are not set “ablaze” (NIV). (The picture is of the Baptismal Font at our Grace Lutheran Church; click the image to see a larger version; this image is ours, taken by Pastor Sullivan’s fine secretary, Betty Gaskamp.) In Holy Baptism we “pass through waters” (Isaiah 43:2), although in a positive sense, and at the font God calls us by name and makes us His own (Isaiah 43:1, confer John 10:3). Also note the court scene described in 43:9-13. Despite all the saving wonders of the past, the Lord does something new with the exile and return (43:14-28), as also with Jesus’ death and resurrection (43:25 and 44:22 have special significance). The giving of the Holy Spirit is foretold in 44:1-5. We also can see application to Baptism with the living water imagery in Isiaah 43:19-21 and 44:3-4, forgiveness in 43:25, and the “branding” with the Lord’s sign of the cross in 44:5. Unless we turn away from God, we who are made holy by God certainly persevere (see the hymn reference below), for no one can remove us from God’s hand (Isaiah 43:13, quoting Deuteronomy 32:39).

In the second subsection, Isaiah 44:9-20 somewhat interrupts the flow of thought between the preceding and following verses, although the section can be said to fit in that the other “gods” are nothing and that only the Lord is the Rock (see Isaiah 44:8-9). We are the creatures and cannot argue with the Creator (45:9-12). How can we not have as our God the great and wonderful God Isaiah describes? We answer the Savior’s call to turn to Him and be saved (43:3, 45:22).

Q&A

So far there is just a general question about Isaiah from a previous reader.

You are welcome to ask a question specifically about Isaiah 43-45.

Sunday Lectionary Use

From Isaiah 43-45, the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints three Old Testament readings to be read in the church on Sundays and festivals.
  • 43:1-3 -- The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
  • 44:21-23 -- The Nineteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • 45:20-25 -- Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent)

Hymn References

Only one hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to verses from Isaiah 43-45.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you, and may you let Him make today holy for you by the right use of His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 22, 2007

Ps 21 / Is 40-42

God is praised for giving the king victory in Psalm 21, and God Himself comforts His people in Isaiah 40-42.

Psalm 21

Psalm 21, praise to God for granting the king victories, is in many ways paired with yesterday’s Psalm 20, prayer for the king before he went out to battle.

Overview

The people in this case praise the Lord for His blessings on the king (vv.1-6). In the center of the psalm, another participant in the liturgy, possibly a priest or Levite, announces the reason the king is secure (v.7). Then, the people seem to address the king and speak of future victories (vv.8-12), and the psalm concludes with a verse again addressing the Lord and declaring their commitment to sing to and praise Him (v.13).

Comments

Have you ever rejoiced in the Lord and praised Him when He doesn’t answer your prayers the way you want Him to answer them? Praising Him when He does not give us the desire of our hearts and the requests of our lips is certainly more difficult from a human perspective than when He gives us what we want. In Psalm 21:2, of course, what the king wanted and what the Lord wanted were the same thing. When what we want is not what God wants is when we run into problems. We do not really ever know what physical or material blessings God wants for us to have, but we do always know what spiritual blessings He wants to give us. So, we can more easily pray according to His will for spiritual blessings, blessings such as the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

In verse 4, the psalmist speaks of the king not just having “length of days” but also of the king living “for ever and ever”. We might be inclined to think of that as a figure of speech in David’s case or apply it only to Jesus, but there are other clues in the psalm that the psalmist is taking a view larger than this life: verse 6’s “eternal blessings” (NIV; “blessed forever” KJV, ASV, NASB), verse 6’s “joy of (or in) Your presence” (KJV “countenance”), and verse 9’s “time of your appearing” (NIV; “time of Thine anger” KJV, ASV, NASB). “O king, live forever” is an expression found frequently in the Old Testament, as is “God save the king” (which lives on in our time as “God save the queen”). The mix of temporal and eternal times should not surprise us. We already have all the blessings of God, even though we do not yet fully experience them.

Note especially how faith in the Lord (v.7) brings eternal blessings (v.6), and remember that the situation is the same for us.

Verse 12 raises a bit of a question. The verse seems to mean that the king (or the Lord?) will intimidate his attacking enemies by standing firm and taking aim at them with the result that they will turn around and flee (not that he shoots or stabs them in the back as some cowardly or dastardly act). One commentator, however, says, “The arrows hit the front of the enemy, as the pursuer overtakes them.” I’m not expert in warfare, but that interpretation doesn’t seem right. As for the psalm as a whole, most assuredly in its original writing it applied to an earthly king such as David, but such an application did not then—nor does it now—rule out an application to the Messiah. The Jews understood the psalm to be Messianic, and so do we. One commentator says, “David’s cause … in its course towards a triumphant issue – a course leading through suffering – is certainly figuratively the cause of Christ”. To the extent that our way to glory is also the way of the cross, the psalm speaks of us, too.

Q&A

No one has asked any questions about Psalm 21 yet, but if you have one please ask it.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Psalm 21 is among those appointed by The Lutheran Liturgy for five different services of the Church Year.
  • The Fourth Sunday in Advent
  • Misericordias Domini (the Second Sunday after Easter)
  • Ascension
  • The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Dedication of a Church

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 21.

Isaiah 40-42

I especially enjoy the reading when it takes us through more-familiar passages so we get to hear them in their original Biblical context.

Overview

With Isaiah 40-42 we begin reading the second major part of Isaiah, the so-called Book of Comfort addressed to exiles—sharp contrast to the preceding 39 chapters’ prophecy of judgment. Chapters 40-48 deal with God’s delivering His people from their slavery to sin, and today we read sections dealing with the coming of God’s Victor (40:1-26), strength for the exiles (40:27-31), the Almighty Lord in control of all (41:1-42:9), and praise and exhortation (42:10-25). Notice especially how even though the exile has not yet happened Isaiah will speak as if it is almost over.

Comments

An image of a soaring eagle (no photographer given)Isaiah 40 is one of my favorite chapters in the Bible, and it is a favorite for lots of reasons. Isaiah 40:1-12 can all be seen in light of John the Baptizer, though verse 3 is especially noted in the Gospel accounts (Matthew 3:3, Mark 1:3, and John 1:23; though compare Luke 3:4-6). Of course, we want to be sure to note this connection between our reading of Isaiah 40 and our season of Advent and John the Baptizer, who pointed to Jesus as the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world (40:1-9, and see the use of Isaiah 42:1 as conflated with Psalm 2:7 in connection with Jesus’ baptism by John). Also, 40:6 and 8 are quoted by 1 Peter 1:24-25, and what a great reminder is verse 8 for us as we read the Bible daily! The “good tidings” of 40:9 are the Gospel, the “good news” of redemption through faith in Jesus Christ. Isaiah 40:11 should be read as background for such New Testament statements as John 10 and for most images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. The unsurpassable greatness of God is brought out with rhetorical questions in 40:12-14 (and see vv.25-26), some quoted in Romans 11:34 and 1 Corinthians 2:16 (remember that the Lord Himself is the "Wonderful Counselor" in Isaiah 9:6). More rhetorical questions come in 40:21 and following, and I have sung songs based on this text that will forever bring these verses to life. Anyone who thinks they are neglected by God can take comfort from 40:27-31, a beautiful figure of speech that pictures the majestic eagles soaring to heights in the mountains. (We’ve reproduced the image with this post the size it was from where we got it). Those beautiful and comforting verses (40:27-31) come amid complaints from God’s people that He is ignoring their needs. (Note well in v.31 that the KJV's “wait upon” means the same as the NIV's “hope in”.) The renewing of strength in 40:31 forms a link with the Lord’s speech that follows. (There’s a brief folo related to the eagle imagery here.)

When we do something wrong, we expect to be punished, or at least we should expect to be punished. When it comes to Isaiah 40:2, there’s apparently some debate as to of what God’s people receive a “double” portion. Is it of the chastisement they deserve? Or, is it of good things given despite what they deserve? Isaiah 51:19 would seem to suggest double chastisement, although comfort is not as ruled out as that verse suggests (see 51:3). Jeremiah 16:18 seems to be quite similar to Isaiah 40:2, and chastisement also seems to be in view there (see also Jeremiah 17:18). Isaiah 61:7 seems to suggest that Israel received double chastisement but also received double blessings, as was due the firstborn. Double restoration is promised in Zechariah 9:12, which literally may mean twice as much or figuratively may mean full or complete restoration. I might suggest that the context of 40:2 still makes it seem that double chastisement is in view there (with the emphasis, perhaps, on the completion of the verb). I thought I had read or heard somewhere that Babylon had “over-punished” Israel, so that the “double” chastisement may have resulted in that fashion (and perhaps thus also the “double” blessing), but I cannot seem to find any claims of that correspondence in connection with Isaiah 40:2. (Perhaps related is Revelation 18:6-7, where the apocalyptic Babylon is given double, although that seems to correspond there to a 1:1 ratio of her own glory and luxury.) One commentator seems to think such an “over-punishment” would be unlikely, writing of Isaiah 40:2 as follows.

It is not to be taken, however, in a judicial sense; in which case God would appear over-rigid, and therefore unjust. Jerusalem had not suffered more than its sins had deserved; but the compassion of God regarded what His justice had been obliged to inflict upon Jerusalem as superabundant. This compassion also expresses itself in the words “for all” ...: there is nothing left for further punishment. The turning-point from wrath to love has arrived. The wrath has gone forth in double measure. With what intensity, therefore, will the love break forth, which has been so long restrained!

I italicized the clause that really made me stop and ponder God’s love, although we have to be careful not to make God out to be schizophrenic. The bottom line for us, of course, is that, on account of our sin, we justly deserve death and eternal damnation (“temporal and eternal punishment”, as the liturgy has us say), but by God’s grace and mercy we instead receive life and eternal salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, Who died that we need not. We do not deserve that grace and mercy, of course, nor do we deserve life and salvation. I’m not sure whether life and salvation are “double”, but they are full, complete, and “superabundant”.

In the Lord’s speech of chapters 41-42, there are a number of things to note. The one “stirred up” in 41:2 and in 41:25 is the same one: Cyrus of Persia who conquered Babylon and then came into Palestine, like other invaders, from the north. Jesus Christ is the Servant (“right-hand man” or “minister”) mentioned in 41:8, Who resolves the cause of the exile (40:2) and of our problems today, that is, sin. (Note that in 42:19 Israel is sarcastically called the “servant”.) In 41:14 the Lord is, most importantly, the Redeemer. The Lord mocks the idols in 41:22-23 and, keeping to that theme, in 41:26-27 highlights His own fore-telling through the prophets. In Isaiah 42:1 and the following verses we have the first of the so-called “Servant songs” telling of the Messiah; notice how this one is quoted in Matthew 12:18-21 regarding Christ. The “new song” of 42:10 (and Psalm 96:1) is because there are new things to tell (not that in our day “old songs” need to be replaced with “new songs”). Notice how in 42:16 the Lord Himself does the things the voice of 40:4 called to be done—likewise for us the Lord calls us to repentance and then produces faith when and where He pleases in those who hear the Gospel. These themes of sin and redemption are treated throughout the Book of Comfort, climaxing in Isaiah 53, but chapter 40 is said to be an “overture” of a sort.

Q&A

So far there is just a general question about Isaiah from a previous reader.

You are welcome to ask a question specifically about Isaiah 40-42.

Sunday Lectionary Use

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, three Old Testament readings come from Isaiah 40-42.
  • 40:1-8 -- The Fourth Sunday of Advent
  • 40:9-11 -- The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity (confer above regarding Psalm 21 that we read today)
  • 42:1-9 -- The Sunday after New Year (perhaps more properly the Second Sunday after Christmas)

Hymn References

Isaiah 40 apparently inspired a number of hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal, including two for Advent.
  • 40:1-8 -- #61 (Written originally in German for the festival of St. John the Baptist and first published in 1671.)
  • 40:3 -- #63 (Written originally in Latin and first published in 1736.)
  • 40:6 -- #601 (A “death and burial” hymn that also beautifully recalls Isaiah 6 and Revealtion.)
  • 40:11 -- #628 (Said to be a “rather free translation … of one of our oldest Christian hymns, attributed to Clement of Alexandria”, who lived about 150-215 and composed his hymn in Greek.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by the right use of His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 21, 2007

Ps 20 / Is 37-39

In a providential pairing of readings, today we hear a psalm primarily directed toward one of Israel’s kings, and we hear of an historical narrative regarding the leadership of one of those kings.

Psalm 20

We hear a great deal about faith in the Lord as we pray Psalm 20 today.

Overview

Psalm 20 is thought to be a psalm or liturgy of prayer for the king as he leaves for a battle. Verses 1-5 are addressed to the king, perhaps by the army or the assembled people of Israel. (Note the location from where the help comes!) Verse 6 changes voice, perhaps spoken by a Levite, and assures the king the prayer will be heard. Verses 7-8 return to the first voice, again possibly the army. Verse 9 is the concluding petition to the prayer; really, it is the only verse actually addressed to the Lord. We, too, can have full confidence in prayer as we pray according to God's will.

Comments

When we hear someone’s name, we might think of what they look like and what we know about them, things such as their character, reputation, and family line. While such thoughts associated with a name are not far from the Old Testament idea of a “name”, they also are not quite all the way there, either. In Psalm 20:1, for example, the psalmist says, “May the Name of the God of Jacob protect you” (NIV). The Name of the Lord generally is inextricably bound up with God’s being and how He reveals Himself, as well as things such as His power and grace. Thus, in Psalm 20:1 the “Name” essentially stands in for God Himself. Being protected by the Name is to be protected by God. When He calls His Name over something or someone it signifies “ownership” and protection. We who have been baptized have had God’s Name called over us not only signifying but also effecting God’s adoption of us as children and His promise to protect us. The faith in God that He creates in Baptism (see Psalm 20:7) also leads us to confess His Name—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—which is Who He is and how He has revealed Himself to us. This Triune God has created, has redeemed, and is sanctifying us, for which we praise Him (an alternate translation of v.7 has “praise” for “trust”).

No fat. Low fat. What about a lot of fat? Maybe if it is good fat? Is there such a thing as good fat? For us in our anti-fat culture, fat’s generally being a good thing in the Bible probably comes as a shock. Fat animals were considered the healthiest of the animals (we should think not of obese animals but of “fatter” animals in comparison to those that were emaciated). And, the fat parts of the animals were regarded as the best parts of animals that were sacrificed. So, today where Psalm 20:3 literally refers to God “making fat” all the king’s burnt offerings, translations rightly refer to God “accepting” the offerings, or finding them “acceptable”. The idea is that God would find them to be fat, or a sweet-smelling savor. We might imagine the choir, or whoever was chanting these opening words of the psalm, doing so precisely as the king made such a sacrifice on the altar before going off to battle. Verse 3 may well be the highpoint of the psalm, with the Selah indicating the musical crescendo. You and I can reflect on how our own sacrifices and offerings, our goodness and works, such as praise and thanksgiving, are nothing except that that are “made” something inasmuch as God regards them favorably by virtue of their being produced by faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus is the sacrifice and offering that God remembers and accepts, and we are remembered and accepted on account of our faith in Him. For the same reason God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and offering and not Cain’s (Genesis 4:3-5), not because the animal sacrifice by itself was more pleasing to God than the fruits of the land but because of the faith that motivated Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s.

Q&A

So far there are no readers’ questions on Psalm 21, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Even though Psalm 20 seems primarily addressed to the king, The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 20 among those appointed for a Sunday and festival service.
  • The Twenty-sixth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The day of St. Simon and St. Jude

Hymn References

There are no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 21.

Isaiah 37-39

More historical narrative is part of our reading of Isaiah.

Overview

Today in Isaiah 37-39 we finish the first major part of Isaiah, the so-called Book of Judgment and Promise, by finishing the section we started yesterday. Chapter 37 tells of the Lord’s delivering Jerusalem. Chapter 38 tells of the addition to the length of Hezekiah’s life (something that actually happened before Sennacherib invaded), and chapter 39 predicts the exile in Babylon.

Comments

Hezekiah’s illness as depicted around 1625-1630 by the Swiss copperplate engraver Matthaeus Merian the Elder (1593-1650)King Hezekiah is a central character in today’s reading of Isaiah 37-39, including God’s delivering Judah from the Assyrians during his reign, God’s delivering him from an illness likely before that Assyrian threat, and Hezekiah’s hospitality to Babylonian envoys that likely contributed to their later attacks. (The image with this post is of Hezekiah’s illness as depicted between 1625-1630 by Matthaeus Merian the Elder (1593-1650), a Swiss copperplate engraver; to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it.) Note especially the work of the Lord Himself in convincing Sennacherib to withdraw from Jerusalem (for example, 37:36, and remember the plague upon Egypt in Exodus 12:12). The change of direction of the shadow on the sundial Ahaz constructed may have been an extension of the day or a miraculous refraction (38:7-8). Hezekiah’s “writing” was essentially a hymn or psalm of thanksgiving (38:10-20), and it expresses well the purposes of God permitting suffering in his life (and our lives!). Hezekiah’s joy over his healing seems to have turned to pride, and his showing of the treasures of Jerusalem to the envoys from Babylon would, as it were, come back to haunt the kingdom (39:5-7).

Q&A

So far there is just a general question about Isaiah from a previous reader.

You are welcome to ask a question specifically about Isaiah 37-39.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Perhaps in part due to fact that today’s reading is mostly historical narrative, the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace does not tap Isaiah 37-39 for any Old Testament readings.

Hymn References

Apparently no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal make use of verses from Isaiah 37-39.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 20, 2007

Ps 19 / Is 34-36

Benefits of being in God’s Word, among other things, are clear in today’s readings.

Psalm 19

Like so many psalms, Psalm 19 seems to keep on speaking no matter how many times one might read it!

Overview

Psalm 19 extols the glory of God as revealed in creation (vv.1-6) and in His Word (vv.7-13) and ends with a prayer offering the psalm itself as a praise offering (v.14).

Comments

The heavens or skies certainly do declare the glory and handiwork of God, as we hear today in Psalm 19:1, but the heavens or skies do not tell us what kind of a God He is or how He has saved us from our sin through the God-man Jesus Christ. That contrast helps us understand the difference between “natural knowledge of God” (that He exists) and “revealed knowledge of God” (what He has done for us in Jesus Christ). The beginning of Psalm 19, like Romans 1:19-20, shows how we can gather “natural knowledge” of God from creation itself, in contrast to “revealed knowledge” of God, which only the Bible gives. We discussed these two different types of knowledge of God in the Sunday morning Adult Bible Study as we discussed the Athanasian Creed and the nature of the Trinity in 2007. At that time I mentioned that the upcoming Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod (LCMS) Convention was going to consider a resolution calling for the Commission on Theology and Church Relations (CTCR) to study the natural knowledge of God and its implications for evangelism. Someone in the class rightly asked what there was to study! We already know from Bible passages such as Psalm 19 that someone can know there is a God without hearing God’s Word, but that fact does not mean they know both that God is three Persons sharing one divine substance and that one of those three Persons took human flesh, being born, suffering, dying, and rising again to save us from our sins. Those facts are only revealed to us in God’s Word. Non-Christians may come to believe there is only one god, but that does not mean they believe in the One True God. What people can believe based only on the natural knowledge of God is not enough to save them. Forgiveness of sins and thus salvation only come by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

You might also note in Psalm 19:4 the “line” or “voice” is that of the heavens and skies, which, in this context, only communicate the natural knowledge of God. St. Paul’s Divinely-inspired use of this verse in Romans 10:18, however, applies the verse to the words of the Gospel of forgiveness and salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. That Gospel is a part of the the broad sense of the “law” or torah (v.7). If you and I did not inherit original sin, we might be able to keep the law, understood in its narrower sense of “commandments”. But, as it is, the law primarily shows us our sin (confer v.11). The Bible can say both that the law is good as a means to salvation and that the law is not a means to salvation. (You might see Paul’s exposition in Romans 3, which relates to the value of the law.) Jesus kept the law perfectly, but we sinners do not. His perfect obedience is ours only by faith, by which we also receive the forgiveness of sins on account of His death and resurrection for us.

The second major portion of the psalm warrants a few other notes. St. Paul by Divine inspiration uses verse 4 in Romans 10:18 to describe also the progress of the Gospel message (on that topic, see the linked Q&A below). Psalm 19:7-11 praises God’s Word for the various things the Gospel message accomplishes in people. Verses 12-13 is the psalmist’s and our recognizing our need for God’s law to show us our sin so that we can repent and be saved. Verse 12 is often used against the notion that people are able to list all of their sins, and verse 13 speaks to the sort of mortal sin that can put us outside of the church and make us need to be converted anew.

Finally, you might recognize verse 14, David’s offering of the psalm as a praise offering, as the prayer some pastors sometimes lead their congregations in before they preach.

Q&A

The following verse and topic is addressed in answer to a reader’s previous question.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 19 among those appointed for a number of Sunday and festival services.
  • The Fourth Sunday of Advent
  • Christmas
  • The Epiphany of our Lord
  • Oculi (the Third Sunday in Lent)
  • The day of St. Philip and St. James
  • The day of St. James the Elder
  • The day of St. Andrew

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal includes a number of hymns, all in the “law and Gospel” section, that refer or allude to verses from Psalm 19.

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Isaiah 34-36

Today in Isaiah we have some poetic prophecy, including what is probably a well-known passage referring to Jesus, and we also have some prose historical narrative.

Overview

Isaiah 34-36 completes one section and begins yet another: the first presents additional prophecies of judgment (chapter 34) and promise (35), and the new section transitions from Jerusalem saved from the threat of Assyria to its exile in Babylon, with chapter 36 addressing Sennacherib’s (the leader of Assyria’s) siege of Jerusalem. The juxtaposition of chapters 34 and 35 are typical of the first major part of Isaiah where judgment and promise are often placed side by side.

Comments

Especially notable in this section is Isaiah 35:5-6, which prophecy Jesus Himself in Matthew 11:5 says He fulfills. The description of the highway that follows in verses 8-10 refers, much as in our day, to a road built to make travel easier, and the highway can bring to mind the narrow “way” or “path” Jesus describes in Matthew 7:13-14. May God enable us to always follow that path and sing in joyous worship as we go (35:10)!

Highway 71 between Houston and Austin by an unknown photographerAround central Texas it doesn’t take much, in most cases, to make a road level and flat. (Now, when a couple of nice flat heavily-traveled roads need to intersect, that’s when we see some building up.) The land of Judah at the time of Isaiah, however, needed places to be filled in and knocked down to make a road or pathway that was enjoyable to travel. We do well to notice in today’s reading of Isaiah 34-36 another of the references to a “highway” in Isaiah. (The Hebrew mesillaw or maslool for “highway” is often used parallel to or as synonymous with dehrek for “road”.) In 11:16 God through Isaiah says the remnant of Israel on its return from Assyrian exile will travel a highway that God will create (Isaiah 49:11; see also Isaiah 62:10?), perhaps a literal one (compare Isaiah 33:8 for the lack of highways in Assyria then), as the Israelites traveled through the sea on the exodus from Egypt (also Isaiah 51:10). Similarly, the end-times highway that connects Egypt and Assyria in Isaiah 19:23 may be literal or perhaps figurative. In other places the “highway” is more along the lines of the path the righteous should follow, as today in 35:8 (confer Proverbs 16:17), and in still other places the highway is used in connection with the kind of repentance we pray the Holy Spirit to bring about in us and others this Advent (40:3-4; 57:14; confer Jeremiah 31:21; 50:5). Incidentally, the highway and blooming flowers going through the desert described by Isaiah in chapter 35 also sounds like central Texas, as indicated in the picture with this post that was apparently taken along Highway 71 between Houston and Austin (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it).

Finally, note how chapter 36 sets up tomorrow’s reading of chapters 37-39.

Q&A

There are two previous readers' questions that pertain to today's reading from Isaiah.

You are welcome to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints one Old Testament reading from Isaiah 34-36.
  • 35:3-7 -- Quinquagesima Sunday (the Sunday in the fifth period of ten days before Easter)

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to verses from our reading today and thus may help you meditate on the reading.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 19, 2007

Ps 18 / Is 31-33 / Folo

Dramatic descriptions of the appearance of the Lord are common to both of our readings today, and that commonality is appropriate for our continuing Advent emphasis of watching for the Lord’s Coming.

Psalm 18

Psalm 18 appears to be a slightly modified version of David’s song of praise recorded in 2 Samuel 22, which song came after the Lord delivered him from Saul and other enemies.

Overview

The psalm begins with praise of God (vv.1-3), tells of the Lord’s deliverance (vv.4-19), lays the grounds for the Lord’s help (vv.20-29), and recounts the Lord’s help (vv.30-45).

Comments

Let’s start by taking a closer look at the opening praise of God. In verse 1, two different Hebrew words for “rock” are used, so David isn’t just repeating himself (if you are reading, for example, the NIV or NASB). The Hebrew word translated “fortress” in verse 2 is not the same Hebrew word as the one used in Psalm 46 that inspired Martin Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”, though that Hebrew word is also used in Psalm 18:2, translated “high tower” (KJV and ASV, “stronghold” NIV and NASB). David took shelter in the Lord, that is, he relied on the Lord to protect him as a rock, high tower, or fortress would be a refuge in battle. Apparently deriving from strong horned animals, the “horn” in 18:2 is a symbol of and term for strength and power, and the expression is found repeatedly in the Old Testament. Altars are said to have had “horns” in order “to focus the symbolic presence and power of God”, and the altar’s horns are where the atonement was made. In Psalm 18:2, God is called the “horn of salvation” since He is the only source of true salvation (that is, the atonement, the forgiveness of sins). In verse 3, the Lord’s salvation and deliverance move David to praise God, as they should likewise move us.

As David describes the Lord delivering him from his enemies (vv.4-19), the psalmist describes the Lord coming much the way we elsewhere find Him described as coming in the Day of Judgment and other deliverances, such as at the Red Sea: the Warrior Lord’s deliverance of David is in vivid and dramatic militaristic terms. Such an appearance is fearful to David’s and the Lord’s enemies, but the appearance is a blessing to David and others who are on the Lord’s side. We are not necessarily to think that the Lord actually appeared in such a way when He delivered David, although we are more likely to think the Lord will actually appear in such a way when He comes finally to deliver us and all believers at the end of the age. Especially notice the cherub(im) in verse 10 associated with the royal presence of God on the ark and in the Tabernacle and Temple (and in the window above the altar in our church); also contrast the descriptions of the fetters of affliction (vv.4-6) with the freedom of deliverance (for example, v.19). Reading verse 16, we might think of our rescue from sin, death, and the power of the devil in Holy Baptism. One final note on this section, if in the KJV of verse 18 the obsolete meaning of the word “prevented” doesn’t make sense to you, see the more contemporary translations: “came upon” (ASV) or “confronted” (NIV, NASB, ESV, NKJV).

In the grounds for the Lord’s help (vv.20-29), David’s claim of righteousness (vv.20-24) again is not his claiming to be perfect but rather a confession of devotion to and trust in the Lord, which result in forgiveness and Holy-Spirit-produced fruits of faith. The emphasis on faith is clearer in verse 25, and note the humble, repentant attitude in verse 27 (and the recurrence there of the Biblical theme of the great reversal). Regarding verses 24-27, the Lord is not two-faced or schizophrenic the way you or I might say one thing to someone’s face and another behind that person’s back or indiscriminately be nice to one person and mean to another. Rather, to the humble person who once called to faith cleanses his or her self by grace through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the Lord is faithful and saving, but, to the unfaithful person who arrogantly rejects God’s gracious offer of salvation, the Lord is shrewd and destructive. Again, God’s desire to save all is not insincere, and His actions toward different people are not indiscriminate, as if there was no reason for treating different people differently. The one true God is the same unchanging God from Old Testament to New, acting in accord with His righteousness, mercy, love, and grace.

Finally, in the recounting of the Lord’s help (vv.30-45), note the description of the Word of the Lord in verse 30: “tried” (KJV, ASV, NASB) or “refined” (KJV margin) or “flawless” (NIV), where the sense is “purified” or “purged” as by a refiner or goldsmith (as in Psalm 12:6). God’s Word is likewise perfect for us, calling us to repentant faith in order to save us and by that salvation deliver us to the refuge and fortress that is the Lord our God. Did you notice verse 41? As David is making progress against his and the Lord’s enemies, the enemies call out to their false gods, who of course are unable to help them. The enemies also call out to the Lord, but He does not answer (see Job 27:9, Proverbs 1:28, and Jeremiah 11:11). The psalmist doesn’t say why the Lord doesn’t answer, but we might gather any or all of the following: that they were not praying from faith, that they were praying for their cause against David and the Lord, and that their prayers to Him were too late (perhaps like the knocking on the closed door in Matthew 25:10-12). Many today lose sight of the need for faith in prayer, for the prayer to be in accord with God’s will, and for the prayer to be offered during the time of salvation. Simplistic happy-clappy praise songs based on Psalm 18, like this one, show little recognition of our sinful state and unworthiness to come before the Lord. (Compare the psalmist’s admission of the need for faith and humility in verses 25 and 27.)

Q&A

There are no previous readers’ questions regarding Psalm 18; feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Our The Lutheran Liturgy, which we use for church services at Grace, includes Psalm 18 among those appointed for one Sunday service.
  • The Second Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

Psalm 18 is said to be referred to by two hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal, and those hymns may help you meditate on the reading.
  • Psalm 18 -- #429 (a favorite of mine and planned for my funeral, especially its last stanza)
  • 18:18 -- #247

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Isaiah 31-33

More prophecy of judgment mixed closely with promises of deliverance in our reading of Isaiah today.

Overview

Today in Isaiah 31-33 we complete the “Six Woes”, reading of the woe to those who depend on Egypt for help (31-32) and the woe to Assyria (33). These chapters, however, also include some description of the Messianic Kingdom and the blessings it will bring.

Comments

Chapter 31 especially condemns those who rely for help not on the Lord but on Egypt. I think much of it is clear on its own, but I wanted to direct your attention to a few things. Don’t confuse 31:3’s use of “flesh” and “spirit” with how St. Paul uses those terms in such places as Galatians 5. In 31:4-5 the metaphor seems reversed (that God is the lion and the shepherds are against God, instead of the devil being the lion and the shepherds God’s agents against the devil). Though the lion might be taken to be Assyria, ultimately God is the leader of the Assyrian army as it attacks Israel, and the parallel structure in the verse sets the Lord as the equivalent of the lion. Certainly the shepherds are the unfaithful leaders who wrongly battle against the Lord and those He has enlisted in His fight. In 31:8 note that, though the Lord will ultimately indirectly use the Medes to cut down the Assyrians, He also will do some of the destroying more directly Himself, sending an angel to kill 185,000 soldiers (Isaiah 37:36).

An unidentified artist’s rendering of Isaiah warning the complacent women (Isaiah 32:9-20)Chapter 32 begins with wonderful words of comfort (32:1-8), then condemns the women of Jerusalem for their false sense of security (confer Isaiah 3, especially vv.16-26), but see below how the Church has used the chapter’s ending verses. The “complacency” or “false sense of security” in verses 9 and 11 are contrasted to the “security” and “undisturbed” rest of verse 18. Obviously the “forever” situation of verse 14 only lasts until the period of verse 15. The justice and righteousness the Messiah brings in the last and perfect time (vv.16-17) bring about the period characterized in verse 18, although first the events of verses 19-20 must happen. (The image with this post, whose artist is not identified, depicts Isaiah’s warning those women; to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it.)

Finally, chapter 33 delivers the final woe (v.1), prays for the Lord’s deliverance (vv.2-9), and gives the Lord’s prophetic promise of providing it (vv.10-24), again possibly in various liturgical forms. In 33:6 note how the fear of the Lord (we might say “faith in the Lord”) is treasure, which a marginal NIV reading even suggests could be read as treasure “from Him”. In 33:11-12 note that the people produce that which results in their destruction: being set Ablaze! (NIV; “burned” KJV, ASV, NASB). Fire in the Old Testament can symbolize cleansing or judgment (in the case of cleansing, passing through the fire for blessing, and, in the case of judgment, being eternally destroyed in the flames by God’s wrath), but when the expression and context are such as here (note also v.14), being “ablaze” is not a good thing. Finally, be sure to note the wonderful words of verse 24 that tell how that deliverance finally comes. Mark well the great emphasis placed upon the forgiveness of sins—this same forgiveness of sins is freely offered to you and to me by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Q&A

There is just one previous reader’s question that refers to Isaiah in general.

You are welcome to ask a question that more specifically pertains to Isaiah 31-33.

Sunday Lectionary Use

In the historic 1-year lectionary we use at Grace, two Old Testament readings are drawn from Isaiah 31-33.
  • Isaiah 32:14-20 -- Whitmonday, the Monday after Whitsunday or Pentecost (“Whitsunday” is the English name for Pentecost, and the name may derive from something like the use of white robes for Baptisms that were frequently done on the holy day.)
  • Isaiah 32:1-8 -- The Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

Two hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer to verses from Isaiah 31-33.
  • 32:2 -- #345 (I had no idea this verse was the basis for this hymn.)
  • 33:20, 21 -- #469 (The changes in tune for this hymn are an interesting story, but the more recent hymnals have reversed a "politically correct" decision made in the 1941 hymnal.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Biblog folo

The Biblog folo today comes in response to a comment I made in this recent post about planning my funeral. A reader emailed the following:

You have mentioned this before. May I ask if this planning was something you did for a seminary class or if you independently thought it a good idea? It's not that younger people don't die (in a sense you are older than my father, who was 36), but they seldom think they will or plan for it. Even I, though recognizing the need, have not planned a funeral. (It's on my "To do" list.) I don't see myself planning it to the last detail because I think in the end other people will decide. To suggest some hymns and a psalm is all I've thought of doing. Am I wrong?

I don’t think the idea came from a seminary class or my own idea as much as from the experience of attending pastor’s funerals and, I recall, reading something that talked about how pastors do their congregations a favor by planning their funerals, since pastors are usually involved in planning church funerals and in such cases the pastor isn’t exactly available. Pastors’ funerals also often have unique aspects that lay funerals do not have (vestments, orientation of the casket, other pastors’ involvement, etc.), and having as much as possible planned in advance can spare the congregation at an otherwise trying time. I imagine that some of the details I have planned may or may not be carried out in the end, but, in this case, I think that planning details that can be omitted is better than leaving people to guess how I might have filled in the blanks. In the October 2007 issue of our parish newsletter, Grace to You, Pastor Sullivan encouraged everyone to plan their funerals and provided a form to complete for that purpose. At that time, additional copies of the form were available in the church Narthex.

There’s a new Q&A related to our recent reading of Psalm 16 here. God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 18, 2007

Ps 17 / Is 28-30

As the psalmist pleads his righteousness before his enemies, we hear Isaiah call the people then and us today to repentance.

Psalm 17

Like Psalm 16 yesterday, Psalm 17 today ends with the sure and certain hope of a blessed and satisfying vision of God. The two psalms have other things in common, although they have a remarkably different tone.

Overview

Again under attack from his ungodly enemies, David in Psalm 17 prayerfully appeals to the judgment of the Lord.

Comments

As in similar psalms we have previously read, David does not claim to be perfect or free from sin, but rather he claims the rightness of his case versus his enemies. Note in verses 4-5 the role of God’s Word. Verse 6 is the center of David’s prayer in this case and the center of all our praying, done at the invitation of our God with His promise of an answer. The right hand of v.7 is in this case the hand of God’s power and authority. In verse 8, the apple of the eye refers to the eye’s pupil, essential for vision and worth protecting at all costs. The shadow serves as a figure of speech for protection, as the shade protects someone from the hot sun, and wings are also a figure of speech for protection, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings (see, for example, Matthew 23:37). The lion in verse 12 brings to my mind 1 Peter 5:8. The call to “rise up” in verse 13 is paired with the call to “confront” the enemies and “rescue” the psalmist. We pray verse 15 clothed by faith in the robes of Christ’s righteousness and confident that when we awake from death we will be in God’s eternal presence. (Note the sharp contrast to verse 14 where the people of this world have their reward in this life.)

How do you know something is true? When you see it? We pay taxes, but how many of us have ever seen the IRS with our own eyes? You say you’ve seen the agency on TV? Well, did you never see the movie “Capricorn 1”? (In other words, don’t believe everything you see on TV, the former TV news producer said.) Accepting God for Who He is would certainly be easier if we saw Him, the way the way we will see Him after our deaths, which Psalm 17 anticipates in its final verse, verse 15. Moses saw the likeness of the Lord (Numbers 12:8, most likely a reference to what is described in Exodus 33:20-23). If we could see God like that we might be more willing to do the difficult things He puts before us (like the Jesus character sings in this song from “Jesus Christ Superstar”). In this life , however, we live by faith and not by sight (2 Corinthians 5:7). Still, we will see God with our own eyes (Job 19:27), at least after our bodies are resurrected and we have eyes again! Jesus says the pure in heart will see God (Matthew 5:8), but that includes us whose hearts by nature are impure but who are nevertheless made holy by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Hebrews 12:14; see also 1 John 3:2). The psalmist is not just making a pious wish but is expressing a sure and certain hope. (Although some commentators do not think believers like David knew of the resurrection of the body, I’d say this psalm verse alone gives pretty good evidence they did, at least in some sense.)

Sometimes when I read psalms in which the psalmist claims the rightness of his case versus his enemies, such as Psalm 17 today, I reflect on my own sin. We should so reflect on our own sin, for often times we are justly opposed by others because our cases are not right. We must not instantly become defensive when someone opposes us, but we must consider whether or not the person or people who oppose us have a valid claim. As we reflect, we must not only seek out the opinions of those whom we know will agree with our view, but we must seek out the opinions of those who may be more objective, and maybe even seek out the opinions of those who may take the other view. The Lord works through means, and people who are well grounded in His Word and ways and properly understand the nature of the Christian life under the cross are invaluable as for spiritual direction as we reflect on our own actions, past, present, and future. We may, like the psalmist, come to conclude that our particular case is right, although even then we may have to settle for the Lord’s vindication that comes on the last day. If, unlike the psalmist in Psalm 17, we conclude that our case is wrong, then we should humbly seek God’s forgiveness by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and we should also humbly seek the forgiveness of those we have offended.

Q&A

So far there are no readers’ questions on Psalm 17; feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy includes Psalm 17 among those appointed for a number of Sundays of the Church Year.
  • Sexagesima Sunday (the Sunday that comes in the sixth period of ten days before Easter)
  • The Third Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Sixth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Twenty-third Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 17.

Isaiah 28-30

If you look or listen hard, you will find some words of Gospel in Isaiah 28-30 today, what otherwise appears to be a great deal of law.

Overview

Our reading in Isaiah enters into a new section in which six woes are given, five on Israel and one on Assyria; today as we read Isaiah 28-30, we read those woes on Ephraim (Samaria) and Judah (chapter 28), on Jerusalem (Ariel) and those who depend on alliances with other nations (chapter 29), and on the stubborn nation itself (chapter 30).

Comments

Photo of a capstone in the Edi Upper Cemetery in the North East part of Victoria in Australia (photo by Kelvin Freemantle)We begin with comments on chapter 28. In 28:1, Ephraim, as the capital of Samaria, is called its wreath. The King of Assyria will be the Lord’s mighty and strong one who brings destruction to Ephraim. Contrast the Lord as crown and wreath in 28:5 to the indulgent city of Ephraim as the wreath. In 28:9-13 Isaiah is mocked for speaking God’s Word, but God says that soon they will hear words they do not understand and that His Word will remain hidden to them. (In 28:19-20, even those who understand are terrified for knowing Israel is not prepared.) In 28:16 the Lord speaks through Isaiah of Himself as a cornerstone, which is sometimes also called a “capstone” (Psalm 118:22), over which He has already said people will stumble (Isaiah 8:14). Notice how some stumble over the stone but the faithful use it as that by which they are aligned. (You might also see 17:10.) Israel’s king may have changed from those earlier prophecies, but the problem and Isaiah’s counsel are the same. Somewhat similarly, New Testament writers, in such places as 1 Corinthians 3:11 and 1 Peter 2:4-7, seem to have Isaiah’s passages in view. For more on the cornerstones and capstones, see the Q&A linked below. (The image with this post is of an apparently neglected capstone, from a grave marker or tomb, that is displaced in such a way that people might stumble over it; to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it.) The parable of 28:23-28 seems to have the point that God’s action is appropriate in the big picture of things. With 28:19 compare the “Wonderful Counselor” of 9:6 and remember the counselor is not a psychiatrist type but one who advises leaders on paths to victory. In 28:21 note the expression “strange work” (KJV, ASV, NIV; “extraordinary work” NASB) regarding God’s work of judgment through history; it becomes Dr. Luther’s favorite phrase to refer to God’s work through His law.

Chapter 29 is next. In 29:1, 2, 7, “Ariel” refers to the city of “Jerusalem”, although there’s debate about how the word does so. For Jerusalem in 29:10 and verses following the prophets and seers will be meaningless to the people because of their hard hearts. (In 30:10-11 the people even tell the Lord’s servants to be quiet and go away.) Isaiah 29:13 is quoted by Jesus in Matthew 15:8-9. In 29:14 the wonders of deliverance have turned to wonders of judgment. The “potter-clay” imagery in 29:16 will come up again later (for example, Isaiah 64:8). Understand 30:8 as a possible indication of the recording of at least some of Isaiah’s prophecies. Isaiah 29:16 is quoted by Paul in Romans 9:20. Isaiah 29:18 is taken as Messianic prophecy and described as fulfilled in Matthew 4:16 and John 9:39.

Finally, we come to chapter 30. In 30:7 don’t think of Rahab the ancestress of Jesus but of the name meaning “storm” and “arrogance” as descriptive of Egypt. Note well the call to repentance in 30:15 that speaks to us today, with the threat of destruction looming if we do not answer. (In 30:18 note the Lord’s earnest desire for all to be saved.) Note the good that comes when Israel answers (30:19 and verses following). The Lord had a plan for Israel to bring good out of its afflictions, and He has a plan to bring good out of ours. Finally, note the liturgical overtones near the end of chapter 30; they most likely are regarding the Feast of Tabernacles, which has an end-time emphasis anyway.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints just one Old Testament reading from Isaiah 28-30.
  • 29:18-19 -- The Twelfth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Isaiah 28-30.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 17, 2007

Ps 16 / Is 25-27

A trusting prayer for deliverance and a great picture of that deliverance are featured in our reading today.

Psalm 16

In Psalm 16 David prays the Lord to keep him safe and expresses trust in Him.

Overview

The petition and basis for it are in verse 1, and the rest of the psalm elaborates on that basis for the petition.

Comments

“Who do you trust?” That’s what the character of Joker, played by Jack Nicholson, asked a crowd of Gothamites in the 1989 movie “Batman”. Well, whom do you trust? Is it God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth? In his Large Catechism, Dr. Luther says, “That to which your heart clings and entrusts itself is … really your God” (LC I:3, Tappert, 365). Dr. Luther emphasizes that point by restating it a number of times, such as, “to have a God properly means to have something in which the heart trusts completely” (LC I:10, Tappert, 366). I don’t know about you, but there are all too frequently times that I do not trust as completely in God as I should. In Psalm 16:1 the psalmist confesses faith and trust in the God as his Lord, especially in contrast to other gods, idols of the land, in whose sacrifices and rituals he will not participate. You see, fearing, loving, and trusting in God above all things shows itself both in how one relates to God (such as in how one worships) and in how one relates to one’s fellow human beings. Thank God that, by means of the Holy Spirit working through His Word, He brings about in us such trust in Him, and thank God that by grace through repentant faith in Jesus Christ we are forgiven for those times we fail to trust in Him.

Verse 2 has direct application to us when we think that having eternal salvation is not enough—nothing else really matters (that’s an intentional allusion to this Metallica song). Verses 5-6 reinforce that point, as David struggles to be content with what God has given him (more on the “cup” below).

In today’s pluralistic society, pastors often get in trouble when they point out the differences between different religions or denominations. I suppose one could argue against that practice on the basis of Psalm 16. In verse 4 the psalmist says he will not even mention the names of other people’s false gods (in keeping with Exodus 23:13). That statement, however, does not prohibit teaching against the false gods but appealing to them or worshipping them, as is more clear in Joshua 23:7. That the avoidance of mentioning the name is avoidance of praying to or worshipping the false gods is also clear in that in Psalm 16:4 avoidance of mentioning the name is set opposite pouring out the libations of blood. At least one commentator objects to thinking of these libations as consisting of blood, choosing instead to draw attention to their being offered with blood-stained hands and blood-guilty consciences. At first I wanted to say that such libations would not be offered with blood-stained hands and blood-guilty consciences if the psalmist poured them out, but then I thought that, if the psalmist were to pour out such libations to other gods, then even the psalmist’s hands would be blood-stained and his conscience blood-guilty. For, only with faith in the sacrifice of Jesus’s blood shed on the cross are our hands and consciences cleansed of sin. So cleansed, we are the holy ones of Psalm 16:3, excellent to the one true God and recipients of all His affection. (Whether or not that particular commentator is correct is the topic of a Q&A linked below.)

Regarding verse 5, a “cup” is what a guest has been offered, and we might think of New Testament passages such as Matthew 10:22-23 and perhaps, to some extent, also of the cup of the Sacrament of the Altar. More of the Old Testament references to “cups” are figurative, and more of those are negative, referring to God’s judgment upon sinners. This reference to “cup” in Psalm 16, however, is one of the fewer positive references to a “cup”. In the New Testament, too, a goodly number of the references to “cups” are figurative: the cup of wrath (for example, Revelation 14:9-10) and the cup of suffering (for example, Mark 10:38-39, Matthew 26:39). The cup of the Lord’s Supper is perhaps one place where the figurative cup of salvation (Psalm 116:13) becomes a literal cup. The cup of the Lord’s Supper brings blessing, but also in a sense it is the cup of suffering, for in communion with Christ we die to ourselves and to sin and also receive other forms of death in this world. We might say that everyone has his or her own cup and may find, in comparison to someone else, something different in it. Because of the forgiveness that is ours through faith in Jesus Christ, our cups overflow with blessings (Psalm 23:5), even if our portion from the Lord does not always appear to be a blessing. So, we can find our “portion” from the Lord represented as a cup and drink this cup of the Lord (in contrast to the cup of demons, 1 Corinthians 10:21), knowing its contents are ultimately for our good.

In verses 7-8 praise of God follows that affirmation. Do not get the “right hand” references mixed up: the Lord at David’s right hand (v.8) symbolizes the Lord sustaining and protecting David, while David at the Lord’s right hand (v.11) is a place of honor and blessing. Especially in the reference to sitting at the Lord’s right hand we see the psalm fulfilled in Christ, Who “ascended into heaven And sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty”. In verses 9-11, David thus can pray with joy, knowing he is totally secure. Note how verses 8-11, especially verse 10b, is understood by Peter and Paul to prophesy of Christ (Acts 2:25-28 and 13:35, respectively).

Q&A

There is one previous reader's question on Psalm 16.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy includes Psalm 16 among those appointed for use in church services on the following Sundays and festivals.
  • The Second Sunday after Christmas
  • Easter
  • The Fifth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The day of St. Philip and St. James

Hymn References

Two hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 16 and therefore may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 16:6 -- #283, originally a stanza in a Danish version of Luther’s “A Mighty Fortress”
  • 16:9 -- #564

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Isaiah 25-27

In Isaiah 25-27 we have a fairly joyous section describing the Day of the Lord, its blessing and the people’s praise as the remnant of Israel is restored.

Overview

Reading Isaiah 25-27 today, we wrap-up a section of the book dealing with the promise of the Day of the Lord, the consummation of history. Chapter 25 praises God as if His promise of deliverance has already been faithfully fulfilled, chapter 26 is a song of praise for the Day of the Lord, and chapter 27 tells of the restoration of Israel’s remnant, including a somewhat happier vineyard song (in comparison to the song in Isaiah 5:1-7).

Comments

Isaiah 25:6-9 is one of my favorite sections of Holy Scripture and the one I have selected as the Old Testament reading for my funeral. The great, last eternal banquet finds New Testament equivalents in such places as Revelation 19:9 and the parables of Jesus (for example, Matthew 22:2-14, Luke 14:16-24). My appreciation of this passage may have something to do with the food and wine described in verse 6, but it has more to do with the destruction of death (vv.7-8, quoted in part by 1 Corinthians 15:54), the joy of the Lord’s vindication that overwhelms all sorrow (v.8), and the resulting praise of God at His completed salvation (v.9).

In chapter 26, note verse 3, which speaks volumes about the blessing of trusting in the Lord. Related is Isaiah 26:12, which attributes even the things we do to God. Note the extremely clear statement of the bodily resurrection in Isaiah 26:19. Note how the Lord in 26:21 comes out of His dwelling to punish (compare it to earlier where He said He was staying in for a little while).

Photo of a vineyard in Israel (unidentified location and photographer)The second song of the vineyard in Isaiah 27:2-6 has a little happier result than the first. Remember that faith in God for the sake of Jesus saves us by His forgiving our sins. The Day of the Lord is not dreadful for us but joyous, as we will be in our bodies to dwell with God at the eternal feast. (The picture with this post is said to be of an Israeli vineyard; what you see is as large as the image is, but here is from where we got it.)

Q&A

So far there is just the one general reader’s question that pertains to today’s reading.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

From Isaiah 25-27, the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints one Old Testament reading for use in the church on Sundays or festivals.
  • 25:6-9 -- The Second Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

There is one hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal that is said to refer or allude to verses from our reading, which hymn may help you meditate on the reading.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 16, 2007

Ps 15 / Is 22-24

Although we fail to live the life we should, the good news is that Jesus Christ has the authority to admit us to heaven as we are forgiven by grace through faith in Him. See that thread run through both readings today.

Psalm 15

In contrast to the description of the wicked yesterday in Psalm 14 is Psalm 15’s description of the righteous today.

Overview

Some time back, there were allegations of racism against the Motel 6 chain, much like earlier there had been similar allegations against Denny’s, the restaurant chain frequently located nearby. Today’s society expects everyone to be able to stay in a motel, eat at a restaurant, and basically be treated the same, regardless of race, sex, religion, ethnicity, national origin, sexual orientation, or transgendered status. You might notice that list does not explicitly mention moral behavior, and moral behavior is the only standard Psalm 15 gives us for who gets to abide in God’s dwelling on His holy hill. (God is hardly politically correct!) Always and only do these righteous things, and no one will boot you out of God’s dwelling (see how Jesus puts it in places such as Luke 10:25-28). So, do you and I have a place to stay? Not if it depends on us! God’s standard is perfection, and, if we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves (1 John 1:8). But, if we confess our sins and trust God to forgive us for Jesus’ sake, God forgives our sins and cleanses us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9). Then, by virtue of Jesus’ perfect life and innocent suffering and death to cleanse us, we are able to dwell with Him for eternity. You might say He's keeping a light on for us.

Note the question asked in prayer in verse 1, answered in general in verse 2 (the latter part of verse 2 is more properly taken with verse 3), and then answered in greater detail in the three remaining three-line stanzas.

Comments

In terms of verse 1, we might first think of the priests who temporarily lived in the temple complex while they had responsibilities there, but the idea is much more than that. My study Bible says, “Not as a priest but as God’s guest”, but the idea is even more than that. Verse 1 includes the idea of a place of rest in contrast to the wandering life of a nomad, and verse 1 also includes the idea of a settled family life. When I sang with the Ft. Wayne Seminary Kantorei the final stanza of a paraphrase of Psalm 23 put it this way:

The sure provisions of my God attend me all my days.
Oh, may Thy house be my abode, and all my work be praise.
There would I find a settled rest while others go and come;
No more a stranger or a guest but like a child at home.

Now we frequently experience rest as we come in to gather as children of God around His Word and Sacrament (think of the words of the Baptismal rite), but we also go out to live in the world. Ultimately, though, we will have the uninterrupted eternal rest spiritually and physically. Then, our only “work” will be praise!

The first part of verse 4 has a translational issue. The first phrase is often translated “In whose eyes a vile person is contemned” (KJV; or “In whose eyes a reprobate is despised” ASV, NASB; or “who despises a vile man” NIV), but a somewhat convincing argument can be made for seeing the verse as saying the righteous person is despicable in his or her own eyes, as worthy to be condemned. The proper sense of lowliness and degrading oneself (thinking less of oneself) are especially important as we approach our holy and righteous God in repentance and faith.

Do you always tell the truth? Even when it might hurt someone else? Or you? The righteous person described in Psalm 15:4 apparently does. The second half of verse 4 says the person keeps his or her oath even when it hurts him or her, that he or she does not change (like, “I’ll do this for you instead”). The NIV of this verse is lacking in a couple of regards: the NIV does not make it clear that the person who could be hurt is the person keeping the oath, and the NIV also omits the phrase saying the person “does not change” what he or she has sworn or promised (in both cases compare the KJV, ASV, and NASB). Maybe you are thinking, like we all sometimes do, that little white lies are okay, especially when they make someone else (like a spouse or coworker) happy. Verse 4 may not address that matter, but the rest of the psalm does. An oath does not need to be sworn in order for us to tell the truth (see our Lord’s teaching on such matters in Matthew 5:33-37). Of course, none of us live up to this standard of righteousness, and only by grace through faith are we forgiven for failing to do so and seen as righteous as Christ’s perfect obedience.

When something happens to us, do we ever say, “That really shook me up!”? Today in Psalm 15:5 we hear of a person who will never be shaken (NIV, NASB; “moved” KJV, ASV). The figure of speech refers to great insecurity. There may seem to be general disorder on the earth, but the Lord reigns, and so the world will not totter forever (Psalm 104:5); ultimately it cannot be moved (Psalm 93:1; 96:10). The kingdoms of the world, on the other hand, move at the Lord’s command (Psalm 46:6). The Bible can speak of the Lord’s constancy “even if” the earth is moved (Psalm 46:2), but that does not mean the earth in that case is moved. In other cases, if the earth is moved, the movement is contrary to the order of creation and the result of God’s wrath (Psalm 82:5, KJV “out of course” is equal to “moved”). We who confess our sins and believe in Jesus Christ for forgiveness are no longer objects of God’s wrath and so can be as unmovable and secure as the Lord Himself is (Psalm 16:8; 21:7; 30:6; 62:2 [note “greatly”], 6; 112:6). God keeps us from slipping (Psalm 17:5), not for anything we do or have done but out of His great love, grace, and mercy.

By the way, in reflecting on Psalm 15:5, I also thought of Psalm 1, by way of a song I know that is similar to this one by Johnny Cash and this one by Elvis Presley. (The labor and other activist songs that are similar were probably based on them or the more original African-American spiritual.)

Q&A

The following verse and topic is addressed in answer to a reader’s question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The entire Bible is God’s Word, but the version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does single out various parts for use in church services. Psalm 15 is among those so appointed for the following Sundays.
  • The Second Sunday after Epiphany
  • Quinquagesima (the Sunday in the fifth period of ten days before Easter)
  • Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent)
  • Rogate (the Fifth Sunday after Easter)
  • The Fourth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Thirteenth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

There are no hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that refer or allude to verses from Psalm 15.

Isaiah 22-24

A favorite theme of mine comes up in our reading of Isaiah today.

Overview

In today’s reading of Isaiah 22-24, we wrap up the judgment against the nations and begin a new section dealing with God’s fulfillment of history. The specific judgment that begins the reading is against the Valley of Vision (Jerusalem, chapter 22) and against Tyre (chapter 23). Even though the new section deals with mostly positive things, the part we read today tells of God’s common judgment for all guilty of the common sin (chapter 24).

Comments

In 22:1, 5 “Valley of Vision” refers to Jerusalem because God revealed Himself there in the city that lay between the mountains. In 22:8-11 note how the besieged people of Jerusalem are described as doing everything but turning to the Lord for help, even though He called them to repent (22:12-13). The “eat and drink, for tomorrow we die” (22:13) philosophy that loves life and scoffs at death can be found elsewhere in the Bible, such as in 1 Corinthians 15:32, where Isaiah is quoted. The foreigner Shebna, who fancied himself a king but was carried away into exile (22:15-19), was succeeded by Eliakim, who was a temporary peg ultimately replaced (22:20-25).

Photo of the Key of David on the outside of Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana (unknown photographer)In the midst of the judgment that we read of today, in Isaiah 22:22-23 we also find words describing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and His authority over heaven and hell. Jesus is the Key of David Whose coming we with the Church of all times and all places we call for in one of the so-called “O antiphons” dating back to before the 9th century.

O Key of David and Scepter of the House of Israel, You open and no one can close, You close and no one can open: Come and rescue the prisoners who are in darkness and the shadow of death.

The 12th-century hymn verse based on this antiphon goes as follows (The Lutheran Hymnal #62, although three stanzas missing there are given in Lutheran Worship #31 and Lutheran Service Book#357):

O come, Thou Key of David, come
And open wide our heav’nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high
And close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emamanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.

The reference to the Key of David in Isaiah 22:22 is part of the background to the “Office of the Keys”. (Remember Revelation 3:7, and see Matthew 16:19.) The picture with this post is of the Key of David symbol on the outside of the Hesburgh Library at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it).

Note the sort of events described in Isaiah 24:17-23 and recall many similar descriptions of events in Revelation. Also note that the faithful remnant survives and is “left behind” when others are destroyed (24:6, 13, 14-16). The remnant’s song of praise is our song of praise, for God in His mercy and grace spares us the eternal death we deserve and instead gives us eternal life.

Q&A

The answer to a reader’s question deals in general with all of Isaiah and, to some extent, the entire Bible.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Isaiah 22-24.

God bless you, and may you let Him make today holy for you by the right use of His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 15, 2007

Ps 14 / Is 19-21

With our Advent focus in this past Sunday’s Gospel reading on our Lord’s Final Coming, our reading of Psalm 14 and Isaiah 19-21 are fitting with their discussion of God’s judgment on the unrighteous and deliverance of those trusting in Jesus for forgiveness.

Psalm 14

Today Psalm 14 gives us a description of the morally-deficient person, to which Psalm 15 tomorrow will contrast the description of the person acceptable to God.

Overview

Although Psalm 14 itself seems to be a deficient psalm of seven three-line verses, one commentator simply breaks it into three uneven parts: verses 1-3, the characterization of the wicked; verses 4-6, the exposure of the wicked’s foolishness; and verse 7, a statement of the psalmist's longing for Israel's complete deliverance.

Comments

You could say 1-5% of Americans are fools—if you combine Gallup poll numbers with the first verse of Psalm 14. In one such survey 5% of respondents said they feel God “does not exist”, with 1% saying they were certain “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1 tells how the fool says “there is no God”, but the psalm also goes on to indict, in one way or another, 100% of the whole world, including even the psalmist (especially verses 1, 3). Notice that there is no distinction based on age, as if there is an age someone must reach before he or she can assent to sin or know the difference between right and wrong. In Old Testament wisdom literature, folly is frequently contrasted to knowledge and understanding (v.2, for example), and the fear of the Lord (not just terror-fear but reverence-fear and trust), something the fool lacks, is the beginning of wisdom (Psalm 111:10; Proverbs 9:10). Verse 4 tells us the evildoers have no knowledge (or “will never learn”, NIV). Ultimately salvation and restoration will come for God’s people, and they will rejoice and be glad.

In regards to verse 5, where are the evildoers overwhelmed with fear or dread because God is present with His righteous ones? The question may not so much be “where” as “when”, and not “when” in the sense of some indefinite future time, but “when” in the sense of when God bursts forth in scorn with His never-failing Word to smite those who are without knowledge and conscience. When God’s patience turns to wrath, terror will seize the evildoers, and they will tremble. That judgment of wrath on the evildoers, however, is at the same time a revelation of love for God’s people whom He, in that execution of wrath, avenges and delivers, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Do you see how the two actions are, as it were, opposite sides of the same coin?

We anticipate weekends, holidays, and the like, often just to catch up on our sleep and rest! We anxiously wait to be delivered from difficulties, illnesses, and even this life. We long for complete deliverance, and in that way we are very much like the human author of Psalm 14. That complete deliverance comes when God defends those on whom the wicked prey. Verse 7 especially expresses the psalmist’s longing for salvation, and such a sentiment is very appropriate this Advent season as we anxiously anticipate our Lord’s final return at the close of the age, even as we regularly receive Him coming to us in Word and Sacrament. (I remember one of the first choral pieces I ever sang in church during the Advent season used v.7 as its opening.) The Lord’s deliverance in the psalmist’s time came from the Holy City, where the Lord dwelled, and in our time the Lord’s deliverance comes from His Church, where He dwells in Word and Sacrament. There we receive a foretaste of the feast to come. Our Lord’s final return will bring complete deliverance from difficulties, illnesses, and this life, and it will begin the eternal period of the rest that remains for the righteous (Hebrews 4:8-11).

Q&A

So far there aren’t any readers’ questions on Psalm 14, but you are welcome to ask a question.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy includes Psalm 14 among those appointed for use in church services on two Sundays.
  • The First Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Twenty-Fourth Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 14.

Isaiah 19-21

Oracles of judgment continue today in our reading of Isaiah, but there is also hope for God’s faithful people.

Overview

Isaiah 19-21 continues to tell of God’s judgment against the nations: against Egypt and Cush (chapters 19-20), and against Babylon, Dumah (Edom), and Arabia (chapter 21).

Comments

Paul Hardy’s depiction of a watchman as described by Isaiah 21:11I have a few specific comments on today’s reading, but you are always welcome to ask about anything that is not clear to you. You may recall the figure of speech in Isaiah 19:15 from its use in 9:14-15. More than just words, Isaiah is told, we might say, to “act out” part of his prophecy (20:1-6). Lest after reading 20:2 you think of Isaiah as one of the first “streakers”, Isaiah probably wore a loincloth. Chapter 21 makes several mention of “watchmen”, as is pictured by Paul Hardy with this post (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it), and such watchmen come up again in Habakkuk and Ezekiel. In Isaiah 21:5-10, the prophet is rhetorically calling on the Babylonian soldiers to prepare for an attack he knows they will not withstand. Note 21:10 and recall its adaptation by St. John in Revelation 14:8; 18:2. In figurative language, Edom hears that it will have just a short respite between Assyrian and Babylonian domination (21:11-12). The later qualification of time “as a servant bound by contract would count it” (21:16 NIV, and previously 16:14) either denotes exact time (for neither the contractor would accept less nor the laborer give more), or it denotes less than that time (for surely the laborer would rather work less). Be sure to note that again in the midst of “that day” of destruction that God brings upon the nations we find hope and reason for optimism in the promised Savior (19:18-25).

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer to a verse from Isaiah 19-21 and may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 21:11 -- #71, an Advent hymn found neither in Lutheran Worship nor Lutheran Service Book, and you might note how hymnwriter John Bowring takes the one question asked and answer given in Isaiah and turns them into a much longer—and clearer!—exchange.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by the right use of His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 14, 2007

Ps 13 / Is 16-18

A prayer for deliverance in Psalm 13 is paired today with prophecy of deliverance in Isaiah 16-18.

Psalm 13

Psalm 13 is described by one commentary as “A cry to the Lord for deliverance from a serious illness that threatens death”, and the commentary also points out that that death “would give David’s enemies just what they wanted.”

Overview

The six verses of Psalm 13 can be grouped as follows: verses 1-2, an anguished complaint about an extended serious illness; verses 3-4, an appeal for God to deliver the psalmist from death; and verses 5-6, the psalmist’s concluding expression of confidence.

Comments

Little children can hardly stand it when they need something and they think their mother and father are ignoring them. Earthly parents have a challenging task trying to teach their children patience, and, in some ways, our Heavenly Father’s task is even more challenging! Psalm 13 is another example of how David at times was impatient and complained that God was ignoring him; David thinks God’s face of blessing has been turned away from Him. (Verse 2 even seems to suggest that David’s internal heart and soul struggles are examples of the spiritual enemy triumphing over him; see more on verse 2 below.) In prayer, David recognizes that God must deliver him from illness or else he will die, and David suggests his physical enemy will take credit for the death. Despite David’s impatience and complaint, he still concludes the prayer with confident trust in God and a pledge of praise for all God’s blessings. Like David, we can be impatient children of God. Yet, God our Heavenly Father never forgets or ignores us. He may let us suffer longer than we would like, but suffering produces patience (here, literally “remaining under”, though another Greek word for patience literally translates “long-suffering”), patience produces experience, and experience produces hope that does not disappoint (Romans 5:3-5). Our confident prayer and patient but hopeful waiting can also lead us to praise God—for eternity!

Who or what are your enemies? Are there people that hate and actively oppose you? (Did you know the words “enmity” and “enemy” come from the same Latin word that can be translated literally as “against-friend”?) Do you feel as if, instead of a person, food, or boredom, or your health, or something else is an enemy? Psalm 13 is thought by some to have been written when Saul sent out people to hunt David from place to place. When casually reading this psalm, we may not think of ourselves as having the kind of enemies that David did, but it seems, if we stop and think about it, that we actually do. Citizens of the United States have national enemies, and citizens of God’s kingdom, the Church, also have “national” enemies, such as the devil and the world. On a more personal level, we can also think of our own sinful flesh as actively opposed to us. Jesus Christ conquered all His and our enemies, and we by faith in Him are partakers of those victories. When we repent of our sin and trust in Him, we ultimately defeat our enemies, too.

A heart full of sorrow or, what some might call depression, is certainly to be found even among faithful Christians, as we see today in Psalm 13, especially verse 2. If Christians think they should not be depressed, they all too easily add feelings of guilt into the mix and make the depression worse. The psalmist thought the Lord was ignoring his plight, but you and I might be depressed for other reasons. The cause may be different, but the solution in the end is the same. Trusting in the Lord’s mercy and rejoicing in His salvation (v.5) is possible as the Lord illumines us (v.3). I think of Psalm 51:12’s “Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; and uphold me with Thy free Spirit” as an appropriate petition. Since God forgives our sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, there truly is nothing else that should significantly trouble us. Depression may come, and it may even stick around for a while, but ultimately it will go. In the meantime, we have no true reason to fear, for the Lord sustains us each and every day.

Q&A

So far there are no previous readers’ questions regarding Psalm 13, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy includes Psalm 13 among those appointed for use on one Sunday of the Church Year.
  • The First Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

One hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal is said to refer or allude to a verse from Psalm 13.
  • 13:3 -- #555, an ancient Greek hymn dating back to possibly the 6th or 7th century and perhaps taken from portions of the Greek Orthodox church’s Late Evening Service (and lost to the two more recent LCMS hymnals)

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Isaiah 16-18

In Isaiah 16-18 we hear more judgment against Israel’s enemies that brings deliverance for Israel.

Overview

Isaiah 16-18 continues prophecies of judgment against the nations. Today we finish reading the judgment against Moab (chapter 16), and we also read the judgment against Aram (modern day Syria, typified by its capital Damascus) and Israel (chapter 17) and against Cush (chapter 18).

Comments

In the continuation of the prophecy of judgment against Moab (chapter 16), be sure not to miss the Messianic prophecy in 16:5, and, on 16:14, you may want to read the comment on 21:16 here.

An unidentified artist’s depiction of terror coming at night but only lasting a night, as described by Isaiah 17:14In the judgment against Aram and Israel, note in 17:5-6 the harvest as an illustration of judgment, and see how Jesus similarly uses it (for example, Matthew 13:24-30, 36-40). In this case, however, being left behind is good, for that which is left is the faithful remnant; in 17:7-8 these people give up their false gods and return to the Only True God. I was struck by the night of terror in 17:14, which by morning is over. The image with this post, the artist of which is not identified, depicts that night of sudden terror (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it). The afflictions the Lord brings on are not without an end, that is, a purpose or termination. See also 2 Kings 19:35 and Psalm 30:5. And, when our Lord comes for the final time the day after will never end.

In the judgment against Cush (chapter 18), we have one of the many Old Testament examples that salvation is not only for the Jews but also for the Gentiles; note the banner raised up in verse 3 for the distant nations and people to rally around (see 5:26 and in 18:3 note the accompanying trumpet call to rally). God patiently waits until the right time to execute judgment on the people of Cush and Egypt (v.4), but some of them also do turn to Him in faith. Suffering and judgment are never pleasant, but the result should be our coming into the Lord’s presence (18:7, where His Name is, He is), where we are truly blessed.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal refer or allude to verses from our readings.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 13, 2007

Ps 12 / Is 13-15

God’s vindicating the righteous from their enemies is a theme common to both readings today.

Psalm 12

When it seems the whole world is against us, we often are driven to prayer as a last resort. We cannot say that Psalm 12 is a prayer of last resort, but it is a prayer for help when it seems everyone is unfaithful and every tongue untrue.

Overview

Verses 1-2 are the psalmist’s initial appeal describing his distress; verses 3-4 are the central prayer; verses 5-6 are a reassuring word from the Lord, possibly spoken by a priest or a prophet; and verses 7-8 are the psalmist’s concluding expression of confidence that the Lord will answer the prayer, possibly brought about by the Lord’s intervening word spoken by the priest or prophet. (There is speculation that such transitions in other psalms from prayer to confidence have such intervening words in view, even when the psalm does not contain them.)

Comments

People tend to think their own time is more evil than that which came before. Reading Psalm 12:1-2, it is notable that even in the “golden age” at the time of David he can complain that it seems as if the godly and faithful are gone. Psalm 12 is especially comforting as we look around and wonder if the godly and faithful are not nearly gone now, for we are reminded that the Lord will act to reveal His righteous judgment when the time is right.

“Beneath the rule of men entirely great, / The pen is mightier than the sword,” so wrote English novelist and dramatist Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (1803–1873) in his 1839 play Richelieu (Act ii, scene ii, emphasis mine). Psalm 12:3-4 is one of the places where David, putting words in his enemies mouth by Divine inspiration, seems to suggest that the tongue is mightier than the sword (see Psalm 57:4 and 64:3-4). As if from every person, curses, lies, and threats attack the faithful, and the only place where the faithful will receive justice for such attacks is from God (see Micah 7:1-7). God is the faithful King Who answers the prayer of the psalmist in vv.5-6, contrasting His perfectly purified words to the lies of the enemies. Right now they may “strut about” (v.8), but they will get theirs in the end.

The second part of the concluding verse 8 struck me for its less-than-happy ending to the psalm. The thought expressed in the verse is not new to the psalm there, but in some ways goes back to the psalmist’s opening complaint, although more succinctly describing the evil generation of the psalmist’s day. “The present is gloomy”, one commentator rightly says, to which I might add, “And it’s going to get only worse before it gets better.” Or, to borrow a phrase from this product, “It’s always darkest just before it goes pitch black.” Yet, although this psalm forms a circular setting of gloom, at the psalm’s center is the jewel in which the Divinely-inspired psalmist speaks for the Lord to answer his own complaint (v.5). You might also note the psalmist’s own “Amen” (v.6).

We become so skeptical of what people say, and often there is good reason. People lie to us in order to avoid saying true things they think we don’t want to hear, and people lie to us in order to make themselves look better or to try to come out on top of whatever conflict they are involved in. Such sins of the tongue are the focus of Psalm 12. The psalm spends more words describing the evil and their words, but the contrast is nevertheless sharply in favor of the Lord’s words and their perfect purity. We can fully believe not only what He says about our sins but also what He says about our forgiveness by grace through faith in Jesus Christ. Those words are made more certain for us when made visible in the Sacraments: Holy Baptism, Individual Absolution, and the Lord’s Supper.

Q&A

So far there are no readers’ questions pertaining to Psalm 12, but feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

Given Psalm 12’s focus on lies and wickedness, there is little surprise that the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints it among those to be used for the following two festivals.
  • St. Stephen’s day
  • The Tuesday of Holy Week

Hymn References

One hymn in The Lutheran Hymnal refers or alludes to verses from Psalm 12 and therefore may help you meditate on the reading.
  • #260, which is Martin Luther’s hymn Ach Gott vom Himmel, sieh darein, a beautiful paraphrase of Psalm 12, sadly not in Lutheran Worship or Lutheran Service Book.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Isaiah 13-15

Violent destruction of the enemies of God’s people brings deliverance for God’s people, as we hear again today in Isaiah 13-15.

Overview

Isaiah 13-15 begins a new section in Isaiah that tells of Judgment against the nations. Today we read of judgment against Assyria (typified by its capital Babylon) and against Philistia, and we begin reading the judgment against Moab.

Comments

French artist Gustave Dore (1832-1883) rendering of Isaiah’s prophesying of the destruction of Babylon The vast majority of Isaiah 13-15 gives God’s prophecy through Isaiah of Babylon’s destruction. (That moment of Isaiah prophesying of Babylon’s destruction is depicted in this post by the French artist Gustave Dore, who lived from 1832-1883; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got the image.) You may remember some of the background information about Babylon covered in the Biblog previously and on the Q&A page; ultimately Persian armies (“the Medes” in 13:17) execute God’s wrath against Babylon and Assyria. Note in 13:8 the analogy to the pain of childbirth (a rich image in the prophets [Isaiah 26:17; Jeremiah 4:31; 6:24] and one Jesus uses [Matthew 24:8]), and think of the mother’s joy after the labor is over as analogous to our eternal joy of the Kingdom after the difficult days leading up to judgment. Another notable rich image is in 13:14 (see 1 Kings 22:17; Matthew 9:36; John 10:11). Notice how in 14:1 and following there is hope and restoration for Israel in the midst of judgment against the nations. In 15:2-3 the shaved heads and faces are signs of great mourning, as is the sackcloth made of goat hair. Remember that in all of these oracles of judgment we are to be reminded of the sins we commit and the punishment we deserve so that we live every day in repentance, trusting in God to forgive us our sin for Jesus' sake.

We should not think that the prophecies against these specific nations are no longer of any relevance to us today. (See here for a reader’s response to that comment.) The prophecies certainly were in a great sense addressed to the people of those nations then, but those nations serve as examples of any kingdom of the world at any time, and their people of any people. We, likewise, need to hear the prophecy against them as warnings to us, most appropriate in this Advent season of repentant watchfulness and expectant longing for our Lord’s final deliverance.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

There are no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to refer or allude to verses from Isaiah 13-15.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 12, 2007

Ps 11 / Is 10-12

Not to sound like a broken record, but trusting in the Lord for ultimate deliverance is again a theme common to both of our readings today.

Psalm 11

What makes advice good or bad? In Psalm 11 we hear how David at least verbally responded to some advice he was getting, whether or not he actually took it.

Overview

Psalm 11 can be summarized as “A confession of confident trust in the Lord’s righteous rule, at a time when wicked adversaries seem to have the upper hand.” The psalm may break down into verses 1-3, David’s testimony of his trust in the Lord despite the enemies, and verses 4-7, a reply to the faithful, which at least in some ways is the basis for David’s trust. The psalm’s historical setting may well be Absolom’s rebellion, although the psalm at least also recalls the time that David took literal shelter from Saul in mountain caves.

Comments

Sometimes things seem so bad that they seem like they will never get better and a person wonders what is left to do. In Psalm 11:1-2 it appears that David has been counseled to flee from his enemies as a last resort, but he at least ultimately takes refuge in the Lord and knows that the Lord will deliver him. (In both of the historical cases mentioned above, David did literally flee from his enemies.) I was trying to understand why someone would advise a bird to flee to a mountain if there were archers poised to shoot at it if it took flight. Those two thoughts are not connected in that way, however. Rather, the reason for David to flee like a bird from the plain to a mountain is that his enemies are like archers who have not only drawn their bows but also made ready their arrows. Reflect on the different “places” you and I might flee instead of to the Lord. David was advised to flee the capital to get away from his enemies, and you and I might get bad advice to find other means of comfort than trusting in the Lord and His ultimate justice. No other person to whom we might flee can help us the way the Lord can, only He is all-powerful and knows all and thus can properly deliver justice. Let us believe in Jesus Christ for our salvation from sin and trust that God will deliver us from our troubles in His way and time that best serve His purposes for us.

The foundations mentioned in verse 3 that seem to be in the process of destruction can refer to the whole world order, for example, that good will ultimately triumph over evil. What can the righteous do? Take refuge in the Lord! Verse 4 stands out as a bold statement of faith (we might hear it put this way: "God is in His heaven, and all is right with the world"). Note that the Lord’s presence in His Temple is not as if He is removed from earth and ignoring our situations, but His sitting on His throne is a position of authority over all the world: things are in His control, and He makes them work for the good of His Church. God shows mercy to those who repent and receive Christ’s righteousness by faith, but He punishes the wicked.

There was a time when guests in another person’s home ate and drank whatever the host or hostess served them. To some extent that is still true today, although we are more accustomed to asking for what we would like among the options the host or hostess make available to us. (Even at restaurants what is actually available limits our choices.) In Psalm 11:6, we hear the psalmist refer to the portion of the cup of the wicked (KJV, ASV, NASB; “lot” NIV). You may recognize this figure of speech referring to what hosts and hostesses offer their guests to drink. The lack of faith and evil deeds of the wicked prompt the Lord to offer the wicked a cup equivalent to a scorching wind, along with fiery coals and burning sulfur that recall His judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19:24). The Lord truly will make the wicked drink from a cup of His wrath (Jeremiah 25:15; Revelation 14:10; 16:19), but the Lord offers a cup of blessings and salvation to the godly (Psalm 23:5; 116:13), not those who have done good things that merit blessings and salvation but those who are forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ, which forgiveness in turn does produce some good or “godly” works.

In verse 7, seeing the Lord’s face is to have access to the Lord, to be in His Presence, and therefore to be blessed. (Think of the liturgical Benediction from Numbers 6:22-27.)

Q&A

So far there are no previous readers’ questions; please feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy includes Psalm 11 among those appointed for two festivals.
  • The day of St. John, Apostle, Evangelist
  • The day of St. Thomas

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to Psalm 11.

Isaiah 10-12

As we continue reading Isaiah today, we find prophecy of judgment and deliverance, as is typical of so much Old Testament and New Testament prophecy.

Overview

Isaiah 10-12 finishes a section begun yesterday dealing with prophecy about the Messiah and His Kingdom. Chapter 10 first continues the description of the Lord’s wrath against Israel, then describes His judgment on Assyria, and finishes with a description of the faithful remnant. Chapter 11 is a well-known chapter that tells of the Messiah (how timely in Advent by design!), and chapter 12 contains two songs of praise for the Messiah’s deliverance.

Comments

Direct your attention for a moment to the second part of 10:4 (as also in 5:25; 9:12, 17, and 21). The Lord’s righteous anger burns against His unfaithful people, and He raises His hand to strike them down, but even carrying out such punishment does not end His wrath. There is, of course, in 10:25 the promise of eventually ending His wrath and of punishing those whom He used as His rod of discipline against His people (10:26, note the parallels with Egypt in this verse and again in 11:11, 16). Although we are not literally going to be carried away into exile in Assyria (nor are we going to see the Assyrians punished), we in a sense are in exile in this world. The only way God’s wrath against us sinners comes to an end is by the substitution of Jesus’ death on the cross for our eternal death. As with the Old Testament exiles, our exile in this world will eventually come to an end, and, by grace through faith in Jesus, all who believe will be received into the promised homeland of heaven, even as the devil, whom God has used as a rod of discipline against us, ultimately himself will be punished. Finally, along these same lines, note the song of praise in chapter 12 for the Lord turning away His anger (v.1)!

In considering Isaiah 10:5, 15, 24 note how God used Israel’s enemies as a rod of punishment but all the time kept them in His control and punished them for their pride in thinking they were defeating Israel on their own. In 10:33-34 note how the trees that look so high and mighty are cut down and the lowly, dead looking stump shoots up a Branch in 11:1.

Dutch painter Jan Mostaert’s unusual rendering of the Jesse Tree with oil on panel (1485)Certainly a highlight of today’s reading is that prophecy in chapter 11 about the shoot that will not only rise from Jesse’s stump (the cut off end of David’s line) but also bear fruit. (In reading 10:33-34, some who read with us in Year 1 may remember the tree imagery we found in the reading of the other Old Testament prophets; note how in this case it sharpens the contrast and prepares for the promise of chapter 11.) In 11:2 note the seven-fold description of the Holy Spirit with Whom Jesus is anointed Messiah (and see its use in Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; and 5:6). Note that grammatically the Spirit of 11:2 is threefold. In 11:4 note the role of that which comes from the Messiah’s mouth (Psalm 2:9; Revelation 19:15) and see if you can identify what that is. (See the brief folo here.) The Messiah brings a dramatic change, described in 11:6-9, and not only will the faithful of Israel be saved, but, as 11:10-16 tells, also those who respond from the Gentile nations. (The image with this post is the Dutch painter Jan Mostaert’s 1485 work of oil on panel illustrating the so-called Jesse Tree; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or from where we got the image, about which you can read more here, if you wish.)

In 12:2, note the quotation from Exodus 15:2, a verse of praise after the Lord defeated the Egyptians in the Red Sea.

God speaks to all of us through the reading still today. The afflictions we suffer are for our benefit. When we repent and believe in the Messiah we have a transforming peace and eternal salvation that lead us to praise God.

Q&A

There is just one previous reader’s question that touches on Isaiah as a whole.

You are welcome to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints the following verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on Sundays and festivals.
  • 11:1-5 -- The Sunday after Christmas
  • 12:1-6 -- Cantate (The Fourth Sunday after Easter), note how that use of those verses draws a parallel between the deliverance from exile and our deliverance from sin by grace through faith in Jesus Christ Who died and rose again.

Hymn References

The early verses of chapter 11 are also referred to by the following hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal.
  • 11:1, 2 -- #645 (Though originally a far-lengthier hymn in honor of Mary, not long after it was made a wonderful and now relatively popular Christmas carol; I like Lutheran Worship #67's tune and translation better than that here in TLH, although either text is preferable to Lutheran Service Book #359's translation.)
  • 11:2 -- #235 (A 17th-century Pentecost hymn based on a familiar 16th-century tune, and it doesn't take sides on how many "folds" the Spirit has.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 11, 2007

Ps 10 / Is 7-9

Trusting God to deliver us from our enemies--such as sin, death, and the power of the devil--is a theme common to both our reading of Psalm 10 and our reading of Isaiah 7-9 today.

Psalm 10

Psalm 10 prays for rescue from unscrupulous enemies’ attacks.

Overview

Verses 2-11 express the psalmist’s accusation against his oppressors, verses 12-15 pray God to call the oppressors to account, and verses 16-18 express the psalmist’s confidence in the Lord’s righteous reign.

Comments

Remembering that in some versions Psalm 9 is one psalm with Psalm 10 helps make Psalm 10 not seem quite so harsh. We should thank and praise God for His past blessings before we ask Him for more, as the psalmist is doing in Psalm 10. Psalm 10 also gives what is regarded as a “classic” description of the wicked. In addition to thinking of those who oppress us, we might also ask if that description of the wicked does not sometimes describe us. To the extent it does, we need to repent of our own wickedness, lest our prayers for God to hold the wicked to account bring down judgment on us.

Note both how the wicked person thinks God has forgotten about his or her evil acts (v.11) and also how the psalmist calls the Lord to remember the helpless (v.12). The psalmist is confident that the Lord does hear and listen and that He ultimately comforts us so that earthly opponents do not terrify us any longer. Similarly, we can confidently pray this psalm knowing that in Jesus Christ God has given us all we need and also protects us so that earthly opponents cannot harm us at all.

Sometimes Christians have a hard time watching the unbelievers prosper in this world; they wonder why God does not punish the unbelievers and bless the believers more. In Psalm 10 David brings similar concerns to God. David grieves that judgment has not yet come on those who revile the Lord, and he boldly prays for God to judge the wicked and relieve those who suffer at the hands of the wicked. Remember the "prosperity gospel" you hear from some preachers is hogwash; Christians will have a tougher row to hoe in this life than unbelievers. Verse 14 struck me as incredibly full of comfort in this regard.

Q&A

There are no previous readers’ questions related to Psalm 10; please feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint Psalm 10 for use in church services on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 10.

Isaiah 7-9

I would expect that today’s reading of Isaiah 7-9 will take you through some passages that are familiar to you.

Overview

Isaiah 7-9 is full of prophecies about the Messiah and His Kingdom. "Messiah", you may know, in Hebrew literally means "anointed", and the Greek equivalent term gives us the title "Christ". Someone anointed generally was a prophet, a priest, or a king—and in the case of Jesus, all three.

Comments

Chapter 7 gives us a sign for the Messiah: the virgin's Son named Immanuel. My study Bible’s comment on 7:8 helpfully reminded me that the Assyrian colonists’ intermarriage with the Israelites of the northern kingdom gave us the “Samaritans”, who, as prophesied, could not be regarded any longer as an unique people, and whom we know from Jesus’ day. I was struck by the second part of 7:9, in part because I think it was the basis for the statement in this song by popular Christian songwriter Michael Card but also because the statement is so true: we stand before God only by faith in Jesus Christ Who died and rose again to save us from our sins. People are not supposed to test God, to ask Him to give them a sign to do or not do this or that. That command against asking for a sign was so strong that even when God told Ahaz to ask for a sign (vv.10-11) Ahaz still would not do it (v.12). Isaiah spoke on God's behalf and gave the sign. "Immanuel" in Hebrew literally means "God with us". See how Matthew 1:23 records the angel telling Joseph that Mary's child fulfills this prophecy, and note how the discussion of God’s presence in Matthew 18:20 and 28:20 highlight the theme in Matthew of Jesus’s being “Immanuel”.

In chapter 8 God contrasts Himself to the Assyrians. In 8:3 the term “prophetess” may only be a way of referring to Isaiah’s wife, that is, the wife of the prophet, sort of like Pastor Sullivan’s once referring in a sermon to “Mrs. Noah” (for more on “prophetesses” see the Q&A linked below). Verses 12-15 are particularly striking and speak strongly to us today. The tribes of Israel surviving in the northern and southern kingdoms (that is, Israel and Judah, respectively) were rejecting God—for them He became a stone over which they stumbled. Nevertheless, God is a sanctuary for those who do not stumble over Him (see Romans 9:33 and 1 Peter 2:6-8)—all of us Gentiles as we hear in chapter 9. Although 8:12 is variously translated, its meaning is that Isaiah is not to go along with the people in their calling for an alliance with Assyria nor their condemnation of his going against it. Sometimes 8:16 is understood as Isaiah taking a semi-retirement of a sorts until there was more favorable leadership.

A woodcut by Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld depicting Isaiah being shown Jesus as, among other things, the Prince of PeaceChapter 9 is probably best known for verses 2-7. (Not all of it may be familiar, however; when I was on vicarage we had to cut out verse 5 from its reading in the children's Christmas program because someone thought it was too bloody.) Note in 9:2 the light of salvation dawning on the darkness of judgment. This prophecy of the Light to lighten the Gentiles is reported as fulfilled in Matthew 4:13-15. (We might also think of Luke 2:32, which we sing as the Nunc Dimittis in the Divine Service.) Jesus is the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace. I know the King James and other versions punctuate those names of verse 6 a little differently, but, having closely studied that text, I think the more recent translations (for examples, the NIV, NASB, and ESV) are correct here. (And, having heard and sung Handel's "Messiah", naturally I hear many of these words set to music, although the "Messiah" follows the KJV.) The German artist Julius Schnorr von Carolsfeld (1794-1872) used the woodcut pictured in this post to depict Isaiah being shown all the wonderful things the Messiah would do, although the image is chiefly associated with Isaiah 9:6 (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or here, from where we got the image).

Finally, I was struck by 9:14-15, although I’m not exactly sure why, whether the interesting figure of speech (the palm branches and the reeds) or the idea that the false prophets might be regarded as the tail (not so much wagging the dog as coming behind flattering). There is a reader’s comment on Isaiah 9:14-15 related to the palms and the reeds, which comment also touches on 9:17-19, here.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints one reading from Isaiah 7-9 to be read in the church.
  • 7:10-14 -- Christmas Day

Hymn References

Four hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer or allude to verses from Isaiah 9.
  • 9:2 -- #106 (A wonderful Christmas hymn based on this verse—probably the one hymn to look at today if you look at only one.)
  • 9:3 -- #574 (Who knew this hymn was from this context? Note the same tune as #93 below.)
  • 9:6 -- #78, #93 (I don’t think I’ve ever sung either one, although #78 [the lyrics of which are reportedly still under copyright] reminds me in some ways of Lutheran Worship #125, #148, and #159, all combined as #489 in Lutheran Service Book; also note that #93 has the same tune as #574 above.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 10, 2007

Ps 9 / Is 4-6

Earthly and heavenly praise figure prominently in both our reading of Psalm 9 and our reading from Isaiah 4-6 today.

Psalm 9

Although Psalm 9 concludes with a short prayer for God to continue His righteous judgment, the psalm primarily praises God for delivering Israel from its enemies, probably in some way other than God’s defeating them through Israel.

Overview

A breakdown of Psalm 9’s structure follows: an opening announcement of praise (vv.1-2), a statement of God’s redressing the enemies’ wrongs against David and Israel (vv.3-6), a celebration of God’s righteous rule that brings forth trust in those who look to the Lord (vv.7-10), a call to the assembly at the temple to continue to praise God for His righteous judgments (vv.11-12), what may be a recollection of David’s prayer (vv.13-14), a statement of how those who wickedly attack others bring about their own destruction (vv.15-18), and a final prayer for the Lord to continue to rule as the psalm praises Him for doing (vv.19-20).

Comments

Wow! That was my reaction as I started to read Psalm 9. What a difference there is between the tone of this prayer of David and that of some of the other ones we have read so far. You can just tell that God has started to destroy David's and Israel's enemies. So many of the psalms pray for God’s deliverance, but few like this one so fully praise Him for the realization of that deliverance. Perhaps we can take home from that realization the awareness that in this lifetime we should not expect to see such full deliverance often.

The psalmist begins (v.1) by saying he will "praise" the Lord ("give thanks to", ASV and NASB). In the Psalms, such praise was not given privately in one's room but publicly at the Temple, directed to God but done so all could hear and join in the praise. (Confer the call in verses 11-12 for the assembly to join in the praise.) Our praise in the Divine Service is similar: what we say to and about God always has a secondary audience, that of someone present who does not know Him but in whom the Holy Spirit can work faith. What a great reason to come to worship if you do not know God! What a great reason for those of us who do know God to invite those we know who do not know Him!

To whom do you go to settle a dispute? When we are children, we might go to a parent or a teacher. When we are older, we might go to a supervisor at work or a court judge, although more and more decisions between right and wrong are being replaced by compromises that seek to find middle or so-called common ground. The mediation and binding arbitration we all agree to in various aspects of our lives is a far cry from God’s righteous judgment of which we have a glimpse in Psalm 9. Verse 4 describes God on His royal heavenly throne and our prayers and petitions coming before Him. The O.J. Simpson-like miscarriages of justice known in this world (assuming, as so many do, that, though he was found innocent, he was guilty as sin) do not occur with God as the just judge, to whom we present our causes and claims of rights. The psalmist understands that the victory he had received was evidence of God’s more or less ruling in his favor. To the extent that our causes and claims of rights line up with God’s, we, too, will have the favor of His judgment, either immediately, as the psalmist seems to have experienced, or eventually, on the Last Great Day. On account of our guilt, we certainly deserve to enter the gates of death (v.13, and confer Job 17:16’s “bars of the pit”, Isaiah 38:9’s “gates of the grave”, and Matthew 16:18’s “gates of hell”), but by grace through faith in Jesus Christ we are not just found but made innocent by God’s righteous judgment that brings about what He says. So, instead we enter the gates of Zion with songs of praise rejoicing in God’s salvation (v.14). (Notice also how in 9:15 we see the direct fulfillment of 7:15.)

As we get older most of us find that our memories get worse with age. The idea of forgetting things can be frightening, as is the idea of being forgotten. In Psalm 9:5-6 we hear the psalmist speak of the Lord blotting out the name of the Lord’s enemies so that even the memory of them perishes, but in the context of the psalm that’s a good thing. We also should be sure to notice that the Lord does not forget those in need and let them perish (v.18). Instead, when we believe in Jesus as our Savior, the Lord forgives and forgets our sins. (Like I do, you might know 9:18 from the order of Responsive Prayer 2 in Lutheran Worship, p.274.)

There's a brief reader’s comment on Psalm 9:10 here.

Let me tell you something about Psalm 9 in anticipation of tomorrow's reading of Psalm 10: the two may have been one psalm, possibly separated into two by liturgical usage. One reason for thinking that is that in the Greek version of the Old Testament (called the Septuagint, abbreviated LXX) the two are one psalm. As a result, all the psalm numbers in the Septuagint are one lower for pretty much the rest of the Psalter (the LXX breaks up Psalm 147 into two, so the total number of psalms is 150 in either case).

Q&A

There are no previous readers’ questions on Psalm 9, but you can ask one if you like.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy that we use for church services at Grace includes Psalm 9 among those psalms appointed for quite a number of Sundays, feasts, and festivals.
  • The Third Sunday of Advent
  • The Fourth Sunday of Advent
  • The Holy Innocents
  • Septuagesima (the Sunday in the seventh period of ten days before Easter)
  • Oculi (the Third Sunday in Lent)
  • Quasimodogeniti (the First Sunday after Easter)
  • The First Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Twenty-Sixth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The day of St. Bartholomew

Hymn References

No hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 9.

Isaiah 4-6

Wonderful comfort and wonderful worship are featured in our reading from Isaiah today.

Overview

Isaiah 4-6 finishes up the opening "messages of rebuke and promise". Chapter 4 continues from chapter 3 the description of Jerusalem's glory in the last days. Chapter 5 describes God's judgment on Judah and her future exile, and chapter 6 details Isaiah's call to be a prophet. Remember that the prophetic books like this one are not necessarily chronological—either in the order of the prophecy or in the order of the things they describe happening.

Comments

Chapter 4's first verse gives an indication of how devastated the male population will be before the Lord redeems His people. But, as the chapter continues, we hear how the branch (or shoot) that remains will bear fruit. The Lord will cleanse His people, be present with them, and protect them. Elsewhere those exiled to Babylon are called the remnant, not those who stayed behind in Jerusalem; in Isaiah 4, however, note how “in that day” (v.2), the remnant consists of those in Jerusalem (v.3), who are redeemed (v.4), and live in the Lord’s protective Presence (vv.5-6, reminiscent of the Presence in the desert wilderness after the Exodus).

Chapter 5 begins with the “Song of the Vineyard” and ends with God's virtual destruction of the vineyard, which destruction leaves just the branch of the preceding chapter. The Lord has looked after His vineyard, Israel; He has done all that could be done, but the vineyard did not produce good fruit (see how Jesus draws on this image in Matthew 21:33-44; Mark 12:1-11; Luke 20:9-18; John 15:1-17). Though the nation will be devastated, God ultimately will call His people home (v.26 and following). The prophecy that first applied to Judah and its exile also applies to us and our exile in this sinful world. You might note how chapter 5’s “Song of the Vineyard” lures the listener in with pleasant lyrics but then turns to the point the song is supposed to make (v.7 punctuates that point with a play on words in the Hebrew that is lost in English translations). We see a misuse of the Lord’s gift of music in Isaiah 5:11-12, verses that may be behind St. Paul’s comments in Ephesians 5:15-21.

The call of Isaiah as painted by Giovauni Battista Tiepolo (1696-1770)Chapter 6 dates Isaiah's call to the death of King Uzziah and includes what has to be the highlight of today’s reading: a glimpse of eternity and heavenly worship. This vision of heavenly worship is part of the background for the worship we read about in Revelation, and our "Sanctus" (Latin for "Holy") of the communion liturgy is drawn on Isaiah 6:3 fused with the song of the people welcoming Jesus to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as in Matthew 21:9. (Martin Luther also wrote a wonderful hymn based on this chapter, "Isaiah, mighty seer, in days of old", #249 in The Lutheran Hymnal.) Notice how something brought from the altar to the lips of Isaiah takes away his guilt; does that bring anything to mind? There’s an answer of a sort in one of two Biblog folo references to chapter 6 here and here. (The picture in this post is of a fresco depicting the event as painted by Giovauni Battista Tiepolo, who lived from 1696-1770; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got the image.)

Isaiah's call and answer in Isaiah 6:8 (don’t miss the Trinitarian plural!) are often misused as if each and every one of us should answer "Here am I; send me". God has truly given each and every one of us a vocation (sometimes referred to as a "calling"), whether it is that of student, father, businesswoman, or grandmother. No vocation is by its nature more or less holy than another. We can sanctify the work we do and please God in whatever vocation He has given us. When it comes to the life of the congregation, there are also various parts to play, but the most important role you have on Sunday morning is to receive God's gift of forgiveness in the Divine Service (and to hear and learn about His Word in Bible class, too).

Note well how Isaiah's faithful ministry (and any faithful ministry, for that matter) is not going to have the kind of results that can be tallied up on a website counter! Rather, God in Isaiah 6:9-10 says some will only harden their hearts as a result of his preaching. Their persistent refusal to repent will then result in devastation, and, just when it seems like it can't get worse (v.13), it will. Still, even from the the cut-off stump a Shoot will spring.

Reading chapter 6, I reflected on what must have been disappointment for Isaiah after receiving such a miraculous call to be a prophet and then being told that the obdurate people, because they had passed the proverbial point of no return, would not understand or perceive the Good News and thereby repent. One can appreciate Isaiah’s question in verse 11, one faithful prophets and people continue to ask today: “How long, O Lord?” So, in Advent, as always we should, we pray, “Come, Lord Jesus!” (There’s a reader comment on that reflection with my response here.)

Q&A

There is just one reader’s question and answer related to today’s reading posted; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not tap Isaiah 4-6 for any Old Testament readings.

Hymn References

Four hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Isaiah 4-6 and may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 6:1-4 -- #249 (Luther's "Sanctus" hymn, as noted above.)
  • 6:7 -- #489 (A wonderful "ministry" hymn you can pray for your pastors.)
  • 6:8 -- #496, #641 (I indirectly criticized #496 a little above; we sang #641 at Pr. Sullivan'ts 25th anniversary here at Grace.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 09, 2007

Ps 8 / Is 1-3

Praise to God for His first creation and the glory of God’s re-creation are the respective themes of our reading of Psalm 8 and Isaiah 1-3.

Psalm 8

Psalm 8 is praise of God the Creator for His creating and investing human beings with almost god-like glory and power over other creatures.

Overview

When I have had occasion to swim after sunset in good weather, I have enjoyed the clear skies and bright stars. We have no reason to believe David was swimming when "inspired" to write Psalm 8, but in it he does write of the starry heavens prompting him to reflect on God's majesty. David also wonders why such a great God would have regard for human beings, giving them authority over creation. David's words perhaps received greater meaning when the Holy Spirit inspired St. Paul (1 Corinthians 15:27; Ephesians 1:22) and the author of Hebrews (2:6-8) to apply these words to Jesus Christ, Who humbled Himself to be born of a Virgin and to suffer and die to save us from our sins. God's great love for us in Christ truly calls for praise from the lips of all of us, His children.

Comments

You can see the psalmist pointing to the heaven above as the Lord’s realm (vv.1, 3), but that does not mean the Lord is absent from the earth. The Lord has placed human beings as God’s representative ruler over the earthly realm (vv.6-8). And, of course, the earthly realm is from where praise comes (vv.1, 2, 9). You might also note that in contrast to the morning psalms we have been reading so far that Psalm 8 seems to be more of an evening psalm (for example, the mention of the moon instead of the sun in verse 3). This psalm is also said to be the first where more than one person appears to be speaking (that is, the “our” in the refrain of vv.1, 9), and the number of people are the Church.

Verse 2 is especially connected with the events of Jesus triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday (see Matthew 21:16). The leaders of the Jews did not like Jesus being welcomed as if He were the Messiah, but Jesus points to David’s words in this psalm as being prophetic of such praise from sucklings (little children) to silence His enemies. I am reminded that even though the opponents of the Lutheran reformers did not know what the Church was, Dr. Luther could write, “thank God, a seven-year-old child knows what the church is, namely, holy believers and sheep who heard the voice of their Shepherd” (SA III:xii:2, Tappert, 315). In writing this psalm, David may have recalled his own nights as a shepherd boy under the stars, but he gives voice to the Church’s praise of Her Lord. Though we are spiritually little children, the Lord brings forth praise from our lisping and stammering tongues.

Also in verse 2, how does praise from the lips of children and infants silence the foe and the avenger? You might first notice that the Hebrew word `oz is translated by many translations as “strength” or “power” (even the NIV that I quoted in asking the question above puts “strength” in the margin). I think the reason the NIV put “praise” in the text is because the Septuagint, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament (abbreviated LXX), translates the word as “praise”, and the New Testament so quotes it (for example, Matthew 21:16). The essential meaning of the verse does not depend on which way this particular word is taken, however. The essential meaning of the verse is that because the Lord’s enemies, the foe and the avenger, rage against Him and those who are His, thirsting for vengeance and expressing that vengeance in curses (Psalm 44:16), the Lord has established the stammering of children as a defensive and offensive power to silence them. As St. Paul describes in 1 Corinthians 1:27, the Lord chooses that which the world regards as foolish and weak to shame that which the world regards as wise and strong. One commentator puts it thusly: “It is by obscure and naturally feeble instruments that He makes His name glorious here below, and overcomes whatsoever is opposed to this glorifying.” And, the New Testament use of this verse is a great example. The Pharisees and scribes refused to praise and thus to confess Jesus, but the little children did not refuse. We, too, must become like children and infants and let the Spirit reveal Jesus to us, so that, receiving by faith both Him and His forgiveness of sins, we join the praise and confession of all times and places.

Q&A

So far there haven’t been any reader’s questions asked about Psalm 8, but feel free to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy includes Psalm 8 among those appointed for use in church services on the following Sundays and festivals.
  • The Fourth Sunday in Advent
  • The Circumcision and the Name of Jesus (New Year’s Day)
  • Easter Day, The Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord
  • The Feast of the Holy Trinity
  • The Ninth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • St. Michael’s and All Angels’ Day

Hymn References

No hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to be based on or allude to Psalm 8.

Isaiah 1-3

If you’ve been anxiously waiting to finish Revelation, today’s your day, as we read Isaiah 1-3. If Revelation fit the first half of Advent on account of their common end-times focus, then Isaiah fits the second half on account of their common focus on the beginning of the age of the Messiah (the Anointed One, or Christ), and both books help us focus on repenting during this season. Isaiah speaks to us, warning us of our sins and telling us of the forgiveness available through the Messiah. As Isaiah prophesied of the exile and return of the people of Judah, so he also prophesies of our exile in this place and our ultimate “return” to heaven.

Introduction to Isaiah

Michelangelo’s ‘Isaiah’ in the Sistine ChapelIsaiah is the first of the so-called “latter” or “major” prophets, whose Divinely-inspired author is pictured in this post as painted in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel by the artist Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni who lived from 1475-1564 (to see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it,). Isaiah was a son of Amoz and is regarded as the greatest of the writing prophets. He began his work as a prophet in the year King Uzziah died (probably 740 or 742 B.C.), probably had his zenith under Hezekiah, and may have ended it during the reign of Manasseh, when an unsubstantiated but credible Jewish tradition says he was sawed in half (confer Hebrews 11:37). Thus, Isaiah likely served as a prophet around the same time as Amos, Hosea, and Micah, whose books we read in October and November. Isaiah appears to have authored a biography of a sort for both Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:22) and Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:32), which books have not survived to our time, but may have been source material for the author of Chronicles. During the time that Isaiah prophesied (and wrote), the Assyrian empire was expanding and Judah’s stature was declining. Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel, which threatened Judah. Isaiah ultimately prophesied both of the Babylonian captivity of Judah and of Babylon’s fall at the hands of the Medes and Persians. Isaiah was married, and his two sons were given symbolic names of such prophecies. (If you followed the Daily Lectionary during Year 1, these historical developments are probably going to be familiar; if you are new to the Daily Lectionary during this Year Two, then do not worry too much about the historical details yet, as you will have lots of opportunities over the year for them to be reinforced and expanded.) Isaiah can be divided into two parts, although, unlike others, we do not thereby wrongly deny Isaiah’s authorship of both. The first part, chapters 1-39, speaks words of judgment and promise, including the great scene of heavenly worship in chapter 6, and the second part, chapters 40-66, speaks words of comfort. Interestingly, a key prophecy of Jesus’s birth comes in chapter 7, and key prophecy of his death and resurrection come in chapter 53. In between we find prophecy and words of John the Baptizer (the beginning of chapter 40, one of my favorite chapters in the Bible). You can find a summary of the basic information on Isaiah here.

Overview of Isaiah 1-3

Isaiah 1-3 is part of the opening section of rebukes and promises. Chapter 1 charges Judah with breaking its covenant, and chapters 2-3 begin the description of Judah and Jerusalem's glory in the Last Days (in some ways not much different from the end of Revelation).

Comments

The opening prophecies in chapter 1 are likely not Isaiah’s first prophecies but stand at the head of the book by way of introducing its contents. In 1:3 the people are said be worse than simple animals that know their masters and caretakers. In 1:9-10 God's mercy is praised for letting a remnant survive. God in 1:10-17 judges the hypocrisy of those who worship Him without being sincere. In light of the perhaps well-known expression of sin’s stain and the great expression of God’s forgiveness in 1:18, be sure not to miss in 1:16 the sacramental direction for removing that stain by way of Holy Baptism, the washing of water and the Word. Baptized and so with the right approach of faith, our sacrifices of praise and confession in word and deed are most welcome by God. In 1:21, Jerusalem, as typical of Judah, is called a harlot for her unfaithfulness to the Lord by adulterating herself to other gods. In 1:25 and the verses following God promises to redeem the repentant people of Jerusalem and make perish those who do not repent.

As we think of seemingly endless wars in the world, we do well to remember that the kind of peace described in 2:1-5, which is similar to Micah 4:1-3, is not likely to be a worldwide “peace on earth” until our Lord’s final coming. (So much for v.4’s reported use on the cornerstone of the United Nations’ building in New York.) Note that the last days of 2:2 begin with the coming of Christ into the flesh and are completed with His coming in glory. In 2:4 note how the instruments of war are turned to implements of peace (but contrast Joel 3:10, where the reverse is true). The fleeing from God's judgment in 2:10, 19, and 21 sounds remarkably like Revelation 6:15-16. The Day of the Lord brings blessings or curses, depending on whether you and I are found to be faithful or unfaithful. Chapter 3 describes the judgment on Jerusalem before the glory comes. Note especially the replacement of leaders and the condemnation of the bad leaders.

Q&A

There is just one reader’s question and answer related to today’s reading posted; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

For all the use of Isaiah as Old Testament readings in the historic 1-year lectionary we use in services at Grace, there are surprisingly no readings appointed from chapters 1-3.

Hymn References

There are no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal said to refer to verses from Isaiah 1-3.

God bless you, and may you let Him make today holy for you as you rightly use His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 08, 2007

Ps 7 /Rev 21-22

Today’s reading includes a prayer for immediate deliverance and a glorious depiction of our ultimate deliverance.

Psalm 7

One commentator summarizes Psalm 7 as “An appeal to the Lord’s court of justice when enemies attack.”

Overview

Psalm 7 may be broken down as follows: an initial summation of David’s appeal (vv.1-2), David’s plea for his own innocence regarding a cause for the attack (vv.3-5), an appeal to the earth’s Judge to execute His judgment over all but especially in David’s case (vv.6-9), David’s confidence his prayer will be heard (vv.10-13), and David’s comfort with the common wisdom that “crime does not pay” (vv.14-16).

Comments

To whom do we turn when something happens to us as individuals or as a family? What about when something happens to our country? Our congregation or church body? That the Lord our God is the only refuge we have from any and all who pursue us is the focus of Psalm 7:1. The KJV translates “I put my trust” where the ASV, NIV, and NASB have “take refuge” and a commentator renders “hide myself”; all essentially have the same meaning, the more literal meaning of taking shelter gives us the more figurative meaning of putting trust in someone or something. Similarly, the things that might be sought for literal refuge come to be used as figures of speech for God’s protection—rock, shield, cover, wings, fortress, and the like. Perhaps these figures of speech come full circle with the Temple as a place of refuge. When we seek out the Lord as refuge, we are confessing that on our own we are threatened and helpless, but seeking the Lord as our refuge leads to salvation, the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Most of us probably only know lions from books, TV shows, movies, or zoos. In other words, we probably have not met a one first-hand out in the wild. The author of Psalm 7, David, a one-time shepherd of sheep, elsewhere tells how he had been attacked by and had defeated wild lions (1 Samuel 17:34-35; see also Samson in Judges 14). As in verse 2, psalmists frequently liken enemies’ attacks to those of ferocious animals (Psalm 10:9 is just one example), and the practice carries over to the New Testament, too (see 1 Peter 5:8), perhaps especially because believers throughout the Bible faced literal lions when persecuted by non-believers (for example, you may know the story in Daniel 6). Not all Biblical references to lions are to lions as proud and ferocious enemies, however. You may recall the face of the lion in connection with the heavenly creatures (Ezekiel 10:14; Revelation 4:7) and the use of the lion as a symbol for the Gospel-writer St. Mark. Jacob referred to his son Judah as a lion’s cub (NIB; “whelp” KJV, ASV, NASB), which is a symbol of sovereignty, strength, and courage. (Compare Moses’s statements in Deuteronomy 33:20, 22.) Judah, and by extension Israel, is later pictured as a lion (Numbers 24:9; Ezekiel 19:1-7; Micah 5:8), and Judah’s greatest descendant, Jesus Christ, is called “the Lion of the tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). Jesus Christ is ferocious to our enemies but royal or kingly for us. We are saved from our sins by grace through faith in Him.

David is more bold in his Psalm 7 prayer than I usually am in my prayers! For some time David was pursued by a jealous King Saul and his supporters from the tribe of Benjamin. In verses 1-2, David recognizes how fierce his enemies are, and then, in verses 3-5, David more or less pleads innocence and asks God to let his enemies get him if he has done anything to deserve their wrath. I say David is bolder than I am because I know I sin against people, and, if I prayed God to let my enemies get me if I deserved their wrath, then they would probably get me! David does not think he is perfectly righteous on his own, but David had not done anything wrong to deserve what Saul was plotting. In verses 6-9, David calls for God to judge his cause, and, in verses 10-16, David expresses his confidence that God will hear his prayer, for under God eventually sees to it that all wrongs are righted. Finally, David vows to praise God for hearing his prayer and addressing his need. When, like David, we suffer wrongly, we, too, can rest assured that God will ultimately provide justice. And, when we have done wrong, we, too, can be comforted through a bold prayer for forgiveness. For, in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, God has met our great need for deliverance from sin. So, again like David, we should praise and thank God for answering our prayer and meeting our need.

In verses 14-16, there are three vivid illustrations of not only how “crime does not pay” but also how the very evil that we produce will end up doing us harm. I was especially struck by verse 14’s pregnancy-birth illustration and its end result of “falsehood” (KJV, ASV, NASB) or “disillusionment” (NIV), which one commentator elaborates on as “self-deception, delusion, vanity”. You see, the evil leads the one perpetrating it to not recognize it as evil, almost as if the judgment of God that eventually comes will come as a surprise. (See here for a reader's reaction to that insight.) The ultimate judgment of God is what prompts the psalmist’s praise in verse 17—not as if the psalmist is glad to see the sinner punished but joyful more for his own righteous redemption. (Incidentally, an email from a reader one time expressed being glad to be rereading the Psalms, indicating they were harder to understand and hoping an additional time through would help. I agree that we can hardly read and pray them too much!)

Q&A

There haven’t been any readers’ questions on Psalm 7 yet, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints Psalm 7 among those for use in church services on the following Sundays and festivals.
  • The Fourth Sunday after Epiphany
  • Palm Sunday
  • The Monday of Holy Week
  • The Second Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The day of St. Simon and St. Jude

Hymn References

Two hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 7 and so may help you meditate on it.
  • 7:1 -- #526 (a wonderful “cross and comfort” hymn that helps us accept the afflictions we face)
  • 7:17 -- #549 (a hymn that I don’t think I know at all, although its title is similar to an evening hymn I know)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Revelation 21-22

Hopefully any doubts about the comforting nature of the book of Revelation will disappear after reading Revelation 21-22, in which the great and final fulfillment of God's salvation is vividly portrayed.

Overview

As the Revelation to St. John concludes, chapters 21-22 tell of the new heaven, earth, and Jerusalem. First, in 21:1-22:5, the Holy City comes down from heaven, representing the Church triumphant. Then, in Revelation 22:6-21, there are final words from the angel guiding John, from Jesus, and from John, with the church's part spoken, too. (To me, getting to these two chapters alone are worth wading through the preceding 20.)

Comments

The Angel Showing St.John the New JerusalemThe vision of the new Jerusalem combines aspects of the Garden of Eden, the desert Tabernacle, its Temple successor, and the city of the Temple, Jerusalem. God dwells perfectly with His people, and they with Him. Sorrow and suffering are over and gone, as are the enemies and unbelievers. Like Old Testament apocalyptic literature (such as Ezekiel 40-41), there is some measuring of the city that turns out to be a perfect cube, as was the Most Holy Place of the Tabernacle and Temple. In the Heavenly Jerusalem, however, there is no temple, for the Lamb is the city's all in all. Note the "pearly gates" in Revelation 21:21, but, since there are no more threats to the city, its gates never close, nor does night ever fall and bring fear. (Note that any jokes about St. Peter letting people in through the pearly gates don’t fit with St. John’s vision.) Life-giving water flows from the Lamb on the throne. (In John 7:37-38, Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles cried out: "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to Me; and let the one believing in Me drink"; and Jesus pointed to prophecy about Himself that said, "Rivers of living water from within Him will flow." See also Revelation 22:17.) The Tree of Life, blocked from access in Genesis 3:22-24, and sometimes identified with the cross, is again accessible. (The last of our Dürer Revelation woodcuts depicts the angel showing St. John the new Jerusalem, while in the foreground is pictured the angel of 20:1 with the key to the bottomless pit; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or from where we got the image.)

Let me anticipate one question, that about the "new heaven and a new earth" (Revelation 21:1). "Heaven" in the New Testament can have the simple sense of the sky, so we must not necessarily think that God's "heavenly home" needs to be or will be replaced. Furthermore, the reference to a "new" heaven and earth can mean that the old will be transformed, not necessarily that it will be annihilated and replaced.

In the conclusion of Revelation, the angel affirms the truth of what John has been shown, Jesus affirms the imminence of His return and calls for faith, and John warns the readers of his letter not to alter the book. (There is a very brief comment here about 22:18-19.) Jesus says, "Surely I come quickly," and His Church fervently responds, "Amen. Even so, come, Lord Jesus." How especially appropriate this reading is for our Advent season of preparation for the Lord's coming! Amen! Come, Lord Jesus!

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints one reading from Revelation 21-22 to be read in the church.
  • 21:5 -- Dedication of a Church

Hymn References

Seven hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal apparently refer or allude to verses from Revelation 21-22.
  • ch.21 -- #72 (As I noted yesterday, this Advent hymn is replete with bridal and festal imagery; having been omitted from Lutheran Worship, it is given a different tune and updated language in Lutheran Service Book #515.)
  • 21:4 -- #592
  • 21:18 -- #613
  • 21:22 -- #609 (The last line of the second stanza of this hymn, as I noted yesterday, is better translated “To eat the Supper at Thy call”, as by LSB #516.)
  • 21:24 -- #605 (“The beatific vision” in the third stanza is the vision of God that the blessed have in heaven, although Moses [Exodus 34:28-35] and St. Paul [2 Corinthians 12:2-4] may be said to have had it briefly in this life.)
  • ch.21-22 -- #23
  • 22:16 -- #343 (Lutheran Worship #73 omitted the second stanza from TLH, and Lutheran Service Book follows suit.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by rightly using His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 07, 2007

Ps 6 / Rev 18-20

Deliverance from a dire situation is something today’s two readings have in common, as our Advent watchfulness continues.

Psalm 6

Following a morning psalm, Psalm 6 somewhat similarly looks back on a sorrowful night. In fact, this psalm is one of the so-called seven penitential Psalms, perhaps associated with the seven days of the week.

Overview

When one is ill or suffering in some way, pastors often suggest the person pray the psalms, the ancient hymnal of the Church; Psalm 6 is a good example of why pastors make that suggestion. David is suffering in body and soul and knows that he deserves worse from God, but he calls on God to deliver and save him, appealing to God's mercy (lovingkindness, NASB; unfailing love, NIV) and suggesting God's praise is at stake. So, at the end of the psalm, David can confidently say God has heard his prayer and that ultimately his enemies will be disgraced. We can also so pray with David, even if our deliverance comes in our deaths and the shame of our enemies is not revealed until Judgment Day.

Comments

There is no formal confession of sin, but the psalmist surely recognizes that God would be righteous in carrying out His anger and wrath, although he nevertheless pleads for God’s mercy (vv.1-2). The psalmist does not plead for the removal of the rebuke or discipline, mind you, but for the rebuke and discipline to proceed not from God’s anger and wrath but from God’s love and grace. We do well likewise to pray this psalm, recognizing our own sin that deserves God’s anger and wrath but nevertheless pleading for God’s mercy and for His rebuke and discipline to proceed from His love and grace.

Biblical figures give some interesting reasons for God to grant their petitions. We find one of those interesting reasons today in Psalm 6:5, where the psalmist suggests to God that His praise is at stake in whether or not God delivers the psalmist. Even in the Old Testament people knew there was more to life than life in this world, and they knew that death was not the end of all existence. However, as one commentator puts it well, “when the psalmists wrestled with God for the preservation of life, it was death …, in its radical contradiction to life, that was evoked.” We can rest assured that, on account of saving faith in Jesus Christ unto the forgiveness of our sins, our souls will praise God in heaven while our bodies rest in the grave, until the resurrection of our bodies, after which we will praise God in body and soul for eternity in the new heaven and new earth.

Q&A

There are no previous readers’ questions and answers about Psalm 6, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints Psalm 6 as one of the choices for use in church services on a number of different Sundays and festivals.
  • The First Sunday in Advent
  • Ash Wednesday
  • Oculi (the Third Sunday of Lent)
  • The Monday of Holy Week
  • The Second Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • A Day of Humiliation and Prayer

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal refers or alludes to Psalm 6:1.
  • #321, a 1572 hymn by Nikolaus Selnecker that focuses on finding comfort in absolution. I don’t know that I had ever noticed this hymn before, but it is quite good. (Sadly, it was not included in Lutheran Worship, nor is it included in Lutheran Service Book.)

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Revelation 18-20

Depictions of that final Judgment Day are central in Revelation 18-20.

Overview

Chapter 18 tells of the fall of Babylon, symbolizing all the enemies of the Church, whose fall is mourned by kings, merchants, and sailors. Chapter 19 tells praise for Babylon’s fall and of the wedding supper of the Lamb (including the text of the "Hallelujah Chorus") and of the rider on the white horse Who defeats the beast and the false prophet. Chapter 20 tells of period of the church that ends with the defeat of Satan and the one-and-only judgment, said there to be done on the basis of deeds that proved or disproved the existence of faith (the first resurrection of vv.5-6 is said to be a sinner's conversion to faith).

Comments

The lament over Babylon in Revelation 18:9-20 is apparently modeled after the lament over, or prophecy against, Tyre in Ezekiel 27, which some of you may recall from our reading and discussion October 18th.)

The Adoration of the LambThe Dürer woodcut with today’s post is said to be based on the adoration of the Lamb as described in chapter 5, but I thought it also worked today, given the praise for the wedding of the Lamb in chapter 19 that breaks forth after the destruction of Babylon (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or see from where we got it).

The millennium mentioned in Revelation 20 can be especially problematic. We interpret it figuratively, symbolic of the complete New Testament era (10x10x10), though others interpret it literally, either with a 1,000-year reign of Christ between two judgments and two resurrections or with 1,000 years of peace, prosperity, and total-Christianization before the judgment and resurrection. Those are the three general categories, though there are lots of variations. The Augsburg Confession, one of the authoritative confessional writings of the Lutheran Church, in its 17th article specifically rejects the position "that, before the resurrection of the dead, saints and godly men will possess a worldly kingdom and annihilate all the godless."

Are you remembering that Revelation is to provide comfort to the Church undergoing persecution? I think some of the difficulty in reading the book can keep us from appreciating how it relates to our faith in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation. Maybe walking through today’s reading a little bit will help. The destruction of Babylon in chapter 18 generally symbolizes the destruction of all the evil forces threatening God’s faithful people in the Church. Even though this destruction has not yet been fully carried out, its completion is certain, and we can sing forth in worship as described in chapter 19. Note how 19:5 is addressed to us who believe in God. We are part of the Church, the Bride of Christ, Who He has made holy (Ephesians 5:26-27), and, although we have not yet begun the eternal marriage feast of the Lamb, we have a foretaste of that feast now in the Sacrament of the Altar. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is that Lamb, Who also is the conqueror of Satan and all those allied with him. Chapter 20 tells essentially the same story just in different terms: Satan has limited influence now, during the symbolic 1,000-year time of the Church, but when the end comes he will get what is coming to him, as will unbelievers and believers receive their respective rewards. Praise God that by His gracious act in Holy Baptism we are forgiven by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and find our names written in the Book of Life.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from Revelation 18-20 to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

A perfect number of seven hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal refer or allude to verses from our readings and may help you meditate on them.
  • 19:1 -- #23, #244 (I had never noticed that these popular hymns of praise were based on this Revelation text.)
  • 19:6-9 -- #609 (More strictly based on Matthew 25:1-13, this hymn makes the connection between the wedding feast and the Sacrament of the Altar, although the last line of the second stanza is better translated “To eat the Supper at Thy call” [LSB #516].)
  • 19:8 -- #305 (Note this Lord’s Supper hymn with its bridal imagery.)
  • 19:12 -- #341 (I had never connected this popular hymn with this verse, even though it is listed at the top of the page and looking at it now I don’t know why I am surprised.)
  • 19:16 -- #339 (This hymn is another one of our Lord’s glorious final triumph.)
  • ch.20 -- #72 (This Advent hymn is replete with bridal and festal imagery; having been omitted from Lutheran Worship, it is given a different tune and updated and altered language in Lutheran Service Book #515, although there the “Desire of nations” in the fourth stanza is sadly replaced with “O Sun so longed for”.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link and searching alphabetically by hymn title.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 06, 2007

Ps 5 /Rev 15-17

Maybe it is just me and my sensitivity to all things related to worship, but I think that is a common subtheme at least in both of our readings today.

Psalm 5

Psalm 5 is King David's morning prayer for help against lying enemies.

Overview

Psalm 5 is easily broken down into several different parts, although not all commentators agree on just how it breaks down. By one scheme, there is an initial appeal to be heard in vv.1-3, a basing of that appeal in God’s rule over humankind in vv.4-6, the main appeal of the psalm made humbly and with trust in the Lord’s mercy and righteousness in vv.7-8, an accusation and call for redress in vv.9-10, and in vv.11-12 an expansion of the prayer to all the godly with its own basis, arguably in the Lord’s past actions. By another scheme there are four six-line stanzas more obvious in the Hebrew: vv.1-3, the prayer to be heard; vv.4-6, the rationale of God’s holiness; vv.7-9, what the psalmist may do; and vv.10-12.

Comments

As in Psalm 1:5, so here in 5:5 sinners cannot remain in God's Presence. Yet, we see in 5:7 that by God's great mercy believing sinners can come into God's Presence with reverence ("fear", KJV), bowing in repentant worship, and there God blesses them and protects them. So, as the historic Christian liturgy reminds us, we draw near to God and confess our sins in order to have Him forgive us through Holy Absolution and through the Sacrament of the Altar. We dare not expect God's forgiveness to come to us directly but rather expect for His forgiveness to come to us through the very means He has established for giving us grace. (There are follow-up comments, prompted by questions on that statement, here and here.)

David prays for help to lead a "straight path" life (v.8), so that his enemies have no ground for accusations; David accuses his enemies of lying and prays for God to judge them. Such cursing of enemies is common in the Psalms and recognizes that judgment and punishment belong to God. Though these curses are usually seen as contradicting Jesus's words from the cross (Luke 23:34), whether the enemy is forgiven depends on whether he or she repents in faith. If the enemy does not repent, then God's judgment and punishment are in order.

When what appear to be bad things happen to us, we question God’s protection and favor (vv.11-12), but God does not fail to protect or shield us with His favor or good will. Our problem is either that we do not see how the things that happen to us are for our benefit or that we do not let them be to our benefit. We are challenged to perceive all things according to the will of God that is revealed to us in Jesus Christ, knowing that all things work together for good for those who love God (Romans 8:28), that is, in His Church for the benefit of which He rules the world (Ephesians 1:22).

As with probably all the Psalms, we can most properly put the words of the psalm in the mouth of the Lord Jesus Christ. He led the perfect life. Only He was completely without grounds for accusation, but that did not stop the false accusations and false testimony against Him that lead to His innocent suffering and death to save us from our sin. Where David's enemies attacked God indirectly by attacking David, Jesus's enemies attacked God directly. Yet, God used that great wrong for good, as He brings good out of all situations for those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

Q&A

To date there have not been any readers’ questions specifically about Psalm 5. However, you are free to ask a question.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The entire Bible is God’s Word, but the version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy singles out the following reading for use in church services.
  • Reminiscere (the Second Sunday in Lent)
  • Laetare (the Fourth Sunday in Lent)
  • The First Sunday after Trinity Sunday

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal refers or allude to Psalm 5:3.
  • #541 (Note the reference to “morning” and the hymn’s placement in the morning section.)

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Revelation 15-17

Today in our reading from Revelation we find more heavenly worship, wrath, and good reason to repent.

Overview

Revelation 15-17 tells us about St. John’s vision of the seven bowls (chapters 15-16) and describes Babylon as a great prostitute (chapter 17).

Comments

In chapter 15, John again sees the church in heaven at worship, this time singing the song of the Israelites after their deliverance from the Egyptians just before the bowls (KJV "vials") of God's wrath are poured out. That song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18) was reportedly sung as part of the Sabbath evening synagogue liturgy, celebrating God’s delivering Israel from Egypt. That deliverance was a type that pointed forward to the Lamb’s greater spiritual deliverance for His followers. Where the first song is “by” Moses, the second is “to” the Lamb. (I’m not aware that 15:3-4 has been set to music for Christian liturgy, although it wouldn’t surprise me if it has, and I would think it should be if it hasn’t.)

Chapter 16 describes the pouring out of the bowls of wrath, reminiscent in some ways of the plagues (Revelation 15:1) Egypt experienced in the Old Testament (Exodus 7:6-11:10) but again symbolizing another aspect of the whole of the New Testament times. Two things struck me in particular as I read chapter 16. First, people do not want a God Who judges, and, yet, one can hardly read these sections of Revelation and not see that God of the Bible does judge, and, as the angel of the waters (16:5) and angel from the altar (14:18, 16:7) say, He is righteous, and His judgments, even if we do not always understand them, are true and righteous (NIV "just"). Second, the unbelievers with the mark of the beast suffer these final plague-warnings (Revelation 16:2) and still will not repent but blaspheme all the more (16:9, 11), so they deserve God's final wrath yet to come.

The Whore of BabylonA new section begins with chapter 17, in which we see Christ's victory over the Antichrist and Satan, whose power is depicted with the woman named Babylon on the beast. (The image is of the so-called whore of Babylon; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or from where we got it). Remember not to get too caught up in trying to identify what are most likely symbolic numbers with actual people or events. While there is lots of speculation about the identification of the seven kings (17:10 and following), more important is recognizing, in Babylon on the beast (17:3, who, from 16:19, we already know will fall), the evil partnership of the anti-Christian government and the out-of-faith church. Dr. Luther is one of many who identified the great whore with the papacy of the Roman Catholic church, but we can certainly see it more broadly as all of the forces against Christ's Church. For, all evil forces are to us as Babylon was to the people of the Old Testament and Rome was to the people in St. John's day: a constant threat leading us to repent.

The urgency of repentance is clear throughout today’s reading.The seven plagues connected with the seven vials or bowls are the complete number of the final warnings God gives the world before the end comes. Whereas in our reading the warnings affect only the unbelievers, that does not mean that believers should not live every day in repentant faith. Advent is a season not so much as the world thinks of it with excitement and joy that Christmas is coming, but it is a season of repentance, sorrow over our sin and faith in the Lord—Who came, comes, and is coming again—for forgiveness of that sin. Advent shares that penitential nature with Lent, as symbolized by the deep purple paraments on the altar, lectern, pulpit, and pastors’ stoles and chasuble. (There’s a good bit more about those parament colors here.) Depending on the severity of our sin, we may fall out of the faith and need to be reconverted. No one knows at what point the gracious invitation to believe may be withdrawn or when the person’s own death or the Lord’s final coming may make repentance too late. All is not doom and gloom, however, and our reading from Revelation reminds us that believers are joyous and at worship, with psalm-like hymns, confessing their faith and declaring the Gospel to the world. (We do well to note how prominently the Temple, incense, and other accoutrements of worship figure in these visions.)

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from Revelation 15-17 to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

The Lutheran Hymnal is said to not contain any hymns that refer or allude to verses from Revelation 15-17.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 05, 2007

Ps 4 / Rev 12-14

Advent is a time of watching in prayer, and today Psalm 4 gives us an example of such a prayer for ultimate deliverance, and Revelation 12-14 assures us that ultimate victory is ours.

Psalm 4

Where Psalm 3, which we read yesterday, refers to the psalmist’s assurance that the Lord will keep him while he sleeps, Psalm 4, which we read today, refers to the peace the Lord’s care gives to the psalmist as he goes to sleep.

Overview

Ever carry on two conversations at once? Such an approach to communication can be confusing, especially if you do not keep track of just whom is being addressed. Psalm 4 poses that challenge. The psalmist addresses verse 1 to God, but then the psalmist speaks as if addressing verses 2-4 to his fellow human beings, finally resuming his address to God in verses 6-8. We pray with the psalmist for God to hear when we call and mercifully to answer our prayer. When prayers seem to go unanswered (for they are always answered, one way or another), people doubt God hears. The psalmist, however, remembers the Lord's past blessings, as can we, and confidently prays for peaceful rest, knowing such peace comes only from the Lord.

Comments

Do you ever set things apart for special purposes? “These good dishes are just for company,” you say, or maybe “I’m going to take my vacation that week.” We may be more or less successful in such designations, but today Psalm 4:3 we learn that we do not set ourselves apart as godly, but the Lord does. Perhaps providentially, the Hebrew word used for the “godly person” is hasid, which in its plural form is discussed in this Q&A. The verb used in reference to this “godly person” emphasizes not only the selection but also the selection to such a position of honor. We know that this honor is the result of God’s grace and mercy in Jesus Christ and that we only receive it as a gift given through faith. Like David, we godly believers can count on the Lord hearing us when we call to Him.

The Synod’s Short Explanation of Dr. Martin Luther’s Small Catechism Question #59c tells us, “God forbids us to bear anger and hatred in our hearts against our neighbor,” and it cites Ephesians 4:26, which itself cites Psalm 4:4. Anger can lead us to knowingly and willingly hurt or harm our neighbors, and Christ seems to especially forbid anger towards brothers or sisters in Christ (Matthew 5:21-24). Ephesians 4:26 and Psalm 4:4 both seem to have in view extended or continuing anger, since we are supposed to forgive those who sin against us. Notice how David in the same psalm verse says we should search our own hearts, perhaps recognizing our own sin, and be silent. Forgiving the sin committed against us and humbly repenting of our own sin and thereby receiving God’s forgiveness in faith, we can “lie down and sleep in peace” (Psalm 4:8).

Since Jesus’ death on the cross has fully atoned for our sin, the kind of sacrifices we can think of in regards to verse 5 are those described in such places as Psalm 51:17 and Hebrews 13:15, remembering that God calls us to repent of our sins and that His forgiveness brings forth the praise and confession of His Name!

In verse 6, notice how the false gods are indicted for their inability to help people in any way, and, with an expression recalling the Aaronic benediction of Numbers 6:25-26, the Lord, Who is able to help, is asked to bless His people. And, bless He does, as the psalmist goes on to confess in verse 7.

Q&A

There are no previous reader questions with posted answers, but you are welcome to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The entire Bible is God’s Word, but the version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints Psalm 4 for use in church services on the following occasions.
  • The First Sunday of Advent
  • The Day of St. Matthias the Apostle
  • The Day of St. Philip and St. James the Apostles

Hymn References

There are no hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal that are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 4.

Revelation 12-14

If you are relatively new to daily Bible reading and are sticking with this plan that has us starting with Revelation, today reading Revelation 12-14, then I especially commend you! In some ways starting with Revelation is like coming in at the end of a movie when you do not know the whole story and cannot understand the dialog without subtitles! However, Revelation's connection to our present season of Advent is quite strong (for example, the God "Who was, is, and is to come", Revelation 4:8), and I have been appreciating that connection. We will finish Revelation in three days, so, if you are struggling, do not lose heart!

Overview

Today's reading covers most of the fourth vision, which itself is made up of seven visions, six of which we read today. Remember that these are highly symbolic accounts of different aspects of the whole of New Testament time. Especially central in these chapters are pictures of Satan raging (unsuccessfully!) against Christ and Christ's Church. Since we are not going to get every little detail of the visions, we can at least catch some highlights.

Comments

The Dragon with Seven Heads The “Various Personages and Events” that a different outline says Revelation 12-14 covers begins the vision of the woman and the dragon in chapter 12 and pictured on the right as by Albrecht Dürer (to see a larger version of the image, either click the image or from where we got it). In verse 5, the Male Child is arguably the Messiah, which leads us to make the woman the Virgin Mary, who also can herself be a symbol of the Church. In verse 7 we have an archangel named Michael, whom some take to be Jesus and who is mentioned in a similar context in Daniel 12:1; to be sure, Michael's victory in the war is the victory that Christ won when He came in the flesh, to suffer, die, and rise again in order to save you and me from our sins. We are afflicted in the desert of this world for a short time (in v.14, half of the complete seven years) because we treasure God's teaching (beware of leaning towards works-righteousness if your translation reads "obey" in v.17). But, we are enabled to overcome through Word and Sacrament (v.11). The book of Revelation provides hope and thus comfort to the persecuted Church during the time of its exile on earth. Do note that in 12:6 the time of the woman’s stay in the desert is the same as the time of persecution (see also 11:2; 13:5). The victory is assured, as the proclamation in heaven declares (12:10-12). We patiently endure the persecution in this world, never wavering from our confession of the faith (13:10).

Part of our affliction is due to the beasts described in chapter 13, which beasts draw power from the Devil but cannot permanently harm us. The first beast, which combines characteristics of the four beasts in Daniel 7:4-6, looks like it will be victorious, with blasphemies running for 42 months (elsewhere we find 1,260 days or three-and-one-half years, all meaning just shy of complete time). All the earth worships the beast, except for those whom God has elected from eternity with names written in the Book of Life. The second beast, the beast out of the earth, deceives many and brands his followers with a mark.

Chapter 14 tells both about the Lamb and the 144,000 (14:1-5) and about the harvest of the earth (14:6-20). Note the contrast in chapter 14: the figurative 144,000, symbolizing the complete number of those saved, "bear on their brows the seal of Him who died" (Lutheran Service Book, #837:3 line 2)--that's the sign of the cross put upon our foreheads during Holy Baptism. You may recall that a sermon at Martin Luther's funeral likened him to the angel in verse 6, due to Luther's emphasis on the Gospel and worship of God (Luther’s Roman Catholic opponents found him in a different place in today’s reading); this angel and the other two assure the Church that the Gospel is ever proclaimed, no matter how dark things get. Verse 13 is also notable: those who die as believers are truly blessed (and right away, without any intervening purgatory or soul-sleep), with their deeds being evidence of the faith that saved them (see Matthew 25:31-46 for an example of how aware those saved are of these deeds). In the harvest scene, note verses 17-20 and notice their interpretation by one songwriter here. (The background on that song here is typical of what I found, though this page is more about the original words to the song, and sorry if all this is too Yankee of me. Here is another literary reference based on 14:19 and that song.)

Can you laugh at the Devil? After reading today's Revelation reading are you perhaps more frightened than cheered? Rev. Luther Poellot, who authored a book titled Revelation: An Explanation of the Last Book in the Bible (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1962) and who before my time was pastor at the church in Waterloo, Ontario, where I later vicared, points out several moments of comedy, as it were, in chapter 12:

(On 12:3 and following) "No other dragon was ever made to look so ridiculous. There he stands, great and ferocious, with his seven heads and ten horns, before a woman who is helpless in the pains of childbirth. One would expect that he would lose no time in killing the mother before the child is born. But no--he must wait until she brings forth her child--a son, Jesus (Is. 9:6; Matt. 1:21). That must have been one of the bitterest pills which he ever had to swallow. But there was even worse to come for him. After the child was born, both the mother and the child escaped from him. If you want to laugh at the devil, read Rev. 12!" (158)

(On 12:13-17) "In spite of his deep guile and great might, he is ridiculously helpless. Since the woman had been given the wings of an eagle (Rev. 12:14), he could not really expect to drown her in a flood. Yet he 'cast out of his mouth water as a flood after the woman, that he might cause her to be carried away of the flood.'" (163)

Today the Lord can truly fill our mouth with laughter (Psalm 126:2)! Tomorrow, plagues, bowls, and Babylon.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints two readings from Revelation 12-14 to be read in the church.
  • Revelation 14:1-5 -- Holy Innocents
  • Revelation 14:6-7 -- Reformation

Hymn References

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that refer or allude to verses from our readings may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 14:4 -- #273 (For more on Holy Innocents, see here; I have also since learned that this hymn is in the electronic version of Lutheran Service Book.)
  • 14:6 -- #505
  • 14:6,7 -- #266 (Check your hymnal, as the lyrics are not posted on the usual site.)
  • 14:13 -- #589, #592 (Remember that the body sleeps in the earth, but the soul does not.)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you, and remember you are welcome to join us at Grace today and each Wednesday during Advent for supper at 6:00 p.m. and Vespers at 7:00 p.m.

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 04, 2007

Ps 3 / Rev 9-11

Deliverance from immediate and ultimate enemies are a theme common to our readings today.

Psalm 3

Moving on from the two psalms that somewhat introduce the Psalter, today we come to Psalm 3, which has some connections to Psalm 4, including the references to the psalmist sleeping, which help drive home God’s care for us day and night.

Overview

The superscription to the psalm directs us to David’s fleeing from the rebellion led by his son Absalom, as narrated, for example, in 2 Samuel 15:13-17:22, and the psalm’s opening verses well state David’s need for God’s deliverance from his many enemies.

Comments

A child on a playground may be willing to take on an opponent if the fight is one-on-one, or if the odds are in the child’s favor. If the other side “has numbers”, as the basketball saying goes, then the child may be less willing to stay and fight. In Psalm 3 David does not mind that his opponent “has numbers” (vv.1, 6), for he knows the Lord is protecting him. The psalm today reminded me of the account in 2 Kings 6:8-23, where the Lord opens the eyes of Elisha’s servant to see that the great number of the heavenly host fighting on the Lord’s side is far greater than the number fighting against Him (or note how the Lord then “blinds” the enemies). As the Lord was protecting David and Elisha, so the Lord is similarly protecting us who believe. We receive the forgiveness of sins by grace through faith in Jesus Christ and can have David’s confidence that the Lord’s power and forces will ultimately deliver us.

How did you get up this morning? Did you set an alarm clock? Did someone wake you up? Did you maybe just wake up on your own? Last night when you and I went to sleep, did we give much thought to the possibility that we would not wake up this morning at some point? Dr. Luther's Small Catechism teaches us to pray at night: "For Into Thy hands I commend myself, my body and soul, and all things". Whether we wake up for the morning of the next day in this world or for the eternal morning in the next world is truly up to God. By Divine inspiration, David acknowledges that same fact in Psalm 3. David sees his enemies rising up against him and gives voice to their mocking him and his God, but David does not waver in his faith in God for deliverance and so continues to pray. With David we, too, can confidently so pray, recognizing not only that God watches over us while we sleep and during that day and provides all but also that ultimate deliverance (salvation, KJV) from sin and this sin-troubled world come to us from the Lord through the same faith that leads us to pray.

Verse 2 quotes the mockers, which is said to be a frequent device in the psalms, but the content of this verse made me think of our Lord’s Passion and those who taunted Him while He was on the cross. (See Psalm 22:8 and, for example, Matthew 27:43.) Such taunting is hardly necessary for us to feel as if we are completely surrounded and about to be overcome (v.6). How easily we let difficulties and uncertainties in our own lives darken our outlooks and make us think all is nearly—if not completely—lost. Not so David, who, at least in this psalm verse, refuses to be afraid or doubt that God will sustain him. We do well to emulate his faith, remembering that nothing can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:28-39, but especially vv.38-39).

Q&A

There are no questions and answers posted that specifically refer to Psalm 3, but you are welcome to ask one.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy gives a number of choices for Psalms on Sunday and festival services, and Psalm 3 is among those listed on the following days.
  • Good Friday
  • The Twenty-seventh Sunday after Trinity Sunday (the Last Sunday of the Church Year)
  • The Day of St. Andrew

Hymn References

Psalm 3:5 is the basis for two 19th-century “evening” hymns in The Lutheran Hymnal.
  • #553
  • #653, a favorite of many at Grace and printed in Lutheran Service Book with the four German stanzas that originally went with the tune (#887), although the English is apparently at least somewhat of an independent composition

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Revelation 9-11

I really pray that you are not letting the difficulty of Revelation discourage your plan to “Be in the Word”. I and others who have read through the book and the Bible as a whole can tell you that the book is worth the struggle and that it becomes easier to understand the second time through, with the whole Bible’s context under your belt.

Overview

By one outline of the book, Revelation 9-11 all is part of the Vision of the Seven Trumpets that we began yesterday with Revelation 8:6. Remember that the whole of the vision represents the whole of New Testament times, from Jesus' first coming until His second. In the Old Testament, trumpets were used as calls to attention and the like, and, the idea is similar here in Revelation. Such calls were sometimes ignored in the Old Testament, and they can be ignored even now, in New Testament times.

Comments

The sixth trumpet unleashes much destruction as told in chapter 9. Revelation 9:20 makes it clear that despite the calamities that befall people in the world many will never repent of their idolatry, murder, magic, sexual immorality, or thefts. Such unrepentance will only continue "'til Gabriel blows his horn" (sorry, I couldn't resist the reference to the University of Texas' fight song).

St.John Devouring the BookNext is chapter 10 with its vision of St. John receiving a scroll from an angel (as pictured by the Dürer woodcut shown; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or from where we got it). As John entered into the final phase of his prophetic work with the eating of this small scroll and the prophecy to the world of the contents on Revelation, so we, too, pray in the Collect of the Word that we might “inwardly digest” the Holy Scriptures. And, as Luther Poellot points out, the sweet Word that becomes an inseparable part of our lives also brings bitter things that we must endure in the world as a result.

In chapter 11, we hear of the two witnesses and the seventh and final trumpet, which brings the end and thus more worship of God. At the 7th and last trumpet, "The kingdom of the world has become the Kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign for ever and ever" (Revelation 11:15, NIV, and you can hear that in your head to the tune of Handel's "Hallelujah Chorus"). Again, the dreadful vision culminates in the triumph of God fulfilling His promises and the worship of all who have long waited for that day. Where so many others get caught up in some long, drawn-out course of events of Jesus' return, as if there were several different judgments, we note well how in Revelation 11:18 the act of judging is one and the same for the dead and living, even though the judgment of wrath (for the unbelieving nations) and the reward (for the prophets and all those who believed God's Word spoken through them) are quite different.

There is more on Revelation 9:5-6 and 10:1 here.

Q&A

Surprisingly, there are no existing readers’ questions with answers pertaining to Revelation 9-11. But, please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

One hymn from The Lutheran Hymnal refers or alludes to verses from the chapters appointed for today and may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 11:15 -- #222 (even though the hymn seems to relate to our Lord’s final coming, it is in the “ascension” section in TLH, as well as in LSB, where it also has a completely different tune)

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 03, 2007

Ps 2 / Rev 6-8

Fresh from hearing in the Gospel reading for the First Sunday of Advent of our Lord’s coming to Jerusalem to die for our sins, today in our home reading we hear prophecy of how those who rejected Jesus conspired against Him and how He ultimately delivers those who receive Him.

Psalm 2

Psalm 2 is the second of two psalms that serve as a bit of an introduction to the Psalter. More than many other psalms, Psalm 2 is highly Messianic, that is, it points very clearly to the Messiah, the Christ, our Lord Jesus, and so New Testament writers frequently quote this Psalm.

Overview

No one, it seems, likes being under the authority of another, whether a boss, teacher, parents, or even God. In Psalm 2 the kings who were subjected to the Throne of Israel plan to throw off the bands and cords (KJV; "chains and fetters", NIV) that hold them in servitude, but the Heavenly King makes it clear Who the ultimate authority is and calls them to submit to the Son and be blessed or else be destroyed. From the events of the Garden of Eden forward, human beings have wanted to at least be their own gods, and at least our sinful natures are no different. Nevertheless, God calls us to humbly fall on our knees before Him and submit, promising us forgiveness for our rebellion and eternal blessings when we trust in Him.

Comments

You know how sometimes something is funny until it isn’t anymore and someone can get angry when it is pushed too far? That’s what the transition from verse 4 to verse 5 once made me think of, even though that’s not what is really going on in the psalm. The Lord laughs at those who defy Him and try to live outside of His authority and power, but the day is coming when He will make His wrath clear to them. The day of His wrath is not really hastened by what the defiant ones do or say, they do not turn His laughter to anger. Rather, the day of His wrath comes when He has determined it will come. In the meantime, God wants all people to repent and believe in His Son Jesus Christ, Whose life, death, and resurrection have earned the forgiveness of their sins.

I think Psalm 2 is one of the more familiar psalms. You might notice how verse 7 is used in Acts 13:33 and Hebrews 1:5. Verse 9 may seem familiar from Revelation 2:27, which alludes to it. If you are at all familiar with Handel's oratorio, The Messiah, you are probably like me and can hardly read the words of this psalm without hearing Handel's music in your head. Movement 40 is a bass solo based on verses 1-2; movement 41 is a chorus based on verse 3; movements 42 and 43 are tenor solos based on verses 4 and 9, respectively. (You can listen to a few seconds of three of the four and buy them all here, where they are numbered 17-20 in Part II.)

Q&A

The following verse and topic is addressed in an answer to a reader’s question; such links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy singles out Psalm 2 for use in church services on a number of festivals related to Jesus as the Messiah.
  • Christmas, the Feast of the Nativity (or “birth”) of Our Lord
  • The Presentation of Christ and the Purification of Mary (February 2)
  • Easter, the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Lord
  • The day of St. Thomas

Hymn References

Surprisingly, given Psalm 2’s Messianic emphasis, no hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal are said to refer or allude to verses from Psalm 2. (Nor are there any in Lutheran Worship or Hymnal Supplement ’98 listed in connection with Psalm 2.)

Revelation 6-8

As we see today with Revelation 6-8, the way our Daily Lectionary breaks out the Bible into daily readings does not always correspond to what we might otherwise think of as sections in the books we read.

Overview

Revelation 6-8 finishes the second vision given to St. John, that of the Seven Seals (4:1-8:5), and takes us into the third vision, that of the Seven Trumpets (8:6-11:19).

Comments

As the first of the seven seals is opened in the first part of Revelation 6-8, St. John sees what have become known as the four horsemen of the apocalypse. We do not need to try to specifically identify any of the riders, though many do try to make such an identification. (For example, some interpret the rider of the white horse to be Christ [see chapter 19], while others say that rider is the Antichrist.) Suffice it to say that the calamities described symbolically in this passage are the same as the ones Jesus describes more literally in the Gospel accounts (for example, Matthew 24). The martyred saints in heaven, meanwhile, seemingly aware of the passage of time, cry out for the Lord's return and for the full consummation of His Kingdom. (There is a Biblog folo here on a modern application of Revelation 6:10.)

Four Angels Staying the WindsNext, chapter 7 describes the sealing in Holy Baptism of the full number of people who are saved and what they do when they are finally and fully gathered. The image with this post, another Dürer woodcut shows the angels restraining the four winds while the servants of God are sealed on their foreheads with the sign of the cross. (To see a larger version of the image, either click it or see from where we got it.) Such signing with the cross takes place in Holy Baptism and is recalled with the imposition of ashes on Ash Wednesday. Salvation is, of course, offered to all, but some, instead of the sign of the cross, take the mark of the beast on their foreheads. Unlike the Jehovah's Witnesses who think that the 144,000 is a literal number of people who will be saved, we can see that the 12 tribes of the Old Testament times the 12 tribes of the New Testament times 10x10x10 (a number of completeness) gives us the full symbolic number of the Church, which immediately joins--with victory palms in their hands--in liturgical worship of God for eternity. (And, if you know anything about doing laundry, just ponder for a while the miracle of making a robe white by washing it in blood.)

Chapter 8 tells of the golden censer (a device for distributing the smoke from burning incense) and the seven trumpets. Note that the incense is identified as the prayers of the saints and rises up before God. Recall the versicle and response from the Vespers liturgy: "Let my prayer be set before Thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice" (Psalm 141:2). The vision of the seven trumpets follows and, like the vision of the seals, gives another picture of the entire New Testament era. But, if you are sticking to our schedule of readings strictly, then you'll have to pause mid vision and wait for tomorrow's reading to finish the accounts of the trumpets.

Q&A

The following chapter and topic is addressed in an answer to a reader’s question; such links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy appoints one reading from Revelation 6-8 to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.
  • Revelation 7:9-17 -- All Saints’ Day

Hymn References

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that refer or allude to verses from our readings may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 7:2-7, 9, 10 -- #471
  • 7:13-17 -- #656 (a very strong and favorite hymn)
  • 7:15 -- #468
  • 7:17 -- #476

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link and looking for the hymns alphabetically by title.

If you read with us in Year Two and were wondering where the Matthew wrap-up was, you can find it here. God bless you!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 02, 2007

Ps 1 / Rev 3-5 / Comment

Today we begin the first of the year’s two readings through the book of Psalms and continue our reading of Revelation.

Psalm 1

Psalm 1 in some ways is an introduction to the whole Psalter, and it gives us an opportunity to introduce the book, too.

Introduction to the Psalms

The book of Psalms is often called the hymnal of the Old Testament for its contents of songs of praises and prayer, used both in public worship and at home. The titles “Psalms” or “the Psalter” come from the title for the book used by the Greek translation of the Old Testament; the word originally referred to stringed instruments and then to songs sung accompanied by such instruments. (The title “Psalms” is also used in the New Testament to refer to all the Old Testament “writings”, of which Psalms came first.) Not every “psalm” is found in the book of “the Psalms”, that is, there are Psalm-like songs in other books (for example, 1 Samuel 2:1-10, Luke 1:46-55, 68-79), and some psalms found in Psalms are also found in other books (for example, Psalm 18 in 2 Samuel 22). The Psalter as we have it contains psalms collected over a period of time and most likely written by a number of people (not just David, although he is said to have authored a goodly number of them). Some psalms identify their authors in their superscriptions, which also sometimes specify the type of psalm, provide musical or liturgical notations, or say what occasioned the psalm’s composition, thus giving a potential clue to a date. Not everyone accepts the superscriptions at face value, especially the accuracy of the author and occasion superscriptions (the New English Bible, for example, omits all superscriptions). The ones indicating authorship might instead reflect use by, dedication to, or style of. Regardless of style the psalms are all poems of one sort or another, rich in figures of speech, parallelism (either restating a statement or stating its opposite), stanzas and strophes, and other usual characteristics of poetry, although the usual attribute of rhyme, which we generally think of in connection with poetry in our time, was not an attribute of Hebrew poetry. Meter is a somewhat more complex matter, as are the numbering of verses and the psalms themselves. The Psalter as we have it has been divided into five Books, perhaps imitating the five books of Moses, also known as the Pentateuch, or the first five books of the Bible. Dr. Luther thought the Psalter promised Christ’s death and resurrection so clearly that it could be thought of as a little Bible. (St. Matthew’s Gospel account, which is read at the end of November, points out some of those promises of Christ.) Dr. Luther also saw the Psalms as a book of examples of the saints, showing both what we saints still do (such as our attitudes toward God, friends, enemies, suffering, and the like) and what the chief saint, Jesus Christ, has done—and He is surely the author, speaker, and content of the Psalms as He is of all of Holy Scripture. You can find a summary of the basics on the Psalms here.

Overview of Psalm 1

Psalm 1 always reminds me of downhill snowskiing (an illustration I have used when preaching on this psalm). Every run will get you down the hill, but not every run goes to the same place or has the same degree of difficulty. My most vivid memory of the Winter Park ski area outside of Denver, Colorado, is ending up at the wrong base area and almost missing the train back to town because I took the wrong fork of a run. Especially Psalm 1:6 tells us the "run" or "way" of the righteous goes one place, and the "run" or "way" of the ungodly another place. In skiing there are green circle (easy) runs, and there are double black diamond (extremely difficult) runs; if your skills are only up for the green runs, then you had better not go down a double diamond! When Jesus draws on the rich background of the two "ways" in places such as Matthew 7:13-14 (my text for the Elgin High School baccalaureate service sermon last May), He teaches that the road to hell's destruction is broad and easy, while the road to heaven's life is narrow and hard. Jesus says many go on the broad road and few on the narrow. Standing at the beginning of the collection of the psalms, Psalm 1 calls us to be one of the few--and, lest the Marine slogan come to mind, I will go ahead and add--the humble.

Comments

In Psalm 1:1, do not let the expression "nor standeth in the way of sinners" (KJV) make you think of something like "keeping them from doing something". Rather, in v.1 as in v.6, "way" has more the sense of "path" (or, as I suggested, a skier's "run"); the NASB even translates the Hebrew word in verse 1 as "path". In Psalm 1:2, the word translated as "law" is the Hebrew word torah. When we hear "law", we usually think of things like the Ten Commandments; but, while torah can be law in the sense of the Ten Commandments, torah can also be Gospel in the sense of God's teaching that a Savior would come (as He has), and comes even now (as He does), and will come again (which He will). Imagining sinners like us delighting in God's commands is difficult, but it is easy to imagine sinners like us delighting in God's promised Savior. Regarding the “chaff” in verse 4, the “ungodly” (KJV; “wicked” ASV, NIV, NASB) are likened unto the chaff, which the wind drives away. “Chaff” is frequently used to refer to the wicked (as in Hosea 13:3), usually in connection with gleaning (but compare in some ways Isaiah 17:13). Turning mountains to “chaff” can be used to indicate the result of God-given power (Isaiah 41:15, see also the “stubble” in Isaiah 41:2), however, and “chaff” also can be used to symbolize passing time. In gleaning, one throws the wheat up into the air with a “fan” or “winnowing fork”, and the wind blows away the chaff, that is the husks and straw (which presumably still need to be destroyed), while the heavier grain falls back to the ground. After the wind has separated the two, the grain is stored in the barn, and the chaff is burned. In Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17 John the Baptizer uses such imagery to speak of the work of the One coming after him, Jesus, and the Spirit He will bring. The use of “fire” in Matthew 3:12 and Luke 3:17 might be connected to the “fire” in Matthew 3:11 and Luke 3:16, as if for some, such as those foregoing water-Spirit baptism, the coming of the Holy Spirit means eternal destruction in the fire of judgment. The believers, who bear fruits in keeping with repentance, survive the coming of the Spirit and can be said to be purified in its river of fire. The Spirit (the same word as “wind”) is likely a common, though unexpressed, idea between the two consecutive verses.

Q&A

No one has asked any questions about Psalm 1 yet, you are welcome to do so.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The entire Bible is God’s Word, but the version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy singles out Psalm 1 for use in church services on the following days.
  • The Second Sunday of Advent
  • Invocavit (the First Sunday in Lent)
  • Rogate (the Fifth Sunday after Easter)
  • The Eighth Sunday after Trinity Sunday
  • The Day of St. Philip and St. James
  • The Day of St. James the Elder
  • The Day of St. Simon and St. Jude

Hymn References

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that refer or allude to verses from our readings may help you meditate on the reading.

You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Revelation 3-5

Today’s the First Sunday in Advent, and our reading of Revelation fits that season’s emphasis on the coming of the Lord.

Overview

The first part of Revelation 3-5 gives the final three of the seven letters (those to Sardis, Philadelphia (no, not the one in Pennsylvania), and Laodicea) and a glimpse of heavenly worship.

Comments

In reading the last three of the seven letters in Revelation 3, notice the believers' white robes in the letter to Sardis and the key of David again in the letter to Philadelphia. In the letter to Laodicea (Revelation 3:20, to be precise), Jesus describes Himself standing at the door and knocking (my grandparents had a painting illustrating this scene hanging on the dining-room wall of their farmhouse). People usually think this is Jesus knocking on the door of unbelievers' hearts waiting for them to use their own strength or decision to open the door and accept Jesus into their hearts, but no one can do that by his or her own power--opening the door is only possible by the power of the Holy Spirit in the Gospel call (see, for examples, Romans 1:16; 10:17; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Philippians 1:6; 2:13). There’s more to say about the letter to Laodicea, too.

Instead of extreme hot and cold, we might like the weather outside to be tepid. When it comes to our spiritual lives, however, tepid temperatures are not what we need. Jesus tells St. John to write to the pastor (and church) at Laodicea: “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other” (Revelation 3:15 NIV). Water from hot springs entered a river at Hierapolis, but it cooled down considerably by the time the water reached nearby Laodicea. Jesus alludes to this as He calls the people there—and us—to commit fully to Him and His Church. Jesus came to give His life for you and for me, to save us from our sinful selves and the death we deserve. He went to the cross for us and calls us to follow Him in that way. His call means regularly receiving His gift of forgiveness through Word and Sacraments, being willing to make Him our highest priority, and confessing Him to the world in deed and word. Too many people, however, want the privileges or blessings of Christianity without sharing in the responsibilities or obligations those blessings involve. They are lukewarm, Jesus says in Revelation, and they are facing judgment: “So, because you are lukewarm–neither hot nor cold–I am going to spit you out of my mouth” (3:16). You can imagine how gross a tepid and tasteless drink is. You might want to spew it out of your mouth. You can imagine how God feels about apathetic Christians! His spitting out of judgment can come at any time. There is a dividing line on God’s thermometer, and “lukewarm” falls on the “cold” side of the line. In some ways it is harder to overcome such “featureless lukewarmness” than to overcome coldness, complete alienation from or hostility to Christ. Yet, the Holy Spirit is calling all to repentance and indeed makes it possible for us to be hot, to follow the Lord in fervent faith and burning love and zeal. Such faithful following with zealous love for God and our neighbor is what God wants from us and is willing to produce in us. We cannot sit on the sidelines expecting others to do the work of God’s kingdom in this place and support the proclamation of God’s Word without our help. For those who do follow, there is rebuke and discipline from God (3:19); this will seldom be pleasant at the time. To us who endure, though, Jesus gives a heavenly throne (3:21).

St. John in the cloudsIn Revelation 4 and 5’s glimpse of heavenly worship, the four living creatures, described beginning in 4:6, bring to mind the writers of the four Gospel accounts: the lion is Mark, the ox Luke, the cherub Matthew, and the eagle John (see their symbols at the feet of their respective statues on the altar in our church). These creatures sing an endless Sanctus (Latin for "Holy"), echoing Isaiah 6: "Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, Who was, and is, and is to come." (See these comments.) As all the company of heaven is in endless worship, so, too, we join with them in the Divine Service, singing the liturgy God has given us, when He brings us together each week around Word and Sacrament. (And, I just have to point out how the liturgical elements are answered with a resounding "Amen".) The image with this post, another Durer woodcut, shows St. John before the heavenly throne; to see a larger version of the image, either click it or from where we got the image.)

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that refer or allude to verses from our readings may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 3 -- #479 (sorry there’s no link, but the lyrics are said to be under copyright; you'll have to check your hymnal)
  • 3:5 -- #407
  • 3:8 -- #279
  • 3:20 -- #650
  • 4:8 -- #239
  • 4:8-11 -- #246
  • 4:11 -- #242, #367
  • 5:5 -- #211 (lyrics are said to be under copyright; check the hymnal)
  • 5:12 -- #344

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

Biblog comment

The new format and combined posts in Year Three of the Biblog prompted a reader to comment as follows: “I like the new Biblog layout and the link to the melodies for hymns.” Thanks for the comment! We appreciate everyone’s constructive comments.

God bless you, and may you let Him make today holy for you by the right use of His Word and Sacraments!

Posted by at 12:00 AM

December 01, 2007

Lk 1:46-55 / Rev 1-2

Welcome to Year Three of Grace Lutheran Church’s efforts to “Be in the Word” by following a Daily Lectionary of Bible readings. If you are just joining us, a special welcome! If you have been with us before, you may notice some changes in Year Three, as we transition to a new design of our Daily Lectionary pages and whole website. Our goal is to put as much information as we can about the reading in one place, and so what you read below to some extent will repeat information you can find in previous posts and elsewhere on the site, although there will often be new information, too. You are more than welcome to be an active participant; please comment on the readings and ask questions as we go!

Luke 1:46-55

For December, Luke 1:46-55 is the seasonal canticle, a liturgical song without a fixed meter.

Overview

Luke 1:46-55 is the first of four great canticles recorded in St. Luke’s Gospel account. We know it as “Mary's Song” or The Magnificat (for its first word in its Latin version, which we would translate as “it magnifies”). Mary sings the song when she visits Elizabeth and John the Baptizer leaps in his mother’s womb at the presence of the Lord in Mary’s womb.

Comments

Reading verse 48, we can think of God’s regard for us in our low estate of sin and of His mercy promised to Abraham and his descendants, which we are, spiritually. We also certainly join all generations in calling Mary, the Mother of our Lord, the God-bearer, "Blessed". Note how in verses 51-52 the Blessed Virgin sings of the great reversal that God brings about: scattering the proud and putting down the mighty, but exalting the humble ("them of low degree", KJV). God truly helps His spiritual Israel (the Church today), as He has promised (v.54), showing His mercy from generation to generation of those that "fear" (understand also "love and trust in") Him.

We can reflect on our fixation on material things, worrying about food, shelter, and transportation. Perhaps our occasional lack in these regards can keep us humble before God, recognizing that not only does He provide all that we truly “need”, but also that as we are at least spiritually humble and hungry we are lifted up and filled. Not only in December with its Advent coloring but always, as we wait for our Lord's promised second-coming in glory to judge the living and the dead, we do well to remember His promises and how He fulfills them for us, even as He fulfilled them for Mary and all the past faithful believers.

Q&A

The following verses and topic are addressed in an answer to a reader's question; this link will be repeated as other verses to which the answer refers come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The entire Bible is God’s Word, but the version of the historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy singles out the following reading for use in church services.
  • Lk 1:39-56 – The Visitation (July 2)

Hymn References

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that refer or allude to verses from our readings may help you meditate on the reading.
  • Lk 1:46-55 -- #275 (sorry there’s no link, but the lyrics are apparently copywritten)

The Magnificat is also one of the canticle options for Vespers. You can find the tune for the hymn by following this link.

Revelation 1-2

With its placement at the end of the New Testament, Revelation may seem like a strange place in the Bible to start off the year of reading, but it fits well with the end-times focus of the first part of the Advent season, when we emphasize Christ’s return in judgment.

Introduction to Revelation

Despite the singular ("Revelation", not "Revelations"), the book is full of various letters and visions Jesus revealed to John, the so-called beloved disciple, who also authored the Gospel account that bears his name and the three epistles that survive in the New Testament collection. John son of Zebedee and cousin of Jesus outlived all the other apostles and experienced this revelation while exiled on the island of Patmos. He may have recorded it there or in Ephesus if the tradition is correct that he was later released from exile. (According to one tradition, John died later of natural causes, although another tradition says he was martyred before Revelation would have been written.) There is debate over who was emperor when John received the Revelation: Nero, Vespasian, or Domitian (the most likely). Domitian pushed harder for people to worship him as a god, especially in Asia Minor where Revelation is addressed, and Christians who refused were persecuted. Thus, the book is especially comforting in its triumphant vision of the saints in heaven and its reassurance that nothing ultimately suppresses the Church. (By the way, Revelation is one of the New Testament books that some had trouble accepting as part of the canon.) Concentrate on themes like that in your personal, devotional reading of this book, and do not get bogged down in trying to interpret everything. Note also that not everything in a work such as this, called “apocalyptic literature”, is meant to be taken literally (especially not the highly symbolic numbers like the 144,000 believers or the 1,000 years). You can find the basics on Revelation here.

Overview of Revelation 1-2

Revelation begins with seven letters, one each to seven churches, most of which we read on the first day of the month. These letters are relatively straightforward, especially compared to the rest of the book.

Comments

One of St. John's first statements in the reading from Revelation 1-2 also reminds us who embark on this plan of reading that we are blessed as we hear all of God's Word, even if we do not understand it all (as we probably won’t with much of Revelation). Jesus’s coming to us now in Word and Sacrament is a blessing to us, and His coming again in glory to judge the living and the dead will also be a blessing to us. For those who do not believe, Jesus' second coming brings judgment, and quite a different response: one of wailing. The hymn "Lo! He Comes with Clouds Descending" draws on Revelation 1:7: “Those who set a nought and sold Him, Pierced and nailed Him to the tree, Deeply wailing, deeply wailing, deeply wailing, Shall their true Messiah see” (Lutheran Service Book #336:2, lines 3-6).

The picture of Jesus that St. John paints in Revelation 1:13-16 is not one we usually have hanging on our walls (though the seminary in Ft. Wayne has a wall covered with a mosaic of this image). Note well, however, the sword of the Word of God coming out Jesus' mouth, the two-edges of which are sometimes identified with the law and the Gospel. The Jesus so described identifies Himself as God, describing Himself as the first (Alpha, the first letter in the Greek alphabet) and the last (Omega, the last letter in the Greek alphabet)--which symbols are on the front of our altar at Grace. Jesus was, is, and ever will be (or, "Which wert and art and ever more shalt be" in the words of "Holy, Holy, Holy", The Lutheran Hymnal #246). He has the keys of hell and death--the silver key of the Office of the Keys that retains sin and damns to hell and eternal death, while the gold key forgives sin and welcomes to heaven and eternal life. You can read more about Revelation 1:12-18 here. There's a nice image of these keys pointing their respective directions here, in the Catechism window of Martin Luther Chapel, at Concordia Lutheran Theological Seminary in St. Catharines, Ontario.


St. John beholding the Lord and the seven candlesticks
The image with this post is said to be a woodcut by Albrecht Durer (or perhaps from his studio or just in his style) that shows St. John beholding the Lord and the seven candlesticks (to see a larger version of the image click it, but for the largest and highest quality version of the image see from where we got it.)

Revelation 2 begins the relatively clear specific letters to the seven churches, whereas what will follow in the book is more of a general letter to them all. In verse 2 we do well to take note of the church of Ephesus that tested the false apostles and could not tolerate them. In verse 7 the tree of life is said to be in the “paradise of God”, and we think of the Garden of Eden in Genesis 2:9; 3:22-24; we will see, however, in Revelation 22;2, 14, and 19 how the tree is in the New Jerusalem, where believers live eternally with God. Eating of the tree of life figuratively promises that eternal life. Because our eternal life comes from Jesus’ victory on the cross, the cross is also sometimes pictured as the tree of life (as beautifully expressed in LSB #561).

Despite positive things to say about Ephesus, the other churches, and even us, the Lord still finds fault with all and calls for repentance. And, for us, as for them, there is forgiveness when we turn from our sin in sorrow and trust God to forgive us for Jesus' sake.

Q&A

The following verses and topics are addressed in answers to readers’ questions; these links will be repeated as other verses to which the answers refer come up.

Please feel free to ask a question of your own.

Sunday Lectionary Use

The historic 1-year lectionary in The Lutheran Liturgy does not appoint any verses from today’s reading to be read in the church on Sundays or festivals.

Hymn References

Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal that refer or allude to verses from our readings may help you meditate on the reading.
  • 1:5, 6 -- #244
  • 1:7 -- #64
  • 1:10 -- #7 (still under copyright)
  • 1:18 -- #199
  • 2:10 -- #470 (still under copyright)
  • 2 -- #479 (still under copyright)

You can find the tunes for the hymns by following this link.

God bless you today, and may you let Him make tomorrow holy for you by the right use of His Word and Sacraments.

Posted by at 12:00 AM