for you have not rejected my prayer
or removed your steadfast love from me.
(adapted from Psalm 66:20)
God has instructed the prophet Isaiah to speak tenderly to the people, to tell them that they have suffered long enough.
You may be living in the wilderness. Prepare for God to come to you there. You may be living in a desert. Prepare for God to come to you there. There are low places in your lives. Fill them in. There are obstacles. Knock them down. When something gets in your way or trips you up, move it out of your way.
God is coming into your life.
God is coming, mighty as an army, but not to destroy. God is coming to be our shepherd, to feed us, to carry us, to lead us.
And this is good news.
Chapter 40 begins the portion of this book that Bible scholars call 2nd Isaiah. The original audience for this material was living in the time of the Babylonian exile.
We can imagine their plight. Many of us can remember our own plights--times of feeling lost or uncared for. The prophet reminds us that we are not solely at the mercy of whatever, whoever, stands for Babylon in our lives: Have you not known? Have you not heard? Come on, haven't you always known who always was in charge?
In their time, they were to be rescued from exile by the Persia army led by Cyrus. God saved them from unbelievers through the efforts of unbelievers. Nothing that unusual here. After all, Pharaoh let them leave their unpleasant jobs at pyramid building.
Babylon that seems so powerful to everyone who was alive did not seem like that big a deal to God. "Scarcely are they planted, scarcely has their stem taken root in the earth, when he blows upon them, and they wither, and the tempest carries them like stubble."
This passage reminds us of the blessing we have received through Christ--adoption, forgiveness, and redemption. God has chosen to include us. (When this letter was first read, Gentiles would have understood that they were included along with the Jews could now look at God as Father. We who are used to the idea of Gentile being a sort of synonym for Christian may not get the impact of this thought or we may not be willing to extend the adoption to groups that just don't seem to be God's type of family.)
Our inclusion comes through grace. But, having been included, we can respond.
This letter to the Ephesians (and through them to us) tells what the Spirit does for the church: enlightens the eyes of your heart--that is, helps you to catch on to what God intends for you to be doing and what God has already done for you.
To these Christians adjusting to their life after the crucifixion of Jesus, they are reminded by this letter of the power available to them through God. God put this power to work in Christ and has made him the head of the church. The church is the body of Christ, "the fullness of him who fills all in all."
In verse 11, they are told that, in Christ, they have received an inheritance. In their case, and in ours, inheritance is not just money that they can use to buy a lot of expensive stuff for themselves. Rather, the power is working among us to continue the work that Christ began and the work that continues by the church, his body, which fills all in all.
This letter to the Ephesians is also to us, "You have been called. God has immeasurable power, and has put this power to work in Christ by raising him from the dead... The church is the body of Christ."
Here's what the Spirit does for the church: enlightens the eyes of your heart
--that is, helps you to catch on to what God intends for you to be doing and what God has already done for you.
To these early Christians as they began to form congregations and missions, he is emphasizing power and what power is to be used for.
To these Christians adjusting to their life after the crucifixion of Jesus, he writes of the power available to them through God. God put this power to work in Christ and has made him the head of the church. The church is the body of Christ, "the fullness of him who fills all in all."
As I regularly do, I have been reading Boring & Craddock's People's New Testament Commentary. And, as I regularly am, I am glad that I do. For example,here's their discussion of the phrase, "glorious inheritance":
The phrase refers to God's inheritance, not the believers'. In Old Testament theology, Israel as God's chosen people is often called God's inheritance (Deut 4:20; 9:26, 29; 2 Sam 21:3; 1 Kings 8:51, 53; Ps 28:9; 33:12; 68:9; 78:62, 71; 94:14; 106:5, 4-; Isa 19:25; 47:6; 63:17; Jer 10:16; 51:19). For the author of Ephesians, to be in the church is to be incorporated into the continuing people of God, Israel (2:11-12).
Psalm 66 calls on all the earth to give God praise. I don't read Hebrew but I do read people who do, and they tell me that the command is in the plural. We Southerners might read "Y'all make a joyful noise to God, all y'all" (1) and "Y'all come see what awesome things God has done" (5) "Say it, say it loud. Say it where everybody can hear it" (9)
Off on an tangent: The psalm begins with the command for all the earth to make a joyful noise, to sing. All? joyful? I'm thinking even the portion of us in a sanctuary on Sunday morning aren't all singing, and that all of them don't sound particularly joyful.
What this psalm models for us: 1) Life may have difficulties; we don't have to pretend that it doesn't. 2) We are allowed to complain to God about these difficulties. We don't have to pretend that they're good for us or that we deserve them--at least, all of them, anyway.
Then, it models for us what happens after we have come through whatever the difficulty was that we were complaining about. The psalmist gives credit to God, "You have brought us out." This gratitude is further demonstrated, "I will come to your house with burnt offerings. I will do what I promised to do if you helped me."
How do we tell what God has done? Do we usually notice? Where and when is our praise heard? (9)
I left out verse 18, "If I had cherished iniquity in my heart, the Lord would not have listened" because I'm not ready to deal with it today.
Let your father and mother be glad;
let her who bore you rejoice;
My child, give me your heart,
and let your eyes observe my ways.
Prayer for Today: Read again the passages from Isaiah about rescue and from Ephesians about blessings, think about your own life, your own needs, your own gifts, then pray Psalm 66.