Arhive pe categorii: English articles

Articles from various categories in English

Psalm 89 : Acknowledging the Sovereignty of God

prayer.jpg

Introduction:
This Psalms concludes Book Three of the Psaltire in a similar confrontational mood Psalm 73 started it. As we know from our own reading or from last Sunday’s Bible Study, Psalm 73 put in front of us the debate over God’s justice from a personal perspective. Although the psalmist had quite a firm statement of faith (God is good to Israel), the reality opposed the truth of this thesis: men without firm moral standards seem to live better than those faithful to God. When the thesis and its antithesis are put together into a synthesis, there is only only logical conclusion: morality is in vain (v. 13). The only resource this psalmist has left to avoid some stupid outcome is holding onto his identity (v. 14). I can almost hear in his words, the Ukrainian Jew Tevje (Fiddler on the Roof) who argues with himself on the meaning of tradition and holding onto it, although at some point he suggested with humour amidst a perilous situation: “I know, God, that we are your people, but can’t we, just for this time, not be yours?” In the case of Psalm 73, the solution resides with a redefinition of the second observation: having goods does not mean to be blessed, having a good end is the true test of blessedness. Fair enough, a good end is not in our grasp but is God given.

The rationale of Psalm 89 takes a similar trajectory. This time, though, the thesis is extended to multiple verses and the argument refers to the whole nation and to its most significant representative, the king. There are modern commentators who suggest that these confrontational psalms, marking the extremities of the core section of the Psaltire, drive the thematic linkage of the following Psalms as the editor was in pursuit of some answers for these major debates.

The text:
Verses 1-4 lay the twofold thesis of this Psalm’s argument. The main theme of these verses is God’s loyalty to his covenant expressed by means of three words that belong to the same semantic category: favour, firmness and covenant. God’s covenant with David epitomizes God’s loyalty to his people.

Verses 5-8 take the reader into the Most Holy Court in Heaven, wherein God presides over the heavenly beings. The psalmist starts from above because this perspective is vitaly important for his argument. God has no equal among the most sublime creatures of this universe and no one can challenge his authority. Therefore, he is the highest authority the psalmist needs to present his case to.

Verses 9-13 describe the legacy of God’s omnipotence: creation of all things, and subsequent authority over sea with all its legendary creatures, and dry land with its most representative peaks in the region. Therefore, the reference to God’s hand belongs rightfully here. Zaphon, Yamin (translated ‘north’ and ‘south’), Tabor and Hermon were, apparently, all mountains with religious significance. The psalmist does not enter into a polemic but he is eager to establish God’s right over all idolatrous cultic sites.

Verses 14-18 approach the core of this debate by reiterating the two main elements of the twofold thesis: God’s loyalty (1) to his people (2). Notice that the foundational principles of God’s government are justice and loyalty qualified each by another noun. I take what NIV translates as “righteousness and justice” and “love and faithfullness” not as two pairs of four distinct principles but as two principles, that is righteous justice and loving firmness. Undoubtedly God is presented as a king whose authority does not escape a thing.

This tableau of God is completed by an extensive reference to his covenant to David. The covenant with humans, either individually or collectively, represents the best way of describing God’s economy, or his dealings with humankind, his vasals. Another major break appears at the end of verse 37. Verses 19-37 contain alusions to or reinterpretations of various textual traditions referring to David. Nonetheless, the psalmist created the illusion that he had access to the verbatim written transmision of this experience. The psalmist brings to fore several very important themes:

1. Since God delegated authority to the davidic descendent, he cannot be defeated (vv. 20-25);
2. Since God entered in a covenant relationship with David, he functions as a father to the davidic descendent and he will punish their misdeeds (vv. 26-33);
3. Since this covenant was initiated and signe by God, it cannot change (vv. 34-37).

Another major break appears at the end of verse 45. This section (vv. 38-45) makes use of the direct approach again (cf. vv. 9-13), but this time more like a reproach. Apparently, these verses describe a situation wherein the davidic descendent suffered a severe defeat at the hand of his enemies with serious repercutions on the political and socio-economical situation of the country.

As main arguments to motivate God’s return to better thoughts, the psalmist uses two (vv. 46-52): (1) death is certain, life is short; (2) the disciplinary tools used by God to punish his people have a will of their own. They do not seem very convincing to me, the fact that the psalm ends up in this note of pesimism suggesting probably that the psalmist did not reach a conclusion or a favourable end has not yet come. Note that the final doxology (v. 53) belongs to Book Three as a whole not to this psalm in particular.

The message:
If indeed the author of this psalm was Ethan the Ezrahite, a companion levite of Asaph in the liturgical singing ministry, it is not difficult to imagine that these two individuals shared many experiences and even ideologies. Both of them tried to reason God’s righteous justice and loving firmness in the context of unfavourable circumstances happened to Israel.
In Psalm 89, the possibility that a current severe situation is allowed by God as a penalty for a rebelious Israel is not entirely excluded, provided it will finish soon. Without receiving any evidence of an approaching relief, the psalmist clings on what he knows is true about his God with who resides all his hope. He builds an argument that begs the Almighty King for an imediate relief in favour of the king of Jerusalem. Here, there is no allusion to sin at all and not a single reference to the Sinai covenant. Both themes have no significance for the psalmist’s argument. Obviously, Psalm 89 is not a penitential poem like Psalm 51, Ezrah 9 or Daniel 9.

Can Psalm 89 stay as a model of prayer whereby we mediate for individuals or communities in distress? One should note that the poet is intrisincally connected to the fate of the king he is praying for, therefore his prayer could well be subjective. He is pasionate about an urgent favourable reply and for this reason he contructs an irefutable argument as if he was asked to convince God and his court about the feasibility of this project. Another danger lays with the monodirectional ritual approach to prayer. Ethan’s prayer is a good example of the type of product despair conceives. We have all heard ritualistic prayers, maybe we even prayed them, prayers wherein we try to provide with the most convincing rationale to enhance, as it were, our chances to get the desired reply as soon as possible. It all depends on what you understand by prayer.

For my part, prayer is a a spiritual practice that allows the practicioner to internalize the meaningful doctrine about God, a means to come to terms with one’s experiences in the context of the unchanging reality of God, a resourceful tool to achieve a growing awareness of God’s quality and plans. As far as we know, prayer is the practice of language exercised in relation to God. In this respect, there are no stupid prayers, there are only unsaid prayers.
Using pompous words does not guarantee God listens to your prayer. The orthodoxy of one’s statements cannot prompt the desired resolution to prayer either. Not even a good knowledge of theology or a recall of one’s experience with God can bring the expected answer.

Then what is the key to an answered prayer? I know we are all desperate to learn the ABC of answered prayer but there is none. Firstly, because ‘answered prayer’ is such an individualistic and egotistic notion. God always answers prayers, but in his own way and at his right time. Secondly, because it comes against the very nature of prayer: a polite request a servant has from his/her master. I know we are declared his children and that give us some rights as the Father decided, and he takes upon himself some duties. But, how would sound to you a request from your child: “Father, give me MY share of the estate!” (Luke 15.12) It is intristing that ‘boldness’ appear in the New Testament in relation to preaching, whereas ‘confidence’ is connected to prayer especially in the context of remission of sin (Heb 4.16). John puts it boldly in his first epistle, but even there the context is the forgiveness of sin:

This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to his will, he hears us. And if we know that he hears us– whatever we ask– we know that we have what we asked of him. If anyone sees his brother commit a sin that does not lead to death, he should pray and God will give him life. I refer to those whose sin does not lead to death. There is a sin that leads to death. I am not saying that he should pray about that. (1 John 5.14-16)

Can we make use of God’s promises in order to secure a favourable answer? Provided one understands the content of the promise in its context, I can say that this is a biblical sound practice. But, watch it!, you cannot demand it from God as if he is caught in his own promises and has to deliver the same way you ask of your friend something long ago promised. Take those promises of God as guideliness for your requests not as pitfalls of God’s benevolence.

What are the positive things Ethan teaches us about prayer?
1. Remember who God is! The Old Testament uses different images to describe God but the most comprehensive one, and the best to my mind, to describe God is that of a King whose kingship fundamentals are righteous justice and loving firmness.

2. Remember the way he honoured you! As his creation, humans do not deserve anything from God. The mere life they have is a gift, and everything that comes along with it is part of his grace. The house you are in (be it nature, home, or body), family and friends, abilities and possesions (few or many) and, most of all, his promises to you are your inheritance.

3. Remember what you owe him! Life is short, suffering comes as part of the package and death is certain. Once one has such a perspective on life, the obvious outcome is a clearer understanding of duty.

Look at Jesus’ prayer in Ghetsemane! It is such a pity that his disciples were asleep at the peak of Jesus’ ministry. Had they not slept we would have received the most glorious prayer of Jesus. When confronted with this terible loss, Mel Gibson himself considered useful for the plot of his movie to start it with Jesus in fervent prayer. One can hear him praying in Aramaic lots of fragments from Psalms wherein he asks for deliverance or proclaim God’s triumph over his troubles.

The little that is left and reached us says as follows: “Abba, Abba! Everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mar 14.36) We can hear in the words of this very fragmentary prayer of Jesus a very strong awareness of God’s sovereignity and the total submission of a human that decided to put off any ‘rights’ to call God in his help.

Comentarii închise la Psalm 89 : Acknowledging the Sovereignty of God

Din categoria English articles, Psalmii

Rediscovering the ‘benefits’ of a relationship with God (Psalm 25)

images1.jpg

INTRODUCTION
This is an alphabetic acrostich poem, meaning that the main poetical units, in most cases couplets, begin with Hebrew letters in alphabetical order. Unfortunately, this acrostich is broken, not perfect. Fortunately, its breaks allow the reader to look into its meaning.
Translating a Hebrew acrostich into a non-Semitic lanuguage is a difficult task. This is my second atempt of this type, after proposing a new Romanian rendering of the poem of the wise woman in Proverbs 31. Finding the proper word that starts with the letter required by the alphabetical sequence is toiling. You will be the judge of this enterprise.

TEXT

1 Ascends to you, O LORD, my soul.
2 But in you I trust, O my God,
do not let me be put to shame;
do not let my enemies exult over me.
3 Care for those who wait for you;
put to shame those who are wantonly treacherous.
4 Detail to me about your ways, O LORD;
teach me your paths.
5 Explain to me your truth, and lead me in it,
for you are the God of my salvation;
for you I wait all day long.
[F]6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.

7 Gracefully forgive the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
8 Honestly good is the LORD;
therefore, he instructs sinners in the way.
9 In what is right He leads the humble,
and teaches the humble his way.
10 Key to the paths of the LORD are steadfast love and faithfulness,
for those who keep his covenant and his decrees.
11 Lord, for your name’s sake,
pardon my guilt, for it is great.

12 Mind you, who are those who fear the LORD?
He will teach them the way that they should choose.
13 Nobody will lack anything,
and their children shall possess the land.
14 Only for those who fear him is LORD’s friendship,
and he makes his covenant known to them.

15 Permanently my eyes are towards the LORD,
for he will pluck my feet out of the net.
16 Return to me and be gracious to me,
for I am lonely and afflicted.
17 Still the troubles of my heart,
and bring me out of my distress.
[T]18 Consider my affliction and my trouble,
and forgive all my sins.

19 Ultimately, consider how many are my foes,
and with what violent hatred they hate me.
20 Ward my life, and deliver me;
do not let me be put to shame, for I take refuge in you.
21 Zeal for wholeness and uprightness may preserve me,
for I wait for you.
[*]22 Redeem Israel, O God, out of all its troubles.

EXPOSITION
(verse 1) The opening verse functions as a muse invocation in classic poetry. In this particular case, the author invokes the Lord, the God of Israel.

(vv. 2-6) Three main themes appear to be the main concern of the poet in this first strophe of the poem: experiencing shame at the hand of his enemies, getting to know God’s law, and God’s inner qualities. There is nothing within himself to win God’s favor towards him. Such unprecedented situation for worshippers of other deities, is overcome only by overflowing divine mercy.

In other words, in these six introductory verses of the poem we have a close connection between three realities. One refers to the general context or the relationship between the God’s worshipper and God’s detractors that is persecution. Another encapsulates the predisposition of the believer that is passion for God’s Law. Finally, another bespeaks of God’s own character that is mercy towards His people. How do these three realities connect to each other?

How do we deal with persecution, let’s say unfair treatment or discrimination, on religious grounds? Of course, the discomfort that people can inflict upon others on ideological grounds causes a lot of mental pain, even anger. Experiencing injustice is indeed very painful, but having to live with it is dreadful. What do you do with all your mental pain? Prisons used to inflict this kind of pain on prisoners, but not any more. Their well-being is nowadays as important as any other citizen’s.

Let us imagine several scenarios where such an experience can be real. Imagine a different type of society where you cannot complain and nobody is paid to listen to your worries. Imagine that you are at the top of the authority ladder and there is no other superior authority whom you can tell your needs. This was probably the case with David. What will you do? No wonder that the Bible teaches us to pray for the authorities. Imagine a society completely turned off by ideologies, especially religious. To whom will you go to protest against religious discrimination?

The solution offered by this psalm is simple, pray to God. Let him know your pain, your fears, your anger and then let him work out your release. In the meantime fill your mind and get is busy with God’s Law.

(vv. 7-12) Two of the previous themes are picked up and given more thought in the second strophe. This time, the poet’s meditation on his personal sin replaces the pain inflicted upon him by his enemies. Looking closely at this strophe, one can notice an envelope structure, by which the extremities correspond to each other (human sinfulness and God’s mercy), envelop the material in the middle (learning the Law). Again, at the core of this strophe lays the relation the believer has with God’s standard.

How do they relate to each other? The reference to ‘the sin of my youth’ can lead one to believe that maturity brought with it not only natural wisdom but also a deeper knowledge of God’s Law and a more steady character. For that reason, in the case of a growing in the faith believer, the sins of older age should be different from those of younger age, and not only in terms of quantity.

This meditation can easily prompt a discussion on the relation between knowledge and morality. By no means, an educated person is a moral one too. By definition, morality assumes the existence of a code, a law. In the postindustrial society, education is no longer the guarantee for moral citizens. To the contrary, an educated person is one who knows what codes apply to various contexts. This is precisely why we need contracts. By signing a contract or a membership code, one gets aware of the binding regulations and the behaviour expected in particular places.

Arguably, religious education has become less influential because the law-makers in the parliament do not believe anymore in morality, but promote the separation between private and public life instead. This dichotomy goes against the wholistic personality God created us to be and can result only in an increasingly schizophrenic and God alienated society. Promoting a divinely inspired moral standard implies a rediscovery of a wholistic development of personality and constricts one to change behaviours and reconsider life-styles.

(vv. 12-22) Each of the last three strophes has a distinct theme, all of which being already known to us: getting to know God’s law, relief from personal sin, and relief from enemies. Although they are old themes, we can glean few new ideas. For those who delight in God’s Law/path or fear the Lord there is more in store, because God reserves to them his guidance, his care, and his friendship. Personal sin functions like a net in which the feet of the one who had walked astray were caught. At the same time, a sinful life produces loneliness and anxiety. Forgiveness brings a new beginning and real relief from all the effects of sin.

There are some who propose a different solution, namely desconsidering sin altogether. That can only be done efficiently by proclaming the death of God or promoting a God morally indifferent. We should not be surprised, then, when libertines mock publicly those defending the idea of the existence of a moral God. Nothing can be more dangerous to atheists or libertines than a vocal believer.

Few years ago, Luigi Cascioli an Italian ex-priest turned popular atheist book-writer, who authored the book The Fable of Christ, almost succeeded in bringing to court a Catholic priest for fraud. Affirming in a parish bulletin that Jesus existed and was born to Mary, the atheist accused the priest to have been violated two Italian laws, by abusing of popular belief and impersonating Jesus. The judge turned down the case for lack of substance in relation to the main accusation that of fraud. Cascioli and his attorney were not disuaded by this rather expected conclusion. Their strategy is to go through the necessary legal stepts that will allow them to bring their case before the European Court of Human Rights, and accuse the church of “religious racism”. Apparently, the two gentlemen were friends in childhood.

By all means, this situation is not new in America, because America experiences an open war against Christianity. There are chances for it to start in Europe too. When it’ll start are we going to be ready? How relevant the final words of this poem have become! As always, the only resources the believer have rest with God (v. 21).

Conclusion
Unfortunately, this psalm does not teach us any means of democratic appraisal against segregation, discrimination or persecution. But even Lord Jesus has proposed a similar solution.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. (Mat. 5:10-12, NIV)

Apostle Paul warns his disciple Timothy to mind his duties and avoid the bad example set by some false apostles. Instead, Paul urges Timothy the following:

You, however, know all about my teaching, my way of life, my purpose, faith, patience, love, endurance, persecutions, sufferings– what kinds of things happened to me in Antioch, Iconium and Lystra, the persecutions I endured. Yet the Lord rescued me from all of them. In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted, while evil men and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. (2 Tim 3:10-13, NIV)

We have learned today another use for prayer, whereby we are taught to give away our worries to God, especially when our own well-being is endangered by others on religious grounds. Trusting God for things one cannot do is probably one of the greatest lessons of Christian life, but trusting Him for things bad things that happen to us and we do not deserve is greater still.

Comentarii închise la Rediscovering the ‘benefits’ of a relationship with God (Psalm 25)

Din categoria English articles, Psalmii

God is King. My king!

ferdinand-i.jpg

Ferdinand I (1875-1938), king of Romania between 1914-1927

The Bible celebrates God’s kingship in some of the most beautiful lyrical texts. The Song at the Sea is a homage to the Divine King that proved his authority as superior to that of the Egyptian Pharaoh (Exodus 15). His magisterial leadership is saluted through several psalms, called for that reason The Monarchical Psalms, some of which even start with the proclamation: ‘The Lord reigns’ (93, 97, 99).

Although one can easily imagine that the image of a king was implied by the biblical writers to support their doctrine of Godhead, there are other images used as means of communicating the truth about God. In other instances, God is compared to a Judge, a Commander, a President, a Father, a Husband, a Friend, a Shepherd, a Potter, a Goldsmith, a Builder, or a Guard, to mention just the most frequently used images. We could have also mentioned God as shield, fortress, mountain, rock, sun, moth, rottenness, etc. These images come from different segments of the ancient society.

SNAPSHOTS FROM ROMANIA’S RECENT HISTORY
More than 50 years ago, more precisely few days before the Christmas Eve, H.M.S. Michael of Romania was invited urgently to the capital city of Bucharest by a prime-minister who seized power, Petru-Groza. The king left his palace Pelesh accompanied by his mother. His first guess was that the government reached a decision concerning his marriage engagement to princess Ann of Danemark, planned for April 1948. At only 22 years of age, in August 1944, H.M.S. Michael succeeded in ending up the military dictatorship of Marshal Antonescu. Only three years after the dramatic events that got Romania out of a dangerous partnership with Nazi Germany and halted an unjust war for his country, King Michael was forced to resign under the threat of death. He had been already announced about a secret initiative the Communists had in mind for the coming spring, calling the nation for a referendum concerning the Constitution. Probably fearing the impact of His Majesty New Year’s Eve address to the nation might have, the Communist decided to act immediately. Thus, on the last day of the year 1947, they forced King Michael to sign his own resignation and proclaimed the Republic. This is how Romania became kingless, or a king short. It was the 30th December 1947. Soon afterwards he was forced to leave the country, which he re-entered only after 50 years of exile.

The few monarchies left in Europe might still enjoy a favorable status-quo, but it is not difficult to predict their extinction. Especially if the relevance of this institution is assessed from the perspective of public interest and the credibility of the persons in office. Consequently kings and queens are pushed back from public life to their reclusive but glamorous palaces. The British beloved queen’s popularity is decreasing. The former Bulgarian king resigns to his monarchic right to become prime-minister. Even so, the monarchy represented a source of inspiration for generations of people, not only in Europe but in the whole world. Disregard its age and tradition people from different continents associated to the kingship the divine right to rule the world. Behind a fragile human there was always a sense of persistency that can be associated with very few other things.

Background: THE KING IN ANCIENT ISRAEL

As we understand now the progress of politics, it seems that the separation of power in state appeared in the Greek states, as a reaction to king absolutism. This was precisely the reality of this office in Orient wherein the king enjoyed both legislative and executive authority at the same time. Besides he was the commander-in-chief of the army and many times even the high priest of the state authorized religion. Therefore the best title fitting the king office was that of despot, that is all powerful lieder of the state.

Kingship was a relatively new thing for the Hebrews, even though it was announced as early as the patriarchs (Gen. 17:6, 16; 35:11). Nevertheless the king type preferred by God was very much different from that of the political context of the day. We can even speak of the first official intention to separate the powers in state. Thus,
• The high-priest office was reserved to the Levites from the family of Aaron.
• The Commander-in-chief office was vacant, because the Lord reserved it for Himself.
• The legislative authority was moderated through the High Council, that is the 70 elders.
During the course of history, there were some Israelite kings passionate about power, but absolute power was acquired only at the expense of social injustice and after eliminating of the competitors by unorthodox means. The advice of the High Council was frequently ignored in favor of some close advisors counsel. We read about other kings who brought to the court and supported cohorts of prophets just to hear prophesied the message they needed (the so-called Yes-men).

The Law of Moses interdicted the Israelite king getting busy with gathering treasures, militarizing the nation and enlarging the harem (Deut 17:14-20). On the contrary, he was supposed to accumulate knowledge about God’s Law (memorizing it and copying it for himself) and then supervise it being taught to the people. It is known that this happened only in few particular occasions, wherein the kings who promoted the Biblical understanding of the office were appreciated by the people, declared good, passionate for God as none other before. Such exemplary individuals were rare, though. We read about how the Israelites asked for the king, putting the prophet Samuel under pressure to anoint for them a king to resemble the foreign pattern prompted by the Ammonite king-judge-commander-in-chief. The type requested promoted the idea of a despot king in flagrant opposition to the type intended by God.

Once the king was in place, we read that he would reign from the capital-city (eventually Jerusalem). The signs of monarchy were the sceptre and the crown. We read about how David fetched the crown of his Moabite counterpart, a masterpiece in gold and precious stones weighing one talent, that is about 75 pounds (2 Sam 12:30). The sceptre must have been a lavishly ornamented baton, on which there were engraved the heraldry. Rare materials were expected to have been used, mainly gold and ivory. The Bible speaks in more details about Ahashverosh’s sceptre (Esther 5:2, 8:4). Richness was always appreciated by kings and Israelite kings were no exception. Some kings were very generous to the people and Temple though. Eventually money guaranteed resources for purchasing armament, strengthening and fortifying the cities. The most notable inventions in terms of weaponry were the composite bow, the war horse, war chariots, catapults and assault towers. It was mostly Solomon and Uzziah who invested in this new technology (2 Kgs 9:10 ff; 10:26-29; 2 Chr 26:15).

One of the most important duties of the king was the succession. By large, the institution of harem was promoted to avoid succession problems. Obviously, there were other problems inherent to it, such as the great costs involved, the court plot, especially when multiple potential successors were available, etc. For example, it is known the case of Ghedeon. Even he has never become a king and refused the office when invited to hold it, he behaved as if he was cut short of his natural right. He used to have a large enough harem for his 70 male offspring to be justified. Surprisingly he also had an illegitimate son whom he called “my father is king” (Abi-Melek). Compared to Ghedeon, David was poor, because he had only 8 wives and 10 concubines. Compared to Solomon this was nothing: the Bible credited him with 700 wives and 300 concubines. In such circumstances, naming the future king was probably the most important public act of a king, very useful and dangerous at the same time, because it tended to awaken the conspirators from their tidy sleep.

King’s security was assured by professional soldiers, paid from palace resources. They were called “runners” and their duty was to guard the palace. Many times the security of king himself was trusted to mercenaries, like the Greeks from Cyprus. These body guards are known as Cherethits and Pelethits, and their command was entrusted to the most able Hebrew captain from the group of “valiant warriors”.

Foreground: GOD AS KING

THE OLD TESTAMENT WITNESS

Probably the first mission God takes over as the king of his people is freeing his nation from Egyptian bondage (Exod 7:1-5). God makes a covenant with Israel at Sinai, a contract that is spelled out very much in resemblance with the suzerainty treaties in Ancient Near East. In those days, it was customary to deal with the trickiest problems on the battlefield and allow the gods to decide between the litigious parties. Lord’s triumph over the Egyptian army was interpreted as a reflection of his ability to reign forever (see the Song at the Sea – Exod 15:1-19).

Seeing God enthroned is part of the same Sinai tradition. At the Holy Mountain, Israel’s leaders are allowed to see part of God’s glory, to be more precise the most insignificant part of his throne: “Under his feet there was something like a pavement of sapphire stone, like the very heaven for clearness.” (Exod 12:10) Of a clearer view was the vision granted to Isaiah, but even this one barely gets above the feet level. Isaiah saw a throne, somebody sitting and the hem of the robe filling the Temple (Isa 6:1-3). The person to whom the seraphs and cherubs were paying such a trembling homage must have been God. By far, the most detailed description of God’s lordship belongs to Ezekiel (chapters 1 and 10), but even his vision stops at throne level, paying attention to details underneath the throne platform.

King and Prophet David tried to put in words God’s majesty and this is how Psalm 60 was born. But then he liked it so much that he reiterates it again in Psalm 108. There are other psalms that are speaking about God in similar terms, therefore called Kingship Psalms. For example, Psalm 24 talks about the entry of the king in Jerusalem, psalm 29 ascribes to the Lord all authority, and psalm 146 praises His sovereignty over all other lords and masters.

Psalms 93, 97 and 99 share a couple of common characteristic. Formally they all start with the cry out: “The Lord is King!” and end up with references to his holiness. Thematically they discuss the matter of God’s authority extended over all His subjects, even when it is not accepted wilfully. Submission to God and to his king are melted together into the concept of public service as loyalty to the king rightfully enthroned which now has a long history. This we can see very well when reading the wisdom literature of the OT. Here are just few examples:

A king delights in a wise servant, but a shameful servant incurs his wrath. (Pr. 14:35)
A king’s wrath is like the roar of a lion; he who angers him forfeits his life. (Pr. 20:2)
He who loves a pure heart and whose speech is gracious will have the king for his friend. (Pr. 22:11)

THE NEW TESTAMENT WITNESS

Nativity Narratives speak about the new born son, not Joseph’s, but God’s. Especially according to Matthew, the baby is regarded as king’s son. It is a sarcastic play on Herod, the tyrant playing the role of the current king who doesn’t have a clue about something like that happening to his court. Even after the holy family returns from exile in Egypt they refrain themselves to live in the capital city, as if they would have disturbed the current king, this time Herod’s son, by claiming the throne for little Jesus. I am sure it was nothing like this in Jesus’ parents’ minds but it is a meaningful connection Matthew makes in his gospel.

Look then at the way Jesus behaved, walking with commoners, rarely in very populated places like the capital overcrowded neighbourhoods. His concern was to heal and help. Crowd were always around him for his compassion was wide known, being probably the most significant part of Jesus’ reputation that preceded him. His preferences resemble rather the shadow king David. Nevertheless his powerful speeches entitle Him as the new lawmaker of Israel. Thus the Sermon on the Mount is considered by many the new Constitution of the new people of God. The Parables of the Kingdom allow us to feel His concern for the Kingdom as one who knows the thing from inside. Two of them are particularly important here: Matthew 22:1-14 describes God’s dealings with humanity, and Matthew 18:21-25 describes the relations expected between God’s servants.

Jesus is received as a king in Jerusalem. Both the ritual prepared by his disciples at Jesus’ command and the warm reception the population is self explanatory. His message during the following days focused on God’s Kingdom. Eventually Jesus is arrested. The main accusation is actually a misinterpretation of a subjective claim. Based on the assumption that Jesus is King, very much in charge over God’s Kingdom, the Pharisees built up the charge that Jesus entitled himself King of Judea the Roman province, tempting to destabilize the rule of Cesar. Unconsciously they touched the core of Jesus’ teaching and the bottom of reality: Jesus was a king indeed, not over Judea but the King of Universe.

Probably the most eloquent presentation of this event comes from apostle John (John 18:33ff). All gospel writers witness that there was no other accusation against Jesus than that of declaring himself “king of Jews”. Apostle John tell us the circumstances which led to the writing of the guilt on a board on top of his cross (John 19:19-22). Pilat’s intentions was to defile the leading Jews and the whole nation nailing in the tree the best they could come up with; it was a public scorn Pilat was so happy to use.

It takes some time before the apostles understood clearly the kingship of Jesus in God’s economy. The dynastic right of Jesus over the throne of David stays as the historical basis for Jesus being the MESSIAH, but also it’s the basis for his divinity (ap. Peter at Pentecost – Acts 2:22-36, ap. Paul in Antiohia – Acts 13:21-41). His sovereignty is going to be manifested over all creation at the proper time. The history will not end up until he will not achieve this purpose. Eventually all the authority will be handed back to God the Father (1 Cor 15:24-26).

When the apostle John sees Lord Jesus while being exiled in Patmos in a manner similar to OT prophets. His sight is scaring, all light and fire (Rev 1:13-20). The throne is a complex place: the presence of God is sensed there, there are cherubs and the Lamb. Throughout the New Testament Jesus presented as LORD Jesus, a right earned through birth right (coming from David’s dynasty) and ressurection. Read

Acts 2:36
Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.

Acts 5:31
God exalted him to his own right hand as Prince and Saviour that he might give repentance and forgiveness of sins to Israel.

CONCLUSION

Obviously royalty is connected with authority. The king used to represent the final authority in state. Associating kingship and divinity was possible due to the representative character of the king office. As a matter of fact, the king from Davidic line received the epithet “son of God”. Prophets saw in it the proper fulfilment in Messiah. This formula identifies the man by excellence, God’s representative on earth, in Zion, the chosen city. GOD is our King and he is calling for our allegiance. There will be a time for rewards, but for now our unconditional submission is expected. The Lord is the Great King of the Universe. Be thankful for you being chosen as his servant. Be graceful towards other servants like yourself the same Lord was graceful to you. If God is really the King we talked about, honour Him by words, thoughts, deeds, relations, behaviours, by your mere existence.

Comentarii închise la God is King. My king!

Din categoria English articles

Praying with God’s sovereignity in view

holyground2.jpg
Chariots of God (copyright Messianic Art)

I remember the surprise I had when I first witnessed the prayer of my Swedish hosts over the food. It was unexpectedly short, sang, and apparently not devotional at all. Coming from a tradition where each meal was celebrated as a feast and was taken as a renewed opportunity to proclaim our faith, the new experience was altogether surreal. In time, I learned to hear at the heart of people and do not judge them according to appearances. It should not surprise us that when our foods reaches easily our tables, we tend to forget how much we owe to God for them. Poverty can be seen as God’s endowment to guarantee our dependence on him. That is the context Romanians came from. This illustration is the context of today’s meditation from Habakkuk’s prophecy as well.

We have seen that God is not surprised by our requests, not even when our prayers are sharp, straight to the point and unselfish, because He always has a plan prepared and ready to be revealed at the right time. Moreover, God’s plan is stable, it cannot be changed, but it always provides mercy for some, those seen as living in faithfulness.

In the face of social injustice and, for that reason, social insecurity, the prophet asks from God to intervene. The divine solution envisages the massive intervention of the cruel polytheist and militarist people of Babylon who will wipe out all the nations of the Ancient Near East, Israel included. Habakkuk continues by pondering whether such a solution is immoral and receives a second and final answer: God will judge the Babylonians themselves for their excess of zeal and will provide an escape for his loyal people. The prophet understands that the Babylonian slaughter will not end the history; at least not for Israel. The final scene is glorious, with God’s nation restored from shreds and the proclamation of God’s sovereignty as an act of worship generalized to the whole world. The final words of chapter 2 announced the entrance of His Majesty the King.

The third chapter of this short book contents the last contribution Habakkuk has in his dialogue with God. Contrary to the book of Jonah, here it is not God who has the final word, but the prophet. Although he cannot hide the complaining tone of this hymn, Habakkuk recalls a favourite theme among the prophets, that of God’s self-revelation in a chariot-like vehicle accompanied by storm, disease and earthquake. Witnessing such a spectacle has two effects: the total destruction of the enemies and the awe of the faithful ones. In the end, building on the knowledge of past interventions in history, the prophet expresses his confidence in God’s ability and willingness to defend his people and bring harmony where there is only disaster.

The teaching of this final chapter of Habakkuk’s prophecy can be envisaged as the answer to the more specific question ‘What happens when God’s answer to your prayer does not fit your expectation?’ Since the person in discussion is assumed to be religious, there is no need for a revolutionary acquisition of some new knowledge or experience, but finer tuning in the knowledge and experience already acquired. Get ready for a new E.R.A.! Mind this acronym.

1. Enhance your understanding of God’s character (vv. 3-6)
There are many people who assert that they believe in God but their God is rather a caricature, resembling the human likeness. Habakkuk’s recovers an understanding of God that has a long history going to the very roots of monotheism. God is the Holy One, entirely different and apart from every creature, perfect in his attributes, having the source of his own existence in Himself, and sustaining Himself through His own power alone. His incandescent presence consumes, shakes, disintegrates. God is a sovereign that has no equal. At his approach everything trembles, crumbles, and collapses.

Some people who got too close to God, like Moses for example, thought that they might peek at God’s inner radiance and see His very nature. In his sincerity, and ignorance at the same time, Moses believed that such a thing is indeed possible. Apparently God granted him his opportunity, but when the time came for Moses to contemplate what was interdicted to generations of people, when he heard the out loud shout of God’s herald, he crumbled on the floor. At the sound of “The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation” (Exod 34.6-7), Moses collapsed at the ground in worship.

Other people, like Hagar or Manoah, were so terrified by the angel they have seen that they imagined that God himself revealed to them. As John the apostle said, though, we know that nobody had seen God, except His own Son (John 1.18). As Christians we have the advantage of having the witness of Jesus recorded for us, the One who had seen God and told us about Him. The revolutionary understanding that Lord Jesus brought to us is that God is not be the source of terror anymore, at least not to those who are His people. His Majesty gave them the right to become his children with all the statutory rights that this position encompasses. We can approach God as FATHER, we can address Him as such, and we can expect from Him every honour and responsibility that such a title bestows upon the privileged ones.

2. Remember God’s works (vv. 7-15)
Does anyone know what makes a good surgeon famous? Is it his degrees? Maybe his articles published in scientific journals? Probably his titles? I have the feeling that his career as a surgeon is built on the successful surgeries he performed. It does not help me to be cut by a heavy diploma loaded surgeon with an imprecise hand. Theoretically only such a surgeon can advance, being given to him all the honours I have just mentioned. In real life, though, there are many who abuse the system to their own advantage and to the expense of public safety.

What makes a god famous? If we are to consider the Greek mythology, the answer must be his deeds. All these legends about gods and goddesses and their deeds had the main purpose to inspire awe and hope into the human subjects, and stimulate their devotion. Therefore, we can notice that it comes natural to humans to evaluate somebody in relation to his/her own deeds. The Lord God had an impressive impact on the Israelites because He had made Himself a name by getting involved in their history, as a family, as a tribe, and then as a nation. The Canaanites were in shock when they heard that this God of Israel has brought his people from Egypt down to Jordan, breaking every single military resistance on the way and even opening the waters of the Red Sea for them and then even the Jordan (Joshua 2.10-11, 5.1).

When we have problems in understanding God’s dealings with humanity and/or with us a clearer understanding of God as sovereign helps to put things in order. The theme of the lordship of God and of the divinity of Christ is recurrent in Paul’s epistles. It stays as the basis of all his instructions, rebuking, and counsel. Take, for example, 1 Corinthians. Here Paul writes “to those sanctified in Christ Jesus and called to be holy, together with all those everywhere who call on the name of our Lord Jesus Christ – their Lord and ours” (1.2). In the Epistle to the Hebrews, the author makes it clear that the very approaching to God is conditioned by the preliminary understanding of God’s nature: self-sufficiency and righteousness (Heb 11.6).

3. Adjust your faith to God’s character (vv. 16-19)
Eventually, Habakkuk admits God’s right to discipline his nation His own way, demonstrates composure and declares his trust in God despite all appearances and the unfavourable temporary climate. Given the agrarian society in which he lived, Habakkuk’s final words are deeply moving, promising a faith that goes beyond the basic expectations of God fulfilling his daily needs plunging into the thick darkness of having a resilient faith that does not move about, but stays firm in the trust of God who can turn all things into a better end. The same faith echoes in Jesus’ final words: “Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Mat 26.39).

There is one passage in particular where Paul the apostle looks into the benefits of Christian prayer in the context of God’s sovereignty (Rom 8.23-30).

Not only so, but we ourselves [as the whole nature does], who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies (this is the object of our prayer). For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently (this is the quality needed).

There is a problem, though; something that makes our patient waiting painful.

In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

But we have the knowledge to back up God’s support.

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

What do we have to do when the answer’s to our prayers does not seem to fit our expectations? We have to build on the knowledge and the experience that is firmly grounded in God’s character and involvement in our life and wait patiently his timely and perfect answer.

E Enhance our understanding of God’s character
R Remember God’s deeds
A Adjust our faith to God’s character

I am perfectly aware that I cannot provide the best illustrations for matters of faith if God would have not blessed me with the support of so many people to be of help to me. I remember an incident, though, that took place seven years ago. At the time, shortly after being accepted as a doctoral student at a theological college in London, and having promised the funding necessary, I left for Jerusalem to deepen my knowledge of Hebrew. Five months later the ‘firm’ funding promise was gone, because the trust went bankrupt. All future plans seemed completely ruined and I blamed the man who irresponsibly promised help when he knew it will be difficult to deliver. I felt like the door closed in front of me smashing my face. For a while I was completely paralysed. When the agony passed I found myself writing letters to dozens of trusts and missionary societies for funding, but each one was just another cul-de-sac. At God’s own time, after almost two more agonising years, all things came into place and I have enjoyed the peace of research freed from financial preasure. God was preparing me for another experience, the toughest of my life that far. But here I am, celebrating the end of that process that at one point I thought is in peril of never starting again. God is indeed good and His plan is perfect.

Comentarii închise la Praying with God’s sovereignity in view

Din categoria English articles

Praying toward fulfilling God’s plan


Habakkuk by Donatello (The Sistine Chapel)

Human prayer does not change God’s plan, even when it seems it does but, at the same time, God is never short of mercy; all people fall short of the glory of God and deserve God’s judgement, but He still displays mercy on them.

Unleashing God’s judgement over the wicked, rightful as it might be, begs the question: ‘is it proportionate, though?’ We are all familiar with the perception of guilt that comes in degrees and penalties that should fit the crime. Is God himself going to breach our understanding of law and justice? Atheists would argue that the mere existence of wars and natural disasters responsible for the killing of thousands of innocent people proves that God does not exist. If He exists, He must be with necessity a perfect judge and a loving God. Philosophers, and even theologians, judge God according to their own understanding based on faulty reasons. God became nothing more than an idea, a representation of our own nature, a human construct. The reality seen from the other side is as follows:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,
declares the LORD.
As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts

(Isa 55.8-9).

Habakkuk, the prophet, continues praying, wondering whether the penalty does not exceeds the crime. It is true that Israel is guilty, but a son is less guilty than a foreigner after all. How could you punish your son by handing him in to the police? You would rather pay the bill and let him run free from jail, wouldn’t you? God punishes the guilty party without any moral judgement over the merits of His tools. The Babylonians in this case are just tools in God’s hands. Ultimately, He is the one who decreed the punishment of nations, the one who unleashed the judgement. Is God the moral author of violence? No, but God can use the most cruel inventions of fallen human nature such as militarism and genocide to achieve His purposes. And that even at the expense of moral judgements.

When I read the words of Habakkuk in chapter 1 vv. 14-17 about describing the way the Babylonians used to treat people like fish, destroy nations without mercy and even worship their nets, I cannot help thinking at the twentieth century death camps. How can we, as believers, answer to all accusations of impropriety and cruelty against God? How can we reconcile His justice with human cruelty and, worse, natural disasters? I reckon this is not going to be an easy answer. The prophet himself needs to recollect himself and find a clear state of mind in order to perceive God’s answer. When the answer comes, it is perfectly right; it is perennial, its universality deriving from the command to have it written down. God’s judgement is perfectly legitimate; He will condemn all sinners, including the tools he has once used. For Him, they are all the same, just sinners. For some, He provided an escape, though: ‘the righteous people will live by their faith’ (Hab. 2:4). Even though there is no escape from God’s judgement, the righteous has the opportunity to validate himself by acting according to his faith.

There are numerous occasions in the Bible where the judgement of God is portrayed as inescapable. Take Amos 2.13-16 for example:

Now then, I will crush you
as a cart crushes when loaded with grain.
The swift will not escape,
the strong will not muster their strength,
and the warrior will not save his life.
The archer will not stand his ground,
the fleet-footed soldier will not get away,
and the horseman will not save his life.
Even the bravest warriors will flee naked on that day,
declares the LORD.

People will flee to the mountains to find a hiding place (Hos 10.8), but there will be no escape:

Then the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and every slave and every free man hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, „Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?” (Revelation 6:15-16)

The mercy God has on some is not owned to them, because even the tiny seed of faith that makes all the difference (Luke 17:6) is from God (Jude v. 3). The interpretation apostle Paul gives to this passage suggest that faith is a self-generating quality received from God (Rom 1:17). In the Epistle to the Hebrews the same passage from Habakkuk is employed to encourage the brotherhood to persevere (Heb 10:35-39).

God’s judgment is announced against all sinners, even against those once used for his purposes. The remaining of chapter 2 (namely, vv. 6-20) is written as a set of woes. Note the decisiveness of God’s purposes expressed especially by the image of the cup. It is clear that there is no second chance given to these sinners, and God’s purpose is going to be fulfilled. “The earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea” (2.14), not because all sinners will be converted but because all wickedness will be removed. Revelations 20.15 says that “if anyone’s name was not written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”. There is nothing we can do to change God’s plan, but we should do all we can to fulfill His purpose with us and accomodate our life to His plan.

The prophecy of Habbakuk does not end here. Since prayer does not surprise God, nor changes His plans, then what does it accomplish? The only place where change can take place is within us, but that change builds extensively on the knowledge that God exists, He cares, and He is accomplishing His purposes showing mercy to those He has chosen.

Comentarii închise la Praying toward fulfilling God’s plan

Din categoria English articles

Praying for others: for how long?


Ishtar gate detail, Babylon.

What happens when human prayer meets God’s established plan? (part 1)
Meditations on the book of Habakkuk the prophet

In order to have an overview of the book we start with an outline of its first section.

1. A matter of social injustice
The prophet complains (1.2-4): Are you going to do something about the social injustice, Lord?
The Lord replies (1.5-11): Yes, I will do. Just watch the Chaldeans!

2. A matter of fairness
The prophet complains (1.12-17): Punishing the unjust by the means of some less just is not fair, is it?
The Lord delays the answer (2.1)
The Lord replies (2.2-4)

Many bad things happen in our world, but the criminals get away with it because there is not enough evidence to incriminate them. Hence, the need for a ‘Big Brother’ state, a state in which everything is recorded and used as evidence against the perpetrators. Evidence does not seem to be the sufficient and necessary condition anymore, since the same piece of evidence can have various and even contradictory interpretations. What really counts is a good lawyer and few supportive headlines in the papers. This is not so with God. He has both the evidence and the right interpretation of all the evidence, as well as the willingness to carry on the verdict.

People bring in prayer all sorts of things: things they do not understand, things they are scared of, things they think pose a hazard potential, things that can become a benefit, things too big or big enough, things needed or useful, things they wish they could do or can’t do without, so on and so forth. Does prayer betray the weakness and the mediocrity of the one praying? That may be true if one prays for things within one’s grasp, but commodity and disinterest prevail over any intention to do something about acquiring it. That may be true if one prays selfishly for things that are of limited use.

There are other prayer types, though. The prayer we hear the prophet pray here reflects his concern for the social justice that went lacking in his country. He prays for things that are out of his reach, things that cannot be undone within any conceivable time limit just by human input. It appears that the human subjects responsible for ensuring a just society lack any willingness to fulfil their duties. A similar situation can be found in any country with a strong autocratic, antidemocratic leadership having the appearance of a strong, rock solid and fair society. What can the believer do in times like that, other than pray? When the society seems to decompose, and its members become out of control, oppressing the needy, it is time to pray, it is time for intercession.

When we pray, we profess our belief in God’s ability to do all things, His authority to do the way He chooses, and we admit our limits as God’s creatures, dependent on Him. Praying for others opens our heart for other people. Insisting in prayer for other people gets us to love them. Many things happen around us independent of our will and without us being able to do anything about them. The least we can do in such a circumstance is to pray. This is why the apostle advises the church in Thessalonikki:

And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else. Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thes 5.14-22)

If the intercessory prayer takes place in such a context, God’s reply should not surprise us. God always has a solution, even when it seems that He is disinterested or passive. His solution is swift, exemplary, well balanced, in one word – perfect. As He had used the Israelites to punish the Canaanites long time ago, He used the Babylonians, a new rising military power to punish the peoples of the Ancient Near East, Israel included. This new force, as any God’s tool, cannot be stopped, deterred, blackmailed, let alone defeated. They have no other god than their military prowess. They live in order to kill. God’s hammer strikes with all the power of hell and there is no escape.

Therefore, when we mediate for others we should be aware that God has a potential beyond our wildest imagination and we should fear the worst. We should not pray for the unleashing of His furry, but for a fair resolution to the problems of the world, expecting in all honesty that we could be asked to be part of the solution. In a similar situation, Lord Jesus himself preached for his disciples not asking great things on their behalf but to be protected from the evil one (John 17.15).

We should learn again what intercession really means. By virtue of my calling as Christian I am a mediator. Therefore, I am not allowed to say “May your will be done with them!” but “May your will be done with ME!” When I pray on behalf of others I should rather call upon His mercy: “Lord, have mercy on them!” As Abraham has done unsuccessfully for Sodom and Gomorrha. As Moses has done for Israel converging with God’s desire to delay the punishment of those redeemed from the Egyptian bondage. Accepting the will of God for me is a sign of maturity but figthing in prayer over others’ blessing is a sign of greatness.

Comentarii închise la Praying for others: for how long?

Din categoria English articles

Psaltirea în cercetarea modernă

Revista catolică digitală Studia Theologica continuă publicarea seriei de articole în limba engleză pe tema studiului poeziei ebraice cu primul articol dintr-un set de două alocat istoriei cercetării Psaltirii în perioada modernă. Consultaţi la adresa www.studiatheologica.cnet.ro atât numărul curent cât numerele din arhivă (vezi indice autori). Momentan, din păcate, sunt probleme cu descărcarea articolului celui mai recent în format *pdf. Sper ca în curând gazda să remedieze situaţia.

Comentarii închise la Psaltirea în cercetarea modernă

Din categoria English articles, Publicaţii