As You Read this week, watch for the confession that God is Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer of all-that-is. Watch for the confession of Israel and Christianity that all-that-is IS good. It was only later in Christian theology that flesh took on a negative connotation; Platonic philosophy and Greek thought taught this dualism: Flesh is ‘bad’ v. Spirit is ‘good.’ The witness of Scripture, however, honors the inherent goodness of the Creation. (In Scripture it is never “nature” or the “environment; it is “Creation” created by the Creator.)
As You Read Genesis 1 and 2, watch for the differences in the two Creation stories; they are different from each other by design. Note how God’s name is different, the order of creation is different, the theology is different. Some students of the Bible are troubled by these seeming contradictions, but when we read the stories side by side—not as scientific reports but rather as theological reflections—then we recognize the beauty of the diverse poetic ways that Genesis describes the Beginnings. (Also note the word play: genesis, generate, beginnings…Watch too for the differences in the two stories of the beginnings of the humans. This is rich; I once spent months studying just these two chapters and it completely changed my understanding of how men and women relate appropriately to one another – in the home, in society and in the church. In the first story, there is no hint of patriarchy or hierarchy; the man and woman are created at the same time and given equal responsibility for the care of the Garden. In the second story, man is created and later woman is shaped from a bone out of his side and then presented to the man as “helper;” the context still suggests equality.
It’s hard to see the Hebrew word plays when we read chapter 2 in English, but recognizing the puns gives the story whole new meaning.
One of my favorite poems is James Weldon Johnson’s The Creation. Here is a lovely way to begin Week 2 of Living in The Story.
And God stepped out on space,
And He looked around and said,
“I’m lonely —
I’ll make me a world.”
As far as the eye of God could see
Darkness covered everything,
Blacker than a hundred midnights
Down in a cypress swamp.
Then God smiled,
And the light broke,
And the darkness rolled up on one side,
And the light stood shining on the other,
And God said, “That’s good!”
And [then, this] great God Almighty
Who lit the sun and fixed it in the sky,
Who flung the stars to the most far corner of the night,
Who rounded the earth in the middle of His hand;
This Great God, like a mammy bending over her baby,
Kneeled down in the dust
Toiling over a lump of clay
Till He shaped it in His own image;
Then into it God blew the breath of life,
And man became a living soul.
Sometimes I feel sorry for people who try to turn the wide, wonderful creation stories into small sterile science texts. It’s so obvious that the stories in Genesis 1 and 2 are poetry – poetry in the very best sense of the word. This kind of poetic drama makes the story so much bigger, tells the story so much truer than any other literary form, because we can find here deep, profound truth about who we are and about who God is; truth about the eternal God who is outside of time but who is ever breaking into time, ever breaking into our lives in unexpected places, in unexpected ways.
Happy are those who walk in the law of the LORD. (Psalm 119:1)
I run the way of your commandments, for you enlarge my understanding. (Psalm 119:32)
There is one way that is God’s way that provides “a large space” in which to dwell and the “liberty” to journey to our true humanity.
This Way is “right” and “true” and “good.”
Other ancient traditions have held similar understandings. 600 years before Christ, the philosophy of The Tao developed in China.
This “tao” literally means “way” “path” “road.” There is a way within the cosmos, way of perfect balance; the natural order of things, the foundation of the universe.
The Great Way. Think of Torah, Law, Word within this framework.
Think of faith as trust in this Way and submission to this Law.
We begin with faith.
Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in the Hebrew Psalter. The length comes from its form: it is composed as an acrostic based on the Hebrew alphabet.
In the first stanza, each line begins with the letter “aleph.” Each line of the second stanza begins with the letter “bet.” And so on. (Get it? alpha-bet!)
The poets of Israel believed that in all of life – from “A” to “Z” – the Way of God is ordered and trustworthy; that creation is “good;” that light and darkness exist in perfect harmony.
The teachers of Israel taught that the whole of life is founded upon trust in the Law of the Lord. They believed that every challenge of life can be overcome by faithful obedience to God’s Word.; that true life, right life, good life comes not through the mindless obedience to rules, but rather through the grace and mercy of Yahweh who sustains all creation.
Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight. (Psalm 119:77)
Living in The Story Week 1 begins our year of reading the Bible by looking at the big picture: considering the nature of Scripture. Charlotte asks the question: “what kind of book is the Bible?” and you are invited to ponder that question as you read this week.
What is your basic understanding of where the Bible comes from and how it functions? How were you taught or what did you absorb as you were growing up? How have you changed your views over the years? What questions have shifted your thinking?
Anaïs Nin has said: “We do not see things as they are. We see things as we are.” This is important. We all interpret. We all interpret everything.
There is no such thing as uninterpreted awareness.
We all have a lens through which we see the world. We all have a framework with which we make meaning.
This is as true of the biblical writers as it is true of us readers. The authors of these ancient texts began with faith. They started with a confidence that God was somehow in their story and as they collected and recollected the stories of their life together as God’s people, they sought to understand its meaning. The biblical writers are not, for the most part, apologists – arguing for their faith in a way that was designed to convince nonbelievers. Rather their writings were intended to confess their faith within a community of faith.
As You Read Deuteronomy 6-8
This week’s readings from Deuteronomy are key for the self-understanding of God’s ancient people, Israel. Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Torah, traditionally and poetically called “the books of Moses.” The stage is set at the River Jordan as the descendants of Jacob recall their recent liberation from bondage in Egypt and their forty years in the wilderness. Moses is the revered leader, calling them to remember God’s past faithfulness and urging them to entrust themselves to God’s ongoing fidelity.
But consider that the actual historical setting of the story of Deuteronomy is probably juxtaposed within the setting of Israel’s current dilemma centuries later in 597 BC. During the time of Deuteronomy‘s composition, the nation was once more in exile, this time in Babylon. God’s people were seeing their past history through the lens of their current captivity and recognizing they were standing on a precipice.
Either they will learn from this experience. Or they will be lost.
So Moses’ challenge to their ancestors to “hear” – to remember, recall, take heed, obey – is a current word for Israel: Love God, the One God, God Alone – this is everything.
All the rules of the Law – all the codes and commandments and ethics and devotion – everything that is written designed to shape them for love.
As You Read Psalm 119
As you are reading this week’s psalm, consider its form as well as its message. Psalm 119 is the longest chapter in the Bible and it is written in a familiar Hebrew poetic acrostic. This long hymn is shaped according to the Hebrew alphabet: the first stanza begins with aleph, the second stanza begins with bet and so on. The singer/ psalmist waxes eloquent about God’s Law in an alphabetical cadence.
Notice all the different words used by the psalmist to describe God’s way. I would add one more: the Tao.
Other ancient wisdom from numerous wisdom traditions speaks of A Way that is The Way of the cosmos. A Way that flows from the unity of all things, that lives in harmony with all creation, that coincides with the core Truth that binds the universe together.
The Psalmist is steeped in the Ten Commandments and the Mosaic Law handed down from Mount Sinai and revered as God’s definitive word for God’s chosen people. Much of this Law was shaped by the culture of the people, the times in which they lived and their own unique circumstances. But the Psalmist also seems to sing in celebration of the Way, the Tao, the Word that spoke the world into existence and continues to sustain the world by its power. A Law, a Truth, a Way that binds all things together. The Psalmist seems to begin with faith that this kind of Truth is the foundation upon which all other just laws are founded.
As You Read the John 5
As we read chapter five of the Gospel of John, we see John’s Jesus countering religious leaders who have lost the sense of this Overarching Way and have limited themselves to the smaller ways of codes and rituals. It appears as if they are literalist followers of the Law of Moses: toeing lines, dotting i’s, crossing t’s, scoring points. Jesus, however, challenges this lesser way of reading Scripture.
“Moses wrote about me,” John’s Jesus claims. Writing at the close of the 1st century, maybe 70 years after Jesus, John offers an intriguing interpretation of God made known in Jesus Christ. For John, Jesus IS “the Word made flesh” (1:14). For John, Jesus IS the holy Temple where God’s glory resides (2:18-22). For John, Jesus IS God’s Way/Truth/Life embodied (14:6).
John and the other New Testament theologians make an astounding claim: it is not a book, a Bible, a Scripture – no matter how holy – that is God’s eternal Truth. It is a person. One particular person in one unique way in history embodies God’s Way.
As You Read Second Timothy 3
We know Timothy was a student of the Apostle Paul and probably these letters of Timothy were written in Paul’s name by second generation disciples. It was nearly 100 years post-Jesus and the Church was mushrooming all across the Roman Empire. The original Christians were all Jews, but as the movement spread, many Gentiles, non-Jews, came to claim Jesus as their Lord and Savior.
There was no New Testament during this time. There was only the Hebrew Scripture and other writings, numerous letters and various gospels. So the exhortation of Timothy to continue in “the sacred writings” was a call to honor the tradition of these ancient texts. “All scripture is inspired by God…” has to mean the Scriptures of the Hebrew people. “All scripture is inspired by God…” has to mean that God’s Breath, Life, Presence, Word – somehow, in some mystery – can be encountered within these very human words.
Within the Christian tradition that has followed from Paul and John and Timothy, we continue to acknowledge the wisdom of Scripture that can and does “instruct, teach, reprove, correct, train, equip…”
But even as Christians revere and respect the Holy Scriptures, Christians will only worship and follow the One to Whom our Bible gives witness: Jesus, the Word made flesh who continues to dwell among us.
When I was a girl, I didn’t know how to read the Bible. The truth is: sometimes I still don’t know.
What kind of book is it anyway? Is it a rulebook? A history book? Is it a book filled with interesting stories with moral lessons? Or a collection of fantastic stories that don’t seem to have much connection to our modern day world?
Was the Bible somehow dictated directly by God and given to the church as something to be revered? Did the Spirit speak so clearly to holy men of God that they wrote down everything perfectly whether they understood what they were writing or not? Did they write for their time? Or for all times?
Lots of people over lots of years have asked lots of questions about the nature of this beautiful, odd, comforting, disturbing book the church calls its “Holy Scripture.”
In my own journey with the Bible, it was only when I finally did the hard work of asking hard questions and even arguing with the texts that Scripture was transformed for me into a symphony of polyphonic voices; into a masterpiece work of art that painted an alternative vision of the world; into a complex novel-like story unavoidably embedded in its own culture and time – and yet, somehow, in some mystery – able to give witness to the God beyond history who has acted (and continues to act) within history.
Sometimes when I deal with Scripture, I feel like I’m sailing a vast ocean; the wideness of it makes me suck in my breath. Then I put on my snorkel gear and plunge beneath the surface; its immense, colorful world opens up before me and I am astounded. Then I put on my scuba gear and dive even deeper; its mystery goes on forever.
Sometimes I think of Scripture as a conversation with a dear friend where I am invited to listen to the story of another. I listen respectfully to a point of view that may be different from mine. I listen carefully because we come from very different places. I listen to more than just the words because often we need to listen beneath the words, beyond the words; to listen not just to what this one is saying, but listening for what it means. And sometimes in this conversation, I argue. (Respectfully, of course. This is a friend, after all!) But I know I don’t have to absolutely agree with every single thing I read here.
When I’m in this kind of conversation with Scripture, I find everything works better when I begin with trust. When I am able to place myself into a listening space and open my ears to hear whatever it may want to say to me; when I can open my eyes to see what it needs to show me. Whenever we read the Bible, trusting that somehow God is in this event of Scripture, trusting that this really does matter, trusting that, in these ancient words, a true and eternal Word is still being spoken – then we begin with faith. We begin as the church has always begun: trusting that “in the reading of Scripture, the Creator is at work, something is made out of nothing, the church takes form around the words of the Word” (William Willimon, 198).
Centuries ago, the great saint Anselm said: credo ut intellegam – “I believe so that I may understand.” Contrary to our modern conventional wisdom that “seeing is believing,” the church has long recognized that understanding, knowing, comprehending the presence of God can never be a matter of evidences or proofs. Knowing God has always been a matter of the heart. It is only in the knowing of the heart, trusting in the spirit, opening ourselves up to the listening space, the waiting place that we can ever hope to understand the least little thing about God and God’s way.
We begin with faith.
We begin by opening ourselves to the possibility that – even in these often odd, time-bound, culture-bound words – the Living Word of the Living God just may show up. It is our faith – and the faith of the church across the ages – that moves us to suspend our disbelief and to let ourselves trust that the eternal God just may meet us here.
When I say “we begin with faith,” I don’t mean we have to believe that every history-like story can be fact checked or that every miracle story has some relationship with our modern day scientific method. When I say “we begin with faith,” I don’t mean we have to believe that God himself is the author of this book we call the Bible.
But what I do mean when I say “we begin with faith” is that we begin by entrusting ourselves to the One whom we confess to be the author of THE Story; the story of the cosmos, the only story that matters. And we trust that this One has written US into That Story so that, consequently, our lives matter. Our lives matter a great deal!
We begin with faith that this inscribed text can translate into human lives. We begin with faith that this story is now written, not with ink but with the Holy Spirit; not on stone tablets, but now on the vast multitude of pages that are all of our very human hearts. (2 Corinthians 3:3).
As William Willimon says:
Scripture does not just want to recreate some world of the past, but rather wants to form a new world in the present – to recreate US. We call the Bible ‘inspired’ because the Bible keeps reaching out to us, keeps striking us with its strange truth, keeps truthfully depicting God … We trust the Bible because on enough days we discover that God’s Word has the power to produce the readers that it requires. When the authority of the Bible is challenged with: ‘Is the Bible true?’ we are not to trot out our little arguments but rather [we are expected to trot out] our little lives.
The truthfulness of Scripture is in the lives it is able to produce.
When we stand with Israel on the banks of the Promised Land, we stand in the faith that we too are living in This Same Story. As they were liberated from slavery in Egypt, as they were saved from Exile in Babylon – so we too recognize all of our own exiles and all of our own salvations. We come to understand how we too – and too many others all around us – desperately need liberation from all the Pharoahs and all the powers that alienate and estrange and oppress.
And when we understand that need, when we name our own helplessness, we hear again the call to shape our lives around the one God who is to be our only God. We hear again the one core commandment to love this God with all that we are and with all that we have: “with heart and soul and might” (Deuteronomy 6).
When we sing the Great Psalm with the ancient Psalmist, we learn how to name our passion, how to speak boldly our yearning for God’s way, for God’s life (Psalm 119).
When we sit at the feet of Paul and Timothy, we remember the wisdom of submitting ourselves to these sacred writings, to this holy Scripture that is inspired to teach and reprove, to correct and train, to equip and prepare God’s people to do good works; to do God’s work in our world (2 Timothy 3).
When we stand with the Pharisees in John and identify with all the ways we too, misuse and abuse Scripture to prove our little points, to serve our petty agendas, to endorse the visions of our own imaginations, then we are confronted with the Word of the living Christ.
And when we stand before this Word made flesh, when we are honest and bold to open ourselves to really hear and truly see – then we will find life. Real life, true life, eternal life here and now.
“Bending our lives toward the text that is ever reaching out to us, the church is forever formed and reformed…”
Will Willimon reminds us. (126)
I invite you to join me, to Live in The Story. Let uss move out of the shallows and dive deeper into the vast ocean of the Word so we can marvel at all the wonders hidden there for us. Let us “gather around the words of Scripture with the expectation that these words will become for us the Word of God Incarnate.” (Willimon)
And as we read, may we be created and recreated, formed and reformed and ever transformed into the image of the Christ whose Word dwells richly within us and among us.
Living in The Story readings for Week 1: We Begin with Faith
A new year creates a natural opportunity to begin new efforts and explore new directions. If reading the Bible and trying to understand it better has ever been an effort or exploration you have pondered, now is a good time to give it a try.
And Living in The Story is a good tool to guide you.
Charlotte Coyle created this read-and-blog-through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan while she was doing doctoral studies at Brite Divinity School. It’s a new kind of Bible reading plan; quite different from most plans that begin in Genesis, slog through the prophets, rush through the Gospels and end in Revelation.
Instead, Living in The Story allows us to follow the biblical story across the breadth of Scripture, across the ages. Each week, the readings take us from the Old Testament, into the Psalms, across to the Gospels and on to the Epistles. We see some of the same connections within The Story some of the biblical theologians saw. And we can consider how This Story connects with our own stories in our own time and place.
Charlotte’s blogs give you background and insight as you read. Each week, she offers two or three short essays that give you different perspectives on the readings and how this ancient-yet-ever-new-text can continue to provide wisdom, comfort, courage and challenge for our own day.
When you subscribe to Living in The Story, you will receive two or three emails each week guiding you through the process throughout the year. You will have Charlotte’s blogs in your inbox along with scripture links directing you to the online Gateway Bible: Everything together in one place so you can choose how and when you read as you go along.
Some people read only the Psalms every week; some only the Gospels. Some use this opportunity to read through the Old Testament with Charlotte’s blogs helping them make some sense. Some people read every scripture every week – for awhile. And then, after a break, they find their second wind and begin again wherever we are. Some people get all the way through the entire Bible in a year.
It’s not hard. It’s guilt-free. Living in The Story will be sitting right there in your inbox, ready when you are.
It’s good to take time each day, each week to allow ourselves to be formed and transformed by the Christ who is the Living Word speaking to us through these words of Scripture.
I invite you to give it a try. For one year. For one month. This is a good time to begin a new effort and explore a new direction. And I invite you to join me in conversation about what we are seeing as we take this journey together.
Praise the Lord! How good it is to sing praises to our God; for God is gracious, and a song of praise is fitting …
Psalm 147 overflows with thanksgiving for Israel’s God who is abundant in power with understanding beyond measure.
Within the context of Living in The Story, we consider Psalm 147 at the same time we see the remnant of Exiles returning from Babylon to the Promised Land. Even as they came home to a devastated land and city, still the psalmist chooses to celebrate the grace of Yahweh who has once again kept covenant with Israel.
The Lord builds up Jerusalem; he gathers the outcasts of Israel. He heals the brokenhearted, and binds up their wounds.
Praise the Lord, O Jerusalem! Praise your God, O Zion! For he strengthens the bars of your gates; he blesses your children within you. He grants prosperity within your borders; he fills you with the finest of wheat.
The Lord declares his word to Jacob, his statutes and ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any other nation …
But this psalm reaches far beyond the borders of Israel. Here is a universal song of praise, a cosmic hymn celebrating the Creator-Redeemer-Sustainer of all creation. This is the Lord of all …
who determines the number of the stars and gives to all of them their names;
who covers the heavens with clouds, prepares rain for the earth and makes grass grow on the hills;
who gives to the animals their food and to the young ravens when they cry;
who gives snow like wool and scatters frost like ashes. (who can stand before his cold!?) Then he sends out his word, and melts them; he makes his wind blow, and the waters flow.
The psalmist offers a poetic allusion to the opening words of the Hebrew Scripture:
In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth, the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep, while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
Then God said …
The first creation story in Genesis portrays God’s Word as bringing all things into existence. Within the faith of Israel, God’s Word and God’s Wind create and animate.
Within the faith and theology of Christians, this ancient confidence in a personal God becomes even more intimate. God’s “Word became flesh” and God’s Wind-Breath-Spirit births life eternal.
Note that “nature” and “the environment” are not biblical terms; the theologians of Scripture instead use the word creation.
The creation emanates from the Creator and remains deeply connected. Creation displays some of the complex character of the Creator. Like a poem, like a painting, like a sculpture … the creation reveals something true and real about the One who creates.I love the prayer we pray each Sunday from the Book of Common Prayer. It dovetails perfectly with the prayer and praise from this psalmist:
Give us all a reverence for the earth as your own creation, that we may use its resources rightly in the service of others and to your honor and glory.
Yahweh takes pleasure in those who fear him, in those who hope in God’s steadfast love.
Be merciful to me, O God, be merciful to me, for in you my soul takes refuge…
I lie down among lions that greedily devour human prey; their teeth are spears and arrows, their tongues sharp swords...
Psalm 57 couples with the stories and visions from the book of Daniel during this Living in The Story reading week. Although the traditional setting places it during the time of Davids trials, we also see Daniel in the cries of complaint and praise.
I love the double meaning here: adversaries like lions and their accusing words like swords. Adversaries like beasts that lie in wait and plot for your destruction. Have you been there? I have.
It is all too easy to turn inward during these times of conflict. It is tempting to retreat to the “poor me’s.” I have been there too. But the psalmist teaches us a better way, a wiser response.
I cry to God Most High, to God who fulfills his purpose for me. He will send from heaven and save me, he will put to shame those who trample on me. God will send forth his steadfast love and his faithfulness.
In the faith of the psalmist, it is God Most High who designs our purpose, our task and vocation within our lives. Not (I think) planning every decision and step we make, but overall; an overarching meaning for us as we live as people of faith.
It’s a comforting thought: trusting that Creator is in everything – dark and light – including (even!) me in the mysterious divine work of accomplishing divine purposes. I don’t/can’t make this happen out of my own skill or intelligence; faith leads me to trust that God Most High holds the Big Picture and is weaving everything together in ways I will never understand.
My heart is steadfast, O God, my heart is steadfast. I will sing and make melody. Awake, my soul!
I will give thanks to you, O Lord, among the peoples; I will sing praises to you among the nations. For your steadfast love is as high as the heavens; your faithfulness extends to the clouds.
Father Richard Rohr reminds us that each of us individually and all of us together are included in God’s unconditional and unending love. Our problem, he explains, is that we are too often blind and unaware of that Divine Love.
We are not awake.
So the psalmist’s challenge to himself is our challenge:
Wake Up! and Stay Woke!
In order to do that, the psalmist describes a discipline of faith that is timely practice for all of us who struggle. Singing our faith. Giving witness to our faith in God’s unending faithfulness and steadfast love.
We take what is inward and proclaim it outwardly, publicly, boldly.
Be exalted, O God, above the heavens. Let your glory be over all the earth.
The benediction for Psalm 57 sings like our Lord’s Prayer:
Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.
This should be our constant prayer – not only with our words and recitations but with every fiber of our being. Giving ourselves over to the Divine Purposes of God Most High who surely will fulfill the Divine Purpose for all creation. Faith’s enduring eschatological hope.
O Lord, how many are my foes! Many are rising against me; many are saying to me, “There is no help for you in God.”
Psalm 3 gives us a powerful demonstration of a faith that functions without sight.
That is what faith is, we know in theory; but how often do we want reassurances before we commit? Before we let ourselves trust? We let our feelings of despair and hopelessness overwhelm our intellect instead of finding the tricky balance between the our head and our gut.
Emotions are an important part of our humanity; they serve as a valuable gauge about what is going on within us. But our mind, our thinking, our cognitive abilities must sometimes provide an important counterweight to our feelings.
But you, O Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, and the one who lifts up my head. I cry aloud to the Lord, and he answers me from his holy hill.
I lie down and sleep; I wake again, for the Lord sustains me. I am not afraid of ten thousands of people who have set themselves against me all around.
Our psalmist proclaims the unseen, even unexperienced reality of his Lord. He names his God as Shield and Sustainer even as he struggles with the also very real reality of his tormenting foes. His faith allows him to say the words aloud: “I am not afraid of you!”
Someone said “courage is fear that has said its prayers.” Living our lives with courage, encountering the various kinds of “foes” that rise against us, digging in to faith and hope doesn’t mean we do that without our knees knocking. But courage means we step up to the challenges of our lives in spite of some very appropriate anxieties of our humanity. Courage keeps fear from paralyzing us.
Courage with faith means we step into the Shield and lean into the Sustainer.
Rise up, O Lord! Deliver me, O my God! For you strike all my enemies on the cheek; you break the teeth of the wicked.
Only now does the psalmist’s prayer move to the ask. Tucked away in his lament of his reality and his commitment to trust anyway is this one request for God’s intervention: Rise up! Deliver me!
This psalmist sings the belief of Israel (and the understanding of many people of faith) that vengeance IS justice.
Maybe. Maybe not.
I don’t understand God’s ways of justice, judgment and setting the world back to rights. But the psalmist shows us that whatever our need, whatever our heart, whatever our request – we can offer all that honestly, freely and with confidence. Whatever God decides to do about all that is God’s to decide. The psalmist leaves it all in the Lord’s just and capable hands:
Deliverance belongs to the Lord …
Psalm 3 ends with beatitude, the pronouncement of blessing that can only come from God. And again, in this case, blessing even in the midst of turmoil and trauma.
May your blessing be on your people!
As in The Beatitudes found in Matthew and Luke, God’s blessing doesn’t wait until our physical circumstances are resolved. God’s blessing blossoms best in the dark, tearful and ready soil of our lives. Amazing grace.
Blessed are the poor for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Amen
Psalm 110 sings confidence: Israel’s God upholds Israel’s king. This royal psalm celebrates the king as the one anointed to rule and empowered to vanquish all of Israel’s enemies.
The LORD says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
Much of our Bible assumes a violent culture in the ancient world of its origins. Armies and battles, victories and defeats, walled cities and calls to arms defined daily life for many of these nations and their inhabitants.
For Israel, Yahweh God became the quintessential warrior god. From the Lord’s overwhelming defeat of the army of Egypt to the conquering of the Promised Land to the the establishing of David’s monarchy, God was seen as One who went before them in battle to save and secure Israel.
The LORD sends out from Zion your mighty scepter. Rule in the midst of your foes…
From the womb of the morning, like dew, your youth will come to you.
In the imagination of Israel, Zion was God the King’s ultimate dwelling place: the holy throne situated in the highest heavenlies.
Thus everything built in the Temple signified and symbolized these invisible realities. Even though Israel often used the words interchangeably, Jerusalem or the Temple were always and only physical metaphors that pointed to the spiritual unseen-ness of God’s presence in Zion.
Psalm 110 sees Yahweh the King as the Source of an eternal divine authority that establishes Israel’s kings with a consequent divine authority.
The LORD has sworn and will not change his mind, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”
The LORD is at your right hand; he will shatter kings on the day of his wrath…
Now here is a twist: along with kingship, the psalmist claims Israel’s leader is also a priest. Not within the Levitical priesthood, from the lineage of Aaron and the priestly tribe of Levi, but rather priest from a more ancient and enigmatic tradition.
In Abraham’s story as told in Genesis, (centuries before the Levitical priesthood) there is an odd little episode when Abraham meets “King Melchizedek of Salem, priest of God Most High…”
Abraham received a blessing from the priest/king and gave him a tithe as an offering. That’s just about all we know from the original story.
But then the psalmist used this tradition to assign Israel’s monarch to this special category of priest/king. The divine authority to oversee God’s people is magnified beyond the usual authority of a nation’s king. The psalmist expands it to include divine authority to speak for the people directly to the One seated on the Heavenly Throne.
Fast forward to the New Testament and we find Melchizedek again in Hebrews 5. In the Preacher’s creative use of the Hebrew Scriptures, he re-read his Sacred Texts and re-interpreted them in light of the Christ Event. The ancient “twist” introduced by the psalmist is taken to another level by his theological descendant centuries later.
Hebrews presents Jesus as the One who has divine authority to speak directly to God and to offer sacrifice (in this context, to offer his own life) on behalf of the people.
Luke also used Psalm 110 as a basis for his Christology. In Acts 2, Peter’s Pentecost sermon sees the Risen Christ as heir to David’s throne:
The LORD says to my lord, “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies your footstool.”
For the earliest Christian theologians, Jesus the Christ most perfectly completes the picture of the promised Messiah: the Resurrected Lord is Prophet-Priest-King.
Within the Christian tradition, this royal psalm anticipates the Christ as one anointed to rule over all the nations with compassion and justice, to speak God’s Word with divine authority and to abide in God’s presence in order to intercede for all God’s people.