John T. Willis

Saturday, September 17, 2016

The Heart Considers--VII

Several passages in scripture connect the heart with "considering" a person, a thing, a situation, etc. Here are some examples.

1. Moses says to the people of Israel in his speech in Moab: "Know then in your heart that as a parent disciplines a child so the Lord your God disciplines you." Here the verb "know" clearly means "consider."
2. The composer of Psalm 66 says in verse 18 [Heb. verse 19]:
       If I had cherished [considered, entertained] iniquity in my heart,
            the Lord would not have listened.
The heart has the capacity to consider a situation.
3. The author of Ecclesiastes says in Ecclesiastes 7:2:
      It is better to go to the house of mourning
           than to go to the house of feasting;
      for this is the end of everyone,
           and the living will lay it to heart.
To lay to heart in this context means to consider very seriously.
4. The prophetic poet in Isaiah 46:8-9 says:
      Remember this and consider;
           recall it to heart [NRSV mind], you transgressors,
      remember the former things of old;
           for I am God, and there is no other;
           I am God, and there is no one like me.
The expression "recall to heart [mind]" clearly means to consider seriously.
5. Hosea is deeply concerned that his people Israel do not take their sins seriously. He says in Hosea 7:2:
        They do not say in their hearts
              that I remember all their wickedness.
         Now their deeds surround them,
              they are before my face.
The NRSV translates "say in their hearts" as "consider."
These and several other biblical texts us the term heart as a mental and spiritual capacity which we call "consider." The heart considers a person, a thing, a situation for reflection, spiritual growth, and daily action.

Share YOUR thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis

The Deceitfulness of Riches--Psalm 37

Psalm 37 is an acrostic in which every other line begins with the next succeeding letter in the Hebrew alphabet. There are three exceptions in verses 8, 20, and 28b. The composer of Psalm 37 is an old man (verses 25, 35-36), who is attempting to teach a younger person. The second person pronouns "you," "your," "yours," are singular throughout Psalm 37. This old man is trying to persuade this younger person to trust in Yahweh in a time when it appears that the wicked are succeeding and the righteous are failing. At this juncture in time, the wicked controlled or possessed the land. Apparently, the major issue confronting this writer is the family inheritance handed from from generation to generation. The wicked in this context are rich Jews who are constantly engaged in land grabbing. As a result, the poor suffer in various ways including the rich taking away their property by force. This calls to mind Ahab and Jezebel arranging the murder of Naboth and seizing his vineyard so it would be their own (1 Kings 21:7, 12, 14, 25, 32-33, 40). Psalm 37 naturally falls into four parts.

1. This old psalmist encourages his young student to trust in the Lord rather than bemoaning the apparent prosperity of the wicked and the poverty of the righteous. 37:1-11.
    a. Three times, the psalmist says: "Do not fret"--verses 1, 7, 8. It is very easy for a person who is suffering to bemoan the successes of the wicked. The psalmist encourages his audience to not be envious of wrongdoers, for they will fade and wither like the grass. 37:1-2.
    b. A person's decision comes from the heart. The psalmist encourages his hearers to trust in Yahweh and do good, to delight in Yahweh. 37:3-4.
    c. The psalmist admonishes his audience to commit their way to Yahweh and trust in him, because then Yahweh will act and cause justice to prevail. 37:5-6.
    d. The poet tells his hearers to be still before Yahweh, wait patiently for him, and not fret over the apparent successes of the wicked, and refrain from anger and wrath, because Yahweh will cut off the wicked. 37:7-9.
    e. The wicked will be no more, but the meek shall inherit the land and enjoy abundant prosperity. 37:10-11.

2. The psalmist declares that the wicked cannot prevail. 37:12-20.
     a. When the wicked plot against the righteous, Yahweh responds by "laughing" at the wicked. This is the laugh of unbelief. There is no way that the wicked can prevail against Yahweh and his faithful people. 37:12-13.
     b. The wicked draw their swords to destroy the poor and needy, but Yahweh will cause their swords to enter their heart and their bows will be broken. 37:14-15.
     c. A little with the righteous is better than the abundance of many wicked people. Yahweh will break the arms of the wicked, but uphold the righteous. 37:16-17.
     d. Yahweh "knows" [which means favors, blesses, supports in this verse] the blameless and will not allow them be put to shame. By way of contrast, Yahweh destroys the wicked like grass which withers and smoke quickly vanishes. 37:18-20.

3. The poet assures his audience that Yahweh will enable the righteous to prevail. 37:21-31.
    This writer gives FOUR reasons why the righteous will ultimately succeed.
     a. When Yahweh blesses the righteous, they do not horde their blessings [wealth, possessions, health, etc.] but share them with the destitute. 37:21-22.
     b. The righteous trust in Yahweh during all circumstances, good or bad. The righteous may stumble, but Yahweh will hold them up by the hand. 37:23-24.
     c. The long life of the composer of this psalm declares that his experiences show that, though times and situations may be very difficult, Yahweh never deprives the righteous of the necessities of life. 37:25-26. Verse 25 is very striking and memorable:
        I have been young, and now am old,
                yet I have not seen the righteous forsaken
                or their children begging bread.
    d.  Since the righteous always fight for and support justice, Yahweh will sustain them in all situations. 37:27-31.

4. The psalmist concludes by summarizing that in the end the wicked will be cut off, and the righteous will prevail. 37:32-40.
     a. The wicked constantly seek ways to kill the righteous, to completely obliterate the righteous from the earth. But Yahweh will never abandon the righteous and allow the wicked to win an unrighteous verdict in court cases. Thus, the righteous must "wait for [trust in] the Lord and follow his way" and then the Lord will destroy the wicked. 37:32-34.
     b. The wicked oppress the weak and innocent, but Yahweh soon removes them from the earth. The blameless will success, while the transgressors will be destroyed. 37:35-38.
     c. Yahweh is our only hope. He is our salvation, our refuge, and our rescue throughout life. Therefore, the only wise course in life is to trust in him. 37:39-40.

Psalm 37 is a powerful psalm of assurance. There is always a battle between the righteous and the wicked. Often, it appears that the wicked prevail, but ultimately Yahweh destroys the wicked and blesses the righteous who faithfully trust in and follow him.

Share YOUR experiences and thoughts and insights with others. Let me hear from YOU.

John Willis